* * * Screen Wipe: * * *
Gundark's Cantina is noisy and dimly-lit. Chairs of a strange, spidery design are clustered around small tables, while a bank of vidscreens lines the ceiling. Most are showing podraces, but one is always tuned to the Imperial all-news channel. Unusually, there is a sizeable group of people watching this screen. The reason becomes apparent when a boisterous female voice calls out to our heroes as they pick up their drinks from the bar: "Hey you guys, join the drinking challenge! You have to drink a shot of Corellian brandy every time they mention the Emperor! First one to hurl loses!"
Beejax looks up in surprise. "Hey, Sirona, is that you?"
An attractive middle-aged woman with pale blond hair sticks her head out from the middle of the throng at the vidscreen. "Beej! What are you doing here?"
"Oh, we got stuck here. Transport company went bankrupt."
"You're joking!" Sirona shakes her head sympathetically, then returns to the more important subject. "So, are you up for it? C'mon, c'mon, don't be a Neimoidian flop-pansy!"
Beejax thinks quickly. Sirona has a ship--in fact, she makes a living hauling passengers and cargo around the galaxy--and she knows when not to ask too many questions about her clients. Plus, she owes him a favor: last time he saw her, she was panicking because she had to leave immediately on a job and her co-pilot droid was malfunctioning. All the droid needed was a quick cleaning to remove some grit from his circuits, but Sirona was highly relieved nonetheless. Obviously, this isn't the moment to talk business, but a little recreation should be a good start.
"For you, I'll do it," he tells Sirona with a smile.
"Great! Anyone else?" Sirona looks hopefully at the rest of the group.
"I'm on the job," Path says, holding up a hand. "Besides, I heard what you drink for," he adds in an undertone. This game is likely to be an exercise in speed-drinking.
Jebet merely shrugs apologetically, indicating her tall, fruit-filled glass (with a paper umbrella in it) as if to say, "Sorry, I don't do real drinks."
"I'd have to drink wine coolers for it to be very fair," says Rima.
"How 'bout you?" Sirona asks Nalon as the bartender hands him a glass of pale, foamy liquid. "I hear Gungans can hold their liquor."
"Don't I look a little skinny for a Gungan to you?"
"You look fine to me, brother," she answers in a flirtatious tone as her eyes travel up and down his body.
"I think I going to pass," Nalon says.
Sirona rolls her eyes. "Wimps, all of you! Okay, Beej, I guess it's just you and me." She leads the way over to a low table near the vidscreens, where a trayful of shotglasses waits for the challengers. "Aaaand ... go!"
A crowd clusters around them as they take their seats. It isn't long before the Emperor's name comes up onscreen, and a loud whoop goes up from the spectators. Sirona's eyes widen as she drinks her first shot. She slams the glass back on the tray, shaking her head rapidly as if to clear it. Beejax, who had assumed he was going to lose the challenge, starts to think he may have a chance after all. Then the brandy hits his system like a kick from a mad ronto, and he isn't so sure.
"All spirits be helpin' you if they play the Imperial anthem," says Nalon with a shake of the head.
The crowd watches in fascination as Beejax and Sirona match each other drink for drink through several more rounds in quick succession.
"We could switch to the sports channel if they need to take a break," someone suggests.
"Nah, then we'd just hear that the Coruscant Emperors had scored their fifteenth goal..."
Or 'The Emperor threw out the first pitch today...'"
"Or 'Oh look, I hear this is Emperor Palpatine's favorite podracer!'"
There is general laughter. Here, at least for a moment, the burden of life under the Empire can be banished with drinks and joking.
The contestants finish another round, both wobbling a little in their seats, clearly staying upright mostly through luck. Sirona grins at Beejax muzzily. "Hey, you know what? You're all right! You're ... you're ... all right!"
"Oh, great, we're getting to the 'I love you, man' stage," murmurs Jebet.
All eyes are now glued to the screen, waiting for the word that will trigger the decisive round. Finally, the cheery blonde anchorwoman begins, "The Emperor appeared before the Senate today..." The rest of her sentence is drowned by shouts and cheers as Sirona and Beejax each toss back another shot of brandy. For a few seconds, it seems as if they've both succeeded; then...
"'Scuse me." Sirona pushes her way through the crowd and lurches toward the bathrooms. She doesn't make it, however, and barely manages to lean over the bar before throwing up. Fortunately, a cleaning droid (probably kept on standby for just such an emergency) deals with the situation swiftly and efficiently.
"There's a lot you can do with a cleaning droid," Path mumurs as he watches it work.
Beejax, meanwhile, sits back in his chair triumphantly, blinking at the crowd. "I toldja I could do it," he announces to no one in particular.
Rima steps quickly up to his side. "Okay, this isn't a holocomedy. Nobody slap him on the back in congratulations."
As if on cue, Sirona reappears and claps Beejax on the shoulder, fortunately with no ill effects. "That was great!" she tells him. "Listen, any time you need a ride somewhere ... y'know ... you just gave me ... this was gonna be a boring time, and that was priceless, so ... look me up!"
Beejax grins. "Well, we are shtuck here. I'll have to talk to my friends. We might need a ride."
"You can find me around here if you need me. See ya!" With an over-the-shoulder wave, Sirona staggers out of the cantina, heading off in the direction of the Sel Zonn Hotel.
Now that the excitement is over, the group around the vidscreens starts to disperse. Beejax's companions half-pull him back over to the bar. "Maybe we should get him some Alderaanian coffee or something," Rima says.
"Maya's late," says Jebet with a frown. "I wonder if we should drift back over to Mechanical Allies."
"Mechanical Allies?" Beejax repeats with a happy smile. "Yeah, we were fixing those up! We slept in the foam. Can I go sleep in the foam some more? It was nice foam. I like the foam. Foamy..."
The bartender slides a glass containing a reddish-brown mixture with a raw egg floating in it toward Beejax. "On the house."
"I didn't know they put breakfast in a cup around here," Nalon says with interest. "Can I get one of those?"
Rima puts her hands on Beejax's shoulders and turns him away from her. "Please face that way. It's not good for my skin to spend any more time in the shower today."
Beejax eyes the drink skeptically, as if fearing it might be a relative (Duros hatch from eggs), but finally drinks it.
"Feeling any better?" Jebet is looking up at him with, as far as he can judge, a concerned expression.
Beejax puts his head down on the bar counter and squeezes his eyes shut, moaning a little.
"I got a feeling it gonn' get worse before it gets better," Nalon says, taking a large slurp from his own egg drink.
Rima frowns at the single wine cooler that she's still nursing. "I'm really regretting not emptying the minibar in the hotel while I had the chance," she sighs, half to herself.
Everyone's heads snap up at the sound of blaster fire just outside the cantina. Path's weapon is out in an instant as he drops into a practiced crouch and looks around quickly for the source of the threat. Rima steps behind Path and draws her own blaster at the same time, while Jebet dives under a table and pulls out her stun baton. Nalon makes an immediate leap for the rafters, catching onto a metal strut and sticking there as if his feet had suction.
The cantina doors burst open, and the crowd parts as the patrons hurry to get out of the way. A familiar-looking figure in mechanic's overalls stumbles through, with several Imperial navy in close pursuit.
Jebet sticks her head out from under the table, and Maya catches sight of her.