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Jan 17, 2021 8:23 AM
the phantom menace
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If there's nothing else to say...

Qui-Gon returns to the house, and fills in Kelié and R2 about the details of Gardulla's compound.

"Every other Hutt, we have an angle on," he says, "but Anakin and I don't think Gardulla can be persuaded to gamble all of her slaves.  So here's what I propose we do instead - "

*

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Over the next little bit, Anakin has a lot of fun preparing for the pod race. She works herself in slowly, gets a hold of some improvements for her pod to keep tinkering on it, instinct - her friend that's everywhere in her mind, the Force perhaps - guiding her hands to improve it in a few specific ways...

She's entered as just 'Anakin,' no last name. She helps play up some rivalries with the favored racer by getting into a dramatic argument at one point with him - makes bets more exciting -

And all too soon, Boonta's Eve crashes upon them. Anakin lines up in her little pod with the other racers. Her pod looks small and dinky next to their more professional, more expensive pods. But she's glowing with excitement, even as her skin crawls from feeling all the myriad eyes on her...

She waits, tense, for the race to start.

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Qui-Gon ingratiates himself with the Hutts and the Hutts' people, making various bets on fictional visitors' behalves, offering Kelié's ship and their meager assets as collateral in a dozen different bets.

On the day of the race, he is staring intently down at the racetrack from a private box - away from the press of the crowd, but still cramped and unshaded and hot.

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R2D2 is in with him, a holoprojector allowing Kelié to watch the race.

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Kelié is quiet, fidgety, visibly anxious.

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Anakin settles into a clear sort of focus as the announcer counts down, her mind becoming the world around her, her body becoming her pod as well, processing and reacting smoothly - a crystal clear sort of awareness as adrenaline rushes through her.

She grins, broadly, and laughs at the signal to start, giving the other competitors a second - there'll be a crush, she can see it clearly as if it was happening now and not heartbeats ahead - and then leaping forward, eager, wind rushing around her as her pod screams forward, diving up and swerving around the forming tangle. Her heart sings in her ears, her vision not nearly keen enough for this, human eyes too slow for the chaotic blur of Tattooine's landscape - but her friend's flowing around her, delighting with her as Anakin swoops past someone coming up on her side, perfectly timed to send them into a spin it takes them precious seconds to recover from -

There's cameras all along the route - it's competitive as hell, all of the racers who survive the first minute top tier, all attacking each other - 'legally' or not, there's a special talent to waiting for blind spots in the cameras to pull out technically banned weapons - Anakin plays clean, though, giggling at the extra challenges, doesn't even let her friend nudge her into getting the other racers killed by their own hubris -

She doesn't pull into the lead immediately, doesn't get a clear win - it's neck and neck, the top four, her and Aldar and Sebulba and Gasgano leap frogging ahead of each other the first lap - she finishes in four minutes, pod screaming to its limits - Sebulba's weapons clip her on the second lap, she drops back two places, flow disrupted, pod nearly out of her control as her anger spikes -

Anakin recovers and swings past the next pod, dancing around the canyons - she's better at these than anyone else, can get ahead here, pod whipping past rocks with barely any space to spare, speeds to fast her pod's barely able to keep up with it - none of the other racers are, the one who tries to mimic her clip the canyon walls and spin into a crash - Gasgano catches up with her as she enters the flats, Sebulba tries to shoot them both down - Anakin nudges her pod even before Sebulba fires, confusing his tracking just enough the explosives crash into the ground -

Sebulba gets more aggressive as they enter the third lap, desperate to take down Anakin - he's favored for this race, has a lot riding on it - she teases him, riling him up almost instinctively - he tries to keep on her tail as she enters the canyon the third time and it's almost embarrassingly easy to swing his pod into a rock - just at the right angle he'll survive, she still isn't getting her competitors killed -

It's her and Gasgano, the last stretch, an almost relaxing race as the other competitor focuses on speeding past her rather than trying to destroy her pod. His pod's a hair faster, but Anakin's is a hair more maneuverable - it remains unclear who'll win, most of those last two minutes, but then there's twists right before the end and Anakin pushes herself through them, maintaining her straightaway speed despite that being objectively stupid -

She wins by a good thirteen seconds, at the final count.

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She lets out a breath.

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The crowd goes wild.

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She laughs, startled, lets herself be seen and applauded - it's weird and almost terrifying but also exhilarating, how excited everyone is -

The race winds down, the other five whose pods didn't crash following fairly close behind, and Anakin starts making her way over to Qui-Gon's box.

(There are thoughts and gazes turning to him - people he made bets with, all of whom have now lost. Still, there's a mood of jubilation and startled delight at the exciting race - he's unlikely to see many people going back on their bets.)

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(He's going to slip away into the crowd discreetly so he can collect his winnings from one person at a time and avoid any sort of talking-to-two-people-as-two-assumed-identities comedy-of-errors shenanigans.)

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It takes a while for Anakin to get back, anyways - being a sudden celebrity is weirdly tiring! And she's content to chatter at Kelié when she does.

(Qui-Gon doesn't run into much trouble with the people he'd bet for their slaves, not if he's clever about witnesses - Jabba narrows his eyes at him, but the witness to the original bet is still present, and Jabba concedes with feigned grace.)

(Of course, the bet against Gardulla will be more complicated to fulfill...)

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"Gardulla," he says.  "Good to see you again."  He's got a good poker face.

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Gardulla the Hutt is - laughing, actually. "That was a good race. A good bet!" she tells him. "Rare that just about everyone loses. Makes things more exciting, though - people'll talk about this one."

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"I believe they will," he says.  "I don't mean to sound too pointed, but I believe I need to collect from you as well."

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"Of course!" she says, jovially. "You'd wanted a tour, yes?"

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"I do," he says.  "I'll let you lead the way."

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"Well, I have a few things to finish here, but then you can follow my party back - or ride along, if you'd like the full experience."

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"I'll meet you there."

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She grunts and goes about her business.

And, soon enough, her small convoy is ready to leave back to her compound.

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He joins her convoy in one of Kelié's ship's speeders, thankful for the chance to give his false smile a rest.

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Her compound's built into the landscape of Tattooine - not particularly grand from the outside, hardly visible from most angles (especially above), and highly defensible. It's built for war, as much as pleasure.

The entry bay is fit for their speeders, though, with guards posted at the only entrance deeper within.

Gardulla herself slithers down from her somewhat grander ship, squinting about.

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"This place is quite an achievement," he says as he disembarks.  "I'll let you lead the way."

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She does so, chattering to him about the palace as she slithers along.

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Looks like he made it in all right.  All that's left now is to keep up his poker face and wait.

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