It isn’t clear how long Zetnu’ri has been left to rot in the prison cell of a Black Sun hideout. The cards come sporadically, never frequently to drop off a bowl of what nobody considers food and enough water to ensure the desert-developed Twi’lek remains alive.
The increasingly familiar scrape of metal signals the opening of the heavy, rusted metal door. Rather than food, this time her captors enter. A Zabrak steps in quickly and takes position in one corner. The Rodian who often delivers the food brings in a stool and a folding table. He sets it up at her bed and takes position in another corner.
A few moments later Nyssa walks in, clad in a fashionable white tailored suit and sporting her usual ruby red sunglasses. They must be for fashion’s sake, because her unnerving yellow eyes remain visible over the tops of the lenses.
“Wakey wakey, sweetheart,” she says with a slither. The Falleen crime lord takes a seat at the stool, her posture impeccable, much for the sake of the strong and plated spines that her people have.
The Twi’lek has done what she can to maintain some semblance of schedule and normalcy in a situation that has offered her neither, but it hasn’t been enough. She sleeps, she wakes, she ravenously eats and drinks whatever they give her, she uses the refresher, she sleeps again. Sometimes she paces, sometimes she sits on her cot and memorizes the imperfections in the wall opposite it. As time has dragged on, she has proven that she’s not above asking and then pleading with the Suns who bring her food for information – what’s going to happen to her? When will she be let out, or will she be let out at all? How long has she been in here?
It’s the not knowing that has begun to weigh on her.
Zet actually isn’t asleep this time when her door opens, although she is curled in a ball on her cot with her jacket draped over herself — it’s proven to be a more reliable and less musty blanket than the one they provided to her. Her eyes are half-closed as her hands worry at a loose thread on the cuff of the coat. She hardly lifts her head until she registers that something is different this time, and she’s already half-sitting up when Nyssa appears in the doorway.
Warily, the Twi’lek pushes herself upright, crossing her legs on the cot. She pulls her jacket up around her shoulders, sitting back against the wall to put as much space between them as she can. Zet is not looking so good — she’s skinnier than she was when she was brought in, dark circles evident under her eyes from her irregular sleep pattern. “Finally here to deliver my sentence?” she asks with a weak smile.
Nyssa tilts her head to the side and smiles slightly, sympathetically. “Oh honey, I’m not the Empire. I’m not here to have a trial and lock you away,” she says to the prisoner. But she’s right, isn’t she? Nyssa is most certainly not the Empire.
“I’m a business woman,” she begins anew, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her thighs. “I’m sure you can appreciate that when someone takes a job, makes me a promise, and then fails to deliver-” she pauses to let it sink in. That is what happened, isn’t it? Nyssa trusted and was burned. How would anyone else react? “Well some point needs to be made,” she finishes, gesturing with her arms to the Twi’lek’s current abode.
Shard put it accurately. Zet saw a line in the sand and she refused to cross it. She doesn’t feel bad about it, and if she was put in the same position again… well, she just might do the same thing.
But Zet is a businesswoman too, and she understands what Nyssa is saying, even if she finds the slave trade repugnant. It’s not like she didn’t know the Black Suns dealt in that kind of cargo before she got in with them. Sometimes these are the choices you make when you’re just trying to feed your family. “I couldn’t make that delivery for you. Sorry.” Her voice is uncharacteristically quiet, and she fidgets twitchily with the zipper of her coat. “But I understand what you’re saying.”
“I forgive you,” the reptile says with a smile. She nods her head sympathetically. “These things happen. Let’s work on our future together, don’t you agree?”
Nyssa doesn’t wait for the Twi’lek to reply. She reaches into her jacket pocket and withdraws something Zetnu’ri recognizes. “The Suns found this when you arrived,” she explains, placing the Pazaak deck on the small fold out table. “Why don’t we play a game?”
The smile Zet flashes back at her is brief and not even a little bit relieved. She doesn’t believe for one second that languishing in a cell for who knows how long and saying sorry is good enough for a vigo, and the word ‘together’ is setting off all kinds of alarms. She’d prefer to just cut ties, if it’s all the same…
Her eyes freeze on her cards. It’s more than just a deck — there is a main pazaak deck there, but there are also a small series of side decks she’s assembled over the past two decades, tweaking them, marking them, learning the way they feel in her hands and slide against each other any time she wants to stack her own side deck. “You want to play pazaak?” Zet shoots Nyssa a disbelieving look. “Uh, sure.”
Slender green fingers run across the cards. “Yes, certainly,” she slithers in reply. “It is obvious, as a fellow card player, that you care about these cards. They have meaning.”
She shuffles the cards with a few tricks, her guards looking on. Carefully she deals out the hand. “There’s a lot we can learn about each other playing Pazaak, don’t you agree, Zetnu’ri?”
“I’ve been playing since I was a kid,” Zet offers in return. She slides forward on the cot to be nearer to the table and picks up the side deck Nyssa has given her. Her eyes linger first on the ones Nyssa has taken for herself. At this point she knows every little nick and crease in her own pazaak cards, something the vigo must surely realize. That may prove advantageous but at the same time she feels a little strange about sharing them with Nyssa of all people.
Then her eyes lower to the ten cards she’s been handed, and after quickly identifying them she flips them over to shuffle them quickly. This round, she won’t cheat, but her hands snap and rifle her side deck together with the ease of a longtime gambler. Drawing her four side deck cards into her hand, she shrugs. “Yeah. Do you want to go first?”
Nyssa smiles and nods graciously accepting the offer to begin the game. “I grew up crawling around Pazaak tables myself,” she says. “First as a child, fascinated by the game and refusing to go to heat rock for the night. Later, the game played a role in helping elevate me to my current station.”
She draws her side cards, gives Zetnu’ri a wink, and ultimately frowns, maintaining her side cards and watching as a card is turned over, and another, and another still, leaving her bust.
“Heat rock?” Zet has met Falleen before, but she doesn’t know much about the way they live. She plays a quick, shrewd hand, standing at 16 when she sees Nyssa has already busted without playing a card from her hand either. Typically this is when she’d gloat, but all she does is sweep the main deck cards on the table back into a pile. Her hand pauses in the middle of what seems like an automatic gesture to pick up the deck, no doubt to shuffle it, and she glances uncertainly at her captor.
Nyssa nods and watches the victor’s hands as she shuffles the deck and deals. “Mhm. We enjoy sleeping on something hot,” she explains.
The Black Sun remain silent in the corners, almost falling into the background.
When Nyssa doesn’t object, Zet picks up the deck and shuffles quickly. No tricks. Setting the deck down, she nods noncommittally to Nyssa’s response and plays through another hand. The Twi’lek gets straight up unlucky when she reveals a ten that pushes her to 25. With a glance at her hand, she sticks her tongue out with a little frown. “No good.” As they’re setting up the next round she looks to Nyssa’s face. “What exactly are we playing for?”
Nyssa sits at 16 before Zet goes over. She decides to chance the draw and takes another card. The Falleen crime lord grins widely as she hits a perfect Pazaak without having used a card from her side hand. “Pazaak!” she exclaims the obvious with glee. Elegant scaled fingers collect the cards and set into a shuffle once more. Her attention turns to Zetnu’ri.
“I was touched that you carry such an old Pazaak deck. It was difficult to find – even the bounty hunter didn’t find it,” she explains. “I simply had to return it to you. Aren’t you happy?” Nyssa asks, staring at the prisoner.
Zet doesn’t correct Nyssa’s assumption. She would prefer not to inform someone who likely still intends to harm her that the bounty hunter who brought her in has a soft spot. “Yeah well. She didn’t find ten grenades, either, so…”
Settling in to the new hand, Zet nods. “I don’t have to tell /you/ how much time goes into constructing the perfect deck. I’d rather not start over again. Thank you.” She grimaces as she flips over a seven that puts her at 22, and plays a negative four from her hand. “I’m gonna stand.”
The Falleen tut tuts and lays plays a +5, landing her at 20. “Ah, lovely. I win again,” she says calmly. Then she pushes the cards to her opponent and arches her back, stretching with a sigh. “It takes time to build something important. Don’t I know it. I can tell you put time into this; care into this. I get the sense you think before you leap,” Nyssa says.
Exhausted and starving as she is, it’s comforting for Zet to sink into something as instinctive to her now as a game of pazaak, even though Nyssa only needs to take one more hand to win the game. She sweeps the cards back into her hands, just holding them for a moment as she listens to Nyssa. “Most of the time.” The deck flashes between her fingers again. “I dunno if I always leap the right way. It probably depends who you ask.” She punctuates that with a self-deprecating little smile, and right at that moment twitches the edge of her pinky out of the way of her shuffle to ensure she’s facing a stacked deck. It’s subtle: she’s a practiced cheater, and a less perceptive player might miss it.
The cards are dealt out and Nyssa’s yellow eyes narrow. The hand goes in Zetnu’ri’s favour, though not so much as to arouse suspicion. She truly is a practiced gambler.
“Oh dear, I almost had you,” the Black Sun Vigo slithers, her lips curling at a devilish smile as she gives her captive a once over. Nyssa leans back and crosses her leg, resting her elbows on what small amount of chair back is available. “You’re really quite good,” he continues with a snap of her fingers.
The darkness moves, Zabrak and Rodian lunging for Zetnu’ri to grapple her. The Zabrak is a brute, large and overpowering who uses his weight to strangle her at the throat from behind and bear himself down on top of her. The Rodian pulls a black bag over the Twi’lek’s head and draws it tight. No air, no light, no escape.
But there is something in the bag. A heavy scent that burns and tickles the Twi’lek in strange and unnerving ways.
It’s only a nineteen, and she has to use a card from her hand to do it. Zet knows better than to grant herself a pazaak on the basis of the main deck alone. She sits back, looking pleased as she slides the deck across to the vigo.
The Twi’lek looks up in alarm at the sound of feet scuffing against her cell floor. She’s not strong enough on her best day to physically fight off a being as imposing as a Zabrak; she just goes down on her face with a breathless squeal, tangled in limbs and her own loose jacket. Nonetheless she squirms, gasping and trying to drive an elbow back towards his ribs.
True panic sets in when the bag goes over her head. Zet bucks violently, coughing as she draws more of whatever that is into her lungs with each frantic inhalation. “Please! Please don’t-” At least she’s not above begging, but whatever else she was going to say is lost to another fit of coughing.
It feels like forever before the bag is pulled off and Zet is released. Or it feels like the elevator is dripping to the main floor. Wait – what?
As completely messed up as it is to be held down and strangled with a bag, the spice gets to the Twi’lek fairly soon after inhalation. When there’s nothing but spice for you to breathe, it hits you hard and fast. Zetnu’ri’s tingles turn to a straight up glow. She’s fucking glowing as the spice warms her in ways she likely hasn’t experienced before.
The blast of air once she’s released probably feels amazing. Everything is pretty much amazing. Soft. Vibrating. Numb. Hard to focus on.
“Hey,” a voice drips to get her attention. Nyssa is sitting there patiently waiting. She’s dealt out the cards for their next hand. “Congratulations! You won.”
It doesn’t take long for the small smuggler to stop flailing around. She recognizes a wasted effort when she sees one, and besides, her brain and limbs don’t seem to be communicating as quickly as they should.
Zet drags in a harsh breath when she feels relatively fresh air on her face again. She blinks once, twice, her bright green fingers digging into the rough weave of the blanket, then twitching away at the intensity of the sensation. It’s not the first time she’s sampled spice, although she has likely never taken so much so fast, nor used any of particular quality. Academically, she’s aware that she’s high as a kite, but every time she tries to focus in on that knowledge, she can’t seem to feel nervous or angry or anything at all about it,
“Huh?” She looks up at Nyssa, then warily glances around for the thugs before she tries to sit up again. “Only that hand, I thought…” Zet picks up her remaining side deck card from where it fell beside her, but her zeal for the game has left her. Shivering, she slides her arms back into the sleeves of her heavy jacket before really attempting to return her attention to the table. Although she does obediently flip over her first main deck card, her eyes keep darting between the others in the room. Her shoulders are hunched up tight, like she’s expecting to be leaped on again at any moment. “Umm. Sometimes I buy a round if I’m worried I’m gonna lose but that was kind of extreme…” She was a fast talker before, but her words come more slowly now, like she’s putting real effort in to form coherent sentences.
“I bet, " Nyssa says with a little chuckle. “You must practice a lot. Who do you play with while you’re in between systems?” She asks as she lays down a +- 3 to adjust her 21 to an 18.
“Business partner,” Zet replies vaguely. She hits 17 and spends significantly longer than before studying the last card in her hand and staring at the numbers on the table. “He’s not very good at it.” Finally she decides to take her chances with the main deck. It’s a ten. “Ugh. I’m out.”
“Let’s play again,” Nyssa says sheepishly as she draws the cards to her and deals them out once more.
“I don’t remember you having a business partner when you were in my employ,” Nyssa says. There’s a playfulness to her voice and between the spice and her presence, it’s dizzying. “How’s that going? Who is this new business partner? Do tell.”
The Falleen deals a face up 10, then a 4, and then a ten. She pouts and glances at the Twi’lek.
Zet shrugs amicably, gathering up her side deck cards and giving them a shuffle. She does not try to cheat again. Apparently it just takes one black bag to teach her a lesson. Dealing herself a new hand, she sways slightly in place while she looks them over.
“I didn’t.” She takes turns flipping cards with Nyssa, chewing on her bottom lip. She’s only up to 12 when the Falleen busts, and she stops there, taking the easy win. “I met him on Nar Shaddaa… he’d been living on the street.” Zet’s brain feels like it’s buzzing. She doesn’t particularly want to tell the Black Suns anything about her companions at all, let alone Santos. They don’t need to get their hooks in him too. But it’s like the spice is smoothing the peaks and valleys of her emotions out; the tingly-numb feeling is kind of nice after the immeasurable amount of time she has now spent in a constant state of low-level fear. And it’s just so easy to talk to Nyssa.
She shuffles the main deck for the next hand. “He’s the best. We’ve got our own ship now ’n everything.”
Nyssa turns over 25 and when all things seem lost, she drops a +-5 and hits a wonderful 20. “Pazaak,” she says with a grin, collecting the cards and shuffling them.
“So just the two of you among the stars?” the Falleen asks with a slither of her forked-tongue. “Or have you hit the big time and got yourselves employees?”
This hand, Zet makes it to eighteen and takes a chance with the main deck. She busts, and apparently can’t be bothered to play a card from her hand to correct it. She’s starting to look obviously unfocused on the game; there’s a short delay between the hand ending and the moment when she remembers that it’s her turn to shuffle the main deck. “It was just us. We’ve got some friends travelling with us for now, but who knows if they’ll stick around for the long haul.”
Nyssa’s yellow eyes glimmer as she watches the Twilek’s response time slow. She makes no movement to shuffle the cards. “Perhaps if the business opportunity was right they’d make a fine crew,” the Falleen says.
Zet catches up eventually. She picks up the cards, shuffling as nimbly as before, and begins the next hand. “Well the bounty hunter took 19 thousand credits out of my pocket. It’s been good,” she confirms.
“Oh that’s a shame,” Nyssa patronizes. “How ever will you pay me back for the trouble you caused, Zetnu’ri?”
A tension fills the air. The Black Sun Vigo stares at her captive and doesn’t motion for her cards.
The smuggler’s eyes are on the cards as she waits for Nyssa to flip over the first one in her tableau. She slowly lifts them as the mood in the room becomes palpable even to her. Somewhere inside, sharp-witted, quick-tongued Zet is in full-blown panic mode, railing at her own brain to function quickly enough to get her through this alive.
Outwardly, her gaze flickers fearfully, and she swallows against the sudden sensation that her mouth is full of cotton balls. “I thought y-you said you forgave me,” she murmurs uncertainly. “If you gave me a chance, maybe I could- I’ve got a ship and a partner, we could probably find a, a job to make it up to you…”
“You will,” Nyssa replies flatly. “I do forgive you, honey,” she continues, warmth returning. She smiles and shifts, crossing a leg over the other.
“I understand and accept what was done. You must also accept and understand that your trespass cannot go without punishment. We are business women, you and I,” she says, gesturing towards the Twi’lek and back to herself. “You will make it up to me, we will continue business. First-” Nyssa says, pausing for dramatic effect. “I’m going to make an example of you.”
The thugs from the darkness return, advancing on the prisoner.
“Haha, I thought I was already being punished,” Zet jokes weakly, gesturing around at her little cell. They may both be businesswomen, but Nyssa buys and sells things the Twi’lek would never touch. No doubt she has special clauses for those who breach their contracts.
She pales visibly, her grey eyes darting to the approaching men. Briefly, she thinks of the holdout blaster – but in her state, starved and exhausted with her reaction time slowed by whatever she inhaled, it would never be enough. “Wh… what…” She scoots backwards on her cot, futilely trying to put an additional foot or two between her and them. “I uh, don’t think you really… really have to do that…”
The Falleen watches as her security close in and grab the frightened Twi’lek. “Yes you do,” she replies casually, standing and withdrawing a small device from her pocket. It sparks to life before Zet’s eyes, an electric prod of some kind. “You understand I need to hurt you. I can’t have people thinking they can get away with crossing me. I can’t have people thinking their employment status is up to them. It is up to me.”
Nyssa steps closer as the Zabrak and Rodian pin Zetnu’ri down on the cot on her back, forced to look up at the Black Sun Vigo looming over her. She touches the sparking electric rod to her captive’s forearm. Zet feels the vibrations but it is little more than a tickle. There is no pain. “How was that, honey? You’re going to want to be clear with me on how you’re feeling,” Nyssa says. She taps her prisoner’s abdomen with the prod and raises her brow, scanning the Twi’lek’s face for result.
Zet kicks at the Zabrak’s hands when he comes close, for all the good it does. She swallows this choked, terrified sound as her back hits the bed, squirming against the grip of her captors.
The Twi’lek takes one look at that electric thing and goes absolutely still, staring between it and Nyssa’s face. “Please don’t,” she whispers, just before it touches her arm.
She flinches automatically, but then her brow furrows with confusion. Evidently that’s not what she was expecting. Rolling this information over in her mind, she has already failed to really respond to the second tap of the prod before she can work out whether she’s better off lying in this situation or not. “It- it doesn’t really feel like anything,” she mumbles.
Nyssa smiles and leans forward to brush her scaled fingers across the Twi’lek’s forehead, very gently considering the proximity to her Lekku. “That’s good. Try to relax. The Ryll will make this easier,” she says, leaning closer.
Zetnu’ri can feel the weight of the thugs on her arms, they are holding her firmly as the Falleen straddles her. She brings the little rod higher up, towards the prisoner’s face. The current is purple and vibrant.
All too familiar with Nyssa’s willingness to grab her by the headtail, Zet trembles when her hand comes near her face. “Make- make what-” Her breath escapes her with a soft grunt, and she wriggles unhappily now that she’s fully pinned to her bed.
That turns into another full-blown struggle when the crackling rod comes near her face. She arches her back and rolls her shoulders, her eyes screwed shut as she tries to turn away from whatever the crimelord has in mind. Zet isn’t strong at all, but she’s squirmy.
“Shhh,” the soothing comes with a slither. “Open your eyes. Look at me Zetnu’ri. Look. At. Me,” the Black Sun Vigo softly but firmly demands. “I need to collect my payment. Then everything will be settled.”
“Nnh.” She protests, and she certainly doesn’t stop shivering. But Nyssa’s words get in her head and coil around her brain, and with a shudder she turns her face towards the Falleen again. Peeking her eyes open, Zet bites her bottom lip as she waits for something very bad to happen.
“That’s it,” she says with a devilish grin. “Now. Just. Hold. Still.”
The sparking of purple current draws nearer to the Twi’lek’s eye, filling her vision. Inches from her face, the sharp pointed tip suddenly opens up like a flower, blooming after the Falleen must have pressed a button. Soon the dark center of the metal flower is all that can be seen. The metal petals push their way between eye lid and ball, into the socket all around Zetnu’ri’s eye. The purple current sends vibrations through her body that would certainly paralyze her with pain if not for the numbness the Ryll bestows.
The experience is altogether unpleasant. There is a sucking sound and this pull as her eye is detached from her. Her perspective changes and she sees her own eyeball and dangling guts in the grasp of that dreaded wand. Nyssa’s yellow eyes are lit up, a look of delight on her face as she leans back and marvels at her treasure. “Ah! It’s just what I’ve always wanted,” she says.
Turning her attention towards the injured Twi’lek, she continues her smile. “Thank you Zetnu’ri. I believe this concludes our transaction. You’ll be sure to explain why you’re missing an eye when people ask, won’t you dear?”
In that moment, as the device pushes its way into her eye socket, Zet’s mind runs blank. She can hear her own soft, sick moan at the bizarre sensation but it seems to come from someone else’s lips. Her other eyelid flutters and her remaining eye rolls back as if she’s about to faint, pain or no pain. But the mind- and body-numbing effect of the Ryll is just enough to keep her there by a thread, amplifying the disorienting sensation of losing all peripheral vision on the left side of her head.
She doesn’t even register Nyssa’s words initially. Her good eye is fixed on the one in the wand, and she’s trying not to focus on the weird pins-and-needles sensation of the blood pooling in the empty socket. Dreamily, she replies, “I’m gonna throw up.”