Prime Time: A Tale of the Star Wars
A Story Of The Star Wars
E. E. Nalley
The skies over Mos Espa are a nightmare of unregulated visual flight rules traffic.
When you've got your butt in a nice comfy IMAX theater seat with a tub of popcorn you could bathe in such a scene speaks to man months of CGI or model photographers, or both filling a screen with little Easter eggs of space ships for a shot that lasts five or eight seconds. When your butt is in the pilot's seat of one of those ships, you get treated to the worst possible combination of urban sprawl rush hour combined with finding a parking spot at the Mall on Black Friday that seems destined to go on for the rest of time.
And by the rest of time, I mean those last terrifying seconds of realizing that your life is about to come to a violent, fiery end. I'm certain from a nice stable external point of view that the three near collisions I dodged frantically looked quite dramatic; from the pilot's chair let's just say it was an entirely different experience. The Aces and Eights back on her landing gear and safely in the docking bay we had arranged I sat for a full minute calming myself from the adrenaline high of what I had just accomplished.
It actually took me a minute to realize that Stuart and Danny were frantically congratulating me on my piloting skills of the top of their lungs and not waiting on their brains to catch up and realize they had not in fact died. Fortunately for all concerned, Lanaka had made the final leg of the trip in the salon where her intense need to back seat drive would not cost someone their concentration at a critical moment.
I must say I really wish that trick had worked in my sedan back on Earth. Of course the sedan didn't have a salon so...
While "Silas" saw to the fees of the docking bay with the harbormaster, I collected my nerves putting the ship in to standby and reconnecting those shore power connections. I must admit I had been impressed by Anchor Head and I was feeling quite the hick now. Moss Espa sprawled in a way that Anchor Head had only the vaguest ambitions of; the city was easily 100 km across and was nestled in what looked like a dry lake bed between mountains. The docking bay we've selected, number 327, was within walking distance of the Lady of Great Fortune Casino in what was evidently the entertainment section of town judging by the number of restaurants, theaters and other casinos around us. There were no facilities for or consideration of handling freight at any of these docking bays; they were strictly places to park yachts, and pleasure craft.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I was relieved that my friends chose to stick with me. The concept of starting over on Earth would be something akin to moving to a new city; daunting but everyone shares the same point of view and reference as you. Being alone here was far more terrifying not just because the galaxy was in orders of magnitude larger place, but because there was no shared frame of reference. It would almost be like moving from a major metropolitan city in the first world to somewhere deep in the Third World with no shared language, cultural, or religious connotations. Add to that the people around you would not even be human. So no I'm not ashamed to admit I was relieved; if the thought of that doesn't frighten you there is something wrong with you.
Of course now there was only the little problem of figuring out how to win a rigged card game, pulling a swindle over some of the vilest gangsters the galaxy, and getting off world alive. Simple, right? In addition to that, I was also trying to sort out my feelings about Torm Belos; to be honest there was a part of me counting the minutes until I saw him again, but there was another part that was just as terrified of it.
I still didn't have an answer to Danny's question whether or not I was a lesbian.
The logical part of my brain understood academically that as having been something of a nerd my whole life it was flattering to have someone as obviously, well, what word do I use here? Desirable? Honestly I couldn't say if I desired Torm Belos; I can acknowledge that he's a very handsome man, I can admit judging by the quality of his clothing he is well off and I can certainly testify that he's charming, intelligent, and witty. Oh, this is harder than I thought. Yes, having been a nerd and a wallflower my whole life, having been ignored socially, to be sought out to be pursued was not a situation I had any experience with.
But I have to admit that I liked it.
A week ago if someone had asked me as an academic exercise would I enjoy being pursued by a man who fit Torm Belos' description I probably would've laughed an uneasy laugh and looked around for the cameras for the prank. Now I suppose, the joke is definitely on me.
"Okay, we are all paid up with the harbormaster until after the tournament is over," declared Silas as he walked up. I finished locking on the shore power connector and opened the access panel that concealed the breakers for it next to hook up.
"Planning a quick get away?" I asked as I reached in and threw the necessary breakers to finish the transfer from the internal power plant to the external source.
"Considering where we are it seemed prudent," he replied with that easy smile of his and I began to understand the popularity of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. But the smile faded like a cool breeze in the Tatooine air and he was serious again. "I'm going to go over to the Lady of Great Fortune to finalize my registration in the tournament. You'll probably want to do some discrete snooping of your own; escape routes, methods of egress, things along those lines. We probably should not be seen together until the day of the tournament."
"I could use some lunch," I admitted with a nod and dusting off my hands. "Did we decide places and roles for everyone?"
He shrugged and looked away, unable to meet my gaze which told me likely they had discussed it in depth. "We have some ideas," he admitted. "We thought that Laura would play arm candy, seeing as..."
"She'd always been a girl and would doubtlessly be more comfortable in the role," I finished for him, probably using the same lie he was going to tell me. I made a dismissive gesture. "Your skin not mine."
"Hey, I want you there," he protested quickly. "Everyone will expect the arm candy to be an obvious bodyguard, and it will eventually get out that Danny is with me so he'll get the notation of backup bodyguard. Nobody will suspect the backups date as being anything but window dressing! You'll be our ace in the hole!"
I turned and smirked at him with my hands on my hips in what was likely a very female gesture. "That's complete bullshit Stewart," I chided him with disgust dripping from my tone. I don't know if it was my tone of voice or that my hands were subconsciously near my light sabers that gave him pause. Either way I smiled to reassure him and patted him on the cheek with a free hand. "But it's very, very goodbullshit."
I started walking towards the door of the hangar that the harbormaster had just departed through. "Hey!" He called after me. "Where you going?"
"My working lunch!" I told him over my shoulder. "Ciao!"
* * *
One of the things that always made George Lucas's films seems so real to me was the dedication to a 'used' universe; everything was dirty, the paint was chipped and flaking and peeling, the clothing was threadbare and tattered. It was one of those subconscious cues that your mind accepts and makes a place more real even though it was just a set on a movie. The Lady of Great Fortune Casino was the diametric and polar opposite of that philosophy. Everything was new and showroom shiny, from the sparkling crystals in the chandelier to the brightly polished brass and chrome to the plush and well vacuumed scarlet carpet on the floor the casino oozed opulence and luxury.
It was as far from anything you would expect on Tatooine as could be without getting in a spaceship; which was likely by design.
And like all casinos you have to pass through the gaming floor to get anywhere else in the building; so I wandered through fighting a mild case of déjà vu between the similarities to anything you would expect off the strip in Vegas to the wild assortment of aliens that were actually playing the games. As it would've been in Vegas there were no straight paths through the gaming floor. There were little raised and lowered platforms; a couple steps up here a step or two down there, decorative brass railings making something of a maze, led by the gambling machines and gaming tables. This served two purposes, one that was a greater likelihood of a chance to part someone from their money and of course two it was a natural antitheft deterrence as there was no such thing as a quick getaway through that floor.
Finally I was able to make my way out of the gaming floor and picked the first restaurant I came to for my meal. It seemed sedate enough, everything was a one-off of whatever this universe called Art Deco and there was enough chrome to open a 50s car dealership. I settled into a booth and reveled in the amount of space between my stomach the table top; when you're fat you don't use booths. Suddenly reminded of the second chance I went back several pages in the menu from the sandwich I had been eyeing to what seemed to pass for salads.
I felt what seemed like amusement from the presence of the back of my mind and a vague assurance that I wasn't a drone in a cube farm anymore. Even so, I decided to turn over something of a new leaf and so ordered an interesting looking salad whose name I couldn't suss out from the aurebesh from the waitress droid. That was another striking thing about the casino; Bibo had employed sentient waitstaff, two humans and a Twi'lek to be exact, but there were very few living beings doing work in this casino. Perhaps it was another way the casino was showing how opulent it was.
So I ate the strange looking (purple lettuce!), but quite tasty salad with it somewhat zesty and vaguely balsamic vinaigrette dressing and put my mind in 'gamer' mode and let my eyes wander. One of the first things that leapt out to me with this building would never have passed code anywhere in the United States. There were no signs directing people to exits, if there was a fire suppression system I couldn't make it out, and there was not a window in the place.
Still it was obviously not an impossible nut to crack, there were chinks in the armor if you knew where to look. There were little clutches of liveried Gamorreans, usually with a droid or some other minder, spread out in a manner that seemed to indicate they were intended to be used as bouncers. About one in five of the server droids had legs instead of some kind of wheel arrangement; you could argue this helps them traverse the little stairways out on the gaming floor, but the waitress droids on wheels didn't seem to be having any trouble. There was a high likelihood these droids could do more than serve drinks. And of course there were the usual things you'd expect to find in a casino, lots of cameras, lots of mirrors that probably were hiding cameras and probably other rude surprises tucked into the walls.
Which gave me a wonderfully nasty idea; more on that later.
Being new to womanhood I can assure you I had not picked up on any of the finer nuances of the gender least of all being a tease. So even I was startled out of my train of thought by, "If you ever decide to stop being a Sith; take up bounty hunting. You tracked me down like a pro."
I turned to bask in the radiant smile of Torm Belos resplendent in a white peasant shirt as bright as his teeth with a neckline that showed a generous amount of manly physique. In his hands were a pair of bottles, the same brand of beer I'd been drinking the night previous. He gestured with one of the bench opposite me while presenting me with the other. "This seat taken?" He asked with his damnably charming smile.
I say damnably because whenever he smiled at you can't help smiling back. "It is now," I assured him. He slid into the booth with a nonchalant grace that sent the thrill up my spine for reasons I couldn't suss out. To suppress my own excitement and keep my composure I took a sip from what was becoming my favorite beer on Tatooine while collecting my thoughts. "All done checking up on your employees?"
"I'm an early riser," he assured me. "Caught the red eye early this morning and was waiting on the employees at the warehouse before they opened." He took a pull is beer and shrugged. "I like catching people off guard; shows their true natures don't you think?"
"It's one way," I agreed. "So are you on your own recognizance yet? Or do you owe more labor to your employer?" I have to say I really liked this beer despite never having been much of a beer drinker back home; it had a unique hard to describe flavor and while I had felt very tense and on edge at the beginning of our conversation I was already feeling relaxed and quite at home.
"I'm a free moral agent, at least for the next two cycles." He winked at me and looked out of the restaurant in the direction of the gaming floor. "Who knows? Perhaps the Lady of Great Fortune will smile on me so I won't have to go back to work for Rendia Freight."
"You feel lucky?"
His grin was cocksure and predatory. "Somehow I feel like my luck changed for the better last night." My cheeks and other portions of my anatomy less polite to mention burned with embarrassment. He made a gesture at my neglected, half eaten salad. "Am I keeping you from your lunch?"
I pushed the plate to the edge of the table where the waitress droid could collect it on her next pass. "Not at all, but if you haven't eaten feel free to order." He smiled again and shook his head as he took another pull from his beer.
"No, I ate at the warehouse with the boys, but when I saw you in here I couldn't resist stopping by to say hello." I took a sip from the bottle and licked my lips which caused him great interest in my face much to my continuing embarrassment. "Any plans for the day?"
Now it was my turn to grin as I leaned forward. "Actually I have some shopping to do, and a few other things that I could fit you into." I don't know what possessed me to make such a brazen innuendo, but of course he picked up on it instantly and leaned forward in interest. "So, any idea where in this town a girl can buy a droid?"
"I'm sure the boys at the warehouse can point us to a reputable dealer," he assured me with a smile.
* * *
The boys in the shop recommended a Toydarian dealer named Danica as being both reputable and close. Mr. Torm Belos paid for my lunch over my protestations, shepherded me back across the game floor and out into the merciless twin suns of Tatooine. Whatever the bottles were made of kept the beer cold until we finished them despite the heat. Torm managed to stay inside my personal space without actually crowding me, though how he managed such a feat I'll never know. I walked the five or six blocks to the recommended shop a silly grin on my face talking about nothing I'm sure. Now I can only tell you the memories were pleasant, I didn't quite take his arm but he was never out of reach either and I was coming up with fewer and fewer reasons why that should bother me.
Moss Espa was a kaleidoscope view into this world, this universe we had found ourselves in. I could only put names or memories to half of the species I saw walking the streets as speeders vied with animals pulling carts for space. My senses were assaulted with smells and sights and sounds I was completely unprepared for, but I had never felt safer. Honestly that feeling had more to do with the man at my side than the light sabers on my hip.
It's a difficult thing to live up to someone's imagination of what being with you was like, but Torm not only lived up to the dreams I had had of him, but surpassed them with the easy grace of someone completely comfortable in their own skin. He held the door open to the shop for me I found myself wishing the store was further away so much I was enjoying the stroll. "Gooddé da lodia!"
The creature rose up on ridiculously fragile-looking wings that were a blur from behind the counter, short trunk like snout swinging and a dress of what looked like scarlet silk trying desperately to contain a ridiculous bosom for a creature so small.
Torm smiled and bowed from the neck. "H'chu apenkee," he replied. "Do you speak Basic?"
"Of course!" The alien replied with an accent that sounded like it came straight out of Atlantic City. "Welcome to Danica's Remnants! I'm Danica, what can I do for you?"
"Torm Belos," he said with another bow, then indicated me. "My lady, Nyeomi Fens, who is my guest, is visiting us from the Empire is needing a new droid." Danica sketched a curtsy in her silk dress without bothering to land.
"My lady has come to the right place!" She said with a gleam in her eye. "What kind of droid is my lady in the market for?"
I held up my hand and shook my head, terribly aware of that oh so proper Eaton accent that was coloring my voice. "Please just Nyeomi, and I'm in the market for an Astromech."
The little creature swooped in and took my arm, grinning from ear to ear around that remarkable snout. "Oh, bless you Deary! So modest and well brought up! It just so happens I have a wonderful selection of Astromech droids! Right this way...!"
I would have expected the presence in the back of my mind to be insulted by this familiarity, but it seemed The Force was just as amused by the situation as I was. Danica led us from the interior of the shop out into a courtyard that was covered over and shaded by a tarp. There were all manner of droids out here milling around; everything from little pit droids up to earth movers and construction equipment that were more vehicle than automaton. She shouted something in Huttese that caused a space to open up in the center of the courtyard and a line of the requested types of droids formed.
They were a motley little assortment ranging from a pink one barely half a meter tall to a monstrous cylinder that was mostly black and broke the tape at three meters and was covered in wicked arms. All of them had huge fish eye lenses that were watching me as I walked down the line of them looking them over. I was drawn to a model that was mostly green with an octagon shaped body crowned by a flat, mushroom shaped head dominated by a single black camera lens eye. There was a conical shaped device on the top of the droids head was bright red and somewhat comically made it look as if it were wearing a Fez. I turned to Danica while pointing at the red extrusion and asked, "What's this?"
"That is an Industrial Intelligence binary to Basic decoder," said a mildly accented voice that put me in mind of Michael Caine. It had come from a speaker embedded in the little red Fez. Danica just grinned at me.
Turning back to the droid I asked, "Why aren't all Astromech droids fitted with one?"
The droid rocked back and forth on its arms in a gesture that I took to be a shrug. "They are only available at the factory," it said. "And it's an expensive option. My original owner was a prospector who purchased me to maintain his equipment. He didn't want to have to consult another droid or constantly read a tablet to know what I was saying."
"What happened to him?" I asked genuinely curious. Again little droid rock from side to side.
"None of his prospects panned out," the voice said out of the speaker. "He said he was going to retire when he sold me, that was five orbits ago."
"You see? Practically new!" Danica assured me. "X4-D3 has all the standard features and one of the most sought after options; you won't find a better bargain at any price." I stepped behind the droid to inspect its backside.
"What is your price?" I replied from my inspections. "That's the question." I noticed one of the cover doors was damaged, but only slightly and tapped it to make the droid open it to reveal the tool inside which seemed fine. Danica rubbed her receding chin in thought.
"Well, he is used," the Toydarian admitted. "There's depreciation and you have such wonderful manners; eh, I can let him go for 1000 gold Peggats." I shot a glance at Torm and the expression on his face told me that her initial offer was not nearly as charitable as she was letting on.
"He is a fine specimen," I agreed noting that the single eye in the droids head never left me. "But that's really outside of my budget, even for such a worthy droid. I really wasn't looking to spend more than 350 Peggats." Danica flew backward with a disturbing grace and gestured at the little pink droid on the end.
"My lady may not be aware of the heavy demand in Astromech droids here on Tatooine," she said with what sounded like genuine dismay. "Such a sum could never purchase a full-featured droid like X4. T-1 here, on the other hand, has most of the same features and I could part with her for 350 Peggats."
The little pink droid bounced on its arms and spun its head while emitting a series of beeps and chirps likely singing its own praises. "I had no idea the economy was so flush," I allowed, continuing my overall inspection of X4. "Still an Astromech that can speak basic is valuable. I suppose I could stretch my budget to say 475?"
The smile on Danica's face widened just a bit. "My lady is wise and frugal, qualities lacking in most of today's youth! As you are obviously so aware of the value of my merchandise I'm sure you'll see that 650 gold Peggats is an absolute steal!"
"It must be difficult living on the frontier," I observed as, from my utility belt, I removed a pouch of hexagon coins and counted out a number letting them jingle in my hands. "I imagine out here on the Outer Rim, living with uncertainty day by day must make for a challenging way of life. Which is why I'm certain the fact that I can pay 525 gold Peggats in cash to ease that uncertainty will allow us to come to a mutual understanding."
Danica scratched the side of her snout with one hand while shaking her finger at me with the other. "My lady drives a hard bargain, there must be some Toydarian blood in you I think, eh?" She shrugged and held out her hand. "For cash, 525 and we have a deal." I counted out the coins in her hand and they disappeared as quickly on her person somewhere. She then produced a restraining bolt remote control and pointed it at the little droid."X4, this is your new mistress."
"If you need a restraining bolt controller, I have some extras I could let go cheap." She seemed excited at the prospect of another bargaining session, but I removed my controller from its place on my belt and held it up. "Of course you're well-prepared," Danica told me. "If you need anything else, or know someone who does, we're open seven days a cycle!"
"I'll be sure to tell all my friends," I told her dryly. "I must say, that is a lovely dress! I'm in need of a little finery myself, may I ask where you got it?"
"Of course!" She assured me grinning from ear to ear. "Garris of Tatooine, the finest designer on the planet! His shop isn't that far from here; be sure to tell him I sent you."
* * *
If there isn't already a patron saint of Patience in this universe, I would vote for Torm Belos. He sat quietly, without complaint, a little smile on his face as I arranged for several dresses to be made, had my measurements taken by holograms for an exact fit, and he even suffered through fabric choices while making intelligent contributions to the process; all without a single snarky comment about the predilections of women or shopping in general.
Ironically even though the outing couldn't be any less about me and my needs he seemed to be in charge of it the entire time, coolly in command and deriving his enjoyment from the fact that I was having a good time. As a man I'd never really gotten the concept of shopping; you had a need you went to the store you fulfilled the need.
Being a woman I now realize that a great deal of the 'fun' of the experience was being catered to and fawned over. The flattery of Garris was far less subtle than Danica's had been but I be lying if I said I didn't enjoy having my ego stroked. Having now been on both sides of the attractiveness aisle I came to realize that my resentment of beauty's privilege wasn't entirely fair. While I have never been fawned over in my previous life I'm fairly certain I had been given the so-called straight dope. To the point truthful answers to my to the point questions, likely from an aversion of the salesman's part not wanting to talk to someone as unattractive as I had been.
While being attractive got me plenty of attention from salesman I was also just a certain I was no longer getting truthful answers to my questions, but much more likely what the salesman thought I wanted to hear. It was certainly interesting to be able to admire the grass from both sides of the fence.
So having shopped until Proverbially both I and the twin suns of Tatooine had dropped and night was falling on the city Torm insisted on a dinner for us, which he doubtlessly hoped would be romantic. Having drug the poor man across most of the merchant district of Moss Espa, who was I to argue? So under the glow of floating holographic signs that seem to take the place of neon, we made our way back to the Lady of Great Fortune to the more formal of its three restaurants.
I felt more than a little under dressed in my Gi tunic and Jodhpurs, but Torm had a way of altering the vibe of a place so that it fit him rather than the other way around. The maître d' seated us at a discreet little booth next to the fireplace, exchanged words in what I took to be Huttese, then returned with a carafe of golden wine that sparkled and fizzed. Torm ordered for both of us, again over my protestations which he silenced with a smile and a wink, and then expertly poured the wine for both of us. "What shall we drink to?" He asked holding up his glass.
After a moment of thought I raised my own glass and touched it against his. "Beginnings," I replied.
"Beginnings," he agreed and joined me in the first taste of the wine. I've had champagne once or twice in my life, at weddings I had attended mostly, this was more what you think champagne would taste like if you'd only ever read about it. It didn't taste like grapes, but it had a fruity flavor to it, it was sweet but not as sweet as a fruit punch or soda would've been; while it was effervescent it was only lightly so. It warmed my center in a way that I hadn't realized it was cold. "So, Nyeomi, were in the Empire are you from? Drummond Kaas?"
I shook my head as I put the glass down and reached for one of the bread sticks so that I would have something in my stomach to keep the wine from going straight to my head. "Oh I'm practically from all over the Empire," I told him. "My father is an officer in the Imperial Army and changed duty stations every few years. I grew up under a dozen different suns. My time training at the Sith Academy on Korriban was the longest that I had ever stayed in one place."
He smiled his Cheshire smile again. "Ah, the military life," he said philosophically breaking off a piece of his own bread stick and chewing. "So travel must be an old hat for you. I grew up on Ord Mantell in the Bright Jewel Cluster of the Mid-Rim. I took this job because it would require a lot of travel. I wanted to get out into the galaxy and see it firsthand."
"It's good for a man to be ambitious," I replied taking another sip of wine. "So are you still enjoying your travels?"
"It's brought you into my life and I'm certainly enjoying that."
I wiped at the corner of my lips with my napkin. "Why, Mr. Belos, what are your intentions towards me?" He took a sip of wine as a little smile curled the corner of his mouth.
"Only the best of intentions, my lady, I assure you."
I tore off another piece of bread stick and chewed thoughtfully. It had been seasoned with a panoply of herbs my palate wasn't sophisticated enough to suss out. "You didn't strike me as a braggart," I told him. "Should I change my opinion?"
"Is a Wookie bragging when he performs a great feat of strength?"
Despite my precautions with the bread the wine had certainly loosened my tongue. "Are you claiming to be greatly endowed by nature?"
On being handed in opening like this most men would've leered their expressions would've become salacious and in the unmasking of base lust even the most beautiful become a little ugly. Torm Belos only shrugged and smiled an almost self-deprecating smile. "Should I be so lucky," he replied raising his glass in my direction. "I will yield to my lady's opinion of my endowment either great or lacking."
I shuddered at the thought of it, but what kind of shudder I couldn't say. Just two days ago I would've sworn my shudder would've been one of revulsion, but I can't make that statement now. The truth be told there was a fair amount of anticipation built into that thrill that raced up and down my spine; anticipation of turning speculation into knowledge and seeing if fantasy measured up to reality.
It was at that moment the waiter droid brought our supper, steaks of some manner served with an unidentifiable vegetable, and I for one was grateful for the interruption. I felt his eyes on me as I tucked into the steak and ignored them. Finally after a long moment he asked, "Does my interest bother you?"
I looked up startled at his question and its directness. "Why do you ask?" I demanded once I got my mouth clear. He started to answer when a look of comprehension flowed over his handsome features.
"I was going to say that a gentleman should always be concerned with how a lady perceives him. I thought perhaps I may have misunderstood some the signals I interpreted from you, but now I understand."
Something about his rock solid confidence in whatever insight he picked up rattled me and despite my mouth being full of the excellent steak, I demanded, "what do you understand?"
He smiled a smug little smile that again sent shivers up and down my spine. "It's so obvious now, I'm surprised I didn't see it sooner. I knew you had an interesting story to tell, and I told you I would get it out of you."
A sip of wine got the mouthful into my stomach and took the edge off the annoyance I felt. "I'm glad I can entertain you. Tell me, what is this great tale that I'm regaling you with?"
He refilled both of our glasses from the carafe and returned it to the little unit that was keeping it cold. "It is a sad, lonely tale," he said before he took a sip of his wine. "A beautiful girl, inspired by her father's patriotism, blessed with the gift of supernatural ability, and driven to make her parents proud of her? It is a story of sacrifice, loneliness and discipline; but I hope it has some happy moments. I hope to make these some of them."
"And how do you plan to do that?" I demanded.
In answer Torm only smiled that damnable smile of his again and stood, offering his hand. I blinked looking down at the table suddenly realizing that the meal was over, our plates finished, the wine carafe and our glasses empty my stomach pleasantly full and my head buzzing. I looked back up at him to see him still smiling with his hand out. "Come with me to my room, and I'll show you."
I don't remember standing, I don't remember taking his hand or paying the bill or the elevator ride; one moment I was seated at a table in a restaurant, the next I was seated on a bed the size of a parade ground with another glass of wine in my hand. I had a moment of panic where the thought came into my mind that perhaps there was some nefarious chemical or narcotic at work here but no sooner had the thought entered my mind, then The Force soothed me and assured me that only my own blood chemistry was at work. Take him, The Force whispered to me. You'll feel better after.
I stood, placing the wineglass on his dresser and faced him. He was head and shoulders taller than I was, despite being two meters tall myself in these boots, despite having to crane my neck to look up at him, despite the adrenaline coursing through my system, I realized there was no threat in his eyes. "I... I should leave," I told him trying desperately to make it sound as though my decision was firm.
"I won't stop you," he assured me. "But I don't think you really want to leave."
"I... I know what I want."
He smiled and took a step forward closing the gap between us as I felt his arms slide around my shoulders and his hands settle in the small of my back. The smell of him filled my nostrils; a strong natural smell that flowed up through my brain then down my spine and settled into my groin. "I know what you want," he declared softly, his face looming larger in my vision; making me fall into his endless eyes. "You just don't want to admit it to yourself."
"Stop that," I whispered into his eyes. His arms contracted and I was pressed against him, my breasts into the granite that was his chest and against my thigh and abdomen the feeling of him showing his appreciation of me.
"Stop what?" He asked his lips millimeters from mine. My arms were around his back now my hands gripping his broad shoulders; I had never wanted nor been so afraid of something in my entire life. Before I could form a thought to describe what it was I wanted him to stop, or even if I wanted him to stop, his lips were against mine and for the first time in my life I kissed a man.
The dam of what was left of my manly reservation was breached and failed unleashing a tsunami of pent up womanhood that washed through my mind and swept my soul downstream. I gave myself to him in a torrent of released emotion punctuated by the sharp sting of my hymen giving way and the concerned surprise on his face as he claimed my virginity.
And when he had claimed me and I had given myself utterly to him I pushed him on his back in that magnificent bed coaxing him aroused once again and claimed him as vigorously and as thoroughly as he had claimed me. I no longer cared what anyone thought of me, I no longer concerned myself with who I had been only who I was in that moment, the woman who was making love to Torm Belos. I was, I am, and from that moment forward I would always be Nyeomi Fens, woman.
The Force smiled in the back of my mind as I fell asleep in his arms, the taste of him on my lips and tongue; my body completely and utterly satisfied. Told you.
* * *
So much for fairy tales.
Oh, come on, you had to realize after that massively romantic bit of prose reality was going to reassert itself at some point? Cinderella may get to live happily ever after, but, and I can't believe I'm saying this, the rest of us live in the real world; if that phrase has any meaning whatsoever anymore. So Torm had to have a fault and it was a fairly common one; he snores. In fact he snores so badly when I was awoken by it I couldn't help wondering a little bit if he perhaps had sleep apnea. Either way I was awake.
And if snoring was the worst I had to deal with the proverbial morning after losing my virginity, I would've counted myself lucky. But we know from the wise old Jedi in this universe there's no such thing as luck. I also woke up in a wet spot the size of Lake Mead. Oh well, small price to pay I suppose, and things could've been much much worse. Looking back, in one sense quite literally as I had sat up in the bed and was looking over my shoulder at my lover, things had been far more of everything than they had been in the first time I had lost my virginity. This was... Hard to put into words. I wasn't hung over and I had perfect recall of everything I had done and was done to me which brought a little bit of a blush to my cheeks in remembrance. I had done things I never thought I would, experienced things that were beyond my wildest imagination and now in the very early morning light I was trying to put what happened into some kind of perspective.
Yes, Torm was in fact greatly endowed.
I watched him sleep for a few minutes thinking about what I had done, thinking about the seed he had put in me. Turning The Force inward, I discovered I was not in the fertile time of my period, and so I wasn't going to be a mother; at least not yet. I wanted to be selfish, I wanted to wake him and demand a second curtain call from his performance, but my inner sense of responsibility won out and I silently rose from the bed and retired to the bathroom.
Interestingly, there wasn't a shower, but rather a sizable tub we both could've fit into of steaming water. I stepped gingerly into it feeling the hot water relax my muscles and settled in the one of the molded seats. Belatedly I realized on the other side of the room was a tiled area with a bench and the hand nozzle on a hose which would make this very similar to a Japanese style of bathing.
I sat in the hot water and I thought long and hard on a great number of subjects. I didn't know if I was ready to settle down with Torm Belos, but I did admit to myself I wouldn't mind sharing my cabin with him. I smiled as I remembered the state I'd put him in, his cries of passion and his amazement at the eagerness with which I parted from my virginity. The lyrics from an old Joan Jett song popped into my mind and I smiled as I realized after my meltdown with Lanaka I wasn't ready to be Torm's wife, but it wouldn't bother me to be his whore.
"I don't give a damn about my bad reputation," I sung softly to myself as I exited the tub and dried off. Humming the song quietly to myself I dressed in my discarded clothes, woke up X4 from the stand by the droid placed himself in while Torm and I had amused ourselves and quietly slipped from the room.
My first slut walk, and being honest with myself that's what this was, was thankfully anonymous and uneventful. No one saw me exit his room, board the elevator or ride it down to the main floor; except perhaps the faceless members of the hotel's security on the camera system. In the elevator I had X4 record a message for Torm, apologizing for my absence due to my early start and upload it to the hotel's messaging system.
Having done what I could for my personal life, it was time to get to business.
* * *
As promised Garris had worked through the night and the boxes containing the fruits of his labor were inside the delivery safe in the landing bay when I arrived. These were added to X4's existing burdens and we swept up the ramp into the ship proper. As I had expected, Darius was up drinking tea and reading from his tablet at the ships table. "Up early or late?" I asked as I entered the galley and began to brew myself a cup of coffee.
Darius rubbed his eyes and sighed heavily. "Academic at this point," he managed around a massive yawn. "You're awfully chipper for the hour," he observed and then caught sight of X4 entering the salon. "You get a new droid?"
"He followed me home so I'm keeping him," I replied from sweetening my coffee. "What's new here?"
I came out and sat at the table in time to catch Darius's expressive shrug. "About what you'd expect," he replied. "Silas's been boning up on the finer points of Pazaak and wishing it was a dice game. Lanaka, surprise, thinks we are all fools for helping you."
Like a number of gamers Silas, when he had been Stuart, had had an affinity for dice. I don't know if it was just his hands were so sensitive and he could tell by the weight of the dice what they would throw, or he really had some preternatural ability. Either way, craps games would mysteriously dry up when he came into a casino. As for my ex-wife, well, follow-through had never been one of her sterling qualities. Nor, being honest, had she any great talent for foreseeing a result from an action. She'd always been very impulsive, which I couldn't help but believe was one of the reasons she got as large as she had been.
"But she doesn't believe it so much that she is willing to strike out on her own I'm guessing?" Darius' blank look was all the answer I needed. Turning to X4, I commanded, "Yeah, thought so. X4 display the schematic. Behold, the Lady of Great Fortune Casino Hotel." The holographic projector on the little Astromech droid lit up and over the table in blue white light floated a floor by floor diagram of the hotel.
Startled, Darius rose from his chair his eyes drinking in the hologram greedily. "How did you get this?" He demanded. I kept in a smirk and gave a gesture to little droid.
"There are more droids than employees in this hotel," I replied. "As I understand it from X4 here the schematic is actually broadcast to aid the droids in navigating around the hotel. A little judicious pilfering from one of their public network nodes got us the back of the house broadcast. Did Silas have any trouble finalizing his registration for the tournament?"
"No," Darius told me his eyes never leaving the hologram. He was fixed in that determined stare that's familiar to anyone who's known a wargamer; the look an armchair tactician gets when they first see a new battlefield and are plotting deep strategy. "He said that if they were concerned about him playing they didn't show it. Lanaka said no one seemed to leap out as the obvious choice for the payoff either."
"I may have something that will help with that," I told him as I took a long drink from the coffee and lovingly patted the droids head. "X4 has a copy of the master list of all the registered players for the tournament. You can download it to your tablet and go through them at your leisure. It would help to know who the mark is." I stood while I drained the cup and headed back to the galley. "Work out some way of discreetly letting me know if the plan changes. Oh, and you will need to find a new date for the tournament, sorry."
Finally his concentration was broken and his eyes sought me out in the galley. "New date? What?"
* * *
Pazaak is a draw card bluffing game most similar to blackjack. It's played with a single deck of forty cards numbered one through ten with four examples of each type, this is called the table deck and is communal to all the players playing the game. In addition to this deck each player maintains a deck of ten cards which he can build himself in any combination he likes. Each player deals himself four cards from this private deck which forms his hand. The rule being to get closest to or exactly twenty without going over in any combination of cards from your private and table decks.
Thus counting cards was a legitimate tactic in the game, complicated by having to track as many private decks as there were players at the table, plus the dealer. There were also a spattering of specialty cards; plus and minus cards which would add additional or subtract additional points from the players total, flip cards that would cause all twos and fours on the table or all three's and sixes on the table to change their alignments. Thus positive twos and fours would become negative and the reverse. These specially cards were frequently found tucked in as surprises in the players private deck which made the counting of the cards more interesting.
As a bonus, the tournament allowed recognized ranked players, or those who attended a circuit event, to 'buy-in' past the first elimination phases. Silas, having done both, would skip the first and second eliminations without actually have to play until the third day of the tournament. There were a small collection of high rollers enjoying this privilege with him who watched the first days general floor game from a luxuriously appointed side room and commented on the game to the holo net broadcasters that were following it.
Torm, being a working professional, wasn't so lucky skip the buy-in's and so was seated on the general floor from the first day. I draped myself in one of Garris's creations; a slinky, but elegant number in pearlescent white shimmer silk that was very 40s in style came down to just above my knee. It was formal and modest enough that no one could legitimately call it hooker fashion or slut wear, conversely it put enough skin on display to have the matrons sniffing in disdain and the other girls in the room green with envy. So looking the part, I served as Torm's good luck charm, standing behind him at the table, idly running my hands through his hair while he played the game.
And yes, I readily admit that the look of unabashed joy on his face when he saw me in that dress, having returned after he woke alone, did my ego a world of good. Allow me a moment to expand on that. Despite my decisions to be brutally honest with myself, and early 80s bad girl anthems aside, there was a part of me that was very afraid of what Torm's reaction would be when I saw him again. Had I just been a notch on his belt? Being able to brag that he successfully seduced a Sith Lord and lived to tell the tale would certainly be the highlight of any pickup artist trophy collection.
While it would've hurt for a little while, if it had just been a one night stand it would not have broken me. But some part of me I didn't have a name for yet was quite thrilled that it had not been. This part of me had been even more overjoyed when we discovered that Force Sensitives are also mind readers. It shocked me to learn that simply by touching Torm's head I was able to I was able to pick up on his emotions; at first they were what you would expect controlled excitement at playing in the tournament, controlled arousal at my touch. Then as I worked my fingers through his thick black hair thoughts began to percolate up my hand, much to my amazement.
At first it was just the mental exercises that he was using to track what the other players have played in keeping count of the deck. His mind was just as focused and steely as the rest of his personality had led me to believe which was quite attractive for some reason. I learned the game as I mentally listened to his thoughts while he took his table mates to school. By the lunch break he had eliminated two players of the ten at this table, and amassed a considerable pile of chips.
By the dinner break the table was down to a three way split between Torm, an elderly Zabrak male with more than a passing interest in my decolletage, and a Dug with a foul mouth who swore in Huttese and had a pair of Twi'lek whores who might as well have been naked as scantily clad as they were, rubbing his microscopic shoulders.
Taking a cue from that, I found and began to remove a knot in the muscles of Torm's shoulder; perhaps a bit more vigorously than was needed, however I'm certain that had nothing whatsoever to do with the three extremely poor betting choices the Zabrak made which transferred most of his chips to Torm's pile. This set him up to be eliminated by the Dug the next round. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
That having been decided, Torm and the Dug, who was named Barrasti, were marked the tables winners, having survived the first elimination, and moved on to the next days play. So out of a field of 5000, the dreams of 2500 beings had already been dashed.
That night I spent completely with Torm, who introduced me to one of the greatest sensual pleasures there is; he washed my hair for me. No, really. If you've never been bathed by someone, you missed out on one of the great sensual pleasures of life. My hair actually reaches the bottom of my shoulder blades, longer than I've ever worn it before, and it was something of a chore to get clean. Having Torm's huge hands and thick, strong fingers run through my hair and massage my scalp was pure bliss. That was before he went to work on the rest of my body with the sponge; I was not merely turned on by his touch, but that he saw to me with his intense gaze and absolute silence, had me so breathless, I was panting.
I had never been so clean, nor felt so absolutely filthy.
I may not have been as expert as he was in returning the favor, but I did know the male body, and if he had complaints he kept them to himself. Of course, my bathing of him inspired him to vigorous acts of an athletic nature that required us both to clean ourselves again, but we were already in the bathroom so that was quite a time saver.
The next morning I settled on a Cheongsam dress that was made from a floral print in mostly scarlet and mustard yellow that left my arms bare. The dress came down to my ankles front and back but had slits up both sides well up to mid thigh making the dress both easy to maneuver in and due to it fitting my form exactly extremely sexy. Or so I was led to believe by the hungry stare of Mr. Belos.
Fortunately today we did not have to suffer the presence of Barrasti as he been seated at another table. Though his absence was still suffered in the form of his carrying voice that carried over the distance from several tables over without apparent difficulty. The second day emboldened some of our table mates, some of whom made wagers that seemed quite reckless and was likely not demonstrative of how they had arrived at the second day. Lady Luck favored one or two of these reckless bets, but most went to the well one time too many and fell to Torm's or one of the other more conservative players cautious approach.
This wasn't a phenomenon limited to our table, indeed before lunch fourteen tables had been eliminated, their single winners shuffled into a single table and those eliminated to a single winner. While I could wish our least favorite Dug, Barrasti, was one of those eliminated, we weren't that lucky. The winner of that table must have been a champion card counter, and he looks the type; thin, weedy and balding. I think the only reason he wasn't wearing birth-control glasses is because glasses don't seem to exist in this universe.
After lunch Torm finished off the rest of the table and we retired to the bar area on one side of the gaming floor that was reserved for the tournament players and waited for there to be enough table winners to assemble a second elimination table. While I had a beer Torm only drank coffee so as to keep his edge. "You're doing quite well," I complimented and I meant it.
Torm only smiled his boyish smile and waved away my complement with an idle gesture. "I am amazed I got this far," he declared. "Last year I was eliminated on the first round."
"You must have been practicing then," I observed as I took a sip. "Any plans for what to do with your winnings?" He chuckled and shook his head.
"You're putting the repulser cart ahead of the horse," Torm said gazing out the field of tables, then turned back to meet my eye. "What about you? What are your plans after all this?"
I sighed as I turned my gaze back to the gaming tables took another sip of beer both in an effort to buy time. "I... I don't know," I admitted finally. "I am, after all, a member of the Imperial Armed Forces. I have oaths that I've taken, duty and loyalty to uphold." I took another, longer sip before I turned back to face him. "Obligations not easily cast aside."
He smiled as he reached up with his free hand and gently ran the tips of his fingers on my cheek causing thrills up and down my spine. "Of course you'll be responsible," he affirmed. "Once you told me your story I knew that duty and responsibility were as important to you as is breathing.”
"Honor above all," I quoted the Army's motto with a sad half smile staring up into his eyes. "I have to do what is right."
The smile broadened on his face and the fingertips expanded to his whole hand cupping my cheek. "You wouldn't be you if you didn't," he assured me. "But is that all you want from the future? Family seems so important to you, I can't imagine you don't want one of your own?"
I was actually saved from answering by the arrival of the tournament official summoning Torm to the table. He offered his arm as he led the way through the maze of gaming tables and I was so mentally confused by his simple questions I found myself taking it and the comfort from my swirling thoughts it offered. His question set off something of a crisis of faith in me; as a young man I had aspirations of family life; being the good father to my children that I hadn't had. Laura and I had been married for 10 years and in our 40s still childless; though not from a lack of trying.
Now I was 25 again, better fit than I ever had been in my life and I don't know if it was The Force, or woman's intuition, or what, but I had a feeling that not only was I fertile, I was very fertile. Of course my involvement in the creation of children was now considerably more complicated than gallantly offering to sleep in the wet spot and whispering, "baby, you are awesome," as I fell asleep. With all due respect to Master Yoda, fear doesn't lead anger, fear leads to terror.
I had been a woman for less than a week and I had absolutely no context or frame of reference having not even experienced my first period, to conceptualize something as monumental as being pregnant. So I clamped down on my confusion forced myself to focus on the task at hand; that would be hard enough.
That said, I have to admit it felt very nice that Torm sensed my confusion and put his free hand around my waist possessively while he played.
The game continued in a herky-jerky fashion due to the fact that the tournament was operating under no limit betting rules and every time one of the table mates would make one of these risky bets and 'go all in' play stopped for one of the broadcasting teams to come over to catch the drama. Sometimes the player would double up their chips in this manner, but usually it heralded a 10 minute delay before the player was eliminated, their hopes dashed and their chips transferred to someone else.
This drug the game out to the dinner break, much to my annoyance. On the way to the restaurant I excused myself for a quick stop in the ladies room. While I was taking care of business a tablet slid under the divider wall from the next stall. The drawing program was active on it and 'someone' had drawn out in English, "Have narrowed list to fifteen, review and comment."
I dug my own tablet out and copied the file over before erasing the hand drawn notes for one of my own. "Will do. Is meeting necessary?" I handed the tablet back under the stall and heard the toilet flush. I finished my own business and exited the stall to find Lanaka checking her makeup in the mirror. She was dressed to the nines in a gown that wasn't much more than a swimsuit with numerous ropes of pearls and semiprecious stones strung in interesting ways that set off her cobalt blue skin.
I washed my hands then made a minute adjustment to my hair. "Slut," Lanaka declared into the mirror before stalking out, her back rigidly straight.
"Whore,” I called after her retreating back then put it out of my mind so I wouldn't spoil my dinner.
* * *
I lay in the bed relishing the feeling of his arms around me counting heartbeats. It was past time to rise, past time to be gone, but I couldn't help enjoying where I was. It had taken an additional three hours past dinner for Torm to be the last man standing at his table. His unfettered joy at moving into the third day of the tournament, to have a chance at real money, was infectious. We had celebrated well into the night.
Tomorrow things would get worse. The men having been separated from the boys, the sharks were going to be let loose from their lounge in the tournament was going cut throat. Only 250 players remained, the 200 to clawed their way through two days of eliminations, and the fifty sharks of professional players who are going to start eating them alive. If you managed to get to one of the three first elimination tables then at least you are guaranteed to get your buy-in back; which was not an inconsiderable sum, especially for a working man. Torm had told me he had saved for over a quarter orbit to get the bankroll to buy into this tournament. But get to the final table and that's where money started getting serious. Even the first player eliminated doubled his buy-in and the prizes went up there. This was how such a notoriously rigged game continued to draw players.
Speaking of serious. I let another dozen heartbeats go by before I sighed, carefully extracted myself from his arms and sat up in bed. Despite my precautions his breathing changed pitch.
His voice drifted up from behind me, thick with sleep but rapidly becoming awake. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn't see what I did before I took hold of his wrist to direct The Force through my hand. "Go back to sleep," I ordered him. His body sank back on the bed with a thud and I knew he wouldn't rise until morning now. I stood and assembled an outfit of mismatched pieces designed to put as much skin as possible on display.
Over this I pulled on my white cape and left the room.
This time I wouldn't be as lucky as my previous slut walk had been. Waiting at the elevator lobby was one of two Twi'lek girls I had seen hanging on Barrasti. She looked me up and down with the indifferent air of one professional sizing up another, her eyes settling on the light sabers that hug my belt and went everywhere with me. The lift arrived we entered it she asked, "Jedi?"
"Sith," I corrected her.
She nodded absently while pressing the button for the ground-floor. She caught my eye in a silent question to make sure that floor was where I was going as well and I nodded at her. As the car descended she continued, "Dress-up isn't really my thing. Any money in it?"
It finally dawned on me that she had taken me for a member of her profession, which of course was the reason I was dressed the way I was; she thought she had happened upon me coming from a client and was seeking trade advice. I saw no reason to correct her false assumption and shrugged. "Pays the bills."
The car came to a stop on the ground-floor and she nodded thanks as we exited. "Easy tricks," she bid me as our paths diverged, me for the exit and she heading toward one of the bars that was still open.
"You as well," I wished her and made my way out the front of the casino. Out in the cold of the desert night I touched a hidden control and the white cloak went black around me. I pulled up the hood and directed my steps towards the red light district on the edge of this entertainment area of town. There are certain universal truths in situations like this, trope I believe is the term, one is that wherever there is legitimate entertainment to be had not far away the purveyors of vice will set up shop and offer illegitimate entertainment.
In less than a few blocks I arrived at clutch of brothels just off a fairly major thoroughfare through the city. I stopped at a news kiosk next to an alleyway that was far enough away from the brothels not to be impinging on the working girls but close enough that mistakes like the one I had just had happened in the elevator would be made again of anyone watching.
Before the headlines had gone through a full cycle a voice drifted from the shadows. “This, this is the final indignity, Ed.”
“Hello, dear,” I greeted, my eyes intent on the kiosk. “Having a good night?”
Lanaka stepped from the shadows, dressed just as trashy as I was, a heavy scowl on her face. “Why couldn't we meet in the bar?”
I smiled her, finally turning from the kiosk. “We could have been overheard,” I told her as if was the most natural thing in the world. “That, and you only picked the bar because you wanted to call me a slut.”
'Slut' had been the codeword for a rundown little bar several blocks the other direction from the hotel. Lanaka smirked, crossed her arms over her bosom and leaned against the building. "Tough luck about that shoe fitting, Cinderella." She sneered at me.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "How long are you going to hold a poor choice of words against me?" I demanded. Before she could answer I caught sight of a small clutch of teens and college-age males wandering over to us. I held up a finger indicating she wait then turned to face the boys.
"Hey, how much...?" One started, but I interrupted making a broad gesture with one hand.
"You boys don't want to hire any prostitutes tonight," I ordered them.
The leader blinked as if I'd struck him in the forehead just between the eyes. "We don't want to hire any prostitutes tonight," he declared slowly as if trying to wrap his brain around the concept.
I gestured again. "You want to go back to wherever you are staying, sleep it off and rethink your opinion of women."
"We want to go back to the hotel," the leader declared.
His wingman piped up, "We should probably sleep it off."
The biggest of them scratched his head as if the act of thinking was painful. "Guys," he declared with all the weight of Moses returning with the tablets from Mount Sinai. "We really need to rethink our opinion of women." The group turned on their collective heel and ambled off in the direction of the hotel district.
"You know," Lanaka said softly from standing next to me, "it's funny when you see it in the movie. In real life? That was creepy as hell." She paused for a long moment before her red eyes met mine. "If you ever pull that on me..." She declared leaving the threat hanging.
I nodded. "Don't worry about it, I don't like doing it as it is. Business?" She indicated the alley with her head and I followed her in to the shadows and away from prying eyes and ears. "X4 taken care of?"
She smirked and I don't know if it was her blue skin, her red eyes or the combination that made the gesture so unpleasant looking. "No problems there," she assured me. "Did you go over the list?"
"Yes, and I agree it's too early with too many variables to try to pick the most likely. We'll see how many make the final table, then I think we'll have a better idea." I sighed and drew the cloak a bit closer about me for warmth. The desert air was remarkably cold. "No sense wasting time getting close to the wrong guy."
Her snort of derision instantly flared my temper, which her statement did nothing to alleviate. "Well, you'd know all about wrong guys wouldn't you? Jesus, how do you still do your thinking with your Dick, when you don't even have one anymore? You keep banging like there's no tomorrow don't be surprised when you wake up knocked up!"
"What would you know about it?" I demanded. The words were out before I could censor them while the expression on her face quickly went to a grimace of anger as I saw how deeply I had hurt her. Her obesity had interfered with her cycle her whole life and she took it very personally. It was one of the reasons we were still childless after years of marriage and cohabitation. "Laura, I..."
"I... I was trying to help you, you skank whore!" She hissed, shaking with fury.
I held my hands up in supplication, the apology already on my lips from pure reflex when the barb found its mark and my eyes went red with fury. "Who do you imagine you're talking to?" I demanded.
Her eyes narrowed and with a particularly cold tone of voice, she whispered, "My worthless ex husband." Before I could even begin to formulate a response, she turned on her heel and stalked off down the alley, disappearing into the shadows.
I don't know how long I stared after her in that red haze of anger, one part of me wanted to run her down and make her permanently sorry her mouth didn't have a filter. The other part of me aghast I would consider such thing. After what seemed forever I mastered myself and turned to go back to the hotel, only to find myself nose to nose with a scruffy looking man who was vaguely familiar. I blinked in surprise and stepped back, which probably saved my life, because the right cross he was throwing struck me on the lip and point of the chin instead of where my jaw met my ear which probably would've knocked me out.
As it was, the blow knocked me from my feet and sideways onto the sandy street leaving me seeing stars and my ears ringing. I looked up, fighting the tunneling of my vision to see the man who cracked his knuckles and reared back for a kick. "I told you this wasn't over!"
I threw my arms up to protect my face as his kick landed like a freight train against my forearms. I rolled with the force of it away from him, but my left arm still went pins and needles from having taken the brunt of the blow. That's when it sank in to me why this man was familiar; the last time I'd seen him he'd been pissing himself in terror as I choked him with The Force. Despite the cold I forced my left hand to free the Cape from my neck as I rolled my feet. I tasted blood from my split lip, and wiped at the trickle of it on my chin with the back of my hand. "It will be soon," I promised him.
Throughout my life, I have known anger. I'll be the first to admit I have a nasty temper, that the Army taught me how to keep on a very short leash. Most people read phrases like 'murderous rage' and having never experienced it themselves think it simply means being very angry. They ascribe a horrific emotion to simple causes like having their order wrong at a restaurant and then getting lip from the server; but most people have never really known rage.
Rage, like hatred, takes commitment.
Anger is a very passing emotion, it flares like a fire with gasoline poured on it, but soon dies back down to embers of resentment, pique, or pout. Anger is brief because it takes energy, surprising amounts of it, to maintain, but compared to rage, anger is a pedal boat sitting next to an aircraft carrier. If you've never fought for your life, chances are good you've never felt rage. In my past life I had been a combat veteran, I had fought for my life, and I knew what rage tasted like. Between my residual resentment of Laura and now fighting for my own life I was tasting it again; only this time there was The Force.
We were separated by approximately five meters and he realized he had made a mistake letting me get out of arms reach. Had he pressed his advantage quickly I probably would not be telling you this story. He went for the blaster in the holster at his hip as The Force launched me across the intervening space in my rage in a single bound. My fist crashed into his throat with everything I could pour into the blow. With a sickening wet snap I felt his trachea collapse under my fist even as I spun behind him and kicked backwards into his knee. His hands went to his throat by reflex, gasping and gurgling as he tried to force air through the ruined passage even as he fell forward hard on the sand down to his knees. I continued to spin coming to a stop once more in front of him; a fistful of his greasy hair in one hand forcing his head up to look me in the eye, the hilt of my light saber in the other.
I shoved the emitter hard against his sternum so he could feel it, so he could know what was coming. As he realized he was looking at his own death, his eyes went wide with terror. "I warned you," I hissed to him, then my thumb came down on the activation stud. I didn't think his eyes could go any wider, but they did as then came the jerk of his body due to his nervous system being severed, the hiss of the blade not slowed in the slightest as it passed through him, and the nauseating sickly smell of burnt human flesh in the air mixed with urine and excrement as he lost control of himself.
I pulled my blade free and watched the life fade from his eyes before I released my grip on his hair to let the corpse fall over on its side. I panted after my breath for several minutes listening to the, buzz of the saber and staring down at the body of the man I had killed.
It is a tremendously terrible and powerful thing to kill a man; to do something absolutely permanent. People react to it differently, some burst into tears, some become physically ill and throw up, a few statistical outliers giggle, but for all of them the reason is always the same. As realization that you have ended someone elses life pierces the adrenaline high that comes with fighting for your life there comes a feeling of absolutepower. To call this feeling orgasmic does it a disservice as the feeling is much, much stronger and orders of magnitude more pleasant and addictive. This is why people react so strongly to it, because most are not prepared to realize that they have killed and they liked it.
I shed no crocodile tears for this man I had killed.
I harbored no uncertainty that this man intended my death, possibly by way of a brutal rape. Being honest I will admit that I felt no worry that my actions may have impoverished some widow somewhere, that I may have left children I did not know nor ever would fatherless. I knew only that he was dead, that I had killed him, and I had done so with an absolute certainty that he had gotten what he deserved.
Now, whispered the voice inside me. Now you are a Lord of the Sith.
My thumb deactivated the saber causing the blade to vanish with a hiss so I could return it to its place on my belt. "So be it," I whispered at the corpse. "So be it."
* * *
I made sure to be back in the room and back in bed before Torm awoke, not that it did much good. I was coming to appreciate just how keenly intuitive the man was as he knew instantly something was bothering me. He noticed my split lip and made a few general inquiries at breakfast, but when I rebuffed them he simply shrugged and let the matter drop. I could tell by the look on his face he knew I was conflicted, but that rock solid confidence of his told him I would talk about it or I wouldn't and either way was fine with him.
This is as good a time as any to talk a little bit about Tatooine.
Now, just about anywhere on planet Earth if a human body is found with a two and a half centimeter hole in their chest there are a certain sequence of events one can expect to occur. Law enforcement or Constabulary will be summoned likely to arrive in quite a precipitous manner to the flashing of strobe lights and the wails of sirens. The crime scene will be cordoned off, photographs taken, passersby interviewed and eventually some unknown number, usually two if the police dramas are to be believed, of overworked badly dressed detectives will eventually arrive to begin canvassing the area for clues. These clues will tell the story of what occurred, leading to, at the best outcome of events, the identity of the perpetrator of the crime who will then face justice in a court of law.
But, I hear you protest, Tatooine and Mos Eisley was supposed to be a wild West town, only set in outer space. Fair enough. In the so-called wild wild West, the discovery of a body would cause quite a commotion, the sheriff and his deputies would've canvassed the town, probably finding a scapegoat upon which to hang the crime and ironically enough usually the scapegoat himself.
Neither of these scenarios occurred.
In a nebulous distant future that may happen, a Galactic Empire will rise an attempt to exert control over Tatooine. Storm troopers will patrol the streets, shadowy cloaked informants will spy on their neighbors and starships will blast their way out of spaceports. Despite all the overwhelming presence of these bastions of the Police State; this planet, and that city specifically, Mos Eisley, doesn't have a great reputation for law and order. In fact in one bar, in the space of ten minutes, two people were killed and one is disfigured for life, and in between these events those selfsame storm troopers walk through the bar.
In case you missed it let me run it by you again.
A man is cut in half, a man has his arm cut off, storm troopers walk through, then leave. They don't ask any questions, they don't run out the crime scene tape, they just walk through menacingly, and leave. Not five minutes later, another patron has a 'mysterious malfunction' with a blaster, the person who engineered his appointment with that malfunction casually stands up, tosses the bartender a tip, apologizes for the mess, and walks out like a boss. He doesn't run, and he obviously isn't afraid the storm troopers are coming for him, rather he strolls as a man without a care in the world or any concern of an awkward conversation with the proponents of law and order.
Now supposedly, this is how things are going to be in three thousand years, give or take a decade or two. As things stand in the here and now Tatooine is controlled by a loose cartel of three of the smaller Hutt clans who basically couldn't care less what happens on the streets in their cities so long as it doesn't interfere with business or give any of their interests a bad name.
To be honest I couldn't tell you how the body was disposed of, or even if it was.
So much for law and order, we had the tournament to win. I escorted Torm to his table and the game got underway. As there were now only twenty-five tables made it easier to get an idea of how the tournament was flowing. While I tried to keep my thoughts clear I played with Torm's hair and surveyed the other tables. Lanaka wasn't wearing much more than she had last night as she hung over Silas in a display that had me pondering unpleasant things. As Laura she had tried her best to be invisible, dark colors, broad vertical stripes and a mousy personality so as not to draw attention to her size.
Perhaps she'd always been as slutty as she was making out and just never had the nerve, or the body, to act on it. Perhaps these mental changes that I had been struggling with were really affecting all of us, but whatever it was she was certainly making up for lost time. I wasn't sure how anyone thought her jeweled bra and panty set was appropriate attire, I mean honestly, you're slutting it up pretty bad when the Slave Leia outfit is more modest than what you're wearing.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not being a prude, the dress I was wearing showed off an open pit mine of cleavage and a country mile of leg; but it was still a dress, not a bikini. There's a line between femme fatale and streetwalker, and Laura had crossed about five miles back. Oh well, enough with the catty remarks.
From the outbursts, it became obvious that Silas was running his table. Before lunch he had eliminated three players, answered two separate allegations of cheating with the tournament marshals, and was currently sitting at his place with his cape splayed over the back of his chair and his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, a goofy grin on his face and both hands very conspicuously in sight at all times. Torm wasn't doing too bad himself, though he did make a few mistakes early on, but a few whispered words of encouragement and the sensation of calm thanks to The Force steadied him up allowing him to reclaim what he had carelessly lost and go about setting up commanding lead.
There were plenty of dramatic holds for the camera operators to rush over to capture "all in moments," but these were increasingly acts of desperation of low chip count players. Usually their final acts at the table before being led out to polite applause. If this were a movie this would be covered in a montage sequence, probably to some country and western ballad about gambling, with a series of shots of cards being turned over, smiling faces of winners, shocked faces of losers, and armloads of chips being raked across tables.
Suffice to say that by dinner the final table had been established.
Silas, of course, made the table along with I was pleased to see Torm as well. The other players were four of the pros I had been peripherally aware of, the perennial bane of my existence Barrasti the Dug, and three other players who like Torm had started on the first day. One was a nervous Rodian who didn't strike me as the type to be a card player, the thin weedy card counter I noticed the first day, and the surprisingly small, young clanless Hutt who fancied himself quite the high roller.
One of these beings was our predetermined winner who I was going to rob, which it suddenly occurred to me like cold water down my spine, included the man I'm sleeping with.
The break for dinner ended play for the day. Tomorrow there would be one table, one dealer, and ten reasons things were going to get interesting Chinese sense of the word. On the way to dinner once again I excused myself to the ladies room where I found Lanaka waiting on me. "Oh look," she snarled, "the bitch all by herself."
I reached up and locked the door behind me, before extending my awareness in The Force outward. It pushed through the ceiling, the walls, and the mirror, but I already knew all of the stalls were empty because of the way she greeted me. Color me surprised, there were no remote listening or visual devices in the bathroom. I strode forward quickly and joined her at the sinks. "We can speak freely, we're not being monitored."
While the anger left her face, she didn't exactly become friendly. There was a cold aloofness that settled on her ever since we arrived on Tatooine in these new bodies; maybe was just the alien race of the body she had inhabited, maybe was my own imagination, but I couldn't help but think her gaze just dripped with disdain. "So now we know who the final ten are and we know Silas isn't our Mark. You willing to vouch for your boy toy?"
I put the little clutch purse I was carrying with the outfit on the sink and began to remove the elbow gloves to put into it so I could wash my hands for dinner. "Don't provoke me," I warned her as I held my hands under the faucet to get the water flowing to wash them. I felt her eyes on me as I wrung out my hands and dried them on the towel. "No," I admitted finally. "I'm...I'm not sure that Torm is not our target."
The silence drug out until I turned to face her, to find her staring at me with those empty red eyes. "Jesus," she swore softly. "You've actually fallen for him."
"No!" I protested. "I..."
"Sell it to someone who's buying!" She ordered as she snatched up her own purse and put it over her shoulder. Her finger wavering under my nose she continued, "fine! You got him all sewn up, so we'll worry about the others. But you can be sure of this, if your boyfriend is our guy, Ed, that won't stop us from doing what we have to..."
A young Padawan once asked his master if The Force controlled his actions. His master had answered, "partially, but it also obeys your commands." I couldn't tell you if I commanded The Force to do what happened, if it did it on its own, or some other combination. All I know is I blinked and Lanaka had been thrown against the far wall and was penned there off the ground a look of terror on her face.
I put my gloves in my purse, picked it up, and casually walked over to her. I'm actually quite proud of how calm I was when I said, "if Torm Belos is our Mark I will deal with him. Not you, not Silas, not Darius, me and only me. If you threaten him again, it will be the last thing you do and that's my promise to you. I killed a stranger last night for a lot less than what I have put up with from you, Laura. I reminded him I had warned him right before I put my light saber through his heart, and this is your warning. Don't. Push. Me. Again."
With a thought The Force released her and she fell with a startled cry to her ass on the floor. I put the strap of my purse over my shoulder before looking through my eyelashes coldly down on her. "By the way, Lanaka," I said in an offhand manner. "My name is Nyeomi. Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, I advise you not to forget it."
I turned on my heel and left her in her amazement as I went dinner.
* * *
I feel like I was certainly entitled to the reaction I'd had to Lanaka in the ladies room. I feel that I shouldn't feel guilty for standing up for myself or calling her out on her bullying. Well, my feelings and five credits would get me a cup of coffee. I was in a grand Funk as I picked at my salad, my mood worse because I knew I was spoiling Torm's evening. Torm had every right to be ecstatic he had played well and even if he was the first player eliminated tomorrow he would double his entry stake. And while he was well within his rights to be upset with me for spoiling the night, he was actually quite concerned and asked me several times what was wrong.
I wanted to tell him, I needed somebody to talk to about this, but how can I possibly bring him into my confidence without running the risk of being seen as crazy at best. No matter how many times I looked down that road I saw no positive outcome of being honest with him and that bothered me too. I wanted to be honest with him, wanted him to know that I was loyal and trustworthy. I couldn't tell you why that was so important other than Torm is one of those men that inspires those qualities in those around him, a natural leader that makes others want to do better.
I felt terrible keeping secrets from him, but my own desire to have him in my life outweighed any aspirations of honesty. And no, the irony of this insight into the female psyche was not lost on me. "Excuse me," the voice cut through my Funk causing me to look up from my salad. There I beheld my erstwhile brother focusing his smile on my table mate. "I don't think we been introduced," he said offering his hand be shook guardedly by Torm. "Bast, Silas Bast," Stuart informed him.
My lover shook the offered hand while wiping his mouth with his napkin in the other. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bast," he said with a grin and a gesture for Silas to pull up a chair. "I must admit to being something of a fan; Torm Belos. Won't you join us?"
Silas made broad gesture while shaking his head. "No, I don't want to intrude, and I apologize for the interruption. If I could just have a quick word with my pilot, I'll let you two get back to your evening."
Torm's gaze turned back to me, a raised eyebrow question on his face. "Pilot?"
I made a so-so gesture. "My current assignment, and the employer I spoke about on our first evening; perhaps you remember? I'm on detached service with Mr. Bast as his pilot by way of gratitude from the Empire for services rendered."
"I… See," he said slowly. His eyes went back and forth between us and while I like to think that he wanted to believe me I had come to know enough about his expressions to know that his suspicions were aroused. He wiped his mouth with his napkin stood, offering Silas his chair . "Please I wouldn't want my lovely companion to get in trouble with the boss. If you'll excuse me, I'll just step over to the bar."
"Torm…?" I started, beginning to rise, but he just smiled and shook his head.
"I'll get you one of those beers you're so fond of, be right back."
And then he was gone, and my rage flared white hot inside me as I turned back to Silas and hissed, "What are you doing?"
Silas leaned in and with the most urgent expression I've ever seen on his face, whispered, "Saving my brother!" As you can imagine I wasn't prepared to hear that and was rocked back in my chair from the intensity of it. Seeing his opportunity, Silas plowed ahead. "What is going on, Ed? Laura says you assaulted her in the ladies room! That you Force threw her into the wall and threatened to kill her!”
Being reminded of Laura's attitude did nothing to improve my mood. "I don't have the time or the energy to justify standing up for myself against her constant stream of bitchiness! She stepped out of her place and I put her back in it! That's all you need to know! Now get out of here before this whole operation is blown!" Reluctantly, Stuart stood and nodded all smiles for whoever might be watching.
"Have a good night," he bid me by way of leaving. I used the few minutes of quiet between Silas's departure and Torm's arrival to get control of myself and remain calm. When he arrived, I accepted the bottle he presented with a smile taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly to prepare myself for his questions. I knew they were coming, I knew he had a right to ask them, I was just desperate to make sure I had the right answers and could deliver them in the most believable way.
"Everything okay with the boss?" He asked, his tone was jovial and light but I could see him watch me in the corner of his eye, beside which I could hear his heart thundering with The Force.
I smiled at him and took a pull the beer to buy myself a few seconds. "Have you ever been lent out to a vendor or a supplier? They think that because you're not their employee they think they can treat you however they like?" A look flashed across his face they told me not only did he know what I was talking about, but had experienced it firsthand. That was good and showed he was receptive to what I was going through.
"I apologize," he said slowly, "if I've in any way contributed to making a bad situation worse."
I put the beer down and reached across the table to take his hand in mine. "Torm, you have not only been the best thing about this assignment, you been the best thing to come into my life for quite a while." I told him earnestly.
He mulled that over for several seconds, and because I was touching his hand, in his mind I could see his desire to believe me war with his aroused suspicions. Behind his eyes I saw his memories of previous relationships, notably a betrayal from a woman who had broken his heart, and I was grateful that even though she had been beautiful, being fair skinned, blonde and blue-eyed there was nothing of me physically to remind him of her. I saw that after that betrayal he had become quite the ladies man, as a parade of faces marched through his memory, nines and tens all, but none of them he allowed close.
There were two images that haunted him behind his eyes, one of the blonde that had broken his heart, and one of me as he ran his hand over my belly swollen with pregnancy. I wish I could say that it shocked me that he thought of me that way, but the greatest emotion I felt from this revelation was excitement. That I wasn't just a notch count to him seem to validate some great emotional need deep inside me. Finally he licked his lips and said, "I know how rough that is. How much longer are you beholden to him?”
I smiled what I hoped was my warmest smile, and meant it. "I'm not completely without options," I assured him, which caused him to perk up. "Of course," I continued, "depending upon how well you do tomorrow, you may have options. You did say you wanted to travel and see the galaxy, a circuit gambler does quite a bit of travel."
He gave me an odd look even as I could see him considering the possibilities silently. "And why would Mr. Bast offer me a place on his ship?"
I leaned forward with a smile that his eyes told me that interesting things to my bust line. "I can be very persuasive."
"Yes," he agreed with the first smile he favored me with since Silas had shown up at the table. "I'm sure you can be."
* * *
I am a Sith Lord.
Through years of slaving away as a menial, as a slave for the enrichment of others, and coming here that I finally understand what freedom truly is. I understood now why they were always those at home would roll their eyes at talk of freedom; who would mutter about documents and history, but they were not free even as I was not free. Documents do not grant freedom, they may spell out guarantees of privileges to be granted or suspended at the whim of The State. But that's not freedom.
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
It was not my friends and neighbors who did not understand the nature of freedom; that was my error. It was I who did not understand what freedom truly was nor could I understand why they were so afraid of it. It was on lawless Tatooine where my eyes were opened and I truly understood the nature freedom through the wisdom of the Code of the Sith. I understood in an alley where I had killed a man that there was no peace and there never would be peace, only lulls in the fight for life to put people off guard and to think otherwise is to open myself to be re-enslaved.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Seeing Torm's fantasy for me, realizing that life or fate, or karma, or whatever you want to call it and given me this opportunity once again to have the family that I had wanted to be placed once more on the crossroads life between seizing all that life had to offer our submitting to what others expected of me. In that moment I knew I would never allow myself to be enslaved again. I knew why my friends back home cringed at the thought of freedom. And so I seized this opportunity in both hands and I surrendered my self to my passions which I poured out on to Torm in a torrent with a single goal in mind. I would cast in stone that fantasy in his mind, I would show him that I and I alone was fit to be the mother of his children. So safely in his room once more, I steeled myself for the decision that I had made and took strength from the finality of my decision.
Through strength, I gain power.
In my mind I gathered up all of the fears and uncertainties that were scattered here and there in the dark recesses of my psyche; last and strongest of these was the wonder of would we ever go home. I resigned myself that I was home, that I was and would be until the day I died a woman. I would withhold nothing of my old desires, I would not Pine for missing anatomy but I would revel in who and what I was and I would integrate the memories who I had been into this new woman. So my mental closet cleaned out I tied all of these things up in a ribbon of memory, I sank to my knees before the man I would have be my husband and with them I poured everything I had into buying a man's soul.
Through power, I gain victory.
I poured out myself as I broke through this last mental barrier, this last taboo I realized mine was not the only barrier being broken. It had not been my intention to ruffle through his mind, but the act was so intimate and so direct that I realized there was no real way around it. It became a point of pride that in the parade of the memories of his previous conquests, he had always been the conqueror. He had never been conquered himself, and despite one or two laughable attempts that were without skill or stamina, no one had ever committed herself to claim him the way I did.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
And commit myself to claim him is exactly what I did. I did not close my eyes, or turn my mind off and try to surrender to some primal inner female. Rather, I kept my eyes open, intent on what I was doing, savoring with laser focus the input of every one of my senses. This was my ace in the hole, that I was much more familiar with the anatomy I was tending to any other woman he could have been with and I was being diligent that he understood my level of expertise. As I tended to his need I took pride in the sounds of pleasure that he made, his hands that had been lovingly caressing my hair collected handfuls. He went as rigid as a steel post; then as he shouted my name and I was the one dealing with a torrent from him something within me broke.
The Force shall free me.
There are those, I suppose, who would claim that I should feel revulsion at what I had done. That I should be so disgusted as to become physically ill. There are even those who would say that as a woman I had so debased myself before him that I should be ashamed of that. Well to those people I can only say, 'sorry,' and, 'don't hold your breath.' Shame? I felt empowered! I had finally broken through Torm Belos' rock solid confidence and unflappable nature and reduced him to a quivering bundle of firing nerves as I held him up right and finished what I had started. I stared up into his wild eyes and I knew he had never experienced anything like what I had just done. And as if a receipt for my purchase of his soul, around the little gasps as I continue to play with his nervous system I heard him declare, "I love you."
I smiled and kissed his navel and whispered into it, “I know,” supremely satisfied with my purchase.
This was, I realized, true freedom. Real freedom. That we all were as free as we would allow ourselves to be. As free as we were willing to fight to be and no further. In fighting for the man that I had come to understand that I wanted to spend my life with I have freed myself. And in that freedom I realized why my friends were so afraid of it. They want to choose where to live, what TV show to watch, what restaurant to have dinner in but they aren't free, because to be free is to live life the most dangerous of experiences without a safety net. To know that you had as much as you would like to defend and not a whit more. I fought for Torm Belos, and Torm Belos freed me.
* * *
The next morning, as I'd expected, security was tightened considerably.
From the main floor of the casino the venue had been moved to an entertainment auditorium; stadium style seating clustered around a single game table with lights shining down on it. It had been rigged so that above the players table, a series of giant, ghostly hologram's would be projected so that everyone could see the drama. Today's entry fee for the audience was considerably higher.
And everyone had to go through scanners whether audience or player, comlinks, radios or communication devices of any kind were strictly forbidden; as were any form of weapon. The droid they had doing the screening was polite, but he was backed up by a squad of Gamorreans uncomfortably stuffed into formal attire who were obviously looking forward to anybody giving the droid lip.
That I passed through the scanner without incident caused Torm to raise an eyebrow at my lack of light sabers, to which I winked at him and he let the matter pass. The players seated themselves at their positions, a few nervously counting chips is an obvious way of trying to deal with their anxiety. Torm picked up three of his chips and began to walk him across his knuckles as he leaned back in my gentle caress of his shoulders in preparation of the game starting.
All the players had females with them, at this point it was obvious we were all bodyguards of some flavor. None of us were in dresses, pants were the order of the day, I settled for my linen gi tunic and jodhpurs, and even Laura had precious little skin showing. Now the tournament entered its most grueling phase, because it would not stop until the game was over.
In addition to the central play table, to one side was a table for the judges and the rules, to the other side there was a table for the announcers for the holo-broadcast and then a pair of tables with refreshments and a light buffet. Behind the discrete curtain off to one side were portable toilets that had been set up because even mother nature had to bow to the tournament.
Then the reason why all there was all this added security was wheeled out on a cart; a small pyramid of golden bars, the grand prize of the Boonta Eve Pazaak tournament, the stolen fortune of Darth Malgus. The master of ceremonies went through a brief recap in a small collection of languages and then it was time to"shuffle up and deal".
And then they played cards.
They say watching people play cards is rather like watching people play golf, or tennis or some other sport that wasn't really meant for spectators, but to be played. It's my experience that people either love watching card games or they absolutely hate it.
For me this was like dentistry without anesthesia; it drug on and on, each hand seeming to play on the last in a never ending cycle of chips being pushed around the table while my teeth got further and further on edge. The highlight was my favorite Dug, Barrasti, was the first to be eliminated, much to his loud protest and we were treated to our first accusation of cheating. Silas wisely had chosen to wear a short-sleeved tunic that quickly disproved Barrasti's allegations as he was led out.
That led the four pros to decide to gang up on him so they took turns cock blocking him at every opportunity. Silas put up a good front, but I knew my brother well enough to know that he was getting frustrated. It was at that moment, unspoken, but not without some collusion based on the glances across the table, that Torm and the Rodian decided turnabout was Fairplay and they began tag teaming whoever came after Silas. In short order three of them were eliminated and the fourth was left short stack in chip count. Unless a miracle occurred, he was unlikely to be the payoff which had me even more nervous.
Luck may be a lady, but she wasn't a miracle worker, and the last Pro was eliminated by the weedy card counter who was playing a very quiet, conservative game. That left Silas, the Rodian, the card counter, the Hutt, and Torm. The tournament officials became worried the game was progressing too quickly, and called a one hour break for the players to eat and use the restroom, but not leave the arena. I made Torm and myself a pair of sandwiches (yes, I made my man a sandwich, no, that doesn't make me less of a woman) which we ate in a quiet corner away from the table.
The excitement was rolling off of him in waves.
Between the night we had shared previously and his current placement in the tournament, even if he was the next player eliminated Torm would receive a prize sum better than a decade at his previous salary. Perhaps not true wealth, but certainly the egg with which to start it. And because he was so excited it only cemented to me that he was not pay off. I already knew Silas wasn't, that left the Hutt, the Rodian, and the card counter.
As it was the first time that I had been around a Force null, I must say I was little taken aback by the absolute lack of presence in the Hutt. Everyone else in the room I was aware of not just from looking at them, hearing them move, or the memory of seeing them at some point; every one of them cast minute disruptions or eddies in the flow of The Force through the room. Except for the Hutt, but for my eyes seeing him he was a hole in reality as far as I was concerned.
Unable to get any kind of sense from him I shifted my gaze to the Rodian. Like Torm he was amazed that he progressed this far in the tournament, was keenly aware that he was out of his league and he felt it. He and Torm were roughly equal as the short stack of the table, though Torm had a slight advantage. Whatever guile I could sense from him lead me to believe that he wasn't the payoff either.
This brought me to the wimpy little bureaucratic clerk of the card counter who felt like he had icewater flowing in his veins. All the other players that I could sense were excited, except for him. Indeed he almost seemed bored which led me to wonder if he was the guy, why would the Hutts be paying him off? I thought back to the emcees recap of the game so far and nothing that I had heard make believe he was this cool of an unknown card player. According to the introduction, his name was Milton Tess and if I had properly translated his title out of bureaucrat-ease he was some kind of patent clerk.
The MC announced the game is about recommence, causing Torm and I to stand from our little corner and begin to make our way back to the table. On the way one of the Astromech 'driods that was cleaning up the buffet bumped into me and I gave it a little shove back so it knew who was boss. As he was sitting down Torm turned to me and said, "No matter what happens now, with this prize I am my own man, I want you in my life."
I smiled at him as I ran my fingers through the back of his hair, and replied, "and I want to be in it," I assured him. "But I have to finish this. Come with me?" He nodded and a weight I didn't know that I was carrying on my heart let loose and it felt like I could breathe again. He opened his mouth to say something else that was drowned out by the MC announcing the continuation of the match.
In short order there was a duel between Torm and the Rodian which the other players immediately bowed out of to let them settle who was top dog. There was some back and forth across several hands when finally the Rodian seem to have Torm backed into a corner, but instead of being panicked, Torm immediately announced, "All in."
The Rodian blinked its multifaceted eyes in confusion. "Coona?" He demanded in surprise.
Torm's grin widened like a predator. "I said, 'all in'," he repeated smugly. The tournament officials came to the table and counted both stacks, finding that the Rodian would have to go all in himself to cover the pot.
The seconds stretched out, prompting the dealer to ask, "cover, or fold Sir?"
"You can't beat me," the Rodian declared, obviously still confused.
"Then these are free chips for you, aren't they?" Torm replied with a shrug while he fingered his final hold card. His opponent looked at the flop of cards, his own two hold cards that were on display and back at Torm's final card, still unknown to him as he desperately went through the possibilities what the card could be that would give Torm the confidence to make this seemingly foolhardy bet.
"You're bluffing!" He declared. Torm merely scratched his jaw and looked over at the tournament official.
"Time call enforcement?" He asked casually.
The official checked the clock above them. "Ten seconds," he replied. "Sir, cover or fold?"
The Rodian swallowed, look at his cards again, and with great disgust shoved them towards dealer. "You were bluffing," he declared as the chips were pushed towards Torm. Torm only shrugged and smiled.
"You'll never know," he replied.
Nor would the Rodian have time to wheedle it out of him, as the Hutt, sensing his weakness, eliminated him in the next hand. He left the table looking over his shoulder, obviously haunted by his decision to play things safe. And with that the kid gloves came off this game. Silas and the Hutt began gunning for the other two players, signaling a phenomenal streak of luck in the card counter who either folded right after ante, or had amazing turnovers of cards exactly when he needed them.
Unfortunately, this phenomenal string of good luck on his part announced the end of Torm's luck and my lover finished the tournament in forth place. I'm proud to say that nothing rattled him and he stood from the table with a tremendous grin and shook hands with the other players, obviously pleased with himself. He came to me, elated, but before he could say anything I put a finger over his lips and whispered, "Do you trust me?" He sighed as if he had guessed what was coming, closed his eyes and nodded. "Then get whatever you can't leave this planet without and go to docking bay 327. The droid will let you in, wait for me there."
It was obvious he wasn't happy with this, but he went along with it. He collected his winnings from the table, which the Hutt was doing as well as Silas had eliminated him while we had been talking. Once he was out of the arena, I caught Lanaka's eye, then drew my light saber and ignited it.
"All right, everybody be cool, this is a robbery!" I shouted. One of the guards drew a blaster pistol that I relieved him of with The Force and dropped it into Laura's waiting hand.
She leapt up on the game table, sending chips and cards scattered to the four winds and shouted, "Any of you fucking pricks move, and I'll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!"
Now the movies, when someone makes a declaration like this, people become living statues like a deer in the headlights frozen in place waiting for hero or villain to make whatever soliloquy they're about to. While I hesitate to call Tatooine "the real world", outside of movies when a pair of hardened killers, or reasonable facsimile thereof, produce weapons and promise mayhem of a permanent and lasting variety surprisingly enough people don't actually freeze in place and listen to see if they follow through with their threat.
In other words bedlam ensued.
There was a brief spate a blaster fire from the few armed guards in the arena which Lanaka and I dealt with, while everyone else who could move stampeded to the closest exit. This would have included Mr. Milton Tess were I not close enough to put hands on him to prevent his rapid departure stage right. "No, not you," I told him with a firm handhold of his jacket. "You're coming with me."
Evidently the prospect of a Sith Lord with a lit light saber had thawed the ice water that had previously been flowing in his veins and now other liquids are flowing without his control. "Don't kill me!"
"That's up to you sport," I informed him, then thought better of it and sharply brought the pommel of my light saber against his temple. Milton folded like a busted flush I quickly stuffed him on the shelf at the bottom of the cart the small mountain of gold bricks was piled on. We found ourselves alone the auditorium and quickly sealed the exits, save one.
"Well," Lanaka observed, "that went easier than expected."
I reached out with The Force and drew my other light saber to me from where it had been masquerading as a candle stick holder on the buffet table. "First hurdle," I agreed as the door to the back of the house in the kitchens opened, revealing X4 in his new paint scheme that matched the other droids of the hotel.
"I trust everything was satisfactory, Mistress?" The droid asked in Michael Caine's voice as he rolled in a little cart holding a covered meal dish. The cover fit neatly over Darth Malgus's treasure with only a little reorganization. Once that was done Lanaka and I quickly pulled on the room service tunics that were also on the tray.
"Absolutely perfect X4," I complimented him. "You have us a nice clear path out of here?"
The droid spun around and began to head back to the way he came, talking over his shoulder. I straightened the hanging cloth around the bottom of the cart so no one would be the wiser of spying the unconscious form of Milton Tess. "I don't know about clear considering the current circumstances, Mistress, but it is direct."
"Lead on," I ordered. Then Lanaka and I followed the droid through the maze and mayhem that was the back of the house. And while the biological employees were starting to pick up on the fact that something bad had happened and were deciding getting out would be a wise course of action at least most were droids and not panicking the way I'm sure the security professionals were dealing with on the front side of the house. While it was not a perfect plan, it had the benefit of being simple and simple plans best survive contact with the enemy.
Which is not to say that it went off perfectly, it didn't, and we were challenged at the back door about why we were taking a plateful of food to the loading dock, but The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded, which let Lanaka and I push a cart laden with an unconscious bureaucrat and half a billion gold Peggats down the ramp and nearly off the property.
I say nearly because we did become visible to the chaos at the front of the hotel, and a fairly sharp eyed security type had the sense to wonder why two room service clerks were pushing a cart of food off the property, but what is a Star Wars story without a running gun battle in it?
They opened up with something best described as a hail of blaster fire which looks very impressive on the screen, but when it is aimed at you it's far less interesting to watch. My light sabers deflected the blasts that got too close and we took to our heels while they gave chase. Again, simplicity carries the day, as our docking bay was less than a block away from the hotel, making for a very short getaway.
We got inside the bay and I locked the door, then welded shut with one of my light sabers. That done I took a moment to catch my breath and take in situation. Torm was in the process of pulling me into a hug which I eagerly returned. Lanaka, true to form, didn't stop with the cart of money and was in the process of running it up the ramp of the Aces and Eights. Silas and Darius were trying to make heads or tails of the shore power connections to remove them in anticipation of our quick getaway. It was obvious they had no idea what they were doing but at least they were trying. "Bad?" He asked as I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
Reluctantly, I pulled from his embrace and trotted over to my befuddled brother and best friend. As blaster bolts began to be heard strikingly walls of the docking bay I turned back over my shoulder and shrugged. "For us? Normal!" I told him. "X4! Start the pre-flight sequence, essential hardware only!"
I used my body to move my two good intentioned friends aside and quickly tripped all the breakers to internal power. Fortunately, both Silas and Darius were smart enough to figure out how to disconnect the cabling and were shoving them into the storage compartments with gusto. I slapped the cover plate closed just as my impromptu weld on the door was defeated by a thermal detonator that blew it off its hinges.
Had I not been preoccupied with deflecting blaster bolts and protecting my friends as we fought our way to the ramp and up it, into the Aces and Eights, the sight of dozens of Gamorreans in formal wear, brandishing blasters and flooding through a destroyed doorway would actually be quite funny. Well, maybe not. You probably would've had to have been there.
I opened my mouth to yell for backup right as the lower gun turret turned with a hydraulic whine and it's much more powerful turbo lasers encouraged our well-dressed pursuers to find some good sturdy cover. At least someone was thinking clearly.
The rear hatch secure, and the deck plating vibrating under my feet as the engines came online, I ran forward into the cockpit. Torm was in the copilot's place and from my quick glance, his motions seemed to indicate that he knew what he was doing. The blaster bolts had an almost liquid quality to them as they washed off the canopy, while I settled at my place and quickly finished the preflight. "I can see life with you won't be dull," he observed as he finished just in time for me to push the throttles forward in the Aces and Eights began to lift free of the docking bay.
I snapped the ship into an aileron roll so I could slip to starboard and avoid the bulk freighter that was passing overhead that seemed to think it had right-of-way. To be fair it probably did have right-of-way. "I'm sorry, did you want an Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle?" Much as I wanted to point my nose to the sky, the ridiculous traffic over Moss Espa wouldn't allow it so I had to thread my way much to the consternation of the other pilots I'm sure.
Over the intercom I heard Darius announced quite calmly, "there is a mixed bag of fighters coming up to give chase."
"How do you know that?" Demanded Silas from behind me.
Torm chuckled from his place where he was quickly getting power to the deflector shields. "Because he is in the lower turret and can see them,” he replied the befuddled gambler. To me he calmly said. "It depends, I suppose," he replied almost philosophically as I flipped through the traffic pattern in a manner that would have been spectacular from that IMAX theater seat. "Do people shoot at these Ozzie and Harriet people?"
"Not generally…" I started, but was interrupted by the frantic shout from Silas behind me as he clung to the door frame in an effort to stay upright.
"Really?!" He shouted. "Are you two really having this conversation right now!?"
Blaster bolts were beginning to whiz by the canopy as we finally reached the edge of the city and got clear enough from the traffic for me to begin to open up the distance. “I'm a leaf on the wind," I grunted as I snatched back on the yoke so the Aces and Eights was pointed straight up on her tail.
“What does that mean?" Torm demanded as he reached over and fire walled the throttles as I probably had the ship well outside of its performance envelope.
"It means she's guaranteeing neither Darius or I will hit anything!" Complained Lanaka over the com system; from the upper turret I presumed. I, on the other hand, magnanimously did not point out I was having a similar effect on the aims of our pursuers as a blaster bolts that were going by were further and further away. At last the blue sky of Tatooine gave way to the infinite black and I paradoxically returned to and for the first time was in outer space.
"They're gaining!" Warned Darius, but I didn't need a translator to know that X4s jubilant whoop meant. Torm and I shared a grin as I reached over and pulled the hyperdrive motivator lever.
The stars streaked straight towards me as the ship leapt into hyperspace. Lookout galaxy, I've found my soulmate!
* * *
In my cabin the blue white light of hyperspace shown through my porthole played across the bulkheads and ceiling like water and ever shifting patterns. It was very soothing, the kind of white noise that settles the human mind and allows for calm recollection of thought. I was sitting on my bed with Torm, him against the bulkhead me between his legs leaning back against him as he held me. I was leaning back with my head against shoulder, baring my neck to him which he was lazily kissing. His arms were around me, and his hands were on me, but there was no rush to his explorations of my body. Were I capable of rational thought in this wonderfully comfortable embrace, I would estimate that in an hour or so we would be making love, but neither of us were in any hurry and I was content to let him explore.
"So," he whispered breathlessly in the my ear. "What now?"
I lazily reached up with my free hand to run it through his thick hair. "Now we are on course to Ruuria on the borders of the Tion Cluster...”
"Capital world of Darth Malgus' New Revanite Empire," he observed from his oral explorations of my neck. With my hand already in his hair, I turned and shared a long slow kiss with him.
Drawing back ever so slightly I looked into his eyes and said, "I have to give the Emperor his money, but it shouldn't take long."
He sighed and nodded. "I suppose my winnings are part of that?" I shook my head smiling at him.
"Not at all," I told him. "As far as I'm concerned both your winnings and the prize Silas claimed were both paid for by the tournament entry fees." I leaned up and kissed the end of his nose. "And before you start worrying I have in my orders what I can disperse they are both well within my authority. I just wish that would be the end of it."
"You're not going to partition Darth Marr for release from your service, are you?"
I ran my hand over his firm cheek. "I am," I promised him. "I don't know if he will release me, but I will petition." He forced a smile that almost reached his eyes.
"Hoping on the goodwill of the Sith Lord is not the most envious of positions," he observed adroitly.
I tried to summon mock outrage, but found I was so comfortable the best I could muster was feeble sarcasm. "I am a Sith Lord," I reminded him. "And you certainly have been enjoying my goodwill."
He made a guttural sound of agreement as his lips returned my neck and shoulder. "Yes, but somehow I doubt Darth Marr is my type." He pressed his teeth into the nape of my neck without actually biting which sent a thrill up and down my spine. "At some point I will have to return to Ord Mantell to put my affairs in order."
"I'll take you," I promised him. His hands undid the belt holding the Gi tunic closed which he then opened and brought down my shoulders to my elbows while his lips planted a series of kisses down my nape and onto my shoulder.
"You'll have time between petitions, and returning money, and figuring out why the Hutts were paying off a patent clerk?"
I sat up and turned around to face him, laying my legs over his so I could wrap them around his waist. "I will do all those things," I admitted as I pulled off the tunic and cast it aside looking into his eyes. "And I will always make time for you." My arms around his shoulders, I gently pulled him forward and guided his face into the breasts I had bared for him. "Always," I repeated.
As the lights of hyperspace played across my cabin I found myself glad that my time estimate was so far off.
* Finis *