this is a disclaimer.
AN: Because writing fauxcedural police-show outsider POVS on the swallows and amazons verse makes so much sense the week before my exams start. (Well, I suppose in terms of mental relaxation, it probably does.)
fingerprints on file
"Everybody here?" Bartho glances sardonically around the room. "No one else on the way? Are you absolutely sure? There's nothing I like more than a crowd."
The Chief sighs. "Three is a crowd?"
"According to my mother. But that just might be because she disapproves of polyamory. It's an offworlder thing."
There's no talking to her when she gets like this, and the Chief knows it. She still tries, though. Bartho is extraordinarily good at her job.
Being mildly telepathic helps with that, but it also makes her kind of anti-social. Having too many people crowded in her office can... well, once she told the Chief it actually hurt, as in physical pain, but that was long ago, way before the Chief learned to tell when Bartho was exaggerating and when she wasn't.
"Sorry for the crowding," says Lieutenant Sqiel awkwardly. New kid in the system. Always a good idea to get on the good side of the resident shrink.
"Yeah, yeah," says Bartho. "Are you sitting comfortably?" She puts on her fanciest Coruscanti accent for the last part. The Chief waves her on.
The screens flicker on: six holos side-by-side, three men, three women. Mug shots.
"Two sets of siblings," Bartho says. "These three – the boy and the twin girls – and the older ones, with these two being fraternal twins. About fifteen years between them. Check out the similarities: blue eyes here, here, here, the line of the jaw... cousins." She shrinks the pictures away from headshots to reveal the full length holos. "Postures. Suspiciously similar, huh? They've spent a lot of time around each other. Copying stances comes so natural to the younger three they've probably never noticed they're doing it. Arms crossed, heads back..."
"What about the one with the black hair?"
"It's dyed, Lieutenant. You can see the red roots if you look close enough. She's an interesting one – obviously younger than the brother, looks up to him, but her twin was the one he was more protective of when the fight broke out. There's vid someplace –"
"Never mind," the Chief says hastily. "Carry on, will ya?"
"Sure thing. So, protective. Physically, at least. You might remember that when they were brought in, Redhead did most of the talking, if not all. She was the one the others trusted to represent them to the authorities, kind of the foreign affairs minister."
Bartho loves comparing groups of people to governments. From the micro to the macro. The Chief thinks her theories on that have a few holes in 'em in various places, but it's not for her to scoff, really.
"Foreign affairs plus the protectiveness the brother showed in the physical fight makes me think civilian. She's got some sorta job where she talks a lot. Fighting isn't really in it, although she did hold her own fairly well. Now, the others are a different story. The twin sister – you see this posture from the lobby when they were first booked? That's military at ease, that is. Hands behind her back... I'm thinking she's not been out of Basic long. Impatience, that's her problem – hence the at ease posture. Reminds her to slow down, to calm down."
"Bartho, the ones I'm really interested in are the older three," says the Chief. "They're dangerous –"
"They're all dangerous. Don't underestimate any of 'em. Even Redhead held her own in that fight, I just said that. And the brother – I know, I know, just a kid, blah blah. He is young. But he'll take you apart if you mess with his sisters. He's the joker, the clown, the irreverent one. Spoiled. Parents had kids late, he's the precious firstborn they never thought they'd get. By the time the girls came along they were better at being strict than with the brother."
"Great Greuna," says the Chief. "I do not need to know about their childhoods!"
Bartho glares. "Fine then. As we were talking of the brother, we'll carry on with him. Check out the way he defers to the older three – he does defer to them, but in different ways for each one. The woman, for example: you can see 'em joking together after they were all booked, she was treating him like a younger brother. Any inequality was out of experience, of age, not authority. Now if you go back and watch the vids from the warehouse, when the fight started, you get something entirely different. She's in command there – she snaps, he jumps, very cold, very professional. My guess is: she's a military officer. The twin, the dark-haired twin, she did the same thing as... cryin' out loud. Don't we know their names yet?"
The Chief sighs. "You know they've barely talked to any of us, Bartho. Redhead gave me a commlink number when they were brought in but tech-comms say it's some kind of encoded channel. I don't know if that means they're NRI or the goddamned Hutts, and frankly I'm not too keen on the whole 'call and find out' idea. Imps rush in where Jedi fear to tread."
Lieutenant Sqiel shrugs. "So we've got Redhead, the Dyed One, the Joker, the Chief, and the two brothers."
The Chief rounds on him.
"She does kinda sound like you, sir," says the Lieutenant, straight-faced. "Shorter, of course... but still pretty similar."
"I like this one," Bartho announced, and Sqiel hides a grin.
The Chief sighs. Again. Seems some days she's surrounded by crazy people. Dealing with the Imp bureaucracy was easier than this.
"Now we've established your mutual sympathies for one another, may we move on?"
Shuffle. Nod. Bartho slurps lukewarm caf out of a mug that could probably hold a litre if it tried hard enough and waves a hand at the as-yet-unnicknamed two brothers.
"These two... hmm. Again, if you watch their relationships with the younger ones, that's the telling bit. The Twin – let's call him the Twin. He's not really old enough to act like he does towards the girls. It's a step above big brother, almost fatherly. He's got this kind of 'older and wiser than thou' thing goin' on."
"Condescension?" asks the Chief hopefully. Condescension creates resentment means a possible crack in their facade she can exploit.
Or try to.
"No," says Bartho. "Once probably, but not anymore. Look, you have to remember – the girls and the Joker, they're younger, and they're subordinate, but they're not... how to put it. They're not lesser. They're just not in charge, not with the older three around."
"Dammit, don't these kids have any weaknesses?"
Bartho laughs. "Sure they do. Tons. Impatient, smart-mouthed, spoiled, like I said, unpredictable, probably too good for their own goods. Redhead's too cautious, errs on the side of pacifism when she should be hitting. The Joker's got an erratic edge, the Chief's absolute priority is protecting the other five. You could see that from the fight vids when she let the dealer go and ran back to pick her brother off the ground when he wasn't even seriously injured. Someone who can shield their thoughts from me should've been able to pick up on the fact that he wasn't actually in all that much pain."
"But nothing I can use."
"I said they had weaknesses. I didn't say they weren't really, really, really good at what they do."
The Chief groans. "OK, OK. Hang on – you said the Joker defers to the older three in different ways."
"Well, it's primarily a difference between the way he defers to the Chief – instantly, very professional – and the way he defers to the Twin. They're closer, the Joker and the Twin. They read each other's looks, each other's posture, very well. But the Joker also feels more comfortable pushing back against him than he does against the Chief. Again it's almost parental, like watching an adolescent manoeuvring around his father. And the Dyed One – she recognises the pattern, acts similarly, but she's not quite as close to the Twin as her brother."
"Hmm," says the Chief. "Familiarity breeds contempt?"
"Yeah!" says Bartho, enthusiastic. "That's better – that could be it. But the Chief won't stand for that, not in her, um, professional capacity. Again that makes me think military, a chain of command thing. The authority the Twin has is strong but less strict."
"It's funny how you haven't mentioned the other brother – the one the Chief came back for, who got hit over the head," says Sqiel softly.
Bartho looks delighted. "Aaah," she says. "That was deliberate. You know why?"
Sqiel shakes his head.
"He's the wild card. The actual joker. The outsider. The most unpredictable one."
"When you say outsider..."
"Sorry to dash your hopes again, Chief. He's not more vulnerable. He's just outside of that specific structure with their Chief being the hard-ass and the Twin being the... let's say the moral authority, the 2IC. He took her orders in the warehouse but that was a choice, a deliberate acquiescence. He could have chosen different and she would've had to wrestle him to get him to follow her."
"So if we accept the military thing, he would be a civilian?"
Bartho purses her lips. "I... don't know. Maybe – maybe retired? I really can't be sure. All I can tell you is: he's outside of that network of authority the others have. So's Redhead to an extent – she defers more easily to the Twin than the Chief. If you watch the warehouse vid, watch the beginning of the fight, she looks to him first. If we had audio on the bloody thing I bet you'd hear the Chief using military terminology, and my guess is: Redhead isn't used to that. She hasn't spent months in Basic learning to react to those signals the way I suspect her siblings have."
"Ugh," says the Chief. "And absolutely nothing you've told me is going to help me get them to talk. We don't know their names, we don't know what they were doing in the warehouse, we don't know whether the fight started because they're on our side or because it was some kind of... rival crimeorg hit. We know absolutely nothing."
"Oh, hey," says Bartho. "You gave me a pile of blurry security vids and ten minutes in an interrogation room with each of them and told me to tell you what kind of people they were. I could've said 'they're a family' and left it at that. Instead I give you a masterly summary of how the Chief is in charge with her twin as SIC whom the Joker is particularly close to with the Redhead being the Great Negotiator and her sister a military officer and the Chief's other brother being the one you'll have to watch because he's the only one who might decide to ever break with her orders. Hell, I'll bet you he's the only one who ever could break with her orders."
"That really is a masterly summary, Doctor Lemev."
Everyone jumps. The Chief hadn't realised the door had been left open – well, actually, she wouldn't put it past the man leaning in the doorway to have opened it regardless to eavesdrop. He's wearing a lightsabre, after all. Damn interfering Jedi – although, after the night she's had, she'll be happy to turn these six over to him and good riddance. He's not tall, and while his expression is currently faintly amused, there's a controlled, almost solemn sense to him. She can't make a guess as to his age other than to say he's older than forty-five; his is the sort of brownish-blond hair that goes gray almost unnoticeably.
A heartbeat later, she sees the glove on his right hand.
"Oh," says Bartho, jaw dropping.
"It is Doctor Lemev, isn't it?" asks the Jedi politely. "And Chief Conear. I'm Luke Skywalker."
Blue eyes. And that jaw.
The Chief twists around to stare at the mugshots on the wall. Oh yes. There they are. Red hair. Doesn't Mara Jade have red hair?
And then it dawns on her: Great Goddess Greuna, she's arrested Rogue Leader, Colonel Jaina Solo herself.
"I'm dreadfully sorry about all this," says Skywalker. "I don't quite know what my lot are all doing here – Maira was supposed to be undercover, with Jacen playing backup, and no one seems to want to tell me how their siblings got a hold of their location or the mission details. Apparently something went very wrong on the trip over here from Mos Espa. But then again, the slave trade is something that my family, uh, takes personal exception to, so perhaps it's not so surprising."
He has a faint – very faint – Coruscanti accent, and his voice is quiet, the kind of voice you have to turn to hear and pay attention to. On the surface of it, his smile is perfectly polite, even kind: but the Chief can see something brittle lurking underneath, something sharp-edged with old hurts and deep-seated, never-entirely-conquered fears.
"None of them are hurt," she says. "They're in the cellblock – I'll take you down there."
She was right. The brittleness fades out of his face, and his smile grows wider, more genuine.
"Thank you, Chief Conear. Doctor Lemev – you're aware of course that you're Force-sensitive? Should you ever wish to come to Yavin..."
Bartho gives herself a shake. "I. Thank you, Master Skywalker, but I – uh. Um. That is."
The Chief hides a grin. Bartho would sooner bite out her tongue than admit she likes it here. Poor Sqiel looks pole-axed, but even he manages a flicker of amusement now.
"Out of the question," she says cheerfully. "I need her here."
"Go suck on a deathstick, Chief!"
Skywalker looks more amused than ever. They leave Bartho's office together and make their way through the station to the cellblocks; Skywalker's lightsabre attracts a few looks, but few of the Chief's subordinates seem to recognise his face.
"Slavers?" she asks in the elevator.
"I'll get Maira to give you a full report," says Skywalker. "I really am sorry for the mess, you know. As far as we can tell there was some kind of trouble with the comms – I'm afraid I'm a little fuzzy on the details myself."
"So that commlink number your daughter gave me..."
"Would have put you in touch with Iella Wessiri. Well, officially, anyway. It's more likely you would have run up against my sister."
Leia Organa Solo. The Chief swallows hard.
"Yeah," says Skywalker. "She's good at that."
The Chief can't help but grin in answer. "I've seen her Senate debates," she says blandly.
"I've seen her lightsabre duels," Skywalker says ruefully. The elevator opens onto a long, dreary corridor divided up by gates and doors and a guard already holding out a hand for their clearance badges.
When they get down to the cell and open it, there's a muted chorus of groans.
"Oh, Force, kill me now. Hi, Uncle Luke!"
"Serves you right," says Skywalker, grinning. "All you had to do was get clearance..."
"There wasn't time for clearance!"
"Come off it, Dad –"
"And it's not like the mission was an abject failure –"
"We've got Iella all the evidence she needs to authorise a full-blown military action against the estates of Rugden Dwint."
They come trailing out of the cell as they speak: Ben Skywalker, Laina and Maira – which one's which? – Anakin Solo – supposedly the richest man in the Core, but the gossip rags are firm in their conviction that he and his sister loathe the sight of each other. He must see some surprise in the Chief's face, because he grins at her and tips her a wink, eyes as blue as his uncle's. Jacen's dressed in leather pants and a silk shirt that made him look positively villainous earlier but have somehow become awkward in the meantime; of course, he's not playacting any more.
Jaina Solo stops in front of her and holds out a hand.
"Chief," she says.
Nowhere near as tall as the Chief. Her hand is steady and her look is firm and the twitch at the corner of her mouth says, well played. I had fun.
"Colonel," says the Chief, and shakes the other woman's hand.
So did I. You're very good.
Jaina tilts her head, ever so slightly, in thanks.
"May, Jacen, you two stay here and give the Chief a full report, please," says Skywalker. "The rest of you, with me. Han's dealing with the planetary defence minister – we should have authorisation for a raid on Dwint within a few hours."
"You let Dad do the diplomat thing?" says Anakin, mildly horrified.
"We drew straws," says Skywalker, grinning again. "I won."
"Daaaaad..." says Redhead, exasperated. Her twin ducks past Jaina and nods at the Chief.
"I'm Lieutenant Skywalker – my sister's Laina. Shall we, uh, do this upstairs?"
The Chief smiles. "Right this way, Lieutenant."
They head upstairs. Skywalker's got an arm around his daughter's shoulders, and Ben and Anakin are deep in conversation. Jacen's listening with a thoughtful look, and all the tension is gone out of Jaina's shoulders.
Absolute priority, the Chief remembers and smiles to herself. She feels oddly privileged to have seen it.