The Sabacc Shift

by auguy86

Copyright© 2019 by auguy86

Science Fiction Sex Story: In a galaxy far, far away, an ordinary day in the life of a smuggler ends up changing his world forever. Between a high-stakes card game, a dangerous gambit with a Hutt, and a pair of alluring women, anything can bring about a Sabacc Shift!

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Romantic   Slavery   Heterosexual   Fan Fiction   Science Fiction   Aliens   Extra Sensory Perception   Space   Oral Sex   Prostitution   Slow   Violent   .

Happy Star Wars Day, readers! I put together this fun one-shot story in celebration of May the 4th be With You Day. As anyone familiar with Star Wars can probably guess, this story features Sabacc, the card game most famous for bringing Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon together. And, of course, some sexy aliens from a galaxy far, far away will make an appearance. Enjoy!

A wise old man once told me that in this galaxy we inhabit, there are only three universal truths. First, there’s nothing more dangerous than arguing with a Wookiee. Second, there’s nothing more foolish than gambling with a Jedi. And finally, there’s nothing more alluring than the dance of a Twi’lek. But I came to learn the last of those truths is only half true, and that lesson ended up changing my life in ways I never imagined. In any case, I’m getting ahead of myself.

My name is Kyp Grant. I guess you could say I’m a typical Corellian guy. I’m a smuggler, and I bet you can figure out the rest yourself. I work for myself, I love every second of it, do odd jobs, pretty much for whoever will hire me. Some of questionable legality, but that’s nothing new, not with how the Empire has run things for the last nineteen years. And thanks to the love of my life, I do very well for myself.

The love of my life? That would be the Fool’s Errand, my YT-2400 light freighter. She’s my pride and joy, saved my ass more times than I can count. I love her with all my heart, and that’s what’s always driven me to give my lady love the best of the best. For all her beauty, she wasn’t always perfect. Pretty much every stock system she came with has been upgraded in some capacity. Weapon systems, communications, living quarters, you name it. Hell, about the only thing I had trouble upgrading was her hyperdrive unit.

With hyperdrives, most ships come with a stock hyperdrive with a decent rating. Mine came with a class 2.0 unit, which had a top speed of 50% of lightspeed. That’s fine for senators or Imperial dignitaries, but those of us in seedier lines of work need something much faster. Problem is, there’s a lot of smugglers in the galaxy and not enough top notch hyperdrive units to go around, what with the Empire cracking down on their production and distribution. In an ideal world, I’d install a class 0.8 to give myself a top speed of 20% faster than lightspeed, but I’d have settled for class 1.0. And, of course, every pilot’s dream was a class 0.5 hyperdrive, but nowadays, those are impossible to find. Anyway, I had searched for the right hyperdrive unit at the right price for years on end, but with no luck. That is, until that one crazy day...

“Sir, incoming transmission.”

My eyes popped open, my wonderful daydream now ruined thanks to my copilot. That would be LE-C4M, though I always just called him Leecam. Pretty standard LE series repair droid. He’s reliable, observant, always gets the job done. Not much personality to him, though, despite my best efforts. If droids had previous lives, he would have been a butler.

“Put it onscreen, Leecam.”

A moment later, the image of a beautiful blue Twi’lek girl appeared, delivering a prerecorded message.

“Greetings from Beelma the Hutt, fine pilot! You are one of a select few that my master has chosen for a wondrous opportunity. The illustrious Beelma has in his possession a class 0.8 hyperdrive unit, compatible with virtually any ship. You will find the price and specifications attached. The great Beelma is willing to part with this hyperdrive at a much lower potential cost to you than you would ever find anywhere else in the galaxy. If you are interested, please reply immediately and come to Beelma the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine. If no reply is received by sundown today, we shall take that as an indication that you are not interested. Safe travels!”

I rubbed my chin for a few moments before asking, “Any idea why I’m one of the ‘select few’ she mentioned? I mean, I’ve never worked for Beelma the Hutt before, and it’s not like I’ve broken any records on the Kessel run.”

Leecam replied, “You are too modest, sir. In the last three months alone, you have managed to get cleanly through more Imperial checkpoints than most any other smuggler in the galaxy. Your reputation precedes you.”

“Thanks, Leecam.” I mean, what else can you say to that kind of complement? “What do you make of the specs they sent?”

“Everything appears to be in order. The hyperdrive unit itself is in excellent condition.”

“What about cost?” I asked.

“That is where things become complicated,” Leecam said. “The only monetary value listed here is 3,500 Imperial Credits, which is about half the cost of such a unit. However, I should emphasize that the message only mentioned a far lower potential cost to you.”

“I heard that, too,” I nodded. “Sounds like Beelma’s holding an auction for a few people he knows need the hyperdrive in the hopes our need will drive the price up.”

“That seems the logical conclusion. What is your reply?”

I shrugged. “Let’s go for it. I just completed two very lucrative contracts, so I should be able to outbid most any average smuggler.”

“Very good, sir. I shall transmit your response and adjust course to Tatooine at once.”

“You’re the best, Leecam!” I said, heading for the captain’s quarters. “I’m gonna catch a quick nap; let me know when we get close, ok?”

“Of course, sir.”

An hour later, Leecam informed me of our final approach to Tatooine. Though I could’ve used a bit more sleep, my powernap had done enough to get my mind right for dealing with a Hutt. After dressing, I made my way to the cockpit.

“We are on course, sir. Estimated time to land is fifteen minutes.”

“Sounds good,” I replied. “So, what do we know about this Beelma the Hutt? I’ve never worked for him before.”

“I took the liberty of compiling some information about him,” Leecam said. “As with most any Hutt, Beelma is a crime boss. He appears to be a high-ranking underboss in Jabba the Hutt’s criminal network. While Jabba runs his operations from Tatooine’s first quadrant, Beelma is in charge of things in the third quadrant on the opposite side of the planet. His palace is located on the rim of Thok’s Canyon.”

“Thok’s Canyon? Nice. Not as famous as Beggar’s Canyon, but I’ve heard it’s quite the spectacular view.”

“Indeed. May I ask what your plan is, sir?”

I shrugged. “If it’s an auction like we’re thinking, I don’t think it’ll be too complicated. Try to come out on top of the bidding war.”

“Perhaps, but I should remind you that you are dealing with a Hutt. It may not be so simple.”

“Maybe so,” I replied. “I know I’ll need to be on my best behavior. Flattery is the surest way to survive an encounter with a Hutt. But just in case, keep the ship warm and ready if we need to make a quick exit.”

“Understood, sir.”

We soon descended through the atmosphere of Tatooine, giving me a picturesque view of the desert below. A far cry from the Dune Sea on the opposite side of the planet, the area surrounding Thok’s Canyon was rocky and mountainous. With the way the twin suns hit the various mesas and crags, I could see why Beelma had decided to make his home out here. Once the palace was in sight, I received clearance to dock in the main hangar and guided the Fool’s Errand in.

“I shall begin system diagnostics at once, sir.”

“Thanks, Leecam. I’ve got my com if you need me for anything.”

Once I was off the boarding ramp, I saw the welcoming committee waiting for me: a tall Green Nikto and a pair of Gamorrean guards. The Nikto spoke with authority as I approached.

“Welcome, Kyp Grant,” he said in a rough, gravelly voice. “You are the last of the great Beelma’s guests to arrive. He is pleased that you could join us today.”

“Glad to be here. And you are?”

“You may call me Krah. I am Beelma’s majordomo. This way.”

Krah led the way through the dim hallways of Beelma’s palace. Even with the invite, I remained on high alert the whole time, ready to draw my DL-18 blaster at the first sign of trouble. After all, doing business with a Hutt was one thing, but trusting one? That’s something else. Yeah, maybe I’m a little paranoid, but it’s kept me alive so far.

After a few minutes, Krah arrived at a door and slid it open for me. Upon entering, I found myself in a lounge of some sort with four other individuals relaxing on plush sofas. My competition, I presumed. I noted another human male, an Aqualish, and a Rodian, all of which were common sights in my line of work. But most interesting was the fourth person: a female Zeltron.

“The last of Beelma’s guests have arrived,” said Krah, interrupting my thoughts. “If you will all follow me to his Excellency’s throne room, we can begin our business.”

The foursome stood and followed Krah out the door. The other human, the Aqualish, and the Rodian all watched me closely, but no more so than I was eying them. If we were competitors in an auction, we had to size each other up, after all. As the Zeltron passed by me, she gave a little smile and a wink, far from unexpected in my mind.

Zeltrons were a near human species, known throughout the galaxy for their beauty and unrelenting sexual appetite. They appeared human in every conceivable way, save for their skin tone and hair color. I had met a few over the years, but never had the chance to get to know one more ... intimately. But in spite of their human appearance, there were a few key biological differences in their species. Most notable was their ability to secrete powerful pheromones that increased their attractiveness to anyone in their immediate vicinity. From my experience, this extended to what one might define as “personal space,” though I assumed this could vary between individuals.

Their other unique trait was their empathic capabilities. See, Zeltrons are heavily impacted by the emotions of those around them; they can sense how anyone is feeling in any given moment. Because of this, their entire society is focused on positive feelings and emotions while avoiding any negative emotions. In particular, they’re obsessed with romanticism, which they view as the ultimate in positive emotions. This gives them their reputation for heightened sexuality and free love. Hell, their home world of Zeltros is one massive party planet where it’s only unacceptable to not have a good time. Never been there myself, but the stories are legendary.

The female Zeltron walking a bit ahead of me was quite the looker by any measure. About my age, maybe a couple years younger at twenty-one or twenty-two. Tall, only an inch or two shorter than my six-foot body, well-defined legs, and a generous bust. Her skin, typical of any Zeltron, was a gorgeous shade of deep pink and, from the little bit I could see, lacked even the slightest blemish or imperfection. Her hair was the most striking thing about her appearance, being deep purple and flowing down to the small of her back. From all this, it would be easy to think her nothing more than a bimbo, but my gut told me the opposite was true. Primarily, most any Zeltron that left Zeltros with any regularity was aware of their own attractiveness and desirability. Hell, many counted on it, as I suspected this one did under the circumstances. But more than that, the way she dressed gave her the perfect combination of confident and sexy. Black skintight pants and an equally snug white tank top showed off her ample curves, but her brown pilot’s jacket indicated she was more than just a pretty face. I made a mental note to watch out for this one, in more ways than one.

By now, we had arrived in Beelma’s throne room, and it was exactly what you’d expect from a Hutt. Spacious, lots of comfortable seating around the edges, but plenty of open space in the middle for events or audiences. Ahead of us was a large stone platform surrounded by a bevy of beautiful females of several different species, all with their attentions focused on the enormous slug at the center of it all. It’s almost impossible to tell most Hutts apart, being a near universal shade of puke green, but Beelma was unique in that he had more of a dark brown shade to his skin.

I expected Beelma to greet us at that point, but he instead signaled to a group of Biths in the corner. The musicians then struck up a sultry tune, and the various women surrounding Beelma’s throne began a lengthy dance number. All the while, Beelma eyed the five of us; I assumed he was trying hard to make us jealous. The women were attractive, to be sure, but none of ‘em came anywhere close to the alluring Zeltron. She oozed pure sexuality without even trying. As the dance number ended, Beelma then bellowed a greeting, translated for us by his protocol droid.

“Welcome, esteemed guests of the almighty Beelma!” the droid began. “The winds of good fortune have brought you here today, and my master is pleased with the opportunity to do business with all of you. He hopes you will find his hospitality both pleasurable and profitable.”

I refrained from rolling my eyes out of a deep desire to live, but one of my competitors was not so patient. The Aqualish grunted something in his native language at the protocol droid, who then turned back to Beelma.

“Er, your Excellency, it seems one of your guests wishes to see the hyperdrive unit so that they may begin the auction at once,” the droid’s voice quaked with fear.

Beelma studied at us for several long seconds. I thought we’d all be dead at that point, and if not, at least the Aqualish. But then, Beelma just laughed and motioned to a pair of his guards, who brought the hyperdrive in on a hoversled. After the Hutt spoke again, the droid continued his translation duties.

“The preponderant Beelma understands that you are each here at the cost of valuable time to yourselves and will proceed with business at once. However, he warns that any further disrespectful actions will not be tolerated. Be thankful that he is merciful.”

The Aqualish stood there with his arms crossed, defiant as ever, but the rest of us nodded and murmured our understanding. Gotta cover our own asses, after all.

The droid then continued, “In regards to the hyperdrive unit before you, it is indeed available on this very day. However, there is no auction, as some of you may have incorrectly presumed. Instead, you will each play for the hyperdrive in a Sabacc tournament. The buy-in for this tournament will be 3,500 Imperial credits, which is half the value of this top-of-the-line hyperdrive unit. The winner of the tournament will not only receive the hyperdrive, but will also regain their entry fee.”

My eyebrows shot up at hearing this. The other bidders, or players, rather, whispered to themselves about how unfair this was, but I saw the brilliance of it right away. By holding a tournament with five players, Beelma guarantees that he’ll get twice what the hyperdrive is worth, even in giving the winner their entry fee back. No worries about if someone is good for the money they promised in an auction or if the bidding ended up not going as high as he wanted. It was genius! A moment later, Beelma thumped his tail on the floor, catching our attention once more.

“The great Beelma understands your apprehension, but be assured that this is precisely how my master wishes to award the hyperdrive unit. He wants someone of great skill to receive the prize, not merely one who has more money than anyone else. In addition, my master has long been impressed by one who is able to win games of skill and chance, and there is no greater such game than Sabacc. Of course, if you wish to leave now, you are free to do so. However, be aware that his Grace may take such an action as a lack of interest in ever doing future business with him. For all who do wish to participate, please step forward and submit your entry fee.”

My mind was already made up, but I remained still for a few seconds, glancing at the others out of the corner of my eye. If I was going to be playing Sabacc against these clowns, then the game was already on. Sabacc, like most card games, wasn’t only about having the best hand; it was just as much reading your opponents. If Beelma was a junkie for the game itself, then the chance to watch five players battling it out for a pricey hyperdrive would be all the entertainment he could ask for.

Soon, the rest of the group stepped forward to pay their entry fee, allowing me to slip right alongside them. As everyone registered, the protocol droid recorded our names and occupations in case Beelma wanted to do future deals with any of us. The other human was named Mat Griggs, a veteran smuggler. He looked to be maybe twenty years older than me; I pegged him as my toughest competitor. The Aqualish and Rodian were both bounty hunters named Gantu Balbal and Bordu, respectively. And the Zeltron? She called herself Tali Haru. Damn ... to this day, that’s the sexiest name I’ve ever heard in my life. Not many specifics on her occupation, just said she was a pilot. Anyway, once that business was done, it was time to start the tournament.

Sabacc was a card game with a simple objective: collect cards to get yourself as close to a value of 23 as you can without going over. Of the 76 cards in the deck, 60 were distributed in four suits, being flasks, sabers, staves, and coins. Each suited card was labeled anywhere from one to fifteen. The remaining cards were special cards with varying negative amounts associated with them, anything from the Star, carrying a value of -17, to the Idiot, with a value of 0. The tricky thing is, though, that it didn’t matter if your hand’s value was positive or negative 23 as long as you were the closest without bombing out. Only if two players had the same value did a positive number trump a negative number.

Soon, Krah and his men had the game table set up in the middle of Beelma’s throne room, situated where the Hutt and all his guests could easily watch the excitement from any angle. As we took our seats, the main entrance door slid open and revealed a stunning Twi’lek woman, whom I recognized as the one in the invitation I had received. She was as tall as was Tali and looked to be the same age, but that was where the similarities between the two beauties ended. Where Tali had curves in all the right places, this Twi’lek was thin and willowy, almost delicate. She wore a shimmering silver gown held up by a single elegant shoulder strap. The gown extended all the way to the floor; a slit showed off the gorgeous teal skin of her slender leg. We were all mesmerized as she walked gracefully toward us and took a seat at the circular table.

“Greetings, esteemed guests of my master. My name is Ayana, and I will be your dealer for this tournament,” she said in a sweet, melodious voice. “First, though I am sure you are all familiar with the general rules of Sabacc, allow me to explain the rules that this game will be played under. Each hand will begin with two facedown cards for each player, after which all players will announce their starting total without revealing their cards. Then, each player will have the option to check, raise, call, or junk.”

Yeah, we all know how to play the game, lady, I thought to myself.

“After that, however, the traditional rules of Sabacc are altered under the exalted Beelma’s house rules. These house rules state that the Interference Field and Sabacc Shift are eliminated and will not occur in this game.”

“No Sabacc Shift?! That’s nuts!” shouted Mat, the other human.

“These are unique rules, yes, but be assured that this is how the great Beelma wishes today’s game to be played,” Ayana replied. “In my master’s opinion, the Sabacc Shift eliminates player skill from the game and instead turns the game into nothing but chance. He wishes a player who is both lucky and skilled to win the hyperdrive.”

I tried my best to make no facial expression as I considered how this changed the game. The Sabacc Shift is an integral part to any game of Sabacc. Basically, after the first round of betting, any and all cards on the table are at risk of changing value and suit. The Sabacc Shift is always random; sometimes it affects every player on the table, but other times it only hits one or two, or even none at all. In games with holographic cards, this happens automatically during the course of play, but with physical cards, like the ones Ayana held, players would often use a pair of dice instead. The only defense against this was the Interference Field, a chip each player had that could make one of their cards unaffected by the Sabacc Shift for the duration of that hand.

In normal games of Sabacc, the greatest amount of strategy came after the shift happened, not only in judging your own hand, but also in reading everyone’s reactions to the shift. With the Sabacc Shift eliminated, I could be free to make larger bets earlier without fear that my hand might change, but the same was also true for my opponents. I’d have to read them carefully from the first card dealt. One wrong move, and I could be drawn into a trap and lose everything.

“Now, let us begin,” said Ayana, dealing the first cards.

After about an hour of play, I was starting to get a feel for my opponents. Everybody was still playing pretty conservatively, most of the chip stacks were close to even, but I had pegged most everyone at the table. It was clear Mat Griggs was the most skilled player, always junking at the right time where others would have stayed in and lost more money. Gantu Balbal and Bordu were decent players, but even with their non-human facial expressions, they had clear tells. Tali, on the other hand, was still a bit of a mystery. She was a very good player, but had some odd habits that I couldn’t quite figure out. Most notably, she was a table-talker, which is rare for a skilled Sabacc player. Most real gamblers keep their mouths shut throughout the game for fear of accidentally giving something away, but Tali was always engaged in friendly banter with us. I guessed that this was part of her distraction attempts, which appeared to be working to some extent on the other players. Crafty little minx.

“Mr. Bordu shows positive 20. Mr. Grant shows negative 21. Mr. Grant wins the hand,” said Ayana.

I smiled as I collected my winnings from the pot. Bordu was none too pleased, judging by his twitching antennae. Damned fool still hadn’t figured out what was giving him away. Every time he had anything over 18, his head bobbed a bit in excitement. It was all too easy.

“Impressive hand, Mr. Grant,” I heard Tali say in her sultry voice.

“Thanks,” I replied. “And you can call me Kyp. Mr. Grant was my good-for-nothing father.”

“Of course, Kyp,” she said with a wink.

I felt a chill go up my spine, but I had to keep my wits about me. This girl was something else, and she’d distract me into the poor house if I gave her the chance. Hell, it was a wonder I hadn’t bombed out already. The way she kept adjusting how she sat, showing off her long legs and curvy ass in the process ... damn. And her chest. Shit, her tank top was so tight, I couldn’t believe she didn’t burst right out of it every time she leaned over the table. But the killer was that little hair flip she’d do every so often. Part of me, and you can probably guess which part, wanted to believe so badly that she was into me, what with the flirty looks she kept sending my way. At least the larger of my two heads knew better, for now, anyway.

The next few hands were interesting, to say the least. Bordu, the Rodian, got on a hot streak, winning several nice pots in a row. Most of my hands were junk from the start, so I was out early, but the others weren’t so lucky. I eyed Bordu throughout the hands, looking for what might have changed. His tell was still there, but I couldn’t figure out what was different. By the looks on the other players’ faces, they suspected something was up, too. That’s when I noticed that Beelma the Hutt was also watching Bordu closely. Aside from Ayana, who’s seat was right in front of Beelma’s throne, Bordu was the closest player to the Hutt. It took a couple more hands, but we soon had our suspicions confirmed.

“STOP THE GAME!!!” Beelma bellowed in Huttese.

Before anyone knew what was happening, Krah and two guards surrounded Bordu and pulled him away from the table. While the two Gamorreans held the poor Rodian, Krah inspected the cards on the table with what appeared to be a modified pair of electrobinoculars.

“It is as you suspected, my liege,” said Krah to Beelma. “He was marking the cards with infrared markings.”

Of course! That’s how he was killing us; Rodians can see infrared light, I thought to myself.

Beelma roared in anger at hearing this and had Bordu brought before him. The poor fool whimpered and begged for his life for a few seconds, but Beelma was having none of it. The remaining guards stepped back from Bordu, looking like they knew what was about to happen. A moment later, Beelma pressed a button attached to his throne, which activated a trap door beneath Bordu’s feet and sent him tumbling down a chute.

“That can’t be good,” I heard Tali whisper. I was too dumbfounded to reply.

Beelma laughed gleefully as a number of viewscreens appeared from the ceiling all over the room, giving us the perfect view of the room below. Bordu landed hard on the rocky floor and looked around in panic. He first attempted to climb back up the chute he had come down, but a few metal bars slid into place to prevent his escape. A moment later, we saw a large gate on the other side of the pit slide open. It was quite dark, so we couldn’t see at first what was coming out of the gate, but the creature’s horned head and scaly hide soon came into view.

“My god ... is that what I think it is?” Tali gasped.

“Yep,” I said. “A canyon krayt dragon.”

“He’s bantha fodder,” Mat muttered.

The reptile saw Bordu in an instant and crawled on its four muscular legs toward the Rodian. Bordu did have the presence of mind to reach for his blaster pistol, but the guards had taken it from him in the moments before, leaving him unarmed. His legs quivered and he fell to his back as the dragon advanced.

At that point, I had to turn away; no need to see what came next. Tali had long since buried her face in her hands, which was still an incredibly sexy thing to see, for some reason. Hell, anything she did was distracting. Ayana, who sat next to Tali at the table, was far calmer, but likewise kept her eyes averted. Looked to me like she had seen this a few too many times before. Mat just shook his head in disinterest, while Gantu Balbal chuckled at seeing Bordu devoured. After a few more seconds, the viewscreens disappeared and Krah spoke up.

“Divide the Rodian’s chips evenly among the rest of the players, Ayana. Oh, and here is a fresh deck.” Krah then eyed the rest of us. “Let this be a warning to anyone else who would betray the illustrious Beelma’s hospitality. There is nothing he despises more than a cheater, especially one who would cheat at Sabacc.”

“Clearly,” I muttered under my breath. “Poor dumb bastard.”

From that point, the action in the game picked up quite a bit. I did pretty well, winning a decent pot about every three or four hands. Tali and Mat were also going strong, but Gantu Balbal was starting to bleed chips, and he knew it. This was only compounded by the fact that he was Aqualish, meaning he had a genetic predisposition to anger, frustration, and stubbornness. If I played this right, that would work to my advantage.

“Second round of betting,” said Ayana. “Mr. Balbal, it’s your honor.”

Without a word, Gantu Balbal pushed his entire chip stack forward and leaned back in his chair confidently.

Ayana nodded. “Mr. Balbal is all-in. Mr. Griggs?”

“Junk,” said Mat, tossing his cards on the discard pile.

“Junk,” Tali agreed before Ayana even had a chance to ask her.

“Very well. Heads-up, gentlemen. Mr. Grant?”

I studied the Aqualish’s face for several long seconds. He was up to something, but what? Did he actually have a winning hand? Or was he just trying to buy his way to a decent pot and get back in the game? As for me, I had a positive 20. Not awful by any standard, but still a risk, considering Balbal’s big wager. Still, I hadn’t seen his tell in quite some time, and I worried he was getting better at hiding it. How badly did I want to see his cards? After running the chip totals in my head, I figured that Balbal would still be in last place even if he won this hand, while I’d be tied with Mat comfortably for second place behind Tali. It might not have been the statistically smart play, but Sabacc is about more than just statistics. Sometimes, it takes real guts.

“Call. Show ‘em.”

I turned over my positive 20 with confidence, but Balbal showed a negative 22, winning him the pot. Still, I found what I needed. His total before drawing his final card was only negative 5, meaning he was flat-out gambling the entire hand. Moreover, I finally saw him twitch his whiskers, his tell from earlier. I may have lost the hand, but I had him right where I wanted him.

The very next deal gave me my golden opportunity. My opening hand consisted of two special cards. First, there was Endurance, with a value of negative 8. But best of all, I had one of only two Star cards in the deck, which the player could choose its value, either negative 17 or negative 10. This gave me the freedom to draw without much fear of bombing out. Now, I just had to make sure not to overplay my hand. After stating my opening value as negative 18, the table placed their bets. As I was first to bet, I just checked the option, then called the remaining bets, trying to stay under the radar. Then, Ayana dealt me my next card face-down: the 2 of staves. I tried my best to contain my excitement, but I knew my heart skipped a couple of beats. With my Star valued at negative 17, the positive 2 and negative 8 gave me a hand of exactly 23, also known as Pure Sabacc. Now, only an Idiot’s Array could take me down. But more on that later.

I kept my face even as I eyed the other three players. Tali was out in a hurry, her eyes fixed on mine the whole time. She must have sensed my brief emotional spike and knew I had a great hand. Mat took two more cards, but I didn’t figure he was a huge threat this hand; his opening hand had been a positive 4, meaning he either had two low-value cards or two high-value cards, one positive and one negative to cancel each other out. When Balbal’s turn came, he took one card only. That was when I saw it. The little twitch of his whiskers. His opening hand had been a positive 7, meaning the best he could have with one card was a positive 22. I had him.

When the final round of betting came, I opened by checking, just like before. No need to give away my hand just yet. Mat checked as well, but then came a big wager from Balbal, over half his chips. This elicited an audible gasp from the onlookers and an interested grunt from Beelma. Everyone could tell this was shaping up to be a big hand. Back to me, and I decided it was time to see how serious the Aqualish was. I raised him enough to put him all-in if he called. After Mat wisely got out of the way, Balbal growled a bit before calling and flipping his cards over. Looks like my instincts had been dead on; he had drawn a 15 on the last card.

“Mr. Balbal shows positive 22,” said Ayana. “Mr. Grant?”

I just smirked and tossed my cards to the center of the table for all to see.

“And Mr. Grant shows negative 23, Pure Sabacc,” Ayana said. “I am so sorry, Mr. Balbal, but it seems you are out of the game.”

I stood with a massive smile on my face, relishing the cheers from the audience at such a high-stakes hand. But there was no time to celebrate, not when I saw Gantu Balbal’s anger beginning to boil over. After giving a guttural howl, he pushed Ayana to the floor, leapt the table, and charged me with a knife in his flipper-like hands. Good thing I had anticipated some sort of retaliation, and even better that Hutts had no problem with their guests defending themselves from other guests.

I quickly sidestepped, allowing the Aqualish to trip over my chair and land flat on his back. Before he had the chance to attack again, I drew my DL-18 blaster and fired off a single shot between his eyes, killing the bastard in an instant. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Tali and Mat on their feet with blasters in hand, too. Mat had a standard DL-44, but I was impressed with Tali’s choice of weapon: A K-16 Bryar pistol. After another smattering of applause, I holstered my blaster and stepped around the table to Ayana, still on the floor from Balbal’s shove.

“You ok?” I asked, helping the Twi’lek to her feet.

“I think so, yes,” Ayana replied, leaning against my chest for support. Damn, she smelled really nice.

“Do not fret for her,” said Krah, arriving at her side. “Ayana is far more resilient than most would ever realize. Still, I think we should break for five minutes to allow her to compose herself.”

“Thank you. If you’ll please excuse me,” Ayana agreed.

Needing some composure, myself, I made for the corner of the room and ordered a Corellian whiskey from the old Besalisk tending the bar. I stood at the bar in silence for a few moments, just trying to shake off the kill. Truth be told, I hate killing, in spite of how good at it I can be. It’s bad for business, after all, but business sometimes necessitates it. Pretty soon, I noticed someone taking the spot next to me at the bar.

“I’ll have what he’s having,” Tali told the bartender. As the bartender reopened the bottle of whiskey, she continued, “You’re quite impressive, Kyp. Ace gambler and a sure shot all in one.”

“Thanks,” I replied. She was still giving me that smoldering look. Was it natural, or was she still trying to throw me off my game? Shit, she’s something else. “You’re pretty impressive, too,” I said, trying to stay focused. “Not too many carry the Bryar pistol anymore.”

Tali shrugged. “I know it’s not the most powerful blaster out there, but it’s hella accurate. Gets the job done for me.”

“That’s what matters,” I chuckled.

By then, the bartender had returned with Tali’s drink. “She likes you, you know.”

That caught my attention. “Come again?”

“Ayana,” Tali giggled. “She’s completely smitten with you after that little display. Not that I can blame her.”

I shot her a wry grin. “Now, such a simple statement has complicated everything. See, I don’t know if you’re saying this because of your empathic abilities, pure woman’s intuition ... or if you’re lying to try and distract me.”

A sexy smile spread across Tali’s face. “Oh, Mr. Grant. If I wanted to distract you, I’d just mention that, as delicious as Ayana looks, she could never hope to compete with my skills.”

With that, Tali turned and sauntered back towards the table, her curvy hips swaying with every step she took. After one last look and wink over her shoulder, she took her seat, ready for the next round. All of a sudden, my pants felt a lot more confining.

“She don’t play fair, does she?” the bartender chuckled.

“You could say that,” I replied, downing the last of my whiskey.

With only three players left in the game, things started heating up in a big-time hurry. Each of us were now far more aggressive with our wagers, actively trying to force the others into bad decisions. I handled things well, for the most part, but Mat was not so lucky. All it took was two misplayed hands to put him well behind in chips. I had a substantial lead at that point, but my hand was junk, leaving just Mat and Tali.

“All in,” Mat said quietly.

“Call,” Tali immediately replied.

Mat flipped his cards over with a grin and proved he wasn’t bluffing, showing a negative 22. But just as I was about to congratulate him, Tali revealed her hand, a positive 22, trumping his negative total.

“Shit,” Mat muttered, a crestfallen look on his face. “Welp, looks like that’s it for me. You two kids have fun,” he continued, standing and grabbing his jacket.

“It’s been fun, Mr. Griggs,” Tali said with a grin.

“You play a hell of a game,” I added.

“Thanks. Likewise,” he said before moving to take a seat in the audience.

I turned to face Tali, figuring we’d start the next hand right away, but Beelma’s protocol droid spoke up before we had the chance.

“The almighty Beelma extends his congratulations to our two finalists, Kyp Grant and Tali Haru. Both have played a splendid game of Sabacc thus far, and Beelma wishes to further show his appreciation for their skills with a grand feast for all his guests.”

Within minutes, Beelma’s throne room had transformed into a lavish dining room, complete with three long tables spanning the length of the room. I also noticed that three of the walls were actually shutters, which Beelma opened to show the gorgeous twin sunset that evening. And, of course, Tali and I sat on either side of Beelma as his guests of honor. Which was fine ... I guess. Well, the smell was most definitely not fine! But I wanted jobs from him in the future, so it was time to schmooze.

“Your hospitality has been amazing. Thank you,” I said. Flattery was the only way to please a Hutt, after all.

“And your home is so lovely,” Tali agreed. Looks like she had the same strategy.

“Indeed,” Beelma replied in Huttese, “but not as lovely as you, my dear.”

“Oh, thank you,” Tali replied. She blushed a bit, but it didn’t look like she appreciated the Hutt’s attentions.

“Sir, I’m curious about something,” I said, trying to change the subject.

“And that is?” Beelma asked.

“How did you know Bordu was cheating earlier?”

“I was wondering that, too!” said Tali. “I suspected, but there was no way to prove it.”

Beelma gave a hearty laugh. “It is quite simple: he was marking the cards with infrared markings, and I saw him do it.”

“How’s that? I thought Hutts could see ultraviolet light, not infrared?” I wondered.

“Sorry, but I don’t give away my secrets.”

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