Enceri, Mandalore, market day - 1,325 days ABG
Enceri was the busier town around Kyrimorut that provided most supplies before taking the trip to the capital. Jusik liked it because it was smaller, of course. And even though everybody knew everything about everyone on Mandalore, he still enjoyed the relative anonymity there. While bounty hunters and mercenaries crawled the roads in Keldabe, you could walk around without checking your six in Enceri.
On market day there was fresh food and general goods to be found, something he started paying close attention to as off late. Walking out of the groceries shop he waited for Fi, outside in the muddy street. It was probably why Parja wanted her husband and him to go for shopping in that season. He finally walked out and they carried their bags full of supplies down the road.
“No, really I’m glad you made new friends. I hang out with Mereel, and you conspire against the Empire with mando’ade coming out of nowhere. Brilliant.”
That town really made their tongues feel at ease, maybe too much. Thanks to soundproof helmets that didn‘t matter one bit.
“Only one of them is a mando'ad. From what I understood, his wife is an arueti from Ord Mantell and she didn’t let their kids be trained.”
“Ouch. Does that mean we get to teach them? I’ve always wanted to try my drill instructor skills on some poor, disillusioned fellow.”
“If that’s what you want, be my guest.”
Jusik briefly recalled himself telling a confused young woman that her life would be better worth living as a Mandalorian.
“But isn’t that something you’d be good at, Bard’ika? Showing the example following the Mandalorian way and all that.” His gaze got attracted towards a layout of gun attachments. “Besides you know better mando’a than I do. Or than most of the people I know.”
“That’s hardly relevant… Unless you’re jealous of course.”
Fi prodded him with his armored elbow. “Hardly, vod. What I mean is that you should pass all that knowledge on to someone, share some of that mando goodness you’ve been studying for three years.”
While examining a miniature thermal det launcher Jusik pondered the question. It wasn’t like he’d never given thoughts on training and teaching - he had been a Jedi after all. And had he remained one a little longer he might have had to take on a Padawan apprentice. All Jedi were prepared to that and implicitly repeated the education they received from their masters.
His master was Arligan Zey, Senior General for the spec-ops. Zey had been treading the thin line between Republic duty and Jedi morals for all of his military career. It wasn’t the kind of life Jusik aspired to have. Even out of the Order he still felt compelled to make his every decision the right one - compromising was out of the question. Too many good people put themselves at risk to serve both sides of what they thought was right. He knew two of them, and they both ended dead.
“I told one of them about the Force thing.”
“Really, you did?”
It could have been the small F-force to anybody listening in the conversation, and it beat saying Jedi out loud any time of the day. Curiously Jusik couldn’t bring himself to lay it flat out, even on a private channel.
“Who asked?” Fi sounded genuinely curious.
“Zanim’s daughter.” Jusik lifted a finger. “And before you say anything - no, it’s not what you think.”
They made their way out to the speeder lot.
“Well, well! Mister mysterious one, looks like you’re taking on Parja’s advice. That’s ok, Bard’ika. I won’t tell anyone that you’re actually a man.”
Jusik sighed, but he was actually chuckling behind his mask. He just decided to switch his mute function on.
“I can see you laughing with your shoulders, vod‘ika. You’re the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” They entered their speeder and took the dirt path out to Kyrimorut. “It’s obvious to me that you used to wear robes and handle a light saber. So how is she like?”
“I don‘t know, Fi. It‘s been a while since I‘ve seen my mother.”
“You’re so totally in love. Remember? I can tell from your body language.”
Clones actually could tell a lot about someone, judging by their attitudes. Looking all identical it was easy for them to spot muscle movement in faces and everything. By the same logic, the absence of reaction in someone in full armor was just as revealing. Jusik surrendered.
“Her name is Runa. She is… something around my age, maybe younger. Dark brown hair, medium height.” He turned his head to Fi. “You’ll see her anyway and make all the jokes you want. I don’t care.”
“You’re no fun, Bardan. You and I should hang out more. Who knows? You could learn a lot from a guy like Mereel.”
“Shab. You really like him, don’t you?”
“He’s my anti-Bardan mentor. A man’s gotta have balance in his circle of friends.”
“Good call, I guess.”
“And you do talk about her like she’s your girl.”
“Do I get to say anything for my defense?”
When he got home after dropping Fi off he didn’t see anybody inside. His other senses, however, told him to go around the back of the house. He saw Biran Zanim in civilian fatigues, helping Runa align her sights on a rifle, aiming at something fixed to a tree, quite far away for a beginner. Devik was standing a few steps behind her, watching.
Jusik breathed out slowly before walking up to the other young man, taking off his helmet to speak quietly.
“How are things?”
Runa discretely looked around and smiled before going back to her shooting. Devik, arms folded across his chest, bobbled his head side to side.
“Lacking targets to shoot but otherwise fine. I’m thinking of getting myself some kit with, uh… the new assets you so kindly provided us.”
“Anything special in mind?”
“I got a few ideas.” He looked enviously at Jusik’s side where he slung his modified Verp. “Could I try it some time?”
Jusik returned a defying glare. Devik was a head well taller than him and more muscular, with close cut black hair over the pale skin of his face. He probably trained indoors. But Jusik liked his Verp very much.
“Yeah, of course.” He smirked. “Kal has a collection of them and started importing some. You might be able to get one yourself.”
Runa had almost pierced a hole near the edge of the makeshift target her father had made out of wood. She wore her hair in a lose buns in the back of her head, something she’d had to take care of in order to wear a helmet. Carefully she put the weapon’s safety back on before giving it back to her father.
“Not too bad for a first time.”
“I shot guns before.”
“Toys,” Biran corrected, condescending. “You shot toys.”
“Tag guns, laser guns… There’s only so much difference and a little recoil.”
“But the other one can’t blow your face up when it lacks maintenance. Don‘t forget that.”
Strange way to see it, indeed. Jusik wondered what happened to the “guns kill” motto that most parents and civilians would use. In the end, anything could be turned into a lethal weapon when placed into the wrong hands… or a Mandalorian’s.
“All this talk of weapons made me hungry,” Biran said. “What did you get for us, Bard’ika?”
It turned out that Devik was an excellent cook and Runa did a lot of helping around the house to keep busy. When usually empty it was surprising to see so many people occupying it. Jusik was glad that his work finally served a purpose. After lunch he met Runa in the dormitory, sitting on her bunk and searching in her backpack. She sneezed and held a paper tissue to her nose.
“I’m okay,” she said on a cheerful tone. “Just a cold.”
“Oh. Because of last night?”
“Or something I caught at work, since the incubation takes at least two days.” She loudly blew her nose before finding a bottle of tablets. “I’ll be fine.”
“At work? What kind of medic are you?”
“Emergency medic. I go between house calls and homeless people. So yeah… not exactly clean or safe.”
“But it’s a noble profession.”
She shrugged, sinking her meds with bottled water. “I always wanted to be a pilot. Travel the galaxy, see the stars all around me.” She pointed at a data pad on her bed. He went over to take it. “Since I can’t afford a ship or traveling, I paint them. It’s kind of my hobby.”
Jusik flicked over dozens of pictures made by her. All of them were of stars, planets, nebulas. They weren’t exactly like real ones but they were still nice to look at.
“That’s beautiful,” he said, out of words.
“Reality is better sometimes. But thank you.”
“You could’ve joined the orbital fleet on Ord Mantell, or something like that.”
She wiped her nose again, looking incongruously inside her tissue which was more funny than repugnant.
“I guess I always want to have something to dream about.”
It suddenly became too much for him to take in. A minute earlier she was a daughter and a medic that could shoot. Now she was a soul with passions and fantasies, things he’d never indulged into simply because he never had the time. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. All he knew was how to be combat-ready, and strong enough to face another day.
“I remember last night, you seemed distracted, nose up in the sky.”
She smiled shyly at him, taking her data pad to stow it in her pack.
“I was tired and distracted, a liability. That’s not a good thing.”
“Maybe you just need to get it out of your system. I’ll teach you how to pilot. If you want to, that is.”
“You never let go, do you? So is that an Aggressor I saw just outside?”
The Aggressor class starfighter had a conspicuously insectile shape that made it very noticeable. With large lateral wings that resembled mandibles where ordnance was mounted. It could carry eight passengers and also had detention cells for cargo. It could even be used as a training vehicle.
Runa took her time to visit every compartment and learn every functionality for all the keys, buttons and switches. Jusik let her sit in the pilot’s seat to get a feel of the commands. She squealed like a child when he switched the power on and all the lights came to life.
“This is so exciting. I feel like in a rollercoaster capsule and the ride’s just about to start.”
“Yeah, um… It’s an amusement park thing. There are lots of silly tourists back home ready to get shoved around in a box.”
“Lovely. I didn’t know. Most of the things I saw there were the slums and criminal hives.”
“Oh. Oh, you mean like when you were on a mission?” She turned her attention back to the control panels, clearly looking for things to say. “My hometown isn’t that bad. You should see the countryside with the mountains. Where did you live before Mandalore?”
She pressed a few buttons that activated lights in and outside the ship.
“Well it was Coruscant for as far as I recall.” He didn’t feel like mentioning the Jedi Temple. “Then a lot of Outer and Mid-Rim planets while moving with the troops. Wait, don’t--”
Her fingers landed on one of the commands that launched countermeasures. They heard a loud clank that meant that the hull was opening near the back of the ship, then a shooting sound. He got out of the cockpit, grabbing an extinguisher in a corner of the hallway that lead to the boarding ramp.
Outside, a big ball of white fire was slowly dying about ten feet away in the snowy, icy ground. Thankfully it hadn’t landed in a thicket or the woods. He ran to it and killed the flames with the hose before it created too much smoke.
“I’m so sorry!” Runa cried, hands on her cheeks in embarrassment. “What was that?”
“It’s alright you just shot a flare.”
Soon they were joined by her father and brother. Biran had his rifle out and ready.
“Tell me you were actually killing something,” he snarled, “and not trying to impress my daughter.”
“My mistake for confusing the flare with the torpedo launcher.” He then playfully circled an arm around Runa. “I guess I was a bit distracted.”
Devik smiled widely and went inside the ship, too curious to ignore the open hatch. Biran walked away from them, rifle resting on his shoulder.
“I got my eyes on you, ad’ika.”
Runa then pulled away from Jusik and followed her brother to hide in the ship. He stood outside for a moment, in shock by what his Force senses had picked up from the young woman when he'd touched her. It was fear. Mislead by her tough, sturdy demeanor Jusik didn’t know how to interpret it, was it because he was a Jedi? Or did she expect him to act differently in presence of her family?
Whatever the relationship he’d share with Runa he had the feeling that it would be more complicated than he’d imagined. He caught himself wishing he’d simply walked up to a Mandalorian female - anyone, really - and just got the “job” done.
Walking around the nose of the ship he saw through the tinted canopy Runa sitting next to Devik inside the cockpit, lively explaining to him what she had learned.