Star Wars fan fiction
introduction to Circles Complete
Can’t Go Home Again
Trial by Fire
Turning Points: So Alone
Turning Points: So Alive
Steer the Shore
Seed of Deceit
Euphoria and Foreboding
Out of Darkness
Out of Doubt
~@~ Can't Go Home Again
It was local night when a small YT-2400 freighter put down on the planet Myrina. The capitol city was dark except for the slow flashing of landing beacons at the spaceport, and the dingy spaceport was quiet except for the muffled echos of a lone cargo ship that was still unloading its wares. She paid her fees and made her way unassumingly through the city streets and out into the pre-dawn countryside. The eerie silence of long absence hung like a shroud surrounding her, its shadow keeping the unknown at a distance for a short while longer. For ten years, Lyra had carried the thought of making this journey. She did not know what to expect at its end, and she was trying not to hope.
For several hours, she directed the small speeder bike by memory alone. The night was pitch black around her. Timeless. When light finally started to break against the horizon, she looked around herself, startled. Her surroundings didn't match any of the memories she had been traveling on. Lyra stopped the speeder as confusion gave way to disbelief. There should have been buildings, vegetation. Life. She knelt to the ground to pick up a handful of soil. Its remembered red-brown color was now a darker shade against her skin. She sifted it between her fingers – mostly ash.
Her eyes lifted to scan the lightening horizon. For as far as she could see, the ground carried only the first layer of new life: mostly weed plants and a few small seedlings. The destruction was only three or four seasons old. That would put it at four, maybe five standard years. She had seen the blatant signs of corruption at the spaceport, in the absorbent ground fees and the veiled threats behind them. She had expected it there, but she had not expected the corrosion to extend this far on world. A hard lump tightened Lyra's throat. She had not expected this.
With grim urgency, she stood and headed back to the speeder. This destruction belonged to something entirely different. Not the work of petty criminals trying to turn a fast profit, this was an organized and formulated attack, one meant to scare and intimidate the locals into cooperating. Someone had come here for a purpose, searching ruthlessly for something or someone that was obviously of great importance; Lyra could think of only one objective that would bring such a person here. She climbed back aboard and pushed the speeder's throttle to the hilt.
This was personal.
The way was considerably more grown over since the last time Lyra had traveled it, but her feet found the path almost instinctively, as though they had a memory of their own. There had been so many early mornings when she had snuck out before it was light to race though these trees and fields.... She could have found her way blinded.
The path came to an end at a small clearing. Lyra ducked under one last tree limb then stood to look out into the open field beyond. The sight caught her by surprise. As with the rest of her return, the place was the same but everything about it had changed.
In one moment the balance had shifted, and the weight of Lyra's life had crashed in on her.
Days had passed, and Lyra remembered very little about the remainder of that speeder ride, with its throttle pushed to the hilt, letting the wind tear relentlessly at her eyes and her ears as the featureless land continued to pass in a blinding blur. She remembered the silence, an unbearable, torturous feeling, drawing ever closer to the excruciating unknown.
Then the silence broke. In a single instant she knew the truth.
She'd spent her days and nights trying to quiet the ghosts of the past. With time, raw emotion had died down to a dull, though endless, ache. She had paced the floors of what had been her home, looking for any scrap she could find to tell her what life might have been like for her loved ones after she had gone. But Lyra had been left alone, with only the ghosts and the unanswered questions as company. This had been her last chance, the only place she still had left to go.
Now it was the same thing here.
She felt herself release a breath that she hadn't meant to hold as her eyes searched despondently for something familiar. The miles of fence, the barns and farmstead – all had once been spotless. Now they looked their age and more, run down with disuse. The fields were overgrown, the animals gone, fences falling away. It took another second for Lyra to regain her momentum and step out into the field, still looking around herself in pained disbelief. A sudden wave of loneliness and added grief tugged against her spirit as she took it all in.
Lyra took one more step forward, and her attempt to reconcile sight with memory was abruptly cut short by reality. A movement off to her right and slightly uphill caught her attention, jarring her senses into alertness. She turned to see a lone figure standing roughly fifteen paces away, holding an old model compact blast rifle, which was pointed at her.
"State your purpose, or I'll state it for ya," a gruff voice demanded.
The face was kept in shadow by an oversized sun hat and the morning sun behind it, which was obviously the desired effect. It put Lyra at several strategic disadvantages.
"I'm not armed," Lyra stated in response, calmly lifting her hands and holding them, palms forward, at her hips. A small step forward only accentuated the challenge in Lyra's tone of voice. Disadvantage was far different than weakness, and the pull of so many grim reconciliations was not quite enough to drown out the force of will or the survival instincts that had kept her alive this far. The journey would come to its finish here, but Lyra was going to meet that finish on her own terms.
So she stood staring into the bright morning light behind the gruff voice and the blast rifle, and waited to see if time had dulled the memory of the person who stood facing her.
"Lyra?" came the stunned whisper of a reply. The woman standing behind the blast rifle took a hesitant step forward and pushed her hat back from her eyes.
"Yeah," Lyra said softly. She let her hands fall back to her sides as she took another half step forward. "It's me."
The woman walked forward, more hurried now. Her eyes quickly searched over Lyra's face. Then she hugged Lyra tightly.
"Oh, child," she breathed in that same stunned whisper.
Lyra felt a flicker of a smile cross her face at the old nickname, then she had been smoothly pushed back to arm's length so that the older woman could study her again. The smile faded, and Lyra watched as the older woman's face also fell, abruptly remembering.
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"Thank you," Lyra said softly. It was a measured response, words that really didn't connect. She held the other woman's gaze and kept a strong front. It was surprisingly easy to set emotion aside and function on instinct. Everything following that speeder ride was a blinding blur. Sleep was something that didn't come for her anymore. Days and nights continued to pass, though she was spent, and there was no more reward in memory than in grief. Only the questions remained. They continued to taunt her, demanding answers that Lyra could not realize... at least not on her own. That was why she had come here.
"Come on!" the older woman exclaimed, breaking through the awkwardness. "Let's get inside." She turned toward the farmhouse, and Lyra followed a step behind her.
"What happened here, Myranda?" Lyra asked after a few moments. Her voice showed the puzzlement of memory conflicting with sight.
"Scavengers – the whole lot of them," Myranda spat in answer. She turned toward Lyra as they entered the house. "Everything went to pieces after Endor," Myranda explained, her voice straining to stay calm. "Fringe groups have all but taken over this part of the rim. They've scared out most of the upper class pop, taken everything that isn't nailed down." Myranda paused a moment, suppressing a mischievous grin. "There was a time when I would have loved nothing better than to see those inflated credit-mongers run for their worth, but this wasn't what I had in mind!"
Lyra followed her indoors and through a small hallway that led into the kitchen. Her eyes reflexively darted across the room in a quick survey. It was a little more sparse than Lyra remembered, but otherwise familiar. Myranda crossed the room in front of her, set the blaster down on the table with a quiet clunk, and motioned for Lyra to sit.
Lyra followed her invitation, casually tilting a chair away from the table and angling it so that she could face toward the door and still be clear of the small room's only window. She didn't even pause to think about those reflexes. After ten years, caution and stealth had become ingrained habits, no matter the circumstances.
"I can't believe it." Myranda only shook her head, watching Lyra intently as she took her own seat.
The same ready alertness stayed about Lyra as she sat down, leaning slightly forward to rest her elbows on her knees, and gazed across the table at Myranda.
"I guess there's not much of the girl you knew left to see," she said quietly. Lyra looked down at the floor for the space of a heartbeat as she listened for the other woman's reply.
"No," Myranda answered slowly, "I can still see her. She's been through a lot, but she's still there."
"The Asteel?" Lyra asked after a brief silence.
"They were the first to go, after the spaceports had been cleaned out," Myranda answered with an emphatic snort. "No, it didn't take 'em long to figure out what was most valuable on this rock." The lingering anger in her voice was offset by the pride Myranda had taken in the animals she'd spent most of her life raising.
Lyra looked down again, gathering herself. Then, with all the strength and courage she had left, she looked back to Myranda to ask one simple question.
To her credit, the older woman didn't hesitate. "The first group came five months after Endor. Warlords, looking to take their chunk of the Empire while it was still up for grabs."
Lyra felt herself nod slightly, her eyes unfocused. "Looking for me." Her voice sounded harsh in her own ears. Myranda started to say something more, but she paused as Lyra spoke again. "I already knew that, of course," Lyra admitted, shrugging. Her voice had quieted. "What other reason would they have?"
"That doesn't make it your fault."
"I should have been here," Lyra countered, looking her in the eye.
"Why?" the older woman asked gently. "What would it have done?"
"It was me they wanted."
"And you think you could have stopped them? By single-handedly fighting off a small army of marauders? Or by being here to surrender peacefully?" Myranda snorted. "Some people have no interest in peace."
"I still should have been here," she whispered again, unable to let it rest.
Myranda suppressed a curse. "Wouldn't change a blasted thing," she insisted. "Only, now they'd have even more of what they wanted. Or you'd be dead too."
Lyra swallowed her argument. Myranda was right about that.
"You couldn't have saved them," Myranda added quietly. "Your family wouldn't have just stepped aside and let them take you away. Not this time. You know that."
She did know. She wasn't ready to admit it. Admitting that what had happened here could not have been stopped– that only felt like another bitter defeat, making every sacrifice she had made up to this point worthless.
The silence lingered a few moments more before Myranda slowly got up and headed into the kitchenette, a little cooking alcove set across the room. There she began heating water, a start to making the tea she considered to be an aid in working through all problems.
Lyra listened, the sounds bringing back memories of chilly mornings when the three of them had sat around this table debating some finer point or another, each arguing stubbornly in favor of their own favorite animal. Myrk and Myranda had shared the same favorite, a well-trained old mare. Lyra had always insisted that her headstrong filly would make the better performer in time. She just needed a few more years' work.... With an effort, Lyra pulled herself back from the past.
"How were things, after I left?" Lyra asked softly.
Myranda looked up from pouring the tea to stare at the wall in front of her. "It was hard," she answered honestly. "Myrk was here, almost all the time, those first few weeks. He missed you. And he was afraid for you."
Lyra stared hard at the floor as Myranda came back to the table and slid one of the cups in front of her.
"I think I heard just about every childhood story," she continued, "and he was around so much, I finally had to give him a paying job."
Lyra smiled a little, and nodded, as if in thanks.
"He took over training Collist," Myranda added softly.
Lyra's eyes darted back to her, surprised. Collist had been Lyra's favorite, the first equid Lyra had tried her hand at training under Myranda's guidance. And the filly had been nearly as stubborn and intractable as her young trainer.
"I don't think she ever took to him the way she did you," Myranda confessed, "but he kept at it, and she came along real good. I took her up to the mountain pasture and let her go, after." She glanced at Lyra as her voice trailed off. "Course, I wish I had let them all go now," she finished with a snort of regret. "Far as I can tell, there are only a handful of native equini still in the high pastures... the last of the Asteel."
Lyra reached for the cup in front of her and took a deep sip of the warm liquid. The familiar sensation offered a brief moment of calm against the tumultuous storm churning within her. It was impossible to explain the depth of this loss or the accompanying grief. Everything she had loved was gone.
She thought she had accepted her losses when she left here all those years ago. Lyra had given up home, and family, and a way of life that had been almost sacred to her, not knowing if she would ever return... but it had been comforting to imagine that there was still something to return to. Before, even if she never saw them again, she'd still had her home, and her family, and the way of life that she loved. It all existed, buried deeply within her. Now, even that small piece of stable ground had been pulled from under her feet.
But for all those losses, there was one that hurt more than all the others combined, like missing a part of her own soul. Myranda understood that. Lyra could feel the shift in the other woman's mood as the silence grew.
"He loved you a lot," Myranda said quietly.
Lyra felt her heart tighten, and for a series of heartbeats she wasn't sure that she could breathe, much less reply. "Feeling is mutual," she heard herself manage softly, helplessly.
Myranda sat back in her seat as she finished the last of her cup, and let the silence hold a little longer. "So, what do you do now?" she finally asked.
Lyra sighed, genuinely taken aback by the question. "I don't know," she answered slowly. "For ten years, my only goal was to survive long enough to get back here. Now that I have, there's nothing left."
Again, the silence held between them. There was nothing more either could say.
As Myranda got up from the table, Lyra felt it.
Keeping one eye on the older woman, Lyra reached over to return her cup to the table. When she sat back in her seat again, she slid the blaster toward the table's edge nearest herself. If Myranda noticed, she didn't let on. Not a hint of hesitation showed in her step as she walked over to the kitchenette and began to re-heat the remainder of the tea. Lyra let another moment pass, staying aware. She didn't sense anything more.
"What about you?" she asked Myranda absently. "Why haven't you left?"
"I guess I should have by now," Myranda answered regretfully. "There's certainly been no reason for me to stay, not for a long time." Then the older woman paused and turned to smile at Lyra. "Honestly?" she sighed. "I stayed here for today, each day. I guess it was a way of keeping hope," she admitted more quietly, "but I always believed you would come back, and I couldn't leave it that way. I couldn't stand the thought of–" she hesitated. Myranda couldn't seem to find the words she wanted, or maybe she just couldn't bring herself to finish the harsh truth. She shrugged at Lyra and settled on a hand gesture that said, "the way everything is."
Lyra stared at the older woman, unable to comprehend what she was hearing.
"Maybe I just needed to be here," Myranda finished hurriedly, self-consciously brushing the rest aside.
"Randa–" Lyra's voice had trailed off behind the slight shake of her head, and her brow furrowed at the inability to somehow express awe, gratitude, and utter disbelief all at once. "Thank you."
Myranda only smiled again and turned back to her work in the kitchenette. Lyra knew that equally inexpressible emotions were at play within her too.
The silence held a few seconds more before Lyra felt the warning again. A fraction of a second later there was a noise outside. When Myranda looked out from the kitchenette, Lyra was already standing. Holding the blaster in a ready position, she gave its power charge a quick check and flipped the safety over. Then she glanced sharply at Myranda.
"If they come in blasting, I want you out of here." Her voice was concerned, but left no room for argument or hesitation.
Myranda nodded in response. Lyra crossed the room in a couple of steps, taking cover against a wall that would allow her to face the intruders as they entered the room from a right angle. She crouched into a combat-ready position and reached out for some sense of the situation.
She already knew that they were amateurs, or they would never have given themselves away so early. Now they were wasting precious seconds in what sounded like internal squabbling. Lyra suddenly frowned at the old blast rifle in her hand, and started scanning the area around her. She couldn't help thinking that if her enemies were as inexperienced as they were showing themselves to be thus far, she may not need the blaster at all. That was just as well; these older model compacts took a long time charge reloading, which meant she'd only get a couple of quick shots out of it. It would be much wiser to save it for a back up than count on it as her primary defense.
She quickly found something else that would do and tucked the blaster into her belt behind her back. Then Lyra settled herself against the wall again, wedging her side in at a closer angle this time. Prepared fingers calmly weighed the new weapon as she crouched, waiting.
It was only a few seconds longer until they broke the door in, still just the two of them. They worked their way inside, moving a little more cautiously as they came through the short hallway. Lyra stretched her senses, waiting for exactly the right moment. Then just as the first man was about to turn the corner, she flicked her wrist to send the kitchen utensil flying past him. It sailed through the air in the direction of the kitchen window, and the sound of shattering glass rang out as it connected with its target.
Lyra was ready when the first of the two men jumped forward, extending his blaster toward the broken window. She quickly caught hold of his outstretched arm and twisted it behind him, taking the blaster from him in one quick motion. Without wasting a moment, she brought the handle of the weapon down on the back of his head, knocking him out.
Lyra knew her distraction would spend its novelty the moment she grabbed the first man, but her assessment of them had been correct. The more capable of the two had been in the lead; he probably won the argument she had heard a few moments ago. The second man had frozen, uselessly watching her disarm his companion.
As the first man fell to the floor Lyra dropped down to one knee, using his bulk as a shield during the few seconds she needed to regain her ready stance. Then she pushed off against his dead weight and, pivoting on her downed knee, Lyra used a leg sweep to take the second man's feet out from under him.
Still groping for his blaster, that man clattered face-forward to the floor. Before he could recover his equilibrium Lyra had pinned him down, planting a knee between his shoulder blades. She quickly relieved him of his weapons, sliding them, along with the first man's blaster, across the floor to where Myranda quietly gathered them up and set them on the table.
Lyra threw a quick glance over her shoulder toward Myranda. The woman was rock solid. That utterly calm and cool expression suddenly reminded Lyra of how many equids she had seen Myranda bring around with firm and gentle patience... and, bittersweetly, of how Lyra had wanted nothing more than to emulate that. Lyra turned back to the second mercenary and dug her knee a little deeper into his back for emphasis.
"Who sent you?" she demanded.
Lyra looked to Myranda for interpretation.
"He's the second-in-command to this ravel. In charge of independent taxation."
"And the more creative the better, I assume," Lyra concluded without humor. "Is that the only reason you're here? Think carefully about your answer if you'd like your spine to stay in one piece," she added, giving him another prod.
"Yeah, Yeah! That's all."
Lyra held him for a five count, letting his fears sink a little deeper. Then she stood, taking a step back and pulling the blaster from behind her back.
The man scrambled to sit up and back away from the weapon at the same time.
"Take your buddy," Lyra said, motioning toward the unconscious man, "and get out of here. If you know what's good for you, you won't say a word about this, and you won't even think about coming back.
Lyra watched his disbelief pass into desperation as he stood. Then, as quickly as possible, he shouldered the second man and hurried away, fighting for his balance under the added weight.
"How long do you think that'll stick?" Myranda asked, her skeptical tone showing the answer she expected.
Lyra considered it as she crossed over to the window, being careful to stay to one side as she looked out.
"The one," she thought out loud, "he hasn't got so much experience under him. This may actually put enough of a scare into him to change his line of work." Then she turned to Myranda and walked back over to the kitchen table. "But the other is a career man. He'll report back, after he's had a chance to nurse his wounded pride and embellish his story." Lyra sat heavily into her chair. "At most, he'll buy us a couple of days," she concluded.
Myranda sat across from her, her face looking as tired as Lyra suddenly felt.
"How long will it take you to pack?" Lyra questioned.
Myranda wasn't thrown by the assumption. "I keep a bag ready upstairs," she answered.
Lyra nodded. "We'll leave at first light tomorrow then." They were in the middle of the short season, where daylight was scarce. Traveling in black could be done, but it typically wasn't; it would draw attention to their movements. "We'll need the daylight."
Myranda nodded slightly in acknowledgment, then her expression changed subtly. Lyra could tell that she was trying to decide if she wanted to say what she was thinking.
"You could have killed those two and been done with it," she finally stated quietly. "But you didn't."
Lyra looked at her curiously. "You think I should have?" she ventured the possibility evenly.
The familiar smile returned to the older woman's face. "I kinda expected it, but I should have known better."
"You taught me to respect life: work with it, not against it," Lyra remembered. But there was a mixture of hope and sadness in her voice, the disconnect that came with knowing what was right and still being unable to do it.
"I also warned you that the average person was more dangerous than any wild animal."
Lyra smiled, repressing a snort. Myranda had always preferred equids to humanoids.
With that, Myranda retrieved two cups from the now cluttered table and took them back to the kitchenette.
"You knew they were coming a good while before I ever heard them," Myranda offered, another statement of fact.
Lyra studied her face. "I knew something was going on," she answered deliberately.
"And not killing – is that you, or is it a Jedi trait?"
Lyra fought a smile at her friend's frankness. "Myrk told you," she said slowly.
"Yes," she answered, just as slowly, "but I suspected it well before then.
"You never let on," Lyra said, leaning forward curiously.
"I never saw it in quite that light."
"You always told me I had an old one's soul."
"I knew you were special. You had innate talent: flawless instinct and raw ability. A throwback to the Rydresses of old, bonded to the land through the Asteel.... At least that was what I thought. The Empire seemed much farther away then. I thought we were beyond the rest of the galaxy's problems out here. But when they took you, I knew that was it."
"I couldn't hide from the truth any longer," Lyra whispered. "My fate came for me."
"I worried I had filled your head with nonsense about the ancient times and left you blinded to the dangers of this reality."
Lyra shook her head. "No. You made me learn the old ways, old disciplines, values lost to modern times. What you taught me helped me to survive."
"Myrk said the same thing."
Lyra smiled. Land and water. Shore and tide.
"He's always been the other half of my soul." Was. Always was.... Making that mental correction to past tense still hurt. It brought the loss back, full-force, every time.
Growing up, Lyra had always felt pulled between two worlds. There was Myranda's world, a place steeped in Myrinian legend: the mountain country, as harsh, rugged, and unforgiving as it was beautiful. And then there was the outside world, the rest of the galaxy: news and rumors ushered in by vacationers who cluttered the shorelines during the long season.
Myranda, with her roots set firmly on Myrina, had seen Lyra as a throwback to the old times. But Lyra's family, coming from the more populated galaxy (where there were still whispers of how the Empire had come to power through force and treachery, and wiped the Jedi Knights from existence), had seen something that was potentially far more dangerous.
Myranda's face softened. "When he told me, I wished that I had spoken out. I thought I was doing you more of a service by staying silent. I had no idea it was such a burden on you, on all of you."
"Burden is a good word to describe it." Lyra took a breath, slowly remembering. "It was a weight that I always carried, the fear of being discovered."
"I'm sorry," Myranda breathed, hints of frustration and regret coming through in her voice.
"No. There's nothing for you to apologize for. This was always a place I could come to, where being myself and having a future to look toward–" she paused. "Those things didn't have to involve caution, or dread." Lyra looked down for a moment. "I could forget that it was only a matter of time, that the Empire would come for me, eventually."
"You knew that?" Myranda asked softly, "that it would happen the way it did?"
Lyra suppressed a smile. "I didn't foresee it," she managed around the smile. "It was simpler than that," she added quietly as she looked back to her friend. "My family spent so much energy assuring me that it wouldn't happen, while I knew they were terrified that it would. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I started to expect it. Like old age. It was something that would happen, sometime still very far away."
She fell silent for a moment, her eyes going distant. "As long as I thought of it that way, it didn't really touch me. It was only when I let it get close...." She shuddered. "Myrk was the only person who ever really made that fear go away." That truth hung in the air between them, unexplained, for a long moment. "He was my safe harbor," Lyra finally breathed.
Her eyes came back slowly from the past, and Lyra shook her head, a little disgusted with herself. "Not that you needed to hear all that," she breathed, hurriedly pulling herself back from things she hadn't intended to revisit.
"If you needed to say it, that's good enough for me," Myranda decided. The words were kindly spoken, though her normally gruff voice was just a bit too ragged.
Lyra felt her heart beat more heavily for a handful of seconds. "Did he know?" she felt herself ask. The urgency behind that question was hard to hide.
Myranda nodded. "Yeah," she breathed softly. "He knew. I honestly think he would rather have gone with you than stayed behind, no matter what."
Lyra nodded reflexively. It was hard to hear, but there was also familiarity in Myranda's description. That familiarity brought comfort, and a hint of a smile to Lyra's disconsolate face.
"I told him to have faith, that you could take care of yourself, and that you would get back here. That always made him smile. He knew how strong you are, and he couldn't argue with that." Myranda smiled and leaned toward Lyra, "I was right, of course," she added lightly, before she leaned back in her chair again.
"So," she prompted Lyra with the same lightness. "You didn't answer my question."
Lyra snorted at the challenge in her friend's voice. "I'm no Jedi," she retorted, "so I guess it's just me."
Myranda waited. Lyra's curt rebuttal had been offset by the abashed smile underlying it, and Lyra spared her friend a more honest smile now as she realized that the older woman wouldn't accept her answer as the avoidance it was meant to be; Lyra would have to follow up with a more honest answer.
"Most beings are too quick to go for their blasters," she stated cooly. "If you look for other ways, they're usually there."
"Sounds like old wisdom to me," Myranda decided.
Lyra shook her head slowly before meeting Myranda's eyes again. "I finally figured out that I had to find ways to be able to live with myself, even in the Empire. I don't know if that has anything to do with the Force, or the Jedi, or some throwback to the old times. It was more a struggle for self-preservation."
"And after the Empire?" Myranda asked carefully.
Lyra looked at her for a long moment. She had to deliberately force the guilt-driven defensiveness under control before letting herself answer. Lyra thought she had accepted her losses: everything she had given up when she left here all those years ago. She had left here not knowing if she would ever return, but, over so many years away, Lyra had begun to wonder if she ever could return – not to the place and the people she had left behind, but to the person who had belonged here when she had left.
"I did what I thought I needed to do," Lyra said finally, the words struggling for conviction even in her own ears. The first person she had lost in all this was herself.
Myranda let the silence sit for several heartbeats.
"Would you change your decisions," she asked quietly, another challenge, "or refuse what you have, if you could?"
Lyra swallowed hard and looked her in the eye, but she couldn't answer.
Myranda called her on that. "I didn't think so," she chided gently. Then she leaned forward again, determined to keep Lyra's attention. "Don't let your grief bury you, child. You've done the best you could with what you've been given." Lyra looked away from the words she didn't want to hear, in what was clearly denial. More quietly, almost urgently, Myranda issued another challenge. "You've got to pick up the pieces and move on."
Myranda emphasized the words with a smile and a slight squeeze of Lyra's arm, but when Lyra's gaze returned to hers, the hopeful support in Myranda's face abruptly fell away.
Lyra nodded in acknowledgment and managed a smile for her friend's heartfelt words.
"We'll have to start early tomorrow," Lyra offered quietly. "You had better get ready."
Now it was Myranda's turn to offer a nod and a thin smile, knowing her words had fallen short of their intention.
Lyra sat staring at the walls long after Myranda had gone upstairs, remembering the rather queer expression on her friend's face. Lyra regretted that; she had not meant to be so transparent.
Myranda was one of the few people whose advice Lyra really respected. She knew Lyra well, and she was her only remaining friend. She may well be right, Lyra admitted to herself... about everything. Exhausted, Lyra leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes against the tears, and the grief, and the guilt. Moving past it was not something that she could even remotely comprehend.
Late in the next day, Lyra and Myranda stood waiting in an open-air hanger as a charter pilot readied his ship for takeoff. From the shadows across the way, two men stood watching. One nervously rubbed the back of his head as he turned to his companion.
"I told you, that's her. Dare."
"Dare," the second man repeated with an air of greedy wonder in his voice. "Bringing her in, I could make my own destiny." Another moment passed before he lowered his macrobinoculars. "Your loyalty won't be forgotten," he added.
"Thank you, Lieutenant Pracos."
"Are you sure?" Pracos demanded sharply.
"Believe me, I'm sure."
"All right, let's move in."
"But, Lieutenant–" the first man interrupted uneasily. "Perhaps it would be better to gather some reinforcements."
Pracos looked at him blankly, as if just seeing the man for the first time.
"–Sir," he amended, "let's not forget who we're talking about." He hesitated. "I 'd like to live to see my reward."
Pracos looked a little exasperated, but he knew a good argument when he heard one.
"Yeah, fine. Let's get back to the boss in a hurry then."
With that, they retreated unseen.
A few blocks away, several body guards stood outside one of the seedier cantinas. This was in addition to the regular muscle who had made their reputations, as well as the reputation of the club, by turning away unwanted patrons.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" one of the large aliens grumbled as he and another of his species prevented two jumpy humans from rushing inside.
"Come on, Hack, you know it's us," the first man protested impatiently.
"We don't have time for this," Pracos interjected from behind him. "We've got to see the boss. It's important."
"Not today, boys," the burly alien answered, somewhat amused. Then his voice dropped a few levels as he gestured toward the extra security. "Boss's already got company."
The two men looked behind them and to both sides, noticing the extra guards.
"A very special meeting," the bouncer continued. "Now, you wouldn't want to interrupt?"
In the run-down building's back room, four more guards stood ready as two men sat around a huge table. The first man was thin and middle-aged, in stark contrast to the well-built and well-dressed body guards standing close behind him. With shifty eyes and a sycophant disposition, he evoked the image of a prey animal that was attempting to become the hunter.
Across the table, similarly flanked by two more of his alien body guards, the second man lounged. His deceptively lazy eyes and bulky body only served to exaggerate a battle-worn face and the scars that he carried with pride. He took great pride in his physical toughness and relied heavily on intimidation.
"I've heard all this before," the big man rumbled a complaint. "I want more."
"I have given you the top of my lines in all that I have done–" his smaller associate insisted grandly.
"And you have been well-compensated for supplies and goods, Imago, as we agreed."
"As well as certain, extras," Imago prompted, his voice leading.
"Which I might point out, ultimately, never materialized," the big man warned, his voice becoming dangerous.
Across the table, the man called Imago swallowed noticeably, but was otherwise undaunted. "If you hadn't gotten overzealous," he dug in, "other approaches might have been successful. The information was not at fault."
"The fact still remains–" the larger man continued, before breaking off as he heard a knock at the door behind him. He sat back impatiently as the door opened and two men were escorted inside. "I trust that this is of extreme importance," he said, turning that dangerous voice and an equally dangerous gaze to meet them.
"Y– Yes, sir," Pracos answered, almost curtly. "We believe we've located Dare."
"Well..." his boss noted, lending a suspicious and menacing gaze back to the table. "Isn't that interesting?" he said slowly. The silence was permitted for long enough to make his associate squirm. Then Pracos' boss directed a command into the thin air between himself and the two men at his side. "Do you believe that you can arrange a force for her capture?"
"Yes, sir," they both answered, clearly relieved.
"Any orders, sir?" Pracos asked, a military-style curtness returning to his manner.
Their boss turned to give them another scathing stare. "Instruct the force to be prepared for anything, and remind them that they are authorized in using any means to take Dare, alive," he concluded strongly, pointing at each man in turn to emphasize that command. Then he turned away. His gaze searched out the empty air again, as the two men waited for him to give the small gesture which would dismiss them.
When the door had closed after them a moment later he turned to lock eyes on Imago. "Our agreement still stands," he concluded abruptly. "If you wish more from it, then you must offer more."
The thought of rebuttal seemed to occur to Imago, but only for a brief moment before it slipped away. "Very well," Imago agreed, appeasing his inflated ego by treating the concession as though it were a victory. "We will proceed as agreed upon. For now," he stated haughtily.
"For now," came the icy response.
"Good day, Fasad Imago."
"Laus," Imago acknowledged cooly.
Laus swivelled in his seat and sat watching the door intently for many moments after Imago and his guards had departed. "But only for now," he finally murmured to the empty room. "Soon, Waton Laus' only negotiations will come through complete domination."
The pilot took a few steps down the ramp to announce that it was time to board. Lyra glanced toward him and then back to Myranda, knowing that their time was drawing to a close.
"I'm afraid I know the answer already," Myranda admitted, "but I've still got to ask. Lyra, come with me."
Lyra took a deep breath and let it out a sigh.
Again, Myranda pleaded with her to listen to reason: come away from here and start over someplace new. She argued that the two of them could go to Ayreisabia, or to another equid-rich planet. It wouldn't be the Asteel, but it would be something. It would be a new beginning, far removed from the pain of this place.
"Come with me, child–" Myranda tried again, "there's no good in your bein' here."
"I can't," Lyra said softly. She couldn't put the pieces of her lost life back together. She was an endangered creature now, like her Asteel, driven from their comfortable pastures into the harsh mountain country of their ancestors, where only the strongest would thrive.
The harsh truth was that there was too much holding her here for Lyra to ever leave. Myranda had seen that... and she disapproved of it. Myranda's eyes started to tear up. Lyra dropped her eyes to stare at the ground. She'd never seen her friend cry.
"You shouldn't stay," Myranda stated, her voice barely reaching a whisper. "There's too much pain for you here."
Lyra shook her head. "The pain's not in this place," she concluded gently, simply.
Lyra had made a choice. For her, there was no starting over. But it was right that Lyra grant her friend her freedom now. A bittersweet smile crossed Lyra's face as pained eyes lifted to meet Myranda's worried gaze. Myranda had chosen to stay here, alone, in the desolate landscape Myrina had become, simply so Lyra would have something and someone to come home to. Lyra would always be grateful for her sacrifice, and for her friendship.
She deeply appreciated her friend's efforts to help her. Myranda simply didn't understand. And how could she? Lyra couldn't choose to start over somewhere new. Not when so much had ended here. Not after the terrible destruction that had been unleashed here... all of it because of her. Her actions. Her choices. Her consequences. The least she could do was to live with the consequences. Those were the only pieces of her life that still remained.
Lyra watched Myranda go, and a sense of finality settled over her in the wake of that one small success. She stood squinting into the bright blue sky until the ship was no more than a bright light against it, and then it flashed out of sight completely.
Now she was truly alone. "I'm glad that someone could get out of here alive," Lyra spoke the heavy emotion aloud. "May the Force go with you, my friend," she whispered.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004