Tomoe took the picnic basket and a little box from the helper who usually worked in the kitchen and stored the luggage underneath the crew benches while Jango completed the pre-flight checks. Until now, their improvised repairs held up nicely. "Where to?" he asked.
Tomoe studied the charts and picked out a landing location. The area sacred to the war-god was in the centre of the provincial capital. "Drop me off behind the ridge at this station. I take the train into the centre. I'll be back within the hour," she promised. The listening device and heart monitor dangled from Jango's gloved hands as she looked up again. She unlatched the chest plate to slip the sensory underneath. "Will attract less attention this way," she explained, his clipped tone getting to her. At least he lengthened her leash enough to allow her to clean up behind her. And afterwards?! She did not know - she could only trust her emotions.
The mixture of male and female clothing items she was wearing would raise eyebrows. But then, she had a serious request, one she would never voice if she wasn't the last of her clan and leaving for an undefined time and place. It wasn't her fault. It wasn't her fault that she was female. There was nothing left of her father's life in duty than his jacket and his name plate in the altar-case. Nevertheless he was with her, would live forever in her memory. As long as she lived... and the kids she was going to rise. "Would you like to come with me?" she asked her son.
Boba considered, and then decided "Nay." Ceremonies he didn't understand made him uncomfortable and he would rather ask dad a couple of plain questions about last night while his tactful mom was away. Everything was better than being stared at in a public transport. Jango brought the TIV down. "Alright." Tomoe placed the chest-plate on the seat, took her bundle and left for the station. Without the thrill of the hunt, the wait was dull. But whatever eased her mind and helped Cin'ciri to overcome the culture shock was a good thing. Jango unwrapped a nutribar and shared lunch with his son while listening to his cyar'ika's steady heartbeat and the voices around her.
Tomoe walked over an arched bridge, through the main gates of the compound and around the main sanctuary. She asked a shrine maiden for the whereabouts of the priest and found him in the office building. Enshrining her father and grandfather wasn't a problem due to their vita. In fact, her granduncle's name was already on the shrine's scroll by governmental edict. But here she was, trying to transfer the house altar with her whole family to the shrine's treasure house. It took some persuasion, a dynastic heads-up to the founders of the temple and the donation of Ariga's gold bars, and then her ancestry had a new home.
"Two weeks ago, I have sent you a letter with an envelope for save-keeping, Kannushi-sama. As you know, my life undergoes serious changes in the moment, therefore I would like to access my family records before I leave planet."
The old priest shuffled in with the archive-box a moment later, arranging his enormous white and purple wing-sleeves when he sat down. "Here you are." The pressure resting on the young woman was obvious to him, but so was her strength that bordered to stubbornness. Leaving planet?! He could just pray that she wouldn't do anything stupid that made him welcome another member of this unlucky family under a death name.
Tomoe flipped through aged pages of birth- and death names of her ancestors in front of the gods, records of the marriage ceremonies of her parents and grandparents held within the walls of this shrine. Nowadays, all her legal files including her testament and amendment including Boba were data records on an anonym computer core, but the crisp sheets still whispered to her. The mindfulness of the priest rested on her, making her feel that she was still... somebody. She returned everything to the box but the sealed envelope that was marked to be published upon her demise or disappearance. He would have done so, no doubt. She checked the seal for cracks and stored the rustling envelope underneath her collar next to Jango's monitoring device before she bid the priest farewell.
Somewhat relieved, she went to drop a small coin in the box at the sanctuary, rung the bell and said her prayer in silence.
'Pretty obvious.' Jango thought as he spotted the white envelope under her collar. He didn't need a translation to smell the trap. Last will on paper - old stylish, but impossible to slice from the outside without attracting attention. Good that Tomoe was already doing her own clean-up before some noisy cleric kicked up a stink and he had to take severe safety measures. Not that her trick ever had a chance to succeed. With the recce of the Nulls, experienced Cuy'val Dar like Gilamar and Vau would have listened into the official communications and prevented the effect of her testament before their cover was blown.
"Can we RV now and leave planet?" Jango asked when Tomoe ducked back into the cockpit.
"Let's inform Vau and Gilamar on the way," Tomoe pulled up the charts for navigation "Just one more shrine, then we can leave."
"Okay." Jango took the TIV to the RV coordinates of the two Mandalorians and fought his impatience. Why was everything taking so long? 'Another one?' he noted. "Can't you have that scanned and the data sent to our mailbox?" he asked innocently.
"It is sealed to be opened at my disappearance or demise, so I assume you wouldn't want this opened." Tomoe told him flatly. "The document we signed together is still in place, Boba," she informed the boy.
"Uh... I don't want anything of that." Boba shook his head and strapped in.
"Neither do I," his father agreed. Maybe her traps weren't so simple after all.
Vau and Gilmar had chosen a small clearing for RV-Point and holed up in there since the morning hours, waiting for the outcome of their leader's negotiations. They had thrown a camouflage net over their TIV that would shield the gap in the plant growth from bypassing aircrafts view. To fit into the clearing as well, Jango had to bring the TIV down so close to the other that the landing ramp couldn't be extended.
Tomoe jumped out of the bottom hatch of the TIV and lifted Boba to the ground "Uh... you get too heavy for that." She took a lacquer box from his hands. Jango walking close behind her calmed her nerves as she circled the spanners of the camouflage net and approached the other vessel in a wide arch, holding the box in front of her with both of her hands. Vau was the very opposite of a hothead, but even an enraged Gilamar would not shoot her in such close proximity to his leader… at least not before she opened her mouth, or so she hoped.
While Vau straightened out his tall frame lazily, Gilmar was out front and studied the aruetii's approach. Wide skirt pants brushed the high grass with fluid grace and hid most of her leg-work. A chest plate and a black shiny jacket completed the androgen appearance. The sword under her belt lifted the hem of her jacket, adding bulk. Not a hair out of place, she was a polished reflection of a native warrior of old, civilized and educated. Not a face any man would forget, though. But like a clone she could retreat underneath a mask and create a private space that nobody else could enter. That mask was nothing like the soft sleeping expression of the girl who Jango had held in his arms, warm and exhausted, tousled and peaceful when he was requested to scan her two nights ago.
This wasn't the time for pity. Gilmar had seen her explode into bloodshed, half-naked in a circle of strangers with her head held high, wielding Vau's bes'kad against his leaderwith deadly efficiency. He knew how quickly her serenity could flip into violence - and back. Shab, it had even enabled her to slip out under his blaster point, when she gave him the image of a doting mother when she had just butchered the father, his leader and his Mand'alor. For now, it was nice that her hands were filled and kept in plain sight. They were still arguing back on Kamino how the little aruetii had managed that stab and what would be the outcome of her court martial. The opinions stretched from 'death by torture' to 'can't blame the poor fella for trying'.
Personally, he got no kick out of those considerations anymore. It was awkward to find himself on the same side as Reau and Priest, but once Skirata and Bralor had filled him in, Gilamar had put off his initial idea of taking a rusty scalpel to the alleged traitor and cut out a trophy. They had found her, but this wasn't the moment to show Harada what it meant to make a bad enemy with a Mandalorian with anatomical expertise. The project came first and it was Mand'alor's job to sort out his private life. It was impossible to disregard the surprising fact that Fett and Harada seemed to be an item now. 'Floating on your body's own opiates, are you?' he wondered. Anyway, one couldn't hurt a masochist with pain.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. N'eparavu takisit," Tomoe added at once and bowed with straight back, "thank you for helping me to correct my past mistakes." She would have preferred to talk face to face instead to a T-shape visor embedded in a sand-gold helmet, but Gilamar was on guard and it wsn't her place to blame him for that.
How many aruetii-chicks would to walk up like this to a Mando'ad they had creamed? It was probably Fett breathing down Harada's neck that gave her such a backbone. But despite her polished appearance there was no arrogance in her words that smacked off faded nobility or freshly hatched Mando-queen. "You've sorted out yourself?" Gilamar simply asked and looked at her blankly for several beats, giving her a warning of serious displeasure, before he decided her excuse sounded honest enough. He took the box and placed it aside with a quick check of his glove sensors.
"Yes, Sir." Tomoe bowed in thanks for his acceptance but she wouldn't give him the pleasure of exploiting her anguish, her uncertainty. "I will accompany you off-planet in a moment. We agreed to raise our kids together," she put out to the Cuy'val Dar. What was the thing of Jango and her? She could not tell.
Gilamar noted she wasn't boasting of a marriage with Fett. Despite the mask she was wearing, she was herself and she had the spirit to resolve her problems on her own. "Not giving me so much trouble again, will you, little one?" He stood with his hands on his hips, staring down at Tomoe. There had been no explosives in her gift, no poisons that his sensors recognized.
Vau's endearment was spreading, it seemed. By now, she had so many names that Tomoe didn't really know who she was or what she would become. She just knew she would survive. The guy didn't look like a doctor; but that he had put Jango back together spoke for his competence more than his appearance. "I dearly hope I won't give you too much trouble, Gilamar-sensei, when I ask to kindly aid me with your medical expertise when my time comes."
"Good." Gilamar bowed theatrically, his armor creaking. He preferred to keep things simple. "Report for medical examination when you're settled in." With that, he winged his attention to his boss with an inquiring tilt of his helmet.
"We pick up one more document, and then go back. Follow us out of the atmosphere with linked controls. We've got an approved flight plan." Fett filled them in.
Like a dark sentry, Vau went to pull the camouflage net from the airframe while Gilamar returned inside to do the pre-flight checks. Walon had a look at the repaired TIV as well. "Are you sure that crate will hold together after what you did to it?" he asked Jango and took out a hand-scanner, banging against the landing gear and the airframe with his armored gauntlet.
"You tell me." Jango waited patiently while Tomoe followed the Cuy'val Dar's every move. So eager pull her weight yet so afraid to make a mistake. Whenever she lived up to other's standards or not, it didn't matter – she wasn't alone anymore and her mere efforts to belong made him happy, couldn't she see that?
"One should think you were done sightseeing." Vau criticized, cautiously and multilayered as usual since 'Done with the wild debauchery?' probably wouldn't cut it with Fett.
"Just one more shrine." Jango gave back and placed a gloved hand on Tomoe's shoulder and massaged lightly. It had been a bit of an awkward moment, but it all ended friendly enough, didn't it?
"Never mind." Vau straightened up, carefully not to bang his head on the airframe. Time to inform the resourceful young lady that Mird lived up to any hide-and-seek-game her black retriever came up with. There had been plenty of time to repair his EMP-fried helmet-systems including the night-vision. Being on the outlook last night had provided him with most entertaining sights of her running with the pack… naked. "It's okay, my dear, you can join the gang as a grease monkey," his rich resonant voice resounded in her ear as he walked past her.
For a moment, Tomoe wasn't sure if Walon wanted to insult her by bestowing another nickname on her or if she had just taken the formality a step too far. "Thanks," she managed to choke out.
Vau seemed very pleased when he squished past the empty bacta-tank in the hold of their own TIV and dropped into the pilot's seat. "I have an uncanny knack for helping folks realize their full potential," he congratulated himself.
"Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. All that aggravation about the baby coming seems to be forgotten." Mij chuckled but didn't take his eyes from the scanners as the TIV lifted out of the frame of trees to follow Jango's lead. They didn't need trouble with the local air force. "All dressed up and ready to go... are they married already?"
"Mand'alor's overwhelming freight-train-charm suggests that there could be pockets of resistant left underneath that overrun fortress... Now he has to work his way down there level by level to be safe."
"Which might take a while." Gilamar sighed. This was getting old. He didn't mind sightseeing and getting a little sunshine on his face after all those years on Kamino. It was a nice country side with cute little farms and tidy emerald fields but his idea of the ideal retirement for a country doctor didn't include a rural population scared witless by 'aliens' in their backyard. Not if he was the alien.
"Fett didn't exactly drop his plates for the first girl who smiled at him, but with a little practice, I guess the ol' boy will get the hang of it soon." Vau sat down his flawless vessel on a dirt track, precisely next to Fett's battered crate. He listened to the ticking of the cooling engine, steepled his fingers and wondered if it was worthwhile to throw on their camouflage again. "Aruetii tend to take more time for the paperwork than for the act."
Gilamar's initial statement in the meeting had been clear enough to be provided with the less relaxed viewpoints among the Cuy'val Dar. "When she gets back without his full protection and somebody takes vengeance into his own hands, then that's her very bad luck," he warned and had a careful look at the contents of the box. It had been decades since he had gotten such a gallant present. He unlatched his helmet.
"Married or not, she's the social talent and he'll watch her back." Vau replied. Not to mention the unsettling habit of picking her up which he seemed to develop about the little woman.
"Hmmm... jat'isyc." Mij leaned back and took another bite of the assorted cakes. "Didn't know insults could taste that good."
"Maybe you could rile her to the point of throwing one or two 'mir'sheb' at your head, and then encourage her to make up for it?" Vau proposed.
Tomoe gave Jango the next set of coordinates. The second location was an obscure shrine hidden in a pine groove on a hillside overlooking the fields. It was dedicated to the gods of the good harvest, just like thousands of others scattered over the countryside in places the population felt was special.
The documents were protected by nothing than the pair of fox statues at the entrance and a commoner who took care of the grounds for his village committee. The old man limped over from a nearby house to hand Tomoe a similar envelope and a longish one from a large trunk. She took them from his brawny hands with a bow and he hurried back home. Why the all grown-up Harada-san was wearing a sword and armor again, he could not tell, but it was always wise to stay out of the way of warriors.
Jango stood in front of the stairs that led up to the open doorway that looked like a giant face staring him down. He stared back and was very aware of his heavy, dusty cetare. He realized they would never have put their boot on Cin'ciri's little cache here. The place was by no means official enough to effect a testament. How somebody here would have known of her demise? Through the grapevine, most likely. Follow that, gaijin mir'sheb.
Meanwhile, Boba had slipped his sandals off his feet and explored the sanctum, his small, freshly washed hands smoothing over the double ring of nails on the rim of a huge drum sitting in the gloom with fascination, the symbol of thunder in eternal rotation on the aged hide. 'Anybody here?' the boy could barely reach up to the membrane to pat it. 'I'm here,' its huge red belly hummed like a sleeping animal.
"You comin, Boba-chan?" Tomoe called softly, bowed out of the sanctum and went to the cold fireplace used for the preparation of food-sacrifices. Maybe the boy would be more interested next time. Kamino would not last forever.
"This tells what happened to me." She knelt and joined the envelope from the shrine with the envelope from her collar, held it over the brazier, lit a match and made sure both letters burned completely into white ashes. He noticed the contents had been shredded. Those papers weren't her testament at all, just a nasty little machination she spread around underneath the official recognition for worst case, finely intermeshed with the traditional networks only a local could know. "Cin'vhetin, Jango." Tomoe looked up, then stood and unfolded the ends of the longish wrapping. She passed Jango the crisp single sheet with both of her hands. In the shadows of the veranda, the black letters swirled with the smoke still billowing from the brazier "And this tells what will happen."
"The future?" The T-shape visor locked on her and awaited further explanation. 'Great - more superstitious poodoo.' If she knew everything beforehand, she could have avoided certain unpleasant experiences easily. Instead she enacted forgiveness and followed him. She would leave her homeworld – maybe forever. Why? He did not know. If manipulations were impossible anyway, he didn't want to know.
"From a limited viewpoint," Tomoe admitted.
"It was given to you." Didn't she know that he couldn't read it just like that anyway? "Thanks for sharing. In a couple of years, I'll compare your prophecy." Jango re-folded the sheet to a smaller size and rolled it up to let it vanish in his utility belt.
Tomoe nodded her agreement. She had received disjointed pictures only, but even if the images connected it wasn't automatically a blessing to know one's future. Jango knew very little, nevertheless he had made a wise decision.
He pulled her in his arms. What counted for him was that she had given up her safety measures to him and he had nothing to give her in return, nothing but his word he would not hurt her again. It crossed his mind that it wasn't enough.
But he could see she was still hiding things from him, not sharing everything. Did he share everything? No, he had his shortcomings as well. He could not push that by asking her to swear an oath with him that wasn't heartfelt. Since they had made up and agreed to go back to Kamino they could always try later.
"You trust me now?" He felt her nod against his chest plates and cradled the back of her head in his gloved hand, massaging lightly. "Maybe you shouldn't. Yes, maybe you shouldn't, Tomoe. Just celebrate the moment... no past, no future, embrace what we have now, together, my love."
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Tomoe HaradaWrite a Review