A Choice Must Be Made
Diana DeRiggs

It was the day he'd been waiting for, for months and months ... Soontir Fel, newly graduated from the agricultural high school, was going to meet a woman. She was the sexiest creature he knew, but he'd never even met her.

He had heard stories from his male friends about taking any number of girls to parents' bed, of deflowerings in isolated meadows and in the back seats of the family landspeeder. He had had no shortage of girls rubbing up to him, peering coyly at him from behind their eyelashes, sizing him up as potential boyfriend or even husband material.

But none of them appealed to him. He'd wondered why ... was he homosexual? But no, boys and men didn't appeal to him either. Many overt and subtle offers had been made by both sexes to the handsome, tall, and dark-haired Fel. A lifetime of farm work had built up and hardened his young body, a fact his loose clothing did not conceal.

Soontir Fel was probably more mature than his peers, more responsible. His father had been accidentally poisoned, and had become ill, and young Soontir had flown throughout the tenant farmlands, doing his dad's job for him. It was a loosely kept secret from management, who might have taken steps to have the Fel family removed from the agro-combine. Young Soontir had a great sense of belonging to the land and to his family. Even among the others, the Fel family was especially close. They did things together.

So what was he doing in a transport hub, waiting for a woman he might not even recognize? She hadn't ever sent holos of herself, so he couldn't be sure.

Perhaps he didn't want his parents to know how desperately he wanted to experience sex. Or maybe this was his small rebellious streak in his otherwise compliant and serious nature.

They'd met by accident, when he called her comlink code by mistake one day. Intrigued by his voice, the woman recorded his access code, and called him again later that day. Soontir soon found that a day did not go by when he wasn't talking to this mysterious woman.

The appointed meeting time ticked away, and still no woman in a bright red dress could be seen. Soontir took to looking carefully at every short, dark-haired female who came through the station, no matter what they were wearing.

Suddenly, she was beside him. She pulled on his arm and led him into a waiting landspeeder. Getting in, he realized he didn't know what to call her, so he kept his mouth shut.

Silently, they rode to a section of Coronet City he'd never seen before. Finally, she spoke, "This is called Treasureship Row. Very disreputable." She looked over and smiled. Soontir was relieved to hear her voice. He'd followed the right woman - she had the same voice he'd heard all these months through his comlink only. He had begun to fear a totally random person was abducting him.

Her hand rubbed his knee, and she winked at him, "Follow me in three ticks." He watched her slide out of the speeder and walk into a building in the shadows. He slowly counted to three and looked around. A man was holding the door of the speeder open for him ... he looked respectable enough, and Soontir recalled that she'd slid some credits into his hand.

He tried to walk out of the speeder, but tripped and nearly fell down. The man caught him and smiled and Soontir straightened up and mumbled a thanks. The man gestured with his head toward the building the woman had disappeared into, and the young man walked away quickly toward it.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

He was struck by how quiet it was in the building. As rural as his upbringing had been, he knew enough that this was not a normal phenomenon in such a place. People approached the desk and were given a card and a map. Following their example, young Soontir presented himself to the desk, and without a word was given what he recognized to be a keycard with a number inscribed on it. The flimsi accompanying it indicated a path he should follow.

And now he was in front of a door, hesitating. The diagram on the reader lock clearly indicated how the card needed to be fed into it to open the door. He took a few deep breaths, which sounded rough and loud to his ears in this quiet corridor. He fumbled the card three times; on the fourth try, it slipped in and disappeared into the reader.

The door slid open soundlessly, then he felt himself moving. Before he could look down on the floor to see how it was pulling him into the room, the door slid shut behind him, with a quiet sigh.

The room was darkened, except for points of light over the one piece of large furniture in the middle of the room. Soontir was unable to swallow; his mouth was dry and his knees threatened to buckle under him.

He felt hands on him and he looked down. He saw the woman, formerly dressed in red. She smelled clean and refreshed, and she was completely naked.

He didn't adhere to any Imperial policy or prejudice, but for unexplored reasons, he felt it was important for him to know his own species before making love to females of any other. It had distressed him somewhat that he simply wasn't attracted to other species.

At this very moment, he knew that what he was looking at was right for him, that losing himself in this woman was the perfect way to lose his virginity.

Standing on her toes, she tilted her head back slightly and pulled his head down toward her. He'd kissed a few girls before, but they'd all been inexperienced teens. No mature, sensual women had touched his lips. He tried to keep up with the rush of feelings coursing through him, but he felt himself gasping for breath.

She smiled at him and murmured, "Slow down ... it's not a race." She resumed kissing his mouth again, licking slowly, softly drawing his lower lip and his tongue into her pursed mouth. The feel of her teeth gently nipping his tongue made him dizzy.

Later, he wouldn't be able to explain how he went from standing up and tilting his head downward to kiss this woman, to lying down with her writhing passionately over him. Still fully clothed, albeit with his leggings around his ankles, Soontir was lying absolutely still. He wasn't terrorized, but she had ordered him to lie still. His eyes were open, watching her move in pleasure.

He also knew her name at this point -- it was Kalaccia, and she was more beautiful as a real person than she was as a mere voice. She wasn't holo-star gorgeous, but her entire presence was simply wonderful to the young Soontir's senses.

And now she had begun to rotate her hips slowly, using a whirling, twitching motion. "Don't try to move ... just lie still ... don't try to breath ... just let it take over your body ... yes ... yes ..." Kalaccia's voice was a humming whisper, intensifying with every "yes." Soontir's eyes were closed, trying not to scream at the intense, burning feelings in his groin.

Then suddenly he felt a long, protracted, ascending squeeze and he couldn't keep still any more. He felt his mind explode. His back arched, his hands clenched, his voice caught as it roared out of him as a whimper.

At the end of a long tunnel, he heard her, coaxing him back down to ground. She didn't say anything, but the sound of her breathing prevented him from losing himself in the intensity of his climax. He waited till his breathing matched hers, and felt her lying on top of him. He wasn't wearing clothes now.

He moved his head to look at her, to watch her doze.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

Soontir fussed over the condition of the hybrid flowering dwarf bush he'd created, with the help of Rostek Horn. The elder Horn was an officer of Corsec, the planetary police force, and had revealed a surprising love of plants and flowers. He had pioneered procedures for the creation of hybrids, and Horn had asked Soontir's father for some source seeds and cuttings. Delivering them to Agent Horn, Soontir had stayed the afternoon as the older man lectured and demonstrated his new techniques. Soontir rushed home and stayed up the whole night, creating a new plant that flowered indoors or in limited amounts of soil, and bore tiny fruits the exact duplicate of its gargantuan field cousins. He was exceedingly proud of his new plant. Rostek Horn helped him prepared the paperwork, and was delighted when it was accepted and named by botanical committee experts as Fornelensis Fel. Soontir was even prouder that his mother could sell them for extra family income at the markets and in the agro-combine shop. He unearthed one and carefully transplanted it in a beautiful pot he'd made to give to Kalaccia.

She had given him a card the day before, telling him she trusted him with this information. She lived within a few hours' flying distance, and since he had other deliveries to make in that direction, he thought to drop off this gift for her. He was honored that she trusted him, and hoped that she'd enjoy his gift.

But when he stepped up to the back portico of the house, he heard voices: Kalaccia's whispers and the deeper timbre of a man. Spying a window that opened onto the decking, feeling guilty about eaves dropping, Soontir listened.

"Young girl, you make me very happy. How is it you do that so well?" queried the deep-voiced man.

Kalaccia giggled, "Husband, it comes naturally. I simply adore you."

Soontir froze at Kalaccia's casual reply. He had fallen in love with a married woman! That made him an accomplice to adultery if her husband ever left her, and he'd have to appear in court if she sought a separation.

The thoughts whirled in his head. He was so sure of himself just moments before. He was in love, admittedly with an older woman, and he was delivering a personal gift to let her know how he felt about her. But this changed everything.

Kalaccia was using him as a plaything!

He couldn't let anyone know. It would kill his parents if Soontir was summoned to a provide evidence in a divorce case as the man -- or was it naïve boy? -- who had slept with another man's wife.

Soontir knew, a choice had to be made, and he was the one who had to make it. He carefully removed the little card, containing the short love poem he'd penned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out another card and wrote on the flimsi, "Thank you, but goodbye." He never even noticed how a tear had dropped on the card.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

Lieutenant Soontir Fel stood at attention. Having just graduated from the Imperial Officers Academy on Carida, he was newly promoted. It rankled a bit that Han Solo had managed to beat him for valedictorian status at the very last exam, but he told himself he needed to understand that being named salutatorian was no shame.

The Fel family had not been able to afford the trip to Carida to watch him graduate, and had sat in the auditorium along with other families with sons at the Academy, watching holos of the ceremony. The Fel clan had applauded wildly, and Soontir could almost swear he heard their cheers all the way to Carida when he accepted his commission on the graduation stage.

He was home on leave before reporting to his first posting as an officer for the Imperial Fleet. They were all at the transport hub to meet him. His mother wept joyfully at his tall, lean physique, encased in the dress uniform of an Imperial officer. He saluted her, and she beamed with pride. His father looked more tired and drawn than he recalled. Soontir was to take on his job at the agro-combine, but he had been forced to accept this opportunity for an education, and the senior Fel kept his job, despite his illness. Soontir felt anguish in his heart at seeing his father so frail, and was grateful that he was alive. Ivr Drop, the AGR boss, had promised Soontir he'd take care of the Fels in his absence, and Soontir was happy to see he'd kept his word. His younger brother, Todr, would soon be old enough to take on the work Soontir had had to abandon.

Back on the agro-combine, the other families had put up tents and filled the day with music and food to greet him home after all the long years away. Soontir relished the home-made preserves and pickles, the carefully pit-roasted meats and thoughtfully prepared side dishes and vegetables. He promised himself he'd remember everything about this day, so he could carry the memories with him when onboard one of the Emperor's ships, away from such great food and the draw of the land.

He danced and sang with everyone, then helped with some of the planting activities and games. Many girls admired him, many groaning inwardly for not bedding him before he'd left. There was no girl left behind for Soontir to pine over.

He received many trinkets and suggestive words and glances, and thought better of them. Yes, the girls were highly desirable, but Soontir found himself being bored by their plebian prattle. He was ashamed to admit it, but he'd become a snob, and no matter how beautiful or skillful at pleasure a girl might be, she needed to touch his mind first for him to be truly aroused. Or so he told himself and others who asked.

Besides, these girls were the younger sisters and cousins of his friends. He couldn't be such a cad as to take advantage of them! What surprised him was how many of his friends' wives also propositioned him.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

On the Abrogator, he thought about women a lot. The men around him talked big about the many women they had scored. Most of the tallies were human, but several had proudly displayed souvenirs and trophies of alien conquests as well. Soontir kept quiet, and this behavior led others to believe he had more experience than they did. By saying nothing, he earned the respect of his compatriots, and rumors of his supposed conquests grew.

He neither confirmed nor denied, not even when the local molls and groupies compared notes and wondered why he never paid them a visit. He behaved like a gentleman, and the men around him watched and learned and behaved likewise.

He had finished his first TIE tour of duty with the 6/37th, tightening up the squadron through intensive drilling, analysis and training. He had asked for, and was granted, his second tour as a pilot, rather than as leader.

This time, he was not allowed to ask for a third tour of duty. He was assigned his first official command on a re-fitted Imperial dreadnaught. He headed security detail for fleet operations, and was also given outer-galaxy patrols to hunt pirates and smugglers, occasionally doing battle with rebels. Despite the important-sounding position, he took his orders from the fleet commanders above him, and there was little he could analyze or initiate that was new or off the books. He grew restless, and found himself looking forward to the end of this tour of duty.

This particular dreadnaught had been refitted so that its sub-light speed could pace a Victory class Destroyer, but had not been given a full flight deck, so it lacked fighters. Captain Fel never told anyone, but not letting him have fighters seemed -- to him -- the equivalent of emasculation.

But Fel took his duties and his responsibility to his 16,000-man crew and to his superiors seriously. As always, he threw himself into his work, though he was just one captain in a whole fleet of captains. Still, hunting untrained armadas of smugglers was predictable and dull, and Fel found himself yearning for his times off.

Each liberty, he'd return to Corellia and feel refreshed by his family and friends. The land and its importance to him had faded, so that it no longer stung when he saw it again after being away so long.

His unhappiness with his work manifested itself only when he was at home. He'd fly to places he'd known as a child and as a youth. Sometimes, he'd tinker with the old skyhopper, then take it out. He'd just let his hands do the driving, and surprise himself with where he'd end up.

It was on such a drive that he found himself in front of Kalaccia's house. He recalled that he'd been there only once before, to deliver a gift to her that ended up being a goodbye gift.

"Surely," he thought to himself, "enough time has passed. I should present myself and apologize for leaving the plant here with only a farewell note." He waved his hand before the door alarm and waited for a response.

Hearing nothing, Soontir walked around to the back of the house, and mounted the steps of the portico. He stopped short when his eyes saw the bush standing by the back door.

The dwarf tree he'd brought to her had grown no larger, but was bushier and broader, and still healthy. He was delighted that his first hybrid turned out well. He crouched down to sniff at the miniature blossoms, not yet in the right season to bear fruit.

"I never got a chance to thank you for this, Soontir." He started at the sound of a voice and the feel of a hand on his back. Twisting back and looking up, he found himself face to face with Kalaccia. He fell backwards awkwardly in his surprise. He looked up at her, which lead to other memories, and his face reddened. The intended speech, maturity, and the military bearing he had hoped to exhibit, were all forgotten.

"Soontir," she whispered, looking more beautiful than the near decade before, "so good to see you! I was so disappointed to find the plant here without you, and then to hear that you'd left for Carida Academy!"

She offered her hand, and he took it, allowing her to help him up. She slowly and gently brushed the dust from his tunic. He tried to control himself, but he was still very inexperienced around beautiful women, and he found it hard not to tremble.

Kalaccia wrapped her hands around his neck and toyed with his now short hair. She pressed her body hard against his and brought his head down for a kiss.

Soontir had thought he had suppressed his desire for sex successfully all these years. He had never hired women, or fell into bed when offered. There were women of many species and looks available to a soldier of the Empire. His libido had sometimes threatened to break through the shell of control he built around every aspect of himself, but he we proud that it never had. Even when physically pressed to do so.

Kalaccia's tongue did a slow, sensual dance in his mouth ... her scent brought urgent memories and he kissed her back. His hands rubbed her hair and he clasped his fingers under the dark locks, then gently pulled his lips from hers. He was more skillful this time, as if from years of practice. In reality, it was from years of imagining and remembering.

He looked into her eyes, and chose to ignore the voices in his head. He let go of her and walked away quickly.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

On board the command ship of the fleet, Captain Fel walked briskly to the Admiral's conference center. Agents and officers from Imperial Intelligence were liaising with the fleet, and all ship commanders were ordered to attend the formal social dinner.

Fel disliked these formal affairs, but he knew his role was to accompany and entertain a spouse or mistress of an invited guest, so that the guest himself could go about their intended business in a friendly, unhurried setting. In truth, he'd never yet had the pleasure of a good dinner companion, and decided that the trophy wives and favored playthings of Imperial officers and agents were an empty lot. He had been informed in advance that he was to be the dinner date for the wife of a Corellian Imperial agent. It was emphasized in his orders that this woman was particularly intelligent, so perhaps this dinner would be interesting after all. At the very least, they could talk about home.

When he got there, he hoped he was successful in covering his surprise, and his immediate desire. His assigned dinner partner was a beautiful woman with dark hair and a confident manner. Thinking her disturbingly familiar, it took a few moments before he realized he knew who she was. Kalaccia, of course, knew who he was and smiled warmly at him.

Sitting together at dinner, Fel smiled and spoke charmingly to his dinner partners, to both the left and right of him. This was something the Academy had taught their students in a series of workshops. He hadn't quite understand them at the time, but was grateful for the lessons now.

He still was learning though. Throughout the long, formal meal, Fel was learning how to ignore the feel of a thinly stockinged foot rubbing up and down his leg ... of flexible, cool toes groping at his penis and testicles. He tried not to flinch when she used her toes to pinch him. He tried not to cry out or turn red when her insistent rubbing resulted in an ear-popping orgasm. Taking a long drink from his water glass, Fel was grateful for the long, belted tunic of his uniform.

A dance followed, but Fel opted to escort his dinner companion on a tour of the Victory-class Destroyer. Conscious of the people around them, he chatted to Kalaccia in an animated and unobtrusive manner and he tried hard to ignore the smoldering lust and adoration in her eyes. He caught himself wondering if he was just seeing a reflection of how he felt toward her.

Every chance she got, her hands caressed his buttocks, or she licked and sucked on his fingers. Fel found it difficult to walk with a stiffened erection. It became impossible when she pushed him into a lonely corridor and knelt in front of him.

As she undid his trouser fastenings with her teeth, he wondered where all the crewmen assigned to this sector were. He'd have to pull rosters and discipline the men who were supposed to be patrolling this part of the ship.

Kalaccia firmly licked the evidence of his excitement, taking his penis into her mouth and applying light, wet suction. Soontir dropped his body against the bulwark of the ship and groaned. His hands moved of their own accord through her hair as she swirled her tongue up and around him.

She moved her head up and down his length in sensual swoops, massaging his testicles, stimulating him in ways he'd only imagined. He had listened to his men talking about women, had answered when asked for advice or an opinion. Soontir realized now that he had no idea what he'd been talking about.

Kalaccia's hands snaked beneath his underclothing, and were now grasping and squeezing the cheeks of his ass. The sensation was too much for him and Soontir clenched his teeth, beads of perspiration breaking out from his forehead. He pushed her head down, to stop her from flicking her magical tongue up and down, his member too sensitive for further ministrations.

His ears were ringing and little lights flickered on and off in his vision. He tasted himself on Kalaccia's lips when she kissed him.

Soontir struggled upright and pulled Kalaccia up by the hand. Looking past her, he saw a shadow duck down another corridor, and he thought he heard the sound of running steps. Fel knew he'd been seen, but he'd not likely ever get a confession from any of the men on the roster. The men wearing the boots obviously didn't want the heels to characteristically and loudly clomp, and were mincing quickly down the corridor on their toes. Fel sighed. We're all such children. Ah well, this will only add to the legend of Captain Fel, womanizer. He smirked at the thought.

He drew his lover to him and embraced her closely. Tears moistening his eyes, as he hoarsely whispered to her, "Why are you doing this to me? Your husband would divorce you, there would be a scandal. Why me? Why not another man?"

The woman in his arms looked up at him, her eyes bright and wet. Her voice caught as she made her confession, "You mean you don't realize? Isn't it obvious? Young boy that you were so many years ago, I fell in love with you. So innocent and pure, like I used to be." The tears dripped from her chin onto his uniform. "I know I can't have you forever, so I'll have you for delicious minutes. I can't resist when you're near. I dream of you, and I haven't been able to carry out any other affair since I'd met you."

Fel had been wondering how to button up his trousers, but changed his mind. He pulled Kalaccia into the automated instrument room behind him, run only by simple droids, and undid the fastenings to her gown. He remembered the first time he saw her naked, complete with the memory that he'd been fully clothed then, too. He rectified that problem quickly and pressed her body to him. Her much shorter frame allowed all her curves and contours to match his.

He boldly rubbed his thumb against her clitoris, engorged and unsatisfied. She had made him climax twice, and he was ready to return the favor. Slippery and hot, he enjoyed flicking his fingers on and in her, feeling her body jerking in response, her breathing quickening. He opened his hand and clasped her entire organ, rubbing the whole of it hard.

He felt her orgasm coming, but he wasn't prepared for when it arrived. She shrieked and moved against his hand, biting his shoulder as they stood there, her back against the door, Soontir pressing against her to keep her still. He pressed his lips against hers, breathing in her erotic screams.

Using the leverage from the door, Kalaccia leaned back and wrapped both legs around his waist. She skillfully wrapped her vagina around his rigidity, causing him to groan in surprise and delight.

He pulled her off the door and held her, enjoying the feel of her body embracing his fully. He laid her down on the flooring, atop a cushion of his clothes. Putting his weight on his knees and using his hands on her breasts and to stroke her hair, he pushed gently into her.

Kalaccia let out a ragged breath and spread her legs open further. Her hands moved to his rear cheeks again and she pulled him into her more violently. Soontir so enjoyed the sensation he thrust into her harder until both of them were yelling for release.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

He bowed from the waist and softly kissed the back of Kalaccia's gloved hand, before she rejoined her husband in the main salon of the ship. Other officers, who had escorted companions of the Imperial agents, were doing the same, with different levels of interest. Fel thought he could detect those who had shared more than time together, and those who simply did not get along. He glowed with the secret he and Kalaccia shared.

She looked up at him, "I'll miss you," she mouthed.

What he would have to say broke his heart. He knew he still loved her, and would love her forever. He chose his words carefully, "This is the last time I will be with you, as long as you are married."

Kalaccia did not look shocked, but her eyes shone too brightly. She understood, for this was the element which always stood between them. "I will let you know when the situation changes. Now is not the time. Till then, stay alive. Think of me."

He felt as if he was dragging himself through a thick syrup medium, backwards and away from her. He bowed deeply, then watched as she went through the doorway to join her husband on the other side. He wondered if he'd been a fool.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

Soontir Fel was in a position in which he'd never expected to be. He was standing in front of a mirror, practicing asking Wynssa Starflare, the famous holo actress, to marry him. He expected her to say no, but he was known to keep a cool head in adversity. He'd respond to her arguments, and convince her with logic, till she had no option but to say yes to him. He could do this easily. They'd been dating for nearly a year, and it was clear that they loved one another, and would make a fine couple.

So why did he feel like he was doing something wrong?

It was Kalaccia, or rather the lack of her. She'd promised to contact him when she wasn't married any longer, and her husband, as old as he was, obviously was still alive. Or perhaps he was dead and she wasn't interested in him after all? Either way, Soontir had to get on with his life.

He'd found a woman who was almost the direct opposite of Kalaccia. Wynssa was tall, blonde, famous, her own woman, unattached; everything Kalaccia was not. This was a relief to Fel, who didn't think it would be possible to replace the woman who filled his subconsciousness, and had been filling his nights for years. Even now, he found himself dreaming of Kalaccia, something he could never admit to Wynssa.

But he had to make a choice: wait for Kalaccia, or marry Wynssa now.

*** * * * *** * * * ***

Fel, to his shock, was being kissed by Ysanne Isard. He shoved her away, and noted that if she wasn't so tall, she'd look somewhat like Kalaccia ...

*** * * * *** * * * ***

He was a fugitive from Ysanne Isard, now holding the Empire "in trust" -- thus she was functionally the Imperial head. He could have gone directly to the Alliance, but in truth, he had no desire to do so; he had no real sympathy for their cause. He'd only agreed to fight for them so that his wife could be saved from Isard's clutches. Unfortunately, as decoy, he fell into her trap and had been captured.

A messenger from Admiral Thrawn had come to help him escape. He wondered what the alien expected of him. He remembered they had met before, and that Thrawn had masterminded the attack at Derra IV, which Fel had participated in. He had been promoted to Colonel in that action, and been made a Baron. Thrawn had been sent to the Unknown Regions.

He had worried how Thrawn would want to use him to get back at the Empire, but was surprised when he met the alien that this wasn't the desire. He traveled with him to those regions, saw its resources, it's enemies, listened to his philosophies. Explained how Fel's abilities were direly needed to repel the upcoming attacks.

Soontir understood, or thought he did. He'd asked for time, and he'd gotten it. But Thrawn was clever; the Alliance had rescued Wynssa Starflare, the wife of Soontir Fel, but had lost her again when Isard captured Fel. Starflare, the sister of Wedge Antilles, legendary commander of Rogue Squadron, had been sequestered. But upon discovering that her husband had been captured, Wynssa managed to escape and disappear once more, even before her estranged brother could be reunited with her.

Thrawn had located her and managed to keep her. He let Fel know that anytime he wished, he would release Wynssa to him, but to him alone. Soontir knew that of all of the forces that were after her, Admiral Thrawn was the one most likely to keep Wynssa safe. He let the warlord know that he would come to him to get Wynssa.

In the meantime, he was back on Corellia, hiding with Kalaccia. He had recently received word from her that she was now a widow; her much older husband had, at last, died in the Intelligence offices the week before. Soontir had rushed to her side, without even thinking of the difficulties he might have to re-enter his homeworld.

She knew about his marriage, of course. It was major news when then-Major Soontir Fel married the holo-star on Coruscant. It was even bigger news when he was made Colonel and was granted a holding on Corellia. And again, it was news when he defected to the Alliance and he became a wanted man. But when Wynssa went into hiding, everyone thought she had died, and this is what Kalaccia supposed.

When he told her he thought that she was still alive, Kalaccia had sadly laughed that now their situation was reversed; she was now available but he was the one guilty of adultery. He did know his wife was still alive, thus he was still married, and not free to marry Kalaccia.

They were in a cabin high up in the mountains, hiding from searchers. They spent much of their time naked, making up for lost time. They explored one another's bodies, fused together, still in lust and love despite their long absences from one another. Neither had ever felt so free or so complete as with each other. Soontir thought that what he was experiencing now made his dream-like honeymoon with Wynssa a mere distant, youthful fantasy.

Fel thought seriously about staying with Kalaccia, but he knew he couldn't stay out in the open with her. It was too dangerous, considering his recent escapes and turn-arounds in loyalty. He'd have to hide and would need help and resources to do so.

There was another benefit of staying with his long-lost, long-awaited lover. She loved flowers and the land nearly as much as he did. Wynssa hated farming, other than to look at landscapes, and didn't like staying on the holding he'd been granted. She preferred the city glamour of Coruscant, and it was the one thing that marred their love. But otherwise, he really did love Wynssa and thinking about leaving her was simply disloyal.

One night, as Kalaccia lay sleeping in the cabin, Soontir sat outside and stared up at the stars. He knew he was looking directly at the Unknown Regions. It was invisible, but Thrawn had told him where they were located.

Then the solution came to his mind.

Thrawn wanted to clone Fel, to populate a sleeper cell of loyal men, who would defend their home without hesitation or question. Fel was morally opposed to cloning, plus he had to admit he was squeamish about having copies of himself walking about, outside of his control. He had hated the idea.

But now he was in a dilemma he had not revealed to anyone else. He had the chance to be with a woman he had loved and wanted for nearly two decades. But he was married to another woman he also loved and needed to be with. He had not seen her in many months, but she was within reach. He was excited to be able to hold her again. But he would never be able to admit to her that he not only slept with another woman, but that he loved Kalaccia more, in some ways.

Allowing the Admiral to create a single clone of him was the same as giving him license to clone him myriad times. He understood that, and Thrawn would have the sleeper cell he wanted.

But Fel required only one clone, a perfect copy, with all his personal memories and abilities intact. So that he could truly be two people, and make two women happy. He wasn't brave enough to break one woman's heart ... or his own.

He'd do it. For his own selfish reasons, he'd allow himself to be cloned. In exchange, he'd demand from Thrawn the resources to hide, to start a new life.

Then another question bubbled up, and rather than feeling better, Soontir Fel's gut froze: which woman would he go with, and which woman would -- none the wiser -- get the clone?

*** * * * *** * * * ***

Carib Devist and his many brothers finished clearing the trees from around their new home. He called to his wife, Lacy, who walked to him, carrying the tools he need to remove a stump. They did some of the heavier work with droids, but the Devist men enjoyed working with their hands, so did as much as they could on their own. In addition, they had few spare parts or power supplies for the droids, and they needed them more to provide security for the new colony.

Lacy wrapped her arms around her husband's neck. He dropped his tools and did likewise around her slim, slightly rounded body, taking the time to smell her hair before letting his lips meet hers.

"We are happy, aren't we 'Carib'?" asked the woman, emphasizing the new name.

"Yes, 'Lacy.' We will be happier still when the child is born."

The older woman rested her head against his shoulder and whispered very softly, "I'm very happy now, Soontir."

"Kalaccia, I've dreamed of this since I was 17," the big man murmured back to her.

"We'll name him Daberin, after our fathers."

"Yes. I love you, Lacy."

And the two stood in the cleared field, embracing silently, dreaming of their impossible future, at last come true.

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