Jak & Bey Chapter 1: Wasted
Detective Jak Eagerman - 26-year-old human male, a detective of the Coruscant underground
Detective Bey Bem'sura - 21-year-old Balosar female, a detective of the Coruscant underground
Officer Chumby - Sullustan male, beat cop of the Coruscant underground
Commander Tshcoy't - Verpine male, the officer overseeing police forces in the local sector of the Coruscant underground
Lieutenant Fragon - Besalisk male, an officer in Jak's and Bey's chain of command
Officer Leyla Heg'gano - Balosar female, manages the front office of the station
Captain Ruggerrin - Shistavanen male, an officer in Jak's and Bey's chain of command
The Fehdril Brothers - Zeltron males, leaders of a local drug ring
Detective Bey Bem'sura struggled through a haze, reaching for consciousness, but as her eyes opened blearily, she regretted making the effort.
Her head throbbed before she even sat up, and it was ten times worse once she did. Moaning, she bent over her knees and held her head.
From behind the desk outside the holding cells, Officer Leyla Heg'gano looked up. "Hey, Bey. How you holding up? Chumby brought you here last night. Said you were out cold and he needed somewhere to put you."
Bey flinched at the chipper voice, which made her head hurt even worse. She mumbled something that might have approximated gratitude, but her sound-sensitive antennapalps retreated into her head and hid there.
"Just how much did you have to drink?" Leyla cracked a smile. Being a Balosar like Bey, Leyla knew their natural resistance to toxins made it difficult to get drunk. Her own antennapalps, which protruded from her well-groomed hair, twitched at the sound footsteps in the hall. "Good morning, lieutenant! Detective Bem'sura is awake now."
"About time." The obnoxiously loud voice came from a Besalisk, who approached the open door of the holding cell. Lieutenant Fragon waved for her to come out, but then resorted to helping her out by the elbow. "Rough night?"
"Yeah." Blurry memories hung just out of reach. She tried to straighten up in the presence of her superior. "Yes, sir."
"Well, don't worry, we want to hear all about it." He chuckled. "I spared you the paperwork. We'll do the debriefing in person."
"Great." She and Jak had screwed something up, hadn't they? Her hangover told her that much. Just how much had they drunk last night? "I mean, yes, sir."
The station had four interrogation rooms. A glance down the hall told her only one of them was empty. Crime in the lower regions of Coruscant didn't wait for sundown. Why would it? Like the Empire's authority, the sun never reached these levels.
Fragon waved her into the last available room. "Make yourself comfortable. Caf?"
She looked up sharply enough to make her head pound. "For the love of all things holy, yes, please. And please turn down the lights."
She rested her face against the metal table. Was Jak suffering as much as her? Probably not. The unnaturally large human had three times as much mass to soak alcohol as she did. If he were here, he'd be all insufferable grins, saying, "What's the matter Bey B? Too much drink maybe, Bey B? Ya look like a bug splat on a windshield. Sexiest bug splat I ever did see, though."
"Ugh." Bey hid her face under her arms, but she wished he were there. Most certainly, he was in one of the other interrogation rooms, being grilled just like her. For all their bickering, he'd been the only partner she'd known, and she'd been the only partner who'd been able to put up with him for more than a month.
Fragon returned. He pushed a paper cup of black caf across the table to her limp fingers. He dimmed the lights slightly. "Wake up, detective."
"Yes, sir," Bey mumbled as she shoved the cup to her face and tried to drink without burning her tongue. "Ow. Ow. Nnngh."
"Suck it up, Bem'sura." Fragon rested all four fists on the table. "What exactly happened last night?"
Unwillingly, Bey sat up as straight as she could. It was only then that she noticed the dried substance flaking off her hand. She sniffed it. Blood. Had she gotten into a fight with someone?
Then her gaze ran up her bare arm, to her bare shoulder, to her very-much-exposed sports bra. "Where the frell is my shirt?"
And then her gaze ran a bit farther. The same ruddy substance covered half her chest and stomach. It stained the waistband of her civilian pants. Someone had lost a lot of blood, and it wasn't her.
As she lifted her head, her mouth agape, Fragon gave a nod. "Start talking."
"Start talking," Fragon repeated.
She glanced down again, swallowing dread and trying to reassure herself. That wasn't enough blood to indicate any serious injury to a man of Jak's size. Anyway, it was probably someone else's blood.
"Uh. We were undercover. I'm not allowed to talk about it with anyone but Commander Tshcoy't. We were getting close to a big break, you know? They invited us out to discuss business over drinks. It . . . went really well." Bey felt weird saying it. It so obviously hadn't gone as well as she remembered.
"Just how many drinks?"
"Well. There were Zeltrons involved." She winced.
"Zeltrons practically can't get drunk. You know that as well as anyone on the force."
"Yeah, but I can handle my alcohol and Jak can drink nearly anyone under the table." She shrugged miserably. "Men and their competitions, you know? Dumb lunk thought he could gain their respect. And he did."
"What's your excuse?"
"I didn't drink that much by my standards. So I thought." She hadn't counted the bottles, but she did remember a second case of ambrostine being brought into the back room for them. She tried to smile sheepishly, but she doubted the twist of her lips resembled any kind of smile.
"We made the deal. And we left." Bey racked her brain. She clearly remembered her and Jak stumbling out of the bar. She clearly remembered arguing with Jak over who was least inebriated and who should sit on the back of the speeder bike.
She also remembered crashing the bike a few blocks away. She reached behind her gingerly and felt a bandage on her back.
"Slow down, maniac!" Bey screamed from behind Jak's back. "Duck!"
Instead of diving to avoid the upcoming street sign, hung from the ceiling of the sublevel thoroughfare as it were, Jak pulled the speeder bike into a sudden climb. Pain raked Bey's back, and she was yanked backward by her sweater. Despite her tight grip around Jak's ribs, he flew out of her arms. "Jak!"
The loose sweater swept over her head but she grabbed at it frantically. "Jak!"
A moment later, the speeder bike stopped, slowly turned around, and scooted back. Jak took one look at her hanging from the street sign by two fistfuls of sweater and laughed his butt off. "Hang in there, Bey B."
He took his time getting off the bike. Then he snapped a picture with his datapad. "Ya gonna make a great motivational poshter!"
"Just get me down, you oaf!" She kicked ineffectually in his direction.
Putting the datapad away, he reached up and grabbed her ankles. "I got ya."
"Sure you do. You can barely stand, you idiot!"
"Leggo. Said I gotchu, Baby B." He tugged her ankles, and she came down with a shriek. He caught her but stumbled. Both of them sprawled across the pavement.
"That's it! You're not allowed to fly. You'll kill us both." She sprang on the bike. "This time you get the back seat."
Grumbling, Jak hopped on behind her. His three hundred pounds nearly bottomed out the repulsors before they recovered. His massive arms wrapped around her. "Sheesh, woman, you're puny. Ain't enough of you to hang onto."
"Yeah, well, if you cop a feel, I'm leaving you in the gutter, so watch it!" Bey kicked the accelerator pedal and they whizzed along the nearly-empty thoroughfare. At this hour, even the lower-level denizens were mostly asleep.
For a moment, the dim street lights and vibrant shop signs whipped passed one after another. Jak's arms tightened around her. "Now who's the maniac?"
"At least I'm flying straight. Shut up back there! And relax! I can't breathe, you lump!"
She argued with him for another couple blocks and realized too late her vision was tunneling. He'd cut off her circulation.
The bike veered, but by this point her foot had left the accelerator and the bike slowed to a crawl. She felt a jolt, and then another jolt. When her vision came back, her face was pressed against the sidewalk and the speeder bike was lodged against a duracrete bollard.
Jak giggled. She rolled over, preparing to scold him, but she couldn't keep a straight face as the burly officer tittered like a schoolgirl.
Soon both of them were howling with laughter at the absurdity of the situation, too drunk to care if anyone saw them laid out on the sidewalk. It slowly occurred to her that the last few drinks she'd tossed back with the Zeltrons were just now taking effect, and she was in no better condition to fly than Jak.
Bey fumbled her datapad out of her pocket. She picked it up and waited for her call to go through. "Chumby! Heeeeeey, Chumbyyyy! Chum . . . Chum-a-chum-chummmm—"
There was a long pause at the end of the line. Then a groggy voice. "Bey? The frak are you calling at this hour for?"
"Chummm—!" She giggled. His name had never before seemed so hilarious to say.
"Have you been drinking?" Chumby groaned. "Where are you?"
Bey rolled her eyes skyward to the glowing sign of the shop behind them. "The Fshhhh—Fishbone. Pub!"
"Where's your partner?"
"He's an idiot." She sniggered and hung up. "Chum's a comin'. And you're an idiot. Why'd you drink so much?"
"Me? Ya drank near as much as I did. Frell if I know where ya put it." He poked her petite midrift.
"Hahaha! Stop it!" She curled into a ball to protect her ticklish belly.
"And then what happened?" Lieutenant Fragon prompted when she fell silent.
"Gets real fuzzy." Bey wasn't lying, but she also had a sinking feeling she didn't want to remember the rest. So far, they had been inebriated for an undercover assignment, which was somewhat excusable, and they had tried to fly home while drunk, which was dodgier, but still understandable.
The rest got a little murkier.
She rubbed her head and winced when she found the headache wasn't just a byproduct of irresponsible drinking. She had a tender lump on the back of her skull. "Ouch. What happened to my head?"
"You don't remember anything after that?"
"No, sir." She shook her head and tried to hide in her caf.
"You don't remember going for yet another drink?" Fragon drummed all sixteen of his fingers on the table. "What could one more hurt, right?"
There was no getting out of it. He already knew.
"Officer Chumby was on the way. We were already drunk, sir, by necessity of the mission. It couldn't be helped. Another drink was certainly an error in judgment, but hardly enough to make things . . . worse." She picked at the dried blood, knowing she was wrong.
Jak chuckled and poked her cheek with a thick finger. "You're cute when you're sloshed. Why haven't I ever asked you out for drinks?"
"Because it's . . ." She held her fingers up against the light of neon signs, squinting at them as she counted them off. "One, it's against regulations to date another officer. And two, becaushh you're an idiot. And four, becaaaaush I'm so far outta your league, it ain't even funny."
But it must have been funny, because they both succumbed to another round of uncontrollable mirth.
"Nah, it's cuz I'm outta your league." Jak slowly sat up.
"Ha! Ha ha!" She rolled to her feet and pointed at the "Open" sign on the pub's door. "Wanna grab a drink?"
He dusted himself off, eyed the Fishbone Pub vaguely, and shrugged. "Sure! Got nothin' better to do."
"Ha!" She jabbed a finger at him. "Outta my league my foot. You easier than a hooker on pay day."
He snorted. "This better be a topless bar."
"Why's that?" She waved her hand up and down. "This fine figure ain't enough eye candy for you?"
He pointed at her lack of shirt.
She snorted with laughter then tried to scoff. "Perfectly acceptable. Wearing . . . hic . . . workout clothes is a common trend in many places."
"So are nudisht colonies! Why not try that trend?" He grinned at her.
"You first, you weirdo."
"Maybe I will!" He shook his head. "Nah. Wouldn't be fair to the other men to embarrasshh them like that. Gotta leave some ladies for the resht ya know."
"Oh, right! Get over yourself!" She pushed through the door and they swayed their way to the bar.
Behind the bar, a beleaguered Zeltron polished glasses that had no hope of ever looking clean again. He eyed them. "What can I get you?"
"Drinksss!" She pounded her fist on the bar.
"Drinksh!" Jak's fist nearly left a dent in the bar. "Whishkey. Whate'er ya got."
Bey made an attempt to read the glowing menu behind the bartender but gave up when the letters wouldn't stop swimming. "Something sugary. Gimme something sweet. I like sweet things. I once ate an entire bag of—"
"I ain't sweet enough for ya?" Jak leered at her playfully.
"Get lost." She flicked a cardboard coaster at him.
"Hey, you ashked me for a drink, Baby B."
"Are you ever, ever, everrrr going to grow up, Jak E?" She rolled her eyes and took the red and yellow drink the bartender slid her way. She sipped it happily. Sugary goodness. She was going to hate herself in the morning, but she didn't care. The mission had been a success, anyway, so a little celebrating was in order, right?
"Maybe, Bey B." He slugged back the whiskey as soon as the Zeltron relinquished the glass. He tweaked Bey's short antennapalps playfully. "But prolly not."
She swatted his hand away.
The Zeltron placidly ignore their antics. "That'll be twenty credits."
" 'S on the lady," Jak said merrily as he tottered off to the men's room. "She asked me out, you know. Hahaha! Ooh, look! I'm beside m'self!"
The bar had lots of floor length mirrors to give the impression of a larger interior than it actually had. Jak paused briefly to flex in one of them and then pose with himself.
Bey made a rude noise with her tongue and emptied her pockets onto the counter.
"I'm telling you, it's all just a jumbled mess after that." Bey finished her caf and chewed on the edge of the cup nervously.
Lieutenant Fragon refused to accept her evasion. "Tell me anyway."
"I don't really remember much."
"Yes, sir." Bey looked at him pleadingly. "I know we—I—messed up. It was my idea to get another drink, and ambrostine is stronger than what I'm used to. I knew better, even if my judgment was too impaired to . . . No, I'm not making excuses. I accept full responsibility, sir, but I really don't remember what happened after that."
"Did Detective Eagerman continue to make passes at you that night?"
"Passes?" She rubbed her antennapalps, which had cautiously emerged again. "Oh. He wasn't hitting on me, sir. That's just a running joke. Down here, you find any humor you can, okay?"
"HR has quite a few reports saying otherwise." Fragon tapped through a few on his datapad. "Say he regularly calls you 'baby'."
"Well, yeah. I mean, my name is Bey and my last initial is B, so it's not really—"
"He makes catcalls at you."
"That's not true! Sure he messes with my antennapalps, or my hair, or other stuff, but my brothers all did that too when I was growing up." She scowled at him. "What you're missing is that none of these reports were made by me."
"True. That leaves me with the other reports." He raised his eyes from the screen. "That you two are in a relationship that goes against policy."
"No!" Bey snorted. "Like I would ever date that chump!"
"Well, sure, I mean, I asked him for a drink last night, but that was just as a joke. To make a point." The paper cup crumpled in her hand. "You got it all wrong! Jak is my partner and he's my friend. I don't sleep around on the job. Or off the job. And contrary to appearances, he's not like that either."
Lieutenant Fragon leaned over the table grimly. "So when you shot and killed Jak, it wasn't in self-defense?"
She stared at him, and her antennapalps fell limp against her head. "Wh—what?"
"You heard me. Whose blood do you think you have on your hands?"
Her stomach seemed to drop. Jak? She had killed Jak? The room faded at the edges. The chair, then the world, seemed to fall out from under her. Darkness loomed around her and tried to swallow her. Her vision faded to a dot, and Fragon's voice reduced to a distant whisper.
A sharp smell yanked her back with a gasp and a recoil reflex. Her head came up with painful abruptness at the alarming scent of ammonia.
"Trying to faint on me?" Fragon discarded the cracked ampoule. "You aren't getting out of this that easy."
"Please, sir, I didn't—"
"Why'd you kill Detective Jak Eagerman?"
Slowly, memories swam to the surface, little pieces at a time, but she kept her mouth closed. She had been on the other side of the table often enough to know she needed a lawyer now. "I didn't. I would never."
"You just told me you couldn't remember. Now, I've got witnesses who saw the whole thing, so you better start remembering real fast, or the story they're telling me is what will be told in court."
She held her head, reeling. Her stomach twisted.
"Either you shot your partner in self-defense or you shot him in cold blood. Which was it? Why'd you waste him?"
She remembered reaching for her blaster. Remembered fear. Remembered Jak grabbing for her. Even her broken memories didn't conflict with Fragon's accusation, but she knew it wasn't true. She trusted Jak with her life. He was more than her partner. He was the only reason she was still alive. There had been a time when he was the only reason she wanted to be alive.
"I'm on your side, Bey. Tell me your side of the story before those witnesses tell it for you. And don't worry about repercussions. Jak's not here. The entire force is on your side." He tapped his datapad. "All these reports were made out of concern for you. You realize that, don't you?"
"Don't. You. DARE." Drawing herself to her full height, though it wasn't much, she slammed her palms on the table and glared at the lieutenant. "I won't let you use me to sully Jak's reputation!"
He laughed incredulously. "Jak's reputation? Everyone in the station knows Jak's reputation—except you, apparently. If it was self-defense, you're in the clear. If it wasn't, you're looking at far more serious charges."
"I. Did not. Kill. Jak." Her eyes widened in realization. "I didn't kill him. I know what you're doing. Did you forget everything you taught me about interrogations? He's not even dead, is he? You're just trying to trick me!"
"I'm tellin' ya, it didn't go down like that." Detective Jak Eagerman knitted his fingers together on the table. It looked like someone trying to weave together two bunches of bananas.
"You just said you couldn't remember what happened after you reached the Fishbone Pub." Captain Ruggerrin clacked his claws against the table. The Shistavanen looked even more predatory than usual.
"Yeah, that's what blackout-drunk means. But I don't gotta remember any of it to know Bey didn't shoot me."
"Look, I'm on your side here, but the evidence isn't looking good for you. We got witnesses saying you grabbed her, she struggled, and then she shot you in self-defense. We've got a stack of HR reports against you." Ruggerrin smoothed his whiskers. "If you got another side to the story, you'd best spill it now and get it on the official record."
"Yeah, I've got another side! I'd lay down my life for Bey, and she'd do the same for me!" Jak's knuckles cracked as they intertwined tighter. "I'm not going to give some bogus testimony that condemns myself for something I didn't do, and I sure ain't pinnin' nothin' on my partner! She didn't do it!"
"You've got a nice hole in you that says otherwise." Ruggerrin pointed at the bacta patch adhered to Jak's side. "When Officer Chumby showed up, he took pictures. You know what they show?"
"No, but apparently you don't either."
"They show Detective Bem'sura on the floor, her blaster drawn. Her shirt's been torn off by force. She's got bruising to prove it. You're lying on top of her, a blaster wound in your side at the same height as her hand. The angle's right, too. And lab techs can prove her blaster was fired recently."
"Yeah? You want to explain how a woman that short hit me in the back of the head then?" Jak rubbed the back of his head, which ached in all manner of ways.
That gave the captain pause, but he shrugged it off. "You said you crashed the speeder bike into a bollard. You probably fell off and hit your head."
"No, you said I crashed the speeder bike." Jak folded his arms. "Stop puttin' words in my mouth. Now, maybe I was blackout drunk, but I would never pass out in the middle of a good fight."
"So you were fighting with Detective Bem'sura."
"No. I was in a fight with whatever scumbag tried to split my skull open." Jak shot the Captain a look of disgust. "Obviously Bey drew her weapon to shoot that guy. She was watching my back, like always."
"So you remember being in a fight?"
"No." Jak huffed impatiently. "But you don't get a hole burned through your guts from a friendly chat with pals, do ya?"
"No, you look." Leaning back, Jak made the metal chair groan under his weight. "I ain't sayin' one more word until you let me see Bey."
"You're joking. We can't put you in the same room as the woman you may have assaulted and—"
Jak brought both fists down on the metal table. It sounded like deafening thunder in the small room. The table would never be level again. "Where's my partner? Is she okay?"
The Shistavanen's lip curled into a warning snarl. "No. She's not okay. And your lack of cooperation isn't helping her any."
Bey stared down Lieutenant Fragon. More accurately, she stared through him, digging at her hazy memory with fervor as she twisted a tangle of black hair around her finger.
Slowly and with resignation, she looked up. "I want to talk to Commander Tshcoy't."
Fragon shrugged. "Suit yourself."
He left, and a few minutes later, a Verpine entered. While Jak often joked about Bey's fleshy antennae making her look like an insect, the rest of her body looked human. Commander Tshcoy't, on the other hand, was fully and unmistakably insectoid. His chitinous carapace clunked dully against the metal chair and table. "Speak, detective."
"The classified undercover assignment you gave me and Jak. The Fehdril brother's spice operation."
"We got the evidence. We . . . had some trouble on the way out, but just check my datapad. I got pictures of their operation while Jak had them distracted with enough liquor to kill a Hutt."
"What datapad, detective? We did not find one on your person."
"What do you mean, what datapad?" Bey made a face. "The one I called Chumby with! I wasn't drunk enough to lose something that important. We've been working for that evidence for the last six months!"
"The only datapad we found belonged to Detective Eagerman. The only pictures it contained that night involved you . . ." Tshcoy't read from his datapad " . . . in a state of undress, hanging from a traffic sign."
"I had it with me the whole time. I called Chumby. Then I put it back in my pocket, and then—" Bey's face suddenly fell. Her resolve to not speak further without a lawyer dissolved in shame. "I'm so sorry, sir. I screwed up."
As Bey pawed through tissues, key cards, credit chips, and one fuzzy breath mint, her fingers activated the screen of her datapad. Sorting out the correct number of credits, she pushed them across the bar to the Zeltron.
He automatically reached for them, but his eyes landed on the datapad.
Her antennapalps flinched with a sense of impending danger. She followed his gaze. It had flipped to the last picture she'd taken earlier that night. It was the back room of the Fehdril brothers' spice operation. She knew from the look on his face that he recognized it somehow. Was this Zeltron related to those Zeltrons?
Suddenly sobering up, she swept everything back into her pockets, hoping he didn't realize she knew what he knew. Time to get out. She made a show of gulping the rest of her drink and turned to leave. "Tell that oaf that if he wanted a ride home, he should've paid his own tab!"
Jak, however, had already emerged from the restroom, drying his hands on his shirt. "Barkeep, you're all outta—"
Bey shot him a look as she passed him, heading for the front door.
The last drink had definitely been a mistake. Her vision kept blurring, and now, in the reflection of the mirrors, she saw two Zeltrons behind the bar.
"Wait up." A second Zeltron in front of her—no, behind her—reached for a blaster.
She instinctively snatched her own blaster out of the concealed holster at her back.
"Bey!" Jak bellowed, leaping for her.
His arms wrapped around her, and for a second, they spun around, as if dancing.
Light flashed. Then the world pitched to the side. Jak grunted in pain. Her head cracked against the floor.
Bey stood dourly in Commander Tshcoy't's office several weeks later, hands clasped behind her back.
Jak stood to her left, his face equally stoic. He gave her a slight nudge of encouragement, but she couldn't meet his eyes.
Tshcoy't sighed, his mandibles rubbing together with a buzzing sound. He eyed the documents in front of him one last time. "You've both been cleared of criminal charges. An investigation into the Fishbone Pub staff found they have connections to the Fehdril brothers, as you suspected. Additional evidence at the scene corroborates your account of events, Detective Bem'sura."
She waited, her antennapalps laid back in regret.
"However," Tshcoy't continued, "that doesn't excuse gross errors in judgment that lost us key evidence against the Fehdril drug ring. Your datapad was not recovered. We'll have to start over from scratch, and needless to say, you two will not be part of that operation."
"Yes, sir," Bey and Jak chorused emotionlessly.
"I'm suspending you both a month for the Fehdril incident." Tshcoy't's antennae twitched. "The investigation brought a lot of things to the attention of a lot of people with higher ranks than me. Detective Eagerman, I'm giving you an additional two weeks of suspension, a written warning, and mandatory sensitivity training."
"Yes, sir." Jak accepted the punishment without complaint.
Bey bit her tongue. It wasn't fair. She had never complained about his behavior. It didn't bother her. But maybe she shouldn't have egged him on.
She stared at the commander's desk, her heart pounding. Six months of work down the drain. She'd failed her partner. For the last three years, they had made a great team. She and Jak had fun on every assignment, no matter how boring or grisly or grueling. Perhaps too much fun. If she'd just taken things a little more seriously—
If they'd successfully busted the Fehdril operation, Jak probably would have made that promotion he'd been working toward. He'd talked frequently of how proud it would make his mom, if she were still alive.
"I'm sorry, Jak." Bey placed her badge and her blaster on the desk. "Commander, I'm resigning. It's my fault we failed. If it weren't for me, Detective Eagerman would be a hero right now."
The Verpine's expression was unreadable, but Jak's shock and dismay was plain to see. "Bey—"
"I failed you. I failed the force. I failed our citizens. We haven't got much down here, but I signed up to help people . . . and I'm not. I wanted to make a difference, and I've only made things worse." Words came out of her mouth, words she'd prepared, words that had made sense when she'd planned them, but all she could think about is how she'd let down Jak.
"Shut your mouth. That's nonsense." Jak grabbed her badge and blaster and shoved them back into her hands. "Take it back."
"I recommend you heed his advice." Tshcoy't swiped through to another document on his datapad. "You don't have to worry about failing Jak, because I'm transferring you to another senior detective. Jak, you don't have a good track record with retaining partners, I have to admit. But . . . there's new recruits coming in this week. We'll find you someone."
That was the last straw. Bey slapped her badge and weapon down once more. "No! Jak was the only partner I ever needed! Every day we come to work and have to put up with garbage of every species. It's a thankless job. It's a hard job. But the one thing I looked forward to was knowing I had a partner I could depend upon to make every day worthwhile, no matter how miserable the assignment. Jak's the best man you got, and you're treating him like this? You think you can talk me into staying by splitting us up? You're out of your mind!"
She stormed out of the office, trembling with anger, outrage, nerves, and a healthy measure of fear. This had been her first and only job. She had no idea what to do with her life now.
Around her, detectives looked up from their desks. Detective Hennberg, a balding human with a paunch, watched her yanking open the drawers of her desk. "Whoa, Bem'sura. What's going on?"
"I'm leaving." She slammed one drawer after another, realizing how few personal items she had.
"What?" Hennberg's partner, a young Rodian, peeked over the cubicle divider. "No more Team Jackie Baby?"
"Hey, you need a box for your stuff?" Hennberg spanked crumbs out of an empty pastry box and held it out.
"No." Bey swallowed hard. After searching her entire desk, the only items she held in her hands were a holo projector from her family that currently showed her and Jak making faces together after their one year anniversary as partners . . . and a small cactus Jak had bought her as a congratulation gift for making the rank of detective. True to Jak's rude sense of humor, the cactus had a particular shape that inspired new jokes every time someone saw it.
She marched out of the bullpen of cubicles and down the hall, but Leyla stopped her in reception. "Hold up, Bey! Someone said you're quitting?"
"Yeah." Bey's fingers knotted around the holo projector and the cactus pot. She refused to break down here, but she'd never felt so alone in her life. Despite growing up with two parents and three brothers, and despite her young age, she was the last of her family. The collapse on level 1325-A had taken many lives, and when she'd gotten the news, only Jak had been around to hold her together.
She had never felt more alone. The Coruscant underground had never looked as dark as it did now, waiting for her through the transparisteel doors of the station.
Then Jak jogged into the lobby. "Hey, wait up a sec, Bey. Tryin' to leave without even sayin' goodbye?"
She bit her lip. She'd been hoping to avoid this. She struggled to keep her emotions together. "Sorry, Jak. I don't like long goodbyes."
He snorted and put his hands on his hips. "I don't like goodbyes of any length."
She had planned some speech about it being an honor or some sappy rubbish, but she knew if she said even one word of it, she'd lose it. "Right. Well. See ya."
"What do you mean, see ya? Where are we headed?" He clapped a hand on her shoulder.
"I dunno. Somewhere." She doffed the cactus in the direction of the door. "I'll figure it out."
Leyla caught what Bey's frazzled emotions had missed. "We? Are you leaving too, Jak?"
"Of course." Jak said it as if it were obvious. "I can't deal with churning through another troop of idiot partners."
"Ohhh, I see how it is." Leyla leaned over the desk smugly and winked. "So the rumors are true. I guess you don't have to worry about that no-relationships rule now, huh?"
"It's not—" Bey second-guessed herself and glanced at Jak. She had never once taken his suggestive comments seriously. "Is it like that?"
"Huh?" He slowly removed his hand from her shoulder. His face actually turned a shade of pink, which Bey had never seen happen before. He swept his eyes over her quickly, as if double-checking something. "No. I mean, well, do you want it to be like that?"
Bey felt her palms sweating. This was the last thing she'd expected to have to deal with today.
" 'Cuz I'm not sayin' ya aren't cute." He shoved his hand into his pockets. "But, ya know, I never thought about you like that."
Leyla's mouth opened in shock.
Bey sighed with relief. "I'm out of your league anyway. Or you're out of mine. Or something. We discussed this."
Jak looked equally relieved that she hadn't taken offense. "Besides, you're tiny. I'd break you in half if I— Well, anyway. I'm kinda done with the whole detective thing. Got any ideas?"
"I dunno." She walked to the door, which he opened for her so she didn't have to juggle the cactus. For a few minutes, they walked in silence.
Morning traffic bustled around them, to a background of neon lights and darkness. As they came to an intersection of thoroughfares, she looked up. Here was a rare gap between buildings, but as far as she could see, there were only catwalks and balconies and improvised wiring and plumbing connections, dimly illuminated by glowing lights of every color. Had she traveled half a kilometer straight up, maybe she'd have been able to see daylight.
"You know, Jak." She remained staring upwards as people jostled by them. "I always wondered what the sky looks like. The smell of fresh air. The feel of the sun. People talk about them on the holonet, but I grew up down here. What's it like up there, on the surface?"
"Well, the air ain't much better, and the company's worse. Crawling with stuck-up Imperials up there. They wouldn't give the time of day to the likes of you. I came down here for a reason." Jak rested a hand on her head and tweaked her antennapalps. "Ya ain't gonna find what you're looking for on Coruscant. "Whaddya say we blow this joint? I hear Naboo's nice. Alderaan? Frell, even Kashyyyk. Wanna build a treehouse?"
Bey giggled. "You're an idiot."
"And you're a midget." He shrugged. "But you're still my partner."
"Jak . . ." She grew serious again. "You shouldn't have quit for my sake. And I'm sorry for letting you down. I know how much you wanted that promotion."
"I don't care about promotions. I was just tryin' to set a good example for ya."
"What?" She looked up at him, confused.
"And you're right. I did quit because of you. I quit death sticks. I quit drinking—well, for the most part. I quit dreading who they would saddle me with next." He made a face and looked away. "You didn't let me down. You changed my life. And now you've changed it again, and that's fine by me. Doesn't matter what happens—if ya got someone watchin' your back, it's a life worth living, Baby B."
He glanced at her suddenly. "Hey, you alright?"
"Yep." She sniffed resolutely. "I just—I got allergies just thinking about Naboo."
He chuckled and caught her shoulder, pulling her closer. "Come on. Let's find a ride off this dump. Team Jackie Baby ain't over yet!"