This was written prior to the story "The Flight to Rison's Deep," as a challenge at the Soul of the Jedi Writer's Workshop. The challenge was to write a journalistic piece about people effected by the war. I decided to expand on it.
The Boys of Rison's Deep
by Lersi Gerov
for Eye Magazine
The approach is treacherous, down a steep rockface strewn with broken stones and slicked with water from the streams that feed the valley below. The rock is magnetic; speeders and other sorts of hovercrafts cannot land here, and non-hovering vehicles are defeated by the terrain. That is why this rich bowl of land near the equator of Indala was never settled -- the sea plains and gentle inland hills of the north continent are far more inviting to those who have become dependent on technology.
But the valley -- known to planetologists as Rift Twenty-Four and known to Indalans as Rison's Deep -- has been settled now.
At the bottom of the steep slope, a dirty boy dressed in rags gives a formal military bow, then smiles brightly. "Glad you made it. You're the oldest one so far."
More boys appear from their makeshift shelters, some gnawing on fruit, others stretching as if awakening from a long nap.
And why not? It is a hot day, and the old schedules of school and home were long-since demolished here.
They gather around this reporter, large-eyed and almost innocent. The oldest ones laugh at the next-younger group, many of whom are blushing at the sight of a woman. The littlest ones simply look up wordlessly.
These are survivors of the Lieron School, sons of the officers who served aboard the Imperial battle station known commonly as the Death Star. Their sisters, who attended Sitor Academy on Arlest, were immediately evacuated to Coruscant, where they and their mothers were taken under the protection of the Empire. But Indala is further from the Core, and before the Empire could act to protect the boys, local rage over the destruction of the world of Alderaan found an easy target at the Lieron school. It was burned to the ground.
For several months, it was assumed that all the boys had been trapped inside. Nearly eighty bodies were recovered. But rumors began circulating on guilt-racked Indala that some boys had been seen to escape, that they had removed themselves from the towns and taken refuge in the south. Satellite scans showed activity in Rison's Deep, and emisaries were sent to collect the boys and send them back to the Empire.
They refused the invitation. Estion Alem, the oldest boy, pokes the campfire with a long stick. His shoulders are bent, and his eyes look too old for his sixteen-year-old face. "What are we supposed to go back to?" he asked. "The little ones and the ones who have mothers, we sent them up. But the rest of us? A lot of us got sent to school while our fathers were away because our mothers were already gone, and someone needed to look after us. So if we go back, what do we find? Some Imperial orphanage? Presents from the Emperor? What? We've got each other here, at least."
Several of the boys cheer this sentiment (though it is a strangely uniform, military cheer). The little ones have attached themselves to big ones, and the small "families" show obvious affection with one another, in the manner of boys of all species and all times -- little ones are turned upside down or swung through the air; big ones are caught in wrestling holds which they pretend are effective.
Estion watches it all sadly. "I guess we better build a road or something," he says thoughtfully. "We'll probably want to meet other people sooner or later."
But it has all the substance of a dream at dawn. The boys of Rison's Deep are not really interested in re-connecting with the world above.
"Why should we be?" Perup Taswell shrugs. "The Empire did a lousy thing. The Indalans turned around and did another lousy thing. And the Rebels killed all our fathers. I guess the last... you know, they were soldiers. They kind of figured it could happen. I wouldn't want to be with the Rebels, but I know they kind of had to do what they did." There is some hissing at this; clearly not all of the boys share Perup's opinion. "But the Indalans... it's not as many people who died as there were on Alderaan, but come on, man. They were people we knew. You can't just sit down and pretend not to know that the person you're sitting with might have been in a mob that went out to cook kids in a school."
Mentions of Indalan regret are met with indifference at best.
Lasan Reslo, whose thirteenth birthday is to be celebrated with as much of a party as the boys can muster tonight, sums up the boys' attitude: "They didn't think they were the kind of people who would do that before they did it. Now they don't think they're kind of people who would do it again. We believed them the first time. Not the second time."
The boys drift off, back to their food, to whatever books they were able to save from the fire, to energetic games that involve rushing up the steep rocks and doing acrobatic leaps into the underbrush. Estion shakes his head at them, in the manner of an indulgent parent. "They're okay," he says. "That's what I want you to tell people. We've got plenty of food here, and the shelters are good enough for the tropics. Sooner or later, we'll build houses, I guess. We've got books, and we have a bit of school when the weather cools down. I guess we need more books, but we've got some to start on."
This is as close as Estion will come to asking for assistance.
"I'm not going to have us running around with our hands out, like the Alderaanians." He blushes, and quickly backtracks. "I mean, they can and all. It was a bad thing that happened, and they have a right to sympathy. But our fathers were officers. Once things get sorted out, we should have access to their pensions and everything. It's kind of a mess right now, but I've got remote access, and they're trying to get things going. A lot of men died on the station. Can you imagine trying to handle all that data?" His words are secure, but his voice is weary. "I wish they would hurry. The little ones are outgrowing their shoes, and the rest of us are just wearing stuff out. We try to be careful, but you can't stop growing, you know?"
Do boys ever leave the Deep?
"Sure. We don't make anyone stay," Estion says. "Other than the ones who left when the Indalans called for the Empire... I think eight have left. Vertash G'lahter was only here a week or so, and he decided he wanted to go home and see if his house was still standing. A lot aren't, you know."
He is referring to a wave of vandalism against Imperial-owned property that, like the Lieron fire, followed the destruction of Alderaan.
Estion's face becomes dreamy an faraway. "Mine's burned," he said. "I found the report. Lasan's, too. We were both from Arkhy."
Wouldn't it just be simpler to go back to the Empire, to let adults look after them while they each looked after their own concerns?
This elicits a half smile. "Perup -- he's our philosopher, I guess you noticed -- would say that's the problem up top. Too many people letting the Empire take care of them while they look out for their own concerns." He shrugs. "For myself? I just don't want anything to do with any of it."
Looking out at ragged but mainly happy boys helping one another and taking some joy in their lives, it is easy to imagine that Estion Alem has the right idea.