A woman walked by with a large glass of champagne in her hand thinking, If I don’t get the name of that Senator before I leave, I’ll never forgive myself. She’s too influential to not sway my way.
I wonder what model that droid is, a Twi’lek thought as he walked by, his head-tails swishing behind him. Looks older.
A two year old rushed by, screaming with their hands in the air, thoughts alive with Daddy’ll never catch me!
No, no, no, get back! Your mom’ll kill me if you run into someone! The father of said child screamed to himself as he speed walked after his brat.
Ben was reading minds.
His mother had told him not to, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Ben didn’t care what his uncle said, there was no harm in it. But it didn’t hurt to play things safe. Ben had learned how to hide he was doing it from her pretty much the second she first scolded him about it, anyway. Ben picked a piece of candy off a tray as a serving droid passed by. He unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth. He still didn’t really know why his mother got so mad about it.
If he did it right, no one noticed, and Ben wasn’t bored. That was a win-win for everyone. At least that’s what the nice man he talked to across the galaxy during mediations had told him. “If you’re good at something, you should practice and be better.” The man had said. Ben rather agreed with him. He’d gotten quite a bit better at reading minds since he’d started doing it more often. Ben could read up to three at a time now and not get a headache and he could still hide it from his mother.
Besides, it wasn’t like there was much else for him to do at this party.
Trailing behind his mother like a duckling as she talked with other people and introduced him to her friends wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world. It’s not like any of the adults wanted to talk to him about anything other than his Force abilities, and mother didn’t like it when he talked about that too much in public.
Something about not playing all of Ben’s cards, his father had told him once, but Ben wasn’t still quite sure what they were getting at.
“Don’t slouch, Ben,” his mother said, patting him on the back. Ben stopped mentally wandering around the room to pay attention to just her. His mother’s face was strained from smiling, and he didn’t need to read her mind to know that she wanted to kill half the people in the room. “We have to make a good impression.”
“Yes, mother,” Ben said, standing up a little straighter. If she was already in that bad of a mood, it wouldn’t be wise to fight her on this one. Ben fidgeted, tugging on the sleeve of his dress tunic. “How much longer do we have to be here?”
“Your father will be here to get you in an hour, but that’s the earliest,” his mother said. She smiled more genuinely and squeezed his shoulder. “I am sorry you can’t go sooner, but you needed to make an appearance as a show of good faith like the other parents here.”
Ben scrunched his nose and huffed. It was true, even that Imperial group had brought their kids to the reception. More than one of them had been upset about it too, saying all sorts of things they thought no one could hear from “A manipulative plot to make sure no one tries anything if it’ll endanger their own children” to “Little brats under feet just keep getting in the way.”
His mother was called aside by another senator, and she held up a hand to make the man wait. She turned to Ben, lightly pushing on the back of his shoulder. “Go on. There’s got to be some other eleven year olds out there you can talk to. No need to follow me all night.”
“Thanks!” Ben said. Freedom at last! Though he wished she would have given him permission to wander off earlier.
“I know that look, Obi-Wan Solo,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. She raised an eyebrow. And I know where you got it, too. By the Force he looks like his father when he does that. She smiled brighter and pet his hair back. “Behave.”
“Yes, mother,” Ben said.
“I mean it,” she said. The senator called her agin and his mother rolled her eyes, and the tight smile returned. “I’m coming!”
Ben waved as she walked away with her caller. They began a boring conversation about politics and armies and that was Ben’s cue to get out of there as quickly as possible. He straightened his dress tunic and practically jogged in the opposite direction, skimming the minds around him as he walked. Someone had to be having a better time tonight than he was.
I can’t believe how much money I’m going to make from this deal.
A grandfather held his grandchild on his hip. Ah, I’m glad I got to be here for this, even if I am stuck with those darn Republic traitors.
It’s a room full of dead people as far as I’m concerned. An older man thought to himself. This entire group will implode in on itself in due time and I’ll be more than happy to pick up the pieces.
Ben scrunched his nose at that one. Those were the sort of thoughts that belonged to people he should probably tell his mother about. But that would mean admitting what he’d been doing. Ben grabbed a biscuit off a tray and munched on the end. Maybe he could lie and say he overheard it?
He shook his head and kept walking. Thoughts weren’t crimes, even if they were incriminating. But that only counted in an official interrogation. So for now, that man was safe from Ben.
I can’t believe how beautiful the General looks tonight. Leia Organa is still every bit the princess she ever was.
Ben tried not to gag; it was weird thinking of your mother as pretty.
The first time I get to leave the ship since we left home and I’m stuck at a party, a younger mind thought from somewhere behind Ben.
That was a much better distraction.
Ben whipped around on his heel, looking for that last voice. Whoever it was didn’t sound bored, but he did sound irritated. Ben grinned and bit his lip as he looked around, a lock of dark wavy hair falling in his eyes as turned his head. People who were upset always had the best thoughts; inner venting was always good for some entertainment.
Ben pushed his way through a Gungan couple and tapped lightly listening intently for the voice in the room of chatter.
I hope we have a chance to see the city tomorrow, but knowing Father we’ll be off this planet as soon as he can get the ship started.
There! Ben found the voice near the windows. He looked around and spotted a single boy a little older than himself with carrot hair and a military style uniform. Ben put his hands behind his back and wandered closer, focusing all his attention on the red head to double check he had the right mind.
The older boy watched the room standing at a parade rest. He must be a student of some sort, or in an academy. The boy pressed his lips and sucked in a breath. Just be glad you’re here, Armitage, and suck it up.
Now that had Ben really curious.
If he brought you, that means he acknowledges you at least on a technicality. Now you’ve got his name, and an official voucher at a public event to solidify your inheritance, the sixteen year old (Ben snuck a peek at his age) thought. Armitage brushed a bit of hair behind his ear and breathed. Not bad for a bastard child from an affair with the kitchen girl.
Ben had to talk to this boy. There was something fascinating about his head and the way he spoke to himself. Like Armitage was giving himself constant pep talks. Ben tapped over until he was a few inches from Armitage, and nearly grinned when the teen flinched as he said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” the teen answered, glancing at Ben with a neutral look. His mind on the other hand, was confused and annoyed. A small child to bother me. What a wonderful addition to the dreary night.
“Where are you from?” Ben asked. He’d be angry about the slight at his age, but he sort of expected it. If some toddler came over to bug Ben, he’d be angry, too. Not that there was that much of an age difference. “You don’t look like you get out much.”
“Space,” Armitage said. Can’t hurt to kill a few minutes talking, I suppose. Being social and all that. “I live on a ship.”
“What model?” Ben asked.
“What model of cruiser do you live on?” Ben said again. “A shuttle, or maybe a yacht?”
As if I’d be caught dead on one of those wretched wastes of money, Armitage thought to himself. Aloud he said, “A retrofitted star destroyer. An old Imperial ship.”
“That’s neat,” Ben said, telling the truth. Thanks to his father, Ben had been around quite a few ships, but there weren’t as many as cool as the large battle vessels. They were iconic. “There’s a reason those were the main ships of the Empire.”
“You think so?” Armitage asked, glancing toward Ben with something akin to confusion but laced with too much satisfaction to focus on. He shifted his weight to his left foot and smiled a bit. “Most people would scoff at using old Imperial vessels as a home. Too much symbolism.”
“A ship is a ship if it works,” Ben said. “Who cares where it came from?”
“Wisely spoken,” Armitage said, cracking a grin. Hah, children. Too young to know the consequences of appearing sympathetic to the old Empire.
Well someone certainly thought older than they were. Ben suppressed the eye roll before it showed on his face. He’d thought the way the teen thought was interesting, but now Ben saw it for what it was: Armitage thought like an old man. At first it was sort of fun, but if he was going to focus on politics, Ben was going to let him be.
“And who are you here with?” Armitage asked. If he’s sympathetic now, he might be sympathetic when he’s older. Might as well work on connections while I can. “You’re well spoken for someone so young.”
Ben shrugged, and smiled. Armitage wasn’t the only one who knew how to play this game. Ben was young, not stupid. And saying he was General Leia Organa’s son would be giving Armitage way too much to work with if it was “connections” teen wanted. Ben waved a finger in a circle next to his head. “Around.”
“From here then?” Armitage asked.
“No,” Ben said, smiling.
Little brat. Armitage smiled right back. “Are you going to be more specific?”
“It’s not like you told me exactly where your home is,” Ben said. “Just that it was a ship.”
“Ships move,” Armitage said. “Which means where it is changes daily. There’s not much more that needs to be said, where as you, I assume, live somewhere stationary.”
“Maybe I move around a lot,” Ben said. He smiled wider. “So maybe it’s the same as you and there’s no point listing an exact location.”
“Perhaps,” Armitage said. I bet he’s a kitchen boy that snuck in. “Fair enough if you want to keep your secrets.”
For someone who was the “bastard son of a kitchen worker” that was quite the insult he threw Ben’s way. It made him want to giggle. Ben licked his lip and looked at Armitage’s uniform again. Maybe he could throw the boy a hint. “I’m a military brat.”
“Your parents are in the navy?” Armitage asked, eyebrow raised. Well it certainly doesn’t show. They must be more lenient in the New Republic. No wonder the entire group looked like it was falling apart. Armitage straightened his own dress uniform subconsciously. Then again, maybe he’s from a foot soldier. They’d hardly have the same expectations as officers in training like me. “That must be rough, moving around so much. At least on a ship, home goes with you.”
Ben laughed, covering his mouth. Armitage was too much fun, even if he was an Imperial child. Ben opened his mouth when a hand fell on his shoulder.
“Found you!” his father said, wearing his usual clothes. He looked out of place in the room of well dressed diplomats, representatives, and senators, but a smuggler was a smuggler. His father smiled and whispered behind his hand. “We should get out of here before your mom catches me. I think she’ll actually kill me this time if she finds out I didn’t wear the suit she laid out.”
Looks like I’m not the only bastard son, Armitage thought to himself near laughing at Ben’s shocked face. But at least his parents are still seeing each other it looks like.
“You ready to go, kiddo?” Ben’s father asked. He followed Ben’s gaze, spotting Armitage and laughed. “Oh, you were talking. Sorry to interrupt.”
“It’s fine,” Armitage said. “We were just wrapping up the conversation anyway.”
“Oh,” his father said. And just when it looked like Ben was making friends.
Ben squirmed under his father’s hand. The sheer disappointment in his voice was suffocating. It wasn’t like Ben needed friends. He wasn’t that lonely. Ben’s father squeezed his shoulder and kept grinning.
“I’m ready to go,” Ben said. He tugged on his father’s sleeve and licked his lip. “I should probably say goodbye to mother first though to let her know.”
“Smart,” his father said, throwing his arm around Ben’s shoulder and squeezing him close in a hug. He turned to Armitage and laughed. “He gets that from his mother.”
“I’ll bet.” Armitage’s smile strained. Why is he still talking to me? Why doesn’t my father hug me like that—shut up, Armitage. Shut up it doesn’t matter. Armitage swallowed. “It was nice meeting you, but I must be off.”
He turned on his heel and Ben’s heart skipped a beat. He dug a little deeper into Armitage’s mind and got so many flashes of cruelty and harsh words that Ben pulled out on his own before he had to see any more.
Ben hugged his dad’s side back tighter and breathed in. He called out though, all the same, like some inner voice was instructing him. “It was nice meeting you too, Armitage!”
How did he know my name? Armitage thought to himself, frozen in place. He did not turn even as his mind was racing. Did I tell him at some point? No, no I didn’t. So how did he?
Ben grabbed his dad’s hand and tugged him across the room, disappearing out of sight. He quickly checked Armitage’s mind to make sure that he couldn’t find Ben before relaxing.
He felt a little bad doing that, but he didn’t want to be questioned or give his father any hints that Ben had been reading minds again. But still, Ben had wanted to say Armitage’s name out loud.
It felt important.
“What’s the rush?” his father asked, smiling at their joined hands. “Looked like you were having fun. You even got that kid’s name, even if he was a little bit old.”
“He was only sixteen,” Ben said.
“Sixteen year olds are plenty old,” his father said. And way too old for you, kiddo. But that is not a conversation we are having tonight. Or ever. Maybe I could get Chewie to do it. “Trust me.”
Ben shivered at the thought of Uncle Chewie giving him that talk of all things and rolled his eyes. He was tempted to tell his father he’d seen worse and learned all he needed to know already from reading minds.
That he wasn’t supposed to be doing.
As he mentally prepared himself for a future where his father chickened out of his duties, Ben stopped next to his mother’s side. “I’m going home with father, now.”
“Good! He showed up when he said he would,” Ben’s mother said, smiling. She looked up and frowned. “And he came straight from work, it looks like.”
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving,” his father said. He ducked down and grabbed Ben by the waist and picked him up. Ben was too big for this sort of thing, but for once he didn’t care. He hugged his father’s neck as they walked out of the room, gathering stares. Armitage’s crying face shoved in a pillow and knowing how those tears arrived had him appreciate his own disappointing father just a bit more. His father smiled and patted Ben’s back. “You must really have wanted to leave if you’re being this cooperative.”
“Don’t get used to it,” Ben said. He looked across the room and caught Armitage’s eyes for a second.
There he is! Armitage thought, loud and clear. He had made two steps before a hand grabbed Armitage’s shoulder, and the man from Armitage’s worst nightmares appeared in the flesh. Father.
Ben shoved his face into his own father’s shoulder and breathed in, clearing his mind. He didn’t want to look. It was better not to.
“You tired?” his father asked, rubbing circles into Ben’s back. Poor guy is tuckered out. I bet he’ll fall asleep any second now.
Ben hugged his father and breathed quietly, pushing Armitage out of his mind before he could feel worse. It wasn’t his problem, and it wasn’t like he was ever going to see that boy again.
“Let’s go home, Ben,” his father said, still rubbing Ben’s back.
“Okay.” Ben nodded into his father’s shoulder. “Let’s go home.”