STAR WARS: Abandoned Heroes
Conrad Starkweather Kane
Media mogul and CEO of Yoyodyne Industries.
And, for an instant, she stared directly into those hard blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.
I am to meet him again in the Soft Heart Cantina, a dive bar ferreted away in Coruscant’s Southern Underground. I knew and appreciated why he had selected the venue, though my nostrils, assailed with the smell of stale beer and sour vomit, refused to listen to reason. We had been here a lot, he and I, some twenty years ago. I’d scoffed when my aide-de-camp had informed me of the decision. The gesture had a clumsy, heavy-handed feel to it; the gesture of a profoundly unsentimental man who was attempting sentimentality all the same. Nonetheless… I could taste the smoke of local industry on my tongue, and the sloppy ragtime spilling out of the door into the frigid night seemed inviting.
I allowed myself a small smile. Some things never change.
We had fought together once, proud members of the Galactic Republic’s 51st Airborne. All of us, to a man, children of power and prestige. The Gentlemen’s Squadron, the enlisted men had called us, the phrase said with a barely concealed sneer. The squadron for the wealthy, the educated, the bored. The squadron for those who could afford to be romantic. And we did nothing to dissuade them of their prejudice: even now, I can remember carving iridescent initials into Coruscant’s upper atmosphere, our vapour-trails igniting in an impossible symphony of light and sound. “Frivolity. A waste,” the other men would mutter. But what did we care? We were invincible.
Back then, the Soft Heart Cantina had been our local haunt, as with all of the 51st fly-boys; the air thick with spice, the floor tacky with spilled drinks and the susurrus of rough silk against soft Twi’lek flesh drowned out in the warble of jazz and muttered conversation. It had been a happy time for us all. Young men that we were, we revelled in the camaraderie shared by brothers in arms: the arguments, the tall tales, the jokes. Never an evening sober. Never a night alone.
It was not to last. Called up for combat duty, the 51st was sent to suppress a force of Corellian separatists that had managed to seize control of a capitol cruiser in orbit around Talus. We were to intercept the vessel and neutralise all guns and starfighters in order to allow an infantry vessel access to the main dock. After that, it was to be an easy stroll to victory; nothing but a clean-up effort. We were in for a rude surprise. Undermanned, under-trained and unequipped, Coruscant High Command sent us into a wasp’s nest of hostile starfighters. I was told afterwards that the intelligence they had received had been falsified, the work of a sympathiser within the ranks of High Command. All I know is that the whole dogfight lasted less than a minute; within forty seconds, a full seventeen of our twenty fighters had erupted in gouts of flame and twisted metal. Even now, I’m not sure how I survived. All I remember is a dull roar, the taste of blood in my mouth, and finally, screaming. It didn’t occur to me until later that the screams that I had heard were my own.
Twenty years ago. Twenty long, miserable, thankless years. And here I am again, standing outside the Soft Heart Cantina, my breath condensing in elaborate plumes of white water vapour, my fingers stiff with cold. “Nothing for it,” I say to myself. “May as well bite the bullet.”
Inside, the bar looks almost identical. The décor is slightly more shabby than I remember, the dancers less beautiful. Now, with the cynicism of an older man, I notice their bruised mouths and tired eyes, their quiet, hopeless desperation. Watching them gyrate listlessly, I feel a pang of guilt when I realise that I am too selfish to care. Ignoring the dancers and casting my eyes about, I see him in the corner of the room, talking to a tall Duros in a white suit, his hat hanging on his chair behind him. Pausing, I feel a rising sense of panic, deep in my hindbrain. Something is wrong here, but I am not sure what.
Wading through the crowd, I approach the table and sit down. Sprawling elegantly, holding a tumbler of whiskey in his hand, the Duros addresses me with an aristocratic drawl.
“Well shit, Chambers, it’s good to see you, old son.”
“You too, Marmaduke,” I reply. “You are looking well.”
“And well I should. Recent years have been very kind to me,” he says, absentmindedly running his long fingers over the seam of his lapel. Turning abruptly, he addresses the third man at the table. “Well, we’re all here now. Can we get started already?”
I look across the pitted tabletop, following Marmaduke’s glance, and my gaze is met with a pair of hard, deep-set blue eyes. His face, even despite the years, remains unlined. Narrow nose, heavy jaw. Cheekbones too wide for him to ever be considered handsome. The only testament to his middle age is his thick shock of silver hair.
“Starky,” I say cautiously. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You too, Mister Chambers,” he says quietly. “And it is Mister Kane to you.” He sits impassively for a moment, gazing at us, half of a cigarette smouldering in the ashtray in front of him. “You both may be wondering why I have invited you here, of all places. In the many years we have been doing business, we have never needed to meet like this. I only wish we were here under more auspicious circumstances.”
“Kane—” Marmaduke begins.
“Mister Kane.” The interjection is abrupt, businesslike.
“Yes, Mister Kane,” Marmaduke continues, “Just what is this all about, exactly?”
Conrad Starkweather Kane picks up his cigarette and takes a drag, before grinding it into the ashtray before him. “I have invited you here, Mister Marmaduke, because this is where our history began. It is here that we became men. If not for this bar, we would not be in business together now. And, sadly, if it were not for this bar, we would not need to have this conversation.” He stands up, and begins to walk around the table. “It has recently come to my attention that one of you has been embezzling from our mutual fund on Nar Shaddaa. Unfortunately for the guilty party, the Hutts have noticed the pecuniary indiscretion, and have been most vocal about their desire for re-compensation.” He stops behind me, resting his hands on my shoulders. “Do either of you have anything to say about that?”
“N-no,” I stammer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only do imports and logistics. I haven’t even been to Nar Shaddaa in years.”
“Ha, that’s true,” he says, and I can tell by the sound of his voice that he has something approaching a smile on his face. “The Toydarian clerk did mention something like that.” He pauses, and I can feel his head turn above me. “And you, Mister Marmaduke?” he asked quietly.
There is a pause, and suddenly, Marmaduke rises out of his chair, his hand in his inside pocket, but Kane is faster. With two sharp cracks, Kane blows out Marmaduke’s knees, and I feel my face turn wet with blood. Moving from behind me, revolver still in his hand, Kane stands over Marmaduke, who is curled in the foetal position and whimpering softly.
“Tut tut, Mister Marmaduke. You were supposed to protest your innocence before I shot you. You obviously have no understanding of how this sort of thing should work." He smiles, but it does not reach his eyes. “Regardless, you have two options, Mister Marmaduke. Either I hand you over to the Hutts—” at this point, Marmaduke’s quiet whimpering turns into outright sobbing “—or I buy out your share of the company at a price I deem reasonable.” He pauses, and pretends to think, pensively tapping the barrel of the gun against his forehead. “Current share price is five thousand two hundred and seventy-one credits as of ten o’clock this morning. So, I will buy your shares from you for, shall we say… two credits each?”
Choking on his pain and outrage, Marmaduke manages to cry out, “But you’ll bankrupt me!”
“Nonsense," Kane says, eyes gleaming with satisfaction. “You will simply have to begin working for a living.” Marmaduke opens his mouth as if to speak, but Kane raises his hand. “More to the point, you very nearly got me killed with your foolishness, Mister Marmaduke. I find this a fair trade.”
“Enough, Mister Marmaduke,” Kane cuts in smoothly. “I will have my assistant call you tomorrow to finalise the arrangement, whatever choice you decide to pursue. In any case, I wish you well.” Holstering his gun, he begins to walk through the shocked patrons towards the door before stopping, as if he has forgotten something. Smiling coldly, Kane turns to me. “Lovely to see you again, Mister Chambers. Give my love to Jeanette and the children.”