It must be early afternoon already by the time Zet lets herself back into the room she’s sharing with Santos. There’s a bag slung over her shoulder, and she’s lacking the usual skip in her step that would suggest she made a big sale and all their problems are now solved. “Ugh.” She pries her feet out of her boots and shrugs off her long jacket before dropping to her knees to crawl into their blanket fort. “I brought lunch. The food here smells like it’s bad for you.” Not that it matters for a Twi’lek, but who knows when Santos might reveal a delicate Chiss constitution. She pulls some takeout containers out of her bag and sets them down so he can help himself. “What’ve you been up to all day?”
Santos had quickly lost track of the hours after opening the holocron earlier that morning, and didn’t actually hear Callia sneak out. He poured over the theory involved in lightsaber training, and had begun going over the basic movements of Ataru. He found the activity much more intense than his usual workout, and had long ago shed most of his clothes to cool himself down.
He barely hears Zet enter the room, but as she speaks he closes the cube to give her his full attention. “Great! I’m starving.” He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until the Twi’lek said ‘food.’ “I was just… well, it had to do with that thing we aren’t talking about.” Life is going to be very complicated if he needs to walk on eggshells with Zet now.
He decides to quickly clean himself up before eating lunch, so he heads into the refresher. “You didn’t have much luck, did you?” he shouts into the main room while turning on the shower. It didn’t really occur to him how difficult it would be to move their haul.
At this point in their relationship, walking in on each other half-naked is hardly worth commenting upon, which is why Zet went right for the blanket fort with hardly even a glance. “That thing we aren’t talking about?” She’s been so focused on unloading those stupid speeders all day that her brain had finally stopped chasing its tail over the Force. She’s just popping open a container full of some kind of greasy-looking smoked meat when she realizes what he means. “Oh. Umm. Did I say we couldn’t talk about it?” The Twi’lek sounds a bit uneasy, but not upset.
Not as upset as she is about the fence situation, anyway. “One, they’re obviously Imperial speeders, and two, the Suns run this town. Just one of those alone, I could probably deal with, but together… I dunno, I got a few leads, but people don’t really conduct this kind of business in the light of day anyway. I figured I’d come entertain you for a while and maybe check out a name or two later tonight.”
The Chiss quickly finishes his shower, dries off and puts some pants on. He grabs a container and crawls into the blanket fort beside her. “Maybe we could paint them, disguise them in some way.” He digs into the food almost without tasting it. The man survived on Trandoshan cuisine. He can hardly be said to have a delicate Chiss constitution. He does, however, have a refined Chiss palate, and finds it best to chew and swallow this stuff with as little contact with his tongue as possible.
He takes a good look at Zet, and that familiar expression. “Maybe we can get those speeders on another transport. Find someone on another planet to take them off our hands.” Or maybe they should keep them. “We’ll figure it out.”
Zet’s just kind of picking at their meal in a profoundly disinterested way. Digesting it won’t be the problem, and growing up where she did, she likely ate a lot of unpalatable things, but that doesn’t mean she has to look excited about this slop. “I think we’d have an easier time buying paint than transporting them offworld. The crystals… we might just have to hang onto those for now. I haven’t even asked around about them because that kind of merchandise would attract all kinds of the wrong attention this far in. But some repainted speeders, with all the serials filed off? That, we could probably move. And we could likely do most of the work ourselves if we had a secure spot to get it done.” She’s got a far-off look that probably mean she’s running through the contacts she met today, trying to decide who might be able to lend them a garage for a few hours.
“Sounds like a plan.” Santos typically lets Zet take care of the business side of their partnership. He’s far more interested in the actual implementation. Today is no exception. He doesn’t have anywhere close to the network Zet has managed to build up, and not many would call him charming or manipulative.
“Have you seen Callia recently?” He changes the subject, thinking that they have their plan of attack, so there’s nothing more to discuss. “She stopped by this morning, says she can see blobs of light now.” Whatever Zet may be feeling towards the Jedi at the moment, they’ve already accepted her as part of their crew.
Honestly, Zet would prefer not to dwell on what she perceives as a mostly wasted morning anyway, so she’s happy to drop the topic. “I visited her in the hospital the other day, not long before she was released.” She shrugs, her eyes dropping to her meal, staying fixed there in a way that suggests she is now avoiding eye contact on purpose. “We had some words. I’m glad she’s feeling well enough to be up and about.” At least that sounds genuine.
Sometimes Santos gets the feeling Zet thinks he’s younger than he actually is. 16 may still be a child for a Twi’lek, but not for a Chiss. Still, it seems like she’s trying to avoid upsetting him, as though he believed everything was sunshine and roses all the time. “What’s on your mind, Zet? you know there’s no point trying to hide anything from me.”
“The same thing that’s been on my mind since I woke up.” Zet forces down another mouthful of her lunch. “I just figured, I’ve already made my feelings known, so there’s no point in repeating myself aloud every time I’m reminded that there’s no getting away from this Force stuff. That’d get old real fast.” She glances up at him. “I don’t really want it to be a thing that we have to deal with, but our friendship is more important to me than that, so I guess we’re just gonna deal with it.” We, together. “You don’t have to just not talk about it, as long as you don’t mind that sometimes my face might go like this.” She furrows her brow and frowns dramatically.
“Good.” Santos wipes his hands on his pants to get the grease off. “Because I want to be able to talk about it. I want to be able to tell you that the box I found in the temple contained a 4000 year hologram that’s going to teach me how to defend us with a lightsaber. And I really want to figure out a plan of action to make sure that whatever comes our way we can handle it.” He pauses in order to concentrate on the half bottle of whiskey he still has from the Corellian Runner, causing it and two glasses to float gracefully to the floor in front of them. He’s not as much interested in excessive drinking as much as he is in showing Zet that he is learning control. “And I really don’t like that something about me that I can’t get rid of or ignore makes your face go like that.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. One thing at a time. Zet’s face is absolutely doing the thing right now, if only because ‘hologram,’ ‘lightsaber’ in the context of Santos owning one, and floating alcohol all at once is a bit much to process. It’s a big leap forward from not talking about it.
She recovers, rubbing at her temple. “I can’t get rid of or ignore my face…” Maybe they can take these action items one at a time. “How does a hologram teach you how to use a lightsaber? Does Callia figure you can learn to use one safely?” Zet is doing her absolute best to let her curiosity win out over her skepticism and general Force-related anxieties. Usually both of them are equally excited to tackle a new challenge.
This is one of those times where Santos is asked to explain something he doesn’t fully understand himself. “So that thing I found is called a Holocron, a really old one. Callia said the Jedi Order used to use these things to store knowledge for subsequent generations. She helped me open it using the Force, and called that hologram a ‘gatekeeper.’” He picks up his food container and takes another bit, using the time it takes to chew and swallow to gather his thoughts and breathe. "This gatekeeper is an interactive, almost sentient, hologram of a Jedi who lived thousands of years ago, back when the Ascendancy was still establishing itself. It works through the theory and forms with me as those he were a living teacher. I’m sure it’s not as good as having a flesh and blood instructor, but what he’s teaching me is different than what Callia does. More suited to my body.
“As for if Callia think’s I can learn to use one safely, she didn’t stop me. We talked about the risks. I brought them up myself, but I think this training will help me avoid losing myself. Anyway, I don’t have a lightsaber right now, so I’m practicing with a sheathed vibroknife.” He watches Zet, looking for some sign that what she’s hearing does anything to convince her he’s actually being responsible for once. “The last thing I want is to hurt someone because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
The Twi’lek listens closely, at least, her expression more or less neutral. This is Zet when she’s trying to just take in the facts without judging them. The idea of a fully interactive hologram is a strange one, but it doesn’t sound dangerous. It’s just like a fancy holonovel, right? And it’s certainly better than Santos just trying to figure this stuff out on his own.
Saying that she and Callia had words may have given Santos the wrong impression. Zet isn’t exactly angry at their Jedi friend anymore, but she’s trying to work through a lot of complicated feelings right now. They at least parted on good terms. Which means that Callia not immediately objecting to the idea of Santos learning to use a lightsaber really is a point in his favour. “Okay. Um.” She sets her food aside and draws in a deep breath. “That all sounds like a good start. And I guess she can maybe work through some of it with you, right? Like in case things have changed since that- Holocron? Was made. At least you won’t be bored all cooped up in here.” She gives him a thready smile, which is likely an improvement over the frowny face.
That’s not much of a smile, but it is better than a frown. And she’s asking questions now! “Yeah. Callia offered to practice with me.” After he empties the container he’s working on, Santos produces the toy he found in the temple, and starts spinning it like a top, watch light emanate from it and dance on the the blankets as it twirls. “She said that she was taught the basics of each of the lightsaber forms. I think she said there were seven. Maybe you could help too. I am starting to feel trapped in here. Maybe we could break onto the roof sometime, and you could throw stuff at me.”. He has a feeling she’ll like that idea. Maybe not the roof thing, but the throwing.
The light catches Zet’s eye too, and she watches the holocron spin for a few seconds, mesmerized. Then she leans forward and pours each of them a bit of whiskey. Judging by the volume of liquid in those glasses, she isn’t looking to get drunk right this second either. “I can get you onto the roof,” she says with a little nod, holding his glass out to him. “What are you gonna do? Hit them with the knife? Catch stuff with your brain?”
With that last comment Santos’ mind drifts to wonder what Jedi sports would look like. Sitting in a large circle, cross legs, catching and throwing balls while deep in meditation? He laughs briefly at the idea and takes a sip of his drink. “Callia said the form the Holocron teaches, Ataru, isn’t great for protecting against blasters. I want to test that. It has to be something soft though, like fruit. I don’t want the get any bruises on this beautiful face of mine.”
“Well you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to throw fruit at you.” Zet’s smile is more natural now, and she has a sip of her whiskey to wash away the flavour of their meal. “I’ll get some stuff when I go back out later.” Yeah, lightsabers are high on the list of things that make her a bit uneasy, but maybe if she just watches what Santos is working on it’ll start to feel normal. There’s so much about the Force she just doesn’t understand. “We can work you up to blaster fire. Catch me in a bad mood one day.”
“Great.” Santos replies with a smile. “We’ll get Qurzer to run around with a big bowl to catch the fruit. A nice fruit salad will be a welcome change from this food.” He stretches out under the blanket fort, careful not to knock over any supports. The toy has stopped spinning, leaving spots of light on the blankets, reminding Santos of the stars that separate them from his ship. “How are we getting off this planet? Try our luck at stealing a third ship?”
Zet nudges their empty takeout containers right out of the fort, the better to eliminate the lingering smell. “That’s one option.” Try as she might to get cool with lightsaber practice, the tension legitimately seems to leave her as soon as they return to normal business. But she made an effort. “It kind of depends on how much we can get for the speeders. I definitely don’t want to be paying for passage all the way back to Hutt space, but if we’re flying a stolen ship that brings its own challenges. Working our way back there could do the trick. Before I met you I was starship-hopping all the time.” She has another swallow of her drink, letting it pool on her tongue for a moment. “It’s not glamorous. I’m also kinda wondering if Qurzer can’t pull something off now that we’re so close to Selonia. I haven’t had a chance to pick their brain yet.”
As much as he’d like to have a shop to fly, he can’t imagine it being Selonian. “What would a ship from Selonia look like? I don’t want to be crawling through tubes to get everywhere.” Still, it’s better that working their way back. Santos needs to be in the cockpit, he wouldn’t do well as an errand boy. “How easy was it to find work? There would be 4 of us looking for something on the same ship.”
“I’ve never really seen a Selonian ship up close. I’d hardly interacted with them before Qurzer. They kinda keep to themselves.” Zet shrugs. “But there are actually plenty of them right here on Corellia. They’ve dug tunnels all over it.” She’s quiet for a minute, considering his question. “Well, it was simple when it was just me, but… that was just me. In a big spaceport town like this there’s always someone who needs an extra hand. With four of us it’d take some doing. But you’d be surprised how many people have money and ideas but no crew. We might find someone with a ship and an errand to run. Sometimes those guys don’t even have a pilot.” She can’t really picture Santos sucking it up and carrying boxes around either. “That or we get work on a bigger ship like that passenger liner. It’s slow but it’s regular.”
A passenger liner would likely have a roll for each of them. Zet would clearly work one of the gambling tables. Qurzer would be a hit in a formal uniform, handing out hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs in the dining hall. Hopefully they’d need pilots. Callia would be more difficult’ especially if the vessel is boarded by Imperial Customs.
“I’d feel a lot better if we left on a personal ship, but I guess we don’t have much say. I suppose we could also pay our way pretending to be a traveling band.”
That earns him an incredulous look. “I didn’t know you were also a musician,” Zet replies. “I’m gonna see if I can find someone rich and stupid. It sounds like the most fun way to solve this problem. Then the ship isn’t technically stolen…” She finishes her drink at last, setting the glass aside, and then flops down to stretch out on her back. “Callia is the real problem. I need to get her some good ID.” Zet rubs her eyes. Running with a larger crew is revealing its downsides.
Santos smiles sweetly. “I started the flute when I was two.” Somehow, Zet doesn’t know everything about the Chiss yet. “And I’m all for rich and stupid. Or rich and generous. Why not both? I’m sure it won’t be too much of a problem for you to get her something convincing. As long as you’re able to talk enough.”
“Oh, of course you did.” Zet lets her hand fall away from her face, just sprawling it beside her head as she looks up at him. “You must be way out of practice by now, ‘cause I’ve never seen you touch a flute.” She lets out a slow sigh, that sounds tired more than anything else. “Okay, so now I’m making a list – Callia’s ID, fruit for you plus break you onto the roof, paint and space to clean the speeders…” It sure is a lot of work being the brains of this operation.
“Um, by the way, there’s something else we should think about. Like I said, I talked to Callia.” She closes her eyes. Maybe she won’t make that Force-face when her eyes are closed? “About what happened in the Temple, like, the way she flipped out at her ex-friend. I don’t think she wants us to give her the opportunity to react to something that way again.”
“Nossk took my flute when he stole my ship.” Santos always gets his back up when talking about Nossk. He still hasn’t quite gotten over the whole betrayal thing.
He watches Zet closely as she mentions Callia. There’s that face again, although he appreciates the effort. “We have to watch her closely in situations like that. I can try to talk her back to us, but I don’t know how well that would work.”
Zet just pats Santos’ leg. She knows Nossk is a touchy subject. “That’s actually kind of what she said, except she also said that we might have to run away or kill her…” Yes, she was pissed off with Callia over this most recent debacle, but the idea of killing someone she’s come to think of as a friend doesn’t make her happy at all. “I think we should brainstorm some non-lethal ways to take her out if she needs a little downtime. Maybe not right this second. I just… don’t want it to come to that. Ending her, or abandoning her to go on some kind of rampage.”
“No, that can’t happen.” Santos doesn’t like the idea of killing a friend any more than Zet, and on top of that, if someone as disciplined as Callia falls, what chance does he have? “We’ll think of something. Probably involving a lot of stun grenades.”
Funny. That’s exactly what Zet has been so anxious about. “I guess I better restock. Guess who got hit with my last one.” She opens her eyes to look up at him again, that frown disappearing to be replaced with an open, earnest expression as she folds her arms under her head. “Same goes for you, Santos. I won’t let you become that, even if it means kicking your ass. So I guess I’ll have to keep some of my ideas a secret.”
“Well, that’s good enough incentive for me to stay on the straight and narrow.” Santos teases Zet, “I wouldn’t want to risk you kicking my ass.” As soon as he says it he realizes it’s probably not the best time for humor, and adds as an after thought, “There’s no reason any of us has to become that. We’ll watch each other, keep each other focused.” The Chiss is fully aware that he won’t win any prizes for his devotion to the lightside, but the lighter shades of gray suit him just fine.
Zet huffs. “You’re risking it right this second…”
She feels around beside her for the bag she carried in, then drops it on his lap. There’s still something inside it. “I brought you something to do for when you get tired of playing with your holocron.” If he reaches in, he’ll find a compact little chess set, with a board that folds small enough to fit into a pocket and an interior compartment which holds tiny magnetized tokens bearing symbols to indicate which piece they’re meant to represent. “Maybe if you’re good I’ll let you beat me at it.”
As he feels the weight of the bag fall on his lap, Santos pushes himself back up into a sitting position. He reaches inside, half expecting a pazaak deck, and it surprised when his hand is greeted with metal, instead of card. He pulls the board out and chuckles a little. Finally. A game he might have a chance at winning, as long as he keeps an eye on Zet’s busy fingers. He plays along with Zet’s joke, replying, “Go easy on me. You know how quickly I tend to lose my clothes.”
“I don’t have to beat you at a game to get you to take your clothes off. You do it without anyone asking, all the time.” Zet grins up at him. “But maybe we should teach Callia and Qurzer the Nar Shaddaa pazaak rules while we’re killing time here. You can try out some trick shuffling on people who don’t know better and see what it’s like to play that game not naked.”
“I thought the point of the game was to take your clothes off.” Santos returns the grin, “I get the feeling Qurzer is pretty willing to do anything asked of them. Callia, on the other hand, will be a tough sell. May as well let me practice shuffling while you wear her down.”
Reaching into an inner pocket of her new vest, Zet drops one of her marked pazaak decks on the floor beside him. “Practice away. Is this some kinda Chiss rebellion thing? It’s so damn cold on Csilla that you’ve gotta wear like twenty layers, and now that you’re out here in the rest of the galaxy you just want to be naked all the time?”
“I think it’s more about culture.” Santos sounds like he’s given this far more thought than it needed. “Growing up on Csilla was hard. There were so many expectations on Csilla, and so many restrictions.” He picks up the desk and starts playing around with it, trying to figure out what it is that Zet does with her thumbs while shuffling. “When I joined the military things just got worse, so I decided to leave those restrictions behind. Clothing is restrictive in its own way, so shedding clothes is like a symbol of leaving Csilla behind again and again.” If he’s at risk of sounding like a mature adult, he adds, “Also, it’s always so bloody hot wherever we go!”
Zet rolls onto her side, propping her head up on her hand to watch what he’s doing. Her eyes don’t leave the cards as he just… rambles about how clothes represent the repressive Chiss lifestyle or whatever. Wow, what a nerd. “Sorry I asked. I thought the heat was the only good thing about Jiroch.” She sits up with him, drawing her spare deck out. “I’ll show you again. Keep in mind that more legitimate places have house decks or even droid dealers, so when it comes to pazaak you’re relying on stacking your side deck. Or having a card up your sleeve… or marking the deck as you go. Actually, I guess you’ve got tons of options.” As she’s taking, she casually shows him the number four on top of her deck, flips it, rifles through the cards (complete with that hard-to-follow thumb movement) and then reveals it on top again even after what appeared to be a thorough overhand shuffle with a fancy little flourish at the end. These Force users can meditate to chill out, but nothing puts Zet in a good mood like showing off a little sleight of hand.
Having a card up his sleeve isn’t usually an option for Santos, so he focuses intently on what Zet’s doing with her hands. He can’t help but laugh at the juxtaposition of studying with a Jedi master in the morning, and a master thief after lunch. “It must have taken ages to get to the point where you could do this without being noticed.”
“I started practicing when I was a kid, which means before you were a twinkle in your mother’s eye.” Zet does it quickly one more time, not (just) to show off but to let him get a good sense of what the final effect should be. “But I messed up a lot when I started. There’s a social aspect to it too, right? Like if you make a little conversation, it distracts the other players from your hands. So watch.”
She holds the deck in her left hand, on its edge. “I want the six to come up on top, so when I pick up half the deck to shuffle-” Zet moves the top half, with the six, to the back, “then I just peel off one card of the next package to cover it.” She’s kept the two halves slightly separate with the edge of her right thumb so she’s able to cut the deck in the exact same spot, and she now slides just one card down to sit on top of the six. “Leave it sticking out the bottom, facing you, to mark your place, and shuffle the rest as normal.” Now Zet holds up the deck to show him how there’s just one card poking subtly out the bottom. “With me so far? The six is under this card.”
Santos resists the urge to remind Zet that when she was a kid, his mother may well have been in diapers.
“I’m with you. Conversation and a place marker. But how can you be sure the marker and your card aren’t separated during the shuffle?”
“Well, that’s the next part. You have to do this a few times. So technically they will get separated.” Zet angles her hands so he can see what she’s doing as she picks up a chunk of the deck again, using the pad of her thumb against the protruding card to subtly hold the marker away from her six. She shuffles the cards on top of the marker normally, and then simply tosses the bottom quarter of the deck on top. Then she flips over the topmost card – it’s the six. “You just do this four or five times, so it looks good and shuffled, but you’re really just sticking the same card on top over and over. This is what you’d do with a side deck. It’s a bit more complicated with the main deck ‘cause you don’t deal the top card to yourself, but you should just get the hang of keeping the deck split as you shuffle it first.” She shows him again slowly, then quickly. Each time she successfully plants the six on top.
After the demonstration Santos takes the deck, selects a -1 and attempts to plant it on top each time he shuffles. He reproduces Zet’s instructions as much as he remembers, moving slowly until he gets used to the technique. He managed to pull it off once or twice before losing track of the card.
Zet watches him quietly, playing with the cards in her hands without so much as glancing at them. She’s not stacking hers now, just going through the gestures of shuffling and riffling them to keep her fingers limber. “I think you get the general principle, but it took me a lot of practice to get fast and subtle. Just hang on to that deck and do it over and over when you have a few minutes.” She grins crookedly at him. “The real trick is in your thumb. If you can get it past Callia, that’s a good start.”
“Alright.” Santos keeps going over the same movements, slowly so that he can see what every card is doing. “I’ll keep practicing this. Callia won’t know what hit her.”. The idea of pulling on over the Jedi is more exciting than he would have thought.
Now that the Chiss has plenty of things with which to amuse himself, Zet pockets her own deck and wriggles out of her vest. “I have a feeling it’s gonna be a long night, so I’m gonna grab an hour or two of sleep.” She curls her arm under her head. “If you need to keep jumping around or whatever, don’t mind me.”
Sleep seems like a great idea to Santos as well. He has been jumping around all morning, after all. He grabs a pillow from one of the beds and stretches out as much as he can.