Luck Be a Smuggler Tonight
Every military man or naval man shares the same mistress. Ever changing, untameable, harsh, unyielding, the black space of the galaxy is their passion. The cold soaks into the marrow of their bones and enters their blood.
The inky void of Mistress Space's victims outnumber the survivors, especially when there is a galactic war taking place. Each soldier and officer hears the siren call and is irresistibly drawn to the cosmos.
The tides of men's fortunes are as turbulent as the stormy elements of planet-side and sky and sea. It was a bad night off the coast of Ibico. A frigid wind whipped the grey night sky savagely, churning thick clouds into masses that resembled the fleet of Republic warships that was orbiting the planet, except these ephemeral ships sailed across the two moons. Then the wind swept over the sea itself, bullying the waves higher, and the sea responded with an angry roar and aimed her spume high at the moons.
In the midst of the clashing elements, a shuttle from the Dauntless, a Republic Man O War Capitol class warship, set down in the waves, rolled in the white-caps and struggled to stay upright as the pilot cut in the repulsorlifts to raise her out of the sea and land on the docking bay. Her bedraggled crew came down the loading ramp, cursing and laughing good-naturedly.
"That was one helluva landing, Lieutenant," remarked one of the soldiers. "He floated his landing." All the crew cackled and held their sides, caving in with laughter. They were overdue for leave and already in high spirits.
On the eastern horizon, bruised dull skies gave way to immense banks of jet black thunderclouds, building up out of nowhere. With fearsome speed they boiled and rumbled until they blocked out the dual moons.
"Better get inside, men." Carth Onasi motioned to the soldiers that had disembarked with him.
"Aren't you coming, Carth?" Tristan, the navigator for the Dauntless, asked.
Carth nodded and jogged over to the ship that had blocked his landing and used his stylus to enter the ID into his personal datapad. He bet it was a smuggler's vessel. He was displeased that it had caused him to lose face with his men. Onasi was a crack pilot and had been forced to actually land in the water because of the half-assed angle at which the ship sat. He planned to run a check on the vessel as soon as possible.
"Alpha Seas," he muttered as he pulled the collar of his jacket up to shield his neck from a sudden onslaught of rain. "Probably stolen." He tapped the stylus against his chin thoughtfully and his smile was not nice. "I'll just run you through the ship's computer and see what pops up."
Unseen in the shadows, a young woman had been observing his actions and come to a not very hard to reach conclusion. Uniform, Republic soldier, obvious. His interest in her ship was unwelcome, and she needed to get a security spike jammed into his datapad to scramble the information it contained ASAP. Light blue eyes narrowed in a sudden flash of lightning. But how?
It is said the Force often wreaks havoc on the affairs of beings across the galaxy, exerting its capricious sway on events—creating a time of tumult, of struggle between what can be and what must be; between the chancy determinations of fate and the reasoning choices of those affected by its connection to all living things. Like the rolling of the dice in a game of celestial chance, it was in Ibico that the cath hound bones came to rest and something was to begin that would affect the entire galaxy.
* * *
Tristan, Trask and Zekk were at the bar, chatting up the 'tender, a rough-looking girl who was paying just enough attention to ensure a good tip. They waved Carth over when it looked like he was going to pass by them. His datapad weighed heavily in his hand and his fingers itched to tie into the main ship's control console, but he had agreed to this leave on their behalf. He joined them and the 'tender slid a shot glass of amber liquid down the length of the bar. He caught it before it plunged off the end and tossed it down, making a face.
"So, Carth, the rule is there are no rules tonight." Tristan's hazel eyes sparkled. "We came here to drink, play Pazaak and break from protocol any way we can. Tonight we're celebrating you being made captain at the end of the week."
"Yeah!" Trask Ulgo, a large, tall brute of a man with white hair cut in the butch military style and his back and shoulders packed with muscles, raised his glass and clinked it with Zekk's. "Party time!"
The young woman who had watched Carth stole into the cantina and took a seat in a corner that was deep in shadow. She stared at the handsome Republic soldier, committing every feature to memory. She smiled slyly. She tapped the listening device in her ear and the volume of their conversations increased as if she was sitting right beside them. The credits she'd paid the self-proclaimed spy had not been wasted after all.
She heard Tristan when he asked the 'tender if any Twi'lek dancers were available to give his buddy a lap dance. With a quick scan of the room, she saw no Twi'leks at all and mused to herself, thinking, "Here's my way to get closer to him and get that datapad."
She went to the 'fresher, trying not to touch anything. The place was beyond filthy and smelled like a Gamorrean cesspool. There was a third of a mirror hanging over the sink, and she quickly undid the pony tail and bent over to shake the long black hair it until it was a mass of rippling onyx. She tugged the dagger out of the top of her boot and cut off the sleeves of her shirt, and one by one undid the closures to her synth-leather vest until the swell of her ample breasts showed. She unrolled the tops of her boots and slid them all the way up to her thighs, replacing the dagger in its sheathe. She smiled. That should do it.
She came out of the 'fresher and saw the soldiers were now at one of the tables, doing shots of Corellian ale. She swayed her hips, slinking over to the table, and stared down at the men. She placed a hand on her hips.
"Somebody call for a lap dance? Will I do?" She gave her most flirtatious wink and batted her lashes.
Carth shook his head. "Naw, thanks, Miss, but I was taught to have respect for women and…"
She winked again, directly at him this time. "I promise I'll respect you in the morning, handsome." Her eyes brightened with unshed tears and she bent over to whisper in his ear. "I really need the credits, kind sir. Rent on my room is due and I'm short this month."
Carth reached into his pocket and came out with a handful of credit chips. "Here, Miss. It's all I have, but you're welcome to them."
"Give me a lap dance," Tristan said, leering at her. "I'll give you my whole month's salary."
"You sure as hell will not!" Carth treated the man to a stern look.
"Whasss your name?" Trask asked. He had the lowest tolerance for liquor of the bunch and had already imbibed several ales.
She smiled and pulled a vacant seat from the next table over to set it next to him.
"Jaden." She leaned over, both so Trask could get an eyeful and to divert him from asking for her full name.
Tristan appreciated the view and whistled sharply. "You look like that exotic dancer they hired when I graduated from the Academy." He snapped his fingers. "Same lithe build and fine-drawn bones. Same chiseled lines of the face."
Level dark brows, wide blue eyes and glorious black tresses that cascade past your shoulders. Carth winced and hoped he hadn't spoken aloud. He was getting drunk—something the stalwart soldier rarely did, but he had a couple of days to recover before he received his Captain's bars.
"And what is your name?" Jaden clinked her glass of ale against his, smiling impishly.
"Carth. Carth Onasi."
Inside she blanched at the name. Carth Onasi was known on the smuggling routes as By-the-book, Mr. Straight Arrow Onasi. To give her credit, her smile never wavered.
She laid the credits he'd given her on the table in front of her. She clinked glasses with all the men, but her eyes never left Carth. "How about a nice, friendly game of Pazaak?" Her proposal roused the men to buy another round of drinks.
"Gambling's not really my thing, Miss."
"What is your thing?" She placed a finger to the side of her cheek. "I'll bet it's saving the galaxy."
He flushed. "If I can, I will."
"Just for fun. It'll help pass the time before midnight comes and I get kicked out of my room." Her smile turned tragic.
"What's a few games gonna hurt, Carth?" Tristan drew out his worn Pazaak deck. His grin was unsteady, as were his hands as he dealt. "Me first. Best three outta five. Winner plays the next in line."
"It's my party." Carth frowned. Was he slurring his words? His mouth felt numb and his lips tingled and his fingers splayed out over the top of the table trembled a little. "I shoo-should go f-first."
Jaden reached over and placed her hands over his. "I'm saving the best for last." She gave him a wicked smile and glanced at her hand. She had to win to reach Onasi, so she won the next game, lost two. Acting tipsy, Jaden knocked over her shot glass and it rolled off the table edge. She executed a clumsy move as the glass landed in her lap and giggled. Using sleight-of-hand, she slipped the losing card inside the top of her boot with one hand while the other fumbled for her glass. She extracted the card she needed and with a little more misdirection, managed to slip it into her hand.
Two drinks later, she announced, "And 2+ makes 20, Tristie-baby." Her smile was so brilliant, Tristan didn't care that she had cleaned him out.
Trask Ulgo only won one game. Jaden didn't even have to cheat. Zekk was a tougher opponent, but he was easily distracted by the number of undone closures on her vest. She pulled the credits toward her and met a pair of quizzical eyes the same amber brown as the Corellian ale they were drinking. He may have been half in the bag, but Onasi's keen gaze told her he suspected her winning streak was less than honest.
Jaden changed tactics, stating that she was putting aside the amount for rent before the next hand, and then buying a bottle of juma juice. Trask had two shots and his white head crashed to the table, his face landing in a bowl of nuts. Tristan and Zekk snorted and snickered. Jaden traded more shots with them until they passed out.
Blue eyes met brown and Jaden's grin became incorrigible, her body language suggestive, as she moved her chair closer to Carth. "It's your party, yet you're not drinking very much."
Carth's smile was lop-sided. "I'm the designated pilot."
For some reason this struck them both as terribly funny. Carth chuckled and Jaden dissolved into high-pitched giggles. "So…about that dance, Jaden," he said in a voice that was a little raspy from all the smoke in the cantina.
Jaden felt disappointment prickle down her spine. So, he was just another regular guy after all, and she'd thought he was something special. Carth rose when she began to pull out her chair and did it for her.
"Nothing says it has to be a lap dance." The tips of his ears were pink. Was he blushing?
One strong hand went to her waist and the other gently held her hand. He led her to a more secluded, less crowded part of the room and instigated the steps of an intricate Corellian tango. He pressed his cheek to hers as they came together after a rousing twirl of their bodies, arms extended.
Jaden was naturally athletic, so she was able to follow his movements. What she could not control was the accelerated beating of her heart, her racing pulse, and the delight as her soft curves melded to his hard body. She got dizzy when Carth spun her in a tight circle. For a moment she thought she was falling over backwards, and then warm hands supported her at the small of her back.
Carth's face was inches away from her heaving breasts, and she realized the dance had ended and they had struck a pose. She heard whistles and catcalls—as well as all the rowdy comments you'd expect to hear in a disreputable cantina.
Carth lifted his head. His eyes were on fire and the flames leaped across the tiny bit of space that separated them and made her eyes blaze into his. As the applause decibels grew uncomfortably loud, Carth gently righted her so she could stand without his support. She teetered for a moment, placing her hands on his chest. His breathing was ragged, but something was replacing the passion in his eyes. Was it remorse? Regret?
"I haven't danced like that since…" Carth stayed where he was, but she could tell her proximity bothered him.
"Since?" She let her hands fall to her sides. The moment was over. Some memory of his was intruding. "Carth, you're not married, are you?"
He looked startled and a little sheepish. "I was." He cleared his throat. "My wife's…dead." A look of incredible sadness came over him and his shoulders drooped. "I really don't want to talk about it." As he usually did when his past threatened to overwhelm him, Carth returned to his military roots. He stared down at Jaden for a long moment, as if he was making up his mind about something, then changed the subject. "Do you know anything about the ship that's blocking the landing pad—the Alpha Seas?" He laughed ruefully. "Because, I have to say, whoever the pilot is, he or she must've been chewing on spice to manage a poor landing like that. I've seen rookies at the Academy do a better job."
Jaden swallowed. "That ole thing? She's a reputable freighter; brings in supplies twice every season." Jaden had succeeded in fighting back a hot retort, wanting to tell him that, with two of the six repulsorlifts not firing, the landing she had achieved was nothing short of skillfully miraculous.
Carth's brows rose. "Really?"
He wasn't buying it and her inner turmoil increased. He'd gone from a simple mark to a nice guy to a hot guy and now a suspicious guy, which turned him right back into a mark. Jaden forced tears from her eyes and leaned against him, pretending to cry.
Carth had no idea what had set her off, but he came from a loving family, and like most men, had no idea what to do with a crying female. He put his arms around her and made crooning noises of comfort. Maybe she was just a girl who'd had too much to drink. There were mean drunks and there were crying jag drunks. His gallant nature overcame his paranoid side.
She wondered what he would do if he knew the pilot hadn't been chewing spice, but the ship's cargo was spice. She laid her cheek against his chest and used her talent as a pick-pocket, fingers darting into the jacket pockets. Not there?
Carth smiled, although it was a little embarrassing to be felt up in public by a girl he'd just met. He jumped when her hands slid about his waist and down to follow the curve of his butt. She stopped when she encountered the slim datapad he'd stuck in the flap pocket just past his left hip. She patted it. He grinned when her hands came back up to his waist.
"Could we take this somewhere more private?" Her voice was breathy, as if she couldn't wait to get him alone.
Carth pondered. It had been four years since Morgana, his wife, had been killed on Telos. The fate of his young son Dustil was still unknown, since he had not been found among the body count of the devastated planet. He ran his hands through his hair. What am I doing? A dalliance with Jaden will only make me feel worse. It would feel like cheating, and I'd be using her. But there is something about her…
Jaden sensed the confusion within the man. Married—lost his wife. He probably hasn't been with another woman since, And he's much, much more than just a mark. What am I doing? But there's something about him…
She pulled the tremulous smile from her repertoire of smiles. She had perfected expressions for all occasions. She accompanied the smile with a blush and lowered her eyes as if she couldn't bear it if he turned down her invitation.
Carth put a finger under her chin and lifted her head so he could gaze into her eyes. She nervously nibbled her lower lip. "Okay." His voice was soft and intimate.
Jaden turned on her dazzling, mega-watt grin. "My room's just up those stairs." She caught his hand, but he resisted.
"Let's go for a walk and clear our heads." He pulled her toward the main exit.
"N-no." She bit her lip. "There's a storm."
His head went back as he laughed. "Tough girl like you is afraid of a little lightning? I find that hard to believe. C'mon, gorgeous." He tugged on her hand and she came with feigned reluctance.
The rain had stopped and the two moons shone in the sky. Shafts of moonlight filtering through the tall trees above them wove a spider web of rays, stringing their jeweled beams from the leafy branches to the damp ground of the path that led to the port and sea docks.
They continued down the winding path to a copse of trees, threading their way through the tendrils of sea oats that moved restlessly with their passing. They still held hands when they reached the shore, and Jaden took a deep breath of the briny sea air. She had to divert Carth from the space port. His eyes kept straying to the ship that made him so suspicious.
"Have you ever been sailing, Carth? I have a small vessel. Let's go out."
Carth put his free hand to his hip. "On the water? Now? No offense, Jaden, but neither one of us is in any condition to sail."
"The Black Onyx practically sails herself." Jaden pulled him down the dock to a small slip and leaped down onto the capstan. "Come on, Carth. It'll be fun."
"It might be more fun if I knew how to swim," he muttered, but he did hop down beside her.
She showed him how to set the topsails on the main and mizzen masts. Carth felt a tingle in his belly when the heavy canvas began to fill. The ship nosed into the current. Jaden manned the windlass and the anchor wound up, held only by a length of cable equal to the depth of sea water.
She led Carth to the forecastle and told him to take the wheel. The Black Onyx pivoted with the backed foreyards canting until she was headed out to sea. She eased forward like one of the sea birds skimming over the waves. Carth stared out at the universe of waiting wave falls.
"I can see how men would choose a life at sea," Carth commented. Even with the high technology of his age, some planets elected to cling to the old means of transportation. "Just like I chose a life in space."
Jaden smiled. "Sailing a ship is a lot like flying one. It's a lot more than wind in her sails. Ever work an old-fashioned compass?"
Carth shook his head. The loose locks of hair fell across his forehead and he pushed them back impatiently.
"Know what I was told the first time I went sailing? It was an old sea-salt with a craggy face carved from the salt, sea and sun. He told me he had the sight." She closed her eyes, reveling in the breeze. "He said that there will come a time when I must choose between the life I think I should live and the one I was born to live." She laughed. "Crazy, huh?"
"Very, uh, insightful, if you believe in that kind of thing."
"I try to stay open." Jaden put one hand over his on the wheel. She gazed earnestly into his eyes. "Carth, I only ask you to do the same. Will you please kiss me?"
He blinked, long lashes grazing his cheeks. "I-uh, well, I don't know. I—"
"You are so cute when you get flustered like this." She cupped his face in her hands. "One…little…kiss."
The kiss was a revelation—not just her lips molding to his or the heat it stirred within them, but a shifting in the very order of things. For Carth, his military career was suddenly not the most important thing in his life. For Jaden, it was the realization that she could fall in love with this man without much thought. She just wanted to lose herself in him. She often felt lost, as if something very important was missing from her life.
The kiss lengthened and their bodies seemed to rise in the air and spin until they were dizzy. The breaths they took now were from the other, never breaking the contact of their lips.
How can a kiss affect me like this? He's so handsome and sweet and, oh, what the frack am I doing? I have to get that damn datapad! I---oh, don't stop kissing me! Not yet, please!
She's beautiful and so full of fire. Her body seems made for mine. She's so soft and she tastes like fruit with just a bitter hint of juma. And she smells like salt air and---Morgana, how can this be wrong? I don't want to stop kissing her. What's happening to me? Is it the liquor? I don't think so. Ah, gorgeous, what are you doing to me?
The kiss finally came to an end when they thought they would pass out from the sheer exhilaration. Jaden leaned into the curve of his arm as he sailed the ship. Carth wanted the closeness to last forever, but a warning rap of thunder told him another storm was brewing, so he had Jaden take the wheel and get them back to shore since she was the experienced sailor.
Carth helped her off the ramp and they strolled in the moonlight, holding hands as it began to drizzle. He led her to the shuttle when the rain began to pour down. He got her a towel from the 'fresher and gently rubbed her hair dry. Her throat went dry when she saw the passion of his gaze.
"Do you want to play more Pazaak while we wait out the storm?" Was that feeble voice hers?
"You know what I want."
Cards on the table time. Reveal your hand. "I want it, too."
A/N This is a little something I did for a writer Alpha Cucumber to make up for taking Carth away from Revan in my story Into the Void. I am sharing it with any others who are interested. It could become more than a one-shot if anyone shows interest.