Discovering Their Past
Csillag and Diana DeRiggs
"But Mom, I don't want to! Why can't you just tell me the truth?" The young girl was wailing so loudly that the comlink squealed in protest.
"Nia, we're not going to talk about that now," Sela Klivian was rubbing her temples with her fingers, "we'll talk about it when we get home. You're going to be at the Janson's ..."
"You and Dad treat me like a little kid, I don't wanna go," as Nia continued her drama-queen moment, Sela thought about how she could tell her how much she hated when her daughter used that whiny tone that seemed to be so fashionable with all the girls her age, "it wasn't even my fault ..."
"Nia, I didn't say it was. Please, I have a lot to do at work, I promise I'll tell you what I can. I'm sorry, I really have to go, just stay at Jehri's today. I love you, I'll see you tonight." Her daughter mumbled something, but Sela heard her say, "Bye" somewhere in the sequence of mutterings before she cut the transmission.
It was shaping up into an exhausting day and Sela could not keep her mind on the task at hand. She was supposed to have her final reports on the adoption of Daktat and Reowin Lakr'yar to Marva Darrens by the end of the day. This was one case she would be glad to see the end of -- even though it ended in failure. The Bothan brothers were a perfect match for the human parents, despite what "they" said. The Darklighters had already adopted human children, and wanted to provide a loving home for the two Bothans who had been placed in foster care with them. In addition, Gavin and Sera Darklighter were friends and colleagues; Gavin was a Rogue Squadron pilot, and Sera was a fellow social worker. Sela felt she knew them very well, and couldn't think of anyone better to adopt children of any species.
Some press mole had gotten wind of the intended adoption and upon posting the story, Bothan authorities moved swiftly to put up every obstacle they could to prevent it from going forward. They claimed it was against Bothan law for Bothan children to be adopted by non-Bothans, although Sela had never been able to document this claim. Though she had no hard evidence of it, to her it seemed more like a personal objection to Colonel Darklighter -- although she could not imagine why.
When it seemed the case would be deadlocked forever and the boys would never be adopted, a striking Bothan woman appeared in Sela's office. The woman, who gave her name as Shayl Le'tah, had lavender-colored eyes which almost mesmerized Sela, and the woman's black and splotched pelt was memorable even though it defied efforts to write a physical description to include in Sela's report. Le'tah simply presented a datapad with all of the required documentation for her to take complete custody of the children. The red tape and delays that had marked this case suddenly and immediately unraveled, and the path was cleared for the children to finally be adopted.
Sela was heart-broken when she placed the call to Gavin and Sera to tell them the sad news. The couple was disappointed, but philosophical, and wanted to meet this Bothan woman to thank her for her generous understanding of the situation. They offered to host Le'tah at their home when she came to get the children, but the Bothan refused to meet the Darklighters, stating she had no time. She insisted that Sela bring the children directly to the Bothan Consular building. From there, the boys would be registered, then they would depart for Bothawui immediately.
Sela's head was in a whirl -- all of this happened in the space of six hours, and as representative of the adoption agency, she had accompanied the new family to the starship. She had tried to get a holo recorded for the Darklighters, but Le'tah had forbidden it, and Sela could do nothing but stand on the viewing platform, weeping silently. She waved, even though the boys probably couldn't see her, and her tears had blurred her vision. And now she had to fill in this report before she could go home.
In the meanwhile, home had its issues, too. Only days ago, she and her husband Derek had gotten the shock of their lives. It would have been enough suffering through their son's nearly fatal injuries -- the result of a wall unit giving way when Serren had decided to climb it. Panicked, they had rushed to the MedCenter, only to witness their daughter, Nia, administering what looked like Jedi healing on her brother.
They had known since they became parents nearly a decade ago that their daughter would someday begin to manifest her Jedi potential. Luke Skywalker had told them bluntly this would happen, and what to look for. But they had not expected it to be in the form of her saving her little brother's life! And just after that, Nia had had a vision of her namesake, Nia Ponsed -- the woman who had been privately engaged to marry Derek before her untimely death during the Battle of Endor. The vision had told the young girl that she was destined to become a healer.
After these episodes, their own little Nia's need to know had burst out in an explosive torrent. Where had her Jedi talent come from? Who was Nia Ponsed? How did she become a healer? Would she go to Master Skywalker's academy for training? What if she didn't like it there? Derek and she had been just as overwhelmed and bewildered. They made a small start toward answering their daughter's questions by just telling her their own story.
It was a beginning, but Nia for some reason felt that some information was being withheld from her, and she had suddenly became belligerent. Initially, she had been perplexed and thrilled at this talent she possessed, but she soon realized that it made her different from other girls. She was convinced that her classmates would resent her special ability and had decided to hide it from them, rather than risk being ostracized.
Worse, she'd taken to blaming her parents for her apparent lack of popularity at school -- even though Nia's teachers had assured Derek and Sela that the girl was doing well and normally in school, both academically and socially. In a tantrum that resulted in slammed doors and tears, Nia had screamed at her mother that she didn't want this talent, even if it did save Serren's life! Sela knew her daughter didn't really mean it, but it was such a marked contrast to the rational girl she'd been before the incident with Serren.
It didn't help that Sela had no idea where Nia's talent might have come from. Luke had detected some Force sensitivity in Sela, so it might have come from her. But whatever she did possess wasn't helping her now. She felt blind and frustrated, which compounded because of this difficult Bothan adoption case, and she didn't feel like herself at all.
Sela forced herself to do a nominal job on the required forms. It would have to do; if anything was incomplete, Marva would return them to her prior to sending them out to the appropriate government and civilian offices. In the meantime, she could go home a bit early and try to soak the tension and exhaustion out of her mind in a hot bath, or at least sneak a quick nap. Under the heading "Cause for Abandonment," she tapped in "unknown." What a horrible way to ask why a child was available for adoption! Why can't they phrase it more nicely, like 'reason, given up for adoption'?
Given up for adoption ... Sela sent the files to her boss and got ready to go home. She was a sensitive woman, and it was natural that today's events might stay on her mind after the job was technically done. Perhaps it was just that Daktat and Reowin's adoptions had not worked out as Sela had hoped, but the concept of giving a child away for adoption bothered her more than usual today.
True, the boys were being taken to Bothawui to be raised among their own kind, but it meant that her friends Gavin and Sera had lost the children they loved and hoped to make a life with. And as honorable and well-recommended as Shayl Le'tah seemed to be, neither the agency nor the children being adopted really emotionally knew anything about the Bothan woman. She had actually seemed abrupt and a little cold, and Sela couldn't help but worry for the children's welfare.
She wished that Le'tah had waited for even a few more hours, so that Gavin could at least have a chance to comfort and assure the boys that they were in good hands. Sela had almost resorted to begging, but the Bothan woman became more intractable upon hearing how devastated Gavin and his wife would be at this separation. Sela really wondered if the benefits of growing up with others of the same species could really offset a loving, mixed-species home.
Then again, she thought guiltily, even when a child is genetically related to its parents, things don't always go so well. Sela hoped that Nia's tirades and tempers were a normal phase, and not something more sinister. But even now, I couldn't be tempted to give up my child ...
Helping orphans and families who wanted them was her life's work, borne from her experiences as a child refugee. But things didn't always turn out happily, and she often wondered about the mother or father who had been forced to give up a child, perhaps through forced separation, the need to survive economically or situationally, or abandonment through death ... But today, the feeling was different. The concept nagged at her in a most annoying manner for some reason, and she just could not put her finger on it.
* * * * *
Sela let the wave of emotional exhaustion wash over her as she stepped into the apartment. She knew the children were not due home for another couple of hours because they were playing with the Janson kids after school and Derek had a late debriefing session at the base. She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea, fully intending to go and draw a hot bath, perhaps letting herself doze in the soothing water. All thoughts of indulging in relaxation went out of her head however, when she returned to the living room and she saw the box on the floor, it's contents scattered in disorganized fashion all over the place. The box contained letters written on flimsi from Nia Ponsed, who had kept in touch with her to her over the course of the year, from the time they had met to just before Ponsed's death in the Battle of Endor.
Sela had offered the box of letters to little Nia as a way of getting to know more about her namesake, but she had not actually read the letters herself for many years. She put her cup of tea down on the table with a sigh, and got down on the floor to pick up the letters, upset at the lack of respect her daughter was showing for these valuable personal artifacts.
But as is so often the case, as she pulled the box onto her lap, the first note she picked up caught her eye and she began to read ...
Sela mulled it over, and thought to herself that her mother had not been adopted, nor had her grandparents. She had seen holos of her mom's family and they all looked very much alike, resembling one another quite strongly. In addition, Dareen Milson had told Sela that there had been no occurrences of Jedi in her family. They had had that discussion after Sela had come back from the MedCenter.
She reached over to take a sip of her tea and grimaced at the bitter taste of the brew long gone cold. But am *I* the one who is adopted? It might explain the deep bond she'd always had with Nia Ponsed. Remembering Nia's recent outbursts about "being a freak" among her family and friends, Sela wondered if knowing that her mother had been adopted might actually make her daughter feel better ... or worse?
"Either way, I need to know more about my past," she said out loud, reaching for her comlink.
* * * * *
Dareen Milson sighed as she climbed over boxes to reach her comlink. "Hello?"
"Hi, Mom. It's me."
"Sela! Darling!" Dareen's fatigue from unpacking vanished in her delight at hearing her daughter's voice. "How are the children?"
She had just moved to Coruscant to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. She had arrived just in time to hear about her grandson's accident. She had been shocked, but greatly relieved at what had happened, even if no one could understand what Nia had done to save her brother. Sela and Derek had told her everything they knew, which wasn't much.
"The children are fine, Mom. Serren is much better, and they are very glad you've moved here. In fact, I think Serren's improved since we've talked to him about going to Grandma's. Be careful Mom, the kids have all sorts of plans for Grandma to spoil them."
Dareen laughed. "Of course I will! That's what grandmothers are for."
"Can I come over, Mom? I need to talk to you."
Dareen sensed the urgency of Sela's request. "Of course you can, Darling. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I just want to talk. And I can help you unpack, too."
"All right. Watch out for the third level turn about a kilometer from here, I heard there was an accident, so be careful."
"Thanks, Mom. I'll be there soon."
Thankful for the break from unpacking, Dareen went to her small kitchen and pulled out two mugs and some cake in preparation for her favorite visitor, and wondered what was bothering Sela so much that she couldn't wait to talk to her mother.
* * * * *
"Hi Mom," Sela said as she stepped into her mother's small apartment. "I brought you something so you wouldn't have to cook tonight with all your kitchen things still in boxes."
"Thank you, Darling," Dareen said taking the dish and walking toward the kitchen. "Come into the kitchen, the 'droid movers put the big furniture out already, so at least we have a place to sit down. I've made us some tea, and I have some cake. Not mine, unfortunately, but the shop downlevel seems respectable, thought I'd try it." She busied herself for a few moments serving the snack, then sat down. "Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"
Sela took a sip of her tea, steeling herself to broach a subject she knew might hurt her mother, "Mom, I know everyone says we look alike ... but was I ... I mean, I'm not adopted, am I?"
Dareen Milson gasped mid-sip. As Sela sprang up to rub her mother's back, the older woman waved her to sit, "I'm fine!" She coughed for a few minutes before she settled down enough to take another sip of her tea, "Oh, there, that's better. What in this galaxy made you think you were adopted??"
"I'm sorry, Mom! It's just ... I had a hard day at work with some adoptions, and the awful stuff that's going on with Nia, and ..."
Dareen laughed, "I see, a syndrome of your job! Really now, most children go through this phase before their teens. No, you're not, dear. I assure you, without any shadow of a doubt, that you are the one and only genetic child of me and your father, QuiNan Milson, rest his soul."
Well, that could have gone a lot better, thought Sela, "Actually, I was hoping you could also tell me about Daddy." She chewed her lip for a moment, then went on. "I know it hurts you to talk about him, Mom, but I really need to know."
Her heart contracted as she saw her mother quickly bow her head to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes. "I'm so sorry, Mom."
Dareen looked back up at her daughter with a fragile smile. "No. It's all right, Darling. But why now? I knew sooner or later you would want to know more about your father. Frankly, I thought it would be sooner." She took a sip of her tea and a bite of cake to try to restore her equilibrium, still coughing a bit, this time to hide a little sob.
Sela's gazed into her tea for a moment as she digested her mother's words. Then she smiled. "I'm kind of surprised I didn't ask sooner, too. I know you told me about how much he loved us and that he told you to take me and run just before he was arrested, but you never told me anything about him. Did he ever tell you anything about where he came from? Who his parents were?"
Dareen reached over to take her daughter's hand. "This isn't about some occupational syndrome, is it ... this is because of what happened with Serren and Nia, isn't it?"
"I'm not really certain, Mom. I think so, but I can't make the pieces fit. At work today, the adoption I was working on for Gavin and Sera fell apart. I had to take the two Bothan children that they were fostering away from them immediately. A Bothan woman suddenly came with complete, unchallengeable documentation to adopt them on the spot and take them off-planet. Nothing I could say or do moved her to delay long enough for the Darklighters to say goodbye to the children properly. I cried all the way back from the spaceport to the office. And I've been having those "growing pain" problems with Nia, as you call them. When I got home a little while ago, I saw the box of letters Nia Ponsed had written to me after Atrivis before she was killed. I was tidying up the letters that my Nia left out, and the very first letter I picked up was the one where Nia Ponsed had told me that she had been adopted."
Sela paused for a moment before going on. "Nia Ponsed's Jedi healing gift came from her genetic parents. That has to be it. It got me thinking about where our Nia's gift came from. When Luke Skywalker discovered her talent, he tested me at the same time, but said that my ability to touch the Force was much weaker. And Derek has no Force sensitivity in himself or his family, that he knows of. So Nia's gift must have come to her through me, but how?" She looked into her mother's eyes. "So ... I followed the line of thought ... and if I'm not adopted, was Daddy?"
Dareen thought for a moment before answering. "He never really told me much about his family. His parents were killed in a speeder accident before I had a chance to meet them." She stood up and went over to the jumble of boxes in the living room talking to Sela over her shoulder as she went. "There is a box here somewhere of some things that belonged to your father. Maybe there is something in it that will help you find out what you and Nia need to know."
She rummaged through the boxes till she found what she was looking for. "A-ha! Here it is."
"Thanks, Mom," Sela took the rather light sealed container and sat down on the floor to look at the contents. She smiled as she came across holos of herself giggling in her father's arms being swung high in the air at a family picnic. Sela did not remember the event itself, but smiled knowing that they had once been happy as a rather normal family. She understood Nia's desire to be normal, not having experienced it herself while growing up. She wiped her eyes, realizing her mother had done the best she could under arduous conditions; though there were many low points, in truth, Sela knew she would not change a thing. She was who she was for the good, as well as the bad.
In another holo, she recognized Serren's smile and coloring in her father's face. She found some hololetter discs her mother had written to him fastened together in a packet. "Here, Mom. I think you should have these," she said handing the packet to her mother with a smile.
A much-folded thin piece of flimsi turned out to be an article from an old-fashioned style of school newspaper. "Listen to this, Mom," she began to read the squishy little letters off the flimsi, "QuiNan 'The Leonine' Milson roared through the Comets' defense as if it wasn't even there, securing the Blazers' place in the regional zoneball finals. "The 'Leonine' will have no trouble making any Academy team as a freshman next year," Coach Marigas said on the local Holonews coverage of the victory celebration."
Sela held the flimsi up close to examine the picture of her father, the prep school zoneball star. "QuiNan 'The Leonine' Milson celebrating the victory with his older brother, former Blazers star RigaRios 'The Rocket' Milson." Sela read from the caption of the picture. She turned to her mother in surprise, "Daddy has a brother?"
"Yes, dear. He does. Your father and I met at the University. Our courtship was a whirlwind, which seems to be a family trait for us," she said smiling, remembering the quick courtship and almost instant wedding between Sela and Derek. "Your father proposed to me and when I accepted, he didn't want to wait. Just like you and Derek! He told me to call my best friend and tell her to meet us at the registry office to be my witness. When we got there, we went over to a dark-haired young man who was waiting outside the office. He introduced him to me as RigaRios and told me that he was his older brother. Things appeared to be strained between them and there was an aggressive tension between them. But RigaRios stood up with your father as his witness. For some reason we never discussed, we lost touch with him."
"Well, I've learned one thing already," Sela said with a smile. "I have an uncle who can tell me more about my father."
Dareen returned her smile with a sad one of her own. "Yes, he could if he were willing. Your father never said an unkind word about him, but I got the strong, distinct impression that RigaRios believed your grandparents favored your father."
The older woman sighed, looking suddenly much older, "I'm sorry, it simply slipped my mind, I didn't meant to keep that information from you all this time. Truthfully, I haven't thought of him in years. If you do find him, I hope you will be able to get past his bitterness to find the answers you need. I'm afraid there was a strong rivalry between your father and his brother, though I never found out why or how long it had been going on. He was cold to me, not quite rude, but during the little wedding ceremony, I could feel him staring hard at me, like he disapproved. So ... I had nothing to do with him after that day."
Just then the doorbell rang. Dareen stood up and went to answer it. "Derek! What are you doing here?"
Hobbie Klivian kissed his mother-in-law's cheek, then smiled looking past her shoulder. "I came looking for my wife; she's M.I.A."
Sela stood up smiling at the sound of her husband's voice and came over to greet him. "Hello, Sweetheart. Did your debriefing end early?"
"Oh, that was over quickly. Wedge asked us to go through some sims with new equipment, but I got vaped so I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off," he said laughing at himself. "Jehri called me worried because you had left work early and your comlink was off."
Sela gasped and looked at her chrono. "I had no idea it was so late. I was supposed to pick them up an hour ago! We'd better go!" Remembering her promise to her daughter, she started scrambling to get her things together, but Hobbie stopped her with an embrace.
"Relax. I said we would be there soon to get them. I even talked to Nia, she's fine with it. Apparently, she and Gunner were having a great time, didn't want us to get her yet, anyway. What have you two been up to? What's that you have there?" he asked indicating the still-open box on the floor.
"Oh ... I did have a pretty horrible day at work today. And Nia was being a bit cranky, too. It all came together in some odd way, and I ended up thinking about Nia and her gift ... I'll tell you about it later." She turned to her mother, "Sorry, Mom, I have to go now, but I'll come back tomorrow to help you finish unpacking."
"Bring the children. They can help Grandma decide how to arrange her things so they can find them."
Sela smiled. "They'll love that." She lifted the box that her husband had inquired about. "May I take this?"
"Of course, Dear. I think you should keep it. At least until you find what you are looking for."
* * * * *
The door to the senior pilots' lounge slid aside admitting Tycho Celchu and Derek "Hobbie" Klivian. The two men had been overseeing new elite pilot recruits, and interviews were always arduous. They were taking a break, leaving Wes Janson and Myn Donos to take over for another few hours. This sort of work really couldn't be done for any sustained length of time. Wes had jokingly compared it to disarming bombs and mines. Tycho grumbled that it was no joke.
They each grabbed a sandwich and caf and flopped back onto sofas that were actually reclaimed pilot couches. Even though Star Command had released funds to furnish the lounge properly, the pilots voted to donate the funds to an orphans' charity and keep the old seats. There was nothing like it to coddle a tired pilot's body, and the way the couch wrapped around, turning it toward the wall conferred privacy if that was preferred.
"So let's not talk about this morning, Hobs ... how are things at home? Serren recovering okay?" Tycho unwrapped his sandwich and made a face after sniffing at it.
Hobbie didn't hesitate -- he'd learned not to test the food before putting it in his mouth, "Oh, yeah, all better. Luke came to see us after the incident, seems he feels Nia should go to the Jedi Academy."
Tycho raised his eyebrows, "You going to let her?"
Hobbie nodded, "Sort of, she'll be tutored and living at home for now, Nia isn't really ready; I agree with Sela that her maturity level isn't quite there yet. Besides, Sela seems to need to do some research on where this talent came from before we can decide to let her go to Yavin 4. Like last night, I found Sela at her mom's. She found some of her father's papers in a box, and it turns out she has an uncle she never knew about before. There was like an old-fashioned newsletter article, showing her father and his brother after her father won the regional finals for some exclusive prep school on Alderaan."
Tycho looked up at Hobbie, "I didn't know Sela was from Alderaan."
"Yes," Hobbie answered in surprise. "Didn't I ever tell you? Her mother took her and ran after her father was arrested. Fairly common thing to have happened back then. It got them off-planet, thank the stars."
"Is Milson their original name? Or did they change it when they ran?" Tycho decided to bite his sandwich after all. He immediately regretted it, but kept chewing anyway.
Hobbie nodded, swilling the caf in its mug before taking a big swallow. "Yeah, the caption on the holo referred to them as 'Lionine' and 'Rocket,' but she told me their real names were QuiNan and RigaRios Milson."
"Really? You sure? I know a guy called RigaRios Milson," he put his sandwich down, "He worked for my dad as Controller of the HoloNet company. He was on Coruscant when the Death Star came, stayed on planet for the duration of the Galactic Civil War."
Hobbie had gotten up to pour some more caf for himself, but stopped mid-stride, "You're kidding! Is Milson a common name on Alderaan?"
"Did you see the holo? Tall guy, dark features, big bones, lanky?"
"Yeah, that's him. Kind of a sour looking fellow, but it's kind of hard to tell because it wasn't a holo. It was an ink image on flimsi. Sela's dad was a more cheerful looking guy, especially in comparison."
"Milson is a common enough name, but RigaRios isn't. I know Milson met my father in a prep school, they went to commerce school together. It's probably him, come to think of it, but I can't be really sure -- I mean, he doesn't look anything like Sela. I would hate to be wrong, but maybe it's worth contacting him if Sela is looking for family information," Tycho handed Hobbie his mug, indicating he wanted some more caf, too.
"Do you know where he is?" Hobbie burned his fingers grabbing the cafpot the wrong way and hopped around, swearing at himself.
Tycho smiled at Hobbie's clumsiness, "Yeah, I had to contact him when I was putting my case before the Alderaan Forum when Winter and I were preparing to get married, you remember? He's grumpier than ever. I mean, he was always kind of a sour guy, but he was actively nasty. In the end, I didn't get any useful information out of him, and I haven't heard from him since. If Sela wants to go see him, you'd best tell her to be prepared for disappointment. Tell her to wear the thick skin, too."
"Yeah? What made him so mean?" Hobbie was wiping up the mess he'd made when he dropped the cafpot.
"Dunno," Tycho watched the cleanup, "he was always like that, ever since I was a little kid. Everyone avoided him, but he was a genius with accounting and operations. You want me to call him and ask if he's available today? If he is, why don't you take the rest of the break and go with her? She really shouldn't go alone. I mean it, he's really a grump."
"But what about the recruits?"
Tycho smiled, "Bror is on planet now, bringing some pilots with him from the Thyferran group. I'll make him help me."
"Thanks," Hobbie gave up trying to mop up all the drips, "I'll com Sela now. And thanks for telling Bror to clean up my mess?"
* * * * *
Sela nervously knocked on the door of a very tidily manicured free-standing cottage on the top level of Coruscant. Her husband commented on how wealthy "Rocket" must be to afford such a plot. Sela was going over what she would say to her uncle, and didn't really register Hobbie's observation.
No one came to the door for such a long time that the couple wondered if they had the right place. Suddenly the door hissed open and a big man filled the space. "What do you want?"
She stuck out her hand, but the man didn't take it, "I'm sorry to bother you. Colonel Tycho Celchu said you would see me. I'm your niece, Sela Milson; QuiNan is my father. This is my husband, Derek." She opted to give her maiden name, since the man would not recognize her married surname.
The man glowered at her, "You're not my niece. QuiNan and I grew up under the same roof, but he's no brother of mine. I repeat, what do you want?"
Sela kept her resolve, "I was hoping to talk to you about him, and about your family. I don't know much about this side of my family. May we go inside?"
In answer, the man stepped forward of the threshold and activated the door lock. He put his hands on his hips, his feet spread about two feet apart. It was clearly a "you are not coming inside" gesture. Tycho was right, Hobbie was trying not to show his boiling anger, This guy's a complete ass, what's up with him? How dare he be so rude to Sela! His wife had asked him to leave it to her, but he had to fight the urge to slug the guy.
"He's not my brother, you're not my niece. If he says you are, he's a filthy liar," his voice was deep and powerful with dislike, "he knows he's a foundling, completely unwanted. Why would he tell you otherwise?"
Sela gasped, Oh ... my father ... he was adopted after all! It makes sense now ... Her mind jumped to Nia Ponsed's letter, outlining her own adoption to elderly parents.
Seeing her response, the man barked out, "What? He didn't tell you? Hah! He's always been the golden boy, probably doesn't want his little girl to think otherwise. How do you like that!"
Hobbie couldn't contain himself anymore, and stepped forward before Sela could stop him, his index finger shoving into the man's chest, "I don't care how much you didn't get along, you show some respect to a dead man and to his daughter!"
The man pushed Hobbie away from him and stared as if Sela's husband had suddenly grew two heads, "I'm not dead yet! Are you threatening me?"
Sela put her hand on her husband's arm, suddenly understanding, "I think you might not realize, sir. My father has been dead nearly all my life. I have no information about him, that's why I'm seeking you out."
The big man's demeanor radically shifted, "Dead? When? How?"
Hobbie started, He doesn't know??
"He was arrested for some undocumented reason," she stepped closer to her uncle, "I believe he died in prison. Do you have any idea why he was taken?"
The man couldn't answer her, his mouth opening and closing without any sound. His expression had changed completely from one of anger to one of stunned shock.
Sela tried again, "Could we step inside?"
The man made a choking noise and backed into his doorway. The entry seal opened and he ran in quickly, locking the door behind him, not admitting Sela or Hobbie.
They stood staring at the door, and then at each other. The tension didn't dissipate, instead just turning into a churning confusion. With a tiny hiccup, Sela burst into tears.
* * * * *
Hobbie had put his wife to bed, recognizing her state of mind from meeting a man who emphatically and nastily disowned any relationship to her. He gave her a mild sleeping draught; it had been an emotional two days. He whispered to her that he'd feed the kids, just rest now.
He and the kids had a small repertoire of dishes they cooked together when Sela had to be away or was ill. They tended to fall into a category called "man-can" casseroles -- something even a man can make -- and it had to be easy, quick, and light on cleanup. He liked handing a can and opener to one child, letting the other child drain and dump the contents into a baking dish or pan, then baking it. They stood at the kitchen counter and ate straight out of the baking pan, not bothering with plates. They loved it, and swore each other to secrecy so that Sela would never know! Hobbie enjoyed sharing this harmless secret with his daughter and son.
In mid-scoop, the door alarm rang. Hobbie opened the door and was surprised to see his former squadronmate, Bror Jace. "Jace! Sithspit, I forgo-"
"Do you kiss your wife with that mouth?" the handsome blond was leaning up against the doorway, "Tycho said, 'just fill in till Hobbie gets back' and I end up being stuck interviewing Rogue wannabes for two shifts! You going to invite me in? After all, I just came over to make sure you were okay. Your comlink's off."
Hobbie laughed and pulled the handsome Thyferran into his home, "We're just having a "man-can" dinner, interested? Kids, meet Bror Jace! He and I used to fly together."
Bror shook each child's hand, then handed each one a small wrapped package. Squealing, they begged Hobbie for permission to open them? He consented and each was rewarded with a small toy each. Hobbie could see they were hand-carved and multi-limbed. Bror was on the floor with them, showing them how to spin the toy so it skittered across the floor and partway up the wall before leaping off onto the floor with a clatter.
As the two kids squealed and chased the toys, Hobbie noticed with interest that there were times when Nia turned into a girl again. Some days she was a bitter teenager, some days a generous young woman, and at times like now, she was the innocent and delightful child he and Sela had been so proud to have had. She's not ready to leave home, he thought as he watched, Sela's right, she's still a baby ...
The children happily laughed at the spinning thing and Hobbie huffed, "Gee, thanks. Noisy things for my children, more stuff I can step on and hurt myself with!"
Bror straightened up, "Don't mention it, glad to oblige. And yes, I want some man-can." Hobbie simply handed him a spoon and the two men stood at the counter and dug in, ignoring the playing children in the background.
"So where were you?" Bror appeared to really enjoy the goopy mess Hobbie had made. The Thyferran headed the Xucphra entity, responsible for production of most of the Bacta in the galaxy. Hobbie had used to think that the rich boy would eschew such a homey dish, but he had been wrong.
In mid-bite, Hobbie started talking, "Sorry, really I am. Sela and I went to see a guy whom she thought was her father's brother. This guy denied it, yet it was obvious he was. He was incredibly nasty to her about it, too. She was really wiped out from dealing with him, I put her to bed early. Thus this dinner, see?"
Bror, making himself at home, found a lomin in the chiller, "Wow, that stinks. Why'd he deny it?"
Hobbie shrugged, "Who knows? Tycho knew him, he warned me that he was a really sour guy. Maybe he's just a jerk."
"Tycho knew him? Oh yeah, we talked about him between interviews, you mean Dr. Milson?"
"Dr. Milson? His name is Riga-something ... Sela says he was called "Rocket" -- a nickname from school. He was a zoneball player." Hobbie handed Bror a glass.
Bror nodded, "Yeah, that's him. I took some economics classes with him when I was taking business courses before the march," referring to the time before Wedge Antilles and his pilots liberated Coruscant from Ysanne Isard, "I know he's gruff, but he's really a smart guy, and actually a good one under that pile of sour."
"Wow, this is crazy. Sela never knew she had an uncle, and now I find out you and Tych both know him." Hobbie wondered if he should wake his wife up to talk to Bror.
"Not too many people know this -- Tycho didn't -- but he's a genius in his own way, very creative. He could move credits around, shift it where you need it to be, and you'd never detect it. I know he helped Tycho's father fund a bunch of Alliance activities in complete secrecy. Milson told me that even after the Core HoloNet company was taken over by the Empire, the Imperial auditors never found anything fishy about their finances. We all know now that Tycho's dad donated a ton of money. That's not an easy thing to do, and he never took any glory for it."
Hobbie whistled, "So he's not pro-Empire?"
"Nah," Bror put his spoon down, "completely the opposite. And he's a great lecturer. He was one of the few teachers I kept in touch with, on and off, after graduation."
The two men continued to talk about other things, catching up on events and business. Hobbie convinced Bror to stay in his guest room for the night, especially after the guest gave ponyrides to both kids and convinced them to get into bed without any protest -- that act in itself deserved Hobbie's gratitude. Besides, he wanted Sela to talk to Bror about this mysterious Dr. "Rocket" Milson.
* * * * *
At work the next day, Sela pondered what Bror Jace had told her over breakfast about her uncle, and what RigaRios Milson had said about her father the day before. For the third day in a row, she was having a hard time putting her mind to her work, and decided to do some mindless filing, since she didn't seem to be able to concentrate on other work. So when her comlink sounded, she was able to answer it immediately.
"Is this Sela Milson?" The voice was deep and wavered a bit.
No one these days knew her or every referred to her as Sela Milson ... except for the unpleasant man she'd met yesterday. "Professor Milson? Is that you?"
"Meet me in twenty minutes at the Alderaan Forum Park," referring to an indoor greenhouse that grew plants from the destroyed planet. "Please come for lunch." Then there was just dead air.
She sat in her chair, resting her forehead against the desk, and her boss's voice sounded far away, "Sela? Are you feeling unwell?"
Sela lifted her head to look at her boss, "I'm fine, I think. Will it be okay if I take a long lunch today? I'm afraid something came up suddenly which I have to attend to."
Marva Darrens looked quizzically her employee, "I guess. But you honestly don't look so good. Are you expecting again?"
Sela laughed, "No ... no! I'll be okay. Thanks, I'll explain when I get back, I have to hurry." And then she was gone.
* * * * *
Sela sat on a bench facing the entrance of the park, wondering if she misunderstood the man's message. Hadn't he invited her to lunch? Perhaps she should have bought something en route, but she didn't want to be late. She was afraid of missing him so didn't move from her vantage point, even to buy something from the food kiosk at the back of the lobby. She deliberately sat near the directory and welcome sign posted by the entrance. Having never been to this park before, she wanted to read the messages, but didn't dare pull her eyes from the front doors.
Finally, she saw him outside the transparasteel door, waving at her to come to him. Even as she realized she might be putting herself in personal danger, she obeyed. RigaRios Milson had a lot of information, she was sure of it. If she passed on this opportunity to talk to him, who knows if he'd ever allow her near him again?
She hesitated briefly before stepping into his late model speeder, realizing that no one knew where she was at this moment. Sela thought about leaving a message for her husband, but didn't want to antagonize her uncle, so crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. She didn't recall Tycho or Bror saying anything about him being abusive or violent, he was simply crabby. Besides, both men seemed to respect him enormously.
They pulled in front of the entrance of what turned out to be a college club, a private members-only institution which catered to alumni and staff of a Coruscant school of higher education. Sela recognized the name from her conversation with Bror Jace that morning. The staff of the club seemed to recognize her uncle, and were obsequiously polite to him. Perhaps they are afraid of his temper, too.
Seated at a large table covered with a heavily starched white cloth and heavy, elegant cutlery, Sela realized this must be a men's club. There were very few women, and they were all seated with other men. The tables were set far enough apart that if you kept your voice low, you would not be heard by adjacent table occupants. She sat up straight, determined not to embarrass herself.
"I apologize for my attitude yesterday," the man finally spoke, "and for disappearing suddenly. I am not a man given over to public displays of emotion and your news about QuiNan upset me more than I care to admit." She saw his eyes were bright, and that his gruff manner might be hiding a soft heart. She simply nodded in response.
"I am also sorry I denied you are my niece. I should explain that legally, yes you might be my niece. But as I told you, QuiNan is a foundling. I was only three when it happened, but I remember it very clearly." He took a sip from the crystal water glass, pausing to give an order to the waiter. She was intrigued that he belonged to a club that actually employed sentient beings rather than 'droids as servers.
Finished with the human waiter, RigaRios continued, "I was asleep, our door alarm sounded in the dead of night. I woke up and tried to look out the window, but I could only hear voices." He smiled at her, "I was precocious, I was talking and comprehending adults by then." Sela nodded again, not wanting to interrupt him.
"I remember an old woman, I saw the top of her cloak hood from where I stood. Somehow, I knew that I should remain quiet, that she was important. I heard her telling my mother to take the baby and raise it, and to not reveal how it had come to them. I remember she suggested that baby be named QuiNan, but she didn't say why. She murmured something, then she turned to go. I saw her drawing her hood up as she left, she must have taken it off while talking to my folks." He coughed, which Sela recognized as cover against a sob. "She had enormous earlobes, I remember ... and a mark on her head, and absolutely no hair. The mark looked like it was carved right into her scalp. It terrified me."
Their food came and Sela realized she was very hungry. She waited till he picked up his utensil to start eating, as she knew was proper. They consumed their food wordlessly.
When their plates were cleared away, he talked again, more slowly and quietly than before, so Sela had to lean forward to hear him, "The next morning, my parents told me what a lucky boy I was to have a new brother to look after and care for. They made me hold him." He drummed his fingers on the table, furrowing his brow, as if wondering if he should continue.
"Thank you," Sela understood now. RigaRios's life changed unalterably overnight, without any preparation or warning. The older brother resented her father's intrusion into his perfect life; she knew her grandparents were old when they had children, so RigaRios would have been pampered and spoiled. The prince of the family suddenly had to share the limelight, and what's worse, was told the new sibling was his responsibility.
The big man wiped a tear that had escaped his eye, then gestured to the waiter and ordered dessert and caf for both of them. She thought it interesting that he never once asked her if she wanted to eat anything specific. It seems he's a lifetime bachelor, Sela looked with interest, trying to discern other clues about this mysterious man.
"So tell me about you, niece." Sela smiled at his reference to her. It may have sounded rude to someone else's ears, but with a single word, he indicated that he accepted her now.
She filled him in on her life since her father's death, making sure to not dwell too long on any one thing. Her uncle listened intently and stopped her when she got to the part about her mother selling her home and moving to Coruscant. "Dareen -- your mother -- she's living on-planet?"
"Yes, Uncle." Sela suddenly realized she had not told him her mother's name; his memory must be very good to recall it, three decades after he was best man at her father's wedding, and she told him so.
RigaRios's face softened and his voice lowered to a whisper, almost as if he was talking to himself and not to her, "I've thought about her almost every day. I could never forget her. I wish she had come to me when QuiNan was taken."
Sela studied her uncle's face carefully. This is unexpected! She kept quiet, realizing he preferred to speak at his own pace.
"You father was very handsome, very athletic. Spit, he was more than that, he was superhuman! It's not that he was exceptionally smart in school, but he could guess which questions would show up on exams and just study those. He could always get people to come around to his way of thinking, often miraculously." RigaRios shook his head, "Never me though. He wouldn't dare use his special abilities against me. He knew I was bigger and smarter. But there was something about him that enabled him to do better than me -- in everything. I guess he might not have known how I felt, but I thought he'd married Dareen Cryhes because he knew I ... She was the only ..."
Flustered, Sela's uncle cleared his throat, and sat silently while the server poured more caf into fine porcelain cup. "QuiNan could fix anything, he had a gift, it was true. He could heal animals, people, he could fix speeders, plants. It was miraculous," RigaRios blotted his eyes again, "But he couldn't bring our folks back from the dead. We didn't talk much after Momma and Poppa died. Our parents were the glue that bound us, and without them, it all fell apart."
Stirring the contents of his cup listlessly, "Obviously, you have guessed that your father and I never had a close relationship," he looked sad now, "but he rubbed it in my face by asking me to be his ... best man ..." The big man had to stop and wipe his eyes.
"I never spoke to him again after that."
* * * * *
"You telling your mom?" Hobbie and Sela were sitting on the floor in front of the comfortable sofa of their living room. They did this every time they needed to discuss something privately. They somehow felt more secure, more in their own little world. Hobbie was referring to the information Sela gleaned during her long lunch meeting with RigaRios Milson.
"No," replied Sela, "I figure I could invite my uncle over when Mom's place is tidied up, and let him do his own wetwork." Hobbie grinned at the earthy expression his normally dainty wife was using.
"So what's next?" Hobbie was still fascinated by the unfolding story of Sela's father.
Sela looked thoughtful, "Well, it seems pretty obvious that my father had Jedi abilities. RigaRios knew it, too. He even said Daddy could heal anything -- people, animals, even plants. That's clearly the source of our Nia's abilities."
Derek nodded, "So you think his arrest had anything to do with his Force sensitivity? It coincides with the initial years of the Jedi purge when Palpatine came into power."
"Yes," she answered slowly, "I don't have any evidence that he was executed, but it feels like the right answer. It's just a feeling, I don't think that he simply died in prison, as the documents claim. I feel they actively sought him ... I ... I don't know why, but I don't think he even reached prisoner processing. I'm sorry, I can't explain it ..."
He shrugged, "Believe it or not, that's how Luke always described his hunches. They were just feelings, but when he followed them through, he was always right. It wasn't always big stuff either. Sometimes it was tiny whispers he said, like that he needed to change his underwear because he won't have time to change it later. Stuff like that."
Sela laughed at her husband's description of Master Skywalker's connection to the Force, "That's right ... I've heard that about Luke." The mood immediately became lighter, which was the desired effect.
Putting his arm around his wife, Derek ribbed her some more, "Well, you're the one through whom the Force flows in this family. Get used to it! You may not have enough to be a Jedi, but you're the conduit. So tell me more about his once-crabby man who turned into your uncle today?"
Thankful for the change in topic, Sela dimpled at the way her husband had described RigaRios Milson's transformation, "Well, he wants to see you and the kids soon. I told him I needed time to break the information to Serren and Nia that their grandfather had a brother, but more than that, I need to get comfortable with this. I cannot believe I have an uncle! Mom never even told me!"
Derek patted his wife's knee, "Don't be too hard on the old girl." He was very fond of Dareen Milson, "And what about our Nia? Think she'll take this discovery of an adopted Jedi grandfather and a new, not-blood-related uncle as further evidence that we are trying to make her less "normal" than her friends?" He was referring to a string of what he considered to be hormone-induced tantrums their daughter had been having, apparently in response to news about herself that she simply didn't understand. Nia was uncomfortable that her parents didn't understand these abilities either, and had simply concluded that they were lying to her for some unknown, conspiratorial reason. Dareen had shrugged it off to puberty; after all, Luke Skywalker had warned them her abilities might manifest themselves more strongly at the onset of that tumultuous change of life.
Sela leaned her head on her husband's shoulder, "It hasn't been easy for Nia, has it? I know it's because she's growing into a young woman, that she's no longer our baby ... I know it's normal. But Derek, I'm just not ready for it. And I'm afraid she'll freak out again and say stuff she doesn't mean -- I know I should expect it, but it hurts so badly when she does that. I mean, I'm ready to scream myself into oblivion half the time ..."
Her husband put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head, "Well, in case you feel like freaking out, just remember that I will always love you, and I will always love her, too. Even if you all go freaky and hormonal on me. I just reserve the right to not like either of you that much at that moment. Don't worry, I'm sure the feeling will be temporary in all cases!"
Sela nuzzled up to her husband's shoulder. "Sweet talker," she murmured.
* * * * *
Unobserved by the couple, their daughter had gotten out of bed to use the refresher and had heard their voices and decided to eavesdrop. She hadn't understood the conversation until the end. Nia Klivian stood very still, not breathing. She suddenly felt as if she knew everything about her past she ever needed to know. As she watched her parents hug one another, she felt very warm and very lucky to be their child.
* * * * *
"Professor Milson? You are related to Professor Milson?" Sela thought she should be getting used to her newfound relative being famous. Now her boss seemed to know him.
"No kidding? He was a great sociology prof, I met him during a workshop," Marva seemed in awe. "Tough as krayt dragon hide, unyielding, and smart, really really smart. No wonder where you get it from!" Sela decided to take this statement as a compliment; after all, it was no business of Marva's that the professor shared no genetic relationship to Sela. She simply owed Marva an explanation of why she left mysterious for lunch the day before and then hadn't returned. She'd already promised to make up the time by picking up some orphans on the other side of the planet that weekend. Marva smiled at her and told her that was unnecessary.
They were interrupted by the door chime, and a petite, willowy figure entered. She was wearing the traditional robes of the Jedi.
"Sela Klivian? Is that you? I'm Tionne Solusar; Luke Skywalker told me I could find you here."
Sela stood up at the mention of Master Skywalker's name, then remembered that Tionne and her husband Kam headed the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. Sela hadn't yet met the woman, and was wondering if she was here to talk to her about her daughter, Nia.
As they shook hands, Tionne got right to the point, "Let me put your mind at ease, Sela. I'm not here to convince you about your daughter; I am here to talk to you about children, however. May I sit down?"
Embarrassed at being so transparent, Sela lead the fair-haired woman to the reception room. Sela's boss followed shortly after with a tray of refreshments, assuming -- correctly -- that Tionne was here about an adoption, in some capacity.
As Tionne sipped the herbal tea, she explained that she and Kam had wanted a family, but they had had no luck in conceiving children. Kam had been taken from his parents when young, and trained by Palpatine as a Dark Side Jedi; as an adult, he recanted and helped Skywalker hunt down the Emperor Reborn. He was, along with Corran Horn, Tionne and others, one of the founding students of the Jedi Academy.
"Kam and I have talked it over and meditated for many years. The Force seems to call us to have children, yet it has not seen fit to give us one. We thought this meant that the Jedi Academy students would be our 'children.' But over time, we know that's only part of our mission. I was discussing this with Luke and he told me about your work and your background. He suggested I come see you while I'm here." Tionne spoke softly, with great emotion.
Sela and Marva had seen this many times before, but never yet from a Jedi Knight. There were many orphans as the result of the Galactic Civil War, but also many parents who had lost children, or were rendered unable to have children -- from stress, chemical attack, or just from uncertainty. People didn't want to bring children into a war-torn galaxy, and as they grew older, realized they had missed their chance to have children at all. Or orphans themselves preferred to raise a child already living, than to conceive a child of their own. Adoption was a viable option for many of these people.
"Excuse me for my ignorance, Tionne," Marva finally spoke, "but from what I recall about my readings of the old Jedi Order, weren't they forbidden possessions or family attachments? I know you mentioned you are married to Master Solusar, but I just wanted to clarify that this is not a problem?"
Tionne nodded, "Yes, for some previous orders of Jedi, there is documentation that they were forbidden possessions or attachment -- though great and limitless compassion was expected of them. Theirs, like ours, was ideally a life of selfless service. But times have changed, situations have changed, and Master Skywalker has decided that as part of the healing, and because so many Jedi had been killed, that this requirement must be very flexible. For instance, Kam and I own nothing; we live for the service of the Academy. But we were allowed to marry -- we had the first official Jedi ceremony for marriage -- and are allowed to follow our feelings in the Force regarding family and suitable possessions. Each Jedi must find their own balance.
"But as I have told you, we have been yearning for a family, yet cannot seem to conceive our own. We would like to adopt."
"Wouldn't a child of yours need to be Force-sensitive?" As Marva questioned the Jedi, Sela wondered if there were many Force-sensitive children. Then she rather abruptly spilled her tea all over the table.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, using her serviette to mop of the spill, "I'm sorry! Tionne, I'm not being judgmental, but I just had a thought -- is there a Jedi tradition of adopting out Force-sensitive children?"
Tionne didn't look surprised, but she looked down and adjusted her robes. As she did so, Sela noticed the brooch that served as a clasp near the collar, and wondered where she had seen it before.
"Yes, Marva," Tionne spoke more softly than before, "optimally, Kam and I know that we should raise Force-sensitive children. Our whole lives are in service to the Force and those who serve it. For our own children to not understand it might be very difficult for them, as well as for us. As for Sela's question," she paused to sip from her tea mug again.
"Your question ... it's not common knowledge; I had only come across any documentation of this myself only recently. But yes, it appears that a large percentage of Force-sensitive children that came to the attention of past orders of Jedi had been adopted children, or the children of adopted children. It seems that the Force somehow caused these children to be separated by their birth parents. I don't yet know what this means, but yes, Sela, that tendency seems to exist, though not in an apparent official sense." She lowered her eyes, her lashes flickering and becoming moist, "Frankly, it's this discovery in my research that convinced me that Kam and I need to adopt children."
Sela continued to stare at the cloak-clasp that Tionne had let dangle open. It was rounded and the design was looped like a ribbon, with two cabochons embedded in the silvery metal. It seemed a very soothing thing to rub your fingers against, especially if you needed to calm yourself.
Tionne had been speaking as Sela studied her brooch, "... species is irrelevant. I have heard from Gavin Darklighter that adopting Bothan children has been nearly impossible, but we are determined that if any children with any Force sensitivity are without parents, we'd like to be considered as candidates, regardless of their genetic, physical or mental profiles."
Marva continued to explain to Tionne the procedures and documentation necessary for same- and cross-species adoptions, and Sela excused herself from the room to answer a query coming through the general com. As she answered, she was still wondering why Tionne's jewelry tickled something in her brain.
* * * * *
Hobbie picked up his wife and Tionne from Sela's workplace. He thought to himself that he was used to -- and actually liked -- all this company coming over on short notice. It was just like old times. He'd insisted that Tionne stay with them while she was on planet; he promised to find transport for her to return to Yavin 4, as well.
"Tionne, you never change," gushed Hobbie, remembering that many years ago, he'd had a small crush on her. "How's Kam? He coming on planet, too? How long can you stay?" He loaded her small bag and cloak then held the door open for his guest to enter the speeder.
The Jedi kissed his cheek, smiling, "You're not so bad yourself, Derek! Marriage and fatherhood suits you well, I see. I was hoping to do some additional research while I'm here, so I think I would like to stay for a week -- but I wouldn't dream of staying with you for so long! Luke has-"
Both Sela and Hobbie interjected, protesting, "No! It's no trouble at all!"
Hobbie was especially firm, "We know you can stay with Leia and Han, but I'm being selfish here -- we want you to stay with us. The squadron hasn't seen you in ages, I know they'd love to see you, too."
"And Tionne ... I know you'd like to see Nia?" Sela was nervous about this, but she knew it was the right thing. "I know Luke has told you that we're not comfortable with Nia going off to the Academy at her young age ... I don't think you're here to 'work on us,' but your evaluation of Nia, and any advice you can give us ... would be so helpful. I'll have to warn you though, she has been a handful recently ..."
Tionne smiled at them, "You two are so cute ... yes, I'd be honored to accept your hospitality, and yes Hobbie, I'd love to see everyone again. Sela," she put a reassuring hand on the younger woman's shoulder, "I know about Luke's assessment of Nia, and though it's not my primary objective, I would be honored to be able to talk to her, too."
"Then it's settled!" Hobbie drove the speeder toward the foodmart, "We'll get some groceries and plan a party for tomorrow!"
* * * * *
As is traditional with a party among that group of friends, everyone brought something, or chipped in for the lomin. Sela and Hobbie's place was a popular venue for patio parties -- when Sela was first pregnant, they had moved into a bigger place that had the bonus of access to an outdoor deck that was as large as their home. Their unit backed onto an outdoor park, so the available space was much larger than their actual property line. Many of the Rogues and Jedi brought seating, or comfortably sat on the ground while the outdoor grill continuously created delicious smelling food for everyone to consume.
Children -- and in some cases, grandchildren -- of the men and women associated with Rogue Squadron attended. Having an outdoors area was a boon for them, as the noise the younger set made seemed diluted and less irritating when they were outside.
Sela had invited her uncle and her mother to the gathering. She knew RigaRios wanted to be introduced to their family, especially to her mother; it wasn't a complete surprise that he accepted enthusiastically. Sela felt he might feel safer in a larger gathering, and would be able to see Bror Jace and Tycho Celchu, whom he knew. She also invited Marva Darrens, who as her boss was very understanding of all the sudden absences Sela had imposed on the office, and Marva had also been a student of Dr. Milson. All in all, her uncle would have plenty of people around him who admired him, so he wouldn't feel out of place or hedged in. Plus, Sela was frankly curious about the oddly warm response he had when Sela had told him her mother was living on Coruscant.
The party was in full swing, with pilots and Jedi swapping outrageous adventure tales, children napping or climbing trees. Her uncle arrived late, and seemed quite shy about coming inside, but thankfully, Dareen Milson went up to him and took his hand to greet him. His big hands clasped hers tightly as he bent down to kiss his sister-in-law's cheek. The men and women who knew him went up to speak to him, and soon he was uncharacteristically smiling and chatting. And Sela did a double-take when she saw RigaRios and her mother sitting together on the sofa, their knees almost touching ...
It had grown chilly outside, but everyone was having such a good time that they simply put on cloaks and jackets and continued talking and joking. Sela went back inside with a trayful of spent glasses to put in the sanitizer and saw her mother, RigaRios, and her husband standing side by side at the window, staring at the same thing.
Sela stood behind them and followed their eyelines and realized they were all looking at Tionne. Or rather, they were looking at her throat.
They were all staring at the brooch Sela had noticed the day before.
* * * * *
There wasn't a lot of mess left outside, but things had to be washed down and brought inside, found items returned to their owners, garbage compacted, leftovers properly wrapped and stored. RigaRios had consented to stay overnight with them -- he and Sela's mother had not stopped talking to one another since he stepped in the door. It seemed they had too much catching up to do, and regretted all the time lost. The two were wiping down the outdoor furniture with Hobbie, while Sela, Nia and Tionne were attending to the food storage, washing and putting away. Serren was bothering his father and grandmother, and seemed quite taken with the big, gruff man who accompanied them. Hobbie later told his wife how broadly RigaRios had smiled when Serren referred to him as "Unca Roos."
Nia, who had been surprisingly polite and gracious the whole day, was the one to mention the attractive piece of jewelry Tionne wore on her cape. "Is it a Jedi symbol, Tionne?"
Tionne looked amused, "That's a good question. The answer is, I don't really know. I had first thought that it wasn't, but then I had too many second thoughts. I have no documented evidence, but I found it in some convent archives."
Sela took the opportunity her daughter had opened, "What archives are those, Tionne?"
The woman furrowed her brow, "Well, they appeared suddenly in the Jedi Temple excavations, and we think they were likely brought there, not original to the old Temple, meaning the convent wasn't located there. They're not so much official documents, as diaries and verbal interviews. You can tell that an archivist had been working on them, probably just prior to the Emperor's ascension. There were some artifacts, set about in an orderly fashion. This brooch was one of them. In fact, the symbol showed up several times in those archives. I started wearing it to help me discern what the records might be about. It seemed to have a certain power. This is what I was telling you about yesterday Sela, these were the records that helped me and Kam understand we wanted to adopt special children."
Tionne had removed the brooch from her outer garment and handed it to Nia to look at. The young girl traced the cursive shape with the tip of her finger, a simple continuous loop with two round stones embedded on opposite loops. It was made of metal, but it seemed organic and alive in Nia's hands. "It's beautiful. You know, I had a dream once, and I saw this shape. I think that's why I noticed it on your cloak, Tionne." Nia told her about seeing a vision of Nia Ponsed, the first woman whom her father had intended to marry, who had been a friend of the Milsons, too. Tionne nodded, vaguely remembering the red-haired nurse. In this vision, the long-dead woman had a mark on her chest, just below her collarbone, that Nia was sure the same as this brooch. "That's why I asked if it was a Jedi symbol."
Was that where I saw it before? Sela tried hard to remember the older Nia, but couldn't visualize her throat. Then suddenly, she saw the pendant necklace there -- the one Nia Ponsed mentioned in her letter!
"You didn't tell us that, Nia," Hobbie's voice entered the kitchen, quiet and sad. "But you're right, Nia Ponsed did have a mark on her, though not on her throat. When I asked her about it, she told me it was a tribal mark of some sort, she'd had it as long as she could remember. I hadn't thought of it, since ... since ... but I saw the brooch ..." Sela was already standing by her husband with her arms around him, soothing his uncomfortable memories.
Tionne was thoughtful and she said to Nia, "Now, I wonder why your grandmother and great-uncle were looking at me, too?" The two older people had come back into the kitchen and saw Nia handling the brooch, and had heard Tionne's question.
Dareen flushed, "I'm sorry, Tionne, we didn't mean to stare. But RigaRios and I were talking about my late husband, and we both noticed the brooch. QuiNan had that mark on his body, too."
"Sela," her uncle addressed her, "do you recall what I told you about the old woman who brought your father to me?"
"Yes, Uncle," it felt right to call him by his familial title, "you said she frightened you because she was bald and had a mark on her. Was it this mark?"
RigaRios smiled at Dareen, "You produced a bright one," then back to Sela, "Yes, that was the mark. It didn't appear tattooed as the mark on your father was. It looked carved into her; I don't doubt she showed it to my parents as a clue regarding QuiNan's origins."
Sela looked surprised, "That's funny, I should have thought of it before ... that's what Nia Ponsed described in her letter to me! How an old woman had exposed a mark to Nia's father and said something cryptic ... Oh! I remember, she said, A heart of love will heal in the face of death -- the old woman was telling her parents that Nia would be a Jedi healer!"
Everyone talked excitedly now, telling and discussing what they knew or had heard. In a rare confluence, the gathering had hit upon a significant finding!
Nia had moved over to her grandmother and asked quietly, "Grandfather had a tattoo?"
Everyone quieted as Dareen nodded, slowly. "He did ... somewhere private. Probably Nia Ponsed's was on a similar place on her body." She looked at her son-in-law, who simply nodded. "The location implied that it would be an identifying mark, but it was not meant to be seen. Like a secret symbol. I was so surprised to see Tionne wearing it, you see. Forgive me for staring. I saw Nia Ponsed's necklace many years ago, of course ... but I was so ill, and I thought I was hallucinating ... that I was dying and joining QuiNan ..."
Tionne smiled, "Not at all ... this is very interesting. The archives I'd been researching didn't state any of this, but it feels right. It seems to corroborate the writings." She shook her head, "I wish I could tell you definitively what it means."
By now, Sela had suggested they retire to the parlor and get more comfortable. Since Nia was involved, she allowed the girl to stay up, but Serren had to go to bed. He protested until his grandmother and "Unca Roos" offered to take him up. They returned shortly, reporting the boy had fallen asleep even before his head had touched the pillow. Their timing was perfect, in any case, as Sela and Nia cut some cakes and fruit for everyone as a late snack and were busily serving it.
Tionne explained that this was all classified information, since there was not enough documentary evidence to even back up her analysis and suppositions. But she felt it was important to tell them, and she felt they could give her some information, as well.
The convent she had mentioned was called, as far as she could discern, the "Ehrinc-Silat," and they apparently prided themselves as healers. She had concluded that nursery and childcare were part of their mission, and they may have raised foundlings. The scripts were written in an archaic language, and though she could read and understand their meanings, she had no phonetic key, so could not pronounce any of the strange words unfamiliar to her.
RigaRios sat up straight upon hearing the name of the order, "No, it's not Ehrinc-Silat! It's Arixi! It's what the old woman said! I remember -- she didn't say he'd be a healer, she said he was "Arixi" and that he was special." He had become very agitated, and to Sela's surprise, her mother put her hands around his in a comforting gesture. "She wasn't looking for foundlings -- she was giving them away! He told my parents that many children would be cast to the winds, that they were chosen to protect this one ... oh, the horror, I remember the chilling promise, that this child would be hunted ..."
Nia was quickly beside the man as he suddenly gasped for breath. She lightly touched his shoulder with one hand, and with the other, she placed over his heart. He visibly relaxed and calmed down, then became insensible, appearing to doze. "He's okay," said Nia, sounding much older, "his heart will be okay now."
* * * * *
In the morning, RigaRios announced he felt fine, and he apologized for the turn he appeared to have had the night before. He refused to go the the MedCenter, but did accept Dareen's offer to take him home. As they left, Tionne contemplated when it might be safe to talk to the old professor again. He seemed to know more about these mysterious Arixi than anyone she'd come across thus far. Sela had filled her in on what he'd told her about QuiNan's sudden arrival, and about the note Nia Ponsed had written her about her own adoption. Tionne told her again that it appeared a large percentage of Jedi children had been taken from adoptive parents, rather than genetic parents. She had considered it a curious aberration, but now Tionne wondered if it might not have been actually quite normal.
It was a day off work for Hobbie, and he offered to take Tionne anywhere she wanted to go. As they breakfasted, he joked about how well RigaRios and Dareen were getting along. Sela smiled; she'd thought about that as well, and wondered if the two were simply catching up, or were they actually flirting? It would be nice for Mom to have someone again, and for Uncle to have someone to love. She was pretty sure her uncle had never married, and she felt sorry for this lack in his life. From what he had told her, RigaRios had never stopped loving Dareen.
While putting away the breakfast things, Tionne had told the Klivians that she was impressed with Nia's reaction to RigaRios's anxiety fit the night before. It seemed the girl was quite attuned to the Force, even at this beginning level of training. Contrary to what the parents had believed, Tionne assured them that Nia was ready for the Academy. "Of course, the final decision lies with you, and with Nia. But know that when she is ready, we'll be waiting for her."
But higher up in priority was this revelation that her father and Nia Ponsed seemed to have come from the same convent, and been given away by a sisterhood that specialized -- at least in part -- in distributing foundlings. Where had these children come from? She and Tionne had discussed the possibilities late into the night, and as the Arixi were healers, perhaps they were Force-sensitive. Could they be the parents of these foundling babies?
Could Nia Ponsed and her father be related? It seemed they were, at least in that they were both apparently distributed from the same convent, from this Arixi group of healers.
And what about Sela? She had some Force sensitivity according to Master Skywalker, and she had been considered somewhat talented in the healing arts. She didn't have the level of Nia's gift, of course, but for her compassion and eye for detail, Sela had been told she'd be a good nurse. Long ago, she had actually considered a career in healing, before deciding her calling was in social work. Might she have been chosen as one of the Arixi? For she was a distributor of foundlings, was she not?
It was likely -- in fact, it was more than probable -- that they'd never discover the whole truth. With her husband and Tionne on their way to the Jedi museum, Sela was left with her thoughts. As she stood in the kitchen by herself, Nia padded in, showing evidence of a restless, short slumber. "Where is everyone?"
"All breakfasted and out and about, sleepyhead," replied her mother, "but you're in luck -- the diner is still open for business!"
Her daughter sat down and yawned, pushing her hair back away from her face. "You're so weird, Mom."
"This isn't weird, sweetie," Sela retorted, "you've seen the rest of the family ..." Why did I say that? Are we really weird? She braced herself for the tantrum that Nia might have over this comment, or for being "deliberately weird." Again.
"Mom, seriously. I need to talk to you. About the Academy. I want to go." The adult-like mien was in stark contrast to the rose-printed pyjamas and sleep-tossled hair. "I know you and Dad are against it, I know you think I'm too young ... but I want to do it."
Sela sat down next to her eldest child and held her hands, "Nia, we are not against it. We know it's important, and if you have Jedi abilities, then we don't think there are better people for you to be with than Tionne and Kam. You know your father has incredible respect for Master Skywalker and Princess Leia. But we didn't want to rush you or make you go before you're ready." Or before your father and I are ready!
"I'm ready, Mom. I've thought about the vision all night, and about Tionne's research. It's what I want to do. I know it's right. I want to be a healer. I want to be a Jedi." Nia was no longer sleepy, but she seemed to be blurting out her thoughts, before she could change her own mind.
"And Mom? I'm sorry that I was behaving like such a brat to you and Dad. I was scared, I guess. Stuff is going on that I don't understand, I was proud of being different, but I didn't want to be, either. Anyway, I'm sorry for giving you a hard time."
Sela hugged her daughter, I'm so proud of her ... my baby ... She wondered how Derek would take this announcement. She embraced Nia tightly to keep from bursting out into tears herself.
*** FINIS ... (for now) ***
Authors' Comment: References can be found in the following documents -- The Children of the Arixi; the curvilinear symbol referenced is illustrated in The Arixi Sisterhood.
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