Explosions. Blaster fire. Screams. Falling. Darkness.
The thrum of an active hyper drive is usually how a spacer wakes. It becomes a comforting, familiar friend you can wrap around yourself and snuggle like a blanket. For many spacers, it is the ambient sound of home.
So it is disappointing, then, that this comforting sound rouses a dazed Twi’lek only to make her aware, after a minute to focus her eyes, that she is most certainly not at home. The Rainbow Dash is not here, Lirj is not here, Santos is not here.
Zetnu’ri is alone.
The scoundrel is strapped down, spread eagle, to a flat upright surface. From where she is, she can see space. Seriously. Referring to the ship she is aboard as ‘spartan’ would be an understatement. The super structure has gaps that reveal the void of space. Machinery and ship systems are armored but otherwise clearly visible from her position.
It appears she is in a clear plastoid room (or is it a container?) around 8 × 8, but it is difficult to really tell given her current situation. Ahead of her is a plastoid door, through which a metal walkway is visible. Beyond that, another clear but closed doorway. It is unclear what lies beyond that.
The makeup of the ship is unusual, but Zet remembers the profile – she’s aboard an Aggressor-class assault fighter. There’s little doubt considering the unique design of the rare but notorious Trilon Inc. vessel.
It’s probably a blessing that the combined stress of a concussive missile, being dragged and dropped on a platform hundreds of feet in the air, and then ultimately being kicked right off the side of the thing was enough to make Zet black out. Because she might have squirmed a little on the flight to wherever this is, and when all that’s keeping you in the air is a damaged jetpack attached to a bounty hunter you probably should hold still.
Her breathing changes first as she comes around, and then her head lifts. It takes her a minute to really make sense of what she’s seeing, to try to draw a reasonable connection between it and the last thing she remembers. Her breath catches in the back of her throat as she registers the sensation of shackles on her limbs. She gives the one on her right hand a half-hearted tug, but she doesn’t really expect to find any give.
Trying to swallow a queasy wave of panic, she stays quiet, scanning her environment for any useful details. It’s not like she’s never had to pull an escape artist before, but what’s the good of getting loose if she doesn’t have a follow-through? Especially on a relatively small ship like this.
The smuggler is left to wonder for a half hour before she detects movement at the other end of the ship. A shape comes into view beyond the far, clear doors. A woman with dark hair steps out from beyond view. Turning to the side, she reaches for something and lifts her arms to place a familiar helmet on. Shard.
The Mandalorian turns to face the doors, palms at what must be a console, and with a hiss the clear door opens, the huntress stepping through. Zet notices that almost invisible ‘whoosh’ of atmosphere emptying into space. The interior of the ship really is exposed to the void of space. Shard makes her way across the metal grating. She seems to be labouring in her movements, her feet heavy.
Once she reaches the pod in which her prisoner is held, the bounty hunter presses another console. Red lights flash inside the room with Zet and the screams of sirens signal alert.
Zet spends some of that time with her eyes closed, trying to channel a little bit of Callia’s freaky Jedi serenity. That is, until thinking about Callia and Santos and Qurzer gets her brain caught in some kind of crazy rat wheel of wondering whether Teemo was involved in what sure felt like a setup — maybe they’re all dead now.
She also looks down at herself, trying to gauge without the use of her hands how much of her stuff is gone. Neither of her blaster pistols hang at her hips anymore, which is hardly a surprise. But her vest feels a bit too heavy to be empty. Does she still have a few grenades in her pockets?
After half an hour she’s seriously getting bored, and she’s started to fidget with the binder on her right hand in earnest. Sometimes she can twist her wrist just the right way to get loose… But then she catches movement out of the corner of her eye and goes still, turning her head to watch Shard’s approach. The part where the back of the ship is utterly separate from the cockpit will prove to be another issue entirely even if she does get down from this table. The Twi’lek flinches as the sirens go off, her grey eyes fixed on the bounty hunter. She’d be worried about the klaxons if she really believed Shard would go to all this trouble just to space her.
It had not been visible at first, but as the first set of clear plastoid doors open and the armour-clad huntress steps forward it becomes apparent there is a small airlock section. The doors close behind the Mandalorian, a hiss of atmosphere being filled in the airlock to pressurize can be heard, and after a minute of the huntress staring directly ahead, eyes invisible through the ‘T’ of her dark visor, the inner clear doors open and Shard steps closer to Zetnu’ri.
“Good morning,” she says with a smile, her voice missing the low end frequencies as it comes through the vocoder. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t wake until we arrive,” she goes on.
Zet smiles thinly in response, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Well it’s not the feather bed I’m used to, so…” She wiggles her fingers, in the off-chance Shard doesn’t take her meaning. “Look, I know the Suns put a pretty big price tag on my head, but me and my friends can outbid them. I’m not gonna insult your intelligence by asking if you know what they do to the beings who screw them over.” Keeping cool in the heat of the moment is one of her specialties, but this time her voice cracks a little with nerves.
Shard listens, though she moves behind the slate that Zet is held face forward on, a shuffling sound ensuing. “If I had a credit for each time I heard a counter-offer like that,” she muses, the tin of her voice carrying with it a chuckle. “Not that I don’t believe you. I’m counting your credits right now. You can afford me,” she says, laying out on table the belongings she confiscated from her prisoner while she was unconscious.
“From what I hear, you’ve been crafty little kretches, having all sorts of galaxy-hopping fun and striking it rich,” the huntress teases, bagging the items and sealing them off, gently laid on the table before she comes around before the Twi’lek once more.
So her money is gone. In spite of everything, Zet feels a flicker of frustration at that. She draws in a slow breath. It doesn’t matter, they can make it back.
Shard will have found quite a bit tucked away in the smuggler’s various pockets. Two blaster pistols and her shock gloves — but she missed all of the grenades stashed away in her vest, and the holdout blaster she pulled off the Sullustan back at the mine. Both her comms, her scanner goggles, her breath mask. Sabacc deck, chance cubes, an assortment of pazaak cards, nine stim packs, her climbing gear and a pair of glow rods.
“Yeah, you might have heard we ran the Corellian Shuffle in record time. I can’t believe you wanna waste all this talent on a measly thirty thousand. We just came back from the Barab system with almost twice that. I’m only asking you to think about what makes good business sense.”
“You’re right, of course,” Shard agrees, standing in front of her captive. “It is a terrible waste of your talents. Certainly a notorious nogoodnik such as yourself would have many fine job opportunities to keep my pockets lined with credits.”
There isn’t any dishonesty in the Mandalorian’s voice, but Zet can tell the woman is smiling widely. “Hey, maybe if they let you go we can do some business?” she asks with mock enthusiasm. “I don’t really know what’s in store for you. I don’t know what you did to piss off the Black Suns in the first place.”
“They aren’t gonna let me go.” All the warmth and charm dissipates from Zet’s voice, just like that. “I tipped off the authorities when I found out I was delivering a cargo hold full of slaves, and then I ran. The ship was seized when it docked. All that product,” she says the word with no lack of irony, “was probably worth way more than thirty thousand to them. I guess what I’m trying to say is so am I, and you know I’ve got the money. So what’s the big deal?”
The huntress stands there motionless, Zet seeing her reflection in the gloss of the Mandalorian helmet. She says nothing for a long moment.
“Admirable,” the crackle of broadcast returns. Shard raises her hands up and removes her helmet, shifting her weight as she holds it at her hip. Her free hand tousles her long dark hair. It had been held in a tight braid two days ago, but the situation has deteriorated into a frizzed mess. The human’s eyes narrow as she scrutinizes the Twi’lek, a known liar.
“Okay, so you saw a line in the sand and you decided you wouldn’t cross it,” Shard says in a warmer tone, the low range of her voice present where it was lacking through the helmet. “I get it. I do.”
“It cost you though. You made a choice to break a code and now you’re on my ship,” she continues, raising her brow. “You’re asking me to break a code. I think that’s ironic but I can never keep straight what the definition really is.”
Zet has nothing to lose and everything to gain if she can get Shard on her side here. She knows it, and she knows Shard knows it. But for once she isn’t lying, and her somber expression doesn’t waver. “Umm. I guess it might be?” She tries to summon up a faint smile. “This can’t be the first time you’ve been in this position — you pick someone up and it’s not like they killed someone’s kid or something, they actually did something surprisingly not awful… You’ve never made an exception?”
Shard’s expression sours suddenly. She straightens up and shakes her head vigorously. “You talk pretty but you’ve got no clue,” she says, looking down through the ship and into the patterns of light caused by hyperspace travel.
“Making exceptions gets people you care about hurt,” the huntress mutters, looking beyond the cosmic phenomenon.
She takes a moment before returning her attention to Zet. “Your job was to move cargo and not ask questions. Mine is much the same. You are the cargo and if I start second-guessing things the way you did, people-” she stammers, “People get hurt.”
Shard blinks and runs her gloved fingers along her cheek where she bears a scar running vertically from her lower cheek to above her eye. Her green eyes themselves are undamaged.
“This is the system. This is how things are done. Besides,” she says, returning to a more casual, albeit still tense tone, “If the bounty specified dead I’d have killed you with your friends at that greasy Hutt’s palace.”
Zet blinks, immediately realizing she’s said exactly the wrong thing. Her brow furrows as she observes Shard’s reaction in silence. No one tweaks out like that unless there’s some kind of story. Money can’t be the only thing making her tick. If she can just pry it out of her…
That train of thought comes screeching to a halt. Zet draws in an audible breath, suddenly hearing her pulse pounding in her ears. “Did you?” she presses softly. “Kill them.”
“I actually don’t know,” she says in a neutral tone. “I didn’t intend to, is my point,” she explains, though it is a semantic point Zet likely does not prioritize. “After you et al handled yourselves so well on Bespin, I knew I had to step up my game. A fixer hooked me up with some networked security droids and it turns out they worked like a charm.” She pats at her bracer. “I really don’t know what they did after we left. I only needed them around to get you to me.”
After her monologue she looks up at Zetnu’ri once more. “I think it went quite well, actually. Don’t you?” she grins and gives the Twi’lek’s ribs a very light jab.
Zet swallows. There weren’t that many droids, right? After how they cut through a ton of them back in the Barab system, how much of a challenge could it have been?
She twitches at the touch, refocusing her eyes on Shard’s face. “Only because Teemo doesn’t keep office chairs on his front step.”
Shard snorts, “Why do you think I picked a landing pad?” She offers a little laugh and shrugs. “I didn’t see any chairs this time, but I did see something new and glowing.” The huntress raises her brow to make sure Zet takes her meaning.
“I found that interesting.”
Zet smiles again, but her eyes are hard. “Then I guess you better hope your droids didn’t turn her into a splatter on the pavement, because the Empire won’t pay as much for a dead Jedi.” A beat. “On the other hand, it might be better for you if they did.”
The human purses her lips and thinks for a moment, examining the Twi’lek and her sudden arrogant posture. “Oh maybe. The Jedi are tough as dewback leather,” she replies in earnest. “Then again, you seemed so uncertain the Jedi even survived the droids a moment ago.”
Shard flashes her own casual grin and raps her gloved fingertips off her helmet like a drum. “I don’t care either way. Not yet. Getting caught up in ambition and the prospect of all those credits would only distract me from the current bounty. You, Zetnu’ri.”
On the surface it might look like arrogance, but underneath it all it’s just the same old fear. Zet and Callia might butt heads all the time, but when it comes down to it, the Jedi exile is a friend and a comrade. She doesn’t want to find out that the droids killed Callia, and she doesn’t want a bounty hunter of this skill trying to hunt her down. Nevermind what will happen if and when Shard discovers that she’s not the only Force-sensitive in the party.
“Yay,” Zet replies unenthusiastically. “When do we get there? I know I’m dying to find out what the Suns have planned.”
“Not long now,” Shard states matter-of-factly, looking down at her bracer and calling up a brilliant blue 3D image of their position in relation to a series of star systems. The huntress glances at her captive and pouts. “For what it’s worth, 30k isn’t that much and they want you alive, not dead. They must have something planned for you that doesn’t involve an airlock. Talented lady like you, they’ll probably leave a mark and put you to work or something. I dunno.”
From the nervous pull of Zet’s lips, leaving a mark and putting her to work is not actually anything she wants from the Suns, at all. Look at the job that got her into this mess in the first place — and she knows all too well the kind of ‘work’ Twi’leks tend to get.
She looks at the holographic map anyway, trying to spot anything that looks familiar. Astrogation is hardly her forte, but she’s spent half her life on ships. “How do people even get into your line of work? Turning good beings over to really, really bad ones for a mediocre paycheck…” If she has an ulterior motive for the question, it doesn’t show. Zet just sounds resigned.
The huntress chuckles. “Mediocre pay is only when mediocre smugglers don’t keep their word,” she jokes.
“I’ve got no warm fuzzies collecting on your bounty, lady. I know you meant well, " she goes on, returning her attention to Zet and smiling as she gives the Twi’lek a longer view of the astrogation readout. Their destination seems to be a binary star system with several planets. It’s not possible to tell much more than that. Oh, and there’s a nebula.
“You’re scared. I can tell. The others I hunt usually aren’t. That might give you an idea about how well I sleep at night,” Shard says with a grin. “We agree on what bad guys are, trust me. The part we disagree on is how good you are. You, honey, are no Jedi.”
That elicits Zet’s first genuine laugh since waking up. “Uh, who would want to be? All they get to do is sit around staring at the wall and feel bad whenever they draw a weapon to protect themselves. And act all pious or whatever.” That’s not really how she feels about Callia, who certainly has done more interesting things than that, but it’s the impression she has of the Jedi order. “And then when they go bad, it’s just like, what??” She doesn’t deny that she’s scared; she just shrugs.
“Go bad?” Shard asks, curiosity piqued as a Narglatch. “Did your Jedi go bad, or another?”
For her part, the Mandalorian agrees with Zet. The Jedi code seemed overly heartless, even for a bounty hunter. “I thought they swallowed their feelings or something like lobotimized waitresses.”
“No, not her. She’s on the straight and narrow. We met one who did a few weeks ago. The Force is messed up.” Zet can’t help but crack another faint grin. "That’s definitely what they want you to think, anyway. Have you known any?’
The Mandalorian caresses her helmet at her side idly. “Not really. No. Well. I guess yes,” she decides.
“My people have been in a civil struggle, similar to the rest of the galaxy. A microcosm, I guess,” she says as she paces a little during the recollection. “Old ways and the new. I was one of many who insisted we return to our roots, embrace our heritage. The Jedi- he helped resist us. Later, he was important in liberating us.”
Zet is vaguely aware of the fact that Mandalorians always seem to be attacking one thing or another, but she’s hardly a history buff. “That must’ve been a long time ago if a Jedi was involved. Unless you know where to find another one in hiding. Or maybe you sold that one too?”
Shard straightens up and shakes her head. “I did not. I was young, it was during the war. There were many wars, I suppose,” she explains. “I was impressed by his ability. I understand what it means to confront a Jedi.”
The huntress turns to address Zet again. "I understand their limits. I’m surprised you’ve got a Jedi running with you scoundrels. Is this how they go, uh, wrong? "
The smuggler remembers, suddenly, her conversation with Santos as they fled Selonia. How her presence there while Nossk taunted him was the thing that kept him grounded in spite of everything his former partner was doing; even though all she really did was fail to get out of the way of an incoming ship and fall unconscious.
Worry flashes across her face, furrowing her brow and erasing her sardonic smile. “I sure hope not.”
Human eyes narrow, carefully examining the Twi’lek’s reaction. A mirror.
Astrogation chimes and Shard steps back, replacing her helmet. “Bury this deep, Zetnu’ri,” she says through the chilled sound of the vocoder. “They will pull the truth about your friends from you if there’s even a hint of it in your pretty grey eyes.”
“Like I don’t know,” Zet mutters. She rolls her shoulders, twisting slightly against the binders – not trying to escape, just trying to loosen her numb limbs. “Hey, uh, before you go will you do me a favour?”
“Yes,” Shard states. “What do you need?”
“I’ve been building pazaak decks since I was like ten years old.” Zet doesn’t look even a little bit embarrassed to be sentimental about one of the least valuable items Shard just pulled out of her jacket. “I don’t suppose you’d tuck those back in my pocket for me. I’m not exactly gonna papercut you to death through all that armor.” The Suns might take them anyway, not to mention what little Shard wasn’t able to find, but it’s worth a shot.
The Mandalorian tilts her head to the side. Zet cannot see her face but her body language suggests the huntress is amused.
Shard takes a moment behind the slab the Twi’lek is stuck on. Returning into view, she sidles up to the prone woman, holding the cards up. “If this is a weapon,” she speaks firmly, “use it on the Suns. Not me. Where do you want it?”
Genuinely, Zet sees no value in turning this into some kind of trick. She holds still when Shard approaches to try to make that point absolutely clear. “Thanks. Same place you found my credits.” That would be one of the cleverly sewn inner pockets of her jacket. “The only thing I usually hurt with those is someone’s wallet. I’m gonna have to make that nineteen thou back somehow.” She winks rogueishly.
Shard laughs through her helmet. “I have faith you’ll find many suckers to play with where you’re going,” she says, though it was meant in a jovial way.
“Your credits make up for defenestrating me with office furniture on Cloud City,” the huntress muses without shame. The Mandalorian respects a challenge.
Once she has finished running her hands up the Twi’lek’s sides, feeling at her for the place to slip the cards away, Shard steps back and begins to leave.
“Oh, and Zet?” She calls. Once the Twi’lek’s attention is on her, the huntress raises her arm and fires a pressure loaded dart into her captive’s neck. “Good luck.”
The world sizzles and glows like the Nar Shaddaa skyline. The world bends to sound and sparkle and time loses meaning.