This is the first half of the story, which got quite a bit longer than I intended, so I'm going to post it in halves to avoid the dreaded wall o' text. The story itself is fourth in a series I'm writing which was going to be three stories, stretched out to five, and is now looking like seven if I actually write them all. You are no doubt detecting a pattern here.
The other three stories are on KFM, starting with Wet Work
, then Dance Dance Revelation
, and Break/Fix
It was a friendship with a rather unexpected beginning. Mical was at the workbench swapping out the chamber on his blaster and Bao-Dur was fixing some system glitch or other, each enjoying the quiet of having the more vocal members of the crew off the ship, when Bao-Dur said to him, apropos of nothing, “You really are a lot smarter than you let on, aren't you.”
“Yes,” said Mical. The straightforward simplicity of the answer seemed to please the technician very much, to the degree that anything organic could please Bao-Dur.
A few minutes later, Mical ventured a question of his own. “You really don't speak unless spoken to, do you?”
“Two eye, two ears, and one mouth are design indicators that we should look and listen twice as much as we speak,” the tech replied.
“You seem to be running at a much greater ratio than two-to-one.”
“Yeah, well,” Bao-Dur shot an irritated glance in the direction of the main hold in which Atton and Mira could generally be found playing cards, or arguing, or arguing about cards, “I'm compensating for increased activity elsewhere.”
From then on, Mical would sometimes take his meals with Bao-Dur or do a bit of reading in the relative peace of the garage, and their companionable mutual silence was occasionally broken by a bit of conversation. They were rarely interrupted and never joined by anyone else, because why would anyone want to listen to the two most boring members of the crew prove that two boring people were more boring together than they were separately? It really was the perfect arrangement.
Of course, Mical didn't know whether Bao-Dur's blank face and low monotone were designed to deter other people from chatting him up while he was working or merely the reflection of a deeply reserved soul. Mical himself had learned at an early age the value of maintaining an air of vacuous yet helpful complacency. His father, a senior diplomat and trade delegate for a Mid-Rim world of some small importance, had, over the course of his career, polished his face to such a perfectly blank surface that it was impossible to tell what he thought, what he felt, or how intelligent he was. Mical acquired the basics of the technique as a child in school, and then when he returned home from the Jedi Academy, mastered it, if only to conceal from everyone how very heartbroken he was.
Mical's only flaw in this mastery of his father's face was his mother's skin. Asanna Terasen was quite a beauty of the ice-blonde type, and Mical had unfortunately inherited her transparently pale complexion. His most persistant minor regret was that he had never received the Jedi training in vascular control that would have allowed him to overcome his unfortunate tendency to blush.
So when Mical came into the garage with two spots of color high on his cheeks, Bao-Dur simply said, “Atton?” and returned to re-wiring some power coupling contacts.
“Yes,” Mical sighed, “Another go-round about the Exile. I think I may have finally convinced him that I only want to help her, not steal her away.”
“You know, he actually asked me once if I thought he had a chance with her?” Bao-Dur might even have been amused.
Mical's eyebrows shot up. “Did he? And what did you say?”
“I told him his guess was as good as mine.”
“And what is your guess?” Mical asked.
The technician shrugged dismissively. “He chases the General like a dog chases a speeder, with about as much chance of success. And if he somehow managed to succeed, he'd be just as baffled as to what to do next.”
Two eyes, two ears, and one mouth, indeed. He really should ask Bao-Dur's opinion more often.
“I think you might be right there.” Mical sighed again and settled himself against the workbench, “Regardless, I must say that I'm getting rather tired of assuring him that I'm not a rival for her affections.”
Bao-Dur looked up from his work. “You aren't, are you?”
“Interested in the General?”
“Ah, well, um, no, not really.” Mical stammered, nonplussed. “I admit I find her very beautiful--I'm a Jedi, not a eunuch. But given the certainty of being her padawan on one hand, and the practical impossibility of being her lover on the other, the choice is obvious, isn't it? All my life, I've only ever wanted to be a Jedi. I lost that chance once to the wars. Now I have this second chance--a miracle, really--and I'm not going to throw it away just to...chase a speeder.” After a moment's hesitation, he added, “The irony of the situation is that, to be honest, Atton's more my type than Pala is.”
“Really?” Bao-Dur turned to him, visibly surprised, which for Bao-Dur meant a slight lift of one eyebrow, “I didn't know you were attracted to males.”
“I'm not,” said Mical with a wry smile, “I'm attracted to trouble.”
“Oh, well then,” Bao-Dur returned to his wiring, “he's definitely your type.”
Atton certainly was trouble and a bit of a mystery as well. Mical had requested profiles on all the Exile's associates almost immediately upon joining her entourage. There had been little to surprise him in the information he had received. Bao-Dur had been employed in a series of technical jobs that required a great deal of skill and responsibility but offered little by way of recognition, which seemed entirely in keeping with his personality. Mira was indeed a very successful bounty hunter, but even a perfunctory glance at her catch list showed the vast number of her targets had been small fry, petty criminals with petty bounties, spouses who had run off with more than their share of the community property, low-level spice dealers, and the occasional owner of a droid chop-shop. She was, as Kreia liked to call her, a huntress, but more along the lines of a tabby cat than a tigress. Visas' file contained little, though given her affiliation with the Sith, he hardly expected her personel records to be in Republic hands. Of Kreia he knew even less. He never received a file on her, despite his repeated requests. Either the Republic had no information on her, or more likely, the information was not only beyond his security clearance, but beyond that of Admiral Onasi as well.
Atton's file was larger than all the others combined, with the exception of the Exile herself, and contained exactly what one would expect--warrants and convictions for everything from spice possession to burglary to fraud, and of course smuggling, as well as the endless arrests for drunk and disorderly, disturbing the peace, assault, and resisting arrest. He was, in short, a run of the mill street criminal, the sort one would expect to find on Mira's bounty list. There was only one thing wrong with Atton's file. Despite its thickness, it was much too short. Atton should have arrest reports going back at least 15 years, perhaps more, and yet there was nothing Mical could find that went back farther than 4 or 5 years. Furthermore, there was nothing to indicate just how Atton had managed to pick up some fairly advanced Echani fighting techniques. All very curious indeed. Curious and troublesome. Definitely his type? Bao-Dur had no idea.
As to just how troublesome Atton could be, Mical also had, apparently, no idea, and thus he was completely blindsided the next day when Atton sauntered into the medical bay with a grin composed of equal parts evil and triumph.
“So,” he said, propping himself against the wall, “I heard you think I'm hot.”
“Is that so? Certainly, this is the first I'd heard of it. Where did you come across this interesting bit of news?” Mical's smile was blandly curious, his voice was steady, but he could feel the heat rising in his ears.
“Oohhh, nonono. I never give up a source.” Atton shrugged, “Well, not unless the credits are good.”
Mical vaguely recalled several counts of extortion he'd noted in the pilot's file as well, none of which had stuck, thus indicating a certain amount of skill in that area. I really must get his complete records.
“Ah, in that case, I doubt that the credits are good, because the information isn't.”
“It's not, is it?”
“Because that's not what I heard.”
“Well, I can't speak to the quality of your source, or of your hearing, but I assure you I harbor no such feelings toward the Exile, or you, or anyone else on this ship for that matter.”
At the mention of Pala, Atton's eyes narrowed and he turned to go. “So maybe I should check my ears, huh? Okay, sure. You might want to have a look at yours too, you know. They're looking kinda red there, kid.”
Definitely get his records.
“He's still at it?” Bao-Dur asked.
“How did you guess?” Mical had taken what was becoming his usual seat on a crate in the corner of the garage behind the swoop bike. It was the most defensible position in the room.
Mical groaned inwardly. Even Bao-Dur couldn't help poking fun. The situation was becoming utterly absurd. At first it had been just the look, or stare really. Staring was an inherently aggressive act among almost all mammalian species, sentient or not, and Atton had a knack for catching the eye and pinning one's gaze with an I know that you know that I know
stare which invariably led to a ruddy result on Mical's part. That was bad enough, but it had gotten to the point where he was so on edge that Atton could make him blush at will, and did. Frequently. Particularly when other members of the crew were present. It was rapidly becoming a source of entertainment for everyone else, especially Mira and, to his dismay, Pala. Even Bao-Dur was starting to look amused. Either that or Mical was just being over-sensitive and paranoid, which was quite likely, and quite likely exactly what Atton intended.
To add to his frustration, no further records on his tormentor had been forthcoming. Of course, he hadn't really expected anything more from the Republic. Their records were a wreckage anyway, thanks to the Mandalorians--too many data warehouses destroyed along with the worlds on which they had been located. He'd tried alternate avenues of information, including his father's contacts in trade, both legal and otherwise, and at Czerka, who knew at least as much as law enforcement, if not more, about the Exchange and the debris field of criminality that orbited around it. No matter where he looked there was nothing. For all intents and purposes, Atton Rand had materialized out of empty space five years ago. As a scientist he found it anomalous, as a historian he found it frustrating, and as a Republic intelligence analyst, he found it suspicious.
He was sitting at the desk in the Hawk's security station, searching through a datapad of ships' manifests and crew rosters. Atton's picture sat in the upper left corner of the pad's screen while photo ID's of crew and passengers scrolled by on the right. He'd come across a few references to a Jaq Rand and was trying to find a visual record of him somewhere for comparison. Of course, it was his own fault for sitting with his back to the door, the open
door, rather than in some nice snug corner of the locked
med bay, or in the central hold with lots of witnesses and a console to keep between him and his tormentor. It's not as though he didn't know that Atton had decided to tease him to death. It's not as though he didn't know the Atton could sneak up behind anybody on the entire ship, except for Kreia, completely undetected. So he shouldn't have been surprised when Atton reached over his shoulder and twitched the datapad out of his hands.
“Oh, hey, look! Pictures of me?”
“Atton, please give it back.” He held out his hand, trying to be civilized about this.
“What are you doing? Oh, I know, this is a list of all the guys you like, huh?--”
“No, I--” Civilized. What was he thinking? He leaned forward to take it and Atton stepped back out of reach, poking at the datapad screen, flipping through the contents of the display.
“--and you are rating them in order of hotness, and you have to scroll aaaaaalllllll the way to the top to find a place for me.”
“Atton, give it back!” If he reached for the datapad, the whole thing would devolve into an idiotic game of keep-away, but if he didn't...
“You got any naked pictures of me in here?” he asked, still messing with the screen, mucking about with the files.
“No--” Atton ducked and dodged away from his attempts at retrieval.
“No thank you!” He tried to wrestle the data pad away but got nothing for his trouble but an expert groping and a smack on the arse. Atton was laughing at him with a nasty little gleam in his eye, passing the datapad back and forth behind his back. It took a moment for Mical to recognize that he had stopped breathing out of sheer, frustrated rage, and another moment for him to take in a deep, deliberate breath and slowly let it out again. It wouldn't do to lose him temper. Atton might be a tough street fighter, but Mical had the advantage of ten kilos of muscle and eight centimeters of reach on him, and years of training in military hand to hand combat.
There is no emotion there is peace...
“Why are you so interested in me, anyway?” Atton asked. His smile was gone but the nasty gleam was still there.
“He's trying to figure out why you are such an obnoxious ass.” The unexpected voice was Mira's. She and Pala stood in the doorway. Atton wasn't the only one who could sneak up on people.
Pala took advantage of their surprise to take the datapad away from Atton. Mira was smothering giggles but Pala just looked tired. “Oh, for Force's sake, Atton, will you just leave him alone?”
Atton pushed past them without a word and strode angrily down the hall. They heard him stomp down the ramp and out of he ship.
“Aaaaaand off the the cantina he goes,” Mira observed flatly, “to 'have a few laughs.'”
“Yes,” Pala sighed. “How drunk do you think he will get this time?”
The bounty hunter shrugged. “How much money has he got?”
“Well, if he isn't back by closing time, I'll go get him.”
Pala nodded, “Thanks, but go easy on the stun-stick this time.”
Mira rolled her eyes and promised nothing.
He hoped they would leave, now that they had rescued him, but Pala took a seat on the security console and Mira propped herself up against the door.
“You are going to have to deal with him at some point, you know,” said Pala gently. “He's only doing this to get a rise out of you.”
“Much more groping and I think he really would have gotten a rise
out of you.” She snickered at her own double entendre, immune to the double Jedi glare.
“You have to do something.” Pala turned back to her conversation with Mical. “You can't just let this go on.”
“I know, I – I just don't know what to do...”
Mira offered him her stun-stick. He declined with a shake of his head, though the idea had occurred to him.
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Pala asked.
“No! No...I'll handle it. Somehow. I'll figure out something.”
“Why don't you just grope him back?” was Mira's unexpected suggestion.
“Call his bluff. Next time he makes a pass at you, take him up on it. If he grabs you, grab him back. He gets you in a corner, suck his face off. Call his bluff. He'll back off.” She paused. “Won't he?”
“I'm not so sure,” said Mical. “I suspect he might be...omnivorous, in that respect.”
Mical shrugged, but Mira was not about to let the subject drop. “And how about you? Are you omnivorous, too?”
He thought Pala would be shocked at such a question, but she just looked interested in the answer.
Fine. Getting chased and groped wasn't bad enough, let's now discuss his sexual preferences with the entire crew. Maybe they should gather in the central hold and hold a general meeting about it. “I'm celibate, as is every member of the Jedi order.”
“That's no answer,” said Mirah. “What you do
eat and what you would
eat are two different things. You attracted to guys, or girls, or both, or what?”
“All right then! Since you absolutely must
know – yes, I am 'omnivorous.' I will eat anything, provided it is sufficiently toxic
“What's that mean?”
“It means,” he said with a resigned sigh, “that I am attracted to people who are bad for me. I've been told that I don't actually want someone to love, I just want someone to rescue. That I just want to be the hero, the martyr, and that's why I will never really love anyone. That I just want someone that makes me look like a saint by comparison.”
Pala frowned. “Who told you that?”
“Someone who was very, very bad for me.”
Sha said nothing, merely nodded in sympathy and handed him his datapad before pushing Mirah in front of her out the door.
Mical looked at the datapad. Everything on it had been erased.