Rav stretched and eyed her guest who knelt in front of a white wall silently. “How do you feel?” She credited her healthy sleep to the girl’s stealth.
“Like a battalion of my ancestors trampled all over me.” Tomoe pushed her breath out and stood. “Bound to happen if one skips too many evening prayers,” it got her a chuckle “Just back to the here-and-now and ready to get technical with you.”
“We have a little time to the morning exercises,” the Mando’ad tied her shoes, “The sooner you get used to it the better.”
“I gather that somebody – Fett most likely – has been eavesdropping and spying on me without being present, using devices called ‘bugs’... like a comlink that was left on the table unnoticed?”
“Yes. Isabet will be here in a moment and bring what she uprooted. It’s not the only possibility though, just an example.”
“Can you explain me how you see things?” Rav arched a brow at her questionably. “You move differently when wearing your helmet... and it’s not just the protective dead weight... It enables you to see and hear things that are not around, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Every buy’ce is custom made, so some people enjoy more functions than others, but we all have at least an audio communication, an environment seal and filters. There is no standard among the visual displays, sensory, armor and weapon controls. It’s a question of finances and personal preferences. Not everybody likes to unleash a weapon system within the blink of an eye. I have a wide screen display for surroundings as well as other sources and I can switch or scroll views with blinks, voice and clicks, but I leave the weapon controls to my hands and gauntlets.”
Rav slipped the helmet over her head briefly to change a couple of settings, then passed it to Tomoe. “That’s the surround view...” the helmet was passed back “Infrared. It shows the temperature of surfaces. Great to pick off adversaries in the dark or under thick plant growth.” Tomoe passed her hand through her field of vision and rotated her head slowly. Another switch “Penetrating radar works with the echo of metal surfaces. It also pictures movement, through fog and even walls. If you have a computerized weapon system, you can feed it the vectors.”
Tomoe chuckled inside the helmet “You look like you lost your head... but I can still hear you.” As she stood and turned slowly, surfaces popped up and vanished in her vision “This is confusing... I could run right into a wall and wonder what hit me...” She passed her sheathed knife through the main field of vision.
“If it is not metal or moves too slow or not at all, it is filtered out. It takes some practice to calibrate the system to find what you are looking for.”
The door buzzer went and Isabet entered. “Su’cuy... made friends with a bottle of Rav’s tihaar, vod’ika?” She snickered with a look at the staggering woman wearing Rav’s helmet.
“Good morning and thanks for yesterday.” Her speaker modulated voice sounded odd. Tomoe slipped the red and black helmet off her head and returned it to Rav “All the news make my head spin, so no tihaar for me, thanks” she winked.
“Here are the bugs I found in your room...” Isabet held out something that looked more like artificial white sea-weed to Tomoe, “disabled, of course: micro... camera... power source... antenna.”
“Small. Did it take you long to find them?”
“Just a close look around. It’s easy when you know what you are looking for and whoever did it had little time for installation. You can search manually or you can use a scanner, but then you better don’t shut ‘em down with an EMP first.” Isabet smirked again “But I love to flash uninvited spectators. They don’t need to know right away who’s involved.”
“What area can the jammer cover?” Tomoe looked down herself. “I better change back into my own clothing... you said, you disabled the device with a flash... could I switch it on and off at will?”
“You catch on quickly.” Rav’s smile widened “It’s possible, here... and here, if you exchange or bridge the fuses Isabet fried... but it’s not as safe... and tricky to do without visible and audible disruption.”
Tomoe belted her tunic, rolled up the cables and pocketed them, a little smile playing around her lips.
Isabet shook her head “I bet you missed something in your earlier life without those gadgets, vod’ika... what did you use for communication?”
“Hardware. Mirrors, drums, fires, messengers, birds... I can tell comlinks spread like wildfire when introduced. The means might be different, but the intentions are quite constant. Learning about devices shouldn’t be harder than to train a hawk.”
Tomoe thought of asking Rav to accompany her to Dred’s door before splitting from her jammer and give Fett something to ponder, but decided against it. It was clear enough that the two women tried to contain the conflict… within certain limits. For good measure they made a point showing up to morning training one by one, but Fett preferred to ignore them and act out normality without making further demands.
After breakfast, Tomoe indulged in her own lesson and inspection the uprooted sensory closely. It raised more questions than it solved... and she still needed shooting lessons. She gazed around the room ‘He can look through walls... he could be right out there...” she had to make a mental effort to keep the walls of paranoia from closing in on her.
“Shut up. He IS out there. Little good it will do him.’ She had her own ways of making sure that nobody entered in her absence without her notice.
Tomoe was a no-show in the mess hall and Jango used his lunch break to ask Boba about the part of the story he missed because... he decided not to follow that line of thought. “How did it come that the Storm God was expelled from heaven?”
“The Storm God destroyed things and caused disorder. He was to be banned but went to his sister, the Sun Goddess instead of obeying. She faced him, but instead of fighting, she proposed a deal. The Storm God felt betrayed and caused more havoc up to an outright attack on his sister. She didn’t fight back but withdrew into a cave, so all the deities became endangered without her light. Together they managed to trick her into coming out using a mirror, but they punished the Storm God nevertheless.”
“He had to leave heaven... and pay a fine of sorts... and they plugged his hair and nails out.”
“Ouch.” Just another hint how spiritually important hair seemed to be to them. One more thing she would not forget... but then, it had been Kal’s doing.... and she seemed to get along with him anyway.
After the first afternoon exercise, father and son parted in front of her door. Tomoe waited for Jango to round the corner, once he was out of sight, she dropped Rav a call and picked a vacant training hall for their fencing lesson.
Striding to his own class Jango got an alert that the contact to Cin’ciri’s anklet had been interrupted again. He decided that today was a good time as any to sneak a peek on her training. He ran his ARCs through the basics and set each of them on various exercises, switched through a couple of security channels around her last reported location, then jogged over to see his son’s lesson.
Tomoe was doing a handful of basic moves over and over... it looked terrible boring, but curiously, Boba listened to her advice and accepted it without complaint. It was probably the ball from wrapped-up shreds she produced towards the end of the exercise and made up a game that included striking the ball, running and picking up the partner’s dropped stick in a lunge-roll on the other side of the hall and strike again. It looked like fun indeed.
Jango watched the entire practice, slipping out at the last minute before she could spot him. He went back to his own class, although his mind continued to replay her teachings in his mind.Chapter 4.1 – Fairytale: Blackmail and White Hare
What Jango forgot was his lingering scent in the corridor, which was picked up by a finely attuned nose used unfiltered air and no helmet. A weapon oil that wasn’t hers. Antiseptic soap. Male musk. Her conscious logic couldn’t ascertain its source, but her instincts ran true and her hackles rose...
Superficially, nothing special happened all day, but the circumstances grated on her nerves and made her restless. Alone in her quarters she leaned her head back against the chair as her eyes closed a few moments.
Rav’s comlink beeped. Fett continued to invade her privacy. Why did he call her in now? Telling her he wanted to give her a comlink of her own. Go figure. But she had to meet his demand anyway, to ‘earn her keep’ - as he put it. Not that she received much support in return for the loyalty she had promised.
The door slid open to reveal an unarmored Jango with a seven-o-clock-shadow on his rugged face. “Come in.” Boba wasn’t in sight. ‘Bad.’ She kept her stance, so centered that a shove would push the floor off the stilts into the stormy sea rather than moving the small woman. "I made no move to hold you back last night, did I?" Jango offered in a show of innocence.
“The comlink.” She extended her hand slowly. ‘Forget what happened. This is a new game. Act normal.’
“Come in.” He repeated and withdrew from the doorframe into the living room. “Boba’s out playing with the Nulls. I just want to talk to you in private... Tomoe.”
Well, that was a new one, Fett using her real name. ‘Trying hard to unfreeze the situation, are you..? I’ve got a couple of questions as well...’ She stepped inside and the door slid shut close to her heels. She had a quick glimpse on the control pad. Unlocked. Good. She moved on.
"Tomoe, who are you?"
"That is kind of blunt, isn’t it Jango?" Tomoe replied, looking up at the mercenary with a slight smile.
Jango studied her closely. She had changed in some way since regaining part of her freedom. It was as if she was more confident, more alive... more mature... and very much a live wire.
Tomoe didn’t like the way his eyes ran over her body and rested on her mid section “Whenever you come for my child, I will be ready,” she snarled.
“Ours.” He reminded her gently, his gaze returning to her face without haste.
“We are not mated.”
“How is the etiquette for that?” Jango asked
“You could have asked your senior to relay your serious interest to the head of the resort.”
“Sounds complicated... and there’s a problem: I have no senior.”
“You should have asked.” Tomoe cut short.
“Just to hear the wrong answer?” he quirked a brow. She wasn’t humored, but she had to hand it to him: he was patience incarnate tonight.
“Who can tell afterwards? Anyway, it would have been a polite answer that sustained mutual harmony.”
“We can’t change the past...”
“If I may quote my senior;” she started with reference, “Your decision.” ...She dearly hoped her retort would close the topic, but Jango wasn’t even out of breath. No wonder after all the word-saving over years...
“Tomoe, I’m going to raise our kid the Mando way. For that I need to know what is going on. The Cuy’val Dar have already voted you into the band, so you have a place within my troops if you want it. You won’t be left behind. But more than a few things are bothering me, and I need some answers that I suspect you have.”
“You have taken enough things privy to me already.” Anytime Boba wasn’t listening was a good time for her to discuss it. She could not change the past – true - but if he wanted to reason with her, she could get right to the point. “What did you hope for in the beginning?”
“I have gathered many enemies over the years. That’s why I need one who can defend herself and my children. You were doing fine with your pocket-knife. There was a certain strength in you I was looking for. But after a while, they cave in, you know - ALL of them. It’s a human survival instinct. You are a survivor, Tomoe. It kicks in sooner or later. The weaker want to befriend the strong, they lounge for approval, even from the same person who abducted them,” he lectured her with that small smirk on his lips.
...The one she longed to smack off his face while wishing for a quarter of his confidence. “You are quite overconfident. I tell you again: I’m neither ‘all’ nor ‘weak’. I am not worth the trouble. WE want to be left alone. Take that life I bestowed on you for the sake of peace and make the best of it. There is nothing you can teach us.”
“Tell me how a servant girl can handle blades so well, yet nobody knows about you or your family.”
“You’ve made the concept your own already. Start early and train hard.”
“You are tempting me to abduct yet another handmaiden and find out if they are all as good as you...”
“For once I did what I was born to do. If your hunger for outrage isn’t sated yet, I have to try harder.”
“So others are not born to it?”
“That’s the way of the galaxy.”
“Why did you decide to become a servant instead of a warrior? ...quite a drop in hierarchy, isn’t it?” he mused.
“Since we’ve got equal rights, my profession wasn’t requested anymore, so I exchanged one service for another. They were glad to give me the customers that other girls felt uneasy with.”
“Where you come from, you would continue to be in disgrace. They would expect you to be a good, dutiful female and die. Thus, sparing your family the scandal... Here you can be what you were raised to be: a warrior.”
“With you?!” Tomoe laughed into his face. It was a cold sound that held no comfort and blanked out her usual quiet demeanor completely. If he didn’t find out enough about her to know how pointless his scandalous argumentation was... and how hurt she was on the inside... then she would keep it like that. “You will know when that matter of etiquette becomes serious when somebody asks you for my approval, Mandalore. Until then, I enjoy my privacy.”
Jango realized that he had been wrong in the assumption that she could not hurt him. He just learned she could do damage far beyond the physical pain. He would have preferred her crying helplessly instead of this mirthless laugh. Then he could have comforted her. Nevertheless he wasn’t one to give up easily. “You deserve the best, Tomoe,” he soothed.
“Which is best for ME depends solely of MY point of view.”
“I saved your life three times within a week: from the slavers, from the influenza and from myself - Is that nothing?”
... ‘and I saved you from myself, yourself and a lot of trouble – I owe you NOTHING.’ Would she need to jump his throat to press her point home?
“I will think about it...” she retreated to a blunt paraphrase of ‘no’- “...and don’t you worry, I am as reliable as you consider me trustworthy...” she didn’t need to raise an eyebrow to wait for him to understand the concept and his face become ashen. “You summoned me to give me a comlink?”
In the meantime, Boba was rappelling down a maintenance pit with Prudii and Mereel who had promised to show him some of their findings. It was the perfect occasion to question their younger ‘brother’ and bypass Kal’buir’s gagging order...
“What did you say was name of the new human-sized aiwha bait?” Mereel inquired from the edge above.
“I didn’t say. Her full name is Tomoe Harada and she is not an aiwha-bait, but a human female.”
“Like Sergeant Bralor?”
“Yes, just a little smaller and thinner.”
“Copikla.” Prudii snorted from the bottom of the pit “So what’s her purpose... is she full-grown at all?”
“She’s strong enough to throw Boba around.” Mereel offered politely.
“That doesn’t say much.” Prudii showed Boba how to unlatch the rope “Not used to be smacked around with blunt objects since they handed you a deece, vod?” he called up.
“You have no clue of females.”
“But you have, eh?”
“...and wield Vau’s sabre...” Boba added with a smirk at Mereel who landed beside him without a sound.
“Wayii!”came in unison
Boba’s smile widened “Where to now?” he continued unimpressed and made clear he had his own agenda when it came to return of investment. Any information had its price.
“Where does she come from?” Mereel tried to bypass while unbolting the cover of a maintenance opening that lead deeper into the recesses of the facilities.
“From a place where you can see the stars at night because it doesn’t rain. There is enough shore for everybody to walk on firm ground. Plants grow everywhere. The water is collected in ‘lakes’ with fish in them. And the housing isn’t made from durasteel and –plasts but from wood and paper. They live in small thatched huts that stand on little stilts and they use real fire.”
“You’ve really seen all this?” Prudii raked his memory for a holozine or whatever the small one could have used to cheat on them.
“Sure. We picked her up and went to another planet, which was all dry and dusty. Lots of big white buildings. Bright sun all day, all colours on the sky at dusk and dawn. Dad did some business with her and picked her up the next morning. Then we came back here.” ... never tell the whole truth in a deal... just enough to keep the big boys hooked...
“So how did she get her hands on Vau’s sabre?” Mereel hadn’t forgotten about his knife yet.
“Good enough to play the next game of meshgeroya in your team next time?” Boba quirked a brow at the boy looming over him on the maintenance walkway.
Prudii shook his head at the blackmail “You are not going to enjoy your part of the deal, vod’ika...” he warned.
Mereel gave them a shove “C’mon, with our record, we can effort to lose one game...”
The door buzzer went and Jango handed Tomoe a comlink, not unlike the one Rav had given her “Good timing to tuck Boba in.” He invited the unruly female to sit in the easy chair while he answered the door. His son’s appearance was tousled but he stood proudly between the two Nulls before strolling past his dad. The two older boy’s eyes followed Boba inside curiously
“What are you waiting for? Lights out in half an hour...” Jango’s tone was not unfriendly, just back to his gravely business voice. The kids skittered off. When the door slid close, he turned on Boba “Shower. - Help yourself to a drink, Tomoe,” Jango told the woman standing awkwardly in the middle of his quarter, then went for a change of clothing from the kid’s room and vanished in the bathroom.
Tomoe shook her head silently and sipped her shig. Again, the guy had wasted her plans of a shooting lesson with no effort. She regarded the comlink on the desk suspiciously. ‘Better let Isabet have a look into that...’ Clean communications where more important than yet another weapon that was unlikely to penetrate his armour. Maybe she could borrow Boba’s fishing line for a day or two.
Tomoe pocketed the comlink and turned to the wide panorama window. Rain poured from a sky without a moon. She visualized the story that she had sketched out in the morning. ‘I think Boba will like it...’ She smiled at his small reflection in the glass...
“And soon, you will have a baby of your own to bath,” Jango said quietly behind her, sending Boba off to bed... and for the merest millisecond, she regarded him as something other than a vicious rapist. But as he straightened up and threw the wet towel over his shoulder, she caught a glimpse of his helmet sitting on a nearby shelf, and the truth of what sort of man he was came crashing back in all its ugly reality.
She settled down anyway, escaping Jango’s scrutiny into another realm...
”After the land below was freed of its largest terror, the eight-headed snake, more princes were delegated to rule the land in the mighty Storm God’s wake who had chosen to become the ruler of the Land of Shadow, between the roots of all the living things.
One of them was the Prince Plenty, son of the heavenly Goddess of Creation. The young prince had a hard time among his eighty brothers, who were never happy with what they’ve got and some of them even strong enough to pull land closer to their own domain using a rope and an anchor.
His adventures begins to pick up pace when he wandered to court a princess whose family held many rice fields in the Land of Reed. As usual, he was lagging behind his eighty brothers, seeing not the slightest chance to win the competition.
Walking along the shore the young prince heard a miserable whimpering and immediately went to find its origin. He met a hare huddling against a rock, its bare skin crusted with drying salt. “Oh you poor creature, what happened to your fur?” he asked, picked the small rodent up and sheltered it against the wind that cracked its sore skin.
“I wanted to see the Rice-Paddy-Country” the hare told the young prince while he carried it to a well with fresh water “but I could not swim... so I made a bet with a sea monster that there were more hare on your island then there were monsters in the sea. It declined proudly, so I asked it to line up with its brothers all over the inner sea so I could count them. They did and I jumped from back to back ...to back... pity the last one got suspicious and ripped all my fur out before I could escape on dry land.... and I had such a beautiful white fur...” it sniffled, “but when I spotted a splendid parade coming down the road, the pain was forgotten - temporarily. They counseled me to bath in the sea and dry off in the wind... ohh...” the hare whimpered in memory.
“That sounds like my brothers... I’m not sure if you were acting very brave or very stupid,” Prince Plenty reprimanded the little rodent while rinsing the salt off “but you certainly are an exceptional hare. I can’t promise you anything about your fur, but I’ll see what I can do against the pain.” The prince covered the hare’s sore skin in the pollen of sedges and left it in the deep shadow of a tree next to a trickle of clear water to heal.
Prince Plenty hadn’t quite made his sleeping accommodation for that day when the hare caught up with him, shimmering silver white in the moonlight and obviously completely healthy. It squatted down beside the fire place, its long ears playing in the evening breeze. It thanked the young prince sincerely and proclaimed that the princess were to go to Prince Plenty instead of one of his brothers who showed no kindness. When the prince lifted his head from bowing deeply, the hare had transformed into a cloud of silver fading in the moonlight, but the prince’s initial wish and the proclamation of the god became true.
However, each of his eighty brothers felt more worthy than the youngest prince and in their anger and jealousy, they plotted to kill him. On top of that, the princess herself was as spoiled as she was beautiful. When the young landlord went to his chores, some of his brothers invited him to help them hunt a huge boar that terrorized the countryside, while others heated a large rock and pushed it down a mountainside towards their brother below. Thinking that it was the boar, he attempted to catch it and was burnt to death.”
“See what happens if you don’t do your recce properly?” Jango piped in.
Tomoe stiffened slightly. While Boba had listened intently but silently, his dad probably preferred yesterday’s story after all. She didn’t want Jango’s comments. In fact she didn’t want him at all. But for now, it was her story and there was nothing he could do about it.
”On the high plain of heaven his mother, filled with grief, appealed to the gods and Prince Plenty was restored to life again. But even the intervention of the highest of gods didn’t stop the eighty brothers from making a second attempt to take the young landlord’s life, by crushing him in the fork of a tree. Again his mother appealed to the gods, and her son was brought back to life. Since it couldn’t go on like this, the goddess of food and creation then sent her son to the realm of the shadow, to seek the counsel of the Storm God who now dwelt in the underworld, after his exile from heaven.
...Where we meet him again... tomorrow.” Tomoe closed her story, kissed Boba’s forehead and moved out of his bedroom silently.
Jango caught her at the doorstep to give her the news: “I’ll be gone until 1800 tomorrow, that gives Boba a day to catch up with his homework. I expect you to take care of that.”
“Of course, Sir.” Tomoe bowed and left to get some rest herself. A full day in safety would be heaven. The ward she had placed on her doorstep was unchanged. Life was good.
Chapter 4.2 – Nightmare and Vision
Jango’s watched her walk away, her step soundless and fluent as always. “Beware of spoiled princesses... damn right.”
He went to the bathroom and started shaving, watching his own reflection in the mirror. Had she no dignity? Where was her warrior soul when he needed to stoke it? He could tell she was raw, this time tipping to cornered aggression instead of another foul compromise. He just needed to apply a little more pressure, provoke her some more and she would break. He would stand that expectable outburst. Afterwards she would know all her struggling was useless. Maybe this week, maybe the next. Anyway, he would be there to pick her up.
“And I’m not ‘somebody’, Tomoe.”... but as the boss, he had to prepare tomorrow’s exercise.
Tomoe’s finished her nightly hygiene and laid down in the expectation of a ‘free’ day.
“Sleep.” She sent her mind drifting as she tried to find some warmth under the thin blanket. “You continue to live in disgrace...” Jango’s gravelly voice whispered in her mind. “No.” She shook her head and tried to sink deeper into the mattress for warmth. Once she got clear of the worst cobwebs she started questioning herself carefully “Shamed? Am I?”... her strand of thought was interrupted promptly.
“Easy, you won’t be hurt.” His firm bulk pressed against her back, warm and comforting, “You accepted it.” Her nagging inner voice teamed up with Jango. “Udesii” His scent filled her nose, male and alive. “I didn’t.” she defended herself. His crushing weight sank into her soft stomach. She could not fight, she could not resist, she could not breath, but she smelled him nevertheless. “That’s not logic. Stop it. I want to wake up... wake up... Wake up now.” - “You did.” The voice mocked her mercilessly.
Tomoe sat up in bed briskly, fighting for breath. The nightmare still clung to her. His callused palms ghosted over her sides, warm against the cold air of the room that made her shiver. She felt her nipples stiffen.
“You co-operated... You took your pleasure... You made him enjoy it.”
“I will take good care of you...” the unseen hands wiped her forehead gently.
“No...” she muttered. “...no more shig past eight. Just let me sleep now.” She was death tired yet unable to put the complaints of her mind and body aside. “Udesii ...Be careful what you wish for...” the voices continued their whisper.
“I DON’T WANT TO BE TAKEN CARE OF!” Tomoe pushed the blanket off her knees “I can take care of myself.” She went into the bathroom, got dressed in her freshly washed and still damp clothing to wander out into the black and white night of Tipoca City...
“Patience. He won’t let you go.”
She felt numb, like her nerve endings had shut down to the artificial surroundings... aside from a nervous itch running down her spine. Tomoe turned to the double door leading out onto the vacant landing pad and lifted her hands to the dim night-light above. She felt nothing... had she grown a pelt?! She stepped outside into the pouring rain. At least she could feel the downpour beating on her shoulders, the wind whipping her hair around her face.
The touch of the elements was soothing.
Tomoe sat down in the centre of the platform cross-legged, unbraided her hair and opened the knot of her belt, placing her knife beside her. Her body became an extension of the durasteel below, her breath united with the storm and her tears flowed freely with the streaming water...
Then she saw a corpse drifting in the sea, ripped apart by the creatures of the alien stormy sea. Her own face was watching her from empty, blood stained hollows.
“Moro!” she called out, slamming the name into the creatures’ hungry throats. A slim agile shadow parted the depths, its dark otter fur gleaming like silver the light of a moon far, far away. The protective spirit circled her, a ring of fluent and effortless energy.
The animal shape melted into her and a surge of power threw her back into her body sitting on the platform unharmed. Then she became Moro. The weight of her strong neck and pointed muzzle pulled her head down, her body lengthened and adapted to water as well as air, webs spread along her sides and grew between her fingers. Long black talons raked over the durasteel, and then caught a hold on the tide. A strange darkness fell around her. Pitch black. Incomplete... until she channeled it.
Suddenly, the sight cleared. Weightlessly, her spirit soared high over ridges formed from baked red rock. Desert plains spotted with structures that looked like termite mounds. Huge towers she had never seen before. The sun warmed her skin as it highlighted a round shape staring up at her like a sore eye. It was an arena deep down below. The pit was bubbling with thousands of winged beings.
Aliens, machines as well as mankind became swarming masses, bent on bloodshed. Two dark beings overlooked the fighting crowd as the scene was enveloped in billowing red dust kicked up by thousands of feet. The blood-red cloud shrunk into a black, dented sphere. Green flames shot out of it and united into a single beam. Unbearable brightness spread like a wave and from the centre, a monster rose its twin heads, shattering and assimilating the matter of a whole planet into its baneful luminosity.
While her mind shrunk still away from the scene frightfully, the velvety blackness of the infinity re-emerged beyond the awful but fading glow. The blackness carried a spiral of stars in its protective arms, a divine being victorious over death. Tomoe soared towards its gleaming centre. “LIVE,” a voice said. The spiral started spinning. Thunder roared and became a steady heartbeat. The powers of energy and matter were stronger than any manmade terror.
There were no gods. They were just reflections of the force that created stars and guided the planets. She was a part of it. Like an insect that flies through a storm untouched, she glided through space and time. The light vanished in the distance; the blackness was an eddy that pulled her down...
It was over. Maybe it had been over all the time.
A huge black and all but weightless shadow fell on her right shoulder. Strong jaws closed around her left upper arm as the shapeless form snuggled around her. “Moro...”
Coming out of her trance Tomoe’s eyes cracked open, revealing huge black pools that bore into the golden eyes of the six legged predator. She was too alienated to feel the sting of loss. “You aren’t her, Mird, you don’t need to do that for me.” Her voice sounded raspy in her ears. She drank of the rain running over her face and scratched the strill’s head as its muzzle pressed under her hand.
‘Where have I been?’ Definitely farther than she had reckoned as she had called Moro’s spirit to sort out her mind. She listened to the little squeals the large Mandalorian hunting animal made while coming back to her senses slowly, very slowly. “Thanks anyway...”
“Got a taste for the place, my dear?” There was no need to turn around; she could recognize the baritone voice even through the helmet’s amplifiers. How long had he been standing there?
“I love the water, Walon... it will be your place again in a moment.”
Inside his helmet, Vau stared transfixed. Apparently this woman wasn’t repelled by water even when it came as strill-slobber all over her face. “Mird doesn’t like your body temperature...” or she was too cold to move and too brave to faint. “Neither do I.” He added and sighed inwardly. Picking up this woman was becoming an annoying tradition.
“It’s been ...refreshing.” Pulling herself together, Tomoe hung her belt around her neck and pushed the sheathed knife into the back of her pants. She propped herself up on a knee then stood slowly, holding onto Mird for support. “I supposed everybody would be sleeping by now. I needed to be alone...”
No matter what masochistic belief had driven her outside, from his clinical point of view she shouldn’t have been able to move on her own! He tilted his head slightly. Unless she was wearing an insulating suit, she defied any medical textbook... But he could spot enough of her trim curves to know she wasn’t wearing one underneath the soaked fatigues. Three days ago he would have testified any time that she was a delightful, fully human female. Now he wasn’t sure if Jango had probably mated with the thing he despised most. ‘Serves him right!’
“In fact, I’m surprised that nobody else showed up so far,” Vau drawled with a look at the anklet, and squired her to the door without further ado. If Fett had finally released her, just the better. He would not tell him “...and there’s always the night watch,” he added cautiously.
”You are the one to know best.” Tomoe smiled at the dark sentry towering over her unblinking. “What does your special eye-sight tell you now... Do I look any better?” She bent her numb fingers to wring the water from her hair carefully.
Vau switched from normal- to infrared-vision and back in a blink “Only a little.” She was a faint shadow in the middle of a bright coil formed by Mird’s body, jaws and legs. “If you need water, I recommend using a warm shower instead of cold rain next time - as a precaution.”
“That would make it a very artificial approach… if I had one, that is.” She hardly discuss with him that the cold had been more of a support than a problem and that she did not need his hypnotics to throw a trip. It would lead him to question her control – or her lack of it - all too quickly. Bad things happened to people who lost it.
“True.” he stood in the doorway to keep the automatic doors open for her. ‘Approach... to what?’ Vau wondered, and then decided for the direct inquiry. She had always been honest to him in the past. Brutally and unafraid sometimes. “Who is Moro?”
‘Did I talk in trance? Did he watch?’ she could not remember. She had to go home and note down her memories and impressions while they were still fresh. The door slid close and excluded the pounding rain. “Moro is an old friend of mine.” Tomoe stated evenly. “Not unlike Lord Mirdalan,” she moved carefully to avoid stepping on one of the pushy strill’s six bouncing paws or the trashing tail, “just wandering far away ... unless I call.”
Once out of the rain, the strill-scent became prominent. In fact, there was no place for any other scent on her sinuses. Nice side effect. A gloved fingertip angled her chin to face the black T-shaped visor again. “Don’t let yourself be carried away too far.”
“I won’t,” Tomoe chuckled and patted the strill’s head lightly under its cowl of floppy skin“...not with Mird watching over me.”
“I promise.” She bowed lightly “Good night, Walon.”
“Good night.” Vau sounded as if he’d smiled.
As she walked back to her quarter, she realized that he had not taken off his helmet this time once they were inside. Before she could start wondering what that meant, she made her notes, and then slept soundly.