by Murasaki99 and Silver Alaska
“You sure you want ‘em?” asked the technician as he led Kir Kanos along the echoing corridor of the old Imperial Biological Research Station on Dorwyn. “It’s not like they’re really finished or anything. What with the budget cuts and all, hardly any of the projects were totally completed, including them.” He keyed open a heavy door and moved along another well-lit hall. The air was cool and had a clinical, filtered smell to it. The tech eyed the tall Imperial guard dubiously.
“Of course I want them, finished or otherwise. Any clones of my brother-Guardsmen are Guards as well and it is my duty to gather and claim them for the Empire.”
The tech stopped at a side door and hesitated. “Look, I don’t wanna seem uncooperative, and I’m not questioning your bravery, but I’m not sure you’re ready for this kind of a challenge. You can walk away now, leave them here in our care, and no one will think the worse of you.”
Kanos gave the tech a forbidding glare. “I have a duty to my comrades.”
“Oh-kay, Sir. Just remember my offer after you’ve seen ‘em.” Carefully, the tech keyed the door and eased it open, peering cautiously around the edge. His voice sank to a whisper. “Right then, in you go. Good luck.” Stepping back, he let Kanos enter the room then pulled the door closed behind him.
Kanos took three strides into the chamber and stopped. The room was occupied by ten people, all of whom turned to stare at him. The tallest of the group was barely hip-high, while the smallest was no taller than his knee.
“Children. That’s what he meant by ‘not finished’,” Kanos muttered. “They’re all children.”
The youngsters were neatly dressed in Imperial coveralls and they seemed to be evenly split between boys and girls.
Girls?! What were they thinking? Kanos tried to keep the astonishment from his expression. Female or male, even in their youthful state, their faces were familiar to him – he recognized Kyle Hannad and his old training Master Kennedy among them.
In return, their faces bore no signs of recognition; instead they seemed to have all the innocence of young wild animals. A pair of battered servant droids hovering in the background attested to what must have been their developing athletic talents. The very youngest were still in diapers. Kanos’ heart sank.
“Go ‘way!” The eldest, a girl perhaps eight years old, snatched up a toy block and hurled it at his head. She might not have had all the memories or training of her predecessor, but her aim was excellent. Kanos dodged the object before it could connect and suddenly felt somewhat more optimistic.
“I’ll go,” he said to the child, “But you are all coming with me. It is too dangerous to stay. The Vong are coming.” While the children old enough to understand chattered among themselves, Kir’s mind worried at his logistical problem. They aren’t mature, they haven’t had the flash-learning imprints, and they are going to need time to grow, and training, and… someone like a mother.
At that realization he felt as if he were walking on very thin ice. He himself had never parented anyone, nor had he had anything like a normal upbringing. He automatically dodged a shower of thrown items and had a sudden flash of wicked inspiration. I wonder if Mirith is busy? She told me once I owed her a life. Well, I have many now to share. This will be easy. I’ll just take them to her, and she will do whatever it is a mother is supposed to do. He found himself grinning like a mad thing. “Pack up, we’re going.”
“Going where?” asked the boy with Kennedy’s face.
“Going to find you a mother.”
Kir Kanos blinked awake and stared at the ceiling of the starship cabin. He was beginning to make the unhappy realization that when you shared a bed with toddlers, you woke up wet... or worse. Shifting himself carefully, he sat up, and was immediately the center of attention as three small heads popped up to look at him. Two of the little ones had lost their diapers during the night, hence the damp state of affairs this morning.
“Hungry!” cried Ten, who at three, was quite a bit more verbally capable than the two year olds. “Breakfast!”
Kir sighed as he looked down at his damp leg. Well, at least he'd gotten the throwers calmed down after the jump to hyperspace (or maybe he had just thwarted them by hiding all small, hard objects). He decided that the wet bed would be his next mission. First, he would line them up and have a serious talk about the benefits of timely refresher use. Then, he was really going to have to see if he could accommodate a stop at the next planetary spaceport to pick up some sort of absorbent material. This really was out of hand. The nurse-droids weren’t of much help, either. Ceecee, the dominant droid of the pair, had only spoken up after they were well on their way to New Republic territory.
“Master Kanos, this starship is inadequately prepared for the transport of young children. There are no beds of the correct size, no fresh clothing, no laundry facilities, insufficient fresh food, and no diapers. How can you expect us to maintain the babies in a clean state without diapers?" The droid's voice had been accusatory. The second droid, whose name was Ezeenine, nodded until his head creaked metallically on its thin neck. "Ceecee is quite right, Master Kanos, and I would like to add the children require learning materials so we can continue with their training."
"I'll see what I can find; I know there are plenty of technical manuals in the ship’s databank." Kir had waved a hand toward the control center of his starship. "But why do we need diapers? Can't they use the ‘fresher like everyone else?” That had been his naïve question yesterday when confronted with some of the basic logistics of caring for young children. He now had a much better idea of what was involved, but he still felt certain all difficulties could be surmounted by a resourceful person tackling the problems in correct order.
Pushing himself out of bed, he caught Ten as the little girl flung herself out ahead of him enthusiastically. She was followed a moment later by Shino and Jos, who were almost as fast. The fact that they could have hurt themselves by falling onto the hard deck did not seem to slow them down at all. Kir herded them toward the fresher, deciding it would be a good idea to clean them up first and give them the lecture later. At least the older children already knew how to manage such things. He was sure once he had adequately explained the basics to Ten, Jos, and Shino, everything would sort itself out nicely.
"What's this? I'm not eating this!" Siir glowered at his food where the group of ten children and one adult sat at the ship's small galley table.
Kir sighed. He found himself sighing a lot these days. After three days in hyperspace, the children were definitely exhausting his store of patience. Then again, he'd never been in a situation quite like this before. Usually anyone who tried the patience of the Emperor ended up dead, but the Emperor was not here to be annoyed and there was no one else to give him orders.
"You're going to have to eat that; it's all there is," said Kir, keeping his voice calm.
"It's nasty!" Kir felt something hit his head, run stickily down the side of his face.
"Very well then." Kir rose to his full height, causing the smaller children to crane their heads backwards to keep him in view. With one quick movement he cleared away the remains of Siir's food. "You don't have to eat it if you're not hungry." Returning to his seat he wiped away the stuff from his face and resumed helping Jos and Shino get food into their mouths rather than down their shirts.
"Hey!?" Siir's voice was an outraged squeak. He was used to provoking the droids into helpless outrage, but Kanos wasn't behaving at all the same.
"Told you," said Pali, the oldest, with the air of someone much more experienced. "Don't bother the grown-ups."
"But I am hungry!"
"You can't be," Kir replied. "You wouldn't be wasting food if you were." On an impulse he added. "Be glad you aren't camping on Doonha - all you'd have for dinner would be bugs."
"Oooo!" said the older children, perking up.
"Did'ja really have'ta eat bugs?"
"Was it gross?"
"Ever eat anything worse?"
"Oh yes, but that's a story for later." Kir eyed the unappetizing stuff on his own plate. Basic rations would certainly keep them all alive, but they didn't offer much in the way of variety or taste. "Actually, it rather looked like this." He put a forkfull in his mouth and chewed placidly.
"Really?! Wow!" There was a sudden scramble as the children all hurried to finish their food. Even Siir regained his enthusiasm and after Pali reclaimed his plate, finished his dinner with no further complaint.
How... perverse. Kanos thought as he watched the sudden feeding frenzy. Was my genetic predecessor like this? Or is this common to all children? He felt his lack of experience keenly. Looking across the small main crew cabin, he checked the hyperspace chrono. Another day in transit until we reach the sector where Mirith should be. He smiled grimly. I hope I survive.
"Mr. Sir, can you cook us some bugs later?" asked one of the little ones.
"Not if you're going to throw them at me," Kir was surprised how easily he was able to smile at the little face gazing up at him.
"Oh no, we wouldn't do that!" The denials were said in a chorus which at least sounded sincere.
"Well then, perhaps I will, once we get someplace where we can actually hunt for food."
It was one thing to make a decision to find Mirith Sinn, and another thing altogether to actually lay hands on her. Kir sifted through the readouts he had gleaned from his sources of data, both Imperial, New Republic, and 'irregular'. She was, he noted, still a commander in the New Republic military, which meant her current duty station was a matter of record, if not public record.
While the droids attempted to maintain good order among his small platoon of children, Kir meticulously went through the reams of data, cross-checking the official records with the information obtained from both the Imperial and outside sources. At last he blanked the screen on his datapad, rose, and moved forward into the cockpit of the starship. Seating himself at the controls, he began to set in a course.
"Where’re we going?" Seven-year-old Joron asked, plopping himself in the copilot’s seat. He watched Kir intently.
"We're going to find Mirith Sinn," said Kir absently as he checked his settings. Satisfied with his work, he touched the controls and the starship's engines began to make a rising whine, indicating the power-up required for the jump to hyperspace.
Kir shot Joron a sharp glance. The youngster returned his stare without flinching. "She is a New Republic commander." Outside the transparent bubble of the cockpit canopy the stars lengthened briefly into long white lines and vanished into the swirling haze of hyperspace.
"New Republic? What do we want with them?" The question was a reasonable one, given the fact the child had grown up in an Imperial enclave.
"I would prefer to have nothing to do with them," said Kir. "But I trust Mirith Sinn — at least as much as I trust anyone — to do the right thing." Kir smiled slightly at the boy. "She asked me once to stay with her, and when I told her I could not live within the New Republic, she said she was willing to give up her career and come with me. I am hoping she meant what she said, because I intend to take her up on that offer."
"But, what do we need a commander from the New Republic for?" Joron’s brows knit as he tried to puzzle out Kir’s intentions from the various clues he had been given so far.
"We don't need a commander as much as we need a mother."
"I thought you were only joking about that!" Joron’s voice held disbelief.
Kir shook his head briefly. "I very rarely joke, and I certainly wouldn't joke about something so important."
"A mother from the New Republic? Is that allowed?" Pali had come quietly up behind them while they were talking.
"In my recent experience I have found it is easier to do a thing first and ask permission about it later," Kir replied. "I don't remember seeing anything in the Imperial codes that specifically forbid requisitioning a mother, nor did I see any restrictions on suppliers."
"Okay, this ought to be interesting," said Pali. Folding her arms across her chest she looked out at the clouds of hyperspace and smiled at Kir. "I'm glad you took us with you, this is a lot more fun than sitting in class."
"Right! The lessons were really boring." Joron gave Kir a speculative glance. "Say, could you teach us how to throw things like you do? You've got the best aim!"
"I'll teach you, but the first thing you'll learn is how to throw the right things." Kir rose from the pilot's seat and beckoned the children to follow him. "Get the rest of the older kids, they might as well learn also. We've got a two-day hyperspace transit to Ord Mantell, which is where Mirith Sinn is supposedly stationed. I might as well teach you something useful while we travel."
“Command Sinn! Commander Sinn!” The urgent summons echoed across the large hangar bay of the base, causing a number of heads to turn.
Mirith Sinn looked up from the open drive bay of an X-wing fighter where she and a Siluissi tech were working. Mirith exhaled slowly and patted the tech on the shoulder. “It’s looking much better Souvan, do you need any further help from me?”
“No, Commander,” Souvan chuckled. “It sounds like duty is calling you.”
“Annoying me is more like it. I’ll see what Choka wants. If you need another pair of hands again, just call.”
"Will do, Commander." The technician returned to his task. Mirith rose to her feet and walked to the nose of the fighter. Peering around the edge of the spaceship she saw her aide-de-camp Lieutenant Choka approaching at a brisk at run. The Chagrian looked flustered, but then he nearly always looked flustered. The moment he saw her he changed course to vector toward her, weaving his way around several Y- and X-wing fighters.
"Commander! You're not going to believe… I can't believe… It's just incredible!"
"Slow down and take a breath, Lieutenant. What seems to be causing all the excitement?" Mirith did not hear any alarm bells ringing, so she assumed no one was attacking their small installation, at least not yet.
The lieutenant skidded to a halt in front of her small starfighter and after taking a few gulps of air, started again. "You've got a visitor, Commander, he says he knows you from prior engagements and that he must speak with you right now." Choka threw a hasty glance over his shoulder into the gloomy space of the hangar bay, continuing in a rush of words. "He wasn't exactly being threatening, but none of us really felt like restraining him, I asked him to wait till I’d found you, but I'm not sure he was going to wait back in the control room." Choka’s face tensed up. "As a matter of fact, I'm sure he didn't wait."
Mirith followed Choka’s line of sight and drew in a quick breath. A tall man wearing distinctive red and black armor partly covered by a long cloak of crimson strode toward them. A spreading pool of silence followed in his wake as the various technical personnel caught sight of him. Their reaction was not too surprising, considering most if not all of them had never seen an Imperial Royal Guard in person before.
At least no one is being stupid enough to try and stop him, thought Mirith as she watched him approach. There is something to be said for having an intimidating presence. It helps to keep the foolhardy at bay. The man’s scarred face was one she had never thought to see again after their last parting.
Kir Kanos held two small children in his arms, which may have explained the lack of aggression from the New Republic personnel. The children did not seem to be frightened; instead they looked around with wide-eyed wonder, taking in the many small fighters and the technical crew, most of whom were aliens of various kinds.
At a distance of five paces he halted, his dark eyes flicking over the fighter, the technician, the lieutenant, and finally coming to rest on her. Mirith tried to keep the surprise from her expression but wasn't at all sure she managed it. Kir Kanos looked tired. No, she decided, not merely tired, but worn and weary. The children watched her solemnly, two little moppets with brown hair and large brown eyes. Just like his, she realized with an internal twinge.
Mirith knew very little about Kir’s origins. She remembered the chief trainer of the Imperial guards, a retired guard himself, had produced a son old enough to assist Kir in his last adventure. Could these youngsters be Kir’s relatives? The thought made her feel more than a little uncomfortable. While she respected Kir and harbored deeper feelings than mere respect, those feelings did not apply to the rest of the soldiers of the Empire. Thinking stormtroopers and Imperial guards might actually have families who cared about them made them suddenly less faceless minions and more human. The change of perspective was not a comfortable one for her.
"Kanos, it's been a long time. Welcome to Rieekan Base. Lieutenant Choka says you had to see me?"
Kir nodded; a brief movement of his head. His eyes never left her face. "Yes, I must speak with you on a most urgent matter."
Moving away from the fighter, Mirith pointed toward a side door. "Very well, come outside with me and we'll talk." As she led the way through the hangar she looked at the youngsters in his arms. "Whose children are these?"
"Yours?" Mirith shot him a startled stare. "That's awfully quick work! I haven't seen you in a little over a year, and yet those kids look at least two years old."
Kir snorted. "They're not the children of my body, if that's what you mean. I haven't had time for that, but they are the reason why I had to seek you out."
As Mirith exited the building into the bright sunny air of Ambiri, she heard a chorus of youthful voices. A pack of children came galloping up and gathered around them in a loose circle, firing a stream of excited questions.
"Is that her?"
"Is that what a New Republic Commander looks like?"
"Hi, I'm Pali, and these are my brothers and sisters."
"Why is she lumpy in front?"
"Kir Kanos has been teaching us how to throw vibroblades! Wanna see?"
Mirith watched as Kir tried to regain control over his excited entourage. "Are all these children yours? How in the name of the stars did you get them? Where did you get them?"
"It's a long story," Kir warned her as he put the two toddlers down. They immediately ran off giggling in two separate directions. Kir seemed at a loss over which to pursue first and finally settled on letting the older children chase them down.
"Go ahead; I've got plenty of time." Mirith took a quick headcount, or at least she tried to do so. The children were moving around enough that it made an accurate tally difficult. "I can see you've been kept busy."
"Begin at the beginning and tell me how you came into possession of all these children." Mirith watched Kir, who was in his turn watching the children, who were in their own way watching the adults intently. Raising a hand, he waved them away toward the open area beyond the hangar.
"Take some exercise. Mirith and I are going to talk for awhile, don't go too far. Pali, Joron, keep an eye on the younger ones."
"Can we play over there?" Joron pointed to a field where machines had begun the process of cutting and bailing tall vegetation, leaving behind orderly rows of large packaged cubes of dry plant matter. The land outside the small New Republic base and starport belonged to farmers and the land between the landing facilities was under cultivation. The machines had worked the near field and moved on to a field farther away. Kir looked at Mirith and she spoke up at once.
"Sure, the farmers won't be back to pick up the hay until later today."
With gleeful shouts the children took off running into the field, in those places not yet mown, the uncut grass was higher than the tops of the smaller children's heads.
Mirth smiled after them and turned to Kir, her voice businesslike. "All right, Kanos, now that the kids have got something to do, give. I thought you had some 'unfinished business' with the rest of the Imperial Ruling Council?"
Kir Kanos stood at parade rest, squinting a little in the bright sunlight. "At first, after we parted, I thought I did have unfinished business with them, traitors to the Emperor that they were.”
"And yet you didn't finish it while they were captive in their cells after you killed Zandel Carivus." Mirith stated calmly. “I was there – you could have killed them then and been done with it.”
Kir frowned a little at her statement. "I did not kill Carivus, I executed him for his traitorous acts against the Empire and the Emperor. As for the others, there was no honor to be had in executing them while they were defenseless." Turning away from her, he paced several strides along the verge of the building.
"Initially, I thought to return and deal with each one when the time was right, but my anger… my anger had abated and I found myself able to think calmly about what I had learned during my pursuit of Carivus. While I had been supposedly in the employ of Grappa the hutt, I found evidence of a conspiracy headed by a mysterious being who Grappa called the faceless one. Once Carivus had been dealt with, I discovered that he had been merely a pawn of the same person. After some searching, I was able to link this person to unrest in the New Republic as well as on non-aligned worlds. My concern grew as I uncovered the depth of the various conspiracies. It took the better part of this year to learn the creature's name and something of his mission."
Kir returned to stand in front of Mirith, looking down into her face. "His name is Nom Anor. His people are called the Vong, and they are from outside the known areas of our galaxy. He is an agent meant to sow the seeds of discord."
"Why, what do his people want?"
"They want everything we have; they want to be masters of the entire galaxy."
Mirith stared up at him, looking for some clue that this was some sort of strange joke, but Kir’s face held no hint of humor. "How soon until the invasion begins?"
"I don't know. It has become clear the invasion has been planned for some years, but I do not know when precisely the Vong will choose to strike, or from what quadrant. All we can do is stand ready to fight when the blow finally falls."
Mirith put a hand on his on arm. "What are we waiting for then? Come with me and I'll set up communications right now with the New Republic command structure. You can deliver your warning to them and…" her voice trailed off as she saw the expression on his face.
"Mirith, I am no politician, but even I have not been unaware of the contentious state of the New Republic Council. Do you think they will listen to me, a member of Emperor Palpatine's Royal Guard?" Kir tapped his chest with the knuckles of his right hand, the two crimson armored surfaces meeting with a distant gonging. "Will they listen to you, who tolerated my company and let me come and go with impunity from New Republic space?"
"Tolerated?!" Mirith spluttered in outrage. "I didn't tolerate you Kanos, you saved my life! Several times! The Council should be grateful for the service you rendered to them by ridding the galaxy of Jax and Carivus!” At his snort, she added quickly. “I mean, I know you weren't doing it for them, but still it did help us. We could go in person to Coruscant and speak to the Council directly.”
Kir’s worn face relaxed in a smile. "Somehow, I do not think your Council will feel the same way about the circumstances as you do. Many factions seek to pull the New Republic apart while others wish to establish their own little kingdoms out of the remnants of the Empire. While I am willing to go with you and deliver the warning, we will not be believed. And after we do that, what will become of us? Will they let us depart from Coruscant with our children?"
That question brought Mirith up short. For some time she stood silently, thinking about what Kir had told her. To her mind came a sudden image of Kir standing in the chambers of the new Republic Council. She could imagine all too well the kind of reception he would receive and she could also visualize him slashing his way through the councilors with calm efficiency until an overwhelming force of guards ended his life. He had mentioned once to her at their first meeting of his longing for a warrior's death. Bringing him to Coruscant would certainly set the stage for such an ending. The thought made her shudder.
"No, they won't, I understand that. You're an Imperial loyalist, and the children are clones of Imperial loyalists. Even the best-case scenario would be bad for them and you." Mirith sighed heavily. "I hate to say it, but your pessimism is justified. In a way, it was simpler when both sides were fighting – the Empire against the Rebellion. Now the bureaucrats rule and politics makes everything very messy." Mirith fell silent again.
"It is nice to know, Mirith Sinn, that sometimes you think I am right." His smile was wry. Mirith growled at him in response.
"Very funny, Kanos. I haven't been keeping a tally, but I do think you're right more often than you're wrong. Just a moment." Pulling a small datapad from its position on her belt she activated the device and began to flip through screens of information. After a minute of searching she smiled and nodded. "Yes, this will do nicely." Closing up the datapad she reattached it to her belt. "I have the beginnings of a plan. I know from… certain sources shall we say, that there is a world where a number of imperial TIE fighter clones are living with their families. They've been there for over 10 years now. I'm going to call in some favors and find out where they are. You won't mind living near them, will you?"
"I will not mind at all."
"Good. I will deliver your warning through safe channels to people who hopefully will pay attention to it. That's all we can do right now."
"That sounds like an excellent start to me," Kir said approvingly.
"Now then, tell me how you found the children."
"Actually, there isn't much more to tell. While trying to untangle the trail left by Nom Anor, I went to one of the old black ops installations maintained by the Emperor to produce specialized clones for his service. I didn't know it was still operational and went there simply to take advantage of the materials stored at the facility. When I found they still were producing clones, and in particular clones of Imperial guards, I demanded to see them." Kir looked at the youngsters dashing about in the field, their shrieks of delight echoing up to their vantage point.
"I thought perhaps they would be as I once was, young Guardsmen who have completed basic training. I wanted comrades in arms. Instead, I found ten children, ranging in age from two to eight, with no training whatsoever. And yet, they are clones of my brothers. In those children many of the dead live again." His expression settled back into its habitual grim lines as he continued. "The Vong are coming. I do not know when precisely, but I believe they will come sooner rather than later. The facility had been neglected and was barely operational. I was hoping to gain more allies, but they aren't finished, and I don't know how long it will be until they are capable of defending themselves. I could not leave them to fall into the hands of invaders. So I took them all away with me."
“Just like that?’ Her voice held disbelief.
"Yes, just like that," he answered firmly. "I did not feel there was any time to waste." His tone became rueful. "I do, however, acknowledge my complete and utter lack of training in the area of child care. I know basically they require what I require: water, food, exercise, and rest, but they and the droids who helped care for them have made it very clear they need much more."
“Kanos, what were you thinking? Raising children isn’t easy or simple. It takes time.” Mirith looked at Kir’s unhappy face and shook her head slowly. “Did you think it was like raising yard fowl, where their chicks are precocious out of the egg and all you have to do is throw them some grain and they run around and scratch it up for themselves till they’re grown?”
“They are clones, as I and most of my brother-Guards were. We didn’t require care, as such.” Kanos’ voice held frustration. “But these do.”
“That’s because they dumped you out fully-grown with a complete set of memories to get you started. These youngsters are children. They need time. They don’t have the memories you do now unless you want to set up some sort of flash-learning and give them yours.”
Kanos blinked at her statement. “Thank goodness they don’t! May they never have them.” His face set in grim lines, he continued. “If they want to be warriors someday that is fine, but to give them my memories to hasten the process…” He looked at the yard, where the older children were helping the younger ones climb a large mound of baled hay. “It would be cruel. Perhaps even evil. No one should have my memories.”
“Not even you,” said Mirith. On impulse, she leaned against him, putting an arm around him as she watched the children play. They seemed to have a general command structure worked out, with the eldest supervising the youngest. “It’ll be all right, Kanos. I’ll help and you’ll learn fast, trust me. Kids grow quickly, it won’t be long before they’ll be far more of a help than a hindrance.”
Kanos started and looked down at her. “You will help us?”
“Oh, yes.” Mirith grinned up at him. “They’ll eat you alive if I don’t.”
“What about… the New Republic?” Kanos spoke the name carefully. “I thought you had much work to do for them?”
“This is far more important. They’ll get along fine without me for a time.” She leaned against him a bit firmer and felt his arm go around her to support her. “They’ve got plenty of commanders in the New Republic, but good mothers are in short supply.”
Dolce Domum, Part Two
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