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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:

    Desperation.

    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 Rodia...how 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.

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    • #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?"

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      • #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.

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        • #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.

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          • #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. "Ugh...how 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?"

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