"Wankers, the lot."
C'Lon swirled her glass of Corellian brandy, letting the strong floral scent fill her nose. She gestured towards a group of roughnecks on the other side of the bar. Erat grinned, taking a slow sip from his own glass, saying nothing. She eyed him for a moment before casting her gaze back toward the entrance of the decidedly seedy establishment.
"Don't tell me, dearie, that you disagree with me. You hate these shithole dives as much as I do."
Eyes that were neither green nor blue -- always a shade between -- flashed at her. "Oh, but you do look the part, milady."
C'Lon raised a hand to her short gray hair, touching the spiky style Erat had convinced her to try. He'd said it would make her look tougher, and that her relatively petite frame could use a bit of height, anyway. She'd submitted, ultimately -- it was his job to look out for her, after all.
She was constructing a witty retort when she saw the grubby Haradian enter the bar and walk right towards their darkened booth. "Our company has arrived," she murmured.
Erat nodded and slipped out of the booth, fading into the background with astonishing ease. She shook her head and smiled. That boy had been a great find. She still couldn't believe her luck.
The Haradian would have stood out just about anywhere. He was well over two meters in height, and his massive arms nearly dragged the grimy floor. Powerful four-fingered hands, each digit sporting a vicious-looking claw, were raised in greeting as he slipped -- well, squeezed -- into the booth. A show of sharp teeth signaled either a cheerful smile or a warning of some sort. C'Lon wasn't sure which.
She took another sip of her brandy and raised an eyebrow. "What'll you have to drink, then?" It was the agreed-upon recognition phrase; ordinarily she'd never buy a drink for scum like that.
The Haradian grunted and pointed at the brandy. She signaled the serving droid and gestured toward her glass, then held up two fingers. The droid scuttled away through the sludge on the floor.
"You are C'Lon?" the Haradian rasped in heavily accented Basic.
She nodded absently, pulling a tabac stick from her pouch and lighting it in a smooth movement. She took a long drag and blew a stream of smoke in the Haradian's direction.
The large being eyed her suspiciously. "You are female."
"How observant of you. Last time I took a piss, I checked. Still no dick." Another long drag. "Are you going to waste my time further, or are you going to tell me what the fuck you want?"
The Haradian's eyes narrowed, but he seemed to have decided to accept the situation for the moment. He pursed his thick lips, as if collecting his thoughts. "I work for a very powerful and important man. He has a special request that requires… the kind of skill you are rumored to have."
She nodded, listening intently while doing her best to look bored and distracted. The droid arrived with the drinks and she tossed a credit chip its way.
The Haradian took a slurp of his brandy before continuing. "What do you know of the Jedi?"
That got her attention, though she struggled not to show it. "Jedi? Well, same as what everyone knows. Magic powers, drab robes, semi-ascetic existence, lightsabers. What exactly does this… employer of yours want?"
The Haradian lowered his voice so much that she had to strain to hear him over the background buzz of the cantina. "He requires two Jedi younglings. Twins. He wants them unharmed. He will pay well. Very well."
It took every ounce of control C'Lon had not to burst out laughing. "Are you fucking insane? Jedi younglings?" She snorted in a mixture of amusement and disgust, leaning back into the seat. "It would take a shitload of money, much of it in advance, mind you, for me even to consider that job."
"I have been authorized to offer you this amount." One stubby finger pushed a card with a number written on it across the table. An exceedingly large number.
C'Lon whistled. "Fuck me." A confused glance from the Haradian made her smirk, despite the uncomfortable mental image it produced. "So, he just wants me to find twin Jedi younglings, eh? I may be able to manage that."
"These younglings," the Haradian stated, pushing a small holocube towards her. She activated it under the table. A pair of human children, approximately twelve years of age by the look of them, were revealed: smiling, clasping hands. A boy and a girl, blond hair, sweet smiles. A pair of Jedi stood behind them, a man and a woman, also smiling. They almost looked like a family.
She deactivated the cube and passed it back across the table. "I'm sorry, but I don't deal in humans. Every species except humans, and I make no exceptions."
The Haradian blinked. She returned to her tabac stick, ignoring him as if he'd already left.
Another card was pushed towards her. "My employer anticipated your reluctance, and authorized me to increase the offer to this amount."
C'Lon waited a long moment before glancing at the figure, summoning her best disaffected expression. She lost it almost immediately -- the number had been tripled. She gasped, dropping the tabac stick into its tray before slugging down the rest of the brandy. She picked up the card and stared at it.
Now that was a shitload of money. More money than she'd ever imagined having. More than enough to get her out of this despicable business and onto a beach on some warm tropical planet, the kind that never had wars or political upheavals. She could live out the rest of her life in luxury.
"I suppose I don't want to know what your employer wants with a couple of human Jedi children," she said, trying to regain her composure and stall for time. She needed to think clearly, and the size of that number wasn't helping. "He must want them very badly."
The Haradian blinked again, a rather grotesque effort involving several layers of mucus-covered membranes.
She took a deep breath. If she did this, it could be her last job -- ever. She could pay off her crew's contracts and then retire in style on that beach. She shuddered at the thought of capturing two human children. She didn't mind selling children, of course -- the business was lucrative -- but she'd always restricted her wares to non-humans. It was easier to think of them as livestock. They cried and moaned as much as humans, of course, but it was easier to ignore it when they were green and scaly.
But she'd started questioning her choice of career in recent months, for some reason she couldn't quite put a finger on. Perhaps she was just getting soft in her old age. At any rate, here was an opportunity to get out of the business for good, and she thought she should probably take it.
She picked up the tabac stick again and took a contemplative drag. Bluish gray smoke curled up from her lips and toward the ceiling, swirling in the heavily scented air above their heads, adding to the atmosphere of the darkened den.
"Right then," she said at last. "I want half of the money up front, then the rest on delivery." It was standard procedure in the business, and she never waded into shit without a big paddle. She met the Haradian's yellow gaze steadily.
The Haradian nodded, flipping a datapad in her direction. "The details are all there. The younglings in question are currently in the Nimol system with their caretakers."
Caretakers, my ass. Probably Jedi fucking Masters. She blew out a breath.
"Half the amount in hard currency will be brought to your ship before sunset this day," he continued. "Do not attempt to contact my employer. He will contact you when the children have been acquired."
C'Lon frowned. "What the... how will he know when the children have been acquired?"
The Haradian said nothing in response. He slammed back the rest of his brandy, squeezed out of the booth, and left. She watched his hulking form exit the bar, then closed her eyes with a sigh. A slight noise to her left alerted her to Erat's return.
He raised one eyebrow in question as he slid into the booth again. She handed him the card with the large number written on it. He took one look at it and nearly laughed in surprise.
"Sith hells, C'Lon! What is this job, anyway?"
Not even his use of that archaic curse could make her smile. She lit another tabac stick and inhaled deeply, trying in vain to steel her fluttering stomach. "Just suicidal, Erat, that's all. If I survive it, I can get out of this business for good."
His eyes, now green in the dim light, regarded her for a moment. She shivered from the intensity of it. Sometimes it seemed like he was looking right through her.
"Your cut would be substantial, you know. I'd release you from your contract, of course. No need for a bodyguard where I'm plannin' to go."
He grinned. "You keep smoking those and you won't need a bodyguard. You'll need a full-time healer."
"Don't lecture me, boy. This habit's older than you. A woman needs some pleasure in life."
He settled back against the side of the booth, smiling, arms stretched over his head. He was a beautiful young man, one of the most beautiful she'd seen in a long time. He'd looked not unlike this the first time she'd seen him, four months ago on Mistal.
He'd been the personal bodyguard of an old pirate she'd known for years, a pirate whose ass C'Lon had handed to him on a plate that night in an unusually animated Sabacc game. The old fool had been bluffing for hours, and C'Lon had finally gotten an unbelievable hand. She was going to milk him for every datarie he'd ever won from her in their decades-long friendship.
"I'll see your thousand," she said, tabac stick firmly planted between clenched teeth, "and raise you another thousand."
Yulat laughed heartily, a deep rumble in his chest that spilled out into the air like water. "So sure of yourself, eh, C'Lon?" He signaled the barmaid for another glass of ale. "It seems I am nearly out of money. However, I do have something else you might be interested in." He raised his thick eyebrows and grinned.
C'Lon sat back and smirked, smoke curling up from her lips. "What could you possibly offer me that would be better than money, my old friend?"
"Erat, come here," Yulat shouted to a darkened corner.
A young male human appeared from the shadows and strolled over to stand by the pirate. He was young, perhaps twenty standard, and undoubtedly one of the most attractive men she'd seen in a long time. Tight ngala-hide trousers left little to the imagination, and a fur-lined white jacket hung open on a chiseled torso. Pierced nipples marred an otherwise smooth chest, and his short reddish-brown hair was styled into a shaggy mop and streaked with blue. One ear was pierced, sporting an expensive-looking green crystal. He regarded C'Lon for a moment and then smiled, wetting his lips with his tongue and leaning -- no, posing -- against the chair of his employer.
She laughed out loud. "What the fuck would I do with him?"
Yulat grinned, his eyes twinkling. He grabbed a handful of the beautiful boy's ass, prompting a mock glare from Erat. "Oh, I'm sure you could come up with something."
C'Lon laughed, shaking her head. "Yulat, I've got boots older than him. Besides, I don't need a contracted pleasure boy. I'm not that desperate." The room was filled with whistles and low laughs at her intended barb. Even Erat grinned.
Yulat only smiled. "Well, my dear friend, that's the best part. He ain't no pleasure boy. He's a bodyguard. A damned good one, in fact."
"A bodyguard?" she repeated in disbelief. "He doesn't look too threatening to me."
"That's part of what makes him so damn good. No one ever suspects that he can fight." Yulat's smile was oddly serious. "And he can, better than anyone I've ever employed."
Erat was still playing the role of pleasure boy behind him, slipping his finger into a creamy beverage and sucking the liquid off. He winked at C'Lon, and she began to imagine the possibilities of having this boy in her employ. She'd lost her previous bodyguard several weeks back in an unfortunate incident, and had indeed been looking for a replacement. One didn't let it get around that one didn't currently have a bodyguard, so the process had been slow.
The boy fixed her with his gaze. Yes, I think he would do nicely, she thought, earlier concerns about his abilities suddenly melting away. He smiled at her, parting his lips. Damn, but that could get me in trouble.
She shook her head to clear it. "Well, then, what's his contract worth?"
"It's got six standard months left on it, already paid for. Then, of course, you'd have the option to renew, if he was happy working for you. Four thousand."
"Four thousand? For a bodyguard?" She coughed to cover her surprise, and glanced around the table. The other players had folded long ago, and were watching the current proceedings with detached interest. There was nothing on any of their faces that indicated she was being taken. "I'm not convinced he's worth that."
Yulat nodded. "Perhaps a demonstration, then? He can take down any one of your hired thugs."
"Oh, I doubt it," she laughed, pushing back from the table.
"How about a side wager, then? You pick the man, and Erat here'll pin him in less than three minutes. If he wins, then his contract becomes my wager, and I take back my other contributions to the pot. If he loses, then I'll throw his contract in on top of everything else."
She chewed on the end of her tabac stick. This seemed like a no-lose proposition for her. What was the catch? If he was as good as Yulat claimed, he'd be worth the money he was pulling out of the pot. If he wasn't, she'd get the money and him to boot.
"Why are you being so generous, Yulat? If he's such a valuable employee, why are you trying so hard to give him away?"
Yulat raised an eyebrow. "Let's just say that I'm trying to do a favor for an old friend."
Ah, so he had heard about her bodyguard troubles. He'd always been a good friend. She smiled, knowing she'd owe him big for this. "B'Wal, come here and see what this twink is made of."
The room seemed to widen as beings moved back to clear a space on the floor. B'Wal, a hulk of a half-human man, stepped into the center of the space, leering at Erat. The young man peeled off his jacket, revealing an intricate system of leather straps across his back: holsters, C'Lon realized, for two lethal looking blasters. One was a kind that she recognized as banned in half the galaxy, and the other she didn't recognize at all. The holsters were removed, and Erat stepped into the circle to face his opponent. He looked exceedingly calm.
B'Wal laughed, a sound that frightened many would-be opponents into immediate retreat. Erat didn't move a muscle. B'Wal stalked toward the boy. "You ain't nothin' but a fuck boy," he growled in a way his victims usually regarded as menacing. "And I'm gonna enjoy you real good after I kick the shit out of you." He grinned -- not a pleasant sight.
Drunken bastard, C'Lon thought. She hated him, but he was still the best she had. He ought to be able to take this boy down in one punch.
B'Wal threw himself at Erat with a roar, but the boy side-stepped him with astonishing speed, bringing his right hand down in a blow across the hulking shoulders of his opponent. B'Wal hit the ground hard, and the crowd gasped in surprise.
Several more times, B'Wal charged and Erat slipped out of his grasp, delivering a painful blow each time he did. B'Wal was livid, swearing in four languages and losing his composure as rapidly as his dignity. Erat remained eerily calm, seeming to anticipate his opponent's every move.
B'Wal pulled himself to his feet and charged once more, nearly staggering in his anger and frustration. He tried to tackle Erat, but the boy simply moved out of his way again, this time kicking the thug's feet out from under him. The crowd laughed, and a few people exchanged credit chips.
The fight wasn't over, though. B'Wal rose to his feet and began circling Erat once more. The boy watched him, matching his movements with a powerful grace. B'Wal swung a massive arm towards him, but Erat ducked, delivering a strong kick to B'Wal's thigh just as the momentum of the swing knocked him out of balance. B'Wal howled as he hit the ground, clutching his leg. Erat stepped back and waited. He wasn't even sweating.
B'Wal hauled himself to his feet and limped towards Erat, still seething.
"Enough," C'Lon said, prompting both men to stop and look at her. "B'Wal, you can't win, and I don't want you injured." She glanced at Yulat. "I'll take him."
B'Wal grimaced, but a stern look from C'Lon prompted him to nod.
"Apologize for calling me... a fuck boy," Erat said, voice still unflappably serene. B'Wal looked dazed for a moment, and then, to everyone's surprise, he did just that. Erat turned to C'Lon and bowed. "At your service, milady."
"Well, fuck me," she said, nearly under her breath.
His smile was sly. "Not part of my contract, but perhaps we can come to an arrangement."