It was about a mile’s walk from the airport to her destination, and she couldn’t afford to waste credits on a transport there, but there were mercifully few clone troops in Gillord. The war here had been almost entirely fought in Tapos and Birrik. She had learned to listen unobtrusively on her journey from Coruscant, and by doing so in the Gillord airport she got the impression that the news of the war ending, the supposed Jedi rebellion, and the formation of the Empire had caused very few waves so far. She was sure that would have to change, and soon, but for now, she was safe.
It hadn’t been easy to find her parents’ house. Master Simms had told her she believed she had been born here in Gillord, but the Mycan system of surnames was complicated, and her family’s last names would not be obvious. While she’d been in Tapos she’d accessed the planetary net and been able to search Mycan records for her own name, and found records of her birth, her formally being given into the custody of the Jedi, and her being taken to Mycani’s spaceport and then off the planet on a “small craft” bound for Coruscant. But her birth record had had only her parents last names attached, which still left too many possibilities of who they could be, the transport record had only her name and that of the Jedi who had been her guardian, a certain Tarados Gon, and the custody document required special access to load.
She’d ended up doing searches for her parents’ last names in conjunction with the word “Jedi,” and after many frustrating expeditions with various search drives had finally ended up in a Gillord local news show archive, in which she found footage of her being removed from her house, and by playing the clip slow motion she’d managed to identify her mother’s first name. Searching for her mother’s full name in conjunction with her father’s last name had turned them out at living at a certain address in Gillord. Further searches on the address had turned up an image of it, and it matched the residence seen in the news clip, at which point she’d logged off, after deleting the record of her searches as best she could. She understood that the station was flushed regularly anyway, but she didn’t want anyone finding any evidence that she had come back to Holt.
She was beset by a ridiculous fear that the house wouldn’t be there when she saw it, and another one, even after she saw it, that someone else would be living there. Instead she reminded herself that there was really no telling how they would react to seeing her, and she went up to the door and knocked.
It was answered by her mother. She recognized her from the news clip. Even so, when she asked testily, “Who are you?” she first asked, “Are you Eltana Mol?”
“I am,” replied her mother coldly, “but you are trying to sell us anything we are not interested.” For the first time she noticed her mother’s face was red; she had been crying.
She removed her hood and said, “It’s me, mother. It’s your daughter. It’s Noirah Na.”
“Noirah?” Her mother spoke like a ghost. For a full minute she just stared at her, disbelieving. The two of them shared eye and hair color, and complexion, and in fact, not too long ago, looking at their faces would have marked them clearly as mother and daughter. But from Toola to Holt the shattering of her life had transformed Noirah’s face, to the point that when she'd happened to catch her reflection in the spaceport fresher she hadn’t recognized it.
Then, carefully, her mother's hands reached out and touched her cheeks. Tears appeared in her eyes, and Noirah sensed her disbelief turn into hope and faith, then into wild joy, as she was pulled into a tight hug that reminded her so strongly of Master Simms it hurt bad. “My little girl…oh, but what did the Jedi do to your hair? Did you have to run away from them? Were they going to make you help overthrow the Republic?”
“No!” Noirah cried hastily, wrenching herself away to look her mother in the eyes. “None of that stuff’s true! The Jedi were betrayed!” Then she remembered where they were. “We should go inside.”
“Of course. I must tell your father. And your brother too; you have a brother, Noirah, oh he’ll be so happy to meet his big sister!”
She led Noirah inside, through a tiny receiving room cluttered with two tables and many curtains and pieces of brick-a-brak, and into a sitting room where everything seemed covered by pastel cloth except the ceiling. “Sit down,” she urged. “For goodness sake, put down that heavy pack. Mylo! Moitros! Come down here *now*!” She stood at the door, peering out, leaving Noirah with a moment to compose herself as she sat down on a sofa and took off her pack, placing it at the sofa’s foot.
Noirah had never been inside a private residence like this. It seemed there were things everywhere, pieces of furniture covered in cloth, and electronic terminals with pieces of cloth on them too, and cluttered shelves, and lights, and curtains, and rugs, and windows, and potted plants. The air smelled strange, a completely unfamiliar scent. She thought it was kind of pretty, and she liked how soft the sofa was, but she felt out of place.
At the edge of the sofa Noirah saw a loose datapad. She picked it up and flicked it on. To her shock, she saw a picture of herself and Master Simms.
“What is it, Eltana?” That had to be her father, coming in. She looked at him and him at her. He had grown a beard since the news clip, but it was him even so. “Who’s the Tapon boy?” Noirah’s cloak had fallen open, and under it she still wore the slave boy’s clothes from Toola.
“It not a boy, Mylo, it’s Noirah! She’s not dead after all!”
“Is it really?” Her father joined her on the couch; she felt his scrutiny. Their eyes met; she hoped he could see the truth in them. Her mother had been all too willing to believe, but he was understandably skeptical. Noirah tried to think of something, anything, to prove that she was who she said she was.
“Where is that boy?” Her mother was still at the door. “Moitros! If you don’t come down here now I’m coming up there!”
“I’m coming.” They could hear his sulky voice from the top of the stairs.
“Perhaps you’ll come down faster,” their father yelled, “if I told you Noirah was down here with us!”
“What?” They the heard the tumble of footsteps, then a boy ran in, sevens years standard Noirah would guess. Brother and sister regarded each other, she fascinated, he scornful. “That’s not Noirah,” he insisted. “Noirah’s a girl.”
“I had to disguise myself as a boy to get away from the clone troopers,” Noirah explained, to all three of them. She looked back down at the datapad, and the image of what she used to be.
“That’s right after the Battle of Yentz,” Moitros told her. “That’s where-”
“Moitros,” their father interrupted, “you’re forgetting that Noirah was there, and can tell us about the battle better than you can.” His tone shifted subtly as he cast a meaningful look at Noirah, and Noirah understood. “Though he’s followed your exploits pretty closely, as least as far as the holonet relates them. It’s something he’s been very proud of, having a Jedi for a sister.”
“Yes,” she said, recalling things the boy wouldn’t know about, like all the sounds, and in this particular case, the sight and the smell of the burning flesh of the massacred natives. Why, of all the battles she’d been in, had he, a seven year old boy, been reading about this one? “The Separatists attacked the neutral world of Yentz, in a fight to gain control of the Rimma Trade Route. The native Goline of the planet had soldiers, and there was a battle fought before Master Simms and I got there. When the leader of the army, Drus’shi, refused to surrender, General Grievous decided to make Yentz his first example. He set a legion of battle droids on a village of innocent civilians, had the droids round them up, then arranged another meeting with Drus’shi and showed him a holo of the captured villagers and threatened to kill them. Drus’shi surrendered, formal signature and everything. Then Grievous forced Drus’shi to watch as on his order, the battle droids opened fire on the villagers anyway.”
“It was terrible,” Moitros added. Noirah again wondered why he had been allowed to read about it.
“He sent Drus’shi back to his people. He returned a few minutes after we arrived with the news. All the officers wanted to keep on fighting. They wanted revenge. Master Simms calmed them down, suggested we learn more about what was Grievous was planning. It was possible, she thought, he’d try more massacres if we kept fighting, but would stop if we stopped, at least for the moment. I don’t know if he would have. But then it turned out that while Drus’shi was in the enemy camp he had been exposed to a virus that didn’t affect humans, but caused him to die in agony. After that the officers wouldn’t hear of backing down; they were so blinded by their rage.”
She had to stop for a moment, reeling from the memory of Drus’shi’s death. “Agony” was practically a euphemistic way of putting it; the virus had caused his tentacles to turn black and shrivel and his exoskeleton to melt, and his eyes to fall out. It was still among the most horrifying things Noirah had ever seen, and the pain and rage from the Goline had been nearly enough to make her sick to her stomach. She hoped with everything she had that Moitros had no idea about any of those details.
“My Master only managed to persuade them to stay behind by promising to take our clone troops out, since we were immune from the virus. It wasn’t the easiest thing to spread, so the Goline were safe as long as they stayed away from the battle droids. We were lucky; Grievous hadn’t known we were coming and had gone off planet to see to another battle. We defeated the battle droids easily, then called for reinforcements. Five Jedi came in: Yos’torn Few, Orth Donon, Dray Leeni, Pars Mroke, and Kai Hudorra.”
“We were sent off on another brief mission before Grievous came back, and it probably saved us; he killed all of them except Master Hudorra, then released the virus on the Goline soldiers and many of the civilians, shooting still more. We came back to Yentz to find Master Hudorra in a desperate struggle to get the surviving Goline to safety. We were able to help him out there, but the planet was lost, and so many innocents dead.”
She’d had nightmares for months after Yentz. Even now, recalling it left her visibly shaken. Her parents were looking at her as if seeing their daughter for the first time. Even Moitros looked affected.
“Moitros,” said their mother softly, “is that the story of what happened on Yentz?”
“Yeah,” said Moitros, “but I never heard it told like that before.”
“Master Simms told me war’s a terrible thing when it began,” said Noirah, “but I didn’t really understand what she meant until after we’d fought it.” An image came to her head of her Master’s gentle smile, and the pain that had resided deep in her gut, buried under days of fear and desolation, rose to the surface for the second time, this time much worse, and tears rose to her eyes. “I miss her so much.”
Suddenly there were three people all trying to hug her; she was pressed between her parents with her brother reaching his hands between them. It only made her cry harder, as she realized how badly she just wanted to stay here, with the family that had taken her back into their arms with unconditional love of a kind that she’d never known. Become a kid again, or more truthfully, become a kid for the first time, because here on Holt she wouldn’t be thought of as an adult for at least six years and maybe longer, with a pair of arms to hold her and let everything be all right.
She remembered a pair of siblings she’d met once, when she and Master Simms had been helping out refugees early in the war. She watched them play, chasing each other around and around the resettlement center, and she'd noticed how protective the older had been of the younger. She wondered what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with her brother Moitros.
“What happened anyway?” Her mother. “You said the Jedi were betrayed, but that’s not what the newsnet said.”
Noirah would have thought it would easier to tell this story after getting through the last one. But it wasn’t. The only difference was this time, no matter how much she wanted to pause and catch her breath, she didn’t dare, for fear that she wouldn’t be able to start again. By the time she’d stopped talking she’d told it all; how their own troops had turned against them, how Master Simms had sacrificed herself to let her and Master Hudorra escape, how she’d had to hide while Master Hudorra tried to find out what was going on, how they’d snuck off the planet with her disguised as a slave boy, how there’d been lies about the Jedi rebelling and people were afraid to speak out against it, how the Temple had been on fire and they’d watched while the poor boy was shot down, how Master Hudorra had taken away her lightsaber and told her to go away and start her life over, how she’d had no idea what to do and had come to Holt without thinking, and how she had decided to find them and see them.
She didn’t tell them that she’d hoped Master Hudorra would finish training her, or how she’d admired him ever since Yentz, and had been so happy to be working with him again. Nor did she tell them about how she’d built up an image of him which had been destroyed on Coruscant by his actions there. She especially didn’t tell them how it had been a good thing he’d taken away her lightsaber, because if he hadn’t, she might have ended up running its blade through her chest, or how she’d nearly killed herself with the blaster instead, but hadn't been able to bring herself to fire it.
“And now you’ll stay here with us, right?” asked her brother.
Noirah couldn’t look at him. She looked in turn at each of her parents, and as she did, she saw their faces turn into sad understanding.
“I can’t,” she said. “It’s too dangerous for all of us. I’m not sure if I should have come, but I wanted to see you. I needed something.”
Her mother pulled her closer. “Do you have any idea where you’ll go now?”
“No,” she said simply, shedding more tears. How often had she cried in the last month? Every day, that she could remember. And to think she’d never cried before Master Simms had been killed. Not even when she’d seen all those slaughtered Goline, and her Master *had* cried, the only time Noirah’d ever seen her do so. She’d already been too horrified to cry, and it only horrified her more to realize that Master Simms, for all her disgust and grief, had felt no surprise or shock to suppress her tears.
“Then you have to stay here, at least for a few days,” her father told her. “There aren’t many troops here right now, though I’ve been worried already, watching the newsnets, and if what you say about Coruscant is true, than it sounds to me like this new Galactic Empire is not going to be like what we’ve known at all.”
“Rinda retta,” her mother murmured into Noirah’s hair. Her daughter didn’t know what the expression meant, but the deep pain and despair in her voice, in the Force around her and her father, and in Noirah’s own heart, spoke deeper than any words could.
“I can’t believe it’s really happening either, Eltana, but the fact remains that it is. If you’re to have any life at all, Noirah, you’ll need a constructed identity. Governments like the one ours has changed into will go to any lengths to keep track of their citizens, know who they are and where they are and what they are doing, and off Holt, the wiring’s already in place. The holes you’ve slipped through will close up.”
“Rinda retta,” murmured her mother again. “Oih oig, dasos toh eelp. How could we have not have seen…?” She was crying now; pressed to her mother, Noirah could watch her tears fall.
“Actually, for Noirah,” her father continued, “it’s a good thing it’s in place already. During the war, there have been people, passing through Gillord or even living in Mycan who have felt a desire to cheat this system, and where I work we become aware of certain individuals…well, let’s just say I think I can arrange something. It’ll cost us, Eltana; you may have to do another job at that center. It will take time too. Until then, Noirah, you’ll have to hide here.”
“You can sleep in my bed if you want,” Moitros immediately offered in what Noirah suspected was a deliberately serious tone on his part.
“Thanks,” she told him, forcing a smile, “but I think I’m more used to sleeping on things other than beds than you are. I’ll be fine on the couch.” It might just be the softest thing she’d slept on in half a year.
“Moitros,” his father said to him, “I think we need to have a little talk privately. Come upstairs with me.”
“You must be hungry,” her mother said when they had left. “Let me get you something to eat.”
“Thank you, mother.” Left alone, Noirah sank her body down into the softness of the couch and vaguely followed her family’s presence in the Force. She’d have to hide this ability, she knew, but she’d given up trying to stop using it, at least passively like this. Besides, she was starting to feel how the air here was permeated with love, brought on by how much of it the three people living here felt for each other, and though it surprised her to think this, it was more soothing to Noirah's soul than the Force itself.
Though whatever her father was telling Moitros, is seemed to be making him feel very distressed. It really was remarkable how his child emotions stood out from those of his parents. Had she felt like that when she was seven, or had it been trained out of her by then? Childhood was something that could never quite be understood by adults, even those with good memories, according to Master Simms, so she would probably never know.
His footsteps were easy to identify too, but that was obviously because his feet were so small. She pulled herself up as he burst into the room.
“Noirah?” he asked. “Is it true I have to delete all my records of you?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said to him. She held out her arms, and he pulled himself up onto the couch and let her wrap him in them. “In fact,” she added, “I think if I was smart, I’d tell you to forget about me completely, but I’m not going to do that.”
“Forget about you?” He looked up at her in innocent horror. “But I can’t do that! That’s wrong!”
It was then that something she’d once heard Master Yoda say (oh Master Yoda, and now he was probably dead too, but she just couldn’t comprehend *that*) came back to Noirah, “A remarkable thing it is, the mind of a child, so often right, it is.”
“You’re right,” she said to him. “It would be smart for you to forget about me, and for me to forget about the Jedi, but it would still be wrong. You don’t do it, and I won’t either.”
“Okay,” he agreed, grinning. Meanwhile, she felt something lift within her as she thought about what she had just said, thinking that she didn't have to forget about the Jedi, no matter what Master Hudorra had said. She might not use the Force anymore, she might even live the rest of her life as if she'd never been anything other than whatever identity her father was able to obtain from her, but she would never, ever forget.
They were still curled up around each other when her parents came back in together, her mother carrying a plate and a cup. She felt them stop at the sight of their two children, content to just look for a moment or two. Before the moment passed, Noirah wished that it wouldn’t.
She ate and drank gratefully. She didn’t pay much attention to what it was, but it tasted good.
“I hope you know,” her mother started, “how proud…” But she couldn’t go on; she was too choked up.
“Shhhh,” said Noirah, moving both herself and her brother towards her mother and letting her hug them both while she still could.