Actions

Work Header

Cryptography

Chapter Text

Pellezara Station,  4 ABY

 “You could buy me a drink,” said the woman next to him.  One black-gloved finger described a spiral on the bartop.

“I could,” he agreed. From what he could see of her face, it was a nice one. “But I’m low on credits, and my mother always told me not to buy drinks for strange women.”  Possibly.  Possibly not, it was hard to say.  Khir’s mother had rather liked strange women.  But the bit about being low on credits, that was true.  He had fewer than three hundred left-- spent everything on the manifest and ident chips to get here.  If he didn’t find a buyer for his cargo soon, he wouldn’t be able to make the freighter payments.  And freighter pilots without freighters were just unemployed slobs waiting for eviction.  Possibly worse, considering his competition.

It was hard to break into the ryll market on Pellezara, but if he could make a first contact-- well.  Some goods created their own demand.

“Your mother must be clever,” she said.  “And very mistrusting.”  The woman gestured to the bartender, brushing her thumb along her nose twice and twisting her head sharply to the right.  

The Kubaz scowled and said, “Nineteen credits, Tem.”  He waited until she placed the chips on the bar, then swept them up with a long clawed hand.  He pulled out two glasses, splashing a few inches of something violently purple inside each.

“Robbing me blind,” the woman said, pulling an invisible line from her left shoulder to her right, fingers tight against her thumb.  The Kubaz put the drinks down in front of her, twitching his long nose derisively.  The woman-- Tem?-- shoved one of the drinks his direction without looking.  “You’re being unfair,” she told the Kubaz, twisting her right hand side to side and spreading her fingers wide.  Something whirred.  “You know I can’t do the honorifics correctly without a nose like yours.  If anything, you should charge me less because I’m at least trying to learn Kubazian.”

“That is not what you are trying to do,” the Kubaz said.  The light from one of the globes above glinted off his goggles as he stared pointedly at Khir.  The claws on his left hand crossed and uncrossed with a sound like reeds in the wind.  “Falsehoods are not becoming, Cura Tem.”

“I apologize,” she told the Kubaz, flicking her fingers from under the sharp point of her chin.  “I meant you no dishonor.”  She turned slightly on her stool, facing Khir fully for the first time.  “Hetha thinks I intend to corrupt you,” she said.  Her face was a very nice one, pale except for the purpling trace of a long scar down the right side.  Big eyes smudged with kohl.  Dark hair showing behind a rust-colored scarf.  “He doesn’t like it when people lie to his face.”

Khir felt his mouth tip up, unbidden.  “Seems like being a bartender would be a bad choice of profession, then.”  He picked up his drink.  The glass still had a smudge of lip stain on the rim from the last customer.  Khir smeared it with his thumb, then took a swallow.  He sputtered.  At least it was strong enough to have killed anything still living in the glass.

“Needs must,” Cura Tem said, picking up her own glass and taking a sip.  Her face remained impassive.  “Are you planning to go to the flight show this evening?”

“No,” Khir told her.  Too hard to do business at the show; buyers for his cargo wouldn’t be looking for that sort of wholesome distraction.  “Are you really planning to corrupt me?”

“Possibly,” she said, and yes, his mother would have liked this one.  Would have done anything to have her.  “Possibly not.  I haven’t decided yet.”

He took another sip of his drink, trying not to pay attention to the thin rime of sludge at the bottom.  “Let me know when you make up your mind, then.”

***

His body weight requires two more, signalled Hetha, and Jyn’s smile thinned.  That was another nineteen credits, minimum.  More like forty, because she would need to order another for herself each time.  Khir Rond wasn’t entirely a fool-- just lonely and desperate and amoral, like everyone else on the station-- and he wouldn’t drink if she didn’t.  

You are a thieving ass of a roach, she signed back, saying, “I think I’ll have another.  You?”  Rond hesitated.  “I’m still buying,” she reassured him.  “And so far, your virtue is safe.”

“I’ll take another, then,” he said, eyes narrowing playfully, “and we’ll see about that.”

Jyn made herself smile.  There wasn’t enough alcohol in the Duro system to make that happen, but Rond didn’t need to know that.  “Two more, then,” she said, slapping the credit chips on the bar and signing, Same glass and stronger.  “So aside from the flight shows, what else is there to do on Pellezara?  I have another three days before my transport arrives.”

“Not much,” Rond said, reaching for the glass Hetha set in front of him.  “Drink,” he said, gesturing with his glass before tilting it back into his mouth.  “Fight, if someone looks at you wrong.  Do some business.  Watch some holos.  Visit the back alleys, if you incline that way.  I could recommend a few.”

Jyn took a sip of her own drink; even at half strength, it was stronger than she wanted.  “And here you are, afraid I’ll corrupt you,” she observed.  Pellezara’s back alleys were hives of brothels and trafficking networks for controlled substances.  Draven’s information had been correct, then.

“I didn’t say I visited them,” Rond said.  His gestures were becoming a bit more expansive.  “Just thought--”

I am not a roach, Tem, signed Hetha, pouring a drink for another patron.  And he is not used to mesca.

“Thought what?” Jyn prompted, tracing a brief, Thank you, honorable friend , on the top of the bar.  “What would your poor mother say?”

Rond laughed, and Jyn saw the silver trace of mesca building on his tongue.  It wouldn’t be much longer.  “She would have asked if you preferred a particular species, and charged you double because you’re so pretty.”

“Shouldn’t I get a discount, then?” Jyn said, moving closer and letting her a finger play along the edge of Rond’s jacket.  “Because I’m so pretty.”  He shivered, and took another swallow of his drink.

“Ma thought the pretty ones were dangerous,” Rond said.  He slurred a little: dangeroush.  “You are very pretty,” he repeated, and reached out to trace the puckered burn along her jawline.  Jyn heroically refrained from breaking his fingers.

“I think you may have had enough,” Jyn said, trying to sound concerned. Rond swayed a little on his stool, and Jyn slid her hand under his coat.  A steadying gesture.  “Hetha,” she called, “bring us some water, please.”  Is your cousin out back yet? she signed over Rond’s shoulder.

“That will be fifteen credits,” Hetha said, and twitched his nose: yes .  

“You’re a terrible person, Hetha,” Jyn told him, and signed the same.  The Kubaz twitched his nose again, and set a glass of water down in front of Rond.

“I think it’s really nice that you don’t just talk to him in Basic,” Rond said, earnest.  “You’re nice.”  Jyn pushed the water into his hands, and he picked it up.  “I wish I could sign Kubazian,” he said, before downing the whole glass.

“No, you don’t,” she said, and counted silently in her head.  Mesca and water was a terrible combination, and it usually took--

“Oh, pfassk,” Rond said, going grey around the lips.  He stood up so suddenly he nearly knocked Jyn off her stool.  His hand went to his mouth.  “Where--?” he asked, frantic, and Jyn pointed to the door behind the bar.  Hetha waved him around urgently, opening it into the alley behind.  Rond ran for it.

Jyn waited a moment, listening for the painful heaves of Rond vomiting up everything he’d eaten in the last cycle or four.  There was a wet splash, and then a painful coughing groan.  

Hetha nodded, and shut the door.  “He should not drink so much so quickly,” he said, and picked up the empty glasses while signing, His freighter docked at port AE-3. My cousin thanks you for opportunity to eliminate a potential rival, Cura Tem.

“He won’t be any good to me tonight, that’s for sure,” Jyn said, making a show of disappointment, sliding the data key she had lifted from Khir Rond’s belt into her own.   I thank you, honorable friend, Jyn signed as she readied herself to leave.  Tell your cousin to try not to kill him.

“No,” said the Kubaz, and went back to his work.

***

Jyn made herself walk two rings away before stopping in a doorway, bending down and pulling her comlink out of her boot.  She untucked the scarf she had been wearing around her head, folding it quickly and shoving it into a pocket while pulling her hair out of its tie.  It swung forward, covering her face more fully.  She radioed Bodhi, giving him the dock designation.

“You’re not busy, are you?” she asked, unlacing her boot a little in order to give her hands something to do.

“No,” he responded.  “You?”  She could hear the passing squawk of a convor over Bodhi’s channel; he was in the station market, then.  Not far from the docks.

“No, not at all,” she confirmed.  The only stormtroopers she had seen all day were on the docking ring, but if Hetha’s cousin was as good as his word, they shouldn’t have a problem.  If he wasn’t, they had more pressing concerns.  The Kudaz on Pellezara were deeply enmeshed in organized crime, and were a much more immediate threat than the Empire.  “Rendezvous in ten?”

“Copy that,” Bodhi confirmed.  “See you in ten.  Watch your back.” The channel closed.  Jyn slid her comlink back into her boot and finished lacing it-- TIE fighter through the shield, pull tight-- and stood.  There was a group of Duros passing by, arguing loudly.  She stepped out of the doorway a pace or two behind them, and did her best to fade into the background.

Her best was getting to be very good.


 Rebel Base 5251977, 4 ABY

 It was going to work this time, Cassian was certain.  He entered the decryption key into the control panel, heard the satisfying click-hiss-lock of the pistons into the socket at back of the processor, and watched as the dead white eyes began to flicker.

“This is very unlikely to work,” said Kaytoo.

Cassian ignored him.  It was good to have something to ignore again.

“The odds of you selecting the correct private key at random are astronomical,” K2 continued.  “That is not hyperbole.”

Cassian turned his head.  “Would you like to try?” he offered, gesturing to the pile of decommissioned KX models on the floor around them, scavenged from the battle at Hoth.  “And I am not selecting anything at random.  All security droids receive the same programming, but that programming is done by people, and people are lazy--”

“True,” agreed K2.

“--and lazy means patterns.”

“I am very good at pattern analysis,” K2 offered.  

Cassian waited, eyebrows raised.

“It’s very boring, though,” K2 said.  Cassian tightened his lips and tried not to smile.  “I don’t want to do that.”

“I know,” Cassian said.  “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

K2 tilted his head, surveying the dull black metal around them-- bits of interface arms and torsos in piles.  “That isn’t true,” he said.  “I didn’t want to stay on Hoth, and you said I had to.”

“No one wanted to stay on Hoth,” Cassian said, distracted.  The lights on the KX processor were continuing to blink; he must have got the first part of the key correct.  Maybe--

“Jyn Erso wanted to stay on Hoth,” K2 said, and Cassian made himself take a slow breath.  Tensing up made his hip ache for hours.

“That was different,” Cassian said.  The lights were blinking slower, maybe--

“I don’t see how,” K2 argued.  “She said, I want to stay with you, and you said you weren’t a goddamn child and she would follow orders or you would see her court-martialed for insubordination.”

The processor’s lights went out, and the interface piston unlocked.  Cassian resisted the urge to throw it across the room.  “I sometimes wish you would not record everything.”

“That would render what you are attempting to do pointless as well as impossible,” K2 said.  His head tilted, considering a problem.  “Does that mean it is art?”

“If it is, it’s terrible,” Cassian said.  He held the KX processor out to K2.  “Are you sure you do not want to try?”

“Yes,” K2 said, but took the processor anyway.  “But since we will be here for at least the next two thousand three hundred and seventeen years if you continue at the current pace, I will try.”

“Thank you,” Cassian said.  He slid his arms into his braces, and swung himself up.  He could walk without them if necessary, but the med droids tended to fuss.  “General Draven is expecting me, I think.”  K2 hummed in response, his focus already tuned to the processor connected to his interface. “But you made an error in your recording,” he said, not bothering to turn around.  “She said, I want to stay with you all.  Not stay with you.”

“Is that not the same thing?” K2 said, allocating some of his processing power to conversation.

“No,” Cassian said, and wished he were less certain.