THICKER THAN WATER
A burst of burning shards lit up the thermal pipe by my head, the accompanying whine echoed down the service shaft I was scurrying along. I ducked quickly, the blaster bolt was never on target, but I flinched nonetheless. My own blaster remained in my belt, though not out of choice; the last few strides had been spent fumbling to pull the damn thing from the holster it was refusing to part with. Eventually I gave up, focusing my efforts on trying to lose the very angry cyborg on my tail.
Everyone thinks they know the vents and access pipes better than everyone else; in truth, I think everyone just knows a different route. I was just enough ahead to make aiming difficult, but nowhere near far enough ahead to go around a corner without being seen. I dived down yet another hatch, this time onto civilian level, and ducked again to avoid the closest shot yet. There weren't many around at this time - most would be asleep or in the cantina - but those who were somehow managed to stand directly in my path.
I weaved between them while the heavy-built cyborg pushed past, knocking one woman to the ground. I mentally apologised but really didn't have time to stop, another corner, another crowd. This time I couldn't stop before clattering into an old droid; his body was half open, presumably being repaired, but that made little difference to the outcome. My balance was offset and after only a few more shaky paces I lost it completely and crumpled to the ground. I rolled onto my back, watching the cyborg approach, and returned my attention to the blaster.
"I'm done playing with you, Sun-girl," the cyborg said, his words full of static and menace. I glared at him, still he was too far to make the shot clean, but not for much longer. I yanked at the handle of my blaster, once, twice, before ripping the seam of the holster and finally freeing it. I made sure he could see I was now armed, charging and aiming the gun straight at him.
He stopped running and chuckled, "Stalemate," he said. He was right. I clambered to my feet, adopting a macho stance even though my insides were shaking. Now here we were, both stood in lethal range, both willing to fire.
"You should know better than to back out on a deal, Drekke," I snarled, quite pleased with how dangerous I made myself sound. My efforts must have fallen on deaf ears however, as Drekke replied only with laughter. "D'you really want to add a murder to that?" I pushed on, confidence growing. "Pretty sure that would land you on our 'To kill' list."
I had the back-up of the Black Sun, as a bargaining tool, not much trumped that in these parts. Still, I got the feeling Drekke was not one to back down. I kept my finger on the trigger and my eyes on his, so much as a flinch and I would fire - by then it might be too late.
"All due respect, but you're not exactly a top dog," he said with a slow grin, "they'd probably thank me for putting you down."
I twitched at that, and his finger tensed with mine. The crowd was growing and I knew to shoot now would be as good as suicide. My plan now devolved into buying time, frantically searching my mind for some better idea.
"You know, some people get awfully attached to their dogs," I snapped back, hoping that being cryptic might delay his response just a little. I was mistaken.
"Oh I'm pretty sure you're just a stray," he said. At that moment I became intensely aware of the taste of blood in my mouth. I'd been grinding my tongue against my teeth for several minutes now, it should have hurt but in moments like that, nothing hurts.
I opened my mouth to speak but was cut off by a metallic crash and another shower of sparks. Someone was taking shots at the pipes above our heads, the someone then strolled into view. Lixonn.
Lix was never discreet, his presence was intimidating at the best of times, but right now, he was able to bring everyone to silence - including me. His hands were occupied, his armoured gloves wrapped tight around the handle of what could only be described as a portable turret. On his back sat what I assumed was the energy pack, as a thick rubber pipe connected it to the turret.
The turret itself comprised of four barrels, one slightly larger and offset, the other three identical and almost in line. Wires and small hydraulic pistons were littered almost randomly across the bulky core - from which extended two handles, allowing Lix to hold it below his waist. As a whole, it looked makeshift and unstable - no-one gambled with that kind of firepower down here, unless they meant business.
"Drekke," drawled Lix, as if greeting an old friend, his smirk completing the image, "it's been so long."
"You think you can scare me away? I can shoot faster than the two of you," snapped Drekke, switching his aim between us, as if proving a point.
I let my lips twist into a half-smile, confidence growing now I had a comrade at my side. I side-stepped twice, so that I could confirm our allegiance. Shoulder to shoulder, the balance had shifted - and Drekke wasn't happy.
"You 'ave, I'd say fifteen seconds, what d'you think Lix?" I said with a sarcastic smile, turning to Lix for a reply.
"I was thinking ten," he said. I nodded.
"Ten seconds," I repeated, "before 'e opens fire."
Drekke opened his mouth, but nothing came out; his bravado was gone, all that remained was a cyborg with not enough time. Lix tensed his hands, preparing to shoot and making sure Drekke could see what he was doing. I stepped back a little, lowering my blaster as Drekke did the same.
"Go home, Drekke," Lix said, slowly.
The cyborg gave me one last glare before turning and stomping away - making the most of his enhanced legs to show his anger. We watched him leave, Lix not lowering his turret until Drekke was around the corner. Lix gave me a smirk, "How many times do I have to rescue you?" he asked.
"As many as I need," I replied with a quick wink before addressing the crowd, "Okay, show's over, go back to...whatever it was you were doin'," I paused, "Oh an' someone fix that pipe."
I turned, holstering my blaster, only to hear it clatter to the floor. “Shit,” I muttered, picking it up and examining the broken holster. As I did, I heard a familiar sound.
Lix was chuckling as only a cathar can, sounding somewhere between a hiss and a purr. It made me laugh too, but inside I was cursing myself. He put one arm around my shoulders and led me the way he'd come. It was easy to look at the hulk of a cathar and think he was a brainless, heartless killing machine, but I knew better. When we weren't fighting he was no more vicious than the average service droid, and we'd known each other long enough to know we weren't about to shoot each other in the back. Plus, his soft, auburn fur made for some incredible hugs. We got a few looks when we walked like this, but neither of us cared much - besides, Lix was carrying a turret.
"So, 'ow did you find me then?" I asked.
"Vent had an eye on your heat signature, saw you stop and radioed me," he hesitated, then, with a grin he said, "I'm sure she'd appreciate a thank you."
I rolled my eyes, me and Vent had a lot of history, but right then, we were friends and no more. That didn't stop Vent from being the most outrageous flirt in the entire Black Sun around me though. Naturally, Lix concluded that we were back together again.
"Lix, I've told you–"
"–I know, I know," he interrupted, chuckling to himself, "I'm only teasing."
"Well tease a little less 'fore I kick in those precious fangs o' yours," I snapped, giving my best death stare - once again it seemed I had a long way to go when it came to intimidation, as Lix simply tapped my nose and laughed. It wasn't long before I joined in.
Around the next corner, I knew where we were again - from here the journey back to camp was automatic. We’d walked the route so many times that we were sure we could do it blindfolded, drunk and on spice. So sure, in fact, that we had already tried it - though not quite with the results we had expected. Cog had to be stopped three times for fear he might try to join the speeder taxis in the air, Vent spent the whole time trying to follow me and Lix got distracted by a mouse droid.
I glanced up at Lix, I couldn’t help but imagine him salivating over a chunk of cheap metal and found myself laughing again. He seemed confused, and welcomed the sight of Vent running up to us to relieve him from coming up with a reply to my giggles.
I stopped laughing when I saw her, but that suggestive look that was permanently plastered on her face made it hard to keep a straight face myself.
“How you doin’ Hana?” she asked, touching my arm softly.
“I’m grand,” I replied, “but can we make the rescue a bit quicker next time?”
She chuckled, “I wouldn’t waste a second to keep you safe, Hana.”
I smiled at that, I knew she had my back just like Lix did, I just wished she didn’t need to quite so often. She smiled back, lighting up her slightly freckled cheeks. Unlike Lix, Vent and I were both from Coruscant and both grew up in the Black Sun. We’d both acquired the common accent of the lower levels but I’d escaped the pale skin that most ended up with down there. Vent however, had almost pure white skin, which made her ginger hair seem even more out of place. She cut most of it short, to show off the tattoos on her face, but kept one bit tied up in a little bun. She never let that down for anyone but me, or so she said.
I realised that Vent had been gazing at me for just a little too long, just as I had been gazing at her. I coughed, hoping that would snap her out of it, but in the end Lix stepped in, saying that Cog would probably be wanting to hear how effective his new toy was. Lix held up the turret, grinning. I nodded and followed him on, Vent hesitated before joining us. I got the feeling that she’d had enough of being just friends.