Sorry for any confusion, but I noticed that the other parts needed to be broken up – there was no other way to indicate where the newest section began.
Chapter 3: Its Own Kind of Harmony
Aitahea made a quick assessment of the shuttle as she and Erithon entered. The power was clearly still functioning, providing a vastly more comfortable temperature than outside. A small hole – now patched against the cold – and accompanying spider-webbed crack in the viewscreen affirmed what had happened to the pilot. The Major latched the door behind them and turned around, following Aitahea’s gaze to the viewscreen.
“It was a direct shot, Master Jedi. Whoever was shooting at us either had really good aim or was exceptionally lucky. Not so lucky for the pilot.” Erithon shook his head, a fresh surge of regret in his voice.
Aitahea reached carefully to touch the damaged viewscreen and frowned. She felt a brief pulse from the Force again, the same intuition that had brought her to ask about the Sith at Aurek Base. “But you were safe, Major. How did you control your descent?”
Erithon shrugged, moving past the Jedi to access the controls. He stood as clear as he could from the pilot’s seat, also covered with plastifiber. The Jedi moved gently out of his path and back to the rear of the bridge. “The first shot took out the stabilizers, so we were already going down. I think we would have both made it in one piece if not for… that last shot.” He looked stricken, stumbling over the words.
“The pilot saved your life.”
The trooper nodded, swallowing thickly. “His name was Garret. From Vento.”
“Did he have family?” the Jedi asked.
“Not really sure, Master Jedi,” Erithon answered brusquely, focused intently on the control panel. “I’d known Garret for just a handful of moments. The length of the shuttle flight.”
Aitahea allowed the silence to stretch out, waiting patiently while Erithon adjusted the remaining functions of the shuttle. The trooper’s pain was palpable to her, practically a physical ache to her empath’s sensibilities. She found herself surprised; she knew from Erithon’s file he was no stranger to loss of comrades. Yet she could sense the memories of those he’d lost weighing on him like beskar.
Despite the grief he was feeling, beneath it the Jedi could sense a solid core of will and strength, a determination to persevere, and a sense of duty Aitahea had seldom encountered. She wondered what Grand Master Shan had known about this young man and left for Aitahea to find out.
When Erithon was finally satisfied with the shuttle’s readings and a little recovered from the Jedi’s questions – he was starting to believe the rumors about mind-reading Jedi – he turned back to give her an update.
She had pulled off her gloves and was just pushing back the hood of her cloak, expanding on the brief glimpse of delicate features he’d seen outside. She had bright, intricately bound hair, a pale burnished platinum in the low light of the shuttle interior. Her skin was just as light, but for the cold-born blush across her cheeks and the end of her nose, making her look youthful and radiant. Sage-green eyes were intensely observing Erithon, seeming to lay bare his thoughts and feelings. Expecting to feel edgy and unnerved by such a gaze, Erithon was surprised to find himself ready to share anything he was thinking with this lovely woman.
Erithon stopped up short. A Jedi, he corrected himself. A beautiful Jedi, but still a Jedi. Even so, that admonishment didn’t fully stop his imagination. Maybe he wouldn’t want to share everything he was thinking with her, after all.
Seeming to notice his discomfort, Aitahea considerately turned away to the comm panel and tapped in a brief command. “The base ceased to receive your distress signal once you fell below the edge of the cliffs, Major. I’ve let them know you’re safe, but in case your assailant is listening maybe it’s best we went to comm silence.” She glanced his way briefly, brows raised and fingers suspended over the keypad as she waited for his response.
“Oh. Sure. If they aren’t getting anything anyway, no point letting anyone else know we’re here.” Erithon nodded, folding and unfolding his arms, unable to find a reasonable position to stand in. He settled for leaning on a bulkhead, awkward in his bulky armor.
Aitahea resumed her efficient typing, giving no sign of having observed his lack of grace. “It’s not ideal, of course. The speeder I arrived on is still at the top of the cliffs, but it will have to do.” As the Jedi pressed a last key, the com responded with a quiet, final beep and lapsed into silence.
“I think that’s all we can manage for now, Master Jedi.” Erithon straightened and turned his head to glance out the viewscreen, indicating with a nod the swiftly deepening shadows. “With night coming on, we’re going to have to stay put. The temperatures on Hoth drop to levels even the cold weather gear can’t deal with at night.” Erithon fought the grin that was slowly creeping onto his face. Stay put. In a small transport shuttle. With a pretty human female. Huh.
“Of course. If that’s the case, we might want to use the last bit of light to set up a perimeter around…” Aitahea suddenly turned back to Erithon and tilted her head as she noticed his amused expression. “What is it?”
Erithon chuckled and waved a hand at her. “Nothing, nothing. Sorry, Master Jedi. It’s… been a long day.”
Aitahea smiled curiously, giving Erithon another intense look. Then, suddenly, she laughed. Erithon’s initial grin was replaced by a stunned expression. He’d never seen a Jedi laugh before. He hadn’t even been sure it was possible – all the others he’d known had been so stoic and reserved. It surprised him, but even more, he liked it. Liked the sound of her voice. Liked the delighted expression on her face. Liked that he had caused it – somehow.
So Erithon laughed, too, shaking his head in wonder. Laughter in the midst of a life-threatening situation wasn’t a new thing, but like Garret had said, it was rare and good to have.
“Sorry, sorry, Master Daviin-” Erithon began, raising his hands, but Aitahea shook her head in return and settled into a friendly smile.
“Don’t be, Major,” The Jedi’s face remained warm and open, green eyes glittering. “Laughter is its own kind of harmony.”
About an hour later, perimeter established, the body of Garret secured, and the pair feeling relatively safe and sound inside the shuttle, Aitahea was soundly defeating Erithon in their third game of sabacc. The trooper tossed another losing hand onto the table and flung himself back into his seat.
“Thank the stars Jedi don’t play for credits,” he grumbled, folding his arms. “You sure you aren’t playing any of those mind tricks on me?”
Aitahea arched an eyebrow at Erithon as she scooped up the cards and proficiently shuffled them back into the deck. “Firstly, I doubt any Force influence would work on you. You’re too self-aware,” she stated. Erithon harrumphed, feeling a mix of embarrassment and pleasure at the indirect compliment. Aitahea canted her head and continued, “And of course it simply wouldn’t be fair. Or fun.”
“Fun, huh? I didn’t think Jedi had fun. Come to think of it, I didn’t think Jedi played sabacc, either,” Erithon replied, watching as Aitahea deftly dealt a new hand.
“Most don’t.” Her eyes were far away for a moment, a brief hesitation before she set down the next card. “Play sabacc, that is. I learned from my sister. She’s a starship captain now, although she wasn’t at the time she taught me to play.”
“I thought Jedi children were separated from their families when they’re really young.” Erithon wondered aloud, picking up his cards. Aitahea nodded a confirmation as she contemplated her own hand.
“Most are, and few see their families again, especially if they came from offworld. It’s that way far more often now that the Temple is located on Tython.” She paused a moment to consider a card, watching it flicker to a new suit. “I am unique. I had quite a few opportunities to engage with my family. It is… considered very unusual.”
Erithon drew a fourth card and scowled at it. “Well, unusual or not, seems like getting to know your sister was pretty good for your sabacc game. Forget it. I fold.” He tossed this hand to the table as well, sighing as he cradled his face in his hands.
Aitahea broke into a peal of laughter, and Erithon peered up in mock-dejection. “Sure you’re not cheating there, Master Jedi?” A mysterious smile remained on the Jedi’s face.
“If I were, do you think I’d tell?”
“Master Faron, how do we not have emotions?” the youngling asked. He was Rodian, star-filled eyes a constant source of mystery and beauty to tiny Aitahea. Her young clan had been listening to Master Faron recite the Jedi Code for the first time, surrounded by the presence of the ancient and majestic Jedi Temple.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.
Aitahea considered her classmate’s question in silence. She felt emotions all the time. She felt love for her parents and baby sister, and she missed them now that she was at the Jedi Temple. She had been afraid before she had met Master Faron, before he had hushed the clamor of thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed the young empath. She felt emotions like joy when she learned a new skill or fact with her clan mates.
“Aitahea, you seem very thoughtful,” Master Faron commented, kind eyes on the fair-haired girl. The other younglings looked expectantly at Aitahea, who flushed a little at all the attention. But she surprised herself, wanting – needing even – to share her idea.
“I think we still have emotions, Master Faron,” she began, “but we can choose to have peace that sort of… goes over it.”
“Very astute, little one,” Master Faron praised. Impressed, Aitahea’s classmates nodded solemnly at her. Their teacher continued. “We are all sentient. We are thinking, feeling beings. It is one of the requirements for connecting with the Force. Does that mean that non-Force sensitives are not? Of course not.”
A little Miraluka boy, his mask covering the smooth expanse where his eyes would be, piped up. “I don’t have physical sight. But most sentient beings do. Not having eyes doesn’t mean I’m not sentient. I’m just different.”
“Well done. We are all very different, even among our own species,” Master Faron agreed. “Force sensitivity is the same. Just because another being lacks a sense you have, they are still fully capable of emotional feelings – that which makes us sentient.”
“Are emotions bad, Master?” queried one small girl. She’d arrived at the Temple just days ago, a delicate-looking human girl with flyaway brown hair and mahogany eyes. New to Jedi training, she rarely spoke during discussions, and Aitahea had heard her crying at bedtime in their sleeping quarters. She didn’t even know the girl’s name yet.
Aitahea found herself startled and curious at the new girl’s question. Carefully, she opened herself to the Force, just as Master Faron had taught her. The elder Jedi had helped Aitahea to understand her connection to others as an empath when she first came to the Jedi Temple and instructed her how to set up a “shield” of sorts so she wasn’t constantly bombarded with their feelings. All of the other members of her Jedi clan were empaths, as was Master Faron. Together, Aitahea and her clan mates had learned to be very careful about sensing others’ emotions. Feelings were very personal and private; most of the time what others were experiencing was their own business and no one else’s.
But an empath could use her talent carefully to better understand others in order to help them, and that was what Aitahea tried to do now. Concentrating, she moved her imaginary shield out of the way just a little, enough to share a fraction of what the other child was feeling.
The girl was guilty and frightened. Her emotions were strong, too, pushing hard at Aitahea’s mental shield. This scared Aitahea, and she quickly slammed her shield back into place, jarring the serenity of the Force around her. The Miraluka boy flinched and turned to face Aitahea, tilting his head in a silent question. Aitahea just huddled deeper into her robe, looking away.
Master Faron spared Aitahea only the slightest of glances, instead directing his attention toward the other little girl. “Emotion is neither good nor bad; it simply is. What is important is what you do with it; how you react to it. Your reaction can be the cause of great good or terrible evil. So choose your actions carefully, with compassion. That is what it means to be a Jedi.
“Well done, younglings. Let our discussion end here for today. Please go and attend to your other duties. Off with you!” Master Faron added pleasantly, offering a gentle smile. The children scattered away to other parts of the Temple for their various activities, but Aitahea lingered and watched as Master Faron approached the anxious newcomer. Their Master knelt and spoke quietly to the shivering girl, who calmed almost immediately. Aitahea didn’t need her empathy to understand the sudden change in the girl’s demeanor.
After a few more words, both Master Faron and the girl turned to approach Aitahea. “Aitahea, I think you should spend some time with our new arrival. It would do you both much good, I believe. Take some time to yourselves in the Temple gardens, why don’t you?” he suggested, briefly touching each girl’s shoulder.
“Of course, Master Faron. I’m Aitahea Daviin,” Aitahea said, offering a tiny hand to the other girl. The newcomer smiled uncertainly, but placed her own hand in Aitahea’s.
“Nice to meet you. My name is-“
Aitahea awoke, suddenly and immediately alert. She’d been dreaming again, this time a half-recalled moment from her youth at the Jedi Temple. But this memory refused to linger, slipping through her fingers. She was trying to remember the name of the other child in the dream when heavy footfalls approached.
“Master Jedi?” It was Major Erithon Zale. Aitahea rose from the bunk, finding her companion leaning into the passenger cabin, eyes worried. Erithon had taken the first watch and given Aitahea an opportunity to rest after her harried journey across the ice. “We have to move.”
“What do you mean, Major?” Aitahea frowned, feeling the trooper’s anxiety trickling like icy water into the Force.
“We’ve got company, Master Jedi. Pirates, I’m pretty sure.”
Aitahea passed her hand across her eyes and cleared the haze of sleep from her mind, taking a moment to reach out in the Force for their immediate surroundings. Erithon was a solid, bright presence quivering with worry and just a touch of frustration. Beyond him there were a dozen or so other beings, focused stealth barely covering simmering violence. Their target was clearly the shuttle Aitahea and Erithon currently occupied.
“I see,” Aitahea’s calm voice belied the plummeting anxiety she suddenly felt. “Do you have any suggestions, Major?”
Erithon motioned for her to join him in the cockpit. “I’ve been working while you were resting. Got a surprise for you… and them.”
“You said we needed to move.”
“And move we will, Master Jedi.” Aitahea followed Erithon onto the bridge of the shuttle where the trooper sat in the copilot’s chair. The controls had all been routed to that side and parts of the boards were a tangled mess of wires and electronics.
“I rerouted several of the systems – wasn’t able to do anything about the stabilizers from inside the ship – but I think…”
Erithon punched a few buttons in succession as the Jedi looked on. The man’s enthusiasm and hope were infectious, and Aitahea leaned forward in anticipation.
“…we have engines.”
The shuttle roared to life and flung itself violently into the air, knocking Aitahea off her feet. “Major?” she cried, clinging to a nearby console.
“Sorry! No stabilizers!” Erithon bellowed back, fighting the shuttle for control. The ship continued to rise at an unsteady pace. The viewscreen was dark save for flashes of blaster fire. It was impossible to tell if any of the shots struck the ship as it rocketed wildly higher. “Hang on, this might get bumpy!”
Aitahea could sense the ice – and the pirates – dropping quickly away. They seemed close to reaching safety; the shuttle had nearly reached the top of the same cliffs Aitahea had rappelled down the day before.
“Jedi, can you give me a hand here?”
Erithon was struggling with the controls, the control stick fighting him like a living thing. Aitahea scrambled to her feet and pitched forward to hold tightly to the copilot’s seat, leaning over Erithon’s shoulder.
“What do you need, Major?”
“Hold the stick. I need to get us propulsion or they’re just going to shoot us down again while we hang here.”
“I’m coming around,” the Jedi replied, winding one hand into the crash webbing and reaching for the controls with the other. She placed her own hand lightly over Erithon’s and then nodded at him. The trooper nodded back and quickly slipped his hand away, in one motion releasing the crash webbing and diving under the console to tangle with more complex controls.
Aitahea gasped and found herself relying on the Force to augment her strength. The control wheel twisted wildly in her grip; she braced herself hard against the side panel and the flight chair and grasped both handholds on the stick.
“Just one more second… there!” Erithon shouted, and the shuttle launched forward and upward in a spectacular arc. Erithon flung himself back into the seat, snapped into the crash webbing, and added his strength to the Jedi’s, pushing the stick forward. Aitahea gasped as they angled toward the ground.
“Hang on, Jedi!” Erithon whooped. He reached across the console with one hand to press a button, swore vehemently, then reached further down to simply tear wires from the control panel. That action seemed to be effective, as the shuttle began to both lose what little altitude it had and slow its speed. The control stick suddenly went slack under the Jedi’s hands, and the trooper let go only to pull Aitahea into his arms.
“Sorry, but this landing might be a little-” Erithon’s last words were lost in the grating screech of durasteel on ice. The crash webbing held Erithon in place, and his grasp kept the Jedi from flying through the viewscreen. Aitahea shut her eyes tight and held on.
Long moments later, the sickening motion of metal sliding over ice stopped, and Aitahea opened her eyes. Erithon was curled over her, his face pressed into her hair and arms pinning her tight against him. She remained half out of the copilot’s seat, her legs off to the side while his were still wrapped in wire from the console. A console that had begun sparking.
“Major!” she exclaimed, struggling to untangle their entwined limbs. “Fire!”
Erithon, dazed but aware, released the Jedi immediately and unsnapped his crash webbing so he could stand. Aitahea was up in a moment and raced to find a portable fire suppressor. She turned and tossed the container to the waiting Erithon, who activated the suppressor and doused the sparking console in fire retardant.
The next few moments were punctuated only by the gasping of the shuttle occupants and the creaks and crunches of the damaged craft. “That was well done, Major,” Aitahea commented between breaths.
“Thanks. I’m usually a better pilot,” Erithon acknowledged, “but under the circumstances, I figured you’d look past the rough landing. Are you in one piece, Master Jedi?”
Erithon eyed the Jedi as she took a moment to run her hands over her arms. During the unexpectedly frenzied flight and subsequent brutal landing, her hair had come partially loose from its plaits and now framed her face in silvery waves. The trooper started, suddenly realizing that the tactile memory of softness on his face was from when he’d grabbed the Jedi to protect her during the landing. Held her in his arms, his cheek pressed against her hair.
Erithon was flushed when Aitahea looked back up. “I’m uninjured,” she confirmed with a nod. “What about you?” As the Jedi stepped forward, a hand outstretched, Erithon quickly turned away and set about untangling his feet from the console’s nonfunctioning wires.
“Fine, fine,” he muttered, “just let me get out of this mess.”
Aitahea paused and pulled her hand back to herself, concerned. It wasn’t an unusual response to hide one’s injuries; she’d seen it frequently enough when deployed with other beings. Some feared the appearance of weakness, some even feared her Jedi “powers” when it came to their person. Under the circumstances, any injuries Erithon might want to hide could only slow them down and endanger them further, so Aitahea felt compelled to apprise his condition despite his protests.
Reaching out in the Force, she was relieved to find nothing but minor bumps and bruises, but there was more to it. Aitahea noticed a slender but strong thread of emotion running through his thoughts. It would have been barely noticeable, if it didn’t deal directly with Aitahea herself. She blinked, caught off guard, and found herself reaching up to smooth a hand over her hair, loosened from its usual braids during their escape. She hadn’t even realized it.
“Master Jedi?” Erithon asked, breaking Aitahea’s reverie. He had turned back, disentangled from the console’s damaged electronics, and was about to add an embarrassed chuckle when the whole shuttle juddered around them, settling onto the ice. Aitahea stumbled and Erithon reached out to catch her by the hand.
“You keep ending up in my arms like this, Master Jedi, and I’m going to start getting ideas,” Erithon jested, offering stability while Aitahea regained her footing. Their hands still clasped, an astonished Aitahea stared at the trooper, perplexed. Just a moment ago he’d been fighting to hide this feeling from her, then immediately made light of the same.
Even more surprising was that she found herself smiling in response.
Erithon released the Jedi’s hands, almost reluctantly it seemed, and looked around the shuttle. “Well, I think we’ve about done this poor little ship in.” The interior lights shuddered relevantly and Erithon sighed. “We have a few hours until dawn and the temperatures get tolerable enough to travel. We shouldn’t be far from your speeder.”
“Understood,” Aitahea replied, nodding. “You need a chance to rest as well, and I can sense anyone who might attempt to approach in the meantime. I’ll keep watch.” The Jedi didn’t mention that she also wanted some quiet contemplation in which she could address the strange collection of emotions gathering inside her.
Erithon stifled a yawn with one hand and nodded his agreement. “Appreciate it, Master Jedi.” He moved to the cabin hatch and paused, looking as though he wanted to speak. After a moment, he merely smiled. “Thanks.”
“Of course, Major. Rest well,” Aitahea added. It wasn’t until well after Erithon had left the bridge that she began braiding her hair back into place.