Keeva's Cantina – now that sounded like fun, Vila thought, imagining lively Mexican music and strong Mexican drink (hopefully without dead insect larvae, though you could always drink around those). He pushed the door open to a blast of what sounded more like jazz – all right, that was very promising too - and looked around with interest. The place was packed with aliens: scaly aliens, furry aliens, slug-like aliens, aliens with coiling growths on their heads that made Vila wonder how they got a comfy night's sleep, tiny aliens, huge aliens... all very fascinating, but he doubted that whatever they drank for pleasure would be particularly safe for him. Now that looked like a nice drink that person was drinking through a straw... no, through its proboscis. He stood in the centre of the room, gazing around in the hopes of locating a human who could advise him. Preferably a friendly one.
"Could you be any more obvious?"
"Eh?" Vila turned to see a man with fair hair pulled up into a ponytail on top of his head. Oh, good, just the species he wanted! "Hello, am I glad to see you!"
"Those aren't the right words."
"Fine, close enough." The bloke rolled his eyes. "Would you like a TrooperBreath?" he said in a slow and exasperated monotone.
Vila shuddered. "That sounds horrible, but, I'll try almost anything alcoholic. Is that remotely drinkable, in your opinion? I'm not overly fond of troopers, you know."
"You're not the right person." The man sneered and pushed Vila aside. "Time-wasting Bantha fodder."
"Well, that was uncalled for! Especially since you're the one who started it." Vila glowered resentfully as the man turned away and shook his head at someone leaning against the walls in a corner back in the shadows. What was all that about? Local rite of passage? Did you have to prove yourself by drinking something disgusting? Mind you, a fair proportion of the people in here seemed to be doing that. Vila shrugged and wandered off, on the lookout for a friendlier human. Aha, there was someone in a hooded jumpsuit perched on a barstool – not that he could see much, but the hand holding a drink certainly looked human. And there was an empty stool beside her – well, she looked like a her – which was encouraging despite the huge hairy alien on the other side.
"Hello," Vila said brightly as he sat down. "I'm new here and I was wondering about drinks that would be safe to get myself outside." He put on a friendly smile, going for his usual harmless, useless first impression (and let's face it, often only impression). She turned an enquiring face to him – not just a human one, but delicate and beautiful. "You know, safe for us humans. I mean, I just got here and I'd be a bit annoyed if I promptly poisoned myself."
The corner of her mouth lifted slightly. "So you're not trying to buy me a drink?"
"Oh," Vila said, startled. "I can if you'd like." He looked at her glass of wine. "More of the same?"
"No, thank you, I'm fine with this for now." She sighed. "I've been offered five drinks so far, all doubtless with unsavoury strings attached. At least you have a different approach. " She regarded him thoughtfully. "You could try a Fuzzy Tauntaun. After all," she muttered to herself, turning back to her own drink, "that seems appropriate, given where we're going next."
"Don't know if I fancy that. The fuzz in my mouth tomorrow'll be more than enough for me. Though will it cheer me up? I could do with that."
"It's rather more numbing."
"Oh. Maybe not, then. I might need to keep my wits about me here."
"True. Luke always calls these places hives of scum and villainy," she said dryly.
"Sounds all right to me. Any downsides I should know about, then?"
"Well, it's also known as a rebel hangout. Is that one?"
"Rebels? Rebels?" Vila threw up his hands in outrage. "I told Orac to take me somewhere no one would ever find me, and he picks this place? That little bastard in a box!"
She raised her eyebrows. "You don't approve of rebels?"
"Used to be one, till recently," Vila said gloomily; after all, what did it matter if he talked about it here where no one knew anything about him or where he'd come from? "Stupid idea, taking on the Federation. It didn't end well. They wanted to take us back to Terra and make a public example of us, up against the wall without blindfolds and all that, but I broke us out even though they'd taken all my tools – that bit doesn't make a lot of sense, I know – and stole a spaceship and dropped the others off and then told Orac to take me somewhere they'd never ever find me, not Avon, not any of them, certainly not the bloody Federation, and what does he do? All right, this is a whole different universe or time or whatever, but still – he drops me into the middle of rebels?" Vila dropped his head into his hands. "That little rat has a really nasty sense of humour."
She stared at him. "Another universe?"
"Yeah, surprised me too. That rotten computer's thoughts are inter or extra-dimensional or something so I suppose it was easy enough for him. A rebel hangout, though? All right, now I need a really strong drink."
"The strongest one I can think of is a Port in a Storm," she said doubtfully.
"That sounds comforting."
"I couldn't say. Chewbacca here is the only person I've ever met who's willingly drunk one."
The hairy alien leaned forward and growled at Vila, then looked hopefully at the woman.
"Oh, all right, I'll buy you one." She turned back to Vila. "Not even Han's tried it, though he's used it as an emergency solvent during ship repairs."
"Um, being dissolute is one thing, dissolved quite another. I think I might pass on that."
"I would. Perhaps a Reactor Core might be safer. Or a Meltdown if you want something a trifle more sophisticated."
Vila blinked; going by the names, they were far more dangerous, but she seemed trustworthy, unlike that shifty bloke he'd run into. "Uh, whatever you'd recommend. I'm Vila, by the way."
She hesitated, then made a decision. "Leia."
"Pleased to meet you, Leia." Vila pulled out a handful of the credits they used here, acquired during his progress along the street outside. "How many of these would buy us drinks?"
"This one's on me. Consider it a welcome to our universe." That sounded more than a little sceptical, but she held up her hand to attract the bar tender's attention. "One extra-large Port in a Storm, one Meltdown, and I'll have another Andoan White." She turned back to Vila and propped her chin on her hand. "So. Tell me about this Federation."
"Utter bastards, well, the sods at the top, anyway. They made it hard enough for the lower grades like me, but even hoity-toity Alphas might put a foot wrong and bang, shot without a trial and your family sold into slavery."
"Ah. Much the same can happen here. Although if you put a foot really wrong, the Empire destroys your entire planet." She savagely tossed back her current drink and slammed the glass down.
"The Federation did that to a friend's planet too. Well, it's still there, but no one's left alive on it which is the same thing." Vila sighed deeply, remembering Cally and how much she'd lost before they lost her. He gratefully caught his drink as it was slid along the bar to him and took a deep draught. His eyes widened and he swayed on his stool. "Not bad."
"It might not have ended well for either of us," Leia said, "but you still have to make a stand. Whatever the consequences."
"To tell you the truth, I didn't really choose to. I just sort of fell into it. It was Blake," Vila said mournfully. "Most people just live their lives the best they can, but Blake and all his big ideals made me believe we could do something, really change things for the better. Only we didn't, not in the end."
Leia touched his arm. "But you tried. And it's worth trying."
"Not sure I believe that any more." Though being a prisoner on Cygnus Alpha would hardly have been better. He cheered up slightly. "The alternatives might've been worse, now I come to think of it. So maybe it was worth a shot."
"I think it is. Besides, you never know how many people you may have inspired, and they could be the ones who succeed."
"Me, inspire? Only people who never met me." Vila had another appreciative sip. He could see how his drink got its name, the way his core felt all warm and molten.
Leia sat in silence for a few seconds, tapping a finger thoughtfully on the bar. "Are you a pilot?"
"Yeah, not a bad one either, not that anyone would ever admit it. I have to admit, it was only when no one else could be spared to, but then they did say I was a spare part," Vila said glumly.
"You know, we could always do with more pilots, Vila. Of course you'd get training."
"Oh, really?" Torn between interest and caution, Vila thought about this. Had to be a dangerous job if there was a high attrition rate. "Well, actually I was really more of a thief, I mean acquisitions expert for the glorious revolution." He raised his glass with a grin.
"Interesting." Leia propped her chin in her hand. "Skills that could be even more useful. So you can get through complicated security systems?"
"I cracked Central Control," Vila boasted, then his face fell as he remembered Gan under all that masonry. "Well, what we thought was. It was all a sham, an empty building."
"Wait." Leia narrowed her eyes. "You said that you broke out of imprisonment without your tools. How did you do that?"
She had a good memory. Or she was a good listener, which in Vila's experience people often weren't in his company. "Not sure I can explain it."
"You could try. You never know, I mightn't find it all that strange."
"Well, it's odd. I've always been able to sort of see the locks and things, intercept computer checks and change the response, even open Klyber fastenings from the other side of doors. I thought it was just that I had a feel for it, but when they captured us on Gauda Prime, I'd just had enough, couldn't take any more, and I got all panicked and angry and made the doors open. After we got away, Avon said I must've only needed tools as a mind aid, and he looked a bit nervous around me after that. So that was one good thing," Vila said gloomily. "Felt a lot safer with him keeping his distance."
"Hmm." Leia tilted her head. "Perhaps you're sensitive to the Force."
"The Force? What's that?"
She put her hand near her drink, frowning in concentration, and the glass shuddered and moved slightly towards it. "This."
"Huh! Like Cally's telekinesis with the moon discs!" Vila screwed up his face at his own glass, but it stayed firmly in place.
Leia laughed. "I've been playing with it for years, but it's still just a party trick, something I used to impress other kids with at school."
"So that's how I can sense locks and security systems? Why that and not levitating stuff, say?"
"Well, how early did you start?"
"I was pretty young, well before I went to school."
"Well, there you are, then, it was what you channelled it into. For Luke it was flying. Perhaps if you concentrated on that instead, you'd be a really good pilot too."
"Nah, bit too dangerous for me, not that I haven't cracked locks under fire. Anyway, I've decided to retire from rebellion. I always fancied finding a nice sunny beach by the sea or a lake somewhere with some big moons in the sky, and this planet qualifies. Orac got that bit right, at least."
"That's a pity. Maybe if we're back this way, you might change your mind."
"I might," Vila said doubtfully. "Anyway, what are you doing in a dive, sorry, I mean hive of scum and villainy and rebels?" Vila suddenly straightened. "Oh! You're not meeting someone you don't know, are you?"
Leia frowned. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, when I walked in, a bloke offered me a drink, and you thought I might want to buy you one."
"Ah." Leia exchanged a glance with Chewbacca. "What sort of drink?"
"A TrooperBreath. Sounded very unappetising."
"Can you point him out?"
Vila twisted round. "I don't see him in this crowd. Guy about my height, fair hair in a ponytail? Thing is, I didn't much like the look of him. But to be fair, he didn't like me either and that always puts me off a person. Though come to think of it, he did have a backup lurking in the corner."
"There's nothing wrong with that. I have a backup."
"Your hairy friend there?"
Chewbacca tensed and gave a short pissed-off growl.
"It is pretty much a defining adjective, Chewbacca," Leia said, patting his arm.
"Along with big and strong," Vila said hastily, and Chewbacca nodded and relaxed slightly. "Why are you meeting this guy?" he asked Leia.
She raised an eyebrow and gave him a wry look.
"Yeah, I know, none of my business, but what if your contact's a plant? That's how they caught us: Blake was recruiting criminals and one of them was a Federation officer. Ended badly."
"Why criminals in particular?"
"Well, all of us original crew were, except Cally who was a guerrilla, and he must've thought getting some more was a good idea."
Leia shrugged. "We have a couple smugglers who turned out all right in the end. Mostly." Chewbacca threw his head back in a silent laugh.
"We had one. They're hardly criminals though. They just supply the demand, like I do. The only losers in their case are governments who miss out on duty, and they're all corrupt anyway."
"They don't have to be."
"If they're not, they won't last long."
"You're a cynic."
"I'm a realist." Vila swung around on his stool and stood up. "Well, all right, a pessimist, but pessimists live longer. So I might have a bit of a look around, check out that bloke and his mate. Consider it thanks for the drink. And, you know, for talking about things. It made me feel a lot better."
"Glad it helped," Leia said. "Although I'd be very surprised if you can walk straight after a Meltdown."
"Just one? I'd have to drink a lot more than that to be affected." Vila walked soberly away, then suddenly reeled drunkenly. "Good idea, though!" He gave Leia a solemn wink and was rewarded with a smile.
The backup was still leaning against a wall in the shadowed corner with his hands in his pockets and his eyes watchful. He glanced at Vila and obviously discounted him as the idiot his partner had rejected. Vila staggered along the wall, one hand against it as if for balance, and stumbled into him. "Sorry," he muttered, burping a blast of Meltdown fumes into the guy's face.
"Get off me, nebula-brain!"
"Sorry, sorry, no harm done," Vila said, patting him consolingly. He continued along the wall, occasionally bouncing from various bar patrons. "Oh, hey, you!" he said happily to one. "Still – buuuurp – offering drinks? Ahh, don't be like that. I'll leave you alone, then. I'll be off. Need another drinkie anyway..."
"Is this seat taken?" The man with the ponytail slid onto the barstool beside Leia.
"It seems to be now."
"Perhaps I can make amends for my intrusion. Would you like a TrooperBreath?"
"Only if it's his last one," Leia said, giving the agreed response. "What do you have for me?"
Ponytail grinned, showing large stained teeth. "Several mercenaries, big bruisers, some of 'em, couple pilots who'll take anything on for the right money. Speaking of which, can I see it?"
"Not here," Leia said haughtily. "Do I look like a bagman? You'll be paid when you deliver."
"Deliver? Yeah, I can do that right now. Lemme just contact them." Ponytail slipped one hand in a pocket and took Leia's half-finished drink with the other and knocked it back. "Andoan White? Classy." His face changed. "Hey, someone took my comm!"
Chewbacca reached over Leia, grabbed Ponytail by the throat, and hoisted him in the air.
"Hey, what're you—ackkkk!" Ponytail waved his arms wildly as Chewbacca tightened his grip.
Vila slid back into the now vacant spot. "Me again," he said unnecessarily. "And I was right. Those two had communication units with Empire logos on them. Plus there are a whole lot of guys in white plastic with big guns down the end of the street. Your version of Stormtroopers, I assume?"
Chewbacca bared his teeth and growled into Ponytail's face, causing his eyes to run from Port-in-a-Storm fumes, then looked inquiringly at Leia.
"Not in front of me," she said with a little shudder. "Just bend him slightly and discard him, please."
Chewbacca shrugged, gave an extra squeeze, and threw Ponytail across the room where he landed on a crowded table, scattering broken glass and various recreational beverages over those sitting around it.
"I'd say the troopers'll take out their disappointment out on them both anyway," Vila said helpfully. "I bet they'll be very pissed off standing out there broiling in the sun for hours waiting to get a call. Those suits don't look air-conditioned." He looked over with interest at the fight Ponytail had unconsciously started which had grown to include more tables and even some of the musicians. "Lively place, this."
"They'll be watching all the exits," Leia said. "We need a diversion. A mass exit would do it."
Vila's eyes lit up. "Scum and villainy, did you say?"
"I did!" Leia took a handgun from a pocket and fired it at the ceiling.
In the brief silence following that, Vila leaped onto the bar and shouted, "Stormtroopers are coming! Someone tipped them off!"
Patrons not involved in the fight surged for the doors, the combatants being unwilling to cut a good bar fight short.
"So we slip out once they've chased off after that lot?" Vila asked, jumping down.
"Slip out in that lot," Leia said. "Chewbacca, let's go!"
Vila felt a large hairy arm go around his waist and lift him onto a large hairy shoulder. Turning his head, he could see Leia draped over the other one, well above the turmoil. Chewbacca threw back his head and yowled with joy as he charged out.
"Ready to go, Han?" Leia called.
"You only got one, princess?"
"If he wants to come," Leia said. "And it was all a trap that might have worked if it wasn't for Vila." She turned to him. "Are you joining us? We made a good team back there."
"Sorry," Vila said, wondering very briefly if he was making mistake, "but it's time for a break. Probably a lifetime one."
Vila watched the ship lift from its berth and head for orbit – surprisingly fast too, for something that didn't look any better than that rust bucket Scorpio. He sighed, feeling obscurely sad, then cheered up. A sweeping golden beach with turquoise waters and lots of cool drinks with umbrellas waited, as did a wide-open future.