It was the darkest, grimiest, seediest cantina that Reika Antares had ever seen. The Fuselage catered to the scum and scum hunters of the galaxy. Reika couldn't stand The Fuselage, its patrons, or even its liquor, but she needed to hide in a crowd of people who were in more trouble than she was. There was a faint scuffle from across the room, and Reika listlessly watched a human point a blaster at a Sullstan. Few of the other customers bothered to look, jaded beyond anything Reika could imagine.
After the Sullstan threw some credits at the human and the situation defused, Reika returned to looking mournfully at her empty glass and feeling sorry for herself. She kept wondering what it would be like to live in the criminal underworld, if she would ever become as cynical as the bar patrons around her. Existing in this subculture, she decided, was going to take a lot more brandy.
Another glass later, Reika was considering trying to drink her sorrows away. Two wasn't enough to get her drunk, but it wasn't enough to make her forget what had happened. To forget that her copilot ran off with her cargo and most of her credits. To forget that she had been kicked out of Starfighter Command. To forget that her family wasn't speaking to her. But mostly, she wanted to forget that she now had warrants out for her arrest.
The warrants were recent acquisitions. The first warrant for her was released when her copilot, who she had trusted above all others, ran off with their cargo of astromech droids. She certainly couldn't deliver or pay for her cargo, and since she and her copilot had both signed for the delivery, she couldn't claim it was stolen. Left with no choice, the astromech company called the authorities. In a fit of panic and stupidity, Reika fled. Now, she realized that if she had turned herself in, the police would figure it out and bring her copilot to justice. Instead, she had resisted arrest, a crime itself.
Of course, being wanted by the police now meant that she had no way to pay off her ship loans without getting caught. So she defaulted on all of them, and refused to give them back her ship. Meaning, of course, that the ship company put out a warrant for her arrest as well.
Reika heaved a deep sigh and cradled her head in her hands. It had not been a good month. After a few minutes, Reika peered out from in between her fingers at the figure now sitting across from her. "What?"
"I heard you have a ship, girlie," rasped the reptilian alien. Reika put her hands in her lap and regarded the alien with narrowed eyes. He – or at least Reika assumed it was a he – wore a stained brown flightsuit over his green scales. His vertical red eyes seemed to glance about the cantina, and oddly, looking at everything but Reika.
As surreptitiously as possibly, Reika rested her hand on top of her holstered blaster. She wasn't expecting this, and wasn't sure how to react. "So what if I do?" she asked, trying to look and sound as cocky as possible, in hopes that he would underestimate her. She very much doubted he could overestimate her.
The alien finally looked at Reika. "I've heard that you're a reliable pilot. And I need reliable pilots."
Reika repressed a snort. Not reliable lately, she thought. "You've heard a lot of things about me."
"I hear a lot of things about a lot of people. It's part of my job." A feral grin spread across the alien's face, revealing rows of fangs. "Now, the other part is getting people like you to work for people like me."
Reika raised an eyebrow. "You want me to work for you?"
The alien's grin faded. "I didn't come here for a chat, I came to offer you a job."
Reika might not know what the job was, but she knew what it wasn't. Legal. She kept her face as overconfident as she could as her brain warred with itself. Her family had drilled into her a hated for criminals. Smugglers, thieves, even simple vandals were always reprehensible. She could even hear her father's voice in her head, saying "No matter what their situation, there's always a moral way out." As her parents were top ranking police on the Coruscant force, she would've expected nothing else.
But they'd always seem to miss shades of gray. Once, in a fit of curiosity and sheer stupidity, she'd asked her parents what they thought of the Rebellion, since fighting the Empire was against the law. The resulting punishment taught her never to question her parents. That was when she realized for the first time that her parents might be wrong about something.
Were they wrong this time? The moral thing to do, Reika supposed, was turn herself into the police, and immediately after that, have the remainder of her savings taken away and thrown into jail. When she'd get out, she'd be worse off than she was now, possibly having to steal to survive. So the question simplified itself down to being immoral now, or being immoral later.
"What's the job?"
Reika had to constantly remind herself not to look at her left foot. She had stuffed the 3,000 credits the alien had given her in her boot, and if she kept looking at it she feared that she might tip off a thief. The money would go a long way towards food, and a good thing too, because her stores were alarmingly low. The 5,000 credits she would receive upon her arrival on Chandrilla would be put aside for ship repairs. Reika's Fatamorgana may have been her pride and joy, but it was an older model and had seen much better days – namely, the Rebellion.
Reika keyed in the code to her hangar, and walked in towards her beloved ship. It was supposedly from the Kaut Drive Yards, but Reika bet her ship had more humble origins. The Fatamorgana was long and angular, with mismatched parts sticking out awkwardly and other peices, like gun turrets, and an escape pod, missing entirely. Once, it had been painted black with red stripes, but the paint job had long since worn off, and only a few patches remained. Near the missing gun turrets was a semicircular splotch of red; Reika liked to pretend it was once the symbol of the Rebel Alliance.
A double click came from her personal comlink before she was even halway up the boarding ramp. That was the signal that Greenie, the alien she'd talked to in the cantina, was waiting outside with her cargo. She opened the bay doors and sure enough, Greenie was standing there, along with a Wookiee, a human, and two full hoverpallets.
"Nice to see you again, girlie," said Greenie with his fanged smile.
Arrogant and cocky, Reika thought as she tried to act it. Arrogant and cocky. "Don't call me girlie."
The Wookiee growled a warning at Reika. Greenie waved his webbed hands towards the Wookiee as Reika recoiled. "Don't worry about Churr there. He's my bodyguard. He gets a little…overprotective of me. Now, to business."
"Business," agreed Reika, keeping one eye on Churr and his human counterpart. Churr was well over two-and-a-half meters tall, with mottled black fur, and almost every inch of him was covered in bandoleers of weaponry and ammunition. The human next to him was tiny by comparison, and much less dangerous looking. His clothes were common spacer clothes, and he had no weapons – at least none that Reika could see. A beaten-up cap, pulled low over his face, did nothing to alleviate the glare he was giving Reika. He unsettled her more than Churr.
Arrogant and cocky. Arrogant and cocky. Reika walked over to the Fatamorgana's cargo doors as casually as she could, considering that the human's gaze was boring into the back of her neck. She punched in the correct code and the cargo doors squawked open. Reika involuntarily winced before she turned back around. Her ship was not making the best impression. "Is that the only cargo you've got for me?"
Churr roared something, and a faint quirk appeared on the human's face, then the pair disappeared into the cargo hold with the hoverpallets. "Churr, be polite to the girl. She is, after all, our employee," said Greenie. His smile got bigger, which meant he was showing even more fangs.
Reika wished he'd stop smiling. "So it's just here to Chandrilla, and one of your people will be waiting for me in the Slimy Hutt cantina, right?"
Greenie did his best impression of human forgetfulness and said, "There's one thing that I forgot to mention."
Reika was dumbstruck. "You forgot?"
"Old age, I guess." Greenie made an expansive gesture. Churr whuffed something and the human snorted.
Reika wasn't buying it one bit. Don't be thrown. Arrogant and cocky. "And what exactly did you forget?"
"My manners. I have yet to introduce you to your new copilot," said Greenie, still smiling. "Come here, Kamen."
At the word "copilot", every muscle in Reika's body tensed up. "I don't need a copilot," said Reika, as icily as possible. "I work alone."
Greenie's smile turned threatening. "No one in my organization works alone," he said. "No one."
"I don't want this anymore than you do," said Kamen, scowling as he came out of the cargo hold.
It was a fight for Reika to keep from shaking and crying. All the pain from the betrayal of her last copilot was boiling to the surface. "You have no idea," she said as she turned to Greenie. "Any more suprises?" she asked, through gritted teeth.
"Just get there on time." Greenie looked at Churr and said, "We're going."
Reika watched as Greenie and the Wookiee walked out the hangar bay, then went up to close the cargo doors. She had to unclench her fist to do so, and noticed that her nails had left imprints on her palm. As soon as the doors shut, her fists clenched again and she spun on her heel to yell at Kam. "Get on the ship."
There's always a catch, she thought as she watched Kamen climb the boarding ramp. Always.