The booming bass resonated throughout the small club on Coronet, vibrating the very molecules of every structure in the room. Dim red lighting tinted the walls, fading to green and then blue—a cycle consuming the patrons in emotions ranging from lust to envy to peace, reflecting the rollercoaster of the tune played. With each pound of the beat, men and women of at least a dozen different species gyrated, pumping their fist, stomping their feet, and swinging to the tempo. Occasionally, a heavily inebriated habitué would spin around in place and topple over from the rush, much to the amusement of their fellow comrades. At the counter, the bartender served drinks, mixing flavors and throwing concoctions into the air to the rhythm of the music.
In the background, in a corner booth where the flashing lights barely hit, Labon Sweef leaned his back against the synthetic material of the seats and laid his hands on the table. Labon was just above average height for a man of his stature. His arms were strong, his shoulders broad. His square jaw protruded from his short neck, just above his large Adam’s apple. He was built like a wall, solid and immovable. His squinted, dark eyes scanning the dance floor, the bar, and the other booths around him, and concluded he was “invisible.” No one knew or cared whether he was there. It was the way he preferred. He enjoyed being alone.
He watched from the distance as a woman at the bar glanced over as a red spotlight flashed over his face, revealing his stern look to the crowd. In the brief moment, he knew that an air of mystery gleamed before the woman, something he did not want to happen. He cut his gaze and looked over at the dance floor. He hoped it would give her a hint of his intentions, but knew better. It just fueled her curiosity. Labon shifted his weight, leaning in on the table as he caught a glimpse of her getting up from the bar.
It did not take her long to get to the booth, having only to weave through a few tables and booths to get to him. Her figure was infallible. Her long, elegant legs extended beneath her short navy blue skirt. A loose, white blouse covered her torso, from which her sleek arms jetted out, one holding a drink. Her slender neck held up her rounded head; her face emulated beauty in its finest with perfectly portioned eyes, nose, and mouth. Her silky brown hair hung just below her shoulders, curled and tied up in the back. She slid into the booth opposite Labon, letting her glass gently tap the table. Smiling, she introduced herself.
“My name is Elayna. And you are?” Elayna acknowledged, not letting her gaze shift from Labon’s dark eyes.
“Not interested,” Labon replied, bluntly.
Elayna sat back in the booth, slightly taken aback from the rude behavior Labon had demonstrated. Pushing past it, Elayna leaned in and tried once more.
“And why not?” Elayna probed.
Labon cut her a quick glare. He did not appreciate the idea of female company at the moment. He would much rather sulk on his own and did not need another to cuddle the deep emotions within him.
“What makes you think you can just walk over here and get me to unravel myself to you?” Labon wondered, continuing his disrespectful façade.
Normally, Labon did not respond this way to women. He respected them as an equal class and usually greatly enjoyed their company. During his years as a soldier, Labon quickly learned the value of women. After he became a mercenary, he had managed to gain the company of several women, sometimes two or three at a time. That, however, was years ago. Times had changed.
“I never expected you to unravel at once. That would take the fun out of getting to know you. All I want is your name at the moment,” Elayna mentioned, somehow bringing the conversation back to where it started. She reached out under the table to tap his leg with hers, but could not find it. She figured they were tucked underneath the seat and reached out with her hand instead, lightly grazing Labon’s arm as he retracted it.
Her ability to drive the conversation intrigued Labon, but he still refused to open up. He simply wanted to be alone, to revel in his deepest thoughts, to look inward and fix his brokenness. He knew most sentients would withdraw for meditation, but he could not bring himself to do that. He needed to be around people. He needed a crowd to be alone. He needed other people to be left out. If he was by himself, whom could he exclude himself from?
“My name is Labon Sweef,” Labon gave in.
“And what do you do, Labon Sweef?” Elayna inquired, pursuing her interest in Labon.
“All you’ll get is my name,” Labon replied, looking away.
“Why?” Elayna studied.
“That is all you asked for.”
“At that moment.”
“What would you do if I did unravel myself all at once? Would the fun be taken away? Would I suddenly bore you so you would finally leave me alone?” Labon retorted.
Elayna remained wide-eyed. She did not know how to respond. She could sense hidden deep with in his uncharacteristic rude behavior what appeared to be a plea. Ignoring how he had treated her thus far, she shook her head.
“We’ll have to see to find out,” Elayna teased.
Labon took a deep breath. He contemplated telling her everything about him, but knew that it would be too much for her to handle. She seemed either extremely sweet or mildly promiscuous. Labon could not tell whether she genuinely cared about getting to know him or was simply saying the right words to get him to give in to her. Any man in his position would immediately open up and allow her to soften up to him; however, Labon was not any man at the moment. He was a specific man looking for answers to questions he did not know.
“Fine,” Labon admitted.
Elayna took a sip of her drink.
“The first thing you should know about me is that I am not always this rude. I apologize for my harsh behavior. I just wish to be alone to dwell on some of my more personal issues,” Labon explained.
“You are a thinker. There is something honorable about that,” Elayna commented.
“Not so much when you find out what I am thinking about,” Labon clarified.
“Oh?” Elayna inquired, curious about Labon’s meaning.
“My first profession was a soldier on my home planet of Commenor. After that, I moved to the Outer Rim Territories where I became a mercenary. While there, I was picked up by a—by an employer,” Labon began his story, leaving out a few details to avoid scaring her away.
His affiliations were few and criminal. As a soldier, he defected and became a mercenary, having to flee to the Outer Rim. Once there, he joined a rallying cause at the time—the Stark Commercial Combine. Under the Combine, Labon was reissued to a new army under the 450th Airborne Division, Platoon D-9. He and fourteen other sentients were responsible for carrying out small skirmish missions for the Combine. Since he was unsure of Elayna’s political beliefs, he did not know whether to mention the fact.
“Under this employer I was placed in a new army with fourteen other guys like me. We were hired to carry out missions that were not strictly speaking—legal,” Labon hid behind his words.
“So, are you thinking about your mistake in doing that?” Elayna wondered, hoping to save him the pain of admitting it himself.
“No. I did what I had to do to survive. I never regret surviving,” Labon explained, harping on her a little too quickly, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right. I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions too quickly,” Elayna replied, “So, what are you thinking about?”
“The last mission my platoon ran for our—employer. We had a minor hiccup that cost us a lot. We were supposed to enter the mountain base on Troiken…” Labon’s voice faded into the background and his words fueled the pictures as he retreated into his mind, reliving the eventful mission.
The dark caverns of the mountain range consumed Platoon D-9 as they cautiously ventured in. The hollowness within the mountain prevented visibility beyond a few inches. Even as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, they could not see past a foot. The brittle cold of the rocks permeated through the skin of the fifteen soldiers hoping to find an entrance to the Republic holdout. Due to the extreme tilt of the planet and tidal lock with Quermia, its sister planet, the planet’s surface was split between frozen tundra and blistering desert. The mountain range was located along the equatorial region, the only place on the planet with moderate temperature. The mountain peaked at three kilometers above the surface; the entrance point, however, only hit two and a quarter. The altitude was just enough to drive a chill into their bones.
Rifles out, Labon and the fourteen others moved along the walls of the cavern. Six riflemen filed in front, while Labon and three others with snipers covered them with their night-vision targeting reticules. Five others covered the rear, looking for danger that might lurk behind. They had heard stories of the creatures that haunted the caves in the dark there on Troiken, none of which they wanted to run into during their scouting party.
It had been several weeks since the Republic had been caught up in the mountain, when their minor war had been declared. They had fortified themselves after a failed negotiation attempt with the Combine’s leader, Iaco Stark, to bring an end to his faction’s illegal control of the healing fluid, bacta. Stark had struck a deal with the Trade Federation and the leading bacta producer, Xucphra, and had rigged an explosion at a bacta producing plant on Thyferra. Bacta became scarce, allowing Stark to take control of distribution from his supply, which he had previously raided from Federation ships, leading up to the negotiations. Stark had devised the plan that would cripple the Republic, any force they contained, and any other opposition they would have. With the navicomputer virus infecting the navigational computers of the majority of the so-called Republic fleet, the Republic captives were nearly helpless. No one could aid them.
Now, the Combine merely hoped to pin the Republic forces in the mountain and overwhelm them. They had already entered once before and were forced to retreat due to the Jedi that hid among the Republic inside. After Stark learned that several Republic officials had escaped, he ordered his men to retaliate, hoping to prevent more men from slipping past him. Knowing they could not reenter the way they went before, they searched for an alternative route, which supplied Platoon D-9 with their current mission.
“I really wish they would’ve given us some sort of lighting for our search,” Krill Mayth, a weapons specialist from Alderaan, spoke up, his whisper echoing gently throughout the cave. He stood a head shorter, stockier, and plumper than Labon. His golden brown combed-back hair bobbed slightly as he walked. A mercenary like Labon, Krill had dealt long enough with the restrictions of the Republic. He had joined Stark’s team feeling that they were equipped enough to deal a devastating blow to an already crumbling bureaucracy.
“If they had done that, the Republic would’ve seen us coming before we would’ve even heard them. The scopes will work,” Labon reprimanded.
“How about some warmer clothes then? I’m freezing!” Krill exclaimed quietly.
“You’re just looking for a reason to complain again, aren’t you?” Rex Ordana, the platoon commander, inquired. He stood at average height with short black hair. Also from Alderaan, Rex became a smuggler to escape a false conviction in a local court. He had been accused of murdering his closest friend, who had passed away in an unfortunate climbing accident. Rex escaped the planet and joined with Stark’s crew to one day buy his bail and return home. At least, that’s what Labon assumed. Rex never did talk much about his home.
“It’s friggin’ cold in here!” Krill fought.
“Shut up and keep moving. The Republic is probably buried deep within the mountain. We need to move quickly if we want to reach them before nightfall,” Rex ordered.
“Nightfall? It’s already dark enough in here. There’s no difference,” Krill argued.
“But at night, the critters come out,” Labon mentioned under his breath.
Krill caught his comment and gave him a quickly glare, or at least who he thought was Labon.
Up ahead, Labon spotted a faint blue glow. He whispered for the platoon to settle down. He could not get a good reading on what the object was, so he did not want to endanger the group by allowing them to proceed. Taking the three other snipers and Rex, they marched forward a few meters until they could clearly identify the source of the blue hue.
Through the telescopic targeting reticule, Labon saw what appeared to be a flying insect of some sort, though larger in size. The scale reading on the reticule suggested it was about half a meter long, and an eighth thick. It had six long, dangly legs protruding from the thorax. Two quickly fluttering wings kept it airborne. The head contained two large pincers, much like a beetle, perfect for peeling the flesh off of any victim.
Labon spotted only the one and figured it would be safe to fire a shot between the abdomen and thorax, splitting the creature in two. He confirmed the shot with Rex and opened fire. It was a direct hit. The blue hue faded from the distance and darkness filled the cave once more. Rex gave Labon a pat on the back, when suddenly another glow started to grow in Labon’s reticule. He looked down the tunnel and saw a whole swarm buzzing their way.
“Uh, sir. Look at this,” Labon suggested, handing his rifle to Rex.
Rex peered through and knew immediately what it was.
“Run,” Rex demanded, handing Labon his rifle.
The five stood up and darted back to the rest of the platoon.
“Run!” Labon repeated the order.
The platoon hesitated only a moment, not able to see the glow in the distance. When it finally came into view, every man was filing in behind the five scouts, catching up quickly. They darted back through the tunnels, not taking the precaution of feeling their way back. They climbed, stumbled, slid, and clambered their way back. With each step they took, the swarm grew ever closer.
It did not take long before the swarm took down the first man caught behind. The platoon fired salvos behind them, hoping to strict something, but with such a small target, hitting it required more than luck. The second man fell behind, then the third man. Two managed to take a wrong path and both collapsed, only to be quickly covered in Challat eaters. There was nothing the rest of the platoon could do but run.
Leading the pack, Rex and Labon saw the light of the tunnel entrance up ahead. They knew that if they escaped the cavern, it would not necessarily mean the creatures would cease attacking. If left alone, the Challat eaters would continue their hunt until their food source ran out. The sixth man was picked off. They were running low already.
“Krill! Rim! Close the gap! Grenades!” Rex shouted, ordering his two weapons specialists to take out the entrance to the mountain with their grenade launchers. He hoped, if timed right, they could all slip out under the crumbling mouth of the cave. If timed wrong—they’d be dead anyway.
“It’s going to be hard to hit the mouth on the run!” Krill complained.
“Do it or die!” Rex simplified his order.
The two specialists loaded their launchers and tried to steady the weapon as they took each step. Timing it, they both opened fire between steps, giving them the steadiest shot they could take. The grenades flew through the air, striking opposite sides of the cavern wall. Immediately, rubble started to fall from the ceiling. The seventh man fell behind.
Once Rex and Labon were through, Labon took up position just outside and started firing beams back into the cave to take down any insects catching up. It was difficult as the rocks collapsed, blocking his view most the time. Krill and Rim Perth Granode, a human mercenary from Tanaab, leaped out of the entrance as the final rocks fell. A fifth man, Tesh Vohore, a rising Arkanian pirate, managed to squeeze his way through last minute. As the entrance became completely covered, the external structure of the mouth began to give way.
The roof of the tunnel fractured, sending a large boulder tumbling down towards the remainder of the platoon. The rock clipped Tesh and pinned Labon to the ground. He let out a piercing scream, drowning out the cries of the last few men left alive in the cave, those unfortunate not to make it through. The five able bodies worked quickly to get the stone off of Labon’s lower mid-section and legs...
“I should’ve died that day,” Labon finished, remembering those final moments, “Sometimes I wish I had.”
“But you didn’t. You lived. Maybe if you can process what happened better, you’ll be able to see—” Labon cut Elayna off.
“I have been able to process it. As I told you, I did what I had to do to survive. I never regret surviving. Again, I’m sorry if I’m rude. It’s just—things have changed since that war,” Labon continued.
“In what ways?” Elayna inquired, not understanding that Labon was not in denial.
“I have not been able to satisfy a woman since that day, especially a charming woman as yourself. Again, I do apologize for being rude before. I get looks every time I roam the streets, now. People don’t know what I’ve been through and they judge me regardless. Things have changed,” Labon replied.
“Satisfying women is not everything in life,” Elayna teased.
“I know, but it would be nice to be able to do it again. It’s been so long, I’ve nearly forgotten the feeling,” Labon admitted.
“There are ways to change that,” Elayna responded, giving Labon a quick wink.
“Please don’t go there,” Labon warned, knowing good and well what Elayna was hinting.
“Why not? Where is your apartment? Is it far from here? How long of a walk?” Elayna wondered.
“I wouldn’t know,” Labon replied, softly.
“Why not? Oh, did you taxi here?” Elayna probed, still ignorant.
Labon could not go on. The questions were digging under his skin, like a festering wound that itched in a way he could not scratch. Desires intensified within him, desires he knew he could not please. He watched as Elayna stared back at him waiting for his acknowledgement, almost as if she expected him to snatch her off her feet. She was caring, but ignorant. She heard him, but did not listen. She saw him, but did not know him. She was still like any other woman he had talked to since the war. He had built up immunity to their cunning skills, using uncivil mannerisms to repulse them. It was the reason he had acted so rude to Elayna when she first came over. He figured it was best to not even indulge a little.
Labon could not simply be there while she stared into his eyes. He noticed a quick wince in her expression as she started to reason that maybe there was something wrong with Labon. He could see the scenarios flowing through her brain, like a computer running various programs at once. Each calculated scenario had at least a dozen outcomes, each leading to their own destination where more plots sprung off.
“I can’t,” Labon spoke up, finally.
“Why not?” Elayna inquired, this time more hesitantly than when she first walked over.
“I simply can’t,” Labon confessed.
Annoyed, and still indulging in various imaginative scenarios, Elayna started to give up. She had done what she could to open Labon up and have a good time at the club. He simply refused to give in, a concept she thought was uncommon of most men. Generally, when she walked over and offered a night of fun, the men would take it. She did not care much about their character; just that they were willing and interested, none of which Labon appeared to be.
“And there is nothing I can do to convince you otherwise?” Elayna wondered.
“I’m afraid not,” Labon responded, confident.
“Then, I’m sorry, Mr. Sweef, but I must be going,” Elayna stated, sliding out of the corner booth, where she sat opposite Labon.
As she slid out, Labon looked her over one last time, regretting the opportunity had arisen. He did not regret his actions during the opportunity, but just that it came about. He knew traveling to an open bar that something could occur, but he figured most would see him enter and consider otherwise. He watched as Elayna grabbed her drink and returned to the bar, where immediately another man swooped into the seat next to her, engaging her attention with a half-witted compliment and a promise to give her a good time.
Labon concluded that it was now pointless to be at the club since his only intention was to be alone and he could not even go the whole night doing that. Swiveling around in his seat, Labon scooted his body to the edge of the bench. Reaching beside the back of the bench, he rolled over a thin metallic disc, with a built in pouch that dangled just below the ventral curvature of the disc, to where he sat.
Twisting his body one last time, Labon revealed to the club the secret he had been holding, the reason he could not indulge with Elayna, and the painful memory he carried of that mission. The entire section of his body from the hips down was missing. There was no stub to suggest a leg once existed in its place, no hint of anything below his waist. He could not go with Elayna because, as he said, he simply could not. The rock that fell on him after the mission had crushed his pelvis, nearly severing his legs altogether. With the shortage of bacta due to the war, when he arrived at the medic, he was put at the bottom of the list for emergency attention. By the time the medic got to him, it was too late. The surgeon amputated his limbs and whatever dead tissue remained behind. They seared the wound and used limited bacta exposure to speed the recovery, but the procedure still left a minor infection. He was hooked to a machine most the time he was at home, and his hover disc became his lifeline. Labon was told he would never walk again for obvious reasons.
Labon activated the hover chair and slid his lower torso into the pouch. Grabbing the controls, he levitated away from the booth and towards the door. He glanced back only once to check if, possibly, Elayna saw what had transpired. To his disappointment, she was still engaged in conversation with the man. She had missed his entire grand revelation. He hovered his way to the exit and made his way out into the streets of Coronet. He had succeeded. For that night, in that club, he had become invisible. No one cared, no one noticed. He preferred it that way—so he thought.