The Sending  (Or, a strange glimpse into the Galaxy Far, Far Away) Rating: PG

This story was written in response to a challenge: "Imagine a holiday or celebration of any kind in the GFFA." My inclination was to go gory :) I like gory darkish pieces!

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"They never cry out," he says in my language. "They never cry out or make a single, solitary sound."

I find that odd too -- not that they don't cry out, but that they don't whimper once or twice. The knives used for the Initiation before the Journey are sharper than the bone-edged guillotine blades of a millenium ago. I'm sure I will make a sound when I go through it. I think back to my youth, turning his comment over in my mind. No, never is not the truth. There was one who hollered at us all. They Sent her first to make it easier on the others. I don't tell him. Today, as usual, we are at the far back of the massive temple. Though the arched ceilings carry sounds and echoes, we probably won't be able to hear from where we're standing.

He begins muttering under his breath again. "They're like wiped automatons."

The Sendings always elicit vituperative rants from Laz. From the time the banners are strung up in the villages and cities, from the time the moons begin to wane, when the children begin clapping their hands together and singing their farewell songs, he grows agitated and bitter, staying indoors and cursing tradition. He curses his life. He curses the Empire for driving him into hiding and threatens to leave Alcuari altogether. We have long philosophical arguments late into the night and convince each other of nothing. If he could he would go home, I know this, but he was a hunted man in his life before Alcuari, and he can't get within a million miles of Coruscant without risking capture and execution. Why he begrudges my people the same desire is beyond me.

"It's not the notion of going home I despise," he has explained to me in the past. "It's the rituals."

"Then don't come," I always tell him. "You don't have to be there. No one will think any less of you. You're not a native."

It's futile. Every year at the last minute he decides to attend, and every year he shakes his head and calls us foolish and crazy.

This is the primary reason that I linger at the back with him. If he starts off I can grab him by the elbow and drag him out beneath the hermitage's frontispiece, where the rains are falling and the winds are blowing cold enough to chill the marrow of my bones. Long enough in inclement weather and he will promise to say no more, come back inside and stare at those durasteel-tipped boots of his that he has worn and repaired for the past decade, with his long bony hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets, streaming rivulets of water dripping off the end of his nose. The rituals are sacred, as is the Initiation to the Journey. Families don't want to hear an offworlder spouting off blasphemous criticisms while their loved ones are receiving the Initiation.

Later, when the after-parties and celebrations have begun, when he's had his share of drink, he will start off again, but by then the others will be so far gone they won't remember what he says. He won't remember what he says either. But he'll be easy to sequester and put to bed.

Until the next Sending, anyway. They come every three hundred days. One a year.

The lute pipes begin. I smooth my hair behind my ears and fold my hands across my breasts, then recite the Journey Prayer silently, nine times. Nine leave today. By the time I am done with my mental benedictions the music is fading and the crowds have ceased chattering. It's difficult to see the forward podiums over the oceans of heads and swaying bodies, even on my tip toes, and I regret for a moment that I can't, for my own brother has been chosen to give an Initiation today. I should be up front, offering moral support and honoring his undertaking, but he understands that Laz is going to be difficult again.

The speeches begin.

The first Journey Go-er is a woman whose name I don't know, but I do hear the tremors in her voice, even at the back. The years on Alcuari have rendered her cachetic, barely able to complete the rituals without assistance. When feebleness is so apparent the halls grow unnaturally quiet with unacknowledged disgrace and shame. Every so often they speak of lowering the ages, but there is a measure of spirituality to be found in the century mark. The first hundred settlers. The first hundred years. Three seasons divided by one hundred days each. A number like ninety-five or ninety-six is vapid and meaningless. Fortunately, it's not so common. Most of the Journey Go-ers are in excellent health and excited, having prepared for their departure for months on end, having practiced their speeches, packed what they wish to bring with them on the Journey. They all have friends and family awaiting them. They are eager, like the fuzzy warblers in the springtime when the dewflowers are heavy with sugar syrup nectar. This is their spring, their beginning. For the first time since I've known him, Laz listens to the speeches without having to be hushed or escorted outside. In between the sixth and seventh he whispers to me, his throat sounding scratchy, "Most human beings don't have courage the way your people do."

Your people.

I'm not sure what he means, if this is a backhanded insult or merely an observation. While our physiology has its own distinctive characteristics, we are human in the eyes of the Empire. We were human in the eyes of the Old Republic when it stood. Yet I feel almost as though he is saying we are something else. And courage is to be found all over. I think of the rebellions rumored to be out there in the far corners of the galaxy. Certainly, courageous humans fill the ranks.

Your people.

The only significant difference between Laz and my people is our memories. I've met other offworlders. I know it's not his fault, that he's not to blame, he was not born lacking intelligence. They don't understand that we remember before, that we spend out entire lives anticipating going back to the before. To me before and after and home are one and the same. I would pity him if I could, but I've learned better than to waste it on him. When I thought I loved him I spent hours pouring out my memories to him, unveiling my secret heart, my soul, my daydreams. Such intimacies -- and they were to me precious -- he hoarded them, then spat them back at me corrupted and defiled.

Last year Laz drowned himself in drink and called my memories of my home 'delusional fantasies' and 'twisted primordial' abstractions implanted by my elders. Last year I wept for hours after he'd finally gone to sleep.

I forget about the last two speeches, and instead I remember those first few years, when he was learning our language and struggled to make his most basic thoughts understood. It was almost better then, to not know the inside of his mind, what he thinks of me deep down. It doesn't matter that we are of the same race. In spirit, my people are so alien to him we may as well run on fifteen legs and chomp on our own flesh with needle sharp teeth.

I wonder if he's ever considered how lonely the others get, waiting for their loved ones to come join them. He acts as though once they leave they have ceased to exist on Alcuari. Privately, I think it's symptomatic of how he has dealt with the long isolation from his own family. That he pretends they no longer exist.

Again, my pity was fatigued to the breaking point long ago.

The Initiations begin immediately after the speeches. Each one takes only a few minutes.

My brother's eyes are glassy and a feverish flush is staining his cheeks when he finds me later. They say it is akin to the joy a new mother experiences when she holds her infant in her arms for the very first time, to perform the Initiation, to witness the moment of Sending as it unfolds.

"Who did you Send?" I ask. "I couldn't see from here."

"Marrak," he tells me.

I am pleased. Marrak is a good man. I reach out and touch the wetness of his sleeve, soaked crimson. Blood and flesh is splattered over much of him, in his hair, on his face.

Laz is pale and shaking beside me, fists seized. He asks yet another one of his questions, one for which he will never find an answer that satisfies him. "How could you? How could you?"

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