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(I'm not going to review my own story, but I would like others to read it.) :)

 

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC III: CRUCIBLE

A Gambler’s Tale by MsFicwriter, ©2015

CHAPTER ONE: WIN OR DIE

 

“Are you going to sit there all night, human? The rest of us have credits to win.”

 

“Not my credits, you won’t. As for sitting here? I’ll have to go to the refreshers eventually.”

 

It’s amazing how fast one’s fortunes can change, even on such a barren waste of a planet as Telos.

 

I flash a smile at Cratt, the Rodian sitting next to me, but he doesn’t respond. He’s dressed in an orange and black security uniform issued by Czerka Corporation. Thugs – I mean guards – like him have been all over the place since that conglomerate took over Telos’ planet restoration contracts from the Republic. Everyone on Citadel Station walks a thin line, from the humble cleaning crew to degenerate gamblers like myself. Of course, my tightrope is much thinner than most. If I’m not careful, I’ll fall off and end up dead.

 

We all will, unless those good hands keep coming on the pazaak table. Speaking of which:

 

“Two tens. You can’t get any better than that.” I smirk and rake in credit chips from the three other players.

 

Cratt scoffs through his thin, scaly snout. “You may be on top now, you little schutta, but not later.”

 

“You’re right. Later I’ll quit and take all of your hard-earned money with me, maybe even buy a starship.”

 

“Fat chance,” says the Gamorrean on the opposite side of the hexagonal table. “Gruuntzi not believe you.”

 

“You lunk. You don’t believe anything, except that you can drink fifty straight shots of juma juice,” says Cratt.

 

Gruuntzi pounds on the table. “I can!” He throws his hand up in the air and gestures for a server.

 

“Excuse me,” says Nat’ala, the only other woman besides me in our group, although she’s a Twi’lek. “Are we going to play cards or watch this idiot drink until he vomits all over the place?” Her bright green lekku, or head-tails, twitch impatiently. Unfortunately for her, that’s also her ‘tell’, and one she often uses.

 

“Hey, you. Who idiot?” asks Gruuntzi, clenching his meaty palms into fists.

 

“The next person who doesn’t start dealing,” I blurt out. Confrontations with Gamorreans can get ugly fast.

 

“Your turn, Vyshe.” Nat’ala raises an eyebrow. My name’s pronounced VEE-shay, meaning “higher.”

 

I cringe. How could I have forgotten? Before I can deal the cards, however, a waitress arrives at our table.

 

“What can I get for you?”

 

Gruuntzi starts grunting in his native language. The only word that I can understand is “NOW.”

 

“Pardon me?”

 

“Please excuse the Gamorrean,” says Nat’ala. “He wants fifty shots of juma, but that would be unwise.”

 

“Shh!” Cratt puts a bony finger to his lips. I agree with him. If Gruuntzi’s drunk, then he can’t play very well.

 

“Are you sure?” asks the waitress, and Gruuntzi nods. “Nat’ala, you have ten minutes left on your break.”

 

“That’s more than enough time to clean these amateurs out before I get back on stage again.”

 

That’s also more than enough time to lose everything you’ve earned tonight. She’s lucky, in a way. Most cantinas these days prefer to broadcast holograms of dancers so they won’t have to pay any. That means Nat’ala has a steady job, but a steady gambling problem too. With that said, she’s better off than I am.

 

If I don’t win at the card tables or on the hyper-reel machines, I’m lost. Everybody knows me here, but no one trusts me – least of all Czerka Corp.

 

Oh, kriff! Of all the rotten luck, here comes my ex-supervisor…

 

“Cratt, you deal,” I tell the Rodian, practically thrusting the cards into his hands. “I have to use the facilities.” Winding my way among as many people as possible, I duck into the ladies’ refresher and hide in a stall.

 

It’s cramped in here, but not as much as my cubicle was. It took me a while before I discovered I was much better at counting cards than coding. All it took was one night at pazaak, and I earned more than I made in a month. At first I had my “side job” under control. I kept a low profile, winning big but spending frugally.

 

More women enter nearby enclosures. I hear natural but unpleasant sounds, and add my own to them.

 

Then my boss found out. I wasn’t addicted to “gaming” back then, but I was fired. It just goes to show -

 

What? That people assume too much, and too often? That no one will give you a second chance if your reputation precedes you? That there are surveillance cameras everywhere on Citadel Station, and they’re not only for our protection? That even your spare time is not your own? I guess the most important thing is that there are too many applicants in this place and not enough jobs. Only the strong survive. That means having no vices. I tried, but I’m certainly not a droid. The thing is, when the chips are rolling in, life’s great.

 

Never mind the stench. I’m going to stay here for the rest of the night, if the coast isn’t clear by then.

 

Three sharp knocks on the stall door interrupt my thoughts. “Is anybody in there? It’s an emergency.”

 

So much for that. I pull up my pants, wait for the steel sani-bowl to flush, and dart out with an apologetic smile. I’m not ready to go back into the cantina just yet, so I take an extra-long time washing my hands and reapplying makeup. Local fashionistas say that purple eyeshadow and magenta lipstick don’t go with red hair. What do they know? Mine isn’t sunset orange, but rather a dark copper color, cut very short.

 

When I return to our corner nook, two other gamblers have joined us. One’s parked in my seat: a Trandoshan in a brown uniform. He looks like a janitor, but when do they play for such high stakes as Cratt and I do? Never, in my book. That means he’s new, and if so, that means the two of us are going to fleece him- mostly me. The second newcomer is armored, and, I suspect, heavily-armed even though weapons are officially banned in here. He’s not wearing a Telosian Security Force uniform, either. My stomach sinks.

 

I ran and hid from an angry mynock, only to be confronted by a krayt dragon! What in the galaxy is his name again? Rader? Rudek? Whatever it is, my name will be “corpse” if I don’t keep getting twenties.

 

“Who da new guys?” snorts Gruuntzi, busy gulping down juma shots as fast as the waitress can bring them.

 

“I am Savessk,” the Trandoshan says. He holds out a clawed reptilian hand that no one shakes.

 

Nat’ala stands up. “Time to get back to work, but your ilk aren’t welcome at our table.” At first I think she’s talking about Savessk. Ticked-off Trandoshans are as much trouble as Gamorreans, but her gaze is fixed upon the human thug. I recognize the tattoo on his cheek: a credit sign, meaning he’s from the Exchange.

 

“Oh?” he says. “I’m welcome at any table I want. As for you, Twi’lek? Shut up and dance.”

 

She storms off in a huff, and I take her chair instead of my own. I also take a deep breath to calm my nerves.

 

“It’s my turn to deal,” says the enforcer. Cratt gives him the pazaak deck with trembling hands. “Wagers?”

 

No one wants to give theirs first, but the Rodian finally pipes up: “Three thousand credits, Ribok, sir.”

 

“Someone who knows his place. I like that. What about you, Gamorrean?” He frowns at Gruuntzi.

 

“Phfft.” Gruuntzi swipes his hand over the table in a dismissive gesture and then swallows another shot.

 

“He’s going for the ‘fifty’,” says Cratt. “That’s good for us. When he gets back in the game, then he’ll –“

 

“Soil himself.” We flash tight rictus grins. Ordinarily, an Exchange enforcer like Ribok would tell him, “If you don’t pay, you don’t play,” but Gruuntzi is four times his size. It’s best to let drinking behemoths drink.

 

“I bet three thousand,” says Savessk, and Ribok deals him a hand. When the thug spots me, he winks.

 

“Vyshe Tanaria. Aren’t you going to say hello?”

 

“Not if it’s my last word.”

 

Cratt titters in the chirping, insectoid laugh of his species. Savessk remains silent. Gruuntzi, ever eager to prove himself, is up to thirty or thirty-five servings of liquor now. I’m sweating and regretting that I didn’t put enough antiperspirant on before I came here tonight.

 

“What’s your wager?”

 

“None. I’m calling it a night – ” I feel the biting touch of metal against my thigh. Ribok is sitting right next to me, and he’s got a blaster. “Um, on second thought, I’d like to wager two thousand credits.” He raises it. “Five thousand.” He reaches out, yanks me closer, and leans the barrel of his pistol against my right temple.

 

Scream! No, don’t do that. You’ll get shot. Signal for our waitress! No, don’t do that. You’ll get shot.

 

“Tw-twenty thousand. That’s all I have.”

 

“You owe a hundred thousand,” Ribok hisses in my ear, “and your time is up. It’s either win or die. Play.”

 

The thug finishes dealing and lights up a cigar full of contraband spice, not legal vapor. Oddly enough, I see several off-duty TSF personnel in here, but they won’t help me. Why not, if they’re so committed to keeping everyone safe and upholding the law? Simple, right? No. The Telosian Security Force is deadlocked in an unstable triad of power with the Exchange and Czerka Corporation on Citadel Station.

 

From what I understand via firsthand and secondhand rumors, it works like this: The Republic gives funds to Czerka to carry out the planet’s restoration, and to the TSF in order to provide a police force. Czerka provides ordinary station-dwellers like me with jobs, if we can get them, and extraordinary people with black market weapons. Czerka might as well be pronounced “sha-dy” instead of “zer-ka,” so there you have it.

 

The Exchange makes Czerka tons of money, and vice-versa, while the TSF are caught in the middle. No one can tell the honest officers from the crooked ones just by looking, except that the latter are more likely to hang out in this cantina. The good ones go home to their families or the holo-cinema if they’re looking for a movie. As for the people they protect, they’ll rescue even the lowest-paid dishwashers, but me?

 

I’m the scum of the galaxy. If I’m found out, I’ll be arrested and locked up for at least ten years. Not for gambling, which is legal but frowned upon, but for “possession of ties to a galactic criminal syndicate.” It doesn’t matter that my only tie to the Exchange is a hundred-thousand-credit loan that I have trouble paying. The law is the law. Even if I rat on Ribok, that’s like having the TSF catch a barracuda while the sharks go free. The one they really need to nab is Egno, the Exchange’s enigmatic head. There’s no chance of that.

 

There’s also no chance of me surviving the night. Who gets five perfect pazaak hands in a row – unless they cheat?

 

“Don’t think about playing a fast one. You’re dead meat to me, Vyshe, unless you cough up those creds.”

 

I swallow hard. “Right.”

 

My first card is a deuce, which is what went down the sani-bowl in my refresher stall. Not a good sign.

 

“Hit me.” I get a five. My spirits lift, only to sink again when my third card turns out to be a ten. Seventeen.

 

Please, please let me win this one. Let me live just a few more minutes. I’ll do anything. Please.

 

When it’s my turn again, I take my last card. Ribok grabs my wrist and wrenches my palm up to face him.

 

“Twenty-seven. Your hand is over, and so are you.” Again, he jerks me close and jabs me with the pistol.

 

I black out.

Edited by MsFicwriter
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Hope to see more of this. The gambling scene actually reminded me of Zatoichi, as in the 1974 series it has plenty of such gambling incidents.

 

It was fun to read, and I especially liked the part were you explained why the TSF does not intervene.

 

Keep up the good work. :)

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This looks promising. I commend you attempt at writing in the first person. It is a difficult tense to write in. So far you are doing a good job. The description of your character reminded me a little of Mira. The red orange hair was what did it.

 

Keep going and I look forward to more.

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