Author's Note: This one is for xander867, who requested an average person reacting to or affected by the Clone Wars. I'm not sure this is quite what you had in mind, xander, but I hope you like it….
They moved across the plaza with the grace of birds across the sky.
Raptor birds, perhaps, but birds, and though they were thoroughly grounded, it reminded her of home. There was an efficient beauty to their regular marching; they wheeled and turned as precisely as any flock, though they marched in dual lines rather than in the vee-pattern of migrating birds, or the dense mass of feeding ones. Their leaders led, and all the others followed in perfect suit.
She stood alone, and watched them.
Every two hours they changed, marching across the plaza several stories below her apartment. She could watch them all day, with all the smooth efficiency of clockwork and the avian grace. It was reminiscent of home, and she missed home. There were so few Omwati on Coruscant, and Kiin Iiro felt her lack of flock here even more acutely than at home, where she at least had her mother. Flying alone – studying here, alone – was uncomfortable. Coruscant was so alien. Or perhaps she was the one too alien.
Her apartment was high enough to be comfortable, facing the skyline and providing a welcoming view not unlike that which she would find on Omwat; here, though, the landscape was all metal and glass, rather than honeycombed, snowcapped mountainsides and silvery spires that pierced the clouds. Still, when the sun set, red light would touch the tops of the roofs and slide along the windowpanes, and turn everything into a molten river of light stretching west. It was an aerie, even if an alien one, and an Omwati was comfortable in high places where the wind was so strong it could lift a person from their feet.
She liked the breeze afforded by her apartment's balcony, even though the air all too often smelled of exhaust; the Fobosi District was constantly active, with speeders roaming at all hours. Her pale blue hands curled around the ledge of her balcony, and as she leaned her head out over the edge, the long strands of her scalp's downy, opalescent feathers caught in the updraft, swirling up and behind her.
Two new lines of men were marching across the plaza, veering slightly to avoid the large fountain gracing the center of it and making the wind taste faintly like water. Kiin Iiro wasn't quite sure what the business across the way specialized in – security of some kind – but it was clearly important enough to warrant the attention of the Coruscant Guard.
When she'd accepted the apartment, she'd been disappointed her allowance did not provide her enough money to rent a place closer to the Skydome Gardens, but now…she sighed. It was silly, watching them and wondering who they were, if they were grateful they were surrounded by their flock. They did not know her, did not know how she observed them from her aerie. She watched them only covertly when she walked through the plaza in the mornings on her way to the university, watched only indirectly on her way home in the evenings; they had regular patterns. The same men would be there in the morning, others in the evening. She learned them by patterns on their armor, painted stripes and swirls and roundels. She learned them by who wore the strange half-skirts, and who wore the large shoulder pads, and who had extra tech affixed to their helmets. She wondered at their names.
All wore bright white armor, painted in streaks of red. Red was lucky; it was a life-color, like blood and fire and the sun when it rose or set. She felt safer with them there, even though soldiers were not considered so lucky on Omwat; war among Omwati was rare indeed, the behavior frowned upon after centuries of peace. But the larger galaxy was not as civilized as Omwat, and knowing there were red-tinted wings of warriors allied to her people nearby was a small comfort.
Kiin Iiro had no courage to speak to them. It was likely they would wonder at her, anyway, the funny looking bird-girl from the Outer Rim, who was too shy to speak to strangers.
It was safer, in her aerie, to watch and wish and feel less alone.
"The Correlation of Nanodroid and Microdroid Configurations to High Stress Performance in Microparticle Reinforced Polysynthetic Materials."
Kiin Iiro sighed. It was going to be another long night of studying. Microengineering was fascinating, but so many of the Coruscanti researchers wrote in such a dreadfully dull fashion. There was no flow, no story, no excitement to the discovery, to the new learning. Research should be conversation, not parched lecture. At times she suspected they deliberately stripped the poetry from their writing simply to sound more confounding to laypeople. The less non-engineers understood, the more intelligent they felt; a terribly backwards way of thinking. Clarity and beauty made for respect, not being deliberately esoteric and confounding. Was knowledge not best when shared and comprehended by all?
"Grilled bantha and steamed quinto special?"
Kiin Iiro glanced up from her datapad and nodded as the droid waiter dropped a steaming plate of meat and overcooked grain in front of her. The Coruscanti also overcooked their seed-grain based foods, but at least it was edible. The bantha steak on the other hand looked quite perfect with blackened strips across it from a hot grill. It smelled divine. "Thank you," she replied, bowing her long neck respectfully, and the droid gave her as funny a look as a droid could give a sentient being, and wheeled off. Kiin Iiro adjusted herself on her stool at the diner's counter and pulled her lute case closer to herself as a group of noisy Rodians shambled past, laughing loudly and jostling her as they moved towards the door. She ran a hand over the instrument case. Her mornings focused on microengineering – her major – and afternoons on music – her minor. Both were deeply enjoyable subjects, complex and full of delicacy and complexity. Fortunately, her music instructors did not try to strip the beauty out of music the way her engineering professors did, and reduce it to mere math.
She picked up her fork and knife and began to cut the steak, eating quietly while she read the research article; with the Rodians gone, it was much quieter in the diner. She ate here frequently, since it was conveniently close to her apartment complex, and the food wasn't too bad; as long as she didn't mind the occasional group of noisy Rodians or Humans, it was a pleasant enough place to eat. It seemed to be a popular place for the lower-level employees of the local businesses, as well as some other students whose parents could afford to place them outside of the university's dorms.
Another burst of laughter broke across the small diner abruptly as the door was opened. Kiin Iiro frowned at the remains of her food; a few more minutes and she would be done, then she could go home to study peacefully. She glanced down the counter narrowly, trying not to be too obvious in her dislike towards the noisy human males, keeping the long quills at the base of her head flat and calm rather than upraised in irritation or hostility.
The noisy human males, though, were wearing clean white armor streaked with red.
There were six of them, the ones towards the back bumping into the ones in the front as the leaders stopped to gawk around the diner, open mouthed, as though they'd never been inside a restaurant before. The bulky helmets with slit visors were gone, clipped to their belts.
They did not share a face. Not quite. The template was there, of course. Kiin Iiro knew they were clones, duplicates, even if she did not know what the template looked like. Apparently, a brown skinned, black haired, brown eyed male with broad features. Very different from Omwati faces, which were so small and narrow. They were a little funny looking. Their differences in face were small but distinct. Hairstyles were different, some were clean shaven, others not. One had a nick cut out of an eyebrow; another had a small scrape on his chin, as though he cut himself removing hair from his face recently.
Whoever it was at their rear pushed them forward, and they jostled into the diner like a gaggle of goslings. Very different from how they marched in the plaza; perhaps they did not do so well in small spaces?
One of them spotted her, made eye contact, and his face lit up in a goofy smile. Kiin Iiro's eyes widened, and her face went cobalt at the realization she'd let herself stare so rudely. Her attention snapped firmly back down to the remains of her food, and she hugged her datapad to herself, her feathers fluffing up around her head in dismay.
They were morning-marchers; one of the groups who did guard work during the day. She had faces to place with armor markings now. And she stared rudely, even if their loudness was rude, too. Coruscanti did not seem to find loudness as offensive as Omwati, though. Kiin Iiro fidgeted, the last of her appetite gone, and she quickly stuffed her datapad into her knapsack. It would be best to go home now.
What could she say to such men? 'You march very nicely, it is calming?' 'I see you in the plaza every day, what are your names?' 'Seeing you all move together reminds me of home?'
All crazy things. They would laugh or think she was mad. She was too lonely, that was all. It was best to keep her silliness to herself. She had science to entertain her, music to keep her company, as she always had. She scooped up her lute case and hugged it to herself.
It would be safer to go home. She had no courage to talk to them.
But she didn't move, except to tilt her head slightly, observing discreetly from under the fringe of her downy bangs. They were crowding into one large, circular booth in one corner of the diner. Two of them were gawping around them outright; one was struggling to look bored and not quite succeeding; two were successfully managing to not stare, but still looked around attentively. The last one – a leader, Kiin Iiro suspected, based on the extra red striping painted on his armor – was pushing them all into the booth brusquely.
Peculiar. They acted like they had never seen the inside of a restaurant before.
The surface of her lute case was lightly pebbled, and her fingers ran over the faint dips and bumps of its' texture, nails making a light scratching sound.
If she had more courage, she would walk up to them. If she had more cleverness with people, she would have words to say. Something appropriate, witty, thankful, amusing. All she could think of now was the reasons why nanodroids were superior to microdroids in manipulating the capacity and hardiness of polysynthetic materials. She certainly couldn't talk about that. Her feathers began to fluff up in agitation and she hugged the lute case tighter.
There were musicians, sometimes, in the evenings at the plaza outside. They played instruments with their cases open before them, taking in credits. Their music was spontaneous and enjoyable. Fun more than elegant. She'd never seen one play inside a diner, but perhaps…perhaps if she could not speak to them, she could, instead, sing for them?
Her voice did not tremble or grow shy that way.
Kiin Iiro set her lute case down onto the counter and snapped open the lid. The olive picea wood was polished to gleaming. She plucked a string, and a deep, mellow sound reverberated from the depths of the sound hole, carved elaborately into the shape of a vine surrounded rose. It was a gift from her mother when she saw her tenth life day. The gift had not had quite the effect her mother hoped; Kiin Iiro had not grown to love performing before people, sparkling under appreciative attention. She had, though, grown to love plucking the strings and playing old tunes quietly, assembling a repertoire of half forgotten Omwati ballads.
It only took a moment to tune the lute again, adjusting the fruitwood tuning pegs accordingly until the strings were appropriately taut. She plucked a string again, this time listening for pitch and quality. Another set of adjustments later, the lute was tuned and sitting in her lap.
There was confidence in music; she was not a musical genius, to inspire and create, but she could follow a tune and follow it well. The first few notes trickled out from her fingers in a thoughtful stream. A simple tune. Short. Pretty. Elegant.
What came out was all those things, but a little lonely, too.
Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill
Who can blame me, cry my fill
And every tear would turn a mill-
Kiin Iiro kept her voice quiet, low, and let the sound of the lute dominate the song. It had grown quiet in the diner, and she could feel the pressure of eyes on her back. This was silly. She wanted attention, and how she had it, and felt awkward. It was always so. She knew better. The next few notes came out uncertainly before her fingers found their place again, plucking and strumming with the perfection born of practice.
Me, oh my, I loved him so,
Broke my heart to see him go,
And only time will heal my woe-
She bent her head over the lute, feathers sliding down to drape by her cheeks, hiding her face somewhat more from view. This was a poor performance. It was so much easier when she was with an orchestra, melting into the group and half hidden by other musicians and their instruments. There she could play and sing with so much more confidence.
I'll sell my rod, I'll sell my reel,
Likewise I'll sell my spinning wheel,
And buy my love a sword of steel-
Johnny has gone for a soldier….
The last notes hung in the air, fading after the soft soprano trill of her voice.
The noisy diner was dead silent. Kiin Iiro could hear her own breathing, feel blood rushing to her head. She could never come back here again out of sheer embarrassment. It would have been better to go home. Her shoulders came up around her ears as she hunched up, quickly placing the lute back into its case and snapping it shut.
That was when someone started clapping.
There was a small group sitting in one corner of the diner, two Lowen with what appeared to be either a Pantoran or a Wroonian. The three were smiling and applauding politely. An older human male sitting near the end of the counter added to the smattering of applause, his mouth full of food somewhat visible through his broad smile. A pair of Rodians drummed their hands on their booth's table in appreciation. Another human man, this one with an apron on, was sticking himself half out of the kitchen to clap as well.
Kiin Iiro colored, this time as much from pleasure as from embarrassment. Perhaps she did not have to banish herself from the diner entirely. She ducked her head politely, keeping her eyes modestly downcast.
A quick look towards the booth filled with armored men proved she had their attention as well. None applauded. Half were smiling. The other half seemed somewhat stricken. The man with the extra red roundels on his helmet caught her eye for a moment, and his grim look softened somewhat, into an uncertain smile.
Perhaps it was not the best choice of composition. It was a sad song. Not heartening, or cheerful. She'd misread her audience. They were here for enjoyment, an evening of food and chatter, not a reminder of the losses of war, not for mourning. A foolish choice of song.
Kiin Iiro quickly placed her credit chips onto the table, slung her knapsack onto her back, grabbed her lute case, bobbed once, politely, in thanks for the meal and for the applause, and scuttled out of the diner, feeling sillier than she ever had.
She walked with her head down, quickly and with purpose.
The morning-marchers were out today; she had stayed inside her apartment as long as she could, not wanting to be seen, but she had a class to get to, a speeder bus to catch, and a plaza to cross to get to them. In the days since her time singing in the diner, she'd avoided the morning-marchers, moving with the flow of morning crowds across the plaza and making herself small enough to blend in. She felt awkward.
This morning was no different. People of many species, smartly dressed for office work, moved across the plaza towards buildings with shiny windows, briefcases and cups of steaming caf in their hands. Here and there, other itinerant university students wandering through the crowd, dressed far more casually and with datapads in hand rather than briefcases.
A voice rose above the bustle, slightly modulated, electronic sounding. "Ma'am!"
Kiin Iiro continued to walk.
"Miss!" The voice was male, loud and expansive from some sort of speakers. Kiin Iiro, along with several other women, paused and turned their heads at the call.
Out of the crowd, one of the morning-marchers emerged, his armor striped in scarlet more than the others. At the sight of the soldier, the crowd skittered back, giving him way until he reached Kiin Iiro. She clutched her lute case to her chest, wrapping her arms around it and lowering her eyes politely, nervously.
This was one of the men from the diner. Why he would call to her, she did not know, nor did she particularly want to know. Her feathers began to puff in embarrassment and she struggled to smooth them back against her scalp. She had chosen poorly, and even if some of the customers appreciated the music, she had willingly drawn so much attention to herself. It was an awkward feeling, even if it was nice to be acknowledged for musical skill, in however small a way.
This close, the morning-marcher looked intimidating. She could not see his face. The unity of the matching armor seemed elegant from far above; here, face to face, it seemed intimidating, blank. She clutched her lute case tighter and bowed slightly in greeting.
"You're the one from the other day. In the diner," he said, by way of beginning. His voice sounded mechanical through his helmet, a little unnatural. There was a tone to it that was difficult to discern, and made more difficult through the electronics. "Not too many Omwati around here."
Kiin Iiro nodded once. This was true.
He seemed to be staring at her, and Kiin Iiro bit her lip. What did he want with her? Surely there was nothing wrong with playing music in a diner, beside the silliness and embarrassment involved? She shifted from foot to foot, uncertainly, waiting for him to elaborate.
There was a sharp, breathy sound from his helmet, and Kiin Iiro decided he had just sighed, perhaps in a slightly irritated way.
Kiin Iiro blinked. Introductions were a politeness. She was not in trouble then, in some way. She lifted her eyes and looked at the blank mask of his helmet for a moment, before lowering her head again, more gracefully. "I am Kiin Iiro of Omwat, daughter of Miizuu Iiro of Omwat." Kiin Iiro bit her lip momentarily before setting her lute case down beside her and gently touching her fingertips together at waist height, pointed down. Her voice fluted upward in nervousness. "It is a good morning and the air is clear."
Well, the air was clear for Coruscant, at least. Another hour or so, and the smell of exhaust would be stronger, as the morning rush hour lengthened on.
The morning-marcher, Blackout, had his head tilted to one side, and his posture suggested something between puzzlement and curiosity. His stance shifted to mimic hers then, more awkwardly. He pressed his hands together, fingers down, but without delicacy or grace. "Uh, good morning?"
She blinked at him, twice, rapidly, and struggled with a serene expression. He was very awkward too, and a little clumsy with greetings, like a child. It was amusing, and a little sweet. It was a bit of a relief, in a way, knowing he felt uncertain in this situation also.
The crowd milled around them, providing a small bit of clear space for them to stand.
"You're the one from the diner," he repeated, this time with more certainty. Kiin Iiro nodded, and there was another long moment. "You don't talk much, do you?"
Kiin Iiro blinked at him, tilting her head. Was this not obvious? She lowered her gaze in apology.
There was a mechanized chuckle from him that caused her to lift her eyes again. His helmet was accented in red, striped along the top and along the earpieces. Two small galactic roundels were patterned just above the earpieces, near his temples. The armor near his elbows and knees was also designed in scarlet, and a belt with pockets was also red. More red stripes were drawn over his shoulders. There was a very intimidating blaster at his side, black and gleaming.
"You sing good, though."
Kiin Iiro's eyes widened, and she colored. She had chosen her music poorly, and her voice was not strong. A small chirrup worked its' way out of her throat and she bit it back, reminding herself to be polite and not to let her voice pitch. It trilled anyway. "Thank you."
"The song was for us, wasn't it?"
Kiin Iiro lowered her head, feeling feathers flutter against her cheek. A song of soldiers sung before soldiers could only be for soldiers. "I…" she warbled, then steadied herself. "I wished to express appreciation."
There was a long pause. Then a quiet, "That's unusual. Thank you."
Her cheeks deepened in color. Male humans had deep voices. It was a pleasant sound, even when mechanized.
"I can't stay," the man named Blackout said, a hint of regret in his voice. "But my platoon and I also wanted to express appreciation. You ran out pretty fast."
Because she was nervous. Because she was embarrassed. Kiin Iiro nodded once, acknowledging the statement and not wishing to elaborate. Should she speak of shyness, and loneliness, and embarrassment, he would think her too strange. So she smiled a little, gratefully. She still felt embarrassed, but her embarrassment was not for nothing. It was a good feeling, to take a risk and be so rewarded with appreciation and kindness.
"You pass through here often?" he asked.
Kiin Iiro nodded again. "I live nearby, yes."
Blackout's head turned towards the towering apartment complex that stood wedged between an office building and a shopping and entertainment complex. There was a smile in his voice when he said, "Then I'll see you around, Kiin."
Blackout straightened and gave her a formal nod, before turning and letting himself slip back into the flow of the crowd. He paused several steps along and looked back with a wave, which Kiin Iiro returned, hesitantly.
"Kiin"? A shortening. A nickname. She had never had a nickname. It was pleasing somehow. A gesture of friendliness, she knew, among many species, including humans. Kiin. Just Kiin. Kheeen. A nickname. As though from a friend. It was a good feeling. Warm. A little embarrassing, to receive a nickname from a human man she barely knew, but a different feeling of embarrassment than usual. Kiin. A nickname, for her. She did not understand the full intricacies of human social interaction, but it seemed that she had somehow earned a friend.
Someone in the crowd jostled her, and she started. She had a speeder bus to catch, and a class to attend, and she would need to hurry if she did not want to be late. Her microengineering professors did not take kindly to tardiness.
She picked up her lute case by its handle, and adjusted the weight of her knapsack on her back, before looking briefly to the sky. The air was clear, but smelled increasingly like exhaust. There were no birds in the sky, nor honeycombed mountains, but instead gleaming windows set in durasteel grids.
It was nothing like home. Nothing like Omwat.
But it seemed a little gentler, today.
Kiin took a deep breath, smiled at the sky, and began to walk.
The song used here is Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier, and is a traditional piece from the American Revolutionary War. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, though more aptly named, didn't really have the right kind of lyrics and was much too religious in tone. So I opted for Johnny instead.