Celebrations went late into the night.
Tribesmen danced round huge fires; laughed and drank. It was far too early to tell whether the Imperials would leave their world after the bloody nose they had just been given, but the Sesseh did not care. In two, short, weeks they had seen their oppressors punished for their arrogance; the bold assumption that Shaymore was theirs to dominate, and they were taking this chance to revel in their success.
Kari sat away from the party, staring into the night, in the direction of the blazing fuel depot. Even from here she could see the orange glow: it reminded her of home. In the morning, she had been informed by Oberon, she would be joining the cleanup crew. While they searched for survivors to snuff out, she would ensure nothing could tie the rebels to the attack. The task would not take long; Biter’s assault had left the depot in ruins, and the fuel would not burn itself out before dawn. Any surveillance equipment the remains of the base was harbouring would most likely be a melted pool of plastic long before she arrived.
She gave a sigh and glanced down at the glass in her hand, swilling it gently. Taking a small sip, she grimaced slightly as the strong alcohol hit the back of her throat, its burn warming her whole body, fortifying it against the cold night. Looking out at the inferno again, she wondered if the others would be as pleased to leave this world as she was? Kaz, she knew, felt the weight of his first command, the first deaths on his watch, deeply. Though he had done his best to seem jubilant in victory, a slight reticence spoke of loss and guilt, and, perhaps, a realisation that what he wanted, to be a rebel officer, a Jedi no less, would not come without the loss of a great many more men under his command.
Kari, conversely, did not care.
The Sesseh wanted liberation from Imperil rule. No world had ever achieved that bloodlessly. Cause and consequence, the price for their freedom, however you wanted to term it, the deaths had been inevitable. They were lucky the Imperial Navy was not prevalent in this sector: even one or two squadrons of Tie fighters would have made the quest for a free Shaymore a very different story…many a world learnt that the Empire was not above blanket bombing random settlements until insurgency died down.
As such, Kaz’s guilt over the deaths confused her. He was a fool if he had not anticipated loss…they were not his friends, not his family, why did he care? A month ago, he did not even know this world existed, much less its inhabitants. She puzzled on this for a second, taking another sip from the glass in her hand, having to force down a cough as the liquor made its way down her throat. By all her best estimations, far fewer Sesseh had died than should have…surely, he should be pleased? A long, low sigh escaped her lips, was she missing the point again? Should any death be grieved? No matter how statistically likely or how many less than were expected lost their lives? A slight pang of worry emanated from the pit of her stomach.
Had she moved another step away from her humanity without even realising it? She was talking about acceptable loss…acceptable loss? That sounded like Oberon…
Turning, she glanced back to the party, trying to draw a line under that angle of thought…it always upset her.
Valin waved an arm to her to join them. She gave a warm smile. Valin – her one constant.
She shook her head, sure the motion was lost in the dark, but the smile remained. He, she knew, would be delighted to get off this world. As he had lamented in the first week, “the gambling is piss-poor, the locals have nothing worth winning anyway, and the booze is bordering on lethal”.
She watched in silence, leaning against a tree, and drank in the music, the riotous guffawing, the dancing. Somewhere a bottle was dropped and a round of jeers filled the air. A smirk attached itself to her lips as she heard Oberon’s voice saying, “Yeah, yeah yeah…shut up and get me another one”, closely followed by another sound of him falling over, or into something and yet more laughs filling the air.
“Not joining us?” she heard from the night.
Bringing her attention back to the area around her, she saw Quan approaching slowly.
She shook her head.
He moved closer, “Figured it wasn’t really your scene” he said, offering a cautious smile, “Not a big dancer, huh?” he asked, looking back towards the music, he indicated the silhouetted figures in front of the fire, swirling and leaping with dynamic grace with a nod. His words seeming a little more shy than usual, as though testing the waters, rather than directing the flow with his usual confidence.
She shook her head, “I don’t….cant” she said, looking at her feet awkwardly, inadvertently turning them inwards slightly.
Quan nodded gently, “I must confess, I’m not great myself – that takes practice, training, and a real feel for the music… – but to be competent, is just mechanics”
Her head lifted, cocking to one side slightly waiting for an explanation: mechanics she could do.
“Just a simple series of moves repeated,” he said stepping closer, “May I?” he asked
Kari looked at him a little guardedly for a second then nodded once.
Quan took the glass from her hand and placing it on the floor, before guiding her into an area of more open ground. He placed her left hand neatly on his right shoulder then took her right hand in his left. Finally, his right hand moved to the small of her back, which instantly caused her cheeks to blaze. The feeling of her hands on another person, his on her, was so alien. It took all her restraint not to jump back.
No. This was normal. Regular people did this…she told herself, you can do it! A look of determination moulded itself to her visage.
“So…watch my feet” he said with a reassuring smile. He counted to four slowly, each time his feet moving, guiding her body with his actions as he did, “Simple as that”
Kari looked down at his feet, she was still memorising the foot placements when she felt his hand leave her back and move to her chin, pulling her head up to look at him. He smiled warmly, and then moved again, their bodies swaying as one in perfect rhythm with the Sesseh’s music as he counted the beat, “One, Two, Three, Four. One, Two, Three, Four”. The woman was so focused on the steps, the exact placement and order, that she entirely forgot to be uncomfortable with his hands on her body, finding him guiding her movements a help rather than foreign.
To start, her body was rigid with awkwardness and embarrassment, but as they ran through the steps again and again, familiarity started to take hold and she felt a little more at home, “I’m doing it….” she said nervously, glancing down at her feet again, before looking up at Quan, a beaming smile on her face, “I’m doing it!”
He chuckled, and squeezed her hand lightly, “See…mechanics” he grinned, intoxicated by her child-like excitement and joy.
She looked down at her feet again, the smile remaining, “Head up” Quan said politely, and she looked up into his face, her body moving stiltedly, in a near wind-up motion, held in time with the music by Quan’s lead.
They danced slowly in the cool night air. Just the two of them, alone at a party.
Kari considered how her thoughts on Quan had changed in the last few weeks, ever since he had taught her more about astronavigation (an ongoing project for both of them which had seen her skill in the area advance greatly). She enjoyed learning from him, enjoy spending time listening to his instructions, punctuated with stories from the Clone Wars which led to her learning advanced ways of plotting courses, things to watch out for, and tricks employed by the navies of the Old Republic and traps set by the Separatists.
Since then she had seen him as someone she could learn to trust…unlike Kaz, whose actions repeatedly put her and Valin in harm’s way, Quan played his part, be it pilot, rebel, or teacher, and never asked anything from her in return….he was becoming a safe area in her mind, a notion which he had reinforced on several occasions, culminated in him saving her life. As she had plummeted down the cliff face towards the beach, seeing Valin above her, unable to help, desperate to throw himself after her, but stopped by Oberon, it had been Quan who had saved her – her shining Jedi Knight in armour.
The foolish thought brought a hue back to her cheeks.
They continued to dance some minutes, in which time, her teacher introduced spins and dips (the latter of which she did not enjoy; though this was largely to do with the amount of the local liquor she had consumed….an upside down world was not a happy world, it seemed).
Finally, the musicians took a break. As the music stopped the pair stayed hand in hand a moment longer, Kari again, looking down at her feet. She looked up and beamed at Quan again, “Enjoy that?” he asked, his hands finally leaving hers.
She nodded excitedly.
She did not respond, looking down at her feet instead, the routine still running through her mind in a constant look.
“I’m going for another drink, do you want one?” he asked, kindly.
She finally looked up, “No” she said, adding “Thank you” a second later, “I need to sort some things out before the morning” she explained, “I’m going to head back to the Ghost”
Quan nodded, a clear undercurrent of disappointment in the slowed movement, “Fair enough…” he said.
Her smile dropped, “I didn’t mean to upset you….” she said, looking very apologetic, a slight panic showing in her features.
The man looked into her face and forced a smile, “You haven’t” he lied, “I guess wrapping the mission up is the main concern”
She nodded, the lie convincing her, and she started to walk off.
Quan sighed, watching her go.
It had taken a not-inconsiderable amount of alcohol to muster the courage to come over here; he hoped he would have the resolve to do it next time. Giving a single nod, he decided – he would. Kaz, despite his wet-behind-the-ears annoyances, had acted as a catalyst in his life. Meeting up with the rebels, the Sesseh, seeing that there was still hope in the galaxy had made him re-evaluate what was important, reminded him what it had been like in the Clone Wars, how it had felt to be surrounded by people willing to lay down everything for what they believed in, and in the reawakening of those feelings, a New Hope had been born in Quan Lund that his life could be more than an endless stream of bars and hangovers.
When he looked at Kari he saw that new life.
Perhaps it had been her near-death fall which had crystallised how much she had come to mean to him, or maybe just having her arms around his neck, her wide blue eyes looking into his, had reminded him what it meant to feel something for someone, not just be next in line…
He shook his head gently; the booze was getting to him – making him moralize. He liked her. It was that simple. It did not matter why.
As he watched, she stopped.
“But…” she said cautiously, stopping in her tracks. Pausing as she mustered the courage to continue, “I…we…I’d like to do this again…” she did not wait for a response, feeling her embarrassment growing at the admission; she started off towards the ship quickly.