Constellations (Part 2/2) The flock of Elellumiwi went into a tizzy over the appearance of a frozen bag of skinned ipkas that Eira carefully separated and loaded onto a smaller specialized cooking tray along with a ration of the namana-shuura sauce and scrubroot vegetables. Meanwhile, Zhincet and some others had gone back to the base camp for a few food supplies from there as well – predictably, they returned with griddle cake mix, which was one of the few foods that the mix of teachers and students hadn’t completely tired of after months of the same. Eira eyed the griddle cake mix warily and shone a light on it to check for bugs. Finding none, she passed it along to Vuka to cook and also handed over a few handfuls of celonslay to flavor the cakes. Kyp and the Ysanna trio helped Kam shred leaves for a goatgrass salad. Kyp looked a bit doubtful of the project. (The Ossan plant they used wasn’t actual goatgrass, but Keena had long since identified it as one of the edibles growing nearby – endorsing it with the high praise of “this has never killed anyone recently.” And it did taste like goatgrass, more or less. Somewhat less.) Taj and Min brought out a temperature-controlled crate of Korosian sweet ice from the cargo hold. What Tionne had thought was a bouquet of flowers that Eira set off to one side proved to be a kind of dessert as well -- or at least the Elellumiwi present fell on the yellow-orange blossoms with such gusto that it seemed like the most likely explanation. To her relief, Taj seemed to have realized that it would be better to keep the alcoholic beverages out of circulation with Force-sensitive teenagers on the loose, and provided something carbonated instead. Thank the Force. An intoxicated Kyp Durron wreaking havoc was not something that she would have to worry about, or at least not for now. Vuka and some of the researchers had set up an enclosed campfire and some improvised wind-shelters for the gathering. Both of those things were becoming necessary as the night grew colder and the autumn wind began to pick up from its earlier quiet. Later, the main part of the New Republic team began to drift back to camp as the sedative effects of heavy eating set in and they longed for the warmth of their sleeping bags. A few of the more determined Elellumiwi remained in a group by the fire, with Xim and the gopher-like chitlik Zarth curled up beside them. Althya had long since been returned to the warmer environs of the ship. The wind was much louder than it had been, making eerily voice-like cries as it moved across the landscape. But Tionne had grown used to it over time and even found a kind of comfort in the sound of it talking through the ancient Jedi structures and the canyons that surrounded them. Eira sang a song about a bird that fell in love with the moon that she had learned on Najiba as a child, accompanied by the small harp that Tionne had given her as a gift before leaving the crew. Llinos had always been fond of that song, and the other Elellumiwi also appeared to be drawn to the story it told. Possibly inspired by the atmosphere, Vuka and Min told ghost stories that they had heard from other spacers, which inspired Kyp and Keena to attempt to out-spook each other until Zy put a stop to that with a tale that was scarier still. Taj and Min played a duet together, each on some kind of woodwind instrument Tionne had never seen before (she was very curious as to how the mouthpiece worked, given that their lips were more canoid than humanoid in structure). The longing in the music was so strong that it brought tears to her eyes. Kam, naturally, asked for the unfortunate tale of Tionne the ronto thief and was enthusiastically regaled with the entire story by Vuka. Tionne couldn’t help but wonder at his genuine delight at hearing the adventures of her younger self – while she wasn’t going to die of humiliation at having it mentioned, it had never been her proudest moment. The whole thing had been silly from beginning to end. And yet, Kam somehow managed to get her laughing at it too. Maybe it was that he just didn’t give a bantha’s rear for his own pride – as entirely separate from dignity – and the condition was contagious in proximity. Then someone handed her the double viol in its case that she had left back in the base camp. She strummed a few chords, considering what to play. “Oh, come on. We all know you’re going to sing it.” Kyp shook his head and shot her a look that contained actual, honest to goodness humor for the first time she could recall. And if someone gave her an opening like that, she wasn’t going to not sing “The Ballad of Nomi Sunrider”, now was she? Llinos quickly picked up the structure of the new tune and accompanied her. It felt like old times with the two of them singing to a cantina crowd. Soon it was clearly well past the teenagers’ bedtimes as much as they protested otherwise, and Tionne and Kam helped the crew clear up the remainder of the mess that the research team hadn’t packed off back to the camp already. Saying goodbye was difficult. It had really been too long since Tionne had seen these people, and catching up with them was bittersweet in a way. So much had changed and so much was still the same with them. And she too was changing and still a bit the same. But she didn’t have the empty feeling she’d had when she first left the crew, watching the Estrell take off without her. With all of the tired teenagers and shivering reptavians squared away for the night, Tionne planned to head for her own bedroll soon as well. But she found herself drawn from the shelter by the sighing of the wind for a minute and paused there to look at the stars. The night sky on Ossus was one of the clearest Tionne had seen in all her travels; the stars blazed with an intensity that took her breath away. It looked as though Kam had also felt like stargazing, since she found him leaning against the landspeeder outside. She curled into the offered warmth of his arm around her shoulders and pressed a light kiss on the edge of his jaw. No man who had spent the day trekking around in the dust of Ossus had any right to smell that good, she thought. They kissed again with more thoroughness before settling to watch the sky. It had been an interesting few months since she and Kam had made the decision to not push their mutual attraction but give it a chance all the same. There were good reasons not to rush into anything too quickly. Kam was still dealing with the process of integrating back into society after over a decade of induced amnesia and Sith mental conditioning – much of it spent living in a flattened emotional state that Tionne thought could probably be diagnosed as a mood disorder if not for the circumstances (and for the fact that it had mostly evaporated when he turned back to the light side of the Force). And Tionne was a complete rookie to the practical side of using the Force, as opposed to the historical aspects she had been gleaning information about for most of her life; she needed a lot of her concentration to go into her training. So here they were, seeking to maintain a delicate balance that Tionne knew made their progress as a pair seem glacial in its pace. But she felt surer every day that it was working. In spite of the inevitable butterflies and anxieties that came with falling for someone, Tionne had always found that she defaulted to feeling comfortable around Kam. It was a different emotional realm from that of any romantic relationship that she could remember, not less passionately felt but with an underlying sense of being at ease – as though she had found something that she always knew was missing but couldn’t have named. "You know, it's occurred to me that our sequencing is mixed up. First we had teenagers, then we went and took them with us to introduce you all to my family, and I don’t think either of us has so much as asked the other on a date.” She felt the quiet laughter rumbling in Kam’s chest, though she could barely hear it over the breeze. “The more I learn, the more I think that nothing is really accidental.” He smiled and pulled Tionne closer, resting his chin on the top of her head for a minute. “Look at your old crew. They’re all smart, capable beings in their own ways, but not really ruthless enough to thrive living on the fringe. What are the odds of those people ending up in the same place? I get the impression that most of them were on the road to an early grave, but instead they found each other, helped each other – even somehow managed not to strangle each other living in close quarters.” “A near thing sometimes, believe me.” She scanned the starscape for the pinpoint lights of a spacecraft already long gone from the atmosphere. “Funny thing, but I think they like you – even Llinos, and she’s a tough vweilu nut to crack. She never liked anyone I brought home.” “Hmm. I’ll admit, I had expected them to be a bit more difficult in personality. Smugglers generally are. They weren’t at all what I thought they would be, and I’m glad.” Kam’s expression was hard to read and made more so by the night, but she thought she saw a spark of mischief. “Wouldn’t want to be in the bad graces of the in laws.” “Don’t turn out to be a cultist of the Ember of Vahl.” “I promise.” “There, you’re set.” Tionne paused. “So the way that we met, a vagabond street musician with Jedi sympathies and a dark side adept who managed to ignore the obvious for weeks on end – that wasn’t a cosmic accident in your view?” “I’m not exactly objective, but no.” Shifting his weight a bit in thought, Kam stretched and resettled. “I think we both had something to learn from crossing paths back then. You seemed – changed when I saw you last, before we met again. I was too, though I was foolish enough to think that I would lose all of the memory permanently.” Tionne squeezed his arm, probably more to reassure herself than Kam; she had met him back then and even the bare edge of his experience that she had perceived haunted her. “Now I think that the reverberations of an event are never really canceled, only changed.” “Kam, I don’t know what kind of role fate or luck or choices might have played, but I’ll always be more than grateful to the Force that I didn’t lose you forever. I didn’t feel the way I do about you now, but I had begun to consider you a friend.” She smiled at his perplexed tilt of the head – one thing that, come to think of it, hadn’t changed since then. “Okay, so you were a really strange, probably ethically unfortunate and definitely unwise choice of friend – but a friend all the same. I really worried about what was going to happen to you, after. There was no reason for me to expect to ever know the outcome.” Tionne halted to let the tightness in her throat subside. “I’m glad you’re here. All the time. Every day.” She leaned into Kam’s hug. “Same here.” There was a constellation in the northwest that Tionne had learned to identify, the one that Trey had told her the Ysanna associated with the Tree of Ascent. That tree had actually turned out to be the hibernating Jedi Master Ood Bnar, and then been felled by an Imperial adept on awakening. In a way, she knew Bnar was a part of those stars now – and of the Ysanna, the Jedi, the Imperials, and even of herself and Kam as they stood staring up at the sky. Jedi philosophy was enough to give one a touch of vertigo on occasion. Eventually, the temperature had dropped enough that both Jedi apprentices had to yield to the weather and head back into camp. Tionne thought of the nights at her childhood home on Rindao as she dropped off to sleep, and how her favorite constellation had been the one that locals called the Two Dragons (because it reminded her of the legend of Nomi Sunrider and her battle with the Hssiss). Later she had been moving so often that she rarely had time to learn such details about the worlds where she set foot, but here and there she had picked up a few. And now there was also the Tree constellation, which reminded her of Kam, of Trey, Keena, and Rona, and of the breeze whispering through the ancient Jedi library at night. Maybe she would write a song about that, or maybe the song was already in the wind and needed nothing more. There was hope here, and the companionship of friends old and new -- and she and Kam were building something that she felt would have strong roots, however unlikely the origins might have been. There was a sleep-muddled twitter from the next shelter where the Elellumiwi were resting as they sorted out the arrangement of claws and beaks so that they were out of the way of stomachs and wings. “Nice flowers,” she heard one of the reptavians comment to the others. “Think they might have been decorative?” “Nah.” Notes: Since there turned out to be so many references (mostly food, it seems ), I’ve put them in a Google document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDTtNC6d6N48aBRWs3TC2YmVNxR4UARSVfw7VJuw2O8/edit?usp=sharing Playlist (yes, Kahara has turned to the dork side here ): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SYGUYyCsR_rU5c3iqeiPi8MmKfv5QfStjSDDw13ZWg4/edit?usp=sharing Congratulations: to Chyntuck and her husband! Best wishes for the two of you.