Playing Against Type
Mirror and Image
Twi'leks were a distinct race in the galaxy in terms of other species perceiving them. The rule of thumb was that the men were as ugly as the women were beautiful. Multiple skin colors, strong bodies, firm muscles and twin lekku (hence, Twi'lek) that maintained balance, Twi'leks were, at the end of the Republic and most especially during the dark times of the Empire, a rich resource for the slave trade. Men were excellent workers, strong backs, and valued warriors, while women were – well, whatever their owners wanted them to be.
Hera, born into this age, understood what being a Twi'lek meant in the galaxy, of course, but it was not until she left her home on Ryloth that she really saw. No, not even saw, experienced. So many beings in the galaxy would double take when they saw her, almost any species that was male was immediately sweet on her, or worse, made assumptions about her. She'd lost track of the number of times people offered to buy her, of the ways she was made to feel uncomfortable, the things she was expected to do or be simply because she was a Twi'lek. Her father had warned her, of course, had told her that the birth of the Empire was the death of all honor in the galaxy, and that it was an even more dangerous place to live than during the Clone Wars. At least then there were Jedi, to remind people what true honor was supposed to be. Jedi would take any race, any species, and judged no one, and honored everyone.
Slowly, over most of her teenage years, Hera learned to live with – even use – the fact that she was a Twi'lek to her advantage. She learned when to flirt, when to down play, when to smile coyly to get what she wanted. She learned which crushes were cute and which were lecherous; she learned when to lead someone on and when to shut someone down. And there was no better way to learn how to defend oneself than in defense of one's body day after day. A blaster was a must-have for this galaxy, and she made herself an expert.
Kanan, when they met, was amusing. Her first impression was of a brawler, picking at an old rivalry that fared well and gave her an advantage that she used unscrupulously. He caught up to her with her cloak, and the most memorable part of their exchange was him staring at her, wide eyed, in the perpetual night with a mouth partly open.
"Do you speak Basic?" she had asked.
"... Words fail me," he had said.
It was, on reflection, the most honest admission of a crush that she had experienced, and at the time she had been happy to let it go at that. The galaxy was a different matter, of course, and her first impression was slowly worn away. The more she saw of him the more he impressed, and the more she watched, the more she saw someone fighting to hide his heart from the universe, to hide his keen mind and extraordinary physique. Every time it seemed they were cornered on Gorse, or at Vidian's mining depot, or even on the crystalline moon with its thoralide, he somehow came up with a wild idea, a creative pulse of a thought that worked in ways she would never have imagined. Pretending to be the hand of the Emperor to the star destroyer captain? Faking a psychotic break and "attacking" mining freighters when actually destroying TIE fighters? Even something as simple as pretending a Wookie was being sick in the cantina, he always managed to surprise. The honest crush was connected to a man who was so dishonest about his abilities that she didn't know what to make of him.
And then she watched him touch the Force.
The mishmash of fear, sheepish self-consciousness, and the desperate whisper of, "Please don't tell anyone," had convinced her that she wanted him on her team.
Not that she had a team really, just an earnest desire to do something against the empire, to build something, and Kanan and his crush was her first stone.
They had been together for a little less than a year. Their conversations during long hyperspace voyages were still very carefully on safe topics. She learned very quickly to never touch his time as a Jedi, she had once called him "Master Jedi" as a joke and had watched him physically recoil, saying it wasn't funny and disappearing to his bunk with a bottle of something he had smuggled onto the Ghost when she wasn't looking. He had drunk himself to a stupor and didn't talk to her for almost two days. Kanan, in turn, learned her father was the famous Cham Syndulla and that was a very Closed Topic for her as well.
Chopper whistled and wuffed, disconnecting his port and announcing that they had arrived at their destination. They were in Hutt space, outside the Empire's reach for now, and supposedly the only safe place Hera's contact would meet her. As they left hyperspace, Hera blinked slowly when she saw the space station, an interstellar hub to dock and maintain star ships while going from one end of the galaxy to another. Almost every transport coming or going had the distinct design and lines of slaveships. Not an interstellar hub then, but an illegal slave station. Something inside her cringed, and she took a long, slow breath through her nose to mentally prepare herself for what she was about to go through.
She was a Twi'lek. She would use her looks and her charms to get what she wanted. But she would never pose as a slave. How many of her people were there, she wondered, and the thought made her sick inside. She took another breath and sent her transponder signal, asking permission to dock.
"Do you know who your contact is?" Kanan asked from the copilot seat. His rich baritone was quiet, thoughtful, as if he knew what was going on in her mind. Maybe he did, he was a Jedi after all.
"A Weequay named Thal Tyr," she answered, eyes on the command board and waiting for permission to be granted.
"Obviously an alias," Kanan muttered.
Hera turned. "How would you know?" she asked.
"A thal is a shrine of polished black stone that they perform their religious ceremonies on and Tyr..." He shook his head. He pulled at an invisible hair to run back into his pony-tail and leaned back, crossing a leg over his knee. "How do we play this?" he asked, a distracting glint in his eye. "Don't tell me you have a slave princess outfit and never thought to let me see it?" The easy grin was on his face, he was in his cowboy role, the one he wore so often once he was off the ship, the rowdy brawler who was the muscle of the two-person crew.
Hera shook her head. The amount of random knowledge Kanan had in his head was astounding, she sometimes couldn't wrap her mind around the sheer level of education the Jedi must have gone through. She had also thought the name an alias, the holonet was nothing if not a hit-or-miss place to find contacts, but this was too good a lead to pass up, and Fulcrum agreed. If everything went according to plan, Hera would leave the station with a complete list of all the Outer Rim planets that had resources the Imperials wanted and a list of the Imperial priorities on how to take them. She had been expecting a planet, not a space station, a place where she would blend in. In a slave station, she would stand out terribly, and the risk to herself was double or triple that of other species in the galaxy because she was a Twi'lek. In truth, she hadn't planned on it, and her long pause was enough to tell Kanan that.
He pulled out his blaster and handed it to her. "I have an idea."
It wasn't an idea, exactly, Kanan was willing to admit on reflection. And it was a kriffing stupid idea, now that he was stripped of his blaster and his shoulder guard, changed into one of his work shirts and an barely-held together pair of pants. He walked shoeless, behind Hera, eyes downcast and hands clasped politely in front of him. It was obvious to everyone once they disembarked: Hera was the owner, and he was the slave.
As an Initiate he had taken several courses on the economy of the Republic, and that included slavery. Free labor was, well, free. With no salaries to pay, money could be funneled to other interests and profit margins were nominally larger. It was economically pragmatic, Master Tyr, a Weequay Jedi, had said, and one of the most consistent ways to promote racism, hatred, and discord.
"To own someone," he had said, "Is to hold them as an object, a thing. It gives you a power over that being that no one has the right to have, and it allows the owner to think they are somehow better. Those who grow up in that environment are doomed to have the lens of their perception forever skewed by its color, in the most subtle and disturbing of ways. These are beings who don't even realize the contempt they hold for other creatures in the galaxy."
When Kanan was still Caleb, still trying to live in a galaxy with a target on his back and teenage hormones shoving him in every reactionary direction possible, many people had taught him how to look down on others. An easy way to blend in, to be invisible, was to look out only for oneself, and an easy way to do that was to treat the galaxy like it was beneath you. Just a drifter passing through, cocky and confident, and a loner who liked women. And, well, he was a teenager, his body taught him almost as much as the people he was around, and warm beds were sometimes better than drinking.
He had learned how to flirt, when to play it up, when to smile coyly to get what he wanted. He learned how to catch a woman's eye just as she caught his; and he learned how to lead a girl on and when to leave quickly. There was no better way to release tension than fighting a jealous boyfriend, or the thrill of running from angry parents. When things were bad, when he was ready to just implode with hiding everything that he was and a bottle or a brawl wasn't nearby, it was a woman who could give him release.
It wasn't until he met Hera – no, it had started before; he just wasn't sure when. It wasn't until Hera that he understood why he sometimes, after leaving yet another bedroom, felt like he hated himself. He was using the women he bedded as objects, things to relieve himself with. He didn't care about their emotions and didn't let himself attach to them – the epitome of a drifter – and in doing so he never considered the consequences of when he left.
Hera was different than any of the women he had ever lusted over. She wasn't interested no matter his best efforts, true (not the first time), but she also wasn't interested in any other man that she had come across in their year together. Many had tried to sweet-talk her, many had made advances to her, but she always shrugged them off and put them in their place. Kanan never interfered, it wasn't his place no matter what he felt, and over time it wasn't jealousy that made him dislike the men who went after Hera, but rather it was because he was exhausted just watching her deal with it so often. Kanan was not unlike those men who chased her, and he was watching how much energy and how often Hera had to turn such men away, and Kanan learned about himself from watching, and he once more didn't like what he saw.
Seeing the slave station and all the slaveships, he had seen her tense, and he knew very well what a Twi'lek would think upon seeing all of that. He tried to play it off, distract her with slave princess fashion, but then he saw the look on her face, and he wanted to spare her this one thing.
And so he was in his work clothes, barefoot, trailing behind his master not unlike a Padawan Learner, only with his head down in deference to her ownership.
The two of them were not subtle; they did not blend in. Everyone stared as a Twi'lek led a human down the dingy, earthy halls of the docking bay.
They moved through catwalks that overlooked the slave pens, Wookies and Twi'leks and Togrutans and a dozen other species corralled together like animals. Most of the guards were human, gawking at the pair, or Zabraks with their horned heads. There were jeers and catcalls, more than a few of the guards turned from their duties to watch the pair, and Kanan felt more than one curious hand on his person. Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all, he was playing against type and he wasn't sure he could play it well, but the role had been cast and he would do his best. Head down, he cast his eyes around but did not see a Weequay anywhere on the the ship. That might have meant there were few Weequays here, and he hoped that also meant the informant was easy to find.
Hera was a sight to see, she was still in her old orange flight-suit slacks, brown leathered armor plating her chest and shoulders, and her lekku swung evenly as she walked with purpose down the catwalks like she owned the place. There was a tension in her shoulders, however, that Kanan saw and he realized she was just as uncomfortable as he was. She was used to being invisible, and he had stepped on that in his attempt to help her. Stupid cowboy.
A Zabrak with a datapad stopped them, asking their business, and Hera said something about being on the way to a meeting and thinking about "investing" while she was nearby. The Zabrak nodded, assigning quarters and offering a leash for Kanan. Hera blinked slowly again, absorbing the idea and Kanan saw her shoulders bunch, horror building in her frame. He covered: "I do have a slave chip," he said softly, "It was installed as soon as I was purchased, a leash will not be necessary."
Hera, of course, fell in step perfectly. "Any other questions?"
"Only how far you programed the distance so we know which pen to put him in while you are staying here."
Kanan's first thought: great. He knew the reputations of slaveships, and he would be hard pressed to avoid abuse of the humans and Zabraks and still look like a mewling slave, but he wasn't even halfway through processing that thought before Hera rose an arched eyebrow.
"He won't be kept in a pen," she ordered. "He's useful to me and I know very well what goes on down there. I'll keep him in good condition, thank you."
The Zabrak gave a lecherous smirk, face heavily tattooed pulling into something dark. "I should have guessed, 'my Lady.' As you wish. He will share your quarters."
A tiny part of Kanan's mind glowed at the idea of sharing a bunk with Hera, but he knew the chances of that were nil to nonexistent, and he dutifully followed her as she was escorted to the sleeping quarters of the station, given a keycard and the necessary filework to sign in, register her slave, and pay the first half of her bill. She entered their quarters and the door automatically shut after them. She started to slouch but Kanan whispered, "Not yet, remember what Zaluna taught us."
Hera nodded without nodding and moved to sit on the couch. She crossed her leg over her knee and said, "You know I don't like being watched."
"As you wish, my Lady," Kanan replied, and dutifully began looking for cameras. The Sullustan had taught them all the standard places to hide cameras back on Gorse, and a few nonstandard places. Kanan's imagination found two other cameras, and they were all disabled quickly if not with finesse. He gave Hera a nod and she immediately slouched, exhaling a large breath. Kanan sat on the cool floor, hands on his knees. "So that was another one of my dumb ideas," he said genially. "Now everyone here thinks I'm your bed toy and that you're attached to me." He sighed. "Sorry about that."
"Were you always this creative?" she asked, rubbing her temples.
"Don't know," he answered. "Was never in the field long enough to find out. The other younglings always thought I asked too many questions."
Hera gave a soft puff of air of a laugh. "Well, we definitely got Thal Tyr's attention with that entrance. The question is if he or she is brave enough to talk to us after all of that."
"Does your contact know they're looking for a Twi'lek and a human?"
"And you made it obvious that you're only here overnight?"
"Then they'll either come or not."
"An excellent non answer," she said, and Kanan could hear the silent "Master Jedi." He cringed, hunching his shoulders and pressing his fists into his knees. He was seated like a Jedi right now, and he shifted to a cross-legged position to fix the problem. He wasn't ready to talk about that part of his life. He didn't know that he ever would be. Not out loud, let alone to Hera. He ran a hand through his hair.
"Next question:" he said. "Do we wait in here or do you send me out to go looking for them?"
Hera looked up, green eyes thinking. "That's a good question. What would I even send a slave out for? I've never had one before."
Kanan started thinking. "Anything, really. I do whatever you want. You could literally tell me to go out and get drunk and I'd have to do it, especially with the slave chip threat."
"What is a slave chip?"
"Implanted bomb. If I run away or I displease you, you can just blow me up."
Hera was horrified. "How do you even know about this?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "We had to learn everything." He saw her look and quickly backpedaled, "Not like that. Just... history, economics, law, how the galaxy works. This," he gestured vaguely to the station, "falls under all of that. The chip, though, that was Master Skywalker." He was a living legend in the creche, the galaxy's greatest and strongest warrior, unrivaled pilot, legendary student of Master Kenobi. Rumors of a hundred types circled around the younglings, and one of them was that the famous Jedi had been a slave when he had been found, and that such a chip had been installed in him. Caleb doubted the tale's veracity, right up until an initiate had asked the great master during a lecture on Form IV. Skywalker didn't answer, didn't even acknowledge the question, but Caleb, near the front and paying rapt attention, had seen a tightening around the eyes, the hint of a frown, and he wondered if it wasn't true.
Hera shuddered. Kanan couldn't blame her.
"Well, 'my Lady,'" he said, standing. "I think you've had enough time to settle in. I'd best be about my work."
Hera nodded. "The premise?"
"Looking for your next 'investment,' remember?"
The Twi'lek nodded. "Kanan," she added before he reached the door, an odd note in her voice. "Talk to the Twi'leks. Maybe while we're here we can stage a breakout."
The former Padawan stilled, hand hovering over the door lock, processing what she was saying and taking a deep breath. "It won't do any good," he said, sad.
Hera stiffened, eyes narrowing to a glare. "What?" she asked.
Kanan's rubbed at his temples, not wanting to be on this side of the argument. Not wanting to make the argument at all. Because slavery was wrong and needed to be eradicated. But if they got distracted by every little thing, their whole objective might end in failure. "We don't have time. We have to meet your contact first and foremost."
"Kanan," Hera said coldly, "there are people suffering in those pens, being abused and degraded and debased. Are you saying that we should let that stand?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all. But taking down the slaving industry is more than we can do at the moment. This is an entire facility devoted to slavery. With hundreds, if not thousands, of guards, thousands of innocent slaves crammed into those pens." He looked at her, trying to will her to see what would be necessary. "Do we just kill all the slavers? How do we defend the slaves themselves? What happens if we save one but can't get any of the rest?"
"Those are just excuses," she said, arms crossed.
"Of course they are," Kanan said, "But it doesn't make any of them less true. We tried to end slavery for thousands of years: we bought freedom contracts, we made laws, we raided and invaded and even when there were ten thousand of us in the galaxy it still wasn't enough. This one act won't do anything but draw even more attention to us and scare off your contact."
"And potentially free hundreds of beings," Hera said.
Kanan pursed his lips. "You have to ask yourself which is your priority: sticking it to the Empire and meeting your contact, building your little rebellion; or saving the slaves."
Hera was livid, and her voice suddenly turned quiet. "Why should I have to choose?" she demanded. "Why can't it be both? Why can't we – I – help everyone I see?"
"Because it will destroy you, just like it did us."
Hera's face slacked with surprise, before turning into something hard, stubborn. She stood up and marched up to Kanan, palming the door open and shoving him out the door. "DO as I asked!" she demanded, before the door slid shut between them. Kanan stared at the piece of metal, sad and hurt and unwilling to show it. "As you wish, my Lady," he said softly, before turning and padding submissively down the hall to the slave pens. He didn't want to stick his neck out, didn't want to stand out, but even after a year he still found himself following Hera in every adventure, unable to pull away from the beautiful voice and captivating face. Even when he put that outraged look on her face.
Hera was shaking, furious. How dare he? She couldn't just leave those Twi'leks in the pens. Or any of the others. And his excuses on slavery being too big a problem to tackle... Nonsense! Just nonsense! She was in this to make things better for people. To stop the Empire, to enrich lives, to bring it back to normal, where one could control one's own destiny. She saw injustices happening left and right, as the Empire closed its fist around the citizens. She knew that there needed to be a rebellion, she had a long goal, even if it took decades, to organize people and get them to fight back.
Slavery was just another symptom of the problem. Another sign of the illness that the Empire represented that needed to be stopped.
Hera let out a long sigh, energy draining from her. Kanan wasn't wrong. She had been focused for so long on building the rebellion; that was her goal, that was her purpose. She'd never let herself get distracted. Couldn't let herself get distracted. But every Twi'lek knew that their brothers and sisters were in slavery. It was a duty. They needed to rescue them if ever they could. And the slavery had only gotten worse under the Empire.
But slavery had endured for thousands of years. There had been many, many attempts to put slavery out of business, but it Just. Kept. Going. Hera shook her head. No, any action she took here at the station wouldn't put an end to slavery. Far from it. But it would save some of her people.
She just couldn't let that go if it was right in front of her.
Kanan might have a point. It might be difficult logistically, it might not put any sort of dent in the slave business as a whole, but it would be something.
With a heavy sigh, she pulled out her datapad and started downloading information on the station and looking at blueprints, likely structural modifications to accommodate slaves, and thought about how large her ship was and how many she could carry. Did any of the slaves know how to fly a ship? Could they steal one for them to fly as well? Kanan would find out most likely.
Hera's shoulder's slumped. As irritating as Kanan could be, he didn't deserve her to yell at him like that. She'd have to apologize once he returned. She wouldn't let go of freeing the slaves. She couldn't. But maybe she and Kanan could find a middle ground between not getting involved and staying low versus doing something drastic to free everyone.
It was two hours later when Hera started wondering if she should go out on the move. Kanan hadn't arrived and after their very noticeable entrance, no Weequay had come knocking. Perhaps it was time to remind others that she was here. But she chose to stay in her room, going over what she had learned. Kanan might be the tactician and strategist, but she had learned a lot in the past year working with him, and she was no slouch before he had joined her. She was jotting down ideas when there was a polite knock.
Powering down the datapad and putting it in her bag, she stood and straightened herself out. She didn't know who was at the door and it was best to be prepared.
She waved her palm and the door opened and, to Hera's surprise, there were two Weequay there. She arched a delicate brow, frowning slightly. "Greetings," she said politely, not moving an inch.
"Ah," the Weequay in front had longer frill along his jowl, indicating that he was older by at least a half-dozen years, was eyeing her appreciatively. "The Twi'lek who owns instead of being owned."
"So nice to be noticed," she replied. Given that lecherous look, she refused to ask what she could do for him, or how she could help, and she wasn't interested in the slightest in how he was doing.
"And we understand you bear a human male... companion," the elder continued.
"Yes," she replied. "Your point?"
The elder gave a wide smile. "I am Thal Tyr."
Hera tilted her head forward in a more proper greeting. "I am Zaluna," she said, using the name that she had contacted him with. "You had said you would come alone."
"Ahh," the elder continued to smile. "I have brought my little brother. He's learning the family business."
"I see," Hera replied. "You have what I have asked for?"
"You have my credits?"
"Was there ever any doubt?"
Tyr chuckled. "You amuse me, Zaluna. Might my brother and I come in to discuss business?"
"Of course." She stepped back and let them into her room. A glance beyond them showed none watching, either obviously or discreetly, and she palmed the door shut. Turning, she studied the two Weequay more closely. Tyr, the older, was in a long duster, a darker shade of green, with woven silver and gold braiding. The younger had a jacket of similar color and design, no doubt to signify their familial connection, but cut to the waist.
Hera arched her brow again as she studied them. Talking to Tyr on the HoloNet made her think that the Weequay was sympathetic to her cause and desperate for money. Meeting him in person, she believed him to instead be an opportunist. While that was disappointing, the data itself was far more useful.
With a delicate twist of her wrist, she produced a small datachip between her fingers that she held up, even as her other hand rested easily on her blaster as a precaution. "Proof of my accounts," she said, then flicked her fingers, sending the chip spinning through the air. The younger caught it and pulled out a reader to insert the chip. The brothers looked over the numbers, and Tyr frowned.
"This is only proof of the amount promised," he said in a questioning tone. "How will you buy anything after this?"
Hera gave a cold smile and shrugged. "That would be my business."
"And if we chose to raise the price, having met you?"
"Then I wish you the best of luck. Try selling that information to the Empire. I'm sure they'd love to know how you acquired it."
"Touche!" Tyr laughed.
"I have provided proof," Hera shifted her weight. "Have you any proof that your data is accurate?"
"Come, come," Tyr laughed again, voice smoky. "Would I have come without proof?" He pulled out his own datachip and handed it to her. Hera pulled out a different datareader from her pocket and downloaded the chip, scanning swiftly through the information.
Hera willed her eyes not to widen. Proof indeed. If this was just a sampling, she really wanted the full file. "This seems adequate," she said instead.
"Excellent!" Tyr gave a wide grin, handing his datareader to his brother. He gave a sly smile, eyes once more wandering her frame. "I don't suppose I could receive a signing bonus? A night with a Twi'lek who owns instead of being owned?"
Hera crossed her arms. "You are decidedly not my type," she said firmly. "Quaint, but not my type."
"Ahhh, one had to try."
"And when," Hera asked, "will you provide me with the data?"
"When you provide the money," Tyr grinned, unrepentant. "Say, at the auction this evening? Plenty of people around so that no mishaps can occur?"
Meaning he likely had several mishaps planned, Hera reflected. But she would have Kanan with her by then. They made an excellent team and would likely see through any ruse. Well, she was walking into this with eyes wide open.
"Very well," she said. "And since you brought your brother along, I think I'll bring my human along, so that we are even as we exchange."
"Shrewd woman," Tyr gave his smoky laugh again. "I do wish to share your bed in the future."
"Impossible," she replied. "Until tonight."
She walked them both out and palmed the door shut, her stomach aching.
With a heavy sigh, she pulled out the datapad she had been researching with. Time to read up on the auction for tonight.
Kanan wasn't thrilled to be touring a slave station looking for a Weequay. Moreover, he didn't relish the idea of going into the pens and offer freedom to only the ones who could fit on the ship. Hera, who normally was very methodical, hadn't thought this through. But, then, seeing her people collared and owned would make anybody a little rash. Kanan remembered his own zeal when he'd heard the beacon, and the price he paid when he jumped out of hyperspace. He grimaced, padding along the dirty floors on his bare feet and darting his eyes every which way. He still hadn't seen a Weequay, and he knew his abilities in the Force were dull enough that he wouldn't be able to sense one if he tripped over one. He could only hope that the desert dweller was with Hera.
Two Zabraks were guarding one of the pens, filled mostly with Twi'lek, and offered cruel smiles when he asked deferentially to be let in.
"What if we forget to let you out?" one of them asked, leaning into Kanan's personal space and making the human wish very badly he could punch this guy in the mouth. Appearances needed to be maintained, however; though he couldn't quite put down the menace in his voice as he replied.
"Then my Lady will be most displeased."
The two laughed outright and let him in. Kanan lasted about two steps before the gate slammed shut and the Zabraks deliberately walked off, wanting to make him feel trapped with no way out. It would take better men then they to pull off that stunt, and Kanan waited until they were well out of sight before he dropped the act. He straightened and put his hands on his hips, looking right ahead at the three Twi'lek men who stared at him with undisguised hatred. He could tell right from the start that this conversation was going to go swell.
He tried for amiable. "What's up, guys?"
"What is that traitorous bitch doing here?" one of the men, clearly the alpha, demanded. Obviously their sell of Hera being an owner and he a slave had worked even in the pens. Kanan filed that thought away for future use.
"A little liberation," he said smoothly, crossing one ankle over the other.
Incredulous stares from the men; desperate hope from the women, confusion from—Force, there were children here, too. The silence hung around, nobody quite sure how to react to his declaration, and Kanan pushed his point. "My captain," he said, "Came here thinking it was a planet to meet a contact. We found this place instead. We have one light Corellian freighter – and I mean freighter, sleep quarters are terrible, cargo bay is tiny. At max we can grab maybe a dozen of you, and that's a stretch. There is no one else besides us, and you have to decide if you're going to take up that offer."
The men were still distrustful, but Kanan could see almost all of the women glancing at each other, exchanging silent communication with blinks and shrugs, before one, face lined with age and shoulders stooped with experience, stood. Her accent was thick, almost unintelligible, but Kanan understood: "The greater gift would be destroying the slave chips," she said. "Were that we had that, we would free ourselves."
Slave chips... there could be any number of controls: palm devices all the way to a central hub, frequencies could be too different to jam, there might be protection protocols, a hundred different things could go wrong. Kanan pursed his lips. That meant a longer op, research and data collection; space, they really were playing against type. Hera was the stealth and slicer, he was the muscle, but now with their roles reversed... how could they do it? First they needed more information. He glanced at the gate, saw the Zabraks heading back, so he moved his way deeper into the pen, away from their ears. The women understood this immediately, started giggling and talking, moving in and screening him from the guards. He sat down on the floor, eye level with some of the younglings, and one of the men did the same, as did the ancient Twi'lek woman. "What are your names?" he asked.
"Orgadomo," the male said, teal skin and black eyes. His lekku fell halfway down his back, and an ugly scar ran across an eyebrow.
"Suu," said the wizened lady, tan skin leathery with age and eyes yellow eyes so pale as to be white. Her lekku were so long they were wrapped delicately around her shoulders.
"Kanan," the former Padawan said. "I don't have a lot of time, my captain is supposed to be meeting her contact right now. How much do you know about the slave chips?"
"Not where they are," Orgadomo said bitterly.
"No one would," Kanan said, sharp but not mean. "How are they controlled? Do the guards have palm devices, or do the higher ups need to be alerted? Have you ever heard anything about frequencies?"
Both Twi'lek looked at each other, frowning. Orgadomo wasn't going to be much help, Kanan already knew that – the man was too angry at his station, too busy feeling sorry for himself to think about getting out of his situation, opportunistic. The teal Twi'lek would be great in a fight but not before. Suu was the better chance, she had the age and experience to watch, the insight to know how to help herself – help all the Twi'lek – instead of just herself. She rubbed her chin with a gnarled finger, eyes unseeing. "When Oola tried to escape," she said softly, accent thick, "We all watched; he made it nearly to the docking bays before he..."
Kanan nodded. "I understand," he said, sensitive to the pain on the old woman's face. "That means the guards don't have a handheld shut off. That mean's there's a hub here somewhere. Do you know if you all have the same chips, same frequencies?"
This time it was Orgadomo's nodded. "Almost all of us are recent captures, within the last year; we were implanted as soon as we came here."
"That means most likely that they use the same chips." It would be cheaper to buy chips in bulk, from one manufacturer, and that would make the actual mission easier. Figuring out who the manufacturer was, though, and their frequencies... "One of you will have to come with me," he said. "Preferably a child."
Orgadomo's scarred face twisted. "What?" he demanded.
"I'm here on the pretext of looking for a new investment," Kanan replied. "Young labor is a better investment."
The Twi'lek looked like he was about to do violence, but Suu reached a tan hand out and touched his arm. "Gobi," she said. "She is bright and precocious. She watches; and she is quiet."
A petite pink mother stepped forward. Clinging to her smock was a Twi'lek of maybe twelve; purple skin and purple eyes. She said something in her native tongue, a question, and there was a quick and heated debate that followed, the adults interrupting and interjecting back and forth. Kanan thought he heard some curses, but he carefully tuned them out and kept his gaze on the girl, Gobi. She stared at him wide eyed, before slowly detaching herself and sitting in front of him. He didn't know much Twi'leki, but he tried his best.
"Are you scared?" he asked.
"I don't blame you."
"Are you scared?"
Kanan spent nearly half of his life being scared: scared of being discovered, scared of being captured, scared of being killed or hunted. He had long ago learned to live with the fear, however, and over time he hardly noticed. He didn't think too hard about what that meant. Instead he nodded. "But I still want to try."
Gobi nodded. Kanan reached out his hand and she took it. The pair stood, and Kanan saw the elderly Suu nod, Gobi's mother's hands covering her mouth and anxiety rippling through her frame. It dawned on Kanan how terrifying it must be to trust one's child with a complete stranger with the uncertain hope of freedom. The weight of what she was doing settled on Kanan's shoulders, and he stood straight, giving a slow, meaningful nod. "I'll do everything in my power to make sure nothing happens to her," he said.
The mother was about ready to break down, but Suu nodded. Orgadomo was still suspicious, but he said nothing, black eyes promising retribution if Kana broke his word.
Kanan, new charge in tow, moved back towards the gate. The Zabrak were of course lecherous in their looks, laughing to themselves over whatever they thought was funny. Kanan had a very good idea, of course, but he was still playing against type, he kept his eyes down and deferential, back straight and steps soft. Gobi kept to his side, never daring to look at the guards. He quietly hoped they wouldn't harass the pair with their base ideas, but he'd learned the hard way since joining Hera that things never quite went as planned. One of the guards detached and followed them down the narrow halls, disgusting grin plastered on his face and Kanan just knew the Zabrak was either going to do or say something supercilious or facetious. He pushed his pace a little, and the girl understood the speed, matched his pace perfectly.
"Hey!" the Zabrak said.
Kanan ignored him, kept walking. The Zabrak quickened his pace, and the former Padawan struggled to stay in character. He did not what to hear what this guy had to say.
"I said hey," the Zabrak said, reaching up and grabbing Kanan's arm. Kanan briefly considered pushing through, or even just throwing a punch, but any nascent satisfaction that would bring would be moot because of the trouble it would cause. He stopped, allowed himself to be turned, stared at the dark eyes.
"Shouldn't you be guarding the pens?" he asked.
"It can wait," the guard said.
"Surely you would not leave your partner to fend for himself," Kanan suggested.
The Zabrak grinned, an oily, ugly thing. "That desperate to get the little tail-head to yourself, are you? Can't I just watch as you shove your saber in her?"
Stars above, Kanan didn't want to hear this. "My lord has curious ideas," he said formally, seething underneath. "Whatever base suggestion you are inferring is incorrect, and so I must ask you to leave before I am forced to defend my Lady's honor."
"Oho!" the Zabrack said, eyes alight with another sick idea. "Is that how it is?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"That tail head likes girls, huh? From little bitches like that one to girly little nerfs like you, eh? Now I've got to watch when she-"
Any further ugliness Kanan interrupted with his fist, a solid connection with perfect form that broke the Zabrak's nose in a fountain of blood as the guard's head snapped back and he crumpled to the metal floor. Kanan held his follow through for a brief moment, taking a deep breath before straightening. "I warned you," he said, "I would defend my Lady's honor." A sliver of masculine confidence bled through, there was a sneer in his voice he couldn't quite hide, but Kanan consoled himself that everything he had done was perfectly in character. Mostly in character. Okay, not even a little in character. Kriff, time to leave.
Kanan glanced at little Gobi, but the girl was still clutching his hand, looking up anxiously as the bad man moaned and writhed on the floor. Her face was wide in terror, to see someone she decided to trust explode in violence. She didn't understand Basic, didn't understand what he had done, only that he had suddenly thrown a punch with enough force to draw blood, and the only thing keeping her in one place was his grip on her hand.
Kanan knelt down, mentally cursing the damage he had just caused, and waited, open. The girl caught his eyes quickly, and he tried to put all his regret on his face, remembering his smattering of Twi'leki. "I'm sorry," he said. "He said a bad thing."
The Zabrak was starting to get up and Kanan couldn't afford to wait for her response, he snapped to his feet and pulled her behind him, edging around the disoriented guard and padding quickly down the hall and around a corner. He kept his pace brusque until he felt safe about the distance from the scene, and he went back to walking; they arrived at their quarters without further interruption. Small favors.
Hera opened the door and her green eyes widened in horror to see Kanan with a child in tow. Kanan didn't give her room to react, making his way into the room and palming the door shut before he dropped his cover. "Don't yell," he said quickly, "She doesn't know Basic."
Hera was left sucking in a breath, a murderous look on her face, before she closed her eyes and Kanan watched her count to ten in a few different languages. She exhaled and looked down to Gobi, still holding Kanan's hand as security even as she stared up at Hera with something that looked like awe. She said something in Twi'leki, Kanan didn't understand all of it, but Hera's face softened almost immediately and knelt down. "There are a lot more like me," she said gently, offering her own hand, everything about her warm and open, even in the Force. "And you can be like me, too." She repeated herself in her native tongue.
Gobi let go of Kanan's hand immediately and threw her arms around Hera, purple and green lekku bobbing back and forth as the two shuddered. Kanan felt uncomfortable as the two bonded, and he shuffled over to the other side of the room, sitting down and crossing his legs, closing his eyes and slowly tuning out the sounds. He pretended he was meditating, trying to give the pair privacy and wishing he was a few lightyears away.
It was later when he heard them break apart. The Twi'lek spoke softly in their native language, and Kanan was secretly glad he understood so little of it; he felt like he was intruding as it was just by the fact that he was in the room. He glanced at the chrono and knew that there was only so much waiting still to do. "Can I talk now?" he asked.
Hera gave him a glare but there wasn't much emotion in it. "This wasn't the plan."
Kanan made a face. "Actually, there was no plan. You just sent me down to talk to them, dead set on breaking them out."
"You changed the plan."
"I repeat: there was no plan," Kanan said, plaintive. "There is now, though, if you want to hear it."
"And?" Hera asked, eyebrow raised.
"You buy Gobi."
Kanan winced. "Yeah, that sounded better in my head," he said apologetically, hands raised in supplication. "Look, if you offer to buy her, then you'll be given the make, model, and frequency of her slave chip, and based on that we can come up with a way to disable the slave chips on the entire station. In other words, we'd free everyone and they could riot and escape on their own. Or, if you don't like that idea, you can grab one of your scanners from the Ghost and see if you can find the chip in her and remove it to get the same intel, but then you have all the what ifs about where it is and how invasive the surgery is and-"
Hera raised a hand, eyes closed and fingers to her temple, stalling a headache. "I concede the point," she said with some pain. "But what would the frequency get us?"
"One of the Twi'lek down there said that most of them were recent captures. This place isn't exactly Coruscant but they're not exactly scrounging around for parts, either. The chips most likely are bought in bulk, and once we know the distributor we can dig around the holonet to find out how the chips are utilized. In a station this big there probably aren't hand remotes, and the others down in the pens have said things that support that. Once we know what the transponder is, or the common bands of frequencies, then we can either jam or destroy the device. The chips will be rendered inert, and the Twi'lek can take charge of their own destinies."
"Poetic," Hera said, her voice a little too flat to be sincere. She spoke quickly in her native language to the little lavender Gobi, and the shy child came out of her shell as she began to understand what was going on, nodding and saying a short sentence here or there. Her voice was very rich for a twelve-year old, and Kanan wondered if he hadn't pegged the age wrong. Not that it mattered – on reflection Kanan had been at war when he was thirteen, rank of Commander, expected to lead battalions into battle with only the barest education. He had no right to talk about child warriors, and however much he hoped this girl wouldn't end up fighting by the end of today, he knew that things like this were out of his hands and that things would probably go out the exhaust vent, anyway. Gobi would either be able to do what was necessary... or not.
"She agrees," Hera said after several minutes.
"It is good plan," the girl said.
Kanan offered a smile. "Well, what do you know. She does know Basic."
Gobi frowned, glancing at Hera and saying something. She nodded and turned back to Kanan. "Her Basic is about as broken as your Twi'leki," she said.
Kanan snorted. "Then we'll get along just fine."
The two girls stood and Kanan joined them, moving over to a couch with a table. The checkered pattern suggested a dejarik table but nobody turned on a game. With Hera acting as interpreter, Gobi explained everything she knew about the station, which as the old Suu had suggested, was quite a bit. Hera patched into the C1 droid on the Ghost and pulled up the design specs and schematics of the station while Kanan placed an order of purchase into the computer.
The station was, actually, originally an old droid production factory in space – long before the Clone Wars started and the Separatists were still just toying with the idea of seceding from the Republic. Most of the manufacturing rooms had long since been salvaged and scraped clean, leaving only massive, empty chambers that had shifted to use as slave pens. The catwalks above were monitoring platforms with long gone terminals to nudge or modify production. All programming was held in a central core of the ship, not in the circular outside that they were located, but rather a spherical hub floating inside. Whoever had salvaged and/or refurbished the station had obviously spent money on it, and as Hera looked through the list of owners they discovered it had been modified to heard nerfs and banthas and other pack animals. Once the Clone Wars ended and the Empire was birthed from the blood of the Republic, the station had shifted hands to the Hutts, and from there a string of slave entrepreneurs.
Gobi explained what the watches were like, which guards were the pokers and which were the takers and which were the watchers. The adults both cringed at the descriptions and Kanan paced about waiting for the middle-man to complete the transaction. Above the guards were the overseers, and Gobi didn't know who was above them. Food was pitched into the pens from launchers from its pack animal days, the slaves expected to pick up and dispense the food for themselves, while personal hygiene was done once a week in small pens. The slaves were herded into smaller and smaller cells to be washed, and nobody liked the process for a long list of reasons. The watching comment the Zabrak made suddenly made sense, and Kanan wished he'd done more than break the guy's nose.
Kanan wasn't as productive, he was busy waiting for a transaction, and he was getting increasingly dubious that he had caught all the cameras given how long it was taking for someone to come along with a bill of sale for Gobi.
Hera suddenly snorted and looked up as the former Padawan was pacing about the room. "She wants to know if it's soft."
Kana blinked. "What?"
"Your hair. She wants to know if it's soft."
Then he pulled out his tail and ran a hand through his chestnut hair, loosening it and kneeling down, silently offering her to touch it.
Thin, bony fingers rubbed his scalp, tentative at first; exploring the length of his hair. Then she did it again, rubbing her fingers through his hair, knotting and pulling and making noises of surprise.
"Souple," she said, over and over.
"She says it's soft," Hera translated.
Kanan smiled. "It's also oily, stringy, unwashed, and has untold numbers of split ends."
Hera smiled back and translated. This was how they were when the door to their room was palmed open, and Kanan balked to see two humans walk in as a twelve-year old girl ran her hands through the first human hair she had ever touched, Hera smiling on and encouraging her. The innocence and simplicity of the moment was ruined, and Gobi immediately retreated, head down as Kanan got immediately to his feet. He didn't have time to fix his hair so he just ignored it, let it fall around his shoulders and turned to the two humans. "Are my Lords here to complete the transaction?" he asked.
One of the humans, an albino woman, gave a curt nod. "Here is all the necessary information," she said, handing over a datapad to Hera. The captain took it with a neutral look, green eyes roving over the text. "Bill of sale, title, registration, and serial number."
Hera looked over the data and glanced at Kanan, a subtle flick of the eyes that no one could see if they didn't know what to look for, and Kanan realized she didn't necessarily know what all of that meant. Kanan thought for a moment, trying to word the question and be informative at the same time. "Is the serial number for the slave chip or the child herself?" he asked.
"For the chip," the male said, as dark as the albino was pale. "Her number won't come until the transaction is complete.
"I was not registered when I was acquired."
"That's for the Empire," the woman said. "They'll steal our property and then try to sell it back to us. Can't have that happen, so we added registration chips as well as the slave chips when the new stock is processed. Keeps them honest. Title is what you're likely more used to. I'm sure his title was quite lengthy," the woman added, casting a glance at Kanan, "Given his most likely primary function."
Hera, thank space, didn't need a translation to know what that particular subtext mean. Her cheeks colored but she gave no other indication. Instead she nodded her head and asked, "When do I get the frequency for the slave chip?"
"When the bill of sale is complete," the man said, "and when your credits clear."
"Very well, I will look over the contract now and clear it with my people. You'll receive word when I'm ready to sign."
"Of course. We'll let you get back to your..." the man frowned, glancing at Kanan's unruly hair, "... activities."
They left, and Kanan couldn't pull his hair back fast enough, rushing his fingers through the oily mess and cursing in Huttese before tying it back. "This whole crate is going to think I'm a pleasure slave by the end of this mess," he muttered.
Hera was trying to rub the color out of her cheeks. "Your plan, remember?"
"So this is my fault?"
"You were the one who said I didn't have a plan."
"You were the one who wanted to free everyone in sight."
"You were the one who decided to make an entrance."
"You were the one who had the contact!" Kanan turned. "Did you even meet him?"
Hera exhaled through her noise, a displeased sound and leaned back onto the couch, Gobi watching with the intense look of a girl trying to follow a language she didn't know well enough. "I did," she said. "My contact was actually two: Thal Tyr had a brother he was 'teaching the business' to." She waved a data chip. "They have a sample of their master list, and if this is just a sampling I want that list even more. I've already uploaded what we have to Chopper on the Ghost, and he'll funnel the intel to Fulcrum if things go south."
Kanan leveled a flat stare, grabbing a stray hair and pulling around his head and back to his tail. "And how will this go south?" he asked skeptically.
"They want to do the formal exchange at the auction tonight. I looked it up on the chrono, it will be well after the dinner hour, very public, and with lots of opportunity for things to go wrong. Twice he mentioned that I was a Twi'lek who owned instead of being owned. I think they're going to try something."
Kanan rubbed his face, sensing the headache before it even arrived. "Of course they are," he muttered before rolling his eyes. "Okay, how much do you know about Weequays?"
"Only that they're desert dwellers," Hera said. "You obviously know a lot more." She said that delicately, sensitive to the fact that she was poking at a very known, very brittle sore spot. That kind of heart was so rare in the galaxy, and Kanan knew he would die for this woman. He pursed his lips, eyes closing to slits as he thought back. "Weequay: earthy skin with a leathery texture, frill along their jaws – how long were theirs? That tells us how old they are."
Hera frowned, thinking back. "The younger brother was still stubby. The older brother was several centimeters."
"Thirties and twenties respectively," Kanan said, running his fingers over the stubble of his beard. Huh, it really was soft... "Their home planet is Sriluur and their sense of identity is heavily tied to the clan instead of the self. Every year spent off their home world equated to a braid in their hair. Weequay are polytheistic, and their biggest gods are Quay, the moon-god, and Am-Shak, the thunder-god. Their ceremonies are done on a thal, as you know. They are devious and deceitful, and they don't usually talk much – at least not in a way most people understand."
That caught Hera's attention. "What do you mean?"
"Their primary form of communication is via pheromones," Kanan said, trying to remember the lectures on sentient species in the galaxy. "Their noses are very sensitive and they can have entire conversations and nobody would know it. Each clan has communication so personalized that anyone outside the clan would have no idea what they're saying. Only..." he frowned, never comfortable saying the word "Jedi" in front of other people, even a twelve-year old child who only barely understood Basic. Some words translated everywhere. "Only people like me can tell when they're talking, or at least that's what I was told."
Hera was frowning in thought, one leg crossed over another and foot swinging lightly in the air. "They probably said a lot that I missed, then, while they were here. That almost cinches that they'll try something at the auction. I'll want you there to..." she waved her hand vaguely.
"Whoa, whoa, I don't even know if I can do that," Kanan said quickly. "And you know I don't like using any of that. There's enough of a target on my back as it is."
Hera nodded slowly, not out of agreement but understanding. "So let's time this out. After dinner is the auction; we exchange information, and once we have the list we set off the jamming signal or whatever to free the slaves trapped on this crate. That gives us several hours to stage how this will be done and what to do in case of emergency. Since this was all your idea." Kanan made a face but sat with her at the table. "Let's see the price they put on a fourteen year old girl."
"Fourteen? She looks twelve."
Hera said, face far away, pained, "Nutrition is... a problem here."
Kanan worked his jaw, suddenly and irrationally angry, before he took a slow deep breath threw his nose and let it all out. He did it again, his anger channeling out, before he allowed himself to concentrate. He leaned over, past Hera's profile, and looked at little Gobi. "We'll get you out of here," he said.
The lavender Twi'lek smiled. "Thank you."
Hera sucked in a breath, and Kanan immediately snapped his eyes to the screen of the pad. And balked. Master Tyr's lectures had never talked about price, and that was a lot of credits. "Do we have that much?" he asked.
Hera shook her head. "I'm pouring almost everything into purchasing this list. It'll be six months of mercenary work as it is to break even. Even two years of work wouldn't pay for this. There's no way we can get the chip frequency."
Kanan leaned back, crossing his arms as he stared at the pad. "What about the serial number of the chip? We do have that. Would the holonet be able to backtrace the manufacturer?"
"We'll have to try," Hera said, "But that's a pretty deep dive. I don't know if even Chopper can do it."
"Give me the pad," Kanan offered. Hera handed it over and he pulled his legs up on the couch, crossing them and leaning on his elbows. He tugged at another loose strand – he was going to have a hundred of them now until he got his hands on a brush – and slowly tuned his focus. He plugged in the serial number and experimented with different search keys. His mind was intent on the task and the world slowly fell away; it was just him and the datapad, tapping the screen and scrolling and tapping again. Numbers and specs and diagrams were zooming through the screen, but none of those bits of data was what he wanted and he tried again. And again. And again.
And then he found it.
Author's Notes: Yeah. Total Star Wars fans here.
The two of us adored Clone Wars when it was on, though later seasons got heavier and heavier and the Rise of the Bounty Hunters meant less of the characters we were interested in. But Ahsoka always held a place in our hearts, right alongside Obi-Wan (Best Jedi) and Anakin. When Star Wars Rebels came out, it was with an entirely new cast, people we'd never heard of, and we were busy with things like new job/job-hunting depending on which of us you're looking at. So we ignored it. We'd be watching TV some Saturday morning, one of us lesson-planning, the other proofing a chapter for here on ff . net, and we'd see that Rebels was on, but we'd go "eh" and choose something else for background noise.
But one day, Image watched an episode. Fire Across the Galaxy. And suddenly there was interest.
With all the hype for Star Wars Awakens, and Rebels showing up more and more in youtube or on TV, the two of us finally decided, "What the hell?"
We binged Season 1, and everything of Season 2 that was up at that point (somewhere around Protector of Concord Dawn, don't remember what. Definitely before Legend of Lasat).
We were doomed.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, ever since A New Hope, has always been our favorite Jedi, hands down. Sorry Luke. And as problematic as the prequels are (and really, they are), Ewan McGregor was Obi-Wan, cementing him as Best Jedi in our minds and just putting him on top of the Star Wars love pile. Everyone else was all about Han Solo, or Luke Skywalker, or Boba Fett, or what have you, but we were steadfastly loyal to Obi-Wan. When the prequels came out and fans flocked to Anakin-angst, we still looked to Obi-Wan.
But now, Kanan Jarrus has surged way up there and just might topple Obi-Wan Kenobi as Best Jedi. Because Kanan Jarrus is earning being a Jedi on screen in a way that Obi-Wan wasn't allowed to in the prequels. And thus, we became obsessed. We watched the rest of Season 2 religiously, live on TV. We trolled the interwebs looking things up and diving into Rebels lore (which isn't much at this point...) and, of course, started writing fanfiction.
Was there ever any doubt we'd write fanfiction?
This isn't the first fic we wrote. And, honestly, we're still writing. We have and read New Dawn to see how Kanan and Hera met, and, since we love Kanan so much which will naturally extend to his space-wife as a result, we decided to look at what some of the earlier adventures in their relationship would be like. We knew right of the bat from the book and from the show itself, that Hera is very much the covert type. Kanan started off standing out, despite his best efforts not to, because he's a Jedi among normal people, but when the show started, he's still very much a hidden Jedi. Kanan stands out with bizarre plans that somehow work, even if ever changing. Without Zeb to be the muscle, he'd be the default brawler-tough-guy of their minimal crew. So we started exploring going against type and this fic was born.
Poor Kanan is going to be facing a lot of what women face every day in some way, shape, or form, if in a more all-at-once sort of way. He needs to stay in a character of someone who's deferential and passive instead of the cowboy, and it's going to grate on him since he's been the cowboy for so long. Hera, by contrast, is used to being behind the scenes and never seen. Even on Gorse, very few people knew or saw her. But here she's out in the open and attracting attention. She can do it and likely has before, but it's not her preferred method for anything.
The two of them will also totally p0wn things. But that's natural for the two of them.
For anyone worried about our Ghost of a Chance fic, that will still be updated on Saturdays. We just can't hold back all our Rebels stuff, so we'll be posting that on Wednesdays. Review replies will still be handled on Saturdays, no matter you next week. ^_^