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Empire Day on Thabeska

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It was Empire day. Empire Day was a bit like a big party, except none of the adults were very genuine in their smiling, and you couldn't run around with your friends because everywhere was crowded and soldiers in white lined the plaza and would have stopped anyone who wanted to leave. Nobody approached them anyway.

'Whatever.' thought Naema, who was too old to run around like a kid. Really, she was! She scowled absently, then remembered where she was and plastered a smile on her face as she looked up at her mother. Her mother's eyes smiled, even though her expression didn't change, and things were alright again.

They were being herded towards a large and tall podium, but moving was so slow that it would be another half hour before they reached it, she figured. Plenty of time to get bored in. She waved to a classmate, and because they were too far to have a conversation, tried to get her parents to move towards the other family. However, they were not paying attention, and looked worried, so suddenly she didn't want to bother them anymore.

She looked around as she shifted closer to them, trying to see what they'd seen. She didn't manage to find whatever it was, but her eye was caught by a group of children around her age negotiating through the guards from a side street to get in with the rest of the crowd. One of them, a smaller one, looked back and then around before stepping along the others.

'Fardi.' She thought, recognising an older one from a holo. Despite having ostentiously just run in from a dirty yard (their sandals were still dusty), their clothes were vibrant with colour and looked almost new. She felt a flash of shame at her own faded tunic, which they had bought on the market, already second-hand, then anger at them, and at herself.

She turned away and back towards her parents, and tried to put it all out of her mind. 'One day,' she thought, although she didn't quite know yet what she would do 'one day.' But it would be better than this.

She felt her mother stop, and looked up, surprised. They had arrived to their destination! Time had passed without Naema noticing, lost as she was in trying not to think. Everyone was looking up, so she did too, although she couldn't see much more than the backs of people in front.

"Today," a voice rose from the general direction of the podium. "We celebrate…" Naema almost immediately tuned it out. The speech was the same as last year's!

She started counting the number of blue, then red, then green tunics she could see around herself without turning too obviously (and her mother gripped her shoulders in warning when she tried to look further aside) as the speaker droned on. Then she switched to belts and sashes.

When came the time for a "moment of silence for our brave troopers" who had fallen "defending the peace," she was grateful for the opportunity to rest her neck which was tired from looking at things she couldn't see anyway. She stretched discreetly and kicked her feet, and wished for the event to end.

It didn't, but something else happened. Just as the speaker stepped back to allow another to step up, the unmistakable sound of blasters rung out in the distance, accompanied by yells and the whine of an engine powering up too early, too fast — Naema's eyes widened and she, along with many others around her and even on the stage, brought her hands up to her ears, but it was too late, and just before she was able to block the noise a loud thunderclap split the sky as a ship engaged its hyperdrive while still in atmo.

There was silence and then a brief chaos and then troopers fired in the air to claim calm and a baby started crying. Everything stayed still for a beat, but then — too soon — the next speaker stepped up, she could see him now as the crowd had moved, shining in his black uniform, and started proclaiming the glory of the Empire as if nothing had happened.

The crowd, cowed, followed suit.