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Miniature Disasters (And Minor Catastrophes)

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I don't want to be second best
Don't want to stand in line
Don't want to fall behind

- Miniature Disasters, KT Tunstall

~~~

Arihnda Pryce was nine years old when the Empire came to Lothal.

She can remember that day clearly; she remembers the pride in her parents’ voices as they told her just how vital Pryce Mining would be to the Empire. She remembers running the streets with her friends, how they laughed and clapped and cheered and held their hands up to the sky as though they were trying to catch the large dome-shaped ship as it broke orbit. She remembers the way the sun reflected off of the white armor of the Stormtroopers as they roamed through the crowd, handing out candy and other treats to awe-struck children.

The highlight though, especially for a nine year old, is the parade. Not just any parade, but a parade featuring the who’s who of Lothal; government officials, Clone Wars veterans, prominent business owners—her parents included. And instead of merely watching the parade from the street with the other spectators, Ari gets to be in the parade. She sits in her parent’s speeder, smiling and waving as they pass by the cheering crowd.

It’s one of the happiest moments of her life.

It’s the moment she falls in love with the Empire. The moment she makes a promise to herself that one day she’ll rise through its ranks and make the people of Lothal proud. In that moment, in the eyes and mind of a nine year old reveling in the sounds of cheers, things could only get better.

With the Empire, anything was possible.

If only she could have known just how wrong she would be.

~~~

Seven years later...

“Oh, Ari.” Her mother sighs, running her hands over Ari’s outfit one last time to smooth out any remaining wrinkles. “I still wish you hadn’t cut off all of that beautiful hair.”

Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes grows more difficult the longer she’s stuck under the preening eye of her mother. She wants to defend her decision. Again. Remind her mother that she’s sixteen now—sixteen and a half—and fully capable of making said decision for herself.

Whether through some sort of preternatural sense, or just plain good timing, her father intervenes before things can turn into an argument (again).

“Leave her alone, Elainye.” Talmoor Pryce looks up from his datapad, shooting Ari a playful wink before turning his attention to his wife. “It’s ‘fashionable,’ or at least that’s what all the kids are saying these days.” Ari mouths a silent thank you to her father before her mother continues as though he hadn’t said a word.

“You look so grown up,” Elainye raises a finger and twirls it, indicating that she wants Ari to do the same. “Let me get one last look at you.”

This time Ari does roll her eyes, but not until she has her back turned. When she finishes spinning around, it looks like her mother is on the verge of tears.

“Honestly, mom. It’s only two years, and I’ll be able to come home during the festival weeks. You’re acting as though you’ll never see me again.”

“I know, I know.” Her mother dabs at unshed tears before pulling Ari into a (slightly) awkward hug. Ari isn’t much for hugging these days (sixteen and a half!), but she humors her mother and doesn’t immediately step out of the embrace.

Her father, sensing Ari’s growing discomfort, saves the day by clearing his throat while picking up Ari’s travel case. “I should get her to the spaceport before she misses her transport.”

“Oh. Yes.” Elainye clears her throat, finally—reluctantly—letting go. “Of course. Can’t have the only representative from the Outer Rim be late.”

Only. A single word capable of filling her with so much pride.

The Future Leaders of the Empire Academy was established as an alternative training program for those not seeking a military career, but still wishing to serve. Selection was just as elite and competitive as the military academies (some would argue moreso) with only 500 Imperial Citizens chosen to attend each year. After completion of the accelerated program, students were guaranteed admission to any of the top universities throughout Imperial space.

And Ari isn’t just the first from Lothal to be selected; she’s the only representative from the entire Outer Rim.

Ari’s mother pulls her in for one last hug (which Ari allows) and follows them outside. “Be good! Listen to the instructors and mentors. And remember to comm us whenever you can!”

She watches her father as he give her mother a farewell worthy of an extended absence and not the standard hour (or less) he’ll be gone, and can’t hold back the smile tugging at her lips. Most of her friends would likely roll their eyes or groan at such a public display of affection, but for Ari it brings about a sense of comfort. Because to Ari, Talmoor and Elainye Pryce’s relationship serves as the litmus test for all of life’s concerns. So long as they’re together, things can never really be as bad as they may seem.

The smile lingers when her father slides into the family speeder with a matching smile of his own. “Ready?”

“More than ready.” Ari doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t even turn around to wave at her mother or get one last look at the home she’s about to leave for the first time. “Let’s go.”

~~~

The ride to the spaceport doesn’t take long, and before the reality of what’s happening can fully sink in she’s already on the transport and settled into the private cabin she’ll call home for the next five standard days. Though not overtly luxurious by any means, it has its own refresher with a sonic shower, a private data terminal, and—the best feature in her opinion—a viewport. As the ship starts to pull away as it prepares to enter hyperspace, she stares out that viewport, seeing Lothal from orbit for the first time.

It’s beautiful.

And, one day (soon, she vows) she’ll make sure it stays that way.

~~~

Arihnda’s been on Coruscant for six months, and in addition to the material covered in the mandatory courses of the academy (Galactic History, Diplomacy, and Imperial Law, just to name a few), she’s also picked up other invaluable skills, such as an understanding of the more subtle, yet equally as important, aspects of Imperial politics.

For instance, she’s discovered that a senator’s senior aide holds almost as much power and sway as the senator themselves. They’re responsible for making (and breaking) appointments, screening messages, and effectively deciding what piece of potential legislation not only makes it to their senator, but inevitably makes it to the senate floor as well.

After gleaning this information (in under a month, no less), she makes it her personal goal to be selected for the academy’s dual enrollment program and serve out an internship in Senator Renking’s office while still working on her studies.

What’s also abundantly clear is that an ‘Informal Reception’ held exclusively for the academy students to celebrate the start of Ascension Week is actually code for ‘Elegant dinner served on small plates.’ And, not for the first time during the past six months, she’s grateful for the guidance of her new friends.

At first meeting Geni, Kerin, and Grytchn—from Coruscant, Hosnian Prime, and Corellia, respectively—Ari had been incredibly nervous and absolutely convinced that she would commit a serious faux pas in the presence of the Core Worlds representatives.

But, to her surprise, Geni (the leader of the trio) had taken Ari under her wing, advising her on everything from which courses to avoid all the way to how to get into the best nightclubs on Coruscant without a valid identichip.

This time they’d come through, with very little notice, to find her a dress and matching shoes, fix her hair, and apply enough makeup to make her look sophisticated (but not like a schutta, as Kerin had whispered). It leaves her feeling a bit like those flimsiplast dolls she used to play with, the ones she’d spend hours seeking out the perfect combination of colors and clothing items. But in the end she doesn’t really mind because she’s getting to spend time with the most popular group of girls at the academy.

It doesn’t hurt that she looks amazing.

Now the four of them stood among various objects spread throughout the expansive lobby of the Galactic Museum. They’re making idle chit chat (mostly Geni ranking the others present based on appearance and appearance only) when their conversation comes to a sudden halt.

“What is that?” Geni’s whisper is so loud that it doesn’t have the right to call itself such, but it gets the job done and Arihnda’s attention is now focused solely on the newcomer.

He’s...blue.

Blue, and tall, with jet black hair and striking red eyes. He’s dressed in the uniform of an Imperial Naval Officer, and if she squints enough she’s pretty sure she can make out his rank; Lieutenant Commander. Next to him is a human; shorter (but still taller than her even in borrowed heels), looks to be about her age, with brown hair and brown eyes.

He’s cute.

“A solid six.” Geni’s saccharine sweet voice interrupts any further needless thinking. “Points off for being here with whatever that blue thing is.”

“Ugh, right?” Grytchn chimes in with an over exaggerated gagging sound. “What is it even doing here? I didn’t think that today was ‘Bring your pet to work’ day.”

The three other girls laugh, but Ari doesn’t join in.

“I think he’s a Chiss.”

“A what?” Geni looks at her like she’s just grown two extra heads.

“Chiss.” Ari takes one last look at the stranger before turning her focus back to her friends. “I always thought they were just a myth from Wild Space stories.”

Geni’s eyes turn to ice, pinning her to the spot, and only then does Ari realize the fatal mistake she’s just made.

Shavit.

Geni and her crew are only tolerant of her so long as she refrains from making any references to being from the Outer Rim. And, apparently, mentioning Wild Space is just as bad if not worse.

“You would know, wouldn’t you.” Geni’s voice is all spite despite the smile. “Lothali trash.”

“Yeah, trash.” Kerin’s turn to chime in. “I bet his little friend is trash too.”

“You should go over there and ask them both out!.” Grytchn’s laugh sounds more like a cackle. “Then you could be the trash trio.”

Kerin starts laughing too, but Geni is able to shut the two of them up with a single look.

“Let’s go, girls. Xander told me about this raging party being thrown tonight at the Chandrillan Embassy.” The way she says it, the way she stares at Ari as though she’s something stuck to the bottom of her overpriced shoes makes it painfully clear that Geni isn’t extending that invitation to her. The three of them turn and leave without saying a word.

Ari just, well, she just stands there for a moment, blinking, trying to wrap her head around what’s happened. The way she sees it, she has two choices; stay at the party and take advantage of the free food, or follow her friends to see what in the name of the Seven Corellian Hells had just happened.

She goes for the second option, but not before doing a quick recon of the room to be absolutely certain that nobody’s been paying attention to the teen-holodrama worthy event. To her relief, everyone seems too busy eyeing the Chiss while pretending to discuss other things.

Geni and the others are outside by the time she catches up with them. “Hey, Geni! Wait!”

For a moment it seems that they may ignore her, then the three of them slowly turn around. “Oh. It’s you.” Geni takes the lead, as always.

“Did something crawl up your reactor core? What was that back there?”

“Aw.” Geni’s voice is nothing but patronizing. “It’s so cute when they can’t figure out what’s going on.”

Ari feels her hands clench into fists. It’s so, so, tempting to punch Geni. To punch all of them.

Punching a fellow academy member? Dumb idea, but the worst that could happen is a rather scathing report sent to her parents. Punching the academy members representing Corellia, Hosnian Prime, and Coruscant? That’s tantamount to career suicide. She knows this, and so do they.

“Fine.” Ari grinds out the word. “I’ll return the dress and shoes tomorrow.”

The three are already walking away, backs turned toward her. Geni stops just long enough to give Ari one last scathing look. “Keep them. Who knows what sort of diseases they’ll carry now after you’ve been wearing them.”

Their laughter fills the night air as she stands there, not daring to move until the sound fades away.

“Problem with your friends?”

The voice, so low and so sudden, causes Ari to let out a quiet gasp as her head snaps in the direction it came from.

Oh.

It’s the Chiss and his—friend? Aide?. Part of her is grateful to no longer be alone out here. The other part is embarrassed to realize that the scene back in the museum hadn’t gone completely unnoticed.

“Just a minor misunderstanding.” She raises her chin and pours as much of the Coruscanti accent she’s been perfecting into her voice. “I can catch up with my friends later.”

“No offense, Miss, but they sure didn’t seem like your friends.” This from the Chiss’ friend, who she’s just now determined is an ensign, though it’s his accent and not his rank that surprises her. It’s all Wild Space, as unrefined and untamed as the region itself. It makes her think of home, of all the traders coming into the spaceport on Lothal for access to supplies and other services only available in the Outer Rim.

Ari wants to hug him, to drop her fake accent and trade stories about life outside of the Core Worlds. Six months away from Lothal isn’t much, but tonight’s events have made those six months feel like an entire lifetime. They can be friends, real friends. She opens her mouth to voice her agreement, to ask his name and see if maybe he wants to grab a cup of caf sometime.

But she can’t.

She’s not here to make friends with ensigns from Wild Space who hang around with blue-skinned aliens.

“As I said, it was just a misunderstanding.” This time she sounds like a native Coruscanti, not someone trying too hard to put on the accent. Shame that it’s just these two to hear it, and not a room full of people.

“At least let me call you a hovercab.” The ensign again. If she wasn’t so wound up she’d find his offer and act of chivalry quite flattering. “Here, you can even use my—”

“No.” She’s not quite shouting, but the word comes out more forcefully than intended. “No,” she repeats it, this time with a little more grace. “Thank you, but I will be quite alright on my own.”

The ensign, and those vaping brown eyes of his, looks as though he’s ready to object to her refusal before the Chiss steps in.

“I believe that the young woman is capable of taking care of herself, Ensign Vanto. Let us leave Miss—?”

“Pryce,” she offers her name, without so much as a moment’s hesitation. Later—much,much later—she’ll look back and be able to determine that this particular exchange is the exact moment when things had already gone beyond the point of no return. But for now it’s nothing more than a slightly frustrating conversation at the end of a very upsetting evening.

“Let us leave Miss Pryce alone and return to the party.”

Vanto doesn’t seem to entirely agree with the Chiss, but manages to keep that opinion to himself and nods. “Good night, Miss Pryce.”

“Yes. Good night indeed, Miss Pryce.” The Chiss offers her an informal bow, which she returns, before leading Vanto away.

Ari sighs, watching them leave, then pulls out her commlink to hail a hovercab. It’s a short ride back to the apartment tower housing all of the academy members. The corridors are quiet, the hoverlift empty, a sign that everyone is either back at the reception still or off at one of the parties that seem to spring up every night. Even the suite she shares with the representative from Dantooine is devoid of any life.

It’s better that way, really, as it gives her a chance to strip out of the ridiculous dress and kick off the ridiculous shoes and change into her practical yet comfortable night clothes in peace. She even makes herself a cup of hot chocolate (a pure indulgence worth every single calorie), finishing it off before crawling into bed.

Then, just as her head hits the pillow, her eyes flash open; the Chiss.

She never got his name.

~~~

Their paths cross again a few days later at another Ascension Week event, this time at the Alisandre Hotel.

Arihnda feels self conscious the moment she steps foot into the ballroom. Not because she’s going out of her way to avoid her former friends (or even the mystery Chiss and Ensign Vanto), but because she’s in a ballroom in the Alisandre Hotel in the first place. Even with her rather comfortable upbringing thanks to Pryce Mining she feels utterly out of place among the other party goers. There’s rich, and then there’s rich. Out of sheer boredom (and morbid curiosity) she’d taken a look at the room prices while waiting for things to get started; just a single night in the Alisandre cost more than her parents earned in an entire month.

How was she ever going to fit in with this crowd and rub elbows with the Coruscanti elite?

She heaves a sigh, then finds that sigh getting stuck in her throat because he’s here. They’re both here—Ensign Vanto and the still as of now nameless Chiss.

And, okay, so maybe she has been going a little out of her way to avoid them at all of the other events she’s attended this week. But she hasn’t exactly been going out of her way to find them either.

Not that it’s a difficult task to spot him; he stands out in the crowd like a—well, like a blue-skinned alien among a room full of humans. She’s quick to tear her gaze away before they can make eye contact and prays to the stars above that he hasn’t spotted her. Because if he does spot her he’ll realize that Ari’s standing by herself and it will take him all of ten seconds to determine that the misunderstanding with her friends was much more than that.

She can already feel the heat rising in her cheeks, but she squashes down that emotion before it can take root and turns around, seeking out another relatively empty spot to occupy. That’s when she sees them; two men and a woman, older than her—probably in their late 20s—and when the woman waves her over Ari takes a moment to ensure that, yes, the invitation really is meant for her.

Ari is quick to join them (but not too quick), offering a polite smile in greeting.

“You looked like a lost bantha cub out there.” It feels like an insult at first, but the slight grin accompanying the other woman’s voice eases some of the rising tension. “I’m Juahir. These are my friends, Driller and Ottlis.”

“Arihnda.” She smiles, trying not to gawk at Ottlis; he’s cute. Really cute.

Cuter than Ensign Whatshisname. Geni would rate him at a solid 10, and while he’s not a naval officer his clothes still scream credits to spare.

“Are you enjoying Ascension Week so far, Arihnda?” Ottlis asks, and the way his mouth curves into a sly little smile does all sorts of funny things to her stomach. She also doesn’t miss the fact that the others haven’t asked her where she’s from or why she’s on Coruscant. It’s a massive relief, and Ari can feel some of the oppressive weight that comes with pretending to be something you’re not lifted from her shoulders

Then all of that weight comes crashing down again when Driller speaks before she’s able to get out a response.

“What is he, a Pantoran with some sort of eye condition?” They laugh, Ari included, not because she thinks it’s particular funny (it’s not) but she’s laughing because they’re laughing and she wants so desperately for them to accept her.

The laughter dies quickly, and she’s about to add in her own dig when those very red eyes of his meet hers.

Shavit.

Had he heard them—heard her laughing?

“Ah, Miss Pryce!” The voice of Senator Renking cuts through the din of conversation and she winces slightly when he waves her over. She shoots her new friends an apologetic look before making the short trip to stand next to the senator.

“Lieutenant Commander Thrawn, Ensign Vanto; I’d like you to meet Miss Arihnda Pryce, the first Lothalian to be accepted into the Future Leaders Academy.”

Thrawn’s face remains impassive—the significance of such a fact seeming to hold little relevance for him—but Vanto’s eyes go a little wide. There’s no doubt that they already knew the reason for her presence on Coruscant after meeting her at the private reception the other day; which means the only explanation for Vanto’s reaction is the revelation of her home world.

Stupid vaping senator and his stupid vaping Hutt-sized mouth.

“How lovely to see you again, Miss Pryce.” Oh, that voice. There’s something about it and the way he says her name, something that leaves her unable to decide if she should feel slightly frightened or slightly turned on. Maybe both?

“Ah, you’ve already met? Wonderful!” Renking’s voice, on the other hand, is incredibly irritating, like the screeching of a Loth-cat in heat. “If you’ll excuse me, I must speak with Moff Ghadi.” The senator, that sleemo, slinks off and disappears into the crowd, leaving her alone with Thrawn and Vanto.

“I take it the misunderstanding with your friends was resolved in a satisfactory manner?” Thrawn is, of course, referring to her new friends—Juahir, Driller, and Ottlis—and not her old friends. He knows exactly what he’s doing; there’s no detectable smirk on those thin lips of his, but the intent is there—he’s baiting her.

And, of course, she’s going to rise to the challenge.

“Oh, that?” Arihnda offers her best impression of the vapid laugh so often heard from her former friends. “Such a small, silly little misunderstanding.” Think Arihnda, think. “They were planning a special surprise for my birthday that was close to becoming less of a surprise.”

There. It’s a lie, but a lie with a layer of truth to it as her birthday is only two days away. Thrawn buys it. Or at least she thinks he does; his face is difficult to read, betraying nothing as his eyes bore into hers. She holds his gaze unflinchingly, almost daring him to say something.

Thankfully (or not), the silent standoff is ended by her new friends.

“So sorry for interrupting.” Ottlis’ voice is less than apologetic, but the accompanying bow in Thrawn's direction softens its tone just enough to avoid crossing a line before he shifts his gaze to Arihnda. “We wanted to know if you would like to join us for dinner at the Pinnacle.”

Vanto’s soft whistle grates on her already fraying nerves. “The Pinnacle? Now that is one stellar birthday surprise.”

She can feel her fingers twitch with the urge to strangle him.

“Birthday?” Juahir chimes in, looping her arm through Arihnda’s. “Then you cannot possibly say no.”

“How old?” Driller asks, but Juahir is quick to swat him on the arm before Arihnda can fully react. “Ow! What was that for?”

“Didn’t your mother teach you to never ask a lady her age?” Juahir’s reproachful tone pulls a slight flinch from Driller, and Arihnda can’t help but feel a small sense of victory at seeing his reaction.

“Twenty-one, if you must know.” It’s a blatant lie; bold enough to establish her on a similar level age-wise as her new friends while presumably putting herself slightly above Vanto. It’s risky too, incredibly so. She could have easily gone for 19, hitting middle ground, but Arihnda Pryce has never been one to balk at taking a risk.

Her new friends buy it.

So does Vanto.

Thrawn, well, Thrawn is a difficult read. And before she can wait for any sort of reaction from him, she’s being pulled away by Juahir while Driller and Ottlis lay out the master plan for the evening. Which mostly consists of a lot of drinking, to which she feels the need to offer her protest and maybe even come clean about her real age, but by the end of the evening (and far too many drinks) she no longer cares.

~~~

Two nights later she’s still riding the high of being accepted by a new group of friends. Older, mature, sophisticated friends. Friends that had other plans for the evening, but were also incredibly apologetic about having other plans. Which makes it much easier to enjoy being alone at yet another party.

Well, she was enjoying it.

“Miss Pryce.” Thrawn sidles up to her with surgical precision as she waits in line for the bar. “What an unexpected coincidence.”

Unlike two nights ago where she was unable to definitively determine how his voice affected her, tonight it’s far too easy to pin down; irritation. Because this time she really has gone entirely out of her way to avoid him, to the point of choosing one of the most low profile Empire Day parties possible—this one didn’t even have a guest list. Anybody could attend. Why in the stars is Thrawn here when he could be celebrating at the Imperial Palace with the Emperor himself?

No, this is no coincidence. This is deliberate; but why?

“Commander Thrawn,” she says politely, offering him a brief smile before stepping up to the bar to place her order.

“Allow me,” he says as he hands over his credit chit to the bartender. “Consider it a birthday present.”

Arihnda plasters another polite smile on her face while screaming internally. “Thank you, though I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘belated’. My birthday was two nights ago.”

“Was it?” He quirks an eyebrow; it’s the most expressive she’s seen him since their first meeting, though she’s not exactly thrilled by the prospect of his reaction. That single twitch of facial muscle says it all—he knows she’s lying, and rather than simply call her out on it he’s waiting for her to either slip up or confess.

Well, she’s not going to give him the satisfaction of either, and the moment she has her drink in hand she’s heading off to a spot somewhere as far away as possible before something stops her in her tracks.

Then she glances down and spots that the something is his hand. On her elbow. His blue skin makes hers seem even more pale than usual, and when she finally looks up she frowns slightly at seeing that he’s managed to maneuver her out of the main room and into a quiet alcove.

“I did my homework on you,” the words seem awkward on his tongue as he’s obviously testing out a new phrase. “Why would you go out of your way to spurn friends of your same generation in favor of deceiving a new set of friends that are nearly ten years your senior?”

What Arihnda wants to do is throw her drink at him while growling out that it’s none of his kriffing business. What she actually does is take several long swallows of said drink before setting the glass down on a nearby table before responding.

“And I’ve done my homework on you as well, Commander Thrawn.” And did she ever; after finding everything she could on the holonet she had willingly spent more time around Senator Renking to help fill in the gaps. “Perhaps you should spend more time worrying about your own affairs, and less time worrying about my social life.” Her words are biting, the smile on her lips viscous, though she does glance around briefly to see if they’ve attracted an audience.

It’s then—seeing nothing but an empty corridor—that the realization that this is the first time she’s been alone with him sinks in. She can feel her heart start to race as she stares up at him, those piercing red eyes seeming to pin her in place. What is he going to do? Rat her out to her friends?

Kiss her?

That second thought, the way it appears so quickly and so easily, is an incredibly sobering thought. Because she can’t be thinking about anyone in that way, let alone blue-skinned aliens who had just narrowly survived a court martial.

But he’s still staring at her, not moving, not speaking, not even touching her. And somehow that, the utter lack of action, is worse than any other possibility. She licks her lips, mouth suddenly gone dry, then nearly loses her breath at seeing the way his eyes follow the movement of her tongue, the way those eyes flare slightly and how he’s not even trying to hide his reaction.

Thrawn takes a step toward her then, causing her to take a step in retreat which brings her back flush against the wall. He’s close. So close, close enough that all he has to do is lean down slightly and then he’ll be kissing her—

“There you are. I—” Vanto’s words are like a whip being cracked, the intrusion of them causing her to flinch and Thrawn to forcefully snap his head around to face the ensign. “Sorry, sir, but we’re needed somewhere else.” He looks pointendly between Thrawn and Ari before settling his gaze back upon Thrawn.

“Yes. Somewhere...else.” Thrawn glances back towards her. “Until we meet again, Miss Pryce.”

Finding herself unable to speak, she simply nods and offers him a slight smile. She even nods to Vanto, who smiles—apologetically?—to her in return before he and Thrawn depart. Arihnda, still off balance from the past few minutes, stands in silence until an insistent chirping pulls her back to the present. She frowns a moment, fumbling around in her bag for her comm. At spotting the familiar comm code she feels the frown morph into a smile as she flips it on.

“Hello, Ottlis.”

“Hello yourself, Ari.” It should be illegal in ten systems for him to say her name like that. “Juahir and Driller are busy tonight, but I wanted to see if you were interested in meeting me at Delirium.”

Two thoughts immediately shoot through her head; one, Delirium is the hottest club on Coruscant (even Geni would have a hard time getting in, something that fills her with joy), and two, Ottlis is asking her to meet him. Alone. Which, in her opinion, makes this a date.

“I’d love to.” Play it cool, Arihnda. “I’ll meet you there in—” she glances over at a wall chrono, “—about twenty minutes.”

“Perfect. I’ll see you then.” The line clicks as the call ends.

A date. With Ottlis.

The next twenty minutes are the longest twenty minutes of her entire life. From there, though, things get pretty blurry. There are drinks (lots of drinks), dancing, more drinks. Loud music, sweaty bodies grinding together to the beat. Then hands all over, hands in places she’s never felt someone else’s hands before. More drinks. A whispered let’s go back to my place in her ear. The thought to say no, then more drinks and more hands in all sorts of places, a vague awareness of stumbling into the back of a hovercab, an are you sure you’re okay, Miss? from the driver that’s quickly dismissed (by her or Ottlis?). One (two?) more drinks, then hands becoming rougher. More insistent. A quiet no, then a much louder stop, and then—

She wakes up the next day, not to her alarm but to the much too loud voice of her roommate as the other teen bangs about the small kitchenette. Arihnda groans into her pillow, her head throbbing, her mouth a desert.

What happened last night?

Whatever it was, she doesn’t want to move. Or think. Or even breathe.

The scent of freshly brewed caf wafting into her room, however, is too hard to ignore so with another groan, she’s up and stumbling out into the common area.

“That must have been one hell of a party, Ari.” Her roommate observes. Loudly. “I heard you barreling in here like a herd of nerfs around 0500. For a long minute I even thought you had someone with you.”

Arihnda grunts in way of response, not capable at this moment of anything beyond pouring herself a cup of caf. She mumbles out a thank you before shuffling back to her room. It’s not until she’s had a few sips of the caf that the significance of her roommate's words hit her. Hard.

‘I even though you had someone with you’.

The events of last night are hazy at best, but she remembers with absolute clarity the joy of getting that comm from Ottlis, the excitement of going out with just him and not the others.

Did he—?

Did they—?

A quick glance down at herself to confirm what she’s wearing, and she feels a slight sense of relief when greeted by the sight of her utilitarian yet comfortable sleepwear. That sense of relief is fleeting, though, and when she strips off her pants she hisses in pain from even the gentlest of touches to her hips. Angry red marks in the shape of fingertips stand out against her pale skin, and somehow without immediately knowing how they got there she knows they’ll be an ugly dark purple by tomorrow.

Something heavy settles in the pit of her stomach then, a sense of dread, of not wanting the answers yet wanting them at the same time. Unsteady feet carry her into the ensuite refresher. She presses her eyes shut for a moment, then peels off her shirt and forces herself to look in the mirror.

There are more of those red marks. On her breasts, her upper arms.

She closes her eyes again. Memories of last night flash in her mind—hands everywhere, sweaty bodies, pain, no, stopstopstop!

Eyes open. Hands shaking as she pulls down her underwear, as she sees the blood, the small red spots the final and definitive piece of evidence. Arihnda barely makes it to kneel in front of the toilet before the wretching starts. Her body heaves as it tries to empty the contents of her stomach, which isn’t much.

“Ari?” Her roommate, again, concerned voice slightly muffled by the refresher door. Kriff. “Ari, I heard you, well, you know...And I wanted to check on you. Are you okay?”

No, she wants to say. Somebody got me drunk, and then they raped me, and now I’m scared.

“Yes,” she croaks out the lie.

“Okay...”

“I’ll be fine, Callie.” Another lie, but this one more for her own benefit and not her roommate’s. “I’m going to shower, and then maybe try to eat some soup.”

“Okay, Ari.” Callie seems more convinced this time. “Just let me know if you need anything else.”

Arihnda listens to the sound of retreating footsteps, waiting a few more beats before she pushes herself up. What the hell am I going to do?

She can’t report him; there’ll be holocam footage of her at the club, of her being there with him, of willingly accepting those first few drinks. Drinks that she had no legal right to consume, in a club she had no legal right to even be in.

She can’t tell Juahir or Driller; they’re his friends. They’ll take his side.

She can’t tell her parents; they’ll demand that she drop out of the academy and come home.

This has to be a secret. Her secret, and her secret alone. She can do it, put on the act, wear her outrage as a shield. Push herself to work harder, to focus more on things that matter, like finishing the academy with top grades. She has to be strong.

She has to, because there aren’t any other acceptable choices.

Chapter Text

Looking at the stars for the answers but all that you found
Was silence and dirty ground

-If Only, KT Tunstall

~~~

The next twelve months go much like this: Spend most of the day (and often some of the early evening) either in class, completing some task or the other for Senator Renking, or furiously finishing off assignments in the library before spending the rest of the evening training at the Yinchom Dojo (and furiously avoiding Ottlis), attending a litany of utterly monotonous political functions with with the senator, or going out to dinner with Juahir and Driller (while still furiously avoiding Ottlis).

To say she’s busy is the understatement to end all understatements. But it’s okay, because she likes staying busy. Busy is good. Busy keeps her distracted from reality, keeps her thoughts from lingering too long on certain past events.

Busy also keeps her away from Lothal. When she misses Solstice the first time, her parents are (naturally) upset, but also understanding. They want only the best for their daughter, after all.

When she stays on Coruscant during the other term breaks, missing other festivals, her parents don’t even bring it up. Some part of her knows that she should be upset about their lack of reaction, or maybe even concerned that she’s spending all of her time on Coruscant when other students return home at every opportunity. But she ignores those feelings, focusing instead on the advantage she has over the others, of how many connections she’s forming with each passing day. Connections that go beyond the Senate chambers when she starts assisting Higher Skies (at the insistence of Driller and Juahir) on issues related to mining.

And soon enough any thoughts of Lothal, of home, fade to the far corners of her mind. She still comms her parents when she can (which isn’t often), and rather than shame or annoyance if they bring up her Coruscanti accent she now feels pride. And when she promises to come home for the next Solstice the lie rolls off her tongue with such ease that it doesn’t even feel like lying.

That, too, brings about a sense of pride.

~~~

Receiving a summons from Senator Renking in the middle of the afternoon isn’t in and of itself an anomaly; there have been plenty of moments these past six months where he’s needed a file or a to change his schedule due to some sort of senatorial emergency.

What is an anomaly, a rather frightening and anxiety inducing one, is the presence of a Grand Moff and the top ranking officer of the Imperial Security Bureau.

“Ah, Miss Pryce—Arihnda. Please have a seat.”

Her gaze lingers between Colonel Yularen and Grand Moff Tarkin for another beat before she glances back at the senator, nodding briefly as she sits down.

Something is wrong. Very wrong. Endless possibilities float through her head as tries to pick apart every meeting, every conversation of the past six months.

“I’m afraid there’s no easy way to say this, Arihnda.” The senator seems conflicted, or concerned, she’s not sure which. “We received word late last night that your parents had been killed in an attack on Inusagi.”

Inusagi? Why would her parents go to a planet in the Mid Rim, a planet with no known exports?

That very question must be written all over her face, and Yularen wastes no time in giving her an answer she’s fairly certain she doesn’t want to hear. “I’ll be blunt, Miss Pryce. Your parents were involved with the terrorist, Saw Gerrera. They massacred the guests at the Sakoola Blossom Festival; reports indicate that your parents were cornered by several armed guests while Gerrera and the rest of his insurgents evaded capture.”

Those words, those terrible, awful, gut wrenching words make her feel as though all the air in the room has just left. For a long, horrible, moment she’s certain she’ll pass out. Or vomit. Or maybe both. Somehow, though, she’s able to make it past that moment as she clears her throat to offer a response.

“Oh.”

That’s it. A single word, a striking contrast to the news she’s just been given. But what can she say? What is she supposed to say in a situation like this?

“We have reason to believe that Gerrera had been in contact with your parents for quite some time.” Tarkin’s voice slices through her like a vibroblade. “Tell me, Miss Pryce, are you aware of the discovery of a large Doonium vein on your parents’ land?”

She blinks a few times, Tarkin’s question not making any sense. “What? I—” Striking a new Doonium vein isn’t something her parents would keep from her. Or is it? “No, sir.” She shakes her head, slightly repulsed at the notion of doubting her own family. “I was not aware of such a discovery.”

Tarkin and Yularen share a look, its meaning lost on Arihnda in her current state.

“Now, Arihnda, you must understand the position this has put me in. However, I am pleased to say that Colonel Yularen, Grand Moff Tarkin, and I have come to a decision that we feel is quite generous given the circumstances.”

The senator goes quiet then, and Arihnda realizes that he’s waiting for her to acknowledge him, which she does with a slight nod, and then he continues.

“Pryce Mining is now under the full purview of the Empire, its assets frozen, and all properties unrelated to the mine itself have been liquidated.”

All properties unrelated....he’s talking about the Pryce family home. The house she had spent the first 16 and a half years of her life. Liquidated.

“Your position within my office has been terminated, as has your enrollment in the Future Leaders Academy. The Empire, though, is not without its kindness, and your loyalty is to be rewarded.”

Wait, what?

She blinks a few times at Renking, who then glances to Yularen.

“We had to be certain that you were not complicit with your parents’ crimes. Your comms have been monitored for several weeks, and your response to the Grand Moff’s question supported our conclusion.” Yularen is the most soft spoken out of the three men, his voice belying the gravity of his words.

“With the permission of Grand Moff Tarkin,” Renking dips his head in polite acknowledgement of the Grand Moff, “we have been able to secure housing and employment for you on Lothal.”

Lothal. Home.

All Arihnda can manage is a slight nod, her concentration waning as the details and logistics of her new life are explained. She misses the bulk of what Renking is saying, but the most important detail—that she has a week to get her affairs in order—is clearly understood.

She’s in a daze as she returns to her apartment, not even aware of how she got there or that she’s standing in the common area until a flashing red light gets her attention. After blinking a few times, she finally comes to an acute awareness of her surroundings and makes her way over to her desk where the comm terminal, the red light indicating that there’s a holomessage waiting for viewing.

Shaking hands key in her security code, and a moment later she’s greeted by her parents. Alive.

“Hi birthday girl!” Talmoor and Elainye are grinning ear to ear as they lean in so both can fit in the frame.

No, not alive. Her birthday was three days ago. The full color image of her parents brought back to life on the holoscreen is just that; an image. A moment in time.

“We know how busy you’ve been lately,” her mother says, smiling despite the slight tinge of sadness in her voice, “but your father and I wanted to be the first ones to wish you a happy birthday.”

Ari glances down at the time stamp, and sure enough, the call had come in at exactly 0000, officially marking her birthday.

“Eighteen! We are so proud of you,” her father says, before her mother chimes in, “Comm us back when you get a chance!” Her father laughs at this; and she can’t help but laugh herself. It is such an Elainye Pryce thing to say. Is.

No.

Was. She has to get used to thinking about her mother, her father too, in the past-tense.

The image of her parents gets blurry, and she bangs her hand on the side of the holoscreen before realizing that the problem is on her end and not the terminal; she’s crying.

“We love you, Ari.” Spoken at the same time—not intentionally, based on the sudden peals of laughter from her parents—then the message stops and the screen goes black.

“I love you too....” She chokes on the words, her eyes stinging from the tears, her chest heaving and all she can hear for several agonizing moments is the harsh sound of her breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

Dead.

Her parents are dead. Gone.

She’ll never get to hear her father’s laugh again. Never get to feel the warm, comforting embrace of her mother that was always like a bactapatch for any hurt, physical or emotional. She’ll never get to catch her parents in the kitchen after mealtimes, dancing together to nothing but the soundtrack in their minds.

They’re dead, and she had missed the call, missed the final opportunity to speak with them because she’d been too busy. She quickly sorts through her memories of the past three days. Her second Ascension Week on Coruscant was every bit as much of a blur as her first, but she distinctly remembers Empire Day; more specifically, the birthday celebration that follows the mandatory toasting to the prosperity of the Emperor. And as with last year, that celebration includes Juahir and Driller dragging her out to clubs and pouring far too many drinks down her throat. And unlike last year, they convince her to extend the birthday celebration for two extra nights.

For three nights the indicator light had been blinking, and for three nights she’d not noticed because she was too drunk.

A sudden, growling, scream is torn from her throat. With one angry swipe of her arm every item not secured to the table goes clattering to the floor. She’s struck with a sense of overwhelming anger. Anger at her parents for aligning themselves with a terrorist like Gerrera, anger at whomever decided that a tiny red light was enough to get someone’s attention, anger at anything and everything she decides to be worthy of said anger in that moment.

But most of all, worst of all, is the sense of guilt now forming deep in the pit of her stomach. It’s a visceral, overwhelming, all powerful feeling.

She should have commed them more often. Should have gone home to visit between terms. Should have—

A loud sob wracks her body. What happens now?

Who’s going to rally behind her successes and be there to pick her back up again when she stumbles? Who’s going to tell her how proud they are without having any hidden agendas?

Who’s going to walk her down the aisle when she gets married?

That question brings about another loud sob. Marriage? Marriage has never been something on her radar; not until now. Not until the realization that her father won’t be there when that happens smacks into her with all the grace of a bantha.

She wants to laugh at herself for that, for how her thoughts had gone to such a frivolity rather than the arduous task of needing to wrap her head around the fact that her parents are (were, not are) terrorists.

Not that she’s capable of such a complex thought process at the moment. Right now the best she can do is cry, and cry she does. She cries until her head hurts, until the collar of her shirt is sodden with tears, until she feels any remaining amount of energy leaving her body. Somehow, though, she finds the strength to push herself up from the chair and half-stumbles to her room where she proceeds to collapse onto the bed, clothing and all.

At first, all she does is sleep, all through the night and well into the evening of the next day.

By the third night she can’t stop thinking about that conversation in Renking’s office, can’t stop playing every word over and over again in her head. Something about it, something about the explanation given to her about her parents’ involvement in the attack that cost them their lives just isn’t adding up.

Even if they really were terrorists, and even if Gerrera had really been after the resources of Pryce Mining, that still doesn’t explain their presence on Inusagi.

She combs through the holonet for any news about the attack, finding multiple hits, but only of the bland, generic variety. Nothing about the identities of the other terrorists, or more details of the attack itself.

And nothing about the bodies of two terrorists being recovered after the massacre.

Two days later an unmarked package arrives at her door; inside is a datacard, also with no markings. Paranoia allows her to maintain enough sense to view the contents of an unmarked datacard from an unmarked package on a pay-by-the-minute public terminal more than an hour’s walk from her apartment.

The datacard contains a video file, which at least solves part of the mystery.

But a video of what, exactly?

She loads it up, confusion firmly in place at seeing what appears to be an unsent holomessage, the kind that you delete when you realize you’d accidentally started a recording. That confusion fades and is immediately replaced by a sense of dread as she recognizes the room; it’s her father’s office at Pryce Mining.

“—told you before. And the time before that, and the time before that. Pryce Mining is not for sale.” Her father’s back is towards the camera, blocking any view of whoever he’s addressing.

“And as I’ve said before, Mr. Pryce, the Empire needs more ships, and more ships means more Doonium. Are you knowingly defying the will of the Empire? Imagine what that would mean for Pryce Mining. Or for your daughter—I hear she’s making quite the name for herself in the Future Leaders Academy.” Whoever he is, she instantly hates him. His voice is far too arrogant, full of conceit and contempt.

“You leave her out of this!” This from her mother, now in the frame as she stands by her father.

There’s still no clear view of the other man in the room, only the fact that he seems to be alone.

“I will—if you sign over ownership of Pryce Mining.”

“No. We are loyal to the Empire, I assure you, but we will not be manipulated like this.” Talmoor Pryce’s confidence in his words is mirrored by the straightening of his posture. “Now leave, before I’m forced to make you leave.”

“I was hoping you’d say something like that—”

Arihnda has to cover her mouth to keep from screaming as the distinctive sound of blaster fire—two rapid shots—drowns out anything else the other man may have said. The silence that follows such violence is eerie, as is the image of her parents on the floor, unmoving. Yet she can’t bring herself to look away, to stop staring at their dead bodies. For several moments (minutes? hours?) she’s certain that the video has ended, and then she hears that voice again, the voice of her parents’ murderer.

“It’s me.” There’s a pause, clearly indicating that he’s on a private comm call. “The Pryces have been eliminated.” Another pause. “Yes. Of course. Gudry out.”

Gudry.

She has a name, and a voice, but still no face. It’s not enough, and she’s about to end the video when a movement in the corner of the frame stops her; a torso, covered in black. That torso grows larger as the man approaches the holoscreen, obviously aware of the fact that what was meant to be a clandestine murder is about to become anything but. And just as she’s about to get a good view of the face of the man who killed her parents, one more blaster shot rings out, and the screen goes black.

The Empire murdered my parents.

It’s the single thought filling her head. The Empire. Murdered her parents.

And then the panic sets in; the Empire murdered her parents, lied about it, and now she knows the truth.

Kriffkriffkriffkriff.

Trembling hands eject the datacard as she nearly stumbles out of the terminal booth. What the hell is she supposed to do with this knowledge?

Better yet, what the hell is she supposed to do with the datacard?

“I was wondering how long it would take you to watch that video.”

Panic becomes pure dread at hearing his voice, at the implications behind his presence. She doesn’t want to turn around. Doesn’t want to face him, but somehow she’s able to force herself to move.

“Ottlis.” Later she’ll make note of how her voice barely shakes at uttering his name, but for the moment she’s too focused on her efforts to unravel this mystery. “How—? Did you send this to me?”

He steps towards her, sending her several steps back in retreat. “Of course I did.”

“Why?”

“Why, what, exactly? Why did I send it to you? Why did the Empire kill your parents and lie about it? Think, Ari. Use that gifted brain of yours and and figure it out.”

“I—” she stops, shaking her head, finding it difficult to connect things. “The Empire needs more Doonium; fine. But why kill my parents for refusing to sell? Pryce Mining is not the only source of Doonium in the galaxy.”

Ottlis just stares at her for a moment, then shakes his head as well while uttering a quiet ‘tsk’. “Oh, Ari. You can’t possibly be that naive. Here, I’ll even give you a hint: Higher Skies.”

What the hell does Higher Skies have to do with any of this?

She’s ready to say as much, ready to tell Ottlis to go to hell, but stops short when one single word of the conversation in Renking’s office rises to the surface.

Loyalty.

Juahir and Driller had specifically asked her to work on mining issues for Higher Skies. They’d been very, very, insistent, in fact.

Almost too insistent.

“No.” She answers the question that hasn’t even fully formed in her head. “They aren’t...they wouldn’t.”

The slowly forming smirk on Ottlis’ face is all the confirmation she needs, but in true Ottlis fashion he speaks anyway. “The Empire has had reason to suspect Higher Skies for quite some time. When you started helping them out on mining matters, ISB started paying closer attention to you, and as a result, your parents. The need for more Doonium was just a coincidence, but a rather convenient one.”

She feels like she’s going to throw up. The thought of vomiting on Ottlis’ overpriced shoes is but a small comfort.

“Too convenient to pass up.” How she’s able to speak is beyond her, but somehow she’s able to swallow past the taste of bile rising up the back of her throat. “Pressuring my parents to sell was bait? A way to prove that Higher Skies would be aware of the new Doonium vein, and aware of the Empire’s increased demand.”

“And if you were aware of the true purpose of Higher Skies, you would warn your parents. But you didn’t—”

“So why kill them?”

For a brief moment, Ottlis almost looks remorseful.

Almost.

“To be absolutely certain of your loyalties.” He shrugs, an effortless motion, as though he’s giving her the latest smashball scores. “The Empire was going to gain control of Pryce Mining anyway; killing them and feeding you the Saw Gerrera story was the final test. And seeing as how you haven’t contacted Juahir or Driller, or anyone for that matter, you passed with flying colors.”

Arihnda lets out a short, sad laugh at that. “And sending me the video is, what, some sort of extra credit question?”

“Consider it a parting gift from the Empire.” His grin is feral. Vicious. “A permanent assurance of your loyalty.”

Again, she feels like she’s going to throw up. But this time there is no comfort in the thought of ruining his shoes. Just a cold, hard realization that he’s right. Despite knowing the truth, despite any thoughts of revenge that will appear now or in the future, she can’t do a damn thing. Nobody among the Empire would ever believe her. And if she takes the truth to the fools who call themselves the Rebellion? She’ll suffer the same fate as her parents.

“If you want my advice?” She doesn’t. Ottlis knows this, but there’s nothing Ottlis loves more than the sound of his own voice. “Forget about this. Forget about all of it. Enjoy a nice, quiet life on Lothal.”

Forget about this? Forget about her parents being murdered by the Empire they trusted? Forget about being used by people she thought were her friends?

Just like that?

She’s not sure if she should laugh, or cry, so she settles on a third option; she closes the distance between them, not missing Ottlis’ self satisfied smirk.

And then she punches that smirk right off of his damn face.

Ottlis, too shocked to respond right away, just stands there. Gaping. She takes advantage of this, shoving the datacard into his chest before walking away.

Two days later, she leaves Coruscant.

~~~

Five years.

Five years of being back on Lothal (not home, just Lothal). Five years of working for Governor Sarkos. Five years of insipid lackeys and sycophantic followers.

Five years. And what does she have to show for it?

She’s the senior aide to the senior attache of the Vice Minister of Agriculture. Which in the end amounts to...nothing. The pay isn’t great, and the apartment isn’t much better, but she knows how lucky she is. How bad it could be, should be. Because she’s no longer Arihnda Pryce, future leader and heir apparent to Pryce Mining.

Officially, she’s Arihnda Pryce, low-level civil servant and heir apparent to however many credits are left in her account after each pay cycle.

Unofficially, she’s Arihnda Pryce, daughter of terrorists and traitors.

She knows it’s no small mercy to be given a second chance. Because officially? Her parents weren’t terrorists and traitors, they were murdered by the Empire over ownership of a mine that is now rapidly running dry. And unofficially? Outside of what she’s certain are a very select few among the upper echelons of the Empire, she’s the only one who knows the truth.

So every morning she reminds herself of this, reminds herself that showing anything aside from a blind loyalty to the Empire can be fatal. And then she deals with the insipid lackeys and sycophantic followers with a smile on her face and a spring in her step.

Most days this act, her carefully placed armor, comes easily.

Today is not one of those days.

Today is the sort of day where everything, even the simplest of tasks, takes a monumental amount of effort. Every smile, every forced pleasantry and politely spoken Yes sir or Yes ma’am drains her to the point of needing to rely on far too many cups of caf. Somehow, though, she makes it through another day of her own personal nightmare courtesy of the Empire.

And at the end of a very long day, exhausted on every front, all she wants to do is get back to her apartment and drown her sorrows in a cup of hot chocolate. Instead, she finds herself and so many others, held in place by the powerful words pouring out from every communication device in the area.

“We have been called criminals, but we are not. We are rebels, fighting for the people, fighting for you. I'm not that old, but I remember a time when things were better on Lothal. Maybe not great, but never like this. See what the Empire has done to your lives, your families, and your freedom? It's only gonna get worse…unless we stand up and fight back. It won't be easy. There will be loss and sacrifice. But we can't back down just because we're afraid. That's when we need to stand the tallest. That's what my parents taught me. That's what my new family helped me remember. Stand up together. Because that's when we're strongest—as one.”

For a moment there’s only silence as the transmission ends. Then a flurry of activity as the meaning of those words settles over them all. Some go about their business as though nothing had happened, while others move in a hurried rush to get to the safety of their homes. Arihnda settles on the former, but not before bumping into someone with a loud ‘oof’.

“Terribly sorry. Please exc—” The rest of her apology dies on her lips as she finds herself face to face with someone who, for all intents and purposes, has no right to be on this street, let alone Lothal.

“Hello Arihnda.” Ryder Azadi’s voice is just as she remembers, slightly cocky and full of entirely too much self assurance, even at a level barely above a whisper.

Azadi?” Her voice matches his in volume, but there’s no hiding its incredulous tone. She follows the former governor to a darkened corner that offers more privacy. “What are you doing here? I thought you were spending the rest of your life rotting away in an Imperial prison cell. Or dead.”

Even in the dim light she can see the small twinkle of mischief held in his eyes. “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” He grins, and Arihnda finds herself needing to suppress the urge to roll her eyes.

“What do you want? And if it’s Pryce Mining, forget about it,” she crosses her arms over her chest before continuing, “Pryce Mining now belongs to the Empire.”

“I know.” He frowns, his voice taking on a somber tone. “I was so sorry to hear about what had happened to your parents, Arihnda. I know that we didn’t always see eye to eye, but that doesn’t mean they deserved to go out like that.”

There’s a long pause. Deliberate. The gears in her mind start working in overdrive, something he must see written across her face because he’s grinning, albeit grimly, at her now.

“How would you like to—”

“Yes.” She says the word with so much force and so little consideration that Azadi seems taken aback for a moment.

“Are you absolutely certain, Arihnda? What you’re agreeing to, this life—it isn’t easy.”

This time she gives the question and its implications more time to form in her head. When first returning to Lothal she had been numb to her anger and pain; defeated, determined to just keep her head down and go about the rest of her life.

Hearing that broadcast, the words still echoing in her head, is already changing her on a fundamental level.

Now she wants to fight back. She wants revenge; revenge for her parents, for all of Lothal, for everyone else who hurts as much as she does. But most of all, she wants to see the Empire burn. Wants to watch as it crumbles.

“Yes.”

Azadi’s grin is more hopeful this time. “Come with me.”

She follows him to a rather suspect looking speeder, quirking a doubtful eyebrow before getting in. Their journey takes them out of Capital City, beyond the refugee camps, then to the mountains in the north. A small handful of figures, obviously awaiting their arrival, greet them as they exit the speeder. There’s not many of them, but they all share the same look of determination tempered with loss and rage.

“Arihnda Pryce,” he places one hand on her shoulder—which she allows, not even flinching—and uses his other to indicate the ragtag group of fighters. “Welcome to the Lothal Resistance.”