I just noticed that the ship has a log. Of course, I knew it did. Every ship does, but I’d never used the Spelljammer’s. And so, as this is a new beginning for me, I’ll use it. I’ve just got to make sure to keep it private and not push it to my Worldpress blog. I didn’t even know I had a Worldpress blog. What the frack is a “blog?”
§ § §
Bariss and I spent a few weeks running Adria and Bella through a crash course in piloting — thankfully without the “crash” part. Basic handling at first, but they quickly became bored with what amounted to zero-g ballet, so we caved and began some starter combat drills. Both picked up a handful of useful maneuvers. Adria nearly shot me out of the sky several times, and I think she may have given Bariss a scorch or two on his fresh paint-job, although he insisted it was just the shoddy workmanship of those damned Alderaan bay-monkeys.
I’m not a typical father. I don’t know how others deal with the loss of a child. For me, it meant trying to forget. It didn’t work— I’d never been able to exorcise the ghost of their souls visiting my daydreams and haunting my nightmares. However, the details did fade away, and I’m not even sure how old they are. Bella still had that chubby innocence to her— the part burnt off when we realize how much we forgot to enjoy when we were kids.
Adria wasn’t a kid anymore. As a father, I regretted it. As a father and a man, I noticed it, and I noticed others noticing it. Certain other pupils, in particular.
Fortunately, due to my growing notoriety, when she mentioned who her father was to some eager suitor, the poor kid would blanch to some pale species-appropriate hue and back away stammering. I’d slip my fingers from the trigger guard of my blaster and give him a little “pchoo” hand gesture as he ran off. I thought this would annoy Adria, but she seemed to derive a harmlessly cruel pleasure from it, and rather than wonder at the cause of that, I just smiled to myself and thought, “That’s my girl.”
Bella was still a girl. Not just a girl. In the words of my father, she was a “Langolass”— a tom-boy who was all-girl. So was Adria, but there was a more pronounced darkness in the elder sibling. Bella seemed to take everything in stride. Adria’s birth and infancy were tough, so we doted on Bella when she was a babe. I’m not sure how much those not-quite-human early years matter later in life, but she became so secure in the love and protection of her mother and father that, even after she’d lost one, then the other, then was yanked out and into that dark clan of Drac—
Anyway, the thick blood of our brood is all that kept her — them, all of us — from going mad.
Not that being “mad” is such a bad thing if the baying is kept at bay. That’s how Adria seemed, and I felt now that I favored her because she seemed so much more like me. I’m not far gone enough to know that ain’t exactly a good thing, but it feels good to a father, because however fracked up she gets, she knows it’s something (or “something-like”) what her dad’s probably been through, and that we can lean on each other.
For as long as we’re together.
Maybe that Jedi/Force poo-doo will keep us together even when we’re at opposite ends of the galaxy. Surely, she has more “faith” than I. Tor insists it’s not faith or belief, but that the “Force” exists regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it. It’s not a game I’m interested in playing, but if I were, those lil’ deities coursing through our veins can only grant us odds.
Bariss had some tasks to manage, and I was to meet with Tor and Tull for a crash course of another sort, so before heading into the deep mountains outside the capitol city, we stopped by the hangar bay. Bariss had his head under the bonnet of his fighter, but as he heard us approaching, he rose and clanged his melon-sized skull against the hood. Still, even as he rubbed his smooth green pate and winced, there was a suggestion of an impish grin brightening his lip-less visage.
Adria and Bella rushed to him, grabbing his legs and hugging him tightly. Yeah, they were both still girls. Part of them, at least.
Bariss wore a full-on grin now. I cocked an eyebrow and asked, “What’re you up to, kid?”
I’d swear the red eyes of the Duros captain flashed almost human for a moment. He seemed downright giddy.
“Oh, nothing.” He shuffled his feet in a pantomime of innocence as she girls backed away and gazed up at him.
“Spill it, Unka-Bear!”
I laughed at the formidable ace-pilot. Bariss Gigrig, the scourge of the Imperial fleet, hated that diminutive appellation — or hated himself for loving it. He’d lost his family, too. Maybe seeing the girls back with me sparked some hope of reuniting with his own blood.
Behind Bariss rose a crinkled spread of syntheweave draped over a mass about twice the size of his ship. He turned, grabbed the corner of the tarp, and flung it away with a dramatic flourish. The girls watched it flutter across the bay, then snapped their heads back to the gleaming examples of starcraft mastery their “Unka-Bear” had revealed.
“Our own— are they ours?”
They were. I knew he’d planned it. I’d paid as much as he’d let me, but he’d insisted on final say in the design. They were indeed beautiful: twin Incom Z-95 Headhunters. They weren’t stock, and I had an intuition that Khalik must have worked some of his mechanical magic on them between shifts rebuilding the rebel flagship /Resurgence/. If he’d heard about them, that gear-head genius wouldn’t have been able to resist applying his peerless tweaks and artful chrome.
Bariss walked over to where the girls were running their hands over the shining metal, ooh-ing and aah-ing. He knelt between them, between the bows of both ships, and pointed.
He noted clusters of Durese syllabograms on the bows of the Headhunters. “That one is «Leshef», and the other is «Lona». Charismatic and wise. You’ve both got plenty of each. Probably from your father, although I think you’ve got him beat on the charisma.” He turned toward me and winked. “—and probably in the wisdom hold, as well.”
The girls giggled and gave him another hug.
He seemed… happy. Hell, so was I. Everyone was. I figure we all get a free “happy” now and then, right?
I walked over, pulling the girls into the crooks of my arms and ruffling their hair. “Thank Unka-Bear, girls.” Bariss tried to cringe at the moniker, but could only manage another of those weird lip-less Duros grins. The girls harmonized a literal “Thank you”, although they’d already shown how much it meant to them. Their gleeful appreciation of both the starships and their mentor/friend was good enough for me, but I figure I should teach them the ropes of society — where words often mean more than deeds.
They don’t have to believe it, but they should know how to work it.
“Sorry, Bariss, but we’ve gotta go. Tor and Tull are waiting uphill. We’re hikin’, huh, girls?”
The girls smiled and nodded. They were excited about the trek.
Bariss sensed something. I hadn’t even decided to do what he seemed to know I would. It doesn’t take “Force sensitivity” for a friend to be more aware of your feelings than yourself.
I extended my hand to meet his, then pulled him toward me and slapped him on the back. As we parted, he said, with only a hint of irony: “You’re in control. You make the rules now.”
I nodded slightly and turned to leave. With my back to him I replied, “Goodbye… brother.”
Before the girls and I exited the bay doors, I took a final glance back at him, but his head was already under the engine hood.
§ § §
We took a row-boat from Aldera across the lake, the spires of the palace gleaming golden-orange in the warm morning sun. Once we reached the other side, we suited up and climbed the rugged cliff of the caldera that had formed the lake. It wasn’t an especially difficult climb, although Bella did lose her grip at one point. She squeaked a cry of alarm. I turned, but saw only that she /appeared/ to be gliding gently back, through mid-air, onto the cliff face. I turned to Adria. Her eyes were closed in concentration. She opened them, noticed my gaze, and we both smiled.
By mid-afternoon we’d made good progress into the thick wilderness outside the caldera and crested a ridge, over which we heard a cadence of grunts and focus-howls, then the abrupt rise of one furry and one scaled creature erupting across the horizon, each flipping and gliding, then approaching each other as blades of light sprung from the furry one’s saber, and glowing claws hummed out from the scaled creature’s fist. As they sparred, the air crackled as with midsummer lightning.
Tull and Tor, in all their preternaturally athletic glory.
They were like ghosts on wires— floating, bouncing, spinning, flipping. It would have been impressive enough for the comparatively lithe form of a stock humanoid such as myself, but to see these “alien” creatures, to see a Barabel and a Camaasi performing these fantastic feats, defying the very gravity beneath them, was breathtaking. I heard the girls gasp as they shirked off their packs and ran toward the two sparring Jedi.
Tor snuggled them against his fur. I grinned and waved at them, walking slowly toward the circle. They ran toward Tull, and he swung them up over his shoulders and spun them around as they giggled uncontrollably. A few months ago, I might have presented blaster and blade out of fatherly concern, but I trusted him as myself now. Barabel are not known for their raw intellect, and perhaps Tull possesses even less than the average, but raw intellect only brings one so far. He has strength, courage, loyalty, and honor that ken deeper than the mechanistic intellectual calculation and collation of facts.
Tor walked to me and we embraced as Tull wrestled with the girls. I snuffed at the musk of which his fur was redolent: Corellian whiskey.
“You should bottle your sweat and sell it as smuggler cologne.” He laughed, and I continued: “Well, I guess we’re all done here, huh? Galaxy saved?”
He knew there was more for him and he must have known that it was not for me— nor my girls. And that latter knowledge brought a sad twist of his snout where there may have been a polite grin. He did manage a precarious smile.
“Close, but rebellion isn’t a grenade. We have much to do before we rest.”
“If we can ever rest.”
His face slumped somber. He knew. And, at that moment, so did I. This was not my fight and bloodthirsty as I may have been (or am)— vengeance is not worth the price of one’s children.
Maybe it’s not worth anything.
§ § §
The girls spent most of their time with Tull during our “retreat.” Oddly, considering her more advanced knowledge of “the Force”, Adria seemed the slack pupil in these exercises, while Bella shined. At first it was just a spark, but as Tull tossed the husks of adversity on her with each morning’s exercises, that spark flickered, burst, and bloomed into a strangely cogent fireball of elemental power. She seemed to simple absorb all Tull knew.
When Adria sparred with Tull, there were frequent bursts of rage— enough that I was fearful. I knew Tor was, as well. He would watch with a presentation of sublime calm, but he would know before anyone. He would hear that spirit-banshee scream before any of us, and he would tense as a Jedi does. That is, not like any human would. You wouldn’t notice it untrained, but there was an intense aura of vigilance. Not anything as visually obvious as his fur prickling in a wave over his body, or as a human would grit his teeth and clench his fists— but as emotionally evident as anything in your life had ever been.
He was ready.
He was the guardian of his “Good”.
He was a rogue protector of the innocent, and a savior of the honor so quickly draining from the galaxy.
He was a Jedi.
§ § §
Tull was smart enough to know his limits. He gave them everything he could. In those few weeks, he chiseled them into the martial likeness of himself. Tor might have described it as Tull having given them the bloody memnis of being bred from the Barabian warrens. They would fight now as if they had fought since emerging from the womb.
I often refer to Tull as “smart enough” or in other relative terms of whatever the frack “intelligence” means. I don’t mean that. He and I had a rough beginning. His companionship with Tor, well, hard and embarrassing as it is to admit— I was jealous. But, as for his intellect— who cares? It’s like saying someone is less than another because of their eye color— or lack of visual organs altogether.
Beyond the aforementioned strength, courage, loyalty, honor — Tull is possessed of an unmatched martial wit.
Tor’s sessions were starkly different.
I had participated in both (and have the bruises and flash-fused fractures to prove it), and they were equally intense. However, rather than being a whirlwind of hyperdimensional limbs, Tor’s sessions were akin to some corporate retreat for Coruscant nobility. No— I can’t say that. It wasn’t such overpriced pap and nonsense. Nonsense to some, perhaps— but deep truth to anyone with the soul to listen.
I’m no “believer”, but as Tor has told me— the Force is just “there”. It isn’t a matter of me believing in it. “The Force believes in me.”
It had sounded hokey— well, it still sounds hokey. No match for a blaster at your side. Right?
Perhaps, but when he spoke to the girls— it was as if to children, but not as if they were children. Tull joined us every night for these “meditations”. It was as if Tor was speaking in every language that ever was (save for Sith!)— but not only that, but to every person who was there. Though his eyes would mostly gaze at the fire crackling under the perfect midnight velvet of Alderaan, he would pass amongst us, with this… I can’t describe it.
I can tell you I miss that gaze, because when he looked at us then— well, when he looked at me, I felt such peace. “Peace” in a sense far from the pedestrian abuse of the term, and not accurately described by my inadequate skills as a raconteur.
It was a sudden and almost overwhelming sense of calm, but there was fire. There was an inferno propelling his every word to us. There were holocausts raging around us as his delicately metered speech wove itself between and around all of us— holocausts present seemingly only to provide and emphasize these entwining wisps of smoke.
As sublimely at peace as he seemed, he was fighting back those raging horrors— and they weren’t some vague or metaphorical terror.
It wasn’t the Emperor reaching across the galaxy to threaten us.
It wasn’t Draco.
It was Adria.
§ § §
It was our last day. The sky was brilliant gold. The clouds were pink tufts of candy floss. It was ridiculously beautiful.
Until Tor came to me.
I was rousing the girls from their bags, helping them get dressed and packed, brushing their teeth with my finger— wetted from a kettle of water over the fire. I laughed as I gleefully performed all those rote, mundane domestic chores I’d missed for all those years.
When I thought they were dead.
Tor laughed as he entered the circle of our early fire. I turned.
“What? Gotta keep ’em gleaming.”
Tor curled back the lips of his snout and slurped his tongue over his pointed rows of teeth.
“Yes, but in such an uncivilized way?” He winked, then turned to the girls.
“Adria, Bella— could you pack up while I talk to your father?”
My neck nearly snapped as I watched them whip to attention and respond in unison: “Yes, master.”
As they went to work, I shook my head and grinned at Tor. “Master. Great. You’ve taken my girls!” He laughed, then put his arm around my shoulders and led me down the path toward the main camp. I was joking about the “master” stuff. I appreciated their respect for the peerless teacher/father Tor had been to them over the past moontide. I held no grudges. We’d camped apart to afford myself more time alone with the girls.
Maybe to prepare them for the decision I’d made.
Tor stopped at his camp’s fire and sat on a downed trunk. I sat across from him, the fire still casting something of a more intense glow in the early morning.
Tor stared at the embers dancing at the base of the flames. He didn’t raise his head.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
I didn’t answer. I was poking the fire, stirring the dark ashes under the brilliant flame.
He hesitated. I knew he wasn’t going to give me a speech about the rebellion and its importance to all sentient life, nor question my ability to raise and shape my daughters into women of whom he would be proud to have been called “master”, nor launch a remonstrative lecture of my past bloodthirsty escapades.
The “difficulties” we’d had through the course of our acquaintance had come close to precipitating mutual murder, but the scars of that metaphysical sparring had hardened into a mutual understanding of each other. On some issues, in purely metric terms, he differed with me more than he did the Emperor, but— at the very least— we tried to understand each other, and often we did. There was a respect that was not always verbalized, and quite often the verbal resolution inhabited a spectrum of profanity that would make a xeno-linguist blush— mostly from myself, but Tor wasn’t above his own distinct flavor of “colorful” metaphor.
In any case, although we disagreed on the higher levels, we knew that the disagreements were not due to some behavioral deficiency in either of us, but because our ethical frameworks were built on fundamentally different foundations. If we had the same roots, the same base beliefs, the same cores, we would have been twins.
We each respected the honor of the other, as if it mirrored our own.
Tor still hadn’t spoken. As he raised his head and we looked at each other, I stopped tweaking the fire, tossed the stick aside, and broke the silence:
We rose, embraced in silence, and I went back to my girls.
We did not speak again.
Yes, it was a beautiful morning.
A beautiful dawn.
But dawn— it is only the beginning of the day.
§ § §
The girls grumbled as they rose from their bunks. Funny how, days before, they’d snapped to complete wakefulness when Tull or Tor but gave a quick, sharp clap near their bedrolls.
I’d tied up loose ends with Senator Organa. He’d agreed not to say anything to the others until they asked— and they wouldn’t ask until they’d finished their mission. I had a hard enough time getting an audience with him, but I had to tell him in person. I wanted him to understand that I wasn’t abandoning him or the rebellion, but that it wasn’t my fight. He didn’t, but his political training had gifted him with the intuition of when someone’s mind was set. Besides— I’d done too much for the “cause” with no (direct) compensation for him to legitimately complain of my “early” retirement.
I arranged to have any items of importance secured from all but the authorized persons. I’d had Bariss’s ships offloaded. I’d even had the cybernetic fittings in the Spelljammer med-bay removed for installation into whatever they were going to call the new Resurgence. Doc Carson would make better use of them.
He’d agreed to cover for me. He’d tell them I had business to attend to before participating in the mission. That was true. If they pressed further, well, as I said— Bail is a politician. He’d brusquely dismiss their relatively trivial inquiries when the fate of the galaxy was at stake, and they’d shut up and catch the train.
He thanked me.
I … I appreciated it, and it made me feel … guilty.
For a moment.
I grinned and gave a mock-salute, then, to my own surprise, recited some half-remembered verse:
—In peace, nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
We must stiffen the sinews, summon the blood,
and disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage.
He smiled solemnly, then replied with a sharp salute.
Before leaving, I remembered the Corellian smuggler and Wookiee that Bariss and I had spoke with on Tatooine, and told him to ask Bariss for their contact info. “Solo” didn’t seem like a team player, but neither was I when first signing on for this fight.
§ § §
I was helping Bella gather her things, slipping on the robe Tor had made for her. He wasn’t much of a tailor, but she insisted on wearing it. I was smiling at the thought when I heard Adria behind me.
“I’m staying, Dad.”
I turned, face wrinkled. She noticed my change, and I realized that I had gone from “daddy” to “dad” and would soon become “father”. I was growing old. My girls were growing up. Life was moving. Only death is still.
She looked so … old. I would say “mature”, but no— she seemed old. Physically, she was a beautiful young woman, but those blue-grey eyes could scarcely contain the legion shifting reflections of millenia. I— I couldn’t, I didn’t— I didn’t know what to say.
How do you tell your daughter— who had been inducted into the fire of the primordial Sith— the origins of the light and the darkness— oh… how do you say “No” to someone who is not only “older” than you, but has become ageless?
She smiled back at me. I couldn’t. I tried. I wanted to. I wanted to reassure her that her father— that her “daddy” would always be there for her, with her, across the universe.
Bella walked wordlessly to her sister and they embraced in silence. They smiled to each other, then Bella grabbed her sparse wardrobe and comfortable mementos, took my hand, and guided me toward the door.
I followed my youngest as a protocol droid would its programmed ward, but with my head cocked back, gazing at Adria. Would I ever see her again? Will she—
«Will you be alright?»
«I love you, Adria.»
I started to cry.
She smiled. I can’t describe it in any more detail. It was just as words laid it out:
And it made me feel … at peace. Her smile was there, unchanged, as the door to the apartment snapped shut with a whoosh of finality.
It was— it has been— the last I saw of her, but I know— I know she is well. I haven’t seen her, but she’s with me. We’re all with each other.
My resurrected family. Ashes to angels. Everlasting.
We surround each other.
We infuse each other.
We bind our galaxy together.
§ § §
Bella sat near the prow of the Spelljammer, staring at Alderaan below us. Without turning, still faintly smiling through the viewscape, she spoke in a sort of droning monotone with a slithering hiss woven through it:
“Nu nulis j’us.”
Without thinking, eyes still ahead, guiding us to a clear jump, I answered:
“Bella Nu nuli—”
I clamped my mouth shut. What? What was th— that— that sound? Why?
Suddenly, she was looking up at me. Placid, sweet, but— somehow wrong.
A poisoned innocence.
A shadow of horror passed over my face. She was gazing at me as a daughter does a father— searching for that acknowledgement of faith from the one who brought her into this damned galaxy. I forced a smile that was visibly uneasy, but sincere. She smiled back, then returned to watching the planet below— lazily revolving in its place in the cosmos.
My hand gripped the throttle and drew back slowly. The bodily recognition of being shifted into hyperspace was more acute this time as half my “self” was left a split second behind, then quickly snapped back to the present. The blue-green glow of Alderaan poured hyper-dimensionally into itself, then smoothed into a diffuse pool of colorless light that suddenly froze, then shattered into infinite shards of starfire as we made the jump.
I whispered, nigh-inaudibly, to myself:
“Bella nu nulis j’us.”
“Adria nu nulis j’us.”
It’s hard for us, of flesh and blood, to extricate ourselves from the temporal and intangible. We can— we can release the past. We can release ourselves from it.
But the past?
Sometimes the past won’t let go of us.