Some science types dissected a Wookiee’s corpse and learnt that 40% of their brains are devoted to processing smells. The very next thing they learnt was what it feels like to have your arms pulled out of their sockets by angry grieving relatives for desecrating Wookiee burial groves. That’s why I trust Chewie’s nose for danger. He can tell how much trouble a guy is planning with one long, careful sniff.
Sometimes I think about how easy that talent would make finding marks for a con game, but I’m a reputable smuggler (reputation slightly tarnished by my last run, but it’s still a reputation), and besides, Chewie would never stand for it. We bend the law to get by, but he’s the conscience of our little duo, and he’s let me know that his life debt allows him to apply suitable corrective measures if my behaviour becomes sufficiently dishonourable. I suspect it involves arms being pulled out of sockets.
So when he brings old lightsaber guy over to talk to me, I know he’s on the level. Chewie knows the requirements for us to take the job. Payment in cash chips. Small cargo. Quiet passengers. And absolutely no jobs about a woman. I’ll work for female clients, I’ll take women as passengers. But when a guy does something because of a girl, it leads to trouble. My line of work is a risky one, and I stay alive and free by making sure my clients have their eyes on the crashball, not mooning over their loves. Lightsaber guy looks too old for chasing broads, which is reassuring, but then Chewie moves slightly and this scrawny kid peeks out from behind him. I give Chewie a questioning look, but he gives what is, for him, a subtle nod (his body language is in large print). So it’s not about a girl. I’m not enthused. Kid’s so wet I’m amazed he hasn’t been sucked up by the building’s moisture reclaimer. His sort is trouble, too dumb to know how dumb he really is, and determined to prove he’s not dumb by doing the dumbest things he can think of. Chewie gives me the low down with a low rumble. If you don’t know Shyriwook, you have no idea how much information a Wookiee can pack into a single, carefully enunciated growl.
I put on my Captain’s face. Cocky smile, the easily apparent openness of a confidence trickster’s eyes. Learned that from a… let’s call him a friend. I’ll tell you about the sabacc player some other time. I affected a slightly disinterested air; it’s how the game is played.
“Han Solo. I’m captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you’re looking for passage to the Alderaan system.”
“Yes, indeed. If it’s a fast ship.” Despite the sand worn into the wrinkles on the guy’s face, he sure doesn’t talk like a native. If he’s part of the local organisation, I’ll eat Chewie’s bandolier.
“Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?” I put a slightly hurt tone into my voice that wasn’t entirely feigned.
“Should I have?” He asked with casual indifference.
“It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs!” Okay, that was one trip, with a shorted nav computer that was more likely to kill me than shave a half dozen jumps off the route. But such happy accidents are how you build a legend, and I’ve been spreading it across every bar in the sector for so long only a hermit wouldn’t have heard about it. He’s good. I’m already on the back foot and trying to regain some control over the negotiation. I feel my mouth running. It does that quite often. Inability to keep it shut got me everything I have today – good and bad. “I’ve outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk-cruisers, mind you. I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now. She’s fast enough for you, old man. What’s the cargo?” I silently curse myself for sounding so eager. If the old guy had the slightest inkling of how desperate I really am, he’d drop his offer so low he’d practically be doing me a favour taking a ride my ship.
“Only passengers. Myself, the boy, two droids, and no questions asked.”
My opinion of the guy slipped a few notches. No smuggler worth his fuel asks questions. But a sudden thought struck me, and I knew that this time I needed to break the rule.
“What is it? Some kind of local trouble?” I asked nonchalantly. If they were on the run from Jabba, no amount of money could make me take this job.
“Let’s just say we’d like to avoid any Imperial entanglements.”
I covered my sudden relief with a sad shake of my head. “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? And it’s going to cost you something extra.” Doing things without attracting Imperial attention is basically all I do, and apart from that one time I don’t want to talk about, I’m pretty damned good at it. “Ten thousand,” I say. Stars, I must be rattled if I’m throwing out such a ridiculous opening offer. “In advance.” Thanks, mouth, you might want to run it by the brain first, next time you think you have something to contribute.
“Ten thousand?” squawked the brat. “We could almost buy our own ship for that!”
Major faux pas, kid. You never lose your cool in the early stages. Bumps up the price, and people remember it next time you do business. You get a reputation for being easily goaded, they’ll wind you up and take you down for every chip in your pocket before you know it. Speaking of which, time to poke the kid and see if money falls out “But who’s going to fly it, kid? You?”
“You bet I could.” I could hardly keep the delight off my face. You don’t have to be a Wookiee to smell the desperation coming off the kid. But not the old man. He keeps looking at me like he could do this until the Galaxy goes dark. He hasn’t so much as glanced at the outburst coming from his sidekick. I can’t work him out. He looks like a Tatooine sand farmer, talks like a Coruscanti noble, haggles like a Jawa trader, could probably outstare a Mon Calamari, but seems totally naieve about my side of the law.
The kid jerks to his feet. “I’m not such a bad pilot myself! We don’t have to sit here and listen–” The old man quiets the kid with a wave. Kid sits back down like a Droid whose legs have just been switched off.
“We haven’t that much with us,” intones the old man. I brace myself for some intensive haggling. “But we could pay you two thousand now…” Cash in hand. That would be a passable price for a passenger run for two people, as long as he wasn’t heading for the far side of the galaxy. I drew in a breath, ready to add another fifty percent on arrival. I’d take twenty five. Hell. I’d take the two thousand at this point, I’m that hard up for cash. “… plus fifteen, when we reach Alderaan.”
I didn’t gape, and I’ll take credit for that. Chewie wurfed softly, and I hoped they didn’t understand that particular, rather colourful, colloquial expression. “Seventeen, huh.” I said, to cover my surprise. I have a simple rule: When the passenger raises his own price, you don’t try to talk him out of it. This might be the first time I have ever had to apply this particular rule. The smell of desperation coming off the kid would have set off the hazardous chem alarms if this dingy cantina had such basic safety features, but the old man still looked like he was discussing which vintage would go best with the roast nerf. “Okay,” I tell them. I didn’t fall down and thank the Maker for desperate, and apparently rich, customers. Not even slightly. “You guys got yourself a ship. We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready. Docking bay Ninety-four.”
“Ninety-four,” echoed the old man solemnly.