The Red Light
Rey stumbled through a deluge of rain. Flooded laneways swamped her boots and every step sounded with a loud squelch.
A southerly storm had been attacking the city of Coruscant all afternoon and into the evening, bringing with it a blanket of darkness that was all-consuming.
With one hand, she kept her phone out, a beacon in the bitter cold, showing her the directions to number 12 Crimson Lane. The battery blinked in the upper left-hand corner. Two per cent.
Soon, she'd be in the worst part of town without anything to guide her.
This was Mustafar. Most people didn't come down this way unless they had "business", the type of transactions that take place late at night, in shady corners, behind closed doors.
The city's centre for methadone clinics and brothels.
She'd never been here before today - never had any reason to.
And yet, even now, the area was showing hints of resurgence.
A new set of First Order offices on her right, fast-food restaurants wafting scents of Indian, Lebanese and Thai curries to the pavement.
She breathed them in, perhaps after tonight, she might actually afford some take-away; a welcome change from baked beans on toast.
Her phone powered down, the bright glow of her iMap disappearing into the blackness.
"Bugger!" The road ahead was empty, a scattering of trash cans lined the gutters. One had blown onto the street, its contents splayed out like an abandoned crime scene.
Terrace houses formed a line along the road, elegant and ornate with cast-iron lacework. They looked out of place here; too stylish, too polished.
She began to wonder if she'd taken a wrong turn...
And then she saw them, blazing red lights. A line of them, glowing orbs of crimson illuminating the shadowy outlines of men who skulked towards them like moths to a flame.
The Red Light District.
Number 12 Crimson Lane was the most upmarket of the brothels. A crisp black building with barred windows and heavy red curtains blocked out the light within.
Water poured from its overflowing gutters, leaving storm drains choked with fallen leaves and waste, gurgling by the roadside.
She stalled at the entrance. Shivering as she listened to cars splash through flooded potholes behind her. Maybe they were slowing down to see her?
Everyone knew what this place was. They'd guess she was a sex worker, prostitute, hooker... however they framed it, and by tomorrow morning they'd be right.
She lifted an unsteady hand to the worn brass handle. It yanked back to reveal a towering woman with pale skin and meticulously styled platinum hair.
"You're late," Phasma snapped, gesturing for her to come inside.
"I'm sorry." Rey followed her in, trying not to stare at the woman's rich burgundy velvet dress that cut a line way below her cleavage.
"Have you been drinking?"
"Of course not," Rey answered peevishly.
"Good. Like I said yesterday, there's no drinking or drug-use on shift." Phasma sat back at her desk, rifling through her client files.
Rey waited for her to speak, the silence making way for the sound of rhythmic rocking from the floor above.
She would be next. It was all she could think about now after avoiding the thought for so long.
She tried to direct her thoughts elsewhere, taking a minute to examine her surroundings. She'd only seen this place in the daytime, but now evening transformed it into a den of seduction.
The air was spiced with root chakra incense. The floors were polished mahogany topped with dark leather lounges and plush crimson rugs.
The night beyond was hidden by heavy curtains, embroidered with gold against sleek black walls. Above her, a dimly lit chandelier, flickered like candlelight, giving the foyer a mellow warmth.
Rey followed Phasma to her desk, pulling threads of her cream-knit jumper between her thumb and forefinger. Her shoes leaked and her acid-wash jeans were still sodden and muddy from the walk.
Phasma didn't seem to care.
"Have you shaved?"
"Yes. Just before I came."
"Good, what about lube? We don't supply it to workers."
Rey pursed her lips, she knew she'd forgotten something. It didn't matter, she could manage without.
"I've got enough."
"I appreciate you coming in on such short notice," Phasma said idly. "I know you only interviewed yesterday, but we're short and I need someone who can look after a client for the whole night.
Do you think you can manage that?"
Rey gaped. All night? They had given her the impression that shifts would last around three to four hours, at least at the start, not all--
"I said can you handle it?"
"Yes." Rey swallowed the acidic burn of bile creeping up her throat.
Just one month and then she could pay off the first instalment of her crippling debt. One month and she could sleep at night without the fear of some loan shark smashing her kneecaps.
No more fear, no more shame. Just freedom.
"Can I ask who the client is?"
"He's one of our regulars, comes in once a month. No one ever has any trouble with him but he has a list of demands. Here," she slipped Rey a manilla envelope with the name tag sticking out.
Rey pulled the file towards her, angling it under the lamplight of the desk, trying to appear professional even though her hands trembled and she had to remember to breathe.
Name: Kylo Ren
Sex: MaleAge: 32
Preferences: Red and black lace sheer, missionary, snake
"Is that his real name?"
"What do you think? They never use their real name."
Rey continued to read.
Special instructions: No eye contact. No kissing. No hugging. No questions.
"Got it?" Phasma eyed her closely.
"Yeah," Rey closed the file, sliding it back to her. "He sounds... charming."
"Sure you're up for it?"
"I told you I was yesterday," she answered. "Nothing's changed."
Except everything had changed. The brave woman who walked in these doors yesterday to take the job, who was full of determination and bravado had fled with the fall of night.
But whenever she thought about changing her mind, she was faced with a memory, far more terrifying than her future job prospects: A black demon with gloved hands grasping the sides of her arms,
hurting her. She'd gotten away that night, clawed her way out and ran, ran, ran.
He was always with her now, a shadow of fear that lingered as long as her parents' debt remained unpaid.
This job was freedom.
"They seem like strange demands."
"Look, this guy? He just wants something to fuck. He has a shit job and needs to unwind from it. So keep your mouth shut and your legs open."
Holy shit. Rey nodded, blankly.
"Here, I bought these for you especially." Phasma opened the bottom drawer of her desk and tossed a pair of scanty red and black lingerie on the counter.
"I've put padding in there too but don't let him see you wearing it. We don't normally take on girls your size."
Rey blushed, scooping up the lace bra and panties in her arms, along with a black chiffon robe.
"Kylo is important to this business. It's imperative we give him what he wants."
Rey nodded, unable to tear her eyes away at the underwear. There would no secrets beneath the lace, they exposed everything.
"You're in room eight. You can get changed up there. It has an en-suite if you need the bathroom. I will send him straight up when he arrives. Make sure you're ready for him."
"I'll be ready."
Rey walked up the stairs. They creaked like the ones from her last foster home. Somehow, that made everything so much worse.
"There's one more thing," Phasma said.
She froze, wishing Phasma would just let her get on with it.
"Kylo Ren's boss owns this place so I suggest you don't do anything to piss him off."
"You mean Mr Snoke?"
"Yes, Snoke." Phasma forced a smile onto her face, it didn't sit well there. "Like I said, don't piss him off.
Snoke will want to try you out next week, so it's best to get some practice in before then."
"Is Snoke --" she stumbled, searching for the right words. "Is he a good man?"
Phasma laughed, her voice low and bitter. "He makes Kylo Ren look like fucking Prince Charming."
Rey turned, heart sinking. Phasma's sing-song voice followed her up the steps.
"See you in the morning, Rey!"