(Author's Note: This is the 3rd episode in the "Vremya" series. The title asks "(are we) light or dark?", not just "am I?"...)
Rodion Beviin and I slaved away for two weeks in the bowels of Shiptech--its run-down, broiling salvage yard. This was longer than I'd ever expected to work there, yet with substantial ship and droid repairs costing what they did these days, it was well worth the effort. Foreman Dahla, seeing what diligent and uncomplaining peons we were, gave us a raise far beyond what she truly thought we deserved. Of course, this came with the implicit knowledge that we would continue to keep our hands to the hammer and our mouths closed.
I would have gotten a better job and taken Rodion with me, but in the higher professional circles of Eriadu's workforce, I would have been found out. Jedi, even exiled ones, were considered suspect. "Meddling do-gooders," Foreman Dahla had grumbled, "who stick their noses into business which is absolutely none of theirs. We have work to do, and without our other contacts here at Shiptech--a bunch of vermin, but necessary ones--we'd go flat broke."
We inadvertently spotted some of those "other contacts" a few days later. In a move which was quite out of character for him, Rodion turned his head away from the pile of scrap metal he was pounding and jerked it toward three people. They were dressed in black leather and fibermesh, like some of the swoop gangs I'd seen on Nar Shaddaa, but none of them rode a bike.
"You see?" he asked between clenched teeth. "Those goons are members of the Exchange, and they're searching for flunkies. Foreman Dahla has some sort of arrangement with them; I'm sure of that. In this business, or at least what I've heard in this business in-between breaks for hot caf and discount rations, the Exchange is a main supplier of parts for Shiptech. 'Dealers' sell them cheap, as they are most often stolen property, and in return most of the foremen and middle-managers let the Exchange scout around for new recruits. It's a shady deal, but very convenient for all parties involved."
I stood stock-still for a moment and then asked, "Uh--why are we still here?"
I have an idea. There's a lot of people milling around the salvage yard, not to mention swinging the hammers as hard as we were. Let's follow the fellows from the Exchange and see if we can let them talk us into working for them. The thing is, we'll do no such thing. We'll only pretend we will. As soon as they give us a small advance on our first job, which they usually do, then we'll take it back to Foreman Dahla and see if she has a counteroffer."
"Another raise? Isn't that extortion?" I smirked and glanced back at Rodion's slag pile. "Of course, we're not exactly threatening to turn her in to the Eriadu authorities, and for all our work, 250 credits apiece isn't much."
"You got that. Of course, if they suspect we're lying, they'll try to kill us. How good are you at fighting, Dvyx?"
Better than you know,
I almost said, but instead I replied, "Very."
"Good. Keep a low profile, and sneak. I sure wish we had Stealth Generators."
So did I. If I hadn't sold mine for the last batch of ship repairs I paid for ere Malachor V, we would have slunk through the rubble invisibly and silently. As it was, we had to keep pace with the three black-clad Exchange thugs at an unadvantageous distance, and as luck would have it, it started to rain. I used the Force to cast a weak energy shield around myself and Rodion, but we still got plenty wet because I didn't want to make him suspicious. By the time we got to the dingy alleyway where the thugs congregated, even my mesh bodysuit was soaked. I hoped no one was looking at me--er, us...
"Stop right there!", one of them cried out, brandishing his illegally-modified blaster. "Followed us, someone!" He, a Rodian, was astonishingly good at weapon technique--not so much at Basic grammar. "If hostile, kill them!"
"We come in peace," I said sheepishly, raising my hands in surrender. I felt my face become hot as I blushed at the cliche. What did Rodion think? "We both want to join up. The Exchange, you are?" Blast! Now I was doing it...
The Rodian approached us, still hoisting his blaster. "How I know you are not good Shiptech? Tell truth, or die!"
I rolled my eyes. "Is there really any such thing as 'good Shiptech'? Let's face it--you guys are in business with them because they let you scout for scabs. Let you look for new recruits to help the Exchange. I'm interested, and so is my partner here, Rodion Beviin." I turned towards him and smiled, and if I wasn't mistaken--did he wink at me at the word 'partner'? "Our wages are bantha dung where we pound slag at the salvage yard, and that's why we know we'd earn more credits working for you. Do we have a deal, or not?" I put my hands on my hips, not to intimidate the Rodian, but to look tough, at least. It didn't pay to do 'soft diplomacy' with thugs as hardened as these.
"Hmmm--all right, deal. You cross us double, we kill. Your first job is go visit someone. Rough them up--they not pay Exchange debt. Where they work is near Shiptech building, not too far away. Dirty apartment, 13B, look for male Quarren. His name Morlin Cal. Give him big hits, and he pay up." The Rodian paused. "Mandalorian best for this job. You bait, girl. Lure him out."
This shocked me more than the Rodian calling me "girl".
"Get down." A ghost of a whisper, at the edge of hearing. "Get down
Before I truly knew what was happening, Rodion sprang forward, grappling the alien in a full-body tackle. Blaster fire sounded, and I shut my eyes, pressing my face to the ground. I inhaled mud. Rodion landed blows against the face of the Exchange thug, and I heard him cry out in shrill bursts. More blaster fire. I should have done something, yes, since I was a Jedi. However, I had no weapons, and the attack was so sudden that I--why was I striking?
In the midst of the pouring rain, I heard the word for "right now", and a touch on my shoulderblade. I raised my head and opened my eyes. Rodion, covered in mud and with scorch-holes in his sturdy vest, helped me to stand and survey the damage. I expected bodies everywhere, and yet there were only two--the Rodian and some other man I hadn't noticed much while we were talking. For some reason, I felt sad and guilty.
"They were after you," sighed Rodion. "I knew that when they said the word 'bait' in relation to you, something was probably wrong. Next time, let me do the talking, albeit with two vibroblades." His dark eyes were heavy, and so, I suspect, was his heart. "I didn't know if they'd kill you, but I couldn't take that chance. You've proven so much to me already."
I didn't know whether to be flattered or horrified. "Rodion--we'll confess! If we surrender to the authorities now, we'll say that we killed Exchange and thus get reduced sentences. We'll serve at hard labor, mozhet byt' semi-vos'mi let
--for seven or eight years. We can do it. We have before." I tried to smile, but tears were running down my face. "Chto govorish'?" What do you say?
was the question, but I didn't know the answer.
"I know you want to do the right thing. So do I. However, I think it's best if we both disappear. Who knows? We might even save the galaxy while we're busy fleeing bounty hunters and the vaunted police from Eriadu. When this happens, everybody runs, Tysyacha. Cowardice would be suicide, and in this case, it would mean doing nothing. Will you run with me?" I nodded.
"There's something I have to tell you," I said. "I'm a Jedi. Exiled."
"Exiled is better than dead," Rodion said sharply, "which is what you would have been if I hadn't known you. We Mandalorians despise the Jedi, but scumbags like Foreman Dahla and the Exchange are out for blood. If we work together, we'll rid this galaxy of both kinds of threats, and then some..."
Was he thinking Sith?
In the rain, he suddenly pulled me close for a kiss.