The Short Fic Weekly Challenge Thread!
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10.30.2012 , 06:48 PM |
to be a brief digression... things got a bit away from me.
Zhara Sindri (JK) and Maneera Sindri (Smug)
5 BTC, 6 months after
This is going to be the best day ever,
Zhara scribbles in her journal as she and her Master wait in the admissions line.
The conference with the Green Jedi FINALLY wrapped up yesterday, and our transport back home to Coruscant doesn’t leave till after dinner, so today—
She closes the book around her stylus and gravely holds out one hand to be stamped, nodding a greeting to the woman in the ticket booth.
—Master Andren is taking me to the Axial Park Zoo!
“Here you are,” Master Andren says, handing her a small holocamera and a map of the zoo. “Where shall we go first?”
Zhara tucks the map and her journal into her bag and, taking Master Andren by the hand, sets off on a winding, undirected path through the zoo. She gushes at the baby veractyls, makes faces at the bormu, tries to count the vaapad’s tentacles. She reads the exhibit plaques and informs Master Andren of what she learns there — “and they stay
while they’re sleeping that the dew collects on their backs, and that’s what they have to drink in the morning. When can we go to Tatooine?” She takes pictures of the animals as she bounces from habitat to habitat, watching each new collection of creatures with eager wonder.
When they reach the aviary, Zhara stops. There’s an older girl standing there, staring up at a small flock of flutterplumes. Zhara’s pretty sure the girl isn’t Jedi — she didn’t come with the delegation from Coruscant, and she’s not wearing the green robes of a Corellian — so they can’t possibly have met before, but still, there’s something weirdly familiar about her, something buried way down deep under the pain and exhaustion that hang on the girl like a shroud. She’s skinny, under her baggy, grubby clothes; the lines of her face are sharp, like her bones are knives waiting to cut through the skin. Her eyes, glassy and unfocused, are ringed by scars and dark circles.
Zhara tugs gently at Master Andren’s sleeve, dragging him away from the aviary girl. “Could I have my lunch now, please?” she asks, careful to keep her voice low so she’s not overheard.
Master Andren reaches into the messenger bag slung over his shoulder and draws out a tidy, cloth-wrapped bundle. “Are you sure? It’s still early.” Then he catches sight of the girl, and something strange flickers across his face as he settles the parcel into Zhara’s hands. It takes her a moment to puzzle out what that look means; she’s never seen him surprised like this.
“Master? Is something wrong?”
“Hm? No, not at all.” He pulls his attention away from the girl and gives Zhara his ‘You can do it, Padawan’ smile. “I’ll just be over there if you need me.” He points toward a nearby bench, out of earshot but within sight of the girl, then goes to sit down.
When Zhara returns to the flutterplumes, the girl is still there, staring up at the birds with undisguised longing. “They’re very pretty,” Zhara announces as she begins to unwrap her lunch. There’s a saltnut butter and jelly sandwich on top, cut into four precise little triangles. She takes one triangle and sets the rest on the narrow ledge between herself and the girl.
The girl turns toward Zhara, looking down at her in puzzlement. The reaction is quick but the movement is clumsy and sluggish. “They don’t belong here,” the girl mutters bitterly, turning back to watch as one of the flutterplumes suddenly takes wing, flying up and up and up, only to collide with the force field at the top of the enclosure. “They should be at home.”
Zhara leans forward to read the sign. “Their mother wasn’t able to care for them properly.” She nudges the sandwich along the ledge, toward the girl. “The zoo people had to raise them from chicks, so they wouldn’t know how to take care of themselves now. Where else can they go?”
A squabble breaks out in the upper branches of one of the fake plastic trees as a pair of flutterplumes tug something small and furry between them. “They’re ruined now,” the older girl snarls. “They’d’ve been better off with their real family.” The smaller of the two ’plumes stalls into an ungraceful dive, dragging its bigger sibling down through the branches with it. The big one lets go of their contested prize, and the small one pulls up sharply. It clacks its beak with a call like laughter before gulping down its meal. The girl snickers, a smirk softening her angry features. “Sorry, kid,” she says to Zhara, her voice gentler now. “It’s not your fault.”
“That’s okay,” Zhara replies, pushing the sandwich over a little bit more, till it bumps against the side of the girl’s hand as she leans against the railing.
The girl finally gets the hint and takes a piece, looking at it with a bemused smile that doesn’t touch her steel-grey eyes. “Thanks, kid,” she murmurs around a mouthful of sandwich — a cautious, polite nibble at first, followed by a ravenous chomp that takes out the rest of the triangle. She swallows, reaches for another triangle that vanishes just as quickly as the first.
“You’re welcome.” Zhara takes out the little box of milk and stabs in the straw. She sets the drink box beside the dwindling sandwich, then holds out her hand. “Nice to meet you. My name’s Zhara Sindri.”
The girl wears the same look of shocked recognition that had crossed Master Andren’s face earlier. “I... I’m—”
Before the girl can introduce herself properly, she’s shoulder-checked by a burly yellow Twi’lek, jowls dangling from his cheeks like a second set of flabby little lekku. The girl stumbles and the man reaches out to steady her, one hand wrapped around her wrist, the other hooked over her hip. Zhara takes a step back. She’s not afraid, exactly, but something about this is
in a way she can’t quite define. She looks back over her shoulder; Master Andren is standing up and has a hand on the hilt of his lightsaber.
“Watch it,” the girl snaps at the Twi’lek as she regains her footing. She sounds the way she looks, all sharp and brittle.
The Twi’lek lets go of her wrist and reaches into an inner pocket on her battered jacket, pulling out a plastic-wrapped package that only just barely fits into his big, meaty hand. “Tell your boss it’s been a pleasure doing business with him.” The hand on the girl’s hip slides down into her back pocket and squeezes. “And with you.”
The girl manages a smile, but it makes her look like a prowling nexu. “Not in public and not for free, Jax. Usual time, usual place, usual rates.”
“Careful, pretty thing,” the Twi’lek chuckles. “Wouldn’t want the good doctor to find out about your side job, now would you?” He pulls his hand from her pocket. “See you tonight, Nera.” Still laughing, he wanders away and is soon lost in the crowd.
The girl falls apart in bits and pieces. First the nexu smile fades, then she slumps to half-lean half-sit on the ledge, then she covers her face with her hands. Zhara stands statue-still, frozen in confused indecision. Master Andren is standing right behind Zhara now, a hand reassuringly weighty on her shoulder, but his attention is fixed on the girl. On Nera. “Let me help,” he says, his voice quiet and pleading.
Nera’s head snaps up suddenly, and she gives the two Jedi a withering glare. “I don’t need your
. There’s nothing more you can take from me.” With a last look of pity and longing at the flutterplumes, she storms off.
When Zhara turns to look up at Master Andren, he’s watching the flutterplumes, too; his jaw twitches with the effort of holding his center. “I’m sorry,” she hears him whisper. “I’m so sorry.” She doesn’t ask who the apology is for.
"I may be on the side of the angels,
but don't think for one second that I am one of them."