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Chapter 03

Keldabe, Mandalore

Some things never changed. The Oyu’baat cantina was one thing like many on the planet that were always the same no matter what. It made leaving and returning easy. Biran Zanim pushed the doors open and took his children inside for the first time, the same place where he began his mercenary career. He spotted where he used to sit with his own father, drinking bitter ales, looking fierce. Instinctively he went for that same table in a dark corner and ordered a round of homebrewed stew.

“They say it’s been the same for millennia’s,” he told Devik and Runa. “They just add more meat and veg every time.”

Both of them looked around like curious animals ready to dig a hole for hiding at any second. They looked like strangers. Runa had more of her mother’s traits while Devik was growing into a tall, strong man himself. Not wearing armor in that cantina was the most conspicuous about them though.

“So how do we fit here,” Devik said casually. “Initiates, recruits or hired hands?”

Biran let out a chuckle of amusement. “You are family first. It’s what we mando’s do, we work together and gather the clan when an empire is out to get you.”

“And I suppose you have it all planned out for us. So your friends won’t see it weird that we’re not actually Mandalorian like you.”

“I promise it won’t be. It’s not always about the armor, too. People here are fast at detecting guts and talent - mandokarla, having what it takes. And that’s valuable.”

He didn’t want to spoil any surprise for them, or shock them into fear and never see them again. Devik seemed relaxed but still suspicious while Runa looked outright worried, looking discretely around her every minute.

He was luckily cut short of an awkward comment as he saw movement in the entrance. His contact with the Skirata clan was called Gotab and he had only seen him in the holo-com. Yet he recognized the man’s dull green armor as he walked straight towards him. He must have had a spy to report for him or made a quick scan of the cantina. Either way he was quick, and he stood next to them, thumbs stuck in his belt.

“Biran Zanim.” And that wasn’t a question. Biran nodded slowly.

“Indeed, Gotab. Have a seat.”

The man moved his T-visor in direction of Devik and Runa before complying. Underneath the bucket he had short, blond hair and a clean shaven juvenile face. He couldn’t be any older than his kids barring that withered look in his eyes.

“This is Devik, and Runa Zanim. My children from Ord Mantell. They’ll be here to assist me.”

Gotab stared at them for a moment. Someone must’ve forgotten to tell him about helmet transparency when it wasn’t on his head.

“That’s good,” he said. “The more the merrier. How much field training did you get?”

It didn’t sound like a provocation nor like it meant to sting. His voice was leveled like that of someone used to briefing and giving orders.

“Not much,” said Runa. “Some sitrep and woodland recon for the most part.”

She was talking about those outdoor tag games that herself and Devik attended once a week with friends. It was very casual stuff, no live rounds, and mostly catastrophic when compared to real world strategy. Devik looked at her sideways like she was exaggerating.

“We can shoot if that’s useful. I can fix speeders and droids,” he said, then pointed at his sister. “And she’s a medic.”

“Alright,” Gotab nodded. “We’ll work with that, see where it goes.”

“Any news from Skirata?” Biran asked, eager to relieve his kids from the Mandalorian’s attention.

Gotab thoughtfully meshed his gloves hands on the table like an old man would.

“He’s gotten busy getting every clone renegade a home,” he murmured. “They come in individually, smuggled here actually. They have good intel on imperial resources, some will help but others are enjoying what life they still got left.”

“Still no solution for that, eh?”

He shrugged before taking something from his belt pouches. Biran recognized a very valuable credit chip.

“This is from Kal. He insisted you use it any way you see fit during your stay here. Whatever trouble you’re trying to avoid it must cost you a great deal.”

He took the chip and resisted the temptation to fiddle with it for a moment. It was worth fifty thousand, enough to buy real estate and ordnance. But one thing he knew from his merc days: when someone gave you money you never said no. That revealed to be a mistake once, and he would never regret it.

“I won’t ask where it comes from and I’ll assume these creds aren’t traceable. Whatever it takes for our boys, right?”

He probably knew what that meant. Gotab was too young to be one of the Cuy’val Dar, but old enough to have seen the war and what it did to the clones. He probably was one of Skirata’s sons or had they divorced him decades ago? Biran forgot.

“I’ll make sure you see Kal as soon as possible.”

The young man stood and extended his arm to clasp his, hand-to-elbow style. It was a long time since Biran was ever greeted that way.

“Where are you staying?” Gotab asked out of the blue.

“We’re at the hostel down the road. Otherwise I have my ship but it’s at the space port.”

He cringed and seemed to think for a second, like listening to an inner voice.

“We’re based at Kyrimorut, not here. Let me take you there and you can use my place for shelter.”

“By that you mean, at Skirata’s?”

The young man lifted a perplexed eyebrow.

“Different place,” he simply answered.

Kyrimorut, Mandalore, night time

After half an hour of riding at high speed through snowy meadows and plains they saw the town of Kyrimorut only to drive by it. The gang they were going to meet was based in a remote farm of course. Big crowded areas seemed to make them itchy. Biran noticed Gotab loosening up as they approached his territory.

“This is it. Doesn’t look like much for now but I’m still working on it.”

It was indeed a separate building from the rest of the lonely homes they could spot in the area, with its own landing field and short access to woods and the river. It looked like a reassembled ruin of a house. The interior was all of wooden finish and furniture for some reason, even the walls. It probably helped with isolation.

Kandosii,” Biran approved. “You’re one crafty lad. This reminds me of Kashyyyk.”

Devik and Runa laid their bags on the floor, not really knowing where to put themselves.

“Changes from the usual permacrete and metal planks,” Runa said, frisking her hands together to warm them up.

Gotab took her bag. “A Wookie friend taught me a few things. I’ll show you to your room.”

She followed him down a flight of stairs. Devik took a handheld data pad from his jacket.

“My colleagues should be keeping me up to date,” he explained. “Apparently we’re losing a contract for spare parts against the new imperial ship yard.”

“A ship yard on Ord Mantell? Military?”

“Well, I can hardly imagine them sponsored by a yachting line. It’s a busy planet with lots of people to monitor, I guess.”

“As they’re trying to do here. That just makes me sick. I hope you’re not opening that link, by the way.”

“No worries, dad. Will feel much safer once I get it secured.”

Smart Dev’ika, always thinking ahead. Biran had to hand it to his wife for raising their children to become responsible, resourceful adults. And the prospect of a new life on another planet didn’t scare them. Or at least, they didn’t show it.

They found their own beds in a larger room with half a dozen bunk-like cots, barracks style. As if Gotab was used to harboring visitors.

“Maybe I shouldn’t ask this,” Biran inquired. “but who else lives here?”

“Only me for the moment. And the occasional retiree but they never stay longer than a week. They’re good at finding their place in society.”

“Well for someone your age it’s a nice place you’ve put together, Gotab.”

The boy smiled embarrassingly. “Please, call me Bardan.”

“Real name?” asked Devik playfully.

“Or so I was told.”

Runa appeared at the door frame, clearly not enjoying being left aside.

“I could be fine in here with the boys. We’re family anyway.”

“No,” Devik said. “You snore like a bantha.”

Biran let out a laugh because he couldn’t help but see his kids as five year olds and not twenty-four.

“And you fart. Big deal.” Runa went over to a bunk and sat on it to have a feel of the thin mattress.

Gotab - or Bardan - was growing impatient, or uneasy. He wasn’t simple to read.

“Ok, do as you like but get to it. I want to go over a few things with you before we head out for a little sight-seeing.”

“All of us?” Biran said. “Or who exactly?”

“Anyone willing.”

Runa sat up straight. “In the middle of the night?”

Gotab nodded with a big grin. Biran shook his head.

“Kids…” he sighed. “Well I’m telling you three good night, because when you come back all tired and filthy I’ll be snoozing like a baby. An old man’s gotta have his beauty sleep.”