Note: The story takes place sometime in the middle of KOTET. Contains no spoilers.
“Nayel,” Theron approached the Sith, “there’s a woman here saying she must talk to you. She says it’s urgent, and a private matter.”
The Inquisitor turned to look at him. “Who is she?”
“She refused to give her name. Just that she needs to speak with you.”
Nayel turned back to look at the trees. The catwalk was high enough above the hangar to offer privacy, and make it a quieter place, so he liked to come here to look outside at the green to calm down.
“Nayel, she looks scared.”
The Sith sighed. “All right,” he said eventually, and followed Theron to the war room.
The place was quite busy, as usually. Attira was in a middle of a heated discussion with Mili but she managed to keep her voice down (seething, Nayel imagined), so he could not make out the subject of their argument.
Then his attention was drawn to a small woman by the eastern holo table. She looked a lot older than the last time he’d seen her, a lot more frail, and a lot more scared. Before hatred took over his heart, a needle of fear pierced it for a second. The most basic reaction.
Farren laughed out loud. “Look!” he shouted, pointing at his last creation.
Nayel came closer to look at the drawing. He was not allowed to touch crayons, he was not allowed to draw, but in spite of that he liked spending time with his friend, and watching him draw.
“Now my room is pretty!” Farren exclaimed.
“Are you sure Mistress won’t be angry?” Nayel asked, pointing at empty sheets of paper that had been brought with the crayons.
“This is boring,” the other boy replied. “This is fun!” he added, pointing at walls that he had drawn on.
His work clearly finished, he dropped the crayons carelessly, and ran to the toys corner. Nayel gave the abandoned and forgotten drawing tools a longing look. Would he be punished if he touched them? He wouldn’t even have to draw, just touch… He liked how they smelled, and wondered how they felt in fingers. He made a step toward the forbidden toy, when Farren called him.
He turned, and joined his friend in the toy corner.
He liked all the toys. Farren happily shared them with him, and even had given him some, but it was a secret. Nayel kept them in the pile with the others, and only him and his friend knew they were his; no one else. They were the only possessions he ever had.
The door opened. “Havin fun, bo–” the Mistress’s voice faded as she looked at the walls. “What happened here?” The sweetness was gone, and threat loomed in her words.
Nayel cowered in a corner, trying to hide behind a big plush tuk’ata.
“I decorated my room,” Farren announced with pride.
“This is not allowed!” she answered.
“But mother, now it’s good. It’s pretty!”
“Not allowed!” Her hand went to her belt.
Nayel’s lips mouthed “no”, but no sound came out. He was just shaking his head.
“You know I don’t like when you’re naughty,” she told her son. “You know I told you to use paper. You disobeyed.”
“You know what happens, when you’re naughty. A punishment must be dealt.”
She pulled out the device, and pressed the button.
Nayel’s screams of fear were drowned by his own crying of pain. He instinctively put his hand to his aching neck, which only made things worse, as he touched the collar when it was discharging.
“Mother!” Farren shouted.
She pressed the button again. “You disobey. Punishment is dealt.” She said sternly.
Then her demeanour changed. “Come,” she said softly to her son. “We’re going to have a snack. And you,” she added, scooping her five-year-old child, then looking at still crying Nayel, “you will help clean it up. You understand?” she asked, threateningly waving the device of pain in her hand.
He only nodded, unable to talk, still choking on his tears pouring down his red, swollen little face.
His hand stretched in her direction, and blueish ribbons of electrical discharges left his fingers to hit her neck. She fell to her knees, grasping her throat, and gasping for air.
Theron watched in horror but before he had a chance to say anything to stop it, Nayel lowered his hand.
“What do you want?” he growled.
“I need your help,” she replied, getting up.
“Give me one reason why I should help you?” His voice had that quality of danger vibrating in it.
“It’s not really me, who needs you. It’s Farren.”
That drew his attention. His aggressive pose softened.
“What are you doing?” Nayel whispered, making sure the adults could not hear him.
“Get in here, stupid!” Farren pulled him into the room. “Before someone sees you. Or me!”
The slave boy closed the door behind him. “Your mother told you that you cannot go,” he whispered.
“Yeah, but I must go, don’t you get it? The guys will call me a coward, if I don’t. We planned this trip for weeks. I can’t back out.”
“What if someone finds out you slipped out? What if you’re late for breakfast?”
“Stop worrying, I’ll be fine. We’re going to spend a night there to prove to that stupid gang we’re no cowards, and that there’s no dead Jedi ghost there to fear. I’ll be back before anyone knows it! It’s a matter of pride, Nayel, simple as that!”
Nayel wasn’t even aware his hand travelled to his shock collar. But he knew what would happen if Farren’s disobedience was discovered. The other boy noticed the absent-minded gesture, and stopped what he was doing.
He was looking at his friend for a long moment, then sat on his bed. “I won’t be found out,” he said, but without the same conviction he had before. “No one will know.”
Nayel’s lower lip trembled, but he bit it, refusing to cry. He was too old to cry. Teenage boys don’t cry.
Farren pushed the half-packed bag off his bed. “Stay. We’ll do something. Watch a holo?” he suggested.
Great relief washed over Nayel. “I can’t. Still have lots of cleaning in the kitchen. And must prepare butter for tomorrow’s breakfast.”
“Will it take long? Can you come after?”
“It’ll probably be too late.”
“What if I help?”
Nayel shook his head. His parents wouldn’t like that. “I’ll try to be quick.”
“Okay. I’ll wait for you.” He paused. “But if you’re too tired afterwards, just go to sleep.”[/i]
“What happened?” Nayel asked. “Where is he?”
“He was kidnapped. Taken somewhere.”
“Kidnapped? For what purpose?”
“I don’t know. I never received any ransom demand.”
“Ma’am, how do you know he was kidnapped?” Theron asked.
“His belongings… left behind. Local security forces were only able to say he went to Tattooine. Not even that he was taken against his will. But his presence was registered in the spaceport.”
“Left behind where?”
Theron looked at Nayel. “Since Attira took down the star fortress over Tattooine, their crime levels rose significantly. Especially slave trade.”
Nayel glanced at him, then his eyes returned to the woman’s face. She looked at him. “Help him, please.”
For a second, the Sith thought she finally had got what she deserved, but then he realised it wasn’t her, who was most likely suffering.
“Theron,” he looked at Shan. “You are familiar with Nar Shadda. You are familiar with dealing with that kind of scum. Will you investigate it?”
“Of course, you don’t even have to ask.”
“Thank you, thank you.” She motioned toward the Sith, and tried to grab his hand.
He stepped back rapidly. “Don’t you ever touch me!” he barked. “I’m not doing this for you.”
She just looked at him blandly, and he wondered if she even understood why he was so angry and why he hated her so much. Even now, with the prospect of her own son wearing a shock collar and being someone’s property, she still didn’t seem to understand that her owning Nayel was a nightmare for him.
He snapped his fingers at Pierce. The major approached him. “My lord.”
“Find her a place to stay for a while. Make sure it’s as far from me as possible.”
“Yes, my lord.”
The soldier led her away.
“I never asked you about your past,” Theron said.
“So don’t!” Nayel barked. Then almost immediately added softly, “Sorry.” Theron nodded, accepting apologies. “It’s a really difficult part of my life, which I don’t like to reminiscence upon. I’d rather forget, and never think about it.”
Theron nodded again. “That’s why slavery is banned in the Republic.”
Nayel looked at him. “Good,” he said.
“That son of hers…”
“She was my owner. He was my friend.”
Theron nodded once more, understanding. “I’ll try to find him. And put an end to whatever his captors are up to.”
“All our resources are at your disposal,” Nayel said.
“I know,” Theron grinned.
“She likes you,” Farren whispered to Nayel’s ear.
Nayel’s face was brightened by a loopsided impy grin. “Does she?” They were in a cantina, watching pretties around, and two had caught their attention.
“You want to kiss her? I could arrange that.”
He had never kissed a girl before. “I’d be in trouble,” he said without conviction. Not the first time, not the last, but this time it could actually be worth it.
The girl smiled at him again. She was so lovely. Her eyes lowered to his collar, and her smile became sadder and a bit apologetic. Was she sorry for him or sorry that it just blew his chances? he wondered. But then she looked into his eyes again, and the smile reverted to its previous sweetness.
“So? It’s up to you. Worth the price if we get caught?”
“Let’s do it!” He had never told anyone, but he’d learnt to somewhat ignore the pain. To concentrate, and push it away, as if it never existed. To heal his aching neck or bruised face. It even worked when he cut his finger with a knife in the kitchen. He was very tired afterwards, but also somehow felt great, as if something surged through him when he was doing it. He could do that again.
Farren stood up from the chair, and started walking toward the girls.
Noise by the entrance slowed their pace, as they looked behind to see what had been the cause of the commotion. As it turned out, a group of Imperial troopers had entered, led by a Sith, and the noise was caused by patrons hastily moving out of their way.
Cantinas inside may all look the same, but that was a reminder they weren’t on Nar Shaddaa any more. This was an Imperial world with Imperial rules.
The Sith stopped, closed her eyes, and… just stood there for a moment. The whole place was quiet now. Everyone waited. Nayel knew it couldn’t mean anything good. He watched her with awe, thinking she looked glorious, enveloped in that kind of aura of power. Her mere presence was enough for everyone to sober, fear her, obey her.
He also knew he could… feel her. He’d felt a similar sensation near a Jedi once on Nar Shadda when Mistress argued about something with one. He’d been eleven or twelve back then.
The Sith’s eyes opened, and she was looking directly at him. She watched him for a second, then motioned to her troopers, who then grabbed him.
“What do you want from him?” Farren shouted. “Leave him alone!”
“Are you his owner?” the Sith asked.
His friend blinked. Technically and legally he was, but Nayel knew he never thought of himself as such. “Yes,” he eventually said reluctantly, giving Nayel an apologetic look. Nayel understood the message.
“Not any more,” she said. “Take him to my shuttle,” she told the troopers.
“Leave him alone! He didn’t do anything!” Farren protested.
“I’m doing him a favour, boy,” she told him. “Be glad I’m not punishing you for not reporting him to the authorities.”
“Punishing? For what? Where are you taking him?”
“Korriban,” she answered, and followed the troopers and Nayel.
He trusted Theron to complete his task. Not only he was one of the best qualified to do it, but also his own beliefs should additionally drive him. One thing the Republic got right: people were not property.
Obscured by pallets of canisters on the catwalk, he had sought seclusion to chase away memories.
It’s been a week since Theron had left, but he was constantly updated on the progress on the mission. Shan not only had found Farren. They both were now finishing off the slavery trade of that particular group, and – according to Theron – just about to finally cut the organisation’s head off. Fortunately for them, the gang was too disorganised and too amateurish in their planning to make it difficult. For Farren’s sake, since otherwise no one would even know what had happened to him, let alone leave such a thick trail of evidence behind.
Or maybe for Theron everything was just this easy.
He missed him. He wasn’t sure he would ever be able to talk to him about his past, but he certainly needed him in the presence.
“Here,” Nayel pointed at another mistake.
“Oh,” Farren’s face reddened again. “How do you find these things?”
Nayel shrugged. “I just see.”
“My mother says slaves are stupid. You are not stupid.”
Nayel wanted to say his mother was an idiot, but bit his tongue in time. He didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings, and he also knew he wouldn’t want his own mother insulted.
It was a lucky decision, since Mistress entered the room a moment later, so there was a good chance she’d hear his words had he spoken them.
“How is it going, honey?” she asked her son, hugging him and kissing the top of his head.
Nayel observed, jealous. How much he wanted for someone to hug and kiss him! How much he wanted a loving mum! He had no idea where was his. Master had told him that according to the seller his own father had sold him to that slaver. He wasn’t sure it was the truth, maybe lies to make him miserable, maybe his own father loved him just like Master loved Farren. Or maybe it was the truth. But maybe his mother had loved him, but couldn’t stop her husband from selling his own child to become a slave…
He tried to convince himself that he wasn’t a little boy any more, he was already ten, and ten-year-old boys didn’t need mummy hugs.
It never worked.
He sat in silence, watching shyly a mother and her son’s moment. Then she checked Farren’s homework, praised him for a job well done, and left without giving Nayel as much as a glance.
“When I grow up,” Farren began, “I will write a document that will give you freedom, and take off this collar, and you will find your mother and father,” he promised. After a moment he added, “You will help me, so that there won’t be any mistakes in the document.”
Theron’s voice improved the Sith’s mood immediately. He was back! He motioned toward Shan, and only after a few steps he realised his lover wasn’t alone.
His face much older, much more mature, and bruised like he’d never seen it before, but still recognisable, even though the last time he’d seen it was on that day when he had been taken to Korriban.
Farren opened his mouth to say something but no sound came out. He hesitated. Looked Nayel up and down, opened his mouth again, clearly not certain what to say.
The Sith approached him. “My lord,” the other one finally said, settling for the respectful form of address. Nayel just pulled him in, and gave him a hug.
“You became… quite someone,” Farren said as they disengaged.
“Quite.” Nayel’s face was brightened by his famous – or infamous – loopsided grin.
“Found your family?”
Nayel’s eyes lingered on Theron’s face for a long moment, then he looked back at his old friend, thinking of Malavai, Mili, sweet little Nil’awr, and even Attira. “Yes,” he replied. He thought it’s been about a day since he hugged his little nephew, and decided to rectify that as soon as possible.
“I’m glad, really glad.”
The kitchen was dark. Everyone was already asleep, but Nayel – in spite of being fatigued after the whole day filled with work – could not find rest. He rolled onto his other side, facing the wall, forgetting that his shoulder was still sore from brutal pulling he’d suffered earlier. Moaning quietly, he rolled back, and curled into a ball, hugging his knees.
Rage filled his heart at the memory of the day. He rolled back at the aching shoulder, clenched his teeth, and absorbed the anger and the pain. He felt like it was feeding him, making him feel bigger and stronger. Some day he would be big enough to run away, and pay back for every indignity, every punch, every brutal treatment he had been exposed to.
He didn’t remember any other life. He had been only three when this family had bought him. Now, at thirteen, he knew nothing else than sleeping in the kitchen, hard work, and his shock collar, but he knew there was more to life than this. Farren never had to work in the kitchen, never suffered pain, was loved and adored by his parents. He was happy.
Nayel was jealous. Very jealous, but he never blamed his friend for their drastically different fates. Farren was one of the only two nice people in his life.
The snoring of the other one, Lunk-fegg – the chief cook, slowly calmed him to sleep.