A Collection of Fan Fiction from WoW, SWG and more!

The Heist (Aayahpoy’shiri, Koyi, Xephron Tide – SWTOR)

(Another Forum RP reposted with permission.  It’s not something that will be completed, but… it’s done and posted for my darling Arklem.  She claims my writing inspired her to make a smuggler character, being the epic roleplayer she is, I bow to this compliment.)

It’s always the days when you need a blaster to the lekku that the comm chimes. Today, was another of those types of days. I’ve been having them a lot lately. I had this passenger on the Vatak’ultuka; a hitchhiker. He explained it as ‘planet-side blues’. If it didn’t linger when I hit the black these days, it might fit.

“Whatcha hearin’?”

“Nothing but the rain, pelire.” The sultry, husk of a voice answered me. Neikei’s voice. She always had work for me, the times she didn’t she had gossip. Spacer gossip had a tendency to serve as leads into new contracts. Some poor peedunky of a smuggler drops his load; someone has to pick up the slack.

“Finally get the gaggle of chubas out of there?” It was our code, how we knew to conduct the conversation. Business and friendship were hard to keep separate with Neikei.

“Long ago, quiet bunch they were. A contract has come down that caught my eye. It’s Black Sun, but I figure with the most recent collection of credits on your lekku; that won’t hinder you.”

Gida. She shot when she should’ve stayed her trigger finger. I had never seen my life flash before my eyes before; that day I saw it twice. The first time when I saw that Hutt transport explode. The second was when Sally told me about the bounty on the crew of my ship.

“What’s the job?”

“Little of this, little of that… mostly things you’ll have to get creative to solve.” Creative. I hated it when people used that word. Just tell me it could be the job to end jobs. I’m a big girl.

“The pay?”

Neikei knew this was my weak spot. I’m a smuggler afterall. I live to funnel more credits into my ship. I’d take the million credit job knowing it could be my last. Having enough credits to keep flying and staying out of the hands of slavers is a damn nice prospect.“Twenty-five thousand.”

“What?!”

She had to be lying to me. “I’m transmitting the data to you now. Take company with you on this one.”

I checked my datapad when her image faded away. The job was far from simple. The Sith had intercepted a couple of weapons crates; prototypes bound for Noghri hands. All Neikei had been able to give me was a crate number with access codes and the name of the smuggler who got boarded. I’d have to track it down and steal it back.

I didn’t like this.

I’d have to get creative.

Truth be told, I believe I do my best when I’m creative. But there’s plenty of lies we tell ourselves. I like playing it safe despite my business. Fewer eyes I have on me, the happier I am. This hasn’t been the case in recent days. I’d leave Gida out of it for now.

I’d have to take Koyi. Picking up the little androgynous runt has been a karkin’ boon. I’d be a schutta if I didn’t utilize her slicing skills.

Another Smuggler or two, maybe a bounty hunter. If wishes were nunas.

I had to deal with the Sith on this one.

“Xephron, I’ve got a tale for you. Where are you?” Only comm I figured to make. In a Castle surrounded by Jedi, I go to him. He thinks like a cop, with that big damn hero complex. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it’s just fun to look at.

Xephron, I’ve got a tale for you. Where are you?’

The instant she walked into my life, I knew she was trouble. Beautiful eyes, a saunter that caught any man’s attention, and Lekku that went on for days. The only thing missing from this trouble ridden broad was that she wasn’t wearing a red dress and asking me to save her.

No, Poy was the kind of gal that that didn’t need to scream for attention to get it. Her very presence commanded a room the way a famous actress did when she entered. Like the world was pushed into slow motion so that all eyes could be on her, just to savor the moment. And when the moment passed you wondered what it was exactly that you were doing with your life.

That’s what it was about her, she was full of life. Life that pumped into the veins of a cryptic soldier like me.

Yeah, I had a thing for her. We’d been together for a couple weeks and it’d been a supernova. All the touchy feely emotions that people like me are foreign to. People like me don’t get chances like that. But just like any real supernova, you burn the hottest right before you snuff out. Our fling had lasted just long enough for us both to realize that not even a Jedi in training could outrun reality, no matter how strong they were. Things got a little awkward for a while, but in no time flat we were back together, the best of friends.

Sometimes she dragged me along some half baked mission or contract of hers. One task or another orchestrated by the horn-headed Niki Sark. A Zabrak with as much fire as my lightsaber had power….

…And I always kept my blade charged.

I could only wonder now, looking at the comlink that was calling my name, only wonder if today would be the day that the contract proved too great, too difficult.

Would today be the day that I died? You never knew with Poy. Never knew from day to day, what minute or hour would be your last. It was either a treasure hunt for bunny fluffer slippers for some Hutt or another, or jumping off a sharp cliff without a repulsor pack…

What would it be this time? Would today be the day? I guess there was really one way to find out…

“This is Tide. I’m in the Castle Barracks. About to sleep… What do you need?”

I knew it was trouble…

Right from the instant she walked into my life…

“This is Tide. I’m in the Castle Barracks. About to sleep… What do you need?”

I could hear the exhaustion in his voice when he answered me. He sounded that same way in the early mornings. Always after Schutta woke him up; he and that weasel hated each other. At least they had a tendency to pretend their dislike.

“I’ve got a bottle of T’ssolok and a little red dress if you want to come out to the Vatak.” There were some things a man wouldn’t turn down. Yeah, I could hear each grating hour of training under the layers of his voice. He had been pushing himself. I didn’t know the full extent. A girl has to keep herself busy; picking up a pair of crew members made the need for credits more important.

I was only taking one of them this time.

And hopefully him.

I didn’t need to offer the booze or the dress. A simple notification of a new contract would’ve sufficed but, this one, might be touchy.

He’d know it was a tactic.
He’d know he wouldn’t like it. Kark, I didn’t like it.
But it was credits.

It was an adventure.

Koyi lay stretched out on her back in the escape pod she’d claimed as her home, gesturing at the floating holographic screen with a gloved hand. The dash of the pod was in disarray with panels missing and wires stripped and exposed; clips, extensions and new ports snaked out in a tangled mess from the previously hollow space. Some of the many wires fed into the holographic projector and the transmitter for her gloves. Schutta slept on her chest, apparently undisturbed by the constant motion of the young Twi’lek.

Koyi frowned and spread the fingers of one hand, enlarging one of the visible windows. It seemed the posting of the bounty on the Vatak’ultuka’s had received a lot of hits in the last day or so. She ran a scan back to the origins of the queries and pulled up the list, flicking the previous window into the side of the pod to shatter and fade to pixel dust. A lot of hits from Nar Shaddaa; that was to be expected. A good number from Alderaan, Coruscant and Ord Mantell. The rest were scattered among the rest of the usual joints. A finger twirl revealed system scans…mostly public networks with too many terminals to trace- ports and other hotspots. Some traces from portable devices that jumped on and off the grid; bounty hunters in motion. A few queries redirected through other networks and bounced around. Koyi grinned at those. Some pedunkies would never learn that bouncing your signal around only drew more attention to you, not less.

The Tyrian sat up suddenly, ejecting Schutta with a yelp and passing through the holograph. She pulled it down in front of her and grinned from ear to ear as she narrowed the results down to high-traffic public networks and intermittent connections on Alderaan, showing the results in real time as the numbers changed. One by one she flicked individual networks out of the window, filling the pod with tiny bits of pixellated rain. The remaining results she grabbed and brought to the center view. A search by location further narrowed the list until the found what she wanted: the public access network of a major spaceport. This was going to be fun.

The googly-eyed creature cocked its head and peered curiously at the translucent blue window that appeared in front of his snout as Koyi shifted windows around, opening up a black screen. She rolled backward to stand on her hands, grabbing her sabacc deck with one foot and plugging a cable into a dash socket with the other. Back on her rear she grabbed two cards out of the deck and slid them into the box now plugged into the dash and bounced happily as they lit up and the screen began to fill with text and numbers.”One…two…blue!” The color of the screen text and the glow of the cards changed accordingly, and her hands began to work.

Split the screen; scrolling text on the left, command lines on the right. Wait for it; data sweeper. Go now, keep your head down and your eyes up. Dead end port. Encrypted, but basic; maintenance logs…pass. Schedules…on the right track. Database, no. Too difficult to fiddle without raising alarms and getting a traceback. Display- there! Main floor. Cantina screens. Rest areas. The list spilled out before her, showing the comings and goings of all the listed craft at that port.

Drag in the other window and condense the list by matching paths; bounty hunters and the smuggler on hard times wouldn’t be watching the public transit screens, they’d have their datapads set to notifications for freelance transports. There. Kill the window, pull up the list, back into the grid for camera access…
Another display opened with a small tab view of each exterior camera. She quickly narrowed it down to the dock bays and compared the numbers on the videos to those on the manifest listing, shutting them both down to show only independent transports. Perfect. She tapped furiously at empty air and give a swirl of her fingers and sat back to admire her work.

She collapsed everything but the video display of the dock she requested and pulled out the cards, shuffling them back into the deck. The nondescript transport’s bay remained empty for a while until the announcement screen changed to show the Vatak’ultuka listed as docking in that bay. One, two, three…twelve…twenty…the impish Twi’lek grinned from ear to ear watching the various shapes run in and look around in confusion, a few of the bolder ones going so far as to enter the ship before leaving. “Lots of sparky mynocks pinging round the flower shop…”

She’d have to tell Poy Poy about this. If they were going to be leaving any time soon they might want to think carefully about their exit…

Schutta peeked out of the escape pod, hovering in the air. After a moment he was followed by the purple head upon which he was perched. Koyi looked around the cargo bay and sniffed. “Poy?” Hearing no response she shrugged and scampered down the hall to the cockpit. She skidded to a stop and proudly held out one glove, palm up. “Poy Poy! Check it out.”

Aayahpoy’shiri stared blankly at her and blinked. “What?” Koyi’s smile faded as she looked down and realized she’d run out of range of the projector. “Koyiberightbackholdon!” A purple flash disappeared the way it had come with Schutta holding on for dear life. In a few seconds she slid back into the room and jammed a battery pack into the projector. It flickered to life and displayed a video screen held aloft in the palm of her glove.

The Tolian crossed her arms and peered at the screen. “What am I looking at, exactly?”
“Koyi wanted to know how many people were on our bounties. She told the Alderaan port computers to tell everyone that we were there.” She grinned and flourished her fingers, letting the dock bay video play. “And that was just here…Koyi didn’t even try Nar Shaddaa!” Koyi flicked the screen away with the tip of her finger and giggled as it bounced around the cockpit before shattering and fading out. The purple runt flopped on the floor, peeling Schutta off her head and transferring the weasel to her arms as she waited for Poy’s response.

As odd as that girl is, she’s brilliant. Picking her up off Sally was the best move I’d made in a long time. Freeing her and watching her remain with me; was some of the best luck I’ve come across in some time. If there’s a way to locate something, slice something, or in this case… give out false records; Koyi is on it. I’m mostly certain it’s all just a game to her.

Watching her flop onto the floor reminded me that under all that brilliance, she was still a child of sorts. More like an eccentric teenager, but you get the picture. “Koyi.” I began to tell her, trying to keep any form of patronizing out of my voice. “We’re on Alderaan. We need to leave Alderaan in the morning.”

“Dock us in Coruscant.” I motioned to the glove she wore. I needed to be sure that I wouldn’t wake up to find myself on Coruscant. I had a feeling most of our answers would be on Nar Shaddaa; at least for now. When you’re running Black Sun cargo and get boarded by the Sith; where would you hide?

I moved past her. I had told Xephron something about a red dress. If he decided to accept the offer, it’d be prudent to have the damned thing on. “Tell Gida to behave while we’re gone.”

Might as well remind the massive heavy-weapons Twi’lek that she didn’t need to almost blow up the hanger a second time.

I looked down at the datachip in my hand and looked back. “Catch.” A quick warning was all Koyi needed to catch the chip. “See what you can find out about this freighter and who might be interested in it right now.”

Now, about that dress…

T’ssolok and a little red dress. Poy certainly knows how to entertain. As tempting as it sounded, Poy knew she didn’t need to play games in order to get me to go along with one of her schemes. Her wearing revealing clothing around me was not something knew. Hell she was a former dancer, she knew how to use her body to get results. It meant little to me, but if she was trying to make sure I came along, it meant that she was nervous. She was pulling out stops to ensure that she had Jedi backup.

To which, I didn’t know if I should be insulted or flattered. She knew my weaknesses, and falling for a woman because of the clothes she wore was not one of them. She knew as well as I did that the dress was just a sign to tell me that she needed me. Her way of silently shouting for help.

What kind of man would I be if I didn’t give it? And in the meantime… why not enjoy the view?

The fire between Poy and I was gone. That ship had sailed, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy eyeing her up. Sometimes I think she intentionally placed herself in situations where she could tempt me to look past a low hanging shirt, or at some tightly fitting pants.

A man could have worse ways to pass his time I suppose.

“Save the liquor, wear the dress. I’ll be around soon. Let me pack.”

She really didn’t know how well I knew her. Any time she wanted me to come to the Vatak, I knew we were going somewhere. Going somewhere meant I needed gear and rations, as I did not drink that fungus tea stuff that she lived on whilst out in the void.

It only took me a few minutes to get my sparse gear together. Blasters, Lightsaber, travel pack full of rations and supplies… My boots, and my belt that hung half the crap aforementioned. My Kama was of course already around my waist. I didn’t leave without that bit.

And I couldn’t forget my lucky gloves. Sometimes I could tell if I would need them based on what she told me. But if she was breaking out the skimpy red dress to get me to tag along..? Best believe there was going to be a fight somewhere along the way. And a serious one if she was asking for me specifically. Whether she knew it or not, all of this was evident in the single sentence that she’d poured into my ear like warm honey.

With all being accounted for, I took my leave…

…and made my way to possibly the last day of my life.

Again.

The dock lights were on outside the hanger. I liked to keep them on when I knew someone was on their way. It gives a sense of welcoming. I’m damn sure Xephron Tide knows he’s welcome anytime. There was something smug to his voice. He understood.

Normally I’m the last person to talk about who got away. Love is another form of slavery. Your life is dictated by the actions and consequences of another. Look at friendships, comraderie, bands of brothers. You see it. Romantic love is short leash and a shock collar. Despite this, Xephron Tide is the one who got away.

Not too far though.

Just without the short leash and the shock collar.

I catch a glimpse of myself out of the corner of my eye when I pass the mirror in my quarters. Little red dress. A wise purchase on Naboo; it could actually hide that I was made of legs and curves but seemed to lack any ability to present cleavage. If I’m going to ask a friend to come commit suicide on a contract with me, I need to look good.

Xephron Tide never leaves a girl waiting. I was still fighting with the backstrap of my stiletto when I heard his footsteps on the ramp. So much for appearing graceful and sexy.

I almost stumbled over myself when I saw him. I didn’t fathom how well he understood me.

He looked like the Sith Army was just on the other side of the castle compound.

“Want to kill some Sith?”

All I ask.

Okay, I might be giving him a sheepish and all too innocent look as well.

The way she moved, even if subtlety around me wasn’t really her strong point, it drove me wild sometimes. But this was one of those instances where the Jedi training came in handy.

Her words reached my ears, but I chose not to hear them for a moment. I didn’t want to spoil her spotlight. I find myself leaning down, dropping my bag on the ramp and letting my fingertips trail down her calf, all the way down to the stiletto that she hadn’t had time to secure.

My fingers worked over the shoe like they’d done so before. To which I neither confirm nor deny if asked.

“Kill Sith?”

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. This was definitely serious.

“I never aim to kill anyone Poy. But sometimes it happens. Comes with the territory.”

The territory… and what was that exactly? I always find myself in battle, that’s what the territory is. It’s a place where I put myself because it is almost quite literally all I know. People settle into things they like at an early age, how they are brought up. Some people are born to be artists, some are born to be dancers. Some still are born to be architects, teachers, security forces, pilots, speeder jocks… the list goes on. I’m no different.

I was born to be a Jedi Guardian. I was raised as a soldier, so it was in my blood. Combat is just… what I am good at. I could no more write a symphony than I could pluck a star from the sky. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the music when I heard it.

My mind was up in the clouds. And one word had brought it back down.

Sith.

This was going to be a dangerous one. It could very well be the day I died. In which case, I had to be certain. There was no way a man could live with knowledge of his end coming, and have regrets.

As I stood up, my hands found Poy’s waist and slipped around to the small of her back, pulling her body against mine. Before she could react, my lips were against hers. It was a futile thing, but something we sometimes indulged for old times sake.

I pulled away and without another word, my bag was floating back up to my waiting hand, as I slipped into the ship proper. My voice echoed through the halls as I called back.

“Never know when the last kiss will be muchi. This has last chance written all over it. You better not have removed my food from the galley again… We are going to have issues if all you have here is that fungus osik”

It was just like being home again.

“I never aim to kill anyone Poy. But sometimes it happens. Comes with the territory.”

The Jedi never aimed to kill. Everything could plausibly be saved and brought from the Dark to the Light. Despite not being someone to shoot first and ask questions later, I still found that to be a bit too passive. If someone’s firing at me, I’m going to fire back. Lucky for them if I hit nothing. And to be honest, with my aim, I’m probably not shooting much.

Tiocou Dejan had been three lucky shots.

“Koyi is running the information on the Smuggler this all started with. The Black Sun had secured a case of prototype weapons. I believe a new series of ion rifles that were headed to the Sith. Smuggler who secured them routed the shipment through a transport service. The Smuggler who took the contract got boarded, he’s probably drowning his sorrows and keeping his head off Black Sun sensors.”

I had to talk. Even the light touch of his fingertips against my calf was enough to make me shiver.

“We need to get the crate back and deliver it into Black Sun hands.”

His lips were against mine. I closed my eyes. That sweet warmth and undeniable electricity. Why did he have to want a legacy?

“Never know when the last kiss will be muchi. This has last chance written all over it. You better not have removed my food from the galley again… We are going to have issues if all you have here is that fungus osik”

I stood there, stunned. With one motion he had knocked every thought out of my head. Every thought I could’ve thought about having. I stammered. My words were lost to me.

“Osik, what the kark is osik? If you mean opik, your pronounciation is wrong. And if you mean opik, you better be talking about the fungus.” I followed him, the sounds of my heels against the grated floor annoying me just a bit to remind me why I didn’t wear heels on starships. “Of course I still have your food unless Koyi ate it.”

“And..” I look at the escape pod door that Koyi had coloured and decorated. The couch. The mess I called my quarters. These locations distracted my brain from pointing out just how possible it was for Koyi to eat anything. Even Schutta’s food was at risk. “Where are you going to sleep?”

“If you want to fully cash in on that last chance cube…”

I left it at that.

You didn’t have to be lovers to enjoy a mutually beneficially relationship.

Koyi stumbled into the ship and peeked around. No one visible. That suited her just fine…she only wanted to sleep. She managed to drag herself to a table and slumped down in a chair. The bag with her normal clothes she dumped unceremoniously on the floor; the other odds and ends she fished out and tossed on the table. Her fake sabacc deck, a pack of deathsticks, an ID card for one Kelran Dregger, a sleep inducer and the empty charges, and of course her datapad. She looked around for something to write on or with and finding neither sighed and set the datapad to display mode. She typed the word ‘Coruscant’, the next day’s date and a dock number and time and hit the button for holographic display before her head hit the table. She didn’t care that she hadn’t changed out of the little black dress, or that she hadn’t checked on the data chip scan. Right now she only wanted to sleep. Without further ado she passed out and began to snore.

Rolling the chance cube huh? Tempting. It really was. I just didn’t know if something like that would open a can of hungry gundarks into my life. I don’t know if I could handle such a thing emotionally. Something like that was supposed to mean two friends that were attracted to each other…. Well, yeah. I’d leave that question hanging.

Problem with the plan was that my feelings for Poy had never really abated. I just didn’t want to lead her on into a life of love-hate. It was funny though, no matter what I tried to do to keep her safe and free from combat… she always seemed to gravitate back to it. She’d had a need for me and my lightsaber more and more lately. The more dangerous the contract, the more weapons she brought along. But she was in the life now I guess. No stopping that ball when it started rolling down the hill. So in retrospect I guess the only thing I could do was go along and make sure she didn’t get killed.

“What do you mean, “where am I sleeping?” … I’m sleeping in the bed. Are you trying to treat me as a third wheel or what?”

The smirk that came to my lips told her exactly what I’d meant. It took a certain degree of control not to say, “Our bed”. Whatever happened from there, happened. I wouldn’t stop being a Jedi Poy wouldn’t stop being… Poy. Things would happen as they would.

“Osik is Mandalorian by the way. I’ll let you look that one up later.”

I made my way around the familiar ship over to the bedroom and looked at the crap piled up on the floor. For someone who dealt in transportation of goods, Poy kept her own area’s messy as anything.

The Force was my ally however, and with a simple wave of my hand, all of the scattered crap on my side of the room swept back over to her side. Satisfied with my work, I nodded and tossed my bag down onto the bed. Following that I unstrapped my blasters and tossed them down as well, so that I was left with my lightsaber and tac belt.

It felt like old times. But old times was something that wasn’t necessarily good for my emotional disposition.

“Are we leaving soon or are you thinking about more people coming in?”

“What do you mean, “where am I sleeping?” … I’m sleeping in the bed. Are you trying to treat me as a third wheel or what?”

That look. I had seen it more than once before. It was a look that could only serve to earn a wink. “Technically, you are. This is Koyi and I’s home now.”

Home. That’s exactly what the Vatak’ultuka is. It’s not just a Corellian XS Stock Light Freighter, it’s a home. A caravan in the stars if I wanted to get really corny about it. The hull of ship was far more than a means of business.

In truth, it felt more like a home when he came back aboard.

“Osik is Mandalorian by the way. I’ll let you look that one up later.”

I rolled my eyes and again hauled after him, halfway skipping to catch myself on the couch. Stiletto’s and grated floors. Not the best of combinations.

“Now you’re taking my trademark of unique language utilization. I se—Koyi?”

I must’ve blinked a dozen times. I fought with my disbelief. My little awkward bundle of hyperactivity was wearing… a dress. The scent of alcohol and spice was pungent. There were some things I didn’t want to ask. Something’s I couldn’t ask. The girl surprised me.
I glanced at her datapad. She had done it. We were on Coruscant, at least according to any official registry. Wonderful.

Knowing that the morning would promise work and having heard the racket of Xephron Tide shifting my cluttered mess, I slipped into my quarters. He looked like he had never actually left or my surprise at how quickly he could still make himself at home was greater than expected.

“Are we leaving soon or are you thinking about more people coming in?”

I closed the door behind me and crawled onto the center of my bed. I held the datapad out to him and flopped down to sit.

“I had planned to give Koyi some time to get a tracer on that last Smuggler who took the job. The rest of the information on the job is on the datapad. We’ve got quite the investigation ahead of us.”

I kicked my heels off and smiled up at him. It was one of those smiles; wickedly mischievous and well aware of the danger that tomorrow would bring.

A nod of my head was all I could really do. She was trouble for sure. The look in her eyes… 

She was gonna get me killed one day. Probably soon by the looks of it. But that’s what happens when a young fool like me falls for a hot thing like her. It was a love that could never be. I didn’t want things for her and she couldn’t give me the things I needed. But in the meantime, we had each others company, and sometimes it was enough to get us by.

Like today.

The love we shared was mutual but reserved. It would never get any farther than innuendo and a few times when our lips met. That’s all it could be. For both our sakes.

Trouble for sure. That was Poy. Guaranteed to get your mind twisted up. Not intentionally mind you but it happened more often than not.

For now, I was tired. We had a dangerous task ahead of us. And I had a scandalously clad Twi’lek in front of me. Two tasks. Two paths. The high road would have me sleeping soundly in the next five minutes.

For Poy though, I held up two fingers. My middle dropped, and the lock on the door clicked shut. The second dropped, and the lights went out.

Hey… I’m a Jedi. Not a saint…

I’ve always began my mornings with a cup of tea made with munch fungus. It’s about the only thing I tend to eat anymore other than protein bars. Life of the spacer. Quick and on the go.

Koyi was still snoring in the chair she had passed out in. I found myself staring at her as I cooled my tea. I couldn’t figure out where she had gotten the idea to acquire a dress. I’ll admit to being relieved that it wasn’t one of mine.

She’d wake soon.

I needed her awake.

My hand reached to pick up the cup of Caf I had prepared for Xephron. I somehow managed to make it back to my quarters without creating a mess; whilst carrying the two hot cups and having a strip of dried fruit between my teeth.

I left the door open.

I needed her awake. And as far as I was concerned, my spacer’s uniform was considered dressed.

With the cup of Caf set on the crate beside the bed and the datapad with the contract information set onto Xephron’s chest; I decided to make the most of the quiet. Times like these were becoming more and more rare. Infrequent chances to gather the mind.

I kept the outside world from my sanctuary. At least, I did for the most part.

I set my tea down outside these doors I had retrofitted awhile back to look like a false wall.

I never entered into my make-shift Temple with the adornments of the outside Galaxy. I had to maintain the ritual, make it a part of the mediation.

Clad in the sheer white robes of the Kiva’s and their Ai’jou’s, I stepped inside. I didn’t close myself in this time. Xephron and Koyi were both aware of my religious nature. They were apart of this heap of junk called home. We were all vunerable to each other.

My eyes closed.
The prayer was at my lips.
I centered my mind.

I did more than pray. I sought the trainings as an Oracle I had so long abandoned. I tried to ask for guidance on this contract.

Koyi stirred and stretched herself into some semblance of wakefulness. She’d come out of an interrupted dream, sure she could hear her mother singing to her, but of course she was on the Vatak’ultuka and all was quiet.

She padded over to the escape pod and peeled herself out of the dress, trading it for her usual odd attire. Vidscreens flickered as she passed and continued to run scans for any information they could use on this job.

Her nose sniffed the air and her body sleepily followed, leading her down the hall to Poy’s shrine and the tea sitting just outside. The girl simply stood there silently for a moment. She didn’t want to intrude.

After a moment she crept forward and sat down next to Poy, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging them. She rested her head against the smuggler and just sat there, quiet and still, humming her mother’s song under her breath.

Home is what you make it after all.

I felt the datapad on my chest, but it wasn’t time to wake up yet. I was floating in the wonderful dreams that Poy had left me in. Who knew how long we had been sleeping. It wasn’t long enough. Like any good dream, you just didn’t want to wake up and face the harsh nature of reality.

That is, until reality up and slaps you in the face.

The Force was tickling my mind, as it tended to do when I meditated. But the problem was that, I wasn’t meditating. I’d been sleeping. And as far as I could tell, the Force wasn’t coming from me.

My eyes shot open and my hand went to my lightsaber on the bedside stand. The presence I was feeling was not familiar to me. It didn’t feel hostile but… You never knew.

I’d had my pants on, but that was it. So I went hunting for the feeling in my mind half naked.

My feet stuck slightly to the deck plates but it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. Besides, I was looking for a potential threat on Poy’s ship.

The presence was getting closer as I inched along the corridor. I felt Koyi in there with Poy but that was it. The aura couldn’t have been coming from either of them.

Closer still. My nerves were getting tighter as I approached. But the part of the ship I was approaching had my brows narrow. Someone was in Poy’s sanctuary…and it wasn’t Poy.

I finally rounded the last corner and nearly dropped my lightsaber.

I only saw Poy and Koyi within.

“Is… there anyone else in here..?”

I felt her head against my shoulder. I could smell the remnants of spice and alcohol on her. It was hard not to quiet my prayer once my worship was complete. Nar Shadaa was our next move, my gut verified it. The reinforcement of that feeling brought on by my meditation only strengthened my resolve to open my eyes.

I kissed the top of Koyi’s head. “You need to hit the ‘fresher.” I whispered to her. My Albatross. Finding her had brought me a sense of luck and opportunity that I had lacked for some time. “You smell like an Aldera club. Good work.”
There was a warmth to my voice that her expression relayed back to me. That smile.

I leaned forward and kissed the feet of the statue in front of me before I stood to gather my clothing and change out of my temple garments.

“Is… there anyone else in here..?”

I must’ve given Xephron Tide the strangest of expression. Then again, he looked like he had seen a ghost.

“I’m sure Schutta is around here somewhere.”

I responded with a smile and moved past him to change. “I see you have an actual lightsaber in your hand.” A good observation to make whilst zipping up the front of my worn leather vest. It was more like a bodice but we won’t get into the technicalities.

“I’m going to secure us clearance to take off.”

I picked up my cup of tea to take a sip and make my way to the cockpit. “There’s some caf on the crate for you, Muchi!”
“There’s also some hot water left if you want tea, Koyi.”

Impossible. It was impossible. Utterly and completely. My mind just couldn’t grasp what it was being told. And if it were true, why hadn’t I noticed before?

I followed Poy shirtless down the hall, completely disinterested in the tea right now. She had to know. But why didn’t she say anything? As we made it to the cockpit, I continued to stare at the back of her head, as if the answer would just present itself blatantly.

“Poy… when…?”

I reached out into the great ocean of the Force and let it fill me up. The familiar sensation of weightlessness stretched to my every cell. I extended my awareness to Poy and nearly flinched.

In fact, I think I might have.

”I’ve been so blind…how you could have hidden such a thing for this long…”

My head shook slowly from side to side. My aura within the Force itself was strong. Now I was nowhere near Khavar’s level, but my power was not something to shake a fist at. But Poy… her aura within the Force was stronger than mine… This had to be some kind of joke, but I just don’t see how it could have been.

“How long have you known…?”

But even as she turned to face me, I knew from the expression on her face that she thought I had lost it. She really didn’t know…

I realized that my saber was still in my hand at this point. I hastily re-clipped it to my belt and sat in the co-pilots seat, turning the chair to face Poy head on.

“Aaya’poy… I can feel you in the Force… I never noticed before but… your presence is stronger than my own…”

My brows knit together in concentration, still feeling out the bubble of Force energy twisting around Poy. It was still there, sure as I was sitting there.

“You’re Force Sensitive Poy….”

“Poy… when…?”

I didn’t stop to look at Xephron until I was in my pilot’s seat. The look on his face remained, except now it looked a bit like a Sith was dancing on his grave.

“Qa?”

It was the best word I could conjure. My brow was knit in that questioning expression that looks slightly ridiculous on anything but a concerned a mothers face. His lightsaber was still clutched in his hand as if Koyi and I were threats to his well being. In any other scenario, I’d have to say that were a threat to sanity.

”I’ve been so blind…how you could have hidden such a thing for this long…”

I shook my head, how could he have been blind to it? I only comm him anytime I’m getting ready to leave the planet. I must’ve been the peedunky who believed it was mutual. I didn’t care to look at him anymore, I subconsciously and perhaps consciously snorted and pulled my goggles down over my eyes. Alderaan tends to be a bright planet and my poor eyes are a spacer’s eyes. Can see perfectly in the black of space but need alot of protection on the ground.

“It doesn’t take a Master to point out what’s obvious.”

It wasn’t meant to be heard. I was disgusted at myself. How could I have been so sloppy?

“How long have you known…?”

What did he want me to say? What sort of question was that?

“Since the day I met you.”

The murmur of words was the best I could conjure.

“Aaya’poy… I can feel you in the Force… I never noticed before but… your presence is stronger than my own…”
I uploaded the coordinates to Nar Shaddaa, I had made the trip often enough that almost every aspect of it was pre-planned in the Navi-comp. Despite being a woman who hates flying by the navi-comp, I tend to rely on it quite a bit. It gives me the freedom to meander my freighter. In today’s case it was going to allow me to see what the frotz Xephron was blathering about. I activated the auto-pilot and turned my chair around to face him.

“Aayahpoy. If you’re going to adopt this habit of calling me a Wing of Regret, then please, say it right.” I hated my given name. He knew this. “You’ve always been able to feel me, haven’t you Xeph?”

His brow furrowed. Mine furrowed with his, “I’m sorry Xephron. I should’ve told you rather than try to hide it. I’m i—“

“You’re Force Sensitive Poy….”

The words registered.

The expression on his face registered.

This had nothing to do with the fact that I was in love with him.

I raised a finger, “Koyi, what do you have on that Smuggler?” I called to the back of the ship. It wasn’t that the conversation needed to end, I just had no idea how to respond to it. You’re Force Sensitive. Great. It’s like I pulled a datachip out of the lottery and it read, ‘thirteen.’

What was I supposed to say?

“Great, thanks.”

I kept my focus on Xephron as I waited for Koyi. The freighter twisted up into the atmosphere and for once I wasn’t staring at my viewport.

Kelran Dregger took a drag from his cigar and tapped out the ashes before tossing back another drink. “Look, kid, don’t think I’m not enjoying your story- it’s great and all, it really is. But one little thing is bugging me.”

Koyi cocked her head at the human, confused. “Huh?”
“Is it really so hard for you to say ‘I’ or ‘me’? Just say it. ‘I’.”
“Kel.”
“No, not me, you.”
“Koyi.”

I sighed and took another drag. “You know what, I’ll just figure it out. Keep going.”I’d already lost her though. I could almost see little gears turning in that strange purple head of hers, and that’s when I understood Koyi. Computers were her game- everything she did related back to how she interacted with them. If one program doesn’t work, you try another. After a while she smirked and sat back in the chair, and I could tell I was talking to the smooth girl in the dress, not the awkward kid in…whatever the hell passed for her wardrobe. Mind you, the little rat’s not even two meters tall in heels. I’ve got a good thirty centimeters on her at least, and maybe fifty, sixty kilos. But sometimes that girl gives me the creeps. Anyway, she was getting back to the story.

Despite what Kel or anyone else might think, I have my lucid moments. Few and far between, maybe, but that’s beside the point. And how we came to be sharing a table in a bar while I filled him in is another story entirely.

I quirked a brow- well, you know what I mean- at Poy and Xephron’s exchange, but it was clear she was trying to avoid it for now. Fair enough. I had what few results the scan had picked up ready anyway. “The ship docked at Nar Shaddaa. Koyi couldn’t find it though. It might be gone.”
I shrugged and poked my head back around the corner, looking for something to make tea in. I could probably take Xephron’s tea without him ever noticing but that might not be such a good idea at the moment.

Instead I found a strip of dried fruit and popped it in my mouth before re-emerging. “If Koyi can’t find it, it might be shut down or someone played with the logs. Or erased them.” I was a little unnerved that I couldn’t find anything past the docking clearance. I was a little out of it when I put in the scan parameters, sure, but it should have pulled up more than that.

Until I got into the system manually that was all we were going to find. And I’d have to be on Nar Shaddaa to do that anyway. But if the logs had been changed, someone would probably be keeping an eye out for us or anyone else looking for that ship or the cargo it lost.

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting any opposition. I’d burn that bridge when we got to it.

My eyes went wide. How could she just brush something like that aside? Something so life altering significant? It wasn’t as if I’d just told her that human blood was red, or that the sky on most worlds was blue.

I’d said that she was able to touch the Force. The energy that bound every living cell in the galaxy together. The life blood of… life!

Okay… so I wasn’t the best at being descriptive. But hey. This was the Force we were talking about. There isn’t exactly a clearly defined picture of it and what it can do. And for Poy to shrug off that she was stronger than I was was…. Aggravating. I could move speeders with my current level of mastery. With time and training, Poy would probably be able to move her freighter with her mind. If she so chose. But not to even acknowledge the fact that she could feel the Force was mind boggling to me.

It just didn’t compute as to how someone could just shrug off the most awesome responsibility in the galaxy.

It was the ability to rule or govern, conquer or save.

At current, it looked like Poy was simply content to be. Which fit her style perfectly. But this destiny rarely called upon us at a time of our choosing. Maybe she’d come around later.

“I… you need to think about this Poy… The Force isn’t something you just shrug off once you’re aware of it. It’s something that doesn’t go away if you will it.”

But something else was stuck in my mind now as well. I narrowed my eyes at her.

“Wait… what were you hiding?”

Koyi’s response from somewhere off in the ship barely registered as one of the things Poy had been about to say lodged itself into my suspicion.

The look on his face astounded me, I couldn’t comprehend the level of aggravation in his gaze. I could feel my lekku shifting in response to each of the movements I could hear Koyi go through.

“The ship docked at Nar Shaddaa. Koyi couldn’t find it though. It might be gone.”

“Probably is.” I responded, my eyes not shifting from Xephron. It didn’t matter of Koyi heard me or not, she was on auto-pilot. We both were. Not a damn thing we could do from up here in the black. And my mind was anywhere but on the contract right now.

“If Koyi can’t find it, it might be shut down or someone played with the logs. Or erased them.”

“We’ll get you to the planet surface then.” I called out loud enough for her to hear.

The Vatak’ultuka shuddered with that familiar pull. The call to hyperspace. When we emerged on the other side, it had to be business. I couldn’t allow my mind to linger on the words of the Jedi in front of me. Force Sensitive. It was the last piece of the puzzle, but every time I tried to complete it the other pieces would crumble away.

Would Kikka’lekki have burdened me?

“I… you need to think about this Poy… The Force isn’t something you just shrug off once you’re aware of it. It’s something that doesn’t go away if you will it.”

I just stared. What could I do about it right now? We were in hyperspace. We were heading off to try and steal a crate from the Sith. None of it could matter tomorrow.

“Are you going to make me a Jedi in the hour to Nar Shaddaa? Should I be coming to a great epiphany whilst meditating over my lightsaber craftsmanship? Xephron, what can I do about it right now? And how do you know it’s not Koyi? It would explain a few things if it was her…”

He narrowed his eyes. I wasn’t humouring him.

“Wait… what were you hiding?”

I pulled my goggles back up to the top of my head; my tongue flicked against the cool silver of my lip rings. Who was I kidding? Gida and Koyi both knew it. I was in love with Xephron Tide. I was in love with a human who wanted a legacy that I couldn’t give him. Worse things have happened to me. And I didn’t really want to come off as that love-sick ex-girlfriend.

Granted, I didn’t realize just how strongly I felt until he had…you know, gone. And as strong as the debate remained to tell him how I felt…
I tilted my head down and flinched just a bit when my lekku slapped against the center console. “I have a third lekku.” I tapped the back of my head just between my two lekku. I didn’t actually have a third lekku, but the tactic of evasion amused me.

Now wasn’t going to be the moment in which I unburdened myself.

The way she deflected me was somewhat painful. It struck my heart as if she had just lashed out and squeezed it herself.

“No… I suspect now isn’t the best time to dwell on that. But … keep it in mind.”

Her sarcasm at the last comment didn’t surprise me. It was her defense mechanism. I’d seen it before. It didn’t stave off my curiosity, being armed with that knowledge though, but now wasn’t the time for that either. We were going into dangerous water and I needed to be sharp.

Hell if nothing else, I’d be able to have something to ask when we made it through.

…If… we made it through.

Time would tell ultimately. But for now the ache in my chest remained. The jab at training wasn’t meant to be scornful, and I knew that. But the way that the words flew out was something that I hadn’t expected. The Force was a huge thing to me. To see someone utterly shrug it off so easily…

Well it was something that you didn’t see every day. Normally someone in Poy’s position would think about the possibilities. Their minds would be thrust into lightspeed at how the Force could help them achieve their smuggling ends easier. But Poy was only worried about the job at hand.

Rightfully so if all the information we had received was accurate.

I didn’t want to let the ache in my heart permeate my Force Aura, lest she could already pick it up, but she really didn’t need the Force to know I’d been hurt by her lack of forthcoming nature about just about everything we’d just discussed. When my voice finally came, it was low.

“… I should get changed…”

With that, I stood and made my way back to Poy’s bedroom to get dressed. Somehow, it felt more distant than ever at this moment.

Again I was left sitting in my cockpit to debate the finer points of why my heart was a burden. Why this news was a burden. I could’ve pretended to be surprised or even thankful for such a gift; but as Twi’lek’s have come to belive, the Force is a chore. It’s a burden that they are asked to carry because their tasks go far beyond Kikka’lekki’s teachings. It is how we choose the Oracles.

Until that moment, I had no awareness that Force Sensitivity was tied to my past so intricately that I could see the paths; both taken and ignored.

“…Wait.”

I was too late. I watched too closely as he left and spoke too quietly to bring him back. I could still see him walking back to the quarters I laid claim to, “I love you.”

It wasn’t a loud declaration.

It wasn’t even really meant to be heard outside the cockpit.

“I understand better than you believe, Xephron…”

I turned and kicked my feet up on the console. My chest was tight, I knew the feeling but now wasn’t the time. Now was the time to focus, not express myself through tears.

The stars whisked by the freighter faster than I could even care to keep up with.

It was going to be a long contract.

Like any other great adventure through hyperspace, I found myself playing pazak against myself. From time to time Schutta would pop in to watch the stars but Koyi was soon on his trail. I’d smile and continue to stare out of the viewport. My mind was lost in the imagery of memory, Xephron’s declaration of any supposed ability weighed on me. What would I of all people, do as a Jedi?

I’d con. I’d gamble my way to riches.

Would I do the Galaxy any good? I couldn’t answer that question. Not honestly, at least. I didn’t know. I liked to speed through the Galaxy, following nothing but a contract and letting the Goddess guide me where she saw fit. I enjoyed the freedom of choice without the bonds of any rules save my own. I didn’t care if I could move cargo around with a wave of my hand. I just wanted to be.

This changed everything.

Or so I believed at the time, any further thought on the matter was shoved aside when the navi-comp chirped. I was grateful to have my mind distracted by the simple motion of bringing the Vatak’ultuka out of hyperspace.

Nar Shaddaa. Under all the trash and grime of the Smuggler’s Moon, she really was a jewel. A home away from home. Any thing, alien, spice or crime you wished to indulge in could be found here. In the ten years I’d been making my way in the Galaxy, Nar Shaddaa has been my port of refuge. The Hutts kept a…

The Hutts.

FROTZ.

I don’t think I’ve ever hit my comm so fast. “Please be in, please be in…” I muttered when I heard the beeping.

“This is Mister Agapor.”

“Sally baby. I just did something ridiculously silly. You know that thing you told me not to do? I did it.”

“Clearance will be grated on landing pad sixty-seven.” He killed the comm. A cold response and he killed the link. Granted, he gave me a heads up. My freighter, well, my crew and I have quite the number on our collective heads. That number would be backed by Hutt credits.

Salrik Agapor works for the Hutts. That was mistake number two.

My mind wasn’t in the game.

I guided the freighter into the stream of system traffic working its way to the planet surface and hit the inter-ship comm. “Koyi, care to show Xephron the secondary purpose of the Temple?”

Our welcome to Nar Shaddaa wasn’t going to be a warm.

I just hoped I could buy Koyi some time with the spaceport terminals.

This was going to be fun.

Any ship that moves anything anywhere has hidden compartments. If they don’t, the pilot’s either on a nice private contract or out of work. You learn these things if you hang around sharks.

The Vatak’ultuka’s was beneath the floor of Poy’s ‘temple’. I skidded down the hall and popped the hatch, not waiting to see if Xephron was following or not. I had other things to worry about. Namely, getting everything I might need together and ready to go before everything hit the fan.

And shoes. Shoes would be a good idea. And Poy wouldn’t miss any of her dried fruit. I was hungry. I scooped up Schutta on my way back and stood before the hatch, bag of tricks on my back, strip of fruit in my mouth and googly-eyed furball in my arms. I shrugged at Xephron and jumped down.
“Coming?”

Even as I heard Poy’s voice over the intercom, I knew something was off. Her aura spiked drastically. I’d been taking note of that aura ever since I knew it was hers. It was for that fact alone that found me already strapping up my pistols and slipping my arm gauntlets on.

I made sure to keep my right glove off so that my hand tattoo was still visible. After my hood was in place around my shoulders I started walking back to the cockpit, only to run into Koyi and follow her to the Temple on board the ship. She slipped into a hidden floor panel and waited for me.

But not today. Today wasn’t going to be that kind of day for me. I was already wired enough about Poy being Force Sensitive. No one and nothing was going to stop me from getting her back to Broon for proper testing.

I shook my head slowly to Koyi and waved my hand almost casually to her. “Stay in there and remain silent Koyi. Poy will come get you when it’s safe… I will not let anything happen to either of you.”

Then the plate slid over her as the Force dragged it back into place.

I walked back to the cockpit and slid my hood up over my head, casting my eyes into the comforting shadows of black once more.

“Is there a reason why Koyi is hiding in a compartment that I didn’t know about?”

My arms found their way across my chest as I shifted my weight evenly between my feet, spreading them shoulder width apart. The motion let my lightsaber twist slightly. An unconscious smirk found it’s way to my lips.

“Is there a reason why Koyi is hiding in a compartment that I didn’t know about?”

I glanced back at Xephron, my lekku shifted over my shoulder as they tend to do. I smiled. It was one of those smiles so ordinary in its beauty that it could only be dangerous.

Whatever discussion that had passed between us, words unsaid; it was game time.

“Same reason you’re going to get in there with her while I buy us some time for her to get the information.”

One thing I loved about the Corellian XS Stock Light series is how smooth they entered the atmosphere. It wasn’t too long ago that the inertial dampeners could still kick back, causing a shudder with the bulkier freighters. The XS Stock Lights? Smooth as my lekku. Gliding into the atmo of Nar Shaddaa should’ve been rough. It would’ve fit with the symphony going inside my head.

If Xephron came or went wasn’t a concern. A storm was about to hit us regardless. And over fifteen thousand credits.

What was it Neikei always said?

Fuck my life.

I watched her with an irritated gaze. First she was hiding something from me, then she was being sarcastic when her aura was clearly peaked in panic. In response to her telling me to me to go hide with Koyi, I simply stared at her.

“I’m not the run and hide type. Do what you need to do to get us down safely. I’ll buy us enough time to do whatever we need. I protect you… not the other way around.”

I turned on my heel and popped both snaps on either side of my thighs, releasing the physical band that held my blasters in place. When they were free, I tucked the bands behind the blasters themselves, so they wouldn’t get in the way when I needed to draw.

At least I was under the impression I was going to get a decent fight out of the situation. I’d hate to have come all this way to have to sneak around all the time.

It was kind of awkward now with Poy. I don’t know why. Her being Force Sensitive shouldn’t be a relationship altering occurance. It should have been a time for rejoicing. We had something so deeply in common that it may have been grounds for us to get back together. Something we could share. Something I could teach her. We would have been inseperable. But now it just felt like she was a stranger. She was holding things from me. And I didn’t like that.

I didn’t like that at all. We’d gone from the closest of friends to something… else, in no time at all. That bothered me.

I walked down the hallway towards the exit ramp and shouted back to the cockpit.

“Let me know what we have waiting for us.”

I took a deep breath, waiting for the ramp to eventually lower. I stood as an imposing statue ready to bar entry to the things I cared about. It was that care that allowed me to do what I did without question in my abilities.

My weapons were free, my lightsaber was within reach. But the first line of defense for a Jedi was their mouth. I would attempt to stall and talk down whomever was coming to do whatever it was they were coming to do, as I didn’t know due to Poy never telling me.

Time would only tell what kind of trouble I had waiting for me.

Was today the day?

“I’m not the run and hide type. Do what you need to do to get us down safely. I’ll buy us enough time to do whatever we need. I protect you… not the other way around.”

The freighter gave a sliver of a bounce of the repulsars when they landed. I made a mental note to loosen up the pressure on the valves, too much air was being held. Would be a simple task to pass a hyperspace jump, if there was a hyperspace jump. “It’s not about protecting me right now, Xephron.”

I let myself take a peak at what was waiting for us on the landing pad. Salrik. That was a given. He was flanked by two big guys in Mandolorian armour. I could guarantee one of them was Naast. “It’s about protecting him.” I said a bit quietly. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to protect, exactly. Any business dealings I had with Salrik Agarpo died the day the Hutt bounty came down the pipes. Perhaps I was protecting him, chances are Naast would arrest me and they would lock me up in the Blue Lekku. Sally would expect me to escape. Sally knew my habits.

Xephron didn’t.

Not when it came to business.

My feet were quick to navigate the Vatak’ultuka and my ego reassuared when I pulled my blasters from their holsters at the sides of my hips. “Outside is the Professor and his crew. No Force Sensitives. Salrik carries two blaster pistols. Side holsters under his coat. Old man has two Mandalorians with him, I’m willing to bet one of them is a Bountyhead. The other is his personal guard, Naast. Naast carries a carbine, two pistols and a rocket launcher. I don’t think he has the launcher on him, by the looks of it they’re just expecting me and the girls.”

I did my best to explain, Xephron didn’t need to know that Naast and I enjoyed trading insults and I have crippled him in the past with my sharp tongue. He claims I cheated, but that’s not important. Xephron also didn’t need to know that the easiest way to calm Salrik down was to make a genuine conversation with him about his time at University. Or that out of all the men I’d come to have close relations with, he’d never even looked at me with anything less than respect. “Let me talk.”

Perhaps it would be best if I handled things.

I slipped one of my blasters back into its holster on my right hip and hit the control for the ramp.

I had mastered the stride of casual apathy. And it was how I made my way down the ramp.

Four blasters were trained on me. I raised my blaster and my hands, I was anything but an idiot and keeping my blaster at the ready wasn’t going to accomplish a damn thing.

“Sally baby.”

I tensed when the aim of the two Mandolorians shifted past me to Xephron, “Who’s the peedunky?”

“Passenger, Sally. He doesn’t need to get involved in this.”

“Your crew?”

“Alderaan.”

“With two blasters, he’s a lot more than a passenger.”

I knew that voice.

Enzo.

That little schutta of a man had wrangled his way back onto my contract now that it was worth something. I prayed to the Goddess that Koyi was sneaking out through the top hatch was we spoke. I smirked. “He’s everything you want to be, Enzo.”

His blaster was on me again.

Emotion. So easily toyed with.

Salrik lowered one of his blaster pistols and motioned for me. I kept my attention on Enzo and held a finger up for Xephron, hopefully he’d know that this could be friendly territory. I’d take the risk. My sleep inducers were loaded into the worn leather bracers I tended to wear. With my other blaster holstered against my leg, I went to Salrik.
Enzo and Naast kept their blasters sighted on Xephron Tide.

Salrik Agapor wrapped his arms around me and held his blaster to the back of my head. He whispered against my nub of an ear, hot breath. Quick words.

I tried not to react.

I couldn’t move to motion to Xephron that this wasn’t what it appeared to be.

Mandalorians huh? Heheh, my kind of people. At least things were going to get interesting, and it seemed they were bound to stay that way from here on out. I’d heard of Salrik a few times due to Poy doing the odd job for him. She had spoken kind of fondly of the man if I remember correctly. But that didn’t mean he felt the same. While she’d spoken fondly, she’d also spoken with a kind of reserve, and that reserve was what troubled me now.

Salrik might like Poy, but his handler was an unknown to me, and I didn’t know Sal’s motivations. That being out of my mind, the guy now had two Mando guards. That was enough to tell me volumes about his insecurity. Two mando’s meeting a ship that was supposed to be carrying three women. Now if Gida had been around, I could understand the extra muscle. Gida was enough to make anyone think twice about bringing extra guns.

But Gida wasn’t here this time. I was. And that was the worst news that they’d hear all week.

The landing ramp dropped and Poy told me to let her handle things. Sure. A skinny little Twi’lek smuggler was going to talk down an illegal contract distributor and his two hardened mando guards.

Doubtful. But this was her territory. Not mine. Not yet anyway. So I’d let her do what she wanted until such a point where it was necessary to decapitate a brother or two. Death was never something I took lightly, no matter how many I killed, it was never something done out of passion for the kill. It was a necessity. If they threatened something I cared about, then I was obligated to defend that thing.

I ignored the opening remark from Salrik, and instead eyed up the armament that the Mando’s were aiming at me.

That’s right boy’s. Preserve your lives for a while longer. Keep those weapons pointed at me, I beg you. The instant you turn a gun on Poy will be the last few seconds of your pitiful lives as hired muscle.

I noted the color of their armor and made mental calculations. The name Enzo was spoken and the red one turned a gun on Poy.

Emotional, quick to react to quips about himself, jerky. This guy was no Mandalorian soldier. He was first on the list. His voice came over his helmet speaker, noting my blasters.

No stupid. It’s not my blasters that you need to worry about. You’re wearing armor dumbass. No no, not the blasters that should be the priority of your worries. You should be more worried about Fate Bringer biting through your neck you silly barve.

Both armored troopers had their weapons pointed at me again. I tilted my head up just enough to let the whites of my eyes show through the shrouded darkness of my hood. I started pulling the Force to my legs as soon as the blaster pressed against Poy’s skull.

Wrong move. Way… wrong move.

The one in the gray armor seemed like the real threat. So I would have to take him out last. But maybe he would understand. In the Mandalorian culture, the color of one’s armor was symbolic. Some people wondered why I, as a Jedi, pulled a move like the Sith and wore black all the time. I told most a half truth, in that I just liked the color. I did like the color black, but it wasn’t the real reason I donned black more often than not.

I wore black, because in the Mandalorian culture that I seemed to have been raised in, black represented Justice. The guy on my right? Naast I think she said his name was, would probably have noted the Kama around my waist. He’d understand what I was in a moment. And that moment of confusion was all I needed to do what needed to be done.

I raised my voice enough that he could hear me, then spoke a phrase that Deakan had taught me a short while ago. A phrase in the Mandalorian native tongue.

“Ib’tuur jatne tuur ash’ad kyr’amur…. eh vod?””

I could only focus on two things at once with my current level of mastery with the Force. But it would have to suffice.

My feet left the ramp, blaster bolts pinged behind me as Naast and Enzo both tried to zero on me. But the moment of confusion worked to my advantage even more as my Force augmented speed carried me to Salrik’s side in the blink of an eye. My left hand snatched at his blaster wielding wrist and pulled it away from Poy’s head. As I spun, my right hand snatched up my lightsaber and waved it out to the side as the fiery orange blade of Fate Bringer hissed to life.

The familiar sound of saber passing clean through flesh met my ears. Enzo no longer had a blaster in his left hand. Nor did he have a left hand or most of his left arm. My lightsaber passed straight through his elbow, where the armor was not protecting. I wasn’t worried about his other blaster as I continued my swing.

My back was against Salrik’s, his blaster and arm was behind held out fully extended to my left (his right). I twisted the weapon so that his fingers were pinned inside the trigger guard at an awkward angle. With my last erg of focus, I pushed Naast’s carbine up and away from me with the Force. By the time he had it leveled at me again, the tip of Fate Bringer was at his neck.

“Seven seconds, two choices. Drop your weapons and we can talk, or pull the trigger and I make sure we all die right here right now. This is your one and only chance to do this peacefully, I don’t exactly do diplomacy. So what’s it going to be?”

Frotz!
I wasn’t sure exactly how Poy had expected to handle the situation, but I knew that wasn’t it. I dangled there from the bottom of the ship, having scuttled my way from the top, and watched as I cursed under my breath.

There was no way Poy was talking anyone out of anything now, and any cover we had was absolutely blown. Time to improvise.
Fortunately Xephron throwing his lghtsaber around did at least allow me to get by unnoticed. Once I’d gotten around the welcoming committee and safely out of sight I sprinted through the maintenance hall of the docking bays. I needed to find some place to lay low while I got to work.

A little cajoling of a locked keypad got me into a droid service tunnel. It would have to do. I set down my back and pulled out my gear, hooking it up as I went. There was no telling how much time I’d get, so I had to make the most of it. Once I had everything properly set up I plugged in to the port system and made my way through.

First order of business: try to keep Sally’s extra lackeys and port security from breathing down their necks. I overrode the door controls for their bay and locked them down, then started playing with video feeds. If they’d already been seen I couldn’t do anything for them but I optimistically set their feed on a loop of the day before. Once that was done, I moved on to the Blue Lekku; I wasn’t trying to shut down port security, just buy time.

Sally had of course changed things around a bit. He didn’t seem very happy the last time I got in, but he was paid to have me taken off his hands right after that so I doubt he dwelled on it. Fortunately for me he was using the same kind of encryption, still, just swapping out some things. He really needed better tech guys. Comms were disabled. Naast and Sally wouldn’t be calling in any toys. The bounty hunter I couldn’t do anything about, not with the information and the time I was working with.

Back into the port system proper, this time to dig up what we’d come for- details on the smuggler and the ship. I remembered the docking info I’d found before and made my way to the records. And of course, knowing our luck today, he wasn’t there.

Fine. Good. Whatever.
I sighed and rubbed my temples. I could get details and a possible heading at least. I scrolled back and found the tin can’s manifest registry. It was listed under Siabi…something. I didn’t really care about names as long as we could find the guy. And apparently Mr. Siabi was dragging his sorry spacer ass to Socorro.

Finally something works. We had to get to Socorro now. Of course, getting off Nar Shaddaa was going to be fun.
I popped back out into the port system and took a quick scan around for security updates. I was about to shut it down when a little alert popped in at the top. After all that effort, a droid of all things sends out an alert?
My fingers flew over the screens. I could find a way to shut it down, maybe make the droid spit out an error message. I could make it look like a false alarm, or at least jack the system to find a way to alert Poy. I could…
Cough.
Sputter.
The screens died and so did the box.
I screamed and bashed my head against the wall.
“Frotz!”

I could just see the numbers on that bounty getting bigger and bigger.

“She has your face.” Were the words he whispered into my ear.

I raised my finger but it wasn’t enough, I could hear Xephron beginning to move. When he grabbed Salrik’s arm I slammed my head backwards against his blaster. It hurt worse than a twisted Lekku, for a second, the landing bay got a bit dimmer. My nose twitched with the scent of burning flesh, I could hear Enzo’s shouting. It didn’t matter, the peedunky could rot on Mustafar for all I cared.

Mandolorian words were uttered. I didn’t understand, Inama and Naast both had taught me a word or two, insults, of course.

I felt Salrik’s hand on the back of my head. “You can never be forgiven.” I whispered and stepped back from him. In all the years I had known Salrik Agapor, I couldn’t begin to imagine how many slaves passed through his club. How many lives were taken on his path to the office atop the jewel. Mind you, I haven’t always been one to talk about justice, I’m not one to live on its path and I knew what this would do to the generous bounty on me and mine.

“Today is that day.” I had never heard Naast’s voice sound so somber when he responded to Xephron.

I raised my blaster and Salrik lowered his.

“Ask the horny bitch.”

The blaster fire echoed through my head.

I could see Naast raising his carbine to me out of the corner of my eyes.

I was too focused on watching the body of Salrik Agapor crumple onto the grated floor of the hanger bay.

What. The. Fuck.

My vision was a blur and my heart was racing when I holstered one blaster to draw the other and raise it at Naast.

I wasn’t sure what today had turned into, but it was certainly putting my future on the hunter terminals. Some days, it’s best not to answer the comm.

I hoped Koyi was fast.

Company would be coming soon.

The words of Naast snapped my body into action. He wasn’t the negotiating type it seemed.

Then again, he was a true Mandalorian as far as I could tell. He was loyal, but he wasn’t stupid either. I would regret killing him if he pushed too hard. But what had to be done, had to be done.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of blaster fire. I was glad that I was already spinning towards Naast when I’d heard it, because a red kill bolt erupted from Salrik’s back, to which I had been pressed an instant earlier.

I brought the orange blade of Fate Bringer around to cleave Naast’s weapon in half, but I must not have been the first Jedi he’d fought. The barrel of his carbine was already lancing away from my weapon, and he was swinging the stock at my face. I only just pulled away enough for the blow to not knock me out, but it did ring my bell and put me off balance. I felt his boot in my back as he put distance between us as he launched me forward.

No… not stupid at all.

I turned my face plant into a graceful shoulder roll and came up swinging my blade in the classic Soresu movements, one handedly batting the blaster bolts that Naast started spraying towards me. He knew as well as I did that he would run out of ammo before he got a shot through. So he turned his blaster back to Poy.

My eyes went wide for a moment. He certainly knew how to control the situation. I lashed my free hand out towards Poy and yanked her backwards towards me with the Force. She might have a bruise on her ass later from where she landed, but it was better than getting shot. I couldn’t protect her from where she’d been. I caught Naast’s shot on the tip of my blade and it ricocheted backward to harmlessly impact Poy’s ship.

I could taste blood in my mouth, his butt stock must have split my lip. It wouldn’t slow me down. It’d take a lot more than that to keep me down. My left hand went up to my side with the fingers wide towards Poy protectively so she would know to stay behind me.

“No matter where I’m positioned, I need you to stay behind me Poy. Don’t get into his line of fire…”

My eyes were focused on Naast completely, watching his movements as he backed away from me. But he wasn’t running. He was just keeping distance between us so I couldn’t slash at him with impunity.

“Give it up Naast! You can’t win this fight and you know it. Just put your weapon on the deck and leave. I’m giving you a chance to live. I suggest you take it.”

I scrambled out of the service tunnel, shoving the temporarily useless box back into my knapsack. I had the information, I just needed to get back and we could all get on the ship and leave.

Assuming things had been dealt with.
And that they’d gone in our favor.

I picked up speed and began to run flat-out as I neared the maintenance bay doors but suddenly skidded to a stop. A small maintenance droid zipped inside from the bay and stopped as well. It chirped hesitantly. I extended a bony finger and glared at it with murder in my eyes.
“You!”
Chirp?
“You set off the karkin’ alarm!”
Screeeeeeeech!

If you’ve never seen a twi’lek riding a droid, that’s a shame. You might have missed your only chance. I finally flipped over the old tin can to keep it from running away and got to work with my datapad. Even if Ilar’s baby is down I’m not completely useless. I made it generate an all-clear and generate an error report, stating that it needed maintenance.
I gave it a good kick into the wall, stubbing my toe in the process, but getting a satisfying whine from the little chrome-domed bugger.

With that (hopefully) taken care of I ran out to the bay. I stopped a good distance away from the ship and took in the situation. Poy had a blaster. Naast had a blaster. Xeph had a lightsaber. Enzo had…whatever he could operate with one hand on that suit, but I doubt he was still on the bounty at this point.
Me? I just had the good sense to stay out of the way for once in my life and pray that we’d finally drawn a high hand.

Everything moved with a speed that I couldn’t control. Salrik’s body fell to the grated floor of the hanger, Naast’s blaster was fixed on me.
My body was thrown.

For that second, the galaxy went black. I wasn’t sure if it was the Force or the blaster fire that sent me flying, not at first. I felt no pain other than my body thudding against the floor behind Xephron.

I was alive.

Koyi was standing by the ship, I barely caught a glimpse of her as I found my way to my feet. “Not today, Naast. Not today.” I don’t remember saying the words even though I knew that my lips were moving.

My chest was tight, there was so much wrong with this situation that I didn’t have the ability to process. Not yet. It had happened, that’s all I needed to accept to get my ass in gear. I would not let two of my friends die today, even if one of their lives had been taken by own hand. My fingers curled around Xephron’s wrist, I didn’t believe that Naast would kill us and perhaps that was my flaw.

With a simple motion, I had distracted Xephron.

Naast knew it and swung the stock of his carbine at the Jedi again, I ducked down and let go of Xephron’s hand when he ducked it.

I pushed myself. I had never run so fast in my life, well, I had. There was that explosion on the space station above Ord Mantell when I was first sold to Tiocou, but that felt like a lifetime ago. I must’ve had Koyi in a vice like grip when I finally managed to grab onto her and haul her inside the Vatak’ultuka.

All my faith laid with Xephron now.

I didn’t let go of Koyi till we both hit the cockpit. “Don’t tell me things now, Albatross. Let’s just get ready to get the frotz out of here as soon as Xephron’s feet hit the deck!”

Barking orders wasn’t my specialty but I could’ve fooled anyone in that moment.

A hand on my wrist. Poy.

Not now Poy… this was hardly the ti…

The blaster swung up.

Damnit!!

Immediately she let go. Apparently Naast wasn’t in the listening mood today. He opened fire just as I got my saber back up. I was fast, but not fast enough. I was just lucky this time. The first bolt singed past my neck, burning off a few layers of skin, but the burn was closer than I’d care to shake a stick at. The rest of the bolts were deflected into the ground around our feet. One of them was even lucky enough to be sent back at Naast. Which was good for me because it confirmed a growing suspicion.

Naast didn’t flinch as the bolt hit him. The bolt didn’t penetrate his armor. He was wearing Beskar Iron. Meaning that my lightsaber wasn’t going to do much to the surface of that stuff unless I held it there and waited for it to burn through. Honestly I don’t think Naast was willing to wait for that to happen.

Unless I could score a hit like I had on that moron Enzo… this was going to be a long fight. My blade was a blur of orange fire as I moved ever closer to Naast. He continued backpedaling.

Yeah he was a little too smart for my liking. Even with the advantage of his armor he wasn’t going to close with me. So I was going to have to make him.

I made gesture with my hand, pulling the Force about to slam him to the ground. But there was resistance. He shuddered for a moment before fire erupted from his back, propelling him up and away from me.

It seemed to me at this very moment that Poy’s initial description hadn’t been entirely accurate. Naast was wearing a Jetpack.

Great…

I ripped my heavy blaster from my left thigh and fired off four shots at the ascending Mando. The popped him on various parts of the body, again, not penetrating armor, but they definitely threw him off balance in mid burn.

Naast undershot the ledge he was making his way to and slammed bodily into the side of it. He hit the ground with a heavy thud, I swear I heard his ankle break from the impact. But knowing Mando’s, he wasn’t done.

Too bad for him I didn’t give him the chance.

As soon as he was on his feet again, I was in front of him. I planted my left foot on the ground and kicked into the deck with my right, propelling me quickly in a circle on my planted heel as I crouched into the spin. The orange blade of Fate Bringer caught his hurt ankle and started to drop him back to the decking. At the apex of my spin, I pushed forward from my planted foot and gave a powerful return strike across the Mando’s chest.

The beam skittered across the surface, leaving a long angry black scorch, but continued long enough to sever his carbine to pieces.

The blow knocked him to the ground and before he could move, my blade was at his throat.

The move had winded me, as had the short battle. Mando’s were no joke when they got moving. Enzo was a pushover, Naast was not. And I respected that.

“You’re beaten Naast… Do not get up.”

With a tug of my mind, his pistols were free of their holsters and flew off out of reach.

“I’m going to let you live today, you’re a worthy warrior and I respect that. But you owe me your life. Don’t forget that next time we meet.”

I tapped my lightsaber on the burn on his chest.

“Remember this mark and how you got it. If you attack me or someone else I care about again, I will make sure that this blade stays against your chest until I melt clear through to your heart. I pray our next meeting is on better terms.”

I powered down my blade and walked backwards, keeping an eye on Naast as I made my way back to Poy. A groaning caught my attention and I looked down to the form of Enzo.

I kicked him in the helmet, hard enough to silence him again.

“Shut up. I’ve heard about you Enzo Testori of clan Testori. You don’t have a right to the armor. You I don’t feel bad about. So you lay there and wallow.”

I turned my back on both of them and muttered over my shoulder to him, “…ass…”

My feet were on the ramp and I was back within the confines of Poy’s freighter. As soon as the hatch was shut, I went to a knee and hissed, clapping a hand to my neck.

That burn had been way too close. A micron more inward, and my artery would have been fried, and I’d be dead.

Way… too close.

I did my best to choke back a scream as I was yanked along behind Poy. All I dangled along helplessly behind her as she booked it for the ship, moving faster than I’d ever seen her move.

We kept going all the way up to the cockpit and jumped in. I craned my neck around behind the seat and waiting for any sign of the Jedi; as soon as he made it in we needed to get out.

Come on, come on…

“He’s in!” The hatch closed behind him and I whipped back around while Poy took care of lifting off. I allowed myself to exhale and felt my heart begin to slow, finally. Meanwhile I zoned out and went on autopilot, letting my mind wander.

When I stopped to think about it, I was glad I wasn’t there to see what happened. It was one thing to accept in your head the risks you take and the things you do to keep up this life, but when it’s there in front of you and you have to deal with it…

Two people died. I knew them vaguely; I wasn’t attached to Salrik or Naast, and Enzo I didn’t know. Maybe three, come to think of it- I didn’t know if Xephron finished off the bounty hunter or not.

These things happen every day to people all over the galaxy, but never in front of me. And when someone isn’t wearing armor or a helmet and you have to see their face, see them as a person instead of just a generic body…
I don’t know what I was expecting, really.

And then I thought of the transport we blew up, the ships we ghosted. Sith or Hutts or what have you, there were people on each of those. Someone, somewhere wasn’t coming home.
And for what?
Just another contract. Someone wants something and we deliver.

I drew my legs up to my chest and curled up in the co-pilot’s chair.
“Socorro.”
The cockpit was quiet for a change; this contract just seemed to have a way of pulling out surprises.

“He’s in!”

That’s all I needed to hear. I pulled back on the yolk faster than I had in probably too long without making sure my thrusters had warmed up. My crowning jewel gave my a shudder that screamed with her disapproval but at this moment…

She’d just have to scream.

I saw Koyi’s expressions shift when the adreneline gave way to thought, I knew what she had to be feeling. Frotz. I’d been there too often in recent months. Far more than I had ever expected.

It was a fight not to look back, even run back and check on Xephron. I wasn’t sure that Koyi was ready to handle the helm in a time like this. Something told me she’d be learning quickly.

The name Soccoro rang in these nubs I like to call my ears. My fingers played my navi-comp like a finely tuned piano and I was pleased to hear the hyperdrive react kindly. It spun up as soon as I hit the frotzin’ key to take us to Soccoro. A days journey, even in the twisting black that few folks truly understand. We’d get a better picture at what our run in on Nar Shaddaa would cost us when we poked our heads out tomorrow.

Kark. I already knew the cost.

“I was your age when I first met Sally. The Chuba’s ass that he was scared the right poodoo out of me. Here I am, this kid who’d just been sold to a man older than I could assume my father to be and I’m standing in front of this Hutt Doyen. I’m surprised no one heard my knees shaking, I was sure Tiocou was going to pass me off to Sally. But the sauve sleemo Sally was; took my hand and asked why there was a collar around my neck. I suppose he saw it, he saw it in you and probably more than a few others.”

I’d leave her to her thoughts. For now we were safe.

“He was a friend, Koyira’eyan. Today, I grieve. Today shouldn’t have happened like this.”

I’d shot ships out of the black before I took Tiocou’s life. They were faceless deaths that I had never given thought to. When I had killed Tiocou, I felt no remorse. I felt relief. I felt vindicated and strong…

“Comon, Ka’re. Let me get you patched up.”

My thoughts trailed off when my fingers brushed over Xephron’s shoulder when I passed him in the corridor. I kept a small medical ward in the ‘fresher. It was always a good idea to be prepared.

He always had to be the frotzin’ hero. If there wasn’t a risk to dying, chance are, he wouldn’t be interested. I hadn’t quite yet decided if that was sheer stupidity or some seriously thrilling heroics.

My mind drifted back.
My feet guided me to the ‘fresher.
I was on auto-pilot as I retrieved the stims needed to heal up the wound he was covering up on his neck.

…Killing Salrik Agapor had killed a part of me.

I’m not sure how or even why something as simple as landing on Nar Shadaa had turned into me chopping off some pretend Mando’s arm, Salrik getting shot point blank, an ensuing battle with a real Mando, followed by a stellar take off back into space. What the hell just happened and why?

I had known that this mission was going to be dangerous, but the fact that Salrik was now dead was evident enough to me that I didn’t have enough details. I couldn’t fly blind on this one with Poy leading the way. I had a feeling that the little run in we’d just escaped was nothing more than a smack on the wrist compared to what we were going to get into.

It was one of those innate feelings that flicker in the back of your mind. You don’t know what it means but you are positive that it wont be good. And when the danger hits, deja vous just doesn’t seem to cover it.

My mind was still reeling from the fact that Poy had actually gunned down Salrik. She had always spoken well of him, that I’d understood anyway. My body was now registering the shock of what she’d done. And I could only wonder if I was to blame for her streak of violence. When I’d first met Poy, I’d known she’d never killed anyone up close before. I’d done it since I was 10, with Black Tide, so things like death up close in your face just didn’t seem to phase me as much emotionally anymore. It was something I had been trained to accept as a part of combat. Taking a life was never an easy thing, no matter how used to it you got though.

Poy was no killer when I met her. And it was only in my company that she’d killed her first sentient being. At the time her motivations were premeditated, but I can’t help but wonder if the urge to destroy Tiocou was fanned by my nature as a combatant. Since meeting me, she had taken several lives in my company, and it was starting to weigh on her soul, I knew that much now. I could feel it in the aura pulsing around her. I didn’t like to see Poy kill. It was a dirty thing, unclean.

I had no broken inhibitions when it came to killing someone. There was little honor in killing even the most skilled opponents. Even mercs, whom I will always resent. Even as my weapons pass through their soft tissue, I mourn the decision to end their lives. Killing a sentient being always tears a part of your own soul apart, you lose a bit of your humanity with every cut, every shot. It was a fact of the profession. But I didn’t want that for Poy. It occurred to me some time ago that whenever she had shot anyone before us… that she’d never thought to use the stun setting on her blasters.

Not once.

That disturbed me, but it might be something of hypocritical if I mentioned something to her about it. Because when I drew my own weapons, the battle wasn’t over until someone wasn’t breathing. Rarely did I use the stun setting myself. Only back in my initial days of being with the Vanguard did I use a stun setting, and that was because I was learning how to use my lightsaber.

Maybe it was time that I started getting back to that. I’d made every effort not to kill anyone when I leapt from the ramp do engage. Enzo would live, though he’d need a prosthetic arm and some serious pain killers for his head when he woke up. Naast was still breathing, but his pride would be bruised. Naast was the easy decision to let live. He was a warrior, and an honorable one. His cause might have been a bit warped, but everyone needed a cause to fight for and Naast had his just like anyone else. He knew what he was good at, so he applied it as best he could. Enzo on the other hand… Well maybe I should have put him out of his misery. He was a reject, someone who couldn’t hack the Mando lifestyle but wore the armor as if he was part of the tradition anyway.

But no. Killing is not the Jedi way. That’s why Broon had taught me to go for limbs, fingers, instead of necks, hearts or simply cutting a man in half. Disarm the enemy before the battle began and you saved not only your own life, but theirs as well. There was honor in that. But it required more skill to execute.

Skill I had, but patience was another story altogether.

I think maybe, if my neck wound and the death of Salrik Agapor was any indication at all, we needed to start rethinking some tactics. I’d start using the stun setting on my blaster, maybe Poy would as well. Time would tell. But as it stood, with as many lives as I’d taken, right now wasn’t the best time to ask Poy to be non-lethal.

When she passed me, I could tell she was worried. About me. About Koyi. About Salrik. Maybe even Naast. The concern was practically saturating the Aura that I could no more give up feeling now, than if I had wished myself to stop breathing.

Until Poy learned how to control herself in the Force, how to control her presence… She would be an open book to me in some aspects.

I wasn’t sure that was a good thing…

I just nodded and followed her, keeping my hand over my neck, covering the severity of the wound. I’d live. But it had been a close shave.

My left hand clipped Fate Bringer back to my belt and re-snapped the clasp on my blaster holster. My back hit the jamb of the door to the fresher as Poy got her supplies ready. When my voice came, it was quietly.

“Tell me there was a point to that. Tell me that Salrik died for a good reason. Tell me that what just happened was to help whatever task you are pursuing, and that someone you seemed to hold in good esteem is not dead for no other reason than a simple verbal insult.”

My eyes dropped to the deck of the ship.

“Stars, Poy. Tell me something…”

“Tell me there was a point to that. Tell me that Salrik died for a good reason. Tell me that what just happened was to help whatever task you are pursuing, and that someone you seemed to hold in good esteem is not dead for no other reason than a simple verbal insult.”

I sat on the edge of the counter in the ‘fresher and lined the stims alongside my leg and urged Xephron to move his hand. He was looking at the floor when I urged him to tilt his chin so I could tend to the singed blast.

“Stars, Poy. Tell me something…”

I couldn’t look at him, not directly at least. There was too much in my mind, I knew that if he could feel something like the Force within me without my knowledge; that my every emotion had to be open to him. The difference was he didn’t need to see me blink back my tears while I was tending to his neck.

“The Hutts are after Koyi, they know that she wasn’t purchased and she was bound for them. Now they know that I stole her and Salrik had nothing to do with it. Since they’ve already got their panties in a bunch regarding me and mine, they’re not going to look too far into the who of Salrik Agapor.”

I injected a stim into the side of his neck once I had finished fusing the wound with a tool that constantly reminded me of a hydrospanner.

“For every ten girls that Sally pimps out, there’s one he’s smuggled off planet and either back to Ryloth or to a greener planet. Koyi would be one of them. One thing you’ll find about slavery, is just the process of vassij’ra can break a spirit. Your own family selling you into a caged life. By the time Sally gets them, they’ve already got that vacant expression and vapid mind. When someone like Koyi comes through…”

My voice had begun to tremble. It was unsure as I was about any of this. Would this be worth it in the end?

“I’m not taking the crate to the Sun if we get it. Prototype weaponry that the Sith are itching to get their hands on, I do believe is something that might interest the Vanguard.”

Things were taking a turn for the extremely serious. I don’t know if I actually liked that or not. We weren’t exactly talking about laser ball teams here. We were talking about life and death, bondage and freedom.

I was not unsympathetic to Koyi’s plight, but why did things have to end like that? Two men were injured, one was dead. And I still didn’t understand as to the why. So Salrik was a slaver, but he saved a few. That was good for him. Apparently if Poy was going on about how suspicions were being overted from him, then she had what… killed him out of mercy so that attention would be turned to her instead of him? Well what good was that now? He was dead. Eyes were away from him, sure…

But he was dead.

I didn’t wince when the stim needle hit my neck and Poy went to work.

“I still don’t understand. Why not just buy Koyi and free her? Why didn’t you come to me for help? You know that I could have Deakan slice into some crime lords account and get enough money to buy a single slave. Poy… this stuff needs to stop.”

I reached up and grabbed her hand gently, stopping her work on my neck so that she would look at me.

“I know you don’t take it lightly, but Sal is dead. Why? There were other avenues of options that we could have taken. We didn’t even need to land. You didn’t need to land there. You didn’t have to tell him we were coming. You didn’t have to walk right out into his grip. I…”

Frustration was coursing through me.

“WHY?! Why that way Poy? Enough of this ready fire aim shit! Tell me why! Tell me everything there is to know about this! This is no ordinary job that you took to steal from the enemy. I want answers.”

I didn’t mean to yell at her. Really I didn’t. But she was starting down a path that I stood in the middle of. I was already jogging down the path and I had a feeling that Poy was going to go sprinting past me into a darkness that I feared I wouldn’t see her back from. Now was the time. Now was the time to show her where she was headed and let her know what I felt about it. Now was the time to show her that there was always another option.

It may have seemed hypocritical because of my constant thirst for battle. There was always another way, whether or not I personally took it… was something else altogether.

But that thought brings up more questions in my mind. Like why I have a need for battle. Why do I seek out justice? Why do I personally seek to right wrongs through force? Really… why don’t I ever use those options?

This journey was going to give me more to think about, over the fact that Poy was Force Sensitive.

I really should have stayed home on this one…

He grabbed my wrist. I couldn’t help but to stare at him, there was so many emotions running through my mind that I couldn’t pinpoint one. I could feel the moisture on my cheeks, I knew I was crying even if it wasn’t quite registering. I could see the frustration and confusion on his face and I couldn’t do anything but mirror it.

Salrik had been more than a friend to me, he had been like a father. He held me up to a standard and kicked my braintails when I failed to meet that standard. He had supported me and at times hid me. He paid off more than a few bounties to keep me in the black and at one point had even tried to get Tiocou to drop his bounty on me by offering him a Lethan that had passed through the Blue Lekku.

Over the years, I had come to need Salrik as much as he needed me. Just as he watched my back, I became the one to protect his secrets. All the credits he funnelled into the Republic, into helping families in Ryloth grow beyond their caste without having to sell their daughters… My contracts from him usually consisted of delivering girls back to Ryloth or to locations of their choosing. It had always been set up to look like death or theft, but it kept the Hutts off his ass all the same.

I hid his wife.

She was a beautiful Tukian, a strange ordinary and dangerous beauty that you couldn’t help but to be drawn into. She had been sold into slavery not knowing that she was with child.

Salrik wasn’t the biological father, but to see him with his daughter…

You could’ve fooled anyone.

Xephron yelled.
Yelled at me.

My tears were making my body shake. I wrenched my wrist out of his grip and tried my best to put my weight into pushing him back so I could escape the frotzin’ ‘fresher. I didn’t need to hear this. None of this was supposed to happen. Not yet.

“I DIDN’T KNOW!” I screamed, I meant to scream. I needed to scream. Salrik Agapor was dead.

“I DIDN’T KARKIN’ KNOW!”

And that was the truth, I had no idea what had transpired. I didn’t know why Enzo was there, Salrik hated him. He thought the kid was sleemo peedunky who didn’t uphold the Mandalorian standards that he had been raised around by his mother. He treated it like a game, it wasn’t a game.

If Enzo was there, it meant that the Hutts wanted me dead.

It meant the Hutts were onto Salrik. Why send a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter to oversee the work of another one?

Naast had been one of the best.

If Enzo was there, the Hutts weren’t trusting Salrik anymore.

It’s why Salrik asked me to do what I had done…

Now to explain that to Xephron.

“I… he…” I couldn’t keep my voice from cracking or trembling. My lekku were doing all the talking for me but I knew Xephron couldn’t understand my body language. Not yet.

I stopped trying to explain and just fell forward against him and broke.

When my tears subsided, I did my best to explain what secrets I hid. What Enzo’s presence meant. How Salrik had asked me to take on this burden.

I explained that I had to find the Freedom Flight and that the only thing that pertained to the job on Nar Shaddaa Koyi had taken care of.

As my words flowed out of me, I began to break down again.

She lost it. Her aura was a riot of anguish and uncertainty. It kind of took me off guard. The only time I’d seen her so mentally shut down was the day that she had taken her first life.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do when it came to Aayahpoy’shiri. I held her. I let her vent. I let her get it out, and by the end of it all, I think I started to understand. And it made me sick to my stomach.

Salrik had asked her to kill him. The Hutts had started to suspect that he had been smuggling the occasional slave, and that Poy was involved. Salrik was being watched by Enzo apparently. And Enzo had most likely been ordered to kill Sal when evidence came to light about Sal’s operation. As it was, Salrik Agapor’s name was clear in terms of the Hutts looking for him. Enzo was alive and would report that Sal was dead, and that Poy had gunned him down.

At this moment, I really wished I would have gone hilt deep with Fate Bringer into Enzo’s faceplate. It wasn’t the Jedi way obviously… but now Poy was going to have a higher bounty on her head. And more people coming for her. In my eyes, Sal had taken the coward’s way out. Even intense battles could be fought, and sometimes won. He had just given up altogether and let Poy take the fall.

Right now my neck was the least of my worries. I was going to complete this job with Poy, then I was going to stay with her, hiding in the shadows until Enzo decided that he could take her with one arm. Then I was going to send a message to the other hunters by sending Enzo back to his employer in pieces.

Not even the Jedi Code was enough to calm my mind from that certainty right now. I guess that even now, my care for Poy was as overwhelming as it had been when we had started seeing each other. I’d do just about anything to keep her from harm. And that was the problem. It was the reason I’d had to break it off. The real reason.

I knew I’d do anything to keep her from harm. And that included walking headlong into the Dark Side. But it would never be enough. Once the path started, it was nearly impossible to turn away. I don’t know if I was ready to combat that side of myself yet. I was all for a good fight, but I don’t think that that one was one I could win outright.

We sat there in the fresher for a good hour, silent. I just held her. Gave her a safe place to let go. With the inevitable bounty that would be placed on her for Sal’s death, her ship was soon to become safe no longer. After this mission, after this job…decisions would have to be made. Hard decisions.

If we survived…

I’d had enough introspection for one day; there was no use dwelling on things already done. I sighed and wrapped me lekku back around my neck and set off to…well, to do something other than brooding in a chair.

Schutta chittered at me as I scooped him out of the hold where I’d left him before things got hairy. He clearly wasn’t happy about being left there by himself for so long, but I grabbed another strip of fruit and offered it to him. Apparently appeased he perched on my shoulder and nibbled at the fruit as we went back to my pod.

I stripped the casing from the blue box and reapplied some thermal paste around the vents. Hopefully I could keep it from overheating for a while until I could get back to Ryloth and Ilar could take a look at it. It’s his baby after all; I’m just borrowing it indefinitely. More or less satisfied I put the case back together and swung the hatch door closed behind me.

I’m not particularly religious; I spent my time in the temple like everyone else but that life just isn’t for me. You won’t find me kneeling before a shrine any time soon, and I an rarely sit still long enough to meditate. So what do I do when I’m trying to relax and think?

I blast music loud enough to melt a sane person’s brain and blow things up. Not literally, of course.

Well, not usually. You never know.

But in this case it means blowing up waves of virtual ships. Games of reflex are not only great practice, they keep your mind occupied. And I can only think properly when I have something to distract me.

So while pixellated ships became pixellated explosions and my fingers strained the old buttons on the datapad, I thought about the case. What might be ahead of us, what we’d have to do. And why.

In the end I decided it was never about the credits. Everything we’d done, everything we did, it was for freedom. The chance to make your own path, to go wherever you wanted to go even if it meant staying one step above slugs and bounty hunters the whole way- and that was a thrill in itself. I’d do whatever I could to keep us in the clear.

The net, the black, the Force, whatever; I think they all reach the same point in the end. Eventually you find out the journey itself was the destination you were trying to reach.

I needed to be alone.

Koyi’s music vibrated throughout the ship, the pulsing waves of sound and vision was making it all too easy for me to concentrate on the thoughts that plagued my mind. Of what I had done. Not just to Salrik, but Tiocou. What I was doing to Xephron.

In that moment, I needed to hide from myself.

I locked myself in the cargo bay I called a temple until I heard the beep of the navicomp letting us all know that the Vatak’ultuka was dropping out of hyperspace. Even then, it took all I had and all I was to leave my place of solace.

Everything within the cockpit was twittering to life. Streams of data flowed over the holonet relays, various coloured lights flickering and fading in and out of life.

I eased us into orbit around Soccoro and transmitted an old code that Neikei had given me in case there was a time that the Vatak’ultuka had too much attention on her. Now was that time. Fake name, fake frequencies, fake serial numbers, fake identities.

I had been comfortable on Soccoro in the past, I wasn’t sure anymore. I didn’t know if I’d ever feel comfortable again in any place except that cargo hold.

“I think I know why people become deep rim spacers now…” I mumbled to myself as I brought the bird down to land on the planet’s surface.

Time was null for me at this point. Too much had happened too quickly. I wasn’t even sure what was happening anymore. All I knew was that I was alone on the floor of the fresher.

How could someone willingly put Poy in danger like this? Poy wasn’t a killer. She couldn’t gun down every hunter that the Hutts sent after her. Eventually one would get her. I’d have to take preemptive action before that day.

As that thought ran through my head, I regained some of my sanity. My neck would be fine, even if Poy hadn’t finished her bandage. I nipped up the remainder of the work and cleaned up the mess left behind.

I knew where Poy had gone. I’d let her be. She was too broken up. I can’t say that I wasn’t. Her pain was my pain. It hurt me to see her hurting. To feel her hurting. She needed to get away from it all, and I had to center myself. This wasn’t even the apex of the job and we were already emotionally charged.

My feet carried me to the engine room, and the customary spot on the floor that normally found me meditating on the ship. I slipped my boots off and practically fell to the floor in a cross-legged posture. My back straightened and I took a few calming breaths.

I surrounded my body in the Force, letting it flow through me and around me. The familiar sensation of weightlessness filled my soul right before my legs actually lifted from the deck. Another deep calming breath and my mind was elsewhere, floating amongst the galaxy, through the planets and between suns.

My soul calmed itself almost at once. It’s restless nature was gone. I knew that I would be ready for whatever was to come. And as certain as the Force was at my fingertips, I knew that Poy and Koyi would make it through unharmed. I was centered once more. No doubts plagued my thoughts. Confidence permeated my body. Sureness and awareness streamed from me as if it was a pheromone that the Force had somehow infused into my pores.

In my minds eye, I watched myself hovering above the deck. I was outside of my own body, hovering amongst a couple of tools that Poy had left unsecured and had found their way into orbit around my corporeal form. My hair was waving with a gentle, invisible wind.

I looked peaceful.

I stayed this way for hours. Muddling over what needed to be done when I was in range of a com buoy. But the thought didn’t take much to understand. I knew exactly what I needed to do. One call was all it would take. One call and a few words, and Poy’s future would be secured. Safe. Though she might resent me for making the call and taking her life into my hands. One day she would understand my motivations. One day she would find out what I’d done. But until she found out, she would remain blissfully ignorant of my actions. I hope that when she did eventually find out, that she’d understand.

The Force was nudging me. We must have been close to our destination.

I flew from the empty air around my body and rejoined my fleshy cage. Normally, once I’d done this, I’d instantly hit the floor, shortly thereafter followed by the crashing of the items that were orbiting me. But through practice of how my own awareness worked, I’d gained a Mastery of floating meditation. It was my favorite meditation technique, it worked wonders on my psyche.

As my aura rejoined my body, I lifted myself up higher off of the deck. I let the Force guide my limbs as if I were attached to strings. Like a puppet, my arms spread wide to my sides. My legs unfolded themselves and slowly extended to their full length. My toes were hovering above the deck for a moment before they touched down gently.

Finally my eyes opened and my awareness receded back into my mind. I was once again on Poy’s ship. The Force bled from my touch and left my fingers slightly tingly.

I felt the ship touch down after I put my boots back on. Wordlessly I moved to the cockpit. My hands rested gently on Poy’s shoulders. My thumbs dug into the flesh around her neck and rubbed the knots that were forming there. I didn’t even say anything to her. I just leaned down from behind her and rested my forehead in between her lekku and continued to massage her shoulders. I just wanted to let her know that I was still with her.

Hell… I’d never be away when she needed me.

My lips found the flesh of her skull. I didn’t even know I was kissing her head until after it had happened.

“Come on, we have some work to do.” I said gently behind her.

I couldn’t send my transmission until she was out of earshot, we’d have to make a detour when we hit ground. I didn’t want the records on the ships computers. Koyi would know who I had contacted instantly. This was something that I wanted to be done quietly.

When we started for the ramp eventually, I removed my datapad from my belt and started a text message detailing instructions for what I wanted. Deakan had tweaked my datapad for triple hard encryption. Even Koyi would have trouble tracking the message, but then…at current, she really had no reason to be suspicious of what I was doing.

As soon as my datapad picked up a strong enough signal, it would shoot my message all over the galaxy, from holonet transceiver to holonet transceiver, until it reached it’s destination. My fingers flew over the characters on the pad. I read over it once in my head before moving on.

Deake, priority one. I want this done by the time I am finished with the job I am along on. Contact Bralor. Bring all our guys in on this. I want every last stray trace of information and trail erased on this subject. Anything detailing the bounty and criminal record on Aayah’poy Shiri, and Koyi Rha’eyan, even the ship, Vatak’ultuka. Make it disappear. Find out which Hutts on what worlds want their heads or the money associated with them. When I’m done here, we are paying them a visit. Use whatever resources you need. Any involvement with a man named Salrik Agapor, any details placing them in the path of Enzo Testori, or anyone he’s ever known… Make them vanish. Silence the ones who will talk, bribe the ones who need it.

Make this happen Deake. I want their records and any evidence against them to drop off the kriffing grid.

Get back to me.

-X

I raised my thumb over the transmit button. I knew it wasn’t very Jedi of me to order a hit on criminals. But they threatened something I loved. I’d not see Poy have to pull the trigger against someone she cared about.. Ever again.

My thumb slammed down without hesitation, and the message was embedded.

Time to get back to work.

When I stepped off the Vatak’ultuka I wasn’t too surprised to see Inama Testori waiting for me. Once of the catches with contracting under Sark Transportation was keeping a transponder in the ship; Neikei liked to know where her pilots took off to. And seeing Inama meant that Neikei knew.

Word travelled fast.

It meant there was a bounty on my head that I couldn’t handle now.

I raised my hands to show Inama that there wasn’t a damn thing I was about to do. Not to her. And by the look on her face I knew that I looked like the hell I had just gone through. I didn’t look to Xephron or to Koyi. I was too focused on Inama.

She grabbed my hands just at the wrists and pinned them behind me. She levelled her blaster at Xephron in warning and pulled me back against her before forcing us forward. I could see her ship on the end of the platform and felt my stomach sink.

She wasn’t taking me back to Neikei.

There was no free pass.

Not this time.

“You move Xephron and she’s dead.”

I couldn’t see a blade or a blaster pointed at me, but Inama wasn’t one to fuck around.

I looked to Xephron, I tried to avoid my fear showing through to my expression. I tried to keep a calm to my emotion as Inama hauled me off.

Something was going on…

“Find that shipment.” I called back to Koyi.

“There is no shipment.” Inama whispered in my ear.

All control left me.
All I knew was terror.
And regret.
But there was no going back. Not now. Not sitting in the hull of Inama’s ship.Eventually, at some point, in times of great danger, Poy was going to start getting the hint that I should lead. It was almost a mirror situation like back on Nar Shaddaa. Poy walked out first and immediately was taken hostage. Like before, she didn’t even kriffing resist.

Was she trying to get killed? Was there a reason behind all of this nonsense?

The only difference I really saw in this situation, that divided it from the last was the fact that this time I could see the hunters face. Her eyes told me that she meant what she’d said about killing Poy. Even if her blaster was trained on me, she didn’t have to say anything for me to know that Poy would die if I flinched. She meant business.

Anguish gripped my heart as she dragged Poy away.

I couldn’t even break the hunters wrist with the Force. The instant she felt the pressure, Poy would be gutted. Her death would be at my feet. I was without options. The situation was taken from my control just as quickly as I could step out into the planet’s air. We couldn’t follow, because then Poy would die. We couldn’t shoot the ship down after it took off, for risk of injuring Poy, and then possibly having her killed if the hunter wasn’t taken out with the impact of getting shot down.

I stood there. Poy’s dread and fear washing over me like waves in the Force. What could I do? If I moved, one of the people I cared about most in the universe would be ended.

So I stood there. Motionless, anger and disbelief running through my veins. Though only the first emotion was evident on my face. Before the hunter fully dragged Poy to her ship, I called out to her.

“Do what you have to do now Hunter. But after whatever events transpire that need to, run and hide… Take whatever money you get from this job and disappear. And relish the silence while you still can, for there is no place in the galaxy that you will be able to hide from me forever. I’ll find you. If any harm comes to her… You will wish you had the power to rewind time for the horrible luck that will befall you. So run… and hide.”

It wasn’t exactly an empty threat. I was starting to forget I was a Jedi. But Poy being alone frightened me.

I didn’t like having fear in my heart. It made me slip up. It made me less cautious.

All I could think about, was that Aayah’poy Shiri was on her own on this one. I couldn’t help her.

For the first time, I was useless. Powerless to stop injustice.

It scared me at just how easily those feelings had come for me…

At first I didn’t quite understand what was happening; I just froze. Everything seemed to be going wrong lately, especially where Poy’s business partners were involved.

While Inama pinned her hands and backed away with the blaster leveled at Xephron and he made promises about what he would do to her, I just stood there. If the Jedi was powerless to stop this then I was completely useless.
Poy yelled back at me and told me to find the shipment and I just nodded.

I almost envied her, how she could stay so calm, at least on the exterior. I had no doubt her mind was racing. But then Inama leaned in to whisper and any restraint she was holding onto broke.
That’s when I knew we were really screwed.

Somehow a combination of dumb luck, charm and a bit of elbow grease had always gotten us out of tight spots, but there really was no way out of this one.

So I did the only thing I could do; I slumped to the floor and watched them leave.

I was already trying to figure out ways to track them, and I’m sure Xephron was making plans of his own to pursue them. And somewhere in that mix she wanted me to try to track down the shipment and carry on with the case.

I had no illusions of our chances of getting everyone out alive, but I had no qualms either. I would find them no matter what I had to do, and somehow between me and Xephron we would save the day or die trying.

I was hoping for the first but fully expecting the second.


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