Author's Note: All recognizable Star Wars characters, places, and items belong to George Lucas and his creative teams. I'm just borrowing them for a short story. Thanks to Scott Fountain and Icemastertron for their beta-reading of this piece.

This story contains no known spoilers for Episode III, and can likely be considered an Alternative Universe fic.

by Seldes Katne

Cloud City, Amana Piett decided, had definitely gone downhill.

When she and her late husband had stopped on the planet Bespin during a trip early in their marriage, the place had been spotless, the staff subservient, and facilities of the highest quality. Despite the station's function as a mining operation, it had also catered to tourists and vacationers interested in the scenery, and had boasted some of the finest dining, gambling and recreational facilities in the quadrant.

Now the station had apparently become home to scores of riff-raff, which was exactly the sort of thing one expected from a place that had overthrown Imperial authority even before the end of the war.

Take this sorry lot filling the debarkation lounge – shouting, they were.

"Imperial scum!"



"Too bad you weren't all on that Death Star!"

The crowd was pushing forward against the barriers, and none of the faces looked friendly. Madam Piett drew herself up and gave the mob her most disapproving frown although her heart was hammering and her hands clutched the straps of her personal carrying bag.

A tall, solidly built man with a cybernetic interface was leading a group of uniformed security guards down the corridor. Madam Piett halted, wary – if the hecklers knew who she was, station security probably did as well, and the personnel here had a long history of being anti-Imperial.

However, the security guards passed her and began motioning for the crowd to disperse. Only the cyborg stopped in front of her. Madam Piett sniffed – cyborgs were people who had given up part of their humanity, but at least this one was predominantly human.

The cyborg inclined his head in a polite bow. "Madam Piett?" When she nodded, he continued, "I am Lobot, the computer liaison of Cloud City. I thought it prudent to provide additional security on this deck for your arrival. Are you all right?"

"Yes, no thanks to that mob of ruffians," Madam Piett snapped. "Harassing decent people... Don't any of them have places of employment or some other useful place to be?"

"I would imagine that they are all off duty, or travelers such as yourself," Lobot replied. "If you are unharmed, Madam, I will escort you to your quarters."

"Very well." One of the station's droids began to gather up her suitcases and then trundled down the corridor after them.

Determined to appear calm and in control despite the mob's disrespect, Madam Piett strode along with her back straight and head held high. She had certainly lost enough in the past few weeks without losing her dignity as well. Her oldest child and only son, dead at the battle of Endor; her family's prestige swept away with the fall of the Empire; all but her family's holdings on Axxila had been seized by the Rebel forces that claimed victory after the destruction of the Emporer. Dignity and memories were all she had left.

"You would think they could a little more appreciative," she remarked. "During Imperial rule, we built schools, civilized and developed whole planets, insured that goods and services were available to citizens, and in general improved the quality of life for everyone."

The cyborg walked silently beside her. Certainly the Empire had done all those things – for the humans living under its rule. The non-humans and those like himself who were considered "subhuman" had not fared nearly as well. Non-human slave labor had become common on many worlds. Even the lowest classes of humans had known that alien labor would take the jobs no human citizen wanted.

They halted at the door to one of the larger guest suites. The Piett family might no longer be respected as authority figures, but it did retain some of the monetary assets it had acquired during the Emperor's reign.

"My son spent much of his life upholding Imperial law," Piett said. "It breaks my heart to see so little respect for any law or human decency."

"Every world has at least a few beings who lack the capacity for following the laws of society," Lobot said diplomatically. "I will ask security to make extra sweeps through this area for the duration of your stay, Madam." With that, he bid her a good evening, and returned to his duties.

There were no incidents during the night. When she woke the next morning, however, there was a message on her room's recorder. One of the beings on the station had requested a meeting with her at midmorning, and Lobot would be accompanying him.

Being. That meant a non-human. Amana Piett was tempted to return the message and refuse. However, the cyborg had come to her rescue the night before. "So I suppose I owe him the courtesy of agreeing to this meeting," she told herself, and resignedly sent a message giving her approval.

At precisely 11 a.m. Standard Station Time, the visitor chime sounded. Piett opened the door to find Lobot standing beside the ugliest alien she had ever seen. "Madam Piett, may I present Tyrrin? He represents a colony of his people located on the planet of Degobah. I thought you might find what he has to say of interest."

Madam Piett frowned – she'd heartily agreed with the late Emperor's beliefs that non-humans were inferior species – but finally stepped back and allowed them both to enter.

The alien bowed deeply. Its yellow eyes were set in the front of a pair of stalks, and its face drew into a duck-like bill; a pair of ears flopped down the back of its neck and shoulders. The skin was tan, with darker brown markings along the back of its neck, head and arms. The alien was lean and tall, gawky, but solemn. It clasped its hands together in front of it.

"Madam Piett," it said in a male voice, "my – I am pleeced to meet you-a."

"Tyrrin was among the crowd that formed during the altercation earlier today on this deck," Lobot continued. "When he found out who you were, he asked to meet you. It appears he has information concerning your son the admiral."

Tyrrin nodded. "Wass a long-o time ago, many yee-ahs, but my people remember hims. You are hiss mother, Lobot sess."

"Yes, I am. What can you tell me of him?" Then she forced herself to add, "Perhaps we could be more comfortable sitting."

"Thanka yous." The alien followed her into the room and lowered himself into a chair; at a nod from Madam Piett, Lobot sat in another. Spreading her robes and skirts regally, Madam Piett settled herself on the sofa.

"The people of my-in col'ny, we all wass part of the staff for the Naaboo rep-re-sent-atives," the alien began. "Not long after the h'Emperor came to power, we's fled Coruscant. We's wass afraid for oursan children, an' ourse'fs. Your son hepped us, gave ussan safe pass-age. When wesa found they-ah wass no safe way home to Naaboo, wesa 'ventually made oursan way to this'n station, then to Day-go-bah. Last time my came to this station, my wass told yoursan son wass killed in battle. Berry, berry sorry to hear dis'n all'n us were. Wesa put his name and things in oursan Sacred Place, so all oursan people would remember him."

Madam Piett leaned forward. "What do you mean, 'his things'?"

"Hes gave ussan –" Tyrrin's left hand turned palm up, his right hand waving back and forth over it "—message for other soldiers, tellin' thems to 'llow ussan to travel safe."

"It was a datapad with a recorded message," Lobot explained. "It gave them safe passage through the region, and requested assistance from any Republic officials. Later, when the Empire left Cloud City, Tyrrin brought it back and we made them a copy on flimsy – the pad's energy cells were beginning to fail, and Tyrrin wanted a printout of the message. We put a sealer over it to preserve it. Flimsy doesn't last long otherwise."

"Yiss. When da war wass over, we's wanted sommat of your son's to put in our Sacred Place, so we could remember hims," Tyrrin added.

"Sacred Place?"

"Place we's have to worship the gods, remember the dead," Tyrrin explained.

Madam Piett's voice trembled a little. "Could you bring them here so that I could see them?"

Tyrrin shook his head. "Iss forbidd' to tekk anyt'ing out'n the Sacred Place without permission from a Shrine Keeper." Then his muzzle crinkled in a smile. "But yous could come to Day-go-bah, an' see dem for you'se'f. We's could tell yous the whole story!"

Madam Piett closed her eyes and tried not to shudder. The idea of going to a planet full of these... things... She had never liked the amphibian races; they always seemed so... slimy.

"I – I need to think about this," she managed at last. She opened her eyes to find both Tyrrin and Lobot gazing at her; if she read his expression correctly, the alien was concerned, the cyborg impassive. "I hadn't planned to stop anywhere, just to go home. I'll have to look into a few things, change arrangements... I'll let you know."

"Off course," Tyrrin said. He rose, and Lobot followed his lead. "Iff'n you want to come, my will be stayin' he-ah another couple days."

"The station's computer has his comm number," Lobot said.

Madam Piett nodded, finally finding her way to her feet. At the door, Tyrrin bowed again and walked away down the corridor. Lobot waited until he was out of hearing range, then turned to her. "His people are called Guungans. You won't find a record of them on Degobah, however – as far as anyone knows, that planet has no intelligent life on it. The Guungans first came here in the early years of the Rebellion, because they were afraid to return to their own world. At the time, the Baron Administrator of this city and I agreed that it would be best for them if there were no computer records of their presence on the planet. However, the databank should have species information."

Piett clasped her hands in her lap and gazed down at them. "The idea of going to his planet does not appeal to me. I only want to go home to Axxila, to live out the rest of my days. Still..." She let her voice trail off. "Perhaps I will study the databank and see what it has to say. I have little enough planned for my time on this station."

As she searched the computer records, her unhappiness grew. Degobah was mostly swamp and shallow oceans – wet, muddy, with little solid ground, all of which seemed to drift from place to place on the surface of the water. The wildlife was numerous, much of it dangerous, and the world apparently had no major cities or civilization. Of course, if the databank had no record of the Guungans, it would have no record of their settlements, either. The entire trip sounded uncomfortable and pointless.

Except that Tyrrin had spoken the only kind words about her son that she'd heard in the many months since the Battle of Endor. With the Imperial fleet defeated, suddenly everyone was vilifying the Emperor, the Imperial Navy, and everything associated with them. Never mind the lawlessness and chaos the Empire's collapse had caused – everyone seemed to think the galaxy was better off with a rag-tag government formed by the rebels, the alien races suddenly demanding equality with humans, of all things...

Strange that Tyrrin, an alien, would have anything positive to say about the human who had become an Imperial Admiral, a symbol of a government that had exiled the Guungans. Stranger still that he would extend a friendly invitation to the Admiral's mother, despite the fact that she had treated him coldly and with thinly veiled contempt.

She sighed and leaned back in her chair, staring at the screen. She couldn't demand that her son's possession be brought to her – Degobah had no major central government, and the New Republic barely had a court system set up. If she wanted to see the items, she would have to go to Degobah.

Amana Piett shuddered and drew her traveling cloak closer about her. Fog swirled around the boat that bore her through the swamps. Branches bowed with drooping leaves, vines, and other plant life trailed in the water. In the distance, something shrieked; overhead came a whirring of wings as a trio of creatures flew past. In the past quarter hour, she had seen more than one slimy, snake-like...thing break the surface of the stream, hunch partway out of the water, then slide under again.

The situation on Degobah had been even worse than she had feared. This was an undeveloped planet, despite the presence of a colony there. The settlement's houses were some sort of mud and wood, the walls packed around the roots of several dozen trees. The design of the housing benefited both the trees and the Guungans, Tyrrin explained; the roots provided anchorage for the walls and dividers for the rooms, and the walls provided protection for the roots. The trees thrived, the Guungans had a relatively safe place to live, and the colony had more than doubled in size since its founding.

Her companions did little to bolster her confidence. The aliens were mostly lean and gangly, with floppy ears and eyes set on stalks and powerful legs that made them strong swimmers. Their hairless skin ranged from dark green to rust red and a variety of shades of brown.

Madam Piett sat in the prow of the lead boat. Her guide Tyrrin and another of his race rode with her. Seven other boatloads of Guungans escorted them along the twisting waterways; each boat had one person poling, and another carried a spear-like weapon. Tyrrin was pointing out various plants and features of interest, but Madam Piett ignored him. All she wanted was to see what they had to show her concerning her son, and then she would leave.

She could distinguish no landmarks, but the Guungans seemed to know exactly where they were going. Half an hour after they had left the settlement, the boats pulled ashore beside the mouth of a stream, and everyone disembarked.

Dark shadows in the fog turned out to be trees, rocks, and embankments – with the exception of one shadow that took on the features of a heavy-set Guungan, who smiled in what she supposed was meant to be reassurance.

He (or she – with these aliens, Madam Piett couldn't tell the difference until they spoke) appeared to be the guard of the "Sacred Place" Tyrrin had mentioned, for Tyrrin promptly stopped walking. "Wesa gonna let ever'one catch up," he explained. As they waited, the human eyed the fog-shrouded landscape with distaste. Strange that this forbidding place held one of the races that had positive memories of her son. Stranger still that she, a woman who enjoyed all the finer aspects of civilized places, had agreed to venture here. But now, several months after Firmus Piett's death at the Battle of Endor, she had been given an unexpected opportunity to hear a tribute to her son, something she never expected to happen again.

Tyrrin led the way through the undergrowth, hopping from tree root to hissock so his human companion could keep her feet mostly dry. The rest of the Guungans either followed in their wake, or waded through the water; they were perfectly happy being wet.

Tyrrin ducked something hanging from a branch, and Madam Piett did the same; only when she was past the "something" did she realize that it was a stone hanging from a leather string. She stopped to look at it.

"Iss a Mem'ry Stone," Tyrrin explained. "Wesa put'n it there to remember one of oursan people who have died, or who are far 'way and wesa mebbe never seein' again." The stone bore carvings that might have been letters or pictures; Madam Piett knew nothing of the Guungans' written language, if they indeed had one.

Trailing behind Tyrrin, she noticed similar things hanging from other tree branches. Some items looked like carvings of animals, others could have been jewelry. From time to time, one of the Guungans would make a circle in front of its face with the back of its hand, and then touch one of the items reverently.

After five minutes of wading, the group reached a broad spit of (relatively) solid ground. Tyrrin spread a leather covering on a flat stone, and indicated that Madam Piett was to sit there. The rest of the Guungans gathered around and settled themselves on the ground.

Madam Piett glanced at the tree branch beside Tyrrin and froze. Hanging there was not only a stone, but what appeared to be a datadisk and a sheet of flimsy, both enclosed in a clear plastene pouch. The flimsy bore the pen strokes of the Basic language, in what, upon closer examination, appeared to be her son Firmus's handwriting.

Tyrrin was speaking. "They wass given ussan by yoursa son, M'lady. Iff'n not for hims, mebbe none of ussan bees here..."

Although all but the youngest children knew the story, everyone had drawn close to the speaker, except for one lone listener. The Ankuran Guungan, built on a stockier frame than his Otolla counterparts, sat apart from the group, smiling to himself. Tyrrin was a fine storyteller, and had earned the title of Memory Keeper for the colony.

As he listened, the Ankuran reached up and touched another Memory Stone that bore a simple inscription on one side and a carving of a flame on the other. The fire symbol was not native to the Guungans' culture; they had no use for fire in any form, and few things would burn in the perpetual dampness of the swamps. But the symbol had been adopted many years before, following the Battle of Naaboo, in honor of a being who had fought and died to rid their world of a great evil. The flame symbolized a member of the Zhedi.

This particular stone had been added to the Sacred Place only a few short weeks before Piett's stone, before the end of the war. It represented another Zhedi, one who had shared the Guungans' flight from Coruscant and their founding of this colony, who had been a fellow exile even as he had kept apart from them.

Tyrrin wisely avoided mentioning this other being in the story he told Madam Piett. But the Ankuran smiled, and remembered.

In the last days of the Old Republic:

Sentiment against non-humans was rising; the Senate's recesses "for the sake of safety" were becoming longer and longer. Despite the fact that the Supreme Chancellor was himself from Naboo and had assured them his protection, the delegation of beings known as Gungans had decided it was time to leave Coruscant. Senatorial aide Nejrail had made arrangements for them aboard a ship leaving for a mid-Rim planet the next day, and the delegates were packing.

One lone Ankuran Gungan stepped into the water gardens that were housed in his people's suites of rooms and breathed deeply, inhaling the humid air. In the center of the room, a fountain cleverly hidden in the stones of a small cliff provided a waterfall that ran down the sides of the rocks and into a pool below. The pool itself was dotted with rocks and tiny islands that sported plant life brought directly from Naaboo. The room resembled a small swampland jungle that was a relief from the city of ferracrete and plasticsteel that covered Coruscant from pole to pole.

The Gungan picked his way from rock to island until he could step onto the central pile of rock and earth that hid the waterfall. He settled himself on a moss-covered rock and closed his eyes. "Passin' 'way, all'n it," he murmured, his voice barely carrying over the hiss of the waterfall. "The government iss fallen to bits, the Zhedi iss all but gone, hunted liken h'animals. The non-hue-mins, theysa disappearin' or runnin' 'way. Iss time for ussan to go. Gott'n a transport, tekkin' oursan sprattlings and leavin' thiss place. Ambass'dor Binks, hesa says yousa beens," here the Guungan paused for effect, "staying heres, an' welcome. But now my've come to see iff'n yousa ready to leave."

He unfolded the blanket he had draped over one arm. "Gott'n room for una more. Iff'n yousa wantin' to go, sah, now iss the time."

For several heartbeats, only the sound of the waterfall filled his ears. Water dripped from the plants' leaves into the pool, mist swirled above the water's surface.

Then a smaller being pushed aside the leaves of a plant to the Gungan's left, and emerged from a hole hidden by greenery. The being moved slowly and carefully, using a twisted stick as a cane. It cocked its head and its ears swiveled slightly, listening for any indication that it and the Gungan weren't alone. But only the sound of the water filled the room.

"Endanger your people, my presence would," Jedi Master Yoda warned as he straightened and eased himself from one stone to another. "Hunted everywhere, the Jedi are."

The Gungan nodded. "Mesa know. But all'n ussan are willing to risk it. Gonna try disguisin' yousa as one of oursan sprattlings." As the Jedi Master stared at him askance, the Ankuran added, "Yousa look a liddle like mesa. My've brought t'ings to add to yoursa face, ee-yahs, to mekk yousa look more like ussan." He unrolled the blanket. "My will carry yous. Oursan party ready to go, gott'n all'n oursan travel t'ings in order. Gott one h'extra sprattling listed. Chust needin' one more to mekk oursan group complete."

Yoda leaned on his gnarled walking stick, studying the items on the blanket. At last he answered, "If have me you will, go with you I shall."

The Ankuran Gungan paused. "Iss only one-a t'ing. Yoursa weapon. Zhedi light-saaber. Easy to see, easy to scan. Wesa ken't tekk dat with ussan."

Yoda nodded. "Agree with you, I do, and plans I have made. My lightsaber I will leave here." He gestured with one hand. "And there." He turned and pointed. "And there. Dismantled, it will be, and left in different places, so no suspicion falls on your people."

The Gungan cocked his head and gazed at Yoda thoughtfully. "Diss'n not bother yousa? Mesa know Zhedi allus carry light-saaber. Iss part of dems."

"No," Yoda replied. "Lightsabers, only a symbol are. The Force is the only thing a Jedi truly needs. Never separate from us is it. Always our ally."

The Gungan grinned. "Part of all t'ings, the Force, heh? All'n ussan, the plants, the h'animals, even the gods?"

"Yes," Yoda replied solemnly. "Present in all things. Even the gods."

The Gungan nodded. "Yousa welcome with ussan, Zhedi Master Yoda. Mesa called Peskis. Let's ussan get yousa ready, an' go."

Just over an hour later, Yoda peered around the fold of the blanket as the Gungan delegation approached the weapons scanners, the final checkpoint before the boarding area for outbound ships.

Three of the other Gungans also carried children, one young enough to be wrapped in a blanket. The youngsters had picked up on the adults' uneasiness; the two that Yoda could see were clinging to the adults' clothing; they frequently hid their faces under the adults' long chins, although one of them occasionally peered at Yoda from under its father's long floppy haillu.

The blanket might disguise the Jedi Master's features, but it didn't muffle his hearing.

"Never seen one of these before." A pause. "What are these things, ears? Big enough, aren't they?"

Peskis's eyes narrowed and he scowled, an expression common to many species and often meaning the same thing. The Ankuran shifted his position and stared at whatever was happening in the middle of the waiting area.

"What have you got there?" asked a male voice. A human in uniform approached the Gungan and his bundle.

"Iss'n chust a sprattling, a bebee," Peskis said as the guard drew nearer.

Around the room the voices continued.

"You're not really going to search that...thing, are you? It probably bites."

"You never know where someone's going to hide something..."

"C'mere, you little –"

A hand touched the blanket, and Yoda hunched, drawing upon the Force. With a little mental persuasion, he should be able to convince the soldier that he was just another youngling...

A sharp yelp and a curse drew everyone's attention to a pair of Gungans and a trio of guards in the center of the room. One of the men was wrestling with a small Gungan the age of a human toddler, and two more were restraining an adult Gungan who, despite the weapons being aimed in her direction, was reaching for the youngster and baring her teeth at the guards. Thoroughly terrified at being separated from his mother and at the rough handling he was receiving, the youngster twisted in the guard's arms and sank his teeth into the human's hand.

The man who had approached Yoda and his escort turned away to assist the guards at the checkpoint. The Jedi Master risked a peek around the blanket to take in the scene. A second guard clamped a hand on the back of the Gungan toddler's neck and was attempting to pull his comrade's hand free of the youngster's teeth. The mother was thrashing in the grip of two more humans, and the rest of the refugees were squaring off against the officers who had coming running to investigate.

Yoda tensed. If it came to a decision between revealing himself and letting the child be injured –

"What's the meaning of this?" snapped a male voice.

Another human was striding into the holding area, this one dressed in an olive gray uniform. Dark eyes flicked from the struggling mother to the youngster, and the man frowned. "Explain, Ensign."

"Sir, we were searching for weapons, and this one attacked me."

The officer's mouth twitched into a frown; he turned to the adult Gungan. "Are you the parent?"

"Yessah," the female replied. "Pleece –"

"Let her go." Over his shoulder, he added, "Lower your weapons." The guards surrounding the group complied. "Hand the child over." Now free, the female all but bounded forward and snatched the child out of the human's arms. The youngster clutched her tunic, turned, and hissed at his former captor before huddling against his mother.

The officer turned to the injured guard. "What are your orders?"

"We're to check the papers of all émigrés and search for weapons."

"And was the child carrying a blaster, or other weapon?"

"No, sir."

"Have scans turned up any weapons being carried by either the passengers or in their luggage?"

"No, sir."

"Do you make a habit of harassing children, Ensign?"

The human hesitated. "No, sir."

"Good. See that it doesn't happen again. We're here to keep the peace, no break it."

"Yes, sir."

The officer glanced at the ensign's hand. "Report to the infirmary." He turned to the guard at the docking entrance. "Do their passports check out, Ensign?"

"They seem to, Lieutenant. Fifteen adults, four children."

"Scan them individually for weapons." The guard made some adjustments to the scanner he was carrying, and began running it over the Gungans one at a time. The officer looked up at the Gungans. "Who's in charge of this group?"

"My am," Nejrail replied.

"And you are?"

"Nejrail Ston, aide to the Ssenator from Naaboo."

The officer nodded curtly. "Lieutenant Piett," he identified himself. Over his shoulder, Piett ordered, "Get me a datapad." Turning back to Nejrail, he said, "Your traveling authorization."

The Gungan handed him the datadisk, and the human activated it. His eyes skimmed the screens of information; satisfied, he handed the disk back to Nejrail. "According to this, you are not returning to Naboo. Why?"

"Wesa goin' to meet other members of oursan fam'lies. Theysa livin' onna colony world in the mid-Rim. Wesa gonna wait there until the Ssenate meets 'gain."

"You may have a long wait," Piett told him. "The Senate building and offices are being searched for listening devices and other dangers. There's talk of moving the Senate meetings to another location. Everything's up in the air right now."

Nejrail nodded. "Yiss. Thass why wesa goin' to meet with oursan fam'lies – tekk some time to rest, wait for ever'thing to settle he-ah."

The guard returned with a datapad. Piett nodded and began writing. "Once everyone in your party has been checked, I'm going to give you this. It contains an authorization allowing you safe passage to Cloud City on Bespin, which is a central shipping port in the sector you're traveling to. You are to show this to the officer in charge wherever you're stopped. This should help you avoid any more problems like this on your journey."

"T'anka yous, Lieutenant."

A few minutes later, Piett handed the pad the guard at his elbow. "Make a copy of this." The ensign strode away with it. "We'll need to finish our scan of your party, but no one will be harmed," he told Nejrail. Then he followed the guard with the scanner, who was checking the last handful of Gungans.

The guard approached Peskis, who was slowly rocking Yoda back and forth as though comforting a child. The Gungan put a finger to his lips. "Shhh. Hesa finally sleepin'." The man nodded and ran the scanner gently over the Jedi Master wrapped in the blanket, then over the Gungan. "All clear, sir," he murmured over his shoulder to Piett.

"Very good, Ensign."

"'Scuse'n mesa, Lieutenant," said Peskis as the human turned away. Yoda tensed in surprise as Piett approached. "Chust wanted to t'ank yousa for yoursa he'pp. Lott'n humans, deysa deciding the laws iss on'y for dems, not for the rest'n ussan."

"The laws and the rules of common decency apply to everyone," Piett replied. "Or civilization collapses. We've already seen what happens when worlds and individuals break away from the law — that's why we have the chaos between the Republic and the Seperatists. But we on Coruscant have the obligation to uphold the laws and set the proper example."

The Ankuran nodded. "My agrees wit' yousa." He cocked his head and peered into Piett's eyes. "My see a long an' respected career for yousa, Lieutenant. Yousa face many challenges an' dangers, but t'rue dem all, yousa steer a steady course. Respect from both yoursa superiors an' yoursa troops will come to yousa. When all'n diss'n iss over, those who hev met yousa will remember yousa h'as an hon'rable man."

Piett stared at him. "You sound like one of the Jedi."

Peskis grinned. "No, no, deysa no Guungan 'mong the Zhedi. Wesa chust a small, h'obscure people. T'anka yous for yoursa time, Lieutenant Piett. Wesa be rememberin' yoursa kindness." His free hand sketched a symbol in the air. "May the blessings of the gods go with you, and good luck follow you."

Yoda blinked in surprise. For a moment, the Gungan's peculiar method of speech had changed to accentless Basic. The Jedi Master's eyes narrowed in thought.

The human's smile tightened, as though he were humoring the Gungan. "Thank you. May you and your people travel safely."

The soldier returned with both datapads. Piett signed the documents, passed them to the ensign in charge for the official seal, then handed it to Nejrail. "This is now your travel authorization. Remember to show this whenever security personnel stop you."

"Yiss, Lieutenant. T'anka yous." Nejrail drew himself up and bowed.

Piett nodded curtly. "Safe journey to you and your party, sir."

The Gungans were ushered through the checkpoint and onto their waiting ship, and a few minutes later had left Coruscant for the final time.

And that, Tyrrin said, had been the beginning of their flight to freedom. The senatorial party had met with others of their race, passed through several spaceports, and assembled at the Cloud City station. There they had bartered for supplies and purchased a ship. The last report from Naaboo had suggested heavy fighting in the area; none of the Guungans had any idea if anyone on their homeworld had survived, or what condition the planet was in. Fleets of Republic and Seperatist ships clashed everywhere. At last it was decided that the journey home was impossible at that time, and the Guungans began looking for a place to go. The computer liaison officer at Cloud City had suggested Degobah for its swampy condition and isolated location. The Guungans had boarded their ship, paid the liaison officer to erase any trace of their existence, and made planet-fall on Degobah. There they had founded a colony. The ship's engines had been shut down to insure that their energy output would not be picked up by scans.

Now, with the war over, Tyrrin's people had begun to venture forth into the galaxy again, and hoped to find out what had happened to their homeworld and species. Records were sparse because of the war, but with peace now at hand, space travel could resume and information would flow again. Their ship, now aging, would likely not make the journey to Naaboo, but there would eventually be communication again, now that Bespin was free of the Empire.

In the meantime, Tyrrin said, his people now considered this world their home. "Many sprattlings hass been born he-ah," he said. "Half of ussan hev never known any other world. We's came he-ah as 'Gun-gans', but now wesa gone bekk to speakin' oursan name in th' old way — Guungan." He gestured around the circle of listeners. "Wesa owe'n much to yoursa son. Hesa he'pped ussan in the dark times, an' hiss words on thiss'n disk 'llowed ussan to find refuge he-ah. No matter what ennyone else iss thinking, wesa honor hiss mem'ry." He placed a hand on his chest, closed his eyes, and bowed to Amana Piett. The rest of the Guungans copied his gesture.

Piett sat in the midst of the non-humans, tears running down her face. In the midst of a galaxy that reviled her son as a representative of evil and oppression, these people honored him as their liberator. Even now, she found them to be among the most unattractive creatures she'd ever met, but...

The least she could do was be gracious. After years of dealing with admirals, merchant princes and high-ranking officials, graciousness had become a habit, easily called forth, even for a group of homely non-humans. She coughed to clear her throat. "Tyrrin," she said, wiping her eyes, "thank you. I — would it be possible for me to have either the datapad or the flimsy? I — I have few momentos of my son."

Tyrrin hesitated, then shook his head. "My'm sorry, but theysa wuss put he-ah to honor the dead. Theysa not 'llowed to be tekken 'way. Would be dis-ree-spectful."

She closed her eyes, disappointed. "I see." At least she had the story; that was more than she'd had before. "Thank you. You've been very kind, Tyrrin."

"My know yousa wantin' to go home. Wesa tekk yousa bekk now," Tyrrin said. "Iff'n yousa follow ussan..." He pushed his way through the brush, the rest of the Guungans following him, except for the last, the heavy-set one who looked so different from most of the others. He held out a hand to stop her.

"Madam Piett," he said. "I have something for you." He reached up and detached the datapad from the tree branch. "No doubt you can find a way to make this work again. It will do little good here in the swamp, and the flimsy message can remain here in the Sacred Place in your son's memory."

Piett stared at him. "You — you speak Basic!"

The Guungan smiled. "I speak many languages, Madam Piett. For those who have ears to hear." He extended the datapad again. "Here. Take this."

Amana Piett accepted the offering. "Tyrrin said this had to stay here. What will he say when it turns up missing?"

"I will explain that it has returned to its rightful owner. He will understand." The Guungan bowed once, regally. "Travel safely, Amana Piett, and go with the blessings of the gods. May good luck follow you the rest of your days."

She stared into his yellow-orange eyes. "Thank you," she said, her voice distant in her own ears.

A few minutes later, she caught up with the Guungans, the datapad tucked safely in a pocket of her traveling garment. Tyrrin helped her into the boat and the party set out, gliding through the water back to their settlement. Piett glanced around at the rest of the boats, but the heavy-set Guungan was nowhere to be seen. Tyrrin had acknowledged neither the other Guungan's presence, nor Piett's delay in joining him at the boats.

The Ankuran Guungan watched Madam Piett step into the boat, allowing Tyrrin to offer her his arm for support. Lieutenant Piett's part in their story had ended on Coruscant, but Yoda's had ended here on Degobah. Peskis's memory of it was fresh.

"Stay here, I will, away from your people," Yoda said, surveying the swamplands around them. "Searching for me, the Emperor may still be."

Peskis nodded slowly. "Iff'n thass what yousa wants, sirrah, wesa respect yoursa wishes. But wesa will remember yousa."

"Better it might be, if you forgot," Yoda remarked.

"Yousa think so?" Peskis smiled. "Ever'one should hev someone remember dem. The others, theysa know 'nough not to talk 'about yousa. Even to theirsan sprattlings. Mesa, my will remember." He nodded to himself, then turned, smiling, to Yoda. "May the Force be with you, Jedi Master. And good luck follow you."

Yoda squinted at him. "Not like the others, are you. Speak differently, see differently. Like a cloak, the Force swirls around you."

Peskis bowed. "You yourself said the Force is in all things, Master Yoda. The plants, the animals. In chance and fortune." He straightened, face solemn. "Even the gods." Peskis grinned suddenly. Yoda's eyes narrowed as he peered at the Gungan. "Be well. The story of darkness and light isn't finished yet. A new hope will come. We must wait."

Yoda nodded. "Wait, we must. Hope, I shall."

"Good luck follow you, Master Yoda," Peskis repeated, and walked away.

Despite the dismal surroundings, the fog, the strange sounds and smells, and her non-human companions, Amana Piett felt at peace for the first time since receiving word of her son's death. She remembered her son's smile, his pride in his work, his quiet confidence—all things she had shied away from remembering for the last few weeks. She would never return here, never see these beings again, but they had given her back something of her son's — the small act of kindness he had shown them in their time of need had come full circle and been passed on to her. She touched the pad in her pocket and turned her gaze to the watery disc of the sun as it broke momentarily through the fog to light her face.