Tomoe slept well under a second blanket she had found in the package. It was heaven to own a change of clothing for the morning gym, not to mention real underwear. Rav, Isabet or another lady had been generous. The shirt looked more like Kal’s size and choice of color... light grey. It stretched in slightly different places now.
The boots fit basically but where clearly made for a different shape of foot. They were heavy, felt and smelled a little strange, but better than nothing. Going barefoot between so many armored boots was asking for trouble. She tried a couple of frog jumps, low and higher kicks to find her balance, then ran for the morning gym.
Afterwards, Tomoe was back to socks because of the bruises on her ankles, but the rest of the day was spent in relative quiet, self study and some experimenting with the circuits Isabet had uprooted in her flat. The whole idea of energy transformation was fascinating to her.
The possibilities were infinite...
“Let’s go to the sergeants training room for the evening.” Isabet invited her after dinner “Do you already know what you are going to tell Boba tonight?”
Tomoe smiled “Yes, the hundred nights of the Princess Small-Beauty and the Captain of Deepgrass.”
“Isn’t he a little too young for that?”
“Oh, the story is by no means improper... and it might be educational for his dad as well.”
“I see...” Isabet chuckled “...the old man is still standing on your heels?”
“Whenever he gets a chance... Sometimes I am afraid of him for the raging temper he has, and he seems like a whole different person. But there are other times when he’s so gentle, caring and concerned about Boba... or me. It’s funny, but he really believes in what he’s doing.”
“Duh.” - “Not so dead yet, is he?” Priest inquired as he ambled over from a nearby table with a guy in grey and green armor behind him... Ward!
“It is dead... so much that something smelly bubbles up from time to time.” Tomoe arched a brow.
“You need to be more careful where you put your toothpicks,” Dred scolded lightly, looking at the patch on her throat. Ward noted the knife had returned under her belt and said nothing... but it still felt like a set-up to Tomoe.
“Shut up Dred. You can sit down and listen if you want, but I want to hear that story.” Isabet intercepted.
“Sorry, no spoilers.” Tomoe tried to hush Isabet.
“Oh, c’mon, I’m not going to tell Boba...” Isabet was hit by one of Dred’s wide, artless smiles as the big man plopped down beside her, red and yellow plates clanking lightly as Ward found a seat as well and placed his helmet on the table in front of him carefully. Definitely not Fett’s old man, she noticed with a look into his unlined, oval face and black hair.
“Okay, then I have another story just for you...” Tomoe admitted”Once upon a time, a young nobleman and student from Three-Meadows wandered the wilderness surrounding a provincial shrine, mad with grief after the loss of his fiancée.
Deep in the woods he encountered a young officer who was hunting foxes in order to obtain their livers for use as medicine. The scholar knew from the start that he had no more chances to win a fight than the officer had to cure a disease with fox-livers, but the grief-stricken man devoted himself to make the brute see his mistake and even battle him to save the caught fox from a gruesome death. Sustaining several wounds in the process, the young nobleman barely managed to set the white fox free from the cage before he passed out from blood-loss...
“Louder!” came from the back of the crowed that had gathered at the rare prospect of life-entertainment. Tomoe perched on the edge of the seat and reached under the hilt of her knife with her left hand safely turned to push out her folding fan from her belt, presenting it briefly to the anxious, armed audience before opening it with her right. It enhanced the language of her hands while she continued a little louder.
“When he came back to his senses, a beautiful woman who introduced herself as Arrowroot-Leaf, the younger sister of his departed fiancée, had come out of nowhere and helped him to return to his home. In reality, this woman was nobody else but the Fox that he had saved and who had adopted human form in order to tend to his wounds. He fell in love with her and they married to live quietly in the countryside. They had a son, and all too soon, Arrowroot-Leaf had to realize that her offspring had inherited part of her supernatural nature, because the boy was strong-willed and mischievous and loved to kill and eat insects and small animals.
Her double-cross as ‘Arrowroot-Leaf’ worked for a couple of years, until one evening, while she was viewing the autumn blossoms, the real younger sister of the late fiancée and her parents came for a visit and were surprised to find another ‘daughter’ in the house of their impended son-in-law.
Fleeing the veranda, her son caught sight of the bushy white tip of her fox-tail bouncing under the flapping hem of her robes, utterly revealing her true nature. Now the Fox had no choice but to depart and return to her life in the wild, but she managed to leave a farewell message behind:
"If you love me, darling, come and see me.
You will find me yonder in the great wood
Of the south-west province where the leaves
Of arrowroots always rustle in pensive mood.”
As she wrote the poem on the paper screens, her hands gradually changed back to animal paws and the final lines of the poem had to be written with the brush held in her mouth.
The scholar, his son and the family rummaged in the forest to try and persuade the Fox to return, but she hid until they left the little boy to sleep in the shadows of a large tree while they continued their search in the vicinity. To her son, she eventually appeared as a fox and revealed him, that as a shrine-spirit, she was a messenger of the gods.
The animal spirit could not have any more close contact with human beings because her fox-powers had been weakened by her love for them, and so she asked her boy to regard the elderly couple as his true family and the younger sister as his mother, hoping the woman she had impersonated would not hate her so much.
“Stop misbehaving and study hard.” The fox-spirit advised him, “Become praised as being a worthy son to someone as excellent as your father. Do not be laughed at as a useless boy who is obviously the son of a fox. You have killed insects mercilessly and I grieved, knowing that this was because you had inherited my fox nature. When you grow up, do not take the life of even a single small bird or tiny insect without reason. Even though we must part, your mother will always look after you and protect you."
Hearing the beloved voice close, the father jumped to hold her back, but the white fox immediately dropped the child she was embracing and vanished. Nevertheless, the boy listened to her counsel and grew from a clumsy kid into a master of science from unmatched pureness and clarity.”
Tomoe ended the narration with a sound snap of her folding fan and most of the crowed went back to what they were doing before.
“What was his name?” Llats asked, still all caught up.
“The boy’s adult name was Abe no Seimei. The story is just one among many that wrap around his historical figure.”
“How the guy managed to overlook a bushy tail all those years is beyond me.” Dred shook his head.
“Well, our poor fox-spirit was under a lot of stress when that detail slipped her control.”
“Whoa... Dred, your failsafe priorities managed to spot the only oddity in the whole tale instinctively!” Llats chuckled, then returned his attention to the aruetyc storyteller “Why don’t you use the real names in your stories?”
“The names in the tales often have a meaning that I try to transport through translation. If I include full clan and family name, titles and honorary prefixes, most of them would be so long that it would be cumbersome to use. It would inevitably break flow of any story. That’s why it’s common sense to use the function or a nickname in an anecdote, since everybody with some background knows who it refers to anyway... or they can decide themselves if they want to remember or not.”
“How so...? What’s there to decide?”
“Once you keep unbroken family records over some 50 generations, the network of distant relationships becomes quite unmanageable. Even with a small audience it’s difficult to tell who’s related to a character around a dozen of corners. On the other hand, direct insults of one’s heritage cannot be taken lightly. For example, not everybody would accept a questionable fox-heritage rubbed into his face in front of an audience by the means of his full clan- and family-name in every second sentence, even if the tale is set 30 generations ago. Therefore, we ship around such cliffs for the sake of entertainment and in return everybody can take it easy.”
“I knew there was a reason why Mando’ade don’t care about bloodlines...”
“Care to detail how a historian’s work looks under such conditions?”
“Campaigns of all the great Mandalorian leaders of the past are memorized and analyzed.”
“So it’s all about war?”
“Mostly. Mandalore are not renowned for writing poetry.”
“I understand. I wonder how do you organize your ranks... share information... manage your economy?”
“Oh, there are no ranks. We basically organize ourselves, the Mandalor’s purpose is just to make sensible suggestions we want to follow. And there are the Resol'Nare, six actions that make you a Mando’ad: wear armour, speak Mando'a, defend yourself and the family, raise the children as Mando’ade, help the clan succeed and sustain itself, and when called to arms by the Mand’alor, rally to his cause. Everything else is quite flexible.”
“Who does all the work besides the fighting? Is there a long tradition of slavery?”
“Huh? No... I mean, we do the work ourselves. Farming, regular factory work, engineering, transport, health care, and of course we tackle security and police jobs, mercenary work and bounty hunting contracts. Especially in winter when there is little to do on the land, many Mando’ade find themselves a contract or two for the extras they can’t produce themselves.”
Tomoe nodded slowly.
“I wished I could tell you there were no examples for slavery in our history, but that would not be the truth.
Four thousand years ago, during the Krath Holy Crusade, the Mando’ade expanded their territory along the Outer Rim led by Te Kandosii Mand'alor, conquering many worlds, such as Basilisk. The planet was left poisoned and useless by its own inhabitants, but a number of Basiliskans were found to be easily trained.
Because of their tough hides and claws they were used as intelligent weapons for aerial and ground fighting during later wars including the New Sith Wars. In slavery, the bes'uliik war mounts degenerated and became nothing more than savage beasts, the ‘Lagartoz War Dragons’ that were subsequently replaced by intelligent bes'uliik droids modeled after their shapes.
About thirty years later in the beginning of the Mandalorian War, his successor, Te Ani'la Mand'alor regrouped our forces into Neo-Crusaders and slowly began to conquer fringe worlds that had been left defenseless in the wake of the Great Sith War. The Neo-Crusaders, still in alliance with the Sith, were able to carve out a clan territory greater than that ruled by the Hutts in the span of little more than a decade before invading the Republic itself.
For that, Mand’alor reordered his conquered provinces to better serve as warehouses and foundries for his growing armadas. The Mando clans grew more powerful than ever before, as they accumulated a huge slave labor-force and conscripted subject peoples into their ranks. Fifteen years later the Mando fleets were all but destroyed at Malachor V by an experimental Republic-engineered weapon and the Jedi Revan killed Te Ani'la Mand'alor in close combat. He took the kyr'bes, destroyed the stockpiles of weaponry and battle droids and exiled the clans into the Outer Rim.
...That was nearly 4000 years ago. Maybe you are of Mandalorian descendant yourself?” Llats mused.
Tomoe choked briefly, but she felt that he was just being honest. “I doubt it. My ancestors believed in change by creation, not in change by destruction.” She swallowed her anger. After all, she could hardly expect him to see the insult in the suggestion that they were ...one of a kind.
“Without leadership and direction, many surviving Mando’ade went on to find work as bounty hunters or mercenaries. The others could not settle for a new leader. As Revan left for the Unknown Regions, a veteran of the Mandalorian Wars employed by him, Canderous Ordo, was left with instructions to unite the clans and prepare for a new war, afterwards the Jetii told him the whereabouts of the kyr'bes. Canderous then decided to join the Jetiise against the Darjetiise, so that the galaxy would not fall under Sith-influence for good which would pose a threat to his efforts to reunite our scattered clans.
The changes made by Canderous Ordo have effect to the day. We have transformed into a less clan-based, more mercenary-oriented culture. We are good at what we do, we use cutting-edge technology and we are expensive. That’s why you book Mando’ade to massacre serious adversaries and not for petty slave raids. Carting around live-enemies is really awkward, you know? Nomads can’t burden themselves like that. We have no bulk labor that can’t be done more sensible with machines; there are weapons all around... I think my own wife would have killed me if I had ever considered to bring a veriduur home.”
Isabet chuckled. “I certainly would have.” Dred gave her a crocked ‘oh-really’ grin and was promptly rewarded with another elbow in his plates. He seemed to enjoy it, so he rambled on “Gotta remember to include my band of Twilek dancing girls in my next marriage vow then... maybe it’s acceptable when I’m oh so considerate and co-ordinate their skin-color with the paint-job of beskar'gam be cyar'ika...hmm... are there yellow Twileks, Is’ika?” he asked, his round face a study in innocence.
“Not enough in this galaxy to fill your big, empty bucket, di’kut.” Isabet briefly considered to co-ordinate his face with his armor-color by the means of a punch or two, but that wide smile did her in. - “Pity... but I like the more common blue kind, as well. Would you consider a re-paint?” – “Dream on!”
Tomoe decided to ignore the overgrown kids and get right to the point. “Do you have an idea why Fett did.... what he did?”
Llats stiffened slightly. He had just made it back on Fett’s good side. You never knew who was listening. “No, I don’t. Maybe a personal trauma, maybe a family trait. It was a Fett, Cassus, who rounded up the Cathar races in the Mandalorian War as the second in command under the last Taung Mand'alor” The historian shrugged “Be sensible. You are a free person now, with the same restrictions that go for everybody else.”
“Thank you for being honest...”
“As I see it in our history, enslavement led to stagnation, while adoption meant the development of our people. It always was and still is the common way for orphaned children - and even adults - that catch our eye to be brought into our culture by adoption. That’s why we are unconcerned about parentage: no difference is made between a biological child and an adopted one. It doesn’t matter what who your father was, it matters what kind of father you are.”
“I understand.” She nodded, but in fact, Tomoe felt lost, maybe more so than before. ‘I’m no child... haven’t been adopted... don’t know how to feel about it all... being assimilated and all... need more time’ But she had to honor the fact that Llats explained things to her patiently. She forced a smile “There is no rule against poetry, is there?”
“Nay, we are pragmatic about such details.” Llats chuckled “Be flexible and keep up the good work.”
“Thanks.” This time, her smile was the real thing “If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work.” She bowed slightly “Have a nice evening.”
“There she goes.” Isabet cackled “Won’t be a long wait for first poetry writing Mand’alor in history now, betcha!”
“Mercy for all those who have to listen to such attempts!” Llats commented dryly.
“If it doesn’t kill on the spot, the recording could be terrific benefit in interrogations.” Other possibilities sparked Dred’s interest. “Care to detail... You bet what exactly, Issy?”Chapter 6.1 – Small Beauty
“Tonight, I’ve decided to leave the gods alone and jump into the times of more human beings, thousands of years later, but thousand years in the past from now...
In an age of peace and cultivation, the most famous of beauties was Ono no Komachi – “Small Beauty of Ono”, a lady-in-waiting in the imperial court. By no means small in her beauty - but so beautiful, proud, and passionate was she, that she has never been forgotten. Her name has come down through the ages as one of the six best poets ever and a world’s all-time femme fatale, recounted in plays and legend.
With her raven tresses that cascaded to the floor, a face like a blossom, and eyebrows painted into perfect crescent moons, she drove the noblemen of her days mad with desire. She would glide through the cedar-scented halls in her multilayered gauze and damask robes, oblivious to the thousands of love letters which lay discarded about her chambers. At night she slept in a room in the soft light of candles where golden flowers decorated the walls and strings of crystal beads hung in the doorway. When she passed the cup at banquets, people said it was as if the moon lay on her trailing sleeve.
But she was not just a pretty face. She was brilliant, accomplished, powerful, and tough-minded, a woman of burning passions which she wrote about in her poems read and loved to this day. When the country was suffering from a severe and prolonged drought, the power of her magic voice alone broke the spell when Ono no Komachi prayed for rain. On the other hand, she was convinced of the fickleness of men's love.
“Could she pray for sunshine as well?” Boba inquired curiously
“That would make a real difference on Kamino, isn’t it? Pity we can’t ask her to give it a try. She’s been dead for a millennium.”
“You could give it a try yourself?” Boba smiled hopefully
“I doubt that I could change a thing... and that it would be good for the natural balance of Kamino if it did.” Tomoe shook her head ‘no’ and continued....
“Ono no Komachi would only give herself to a man who could prove himself worthy of her. For the most lovelorn of all, a captain of the imperial guard, she devised the sternest of ordeals. He was to come to her house for a hundred nights and sleep outside on a bench used to support the shafts of her chariot before she would even consider his suit. “We could be as two birds flying together in the sky and as two branches intertwined on Earth...” she promised him.
So, night after night, the proud Captain of Deepgrass hitched up his stiff silk trousers and donned his tall lacquered hat or put on a wide-brimmed wicker hat and straw rain cape and ventured out into the elements. Evading the night watchmen and the barrier guards he walked through wind, rain, and snow, made a notch on the shaft bench, and then waited through the night there, shivering.
One day, two days, ten, twenty... Every night she looked out of her window, but he never budged. He even missed the Harvest Vigil Festival that no courtier would normally dream of missing. Instead of celebrating, the birds shat on him and the insects ate him alive! After ninety nights he was gaunt and pale and tears streamed from his eyes but he couldn't hold them back. He didn't even have the strength to sleep any more.
Ninety-nine days had passed and the joyful day, when he was to receive the reward for all his efforts, was dawning when he suddenly died, of heartbreak, perhaps, or exposure to a snowstorm in the last night.
For such hard-heartedness, Komachi suffered the cruelest punishment of all—the loss of her beauty. Instead of dying young, she lived to be a hundred! After the death of Captain of Deepgrass she was spurned and driven from court and ended up a tattered, crazed beggar woman. In folk legend and plays she is portrayed as an ancient withered crone, hideously ugly, haunted by the unhappy spirits of the men who died for love of her. Another part of the legend has it that, as an immortal temptress, she has the power to recapture the hypnotic beauty of her youth and exercise it over a young man.”
“Eep.” Boba shrunk back into his cushion wide-eyed “How comes that you remember the incident so long after? It was just one crazy guy after all.”
“The poetry of Ono no Komachi still remains today, as the words of her heart are immortal:
The long rains falling
Provoked you to consider
Listening to the same rain
Provokes me to think of mine
“You danced her role quite frequently, isn’t it?” Jango grumbled, his burning dark eyes locked on her profile.
“No way!” Tomoe laughed “Until I started living among giants, I was considered too tall to make a very graceful dancer. I was asked to stand in for the Captain from Deepgrass only.” She stood to strike a pose; hitch up non-existent skirt-pants then took a couple of exaggerated steps through the kid’s bedroom. Boba cracked up. She stopped at the door, turned around and winked. “I wonder... what would have happen if – in the ninety-ninth night for example – the Captain had simply picked up his chair and left?!”
“Hmm...” Boba gave it a shot. “He would have lived?” he proposed.
“Possibly.” Tomoe smiled. “But there’s more about it. Think about it and tell me tomorrow.” She encouraged, bowed gracefully and vanished into the night.
“You don’t need to believe all those things she’s telling you.” Jango sighed and tucked his son in. “In my experience, the dead don’t return to haunt you. You know I’ve seen a lot of those. Sleep now. I have to prepare another exercise.”Chapter 6.2 - Too close
Indeed, it was the living who did not stop haunting him. Now those things had calmed down a bit and nearly returned to normal, he found his desires had grown and his hungry lust screamed for more of what he had tasted. Jango replaced his helmet and wandered out into the silent corridors of the stilt city.
He’d half thought that once all the formalities had been seen to, the pressure that kept her from seeing him would be lifted automatically for the good of their child. After all she didn’t have to worry about getting back from the moment Kal took her vow, nor about employment, housing or food on her table because of him. But no such luck.
Therefore he had increased the pressure, played with her anger of being kidnapped, the fear of being held by her captor, the confusion and uncertainty. But she had just laughed in his face, locking him out even when she was standing threadbare right in front of his nose. Her iron will alone was like a steel door with a window small enough to see through so he could yearn for what was held there, but never possess it.
Jango’s mind travelled back in time...
‘Why did it hurt so much? Why did my mom not run with my sister when dad bought her that chance so dearly? Mom could have survived just like me, and Arla would have survived... It doesn’t matter...’ He cut off that thought harshly. Someday, Tomoe would die like all the others... and he would be alone again... would he mind if she took them with her?
He noticed his feet had moved up to her door on their own and checked location of the monitoring device automatically. Yes, she was home, body temperature 310K, no pulse available since that stupid scene with Llats. He switched to infrared, which was quite blurry through the walls, even in the most sensitive setting. Two heat sources, one moving? He switched to penetrating radar within a blink. Very little metal in there, a pair of armored boots?! Metal parts of the furniture popped up at his first swipe and he modified the settings for another swipe. A warm lump in bed, one standing.
Fierfek. He could not believe that any of his own kind would try defy him like this. Had she dared to choose somebody else? That would explain a lot to him. Everything in fact. NO! He would not have his child taken away from him. He’d rather mature it in a glass vat like the first and then raise it himself. He switched back to night visual and took a probe from a belt pouch.
There was no expression at all on his face, just his cold icy stare nearly burning a hole into the solid door to her room. Currently he thought of Tomoe as a mere possession and nothing more. He would take her back, and punish the one who stole her away, so they would learn quickly never to attempt such a feat again.
Tomoe had taken some time to sort through all the new stuff, washed her clothing and got ready to curl up in the makeshift-bed under the table covered by the warm air-stream of the vent that heated her quarters, when her finely attuned senses suddenly screamed in alarm.
He had not made a sound, nor did he give any other warning of his presence. All the same, the short hairs prickled on the back of her neck, and Tomoe knew. She could feel his murderous presence as clearly as if he'd touched her. Fett was out there. And nobody would be with her quicker than him.
The locked door of her quarter hissed open without her affirmation, a couple of quick steps and his armored weight bumped into the short corridor wall lightly, as he checked the bathroom before rounding the corner to go for the bed, firearm first.
Coming out from just the other side, Tomoe rammed her knife into the armpit presented to her by the raised blaster with both of her hands. Once the blade was in to the hilt she opened her grasp to catch the blaster-arm and punched the palm of her right up under the lower edge of the helmet. The combined shove of her arms and hip dropped the owner flat on the ground from two feet height, the slender woman going down on top of the major weight, still hanging on Jango’s weapon hand like a ferocious little gdan. A poison-dart smacked into the ceiling before she could shift her full weight around on his chest and plant her bare foot on the free elbow. “No, no, NO!” she yelled, working on his grasp on the Westar-blaster.
“Red alert....” his voice sputtered within the helmet. “Keep Boba safe.”
A shiver of failing muscles ran through the arm, then let go of the blaster and it was pushed into the shadows, spinning. A jerk of the other arm made her foot loose the lock, a blade tore through fabric and seared over her calf. Her hands found the smooth handle of her knife protruding from his ribcage. Then she lost it again because of the slippery moisture covering it and she had to save her leg with another quick twist of her body. She planted her knee on his shoulder, pressing into the joint of the armor plates. On the second try, she managed to unlock her knife from the mesh of his ribs.
He didn’t care about the stream of blood gushing from the wound, jerking on the helmet to spit out some more of his life fluid in return for a breath. “Stop... Cin’ciri...”
Why couldn’t he just do her a single final favor and DIE?! She brought the knife’s handle down on his temple to shut him up. No need to lock the blade in his ugly thick bones again. Withdrawing to keep her clothing clean, she sliced and cracked through the anklet, switched the light on and activated the cleaning system, then lobbed the monitoring device up into the opening ceiling duct.
A strand of blood that trickled from her right calf came to her attention. She wrapped the pant leg tightly over the gash and forced her feet into her boots to prevent herself from leaving red footprints. She wiped her hands on his body glove, retrieved the set of his probes, slid the Westar-blaster under the tunic into the back of her waistband and snatched the helmet from where it rolled around next to Fett’s limp body. No, he would not need it anymore; the puddle of blood he rested in spoke its own language.
Tomoe dashed out on the corridor and made a beeline to Fett’s quarter then let herself inside with his probe. “Boba?” she found the boy huddled into the doorframe of his bedroom, blinking at the bright light. “We’ve got an alert and Jango’s gone. I’m taking you to Kal.”
“Where is dad?”
“I don’t know.” She filled the boy’s hands with his father’s helmet “Hold on to this for him,” wrapped a blanket around him and scooped him up on her hip, suppressing a wince at the additional weight on her wounded calf.
An armored fist banged at the quarter’s door.
“Yes, who’s there?” She yelled, already on the way. An unknown Mando’ad in golden armor towered in the doorframe with his blaster drawn, but held to the shoulder in a less threatening position. She opened and fired her question right away: “Where’s Jango Fett?”
“I don’t know. He’s left for a meeting. I’ve order to take Boba to safety with Skirata in case of alarum.”
“You alright, Boba? Where’s your father?” the artificial voice behind the helmet pressed on.
“Yes.” Boba nodded bravely “I don’t know.” He struggled in Tomoe’s grasp “Gotta find dad!”
“Stop giving me trouble, you two,” Without further ado, Tomoe pressed past the warrior, “I’ve got a job to do. Find Fett.” She headed for Skirata’s quarter briskly.
Shifting Boba on her hip into a more balanced position, she pressed the buzzer of Kal’s door and was rewarded by his verpine shatter gun being shoved into her face. How expectable. “Fett cancelled our deal. We are going home now.” A slight shift revealed the helmet pressed in between her body and the boy in her arms. “Take your gun out of my face. If I can’t protect the three of us, we ALL die.” The lacquered sheath of her knife clattered to the ground.
Kal was aware where the tip of her blade in Boba’s back was pointing. He also knew that “three” didn’t include him. In this woman’s small hands lay the legacy of two departed Manda’lore. If he shot her, he would kill Jango’s youngest within her body, while nothing would stop her from killing Boba as she fell. ‘Crazy females’ he muttered....“Why me?”
“Because you are the most reasonable and the least overgrown. Leave your gun and knife here, please. You may bring a deactivated comlink. Do you need painkillers for your ankle?” He shook his head and lowered the verpine to the ground slowly.
Tomoe took a cautious step backwards. She knew well enough that his lack of agility was mostly an act and how quick he was with that knife that he placed alongside the gun. “If you would pick up that sheath for me... thank you... now lead the way to the Slave I’s landing pad, please.”
“We won’t make it inside anyway. Knock it off and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
“I’ve got the keys and Boba has the right DNA as well as the codes.”
“You’ve planned that all the way.” Skirata accused her.
The boy stared at her blankly “Tomoe... He’s dead, isn’t he? Dad....”
“Always have a plan B... and not now, Boba, I have to keep you safe.” When they stepped out on the landing pad, the perimeter control kicked in immediately. The ship’s laser guns hummed to live and took aim at the intruders. “Wait a moment, Kal.” She held out her palm, her black eyes burning into Boba’s “In this very moment I trust your father... Boba, you and I are going to on board of this ship or into the next world. Is there anything Kal and I should be aware off?”
“I don’t know... Slave I is programmed not to shoot at me. The keypad is right at the hatch, under the beak... you have to enter the code within fifteen seconds, otherwise the perimeter is wiped by a curtain of cross fire.”
“You have the code ready?”
‘C’mon, start walking already.’ Kal watched their discussion patiently ‘In a few, you will be stuck in that tin can without a pilot and nobody else to convince of your madness. That will give us plenty of time to regroup and pick you off in an inattentive moment.’
Tomoe reached into the small of her back and aimed Jango’s Westar-blaster. It felt different than her hold-out-blaster or the DC-15 sidearm she had practiced with... a lot better. “I will welcome you on board as soon as it is save, Kal.” She passed slowly through the perimeter which the linked cannons of the Slave I unremittingly guarded. “The code, Boba, and nobody gets hurt.” The boy entered the code with shaking hands, waiting for Kal to speed-limp inside under Tomoe’s scrutiny and close the hatch from the inside.
Tomoe sighed. This time, the ship’s sound-scenery made her feel very different than the day she arrived. While it held as much of Jango’s personality as the helmet clutched between her chest and Boba’s small form, it felt... save. ‘Strange.’ She shook her head. “Kal, get up that ladder and strap in. You fly us home, then you can take the Slave I wherever your conscience tells you to go.”
Watching Kal climbing upwards painfully and hoisting himself into the pilot’s seat with a groan, she took the helmet from Boba’s numb hands and hooked it to the back of her belt. It probably held information they needed. She helped the boy up the ladder and followed suit.
“You think you can get away with this?” Skirata asked coldly while going through the pre-flight checks with Boba’s codes and the probes Tomoe had liberated. It didn’t give them full weapons- and data-base-access, but enough flight- and navigation-controls to get them off the ground, in and out of hyperspace. “Long way to go.” He mused.
“We’ve got everything on board to convince the surveillance that we are Fett going for a ride. I’m sure you will play nice since you are in the pot with us.”
Tomoe pulled the seatbelt close and threw her arms around Boba when Skirata pulled the Slave I off the landing pad in a steep arch. “It’s not me who drowns one’s bad conscience in tihaar every night!” she screamed over the roar of the sublight engines. “This is YOUR opportunity to break free as well as ours!”
Chapter 6.3 - Downtime
Pulling back the hyperspace-lever, Kal’s ice-blue eyes glared at Tomoe, and then he looked at the small one. He could not put things right for him, but he had to give him clarity at least and help him to face the facts. They wouldn’t have made it so far if things had been different. “Your father is dead, Boba.” He said, trying to sound gentle.
“You lie.” Boba protested. “You are just having those mood swings again, Tomoe?” This was ridiculous. His dad was an invincible warrior. Immortal! And Tomoe was his friend. She had promised to stay with him!
“Kal tells the truth. Your father died while attacking me.” Tomoe stated calmly. “It was me or him.”
“NO!” He screamed, and clamped his hands over his ears, deciding that whatever mood swings were, they were probably contagious. He needed to stay sane. He would just close his eyes, scream loudly to wake himself in his bed and dad would rush in to see what was wrong with him.
“It’s true.” Tomoe ignored the screaming, snapped the seatbelt open and went to the cockpit locker for a med-pack, then pushed her right boot off with a wet sound. She unwrapped the blood-soaked pant leg carefully. “That was Jango’s left gauntlet blade.”
“What did you do?” Kal turned around in the pilot seat and quirked a grey brow.
“Let’s just say I didn’t sleep where he expected me to, or I would be dead.”
“You want to tell me you were hanging from the ceiling like a bat?”
“Constant armor-wearing makes people inflexible.” Tomoe sighed as the pain lessened, finished the application of a bacta patch then offered, “Want a backrub?”
“You are incredible!” Skirata huffed under his breath.
“I’m just considerate of what I put you through, Kal. I noticed at least one blockade in your lumbar spine because of your constant limping... but of course I understand that you don’t trust me.”
“Don’t waste your time on an old barve like me, but consider what Boba needs.”
“True.” Tomoe inhaled deeply before she continued “Boba, have you thought already about where you want to stay?” Boba glared at her. Yes, he would listen. “I can’t change the past, but you can shape your future. Your dad won’t come back. In three years, Kal will go to whatever WAR his ‘adult’ sons are sent to. But you, Boba, will still be a child.” She locked her eyes on his “I feel no remorse for what I did, but if you choose to go with Kal, I’ll accept it. I’ll be waiting for you to come for me when you are grown-up.”
“There is a second option.” She let the tension linger for a moment then continued. “I cannot train you like your father would have, but I will teach you all about the skills I command. We won’t be rich, but I can make a living for the three of us. I promise my children will always come first. None of them will become republic cannon-fodder.” She paused. “Take your time to decide what you want to do.”
Tomoe settled her back against the cockpit bulkhead to rest without falling asleep. Even with the Slave I’s superior speed it would be hours till they reached home. Lots of things to think over that would keep her awake. Stay on the task at hand. Don’t think about him.
Meditate about that bloody face later.
Several hours later, she was back on the co-pilot’s seat while Kal tried to talk his way past the local traffic control and requested permission to land. He finally gave it up and decided to outrun the perimeter defenses, drop down quicker than those old buckets could follow and then fly under the radar.
“Boba?” Tomoe’s body felt tight and drawn against his back as she held him again. She dearly hoped her strength would not leave her despite the blood loss and exhaustion.
The boy swallowed hard. “I’ll go with you, Tomoe.” The galaxy had gone crazy, but somebody had to take care of the family until dad returned.
“Drop us off at that train station” Kal brought the Slave I down in a small backyard and she handed Jango’s buy’ce over to Skirata with a small bow “You might want to keep that to perform whatever rites the Mando custom request. Please take the Slave I with you unobtrusively.”
Did she realize that she was about to declare him Mand’alor? ‘Yes, she does,’ Kal decided. She was being generous, but it was nothing to him. “Why should I let you go?” Skirata snapped.
“Because you are a sensible person while I’m just a crazy female - with a hidden det on board,” Tomoe retorted and raised her comlink, “which is linked to this remote... So maybe the question should be ‘why should I let you go?’”
“Now that’s beyond you.” Skirata pushed a smirk on his best sabbacc-face.
“I’m discrete about your project and I respect your feelings as a father, Kal, but I’m a female defending her young. Demolition handbook, lesson XI - isn’t it, Boba? Don’t. Try. Me.”
Kal could not verify if she had got her hands on sufficient supplies, when and where she hid it, but she had Fett’s armory to loot and he had written that part of the curriculum himself. He liked it easy and efficient - once he had started training the Nulls, he had found out that he could be a good teacher, and... shab ... “You are a quick learner.”
“Fair enough. Safe passage, Kal.” Tomoe snatched Boba, jumped off the lowering landing ramp and raced through the entrance hall of the atrium house while Kal pulled up the Slave I from the burned patch of earth that had been a peaceful garden a moment ago, trying to acquire a target. Once out on the street, Tomoe was swallowed by a crowd of busy people that pressed into the underground and several fire-fighting teams homing in on their last position... and he had a pair of interceptors on his tail that tried to force the Slave I back into the ground.
They really didn’t like chance-visitors here... who torched those paper-boxes they called homes!
He would better get lost before they found out that he could not power-up a tenth of Slave I’s fancy weapons to use in his defense... and he needed to call Old Psycho for a shabla sitrep from home and he needed to convince stubborn Slave I to open a secure connection. Otherwise the cover of their project would be shot to haran.