"Did you feel pleasure in disabling my security detail?" the blue-skinned woman questioned, refusing to give fear to the girl she faced. "Saw Gerrera taught you well."
The girl flinched and dropped back to a more wary pose between the bodies of the two men that had been escorting her.
"I recognize the combat style you use, child—"
"Not a child!" the other snapped, glaring, twisting the knife in her hand. "You're Empire."
The blue-skinned woman shook her head, the pale purple hair shimmering. "No. I am Republic, and never shall be anything but." The woman reached a hand out fearlessly. "You have been alone here? I know Gerrera's forces struck against the shipyards recently."
The girl's lips skinned back from her teeth in anger and rage. "He left me here!"
The stretched-out hand gestured. "Then come with me, young one. I am looking for strong beings, willing to stand with me."
"Why should I trust you?"
"Why not give me time to show you?" was the counter offer.
Riyo Chuchi let her fingers play over the crystal that her new foundling wore, feeling something so familiar in its whispers. She had no Force sensitivity, not measurably, but the kiss of such crystals had been a thing she'd once known. A pair of them had often rested near her bed, after all, in more refined manners, power to the weapons that protected the weak and small.
For the girl's part, she carefully did not flinch or make a move to the knife she still had.
"You wear a kyber crystal," she said softly. "And it is in harmony with you." Riyo's tattoos arched up a little, as she smiled. "What name do you use, young one?"
"Lyra Rallik," the girl said with sincerity, and Riyo inclined her head, moving toward the wardrobe, finding clothing for her.
"Lyra. Pretty name." Riyo brought back some rugged pants and an oversized tunic with sleeve that could be seamed back easily. "You'll have to use your own boots, but these should be able to be adjusted enough with their seals." She then added small clothes, and looked Lyra in the face. "The 'fresher is there, through that door. Please take as long as you want. There will be food when you are done, and then we will talk some more."
"I still don't understand why you are doing this," Lyra told her, skeptical despite the pulsing awareness of something whispering trust for this poised, confident woman with her own small ship. The two men she had knocked out earlier had complimented her skill in voices that sounded so similar as to confuse her. They had not removed their face gear, so she could not see if they were brothers, though what she could see of them under the coverings had indicated human skin tones.
"I choose to help, where I can, Lyra," the woman told her. "If you choose to remain, and help me, then that is goodness. If you choose to move on at the next planet, then it is still goodness, for you will be free of the planet where Gerrera's allies were being sought."
"You expect nothing in return?" Lyra asked, disbelief in her voice and on her features.
Riyo reached out and touched Lyra's cheek lightly. "Young one, I chose a long time ago to live for my people, in service to them. I expect nothing, and the Empire has made the definition of my people a broader one that I ever anticipated. You will have rest, food, clean clothes… and a blaster, I think… when we land again. What you choose from there is for you to decide."
Lyra blinked once, then nodded and went to use the 'fresher, uncertain of all of this.
The two men were brothers… twins, to Lyra's eyes. One had a tattoo that covered much of his face, a mark of the Republic they said. The other one didn't have a tattoo that she could see, but both had scars in their grizzled hairline, in the same spot. She felt there was a mystery between them, but Riyo trusted them with her life.
"Does she pay you?" Lyra asked the tattooed one, who they called Jesse.
"She makes sure we have what we need," he answered. "But we stay because our Commander asked us to listen to her, to keep her safe if we agreed."
"We did agree. She finds people and helps them find their way of resisting the Empire," the other one, called Coric with a faint scar over one eye, added. "We keep her safe to do it."
It gave Lyra something to think about, as her gut instinct told her these two men had lost a lot and yet gave their all to the small blue woman without regret.
"What do you mean by finding the way to resist?"
"Every being has a skill, a place. The Lady is adept at helping people find how their skills help the rebellion." Jesse gave a faint smile, or at least that's what Lyra interpreted it as. It was more a faint lift at one corner. "Our Commander said it was her gift."
"Does your Commander come around?"
"When she can," Coric said softly. "She's out there, somewhere, still fighting though."
Lyra was eating a meal with Riyo, the night before they were due to make planetfall. It had been a long journey, meeting various ships along the way, and Lyra could imagine there was probably intelligence trading hands, yet the blue lady never tried to pull her into the operations of her mission.
"What do you want from me? No one helps somebody else without expectations. Saw took me in… and turned me into a fighter. You really expect me to believe that you're going to drop me on a planet and not call in a favor years from now?" Lyra demanded.
Riyo set her eating tines down, and folded her hands in her lap to look across the table at the younger woman. "I expect nothing," she stated very clearly, firmly. "What you do with your life is your own choice. That? Giving you the chance to start over away from Gerrera, the chance to make your own choices? That is my act of defiance. Choice is something the Empire abhors, so I encourage it where I can."
Riyo drew in a deep breath, and then released it very slowly. "When I was new to my authority as a Senator in the Republic, I went on a mission with a man who had a blind belief in the rights of the mighty overcoming the true rights of the people. While on this mission, I also met men who had been given no choice in their way of life, but who made the best of it that they could. I grew to respect them, while the man that had created the trouble of the mission wound up dead, too inflexible to admit the need to change his mind.
"I made my choice on that mission, the one I told you already. But more, in watching the soldiers that had never had a choice, I realized there was a need to find a way to improve the lives of those who might not have choices available. Hopefully by creating choices, but if not, by minimizing their suffering."
Riyo's face grew troubled then and Lyra had to swallow to maintain her own callous distance.
Then the blue lady continued. "The Empire arose, and truly enslaved those soldiers through treachery, Lyra. I have my suspicions that many perceived collaborators are only in the employ of the Empire because they had no choice." Her vibrant yellow eyes met Lyra's clearly. "I choose to keep as many pieces of the galactic puzzle out of the Empire's hands as I can, and hope it protects others."
A surge of panic rose in Lyra's heart, but Riyo picked her eating tines up and resumed the meal, leaving her time to consider all that had been said. She ate her meal; food was never something to waste. Idly, she realized she could pick out the origins of most of the ingredients, leftover memories from a life lost.
"You know my father," she finally said, as it all came together in her mind and refused to be quiet. She had her escape mapped out in her mind, but Riyo only smiled sadly.
"My informants suspected who you were, yes. It is why I came, ahead of the Imperial searchers," she admitted. "And no, I do not have the honor of knowing him, but I know of him. Rumors of his brilliance… and his dedication to both his wife and child. It is said that your mother died, when he went back to the Empire, but no child was ever seen… until one of the right age was known to be with Gerrera's band.
"People have been slowly piecing it together, Lyra. You would be a powerful motivator against your father, if I am correct, and his work there is coerced already." Riyo stood from the table, giving her a short nod, before leaving the galley.
It was well into the ship's night when Lyra came and requested entry into Riyo's quarters. The door slid open, revealing the blue lady with her hair fully down, no elaborate headdress, and a simple robe over a sheer gown. She blinked in the way of one just awakened, making Lyra almost regret coming.
"If I stay with you, would I be allowed to work on freeing my father?" she demanded.
"If you choose to stay with me, I can give you access to the information I hear," Riyo said. "But I cannot deploy my network specifically to find word of your father."
Lyra crossed her arms, glaring in hopes of winning a better answer. Riyo shifted backwards.
"Please come in, so my crew and companions don't have to worry over this conversation, Lyra."
"That's not my name. And you know it," the younger woman pointed out. "You've known all along." She did follow, though, leting the door close.
"You said it was your name to call you by, and names are important. If you wish me to use a different one, you have to tell me it is right to do so," Riyo said without losing her serenity. "As to your father… I cannot shift my operatives, but I am one of many who is working on determining why so many planets were raped for their natural resources. As Jedha is currently occupied, and your father's research had to deal with kyber crystals… I think we will hear something sooner rather than later," she offered as a compromise."
"He'd never help them willingly," Lyra blurted out, clinging to that with the faith of a child left to fear and grief.
Riyo inclined her head. "Then let us keep you from being discovered and used to push his cooperation." She held out her hands, offering them to the younger woman. "You need do nothing but listen and pass what is heard to us, in the places we go. Anything else you choose to do… well, Gerrera may have trained you well, but you can learn anything you wish from my men, from my crew. If there are skills you wish to acquire, I shall seek teachers. Above all, you must stay free."
"Why are you willing to believe my father is not cooperating of his own free will?" Lyra asked, even as she put her hands in Riyo's.
Riyo squeezed to seal the deal between them, then tipped her head to one side. "The information I read on him leads me to believe that any major energy project he was on should have been completed by now. My scientists say the work that they have acquired of his, from the Republic era, indicate he is a genius without compare. So, if we have seen no major new weapon using the resources plundered and that genius… he must be delaying them, somehow. Simple logic."
The younger woman's breathing quickened, as she knew Riyo believed her assessment was accurate. This woman, who did not know them at all, believed in her father's innocence.
"Jyn. Jyn Erso," she said, signing on with the blue lady by saying her true name aloud.
"Welcome, Jyn, to my part of the Rebellion."
It was quickly evident that protecting Riyo was almost a religion for the two men. Jyn, having introduced herself properly to them, learned they were not twins.
They were clones.
"We were on duty, holding the Lady on house arrest, when our Commander came to free her," Coric said lazily. "Still programmed to obey the Empire, no choice in it. If either of us had been able to think… we never would have laid a hand on our Commander."
Jesse snorted. "We still didn't. She got better in the years since we'd seen her. Disabled or killed the entire squad… and knocked us both out. I don't even know how she and Lady Riyo got us both to the ship, but Coric and I woke up in a medical bay, new scars, and all the Empire's guilt on our shoulders."
"Commander didn't let that stand," Coric said. "She explained we'd had biochips that flipped a switch in our heads, making us flesh-droids. Then she gave us the offer, to come listen to Lady Riyo. And we've stayed ever since."
Jyn let that filter in against the other passing comments she had learned in her time aboard the ship. She didn't want to get too friendly with the crew, but she'd heard mentions of 'Fulcrum' that had clued her in on the fact the men's Commander was someone very important to the Rebellion.
And that no one had seen her in a few months, or had other contact.
It made Jyn's nerves prickle, especially when she would find Riyo sitting in the communication suite, just watching the equipment, as if waiting for a comm that might never come in.
One such night, prowling the ship for lack of ability to sleep, Jyn found the lady slumped in the suite, hand on the screen and her slim shoulders shaking.
"Lady Riyo," Jyn called softly, getting the Pantoran to look up with tear-streaked cheeks. The grief was as striking as that last glimpse of her father's face, when her mother had crumpled from the blaster fire.
Riyo quickly tried to wipe the tears away, tried to pull herself together, and Jyn sat down beside her in the seat that was made for far larger beings.
"Don't," Jyn said. "You got news. About Fulcrum, didn't you? She's your heart's partner. That's been evident in some of the ways you speak so carefully around the subject, how Coric and Jesse casually mention her presence aboard ship from time to time."
Riyo took in a ragged breath. "I've known her since she was a girl, younger than you are now," the elder woman said. "Knew, possibly. Her last known whereabouts leaves her survival in doubt, and… I can barely stand to think of the galaxy without her," the former Senator replied. "But, more than ever, I must continue. In her memory, if nothing else."
Jyn thought of her own dead. Her mother, some friends she had made among Saw's people, even the first being she had ever been forced to kill. They were all reasons like that, reasons to keep living, out of honor or spite. Would it be enough for this woman who gave people the priceless gift of choice?
"You're not alone," Jyn said after a long moment, slowly putting an arm around Riyo's shoulders. "I know that right now, even with the ties you have to your people, you probably feel that way. I did, when my mother died. But Saw gave me family again, made me see that I had to be strong in her name. Like you, choosing to continue in Fulcrum's name. But you have to remember, you are not alone. Don't block yourself away. Or you may go mad. Saw was, I think. Going mad. He spoke to his dead more and more, while pushing the living away from him." She gave a little disdainful sniff. "You think he abandoned me there because of my heritage. I think it was because I was one of the few he still knew he cared about."
Riyo had leaned into that arm around her, and now turned to look at Jyn. "You might be right. I won't do that to you, though. I'm tired of being apart from those I care for. I am tired of worrying over them from a distance. Yes, she had to be who she was, and that meant being everywhere she could reach. But I am not made for such things, and if you stay… I will never push you away, Jyn Erso."
Jyn's heart hammered a moment, before she remembered the elder woman was caught in her grief, and would likely regret those words in time. Yet, the offer of kinship, of family, in those words pulled at her. She had been at the heart of a tiny, loving family once, and she ached in memory of that closeness, envying the perfection of her memory of her mother and father with not just their love but their friendship.
"We'll see how life evolves for us, milady."