October 16, 2017 at 6:30 am #123
I was only eight years old the first time I learned about how painful life could become… the night the Scarlet Raiders came and attacked my home world. My parents heard the warnings that went out across the local news station as the Raiders entered the system and began to make their demands. They quickly loaded my little sister Ca’shira and me into our old speeder and raced from our farm toward the tiny space port in the hopes of making it before the attack came. We made it just in time.
Nearly a dozen small fighters sped past the boarding areas right as we came up on the main crowd of people trying to leave. What had been a reasonably well-organized evacuation instantly turned into a panicked mob desperate to board the handful of ships waiting to take on refugees.
Everything happened so fast, I’ll likely never be able to remember exactly what happened. My mother tripped, taking Shira with her, my father stopped to help them, and a surge in the crowd managed to separate me from my family. “Mom! Dad! Where are you?” I screamed, trying to fight my way back to the last place I’d seen my family; but it was like trying to swim up rapids… nearly impossible. Finally, I heard my mother call, “Men’na, just go! Go on, we’ll find you. Just go!”
I did the only thing left to me: turned and ran with the crowd, weaving my way through the terrified adults onto the nearest ship. I stopped next to the doors, searching each face as people swarmed on in the faint hope that my parents would be right behind me. As the doors began to close, I panicked. I tried to run back out and look for my family, but strong hands pulled me back in. “You can’t go out there, kid,” The teenage boy said. “You’d just get yourself killed for no reason.”
“My family’s out there! My mom and dad are probably wondering where I am, and Shira’s got to be scared out of her mind! What if they’re looking for me?” I started pounding on the sealed doors as the ship lifted from the ground, knowing it would not do any good, but needing to do something.
“Look, kid, these ships are likely going to the same place. If your family’s on one of the other ships, you’ll find each other wherever we land; if they’re not…” He shrugged, letting his sentence trail off.
I spun, staring at this stranger with fear in my eyes, “NO! They’re alive, they just have to be.”
“Well, kid, you aren’t going to do any good bruising your hands on the bulkheads. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see if we can’t find something to eat? It’s going to be a long trip to…wherever we’re going, I’m sure.” I started to follow him still in shock at the events of the day. “By the way, name’s Jaider. What’s yours?”
At first I just stared blankly at him, not really processing anything anymore. “Hey, kid, you in there? Hello?” He waved his hand in front of my face a few times.
“Men’na” I finally mumbled, “My name’s Men’na.”October 16, 2017 at 7:03 am #124
Days seemed to pass crammed into the cargo hold of the ancient, slow-moving freighter as we traveled to find a place willing to take on so many war refugees. When we finally came to Nar Shada most of the adults didn’t really want to land there, but by that point I was so desperate to get out and try to find my family that I didn’t really care where we landed, just as long as we did. When the doors finally opened I pushed my way through the crowds to find some of the other ships to begin my search. I asked everyone I could get to stop long enough if they had seen my parents or Shira. No one had. Doubt started to fill my heart; maybe they hadn’t made it.
Jaider finally caught up to me and pulled me towards where everyone seemed to be setting up a camp of sorts, “Come on, Men’na. We better get moving if we’re going to get a half-decent spot.” I thought it a bit strange that he didn’t really want to look for his own family, since he was only sixteen, but didn’t want to push him on it. Later, I would wish I had.
The first few weeks were hard; there wasn’t enough of anything to go around, people were in shock from everything that had happened to them, and no one was willing to help anyone else. Still, I refused to give up my hunt for my family. “Kid, I think you’ve talked to just about everyone here. Just face the facts, they’re gone. Time to grow up.”
Eventually, I had to stop spending so much time looking and start focusing on survival. Jaider and I teamed up with some of the other kids left orphaned in the refugee camp to take care of ourselves and each other; making sure there was at least something to eat (even if it wasn’t the best), that our home was safe, and protecting each other from the other groups of war orphans that had started to form. At first, life seemed good if very different from anything I’d ever known before, but the longer we were there, the worse things became until one day it all came crashing down.
The boys were getting rowdy again. Most of the time when they would get together like that and start looking for trouble, the other girls and I would band together and find somewhere else to be… I never understood why the other girls would insist on taking all of us away from our camp with them, but today, I’d been caught out alone and was about to find out.
“Looks like someone was too slow to get out with the rest…” One boy taunted, “Guess we get to have our fun here after all.” The boys slowly started to circle around me their constant jeers coming at me from all sides. I’d seen them doing such things with each other often enough that I didn’t really think any thing of it. They’d tease me for a while, then get board and leave, I thought… until one of them grabbed my arms and pinned them behind my back. I tried to pull away and yelled at him to let me go, that this wasn’t fun anymore. He just laughed at me, “Sweetheart, the fun’s only just getting started now…” The boys started to tear my clothes until they hung in strips on me and forced me to the ground.
It felt like an eternity that they held me there, hurting me one after the other. I fought the entire time, trying to get my hands free of the two that took turns pinning me down for the others to “play” with, and eventually one lost his grip. I grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on, a large piece of debris, and swung it up as hard as I could. First into the boy holding on to my other arm and the one that was trying to recapture the arm that got free, then into the boy kneeling down bent over me. I didn’t mean to hit him in the side of the head, I just wanted to get him off of me, but he crumpled lifelessly on top of me instead.
As I squirmed away from everything, I heard one of the boys yell out, “She killed him… She’s killed Jaider!” Suddenly the boys didn’t look like they were interested in just continuing their “fun”… they were now out for blood, and I was still surrounded. I used my impromptu weapon with the ferocity of the cornered and broke free of the ring of boys and ran as fast as I could. Every step of the way, pain shot through my sides and stomach, but I could hear the pack of boys coming after me and kept pushing through.
Running half blind from pain and with no care as to where I was going, I eventually became completely lost in the depths undercity. I continued to stumble along, hoping to find somewhere safe that I could hole up in and try to rest.October 16, 2017 at 7:37 am #125
Days of wandering through the maze of streets, alleyways, and gaps in walls and I finally began to feel like I could stop running and find somewhere I could think of as my own. I roamed the streets, not paying attention to where I was going, and felt myself bump into someone. At first my heart seemed to leap into my throat as I pictured running into one of my old gang, but as I brought the figure into focus through my swollen and bleary eyes, I saw a figure in brown and tan robes carrying what seemed to be a lightsaber. “S-sorry, I couldn’t see you…” What’s a Jedi doing all the way down here, I thought. All this time I’ve been living here, and I’ve never seen one before… they just don’t care about us.
He was dressed as a Jedi, but there seemed to be a cold aura around him that made me feel sick just to be near it… like I had just walked into something that was rotting and turning into slime. He looked down at me, torn clothes, face swollen up with black eyes and a cut lip, my entire body battered and bruised and just… sneered. His hand hovered near his lightsaber and he spoke with such contempt that it sent chills down my spine, “Better watch out, street scum. You’re just lucky I’m too busy right now to deal with you like you deserve.” I shuddered as I backed away and turned to flee once more.
As I ran the memory of what had just happened played through my mind time and again, something was seriously wrong with that person, but I had no real idea what that could have been. When I finally could not run any further, I looked around and found myself in one of the under level neighborhoods that was overrun with gangs. This is not good. I thought to myself, If any of the gangs find me here like this, I’m dead. I looked around desperately for any kind of shelter, and saw a small, abandoned building between two gang’s turf markers. It’s not much, but it’s got to be better than nothing… I thought to myself as I crawled in across the pile of debris blocking the door to explore the area a bit better.
Days turned to weeks and I wasn’t able to find anywhere better, so I started to make my new home a little more secure. During the last few years I had learned to steal and scavenge to stay alive and I’d always been good with computers, so I used what I could to set up hidden cameras and defenses.
For two years I lived a hand-to-mouth existence. I gained a small reputation as a computer slicer that could get into some of the hardest systems. It would change my life.October 19, 2017 at 6:19 am #127
Twitchy stood guard over me while I tried yet again to get the “new” computer components to work. I’d originally built my faithful little astromech for just such tasks, using whatever I could find and get to work. Over the last two years, however, he had become much more than a guard, he was the only real friend I had now. His alarm call was the first real sign of possible trouble. That was not entirely unheard of, but it was uncommon enough I took notice.
I pull my head out of the computer casing that I’d just finished pulling damaged components out of and looked over my shoulder at Twitchy. “What is it this time? If you’ve interrupted me because of some armored rat or mynock again, I’m going to be taking you apart next…” As much as I love Twitchy, there was no doubting he’d earned that nickname. The droid was completely neurotic. Guess that’s what I get for trying to fuse so many verbrobrains together to try and get one that would actually work.
He let off a series of whistles and squeals, telling me that there was something really big hanging in the doorway. “What are you…” I stop as I turn to look for myself and see a massive Mandalorian hanging from the ceiling just outside the door. Well, that explains how he got past all the alarms… never thought I’d need to trap the ceilings… I stand up and turn to face him properly. “Who are you, and what do you think you’re doing here?”
He drops to the floor and tilts his head slightly before answering. “You are the one they call Men’na.” It is clearly a statement of known fact, rather than a question, “They say you are good with computers. I have need of such skills for a special job. I am willing to pay well for your services.”
At my insistence, he finally goes on to explain more about the “job”. After completing a different job of his own, there seemed to be some… difficulty with the payment. My task would be to hack past the security systems, acquire a layout of a building, and deal with any of the security measures inside from within the computer systems. A common enough style of job for me that I didn’t really bat an eye at it. The only serious catch: this would be a strike against a Black Sun viggo’s strong hold.
“I can do it,” I try and speak with as much confidence as I can, “but not with the equipment I’ve got here.” I point back at the computer behind me, pieces scattered across the floor. “You want this to get done, I’m going to need a system that’s up to the challenge. This one clearly won’t work.”
He nods, almost as if he was expecting a demand of this sort. “I have one of the best computers, just have no one to make it work. You can use that to get the job done.” We settle on a price for the job and he gives me instructions on where to come a couple days from now to begin.
As he turns to leave, I look down at Twitchy. “That was defiantly strange. Wonder just what’s going on… and how he seemed to know so much about me.” My little droid beeps at me, he’s just as confused about all this as I am. “Well, guess I better get all this cleaned up and stashed away, or it’s not going to be here when we get back…”October 20, 2017 at 9:06 pm #128
“Twitchy, go ahead and plug in over there.” I pointed toward one of the outlets on the wall as I sat down in front of the main display. This was going to be a serious challenge, but that was all part of the fun! I start to mumble to myself as I start trying to hack past the first set of firewalls. Most of what I’m saying is just techno-babble, though there’s some cursing and telling at the computer thrown in at random… A bit of an odd quirk I’d picked up over the years, but it seemed to work.
Hours pass in a blur of activity, and eventually I reach a point were I can do nothing but monitor what the programs are doing. I pull a way from the computers to stretch and nearly jump out of my skin as I bump into a young Twi’lek. She’s standing just behind me with her head turned so that she looks like she’s trying to look at the screen upside down.
“Whatcha doin’? Momma said you’re gonna help her and the Mando get Lese back. You are, aren’t you?” She doesn’t look any older that Shira was the last time I saw her, and she looks so scared that I can’t help but feel the need to comfort her. At the same time, though, I needed to be left in peace to work.
“I’m doing everything I can to help get her back, but to do that, I need to be able to focus. That means you cant’ be playing around in here. Don’t you have somewhere else you could go?” I stifle a groan as she shakes her head and call over my shoulder. “Twitchy, keep an eye on her, would you? If she’s got to be here, I don’t want her getting under foot. I should be able to manage on my own for a little bit.” I turn back to face the girl. “You go play over there by my droid… quietly. You keep bothering me, I’m never going to be able to get this job done.”
She nods again, never taking her eyes off the display. “Ok, but… why are you doing things that way?” She sits down at the computer and starts to type a new program in. “If you do it this way, you can get through even faster.”
I shove her out of the way and examine the new program… and realize she might actually be onto something. I look down to where she’s now sitting, impressed. “Alright, then… guess you can stay and help if you really want.” Her eyes light up with joy as I point to another interface. “Go ahead and get that started up.”
“Thanks! Everyone keeps telling me there’s nothing that I can do… but I just want to help somehow. Lese is my sister… I just want to do something to get her out of there… even if she is bigger than me.”
I nod, understanding that frustration more than she probably realizes. “Well, how ’bout we start with getting the building’s layout pulled up. Then we can send it to Tarel, and they can get going. Once they’re there, things are going to pick up fast… think you’ll be up to helping then? It’s not going to be easy, and if everyone’s going to pull this off, we’ve got to take out as much of the security measures as we can before they can become a problem. What’s your name, kid? Got to be able to call you something.”
Her eyes flash with excitement as she answers me. “My name’s A’nayah, but everyone just calls me Nya. I’ll do whatever it takes to get my sister back…” Looking at her face, I could see that she would, or come close to killing herself trying.
Several hours latter, once the attack has begun.
“Men’na open the doors on my mark.” Tarel’s voice booms over the comms. “Three… Two… One… Mark!” Sending the programs through, I get the door open and start the rapid-fire attacks on the Black Sun’s computer systems to cause havoc. Working with Nya, we trigger false alarms, shut down automated turrets, slam blast doors closed to trap defense troops behind them, and turn what security droids we can access on each other or anyone else we can get them to target. The two of us work both as a team and in a low level of competition to see who can make things the most chaotic. After what seems like an eternity, or just a few moments, the call comes through that the strike team had managed to not only free Lese, but had also gotten every one of the slaves out of the pens and were making their way to the launch pad where the transport shuttle was waiting.
“Men’na… we need that bay door open now! They’re cutting through!”
“I’m working as fast as I can! I’ve still got to get the cannon shut down… I don’t get that, it’s not going to matter if I can get the door open… they’ll shoot you down before you can take off.”
“Don’t get the door, not going to matter… they’ll kill us, or take everyone back to the pen long before the cannon can be an issue! Get that door!”
A’nayah calls across the room to me, “Just finish with that cannon… no way I can pull that off… but I can get a door easy enough.”
I get back on the comms with the team. “Alright, looks like little sister’s got the door for you… now let me just get that……. Done! You’re clear to go! Let’s get these people home.”
About an hour latter, the shuttle is landing near the staging area.
I grip Nya’s shoulder to keep her from running out to where the shuttle is trying to land. She knows all too well that the rest of her family is on there, and is so anxious to see them that she can hardly sit still. “Settle down, Nya… getting in people’s way isn’t going to get that shuttle here any faster. You’ll see your mom and sister soon enough.”
I manage to keep hold of her as the shuttle opens it’s doors and the first people are carried out. These would be the ones who were hurt the worst during their captivity and in desperate need of the medics that are standing by off to the side. Suddenly, Nya lets off a piercing squeal of joy and yanks away from me, and before I can react she’s more than half way to the shuttle and slamming into another young Twi’lek a few years older than she is. Holding both of them is another, who Nya had introduced to me as her mother.
For a moment, an old, half forgotten pain flashes through my heart… an old dream that I’d given up on long ago of a similar reunion with my own family. I blink back the tears as I look on at the joyful scene. It’s just not going to happen, and you know that by now. The old guilt starts to fill me. If only I’d kept tighter hold on Shira… If only I’d stayed closer to my parents… If only…
A large hand lands on my shoulder, making me jump. I turn to see Tarel standing behind me, his armor scorched and scratched up from the fighting. He pulls his helmet off and looks down at me, and for the first time I see just how… different he is from anything I’ve ever known. “You did nothing wrong, little one. You were a child. You had no experience to call on, no weapons, no training. There was nothing you could have done to protect your family back then. Time has given you experience. If you wished it, we could give you the training and weapons.”
How does he do that? How does he seem to always know what I’m thinking… feeling? And how does he seem to know what happened… how I’ve always blamed myself for all of it? My mind started to spin at with what he was saying. Somehow, the truth of it seeping into my heart and soul this time… when it never had before, and the pain started to ease. For the first time since I’d lost my family, I felt I could breathe… and maybe, start to finally mourn for them in safety.
“And Men’na…” Tarel points to the three figures still crouched together on the landing pad, “You could have a all that again. A home, a family… one that would never leave you to face the universe alone again.” Hope and fear warred within me. He was offering me all that I had wanted for so long, but I’d heard such promises before… and that had ended worse than I could have ever imagined. How could I be sure this time would be different? “This is much to you… take time, think, get to know the clan… there is time to answer latter.” He turns and walks away, turning to a small cluster of others and greeting them as I stood there, still trying to figure out what just happened.
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