He blended so perfectly with all the rest of the filthy, unwashen, bantha-smelling knock-outs and toughs that he was hardly even there; a much grease-stained leather jacket bearing the familiar triple-triangle and starburst insignia of Kuat Drive Yards on the back, with dingy denim trousers and boots dyed the color of Tattooine soil. An unkempt pate of greasy, stringy hair coronated him king of the spacers. A morning-after bed of stubble and hint of mustache framed an otherwise sharp and angular jawline. Bags under bloodshot, darkly-shadowed eyes; naturally dark, not smeared with carbon-based pigments as was the habit of the tweakers on lower Coruscant. The requisite blaster was slung low in its hip-strapped holster; an Imperial-issue E11 carbine. Much heavier than the pop-guns and target-plinkers most of these sandpeople had access to, and bound to draw attention; though around Mos Vespa, there was an unspoken rule: never ask about another guy's gun unless you wanna look down the barrel of it. Besides, as long as it stayed in it's holster, there would be no trouble, and that was just the way Sef liked it. Sef had enough troubles as it was.
The kind of troubles that drive a man to consume a wookie's share of alcoholic concoctions in a single sitting, and drag on enough death sticks to make a bantha glow in the dark. While Sef leaned into his dark, shady corner of the cantina committing slow suicide, everyone ignored him; all except the big, brown Ithorian sitting behind the counter, who repeatedly accepted Sef's credits with a luciferous grin that defied his natural outline, stretching right off his long, twin-chambered neckline and into some Rodian barfly's big black left eyeball. There the grinning creature sat and dealt his poisons... sitting? Or was he standing? It was impossible to tell with Ithorian bartenders, what with their lower torsos always obscured by the counter and all.
Wait... Ithorians don't grin. Ithorians don't have mouths, not like humanoids, anyway. Their mouths run along the sides of their necks. Sef violently wagged his head; felt his loose gray matter slosh around as if it were too small to fit snugly inside his skull. He blinked hard like sand was in his eyes, and ventured another glance at the Ithorian.
This time his big, unnatural grin was gone, but his neck had grown to many times the length it should have been. The top of his head scraped caked-on grime flakes from the ceiling. Suddenly, Longneck flew straight towards Sef, extending his neck to reach over dozens of drunks and flunkies of every race and planetary origin. Inches above Sef's shoulder and right into his ear, Longneck croaked in perfect Basic, "Break time's over. Get back to work."
Sef swooned, weakened but remarkably unimpaired and taken more by surprise than anything, and crashed into his corner table; knocking over chairs, glasses, but most tragically, his drink. The fall gave him a moment of restored clarity; a half-dozen or so creatures had just made the inebriated human the brunt of their amusement. They called out insults and profanities in perfect Basic that all sounded like Huttese to Sef.
The alcohol and the death sticks; they usually fixed these glitches, at least for a while. Sef couldn't recall ever having the glitches this bad.
From the rubble around him, Sef found his hat; a cap that used to be part of an Imperial dress uniform, as weathered and worse-for-wear as the rest of Sef's outfit. It had been resting on the table and was now soaked in Jawa juice. Sef forcibly resisted the bizarre impulse to ring it out over his head and imbibe from the freshly-squeezed juice of....
...Instead, Sef struck his forehead rather violently with his bony knuckle, then plopped the still-soaking hat right over his head. He picked himself up, brushed himself off, and attempted to pretend that nothing happened. Did something embarrassing just happen in the world of Sef Averre? Probably, and blame it on the purple death sticks. Never trust the purple ones.
Sef strode triumphantly through the laughing, riotous riff-raff; long, hard-heeled strides that mocked Imperial form. He smelled of smoke and liquor and utter depravity. Not the lowest point in the long and depressing story of his twenty-two year existence, and it certainly wouldn't be his last; he'd done a lot worse to himself. It was time for the monster the Empire rejected to suck it all up and ride proud and tall, because he had skills that could make all of those sand-slugs jealous; the Empire, the Hutts, the mob bosses on Nar Shadaa, everyone. Skills that kept Sef in just enough creds to afford his favorite poisons.
Break time was over. It was time to get back to work.
On the Core Worlds; a spaceport even half this size would maintain a garrison of no fewer than twenty full-time "security professionals;" which was, as Sef knew that everyone knew, was just slang for "trigger-crazy hired guns." They dress up mercenaries in civil-looking uniforms and hand them big, expensive guns, and tell them that the spaceports are urban jungles ripe with fresh game for the hunt. Once, Sef saw one of those Corellian CorSec rent-a-cops shoot down an entire family of Zabraaks merely because they were "pacing the civilian levels in a highly suspicious manner." Lesson for the rest of the galaxy to learn: never lose your ship in a Corellian parking garage.
Here on Tattooine, however, life was much easier for a thief. Sure, there was no shortage of big, scary-looking guys and tweaked-out wackos with more firepower than their parents should have ever let them play with, but they were too busy arguing over illegal trades, or yelling at their drivers because they were two standard weeks late with their shipments, or otherwise dismembering each other. Stupid, ignorant meatheads posing as gangsters.
Nobody looked twice when a grease-stained human with the outfit of a maintenance technician walked along the underside of a freighter, opened up the tac-access panel, and covertly jammed in a reconfig spike: a dataspike preloaded with an automated program that recognizes security protocols and either reconfigures or overwrites them.
Sef had written the program as an extracurricular activity while majoring in pre-flight maintenance and minoring in information systems technology at the Imperial Academy; for emergency maintenance purposes, of course. It wasn't that Sef considered himself some kind of egghead, and it sure wasn't like he got off on all this technology stuff. The bottom line was the bottom line; the newly-organized First Galactic Empire was in need of guys to keep their TIEs and Lambda shuttles greased up and flying straight, and the job paid serious creds. Combined with Sef's innate love-affair with flying and a childhood habit of disassembling and reassembling everything he got his hands on, plus the promise of being promoted from fresh, jobless teen to well-paid and respected officer of the Empire in a few standard years... it was an offer Sef couldn't refuse. It did his parents proud the day he left for his new academic career.
Thank the powers that be... the Force, or whatever, that his parents couldn't see him now, a filthy, scruffy-looking, nerf-herding spacer who stole personal and civilian transports for a living. Or could they? Maybe they were floating out there somewhere in the eternal void of space; his mother's head hung low in shame, his father scowling with that steely, long-lined scowl. Sef remembered that look; the look of disappointment, back from when he was just a wee youngling. That face was scarier than any Sith Lord's black plasteel mask....
Sef pounded his head with a fist that clutched a hydro-spanner, digging in with his knuckles. Gaaaah. Head. Come on, head. Stay together. Focus. Focus.
He tapped a handheld diagnostics terminal, wirelessly connected to his dataspike. Zero-percent progress. Sef groaned. Either this antique YT-1300 had been refitted with security protocols more advanced than the stuff they loaded onto the Emperor's own shuttle, or she was so old that her calibration circuits had corroded into oxide slag. Defeated, Sef ripped out the spike and crushed it with the full weight of his right leg; the program having by its design thrown itself into a self-destructing loop that would fry the spike and destroy all evidence of a hacking attempt. Shame, too. These old Corellian freighters may have been outdated, but they were prized by smugglers for their speed and how well they took to modifications like sensor-jamming arrays and stripped-down hyperdrives. And a prize like that just slipped between his fingers....
Sef wiped his hands with an oily rag that only made them greasier; a nervous habit, but all part of the act. He stalked the spacious hangar bay, shopping for his next target, preferably something expensive; something with a nice, spacious interior and a fast hyperdrive for a smooth, easy ride off this rock and on to the next Outer Rim territory. Something newer and easier to hack into, something....
Sef froze in his tracks. It stood monolithic; surrounded by lesser mundane craft which bowed down to its prestige. Shaped like a big Wookie dueling dagger, blazoned with dark blue candy stripes, it exuded a higher, nigh-angelic aura. A Delta-7B Aethersprite. A starfighter. A Jedi starfighter. A relic of the now-defunct Old Republic, and relatively pristine considering most of its kin had been shot to bits or impounded and dismantled since the Purge.
Sef swallowed hard. The idea than an actual Jedi fugitive was breathing the same air and getting sunspots from the same twin suns as he was shook him to his core. He was a dirty creature; the kind of galactic filth that Jedi Padawans bragged about bringing to justice, especially if they managed to slice off their right arms or both of their legs first. Damn the Jedi. They were high, mighty, self-righteous, and damn near bulletproof... well, nearly. It only took a whole trooper regiment. Whatever. The regular, mortal beings of the galaxy wouldn't miss 'em. Good riddance.
Then again; there was the ship of a Jedi, not ten meters off, just sitting there; still, innocent, and begging to be his. Literally begging, reaching out to the very fibers of Sef's soul, such as is was. It was simply too good a prize to pass up.
Before you could say "Happy Wookie Life Day!" Sef searched the hull and found the diagnostics access port on the port side of the ship; appropriate, Sef mused. Just as he had jammed in his dataspike and started running his auto-cracking software, the onboard astromech bleeped out of dormancy with such alacrity that Sef started and cracked the back of his skull on the underside of the frame.
It laughed at him, a beepy binary laugh, then spoke in plain, if scattered Basic. "You should not are doing that."
Sef ventured to scoff at his hallucination; as inebriated as he was, this ship was so fast he'd be gone before even a Jedi could catch him, so his ruse as an ordinary maintenance-man was no longer necessary. "Astromechs don't have vocalizer units. So shut up."
"I am call Master on holo. He is come and he see you and he make you dead." It's Basic sounded human in Sef's head, but its voice was that of an impudent child; make that an impudent Jawa who's trying to vocalize Basic.
Sef swore under his breath, "Do that and I'll blow your dome off. You don't look very aerodynamic, anyway."
"Aerodynamics not priority factor of design of me," the chatterbox chirped and bleeped on, "Delta-ship are made for go fast between system with many type atmospheres. Eighty-seven-point-eight percent of flight hours in space."
Sef chiseled the blunt end of his handheld terminal into his temple. What a headache. Damn astromech. Damn glitches. Maybe this time I smoked too many death sticks.... Nah. No such thing. The spike beeped a confirmation chirp which sounded like a victory fanfare to Sef's ears. He tapped a few times on his handheld terminal, and the cockpit swung open. "You're mine now," he spoke to the ship like a slaver who's just subdued a fresh catch after a long pursuit, "I think the first thing I'll do is replace the astromech...."
"No good! No good!" the droid shrilled, "Performance of ship, severly crippled. Am central processing unit for navigational systems and interface with hyper-ring."
Poodoo. In the excitement, Sef had forgotten that the Delta-Sevens lacked on-board hyperdrives, and instead relied on orbital hyperdrive rings. He'd fought with the hallucinations, the "glitches" as he called them, ever since he was a youngling. Usually, they only got him into trouble, or impaired his vision. Sometimes though, the glitches were helpful, as nerve-wracking or annoying as they might manifest themselves. "Then you live, droid. For now. Set a course to dock up with the hyperdrive ring."
"No am able."
Sef pounded the durasteel edge of the cockpit in the astromech's direction and bit back another oath. The reconfig program Sef had spiked in should have spread through the droid as well. A properly working astromech should be quietly obeying his every word now. "Why the hell not, you broken bolt-bucket?!"
"The ship is no taking off until security tractor no able."
Damn. Maybe he was stealing from a Jedi. Or maybe he wasn't. Whoever he was; he was careful, which set Sef's nerves on end. Every second he wasted during a job, his risk of getting into trouble increased exponentially, even on a relatively lawless rock like Tattooine.
He punched furiously into the sleek console; one much cleaner, yet more sophisticated, than the freighters and cruisers Sef was used to. A screen blinked a green status for the security tractor beam. Another blinked green for the previous owner's anti-theft notification. It bothered Sef only a little. His little program should have taken care of the inner workings of all such anti-theft measures. Auto-hacking won out over doing it the old-fashioned way in terms of speed, but it was always a bit of a guessing game. Regardless, Sef worked fast. The ship's owner could be on his way any minute now. There would be the barter of laser fire. There would be blood. There would be attention. Sef was more concerned with getting safely into hyperspace so he could sleep off the glitches and the heavy crash from the death sticks.
There. Sef's handheld spelled out a series of letters and numbers that represented the tractor beam generator; when overlaid with a diagnostic plan of the spaceport, it gave Sef the tractor node's location at....
Sef looked over his right shoulder at an unnecessarily girthy support beam, with vents at the top. More importantly, he saw a small company of two, maybe three on the far side of the spaceport. They were pointing in his general direction, and shouting something he couldn't hear. Sef shook his head, blinked hard. They weren't a glitch.
Plan B. Sef leaned out, baring his E11 carbine. It sung in staccato rhythm a stream of rapid, ear-piercing bursts, each sizzling into its target but in a tight, seemingly random scatter. The central column erupted, and Sef's pursuers and the entire eastern half of the spaceport disappeared behind a screen of fire and smoke from the destroyed generator.
"Jedi no using eyes. Jedi using Force," the astromech reminded Sef. "What am Force? Is power source?"
Sef swore loudly, and engaged the throttle. The Aethersprite sung like a fairy, her twin ion engines purring like whisperkits. Hastily, he manually brought the ship's canopy down, fighting the hydraulic lifters to close it faster. The transparisteel shell would probably protect him from small arms fire; these things were built to fight the Clone Wars, after all.
His pursuers returned blaster fire, which appeared as faint glowing streaks through the smoke. Sef squinted; he thought one of those faint lights danced back and forth through the haze, something blaster fire didn't do, but lightsabers did. Probably another glitch. He brought the ship's nose up, aimed it at the twin suns visible through the open spaceport ceiling, and punched the throttle. Open sky filled his vision and filled Sef with a euphoric sense of freedom. He was at home in the skies; and it was good to be home. It was good to be free.
Sef found the droid's designation in the corner of a terminal dedicated to translating binary into something Basic-speakers could understand, R3-D19. The ship was an icon of a bygone era, but the droid was a relative antique, and not a particularly valuable one. "Arthree," Sef commanded, "set a course for the hyperdrive ring; dock, and take us to Nar Shaddaa." He then relaxed into his luxurious new leather seats. Man, it's gonna be tough parting with this one. The ship, that is. Not so sure about the droid. Leaving his life in the hydraulically-actuated mandibles of a rusty old astromech was an entirely ill-advised maneuver, but in his current state of mind, Sef really had no other choice. "Wake me if there's trouble. Oh," he added, re-opening one eye in the droid's direction, "Don't you forget who you belong to, now."
"Am AR-THREE-DEE-NINE-TEEN," it harshly chirped, "Astro-navigation or mech-a-nic droid. Am of great service."
"Great..." Sef sighed. It's my hallucination. Why can't it at least talk right?
Sef drifted into a strange sensation, somewhere between alcohol swoon, drug-induced migraine, and nervous sleep. But before sleep could take him, Sef felt... something... something that made every hair on his body stand out on end, if only for a nanosecond. It felt like the glitches, but it came from somewhere else. Somewhere... out there.
Then it was gone. It had been a weird night, even behind the tired, world-weary, and frequently hallucinating eyes of Sef Averre.
Whatever.... Sef welcomed the blissful oblivion of sleep.