What's in it for me?

a Star Wars short story

by Costin Becheanu

Taran Shkrin was winding through the bustling streets, anxious to make the meeting on time and hopefully avoid any Stormtrooper entanglements along the way. This meant the Twi’lek was dodging in and out of every intersecting alleyway, doubling back on himself to make sure he wasn’t followed, and keeping an eye on the wrist-pad that fed him information from his monitoring droid.

'Anything up there, Fleck?' he whispered, bringing the Eye in the Sky’s camera feed up and arranging his pale green lekku into a more comfortable position.
A short glance at the flickering holo-projection and he turned sharply into yet another narrow path, which prompted a disgruntled whirring noise from the droid’s end.
'I know, but I really can’t slow down now, buddy! Just try to keep me in sight and watch my back best you can. This thing goes well, we’ll have enough credits to outfit a 0.5-class hyperdrive on your frame, let alone some new repulsors…'
A reassuring beep came through and Taran quickened the pace, giving a Duros peddling knockoff wares a wide berth, and angling away from a couple street urchins engaged in a heated debate for the ownership of what looked like a half-skinned animal.
'Why?' he muttered in disgust 'Why does it always have to be some run-down hole in the wall, on some backwater world, in some luck-forsaken town?' he tried to squeeze through a tiny gap between an amorphous, Kitonan blob of fat and the crumbling facade of a once-proud dwelling, now a used electronics dealer’s place of business.
In truth, Rajtiri itself wasn’t a rundown world at all, and the capital city of Jibuto was a beacon of smuggler history and pride with its myriad mausoleums and funerary monuments dating back thousands of generations, and flickering messageboards hailing the deeds of scoundrels long past as far as the eye could see. But this was the town of Ayrykn, a smaller, lesser settlement near one of the planet’s poles, and one that only welcomed the kind of people and goods that were unworthy of Jibuto.
And the sights and smells that came with them.
Before long, safe in the assumption that nobody was dogging his footsteps, Taran sped towards the meeting place, double-checking its name on his holopad and snorting in disdain.
'The Cherryenne Chiss… Millions of forms of communication in the Galaxy and we’re still making up words...'
A bleep over the comm let him know Fleck had the place in sight, so he relaxed a bit at the thought of being able to enter the cantina and find a dark, secluded spot to wait for his contact in and turned the street corner.
'Qaon kunta…' he stopped dead in his tracks.
He was expecting the run of the mill, barely standing haunt. Maybe a greasy slide door, loud patrons drunkenly going in and out, and the odd hint of repetitive yet highly-enthralling music wafting into the street.
What he was faced with was a giant, old shipping container, its walls completely removed, leaving only the support frame in place. Various multi-coloured tarps and blankets were thrown atop the barely-standing ensemble to keep the elements at bay, its roof pierced by decades-old degradation. A motley range of customers were crowding near the middle of it all, a semicircle of various rickety boxes and shelves fashioned into a bar-like area. The rest of the 'complex' was taken up by a wide array of tables, stools, chairs, and other manner of objects one could sit, drink, chat, or simply pass out on, the latter of which many could be seen engaging in.
Taran could see clear through the other end of the establishment, into the street. More importantly, he could easily see every individual currently in there. Some of the patrons even hung around the outside, causing the immediate vicinity of the cantina to look like an overflowing street party, and interfering with whatever unlucky passerby had to make their way through or around it all.
Taran let his breath out through his teeth as he started down the sloping street towards the dive.
'Are you sure this is the place?' he commed.
A short while later, he received a zoomed-in image of a rickety sign that confirmed the cantina’s name, so he groaned and hit some keys to send the droid into surveyor mode.
'If this goes to the Dugs, you know what to do…' he said, and went in.
Once there, it took him several tries to find something even remotely resembling a good observation point, his back now against a small pile of empty beverage containers, overseeing more or less half the place. He sighed as he felt his temples pulsing, the stress from having to watch not only the inside of the cantina for trouble but also the streets right outside of it taking a toll on his patience.
A couple Nautolans laughing along with a human at the bar caught his ear, a commotion starting when the latter hit the punchline of what seemed like a long series of jokes.
'How can it be a showdown' he swayed, gesticulating wildly over the roaring laughter of his companions 'if nobody shows up?' he slapped the bar and downed his drink under Taran’s watchful frown and poured himself another.
He thought the man was a poor sight, even by Ayrykn standards, a gray overcoat hanging down to his dusty boots was draped over a washed out jumpsuit. Unkempt hair and a scar lining the side of his face were his most distinguishing features. A quick scan with the pad and Taran found he was carrying no weapons.
'That’s pretty stupid, in a place like this...' the Twi’lek snickered, too loudly, catching the man’s attention. He grinned at his companions, then drunkenly made to sit next to Taran.
'I’m going to stop you right there' Taran pulled the chair nearby closer to him 'I’m not buying, selling, or anything in between, so just see to your own ends, and we’ll both end up appreciating it.'
The man smiled and slowly sat down on the table, leaning in close to Taran and looking him over, the heavy scent of aromatic drink on his breath enough to bring an Exogorth to tears. Taran winced and leaned away.
'You’re waiting for someone…' the man mumbled, his eyes glazed over as he smiled.
'You got me.' Taran rolled his eyes.
The man’s face straightened and Taran slowly reached for his blaster, hoping he didn’t have to blow the whole thing because of a random drunk.
'You’re late!' the man snatched the free chair and dropped heavily on it.
Taran blinked slowly a few times, his eyes passing from the man to the Nautolans who were now deep in conversation with each other. It took him a couple seconds to recompose himself.
'Excuse me?!'
The man waved him off and took a slow sip of his drink.
'It’s alright. Happens to the best of us.' he wiped his mouth with a dirty sleeve, plopped his feet on the table and stretched, his previously inebriated state all but gone from his features and speech 'Now… This job you have lined up. The gambling place. What’s in it for me?'
In 20 years of smuggling, cheating, stealing, and generally meeting seedy individuals in even seedier places, Taran Shkrin had never found himself at a loss for words in such a situation.
'How…' he managed to articulate.
The man sighed, leaned over the table and lazily rested his head on his palm, his harsh features squeezed against it.
'We really don’t have time for this and you only have yourself to blame.'
Taran shifted in his seat, trying to recompose himself, but at this point the brave mask he was putting on wasn’t kidding anyone. Before he could answer, the man winced and continued:
'All the filters and pseudo-relays in the Galaxy can’t mask the recording coordinates that RMD-20 droid stamped onto your transmission. Doesn’t take much digging to find anyone out after that' the man leaned in 'Especially if the message originates p-p-planetside.' he shrugged.
'Not many people know this, it was supposed to be taken out of the matrix when they went to market, along with replacing that ugly wrist c-comm with a smaller unit...' the man yawned as Taran tried to pull his sleeve further down.
'Funny and resourceful, those Sky-Eye things. They also take stunning panoramic holos if you know how to fiddle with the aperture settings.' he grinned 'Fleck. Cute name, by the way! S-s-suits the little buzzer.'
Taran was seething.
Here, he realised once the slight shock wore off, sat his contact, the final piece of his break-in crew puzzle. And this highly recommended and vouched for individual, although nobody mentioned him ever looking this worse for wear, was effectively having a laugh at his expense.
Him, the one that had put it all together, thanks to whom they were all looking at a possible payout that could buy every last one of the dozen people involved a small planet to retire on.
'I don’t appreciate my associates knowing more about me than I do them. So if we could start again, from the top…' Taran drew a deep breath and calmed himself down 'I’m Taran Shkrin, not that you don’t know that by now... It looks like you’re my one-thirteen Standard...'
Taran extended a hand the man took and shook feebly, visibly bothered by the gesture. He then returned to his drink, trying to fish some remaining fruity residue from the bottom of the glass with his fingers.
Taran pushed on.
'This is the point where you introduce yourself, ask me more about who sent me to you, who else is in on the op, the idea as a whole, what it ent-'
'I asked you what’s in it for me, d-d-didn’t I?'
'So… You’re in? Do we have a deal?'
The man set his feet back up on the table, tilted his head to the side, and raised his eyebrows.

~All existing names, characters, images, and references pertaining to the Star Wars universe are the property of Disney, Lucasfilm, and any other of their respective owners, and are used in this work of fan fiction without the express intent of monetary gain or other benefits. Any new characters and locales are original works of the author and bear no intent to infringe upon the existing IP and/or its subsidiaries.~