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"Bottled Fury" Short Story





Mek-Sha was a cold rock in a hard place.

Carved out of the stone skin of an asteroid, this frontier mining town would never be as refined and polished as the ore it exported. Home to fortune seekers, criminals, and anyone else looking to hide from their past, it was run by an uneasy collaboration of factions, each grasping for the throat of the other. Shae Vizla was right at home.

Long before she was leader of the Mandalorians, Shae had been one of the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy. She still preferred the thrill of the chase to keeping the peace between clans, planning tactics, and reviewing intelligence reports. She was hunting Heta Kol, a renegade Mandalorian who had recently ambushed her prized ship, the Spirit of Vengeance II. Heta vanished after the attack – but she had help, and help was easier to track down.

On one side of the street, the buildings rose several stories into the artificial sky. On the other, the glint of shielding against the black void of space. Life on a knife's edge. Shae glanced around; no sign of a welcoming committee from Indigo. He must be hiding. Indigo led the mercenary group Dar'manda, one of the ruling gangs that controlled the dusty streets of Mek-Sha. No armed reception meant no firefight – not yet anyway. Shae could be quiet when she needed to be; silent and quick as a predator in tall grass.

Unlike many she hunted, Indigo would stay put. Everyone in this part of town worked for him, one way or another. This made learning his location tricky. There was an art to getting what you needed from people on the fringe of civilization; you push too hard, and you get nothing but blaster fire.

The few people she saw on the street were studiously not looking at her. Regular people wanting to avoid notice, she thought. The more she walked however, the more she saw past the first impression. Shae caught the eye of a young woman pushing a dolly of boxes. It wasn't just fear – she expected fear. She was Mandalore the Avenger, leader of the most dangerous warriors ever known. Her days of being anonymous were long gone. No, she saw anger. Like a hissed argument and a splash of blood behind a closed door. Whatever was simmering here started long before she arrived.

The squeak of the rotating sign caught her attention: "Tivoli's Cantina." She'd start there.

The double doors opened into a grimy, smoke-filled den lined with a mix of aimless drifters, local toughs, and weary patrons looking to wash away the day. As a bounty hunter, Shae knew how to walk among those who lived on scant credits and dread. Her hand twitched near the blaster that hung at her belt. Her old senses were waking back up and the world sharpened into focus.
Her stroll to the counter was slow and heavy as her gaze swept the large room. She marked two tables of patrons; full drinks, no cards and sitting on the edge of their seats, ready to move. The young bartender kept glancing just below his bar as he washed a glass, his hands not quite as steady as they should be. A stashed weapon was not far. Things were about to get noisy.

"I'll get a drink first, if you don't mind," she said, setting her helmet down on the counter.

The bartender blinked a few times. "What?" he asked, his eyes shifting around the room. He started to sweat.

"Grab that bottle of Fury." She nodded to one just behind the bartender. The bartender slowly reached for the bottle. "That's it. Now stop messing with the glass and pour something into it." He set it on the counter within arm's reach. The drink was strong stuff, known for starting fights.

She could hear chairs being dragged across the rust-streaked floor behind her and people clearing out. "Now move back." The bartender stepped back. She leaned over and felt around under the bar until she found the weapon. Two-shot scattergun. With her other hand she grabbed the tall, red bottle by the neck.

"Indigo has nothing to say to you, Vizla," someone behind her said. "You best leave before there's trouble."

Without turning around, Shae poured herself a drink. She took a quick swig – Fury was harsh and terrible – before slipping her helmet back into place. She motioned for the bartender to duck down behind the bar. "Trouble. Yeah."

Shae spun and tossed the bottle into the middle of the room, blasting it with the scattergun. No aim required. A spray of hard liquor coated a wide area across the room. Shae silenced the cries of dismay with a jet of flame from her wrist as bright as the copper hair under her helmet. The flame retreated to the length of a welding torch, and she leveled it close to the dripping mess. The other noteworthy thing about Fury: it was very flammable.

"Don't," she said. The patron lifted his hand away from his blaster. Everything was bathed in the small flickering orange light like the sunrise that never arrived here. Shae glanced at a table of miners with their hands up. "Out." They didn't understand at first. "Out. Now!" she repeated.

Why was she wasting her time with these idiots? To the other table of patrons in the wrong place at the wrong time: "You too, go." With some tipping of chairs and a few grateful mumbles, they bumped and stumbled out through the doors.

"Tell me where Indigo is, and everyone gets to leave." A new jet of flame arched up and licked the hanging light above her. Sparks and puffs of smoke curled along its grimy surface.

The room gritted its teeth.

Eyes locked on Shae for several heartbeats.

With a bang, two men in worn overalls pushed their way through the double doors, looking for a drink. The room pounced.

Shae's blaster appeared in her hand as she shouted a warning. She shot two pistols, still in their holsters, and blasted a hand holding a jagged blade while most still groped for their weapons.

The first move was hers, but now it was their turn. A barrage of blaster fire started pinging off her beskar armor, pushing her a half step back against the bar. Mandalorian steel had saved her life dozens of times, and today it bought her a moment to roll over the bar behind some cover. Give enough bogworms loaded weapons, and one of them might get lucky and hit something.

"Haar'chaak!" she swore.

Weapon fire was turning bottles into bombs. Glass, alcohol, and metal shrapnel fireworks lit up the room. Flames were beginning to spread up the walls and over the counter. She needed more information, but this place was finished. It wasn't so long ago that making her point with destruction would have been her first choice. The young bartender squirmed in the chaos, curled in a ball, trying to protect his head. Another bottle exploded above him.

Spying a sign to her left that read "STORAGE," she put an arm around the bartender and sparked her jetpack, throwing them both through the door. A risky move if it led to a dead end, but there was no choice. She collided with a stack of crates, protecting the bartender from the worst of it.

The storeroom was dark, except for a rectangle of dim light peeking out from behind a shelf of cleaning equipment. A way out. She tossed the shelf aside with one hand, her grip on the bartender tightening in the other. She jumped, sparking her jetpack once more and bursting through the window, out into the cold air. Without looking back, she rocketed up into the sky with a screaming passenger in tow. Behind her, the room was engulfed in blaster fire and rage. Tivoli's Cantina had served its last drink.

Shae circled back and cut her jetpack, landing three floors up a towering building. She hid behind a purple and red sign advertising a pawn shop. Her shoulder ached from where a blaster bolt singed her armor's undersuit. Bogworms. The ex-bartender took an unsteady step and threw up. She almost forgot she'd grabbed him.

"I'll get out of here," she said, rolling her shoulders. She stepped to the edge. "Stay here for now, keep your head down." People were gathering outside the cantina. The fire had grown, and smoke was pouring out of the windows.

"Wait! You saved those folks - " he stammered. "And me. I didn't expect that." He wiped his hands on his pants. "I couldn't draw on you like I was told. I mean, everybody's got a blaster tucked away… but I couldn't do it."

"Smart."

He took a few deep breaths. "Indigo told us you were coming." His hands were shaking as he pushed his hair back. "Said to turn you in."

"Huttbreaker allows this?" Shae couldn't imagine the unofficial queen of Mek-Sha wanted trouble with the Mandalorians. Huttbreaker generally stayed out of gang squabbles as long everyone kept it quiet. Less problems meant more credits all around.

"They're fighting. I don't know why. Huttbreaker took away some of Indigo's trade privileges. He's been bleeding us dry to make up the credits. Things are bad." He hesitated a few seconds before continuing. "He must have done something." Shae pictured the dead and wounded aboard her flagship. Indigo wasn't there, but his people were. Dar'manda had spilled Mandalorian blood.

"He did."

The ex-bartender stood up, his hands gripping the welded steel support. "You here to take his place?"

The crowd outside the cantina was getting loud. Indigo's people had arrived and were pushing them back, yelling orders.

"No." She stepped up to the edge of the rooftop. "Revenge," she said and dropped out of sight.

***

It didn't take long for the streets to fill up with people as the fire spread. The crowd was getting ugly. Indigo's people encouraged obedience with a few well-placed rifle butts to the chest. It was a perfect cover for her.

Shae opened a device at her wrist. She had taken it off a particularly sleazy target on Nar Shaddaa who was spying on the wrong people and won a chance to meet her. It tracked local comm signals. With the trouble at the cantina, she guessed Indigo would be getting all sorts of chatter. Filtering out the static, the remaining blinking orange dot gave her a likely destination for that chatter. She clicked the device shut. Time to move; no jetpacks this time. Silent and quick.

She watched the streets as she slipped her way over the rooftops and around signs closer to the orange dot. Groups of Indigo's troops were on the move. They weren't gentle with the people they found. She heard shots and wasn't sure which group they were coming from. New fires lit up dark corners. Lone shouts grew, multiplied, and merged into the howl of a mob.

The orange dot started to blink. She had a location. Just below was a heavy blast door under an unlit awning, pressed between bright, blinking ads. Indigo had picked a good hiding spot. There were a few windows too small to crawl through (or blast out of) and others shut with welded durasteel. No obvious way in except the front door. A fortress. She leaned back against the wall of her perch a few stories up and took her helmet off to wipe away the sweat. Fires a block over were close enough she felt the heat. Indigo wasn't coming out of hiding without some very tempting bait. The shouts and gunfire felt closer.

She had an idea. A bad idea.

***

The micro-missiles from her shoulder made a lot of noise upon impact but the door remained intact.

"Knock-knock."

Shae stood in the middle of the street.

A heavy clank followed by the slow squeal of unoiled metal. The door slowly slid open.

Indigo's armor had changed since she saw him last. Polished. A few more unnecessary embellishments. Credits looked good on him.

"Shae Vizla."

"Sharp as ever, Indigo."

"I had nothing to do with that attack on the Spirit of Vengeance. Nothing."

"Word is Huttbreaker doesn't agree."

"She was just looking for an excuse to come at me. We had a disagreement about how things should run here."

Indigo's people were filing out from behind him. Armed, armored, and waiting for the go ahead to cut Shae down.

"You love credits more than honor." Indigo bristled at Shae's words. "Bottom line is, Dar'manda soldiers were paid to board my ship and attack my people. Explain that."

"You've been out too long, maybe you didn't hear. Dar'manda is big now. Crews have their own territories, different objectives." A few shouts and gunfire a block away turned the heads of his people. A haze was forming and the smell of burning oil and melting plastic was clear even through her filters.

"You had a piece of it." She leveled her pistol at him. Several rifles were raised in response.

Through the smoke, Shae counted five. She guessed another half dozen that she couldn't see.

"Drop it." Indigo said, raising his rifle at her. If someone knew what they were doing, the chance of missing her at this range was remote. Shae raised her hands, one still clasped around her blaster. "I said drop it, Shae, or this gets bloody." She dropped the blaster.

Indigo knew what he was doing.

"She moves, kill her." Indigo swaggered up to Shae. His shiny and expensive rifle casually looped over his shoulder once again.

"Was this your plan?" He chuckled. "You come here, ask some questions, and leave?"

"It worked before."

"You've lost a step after all this time."

"Maybe." This all would have been so different not too long ago. A barely controlled chaos that she walked away from when she got what she came for. Shae looked past Indigo to the line of his soldiers. Bad idea or not, she was committed. "Humor me: who put Dar'manda and Heta's group in the same room?"

"You want those to be your last words?"

"Call it a last request."

"Just so you know, Vizla, I've scrambled the comms. I can put you down and deny everything. Why would I give you the name of my guy?"

"So, you do have a guy."

"Of course. He came to me first," he bragged. Indigo couldn't help himself. "Heta Kol and her crazy cult were paying very well." He sighed. "Couldn't do it. I've got a good thing here. I didn't need to mess with the real Mandalorians."

He knew. Her lips curled back in rage. Not just the broker who signed up the mercenaries, he knew enough about the job to want to steer clear. The veneer of civilization disappeared.

"You worm." The frost in her voice could have extinguished the fires for blocks.

Though he had his rifle out, though his people had their weapons ready, it didn't matter. Twin palm blasters appeared in her hands and the two men on either side of Indigo sprouted blood and smoke with a bang. The shock didn't last a heartbeat as Shae kicked Indigo in the chest, sending him teetering backwards. She dove behind a parked speeder as a volley of return fire erupted.

Indigo was coughing hard, pushing people in front of him as he staggered back.

An orange streak and explosion knocked Indigo and his remaining people to the street. The shockwave shattered every window along the block. A moment of silence before groans and curses filled the air, they slowly began to regain their feet as dust swirled. Everyone heard the familiar click of rifles, slug-throwers, and blasters being readied through the painful ringing.

"Freeze!"

Shae was wrong. She had figured she saw five people and guessed maybe another half-dozen she couldn't see on the rooftops. The reality was five plus another twenty, maybe thirty. She guessed none of them were happy with Indigo. The guy who fired the explosive was awkwardly reloading. She put her hands up. Enthusiasm and nerves made for heavy trigger fingers.

"Put your weapons down!" It was the ex-bartender. "Indigo…? You… you tell ‘em to put them down." His voice didn't crack. Good kid. Shae never caught his name.

Indigo started to speak; somebody blasted a hole next to his feet. More cursing.

"You better do what he says," Shae said, her hands still up. "Someone might get lucky and hit you."

Indigo looked over the rows of people with loaded weapons aimed at him. Miners, technicians, merchants, buyers, and all manner of regular people. His anger ebbing into dangerous calm.

"Okay, okay, everybody relax." He nodded to his people. "Guns down. We'll work this out." He set his shiny rifle down and his people carefully followed. "Happy?"

The ex-bartender looked at Shae. She nodded. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to ask him if he had some pals who had a problem with Indigo.

"Yeah, okay, we're happy."

"I'm learning it pays to make friends, Indigo." Shae made a show of dusting herself off. "Now, the only reason I didn't shoot you is because I need the name of that broker. Who got Heta her army?" The two men she'd shot bled and writhed on the street.

Indigo looked at the guns pointed in his direction. The smoke had thickened, and the fires were closer.

"Gauss. The broker's name is Gauss." He motioned to take a step closer, but Shae's palm pistols appeared.

"You're never going to find him!" he spat.

"Nobody hides from me for long." Shae picked up her dropped blaster and jammed it into its holster.

"You put these people up to this, Shae. I promise you, someone will pay."

Shae picked up Indigo's expensive rifle, inspected it, and slung it over her shoulder.

A dry, slithering voice was heard. "Yes, someone will pay."

A reptilian figure was silhouetted in the rising flames. Two cold, blue-green eyes took in the chaotic scene.

"Huttbreaker," Shae said. The final word in Mek-Sha had arrived to sort this out herself. Impressive.

There was a ripple of unease among the rioters with weapons. Huttbreaker raised her hand. Immediate silence. She stepped forward.

"Indigo, we will talk of Dar'manda. We will talk of peace in my streets, of trouble you brought, and the cost you will bear."

Indigo started to protest. Huttbreaker glared him still.

"I'll leave you to it," Shae said, turning to leave.

"And you, Mandalore the Avenger," Huttbreaker's eyes blazed. Shae stopped. "I thank you for the leverage over this one –" She pointed to Indigo. "…but grace my streets with fire again, and he will have his revenge. Clear?"

"Clear."

The ex-bartender was at the edge of the crowd. She nodded, and he smiled in return. Shae started for her ship.

Heta, I'm coming for you.

Silent and quick.

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