After scouring Silent Destiny’s outer hull in search of homing beacons, listening devices, or any other Imperial surprises, Zeva and Kaylani started searching inside the ship. Zeva knew that she couldn’t afford to say “Jedi” aloud even once until they’d made certain it was safe to do so. Her brief time as an outlaw among outlaws had sharpened her fear into something useful… something that might help to keep her alive.
She now felt familiar with the cockpit, lounge, and crew quarters – familiar enough to be sure that those area contained nothing out of the ordinary, especially with Kay aiding the search – but had yet to explore the rest of the ship. Finding nothing amiss in the stifling confines of engineering, or in either boarding ramp, Kay led Zeva by the hand to the main cargo hold. The double doors squeaked open when Kay pressed the button, and the lights flickered to life, illuminating the cold, dusty bay.
As they searched every centimeter of the cargo hold, a queer sensation gradually came over Zeva. A knot formed in her stomach, and she began to perspire in spite of the chill. She managed a smile every time Kay looked in her direction (which seemed to happen pretty frequently), but she wanted nothing more than to finish this room, to move on to the forward airlock and the secondary hold. Then she could lie down, wait for this feeling to pass…
Zeva tilted a large cargo container toward the light and spotted something wedged inside. Unable to identify it in the dim light, she reached into the container and, with some effort, pulled free a lump of fabric and rubber. She peered at it in the dim light until she recognized it as a tiny shoe… What a strange cargo, she thought.
This isn’t cargo. Look how scuffed it is… this belonged to someone. Someone who died… Can’t you feel it? That’s why you want to get out of here.
I’ve felt loss before, though. There’s something else…
“Well,” Kaylani said, standing up straight. Zeva pushed the shoe into her jacket’s pocket just as Kay turned to face her. “I don’t see anything in here. You ready to move on, pretty lady?”
“Sure,” Zeva said at once, wondering once more why Kay kept calling her that. The captain doesn’t use your name, either… maybe they’re just like that.
They found nothing anywhere else on the ship, and went to the lounge to report their findings. Kes seemed relieved by the news, if a little distracted by all the improvements made by Hayes’s people. Zeva remained sure that the captain was no closer to trusting the Imperials.
After Kes went to bed, Kay whipped up two huge mugs of hot cocoa, handing one to Zeva. She relished its taste, felt its warmth spread through her, chasing the chill of the cargo bay from her extremities. It was kind of Kay to make this for her… and the pilot clearly saw how much Zeva enjoyed it, for her smile had grown in brilliance, her gaze drinking the Jedi in, even as she drank her own hot chocolate.
Zeva was home, now. She was among friends… among family. But there was so much about them, about this world, that she didn’t know… that she needed to know… “Who’s Nalin?” she asked, instantly wishing she’d led into the topic with anything resembling finesse.
Kay set her mug down. “Show me what you found, first.” Zeva had time to blink before the pilot continued: “In the cargo hold.”
“You saw that?” Color flushed Zeva’s cheeks.
Zeva fished the little shoe out of her pocket and placed it on the table. Kay picked it up with a sigh. “Ahhh, no. That’s not the happiest of finds, that.”
“There’s… I felt something there… it was very faint. I can’t be sure what it was, even. But I felt it.”
“You felt her family die, you did.”
Zeva reached out until her fingertips found the little shoe. “The Captain’s family?” When Kay nodded, the Jedi added, “I think that’s exactly what I’m feeling.”
“Nalin was her husband. She won’t tell me the names of her little ones. Dreams about them, a time or two.” She gave Zeva a grave stare, and pressed the shoe into the Jedi’s hands. “You need to give this to her. Without asking her about it. Or I can do it for you, if you’d rather.”
“I will. I’m just… it’s a very unfamiliar feeling.”
“Dying? Should’ve thought you’d run across that before. Unfortunately common.”
“No, not the loss. That I’ve experienced.” The black wave from the Argo Ecliptic’s explosion passed through her again, like the aftershock of an earthquake. “It’s the strength of the bond, the purity.”
“Don’t remember your parents, now, do you?” Compassion permeated each word Kay spoke. “Jedi and all that?”
“No.” That was the Jedi way, after all. Zeva wondered how much heartache her parents had endured to give her to the Order… or what if there hadn’t been any? What if it had been like selling an old landspeeder to them…?
“’Tis a shame,” Kay said wistfully. “No matter the problems ‘tween Marta and I, or Uncle Savit… I know they loved me. Love me still, I hope.”
“I’m sure they do,” the Jedi said with conviction, returning to her cocoa. Most people, normal people, would certainly find much to love about Kay…
“Though I’m still a touch peeved they didn’t bother telling me so before they disappeared.”
Zeva looked up from her mug. “Disappeared?”
“Yep. Always figured the old family business came nipping at their heels, but as they never officially told me what it was, didn’t give me much to go on.” Kay shrugged. “Luckily the captain found me before I got in too much trouble.”
The captain cares about you, Zeva thought. More than she cares to admit… She settled for saying, “The captain is… she’s a complicated woman. Isn’t she?”
“Course she is,” Kay replied, sipping at her drink. “Be boring if she wasn’t, now wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose. I had no idea about her family, I mean. Or yours.”
Kay waved a hand. “Well, hers isn’t something she likes to share. She might come down cross on me for tellin’ you… but she’s been sore with me before. As for me, I’m an open book, I am.” She set her mug down and leaned back in her chair. “Ask anything you like.” As Zeva tried to decide what to say, Kay smiled slowly and waited, tilting her head to one side. “Take your time. I’m in no rush. None at all.”
Zeva listened as Kay spoke of growing up on spaceships, of learning to cook in her uncle’s restaurant. She talked about Cara, and about her hopeless crush on Cara’s cousin. The Jedi asked questions as they came to her – nothing too personal, since all this “sharing” still made her feel uncomfortable – but, as promised, Kay was an open book, and talked until she couldn’t open her mouth without yawning.
“Go to sleep,” Zeva insisted. “We can continue this another time.”
“Right.” Kay finished her drink, then stood up and came behind Zeva. Leaning in close, her breath hot in the Jedi’s ear, the pilot whispered, “Sweet dreams, lovely lady.” She placed a soft kiss on Zeva’s cheek and dashed off to bed, waving over one shoulder as she went.
Zeva’s fingers went to her face, trying to decide if the warmth she felt there was real or imaginary. What was that for? It wasn’t unpleasant – not at all – but unexpected. Kay was a free spirit, so at ease when touching, walking arm in arm, holding hands… but Zeva hadn’t seen her kiss anybody yet. For that matter, had Kay done any of those other things with anyone but Zeva?
She stared into the depths of her mug, felt the darkness of the liquid dragging her down like the tide. So many questions. I should rest. Answers will come when they come.
Zeva shook her head, sat upright, and drank the last of her chocolate. She made her way around the ring to the crew quarters. The door slid open at her touch, and dim light spilled down on Kaylani, standing wrapped in the red dress, a knowing smile on her lips. Captain Varn was nowhere to be seen.
“I…” Zeva managed. I still don’t have the fabric to make that dress. She must have gone back to buy it… Trying to figure out how she could have afforded it was turning into too much effort. The woman and the dress, together, were even lovelier than they’d been in Zeva’s imagination.
Kay turned in a slow circle so that Zeva could see it all. “I knew you’d like it. Fear I don’t have any shoes to match it, though.” Zeva glanced at Kay’s bare little feet, then back up to the dark smolder of her eyes. “You do like it, don’t you?”
“Yes.” There was little point in lying, and the last thing she wanted to do was hurt Kay’s feelings.
“It’s so sheer against me… I know you want to touch it. To touch me.”
She’s like Master Tulu, she thought. Not all girls love boys, Zeva. The Jedi fumbled for an answer to Kay’s question, then refused to voice the one that came to her. Some truths were dangerous.
“I know you’re afraid,” Kay said, leaning against the wall. “But it’s all right. There’s nothin’ to be afraid of.”
Make a stone of your heart, Zeva. “I… I can’t, Kay.”
“Course you can. I want you to touch me, Zeva. To hold me. Kiss me.” The little moan she made jangled down Zeva’s spine. “And you want me to do the same, and more, to you. And I will.”
Don’t fall for her. Don’t fall for the beautiful, willing woman… “It’s not that simple,” Zeva said, though her feet had started bringing her closer to Kay without any word from her brain.
“Sure it is. The Jedi Order is dead, Zeva. That means you aren’t a Jedi anymore.”
“The last Jedi is still a Jedi,” she said through clenched teeth.
“All right,” Kay said, raising her hands. “But you’re strong. Stronger than you know. And I think you can risk a little passion in your life.”
“I don’t like that word,” Zeva said automatically.
“You don’t like that you have passion.”
“That’s just it. I don’t.” What had she told the Force spirit on Kira IV? Oh, yes: I’ve never had a passionate moment in my life.
“If that’s true,” Kay said with a grin, “then there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Come here.” The pilot sat on the locker at the foot of Kes’s bed – the one the Captain had told her never to peek in – and slid over, patting the spot next to her. “Sit.”
“All right.” Zeva sat next to Kay, close enough for their hips to touch, still hoping to find some reasonable end to all this foolishness. She looked Kay over with renewed perspective. “Aren’t you cold in that thing?”
Kay leaned forward and kissed Zeva’s mouth, her lips impossibly soft and warm. She felt Kay’s arm slide around her back, felt a hand on her shoulder drawing her closer. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed herself against Kay, gasping as the pilot’s tongue slid into her mouth. She sucked on it greedily, tried to trap it with her own, until Kay took it back to whisper in her ear, “Told you that you wanted me.”
“Yes.” Zeva’s fingers rubbed the fabric of the dress over Kay’s stomach.
“Told you there was nothin’ to worry about,” Kay said, planting a line of soft, wet kisses along Zeva’s neck. The Jedi broke out in cold sweat and held Kay tightly as her breathing grew deeper, faster, louder. It seemed that no amount of air could cool her lungs… but as Kay’s lips found her own again, Zeva heard a third person breathing, a hollow, mechanical sound she recognized a moment too late.
A massive dent punched into the door to the crew quarters, swiftly followed by a second. The third blow sent the door flying into the room to clang against the far wall. A massive black figure ducked its head to enter the room, its outline hidden by the sweeping cape. There was no mistaking his mask, though…
Zeva drew her lightsaber, but nothing happened when she hit the ignition switch. The Sith Lord raised one gloved hand, and the weapon flew across the room into his grasp, crushed to powder in black fingers.
Zeva’s mind raced, until she saw the dark lord’s own lightsaber, hanging from his belt. Might be my only chance. She got to her feet, standing between him and Kay. “You found me,” she said, unable to keep her voice from quavering. “Kill me, if you have to, but please, don’t hurt Kay.”
The Sith Lord raised a hand once more, bringing thumb and forefinger together. A low rumble sounded as Kay’s hands went to her throat, unable to breathe. “If you truly wished her no harm, Zeva Vigil,” came that deep, dark voice, “you would not have led me to her.”
Zeva raced forward and grabbed at the lightsaber, but her hands passed right through it. Knowing that Kay only had seconds to live, she resorted to beating the Sith Lord, who took no notice of her fists at all. As she flailed her limbs unto exhaustion, blackness rose up to claim her, and she wondered how Darth Vader knew her name…
She awoke in the crew lounge, gasping for breath, still seated at the dinner table. Dream, she told herself, struggling for control. Just a dream. There was still cocoa in her cup, long since cooled. How long had she been dreaming? She stood up and peered at her reflection in the little mirror hanging above the sink, saw the faint outline of Kay’s dark lipstick on her cheek.
Not long enough.
Zeva crammed the little shoe back into her pocket, went to bed, and waited a long time for sleep.