Swoop enthusiasts began to filter in, taking their seats for the races. The laughter and noise of the crowds only served to make my stomach flutter even more with nerves. Shorcuk and Dak bent secretly over the bike, heads close together; they mumbled to one another, adjusting something here or there. Aiden stood close to me, silent for once. I wasn’t quite sure what he was thinking. I could not help but wonder if he was as confident on the inside, as his outward appearance suggested. I turned to look at him, hoping that when all this was over, he would be standing here with me again, all in one piece and not scattered across the track in a billion pieces.
“What number are you?”
Aiden, obviously deep in thought, seemed startled by the sound of my voice. “I am the fifth racer today.”
I nodded. For some reason, words simply would not come to me. What should I say?
Aiden wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “I will be fine. I have the Force to guide me and besides I have to come out of this alive, otherwise, who is going to keep you out of trouble?”
I cut my eyes in his direction, causing him to laugh. He turned me toward him, placing a kiss firmly on my lips. “I love you, my little Mando.”
Aiden pressed a finger to my lips. “You do not have to say anything, I know you are not ready. When you do say it, I want you be certain that you mean it.”
Aiden walked away, joining Dak and Shorcuk by the bike, leaving me with my own thoughts. Why couldn’t I just say it? Haar’chak! I couldn’t even admit it, much less say it. I wanted to, I really did, but I was so afraid that in the end, he would just leave again. I sighed deeply as I forced my focus back to the tasks at hand.
The first three racers made it through the trials at a somewhat decent speed. The fourth racer was now at the starting position. I leaned on the railing in front of me, and watched as the lights prepared to change, signaling the swoop jockey to start. My heart pounded, knowing that Aiden was next to go.
The racer moved with such speed and maneuvered around the obstacles with ease. Half way through, he missed his next acceleration pad and over-corrected, skidding the bike out of control. The crowd gasped. I watched as he was slung from the vehicle, sliding across the track and coming to a sickening thud against a retainer wall. I held my breath as the medical droids reached the racer and checked his vitals. They carried him away on a stretcher, off of the track and out of view. Moments later, the announcer informed us of the unfortunate death of the racer. There was a brief moment of silence as the pit droids cleaned off the track and then, just as if it had never occurred, the race continued.
“OUR NEXT CONTESTANT IS NEW TO THE SWOOP CIRCUIT. LET’S GIVE A ROUND OF APPALAUSE FOR AIDEN VINOLO.”
My heart shot up into my throat, as I watched him mount the bike and move it into the starting position. My hands gripped the railings so tight, I was loosing the feeling in my fingers.
“Well, well, I thought I recognized you standing here.”
I turned to find the swoop gang member from before, standing behind me.
“Oh, now sweetheart, you say that as if you don’t like me. I am hurt! What brings you back to the races, little lady?”
“First of all, I am NOT your sweetheart, and secondly, I am here supporting my husband who is just about to race. So if you don’t mind…”
I wanted to find the gang member and now here he was, bothering me. I wanted him close, but not this close. He was giving me the creeps.
“That’s your husband, the newbie!” Nash laughed. “He won’t last ten seconds, but don’t worry, my pet, when he bites the dust, ole’ Nash will be here to pick up the pieces of your broken heart.”
I shot him an ugly, menacing glare. He laughed raucously, moving to stand at my side. I returned my attention to the race.
The light changed and Aiden shot down the track like lightning. He swerved and wove through the obstacles effortlessly, as if he had been doing it all his life. He hit each acceleration pad perfectly, boosting his speed even more. I stood there, watching mesmerized, holding my breath. He could do it, I believed in him.
Before I knew it, the trial was done. Aiden parked the bike and got off, amidst excited cheers and clapping from the crowd. I let out a sigh of relief, releasing my grip on the rails.
I turned Nash. “What was that about him biting the dust?!” I tossed my head and pushed him out of the way, trying to beat down the urge to run to Aiden’s side.
Aiden smiled at me as I approached. “See, all in one piece.”
I returned his smile awaiting the score from the announcer. Aiden had the fastest time so far, even faster than the Blade Viper jockey, Nash. I turned around to see where he had gone to, but he was no where to be seen.
Aiden hugged me tightly. “Come on, let’s go watch the rest of the race while Shorcuk and Dak check out the bike.”
He led me to a bench on the racer’s section and we sat there, watching the rest of the day’s races. I was so proud of him. I should have never doubted his abilities. I smiled at him, glad that his part in the race was over.
“So, did you see any Blade Vipers?”
“Yes, Nash found me again.”
I could feel Aiden’s arm muscles tighten beneath his shirt.
“It’s ok, I can handle him. He was just trying to get me riled up. At least he is aware of us, especially now that you did so well. We can only hope that it is enough to get us where we need to be.”
Aiden whispered, almost to low for me to hear. “He had better watch himself around you or he won’t like what I have in mind for him.”
“Aiden! That statement was NOT very Jedi like!”
“Well, my love, there are times when a Jedi needs to control his emotion, but there is also a time, when a Jedi must protect what belongs to him. Besides, I am not your average Jedi, I am a practical Jedi.”
“So, I belong to you do I?”
“Yes, cyar’ika, you do.”
I snorted. We would see about that!
“Well, my practical Jedi, we had better hope our little plan works and the Blade Vipers take the bait, otherwise, I will have to come up with a new plan, and I am not sure that clock is on our side.”
“Don’t worry, it will all work out.”
I hoped that he was right. There was a father out there, putting all of his trust and hope in us to bring his daughter back to him in one piece. I starred out onto the track, watching but not seeing the trials continue. Aiden had called me his. I wondered if he was teasing. My heart thudded loudly at the thought. I hadn’t deputed the fact, either. Had he noticed?!