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A Fork in the Road

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Garazeb Orrelios stood at a fork in the road. Figurative, of course. He was stumbling along, drunk after too many drinks and unable think straight, but not drunk enough to forget. His mind was bumbling through facts, things like reminding himself that all he had in his pocket were three creds that weren't worth bantha fodder and a little pouch filled with reminders of a now painful past. The fact that he smelled like alcohol and his once sleek fur reeked. He looked like a mangy animal. The fact that he was the only thing standing between the extinction of a species and its continued legacy.

Zeb leaned against a wall, pausing, his vision was blurring even more and he blamed his mind's carouse through facts. Unfortunately the blurring cleared up and was replaced with vomiting and his mind did not stop, for the facts had not been exhausted. There was still the fact that he was homeless, the fact of his absolute self-loathing, the fact that within his misery and anger the root was sorrow, and there was the fact that Garazeb Orrelios was unable to do anything about any of it.

The vomiting passed, and he leaned up, wiping at his mouth and staring out at the street. The white uniforms, the blasters hanging idly in their hands. Zeb's lips unconsciously curled into a snarl. The Empire, that was the cause of all of this, of his misery, of the condition of a galaxy where whole species of sentient beings could be demolished because it was more convenient for a power hungry government. Hate bubbled up in him, rage that was a strong cover for his grief and loneliness.

What did it matter anymore? Lasan was gone, the Lasats were gone, and for all it was worth, Zeb may as well have died with them.

Alcohol and grief impairing him, Zeb stumbled towards the soldiers.

"You know what, you kriffing bastards should go back to whatever laboratory they make you in," Zeb slurred, spitting on the ground near the soldiers.

They stood up, three in total, and assumed threatening poses.

"Do we have a problem here, citizen?" One asked.

"Yeah, you fuglies trashing up this street," Zeb's voice was intentionally confrontational, he could feel the tension rising.

He wanted to fight, wanted to do something to hurt the Empire, and he was very drunk.

"You want to get kriffed up, citizen," the other soldier said, emphasizing the last word, "because you keep talking like that-"

"And what? You'll kill my entire people? Already done that I'm afraid," Zeb snarked out.

Another trio of soldiers was coming down the street, probably to relieve the men currently there. Zeb felt a smile grow, he had no weapons, him against six troopers armed with blasters capable of killing. His drunk brain added up the rather slim odds and enjoyed the outcome, he could deal with a lethal ending to this all. The trooper had raised his gun. Freedom was one more sentence away.

"You watch-"

"I'm sorry!" The high voice of a child intervened.

Zeb blinked down at the blue haired boy that had suddenly placed himself between the soldier and Zeb.

"My uncle's got Tourette's syndrome," the boy spoke quickly, hands held up defensively.

The soldiers paused, surprised by the sudden and unexpected arrival.

"It's real serious, he just starts saying random things, he can't control it," the boy said earnestly.

The child looked no older than eight or nine, dressed in a ragged tunic and too long pants bunched at the ankle and wrapped with a linen cloth, a pair of poorly shod sandals on his feet. He was dirty and unkempt and there was bruising along his collarbone and arms. Zeb's mind, dull from the alcohol, was having a hard time processing this very surprising and very annoying deterrent to his suicidal plan.

"This is your uncle?" One soldier said incredulously.

They didn't seem to believe the boy, but the tension was dissipating to be replaced with incredulity and dry amusement.

"Well, twice removed," the boy said, before leaning in with a secretive whisper, "but to be honest I think he may be the missing link."

A soldier guffawed, another shook his head.

"Get him out of here before you cause trouble, alright kid."

The boy nodded emphatically, turning to Zeb and grabbing his hand. He tugged and Zeb didn't budge. The boy stomped on Zeb's foot, tugging again. Zeb managed to follow. When they'd gotten a street away, Zeb threw the boy's hand off and turned on him.

"Why'd you do that?" He slurred out, anger now redirected.

The boy looked a little nervous, but there was a glare of defiance in his eyes which shone brightly.

"Because you're as dumb as bantha fodder, you could've been killed!" The boy reprimanded him.

"So?" Zeb sneered.

"What do you mean 'so'? You wanna die?" The kid said in shock.

"What's it to you, kid?" Zeb's stomach was turning again and he just wanted to throw up and then go die peacefully without interference.

The boy's face went through a mix of emotions, from shock to sorrow and then finally a vulnerable sort of petulance.

"We can't all give up," he said, tears in his eyes that stood in contrast against his strong tone.

Zeb shook his head, cynicism making him bitter and cruel, "nothing left fighting for, kid, no reason to not give up."

The boy shook his head, said something, but Zeb was horking up whatever he'd drunk and his mind didn't much care about anything else. In fact, he was so out of it, he didn't notice the boy tugging him down the street, didn't notice how he lead him to an old, boarded up house and then how the boy pushed him onto a bed. He fell asleep as soon as he hit the roll.

Waking up was pain, his head felt like someone had taken a meat tenderizer to it, and everything was ringing. Sitting up, he blearily looked around. He was in some kind of crappy house, trashed and abandoned from the looks of it. A familiar blue headed kid was just then dropping in through a window, he had some fruit in his arms.

"You're up," the kid said.

Zeb groaned, rolling over.

"Karabast," Zeb muttered under his breath.

This kid was like an annoying little devil, or more of saving angel, and Zeb wasn't appreciating the huge roadblock that had suddenly thrown itself in his way.

"I brought you some fruit," the boy said.

A jogan landed on the bed, rolling against Zeb's arm. Zeb heard the boy settle somewhere and begin eating one of the fruits. It was quiet for a while aside from the wet crunch of jogan. After a while, Zeb heard the boy get up and leave. Zeb closed his eyes and went back to sleep, hoping that he'd be alone when he woke up.

He was not alone when he woke up, the boy was rummaging through his pack.

"You're awake," the boy said.

Zeb sat up, running a weary hand over his face. Standing up, Zeb didn't say anything to the boy, instead moving towards the door.

"Hey! Where are you going?" The boy cried.

"Away from here," Zeb said gruffly.

The boy bounded in his direction, following him out the door. The street in front of them was a small resident street, tucked away and now dirty and relatively empty. All the dwellings were unkempt.

Zeb had no idea where he was, and picking a random direction headed that way.

"Hey! Wait!" The boy called after him, running to catch up.

"You can't go this way," the boy said, slightly breathless.

Zeb stopped, turned around and glowered at the boy.

"What is your problem, kid?" Zeb growled at him.

The boy frowned, crossing his arms.

"What's your problem?" The boy retorted.

Zeb let out a frustrated growl.

"You should'na helped me," Zeb said.

"Why are you such a blockhead?" The boy asked, anger and confusion on his face.

"I'm serious, there's no point going around helping people, it's what idiots do."

The comment infuriated the boy.

"That's not true! My parents always helped everybody!"

"And where are they?!" Zeb roared back, angry that this boy was telling him about right and wrong.

Well, he was going to set him straight.

"Dead, aren't they?" Zeb sneered cruelly, ignoring the guilt which flashed through him at the kid's broken look.

"That," Zeb said, stabbing a finger into the boy's chest, "is what happens when you try an' 'do good'."

The tears in the kid's eyes were unmistakable, as was the anger.

"You're wrong," he said quietly.

Zeb started to turn away, done with arguing with a child.

He was shocked to see a group of soldiers approaching.

"What are you doing here!? This place is restricted!" One of the soldiers yelled.

Zeb let out a curse while the boy stiffened with fear.

"This way!" The boy said, running off to the side.

Zeb growled in annoyance, setting off after the boy. They ran through the streets, the Imperials close behind them, after several minutes, the boy took a sharp turn which lead them right into the face of more Imperials. They obviously weren't engaged in the chase, but that changed as the other Imperials rounded the corner shouting and pointing at the boy and Zeb.

The boy backpedalled, heading down a different street with Zeb behind him. They turned a corner and came to a dead end. Zeb saw ledges, impossible to others, which were passable for him. With guilt, he glanced at the boy.

"Sorry, kid," he said gruffly, jumping up and beginning his climb.

He didn't look back even as he heard the Imperials shouting and the boy's cry of alarm. He heard the blaster shots and felt one pass close by his head. In another second he cleared the wall and flung himself into the roof. Hurrying on his way, he didn't stop until he was far from danger. Stopping he felt guilt overcome him.

"He'll be fine," he muttered to himself, "they'll go easy on a kid."

 

 

The rest of the week, Zeb slunk about, this new guilt weighing heavy on him. He'd left the boy. He could've carried him, pulled the child on his back or even thrown him up onto the roof. The boy had risked his neck saving Zeb, had fed him and shown more kindness than Zeb had received in a long time. He hadn't even known the child's name, hadn't had the decency to ask.

Somehow, at the end of the week he wandered into a bar and sat down. Staring moodily into a drink, he pondered his position. The boy couldn't be helped, it would be impossible. Anyone taken by the Empire was forfeit. Closing his eyes he saw the image of trembling determination on the boy's face, vivid blue eyes wide with candor and belief. The boy was homeless, alone, and yet he'd taken the time to help Zeb.

Letting out a long sigh, Zeb opened his eyes and stared down into his drink.

"Bad day?" The bartender said, half curious and half bored.

"Something like that," Zeb mumbled out.

Throwing his last three credits on the counter to pay for the unfinished drink, Zeb got up and headed out.

Outside the stars were shining, their brightness not yet obscured by the light pollution from the city. Zeb's gaze wandered to the great dome above him, empty space with all the hollow promises of there being more. When did Zeb become like the Empire, cold and empty, unwilling to sacrifice, unwilling to save people? It had been his highest honor during his time in the Guard. He would protect people, save them, and he had loved doing it.

Zeb clenched his fist. Maybe he wasn't that person anymore, but he'd be damned if he didn't at least keep even with this kid.

"So you're saying you have no idea?" Zeb queried incredulously.

Sibar shook his head, the Iridonian Zabrak looking bored.

"I don't make a practice of keeping an eye out for Imperial prisoners," Sibar replied.

"C'mon, you have to know someone who knows something," Zeb said, leaning in and looking beseechingly at Sibar.

Sibar owned a parts shop near the space port, he didn't like the Empire as much as the next individual, and he did plenty of illegal business. However, he liked to lay low and avoid getting in trouble with the Imperials. Zeb had run jobs for him a few times and had even saved Sibar from an Imperial contraband seizure.

Sibar let out a sigh, a hand rubbing the back of his head.

"I don't know Orrelios," Sibar said hesitantly, a hand raised to rub at one of the small nubbed horns on his skull.

Sibar glanced around at the empty shop before looking to Zeb.

"I mean, I know this Bith, Meela Omk, she does business in and out of the Imperial jails, keeps an eye on who's coming in and who's coming out, but, I don't know, it's not the kind of business you wanna get wrapped up in."

Zeb grinned, glad to finally be getting something. It had been a whole week since his decision, two since the boy had been grabbed. He shifted in his position leaning on the counter, elbows and forearms planted on it and head ducked down in interest.

"Any idea where I could find this Meela Omk?" Zeb asked.

Sibar still looked uncomfortable and shrugged, turning his attention to a machine part on the counter that he'd been cleaning up when Zeb had first walked in.

"I know she spends time at Alibbi, or at least keeps workers in there most of the time," Sibar said, looking up at Zeb, he appeared worried, "she's nasty for a Bith, Orrelios."

Zeb stood up from where he was leaned against the counter, he waved a dismissive hand.

"Don't worry about me, Sibar, you know I take care of myself," Zeb replied.

Sibar looked unconvinced.

"You get fragged and I'm left without a runner who can actually pilot worth a damn and carry the merchandise."

Zeb let out a bark of laughter, shaking his head.

"Thanks Sibar, I owe ya one," he tossed over his shoulder as he left the shop.

Sibar just shook his head.

 

 

Ezra was curled into a defensive ball, shaking and shivering on the floor of the Imperial jail cell. Everything hurt, bruises covering him. He hadn't kept his mouth shut, something he'd never been able to do and he'd paid dearly for it. Ezra had lost track of the time, the days melting together in a mass of pain and fear. The soldiers harassed him, beat him up, hadn't really fed him, and he knew it was all for sport on their part.

The door slid open and a faceless Imperial soldier in white blaster armor stood there. A couple soldiers stood behind him, one chuckling under his breath as if some unspoken joke had been told.

"Ah, this is gonna be kriffed up," one of them said, eagerness in his tone.

Ezra scrambled back, throwing himself against the wall as the soldiers advanced. It did not help, they cruelly grabbed him, yanking him up and pulling him out even as he fought to escape. One of the soldiers smacked him harshly, hissing out a cuss word because he'd nearly lost his hold on Ezra. The blow made Ezra's head spin and he fell limp.

They took him outside, a small jail on the outskirts of the city to hold mainly temporary stays for trivial crimes such as libel against the Empire. It was a square building with a courtyard at the center, three sides of it being used for cells and the last as quarters for the six soldiers stationed there.

The courtyard was generally empty, dry hard ground that was open to the entire ferocity of Lothal's sun. There were posts for docking small transport vehicles, posts currently empty, and a couple empty crates scattered about that were used for sitting on or other mundane things. In this instance, the crates had been pushed together to form a small enclosed circle.

A soldier was standing inside the circle, a small mangy dog that was furiously trying to injure the arms holding it. The men dragging Ezra along took him to the circle of crates and threw him in. Shakily pushing himself to his hands and knees, Ezra stared in fear at the men. The soldier holding the dog set the dog down before bounding out of the circle, the dog snapping after him but stopping as it discovered it was penned in.

Ezra started to back up, smacking into a crate and then trying to use it to pull himself to his feet. The dog didn't look very nice and he didn't want to be stuck in the same place as it. His grip was dislodged by an Imperial and he was sent spinning back to land hard on the ground.

The dog seemed to notice him and came yowling at him, teeth bared. Ezra jumped up and tried to escape again only to be forced back a second time. The dog lunged, biting into his forearm. Ezra screamed in pain, lashing out. His hit made the dog relax its jaw and it fell back, barking madly. Ezra cradled his arm close, the puncture wounds weeping with blood already.

The men were jeering, prodding Ezra back every time he tried to move away. The dog sprang again and Ezra kicked at it, eliciting a small yelp of pain from the creature. It cowered then, obviously now afraid. The men let out sounds of disappointment and protest, but neither Ezra or the dog were listening.

After a lot of shouting on the men's part, one of them came forward, roughly seizing Ezra and dragging him to a post. They tied him there, a few cruel hits thrown out to express their disappointment in the fight. Ezra meanwhile clenched his eyes shut, trying to keep from crying even as the hot sun poured down and made his already dry mouth and throat ache more.

 

Alibbi was a cantina located towards the center of the industrial part of Capital City, it was dirty and known for being the center of the illegal red light district, Imperials were handsomely paid to keep it off the radar and because of that it flourished. Zeb didn't often go to places like it, the drink often not worth the disgust. If this was where Meela Omk was though, then he would just have to put up with it.

Ducking through the low doorway of the cantina, Zeb blinked his eyes to adjust to the smoke and darkness of the room. His nose immediately flared in discomfort at the overwhelming amount of unpleasant smells and his sensitive ears flicked with the pang of the noise. A trio of dirty humans were eking out live music that was quiet and slow, a sleazy quality to it which enhanced the atmosphere. Dolls were sprawled about at booths or on furniture, either with a possible customer or looking out lazily on the room. They were mainly Twi'lek, but there were also a few humans and one pink skinned Devaronian whose vestigial bumps had been painted a horrid bright green.

The clients looked no better, mainly off planet ship goers who were looking for a break or those who made up the working criminal class. He didn't see any Bith though. Walking in further, Zeb got a few looks but it had more to do with his intimidating physique than anything else, and the eyes left quickly.

Stepping up to the bar, Zeb looked to the barkeeper.

"Whassit?" The barkeeper said, indifferent as their eyes flashed over Zeb.

"I'm looking for someone," Zeb said.

The barkeeper raised a brow.

"Meela Omk, don't suppose she's around?"

The barkeeper shook his head.

"No, but you go to Jik," the barkeeper said, gesturing to an Ithorian.

Zeb said a short thanks and turned to the Ithorian.

"I'm looking for Meela Omk," he said, taking a seat at the booth the Ithorian was sitting at. The doll who was draped over the Ithorian looked in irritation at Zeb.

The Ithorian however sat up, giving Zeb part of his attention.

"Who's asking?" He asked.

"I heard she can get information I'm looking for," Zeb replied.

The Ithorian waved a hand at the doll who glowered at Zeb as she stalked away for having lost her a purchase.

"Omk, she has information, what you offer?"

"Look, Jik, let me talk to Omk, and she can see exactly what I have to offer," Zeb replied, annoyed by this whole cloak and dagger process.

The Ithorian, intimidated by Zeb, shrunk back but was still hesitating.

"You come back tomorrow, Omk will be here, you can talk to her yourself," the Ithorian replied, a hand being held up.

"Fine, tell her I'll be here," Zeb said, standing and leaving without letting the Ithorian reply.

He was relieved to step out of the cantina. Tomorrow he'd meet with Meela Omk.