For the annual wraithsquadron ficathon on LiveJournal. Written for age.
Get Me to the Job on Time
"I think we should have turned left back there," Ton Phanan said. This mission had barely begun, and already it was a disaster.
Face Loran stopped walking and looked up at the sky, just visible between the tops of the buildings rising up on either side of them. "We're fine," he said.
"We haven't seen a restaurant, bar, or shop for a dozen blocks. This is not the commercial district."
"It's just on the other side of these warehouses. I'm sure of it."
"Forgive me," Ton said, "if that doesn't inspire the sort of confidence one likes to have in these situations." A roar drowned out the end of his sentence, the sound of a cargo ship taking off. Ton's surge of triumph did nothing to improve his mood. "We seem to have discovered the industrial landing field."
Face glared at the sky. "Ah. Lost, then."
They turned and retraced their steps, stomping along as quickly as they could without looking too conspicuous, though Ton wasn't sure why they bothered. They hadn't seen another person for half an hour.
After a landing assignment mix-up at the spaceport and a complete lack of rental speeders due to some interstellar festival, Ton and Face were already an hour late for their rendezvous with the two Rogue pilots. Commander Antilles had loaned them out for a quick mission, but if they couldn't find the hotel bar where they were supposed to meet Lieutenants Forge and Ynr, the whole thing would be out the airlock.
They moved back through the shady industrial sector they'd wandered into, and Ton scanned each alley opening they passed. He and Face didn't look as forbidding as he'd like, and he'd been waiting for someone to jump them since they'd left the populated area of the spaceport. Hopefully, as a pair of battered pirates who'd seen better times, they looked poor as well as harmless, and thus not worth the effort. Face had put a generous amount of gray into his hair and adopted a limp to go with his scar. Ton already looked battered. All he'd done was let his beard grow.
A boy—he couldn't have been more than nine or ten—stepped out of an alley and eyed them. His gaze landed on Ton's faceplate and stayed there.
"You lost, pops?" he asked.
Ton said no just as Face said yes. The former actor was instantly in character, his voice scratchy and rough, as though the act of speaking might tear his throat apart. In a deep Corellian drawl, he said, "Five credits if you can get us to the Golden Nebula Hotel."
The boy shuffled his feet and seemed to look everywhere at once. "That's a ways from here. Ten credits."
Face gave his darkest glare. "Eight. Let's go."
The boy straightened his shoulders. "Half now. You might try'n stiff me later."
Before Face could argue some more, Ton reached into a vest pocket and pulled out a coin, which he tossed to the kid. It disappeared instantly into the boy's clothing, and he turned and trotted off. Ton and Face followed.
"I know a shortcut," the boy said over his shoulder. "Are you in a hurry?"
Face grunted and looked at Ton, who shook his head. Shortcuts were never good. Face tilted his head, shrugged. Ton shook his head again, harder.
"What kind of shortcut?" Face asked.
Ton closed his eye.
"This way." The boy dodged down an alley. "This goes to Hruth, which we can take to Guirfen. I know a way to dodge 'round the market through the park, and from there it's but a short ways to Rolei Square and the Golden Nebula."
Ton hadn't understood half the boy's speech, but the parts he did understand, he didn't like. "Is all that really necessary?"
"Yes." The boy doggedly continued down the alley.
Ton glared at Face, who glared back, and stomped after the boy.
The alley emptied onto a crowded, narrow passage that wound through a row of private hangars. The roar of ship engines was nearly constant now, and Ton assumed the industrial spaceport was just over the clump of buildings. People, human and non, pushed past them, moving from one hangar to another or angling for one of the small food carts that had set up business in what small space they could claim. The crowd should have made him feel better, but Ton couldn't relax.
A woman with dark hair passed them, walking quickly and determinedly, as though she were late for something. Ton could sympathize. She gave them a sideways glance as she passed, her eyes sliding from Face to Ton's prosthetic to the boy leading them. She turned away, took two more steps, then slowed until she walked next to the boy.
"Where are you headed, Rafe?" she asked, her voice conversational.
The boy—Rafe, apparently—squinted up at the woman from the corner of his eye. "Nowhere," he said defensively.
The woman waited.
Rafe stopped walking and turned to face her, his hands on his hips. He gave off an impressive air of righteous indignation for someone just over a meter tall. "These guys was lost, weren't they? And wandering into the black district. So I thought, I'll do a good deed, I will, and ask if I can be their guide so's they don't get themselves mugged or killed or worse. Straight up deal – eight credits if I can take 'em to the Golden Nebula, quick-like. Go on – ask 'em."
The woman smiled, then shot out a hand and grabbed Rafe by the arm. He struggled, but she held on.
"Do both you gentlemen still have your wallets?" she asked mildly, her eyes on the boy. He kicked at her shins, but she must have been wearing tall boots, because she didn't flinch. When he tried to bite her, she twisted her hand—and his arm—out of his reach.
"I never!" he cried.
"You always," she countered. "Well?" She glanced at Ton.
He checked his pocket and nodded. Face said, "We're good."
The woman let Rafe go, and he leapt backward, glaring at all three of them. "I didn't do nothing."
"Yet." The woman pushed her hair from her face and asked, "Were you taking one of your shortcuts? Because the Golden Nebula is that way." She pointed ninety degrees away from the direction they'd been heading. Ton shot Face a look, which the other man ignored.
"I'd have got 'em there," Rafe said sullenly.
The woman smiled and shook her head. "Find some new marks. I'm declaring these two off-limits."
Rafe made a horrid face and scampered off, disappearing into the crowd.
"I take it we owe you a sizable amount of gratitude," Ton said.
The woman smirked. There was a mischief in her eyes, like she knew something they didn't. "That depends on how fond of your money and ID cards you are. Rafe's the youngest scam artist on this rock. With some practice, he might even be good some day."
"Ouch." Ton glanced at Face, who grumbled the way cranky Corellian pirates grumbled. "You just wounded my pride."
"Not the first time, I'm sure." She smiled and stuck out a hand. "I'm Mirax."
Ton took her hand, but before he could introduce his pirate identity, a sharp whistle echoed down the hangar row. The other people filling the alley scattered, breaking into runs. All the amusement left Mirax's face.
"Sithspit," she said.
"What's that?" Face asked.
"Alarm. Imps are coming. Surprise cargo inspection." She signaled for them to follow her and jogged toward a hangar a few dozen yards down the row. "How good are your IDs?" she asked as she entered a code into the hangar door's keypad.
"What do you mean?" Face grunted indignantly. "They're valid. They're—"
Mirax gave him a look.
"—good enough," he finished.
"We'll see about that. In with you."
Face pushed past her, into the hanger, and Ton followed. A Baudo-class yacht took up most of the interior, its smooth, flowing lines reminding Ton of some sort of sea creature. Mirax held up a hand, stopping them, and pulled a comlink from her jacket pocket.
"It's me," she said.
"I can see that," a voice boomed out of the comlink. Ton jumped. "Who're the other two? I thought I told you to stop bringing home strays."
Mirax grinned at the yacht's cockpit. "It's all right. They're some of Wedge's boys. Open the hatch already."
Ton gaped at her, too shocked to worry about his Sabacc face. He heard the whoosh of the hatch's air seal breaking, then the grind of gears as it lowered to the floor.
"What're you on about?" Face growled. "We ain't nobody's boys."
Mirax shoved them toward the ship. "Yes, of course. You're very good. Just get onboard, please?"
They obeyed, at a loss for what else to do, and once the hatch had closed behind them, Mirax held out a hand.
"IDs. Let's see 'em."
"Why?" Ton had recovered enough to be suspicious.
"The New Republic does a decent job of papers most of the time, but this is a smuggling highway. The Imps here know what to look for. Let me see 'em."
"How do you know who we are?" Face asked, dropping the voice and straightening a few centimeters. He pulled his ID cards from an inner pocket and handed them over. Ton did the same.
While she examined their IDs, Mirax said, "I bumped into Inyri and Rhysati last night, had a few drinks. They didn't tell me much, but I gathered they were meeting a couple other pilots for some mission or other." She waved a hand dismissively and handed back their IDs. "These won't work. You'll have to hide until the inspection's over."
Ton took his card back automatically and asked, "But how did you know it was us?"
Mirax tapped the side of her face. "A bit conspicuous, but it works for the part."
Ton swallowed his bitterness. Of course, he was the weak link in this mission.
"You know Commander Antilles?" Face asked. "And the Rogues?"
Mirax shrugged. "Sure. Wedge and I grew up together. I help him and his squadron out from time to time. Like I'm going to help you now. This way."
She turned and led them into the ship. Face was several steps ahead of him before Ton remembered to move. Mirax stopped in the middle of a passageway and faced the featureless wall. She touched it in three indistinguishable places, and a panel slid open.
"You're a smuggler," Ton said, though he shouldn't have been surprised.
"Yep. Where do you think Wedge learned all his best tricks? You—" She pointed at Face. "—in here."
Face eyed the narrow compartment. "Will I fit?"
He sighed and squeezed inside.
"Your air should be good for a few hours." Mirax pushed a spot on the wall and the door slid closed.
Just before it shut, Ton heard Face yelp, "Hours?"
"I'll have to put you in with Booster," Mirax said, once more striding down the corridor. Ton kept pace behind her. "I think he'll like you, which is good, because it's going to be cramped."
"Marvelous." Ton followed her into the cockpit, stopping just inside the door as his eyes fell on the largest human he'd ever seen. The giant straightened from the console and turned to glower down at Mirax, who suddenly seemed even smaller. Ton wasn't sure how he fit through the ship's doors, much less down the narrow hallways.
But even more striking than his size was the metal that covered the upper left side of his face. A prosthetic eye glowed angrily as the giant studied Ton, who wasn't sure if this made him feel better or worse about his own mechanical eye.
"Time to hide," Mirax said brightly.
The large man glared at Ton. "Where's the other one?" he asked in the same booming voice Ton had heard over Mirax's comlink.
"In the hall. This is—" She turned and looked at Ton, eyebrows raised.
Mirax nodded. "Phanan, this is Booster."
Booster grunted. Then, in what Ton assumed was a gesture of acceptance, he took his gaze off the pilot and looked at the cockpit's ceiling, glaring at it instead. "A man shouldn't have to hide on his own ship."
Booster's expression seemed to soften, the kind of flicker one could only see through peripheral vision. Looking directly at it caused it to disappear altogether. "Fine. Your ship. But the principle still stands."
Mirax rolled her eyes. "I know, Dad, but you're a walking bounty advertisement. Get up there, and take Phanan with you."
Booster glared at his daughter. Ton wondered if he did anything else. Mirax glared back, and after a few seconds during which Ton tried to be inconspicuous, Booster gave in. Grumbling to himself - somehow managing to be loud and incomprehensible at the same time - he reached toward the ceiling. He opened a panel and then pulled himself into the compartment in a surprisingly lithe movement. Ton looked questioningly at Mirax.
She grinned. "Sorry. It's the best I can do."
"I'm starting to rethink all this gratitude we owe you."
She laughed, and Ton stepped onto the pilot's chair and hoisted himself into the small, dark space. His forehead smacked into Booster's shins.
"Other way," the big man said.
Ton twisted and pushed himself the other direction, finding just enough room to curl on his side, his back against a bulkhead. He managed to pull his legs up after him, and the panel closed, leaving him in the dark with a cranky stranger twice his size. The only light in the small space was that made by their two mechanical eyes.
"How'd you get yours?" Booster asked in what would pass for a whisper if you were a Wookiee.
"Endor." Ton hesitated. "You?"
They didn't speak again. Ton didn't dare move, and until the panel opened a while later, the only sound was their breathing. He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but his back and right leg were stiff, so he figured it had been enough. He wriggled out of the hole in the ceiling, dropping to the floor of the cockpit with what he hoped was a sufficient amount of grace, and moved quickly out of the way so Booster could make his exit.
Mirax grinned at him. Face stood behind her, looking amused. Ton tilted his head, stretching his neck, and turned to watch Booster lower himself from the ceiling, his boots hitting the deck with enough force for Ton to feel the vibrations in his knees. Face's eyes widened.
"Oh. The other one," Booster said.
Face cleared his throat. "I'm—"
Booster turned to Ton. "You ever get an itch? Right here?" He placed a massive fingertip at what would have been the corner of his eye.
"All the time," Ton said. "Aggravating as hell."
Booster nodded. "Doesn't go away, either. Twenty years now, and it still itches. Blasted unfair, if you ask me. You kids need a ride somewhere?"
"Yes, actually." Ton glanced at Face. "That'd be great. Thank you."
"Mirax'll take you and the other one wherever you need to go."
"We've got a speeder outside," Mirax added. "The Imperials should be gone by now, so we can leave as soon as you're ready."
"Thank you both." Face looked from Mirax to Booster, his sincere face on. "This day would have been even more of a disaster without you."
Mirax leaned against a bulkhead. "I'm sure."
Booster extended a huge hand toward Ton, who took it and tried not to wince. "Tell Wedge I said hi. And good luck with whatever you're up to."
"Thanks, Booster. I'll see you around."
Booster smiled. "I'm hard to miss."
Ton grinned back. "I know the feeling."
Face took a step forward and stuck out his head. "Thanks again, sir. You've got a great ship. Very handy."
Booster looked at Loran's hand and then at his face. "My other ship is a Star Destroyer."
Face didn't have a response to that. Ton smiled. He was going to miss Booster.
"Let's go," Mirax said. Face followed her out the cockpit, and Ton tossed Booster half a salute before stepping through the door.
Mirax's speeder was a small, sleek model that zipped through what little traffic this side of the city had. Ton assumed everyone was on the other side of town at the festival. Mirax pulled up in front of the Golden Nebula in under twenty minutes, and Ton blinked at its flashing sign. He'd forgotten they still had a mission to pull off yet today.
"Thank you," he said after he'd climbed out of the speeder.
Mirax inclined her head and grinned. "Anything to give Wedge a hand." She paused, and her smiled widened. "I knew he'd like you."
Ton smiled back, and Mirax waved and pulled the speeder into traffic.
"Okay, that Booster guy?" Face said. "He could be you on three lifetimes of muscle enhancers."
Ton snorted. "You're just upset he didn't succumb to your charm, 'other one.'"
Face donned an expression of mock affront, made more ridiculous by his makeup. "Why did he like you so much, anyway?"
"We shared a smuggling hideaway and bonded over the tragedy of having bits of ourselves replaced by machinery. It was an emotional time. I feel very close to him now. If I ever get married, I think I'll ask him to be my best man."
"I can see the holos now."
"Not quite the word I'd choose, but a good try."
They entered the Golden Nebula Hotel and made their way to the bar off the lobby. At this time in the afternoon, it was nearly empty, and a quick glance showed that Lieutenants Forge and Ynr weren't there.
"I guess three hours late is not, in fact, better than never," Ton said. "Now what?"
"We wait and hope they come back. I'll buy the first drink, and you can buy the next four."
"You got us lost. You buy."
"I was hoping you'd forgotten that."
"Not for many, many years. I can't wait to tell the rest of the Wraiths."
Face groaned, and they picked a table in the corner from where they could see the bar's entrance. The hotel—and thus the bar—was seedy and rundown, though hints still remained of its former, garish glory as a tourist hotspot. The bar had a single bartender who, when asked about a food menu, stared blankly back at Ton as though she'd never heard of food. They settled for glasses of lomin ale and worked their way through three bowls of nuts.
And they waited.
Three hours passed, then four. The two customers who'd been at the bar when Face and Ton first arrived left, replaced by three new ones. A man entered and sat in the opposite corner, sullenly nursing a bottle of whiskey. A shifty-looking couple came in, had one drink, and left.
Ton and Face ate more nuts, drank another ale. Another hour passed.
Two women entered the bar, one blond, one brunette. The brunette scanned the bar's dim interior, her gaze landing on Ton. She moved toward them, the blond following, and dropped into one of the empty chairs at their table.
"About time you two showed up," she said, smirking.
"We were slightly…detoured," Face said. "Sorry about that. What's the job?"
"After the day we've had, we're very ready to blow things up or otherwise cause trouble," Ton added. "It'd make me feel a lot better."
"The job's done," the blond said. "We got tired of waiting for you and took care of it ourselves."
"Wait—we missed it?" Face sat back in his chair and frowned. "That's just perfect."
"It makes a great story though," the brunette said, not even trying to be sympathetic. "Wedge is going to love it."
Ton and Face exchanged looks of dread.
"Can you get kicked off your squadron for missing a mission completely?" Ton asked.
"Probably. Let us know, all right?" The brunette stood, and the blond followed suit. "We've got a ship to catch. You two keep doing whatever it is you do. I'm sure you're very good at it."
Laughing, they left the bar.
"So," Ton said after a long moment of silence. "Do we kill ourselves now or wait for the humiliation to do it for us once we get back to base?"
"I vote now. Much less painful."
They ordered another round of drinks.
"Which do you think was which?" Face asked. "We didn't get around to introductions."
Ton thought about it a moment. The ale was starting to get to him. Being twenty percent mechanical meant there was less of him to get drunk. "I have no idea. But I've decided, for my own mental ease, that the blond was Forge and the brunette Ynr."
"Twenty credits it's the other way around."
They clicked their glasses together and drained their drinks. Ton frowned at the foamy dregs clinging to the bottom of the glass. "We should have asked what the mission was. We were supposed to find out when we got here."
Loran's face fell. "Why'd you have to say that? Now it's going to bother me for weeks, wondering what we missed."
"It was probably good. Subterfuge. Sneakiness." Ton tried to find the right word. "Stuff."
"We didn't even get to do anything." Face slumped over the table, his head propped up on one hand. "We didn't wreak a single bit of havoc. It was all wreaked upon us. It's embarrassing."
"Humiliating." Ton pushed his glass around on the table with one finger, watching it slide along on its condensation. "Shameful, getting wreaked like that."
"Commander Antilles is going to kill us."
"Or laugh at us until he passes out."
"That first. Then he'll kill us."
They ordered another round.
"To your massive, smuggling doppelganger," Face said, raising his glass.
Ton lifted his drink in a return salute. "To your wretched sense of direction."
Usual disclaimers apply: Not mine. Non-profit organization.