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Forces of Gravity

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My relationship with my father has always been a complicated, non existent one. Yes, yes, another story about some writer with daddy issues. Who hasn’t heard this one before?

This story will be quite different, I promise.

Because my father was Thrawn.

Yes, that Thrawn. His name usually had “Grand Admiral” in front of it and fear behind it.

 I never met my father, gone before I was born. But I feel like I have a fairly good idea who I believe he was. I have spent years gathering the stories together, piece by piece, putting together the essence of what I believe makes a whole man. They mostly come from my family, especially my mother who tried her best to make sure this missing man was part of our lives.

That part gives me the most anger. My mother, who was a mere human in her late twenties when meeting him, giving up everything in her life to raise the children of one of the greatest tactical geniuses the galaxy has ever seen. She gave up her life to be with her children. My father gave up his life for some Empire that’s not even here anymore.

For that, he’s an idiot to me. He gambled with the wrong team and left my mother to pick up the pieces in his wake.

The stories of his military career were the easiest to find. They told two tales depending on when they were written. If they were created during the Imperial years, my father was a hero, praised, brilliant, and strong. After the Empire’s fall, he was a monster, cruel, a war criminal, and anything connected to him was sullied. His name spoken in fear and whispers as if a person would summon him from death to curse their family. These tales were the bare steel beams of the house my father built.

My family created the walls of his stories. They furnished his personality. They decorated the rooms in my mind of who exactly Mitth'raw'nuruodo was as a person.

My older sister held the majority of my jealousy in life for many reasons. She remembered our father, his voice, his lessons, his supposedly rare warmth when he embraced her. Out of the two of us, she looked the most like his people. She was graced with solid blue skin like his. Her hair was darker but passable by Chiss standards. Only her dark eyes gave her mixed race away. Still red, but they were deeper in hue than the Chiss. Me, on the other hand, was born with my mother’s tanned human skin. The blue frames my face on my brow, ears, and neck. My body is blotched like an artist’s sponge attacked me with cerulean paint. Mom says my face is uncanny in looks to Father. I have his eye shape, chin, cheeks, and brow bones. Still, my skin color would never allow me to attend schools on Csilla, the planet of the Chiss. I was too different.

Mom told me how when father joined the Imperial Academy, he was persecuted for his looks, being too alien in a human world. Maybe he and I would understand each other more than I like to admit.

My Uncle Thrass, his brother, told me stories of their childhood. The cold world of Csilla barred out of their luxurious house. There wasn’t much warmth within these walls. Well, in my experience at least. A good son by Chiss standards is educated, rule following, and cultured. I never got the chance to try and meet those standards. For a world where the family name is the most important, I find the planet the coldest within my family’s house. Give me those icy Csilla winds over a dinner with my grandparents any day.

My grandparents were far more willing to tell my sister stories for her to pass along to me. They chose to talk to my mother and me only out of respect and duty for their son. I tend to believe their tales are wampa spit. They speak from memory saying only the positives of my father’s childhood.

Positives don’t complete a man.

My Uncle Cad hated my father, which pleased me to no end drinking in every curse word Uncle Cad could think of for Father. If people thought my dad was a wordsmith, clearly they never heard a ten word long swear in Basic, Duros, and Huttese that Uncle could drop out of nowhere. He never once thought Thrawn, Grand Admiral or not, was worthy of his sister. That said, I’ve learned that Cad Bane was a hard man to please in general. Years of bounty hunting does that to a person. It made his rare hair tussles or back slaps congratulating me for my accomplishments more rewarding.

Todo, my constant childhood companion, could only think logically about my father. Though being a droid, he got to witness my mother and father’s courtship from the beginning. He was programmed with personality, too much at times, as he recalled their secret meetings in sometimes far too much detail. I had to forcibly shut him off once as he started to recited their intimate moments.

We had very few recordings of my father. Thrawn left a message for my sister telling her his dreams and wishes for her. By the time Father found out my mother carried me in her womb, it was too late never leaving one for me. He was gone soon after.

Daddy issues, am I right?

The most important recording we possessed was where he spoke in his own native language to grant Mom access to Csilla if she needed a place to run. I’ve watched that one the most listening to his voice, memorizing each breath, the cadence of how he spoke, and the firm, steady command each word held. I never felt warmth from the words.

Any love that my father must have given come from my mother’s stories. He must have done something to win her and vice versa. The stories I gathered from everything else spoke of a hardened war leader, an enigma outsmarting his enemy with frigid precision. My mother is the opposite wearing her emotions on her sleeve. She’s loud, her natural speaking voice thick with her accent fills a room. Don’t get her mad. Her screams can deafen an entire city.

I came to my mother when I was young, toddling up to her. Pulling myself on the swing beside her, I found her doing something she often did in her free time:

Watching the sky.

My sister told me mother started looking to the heavens after Father left like he would appear at any moment. My mother held more hope than I ever did for the man.

I snuggled against her side, and she wrapped her arms around me and kissed my hair. I would ask questions for hours about my Father. Despite my anger towards him, the story of how they met was my favorite. My mother would smile sadly watching the blue sky like she could see it all over again. The fine wrinkles around her eyes and lips would deepen in that moment. She started the story the same way every time:

“Your Father fell from the sky like an Angel from Iego…”

 

-Cass Kiyanu-Nuruodo

 

Thrawn’s eyes peeled open to the natural light drifting into the room. It was a grey light from an overcast day. It was a different kind of quiet. The white noise inducing hum of a Star Destroyer was gone. Instead, he could hear birds and distant thunder. Constant thunder. Nothing else.

He wasn’t on a Star Destroyer or in his office. Thrawn sat up quickly, but a small wave of pain pinched in his head. He touched his head grimacing feeling cloth wrapped around his prominent brow bones. He had been injured but when? Difficulty remembering the last thing that happened, he could only remember orange. Bright, hot orange filling his view.

Not now. He sat in a worn bed, big enough for two people. It was several years old from the faded sheet and blanket patterns that had the faint scent of body odor. There was a dip in the middle of the mattress. The owner slept in the same place every night. His chest felt balmy in the humid air realizing he wasn’t wearing anything.

Incorrect. He wore his uniform pants, but they were greyed and dirty. He noted his boots sat on the floor by the bed with his shirt and Commander jacket folded neatly on the end of the bed.

He was in a house, but he didn’t know where. It was one wide open room lived in well. Whoever stayed here like with the blankets and bed had been here for a while. The kitchen area was small with a sink without running water but had a drain. A bucket of water sat beside it on the floor. The stove was an older model more than likely second hand. Finally, the chiller was small probably only storing enough food for a couple weeks, maybe longer if it was packaged small in portions.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Thrawn slipped his feet into his boots. Tying them out of habit, he gazed around trying to learn more about his possible captor or rescuer. A small tool chest no higher than knee height rested beside a work desk organized with little parts, screws, and shimmering bits of diamonds. A holonet screen and radio sat on the back of the desk. On the other side of the bedside table, an armchair with a worn leather cover had a blanket bundle up on it.

His eyes flicked back to the desk. Possible diamonds. With a small poor house like this, probably not diamonds. Someone would live more lavishly if those were diamonds, but he didn’t have time to look.

He got to his feet and turned picking up his dark undershirt and pulled it on. At the back of the house since the bed was centered against the wall, a thin spiral staircase so steep it was almost a ladder rose up to an upper level. He stepped quietly to the stairs and gazed up to see if anyone was up there. He was alone, but the room up top looked like a more recent addition, small like a sniper nest.

He chose not to wear his jacket. It was far too warm for it.

Thrawn smoothed back his hair feeling it disheveled. Not his concern.

No, his concern grew with the far wall. On hooks lining from floor to ceiling hung seven blasters and three rifles. An open crate full of bolt ammo rested under it. Whoever’s house this was, clearly had a penchant for weapons. He needed to be on guard. He touched his hip. His own blaster was gone and not hanging with the other metal trophies. He checked his jacket. The blaster wasn’t there.

Thrawn considered taking a blaster for safety. Whoever wouldn’t have bandaged him if they intended harm. The munitions stock could be for protection. He didn’t know what planet he was on. It could be needed against animals, thieves, or invaders.

The back wall held more fascinating things than just the guns. He gawked in wonder at something so rare in the galaxy. He’d only seen them a few times in his life, a couple back on his home world and one since joining the Empire:

Books. Actual books! Many books. An entire shelf worth of books. He estimated maybe forty, fifty at the most. All were old since the things were outdated. Running his fingers over the leather bound spines, silver and gold ink glistening in the light, the musty scent coming off of them, Thrawn shivered in delight. They were beautiful.

In the far corner, a small box sat with three candles unlit on top. Silver and gold coins circled each candle. Above it, wanted posters hung on the wall. Odd choice. He drew closer and noticed they were all the same person. He’d read tales and reports of this person, this bounty hunter that used to be active in the galaxy. He used to be infamous considered the best of his time, but now just a story for legends:

Cad Bane.

If he had to guess, it was some kind of shrine or dedication. He wasn’t too sure.

Thrawn spotted a closed door and popped it open. Just as he suspected. A lavatory to complete the little house.

Distant thunder sounded, louder than a few minutes ago.

Thrawn went to the front window and checked to see if anyone was waiting outside. The coast was clear; he stepped out the front door.

Assaulted immediately with humidity, he seemed to step into a jungle planet. The cries of local fauna echoed through the trees that stretched high over the house. A walkway extended out the front door with steps leading down a steep hill. The path was covered by a roof the entire way down to another building at the base of the hill, but the sides of the path was open. The second building was next to a road. Stepping out from under the walkway, low clouds hung overhead. Thrawn couldn’t get a sense of what time of day it was. The tall trees grew high and numerous only leaving a route for the house and path. Whoever lived here hid their home from the road.

The trees quite interested him as he stepped out to touch the closest one. The bark shimmered with a thin layer of glass growing over the swaying plant underneath. It had just enough room to bend back and forth under the clear shell.

The thunder was constant now echoing through the woods like rolling reverberations of a steady drum line. The occasional louder boom exploded above sending waves of sound to disperse among the trees. He faced the house again and noticed numerous lightning rods on top of the roof of both buildings and the walkway.

It was time to find the person who administered him first aid.

Coming down the stair walkway, he spotted movement to the right. A small droid struggled to pull a heavy rubber tarp over a wide four-person speeder. It was an older model droid with a big head and belly. It’s limbs and connecting parts were thin as it hovered with blue flames from its feet around the speeder.

As it turned the corner, the droid spotted Thrawn. Its whiny voice shrieked, “Oh! You’re awake. Hello… pal?”

Thrawn didn’t see another person around, “Who are you?”

“I am Todo 360! We’ve been calling you ‘The Blue One.’ I assume that’s not your name.”

This droid was programmed with personality. More companion than an assistant.

“Do you have a master or did you rescue me?”

“Me?” Todo flicked his hands and laughed. “I wanted to rob you and leave you to die, but Kya was like ‘Nooo, we have to save him, Todo. It’s going to be fine, Todo! He’s not going to murder us, Todo!’ Wait, you won’t murder us, right?”

“Of course not,” Thrawn motioned to the back door of the second building. “Is your master in here? I would like to meet them.”

 

Kya finished securing the credits from the day into a hidden safe. She wasn’t surprised that she had so few customers in her shop. With the storm rolling in fast, only a few passersby coming in from the plains traded with her to get last minute preparations. Everyone in the region would be holed up. It was gonna be a long couple of days.

Locking down a front window to her store, she heard movement in the back room. Her accent was thick and hard, “Todo! You get that speeder covered?” She moved to the second window pulling down the metal shutters.

Todo hovered into the room, “Not yet, but-”

“Then why you talk to me and not do your job?” Kya locked the sheet into place.

“The Blue One!” Todo moved to the side.

Whirling around, Kya saw their guest stride into the room. Wow, he was taller than she anticipated and broader too. She flashed her most charming grin, “Morning! ‘Bout time you woke up. I worry that you were in a coma.”

Thrawn approached the woman taking in as much information he could read from her. She dressed rugged but sensibly for the climate with boots, pants, and a light jacket over her undershirt. She could easily go into the jungle without changing clothing. The woman spoke with a strong accent, emphasizing all consonants with her tongue and teeth while vowels were slightly stretched and broke into a slurring vocal drawl. It sounded like she hailed from one of the Core Worlds, but her appearance did not match the patterns of people from those planets. Human, tanned naturally not from sun exposure, wide eyes with just a tilt at the edges. Short dark hair, probably kept at that length because of the heat of the planet. Thrawn guessed she hailed from an Outer Rim world.

While she appeared relaxed and calm, he could tell this woman was watching him, analyzing him just as much as he examined her. Her hand rested naturally on her hip but just above the pistol hanging on her side if needed. It was not his personal blaster.

Eyes drifting around, he understood this second building was a shop. Glistening on the wall, warped twisted mounds of glass branching out into tendrils lined many shelves. Behind the counter, he noticed items created from the glass. Bowls, knives, even the shelves were created from the material.

“Where am I?” he asked.

Kya strode across the room flipping off lights, “Thkye. Middle of nowhere in galaxy. Take your pick of names. We roughly between Anoth and Skye.” She gestured around the shop barking to the droid, “Finish locking shop down and get that speeder secured.”

Todo whined, “Why do I have to do everything?”

“Shut up! I do most of it,” she shouldered a small bag that jangled with items. “If you don’t hurry, I lock you out in storm.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Test me,” she winked at the droid. Thrawn realized she was joking. She added, “I get the speeder. Come on, Blue.”

Thrawn followed her through the backroom and out into the yard again. The woman snatched a piece of the rubber tarp that wasn’t secure. She yanked it hard pulling it over the speeder and pushed a stake into the ground, “I guess your name isn’t Blue.”

A burst of wind whipped up blowing up a corner of the tarp. Thrawn grabbed the end and pulled it back to the ground, “I am Commander Thrawn of the Imperial Navy.”

“All one word? What a mouthful. I call you Captain,” she chuckled and stepped on each spike making sure it was firm in the ground.

Again, humor. “You may call me Thrawn. Your droid called you by Kya.”

“Kya Kiyanu. Nice to meet you,” she paused to hold out her hand to him.

He smiled politely and shook her hand, “I’m having difficulty placing your origin. You appear to be from the Outer Rim, but you speak like you hail from the Core Worlds.”

“Good eye. Born on Christophsis. Raised on Duro. You a smart guy, aren’t you?” she returned to checking her speeder.

“I am,” he was unsure if it was a compliment or insult.

Satisfied with the tarp, Kya trudged up the walkway. A burst of thunder exploded above them. “Come on. We need to get inside.” They walked in silence halfway up the hill before she said, “Never seen anyone like you. You’re not Pantoran.”

“I’m a Chiss from Csilla.”

“Never heard of it.”

“And I have never heard of this planet. Thkye, correct?”

“Yep. Learn more and more ‘bout the galaxy every day. You from a Wild Space planet?”

“Unknown Regions actually.”

She stopped, and he saw her pupils dilated as she gazed at him, “Wow! Bet you have amazing stories. You’ll have to tell me about it.”

Lightning crashed from the sky striking a tree to the side of the house. The sound was deafening, both throwing their hands over their ears. The light shimmered through the glass layer of bark dispersing energy through the roots making the ground glow a few moments. Both of them tasted metal in the air.

“Time to go!” Kya turned towards the shop. She screamed, her voice boomed like the thunder, “Todo! Let’s go! Now!”

At the bottom of the hill, the little droid emerged from the shop’s back door locking it behind him.

She took Thrawn’s arm and broke into a run, “Double time, Captain! Come on!”

“I am a Commander,” Thrawn corrected hurrying after her.

“You want medal or something?” she barked back skipping the stairs two at a time. She only slowed to open the door to the house and let Thrawn in.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Todo flew up the walkway. He zigzagged following the path. He stayed under the roof, “I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming!”

Kya stepped aside as the little droid zoomed through the threshold. She shut the door quickly engaging the locks.

“I’m here!” Todo tossed his hands in the air and wiggled back and forth celebrating.

“Cut it real close there,” Kya panted.

Moments later, torrential rain and wind slapped into the side of the house, the refreshing scent of petrichor wafted into the house. The lightning and thunder crashed in the jungle around them.

“Don’t worry,” Kya smiled to Thrawn. “House is grounded well.”

“I was not worried about the storm. I am wondering where my ship is,” he ventured to the window to gaze at the downpour.

“You crashed out in plains several clicks from here,” Kya shrugged off her jacket and the small bag hanging them by the door.

“I crashed?” The memories rushed backwards order to Thrawn. The orange heat filling his view after seeing the wide planet stretched before him after disengaging his hyperdrive that jumped on its own after feeling a violent shake of his shuttle. “I did crash.”

Kya tapped her forehead in the place he was injured, “Yeah, you didn’t look good when we found you.”

“I wanted to leave you,” Todo huffed. “But noooo!”

Kya ignored him, “You bleed like mad from your head, blood on the dash. Lucky you didn’t have it worse than that. Thought for sure you broke something more than your head. Ship was a mess. Could barely tell it used to be a Tie.”

Thrawn felt his head, the remnants of a welt, “I wasn’t flying a Tie Fighter.”

“Then I don’t know what the hell it was. Only cockpit was left.”

“Can we go to it?”

“When storm passes.”

“When will that be?”

Kya shrugged, “They predict this big storm all week. Probably couple days at least. Might be a little longer.”

Thrawn shook his head, “I cannot be here that long. I was on a mission. I have data on that ship I must recover.”

“Too bad, we ain’t going,” she thumbed between herself and Todo. “If you want to die, feel free. Go. But you meet your Gods real fast.”

“Surely a storm can’t be that fearsome,” Thrawn stated but answered with another boom of thunder quivering the house. The light flickered momentarily.

Kya smiled at him. It was knowing and playful that she understood something that he didn’t. He disliked not having control of this situation. This woman had the most power in the room.

Kya curled her finger, “Come with me.”

Todo piped up, “Anything I can do?”

“Relax, put on some music, get comfy.”

“I do not need to get comfy,” he bellowed back.

“Still can put on music,” she went to the spiral staircase and climbed it to the upper level.

Thrawn hesitated momentarily giving her space to climb before following her up into the loft. It was cramped with two people again reminding him of a sniper nest. The windows could be opened to the roof possible for a second exit with the house only having one door. The room had a low ceiling for him, but it was the perfect height for Kya.

She picked up a pair of electrobinoculars and handed them to him. Tapping the window facing East, she said, “Look. Zoom in. Tell me what you see.”

Thrawn gazed out with his eyes first. Through the trees, he could see many flashes in the distance. He put the binoculars to his eyes.

The jungle stretched about a kilometer from the house before it ended. Beyond it, a vast open plain stretched as far as he could see to the horizon. And it currently looked like a starfighter battle. Lightning danced and exploded across the open space strobing on every free meter of space out there.

“Oh,” he lowered the binoculars and frowned deeply.

“Locals call it a Murderer’s Storm,” she said quietly watching the bolts strike the nearest trees. “When one roll through, you better pray nothing happen to you. No help is coming. No calls can go through.”

“What of your home?”

“Trees give us a lot of protection. They have rubber quality to them. Lightning rods take care of the rest.” She smirked to him, “Still want to get that ship?”

He clearly didn’t have any other choice other than wait out the storm, “No.”

“Smart man!” she slapped his back in good nature and turned to the stairs.

As she descended, he noticed faded scars on the back of her left shoulder under her tank top strap. No, not scars. They were letters and numbers. He appreciated tattoos, almost each piece of art had a story associated with it. She vanished down the stairs to the house.

Thrawn glared at the storm once more. He did not welcome this delay. If help couldn’t be called to the locals, then he would more than likely not be able to get a message out to the Empire.

He came back into the room below. Todo fiddled with the radio but only static came out of it. Kya told him to put on something recorded as she opened the pantry and gazed at the contents. The droid mashed a button.  The speakers popped and crackled as Quenk Jazz music began playing.

Thrawn took in the room once more. Though the sunlight was wiped out from the storm, softly glowing electric lamps warmed the room. It was homey and welcoming.

Kya glanced over. This guy stood awkwardly in the middle of her house like the last boy asked to dance, “Make yourself at home. I don’t got much, but you welcomed to anything here. We go find your ship when storm passes, but I doubt they’ll be much left.” She took out two glasses and a bottle and placed them on the table.

Thrawn asked, “Do you often host Imperials in your home?”

Todo laughed, “As if we were that popular.”

Kya opened the chiller and took out a wrapped package, “We never have guests. Last person was over a year ago. Unlucky bastard got caught in storm like this. He took shelter here a few days. Gods, he boring as hell. Being Imperial would have made him interesting. You one. I could tell by your jacket.” She picked up a knife, unwrapped the package revealing cooked grey game meat and sliced thick pieces onto a plate.

Thrawn stood beside her watching her work, “You sound indifferent about it.”

“It all the same. Empire. Republic. Separatists. Rebels. They take what they want for whatever cause they think is best. I think working person to person is better. Even if you not Imperial and were a Rebel, I still help you. My dads taught me to help people.”

“Two fathers?”

“Not together. Dad and adopted dad. They were best friends.”

Her face didn’t change as she spoke of her fathers in past tense. The woman continued to slice the chalk color slab of meat. Either it was a past pain she had recovered from, or Kya was good at hiding it.

Kya poked the meat with the knife, “I warn you now, this sucks. It taste like… if mediocre turned into an animal that got killed by me and cooked.”

The food didn’t look appealing at all to Thrawn. It didn’t resemble any animal he was familiar with. The scent, while mild, drifted towards the borderline rotten side. It maybe had a couple days before it soured completely.

She held up a piece, “Want to try? It awful.”

“Why do you eat it then?” He accepted the piece feeling the grisly texture against his fingers. His nose wrinkled.

Kya shrugged, “You get what you can out here. There a river nearby we fish from. We don't catch anything last week. All I had left was this rat.”

Thrawn paused before putting the food in his mouth, “Rat?”

“Yeah, found a big one in my loft a few days ago. Big as a Nuna and mean as hell. Todo smacked it in the head with a wrench.”

Todo twirled in the air behind them, “It was a glorious victory! ...Until Kya made me clean the blood off the floor.”

Kya leaned on the counter and crossed her arms over her chest. She raised an eyebrow to Thrawn quite amused at the situation, “It don’t have diseases. I eat it all week. I'm still here.”

Thrawn knew she was daring him to commit to this, and he didn’t wish to lose. Carefully, he pulled the bite towards his mouth. Her own lips pursed in anticipation like waiting for a punchline. He popped the meat in his mouth and instantly regretted it.

He gagged as the putrid taste assaulted his palate with salt, slime, and near rot. It took every ounce of strength not to spit it out. He swallowed it quickly, but the aftertaste continued to attack his mouth like a full frontal assault from his worst enemy, “That’s abysmal!”

She cackled with Todo throwing her head back as her body shook, and Kya slapped the counter, “Too good! That was too good! Oh man! Do it again. Do it again!”

Thrawn narrowed his red eyes at her not pleased and silently glowered at her.

Wiping her eyes, Kya picked up a glass from the table, went to the water bucket, and filled it up, “Don’t be so pissy. I warn you.” She offered him the glass.

Accepting the drink, he swirled the earthy liquid in his mouth. It helped wash some of the taste away but not removing it completely. He finished the drink and promptly smacked the glass down on the counter, “That is unacceptable to consume.”

“It all we got other than some bread, dried fruit, ration bars, and nuts. I’m on tail end of my supplies.” She watched him a moment longer and frowned at his soured faced, “I know it not fancy like you probably used to. I wish I had something else.”

Despite her laughing at his reaction, he understood this was the best she could provide for him. Perhaps she didn’t possess the skills to make it better.

Thrawn went to the pantry pulling open the doors. His eyes flicked over the few contents, “You have no spices.”

“Spices are expensive. I got rock salt. Make Todo grind it up.”

Todo hovered around her shoulder, “It’s the worst to get out of your joints.”

Thrawn found a bottle of oil and pepper setting them aside. He took out a sealed bowl with what he assumed was the dried fruit and plucked out a few whole nuts. He paused and glanced over his shoulder.

Kya sat the table, chin propped up on her elbow watching him.

He nodded towards the stove, “Do you mind?”

“No, please. Knock yourself out, Captain,” she leaned back in the chair again amused at him.

He knew correcting her name for him would prompt her to say it more.

Taking a few moments to find a pan and understand how her stove work, Thrawn set to heating up the oil before dropping the fruit and grinding up the nuts to sizzle. It would at least drawl out some kind of flavor.

His eyes shifted to the back of the house, “May I ask you about something?”

Kya followed his gaze, “The books?”

“The books,” he took up the pieces of meat she previous sliced and washed them thoroughly with water from the bucket. He needed to get as much salt and slime off to save this… rat. “They are something so rare in this galaxy, and yet you have a shelf full of them.”

He heard the pop of a cork and glanced back.

Kya filled the two glasses with what appeared to be wine, probably not too strong with it’s pale pink hue. She didn’t have much, just enough for each glass to have a third filled, “My dad got one book he got from his granddad. Got passed down in my family. I read it over and over again as a kid. I fell in love with the feeling of paper. You don’t ever get to feel paper anymore. That smell of the leather, the ruffle of the uncut pages, the rise of the ink on the page…”

He watched her shut her eyes and inhale slowly. Her chest tightened against her tank top, a moment of private pleasure at this obscure art. He smiled watching her.

She sighed and looked over at her shelf, “I fell in love with them, but I could never find any except for Dad’s book. Not until I worked on Christophsis.”

Thrawn dropped a piece of meat onto the sizzling oil to test it’s temperature, “What kind of work did you do?”

“Silence!” Todo rushed him. Thrawn lunged back from the droid. It’s vocal box turned to full volume, “Keep out of people’s business!”

“Todo!” Kya snapped firm. “Go sit down.”

“But Kya-”

“Now,” she glared dangerously at the droid. “You want your boosters gone? No way to talk to guests.”

The lights in Todo’s eyes flickered computing whether or not she was serious. After a moment of processing, Todo hovered to the armchair and rested on it. He muttered several insults low.

“Sorry,” Kya relaxed again.

Whatever work she did on Christophsis was a point of contention. Even now as she tried to portray a ruse of calmness, Thrawn noticed the muscles in her shoulders tense, her eyes steady, too steady purposely staying focus. There was pain there, well hidden. Those numbers and letters on her shoulder came into more clarity for him.

“I apologize. I did not realize the subject was… unpleasant,” he was aware of Todo’s glowing yellow eyes observing him across the room.

Kya flicked her hand towards her droid, “The electricity from storm make him jumpy. Do you need help with that food?”

“Consider it payment for aiding me in my crash,” Thrawn turned back to the pan and slid the rest of the meat in. He turned the heat down low letting it sizzle and nodded towards the books, “May I?”

She hopped up excited to share with him, “Please! No one else appreciates it.”

“Like we have people to appreciate it,” Todo snooted from his seat.

Thrawn strode up to the bound beauties running his fingers again over their spine sending shivers up his.

Kya snickered, “You touch girls like that? Must be a real playboy.”

“Ha,” he chuckled side eying her. “I believe you are trying to catch me off guard with bold words.”

“It not every day I get a hot man in my house,” she winked.

Quite forward, possibly trying to get him to lower his own guard. While she had been friendly and treated his wound, he did not have many reasons to trust this woman. Her droid certainly didn’t approve his presence here.

Kya snorted and patted his shoulder, “Wow. Calm down there. Too intense.”

He returned his focus to her small library looking over the various titles. He pointed to one, “‘The History of Chaleydonia.’ That’s the Crystal City, the capital of Christophsis.”

“Stole that one from the family I worked for,” she lifted her chin with pride. “Bastards deserved it.”

He stated, “Christophsis is an oligarchy. A family that rich…” Thrawn eyed her again, “Did you work for the royal family?”

Her arms crossed again over her chest. Different from before. This was a protective gesture. Her voice was tight in her throat, “If you mean self-proclaimed money assholes, then yes, I work for 'royal family.' They have a huge library full of book though. It was… amazing.” She relaxed again, “Most beautiful thing in my life. After that, I start to collecting books wherever I could find them. Even if they in different languages, I don’t care. I need them.”

He watched her take a book from the shelf cradling it like a child. She ran her fingers over the cover tracing the animal carved into the leather, “Knowledge like this needs to be saved.”

Her entire expression softened, the walls came down for a moment. No more protectiveness watching her words. Just a woman with a book and a love for it glowing softly in the lamp light with soft jazz playing in the background. Thrawn knew his own pupils must have dilated in that instant. She was beautiful.

Kya hugged the book to her chest, “You think I’m silly?”

“Quite the contrary,” he spoke softly. “Art is important to me. It must be preserved.”

“Really?” she stole a look, her dark eyes meeting his gentle crimson ones.

“Yes,” he breathed and reached out. His fingers traced the top of the pages resting near her chest. “Art is history, a person’s culture, their lives in a single piece of work.”

“Their soul,” she whispered facing him. With a small step towards him, his fingers pressed against the book firmer. “Everything about them with stroke of colors, strung sentences too smart for me to appreciate fully.”

Her eyes dropped away. Self-deprecation came quick upon herself.

Thrawn’s fingers moved from the book, hesitated, and stroked her arm, “I don’t believe so. I’m starting to think there is more to you than you wish for me to know.”

“I am what you see,” she muttered but did not pull away. Her skin shudder at his touch.

“Your meat is burning!” Todo hollered.

Ah! Thrawn saw their food just starting to smoke. Rushing to the stove, he moved the food from the eye. A bit charred, but it would still be more palatable than what it was before.

Looking back, he watched Kya’s shoulders lift with a deep breath. She slid the book back on the shelf. Returning to her swaggering stride with an indifferent smirk, her walls were back up again. He should put up his defenses too. Again, he didn’t know this woman.

But he didn’t feel so wary as before.

She whistled looking at the dish, “That one fine rat, Captain. I get the plates.”