Funny, it had been fourteen years and the small, ochre-bricked house didn’t look any different. Athara stood on the street, looking at the building, considering it. Perhaps it looked a little smaller than it had the day she left. Then again, she had been a lot smaller then herself.
Part of her had always wanted to go back, but she had always been afraid to. Her hesitation to return to Nubia for the sole purpose of visiting the Jengals had always been assisted by the fact that she had been too busy to do so. As Obscura, she simply couldn’t. But now, as Athara, or rather Tamara, she could. The only problem was that it was proving to be a lot more difficult than she had imagined. It seemed almost foolish now. She had only been with the little family in their little house for five years when she was a small child. It was so long ago…would they really be accepting if she were to show up on their front door?
Where was the encouraging presence when she needed it…
She continued to stand there, watching the house, trying to muster the courage to approach. As the minutes passed, the more doubt began to creep into her thoughts. Would she be welcomed? Would they even know her? Would they want to know her?
Finally she let out a long, slow breath. This was pointless.
Trixton and Beryl Jengal were central to Athara’s earliest memories. There was no time before her stay with them, and after them was her time with Vader. It was from them that she learned to walk, to speak, read, write and, more importantly perhaps, to feel compassion and act with kindness. Trixton had taken her on her first trip to the seaside and taken her to the Nubian Shipyards. Beryl read her stories and sang to her every night before bed. As she had begun to separate herself from her former identity as Vader’s shadow, she was beginning to realize that the impact they made on her had contributed to her hesitation towards embracing the Dark Side the way she was expected to.
That was why she stood outside their home.
Once upon a time it was her home too… and then Vader came into her life.
The Jengals had three children of their own; Perry, who was three years older than Athara; Kendra, who was one year older; and Mona, who was two years younger. Kendra and Perry had been the closest thing the young sith had ever had to friends. Even from a young age she had been distant from other children. Trixton’s sister, Aunt Renate, had always told her it was because she saw things differently than the other children, that she was special. The older woman had been closer to the mark than she realized; Athara apparently had been in touch with the Force from an early age. She learned faster, knew intuitively what those around her were feeling and had unusually quick reflexes.
It was those early hallmarks of a child strong in the Force that had distanced Athara from others. As young children were sometimes prone to doing in the face of the unusual, they were fascinated at first, but soon they banded together against that which they didn’t understand. Eventually, some began to fear her, and soon Athara was left with no one by her side save her adoptive siblings. It was one such occasion where her ‘otherness’ surfaced that proved to Athara definitively that there was something that separated her irrevocably from the other children.
Once she had started her initial schooling alongside the other Nubian children, she had marginally blended in among them, but soon enough, she was easily surpassing them academically thanks to her Force potential. Instinctively, she picked up reading, math and the alternate language basics that the Nubian educational system taught. The other students began to grow resentful, and some of the older and cleverer of them began to play tricks on her, or at least they tried to. Her reflexes and acute senses usually clued her in to the pranks and traps they set for her. Resentment grew even more as a result, and the older children began to spread that discontent among themselves until tensions rose unbearably high. It was then that she got in a fight that changed everything. To be more accurate, it was really a fight she avoided. The incident was burned into her mind, such was the impact it had.
One particular student, a young Rodian named Torma, had tried to prank her for the umpteenth time by dropping a rockworm on her while she ate. But Athara deftly avoided it, sensing Torma and her trio of friends before the childish trap was set and unintentionally turning it back on them. The Rodian girl was furious and stormed up the future sith apprentice, starting the fight with a painful grip on Athara’s dark blonde hair. With a yelp, Athara had lashed out instinctively, knocking Torma over with a small blast of Force energy. The response only enraged her opponent further, and the Rodian began to flail at Athara. Again, her instincts took over, and Athara easily dodged every punch and kick, even leaping out of the way with an unnatural speed.
The fight finally culminated with Athara backed up against the wall of the school building. The rest of the students had clustered around the pair, watching with wide, eager eyes as the older Rodian confronted the strange little human girl that always wore a knowing look. Shouts were thrown around them, deafening them to the shouts of distant teachers and forbidding any cry for help that Athara might had uttered if she had felt so inclined. She didn’t though, and with one final, angry swing, Torma tried to land a punch on Athara, only to have her seven-year-old fist connect with a sickening crunch with the duracrete wall when her target shifted at the last instant.
The instant Athara ducked away from that punch she essentially became an exile. She was strange, she moved too fast and too easily; it was unnatural, and it was scary to the other young children around her. More than that, though, was the look of perfect calm that suffused the little girl’s face as Torma attacked her. There hadn’t been a trace of fear in her as the older child came after Athara. Every child, save a screaming Torma, went deathly silent.
After that, the other children began to fear her, to stay away from her. Perry and Kendra would periodically defend her, but they remained her only friends. The Jengals stood by her, especially Renate.
At the time, she didn’t understand why the others didn’t like her; she just hadn’t wanted to get hurt when Torma attacked her. No one else really understood, but Renate came the closest. Looking back, the sith apprentice wondered if the older woman suspected her Force potential. After all, though Trixton was the only one to know at that point that she was there at Vader’s command, he, Renate and Beryl were old enough to know of the Jedi, and to know what Force-users were capable of.
Whether her adoptive aunt suspected or not, she still always stood by young Athara, and when she set her mind to something, Renate was a force to be reckoned with despite her quiet, reserved disposition. The thought caused Athara to smile as she continued to gaze at her old home. Even when Vader finally came to claim his future apprentice, Renate had been the only one who didn’t quake at the sight of the imposing Dark Lord.
It hadn’t been long since the incident with Torma when Vader appeared at the Jengal’s front door to collect Athara. It was one more memory that had been branded into the young sith’s mind. She had been playing with baby Mona in the family room when the doorchime sounded that day. It all seemed so normal as Trixton answered the door, but as soon as he saw who stood on the other side, all the blood left his ruddy face, leaving him pale as the Sith Lord strode past him into the house. Athara had looked up when her adopted father’s strong voice faltered, and she stood when Vader’s dark form crossed into her vision like a shadow. As soon as the Dark Lord saw her, he stopped in his tracks, his respirator making the only sound in the room. Athara could feel that the little girl behind her was scared enough to cry, but didn’t dare. For some reason that she still couldn’t explain, she wasn’t scared at all, like she knew he had no intention of hurting her. She just looked up at the intimidating man before her with a considering look on her face. They stood like that for the longest time, watching each other, sizing the other up.
They were finally interrupted when a terrified gasp and a metallic thud shattered the quiet. Beryl, curious who was at the door, had come out of the kitchen where she had been finishing the dinner clean-up. The moment she saw the Dark Lord of the Sith in her little family room, terror shot through her, causing her to drop the pot in her hands. It wasn’t long after that when Renate came home from visiting one friend or another. She also froze upon seeing the Dark Lord standing in their small living room, though it was more from shock rather than fear.
Athara hadn’t understood their reactions then, and was confused by the fear that suddenly gripped her family. She looked from one adult to another, her little five-year-old self pondering the sudden excess of fear at the appearance of the huge black stranger standing in front of her.
“You’re scaring everyone.” It was the first thing she said to her future Master, and he had been visibly taken aback by the frank statement from the little girl in front of him. He didn’t answer her though. Beryl made a small scared sound when Athara spoke, but she was too frightened to react further. Athara looked at her for a moment, considering the response before turning back to Vader.
“Who are you?”
“Do you not know who I am, youngling?” The little girl shook her head, an open expression on her round face. Vader just continued to watch her. Though she couldn’t see his face, she knew she faintly amused him.
“I am Lord Vader.”
“Oh.” She thought for a moment, her face screwing up in thought. “Why are you here?”
“I am here for you.” Her blue-grey eyes widened, and a small shiver of apprehension when through her.
“You are coming with me.” It was then that Renate found her voice.
“She is only a child.” Vader turned to face the woman behind him. Beryl and Trixton visibly shrank away from his gaze, but Renate did not. The Dark Lord studied her for a moment, much as he had studied Athara, before he spoke, startling everyone.
“Do not fear for the girl. She will be safe with me.” This time it was Renate whose eyes widened in surprise. Beryl and Trixton were stunned as well, but their fear quickly reasserted itself. After a moment, Vader turned to Beryl and Trixton.
“Prepare the child to leave. I will return for her tomorrow.” With one last glance at Athara, he turned and disappeared through the front door, his black cloak billowing behind him.
Athara’s memory was not so clear after that. She vaguely remembered Beryl crying a lot as she packed up what few belongings Athara had. She also remembered Trixton pulling her into several of the big hugs she loved burrowing into and Renate pulling her younger self onto her lap for a long cuddle. Though she couldn’t remember the words any of them spoke, she distinctly remembered the feeling behind them. She may not have been their true child, but they loved her dearly, and they feared for her safety. Renate, especially, feared for the little girl she loved as a daughter. She tried to impress on young Athara the importance of kindness, honesty and, most perhaps most importantly, compassion. Athara hadn’t understood then, but whatever the older woman had said had obviously made an impression, for the desire to remember to be good, as Renate put it, never quite left the young sith apprentice.
Athara almost didn’t realize she had begun to move before she found herself standing outside the very front door that she had left through all those years ago. Standing there, Athara began to wonder if any credit for her tendency to lean toward the lighter side of the Force should go to that vague memory of Renate urging her not to forget to be a good little girl. She also couldn’t help but wonder if any of them had realized that the Shadow at Vader’s side was the little girl they had once sheltered in their home, and if they would resent or fear her because of it.
Renate had been the last one she hugged when Vader once again appeared in the doorway of the Jengal’s home. When she hugged Trixton and Beryl goodbye, they had been hesitant to let her go, but they did anyway. Perry, Kendra and Mona weren’t there. As soon as Vader had left the day before, they had been whisked away to their grandparents’ home.
Trixton’s sister was far more reluctant to let her go, keeping the little girl in her tight embrace for as long as she could. It was only when Vader spoke that Renate pulled back, touching Athara’s cheek affectionately one last time.
“Remember us, and remember to be good.” Athara had wanted to cry, but the one tear that escaped onto her cheek was swiftly wiped away.
“I want you to come with me. I don’t want to go.” A tight smile had appeared on Renate’s face.
“I know, Sweet Girl. But you’re strong, Athara, and we love you. Don’t ever forget that. Now go.” She then physically turned the five-year old and nudged her toward the towering Dark Lord whose expressionless mask watched the exchange, deep in thought.
Athara remembered every word of that conversation. She remembered the feeling of apprehension at leaving the only family she had known; she remembered straightening her small spine and walking confidently toward the Sith, determined not to cry anymore. He looked down on her for another moment before turning and striding out the door. A flash of panic shot through her and she ran after him, her little legs struggling to keep up with his long ones. He glanced back only once to see if she was following, and when he did, he slowed his pace, allowing the young Athara to walk along beside him.
She vaguely remembered, as they had walked away from the little house, reaching up to place her tiny hand in his large mechanical one.
She also remembered that he didn’t pull away, but that his leather-clad fingers tightened around hers.
Taking one final deep breath, Athara pressed the doorchime, almost forgetting to release that breath as she waited for an answer.
It was a long, tense moment before the door eased open, a thin worried face peering out at Athara. Though giving no outward sign, Athara nearly took a double take. The young woman who opened the door looked like a younger version of the Beryl she remembered. Only Kendra had been the spitting image of her mother.
“Can I help you?” Suspicion laced every word, nearly bringing a frown to Athara’s face.
“I hope so.” Athara had barely slept the night before, running over what to say when… if she saw the Jengals again. That wasn’t it. The young woman frowned, a faint glimmer of recognition in her eyes.
“Do I know you?” Athara struggled to find a way to answer, but the words she wanted didn’t come.
“May I come in?” Once again, the suspicious look returned, but after a moment of visibly fighting her better judgment, Kendra stood aside, allowing Athara to enter the house. It didn’t look all that different from the last time she stood there. The blues and yellows that Beryl loved still decorated the family room, though some of the furniture was different. She was interrupted from her musings when someone cleared their throat behind her. Turning, she met Kendra’s suspicious gaze.
“You never answered my question. Are you one of the agents that were here? What do you want this time?” This time Athara did frown. A faint flicker of dread appeared in the back of her mind, but she quickly pushed it aside.
“Agents?” Now the older Jengal girl looked almost angry.
“Stop messing with me. Who are you, and why were you watching my house?” Athara swallowed the lump in her throat before answering, her voice small and apprehensive.
“I used to live here.” Confusion spread across Kendra’s face before her large brown eyes widened, a hint of fear surfacing only to be replaced with hatred. Athara was taken aback, but before she could say anything, another young woman came in the front door, followed by a young man. Athara had to fight the smile that was about to spring to her lips. It had been a long time, but she easily recognized Perry and Mona; they both had so much of Trixton in them, with the same smiling eyes and strong features. Her happiness at seeing all of her once adoptive-siblings was cut short by the low, threatening tone of Kendra’s voice.
“You.” The three others all turned to the eldest Jengal sister.
“Kendra!” Mona was the only one to vocalize her shock at her sister’s reaction, but the young woman ignored her little sister, taking an angry step toward Athara. Instinctively Athara bristled, sensing the anger and aggression coming off Kendra in waves. Struggling to calm herself and make sense of the turn of events, Athara reached out with her senses, searching for anyone else in the house. Foreboding began to grow in the pit of her stomach.
“Where are your parents?” Mona and Perry both blanched, and Kendra’s response was little more than quiet snarl.
Those two words hit Athara like a punch in the gut. Despite her control, she blanched herself. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t even breathe. A flash of satisfaction flickered over Kendra’s face.
“They were looking for you. The Imperials. We didn’t know anything; we hadn’t seen you since that monster took you away. But they didn’t believe us, so they executed Mother, Father and Aunt Renate for treason. They probably would’ve killed us too if we had been here.” Athara could feel the grief that flooded through her threaten her careful control, sparking a flame of intense rage to grow deep down in her belly. The soothing presence had once again emerged from the Force, hesitantly reaching out for her. She looked over to the other two Jengal siblings, seeing understanding growing in their eyes.
“Athara?” The disbelief in Perry’s voice went unnoticed as Kendra plowed on.
“Get out. Get out of our house. You aren’t welcome here.”
“Kendra,” Athara finally found her voice as desperation surged through her; she couldn’t seem to wrap her head around this, “I don’t understand. How—”
“How can you not understand?! You caused their deaths! You as good as murdered them yourself!” She was nearly shrieking.
“I did nothing! I loved them!” Athara could feel tears prickling in her corners of her eyes as a dark shadow began to grow in the back of her mind. She fought back the tears, but the idea kept growing. The ambiguous presence tried again to reach out to her, offering comfort, but Athara violently pushed it away. She didn’t want pity, she wanted answers.
Kendra scoffed, but it was Perry who spoke next, his voice soft and faintly accusing.
“They were looking for you. The Empire was looking for you. Whatever you did, they killed our family because of it.” Athara couldn’t stop the first tear, or the second, that fell as she tried to reconcile what they were telling her.
“I didn’t mean to. I—” She choked up, struggling to keep breathing. Mona made to step forward, but Kendra stopped her with a sharp glance.
“I don’t care. We don’t care.” Knowing that there was nothing else to be said or done, Athara wanted nothing more than to escape. She could feel the rage building within her, threatening to spill over and ruin her carefully maintained mental shields that hid her from the Emperor. Nearby, a pane of glass cracked, followed shortly by another. She could feel her eyes beginning to turn. She needed to leave.
“I’m sorry,” was all she could whisper before she pushed past the eldest Jengal sister, fleeing from the house that held so many of her warm memories; memories now tarnished with the shade of events that she had inadvertently put in motion.
Athara kept walking when she reached the street, not caring in the slightest where she was going. Eventually though, she couldn’t continue on and instead meandered into the first bar that caught her eye. In her stupor, she had allowed herself to wander back toward the seedier district where Luke, Han and she were laying low, so the bar was not the nicest of establishments on Nubia. That didn’t really matter too much though; she was so far past caring it didn’t matter where she ended up. Besides, the way she was feeling, anyone who tried to mess with her would likely find themselves, well, dead.
Before long she was sitting in a dim booth, the glass in front of her empty and a second one in her hand nearly so. The strength of her grief was making it hard to suppress the anger that endangered her mental shields, especially after rejecting the help of the Force presence, but she found that the alcohol made the job easier. In fact she was seriously considering getting completely drunk. Until she met Madal and Reem, she had never really touched the stuff, save for at Imperial Functions. There simply hadn’t been the opportunity or the desire. That changed as she integrated herself into the world of smugglers, pirates and other law-breakers. Still, she had only been completely drunk a handful of times. It was a state that was starting to look very appealing.
“Ata?” It was a testament to Athara’s frazzled state of mind that she jumped at the soft voice. She looked up as the speaker slid into the booth across from her. She hadn’t been called Ata in a very long time…
“Are you going to accuse me too, Mona?” A sad expression appeared on the younger woman’s face as she shook her head.
“No. Kendra and Perry are angry, and there really isn’t anyone they can lash out at.” Athara met Mona’s hazel gaze, calmed a little by the compassion she saw there. “I know it wasn’t your fault. They loved you, and I know you loved them.” Tears threatened to spill onto Athara’s cheeks again. She lowered her gaze, guilt suffusing her despite the admission.
“I did. You and the rest of your family were the only family I have ever really had. I never wanted anything to happen to you. To be honest, I’m not even sure how anyone knew of your connection to me. I’ve been naught but a shadow since I left Nubia.” Frustration edged in on the grief and Athara finished the drink in front of her. Mona sighed, looking older than her sixteen years. The death of her parents and her aunt had taken its toll on her.
“They don’t really hate you, Kendra and Perry. But our parents’ de—it’s a wound that’s slow to heal, and you showing up out of the blue only reopened that wound.” Athara looked up at the younger woman, a sudden bright intensity burning in her eyes. Mona was visibly startled by the expression she saw there, a stab of fear going through her. For the first time she realized Athara was different than the girl she vaguely remembered, that she was dangerous. When the sith apprentice spoke, her voice was low, every word punctuated by the same power that was apparent in her gaze.
“The Empire will pay for what has been done here. Of that you can be certain. I will avenge their deaths.” Mona was visibly taken aback by the declaration.
“Palpatine and his Empire have destroyed too much to ignore anymore. I can no longer stand by.” Her blue-grey gaze was no longer focused on her companion, but instead on a montage of far off memories.
“Athara.” Mona jolted the young sith out of her trance, her expression suddenly worried. The passion-filled expression faded, leaving behind only a sad and haunted look.
“I’m sorry, Mona. I didn’t mean to…nevermind.” Mona took that moment to lower her gaze, suddenly focused on removing a pendant from around her neck. Taking one last look, she reached across the table, taking Athara’s hand and placing the necklace into it. Athara looked to the young woman in confusion before lowering her own gaze to the small object in her hand. Mona’s voice was thick with emotion.
“I remember when you gave me that. It’s my first clear memory, actually. It was after—he came. You and Mama must have gone to pack your things, and I must have followed you to your room. Anyway, Mama left for a moment, and you grabbed this and put it into my hands. Daddy said you found it the year before when we went to the seashore, that it was just a plain old pebble. I never got rid of it though. Finally Daddy put it onto a chain for me, and I’ve worn it ever since.” Athara began to tear up again as she looked down at the little blue and red-streaked pebble.
“You were as much my sister as Kendra, and you were as much Mama and Daddy’s daughter as I was. I remember how sad they all looked whenever I asked about you, before I understood you had left for good. We all loved you, Ata.” Athara sniffed, her fingers closing around the pebble pendant as she looked up to Mona. The girl had been the first one to call her Ata, being unable to wrap her toddler tongue around Athara. It wasn’t long after that everyone began to call her by the petname. The presence returned, extending to encompass her in its soothing aura, and this time Athara didn’t push it away.
“I remember. Beryl couldn’t understand why I wanted to bring this back with me, but Trix told her to leave me be. I thought it was too pretty to leave behind with the other plain old gray and brown stones. You always used looked at it when you managed to get into my room. That’s why I gave it to you.” Mona smiled, but after a moment her expression hardened.
“Make the Empire pay, Ata. I don’t know how, but I know you can, that you have the power to do so.” The zeal in her voice startled Athara, but she nodded.
“I will, Mona. You can rest assured that I will.”
Soon afterward, the two women went their separate ways; Mona back home and Athara back to the Falcon. Luke, Han and Chewie were already there and waiting for her return, the latter two eager to be on their way. Athara didn’t say much to any of them, merely indicating that she was ready to go too before strapping in for take-off. Han spared her a single concerned look, having noticed a subtle change in her demeanor, but Luke was visibly worried. He could sense the turmoil within her.
It was only when the ship was in hyperspace that he sought her out to talk. He found her sitting on one of the crew bunks, her knees up near her chest, the pebble-pendant clutched in her fist. She didn’t even look up when he entered the crew quarters and sat down beside her. He sat beside her in silence for a few moments, knowing instinctively that her reunion had not gone well.
“What happened?” Her lips twitched at his soft question, but her eyes remained focused on something far away. It was another several quiet moments before she finally spoke.
“They’re gone.” Luke frowned, but then he picked up on the thread of grief that escaped her usually flawless mental shields. He recognized that pain instantly; it was the kind of sorrow that consumed a person when those who cared for them like family were stolen away without warning or mercy. He hesitated for a moment before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, absently grateful for the gesture.
“I’m sorry, Tamara.” He didn’t know what else to say. She knew he was acutely familiar with what she was going through. She could sense that, because of that, he felt that he should have some idea what to say to help ease the pain. He could do nothing but draw a blank. Athara, however, was not so speechless anymore.
“I want to do more than run shipments, Luke. I want to fight. I want the Empire to fall.” Her sudden admission startled him, as did the fury in her voice. Luke pulled back slightly to get a better look at her face. Conviction had replaced the emotionless expression she had worn only a moment ago, though she continued to stare at nothing.
“I thought you wanted nothing to do with the politics of actually joining the Alliance.” Athara shook her head slowly.
“Not any more. The Empire took away my only family. I want to fight.” I want to atone for the past.
Luke continued to look down at her, concern written all over his features. Eventually though, he sighed, his grip around her shoulders tightening.
“I’ll see what I can do when we get back to base.” She finally looked at him, reaching up to take the hand that was resting on her shoulder. Her fury slowly began to ebb.
“Thank you, Luke.” She leaned against him again, feeling the anguish begin to ease a bit for the first time since Kendra uttered those awful words. Calm began to return to her mind as she relaxed against Luke’s comforting embrace. She finally had a true purpose again, and this time, it was her own.She would have her vengeance.