Birth of the Sith

Son of the Slaves

As the Druggat were slide forward the cards were dealt.

Anakin had little interest in the money—it may have been of some value on Tatooine, but it wasn't something that could be easily exchanged for Galactic Standard Credit, so it wouldn't buy a ticket off world.

But as long as he won, his deal would hold.

Supposedly, the game Sabacc was a complicated game—Anakin had even heard it called a fool's game.

He'd never really seen it.

He glanced briefly at the Kiughfid dealer and let his eyes linger for a moment on his four arms.

Was he cheating? Someone could have bribed him. He knew from experience that this dealer was more than a bit open to suggestion if there were enough Druggat on the table. A glance down revealed that his own hand was worthless.

It didn't really matter—the hand you started with was worthless in Sabacc, which was why bribing dealers was so cheap. It was also probably the reason that nobody got particularly upset when a dealer did so.

At its core, the game was simple. There were seventy-six cards. Sixty were numbered and divided into four suits and the remaining sixteen was divided into two copies of eight special cards. Values can be positive or negative and the first person to get a hand worth positive or negative twenty-three wins. Positive trumps negative. The size of a hand varies according to house rules, but here, a hand was five cards.

He didn't even bother looking around the table. He wouldn't get anything off their faces, but he didn't need to. The one on his left had a good hand. The one across from him was nervous, but he had a lot riding on this game, so that was to be expected. He was weary of the guy to his right, though, because he seemed perfectly calm.

The calm ones were always the most dangerous. They had this tendency to keep their heads.

His hand was horrible, so he didn't bother doing anything with it. After all, it would be happening right about…now.

All of the cards in his hand suddenly changed.

This was the reason Sabacc was considered a fool's game. The cards were all electronic and they would all change at random intervals. Supposedly, no one knew when that would happen or what their hand would become…

But Anakin had never had a problem doing so.

He glanced at his hand and moved two of the cards into the interference field to keep them from changing.

He would win.

He always did.

He had to.

XxXXxX

"Anakin, it's good to see you won again!" A Rodian exclaimed as soon as he walked out of the Gambling Parlor.

It was a lie, Anakin realized immediately. The Rodian worked for Gardulla and was jealous of Anakin's position. He wished Anakin would lose because he knew what would happen if he did and wanted Anakin to get knocked down a peg or two.

Anakin grit his teeth for a second before trying to smile.

The Rodian-whose name Anakin specifically avoided learning-wouldn't hurt him, out of fear of Gardulla. And he, of course, couldn't do anything to the Rodian either, since he was just a six year old.

It was better to just smile and bear it. Starting something would just make things complicated.

And if he started something, someone else could get involved and that was exactly what he was trying to avoid.

So instead of saying what he wanted to say, he thanked the Rodian and smiled politely, acting agreeable until he went away.

When he did, Anakin lingered for a moment, glancing around the street with slow searching eyes.

He didn't see anyone he thought he needed to worry about, but…

He began to walk, careful to keep out of the way. He was becoming more and more famous now and the last thing he wanted to do was catch the eye of some Sabacc Player with a grudge. He didn't have much money—most of his winnings went to his owner, though she allowed him a pittance in an attempt to ingratiate him—but on Tatooine, what he had might be worth enough for someone to consider killing him for it if they thought they could be it without word getting back to his owner.

They probably couldn't, so Gardulla would probably have some Bounty Hunter to kill them if his corpse turned up…but there were probably people in this city that were too stupid to realize that, and regardless of what some Bounty Hunter did, he'd be just as dead.

For that reason, he avoided turning down any dark alleyways. They may have been a cheap place to conduct illegal business for those who couldn't afford somewhere more secure, but in Mos Espa, they were probably all occupied.

Instead, he eventually turned into a building whose owner he knew—an old woman he knew and fixed stuff for from time to time. In return, she didn't say anything when he stopped by the house for a few minutes, so long as no trouble came of it.

It made for a good place to talk to his friends when he didn't want to do so out in the streets—which was always.

He waited by a table for about five minutes before his friend Kitster ducked into the building.

He emptied a small sack of Druggat onto the table wordlessly.

Anakin looked at it for a long moment.

There wasn't a lot.

He lifted his eyes to look back at his friend. There was no accusation in that look; he knew that Kitster wouldn't have stolen any of it.

He was simply wondering why there was so little.

"I bet all we had," Kitster said. "Just like you told me to. But you always win Anakin. The odds were all in your favor. You would have thought the rest of the players were blind and new at the game, their odds of winning were so long."

Anakin took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

Well, it's not as though he hadn't expected this to happen eventually.

When you win fifty-seven professional games in a row, it sends a message.

"Maybe," Kitster began hesitantly. "We could afford to lose a few games. With the odds on some of these guys, we could make a lot of money if you threw a game here and there. You've already gotten offers of payment for doing that; we could take the payments, add them to our winnings, and bet them on the one who'll win. We could make a lot of money that way. Maybe enough to buy our freedom."

Anakin felt a brief flicker of longing at the word, as he did every time he heard it, just like every other slave.

But he ignored the feeling so he could focus on what mattered right now, which was that, as tempting as it was, the plan wouldn't work.

"If I lost in order to gain money for us, you know there would be retribution from Gardulla. Even if I just lost the game, she'll probably send someone by to encourage me not to do so again."

What Anakin didn't say was that Gardulla may not take kindly to her best gambler freeing himself. Period.

"We need to do something else. Maybe different types of gambling. Betting on me isn't the only way; someone else might not be a sure thing, but that gambling, right?" Anakin said, trying to sound sure.

But this was their money. And as slaves, if hadn't been easy to get. And while Gardulla may protect them, she wasn't a good master. She wanted them to be completely dependent on her.

Anakin knew that if he ever wanted to be free, he had to do something about that, but…

"I'll think of something," He promised Kitster.

XxXXxX

He thought of a number of things on his way home, but discarded each in turn.

He was just a child.

That was the problem he ran into again and again.

On Tatooine, nobody cared about things like child safety or age limits, but that didn't change what mattered.

Most forms of gambling on Tatooine were very dangerous—the popular ones, at least. He was young, which meant he was small, didn't weigh much, and was easy to injure.

Sabacc was safer, relatively speaking. He didn't need to worry about anything in the match itself—he just had to concern himself with some disgruntled gambler trying to kill him afterwards—and Gardulla's protection was usually enough to deal with that.

But the problem remained that Sabacc wasn't one of the main forms of Gambling on Tatooine. And he was becoming so well known as being the best at it that no one would bet against him.

And though he hadn't mentioned it to Kitster—hadn't and wouldn't—he was starting to have some trouble finding opponents. Before too long, nobody would play against him, period.

And if he stopped bringing in money for Gardulla, the protection she afforded him, his mother, and his friends would quickly disappear.

He could delay that, perhaps. He had gotten enough credit as the best Sabacc player that Gardulla would probably let him pick and choose his matches a bit. He could put an extra day or two between matches and that would give him that much more time to think of something.

But that was all it was—delaying.

It would happen sooner or later.

Probably sooner.

He couldn't get money by getting a job, either. As a slave, anything he earned was legally Gardulla's.

He had to gamble or do something illegal.

And crime in Mos Espa always involved going through the Hutts, which meant Gardulla would know as soon as he did something. Though, granted, the same was true of gambling.

His choices weren't good.

For the foolish, gambling would seem the obvious choice. Legally, he couldn't be punished for gambling.

But the reality of Mos Espa was that it was fully of criminals, so no one really cared what was legal. Moreover, he was a slave—he could be punished for anything his master wanted to punish him for.

But just because gambling wasn't as safe as it might appear, didn't mean crime was any better. It may not have been frowned upon, but that didn't mean nothing would happen.

It just meant you were more likely to be found dead in an alley than in court.

Anakin didn't want to admit it, but he had no idea what he was supposed to do.

He needed to bide his time and lay low until he did.

XxXXxX

Several days later, Anakin wondered exactly how he'd managed to fail at that so spectacularly while he tried to avoid blaster fire.

Well, tried to avoid being noticed and shot, at least.

He didn't dare raise his head and look around, afraid that his pursuer would still be there.

Normally, his position as Gardulla's slave afforded him a bit of protection.

But today, it was the problem.

Sebulba had come back from…wherever he had gone off too. Supposedly, he'd been away on a tour of the galactic racing circuit, but what Anakin had seen made him sure that was at least partially a lie.

Gardulla had sent him to visit Sebulba—or that was what she'd said. What she'd meant was 'snoop around, see if he'd done anything to his podracer, and checkout anything he'd brought back with him. Bring back anything valuable.'

At first, Anakin hadn't thought much of it. He'd been suspicious, but he'd learnt to always be suspicious of Gardulla said; double so if she sent him on a mission. As a slave, she could hang him out to dry if anything went wrong.

Anakin made enough money for Gardulla that she didn't send him on many missions. That was one of the reasons he gambled for her.

As his heart pounded in his chest, Anakin remembered exactly why that was.

He'd thought that she'd sent him because his income was in decline and had been nervous.

The truth was more worrisome; she considered what Sebulba had worth risking him.

He'd realized that the moment he looked into the energy cage Sebulba had brought back with him. Cages like that were used to ship three things: Dangerous criminals, dangerous creatures, and the most valuable of slaves.

Sebulba had been transporting the latter. He'd gotten close enough to see them and even speak briefly with one before a guard had noticed them.

They were some species he'd never heard of; Ghostlings from Datar.

Anakin knew nothing about them except what he'd figured out.

They were valuable, at least to Sebulba and Gardulla.

They were kidnapped from their home planet, presumably by Sebulba or someone working for him, under the cover of a galactic racing circuit. Or maybe he really was racing and was making use of it to capture slaves, too. He didn't know.

And finally—most importantly, even—they didn't have the explosive implants that most slaves on Tatooine had.

Yet.

If Sebulba had anything to say about it, that would change.

Until it did though, it meant that someone could still save them.

But since he was the only person who knew about them and cared, that someone would have to be him if it was going to be anyone.

Anakin hated slavers, for obvious reasons. He hated Sebulba especially, though, because the racer was, himself, a former slave, who'd earned his freedom and proceeded to enslave others.

If it was just him, Anakin wouldn't have had a problem getting involved.

But it wasn't just him. Anakin had figured something else out, too, and it changed everything.

Gardulla wanted those slaves.

And she happened to be able to kill him with the push of a button.

XxXXxX

Anakin had to report to Gardulla, no matter how much he didn't want too.

He expected she'd be mad that he couldn't get her those slaves for free.

She wouldn't kill him.

She might not even punish him obviously.

But she would punish him, even if it was in tiny little ways.

Of course, if he avoided her, it would be even worse. So he entered his Master's chambers and bowed quickly.

"Sebulba returned, as you said. His podracer is in good condition as always. He'll probably win the next race." Anakin said, keeping his eyes to the ground.

Gardulla looked at him, almost bored.

Gardulla the Hutt was a truly disgusting creature, even be Hutt standards—but that could just be because he knew her. He made a point of keeping his head bowed in her presence, because it allowed him to seem respectful while keeping anyone from seeing the disgust on his face.

Well, he thought it was on his face. He felt so much of it, he'd be pretty surprised if he managed to hide all of it.

"Was there anything else?" The Hutt rumbled.

Well, Anakin hadn't really had any hope that she wasn't after the slaves.

The only question was: What should he tell her and what could he hide?

Should he even risk hiding anything?

"Yes, Master Gardulla. Sebulba brought a number of slaves with him." Anakin didn't bother trying to hide his disgust.

He would have failed and Gardulla probably didn't care what he thought of Sebulba or slavery.

Actually, she probably didn't care what he thought about much of anything.

"What type of slaves?" Gardulla pressed.

Anakin didn't believe for a second that she didn't know more than he did, but replied anyway.

"They called themselves Ghostlings, from the planet Datar."

Gardulla made a pleased sound.

"You got close enough to speak to them, did you? How did the look?"

Anakin saw a chance and took it.

"They seemed a bit bruised, Master. Sebulba's been treating them a bit roughly, I think."

Even if she didn't say anything, Anakin could tell her good mood was ruined. She was angry—with Sebulba.

"That fool! He should know that Ghostlings are fragile! He knows how valuable they are!" His master spat.

It didn't surprise Anakin that the first time he'd ever heard Gardulla complain about the treatment of slaves was in a context of reducing the worth of something she wanted.

Anakin focused. He had to choose his next words carefully.

"I tried to take them from him," He said truthfully. "But I was noticed by a guard. I don't think he saw who I was, but I had to run. I don't think you'll be able to get them, Master."

Anakin expected her to be angry.

He was surprised when she just laughed.

"Do not be so sure. It is a shame I could not save myself some money, but the deal has already been arranged. They are mine, regardless."

Gardulla was the buyer?

For a moment, Anakin was shocked.

He'd hoped he'd be able to help the slaves escape, somehow. Even if Gardulla wanted them, she couldn't be too mad if they got away, if they were for someone else.

But it they were for Gardulla to begin with and he helped them escape…

If Gardulla ever found out, he'd be killed.

XxXXxX

Gardulla didn't seem angry when she dismissed him. He should be happy about that.

He wasn't.

He couldn't do anything to help the Ghostlings anymore.

No, that was a lie.

He wouldn't do anything to help.

It was too dangerous. Not just to him, but to his friends and his mother.

He couldn't risk them all in an attempt to save some people he didn't even know, even if it meant he was damning a bunch of innocent people to a life of pain that he was all too familiar with.

"Anakin!"

He glanced at Kitster in surprise as he came running into view.

Then he frowned, seeing the expression on his friend's face.

"What's wrong?"

"It's Pala," He said. "She's been sold."

One thing after another.

XxXXxX

"You've been sold?" Wald, a young Rodian friend of Anakin's, asked. "Why? Did you do something wrong?"

Anakin didn't care why Pala had been sold. He was more concerned that she'd been sold at all.

Pala was a pale green Twi'lek girl. Along with Kitster and Anakin, she was owned by Gardulla. Their master had sent her to Madame Vansitt to be trained in 'the courtly arts.'

Which for a slave meant that she'd been trained as an assassin.

Anakin hadn't thought she'd be sold, though. It was common enough for slaves trained by Vansitt to be sold—their skills allowed their owners to sell them for huge prices.

But he'd thought he and Gardulla had a deal.

But he was just a slave, in the end, wasn't he? And Master's had no need to make deals with their slaves.

He hadn't ever wanted to admit it, because the possibility scared him, but…what use did Gardulla have for making a deal with him. 'I'll make you money if you protect my friends?'

What a joke.

She could kill any slave she owned with a push of a button.

She didn't need to deal with Anakin.

She could sell or abuse or even kill Pala, but Anakin wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

He wouldn't even be able to stop working for her.

Not while she could do the exact same thing to all his other friends.

To his mother.

He clinched his hands angrily.

"Who'd she sell you to?" Anakin demanded angrily.

Pala's lekku twitched nervously.

"Lord Tantos bought me."

Anakin's anger dropped away as quickly as it had begun to form.

Tantos the Pirate.

Anakin knew what he'd want Pala to do. Travel on luxury cruisers and trade ships as a spy and have her tell him what was on board. Make her sabotage the defense and weapons systems. Then, he'd attack.

With Pala on board.

It was dangerous work. Way more dangerous than she'd been trained for.

The type of work that'd get her killed.

Anakin looked desperately for something to say. Anything.

He wanted to say that it'd be okay, but it wouldn't be. They all knew it.

More than anything, he wanted to assure her that he'd do something. But they all knew he wouldn't.

He couldn't.

He couldn't do anything to help.

But that was a lie again, wasn't it?

How would he know he couldn't do anything? He hadn't even tried looking.

Because it was too risky.

If he was caught, he'd die—or worse. For slaves, there was always an 'or worse.'

And because he was scared, he was going to let Pala die.

Let innocent children be sold into slavery.

He could say he didn't know the Ghostlings, but he had no such excuse for Pala. He knew her. Had known her since they were kids.

He was just too much of a coward to do anything for anyone.

Too even try taking a risk, no matter the rewards.

Was he really that pathetic?

His other friends huddled around Pala, who looked like she was going to cry.

Anakin made a decision.

"Pala," He said, getting her attention. "Can you show me Tantos?"

The Twi'lek girl nodded hesitantly.

"He's in Durlag's Cantina."

Anakin wasn't surprised she knew exactly where to find him.

She really would make a good spy, someday.

"Maybe I'll go have a look." He said, motioning for Kitster to follow him, before turning and walking away.

He left something behind, when he did.

But it was something small and weak, so he didn't miss it.

XxXXxX

Later that night, Kitster met up with Anakin again, returning from his mission. Anakin had asked his friend to check out Sebulba's place, knowing his friend was better than him at sneaking around.

Anakin could tell he was worried about the risk, but he had stuck with him and Anakin appreciated his presence.

He was worried too.

He thought about visiting Tantos, but decided against it.

He had no way of dealing with Tantos. Even if he wasn't a slave and he wouldn't die if he tried, he was a small child and Tantos was a feared Pirate Lord. Picking a fight with him would just get him killed.

However he was going to save Pala, it would have to not involve combat with someone who could easily kill him.

Moreover, the Ghostlings would have to take priority at the moment. While he would hopefully think of a way to save Pala, he knew how to save the Ghostlings.

He had to get them out before they were implanted with explosives.

It was dangerous, but all things considered, it shouldn't be too hard. He just had to get past Sebulba and—

"Anakin," Kitster began, sounding nervous. "The Ghostlings have been moved. They're in Gardulla's fortress, now."

Anakin nearly cursed.

But of course they'd been moved, he thought. Sebulba's place would have been easy to break into—even he realized that. Logically, someone else would have, too.

And apparently, they were also smart enough to do the obvious and move them to a safer place. In fact, one of the safest places on Tatooine.

Gardulla may have been obscenely wealthy and a crime lord. But she was also a heartless monster with no grasp of morality or kindness. She had a lot of enemies—supposedly, even among the Hutts. Anakin had heard that Jabba wouldn't be too upset if Gardulla suddenly died.

To protect herself, she'd built her fortress. That's what it was; not a house, or even a palace. A fortress. It was obscenely hard to break into, but it was even harder to break out of. Gardulla was the main controller of the slave trade, after all, and she had to both protect her merchandise and keep it from escaping.

It had droid guards and Gamorreans and slaves and thugs from various strong species. Keyed gates and electronic gates. But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all was the simple fact that it had been built over an old mine. It was full of caves and tunnels—even if slaves got loose, they wouldn't be able to go anywhere.

To break someone out of there—

You'd need someone who knew the tunnels. Someone who wouldn't have to break into it at all, but would simply be allowed in and out.

Someone like one of Gardulla's slaves.

Someone like him.

Anakin's mind raced. It still wouldn't be easy, but he knew how to stay out of the guard's way—for a slave in that fortress, it was something needed to survive. Hell, he even knew when the shifts were; there were always slaves sent along to clean up, as well as fetch stuff for the guards on break. Most of them would probably just pass him by—if he could avoid offending them, which might be a bit hard.

All he had to do was get past the gates and he could get to the Ghostlings. The electronic ones, he felt he could get past easily enough. He'd need to figure out how to get the keys, though.

And what about after he got them? He'd still have to get out unnoticed—hardly an easy task when escorting a band of slaves. Maybe even impossible, with the security cameras guarding the walls.

At least as a group, he thought. But Gardulla's place was big and, more importantly, full of hidden places where people could hide. The slaves that lived there knew a lot, and he knew more than any of them, thanks to Kitster. He could hide them in places where the guards wouldn't look, and take them out one-by-one.

But he'd need to avoid the guards, droids, and cameras inside to do so, because they'd surely raise a fuss after he broke out the Ghostlings.

He wasn't sure he could do that alone.

But Kitster could. There was a reason his best friend was always the one to place the bets while he gambled. He was the best at sneaking around, as far as Anakin knew. If anyone could smuggle a group of slaves from one room to another, it was him. The Ghostlings were all young, like them—the oldest might have been seven, the youngest, two or three. They were all small enough to use the routes that all the children Gardulla 'kept' used.

And if he was asking for help…Pala could probably get those keys. She was being trained as a spy and none of the guards Gardulla used were known for their intelligence.

"Kitster," Anakin began. "I have to ask you a really big favor-"

Kitster smiled nervously and cut him off.

"Yeah, like I'd let you go alone."

XxXXxX

Later that night, Anakin moved quietly through the halls of his Master's home, keeping his footsteps quiet and his eyes downturned. He made sure he was always out of the way when someone came by, pausing and bowing slightly in deference when he crossed the path of someone he was supposed to show respect and signaling a silent greeting to any slave he met on his way as he headed in the direction of his quarters, going over his story in his head.

There shouldn't have been any way for him to get the slave quarters to where the Ghostlings were being kept without passing at least two or three different forms of security—no way that he was supposed to know about, at least. If the Ghostlings escaped in the night, there shouldn't have been any way for him to be blamed for it—he might still get punished, of course, because Gardulla would most certainly be in a terrible mood, but it shouldn't be anything too bad.

The fact that he was here in the slave quarters instead of at home with his mother could have drawn some suspicion towards him, perhaps, but he'd prepared for that as best he could, dropping by his Master's quarters earlier to inform her he'd be challenging some of the best Sabacc players on the planet tomorrow, which he would be if he actually managed to survive the night. He'd avoided playing the best around, because once he defeated them, he'd officially be the best around and the money he'd be able to make off the games he won would go down even further; he'd been avoiding them for exactly that reason. In all probability, tomorrow was the last Sabacc game he'd be able to play with odds that were against him.

But at least for the moment, Gardulla was pleased—she'd be betting a great deal on him, no doubt. And he had an excuse for his sudden desire to take greater risks, too—after his mission earlier, where he was actually shot at, it would be easy to convince anyone who bothered asking that he was simply scared and trying to work his way back into his Master's good graces, and while the money he could make off each match would decrease, at least for a little while there would be a rush of challengers trying to play the long odds against the new champ. Yes, for a little while, he'd be in Gardulla's good graces and be able to use it as an alibi.

And as for the money…if everything went as he was forced to hope that it would, after tonight, that wouldn't be an issue.

On top of all that, he'd managed to plant a few rumors through several of his friends, who passed the word to a few slaves under other masters to get people to at least pry a bit, as well as whisper a word or two in the ears of the bars Sebulba—and, more importantly, his lackeys—frequented, where they'd be able to ask the right questions when Sebulba's men were drunk enough and hopefully get enough answers to spread things further.

If things went well tonight, Gardulla would have elsewhere to look once she'd worked herself into a fury.

And if they didn't, he reminded himself, than he wouldn't need to worry about it, would he, since he'd be dead by morning one way or another. If Gardulla caught him and didn't kill him remotely, then it would only be because she'd want to torture him first, and he'd never let it come to that point; he'd kill himself first, before it could come too that.

But he had to avoid that fate, no matter what the cost—not for himself, because he didn't matter at this point, but for his mother, his friends, and the Ghostlings, who he'd bet on his scheme working. If it did, the rewards would be more than worth it, but he was risking it all on a slim hope and he knew it.

But then, he supposed that was what gambling was, wasn't it? And he had always been great at gambling. He'd just have to do what he always did, play to win, hope his luck didn't run out, and to keep his head in the damn game.

Right now, he couldn't afford to let the deals he'd made and the risks he was taking distract him; those wouldn't matter until tomorrow, and only if he lived that long. He had to worry about the guards now, and the security systems, and the droids and the myriad of other things that could and would kill him if he screwed up, not the least of which being Gardulla, who would be able to do it if she so much as caught a glimpse of his face. That was what was important right now.

The bargain he'd made with Jabba the Hutt could wait until tomorrow.