Disclaimer: All things Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm.
A note on the Sanctuary stories : I don't normally write "original" character stories -- I'm more interested in the established characters -- but I used the orphanage called Sanctuary for I'm Your What? and it took on a life of its own.
This story takes place about a year after "Roads to Sanctuary 1: Uprising (Dritali's Story)".
The cage swung slowly back and forth, but Kerea had gotten past the seasickness hours ago. The cramps in her legs were dully present, but the dry desert heat helped a little, and she didn't want to pay attention to them right now, anyway. She didn't want to pay attention to anything.
The slaver was prowling among the cages, a knot of buyers in tow. Kerea identified a Rodian and a Dug. There was also a Twi'lek, who she guessed was probably buying for someone else. Maybe he was a slave himself. She imagined a life for him - an accountant or something. A house slave, definitely. Kerea figured that's what she'd be; a house slave who could find stuff in the computers, and tell them what they should wear and when. She wouldn't be any good in anyone's field. The Twi'lek's clothes were nice, at least. She tried to picture a master for him, but couldn't. She couldn't make herself see what a master would look like or act like.
She supposed she'd better get used to it. The thingamajig they'd put in her would answer to whoever bought her, and then she'd know for sure about having a master. She wouldn't be able to play pretend.
She wanted her mother, and her father, and even her annoying little sister, Ris. She wanted them so bad that she could almost smell them. She sometimes wondered if, should she find herself on a ship going through whatever was left of Alderaan, if she could just open the hatch, go into the cold dark, and find everyone right back where they belonged, just hidden behind some big, black curtain. They could all go after the Empire together and make it pay for… for hiding Alderaan. They'd be mad at her for running away, right on the day they decided to go hide, but she could convince them that she hadn't meant anything by it. She'd been mad at Ris. She was just walking it off. And the ship with all the pretty fabrics on it had been intriguing, and she hadn't really meant to still be on it when it took off, and -
She wanted to go home. No matter what that meant now.
The slaver was closer now, with his little bunch. The Rodian was looking at some slimy little creature - Kerea wasn't thinking that to be mean; whatever it was, it really was slimy, like it lived in mud - and the Dug was poking his feet at a pretty human. Kerea was very, very glad that she wasn't big enough to be pretty that way yet.
The human man was just behind the group, and she hadn't seen him the first time. He was tall and thin, with dark skin and dark hair, and he was just walking, quietly, behind everyone else. His eyes were wandering among the cages, looking sadly at everyone. Kerea didn't think he was a master. No one who looked at slaves with such sad eyes could really want to buy one.
She almost didn't answer the whisper, but finally, she had to. It was one of those, "Come on, let's play together" whispers that she'd never been able to turn down. She turned her head with an effort, and saw a curly-haired boy and a girl with a big cut on her face. Maybe she'd have been pretty before the cut, except for thick, dark eyebrows that were pushed toward each other in the middle, making her look like she would always be frowning. The boy was smiling widely, and put a finger against his lips to tell her to be quiet. The girl started messing with the lock on the cage.
"I'm Vertash," the boy whispered conspiratorially. "And the friendly, talkative one there is Dritali."
"Kerea Morlana," Kerea said, and was surprised, because she hadn't spoken for almost a week, and she hardly had any voice. Which was just as well. They wanted her to whisper.
"It's a mechanical lock," Dritali said, not looking at either of them. She bent and examined the lock even more studiously, poking at it with the stick that had held her hair up until a moment before. Vertash rolled his eyes up at Kerea, and she couldn't help but smile.
I am sitting in a cage with something inside me that will go Boom if I run, and everyone I know is dead because of the stupid Imperials, so why am I smiling?
Vertash stuck his tongue out at her.
Dritali suddenly smiled, and her whole face changed. "I've got it!" she said, and the door rattled and squeaked open.
Kerea was about to reach out one arm - at least as soon as she could figure out how to move it - when the cage door suddenly banged shut again, a brown human hand wrapped around the latch. She looked up. It was the man she'd seen earlier. He was keeping her here…
"What are you two doing?" he whispered at the children
"We saw you - " Vertash started, but Dritali stepped in front of him.
Her eyebrows were close to each other again, and she was frowning. "I have a debt," she said stubbornly. "I'm going to save her."
"You're going to kill her," the man said, and Dritali took a step back (this pushed her into Vertash, who caught her without comment). "If you actually get her out, they'll set off the tracker." He turned to Kerea. "Do you understand that, child?"
"She's Kerea," Vertash said helpfully.
"Kerea," the man said. "I am Kit Jarai. Did you know that you cannot slip away from here?"
"Y-yes. I wasn't thinking."
"Think, child, think." His face softened. "You haven't been in this place very long, have you?"
Kerea shrugged helplessly, and croaked out, "Three months. Found me - " She coughed, trying to clear the ragged edge off her voice. "They found me on Nal Hutta. I - " Another cough. "I don't remember how I ended up there."
Kit looked over his shoulder nervously, then down at Dritali and Vertash. "All right, Dritali. We'll save her."
"But I thought - "
"You must play along with me. I don't like this much. But three of us are a pathetic match against everyone else in this place." He looked up at Kerea. "I have to ask you to trust me without giving you any reason to. Just hold on, and trust me, no matter what I say." He looked at her sadly and then said a strange thing: "If you shift just a little bit on your left foot, it takes that middle bar off the nerves in your leg. It'll hurt like fire for a minute, but it'll be easier to walk later."
Then he swept the other children away into the gathering crowd.
Kerea shifted a little bit on her left foot. It took the middle bar off the nerve in her leg. It hurt like fire.
Kerea trusted Kit Jarai.
They had been gone for an hour, and the auction was to begin soon. Kerea found herself third in line for the block. She scanned the crowd. It was much bigger now, and full of all sorts of people. She saw the Twi'lek she'd seen earlier, standing beside a Hutt. And where…?
She found Kit Jarai, Dritali, and Vertash weaving their way through the crowd. They'd changed clothes. Kit was now wearing something that was blue and looked rich. There was a hat. Very unsuitable for the summer, let alone the desert. Vertash was wearing a little school uniform, and Dritali, astoundingly, was wearing a dark red party dress that Kerea thought would buy and sell everything here, if it didn't hang a little funny on one shoulder, as if it had been mended quickly.
They stopped weaving about three rows of people back, and started pushing rudely, until they popped out front. Dritali's eyes wandered over the rows of cages, like she was shopping for a new necklace. Vertash looked bored and sullen. Kit put his hand on Dritali's shoulder, and joined her survey of the merchandise, a pleased smile frozen on his face. "We're not here for playthings, Tali," he said. "I do need someone to work around the barge."
Dritali's gaze drifted over all the slaves in rapt wonder. She was smiling widely. She didn't stop at Kerea the first time, instead moving over toward a young Wookiee two cages down (the Wookiee's cage looked like it had much thicker bars than Kerea's). Dritali waved to the Wookiee cheerfully.
The Wookiee growled back something that Kerea didn't think needed any translation.
Kit stood straight pretending to be offended, and put his hands over Dritali's ears. She put her hands over her eyes, and Kerea could see her shoulders starting to hitch.
Vertash shrugged elaborately and said, loudly enough to get attention. "Great. Now she's going to throw a fit."
Dritali leaned back from Kit. "… and I was only trying to be friendly, I just want to have a friend and he yelled at me and… "
"Hush, Tali," Kit said. "You're making a scene, my dear."
"I want to have someone to talk to!" Dritali stomped her feet, sending dust up in a fan across her dress. She looked down at it and burst into big crocodile tears. Kerea was enjoying the performance. "My dress! My dress! It's ruined!" She sat down in the sand, apparently to complete the destruction.
Kit leaned over her and spoke as ineffectually as it was possible for a man to speak. "Now, Tali, we know we can't act like this…"
"Go away, my dress is ruined and no one wants to be my friend…"
Vertash stepped in. "Tali, you're such a liar!" He turned to Kit. "She's just trying to get you to buy someone to play with her - "
"I haven't had anyone to play with since he sold Ynob - "
" - and she knows you promised that I could have someone to practice my shooting with. You promised."
Dritali didn't answer this with words; she just howled more fake tears. Kerea tried to suppress a smile.
Why am I having fun? This isn't supposed to be fun… But Dritali was so very good at this and -
A horrible thought occurred to Kerea. What if she was good at it, but in the other direction? What if she'd been playing at being a hero before, and Kerea was just the toy she was pretending to rescue? What if this was the real thing?
A flush went through her, and she looked down at her feet in shame. She was being begged for like… like a pet! Like a stray animal that Dritali was asking if she could please-please-please keep.
And I'm sitting still for it, because I have no choice.
She didn't know what to believe. It was possible. Except that Kit Jarai knew about the middle bar, and how it dug into her leg. And Dritali and Vertash were with Kit. She believed they were really what she had seen before. She had to believe it. They had to be good.
And if they're not, they'll find out pretty fast that Alderaanian girls don't sit up and beg.
She straightened her back and managed a defiant stare. She caught Kit's eye.
He spared her a real, sympathetic smile, under the guise of a nervous look. He was all right.
The crowd was looking uncomfortably at Dritali, and a few grownups started giving Kit the look that meant "Control your kids or else!"
"All right, all right," Kit said. "Tash, there doesn't seem to be anyone suitable for you anyway. The Wookiee is too wild and too strong for you to practice with and the others simply aren't the right type. This time, we'll buy something for Tali. Next time, I promise."
"You always promise!"
"Now, now. But a good little man and don't make a fuss."
Vertash shook his head, but fell silent.
Dritali was already standing again, an avaricious look in her eyes. She pointed to Kerea. "That one! Please! She's just my age, and we'll have so much fun together!"
The slaver heard the specific request and slithered over to the little knot of them. "Ah, yes. A good, healthy girl. Says she can make your computers tell you anything you want. Of course, they all say that. The one thing I know she's good for is working on your wardrobe. Helped my woman put together quite the show!"
Dritali clapped her hands. "Oh, yes! Please!"
"I don't know. She's awfully small. Well, at least she can't be very expensive…"
"You don't know true worth…" the slaver said, then a pre-auction dickering session began. Kerea listened with interest, and growing astonishment, as Kit succumbed to higher and higher bids, and finally offered a sum that Kerea figured she'd be paying off until she died.
The slaver had the droids pick up the whole cage, and bring it into the back room.
"Your lock is broken," he said. "You been playing with the lock?"
"No harm, no harm. I got a better price for you than I figured on." He pulled her out of the cage, and put one large, horny foot across her toes. In a sudden move, he grabbed her wrists and yanked upward, pulling her body perfectly straight. All the places where her bones and muscles had settled into the crouched posture of the cage screamed out as blood rushed through them. She uttered a little shriek.
"I won't have her damaged," a voice said outside.
"Come in," the slaver said. "Just straightening her out." He tossed a control of some kind to Kit, and Kit caught it.
The detonator, Kerea realized, and almost swooned. They're tossing around something that can blow me up.
"Has she any belongings?" Kit asked. "Clothing? Other items which, being part of her, are now mine?"
"You bought the girl, not her baggage."
"We both know I paid more that you would get elsewhere. Come now… are a few clothes so much to add? She's considerably smaller than Dritali."
"She doesn't have much. She'd been wandering around every since Alderaan blew. And I bet she didn't have much to start out with."
"From Alderaan?" Kit turned to her, and this time he was completely unable to hide the compassionate look. Not pitying though. It was compassion, and Kerea was glad of it. He touched her face and said, "I'm so sorry, my girl."
"You going to take her or what?"
Kit answered by leading her outside, where Vertash and Dritali were waiting beside a beat-up old speeder. Vertash's jacket was open, and Dritali had tied her skirt up short. "Can we help the others?" she asked.
Kit shook his head, examining the remote in his hand. "No. The technology isn't anything we can handle by ourselves. Now, why did the two of you come here at all?" He lowered himself into the driver's seat.
"We were following you," Vertash said. "How come you're here?"
Kit looked at Kerea, and smoothed her hair. "I was sold here when I was a child. When I'd heard rumors that market was operating again… " He suddenly slammed his fist against the dash. "Dammit, Ani. Is everything going to come apart?" Without explaining himself, he turned the ignition and looked up at Kerea. "Have you a home to go to, Kerea?"
She sighed. "They were all on Alderaan."
Vertash, who had been laughing and teasing Dritali, suddenly stopped. Kerea waited for the questions - how does it feel? is everyone dead? did you see it on the news? the questions she'd been asked by everyone else who fell silent when she mentioned her home - but they didn't come. He just stayed silent for a minute.
"Come on, then," Kit said. "You're under no obligation to us, but if you have nowhere else to go, you should come to Sanctuary. We would welcome you. Three meals a day, other children… "
"But he makes you go to school!" Vertash piped up, but he didn't sound like he really felt like joking. Was he Alderaanian? Was that why?
No, he'd have said so.
Dritali had fallen quiet again as well, but already, after only a few hours, Kerea knew that that was normal.
"Kerea?" Kit said.
"I… you already did so much, and… I'll pay you back. Really."
Kit brushed it off. "I have - quite to my occasional confusion - a bit of a trust fund for emergencies. And you will be one of many children at Sanctuary. The war has left a lot of kids wandering, from both sides."
The speeder just kept idling in the heat of the sun… suns, there were two here… and behind her, the auction just kept going on. It was an awful place, with no trees and no hills - just great standing mountains and rolling sand. It was dirty and they sold slaves here. The buildings were all too low and the sky was too big and there were too many things in it. It was…
Kerea burst into tears for the first time in the six months she'd been running. "I want to go home!"
Then a big pair of arms was around her, then two smaller ones, and somehow, she was in the back seat and the speeder was moving. On one side, she grasped hold of the red folds in Dritali's dress, and on the other, her fingers were tugging at Vertash's jacket. "It's okay," he said. "I cried my head off."
"But Sanctuary's a good place," Dritali told her earnestly.
But all Kerea could say, over and over, was, "I want to go home." Finally, they just let her say it, and only hummed and shushed to let her know they were there.
Kit was wise enough to drive on in silence.
The speeder crested a rock, and - with a speed that shocked Kerea out of her tears - descended into the canyon below. A low-slung building was sunk into the canyon floor, and four or five children were playing out front.
I can't live there, Kerea thought, but at the same time thought, I could stay forever.
Kit led her inside, and put her in a room with Dritali. "When you're more used to things, we'll see what kind of space we can find just for you. There are a lot of empty spaces here."
"Is everyone - ?" Kerea started to say "a slave," but couldn't bring herself to it. Instead, she said, "Is everyone… you know, like I was?"
"No. Thank the Maker - "
" - and Ani!" Vertash called from down the hall.
" - and a friend of mine named Ani," Kit agreed, "slavery on Tatooine has been drastically reduced. I wish it had been eradicated. I'd believed… Well, the answer to your question is no. The children have come by various means, which are theirs to discuss."
Kerea nodded, and sat down on the cot that Dritali had set up. She looked over at the other girl cautiously. "I'm sorry for, you know, taking up your space."
Dritali waved it off without comment. "There are some spare clothes around for you. There always are." She pointed at her party dress, which she had already shed. She was in her underthings - which were long and white and covered more than some of the slaves in the market had covered fully dressed - and pulling on a the drab brown wraparound she'd been wearing when she'd first appeared. "That thing was what I showed up in. It was the only thing I had. Well, that and this bracelet." She held out her arm, and showed Kerea a plain old bronze bracelet. It was pretty enough, but common and cheap. Dritali showed it as if it was a treasure, while she treated the dress with deep contempt.
"I think the dress is pretty," Kerea tried.
"I hate it."
"I can fix that rip. I'm good with clothes."
"It's stained, too," Dritali muttered, turning away with some kind of embarrassment. "But if you want it, you can have it."
"No, no. I meant I could fix it for you. So maybe you'd like it better."
"And I meant, I hate it." She crumpled it and threw it onto Kerea's cot. Her voice wasn't unkind, but she clearly meant for that to be the end of the conversation.
Kerea picked up the dress curiously, and pushed it away with a shudder. She hadn't noticed it at a distance, but all around the neckline, near the badly mended tear, the material was stained with droplets of a darker, brownish red.
Her eyes snapped up to Dritali, took in the scar on her face. It would have bled a lot.
Onto this dress.
"Is there someplace you keep it?" she whispered.
Dritali turned back to her, and took the dress. She shoved it unceremoniously into a trunk at the end of her bed, then turned back with a smile. "I should get rid of it. Kit says not to hang on to stuff that makes us angry."
Kerea, who figured she had whole lot to be angry at, none of which as easily gotten rid of as a dress, said nothing. She'd put it all in her own mental trunk.
"You want to see the place?" Dritali asked.
"Can I clean up first?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure. I think maybe we need to cut your hair. It's pretty, you know - "
"Gross," Kerea finished. "That's okay, I like it short."
Kerea spent the next hour feeling almost normal as Dritali cut her hair and dressed it with pretty local baubles. By the time she was done, they were both giggling, and Kerea decided to play with Dritali's long dark hair for awhile. Vertash showed up with a bundle of clothes, and had to be shooed away while Kerea changed ("He's nice," Dritali explained patiently, "but he's a boy"). He was waiting outside when they joined him, and, despite Dritali's take-charge attitude in the room, she let him lead the way through Sanctuary.
"This is the kitchen," he said, importantly. "When the droids are working, we just come in and get food. But the droids are never working."
Kerea raised her eyebrows. "And?"
Dritali leaned in confidentially. "He means that we all take turns cooking for everyone. Including Kit."
"Where does the food come from?" Kerea asked. Her weeks of running had made her very aware of just how hard it sometimes was to eat.
"There's a 'ponic garden underground," Vertash said. "I won a contest for the trimials I grew there last year. Best in all Mos Espa."
"What are trimials?"
"The most perfect veggies in the galaxy," Vertash answered.
Dritali said, "Yellowish orange. Kind of a sweet taste. Nice texture."
"Thank you." The three of them stopped talking and looked at each other with cautious grins. Kerea swore she could hear something clicking into place. They were wonderful. She loved them and they were beautiful.
They are complete strangers.
"Where do you guys come from?" she asked as they started moving again.
"Zompesha," Dritali answered. "Then Coruscant. My mother died on Zompesha. My father died on Coruscant. And I was sent here."
"Did they die in the war?"
"No," she said. "Not really." She fell silent.
"I'm from Yirisu, on the other side of the Outer Rim."
"What happened to your parents?" She saw him beginning to squirm, his usual good humor straining to keep control. "I'm sorry, you don't have to answer."
"No, it's all right. I… well, you'd have to find out, and not ashamed of my parents or anything…"
"What is it?"
"They both died at the Battle of Yavin."
"They were pilots?"
He shook his head. They… um… They weren't in the Rebellion."
Kerea refused to process that. Not possible. Couldn't be possible because, "No, there were no women on the Death Star!" she said triumphantly, not realizing until she said it that she was going to say something out loud. She'd never said the name of the station before.
Vertash answered calmly, but his eyes were cast down. "My mama liked to play games. She decided to visit my papa - he was an ensign - and she smuggled herself in with something. I guess she couldn't smuggle herself back out."
Kerea's instinct was to reach out and touch his shoulder and tell him she was so sorry, and make everything like it was before she'd asked stupid questions. She wanted to tell him that she'd escaped by hiding aboard a ship, just like his mother had slipped on board the station. She wanted to make everything all right.
Then it hit her for real.
His parents were on the Death Star. This "mama" and "papa" of his were right there when they… when it…
His father could have shot the blast!
But I like him!
No. She just couldn't allow herself to like him. It was that simple. He was part of Them. And she couldn't be part of his family.
But he helped me.
It didn't matter. It couldn't matter. It couldn't be right for her to have fun with the whole world destroyed, anyway. And especially not with the people who did it.
She turned around as quickly as she could, and headed for the deepest shadow she could find. It turned out to be back in the kitchen, in a storage closet. She shut the door, and felt around for a place in the cutlery. Somehow or other, she fell asleep there.
She didn't know how long she'd been there when Kit woke her up. The kitchen was deep inside and underground, so it was always dark in there.
Kit was squatting down in front of the door when she opened her eyes, his kind face solemn. She looked back at him, wondering why she'd expected to see him. Shouldn't she be having trouble getting used to him? Shouldn't she have expected the slaver?
"Kerea," he said, "I told you that Imperial orphans lived here."
She didn't say anything.
"Kerea, Vertash loved his parents and he misses them as much as you do. What happened to Alderaan was horrendous. But you do not have a monopoly on all the pain in the galaxy because of it."
Kerea studied her toenails. They were ragged, and she'd laughed with someone whose parents might have killed hers. Her hand snaked behind her, and her fingers wrapped around a cool, metal object. She faced Kit directly and nodded in submission. The knife in her hand found its way unobtrusively into her soft leather boot.
You're not seriously thinking about doing that?
Kit held out his hand, and she took it, surprised that she needed his help to get out. She'd been sitting the same way she had in the slave cage, and all the cramps had come back while she slept. With a vengeance. She gasped.
"You'll need to stretch at night for awhile. Dritali makes a habit of it. She's put together something like a gym in the equipment shed. You should join her in the morning."
"Okay," Kerea agreed, though she suspected that she wouldn't be here in the morning.
"It's dinner time."
She followed him to the long table, where a simple meal was laid out. He sat her beside Dritali. Vertash was on Dritali's other side. The two of them tried to banter with her as if nothing had happened.
(They saved your life!)
Kerea would have none of it. After dinner, Dritali finished the tour alone, showing her where everyone slept. Kerea noticed Vertash reading on his cot in one of the small rooms off the main hall. She didn't ask any questions about him, or about much else. Dritali gave it up and took them back to the room they shared, and Kerea sat down on her own cot. Dritali slipped away, and Kerea heard her meet Kit in the hall and say, "You should talk to her."
Kit said, "Everyone is like that the first day, Dritali. A new place takes some getting used to. When you came… "
Then they walked away, and their voices were too low to carry. Kerea closed her eyes, and drifted into a light sleep. When she opened them again, Dritali was just a lump under her blanket, and Sanctuary was quiet.
Kerea drew the knife from her boot, and got up. She crossed the hall and turned left. She'd counted the doors earlier, but it wasn't necessary. They were all open. She saw Vertash's curly hair sticking out from under a blanket in his room.
She slipped inside.
Beside the bed, she stopped, trying to slow her heart. She had to do something. She'd slipped away from Alderaan like a coward and now she would do something to redeem herself.
She raised the knife, then let it fall again.
He had made her smile. There in the cage, he'd made her smile, in spite of everything. And he'd tried to make jokes with her. And he'd told her about trimials and winning a contest with a hydroponic garden. His hand shifted a little bit, and a corkscrew of his hair escaped gleefully.
She raised the knife.
He turned over and opened his eyes. They were wide and sober, but not scared. "They don't even cut vegetables, you know," he said.
"Those knives. We throw 'em in the back of the cupboard because we can't sharpen 'em anymore. If you wanted a sharp one, they're behind the stove, on those hooks. They're hard to reach, though."
"What…? Why…?" Kerea blinked rapidly. What was she doing here again?
"Or I've got one that I got off a jawa. Traded some of my prize-winners for it. It's a Tusken knife. It's in my trunk. Want to see it?"
He sat up, shrugging off his covers. "Well, just figured if you like knives, you might want to see it. I think it's pretty rugged."
"I don't like knives. I just…" What was I going to do?
WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO?
She dropped the knife, and Vertash was out of bed and sweeping it up before she could think about it. He stuck it under the mattress on the cot, then took her hands and sat her down beside him.
"I'm sorry," she managed, looking sideways at him.
He shrugged. "Don't worry about it."
"I was going to - "
"Yeah. I figured."
"So how come you're not yelling?"
"I figured you'd come. I've been trying to decide how to play it. Did I do okay?"
"Good." He grinned. "Good. Then we're friends. You want to see my Tuskan knife or not?"
She shook her head, too confused to do anything else. "Sure."
"Rugged," he said, and popped up to open his trunk. A minute or two later, Dritali awoke to their voices, and came in to join them.