Title: With Friends Like These Author: Vek Talis Timeframe: 1,332 years ABY Characters: All OCs Genre: Drama/Action Notes: This is for the OC Challenge. I created the main character of this for a Beyond Legends fic I'm developing, but when I saw this challenge, I figured he'd be good for it, as well. Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars and never will. The Challenge: Write a story where one or more of your OCs are betrayed by other character(s). The betrayal must be justified from the latter's point of view, and it may be personal, professional (e.g., as in sports or politics), or a combination of both. Bonus points if the betrayal causes other characters to view the story’s events in more than one way. ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ Fingers dug into the hand rests. A tweak to the trajectory, check for vector tangent. His eyes fixed on a point at the far back of the docking bay. Everything was going according to plan. "Pilot Zlan; your computer is off." Synthesized voice. Mechanical monstrosities pretending to sentience. "I never use it," Dun Zlan said into the comm. A Pau'an, he came from a world with little use for technology. Oh, they had it, but many wanted to live without as much as they could. "Regulations state-" He cut the communication short. The space station signaled again. This time, Captain Ysander answered. "Cutting engines... now," she said to the droid. With that, the landing was complete. Dun turned in his chair. "Thanks for not making me use the computer, boss," he said. "You know you'll never impress a droid," Ysander said, shaking her head. "I don't know why you waste your time." She had her job to do now, which was handing over the cargo she'd shipped to the ordered location. She headed down to the bay. Dun stared after her, then turned back to the view screen. He was a freelancer; Proton Intelligence Corp, or Pic, as most called it, was a galaxy-wide company that shipped to over forty worlds and moons. To get their attention, he would have to use every trick in his book. If he was ever to move from freelancer to employee, well... "I'll need all the luck there is," he said. Of course, he must have made some impression on the hiring agents; they kept hiring him back. A few more years of showing the agents that he was reliable and efficient might pay off. With his duty done, he walked down the ramp after the bay had been pressurized. Midway Station orbited Kashyyyk, the Wookiee homeworld. It was Pic's largest and best maintained station outside the core. Thousands of sentients came to trade with or freelance for Proton Intelligence. Most had their sights on that rarest of jewels: long term employment. Anyone who found their way into Pic was set for life. Of course, the waiting list to become a full employee was longer than a Wookiee's arm. Blaster on his hip, Dun walked from the docking bays into the nicer, central area of Midway Station. Most of the offices were well kept so traders would feel good about working with Pic. The spokes of the station were where the flotsam of the galaxy gathered. Those who ran out of money, trying to 'make a deal' with some Pic executive and were homeless, or ragamuffins, too young to be of use to anyone as anything but spies and pickpockets. "Dun! Over here." A friendly voice in a conflict of sounds, it drew him to a quaint cafe. His friend, his former lover, waited there, two drinks sitting on the table. "Ferenc, so good to see you," Dun said and hugged his old boyfriend. "Sit; I remember your favorite drink." Ferenc Dea'c was taller than Dun, greyer of complexion. His teeth were sharpened nicely and he wore fine fitting clothes. When they were seated, Dun raised his glass. "To old friends," he said and they both drank. Fire exploded in his belly and roared back up his throat. "That's good," he said, barely able to speak after the alcohol hit so hard. He waved to the droid server for two more. "So, what happened with your latest job?" Ferenc was an exceptional pilot. Dun's datapad bleeped, indicating he'd been paid for his job. He ignored it; Captain Ysander made it a habit of getting a few drinks after every job. The ship wouldn't go anywhere without him, at any rate: no one to fly it, otherwise. Only after he checked his pad did he notice Ferenc slumped in his seat, his normally dour demeanor more so. "You didn't," Dun said, knowing his friend was going to give him bad news. "I got fired," Ferenc said and shrugged narrow shoulders. "What happened?" "I couldn't resist," Ferenc said. "When we started down into atmo, the glare from the stratosphere got to me, Dun. I pulled up slightly, then plunged back down." "No," Dun said sadly. His friend enjoyed surfing atmo like no other. If you timed it just right, you could set off beautiful flares as the heat resistant plating sheared away from the hull of a ship. Timing it perfectly was important so you and the ship didn't burn up in the process. "How much damage?" Dun asked a moment later after the second round of drinks arrived. This one tasted far more bitter than the first, though it was the same drink. "More than the ship was worth," Ferenc said and shrugged again, as if to say, "What does it matter?" "Well, I'll buy the drinks," Dun said. "I'm sure you don't have the creds." "Oh, it's worse than that," Ferenc said, and Dun doubted his friend. At least, until the other Pau'an said, "Pic blacklisted me." Dun's hand slid up, across his forehead and he scratched his cranium. The action was soothing to him, and right now, his nerves needed it. "How do you expect to survive, Ferenc," he said. "You have to get me a job, Dun," his old friend said. Now, he lunged forward, grasping the hands of his former lover, intensity blazing crimson in his eyes. "I'm desperate; no one will even return my comms. You're in good with Pic; you have to help me out. I'll stop surfing; I promise." Like any good addict, Ferenc could sound sincere about quitting when he needed to. Shaking his head, Dun pulled away. "I can front you some creds to get home to Uta'pau; maybe you can find work there." Where once they were extreme, Ferenc's eyes went dull. Dun saw the spark fizzle, just as it had when they broke up. "I'm sorry, Ferenc," Dun said. Like a good addict, Ferenc pulled back, smile etching itself joylessly across his otherwise slack features. "I'm good," he said. "I'll take that loan, though; maybe it's time I did go back home for a spell. See what kind of mischief I can get myself into. Speaking of that, what's your next job?" As it happened, Dun had already lined up another one. "Kessel run," he said simply. "Going off in a couple weeks." There was legitimate business on Kessel, not just spice. Or so Proton Intelligence said. Dun didn't care about the details; a job was a job. "Kessel, eh?" Ferenc said. "I'll bet their atmo burns like crazy." The sparkle in his eye was back, if only for a moment. "You're incorrigible," Dun said after a laugh made him smile. He punched a few buttons on his datapad. "Here; I've sent you more than enough to get back to Uta'pau from here," he said. "You're wonderful," Ferenc whispered as they hugged good-bye. "I don't know why I left you in the first place." "Probably had something to do with your new boyfriend," Dun reminded him quietly. He still hadn't completely gotten over the way it ended. "My bad," Ferenc said. They bumped shoulders, a friendly good-bye between them. "I'm sorry," he said and wandered off in the direction of the main hub, probably to get a ticket home. Dun paid for the drinks and made his way back to the docking bay and Captain Ysander's ship. From Midway Station, he needed to get to Hutt space, so he could find passage to his next job. ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ "All systems normal," Dun said. Once again, he sat in the pilot's seat of a freighter. Just over two weeks had passed, and he was about to get paid again. The Proton Intelligence rep had promised him, once this run went off without a hitch, he was as good as fully employed. A bleep from his datapad. Blue holo of Guzleko, Dun's boyfriend of nearly ten years. He was wishing Dun a great journey, when... "Exiting the Maw," Dun said. His ship was second in line of a four freighter convoy. Authorities on Kessel were pleased Pic was at last going to do business with them. Not for spice, of course. Spice was illegal on many worlds. Except the Sith Empire, of course. Before sensors could return, Dun knew something wasn't right. There was an ever so slight variance in navigational drag, almost as if... "Captain, I don't think we're alone," Dun said. He wasn't surprised the pilot ahead of him hadn't figured it out; the human wasn't as sensitive to tiny fluctuations of minuscule gravitational forces as a Pau'an. Bright red lights filled up the cockpit, as the yellow ones went down. Sensors snapped to life, a little too late. "One large cruiser, hostile posture, dead ahead," Dun said. Space was so vast, it was nearly impossible to see another ship, unless it was right on top of you. "Launching fighters," Dun said. Pirates. Had to be. "They won't take us without a fight," Captain Leintub, a Sullustan, said quickly. "Hard to port; let's try to get back into the Maw. Deflector screens to maximum!" The closest freighter hadn't stood a chance. It bucked under the strain of the cruiser's tractor beam. In the end, it's fall was inevitable. Dun drained power from auxiliary, knocked life support down to minimum, even pulled out a trick he knew to boost the batteries, feeding it all into the engines. If he could push one more klick faster than the pirates anticipated a freighter could go... Deft hands on the controls, he twisted. A blast grazed the side of the freighter. The walls of the cockpit shook. It wasn't easy to turn a bulky ship, even in space. A panel burst overhead. Sparks rained down. "Screens failing," Dun said. "Almost there," Captain Leintub said. Dun's fingers dug into the controls. A fighter danced by, blasting the forward thrusters. The freighter seized, then died. Crackling on the comm. "Stand down and prepare to be boarded. Out." The voice on the other end wasn't pleasant. "Orders, Captain?" Dun didn't like this part. Not one bit. This was the first time he'd have to use that blaster to defend his job. He was a decent shot. On a range. With full precautions taken. He'd never fired a blaster bolt in anger before. Captain Leintub clicked the intership comm button. "Prepare to repel invaders," he said. Any freighter operating so far out carried a squad of marines. You'd be a fool not to make room in the expense accounts. It was asking for trouble. Of course, Dun had never asked for trouble. However, when the captain pulled out his blaster, Dun did so as well. Leintub, at least, wasn't the kind to let others do something he wasn't prepared to do himself. Someone had said waiting was the hardest part. Dun couldn't have agreed less. The pirates dealt with the first freighter, then the cruiser moved toward them. As it loomed closer, closer still, its bulk seemed to engulf the freighter. "Where do pirates come up with such a vessel?" Captain Leintub asked, wonder making his eyes wide. "By being the best at being ruthless." Dun feared he was right. And he was. When the cruiser latched onto the cargo bay of the freighter, it shook like the end of the world. Dun shook, down deeply inside. He took a deep breath and eased his finger onto the trigger. "Are you ready, Zlan?" the captain asked. Dun could only nod, a lump forming at the back of his throat. Metal sheared from metal, creating a wretched whine that made Dun wince. The pirates were through in seconds. Blaster bolts flew. Dun squeezed the trigger. He had no idea if he'd hit anything, ducking down quickly. Again, he raised his head, squeezed off a round. One of the pirates looked his way. Dun ducked. Energy sizzled in his wake, turning the fine hairs on his skin up on end. He glanced upwards; a smoking hole stared from the durasteel hull. It was where his head had been a moment earlier. One by one, the marines went down. Two were left. Captain Leintub winced, groaned and dropped to the hull. A bolt had pierced his lower abdomen, tearing through intestines. Dun grabbed a medikit when the muzzle of a blaster rifle appeared in his face. The rifle belonged to a pirate. "Drop your weapon," she growled. Apparently, she had no patience, for in the next moment, she smacked it from his hand. It clattered to the floor and skittered across it. "Move," she said. Metallic death glinted from the muzzle. Dun moved. The pirate applied a patch to Captain Leintub. Bacta surged into the wound. "He ain't worth nothing dead," she said. "Understandable," Dun said plainly. He must have spoken louder than he'd thought. "Dun? Is that you?" Turning, his stomachs nearly dropped below his heart. "Ferenc?" he asked, not daring to believe his ears. The last person he expected to see, no, the last person he wanted to see, strode up to him, bumped shoulders, though Dun didn't move one bit. "Shavit, Dun, I'd hoped yours wasn't the one we had to fight to take." Ferenc looked good for someone who was down on his luck. A little too good. "You know this fellow?" the female human pirate asked. "He's the one who gave me the tip," Ferenc said. "You used me so you could join pirates?!" Dun took a step forward, murder behind his eyes. Only the charging of a blaster bolt into the chamber stopped him. The female pirate pointed the muzzle at his midsection. "He don't seem so happy to see you," she said, amusement making her eye sparkle. "Come on, Dun," Ferenc said. "We have to take you to a holding cell. Once Proton Intelligence pays your ransom, we'll release you." Ransom. It was how it worked. Sometimes. If Pic didn't want its people back badly enough... "One hears stories," Dun said as they led him to a cell on the cruiser. "Don't worry, Dun; I won't let them hurt you," Ferenc said. "I got them this sweet gig, after all." "My heart is all aflutter," Dun said dryly. The female pirate snorted laughter. Beside him, lying on a cot was Captain Leintub. He wasn't going to die. That was something. "How many perished, thanks to you, Ferenc?" Dun asked after the female pirate rushed off to collect booty. "We told you to surrender," Ferenc said. "You're responsible for all those deaths," Dun said. "I'm responsible. I gave you that information, never knowing, never suspecting you would turn on me." "I didn't turn on anybody," Ferenc said desperately, hands on the bars of the cell. He tried to reach out to Dun, but to no avail. "I need to survive. You wouldn't help me. I had no one else to turn to." "And now, you have no one to turn to," Dun said, finality in his voice. Sighing, Ferenc withdrew his hands from the cell. "I guess so," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. He turned, squaring his shoulders, and left the cell block, not turning for a second glance. That suited Dun just fine. ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ Proton Intelligence Corp wanted Captain Leintub back. He'd been a faithful employee for over a decade. When the ransom came through, the pirates deposited Dun and the wounded man on a small moon in Hutt space. Graciously, they left enough food and water to get the survivors through until a Pic ship arrived. Rescue came on time, thankfully. They'd just eaten the last rations. Captain Leintub wasn't in the best of shape, but he was alive. In his report, he stated Dun performed valiantly. Proton Intelligence filed away his report with their usual due diligence. "If I wait for a corporation to deal fairly with a sentient being, I'm gonna be older than the stars themselves," Dun said sadly. Though he was still on their master list of freelancers, Pic wasn't offering any jobs at the moment. After his experience, Dun needed a break anyway. Maybe it was a good thing, then. He went back home to Uta'pau and his current partner, Guzleko, a tan Twi'lek. "Glad you're safe," Guzleko said as he hugged Dun. "When I heard pirates grabbed you, I was terrified." "You don't know the half of it," Dun said. Carefully, he explained the whole, sordid escapade. "That's terrible," Guzleko said, hugging him again, hard. "And poor Ferenc." "Wait, wait," Dun said, backing away. "'Poor Ferenc'? He wasn't a prisoner of the pirates, Guz." "I know. I just assumed you felt guilty." "Guilty for what?" Something gnawed at Dun's guts, hearing those words from his love. "Not helping Ferenc out when you could have," Guzleko said matter of factly. "He wouldn't have joined the pirates if you'd helped him." Dun fell heavily on their sofa, staring at the wall in disbelief. "You're taking his side? I nearly died." A shudder passed through him as he remembered the blaster bolt hole where his head had been, not to mention all the marines who perished defending the freighter. Guzleko sat beside him, grabbed Dun's hand in his. "I'm just saying. You knew him for nearly twenty years. I've known him for almost a decade. He was a good guy." Dun pulled his hand away, shaking his head. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. I'm the victim here. Captain Leintub is the victim. All those dead marines are the victims. They'd still be alive and I'd have full employment with Pic if not for Ferenc." "He was desperate and made a bad choice," Guzleko said calmly. "He needs to eat, just like the rest of us. Who knows what you, or I, for that matter, would have done in his place." "I don't know; stopped acting like a child and took life seriously, instead of betraying one of his best friends?" Dun fervently wished they weren't having this argument right now. However, he also wished Ferenc had made those better choices, too. You can't always get what you want. Hadn't someone said that? It was a platitude to Dun, in the moment. "I'm going to drop it now, because I can see you're upset," Guzleko said, victor of the understatement of the year award. "I've fixed your favorite dinner; so let's eat and go out for the evening, hmmm?" "All right," Dun said flatly. He still couldn't believe his love would take the other man's side, though. As he ate, he wondered how long it would take him to get over this betrayal. I don't even know which one is worse, now, he thought. Ferenc's, or Guzleko's.