Azira Mas'ai, age 13.
Azira had only the day before completed her challenges and received her jat'o. She hadn't cried out once while they applied the tattoos, even though it had hurt, bad. One boy did, and she wanted to mock him for it, but didn't. She was a grown-up now, and that wasn't a grown-up thing to do.
Her father had left shortly after the ceremony; he had cargo to deliver offworld, and her mother had invited a friend to stay with them. She wasn't too keen on spending her first adult day without her family, and with some strange lady, no less, but she figured even as an adult, sometimes you get no choice.
The mood in the house was downright strange. She had kind of been expecting some kind of party, or at least have a special dinner in honor of her joining the clan, but her mother had spent all day whispering with her guest, some lady named Mit'a. Azira thought they seemed kind of worried about something, though of course they wouldn't tell her.
When there came a knock at the door, both women froze, glancing at each other, then at her. "Azira, go to your room," said her mother, in a tone that brooked no disagreement. Mit'a followed, herding her to the back of the house. Her hand went to a cylindrical object hanging from her belt. Azira could hear her mother, and a male voice in the front room, and then her mother's voice rose in pitch.
Mit'a pushed Azira across the room, just as an armored man with a blaster came pushing through the door. The cylinder was in Mit'a's hand, now, and a purple blade of light came rising from its hilt. The man fired off several blaster bolts, which ricocheted off the blade, leaving scorch marks where they hit the walls.
Her mother came flying into the room, putting herself between the shooter and Mit'a, and was immediately mown down by blaster bolts. Azira cried out, "Mom!" but stood frozen, her back to the wall. In the same instant, Mit'a looked down at her fallen friend, faltered, and took a blaster bolt square to the chest. She, too, crumpled to the floor.
The armored man crossed the room and bent to scoop up the dead woman. Azira grabbed a lamp - the only thing within reach - and flung herself at him, screaming like a lunatic. Her arm was slammed against the wall faster than she could blink, and the *crack* of her bone as it hit made her see stars. She did cry out, then, but in anger, not pain, she told herself. The man dropped her arm, and resumed picking up Mit'a's dead body.
"Take me with you!" she blurted. That stopped him. He turned his helmet to face her.
"Take me with you," she repeated, so I can kill you later. Once he was gone, she'd never have another chance.
He paused, caught completely off-guard, then finally nodded as he came to a decision. "Follow me."
"Let me get--" she turned to go into her room, but the man kept walking towards the door.
"Now or never, kid."
Azira Mas'ai, age 13.
Azira followed the armored man to his ship, cradling her right arm. No bones were poking out, but she was sure it was broken, or cracked at least. That would limit her in how she could do it. She didn't think she could manage with her right hand the force required to drive a knife or sword through a body, and she wasn't sure she could best him left-handed. It would be dishonorable to do him in while he slept.
He put the body in a coffin in the cargo bay and covered it with the lid. She heard the snap-hiss of his helmet release, and he took it off, setting it atop the coffin lid. He was a young human man, perhaps 30, definitely younger than her parents. He ran a hand through his sweaty black hair, making it stick out in all directions, and she had to repress the urge to laugh insanely. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Azira, my name's Jeph Celsi." He was unstrapping all his armor and tossing it absentmindedly atop the coffin holding the body of the woman who, not fifteen minutes ago, was alive in Azira's house. He also plopped down the blaster he'd used to slay both women. "Clean those up, and I'll see about getting you a cot. Only got the one cabin, so you'll have to stay here in the cargo bay, but I can get you set up with a corner to yourself."
She gaped in disbelief. He strode towards the cargo bay door, and she cried, "I think you broke my arm!"
Without pausing, or even looking back, he said, "Medical supplies are in the 'fresher."
After binding up her arm with medical tape using a pair of scissors and his toothbrush as a splint (how the kriff was she supposed to know how to fix a broken arm?!), she found a disgusting still-wet washcloth - the only one in there - and used it to clean the armor. The blaster was another matter. It loomed at her, a deadly, evil thing. She'd never even seen one up close, much less knew how to clean it.
She picked it up left-handed. It was heavier than she'd expected. She braced it against her body, finger on the trigger. The cockpit wasn't far, it was a small ship, and she came in through the doorway between the two chairs. Jeph half-turned, then glimpsing what she was holding, turned fully to face her.
"Put that thing down before you hurt somebody."
"That's exactly what I intend to do." She wiggled the muzzle in what she hoped was a menacing fashion.
Jeph rolled his eyes. "You ain't gonna shoot me."
"Oh yeah? Why's that?"
"Firstly," he ticked off a finger, "your people think killing with a blaster is cowardly. It'd be dishonorable for you to shoot me, and unarmed, no less."
"You deserve a dishonorable death, you... you..." her voice rose.
"The dishonor would be yours, and you know it." It was true, but she didn't think he would know it. "Secondly," he ticked off another finger, "if you killed me, you'd be stuck alone on this ship, and I don't believe for a minute you know how to fly this thing. You'd be hurtling along till you got sucked into some planet's orbit and crashed, or end up drifting once you ran out of fuel, and starve to death. I 'spose you could eat yon woman in the back, then me, and you'd last a mite longer, but in the end, I'd wager you wouldn't say it was worth it."
She wavered a bit at that, she hadn't really considered what would happen once she killed him.
"And thirdly," he said, grabbing the blaster by the muzzle and whipping it out of her hands, "the safety's on."
Azira Mas'ai, age 13
"You killed my mother!" Azira cried, and poised herself to kick him in the shin.
In a warning tone, he snapped, "Watch it!" He pointed at the second seat. "Sit yourself down, I'm disinclined to hurt you again."
She planted her feet more solidly on the floor, scowled and crossed her arms, but immediately regretted it when the pain shot through her right forearm.
"I ain't gonna tell you again, kid, sit down!" He slung the weapon over his shoulder.
Grudgingly, she tromped to the chair and flopped down, though holding her arm more carefully. Jeph punched some buttons, and the stars outside became streaks of light. This was hyperspace, she thought dimly.
"I ain't responsible for killing your mother any more'n the driver would be iffn' she'd ran in front of a moving speeder. Any idiot knows what's like to happen, and ye run in front of a firing blaster. I take it you don't think your mother was an idiot?" He was flipping switches near the ceiling now, not even looking at her while he talked.
"I figured as much. Since that's the case, you can believe one of two things. Either she got some damn-fool idea into her head that she could save that Jedi," he sneered the word as if it cost him to say it, "in which case, she knew what she was doing, and she killed her own self, or else that one made her do it, maybe thinking it would buy her some more time to get out of there."
Azira frowned, puzzled. "What do you mean, 'made'?"
He looked at her, then. "Them as can use the Force, unnatural sorcery. They can do things regular folks can't. They can make a person do a thing they otherwise wouldn't. Get into their head, like, and compel them."
She scootched back in the seat. "I still don't get it. You really think that lady made my mom throw herself in front of your blaster, to save herself?"
"Don't they teach you kids anything, these days? Look, before you were born, there was this thing called the Jedi Order, you've maybe heard of that?"
She nodded. "A little."
"Well, they were a bunch of cultist sorcerers, ran things in the galaxy for thousands of years with their mind tricks, or when that didn't work, they'd use their lightsabers to get their way. They went around checking folk's kids for whatever it is makes 'em able to do their kind of magic. Then they'd keep 'em in their compounds, brainwash 'em, teach 'em to fight somethin' powerful...and it'd never be a fair fight, see, as they'd be using their magic."
"As there were so many of them, and their powers got stronger when they were together, nobody had a chance of getting outside their influence, should they have a mind to do something. When they tried to overthrow Emperor Palpatine - he was the Supreme Chancellor at that time - he made war on 'em. Lots 'em were taken out in the first wave, and several more not too long after, saving the galaxy from their cult's chokehold. Some of 'em escaped, and they've been hunted, ever since."
"How many are still out there?" Azira asked.
"No one knows for sure, and it's a good bet some of 'em are probably teaching up new ones, when they find a kid as can use the Force - the source of their magic. It's up to people like me to protect the galaxy by makin' sure they can never rise to power again." Hastily he added, "I ain't no vigilante, I got papers, prove I was hired by the Empire to do for one Mit'a Ariste." He jerked a thumb towards the back. "It's her to blame for your mother. I'm sorry it had to happen that way."
In a small voice, barely above a whisper, Azira said, "My father knew."
"He knew she - that Jedi - was coming to stay with us. And he left! He left us alone with her, the day she arrived!" The world was spinning, turned crossways on its axis. How could her own father have left her and her mother unprotected, with an enemy like that?
"Well, kid, I can't change what's past, but what say you'n me team up, keep this galaxy safe from Jedi and criminals and the like? No more tryin' to shoot me, or stab me, or any other form of killin'." He extended a hand.
She hesitated, still unsure.
"'Cause if you try to kill me again - and you won't succeed - I'll toss you out on your ear when we touch down on Ord Mantell for refueling. And I reckon there's plenty of folk there as'd think it's their lucky day should they stumble across a pretty little girl all on her lonesome. Now, I don't want to see that happen to you, and I expect you're smart enough to realize it's in your best interest to stay here on this ship where you'll be safe."
"What are you going to do with me?"
"Do? Ain't gonna do nothing with you - or to you. You're welcome to stay here as long as you like, provided you do chores - cleaning, and the like. Gotta earn your keep. You can have free reign of the ship, except stay out of my cabin, and if I tell ye to leave the cockpit, you go. I ain't much for cookin' so if you wanna eat, you feed yourself. Clear?"
She nodded and gingerly took his hand with her broken arm, shaking on the deal.