Nic stood with his hands in the air, a golden statuette in one hand and a gun held loosely in the other. He was staring down the barrel of a blaster pistol and two others were aimed in his direction. The room was dark and had ancient stone walls covered in vegetation. The only furniture was a small circular podium that stood behind Nic.
“This ain’t exactly what I call good,” he muttered.
“Got that right, White,” answered the Twi’lek holding the blaster in Nic’s face. “Hand over that trinket.”
“Oh, come on!” Nic protested. “I was here first.”
“I’m the one with the gun,” the Twi’lek laughed.
“I got one too,” Nic retorted, waggling his own gun slightly in his upraised hand.
“But you don’t have the friends,” the Twi’lek told him, glancing left and right at his companions. “Drop the gun.”
Nic did as he was told.
“Well, I may not have the gun now,” he said, kicking it away with a grin. Without warning, the Sullustan on the thug’s right crumpled to the ground as a blaster shot burned into his left thigh. Then, the Twi’lek found himself being choked by a small-ish hand while another hand of equal size ripped his blaster away from him. In seconds, the shadowed attacker shot and disabled both Sullustan and knocked the Twi’lek to the floor.
“But I do seem to have a friend,” Nic said cheerfully. “Thanks, Short Stuff. Perfect timing.”
“My pleasure,” Jana answered, grinning down at their Twi’leki opponent.
“Now if you’ll excuse us, we have an idol to sell,” Nic explained with a grin. Mimicking his grin, Jana flicked the gun in her hand and smashed it against the Twi’lek’s cranium. Nic took the idol and stuffed it in a pouch at his side.
“Just like that,” he muttered, heading for the room’s exit. Jana followed him out into a long corridor deep within the great Massassi temple, one of many such temples on Yavin IV. The two mercenaries rounded a corner and Nic glanced out one of the gigantic pane-free windows... and promptly shoved Jana up against the nearest wall.
“Place like this won’t have guards, so you’d better not be kissin’,” Jana hissed, looking ready to slap Nic if he even considered it.
“Place like this happens to have a platoon of Imperial stormtroopers in the courtyard,” Nic explained quickly. “Ain’t no kissin’ goin’ on in my mind...”
“Fair enough reason to be shoved about,” Jana whispered, her eyes widening. Nic nodded grimly and retrieved a comlink from his belt.
Within the dense forests of the fourth moon of Yavin, there lay an older YT-800 Corellian light freighter. It was completely shut off to attract much less attention and the foliage gave excellent cover to combat the naked eye.
Inside the freighter, loud Irodian rock music echoed through the narrow corridors, emanating from the cockpit where its pilot was leaning back in her chair, bare feet crossed and resting atop the control panel. Her eyes were closed and her head nodded to the beat of the music. She wore dark blue pilot’s overalls, unzipped and open, revealing a greasy white tank top beneath. Her short red hair had been styled to cover her left eye.
“Aerith come in,” Nic’s voice whispered through the communications console. Being so immersed in the music, Aerith missed her captain’s attempt at contacting her and began tapping her foot against the forward view screen.
”AERITH!” Nic finally shouted. It was loud and startling enough that the young woman’s eyes snapped open and she jerked backward abruptly, sending her feet slamming to the floor.
“Sith Poodoo!” she exclaimed, turning her music down. Then, into the comm, “Yeah, I’m here.”
“When were you plannin’ on warnin’ me an’ Short Stuff about the Imperial dropship?” Nic demanded anxiously.
“If there was a dropship, I’d have...” she began, turning her head to the sensor panel. Her voice trailed away as her mind took in what her eyes were seeing. “Oh, dear Empire, Vader, and all Sith in hell, there’s an Imperial dropship near your location, Boss.”
“Are you completely sure about that?” Nic muttered sarcastically. “Now if you’re not too busy listening to that Force awful stuff you’re inspired to call music, can you see what dropped the dropship?
“Ithorian rock is good!” Aerith protested, flipping switches to increase the range of her scanners “Ooh! That’d be boring to fly... it’s one of those new dreadnaughts the Empire’s been turning out lately.”
“Can we outrun it?” Jana wondered, taking the comlink from Nic.
“Does the Emperor look dead?” Aerith countered, grinning as she flipped a few more switches. The freighter came to life slowly.
“Good,” Nic said, again taking control of the comlink. “We’ll need you to pick us up on the roof in ten minutes.”
“Already on the way, Boss,” Aerith confirmed as the freighter lifted slowly from the ground under her expert hands.
Nic placed the comlink back on his belt and slipped away from the window. Seconds later, he again pressed Jana into the wall and gestured to a pair of stormtroopers heading their way. With kissing out of the option, the two mercenaries reversed their path and darted up the next staircase they found.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a blur of red energy streaked past them and embedded itself in a wall near them. A team of stormtroopers was coming down the stairs and had spotted them.
“Don’t much think they’re interested in havin’ a friendly chat,” Nic mumbled, pulling Jana around and hurrying back down the stairs. Rounding a corner, the two mercenaries literally bumped into the two stormtroopers they’d originally tried to avoid.
“Sorry, sir,” Jana apologized to the one she’d run into. Still puzzled as to why he’d been rammed by a rather short young woman, the trooper attempted to raise his gun, but by the time he’d brought it up, Jana had removed his helmet and smashed his head with it. With a groan he collapsed. Nic punched the second trooper in the face, but with the helmet on, all he managed to do was hurt his hand. Then, Jana reached over and used Nic’s pistol to shoot the man.
Nic regained control of his blaster and began shooting wildly backward as they ran, hoping to either hit or deter a few of the growing crowd of stormtroopers in pursuit. More often than not, his shots hit the walls. Abruptly, Jana pulled him around a corner and then onto a small balcony. From here, they could climb to the top.
And climb they did. But their ascent took them over the Imperial infested courtyard and though stormtroopers aren’t known for their observational skills it would have been hard not to see a pair of mercenaries in darkish clothing moving up the side of a light-ish colored building. In short order the troops in the courtyard opened fire on the climbing mercenaries.
“These guys couldn’t hit the broadside of a bulk freighter,” Jana mocked, glancing down at them as she climbed.
“Unless you want to test that theory, I suggest you keep moving, Nic ordered as a shot came dangerously close to hitting him. At that, Jana saw no point in arguing the matter and hurried after him. Blaster fire hit the temple all around them, causing the stone to tremble beneath their hands and feet. It didn’t slow them much however, and they soon reached the rooftop and took cover there. Blaster fire continued to pelt the area, as if the troopers were trying to bring the temple down with the mercenaries atop it.
‘Where the hell is she?” Nic demanded, crouching out of sight as the blaster fire continued to pelt the area.
“She likes to make an entrance,” Jana reminded him, lying calmly on her back, fully out of the firing range. “She’ll be here.”
Without warning, the old freighter rose from behind the temple, engines roaring. Slowly, it spun and slanted toward the temple’s roof. Nic and Jana could see Aerith’s wide grin as she maneuvered the freighter to where they could jump on top of it. Nic immediately did just that and turned to watch Jana do the same. Grabbing Jana’s arm, Nic pulled her to her feet and they moved together to the small circular roof access and down into the ship.
As they headed for the cockpit, the two mercenaries felt their pilot push the ship faster. Coming into the cockpit, they noticed her hand just leaving the velocity controls.
“I hope you’re not planning on ramming that thing,” Nic announced, gesturing to the Imperial dreadnaught. The Empire’s newest warship moved slowly to intercept the little freighter.
“Of course not,” Aerith scoffed. “We need to pass it to jump to hyperspace. I’m just gonna pass it with my own little stylish flair.” Flicking a button on a side console, she added, “Chase, we need full power to the engines.”
“It shall be yours,” the engineer responded. Suddenly, a shrill alarm sounded from a panel at the copilot’s seat. Nic sat and stared for a second before switching the alarm off.
“Squad of TIEs just got launched,” he announced, turning to Jana. “Do your damage, Short Stuff.”
“Fast or slow, Boss?” Jana inquired, already heading for the door.
“Aw, c’mon, Jan!” Nic protested. “At a time like this you wanna show off? Use the damn computer!”
“Spoilsport,” Jana grumbled, running off to the turret. Despite Nic’s input, she did not switch the targeting computer on. “It’s fairer this way,” she added to herself, as justification for her actions.
“I know you ain’t usin’ the computer,” Nic grumbled after her first shot. “What’d you ask me for if you were gonna do it your way anyway?”
“I like your complaints, Boss,” Jana teased, taking another TIE down on the word ‘Boss’. She set her sights on a third fighter and went on. “Besides, you know this is the only fair way with me behind the gun.”
In the cockpit, Nic grumbled, but returned his attention to sensors, acting as Aerith’s copilot and navigator. She continued to press the old freighter to its limit, driving straight for the dreadnaught. As they neared it, she began letting out whoops and catcalls at the TIE fighters whizzing past them.
“Easy, Aerith,” Nic hissed. “No show boating.”
“Oh, c’mon,” Aerith laughed, glancing at Nic. “You’re telling me you don’t want to show up the Imperials?”
Nic chuckled and shook his head. “OK, but make it quick.”
“Oh, it will be,” Aerith answered, her grin widening as she pushed the old ship to its limits.
Down in the turret, Jana found herself kept busy. Three fighters remained and they seemed to have figured out where the freighter’s turret was.
“Give me a spin, Aerith,” she commanded. “They’re staying up above us.”
Aerith obliged and Jana grinned. The TIE pilots hadn’t planned for that. One of them was especially slow at moving and she targeted him. In a panic, he flew directly into her shots and vanished in a brilliant splash of red.
“Momma’s scarier than daddy,” Aerith said aloud in the cockpit.
“What?” Nic wondered, staring at her in puzzlement.
“Momma’s scarier than daddy,” Aerith repeated, keeping her hands steady on the controls. “It’s ‘cause daddy goes to work, brings in the money to feed the kids, but then he comes home, eats, and goes to bed. Momma’s scarier. She spanks the kids when they do wrong, she grounds, them, and she makes them eat their Ithorian peas.”
“What is it with you and Ithorians?” Nic grumbled.
“I’m just explaining this so you understand what’s about to come next,” Aerith explained.
“And what’s that?” Nic demanded. Before answering, Aerith put on one final burst of speed and shoved the controls forward, pushing the old freighter downward beneath the dreadnaught. Then, she pulled up, circling the Imperial ship and screaming, “Who’s yo Momma!”
Leveling out, she launched the ship into hyperspace. The following TIEs had not managed to keep up and helplessly rammed the side of their mothership. Bright explosions and a lonely Imperial dreadnaught were all that remained. The freighter had escaped.
The YT-800 Corellian freighter landed in a small hanger in Cloud City, in the high atmosphere of the gas giant Bespin. A man in rich clothing and accompanied by two guards stood at the boarding ramp as it lowered to the ground. Nic, Jana, Aerith, and Chase, a tall man in greasy beige overalls and some blast goggles disembarked and stood expectantly, waiting for the rich man to speak.
“Well,” the man said, nodding slowly. “You lived up to half the bargain and brought my ship back in one piece. Did you run into any problems?”
“A couple of Bursa’s mercs and an Imperial shipfull of trouble,” Nic said, shrugging.
“Nothin’ we couldn’t handle,” Jana cut in confidently. The man frowned and nodded slowly.
“That’s good to hear,” he said, his eyes drifting to the bag at Nic’s side. “But do you have it?”
Nic grinned and retrieved the golden idol from Yavin IV out of the bag. The man snatched for it, but Nic tossed it aside to Jana, who made a big show of almost dropping it. She had to stifle her laughter at the man’s pained look.
“Money first, please,” he requested. The man’s eyes never left the idol as one of his security guards handed a sack of money to Nic.
“Well?” the man demanded impatiently. Nic nodded to Jana, who handed the idol to the man. Instantly, his face relaxed into a smile. “30 years of searching and it’s finally mine!”
“And now you have your little idol thing,” Aerith said impatiently. “And I’m not about to believe the sack you just handed Nic holds a hundred.”
“You’re quite observant, my dear,” the man chuckled. “Now see, if I’d given you all the money before, what was to stop you from running off with my idol and my money?” He retrieved a comlink from a shirt pocket and switched it on. “Bring it in.”
Two guards entered, carrying a large case. They set it down before the mercenaries and opened it.
“The sack contains twenty-five thousand,” the rich man told them. “In the case, you see the remaining seventy-five. If you wish to count it, I have the time to wait.”
“No, I trust you,” Nic said kneeling down to get a closer look at their payment. “It all looks in order.”
“It’s been a pleasure, Mr. White,” the rich man said, offering a hand to Nic.
“Indeed it has, Mr. Carver,” Nic replied, standing and shaking his hand. “And please, call me Nic.” With a grin, he explained, “Everyone else does.”
Nic and Jana found their way to an old, shady cantina, one so similar to all the others they’d been to that they could scarcely tell a difference. Though Aerith had been eager to move on to another piloting job, Nic had convinced her to have a drink with him and Jana. Well, it was turning out to be several drinks, as Aerith brought their third round back to their side booth. Side booths were the only places Nic felt safe considering Jana’s habit of attracting trouble.
As they sat, they discussed the past few years. Nic limited the discussion to the past two to three years and Jana did not probe further than that. Though they had become close friends, some things were still off limits. For her part, Aerith loved the stories they told of their meeting and subsequent adventures.
Suddenly, a loud banging interrupted their happy chatter and they turned along with the rest of the bar to see an elderly mercenary hammering his table with a metal plate. When he was sure he had the attention of the entire bar, he dropped the plate with a clatter and spoke.
“Ladies and gents,” he announced. “I have made a decision. And that decision is that, after 40 years of good, hard mercenary work, it is time to retire and to celebrate.”
A cheer went up around the bar and Nic, Jana, and Aerith joined in. The old man picked up his plate and hammered the table again to quiet the crowd.
“My first act of celebration is a high stakes game of Sabacc!” he announced grandly. “If you have the creds, you’re in the game.”
“Oh, that’s a stroke of genius,” Jana laughed. “He’s celebrating his fortune by loosing it.”
“We could look at it in a different light here,” Nic said thoughtfully, intrigued by the idea. “Short Stuff? This could be our chance to get enough creds to buy a ship.”
Jana’s jaw dropped. “Are you out of your mind?” she hissed. “Don’t even think of it!”
“I kinda already have,” Nic pointed out.
“But... it’s high stakes,” Jana argued. “This ain’t the game you’re used to, Nic.”
“But, we just had a windfall,” Nic reminded her. “Look, Jan. You can do what you want with your fourth. Save it for...” He paused, wondering what she might buy and then, tried again. “Whatever it... whatever...” he muttered. Finally, he shrugged and finished, “Just, whatever. But this is what I want to do with mine.”
Standing, he approached the retiring mercenary. Aerith watched him go and then turned to Jana.
“He’s a gambler then?” she asked. Jana put her head in her hands and grunted.
“No,” she finally answered. “No, he’s a looser.”
The objective of Sabacc is simple; to win the credits in one of the two pots. To win one of the pots, you must score a value as near to twenty-three or negative twenty-three as you can manage. A pure Sabacc, exactly positive or negative twenty-three, or a card set called an ‘Idiot’s Array’ would win the second pot. Sabacc is played with a deck of seventy-six card-chips. The deck is divided into four suits of fifteen card-chips each (staves, flasks, sabers, and coins), and two each of eight "face" cards added. All of these cards have a numeric value, either positive or negative. The four suits contain eleven numbered card-chips, along with four "ranked" card-chips (Commander, Mistress, Master, and Ace). The card-chips are designed to change value, or "fluctuate", at random intervals, provoked by electronic signals from a central randomizer. Card-chips can be placed in the "interference field", locking in their value, but revealing their value to the other players. A hand with a value of zero, over twenty-three, or under negative twenty-three is called a bomb out, an automatic loss of the hand.
The Sabacc table was full. Nic, the host, and six other players were gathered around the dealing droid, ready to Ante up. Nic sat opposite the host of the game and was doing quite well. He had tripled his money since the beginning of the game. After the first round, two players bowed out.
Nic liked Sabacc; it was by no means a simple game and had an element of randomness. To Nic, this was a reflection of his current life. He rarely knew what would happen before it occurred and there were many potential complications. As he looked at his cards, he observed his score, negative 20. It was a good hand, but still easily beaten. Tossing a moderate amount of credits into the pot, Nic glanced at the other players. He had already worked out the tells of all the players but their host. Two players truly had good cards, but the others were bluffing. The six remaining players placed in their antes and three of them were left with nothing more to gamble; they folded entirely. The host nodded thoughtfully and folded out of the hand.
A quick moment of consideration and observation told Nic that another was near to folding. If he could pressure at least one more person, he figured he had a good shot at the pot. Tossing another few credits into the pot, the players showed their cards. Nic won by a long shot and pulled the hand pot from the center. Two more players bowed out.
“You’re quite a player, young man,” the old mercenary observed as the droid dealt new cards. “What’s your name?”
“Nic White,” he answered. “But call me Nic, jus’ like everyone else.”
“As you like it, Nic,” the old mercenary chuckled. To both remaining players, he said, “What do you two say to us making this hand more interesting?”
“And how would we do that?” the third player wanted to know.
“All creds in,” the old merc answered. “If either of you win, I’ll also add my ship to the pot. She’s called Echo, a Kuat mid-bulk freighter, two turrets, fast for its size and a cargo bay large enough to carry a rancor and its mother... though why you’d want to carry that nightmare is your own business,” he added with a chuckle.
“And if you win?” Nic asked.
“You each put in one hundred thousand credits,” the merc answered, grinning. “It’s a good deal. The ship is worth twice that, at least.”
Count me in,” the third player said quickly, showing his ID to prove he had the credits to back the wager. Concerned, Jana approached the table and watched over Nic’s shoulder as he counted out his credits. Slowly, he looked up at the old merc.
“I only have half that,” he announced, disappointed.
“Well, I guess you’re out... Nic,” the retiring mercenary said with a grin. Seeing Nic’s immense disappointment, Jana interrupted.
“No,” she announced boldly. “No, he’s not.”
Puzzled, Nic turned to face Jana. “Jan, what...”
“We’ve been acting like partners for two years, Nic,” Jana whispered to him. “It’s time we started sharing like partners.” Then, to the old merc, she said, “I’m Nic’s merc partner. We have the money.”
“Then let’s get playing,” the merc laughed. Sighing, Nic returned to his seat and Jana fished out the proper credit chips and tossed them in the pot. Suddenly, the randomizer kicked on and the players froze. A tiny gasp came from Jana as she watched Nic’s cards change, but the other two were so occupied with their own changing cards that they missed it.
For several long seconds, the players were silent. Then, the third player slammed his cards down on the table, swearing angrily at his misfortune. He had bombed out. It was down to Nic and the retiring mercenary. Slowly, the old merc grinned.
“Read ‘em and weep, my friend,” the old man said laying his cards on the table. Pure Sabacc. Convinced he’d won the game, he reached for the pot, but his hand was intercepted by an angry slap from Jana.
“Back off, speedy,” she snipped. “Show him, Nic.”
“Never crow too fast, old man,” Nic said, slowly turning his cards for the old merc to see. It was an Idiot’s Array, the only hand capable of beating a Pure Sabacc. “Looks like I got me a new ship.”
Emotions flew rapid-fire across the old merc’s face. First, shock. Then, anger, followed by a minor trace of sadness and finishing with amusement as the old man burst into laughter. Nic took a step back, puzzled.
“I guess this game has solidified my retirement,” the merc announced, laughing harder. “Well played, Nic. Docking bay 61. The Echo is yours.” Glancing at Jana, he went on. “Mighty fine good luck charm you’ve got there, young man. You’d best keep her as close as possible, if you know what I mean.”
He winked and then stood, heading for the bar, leaving Nic and Jana alone at the table.
“You...” Jana began. Shock still flooded her face. “But did you just...”
She sat heavily in the chair next to Nic and watched as he nodded slowly. Finally, she managed to get her words out.
“You just... won!” she exclaimed. “A kriffing ship no less.”
“And a hell of a lot of credits,” Nic added, grinning. “And I seem to have discovered my good luck charm. You should help me more often.”
“Don’t count on it, bud,” Jana warned.
“Worth a shot,” Nic chuckled. “Always worth asking...”
Nic and Jana stood in front of a holo-cam on the landing pad where their newly acquired ship was docked. The ship rested behind them and a droid took a picture of them there. After the flash, Nic turned to admire the ship.
“You know, we’ll need a pilot,” Jana pointed out. “Neither of us know how to fly this thing.”
“Already sorted that,” Nic answered. “I caught Aerith before she signed on with another ship. She’s more than happy to help us out.”
“Thought you didn’t like her,” Jana remarked. Nic shrugged.
“Well, she’s a good pilot,” he said. “And I’m sure I can get used to her neverending enthusiasm for high speeds and Ithorians.”
“We’ll need a mechanic,” Jana warned. “An’ we both know Chase is unavailable now.”
“We’ll be fine for a few months ‘till we can find somebody,” Nic said. “Ship’s in good condition and I know a little... well, I can change a wire... I think...” He shook his head dismissively. “Any other complaints?”
Jana laughed. “Can’t think of another off the top of my head, Boss. Alright, so where first?”
Nic grinned down at his partner. “Ever been to Alderaan?”