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Thread: The Calm

  1. #1
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    Closed The Calm

    Parking for light starcaft was plentiful on Nar Shaddaa. And it was also expensive. Rampant crime had its ways of driving up cost for private parking bays, leaving the main spaceports as the primary locations for most interstellar travelers to berth their craft, as it was a third the cost, and offered security for free. Though it did mean you were subject to random searches, which could mean delays for honest travelers, and high risk for smugglers. Li Ho Fook was no smuggler, though after sitting on a bench while official security scoured his craft, and interrogated him about his weaponry loadout, he wondered if paying the extra for private parking would have been worth it. Had it been just himself, on a job, most certainly.

    But he was not there on a job, nor was he going to be by himself, and saving a few credits was a lesson he intended to teach his latest protege, one Abari Loki - or Igo Flax, as he was registered in the Bounty Hunters Guild database. It had been three weeks since Fook had dropped him off for solo work, on the "training wheels" grounds many bounty hunters cut their teeth on, and in that time Loki had managed to complete six jobs, and lost a seventh to the authorities. Better than Fook expected, to be honest, but it was still time for an evaluation, and a proper heart-to-heart with the budding new hunter.

    "Yo, Flax-dawg," the Wah spoke after engaging his commlink. "Rent-a-cops done finished their sweep, ride's ready. Gate H-37."

    Three weeks of occasional text messages, and Fook monitoring Loki's progress from guild terminals. Three weeks of being unable to help him, other than basic advice. In that time, Fook had managed two jobs of his own, the latter being intense enough as to warrant a breather, so this was a perfect time to catch up, and as soon as Loki got to the gate, they'd be off.

    "WHAT DO YOU SUPPOSE HE'LL BE DRESSED LIKE?" Guan Yu's voice boomed over Fook's earpiece, making a fuzzy ear tick before the volume was turned down.

    "Got me, G. Probably tryin' to look all hard, like something out of one of them badass holofilms." Fook replied.

    "IT WOULD BE MOST AMUSING IF HE SHOWS UP IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET, TIGHT DENIM PANTS, AND A BLACK TEE SHIRT. WITH SUNGLASSES, OF COURSE."

    "Oj, of course," Fook nodded, then sighed. "He'd be, what, our fourth to do that?"

    "FIFTH, ACUTALLY."

    Another sigh and Fook got off the bench, getting in a good stretch before letting his tail lash about while he had the space to do so. "Why they always go for that look, G? I knew better than that, yo. Think you look all hard, but really you a damn cartoon." Shaking his head, the short Wah then straightened one of the gold chains around his neck, and glanced at his diamond-studded wrist-chrono. No need to check the laces on his sneakers. Playa knew when his kicks were hella fly.
    Last edited by Li Ho Fook; Jun 23rd, 2020 at 03:43:53 PM.

  2. #2
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    Loki nursed a cup of stimcaf while he waited, and watched the world go by from his window seat inside Mother's Nest. It was a narrow cantina, perched high above the vertical city, and just across from the expansive starport. Here, the night winds howled in musical chorus, as they sailed between chasms of neon duracrete, and whistled under the solitary door at the end of the room. Though small, Mother's Nest bustled with traffic to and from the starport, providing respite to all manner of weary travellers, who were each taken under the firm but loving wing of the synonymous Mother, a rotund and robust service droid patched together of myriad spare parts. To his droid engineer's eye, she was equal parts a monstrosity and a miracle, not least of all in how she was able to bob daintily around her cantina on a single squeaking wheel. Service was fast, by necessity, and boisterous, by design; an uncompromising welcome to those new to the Smuggler's Moon, or a fitting farewell to those fortunate enough to be taking their leave.

    He drank while drinking in the dismal panorama, a tangled cityscape thick with the shroud of night, interminably punctured by bejewelled spears of orange, violet, and electric blue. The sight was at unnatural odds with the rich aroma of stimcaf, such was the struggle of living on a planet with an 87 hour rotation, and after 3 weeks of midnight days and daylight nights, Loki's fickle human biology was yet to become accustomed to it. He wondered if one ever could. But then, there was so much more about Nar Shaddaa than its protracted day-night cycle to which he doubted he'd ever become accustomed. He likened his time on Nar Shaddaa to that on Jovan Station, if there had been about ten times as many people and they were all jumped-up on spice. Also, law, or rather the absence of it. Whether it was drink, drugs, gambling, or sex, Nar Shaddaa was a breeding ground for vices, and as a result, played host to addicts, thieves, thugs, and criminals of every stripe. In other words, it was a bounty hunter's playground.

    For work experience, Loki saw the appeal. He was leaving Nar Shaddaa with an abundance of experience, ranging from the mundane capture of a Palliduvan hotel cleaner who had sticky fingers for jewellery, to a close shave with a Mirialan assassin, wanted for the murder of a ranking officer in the local military. The Rodian con-artist was the one that got away, but he only had himself to blame for that. Absently, he traced a finger over his knuckles, coarse with fresh scabs, and rubbed warmth into his hands against the night's chill. It would be remiss of him to deny he would miss this place, or at least some aspects of it. The inherent risk of the work was something he relished, and there was potential danger around every corner. It was the kind of unease in which he thrived, it kept him sharp, made him feel alive. As his thoughts drifted to the location of the nearest bounty terminal, a familiar voice broke his reverie. He pressed a finger to the commlink on his chest.

    "I'll be there in five."

    The stimcaf was finished in a gulp. Loki hefted an unglamorous duffel across his shoulder, careful to afford Mother room as she bore down on his empty cup, and left without a second glance. His mind moved faster than his feet, driving him onwards; towards Fook, towards the next job. He scarcely noticed the biting wind as he crossed the street to the starport, and checked himself through the various security gates with the automation of a protocol droid. When he finally arrived at Gate H-37, he was not a picture of denim and leather, as the 36th Chamber duo had speculated, instead he wore a frayed sand-coloured courseweave shirt over a white polyfibre undershirt, burgundy cargo pants reinforced with leatheris at the knees and thighs, a pair of synthleather boots with durasteel toe caps, and twin leatheris tool bandoliers. Were it not for the blaster holstered at his hip, he would not be out of place in an engineer's workshop. The same could not be said of Li Ho Fook, whose distinct sense of style, he felt, was quite in keeping with the gaudy aesthetic of the Smuggler's Moon. He greeted him with a nod.

    "Li Ho Fook. It's good to see you."

  3. #3
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    The promise of riches, decadence, or luxury, glittered overhead upon holomonitors, each one advertising the loosest slots in town, or... the loosest slots in town. They were empty promises, of course, each designed to lure idiots in, ply them with distraction or indulgence, before draining their wallet. And, once drained, the losers would be pushed out to make way for the next rube.

    Li Ho Fook knew this as he had been that rube, once upon a memory. But what had cost him his savings, wound up costing those who crossed him their business, as he targeted anyone related to them, to make life on Nar Shadda even more of a living hell than it already was. Security workers? Here, they were typically ex-cons, or on false papers. Easy enough to discover and turn in. Drivers? Often dealing on the side, just needed to tail them and bust them once they'd make a connection. Housekeeping? The galaxy would be paranoid if they knew how many covert operatives worked in housekeeping, and there was always a bounty out somewhere on a covert operative. Over the course of four months, Fook pulled in ninety-seven bounties related to one casino alone, until their name had become so ruined that they packed up and closed their doors. And in the end, Li Ho Fook had enough money in his account to buy a small ship; some third-hand Squib light freighter. Nar Shadda had been hell, but in it he found his place, and his game. Naturally it was the perfect training ground for any greenhorns he took on.

    A holomonitor flashed to an image of all manner delicious food to be found at a casino buffet, and Fook found himself tempted, before catching a glimpse of Loki's familiar face approaching. A smile worked up the wah's fuzzy face as he nodded back. "Yo, Flax-dawg, bring it here, G," Fook greeted him, raising a black-furred paw up to clap into a handshake. "Rockin' that undercover look. I dig it. G-Dawg thought you was gon' be all holofilm tough guy."

    "YOU THOUGHT IT AS WELL," Guan Yu's voice crackled his earpiece's speaker.

    Fook just chuckled, then ticked his head back toward his ship. "You wouldn't have been the first, feel me?" he explained as he walked. "I done read your reports, 'n I gots some knowledge to lay on you. But first, I wants t' hear how you thinks you done, playa." As he reached the threshold of the 36th Chamber, the diminutive bounty hunter stopped to slip off his sneakers, not wishing to sully the plush carpet within.

  4. #4
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    "My time here has been productive," he said, casting a warning shot of a glance across to Fook. It was a look that was tempered with warmth, as his unlikely mentor was fully aware that it was not in his nature to boast about his own accomplishments.

    "Of seven missions, six were a success. Insofar as the bounties were concerned, at least."

    He took a breath, and followed Fook up the boarding ramp. As if three weeks of inexhaustible tackiness had not been enough, the 36th Chamber stood like a monument, or rather a memorial, to good taste and restraint. The colours struck like blows to the head, and, with nary the wherewithal to mind his manners, Loki somehow managed to remove his shoes in a daze of electric orange and lime green. In recompense, the plush carpet felt delightful underfoot, and he was reminded at once that, in the company of Li Ho Fook, a headache was the price for comfort.

    "There were lessons learned," he began, somewhat hesitantly, as he considered how best to at once summarise and critique his efforts. "For example, I am not naturally inconspicuous in company. I can dress the part, but the questioning, the conversation... It would be a fair assessment to say that there is a communication issue, and its not that I don't speak the same language, but rather it feels like I do not speak the same language."

    He considered the colourful Wah for all of a half-second, "I expect you know precisely what I mean."

  5. #5
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    "Are you by chance suggesting that I lack the ability to adapt my means of communication, and thus conversations I would hold whilst in covert actions would not carry the verisimilitude necessary for me to be accepted as a member of a different class or subculture?" Fook asked, his voice toned, timed, and pitched to replicate Loki's as best he could, and said it all with a straight face.

  6. #6
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    Loki blinked. Then, after a beat of silence, resumed:

    "Not quite. I am suggesting that you already talk like half of the unwashed cretins on this wretched moon, and would consequently understand my difficulty in blending in with them."

    In his performance, Fook had been angling for comedy, or surprise, or perhaps both. Of that much, he was sure. However, after three weeks of relative isolation, it was going to be difficult switching gears in time with his unpredictable social cues. Loki was going to have a rough time of it, but then, they had walked this walk before. Miscommunication was familiar territory for both of them.

    "And, following my time here, I must admit it comes as absolutely no surprise that you are capable of adapting to environments and the people that inhabit them. From a master bounty hunter, I would expect no less."

    His duffel was buried inside a large locker and sealed behind a panel of immaculate varnished hardwood. No mind was paid to the hiss of the retracting ramp, behind him. Instead his feet naturally found their way to the semi-circle of crushed velvet in the living area, and he folded into it. Strange. Compared to his dingy room above The Old Sail Barge, this was practically home.

    "Youth is also a barrier. In some cases, quite literally, where the casino job was concerned. But then, I have always had to muscle through first impressions, in order to prove myself. Just never before as a bounty hunter."

    Once again, he considered his diminutive companion, and all of the assumptions at which Nar Shaddaa's finest would arrive upon seeing someone like him for the first time.

    "Perhaps that is something with which you can directly relate?"

  7. #7
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    "Perhaps," Fook nodded. "But maybe not the way you thinkin', G."

    The ship's inertial dampeners softened the sway and rock of the craft as it disengaged from the docking port, and lifted into the night sky. Fook deftly crossed the plush carpet to take a seat opposite Loki at the banquette. "See, you humans got that everywhere trick on lock, so it's easy for you to blend in. But, that shit cuts back, because everyone done knows what you looks like. Emotions be wicked simple to read, gender is mad basic. Age? Dawg, everyone knows how to age a human. But me?"

    The wah leaned back in his seat as he felt the 36th Chamber begin to pitch knowing exit velocity was building. "Flax-dawg, ain't nobody knows what I am. I'm that mystery element, feel me? Sure, I can't hide in a crowd, I can't blend in. 'n peoples knows when they done seen me. But they don't know what they lookin' at. Playa, I could be young, old, male, female. Dag, yo, I could even be just some animal. This playa gets to be what he says he is, dig? It's all about that confidence, that swagger. It can work for you, too, if you push it."

    Around them, the low hum of the artificial gravity mesh droned to life, signaling they had left atmosphere, and were heading out into the transit lanes. Glancing over at the massive holovision on the wall, Fook said, "Yo, G-Dawg, site seventeen."

    Guan Yu's face appeared on-screen, dominating the wall as he grinned and nodded. "COURSE LAID IN, SIR! DO PREPARE FOR THE JUMP TO HYPERSPACE!"

    "Yeah, yeah," Fook just waved him off, then leaned his head back against the crushed velvet of his seat's back cushion. "You, uh, might want to brace yourself, G," he then minded nodding at the table which stood between himself and Loki.

  8. #8
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    The appearance of Guan Yu, the bold and characteristically unorthodox visual representation of the ship computer, dredged Loki out of a veritable ocean of thought. Loud, bombastic, and bubbling with so much enthusiasm that it made a hyperspace jump sound like going on a grand adventure, it was a presence that chased away the spectre of the Smuggler's Moon. And, just as suddenly, it was gone. A blank screen, once more.

    He, Loki then reminded himself. Guan Yu wasn't typically his cup of stimcaf. In truth, the fledgling bounty hunter found him a bit much, but he had also come to accept that "a bit much" was Guan Yu's default setting, and a wholesome and overwhelmingly positive character like that was a welcome change from the cynical gloom that came before. And, as promised, a tell-tale whine sounded throughout the ship, like a sharp intake of breath. Loki gripped the edge of the table just in time as the ship lurched, rocking them in their seats. Hyperspace. They were on the move again.

    "That's a clever tactic," he said, eager to return to their conversation, "You are free to play against people's expectations, or you can even play to their prejudices. Soon, I will be a man and will be treated like any other human in the galaxy. You will never have such camouflage. Or privilege. Instead, you have... swagger."

    The word felt strange, even as it took shape in his mouth. To hear himself uttering it was absurd. Though he closed his eyes and shook his head, there was a ghost of a smile.

    "Remember the slicer job I told you about? Casico Dekat? At first, I pretended to be a potential buyer, interested in their tech, specifically for the Binspo, Lugjack, and Zinbiddle tables. I did my research. I can tell you everything there is to know about a lusty lever, a five-stripe backhander, or a Gammorrean twist. I even looked the part, too. Have you seen how teenagers dress on Nar Shaddaa? I literally glowed in the dark."

    He scoffed in disbelief, and instinctively reached for a glass that wasn't on the table. Self-deprecation was a difficult habit to develop, but he was working on it. And he'd always practiced with a drink in hand. As he understood it, most well-adapted humans fostered a healthy sense of humour when it came to themselves. Loki recalled how ridiculous he looked in leathers of neon pink and blue, and expected it would make for a good story at his expense. Though, he hadn't quite summoned up the humility to take a holo still of himself looking like that. Maybe next time.

    "Anyway, I screwed it up. The slicer saw through my act in an instant and ran. Luckily, I was faster."

  9. #9
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    "Yeah, you was on him with the quickness," Fook replied. "But not so quick they done guessed you was tappin' into that Force shit."

    "Then you used that speed again." Smiling, he rose from his seat to pluck a bottle and two glasses from the bar. The bottle itself was a pale, frosted blue, its contents a translucent shade of orange. The thin, semi-clear liquid was poured into each of the small glasses, though Fook did not push one across the table to Loki after taking his own seat. Instead he stared at him, his beady black eyes locked onto Loki's own, while the wah's face transformed into a mask of grim severity.

    "You know the shit I had to do to cover for your pasty, hairless ass? You know how hard it is to falsify biodata in the registry? Dag, son, Your gang done saw that shit. You ain't some magical fuckin' adorable fuzzy space critter, you're a smooth-ass human! Humans don't move with that quickness! So guess what, home-slice? This playa had to mod your data to give you neural booster implants, and cybernetic leg actuators! And it's a damn good thing I did, because there was hits on your data afterward, from Nar Shadda! If you're undercover, you're all the way undercover, fool!" Fook snapped his words off, his fangs bared as his hackles raised. "Yeah, you banked that scum in the end, but you was damn near rumbled by your own jive! You know that point off you got on your report for that one? That was me, dawg! Now drink up!"

    His fuzzy lips curled in a sneer, Fook shoved the glass forward, nearly sloshing its contents out, before grasping his own cup. Never once did his eyes leave Loki's.
    Last edited by Li Ho Fook; Jan 3rd, 2021 at 07:50:51 PM.

  10. #10
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    Loki weathered the dressing-down with patience and restraint. It was, after all, Fook's prerogative to give critical feedback, though he hadn't expected such a suddenly impassioned outpour. Clearly, he felt it was warranted, as a reflection of the behind-the-scenes legwork he had to put in to keep him off the radar of would-be interested parties. Though something did not add up. He regarded the drink, thrust his way in a manner befitting a punishment, rather than a reward. It went ignored.

    "You think I used the Force to chase down a slicer?"

    His voice was low, and his words carefully paced, as if labouring under the weight of disbelief.

    "Do you really believe I would compromise myself as a Force sensitive in front of a pack of drooling spice-dealers?" His eyebrows climbed, challenging Fook to consider his accusation, "If I have flagged-up on some kind of registry, it is not by my doing. In which case, I do appreciate the lengths to which you have gone to protect me. Truly. But, Li Ho Fook, with respect, I may be new to bounty hunting, but I have been wanted by the Empire my whole life. Do not insult me."

  11. #11
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    "Wasn't no insult, G," Fook shook his head, though his eyes remained fixed. "It was a warning. Goin' off what I heard, it sounded like you moved like a demon. I know you was Jedi, so my mind makes that leap. Maybe you didn't use it. Maybe you just that flash. But it had me wondering, and if I'm wonderin', you bet your ass others is gonna be wonderin'."

    Reaching across the table, the Wah pulled Loki's glass back, to tip its contents into his own. With no explanation, he lifted the double pour to his lips and tipped it back. Within an instant, that fuzzy face screwed up into a primal look of disgust and discomfort as he forced the mouthful down, then smacked his lips a few times as his tongue contorted inside his mouth as if attempting to repel the aftertaste.

    As his tastebuds slowly backed down from their war on his senses, Fook leaned back in his seat once more. "But I feel you." His head slowly nodded. "Just, now you know you best come up with some reason why you've got them skills you've got. Gots to admit, most human teenagers don't fight like you, dawg."

  12. #12
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    "No human teenager fights like me."

    Loki rose from his seat, and with a look of heavy-lidded disbelief, shot Fook's understatement out of the air. Considering the matter closed, he procured for himself a cup of chilled water from the mess area, and leaned against the counter.

    "Guan Yu, please display for me the entry in the bounty registry, prior to Fook's amendments."

    First, appeared Guan Yu, beaming with the affirmative, then he saw himself on the screen. The image attached to the file was recent, taken during his time on Nar Shaddaa; he recognised the clothing, and he recognised the bruising below his left eye. Next, he noticed the date the entry was posted. Nine days ago. The details were vague, but damning: "wanted for suspected criminal activities in the Industrial Sector," and "considered armed and dangerous," and finally: "suspect has been observed performing feats of speed and strength grossly in excess of species parameters. Potential Force sensitive - approach with extreme caution."

    Loki drank deeply. His mouth was as dry as desert sand.

    "Thank you," he managed, at last. The screen dimmed and his attention returned to Fook.

    "Thank you," he repeated, "Were it not for your intervention, my time on Nar Shaddaa would've been spent much differently. And... now I realise it is I who is the one guilty of understatement."

    He returned to his seat with some resignation.

    "Beyond the unwanted attention, how did I perform? Do I have a future in bounty hunting?"

  13. #13
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    The hunt master remained seated, his black eyes studying Loki, drinking in that revelation as Loki drank in his water. "G-Dawg, theater our boy's reports."

    The massive holoscreen tiled itself with each of Loki's reports, ready to be opened and reviewed. But Fook didn't move, knowing the contents of each well enough. "Yeah, you've got a future in this line, son. Only missed one mark, not bad. Mad respect for taking some of the marks you did," he said. While Fook had provided Loki with a list of available bounties, it had been up to Loki to pick which ones he actually wanted from that curated list. "Some was your style, some was a stretch, and that slicer one? Dag, that was mad whack, but you hooked that jive. Game respects game, homie. Props to you on that one." The wah lifted his empty glass in salute.

    "But, I think you done picked some, not to test your own skills, but to show me you could do it. That's some mad balls, yo. That said, dawg, you a hammer. You ain't no full toolbox, and if you go hard in on that shit you ain't got on lock, you gonna get straight ill. You buildin' bank, buildin' that rep. Keep at them hard-hitter gigs, you'll get that hype, feel me? And with that hype comes that real paper. Dawg, I do everything. But everything ain't for everyone. Everything means more spend, more time, fewer bounties. There's a reason top earn is from a hammer like yo-self, G. Hit hard, move fast, play that numbers game, and you'll be ballin' hella fly, feel me?"

  14. #14
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    Fook's summary was concise and astute. Variations of this conversation had been held before, perhaps at this very table; Li Ho Fook knew his trade, inside and out. He knew the business. And though he was but a layman, Loki could tell a voice such as his must carry weight, especially to be trusted with training rookies. So, whenever he spoke shop, so to speak, he hung off his every word. And when he was done, he gave a nod of understanding.

    "Do you remember what I said to you about my intentions? I do not want to be a bounty hunter, I want to be the bounty hunter."

    Aware fully of how such a statement may translate, he raised his gaze from the bottom of his glass, and met Fook with look of reassurance.

    "This is not ego. I accept I may never surpass you, or any other, to become the greatest of bounty hunters. This is pragmatism. But I must always aspire to surpass you, and everyone else, in every way I can. I wish to perfect every skill, and hone every instinct to a razer's edge. I want to possess the knowledge, the experience, the tradecraft of the very best in the business. Do you understand?"

    Before the bounty hunter could answer, he was on his feet, pacing with ravenous thought.

    "Reputation and wealth are meaningless to me. Possessions are meaningless. For me, the value of the work is in seeking justice and self-improvement. I want to be as good as I can be at what I do, and I want- I need what I do to make a difference. And that is why I will always take the missions that are a stretch - the challenges, the risks. I want the jobs that require the whole toolbox, not just a hammer."

    Returning to Fook's analogy, he turned his attention on him once more, in earnest.

    "And that is why I need your help."

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    Black-furred paws reached to the bottle once more, and again he poured a measure of the translucent orange liquor into Loki's glass. Yet this time he did not drink it himself, instead pushing it forward, across the table.

    "You done saw me drink that," he said. "You saw my reaction, how that shit went down. Now I'm offering it to you. Lay some knowledge on me, son: why would a playa like me do that?"

  16. #16
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    In the wake of such a sudden and unexpected course alteration, Loki stalled, in both mind and body. His expression changed, creased with annoyance as he considered the shot glass on the table, and the deeper meaning it might represent. If there was one thing his arduous upbringing had taught him, it was how to be an attentive student, and he knew well enough to trust in the wisdom of a master. Even if he could not see it, he knew there was a lesson to be learned, so he committed himself to the task fully.

    "It is a challenge," he answered, promptly, "The drink is strong and foul, and a bounty hunter must have the mettle to face each challenge with confidence and... guts."

    He gave a curt nod, satisfied with his own explanation, and wasted no time in downing the orange drink. Teeth beared, his expression twisted into a grimace before he had the presence of mind to save face. His throat burned, and in an instant, he was back on Ossus again. Huddled wet and half-naked in a storm-battered tent, with nothing but some glowing rocks and a cap of gin for warmth. It had been his first alcoholic drink. This was his second, and it certainly didn't get any easier. In fact, this was unquestionably worse. When Hal spoke of the flavours and complexity of gin, he had, in his cynicism, suspected bluster, but now it was clear that one burning mouth was not like the other.

    To his shame, when he opened his eyes again, they were wet. And when he opened his mouth to speak, he was overcome by coughing spell. Once recovered, he managed to sputter out his words.

    "Not dignified, but did I pass?"

  17. #17
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    Watching Loki's features twist into a grimace of hard-nosed revulsion, Fook let a glimmer of a smirk pull up one side of his muzzle. "Dawg, you lookin' for the bottom of the ocean in an alleyway puddle, thinkin' like dat."

    His smile came on fully as a chuckle added melody to his voice. "I mean, dag, yo, you saw that shit was whack. You didn't have to drink it. Your dumb ass coulda learned from what I done taught you not five minutes ago. You goin' for that toolbox without gettin' them details. You didn't ask shit, you just drank it. You want them hard missions, them jobs outside your scope, while the Grandmaster is telling you to stick to the shit you got on lock. Yeah, you wants to be hard. You wants to be the Mack. I dig it, I feel you, son. But when you rush into shit, you taste it. Just like you rushed into that drink, instead of asking what it was. You dig?"

  18. #18
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    "You could've just told me that."

    Loki grumbled, collapsing back into the crushed velvet seat. He finished the rest of his water off to be rid of the aftertaste. To his disappointment, it lingered in mockery. It wasn't all misery, however. There was a warmth blossoming in his chest that drew to mind the laughter he and his old friend shared, that night, which felt like a lifetime ago. It was why Fook's own laughter, even when it was at his expense, did not rankle his typically rigid pride.

    "So I am not to repeat the same mistakes you made. Very well. This is where your instruction is essential. And if, as part of my training, you instruct me to stick to missions within my comfort zone, I will follow that guidance. But, I still want to develop the other skills, in the meantime. The reason I took on such different types of jobs on Nar Shaddaa, in the first place, was to determine where my limits lay."

    To emphasise his point, he pushed the offensive shot glass away from him.

    "And now we know the answer to that."

  19. #19
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    "Naw, dawg, I'm sure you're gonna repeat some of my mistakes. That's inevitable. But I would be a whack-ass teacher if I didn't show you new ways of scopin' things out, yo."

    Reaching behind his neck, Fook fiddled with the clasp on one of the gold chains he wore, slipping it off before laying it on the table.

    "I'm not sayin' you'll just be hittin' them jobs you is prime for, L-dawg," he said with a sigh. "But, that's where you'll start. You done seen this galaxy, at least more of it than the average playa, but you young. And that ain't your fault, dig? But there's shit you don't know. Things you ain't seein' the way you will a few years down, or even just one year. You want to pick up them new skills? Be in on that fresh shit? You be the king of what you know, and you add that shit one small piece at a time."

    Another necklace came off, then another.

    "Playas want it all up front. But they don't appreciate it right," he said, unclasping his heavy wrist chrono, and slipped it off his wrist to add to the growing pile. "You don't get it all when you want it, G. You get it when you earn it." The final necklace came off, and he rubbed the ruff of his neck to smooth out the crease in his fur the chains had left. "And not all that shit has the same price. Some big shit you luck into. But then there's that little shit, them bits what changes you, what unlocks options?" He asked, reaching up to unfasten one of the pair of diamond stud earrings he wore. "That shit comes with hard, hard work, once you're ready to be takin' that step."

    The other earring was removed next, and placed with care among the glittering pile of excess before him. While he enjoyed his bling, the wah looked every bit as complete without it, and he stared across the table at Loki, a plain man. "Your limits? You'll find those, but don't go seeking them out. Instead, be you, and those other elements will find their place in time."

  20. #20
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    With every new piece of jewellery added to the pile on the table, Loki felt his grasp on Fook's meaning becoming weaker and weaker. Wrapped in a shroud of street metaphor and buried beneath a mound of golden diamond-encrusted symbolism, the lesson received its funeral rites before it could take root in his mind. It was unclear to him if Fook was advocating for specialising in one type of bounty, or steadily acquiring new skills, or both. His eyes narrowed with curiosity, scrutinising the discarded jewellery; each piece an eyesore, but most criminal of all, in his estimation, was the sheer volume of it. Fook looked so much better this way, without his trinkets. He shook his head.

    "We are so different, you and I," he said, deflated, "Sometimes, it feels like we don't even speak the same language, and I'm not talking about your colourful slang."

    What would it look like, he wondered, the tutelage of Li Ho Fook? Would he be patient? Would he be firm? The last time he was an apprentice, he'd scarcely escaped with his life, surviving a master who had been at once brilliant and cruel. What kind of lessons would he learn with Li Ho Fook as his guide? Would he attempt to instil in him a hunger for credits and fame? Be you. That was what he'd said. And, if his efforts with the slicer were anything to go by, it was clear Loki was incapable of being anyone but himself. What kind of dynamic would that create, then? Only one way to find out. He sighed, surfacing from his thoughts.

    "You're right. I am young, and my upbringing was unnaturally sheltered. There is much about this galaxy of ours that I do not understand. Including you. But I am prepared to watch, listen, and learn." A glance to the right, "For example, I saw how the nav display went unusually blank when I heard you lay in a course to Site 17."

    He leaned forward on his elbows, and spoke in a deliberate undertone, "Naturally, I'm curious to learn exactly where it is we're headed, and why the secrecy."

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