Monday, May 02, 2005



Ariasha had almost finished connecting the last of the five refrigerator cylinders that had to be replaced when she dimly heard a voice over the hissing sound of the welding. She lifted her visor.

“Mother!” A tall, youthful girl, with her long braid wildly undulating, ran up the slow rise. “Mother!”

“What is it, Aria? What are you doing running all the way out here by yourself!?” The woman scolded. She winced as she stood up, and shielded her eyes from the suns with a tremulous hand. “Can’t you see I’m trying to fix this vaporator? I’ve got enough to worry about... ”

“Sorry, Mother, I couldn’t find any neighbours - and besides, I wanted to tell you! There was a message today from dad! He’s gonna be here tonight!!” She said breathlessly. Aria’s mother shut off the torch.

“What did you say? He’s coming? Tonight?” She took off her hat to release an assortment of gathered braids.

Aria nodded excitedly, “C’mon Mother, let’s go back and clean up the house!”

“How am I going to be ready in time?” Ariasha fussed. She fumbled to pick up her equipment and threw a large duffel bag to Aria. “Here throw this in the ‘speeder and let’s go!”

* * *
Despite their speedy return, there was little time left to clean. Reissem Gunnir would be home any minute. Aria hastily shoved blankets and clothing in the washing room, and went to straighten up the modest visiting area. Meanwhile her mother cleaned up the kitchen and started supper. The tantalising smell of cooked meat and spices was floating through the air when they both heard the door slam.

“I’m HOOOOME, girls!” bellowed a deep voice from the front of the house.

Aria made it to the door first. Reissem dropped all his belongings on the floor and extended his arms.

“Father!” she tried to wrap her arms around his wide shoulders and laughed. “I’m so glad you’re home! Tell me what you’ve been doing. Tell me what adventures you’ve been having while me and Mother slave away down here!”

“Plenty of time for that later," he replied and cupped his hands around her face, covering her ears. “You’ve grown again?” He put his hands on his daughters shoulders, then grabbed her hand and twirled her around as she laughed. “You must’ve gained at least an inch in height since I last saw you. You are starting to look more and more like your mother... Speaking of which, where is - ?"

“Here I am, Re!” his wife answered, limping toward the steps to the landing.

“Ariasha!” He whispered hoarsely.

Did his smile waver just now? wondered Aria. I guess Mother didn’t limp quite so bad last time he was here. I guess it’s been so gradual for me that I didn’t notice, until now.

Reissem stepped down from the landing to his wife and pulled her into an embrace.

“How have you been, my love?”

“Not bad, Re. Better now,” she shrugged inside of his arms. “Are you hungry?”

“Am I hungry?” He threw back his head and laughed heartily. “I am! I’m just as hungry to eat as I was hungry to see my family! There’s just one thing, though...”

The two women looked at each other. Aria’s eyes widened, while her mother’s narrowed slightly.

"What, father?”

“I’ll show you,” he said. He went to the door and pointed at it. “Do you have room for one more?”

Ariasha nodded. “Certainly,” she smiled. “Is it one of your crew mates?”

“Yes. Now, don’t be alarmed, “ he said as he opened the door a crack. Then he opened it all the way.

A growling Wookie filled the doorway...

Aria and her mother jumped and grabbed onto each other.

“I told you not to be alarmed, “ Reissem laughed, calming their astonishment. “She’s quite friendly. In fact, she’s adopted me!”

“Adopted?!” The girls chorused.

“Well, you see,” struggled Reissem, “That is... Well, I’ll tell you all about it over some of that delicious supper I smell cooking!”


“You saved her life?” asked Aria with a mouth full of stew. “How? What happened?”

“Aria,” her mother rasped. She shook her head at her daughter and chuckled. “Really, Re, I did raise her better.”

“Heh! You’re as messy as a Wookie,” he laughed and nudged Charlebbekka, who was busy shovelling chunks of gravy-soaked bantha steaks into her jaws.

Her great shoulders shrugged and she growled a lengthy phrase to Reissem. Her final grunt sounded a little indignant.

“Oh, really?” He asked the Wookie, eyeborws raised. He translated for her, “She said she thought she was being very dainty. Sorry Aria. I should have said you’re as dainty as a Wookie.”

Aria rolled her eyes at her dad, swallowed loudly, and then asked, “Well? How did you save her life?”


Captain Rugar is quite a grouch. But then, I’ve never met an Aqualish who wasn’t. He keeps the crew in line with fear and intimidation, or with promises of good plunder. However when Rugar sees red he sometimes gets himself and his crew into things they almost can’t get out of.

This was one of those days.

The heavily modified Dreadnaught, The Tusk, made an evasive manoeuver, miraculously dodging the lasers aimed at her engines.

“What in The Swamp are you doing, Ras?” Rugar spat at his one-eared navigator. “You’re supposed to go toward that ship, not away from it!!”

“B-b-but Captain!” The Rodian cowered, wiping some of the saliva from his remaining ear. “It’s an Imperial Landing Cruiser! Y-you must be mad!”

“If you think I’m mad now,” hissed Rugar in the Rodian’s ear, “Just keep going away from it.”

Ras felt sharp claws dig into his shoulders.

Suddenly The Tusk turned about and headed toward the Imperial ship.

“That’s a good boy,” whispered Captain Rugar. “You get to keep your other ear.”

“They’re hailing us, Cap,” shouted a Phindian. “I don’t suppose you’d want to -“

”Of course I want to communicate with them!” Rugar bellowed. “Sishik! Target the main engines and weapons systems - and don’t forget to take out their troop compartment,” he howled into the comm system.

“Aye, sir,”a Verpine voice hissed in reply.

The Imperials, apparently confused, thinking The Tusk had fled, were not prepared for the second onslaught. The engine was rendered useless, and a few seconds later so was their communications and all weapons systems.

Rugar clapped his huge hand on Ras’ back, “Next time I’ll order you to make that “fleeing” manoeuvre. Brilliant, boy! The ‘Ras Manoeuvre!’ I wish I could give you back that ear, because you sure as the Void aren’t going to get a promotion!” He laughed madly. The Rodian joined in with a hysterical giggle.

A few minutes later, in a tremulous voice, Ras announced, “Sir, The Tusk has latched onto Motherload’s main cargo hold. The hooks are in and the drill has successfully breached the acquisition’s hull.”

“Set your blasters and your claws on ‘kill,’ we’re goin’ in, ” Rugar screamed gleefully.

He looked at his team with admiration. A Shistavanen, two humans, three Togorians, a Trandoshan and Sishik, the Verpine weapons specialist.

"Okay, Gunnir, you lead this time.”

“Aye, Captain,” I said, grimacing under my armour. “Let’s go!”

Clamping to the ship’s docking shaft is no problem. It was especially easy this time, with the Imperial ship, Motherload, being immobile.

Our drill is a very specialized, acquired through a lot of credits, a lot of shooting, and a lot of designing by our versatlie Verpine technician. Once the drill pierces through a hull, it opens up at the end and clamps outward so as to prevent a ship from pulling away from it - well, not without pulling more of its own hull apart, anyway. The trick is the gelatinous coating. It expands around the drill thickly enough to prevent leaks during the operation, but it's soft enough not to damage the drill when it's being extracted. The proboscis that we use to enter into an adversary’s ship is hollow, allowing us to enter through a blast hatch. When it's time for our crew to go, whatever mess or witnesses or other evidence of our excursion was left is conveniently sucked out into space. How can you tell it's an insectoid invention?

It's getting outside the drill hatch without getting picked off, that's a little tougher. The Imperial cruiser? That proved to be even more difficult than usual.

Blasters started going off as soon as the drill-clamps opened. Without any warning, Captain Rugar ran right into the fray and started shooting at everything that moved. I saw him revelling in joyful hysteria every time he heard a scream. The rest of the boarding crew hastily followed behind, giving cover fire as well as following up and finishing off.

I shot an Imperial officer who was about to shoot my Captain, but someone still managed to take out a chunk of the Aqualish’s shoulder. However, instead of falling, Rugar became even more enraged. He threw his blaster at his assailant, grappled him down and twisted the man’s neck until it made a snapping sound. Then he recovered his blaster and, leaving his victim conscious but unable to move, continued reigning as much terror as possible. Aargan, one of the Togorians, finished off the poor fellah, whose only defense was a feeble twitch.

I called on two of my team mates. I said to the Shistavanen, “Gid! Come with me. Sishik, you, too. The rest of you, cover us.”

Through the smoke and blaster fire, we took cover and made it to one of the larger containers in the hold. I don’t think anyone noticed us going around behind the fray, what with Rugar’s maniacal distraction.

“Sishik, do your stuff,” I said. “Gid, you and me will go in when she opens the seal.”

“Sounds good,” replied the canine man. He grinned wolfishly. “I’m glad you’re leading, today, Reissem. Last time that cowardly Rodian froze with fear at the first sign of blood. I had to drag his useless green hide off myself.”

“Yeah, too bad about that ear,” I said sarcastically, and put a hand over my own. “I guess there’s no room for a screw up for me, either.”

“Reissem,” the Verpine rasped, clicking her mandibles. “The seal is open.”
Me and Gid opened the large compartment. We had to pull back momentarily to recover from the smell that hit us like a freighter.

“What in the System were they going to do with all these Wookies?” I asked, surveying the bedraggled contents. None were moving...

The wolfman shrugged, scrunching up his nose, “The smell of death. Not too freshly killed. Maybe bounty acquisitions being brought in. A botched slave run?”

A low moan forced itself though the pile of fur and blood.

“A live one!” I started pulling at arms and legs, trying to pull bodies aside.

Suddenly I pulled an arm and almost fell back because I wasn’t expecting such a light weight. I gagged.

“Easy, friend,” said Gid, steadying me and patting me on the back. “Look, we don’t have enough time. Let’s look in a different container before these guys get reinforcements.”

“Sorry, it’s just that,” I gently put the little body down and turned my head in disgust. Memories of my dear wife and precious child flooded through me. “There are children here. Females as well as males. Why would the Empire kill babies??”

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out,” Gid growled softly. “I’d like to get out of here.”

“You go,” I ordered. “I’ll get the Wookie. See if you can find something for yourself.”

“Why?” The wolf-man asked. “Dead weight will just slow us down.”

"It might come in handy later,” I said, continuing my grizzly search. “Look, I’ll explain later... Go ahead. Go!”

I struggled through. I thought I could hear laboured breathing. Finally, near the back, buried under four other Wookies, I found the one with life still in her, lying on her stomach.

“Hey,” I knelt down and nudged her shoulder. “Hey, can you walk?”

She suddenly roared, and grabbed my leg squeezing it hard, trying to topple me over.

“Ah! Ow! Hold on! Hold on!” I yelped. “I mean, let go! Let go! I’m trying to get you out of here. You want to get out of here, right?”

She loosened her death-grip and made a weak, inquiring growl.

“Good, you understand Basic. Can you walk?”

She slowly pushed herself up to a sitting position, covering what looked like a nasty wound across one side of her body. When she tried to stand up, she nearly fell, and I tried to steady her.

“Woah, lady. Take it easy. That’s a nasty blaster wound there. What say we go to my ship and fix you up?”

The Wookie looked at me intently and nodded, swaying slightly. Then we walked out of the container, me supporting the Wookie, with some difficulty. She howled in pain, or sorrow, or maybe anger, as we waded through Wookie bodies.

The insectoid was waiting outside.

“Whew,” she hissed. “I can smell why they had this thing sealed - Oh!” When she saw the wounded Wookie she looked at me with lowered antennae. “What are you doing?”

“Just help me get her back to the ship when Gid comes back.”

“But -“

”Never mind!” I glared at her. “I’m leading the search, and I found something I want. The rules are you help me with mine this time, I help you with yours next time!”

Sishik looked up at the ceiling with compound eyes and rasped, “Fine. Whatever you want. The blaster fire is slowing down somewhat. I think we should go back.”

Just then Gid showed up with a bulky sack.

“I’ve got a load of ship parts and some surveillance and communication components. Whatever else they have isn’t worth much to us,“ he said, shifting the loot.

“Well now, I suppose I’ll have to help you carry this... this...” Sishik grated.

“Yeah, yeah, just do it,” I ordered. “Uncross at least a couple of your arms and use them to help me instead.”

We returned to the scene, but our guys didn’t look like they needed much help. Imperial officers of varying rank littered the hold. Some with their limbs. Some with their heads. None with their lives.

“Looks like you finished without us,” commented Gid. He saluted and put the sack of goods at Rugar’s feet. “I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I’m rarely pleased,” retorted Rugar. A Togorian was trying to bandage the Aqualish’s shoulder. “Purrn, get away from me! You shed, and you’ll get some of your mangy fur in my wound. Go look after our other wounded!”

I saw Cale, the other human, bandaging one of the other Togorian’s laser-burned legs. The fur was burnt off and there was an angry red line running from the hip down to the knee.

The Trandoshan was searching the bodies. The blaster mark across his snout didn’t seem to bother him.

“Listen, Wookie, let me handle this,” I mumbled as Sishik and I struggled under the furry being’s shoulders on the way over to the Captain. “It may sound insulting but some people only understand one thing, and that’s if there’s something in it for them.”

The Wookie nodded weakly.

I staggered a bit under her weight, and cleared my throat. The Aqualish turned suddenly and glared at me & Sishik and I thought his eyes were going to pop out and hit me in the head when he looked way, way up at our wounded Wookie.

“Gunnir,” snapped Captain Rugar. “Leave that meat behind. I told you before, we’re not a rescue unit, we’re pirates. I’m not going to warn you -“

“Captain,” I spoke up. “You remember that there are a couple of things about Wookies that might prove useful to you. Right?”

Gid and Sishik gawked at me. They knew our dear Captain doesn’t like to be interrupted.

“I’m listening,” Rugar growled.

“You being our wise Captain, you must know that Wookies are awesome trackers & navigators, for one thing,” I said.

The Captain looked interested, and somewhat flattered.

“And of course you also know a lot are mechanically and technologically inclined,” I continued. “And when their in tip-top shape they’re fantastic fighters!”

The last point seemed to seal the deal. Rugar nodded thoughtfully.

“Well, clean her up then,” he snapped and got up to go back to The Tusk.

“The rest of you, let’s go! And Gunnir!” he growled as he spun around to face me again. “The next time you cut me off mid-sentence, I’ll cut you off in your mid-section!”

“Understood, Captain Rugar,” I said, with a little beads of sweat forming on my brow.

We reconvened an hour or so later in our meeting room. Captain Rugar had assembled the entire crew. He crossed his arms behind his back and circled the large room we were seated around, apparently lost in thought. He looked like he was in a good mood, for once.

“You are here now because I want to bring to your attention,” he said momentarily, “that this Wookie we have on board will be an asset to the crew.”

Several crew members nodded knowingly, some exchanged disapproving glances. Gid raised a furry hand.

“Speak,” said Rugar.

“How do you propose she will fit in, Captain?” He growled. “I consider the tasks I do on this ship and with this crew to be very valuable to you. I don’t want to loose my rank or assigned duties. You know I do great at what I do now.”

“Oh don’t worry, Gid, old dog,” the Captain said slyly. “I have no intention of displacing anyone on this crew.”

There was a collective murmur of relief at the table.

“Ras,” called the Captain, in a sing-song voice. “Please stand up, won’t you?”

The Rodian jumped to attention, saluting.

“Y-y-yessir?” He nearly gibbered.

Rugar casually brought out his hand, armed with a blaster, and shot the Rodian through the skull.

“Well, now. There seems to be a position open for a navigation officer,” he said mildly.

The rest of us sat there, frozen in our chairs. Ras had been knocked over by the blast, and there wasn’t much of his head left, except for what had splattered onto us. “Seems he met with an unfortunate accident with a blaster.”

“Sishik, Gid,” said Rugar, and then turned to two Togorians, “Purrn and Scrahg, get the Wookie. And Cale, perhaps you could shove this mess out the airlock after the meeting?” he added, prodding the green body with his boot. "He was as much a mess in life as he is in death. And just as pleasant-smelling, I might add."

Momentarily the four showed up with the wounded Wookie, whose health seemed much improved. Her nose rankled, however, when she saw the ooze still dripping from the walls and our clothes. I was surprised to see he hadn’t shackled her.

“Looking better I see,” said the Captain. “Yes?” He gestured to the being with his hand up.

“I used that laser we re-acquisitioned last week to heal the wound,” explained the Phindian who had doctored the wound. “The other damage she managed to live through will heal in due time.”

“Well done, Woro,” Rugar affirmed. He turned a calculating eye on the Wookie. “You realize, of course, that you are indebted to me, Wookie. You will remain on this ship until you have paid off your debt,” he intoned. “I do not offer my services for free. And if you want to make trouble about it, I’m sure we could drop you off at the nearest Imperial correctional facilitation. Do we have an agreement?”

The Wookie, after exchanging a glance with me, huffed and crossed her arms, nodding reluctantly.

Sishik raised a spindly arm. Rugar acknowledged her with a nod. She rose and held up a small gadget, which she handed to the Captain.

“Captain Rugar, Sir,” she clicked, “Here is a translator I threw together for the Wookie. I will eventually download this program into the main ship’s computer.”

“Excellent Sishik,” purred the Captain. He took the translator and admired it. “Show me how it works.”

“All you have to do is make certain this side,” she demonstrated, “ faces the Wookie when she speaks, and the view screen is facing you. On the screen will appear an approximate translation of Shryywook into Basic. ”

“Good,” he held it up to the Wookie. “Well? You manage to comprehend Basic. Tell us your name.”

She barked softly, proudly putting her fist to her heart.

“Crew, meet Charlebbekka,” he said. “Congratulations, Miss. You are now our navigator. I’ll see you on bridge tomorrow morning. The Rodian set us a course for an isolated moon before he quit, so we’ll be able to rest well tonight.”

I put up my hand.

“What is it Gunnir?”

“Do you mind if I show her the ropes?” I suggested. “I know, more or less how the ship’s navigation system works, and I’m sure she can catch on to everything else.”

“Fine, “ said the Captain as he twirled on his heel. As he exited the room, he said over his shoulder, “She’s your pet anyway.”
* * *

“Woah...” Aria pushed her plate aside. Her eyes had a faraway look. She refocused on the present. “What do you think Captain Rugar would have done if you hadn’t spoken up?”

"Probably would’ve either killed her or left her to die,” her father shrugged.

Charlebbekka paused between chews and gave his back a hardy smack, and then mussed his hair.

“Hey! Woah! Easy there, missy,” he said, coughing. “You nearly broke my spine!”

“Well, where is the translator now?” Aria inquired.

“She wanted to leave it behind,” explained Reissem. “It sort of reminds her that she still owes Captain Rugar.”

The Wookie chortled good-naturedly. Aria and her mother looked at Reissem, waiting for a translation.

“Oh, it was nothing,” said Reissem, looking a little red around the ears. “It’s nothing, I - what?”

The Wookie looked at him for a half a second and then unexpectedly grabbed him, hugging him toward her, knocking his chair over. She proceeded to muss up his hair with her mouth twisting into a mischievous grin.

“AUGH! OK!” he protested, trying to escape the heavy embrace and the hair mussing. “I can hardly breathe! OKAY!”

Charlebbekka let go and the man tumbled to the floor. Aria and her mother looked at the Wookie, then each other, mouths hanging open. They peered over the table.

“Can you see him?”Ariasha asked her daughter.

A hand appeared on the table, and he rose, with some difficulty, and rather breathlessly. His hair was quite messed with most of it sticking out straight up and in other directions.

“Uh, what she wanted me to say was,” he paused as he pulled himself onto his chair and attempted to flatten his hair down, “She wanted me to make sure you knew she doesn’t feel like she owes the Captain anything, because it was me who saved her. She is repaying this debt by protecting my life.”

There was a stunned silence. The women were looking at their furry guest with a mixture of disbelief and awe. Ariasha’s expression wavered slightly.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “It’s nice to know he’s got a friend like you when he’s out there.”

The Wookie looked startled at this statement, but then bowed her head slightly and raised a glass.

Ariasha stood up from her chair. “Would you like thirds?” she asked heading toward the stove unit.

Aria heard her mother gasp, and turned to see her mother’s legs fold beneath her.

Reissem’s chair clattered on the stone floor again as he hastily stood up, “Are you okay? What’s wrong? Is it getting worse?”

“Just give me a minute,” she said stiffly, facing away from them. Fighting the tremors in her arms & legs, she began to get up, fists clenched in pain or embarrassment.

“Mother! Let me help you to the visiting room!” Aria pushed out from the table.

Suddenly Ariasha was aloft in big furry arms.

“Oh my! For heaven’s sake,” blushed the woman, looking down at Reissem. She turned to Charlebbekka. “I’m not helpless, I just lost my footing. It’s nothing. Let me walk.”

She protested all the way to the couch where Charlebbekka gently put her down.

“It’s okay, love,” said Reissem, sitting next to her and picked up her hand. “We’re all related now! Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not -“ she checked herself from raising her voice. “I’m not embarrassed, I just...”

“I still don’t understand this “family” connection to the - Charlebbekka,” prompted Aria.

The Wookie growled a garbled phrase.

“I’m what she calls “Honour Family,” he translated. “I’m sort of her brother. And you’re her niece!”

“And Mother’s her sister-in-law!” laughed Aria.

A soft, throaty laugh shook Charlebbekka’s fur. She put a heavy arm around the burly pirate’s shoulder and drawled inquisitively.

Reissem looked startled. “Oh, we’ll tell them about that later, ‘Lebbie. I’d just like to sit around with my family and catch up on the news.”

“What did she say, Father?” asked his daughter, moving to the woven carpet to sit by the furry guest.

“She just wants me to tell more stories,” he smiled. “But, now, I want to hear some stories about you two.”

The Wookie’s brow creased in confusion, but she didn’t continue the conversation.

“Tell, you what, my friend,” he winked. “Why don’t you help yourself to some more stew?”

The Wookie grunted an affirmative, but Aria noticed Charlebbekka let her gaze remain on her father for a few more seconds as she made her way back to the kitchen.

“Good news, ladies,” he said gathering his wife and daughter to each side of him. “I have some more money for you both. I even had time to, er, get you some gifts!”

“Well, now you’ll have to show us,” Ariasha admonished. You can’t expect us to concentrate on conversation when there are presents!”

“Really? What an astonishment!” he grinned wolfishly. He rose briefly to grab the large backpack he had dropped at the door when he had first arrived.

“I worry about you, young lady,” he said seriously. “And I see that you are turning into someone strong and beautiful and, your mother tells me, brave. You can always use strength and beauty to get what you want, but here’s something for you when you get too brave for your own good.”

He pulled out a large bag and handed it to her. The weight surprised her. She pulled out two boxes and a heavy object wrapped in hide. She opened one container and pulled out a pair of slender black leather boots.

“Aw, cool!” she said enthusiastically.

When she opened the next box she could hardly contain her joy. Without a word, she got up and immediately buckled on her new utility belt and holster.

Ariasha looked warily at her husband. She knew what was coming next.

“Oh, hey! What?” Reissem asked sheepishly. “I think she’s ready, don’t you? I’m going to teach -“

“Oh wow, Father! Mother look! Look what he gave me!” She had unwrapped the hide and was now cradling a blaster in her hand. She saw her mother’s look of contention. “Mom. I promise - promise - not to use this until Father shows me how. For now, it’s just going to sit here in my holster. See? I put the safety on!”

Her mother closed her eyes.

“Oh please, Mother!” Aria went to her and kneeled in front of her. Clasping Ariasha’s hands in her own, Aria sputtered out every reason why she could keep the blaster. “Remember, Mother, when you told me I shouldn’t go wandering around on my own? But I don’t really have a lot of choice, sometimes, do I? And remember when we had that talk about boys and girls and how you said how much you worried about me? Remember when we went to town and those people were picking on us? Remember when we saw a Tusken Raider?”

“You’ve been wandering around on your own?” Reissem looked sternly his daughter. He turned to his wife. “You had that talk? People were doing what in town? Which people? Tusken Raider?!”

Ariasha covered her eyes. “Alright, alright. I see,” conceded Mrs. Gunnir. “I guess you’re going to be needing one sooner or later. I was just hoping later, is all.”

Aria whooped and ran on the spot for a couple of seconds. Then she turned back and hugged her mother. “Thank you! I promise to be careful!”

"I hope so,” sighed Ariasha.

“Okay, okay, Mother,” Aria said excitedly as she went back to her seat on the floor. “Your turn! Open your presents now!”

Reissem smiled and rubbed his hands together. He produced a smaller bag from his backpack.
Ariasha put her hand into the canvas bag and pulled out a glass box encasing a gossamer diamond necklace.

“This is for you Ariasha. It looks delicate, but it’s unbreakable. Like you.”

She was speechless as he fastened it around her neck. She covered her mouth and tried to blink away tears.

He handed her a shoe box, and opened it for her. Inside were delicate, white shoes.

“What am I ever going to wear these with?” she said, and pulled out a small parcel wrapped in colourful cloth.

Her husband watched her intently as she gently unwrapped it.

She lifted the lid of a ornately carved wooden box.

“Oh, Re!” Ariasha sighed. “It’s so delicate! Look, Aria!” She pulled out a full-length dress. Small, dainty diamonds accented the silvery fabric.

“Isn’t that rather sheer?” Aria said, wrinkling her nose. “Where do you expect her to wear that?”

“Oh, it leaves some to the imagination,” said her Father.

Ariasha giggled.

“Gross!” their daughter groaned, sticking her tongue out.

“Never you mind, young lady,” said her father, wagging a finger at his daughter. “I am taking Mother on a weekend getaway!”

“What? But Father, will I get to see you, too??” cried Aria.

“Of course you’ll get time with me!” he replied soothingly. “I have seven days - five days to spend with you, and if I keep my head down, another day after that! I kind of left the Captain with the impression that Lebbie and me were going on a mission to trade parts on the Black Market. Well, I gave him a rough idea about how long it will take to complete the task, you see. And he trusts me enough so that I didn’t have to let him know exactly where I’d be.”

“You’re insane, Re,” said his wife, as she hugged him tightly.

“Well, that does explain a few things, doesn’t it, love?”

“Will I be here all by myself?” Aria asked, brightening.

“Not to disappoint you, but me and Lebbie already made arrangements,” he said. “She said she’d be happy to stay here with you while your mother and me go off together. So it’s settled. Now give me some ideas as to what my two treasures have been up to the last six months?”

“Well, mother wants me to learn self defence,” Aria stated. “She says she’s looking for someone to train me.”

“Is that so?” inquired Reissem, and then looked at his wife. “Do you have anyone in mind?”

“Uh, well, yes and no,” was his wife’s reply. “I have a few people in mind.”

"Anyone I would know?” he probed.

“Um, no,” she said, not meeting his eyes. “Look, are you finished eating? I need to clear the table.”

“Mm-hm,” he said raising an eyebrow. Aria’s forehead creased slightly at this strange exchange.

Reissem pressed on cautiously, “Weeell... Is it someone you know?”

“I um,” she hesitated. “I haven’t really met any of the ones I sent queries to. I’ll let you know if I can, when I find one that seems appropriate.”

“Such a mysterious woman!” Exclaimed Reissem, teasing his wife. He didn’t notice Aria looking at them with a quizzical expression on her face. “How often I seem to have these allusive conversations with you.”

“What are you two going on about?” their daughter demanded. “What’s going on?”

“I hope to find out, someday,” said her father, gazing fondly into his wife’s eyes. “She never keeps anything from me but her past.”

Ariasha reddened. Her daughter’s eyes widened, then narrowed.

“Yeah! That’s really true, ”she said, pointing her finger at her mother. “You always change the subject when I ask why you never talk about where you came from. What happened that you ended up here with Father?”

“You know how we met,” Ariasha pointed out. “I was working in a bar, and-“

”Yes, yes,” Aria interrupted, “'Father rescued you.' But what were you doing before that?”

“Nothing you would be interested in,” she said evenly. “Go get the wine out of the cellar.”

“Mother!” Aria stood up and put her hands on her hips.

“Don’t worry,” assured Reissem. “She’ll tell us the whole story someday. Won’t you?”
The question seemed more like a plea than a certainty.

“Maybe. But it’s nothing,” she replied. “Nothing like this, your safe return. That is something to celebrate.”

Reissem drew his wife to him, and gave her a soft, lingering kiss. “And I celebrate that you two are still here to greet me,” he said meaningfully.

Then he noticed Aria still standing there, watching them. Her arms were crossed, but she didn’t seem as determined to cross examine her mother anymore. In fact, Reissem noticed, she looked as though she might even be sad.

“Aria,” he said softly.

“Oh. Right.” She uncrossed her arms and turned to get the wine.

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