For a Good Cause
Word Count: 4994
Pressing his hand against the latrine door, Oran Zapal entered the men's refresher room. Taking a quick scan, he noticed only a single stall occupied.
This couldn't be any more perfect, he thought as he gently keyed a code into the door pad. It made a soft clicking noise as it locked. He positioned himself so that the occupant wouldn't immediately notice him.
As the stall refresher flushed, a blue-skinned Rodian exited and began washing his hands. The Rodian was wearing what passed for a flight suit mixed with yellows and oranges with an olive-green jacket that had yellow stripes running down the shoulders and arms.
Oran's personal mantra ran through his. Take care of yourself before you take care of others. It always made this easier.
"Hiya, Teebo," Oran said, pressing the cold object in his coat against Teebo's back. "It's so nice to see you practicing proper hygiene."
"Oran!" Teebo exclaimed in a startled voice. He stiffened and straightened, raising his hands in the air. Water from the tap continued to run, adding a small but effective layer to muffle their voices. "Don't shoot, please!"
"We do this right," Oran said, "I won't have to. You got the credits?"
Teebo began to shake and stutter, and Oran noticed Teebo's eyelids and elongated mouth begin to flutter in the mirror.
"I—I have some of the credits," he began.
"Some?" Oran asked pointedly, pressing harder into Teebo's back. "What do you mean, 'some'?"
"I-I..." Teebo stuttered.
"Oh, Teebo," Oran groaned. "You didn't!"
"I thought I could win a few extra. Pay off the Pyke's faster."
"And how'd that work out?" Oran asked.
"How much do you have left?"
"Five hundred!" Oran hissed. "You only have five kriffing hundred left! You were supposed to have twenty-five hundred credits!"
"I know!" Teebo cried. "I know! Please! I just need more time!"
"Time's up," Oran said, using his free hand to twist Teebo around. He pressed the metallic object to Teebo's stomach. "Give me the credits. Now. And do it slowly."
Cautiously reaching inside his coat, Teebo produced a small pouch that clinked as it hit Oran's hand.
"Please," Teebo begged, tears forming at the base of his large, black eyes. "You don't know what the Pyke's will do to me."
Pocketing the credits, Oran reached up and slowly pulled back the collar of his coat and shirt. It revealed a circular metallic device that ran around Oran's neck. Two green lights blinked in unison every few seconds.
"I know all too well what the Pyke's will do to you," Oran said. "You can't pay the Pyke's, you become their property." As he backed away, hand still in his coat, Teebo sank to his knees, sobbing.
Deep down, Oran pitied Teebo. But his mantra tickled across the back of his mind, reminding him of what was really important.
Oran made his way to the door, keying in the code to unlock it.
"Teebo," he said, turning to face the sobbing Rodian.
"Y-yeah?" he asked, turning and wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
Oran removed his hand from his coat. In his fingers he held a metallic shot glass. "Stop being so gullible and start making better choices."
He left Teebo, whose mouth was agape in shock and awe, to his own fate. Waiting further down the corridor was his partner, an R2-style ferry droid, its metallic arms crossed over one another. 9D-0— or, Goose, as he affectionately nicknamed his companion— rotated his dome so that the large ocular lens and accompanying lights met Oran. Goose gave a few honks and warbles.
"Only got part of what we needed," Oran said.
Goose honked his displeasure, and the two began making their way towards the main lobby.
"Not my fault Teebo made some bad choices," Oran said as the cacophony of cheers and noises grew louder. Goose began to honk another phrase before Oran stopped him. "Don't you dare bring that up," he said, raising a finger to the droid. "Even if it is true."
They emerged seconds later into the full chaos and splendor of the New Horizon's Casino, the most sought-after and dangerous casino this side of the Scagur Rift. Patrons from a hundred worlds gambled their credits in hopes of making a fortune, though more than a few gambled their credits away for hopes of a speedy ticket off-world and to a better life.
As Oran and Goose passed through the center of the lobby they happened by an oversized slot machine. The golden display numbers flashed a value at over 95,000 credits — and counting.
"Could solve a lot of problems if we won," Oran said. Goose stopped and swiveled his dome, then gave a honk.
"One pull won't hurt," Oran said as he reached into one of his pockets and removed a credit chit. Inserting it into the slot, he gave the large lever a pull. The three screens spun and whirled as various shapes and figures shot past. The first two screens stopped at a pair of ripe cherries, while the third stopped at a golden liberty bell. The machine gave an audible womp-womp.
"Guess it was too much to hope for," Oran said. "Let's get out of—." Two ex-clone troopers wearing gray suits and black turtlenecks stepped in front of them. "Here," Oran finished as he looked up. The clone, who had a visible scar running down his left eye, which was also milky-white, cracked his knuckles.
"Oran Zapal," came a female voice from behind him. Oran turned to see a shapely red-skinned twi'lek with glasses in a navy-blue business suit and skirt with a white blouse standing behind them.
"Mira," Oran said, clearing his throat. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Mister Nohk wishes to speak with you and your companion," she said, adjusting her glasses. "Immediately."
Oran and Goose stood in the dimly-lit but luxurious office. The wall behind the large desk and chair housed an impressive array of screens that cycled through every security camera in the casino. Thin tendrils of smoke filled the room.
"Oran Zapal and his droid," Mira said as she stepped forward. "As requested, sir."
"Goose," Oran said, "his name is Goose."
The padded leather chair swiveled around to reveal a red-skinned and muscular Devaronian male who could easily have passed off as a bouncer or enforcer. Instead, he wore a gray-colored suit vest over a black dress shirt with a cream-white tie. A red flower Oran didn't recognize rested in the lapel. A thick, glowing cigar rested between the devaronian's lips.
"Oran Zapal," came the deep baritone voice of Charos Nohk as he removed the cigar from his mouth. "Back so soon?"
"Well," Oran said, "after our last friendly meeting, I decided I just couldn't get enough of you."
Unphased with Oran's quip, Charos took another puff from the cigar and blew the smoke out through his nostrils.
"Most people who see me for these private sessions tend to not get another," he said, waving his cigar to the side. "You on the other hand— I like you."
"You do?" Oran asked incredulously. "Sorry, Charos, you're not my type."
With a nod from Charos, one of the clone enforcers behind Oran produced a baton and struck Oran against the back of his legs and back. His body coursing with pain, he slumped to the ground. Goose gave a honk and tried to stop the first enforcer from making another blow, but the second enforcer produced a taser-like device and pressed it against Goose's body. The droid wailed as blue electricity surged across his frame, his dome spinning. Seconds later his dome stopped and Goose crashed backwards to the ground.
Rising from his chair, Charos held up his hand, signaling for the two enforcers to stop.
"It's come to my attention," he said, stepping around his desk, "that a young Rodian, indebted to the Pyke Syndicate, tried to use money he owed them to increase his fortunes and pay off his debt." Charos reached down and grabbed Oran by his collar, easily lifting him off the ground. Mira frisked Oran's coat pockets, producing the pouch of credits Oran had collected.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate these illegal credits," Charos said as Mira stepped away.
"A bit ironic given your line of business," Oran quipped. "You really don't need to do that."
"Oh, but I do," Charos replied without missing a beat. He set Oran down on the ground and placed an arm around him. "You know how I feel about the Pykes," Charos continued, pulling Oran with him. "Their spice business is bad for my business and territory. And, given my positive relationship with the local Imperial governor as of late, I just can't have that."
"Charos, I'm going to level with you— I need those credits to work off my debt. Think of it as putting credits towards a good cause: my freedom. If you could just look the other way this one time..."
"Afraid not, my boy," Charos said disappointedly. "I am obliged to confiscate these credits. But don't worry, they'll go towards a good cause."
"Charos," Oran said, "if I didn't know any better I'd say you're the devil himself." He felt Charos's grip tighten as he was pulled closer. Charos gave a deep, baritone laugh.
"This, my boy, this is why I don't kill you. You have such a wonderful sense of humor! But know this," Charos said as he jabbed at the control panel. The door whisked open, light spilling in from outside. "If I find you in my casino again conducting business for the Pykes, you won't be leaving alive." Charos shoved Oran out of the door and onto the ground. Goose followed seconds later as the two enforcers tossed him out of the room. "And neither will the droid," Charos finished, taking one final drag of his cigar. The door closed, leaving Oran and Goose in a heap on the floor.
"His name is Goose!" Oran called.
An hour later, Oran and Goose found themselves at Diver's Bay, the local bar they frequented on Scagur Rift. Patrons milled about or sat in booths or at sabacc tables, winning and losing their credits and drinking their problems away.
"One Corellian Ale," said the waitress, "and one hot oil."
"Thanks, Shanti," Oran said as he flipped the female Nautolan a few credits for the drinks. Goose gave a honk after he'd poured some of the oil into one of his compartments.
Nursing his Corellian Ale, Oran noticed two young women enter the bar. One was a moderately attractive redhead in a short green dress with a purse slung around her torso. The second was a beautiful purple-skinned Twi'lek in a short cut blue dress that exposed part of her back.
"Get a load of Red and Violet there," Oran said lowly as the two women approached the bar. It didn't take long for them to get noticed by some of the male patrons. "Don't look like they're from around here," he finished. Oran saw the men speaking with them pushed aside by gruffer ones wearing black leather jackets, a gold star stitched onto the backside. "That's not good," Oran said.
They watched a few flirtatious minutes combined with drinks go by before the girls and their new interests made their way to one of the sabacc tables. Pulling the chairs out, Oran saw Red reach into her purse and casually toss a few credits onto the table.
"Oran. Goose," said Corr Cyone as he slid a chair up to their table. He was a Pyke with tan and yellow clothing that matched his olive-green helmet and facemask.
"Corr," Oran said.
"Have the credits?"
"Funny story," Oran began. "See, I met Teebo earlier. Things were going well, and—."
Corr raised a single palm.
"You were to retrieve twenty-five hundred credits from Teebo," Corr said. "And yet it would appear that you do not have the credits."
"As I said," Oran said slowly, "everything was going fine until Teebo made some bad decisions and Charos Nohk got involved."
Corr paused long enough to digest this information. A cheer rose from the table that Red and Violet were at as Red collected the first pile of credits from the game. Some of the male patrons at the table, meanwhile, didn't look very happy at that, but dealt in again regardless.
"Most unfortunate," Corr said. "I will require an insurance payment."
Oran exchanged a look with Goose.
"Corr," Oran said slowly, "it wasn't our fault this time."
"You know the consequences for not being able to make a successful transaction," Corr said matter-of-factly.
"Corr, please," Oran said insistently, leaning forward. "This is our last hundred credits."
Corr produced a small metallic device that looked like a lighter. Flicking up the top, it revealed two small buttons — one red, one blue.
"You know the consequences," Corr said lowly. "Either give me the credits, or I walk out and one of you goes 'boom'."
Oran gave a sigh. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the last hundred credits to his and Goose's names, palming them emphatically on the table.
Another cheer rose from the sabacc table as Oran glanced Violet winning the hand for that round.
"Take it," Oran said, meeting Corr's eyes intently. "Though I wonder what your bosses would say if they found you skimming off the top."
"As I said, insurance is needed for circumstances such as this."
"Got another job?" Oran asked between gritted teeth.
Corr gently placed a holo puck on the table and activated it. The blue-clad image of a Duros with an eye patch shimmered into view.
"This is Junsim Deg," Corr began. "He's recently begun falling behind on his payments. I need you to collect what is owed for services given."
"How much?" Oran asked.
Goose gave a low honk.
"I don't recommend failing at this job, Oran," Corr said.
"We won't," Oran said. "C'mon Goose."
As the two left the table, Oran took notice of Red winning the third round of sabacc. The men and aliens at the table began to look incredibly displeased. Oran wanted to tell the girls to walk away and forget winning any more credits. But the little mantra tickled the back of his mind.
Take care of yourself before you take care of others, it said. Oran hated that voice. But he had no choice as he and Goose stepped out into the night's rain.
After retrieving their blasters and Goose's satchel from their air speeder, it took them fifteen minutes to locate Junsim Deg. It didn't help that Deg had decided to take pot shots at them and bolt down the street.
"Out of the way!" Oran called as he and Goose ran down the slick sidewalk, weaving through the throng of people. "Excuse us, pardon me!"
They pursued Deg for another minute before seeing him duck into a dimly lit alleyway. Oran followed Deg while Goose took another route to cut Deg off. Luckily for Oran, the alleyway was blocked off with a fenced gate.
"It's over, Deg," Oran called as thunder rolled overhead. He pointed his blaster at the Duros, who was frantically climbing the metal fence but kept slipping on the wet, slick metal. Oran raised his blaster. "All we want are the credits," he said, moving forward slowly. Deg slid down onto the ground with his last attempt and rolled himself over into a sitting position. He made to go for the blaster in his holster, but Oran shot the ground next to him. "Don't even try it."
"Please," Deg said, holding a hand up. "Don't kill me."
"No need for this to get messy," Oran said. "Just give me the credits and I walk away. No harm, no foul."
"I-I can't," Deg said.
"That case you're holding tells me otherwise," Oran said. He looked past Deg to see Goose coming up the other end of the alleyway.
"It's not all of it," Deg spat out.
"What do you mean?" Oran asked pointedly.
"I know it was supposed to be five-thousand," Deg said, "but I could only collect three. I-I need more time."
"Time's. Up," Oran growled, angry that the full payment hadn't been met.
A whirring sound came from Goose's body as a compartment flipped open and a buzzsaw screamed to life. Pressing it against the metal, it rained orange-hot sparks onto Deg.
"Alright!" Deg sobbed. "Alright! Stop! Take it! Take them all!"
Oran walked over and wrenched the plastic case full of credits from Deg. He handed it to Goose through the bars, who simultaneously pocketed it into the tawny satchel and retracted his buzzsaw blade. Taking a quick look at the duros's good eye, Oran saw that it was bloodshot.
"Kriff, you're half-high on spice, aren't you? That's why you were skittish and shot at us and ran. Do yourself a favor, Deg," Oran said, kneeling down and grabbing onto his collar. "Pay off the Pykes and get out of this—."
Oran was interrupted by the wail of a siren and a vehicle stopping at the end of the alleyway. Goose gave a sharp honk.
Stormtroopers?! Oran thought. Karabast!
Without a second thought, Oran stood up and put a boot on Deg's shoulder, using the height to jump up and grab onto the top of the fence. It was slick, and he almost lost his grip, but he managed to scramble over the top. As Oran's boots hit the wet ground, he and Goose took off towards the end of the alley.
"Wait!" he heard Deg call. Quickly looking over his shoulder, he caught a glance of stormtroopers making their way down the alley, blasters and lights out. Deg had turned over onto his side and was holding a bar with one hand. "Don't leave me! You can't leave me!" his shrill voice echoed.
A chill ran down Oran's spine, but only one thought ran through Oran's mind.
Take care of yourself...
They eventually made their way back to Diver's Bay. All they had to do was cross the street, give the money to Corr, and things would be mostly smoothed out. Oran was sure that Corr would understand if he placed more emphasis on the Imperials showing up.
"Spare any credits?" a voice asked.
Oran looked down to see a clone trooper with a haggard beard and matted hair. His armor was stained with grease and grime, and only a handful of credits rested in the outheld helmet.
"Help an old veteran get a hot meal? Shelter for the night?" he asked, credits clinking.
"Sorry," Oran said. "Fresh out."
As the light turned green, he and Goose crossed the street with the waiting crowd. They were about to enter the bar when he heard voices from the alley.
"No!" came a female voice.
"I want my credits back," a man's voice snarled.
Oran and Goose backpedaled and looked down the alley. There, in the pouring rain, stood Red and Violet, surrounded.
"And I said, no!" Red called as she swatted away an outstretched hand. "We won those credits fair and square."
Oran looked at the situation, then at the door to Diver's Bay. He could have left things as they were. Walked away like he had so many other times. It would be easy. Just walk in, pay Corr, get another job.
Goose gave a sharp honk.
"You're right," Oran said. "This is all wrong." He looked up at Goose. "Lock the credits in the speeder. Get Shanti to let you out the back way. Tell her it's an emergency."
As Goose took off, Oran began walking down the alleyway. One of the aliens had grabbed hold of Violet and pressed her up against the wall, kissing her. She was struggling against him, but he was too strong. He saw Red take a swing at one of the men, but he caught her arm and belted her in return. She stumbled backwards and fell, the credits and personal belongings of her purse sliding and scattering out onto the pavement. Wide-eyed, she reached for what looked like a holo puck.
The man's heavy leather boot landed on it, crushing it into the pavement.
"No!" Red cried in horror.
"There's more than one way you can pay me back," he said as he twisted the heel of his boot. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of Red and pulled her up.
"Help!" she yelled. "Somebody he—!" Her voice was cut off as the man kissed her forcibly. She belted him once. Twice. Three times before he let go, ripping her dress in the process. She fell backwards onto the ground, hitting her head.
"Hey asshole!" Oran yelled. The men stopped to look at him. "Didn't your mother ever teach you how to treat a lady?"
"Scuzz off," called one of the aliens. "This is Black Star territory."
"Y'know," Oran said, cracking his knuckles, "I don't know why you call yourselves the Black Star Brotherhood when the stars you wear are gold. Seems a bit ironic."
The men began to draw their weapons of choice— blasters, chains, and pipes.
"You're outnumbered," the leader said, taking steps towards him. "There's no way for you to beat us."
"I might not," Oran said with a smirk, then pointed behind the gang, "but he can."
The gang members turned to see Goose behind them, blaster drawn to the sky. A single scarlet bolt snapped towards the lone light in the alley. As it connected, the alleyway darkened and chaos let loose. Several shots fired wildly in the darkness, none of them connecting except Goose's. The thud of two bodies hit the ground. Oran rushed forward and engaged with the leader, landing several hard blows before moving on to the next person. Goose followed suit, and even Red surprisingly joined in the fight, picking up a metal pipe and making her way towards the man who had been assaulting Violet. With one swift crack she belted the man away from Violet before disabling him with several more blows.
Damn, she knows how to swing! Oran thought as he ducked and punched his target.
"Let's get out of here!" one of the men called, and the ones that weren't disabled or dead ran off into the night.
Violet had sunk to the ground, sobbing.
"Are you all right?" Oran asked in the darkness. He could just make out the figure of a startled Red standing up, ready to belt him.
"Wait! I'm a good guy! We are totally good guys!" he said.
Red panted for a few seconds before dropping the metal rod. Pulling Violet up, she wrapped Violet's arm around her and began leading her to where the spilled purse was. Sirens began to wail in the distance.
"Empire's on the way." Oran said, helping to collect the credits and effects. "Do you have a home or apartment that we can—."
"Can you get us to the spaceport?" Red asked earnestly.
The drive was mostly silent. The disheveled girls sat in the back of the speeder while Oran drove. Goose was crammed into the front. Oran had tried to get to know the girls' names, but they insisted on going by Red and Violet as he'd called them that earlier. There had been the odd hushed conversation between the two. He'd only caught bits and pieces of the conversation, enough to piece together that they were short on credits to get fuel for travel off-world.
"So," he said, breaking the silence, "what brings two girls like you this far to the Outer Rim?"
"We ... wanted an adventure. Sort of," Red said as she spoke up. "See the galaxy, y'know?"
"And you picked Scagur Rift as a stopping point?" Oran asked. "You really must be a long way from home."
"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Violet mumbled, resting her head against Red.
"Thing to know about the Rift," Oran said, "is that it's a hive of scum and villainy mixed with Imperial business. No place for two young girls like yourself to go sightseeing."
Goose gave a honk.
"What'd he say?" Red asked.
"Wants to know what's on that puck of yours that's so special," Oran said.
"It's my ticket home," Red said glumly. "Or, was, anyway."
Oran and Goose exchanged glances.
"Why don't you give it to Goose here? He might be able to retrieve something from it."
Red hesitated for a moment, then fished the puck out of her purse and reached her arm over the seat. Goose took the puck and began analyzing it before gently trying to take it apart.
"What's your story?" Red finally asked.
Oran paused, considering what to tell her.
"Short version," he began, "Orphaned on a world far from here. Spent the first few years as a street rat until someone took me in. Taught me most of what I know. Became a treasure hunter and thief— a real scoundrel, would you believe it? Met Goose here on Ord Mantell and repaired him. Been best friends since."
Goose gave a friendly double-honk followed by a fist-bump.
"Then things took a turn for the worse." He looked back and pulled at his coat, revealing the metal band around his neck. "Got ourselves fifty-thousand credits indebted to the Pyke Syndicate. I got this neck ring. That thing that looks like a restraining bolt on Goose? It's a small bomb. We go ka-boom if we try to escape off-world."
Red's eyes widened.
Goose gave another series of honks.
"He says that the puck is too damaged to transfer information from," Oran said. "All he can get from it is 'Chandrila' and something about credits. That home?"
"Sort of," Red said after a moment.
"It's ... complicated."
"Some things are," Oran said.
Slowing the speeder down, he parked it in the spaceport drop-off zone.
"Here we are," he said. "You okay to get to your docking bay?"
"We are," Red said as she opened the door.
Goose gave a few honks as Violet and Red exited the speeder.
"Hey, wait," Oran said as he rolled down the window. Red stopped where she was and walked back over to the car. Goose fished into his satchel and produced the container of credits. Taking it, Oran turned and handed it to her. "Wherever you're going, you could probably use this more than the Pykes can."
Red's eyes widened.
"We can't possibly—"
"Goose and I have made our decisions, and paid the price for it," Oran said. "I think it's time we did something good for once. Consider it," he said, pushing the container into her hands, "for a good a good cause."
Red fished into her broken purse and produced a single credit chit.
"What's this for?" he asked.
"I know it's not much," she said, handing it to Oran, "but we can't thank you enough for tonight and saving us. My real name is Kat. That's Lyn. We haven't met a whole lot of nice people since we left home. But you are Goose are some of them." She reached in the window and gave Oran a peck on his cheek. "For luck against the Pykes," she said.
"Safe travels," Oran called as he touched his cheek. He waited until they were safely inside the spaceport gates before he left.
"Well," Oran said as he and Goose stood outside the doors of the New Horizons Casino. "Not much we can do. We'll have to see Corr after this." Goose gave several warbles. "I agree, we don't have much to lose now."
Walking through with the throngs of people entering or leaving the casino, Oran stepped inside. He saw the enforcers take notice of him, one of them raising his wrist to his mouth. Oran ignored them, making a bee-line for the main slot machine. He also noticed Charos in conversation, cigar in hand, with several patrons who were holding champagne glasses.
Stepping up to the slot machine, he saw that the amount had increased to just over 100,000 credits.
"Well, well," came Charos's voice from behind him. Mira had joined him, as had the enforcers. "Back so soon? I hope it's not business related, Oran."
"Strictly pleasure, Charos," Oran said, glancing back at him. Oran inserted the credit and reached for the lever. He could feel Charos standing behind him now.
"You can't win on that machine," Charos breathed lowly, blowing smoke across Oran's shoulder. "Nobody ever does."
Oran pulled the lever anyway and began to walk away.
The sound of an alarm bell a few seconds later stopped him in his tracks. He turned just in time to see the cigar fall from between Charos's lips and hit the floor. Three golden liberty bells were flashing across the white screen. Goose was frantically trying to collect all of the credits pouring from the slot into his satchel. Cheers of excitement rang throughout the room, and Oran felt a few people slapping him on his back.
"Well I'll be damned," he said.
Oran and Goose stepped out into the night air, containers of credit chits in their hands. The rain had stopped, and the stars finally filled the night sky.
"First thing's first," Oran said. "We pay a visit to Corr."
Goose honked in agreement.
"Think we should see if we can do something for Teego and Deg?"
Goose whistled and chirped his response.
As Goose made his way to the speeder, Oran looked out towards the spaceport. He could see the dim light of ships taking off to the stars above, destined for other worlds. Destined, he hoped, for home. He didn't know which ship Kat or Lyn were on, or whether they had already left. But he was happy for the first time in a long time.
"Thank you, Red," he said with a smile, then made his way to freedom.