Revelation - rktho_writes - Star Wars (2024)

Chapter 1: Premonition


Wasn't going to start posting Book III until I'd finished Chapter 5, but since it's my birthday, I figured I'd drop the first chapter as a treat. You're welcome!

Chapter Text

The guard opened the door to admit a visitor. Or, more appropriately, a whole gaggle of visitors— a mother and seven children between the ages of thirteen and two.

The prisoner’s throat caught as they approached the transparisteel. “Cammie… It’s been so long…”

“I missed you!” the mother smiled. “You look healthy!”

“I’ve been treated well,” the prisoner smiled. “I’ve been able to give Leela a good life here.”

“She’s about to undertake her verd’goten,” an old man grinned. “I’m his brother, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”

“Uncle Com!” A girl of eight put her hand to the glass, tears in her eyes. “Why did they put you in jail?”

“This isn’t a prison, Corrie,” the prisoner replied, smiling. “I already served my sentence. This is where I live.

“Are you sure this isn’t a prison?” The oldest boy wrinkled his nose. “How come that big guard is standing by the door?”

“That’s just one of the Vode, Cohor,” the prisoner waved. “They make the rules around here.”

The mother put her hand to the transparisteel viewscreen. The prisoner placed his fingers against the outline of hers. “I’m so sorry, Cammie.”

Cammie smiled sadly, saying nothing, as if the prisoner could not think of anything for her to say. At a tug of her trouser leg, she reached down and lifted her youngest child so he could be eye level with the prisoner. “Say hello, Clem.”

The child elected to wave instead so as not to remove his thumb from his mouth.

“When are you getting out?” asked the oldest, a girl of thirteen.

“I told you, Caddie, I live here,” the prisoner insisted. “I’m not in prison anymore. This is my life.”

“Visiting hours are over,” the Mandalorian guard announced.

“Wait!” the prisoner cried. “They haven’t met Leela yet!”

The Mandalorian ignored him as he herded the family from the room. “Wait! Cammie! Cavla! Curel! Don’t make them leave yet! Coll! Corrie! Cohor!”

The mother and children stepped into the garden. The door to the hut closed with a hiss. “Alright,” said the guard. “Back to your cell.”

“Where’s Leela?” asked the prisoner frantically. “She’s supposed to visit me!”

“Leela left for Endros Gamma one hour ago,” said the Mandalorian matriarch.

“Papa!” Leela cried. “Help!”

The prisoner looked and saw a transport ship docked in the field. Armored guards ushered Mandalorian students up the ramp. Each student wore a yellow uniform with a five-digit number on the front and back. Leela struggled against the restraints on her armrests, but the cuffs wouldn’t budge. The prisoner ran to the ship, calling her name, but was blocked by guards with electrostaffs as the ramp began to close. He looked to the sky in despair as the transport lifted off.

“Don’t worry,” said the Mandalorian matriarch. “You’ll see her again.”

The prisoner turned around and saw a Mandalorian warrior standing in front of him, lekku protruding from their flight cap. He reached out to her, but was blocked by the same transparisteel in the visiting area. “Leela! Leela!”

The expressionless visor remained silent.

Com awoke with a start.

She’s still twelve.

He ran the thought through his mind like a mantra as he got up from the empty bed. She’s still twelve. She hasn’t had her verd’goten yet. She hasn’t gone to Endros. She’s still twelve.

She’s still here.

He sat at the table until morning.

If Leela is truly the prodigy we suspect her to be, we want to send her to our elite commando academy on Endros Gamma.

For whatever reason, the Vod’tsad had still not discussed the prospect with Leela, even though her thirteenth birthday was less than a year away. They had kept it from her to avoid disappointing her should they discover with further training that she was not as special as they believed and reconsider their decision.

He knew there was no way Leela’s abilities could fail to live up to their expectations.

As he sipped a cup of spiced caf, watching the sunrise through the window, an old conversation ran through his mind.

Of course she’s happy here, Ether. Aren’t you?

Com didn’t know how to answer that question. Did it even matter if he was happy, so long as Leela was?

Leela might be happy here. But would she be happy on Endros Gamma, learning advanced Mandalorian combat techniques on an asteroid in deep space?

The longer Leela went without knowing it was on the table, the more he was terrified of the distinct possibility that she would.

It was raining by the time he began his duties. He donned a poncho and a bucket hat.

As he stood on the ladder pruning the jogan tree, he looked toward the morut’karta. Leela would be in the middle of her lessons now.

In his readings, Com had learned much about the ancient Jedi. He found striking similarities between the Jedi and the Mandalorians, for all their conflicting ideals and history. The Jedi lived in temples, not unlike the Vod’tsad’s morut. They emphasized community and the passing of knowledge. They practiced adoption and placed a lesser emphasis on blood ties— though Com had claimed he and Broque were blood brothers, to imply they had known each other their whole lives.

One difference was that Jedi forbade attachments. The Mandalorians didn’t.

In theory.

Mandalorians de-emphasized blood relations. Jedi did not have them at all. Mandalorians acknowledged the role of parent, child, sibling, grandparent, parent’s sibling. The only labels among the Jedi, when they were used at all, were master and pupil.

But in practice, Leela was only permitted a limited level of interaction with her father and uncle. Com knew it might be different if he had chosen to take the Creed. But as Buir Atin’la had said, to become a Mandalorian would be to forsake the Jedi. Much as Com wished to be free of the shame of being an unworthy Jedi, the shame of betraying Korma once again would be even more unbearable.

It had been over ten years since they’d met. He wondered if the old bishop was still alive.

Leela was fluent in Mandalorian by now. She called him buir’ika as often as she called him Papa. Happy as he was that Leela was learning so many self-defense and survival skills as well as mastering a language, he’d been troubled about the idea of her becoming a full-fledged Mandalorian ever since Buir Atin’la had revealed the Vod’tsad’s intention to ship her off to a commando academy on Endros Gamma as soon as she came of age and passed her verd’goten.

The more time went on, he knew he couldn’t bear to lose her. He’d carefully encouraged Leela’s forbidden fascination with the Jedi in hopes that her commitment to her Mandalorian education might be weakened, and he hated himself for it. Leela could never become a Jedi. Who would be her teacher? Him? Impossible. He was a poor excuse for a Jedi. In fact he wasn’t even one at all. So he was very careful to dazzle Leela with fantastical tales and legends, never once hinting that Leela could become a Jedi herself.

She would make a good Mandalorian. If any other person could be her master, she would also make a good Jedi. Given the choice, it seemed she would thrive as either.

In truth, neither path was one he wanted for her.

If he were a good Jedi, it wouldn’t have mattered what he wanted.

But it did.

He closed the door to his hut, taking refuge from the rain. He opened the drawer to his nightstand and pulled out his scandocs.

They’d originally been forged to read Ether Antilles. Now they read Ether Broque. The chain code had been altered to conform to his supposed brother’s genetic information.

He slid them back into the drawer.

His dreams evoked parallels between the Mandalorian sanctuary and another kind of institution. He avoided contemplating it as much as he could. The morut was undeniably better, and in service to a better cause. There was no education in that other institution. The labor here was voluntary and well-paid. Adults were not punished for minor infractions, and the methods of discipline employed with the children here could not begin to compare with the methods used in that other place. Most importantly there was happiness here. If not for him, then for Leela, and for Broque. The Mandalorians seemed happy enough, inasmuch as they permitted themselves to express it. How ungrateful he was to compare the morut to such a place as prison.

It troubled him that he could not escape the perception of similitude regardless.

The more days passed by, the more it weighed on him that he had not left this place since Leela was eight years old. Half a decade he had spent in these walls, not once setting foot in the outside world. Neither had Leela been outside the grounds during all that time. Most of the Mandalorians never left. The children remained within, where they could be supervised, and the adults did not feel the need to leave when the morut provided their every need. Only the Mandalorians responsible for obtaining essential supplies and provisions ventured regularly into the wider world. Broque had also ventured out for this purpose in his duties as a gardener, but now one of the Mandalorians assumed that responsibility. Com hadn’t been outside for fear that he might be recognized.

The more time went on, the less he was concerned regarding the likelihood of that possibility.

Did he want to live here alone for the rest of his life, if it meant Leela would be provided for outside his care? Did she even need him anymore? Had he fulfilled his promise to her mother to ensure she was placed with suitable guardians?

The sun was shining by the time Leela was allowed to visit with her father. They ate uj cake on the grass— Leela’s own recipe— sitting in front of a carved stone that read in Mandalorian and Aurebesh:

Old Club


Family is more than blood

Com had not said a word all morning. Leela would be thirteen in little under three quarters of a year. Whatever reasons the Vod’tsad had for waiting to tell her about the Endros Gamma opportunity, they could not need much more time to prove Leela was worthy of it. They would tell her any day now.

Com had to take advantage of their silence before it was too late.

He laced his fingers. “Leela… I think it’s about time we moved on from this place.”

She looked at him in surprise. “You do?”

“Well…” Com chewed his lip. “Ever since your uncle passed away, I’ve been thinking. Don’t you want to see the world outside again? Neither of us have left this place since we arrived.”

“Well… yeah, I do want to leave the morut sometime,” said Leela. “But leave leave?”

Com swallowed. He desperately wanted to explain that if they didn’t leave before Leela turned thirteen, then she would be the only one to leave. But he couldn’t say that out loud. What if Leela wanted that? What if she wouldn’t need him anymore once she’d come of age and taken the Creed? He couldn’t put the idea into her head.

“I think this will be best for you.”

Leela chewed her lip, looking down. After several moments of thought, she nodded. “I believe you, buir’ika.”

Com hugged her, selfish relief washing over him. Perhaps it would be better for Leela anyway. She deserved to see the outside galaxy, instead of being cooped up in orbit on a military installation.

He needed to act quickly before he changed his mind.

Revelation - rktho_writes - Star Wars (1)

Chapter 2: The Noble House of Kondric


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The history of Tion is rather complicated. In the galaxy’s ancient past, the space that would come to be known as Tion was a collection of occasionally-warring system-states. One of Tion’s sectors, however, was united into a single domain known as the Kingdom of Cron. This little dominion was ruled by a man who would be known to history as Xim the Despot. Xim united the rest of the Tion Cluster through legendarily violent conquest, creating a larger empire that would bear his name. After his defeat by the Hutts, Xim’s fractured empire once again fell to infighting; eventually, it reunited into the Tion Hegemony, which stood as its own independent superpower in the galaxy until it was approached by the Republic, which offered Tion a seat in the Galactic Senate.

Tion was informally divided into three sections— the Hegemony proper, also known as the Caluula Sector; Allied Tion; and the Cronese Mandate, which contained the territories originally belonging to the Kingdom of Cron. Allied Tion and the Mandate ostensibly answered to the Lord Hegemon, but there was a fair degree of cultural divide between the three. Allied Tion, in particular, became very Republicanized after the Cluster was brought into the fold. However, there was a lingering longing for the glory days of old. Ector Kondric, Lord of Embaril in the final years of the Republic, was a traditionalist. Allied Tion was very much divorced from its ancient heritage; Lord Kondric sought to restore the Tionese identity to the Embaril system, and was a primary benefactor of the Allied Tion Historical Society.

Ector Kondric had two children, Athene and Estia. Athene was a beautiful, wise, compassionate woman, who developed a strong interest in politics from an early age. Though nepotism dictated she would have been appointed to the position anyway, there was no one better suited to represent the Embaril system in the Galactic Senate. Much to Ector’s slight chagrin, however, her tenure in the Republic congress acquainted her with the radical and un-Embarilian concept of democracy, which caused a small amount of political disagreement between them, though their love for each other prevailed over it.

Less than ten years into Athene’s term as a senator, the Separatist Crisis emerged. A burgeoning secessionist movement swept through the galaxy, with Count Dooku campaigning for a new system of galactic governance which afforded more autonomy to individual systems who were or were growing dissatisfied with the Republic. The Jedi were sent to many systems to negotiate, including those of the Tion Hegemony, where Dooku had delivered the Raxus Address and established the capital of his new movement. Tionese pride prevented many Hegemony worlds from heeding the Jedi’s admonishments to remain with the Republic, and of the few exceptions, Embaril was not one of them. Athene was reluctant for Embaril to leave the Republic, but she believed in Dooku’s message to some degree— in many ways, even more than her father.

In the final year of the Clone Wars, Lord Kondric’s third child and only son, Apollon, was born, shortly before the passing of his wife. Ector adored the boy, but Athene doted on him even more, such that she requested her father’s permission to withdraw from the political sphere to devote herself to caring for him. This Ector denied, saying her role was too important to forsake. But when the war ended in a Separatist defeat, both she and her father thought it prudent for her to retire from politics rather than attempt to secure a place in the new Imperial Senate. From that time onward Athene was always with Apollon, playing with him, teaching him about the galaxy, telling him stories every night before bed. She called him Alpha, after the first letter of his name and the Tionese alphabet, and her little sun, a nickname Ector disapproved of for reasons known only to the two of them. As Apollon grew, so too did the strength of their bond. Apollon shared every secret with his eldest sister. When his tutors would give him good marks, he would show her, and they would celebrate. She taught him how to play chess, and she would always beat him no matter how expert he became under her tutelage. Whenever Apollon was in need of comfort, Athene was always there.

In the thirteenth year of the reign of the Empire, Athene fell ill. She passed away the following year.

The Kondrics sat in their place on the dais of the temple, two seats now empty on either side of Lord Kondric. In front of them, the ecclesiarch gave a eulogy at the altar to the congregation.

Apollon sat straight, staring ahead, trying to look more stoic than empty inside. He could see the weeping faces of the congregation. There was not a dry eye in any of those benches. Everyone on the dais, however, was expected to save their tears for a more private moment. But even his father, who had ordered him and Estia not to weep, was struggling; Apollon could see him trembling.

It still didn’t feel real. Everyone was either in tears or on the verge of them, but Apollon was still processing the fact that she wasn’t sitting right next to him. She would always squeeze his hand when they sat here. Now his fingers were cold, and he kept wondering why.

“—and she was beloved not only by her family, but by her people,” said the ecclesiarch. “And it was her own love for her people that drove her to serve them so faithfully, first in the senate of the Republic, then in the parliament of the Confederacy for Independence.”

Apollon was still thinking about how pale she had looked.

“I’m so proud of you, Alpha. You’ve grown up to be such a fine young man.” Her hand had been so cold. “I love you, Apollon. Remember that. I’ll always be with you, my bright, wonderful… sun…”

Then his father had ushered him from the room. He’d imagined she’d wake up when they came back. But he knew she wouldn’t. The next time he saw her was when they closed the sarcophagus.

That wasn’t her. It hadn’t looked like her. She had to be somewhere else. She was just using the refresher. Any moment, she would sneak back in and sit next to him again.

At least, it felt like she would.

Apollon’s gaze drifted up to the commoners’ balcony at the back of the room. The congregation was mostly humans and Pabchoni in the ground level pews (a brief note— the bch in Pabchoni is pronounced like the Basic v,) but on the balcony, there was a little more variation. An old human man Apollon hadn’t noticed before sat in the front row between a Voss and an Ithorian. His grey-white beard fell in curls over his simple brown cloak, and though his eyes were shadowed by his hood, Apollon could swear he was staring right at him.

He leaned over to ask his sister who the man was.

A lump formed in his throat.

The inner corners of Apollon’s lips were sore by the time the ceremony was over, secured by his teeth to keep from breaking down weeping. Athene was gone, and he was alone.

The congregation shuffled from the temple to grieve in the courtyard. Lord Kondric excused himself momentarily to weep in private. Apollon did the same, finding a foyer where he could sit by himself.

As he sat on a divan, tears filling his hands, he felt a comforting hand lay on his epaulette. His father had come to comfort him.

“I’m sorry.”

That was not Lord Kondric’s voice. Apollon looked up, face stained with wet. The old man he had seen earlier was sitting beside him, hood now removed to reveal shorn gray hair and black eyes that glimmered with emotion.

Apollon wiped his nose on the white sleeve of his uniform, which he knew he shouldn’t do, but didn’t care. He felt like a child again. “Thank you.”

The old man closed his eyes. “She was very dear to me.”

Apollon swallowed. “She was like a mother to me. I never knew my mother, but… Athene was always there.”

The old man was quiet for several moments. Apollon’s jaw was still trembling.

“What’s your name, son?”

The answer worked its way through Apollon’s obstructed throat. “Apollon, of the noble house of Kondric.”

“Apollon.” The old man nodded. “Sun-bearer, if I remember my Old Tionese.”

Apollon nodded. “That’s right.”

After awhile, Apollon asked, “What’s your name?”

The old man sighed, and did not answer for a moment. “I am Mahzun.”

“Are you from here?”

“I’ve lived here for around thirteen years,” said Mahzun, “but no, I am not Embarilian, or Tionese, by ethnicity or birth. I came here to… retire.”

Mahzun folded his wrinkled brown hands and asked “How old are you, son? You would be about fifteen by now, wouldn’t you.”

“Yes, sir,” Apollon nodded. “Father says in the days of Xim, that would make me a man.”

Mahzun nodded. “Quite a handsome one, at that. Your father has much reason to be proud.”

There was silence between them as they sat together with wet eyes. When Mahzun spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper. “I loved her.”

“Everyone did,” Apollon choked. “I… did.”

“She was your… sister.”

Yes,” Apollon replied with some defensiveness. He’d picked up on the hesitation in the man’s voice. He knew the circ*mstances of his nativity were some cause for rumor, with the lateness of his birth and difference in his features relative to his other two siblings. The speculation was baseless; he was his parents’ child, and there was no disputing his resemblance to either of them. And really, he did not look so different from his siblings. So what if he was darker, or if Elena Kondric had been “too old” to conceive a third child, or his siblings were both his seniors by more than thirty years? He had his mother’s smile and his mother’s eyes, and he was a full-blooded son of Tion, no matter what people theorized about Lord Kondric’s habits.

Mahzun bit his lip, realizing he’d set Apollon on edge. His dark eyes flicked downward. “I’m sorry.”

Apollon cooled, chewing his lip. “You knew her?”

“I did,” said Mahzun quietly. “We were very close, once. Those were happier times, before the galaxy divided itself and brought itself to…”

Mahzun trailed off. Apollon nodded, dabbing his eyes with his fingers. Tion had paid dearly for aligning with the Separatists, its Hegemony split and Imperial garrisons placed on its worlds. Embaril was lucky the Empire believed Lord Kondric was loyal, or else he might have been replaced by an Imperial puppet, and then Apollon would… well, he didn’t know what would have become of him. Athene had told him stories of the days before, when the galaxy was at peace. How he wished he’d been born in those times.

“She never told me about you.”

“Ah.” Mahzun sounded pained. “No. No, she wouldn’t have… Her father did not approve of our relationship.”

Apollon furrowed his brow. “Why not?”

“Oh, for a few reasons.” Mahzun sighed and stared at the wall on the other side of the room. “One of them being that I was loyal to the Republic. I’m sure you learned about the Clone War in your studies. You study, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Apollon nodded. “History, biology, political science, mathematics, the infinity lyre, and the Old Tongue.”

“And you do well in your studies?”

“Yes sir,” Apollon replied affirmatively.

Mahzun smiled again. “Political science. Are you going to be a senator one day, like— like Athene?”

Apollon nodded. “Embaril should have a seat in the Senate. I’m going to fill it.”

Mahzun smiled, his voice growing thick. “That would be something to see.”

He cleared his throat. “Anyway, the Clone War. We were political opposites. I was for the Republic, and she— Well, of course you know she supported the Separatists, ever passionate about Tionese autonomy. Her father, of course, did not approve of me, otherwise… perhaps…”

Mahzun trailed off, and seemed to be gazing into the distance through the floor. His voice was thick. “She had her commitments and I had mine, but under different circ*mstances, we would have married and raised a child.”

Apollon sat dumbfounded, brow furrowed, mouth cracked. “I… could have been an uncle?”

Mahzun chuckled then, and Apollon was struck by the sudden mirth. Mahzun seemed to transform in that moment, and Apollon caught a glimpse of a much happier man, amused by what the boy had said.

Apollon became quiet for a moment. “I wish Athene had been able to marry you. She loved kids.”

“She had you,” Mahzun pointed out, laying a hand on his back.

Apollon smiled. The smile opened a dam from his eyes, and though he swiped at them with his already-ruined sleeve, he could not stop the flow.

Mahzun pulled Apollon into a hug. Apollon did not even question it; he just let his tears sink into the old man’s shoulder.

Suddenly, Mahzun froze. Apollon looked up, eye sockets damp. Estia stood in the hallway, staring at them as if Apollon sat with a ghost. “You…”

“Estia…” Mahzun beseeched.

Estia Kondric’s eyes were wide with panic, brow clouded. “Apollon, what did he tell you?”

“W-what?” Apollon stammered. He didn’t understand what his sister was asking. What was she afraid the old man had told him?

“I told him nothing,” Mahzun pleaded. “I just wanted a moment…”

“You’ve had it,” said Estia, eyes darting over her shoulder. “You weren’t supposed to speak to him. Get out before my father sees you.”

Mahzun nodded sorrowfully and slunk away, hanging his shorn white head. Estia took Apollon not ungently by the wrist and led him away.

Apollon glanced back. “What’s wrong?”

“What did he say?” asked Estia, turning to stare into Apollon’s eyes. “Tell me everything.”

“Er…” Apollon racked his brains. Every time someone asked him a question like that, his ordinarily capacitous memory would dump its archives. “He mentioned the Clone Wars. He said something about being Athene’s lover.”

“Go on,” Estia pressed.

Apollon shook his head. “That was it.”

“That was all?”

“All I can remember,” said Apollon. “Oh. And he said he wasn’t Tionese. That was fairly obvious, though.”

Estia thinned her lips. After a brief pause, she nodded. She turned and continued walking, releasing his wrist.

“Is it true?” asked Apollon as they sidestepped a passing Pabchoni temple worker’s feathered tail. “Were they lovers?”

“Yes,” Estia confirmed hesitantly as they walked. “There’s a reason you weren’t told.”


His sister would not answer.

Apollon decided he would ask his father.

Apollon knocked on the carved mahogany door to Lord Kondric’s study. “Father?”

“Come in.”

Cautiously, he pushed the button. The door slid open.

Ector Kondric’s wizened face was cradled in his strong, gnarled hand. When Apollon entered, he lifted his heavy, damp eyes. “What is it you want? Speak up, boy.”

“I…” Apollon stammered, then gathered himself. “I met someone at the funeral.”

“Met someone, eh?” Ector gave a chuckle, a hollow but recognizable echo of one he would give in good spirits. “Morbid place for it, but there’s nothing like a lively girl to get you through the hard times. What’s her name?”

“Um… no, Father,” Apollon clarified, flushing. “It wasn’t a girl.”

Ector furrowed his brow. “I see. Well, as long as you remember your duty to continue the family line, I don’t see the harm in it.”

“It wasn’t like that, Father,” Apollon stammered. “There was this old man who said he knew Athene.”

A terrible gravity hardened Ector’s countenance. “Close the door.”

Apollon obeyed, trembling.

“He spoke to you?” Ector’s knuckles clenched white against the knob of his cane.

“Yes,” Apollon murmured.

Speak up, boy!” Ector thundered, rising to his feet and seizing Apollon’s shoulder. “What did he tell you?

“He just said he and Athene were lovers!” Apollon cowered, wincing from the force of his father’s grip. “He said he was loyal to the Republic!”

“Did he tell you…” Ector hissed, eyes bulging with fury. “Did he tell you… anything else…”

“No!” Apollon yelped.

Ector released Apollon abruptly. Apollon’s heel staggered a quarter of a step. He took a few deep, silent breaths as he tried to calm himself. His clavicle throbbed from where his father’s thumb had dug into it, but he didn’t dare massage it. “Estia said you didn’t want him to talk to me. I only wanted to ask you why.”

Ector’s brow knotted even further. His fist, clenched around the head of his cane, began to quiver. Then, the fire faded from his eyes. Taut rage melted into sorrow. “I’ve tried to keep you safe all my life.”

Apollon’s heart broke for him. “I know, Father.”

Ector wrapped a hand around Apollon’s shoulder, eyes shimmering with tears. “My son, there are people in this galaxy who… who would fill your head with lies to separate you from your family and make you despise them.”

Apollon swallowed. To be made to despise his family— that was something he could not bear. Athene and his mother were gone. If he became estranged from Estia and his father, who would he have left? He embraced his father, who returned it warmly. “Know that you are mine, Apollon,” said Ector. “You will always be mine.”

Apollon laid his head on Ector’s shoulder, tears beginning to trickle from his own eyes. “Why didn’t anybody tell me about him? Why didn’t Athene tell me?”

“That man is a scoundrel and a deceiver,” said Ector sternly. “He almost tore this family apart. He seduced Athene behind our backs. If she hadn’t come to her senses, she might not have remained…”

Ector’s breath hitched, making Apollon shudder. What if Mahzun had led her away, and he had never known her? His own sister? Life had been difficult enough never knowing his mother. Apollon almost felt as if he might lose Athene all over again. He began to shake, his silent tears becoming soft sobs. Ector held him tightly. “Put it out of your mind, dear boy. Now you know, and he will never poison this family again.”

Apollon nodded and Ector released him abruptly. “Dry your eyes now, boy. There’s a good lad.”

Apollon dabbed at his tears with the side of his fingers. “What… What convinced her to leave him? What made her stay?”

Ector smiled. “Why, you did.”


Lot of research for this one! Honestly, for all its rich cultural history, Tion's distinct identity never really comes through onscreen (I mean, we've seen Raxus Secundus like three times now and you'd never know it was part of a distinct region, the way Tatooine is part of Hutt Space.) In developing Embaril's culture, I leaned into a Greek influence, since the Tionese alphabet is analogous to the Greek alphabet. Pabchoni is pronounced “pah-VOH-ni.”

Chapter 3: The Letter

Chapter Text

The Mandalorians comprise hundreds of myriad ideologies. The New Mandalorians were a radical establishment that advocated pacifism, a complete turn from Mandalore’s historic martial ways. The Death Watch arose to oppose the New Mandalorians, believing violence and conquest were inherent to the Mandalorian identity. The True Mandalorians, like many factions, attempted to adopt a sort of middle ground, introducing more palatable ethics to the warrior traditions. The Children of the Watch became staunch traditionalists in personal practice, but eschewed the imperialist imperative that was followed by the ancients from whom they took inspiration.

The Vod’stad be Kad Ha’rangir might best be described as its own religion within the Mandalorian demographic, distinct from many interpretations of the Mandalorian faith. Neither restorationist nor reformatory, it sprang from a belief in the need for a Mandalore, a sole ruler to unite the Mandalorian people. In time, the Vod’tsad’s mission became to gather an army for the Mandalore to command at their return. To this end, they adopted the following educational structure.

Adult Vode and children under the age of eight lived in mot’morute (meaning, place where the faithful stand ready,) which served as both residential communes and military bases. At the age of eight, they were sent to one of the Vod’tsad’s many baj’morute (that is, sanctuaries of education) where they would receive a primary Mandalorian education. At the age of thirteen, they would undertake their verd’goten— that is, the birth of the warrior, the Mandalorian coming-of-age rite of passage. Upon completion, they would advance, going on to study at a verd’morut, where their education became strictly martial. At the age of eighteen, they would return to the mot’morut, or enlist at one of the verd’morute (military base.) Those who particularly excelled in combat would enlist at a ramikad’morut (special forces reserve) where they would become commandos, a rank that carried great prestige among the Vod’tsad.

Vod’tsad members almost always married their verd’morut comrades, as the verd’morut was one of the best opportunities they had to meet others outside their clan. One Vod would follow their riduur to the other’s mot’morut. The Ori’vode, governing body of the Vod’tsad, would deploy couples and families to various mot’morute as necessary.

Leela had not known this kind of life. She had not been born in a mot’morut, and her father was not a Mandalorian. She had lived in a baj’morut from the age of eight like her peers, but her family had lived there also. While her peers’ families had been allowed to attend their child’s verd’goten ceremonies, Leela’s father would not be able to. When Leela left the baj’morut, she would transfer to a ramikad’morut while her father remained behind. After her training was complete, she would likely be sent to a mot’morut and start a new family there.

Reflecting in her later years on her departure from the Vod’tsad, Leela knew that she would not have accepted Buir Atin’la’s offer. Nor, if she had, did she doubt she would have regretted it. In the long run, Leela has come to believe that leaving had been the right thing. I might add that if Calisuma Broque had remained with the Vod’tsad be Kad Ha’rangir, this very chronicle would not exist.

But the choice to leave had not truly been her own.

Ether Broque left the morut for the first time in nearly five years. He returned with a case full of credits, which he presented to Buir Atin’la as a token of gratitude. Buir Atin’la did not seem pleased, but she thanked him.

As Leela said goodbye to her friends, she promised to write to each of them.

She wished she’d known before that she was going to leave. She’d promised her friend Sarad she would join her soon at the verd’morut on Belderone.

Lutecia seemed new again to Leela as they traveled by speeder taxi from the morut. Memories of her arrival flooded to her as the buildings passed them by. The streets were as busy as ever, the architecture just as colorful. Before, she had observed the cityscape on foot. She hadn’t been in a speeder taxi since Monderon. She wrapped her lekku around her shoulders to keep them from blowing in the wind.

They crossed the Sidon at one of the bridges. It had been so long, Leela had forgotten how many boats and bridges were on the river. She wished they had been walking, so the view wouldn’t be over so fast.

Eventually, they came to a long four-story building on Lancer Street and disembarked. The stone sign out front read Rampart Place. “This is our new home.”

It was much grander than the Elephant House. Cleaner, with a smooth, muted orange brick facade and white trim. The edges, too, were much rounder, in contrast to the Elephant House’s more brutalist design. “That’s our house, up there,” said her father, pointing to one of the windows on the third floor.

Rows of doors lined the ground floor, with railed steps leading up to each one. Ether went up to the third door from the right.

Leela looked around the hall as they walked toward the lift. Three doors each side, a modest chandelier on the ceiling, and the most beautiful carpet she had ever seen. Her eyes widened as she drank it all in— especially the carpet, with its hundreds of flowers in elegant reds, yellows and blues, stems and leaves swirling and weaving together. How could her father afford such a place, given their previous living situations? Half a decade in the Vod’tsad’s employ must have paid well indeed.

The elevator walls were illuminated with warm white strips. Leela smiled as the door slid closed. This place was welcoming, at least. She wondered what the view from the window was like, in such a nice part of the city.

The lift door opened to a hallway much like the one on the ground floor. Ether pulled an access chip from his pocket and inserted it into the terminal at the door that read 306.

He stepped aside and let Leela enter first.

Leela’s eyes widened as she walked inside. The planks of the floor appeared as rays extending throughout the spacious room. Sun spilled through the balcony doors, bathing the green walls in golden light. Two armchairs faced a fireplace. Leela pictured tall bookshelves on the opposite wall from them.

A whirring sound proceeded from the doorway at the right. An A-LT utility droid turned its domed head towards the new occupants and chirped.

“Leela, meet Y2W7-LT0,” her father gestured. “He’s going to take care of our cleaning.”

Y2W7-LT0 beeped in greeting.

“Jat’urcye,” Leela waved. “Can I call you Whytoo?”

Whytoo beeped.

“I don’t speak droid,” said Ether, “but I think that’s a yes.”

Whytoo beeped again, in what sounded like the affirmative, or so one would hope, given his unwieldy designation. There’s nothing quite so inconvenient as a fussy droid with a long name. (J7-3T5-AA26X, I say this with love: I simply do not have time to expend eleven syllables just to ask about the weather forecast.)

“I really need to learn to speak droid,” Ether muttered. “Able used to—”

He stopped abruptly. “What’d you say?” Leela co*cked her head.

“I used to be able to speak it,” Ether replied. “I can’t anymore. I should… brush up.”

“I’d love to learn too,” said Leela. “You can teach me what you remember.”

Ether shook his head. “I don’t remember any of it. I think I’m going to lie down for a bit. We’ll go into town later and stock up on supplies. We have a kitchen now.”

“A kitchen?” Leela eagerly poked her head into the other room. Sure enough, there was a countertop, sink, oven and dishwasher, with a table that seated four. She grinned, already picturing a tall pot of tiingilar on the stove.

If having a kitchen amazed her, it was nothing compared to discovering that she had her own room. Whytoo led her to the bedroom at the end of the hallway. There she found as large a bed as she had ever seen for one person. She slipped her bag off her shoulder and laid down on the bare mattress, gasping at its softness. Whytoo beeped cheerfully.

Leela reached over and pulled her bag over to her. She reached in, pulled out Creampuff, and set him on her chest with a contented sigh, gazing up at the ceiling. This was wonderful.

They went into town a little later to buy groceries and bedding. Leela picked a pair of electric blue bedsheets for both beds and a quilt with a multitude of stars in every color scattered across its surface. Ether added four pillows to the cart. Leela selected two pillowcases with loth-cats and banthas on them and asked, “Aren’t you going to pick out cases for your pillows?”

“My pillows?” Ether looked down at the four pillows. “These are all yours.”

“Don’t be silly, Papa,” Leela laughed. “What do I need four pillows for?”

“Oh.” Ether bit his lip. “Of course.”

He removed two pillows from the cart. “What about your pillows, Papa?” Leela frowned, eyes filling with sudden concern.

“I’m alright.”

“I’ll pick out a couple pillowcases for you,” Leela insisted. “Look at this one! Aren’t these stripes pretty?”

Ether breathed a sigh of relent. “I only need one.”

“Are you sure, buir’ika?” Leela bit her lip. “What about a spare?”

“If it’ll make you happy,” Ether promised.

“It will,” Leela smiled. “Also, you forgot to get a blanket! I saw some nice ones. Let’s find one for you.”

“I’ll just get this one.” Ether picked up a thin blanket, barely more than a felt sheet.

“You are so strange sometimes, buir’ika,” Leela laughed. “You act like you’re not good enough for a real blanket.”

Ether stiffened slightly, eyes flicking to a patch of floor over his shoulder. Leela picked out a warm-looking quilt and plopped it into the cart.

Leela made tiingilar that evening and thought of the morut. The friends she had left behind. Her uncle’s grave. The memories she’d made and the things she had learned. She wondered what she had given up for this new life. It was more comfortable than the life of a Mandalorian about to come of age, and she had sorely missed traveling about the city more than she had realized. But the apartment was quiet, palpably lacking in the ever-present drone of chatter of the Vod’tsad’s mess hall, or the sound of children at play outside. Her father asked if she was alright and she said yes. But she couldn’t help but feel a loneliness she hadn’t known before.

As she helped him stretch the sheet over his bed, she wondered if her father felt the same melancholy. The bed he slept on was meant for two. The brother who had slept by his side in a far smaller bed for nearly five years was gone. Surely he missed Broque as much as she did. He hardly ever talked about it.

As she lay down to sleep, she murmured the vigil she recited every night. “Ni su’cuyi, gar kyr’adyc.” I live, and you are gone. “Ni partayli, gar darasuum.” I remember, so you are eternal.

“Mama. Ba’vodu.”

Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she thought she could feel them standing over her. Neither her mother nor her uncle had been Mandalorians, but she liked to think they had become one with the manda all the same.

Leela’s thirteenth birthday arrived. Her loneliness increased. If she had still been at the morut, she would have been congratulated by friends and teachers, and preparing for her verd’goten ceremony. But she couldn’t let her father see that she was feeling a little down— it was her birthday.

That wasn’t to say it was a bad day at all. Though she could not celebrate with the other Mandalorians, her immediate family traditions had not changed much since leaving the morut. When she woke up she found that her father had made his best attempt at Leela’s own uj’alayi recipe, just like they used to eat at Broque’s hut. She got out an extra plate and set a piece of uj cake on it. Ether did not have to ask who it was for.

Ether gave Leela a number of presents. Many of them were books. Two thick volumes covering the High Republic Era and the history of space travel. A box set of an intriguing-looking popular fantasy series. An omnibus containing the collected stageplays of Wordo Shivrestav. A brand-new holodiary.

Leela also received an agger set, which her father spent the morning teaching her to play. Each player constructed a defense from various pieces and pawns, with the object being to capture the opponent’s general. Certain pieces represented soldiers, other pieces walls and weapons. The values of each piece were unknown to the opponent until they made contact with one of their own. Though it initially appeared complex, Leela grasped it quickly, and by noon, she was presenting quite a challenge.

“You won’t capture my knight so easily,” Ether remarked, moving a spy pawn to cut off Leela’s attack. Leela proceeded forward and captured the sacrificial pawn, undeterred.

“Gotten through my defenses, have you?” Ether raised an eyebrow and moved an explosive piece to meet Leela’s commander. “You may want to rethink your strategy.”

Leela considered this, then retreated. “Very well then. I’ll take this piece.” She moved in on a pawn of Ether’s she had trapped on her side of the board, removing it.

“Well, then I suppose there’s no point in keeping this one,” Ether replied, pointing to a piece of Leela’s he had maneuvered into a similar position.

“So take it,” Leela replied. “He’s only a spy.”

“Later,” Ether waved. He counted up his fallen pawns. “Let’s see… I’ll trade for this one.” He removed five pawns from his side of the board, exchanging them for a single bruiser from his reserve.

Leela glanced at her own reserve and grinned. She exchanged her commander pawn for a cannon piece.

Now I’m in trouble,” Ether smirked wryly.

Leela grinned. “I fire here. ”

“No luck,” Ether replied. “That’s an eight-point barrier piece. My archer fires here.

“Seven-point barrier piece.”


Leela sighed and exchanged her cannon piece for a ballista. “I fire again, same spot.”

“Ah.” Ether removed the barrier piece, suddenly less confident. Leela grinned. Ether began moving a different barrier piece from the left side as Leela removed more and more layers of his defense. Eventually, he was able to move the barrier into Leela’s line of fire, blocking it. “It’s a ten-point.”

Leela chewed her lip sourly and began advancing several pawns in succession, which Ether’s archers picked off summarily. They both began to run low on pawns, though Ether, who had placed most of his strategy in defensive resources, had not had many to begin with. He moved an obscure piece one space forward in an effort to infiltrate Leela’s camp.

“I saw that,” Leela smirked. “My archer fires there.”

“You can’t do that,” Ether protested.

“I just did.”

Ether sighed and kneaded his eye sockets.

Eventually, Ether was forced to fall back. He took the spy piece he had surrounded and handed it to Leela. She looked at him with surprise. “You’re not going to capture him?”

“No point, really.”

“What’s the point in giving him back? You won’t get an exchange from it.”

“I need space to reorganize my fortifications,” Ether shrugged, rearranging his severely depleted barrier pieces around a smaller point of defense. “I’m not going to waste a move on capturing him.”

Leela shrugged and placed the piece at the back of her camp. “Still doesn’t make sense, but okay. I fire here. ”

“My knight!” Ether cried. Now he was down to three pawns. He removed the captured knight and began moving his bruiser toward the opposite side of the board.

“You’re going to try and save him?” Leela smirked. “I wouldn’t waste your moves. I’m about the capture your general.”

“That’s exactly why I’m trying to rescue him,” Ether replied. “I can’t win the game, but I can at least get that knight back before you beat me.”

Leela captured Ether’s general the moment the knight was back on the board. “See?” Ether co*cked his head. “You got your spy back, and I got my knight back.”

“I didn’t care about the spy,” Leela replied. “He’d served his purpose.”

“Well, that’s the first time you’ve beaten me,” Ether grinned, standing up. “A well-earned victory indeed. Congratulations. What do you say we go to the holotheater?”

The holotheater was showing a film in the Paladin franchise entitled The Rogue’s Tale, chronicling a mercenary’s rise to power over a wild and barbaric kingdom. Halfway through the film, the narrative pivoted to follow the training of a young squire, whose mentor was apparently the main character from the original Paladin saga. Leela heard some girls her age in the row in front of her whispering about how dreamy the mentor character was. Leela found herself oddly perturbed at the idea of finding him attractive, despite his handsome features. She later learned that the character’s face had been holographically altered to resemble the actor’s appearance when he had filmed the third Paladin holomovie decades prior, and supposed the artificial hologram was what had made her feel strange about it.

They went to the park next, the one they had gone to often when they’d lived at the Elephant House. Ether, it seemed, no longer felt the need to wait until almost after sunset to visit the park, though it was fairly late in the afternoon. Leela didn’t realize until they arrived how much she had missed the place. Not once in all her years at the morut had she been back. She felt a little better about having left.

She sketched a dackler in her holodiary, watching them float on the water quacking. She didn’t have much experience drawing, but she felt she would like to get better at it. She showed her father, who was much more impressed with her efforts than she was. She sensed he was not merely humoring her, either. A curious dacklering wandered up to her. She showed it the result of her sketching. It waddled off without much response, causing Leela to laugh. Her father chuckled contentedly as they watched the dacklering rejoin its playmates at the pond.

As the sun went down, they stopped on the way home for ice cream. As Leela approached the door to the apartment, she saw a docupad lying on the floor. Curiously, she picked it up and handed it to her father.

Ether switched it on. “‘Dear Mr. Broque…’”

After a while, Leela nudged him. “What does it say?”

Ether’s hand trembled. “‘You are hereby notified that you have been legally conscripted into the service of the Galactic Empire.’”

Chapter 4: New Trappings


Apologies for the delay! This chapter was... not well-fleshed out in my outline. But I'm pretty happy with the result!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

When Ether Broque purchased a residence at Rampart Apartments, he had been required to list his full name, date of birth, species, chain code, and other various pieces of information that had not been required by Zoe Gurbo— at least in writing. Rampart Apartments, however, was not so discreet. Having fallen through the cracks in the Imperial census on account of having not existed five years previously, hewas promptly registered on Pasir’s database. His citizenship being made official, it was not long before he was selected for mandatory service— hence, the datapad letter Ether and Leela found returning home that night.

Ether’s conscription posed quite a problem. As a single parent, he would be leaving Leela alone for the duration of his training until she could join him at the base. The prospect of prolonged separation caused no small amount of anxiety to both of them. In light of this dilemma, Ether decided to obtain a nanny droid.

His choice of model was unconventional, to say the least.

“Leela, meet 22-N.”

Leela stared at the towering security droid before her. The droid stared back with warm yellow eyes. It looked like something out of a wartime period piece. A broad metal crest ran along the top of its head. Vaguely jowl-shaped curves framed its vocabulator grille. Its plating was brown except for its chestplate, which was khaki, giving the impression that someone had painted an apron on a piece of archaic military equipment. “She’ll be taking care of you while I’m in basic training.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mistress Leela,” said 22-N, extending her hand. “You may call me Twos, if you wish.”

“Nice to meet you, Twos.” Leela shook the droid’s hand. “You’re going to be my nanny droid?”

“Correct, Mistress Leela,” Twos affirmed. “I have been programmed with all the necessary functions of childcare.”

Whytoo wheeled up to the new arrival with a low trill.

“I am 22-N, and I am not a museum exhibit, so I will thank you not to refer to me as such again,” Twos replied severely. “And what is your designation?”

Whytoo beeped.

“You would do well to respect your elders, Y2W7-LT0,” Twos said, folding her arms. “Master Ether is putting me in charge of this household for the time being.”

Whytoo chirped quietly.

“That’s better,” Twos nodded approvingly.

“You want a tour of the apartment?” asked Leela.

“Yes, that would do nicely,” Twos agreed.

The tour was brief. Ether sat on Leela’s bed at the end of it while Twos set to work on minor housekeeping tasks. “It’ll only be for a little while,” he promised. “I know it’ll be hard. But they’ll let you come live with me soon, and then we’ll be together for the rest of my service.”

Leela nodded. There was a lump in her throat, but she wouldn’t let him see her cry. She knew this was hard for him. She didn’t want to make it harder. She smiled bravely. “I know. I’m not worried.”

“Good.” He seemed a little surprised. “Because I know—“

“You won’t see combat,” said Leela.

“You sound sure of it.”

“I am,” said Leela. “It’s just a local garrison.”

“I’m glad you’re not afraid.”

“Are you?”

Ether shook his head. “Of course not. I just know how much you’ll miss me.”

She touched his arm. “Don’t worry about me, buir’ika.”

Ether brought her into a hug. One of the last he would give her for a long while.

He reported to the facility for a physical the week following.

“Please remove all outer clothing,” the medical droid instructed.

Ether slid off his boots and shed his coat. Without a pouch of credits in every pocket, it seemed to float to the floor as lightly as a leaf. His sweater came over his head, untucked the black tunic now visible and unfastened it. Finally, he dropped his trousers and peeled off his socks.

He looked to the droid and tugged questioningly at the front of his undershirt, an off-white garment that was somewhere in between a sando and a poncho. The droid nodded. With a little hesitation, he lifted the garment from his shoulders.

The droid took a blood sample as a scanner arm descended from the ceiling. A yellow grid flickered up and down Ether’s body. The medical droid examined Ether’s frame. “You appear to be in excellent condition, though you appear significantly older than our records indicate.”

“That’s good to hear,” Ether replied gruffly as the droid approached the computer terminal to view the results of the diagnostic scan.

“You would make an excellent soldier,” said the droid. “We do not require you in that capacity, but should you wish to volunteer, you would make an excellent candidate.”

“I wasn’t drafted as a stormtrooper?” Ether furrowed his brow.

“Oh, no,” the droid replied. “Soldiers are selected between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five standard years of age. Selected individuals over the age of thirty-five are assigned to technical roles within the military.”

“So I won’t see combat.” Leela will be relieved to hear that.

“You won’t be carrying a blaster, if that is what you mean.” The droid looked down at the computer. “Curious. Your diagnostic scan is more consistent with a human of over sixty standard years than one of fifty-one.”

“It should be,” Ether frowned. “I’m not fifty-one.”

“You aren’t?” The droid tilted its head. “Then obviously there has been a clinical error. How old are you in standard years?”

“Sixty.” Ether prayed three extra years wouldn’t raise suspicion.

“Then you should be exempt from conscription,” the droid replied.

“So I can walk out of here.” Ether’s shoulders relaxed.

The droid pressed the intercom button. “Lieutenant?”

“What is it?”

“There’s a man here whose age was listed incorrectly on his file.”

In cases such as that of Ether Broque, there were many outcomes. In the one, the would-be conscript was promptly released. In others, the conscript was pressed into service regardless. Ether’s case was between these two.

“How old is he?” asked the lieutenant.

“Sixty, sir.”

“Hm,” the lieutenant mused. “Well, let’s not waste him. Put him in the reserves.”

“Yes, sir.” The droid released the com button. “Well, Mr. Broque, the good news is, you will be able to go home.”

Twos was very surprised to see Ether return home at the end of the day. “Master Ether! Did they grant you leave already?”

“Well…” Ether began.

Leela bounded into the room. “Papa!”

He caught her in a wampa hug. “They put me in the reserves,” he explained as he squeezed her tight.

“What does that mean, Papa?” asked Leela.

“It means I report to the garrison every morning for training,” said Ether, “and come home late at night. After my training is completed, I’ll be able to live at home full time unless they call me into service.”

“How wonderful, Papa!” Leela beamed. “Isn’t that lucky?”

“Yes, very,” Ether agreed.

Ether was, indeed, luckier than most. Across the galaxy, the Empire used a variety of service standards. Had he been conscripted in the Lothal sector, for instance, he would have found himself donning stormtrooper armor. In the Corvair sector, he would have been subject to indoctrination which rivaled that of the greatest Imperial academies. It was fortunate, then, that he was only placed in the reserves, and in a technical role; had he been conscripted elsewhere, it would have been likely that he would have seen combat.

During the period of Ether’s training, Leela began to explore new hobbies in his daytime absence. Her interests were sprawling; she pursued a plethora of pastimes.

She took up the valachord. She learned the entirety of her favorite opera, Herald of the King's Decline, on the instrument, and taught herself to play many traditional Mandalorian songs. She took up holopainting, illustrating scenes from her favorite works of literature, including Remoh’s Yrphaxia, Samud’s Du Koontha di Mondo Boonta, Larrock’s Elphra on Oddworld, and the Mandalorian stageplay Dralgemas bal Keldabad, on which Shivrestav’s Turhaya and Corellio was based.

Holopainting led quite naturally into fashion, given the amount of research her compositions entailed. Clothing styles of many kinds appealed to her passion for design, from middle-class High Republic garb, to pre-Imperial senatorial wear, from Mandalorian aristocratic styles to Outer Rim agricultural trappings.

In light of her budding interest in fashion design, Leela felt it was time to cultivate her personal wardrobe, now that she was thirteen years old. Ether gave Twos permission to take her shopping while he was off at training.

“This is somewhat outside of my parameters, but orange doesn’t seem to be your color, does it, Mistress Leela?” Twos remarked as Leela dubiously twirled the dress she was considering.

Leela grimaced in agreement, looking at her waist. “Does the sash help?”

“Marginally,” Twos replied. “At least as far as my color processing matrices can evaluate.”

Leela removed the umber obi from around her waist. “Okay, so keep this, then.”

Leela was wholly unsatisfied with the selection of dresses in the outlet. They were all too modern and plain for her taste; the dresses she longed to wear were elegant, evocative, far more suited to formal occasions. “Honestly, not a hint of gold pattern trim in this department!” If she was going to wear a dress, she wanted to look like High Republic nobility.

Leela decided two things; one, that she would visit the fabric store and learn to sew her own pieces, and two, that her everyday wear would take a different approach. She decided they would go to a thrift shop for a change of pace.

“You look like a farmer,” Twos remarked as Leela presented her new outfit.

“In a cute way or a frumpy way?” Leela chuckled nervously, adjusting the belt.

“It’s an aesthetic improvement over some of the monstrosities you tried on before,” Twos replied frankly. “The brown brings out your eyes. Only, are you sure it’s not too much brown?”

Leela considered her ensemble in the mirror; an unadorned brown voylan, a light brown knee-length wrap tunic with cap sleeves, fastened with an elastic obi and a leather belt, with matching trousers tucked into brown leather boots. “I need more sashes.”

A sash over each shoulder, plus a cloak, and Leela had found her new style.

Ether returned home later that evening. Leela was still getting used to seeing him in uniform, in that strange black underbite helmet worn by Imperial technicians. Though his sleeves and chestplate were slightly too small, he seemed already accustomed to the confinement of a uniform. Leela was anxious to show him her new look as well. “What do you think, Papa?”

“Is… is that a tabard?” Ether sputtered, eyes widening in the slit of his visor.

“It’s a wrap tunic,” Leela replied.

“I meant over the tunic,” said Ether. He looked her up and down. “Did… did you walk out of the store dressed like this?”

“Do you like it, Papa?” Leela chewed her lip anxiously. She couldn't read his expression from his eyes alone.

Ether seemed to hesitate. “I’m not sure about the hood.”

“But Papa, I’m not even wearing the hood,” Leela pointed out.

“I just don’t know if it’s… appropriate,” Ether coughed. “Cloaks have certain connotations in this part of the Outer Rim.”

“They do?” Leela co*cked her head. “I used to see cloaks all the time back on Monderon.”

“At the Tarkays’ inn,” Ether nodded. “And what kind of people did you usually see there?”

Leela chewed her lip. “I suppose that’s true.”

“Cloaks are better for evening wear,” Ether explained. “If you go around sporting a hooded robe in public, people might mistake you for a Je…”

Leela’s earcones flushed blue. “…g-general nuisance,” Ether finished, clearing his throat.

“Oh! Y-yes!” Leela cleared her throat as well. “I suppose you’re right, Papa. I’ll go hang this back up, shall I?”

“I’m just trying to keep you safe,” Ether reassured her. “I don’t think it looks bad.”

“No, of course not, Papa!” Leela smiled, to show it didn’t bother her.

As she went to put away her cloak, Ether remarked to Twos, “Are all her new clothes brown?”

“Many of them, yes,” Twos replied. “I think it matches well with her eyes.”

“Indeed it does,” Ether murmured. He had still not removed his helmet. “I just wonder at her dressing all in the same color. Has she considered dark blue, or orange?”

“Oh yes, Mistress Leela experimented with several colors,” said Twos. “Blue suits her well. Orange, however…”

Leela purchased a sewing machine and pored over holotutorials for hours on end each day, sketching her dream dresses as she practiced and practiced her craft. She continued to shop at least once a week, keeping an eye out for interesting fabrics and patterns to use in her projects. One day at the thrift shop, she happened upon an egg-shaped gold ornament, about the size of her hand, exquisite in its intricate craftsmanship despite its slight tarnish. Twos found her holding it in her hands, staring at it, tracing the engraved patterns with her thumb. “Mistress Leela, are you alright?”

Leela wiped her eyes. “Yes, I’m fine,” she said, handing the ornament to Twos. “Let’s buy this and go to Arvel’s Textiles. I’m going to need purple silk for this project.”


Ether's new uniform looks something like this.

Chapter 5: Space Unwasted

Chapter Text

It is here (here being about sixteen years into the reign of the Empire) that we introduce a little Weequay boy who had a Weequay name. The reason his Weequay moniker is of note is because his mother had bestowed non-Weequay names upon his sisters. She had sought to bequeath her children with high-class, Core names that were popular among senators’ children. Thus, the elder children received Atrisian names. But the latter child was not esteemed worthy of a name. In truth, his parents had turned to romance out of boredom and found little relief in it, and the news of his arrival was received with an even greater measure of dispassion. Though they were loath to welcome a fifth mouth to feed, they could not monetarily afford the procedure to cancel his advent; their disappointment was compounded when he was born male.

The Weequay child did not, to be strictly accurate, receive an actual name as I first led you to believe. Rather, he spent much of his seven years with no name, except for an indirect disparaging epithet— which, however, being from the Sriluurian tongue, technically constituted a more properly Weequay name than the antiquated Human names his older sisters received. The word was qualdo. Translated rather charitably, it means nuisance. An accurate translation, when used to describe any child, would almost warrant the involvement of protective services by its utterance alone. It began to be used so often that it might as well have been a name, but as of yet, the child had not been asked for it by anyone. He did possess a surname, which was Banquo, but there was never occasion for him to use that, either.

Being unwanted by his family, the Banquo child would often wander from his home, which happened to be an apartment hovel on the first floor of a rundown complex that once stood on the corner of Sans Nom and Trill Besh Dorn before being torn down some twenty-odd standard years ago. It was the Banquo child’s habit to leave and return as he pleased; his spoken vocabulary around the household mainly consisted of one word, equally applicable to both questions, “The hell have you been?” and “The hell are you going?” The word was “nenoleeya,” meaning “out.”

One day, he returned home ready to answer that customary question, only to find there was nobody to ask it. “Achuta!”

There was no response.

The boy checked the bedroom and found no one. “Kickeeyuna bunky dunko?” He looked in the refresher, which was empty. He shrugged and sat on the bed, which was little more than a plasteel slab with a thin, peeling mattress stitched to the top. Evidently the Banquos were out on some errand. This was not an unusual occurrence, so he elected to wait for them to return. In the meantime, he struck up a little song, which he performed for the desolate house:

Coo sa unko,
Bunky dunko?
Solo jee? Solo jee?
Konchee mikiyuna?
Stuka kickeeyuna?
Solo jee, solo jee

The boy’s parents did not return at sunset, nor his siblings, so he made himself comfortable on their bed, pulling the ratty sheet over himself. He had always been made to sleep on the floor, preferably in the other room where he was out of sight. Though the bed could only accommodate two people comfortably, it seemed quite spacious to him, and much cushier than the hard floor. He yawned and waited for his family to return and banish him to the other room. Sunlight seeping through the blinds awakened him to a still-empty house.

By now his stomach was rumbling quite a bit. Ordinarily he would have popped into town to snatch some breakfast out of a waste receptacle or some other such place, but with his family absent, the conservator was fair game. He opened the door to the struggling machine, to be greeted by a gust of lukewarm air. He surveyed his options, withdrew a package of something interesting-looking and shut the conservator again. When he had peeled it from the packaging and devoured it, he found it very bland. He was tempted to go for seconds, but he knew that this would not be looked upon favorably by his family, who needed to eat as well, whenever it was they would get back.

Days passed and the conservator’s supply was quickly exhausted. The boy’s family had not yet returned. By now he was beginning to suspect that he had the house all to himself. It was not a disagreeable prospect, except that he was getting hungry. The only neighbor on his floor (he did not know how to work the lift) was a certain independent businessman who slept during the day and delivered his wares by night. It was a simple matter to enter his apartment and pilfer from his conservator, though the boy rather disliked the smell of the place, which made his head ache, and did not enter it any more than he had to.

After a standard week, the landlord poked his head into the apartment, believing it to be uninhabited, found himself mistaken, and corrected his error. By this encounter the boy learned that the Banquos had been six months behind on rent and skipped out to escape their debts. Now in need of a new residence, he went out into the city to search for one.

He was not overly concerned with locating a new place of residence all at once; he had all day to find shelter. Therefore his search was conducted in the form of a leisurely stroll, with that objective in the back of his mind rather than the front. He found a pligeon pecking at a polystarch roll and chased it away. It was a meager, dry lunch, but it suited him just fine.

There was, on the other side of town, an old communications tower that had been abandoned for some time. When the boy came across it, he decided to poke around. The first obstacle was the door, which opened only about a third of the way. He pressed the button to close the door and it slid shut. Pressing the button again, however, still only allowed the door to open partway. He pushed the button repeatedly, watching the door move back and forth, never opening any wider than a third. Eventually, the button stopped working, producing only a sputter and a futile whine. The door was stuck in the same position as he had found it, only now there was no closing it. He jabbed the button rapidly a few more times just to hear the whine, then squeezed inside.

By the light from the cracked doorway he could see the room in which he found himself contained a desk with old discarded radio equipment on it and a central column, on the front side of which was another door. This door, at least, worked. Stepping into the column, he discovered that he was inside of a turbolift. There was only one button inside, labeled with two triangles facing up and down, which he pressed.

The door shut, plunging him into alarming darkness. The boy quivered suddenly as a strange physical sensation overtook him. The sensation was of going up.

The door opened once again, but to a different view. This room was much more spacious and had a ring of small windows, too high to look out of, but enough to let in a little light. The boy realized that he had just learned how to use a turbolift, and spent several seconds deliberating between stepping into the new room or riding the turbolift up and down a few more times. The illuminator strips in the ceiling flickered on as he settled on the former and triggered the motion sensor.

Making a full sweep of the perimeter, he found another desk, this one with a switchboard built into it, as well as a hovering swivel chair, which he used to traverse through the rest of the rotunda; there was a mostly-empty machine with a handful of snacks in it, which he could not get open but resolved to make another attempt; there were some empty crates under a tarp, a hologame table that seemed to still be functioning, and an old pilot’s helmet sitting on the board. The boy picked up the helmet, strapped it onto his little head, and grinned as he surveyed his new quarters. He could make something out of this.

And so, as Ezra Bridger before him (though that name would not have been known to this boy or the galaxy at large at this time,) the young child made his roost in a forsaken comms tower.

The boy found that he was able to arrange the crates into the rough shape of a sofa, covering it with the tarp and discovering an additional tarp folded in the corner which he could use for a blanket. The hard crates did not seem uncomfortable in the least; he had a bed of his own now, an entire tower to himself. A boy could not have asked for a finer castle— nor, he thought, as he pulled the helmet’s goggles over his eyes, a better crown.

The next day, he returned to the puzzle of the snack machine with no success; he would have to find or fashion some tools with which to pry off the front of the box and obtain the treasures behind its transparisteel. So the lad took to the streets once more in search of a meal. While embarking on his quest, who did he chance to spy but his eldest sister? A surprise, to be certain, but not an unwelcome one. He laid low and kept out of her sight, the better to follow her as she went about her errands and, eventually, led him to the Banquos’ new residence, in case he should ever fancy a visit. He had a place of his own now, but he felt it uncharitable to sever ties with his flesh and blood altogether. Though he had often slipped out the door in response to their grumbling and griping, it had not yet entered the child’s conscious mind that the Banquos might have preferred never to see him again.

The boy’s sister led him to a grand structure indeed, or so it seemed to him. It was a squat, three-story building with a sign that he couldn’t read, but had a picture of a large blue creature with a long nose on the front. The boy thought it a rather majestic creature, whatever it was. He should have liked to have adorned his new quarters with the image of such a beast, if only he possessed the requisite artistic resources.

The boy had still not achieved his quest for breakfast, so he continued on, making note of where he might find his old family should the need arise. Later in the evening he was able to compile a set of tools from the clutter at the base of his tower, and open the snack box. This spared him the trouble of hunting for food for several days, allowing him to focus entirely on reconnaissance. For days, he sat hidden by the house of the long-nosed creature, observing the four members of his family enter and exit its doors. It was mostly his two sisters who went out, sometimes together, sometimes alone. Sometimes he would follow the older, sometimes the younger of the two. He was not sure of their business. Curiosity on this front was eventually what prompted him to saunter into the apartment and begin knocking on doors.

The first door he knocked on was answered by an individual who vaguely resembled the creature depicted on the sign. “Can I help you?” she asked from the top of a chair not unlike the one the boy had found up in the tower, only taller.

“I’m lookin’ for my family,” the boy replied. “I saw ‘em go in ‘ere.”

“Oh, you’re with them? The long-nosed lady scrutinized him with her small, lidless eyes. “Thought there was only four of them. You their cousin or something?”

“Choy?” The boy co*cked his head at the unfamiliar word. In fairness, he would not know the Huttese equivalent, either.

“Whatever.” The lady waved her fingered foot. “They’re up in Room 201.”

“Thank’ye kindly, sir,” said the boy, tugging the brim of his helmet with a toothy grin in imitation of his father. The door closed and the boy turned toward the lift. He strutted in and found the device more complicated than the one in his tower. He decided to press every button, just in case.

Eventually, through trial and error, he found Room 201. The door was answered by his sister— the younger of the two. Her lip curled. “Qualdo’s back.”

“‘Ello, Portia,” said the qualdo brightly as he sauntered inside.

“The ‘ell ‘ave you been?” his father grunted with a burp from the corner of the room, a half-empty bottle in hand.

“Nenoleeya,” the boy shrugged. He spotted a blue bed that looked much nicer than the one from their old apartment and flopped down on it.

“Oi! Keep off!” Banquo barked. “S’not yours, you little brat.”

The boy hopped off the bed and stuck out his tongue. His father shot up in a rage, but decided against standing when his legs nearly gave out from under him. “Chesko, peedunkee,” he slurred warningly.

“Nice place you got,” the boy whistled.

Banquo cast his eyes about the filthy gray walls and downed the rest of the bottle.

Presently, the older of his two sisters, the one he had followed to discover his family’s whereabouts, walked through the door, saw him, and groaned. “Missed ya too, Dezzymona,” the boy grinned.

“Kee baatu baatu, u minkee qualdo,” his sister snapped.

“Oi chuba,” Banquo slurred. “Desdemona. Du makacheesa, ateema.”

She pulled at the waist of her skirt and drew a wallet from inside a hidden pocket. She tossed it to her father, whose bloodshot eyes lit up.

Banquo’s face fell when he opened the wallet. “This all?”

Portia glanced at her. The older girl fished a few credcoins from her pocket, walked over to her father and dropped them into his hand. He wrinkled his nose. “S’pose you want us to starve.”

“No!” she insisted desperately. “Am-i…”

“Stow it. S’not gonna work on me.” Banquo muttered, holding up the wallet with disgust and pocketing it. He took a sip and, realizing the bottle was empty, groaned and lolled his head against the wall.

The mother Banquo soon returned with a bag of joganfruits in her apron. The girls each snatched one greedily. A jogan was lobbed in his father’s general direction, bouncing off his head.

The boy beamed at his mother expectantly. “Hi chuba da naga?” she asked rudely, taking a forceful bite out of her jogan, fist clenched around the bag.

His lips thinned into a scowl. Then he shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage.

He waited until his mother had set the bag down, swiped two jogans for himself, and slipped out the door. “That’s enough o’ them,” he declared as he returned to his own residence, munching on a joganfruit.

The next day, he went out into town again. Somehow, the city was even more exciting now that he was on his own, from the speeders and hovercarriages, to the boats on the Sidon, to the sights and smells of the marketplace.

He was just about to turn the street corner when he heard a familiar voice.

“This is all I ‘ave, I swear.”

A scornful, jabbering reply made the boy poke his head into the alley where the exchange was taking place. A small hooded figure stood pointing a vibro-knife at a frail Weequay teenager. Portia. “Look, I don’t speak that, alright?”

The hooded figure flicked a switch on the knife, making the blade hum.

The boy picked up a loose rock and hurled it. “Oi, chuba ya!”

The stone struck the diminutive individual’s shoulder. They whirled around, glowing eyes burning red.

His sister kicked the mugger as hard as she could, knocking him down and making him lose his grip on his weapon. She stomped on her accoster, kicked the knife away, and kicked the mugger again. Then she ran, leaving her attacker moaning gibberish. “You’re welcome,” the boy muttered, watching his sister flee the scene without a word of acknowledgement. He tried to approach the hooded mugger to claim his knife, but the fumbling thief’s fingers found their grip on the handle again, and the boy decided to hasten from the vicinity before the robber could rise to his feet.

Eventually, he got to what he hoped was a safe distance and resumed his morning stroll. As he had still not cracked open the snack machine, and he’d eaten his last jogan, his stomach began to growl. Having been in this situation before, he turned to the garbage. He reached his hand inside a waste receptacle and fumbled for something edible. His hand came up empty; there was no food, only empty containers, discarded flimsiplast and flimsiboard, and a small sack that felt promising until he smelt it and realized it was pet waste. With a sigh, he let the metal flap swing shut. His eye wandered toward a sausage stand nearby. He got an idea and reached back into the can.

He sauntered up to the stand. “Goodiddy load-ya, sir, what ‘ave we ‘ere?”

The vendor crossed his upper arms, wattle inflating. “Ya got credits, kid?”

“What do I look like?” The boy rolled his eyes and produced a little bag. “Whaddaya got?”

“Sausage,” the vendor grunted. “Ya want it on a stick or in a bun?”

“Stick, if ya don’t mind,” the boy grinned. “Gimme the works.”

“You got it.” The vendor’s hands flew, sticking cubes of meats of all kinds onto the skewer. The boy watched with fascination, though he was too short to see exactly what the vendor was doing. When he was finished, the vendor produced the most delicious-looking kebab the boy had ever seen in his life.

The boy snatched it eagerly. “Hey!” the vendor barked. “You gotta pay for that!”

The boy tossed the bag on the counter. “Keep the change.”

He didn’t think he’d ever run so fast in his life.

He slumped against an alley wall with his delicious prize. The exhilaration of what he had just done began to sink in. He hadn’t filched this from the conservator while his family was asleep. He hadn’t nicked it from the dumpster or found it on the ground. He hadn’t swiped it off a diner table when the customer had gone to use the vacc tube. This was his first con.

He sucked a cube off the stick, reveling in his cleverness, the meat’s juices flowing around his tongue.

“That’ssss a tasty-lookin’ ssssssssssnack,” a voice hissed. “Wanna ssssshare?”

The boy looked up. A Trandoshan lad ran his tongue across his pointed teeth in a grin. He snatched the kebab from the Weequay’s hand.

“Gimme that!” the younger boy yelled. The Trandoshan boy held it over his head, cackling raspily. The younger boy kicked him in the shin.

“Ow! Why you little—” The Trandoshan snarled and lunged for him. The two boys wrestled for the kebab. The Weequay boy tugged at it, smearing his palm with grease as he tried to fend off the other boy’s swiping claws.

By some miracle, the Weequay boy managed to get the kebab free. Quickly as he could, he yanked off a mouthful of meat. “No you don’t!” the Trandoshan kid roared. His claws shot out for the remainder of the kebab, but the boy jabbed the point of the skewer into his palm. The Trandoshan howled and clenched his fist. His slit pupils grew thinner. “Oh, you’ve done it now, kid.”

The kebab went flying from the Weequay boy’s hands. The Trandoshan brandished his claws with a long, low snarl.

“‘Elp!” the boy shouted. “‘Elp me!”

As he tried to wriggle out from under the Trandoshan, he saw Portia standing frozen outside the alley, watching them. “Port, ‘opa!” he screamed.

His sister averted her gaze and began to walk away. “Nobata!” he pleaded. “Boska, ‘opa jee!”

A clawed hand pulled him by the ankle. The Trandoshan forced him face up and lifted the goggles from his eyes. He held his claws above the boy’s face. “I’m gonna teach you a lesson, kid.”

“‘E’s not worth it.”

The Trandoshan looked up. The boy craned his neck to see his sister standing over them. “Ssssssssstay out of thisssssss,” the Trandoshan warned.

“Leave ‘im alone,” she insisted, voice quavering slightly. She balled her fists.

The Trandoshan considered his options. The girl was much older than him, and taller. Scrawny, but so was he. He bared his teeth, hissing. She hesitated, but raised her fists.

The Trandoshan rose to his feet. While his victim rose to his, the Trandoshan picked up the kekab and fled with it.

The Weequays watched the coward run, scowling. “Poodoo,” the boy spat.

“Tough luck,” Portia agreed.

“Thanks,” said the boy after a while.

“You’re welcome, qualdo.”

If she had known the antipathy that word truly conveyed, she might not have used it. But neither her nor either of her siblings knew what an ugly thing a qualdo is to call a little child. Their parents had not bothered to teach them the language from which it sprang, so they repeated it with ignorance. In that moment, it was all but divorced from its vituperative definition.

Qualdo thought it had as good a ring to it as any.

He turned around to see his sister had slunk off again. “Guess they ain’t all bad.”

His growling stomach remained empty. He found a credpiece on the ground, but attempting to spend it in a diner, he found it was worth only two credits. He pocketed it and returned to his tower.

The first thing Qualdo set about to was opening the snack machine to appease his growing hunger. He grabbed some tools on his way up that he might be able to use to pry it open.

As he inspected the apparatus, searching for a way to access its contents, he noticed a little slot, and it occurred to him that the slot was credcoin-sized. He slid the coin into it.

Immediately, the small display lit up, displaying that he had deposited 2.00 credits. Being illiterate, he did not understand this message, but he knew he had done something to activate the machine. He pressed two buttons at random.

A bag detached from the rack and fell from view. Qualdo stuck his hand under the flap and withdrew it. A grin spread across his face. So the machine accepted money in exchange for food. If he saved up the loose change he found on the ground, he could eat like a Moff— for a few days, at least.

A clinking sound interrupted him. Five decicreds had fallen from a dispenser into a small tray. Qualdo scooped up the coins wonderingly, then realized the machine had given him change. That meant there were more credits inside the machine.

The hydrospanner made a poor crowbar, but Qualdo was eventually able to pry open the machine and expose the cache of precious credits. His eyes grew wide as they spilled out onto the floor.

Qualdo found a bag and scooped up all the credits. He placed another credit into the slot, which yielded another snack. The credit fell right into the open collection system. Qualdo picked it back up with a grin. Now his food was free.

Qualdo did not know the value of each coin, but thought perhaps he could determine them by putting them through the vending machine. It would have been a remarkably intelligent idea, but his age and illiteracy proved insurmountable obstacles to his calculations, and he was forced to give it up; by the time there were no more snacks in the machine, he was no more enlightened about the value of his currency than before. Still, he supposed he was very rich.

A twinge came to him as he held the bag of credits in his hands. He thought of the vendor he had given a sack of dung to. The vendor hadn’t done anything to him. Even though the trick had been necessary, it still felt profoundly mean, now that the thrill of the mischief was gone. Qualdo resolved to make it up.

The sun was just beginning to descend when he returned to the sausage vendor, whose throat sac ballooned to its fullest when he spotted him. “YOU!”

“Sorry about that trick,” said Qualdo, pulling out a handful of credits from his pockets. “‘Ere, take these.”

The vendor did not appear grateful. He rushed out from behind his stall and grabbed the boy by the arm. “You little scrumrat!”

“Ow! Ow! Let me go!” The vendor’s hands were bigger than Qualdo’s head. The credcoins clattered to the ground as he struggled.

“Police!” the vendor bellowed. “Police!”

A group of patrol troopers walking past turned and walked up to the vendor holding the struggling boy. “What’s the problem here?”

“Arrest this boy,” he said, lifting Qualdo by the arm and scruff of his shirt with his right hands. “He’s a shoplifter.”

“Freeze, kid,” said one of the troopers.

The vendor dropped him. Qualdo was off like a blaster shot. “Hey! Hey!

The troopers gave chase. Qualdo fled frantically, heart pounding, dodging a passing speeder to cross the street. He heard blaster shots behind him.

He’d definitely never run this fast in his life.

Qualdo ducked into an alley and found a wall about twice his height, which he scaled and scampered over. He sprinted away as quietly as he could while the two troopers investigated the apparent dead end.

While Qualdo contemplated the minor miracle that the troopers had somehow not seen him disappear over the wall, he reflected on the ingratitude of the vendor. He’d paid him back, or tried to, so what was the problem? That was what his conscience had gotten him. No wonder nobody in his family had one.

Although on further reflection, he hadn’t been the only one to develop a conscience that day.

He left the rest of his credits outside the apartment door. The gift ultimately bypassed its intended recipient and went straight into their father’s pockets, but it was the thought that counted.

Chapter 6: Late-Paid Respects

Chapter Text

Apollon dropped his bag and flopped onto his dorm room bed. He’d had a very taxing day, what with final exams on the horizon. Political science and Old Tionese had been particularly challenging. He knew he should use the rest of the afternoon to study, but he was too exhausted to begin at present.

He decided to see if his father had sent him an h-message.

He stood up and went to the computer terminal.

When he had logged into his HoloNet account, he saw that his father had indeed written to him. The message read,

I miss you terribly, dear boy. It’s been very quiet around the manor without you here. Study hard, my boy. I look forward to your return to Tion. —Your loving father

Apollon smiled. Dear Father, I have almost completed my studies. I cannot wait to return home to Embaril and see you and Estia again. Rest assured, I am preparing diligently for my final exams. See you soon! —A.

He would have switched off the terminal and turned to his textbooks had another message not appeared onscreen mere moments after sending his reply.

The sender’s display name read thesorrowfulknight.

Intrigued, Apollon opened the message.

Apollon’s brow clouded as he read the letter.

My dear Apollon,

You may remember me from the funeral of Athene. If you receive this message, then that means I have correctly assumed that you are studying at the University of Pasir, where Athene once studied before her entry into the political sphere. I know that she would be proud of you for choosing to pursue your studies there. You must know this as well; I imagine that is why you have elected to study there instead of at Rudrig.

I write to you because I do not have long to live. There is something which I must tell you before I die. I am sure Ector has taken steps to turn you against me in the three years since our meeting. Know that I do not wish to fracture the relationship between you and him, or you and Estia. I only wish to see you before I become one with the Force. Please hear the dying words of an old man. I beg you to visit before it is too late. My address is No. 4 Viron Road, Cantipor, Deverant, in the Gallik system.


Apollon stared at the message. A hundred questions ran through his mind. How did Mahzun find his HoloNet address? How did he guess that Apollon would want to follow in his sister’s footsteps in attending her old university? Why resort to this obvious lie, that he was on the brink of death? What was this force he referred to and how was he to become one with it?

What was his game?

He read the message over and over without knowing why. After stewing on these perplexities, he replied curtly,

I don’t know how you got my HoloNet address, but please do not contact me ever again.

He hit send and switched off the terminal.

He turned to his studies to take his mind off the message. But the message still weighed upon his mind.

What if Mahzun really was dying?

I don’t care. Father said he almost made Athene leave the family. I don’t owe him anything.

His roommate returned in the late afternoon, and Apollon was able to distract himself by making conversation. Darvin hailed from Varsillee and came from a very wealthy family, although only his distant ancestors were nobility. He was quite the Clone War buff, something Apollon had considered himself to be until he listened to Darvin expound in great detail upon the specifications of Republic naval armaments during the Clone Wars. They went to the mess hall together when dinnertime arrived, where they continued to discuss galactic history— though, as usual, Apollon felt as though he had precious little insight to contribute to the conversation— then, once Darvin’s current topic had been exhausted, they returned to their dormitory and retired to bed.

Apollon found that without conversation to distract him, his mind could not be kept from the holomessage he had received. He could not keep the compulsion to go to Deverant at bay. Finally, he gave in and decided he would leave the next morning.

When Apollon awoke, he boarded a shuttle to Derevant. Public transit was new to him, and he did not particularly care for it, but the journey was brief. When he arrived on Deverant, he hailed a speeder to Cantipor, which turned out to be an exceptionally rural town several miles from the spaceport. Viron Road was a dirt path that diverged from the main road and went on for some time before arriving at a little gated cottage. The driver parked outside while Apollon knocked on the door.

Apollon blinked, then looked down. A diminutive, humpbacked individual stood in the doorway, leaning on a knobbed wooden cane. Apollon recognized him as a Pabchoni, surprised to meet one so far from the Tion Cluster. His long, J-shaped neck sagged low, giving the impression that his testudinal head was a deflating balloon on a string. A long, fan-shaped tail drooped behind him, reminding Apollon of a sad Jhantorian peaco*ck. “So you’ve come after all.”

“You know me?” asked Apollon, furrowing his brow.

“I’m afraid you’re too late,” said the man, bowing his faded yellow head. “He passed away this morning.”

The blood drained from Apollon’s face.

“Come in,” the old man ushered with a taloned hand. “He recorded a message for you before he passed.”

Apollon stepped inside. “My name is Koodo, by the way,” the old man said as he beckoned Apollon to the table, where an imagecaster sat next to a small memory chip.

Koodo took a seat and inserted the chip into the projector. A hologram of Mahzun laying in a bed flickered to life. His cropped hair had grown into long curls that cascaded around his ears, and he had dispensed with his beard in favor of a thick mustache, though his chin was heavily stubbled. The blue monochrome of the hologram did not accurately render Mahzun’s complexion, but even so, the fevered sallowness of his skin was startlingly apparent.

“Apollon,” said Mahzun, his voice hoarse, “my child, if you are watching this, that means I am no longer alive. I wanted, so desperately, to tell you these things in person, but perhaps I will not get that chance.”

A lump formed in Apollon’s throat. He didn’t.

“There is a story you should hear,” said Mahzun. “It is a story from before the rise of the Empire.”

Apollon leaned forward in spite of himself. Lord Kondric’s voice nagged in his head, telling him that Mahzun was about to spew forth some fantastic lies.

“There once was a Jedi Knight whose name was Unal Munir.” Mahzun coughed, his breath rattling.

Apollon did not know what a Jedi Knight was, but it sounded epic. His mind flashed to the legendary knights of Xim’s Table he’d read of in books, and to the stories Athene would tell him at night of demigods who roamed the galaxy vanquishing monsters.

“He was a…” Mahzun coughed again. “A diplomat. An ambassador for the Republic.”

Apollon’s imaginings became somewhat less grandiose.

“In the Republic’s twilight years, there began to be… discontent throughout the galaxy. The Separatist Crisis emerged, spearheaded by Count Dooku. The Jedi were sent to persuade disgruntled worlds to remain with the Republic. Unal Munir was dispatched… to Tion.”

Mahzun began to cough so violently, Apollon almost feared he would die in the middle of recording his message. “He met… a lady… on… Embaril… The daughter of a lord. They fell in love.”


Tears sprang to Apollon’s eyes. The Jedi Unal Munir… Mahzun… they were the same.

“I have told you this story before. The lady was Athene Kondric. We could not be together. The Jedi Order forbade marriage, and Lord Kondric would not have approved had he known, especially after Embaril joined the Separatists. So their relationship was a secret.” Mahzun— Munir— swallowed as tears filled his eyes. “But then… there came the child.”

A child. I have a nephew.

“Athene went to her father and confessed to everything. He forbade her from seeing Munir ever again. He took the child and claimed him as his own.”

Apollon’s stomach dropped.

Munir took a deep breath. “Apollon, this will be difficult to hear. It will reshape your very world. But Ector Kondric is not your father, and Athene is not your sister.”

“It can’t be…” Apollon’s voice was barely above a whisper. His entire frame quivered. “It’s not…”

Munir smiled. A warm, tearful smile. “Ector Kondric is your grandfather. Athene is your mother. And I… I am your father, Apollon.”


But it wasn’t. In an instant, Apollon’s life made sense.

“Father…” Apollon reached out and touched the hologram.

Unal Munir began to be racked with coughs. “There is… so much… I wish I could have told… you…” He hacked into his fist. “About your mother, about the war, about the Jedi… But even if you were here, I would not be able to tell everything there is to tell. I have only one thing to ask of you.”

Apollon nodded desperately. “Yes…” he pleaded hoarsely. “Anything…”

“On the final day of the war…” Munir gave a shuddering cough. “My life was saved at… Wotalu… by a man called… Tarkay. A Weequay. If you should ever find him, you must repay my debt to him… He must know of my gratitude.”

Apollon nodded. “Yes, Father,” he choked, eyes brimming with tears. “I will find him. I promise.”

“I’m so proud of you, my son…” Munir’s voice came faintly through his clogged throat, his breathing coming in wheezes. “I regret that I was only able to look upon you… once… with my own eyes. But do not mourn me… my son. Rejoice for me, for I transform into the Force. I will always… be with you. The Force… will always…”

Munir began to cough again. He coughed and coughed and coughed. He held up his hand. The recording stopped.

Apollon stared at the holoprojector as it switched off, tears trickling down his face. Suddenly, he buried his face in his hands, sobbing. “What have I done?”

“There, there, child.” Koodo laid his talons on Apollon’s elbow.

“I told him not to contact me ever again!” Apollon wailed. “Did… did he die thinking I wasn’t going to come? I… I wasn’t going to come!”

Apollon broke down fully, weeping into his arms. What have I done? What have I done? Why did I ever listen to what Father said about…


All his life, he’d been lied to. His father was his grandfather. His grandfather had kept him from his father all these years…

Athene was his mother.

She’d always been a mother to him.

“Athene…” he whispered. “Mother… Why didn’t you tell me?”

After a while, Apollon wiped his eyes and asked, “What is a Jedi?”

Koodo smiled. “Ah, I don’t suppose you would have grown up with the stories. The Jedi were once the peacekeepers of the galaxy, during the days of the Old Republic. Wherever there was a dispute, they would arrive to resolve the conflict. That was what your father did. Whenever there was a crisis, the Jedi would provide relief. Your father did that too. Whenever pirates or crime lords or terrible monsters preyed on innocents, the Jedi would fight them. From the stories I heard, you would think they were modern demigods. I know now that most of those stories were fiction or embellishment, but the stories that Unal told me… Your father was an incredible man, Apollon. I know that every word was true.”

Apollon’s heart began to burn. He wished even more desperately that he could have known the man his father was.

Koodo’s smile faded. “It was the war that was their undoing. At the last moment, Unal told me, the clones turned on them, killing hundreds of Jedi in an instant. He barely escaped with his life.”

“Because of the Weequay,” Apollon murmured. “Tarkay.”

Koodo nodded. “Tarkay found him washed up on the beach and brought him to Tion.”

“Is that when you met him?” asked Apollon reverently.

“Shortly after he arrived, I made his acquaintance,” Koodo smiled, folding his talons. “He would always come to the temple during service to watch you and Athene. He would sit at the back of the commoners’ box, where he could just see you. You were only one year old when he first arrived.”

“You’re a temple worker?” Apollon’s eyes widened.

“I was,” said Koodo. “Long tradition in my family. But when your father approached you that day and Lord Kondric found out, he knew he had to leave Tion. I was the one who helped him escape. So I left too.”

“You came here.”

“No. Your father came here,” Koodo corrected. “After we arrived on Pasir, he told me it was too dangerous for me to be associated with him. He moved one planet over, so we could keep in touch, but no one would suspect us of colluding together. I live on the edge of Lutecia, though not near either of the falls— I couldn’t possibly afford property there.” He chuckled, shaking his head.

Apollon was quiet for a moment. Then: “Where is he?”

Koodo looked up and became very quiet. Wordlessly, he stood and began to walk towards a closed door at the back of the cottage, cane thunking softly on the floor. Apollon followed him into the little room.

Unal Munir lay on the bed, hands folded across his robed chest. His face was stony and ashen. The stillness of his body pervaded the room. Apollon’s knees threatened to give out as he approached his departed father. The Jedi lay with a serene smile upon his countenance.

Apollon tried to speak, but no words would come. He fell to his knees at his father’s side and begged silently for forgiveness. Father… I promise I will find the man who saved your life. It is all I can do.

Apollon felt a hand on his shoulder, soft warm fingers curled over his collarbone. He reached up to touch the hand and felt only the fabric of his jacket.

“Master Munir often told me that we are luminous beings,” Koodo murmured thickly. “Sometimes, in this room, I feel as though he is standing beside me. His light is gone from his physical body, but it lingers still, remaining in eternity, as he said it would.”

Apollon swallowed. “I wish I could have known him… I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and foolish.”

Koodo laid a gentle, taloned hand on Apollon’s shoulder. “He would not want you to blame yourself, little one.”

How can I do otherwise? If only I’d had pity on a dying man, I could have spoken with my true father for the last time.

“Ector Kondric may have sought to defame him,” said Koodo, “but I will always remember Unal as a good man.”

Apollon did not want to leave. But the sun was beginning to set over Cantipor, which meant that in a few standard hours, it would be midnight by the time he returned to Lutecia. He embraced Koodo tearfully, clutching the holochip in his fist.

“Come visit me in Lutecia,” Koodo urged him. “I have so many stories to tell you.”

Chapter 7: Heroes of Legend

Chapter Text

The next afternoon, a thought occurred to Apollon. “Darvin,” he said, sitting up in bed, “you’re an expert on the Clone Wars, aren’t you?”

“I sure like to think so,” Darvin agreed, looking up from his holobook.

Apollon felt a surge of excitement. “How much do you know about the Jedi?”

“The Jedi?” Darvin snorted. “I care about real history, not fairy tales.”

“The Jedi are not fairy tales!” Apollon shot to his feet. “I know a Jedi who fought in the Clone Wars!”

“What are you talking about?” Darvin looked at Apollon askance. “You can’t know a Jedi, they’re mythical. They didn’t really fight in the war like in the ridiculous stories people tell. The real war is exciting enough without bringing fantasy into it.”

“How dare you.” Apollon’s clenched fists trembled. “Take that back this instant!”

“Aren’t you a little old to be thinking those stories are real?” asked Darvin. “I mean, enjoying them is one thing, but aren’t you taking it a little far by pretending they actually happened?”

NO! Apollon shouted. He yanked his jacket off the back of his chair and slammed his fist on the door button. He was too furious to pause to close it behind him as he stormed toward the lift.

He hailed a speeder when he reached the ground floor. “37 Ithor Road.”

Koodo’s Lutecia residence was much like Munir’s had been; it was on the outskirts of town, though not quite as isolated, and it contained only four rooms: a bedroom, a small refresher, a kitchen and a living room. The table where Koodo ate was in the middle of the living room, which contained a bookshelf filled with holobooks and flimsiplast books on botany and biology from every world in the galaxy.

“Quite an impressive collection, isn’t it?” Koodo grinned when Apollon mentioned it. “And speaking of books, I have a gift for you, my boy.”

Koodo placed an object on the table; a small leatherbound book with flimsiplast pages. The cover was inscribed in black ink. “What language is that?” Apollon frowned.

“It is Old Tionese,” said Koodo.

“That’s not Old Tionese,” Apollon insisted. “It doesn’t look anything like Tionese, it’s all squiggly with dots scattered around.”

“The script is Birunian,” Koodo explained. “Unal knew that you would learn the ancient language of your homeworld in his studies, so he kept the book in Old Tionese, but to prevent it from being deciphered should it fall into the wrong hands, he used a different alphabet, from the language of his own homeworld. As a Jedi, he studied many ancient texts recorded in both scripts.”

Apollon reverently touched the inscription. “How am I to read it?”

“I happen to possess some rare books written in Pursil,” Koodo smiled. “I am quite familiar with the Birunian script.”

Apollon touched the old man’s scaly hand. “Thank you.”

As Apollon thumbed through the pages, Koodo said, “I could read it to you.”

A grin spread across Apollon’s face.

Koodo made a quick cup of tea and sat in the armchair while Apollon made himself comfortable on the couch. “Would you be alright if I read it in Tionese? Translating it into modern Basic on the fly might be cumbersome. I’m no protocol droid, after all.”

Apollon furrowed his brow. “I’ve never been especially gifted with other languages, but I’ve gotten passing marks in Old Tionese, so…”

“Stop me if there’s something you don’t understand,” Koodo smiled. “I’ll be using the liturgical pronunciation.”

As I cannot determine the reader’s fluency in Archaios Tionezika, I will translate Koodo’s readings, possessing the advantage of time.

My son Apollon, I write these things for you. Someday, I mean to give you this journal so that you may learn my history. I am growing old, my son. I should have begun long ago, but I have clung to the foolish hope that somehow I might be able to tell you these things from my own mouth. Yet your grandfather’s health does not appear to worsen, while mine does. I have spoken with your mother, who has promised to pass this book to you once I have finished it.

Apollon’s breath caught in his throat as tears sprang to his eyes. Koodo gave him a pitying look. “No,” Apollon murmured thickly, wiping his eyes. “Keep reading.”

Koodo read as Munir began an account of his induction into the Jedi Order; how his parents had given him to the Order as a child, and how he had brought honor to them through his diligent scholarship. How Munir’s master had taught him the ways of the Force—

“Which force?” asked Apollon.

The Force,” said Koodo. “It’s a Jedi concept I never quite understood. I’m sure your father will try his best to explain it here.”

Unfortunately, Munir’s tangential explanation of the Force utilized many Tionese words that Apollon was unfamiliar with, so Koodo translated it as best he could into Basic. “The Force is an energy field that binds the very fabric of the universe together into one whole. It permeates all life and matter. It is a sentient entity, one that exists in symbiosis with the whole of Creation.”

Apollon pinched his temples. “So it’s a sentient… thing that makes up the fabric of the universe, but what is it?

“How about we skip the philosophy for now,” Koodo laughed softly. “I’m sure he wrote a great deal about the Clone Wars.”

Koodo proved correct, and by the end of the night, he had recounted nearly half of General Munir’s battlefield exploits aloud. Apollon went home that night and immediately accessed the HoloNet from his personal dorm terminal.

Darvin blinked blearily as the blue glare of the monitor disturbed his sleep. “What are you doing, Kondric, it’s almost 0100.”

“I’m doing some Clone Wars research,” Apollon replied, pulling up an encyclopedia article.

“If you need help with your homework, can it wait till morning?” Darvin groaned. “Like, morning morning?”

“It’s not homework,” Apollon mumbled dismissively, eyes soaking in every line.

“What are you even researching?” asked Darvin, screwing his eyes shut.

“Colonel Hurst Romodi,” said Apollon, a grin spreading across his face as he gazed at the man’s holoimage. He was an austere, majestic man with mousy temples— along one of which ran a scar— and a shorn head. His severe blue eyes and white lips were pinched in a soldierly manner as he stood at attention before the window of a Republic Star Destroyer’s bridge. Apollon beamed with pride. “My father served alongside him many times during the Clone Wars.”

“I thought your father was a Separatist sympathizer,” Darvin replied, wrinkling his nose in confusion. “And a politician at that. When did he fight in the war?”

Apollon’s fist clenched.

After a moment, a thought occurred to him. He typed TARKAY into the search bar . Then, to narrow his search, he added, WOTALU.

The only result was a holomap of a town on Monderon. A point on the map along a road line was labeled The General of Wotalu Inn.

The General of Wotalu Inn! Munir had been a general at the Battle of Wotalu where Tarkay had saved his life. It had to be the same Tarkay.

“Could you turn that thing off and go to sleep? Darvin growled. “Some of us have final exams to prepare for.”

Apollon reluctantly switched off the terminal and resolved to go to Monderon first thing in the morning.

On Monderon, the cab from the spaceport took Apollon to a dilapidated building in the town of Fermal. “I told you, this place closed down years ago,” said the driver. “Nobody comes here anymore.”

Apollon stepped out of the speeder and told the driver to wait. He looked up at the durasteel panel bolted above the cobweb-covered door. The panel depicted a scene in peeling paint of a man carrying an unconscious figure on his shoulders, wading through a sea of tan and white bodies as a battle raged around them. Apollon stared at it in awe. This was Tarkay’s establishment. Here before his eyes was a painting of the very act of heroism his father had spoken of.

He reached to press the button to open the door and found that the control panel had been smashed to pieces. He scraped some of the cobwebs off the door and tried to force it open with his own strength, but the door would not budge. He went to the broken window and looked inside. The place was completely dark save for the light that shone through the windows, and the floor was entirely overtaken by rats. Apollon stumbled back as a few of the rats made eye contact. Squirming and shuddering, he made his way back to the cab.

As Apollon had the credits, he paid the driver a considerable amount to drive him all over town, to get to the bottom of Tarkay’s disappearance. And a disappearance it was, for no one knew where the Tarkay family had moved to. All that was known was that the Tarkays’ establishment was abruptly abandoned eight years ago without a trace of its former proprietors. The chief suspect was financial trouble; Tarkay was known to have been a rather lucky sabacc player back in the day, but in the year before he disappeared, his luck had taken a dramatic turn and cost him thousands of credits.

Discouraged, Apollon returned home. He took refuge in the school library, where he promptly buried himself behind a stack of holobooks and read for hours.

Colonel Romodi was promoted to general after the victory at Mygeeto. Together with Admiral Terrinald Screed, he headed the Ciutric Offensive, which marked him as one of the first heroes of the New Order. The image of Romodi in the open co*ckpit of a HAVr A9 Floating Fortress would become iconic, particularly after he elected to replace his eardrums with cybernetic implants to bypass the inevitable hearing loss that would occur as a result of exposure to the noise of the battlefield. During the Battle of Vinsoth—

“Hello there.”

Apollon jolted, his book clattering onto the table. He peered over his barricade of tomes and saw one of his classmates from High Republic Studies. “Oh, hello… um… Haldo, right?”

“Yeah,” Haldo grinned, looking at the titles on the spines. “Cramming, huh? I didn’t know Hurst Romodi was going to factor so heavily into the test. Guess Professor Houg forgot to cover a couple decades. I want my tuition back.”

Apollon flushed. “I’m conducting some personal research.”

“Oh, very nice, why the…” Haldo surveyed the mountain of titles on the table. “…uh, sudden interest?”

“It’s complicated,” Apollon sighed, scratching the back of his neck. “I… Well, I found out that my father is actually my grandfather. I wanted to learn more about my real father, and, well, Romodi was one of the commanders he served with during the Clone Wars. I’m studying Bonoport, too, but there’s not as much on him.”

“Ah, a Republican, eh?” Haldo sat down next to him. “Bet your grandpa’s not happy about that. Must by why he said he lied about your real dad.”

“Yeah.” Apollon clenched his fist. He hadn’t written home in a few days. He was still thinking about how he would confront his grandfather for lying to him. “My real father was a Jedi.”

“Oh, a Jedi, eh?” Haldo raised an eyebrow. “What was his name?”

“Unal Munir.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Well, I haven’t been able to find a single mention of him or any other Jedi in any of these books,” Apollon sighed, setting his book aside. “There’s an infopage on the HoloNet for a General Munir, but it’s barely a paragraph long and the image is of some random Coruscanti in a uniform. Everything else is restricted except this one page you have to access through the Imperial Enforcement DataCore.”

“That’s a bounty hunter database, you’re not going to find much there,” Haldo replied. “Though I’m curious how much the old man’s head is worth.”

“Nobody’s going to collect on it,” Apollon replied curtly. “He’s dead.”

“Oh!” Haldo held up his hands. “Aw, kriff, I’m sorry. My condolences. Imps finally get him?”

“No, he was sick. What do you mean, get him?” Apollon scowled. “Why would the Empire want to get him?”

Haldo blinked. “Because Jedi are illegal?”

“Illegal?” Apollon wrinkled his nose. “But… they’re heroes!”

“Not to the Empire, my friend,” Haldo tsked, draping an arm around Apollon’s shoulder. “I’m guessing you don’t actually know all that much about the Jedi, or you would know about the great Jedi Rebellion.”

“Jedi Rebellion?” Apollon croaked.

“Walk with me,” Haldo offered. “Kondric, wasn’t it?”

Apollon chewed his lip. He wasn’t sure how to answer that question anymore.

As they walked, Haldo explained, “At the end of the Clone Wars, the Jedi tried to overthrow the Republic.”

“My father would never do that!” Apollon replied indignantly.

“Hey, hey, hey, keep your voice down, okay, Kondric?” Haldo whispered hastily. “We’re in a library.”

“You can call me Apollon,” Apollon glowered.

“Alright, Apollon,” Haldo smirked. “Look, I’m just telling the official story. The one the Empire wants you to believe.”

“Why would the Empire lie?” Apollon frowned.

“I thought you Kondrics were Seps.” Haldo co*cked his head.

“That was during the war,” Apollon replied. “We’re loyal Imperial citizens. Father— my family has their issues with the Empire, but we support the Emperor.”

“I bet that’s worked out real well for you guys,” Haldo quipped. “Hell, maybe it really has, for you. Common folk, not so much.”

“What are you getting at, Haldo?” asked Apollon quizzically.

“Sorry. Getting off topic.” Haldo cleared his throat. “The point is, the Imps don’t like it when people talk about the Jedi, so I wouldn’t go around telling people your daddy was one. Tend to land in real bantha poodoo that way.”

“But why? ” asked Apollon. “Why don’t the Empire want people talking about the Jedi?”

“See, now you’re thinkin’. Haldo tapped his nose. “You ever wanna look into it, call me up. We’ll talk somewhere more private-like. See you around, Apollon.”

Haldo walked away with a wink. Apollon stared after him, utterly nonplussed. First his father— grandfather— had kept the Jedi from him, and now the Empire too?

“Excuse me, sir,” a droid’s voice popped up, “but what are you standing there for?”

Apollon realized he’d been staring motionless for almost five whole minutes. “Sorry. Got distracted.”

“The library closes at 2200,” the library droid reminded him, wandering off to attend to some other matter.

Apollon glanced at the chrono. It was 2147.

Apollon left the books about Romodi and Bonoport scattered on the table and checked out a handful of encyclopediae pertinent to his studies. Upon reflection, he grabbed a few of the volumes on Romodi and promised himself he wouldn’t look at them until he’d finished preparing for his final exams. He had a semester to complete.

Then he was going to go home and have a serious talk with his grandfather.

Chapter 8: The Heir Returns

Chapter Text

Ector Kondric stood in the courtyard, glowering at the fountain in the center. Five days without a single word from Apollon. Whatever had the boy been doing at that school of his? What could possibly have caused him to overlook his familial duty? Didn’t he know how much Ector had missed him? Ungrateful child.

Apollon was home now. He had returned nearly half an hour ago. Ector sat on the rim of the fountain, moodily waiting for Apollon to enter.

Eventually, the boy emerged. “You didn’t write,” said Ector gruffly. “I was beginning to think you had forgotten your family.”

“Quite the opposite,” Apollon replied, and Ector noticed he was not smiling. “Forgive me; I should have written.”

“Yes, you should have.” Lord Kondric rose, folding his hands over the knob of his cane. “You would do well to show more gratitude, especially when I am paying for you to seek your education so far out from Tion instead of at one of our many fine institutions. I trust you did well in your studies? Good marks? Eh?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.” Ector nodded. “You will be joining your family for dinner.”

Ector did not see Apollon clench his fist. “Yes.”

Ector furrowed his brow. He sensed a change in the boy, but could not discern its nature. “Mind that you treat your father with respect.”

“Always,” the boy replied in that same peculiar tone. “Indeed, I have shown my father great disrespect, and I am bitterly sorry for it.”

Ector thinned his lips. “I’d suggest you show it, boy,” he growled as he walked back into the house.

When the servants had set the table, Apollon entered and sat. Ector and Estia were already seated. Ector waved the servants away, which was not his custom. He glowered at Apollon, waiting for him to speak, while Estia chewed her lip anxiously.

Apollon took a drumstick and ate, silently. It was several minutes before he picked up his cup, took a slow sip of wine, and spoke.


Estia’s fork and knife clattered on her plate.

A vein bulged in Ector’s temple. “What did you call me, boy?”

“I called you Grandfather ,” Apollon repeated. “That’s what you are to me, isn’t it? That’s what you really are.”

“You have been speaking with that vile deceiver Mahzun,” Lord Kondric snarled.

“Father—” Estia pleaded, but Ector lifted a hand to silence her.

“So you deny it?” Apollon quivered. “Athene was not my mother?”

“Such foolishness,” Ector spat. “I told you never to speak to that man again.”

WAS SHE MY MOTHER? Apollon shot to his feet, slamming his hand on the table. “Tell me the truth, now!

Estia and Ector trembled; the one with fear, the other with rage. “How dare you speak to me that way.”

Apollon stared directly into the old man’s cold black eye. “Answer the question.”

Ector stewed for a moment. Everything I have done, I have done for you.

“So it’s true then,” said Apollon thickly. “You have lied to me.”

“For your own protection,” Ector growled. “For the good of the noble house of Kondric.”

“When did you intend to reveal the truth?” Apollon demanded. “Was I to be misled my entire life? Estia, did you know of this?”

Estia’s eyes shone with tears. “I—”

“Estia, I forbid you to speak,” Lord Kondric snapped. He pushed away from the table and rose to his feet. “Yes, it’s true. Your mother came to me when her affair with that scoundrel led to her pregnancy. I adopted you as my son. I am a Baron of the Hegemony! What else was I to do? Bring shame and dishonor upon our entire house? Upon the whole of our planet?The entire system?”

Apollon’s clenched fists rattled in their sockets. “All my life there were rumors that I was not my mother’s son,” he seethed, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Now everything has fallen into place. Now I know my father.”

“No.” Lord Kondric clenched his fist. I am your father.”

“My father was a hero of the Republic,” Apollon retorted.

“A hero!” Lord Kondric roared. “Those meddling Jedi? Their Senate and their grand army? We should never have surrendered our sovereignty to that greedy conglomerate all those centuries ago. And what did that war bring, the one your so-called father fought so heroically to win? The obtrusion of the blasted Empire! If nothing else, your father showed the pitiful failings of the Republic’s ridiculous ‘democracy.’ At least the Emperor does not subscribe to such utter folly.

“Father, please—” Estia begged, taking Ector’s arm, but he shook her off so forcefully as to strike her. You will be silent!

“Don’t you treat my aunt that way!” Apollon exclaimed furiously.

“I shall adjure my own daughter as I see fit,” Ector growled. “And as for you, my boy, I don’t know what they have been teaching you at that school of yours, but on Embaril, you will respect me as your father and your lord.”

“You are no father to me!” Apollon cried. “My father was General Unal Munir of the Jedi Order, and my mother was Athene Kondric!”

I am your father , you ungrateful brat!” Ector slammed the butt of his cane on the softwood, cracking it. “I raised you from your very birth!

Athene raised me!” Apollon shot back. “Even as my sister, she was more mother to me than ever you were a father! You are my grandfather, and you have no right to call my true father a scoundrel when you have lied to me all my life! I am the son of two heroes— one of the Confederacy, and one of the Republic!”

“There are no heroes of the Republic!” Lord Kondric howled. “The Republic is what brought us to this accursed ruin!”

“There are heroes of the Republic!” Apollon declared. “My father wrote their names— Admiral Wullf Yularen, General Kit Fisto and General Luminara Unduli, Admiral Porlion Bonoport, General Ki-Adi-Mundi—”

Cease this nonsense immediately!” Ector snarled, jabbing a quivering finger across the table.

—General Hurst Romodi! Apollon thundered stubbornly. AND GENERAL UNAL MUNIR!

ROMODI! Ector’s red face purpled. He threw out his fist, sending his wine glass and utensils flying. His plate crashed against the floor, wine glass shattering on the wall. Estia cowered in terror. First you turn your— your worship to that no-account Jedi dog, and now you give your admiration to Hurst Romodi! The man who singlehandedly destroyed the last vestiges of our hope for independence!”

“Romodi fought for a galaxy of equality!” Apollon insisted. “As did Bonoport, as did Yularen, as did my father!

I AM YOUR FATHER! Ector bellowed, lunging forward, brandishing his cane. I RAISED YOU! YOU ARE MINE!


The butt of Ector’s cane landed on the ground with a thump. Quivering with fury, he turned his white head. Estia stood by his side, weeping. “Father… Please… I don’t want our family to be destroyed by discord…”

Ector thinned his lips and sighed. “You are right, Estia. Apollon is being foolish. I’m sure he recognizes that now and will humbly apologize, and renounce that serpent he misbelieves to be his father.”

He turned toward Apollon, lifting an expectant eyebrow.

Apollon’s fingers curled into fists. Long. Live. The Republic.

Ector Kondric was silent for a long, terrible moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was deadly soft.

“If you are no son of mine, then you are no grandson either.”

“So be it,” Apollon replied coolly. “I am grateful for all you have done for me, in spite of your deception, but it is clear to me now that there is no place for me here. I will make my way on my own. I have no further need of your guidance.”

Lord Kondric’s face twisted with fury. Get out of my house! Get OUT of my damned HOUSE!

Apollon retreated backward as Ector raised his cane, swinging it over his head. “I want you GONE! You are BANISHED from this planet, do you hear me? BANISHED!

Apollon bowed and fled from the room while Estia began to sob anew. Ector’s cane struck the floor with a crack, silencing her. “Stop your tears,” he barked. “He’ll come crawling back when he sees sense. By the end of the month he’ll be begging me to revoke his exile.”

Estia wiped her eyes. “He’s just a boy…”

“He needs to learn,” Ector growled. He folded his hands atop his cane. “You may say goodbye to him if you wish.”

Lord Kondric turned to exit the room, cane thumping as he went. Finally, he stopped in the doorway and sighed. “You will send him two hundred credits every month.”

Estia swallowed a sob. “Thank you, Father.”

“And you will never mention his name under my roof or in my presence.”

Estia bit her lip very hard and nodded.

“Parasite,” Ector muttered as he left the room. “He’ll be back…”

Chapter 9: The Philosophers' Fraternity

Chapter Text

As of his return to Pasir, Apollon’s assets comprised of six hundred credits in chips and one thousand three hundred-sixty seven in his bank account, two weeks’ worth of changes in clothes, two datapads, an imagecaster containing a family holopic collection, the memory chip containing his father’s final message, and a tin of fudge that Koodo had made him which was almost gone. As he had returned to Lutecia early, he would not yet be allowed to check back into his dormitory until the next semester began. As he was now living by his own means, he reasoned that he ought to find a more affordable place off-campus.

In this, however, Apollon found himself completely out of his depth. Though Koodo offered his couch, Apollon knew that he would have to find a residence closer to the school campus when the semester began. He wandered the city by taxi in search of a place to stay, but every place seemed too expensive. Eventually, his taxi fare piled up, and having spent all the credits on his person, he turned to walking.

It was in walking past a certain cafe that he was called to by a familiar voice. It was Haldo, sitting at a table outside the cafe with a friend. “Apollon! Come join us!”

Apollon gratefully accepted the offer and sat at the table with them. “Thought you went back to the Hegemony,” Haldo grinned.

“I left,”Apollon replied. “I cut ties with my grandfather and now I’m living on my own.”

“Hey, Haldo, what’d you say the kid’s name was?” asked Haldo’s friend, a bald, roundheaded man who looked to be in his late twenties. “Apollon, right? As in Kondric?”

“I didn’t realize you were familiar with Tion’s political families,” Apollon coughed, scratching his earlobe.

“I’m not,” said Haldo’s friend. “I didn’t even know you were from Tion until you said so. It’s just that you happen to owe me a favor.”

“Oh?” Apollon co*cked his head.

“Yes indeed,” Haldo’s friend nodded. “The name’s Finnix. But when you missed the first day of poli sci last semester, the name was Kondric.”

“Wait.” Apollon pinched the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t miss the first day, I was there.”

“Second Zhellday of the month?” Finnix raised an eyebrow. “No, you most certainly were not. I remember because nobody said anything when your name was called.”

Apollon blanched. “…I thought it was Centaxday.”

“That would’ve been the second day of class,” Finnix winked. “That explains why you didn’t show up. Anyway, I told Old Gorthman my name was Kondric, so Finnix got dropped from the class.”

“ Oh. Apollon buried his burning face in his hands. “I am so sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Finnix waved. “Happy to help. Just wanted to meet you.”

“Hey Janyor,” said Haldo, “I think you’ve got a hole in your shirt.”

Finnix looked down at his tunic, felt around the collar, and found a rip along the seam. “Aw, frell, I just bought this.”

“Janyor?” Apollon frowned.

“It’s a nickname,” Finnix grinned. “Janyor of Bith is called the Phoenix of Garel. ‘Finnix’ sounds like ‘Phoenix’ and I am also from Garel, so my friends call me Janyor. Besides which, there is a certain resemblance.” He tapped his bald head wryly.

“So where are you living now, Apollon?” asked Haldo. “Since I assume you didn’t sign up for housing between semesters.”

“I’m sleeping at a friend’s on the other side of town,” said Apollon, “but I’m going to need to move closer to Maitre-Tokare when the semester starts.”

“Well, why don’t you crash at my place?” Haldo grinned. “It’s real nice, even better than the dorms. Plus you get a view of the whole city from the bedroom.”

“Is it close to the school?”

“No,” said Haldo, dryly. “It’s a twenty-klick walk. I figured you’d like to inconvenience yourself as much as I do.”

“Oh.” Apollon coughed. “I was actually looking for somewhere that is convenient.”

“Oh, for…” Haldo rolled his eyes. “ Of course it’s close, you moofhead, that’s why I offered.”

“Oh!” Apollon laughed. “Yes, I’d appreciate that. Thank you.”

Haldo’s flat was, indeed, nice. The transparisteel roof afforded a great deal of natural light, and the view of the city was as spectacular as advertised— Apollon swore he could see the entire district of Maitre-Tokare from the penthouse, with one side overlooking the Sidon, the other overlooking the cliffs that loomed in the distance.

Apollon took up the left side of the bedroom, where he spent hours painstakingly translating his father’s journal with the help of his Old Tionese textbook and a Birunian letterform chart he had copied onto a durasheet from a language book at the library.

Every few days he would visit with Koodo, who quite enjoyed the young man’s company. Apollon would ask about the things his father had told the Pavoni that he hadn’t written into the book.

There were many names he was curious about. Huu-Sri, his father’s Padawan who had been killed in a dogfight with General Grievous in the second year of the war. Qor-Maw-Binthu, his father’s teacher— how Apollon longed to know if he still lived. Binthu’s name was listed in the Imperial Enforcement DataCore, which meant there was at least a bounty on him, but the bounty on his father was still posted, so that meant little. Koodo, unfortunately, said Munir had never known what had become of his old master after the war.

More revealing were the names of Jedi Apollon did not find posted as bounties— Luminara Unduli, Nonn Kannin, Kit Fisto, Ki-Adi-Mundi— Apollon was especially disappointed not to find information on Master Mundi because his father’s journal recorded that he had been fighting the Battle of Mygeeto alongside Romodi, a battle his father had almost participated in.

As Romodi was notably alive, Apollon’s interest in the general only grew.

Apollon kept his imagecaster, set to display a picture of Athene on his desk, next to the HoloNet terminal. In the days since he had severed ties with his family, he had wondered whether he should not forsake the name Apollon Kondric in favor of Apollon Munir. But for his mother’s sake, the name of Kondric still held some pride within him, so he retained it. His father wrote about Athene often in the journal. How they would exchange letters, how on rare occasions they would be able to meet in person. Munir wrote of one tryst on Mullan, which Apollon realized had taken place around nine months before his birth. As his parents’ visits had been few and far between, Apollon realized a crucial fact in regards to his connection to that planet. He made a note of its coordinates, 819.59/352.681, and resolved to get a commemorative tattoo of those numbers somewhere.

After several weeks, Haldo asked casually, “So where do you fall politically these days?”

Apollon pondered this question. “My mother was a Separatist and my father was a Republican,” he said, “and if both their accounts are to be believed, there were heroes on both sides. The Republicans and the Separatists both wanted freedom for the galaxy, but the Separatists wanted the galaxy to be divided instead of united. I know my grandfather would have preferred that Tion never joined the Republic those millennia ago, but I think I should have liked to live in a Republican Tion.”

Haldo grinned. “Do you like the Empire?”

Apollon frowned. “Well, no, not really. The Empire restricts all the information on the Jedi I want to find, so their names only appear in bounty postings. Nobody wants to talk politics with me except you. And my mother always said that they were encroaching on Tion’s sovereignty. So no, I don’t think I like the Empire at all.”

“In that case, my friend,” said Haldo, clapping a hand on his shoulder, “I think it’s time I introduce you to our little rebellion.”

And so Apollon found himself once again at the cafe where he had made the acquaintance of Janyor. The name of the establishment was Tuck’s Cafe, run by an old Besalisk by the name of Tucker Chuggins. Haldo waved to the proprietor as he led Apollon up the stairs. “Good idea to make friends with Tuck,” he advised as they approached the door to the upstairs room. “The free drinks aren’t an automatic perk of the club.”

Haldo flashed his pearly whites as his head appeared in the door. “Guys, gals, nontrinary pals, I bring forth a new initiate!”

Apollon found himself thrust into the middle of the room, surrounded by young men and a few women seated at various tables. He waved shyly, heat creeping up his neck. “Comrades, this is Apollon Kondric,” said Haldo. “Apollon, you know Janyor. This is Goosher.”

“ Dobra Gusha, or at least that’s why Janyor hangs around me,” said a round-faced, brown-skinned boy with neatly combed black hair wearing a medical mask and sanitary gloves. Apollon missed the joke and was rather confused, being unfamiliar with Huttese. “Really, I don’t feel ree gusha, since I get sick almost as often as Janyor loses his wallet.”

“That’s Borrow,” said Haldo, gesturing to a Wookiee sporting a topknot with his big furry feet on the table. “Short for Borrowawro.”

Borrow jerked his shaggy red chin upwards. “Wyaaaaaa.”

Up to this point I have not felt the need to transcribe the speech of certain minor characters incapable of speaking Basic. However, I feel it necessary to Alsakanize Borrow’s dialogue. I will be using the Baobab Kashyyykian Alsakanization system, not because of its especial accuracy in approximation, but out of affection for my late uncle Ebenn, who popularized its widespread use before its recent displacement by more precise but less accessible Sanoojomatous system.

“Tha’ means awright, if ye coudnae understand what he said,” explained a baby-faced lad not much older than Apollon. “Got a wee bit o’ an accent oan him, I know.”

“Er…” Apollon stammered uncertainly.

“In addition tae Shyriiwook, I also happen tae speak Old Tionese,” the young man continued. “I hear we have tha’ in common. Ansé lèné Kondric, eisai apoto Embaril, etziden einai?”

“Um…” Apollon coughed. “Yes, I am. Pleased to meet you…”

“Bail Proving,” the polyglot replied. “But I like tae go by Bahil. ‘S got a more poetic sound tae it, dinnae ye think?”

“He fancies himself a modern Odo of Mullan,” said Janyor, “and he would be correct.”

This reference Apollon understood, for the tragedy of Odo the poet and his doomed lover Ethyme was a Tionese legend, one told to him by Athene many times as a boy. “You must be really good.”

“Ach, Janyor…” Bahil grinned modestly. “I read th’ greats, but I cannae be compared tae them. There’s nothin supernatural or special about my work.”

The gold-plated astromech in the corner chirped. Its owner patted it with an affectionate blue hand. “Senine thinks yer poetry’s mighty movin’, Provin’,” said a chubby, fin-eared individual with goggles strapped to their head, black overalls’ pockets filled with wrenches. “Now— I don’t know how much you know about poetry, new guy, but Bay-heel’s got some o’ the best you ever heard, an’ if he can move a droid to tears I reckon he’s pretty damn good. M’name’s Phixi, by the way. Borrow an’ I’re the only ones who ain’t students here. I’m a mechanic and Borrow’s a… Now what’d you say it is you do, Big B?”

“Ghrrfff,” Borrow replied with a shrug. “Ahh… aaaurrrgghhh, aauroo.”

“Mostly arena brawls,” Proving translated. “He’s got a couple who pretend tae be his owners. Set up all th’ contracts for him.”

“Whhrrrooooff,” Borrow added with a smirk.

Proving grimaced as if abruptly confronted with a mental image that made him regret mastering the concept of language. “…Glad ye have fun, B.”

Apollon pointed cautiously to the black mop sprawled on the table closest to him, which appeared to be attached to a person sitting there, or at least the hands looked too fleshy for a mannequin. “And who’s this?”

“That would be Bigtrill,” replied a dark man sporting blue hologlasses. “Best not disturb him. He’s passed out drunk.”

“I wish!” Bigtrill’s index finger shot up like a rocket and wobbled high above his unmoving head. “Just bored. You guys are boring. ‘Sup, new guy. Not kriffing drunk, Harval.”

Borrow snorted.

“Not unconscious, at any rate.” Harval folded his arms. “So tell us about yourself, Apollon.”

“Right.” Apollon coughed and smiled anxiously. “Well, I’m from Embaril, like… um… Bahil said. I’ve been rooming with Haldo for the past couple weeks.”

Encouraged by the approving nods around the room, he added, “Also, my father was a Jedi.”

“A Jedi!” cried Bigtrill, shooting up, face redder than a Ralltiirian radish. “A symbol of hope for a bygone age. Where are the Jedi now? In the hearts of every idealist. Haha! The galaxy thrives on misery. There’s no place for Jedi in it. Never was. Too good for their own good. Hehe…” He lolled his head back, chuckling to himself and drooling slightly.

“You’ll have to excuse Bigtrill.” Apollon noticed, for the first time, a woman sitting in the corner. Her long black hair was braided over one shoulder, countenance striking in its beautiful sharpness. She cast a scornful obsidian eye upon the drunkard. “He’s a skeptic, a nihilist and a pessimist. He doesn’t believe in anything.”

“Now that’s hardly fair, my lady,” Bigtrill crooned. “I believe in you.

“As for the rest of us,” said the woman, “we believe in freedom.”

“ Libertas, aequalitas, fraternitas ,” Proving intoned. “Tha’ is Atrisian Basic. Mav, sosol, bal vode an. Tha’s Mandalorian. Rwygg, haffal, bradgwach. Shyriiwook.” (Proving did not attempt to pronounce the proverb in the proper Wookiee accent, but rendered it in the Coruscantized form of Shyriiwook which yields Chewbacca from Yrraanh. )

“Pointless, impossible, worthless,” Bigtrill waved. “That’s Basic.”

“That’s enough, Bigtrill,” the woman said sternly.

“Am I not free to speak my mind, Auriel?” Bigtrill hiccuped. “What’s with all this freedom talk then?”

“You’re free to speak,” said Auriel, “and we are free to rebuke.”

“As good a reason as any to say nothing.” Bigtrill raised his bottle to her, took a long draft, and fell silent.

“We’ve heard what Bigtrill believes,” said Harval, crossing his arms, “but what do you believe, Apollon? Haldo tells me you’re a great admirer of Hurst Romodi.”

“He’s a great man,” Apollon nodded, beaming.

“Is that so?” Harval raised an eyebrow.

“Strange that you would be such a fan when you come from a strong Separatist family,” Janyor mused. “Romodi was famously responsible for suppressing the last lingering remnants of the Confederacy in the aftermath of the Clone War.”

“My grandfather certainly doesn’t like him,” Apollon laughed. “But my father served alongside him. He spoke highly of him.”

“Hurst Romodi is certainly an iconic figure,” said Goosher, “if an ignoble one.”

“Ignoble?” Apollon sputtered with confusion. “How could you say that?”

“Because he serves the Empire,” said Harval. “Rather than retire from military service at the end of the war, he volunteered to act as the heel of Palpatine’s boot.”

“But—” Apollon stammered. “He was a good man! J… Just because the Empire is bad doesn’t mean Romodi was! He did good things for the Empire!”

“Aye, t’was good for th’ Empire,” Bahil chimed in, “an bad for everyone else. Isnae tha’ right, Haldo? You’re a Sep, aren’tye?”

“I’m just here for the show today,” Haldo grinned from his chair.

“Mmmmmmrrrrr,” Borrow smirked, taking a swig from his tankard.

“There are good people in the Empire!” Apollon stammered. “My father knew Romodi personally!”

“There wouldn’t happen to be any good Imperials your father didn’t know, would there?” asked Harval, raising an eyebrow.

“There’s… Yularen!” Apollon raised a finger in the air. “Admiral Yularen, a hero of the Clone War!”

“Now Colonel Yularen, a chief supervisor in the Imperial Security Bureau,” Harval rebutted, “and therefore directly responsible for the enforcement of such Imperial edicts as the Public Order Resentencing Directive. And the ISB’s atrocities on Onderon— Yularen signed off on every one of them.”

“I oughta punch that man right in the whiskers,” Phixi muttered. “T’ain’t right. They’ve been fightin’ fer their freedom since before th’ Empire even come around. Well, them’s fighters. Them’s the stock that Saw Gerrera comes from. Ol’ Yulie’s boys’ gonna get what’s kriffin’ comin’ to ‘em.”

“Don’t be so hard on him, Phixi,” Janyor quipped. “Ol’ Yulie’s one of the good ones.”

Apollon coughed. He didn’t know much about Yularen, in actual fact, beyond the man’s name; his father had never served alongside him, only mentioning him passing. He had only invoked Yularen because of his (apparently not quite) unimpeachable reputation among Republicans. Clearly, these Republicans did not hold him in high respect. “What about that— that one Moff, from the Battle of Naboo?” (In truth, Apollon had not been taught much about Naboo either, other than some Moff or other had taken part in repelling a blockade around the planet almost three decades ago.)

“Quarsh Panaka was a good man,” said Harval, “twenty-nine years ago. He fought against the corporate tyranny of the Trade Federation. But he supported the tyranny of the Emperor. Good Imperials, they don’t stay good. Or if they do, they don’t stay Imperial. Arhul Holt. Jan Dodonna. Vix Bradjuran. All defectors.”

“But there are Imperials who try and change the system from the inside as well,” Apollon protested. “Surely not all of them leave.”

“No, not all; there are many who covertly sabotage the Empire’s effort’s in oppression, and I have the utmost respect for them,” Harval replied coolly. “But surely you are not suggesting that Hurst Romodi is one of them.”

“He could be!” Apollon argued.

“ How? Harval slammed the back of his hand on the table, shooting up from his seat. “The man led massacres from the co*ckpit of a tank! How can someone like that be good?”

“I don’t kn— I don’t— He just was!” Apollon clenched his fists. “My father knew him!”

“Yes, we know, you keep saying that,” Harval returned pointedly. “Did you ever stop to think that maybe your father might not have been the best judge of character?”

“ No! Apollon turned and stormed from the room, not even bothering to close the door as he left.

Harval shook his head, kneading his eye sockets. “Goosher, do you have an ace-tab? I’ve run out.”

Goosher felt around his inside jacket pocket with a gloved hand. “Anxiety, allergies, anti-radiation… Kriff! I think I left my acetyl at home!”

Harval groaned under his breath as Goosher bolted from the room. “That’s quite a friend you’ve got there, Haldo.”

“Ah, give him a break,” Haldo waved. “Ex-Seppie nobility. You know how it is.”

I don’t,” Harval muttered. Pei could suffer Kreegyr, but Kreegyr never had a comrade such as Kondric. Even Pei could not endure such vexing ideological contradictions as those espoused by the young Embarilian.

Apollon’s confused, half-developed viewpoint had a different effect upon Auriel, who folded her arms contentedly, remarking genuinely, “Well, thank you, Haldo. That was absolutely fascinating.”

“Apollon’s interesting, that’s for sure,” Janyor chuckled. “Seems a bit touchy, though. I don’t think he enjoyed himself very much.”

“Well, I hope we didn’t put him off too much,” Auriel replied, steepling her fingers. “Such an intriguing young man. I’d like to invite him back sometime.”

Harval helped himself to a shot of Bigtrill’s wine.

Chapter 10: Independent Living

Chapter Text

Apollon opened his HoloNet messages and groaned. There was another message from Ector, or more accurately, Apollon’s bank informing him that Ector had transmitted one thousand credits to his account. Apollon transmitted the money back, then composed a new message. Dear Estia, please tell my grandfather to stop sending me money. As I have said before, I do not want it. I am perfectly capable of managing on my own. I hope you are doing well and I miss you very much. Please do not trouble yourself on my account. I send my love to you. —A.

He sent the message and closed the terminal. It was still strange, after all these months, the change in familial terms. He called Estia by name to avoid the difficulty, but he wanted to remind Ector the man was not and had never been his father.

He found comfort in translating his true father’s writings. He’d purchased a Tionese dictionary to supplement his knowledge; his education was in liturgical Tionese, but the dictionary was more vulgar and used an even older form of Tionese speech. The type of Tionese Unal Munir had known predated even the classical form Apollon had been educated in; according to his father’s explanatory notes, he was most familiar with the Proto-Tionese contained in the ancient Jedi texts. He had a habit of slipping into it despite his efforts to remain consistent; it was not uncommon to see a certain word scratched out and replaced with a more recent alternative— not that Apollon could tell the difference until he had read the word out loud; it was tricky attempting to decipher a semi-familiar language in an unfamiliar alphabet.

The Birunian script, once Apollon had mastered it, made pronunciation clear, but occasionally at the expense of comprehension. His father frequently neglected to account for phonetic shifts over the millennia, and did not always realize his oversight. Therefore, a word Apollon would recognize easily in the Tionese script could prove a mystery to him, since he would not even know which Tionese letters the Birunian sounds corresponded to. Since he did not trust his Tionese professor with his questions, and Koodo was often as stumped as he was, he grudgingly turned to Bail Proving.

“How dae ye say this?” Proving would ask, unfamiliar with the Birunian script (though he promptly registered to take Aubwari next semester as a result of Apollon’s translation efforts piquing his interest.)

“If I’m consulting my chart right, mee-krah gwewn-khess,” Apollon replied, concerning one particular term that was giving him difficulty. “I know what mikrá is, but I have no idea what gwewn-khess means. There isn’t even a wuh in Old Tionese.”

“Depends on how old,” Proving explained. “There used tae be a letter called digamma tha’ looked a bit like a High Galactic F. This is how it would be written in Tionese.” He wrote the following characters: gamma, digamma, upsilon, nu, chi, epsilon, sigma. “Gwynhès. Mikrá Gwynhès means Gwynhes Minor. ‘Twas th’ name for th’ planet Jabiim durin the reign of Xim. Personally, I wish they’d kept it, it’s far grander. A couple centuries later, they started spellin it like this.Nu, kappa, omicron, upsilon, iota, nu, chi, epsilon, sigma.

Apollon added Gwynhes Minor = Jabiim to the back page of his notebook with the other words Proving had helped him with.

Inevitably, Apollon continued in the company of not only Proving, but the rest of Haldo’s little club, despite his initial disfavor. His choice in friends was rather limited, and he had reluctantly come to the conclusion that Romodi had changed since the Clone War and was no longer the hero his father had written of. This concession allowed his political beliefs to take clearer, less problematic form.

Nevertheless, he endeavored to remain silent on political matters in discussions with his new companions for fear of ridicule. This was to Auriel’s disappointment, for she had taken an academic (that is to say, slightly morbid) interest in the idiosyncrasies of Apollon’s embryonic philosophy. Prior, she was content to sit and listen to the discussions of the little society she had formed, belying her great gift of oratory. Now, she posed questions, sometimes to Apollon directly. Harval disliked this immensely, for Apollon aggravated him as much as Bigtrill aggravated Auriel.

For Bigtrill’s part, the discussions of his companions amused him when he was conscious, and he would often interject with some quip or long-winded tangent whenever he felt the need to contribute; the lucidity of these remarks varied greatly. At any rate, he found Apollon even more amusing than Auriel did, for Apollon possessed many qualities Bigtrill found worthy of mockery— though there was nothing much unique in this, for none were spared Bigtrill’s jibing save Auriel. Though Bigtrill freely challenged her heartfelt convictions with irreverence, he would neither hear nor speak of any fault in the woman herself. In fact, on the occasion that Auriel and Apollon would come into conflict over some point of discussion, Bigtrill would rush to her defense, unleashing contempt upon Apollon and lavishing Auriel with largely irrelevant praise. For this valor he received no reward, to his often ill-disguised disappointment.

It was common for the club to split into parties of two or three to hold conversations apart from the rest, when the main discussion did not interest them, or when there wasn’t one to begin with. Harval and Goosher did their classwork together; Goosher would confide his more paranoid medical fears in Harval, who would evaluate Goosher’s concerns and determine whether a small blemish of unknown origin was a tumor or a freckle. Frequently, a cough from Apollon would cause Goosher’s paranoia to spike, fearing Apollon was afflicted with a contagion. Though Haldo, overhearing, explained that Apollon merely coughed when he was nervous, this did little to convince Goosher of Apollon’s good health, since he possessed the same habit.

Borrow, as it turned out, was actually quite interested in the stories Apollon had to tell about his father’s exploits during the Clone Wars. Once Apollon was informed of this by Proving, who translated, he began to recount the stories from his father’s journal. Borrow, in turn, shared stories of his time as a freedom fighter on Kashyyyk, taking part in the defense of Kachirho alongside General Vos— a name Apollon recognized. Apollon realized that Borrow’s account was greatly embellished when he spoke of spying General Grievous on the battlefield and taking a shot at him with his bowcaster, missing by less than a foot. Apollon knew from his research that Grievous had not been present at the assault on Kachirho. Though Grievous had spearheaded the initial invasion, he had not taken part in the ground battle, leaving for Coruscant shortly after the Separatist forces had landed on the planet. Apollon did not call attention to the discrepancy, for fear of Borrow retaliating in kind.

Phixi would ramble about Onderon to anyone who would listen— usually, only Auriel and Senine expressed consistent interest. The plight of the Onderonians, more than any other world, for whatever reason, held especial sympathy for Phixi, who admired the people’s fighting spirit. As Janyor, Auriel and Harval had studied the history of the broad galaxy, Phixi studied the history of Onderon in microcosm. When inquired after as to the origin of this fixation, Phixi replied that they supposed it had to do with their upbringing. “See, I was found on an abandoned starship as a pollywog,” they explained, “an’ the crew that found me wudn’t quite sure what to do about a hatchling Mythrol, so they just handed me off to the repair droid fer a nanny. I ain’t never known where I come from, seein’ as my folks were dead an’ we was always travelin’ about the galaxy til I was about seventeen ‘r so. So why Onderon? Well, it’s cuz I know what it’s like not havin’ nowhere to call home, an’ with th’ Empire tryna take th’ Onderonians’ home away from ‘em, an’ th’ Seppies before that, an’ them fightin’ tooth ‘n’ nail to keep it anyhow, I just wanna see ‘em win what belong to ‘em.”

The living situations varied greatly among the group. Auriel, Harval, and Goosher lived on campus in three different complexes; Bigtrill lived off campus in a studio apartment he could not afford. Borrow slept on his managers’ parked ship. Phixi lived at their shop. Janyor could not afford his own residence and crashed on his friends’ couches. Tuck’s Cafe was the common room of a dormitory they did not share; it was their second home. This band of devoted friends officially called themselves the Society for Public Restoration, suggesting an interest in the improvement of infrastructure; but their true name was the Society for Republic Restoration. The omission of this initial syllable allowed their fraternity to assemble without scrutiny.

Even after a month, Apollon still felt like an outsider. These friends had known each other far longer than he had known them, and he was not the sociable type to begin with. Still, he remained a habitual presence in the upstairs room of the cafe, albeit with fluctuating frequency. He found himself weary of participating in their symposiums, and consequently spent more time at Koodo’s, when he left Haldo’s place at all in his spare time. Koodo was delighted as always to have him. They would talk about his father and the Jedi and occasionally Koodo would lend him a book from his little library. Apollon would show Koodo the progress he was making on translating his father’s journal into Basic. Then, when Koodo was available, he would enlist his help in further translation, since Koodo was somewhat more helpful than the dictionary.

As Apollon read more about the life his father led as a Jedi, he became inspired to model his own lifestyle accordingly. He began dressing almost exclusively in beige and brown, to Haldo’s amusem*nt. Then, unsatisfied with his previously serviceable coat, he purchased an ankle-length jacket with a hood— two sizes too big. He came home with the hood down, swinging his arms as he walked so the oversized sleeves would swish. Haldo relayed the following report to the Society: “I met Apollon’s new jacket today, and wouldn’t you know— Apollon was inside it!”

The Padawan advanced quickly in rank: Bigtrill referred to him exclusively as “Master Jedi” for a week. At the same time, he made light of Apollon’s homage: “If there are any Jedi living, Auriel is one; she is valiant and compassionate— to the deserving, which I am not— and she is committed to justice above all else, even the considerations of love. No better Jedi will you ever find than she! Skywalker lives in Auriel!” (You must remember that in the days of the Empire, the name of Anakin Skywalker was not yet associated with the monster he was later revealed to be; therefore, Bigtrill’s allusion was decidedly high praise.)

Apollon would still return home to find credits had been wired to his account. He would always send them back, with the same message. The transactions were from Lord Kondric’s account. The replies were sent to Estia. He and Ector were not on speaking terms, unless bank statements were speaking. Yet it pained him somewhat that Estia never replied to his messages. He suspected her father had forbidden it.

One day, when he returned from Koodo’s, he found a visitor waiting for him at Haldo’s apartment. “Estia!”

Estia approached Apollon to embrace him. He accepted it warmly, but without joy. “My grandfather sent you, didn’t he.”

“He’s concerned about you,” Estia pleaded.

“Concerned!” Apollon huffed. “Concerned because I’m no longer under his thumb. No. I don’t care about his concerns.”

“Well, I’m concerned,” Estia replied, clasping her hands.

“I’m doing well,” said Apollon, gesturing to the penthouse apartment in which they stood. “I told you not to worry, Estia. I’m quite well. Are you? How are things at home for you?”

“Father doesn’t talk as much as he used to,” Estia replied sadly. “He misses you. We all do.”

“I miss you,” said Apollon, “but I do not miss him. If he thinks he can bribe me into regretting my decision, he’s sorely mistaken.”

Tears shimmered in Estia’s eyes. “Is this worth destroying the family over?”

“Ask him!” Apollon snapped. “I am not the one who kept my mother and father apart until the day my mother died! He destroyed this family years ago, and if he wants my forgiveness, it’s eighteen years too late! You go back there and tell him that, Aunt Estia, and I hope he spends the rest of his miserable life regretting his actions, instead of having the gall to expect me to regret mine. As if I could come back, in any case. I’m banished.”

“He’s willing to lift your exile.” Estia squeezed his hand. “Come home, Apollon. Let’s make things right.”

“He does not want to make things right.” Apollon jerked his hand away. “He wants me to pretend there was never anything wrong. He can pretend. I won’t.”


“Estia.” Apollon fixed her with a hard stare. “I don’t want to hear another word about it. Would you like some tea, or something?”

Estia wiped her eyes. “I miss you, Apollon.”

“I’m right here,” said Apollon bluntly. “And I am staying right here. You may stay and visit if you leave your father out of it. I would like that very much.”

Estia shook her head, more tears flowing. “Father will wonder where I’ve been if I stay any longer. He’ll be angry if he knows I came to see you.”

Apollon sighed. The back of his own eyes were starting to prickle. “Go then. You shouldn’t have come in the first place. I don’t want you to be in trouble.”

Estia pulled an envelope from her purse. “No,” Apollon whispered. “I told you.”

“It’s not from Father,” she whispered back, through tears. “It’s from me.”

“I can’t take it.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “I’m glad you’re thinking of me, but I can’t.”

Estia embraced him again, her tears staining the shoulder of his jacket. “Little brother…”

“I am not your brother, Estia,” Apollon whispered. “You are dear as a sister to me, but I can no longer call you that. Please understand.”

When they parted, Apollon reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handful of credits. “Here. For the fare home.”

“I don’t need it.”

“I can’t accept your gift. Let me give you one.”

Estia took the coins, wiped her eyes again and left. Haldo passed her in the hall. He gave Apollon a curious glance as he entered the apartment.

“Family matter,” Apollon sighed.

Haldo sucked his teeth. “Sounds messy.”

Apollon cried himself to sleep that night.

Chapter 11: The Girl Next Door

Chapter Text

As the semester drew to a close, Apollon pondered his situation extensively, considering his desire to emulate his father, to prove to himself and Ector that he could be financially independent. To this end, he decided it was time to make a significant change.

“You’re moving out?” Haldo asked incredulously. “You know you can stay over more than one semester, right? You don’t have to renew a contract with me or anything.”

“I’ve realized that relying on a wealthy friend isn’t much different from relying on my wealthy family,” Apollon explained. “I’m grateful to you for your help, Haldo, but I should really find a place of my own.”

“I understand,” Haldo grinned. “Matter of principle. I can respect that.”

“I’m going to go looking for a new place this afternoon,” said Apollon, picking up a pile of folded clothes he was going to sell. “I want to find somewhere cheap.”

“I know a place that’s pretty cheap,” Haldo replied. “It’s a little far from the school—”

“I can walk,” Apollon replied. “I need the exercise, anyway.”

“Well— it is pretty far out of the way,” Haldo warned him. “A couple hours from campus on foot.”

Apollon nodded. “Take me there.”

The place Haldo described was a dilapidated little complex in a much poorer neighborhood. Haldo remarked as they went in that they seemed to have cleaned up since he last saw it. He squashed a roach into the carpet on his way in.

He knocked on the door to the first room and the landlady answered it. “My friend here would like a tour,” said Haldo. “He’s considering renting a room here.”

Apollon stared at the landlady, who was perched atop a swivel chair and looked like no creature he had ever seen. She turned her beady gaze towards him and twitched her shurra-shaped trunk. “Does he always dress this sketchy?”

Haldo yanked the hood off Apollon’s head.

“Doesn’t matter,” the landlady sighed with a flap of her nose. “Sketchy’s all we get around here.”

Apollon realized he’d been staring at the landlady and coughed. “Er… Hello. My name’s Apollon. And I’m perfectly respectable, I promise.”

He stuck his hand out for a shake and immediately felt sheepish; the landlady had no arms. But she extended her hand-shaped foot without hesitation, accepting the gesture. “Well, you sound like it, at least. Be a nice change of pace if you are. Right this way.”

They followed the landlady into the lift and ascended one floor. “We’ve got a vacancy up here I’ve been trying to fill for ages,” said the landlady as she led them to the room in question. “Door sticks every now and then. Long story. Don’t ask.”

Apollon noticed the door to the room they were about to enter was the only one that was black around the edges.

The room was small and gray with a single window and a refresher room door. The only furniture consisted of a bed, a desk, and a conservator. Apollon observed the spartan conditions.

“I’ll take it.”

Haldo co*cked his head. “You sure about that, Apollon?”

“Yes,” Apollon nodded. “It’s perfect.”

He climbed onto the bed and assumed a lotus position.

“Whatever,” the landlady waved. “Rent’s 120 credits a month. First month half up front.”

Apollon fished through his pockets and came up with fifty-six credits. He chewed his lip.

Haldo sighed and drew four credits from his own pocket. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Apollon.”

Apollon smiled. “Thank you, Haldo.”

The landlady left the room with the credits. Haldo folded his arms. “You’re going to need to find a job.”

Apollon realized quickly when he went into town that he had very little in the way of marketable skills. He couldn’t do manual labor. He couldn’t perform maintenance on droids or tend bars. He applied to be a dishwasher at a restaurant, since he at least knew how to rinse a plate, but he couldn’t scrub or scrape, much less operate a dishwasher. His supervisor got fed up with him and told their boss she couldn’t train him, so he was fired almost as soon as he’d been brought on.

“Why don’tchye become a translator?” Proving suggested. “I know of an archivist in need of one for a special project.”

“Aren’t there droids for that?” Apollon frowned.

“His droids are havin some trouble wi’ this collection he’s acquired,” Proving explained. “He purchased a bunch of old manuscripts written in a Birunian script, but whatever’s written on them isnae Aubwari or Ytagic or anythin, so th’ droids cannae make any sense of it. Since ye can read Birunian, I wonder if ye’d be able tae identify the language, perhaps.”

“If it’s Old Tionese I can,” said Apollon hopefully.

Proving pursed his lips. “What are the odds o’ tha’, I wonder.”

Proving put him in touch with the archivist, who showed him the documents. Apollon mapped the text to Tionese characters on a sheet of flimsiplast and confirmed the text was indeed Tionese. It was, in fact, a lost work attributed to Remoh, ancient author of the Ranruniad and the Yrphaxia. The archivist was thrilled by the discovery and offered Apollon twenty credits an hour to translate the records. Apollon gladly accepted.

The Force is with me, he thought as he returned home. He still wasn’t exactly sure what the Force was, but he knew it had moved fate to provide him with this opportunity. He was fortunate indeed to have found such a high-paying job. He was able to make more than enough to cover rent, leaving him to buy food and other necessities comfortably.

One day, he encountered a Weequay girl in the hall on his way out. She looked to be around his age and noticeably less well off (which, considering his situation, was saying something.) Her frame was bony, her blue skirt patchy and full of holes, yellowed graying sando slipping from one shoulder. She wore a green bandana around her head.

Apollon wondered if this Weequay could possibly be related to Tarkay. He had to find out her name. “Hello! Apollon Kondric. I just moved in a few days ago.”

“Desdemona Banquo,” she replied in a noticeably lower-class accent, wrinkling her nose.

Not the name he’d hoped for. He hid his disappointment. “Nice to meet you.”

Desdemona walked past him and entered her apartment next door without a word. Apollon sighed and proceeded to the elevator.

When he returned home from class, he found the landlady at Desdemona’s door, rapping on it with an insistent foot-fist. “I know one of you is home! Time to pay up. I’ve given you long enough. I’m not waiting around anymore!”

“Excuse me,” Apollon asked, “who lives in that room?”

The landlady’s chair swiveled round. “That would be the Banquos,” she grumbled. “Weequay family. And they’re not going to be living here much longer if they don’t stop taking advantage of my patience. Three months they’re behind on their rent, and they haven’t coughed up a quinticred.”

“I’ll cover it,” Apollon blurted. “Don’t kick them out.”

The landlady tilted her floppy-eared head. “You serious?”

“Yes, just— let me get the money from my room.” Apollon was surprised at himself, not quite sure why those words were issuing from his mouth. But it felt right. He ducked into his room and gathered three months’ worth of rent from his desk drawer into a credit pouch. He deposited it into the landlady’s foot-palm. “There. Three months’ rent.”

The landlady looked at the credit pouch, then at Apollon, then at the credit pouch. “Alright.”

Apollon smiled as he returned to his room. That felt like something his father would have done.

A few days later, there was a knock at Apollon’s door. He supposed it was the landlady coming to collect his own rent. He was surprised instead to find another Weequay girl outside. She looked slightly younger than Desdemona, a baggy ginger cap on her bald, braided head. Her tunic, equally baggy, was tucked into a sash that matched her cap and held her slightly tattered green skirt in place. Her grey eyes widened when he opened the door.

“Hello,” Apollon said cordially, when the girl didn’t say anything.

“Well, ‘ello to you too,” the girl replied quietly.

“Are you my neighbor next door?” asked Apollon. “One of the… Banquos?”

“Portia,” said the girl breathily. “What’s your name, then?”

Apollon swallowed a gag, taking half a step back at the faint stench on her breath. “I’m Apollon.”

Portia’s eyes widened. “That’s a fancy name, that is. I likes it.”

“Th-thank you?” Apollon invited her inside, hoping that she wouldn’t have to stand so close to him once she wasn’t outside the door. “Y-yours too. Isn’t that Atrisian? I’ve never heard of a Weequay with a name like that.”

“Mum thought it was senatorial,” Portia explained as she stepped over the threshold, casting her eyes about the room. “We used to be rich once, you know.”

“Did you now?” Apollon replied conversationally.

“Ain’t no more,” Portia muttered.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Apollon began to register that he didn’t actually know why the girl had knocked on his door in the first place. “I’m sorry— can I help you with anything?”

“We ‘eard you paid our rent for us,” said Portia as she wandered over to the conservator. She ran her thumb over the seal. “That was very kind o’ you.”

“Happy to help,” Apollon replied as she turned to his desk. She picked up the datapad where the scans of the archivist’s texts were displayed.

“So…” Portia said quietly, “just you ’ere yourself, is it?”

“Just me,” Apollon nodded, striding over to the desk to take the datapad from her.

She picked up the other datapad, the one with Apollon’s Basic translation. “You writin’ a book?”

“Translation,” Apollon explained, gently removing the datapad from her hand. “Copying some rare documents into Basic.”

“Oh, you’re a clever boy, you are,” Portia whispered. “You must be to do such clever work. I’m clever too, you know. I can write. Do you want to see?”

“I believe you,” said Apollon, but she’d already snatched up a scrap of flimsiplast.

She scrawled something in a messy script he didn’t recognize. “‘Chess ko… Du… D’Emperiolos… unko.’”

“What does that mean?”

“Oh.” Portia dropped the stylus. “Course you wouldn’t know ‘Uttese… Be undignified, it would, Core Worlder like yourself speakin’ a low tongue like that…”

“I’m from Tion, actually…” said Apollon as Portia laid down on his bed. He still didn’t know what she wanted.

“Oh, this is nice,” she whispered as she stretched herself across the covers. “Too nice for the likes o’ you, Port…”

“Don’t you have a bed in your apartment?” Apollon frowned.

“Just the one,” Portia replied, laughing. “We ‘as to share it between the four of us, an’ it ain’t nearly so comfy as this one…”

She rolled over on her side, cradling her head in one hand, drawing up one knee. “‘E’s from Tion, ‘e says… What are you there, a duke? Maybe a prince?” Her eyes glittered.

“Banished,” Apollon replied. He didn’t have the heart to shoo her off the bed, after what she’d just said.

“Banished…” Portia’s nonexistent lips turned upward. “‘Ow exciting.”

“Not nearly as much as it sounds.” Apollon coughed. “I’m sorry, is there something I can help you with?”

Portia’s fingers curled around the fabric of her skirt, bunching it up slightly so it lifted to the middle of her shin. “Oh, we don't want to bother a nice boy like you, no, sir, we wouldn’t dream of it, nice, ‘andsome boy like you… Only, it seems we don't ‘ave money for food…”

Finally, something he could help her with. “How much?”

“Oh, we would never presume, kind sir,” Portia replied, eyes widening. “Whatever you sees fit to give us, we’ll be ‘appy with.”

Apollon drew thirty credits from his desk drawer. “Here.”

Portia’s eyes glittered again. Slowly, she touched the tips of her bony fingers to Apollon’s palm and scooped the coins into her fist. “Thank you ever so much, kind sir,” she breathed, and again Apollon had to suppress a gag. “My folks’ll be much pleased with this, yes they will.”

“Any time,” Apollon replied, shifting slightly under Portia’s unblinking gaze of gratitude. “Well, it was very good to meet you, Portia…”

“You can call me Port, Mr. Apollon,” Portia replied in a husky voice.

“Just Apollon will do,” Apollon replied. “Er… good to meet you, Port.”

She touched his hand again as she walked toward the door. “If you ever need anythin’, you knows where to find me. Just ask.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Apollon smiled. “Goodbye, Port.”

Portia twiddled her fingers with a yellow smile as he shut the door. He wondered what his father would make of her. He wondered what Huu-Sri, his father’s Padwan, had been like. Were all Weequays this odd?

Despite her strange demeanor, he felt as though he should hope that Portia stopped by again. After all, she was a Weequay, and he wanted to develop the same appreciation for Weequay culture that his father had held. Perhaps, if he could find one, he could invest in a Sriluurian dictionary and learn the Weequay language. Perhaps getting closer to these Banquos would help him in some way in his quest to track down Tarkay.

Meanwhile, Portia reported back to her family. “‘E’s from Tion,” she announced as she deposited the credits into her father’s hand. “Banished prince or the like.”

Banquo chuckled. “This could be very good for us. We need to make sure to stay in ‘is good graces. Excellent work, Port.”

Portia nodded eagerly.

“‘Ow rich is ‘e then?” asked Mrs. Banquo, rubbing her hands.

Portia shrugged. “‘Oo’s to say? ‘E’s a right generous one, though, so ‘e must be sittin’ on a pretty peggat.”

“Never would’ve thought ‘e was the noble type,” Desdemona remarked. “Walkin’ round in them cheap clothes with a coat that don’t fit— figured that fancy voice ‘e was doin’ weren’t natural. Thought ‘e must’ve been puttin’ it on.”

“No,” Portia sighed with a smile as she sank to the floor against the bed, gazing up at the ceiling. “It’s real.”

Banquo jingled the credits in his hand with a grin.

Chapter 12: Encounters at the Park


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Portia visited Apollon regularly as time went on. She always seemed to leave with a pocketful of credits. Apollon’s attempts at small talk were clumsy; they always seemed to end up talking about him, when he wanted to know more about the Banquos. Portia evaded the subject of her family with masterful caginess. All Apollon was able to learn about them was that she was the youngest, with an older sister and two parents. He didn’t know what the Banquos did for a living, if they did anything at all. He gathered that Portia was about two years younger than him and Desdemona was two years older than her, but otherwise, the Banquos were a mystery to him.

The new semester began. Apollon signed up for a Clone Wars course and found that he would be classmates with Bail Proving. This was extremely fortuitous as he and Proving would be able to study together, and it was a professor he had had before in his High Republic history class. He also enrolled in a Turchian class as well, to learn the language of his father’s homeworld. But the university didn’t offer any Sriluurian courses. He’d have to seek extracurricular resources if he wanted to learn it.

Apollon meditated regularly, in an effort to tap into the Force. Every day he would sit on his bed or the floor with his legs crossed and meditate. He was easily distracted, to his frustration, which rather hindered his efforts. He’d secretly hoped to be able to float a few inches off the ground with sufficient concentration, but whenever the environment was free of all distractions, he ended up dozing off. Still, he persisted, hoping to build the necessary discipline to enter a Jedi trance.

One day during his afternoon contemplation, loud music started in the room directly above him. The ceiling thrummed as he tried to concentrate. He could hear Banquo yelling over the noise and banging on his own ceiling with a stick. As it was impossible to achieve serenity in these conditions, Apollon decided to speak to the neighbors about the noise.

The door was answered by a wrinkly gray individual with raisin-shaped eyes and a very wide mouth, two drumsticks in hand. “HELLO!” he thundered.

“Yes, hello,” Apollon cringed, sticking a finger in his ringing ear, wondering if his neighbor knew he could hear him perfectly well from where he was standing. “Would you mind playing your music a little more quietly, please? I’m trying to study.”

“Oh, WE play too loud?” His neighbor nodded amenably. “WE sorry. WE play NOT SO loud now.”

His neighbor turned and called over his shoulder, “He WANT US to play NOT SO loud.”

“Thank you very much,” Apollon smiled politely through his teeth.

“IT NOTHING,” his neighbor bellowed brightly, closing the door.

If there was any reduction in volume, no one could detect it. Apollon decided to seek an alternate place of contemplation.

We have been following Apollon for quite some time now. It’s time we returned to Leela.

Ether’s term of service had ended long before, although the Empire had neglected to notify him. During his service, he had been called upon only twice. Otherwise, life had continued as normal for Ether and Leela over the past three years.

On this particular day, Leela and her father went to the park in the early afternoon, as was their routine. She’d brought a book that had gripped her attention for the past week. If it had been printed on a tangible bound document, it would have been as dense as a duracrete brick. The device which contained it actually was noticeably thicker than the average holobook. Leela had been steadily chipping away at it for hours at a time every single day. She was excited to finish today.

She made a crucial miscalculation. She finished early.

Leela knew she was a fast reader— this book would’ve taken most people twice as long to read— but she hadn’t expected to finish the last fifty pages in under half an hour. Switching off the finished holobook, she cast her eyes about.

The sun shimmered on the water as the dacklers swam. Children played on the other side of the pond— she remembered being one of those children once.

Her eye caught someone walking down the path. Someone wearing an oversized brown coat, ankle-length with a hood that obscured the wearer’s eyes. Underneath, beige trousers and a beige tunic, with tall leather boots.

Leela immediately began to speculate as to the identity of the wearer. Were they human, Zabrak, or some other humanoid species? Male or female? Leela thought— hoped— assumed— that whoever it was must be very handsome. Though not the least bit fashionable, their attire appealed greatly to Leela. She adjusted her tabard, hoping they would pass by so she could see their face.

The individual stopped short of them, instead sitting and crossing their legs at the foot of a tree. Leela’s eyes widened with anticipation as they lifted their hood. In the shade, she could see that he was a young man, with thick dark curls and handsome features. He did not appear to notice her or her father, but straightened his jacket, placed his open palms on his knees, and closed his eyes.

Leela pretended not to have been looking at him, lest her father realize she had finished her book. Her earcones burned blue at the thought that he might notice what had attracted her attention. Periodically, she would sneak a glance in the boy’s direction to see if he had cracked an eye open, but he did not.

Leela strongly suspected a common interest. An interest encouraged by her father when she was at the morut, but not since they left. An interest that had strongly informed her personal wardrobe, and one that appeared to influence that of this boy. The way he was sitting in that meditative pose… Leela could not be mistaken. This was a kindred spirit.

But how to catch his eye when it was shut? He was too absorbed in his meditation to notice her.

His eyes were closed. Were his ears?

“Look at that dackler, Papa,” she said suddenly, much louder than necessary. “It’s swimming faster than the others.”

“Which one?” Ether frowned.

Leela’s eye flicked for a microsecond towards the sitting boy. His brow was knotted.

“Er… That one, with the purple tailfeathers,” she pointed, raising her voice even louder.

“Why are you shouting?” Ether furrowed his brow.

“I’m not,” said Leela at a semi-normal volume.

She glanced at the boy under the tree. His fists were clenched.

“I finished my book,” Leela commented.

“Leela, is your hearing alright?” asked Ether. “I’m right here. You’re talking like I’m sitting twenty feet away.”

“I’m just excited,” Leela replied, without reducing her volume. “I want to tell you about my book.”

“Alright,” her father replied, furrowing his brow. “Are you absolutely sure your hearing is alright?”

“Perfectly fine, Papa,” said Leela brightly. “Now there’s this character in the book named Jedd. Have I told you about him?”

“No, you haven’t,” said Ether, lacing his fingers.

“Jedd’s fascinating. I like Jedd. I do.” Leela grinned. She hoped the boy was listening now. “He’s probably the most interesting character in the book. At the beginning, he…”

Apollon tugged his hood over his head, screwing his eyelids tighter. Some vapid teenage girl was jabbering away on her comlink at a much higher volume than necessary, and it was ruining his concentration. She was almost worse than his upstairs neighbors.

The girl’s voice got even louder, so he could just make out individual words. “…secrets from… doesn’t want… actually—”

Blast it! It was like she was doing it on purpose. He could swear she was deliberately yelling in his direction, just to annoy him. Well, he wouldn’t let her win. He would tune her out. That’s what meditation was for.

“…battlefield to save the man she loves, but the sheriff…”

Apollon started humming loudly in an attempt to drown out the girl’s voice. Tune her out, tune her out, tune her out, tune her out, tune her out—

“—but because he let the sheriff live, the sheriff lets him go!”

I give up. Apollon got to his feet, muttering viciously. His neighbors had probably finished band practice by now. He was going home.

He thought about casting a dirty look in the girl’s direction, but he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. He stalked away fuming, pointedly avoiding glancing over his shoulder in the direction of her voice. Just because she’d succeeded in driving him off, he wasn’t about to let her know how much she’d gotten to him. The nerve of some people, he thought as he left. I thought this was a civilized planet.

“—after he reunites the heiress with her lover, Jedd decides to…” Leela’s eyes darted to the tree for an instant. The boy was gone.

“Decides to…?” her father prompted.

Leela sighed. “I forgot what I was going to say.”

“Let me know when it comes to you,” said her father kindly.

Leela sighed. “Let’s go home. I’ll finish telling you on the way.”

The next morning, they volunteered at the soup kitchen, something they did often. Leela loved it; it gave her the opportunity to indulge in one of her many passions— cooking— and interact with many interesting people.

Serving food to strangers was the most socialization Leela got, these days. She loved seeing people taste her food, especially her tiingilar, a dish she had worked half her life to perfect. It was one of a few vestiges of her Mandalorian life she clung jealously to, reminding herself of a life that she missed on occasion. She would not have traded this life to return to her old one; she’d grown too fond of the freedom it afforded her, despite…

Despite having naught but four friends in the whole galaxy. That was, four if Creampuff truly counted. Or Whytoo. Twos counted. Her father definitely counted. She wished she hadn’t lost communication with Sarad. Or anyone else from the morut. What she wouldn’t give for a friend her own age… and Whytoo definitely didn’t count as far as that was concerned.

Leela’s mind kept returning to the boy from the park. Maybe I scared him off. He did look like he was trying to concentrate. But—

“Miss?” A little Twi’lek girl held up a bowl. “Are you alright?”

“Yes!” Leela shook herself. “Yes, sorry.” She ladled a serving of romato soup into the girl’s bowl.

The girl’s mother thanked Leela. Leela smiled and served the mother her soup. A lump came to her throat as she watched them sit together at one of the tables.

“Are you alright?” her father asked, chewing his lip.

Leela smiled. “Yes, Papa, I’m fine.”

The Weequay boy next in line placed his bowl in front of her father’s pot and said, “Gimme the good stuff.”

Leela couldn’t help but chuckle as her father served up a ladleful of tiingilar into the kid’s bowl. The kid went for the Mandalorian stew every time they served it. “You really like my tiingilar, don’t you?”

“Well, I don’t know what tingy-lar is,” said the boy, “but it’s sure karkin’ good.”

“You really shouldn’t use that word, young man,” Ether admonished gently.

“What?” The boy co*cked his head. “It is good, innit? What’s wrong with sayin’ ‘good?’”

Ether waved it aside. “Never mind.”

“I’m glad you like my stew,” Leela smiled, handing him a piece of haarshun bread. “I don’t know many children your age who like spicy things.”

The boy looked at her like she was the child. “Ma’am, I’m a Weequay.”

Leela chuckled as she drew a ladleful of romato soup for the next person in line. The thought occurred to her that she might spy the boy from the park here— his clothes had looked shabby enough that he might be homeless. It was an absurd thought, but Leela couldn’t get rid of it once it had occurred to her, and she felt stupid for being disappointed when the boy didn’t show up and ask for a bowl of soup.

She felt a little more stupid for thinking he might show up at the park later that day.

By the next week, she’d almost succeeded in putting the boy out of her mind.

Before the end of that week, Apollon’s meditation was once again interrupted when his upstairs neighbors held another band practice session. Evidently this was now a regular event. He could hear Banquo banging on the ceiling again. “Damn Drabatans!”

Apollon figured he’d give the park another try. As long as that loud girl wasn’t there again, blathering on her comlink about some holodrama or other. Honestly, she’d only seemed to get louder the tighter he shut his eyes! Some people were just so inconsiderate.

He found his tree and sat down, looking around warily for the girl from before. He didn’t actually know what she looked like, but the coast seemed clear. With luck, he wouldn’t have any distractions this time.

He closed his eyes. The soft wind on his face, the tweeting of the birds, the smell of spring on the breeze, all faded into blissful nothingness.

Blissful, until he heard a familiar voice.

“—gets suspicious and thinks he might be a spy for the sheriff, so he—”

“Hey!” Apollon shouted, eyes flying open. There she was, sitting at the park bench, wearing a frilly pink dress and holding an imagecaster. She looked up at the sound of his voice. “I’m trying to focus, if you’d be so kind!”

The girl laughed and tossed her bottle blonde hair. “Well, hellooooooooo there! Aren’t you adorable!”

“If you’re going to talk on the com,” said Apollon, marching up to her, “you don’t need to shout so the whole park can hear you! This is supposed to be a place of tranquility!”

The girl batted her blue eyes innocently, switching off the imagecaster. “I was just talking to my best friend in the whole wide galaxy.”

“That’s all well and good,” said Apollon, “but some of us are trying to meditate, and you don’t need to raise your voice when you’re using your comlink.”

“Oh, no, I know,” the girl winked. “I was just trying to get you to look at me.”

“Well, I looked at you! Are you happy?” Apollon snapped. “Now mind your own business. I want to get back to my meditation.”

“Oh, no, please stay,” the girl pouted, wrinkling her petite white nose as she grabbed his arm. “How will I ever find you again?”

“Ideally, you won’t,” Apollon replied curtly, walking away. “Good day.”

“Don’t you find me fascinating?” She suddenly appeared in front of him. “Don’t you want to get to know me, pretty boy?”

“You are not my type,” Apollon scoffed, looking her up and down.

“You sure about that?” The girl’s laugh was silent as a thought as everything faded from view.

He became aware of a rumbling emanating from his own nostrils.

Dank farrik.

Apollon opened his eyes with a groan. He could never win. He couldn’t concentrate when he was distracted, he fell asleep when he wasn’t distracted.

And that girl. By the stars, he wasn’t even safe in his dreams anymore. She was like the killer in that holo-slasher Haldo had shown him.

He sighed and leaned his head back against the tree. As long as he was here, he might as well take in his surroundings.

There was a tree to his right, several meters away, larger than the one he stood under. Directly in front of him was a small hill, which sloped enough to obscure the first floors of the buildings outside the park. To the left…

Apollon had never been able to find a holoimage of the Jedi Knight Aayla Secura as described in his father’s journal, but the Twi’lek girl who sat on the bench must have looked very much like her. He’d never seen so much brown clothing on one person. Brown pants tucked into brown boots. A sleeveless brown knee-length wrap tunic and crossed brown sashes, secured by a brown belt. A brown head covering— he’d always wondered what those were called, those things that Twi’leks wore on their heads where the head-tails sprouted from the skull.

She sat beside an old human man in a heavy green coat over a dark beige sweater. Apollon thought the coat was rather ugly. He observed that the man possessed hair of roughly the same color and length as his father’s when he had died, but straighter, and he wore a beard that seemed to frame his mouth in a frown. His bushy brows were just dark enough to stand out against his pale forehead. His hands were folded in his lap, fingers interlaced.

The man’s eye fell on Apollon. His countenance was neutral, but the glance was enough for Apollon to notice how large the man was.

He made the mistake of freezing instead of breaking eye contact.

When the old man finally looked away, Apollon made his exit.

All the way home, Apollon berated himself for his cowardice. Frightened by the glance of an old man. Who was to say it had even been an unfriendly glance? He’d missed his chance to introduce himself to a kindred spirit, just because he’d been intimidated by her companion. Father? Grandfather? Uncle? What a strange pair they made. His curiosity grew sore with each moment he reflected on it.

“I should have gone up to them,” Apollon lamented, staring at his undrunken tea. “Someone else I could talk about the Jedi with…”

“Besides me, of course,” Koodo winked.

“With you!” Apollon said hastily. “I wanted to introduce her to you! Oh, Koodo, if you could meet her… But now I’ve missed my chance to meet her. I could have shared my father’s writings with her, let her hear your stories…”

“What about her father?” Koodo raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think he would be interested as well?”

“He didn’t seem interested,” Apollon replied uncertainly.

“Mm.” Koodo took a sip of tea. “You’re assuming quite a bit. I don’t know that this girl herself had any particular interest in the Jedi. It’s not as if the Jedi were the only ones to wear brown in the galaxy.”

“It was a wraparound tunic,” Apollon protested. “With sashes.”

“Nothing I haven’t seen a Tionese woman wear,” Koodo remarked.

“But this isn’t Tion.”

“She might be from Tion,” Koodo pointed out. “There are Twi’leks in many Hegemony systems.”

Apollon remained unconvinced. “The old man looked more Stewjonian than Tionese.”

“The girl was obviously adopted, if he is indeed her father. Besides which, the Hegemony’s human population is diverse too, and not only because of Xim’s conquests. Or maybe she simply dresses that way out of convenience.”

“There are more convenient modes of dress,” Apollon argued. “A cami, or a shirt. Some kind of pullover. No wraps or fasteners required.”

“How many people do you see wearing shirts or camis as outerwear?” Koodo mused. “Over the age of twelve standard, that is.”

Apollon had to admit, the last time he’d seen a plain short-sleeved shirt had been when he’d put on his undershirt in the morning. He’d seen spacers and children wear shirts like that on occasion, but no one else. “Anyway,” Koodo continued, “is it inconvenient for you to put on your tunic?”

“I don’t wear sashes,” Apollon pointed out. “And most of my tunics are—”

Koodo shook his head with a chuckle. “My point is, the decrease in convenience is likely negligible for people who dress the way they do every day.”

“So you think she dresses like that every day!” Apollon replied, raising an eyebrow.

Koodo laughed and shook his head.

Apollon’s triumph was short-lived. “Not that I’ll ever see her again anyway.”

Koodo smiled sympathetically. “You never know. You just might.”


Aaaaaaaaand I don't have the next chapter finished yet, so it might take a while. It's gonna be good though!

The Drabatan language is a very loud language, utilizing volume variation as a function of grammatical meaning. It would follow that this feature would bleed into some Drabatans' Basic accents. Shoutout to @Findswoman for lending me her document of loud and soft Drabatese words for Apollon's neighbor's dialogue; check out her Drabatan OC stories here.

Chapter 13: Leela's Victory

Chapter Text

For the eighth time, Apollon felt like turning around. She wasn’t going to be there. Why would she be? He’d been to the park twice in two weeks, and she had only been there once, so it wasn’t like she made a habit of—

He couldn’t believe it. There they were, the girl and her father, walking right up to the bench where he had seen them sitting. He thanked the stars that she had come again. With his luck, he’d been half-dreading that obnoxious girl from before would be there instead.

Apollon chewed his lip. Would she look at him this time?

Only one way to find out.

He tried to be casual as he approached. If she saw him coming, she didn’t give any sign. However, her father’s eye flicked in his direction. Apollon tried to remain casual as he passed by.

Maybe she would notice him if he walked by again. He walked several paces before turning around and trekking back the way he came. Halfway through, it occurred to him to remove his hood.

He was at a disadvantage coming from the other direction. Her father sat at her right, so he was closer. His frame blocked her view of him slightly. As such, it was her father’s eye that fell upon him first again, while she remained absorbed in her holobook.

He smiled nervously as he passed, hoping to convey a nonthreatening appearance. He could not gauge the old man’s expression from the brief glance he spared him.

He took a deep breath as he grew farther away from them. One more time. Just one more time.

He was barely within sevens meters of the bench when the old man noticed him a third time. He stopped himself from turning around. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, so why act guilty and make himself look suspicious? He marched on, stopping at the tree where he had meditated the first two times he had been there. And if the girl happened to look up from her book and glance his way…

He closed his eyes and began his meditation. It was a shallow pretense; there was only one thing he could focus on.

Periodically, he cracked an eye open to see if the girl was looking at him. Through his occasional glimpses, he saw that her eyes were not completely glued to her book; still, she did not take any notice of him.

Once, he thought she might be looking at him, but he had imagined it; her eyes were on her book.

Once when he opened his eye, he could have sworn she had looked directly at him for a split second— but no, she was staring with a peculiar intensity at something to his left. (He looked over his shoulder, but could not see what it was.)

Once, he cracked his eye open to find she had brought her book very close to her face, so only her eyes were visible. She remained like this with every subsequent glance he stole; occasionally she lifted the volume abruptly so that even her eyes were not visible.

She’s ignoring me, he realized. His heart sank. She wasn’t curious about him at all. His fears were confirmed when she put her book down and took to staring to his left at nothing again. There could be no doubt it was deliberate.

It seemed he’d misjudged her. Perhaps she had no interest in the Jedi after all, despite looking so much like one. Or maybe… maybe she didn’t think he was a Jedi enthusiast. Compared to her, he looked more like a wannabe smuggler than a devotee of the Force. His tunic wasn’t even a wrap, for stars’ sake! Of course she wouldn’t so much as look at—

Wait. Had she been staring at him?

Apollon’s eyes were rooted to her as she looked determinedly at her feet. Had he imagined it? Or had she indeed stolen a glance at him? She seemed determined to act as though she hadn’t, and that made Apollon certain she had. He kept his eyes fixed raptly on her, to see if she would glance at him again.

Her father glanced at him first.

Apollon coughed into his sleeve, face flushing. By the time he was finished coughing, the girl and her father had gotten up. They were walking away.

Apollon’s heart sank again. He was sure he’d had something to do with it.

He replayed the encounter in his head the whole way home.

Later that evening there was a knock on his door. That’ll be Portia, he thought as he went to answer it. He was already reaching into his pocket with one hand as he pressed the door button with the other. As he expected, it was Portia on the other side of the door. “Hello, Portia.”

“‘Ello, Mr. Apollon,” Portia beamed. “You in a good mood today?”

“I don’t know, Portia,” Apollon sighed.

“Tell Port,” Portia said breathily, touching his shoulder. “You can tell me anythin’.”

Apollon brushed her off. “It’s nothing, Portia. You need credits?”

“‘Oo says I do?” She crossed her bony arms. “I didn’t say that yet.”

“So… do you need credits?” Apollon raised an eyebrow.

“Only if you can spare ‘em,” Portia replied, looking at the ground.

“I can give you fifteen.”

“That’ll do nicely,” Portia murmured.

Apollon sighed and deposited the coins in her hand. He turned to go sit on his bed, but didn’t hear her shut the door. She was looking at him with a pitying expression. “You sure you’re alright, Mr. Apollon?”

“I’m fine.” Apollon kneaded his forehead. “Today’s just been a lot.”

Portia looked at the ground. “Well, you know I’m always ‘ere for you, if you need a friend to talk to… or… take your mind off things, you know…”

Apollon sighed. What did he and Portia have to talk about? Not her family, when she avoided the subject like an acrobat. Not each other’s daily lives, which were wholly dissimilar and yet too mundane to expound upon. He couldn’t even learn anything about Weequay culture from her. Portia knew maybe ten words of Sriluurian, and, by her own account, barely understood what they meant. Portia was almost entirely useless to him as a confidant. He wished he’d been able to talk to that girl from the park.

He realized he hadn’t responded to Portia’s offer, except for the sigh. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Portia left the room, glancing over her shoulder as the door shut behind her. Apollon went to bed early even though he had homework. He laid awake for half the night, ruminating.

Apollon went to the park the next day. The girl wasn’t there, and neither was her father. Resigned, he attempted to mediate, but his disappointment weighed heavily.

“What’s the matter, pretty boy?”

Apollon groaned at the familiar face. Why was she here again? She was like Zirza, the siren that goaded Yrphax in his nightmares. “Go away.”

“Not until I cheer you up,” Zirza pouted. This time she was dressed like the Twi’lek had been.

“You can cheer me up by leaving me alone,” Apollon replied moodily. “Can’t you go ruin someone else’s meditation?”

“Is that what you call it?” she laughed. “Seems to me like you’re just dozing off.”

“I wish I was asleep right now,” Apollon retorted pointedly. “I’m pretty sure you woke me up.”

“Not yet I haven’t,” Zirza grinned. “Cheer up. I’m sure I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“If you come back tomorrow, then I won’t,” Apollon snapped.

“Then I suppose we’ll both be disappointed, won’t we?” Zirza took his hand. “I do like you. Don’t let my friend scare you away.”

Apollon opened his mouth to ask what she was talking about and found himself opening his eyes instead.

He sighed. Of course.

Apollon seriously considered abandoning his meditation efforts again as he walked home. He could never seem to clear his mind without nodding off, and when he nodded off, Zirza was there to taunt him.

Apollon’s night dreams had become more or less equally strange as his daytime dazes. Frequently, he found himself having dreams in which he was a little girl. He didn’t know what they meant, but hoped they did not represent some sort of subconscious crisis of gender identity.

Apollon returned to the park the next day, although he knew the chances were slim that the girl and her father would be there. To his surprise, however, she was there, sitting on the bench with her father as she had before.

I should go before they see me, he thought. But his feet wouldn’t turn all the way. They veered only to the degree that he found himself sitting at his usual meditation tree, some twenty feet across from the left side of the bench.

He would ignore them. Maybe then, they wouldn’t leave. He knew there wasn’t a point to them staying or going if he didn’t approach or interact with them in any way, but it would wound his feelings less to know he hadn’t chased them off.

He assumed a cross-legged position and closed his eyes. Maybe, if he finally managed to tap into the Force, he would be able to float, and that would surely pique her curiosity.

Of course, if he started hovering off the ground, her father would surely see it too.

What was he so self-conscious about? It wasn’t as if her father— if he was her father— had shown him any hostility. Just brief, inscrutable, piercing glances that conveyed neither animosity nor warmth. That could mean anything. Maybe he was waiting for Apollon to walk up and introduce himself.

He risked a peek. Her father was giving him one of those glances now.

He shut his eye quickly. Tomorrow. He would introduce himself tomorrow.

“Hey there.”

Apollon yelled with a start at the sudden voice in his ear. “Haldo! What are you doing here?”

“I was just taking a walk when I saw a familiar face,” Haldo replied blithely. “You haven’t been coming to the meetings lately.”

“Yes, well…” Apollon’s face was burning. “I’m a little exhausted with political discourse at the moment.”

He risked a glance toward the bench. They were both definitely looking at him now.

Haldo glanced at them too. “Ha! That girl dresses more like a Jedi than you do.”

Apollon coughed.

“She’s cute,” Haldo grinned. “You’d be perfect for each other.”

Few suggestions are so mortifying as the initiation of a romantic enterprise with a person to whom one is drawn for other reasons. The idea that Apollon would automatically find this female stranger attractive filled him with deep consternation. And the idea that she would view him in that light— how absurd!

He was so embarrassed, he went to the holocinema with Haldo and Janyor the next day instead of going to the park. In fact he did not visit the park for several days afterward, electing instead to attend club meetings with the SPR. It was only when his Drabatan neighbors once again held band practice that he decided to visit the park again— if not to meditate, then to at least get some quiet.

The girl and her father were not there, to Apollon’s disappointment— disappointment which he resented greatly, in light of Haldo’s teasing. At least he would not be distracted during his meditation. But when his environment was free of distractions—

“What are you, narcoleptic?”

Apollon groaned. “Don’t tell me I’m having one of those dreams again.”

“Why is it you only talk to me when you’re asleep?” Zirza demanded. Her hair, which had been in an array of buns the last few times she’d appeared, was now done in twin tails.

“Because I only see you when I’m asleep,” Apollon replied waspishly, adding, “thank the stars.”

“You’re funny,” she giggled.

“If this is a dream, I can make you go away,” Apollon threatened.

“You’ll miss me,” she replied in an infuriating singsong voice.

“How do I wake up?” Apollon groaned.

“I could kiss you,” Zirza suggested.

“That’s not what I had in mind—” Apollon exclaimed as Zirza grabbed his temples and pulled his forehead towards hers. His eyes shot open.

That’s it. No more meditations. This time he meant it. The exercise was more trouble than it was worth.

He sighed and got up to leave. As he stood, he saw two people coming down the path. His mouth dropped open.

The old man was dressed much the same as ever, sporting the same green trenchcoat as always. The daughter, however, wore a beautiful, flowing white dress. The sashes around her waist and shoulders were gold, as was the glimmering ornament that sat on her headwrap. The long sleeves and sashes billowed in the wind as she walked, a holobook clutched in one hand. She smiled at Apollon as she and her father approached the bench.

Apollon’s throat caught. The smile had lasted merely an instant, but it was burned into his mind. He walked around the tree, sinking against the opposite side of the trunk. Stars above. He buried his face in his hands. Haldo is never going to let me hear the end of this.

Chapter 14: Castle Broque


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Leela wished she could wear a hood out. She knew the boy at the park would appreciate it. But she knew her father would worry if she did, and she hated to see her father worry.

She didn’t have any cloaks or cowls that really went with this shade, anyway. In fact, she was struggling to determine which color of her wardrobe would be a worthy accent to the burgundy brown she was sporting. She pursed her lips at the contents of her dresser drawer as she perused her options.

The apartment door opened. Her father was home. They would be leaving for the park any minute.

Leela decided to throw on a set of broad leather shoulder sashes. She had only just found the accompanying obi when he poked his head into the room. “Leela, are you ready to go?”

“Yes, I just need to find my belt,” Leela replied, fastening the sashes in place. She retrieved a simple black belt coiled in the bottom drawer and clasped it around the obi. She was sure the boy would like that.

As they approached the bench, Leela cast a surreptitious glance toward the tree. He was sitting there again. Rather than the meditative pose he usually adopted, his legs were stretched out casually. He had a holobook with him; Leela wished she could see the title.

As she sat with her own book, she flashed a smile at him as if to say, Good book?

He returned it as if to say, Yes, yours?

She winked. Very good.

This sort of thing went on for many days as Leela and her father returned to the park. She and the boy would exchange glances, which seemed to express most of the words they could not say. In truth, their communication was perhaps not as nuanced as they would have liked to believe, but it was communication nonetheless.

Leela took care to keep these developments private. She suspected that if her father discovered her desire to befriend this young man, he might interpret it as a sign of discontent with his own companionship. Leela feared her own ingratitude, with which she could not bear to see her father wounded; therefore she dared not pursue the boy openly, lest her father assume his own companionship was insufficient for her happiness.

She knew, of course, that her father was aware of the young man, though she could not parse the expression with which he always viewed him. But then she could not parse many of his expressions. She supposed this was because he was the only human she knew intimately whose hair covered the lower half of his face— though he had scarcely been easier to read when they had first met, and he had been sporting mere stubble then.

The boy had abandoned his efforts in meditation and all pretenses thereto. In order to appear occupied, he sometimes pretended to nap, or brought an imagecaster with a pocket-sized dejarik game loaded onto it. Leela wondered if he was any good at it. Whenever Leela played with her father these days, their games always seemed to end in stalemate. They had become too good at anticipating each other’s moves— in dejarik, in cu’bikad, in agger. She wondered if she could beat this boy at dejarik— and whether he was familiar with agger or cu’bikad.

One day, the boy arrived with a bag over his shoulder. When he sat down, he pulled a datapad from it and began to write. He snuck his usual glances at Leela every now and then. She returned them as often as she was able, wondering what he could be working on. Perhaps he was a student, writing an essay. She thought she saw the corner of a textbook poking out of his bag, but it was too far to be certain.

She sensed a change in her father’s mood. She looked and saw his gaze was fixed on the boy, who made the mistake of glancing at them just then. Ether’s countenance hardened by a fraction, and Leela suddenly recognized his expression. It was the look that crossed his face whenever he became aware of the presence of a stormtrooper.

The boy looked away, much too hastily, and tapped away feverishly at his datapad.

Ether took Leela’s hand and rose. “Let’s go home.”

“We just got here,” Leela protested, nonplussed.

“There’s something I have to do.”

Leela risked a backward glance as they departed from the park. The boy craned his neck to see them go. Even at the great distance, Leela could see his disappointment, mirroring her own. Maybe next time we’ll stay longer, she thought hopefully.

The next day, Ether told her to pack her things. “We’re moving.”

“Moving?” Leela gasped. “Where?”

“Not very far,” Ether reassured her. “You’ll like it. It’s a much bigger place than this one.”

Leela wasn’t sure she needed a bigger place, but she packed her bags and hoped for the best.

Not very far, as it turned out, was a relative description. The speeder ride seemed to take ages, and soon Leela knew that wherever they were moving, the park would not be within walking distance. Still, Leela supposed she should have been grateful that “not very far” was still on the same planet, let alone within the same city— albeit several districts away from their previous residence.

Their new home was a small mansion located on Iego Moons Road. Leela’s mouth dropped open as the speeder pulled through the gate. The driveway was a cobbled ring with a magnificent starwillow in the center, surrounded by a verdant garden in the shadow of a Mid Rim-style house. Leela could not imagine two people alone living in such a place.

Leela helped her father unload Whytoo from the back of the speeder and retrieve their luggage. “Welcome to your new home,” Ether announced as they entered through the gate.

There was a spacious drawing room immediately to the left of the front antechamber, with two sofas and a handful of armchairs, two of which were situated in front of a dejarik table. She passed through the Coruscanti columns on the opposite end of the room, mouth dropping open. There was a balcony, on the inside of the house. Even the Vod’tsad’s morut lacked such a grand feature— to say nothing of the columns.

A thought occurred to her as she observed the stairs. “How’s Whytoo going to get up there?”

“Droid dumbwaiter,” Ether replied.

“Why would you program a waiter droid to be dumb?” Leela furrowed her brow. “How would that help Whytoo up the stairs?”

Ether chuckled. “It’s a little elevator that’s just big enough for a utility droid.”

“Why is it called a dumbwaiter then?” asked Leela. “They should just call it a droid lift.”

“They call it that too,” said Ether. “Come this way. I have something to show you.”

Leela followed her father, who stopped in front of the doorway to a dark room. “On second thought, close your eyes first.”

Leela closed her eyes and let her father lead her by the hand into the room. “Alright, open them.”

Leela gasped. The entire room was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with glowing blue holobooks of every conceivable thickness. It was like standing in the middle of a rectangular hypertunnel.

“The illuminator switch is here,” Ether’s silhouette pointed, “but I have a feeling you’ll prefer to use this room with the lights off.”

Leela threw her arms around him. “Thank you, Papa!”

Ether patted her back. “Let’s go upstairs and pick your room.”

There were several bedrooms in the upstairs area of the house. Leela eventually settled on a room in the south wing overlooking the front yard, where the starwillow could be seen in the glory of the sunrise. Twos helped her get situated while her father went to choose his own room. There was a little shelf in the room Leela had chosen, so she was able to bring her old books from the apartment, which was fortunate since the downstairs library didn’t have a single empty space in it. More serendipitously, her new bed was the same size as her old one, so her favorite sheets fit too.

In Leela’s exploration of the house, she discovered an old holoplayer with yet another library— this one, a treasure trove of holofilms. Leela recognized the titles of some of her favorite literary works among the holodiscs and felt a thrill of anticipation. She’d never seen a holovid based on a book before.

Once she had seen every room in the second story, she headed back downstairs, as she had not explored the entire ground floor or the backyard yet.

As expected, she fell in love with the kitchen immediately. There was a table in the center of the room with pots and pans stacked underneath. The sinks were situated in front of a garden window. There was an adjoining scullery on one side of the room and a pantry on the other. Leela was reminded of the morut, and of her uncle’s cookery inside his little hut. A lump came to her throat.

“Mistress Leela?” Leela whirled around and saw Twos. “Master Ether is sending me to get groceries. Is there anything you need?”

“Can I come with you?” asked Leela eagerly.

“Master Ether wants you to get some rest,” Twos replied. “You’ve had a big day.”

“Oh.” Leela deflated. “Okay… I’ll make a list.”

“Very good, Mistress Leela,” Twos nodded.

Leela decided to head up to the library to pick out a new book.

After dinner— pog soup and haarshun bread— Leela asked her father, “Can we go to the park tomorrow?”

“Not tomorrow,” he replied. “I’m not feeling well.”

“Okay,” Leela said, trying not to let her disappointment show.

“How are you liking the library?” Ether asked tentatively.

Leela brightened. “I love it!”

“Good.” Ether smiled. “I saw a room upstairs that I thought would be perfect for your art studio. I noticed your room back at the apartment was getting a little crowded. You’ll have much more space here.”

“I love this place, Papa, thank you,” Leela beamed.

Over the next few weeks, Leela threw herself into her hobbies. She produced several holopaintings and devoured several holonovels from the library, as well as an intriguing little audio volume entitled Professor Samoth’s Guide to Ubese: Complete Fluency in a Standard Week. In the evening, she and her father would watch a holofilm in the upstairs room. Occasionally, Leela wished she could take one of her books to the park to read, but her father never took her to the park anymore. In fact, it seemed neither he nor Leela left the house at all these days.

She didn’t dare ask if they could go to the park. She was afraid her father would think she was bored of the house, which she wasn’t. Still, she wished deeply that she could see that boy again. He had seemed so disappointed to see her go. She wanted him to know she hadn’t forgotten him.

She also missed volunteering. Ever since they’d moved in, she hadn’t seen a single new face, except in holofilms and the portraits around the house. She wondered if the people at the shelter were missing her tiingilar and uj’alayi. Finally she mustered the courage one night to mention it to her father. “We haven’t helped at the soup kitchen in a while.”

“You’re right.” Ether frowned. “We’ve been neglecting them.”

He laced his fingers under his nose and was quiet for the rest of dinner.

The next day when Leela came downstairs and made breakfast, her father surprised her by entering from the backyard. She’d thought he’d been upstairs getting dressed. But his hair was uncombed and his clothes the same as yesterday, only both were now covered in dust. “Papa! What were you doing outside so early?”

“Oh, I…” Ether stammered. “Just, um… gardening. Doing some gardening.”

“Did you put on the same clothes you wore yesterday?” she asked with a furrowed brow as she loaded his plate.

“I… yes,” he nodded. “I… didn’t want to get my clothes dirty, so I wore the ones from yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s smart, Papa,” Leela smiled as he sat down. “What were you doing in the garden? Did you plant something?”

“Hm?” Ether coughed. “Oh, I was… organizing the toolshed, actually. It’s a mess in there, you know.”

“Well, maybe I can help,” Leela offered. “I’m not so bad at organizing things.”

“Oh, no, that’s alright, I already finished,” Ether waved. “Leela, we’re going to go out and help some people today.”

“Oh, how, wonderful, Papa!” Leela beamed. “When are we going?”

“As soon as we’re ready,” Ether replied.

Leela immediately got to work on a pot of tiingilar and a pan of uj cake. As soon as they were finished, Leela and her father took a taxi to the soup kitchen.

Leela was thoroughly relieved at the sight of new faces— and many familiar ones. “The ‘ell ‘ave you been?” demanded the Weequay boy as Leela served him a bowl of tiingilar.

Leela laughed apologetically. “Sorry. I moved houses and I guess we had to spend a while getting settled. I promise we’ll be back again from now on… I think.”

“You better,” the boy said reproachfully. “You wouldn’t believe the slop they serve when you ain’t ‘ere.”

A masked individual with a missing left arm approached the line. Leela recognized the style of the helmet as Ubese. She perked up. A chance to practice.

Ubese is a highly contextual language almost entirely comprised of verbs. Leela therefore pointed wordlessly to the pot of romato soup and the pot of tiingilar.

“That one, please,” the Ubese individual rasped when Leela pointed to the tiingilar.

Leela filled their bowl. “Yu-gyosh.”

The individual co*cked their head, then tilted it graciously. “Zibuhs-cha.”

Leela smiled as the Ubese individual proceeded down the line. Her father offered the Ubese individual a square of uj cake. “A, yadzo-cha?”

Leela raised an eyebrow. She didn’t remember her father being fluent in Ubese.

“Zibuhs-cha,” the Ubese individual nodded. Then, switching to Basic again: “My exile, it has been difficult. You help relieve my burden.”

“Exile, you say?” Ether raised his eyebrow. “That’s a terrible thing to live with. Is there anything more I can do?”

“Thank you,” the Ubese individual replied with a deferential gesture. “It is not necessary. I have a roof. You give me food. It is enough.”

Ether quietly produced a scrap of flimsiplast. “Do you have an address?”

After the soup kitchen, Ether and Leela caught a taxi to the store, then a taxi home. Later that evening, they caught another taxi to the address the Ubese individual had provided.

Ether knocked on the apartment door. The Ubese individual, who had provided the name Yaahtu along with their address, opened it. Their head tilted in surprise. “Ia-tos.”

“Ia-teis. Yuh-teis,” Ether said, holding up the basket he was carrying. He lifted his chin. “Ia-teisesh-cha.”

Yaahtu invited them inside. “I apologize. I do not have food.”

“That’s why we came,” Ether said, placing the basket on Yaahtu’s caf table. Yaahtu picked up one of the canisters. Each of them were labeled. The one in their hand had tiingilar written on the lid in Aurebesh and ash-daza in Ubese. There were three other canisters like it, and two canisters that read uj cake, also labeled ash-daza. In addition to the canisters, there was a blanket, a box of laundry pods, and a small sack. Yaahtu picked up the sack. “A, uto.”

“A, yuh-toza,” Ether explained. “There’s five hundred credits in there.”

“Five hundred” Yaahtu cried. “Zibuhs-cha, zibuhs-cha, but I cannot accept this!”

“Please take it,” Ether urged. “You need it.”

A swallow rasped through Yaahtu’s vocoder. “Excuse me for a moment.”

“Of course,” Ether nodded. Yaahtu excused themself momentarily to their bedroom. The door shut. Leela heard the hiss of a helmet seal releasing, followed by silent, breathy sobbing.

After a while, Yaahtu emerged from their room, once again helmeted. They extended their hand to Ether. “You have helped me greatly, friends. Zibuhs-cha.”

“Eb-yu. Eis, yebu,” Ether replied. “O, ash-tushcha.”

Leela co*cked her head, bemused by her father’s words. Yaahtu seemed equally mystified as to what Ether meant. “U, cho-deitga.”

Ether simply smiled and nodded.

As they left Yaahtu’s residence, Leela asked, “Who were you talking about, Papa?”

“What do you mean?”

“‘They are everywhere. They connect us. May they be within you,’” Leela prompted. “Who were you talking about?”

“I wasn’t referring to a person,” said Ether.

But u is the animate singular particle.”


Leela furrowed her brow. “So what were you talking about?”

Ether did not supply an answer.

After the long silence that followed, Leela said, “We should do that more often.”

“Yes,” Ether murmured. “Yes, we should.”


The Ubese conlang was developed by Ender Smith of AurekFonts, as inspired by EC Henry. Additional vocabulary words have been invented by me for the purpose of this chapter.

Chapter 15: The Jedi Way


I've been super busy with real life stuff, but I've finally finished this chapter. The good news is I already wrote the next two chapters way back, so regular updates are back on for a couple weeks. We're getting really close to Book IV!

Chapter Text

“The problem with the Empire,” said Haldo, “is not that it is tyrannical and undemocratic. It is that, of course, but so was the Republic.”

“Now hold on just a minute—“ Harval interjected.

“The problem with the Empire,” Haldo coughed forcibly, unwilling to be interrupted, “and specifically Palpatine, is that he feels he has the right to enact universal policy.”

“That’s how a universal government works,” Harval insisted. “The government acts in the interest of the common good, not special interest.”

“How can there be universal common good when the needs of the people are so diverse?” Haldo retorted. “You wouldn’t look at Mon Cala and say, ‘We need to address the galaxy-wide flooding epidemic! Entire planets are being submerged underwater! Let’s suck up all the water on Ryloth so the Twi’leks don’t drown!’”

“That arrangement wouldn’t benefit either planet,” Harval replied with exasperation. “Mon Cala is an ocean world and Ryloth is a desert.”

“Exactly!” Haldo jabbed the table. ”The Galactic Senate was out of touch with the Outer Rim. How are a bunch of Core Worlders supposed to know what the rest of the galaxy needs?”

“Pray tell how the Outer Rim would have defended itself against the Nihil marauders without the Core Worlds,” Harval rebutted. “Besides, that’s why we have senators. Representatives who speak for their homeworld populations. Ryloth and Mon Cala both had senators, and they didn’t defect to the Separatists, either.”

“The Quarren were overruled by their Mon Calamari overlords, or else Mon Cala would have,” Haldo argued. “And on the topic of Ryloth, let’s not forget that Senator Orn Free Taa was and is famously corrupt.”

“‘Mon Calamari overlords?’” Harval repeated incredulously. “That is so like a Dookuist, to smear demographics who don’t fit your narrow perspective.”

“I wasn’t demeaning the Mon Calamari,” Haldo insisted. “It’s just that the royal family of Mon Cala are Mon Calamari and Quarren are severely underrepresented in their parliament.”

By now, everyone was glued to the debate. “The trouble is that you conflate civilian populations with their governments,” Haldo continued, “and that’s why you think some out-of-touch politician on Coruscant is perfectly qualified to represent their—“

“If I may,” Proving interjected. “The problem wi’ th’ Republic, th’ Confederacy, th’ Empire— it’s capitalism.”

“Oh stars, not this again,” Bigtrill groaned.

Proving continued undeterred. “Th’ Republic was so corporatized th’ Trade Federation had its own seat in th’ Senate.”

“That’s exactly what Dooku was trying to get away from!” Haldo exclaimed. “That’s why he became a politician to begin with.”

“Oh, sure,” Harval scoffed. “Look at his bedfellows. The Commerce Guild. The Banking Clan. The Corporate Alliance. The Techno Union. The Trade Federation!”

“Exactly,” Proving declared. “Capitalism killed th’ Separatist movement just as it killed the Republic. It’ll take th’ whole galaxy down wi’ it if we dinnae rise up. Any system tha’ places profit over sentient life an’ insists on perpetual corporate growth is doomed tae collapse under its own weight.”

“Every economic system is doomed to failure,” Bigtrill burped. “The problem is greed, and you can’t get rid of that.”

“Tha’s what th’ Empire wants ye to think!” Proving beamed. “They dinnae care if ye like th’ system or not, as long as ye’re convinced there’s nae viable alternatives. But th’ cause o’ greed is competition. When ye’ve got tae make yer livin at th’ expense o’ others, ye’re encouraged to cheat an’ hoard yer way tae th’ top, an’ even when ye get there ye keep accumulatin more wealth than ye can ever use in yer lifetime because ye dinnae want tae run the risk o’ losin it all an’ becomin poor again. Remove th’ competition, ye remove th’ incentive for greed.”

“You sound like Roundworm,” Bigtrill hiccuped. “Stars, I miss Roundworm. What a riot that kid was. I wonder where he is now. You know, every time I think about dropping out, I say to myself, ‘But Bigtrill, what will you do if you never finish your education?’ And then I think of good old Roundworm, traipsing across the galaxy being shot at, probably getting actual roundworm, plugging away at that book of his, and I think, frag it, I wanna do something with my life. So I sign up for another semester!” He laughed himself to tears. When nobody joined in, he took a swig from his wine bottle.

“What did he drop out to do now?” asked Phixi, co*cking their head.

“He left to join the rebellion,” said Janyor. “Lowercase r, back then.”

“Poor kid’s probably dead in a trench somewhere by now,” Bigtrill said blithely. “Let’s drink to his memory.”

He took another swig. Janyor, Borrow, Phixi and Haldo raised their glasses. Auriel bowed her head; the others without glasses followed her example.

After a moment of silence, Phixi asked, “What’d he do to end up with a nickname like Roundworm?

“Oh, now that’s a funny story,” Goosher explained. “See, when he first introduced himself, I thought he was ascariatic because he said ‘Hello, I’m nemic,’ but it turns out he didn’t have a nematode infection, that was actually his…”

Goosher stopped as he noticed Apollon shuffling into the room. “Apollon? You look terrible.”

“You reckon he’s got one o’ them nematodes?” Phixi frowned. “Or maybe a clogged utremoid.”

Senine beeped.

“They don’t?” Phixi frowned.

“We don’t,” Goosher confirmed.

“Wait, then what do y’all do with your excess molubdocrine?” Phixi asked, bewildered. “Does it just go straight to your throop sac or do y’all have an extra plaxifer?”

“Apollon, you’re not moping about that girl from the park, are you?” Haldo asked.

“She still hasn’t come back,” Apollon moaned. “It’s my fault, I know it.”

Haldo rolled his eyes. “We’ve gotta get you to meet some new people, man.”

“What’s the use of meeting people?” Bigtrill scoffed. “You’ll just break the kid’s heart again. Here, Apollon, this’ll cure you.”

He poured a generous serving of wine into an empty cup and slid it over to him.

“You’ve been drinking out of that,” Goosher protested, appalled.

“No I haven’t,” Bigtrill replied. “That’s a fresh cup. Haven’t touched it.”

“No, I mean you’ve been drinking straight from the bottle,” Goosher grimaced. “It doesn’t matter that the cup is clean if you’ve already drunk from the bottle.”

“Goosher’s right,” Harval piped up. “That’s basically swapping spit with him. There’s probably backwash in that bottle, too.”

“I get the picture.” Bigtrill took the cup back. “Care for a drink, milady?”

“If anyone could drive me to it, it would be you, Bigtrill,” Auriel replied with a sigh.

“You flatter me, Auriel,” Bigtrill beamed, downing the cup himself. “Anyway, Apollon, didn’t you say Jedi eschew attachment? That’s what I remember.”

“My father still loved my mother,” Apollon replied wistfully.

“Good policy, that no-attachment business,” Bigtrill said throatily as he guzzled down a swig of wine. “It only leads to misery and despair. Look at a wretch like me, you’ll see where attachment gets you. Doomed to eternal misery. Cold and darkness like hell itself…”

“The stage doesn’t know what it’s missing,” Harval murmured.

“Attachment can even lead one down the Dark Path, isn’t that what you said?” Bigtrill said. “Observe the hold on me which the bottle possesses, like the claws of a rancor. Yet if you tried to take it from me, it would be my own claws you felt!”

“Often, when one loves to the point of obsession,” Auriel said, “it’s not the degree which is the fault, not the intensity, but the kind of love. If one accepts things as they are, and not as they wish, one may love reality more deeply than a fantasy.”

“Precious wisdom, Auriel,” Bigtrill nodded. “I wish I could apply it.”

“There will always be hope,” Auriel answered encouragingly.

There was a silence as Bigtrill took a long draught. Proving coughed. “So, Apollon, this girl o’ yours, wha’ was she like? Did ye ever get her name?”

“No,” Apollon replied morosely.

Proving chewed his lip. “What color were her eyes?”

“I never got close enough to tell,” Apollon sighed. “They looked dark, so probably brown.”

“Or perhaps black,” Bigtrill slurred.

“I think you have someone else in mind, Trill,” Haldo remarked.

“Haldo,” Auriel admonished, “be gentle.”

“Black eyes and a golden heart,” Bigtrill murmured to no one in particular. “An aureole shining around it…”

“She was cute,” Haldo shrugged. “I saw her one time. I could definitely see why Apollon was interested. If you thought he looked like a Jedi fanboy…”

“You’re not helping,” Apollon groaned, voice muffled as his face was buried in his crossed arms.

“Mrrwurfghhwrr,” Borrow piped up.

“Didye now?” Proving co*cked an eyebrow. “Didnae think ye went for Twi’leks, B.”

“Huh?” Apollon lifted an eye off the table.

“Ach, he says he fumbled a girl like yours one time,” Proving elucidated. “Only it wisnae Jedi robes she was wearin, it was clone armor. Lovely puce eyes she had. She wis in th’ Ryloth resistance, they ran a few missions together. Anyway, he totally embarrassed himself an never saw her again.”

“How’d he manage that?”

Borrow coughed. “Wrrff.”

“I dinnae think he wants tae repeat wha’ he said,” Proving grinned. “Say, it wisnae tha’ line ye tried wi—”

Borrow clamped a big furry hand over Proving’s face.

“At least he knows what he did,” Apollon sighed, getting up.

“Where ya going?” asked Janyor.

“I’m going to be late for my philosophy class,” Apollon replied.

“Oh, aye, tha’s a good one,” Proving chimeed in, having managed to extricate Borrow’s paw from around his mouth. “Ye dinnae want tae miss tha’. I took it last semester wi’ Professor Wolquarth.”

“That’s the one,” Apollon sighed as he left. He didn’t much feel like going to class, but he didn’t much feel like hanging around with the gang anymore either.

Apollon had, in truth, been cutting it fairly close. Unless he walked quite briskly, there was a chance he was going to be late. Though he usually traveled to class on foot to save money, he felt a speeder cab might be necessary this time. As he walked along the street looking for one, someone tugged his sleeve. “Pardon me, sir.”

He turned to see a dark-skinned old man in ragged clothes, the mix of short and shaggy growth on his grey head suggesting his hair had once been shaved in an odd tonsure of twin stripes. “Spare a few credits for a meal, sir?”

Apollon dug into his pockets and came up with a handful of credits. “I don’t have enough,” he said, putting them back in his pocket. “I’m sorry.”

“I understand, sir,” the man nodded stoically, saluting. “Good day to you, sir.”

As Apollon watched the old man trundle onward, a taxi speeder came into view. He flagged it down, told the driver to take him to campus. The driver regaled him with a long story he didn’t pay attention to. When he reached campus, he sprinted into class one minute early and all but passed out at his desk.

He was beginning to forget what her face looked like, to his great despair. Whenever he tried to picture her now, her face was almost always substituted for a vaguely similar, unrelated one. Twi’lek celebrities he’d seen in holovids. Twi’lek cleaning staff he’d been on friendly terms with back on Embaril. Even non-Twi’lek faces cropped up now and then, their skin made teal and their hair replaced with head-tails. Girls from his classes. Childhood friends. Sometimes there was barely any resemblance at all. Sometimes when he concentrated too hard on getting her nose the right shape, he’d accidentally picture Haldo. That usually got him to stop trying.

“Mr. Kondric.”

Apollon jolted awake. Professor Wolquarth was giving him a very pointed look. “If you insist on sleeping through my class, might I suggest the use of snore strips?”

“Sorry, Professor,” Apollon muttered, face burning.

Professor Wolquarth’s translation vocoder vibrated as she cleared her throat. “Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the tractor beam problem.”

Apollon’s hand went up, along with half the class. For the benefit of the rest, Wolquarth launched into an exposition. “The tractor beam problem was invented by Master Pffila Toh in 24872 BFE.”

Master Pffila Toh? Apollon raised his hand. “Professor?”

Wolquarth nodded. “Yes, Mr. Kondric?”

“Was Master Pffila Toh a Jedi?”

Wolquarth’s eyes widened— all four of them, which took several students by surprise, for they had assumed the slits under their teacher’s upper eyes were merely wrinkles. “I apologize. Pffila Toh was not a Jedi. I misspoke.”

“Why was she called Master then?” Apollon furrowed his brow.

“An error in the previous curriculum,” Wolquarth explained hastily, shutting her secondary eyes for the benefit of the all-human class. “Please let me continue with the lesson.”

Apollon nodded. He didn’t believe her. Now that she mentioned it, he could have sworn he’d read about Master Toh’s theories in his father’s journal.

The professor drew three variously-sized triangles on the board, then a large circle. “Imagine you are the captain of a large cruiser.” (She pointed to the big triangle.) “There are two ships in your immediate vicinity, a one-man craft and a five-man craft.” (She pointed to the small and medium triangles.) “The ships have lost power and are drifting into a nearby sun.” (She tapped the big circle.) “Now, your ship is equipped with a tractor beam. But you only have time to save one ship. Which one do you pull to safety?”

“Who’s on the ships?” asked one of the students.

“The base experiment doesn’t take that into account,” Wolquarth replied. “But there are many variations.”

“‘Cause if the five-man craft had a rebel spy on it, I’d save the other one,” the student explained.

“Or you could save the four other people on the five-man craft and just arrest the spy,” another student pointed out.

“What if the Emperor was on the one-man craft?” the girl sitting behind Apollon interjected. “Then you’d have to save that one, wouldn’t you?”

“Naturally,” Wolquarth nodded. “It’s all about choosing the best course of action.”

Apollon wasn’t paying attention. He was trying to remember what part of his father’s journal he’d seen Master Pffila Toh mentioned.

When he got home, he flipped through the almost-completed manuscript he’d translated into Basic.

The Jedi principle of non-attachment is not a principle of non-love. If it were so, the Jedi would be evil. Compassion is central to a Jedi’s life, and compassion is unconditional love. The Jedi are not restricted only to a vague, all-encompassing compassion for universal life. But when personal love for an individual undermines that universal compassion, that is defined as attachment.

Early in the war, my attachment was tested in a scenario disturbingly similar to the tractor beam problem, which, as you may not have been taught in your studies, was originally developed by a Jedi Master named Pffila Toh.

That was it! That’s where he had seen it. He read the familiar story that followed.

My Padawan, Huu-Sri, had lost her best friend to the blade of General Grievous, early in the war. Though I cautioned her against revenge, she jumped at the opportunity to take the General out of commission when the Republic was called to retake Korallat. Grievous’ main force was marshalled in orbit over the south pole, with a supplementary fleet on the other side of the planet. Admiral Bonoport’s fleet was not sufficient to attack both fleets at once; thus, we concentrated our firepower on Grievous’ primary warships. With the help of my squadron, I was able to deal severe damage to the General’s command ship. But when the coward fled in his starfighter to the other side of the planet, Huu-Sri broke formation to pursue. Though I begged her to return, I could not divert my forces to rescue her, else the remainder of Grievous’ fleet would have been free to tip the scale of the battle in their favor, rather than concentrate on defending itself from our assault. I could only listen over the comms as she was shot down. Though it was a devastating blow, it would have been selfish of me to prioritize her life over the lives of the clones and natural-born men and women of Bonoport’s fleet. If I were to have rescued her, hundreds, perhaps thousands would have been killed in her place.

An unwelcome scene manifested in Apollon’s mind. He imagined the girl from the park flying away from him in a Republic starfighter. He imagined Haldo, and Janyor, and Proving, and Estia and Koodo on the bridge of a Star Destroyer. He imagined flying after her, and while he flew, his loved ones burned.

Try as he might, his brain refused to construct the outcome of the scenario in any other way.

He shook his head. His situation was not at all comparable. He was not being asked to choose between the girl and others, let alone others he cared about. Nor did he have any choice whether to save her or not. She was already lost to him.

One is not only attached to people. Possessions, whether possessions we have or possessions we covet, can also be attachments. But attachment is not limited to people and physical objects either. At its core, attachment is the desire to create a reality that does not and cannot exist, or to maintain a reality that will not and cannot last forever. When I first met your mother, I knew that neither of us could forsake our respective duties to be with each other. Though it caused me grief, I made peace with it, as did your mother, who is a wise woman. I did not think I would be tested further in this until that awful day when she was forced to confess to her father. I had to make peace with never seeing her again.

Apollon swallowed. But he did see her, he thought. When he returned to Embaril, there were times they were able to meet in secret. He said so.

He didn’t know he would see her again until he went into hiding, another part of him added. He never thought he would set foot on Embaril until the Empire drove him there.

Apollon willed his brain to shut up. But it was drawing a frustratingly apt parallel to his situation. He was probably never going to see that girl again. Did his father withdraw and mope when Ector took Athene from him?

Apollon moaned and laid his head on his desk. If he was going to be a Jedi like his father, he was going to have to let her go.

After a few moments of sitting and wondering how he was ever going to get the girl out of his head, it occurred to him that he’d neglected to visit Koodo recently.

Well, he thought as he retrieved his jacket to rectify this omission, that might be a good start.

Chapter 16: Late-Night Outings

Chapter Text

In the wake of Crimson Dawn's initial rise to power, several smaller criminal gangs fancifully adopted monikers containing the word “Dawn.” Such examples included Red Dawn, Blue Dawn, Black Dawn, Grim Dawn, et cetera. The four individuals who jointly ruled Pasir’s underworld forewent the adjective and simply called themselves Gasha Tonka, which was Huttese for Dawn.

The mastermind of the group, though there was no agreed-upon leader, was a mysterious criminal known as Kharvish, though he had many names. So slippery was he that on the rare occasion he was captured, he never stayed in custody long enough for a mugshot. He may as well have been a shapeshifter, for with each reappearance, he wore a different mask. The skin around his yellow eyes, when they were visible, was red, and he possessed five fingers, but whether Zabrak, Zeltron or other, it could not be said.

The muscle of the gang was a Lasat named Duzavog Bool, commonly known by the nickname “Doozer.” His father was of the short, brown, fuzzy variety of Lasat often mistaken for Ewoks or Hassks; his mother the common, towering lilac variety occasionally taken for shaved Wookiees; this mixed ancestry producing a pinkish purple hide, a stocky height, and an excess of wood-brown hair. Prior to joining the gang he’d been half of a notorious bounty-hunting duo with his cousin Puglox; now his cousin trod a different path, seeking to put his explosive talents toward nobler ends, while Doozer’s larcenies remained strictly profit-oriented. The causes they now served could not be more diametrically opposed if Doozer were a stormtrooper.

The “monkey-lizard” of the group, as they are known in the argot of burglary, was a Dug named Chekolba, possessing a multitude of skills beyond his agility and talent for getting into tight places. He had, in fact, been married once with two children, but he had misplaced them as a laundry droid misplaces a sock. Now he saw to it that others found their possessions misplaced as well— for it was just as likely for an aurodium wedding band to find its way into Chekolba’s pocket as to fall between the cushions. Which brings me to the most colorful member of the group— a word I use simultaneously in the figurative and literal sense.

Xizarel was a dandy Falleen of nineteen, who always wore a purple and gold suit that complemented his green skin and harkened back to Falleen royalty. Like all Falleen he was capable of secreting powerful aphrodisiac pheromones, which despite being exceptionally handsome to begin with, he used liberally. He was an assassin, and had been from the age of fifteen. He killed for amusem*nt, and for money to amuse himself; otherwise, he preferred to keep his hands idle. Despite that no good ever came of his mischief, he attained quite a following, owing the local HoloNet’s extensive reporting of his activities and those of his compatriots. This entirely inappropriate candidate for popular worship was upheld by the Empire as the poster child of monsters wrongfully adored as folk heroes— an opportunistic bandit, a wanton killer, a young entitled delinquent lacking in any true motive other than to sow chaos. This was true of Xizarel more than many others of which the Empire said the same.

Their latest plot was to plunder the house of Senator Pahoran Brand. Brand had recently attracted media attention due to his platform regarding criminal policy— primarily, his position that the Public Order Resentencing Directive be repealed.

That Gasha Tonka chose to target him was surely a coincidence, for they hated the Empire— so the HoloNet often reminded the people— and this plot was against their own interest. If this operation was executed, Brand might think better of extending compassion towards the criminal element and reverse his position, and then Gasha Tonka would face increased police scrutiny and harsher punishment when they were eventually caught. The criminal gang was surely unaware of this, or they would have selected another target. Yet Brand was one of many such bleeding hearts that Gasha Tonka often perpetuated violence against, and their activities had convinced many a philanthropist to redirect their charitable enterprises toward causes the Empire found more acceptable. This was, as has been established, a byproduct of Gasha Tonka’s activities and not their chief intention, which was to get gain.

As Gasha Tonka possessed a controlling share of Pasir’s underworld, they had many collaborateurs among the planet’s petty criminals. For this job they recruited a group with whom they joined forces quite regularly— a Weequay family the reader is already familiar with. One member had taken on the duty of endearing themselves to the senator’s rebellious daughter, in order to gain her trust and, thus, access to the house.

“I still don’t understand it,” Xizarel sighed, draping himself over the Banquos’ bed. “How could she be immune to my charms? My overpowering musk is usually infallible!”

“Real mystery, that one, Sheezy.” Mona slipped a coat over the backless dress she was wearing.

Xizarel threw her a withering glare. “Call me that again and I’ll cut your tongue out.”

“Not tonight you won’t,” Doozer grunted. “She’s going to need it.”

Mona’s ear com beeped. “Oi, Mona! ‘Ave you left yet? You’re runnin’ be’ind schedule ‘ere!”

“Just a tick, Dad!” Mona knocked on the refresher door. “Oi, Port! Tee-tockey ta bolla!”

“Go on!” Portia called. “I’ll be right out!”

“‘Urry up!” Mona barked. “We’re goin’ to be late!”

“Just get goin’, I’ll catch up!”

“Don’t be too long,” Xizarel winked. A whiff of Falleen musk rose in the air.

“Oi,” Mona snapped. “Keep that bottled up. If you distract my sister on the job again…”

“I can’t help it if she throws herself at me,” Xizarel smirked.

“I’ll throw somethin’ o’ mine at you,” Mona muttered. “Just stay on the job. You ‘ear that, Port? No sneakin’ off with Sheezy this time.”

“Hm? …Oh, er— yeah, I won’t,” Portia replied distantly from behind the door. Xizarel smirked.

“C’mon,” Doozer grunted. “She can catch a ride with Chekolba. We need to get you to the house already.”

Xizarel gallantly offered Mona his arm, which she ignored as she marched after the Lasat.

Xizarel let a few more pheromones slip under the door with a wink. “Don’t be long, darling.”

Several moments after Xizarel had departed, Portia emerged from the refresher room. His lure still hung in the air. Portia was breathless; the ordinarily tantalizing odor never reached her nostrils. Any other night, she would have eagerly snuck a quarter klick away from the job and lost herself in gallons of Xizarel’s intoxicating pheromones. But tonight she had a much more exciting diversion in mind.

She crept down the corridor to the next room over.

Apollon answered the knock at his door. “Oh! Hello, Port.”

“I want to show you somethin’,” she whispered.

“A-alright,” Apollon replied, bemused. She took his hand and led him to the lift.

As the lift door closed, Apollon asked, “What is it you want to show me?”

Portia chewed her lip. “Er— it’s a surprise. Yeah, that’ll do.”

When they got to the bottom floor, she said, “Not a sound now.”



With frequent glances over her shoulder, Portia led him down the street. “Now run!”

“Why—“ Apollon was forced to break into a jog as Portia dragged him on. “Port, what are we doing?

They didn’t stop running until they’d turned at least three corners. “Port— I really have to— catch my breath—“

He wriggled his hand out of her grip. “Couldn’t we walk to the surprise? What’s all the running about?”

“Catch your breath,” Portia whispered. “Yes, yes— no need to rush.”

“If there’s no need to rush, then why did—“

“Shhhh.” Portia touched her finger to his lips. Then she brushed the tip across her own lips as if in contemplation. Apollon stared at her in baffled silence under the lamplight as she stared into his eyes.

After what felt like an eternity, he broke the silence. “Er… Port?”

“Yes?” she whispered hoarsely, standing on tiptoe so their faces were closer.

Apollon resisted the urge to squirm. On top of the perpetual, potent Weequay odor, Portia seemed in desperate need of a toothbrush. “You… you wanted to show me something?”

“Yes, yes…” Portia nodded. “I did say that.”

“So…” Apollon said slowly.

Portia’s chest heaved.

“Alright, look, Port, I have homework to do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“No, wait!” Portia grabbed his hand again. “Come, sir. Nice boy. Follow me.”

She did not drag him this time, but strolled alongside him at a leisurely pace. Apollon thought about asking how far the thing she wanted to show him was, but felt like he wouldn’t get a straight answer.

They came to a bridge overlooking the Sidon. Apollon looked over his shoulder. They were getting pretty far from the apartment complex, and he wasn’t sure if he knew the way back. Nevertheless, he followed Portia onto the bridge.

Apollon didn’t notice Portia’s arm had been wrapped around his elbow until she slipped out of it. She stopped in the middle of the bridge, resting her arms on the railing. Apollon stood at her shoulder. “Port?”

“Look at it,” Portia breathed. “See the lights all shimmerin’ on the water?”

Apollon looked over the river. It was indeed a very pretty sight. The oranges and yellows of the lampposts along the banks danced on the black flowing current. Ships’ signals flickered like red fireflies as they passed each other. Upstream, silhouettes of couples stood all along the next bridge over, sharing in the charming night view.

Portia sighed. “Ain’t this grand? Just the two of us, out ‘ere?”

Apollon couldn’t help thinking how he’d rather have been here with the girl from the park. No! Not doing that anymore, he corrected himself. He cleared his throat. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”

“Hm? Oh, no, mustn’t leave yet,” Portia murmured. “But don’t you want to stand ‘ere a little longer?”

“I’d like to keep moving.” When Portia didn’t respond, he put a hand on her shoulder. He was surprised by just how small and bony it was under her baggy sleeve. He withdrew his hand, thinking he’d felt her shudder at his touch. “Sorry! Sorry. Can you show me whatever it is you wanted to show me?”

Portia turned away, hissing and muttering to herself. “You’ve gone an’ cheesed ‘im off, u grancha porko stoopa…”

“Port, I’m sorry,” Apollon insisted. “Let’s go. I want to see this thing you want to show me.”

“You’re bein’ nice,” Portia muttered, not looking him in the eye. “You’re a nice boy, you are…”

“No, I want to see it.” If only to satisfy his curiosity and get it over with, at any rate. “Where is it?”

She motioned for him to follow. “I’ll show you.”

“Is it far?” asked Apollon as Portia started again. This time, she did not take his hand, but ran ahead a little.

“Not far,” she rasped with a grin, waving him on. “Not far…”

Portia’s path was twisted and appeared to be random. Apollon almost lost track of her multiple times— his mind kept wandering in other directions. At one point he could swear they’d gone in a circle. “Are you sure you know where you’re going?”

“Eh? Yes, yes!” Portia nodded vigorously as they turned down yet another avenue. “Definitely! Port knows ‘er way around, sir, don’t you worry!”

“I feel like we’ve been walking for a pretty long time,” Apollon called.

“Yes, yes, it’s nice, innit?” Portia waved him on. “Come on, come!”

Apollon noticed something sitting at a bench, under one of the only functional streetlamps on the avenue. At first, he thought from the side horns it was an Iktotchi, but then he realized it was a female Leyakian, face buried in her three-fingered hands.

When Portia saw the Leyakian, she tried to pull him in the opposite direction, but Apollon could see the woman was crying. He shook off Portia’s hand and ran to her. “Ma’am? Are you alright?”

The Leyakian wiped her big round eyes. “Someone stole my wallet and ran off with it this afternoon. I reported it to the police, but I don’t have money to get h-home…”

Apollon fished through his pockets. “Where do you live?”

“R-Raxus,” the woman gulped; she might have sniffled if she possessed a nose. “Can you h-help me?”

Apollon came up with nine credits. “Hold on, I thought I had more than this…”

But the rest of his pockets were empty. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I wish I could help…”

“This will help.” The woman clasped her three-fingered hand around his own. “Thank you so much, young man. I’ll come up with the rest of the fare somehow.”

“Still, I wish there was more I could do,” Apollon apologized. He hated to see someone in such distress. The woman reminded him of Estia.

“Bless you, sir,” the woman smiled, pocketing the credits and walking away.

Apollon swallowed a lump in his throat. If he’d only had a few more credits on him…

He turned around and saw that Portia had disappeared. “Port? Where did you go?”

He walked back to the spot where he had left her, scratching his head and looking all around for any sign of her. He turned at a rustling from the tree behind him.

Portia landed like an alley tooka in front of him, causing him to jump. “What the— What were you doing up there?”

“Nothin’!” She straightened and picked a leaf out of her braid.

Apollon sighed as they continued walking. “That poor woman. Her wallet was stolen, so she didn’t have money to get back to her homeworld. Isn’t that just horrible?”

Portia chewed her lip. “Maybe ‘ooever took it needed that money too.”

“Then they shouldn’t have taken it from someone else who needed it.” Apollon realized he was actually quite angry. “They should have gotten a job, or… or something. It’s just despicable to strand a poor woman like that just because you want some extra pocket change.”

“But she’ll be alright, won’t she?” Portia asked desperately.

Apollon kneaded his forehead. “I don’t know, Port. I hope she will. It just really makes me sick. They probably spent her money on liquor, too.”

Portia’s face clouded. “I think you’re right about that.”

She wiped her eyes while Apollon wasn’t looking. She continued walking alongside him, almost following more than leading now, until he sighed and said, “Port, are you going to show me whatever it is you dragged me all the way out here for, or not?”

“Eh?” She stopped, then nodded suddenly. “Yes! Yes, er, it’s… er… em…”

Her eyes fell on an abandoned shop. “‘Ere! Yeah, right ‘ere. ‘Ere it is.” She pointed to a graffiti depiction of a bird on the bolted door. There was a rude word scribbled under it.

Apollon blinked. “ This is what you wanted to show me?”

“Er… Yup!” Portia nodded vigorously. “Ain’t it… er… neat?”

“I… guess?” Apollon furrowed his brow. “Er… thanks, Port.”

“You’re welcome! Goodbye!” Portia bolted into the night before Apollon could turn around. He stood there for a moment, before giving up then and there on ever understanding the Weequay girl. Now I have to find my way back home alone.

He squinted at the bird. It seemed to be an anatomically incorrect depiction of a blue dackler. What was so special about it that Portia had dragged him all over town to see it?

Shrugging, he went to find the nearest map display. He didn’t see Portia sitting behind a trash can, silently weeping.

When Apollon eventually found his way home, he checked his HoloNet messages. Ector had deposited one thousand credits into his account.

Out of habit, Apollon sighed and opened a terminal window to wire the money back. Then he stopped.

He was just wasting credits by sending them back to Ector! Here he was, trying to prove he didn’t need to rely on his grandfather’s money to survive, but this very night he had met someone who did! He smacked his forehead. “Oh, I’m such an idiot.”

He closed the terminal. It was settled then. The next day he would go to the bank and withdraw those credits.

Chapter 17: The Inevitable Return

Chapter Text

“Port? Oi, Port.”

Portia opened her eyes to see Qualdo standing over her. He’d shaken her awake. “Whatcha doin’ nenoleeya unko solo?”

Qualdo had a habit of mixing Huttese and Basic together. At first it was because he was only half-fluent in each, but it soon developed into something more natural. Now he tended to start half his sentences in one language and finish in another.

Portia swiveled into a sitting position on the bench where she had spent the night. “Didn’t feel like goin’ ‘ome, is all.”

“Eh, ‘ome slagwa,” Qualdo agreed. “You should see my place!”

You got a place?”

“Sure!” Qualdo grinned. “I’ll take you round if you like. But you should eat first. Boska.”

He tugged her by the sleeve until she got up and followed him. Her teeth chattered; it’d been a cold night, and the morning breeze was too cool for her thin, loose garments. “There’s this place what gives breakfast at 0700,” said Qualdo as he led the way. “Nice, ‘ot breakfast.”

Portia didn’t feel like she much deserved a hot breakfast.

Qualdo pushed open the door to the shelter and Portia’s nostrils were filled with the scent of syrup and spices. Qualdo grinned. “‘Ell yeah, they got Mandy-lorian cake today!”

Portia kept her head down as she and Qualdo took their place in line, apprehensive of who might see her. She held her hand against her chest with her other hand, as if to restrain it from slipping into the pocket of the man in front of her. There was a knot in her stomach.

When the line reached the food, she took a plate from the end of the table. “Nuna bacon?” asked a kindly old gentleman, extending two strips to her on a pair of tongs. She nodded mindlessly and let him put it on her plate.

As she moved up, a Twi’lek girl around her age offered a slab of spicy-smelling cake, smiling brightly. The sight of the Twi’lek sent a sharper pang than that of the Leyakian woman last night. For a moment, her face looked all-too familiar. But the girl only smiled, showing no sign of recognition; why should she? Portia swallowed, avoiding eye contact as she held out her plate. Qualdo eagerly held up his own plate and received a slice as well.

They sat down at one of the tables. Qualdo was already halfway through his Mandalorian cake; his fingers were sticky with syrup and nut butter. “You ever ‘ad this stuff, Port? It’s the best.”

Portia poked at it with her fork.

Qualdo frowned. “Choy, you eat somethin’ goola last night? You look like you’re sick.”

“I’m alright,” Portia muttered, turning her eyes away as a Leyakian passed them by. It wasn’t the woman from the night before, but a man; her heart ached regardless.

“You ain’t actin’ right, Port,” Qualdo remarked with a bite of cake in his cheek. “U jeeska bosco dee boonkee like you’re afraid someone’s gonna see ya. What’s up?”

Qualdo saw a one-armed Weequay walk past their table and said, “Mum an’ Dad know where you are?”

Portia shook her head.

“Oh.” Qualdo nodded. “Gotcha.”

Portia barely ate anything, despite Qualdo urging her to. “I come ‘ere all the time,” said Qualdo. “Well, except Primedays when they serve Gamorrean porridge.” He made a face.

Portia glanced at the Twi’lek girl at the counter. Her stomach twisted again. “Are they there every day?”

“Coo?” Qualdo looked over his shoulder. “Oh, the Twi an’ the old man? Every mornin’, eh, ‘cept Gamorrean porridge day. Every other evening, too, with a pot o’ romato soup an’ Mandy-lorian stew. Chuba! If I could live on Mandy-lorian food for the rest o’ my life…”

Portia picked up her piece of cake and stood, leaving the nuna bacon on the plate. “Let’s go.”

Qualdo snatched up the two bacon strips as he followed Portia out. He ate one of them and offered the other one to her, but when she silently refused, he ate them both.

“Let’s see… There it is.” Qualdo pointed to a spire, only just sticking up over the rooftops. “Boska!”

As they walked down the sidewalk, past small shop windows and cheap restaurants, Portia slipped her cake to Qualdo, who took it without thinking. She licked her sticky fingers, though she felt so low she didn’t feel she deserved that much.

“You know, you could yatuka nenoleeya like me,” Qualdo grinned. “Plenty o’ room up at Bunko di Qualdo.”

“What about Mona?” asked Portia.

“If you like.” Qualdo shrugged. “Jee ‘agwa tinka she’d be too keen on it, though. Stuta cheekta vopa Mum an’ Dad mo gootu.”

The streets began to widen. Portia saw a familiar boulevard, with familiar trees and a familiar bench. There were pedestrians all about, in contrast to the desolate night before. The Leyakian was gone, but Portia’s eyes prickled.

“It’s not far now,” said Qualdo. “I can’t wait to show you the view from up there.”

They turned down another avenue. Portia froze. Too late, she realized her mistake as her older sister locked eyes with her from down the street. Qualdo saw. “Keepuna! It’s Mona!” He turned to run, tugging Portia’s hand. “Shado, boska before she catches—”

But Portia didn’t run. She’d already been spotted.

Desdemona marched up to Portia and put her hands on her hips. “An’ where the kriff ‘ave you been?”

“Nenoleeya,” Portia murmured, looking at the ground.

“Oh, boonowa tweepi?” Mona snapped sarcastically. She wrinkled her nose at Qualdo. “Whatcha doin’ with ‘im?”

Portia drew a shaky breath. “Get on ‘ome, Qualdo.”

Qualdo wrapped his little hands around Portia’s wrist.

“Go on!” She wrenched her arm from the boy’s grasp. “Leave us alone!”

Qualdo glowered at Mona, sticking his tongue out at her before scampering off. Mona folded her arms, shaking her head. “Dad’s bloody furious. Karkin’ ‘ell, chas kee nyowkee koo chooskoo. Yoka to bantha poodoo, Port.”

“I’m sorry,” Portia replied thickly.

“Oh, you karkin’ better be.” Mona gestured sharply for her sister to follow. “I thought you were with Mum an’ Dad an’ the others! Job done, an’ I find out you weren’t with them an’ you weren’t with us— the ‘ell were you thinkin’, ditchin’ the job like that? I was lookin’ for you up an’ down the ‘ole damn night, I was, you ‘ad me worried sick.”

“Not the ‘ole damn night,” Portia muttered. “If you still went to the job.”

You were supposed to be there!” Mona snarled. “Boomin’ Am-shak, even kriffin’ off with Xizarel would’ve been…” She finished her sentence in muttered Huttese.

Portia fumed silently, slowing her pace to drag behind her older sister. Mona grabbed her hand. “Why’d you do it, Port? You know ‘ow much trouble you’re in?”

“Don’t you get sick of it all?” Portia muttered. “Doin’ every bloomin’ thing they tell ya?”

No ,” Mona snapped. “Because I want to be ‘appy again, Port. Do you want that? I don’t think you do. You’re a karkin’ ungrateful schutta, you are, won’t even lift a finger to ‘elp this family climb our way back to the top. Were you even goin’ to come back?”

“I wouldn’t leave you be’ind, Mona.”

“You did,” Mona growled. Dammit, Port, why can’t you just do what they say?”

“Because Dad’s full o’ bantha dung,” Portia muttered. “An’ Mum don’t give a bleedin’ bantha tick about us anymore.”

“Oh, she don’t, eh? Could’ve fooled me,” Mona retorted. “Bleedin’ ‘ells, Port, you should’ve seen ‘er. You don’t think we care about you? You don’t think I care?”

Portia was silent. “Well I do.” Desdemona swallowed and wiped her eyes. “I do, Portia. Why do you think I’m always tellin’ you to stay in line? Don’t you know what it does to me every time you get in trouble?”

“I’m sorry, Mona,” Portia whispered, squeezing her hand. Mona squeezed back, wiping her nose with her bare arm.

The two sisters walked in silence for a while. “You still went to the job,” Portia said eventually. “Plan go along alright without me, then, did it?”

“If I tell ya, you’ll think it’ll be alright for you to run off again,” Mona growled. “Where did you even go?”

“Out,” Portia murmured. “Just out.”

“What were you doin’ ‘angin’ round with that qualdo, anyway?” Mona sighed in disgust.

“‘E found me first,” Portia replied.

“Oh, boonowa?” Mona scowled. “We was all lookin’ for you, Port. Me, Mum, Dad, all bloody night.”

After you cleaned the place out, you mean.”

“Shhh!” Mona hissed as they walked past a Rodian talking on his comlink. “Jeeska doompa, koochoo, you want somebody to ‘ear?”

Portia was about to mutter a reply, but something caught her eye. She pulled Desdemona into an alley and peeked around the corner. It was the Leyakian woman from yesterday. She was standing on a street corner, asking passerby for credits. Portia’s stomach twisted.

“Ain’t we seen ‘er before?” Desdemona frowned. “Chuba! Yocolas!” (Yocolas is Huttese rhyming slang for D’Emperiolos, by way of yocola chone holo, drinks and a holovid.)

Portia turned her eyes toward a trio of patrol troopers approaching the Leyakian. “Crackin’ down, I see,” Mona remarked. “Wonder if it’s ‘cause o’ the job last night.”

The trooper wearing an orange pauldron held out his hand for the woman’s scandocs. Portia’s mind flashed back to the afternoon before. Port! You finished wipin’ those ID chips yet? Kharvish ‘as a job for us.

The knot in Portia’s stomach tightened as the Leyakian burst into tears. The lead trooper crossed his arms as the desperate woman attempted to explain her situation. When she stopped and wiped her eyes, the lead trooper turned his back to her. One of the troopers took hold of the woman’s wrists while the other reached for a pair of binders.

“Let’s clear on out of ‘ere.” Mona rushed Portia away. Portia looked over her shoulder, a lump in her throat.

They came to a wall at the back of the alley. “Get on up,” Mona urged, crouching slightly for Portia to climb up on her shoulders.

Portia climbed on top of the wall, then helped Mona up. “What?” Mona asked, seeing Portia’s face. “What is it?”

Portia shook her head and jumped down from the wall. Mona followed suit. They weren’t far from home now. Mona’s eyes were squinted in thought. “Oh right, didn’t you snatch ‘er credpurse yesterday?”

The lump in Portia’s throat grew thicker.

“Knew I’d seen ‘er somewhere,” Mona nodded to herself as the recollection returned to her.

The Elephant House was in view now. “That was a good eye you ‘ad back there,” Desdemona remarked gratefully as they reached the front door. “If she’d spotted you, the Imps would’ve gotten us too, they would.”

Portia glanced back over her shoulder. Truthfully, she’d rather have faced the stormtroopers than her parents at that moment.

Desdemona swallowed and squeezed her sister’s hand.

Chapter 18: Banquo and Broke

Chapter Text

Apollon opened the door, credits already in hand. To his surprise, it was not Portia at the other side of the door, but her sister. “‘Ello. S’me, Mona. You’ve seen me around.”

“Yes,” Apollon replied, nonplussed. “Erm… hello. Nice to meet you. Again. I’m Apollon.”

“Right,” Mona replied indifferently. “Look, y’think you can spare a couple credits?”

“Sure…” Apollon replied, dumping a handful of credits into her hand. “Is Portia…? I mean, I haven’t seen her in a while.”

Mona thinned her lips. “She’s busy.”

“Right.” Apollon chewed his lip. “Anything else I can help you with?”

Mona looked at the credits in her hand, then back at Apollon. “Nope.”

“Alright then,” Apollon smiled politely. “Good to see you.”

“Yeah, sure.” Mona put the credits in her skirt pocket and left. Apollon shut the door and returned to his homework.

Try as he might, Apollon could not get the girl from the park out of his head, but in his efforts to forget her, he succeeded incidentally in forgetting Portia for a while, since he hardly saw her. He spent his time with Haldo, who had eased up on his teasing; and with Koodo, who was always delighted to have his company. One day when Apollon came to visit, he noticed some new books that looked to be written in Old Tionese. He picked up one of them, but could not decipher the title. “Daisteo Pabchnod?”

“Not Day-steh-oh Pab-khnohd,” Koodo corrected. “Dees-tcho Pav-nohd. It’s a Pabchoni language coursebook. Figured I’d finally start learning.”

Apollon furrowed his brow. “I’ve never understood Pabchoni spelling.”

“It’s just as consistent as Tionese, and much more consistent than Basic,” Koodo said, searching for a scrap of flimsiplast. “Let me see if I can explain it properly.”

Koodo scribbled on the flimsi. “The letters epsilon, eta and iota— which have different names in Pabchoni, but never mind that right now— cause the letters delta, zeta, sigma and tau to undergo sound changes. Duh becomes juh, zuh becomes zhuh, suh becomes shuh, and tuh becomes chuh. Sometimes the sound doesn’t change, so we insert a different vowel in front of a letter that would change it. For example, it’s not disto, it’s daisteo. There’s a silent alpha and a silent epsilon in there.”

“Dees-cho, not jees-toh,” Apollon repeated. “Okay, that makes… sense, I think…”

“The letter chi in Pabchoni is always silent,” said Koodo, “but it modifies the sound of beta and gamma. It makes beta go vuh and gamma go yuh. For example, in the name Deurgchal.” He wrote it on the flimsi.

Apollon furrowed his brow. “So if my friend Janyor were Pabchoni, he would spell it delta-epsilon-alpha-nu-gamma-chi-omicron-rho?”

Koodo laughed. “That’s an astute observation, except that would be Jahn-yor. Jan-yor would be delta-iota-alpha-epsilon, rather than delta-epsilon-alpha. The epsilon makes the alpha short when it comes after instead of before.”

“So how do you spell your name?” asked Apollon. “Kappa-omicron-upsilon-delta-omega?”

“With a silent chi at the end,” Koodo beamed. “Not bad.”

“How do you know when to put a chi if it’s silent?” Apollon frowned.

“It’s tricky,” Koodo agreed. “I’ve found that a lot of Pabchoni words contain at least three consonants. If there’s a chi at the end, it’s usually because they were one short.” He chuckled at his own joke.

Apollon spent the taxi ride home trying to figure out how different names would be spelled with Pabchoni rules. Some names, like Phixi and Haldo, he couldn’t figure out, since Pabchoni had no fuh or huh sounds.

When he got back to the apartment complex, he found Portia standing outside his door. “I’m home,” he said to announce his presence.

She started and whirled around. “Mr. Apollon! Don’t scare me like that.”

Apollon noticed a dark teal bruise under her left eye. “Are you alright, Port? What happened to your face?”

“Tripped on the stairs,” she mumbled, looking away.

“I thought you usually took the lift,” Apollon frowned.

“Erm…” Portia hesitated. “It was… full.”

“Right.” Apollon coughed. “Do you… want to come in? I don’t want to assume, it’s just you’re standing in my way.”

“Oh!” Portia moved hastily. “Sorry, Mr. Apollon. Go on in.”

“Thanks, Port.” Apollon opened the door. “Do you… need anything?”

“Couple creds if you can spare ‘em,” Portia mumbled at her feet.

“Figured. Give me a second.” Apollon went and retrieved some change from his desk. “Here. This is all I have on me right now. I’ll have to go to the bank and get more. What do you need this for, anyway? Rent’s not due yet.”

“Er… ah… groceries,” Portia coughed. “Probably.”

Apollon co*cked his head. “You don’t know?”

“I should… get back,” Portia said, turning to leave. “See you around… Apollon.”

Apollon watched her slink back into her apartment. Shaking his head, he closed his own door and returned to his desk.

As he went to sit down, he happened to glance down at the street below.

His heart skipped a beat.

There was no way. There was no way it was them. There was no way it was her. They were walking right past his apartment complex!

No. Not past it.

Apollon’s stomach shot into his lungs as they turned and entered the building.

He scrambled out the door before his legs knew what they were doing. He caught himself in front of the elevator. What was he doing? What was his plan? What was he going to do, just walk up to them? That would be foolish.

“‘Urry up, ‘e’s comin’!” Banquo shouted. A crash sounded from the Weequays’ apartment.

Apollon’s ears perked up. What was this?

He crept toward the Banquos’ door to listen. “Come on!” Banquo snapped impatiently. “We’ve gotta make this place look like a bigger dump than it is! You can hit that chair ‘arder than that!”

CRACK. “See, that’s it! Mona, punch the window.”

“‘E saw it when ‘e was outside. ‘E’ll know it wasn’t broken.”

“I saw ‘im, ‘e wasn’t lookin’ up. Put your karking fist through it!”

There was a crash of shattering glass and a cry of pain. “Beautiful!” Banquo crowed.

“She’s bleedin’!” Banquo’s wife exclaimed.

“Even better. Rip your skirt an’ wrap it up,” Banquo ordered. “C’mon, ‘e’ll be up any minute! Anyone sittin’ on a cigarra? Be good if we could kark up the fresher.”

“Garn!” his wife retorted. “We ‘aven’t ‘ad a bloody thing to eat in days!”

“Get in the bed,” Banquo urged. “We’ll tell ‘im you’re sick.”

The lift dinged. Apollon dove back into his apartment just in time. He heard the old man knock on the Banquos’ door. Banquo opened it. “Are you that broke fella from the ‘OloNet?”

“That’s me,” the man replied.

“Come in, come in,” Banquo urged. Apollon heard the door shut behind them. He opened his own door so he could hear better. “Girls, say ‘ello.”

The Banquo girls murmured hello.

Apollon wondered what Banquo was doing chatting with a broke fellow on the HoloNet and inviting him into his home. Was he trying to help the poor man? He hardly seemed in any position to alleviate anyone’s financial difficulties considering the magnitude of his own. Apollon hadn’t realized the girl and her father were poor. They didn’t look it at all. Well, maybe the man’s ugly jacket should have given it away. He imagined what the man had to go through to make sure his daughter had so many different and wonderful outfits while he wore the same overcoat and various, blandly similar sweaters every day.

“This is my daughter,” the man said. Apollon strained his ears, hoping he might catch the girl’s name, but no such luck. Either he couldn’t make it out, or nobody said her name.

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you both, if I do say so, Mr. Broke,” Banquo replied boisterously. Apollon frowned, greatly confused. That’s unnecessarily rude.

“Is your hand alright?” the broke fellow (presumably) asked Desdemona. Apollon wondered if the poor man’s daughter would speak. He’d seen her talking quietly to her father many times and longed to know what her voice sounded like.

“She cut it up the other day when she tripped in the street,” Banquo lamented. “We can’t afford to get ‘er patched up, the poor thing. An’ my wife ‘as been sick in bed for days. We’re afraid it might be terminal if she don’t get ‘elp soon.”

Mrs. Banquo coughed loudly.

“Please, sir,” Mona begged thickly, “can you ‘elp us?”

What’s he supposed to do about it? Apollon wondered, bewilderment deepening. You said he was broke.

“I did bring a first aid kit with me,” the man replied. “Let me see your hand.”

It suddenly registered to Apollon that his neighbor’s behavior was quite strange. Why had he asked his daughter to punch the window and cut her hand?

“‘E brought food!” That was Mrs. Banquo’s voice. “Oh, thank you sir! Now we won’t ‘ave to choose between eatin’ an’ payin’ our rent.” Then she remembered to cough again.

“You did mention in your messages that you’ve been having financial trouble.”

This confused Apollon even more. Now the broke fellow was helping the Banquos? What was going on? Apollon had already given the Banquos money for rent and then some. He was struggling to pay his own rent as it was. Had Banquo not used that money to pay the rent? Well, maybe he wants to get a head start on next month’s rent, he reasoned. I know I’d certainly like to get a couple months out of the way myself. Still, why break his own window? And the chair? And why was it good that his daughter was bleeding when the hospital bill would only add to their expenses? And why would they seek help from someone equally impoverished if not more so than themselves?

“That I did, sir, that I did,” Banquo replied. “Truth be told, we’re seven months be’ind on our rent. The landlady’s about to kick us out.”

“Oh, please, sir, won’t you spare a couple creds?” Mrs. Banquo pleaded.

Several months behind? There went Apollon’s theory about wanting to get ahead. Unless he was lying to the broke fellow. But if he wasn’t lying to the broke fellow, that meant Apollon was the one who had been lied to. His brow twisted in consternation. None of this made any sense.

“I don’t have any money with me,” replied the broke fellow. “But I can bring some by later this evening.”

“Oh, thank you, sir,” Banquo sobbed. He sniffled so hard it nearly echoed. “Gods bless you, sir. We’d be ever so grateful if you did.”

“We have other matters to attend to,” said the broke fellow, sounding as if he were wriggling out of Banquo’s grasp. “I’ll come around again at 1800.”

“Bless you, sir,” Banquo cried. Apollon shut his apartment door just as the man and his daughter stepped into the hallway. “You won’t regret this, sir!”

Apollon leaned against his closed apartment door, heart pounding. What should I do? Do I go after them?

He ran to the window. The man was hailing a taxi speeder. If he hurried, maybe he could get downstairs before…

No time to think. He rushed to the lift.

The moment the lift door opened, he raced out of the apartment, bursting out the front door only to see they were driving away. They were too far away to chase down, and that would have probably frightened them off anyway. That was the last thing he needed. He despaired briefly before remembering that they were coming back. All he had to do was wait for 1800.

His comlink beeped. He had a new message. He picked up his comlink and clicked to play the message.

Heavy breathing. “Get out.”

Apollon furrowed his brow. Get out?

“Just get out. You don’t want to stick around.”

That was Portia’s voice. She’d sent him a message on the apartment network. Why would she do that?

Bemused, he reentered the building to find her slinking away from the internal communications terminal. “Portia?”

Her shoulders shot up. “Don’t sneak up on me, Mr. Apollon!”

He held up his comlink. “Why’d you tell me to get out?”

“Eh? No reason,” she murmured, looking everywhere but his eyes. “Just… you might not want to be around tonight, is all.”

“What’s going on, Portia?” Apollon asked, approaching her. “Who’s that man? Who’s the girl?”

“Dad was chattin’ with a philanthropist on the ‘OloNet,” Portia replied. “‘E’s rich, apparently. ‘E’s offered to ‘elp us out.”

“I thought he was broke,” Apollon frowned.

“Why’d you think that?” Portia asked, furrowing her hairless brow.

“I— No reason,” Apollon replied hastily. “He just… looked… poor. What was with the crashing and banging earlier? Sounds like you broke a window.”

“‘Ave you been spying on us?” Portia’s eyes narrowed.

“No!” Apollon blurted. “No, of course not. I just… it was… loud? Look, do you still need help with your rent? I thought I already gave you enough to pay it off.”

“Well, it… ain’t… easy for us to accept charity, you know,” Portia stammered. “We doesn’t like to let on ‘ow poor we’re really doin’.”

Of course. How silly of Apollon to think he could take care of the Banquos’ financial needs with his paltry donations alone. Of course they would turn to additional sources. “Oh. I… I’m sorry.”

“S’alright.” She turned and started back to the lift. Apollon followed her, to get back up to his own room. They stepped into the lift together. Portia’s bony shoulder dug into Apollon’s arm. He cleared his throat. “Portia?”

“Yes?” she rasped.

“Would you mind not standing so close to me?” he asked. “You’re sort of… pressed up against my side here.”

“It’s a small lift,” she whispered hoarsely.

Apollon leaned as far away from her as possible, pressing against the circular wall. It was a small lift. It was filling with that persistent odor that seemed to emanate from Portia constantly. What was that smell? Mona didn’t smell like that.

He pushed the button and the door swiveled shut, trapping the stench inside and making Portia’s rattling breath echo softly in the lift. It grated on Apollon’s ears like sandpaper.

The lift seemed agonizingly slow.

Apollon got out as soon as possible and made his way to his apartment. As he reached to open the door, an idea came to him. “Hey, Port?”

Portia perked up. “Yes?”

“You know those people who were just at your place, they’re coming back, aren’t they?”

“That’s what they said,” Portia nodded. “Why?”

“That girl,” Apollon said breathlessly, “do you think you could get her com code for me?”

Portia was quiet for a moment. “What will you give me if I do?”

“Anything you want,” Apollon promised.

Portia was quiet for another moment. “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you, Portia!” Apollon threw his arms around her, instantly flooding his nostrils with the Portia Smell. Jaminere’s cruiser, that’s pungent. He released her quickly, hoping she’d mistake his watering eyes for tears of gratitude. She just stood there wide-eyed as Apollon walked into his apartment.

Apollon flopped down on his bed. It was happening! He was finally going to talk to her! 1800 couldn’t come soon enough.

Thinking of 1800, he remembered Portia’s bizarre comlink message. You just might not want to be around tonight, is all.

Apollon got up to ask her about the message again and find out what it really meant.

He was about to knock on the Banquos’ door when he heard voices. “O’ course it’s the same one! ‘Ow many ‘uman men d’ya see with Twi’lek daughters?”

Apollon froze. Did Banquo know these people?

“Did you take care o’ the kid next door, Port? We don’t want ‘im snoopin’ around.”

Apollon’s eyes narrowed. What was this?

“Good. I’ll call the boys over. Tonight we get our own back.”

“What are you goin’ to do?” asked Banquo’s wife.

“I’ll tell ya what I’m goin’ to do,” Banquo growled. “I’m gonna make that swindlin’ sleemo pay for puttin’ us in the gutter, an’ if ‘e don’t pay up, I’ll kill the Twi.”

Apollon’s eyes widened. No!

“I think she recognized us,” Mona replied anxiously. “What if ‘e don’t come back?”

“I nicked ‘is com when ‘e wasn’t lookin’,” Banquo cackled. “‘E’ll ‘ave to come back for it.”

“What if he comes back early?” Portia fretted.

“Then we’ll ‘ave to be quick,” Banquo grunted. “‘Ush up now. I’m makin’ the call.”

Apollon leaned in to hear the com call.

“Achuta, Kharv. Got a job for ya. Big creds.”

“Hand me a deck, I’m at the roost,” came a husky voice at the other end. Apollon strained to hear it. “You got a good hand?”

“Great one. Rows o’ teeth.”

“How many rows?”

“Let’s just say I got a shiny piece o’ ivory comin’ round my place at 1800 an’ I intend to make a cap out of it. Just need to buy some jacks. Bring the couplers an’ we’ll get a twenty on it.”

Apollon couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but from what Banquo had said earlier, he knew it was bad.

“You sure it’s cheap?”

“Real cheap. Cheap and ‘ard. ‘Ook ‘im, clean ‘im, buy ‘im tea. It’ll be an Idiot’s Array on my odds, got a fin?”

“No tig?”

“No tig, just get over ‘ere for a drink an’ ‘aggle until it’s time to play. I tell you it’s cheap. Just make sure you’re in uniform. An’ tell Zarel not to play any games of chance with my girls this ‘and when he’s supposed to be pingin’ for friends or the bo-wife’ll scratch him. You know ‘ow ticklish ‘e gets.”

“I’ll tell him it’s a big wash,” said the other voice. “See you real soon.”

Apollon ran. There was no time to lose. He had to save the girl. He had to save her father.

Chapter 19: Ruminations

Chapter Text

Try as she might, Leela could not banish the dread.

She sat at her desk with the sewing machine, stitching strips of armorweave together. It was one of her old verd’ika jumpsuits, worn beneath plastoid training armor by cadets at the morut. She’d outgrown it a long time ago, but she kept it around for sentimental value. It had hung in her closet for ages. A few weeks ago, she’d decided she wanted to wear it again, even if only in the privacy of her own room. With these last few stitches, the alterations would be done.

She should have been excited to finish it. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the Weequays.

She knew they probably weren’t the same Weequays. Sure, Mr. and Mrs. Banquo had looked remarkably similar to the Tarkays, and their daughters looked to be the right ages, but it had to be a coincidence. And sure, the way that Mr. Banquo had looked at her had made her stomach churn— but that didn’t mean he’d recognized her. She was almost eighteen now, and it was not the first time an older man’s gaze had made her uncomfortable.

His eyes hadn’t strayed to the usual areas, however. And he’d looked at her father the same way. Leela had never seen another man leer at her father the way men sometimes leered at her.

No. That had not been a look of recognition. He was just a creepy old man with a disturbing resemblance to her old tormentor. Leela had nothing to fear from him; men like that were very often cowards, especially in her father’s presence. If Banquo harbored any inappropriate impulses, he wouldn’t dare act on them. She was safe.

Her nervous system didn’t know that, but her brain could. Leela reminded herself that she was probably not as good at telling Weequays apart as she thought she was. True, she’d never confused another Weequay for one of the Tarkays before, but there was a first time for everything, and it wasn’t like she was intimately familiar with the species. Besides the Tarkays, whose memory had probably been warped by time anyway, how many other Weequays’ faces did she know? There was Al-Kad the rancher and his family— it was far too long ago for her to remember clearly what they looked like— and there was that one time a Weequay beggar (or a shapeshifter in Weequay form) had sat on the street on the way to their house every night. A few Weequays passed through the soup kitchen every now and then— the one-armed fellow, the Nikto hybrid woman, that little boy who enjoyed her stew, plus the older girl he’d brought with him one time—

Ah. Now that Leela thought about it, the Banquos’ youngest daughter had also seemed strikingly familiar in particular. She hadn’t reminded her of Portia Tarkay— the only mental image Leela had of her was of a bratty seven year-old. Now that Leela remembered the girl from the soup kitchen, she felt silly. She definitely couldn’t tell Weequays apart very well if she was confusing unrelated strangers’ faces for each other.

And if it was Tarkay, and it had been a look of recognition, what could he do anyway? Her father was a strong man. Tarkay had been anything but, and doubtless Banquo would be no mightier. And she herself was not a little girl anymore; in fact, she had been trained as a Mandalorian warrior. Even unarmed and unarmored, she was a threat.

But every fiber of her body screamed that something was wrong. Images flashed through her mind. Her father, battered, bruised and disheveled. Tarkay, standing triumphantly over him. The boy from the park, clutching his head in his hands. Stormtroopers breaking down the door. Her mind had a tendency to run away with her, spiraling into twisted daydreams. But this felt different. Her anxieties always had a logic to them, a domino chain of cause and effect, as if she were scripting a holoplay. There was no logic to the flurry of disordered images, no rationality in the creeping doom that made Leela’s heart race faster and faster—

The sewing machine sputtered as the thread suddenly jammed. “Har’chaak!”

She jumped at the knock on the door. Twos did not wait before entering. “There you are, Mistress Leela. Is everything alright?”

Leela sighed, aggressively chewing her lip. “I’m fine.”

“If you’ll forgive me, Mistress, I’m rather unconvinced of that,” Twos remarked. “You’ve been shut up in your room ever since you returned home.”

“I just… It’s nothing.” Leela gritted her teeth as she carefully worked to unsnag the thread. Thankfully, the specialized needle was undamaged.

“A new project of yours?” Twos inquired. “I’m surprised to find you working here instead of in your studio.”

“I just felt like doing it here,” Leela coughed.

Twos approached the desk and peered at Leela’s handiwork. “Would you like some help?”

Leela surrendered the machine to her nanny droid, who extricated the snagged thread in a matter of seconds. “Ah, this is one of your Mandalorian uniforms, if I’m not mistaken. You know, Mistress Leela, I’ve never heard you or Master Ether say very much at all about your lives before my purchase. I suppose it’s not my place to be curious…”

“No, it’s alright.” Leela sighed, as if releasing a weight. “Honestly, I don’t talk about it because… my papa doesn’t talk about it very much. He doesn’t really talk about the past at all, and I guess I’ve just gone so long without having someone else to talk to about it that I just… didn’t.”

“It’s actually your father who sent me here to check on you,” said Twos. “He wanted me to make sure you were alright. If you don’t mind my saying so, Mistress Leela, you and your father seem to be growing… distant, of late.”

“That’s not true!” Leela protested. But even as she said it, she was reminded of the fact that she’d been keeping more than a few secrets from her father recently, and she’d never done that before. “Look, I’m… I’m fine. Please tell Papa not to worry about me.”

“Very well, Mistress Leela,” Twos nodded. “He also wanted me to remind you that you will be leaving soon.”

“Right.” Leela’s throat caught. “Right. Th— that Weequay family. I’ll be down in a minute. I just want to… finish up.”

“Ah, yes, your uniform,” Twos said. “I’ll let him know.”

“Actually, could…” Leela chewed her lip. She didn’t know why she was asking this— or maybe she did, and didn’t want to admit it. “You don’t… have to tell him about the uniform.”

“Very well, Mistress Leela, if it is not necessary, I will refrain,” Twos replied curiously. “However, you must know that where your safety is concerned, my programming forbids me from keeping secrets.”

“It’s not a secret,” Leela protested. “It’s… just… you don’t need to tell him.”

“As I said, Mistress Leela,” Twos reiterated, “as long as it does not compromise your physical wellbeing.”

“Vor entye, Twos,” Leela smiled appreciatively.

“I assume that means thank you,” Twos replied. “In which case you are welcome.”

As Twos exited the room, Leela returned to her project. In a matter of minutes, she had completed her work.

She stared at it.

She was finally done.

She looked at the chrono on the wall.

If she hurried, maybe she could try it on before…

She didn’t want to think about it. She started undoing her sash.

A few moments later, she was standing in front of the mirror, clad once more in Vod’tsad training attire. She chewed her lip as she turned back and forth. It was her first time altering armorweave, but it didn’t look too bad. She hadn’t exactly been able to find the exact right shades for the extra strips, so now the khaki jumpsuit had light stripes where she had cut it apart to fit her increased frame. Compared to the light brown that comprised the rest of the suit, the new additions looked almost white. She kind of liked that. White symbolized a fresh start, like the snow that covered a field after the harvest before the next.

Leela opened her bottom dresser drawer. The suit was meant to be worn underneath plastoid armor pieces that strapped to her body. She held the cuirass to her breast in the mirror. As expected, it didn’t seem as though it would fit. If she loosened the straps, she could probably get them around her torso, but the plates themselves would sit very awkwardly on her body, leaving sizable gaps near the shoulders and midriff. She imagined it would be a similar story with the pauldrons, vambraces and shin guards— at the very least, they’d look a little silly. If she wanted to wear armor over the suit she’d have to buy new pieces, and she had no idea where to even find those.

She wondered what it would be like if she’d undergone the verd’goten and received proper armor.

She flinched at a sudden knock on her door. “Leela?”

Leela cleared her throat, composing herself. “Yes, Papa, I’m coming.”

She placed the cuirass back in the drawer and looked down at her outfit. She’d meant to change out of it before they left— before her father saw it—but it seemed too late. Could she wear it to the Banquos? Maybe the outfit would make her look intimidating. Although most recognized Mandalorians by their helmets, and Leela didn’t have one. She didn’t even have the plastoid voylan that was supposed to go with this suit— well, she did, but she was worried she’d break it if she tried to fit it around her head.

Biting her lip, she stepped out of her bedroom.

Ether looked her up and down. “Is that… one of your old Mando suits?”

Leela nodded. Why couldn’t she look him in the eye. “I… thought it would be a neat project if I… made it fit again.”

“You’re a talented seamstress,” he murmured. “Even better than I am.”

“I didn’t know you knew how to sew!” Leela said, perking up.

“Picked it up a long time ago,” Ether coughed. “I’m… not sure if you should wear that to the Banquos.”

“I wasn’t planning to,” Leela frowned.

“How fast can you change?” He checked his wrist chrono. “We have to leave soon.”

Leela chewed her lip. “You know, buir’ika… I’ve been thinking.”

Ether raised an eyebrow. “What about?”

Leela considered backpedaling, raising some insignificant concern that her father would resolve immediately, and suffering silently through her true anxieties. It would hardly have been the first time she hid her emotions for her father’s benefit. Not once had she ever asked him to put her comfort over his, nor did she ever wish to. He worked so hard to attend to her every need. Caring for the poor was clearly important to him, just as it was to Leela, who knew what it was like to shiver and starve. How could she ask him to abandon these Weequays, simply because they reminded Leela of the Tarkays? It would hardly be fair to punish them for the abuses another family had inflicted on her. Even if they were the Tarkays themselves, a possibility Leela was irrationally growing more certain of by the minute in spite of everything, Leela would not have wished any harm on them. It was merely for her safety that she was concerned— and, as she reflected, her father’s. If she knew anything about the Tarkays, she knew they were nothing if not vindictive.

Leela took a deep breath. “What if we sent them the money over the HoloNet?”

Ether frowned. “I never send money over the HoloNet. I thought you knew that.”

“I know,” Leela said, “but what if you did it just this once?”

“What’s this about?” He stooped slightly; she was tall enough now that he no longer needed to take a knee to look into her eyes, but Leela felt as though she were a child again regardless.

Her resolve began to waver. She couldn’t bear to see the worry in his eyes. “It’s nothing, Papa,” she reassured him. But it was too late, and she knew it. Still, she tried to avoid revealing her fears outright. “What about the mail? We could send medicine with the money for the mother’s cough.”

Ether thinned his lips. “You don’t want to visit the Banquos again because they remind you of the Tarkays.”

Leela nodded gratefully. Ether sighed through his nose. “I can’t deny I saw the similarities myself.”

Leela’s shoulders relaxed. She knew her father would understand. They had rendered aid to many Weequay families in the past without issue. Something about the Banquos was definitively Tarkay-ish. It wasn’t only Leela’s imagination.

Ether straightened. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

Leela chewed her lip. “Papa?”

Ether co*cked his head.

Leela took a deep breath. “It’s… stupid, but I’d feel better if you didn’t go.”

“I have to.”

“I don’t like the way he looked at you,” Leela insisted.

“I can protect myself,” Ether assured her. “I’ll be back soon.”

Leela fretted as he walked away, barely conscious of the fact that her feet were carrying her after him. He did not seem to acknowledge her as he walked down the stairs.

Twos approached as they neared the front door. “Safe travels, Master Ether, Mistress Leela.”

“Leela’s not coming,” Ether replied. “I need to speak with you.”

Twos co*cked her head as Ether led her to the dejarik table on the other side of the room. The old board was notoriously glitch-happy, seeming to turn on and off at random, the pieces moving without player input. The residents of the house had learned not to switch it off if they found it active, or else the lights in the room would flicker and occasionally short out. The board was on now, and the sounds of the holomonsters cycling through their idle animations helped to cover Ether’s voice as he spoke in a low tone. “Until I return, Leela does not leave the property.”

“Understood, Master Ether,” Twos nodded.

“Don’t let her out of your sight,” Ether said firmly. “If I don’t come back—”

“If you don’t come back?” Twos co*cked her head. “What are you—”

“I will come back, but if I don’t,” said Ether, “you will be her guardian. I am placing you in charge until I return.”

“Master Ether, are you in some sort of danger?” Twos asked.

“It’s probably nothing.” He risked a glance at Leela. “It’s probably perfectly safe.”

He returned to Leela, who was standing anxiously near the front door. “Twos is in charge until I get back.”

Leela threw her arms around him as if it were for the last time. He held on to her for as long as he could.

Chapter 20: Collaborateur

Chapter Text

Apollon burst into the police station. “I need to speak to the chief immediately!”

“The chief’s not in at the moment,” replied the receptionist. “The inspector is filling in for him.”

“Then let me speak to the inspector!” Apollon cried. “It’s an emergency!”

“Follow me,” said a Clawdite in a blue uniform.

Apollon followed the Clawdite officer down the hall to the office labeled Inspector. The Clawdite opened the door and Apollon stepped inside. Noting that the desk was empty, he asked, “Is the inspector using the lavatory?”

The Clawdite stalked past him and sat down. “No, I am not.”

“Oh!” Apollon exclaimed. “I didn’t realize— I’m not good with rank plaques.”

“Please sit,” the inspector commanded. According to the plate on his desk, his name was Inspector Koss. Apollon sat.

“State your name.”

“Apollon Priam Victor Kondric.”


“Nineteen,” Apollon replied impatiently. “Look, can I just tell you about the emergency? Time is of the essence.”

“Very well,” said Koss. “Proceed.”

“My neighbors, sir,” Apollon explained. “They’re planning to do something terrible. I overheard them talking about extorting someone. They’re going to take him hostage, sir.”


“My neighbors,” Apollon repeated. “I said that.”

“No,” Koss clarified. “Who is the hostage?”

“Just… someone,” Apollon replied. “I don’t know who it is. All I know is they’re going to hurt him. And his daughter. We have to stop them.”

Koss furrowed his hairless brow. “Where do you live?”

“755 Woxel Road,” Apollon replied.

“I know that address,” Koss murmured. “That is the address belonging to a complex known as the Elephant House, is it not?”

“That’s the one,” Apollon nodded vigorously. “They’re in Room 204, right next to mine.”

Koss made an obscure humming sound, pupils narrowing slightly. He leaned forward, as if there were a peculiar odor in the room of which he suspected Apollon might be the source. “You say you are nineteen?”

“Yes sir,” Apollon replied anxiously.

“How strong are you?”

Apollon blinked. “Sorry?”

“Your strength,” Koss repeated impatiently. “Is it in any way unusual for a person of your age, build or species?”

“N-no,” Apollon replied, furrowing his brow. “I don’t… think so.”

“And your criminal record, is it clean?” Koss probed. “Where are you from, Apollon Priam Victor Kondric?”

“Embaril,” Apollon said. “I’m from the House of Kondric. And I, er, haven’t committed any crimes in my life.”

“A Tionese nobleman, is it, Mr. Kondric?” Koss co*cked his head, pupils shrinking even thinner. “And how does a well-born young man like yourself come to live in a stinking gutter like the Elephant House?”

“Well, I’m a student—” Apollon stammered.

“Ah.” Koss seemed to relax. “You attend the university here, then?”

“Yes,” Apollon nodded. “That’s correct.”

“Can you provide identification?”

“I’ve got my docs in here somewhere…” Apollon fished for his wallet. Locating it, he produced the chip containing them.

Koss picked up a datapad on his desk and inserted the chip into a port. He examined its information for a moment, and then returned it. “You seem to be in very good standing, Mr. Kondric. Or do you prefer Sir Kondric?”

“Mister is fine,” Apollon coughed, ears burning. “Erm… Why did you ask me how strong I was?”

“If you must know, I thought there was something familiar about you,” Koss replied. “You reminded me of someone. I was attempting to discern the reason.”

“And what was the reason?” Apollon asked, frowning.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Koss replied. “You’re such an upstanding young man, from reasonably good stock.”

“And the other person… wasn’t, I take it?” Apollon inquired.

“Scum,” Koss sneered. “But enough of this. We must move quickly if we are to apprehend your neighbors. Tell me everything.”

Apollon told Koss everything he had heard— everything except for how he knew the man and the girl, and his conversation with Portia. “And I heard him call someone on his comlink,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what they were saying, they seemed to be speaking in code…”

“Smugglers’ Cant.”

Apollon frowned. “Smugglers can’t what?”

“I have no doubt this code you refer to is the argot known as Smugglers’ Cant,” Koss explained. “What do you remember of their conversation?”

Apollon thought. “He mentioned rows of teeth.”

“Teeth are credits,” Koss replied. “A row is a thousand.”

“They said they were going to…” Apollon chewed his lip, trying to remember. “Hook him, clean him, buy him tea.”

“Capture him, beat him, and kill him.”

“Oh!” Apollon snapped his fingers. “He mentioned a name! He said Xizarel was supposed to be pinging for friends.”

“So Xizarel is involved,” Koss mused. “They’re making a mistake by putting him on lookout. This should be easy.”

“What do we do?” Apollon asked anxiously.

Koss rose, setting an EC-17 holdout blaster on the desk. “If Xizarel is involved, no doubt other members of Gasha Tonka are conspirators as well. They are devious, and between them, they leave no stone unturned. If they suspect I have caught wind of their little plot, they will check for listening devices. That is why you must spy on them instead.”

“Understood.” Apollon took the blaster. Anything to save her. Them. He frowned, examining the compact weapon. “Where’s the trigger?”

“The grip is pressure sensitive.”

“Ah!” Apollon hastily slackened his grasp. Composing himself, he slid the pistol into his jacket pocket. “Right. Yes. Of course. Er… how do I contact you without a comlink?”

“That is what the pistol is for,” Koss explained. “When all the conspirators have gathered, fire the pistol out your window. Do not give the signal too early, or some of the conspirators will escape. You must wait for all of them to be present. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Apollon nodded resolutely.

Apollon took a taxi speeder home, stopping a few blocks from the Elephant House. His hood was up, though he wasn’t certain it would help disguise him; he wore that jacket practically every day. Still, the Force seemed to be with him, as he was able to avoid detection.

He took the stairs so as not to alert the Banquos by the sound of the lift. Darting swiftly and silently into his apartment, he slipped the comlink into his ear and opened his conservator. There was a pitcher of water inside, and next to it, a drinking glass. He retrieved the glass and closed the conservator. He’d seen this trick in holofilms; hopefully it would work here.

Apollon put the glass against a crack where two wall panels met and pressed his ear against the glass. He could hear Banquo’s voice. “‘Oo’s got the binders?”

“Chekolba’s bringin’ ‘em,” Desdemona replied. “I got rope, just in case.”

“Stow it under the bed,” Banquo ordered. “Then go downstairs an’ keep watch. Is the blue lady out?”

“She’s at the cantina,” Portia replied. “I followed ‘er to make sure.”

“Check the sweeper.”

Sweeper? What’s the sweeper?

“Sweeper’s clean,” Desdemona reported after a moment “No bugs round ‘ere.”

Ah, of course. He said they might check for listening devices.

“Check the student’s room again. Make sure there’s no one there.”

Apollon made a dash for his bed, wriggling under it. It was a tight fit. He was just in time, for the door opened the second he was underneath. Damn that busted lock, he thought.

Portia crept inside. Apollon dared not to breathe. All he could see were her tattered sandals as she stalked the room, muttering under her breath. “Soong cheekta. Nenoleeya di kickeeyuna, da sa du wanga. Dobra koona ta killee magoosa…”

She bent down, and for a terrifying moment Apollon feared she would spot him. But she instead picked up one of his shoes, the ones he wore when he didn’t have time to tug on his boots. He heard her take a deep sniff. Picking up the other one, she announced, “‘E’s not ‘ere,” and departed, shoes in hand.

Apollon breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed. He checked his watch. It was almost 1800. He extricated himself from under the bed and rushed to the window. The philanthropist’s taxi was approaching, but he didn’t see the girl. He had come alone. He was briefly disappointed before he remembered that was a good thing. That meant she would be out of harm’s way.

When he turned to continue eavesdropping, he noticed the vent above his desk seemed to be glowing slightly inside. Standing on top of it, he discovered that the glow was from the Banquos’ illuminator. Apollon had never realized the vent offered a glimpse into the other room. The Banquos’ lights were on and his were off, and it was dark; that was the only reason he had noticed. He found that if he pushed the vent switch up, the slits opened wide enough for him to see through the other side. He found that the slits on the other side were widened already.

“Oi, Port, quit layin’ about,” Banquo barked.

Portia, who had been sitting on the bed, sprang up immediately, but neither parent gave her a task. She stood around awkwardly while Banquo tried to stick the broken leg back onto the chair. “This one’s no good,” he growled, abandoning the repair attempt. “Go get another one.”

Apollon saw Banquo’s wife, a small behemoth of a woman, leave the apartment. Quickly, he scrambled to hide under his bed again. Banquo’s wife entered his room, toes poking through the holes in her boots. Apollon was reminded of childhood nightmares in which a one-eyed giant had him trapped in this exact situation. Though there was little chance of the mother Banquo snatching him up and devouring him if he were discovered, the moment was no less tense for it.

But Banaus did not uncover the little soldier and bite his head off; Banquo’s wife did not even glance at the bed as she appropriated Apollon’s desk chair. Having obtained her purpose, she returned to her own lair. Apollon wondered, should the Banquos continue to visit, how many items would be left in his room at this rate. It didn’t matter. He would get his shoes and the chair back when they were arrested.

Though if Portia gets arrested, she won’t be able to give me the girl’s com code.

He would cross that bridge when he came to it.

He climbed back onto the desk. “‘E’s comin’!” Banquo hissed. “Get ready!”

Mrs. Banquo climbed onto the bed and laid down under the ratty quilt. The lift dinged.

Apollon watched with bated breath. The philanthropist knocked.

Banquo opened the door. “Come in, sir, very lovely to see you again.”

The philanthropist looked around the room. “Where’s your eldest?”

“Runnin’ errands,” Banquo replied. “Lucky I’ve got Port with me to ‘elp take care o’ the missus.”

Mrs. Banquo coughed. Portia patted her mother’s forehead, clearly unsure if it was the right move.

The philanthropist observed the apparently ailing woman. “I’ve brought medicine for her cough. And money for your rent. Six hundred credits.”

Portia gasped. Banquo took the package from him, gazing at it in awe. “Six ‘undred! Boomin’ Am-shak, that’s mighty generous o’ you. But I’m afraid it might not be enough.”

“Oh?” The philanthropist tilted his head, raising an eyebrow.

“‘Ave a seat,” Banquo gestured. “Let’s talk business.”

“I really should be going.” The philanthropist turned just as the door opened. A furry, pink-faced man sauntered into the room, toting an EE-3 carbine with a shaft-sawn electrostaff haphazardly wired to the barrel. He grinned toothily up at the philanthropist. “Evenin’.”

“Who is this?” the philanthropist inquired.

“A friend o’ mine, come for a visit,” Banquo grinned. “Like you. Won’t you sit down?”

The philanthropist sat in Apollon’s chair. As he did so, a Dug loped into the room, swinging a pair of binders from his index toe. “And who’s that?” the philanthropist asked without turning around.

“Chut chut, pateesa,” the Dug grinned. “Kapa bata, niuta.”

“D’you speak ‘Uttese, sir?” Banquo asked, grin widening. “The gentleman would like you to put your ‘ands be’ind your back.”

“Hi chuba da naga?” the philanthropist demanded coolly, ignoring the request. “Andoba makacheesa?”

“Oh, we’ll get a real big payout from you,” replied a deep, modulated voice. The last man to enter locked the door behind him. His dark, red-eyed mask was shrouded in a white hood, giving him a vague resemblance to an old IG-100 security droid. He crossed his arms, blocking the exit. Apollon recognized that voice from Banquo’s com call.

That’s all of them, Apollon thought. He reached for the blaster in his jacket pocket.

“Is Xizarel at ‘is post where ‘e’s supposed to be?” Banquo demanded.

“I made sure of it,” the hooded man replied.

Wait, Apollon thought, does it count if they’re outside, or did he want them all in the same room?

“Your wife is looking much better,” the philanthropist observed. Mrs. Banquo had risen from her bed, brandishing a cudgel. Portia, who had no weapon, punched her fist into her palm. She made an unconvincing pugilist.

“It’s been awhile,” Banquo purred, stepping closer to the philanthropist. “Do you remember ‘oo I am?”

The philanthropist glared back at him. “No.”

“Is that so, Mr. Broke?” Banquo co*cked his head. (So his name is Broke, Apollon thought.) “If that is, in fact, your real name.” (Or not.)

“See, when we first met, that weren’t the name what you gave me,” Banquo exposited. He drew himself to his full height. “But what really matters is the name I gave you, Mr. Broke, because my name is not Banquo.”

Apollon’s eyes widened. He pressed his ear to the vent to hear what Banquo said next.

“Care to take a guess, Mr. Broke?” Banquo growled. “You know what it is.”

“I do not,” Broke replied coldly.

Apollon heard the sound of a rifle co*cking. “I… am… Tarkay.”

Apollon nearly fell off the desk. Tarkay! A Weequay named Tarkay! Could it be the same one? How could the man who saved his father’s life now threaten the life of this girl’s father? It had to be a different Tarkay.

“Tarkay o’ the General o’ Wotalu,” Tarkay hissed, leaning close to his victim. “Now surely that… rings a bell.”

Apollon’s heart trembled. It’s not true. That’s impossible.

Broke dove for the window. “Grab ‘im!” Tarkay snarled. Each of the ruffians pounced on the man, tackling him to the ground. The Dug lifted him by his hair as the brown-furred thug pummelled his back with the butt of his carbine. Apollon pulled out the blaster.

“Don’t ‘urt ‘im!” Tarkay shouted. “We need ‘im alive an’ cooperative.”

Apollon slowly slid the pistol back into his jacket as the scoundrels dragged Broke to the chair and forced him to sit. He had almost betrayed his father’s dying wish.

But how could he stand by and let Tarkay accost this man? How could he let them beat him, rob him, and eventually, kill him?

He sank to his knees, head in his hands. Father… What should I do?

Chapter 21: In Pursuit of Feral Banthas


This chapter contains mild sexual content and dubious consent.

Chapter Text

Tarkay took a moment to appreciate the situation. So often had he dreamed of taking revenge on the sleemo Antilles. Never had he imagined that day would actually come to pass. What a fool he was to come back here. For what? To give him six hundred credits? To rub his wealth in Tarkay’s face with his generosity? Well, Tarkay would see to it that he would show even more generosity before the day was out.

“So…” Tarkay drawled. “You really ‘ave no idea ‘oo I am.”

Antilles glowered up at him, wild grey hair dangling in front of his face. “I know you are a scoundrel.”

“Scoundrel!” Mrs. Tarkay shrieked. “Oh, you would call us scoundrels! We, ‘oo ‘ave been forced to resort to these drastic measures! While you steal children away on a whim, an’ flaunt your money in our faces! A slaver ain’t a slaver if ‘e’s rich, ain’t that so, Mr. Broque or Antilles or ‘ooever the ‘ell you are!”

“Let’s not let our tempers get the better o’ the situation,” Tarkay urged unctuously. “Yes, it’s true that ‘e bought our ward from us an’ brought us to ruin. But I’m sure you ‘ave a good ‘eart, don’tchya, Mr. Broque? You call yourself a philanthropist, go round givin’ your alms to poor wretches like ourselves... Surely you can be reasonable.”

Antilles said nothing.

“I’ve got a compassionate ‘eart myself,” Tarkay wheedled on. “All we want is enough credits to give us a fresh start. You can ‘ardly begrudge us that much. We ain’t lookin’ to kill you, Mr. Broque. I never killed no one in my life before. It’d be an ugly day to start now, wouldn’t you say?”

Antilles remained stubbornly silent.

Tarkay picked up his rifle leaning against the wall, a DC-15A lovingly customized with pieces from other battlefield equipment. It had hung on the wall at the General of Wotalu; he wondered if Antilles recognized it. He hefted the barrel for effect, though space was tight in the tiny apartment. “‘Ere’s what you’re goin’ to do, Mr. Broque. You’re goin’ to send a message to your daughter.”

“I can’t reach the terminal from over here,” Antilles replied, casting his steely gaze toward the computer that sat on the Banquos’ floor.

“No,” Tarkay grinned. “An’ you won’t. No ‘OloNet messages. What you’re goin’ to do is write the message, in ink. Can you write, Mr. Antilles? You’d better learn quickly.”

“I can write,” Antilles retorted. “But not with my hands cuffed.”

“Doozer, ‘old ‘im down,” Tarkay ordered. “Chekolba, uncuff ‘is writin’ ‘and. Now which one would that be, Mr. Broque? Right or left?”

“Right,” Antilles growled. “And I’ll need something to write on.”

“We just so ‘appen to ‘ave a little table.” Tarkay jerked his head toward the table in question, prompting his wife to retrieve it while the Lasat and the Dug freed Antilles’ writing hand. “Desdemona went out this mornin’ an’ purchased a scrap o’ flimsi an’ a stylus.”

Tarkay slid a sheet of flimsiplast in front of Antilles and handed him a pen. “Now, Mr. Broque, I want you to tell your daughter to accompany my lovely wife an’ the Dug ‘ere to a location which I will not reveal. Promise ‘er, from me, that she will be safe from all ‘arm as long as you do what we want. An’ what we want, Mr. Broque, is two ‘undred thousand credits.”

“I don’t have two hundred thousand credits.”

“Not on ‘and, I’m sure,” Tarkay crooned. “‘Oo would carry that much on them? Which is why you’re goin’ to write down your address so that the Dug an’ my wife can retrieve the girl. When my wife contacts me on this comlink ‘ere, that’s when we let you go. When you bring back the cash, we give you back your daughter, an’ no one ‘as to get ‘urt. Now ‘ow does that sound, Mr. Broque?”

Antilles responded only by writing.

Tarkay observed the letter over his shoulder, nodding. “Good. Good. Now the address.”

No sooner was the address written than Tarkay whisked the flimsiplast away and gave it to his wife. “Get goin’,” he barked.

Portia dashed from where she was sulking in the far end of the room and snatched the note. “Let me do it.”

“Oh, finally decided to ‘elp, ‘ave you?” Tarkay snipped.

“Forget it,” Portia snapped, shoving the note back into her mother’s hand.

“Don’t you gimme that attitude, you brat!” Tarkay snarled, making her cringe under his fist. “Get outside an’ stand guard with your sister!”

Portia stalked out the door. “Black the other one, I will,” Tarkay growled.

Portia slipped out the back door, hoping to sneak by Xizarel. But he noticed her the instant the door opened. “Hello, Portia,” he drawled. “And how are you this fine evening?”

“I’m alright,” Portia replied, trying to step aside. “Look, I ‘ave to go stand guard with Mona.”

“Do you now?” Xizarel purred, stepping closer. “But you came to see me first.”

Portia found herself backed against the brick wall. “I really can’t do this right now, Zarel.”

“That’s not like you, Port,” he whispered. “You’re usually so eager to spend time with me. You missed our little rendezvous the other night. Why is that?”

“I’ve got a splittin’ ‘eadache right now, Zarel,” Portia protested weakly.

“How dreadful.” He thumbed her jaw frills. “Perhaps some aromatherapy would help.”

Portia’s resolve was already crumbling. Her heart beat fast as powerful Falleen pheromones wafted into her nostrils. He was grinning like a nexu grins at a bark rat, making her face flush and her throat catch with a familiar hunger. She traced his sharp cheekbones with her mind as he traced her throat with his claw. She surrendered fully, closing her eyes as she slid her fingers under his deep V-necked tunic.

“Port!” It was her mother coming downstairs with Chekolba. “You’re supposed to be out front with your sister! Quit karkin’ around!”

“Yes, Mum,” Portia wheezed, still glassy-eyed.

“An’ you,” Mrs. Tarkay barked. She gripped Xizarel’s chiseled jaw and pulled him close to her face. “Cork the stink or I’ll take a strap to ya.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Xizarel squeaked, eyes bulging. Chekolba snickered.

Mrs. Tarkay released him and dragged her daughter out of sniffing distance, muttering invectives in Huttese. She cupped Portia’s cheeks and slapped them between her palms until Portia returned to full lucidity. “Stay on the job,” she ordered, jabbing her finger in the direction of Portia’s post.

Portia watched her mother go, secretly grateful for the intervention. With a clear head, she darted off to follow her mother a different way. She knew the streets well; with luck, she could cut across town and get to the address faster. They would arrive by speeder; she needed all the luck she could get.

The bug sweeper bounced under the sash that held her skirt and tunic in place. She’d slipped it down her front when the others weren’t looking. She needed it for her special mission.

She couldn’t believe she was doing this. Of all the girls he could have fallen for, it had to be her. The universe was mocking her. A whole planet full of girls and the one he wanted was karking Leela. How and why was Leela back in her life? It wasn’t fair.

It had been Leela at the soup kitchen. Not a girl who reminded her of Leela, no. It was actually karking Leela. And her stupid rich dad. What were they doing helping at a soup kitchen? Did they build the damn thing? Were they rubbing their success in her face?

They hadn’t recognized her then, of course. No, back when she knew Leela, Portia had been pretty— or so her mother used to tell her. Now when being pretty actually mattered, Portia was a starved skeletal hag, and Leela was drop-dead gorgeous. Of course Apollon wanted her, with her stupid perfect skin and her stupid smile with perfect teeth and her stupid mesmerizing deep brown eyes. Portia’s eyes were grey like her father’s. Grey like a snort of spotchka in a glass of mud. Weequays were not beautiful to human eyes, Portia knew that much. Their skin was rough and dull-colored with unflattering ridges and folds everywhere. Twi’leks, on the other hand… Twi’leks might as well have been angels in comparison.

They’d recognized her father. Doubtless that was why Antilles hadn’t brought Leela with him on his return trip. He’d been a fool to return at all. It was his fault Portia’s life had become so miserable. If he hadn’t taken Leela away, maybe Portia’s parents would still love her.

She wondered if Apollon would even want to talk to her after this. He’d soon discover what she was, and he’d made it very clear that night with the Leyakian woman how he felt about people like Portia and her family. Portia wouldn’t blame him. So often she’d imagined herself in the position of the people she and her family robbed and swindled. If she’d been a victim of one of her father’s schemes, she’d want all of Gosha Tonka beaten and then thrown into some Imperial prison never to be seen again.

While her mind was on the Leyakian woman, she realized darkly that the unfortunate soul in question was probably suffering a fate very much like that one.

She couldn’t think about that right now. Not when she had a job to do. Plenty of time to be sick with herself later. She tried to think like Mona. Mona was better at repressing her conscience. Or maybe Mona’s conscience was clear. Maybe this didn’t matter to her. Which begged the question of why it tore Portia’s soul inside to see other people suffer.

How long had Portia been like this? She’d never felt sorry for other people when she was a child. Never felt a twinge for the owners of the coins her father pinched from their purses when they were passed out drunk in his tavern. Never questioned when her father would lie to Kaltha to squeeze more and more credits out of her. Never felt the slightest bit of empathy for Leela. Far from it, she’d tortured Leela gleefully. So why had she come to regret it now? Why did she look back on those days and wish she could have apologized? Wished she could have protected Leela from her mother? Given her a scrap of food, an ear to confide in? Why, just because Portia knew now what it was like to suffer through that kind of hell?

It was hypocrisy, and hypocrisy was ushe. But continuing to inflict suffering on others for her own gain— not even her own gain, her father’s gain— that felt like ushe too.

Enough. She just had to focus on her task. She was almost to the street from the note. If she ran, maybe Chekolba and her mother wouldn’t be there yet.

Apollon was going to be so happy. It would be worth it to see him smile, at least. Maybe he would hug her again. Maybe, she even dared to pretend, he would be so grateful his view of her would be transformed. Perhaps if Nulida led Emorzolo to the forest moon, he would forsake his Nulmia and leave her to her Zanphrexil. (Whoever Leela’s Zanphrexil was. Hopefully no one, because Portia was not inclined at the moment to wish Leela any sort of happiness, previous regrets notwithstanding.)

Portia knew better to trust in that potential outcome, which defied logic. Maybe it had worked out for Nulida— that was usually how such saccharine stories ended. Portia did not actually know, because she had never seen the play performed to the end. If she had lingered, one of the players on the stage might have noticed her pretending to solicit donations on behalf of the troupe.

Though, in thinking of Nulmia and Emorzolo, perhaps Leela would not return Apollon’s feelings. Portia could not imagine anyone rejecting Apollon thusly, but it remained an optimistic potential scenario.

With this final musing, she arrived at the provided address.

The house was quaint, a high fence surrounding a rather overgrown lawn. There was a sign out front with a smiling man on it. Portia didn’t follow politics closely enough to know or care who the man was, and his face was too far away for Portia to have recognized him anyway. Checking to see that no one saw her (and that Chekolba and her mother had not yet arrived,) she darted across the street and around the back.

Scaling the fence proved difficult, so she removed Apollon’s shoes and slipped them through the bars. With her feet bare, she was able to pinch the bars between her toes for traction, though it was not comfortable. Finally she swung over the top and dropped silently onto the grass, retrieving the shoes and putting them back on her feet. Now she just had to find a way inside.

She tried the back door. It was unlocked. She stepped into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her, hoping Leela or whoever else was in the house did not hear the beep. The lights were off, which seemed like a good sign. She briefly untucked her tunic to retrieve the bug sweeper. Now to sniff out Leela’s comlink.

The EE-3811 bug detector is an ingenious little device, commonly employed on both sides of the law. In scanning mode, it searches for radio frequencies emitted by HoloNet communication devices. In tracking mode, it can determine the exact proximity of a given device within a meter. (Had Koss provided Apollon with a comlink, for example, the Tarkays’ bug detector would have discovered a strange HoloNet protocol address on their readout during their scan. Tracking the signature would have led them right to Apollon’s wall, and, if they went looking for the device, to Apollon himself.) But there was another aspect of tracking mode, for which Portia had secreted the device away from her father. For sufficiently insecure devices, the address was listed, allowing other devices to connect to it. If Portia could just find Leela’s comlink, she could get the com code (which for comlinks was the same as their HP address) for Apollon.

She activated the device. She watched the light flash silently as the detector performed its scan. Soon it would show a list of every device in the house with an HP address. Then she could discover Leela’s personal comlink by process of elimination.




Portia ground her teeth, wishing the device would hurry up. Any moment, someone could come downstairs and discover her, or her mother could show up to take Leela away. She needed that com code.





Portia’s eyes widened. What? She smacked the device. The reading did not change. She scanned again. How could there be no devices on any network? Her father had been corresponding with Broque on the HoloNet for weeks. But there was not a single computer on the readout, let alone a comlink. That was impossible.

Portia switched off the detector. Useless garbage. There was a com screen mounted on the wall right in front of her! Granted, it did appear to be deactivated…

She crept through the ground floor, searching for more devices. There was no furniture anywhere except a dejarik table that was bolted to the floor. Apparently Broque and his daughter favored austere living conditions. Portia, personally, couldn’t help but wonder what the point of such a big house was if there was nothing in it.

Realization began to creep in.

No. No, no, no.

There was not a light on in the entire house. There was no furniture. The place was silent as a grave.

She made her way up the stairs, praying to Raquor to be caught. To be proven wrong.

The upstairs was just as dark and empty as the ground floor. There were no pictures on the wall, no beds in the bedroom.

No one was here.

Nobody lived here.

Portia slumped against the wall, clutching her knees. She’d come all this way for nothing. She should have known the house was empty from the outside. She was stupid, stupid, stupid…

She began to sob, staining her skirt with her tears. The useless bug detector lay discarded beside her. The old man had given her mother a fake address. Of course he had. How could she be such an idiot? She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to scream at herself. She wanted her father to scream at her. He would be incensed that she had abandoned her post on a wild bantha chase. She deserved a beating. She was a failure, and that was all she would ever—

“Silly girl, what are you sitting there sniveling for?”

Portia looked up. Xizarel was standing over her, smirking. “Really, Port. If you couldn’t bear to wait for me, we ought to have come together.”

Portia gulped down another sob. “Wh-what are you on about?”

Xizarel offered her his hand. “Nice place you’ve found to play hooky in, I must say. When did you discover it?”

Portia wiped her nose, putting the pieces together. Apparently, Xizarel had followed her, and evidently, he was under the impression that she had wanted him to. Well, she wouldn’t disabuse him of his assumption. If ever she needed a heavy dose of Falleen aphrodisiac in which to drown her sorrows, it was now. She allowed him to draw her up, falling against his chest, still sniffling. Unaccustomed to such vulnerability from her, Xizarel pushed her away. “Well, don’t go blubbering all over my suit now. This is lashaa silk. I can’t afford to get your mucus on it. What are you so distraught about, anyway?”

Portia shook her head, swallowing. “It’s nothin’, Zarel.”

Xizarel smiled, extending his hand again. “Shall we?”

Soon they were in the refresher room, door locked and pheromones mingling in the tiny room. Portia’s eyes rolled back in her head as she breathed it in. Her skirt fell to the floor as Xizarel untied her sash. She slipped her tunic over her head and threw it across the lid of the toilet. Xizarel gripped her bare waist and pushed her into the sonic shower chamber. With her eyelids fluttering, she reached blindly and switched the shower on. The floor began to hum beneath their feet, vibrations tingling across their bodies. Xizarel was exuding so much musk she could hardly breathe. He thumbed the strap of her microgarment.

“I like your shoes,” he whispered in her earhole.

Shoes? What was he talking about? Dimly she recalled that she had kicked off a pair of shoes onto the lavatory floor. “Thanks,” she murmured breathlessly.

“Where did you get them?” he continued softly with a handsome smile, caressing her bony collarbone with his dainty fingers.

“From the boy next door,” Portia replied, wrapping her fingers around the spines along his back. His horsetail tickled her fingers.

Xizarel’s claws wrapped around the back of her neck. “Tell me about him.”

Deep within the back of her pheromone-drunken mind, Portia realized she had made a terrible mistake. Falleen musk wasn’t just highly arousing; it was as powerful a suggestion agent as any truth serum. Xizarel’s fingers drummed on her shoulder blade. Desperately, she attempted to muster enough lucidity to rein in her dangerously loose tongue. “‘E’s a student. ‘Uman. ‘E’s got nice shoes.”

He was cupping her jaw in his other hand now. One wrong word, and he could close his fingers around her throat. “And how friendly would you say you are with this student of yours?”

She wrapped her fingers around his wrist, not enough to make it seem as though she was resisting. Her heart pounded like a racing fathier. The wall of the shower thrummed against her vertebrae. “I dunno. ‘E’s nice. I see ‘im a lot.” She could sense that that was the wrong thing to say, but she couldn’t stop herself.

“You like him, don’t you?” It was a casual enough question, but there was a deadly rasp in it.

“Garnnnnnnnnnnnn,” Portia drawled desperately.

Xizarel’s voice was soft. “Does he like you, Portia?”

Portia’s eyes fell. The whisper that escaped her lips was thick with emotion. “…No.”

“No,” Xizarel murmured, stroking the back of her neck as if to comfort her. “Of course not. Why would he? You’re a thief, darling. A swindlers’ brat who lies with murderers.”

“I know.” Portia’s eyes welled with tears.

“And even if you could keep that from him,” Xizarel continued, leaning closer, “he would never find you desirable. Even another Weequay wouldn’t want you. Not everyone is as… deviant as I am.”

Portia clung to Xizarel’s neck as though it were a life preserver, the spines digging into the flesh of her arms. He drew her close, inhaling deeply, a satisfied smile crossing his lips.

A knock at the front door jolted them both out of the amorous trance. Xizarel’s eyes filled with sudden panic. Someone was outside the house.

Portia’s heart dropped into her stomach. “Mum.”

Chapter 22: Under Guard

Chapter Text

Leela paced and paced at the front of the house, glancing out the windows. He’d been gone for hours now and it was dark. There was no sign of his taxi anywhere.

“Mistress Leela,” Twos piped up, “if you’re feeling anxious, I really must suggest that you go to bed.”

“Something’s happened!” Leela cried. “I know it! I told him not to go back!”

“Master Ether knows what he’s doing,” Twos replied calmly, with a slight mechanical jerk of the head.

“It’s the Tarkays,” Leela fretted. “I knew it was them. Oh, why isn’t he home yet? It’s midnight!”

“That is precisely why you ought to retire to bed,” said Twos. “I will keep watch until Master Ether returns.”

“But don’t you see?” Leela pleaded. “What if he doesn’t return?”

“You have been placed under my care,” Twos replied. “I will keep you safe in the event that Master Ether is delayed indefinitely.”

Leela shook her head. “I have to go after him.”

“You will do no such thing,” Twos rebuked sharply as Leela began to walk toward the front door. “Master Ether gave me strict instructions not to permit you to leave my sight.”

Leela, ignoring her, reached for the door.

22-N may have been a nanny droid, but she had Holowan engineering coursing through her circuits. Her successors had served as bodyguards to Grievous himself. With joints that Leela had oiled herself only yesterday, the old droid’s servos moved with near-lightning speed as she yanked her young charge off the ground, performed an about-face maneuver and deposited Leela away from the front door. Leela attempted to dodge past her nanny droid, but she had only reached a blue braid in gaan’akaan; Twos had fought red braid-level Mandalorians in full beskar’gam when she was new.

Switching tack, Leela turned and ran in the opposite direction. The house was large with more than one exit. She simply had to outrun the old automaton.

She should have realized something was up when she didn’t hear clanking footsteps racing behind her. Foolishly assuming she had given Twos the slip, she burst into the walled backyard. There was a door in the wall, and behind that door, another wall, forming a shed that encompassed the whole of the lawn. She opened the inner door and unlocked the outer door.

She opened the door to see Twos standing in her way yet again.

Leela whirled around to try an alternate exit, but Twos’ fingers snapped around her arm. “You are not to leave until Master Ether returns.”

“Let me go!” Leela cried as Twos dragged her back to the house. “I have to find him! I have to find him!”

“You will remain here according to your father’s instructions, Calisuma Broque,” Twos insisted as they reentered the house. “I am your guardian until he returns.”

“He might not come back!” Leela tried to reach around and pry Twos’ fingers off her arm. “Haar’chak! How are you so strong? I thought you were reprogrammed!”

“Master Ether thought it expedient that I retain my original functions for your protection,” Twos replied, sounding the most like her old self Leela had ever heard. She marched Leela through the kitchen. “I am placing you in your room until morning for the sake of your health. I cannot compel you to sleep, but I strongly advise you to do so.”

“Twenty-Two Enn, I order you to let me go!” Leela yelled as Twos began to drag her up the stairs.

“My orders have been given already,” Twos replied. “You are not authorized to issue countermands to my instructions.”

“Please,” Leela begged. “We can’t just leave him.”

Twos arrived at Leela’s bedroom door and pushed her inside, shutting the door before Leela could turn around and make a run for it. Leela threw herself at the door, weeping in desperation. “Twos!”

“If you would like some calming tea or warm milk, I will fetch it for you,” said Twos, having reverted to her familiar demeanor, from behind the door.

“Don’t you care?” Leela screamed. “He could be dying out there and you won’t even let me go help him!”

“Of course I care,” Twos replied. “Care is my primary function. It causes my circuits much distress to see you distraught.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Leela protested. “Don’t you care that he might not come back?”

“I interpreted your question correctly,” Twos affirmed. “I am concerned for Master Ether’s wellbeing as you. However, if Master Ether is in any danger, Mistress Leela, it will certainly be too dangerous for you to follow him. I cannot allow you to put you to risk your safety on his account. It is against my programming.”

Leela swallowed. “Well, can you go after him yourself? I’ll stay here.”

“I must stay and protect you,” Twos replied. “If an intruder should come while I have left you undefended, I will have failed in my duties.”

“Why would an intruder come here? Besides, I can handle myself,” Leela pleaded. “I’ll lock the doors.”

“Master Ether purchased me to protect you,” Twos said with finality. “He has not asked that I abandon my post for his sake.”

“We have to do something!” Leela cried. “It could already be too late!”

Twos was silent for a moment. “I am sorry, Mistress Leela. Truly, I am.”

Leela sank to the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest, shaking as she heard Twos’ whirring footsteps fade down the corridor. It was several minutes before she regained composure. Pinching her eyes in a futile effort to dry them, she rose. The defiance in her resolve was not reflected in her countenance, which quivered with a final sob that refused to be swallowed.

She switched on the light.

She opened her dresser drawer and pulled out the cuirass. Loosening the straps, she fixed it to her torso. It was ill-fitting, but she didn’t care. She strapped on the pauldrons, the elbow pads, vambraces, the shin and knee guards. She stooped and bowed her head. “Hod Haran, ni akio ner buir. Ke’cabuo mhi bintar. Shi pare sol vaal ni mirdi.”

Of the two gods worshipped by the Vod’tsad and their ancient Taung forebears (the third god, Arasuum, being shunned as a vile tempter,) there is differing etiquette in supplicating their divine assistance. Favor from the chief god Kad Ha’rangir is earned, not solicited. One does not pray to Kad Ha’rangir except to give due honor and glory. The support of Kad Ha’rangir is not offered freely, but granted to those who prove worthy of it through action. Kad Ha’rangir is the god of the moment, the god of drawn swords and swinging axes. One does not expect help from Kad Ha’rangir until one is already charging forward.

Hod Haran is different. Hod Haran is the god of tactics and stratagem. He is the deity a Mandalorian calls upon before leaping into action. To pray to Hod Haran is to hold a divine briefing. If Hod Haran likes your plan— and that could often be quite a significant if— he will agree to play whatever part you need him to.

Leela didn’t have a plan. Yet.

She rushed to her window and looked down. Twos was one step ahead of her, patrolling outside, marching around the starwillow at the center of the roundabout drive. To see her, one would never have suspected her original programming to have been modified.

That was fine. Leela just needed some other way to get out of the room.

Any suggestions would be appreciated, she thought pointedly.

Theologically speaking, that was not usually how Hod Haran worked, but she could hope.

Leela observed Twos’ path. The droid disappeared behind the tree every few minutes as she made her rounds. There was no way Leela could climb down fast enough to not be spotted, and certainly no way for her to make it to the gate. But Twos had made a critical error. Leela’s bedroom was built at the end of the south wing. There was a window in Leela’s room that Twos couldn’t see from her vantage point.

What Leela wouldn’t have given for a whipcord. No such luck. Though she’d been allowed to keep her training armor— sending her away without it would have almost literally been like sending her off naked— she hadn’t been allowed to take anything from the training room armory. Everything in the dojo belonged to the morut, and she’d been allowed no souvenirs.

But she did own a lot of sashes, and she’d seen lots of holofilms.

She switched off the light. A dark window would attract less attention. If she was lucky, Twos might assume she’d gone to bed.

As she rappelled down the wall, she made the mistake of looking over her shoulder at the ground. It was a long drop. She’d had nightmares of falling out of this window— which was odd, because until this moment, Leela had never considered herself particularly afraid of heights. Her heart pounded as she tried not to imagine the night-darkened ground rushing to meet her. She could hear Twos’ footsteps in the distance still circling. So far so good. As long as she didn’t slip…

Soon she was near the bottom, though it had felt like forever while she was climbing. Her father was in danger and every second counted. Still, she did not jump down— as was her first impulse— but waited until she was close enough to the ground to touch down without making a sound.

She dashed toward the back of the property.

The fence connected with the garden wall at the rear of the house. Leela grasped the bars of the fence, but couldn’t gain a foothold. She turned her lower body 90 degrees, trying to use the ash bricks to brace her feet. The outsoles of her boots were slightly too big and the angle was awkward. She toed off her boots and tugged off her socks, dropping them through the bars of the fence. Twos could discover her at any second. She wrapped her toes around the bars and started climbing.

Carefully maneuvering around the spikes, she dropped to the pavement below, not bothering to land quietly. Grabbing her socks and boots, she ran barefoot down the street in search of a taxi.

Iego Moons Road was on the inner edge of what could have been considered the outskirts of Lutecia. Leela ran several blocks before she reached a non-residential area. There was not much of a night life in this part of town; half the windows were dark. There was not a single taxi speeder in sight, only personal vehicles. Leela just kept running.

The soles of her bare feet began to burn.

With a groan of frustration, she stopped at a bench to put her footwear back on, feeling she was wasting valuable seconds in doing so. She could see the headlights of a landspeeder approaching and looked up, just in case it was a taxi, though it probably wasn’t.

As she suspected, it was not a taxi. The back of the speeder was filled with crates, and the driver— the driver was a Twi’lek. Leela thought she recognized—

The driver stopped in front of her. The dim glow of the streetlight confirmed it— Leela only knew of one other Twi’lek on Pasir who wore a Mandalorian visor. It was the Vod’tsad’s cook. “Vod Shu?”

“Leela?” Vod Shu gasped, his visor glowing slightly from the night vision setting. “I thought I recognized that suit! Wayii, ad’ika, you’ve grown so much! Me’vaar ti gar?”

“My papa’s in trouble,” Leela exclaimed. “I need a ride!”

“K’olar, k’olar!” Vod Shu motioned hurriedly. Leela leapt into the passenger seat as Vod Shu punched the accelerator. “Where are we headed?”

“Woxel Road!” Leela said over the noise of the engine as they zoomed down the street. “Do you know how to get there?”

“You’ll have to direct me!” Vod Shu replied, equally loudly. “What kind of trouble is Ashi’brok in?”

“It’s a long story!” Leela explained, tugging her boot on. “It has to do with my old guardians! I think they want to hurt him for taking me away!”

“Wayii, they must’ve been really fond of you!” Vod Shu quipped.

Leela snorted— a mirthless snort that became a sob that choked in her throat. What if she was already too late?

No. She couldn’t be. They were going to save him. They had to.

Revelation - rktho_writes - Star Wars (2024)
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