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A bit of news about me. In the last year, I have sold four stories to the Grantville Gazette online magazine. If you go there and put in the words 'Sergeant Whatshisname', you will see the last published. One is still waiting until the next bi-monthly issue is released in March.

 

But i was looking over an article I intend to publish on Amazon Kindle sometime in the moth, and noticed that I had not posted a story here that I have published at the fanfiction site, so I am late, but still alive.

 

Homecoming

 

The young girl looked up, seeing ships not of her world in low orbits, knew her Aunt and her fleet had been destroyed, and that these came now to take what her people would not give willingly. She saw a mass of smaller ships, shuttles she thought, dropping. The Home World of the Hapes Cluster had never been invaded, until today.

 

She had been told the stories, of how those beyond the Transitory Clouds wanted what her people had, and if they could not buy it, they would steal it. The older noblewomen of the court had waxed lyrical on the actions of men without a firm woman's hand on them, and she was frightened.

 

Suddenly she had felt something, felt as if she could reach out and touch those warships, their shuttles full of men coming to take what they wanted. They would come, they would hurt her people. They would hurt her. Then she screamed, something insubstantial yet very real welled up, passed out of her as the sound of her scream had. The shuttles wobbled, then came apart like poorly made toys. A moment later, the ships began shuddering, then they too came apart.

 

A week later, the Jedi came-

 

Jaina awoke. While the dream had been nightmarish, she had not jerked awake screaming as she had so many years ago. She knew dreams were sometimes memories, sometimes things she had been thinking of before sleeping, and sometimes merely her brain playing like a puppy. She smiled at a thought. When she had been told that as a Jedi Youngling, she had a dream right after where she was watching a small puppy frisking around, chasing birds and butterflies with careless abandon. Why was she remembering that day now?

 

 

The Judiciary cruiser dropped out of hyperspace beyond the Transitory Clouds of Hapes. The crew stared around, shocked at the wreckage that still floated close enough together to be a threat to ships in normal space.

 

“We have arrived, Master Jedi.” The co pilot reported.

 

“I can see that. I will attend you momentarily.” The ship merely rested still in space, the shields deflecting wreckage that still moved as if it belonged to a ship. Among it, they could see bodies, shattered life pods with the escapees still strapped into their seats. The hatch snapped open, and a young woman entered. Jaina was a slim attractive woman with bright red hair in a braid down her back. To the side of her face a single smaller braid denoted her rank; Padawan.

 

She surveyed the carnage. “Have you identified any of the ships destroyed here?”

 

“Working on that now, Master Jedi.” The sensor rating reported. “Zantili mercenary ships. At least four. From the readings on the actual surviving weapon mounts, I would think some of their patrol vessels.”

 

“Crew?”

 

He checked the database. “Standard crew is 250. From the look of it, the Hapans blew them apart, then went through and destroyed all of the life pods when they deployed. No survivors.”

 

Jaina gazed out, lost in thought. “What madness is this, Mother?” She whispered.

 

“Pardon?” The rating looked up.

 

She shook her head. “I was talking to myself, rating. Captain, analysis. Do you think the Hapan navy will fire on you?”

 

“If their threat was genuine, they will, Master Jedi.” The woman replied.

 

“Then we will move past the clouds into the home system. Do not approach beyond the perimeter. You will stay only long enough for my fighter to depart. You will not fire upon a Hapan vessel even if fired upon, and return outside the Clouds until I signal your return.”

 

“Ma'am, are you sure they won't fire on you?” She asked.

 

Jaina gave a slight chuckle. “Unless I have been publicly declared traitor, few would dare. If I have been, the war my people court will arrive in due time.” She turned. “You have your orders, Captain.”

 

The ship leaped into hyper, and dropped again at the edge of the Oort cloud. The tiny fighter moved from the shuttle bay, spinning to aim at the distant sun, and shot away. The cruiser wisely dived back into hyper and safety.

 

The three corvettes on the perimeter closed on the fighter. “Jedi fighter approaching the home world. You are ordered to withdraw or be fired upon.”

 

Jaina closed her eyes, and they were shoved almost gently aside, frantically trying to resume their course. “This is Jaina, Daughter of Hela. I have harsh words for my mother. It is not your fight unless you make it so.”

 

For a moment, they struggled, engines vying against the Force and losing. Then they peeled away, turning to resume their stations. She shot between them. Always remember that underlings need a firm hand. Deal with them as you must. She did not speed up to the ship's full potential, rather she maintained cruising speed, allowing her mother and people to decide.

 

She wanted to curse. Must all of my memories of home be so angry? She admitted that when it came to her mother, most of them were. Her master had worried through all of her training that she would fall to the dark side merely because of harsh words given to her before she was seven. But she remembered her father's smile, his gentle hands soothing her after her mother had treated her worse than the meanest subject of her realm.

 

She had wanted to return home one day at least as a guest, but it had not been so. The Jedi worried about the problems your family might cause you during training, the countervailing interests that would draw you away from the order, and back into political life when you had a family rank as she did. She knew (Because she had been told) that her mother, father, and both sister and brother had sent her messages in the last ten years. When she had asked, they had told her those from her mother had begun demanding, and ended wheedling about three years before.

 

Her father's had been more 'I love you, my daughter', and had stopped ten years ago. Her older brother's had been simple 'this is the life you are missing' type letters, and they had ended five years ago. Her younger sister's had started with 'you're so mean because you left me' of a five year old child, segued into the boring speech of a Hapan noblewoman, and finally stopped when her brother's did with a flat 'I don't need you, and don't care about you any more'.

 

She wondered what had happened to her father. Though she had not been told the how of it, she had felt the pain of her father dying right before she had turned seven. Mere months after she had come to the Jedi. She knew from reports she had been given right before leaving on this mission that the others of her family still lived.

 

And what would her half-siblings think of her now?

 

Her astromech droid gave a tootled comment, and she looked at the translator. “I seem them, K5.” She looked at the screen showing four Hapan Claw fighters coming at her head on. It looked as if she would find out.

 

“Jedi fighter. This is Princess Sayun. You are ordered to leave this system, sister. Or we will destroy you.”

 

She considered the threat. The madness her nation had embarked on did not have the stamp of her younger sister. “Sister, my words are for our mother, not you. Please do not make me fight you.”

 

“No one makes you fight your own people, sister.” She uttered the last word as if it were an obscenity. “Our Queen Mother has no interest in the words of one foresworn.” The fighters went to their full speed. Not as fast as her own, but if she merely evaded them and continued on her approach, they would catch her as she slowed to enter the atmosphere.

 

She sighed, notching the throttle forward. “Sobeit, my sister.”

 

They passed, lasers raving. One of the Claws came apart as they did. Then they had turned back into the fray.

 

 

Below, the sensor officer watched. One down, then two, finally three. Still the Jedi fought with skill, and the only icons on her screen were the small gold one of the Princess, and the red one of the intruder. Suddenly the Jedi's icon vanished, and the Princess' fighter turned toward home. “Ma'am, the Princess returns.”

 

“Understood.” Her superior said. “Signal that she is to land on the royal platform.” The icon approached, but there was no reply. Perhaps her communications were down, or she was injured. “Have medical personnel there just in case.”

 

Down on the Royal platform, people assembled. An honor guard if she were well, to escort her to the Queen Mother. Medical personnel to rush her to hospital if she was not. The honor guard commander searched the sky. It would come from... there!

 

The Claw fighter was as clean of damage as if it had never left. But the Jedi fighter paced it. Stunned, they all watched as the undamaged Jedi ship slowed, the Claw settling to rest on it's belly, then dropped to land beside it. The laser barrels in its wings smoked. Then the cockpit rose, and Jaina stood. She leaped down, walking toward her sister's ship. “Medics!” She roared, “now, now, now!” The tone of I will be obeyed broke their stasis, and the medical personnel leaped into motion. Jaina stood a meter from the ship hands out, head back, eyes closed. “She still lives, but you must hurry!”

 

The princess sat there as if flash frozen by the cold of space. Her left hand held the stick, but the other held a pistol against the hinge of her jaw. Her eyes were moving frantically, and the medic could see her finger twitch and release as if pulling the trigger again and again.

 

“Please, hurry, take the weapon before she breaks my control.” Blood ran down from where Jaina had bitten her own lip. The medic reached in, first put the weapon on safety, then peeled her fingers from the grip. “Sedate her, let her sleep.” The girl regained enough control to scream like a soul in hell before the sedative took control.

 

Finally the girl all of sixteen was placed reverently on a litter, medics gathered around her like scavengers hurrying away. Jaina looked at the Honor Guard. They had lowered their weapons to aim at her.

 

“Degan.” She greeted the Commander. “If you truly wished to kill me, you missed your chance when I was occupied.”

 

“What happened with the Princess? Is she well?”

 

Jaina sighed, looking down and shaking her head. “As well as any of my mother's children can be, Degan.” She looked up, eyes haunted. “Sayun was told before she took off that if she still lived, with me standing where I am now, her life was forfeit after much pain. She would have taken her own life rather than fail.” She shook herself, then gave him a gentle smile. “Have I business with you now?”

 

He blushed, but his voice was firm. “You are no longer of the royal family, woman. You are not welcomed here.”

 

“Be that as it may. But you know as well as I that to slay me will bring retribution. If I am not declared traitor openly and publicly, it will come at my mother's order. As I told the ships that tried to stop me before, it is not your fight.”

 

She watched him considering. Degan had grown, and grown well. She remembered the shy twelve year old she had been introduced to the year before she left. Not as 'this is one of our subjects', but as 'this is the one you are sworn to'. Her betrothed back then. The man he had become was tall strong and handsome. She cocked her head. “And when I left, Degan, did my mother swear you to my sister instead?” His blush answered her question. “Then worry about she you will marry. My message is not for our people, it is for my mother and those that foment such madness above our home. Decide.”

 

He bit his lip, then snapped to attention. His men also did so. She nodded. Then she passed through them.

 

She walked down the Hall of Ancestors. Statues the size of giants lined the way, from the first Queen Mother to the present day. Her mother did not yet have her statue, but she knew it had already been ordered, and merely waited until she passed on the throne. At the far end of the hall, one woman stood, waiting.

 

“The foolish lamb returns.” The woman purred.

 

“Keti, will you stand between me and her?” She asked.

 

“I am a loyal member of the Royal house, whelp.” The woman sneered. Jaina remembered her as her brother's chosen consort. Like her brother five years older, and she had thought her beautiful. At least until she opened her mouth at that first meeting at what, four? Like Degan she had matured well, full figured, sleekly muscled as any Hapan noblewoman would be if she were to lead and fight alongside her subjects. The tragedy that had brought her here had the stamp of something Keti might have done.

 

“Stand aside, sister by marriage.”

 

“I will do no such thing.” Her hand came down, and a long strand of metal hung from it. Then she began to spin it, making a glittering circle longer than her own lightsaber's blade. “Jaina of no world, here you die.”

 

“Wife-” Perin, her brother stepped from the shadow of the statue to his wife's right. “We do not need to kill her. Merely send her on her way.”

 

“Silence, husband.” Keti snapped. “Your mother has given my orders from her own lips. This one could kill you and assume the throne. She will not allow her to leave.”

 

“My sister would not harm me.” He replied with all of the faith of a true believer. “She will listen to reason.”

 

“The time for sweet reason is past.” Keti charged forward.

 

Jaina lit her lightsaber, the blade hitting but not penetrating the glittering circle, the sharpened chain spinning around her blade. She slid it off, and backed away.

 

“Mandalorian Beskar iron. Your toy will not mar it, whelp.” She struck again, and Jaina parried.

 

“I do not wish to kill you, sister by marriage.”

 

“But I wish to kill you!” The chain lashed out, then with a sweep of her wrist, snapped outright, spinning around Jaina's neck. She pulled, the chain should cut her head off- but the Jedi spun with the the pull, sliding forward until her fist caught the older woman in the jaw, lifting her and slamming her into one of the statues. The collar of her robe fell neatly cut, showing the smooth gorget of the same metal. She watched the fallen woman as she peeled the whip from her neck with the force.

 

The woman leaped to her feet, another chain whip snapping forward. At the same moment her brother stepped in, hands out trying to placate them. Jaina saw the shock in her brother's eyes as it hit and wrapped, then his head spun aside, blood fountaining as his body collapsed.

 

The combatants stopped, staring at this unplanned event. Keti came out of the shock first, glaring at Jaina. “See what you made me do?” She howled, attacking with manic energy. Jaina kept clear of the sweep of the razor edged metal. It missed, spinning around the leg of one of the statues behind her, and Keti instinctively pulled to free it. The metal, thinner than a spider's web, sheered through the leg, and the statue wobbled, then began to fall.

 

“Keti!” Jaina dropped her weapon, reaching up, catching tons of stone as it fell, but then had to leap back to avoid the next attack. The stone came down, smashing her opponent to the ground.

 

Jaina stared at the bodies, then felt something. She reached up, holding out the tear she had shed. Home was nothing but pain for her. Her brother the heir lay dead at her feet, and the woman that would have ruled by his side lay crushed. This madness had to end! She reached out with the Force, and found her mother. Curious, she turned taking the stairway up rather than marching into the throne room beyond.

 

She opened the door, and looked about her. Her old room, the huge four poster bed with curtains, the toy box, the window that looked over the gardens she had loved so much back then. Nothing had changed. It was as if she had merely stepped out of the room a child, and returned an adult a moment later.

 

No, there was one addition. A set of shelves attached to the wall, holding a dozen or so egg shaped devices. She walked across, and touched one. A hologram came to life, Her at perhaps two, sitting on her father's lap. The joy in both faces clearly evident. With unerring precision, she touched one on the shelf above it, her parents, Perin seated between them, Jaina held by her mother in what appeared to be a loving embrace a few weeks after her birth. She knew better now. Her mother had such views made to show her people, the loving queen and her happy family.

 

The fact that she had thrust that younger child into a nurse's hands the moment after it was recorded never saw the light of day. Below them- Her breath caught.

 

A doll, not just any doll, but the one made by her father's own hands when she was two. She had fallen, or something, and had run to be comforted as a child would. Her mother had slapped her away like a hound sticking it's nose under your skirt, and her father had gathered her up and carried her away, soothed her tears, and that night he had given her this. Now she knew it was an amateurish attempt, the arms different lengths, the buttons of it's eyes mismatched, the hair just strands of yarn chosen because it matched her hair sewn together by someone who knew what needle and thread were, but not how they were used. The right arm had always been falling off, and when she would solemnly show this to him, he had merely laughed and sewn it back on time and again.

 

Her father had awakened her. It was very late, and she wanted to merely go back to sleep, but he had picked her up, and gone to the wall of her room. A door she had never seen was open in it, and he carried her down a dark and dusty passage. It had been cold, and she had whined a bit, wanting her warm bed. Instead he had shushed her, wrapped her in his own cloak, and gone on. There, in the warmth of that cloth, with the smell of her beloved father, she had fallen asleep. Then she had awakened, seeing two people in what she knew were Jedi robes. The older, a woman had taken her into her arms, and her father had leaned forward, his lips brushing her forehead. “I love you Jaina.”

 

It was the last time she had seen him.

 

“He missed you.” She looked over her shoulder, and her mother was there. Hela, Queen Mother, in her gold chased armor, sword at her hip. “You betrayed him first, daughter mine. Then the rest of us. He died mourning.”

 

“No, mother, you had him killed. Oh, sorry, when a monarch has someone killed it is called an execution is it not?”

 

Hela's eyes tightened. “He betrayed his people, then he defied me.”

 

“He betrayed the people by acting with the love of a father for his child. No doubt when you wished to breed another hoping that child would have my abilities, he refused your bed. That was common sense, not betrayal.”

 

“Our worlds needed you here, not out there with the outlanders!” Hela swept her arm, taking in the entire galaxy beyond. “I would have nurtured you to protect our people!”

 

“Nurture.” Jana repeated. “Mother, you and I both know that both Sayun and I were merely spare parts to your mind. The tire you keep in the trunk of your vehicle in case one goes flat. When Perin took the throne, you would have had us there just in case. Until I smashed that fleet, I was nothing more than that.” She turned facing her fully. “But suddenly your spare tire had a value you hadn't known. Now it was important to you. And you would have defied the Jedi and the Galaxy to hold this now valued thing to your bosom, because even then I was still nothing more than a thing.”

 

“With the proper training, that skill you have would have been a deterrent-”

 

“With proper training?” She interrupted harshly. “What proper training could I have had here? Using old stories of what the Jedi can do?” It would have been like handing a manual for how to wield a sword to that child and assuming she will master it! I spent almost a year among the Jedi before they would even think of training me! They had to find out why I did what I had done. They feared that unchecked I would be danger to everyone in the Galaxy! Do you know what made me so powerful even for an instant?

 

“My aunt and her heir were both dead, invaders were coming to oppress our people, and even as a child I understood all too well what pain was. 'They have no love of us, and will hurt us just because they can', someone would say. And as I a mere child looked up and saw them coming, I struck out to stop them from hurting me!

 

“But where did I learn so well about pain? Where did the sheer terror of having them here come from? It was not from my father, or my siblings. I learned it at my mother's knee, with every slighting word, every blow when I might cry, or being berated for not standing straight enough, getting my clothing dirty in play, not being the perfect showcase daughter for the person who was now the Queen Mother! And everyone at court treated me the same, because if it was all right for you to treat me thus, it was all right for them!

 

“I struck out and slaughtered all those invaders because everyone seemed to think that they were worse than you!”

 

Jaina took a deep shuddering breath. “Now think of this 'deterrent' here, in this snake pit. If I had learned, if I had become this weapon for your hand, what makes you think for an instant I would not have used it against those who created me? Think of your court, or you dead because they were right there before my eyes, and no doubt they would not have changed no more than you would have suddenly become a loving mother. I could have erased my pain with a single thought merely by killing you.”

 

“You don't understand-”

 

“Spare me! A child who only wanted the love any other child would get. I learned about love from my father, from my brother and my sister. I learned indifference at the hands of all you could command, and I learned hate from you.” She crossed her arms. “Now, mother, why have you done all of this? Why have you made the Consortium a danger to all of our neighbors, forced this to the point that the Senate is willing to send a fleet to stop you?”

 

“I?”

 

“Yes, mother, you. Why was my sister willing to kill herself rather than let me pass? Why did my sister by marriage attack me, and instead killed my own brother when he foolishly thought that he could stop her?”

 

Hela suddenly looked shocked. “Perin... is dead?”

 

“Yes, mother. As is Keti. My sister lives only because I was able to stop her from slaying herself.” She glared at the older woman. “And you ordered my death at Keti's hands.”

 

“I gave no order to kill you.”

 

“ 'Your mother has given my orders from her own lips. This one could kill you and assume the throne. She will not allow her to leave'. Keti was a lot of things, but liar isn't one of them. Of course you did not phrase it as an order, mother. You merely put the poison in her ear, that I came to supplant Perin. That if my sister failed to stop me she would have died horribly. All so I could seize the throne. As if I would even want to do that. I am my father's daughter, you were merely the vessel that brought me into the world.

 

“So explain, mother. Why have you done all of this.”

 

Hela looked away, then back at her. “To bring you home.”

 

Jaina stared at her. “A simple holonet call wasn't easy enough for you?”

 

Hela sighed. “It would take too long to explain if you were not here.”

 

“So several thousand deaths would be simpler? Well you have at least part of your wish. I stand here now. Explain it to me.”

 

“I needed you here to assume the throne when I die.”

 

“You have one child still. Why must I assume it?”

 

“You're brother was an amiable idiot. Without Keti to guide him, he would have been worse than my sister before her death. It was her vacillation that led the enemy who attacked to believe us weak. I chose your betrothed with that in mind as well. You see-”

 

“I study and learn, mother, even without your oh so gentle hand deciding what I should learn. Keti's family is weak, but she was strong, and loyal. If you had stepped down, they would have supported her even against the Great families. As soon as an heir was born, Perin could have been convinced to step down, and let her as regent assume the throne in his stead.

 

“Degan has no family. He has only his position given by you and unswerving loyalty to you. Not to the one he would have wed, but to you still. He would have been there like a rider on an animal, using the reins to guide me in the way you would have wanted. Sayun is too much of a free spirit for that to work, but again he could have guided her more subtly than he would have with me.

 

“As I have said, you still have a child, and in time-”

 

“There is no time!” Hela screamed. “I am dying, not in time, not in decades, I will die within a year! I needed someone strong now!”

 

“Are you going mad as well as dying?” Jaina snapped back. “Chose a regency council, fill it with those you trust so that when you do die, she is upheld.”

 

“In this snake pit as you so aptly named it?” Hela shook her head. “The Great houses mouth loyalty and devotion to the crown, and at the same time scheme to seize that power the instant I am gone. Degan would be loyal still, but a mere needle of poison is all they would need to remove him. They would fight over the Consortium like scavengers over the carcass of a dead animal, and bring it down rather than admit they were wrong!”

 

“Just as you still deny that you are wrong. Wrong about me then, wrong even now. I will not be your tool again, mother. That is final.”

 

“Oh really? And if I die today, who claims the throne? That pack of Jackals?” She held up a small box, then pressed the button on it. There was a flash as the explosive charge in her armor detonated, shards of the ceramic and metal ripping into her own chest.

 

Jaina gave a cry, leaping to catch her mother as she began to crumple. Hela looked up at her, then her hand rose, cupping her daughter's shocked face gently for the only time in the girl's memory. “Lead my people, please.”

 

-

 

The courtiers milled, talking softly amongst themselves. A Jedi had come, the daughter that had left, just as the Queen Mother had predicted. But what would come of that meeting?

 

The great doors opened, and Jaina entered. The Concierge began to announce her, but Jaina reached out with the Force, snatching the staff he was going to slam down to gain the attention of those there, and sent him to sleep with a thought. Then she paced up the center aisle.

 

Slowly those in the room began to notice the silent progress, their own conversation dying as she marched up to the throne. She walked past all of the baulk lines where courtiers would bow when the Queen Mother was in attendance to kneel before the throne itself before gently placing the Sword of State upright with the blade bare. Then she stood in the silent room, bowing to the sword itself before turning to face them.

 

“Hela is dead.”

 

“The Queen Mother is dead! Long live the Queen!” Someone shouted, and the cry was taken up as they all went to their knees. But when they looked up, Jaina had not done what custom demanded. She had not taken the sword back again, nor sat on what they now had acclaimed as her throne. Instead she merely looked across the room, still standing.

 

“I do not accept the throne. You should all be glad that I do not, for I am not as cold and calculating as my mother, and you would find me less biddable than you would wish. I stand here to assure that a proper regent and regency council is chosen. I know you all no doubt think I will leave the mess my mother and you have made of our home, but I am my father's daughter, and he would not have left it so. Bring me Degan.”

 

They all stood again as Degan was hustled forward, held by both arms. She looked down mildly. “I am not my mother. Did I say bring him held for slaughter?” The courtiers leaped back as if he had suddenly grown too hot to hold.

 

“As my first act, I name you Regent for my sister, Degan.”

 

“Wait!” She knew the name and family, but to her he wasn't important. “The Great families gather to choose the council. It is the law!”

 

“In one thing I am very like my mother. I do not suffer fools gladly.” The man shut up. “Letting you choose is like letting a group of squabbling children decide who has the right to play with which toy. There would be too much lip service given to cooperation, and almost none of the meat of it. I will choose those who stand with Degan to hold the Consortium for my sister's hand to wield, and those who would challenge me or him had best remember that I will be watching still.

 

“You will not like it if I have to return to fix the problems you create.”

 

 

It had been a harrowing time. Even with her as a silent watcher they argued. She felt like a nurse in charge of overactive five year olds, but finally the council was seated, and Degan walked with her out to her fighter. “She still cries, Jaina.” He said. “She is still terrified that you will return and push her aside.”

 

“Ease her mind for me, Degan.” She sighed. “If I went to do so myself, she would only believe years of lies mother told her.” She turned, looking him in the eye. “I knew your heart even then, Degan. You are a good and loving man, and without my mother to force you, you can be the shoulder she needs to cry on. The arms that hold her safe, the heart that will always be true to the Consortium. Be that for her, and I will be content wherever I am in the Galaxy.”

 

“But where do you go?”

 

She paused as the cockpit rose, then climbed into the seat, strapping in. “To where I have found caring and appreciation, Degan. I am going home.”

 

He stood back as the fighter rose, then like an arrow from a bow, shot into space.

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