The Tatooine Redemption
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionOlivia’s bright green eyes followed the digital information boards in the Falling Star Cantina just outside the Grand Arena. The bar bustled all around behind her, race fans and crews were living it up, the entire area around the arena had effectively become the galaxy’s largest party. She sat at the bar, her hands laced together in her lap, her feet nervously rocking back and forth as they hung about six inches off the ground. A half-full glass of cold bribb juice rested on the bar in front of her. The latest round of odds were about to be released, and they would be the final odds before the race. But more importantly, the total of the purse would be released as well. As per the rules of the Boonta Eve Classic, even the last place finisher received a fraction of the purse. The winner, of course, received the largest slice. And depending on how big the purse was, it could be in the range of six figures. With the Empire occupying the planet this time around, more credits than normal were flying around the box offices. Rumor had it this race could be a million credit payday. Some of the odds started to flash across some of the vidscreens.
…Chotin Craterfall 10:1
Auvas Binar 12:1
Gorover Merga 5:1
Apus Drusonr 7:1
Bead Ircofit 15:1…
Garrick never put much stock into the odds. He always considered bad odds as motivation to push harder in the race. He had cost more than a few high rollers their kid’s trust funds, and as a result, accumulated more than one bounty over his career. She, on the other hand, loved playing the odds. It told you which racers to look out for, which ones would be fast and which ones would be desperate.
…Stengr Muscida 4:1
Aperath Megrez 9:1
Wheprit Muscat 20:1
Kirk Bithot 13:1
Wouswhe Alyan 5:1…
Olivia bit her lip. Her boots rapidly kicked the front of the bar. The bartender shot her a dirty look. She smiled and looked back up at the vidscreen. The remaining racers flashed across the board.
…Kazmir Rizik 3:1
Garrick Farrell 5:1
Orobur Antares 10:1
Tags Orplem 7:1
Wareft Sadr 9:1
Makoud Binarfire 11:1
Dorrou Nooks 15:1
“Five to one!…FIVE TO ONE!” She shreiked, pounding the bar with her petite fists. A few people, including the bartender, gave her a passing glance and shook their heads. She made a mental note of the drivers with the more favorable odds: Merga, Muscida, Alyan, Rizik, Oneicha. Oneicha was a Trandoshan racer, a newcomer who had built a reputation as fierce and unmerciful on the circuit. He already had a string of victories in his young career and from the looks of the betting, was heavily favored to win again today. Some more information about the race came across the screen and then what she was really waiting for.
Total purse: 1.7 million credits
Winner’s payout: 920,000 credits
Olivia’s shrill scream pierce the air, like fan meeting their favorite holo star for the first time in person. “Gods, almost 2 million credits!” Her voice was high and frantic, now open palms striking the bar, rattling her juice glass. “Do you know what we could buy with that?!” she directed her question to the bartender, who actively ignored her.
She hid her face in her hands and rested it against the bar, giddily calculating how many hyperdrives they could buy. At least twenty, maybe fourty. No, wait, they only needed one. But what would they do with the rest of the money? Mod out the Tioga V beyond all comprehension, and run rampant over the galaxy’s pod racing circuits? No! Maybe an apartment in Cloud City…Yes! A huge open floor space apartment with white everything and an incredible view of the city and a droid butler and droid chef and droid maid. Gods, this changed everything. Garrick had to win! He just had to!
“Hey kiddo!” she heard a voice behind her. Just as she turned her head, a tattered shoulder pack landed on the bar, the straps held by a grinning human.
“Ferris!” Olivia’s eyes brightened and she flung her arms around her friend’s neck. She felt him stand straight up, the floor disappearing under her feet as he hugged her back. She hung there for a moment before he gently lowered her.
Ferris Tull was an on-again, off-again crew member of the Emerald Dawn. Although he and Garrick had known each other since childhood, they were more acquaintances than anything else. It wasn’t until Garrick had begun podracing that they became friends. They had run into each other after a race on Baroonda. Garrick found out Ferris had attended the Imperial Academy and was trained as a medic. Shortly after graduating and being assigned to the Imperial base on Reyvia, it was uncovered that he had actually cheated on many of the written exams and although he was a great medic and a crack shot, he was briefly imprisoned before being dishonorably discharged. Since then he had freelanced as a medic and crew member for various smuggling ships across the Outer Rim, including the Emerald Dawn. It had been nearly a year since the last time he had seen either Garrick or Olivia and if it hadn’t been for a communication out of the blue, it probably would have been longer. He called to ask if the Tioga V would be racing in the Boonta Eve Classic and 24 hours later, he was on a shuttle on route to the great big sand ball.
“I can’t believe it!” Olivia gushed. Her face was turning bright red.
“Believe it little lady. I caught the last transport off the Wheel.” Ferris said in his raspy voice, running a hand through his black lightly curled hair. “It’s a good thing I left when I did. I was running out of credits. And I’m pretty sure someone wanted me killed,”
Olivia smiled, “If we win today, credits won’t be a problem anymore…That is if you stick around this time,”
He shrugged his shoulders, “You know me, I am always open to staying, as long as there’s work. And alcohol. You can never have too much of that,” Ferris signaled to bartender to bring him an ale.
“Well I hope you do stay,” Olivia said, her voice fading at the end. The truth was, she missed Ferris. The handful of times he traveled with the Dawn, it was a different atmosphere. He was constantly making them laugh with his outlandish stories, 80% of which she was certain were made up. His facial expressions were very animated, his low raspy voice making his mellow observations that much more of a pleasure to listen to. He was a hard worker and a fantastic cook as well. He was about the same age as Garrick, which Olivia sometimes thought was a shame because try as she might, her heart fluttered every time he spoke to her. And when he smiled. Oh, his smile. She hated having a crush on him, not only because it was unbecoming of someone with such a tomboyish demeanor to have something as girly as a crush in the first place, but because she knew nothing would come of it and heartbreak was inevitable. She wanted to save herself from the pain, but only ever got further lost in his smile.
“We’ll see how this goes. I’ve still got places to go and people to see,” Ferris said, taking a swig of his ale. A bit dribbled from his lower lip as he quickly lowered the bottle and started going through his pack. “I almost forgot, I got something for you,”
He extracted a thin leather strip, which was wrapped around the top of a red crystal shard, about the size of her pinkie finger. Olivia’s eyes locked on the crystal. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a Kaiburr crystal,” Ferris said “Very rare. The Jedi’s use them,”
That raised an eyebrow, “Jedi? I’m not Force sensetive. What am I supposed to do with it?”
“I don’t know, look pretty wearing it? It’s actually fake. I won it off some smuggler in a sabacc game. I’m pretty sure he was cheating so it served him right. Actually I was cheating too, but that’s just between you and me,” he smiled. Her heart fluttered.
He brushed the hair off her shoulder and reached around her neck, tying the leather strands behind her head. She hid her squirming as best she could. The crystal dangled over her heart.
“Perfect,” he said.
“It’s alright,” she fought the urge to tell him how beautiful it was. She loved it.
“Well next time I’ll get you a real one. You can put it in your lightsaber,” Ferris took another swig of ale. “Actually, I’ll get you one of those too.”
Olivia rolled the crystal between her fingers and smiled.
Ferris’ eyes widened. “Speaking of lightsabers! Have I got a story for you!…”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Soak it in, old man. Soak it all in.
Garrick walked back into the pod hanger, out of the buzzing crowd on pit lane. All the time he had been on the run, one of the things he missed experiencing was the pre-race pageantry. Reporters from all over the galaxy would take their places along pit lane, yelling for you to stop and answer a few questions. Camera crews and photographers documented every minute detail. Fans with hot passes could explore almost every area of the pits, waving their hands and scraps of parchment, screaming for an autograph from their favorite pilot.
Now he would humbly admit that early on in his career, he had taken on the mantel of something of a villain. And this sort of fan fare was very hard to come by. The only autographs he ever signed were for hardcore pod racing fans, who rooted for villains to win and the heroes to lose. But in the time that he had been gone, there was a shift in the landscape of the racing circuits around the galaxy, and fans were genuinely excited that he had returned. Some cried his name and a simple wave of his hand and a smile made the cries grow louder. He constantly stopped to sign autographs, answer questions from reporters and take personal photos with fans on their datapads. If he had known how good it felt to have been a hero, he would have done it a long time ago…
Garrick had just gotten back from his third walk down pit lane and headed toward his pit stall. The hanger was mostly empty, a majority of the pods had been taken out to the starting grid, where they would receive last minute adjustments from crews. The few teams still in the hangar were having meetings, talking strategy and the like. The Tioga V had yet to be moved to the grid. Garrick shook his head. Olivia must have been out in the crowd somewhere screwing around. He would have to get the pit droids to move the pod out soon. Ugh. It was only a couple hours before the start.
Garrick strode his way into stall #14 and right away knew something was amiss. His first instinct told him to check the Tioga but movement out of the corner of his eye snapped his head around to Olivia’s toolbox. Standing with his back to Garrick was Kazmir Rizik, the Verpine racer. He was holding Garrick’s new helmet in his three fingered claws.
“Long time no see, Farrell,” Rizik said in his hissy Basic.
Garrick let out a deep breath, “How have you been, Kaz?”
“No one’s managed to kill me yet,” he answered with a little laugh. Rizik set the helmet down and turned to face Garrick. His antennae twitched. “Looks like the same can be said for you,”
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Garrick said.
“Isn’t that the truth?”
“It’s going to be some race today huh?”
“Seems that way. We’re both favored,”
“That’s the way we like it though right? All the eyes on us,” Garrick leaned against his pod.
“Yes, but for how much longer I wonder,” The two big black spheres Rizik had for eyes hit the floor. A moment of awkward silence fell between them. It was true they were rivals, and more than once they had tried to kill each other on the track. But this time it felt…different. Garrick didn’t know if it was him, Rizik or both of them. There were no scathing taunts. No threats. Nothing like almost every other conversation they’ve had before. Instead, it felt like something needed to be said and, at the same time, nothing at all. A silent understanding some racers had with each other when both were at fault. Sometimes, Garrick thought, it was just time to grow up.
“It’ll be fun,” Garrick said, “We always ran well here. It’ll be fun,” he repeated, almost reassuring himself that it would be.
“I hope you’re right. And that the powers that be will stay out of the way,”
Garrick scowled, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Rizik let out a deep breath and looked down. “So this wasn’t some friendly social call?”
“They’re saying this race will be rigged,”
“Rigged? By who…whom?” Garrick had no idea why he had corrected himself. Or if that was even a proper correction.
“The Empire,” Rizik said, his mandibles twitching.
Garrick scoffed, “Get serious, will ya?”
“That’s the rumor,”
“You can’t believe everything you hear,”
“Sometimes you don’t have to hear it. You see it. The body language of the other drivers, the race officials,”
“But the Empire? What do they care about the outcome of a pod race?”
“I don’t know, but it’s something,” Rizik walked slowly toward the pod and placed a claw on one of the engines. “Think about it. How much interest have they shown in this race before? Hardly any. And now they’re doing flyovers? Stormtroopers lurking around every corner? They’re up to something and it’s bugging me. No pun intended,”
“But where’s the proof?”
“Sometimes you don’t need proof when you have instinct. All I’m saying is you don’t know what could happen out there. Watch your back,”
Garrick thought for a moment. “Alright. You do the same,”
Rizik held out his claw. Garrick shook it. Man, this was weird.
“Come on, let’s go take some pictures.”
Back outside the pod hangar, the frenzy of activity was reaching its peak. Since the start of the race was fast approaching, reporters and photographers were getting whatever last minute news they could. Some of the fans had already retreated to their seats in the grandstand. But the sight of Garrick and Rizik walking together set off the remaining spectators. A flurry of reporters surrounded them. Questions were flying in every direction.
“How does it feel to be back on Tatooine?”
“I thought you two were rivals. What gives?”
“Any truth to the rumors this is your final race, Kaz?!”
Answers were tumbling from Garrick’s mouth; to which questions, he didn’t know. His mind was suddenly elsewhere. His focus had to shift to the race or else he wouldn’t be in the right state of mind. It would cost him on the track as well and maybe even cost him his life. He didn’t mind taking pictures and answering questions. But right now, he was in the cockpit of the Tioga. At least, until…he saw her.
Across the pit lane, next to the lanes of spectators who were heading out to the grandstand, was a woman. A beautiful woman with fiery red hair. And she was staring right at Garrick. The questions, the noise from the crowd faded away. It was just her. Garrick looked behind him, just to make sure her sight wasn’t fixated on someone else. From what he could tell, she wasn’t. His eyes turned back to her. As soon as they did, he thought a smile was cracking the corner of her mouth. He didn’t get to see it though, as a pale Twi’lek moved directly in front of Garrick, blocking his view. The Twi’lek had a goofy grin on his face, his teeth almost as yellow as his eyes. He was staring at Garrick, not blinking his eyes. Garrick craned his neck to see the redhead again, but he couldn’t see more than the top of her hair.
“Sahak korjin,” the Twi’lek muttered.
“Sahak korjin,” he repeated.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,”
He felt a tap on his shoulder. “He’s saying ‘avoid them’,” Kaz said
“Avoid who?” Garrick asked him. He turned to repeat the question to the Twi’lek but he was gone. As was the redhead. Garrick frowned. That Twi’lek must have been crazy.
“Move it! Out of the way!” a staticy voice said somewhere in the crowd. Some of the reporters gave way and a pair of Stormtroopers emerged, blaster rifles in hand. “Garrick Farrell?”
“You’re coming with us,”
Kaz gave him a look. Oh crap.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionNothing was said in the lift leading up to the luxury suites. A strange tension hung in the air. Garrick stood just behind the stormtroopers, their buckets staring straight forward. He opened his mouth to say something, you know, just to lighten the mood a little but thought better of it. He would just fall further into trouble. Wait a minute, was he in trouble? Garrick was pretty sure he hadn’t actually done anything wrong and yet he stood here, incredibly uncomfortable and confused. Maybe it was worth throwing a question out there, even if it meant a rifle butt in the stomach.
“So…Why am I here?”
“Quiet, citizen,” the trooper on the left said.
Garrick smiled and nudged the trooper on the right, “I’m glad the nice stormtrooper was on duty today,”
Both trooper’s helmets turned slightly toward Garrick, a sure sign of annoyance. The racer held his tongue for the remainder of the ride.
The lift reached the suite level of the main grandstand and the doors opend with a satisfying whoosh.
“This way,” one of the troopers said. They led Garrick around a tan colored corridor. The hallway was decorated with fancy looking art and sculptures, every few yards or so sat an exotic looking plant. Shiny servant droids carried trays of drinks and delicacies from the on-call kitchen to their respective suites. Many rich-looking folk, including more than a few in snappy Imperial uniforms, chatted with each other. Cool purified air poured in through filters while soft stringy music played in the background.
This place was awful.
They reached a suite with Imperial guard posted on both sides of the door. They postured up as soon as Garrick’s group approached them.
“Is the senator ready?” the left trooper asked.
“Yes sir,” the guard answered crisply. The suite’s door opened swiftly. Left and Right led Garrick inside. The suite’s sandy interior had been decorated rather well with as much glossy black as they could manage. Couches, vidscreens, rugs, even the art on the walls had been replaced by vapid images of Imperial ships and a gawdy oil painting of a scowling gray-haired white man. It didn’t have a name on it, but it could have been any aging Imperial officer, really…
Garrick was greeted by a gleaming silver protocol droid. “Hello sir. My name is A-2TY, human cyborg relations. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“I don’t think so…”
“We have a fine selection of wines and liquors, as well as a fully staffed kitchen that can prepare you whatever–“
“…Not a good idea to drink before a race…”
“–From anywhere in the Galaxy,”
From the adjoining room of the suite, a well dressed man in a tailored suit walked in, flashing a million credit grin. “That’s enough, TY. Give our guest room to breath at least,”
The droid piped down and moved out of the way. The man thrust his hand out to Garrick.
“Randyl Corra. Pleasure to meet you. I’m a big fan of yours,”
Corra? The senator? Garrick shook his hand, still trying to process this.
“Are you sure TY can’t get you anything?” Corra asked.
“An explanation would be nice,” Garrick said.
The ex-senator grinned and turned to his droid. “Get him something non-alcoholic,” The droid bowed slightly and scooted out of the suite. Randyl turned to Left and Right. "Will you excuse us?"
"Yes sir!" they said, offering a sharp salute before exiting right behind the droid. Garrick watched the door slide closed behind them.
"Have a seat, Mr. Farrell," Corra said, taking a seat of his own on a long stretch sofa. He laid his arms across the back, crossing his legs, like a king relaxing on his throne.
"If it's all the same, I'll stay where I am,"
"Well, how do you expect me to explain anything to you unless you take a seat? Relax! You're about to go out there and compete in a very dangerous race. More dangerous than dangling a piece of raw meat in front of a starving rancor. Take a load off!"
Garrick hesitated for a moment before finally conceding and sitting down on a small sofa across from Corra. He sank into the soft fabric. It actually was quite comfortable.
"I suppose you're wondering why I asked you here,"
"Asked? That's what you call sending armed stormtroopers after me?"
"Well we didn't know if you still had bounties on your head. You could have run,"
"And you would have killed me for it?"
"I assure you their weapons were set for stun. Garrick, I need to talk to you about the race,"
"There's really nothing to talk about. The only thing left to do is race,"
"See, that's where you're wrong. You have a very important decision to make before said race,"
Garrick frowned as A-2TY reentered the suite, a pair of glasses in hand. He handed one of them to Garrick. The other went to Randyl.
"There you are sir. Will there be anything else?"
"No thank you, TY. That will be all," The droid bowed and went into the adjoining room. Garrick looked into his glass, a thick dark red liquid swirled inside. Smoky sweetness filled his nostrils. He restrained the urge to drink it. Randyl took a long sip of the light brown drink in his hand. He took a long look at Garrick. "So, Mr. Farrell. How do you feel about your chances today?"
"Chances of what? Winning or living?"
Randyl smiled, "Let's assume the odds of both are about the same. Which would you rather succeed at?"
Garrick cocked his head, "Is that some kind of threat?"
"No, no! Not at all. Let me rephrase that. Would you rather contend for a win, and possibly bring the full force of a private army down on you? Or be given enough credits to live comfortably for an extended period of time to sacrifice your pride and finish outside the top four?"
Garrick shook his head, "You've got to be kidding me. You want me to throw the race?"
"Finishing fourth is nothing to be ashamed of," Randyl ignored the question. "You'll get a substancial amount of the purse as well as what we'll pay you,"
"It's not…in my nature to lose deliberately,"
"The same can be said for me. Luckily I have the funds to find the people that do,"
Garrick rubbed his face, bewildered. "I can't believe Kaz was right. Why are you even out here? The Empire doesn't have any interest in outlaw sports like this,"
"Well, normally you'd be right. This time around though, some of the Imperial higher-ups got a bug in their ear about a semi-legitimate way to raise funds quickly. At this point, we don't care where they come from as long as they do and no one blinks an eye. And what other event in the Galaxy would people be less surprised that it was fixed than the Boonta Eve Classic?" Randyl took another sip of his drink.
"There's no way this will work," Garrick said, "You can't get all the favorites to buy into this. We won't throw the race if we're favored to win."
"We don't need all of them to. The four racers with the lowest odds of winning very graciously accepted our help in modifying their pods, assuring they'll be running up front by the end of the race. We've bet on all of them, a Superfecta in fact. They'll finish in the order we've instructed them to, while making it look competitive of course. Their low odds plus the extreme difficulty of the Superfecta means upwards of a billion credits secretly being awarded to the Empire. And with it, my acsent to the upper echelon of Imperial advisors. It's a fantastic plan, really. I may even get to dine with the Grand Moff,"
"But better racers won't let this happen,"
"You'd be correct if we hadn't taken the proper precautions. You, along with all of the other favored racers have been informed of what's to happen. The ones who have decided to coopperate are in fact being paid. But if someone else, let's say you, decide to interfere with the outcome of the Superfecta, then no one gets paid. So if they have to, they'll take the proper steps to making sure that doesn't happen. You have to look at this with a level head, Mr. Farrell. There's really only one right decision,"
Garrick glared at the disgraced senator. So on one hand, he could be killed trying to stand up for what he believes in. Or he can be given a handful of credits in exchange for looking the other way and helping the Empire stockpile a huge amount of credits and possibly jumpstart their rebirth. That sounded about right.
"You'll give me time to think about it?" Garrick muttered, looking down.
"There's no need to think. You'll do the right thing," Randyl smiled, "You'll do the right thing for Olivia,"
That made Garrick look up. The ex-senator sat there in his expensive suit, flashing his pearly white teeth, drinking his fancy drink. This smarmy arrogant bastard. Garrick smiled back.
"You're right," he said, "There is nothing to think about,"
He set his untouched drink on the floor in front of him and stood up, making a beeline for the door and not looking back. Randyl Corra watched him storm out and sighed.
"TY? Can you come here a minute?"
From the adjoining room, his protocol droid appeared.
"How may I serve you sir?"
"Contact Oneisha. Let him know I've talked with the other racers. Farrell and Rizik appear to be the only ones who are going to be a problem. Tell him to do what's neccessary,"
The droid nodded and scooted to the comms terminal near the door. Randyl stood and walked to the panoramic windows looking down on the start-finish line.
"Lovely day for a race, isn't it TY?"
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionPre race party
Aria took the glass she was offered and gracefully maneuvered through the crowd. She wasn't sure how to let go of Captain Dunn's arm or if she should. She sipped her champagne as he moved them towards Governor Maison Rourke.
This type of socializing annoyed her. This was why she hated that young diplomats program on Chandrila and why she detested the Diplomatic Corp of the military. When they finally reached Governor Rourke, her cheeks hurt from the fake smile plastered on her face.
She would have distracted herself observing him but he wasn't interesting enough. He was a typical older man, who had been allowed the delusion of power. He wore that delusion well.
"Commander Byron Duval, Colonel Aria Drake, and Captain Traven Dunn."
The Governor's assistant announced them as they stepped forward. Hands were shook, Rourke kissed her hand and pleasantries were exchanged. Then the three men began talking about the race. Of course they're interested, they're pilots. Hoping the conversation would last long enough, Aria slipped into agent mode.
It wasn't exactly an interrogation room but this party would have to do. She moved away from them and spotted a waiter carrying a tray of champaign. She nodded at him and held up her glass. Luckily, he wasn't just a waiter. The Admiral had allowed her to place other ISB agents at the party. Since most of them had never been undercover before so it was a good experience for them.
"Did you find anything?" She asked, placing the empty glass on the tray.
"Everyone is clean so far." He answered.
She took another glass and walked back to where the Governor was standing, still talking to Byron and Traven.
"Ah, here she is." Governor Rourke offered Aria his arm. "We were just about to go down to the start line. None of us wanted to leave such a beautiful woman behind."
She groaned inwardly. Keeping her smile plastered on her face, she took his arm. "Lead the way Governor Rourke."
"Call me Maison."
She nodded but said nothing. As they descended down a long flight of stairs toward the track, Aria looked behind them. Captain Dunn and Commander Duval were following and behind them a few other guests, some of them her agents, had also followed. Maison, chatted the whole way down the stairs, Aria ignored him for the most part. She just simply nodded in a few spots in his conversation.
When they finally reached the track she released his arm. The pilots and their racers were really quite fascinating. Each pilot seemed to have a mechanic with them, tweaking and adjusting everything. It was amazing that these things actually flew.
They race in scraps of metal, perhaps we should be recruiting these pilots.
She'd lost sight of Commander Duval and Captain Dunn. As she decided to go look for them a familiar sound filled the arena. A squadron of TIE fighters had flown in. And they were very impressive. The arial acrobatics were nothing short of amazing. Aria felt a mixture of pride and jealousy as she watched.
Unfortunately she wasn't paying attention and as the TIEs left the arena, she turned around to walk back to the Governor's party, she ran right into Captain Dunn. Somehow his arm was around her waist, her hands on his chest.
"Oh…" She paused, blushing as her eyes met his. "I'm so sorry. I didn't see you there."
"Camouflage training, Carida first year. I was the best of the class."
"I'll have to remember that, Captain." She hid her confusion by giving him a smile. Slowly, she began to move away from him. Her hands slid down the lapels of his suit.
He said nothing else but didn't let her go right away, his hand lingered on her back. Her eyes were still locked on his and for just a moment, she felt as if they were the only two people on the planet. Then his hand slid off her back and she turned away from him.
What the hell just happened?
"We should be getting back up to my party." Maison's voice broke through her thoughts, he stood next to her, holding out his arm. She nodded and took his arm.
She took a few steps then turned her head to look behind her at Traven. To her surprise he was watching her. He smiled. She also noticed that Commander Duval was staring at her too. She blushed.
She turned to the Governor. "Governor Rourke…"
"Please, call me Maison."
"Maison." That fake smile returned. "Would you please excuse me?"
Aria removed her hand from his arm. "Of course, Colonel Drake."
"Please call me Aria."
His smile grew larger. "Of course Aria."
She turned and quickly made her way up the stairs to the party suite.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionFunny how quickly the temperature outside not only climbed once the surface of the planet came under the twin suns, but how it created a domino effect not only to the ship, but to Marina.
She actually awakened to the change in tempered air her ship’s support system was supplying her cabin with. The change from heating to cooling mode was quite noticeable enough to bring Marina out of her sleep.
She lay there a moment with closed eyes trying to reclaim that path she inadvertently took in her dream that triggered her to awaken. Remnants of her good dream was fading fast, much like mist under dawn’s early light. It could not be salvaged, no matter the effort. Even to only to hold fast to a few conscious moments following a continuum, was to no avail. It wasn’t the same as free dreaming. Fantasizing only worked for a moment or two before the original dream dissipated altogether and along with those felt emotions.
She let out a sigh and finally opened her eyes, before straightening up to look over to the crono. She hadn’t set it as it rarely ever needed to be. Marina was naturally an early riser, one set to an internal clock so to say. Somehow or other, no matter the system she happened to be in, dawn was always the trigger for her to awaken.
As she let go of the surrealism her imagination had tried to hold on to from a dream now lost, the day’s events started to tally.
The race. The payment of her cargo and to follow was the exit off of this desert world. But no exiting until she got her credits for the cargo. And most likely it meant sometimes late into Tatooine’s infernal day. That is, after all the race bets were settled and the credits then released by the Hutts, as it had been explained to her.
The water cascading down her features was the start of readying for the day…a very hot day.
This meant using not only UV protection but a moisturizing compound so as not to dry out like a raisin in the sun.
But that soon proved a little bit more difficult than she normally would encounter, as she normally and religiously always took care of her skin. It was not due to the lack of moisturizers, as there were plenty of different varieties right there in front of her, no.
“Shoot!” She uttered, going through them all. “Really?”
There wasn’t one in the bunch that she was looking for. Even checking her reserve in the ship’s stores, proved futile. Not one non-tropical scented moisturizer in the bunch. All her UV moisturizers were pretty much geared up for warm beach resorts on water worlds.
All were scented in one manner or another in a variety suited specially for sunning on the many tropical worlds… worlds with beaches or water oasis.
No denying she was an off-worlder…a way, way off-worlder here on dusty arid Tatooine.
“Oh, that’s just great…” Marina sighed, as she settled for one of the UV block moisturizers with something of a nutty sweet scent (like that of tropical coconut oil). No way was she going to step out under the twin suns of Tatooine without skin protection.
The hermetic doors of the Mariner-IV opened and the hot Tatooine air was the second thing to hit her. First was the brightness of the morning itself, prompting Marina to done on her dark eyewear, which she had at the ready. Yes, she was prepared as best she reasoned. After all, she had done her research on this dust bowl of a planet.
It didn’t take but a moment walking out of the space dock to take in the early morning hustle and bustle. Marina had put her ship down under Tatooine’s cover of darkness. What a big difference in the active population this morning as compared to last night’s. Marina had come to find herself in the middle of the marketplace. Looking down the avenue left, then right; it was strangely busy for early morning and getting fuller by the moment. Seemed the locals got out early in hitting up the marketplace. And good reason too, as she stood there observing her surroundings the ambient temp was steadily rising. It didn’t take long for Marina to also realize she had to either get moving or get bumped into, as standing in the mainstream of a busy marketplace wasn’t something anyone did…at least not on Tatooine.
Spotting one of the race posters nearby, she headed toward it. It was at least one place to head too instead of looking out of place just standing there, she figured…
“Huh?…say what?” She turned to the proprietor who was calling her attention. The poster was hanging on the side of his ware stand. He had picked up what appeared to be one of the earthen wares and gesturing for her to purchase it in a dialogue she had never heard of before.
Marina looked over it a moment, then the man.
“Huh?…what are you saying?” She asked, in basic.
The man broke into a smile and nodded happily.
“ Yu kore gurl.” He then answered.
At first, Marina didn’t pick up the slang, but he was also speaking now in best basic he could.
“Yu frum kore wold…. Yu lyke drik meed?” He kept offering the earth ware to her.
It took but a moment for her to realize what he must have been trying to say to her.
“M…meed?…” she then said, nosing closer to the jar like pot.
“Dis gud…yu lyke. Yu lyke..” he tried enticing her to take the ware.
“It’s, uhm… a pretty – pot.
I’m sure it’s made well. But I don’t understand what meed is.” Marina was now gesturing a sort of no-thank-you with her hands.
"Yu trai… sveet… yu drik…drik…” he persisted, as he made the motion that its contents were good to drink.
“He’s selling mead, Miss..” Came a voice from her side.
Marina turned for the voice was quite human. It was a man. One not at all sporting local attire. Another off-worlder like herself, she quickly surmised.
“Meade… honey wine?” She had to ask. Like, what was such a think even able to exist here, let alone be available on a desert world.
“Yes, it’s quite good really. Not at all concocted as some of the toxins pouring out of the local cantinas .” The stranger replied, as he walked around Marina presenting the merchant with what looked like local credits.
“Chimbu-ka” He said holding up 4 fingers.
The merchant happily took the credits and picked up another 3 jars from the stand giving them to the man. It most certainly looked like the man liked his mead.
“I’m curious…” Marina just had to know.
“How does honey… or mead come to exist in a world like this?”
The man broke out into an amusing laugh, maneuvering the 4 jars he was now committed to lug back to wherever. “This is Tatooine… anything that can be shipped, can be bought or sold here at a price.”
“Can’t argue that…
Say, could you tell me when it would be a good time to hit the stands? I’d hate to overcook out here waiting for the races.” She then said.
The man’s smile momentarily dulled as his eyes seemed to pick up something in the morning crowd. “You could tag awhile with me, I’m heading toward the pits.” He made a gesture as to why he bought the meade.
“You’re inviting me to come drink with you?…this time of the day?” She chuckled, shaking her head.
“No, Miss-….. “ The man cued for Marina to give him her name.
Cute, but Marina wasn’t about to fill in the blank; at least, not yet.
“I’m inviting you to a first hand viewing of the pod races, where the excitement first begins… the pit area.
“ The meade, by the way, is for the victory celebration, after we win the race.” He corrected her.
“You’re in the race then?” She replied with newfound interest, not quite picking up on what had distracted the man.
Yes, she would certainly be interested in being in the front lines, so to speak. The pits were just as exciting as the race itself. There, she knew all up to the minute engine statistics of the particular pod were live fed. She would be right there in the midst of excitement, instead of just another spectator in the crowded stands.
“Here…” he then offered her two of the jars. “…take these and follow me.”
“Excuse me?” Marina replied, as to what made this guy think she was just going to do or go with him.
“Look, just do yourself a favor; take hold of these two and look like you’re out here buying something.
Otherwise you just might get stopped and questioned as to what you’re doing out here wandering around…you especially, being a fresh faced and nicely scented off-worlder..” His eyes cued Marina to the small detachment making their way around the market. Imperial troopers.
The group were slowly making their way around, looking over both merchants and shoppers…stopping anyone that was a bit out of place. And Marina was certainly dressed out of place and certainly not one from the Outer Rim.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. Why wouldn’t I be here like a lot of other off-worlders for the races?” She reasoned with him.
“Ok, sure bet, you tell them that when they come around. That is, if you won’t mind missing the race altogether going through a long session of questions, should they decide to take some interest in you. “ He continued, still offering for her to take the jars.
“Look, just take these and at least walk away till out of their scope.
“I already went through that getting across the blockade. Why would they want to question me again?” She answered, but this time reaching to take the two jars from him. Somehow she had a feeling this man was right.
“Totchi…totchi..” He then thanked the merchant as he took to lead.
“The blockade is charged under the Imperial Navy. These ground troops are under the governing taskforce. Tatooine is under Marshall Law if you weren’t aware. Which should lead one to conclude that the only reason a pod race would be allowed by the Empire would be for the opportunity to question all off-worlders that support the New Republic.” He spoke as he casually walked away from where they had met.
“Really?…and what would give them the idea that I wasn’t a supporter of the Empire?” She too, spoke in a casual manner.
“Well, for starters…you did just avoid them…” he replied with a smuck, before he came to a stop. They were in the clear now and he motioned that he could take the jars again. But Marina held on to them.
“Right…" her eyes did a small roll. He caught her.
"So your offer still stands?” she then asked.
“The pod pits?…of course.” He replied, reveling a smile.
What was there to lose? She was out here to catch the pod races while waiting for the credits owed her to be cleared. It was either alone and out of her element in the stands, or closer to the excitement in the pit area….and away from curious Imperial troopers.
Oh, how her skin could crawl when they were around.
“Marina…” She accepted his invite with a smile, finally giving him her name.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWhile pod racing wasn't the most familiar subject to Byron, it beat the hell out of trying to make political small talk with Governor Rourke. And he got to observe Captain Dunn in a slightly less formal setting than a debriefing or a training session. Not that he wanted to make the man feel observed, but Agent Drake had forced that unwanted task on his shoulders, and Byron knew better than to cross the ISB. But if he could make it feel less like observing and more like the camaraderie they'd almost shared on board the shuttle, then so much the better.
His mind wandered briefly when he noticed Agent Drake step away from them and pick up a glass of champagne, half-wishing she'd pick one up for him, too. But, as they headed for the track, he found one himself anyway. Captain Dunn ignored the tray as it came by; Byron couldn't blame the man for avoiding alcohol at an event like this.
Any other thought in his mind disappeared when the distinctive noise of twin ion engines blasted overhead. Byron's head snapped upward, and an unabashed grin stole over his face as he watched none other than Onyx Squadron – what other squad would have four Interceptors and eight standard TIEs? – perform feats he'd never seen them practice. Well, not together. Some of the pilots had practiced certain moves in various simulations, but to his knowledge the entire squadron hadn't actually tried this before as a group.
Pride for his best friend's command surged through his chest.
Alas, the distraction was short-lived, and eventually Byron had to return to his assigned duties. He kept his shoulders straight and his expression relaxed as he responded to a comment on the vehicles and their pilots from a nearby guest. Out the corner of his eye he spotted Agent Drake step awkwardly away from Captain Dunn. He didn't see what had happened, but the atmosphere between those two had somehow changed.
Byron remained silent as he followed the captain, the ISB agent, and the governor back up the stairs. He could hear Governor Rourke and Agent Drake talking, though he couldn't make out the words, and he mentally prepared himself for more diplomatic chitchat.
It was easier than he'd expected. He was able to speak to the skills of his commanding officer as well as those of the TIE squadrons protecting these citizens simply by following up on a comment on Onyx's recent performance. And, when it was on the relatively friendly subject of piloting, Captain Dunn added his own feedback, though the man clearly knew how to work a room and didn't spend all his time in the same group as Byron.
Eventually, the commander realized it'd been some time since he last spotted Agent Drake. She was impossible to miss despite the number of guests in the suite; not only was she one of the very few women, but the governor had latched onto her, and she'd been conspicuously absent from his side.
I should look for her before he does. Byron gently excused himself from the conversation and, after another glance around, decided to head down the corridor leading to the 'freshers. It would be an easily-explained move if he didn't find the agent, and if he did…
He'd deal with that if he needed to.
Just past the 'fresher reserved for women, at the end of the hallway, Byron spotted Agent Drake. Her back facing him, she couldn't see the surprise on his face at seeing her in a corner, her shoulders slumped and slightly trembling. A second later he regained his own composure and cleared his throat to announce his presence. "Agent Drake?" The second question felt more dangerous, but he spoke it anyway. "Are you… all right?"
Agent Drake instantly assumed a more formal posture and turned to face him. Her eyes narrowed, and a hint of a sneer played on her lips. "I'm fine, Commander. How are you?"
Byron steeled himself for his response. Her hands are clenched. I wonder why. Rather than directly answer her question, he said, "I noticed you hadn't returned to the party. I wanted to find you before Governor Rourke noticed the same thing."
Her shoulders straightened further, but a heartbeat later, her expression… well, it didn't soften, yet it didn't feel as hostile as before, either. "I… yes. Thank you, Commander. I need a moment…" She paused slightly. "… to freshen up."
Some of Byron's surprise made it onto his face. She hasn't freshened up already? "Would you like me to wait for you so we return at the same time?" he replied aloud. I doubt she'll take me up on that, but it might keep some questions from being asked if we're in a conversation when we both get back to the party.
Agent Drake's hands clenched further. "No, thank you. You can go."
Surprised again, this time by her polite response – it was a far cry from her authoritarian attitude in her office the other day – Byron nodded. "Yes, ma'am," he acknowledged before he crisply spun on one heel and headed back to his duties. He heard the door to the 'fresher slide open and shut behind him, but no one was behind him when he glanced over his shoulder. Thankfully no one else had come in or out of the 'fresher during their brief conversation; he wasn't sure how he'd explain that to an onlooker.
Less than five standard minutes after he returned, Agent Drake reappeared in the party suite, fully composed and every centimeter the suave conversationalist she intended to be. He couldn't help but watch her for a moment as she spoke with a pair of men and laughed at something one of them said, picking up a fresh glass of champagne as a waiter walked past.
Her right palm had unmistakable traces of blood on it.
Is that why she had to freshen up? he wondered. But wouldn't she have taken care of that before coming back out here?
"I believe you said you were stationed on the same ship as that squadron that flew by earlier?" a man to whom Byron had been introduced but for the life of him couldn't remember his name – Glidak? something like that – noted, breaking the commander out of his thoughts.
Byron pulled out his most diplomatic smile. "That's correct." Though he was glad to explain to the man that the defense of this system was in capable hands, part of his mind couldn't help but wonder about the ISB agent's behavior earlier… and the incident that may have ignited it. He wouldn't get that out of his head until he heard the blaring horn that announced the imminent start of the pod race.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWith no sight of Colonel Drake or Commander Duval, Traven found himself a good place on the Governor’s loge, a huge balcony, shaded by awnings. But Traven was sure that there was some hidden technology to keep the temperatures bearable than just the simple canvas above them. The whole surrounding said ‘I am rich’ in a more subtle way than he would expected of someone like Rourke. Obviously the Governor just took over the accommodation from his precursor.
The servants handed out colourful drinks as well as datapads with information about the race. Traven took from both, switching on the pad. Reading the stats of the pod racers, he sipped from the harmless looking beverage. He coughed a little surprised by the percentage of potent alcohol.
“Never underestimate a Tatooine Sunburn.” A man next to him chuckled.
“I will remember that, Sir.” Traven managed a friendly smile, remembering his order to represent the Empire. The short man, who had addressed him, seemed to be one of the wealthy traders of this planet. At least his clothes looked like that. At his arm he led an attractive blonde, almost one head taller than him.
“Captain Dunn, I assume. I’m Aldor Sartori.” He introduced himself, offering a handshake to the Imperial. “The lovely lady’s name is Demaera.”
<i>Trophy wife.</i> Traven thought immediately. Then he noticed that she looked him over from head to toe, like deliberating if he would be the better choice than her momentary companion. <i>Gold digger.</i> Traven changed his opinion. Some things never changed. It didn’t matter how far you were away from more civilised places. Such persons, females and also males, always found their way into the high society events. Nevertheless he bowed politely to the woman.
Traven kept his friendly smile as Demaera grabbed his arm, placing herself between the trader and Traven.
“Will the gentlemen explain the rules of the race to me?” She asked, more directed towards Traven than to her primary escort. Traven tried to keep a proper distance to her, even when it was difficult with her surprisingly firm grip at his arm. For the first time he wished that Drake or Duval would come to his rescue. He started to wonder where they were.
“I am afraid that there are not much rules, but to reach the finish, Ma’am.” Traven answered politely.
“I like your accent.” She gave him a look, which made Traven feel very uncomfortable. Especially as he saw the darkened expression on the Sartori’s face.
Traven was almost relieved as he saw Drake entering the balcony as well. With a gentle, but certain move he freed his arm out of Demaera’s clasp.
“If you excuse me…” He said, not waiting for an answer as he strode towards the ISB agent. Before he reached her, the Governor appeared next her, out of nowhere. For the blink of a moment, Traven could tell that Aria wasn’t happy about her new admirer, before a trained smile played on her lips. He knew that expression too well from himself.
“There you are.” He said loud enough to draw her attention from Rourke to his own person. “I thought you would miss the race.” He took her arm with an implicitness that made the Governor frown. Traven just nodded at the other man, leading Aria towards a place at the balustrade.
“Thank you.” She said simply.
“You’re welcome.” He replied, back to professional he let her arm go again. “Maybe there will be some potential pilots among the racers. I have marked some names.” He held up his datapad. ”Depending on how they do the race, we should try to meet them later. Your friend, the Governor, should be able to introduce us to them.”
Aria scowled at him, about to correct his diction, but then she noticed that Rourke was following them.
“Yes, of course you can, can’t you, Maison?”
Smitten with her newly shown charm the Governor almost blushed. “Yes, of course.” He nodded, desperate to get her attention.
Traven’s own attention was diverted towards the starting race, even when he was very aware that Aria was standing a little too close to him still.
“There they go.”
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionWith nothing between them and the base save sky and sand, Jordan spared half of her attention from the return trip to sketch a bad weather simulation for her pilots the next day. She quickly decided to create two scenarios: one with multiple sand dunes and the other near a rocky, almost mountainous region. Onyx must be able to handle low visibility in both sets of conditions.
A moment later she added a third scenario: if the sandstorm occurred near the magnetic deposits. A loss of communication and sensor malfunctions would increase the difficulty but was not outside the realm of possibility.
Her comm crackled, interrupting her train of thought. "Ice, Onyx did damn well today. Since our exercises were interrupted anyway, I think they'd prefer to watch the pod race instead of staying on base for the rest of the day," Rardin suggested over their private frequency.
The captain blinked in surprise. "You believe the entire squadron should go?"
"No, not all of us. I just went over the data from today. Malast and Wardell have really improved in the short time they've been with us. Well, everyone is improving, but I think those two deserve something extra. Plus, you know as well as I do that Drake has shown excellent leadership in our absence, and he ought to be recognized for that."
While the proposition itself was unexpected, Jordan appreciated her XO's insight and his willingness to suggest his own ideas. "I agree that they should be rewarded. I will notify them."
"You should go, too, Captain."
Her shock at his words prompted an instinctive response to fly out of her mouth. "What? Why?"
"You deserve a reward as much as any of us, if not more."
She blinked again. "You're in the same category, Shepherd."
"I'll keep an eye on the rest of Onyx back at base. You know, find something else fun for us to do. If you went back, you'd just work."
He isn't wrong, she thought. "I'd like the three of them to relax. That may be more difficult in my presence."
"I bet they'll surprise you, Ice. Unless you don't want to go?"
Jordan bit back a sigh. Yes, she had work she could do back at base. Yes, part of her did not want to go. Yet her XO had effectively undermined her most reasonable arguments. While she could pull rank and order him to go instead, she did not want to belittle his efforts nor his support. "If you're wrong, you will be required to inspect all twelve of our fighters. In great detail."
Rardin laughed. "If I'm wrong, I'll do that and scrub the deck myself."
She had to smile. "I won't forget those words, Shepherd."
"I wouldn't want you to, Ice."
Jordan toggled her comm back to the squadron channel. "Listen up, Onyx. In light of their accomplishments over the past few weeks, Five, Ten, and Twelve will accompany me back to the race. If we are quick about it, we may return just as it begins." She leaned back slightly in her seat, an impressive feat given the confines of her cockpit. Now to see how they react.
An unmistakably feminine squeal sounded over the comm. "Awesome!" Officer Malast quickly added.
"Fresh gets all the time with the captain," Officer Gastrel grumbled good-naturedly.
"I really get to go, too?" Officer Wardell chimed in, his voice softer than usual.
"Guess it's up to you and me to babysit the kids, Captain," Lieutenant Drake teased.
"Pays to be youngest!" Officer Blevins threw in.
"Ah, why did I have to be a year older…" Officer Chansey sighed dramatically.
Jordan was too stunned to tell her pilots to cut the chatter. They seemed genuinely excited to be going or genuinely wishing they had been included. "The rest of you will be under Shepherd's command," she said, unconsciously slipping back to her XO's callsign. "I am certain he will find a suitable task while we are away."
Officer Zirak groaned. "The rest of us will be working?"
"Only if you call playing shockball work," Rardin chuckled.
Cheers greeted his statement. "Yeah! We need to show Sandbat what we've got!" Chansey declared.
Jordan smiled. "You can have fun after we have returned to base. Eyes forward, Onyx."
A chorus of "Yes, sir!" responded, and the squadron soon landed. Amid a whirlwind of postflight checks and rapid changing into civilian attire, Jordan and her chosen three pilots quickly found themselves on a shuttle on its way to the race. Since piloting of any kind could be used as a lesson, Jordan allowed them to push the craft harder than necessary, and Drake ("Tater") brought them back to the arena in record time.
Before they disembarked, Jordan had one thing to say to them. "Callsigns only unless we encounter other Imperial delegates here," she ordered, pushing away the thought of what she would do if she ran into an officer she knew. "You should behave casually."
Tater nodded. "Let's try not to stand out and just have fun."
Malast ("Fresh") looked concerned. "Can I at least call you Captain Ice?"
Jordan could not hold back a laugh. "Just Ice, Fresh. Please."
She stared at her captain for a moment before bobbing her head.
Jordan led them out of the shuttle and into the arena. They had remembered to bring their ID, of course, and were quickly admitted inside. However, Jordan declined the attendant's offer to escort them to the governor's suite, as, technically, they had not been invited to that party.
As they made their way through the crowd, Wardell ("Whitey") and Fresh were most apparently in awe of the sights around them: the people, the stalls of vendors hawking their wares, and the constant stream of talk about the upcoming competition. Jordan, ever cautious of nonhumans, tried to keep her wariness from manifesting on her face as her eyes darted around.
In order to remain a group, they had to make do with seats near the back. It made sense that such an event would draw a large crowd given the dearth of entertainment opportunities on this blasted planet. The four pilots remained close together as they climbed the steps into the bleachers. The two senior officers had each brought electrobinoculars, which they shared with the other two once they had found open seating. The youngest pilots chatted excitedly about the various craft that hovered near the starting line, eventually falling into a debate over whether the most ungainly-looking one would end up being the dark horse of the race.
As Whitey and Fresh jabbered on, Tater leaned toward his captain. "The governor's place sure looks removed from the rest of the arena, don't you think?"
Ice steeled her shoulders and glanced at the ornate skybox large enough to house at least fifty people comfortably. The lieutenant was not wrong. Despite the lack of barriers, the packed throng of sentient beings abruptly ended near the stairs along which multiple humans were posted. While they were dressed in either servant garb or attire fit for a casual evening among Imperial Center's upper class, their stances and their watchful eyes betrayed their true purpose. How will we win over the local populace with that kind of behavior? she wondered. "I have to agree, but I can't blame their tight security."
"Well, at least some of us are out here finding out what life as a local is like."
Jordan raised both eyebrows and was about to respond when a deep horn rang out over the arena.
"It's starting!" Whitey exclaimed, raising his electrobinoculars once more. Tater covertly passed the pair he had retrieved earlier back to Fresh. Though it would be better for the captain to directly observe the pod racer pilots herself, she and the lieutenant both decided they would rather watch the young pilots enjoy the day.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionAn ominous horn sounded overhead and Garrick exhaled warm air from his lungs. A gaggle of pit droids were scrambling to ready the remaining pods on the starting grid. Last week, the starting grid was posted by random draw. He remembered days when a racer could actually make qualifying runs to set the field, but sabotage and traps along the way was soon overwhelming, so the practice was done away with and random draws were established. The Tioga V hadn't posted very well, starting 15th out of 17 pods. Truthfully, Garrick didn't mind starting so far back. He could watch the rest of the pods, gauge the rest of the field. Pick his spots and make them count.
Garrick sat in his pod as it floated silently through pit lane, shoved along by the chirping pit droids. They bickered and hit each other, seemingly unable to decide who wanted to be the one to detach the pod in its proper grid position. He closed his eyes, his gloved hands squeezing the controls. The Death Mask sat in his lap, the skull painted on the front staring up at him. His mind was flooded with useless junk, invisible hands trying to sift through to find what was important. Credits, the ugly Twi'lek that blocked his view of that gorgeous redhead. The Empire. Deep breaths, calm. Deep…breaths. Soon only two things remained: Senator Corra’s deal and Olivia. Corra hadn’t been very subtle about rigging the race. Garrick doubted he was stupid, so it must have been arrogance. He hadn’t told Olivia about it. Who knew how she’d react? She’d probably freak out and disappear into the desert. Or take up with some lowlifes in Mos Eisley. Or worse. There was no point in worrying her with that. After Garrick won the race, which he fully intended on doing, he would tell her. Maybe.
The pod suddenly stopped and the droids’ harnesses popped off of the pod. Garrick opened his eyes and looked to his left. The droids scurried around, getting off the grid as quickly as they could. To Garrick’s right were the grandstands, and they were packed to the brim. Flags and banners waved in the hot desert wind. Fans, casual and hardcore alike, cheered as the horn sounded. The public address announcer welcomed the fans to the race, specifically welcoming several members of the Imperial persuasion.
“Garrick?” he heard Olivia’s voice. He pulled himself up and leaned over the side as she ran up to the Tioga. She was followed by an old friend.
“Ferris!” Garrick was surprised by the amount of joy in his voice. It had been far too long. He leapt over the side and landed on the dirt with a thud, embracing his friend, slapping him hard on the back. “How are you, old sport? When did you get in?”
Ferris returned the hearty hug. “Today. Long story.” He said, whistling at the Tioga. “Man oh man. Who did you kill to get this beautiful machine?”
“Long story.” Garrick said with a grin. “Actually it was a stupid bet that work out in our favor. For once. It was a pain to get the guy to actually pay up though.”
“I’m glad he did. Ol’ girl looks like she could lap the field.” Ferris said, running a hand along the sleek lines of the pod. The PA announcer was now introducing the field, starting with the pods in the rear. He was describing each of them with incredible enthusiasm, trying to build up every racer to be a potential winner. So it wasn’t long before they heard:
“Starting 15th! Hailing from Dantooine, making his triumphant return to Mos Espa! He’s one of only two humans to ever with this historic race! Piloting the Tioga V, everyone’s favorite pod-villain, Garrick…Farrell!”
The crowd roared in response. Garrick raised a hand, waving at the crowd, a more subdued take than what he usually did. Olivia waved both arms rapidly and jumped up and down. Ferris raised both arms and let out an emphatic “Wooo!”. The announcer introduced the rest of the field, instructing the pilots to their pods. Olivia held out her arms and Garrick hugged her, her arms wrapping around his neck. He lifted her and she hung there for a moment, a beautiful silent moment passing.
“I love you, Garrick.” She whispered in his ear.
“Love you too, kiddo.” He lowered her back to the ground and she stepped back.
“Don’t get dead.” Olivia said, her hands planting on her hips. Garrick saluted her.
***** ***** *****
“And now for the most famous words in podracing, please welcome former Galactic Senator Randyl Corra!”
Garrick’s stomach turned as he finished strapping himself in. He slid the Death Mask over his head and the panels snapped shut in front of his face. It was dark for a moment before the helmet powered up. He suddenly saw the inside of his pod with incredible clarity, everything varying pleasant shades of green with splashes of vibrant color. A transparent heads-up display popped up, loading a vast amount of information before his eyes. As his gaze wandered from pod to pod, a small window appeared displaying information specific to that pod. It disappeared as he turned his head.
“Garrick? You read me?” Olivia’s voice startled him.
“Loud and clear.”
“Is the Mask working okay?”
“So far so good. Can you give me my running position and lap time in the upper right hand corner?”
A moment passed. “Done.” Olivia said. The appropriate information layered onto the screen. “Anything else?”
He thought a moment. What was the other one he liked? Oh yeah. “Distance to the leader.”
“Length and time, I assume. Done.”
“Ferris?” Garrick said.
“Yeah, man. I’m here.” His friend’s voice was louder than he expected.
“You picked a good day to come back. Drinks on me after we win.”
“You say all the right things.” Ferris said. Garrick heard Olivia giggle.
“RACERS! START YOUR ENGINES!” Senator Corra said. Bastard, Garrick thought. He flipped switches on each side of the console and pushed corresponding buttons. The Tioga’s twin engines roared to life, the rest of the field joining simultaneously. Garrick felt his insides shake and couldn’t help but smile.
“Go get ‘em, baby! Woooo!” Olivia shouted. Garrick’s HUD showed the starting tree light up. Red…Red…Red…Red…The volume of the crowd increased with each light. Wait for the yellow…Wait for…There it is!
Garrick slammed the throttle as the yellow flashed, instantly turning to green.
And they’re off.
Re: The Tatooine RedemptionUninterested in the race, Aria turned her back to the spectacle. She was more interested in scrutinizing the party goers themselves. As her eyes scanned the group now in front of her she noticed a woman frowning at her. Aria gave the woman a smile as she placed her hand on Traven's arm and placed her lips to his ear.
"You have an admirer, Captain Dunn." She spoke softly, her actions looking extremely intimate to anyone watching. She moved away from him but kept her hand on his arm, ignoring how tense he suddenly looked. On her other side, Governor Rourke was speaking loudly about something….a crash? The start of the race? Aria certainly wasn't paying attention and she didn't think Traven was either.
She leaned into his ear again. "Yes," she paused for a moment. "She is standing in the group behind Rourke and glaring at me."
He sighed, relaxing for a moment then tensing up again. "It's not like I've encouraged her."
She smiled, giving the woman another glance, she leaned back into him. "I know. I'm not sure if I'm discouraging her or making you more of a challenge."
Traven looked up from the datapad in his hand, his eyes meeting Aria's then looked past her. "If it doesn't work, I'll be able to protect myself."
"I thought I'd help."
She glanced over her shoulder at Governor Rourke, who was frowning at her. When she turned back to Traven, she is surprised by his smile. Hmmm….he should smile more often. "I'm sure you're helping. But I guess I'm making you a challenge. If you need help…."
She removed her hand from his arm. "Thank you, Captain. I'm afraid I'm on my own in this case. Your involvement would bring you unnecessary attention."
Rourke was talking again, loudly behind her and it was getting on her nerves. She gave Traven a little nod as she walked away toward the bar. Her hands in tight fists at her side. He wouldn't have offered to help if he knew my reputation….She needed a drink or better yet, a distraction that would take her away from this horrible party.
Thankfully, the bar area was pretty empty since the race had started. Most of the party had moved toward the window of the private balcony. When they weren’t looking at datapads they were looking out the windows. Aria sat on an empty stool, unclenching her hands, placing them on the bar top and gave the bartender a sweet smile.
“Make that two.” A tall slender gentleman slid up next to her. Instead of sitting on the empty stool, he stood next to her, as if he is in command. “And put it on my tab.”
The bartender gave a curt nod, set two glasses down and poured their drinks. He smiled at Aria as he pushed the glasses toward her.
turned to the man at her side, with a wide smile. “Thank you. Not interested in the race like the rest of them?” She gestured to the crowd behind her.
He turned away from the bar, drink in hand and leaned his back against it. “Of course I am. But the real action doesn’t start until the last lap. I’m Randyl.” He extended his hand.
“Aria,” She placed her hand in his. “Then I guess I have something to look forward to.”
“I think we’ll all be pretty well entertained.” He sipped from his glass. “So, what do you do for the Empire? Administration?”
Oh cute, he thinks I'm dumb.
She laughed. “Colonel Aria Drake. ISB.” His demeanor changed as she answered, his smile diminished just slightly. But enough so she noticed.
“Colonel. My name is Randyl Corra. Senator if you’re feeling nostalgic.”
“Please call me Aria.” She tilted her head and almost added that she wasn’t on duty. “Senator? I’m afraid I don’t know the name. Still it’s a pleasure to meet you, Senator Corra.”
“It was a long time ago. Randyl please. So what brings you here? Most ISB agents I know don’t go anywhere strictly for pleasure.”
Aria brought the glass of whiskey to her lips and emptied the glass in one swallow. “Would you believe I was ordered here?”
His brow furrowed and he placed his empty glass on the bar. “Ordered? By who? Boyfriend?” He leaned forward, turning on his charm.
“No,” She smiled and shook her head. “No boyfriend.”
He nodded, contemplating something. “Something to do with him then?” He glanced toward the windows. “Mr. Dunn?”
Good. He noticed. I wonder who else noticed.
She studied him for a moment while playing with her empty glass. “What do you know about Captain Dunn?”
“We took part in the same social circles when we were growing up?” He signaled the bartender to refill her glass. “It’s been awhile since we’ve spoken but I’ve kept up with his career. He’s definitely impressive.” He placed his empty glass on the bar, next to hers.
“He’s the best captain the Imperial Navy has at the moment.” She smiled at him, making mental notes about the man next to her. Something about him…. Somehow having a conversation with Randyl about Traven didn’t seem right. Not knowing him well enough, she decided it would be best to change the subject. She wondered briefly if he noticed her discomfort.
“What are you doing in the outer rim?”
“I’m here for the race. I’ve been a fan for a while.”
“Really?” She raised her eyebrow. “Who is the favorite to win?”
“The sports books are pretty confident Oneisha is the pod to beat. I’m on the same belief.”
Aria noticed movement in the reflections on the glass bottles behind the bar. She turned her attention from Randyl to the door where they entered the Governor’s Box. Party guests were moving away from the door, which now seemed clear. Commander Duval was ushering a pretty girl towards the bar, instructing her to hide behind it. As he turned from the girl toward the door way, Aria noticed something strange about him.
As she watched him, she also noticed that there was a fight in front of the door. Correction, a mob fighting in front of the door. Aria motioned to two troopers to follow her and she left ex-Senator Randyl Corra at the bar.
The scene in front of her was total chaos. She couldn’t tell how many rows were involved or how many people but it was starting to spill over into the Governor’s Box. She ordered the Troopers inside the party to guard the door and she stepped out. Finding more Troopers, she ordered them to set their blasters on stun and they formed a perimeter.
“Keep them from spreading further. Lock up who you stun. I’ll question them later.”