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Swimming With Svapers (Redux) (Open)

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  • Swimming With Svapers (Redux) (Open)

    It was never the neon lights or the cacophony of motion of Chalcedon that told Klo-Ude Jinn to watch his back. It was the smell. Under the mélange of street foods, the ozone burn of ion engines, and the caustic workshop of oils and grease, there was one scent that defined the slaver world more than anything:


    It didn't show up in any galactic travel agency holovids. It was a passing mention on the galactic news. Hell, it barely showed up on Outer Rim maps most of the time. If you made the effort to step onto Chalcedon's surface, was likely because it was your last hope, or you had none to begin with.

    Klo-Ude was one of the rare exceptions. He was here on business. More specifically, he was putting a long-standing debt to rest and balancing his ledger.

    His line of work was its own reward. The pan-galactic vacuum of power that occurred following the Resistance War put a high price on order and justice. With the rebuilding New Republic concentrating on shoring up the Core Worlds and hardening trade routes, it was up to system and sector leaders to keep the Mid- and Outer-Rim regions from devolving into lunacy and despotism. Mercenaries became arbiters of law and order, which often was written by the highest bidder.

    Klo-Ude held himself to a higher standard than most, which led to little notoriety or wealth. He often took lower-paying work to help those who needed it. More often than not, he took his pay in meals and shelter for the duration of the job, asking only for enough to move along to the next settlement.

    Favors were dead weight on the Rim, and Klo-Ude had been hauling this one around for years. But when he got a call from his old traveling partner, Klo-Ude hoped it would let him unshoulder the burden he had carried since the Amaran had freed him all those years ago.

    "And now, here I am." A wry grin appeared as he regarded the hustle and bustle of scum and villainy. It behooved one who sought to disrupt the dealings of others, be they philanthropic or malevolent in intent, to not approach such things directly. Not somewhere like Chalcedon, where the criminals are free to stab you in the front.

    And so, rather than fly straight like a shriek-hawk pursuing its prey, Klo-Ude loitered a bit. The stalls competing for space close to the spaceport's landing area were rife with interesting wares. He knew from experience, however, that the cheap things were probably illegal, and the expensive things were almost definitely stolen.

    "Hey!" A watery voice snapped through the ambience, and a Quarren turned a corner sharply, shoulders squared to Klo-Ude and brow furrowed. His jet-black eyes were half-moons, regarding the human entering his stall with the default level of suspicion. "Hands off the merchandise. Break it and buy it."

    Klo-Ude knew the routine, and had seen plenty of similar interactions in his time on the Rim. Vendors would startle a customer into fidgeting or bumping into a trinket or piece of junk, cause a scene, and fleece them for an exponentially-large sum to prevent the local law enforcement – who often taking a percentage for their part in the mummer's farce – from intervening. On Chalcedon, it was even more ruthless due to the lax (one might say non-existent) slavery/servitude laws. You could wind up spending your best years wearing a shock collar and making spice runs.

    "Did you hear me? If I see one crack, one chip-"

    "Is that a kyber crystal?" Klo-Ude jabbed a finger at what was very clearly not a kyber crystal. He imagined the Quarren didn't know the difference. "Pretty rare to find one out on the open market. Even in such a fine, reputable establishment as yours. I hear they are even more rare these days, what with, you know..." he made a gesture of a big explosion, doing his best "bwoosh" noise to drive the point home – and being sure to give the shelf a nudge in his reenactment.

    The Quarren regarded him carefully, eyes darting back and forth between his customer and the crystal. "Might be. What's it to you?"

    "Nothing. Do I look like I carry a laser-sword?" Klo-Ude's cheek rippled with a lopsided smirk. "I hear it fetches a good price. From the right buyer, of course. Then again, if someone from the New Republic catches wind of it, they're going to wonder where it came from. And that could lead to a trip to the Core on a less-than-comfortable freighter, a few months' worth of questioning – you have to love bureaucracy – and then, if it's linked to any of the now-illegal Imperial or First Order mining operations-"

    "Oh, I assure you, all of my wares are curated from only the most authentic collections! I wouldn't be caught dead selling untraceable or-" the Quarren made a gesture expressing offense. "Or stolen goods!"

    He pointed at the stone again. "Forgive me, shopkeeper. I didn't mean to suggest that you would ever do such a thing! But if someone saw this sitting on your shelf, and they saw the reward holos for any information related to the propagation of Imperial and First Order memorabilia, well..." he laid a supportive, apologetic hand on the Quarren's shoulder. "Let's just say you'd have to liquidate your assets rather quickly to cover your legal fees. I could, however, take this item off your hands for you..."

    A short while later, Klo-Ude was the proud owner of a piece of useless quartz – and a handful of credits for his selflessness. Pocketing the stone, Klo-Ude set back to his primary task.

    Amarans were hard to spot in a crowd. Mostly because you practically had to step on them to see them. They were small, but they were impossible to misrecognize. Fortunately, Dazu was tall for his species, so if he waved frantically, Klo-Ude might be able to see his fingertips.

    There was a great deal of congestion in the streets leading from the spaceport. Klo-Ude imagined his tiny friend wouldn't dare brave the tide and would likely be parked in a cantina or alleyway off the primary footpath.

    He did mention something about that time we got stuck in a swamp on it was important to keep out of waist-deep water if we didn't want a mouthful of teeth in our-

    Looking up, he saw an uncomfortably-familiar image on a cantina's holo-sign. The name was The Svaper's Nest, with the nern in Nest replaced with one of the infernal creatures. Like angry noodles with more teeth than a wampa, Klo-Ude had spent months trying to avoid jumping every time he heard a splash.

    Some things about your friends you never forget, and this place seemed like the perfect place for Dazu to be waiting. Cutting across the foot traffic, Klo-Ude ducked his head and entered The Svaper's Nest, hoping for the world that it wasn't an apt metaphor for what awaited him.

  • #2
    In the history of the galaxy, many races weren't cared for. Jawas, Gamorreans, Hutts. Default setting of disdain for those kinds in most sectors. Honestly, it would take less time to list the races that didn't have a prejudice levied against them at some point in history. The civilized Core may be attempting to expand outwards, but old hatreds died hard.

    Fortunately for Amarans, people didn't so much as not care for them as much as they didn't care about them. While this benefited them when it came to trading and, to a lesser extent, establishing settlements on new planets, it didn't permit much sympathy when something went wrong amongst their diaspora.

    And, for Zondazu Shalikshoth, something definitely went wrong.

    That's why he was here. Petitioning to the local leaders meant wasting a credit chip on a notarized flimsi that got tossed onto a stack in the governor's office. Asking reporters led to him memorizing the first half of his story by heart, because that's as much time as they would give him. Even petitioning the New Republic itself to spearhead an investigation fell on deaf ears. Dazu had tried to play by the "new" rules. The Republic was an inevitability, even this far out into the Rim. Might as well get ahead of the game, so when it starts, you can control the board. But when official channels didn't work, you called in favors.

    So now here he was, on the dirty underbelly of the dirty underbelly of the Outer Rim: Chalcedon. If someone found a way to enslave dirt, there would be buckets in chains on this planet. The Amaran spat at the thought, vulpine snout curling in general derision at the general patronage of his selected dive.

    The serving droid trundled over to his table, chirping an inquiry.

    "Yeah, I'll have another." His voice was gravelly from years of t'bac smoke (first- and second-hand). Even though he quit what seemed to be a century ago, the combination of the habit and the mines in which he developed it were enough to leave him with a natural growl. If anything, it scared the kids away from photo ops.

    "Hey. Wait. Make it a single this time, though. Don't wanna be gettin' hammered 'fore my company arrives." The droid beeped acknowledgment, servomotors whirring as it went to fetch a second drink.

    How many of these scumbucket bolt-holes have we wasted hours in, pal? Amber eyes swept the bar's interior, and Dazu found himself falling into old, good habits. Main entrance on the east wall, emergency blast door south. The bar looks like pretty solid durasteel. Can probably hide behind that in a pinch. Bet the good stuff is underneath, too...

    The droid returned with his drink, a very life-like hand delivering the fresh beverage. To Dazu's surprise, the hand reversed grip without rotating the appendage, finger joints inverting and picking up the empty glass with zero wasted motion. "Huh. Nice trick, droid." A cheerful beep in reply. "I could use a nimble hand like yours in my line of work. How long you under contract here?"

    The droid began to relay a series of beeps, which Dazu only heard part of as a very conspicuous human entered the establishment. "Okay, great. Shutup for a sec." The droid burped in indignation at the sudden spurning of his life story and again departed.

    Dazu raised a hand just enough to draw Klo-Ude's attention, then went to making short work of his second drink.


    • #3
      Klo-Ude took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the cantina's dim lighting, the fluorescent afterglow of the streetlights outside fading slowly. It was wise to let this adjustment take its place, no matter how conspicuous it made one look. Cantinas were the illicit businessman's preferred office space, even into the Core Worlds. Getting one's bearings before stumbling into a spice deal that's one laggy protocol droid vocal processor away from turning into a shootout was in one's best interests, especially if they wanted to walk out with the same number of limbs they walked in with.

      Once adjusted, he took in the area: a circular bar, from where the majority of the establishment's red-and-white lighting emanated, dominated the sunken center of the room. It drew one's eyes to the center of the bar which, when the goal was to invite the galaxy's finest to come in and spend money, it was important that they knew where to go to. The bar was large enough to lose sight of the back third of the counter from where he was standing, and Klo-Ude imagined there were plenty of advantages to strategically seating oneself at the bar using this design.

      A wider ring of weathered tabletops peppered the remainder of the central area, a few dimly lit with complementary dejarik games. The remaining space surrounding the perimeter of the cantina had semi-circular hollows recessed into the walls, permitting privacy for more...interesting business discussions. Klo-Ude struggled to determine if any of these cushioned booths were populated, which he assumed was part of their attraction.

      That said, it didn't take long for a familiar four-digit hand to catch his attention. He let his smile show openly as he approached the booth that Dazu had occupied. There were few individuals in the galaxy that Klo-Ude could consider a friend, and Zondazu Shalikshoth was one of them. After all, when someone drags you out of what would surely have been a short life of hard labor, they tend to hold a special place in your memory.

      He would help anyone if they asked, and often did so, sometimes to his detriment when it came to completing the transaction. Breaking even was good enough for him most of the time. But for Dazu, there was naught he would do,

      Sliding into the end of the booth opposite his Amaran compatriot, Klo-Ude's eyebrows rose in surprise at how..surprisingly comfortable the seats were. "You always find the best seat in the house, Daz," he said, nodding his approval. He fished out the recently-acquired stone from his pocket and dropped it in the almost-empty glass in front of Dazu. "There. I'd say that entirely-useless-and-probably-artificial flimsiweight makes us even. Now that business is concluded, how's this new era of peace treating you these days?"


      • #4
        The Amaran fished the stone out of his glass with a full paw and rolled it in his palm, giving it a quick study. "Appreciate the gift, but I'm 100% datapad now. 'Sides, you know you can't buy me off with kinda-shiny things." Dazu tucked the very-artificial and not-so-flimsiweight rock into one of his multiple belt pouches, finishing the rest of his drink now that the stone was no longer an obstacle. He swished the remaining alcohol in his mouth, snout screwed up in scrutiny at the flavor. "Puts an interesting taste on the Sacorrian, though."

        Servomotors whirred as the waiter droid returned. Dazu wagged two clawed digits his way and received an affirmative chirp in reply. "I'm surprised the name of this dump didn't put a smile on that mug of yours, Kid." He rapped his fingertips on the countertop, stealing a moment of small talk to sweep the area again. No tails following him in, nobody watching. Just two old friends sharing a drink. Good. The nervous tapping stopped, and Dazu leaned forward over the table.

        "I know we've been through it together, you and me," he said, casually flicking a finger back and forth between them. The second drink was kicking in, and he could feel his body language begin to want to speak to the severity of the situation. "And I know you think you owe me big for getting you out of those mines on Kessel. But if we're being honest, I did that for us. Don't nobody want to their last breath to be full of spice dust on that rock, so...well, two things. One: this ain't about any debt you think you owe me. I just said that because I know you'd come if I used that word."

        He jabbed a finger at Klo-Ude before he could twist his features into a frustrated scowl. Dazu did kind of mislead him, after all, so any blaster bolts the kid's blue eyes fired his direction were warranted. "That don't mean I don't need you, though. I just wanted you to know that I've never thought us anything other than even on that." The droid clinked two glasses before them, and Dazu quickly snatched up his, swirling the whiskey around with a roll of his wrist and staring into the golden waves. Finally, with a deep breath, he tossed back the majority of it, wiping his long snout with the back of his free palm – and then licking off the contents. This stuff wasn't cheap, after all.

        "And two: this is personal, not business. And for me to say that should tell you..." Dazu paused, jaw bobbing for the right words. He abandoned the train of thought with a shake of his head. "So my family decided they wanted to be a part of the Republic's efforts to colonize the Outer Rim. I ain't much for politics, but I am much for getting paid to sit on my keester, so I told 'em to let me know when they found out where they were going and when they got settled. I'd do a few final jobs and then go meet with 'em when they landed."

        He finished the remainder of his drink. "I spoke with 'em a few times after they touched down. Ylesia. Ain't a bad place to call home, and it's already got a little bit of a civilized presence. Sounded good to me. I've been lookin' for a place to call it a career, where the only thing that changed was how gray my fur is." He gave a half-shrug, hoping to clue Klo-Ude in on the precise trajectory and landing zone of the metaphorical other shoe. "So I finished what I thought was gonna be my last job and flew to their coordinates to meet with 'em. When I landed, their stuff was there, but...well, they weren't. It was like someone just threw down some pre-fab shelters, tossed in some furniture, and just...left. I asked around some of the other colonies in the area, and nobody had any contact with 'em for a good week. One of the other colonies did say that they saw some shady-lookin' folk poppin' in and out of the shops and taverns. Almost like they were lookin' for someone."

        Dazu once again raised a paw to cut off Klo-Ude's imminent reply. "Don't worry. They ain't after me. I'm too old and too small to pick a fight with any of these syndicates out this way. Well, not without you around, anyway." Letting the moment of levity linger, Dazu glanced towards the bar. "D'ja mind goin' over and grabbing me something a little easier than this? I hit that one pretty hard and I don't think this establishment needs me to strip the paint off the walls of their 'fresher next time I use it."

        Dazu moved his hands off the edge of the table, busying himself with the stone once again – and hoping Klo-Ude didn't notice the tremor that started just moments before. Even the strongest whiskey wasn't enough to soothe his nerves right now. He didn't want the kid to see him too vulnerable, though.


        • #5
          Klo-Ude could tell something was amiss with Dazu long before his thoughts began to stampede out of his mouth. The Amaran's body language was too casual, even for someone two proportionally-large glasses deep into an aged Sacorrian. Dazu's words held a firmness behind their casual facade, like shimmersilk veiling a durasteel bulkhead. And every time he made a move to speak, Dazu cut him off.

          Beyond the body and spoken languages, Klo-Ude could...sense something within him. Loss? Confusion? Frustration? It wasn't as direct as the etheral klaxons that used to tell him where not to go in the mines, or when a "trading partner" was about to alter the deal at blasterpoint. But it was there.

          And so, Klo-Ude allowed Dazu to meander around the details of the pending request for help, nursing his whiskey as he did. The narrative was leading up to one of two possibilities, and the anxious energy rolling off of his friend suggested that they were at least alive. Whether or not that was the worst-case scenario was yet to be seen.

          He made an attempt to fill the brief silence before being given his orders to take a quick walk. Holding his best sabacc face, he nodded and slid to the edge of his side of the booth. Halfway out of his seat, he paused and dropped down again for a moment. "If I ask for two waters, d'you think they're going to be lighter or darker than what was in your glass just now?" Throwing a wry grin his friend's direction, Klo-Ude rose and made his way to the bar.

          For the first stop off the spaceport, it was remarkably slow. Then again, the majority of the folks on the planet who could afford a drink were probably too rich for this place's atmosphere, and the folks who needed the drink the most probably couldn't get the glass to their mouth without activating their stuncuffs.

          He could still feel the tension rising back at their booth, but felt his own jaw unclench the closer he got to the bartop. It was quite an effort for him to lean on it in a way that appeared casual and not a cause for concern. Many a time in the past, he had to wave away offers for assistance or hoverstools slid his direction, the half-falling repositioning and wide stance required of his height looking for all the credits in the galaxy like a wroshyr sapling toppling in a strong breeze. Not that he expected such kindness or generosity in his present location. Given the scarcity of patrons at the bar, Klo-Ude would be surprised if he was able to get a drink within a Hutt's lifetime.

          Glancing back at Dazu, he took note of the faint glimmer of the stone as it came out of the pouch, tumbled slowly from paw to paw. Whatever was troubling him, Klo-Ude would gladly listen and say "Of course I'll help" the moment he heard the ask.

          For now, though, he'd give his friend a few minutes of time to compose himself.


          • #6
            Sitonia regarded the carbon slurry left on her countertop and fantasized about how she could get fired before the end of her shift. Some half-sauced spacer would no doubt try to hit on her within the standard hour. It came with the territory. Arkanian Offshoots always drew attention, especially on the Rim. Where so many spaceports and dives were doing their best to invent new shades of filth, white skin and white hair tended to stand out. Most nights, the questions were tolerable as long as the patrons were paying. But every now and then, someone applied the phrase "liquid courage" with a capital "C", or someone with less brains than could fit in a Dug's boot would have a very strong opinion about her race's history. And she had been told she had a wicked right cross by the manager of the Jumping Jawa while he escorted her off the premises. So that was an option.

            "The kriffing pile of slag didn't even tip..." she groused, deftly sweeping the viscous discharge into a receptacle. " does this stink so much? I didn't know rocks could die..." Suppressing the reflex to contribute her own stomach's contents to the bin, she discarded everything currently in her hands, briefly considered cutting her hands off as well (cybernetics couldn't be that expensive), and hurried to the sanisink to make her last task a distant memory as quickly as possible.

            I could trigger the fire suppression system again, she mused. I'd just need to switch the ratio of the stuff in a Flaming Maw, and the fireball it would make could scorch Onderon from here. Or I could jam one of the serving droids in a fresher stall and give it a good flush or seven. I could turn the holovids away from the Outer Rim Shockball League semis and put on a Nautolan melodrama. The new Tendrils of Jealousy should be playing right about now.

            To her surprise, an actual customer appeared, approaching the other end of the bar's circular counter. The one thing she would miss about this bar was the 360-degree visibility from the bartender's end, but the limited view from the patron's side. It made breaking up fights easier, because you could keep the offending parties out of sight of one another and still keep taking their money.

            Busying herself with a check of the top-shelf liquors while scrubbing, Sitonia waited for the human to settle in holy frag he had to lean down a long way how tall is this guy? All thoughts of working her Magic on this one were thrown out the door faster than...well, faster than he could probably do the same with her.

            Sitonia ran her hands under the ion dryer, snagged a cleaning rag and approached the patron, wiping the counter in front of him. No slurry this time, just an opening gesture. She may have a short fuse, but she knew how to put people at ease. And people at ease spent more money. And people at ease didn't notice you looking at where they pocketed their credit pouches. Or notice you following them when they close down the bar you were working in.

            Nevertheless, this guy looked like he could bend a vibrostaff with one hand, and last she checked, her kind weren't engineered with beskar bones. Be regular old bartender Sitonia with this one. Worry about getting fired later.

            "What'll it be, tall drink of water?"


            • #7
              She could have open-hand slapped him and he would have been less stunned. A parade of expressions passed over his face. First, slack-jawed surprise stole a few breaths. Then, his mouth snapped shut and a microexpression of squint-eyed suspicion closed in. Normally, he could tell when a...coincidence-that-wasn't was about to happen. It was like a small itch in his brain, but also everywhere else at the same time. This wasn't one of those feelings.

              He realized that his thoughts were taking too much of his focus, and that he had been staring at the barkeep for too long. Clearing his throat, Klo-Ude straightened his spine and said "Actually, yes. Two, please." He fished into his pouch, fingering the ridges on the first two credit chits he grasped. Not quite sure what the market rate on clean water was on a slave planet, he tested the metaphorical waters of commerce by snapping them audibly onto the countertop. "I have to ask, though. Would I be better taking two drawn from the well here," he gestured with his dark beard towards the 'fresher. "Or would it be safer to scoop from the flusher in there?"

              In hindsight, making a noticeable scene of laying down his credits was probably not the wisest choice – especially when he was both underarmed and his backup was roughly the size of one of the barstools before him. A little less fur on Dazu, though.

              Klo-Ude swept the visible area for any undue attention that his actions may have drawn. Dazu was already hesitating to go into detail on the job. Or favor. Or whatever he was saying it wasn't. The last thing either of them needed was to have to pick up and move to another, possibly less-discrete location. Whatever it was Dazu needed, Klo-Ude had the inkling that it was time-sensitive.

              But neither of them were going to be of any use if they wound up shock-collared and reminiscing about the good old days while re-experiencing them. For now, a glass of water to lubricate the rest of the story out of Dazu was the plan.

              Two fingers pinned the credits down and slid them across the countertop to the barkeep.


              • #8
                She eyed the credits as they were ever-so-clandestinely slid to her edge of the bartop, a mirthful grin on her lips as she retrieved a glass from below the counter, polishing it idly with the same rag she had just wiped down the counter with. Gotta act like the barkeeps in the holodramas if you're going to snark like one. Just don't spit in it...yet.

                Sitonia shrugged, mirroring his chin-point with one of her own, back at him. "Dunno," she said, "Why don't you go soak your head in it and let me know how it tastes?"

                She kept her eyes downcast, lidded, as if studying the credits left on the counter. Really, though, she was looking beyond them, already gauging the weight of his pouch. He was tall enough that she wouldn't even need to stretch to reach it. If approached from the right angle, it would practically fall into her hand. "Guess you're from the Core, flashing those creds around. Not a lot of trust in 'em out here after the Cataclysm. Might trick one of the junker stalls into taking 'em, but only if they're stupider'n the person offering 'em. Speaking of the Cataclysm, has Hosnian Prime stopped burning yet?"

                Now, she looked up at him, eyes searching his face for his reaction – and hoping that it wasn't to test her theory about his ability to make non-malleable metals very much that. The sheer...arrogance the HUBRIS of this human human, hubris, hum-bris? FOCUS put her on an aggressive conversational front-foot. She traded in her goody two-shoes for some mucktrooper boots and grabbed two handfuls of rhetorical mud, stuffing an extra in her pocket for later. She lifted an eyebrow and snatched the credits off the counter before they could be withdrawn. Okay, so maybe I laid it on a little thick. Money's money, after all. She wouldn't let him know that, though.

                Setting down the glass she had polished from a murky haze to a fine sheen, Sitonia grabbed another from under the bar and set to topping them off with fresh(ish) water. Matching her patron's cocky gesture, she deliberately placed one fingertip on the rim of each glass, sliding them roughly across the bartop to him. She pretended not to notice the contents swish around and wet her digits while doing so. "There you go, off-worlder: two glasses of water, fresh as the rains on Rodia."

                She overturned her hand, deliberately allowing her fingers to drip on the counter, and glanced down at her very-empty palm, raising an alabaster eyebrow expectantly. "This is where you say 'For your troubles'. And if you trill that Resh with that dashing brogue of yours for me, I'll take half of what-ever number just popped in your head."


                • #9
                  He almost snorted at her retort, but tamped it down with a sniff and a tight-lipped grin of his own. He opened his mouth to reply in kind, but her follow-up verbal punch stuffed it shut.

                  To her credit, Klo-Ude felt his face flush at her chiding remarks. He almost felt compelled to feel more put-off by the dismissive way she spoke about Hosnian Prime. Not that he was unsympathetic to the dramatic loss of life. He just didn't...remember it to feel anything about it. Better judgment prevailed, however, as a backwater cantina on a slaver planet wasn't an ideal battleground for historical or ideological debate.

                  He accepted the offered glasses of water with the mildest of grimaces, but managed to turn it into a half-smirk of gratitude before it revealed his regret at not restocking water purification tabs before traveling. "Thank you, ma'am." He bowed his head deferentially, admitting he had been verbally bested without so much as an attempt to save face.

                  Before he gathered his things, she gave her parting shot, hand upturned and waiting. He made a show of feigned consternation, shoulders rising and falling with a deep, contemplative breath. Mouth twisted to the side, he reached into his pouch again and fished out two standard druggats. "For your trrroubles." He dropped his voice into a lower register on the final word, tongue practically itching with the spice he put on the request. Gracefully and graciously placing the currency into her palm without disrupting a droplet of water remaining on her fingertips, Klo-Ude scooped a glass in each hand and departed back to the booth.

                  He was surprised to feel his cheeks tight with a smile as he sat down. "Wonderful hospitality from that one. Either I'm going to shove a shockstaff up her perfect nose, or I'm beginning to like her."

                  Perfect nose? Get a grip, kid. He heard Dazu's admonitions in his own voice, echoing through the bony halls of his head. Clearing his throat, he regarded the drinks with careful consideration, as if debating a next move in an hours-long game of dejarik. "I don't know which Hutt family controlled the Cartel the last time these glasses were cleaned, so you may want to have either some mouthwash or a bacta stim ready."

                  Sliding a glass over to his friend, he took an exploratory sip from his own glass. Mentally counting to twenty, he felt no compulsion to abandon his friend for the 'fresher, and his organs didn't feel like they were being sucked out of an airlock through his mouth. "So far, so good. I'll let you know if I start feeling like a rakghoul." A more-confident second gulp followed, and he set the glass back down on the table.

                  He knew Dazu had been stalling, despite the waves of urgency pulsing from the Amaran's aura. Klo-Ude considered pressing his friend to continue, but instead allowed him to complete the moment of gathering himself before speaking. He afforded a sidelong glance at the barkeep in the meantime, curious to see her treatment of the other patrons who may or may not have been fused to their seats prior to his arrival.

                  Yes...curious. That's all. Sure, her personality had drawn his interest. The hollow-eyed masses meandering the streets outside were offset in full by her...dismissive exuberance. But there was something else about her. He couldn't quite place it, but...he felt a purpose in meeting her. More than checking his ego, that is. Much like he had felt when he had first held Daz back from entering that mine on Kessel, there was an unspecified importance in that interaction. When that importance would reveal itself was...

                  Oh, stuff it, Me. He shook his head, turning his eyes back to Dazu and hoping that he hadn't repeated his previous gawpery too noticeably. There was a question on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it back for the time being. This isn't about you right now, Klo-Ude.


                  • #10
                    Dazu watched with amusement and genuine interest as Klo-Ude felt the sting of Sitonia's barbed tongue. He didn't need to hear what was said to know that Klo-Ude was as disadvantaged as a Tusken Raider in a room full of sleeping acklays. Dazu had seen his fair shair of patrons walking away with their tails tucked between their legs – sometimes literally – from her. But she had her regulars who followed her from bar to bar.

                    It bothered him to no end that he had wound up spending so much time on Chalcedon lately, but he also found dark amusement in the irony of it. Oddly enough, fidgeting with the stone helped. What was the name of that one Chevin who sold them stones? Something about rubbing the polished spot until whatever was stressing you out went away. Heck, I can do that punchin' someone in the face and it takes less time.

                    Klo-Ude returned with a smile on his face, and Dazu, in a moment of much-needed levity, attempted to wipe it off with a quick remark. "What's got you all bright-eyed? All them endorphins from the beating you just took?" He snickered as the glass was passed to him, and he took a long, bold gulp with one hand, tucking the stone back in his pouch with the other. "I tell ya, she's got a look that could cut a lightsaber blade in half. I thought you were gonna get it there for a second, but she let you buy your way out of it."

                    Dazu jabbed a finger in the general direction of his friend's currency bag. "Just keep a hand on that at all times anytime she's around." He downed the remainder of the water with another few gulps, letting out a satisfied sigh and wiping his mouth with a forearm. "Don't think she's sweet on ya or anything. If she shakes yer hand, it's because she thinks she can steal a finger. She's got debts, just like the rest of us on this scum-sucking planet...thing...whatever it is."

                    So the water wasn't working as quickly as he'd hoped. He set the glass down and folded his hands together, thumbs twirling as he sucked in a deep breath. "Speaking of money, I was hopin' you wouldn't ask for much – or any – for this job. I'll owe ya a dozen times over if it helps. I just..." he leaned onto the table, elbows gouging deep grooves in the threadbare tablecloth as he shifted his weight forward. "They're all I got. 'Cept you, I mean. I gotta figure out where they are. I gotta figure out who took 'em and where they went. I gotta find 'em, Klo."

                    With that, Dazu settled back, leaving the Big Ask unspoken, but hanging in the air nonetheless. For what seemed to be a time too many to count, he pulled the stone back out of his pouch, rolling it idly on the table. "I'll give you back this fancy rock, if it helps ya make up your mind..."


                    • #11
                      Every time the ship he was in arrived safely, Kyle Curran thanked the Force. Today, he was wondering which of his ancestors was a Dark Lord of the Sith. There could be no other reason that his trip to Chalcedon had gone through five transports and two speeders on three planets. His entire trip was proof of sentience within the Force, because there was no way it didn't have a specific vendetta against him. Now, he was where he needed to be. And as soon as the sounds and smells of the planet hit him like a ton of duracrete, he secretly wished the engines had cut out before they broke atmo.

                      At least space smells predictable, he mused, switching on his earpiece translator. I'll take burning ozone over the gundark bath water I'm breathing in right now. Kyle knew that a clear, objective mind was critical for his assignment. Given the last 36 hours – which felt longer than the entire war – it was going to take a brief respite to clear his thoughts and quell his mood. And what better place to do both of those things than a dingy cantina?

                      As he passed through the spaceport bazaar, a litany of languages disoriented him – native tongues in his left ear, tinny translation to Basic in his right. It had taken him a few Standard days of immersion to keep his body language from favoring his right side, and he still found himself pressing a finger to his ear to amplify the translation on less-common languages and more-noisy areas. But aside from that, life as a rookie diplomat was treating him well.

                      His knee wasn't, though. And this wasn't exactly a place to let a pronounced limp be...well, pronounced. Might as well paint "Mug me, I can't chase you" on my back in every language on this little earpiece. Being cooped up on civilian bulk transport freighters for the past two days had put an ache in his old injury, but it could have been worse. While no pleasure barge, the New Republic Diplomatic Corps had at least spared some expense in the travel arrangements. Apparently, however, the tradeoff for a little extra leg room was to have engines that hadn't been fully serviced since the Trade Federation got the bright idea to blockade Naboo.

                      Kyle afforded himself a moment to browse an oddly-tense Quarren's wares, using the table draperies to cover his slow stretching out of his leg, bending and unbending at the knee repeatedly until an audible pop was heard. The ceramic replica of an Alderaanian-style castle the Quarren was holding nearly broke through the roof as the shopkeeper startled at the sound. Amused, yet self-aware, Kyle took the moment to avail himself of the shopkeeper's sharp gaze and tested out the fresh flexibility he had in his leg.

                      His injury was a reminder of better – or, at least, more interesting – times, but also of just how much worse the end of them could have turned out to be. Sure, it had clipped his wings, but age was working its way into doing that for him anyway. And, from a cynical standpoint, there appeared to be many more opportunities for injured pilots outside of the typical Navy chains of command than there were within. Especially for a Resistance pilot. Both being on the winning team or not, there were some hard feelings amongst the Navy proper and the unsanctioned rogues, even to this day. Kyle saw the writing on the wall and took the first decent-pay civilian job he could find.

                      And now, here I am, looking for a place to shake off the space crud. And to sit down.

                      The first place with a door seemed nice, even if the name wasn't too inviting. "The Svaper's Nest." He read the sign title aloud, testing his Huttese comprehension before looking up at the Basic Aurabesh characters. Hearing no reverb in his translator was an added bonus. At least the delays in arrival afforded him time to tweak that bug. "Sounds cozy."

                      After the requisite checkdowns of his corners and exits, Kyle took note of the atmosphere in the cantina. It didn't take long to realize that he could have leapt out the airlock while they were in orbit and had a better chance of finding some. He couldn't tell if the multi-species assortment holding up the outer edge of the bar were decorative or patrons. The booths at least seemed to have some life in them. A Chevin and a Duro were playing some sort of archaic dice game that probably didn't have the amount of punching going on between them in its rules. A few Weequay appeared to be sharing stories their exploits while working for a former employer (ones that almost convinced him to switch off his translator). An Amaran was...teaching itself to juggle with a rock, maybe? Not gonna get too far with just one, but who am I to judge?

                      For the moment, it seemed the bar was the place to be to keep an eye on everything. Old instincts, and probably unnecessary ones at that. This seemed like the place where the only way to be less-subtle about felonious intent would be if the acts were announced by certified holo in advance. And so, selecting a spot that allowed him to keep an eye on visible exists, Kyle slid into a seat at the bar, his leg thankful for the rest.

                      The barkeep was busy with another human, whose expression was an uncomfortable mixture of amusement and contrition as he departed with his drinks. Kyle decided err on the side of caution and waited patiently.


                      • #12
                        Sitonia hesitated, narrowly avoiding showing her surprise when it kriffing worked?! Wait. Of course it did. I could charm the lekku off a Twi'lek. While druggats were nothing to sneeze at, the ease with which he parted with them For a second, at least. Then she put them in her pocket, deliberately ignorant of any of the other customers, and that felt much more expensive. She didn't have to worry about the droids reporting her, but if any of the regulars felt particularly slighted this evening, it could lead to an early (or earlier) exit from her current employer. And she'd be a Mluki's aunt before she got bumped from this place for any reasons other than her own. It hadn't been long enough for her old employers to forget her face, after all.

                        Sitonia gave him an appreciative silent clap of her hands as he departed and before returning to her mundane duties. He had laid on the accent a little thick after her request, but at least he had kept up with her for that brief exchange. Time to move on, though. After all, an empty chair doesn't make me any money. It wasn't her most successful opening run, but it had pulled in a few extra coins, which was better than nothing.

                        As if by fate, a new mark customer appeared as she turned around. This one seemed patient enough, with a slightly-frayed-around-the-edges look of a recent arrival. And while these ones were often more vigilant with their monies, she found them infinitely easier to manipulate with a little charm and showmanship.

                        He had the bearing of someone who felt more important than they were. Egos are expensive, she mused. Let's see if I can cash in on his.

                        Trailing her fingertips along the edge of the bar, Sitonia did her best non-eager sashay over to the new patron, careful to keep her eyes locked on his and hoping she could catch him looking at more than the bottles. "Looks like you rode on on the wrong end of a reek, stranger," She squared herself in front of him and leaned in just where she could feel was the border of his personal space. Arms folded on the counter, she lowered her voice to match the proximity, tone turning as smoky as the barely-recycled air around them. "What are you having?"


                        • #13
                          Well-aware of the effect he had on women – his affinity for attracting them once compared to the underside of a T-47 by the very bag of fur and snark sitting across from him now – Klo-Ude waved off the warnings and admonishments. “I wouldn't have been able to carry these glasses if I'd lingered any longer, but I know when to make my exit.” He couldn't help but flick his eyes to the bar once more, and he saw her zeroing in on the new arrival. Good luck, friend.

                          The silence that lingered was, for a moment, uncomfortable. Klo-Ude hated to give the impression that he was stringing his friend along, or power-playing his way into forcing the request. Finally, he gave Daz a reassuring smile. “Daz, if I wasn't going to help you, I wouldn't have come all this way. I hate to scuff your pride, but you're not as charming of company as you think you are.” He jabbed a finger at the stone. “And you're keeping that. I had to practically tie that Quarren's tentacles in a bow to get him to part with it.”

                          With that, he raised his glass to seal the arrangement – stealing a final scrutinizing glance at its contents as he did so. “Pick up every other round on our tour and we'll call it even. Deal?”


                          • #14
                            Dazu drew back from the table and let out his sigh slowly, carefully, making sure his shoulders didn't slump as he did so. It was an old sabacc trick to mask a high bid and a risky hand. This time, though, it hid his very-real relief. Decades of surviving on instinct, whether it was on Kessel or within the fine print of a contract, had eroded his hopes of ever having an “easy” life. And while settling a colony surrounded by family wasn't comparable to a penthouse suite on Cloud City, it was much more inviting than dying in his pilot's chair, crashing into some unfortunate planet because his hearing was so far gone he didn't hear the alert to come out of lightspeed.

                            And so when Klo-Ude accepted the job, Dazu felt something he was so unfamiliar with he had to pause to make sure there wasn't something in the water, after all: hope. And it had been there and gone so quickly it was...hard to hold on to. But now his old friend had given him a second chance at finding it. And, if they couldn't find it, he at least could live with himself out here on the Rim for making the effort. Clinking his glass against Klo-Ude's, he nodded. “Deal.”

                            After wiping his jaw, he set down the half-full glass, rose from the booth, and walked towards the exit. “Alright. Let's get goin', then. Syndicates are havin' their regular Summits of Not Shooting Each Other for A Minute, so no more shuttles coming in for a few days. Shops are gonna start closin' soon. Probably a good time to stock up on supplies. And we can always swing by that Quarren's shop if you want to try that tentacle trick you mentioned. I ran with a Wookiee a few months back, and he showed me how to tie some pretty snazzy war-braids...”


                            • #15
                              A microexpression of a frown crossed Kyle's features as the bartender approached and greeted him. The serving droids he was used to were, somewhat tautologically, much more robotic and formal and less...well, let's just say his astromech never tried to catch his eyes wandering. He hadn't been back in the political sphere for long, but this interaction was shaping up to be a reminder that everyone had their angle and their hustle.

                              Still better than flying a blaster-bolt sponge for a living. Relax, he told himself. She's just doing her job. And it is her job, not a hobby. Plus, she could actually be friendly and that guy might have been a jerk. Attributing his skepticism at her demeanor to the arduousness of the trip she was mentioning, Kyle overcompensated for the subtle frown with an appreciative smile. Might as well start practicing statecraft now, right?

                              He had been in enough dogfights in his career to know that a flinch at the wrong moment meant a small casket and a standard-format flimsi to the next-of-kin. So when she got not-quite-too-close to him, he held his ground and her gaze.

                              “A reek would probably have been more friendly than the pilot was. If you know a gundark that can break orbit, I'd be happy to change my ticket.” Not waiting for a response, Kyle eyed the line of bottles behind the counter and picked what he thought was the least-assuming one. “I'll have some of the red stuff back there, for starters. Middle shelf.”