Full Time Job

Chapter 8

Chapter 8.0 – Meeting Friends (Day 13)

The morning dawned on a cushion of white mist laying over the river delta. The fog hung like gauzy curtains in the channels between walls of reed. Boba woke at the sound of rope being pulled and the flap of the heavy cover fabric opening. He shivered at the cold air sinking into the boat’s rump and groaned in protest, and then his mom leaned over him, indecently awake already.

“Good morning, Boba,” she passed him a damp, warm cloth, “For your face and hands.”

“Good morning.” Boba mumbled. He had trouble to come out of his dreams. He had slept very well -maybe too well considering the situation. Had she slipped him something? The warm dampness of the cloth on his face left a comfortable freshness that helped his bleary eyes. He knelt and leaned over the side to rinse and wring the cloth before handing it back. Then he shook out their sleeping blankets and folded them up. He still couldn’t remember that he ate anything she didn’t?

Tomoe proceeded to roll up the cover and stored it, then prepared a small breakfast from the remains of their lunch package. The foamy tea she served was brewed from a green powder and low temperature water from a thermos flask. Even that was made from natural materials like everything else on board.

“I’d like to pack up soon and cover a nice distance in the morning before it gets hot,” she announced, “We are going to have a look around and pick up the latest news, have a nice long nap at noon then get lost for another night.”

Boba nodded silently. He was utterly lost but he trusted his mom to know the way out. Everything was so different. Tasted and smelled different. Slow. No schedule. No homework. He smiled a little. He guessed he would get back to that soon enough. Adults tended to remember such things in the most impossible moments.

Tomoe punted the boat out of the pool and through some smaller channels before employing the rudder again to follow a bigger channel, working against a slow stream. A slight breeze lifted the curtains of fog from the reeds and they covered their heads against the morning sun peeking through. They changed positions regularly and Boba practiced with the harpoon. It wasn’t as easy as it looked and most of the fish were small.

His mom just shrunk her shoulders and pushed the boat. “I’d usually set a net for those, but keep on trying. It’s good practice – but don’t worry, we will pass a more promising area before dinner.”

The channel bend and somebody was screaming behind the corner... then laughter. Tomoe announced them with a high warbling sound and was answered before two slightly larger boats came in sight, moored side by side and connected with the punt-poles like a floss to add stability. An old woman was mending a smoking fire place and kept watch over a toddler; naked kids played on board or paddled around in the water, splashing and noisy. ‘Bad hunt around here.’ Boba thought and wondered what Tomoe saw in them. His mom looked so happy.

Kneeling in the front of the boat, he jerked back at a slender hand coming out of the water to hold on to the board side. He reached for the spear. Then a grown woman’s face rose up, she breathed in with a shallow whistle and wiped the water from her face. She smiled at him, saying something that sounded like “Hey...ho...” just longer and thoroughly friendly and polite as she helped Tomoe to push the boat towards the package formed by the two other boats.

Boba winked back hesitantly “Hey.” He tried a smile as well as more dark haired heads broke the surface of the water, each trailed by a bucket on a line. They were gathering stuff from the ground of the channel and among the plant growth. The old woman helped Tomoe to tie their boat to the floss. They chatted, looked over to him briefly, chatted more, and helped the younger women who swam around the boats to sort and pile up their gatherings and hand the buckets back down.

He tried to keep record, but it was difficult in the murky water. The grown-ups stayed under water for minutes and left him alone, but the small kids where another case. They paddled around, splashed at him, laughed, called and winked. “You can go for a swim as well if you like, Boba! We won’t have lunch before an hour.” Tomoe called over and Boba shed his clothing. One of the bigger ones definitely deserved a good dunking for splashing at him and soaking his sandals.

A moment later he had to hand it to them that they were good swimmers, but they were no match for his strength. They were so... childish. Couldn’t they be serious? Practice something? Make themselves useful? Instead they were diving for colorful stones and shells in a shallow area they didn’t manage to disperse yet with their ruckus while the adult went deeper, rappelling along a network of lines and sinkers within the stream.

Meanwhile, Tomoe helped the old woman with the lunch preparation and chatted. The group came from a village north from the harbor where she had rented their nutshell. She had introduced herself and found out that the hag was loosely related to her midwife. They had started their excursion before dawn, taken one of the main channels deep into the marshes and planned to be home again for a late dinner. Their news were a collection of who-married-who, gave birth, sickness, harvest, accidents, boats, death, festivities and all sorts of family affairs.

The woman mending the boat was bent from age and her bones were sticking out under her loose V-collar, but there was nothing wrong with her mental fitness. She had the perfect overview from town-news to village-gossip and decades of door-to-door communication made her sift through the information faster than any RC giving sitrep. She had probably details about her neighbor’s meals down to how often somebody could... if one was so indiscrete to ask or patient enough to listen all day. Luckily, it was lunchtime before that.

The scent was enough to draw the kids away from their game and the other women came out of the water one by one, unloading their wooden buckets. Dressed only in knee-length wrap skirts when diving, they picked up their sturdy blue and white robes and colorful belts from a pile. Covered up, they wrung out the wet underwear and then sat down to have lunch and take a break. They were a well rehearsed team used to operate in cramped surroundings, but a visiting boat enlarged their lunch-time round around the fire place considerably and was well liked.

Boba found a seat beside Tomoe and was handed a bowl filled with a steaming pile of sticky white grains and two little sticks. He found out soon that it was considered impolite to eat without those strange utensils or even reach into the common bowl of fish and vegetable with his fingers like last night. It was cumbersome, but after some practice he managed to snatch bits up to lift them over the short way to his own bowl and shovel them into his mouth from there. “Mom?” he asked between two bites, “Why do they call me ...Taro? I keep on telling them I’m Boba. They nod like they understand, then laugh and go on. That’s annoying.”

“Oh, I’m sure they understand. You just got yourself a nickname, ‘Kintaro’ by demonstrating your strength. Kintaro was a child of legendary strength; he was raised in the woods of Mount Ashigara and became friendly with the animals of the mountain, fought evil monsters and later he became a loyal follower of a mighty overlord. He is a popular figure, equally brave and strong, dark skinned, curly hair and a little bossy... you get the idea.” Tomoe ruffled his hair and chuckled “Nothing offensive about that name, but I’m going to chase ‘em around if they start calling me a mountain witch - yama-uba”

The old hag picked up the last word and cackled then blew the whistle on a more fanciful side of the tale’s conception, harping on a certain clap of thunder sent by a red mountain dragon with a suggestive, toothless grin. Tomoe laughed politely and decided against a swim the very moment. The red mark on her back was far from faded and would give the gossip in the marshes an unforgettable spin. “Awww... don’t tell me I’m such a haggard appearance already! Yes, I needed a holiday, but is it really that bad?” she put up her best sad-puppy-look.

“No, not at all...” The circle started to reassure her “Are you sure you want to stay out all nights this week? It got hot so quickly this year, we might get some thunder and rain down from the great white one. Tonight or tomorrow... I can feel it in my bones. You could come and visit us at home...”

“We’ll be fine... Thanks for your invitation... hmm... in case we are really soaked, could you leave me some oil, please... and has one of you a comb at disposal? My hair’s dried out totally.” She picked up some strands and switched the topic. – “Yes, of course.” Tomoe spent the rest of the lunch break chatting with the friendly diver who had pulled them in, sitting in the shadow of the reed. They dangled their feet in the cool water that passed the rudder platform slowly, combed and oiled each other’s hair until shone like raven wings.

Since the adults made sure that the stuffed kids would rest for an hour after lunch while they got back to work themselves, Boba was bored by that sudden bout of laziness. Nevertheless he made himself comfortable on the folded boat-cover and scanned the surroundings through half-lidded eyes. The divers’ sleek yet rounded shapes looked nothing like dad, but a lot like Tomoe. Some seemed to be younger, some older... they were all shorter and less defined in general. His mom was very well trained indeed and it showed. They had a nice golden tan on them, which resembled his own coloring. Tomoe looked pale among them, yet she denied shedding her clothing in the full sun. Wasn’t she sweating under that jacket?

Boba sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. It was nice not to be the smallest for once. He and bossy? No way! The others were just childish. Probably telling all sort of rubbish when they thought he could not understand them. But he could still see enough. Growing up among helmeted clones had given him a good understanding of body language.

An angry bawling on the next boat ripped him from his thoughts. The toddler had woken from a long nap, the first grumping and struggling had been ignored by its mom who was currently under water. Now it requested immediate attention in ear splitting frequencies. Mom’s attention! Granny’s or aunt’s attention wasn’t good enough for the little bugger. The woman lifted her bucket over the ship’s side, hoisted herself up with a sigh and picked up her infant.

And then it happened... The baby clawed and bit into one of the round mounds on her chest, chewing happily! Boba stared, all wide eyed shock. The woman didn’t seem to mind, rocking the ferocious little beast with a gentle smile on her face. Then she looked up and saw the strange boy staring at her. She pouted and turned her back on him with a shrug, calling something to Tomoe, who answered with the sound of an apology? Whatever it was, it didn’t sound abusive and made the other woman chuckle.

Tomoe let things settle down until the kids woke from their naps all over the three-boats-float, then sighed contently and excused them. “We want to go a good distance today and we still have to make raincoats, just in case.” The other kids jumped back into the water as if they were born there and they continued their journey deeper into the marshes. Some hours later, they stopped to cut a load of a special sort of reed growing in spots along the channel. Boba noticed that water pearled off its long, flexible spires, but “Waterproof clothing... from this?” he was skeptical.

Tomoe continued to push the boat away from the cut marks, then let the boat drift and settled down beside him on the middle bench to show him how to braid the thick ends of the spires into a strong but flexible ribbon. The long ends of the spires frayed out from one side. After a while, Boba held up the little fray-curtain he had managed to braid and shifted it from side to side “That’s a pretty short raincoat.”

Tomoe chuckled from the back “You are a small person, but I suggest you make more of that and then tile the layers to make it longer.”

Boba sighed and continued braiding. Why did everything take so long? “Are you sure it will rain?”

Unfazed, she continued to move the boat. “It’s not Kamino, but sooner or later it will rain. Then a coat is a nice thing to have.” Not to mention the natural materials made a perfect camouflage.

“What did you tell the woman with the toddler?”

“She scolded us for staring at her and asked me when I intended to teach you manners… so I told her that you didn’t have a mother until yesterday and that we are still working out the details.”

“Oh, okay.” Boba considered. Being literary always worked with him. “Is it normal here to let a child chew on one’s chest like that?”

“Eat from... yes. The baby has no or few teeth and as it grows older it knows how to do it. I can’t remember myself doing it, but I’ve been told the suckling doesn’t hurt. Breastfeeding is perfectly natural. It’s nurturing and healthy for both, mother and child. It’s the quickest way to calm down small children, even if they already eat other food or if they aren’t terribly hungry.”

“Don’t worry, Dad used to carry me around a lot when I was small, but can’t remember that I did that with him, either.”

“I’m pretty sure you didn’t. Dads cannot do that with their children, just mothers after childbirth and only for a limited time. It ends when the infant settled on eating other things.”

“Because he doesn’t have...?” Boba hinted with his hands at his chest, searching his mind for the right expression. It wasn’t a topic that had come up in his life so far.

“Men do have mammary glands, but they are small and not developed for milk production.”

“Hmm...” Boba considered that silently. Apparently, things could be done very different, but one could do without that sort of feeding. At least, his body wasn’t missing anything it should have. “Are you going to do that with my sister, too?” he asked curiously.

Tomoe jumped a little. She had never talked about pregnancy with Boba, nor had she any gender information herself. It was really too early to tell, but Boba seemed to take something for granted. She had no clue what ideas Fett had planted in his mind. “When I have a child, I’ll breastfeed, too, if there is no medical reason against it… but how do you know it will be a girl?”

“Dad told me.” Boba wrinkled his forehead and tried to remember the conversation in detail “No, that’s not quite right. He asked me what I thought about having a little brother or sister, then he told me about his older sister.” He smiled up at her hopefully “I told him I’d like to have a sister, please.”

“Patience, Boba... I have no influence on the gender. I just hope everything will go well.”

“Then who can?” He would tell the responsible aiwha-bait that he wanted a sister this time, afterwards he would wait most patiently.

“I’m afraid it’s all set already, I just didn’t find out such details yet.”

Boba was disappointed and it showed. They specified everything from looks over height and weight to mindsets on Kamino – if one overlooked that mistake with the Nulls – and here they couldn’t even take care of a single detail like gender? How backward was that?! “How can you set things and don’t remember about them afterwards?”

Tomoe was about to snap something at the boy along the line ‘I’m not a glass vat!’ but fought down that urge in the last moment. She was just overstrained. Boba knew she wasn’t a vat and it wasn’t his fault after all. Where should he know those things from? He was no more insistent to get a satisfactory answer than in other cases. She sighed and started explaining.

“While clones are copies of a host with basically identical attributes, human children are usually the result of the combination of both their parents’ genetic material. That material is split in each parent’s body and later, the two halves coming from the mother and the father are recombined into a single cell within the mother’s body. From there it starts to develop into a human child.”

Boba nodded and came to the conclusion that since she didn’t know... “I’m sure dad split it so it develops into a sister for me.”

“It’s not that easy. The parents can take precautions whenever they want a child or not, but they cannot take influence on its genetic configuration, since the split doesn’t follow a conscious decision.”

“Then how do you know it works?” To leave something important to mere chance was so not-his-dad.

“It’s like breath, or heartbeat or digestion. It works. You don’t have to think about that, either.”

“I can stop breathing when I want to.”

“That’s because you are partially aware of that, but all in all, your conscious mind just controls the higher functions of your body, and does not reach organ- or even cell activity. There are just too many cells in your body to keep them all in your mind. No human can, but that’s alright for us. You’ve got some fifty-fifty chance.”

“Shame... but I’ll wait.” He hunched over his work then turned around and smiled as he got another idea. “And I promise I won’t complain when it becomes another little brother.” He could play with a brother as well as with a sister… it would just be more similar to previous experiences. But from now on he would do the dunking, not Jaing.

Deep in the marshes, Tomoe moored the boat in the vicinity of a little island to give Boba a chance to feel firm ground under his feet again. Once the patch of land had even sustained some trees, but they had suffered in storm and lightning, the bare and broken tree tops towering over wild undergrowth like dead hands clawing into the sky. The forks made nesting places of large birds whose housings looked like unruly bundles with branches, reed and feathers sticking out and years’ worth of waste underneath. The air was filled with their sharp calls and flapping wings.

“Don’t try to climb up there. They defend their young viciously.” Tomoe warned Boba, dropped the hat on the rudder platform and wiped her forehead. It had been a hot day that wasn’t going to cool down quickly as the sun sank deeper and deeper over the sea “I’m going to have a swim as well and gather some additions for dinner, then I will help you braid.” She shed her clothing, folded and placed it inside the large flat basket of her hat, then slid into the water without as much as a splash.

“Go ahead.” Boba tried to follow her with his eyes, but Tomoe was already gone in the murky water of this eerie place. She could vanish, alright, but she had left her knife half hidden between the layers of clothing. She would be back soon. He had another look around, spotting her at the far end of the pool. She was doing the long round obviously, then came back, dropped her findings inside the boat and pulled herself up on the platform in the back. Water ran off her oiled tresses and pearled on her skin until she wiped it down.

“Do we have to stay here? They make a terrible noise.” The calls reminded him a lot of aiwhas in fact. Of course the beasts were much smaller, but what if they teamed up against them? He was pretty sure that nobody else was around within several clicks. “We’ve got enough light left to go elsewhere.”

“I like it here.” Tomoe smiled and came forwards to ruffle his hair. “Remind me to take care of your hair later... and don’t worry, the birds will calm down again at nightfall.” She sat down and grabbed a handful of reed, setting up her own braiding while her skin dried in the light evening breeze. “They are just chatting with each other what happened during the day.”

“You can understand what they say?” Boba cocked his head.

“Just a little.” Tomoe smiled “Birds overview catch. They know about weather. They warn of enemies. Listen and watch. It won’t take you long to tell their usual and unusual behavior apart.

Boba hmmed. Military grade sensory would do the job... more precisely. But he listened anyway.

The tips of the reed shone in their most splendid greens and the sinking sun immersed the water in shades of gold interlaced with deepest browns and black as the spearhead of a ripple ran through the surface. “Tomoe?” Boba whispered.

“Ah, there he is already” Tomoe put down her braiding and leaned over the board side as a pointed muzzle and a huge roundly head pooped through the shimmering surface and nudged her face. Water pearled off short black fur. Boba stared at a pair of huge round eyes as dark as his own. Long lashes winked at him over a moist gleam that spoke of intelligence. “Boba, may I introduce my friend Moronoko...” her voice was a soft purr over the wheezing of the animal’s breath that ruffled sturdy whiskers. “Moronoko... this is my son, Boba.”

The large head turned to him and a thick neck that joined into slim shoulders pushed further out of the water as it turned to acknowledge the boy with a surprisingly high-pitched whoop that smelled of fish and predator.

“More... what?”

“Moro-no-ko. Moro’s small one.” Tomoe dubbed for him.

“Small?!” Boba inquired. He hadn’t seen much of it yet, but when the rest went with the head, the beast was huge!

“...not quite so small anymore.” Tomoe chuckled and dipped her head and spine in a copy of the fluent motions of the predator in the water, and then nothing held her on board anymore. “Come on...” She laughed and just dropped over board with a sound splash, came up like a rubber ball and hugged the large animal. The sleek shape seemed to wrap around her mid and thighs like a furred black serpent as both of them went under water. The ripples of a last splash of the powerful black gleaming tail and a trail of bubbles were all the unequal couple left on the surface of the murky pool.

Boba retrieved Tomoe’s knife and clutched the frail railing that was the border to the strange beast’s territory. It looked like it was drowning her, but she had been so full of herself a moment ago, so happy? The show of affection looked murderous to him and they still weren’t coming up, just kicking up more sludge from the ground of the pool here and there. “Mom?” He called as the second minute ticked by. ‘Don’t get nervous, mom’s a good diver... but spending lots of energy down there for such a long dive?!’ He belted the knife, unwrapped the mooring line from the punt pole and fought with the stubborn bar Tomoe had rammed into the ground. Meanwhile, the ruckus continued. He couldn’t hope to fight a creature of the marshes down in its own element; he needed a longer lever to break up the fight!

Tomoe felt the boat dancing around the bar widely and came up slanted over Moronoko’s back, her long hair as black and gleaming as his fur. “What’s wrong?” she lifted her head for the inquiry and winked “Just come in.” She wasn’t quite out of breath.

Boba let go of the pole but shook his head defensively. “I can’t dive like that.”

“Nobody’s going to dunk you. We’ll stay on the surface, alright?” She slipped down and pushed over to clutch the railing, stabilizing the nutshell with a couple of strokes. “It’s just that I haven’t swum with Moronoko for a long time. We’ve got lots of things to tell each other.”

“What IS he?” Boba asked desperately, but put the knife down hesitantly and fingered with his belt knot. “He’s a sentient being, isn’t it?”

“He’s a Hi-inu, a great hunter of the mountain cliffs, the wind and the water. Come in and see yourself. He’s eager to see my youngling himself.” She rested her own head against Moronoko’s and watched Boba strip and climb into the water circumstantially. “There is no danger, just give me your hand, so he can take in your scent.”

The whiskers tickled Boba’s palm as the wet muzzle wheezed against his hand, the large slim body floating in the water with slight control strokes of paws with webs between long, near fragile looking fingers adorned with sets of sharp ebony claws. The whiskers probably hid an equal long set of fangs. How someone could choose to wrestle with those without even considering putting on armor was beyond him.

Somewhat satisfied, Moronoko pressed his muzzle under Tomoe’s chin, nuzzling the nape of her neck “Yes, smelly, I know.” She pulled the patch off her throat, baring unscarred skin. “It’s called bacta.” The hunter sneezed disparagingly then a deep growl rose from somewhere below the water. “The gaijin use it for healing. There’s more on my leg. Gone in a few days, I promise.”

Moronoko continued to explore all the new scents his friend brought from her journey among the stars. Alien materials. Unknown people... even her own scent was changed subtly, as if she had mated somebody with the exact scent of the adolescent paddling beside her. Curious. He took another sniff on the cub’s hand, running his nose up the golden skin of his slender arm. Yes, just like him. Just add some adult musk. “Two of a kind?” He whooped an inquiry.

“Yes, there are more like Boba. Many, many children like him up to twice his age.” Her hands and body were talking “And a man, a dangerous hunter of a clan that smells of metal, artificial oils, fire weapon’s discharge and bacta. They are not welcome.” Tomoe’s soft purr transformed into a chittering bark.

“But I miss him, Tomoe,” Boba protested “I want my dad!”

“They find me, they cage or kill us. We find them, we hunt.” She hissed under her breath “Hajime!”

Moronoko sneezed in approval. He got more of that soiled scent already than his sensitive muzzle could bear. In fact, he had smelled it on her through the breeze and waters once she had entered his territory. HIS territory. They would swim together and the stream and mud would purify her and that youngling from that in-natural stench and the marks soiling her back. “The gaijin alpha-male is gone...” she ran her fingers through Boba’s hair and over her own body before holding it out to Moronoko “But if you take in his musk, leave him to me. He’s very dangerous.”

The Hi-inu slanted his body over her in an affectionate shove and nuzzled the back of her neck and growled. Boba yelped at long ebony fangs dug in the back of Tomoe’s white neck and transported their meaning: “So am I, cub...” the water-creature stared back at him with an expression of constant vigilance of a natural hunter.

Tomoe chuckled and shoved back with a splash “C’mon, you aren’t a day older than I.” She pushed her head under his muzzle and again, the waves drowned their whooping.

She was alone as she came back to Boba who was sitting on the raised platform that made the back of the boat. “Dinnertime,” she announced casually and wiped herself down.

“How can you do that?” he got right to the point.

“Defend myself, you mean?” Tomoe arched a brow.

“Put this... monster on dad... on our friends?”

“Nothing forces them to track me down. They hunt me, I hunt them. It’s called survival of the fittest... and in case you didn’t notice, they are more than the two of us and they kill for a living. High time to call in reinforcements”

“They wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh yes, they would.” Tomoe’s voice stayed level as she stirred a fire in the brazier. “They hold their secret dearer than sentient lives. I’m not going back into a cage. From their point of view that leaves them no choice but to wipe out our little clan.”

“But you were free?”

“Don’t mistake a larger cage for freedom, Boba.”

It was his home she was talking about! Air-conditioned, clean, comfortable... safe. It was madness to leave that. “I want to go home. I want dad.”

“Jango has made his decision, forced me to react and you to make a choice. Now is the time to stick to your choice. I don’t do interstellar travelling and I cannot transform into your dad.”

“You shouldn’t have messed with him then!”

The boy had reached his limits for the day, but so had she because of his constant taxing her patience. Her voice became steel. “Boba, I suggest you shut up until you have regained your posture,” she continued dinner preparations; they focused intently on their food and still gave each other the silent routine during their evening chores.

Chapter 8.1 – Bedtime story, for real (Evening Day 13)

While he ignored Tomoe openly, inwardly, Boba counted the hours and compared travel times. They had been dropped off in the morning, plus seven hours for dad to arrive when Kal called right away. They had been on the ferry then and nothing had happened. Maybe dad was hurt worse than last time? If Kal had travelled back, he would have arrived in Tipoca in the evening and reinforcements should have been on their heels the next morning at the latest. But nothing had disturbed their breakfast. Nothing had happened all day and they had made plenty of noise.

Now it was getting late, they were in the middle of a big floating nowhere. These were surroundings out of his experience. Maybe they were as confused as he was. Or the big black beasts had stalked up to them, drowned them or ripped their throats out. Finally, anxiousness won over stubbornness. It was a small boat and he wasn’t feeling well.

“Tomoe?” his voice was a lot smaller than before.

Tomoe looked up from her braiding. Her raincoat would take considerably more work than his. “Yes, Boba?”

“Will you know if Moronoko kills Cuy’val Dar?” - “Yes.” - “Nothing happened so far?” - “Nothing, Boba.”

“Uhm okay.” He started another attempt to pacify her. “You said you wanted to do something with my hair to keep the water away?”

“Yes.” Tomoe got a comb and a small bottle of oil, sat beside him on the middle bench and started untangling his hair. Boba sniffed around for perfume. “That doesn’t smell as nice as your hair did.”

“Because it’s the same oil I use for my knife... the pure sort. At home, I occasionally use perfumes and incense. But here we don’t want to flag our way with odor marks.” She avoided mentioning that she could pick out Mandalorian weapon lubricants over quite a distance.

“How does it come that Moronoko can understand what you say... more than other animals, I mean?”

“Hi-Inu are intelligent but think as different from humans as they move. Nevertheless, they count to the beings who can reach enlightenment. Some say they are vicious, ghostly killers from the shadows, but they are merciful and compassionate and help dying warriors to find their way into the shadow realm. Many people are frightened, but the real monsters wear human skin. Just make sure you are not bleeding when you venture the marshes”

“Hmm...” Boba wasn’t sure if he understood the difference. Dead was dead, after all.

“Time for bed anyway, Boba.” Tomoe reminded him and started closing up the boat where it lay hidden in the reed. She slipped under the blankets beside him and closed the mosquito net before she continued.

“Some said my family would own a pack of them, but it never worked that way. Moro and her clan were never minions of the Harada-clan. They were never livestock but partners working side by side, connected by lifelong friendships. Hi-inu are long living creatures, growing far older than humans, but Moronoko and I were blessed to grow up together. We are of one breath and very protective of each other, especially since his mother died protecting me.”

“How did that happen?”

“The Trade Union wanted to open a settlement here despite the fact the planet had banned interstellar travel for centuries to maintain peace. They armed up different sides which lead right into a civil war. What was on top of the society fell, and what had been on the bottom ruled. The new rulers were less than interested in maintaining the bonds of the warrior class, especially those who served incorruptible struck fear into their hearts.

By then, my father had died in a nuclear blast, taking my mom with him as she skipped her duties to search for him in the contaminated city area, leaving no male heir behind. My grand uncle had fought in one of the last open stands of the old warriors against the new ways. Once they were gone, the new executives made up false claims to wipe out the clan-records altogether with their obligations like alimonies and pension claims.

But that wasn’t enough damage for those who could live of the land and would still wear their head high. The Harada-clan was well known. An example had to be made for those who claimed their rights. That’s why they sent a whole battalion of their new model of soldiers to burn our homestead to the ground. My grandfather died in the first blast that left a gaping hole where his small forge had been. My grandmother grabbed me and we ran for the woods, down to the river to find Moro.”

“A whole battalion for a surprise attack on two old people and you?”

“Yes, and to scatter a couple of servants and the neighboring peasant folk. They were still peeing themselves. As they could not find us, they set the fields ablaze. My grandma bought me time by cutting down the burning plant growth with her halberd. I waded through the reed and jumped into the stream and was pulled downstream by Moro-sama.

They are superb swimmers and divers and water is a good protection against high speed projectiles and energy weapons, but up in the mountains, the stream is clear and shallow as it jumps over the cliffs and they hit her nevertheless. It took her days to die from her wounds. It was the last time I shared the breath of one of her clan until today. That’s why Moronoko has no love for the bearers of energy weapons. He won’t hold your skills against you, but he won’t let history repeat itself, either.”

“What did you do then?”

“I got a job at the Sen-Ike and enlisted in the arts academy.”

“Didn’t they find you?”

“Oh, they knew, they just didn’t care. Back then, females couldn’t take up the lead of a warrior family. Without heirloom but governmental grudge following me, I wasn’t a good match. There was no patriarch left to adopt a possible suitor to continue our line anyway. I have given up my status and in return, they let me live to shame myself further.”

Tomoe laughed dryly.

“I’m sort of a late starter and I have a loose tongue, but being raised by a mother with education and manners and having a well-trained body, I could catch up on things. I was to take the exams this winter, but I doubt I’ll be at my most graceful in six months. I might need to look for an alternative anyway...”

Tomoe smiled softly in the dark and wiped a strand of hair from his forehead. “Don’t worry about that. Sleep well.”

“You, too.” Boba turned the information over and over in his head. Maybe his mom could get away with things others could not. He woke some hours later because the wind had picked up, lightning slashed through the clouds and thunder rolled from the high mountains on the horizon. Tomoe pulled the cover over the mosquito net just before the rain started pounding down. In the darkness of the nutshell, Boba snuggled in his mother’s embrace and listened to the sound of the water.

It nearly felt like home.

Chapter 8.2 – So this is Hell – Twilek, Vau (Day 13)

Something flowed up his body slowly. A tingling sensation spread from his feet and up his ankles and thighs as the jelly enveloped him like a giant amoeba. His head rung like he was suspended in the centre of a huge bell, the right side of his forehead hurt like fire burning in pitch black darkness. Talons dug into his chest, puncturing skin and muscle. Move it, Jango! Thick liquid constrained his movement, and then his fist crashed against an impenetrable barrier.

He couldn’t scream. He tasted blood in his mouth, filling it. A tentacle was set into his throat. He would suffocate! A picture came up in front of his inner eye... blue skin, bared blackened fangs, turquoise eyes leering at him “Are you interested in this fine specimen?” His defensive punch was met by a rock solid surface. The Twilek slaver’s thick blue lekku plunged down his throat while another wrapped around him, constricting his ribs. “Closer...” Another wave of pain crashed through his chest.

“Raise sedatives! He isn’t switched off by the normal level of medication.” Gilamar tried to untangle the pipes for assisted breathing. The med-droid was too slow and too clumsy to handle their trashing leader.

“We just took him off the machine and put him back on natural circulation, can’t slow that again right now – Restraints!”

Vau’s free hand tightened a set of belts that ran down the wall of the container to the surgical harness. “Hold this.” Once Gilamar secured the line, Walon withdrew his long arm from the liquid that filled the tank and shook lumps of green jelly from his gauntlet with a disgusted snarl on his face. “His cerebrum should be on holiday. That must be his animal side still active. Get here, Bralor...”

“Save it, Jango.” A woman’s voice came up “Udesii... you are in a bacta tank. Relax. We are taking care of you. Calm down... leave it to us, son....”

Finally, the man in the pipe ceased thrashing.

Vau used his evening downtime to unfold the sheets of flimsy with the strange signs he had liberated from the box that held Tomoe’s belongings. It was a distinctive script, fluent and graceful like the woman who wrote it. One of the notes was dubbed in aurabesh:

The long rains falling
Provoked you to consider

Your mortality--

Listening to the same rain

Provokes me to think of mine...

Walon smiled and read it aloud to Mird, then folded the flimsy and shoved it into the inner breast pocket of his body glove for safe keeping. Then he researched on the origin on the alien language to decipher and locate it. Skirata, the manipulative old chakaar liked to stay closed down like an oyster. Which was fine as long as it concerned the other uncontrolled brutes like Gilamar, but Walon wanted a head start when push came to shove.

Fett was clinging to his life stubbornly, but he wasn’t doing too well, either.

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