Working Class Hero
Star Wars: The Bergeron Chronicles, Part 1
A fanfic by Sisiutil
I love Star Wars.
By which I mean the original film. That's what it was called when I went to see it for the first time, and for the dozen or so times after that, not Episode IV or anything else, yes I know I'm dating myself, shut up and give the old man a chance, kids. My point is that I have a deeply-felt, nearly life-long affection for the fictional universe that George Lucas created. Time and several increasingly-disappointing sequels and prequels have not diminished that. (Though The Empire Strikes Back was also pretty darned good.)
Oh, and while we're on the topic... Han shot first.
Despite my affection for the first two movies, I've hesitated about attempting to write any Star Wars fan fiction. Lucas' vision of his fictional universe--whatever criticisms I may have about what he chose to do with it--is incredibly rich and detailed. It has also been developed extensively outside of the movies, to the point where stories not only have to fit into the films' continuity, but that of the many novels, comics, and even video games in the "Expanded Universe" as well. All of which is pretty intimidating for someone with only a passing acquaintance with the EU. But I'm going to try it anyway.
I got the inspiration recently to tell the story about a relatively ordinary person in that universe. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, of course (my brother wanted to be Han Solo--you could probably write a psychology dissertation around that, but I digress). As I've gotten older, I find I identify more and more with the less remarkable characters (relatively speaking)--like, say, Wedge Antilles. Maybe that's part of growing up--or growing old(er). In any case, this story is the first of a trilogy that features original characters with only passing mentions/appearances of those from the main Star Wars story line. That's one way to reduce the likelihood of upsetting the purists and nit-pickers, I guess. I hope it doesn't lessen the appeal of the story. It happens some time after Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy. Yes, I'm being deliberately vague, there.
Lastly, my thanks go to everyone involved in the Wookiepedia for establishing and maintaining such an invaluable reference source. Any "factual" mistakes in the narrative are, of course, my own.
On later reflection, he would realize that it had all started because of her lips.
That was all it had taken. That was all he'd seen of her at first. No face, no eyes, certainly not her body, not beneath that dark amorphous robe that hung off her slender shoulders. No, all it had taken to pull him in was her lips. How pathetic was that?
He'd been sitting quietly at the bar in a dimly-lit place that wasn't even upscale enough to bear a name. It was one of several such establishments in Carnaxa, the primary spaceport city of Sessram Prime. Axel Bergeron wasn't much of a drinker, but he conducted business there, as did several other freighter pilots. Not that he wanted to, but for some strange reason that escaped him, seedy bars had become the standard environments in which to attract and conduct business in the outer rim systems. Which made Axel feel like he had just a little too much in common with the prostitutes of various species who plied their trade on the opposite side of the bar from where the freighter jockeys sat. Both collections of professionals nursed their drinks, waited for business, and utterly failed in their attempts not to look completely bored. Or desperate.
He hadn't even seen her at first. It was the strangest sensation--as if someone was watching him. No, as if someone was studying him, intently. He turned around and found himself looking at... well, he wasn't exactly sure at first. Between the dim light of the bar and the creature's clothing, he couldn't discern much. The other sentient--he had to assume it was indeed sentient--was standing a meter behind him. It was slender and stood half a head shorter than Axel did, so it was a little under average height if it was human. But that was hard to tell, because it was wearing a long, dark brown cloak with a hood over its head that obscured any identifying features, especially in the bar's meager light.
"Can I help you?" Axel asked.
The creature didn't move, didn't even speak for a moment. Then the head lifted a little, and Axel could just barely discern a slender, pointed chin; smooth, pale beige skin; and two lips--the lower one slightly thicker than the upper. Very pretty lips, Axel couldn't help thinking. Humanoid, definitely, and probably...
"You're a freighter pilot?" A female voice spoke through those enticing lips in unaccented Basic.
Axel smiled. Always smile for a potential customer, his dad had always told him, and if she was a human female, well, that just made it easier. Especially if she had very pretty lips. Which she decidedly did. Unconsciously, Axel ran a hand through his short black hair. He then ran his fingers over his lower face, verifying thankfully that he had, indeed, shaved that day. For a change.
"That's right," Axel confirmed. "I have my own ship. Freight or passengers, I take both."
"I'd like to hire you," the female said in an expressionless tone.
Axel nodded. "Okay. Let's go to a booth and talk privately," he suggested. She nodded her head in agreement, and Axel turned and tossed a few coins onto the bar to settle his bill. He then led his new potential client to an empty booth against the wall of the bar, several feet back from the entrance.
"I need..." the woman began to say when they were seated on opposite sides of the table from one another, but Axel held up his hand then reached inside the pocket of the dark suede jacket he wore. He pulled out a small cylinder-shaped device, about the size of a cigar, but with three squat metal legs at one end. He positioned the device on these legs in the middle of the table top, then pressed a button on top of the cylinder. The cylinder glowed in a soft blue hue and made a low humming noise.
"What is that?" the woman asked calmly from beneath her hood. Axel still couldn't see anything more than her chin and her lips.
"Privacy," he told her. "It's an aural disruption field generator. It'll jam any listening devices within the vicinity or pointed at us, and will also render our conversation inaudible to anyone outside the 1.5 meter aural cone it creates."
"Clever," the woman said in a flat tone that indicated she was appreciative, but not overly impressed.
"A professional necessity in these parts," Axel said with an apologetic smile and shrug, "even if you're not a smuggler."
Her head cocked a little beneath her dark hood, indicating a degree of surprise. "You're not?" she said.
"I'll choose not to take that as an insult," Axel said with an easy smile. "No, I'm not a smuggler. If that's what you're after, I can hook you up with almost any of my colleagues over at the bar. They'll do that kind of work, but they'll charge you more, and..."
"...and?" she prompted him.
"Well, I wouldn't want to cast aspersions upon my fellow freighter captains..."
"You didn't seem to feel that way a few minutes ago," she remarked. One corner of her mouth twitched upwards, just for a moment.
"Touché," Axel acknowledged. "To be blunt, they're... not all that trustworthy."
"And you are?" she asked in that same flat, expressionless tone of voice she'd been using with him all along.
"Bergeron and Son Shipping Limited has an unblemished record dating back to the days of the Old Republic," he told her proudly, his face suddenly serious. "I'm not about to sully that good name."
"I take it you're the son?" she asked.
"Actually, I'm the grandson," he told her. "And... now the sole proprietor." Axel's lips tightened a little. How long had it been now--five months? But the wound still felt fresh whenever someone happened to bump against it, however unintentionally they had done so. "But that's not the point. The point is, I run an honest business. I don't carry contraband, at least not willingly or knowingly. I won't turn around and demand more money in the middle of a job unless you actually want to change the terms in mid-flight. I don't dump cargo and I especially don't dump passengers."
Her head rose a fraction, as if surprised by that latter remark. "Do smugglers do that? Shove their passengers out an airlock?" she asked.
"Not often, but it's been known to happen," he told her quietly. "Usually not without cause..."
"But you don't do that."
"Never had the stomach for it," he told her. "But that's why I insist on my customers being just as honest with me as I am with them. I'll run away from pirates, but not from official inspection ships--doesn't matter whose they are, understand? If I get boarded, so be it. My take on it is, I've got nothing to hide; it's inconvenient, but it's part of the job. Now, if you need someone with... fewer scruples and a bigger appetite for risk, let's say, then I'd recommend you talk to Torve, or Muttz, or even old Webbe there..." Axel pointed to some of the other freighter pilots seated at the bar.
"No," she said suddenly. "I... think I'd prefer to hire you."
"Okay," he said. "Then let's talk about the job. Just keep in mind that I reserve the right of refusal until we come to a complete agreement about terms."
"Very well," she said. "I need to go to... a distant star system, pick up a passenger, and return with them to New Republic territory."
"Okay," Axel said a little impatiently, "I'm going to need more details than that. A lot more. What 'distant star system', for starters."
She hesitated, only for a moment, but enough to tell him that he probably wouldn't like her answer.
"B'Tel," she said. "I need to go to B'Tel Four."
Axel's dark brows rose, and he inhaled deeply. "B'Tel, huh?" he said in a noncommittal tone.
"Is that a problem?" she asked, though no anxiety crept into her voice. Whoever she was, Axel reflected, she was a cool customer.
"Not a problem so much as a complication," he replied.
"Do I really need to tell you?" he said, but his rhetorical remark was greeted by expectant silence. "Okay, fine, I'll tell you. The B'Tel system is in Imperial-controlled space. Granted it's right on the fringe now, and the Empire ain't what it used to be, but it's Imperial territory nonetheless. That means we probably will get boarded, and several times. On top of which, it's half-way across the freakin' galaxy, lady! Even going through hyper-space, we're going to eat up a lot of fuel getting there and back. And there'll be a fuel surcharge since it sounds like we're not coming back to the Sessram system on the return trip."
"No," she acknowledged. When she remained silent, he looked at her expectantly. "You said you not a smuggler. But I trust you're discreet?"
"The very soul of discretion," he said, "provided I'm getting paid enough. Now what's our ultimate destination?"
"Coruscant," she said quietly.
Axel's brows rose yet again. He hadn't been to the galactic capital planet since... well, never. On top of that, several hairs on the back of his neck were starting to rise. This mysterious woman wanted to go from New Republic space to Imperial territory and back again, and then straight to the capital of the still-not-entirely-stable New Republic government? It would have made even the greenest freighter jock suspicious, and Axel Bergeron, while younger than most of his compatriots, was no greenhorn. He'd been flying in the family freighter since the day he he'd been born right aboard the ship itself.
"Okay, what's the game here, lady?" he asked, his eyes narrowing. "You want to just casually hop, skip, and jump from here, into Imperial space, and then back to the capital?" he went on, tapping loudly on the tabletop with his forefinger as he listed off each destination. "Bull. I need to be filled in on what you're up to before I agree to take this job."
Even in the face of his growing agitation, she remained perfectly still. "How much will it cost you to do this with no questions asked?"
"A lot," he replied sharply. "I'm naturally inquisitive."
"Just tell me your price," she said calmly.
Axel exhaled, frowned, and pulled a small digipad out of his coat pocket. He powered it on, then began tapping figures into his pricing application. A few seconds later, he set it on the tabletop and pushed it towards her.
"Eight thousand," he said. "Not a credit less. With half up front."
For the first time since he'd met this mysterious woman a few minutes ago, her lips showed some evidence of emotion. They pressed together into a thin line, then her tongue darted out to lick them briefly.
"I can give you one thousand now," she said. When he rolled his eyes and exhaled a disgusted sigh, she spread her hands out upon the tabletop in front of her. "It's all I have on me. I can get you the rest when we get to Coruscant. Plus," she added as he leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms, "a one thousand credit bonus. And another five hundred if we leave within a half hour."
In spite of the growing size of the offer, perhaps even because of it, Axel maintained his reluctant posture across the table from her. He narrowed his eyes and cast that usually-effective piercing stare at where he imagined her eyes must be beneath that hood.
"Who are you working for?" he demanded.
She sat up a little straighter at the unexpected question. "What makes you think I'm working for anyone?"
"No one's that generous with their own money," he replied.
"I thought the price was for no questions asked," she responded.
"I don't like it," Axel said. "I told you, I'm not a smuggler, and I'm not some special agent, either. I'm just a guy with a ship who's trying to earn a living. I don't need trouble with the New Republic bean-counters, and I especially don't need it with those leftover psychopaths from the Empire. I think you better find yourself another hauler..." he said as he began to push himself up from the table.
"Please," she said as she reached out to clasp his arm with one hand while the other pushed back her hood. "I can't trust any of them. But I can trust you. I can sense it. Mr. Bergeron... you're my only hope."
Axel wished she hadn't done that. Really wished she hadn't, with all his heart. Why couldn't she have left the hood in place, and just remained a mysterious, cloaked figure with a nice pair of lips that he could have easily walked away from? But she hadn't, and now he was caught.
Because under the hood, she was beautiful. Radiant, even. She had long auburn hair, pulled back into a pony-tail so it tightly framed her oval-shaped face, with little wisps of her reddish-gold locks curled over her delicate ears. Two thin, auburn brows arched over her eyes, deep, dark brown eyes that looked at him beseechingly. Her nose was straight and fine and ever-so-slightly upturned at the end. All of which made those lips he'd first noticed look even more enticing, even more... well, kissable. She wore no makeup; she didn't need it. Her ivory skin glowed even in the bar's dim light, a healthy glow that told him she kept active and that the body hidden beneath that amorphous robe would be just as enticing as her face.
If only she'd been ugly; as terrible as it sounded, he would have walked away, and without a second thought. Even as he paused and felt the warmth of her hand where it delicately grasped his wrist, he could hear his late father's voice in his head, reminding him of his greatest weakness. He had several, he knew, but this one had no equal.
You're a hell of a pilot, Axel, his father had told him on several occasions, and a good businessman, but you're a damned sucker for a pretty face. It'll be the death of you one day, mark my words.
"Then I'll die a happy man," Axel muttered to himself as he sat back down.