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Rogue

Grayscale

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Rogue

Grayscale

Author's notes: Writing this in parts as I have inspiration, like dear Drake who inspired me to write something of my own. Comments are welcome, just leave them in a different color---any color will do. If you have a personal comment to make just make it to my face as usual so I can beat you with an ugly stick. I'm going to try to keep to canon as much as possible, so let me know if I slip up! Without further ado, Chapter One!

Dramatis Personae

Katri Cobalt: Female Human from Melida/Daan (Melida)

Kiet Cobalt: Male Human, head of the current Youth League on Melida/Daan

Lani: Youth league member, and scavenger (Daan)

Miv and Hishana: Two oddball Youth League scouts.

Ayy'ani Ven: Female Twi'kek, sold into slavery.

Silent as the Grave.

20 BBY: Zehava City, Melida/Daan

If you squint your eyes just enough you could see it; even at midday with the sun high above you could still see it. Certainly not the red and green laser bolts that were most certainly flying past just outside the atmosphere, but the explosions?the ballooning flare of another life blinked out reached them even down here, beneath the lived-in ruins of ferracrete, transparisteel and debris that had somewhere along the line become known as Zehava City.

?"They'll be here Lani?we just need a few more days."?

?"Look around you, Kiet." The blond teenager gestured broadly up to the skies, even though they could only see it through the small opening of a sewage grate. ?We don't have a few more days! We don't even know that your letter reached the Rebellion."?

?"Lani"??

?"Or they got the letter and they just chose to ignore it like the Jedi did years ago."?

?"Our ships are decades old?they're not going to last against those TIE Fighters,"? the youngest of the group pointed out. Petite, with long ebony hair and piercing crystalline eyes that said that she knew more than her age should permit, they all paused as her words rang true.

?"They attack us in the middle of a civil war."?Lani rubbed at her cold arms. "Right when we're weakest."

?"We've always been in the middle of a civil war."?Kiet reminded with a sigh. A laser hit a building nearby, causing shrapnel to fly, and he sheltered Katri from the small debris that filtered through the hole. "Let's go home?We'll all be safer down there."

?"But Kiet!" Katri insisted, looking up at him. "I want to know what's going on!"

?"I'll have Miv and Hishana tell you what's going on, okay?"?

?"But---"

Worry flickered through his eyes, and the girl frowned, knowing that there was no winning this one. Kiet was always brave; he was always strong, helping to keep the Young safe while the Elders fought it out aboveground. That's why the idea that he was afraid, scared Katri.

"Do I get to eat then?"? She asked hopefully instead.

Kiet frowned in thought, looking over to Lani questioningly. Lani stood from her crouch, looking to him for a moment uncertain before turning to the girl. "You know, I think we still have some bread from the raid on Tuesday"?

Lani took Katri?s hand, leading her hunch-backed down the tunnel. Kiet watched them talk, Lani in her calm hushed tones, and Katri?Katri. Kiet sighed. What am I going to do with that girl to keep her out of trouble He sighed deeply, staring up at the laser-tinged skies once more. He shrunk back into the shadows as people rushed past overhead, not wanting to be seen. Once they had passed he bolted down the tunnel. Covering both Lani and Katri's mouths, he pulled them into the shadows.

Footsteps passed overhead, clanking on the grate and dulling when they hit the ferracrete. Lina let out a sigh of relief.

Katri's eyes widened as one of the footsteps halted, as if looking around for the source of the sound. Kiet raised a finger to his lips, indicating that they should both be absolutely silent.

And they were silent as the grave.

Edited by Rogue

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"Kiet!" Miv exclaimed. He was a stout thirteen year old boy with red hair and a tendency to eat most of the foodstores he acquistioned (which is why recently Lani had taken over in that department). Along with his shadow, Hishana, a blond girl of the same age, he was often the scout sent to scan the surface for updates on the war topside.

"Blast, we were worried about you guys!"

"Why, what's up Hishana?"

"Well---"

"Hey, I want to tell it!" Miv exclaimed, jumping a little too joyfully for a boy of his size. Nearby a small rodent ran away in fear.

Kiet sighed, but waited it out. He knew patience was the best way to deal with these two.

"Why don't you both tell?" Lani asked. With her peaceful voice and demeanor she was often the mediator between the different youth. Kiet liked to call her their 'secret weapon'.

They both nodded, and resumed arguing, this time over who would start.

"You start."

"No you."

"Hisha, I'm serious."

"Me too!"

Katri settled down on top of the nearest ferracrete casket to watch them. They always made such a scene over silly things. It amused her greatly.

"Miv first." Kiet told them, raising both his hands in a passive gesture meant to stop their arguing.

They both nodded at the same time. "Okay boss. Well We were down in the square, you know, sniffing about for some supplies---"|

"We found some old powerpacks that should come in handy!"

"Quiet Hish, I was talking!" The round boy replied. Katri smirked. "Well even though we're being attacked by those strange starfighters an' all that, the Melida and th' Daan are still at it! I even saw a few of em shooting down eachother on the way up to shoot down th'invaders!""

Lani frowned, crossing her arms. "They just don't get it do they?! They're never going to learn!"

"They'll keep fighting until there's one last person standing on this whole blasted world." Kiet agreed in disgust. He crossed his arms and began to pace the room, blue eyes calculating something. "What else?"

"Well uh...." Miv and Hishana fell quiet, looking at eachother.

"Come on, it can't be worse than what you just told us." Kiet smiled. When they said nothing he continued, more seriously. "What is it?"

When they told him a moment later, his pacing footsteps fell silent. He turned to Katri to see her eyes widen in shock. She was silent as the grave she sat on, basking in the glow of the holograph of the deceased.

"Where?" he asked insistantly.

Hishana began rattling off a location but before she could finish Katri jumped from the casket, running off down the catacombs. Kiev turned after her, "Wait! Katri--"

But she was already out of reach, into the dark abyss of the catacombs.

Edited by Rogue

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Dark. The Catacombs; the neverending civil war; her future. Everything was dark, everything but the blue thinged hologram before her. It was eery, depicting it's female subject in a semblance of life. . The mother Katri had never known in her seven years of life, and now would never have the opportunity to. She could have been beautiful, she decided from where she sat, knees curled up against the opposing tomb. She had mahogany hair and fair skin to match Katri's own. As the images played themselves again though, Katri could see everything that the war had taken from her. Her left arm ended in a stump just past the shoulder. Her body was scarred from vibroblades and blasterbolts, and whatever blast had taken her arm had also taken a hip and a leg too, both of which were replaced with what could have been the parts of an old-model protocol droid. But that wasn't the worst, as far as she was concerned.

Cold, harsh. Her expression changed from fierce to battle-weary, tired and worn, her eyes devoid of the warmth, passion and love that should have come from life.

Katri felt a chill run through her body and pulled her knees up tight to her chest.

She wondered if they were alike, beyond the obvious physical characteristics. Her mother, born a Melida had been destined to fight a meaningless war against the Daan. A war without a cause, she'd heard Kiet remark once. Kiet was always right.

She heard footsteps but didn't move from where she sat on the floor. Now that Ilana was buried, nobody would be coming down here to visit her. Nobody ever did. Once the dead were buried the war went on.

Kiet stopped in the doorway, sighing when he saw her there. She tried to bury her head in her knees to hide her emotion as he crossed the room in defeat, coming over to sit next to her. He was silent for a long moment, and it was an uncomfortable silence that prompted her to look over at him, past his mop of brown hair to the warm blue eyes beneath. He was looking at the holomarker.

"Ilana Cobalt...one of Melida's greatest generals." he sighed, his voice solemn as he spoke. "She missed out on a lot of good things... you know?"

Katri's sorrowful gaze switched to one of curiosity. "Like what?"

"Everything we fight for down here. I don't think she's ever had a moment of peace." He looked over at Katri. "Not since she was pregnant with you."

Katri looked forward again, thinking about what it must be like to live a life like that. Even down here in the catacombs, they still had the opportunity to be kids, to enjoy certain aspects of life that the Elders and Middle generation missed out on.

"Actually...I think the biggest thing she missed out on was getting to know you." Kiet told her, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders. She felt the chills dash away as some of his warmth transferred to her body.

"Getting to know me?" She asked, turning back to him. "Kiet...were we alike at all? You know...past what we look like."

He thought about that for a moment before shaking his head. "She was nothing like you, Kat. She was blind to what's going on here, brainwashed by years of fighting for the Elders like most of the Middle Generation. Although....she was sneaky like you are."

She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "I'm not sneaky!"

He laughed lightly, squeezing her gently. "Sure you aren't."

"Kiet....thanks."

He smiled charmingly at her. "What are big brother's for? Now come on...we have a long walk back to headquarters and when I promised to protect you I hadn't intended on you getting stumbled upon by Elders or Imperials in the unprotected paths."

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***

If there was one thing the Melida and the Daan knew how to do, it was to wage war. To fight with every ounce of their beings using whatever meager tools they had at their disposal. That's why using ships and machines that had been outdated when the Emporer was still young, with missing limbs and poor prosthetics they continued to fight. That's why with a Star Destroyer and all of it's compliment of TIE fighters and Stormtroopers the Imperials were still fighting to win Melida/Daan three days later.

"Okay Katri, you ready?"

She nodded, her childlike face as serious as it could get.

"Okay, so what are you going to do?"

"You're going to push me up into the air vent, and I'm going to move quietly---left, straight for two intersections, then right. That's where the conference room should be. " She tilted her head to the side in thought. "Then I stay quiet and listen in."

"Good girl." Miv and Hishana had somehow obtained information that the invading fleet was sending down an emisary to discuss plans of surrender with the Daan. Either way it was ridiculous for the Daan to think they could surrender the world on their own, without the agreement of the equal Melida populace.

Kiet pushed up the grate they had decided to come in through, in the kitchen of the Zehava Capitol Building. He pushed Lani up first, the thirteen year old holding an old blaster in her hand. The powerpack was only half charged, but that wouldn't affect the girl's courage. Lani looked around, blaster ready. "All clear."

Katri went up next, followed by Kiet. Miv and Hishana took up the rear.

"Oh, look at all the food!" Miv exclaimed.

"Shh!" Lani scolded him. "Someone might be around to hear us."

The four older kids checked the exits and windows to make sure nobody could see them before Kiet stopped beneath a section of ceiling. "That's the one." Pulling over a chair, he stood on it, pushing the large ceiling tile asside. "Katri, come over here."

Katri walked over, nodded that she was ready. Kiet picked her up, deciding that she was too light for her age. He frowned, looking her in the eyes. "Be careful."

"I will." Katri told him, throwing him a pointed look. "I'm sneaky, remember?"

He smiled, nodding as he pushed her up, into the grate. He watched her dissapear.

Now came the uncomfortable part. The waiting game.

"Kiet, we need to make contact with Neild and the Middle Generation." Lani told him with a sigh. "It's only a matter of time before those white-armoured guys take Zehava City, and scourge the catacombs."

Kiet frowned in thought. "No...Neild won't help us. He may have run the Youth League once, but he thinks too much like the Elders since Cerasi died."

"He may be our only chance, and you're going to abandon that idea?!"

"As soon as we let him down there he'd retake control of the catacombs. We can't allow that Lani." He frowned, looking around. "Hey Miv, you think you can get that repulsorcart over there to fit through the hole?"

Miv frowned in thought. "Maybe, why?"

"Let's try getting it down there. If we can we may be eating tonight."

Miv's eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store, and he and Hishana began to work to get the cart down into the sewer.

.

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Katri moved silently on her knees in the ducts, going exactly where Kiet had directed her to go. When she got there she could look down and see what was going on through a thin grate that she knew wouldn't support even her measley weight. Most of it was old people talking, with their big fancy words that rolled off their tongues like honey, and phrases she couldn't even begin to comprehend. But she filed away the parts of it she could to tell Kiet. Kiet always knew what to do with information.

She heard some voices raising, and it came to her attention that everyone was getting into a heated arguement, one in which the stiff-backed man in uniform quickly quelled when he cleared his throat. "I see." The man said, standing from his seat at the end of the table and looking over each one of the Daan one at a time. "So I've gathered from our conversations that it is impossible to obtain a full surrender from you. If this were to occur we would still have to face your enemies, the Melida, correct?"

"That's not true!" An elder, an older woman with stark gray hair slammed her rusted prosthetic hand against the table, causing it to jump an inch. "We Daan are the true leaders of this world! You can tell your Emperor that."

The Emperor...who's he?

"How troublesome." The officer sighed, turning to the white-armored ghostie to his right. He snapped his fingers a few times, and the ghost put a strange device in his hand. "I will soon tell the Emperor that he is the true leader, and that the Empire is as true a power in this system as it is in thousands of others!"

The Empire...?

"That's preposterous!" Another Daan exclaimed, rising to his feet. "We will bow before no Emperor!"

"Well then, I suppose that the Council of Elders is no longer necessary is it?"

Katri felt a deep sense of dread rise within her, causing a chill to run down her spine. Something in the way he said that, in the look in his eyes---She crouched down, trying to back up, to put a little more space between them.

The officer slipped the device his ghost had given him on, the elastic going over the back of his head as the front covered his nose and ears. He turned to the armored ghost beside him. "Disolve the council."

"Yes sir!" He gestured to the other four who were armored like him, and they began to seal off the room, blocking the doors. Katri thought she heard something begin to hiss....

The air around her became thick, and she held her breath, the bad feeling she had growing stronger. Below her the Elders stood, some clutching their throats, others making a futile attempt to attack the troopers before falling one by one.

Katri felt herself grow dizzy, the tunnel spinning around her nauseatingly. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before, worse than that time she got sick all over Miv's shoes....

***

"Sir, they're all down." The Trooper Leader reported to his commanding Officer. "Orders?"

The request was drowned out as something fell from the ceiling, hitting the table with a loud crash. The troopers all spun their rifles around to see what it was.

The officer rushed forward to look. A small girl lay ontop of the fallen grate, her mahogany hair pooling around her head. She was a sad sight: malnourished, and way too thin for a girl of her age wearing clothes that were worn thin and obviously handed down by someone else who was far bigger than she.

His face blanched. "Disgusting isn't it? Dragging children into such an ugly war?"

"Captain Rekha?" The Trooper asked.

"She must have been listening in...the knockout gas must have come as a nice little surprise."

"Orders sir?"

"Shoot the Elders."

"And the girl, sir?"

"Bring the girl to my shuttle." Rekha said after a moment's thought. "She's a child. Maybe if we offer her some food we can learn who sent her. " With that he turned, leaving the room. One of the Stormtroopers picked the unconcious girl up, carrying her from the room as the others made their way around, shooting with trained accuracy into the foreheads of each of the Elders. Orders were orders, afterall...

Edited by Rogue

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***

BDOW, BDOW, BDOW! "Did you hear that?" Lani asked, eyes going wide. "Those sounded like blasters!"

And they were coming from.... "Wait here--" Kiet said urgently, heading for the door.

"Kiet!" Lani exclaimed, stepping between him and the door. "Kiet, no!"

"But the conference room! Katri, what if they found Katri?!"

"Kiet, we can't do anything about that now! There's only four of us here! Four! What can we do against an army, or two?"

"I have to do something Lani!"

"You want to run into an ambush?! What will the League do without you? We'll fall apart without a leader..." When he looked away she pulled his face down, forcing him to look her in the eye. "The best thing we can do now is retreat--wait for an opening."

He wanted to go after her, to hold his sister in his arms and tell her everything would be okay. But he knew Lani was right. He needed to think before they made a move. With a sigh, he jumped through the grate into the sewer below.

***

Two weeks. It had been two weeks since they'd tried to listen in on the conference, and in that short period of time everything had changed. Aboveground the world was more scorched and torn from battle than it had ever been. Buildings had burned and fallen to the ground, destroyed by the enemy's powerful turbolasers, ransacked by their eerily precise Stormtroopers.

The captial city the Melida and the Daan had fought for since before memory had been razed.

But underneath it, the youth were still living. They were scared, defeated...afterall they were only children, but they were still alive.

Down here in the dark depths they hid. Living amongst the dead, the Melida and Daan children were had been forced to get used to the stench of the buried, the smell of rot and mildew that never quite left you. But never before had the sounds of the dying reached their ears, dripping down the sewers in a river of blood that pooled on the catacomb floor. Screams so piercing that it made your blood run cold as stone, a little piece of the them dying with each noise until the frantic scurrying of rodents was enough to put the youngest of children into a frenzy of tears and heartbreak.

And each child had to wonder if somewhere up there a family member joined the list of casualties.

Kiet had always hoped that someday the war would end. The skies would clear, shining warm against his skin as he held Katri's hand, guiding her into the waiting arms of their parents. They would laugh and joke, and Ilana and Neild Cobalt would break down and tell them how sorry they were for abandoning them, for getting sucked into the war like so many youth that had originally avoided it. And Kiet and Katri would forgive them, and then their lives would really start. They would rebuild Melida-Daan---Not Melida/Daan anymore, because both sides would have agreed that both should have a piece of their world, together.

But with Ilana dead, his younger sister missing and maybe dead, and the Empire destroying everything that the Youth League had hoped for, Kiet felt all his delicate dreams shatter at the boot of an Imperial invasion.

He clenched a fist, jaw setting in anger and determination. "Lani..." he turned to his friend, his confidant. The only person he had right now. "You were right...I want...you to get together two groups."

Lani looked at him curiously.

"Send one group to the Melida leaders, and another to the Daan." Kiet told her. "Tell each group that their people are welcome to join us down here, but under the conditions that they do not start any fights, verbal or physical within these catacombs. Call it 'sacred grounds'. Might get them to realize it's a bad idea." He stood, walking to the door.

"What are you doing?"

He looked to her over her shoulder. "I'm going to see Neild..."

They were going to need the Middle Generation with them if they were going to make their last stand.

Edited by Rogue

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***

Kiet looked out from behind the broken wall, the cover he had chosen when the group had moved forward. The Imperial Garrison was ahead, straight in his line of sight. One of the Daan had seen the Imperials in possession of a small girl that matched his sister's position. If the Imperials have her, I bet she'll be in there. Hold on Katri, I'll save you... Beside him, a tall man came to join him, his dark mahogany hair obscuring his eyes as he moved, looking forward as he scanned the defenses. "There's no easy way in from here." He told Kiet, handing him the electrobinoculars. "That door's heavily secured...but maybe..."

"Maybe we can sneak in through the sewers while we mount a feint at the main doors?" Kiet asked, his blue eyes meeting the man's brown.

"You have a good head on your shoulders." Neild nodded. Former leader of the Youth League, he had seen a lot of difficult times. He was around to see the Jedi fail. He was around for the death of Cerasi. This is just one more tragedy for him to witness. He opened his mouth as if to say something else, then snapped it closed. Now wasn't the time for what he wanted to say. "You've done something amazing here, Kiet. Everyone might not be getting along, but they're not shooting at eachother...you've managed to set their eyes on a single target."

"Yeah...I'm not sure if it will last once the Imperials are gone, but..."

He frowned, turning away. "We'll worry about that when the time comes. Come on."

***

"We're in." Lani said into the comm unit at her shoulder. Having Neild and the Middle Generation was good for something. Communications had been spread to the different groups, and the heavy blaster rifle she had--that took two arms for the thirteen year old to carry--had a fresh powerpack for the first time she could remember. She pulled herself up from the grate, setting up in a defensive position as Kiet rose up behind her, followed by Neild and a few members of the Middle Generation. The head Elders from Melida and Daan followed behind them, turning down corridors that seemed to be empty.

"How eery..." Lani remarked as they moved through the stark white corridors. "Where is everyone?"

Neild's brown eyes tightened, a clear sign that he was thinking along the same lines.

"Something's..." Kiet began urgently, looking around. "Something's wrong. I don't like this."

"Nothing is wrong! We've been given good fortune." A Daan elder replied.

"Good fortune my ass...they're probably all fighting off the Melida at the front gate." He scoffed.

"The Melida?! My Daan are doing a better job than your Melida!"

"And you're old enough to be omnipresent?" the first laughed heartilly.

"Guys," Neild said. "Focus."

Kiet stopped. "I don't like this...we need to turn around. We need to go back."

Neild turned, looking the fourteen year old in the eyes. "You want to save your sister don't you?"

He bit down hard on his lip. "Yes."

"Then stop being a coward."

"Hold on! He's not a coward!" Lani exclaimed. "Tell him, Kiet!"

Kiet opened his mouth to respond when he heard something. "Kiet! Kiet! Kiet don't---" The voice was muffled, but easily recognizeable. His eyes went wide and he sprinted down the corridor. "Katri!"

Lani followed after him, Neild hot on their tails. It was all the taller man could do to surpress a grin.

Kiet turned into a room, and saw Katri, being pulled back by an Imperial Officer on the other side. Katri's blue eyes went wide when she saw him. "Kiet! Kiet don't! Run! Go now!"

Kiet levelled his blaster at the Imperial, and he rose Katri up like a shield. Behind him the rest of the group entered. "Let go of her! You're outnumbered!"

But the Imperial Officer only smirked. "You see, child...that is where you are mistaken."

Lani jumped, raising her blaster as the door sealed behind them, and two more opened to either side. Kiet's blaster stayed level as Stormtroopers entered from either side, blaster rifles levelled on the revolutionists.

Katri whimpered. "See Kiet...that's why I said to stay away."

Edited by Rogue

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The clink of footsteps on steel plating all around them, and they were surrounded by the men in white. Kiet's finger twitched, and he almost pulled the trigger. Across from him the Imperial Officer was laughing. "Well well well....it must be my lucky day, finding all the world's remaining leaders in one room."

"Or maybe you're unlucky." Kiet's gaze held enough anger to make a star go supernova.

Captain Rekha's face turned serious. "I doubt it, child." He turned slightly so that the natives gathered could see that he held a small pistol to the girl's head. Katri was quivering in fear, her blue eyes boring straight into Kiet's for a moment. I promised to protect you, The thought was so determined it hung in the air like a faint whisper that sent another wave of tension throughout the already tense room.

Katri's eyes shifted over to the man standing right behind Kiet's left shoulder. She had never met him, never seen him before, but there was something familiar. He looks like Kiet... She thought it was strange. Except for the eyes...

Neild met her gaze, and froze, suddenly feeling as hollow and cheap as the day that Cerasi had died, all those years ago.

"Drop the weapons." Rekha warned. "Or I wil fire on the Daan girl."

"I'm Melida, you jerk!" Katri kicked him hard in the knee, and he winced. The girl must have been stronger than she looked.

No... Neild thought. You're Daan too, even though you keep your mother's name...

"Alright, alright." he held up his hands, weapons pointed at the ceiling. "It's over. Everyone drop your weapons."

"What?!" Lani demanded.

"This is all your doing!" One of the Elders shouted at him. "You sold us to these outsiders!"

Kiet froze, heart racing. No...no way...he wouldn't...

Captain Rekha laughed in amusement as Neild began to collect their weapons. "Of course he did, you idiot. How else could he bring peace, prosperity, and order to this barren wartorn world? Only through the Emperor's New Order."

The current leader of the Youth League had a death-grip on his rifle as Neild came over to take it. "Kiet...give it to me. You can't win that way."

"Don't Kiet!" Katri yelled. "Don't give it to him! It's all his fault! All his faul--" Rekha threw a hand over her mouth, and she turned, glaring at him.

Kiet took a step away from Neild, his eyes flashing as he raised the blaster, levelling it on the man's chest. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he had to look at his father, the failed former Youth League leader, the shell of a man he was at Kiet's age. The traitor. Neild blinked in surprise, having not expected such a bold move from the fourteen year old.

But why wouldn't I? I was the same at his age...

"Kiet...?"

"You betrayed us Neild. You tried to take over this world once, and you may have thought you were doing that to help, and you may think that now but you're wrong, Neild!"

Neild looked across the barrel of the blaster, his face turning serious. "What are you going to do, Kiet...shoot me?" He could see the kid's hands shaking on the trigger. "Then what? As soon as that blaster fired, you, and all the others would get shot by the stormtroopers."

He's right. Kiet thought. But I can't just give up on everything... Before he could make up his mind, Neild had taken advantage of his indecison to disarm him. With the last of the hostages disarmed, Captain Rekha set his original hostage down. Katri took advantage of her newfound freedom to run, her small footprints clanking against the metal plates of the floor until she was to Kiet. She held on to him in fear, and he fell to one knee, wrapping his arms around Katri as he glared at Neild, and the person who had crossed space to come here, and ruin any chance his family had.

If I survive this... Kiet thought. I'm going to kill him...

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It didn't take long for Stormtroopers to come forward, putting their ambushed group in binders. "Sir, the girl's wrists are too small for the binders to keep her under containment." One of the Stormtroopers informed Captain Rekha.

The Captain responded with a bored wave of his hand. "Well what do you want me to do about it?! Just leave her, it's not like she can cause much damage anyway."

"Kiet..." Katri whispered to her, her eyes full of fear and understanding. "What do we do now? We need to escape! He's a bad man Kiet..."

"There is no escape, my dear." The Imperial's gaze almost held sympathy for the girl. Neild walked over to him, looking back on the children. He sighed deeply. "Now, I assume you're all going to cooperate. We're going to end this war now...we're going to take you to the top of the outer wall, and your leader---whichever one of you that may be, is going to tell the rest of the resistance to surrender."

"The hell we will!" Lani exclaimed, and the Captain blinked.

"That's an awfully gutsy word for a child to use." He remarked.

"Want to hear another one?" She challenged, her eyes defiant. She yelped as enough electricity to surprise her coursed through the cuffs.

"Let me make something clear." Rekha clasped his hands behind his back, pacing back and forth in front of them, his booted feet ringing with each step."I do not tolerate defiance, insubordination or insolence. I make the rules, and you will all abide by those rules if for no other reason than I am holding all of the proverbial cards right now. So you will do what I say, when I say it, and tell me what I want to know, when I want to know it." He stopped in front of them, and their ears rang in the silence. "Now let's start easy. The Melida, the Daan, and the apparently hidden youngsters have all aligned under one banner for the first time in nearly thirty years. I know that one of the people in this room is leading them..." His gaze ran from The Melida and Daan Elders, to the Middle-Generation members present, lingering on each one just long enough to make them nervous. It was all Lani could do to keep her gaze away from Kiet.

Neild stopped, watching to see what would happen next.

"Well...?" The Captain asked. "I'm growing impatient."

"Nobody tell him!" Lani exclaimed, looking around.

When they continued to hold their tongues, he pulled his pistol from his belt and aimed it at Lani's head. "Perhaps you will all be more eager to talk when this one's permanently silenced?" His voice emerged as cold and hard as the vaccum of space.

Kiet started, opening his mouth to speak---

"I am." The Melida elder spoke up, taking a step forward. "I am leading these men."

The Captain turned his attention to the man, pulling his pistol up and away from the girl's head. "You are leading these men?"

"Yes." He nodded.

"Lies!" The Daan elder exclaimed. "The Daan would never follow a Melida!"

The Imperial watched as the two errupted into bickering, then silenced the arguement with two shots. Each one rang out, hitting one of the Elders in the leg and causing them to cry out in agony. The Captain's jaw set as they turned to him, begging why he would do such a thing. "One or both of you were lying. I hate liars." He scanned the group again. "Now I'm going to ask one more time." He pointed the blaster at Lani's head again. "Who is your leader?"

Kiet was shaking with fear, but he set his jaw, and looked up to the Captain with hatred-filled blue eyes. He couldn't stand to see anymore people get hurt. "I am."

Neild was surprised to hear that voice, picking his head up from the floorpanel he was examining to look over at the younger version of himself. No...he was supposed to stay quiet. He was supposed to let everyone else take the fall...

The Captain looked over, blinked, then laughed. "You boy? Have you even reached puberty yet?"

The lanky brunette stepped forward, fists clenched beneath the binders. "I am Kiet Cobalt, leader of the Youth League. I contacted the other political groups and forged the alliance. It's me you want."

* * *

It was up on the wall of the Imperial Outpost, the wind whistling eerily across the war-scorched plains, that the Captain finally spoke. "A child..." He said thoughtfully, before turning to Neild with laughter. "A child accomplished what in forty years you could not?!" When Neild turned away, he only laughed harder. "Come now, Neild. Don't you see the humor in all this?"

Neild turned to him, with a warning. "If you hurt him, Rekha--"

"You'll what? Haven't you learned by now? All you're good for is sending those closest to you to the grave."

"Who the hell do you--" Neild's eyes flared, and he tried to rush the Captain in his anger, but several Stormtroopers stepped in his way.

"Oh yes, Neild, I know what happened to Cerasi...it's a matter of record of course. I wonder what you think, since you were there...I heard that she was the only one who stood a chance at bringing peace to the rival nations. Too bad that blast shattered her heart..."

"Shut up!" Neild exclaimed, unhinging. "I'll make you eat those words!"

"She sacrificed herself for your cause...just as this boy will now. Tell me, Neild, what significance is he to you?"

Kiet looked over from his position on the wall. Below, the crowd had stopped fighting, looking above to see what would happen. "I don't need you to defend me Neild."

"Yes you do! Maybe if I had---"

"You didn't. Katri and I grew up fine without you."

The Captain looked from one to the other, then laughed to himself. "Ah, I see. He's you're son." He said in disgust. "And that would make the runt your daughter I presume? I executed the family reunion, how touching..."

Katri looked to Kiet in confusion. "It's not true, is it Kiet?"

"It's true..." Neild told her, kneeling down to her level. His eyes betrayed his sorrow, for everything he had done that had made their lives turn out like this. "I'm sorry Katri."

"Isn't this precious." The Imperial said boredly. "Do you mind, I'm trying to start a public execution here? Tell you what...since you've been such a fine upstanding traitor to your homeworld, I'll let you keep your daughter."

"Both." Neild said, tight-lipped. "I want both."

Kiet turned to him, knowing that wouldn't happen. "You'd better take care of her. Take her offworld, okay? Somewhere where she can see the sun, and sleep in a nice bed. You'd like that, wouldn't you Kat?"

"Kiet---" She whined. The adults liked to act like she was clueless and had no idea what was happening, but she knew.

"Katri." Neild whispered to her while the Captain was addressing the people on the ground, introducing the leaders of the revolution before he killed them. "See this?" He said, removing his belt and fastening it around her waist. "When I move I want you to press that button right there."

"This one."

"Uh uh." He nodded. "You press that one, and then you run Katri, and you don't stop running until you're somewhere safe, alright? Even if Kiet and I don't follow, you keep running, stay strong, and look after yourself, okay?"

She stared at him, tears welling in her eyes.

"You understand?!" She nodded. "Good. Take this." He pulled a small blaster from his boot, handing it to her. "He taught you how to shoot, right?"

She nodded once more.

The Imperial Captain was pulling out his pistol when Neild moved. Standing, he took his blaster rifle and shot a round into the nearest stormtrooper. They took a moment to react before shooting at him, and their aim was off as a result of the surprise. He took two more down with trained accuracy.

The Imperial Captain put a blaster to the first elder's head, and fired. The Daan next to him shook as the man fell into him before falling over the wall, taking the long plummet to the ground below. Neild saw a blaster bolt go past him, hitting another trooper and looked behind him to see his seven year old daughter shooting from the safe barrier of a personal shield. "Katri, run!"

"No!" She exclaimed. She wasn't about to leave her brother here to die!

The Imperial Captain turned, shooting while he was preoccupied. The shot hit him in the stomach, and he fell to his knees, clutching it with one hand. He figured he was going to die here, but he had imagined himself saving his children, his legacy before he began that great journey. Images began to flash across Neild's vision, happy ones only....and he was surprised to see how few of them there were. Most were from his childhood, with Cerasi, and even Obi Wan...somehow now he found it in his heart to forgive the old Jedi. He knew the blame really fell on himself anyway.

He couldn't die yet, not before saving the two good things he had ever made. He raised his rifle, and it took all the strength he could muster to level it at the Imperial scum before him. The Imperial leveled his gun on Kiet in turn. His finger twitched, and a shot rang out.

The Captain fell back, clutching his side. Neild grinned.

Then he heard another noise, a startled gurgle that should have emerged as words, and tore his gaze from the Captain. "Kiet!" Katri screamed, in fear and disbelief. Kiet's eyes betrayed his shock, his skin going pale as his white shirt was stained crimson by his blood. He reached up, touching it in disbelief with a still-cuffed hand. He gurgled again, and Neild knew that the bolt had pierced his lung. The boy wasn't going to make it...not if they ran him now to the nearest medical facility.

Kiet felt himself go cold, and everything fell silent around him. Even Katri's screams didn't hit him now. He lurched forward, coughing up blood, then stumbled backwards.

Kiet no! Neild's lips must have screamed as he hit the broken rail and fell backwards. Time seemed to slow, and he stared up at the sky in amazement, wondering if it had always been that color, or maybe he just hadn't noticed before.

He didn't feel the impact, because when he hit the ground his mind, body, and soul had already become silent as the grave.

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Rogue

Servitude

Galactic Empire. I didn't even know what it was until that fateful day that they landed on Melida/Daan. To the Youth League, the children of Melida/Daan, what happened offworld was not our problem or our concern. It was not something we thought about while we slept in the cold dark, with nothing but the ghostly faces of the holographed dead to keep us company and ragged shreds of blanket to keep us warm. No, we were too enwrapped in our own problems, trying to find a solution so that we wouldn't have to hide anymore, or wake up to the sound of thermal detonators or torpedoes loud in our ears. The battle cries, the screech of the blasters and the final screams of the dead. We lived in a morbid world, and our only concern back then was group survival while Kiet and Lani had searched for a peaceful solution. A way to end all the death, fighting, and to rejoin the children with the parents who were supposed to love them.

But in those final days on my homeworld I had to face a few startling truths:

Kiet, my brother, my caretaker--the only real family I had left in the galaxy, died trying to bring peace to Melida/Daan. I learned that I had a father, the Daan Neild, famous on my world for the creation of the Youth League along with Cerasi, who was a hero and a symbol of peace and compassion on Melida/Daan. He was the failure who had rose us from the catacombs only to fall back to the hell we came from when the Jedi abandoned us. My father was a symbol of disaster, and any fleeting hope of growing up under even his skewed perceptions were blasted out of the sky like a T-wing when he died of internal bleeding. And my mother was already dead.

I managed to escape from the Imperial facility, with help from a dying man and a personal shield only to be rounded up a few days later by an Imperial sweep. I had thought I was at least free, but...

Unfortunatly things never go as you hope they would.

I was taken offworld, along with about forty other Youth Leaguers. Captain Rekha had died, and the Stormtroopers under his command had found a letter tucked in Kiet's jacket. A copy of a letter sent to the Alliance of Free Worlds. Chained up in a hold aboard an Imperial Cruiser (my first, and very unpleasant first time in space) we were told that we were Rebel traitors, accused of killing Captain Rekha--and believe me, if I could take credit for that I would in a heartbeat---and taught about the Imperial decree that was going to control the rest of our lives.

Imperial Decree A-SL-4557.607.232, we learned, was a pivotal piece of Imperial legislation which essentially legalized slavery throughout the galaxy. The document also streamlined the institution, making it easier for slavers and their guilds to carry out their operations, which they confined mainly--but not soley-- to the Outer Rim Territories. Now it turns out these Imperial guys didn't like nonhumans very much. Having been isolated on a ninety-nine percent human world that didn't affect me so much, but it struck me as completely and utterly wrong. How could you hate someone without knowing them, just because they looked a little different from you?

Then I learned that non-humans weren't the only people this law applied to. Apparently the law also applied to people deemed to be Rebel sympatizers and traitors by the Emporer, Imperial Intelligence, and more importantly, the completely assinine Stormtrooper lieutenant who thought he could earn a pretty penny selling a few orphaned children into slavery.

Hey, anything to help fund the Imperial War Machine, and more importantly this particular guy's pocket book. Glad my life could do so much good, to so few others. Lani was with me that first week, but we were soon separated, sold to different masters on different worlds.

I wonder if I'll ever see her, the one last link to my desperate past, or will she be lost to a desperate future as well?

I got offworld. I got to see the sun. But I can't enjoy the feel of it on my skin, or the comfort of a warm bed.

My name is Katri Cobalt, and I am a slave.

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Rogue

As she grew up she watched, learned, experienced, and challenged. She found that regardless of age, gender, or vulnerability, when placed in a dangerous or frightning situation people as a whole tended to only think of themselves. They plotted, schemed, and acted acording to their own wills and desires, regardles of the consequences such acts had upon other people. When she was younger she often went without food, even though a miniscule amount was allotted to her. In the Youth League they always shared what food they could find so that no one person was hungrier than the next. But here in the bowels of the spice mines, like every place she had been to since Melida/Daan that really didn't matter.

The slavemaster had told her when she landed here, and many subsequent times after, that the rate of survival was thirty percent. Of course, Katri theorized that if he had added in the rate of surviving the acidic nature of the food into that it would be a good twenty-seven percent at best.

She pulled her spoon up before her eyes, grimacing in distaste at the mustard brown gloop before tilting it to let the unappetizing mush fall back to the bowl with a plop, plop-plop.

And I thought getting beaten and harrassed by my old master was distasteful...but I give him one bloody nose and it's off to Kessel for me.

"Does not look any better than yesterday does it?" Katri looked over the spoon to regard the woman. Ayy'ani was a Twi'lek female of the Ani clan which had fallen into rough times. Being the youngest daughter of the most distant family branch she had been the one selected to pay their debt with servitude. Sure, Katri had been sold into slavery, but having your own family benefit because of your suffering and eventual demise was wrong on the same scale as Neild gift-wrapping Melida/Daan to the Imperials. "Bleak."

Katri smiled wryly. "The food or my outlook?"

"Both." Ayy said surely. "Same the day before, too."

"And the last six months and fourteen days and...eleven hours to be precise."

"You are counting." Ayy'ani pointed her own spoon at her. "That is not good, friend. You will drive self crazy."

"Who's to say I'm not already?"

"I do not know, I am not therapist."

Katri smiled to herself. Basic had not been Ayy's first language. She had grown up speaking Ryl, and nobody had been patient enough to teach her basic until recently. "Probably a good thing. Nobody likes therapists."

Ayy laughed. "This is true."

A metal bar slammed down upon the table causing them both to jump. The gruff looking man on the other end glared down at Ayy, her face coming within inches of her own. "Did you find something funny, wormie?"

"I...no" Her lekku writhed, knowing what was coming.

"No?" A vein bulged above his eyebrow and she cringed.

"No sir. No funny."

"Hey tankass," Katri said, pushing him hard in the shoulder. "Why don't you leave her alone and go steal someone's gruel?"

"Shut you're trap, scrawny, I'll deal with you in a second." he rasped, eyes not leaving Ayy'ani. "Now, we're not going to have any trouble, are we wormie?" He pressed the tip of his metal rod against her chin.

"No sir. No trouble. Ayy just eating."

"No, I think 'Ayy's' full." He said, swiping her bowl to the floor. Her eyes slammed shut as it smashed, leaving her with eight hours before her next meal.

He jolted though when he felt something hit him in the back. "Listen fatty!" Katri exclaimed in his ear, her arms locked around his neck. "I said leave her alone!"

Edited by Rogue

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"Katri!" Ayy'ani exclaimed, eyes going wide and headtails seeming to stick out on end upon seeing the other girl mounted on the slavedriver's back, her arms wrapped tightly enough around his neck to cause his face to turn ashen in hue. "No good! Trouble again!"

"Good! It was too quiet in this place!" She replied, holding on even as he tried to throw her off. Already the other enforcers were coming from the various corners of the room, various weapons in their hands. "And tankass here was disturbing my meal!"

"I see, so you are doing this for you---" the Twi'lek winced as the gruff human thrust himself backwards into the wall. Katri's back arched, her breath leaving her body at once as she hit the stone wall. Her grip slackened and she fell to her rear. "--or against you?"

The man held at his throat for a minute, bracing himself against the dizziness that had been overtaking him. Katri picked herself off of the floor, ready to go another round when she found a blaster levelled at her. Not again...

The last thing she saw was circles of blue light as the stunbolt hit her and she dropped to the ground slowly, motionless. At least they didn't try to kill me...

* * * * *

The door opened and the two human men deposited her into the near darkess. Dazed and weak she fell to the cold rock floor. It felt good against her hot face. "She's all yours tails. Do yourself a favor and teach her to keep her hands to gerself, unless she wants to get beaten again. " They laughed about all the torture they had the privledge of doing to her as they left, and Ayy'ani waited until they were surely gone to go to her human friend. She threw Katri's arms over her shoulder, guiding her to her bed.

"Men of your species...they are Gammoreans."

Katri chuckled, playfully. "Tell me about it."

"Some other time. Wounds. You are bleeding."

"I know, and I didn't literally mean 'tell me about it.' It's an expression, widely used around the galaxy." She sighed. "But apparently not on Ryloth."

"Do chonda, I am learn."

"Learning, and I know." Ayy lay her down on her her stomach and began to tear bloodied and torn strips of cloth from her back. Katri winced more than once. "How bad is it?"

"You have had badder injury. Still, not know why you seek.." Her features looked contemplative. "What is word..."

"Punishment?" Katri supplied.

"Ah yes. Arnisoyacho."

"I suppose it's because...most of my life has been pain. It makes me feel alive..." she muttered.

"Not understand."

"It's complicated but...pain is the only thing in this galaxy that is constant. People hurt eachother and themselves carelessly, regardless of the the suffering they cause. Oblivious of it sometimes. They take more than they give...but pain's not what I wanted, Ayy. I wanted that guy to shut up, and I wanted him to have a little taste of the pain he causes to others. And I wanted a challenge...someone to take my frustrations out on."

"Ah yes, I see that helped." Ayy remarked skeptically, pulling off another strip of torn clothing hard enough to make Katri hiss. "How man fights have you started since you arrive on Kessel?"

"Too many to count, why?"

"Why not just do work?" She placed a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe live longer."

"Because I don't care what they tell me..." She rolled over to regard her, her eyes boring into hers. "I'm nobody's slave."

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---

"You look like slave to me" Ayy told her the next morning, as they slaved in the tunnels., her brow rising in a wry expression. Katri looked to her for a moment before rolling her eyes and sighing.

Life on Kessel was a hard one. Time was hard to truly tell because you never had the opportunity to rise to the surface to be able to see the sun. Because the atmosphere of the potato-shaped astroid-like world was so incredibly thin and devoid of enough oxygen for life to function properly, all of the slave cells were kept in deep underground tunnels. Katri didn't mind the rough tunnels so much, or even the ever-present darkness. After all, how could you be afraid of the dark when you grew up knowing it, and only it as a child? No, she was almost comfortable in the dark, sunless tunnels, that sometimes reminded her of Melida/Daan; of sweet considerate Lani, gluttonous Miv and the ever-present Hishana... and of course her brave, self sacrificing, foolish brother.

But don't let that fool you, imprisonment on Kessel had other silky sweet charms. Lack of real complexion was one. There was also the prolonged days of manual labor, mining for the sparkling gliterstim deposits left throughout the winding tunnels by the spice-spiders that made them. The spiders were another threat altogether. They wove large webs made of gliterstim strands which were used to catch their prey (often slaves who wandered too far in the dark). Once captured the spiders would impale their prey, sucking the life out of them while they still lived. Katri couldn't think of a more horrible way to meet your end than that. The screams that echoed through the tunnels were often brutally unbearable, bringing back more haunted memories...

And then there were the guards, the slavers, the ones who rejoiced in the torment brought upon the disloyal servants of the Empire. If the spiders didn't kill you, they'd certainly make you wish you were dead.

Katri was having one of those days. She supposed it couldn't be helped. She had started that fight yesterday afterall, and now her body was paying for it, her back aching more and more with each swing of her mallet. But she bore the pain like every other she had experienced, silently.

She needed to get out of here. To see the sun, to live the life Kiet had wanted her to live. But all that was easier said than done. Still...Katri had learned a great deal from him, even at a young age. First you had to make a plan. Then you gather intelligence, use that new data to revise your original plan, and then you'd stick to it to the bitter end. After all, you don't begin the process unless you wanted to.

And Katri wanted freedom with her entire being.

The problem was that the means of obtaining that freedom eluded her, at least for now. She frowned deeply at the realization, but there was little she could do but wait?continue to wait until the opportunity arose.

Whenever that was.

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---

Sometimes when she slept, she could see them. Miv and Hishana were goofing off as usual. Miv was sitting crosslegged on a stone casket, with Hishana hanging upside down on the side of it as she listened to him ramble about food. Lani was tending to those younger than herself. She had a kind heart that Katri could never forget. Her's was the kind of heart that she wore on her sleeve, and the kind of eyes that seemed to glow with warmth even in the darkness.

Was it weird that Lani was the closest thing to a real mother that she had ever had?

As for herself, she was a child again with long black hair and clothes too big and baggy for a girl her age. She felt fragile. She always felt fragile. She tried to act strong but she knew that inside her that was the last thing she was. Her whole life had been war, and hatred, loss and dissapointment. One emotional wound after the other until they accumulated, and she could almost feel them under her skin.Sometimes all Katri wanted was her older brother to ride in on his figurative white speeder and save the day like he used to.

She heard footsteps behind her.

"...Eswo Kika'lekki, narsu koa nuro'opik eswa Gerkak'tin." The soft but passionate words that passed through her roomate's lips woke her from her sleep before she could turn. Before she could see the figure that she knew she had been hoping for. She let out a small sigh, sitting up and looking over through dense darkness to see Ayy'ani Ven kneeling so low on the floor that her knees touched her chest, and her lekku lay prostrate on the floor. "Shar, Nima'rynne!"

She stared at her curiously for a second, placing her feet on the cold ground before asking, "You okay?"

The Twi'lek jumped. "Vashna Katri! Arni! I did not mean to wake."

"It's alright," The woman ran a hand through her dark hair and yawned. "Wasn't the greatest of dreams anyway. What are you doing?"

The beautiful Twi'lek rose from her position, turning around and kneeling so that she could face her. "I was...what is word...prayer, to Ryma'at."

"Ryma'at?" Katri asked curiously. She found that she was learning to speak Twi'lek as she was teaching her friend to speak Basic.

"Yes, is mother to Twi'leks. Kikka'lekki. She is goddess of peace and balance." She explained, running a pale hand over her lekku to calm her startled nerves. "Protect and guide all Twi'leks. I pray to ash that she will forgive me sins and save me from hated one Gerkak'tin." She spat the name out harshly. "Maybe she hear me and I no longer be slave, ka?"

Katri rolled her eyes in the darkness. She knew Ayy'ani couldn't see that from where she was. The tunnels of her homeworld were well lit, unlike the darkness of the Catacombs on Melida/Daan. "Maybe."

"What about you, Muchi--friend." She corrected. "You have important religion you believe in? Perhaps Force? This was popular for your people, yes?"

"That was popular for a lot of people." Katri said bitterly, laying back down on the bed. "The Force never did anything special for me. Just caused the galaxy a lot of problems."

"You mean with Jeedai and Empire?"

"Frag the Jedi!" Katri said harshly, sitting back up. "They deserved what they got. Every last one of them. Sitting up in a plush tower on Coruscant acting all high and mighty, gaining the respect of everyone---for what?! What did they ever do to help anyone?"

"You saying you like Empire better to Old Republic?" She asked in surprise.

"I'm saying the Empire and the Jedi could both go stick a blaster up their loading ramps for all I care."

"I see. You are always angry, vashna. You must relax. We have nice converstion sometime." She smiled, finding amusement in this somehow. "Religion is good for you. Is good to have something to believe in."

"I do have things I believe in."

"Like what?" Ayy'ani asked curiously, climbing into her bunk.

"I believe in myself...the galaxy's a free for all. You're the only person you can trust in. You never know when everyone else is going to stab you in the back."

The pale twi'lek wrinkled her nose. "That is poor outlook."

"I'll take realism to your pointless optimism any day of the week." Katri said with a defeated sigh. "You're optimism failed me too."

There was a few moments of quiet, both women lost in thought and not wanting to offend the other with their internal ramblings before both fell inevitably asleep.

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Every few weeks they'd bring in a new batch of prisoners to work the mines. Rumors might fly around about what they did, or they might be arrogant enough to declare it themselves. Some kept their secret held so tight to their chest, afraid of the repercussions of it. They were murders, scammers, rapists, thieves, spies and Rebels. And some were more than one of the above. The thing was, you rarely knew who was there for what, and who was telling the truth. Because of this mistrust you ended up distancing yourself from everyone to keep from being the next casualty. It was the way of Kessel, and everyone accepted it. Friendships were few and far between. Alliances were sometimes forged. People were sometimes hurt.

But in those few days where the prisoner quarters were full, the guards were spread thin. It was something good to know and keep in mind.

On this day, Katri and Ayy'ani were each given a small glowrod and their normal tools. That guard she'd messed up a while back must have still held a grudge against her because they were being sent into sector 7, a section of the mines that had recently been inhabited by energy spiders. Of course, that meant that the tunnels were filled with gliterstim webs that would be ready for mining.

As they walked down the tunnels towards their designated mining area, Ayy'ani spoke to her. "I am surprise they al--al--let," She finally gave up and used the word she remembered. "you and I stay together all the time."

"I think they believe you're my conscience or something." Katri theorized.

"Conscience? This is unfamiliar word."

"A conscience is that 'little voice' that tells you when something is right or wrong."

"Ah...is shame they are sending us to sector seven."

"What's the big deal about sector seven?" A new voice asked from behind them. They turned around to look at the new prisoner. He was an old man of about fifty five maybe, haggard and wrinkled, and tough as nails.

"Energy spiders had taken up residence there a few weeks back. " Katri answered him after a moment. "Means that there's lots of gliterstim around, but..."

"Ah, I see." the old man said, sobering.

"See what?" Another asked. This man was in his early twenties, maybe a couple years older than herself. She supposed that from what she could see of his features he was handsome, and definatly clean for a mineworker. She had a feeling they might have a complainer on their hands.

"If they were there a couple weeks ago, they haven't traveled far." Katri answered him, her gaze turning forward. "The webs are supposed to be used to catch their prey, and they're often not far from the nest."

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~*~

Footsteps sounded against rock as they trekked through the tunnels barely illuminated by a single glow rod. One of the other slaves was carrying it, warily brandishing it like a defensive weapon to ward off spiders as they approached the sector seven nests. Everyone was on edge though, everyone except one.

There were two overseers directing them on this day. One was a harsh looking woman in her late forties named Amba Hou who had abruptly ended their conversation about ten minutes ago when she threatened to blast the lips off the next person who dared utter a word on their way to sector seven. The other was a young man from somewhere coreward named Vas Arven. Arven had apparently failed the admittance exams for the Imperial Accademy but still felt powerfully enough that he could help the Empire that he had signed on as a prison guard. Judging by how begrudgingly he did his job however, Kessel was the last place in the galaxy he had expected to be mored to. Then again, that's how it was for everyone.

The glowrod began to reflect back at them in the form of a billion tiny sparkles of glitterstim, indicating that they had arrived.

"Take your tools and get to work!" Amba Hou demanded, but he didn't register her words immediatly. Everyone was on edge, except one person. The woman who had talked to them earlier about the spiders. People like her didn't usually catch his attention. She was dirty, and thin...probably malnourished and her long hair was unkempt and long. He couldn't pin it down as a physical attraction, but when her eyes met his for that brief second before passing, he could see the fire alight in them. Whereas all of these other people here had lost themselves, he knew that this woman still understood exactly who she was.

"What in the Empire are you doing standing around?" The female overseer questioned, tapping her powered off stun baton against the palm of her hand. He blinked, realizing that everyone had already grabbed their things and begun to set up. "Move before I whack your ass with a stun baton!"

"Alright lady," He said, reaching for his tools with one hand, and extending one placatingly at her. "Just cool your jets, okay?"

"You trying to sass me boy?" She raised an eyebrow.

"No ma'am, just trying to avoid that stun baton. " He picked up the tools and moved off to stake out a piece of wall between the intriguing slave woman and the old man who had been shipped in with him. He picked up his tools, staring at them for a moment before looking around at the others to see what he had to do. As he begun to work, he looked over at the woman beside him. "So...have you been here long?"

She looked over at him, and she had surprise in her eyes. Then she looked forward and began to pick at the wall again with her tools. "You don't want to talk to me." She said, matter of factly.

"Oh?" He asked, furrowing his brows. "Why's that?"

"Because you're new and you're going to get chewed out, and I'm trouble, and I'm going to make it hard on you."

"Trouble?" He asked with a small grin of amusement. "What kind of trouble?"

Sighing, she stopped and looked over to him. The expression she gave him made him question talking to her at all. "Did you want something?"

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He blinked, taken back. "I ah..."

"You 'ah' what?" She raised an eyebrow at him.

"I'm new here, and I'm just trying to get to know people." He answered.

"It's a waste of time." She muttered under her breath.

"Excuse me?"

"I said, it's a waste of time." She said, slamming her pickaxe against the wall, sending rocks filled with glitterstim to fall into a bucket below. "The survival rate for slaves and prisoners in the Kessel mines are twenty seven to thirty percent. That means that seventy to seventy three percent of the people that you're going to try to befriend will die of starvation or malnutrition, untreated illness, work related injuries or become a nice healthy meal for an energy spider. Eleven percent of those people lose their mind before it happens. And forty percent of their friends lose their mind after it happens. Another seventeen percent of people down here get addicted to the stuff we're mining right now. Those people usually end up disfigured, or with the aforementioned problems."

"How the hell do you know all of that?" He asked, halting his mining for a moment to stare at her.

"I pay attention." She answered, and she must have felt like she was under scrutiny because she turned away from him.

He took a second to take that in before he nodded. "Well, I'll take those chances then. I'm Ryen Chase." He extended a hand towards her to properly introduce himself, but she didn't take it. She just kept working. "I ah...here's the part where you're supposed to tell me your name."

"Maybe....but I really don't feel like it right now."

"Excuse me?" the voice of Amba Hou came from behind them. She had her dark arms crossed and her finger lingering over the button to switch the stun baton from powered down to powered up. "Now I know you didn't put that axe down. You better shut up and keep working or you're going to have some marks to pay for it."

The girl he was speaking to smirked a little bit in amusement as he picked up his axe to keep working. "Come on, it's called being friendly."

Beside him, the old man began laughing, a raspy yet hearty sound that reached both of their ears. "She's tryin'ta give you the brush off, kid, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Thanks a lot, Kincaid. That made things a whole lot better."

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Rogue

She pounded at the wall with her pickaxe until she'd collected enough spice to fill her bucket. Dust rolled up in the air, stinging the nostrils with the lingering tingle of the gliterstim they were here to mine. It was incredible how many people became hooked on the stuff just from mining it. Five people in their cluster alone had been caught trying to smuggle some back to the bunks this year alone. It didn't seem worth it, for the punishment you received for stealing it. Lashings, if you were lucky. Sometimes if you stole too much they would shoot you on the spot simply because they couldn't trust you not to steal it again.

Kind of idiotic, since they were the ones getting them hooked on it in the first place. It was a perpetual cycle.

But Katri would be damned if she ever found herself doing that.

Still...she wasn't sure if the affects of it were real, or imagined. They said that gliterstim stretched the ability of the mind, allowing the person taking it to have a brief spike of telepathy in the heightened mental state that it brought. Sometimes, Katri thought that she could hear what the people around her were thinking. Most of the time it was annoying. Her arms ached enough without having to listen to how everyone else's hurt too. But other times, she thought she'd hear other things...whispers in the dark, secrets, plans...

"...Just drive it into her stomach, watch her die. That'll teach her..."

She glanced nervously over her shoulder at the man who's thought it had been. It hadn't been aimed at her, but at the woman beside him. Maybe it was paranoia, but sometimes she swore these thoughts came true. She remembered one particular time where everyone had gone to their morning meal--err, gruel fest, to find that someone had been impaled over the serving counter. She still didn't know how some people were able to eat that day.

Katri hefted her bucket, carrying it over towards the big collection bin. Of course, her new 'friend' Mr. Chase had picked up his to follow. Would he never get off her heels? She sighed, then stopped when she thought she heard something that wasn't him trying to start up a conversation again. Hadn't she? She looked around in the dark for the source of the strange noise. "Shh. Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Ryen asked after a moment, looking around.

Something passed one of the red diodes they used for light. Something big. Or at least, that's what she thought she saw.

"There's something in here with us." She said, looking to him. "It has to be a--"

The sound of a blood-curdling scream cut her off, then quickly dissipated into a large plopping sound that made her stomach turn. She had seen something before, and now that it wasn't eclipsed by the light, or the collection bin she could see it clearly. She wished she couldn't. The sight of the large spider impaling one of the workers with it's large poisonous stinger only served to put fear into her. Fear that it was coming towards them next.

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