I need this job... I need this job... Anri Flitt silently chanted the tired mantra to herself as she doggedly scrubbed at the disgusting component her boss insisted could still be salvaged—thankfully, her sense of smell was long numbed by this point. Something had decided this slab of durasteel would be a wonderful coffin. Unfortunately, Skelos of Skelos’ Finest Ship Parts; a particularly foul-tempered Dug, had stated it was a ship component and not a casket. He then tossed the vile-smelling part at Anri and had so graciously left her to evict the half-decomposed remains. Oh, and fix the component too so it was sellable.
Really simple. Anri had to bite back the scathing remark she was a mechanic, not a miracle worker.
In the end, she had just did as he ordered wordlessly; she couldn’t afford to lose this job. Skelos didn’t appreciate having his commands ignored or given any kind of cheek. He was quick to remind her he could easily fire her and look for a replacement if she put a toe out of line. He wouldn’t have that hard a time too. There were always people who needed a job and would do a helluva lot of work (as well as take a lot of abuse) for meager wages.
And, while Skeros was a bastard; he was the best paying one out of all the lousy openings on this backwater of a planet she had found so far. Most of all, he didn’t want her to give ‘extra’ service like some of her old bosses had demanded…
But, sometimes, she seriously wondered if it was really worth it.
She had managed to find a small square box where she deposited the bits of bone and matter of the creature. She didn’t have the heart to just to dump it in the garbage. It was good that there was a large backyard behind the shop. After shift, she would bury the box.
She had been a street rat with a slightly above average talent for mechanics so she had it better than a lot of others in her position. She just made sure to remind herself of this because, at this moment, it was hard to remember she was luckier than most. She had been at this dead end job for four years, hadn't had a single raise, was a quarter of a century old already and was nowhere close to reaching her dream. In spite of all her efforts, she had only saved a measly six hundred Credits. And these weren’t even Imperial Credits but Thoron Credits; which were worth, on a good day, a tenth of it's Imperial counterpart.
Don’t give up, I can do this, I will do this! I need this job, I really need to keep this job! Anri cheered herself on even as she felt a twinge of pain from her sore muscles.
The bell of the shop door sounding was like a prayer answered. Dropping the component back into the large basin of liquid solution, she hollered. “Be there in two minutes!”
She headed to the nearby sink and washed furiously until her skin was red and stinging; she hoped she had removed the worst of the stench as she stepped inside the main shop and strolled over with a big (not-so-fake) smile on her lips.
There was a young human waiting patiently in front of the counter.
She blinked; he was distinctly out of place. Not just here in Skelos’ shop but for this planet. First of; he was young, and the way he carried himself was confusing. He was both confident and diffident; there was poise in his form but there was also awkwardness. He was equal parts attention-drawing and yet very easy to dismiss. He was definitely no local; the bosses around here would have snatched him up in an instant. There was something very irresistible about the boy. Anri narrowed her eyes, raking over him quickly and picking out his distinct features.
He was rather pretty, especially for a Human male. He had soft features; very cute, slim build and was slightly short. Not overly beautiful as other Human males she had seen in passing when she caught glimpses of them where they worked at the more expensive pleasure houses but he was definitely very nice on the eyes.
As her gaze met his, she blinked again. Oh yes, really lovely eyes.
Incredibly bright and blue; most of all, there was a glow to them she couldn’t place or look away from…
“You better not go too far east of here,” she blurted out then flushed, and inwardly braced herself, plowing forward. “It’s the roughest part of town and you’d get eaten alive out there. And I don’t mean ending up dead.” She finished pointedly and nearly groaned aloud as her innuendo clearly when over his blond head… but the warning did register on some level. The blue eyes flashed and hardened. Giving a tantalizing hint of strength she had never seen the like of on Thoron before.
Who was this kid?
“…right,” He coughed and a tint of pink rose on his cheeks; barely noticeable because of his deep tan—Anri internally shook her head. This kid sure gave really mixed signals. It made him hard to read and predict. “Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“So, what can I do for you?” Anri asked when the silence stretched out and he just peered at her owlishly.
The boy jumped and the blush darkened. “Sorry. I’m looking for a hyperdrive module. I know the best models are from Sienar Fleet Systems or Corellian Engineering Corporation, however, I doubt I can afford those. Not to mention, because of their popularity, they’re overpriced and in low supply. It’s better to just get another model with better specs for less credits. I know there are are some very good models from Naboo and Mon Calamari.”
Anri’s mouth pursed. Pretty looks aside, this kid knew mechanics. “Yeah, and while we do have some good Sienar Fleet Systems or Corellian Engineering Corporation models; you're right. You can get a damn good Mon Calamari or Naboo, heck even a Genosian component for two-thirds the price.”
He perked up. “You even have Genosian models?”
Anri waved a hand negatively. “Not right now; we sold our last module yesterday.”
The boy’s shoulders slumped in unconcealed disappointment, Anri tried hard not compare him to a kicked puppy.
No contest. He was just as cute. She had to resist the urge to reach over and pet him consolingly.
“Can I see what units you have for sale please?”
Well, that was refreshing. Anri found herself smiling genuinely. Cute, and polite. Definitely not from here.
“Sure. C’mon out back.”
.:. ( .:. | .:. ) .:.
Anri had to admit, she was very impressed.
She had led him around the entire compound and shown him what Hyperdrive modules they still had and the boy had instantly began asking sharp, clever questions about each model. Anri had found herself pushed to the limit of her own knowledge and expertise. She might know more out of experience but he trumped her when it came to technical information. What did this kid do? Live on technical journals?
But this was nothing next to his nearly impossible ability to take any component in one hand (or both if needed), inspect it for only a few minutes before telling her exactly what the problem was, and how best to fix it.
The dreaded component she had been working on all morning had been fixed up by Luke in half the time she took cleaning the kriffing piece of slag!
It was a good thing he didn’t live here, she mused; Skelos would have kicked her out of his shop quicker than he could chug a Corellian brandy and hired Luke instead.
Somewhere in the middle of their friendly exchange, they had traded names; something Anri wouldn't normally do but she really did like the kid; he was genuine and earnest. There was also a very quick and very fast camaraderie that rose between them; forged from a mutual love. They loved anything about machines and chatted enthusiastically about what they liked and what they didn't. They also traded some really good bits of advice; Anri felt she had learned more about mechanics then she had in her first two jobs. She found herself really enjoying her work again.
Right now, they were in the middle of debating which hyperdrive module Luke should get. They had narrowed it down to a slightly damaged Nubian Module (a rare J-Type series model that should have normally been impossible to get off Naboo) and an older Mon Calamari Module belonging to a Heavy Cruiser, again a model which would have been only found on Mon Calamari. Another point in Luke’s favor; he had instantly recognized the potential in both parts while other more ‘experienced’ mechanics had dismissed them or simply overlooked the hidden treasures. Anri also suspected most of the other buyers hadn’t recognized the parts at all.
“I still think you should get the Mon Calamari module,” Anri insisted, a crooked smile gracing her lips.
“It has promise but I think the Nubian module will work best with the ship I’m installing it into. She really needs it because her captain loves doing far too many modifications and I think the Nubian module will withstand even his ridiculous tinkering.” Luke countered smoothly, an easy grin on his face. “Besides, with how much you’re asking; I’ve barely enough credits for a drink afterwards! I’d have even less if I bought the Mon Calamari module.”
Anri shared the laugh with him. “Well, alright. Since you’ve decided…”
The bell of the shop door echoed again; signalling another customer.
“Be there in a bit!” Anri called reflexively before turning back to Luke. “Want me to bring this out? You can…” she began, pointing to the component but trailed off. Luke stood rigid; staring back at the entryway, pale. “Luke? What’s wro—” she stepped forward, reaching for him when a loud, distinct hiss of a respirator sounded from over her shoulder and she swiveled her head back.
“Hey, you can’t just walk—” She was the one who froze now; her voice choking off in total shock.
She had to be hallucinating,
Darth Vader stepped out of the entryway leading back into the main shop and strode purposefully into the backyard; incredibly tall and entirely terrifying.
“Skywalker.” The ringing bass was far more intimidating in real life than on the holonet.
WAIT, he KNOWS Luke?! Wut?
“What are you doing here, Vader?” Luke snapped harshly, not only utterly fearless in the face of the most dangerous man(?) in the galaxy but angry and outright rude to him. Anri whipped her head around to gape at the youth; soft-spoken, sweet, well-mannered Luke was snapping at Darth Vader?!
“Are you kriffing crazy?!” she hissed urgently, stepping close. “He can kill you without touching you!”
“I know exactly what he can do,” Luke said simply, his voice mellowing to the more familiar mild tone as he glanced to her. “But, so far, he hasn’t killed me yet.”
“You’re not helping by provoking him, you know!” Anri shot back with an edge of hysteria. She had to admit, though, Luke did seem to have a point; why wasn’t the infamous and ruthless Sith Lord not attacking them? He would never tolerate this kind of blatant disrespect and defiance. She couldn’t begin to guess what he was—
Luke and she blinked in unison and swapped disbelieving glances. Wut?
“Shopping?” Luke repeated incredulously.
“Why so amazed, young one, are you not doing the very same?”
Luke spluttered before he regained control of his mouth. “Why here?! This isn’t exactly your type of venue!”
Anri retracted her belief and premature relief that Luke had regained any sort of control. His attitude was going to get them killed… in fact, she was still boggled over why Vader hadn’t cut him (and her, she was standing right next to him; maybe she should move away…) down yet. Although, a part of her was thankful Luke was asking all the questions she wanted to ask but couldn't scrounge up the courage to do so.
Darth Vader shopping.
“And you certainly know me well, do you not, youngling?”
Anri blinked again. Was Vader… teasing Luke? The frightening bass wasn’t cold or angry in the slightest. In fact, she could have sworn there was a heavy undercurrent of humor in the deep rumble.
Unfortunately, Luke was not amused or mistook the mirth as mocking. “I know exactly what kind of a monster you are!” he yelled.
“Luke, shut up!” Anri barked immediately, grabbing the youth and shaking him a little. The rest of her own tirade was sealed in her throat as the very air seem to chill and there was a shifting around them; The low grind of deforming durasteel and the ground trembled underneath them.
Luke, finally, went quiet. But, there was still the seething fury in him; no fear whatsoever. His bright blue eyes were blazing.
Anri wondered if there would be enough left of her to fit in that component she had just cleaned. Because, at the rate this was going, she was going to need a casket herself very soon. She figured Luke wouldn't even leave so much as a stain...
“Indeed.” Vader intoned in the familiar, flat baritone she could remember from any broadcasts that had featured him. The huge man let his head move about the backyard, clearly searching. For what exactly, she has no clue.
Barely breathing, Anri waited to see what happened next. Luke fumed by her side. Thankfully, he said nothing more.
The Sith Lord gestured suddenly and the Nubian module rose smoothly, gliding over to the imposing form. With equal gentleness, he set it down before him and began to inspect the unit.
“HEY!” Luke cried indignantly. “What are you doing with that?!”
“This was the entire reason for my excursion. I was informed that this establishment had a rare J-Type Hyperdrive Module. This module is indeed in nearly pristine quality. It only needs—”
“—soldering to the fourth lower quadrant because of a frayed wire connecting to the main conduit.” Luke finished for him briskly, looking annoyed. “And she’ll be as good as new. I know; I already bought it. Go find yourself another one.”
If Vader isn’t inclined to wring his cute little neck, I’m willing to do it for him, Anri thought in sheer exasperation. What is wrong with him?! Does he want Vader to kill us?!
“Did you?” Vader’s tone was mild. The Sith glanced to Anri who gulped. “Has young Skywalker already paid for this merchandise?”
Giving Luke a very apologetic glance, Anri answered promptly and very respectfully. “No, he hasn’t paid yet but we have agreed on the price. He was just about to settle the transaction before you came in.”
“Very well.” Vader rumbled easily. “I offer double the price he has offered you. In Imperial Credits.”
“WHAT?!” Luke exploded. “Are you serious?! You can't just barge into our transaction and make an offer like that! I got here first; that unit is mine!”
“I believe this is standard procedure in the event there are two customers who desire the same merchandise.”
Luke crossed his arms over his chest and glared. “We are not in the Mos Eisley or Mos Espa Marketplace where anything can be Auctioned at a moment's notice!”
“Er… unfortunately,” Anri interjected, giving Luke her best sympathetic look. “My boss likes that system so… it applies here. I have to accept the better offer. Can you give me a counter offer, Luke?”
Luke’s glare darkened and he spat out something in what Anri recognized as Huttese. She wasn’t at all fluent in the language but the inflection alone told her whatever he had said wasn’t very complimentary.
“You have a very dirty mouth, young one,” Vader’s baritone was unmistakably very disapproving.
Luke’s scathing retort was in rapid-fire Huttese, and was very likely a string of more cusswords. From the stiffening posture of the Dark Lord, it was extremely insulting.
Who knew, Darth Vader understands Huttese, she thought weakly. I dun wanna die…
Taking a step closer to the small youth, Vader raised a finger. Anri braced herself—
And a slew of Huttese erupted from the Dark Lord. Luke gaped in unadulterated shock before his eyebrows knitted and he replied sharply. Vader was only too quick to counter with his own remark.
Anri’s head swung back and forth as the incomprehensible argument rose. Wow, that escalated quickly, she mused.
Abruptly, she realized that Vader and Luke had no accent whatsoever; indicating they had both evidently come from a Huttese world. Anyone learning Huttese in a formal setting always had some drawl or twang in their pronunciation of the Hutt language; this only disappeared or smoothened out if you were speaking the language constantly or hearing it properly vocalized. That was certainly interesting…
Idly, she also noticed how nearly identical the stance of both men were now. Arms crossed over their chests, shoulders squared; indomitable and unyielding. Although, it didn't have as striking a factor on Luke as it did on Vader. She still found it kind of cute on him as opposed to intimidating...
Well, let them argue; longer I have to live, Anri settled back in a relaxed slouch to wait. She had long given up trying to stop the inevitable of when Vader finally grew angry enough to break their necks or cut them down with his red saber. Unless, Luke snapped first, she amended, eyeing her young friend. He wasn't too far from completely losing what little patience he possessed and tried attacking Vader. This then would lead to either of the two ways Vader kills them.
He’s definitely crazy enough to try, She thought with a mix of sour fondness.
“Enough.” Vader growled, returning to Basic. “Either give a counter-offer or concede, young Skywalker. You are prolonging the inevitable. The unit is mine.”
“As if I run around with that much credits,” Luke muttered sullenly. He looked (adorably) affronted and grudgingly capitulated. “Yeah, yeah, the Nubian module is yours. Happy?”
"Quite." Was the very smug remark.
Anri discreetly rolled her eyes. Vader seemed to enjoy riling Luke up; which was just too bizarre to contemplate. Vader and shopping was a little easier to accept than Vader teasing someone... not by much but...
Who the hell was she kidding? This was just too unbelievable.
Seeing the dark look on Luke's face, Anri hastily declared. “Alright! If you’d step into the main shop, My Lord. We can conclude your tra—”
“That is a Mon Calamari Heavy Cruiser Hyperdrive Module behind you, isn't it, young one,” Vader noted aloud with a touch of interest and a distinct quality of admiration. “I did not think one could be found outside the Mon Calamari Shipyards; they are very careful with these particular components.”
“The boss has good suppliers, yeah, or we’re just lucky with what drops out of the sky around here.” Anri grinned weakly, trying not to wring her hands nervously. Surely, Vader wasn't going to buy that too...
“Indeed, your establishment has proven to hold many treasures. One quite priceless.”
Anri’s brow furrowed. Was Vader staring at Luke when he was saying that last bit?
And, of course, dear oblivious Luke grumbled sarcastically; his voice undoubtedly sulky and resentful. “I take it you want that one too?”
“It would be foolish of me not to purchase this unit as well.” Vader stepped up near the youth so he could get a closer look at the unit, scrutinizing the model. “Do you also detect the problem with this component?”
Luke hunched down and scowled at the ground. “It’s a little more severe than the Nubian Module's defect; there are four wires that were melted together near the central compartment. They have to be removed and replaced completely to get the unit back into working condition. But, other than that she’s in great condition too. Not as good as the Nubian Module, though.”
“Very good. Your mechanical talent is very impressive, young one. I imagine it only took you a few minutes to locate and isolate the issue in this component as well.”
Luke shrugged modestly. “I’m good with machines.”
“Hmm.” Vader sent a glance at her over his shoulder. “How much for both Hyperdrive Modules?”
Anri quickly named the figure; Luke winced at the total and looked at both parts with such disappointment she felt her heart go out to him. Once she got rid of Vader, she'd help him find something just as good or better... even if she had to send him over to Voina's shop next door.
Vader slipped a black-gloved hand into a pouch on his belt and a credit chip flew across the air and came to float in front of her expectantly. Still awed and suitably cowed by the newest show of his rumored powers, she stared for a good few seconds before grabbing the little rectangular and reading the amount on the chip. She promptly choked on air.
“My Lord, you overpaid—” Anri started.
“No, I did not. The remaining credits are yours to do with as you wish. You have certainly earned it.”
Well, he was living up to his reputation of sheer unpredictability. Utterly confused, Anri merely stared at the Dark Lord. The Sith lazily gestured and the two modules rose once more, floating to hover behind him like a set of obedient Stormtroopers.
She had only been watching the Dark Lord which was why she saw what happened next.
Luke, who had been gazing at the two modules with undisguised longing, missed the Sith's actions entirely.
Vader’s large hand shot out in a blur, snagged the youth’s nearest wrist—why was the little fool standing practically beside him?!—the click of one half of the binders Vader had in his hands was loud in the quiet backyard. Luke went still in disbelief and this just made it easier for Vader to catch his loose wrist and secure him properly.
The next instant Luke was thrown across Vader’s armored shoulder like a sack of produce sold in the nearby market.
“Uh…” Anri said carefully but in a firm voice. “My Lord. He’s not part of the merchandise.”
“No, he is not but I am taking him.” Vader intoned with unyielding finality.
“THE HELL YOU ARE!! PUT ME DOWN!!” Luke howled like a scalded nexu and was thrashing about with all the ferocity of a maddened gundark.
“If you do not behave; I will sedate you.”
Luke’s only rejoinder was a very hard jab of one of his knees into the Dark Lord’s chest. The Sith shifted.
Anri closed her eyes and shook her head in despair. She heard a loud gasp and a protest then the familiar string of Huttese that were definitely swearwords.
This rant petered off very quickly and Anri opened her eyes to see Luke slump bonelessly over Vader’s shoulder.
“He certainly inherited his father's mechanical expertise. But, most of all, both of his parents' stubbornness.” Vader observed.
Anri clearly heard the amused pride in the baritone. She watched him adjust Luke with shocking care; shifting the unconscious boy so he was cradled in Vader's large arms. The hold was blatantly protective and possessive. The Dark Lord inclined his head to her curtly. “It was a pleasure doing business with you. With your new funds, I advise you find yourself a more suitable occupation; your talents are far too valuable to be wasted away here. Also.” The bass deepened, underlined with threat. "We were never here."
“…er," Anri had to swallow audibly to moisten her desert-dry throat. "Yes. I understand; thank you for your business, My Lord.” She said feebly.
Without another word, Vader strode for the entryway.
She trailed after the pair, glancing frequently at Luke. A part of her wanted to beg the Sith to just leave him. The hovering modules followed Vader like a pair of expertly trained banthas.
"Be at ease." Vader proclaimed quietly. "He will be safe with me."
Anri raised her head and looked bravely up at the iconic black mask. "You promise?"
"I give my word."
She could only nod, the anxiety and fear she had felt for her new friend easing. Somehow, some way, Anri know Vader would protect Luke.
It was enough for her. It would have to be enough.
She escorted Vader to the door and watched in silence until the unlikely duo were out of sight before stepping back inside the shop and flipping the sign from 'OPEN' to 'CLOSED'.
She had something long overdue to do.