Kor’s hair wasn’t light enough to be called blond but it wasn’t dark enough to be brown either; it was somewhere in between. His steel-gray eyes made his hair look darker than it really was. He was tall by human standards, but not so tall as to stand out from the crowd, with broad shoulders and a raw strength bequeathed to him from his years of hard labor in the shipyards.
He was nervous as he clocked out at the end of the day. Prauf was waiting for him outside the gate. That in itself wasn’t unusual; they often took the tram together since they both lived in the same neighborhood. But after the odd looks Prauf had been giving him since his fall, Kor was on edge, wondering what was going to happen. There was no doubt the big alien knew something had intervened to save his life. The question was, did he think Kor had something to do with it and what was he going to do about it?
They rode in silence at first. The tram was crowded with workers heading home for the day and anything they said could be overheard. As the car slowly emptied though, they found themselves with more and more space between them and the other passengers.
Eventually, three stops before their own stop, the car was nearly empty and they had the entire back end to themselves.
“That was you today, wasn’t it?” Prauf asked finally.
Kor hesitated. He didn’t want to lie but what was Prauf going to do?
Prauf saw the doubt in his eyes and shook his head slightly. “I ain’t gonna turn you in,” he said quietly. “I don’t need the money that bad, but I gotta know, that was you, wasn’t it?”
Taking a chance, Kor nodded. “Yeah, it was me.”
Prauf smiled. “You’re a Jedi?” It was more of a statement than a question.
Kor shook his head. “Hardly.” He gave him a brief recap of his family history, including the parts he’d left out before. “I’ve been avoiding using the Force as much as possible, but when I saw you falling I couldn’t help it. I had to save you.”
“And I’m glad you did,” Prauf assured him. “Bruised is better than dead.” He paused, his brow furrowing. “You know, kid, the boss mentioned the other day that our work crew has the best safety record he’s ever seen. He was congratulating me on it and asking how I did it. I told him I didn’t know.” He gave Kor a searching look. “But now I do. It was you, wasn’t it?”
Kor nodded slowly.
“How many times?”
Kor leaned forward on his knees staring at the floor. “I don’t know. I only do it now and then but you know how often accidents happen on these scrapheaps.” Prauf nodded. “If I can save someone, I do.” He sat up. “Was I wrong?”
Prauf was emphatic. “No way! Saving someone’s life is always a good thing. But . . .”
The tram stopped and more riders got off, but now others were getting on. Prauf waited until everyone was seated comfortably far away from them and the tram was moving again.
“But, if my boss has noticed our safety record, you can bet someone higher up has noticed it too. And what you did today – slowing me down enough for that hauler to catch me – is too much to ignore. I mean, do you have any idea what the chances are of something like that happening on its own?”
Kor shook his head mutely.
“Well,” Prauf paused, “neither do I,” he admitted. “But its got to be astronomical. Someone is bound to start asking questions. How much money have you got stashed under your bunk, kid?”
Kor blinked at the unexpected question. “Uh, I don’t know, a bunch. Why?”
“Good. You’re fired.”
Kor sat up in disbelief. “What?”
Prauf pushed him back in his seat with a smile. “I’m serious, kid. People are going to start asking questions and unless you’ve got a lightsaber hidden around here someplace, you need to get out off-planet before they do. If you’ve got a bunch of money, get a ticket on the first ship outta here and go.”
Kor laughed derisively. “Without ID?” Jorus had brought him here as a child and he’d never needed any identification. It was a little late now.
Prauf rubbed his face with broad fingers. “Yeah, you got a point there.” The shipyards didn’t ask too many questions as long as you could work, but to buy a ticket on a starship you had to show some ID and prove who you were. He thought for a minute. “You said you had a bunch of money. How much exactly?”
Kor shrugged. “I don’t know. I never really counted.” He cocked his head. “Why?”
Prauf smiled askance at him. “Remember that friend of mine I told you about, Drafa?”
“Yeah. Some kind of refurbisher or something?” Kor replied hesitantly.
“You could say that,” Prauf agreed. “He scavenges spare parts and builds ships from ‘em, including starships. Pretty good ones too. Kinda small, of course, but they work. If you’ve got enough money, you could buy one.”
Kor’s eyes widened. “Uh, wow. That would be . . .” he waved his hands uncertainly in the air, “perfect. I could go anywhere I wanted.”
Prauf paused. “Do you know how to fly a starship?”
Kor gave him a condescending look. “Look where I work. I can fly all kinds of ships.”
“But can you fly a starship?” Prauf pressed him.
“Uh . . .” Kor hesitated. “It can’t be that different.” He scowled.
Prauf held up his hands. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. Maybe you’re a fast learner.”
The tram slid to a stop and they got off.
“Tell you what kid, get all your money and everything you need, then I’ll take you over to see Drafa and we’ll see what we can do.”
Kor paused. “Right now?” Even as the words escaped from his lips he knew Prauf was right. There had been a growing sense of danger in his mind ever since the incident at work. Somehow, he knew a net was closing in on him. The Empire might be gone but there were still plenty of people who would be interested in a Jedi, whether they were a real Jedi or not.
“Right now,” Prauf affirmed. He leaned over and examined Kor’s face. “Looks like you know it too.”
Kor nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, I can feel that something is wrong.”
Prauf started down the street and Kor fell in at his side. “What’s it feel like?”
Kor tried to think. “I don’t know. It’s like there’s this darkness gathering around me like a dark cloud or something. I can’t see it with my eyes but I can see it anyway. I don’t know. It’s weird.” He felt bad that he couldn’t express it any better than that.
“That’s alright,” Prauf reassured him. “I was just curious. I’ve never met a Jedi before.”
“You still haven’t,” Kor snorted. “My parents were only padawans for one day. Part of a day really and that’s way more than I ever was.”
They arrived at Kor’s place and Prauf gestured for him to go in. “I’ll meet you at my place,” he said. “It’s on the way to Drafa’s and I need to get some things.”
Kor nodded and went in. His room at the transit hotel was little more than a 10 by 10 cubicle with a tiny shower. There was a common laundry room at the end of the hall, along with an ice machine that sometimes worked. He had a hot plate sitting next to the vidscreen, a clear bag of disposable plasticware and plates, a few shirts and pants, some underwear, and a spare pair of boots. He stuffed everything in his backpack, then bent down to fish his bag of money out from under the bed. He was surprised at how full it was. He had to press it flat to get it out from under the bed. It weighed more than he thought it would too.
He hefted it in his hand. “Wow,” he muttered to himself. He didn’t realize he’d saved so much. Maybe he really did have enough money to get a small starship. He stuffed it in his backpack along with the box from the Temple and cinched it down. He swung it onto his shoulders and headed out.
It took him about five minutes to reach the transit hotel where Prauf lived. One was pretty much like the other and Prauf’s room wasn’t much different than his, the few times he’d been in it. It was a little bigger due to Prauf’s physical size but that was about it.
Prauf had a seabag slung over his shoulder. He left out a sigh of relief when Kor came around the corner. “What took you so long? I was getting worried.”
Kor laughed at him. “No, it seemed like a long time because you were worried.”
Prauf scowled at him. “What are you? A philosopher?”
“Or a smart aleck.” Kor grinned.
Prauf snorted laughter. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” He nodded his head. “Come on, it’s this way.” He headed down the street.
Kor fell in beside him. “What’s in the bag?” The bag appeared to be stuffed to overflowing.”
“Just a few things,” Prauf said evasively.
Kor shrugged and let it go.
With sunset approaching, the night lights of the city outside the scrapyards started coming on, transforming the wretched streets into a place of beauty, if you didn’t look too closely. Bars signs on either side of the street cast bright lights, luring people in with their promise of sweet forgetfulness, camaraderie, and perhaps a night of fun with a loose woman. Shops blazed with light, enticing shoppers with their wares and theaters advertised the latest shows and extravaganzas. Crowds thronged the streets and drug dealers mingled with the crowds.
Kor and Prauf ignored all of it, content to use it as cover. Their rough work clothes blended in with what everyone else was wearing. No one gave them more than a passing glance.
Eventually, they left the main thoroughfares and found themselves entering a more industrial section of town. The streets outside the factories and repair shops were nearly empty, while inside them, the night shift toiled away at whatever tasks were before them.
Here, their presence drew more attention and they picked up their pace.
“There it is!” Prauf pointed at a wide yard surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. Inside the fence were piles of various parts and a few ships that were either being repaired or were in some stage of being built or rebuilt. A solitary building fronted the street, with the fence attached to it on both sides. The weathered sign over the door said, “Drafa’s Repairs”.
Prauf pushed the door open and they went inside.
It looked similar to a hundred other repair shops Kor had ever seen. Parts were everywhere, with price tags hanging on them. A small counter was covered with a protective plastic cover. Under the plastic was an out-of-date calendar with pretty girls on it. A battered cash register sat on the counter along with displays of keys, energy drinks, and stickers with trite little sayings on them.
A bell rang when they came in and a voice from somewhere in the back called out, “I’ll be right with you!”
A few minutes later a whipcord thin man emerged from the rows of parts. His eyes lit up when he saw Prauf. “Prauf! You old dog! What brings you around?”
Prauf shook hands with him. “You know, one of these days you’re gonna have to tell me what a dog is so I’ll know if you’re insulting me or not.”
Drafa laughed. “Not a chance! I want to keep you guessing.” He glanced at Kor, sizing him up before turning back to Prauf. “So, what can I do for you?”
Prauf gestured at Kor. “My friend here has been working with me in the scrapyards for years saving his money and he needs a ship.”
Drafa nodded. “I’ve got all kinds of airships and water ships, even a submersible if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.”
“A starship,” Prauf interrupted him.
Drafa’s eyebrows went up. His expression changed. He looked Kor up and down. “That is probably out of your price range, young man.”
Kor looked at Prauf and he nodded. He took off his backpack and dug out the bag of money. He set it on the counter with a soft thud.
Drafa looked at it then at him. “Seriously?”
“A bag of money?”
“Why not?” Kor asked defensively. “Like he said, I’ve been saving my pay for years.”
Drafa pursed his lips. “Okay, but how much is in there?”
Kor was embarrassed. “I don’t know. I never counted it.”
Drafa stared at him then at Prauf. Finally, he heaved a sigh and told Prauf. “Lock the door while we count it and let’s see how much we’re talking about.”
An hour later, Kor was amazed at the tally. He hadn’t realized how much was in there.
Drafa’s attitude though was completely different. Now, he was eager to do business. “Okay, kid. You’ve got enough to get yourself a starship,” he admitted. “One of the small ones,” he added. “Put it back in your bag and let’s go take a look.”
They’d stacked the money into bundles with elastic bands around it to keep from having to recount it a second time. It made it easy to stack in the bag. He put it back in his backpack and heaved it up on his shoulders.
They followed Drafa through the narrow rows of parts into the workshop behind them. His employees were busy working and ignored them except for a casual glance. Outside the workshop was a skimmer. Drafa got in behind the controls. They climbed in the back and he took off. He wove between tall piles of parts and rows of finished airships and water ships until they reached the middle of the yard. There, hidden from view were five starships.
All of them were obviously made from spare parts and didn’t fit any standard design. Drafa had built them to suit his own tastes. Three of them looked too big and expensive, but the other two looked like Kor could afford them. Those were the ones Drafa turned to.
He looked at Kor as he and Prauf clambered out of the skimmer. “Either one of these will do just fine.” He gestured at the two small ships. Kor frowned. He knew he couldn’t afford much, but they were little more than lifeboats.
Prauf wasn’t impressed either. “Hey! After the way I pulled your rear end out of that bar fight, this is the best you can do?”
Drafa shook his head sadly. “I knew you were going to bring that up.”
“And I never have before,” Prauf reminded him. “But I’m bringing it up now. You owe me, Drafa.”
Drafa ground his teeth. “Fine,” he muttered. “But we’re square after this, Prauf. You hear me?”
“I hear ya.”
Drafa sighed. “Alright, kid, take your pick.” He waved at the three larger ships.
Prauf whooped with joy and led him into the first ship. They spent the better part of two hours looking them over and comparing notes. They finally settled on the third one. It was the smallest of the three, about a hundred feet long, but had the highest ceilings. There were two decks. At the bow, the roof sloped down to the floor level of the second deck, with a protruding glassite enclosed cockpit sticking out just slightly over the bow of the ship. It was slightly rounded on the edges but overall it had a boxy, rectangular shape. On either side, on top, and the undersides were eight forward-pointing guns, two on each of the four sides. Each gun could swivel back and forth 180 degrees. Toward the rear, were eight more guns covering the back of the ship.
The engines took up the rear third of the ship. On the lower deck were two cargo holds, each 10 by 10 with large doors to allow for easy entrance. There was a wide cargo ramp on either side of the ship and two passenger ramps further up toward the bow. There were two staterooms on the lower deck. On the top deck were two more staterooms, a mess that doubled as a meeting area and lounge, a tiny medical closet, and a repair station.
The ship was fully fueled as well as stocked with food and water. The name painted on the bow, black on white, said, “Whimsy.”
Kor glanced at Prauf for guidance and the big man nodded. He took out the bag of money and handed it to Drafa, keeping only one small bundle of cash for themselves. Drafa started to protest then saw Prauf’s expression and nodded with resignation. He handed him the key card with the identification and command codes on it. “Nice doing business with you. Now, get your ship out of my yard. I’ve got work to do.”
He looked at Prauf. “We’re square now. I don’t owe you and you don’t ow me, right?”
Prauf shook hands with him. “We’re square. You’re a good man, Drafa.”
“Hmph! And if anyone asks, I’ve never seen you.” He turned and stomped out of the ship.