Disclaimer: Everybody here belongs to George Lucas, Bioware, and/or Obsidian. For anybody who wants to know, this is threatening to turn into a series, so consider yourselves warned. :-)


Atton took a gulp of ale and tried not to grimace. It wasn't much of a drink, but this wasn't much of a cantina. Just a prefab hut, on a world too remote to even merit a name, with half its floor piled with crates and the other half given over to a makeshift bar and a few battered tables. An acrid wind whined around the building and through the chinks in the wall, stirring the sand tracked in by the miners and strays who worked this rock.

He was determined not to become one of them. But supplies were low, and here on the very fringes of the Rim there was no one to steal from, no one to con, and no one who'd hire a weedy Sith-turned-scoundrel-turned-pilot. He couldn't go much further forward, and damned if he was going back.

He'd tried to stay, as she had asked. He'd tried to keep to known space and learn the ways of the Force - but every time he touched the Force, he felt her. Nothing but faint images and sparks of emotion over a bond stretched thin by distance, but enough to know that she needed him. Even if it was only to watch her back, even if she was trying to be pigheadedly noble and stubborn and - and damn near suicidal - she needed him.

So he'd taken off to find her, leaving Nar Shaddaa behind in a small freighter with a handful of different ID codes and an engine much more powerful than its size would indicate. He was running low on fuel and food by now, but he'd take his chances with whatever he could find at this remote outpost. Most of the cantina's regulars knew he was looking for a job, and they might yet turn something up.

He heard the scuff of boots on the gritty floor a moment before a shadow fell across his table. Indeterminate age, short-clipped dark hair, and eyes that gave away nothing - but the intruder kept his hands carefully in sight, and waited for Atton's acknowledgment before sitting down at the table. Scoundrel's instincts and Force talents both agreed that this one posed no immediate threat, and Atton nodded to him and pushed the pitcher of ale across the table.

"Bartender says you're looking for work?" The other man poured himself a mugful of ale, but looked at it dubiously. Atton couldn't blame him.

"Looking, yeah. What do you need done?"

"Pilot, right?" At Atton's nod, he went on. "I need transport. Anywhere along the rim that's not here."

"What the hell for?" That slipped out before he could stop it. Nobody wanted tostay on the Rim.

He didn't miss a beat. "I'm an archaeologist."

"No, you're not." Not with that stance, not with the way his eyes kept flickering over the room. Too young to have fought in the Wars, but Atton would space his side deck if he weren't a soldier of some description. "But I can't say I care what your business is, as long as it doesn't involve me getting stabbed or shot or thrown in a force cage somewhere."

The other man shook his head. "Family business. My father lost something he needs out here, and I'm trying to find it for him. Look, just - just drop me off at the next port if you want; I'll still be better off than being stranded here."

"Good enough. What do you pay?"

"Aah..." For a moment, he looked much younger. "There's the problem. I got stuck here when my ship's drive burned out, and I used most of my credits trying to get it fixed. Didn't work."

"So you're broke."

"Poor as an Ithorian. But I can take it out in trade. I've got fuel, just nothing that'll burn it, and some gear I can give you. And I'm a good hand with blasters - I can watch your back until you get where you're going."

Atton looked him over carefully, and not with his eyes alone. He found the feel of secrets but no deceit, and a drive to prove himself - redeem himself - that was far too familiar. He didn't probe any deeper than he had to, but he already knew he couldn't leave his would-be passenger here to burn himself out trying to answer that need. "All right, you've got yourself a ride. Ready to lift when you are."

The younger man's face never changed, but his shoulders sagged just slightly in relief. "Can't be soon enough for me. Thanks for the trade." He stuck out a hand. "My name's Dustil."

"Atton Rand. Now, about those supplies..."