Star Wars: Edge of the Empire

Backscene: The beginning of a beautiful friendship

an e-mail rp log

(OOC: we got excited and roleplayed how Zet and Santos first met on Nar Shaddaa. This takes place at least a year before any of the events of the game, we’re sharing it for nosy people.)

The evening is growing late, and slowly but surely the other patrons sitting around this dimly lit table have folded and left in disgust. The Slippery Sarlacc, a seedy pub located on one of the lower levels of the Corellian Sector, serves guests of all species, some of whom are holding raucous, drunken conversations around their tables while others murmur quietly over their drinks in darkened corners.

“Ha! That’s another one for me,” a green Twi’lek woman says smugly as she throws down her winning hand and sweeps the pazaak pot over to herself. Earlier she introduced herself to the table as Zet, and she’s been taking the majority of the hands tonight. Now she and an irritated-looking male Duros are the only two other players left. “I’m game to go again if you guys still have money to lose.” When the Duros gives a disgruntled nod, she slides the deck over to let him take his turn to deal as she pockets most of the cash on the table, then glances across to their third tablemate with a crooked grin. “You in?”

The young Chiss takes his time considering whether or not to continue. He’s down to his last three hundred credits. This isn’t exactly how he planned this evening to go. He came to the Slippery Sarlacc to win some more money to buy a ship with. Now he’d lost 700 credits, and really should bow out. That’s not exactly how he operates, though.

He doesn’t respond with words, and doesn’t return the woman’s smile. Instead he throws 30 credits in, and turns his gaze to the Duros, expectantly.

Zet’s smirk doesn’t waver as she also tosses thirty credits into the pot. The Duros adds his money and finishes shuffling the main deck. Each of them gets one card to flip over – the Duros’ card is highest, so he’ll get to go first. Those cards return to the deck, which the Duros leaves stacked in reach of all of them before drawing his hand of four from his own side deck. By now, Zet has also done the same, and she kicks back in her chair with a confident grin for whatever she sees in her hand.

A few minutes later – pazaak is a quick game – Zet is again gleefully pocketing everyone’s money, having laid out a perfect 20 in just three cards. Their Duros dealer tosses his cards from the main deck down in disgust. “I’m finished.” Draining his glass, he scoops up his side deck and departs in a huff.

The Twi’lek turns her attention to Santos as she picks up the green house deck and starts to shuffle it. “Running low on credits? We can always switch to Nar Shaddaa pazaak…”

Another perfect 20? That’s what? 4 rounds now? Santos feigns concern, starts to fidget nervously, and starts to unfasten his shirt slightly. “I believe it’s my turn to deal?” The first time he speaks anywhere on this moon, heads turn. Even in as cosmopolitan a world as Nar Shaddaa, Chiss are almost completely unknown. “You play for money, I play for clothes.” He keeps his red eyes, trained on Zet, watching her every move.

There’s a hitch in the smooth motion of Zet’s hands as she hears Santos’ unfamiliar accent for the first time. She shrugs, sliding the deck across the table to him to let him shuffle as he pleases and flip the cards that’ll determine who goes first. “I was starting to think you didn’t speak Basic.” Swiftly, she shuffles her own side deck, and then she tosses fifty credits into the centre of the table. “Fine with me. That’s polite of you.”

“Who doesn’t? You don’t think it’s a challenging language, do you?” There’s the grin. He hasn’t been away from Csilla for long, and still carries the arrogance of his people with him.

He takes his time shuffling, not taking his eyes off his opponent. After a few minutes, he’s content that the deck is sufficiently mixed, and flips a card. One. “You’re lead.” He says, not needing to wait for her flip.

Well, it’s not like she’s got a card up her sleeve – hers are short today, and Zet always keeps her hands in full view. So if she’s cheating somehow, he’ll have to watch her very closely to catch her. Maybe she’s just really lucky, and it definitely has been difficult to tell when she bluffs.

His snarky response gets a puzzled blink from her and a disinterested shrug. “Nope. It’s fine, now I know you’re actually just unfriendly.” She flips over an eight from the main deck for her spread and gestures at him. “Your turn. What’s that accent?”

“Chiss.” As though that means anything to her. "If you haven’t heard of us, I’m not surprised. “Your ‘Galactic’ Empire labeled our territory the ‘Unknown Region’ instead of bothering to learn something.” Although it’s usually not a good idea to speak critically of the Empire, Santos is pretty confident there aren’t many loyalists on making a living in Hutt space. “And please, don’t confuse unfriendliness for caution. I haven’t met many friendly people during my time here.”

Santos flips over a ten. That will go very nicely with the 9 sitting in his hand.

“It’s not my Galactic Empire. I sure didn’t pick ’em.” There’s no recognition on her face at the word Chiss, though, that’s for sure. Zet can’t help but smile faintly again, lifting her eyes from her cards to regard him across the table. “And you think they’re being unfriendly because you talk funny?” She’s quite clearly teasing him.

Reaching for the main deck, she puts down another eight. “Ah…” Zet tosses down a four to go with it. “That’s twenty again. Gonna start with your shirt?” She rakes her money back towards herself.

Unless you have other ideas," Santos shoots back coyly as he unfastens the remainder of the shirt and slides it off of his arms. He then hands the main deck to the Twi’lek, and waits for her to shuffle. That’s 5 twenties now. How is she doing it? “Shoes next, or would you rather skip straight to the pants?”

“You’re gonna lose ’em both anyway.” Zet’s been shuffling cards since she was a child; she hardly looks at the deck as it flickers between her hands. That’s because she isn’t being at all shy about letting her eyes drift from his face down to his chest and back up again. Placing the deck down, she counts out a hundred credits this time, setting them in the middle of the table with a quirk of her lips. Next, she reshuffles her side deck. There’s something about the way she’s moving her thumb…

Flipping over the top card for herself, she then tosses one to him. He beats her six to four, so he’ll get to go first.

There it is, Santos thinks as notices Zet’s thumb out of the corner of his eye. At least, it’s a beginning. He also notices her eyes wandering from the cards to his chest. The Chiss as a rule possess exceptional physiques. While Santos is fairly average for his own people, in this part of the galaxy he’s anything but.

He examines the cards in his blue hands, then lays down a four from the main deck. It will go nicely with the eight he’s still holding, as well as the double he managed to ‘borrow’ from Nossk. He grins, expecting Zet to notice the tell. “Your turn.”

Zet certainly notices it, but it’s impossible for him to gauge whether or not she buys it. Pulling a nine from the deck, she adds a negative two from her hand. “I guess you must not play much pazaak back home,” she says with a laugh. “You’ve been having a rough night.”

“Not much time for fun and games on Csilla.”. At least after you turn 13. That’s part of the reason Santos left. The Chiss studies the cards in front of Zet. Seven on the table, so she’s got 13 in her hand, or is going for a 9 card win.

He drops down his eight, and waits for her move.

“Hah, this isn’t fun and games for everyone. You know how many people in this sector make ends meet playing cards?” Zet casually pulls the next card off the deck, revealing an eight. With fifteen on the table in front of her, she drops a five and lifts her eyes to his face with a sunny smile.

There’s a little nick on the corner of that eight. Could be nothing – everyone plays with beat-up decks around here. But Zet was the one who pulled it out when she started the game. “Your deal.” She pushes the cards over to him and starts to set up her side deck. There’s that little thumb slip again.

First thing’s first. Santos stands up and casually pushes his pants down. He favours loose clothing, so he’s easily able to pull his shoes through the legs. He take a moment to ensure his remaining credits and other vitals are safely tucked into the side of his underpants, and sits back down.

He shuffles the deck for a few moments, not that it would make any difference with Zet at the table. “So, exactly how many of those cards have you marked?” He asks as though it were small talk.

That smile only grows as Santos strips down, though it has more genuine amusement in it than any real interest in the Chiss. Heads are starting to turn their way. It’s hard to miss a tall, blue, good-looking guy pulling his clothes off in the middle of a busy bar. The area immediately around them grows a little quieter as he calls her out.

Zet laughs, sweeping the hundred credits she bet last round back into her pocket. She looks pretty calm in the face of his accusation and all the attention they’re drawing. “You wanna borrow a deck from the bar instead and see if you can win your money back? It won’t help you.”

“Mmm, no.” Santos replies, equally calm. “I’m sure you’ve been stacking the decks in several other ways as well. I’ll just accept my credits back, and enjoy the round if drinks you’re going to buy with what you ‘won’ from the Duros.”

The tables to either side of them are dead silent now, and a ripple of anticipation runs through the Slippery Sarlacc. This likely isn’t the first time the regulars have seen Zet get caught scamming the new guy.

The Twi’lek hasn’t removed her right hand from below the table where she’s been stowing her money, and her left rests easily over her side deck. There’s a pause as she looks up at him, still grinning, although a palpable flicker of tension runs between them as she seems to size him up.

He’s a lot bigger than her.

In one smooth motion she pulls her cards off the table and kicks her chair back to spring to her feet. The advantage of being petite and agile is that she can easily weave through the other patrons – within a few seconds she has already hopped the bar to disappear into the kitchen.

Bigger yes, and he’s willing to bet he’s faster too.

As Zet begins weaving through the crowd, Santos swiftly grabs His own side deck and springs to his feet. Whereas the Twi’lek is able to find a path between people, Santos has a different approach. There are too many people and chairs cluttering the floor, so the half naked Chiss decides to take advantage of the closely positioned tables. He leaps on top of one, and begins Hoping from one to another until he reaches the bar, and dashes into the kitchen only moments after Zet.

No one was going to get in Santos’ way anyway. When he goes barreling after Zet the crowd parts like a sea, with a mix of startled yells and laughter. Are they laughing because she’s gonna get shaken down for what she stole or because they’ve never seen a Chiss go table hopping in his underwear before?

The kitchen may prove a bigger challenge for him though. It’s hot and cramped and the ceiling is barely high enough to clear his head, and the flustered cooks are trying to set things right after a Twi’lek in a hurry blew past them. He’ll spot her turning a corner at the far end, and then there’s the unmistakable sound of a door slamming shut.

Santos makes his way as best he can through the busy kitchen. He’s certainly slowed down by the kitchen staff as they try to get out of the way in the cramped space. The patrons in the bar are sure to hear a succession of crashes as trays and flatware fall to the floor, which of course causes another roar of laughter.

Santos eventually makes it to the door Zet escaped from, although the heat of the kitchen fires quickly covers the man who grew up on a glacier planet with a thin layer of sweat. White underwear turned out to be a bad idea. He quickly makes his way through the door and looks around for the Twi’lek.

The door leads him to a back alley, covered in the same kind of grimy layer as everything else on this polluted moon. Good thing he kept his shoes on.

Zet is just darting around another corner – he only catches sight of her because she’s slowed to glance back and see if he’s still following. Their eyes meet, and she gives him a cocky wave before disappearing into the warren of alleys and side streets. He may have speed and size but he’s on her turf now.

At least the air of the alley will start to evaporate the sweat and being him back down to a comfortable temperature.

He wastes no time with the chase, turning the same corner he last saw her disappear behind. He quickly realizes the disadvantage he’s at, and the near futility of finding her in the maze of side streets, so he instead heads to the front of the bar and hops on a speeder that would look more at home In a junk heap. One good thing about the filth of Nar Shaddaa is that you can always find the parts you need, if you know what to look for. The speeder roars to life and he begins combing the alleys.

Zet’s smart enough not to run in a straight line. And it’s a good thing he’s a talented driver because there’s plenty of debris and tight turns to make his life hard. It takes him a good minute or so of zooming around before he spots the Twi’lek again – it looks like she looped around to double back towards the bar. She looks up in alarm at the sound of the speeder bearing down on her from the left and darts right out into the busy street, shoving her way through passersby as she tries to lose him in the traffic and the crowd.

The Twi’lek really doesn’t understand what’s happening. She may have home field advantage, but Santos’ speeder isn’t simply a vehicle- it’s an extension of him. He easily weaves his way through traffic. Hovering over pedestrians, and positions himself directly behind the green woman. He lowers the nose slightly, and gently nudges her until she fall back, lying prone on the front of the speeder.

Furthermore, while Zet is quick and dodgy, it’s already obvious that she doesn’t have the stamina for a long chase, let alone a chase versus a speeder. She lets out a startled squawk as she’s nudged onto the hood. Around her, pedestrians push into each other to get out of Santos’ way before anyone else gets hit.

She gets her thick-soled boots onto the slick metal for purchase and arches her back so she can angle her face back towards him. The next thing he’ll see is the barrel of a tiny holdout blaster, which she tries to discharge right into the speeder controls. This one’s flexible.

Santos smiles as he watches Zet attempt to trash the controls. His year in the Expansionary Defense Force taught him a thing or two about how to protect a vehicle’s vitals. As the blaster fire leaves a burn mark on the protective cover, Santos winds his veers off the main road, on to a ramp leading up to an elevated residential block. If Zet had remained facing the road she’d have noticed a small makeshift shelter nestled a short climb up between two buildings.

At this point Zet is beginning to look panicked. Suffice it to say no one has ever responded to her fleecing them by abducting her on a speeder in their underwear.

She glances up ahead of them, gauging the current space. Her arms tuck up around her head and she kicks off with one foot, rolling off the hood at high speed. Her landing actually isn’t the problem – she hits the ground in a proper tumble, absorbing impact with little more than a few scrapes. Unfortunately she miscalculated the distance to the wall. She lets out a sharp yelp as her shoulders smack into it, knocking the wind out of her. Though she’s off the speeder, she won’t be on her feet and running again for a few minutes.

As the woman electively jumps off a moving vehicle, Santos brings the speeder full stop. He dismounts and walks toward her as she struggles to regain her breath. He kneels down, puts one hand on her shoulder, takes her hand in the other, and slowly helps her to her feet. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” He walks her slowly over to the speeder, and helps her lean on it while he checks for injury. “And exactly what I would have done. I’m Santos, by the way.”

Zet shrinks away as he approaches, her fingers tightening on the pistol which she’s kept in hand in spite of her fancy maneuver. When he only touches her shoulder she flashes a suspicious look up at him. What’s his angle?

Her eyes drop to his proffered hand, and after a second of silence she takes it. He’ll discover she’s every bit as light as she looks when he helps her upright, and she allows him to guide her to the speeder. Her bare arms are scratched up from rolling across the concrete and she’s walking like she banged up her knee, but nothing looks serious. That smug mirth has left her face entirely; she’s watching him guardedly, hyper-aware now that she’s good and caught. “If that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen, you’ve never seen a Chiss on a speeder in his underwear.”

“Point taken.” He finds a space beside her on the side of the speeder. “Look, I think it’s clear the I’m not trying to hurt you. I just want my credits back. You look pretty messed up. I have a medpac in my place I could patch you up with” he gestures with his thumb behind him. Yes, at the mess of junk on the ledge.

There’s something a bit sullen about the set of Zet’s jaw. “I won fair and square. It’s not my fault you took so long to figure out I was scamming you.” She looks where he gestures, then squints. “That’s not a place. That’s a pile of garbage. Why do you live in a pile of garbage?”

“That’s my home since I was beaten up, thrown out of my own ship and left for dead.” Santos explains that matter of factly, as though discussing what he ate for breakfast. “And there’s nothing ‘fair and square’ about stacking the deck. I’d have no problem with losing honestly. I signed up for that.” He hops on the speeder again, making room for her on the back. “Anyway, you need to get looked at. Hop on.”

Zet huffs. “It’s fair and square around here. The regulars at the Sarlacc know better than to play with me and I buy a round now and then so they don’t tip anyone off.” Some of the stubborn conviction has left her voice, and she’s studying his profile to gauge the veracity of his claims. She had ample opportunity earlier to get a sense for when he’s telling a lie… he’s no good at it.

With a wince, she gets her leg over the speeder and slides forward to hang on around his waist. This isn’t awkward at all. “I don’t think your clothes will still be there when you go back.”

“That’s ok.” As soon as Zet is steady on the back, he starts up and head towards his home. “I didn’t pay for them.”

He stops the speeder in the corner where two buildings meet, just under his place. Trash heaps are common sights in the neighborhood, and he carefully bids the speeder behind a large one.

Once he’s satisfied that the speeder is taken care of, he starts feeling a wall, feeling for the gaps that allow him to climb. He finds a rope at the top and throws one end down for Zet to ascend on.

Zet lets go of him to let him climb off first, then carefully eases herself back to the ground. Normally scaling a wall wouldn’t be a problem for her, but as banged up as she is, she’ll take the rope. Bracing her feet against the wall, she starts to climb up. By the time she hits the roof she’s a little out of breath again. “I think I hit that wall harder than I thought.” The Twi’lek looks around, taking in his so-called home. “Who stole your ship?”

“My partner.” True to his word, there’s a medpac in the shelter. As well as a blaster, a few stun grenades and some stims. He starts binding her cuts and making sure she hasn’t broken anything, at least, to the extend the medpac allows. “Friendly tip: never trust a Trandoshan. I’ll be off of this rock so. Enough though, once I make enough for my new home.” He gestures towards a hole in the shelter wall that happens to look directly into a hangar housing a dilapidated YT-1300.

Uneasy about letting a complete stranger get up in her personal space, Zet is tense as she holds her arms up to let Santos patch her up. He won’t find anything broken, but there’s a tender bruise forming across the right side of her ribs, visible on the patch of green skin between her cropped shirt and her waistband.

She says nothing while he works away, her eyes fixed on the ship in the hangar. “That thing doesn’t look like it’ll fly in that state,” she observes with the air of someone who knows what she’s talking about. “When’s the last time you had a decent meal?” Zet sniffs the air delicately. “Or a shower…”

“Three solid meals a day. Showers every few days.”. Once he’s done all he can for Zet he sits back and enjoys the view of his soon to be new ship. “Not everyone who lives this way has to. I take whatever jobs I can get and bank what I make.”

He clearly doesn’t see the ship in the same light. “Just needs a paint job and some minor repairs. I can fix it just as I built that speeder. The seller is giving me a great deal seeing as it’s been sitting there for a few years.”

“Around here, a lot of people live like this and it definitely isn’t what they would choose.” Zet takes a moment to examine the bandage on one of the cuts. Apparently she approves enough of his handiwork not to complain.

She just shakes her head at his optimism, moving closer to the hole in the wall to study his ship. Her mind is working furiously. Maybe she’s having a luckier day than she thought. “Hey, let me apologize for making you lose your clothes.” Not for cheating you out of your dream ship fund. “Come eat with my parents and me. You can clean up and we can probably find you something to wear.” Zet glances back over her shoulder at him. “… if we ask the neighbours or something,” she adds, reminding herself of his ridiculous height.

With a crooked smile, Santos teases her, “You don’t think we’re moving too fast?” He offers her a hand again before leading her back to the rope. “Can you climb down, or should I give you a lift on my back?”

“No,” Zet replies with a blank look. “My parents like to share what they have.” She does blink down at his hand, given she’s not exactly having trouble walking, but she takes it as they move to what passes for his front door. “I can climb just fine.” She proves it by grabbing the rope, swinging herself over the edge and sliding right down to the ground with confidence. Of course when she touches down she swallows a soft whine at the impact on her bashed knee. “Uh, you don’t have a jacket or anything to wear do you?”

“Lemme see.” He heads back inside and emerges moments later wearing a thick leather vest that looks like it once had sleeves before being ripped apart.

Santos is sure to coil the rope up again and leave it in the shelter before descending, in the exact same pattern as before. He’s clearly been around long enough to memorize the path.

“This better?” He seems oblivious to the absurdity of a many wearing a vest and underwear to a nice sit-down dinner. He gets the speeder ready and waits for directions.

Zet just stares at him as he descends. Well, good old mom and dad are gonna think she’s crazy. “Objectively, yes…” She follows him back to the speeder, taking her seat behind him and wrapping her arms around him again. Now that he’s kind of got a shirt on she seems a bit more comfortable pressing up against his back. “It’s not far.” She rattles off some simple directions for him that will take them up a few blocks within the same sector.

This area is clearly more residential than that around the Slippery Sarlacc, but it’s no nicer or cleaner. Beings of many different races live close together here in cramped dwellings, and although there are very few established businesses, there are plenty of entrepreneurs trying to sell street food, trinkets, or mechanical parts (no doubt stolen) from blankets and rickety tables.

Zet guides Santos to stop his speeder outside a poorly maintained apartment building. “You might wanna leave it in the alley behind a dumpster or something… Stuff like this tends to grow legs and walk away around here.” When his speeder is stowed, she ignores the openly confused looks from some of her neighbors, hooking an arm through his to drag him in the front doors. It’s clearly not a secure building, though she needs an access card to open her parents’ second-floor unit. The smell of meat cooking fills the air immediately as she slides the door open. There’s a small sitting area here, pillows arranged around a low table, with the kitchen appliances along the right wall.

A blue-skinned, older Twi’lek woman turns to greet Zet as she enters and stops dead at the sight of a Chiss with no pants. Then she says something in rapid Ryl to Santos’ new friend, her tone accusatory. Zet hastily closes the door to shut him inside the apartment as she responds – he’ll likely pick up his name somewhere in there if he’s listening carefully.

Well, this is awkward, although the twi’lek woman seems to be taking this far better than most Chiss parents would.

“You must be Zet’s mother. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Hopefully his unusual accent is enough to distract the woman from berating Zet. “Zet’s told me how much you enjoy helping those less fortunate.” Being pants less certainly qualifies.

No matter how exasperated Zet’s mother is with her daughter, she turns a polite smile on Santos when he greets her. “Please, be welcome,” she replies, her voice carrying a Rylothian accent (which Zet herself notably lacks). “My name is Jirgu.” She begins to gesture to the pillows, but her eyes are inevitably drawn back to his, um, lack of pants.

Before she can say anything, Zet interjects. “I thought the Cereans upstairs might have something lying around. They’re probably tall enough…” She plants a hand at the small of Santos’ back and tries to steer him forward. She’s certainly not strong enough to make someone his size go anywhere he doesn’t want to, but she’s trying to usher him towards the arched doorway at the far side of the room. He may need to duck his head slightly to pass through it. “You can clean up through there if you want,” she says, pointing out their small but functional refresher. “I’ll have something for you to wear by the time you’re done.” And now he’s off the hook: he doesn’t have to make awkward small talk with her mom while she goes to fetch them.

True to her word, she taps on the door at some point to offer him some clean clothes. The pants are an inch or two too short for him, but they should otherwise be all right. By the time he emerges, Zet is busily helping her mother set the table with stoneware bowls, and the women are chattering quietly away in their own tongue. But for Santos’ sake, Zet switches back to Basic to ask, “Did they fit?”

Santos obliges his new friend, and makes his way into their modest Refresher, careful not bump his head on the threshold. He takes off what little he was left wearing, and steps into the shower. Water based. Even on Nar Shaddaa he hasn’t scene many of those. He turns the water on and begins cleaning himself up. His neck and head remain completely dry as he towers over the shower head, so he has to crouch uncomfortably to finish up.

The pants are noticeable too short, but not short enough to appear intentional. The shirt is a bit better. Short sleeved, so it doesn’t look too unusual. That is, aside from the inch of blue flesh peaking out around his waist. “They fit where they need to.” He replies politely. “It smells delicious in here.” He adds as he stands awkwardly beside the table. Some people are very particular about where they sit.

Zet can’t quite hide a smirk at how undignified Santos looks in his new clothes, but at least her mother will be marginally less scandalized moving forward. “It’s rycrit stew. Misha’s is the best, but it’s hard to get your hands on rycrit meat on Nar Shaddaa. This is your lucky day.”

“Sit,” Jirgu says insistently, ignoring her daughter’s attempts at flattery. “Anywhere but this one.” She points to the seat nearest the door. “Zetnu’ri, get our guest something to drink.” She adds something that sounds vaguely disparaging in Ryl after that.

With a little roll of her eyes, Zet fills four glasses with some kind of sweet juice and bears them all over to the table, plunking one down in front of Santos. “My father moves cargo at one of the spaceports, but he should be home any time now. We don’t start without him.” Which explains why dinner is so late. She does, however, seem to think she’s done her share of the preparation, picking a pillow next to Santos for herself. “How long have you been living here?”

“Not long. Maybe five months or so.” He’s a bit distracted, taking in the modest arrangements. The family certainly doesn’t seem to have much, but there’s an endearing quality to the home, and how they insist on eating dinner together. “I’m hoping in a month or two I can make a serious offer on that ship. That is, of course, if I stay away from the cards.” He grins.

“I don’t think pazaak is helping you,” Zet agrees. “Though maybe I could show you a few tricks.”

“Oh, is that how he lost his clothing?” Jirgu pipes in from where she stirs the pot on the stove. Apparently Zet’s gambling habit is no secret around here. “No wonder you were so eager to help him…”

“Please, it’s not like everyone I bring to financial ruin gets invited back here for a homecooked meal… Let him think he’s special.” Zet reaches her hand out to wiggle her fingers at a fluffy little creature with eight spindly legs who comes creeping out from a curtained doorway near the refresher. “We should talk about that ship, Santos. Maybe after dinner. You can fly it?”

Santos can’t help but break into laughter at that question. “If it moves, I can fly it.” Chiss arrogance at its finest. He turns his attention to Jirgu. “Yes, I made the mistake of playing Pazaak with your daughter. It made for a very memorable evening.”

The appearance of the spidercat fascinates Santos. “What is that? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“At the Slippery Sarlacc? Most people know better.” Jirgu is unaware that she’s echoed Zet’s earlier words – and Zet’s grin is anything but sheepish. Notably, Jirgu isn’t telling her card cheat daughter to return the money either…

“This is Lirj.” Zet scoops the little furball up once she gets close enough. Immediately, Lirj begins to emit a soothing purring sound, and Zet holds her out to let Santos touch her extremely soft fur. “She’s a voorpak.”

“Another of Zet’s strays,” Jirgu supplies as their front door opens. A male Twi’lek joins them in the small space, the same shade of green as Zet but taller and broader than both the women.

He hesitates on the threshold, glancing from Santos to Zet. Something silent seems to pass between them; if Santos knows anything at all about Twi’leks, and he’s observant, he might notice a subtle twitch or two of their lekku. Then he gives the Chiss a faint, tired smile. “Kah’lehalle.”

“Welcome,” Zet translates. “This is my father, Yune.” As Yune takes the seat Jirgu was saving, she gestures towards the Chiss with the hand she’s not using to cradle her pet. “I invited Santos for dinner because I made him lose his pants.” She says it with a straight face. “We’re gonna talk business after.” Santos hasn’t even confirmed that he wants to, but Zet seems to have already made that decision for him.

Santos reaches out to feel the creature’s fur and has to agree, very soft. “I once had a little narglatch when I was about six years old.” He’s not one for small talk, but it seems appropriate. “but she ended up eating my sister’s tauntaun, and that was the end of that.” Did he do that wrong?

The Chiss isn’t certain what to do when Zet’s father comes in. Should he stand? Bow? He settles for dipping his head a little and saying, “Thank you.” After Zet’s introduction he chimes in cheerfully, “Apparently we have business.”

Yune sure doesn’t seem to expect any more than Santos’ polite greeting. “What kind of business?” He has the same accent as Zet’s mother.

“Oh, you know. My kind of business,” Zet replies breezily.

Jirgu joins them, setting the thick-bottomed pot of stew down on a little woven mat to protect the table’s surface. Meat and herbs float in a thick, rich-smelling broth. Once she’s seated, she sees to ladelling it out into their bowls. There’s a strange mark on her right wrist – at first glance, it might seem to be a faded tattoo, circling it like a bracelet, but closer inspection would show that it’s more like an old brand.

In case Santos was wondering if there’s any kind of Twi’lek observation before a meal, Yune scoops up a spoonful of soup as soon as everyone has been served. So apparently not. “Where are you from, Santos?” he asks after the Chiss has had a chance to taste his meal.

Santos tries not to register recognition as he see the marking on Jirgu’s wrist. He hasn’t seen that particular brand before, but he knows what brands mean. You brand something you own. They must have been through hell to get to where they are now, and this must seem by orders of magnitude an improvement.

He takes the time to truly tastes the soup, and comes to the same conclusion Zet mentioned earlier own. “This is incredible, Jirgu. You truly have a talent.” He hesitates to answer Yune’s question. How does one explain that their from a part of space you’ve never heard of? “I’m from beyond Wild Space. From a part of the Galaxy most people have no concept of.”

Zet ushers Lirj out of her lap now that there’s food on the table. The voorpak is apparently well-trained enough not to beg. She just curls up against Zet’s pillow, still purring away. Right this second, she’s more focused on devouring her stew than on making small talk.

Jirgu smiles at Santos, inclining her head to acknowledge his compliment. She’s just as curious as her husband about their guest, though. “And you’ve found yourself stranded on Nar Shaddaa?” Either she’s put the pieces together, or Zet was gossiping while he was in the shower. “Are you trying to make your way home again?” Yune bears a very similar brand, by the way – it’s briefly visible when his long sleeve falls back from his wrist as he lifts his spoon to his mouth.

Santos almost shudders at that thought. “No. No, no, no, no, no, no. No. If I wanted to be there, I wouldn’t have left. Life on Csilla is very… Structured. I’m not in a hurry to return to that, especially when it means going back to the military.” He takes another sip of soup. “I like the freedom of being up there among the stars. Something new everyday. There are definitely some bumps along the way (never trust a Trandoshan), but everyday is a new possibility.”

Santos notices the brand on Yune’s wrist, and his curiosity gets the best of him. “Is there another home you’d like to make your way back to?”

Something about the way he says that makes Zet laugh out loud. If she knew anything at all about Chiss it would probably be even funnier. She trails off when he asks that question though, glancing uncertainly at her parents for their reaction.

Jirgu glances away, tugging her sleeve down over her wrist, but Yune meets Santos’ eyes steadily. He doesn’t look offended. “Jirgu and I were taken from Ryloth when we were only children. It wouldn’t be home anymore anyway. And this one barely cares to learn about it.” He shoots a stern, if fond look at his daughter. “I swear she picked up Huttese faster than she learned Ryl.”

“I was there a couple of years ago. It was weird,” Zet replies defensively between mouthfuls of soup. “I don’t really want to live in a cave on a planet where clan leaders sell their own people into slavery. Did you run away?” That’s directed at Santos. Her attempt to divert attention from herself before her father says anything about her childhood that would actually be embarrassing.

“Run away?” That’s an unfamiliar concept for a Chiss. “I left, and my family accepted that. I’m the youngest of four, so by the time I came around my parents’ ambitions were all tied up in the my older brothers.” He finishes off his soup before continuing. He really has no problem discussing his history. “I tried to do what was expected of me, so as soon as I turned 13 I signed up with the Expansionary Defense Force. Turns out that wasn’t for me, so after a year I found my way onto a cargo ship, and didn’t look back.”

“Is that like the military?” Zet frowns, stirring her spoon around in her nearly-empty bowl. “Thirteen’s so young.”

“Please, help yourself if you’d like more,” Jirgu insists, sliding the soup ladle around the pot so it faces Santos. “What’s ours is yours.”

“The navy.” Santos takes Jirgu up on her offer. “How is thirteen young? That was only two years ago.” The result of being part of a Xenophobic species is that you don’t know a great deal about other species, and they know less about you. “At thirteen I was legally an adult. Ready to being an illustrious career, choose a mate and start pumping out loyal little servants of the Ascendancy. Is that not the same here?”

All three Twi’leks seem a bit stunned by this revelation, especially given that Santos, looking like nothing so much as a blueish, exceptionally fit human, does not look fifteen. “I’m thirty-one,” Zet says after a moment. “These two are pushing sixty. I can’t think of another species that, um, grows up that fast. I mean, there sure are some that put kids in the army, but… that doesn’t sound like what you’re talking about.”

“No, it certainly doesn’t.” Santos is equally affected by Zet’s age. He just always assumed that was just the way people aged. “It may be a result of the self-imposed isolation over the past 4000 years.” His appetite appears to be as large has his body as he’s already half way through his second bowl of soup, “At any rate, I wasn’t a child soldier. I wasn’t a particularly good soldier either. I was always more interested in discovering what was beyond our space than defending our space.”

“Do Chiss just… not do that?” Zet’s trying to put the pieces together. She’s finished her bowl, and she takes just another ladleful to pick over while they continue their conversation. “Explore this part of the galaxy, I mean. I’ve been on and off starships for over ten years now and I swear I’ve never even seen another one.” By now, her parents have finished their own meals, and Yune stacks his bowl inside Jirgu’s. Neither of them seem to be rushing the younguns along, though.

Well, there’s your answer. “Not really, no. Back when the Ascendancy was you we were gobbling up systems left, right and centre.” He finishes his last bit of soup. “Then we got to a point where we said, ‘you know what? We’re good.’ And the policy became avoidance.”

“It would be better if more of us felt that way,” Jirgu observes softly. “Knowing when to stop taking when we have what we need already.” Her eyes drift briefly to Zet’s face, and the younger Twi’lek twitches her headtails. Whatever just passed between them makes her mother snort.

Zet leans across the table to add her empty bowl to the pile. “That was amazing as usual, misha. Should I help you clean up?”

“I will help her, if the two of you have business.” Brushing his hand against his wife’s arm, Yune meets Santos’ eyes and jerks his head towards Zet. “Don’t let her talk you into any trouble.”

That implies Santos needs help getting into trouble. He does not. “Yes sir!” How else do you address someone old enough to be your great great great great grandfather?

He turns to Zet after her parents have busied themselves in the kitchen. “So, about this business, does it pay well?”

Yune and Jirgu gather up the dishes and move over to the kitchen area, which can hardly even be said to be another room. They speak quietly with each other in Ryl, largely ignoring the conversation at the low table.

“Sometimes.” Zet is speaking softly as well. She’s obviously not that worried about what her parents will hear or she’d take him somewhere else, but no doubt Santos has picked up by now that they don’t completely approve of how she makes a living. “I’m a smuggler. Problem is, I’ve always got to take work on other people’s crews. I don’t have a ship of my own and I couldn’t fly it even if I did.” She’s watching his face intently, trying to gauge his reaction as she goes along. “I’d rather be my own boss. The cut is bigger.”

Santos is more than a little apprehensive about partnerships lately. Zet certainly doesn’t look like a Trandoshan, though.

“I’m not against the idea. But… Well, I told you what happened with the last partner. It kinda makes it hard to trust.”

“Yeah, of course.” Zet props her chin in her hand and flashes a grin. “I wouldn’t expect to strike up a partnership and bring nothing to it, either. I mean, other than the fact that I’ve apparently been doing this since you were a baby… and I’m awesome. What are you hoping to offer for that ship?”

“Given the repairs needed, he’s offering it to me for 70 000.” Realizing he hasn’t touched his juice, he takes a big sip. Not the usual accompaniment for negotiation, but it will have to do. “I’ve already got 45 000. What can you bring?”

This guy has 45,000 credits in the bank? Zet doesn’t even feel a little bit bad about stealing his money now.

“I know a guy who knows the guy who owns that shipyard. I bet I can talk him down. And is that gonna cover repairs or just the ship?” She’s been drinking her juice all along, but she has another little sip of the sweet liquid. “I’ve got contacts who’d do it for us on credit so we could get in the air faster. Hutt cartel. Plus my own savings, plus ten years’ worth of contacts and trade secrets to keep work coming in once we’re up and running. I don’t have as much put away as you… a lot of what I make comes right back here.” She gestures vaguely at her parents’ little apartment.

Like he said, not everyone who lives that was has to. He was able to cut living expenses substantially just by having not having a place to live.

“I was going to so the repairs myself, but I’m all in favour of getting of this moon faster.” Zet doesn’t seem like she’s planning on double crossing him, and he does need to rebuild his network. “See what you can do about the price.” He extends a cautious hand.

With what he’s been able to surmise of Zet’s parents’ background, maybe he can figure out why she’s so motivated to keep them as comfortable as she can. No matter how she has to do it.

“Yeah, I’ll go talk to him tomorrow.” Zet takes his hand. She’s got a good handshake. “There’s some other stuff we should discuss too, but not here. After I’ve got a better total for your ship we can go over it.” She reaches into her pocket and drops most of his credits on the table – about 600. “Minus idiot tax. I’m gonna show you how to spot a cheater before you gamble any more of your savings away.”

Santos picks up the credits and counts them. Once he’s satisfied he starts heading to the door. “You know where to find me.” He calls back. As he opens the door he looks back at his new partner. “Thank you for an interesting evening. Next time I’ll teach you chess.”

Jirgu and Yune look up when Santos stands. “Thank you for joining us,” Zet’s mother calls after him.

Zet just grins at him, gathering her voorpak back onto her lap. “Yeah, I’ll come see you tomorrow night and we’ll finalize everything. See ya.”

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