Tondel’s chambers were in the underbelly of the arena complex. It wasn’t far from where I encountered Bru Cie. The gladiator quarters should have been a bustle of activity being fighting season, but the passageways around Tondel Moss’ room were strangely empty. I got the distinct feeling that this was the undesirable neighborhood. For Geonosis, that was saying a lot.

His door wasn’t locked, but it did stick when I opened it. Sand imbedded in the lubricating grease fouling the door mechanism. If that were the only way in or out, it would have slowed the killer’s escape. As it was, it delayed me seeing the gruesome scene.

The room was fashioned from open space between machines that operated doors and devices in the arena above. It was poorly lit and hazy with a thin smoke. The smoke was a subtle blend of ozone and heat stressed metal, with just a hint of burned flesh.

I could not see the body from the entrance, but as I entered the space, I got the feeling I was not alone. I reached for my blaster, when the door behind me let out an exasperated gasp like it was being forced open. I whirled on my feet, and aimed at the doorway. It was empty. The portal closed itself, again.

I spun back around, and burst into the space. I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, so I aimed at it. Again, there was only empty space. The decrepit machines were throwing odd, dancing shadows in the wisps of smoke. It was just the light playing tricks on me. From the middle of the space, I could see that the main door was not the only way in, but I was alone—alone with what remained of Tondel Moss.

The gladiator’s body was pinned to a machine. There was a slight blue glow about his head. A long metal cylinder—the hilt of a lightsaber—protruded from his face. It almost looked as though he was kneeling; his legs were buckled under him. His arms dangled, one at his side and one with his hand in his lap.

I moved closer to examine him.

He hung limply from the weapon hilt. The hilt, and not the blade, was holding him up by the hole cut in his head. The body was only partly dressed. It was wearing Tondel Moss’s fighting clothes (I confirmed that later from the betting form), but not all of the clasps were closed, and several straps were askew. His arms and hands were covered with wounds and scars in various stages of healing, but none of them bores the distinctive cauterization inflicted by a lightsaber.

The blade of the weapon pulsed and crackled inside the gladiator’s skull. My nose crinkled at the smell of burned flesh and brain. A bright blue light cascaded from the buried weapon, washing over the gladiator’s slack lower jaw, illuminating his remaining teeth. It was eerie and ghost-like. He wasn’t simply pinned by the weapon. A rough hole was cut through his face, destroying it.

A fresh wave of ode d’ charred flesh escaped the wound as I retracted the pulsing blue blade from the gladiator’s head. He fell with a slump to the tiled floor. The damage to the face was complete. If I didn’t know who it was—if he wasn’t wearing Tondel Moss’s clothes—it would be impossible to identify the body by sight.

Above him, there was a deep channel cut into the metal of the machine where he was pinned. It was less than a meter long. It seemed he had been standing when he was killed. The weight of his body had pulled on the hilt, carving the channel, slowly lowering him into the kneeling posture I found him in. It was hard to know for sure without reconstructing the scene, but the channel told me he had been dead less than a half hour.

I tucked the murder weapon into my coat and turned my attention to the body on the ground. He was muscular, obviously a good and experienced fighter. Even in death, one of his hands was curling to make a fist. The other was splayed open with outstretched fingers. No, I realized it wasn’t a fist. He had been holding something. His two smallest fingers were curled, still, but the others had been pried open. Someone took whatever he was holding after he died.

The straps of his costume were askew and not all of them were buckled properly. It looked, at first, as though someone had dressed him after he died. It was obvious someone had searched him already. I did anyway. There were hidden pockets and sheathes for weapons, but they were empty. Nothing was concealed within the scantiness of his attire—nothing, at all. His injuries showed his long career. Some had received expert attention. They were healed by droid surgeons and the finest bacta available. Others looked as though they had been packed with antibiotic dirt and wrapped in cloth. I recognized that kind of life. It was the ups and downs of financial success. When things were good, they were good. When things were bad, he soldiered on, only knowing one way to be.

With him on the floor, I saw he had a fresh set of scratches across his back. They were fresh and had not been treated at all. They were thin and long in straight lines—claw marks. I checked the schedule on the back of the odds sheet. Tondel had not fought any creatures lately. The scratches were not made in the arena. They were groups of three parallel lines, moving down his back, radiating away from his spine. It looked like he was embracing whatever—oh! It was suddenly obvious how he got those. Apparently, it was an “up” time for Tondel Moss. Unfortunately, I would not be able to bet on him.

I looked one last time at his face. His upper jaw, nose, and eyes were all cut and burned away. The lower jaw was oddly intact, as though it were open when the lightsaber was thrust through his head. He had only one wound in his last fight, the one that killed him. His open hand was motioning for someone to stop. Did he recognize the danger? Was his last moment spent begging for his life? The years of abuse his body endured, his profession, and the odds on him winning his next fight suggested that was not likely. It left me with only one conclusion: Tondel Moss knew his killer.


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