Ord Mantell, Central Capital District, 1,324 days After Battle of Geonosis
The handheld bleeped to life some time in the night. Runa stretched out a limp arm to pick it up.
THINGS ARE STARTING TO MOVE AROUND HERE. I NEED YOU BOTH. CONTACT ME. DAD.
She read it a couple more times before it became real in her mind. A minute ago Runa’s father wasn’t much but a vague, masked figure from her childhood and her brother’s, Devik. It had been at least seven years since they’d seen or heard from him. The device bleeped again. An audio call, this time.
“You got it too?” It was her brother’s alert voice.
“Yeah.” Runa sighed. “By contacting does that mean he wants to meet somewhere?”
Their father, Biran Zanim, was a mercenary. A Mandalorian mercenary to top it off. They were born and living on Ord Mantell but two decades ago their mother refused that they’d be taken away from her, so Biran left to live his own existence. As far as Runa and Devik were concerned, he was living on his ship earning his keep off smuggling and bounties. And of course they knew that he wore armor - and could shoot people if need be -, not much else.
“Well if not I’d be disappointed.”
She had missed him. Devik too, without a doubt. Every family reunion had been a disaster for as long as she could remember, but she couldn’t blame her mother. She didn’t blame her father either, despite all the bad things she’d heard about Mandalorians and she took pride in the stories her mother told. And so, Runa’s imagination filled in the gaps of all the mystery around the man walking in metal plated armor, giving them strange sticky cake, new gadgets and droids he’d fix up.
Maybe he had another wife, and other kids to look after, talk to and have a normal family life with. The thought always tore her apart. And her mother too, certainly. She never remarried, nor even looked at another man.
Runa replied later, by text. Things needed to be kept simple, business style.
WE HAVE TO MEET: WHERE AND WHEN? IT’S GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU.
Before pressing SEND she took a second to think of her job at the clinic. Only four hours before she had to wake up again and go to work. She sent her message and waited. Maybe she could call in sick for once and take some time to deal with her family. Devik would be doing the same thing.
The next reply arrived a little later than she’d liked:
REMEMBER THE FIELDS WHERE I TOOK YOU TWO FOR A HIKE? AT 0600. BRING WARM CLOTHES - IT’S THE WINTER ON MANDALORE. I MISSED YOU TOO, AD’IKA.
She felt excited like she was ten again, unable to focus and troubled by things she didn’t know or see yet. How would she pack? Where was Mandalore? Should she tell her mother? Eventually she would have to. It wasn’t going to be pretty, but it wouldn’t change her mind.
The fields her father mentioned were now a vast lodging complex for building workers and you couldn’t spot a bit of naked soil. Runa stood there with Devik leaning on his speeder. He wore his cold weather jacket and his field testing engineering pants. For her part she chose to bring her outdoor’s outfit with rugged boots, the kind she used when playing battle tag in the woods with Devik and his co-workers.
They heard the sound of a speeder approaching. A mundane four-seats roofed vehicle that Biran stepped out of. Runa recognized the armor within a second. It seemed a bit different each time she saw it: a new belt, different weapons on the gauntlet, more dents and scratches on the plates. Devik and Runa eyed each other not really knowing what to say or do. The Mandalorian man stood in front of them, hands resting on his hips as if the children were being reprimanded.
“My, my… How you’ve both grown.” His disembodied voice was scary despite the soft spoken words. “How about you two give your old buir a hug?”
Of course Runa didn’t speak Mandalorian, but the few words she heard from him were familiar and clear, the way young children absorbed everything they heard and that just made sense somehow.
Their father had grown old, too. His hair was no longer black but very grey and white on the sides. Lines marked his face deeply though his skin was pale, showing lack of sun exposure. Eyes were dark and deeply set in the orbits. Runa wondered how much sleep he was getting each day.
“You finally decided to take us away from it all,” chuckled Devik. “Offering us riches and adventures?”
“Just as you wished for, ad’ika,” he ruffled his son’s hair even though he was now shorter than Devik. “Though before we leave here I want to ask you both if you’re ready. No turning back, no more cozy security and lazy jobs.”
Runa glared at him sideways.
“Hey now, that’s the last thing you want to call us, lazy.” She patted her backpack with its medical seal.
“I see you prepared wisely,” he smiled. It was a sad smile. “But if you have any friends or loved ones to say goodbye to…”
Neither Devik or Runa had any relationships going on. She knew what she should’ve done at her age when all of her friends were having babies and settled down.
“Just tell us what it’s all about.”
He stood silent for a second then nodded. “Fair enough, we’ll make our way out while I do so. Not to say that I’m on a hurry but let’s say I’m expected for another errand.”
It was the most that she’d heard him speak for as long as she could remember. They got in the speeder and listened to what their father had to say. She didn’t understand how and why he was telling certain things, could not believe some parts of it. It took her minutes to take it all in.
“Why haven’t you tried to tell us earlier? You could’ve died.”
“Run’ika, I was under contract confidentiality. The Cuy’val Dar, as Jango called us. Dead men. On the record I’m not supposed to be walking around”.
“Ten years,” Devik mused. “So what are you doing now, still working for the Republic Army?”
He stopped at a space dock, it was deserted at this time of the morning. Runa looked out the windows to see where his ship was.
“Not exactly the Republic.” Biran threw a credit chip down a gate-locker before taking the speeder down the landing pads. “I got transferred to Centax 2 for another one of those training assignments. Different troops, and different objectives.” He paused. Runa now saw the ship: an imposing Pursuer class starfighter with its hull painted dark grey. “I’m getting too old for that shabla business. So with some of the other ‘dead men’ we decided to take our retirement money and bail out.”
He got off the speeder and took their luggage in each hand. It was a disarming sight. They followed him passively up the boarding ramp.
“You’ll like it over there,” he continued in a cheerful tone. “Big empty spaces, fresh air and great food. Of course lots of armored, deadly, handsome gentlemen to be seen.” He turned his black T-visor to Runa. She actually felt her cheeks warming up.
They got inside the cockpit and strapped in for takeoff. She had dreamed of this so many times now, she knew Devik was equally excited about leaving Ord Mantell. She was ready for it, whatever happened later. If their father wasn’t going to tell them what they were really up against, she could wait and enjoy the ride.
So for the first time in her life, Runa saw the stars in the daytime.