Jenny Pike stopped in the middle of the crowded Anchorhead marketplace, closed her eyes, and drew in a deep breath. “Ahh”, she breathed out and continued on her way. She liked to come here in the cooler parts of the morning – the locals were at least slightly more pleasant to be around without the full heat of the twin suns beating down on them. It gave her more time to enjoy walking the streets and, for a few moments, at least, she felt free.
Three eggs, one loaf of bread, two gourds, and some milk. Got it all. Jenny thought to herself, repeating the list once more while making sure everything was in her basket. She had spent a little more than she had planned on, but it would make a good meal.
She pushed her way through the congested by-ways, and was soon in front of her home. Sandwiched between two large housing complexes, it would have been easy to pass by without noticing the small hut, squished like an abstract painting and patched in places with mud and rocks. Still, she found it quaint.
Jenny walked inside and placed her basket on the small counter space to unload the morning’s bounty. Almost immediately she heard the booming voice of an Aqualish man, “Bridger, you bastard!” – Jenny fell to the floor, if nothing else than by instinct. “Just ‘cause you work for Teemo don’t mean you can skimp out on your debts. This is your last warning. You have one week to get us the credits, or we’re coming after you, your wife, and everything else you own.”
The voice ended and Jenny waited several anxious seconds before standing back up. From underneath the basket she saw the corner of a datapad sticking out. The message waiting to be replayed. A sigh of relief. Though she often questioned every day if it would be her last, this had come too close to reality for her comfort.
Left your datapad home again, Bridger. She lifted the basket and pulled out the datapad from underneath. The angry face of the Aqualish was frozen on its screen. She didn’t’ know who he was, but it wasn’t first time she’d seen him threaten her husband. Bridger’s love for pazaak was rivaled only by his ability to lose at it. This didn’t stop him from betting big, however, and two years ago his debts began to catch up to him. He’d made enemies in every bar and casino in Anchorhead, as well as in the surrounding settlements. Somehow, though, he always managed to smooth things over just before violence broke out. Still, it only took one time…
It wasn’t good to dwell on it, and Jenny knew she had better get started preparing a meal. Bridger might have been level-headed when facing down debt-collectors, but he had developed quite a temper with her ever since he began working at Teemo’s Palace. She told him he shouldn’t have taken the job there, but they needed the credits. Truth be told, she could have gotten a job too, probably more easily than Bridger, but he had viewed that idea with such scorn that she didn’t dare bring it up more after that.
That had been a turning point for her. That was when she realized it wasn’t her long-dead parents holding her back, nor was it the brutal sands of Tatooine which consumed many a life. It was Bridger, her own husband. A man she had once felt something for, call it love, if you will, but now felt barely anything. She couldn’t even spare the energy to nurse some feeling of animosity. Years of neglect and threats had numbed her to him.
Still, Bridger would be back in a number of hours, and if anything, a twinge of fear still sat in her stomach. She drew in a long breath, bringing some peace back to her mind in the middle of her quiet home. Without him there, it actually felt like a home, but only barely. Jenny exhaled in a long, drawn-out sigh, finished unloading her basket, and began boiling some water.
A series of heavy knocks sounded at the door. “Jenny! You in there?! Jen!“
Jenny’s eyes shot open. She must have dozed off. How long have I been out? He’s gonna kill me this time. Jenny did her best to hurriedly tidy up the kitchen before running to the door. He knows the code, why doesn’t he just come in? she thought while unlocking it.
To her surprise, Coland – quite out of breath – stood in front of her. He was a tall and well-built human with a scar down the left side of his face. One might surmise from his physique that he would make a fine soldier – and he did, until his leg was broken and he had been forced to retire. Clearly, he had run here, with all the effort that came with that.
“Cole, what are you doing here? Bridger will be home any minute,” Jenny said, eyes scanning both directions down the street.
Starting to regain his composure, Coland explained, “Jen. Bridger… Bridger’s not coming home.”
“What?” Jenny said, staring intently into Cole’s hard eyes.
“Just earlier, one of Teemo’s cargo ships exploded. Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t hear it from here. I don’t blame you, though, Teemo’s people have been working hard to keep in under wraps.”
“Cole,” Jenny said. “What about Bridger? Tell me”
“Right, sorry. Well, Bridger and I were working in the control room when the explosion happened and we had to figure out who did it before Teemo took both our heads. On top of all that, there was this fight going on in the pit with some new challenger, and we knew that if one more guy made it through alive, Teemo would send us to the pit for losing him so much money. We were just so overwhelmed. We didn’t even notice—” Coland’s voice cut out.
“Notice what?” Jenny said, her fists clenching and unclenching at her sides.
“We didn’t even notice that someone had snuck into the control room with us. He seemed to be heading toward the server room and— and Bridger was just in his way.” Coland’s eyes stared past Jenny.
A long moment of silence passed between. A swell of feelings rose up in Jenny, things she hadn’t felt in too many years.
“You mean he’s—” She swallowed, composed herself. “You mean Bridger’s dead?” Jenny’s words faded quickly to a breathy whisper. Part of her didn’t want to say the final word until she could see it in Coland’s eyes that it was really true. More emotions welled up inside her; a great weight settled in her chest as tears started gathering in her eyes.
“The saboteur managed to shut down power to the whole palace. Once the backups kicked in, we started searching the room and as I turned around from the monitors I just saw Bridger, slumped over the scattered maps and datapads on the table”
Jenny’s legs grew weak and nearly gave out, but Coland steadied her.
“I don’t believe it,” Jenny looked directly into Coland’s eyes. “I’ve waited for this day for so long.” She began sobbing. In a moment, the immense burden that she had carried for years, made manifest by that great weight rising inside her, was suddenly lifted. Suddenly gone. Her sobs turned to nervous laughs, and through reddened eyes, she actually smiled at Coland.
“You can’t stay here”, Coland said as Jenny began to calm. “I know Bridger didn’t treat you well, I’m not saying he didn’t deserve everything he got, but he was able to use his influence in the palace to keep the debt collectors and bounty hunters at bay. It won’t take long for them to find out he’s dead and when they do, they’ll come for you.” Coland reached his hand into his brown cloak and pulled out a credit chit.
“Take this. It’s not much, but it’ll get you a ship out of Anchorhead to anywhere you want to go, preferably somewhere not in the outer rim.”
Jenny reached out her hand but stopped just before grabbing the chit.
“Come with me,” she said.
Coland’s mouth widened into a crooked smile. “You know I’d come with you if I could. You’ve been a better friend than most, but there’s only enough money for one person, and it needs to be you. Besides, with all that’s happened at the palace, Teemo’s most likely already put a hefty bounty on my head, and you wouldn’t want that baggage following you around.”
“Bounty? But you did nothing wrong!”
“Does it matter? Someone has to pay for the mess that’s been made. I’ve been through tougher scrapes, believe me,” He gestured to his warped leg. “Bottom line is this: I’m still chained to this desert hellhole. You’re not.
Jenny pulled Coland close and thanked him. He returned her embrace, then ushered her back inside her home.
“Now go, get your things together. The last ship of the day’ll be leaving soon and you can catch it if you hurry. I’ll speed you there but we only have a few minutes.”
It didn’t take long for Jenny to gather her few things in a small rucksack and walk back outside where Coland waited.
“Cole,” she said, “one last favor. Find out who it was that snuck into the control room.”
Coland cocked his head slightly, “I’ll try, sure. But why?”
“I’d like to thank him.” Jenny Pike turned and began walking down the street toward Coland’s parked speeder. Not as many people were out in the evening, and she breathed in the cooler night air. She watched as the twin suns disappeared behind the distant mountains of the Jundland wastes, and could hear the even whine of speeders zooming across the far-off dunes. Hopefully, for the last time. For the first time in what felt like forever, though, she truly was free.