Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 16

In the span of several weeks, the atmosphere in the Shed began to thaw. While still cautious, Saz and Aveyla became accustomed to each other's presence while mulling about in the ghostly corridors of the base. Not much was said. Occasionally, Saz would try and initiate a conversation with the jittery Twi'lek, but was always disappointed. There were other more precarious situations, such as Aveyla returning to her room after bathing and catching Saz unaware as he caught a glimpse of her nearly-naked form.

Once, he dropped a fairly large module onto his foot and walked with a limp for a few days.

After accepting her situation, Aveyla also began to change. Never really ridding herself of the anxiety, she nevertheless moved about the Shed with more vigor and discretion. Feeling indebted to this human that had rescued her, she also began using her considerable service skills to try and repay him, such as cooking meals for him, though she never took him up on his offer to eat with him, but rather served him various dishes with the supplies he brought in, never speaking to him but always regarding him with respect. She fell into the life she knew, which was servitude, for it made her feel focused and calm, despite how ironic it was to act like a slave to the one who rescued her from slavery.

After the initial few days of staying around the Shed in order to try and engage the young woman, Saz found himself needing to also return to his normal schedule of taking jobs and going out for supplies. He still had no idea what he would do with her once their strange time together came to an end. All he knew was he wanted to be around her, for some inexplicable reason, and with little else to give him direction, that was enough.

He was content.

On one such trip away from the Shed, he had landed in the Garos system in order to secure another batch of supplies. He was currently between jobs and looking to secure some new munitions for the Muse, but also set on a specific mission that took him bartering for materials he rarely had ever cared for.

His guest had a need for clothing. She had taken some of his rags and other waste materials around the Shed and fashioned rudimentary clothing, with an impressive manner of skill, but every time he saw her wearing them made him feel guilty and offer to buy her real clothing. Of course, she shook her head vigorously to the idea. As he did not know her size or anything about women's clothing, and because she obviously had talent for making them, he was intent on getting her some nice fabric for her to make into something she would like.

After awkwardly stumbling through some shops and feeling out of his element when approached by the merchants, he ended up picking a few different types of fabric and sending them to the hangar bay, just to be done with it. It was disturbing how simple shopping caused him so much grief, but as he headed away from the shopping district and into a local bar, he had a strange smile on his face.

"Three merchants will be delivering supplies, N4, and I've sent the details to you. The droids should load the cargo and leave the manifest, just like always. I'm going to relax for a few and then we'll head back," Saz said into his interface as he sipped a cool drink. The mechanical voice on the other end confirmed the transmission and Saz silenced the link, leaning back heavily into his booth as he carelessly looked around the place. It was standard for a spaceport. There were many locals but just as many visitors. It was bustling and noisy, but Saz somehow felt relaxed mixed in with so many people. He was, after all, a wanted man, though it felt as if not many remembered the details of his distant past.

However, a crowded, public place had a way of making him feel at ease, even as he had grown accustomed to his solitary ways.

"Mind if I share a table, stranger?" said a voice that cut the noise like a lightsaber.

Saz froze and his free hand was on his sidearm, already releasing the safety. Anyone who frequented spaceports knew to drink with their non-blaster hand. It was a lesson Saz learned the hard way in the months after he escaped the Maw. His other hand still held the cool drink to his lips as he looked out from under his cap, finding exactly what he expected to find.

It was an athletic Zabrak woman with a mischievous look in her eye, and her body was covered with all manner of metal piercings and studs, including two very stylized foils on the outside of her eyelids. In combination with her horned head, it gave her a ferocious appearance. She was armed with a blaster and very visible grenades and detonators all over her belt and vest, but it was her eyes that were the most dangerous. They were locked on him and a devious smile had crept over her lips.

She reveled in the reaction she got from him. "Is that any way to treat an old friend, Sazzy? Shoot first and smile second? Do you trust me that little?" she quipped as she plopped in the stall across from him, not seeming too concerned for his tense posture.

"I trust you about as far as my blaster can throw you, Kunmi," he remarked, lowering his drink but keeping his hand ready to draw his sidearm.

The woman was even more amused and stuck her studded tongue out of her studded lips at him, a habit that had bothered him since the first time they had met. "Relax, Sazzy, I'm not here for you. Haven't I always told you that if I was, I'd tell you first?" she asked.

Her words did make him relax slightly and he wiped his own lips, thinking at how he could not keep his anxiety under control around her. Kunmi was a bounty hunter, and a very good one at that. He had gotten acquainted with her as he took the occasional jobs in bounties and at the occasional spaceport, just like this one.

There were also other reasons.

He did not trust her, as she always looked at him with the same eyes as she did now.

The eyes of a hunter.

"What brings you to this neck of the galaxy?" he asked and tried to follow her advice to relax.

"Work, play, money. All of the things a girl just has to have," she replied. "How about a drink for an old friend?"

Saz smirked. It was another one of her bad habits, and he knew no amount of drinks would buy him any slack with her. With his hand up from his blaster, he indicated to the serving droid to send something her way and she smiled, glad to see him finally give in.

"Who's the unlucky sod this time?" he asked, taking a drink from his cup.

Kunmi let her drink slip between her hands on the table and looked down from him to it, rolling the cup back in forth between her palms as she stared at her reflection deform in the dark liquid. "Oh, something really special this time. Money up front, hyperspace transportation and the promise of a huge bonus if I get them without a scratch," she responded, slowly taking a drink and raising her eyes to him. "On top of that, it's also an ExCo."

The term instantly sent a wave of tension over the table and rattled his posture. Saz held his drink at his lips a moment before taking a long slug. "Congratulations. It's not often you get one of those. How much are you going to wring out of the specters for that?" he asked, using terminology that only two contractors of Utility would understand.

Kunmi was watching his every response with her piercing eyes, and her lips slightly turned upwards. "Enough to make me a very, very happy girl. My primary client is desperately searching everywhere she can, which means she digs up some very good information, though she has no idea about the ExCo. The pay's good enough to keep me concentrating on this job until I track down that one big target that everyone wants to find," she said and leaned up and over the table, letting him have the chance to take a long look down the nape of her neck and chest, her demeanor as playful as always.

"The Apparition."

Saz suddenly lurched in a fit of coughing as he fumbled his drink down his throat, slapping the cup down and wiping his mottled lips with the back of his gloved hand. Between the heaving and coughing, he could barely meet her deep glance and tried to regain his dignity amidst the spasms.

The Apparition was the code for the contract he had come to know as Aveyla Rom.

"Well," he hacked, "that is a big deal. You really know how to find the Apparition?" His interest was poorly masked and deeply personal.

"Hmmm, let's just say I have a few leads and am following them...intently," she replied and leaned back.

Saz continued to parlay his spasms until he finally felt the weight of her eyes and slid out of the stall, looking to escape her. "Well, good luck with that," he said and settled with the bartender before hurrying out and back towards the hangars.

Kunmi just grinned into her drink until a few musical tones attracted her attention to her comlink. Looking at the frequency and clicking her tongue against her teeth, she leaned back in the stall and stared up at the ceiling as she raised the device to her lips.

"I was just talking about you, Fennri."

Saz quickly and cautiously made his way back to the Shed, though he was no more convinced that anyone could track him than usual. One of the benefits of having a stealth ship was that no one would ever discover his home base, or at least no one ever had. While he was anxious that Kunmi was on the trail of Aveyla, a long moment in the cockpit as he stared at the sealed doors helped calm him and remind him that Utility had been looking for her ever since he learned of Exclusive Contracts, yet only one contractor he knew of had ever found her, and that contractor was half-staring back through the glass window of the Muse. The sound of N4 calling out a standard checklist of systems and status helped further focus him and he shook off the anxiety, popping the cockpit seal and finishing his power-down.

As he crawled out of the craft, he found his guest where she always was, lingering in the doorway and watching him disembark. Their strange relationship had evolved to her always being there when he returned, no matter the time and regardless if she was supposed to be sleeping or not. It was eerie that she always knew when he would return, though he usually shrugged that off. Must be a Jedi thing.

"If you stay around for a few minutes, I have a surprise for you," he called, with her standard silence as a response. He was getting used to it.

After securing the Muse and getting his hangar organized, he finally descended the ladder from the storage pod and approached her, holding the bolts of fabric, along with some new tools to help fashion them into clothing. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she was very surprised and even nervous, but he was doing it as much for himself as he was for her. Seeing a half-naked Twi'lek running around all of the time was not good for his heart.

"A present for you," he said dashingly.

Aveyla looked from the fabrics up to him, holding back the emotions that filled her. It had been so long since anyone had given her anything that she could not remember the last time. She could not even remember how to react. Instead, she simply stared at him and bit her bottom lip, as if he would somehow lead her into a response.

"I would have brought you something already-made, but I'm about the last person to shop for women's clothing and I have no idea what would fit you. Use whatever you like, or I can get you something else if you don't like this stuff," he said, feeling a bit embarrassed.

She suddenly shook her head and took the materials from his hands with surprising speed, holding them to her chest and burying her face slightly into the cloth.

"Th-thank you," she managed to say in a petite tone. Saz was surprised at how attractive she appeared as she looked up from the crumpled linens, but just smiled in light of her accepting.

Abruptly, she turned and fled back to her room, closing the door.

Saz took his cap from his head and scratched his aching hair, reminding himself he had not bathed in a couple of days. "You're welcome," he said to no one. The fact that his clothing was also quite ripe was renewed as he took a smell of himself and recoiled, wondering if his guest had noticed. "Whew, I need a shower."

Several hours went by and Saz saw no sign of his guest. He had scrubbed up and threw his clothes into the cleaning unit, so was wearing a simple coverall suit that he usually wore between washes. As he did not want to get this one dirty, he stayed away from tinkering as he always did and kept to his room, slumping into a chair as he poured over some technical data on a datapad. It was his way of relaxing and he casually snacked on some bitter, dried fruit he picked up from Garos.

Local delicacy, he says. He did not often buy unknowns from the locals, but had somehow been talked into it by the Toydarian merchant. He now regretted that adventurous moment.

Another hour went by and Saz yawned into his datapad. It was strange that he never got tired of delving into the depths of the Empire's technical information, for some topics he had read three times or more, yet he never felt compelled to stop.

He was only aroused from his reading by the sensation that he was no longer alone, and looked past his datapad to the doorway.

Aveyla was peeking out at him, her slender fingers clutching the jamb and her body purposely hidden. A mixture of feelings had tortured her since receiving her gift and she only now felt rendered apart by them. Would he like what she made? Did she put enough time into them? Would he be angry that she did not use all of the fabric? So many questions rushed through her mind and she felt panicked as he looked to her, but she found no breath to speak them.

It was silent.

"Hi." Saz broke the silence and blinked as she nearly disappeared again. He was not exactly sure why she had ventured to his room, and could not honestly remember if she had ever been to his room. "Something wrong with the clothes?" he asked, wondering if there was some tool he could fix. Aveyla shook her head slightly and almost retreated, then slowly stepped out from the hallway so he could see her work.

She had crafted simple, yet finely stitched clothing out of mostly the darker fabrics, but also with some tans and gray accents. In keeping with her Twi'lek sensibilities, she still exposed a lot of her skin and what she did wear clung tight against her, but also managed to flow. A simple, but scant bottom draped a length of material from her waist to one side. A separate piece wrapped at her neck, crossed down and covered her petite chest, then slipped back under her arms, thinly crossing again at her lower back and tying into the bottom. Long gloves ran halfway up her biceps, but left her shoulders bare. Stockings mirrored this, except for stitched holes at the knees and to expose the ball and heel of her bare feet.

It was a sensual, but practical outfit; something a slave would be accustomed to and a Jedi could move around in.

Saz stared with an open mouth. He had seen holovids of similarly styled outfits on Twi'lek dancers, but nothing prepared him for the real thing. Not only did it fit her lithe body perfectly, it was obviously made with skill, despite the short time it took her to finish it. "You made that in this short of time? It's...beautiful."

Despite having done this for many masters and customers over the many dark years of her youth, something felt different inside of Aveyla. Far from the detached void she usually placed herself in while being assessed by others, his every reaction made her breast swell with a mixture of feelings she could not quite identify. Pride. Embarrassment. Some other feeling tugging at the bottom of her stomach.

"Thank you...again."

Before the moment could escape her, she turned nimbly and fled back to her room, closing the door and leaning back against as she stared off into the middle distance. She still could not identify why she felt as she did, but she somehow felt happy. Many times and for many masters, she had made outfits meant to please and arouse, but she had never felt such satisfaction. This human had introduced things to her that she had not felt since her time with Sheon, and that invigorated her soul.

Running the fabric of her new clothes between her fingers, she could not keep the smile from breaking her lips.

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