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  1. In Memory of LAJ_FETT: Please share your remembrances and condolences HERE

Saga - Legends Digging Deeper - 2024 Fanfic Summer Olympics Decathlon, OC archaeologist

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Thumper09, Jul 2, 2024.

  1. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Title: Digging Deeper
    Author: Thumper09
    Characters: OCs Niilo Castor and family
    Timeframe: Between ROTS and ANH
    Summary: A Duros archaeologist travels the galaxy with his family while searching for historic and/or legendary items.
    Notes: This is my 2024 Fanfiction Summer Olympics Decathlon with my OC Duros archaeologist Niilo Castor. The main characters in these stories were created for my 2024 Kessel Run story, Artifact or Fiction. This decathlon picks up almost immediately after AoF ends. My intention is that this story collection can be read as a standalone, though knowledge of AoF will help fill in some characterization and background details.

    Constructive criticism is welcome. Star Wars is owned by Disney, etc. etc.

    ---------------------

    Links to specific event posts:
    Single Sentence Shot Put
    Marathon Swimming (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 5)
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2024 at 6:30 PM
    Happy Sando and Vek Talis like this.
  2. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Single Sentence Shot Put: A story told in a single sentence about your character, family, friendship or couple.

    I’d been stubbornly resisting cleaning out the overwhelming, cluttered mess of our cargo hold’s storage area until Kerttu mentioned I could view it as my own archaeological dig on the ship, complete with stratification, spoil heaps, and little buried treasures to find... dammit.


    ------------------------

    Marathon Swimming: Write a story of at least 10k words to honor the epic test of endurance that is a 10km swim.
    Word count: 17185 (as of 7/2. Will show final number after all edits are done)
    Note 1: This entry will be spread across five posts. I usually try to space out large posts like these, but given the time constraints of the Olympics they'll probably be posted more quickly than normal for me.
    Note 2: In case of confusion because it's not very clear, in the story dialogue "Aiti" and "Isi" are equivalent to "Mom" and "Dad."

    ----

    I reveled in the warm sense of nostalgia that washed over me when we stepped through the door. Part of that might have been Cularin’s stifling humidity, not only a part. My hand sought out Kerttu’s where she stood beside me, and I briefly squeezed it. My wife smiled back at me. The necklace she wore glinted in the light; I loved the fact that she was wearing the anniversary gift I’d given her. The planetary coordinates engraved on the necklace’s Amaralite disc again matched the planetary coordinates we were currently at. Being back on Cularin was everything I’d hoped it would be.

    The small diner hadn’t changed a bit over the years. The wooden walls and floor gave it a rustic look, and the lighting was bright enough to be friendly without being glaring. Like many buildings in the city of Gadrin, the air cooling units took the sharpest edge off of the heat and humidity but not much more. Rattling ceiling fans attempted to help with varying degrees of success. The air smelled of a unique blend of spices and meats, accompanied with the background sizzling sounds from the kitchen. Several tables were occupied, and easy conversation from the patrons played a duet with the frying pans.

    Nostalgia gets me all poetic-like. So does lunch.

    A serving droid rolled up to the stand where we waited. “Welcome to The Greenbark. Table for four?” it asked in Basic.

    “Yes, please,” Kerttu responded in kind.

    “Certainly. This way,” the droid said. It wheeled into the dining area.

    Kerttu and I released hands to better herd our children after our guide. Soon we were seated at a table by the large windows, though the shades were partway closed to keep out some of the worst of the midday heat from the binary suns. The droid passed out the menus and promised to be back shortly to take our orders before wheeling away.

    Our daughter Leppa sat next to me, and she ignored the menu in favor of looking all around at the inside of the diner. “And why’d you want to come here?” she asked in Durese.

    “Basic here, Leppa, okay?” I gently reminded her in said language.

    The seven-year-old heaved an aggrieved sigh. “Fine.” Despite the apparent hardship of my request-- if she was taking after me already, I dreaded her adolescent years-- she effortlessly switched. “I mean, why’d you want to come here for lunch so bad? I saw signs for some place called The Chasm that looked a lot better.”

    “The Chasm is a lot rowdier,” I said. “It’s better to go there in the evenings for dinner.”

    Leppa’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, so can we go there for dinner tonight?”

    Kerttu’s expression pinched briefly. She’d never liked that place. “Maybe,” she said, indulgent but noncommittal. “And the reason we wanted to come here to The Greenbark is because this is where Isi and I had our first dates after we met.”

    “Ewww.” Our six-year-old son Erkki scrunched his face in disgust and scooted away from Kerttu a bit. “Aiti, you’re not gonna start kissing Isi here, are you?”

    Kerttu grinned mischievously. “Since you like it so much, maybe I’ll just kiss you instead.” She quickly and lightly kissed Erkki’s forehead before he could pull away farther.

    Eeeewwww!” Erkki immediately grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up far enough to wipe the offending kiss off of his head.

    Leppa rolled her eyes at her younger brother, eyes that had inherited the same lovely slight orange tint from her mother within the deeper red. The rolling tendency was all my genetics. “Erkki, stop being such a wimp. Isi, what did you and Aiti do on your dates?” she asked me.

    “We’ll tell you some stories after we order, assuming it doesn’t make Erkki lose his appetite,” I promised. “Let’s figure this out first.” I picked up the menu and eagerly scanned through it, then I frowned and went through it more slowly. “I don’t see the braised giblins on the menu anymore,” I said in disappointment. My rib sacs deflated.

    Kerttu paused in helping Erkki with the menu choices to give me a sympathetic look. “Sorry, Niilo. I know how much you liked those here. But it’s been years. Menus change.”

    I sighed. “Yeah, they do.” I settled for a Namba patty instead.

    After the serving droid returned and took our lunch orders, Kerttu caught my eye from across the table. “I hadn’t expected this place to change so much,” she said quietly.

    I blinked. “What do you mean? It looks the same to me.”

    She chuckled and shook her head hopelessly. “I swear, archaeologists would make lousy travel reporters. Anything less than an eon passes and you don’t notice.” She gave small, subtle motions with her hand as she pointed things out, though her voice was pitched low to not carry. “The cooling units sound like they’re on their last legs, and that’s not something a business would ignore on a world like this. Your giblins weren’t the only thing missing from the menu: I’d guess the offerings have been cut by at least 25%. The serving droid is an older model than what they used years ago. The building itself has a lot more wear and tear on it than last time, maintenance that looks to have been put off or neglected. It’s a lot dirtier, not in the health code violation sort of way, but in the run-down sort of way. This place used to be packed at lunchtime, and now it’s barely half full. It’s changed, and not for the better.”

    I looked around, and now that Kerttu had pointed those things out, I noticed them. I was a little embarrassed, since usually I was a bit more observant than that. I stubbornly blamed it on the happy nostalgia distracting me.

    I preferred that happy nostalgia.

    It was sad seeing the issues and thinking about what might have caused them and where it looked like things were ultimately heading. If they continued this way, this trip might be the last time we would be able to eat at The Greenbark.

    I didn’t expect the ache inside at that thought. A place with this much personal importance was... always supposed to be here. Forever. I know that didn’t make logical sense, but if this wasn’t permanent, it felt like other shared building blocks of our life together might not be permanent either, like nothing was safe. I recognized how silly that notion was and pushed it away, though it laughed as it left and promised it would be back at 0200 some night when I least expected it and couldn’t sleep.

    Leppa apparently had had enough of waiting and poked me in the side. “So what were your dates like?” she pressed, snapping me out of my melancholy musings.

    “Aww, I don’t want to hear about dating,” Erkki complained.

    “Shush, Erkki. I do.” Leppa turned back to us in anticipation.

    Kerttu grinned. “Did we ever tell you how we first met?”

    Leppa’s large eyes went even wider, and she shook her head eagerly.

    “Well, as you know, Isi and I met here in Gadrin.” I recognized the mischievous gleam in Kerttu’s eye just in time to brace myself before she continued. “I was here writing a story for work, and your Isi was here chasing his first love.”

    “What?” Leppa stared at me in horror. “You were in love with someone else?”

    Before I could say a single word, Kerttu interjected. “She’s still here. I’m surprised he hasn’t already run off to see her the moment we landed.”

    Leppa gaped at me.

    I felt my skin flush bluer and narrowed my eyes at my wife, who was having way too much fun at my expense. “I’m going to remember this the next time the ‘fresher unit on Azimuth backs up again and one of us has to fix it,” I told her. Then I turned to my horrified daughter. “Aiti is exaggerating. I wasn’t in love with someone else. I was here doing some research on a role model of mine--”

    Kerttu fake-coughed several times and slipped the word “hero” in between. I shot her another sideways glare.

    “--A role model of mine,” I insisted to Leppa, “who was an explorer. Reidi Artom discovered many star systems in this area and rediscovered Cularin a couple hundred years ago. She also worked closely with the Tarasins, who lived on Cularin, to learn about them and to help them learn about offworlders. She founded Gadrin, and there’s a museum here in town dedicated to her.”

    “And a statue,” Kerttu added slyly.

    “Yes, and a statue. And I do want to go to the museum later today when we’re exploring the city.”

    “Is it a fun museum or a boring museum?” Erkki asked.

    “All museums are fun museums,” I said.

    He slouched in his chair. “No, they’re not,” he mumbled under his breath.

    Leppa looked uncertainly appeased. “So... you were researching things about this hero explorer person you like?”

    That was probably the best I was going to crawl away from this with. “Yes.”

    Leppa thought about that for another minute, then she nodded and turned back to Kerttu expectantly.

    Kerttu obliged. “I would have been remiss in my duties as an up-and-coming travel reporter to not at least visit a museum about the city’s founder and local celebrity that the world still bases their calendar on--”

    “Wait, they do?” Erkki interrupted.

    I nodded. “Local years are counted by the time since Artom rediscovered Cularin. You might see them written with an AA after the number.”

    “‘After Artom,’” Kerttu clarified. “So she was pretty influential here, making the museum a required visit for me. As you’ll see when we walk around Gadrin, and even Hedrett across the river, there are Tarasins here, like Isi said, but it’s mostly a Human population with some other species, like Wookiees. There are a few Duros, but we’re far from the majority. So I was mildly surprised when I walked into the museum and saw this gawky Duros sitting at a side table behind stacks and stacks of datacards, bound books, and rolled-up maps, completely oblivious to everything in the world except the copy of Reidi Artom’s journal he was reading...”

    *****

    “Did you really think I looked gawky?” I whispered to Kerttu at my first opportunity after lunch. The meal had been good but not as filling as I’d remembered, so we would probably need to find some snacks for the kids soon. Luckily the marketplace was just ahead up the street, and there was bound to be something there. I wondered if any marketplace vendors would be selling Zsajhira berry loop pastries. I could only dream.

    “‘Gawky’ probably wasn’t the right word, but I was worried Erkki might have been pushed past his limits if I’d said any of the other words I wanted to say,” Kerttu whispered back. Her fingers laced through mine as we walked.

    “Okay, good,” I said, enjoying the warmth of her hand despite the suns’ heat. “Because I’ll have you know this body is a lean machine tuned perfectly in balance.”

    “Fueled by grubs and field rations, and kept in optimal shape by digging holes.”

    “Don’t be so quick to discount the Fitness Through Dirt program. You try hauling around heavy buckets and using a pickaxe all day, and then see what muscles you discover you have but never knew about.”

    Kerttu raised her other hand in mock defense. “No, no, don’t worry, I know how you feel about your pickaxe. I have no plans to touch it and mess something up.”

    Well, she wasn’t wrong about that first part, but... “It’s very hard to ‘mess up’ a pickaxe. That’s kind of the point of pickaxes,” I said.

    “I thought the point of pickaxes was their point.”

    I huffed. “Only one half is pointy. Picks are extremely versatile. The flat end is much better for taking--”

    “Erkki, stay close,” Kerttu called as we reached the outer edges of the outdoor vendor booths that lined the small side streets and Erkki started to change course for the nearest one. I knew what she was doing-- this wasn’t the first time she’d heard me extol the value of my pick and begin another inadvertent lecture on its many uses-- and I dropped the subject.

    Just like a pickaxe can drop through the top layer of dirt to just the right depth. Ha.

    The marketplace was considered open-air, but it had some flat fabric coverings stretched high overhead across the street to cut down on the midday glare from the suns and also give the vendors a bit of time to cover their booths when a tropical downpour sprang up. Everything was winding down in the heat of the early afternoon, and the bustle was beginning to fade. That made it easier to keep an eye on the kids as they darted from booth to booth looking at the wares. I kept my nose alert for Zsajhira berry loop pastries while we walked.

    I reluctantly noticed things had changed here too since last time. I saw a handful of Tarasins, but they were just passing through the market area and not really interested in the goods. That didn’t surprise me. It was the same with several groups of Imperials: they had no interest in the market, just in traversing it. There seemed to be more Humans around and fewer members of other species. Would I have seen something different if we’d been here when the market was in full swing that day? I wasn’t sure. Many of the items being sold looked more like junk but were selling for higher prices. The booths themselves were in worse repair than I recalled too, beaten down by the suns and rain.

    “Isi!” Leppa grabbed my hand and pulled me sideways. I stumbled to a stop after her at a booth that had various crates of sporting gear. “Look! They have limmie balls! Can I get one? Pleeease?”

    The owner of the booth, a blue-skinned Rodian, appeared out of nowhere. She wore the same loose-fitting style of clothing most of the locals wore, but she moved more easily, seemingly more at home in the heat than some of the Humans were. Most of the Humans around us now were sweating and not very active. “Ah, you have a fine eye for quality, little one,” she said. “These are the best bolo-balls in the twin cities. I think I could cut you a good deal on one, too.”

    I considered things for a moment. At the last couple communal schooling weeks with the spacer group, Leppa had really gotten into playing limmie with some of her friends. That reminded me, I needed to ask Kerttu if she’d found a good professional limmie game we could attend in a nearby system for Leppa’s upcoming birthday, though that project was still a secret. I looked at Leppa plainly. “Do you really want a ball?” I asked her. “You usually use your friends’ balls when you play. What good will one do you on the ship? There’s no place to use it.”

    “There will be once you finish cleaning up the cargo hold,” she countered. “Besides, we’re not on the ship all the time. There are lots of places I could play with it! Even here! Please, Isi, I really want one. You got TiRi for Erkki.”

    “That was for his birthday,” I said.

    The booth owner’s antennae perked up. “You have a See Me TiRi? Interested in selling it?”

    “Yes!” Leppa immediately said.

    “No,” I said at the same time.

    The booth owner looked back and forth between us. “Are you sure?” she asked me. “I’ll pay good credits for it.”

    “I’m sure,” I said firmly, though I secretly despaired at the loss of this perfect opportunity to rid Azimuth of Erkki’s favorite but extremely obnoxious varactyl toy, one that was a crazy yet fading fad throughout many star systems.

    “Well, if you change your mind, come find me,” the Rodian said. “I’m here every day.”

    I nodded, then turned back to Leppa, thinking. Despite the extreme care we took to limit bigger, nonessential possessions on a small ship with finite volume for four people, I had no qualms about the idea of her having her own ball, and indeed thought it would be good for her to have one. All of my qualms came from the prospect of her or Erkki getting a little too excited, forgetting about their surroundings, and this ball getting kicked into Azimuth’s cockpit and causing... issues.

    Leppa gazed up at me with a pleading look in her eyes and squeezed the hand she was still holding. “My birthday’s coming up soon too, you know.”

    I admitted defeat but tried to pretend I still had some control by saying sternly, “Do you promise to be careful with it inside the ship?”

    Knowing she had me hooked, Leppa nodded vigorously. “I promise!”

    “And if you want to use the cargo hold space, maybe you can help me finish cleaning it out.”

    Her expression dimmed a bit, but she still nodded. Less vigorously.

    “Then see if you find a ball you like.”

    Leppa squealed and let go of my hand to dive toward the box containing the large limmie balls. She carefully examined them one by one, narrowed it down to three candidates, and finally chose one. She beamed and hugged the ball possessively while I haggled on the price with the seller, who knew all too well that I had absolutely no leverage in the negotiation.

    At last we left ten credits poorer but one limmie ball richer. When Leppa spotted Kerttu and Erkki in the sparse crowd, she called out and ran toward them excitedly, brandishing her newly obtained treasure high above her head to show them.

    I followed more sedately, not having a scuffed, second-hand limmie ball to show off, and saddened by the continued lack of loop pastries. I’d almost reached the others when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye in the booth I was passing.

    I stopped and looked. I didn’t expect to see what looked like a couple of Tarasin amulets in the glass case amid other jewelry for sale.

    I frowned. I hadn’t realized there was a market for replicas of these amulets, as they didn’t really look like much to non-Tarasins and certainly didn’t carry the same meaning to non-Tarasins. But what was odd was that this amulet style was very old, dating back to a thousand years or more before Reidi Artom arrived. Why make replicas of something exhibiting older, cruder workmanship?

    A wiry, scruffy Human sidled into view behind the booth. “Ah, I see you’ve got a fine eye for quality, sir,” he said smoothly. “Anything here catch your fancy? Something for the missus, perhaps?”

    I glanced up and noticed Kerttu was slowly steering the kids, including Leppa who was still chattering about her limmie ball, closer when she’d seen me stop at the booth. Something wasn’t sitting right with me about this, though, so I turned my attention to the booth owner. I pointed at the Tarasin amulets and played dumb. “I was looking at these. What are they?”

    “Ah, beautiful, aren’t they? They’re Tarasin. Made by a group here in town. Would you like a closer look?” Without waiting for my answer, the Human opened the display case and took out one of the amulets. He held it up.

    “May I?” I asked. He nodded.

    I took it carefully and examined it. The oval amulet was only about six centimeters long and maybe half as wide, with a small misshapen hole at the top so it could be hung from a thin cord. Most of it was a grey ceramic and looked like two ropes of clay had been twisted around each other before being joined into the oval loop and fired. In the center of the amulet was a dark colored, imperfectly shaped disc about the width of my thumb tip.

    I was a bit rusty, but Tarasin artifacts had been one of my first areas of study during my infatu-- my learning about Artom and her work here. Despite my mental corrosion, I was certain that this amulet was the style used in burials. The last time I’d interacted with some Tarasins, I hadn’t gotten the impression that they engaged in any significant amount of trade with non-Tarasins. By and large they just didn’t need to, and their culture and mindsets weren’t geared for it. I certainly didn’t think that they would make and sell a type of amulet meant for their revered dead as a trinket.

    Something about the dark circular disc in the center kept nagging at me. The disc looked like a thin cross-section of a small tree branch, and the ceramic held it firmly in place around its edges.

    My stomach sank when my mind conjured up the tree branch notion, and I gently pressed my finger against the disc. The mild pressure caused the dark color to shift and swirl with lighter colors. When I removed my finger, the colors gradually stabilized and then settled back to the solid darker color.

    There was no doubt in my mind: that was a small piece of ch’hala wood. The color-shifting ch’hala trees were protected by strict laws in the Cularin Compact that came about after the Tarasin Revolt when offworlders had begun destroying the planet’s natural resources. Those trees were sacred to the Tarasins and guarded by them, and the wood was only used sparingly for important ceremonial rituals and decorations, and then only when it had fallen from the tree naturally. The trees weren’t used in making random replica jewelry for offworlders, and there was no known way to synthesize ch’hala wood.

    This was bad. Very bad. What the hell was going on here? Things hadn’t changed that much with the Tarasins over the years, had they?

    I’d probably been looking at it too long and too intently for the clueless, casual vibe I was going for, so I forced my strangled throat to push some innocuous words out while I tried to comprehend what I was really looking at. “You said it’s made by a local group? So it’s brand-new?” I asked.

    “Sure is,” the man said. “High quality craftsmanship.”

    It was not new. I know what tool marks to look for on particular artifacts from particular eras, and I also know what marks are made by contemporary tools so I can better spot forgeries or recognize if something is too new to be of interest in digs. Those sorts of inspections were a lot easier and much more accurate with the right scanning equipment, so I couldn’t be certain of my conclusions just standing there in the street relying on my naked eye, but I saw enough to make me pretty blasted sure. Despite my hope that this amulet was a replica, it wasn’t. It wasn’t made in modern times, either.

    It was real, and it was old, and I would have wagered every loop pastry in existence that it was not supposed to be here. Not in this booth, not on this street, not even in Gadrin.

    Looting historic sites and the black market sales of antiquities had been on the rise lately under the Empire’s new laws, and I was looking at proof of that in the palm of my hand. My thoughts became an angry, jumbled mess of a mess that mostly centered around the words what?, how?, and why?.

    I doubted this little booth was selling anything worth thousands of credits on the black market, but the blatantness and openness of this sale surprised me. It wasn’t hidden. It wasn’t clandestine. It was out in the street marketplace. It was merely camouflaged under a thin veneer of plausible deniability, which is all that anyone strolling through this marketplace looking for a shiny piece of jewelry would need.

    None of these sellers would expect anyone to know better. No one expects to meet an archaeologist at their local marketplace booth.

    I hoped that would be their downfall.

    “So what do you think?” the man prodded. “I’ll cut you a good deal.”

    I plastered a smile on my face and handed the amulet back. “Thank you, but no. It’s beautiful, but it’s not the color my wife likes.”

    “What about some of these other styles? Silver is always a good choice. Goes with everything. These necklaces are straight from Corellia. Just got them in this morning.”

    “Thanks, but I really shouldn’t be shopping right now. Got to get the kids some food.” I nodded in their direction, shamelessly using my offspring as an excuse to get away and think more coherent thoughts. “Will you be around here tomorrow in case I have some time to come and browse more seriously?”

    The man nodded as he returned the amulet to the display case. “Yup. I’m here every day.”

    “All right. Thank you.” I nodded to him, made absolutely sure I could find this location and this man again, and headed over to join Kerttu and the kids.

    Kerttu immediately started coaxing Leppa and Erkki down the street. Leppa was still hugging her limmie ball, and Erkki was chattering about something I couldn’t quite focus on. Kerttu must have noticed something off about me, though, because she waited until we were well out of earshot and then some before quietly asking in concern, “What’s wrong? What was it that you were looking at back there?”

    I took a deep breath. I didn’t expect to be this rattled, or this angry. I almost felt insulted for some reason. “That man was selling Tarasin amulets that I’m just about positive were looted.”

    She blinked in surprise as she took that in. At last she asked, “What are we going to do about it?”

    All the uncertainty and anger manifested in a ball of anxiety in my chest. “I... don’t know.”

    *****
    (cont'd)
     
  3. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    The archeologist has a nice family. But now involved in something bad. Eager waiting for the next part
     
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  4. Happy Sando

    Happy Sando Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 23, 2023
    =D= =D= As a huge fan of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, and a dozen other "rooms full of old things" adventure characters, I gotta say that the concept of following a family of archaeologists around the GFFA has me locked in, front row centre!

    This decathlon is off to a superb start with that Single Sentence Shotput. :) You told me so much about your OC with so few words; it's brilliantly effective. And it made me laugh, 'cause I could probably stand to apply the same sort of guilt-trip logic to the chores and activities I tend to avoid in my own life!

    Your opening to your Marathon Swimming entry is such an escapist treat. I felt like I was walking into that diner with them! Niilo's family are delightful, very "real" and easy to spend time with, and I loved the idea that Niilo couldn't spot all the minor diner differences because of his professional focus on larger changes (although in his defence, and in hindsight, I think we all prefer a little happy nostalgia at times). The line "all museums are fun museums" made me smile (seriously, Erkki is such a... such a boy, said with all due affection) and the worldbuilding details you slipped into the storytelling were welcome touches, too, long before Niilo began lamenting the state of the marketplace and considering the realities of raising a family on a spaceship. I'd be equally cautious about a rogue ball bouncing around a cockpit, that's for sure!

    Very curious (and slightly worried, I must admit) to see where this Tarasin amulet is gonna lead 'em all, though. I don't blame Niilo for his reaction; in fact, I admire him for keeping his cool so well. That kind of looting is a very serious matter. Typical of the Empire to turn a blind eye to such exploitative criminality.

    Oh, and Kerttu's pickaxe pun was my favourite! [face_laugh]

    [makes mental note to go back and read through 'Artifact or Fiction' as soon as possible]
     
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  5. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    A happy fun time with the family, until Isi discovers evidence of criminality.

    His search for strawberry donuts yielded an ancient archaeological find, instead.

    I look forward to more!
     
    Vek Talis likes this.
  6. Seldes_Katne

    Seldes_Katne Force Ghost star 3

    Registered:
    Mar 18, 2002
    I will have to remember this the next time I realize I have to clean out the basement.... [face_laugh] A spoonful of sugar and all that.

    I'm in awe of anyone who can tackle the 10,000 word Marathon Swimming prompt for one of their events. ^:)^ I get tired just thinking about it.

    Interesting how nostalgia works, isn't it? We just figure that everyone and everything is plugging along the as when we left them, and then we come back and surprised, not always pleasantly.

    Yes, they are. Even the boring ones. ;)

    Further incentive, as if we needed it.

    I"ll be following this story and am looking forward to the development of the illegal artifacts plot!
     
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  7. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Thanks! :) The next part will be up shortly. Thanks for reading and commenting!


    Thanks, glad to have you! :D I love those sorts of characters. :) I'll tell ya, though, when I first started with this character, I had so many plans of writing all these swashbuckling adventures looking for mysterious artifacts hidden away on bizarre planets (I've got a list!), and then... I found out it was really really hard for me. Which is very annoying, because I'm comfortable with writing action scenes. Hopefully someday I'll figure out how to translate more of those ideas and visions into prose, but in the meantime, a lot of these stories are more mundane, so to speak.

    Thank you! Let me know if it works for you, because I've got a ton of chores I need to work on too that I'm procrastinating on. :p

    Thanks! I'm very happy to hear that the characters come across as real, along with the diner's description. :) Writing families and kids is still not something I'm super comfortable doing. (And yeah, I'm one who much prefers happy nostalgia to reality. ;) ) Heh, I enjoy museums now, but it took me a long time to be able to appreciate them and see them all as fun.

    I was very fortunate with this planet because a lot of the worldbuilding for Cularin, including Reidi Artom, exists already for one of the Star Wars RPGs. I added some details and flavors, but the hard work was done for me.

    But what's the problem with a ball hitting a bunch of random switches in a cockpit while a ship is in hyperspace? I'm sure everything would be perfectly fine. O:)

    I agree, it is very serious. It's even more common in the real world than I'd first realized, too. :( But yup, the Tarasin amulet is going to throw a bit of a wrench into their day. And yup x 2, that Imperial mindset definitely exists, and Cularin is an Imperial world.

    Heh heh, thanks. :cool:

    I'm very glad you enjoyed the opening. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!


    Thank you! :) It's amazing what you can find when you're not looking, and it's not always good, either. Thanks for reading and commenting!


    If you get on a roll with your basement, I'll pay you to clean out my garage. :)

    This is the first time I've done the Marathon Swimming for the Olympics, and I think it'll take a lot for me to choose this particular event again. :p After the Kessel Run I wanted to write a proper, long story with Niilo-- one with a structured beginning, middle, and end, since I only had the various short scenes from the KR. I thought the Marathon Swimming would be a great way to do it. And maybe it was, but I'm not used to writing long stories on a deadline. Eh, we'll see, I guess. But yeah, it was a lot of writing in a short timeframe, further complicated by needing to post it on the front end due to the chronological order.

    Yeah, I've always found it odd to come back to a well-known place and realize that life has moved on there too, despite my objections. Nostalgia's comfortable and known, and reality is changing and uncertain.

    Yes. :D

    Thanks, glad to have you along! :cool: Thanks for reading and commenting!

    -------

    The next update will be posted shortly. It's a very short update compared to the others, which I blame on this story not having convenient stopping points where I want them to be.
     
  8. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    (Marathon Swimming, continued)

    *****

    I was so upset that I didn’t even want to go to the Reidi Artom museum that day, not that the kids complained about that. I faked my way through the rest of the afternoon and evening, acting like I was perfectly fine and not a single thing was wrong in the galaxy all the time I was around Erkki or Leppa. Thankfully Kerttu subtly shouldered more of the responsibilities and interactions with them to give me a chance to sort my head out.

    I couldn’t in good conscience force The Chasm on her that night, though, so when Leppa asked about it for dinner I redirected the group to a smaller cantina I remembered Kerttu liking back then. It was probably just as well because we got caught in a tropical downpour on the way there, and The Chasm wasn’t made for dealing with a couple of wet, complaining kids.

    After the kids were cleaned up and asleep for the night in the hotel room, Kerttu and I sat out on our room’s balcony and talked while the stars came out above and the city lights twinkled to life all around us. A short distance to the north, Cloud Mountain lived up to its name as its summit disappeared into the clouds, though that sight was fast fading in the twilight. The mountain really did look beautiful this time of year, just like I’d heard it would. From here we could also see across the Estauril River to the lights of Hedrett, the twin city to Gadrin. Beyond the edges of all the lights we could just make out the dark mass of the surrounding jungle. Gadrin and Hedrett were the only non-Tarasin settlements on Cularin that were built on the surface. I’d visited a couple of the platform cities over the jungle before, but I didn’t really trust the infrastructure or the inhabitants. I’d always felt comfortable in Gadrin though.

    Kerttu has always known how to ease me into things. First we talked about returning here and all the happy and silly things we’d been reminded of, then we talked about the city’s changes, and finally we talked about the amulets.

    We hashed out a couple preliminary steps, namely to talk to my boss first and then to talk to the Cularin authorities. I felt a little better. People were going to help. Something was going to be done to stop the looting.

    It was getting late when we wrapped things up, and while Kerttu got ready for bed I got some flimsi and sketched every detail of the amulets that I could remember. I also wrote down the marketplace booth’s location and sketched what I could recall of the Human. Now, I’m no artistic slouch, but Humans are hard to draw with all that hair and all those facial protrusions, and Kerttu just quietly laughed when she saw my pitiful effort.

    I set my chrono’s alarm for very early in the morning to match the time my boss would be getting into work over on Obroa-skai. I’d never hear the end of it from the kids, but I didn’t make the rules about galactic and planetary time zones.

    I expected sleep to be long in coming, but thankfully my tired body overrode my wound-up mind for once.

    *****

    “Niilo, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon,” the small blue hologram of Dr. Li’za’nograw said. “I thought these first few days you were on personal leave. And-- where are you? It’s very hard to see you.” The Bith removed his large eyeglasses so he could see better and leaned closer to the holocomm, squinting.

    “Sorry, Zano,” I said into my small holocomm unit. “The suns aren’t up yet, and I got banished to the hotel room balcony to make this comm. Everyone’s so touchy at 0400. Not much lighting out here.”

    My boss sighed, leaned back in his chair, and put his eyeglasses back on. “And why are you awake and comming me at 0400 on your vacation?”

    “Because I wanted to talk to you as soon as you got in. I saw something yesterday that makes me think there’s some illegal looting happening here, and I’m not sure what to do.”

    Zano straightened at those words. “What happened? What did you see?” he asked.

    I related the whole story about the amulets and the ch’hala wood they contained. When I was finished, Zano sat back in his chair again and tapped his large fingers thoughtfully on the desk. I let him process everything.

    Finally his fingers stilled and he spoke into the holocomm once more. “So you didn’t buy any of the amulets from the Human.” It wasn’t accusatory, just a recited fact to put pieces together.

    “Correct,” I said. “I thought about it to get the amulets out of that situation, but it seemed... I don’t know, premature? Like I might be interfering and messing something up? And buying the items just puts money into the operation and it continues.”

    Zano nodded. “And though I trust your judgment, we don’t have definitive proof at this moment that the amulets are indeed authentic and taken illegally, and not actually replicas like the Human claimed.”

    A sour expression crossed my face, but only because I knew it was true and had been grappling with that most of yesterday afternoon and evening. “Correct,” I muttered unhappily. “As much as I believe they’re real, I couldn’t convince a judge of that right now. Not without much more detailed scans and analyses. And... things have been changing here since last time. I... don’t know if things have changed with the Tarasins too. Maybe something happened during those years and this is all legitimate now.”

    “Well,” Zano said, “it seems to me that the first step is to notify the planetary authorities of your suspicion. They can tell you what sort of proof would be needed for an investigation. Because another thing complicating this is that if Tarasin burial sites are being looted, it sounds like arresting this one booth owner would do nothing to stop it. He’s probably not the brains of the operation, just the last link in a chain. He may not even realize where the amulets come from.”

    “Kerttu thought the same thing,” I said. “She thinks he’s just trying to sell anything he can to make some money, and if these are ‘found’ or ‘obtained’ inexpensively or even free, he wouldn’t question the fortunes of his profit margin.”

    “So that means a deeper investigation by authorities will be needed to stop the operation at higher levels. Otherwise they just move on to the next seller and the next burial site. It’s a big planet. Lots of places to move to.” Zano cocked his large head. “Send me a scan of your sketch and the amulets’ details. I’ll have someone here go through records to confirm the specific amulet style and anything else we can dig up.” Zano smiled at his overused pun. I rolled my eyes.

    “Sure thing, Zano. I’ll send it over.”

    “One other thing you can do is go talk to one of the Tarasin clans.”

    I frowned. “The irstats? Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

    Zano shrugged. “I don’t see why not. You’re not sure if relations or laws have changed on Cularin regarding the Tarasins. They’re the ones who can best tell you that. And they can tell you if they’ve noticed anything odd in their jungles lately, or if, yes, some Tarasins living in Gadrin have a jewelry contract in place. Besides, they deserve to know.”

    “I know they do. I guess I just wanted to make sure it was actually a legitimate problem and not something I’m imagining before I drag them into it and get everything all spun up.”

    “They can tell you that better than anyone else can. Think about it, Niilo, okay?”

    “Okay. Any other words of wisdom?”

    “I’ll see what the Institute’s formal procedures are for this sort of situation. Offhand I think we can consult with and assist the authorities with investigating, but we’re limited beyond that. We can’t seize items or make arrests. All of that is up to the local planetary officials.”

    “Great, now you tell me,” I grumbled. “Guess I’d better leave the stun baton and wrist binders at the hotel then.”

    Zano ignored that and smiled at me. “Good job spotting this. We’ll help however we can. Now go back to sleep, and don’t forget to have your vacation.”

    I offered a tired grin in return. “Thanks, Zano. I’ll keep you updated.”

    I disconnected the holocomm and wondered if I could get back to sleep for a little bit after sending the info. It was going to be a long day.

    *****
    (cont'd)
     
  9. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Good advise from Zano. Niilo has to investigate more
     
  10. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Fascinating investigation going on. Excellent to read more Niilo and Kerttu adventures.
     
    earlybird-obi-wan likes this.
  11. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    I wonder how will the local authorities respond? How will the Tarasins react?

    I hope this doesn't spark some kind of civil unrest, or a war. Lesser broken taboos have caused larger outraged reactions (in other stories).
     
  12. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Yup, Niilo's going to be taking a few more steps to try to figure out what to do. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)


    Thanks! These are fun characters to play with, and I'm glad you enjoy it too. :) Thank you for reading and commenting!


    Niilo will be going to see the local authorities in this next update, so we'll see that response pretty soon. The Tarasins' reaction will also come into play, and yes, things have the potential to go badly like you said. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    ---------

    The next update will be posted shortly. This one is more of my standard, longer length for multi-post stories.
     
    earlybird-obi-wan likes this.
  13. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    (Marathon Swimming, continued)

    *****

    I vowed to get everything taken care of as soon as possible in the morning. I could notify the Cularin authorities, get their take on things and what would be needed for an investigation, and let the back of my brain mull it over while I spent the day with my family. I felt bad about the previous evening and wanted to make it up to Kerttu and the kids. I had several work days planned here later, and this was really something I should be dealing with then, not now.

    Kerttu agreed to wrangle the kids to breakfast while I was gone, and I promised I’d comm as soon as I was done so we could decide where to meet up. She and the kids would also plan out some activities we could do for the rest of the day.

    The streets of Gadrin were busy even this early in the morning as many beings shifted their schedules to beat the worst of the tropical heat and storms later in the day. I got off the hoverbus in the section of town where the government buildings resided, and I dodged the other pedestrians on the sidewalk on my way toward them. Cularin was part of the Galactic Empire, and the buildings all bore the Imperial seal on their signs and doors. Some were repurposed from the previous government and had architecture and decor that matched the rest of Gadrin. Others were newer, and they looked more like prefabs. Those rigid, boring buildings stuck out like an awkward adolescent where they were plopped down amid the smoother curves of the older style structures. Apparently the Imperials had made themselves right at home.

    The notion of going to “the authorities” had sounded simple, but now that I was faced with the minor detail of choosing a building to go in, I wasn’t sure if this situation would fall more under the government side of things or the law enforcement side. Since we’d been freely throwing around words like “investigation” and “proof,” I decided that law enforcement was the better choice. I headed that way.

    Soon I found myself inside the bustling Imperial-run police station at the front desk. It was an island structure comprised of a ring of high counters and a few employee workstations and collections of reference material in its center. A sign designated the spot at the counter where visitors checked in and spoke to one of the Imperials manning the front desk. In the more open area beyond, there was a steady stream of activity by Imperial and Cularin security officers interacting with suspects and witnesses at smaller, personal desks, even at this early hour. Holdovers from overnight arrests, I assumed. The furniture and decor was bland and utilitarian except for the prominent Imperial flag high on one wall. I waited in line while the Imperial Human man at the front desk helped the civilian Human woman in front of me with some information.

    She needed quite a lot of information for some reason, and the Imperial seemed happy to assist her with it all. That was good: the man could hopefully assist me as well.

    When she was finished at last and headed to the exit, I stepped up to take her place at the front desk’s designated service spot while the Imperial put away whatever he’d gotten out to help her. Once he was done, he called, “Next,” and turned back toward the service spot. The moment he saw me, he looked a bit startled.

    I smiled and said, “Hello.”

    The Imperial’s expression twisted in a way that did not make me feel welcome. “What?” he asked flatly.

    I... hadn’t expected that particular reaction. I shifted my weight, took a breath to reset myself, and said, “I’m hoping you can help me, please. I work for the Obroan Institute for Archaeology, and--”

    “The what?”

    “The Obroan Institute for Archaeology,” I repeated.

    “Never heard of it,” the Imperial said, sounding bored. “So you make drinks or something?”

    My mind completely stalled. “Huh?” I asked, because I’m educated and eloquent like that.

    “You said you’re from some Institute for Alcohol-G. Special snooty kind of alien alcohol, I suppose.”

    Oh. No, sir. Um, archaeology. You know, digging up really old stuff to study?”

    “Oh.” The Imperial did not look impressed by my career and life choices. “What about it?”

    “Well, sir, like I said, I work for the Institute, and I suspect there might be some illegal looting and possibly black market sales of antiquities happening here in Gadrin. I was hoping you could direct me to someone here who could help me figure out what the Imperials might need for an investigation.”

    The Imperial stared at me blankly. Finally he said, “Investigation of what?”

    “The suspected illegal looting from the Tarasins’ territory.”

    “Why would we care about that?”

    This conversation was not going at all like I’d expected. “Because, sir, it’s... illegal?” I was too baffled to even be sarcastic in this perfect opportunity.

    “Look, we don’t bother with whatever the Tarasins are doing as long as they keep to themselves and stay far away, and we certainly don’t care if someone digs up a rock or a pot or whatever in the jungle. Next person in line, please,” he called over my shoulder, clearly dismissing me.

    Now I definitely felt insulted. I didn’t budge. “Sir,” I said as evenly as I could manage, “I don’t think you understand. This is--”

    “No, I don’t think you understand,” he interrupted harshly. “Dirty old pots don’t concern us. Go talk to the government bureaucrats if you’re so worried about some obscure rule. Now I have actual people to help with actual problems, so move aside.”

    “Fine. You have a good day too,” I muttered. I walked out.

    The government office buildings were only a couple blocks away, and I got there quickly thanks to how much energy I was expending stomping down the sidewalk. I was in a bad mood as I walked into the nearest building in the complex and looked over the directory, daring it to not give me what I needed.

    The majority of the offices were related to overseeing the mining in the system, especially on Cularin’s moon Tilnes. My best candidate seemed to be the Office of Cularin Affairs, so I wandered through the maze of office buildings until I found the correct door.

    When I entered, I stepped into a small waiting area with a standalone reception desk. A closed door behind the desk led farther into the building. There was a more modestly-sized Imperial flag displayed in a stand in the corner. The desk and a couple of chairs took up most of the space.

    This time a silver 3PO protocol droid was stationed at the front desk, so already things were looking better. I shoved my grumpiness aside and plastered on a pleasant expression.

    The droid looked at me from its seat, and its yellow eyes shined. “Ah, sir, welcome to the Office of Cularin Affairs. Do you have an appointment?”

    “Thank you, no, I don’t. I work for the Obroan Institute for Archaeology. I just need to talk to someone here about a potential issue, please. I’ll make it quick,” I said.

    “Oh, I understand, sir, we certainly don’t want there to be any issues. But I’m afraid without an appointment none of our personnel are available.”

    “Even for five minutes?”

    “I’m afraid not, sir. I’m terribly sorry.”

    I sighed in frustration. “Fine. Can I make an appointment?”

    “Certainly, sir.” The droid turned to a display on a console on its desk. “The next available appointment is in approximately three weeks. Shall I put you down for 1415 hours on the 20th?”

    “What?” My blood pressure started to rise again, and my grumpiness decided it had been away long enough. This was almost like dealing with the higher-ups at the Institute, which was just one of the reasons I lived on a spaceship far away from Obroa-skai and let Zano deal with them. “No, I won’t be here in three weeks. This is fairly urgent-- I think there might be some illegal looting of Tarasin historical sites occurring, and I need to know what the Imperial authorities need from me to investigate it further.”

    “Oh!” The 3PO unit suddenly sounded jubilant instead of placating, and my hopes dared to rise. “Sir, I understand now. If you need an investigation done, the Imperial law enforcement division would be happy to assist you.”

    My hopes stopped rising, and my grumpiness celebrated its homecoming. I took a deep breath and tried hard to control my frustration, though some bite did come through in my words. “I just came from speaking to the law enforcement group. They said they couldn’t help and sent me over here.

    “Oh.” The 3PO now sounded confused and almost downcast. “That’s quite odd. This office does not perform investigations. I wonder why they said that.”

    “Is there another office that’s a better fit for this particular problem that I can talk to?”

    “I don’t believe so, sir. This is the only office that deals with policies and governance on the planetary surface.”

    I ground my teeth. “So I can’t talk to anyone here without an appointment, which is in three weeks?”

    “I’m afraid not, sir. I’m--”

    “Terribly sorry, yeah, I know,” I said. “Can I leave a message for someone to read in case they happen to get thirty seconds free in their day?”

    “I... don’t see why not, sir. I can pass along a message at their earliest convenience.” The droid sounded supremely pleased with itself, as if agreeing to this favor would earn it Employee of the Month. But who knows. Maybe it would.

    “All right.” This was stupid, but it was better than nothing. I scribbled my name, contact information, and a brief summary of the problem on a sheet of flimsi and handed it to the droid. “Please give this to them as soon as possible.”

    “I shall endeavor to do that, sir. Please enjoy the rest of your day.”

    I heaved a sigh. “Yeah. Thanks.” The rest of my day. The day that was supposed to be spent enjoying a special city with my family. Now I didn’t even know if I could have that. I didn’t know what to do.

    So I walked out.

    No one was going to help the Tarasins. I felt horrible. Between the disrespect to their burial sites and the locals’ refusal to even acknowledge it was a problem, no group should be treated that way. It bothered me-- a lot-- and I felt furious on their behalf.

    But I couldn’t do anything to help them either. I was out of ideas and out of options. It turned out that I was just one lone, powerless archaeologist. Fear me.

    I was supposed to comm Kerttu so we could figure out where I would meet her and the kids and learn what activities they had planned for the day, but I was too angry at everything to do that yet. And now, my inability to compartmentalize this away meant I was messing up what should be some enjoyable, exclusive time with my family. I was almost as disgusted with myself as I was with the useless Imperials here.

    Almost.

    The partnered suns Morasil and Termadus had continued their morning climb over Gadrin and Hedrett. The temperature and humidity were rising quickly as morning aged.

    I walked aimlessly through Gadrin for a while, barely conscious of where I was going, trying to sort things out and plan my next move. But there was no next move. I didn’t come up with any ideas to stop the looting operation. It would just keep happening, and there was nothing puny little me could do about it. Hells, I couldn’t even win an argument with a nerf-brain Imperial or a protocol droid. Organized looting operations were way out of my league.

    Somehow it didn’t even really surprise me when I focused back on my surroundings at last and realized I was nearly to the Reidi Artom museum. In the small plaza in front of the building, her twenty-meter-tall statue gleamed in the bright sunslight. Across the street from the statue was the silver arch marking the beginning of the hard-packed dirt road leading north into the jungle toward Cloud Mountain and, more specifically, the settlement of the Hiironi Irstat, the largest irstat of the Tarasins and the group Artom had worked with the most during her time here.

    The museum was open for visitors, and I was pleased to see that it still held a good number of them. At least her influence and popularity here hadn’t changed.

    My feet automatically carried me inside. As soon as I stepped in I deeply inhaled the unique, slightly musty scent that had steadfastly clung to my clothes years ago from all the exposure. More than anything else I’d experienced so far, that particular smell brought fond memories flooding back. The museum stewards had rearranged many of the collections and displays, but this might have been the closest I felt to having a home on the surface of any world.

    And yet... it didn’t feel right. Something wasn’t sitting well with me in here, beyond my larger, more obvious frustrations. It was like I didn’t belong here anymore. Like I was out of place.

    I told myself that wasn’t entirely unexpected given all the changes, both in the city and in the museum. I was getting a slightly turned-around feeling when a museum display I’d used as an interior landmark before had now been moved. Like so much else on this trip, it resulted in an odd sense of being half a pace out of step with the rest of the world. Everything was so close, but just different enough to be jarring.

    But... the more I thought about it and poked at it, the more I had to admit that the exterior changes weren’t really the cause of this particular discomfort. I couldn’t pinpoint it more accurately, though.

    I needed to comm Kerttu. I felt guilty that I hadn’t already. I needed to tell her and the kids that unfortunately my job was disrupting their lives-- again-- and we’d have to reschedule our sightseeing for later in the week after I’d taken care of this problem.

    But I didn’t know how to take care of the problem. I couldn’t do anything. Not by myself. Not without a lot more help and backing from the people who should be helping. And I didn’t want to go to the Tarasins with nothing to offer but my own incompetence and drop this news and this problem on them.

    So I delayed my comm, because that meant I wouldn’t have to rearrange things and officially schedule in my intention to assist, and then be unable to actually do anything beneficial.

    It was all perfectly logical.

    I walked around inside, looking at the personal effects and holovids of Artom that were on display and trying to drown the mess of angry and confused emotions under the wave of comfort and familiarity the items provided.

    As expected here, Reidi Artom’s image graced many of the holoprojections on the walls all around. She was Near-Human, though she lived far longer than typical Humans ever did. Her black hair was usually tied back out of the way and braided, and she was rarely seen without her latest pair of goggles hanging around her neck and a many-pocketed vest worn over her versatile spacer ensemble. The pockets typically bulged with various tools and supplies, many of which I’d adopted for my own field gear. Her goggles were a bit of a quirk: she would find a pair she liked and wear them constantly until they fell apart, and then repeat the process. If someone-- like me-- paid enough attention to the details, they could often determine the year and sometimes even the month a particular image of Artom was recorded based solely on what pair of goggles she had.

    That was actually a very useful shortcut during my research, despite Kerttu teasing me the first time she learned about it.

    I looked over, but the table I’d been at when we met was no longer there, likely just moved elsewhere. It all felt so long ago. So much had happened since I sat down with the copy of Part 3 of Artom’s journal, eagerly immersing myself into her life of adventure and shut off from the world around me... at least until a travel reporter forced my attention back to reality and asked if I worked there and wouldn’t mind answering some questions about the museum.

    I didn’t work there, but I could answer many questions about the museum. Could I ever.

    The museum was dedicated to all the major events Artom was responsible for and had played a part in. It showcased her profound impact on the nearby systems and on scouting and exploration in general. I knew all of her accomplishments and credentials... including one more not captured in any of the journals or records here. Artom would never know how much of an influence she would be on a random, young, flippant Duros two centuries later. She would never know how much of his professional and personal life was unwittingly shaped by her.

    I still admired her, and I knew I always would. Her love of adventure and exploring, her passion for learning, her ability to make it through any challenging situation, her strong sense of ethics, her honest attempts to help the peoples she encountered...

    I stopped in my tracks when I came to a holoprojector showing an image of Artom working closely with a group of Tarasins, probably members of the Hiironi Irstat. That clan had deeply respected her during the twenty-something years she was here. She’d constantly tried to improve things for everyone that entire time.

    She’d done so much alongside the Tarasins. Learning from them. Helping them.

    Helping them.

    And she was only one person. Just like me. One scout who had managed to make a lasting difference across civilizations and star systems and even centuries.

    Staring at that holo, I suddenly knew the reason I felt odd in the museum. It wasn’t that I didn’t belong. Not quite.

    It was because I felt unworthy to be here. Who was I to claim Artom as a role model and then not even find a way to help the people she cared about so much? Who was I to say I owed so much to her and then not even try to repay it?

    I felt myself shrinking inside. But even so, I argued with myself that it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help, because I certainly did, it was that I couldn’t. I didn’t have Artom’s skills and wits. One of her went a lot farther than one of me did, and one of me couldn’t go far enough in this situation.

    Eventually I gave up trying to logic my way out of the conflicting emotions and retreated outside into the thick heat. The statue of Artom stood tall, looking like she was ready to step forward into her next adventure with a frustratingly nondescript pair of goggles hanging around her neck.

    I sat down in my old favorite spot on the base of the statue, facing the way Artom was facing: toward the silver arch and its road to the irstat. I sighed and stared down that empty dirt road for a long time without really seeing it.

    Besides everything else, there was another, much more selfish reason I didn’t want to go down that road quite yet. Zano had made a persuasive case for going to talk to the Tarasins about the amulets, and I had been planning on doing just that... until now. Until now, when the news I would bring them had shifted so drastically. I’d envisioned going there and telling the Irstat-Kes that if the issue with the amulets and the looting was legitimate, then they didn’t have to worry because I’d just talked to the planetary authorities and they had a plan for how to fix it. The prospect of meeting the people at the end of that silver-arched road and instead having to tell them that if the issue was legitimate, that no one in a position of power on Cularin cared... that would just be adding insult to grievous injury. I flat-out didn’t want to go.

    I didn’t want to go and worsen the Tarasins’ relationship with the offworlder population here, and I didn’t want to disappoint my family by pushing them aside during what was supposed to be family time. And I felt like a selfish bucket of Hutt drool for not wanting to go, because I knew that every hour that passed was another hour the looters had an unfettered opportunity to steal again, and I couldn’t stand that thought either.

    A limmie ball smacked into my shoulder. I flailed a bit, badly startled out of my woes and trying to belatedly defend myself against whatever was happening.

    Leppa giggled nearby. “Sorry, Isi! Didn’t mean to hit you!” She ran up, reclaimed her ball, and then craned her head back to look way up at the twenty-meter-tall statue. “Is this the hero person you like?”

    I resettled myself after the unprovoked projectile attack. “Yes, it is. This is Reidi Artom.”

    Leppa cocked her head, considering the figure towering above her. “Huh. Okay.” Just like that she spun, dropped her ball, and jogged away through the open area of the plaza, guiding the ball solely with her feet as limmie players do. Erkki ran after her, all laughter and energy, and they passed the ball back and forth to each other with small, unpracticed kicks and missing more often than not.

    Kerttu sat beside me. “I had a hunch you might be here,” she said.

    I winced. “I’m sorry. I know I was supposed to comm you.”

    Kerttu waved it off. “When we didn’t hear anything for a bit I figured it was either going really well or really badly. I didn’t want to comm you in case it was the former and it would interrupt. So in the meantime I thought we’d come here in case it was the latter.” She leaned sideways a bit to bump against me, like it would help dislodge my words. “And judging by your expression, I’m guessing that’s what it was. What happened?”

    I told her about my inglorious escapades in the government district. When I finished, she was silent for a minute and then pulled out the small datapad we’d been using as a city guide and began entering commands. “Speeder bikes were the easiest way to get to the Hiironi’s area before. I’m guessing that hasn’t changed. I’ll find the closest rental location if you want to comm Fefze and have her come meet us here. This will all be a lot easier with her translating for us, and between her repulsors and all her sensors, it should be a simple matter for her to find us. Just make sure she secures the ship when she leaves.”

    “What? Kerttu, no, wait,” I said, shaking my head. “As much as I want to help them, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t stop some nebulous looting operation. Besides, this is supposed to be our vacation and family time. This problem has already consumed more of my time than is fair to you. I’ll deal with it all later, on one of my work days afterward.”

    “And give the thieves more time to plunder another burial site for things to sell?” Kerttu challenged, voicing my own conflict. She looked at me plainly. “Listen. You’re the one person who can bring this to their attention and really help them determine the authenticity of the amulets you saw. Sketches aren’t the same, and I don’t speak Ancient Tool Marks. Until you talk to them, they might not even know it’s happening, and then nothing can stop it. Is that what you want to do? Ensure that those irreplaceable treasures keep getting stolen from them and lost forever?”

    “Of course not,” I muttered.

    “I didn’t think so. And as for that other excuse, let me poke some holes in that too.”

    I cringed a bit at Kerttu’s words. She had always been very good at that. I figured she secretly tried to see how sieve-like she could make any excuse she heard. She got lots of practice with the kids and was at the top of her game to deal with me.

    She continued, “Yes, this is our vacation time. Yes, we had some fun things planned. If you were running off to go start a dig to look for random pottery sherds or something for fun instead of spending time with us here in Gadrin, then yes, I would be peeved and you’d be sleeping in Azimuth’s cockpit for a week or two. But this isn’t that and you know it. This is something important happening to beings we care about on a planet we care about. I think we can reschedule our sightseeing for a later day. Besides, what kind of example would we be setting for Leppa and Erkki if we ignored the problem and the damage it could do in favor of our recreational time?” She went back to scrolling through the datapad. “The only thing that’s really changing for us is instead of sightseeing in Gadrin, we’re seeing the sights in the Hiironi settlement. It’s still a family outing. The kids will enjoy it. And I’d much rather have Tarasin cooking than go to The Chasm.”

    I hesitated, still not convinced I would be making the slightest bit of difference and worried I possibly would be making things worse. I couldn’t say that if I didn’t want more puncture wounds, though, so instead I deflected. “Are you sure?”

    “Just because you can’t do a lot, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. Comm your droid, you lerikott,” she answered, not bothering to stop work on her datapad.

    I exhaled, feeling some nerves about now having to imminently face the Hiironi Irstat with dismal news. But Kerttu’s unhesitating intention to come with and help made me feel less alone and not as powerless against the galaxy. One of me couldn’t go nearly as far as one of Artom, but one of Kerttu and one of me could close that gap more. I leaned gently against her. “Thank you,” I said softly.

    She paused long enough to offer me a tender smile. “We’ll figure this out,” she promised, and turned back to her datapad. “Now why aren’t you comming your droid? You’d better not be planning on being the translator. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about that unfortunate mixup with the food that one time.”

    I flushed bluer, which ironically is a valuable component of the Tarasin language. “How come you always have dirt on me, and I can never get any on you?” I muttered.

    “Because you’re the archaeologist, and you like having dirt on you,” Kerttu replied, deadpan.

    I huffed. “Not all of us go on digs. I bet some at the Institute have never even held a pickaxe before.”

    “Not all,” she agreed. “But you do.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before returning to her research. “Now comm your droid.”

    “...Yes, ma’am.”

    *****
    (cont'd)
     
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  14. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Officials sending you from here to there. Always the same.
    Nice advise from Kerttu. Have a family time and com the droid.
     
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Kerttu is the REAL treasure. [face_love] Her encouragement and clarity are just what's needed. They make a wonderful team.
     
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  16. Happy Sando

    Happy Sando Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 23, 2023
    Back in the second instalment, I gotta say, Zano is exactly the kind of colleague you wanna be working with in a crisis! Methodical, supportive, and reassuring, all at once. Really appreciated how Niilo took his observations and questions, making a point to note that Zano's tone was understanding when the words themselves could've been interpreted otherwise. That was some great groundwork!

    And then in your latest, Niilo describing the newer Imperial prefabs as "adolescents" was a lovely flourish, and one of several warm, witty insights ("Huh?" I asked, because I'm educated and eloquent like that.) that only increased my respect for him as he faced the Empire's institutional racism with dignity. You did a great job of making that exchange feel visceral without getting cartoonish, whereas the subsequent appointment malarkey with the protocol droid made me chuckle (albeit grimly, from first-hand experience). Bless that droid; at least it wanted to help!

    Niilo's predicament is most definitely heartbreaking, though. His hopeless musings and aimless wanderings after those setbacks were tough to read (in a good way) and I really felt for him. I'm glad he had Reidi Artom as a role model, and her museum as an anchor, even if he ended up interpreting his formative connection to her as a negative about his own shortcomings (which I'd tell him is total rubbish, although I do totally understand how one's mind can go there in such moments). And as others have noted, I'm even more glad he has Kerttu by his side! She's awesome!!
     
  17. PlanetSmasher

    PlanetSmasher Jedi Master star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Darned Imperial buracracy! It's so... efficient...

    I was sure that he was going to ask the administrators at the museum to which government agency would they report such occurances...

    Looking forward to the next chapter!
     
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  18. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    Yeah, government inefficiencies are probably a common thing regardless of what galaxy you live in. :) Their family time is going to look a little different now, but like many trips that don't go as planned, it might make for a good story. Thanks for reading and commenting!


    I agree, Kerttu's mindset is a little more clear in this situation than Niilo's is, which is definitely something he needs right now. Thank you, I'm glad they come across as a good team together. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!


    I agree, I think Zano likes to follow the information and find every scrap of it that he can to form his next step. In this case it helps give some structure and specific steps for Niilo to follow, which he probably appreciates having at this point.

    Thank you! (And thanks, I liked the "Huh?" line. :p ) I'm glad to hear the scene with talking to the Imperial came across okay ("okay" as in writing structure-wise. Not trying to say racism's okay), since that was a hard one for me to find a balance with. That Imperial mindset is definitely becoming more widespread at this point, but it's not something Niilo has to personally deal with on a day-to-day basis either thanks to things like living on a spaceship. The 3PO was much more enjoyable to write because, yes, it was trying to help, and because I think red tape is a universal constant. :p It's one of those things where the situation could become totally outlandish and I think many people would still accept it as realistic, LOL.

    Thanks, for all his bluster he does have a bit of an insecure streak that pops up sometimes with personal issues. It's not fun to think that (general) you would be a disappointment to your hero. But Kerttu's help is usually a good antidote for this sort of thing for him, and Niilo would agree that Kerttu is awesome. :) Not that he's biased or anything. :p Thanks for reading and commenting!


    Thanks! It's very possible a museum administrator would know or have some suggestions of where to report it. I suspect Niilo just thinks he's at a dead-end, government-wise, and probably isn't thinking of others who could help. And yeah, bureaucracy... heh. ;) Thanks for reading and commenting!

    ------------

    The next update will be posted shortly.
     
  19. Thumper09

    Thumper09 Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 9, 2001
    (Marathon Swimming, continued)

    *****

    The road had started out going vaguely toward Cloud Mountain in the near distance, but we soon lost sight of it when we entered the jungle and the canopy thickened overhead. The jungle vegetation was always aggressively trying to reclaim its territory, but even so, the road was more overgrown than I’d expected it to be. There were times we had to slow nearly to walking speed to guide the two speeder bikes through the vines and fronds.

    Before too long we began seeing increasing signs of humanoid life in the way the plants were cultivated and carefully cleared in areas to provide more room. We slowed to a more considerate speed despite Erkki’s repeated requests to keep going faster.

    We disappointed him further when we spotted the first group of wooden buildings nestled within the jungle and stopped the speeder bikes completely. Kerttu and I got off, but Erkki and Leppa remained riding on the bikes as we walked them beside us. Fefze released her clamped hold on my bike as well and engaged her small repulsor to float alongside us. Her numerous scientific instruments on her four appendages immediately whirred to life. That science droid loved recording data, and I loved her for it.

    “Why are we walking?” Erkki complained.

    “What’s this ‘we’ you’re referring to?” I asked.

    Kerttu gave a more appropriate answer. “There aren’t a lot of vehicles where the Hiironi Irstat lives, which means many Tarasins will be on foot. It’s not polite to burst into their settlement going much faster when they’re not expecting it or set up for it and causing problems.”

    “Do you think Miransa or Neryal are still here?” I asked Kerttu. “I wonder if they’d remember us.”

    “You’re a very hard one to forget, Niilo,” Kerttu replied.

    I decided to take that as a compliment but otherwise ignored it. “They might be a good starting point here,” I said. “I don’t want to just walk into the center of town and ask random Tarasins who to talk to or where to go.”

    “Who are they?” Leppa asked.

    “When Aiti and I were here before, Miransa and Neryal were two Tarasins that we met. Neryal helped me fill in some gaps in my research from the Tarasins’ history with Artom, and after I met Aiti, Neryal introduced us to Miransa. She talked with Aiti a lot about the Hiironi for Aiti’s write-up for work. We all got to be casual friends for the short time we were here.”

    Leppa nodded. “Do the Tarasins play limmie?” she asked. She looked longingly at the speeder bike’s storage compartment where her ball resided.

    “I’m not really sure,” I said. “We’ll need to ask when we get there.”

    Fefze piped up. “My scanner indicates someone is approaching from up ahead.”

    “Thanks, Fefze,” I said. This was the first other being we’d encountered on the road, and we moved to the side while we continued walking.

    A Tarasin walked into view from where the road twisted among some small pockets of jungle fronds and underbrush. The reptilian humanoid was a little taller than me, and his translucent scales showed the skin underneath was currently a calm brown. His kampo, the scaly fan around his neck, was also folded close to his body at the moment, and his short tail was relaxed. Those were all good signs, not that I expected the Tarasins to react badly to us without cause. His clothing, shoulder belts festooned with pouches, and holstered blaster pistol suggested he was a member of the clan who typically gathered food and resources.

    He didn’t seem surprised at all to see four Duros and a floating droid on the road coming to his home. In fact, he shifted his path just enough to tell that he was coming directly toward us. We stopped a respectful distance from each other.

    Au’tilon,” I greeted, one of the few Tarasinese words I was certain of and which didn’t require me to change any colors.

    An amused swirl of yellow rippled across his brown skin. “Au’tilon,” he returned. He then said a longer string of words I couldn’t follow while colors appeared and shifted amid the brown. Kerttu and I both looked to Fefze. I thanked the Force for that 3PO language programming installed in my trusty science droid. It had saved me more than once on remote corners of remote worlds.

    “He says he figured someone would be coming down this road today,” the droid translated.

    Oh. Right. I’d forgotten how eerily prescient some of the Tarasins could be.

    Another swirl of yellow appeared, and he spoke again. He beckoned us to follow him down the road but waited while Fefze translated.

    “He says he knows several Tarasins at the settlement who can speak Basic, and he’ll find one of them for us.”

    That would be much easier than having Fefze translate. “Please thank him and tell him we appreciate his help,” I said. Fefze did so. Most of it was verbal, but she also used a small light on one appendage that she could make change colors for the visual aspects of the language.

    He nodded and motioned to us again. We followed.

    *****

    The Hiironi Irstat was the largest of the Tarasin clans on Cularin. While most irstats had several dozen members, Hiironi had a few hundred. Their town was appropriately bigger, but like the smaller irstats their living space and buildings were a complement to the jungle around them instead of dominating it. The wooden buildings mingled with the trees and foliage, and smaller storage buildings were built off the ground, amid the branches of sturdy trees. There were no ch’hala trees here: those mostly grew in isolated, sacred groves. I’d never seen a whole ch’hala tree in person before, only some of the small pieces the Tarasins used.

    When we got deeper into town and into busier areas, it was evident our speeder bikes would not stand out at all. While many Tarasins were indeed on foot, some were using small repulsor sleds to move items, and several droids tottered along, performing their own tasks. The equipment in use throughout the town was a blend of the Tarasins’ natural tools and systems and offworlder technology. Several Tarasins, also wearing gatherer garb, carried blasters.

    Despite the bustle, there was a calm, comfortable air about the place. Several Tarasins looked at us curiously as we passed with our guide. A couple flashed some colors on their skin, and our guide responded in kind.

    The difficult thing about the Hiironi Irstat was its size. With any of the smaller irstats, I could have easily asked around to find Neryal or Miransa. With this one, though, there were enough members that they wouldn’t all know each other.

    Our guide led us to a building where several Tarasins were outside in the shade repairing what looked like a modified Gonk droid. He spoke quickly in Tarasinese, and one of the other Tarasins nodded her head. She stood, took a moment to tell the others something about the repair, wiped the grease off of her hands onto her tunic-- which was a common habit, judging by the tunic’s appearance-- and walked up to us. She looked like either an older adolescent or a younger adult, and her brown skin swirled with blue.

    “Hello,” she said in accented Basic, offering her hand a bit awkwardly. “Welcome to our village. My name is Valyra. Meryka says you’ve just come down the road and could use the help of one who speaks Basic.”

    “Yes, thank you,” I replied, shaking her hand. “My name is Niilo, and this is Kerttu, Erkki, and Leppa. Our droid is Fefze. Fefze can speak Tarasinese, but if you’re willing to help, that would be much easier.”

    “Certainly,” Valyra said. “My Basic is a little... rough, so please say if you’re not understanding. Less offworlders come here now, so I do not speak as much as I did.”

    I nodded, then turned briefly to our guide, presumably Meryka. “We’nalu,” I said, thanking him. I hoped so, anyway. I was pretty sure. Blast, I was rusty.

    Meryka dipped his head, replied with, “Honatu,” and gave us all a small wave as he departed.

    Valyra looked at us with bright eyes. “How can I help? Why brought you here today?”

    I considered my words. “We saw something in Gadrin that we’re worried may affect your people, and we wanted to talk to someone in the irstat about it and learn if it is really a problem. Do you know where we could go to do that, or who we could talk to?”

    Valyra thought for several moments, with green and a tiny bit of red overtaking her blue before everything settled to a green-tinted brown. “I think so,” she said at last. “There are several Hiironi helping the Irstat-Kes with smaller things, and they are knowing about Gadrin and help with offworlder relationtives. We can ask one of them. They’re this way.” Valyra nodded in one direction and started walking that way. We followed.

    While we walked, I took a shot in the dark. “We visited here many years ago and met a couple of scholars, Neryal and Miransa. Do you happen to know if they still live here? We would like to say hello if they do.”

    Valyra shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t know many of the scholars. But my friend knows some. I can ask her.”

    I smiled. “Thank you. If it’s no trouble.”

    Valyra beamed at me, and some yellow appeared in her skin. “Not trouble. I need to talk to her anyway and tell her we have visitors. She likes meeting visitors.”

    Kerttu chuckled. “Then we will like meeting her as well.”

    “Do you play limmie?” Leppa asked.

    Valyra tilted her head a little, thinking. “I don’t know that word,” she admitted. “But many of us enjoy games. If we do not play it, maybe you can show us.”

    Leppa looked excited, and she settled herself on the speeder bike’s seat. I could see the wheels turning in her mind. She was probably already choosing teams and concocting drills.

    I wondered if the Tarasins knew what they were in for.

    *****

    Valyra took us to a small building that was near the areas where some of the scholars studied, if I remembered correctly. Parts of the town looked familiar, but with the trees and plants all around constantly growing and changing, many parts were decidedly different.

    We parked the speeder bikes, and she introduced us to the Tarasin inside, Sillon, who thankfully also spoke Basic. When I gave a summary of the problem and Sillon instantly took me seriously, Kerttu took the kids and left with Valyra to explore the town. Fefze and I settled in for a long, serious conversation that I was both eager for and dreading.

    Sillon was thorough. She pored over my sketch of the amulets and asked me question after question about the amulet’s weight, its texture, the shade of grey of the ceramic portion, what the ch’hala wood felt like, and even how quickly the wood’s coloration returned to its dark hue after it changed. I answered as well as I could. Several times she paused and went to a small shelving unit that had a few bound tomes and boxes of datacards. Once she brought a tome to the table where we were working and leafed through the pages until she found hand-drawn sketches of various types of amulets. Some I hadn’t known about before. The other times she returned with datacards that contained historical information.

    The more we looked and the more we researched, the more certain we both became that my hunch was right and these were old burial amulets. I noticed more and more flares of red infecting Sillon’s green skin, and I grew more and more uneasy. I didn’t know all the meanings of the Tarasins’ shifting skin colors, just that they reflected their moods when not being used for communication, and one thing anyone who ever studied the Tarasin Revolt quickly learned was that red was rare but dangerous.

    It was a solid hour, if not more, before Sillon closed the tome with great deliberation after one final triple-check of several details. “Well,” she said calmly, though more red rippled into existence, “as far as I can determine, the amulets you saw were real and should not have been removed from their burial sites. Their resemblance to later amulet designs of the Hiironi and some of the clans that formed the Hiironi makes me believe they may have come from this general area, and not from one of the other irstats. This would make sense, as our location is more well-known and is the closest to Gadrin and Hedrett. Locating other irstat sites would be difficult, assuming this was done by a non-Tarasin.”

    “Assuming?” I echoed. “I figured it had to be a non-Tarasin.”

    “As much as I hope my people would not do this, I cannot guarantee that as a fact.” Another swirl of red. I subconsciously leaned farther away in my chair.

    “I need to speak to the Irstat-Kes,” Sillon continued. “We’ll need to determine what will be done about this.”

    “Um... about that...” I hesitantly began. “I feel I should tell you something.”

    Sillon looked at me and waited, and my continuing delay caused a splash of green in her skin. “Yes?” she finally demanded, impatient.

    I cringed a bit. “Well, before I came here, I went to talk to the Imperials about my suspicions. I thought they could investigate things and stop the looters at a higher level.” A small whorl in the woodgrain surface of the table was suddenly the only thing I could look at. “Maybe the Irstat-Kes has better relations with them. Maybe she has more influence. But... when I tried to ask them for help, I got nowhere.” I chanced a look up, dreading Sillon’s reaction.

    Red swirled chaotically amid a storm of greens and oranges, and I could see her folded kampo quivering, as if she was fighting to keep it from opening. All she said at last was, “I understand.” She abruptly stood and began reshelving her research materials.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I really hoped to have better news on that front. I hate it that no one there seems to care.”

    “No, that’s not true,” she said, now gathering a few different datapads from what I guessed was her workspace.

    I blinked in confusion. “It’s not?”

    Sillon shook her head. “No. You do.”

    *****

    I gave Sillon my contact frequency, and she left to speak to the Irstat-Kes, the leader of the Hiironi Irstat. I commed Kerttu, who casually gave me directions to where she and the kids were.

    When Fefze and I got close, I heard Leppa’s and Erkki’s excited shouts along with some other laughter I was unfamiliar with. It didn’t surprise me when I reached line of sight and saw Leppa and Erkki kicking the limmie ball around with Valyra, another couple young adult Tarasins, and a few Tarasin children in a relatively clear area. Kerttu was off to the side, chatting with a large Tarasin that-- what?

    Kerttu spotted me and waved. The Tarasin turned, and my suspicions were confirmed. I smiled as I stepped up to them.

    “Neryal!” I said, reaching out my hand. “I’d know that big bulk of yours anywhere.”

    Neryal’s colors swirled in yellows and blues while he grasped my hand. He was taller and broader than most Tarasins but had always preferred his academic pursuits over physical activities. “Niilo, it’s good to see you,” he said in somewhat halting Basic. It seemed like he’d learned a lot more since I’d seen him last. “I was talking to Kerttu about the recent years. Are you still researching Artom? How is your obsession?”

    Kerttu laughed, and I flushed. “You’re using that Basic word wrong,” I said.

    “No, you’re not,” Kerttu told him playfully. “You’re using that Basic word in exactly the right way.”

    “Is Miransa still here?” I asked, blatantly changing the subject.

    Neryal shook his head. “She went to live with another irstat.”

    “I’m sorry we couldn’t meet her again, then. How are you?”

    “Good. Good.” Neryal motioned to the limmie game, and some purple tinged his skin. “Those are my two children and some of their friends.”

    “You’re a father now, huh? You’ve got a very nice family,” I said.

    Neryal nodded. “Yes. You too.” He smiled at us. “Some... what’s word... vunart...”

    “‘Rumors,’” Fefze helpfully supplied.

    “Ah, thank you. Some... room ers a little time before said some visitors were here with blue skin and big red eyes. I wondered if it was you, so I looked and found Kerttu.”

    “It sounds like you don’t get many visitors from Gadrin anymore,” Kerttu said.

    “No, we don’t. Some locals still come, but since Imperials came, there are fewer visitors.” He crossed his burly arms.

    I cocked my head. “Neryal, what happened to your arm?” Some of the short spines, called sa’tosin, on one forearm were shortened or missing where a scar ran across his scales.

    He looked down at his arm, almost in surprise, but then chuckled. “Oh. Happened years ago, after you were here. It’s from a kilassin.”

    I gaped at him. “Why were you dealing with a kilassin?” The large, native lizards were dangerous but usually skittish.

    He shrugged. “A lot has happened in this area in past years. Many have done things they do not usually do if something needs to be done.”

    It didn’t look like he intended to elaborate, so I reluctantly let it go.

    We chatted for a while as the suns began their downward trek in the sky. A little later, Sillon commed me to say that the Irstat-Kes was sending a group out first thing in the morning to scout the area for the looters’ camp or any disturbed burial sites, and she asked if Fefze and I could come to help. I agreed; Fefze’s multitude of sensors would be extremely useful. Neryal also volunteered to come. I was glad for that.

    Kerttu and I decided it would be best to stay there for the night instead of trying to navigate back to Gadrin in the growing darkness, which was always darker under the jungle canopy. Neryal pointed us to a lodge where visitors from other irstats stayed, and Kerttu got some of the Tarasin cooking she’d been looking forward to for dinner.

    When night came, we returned to our cozy little lodge room. We were each in a hammock that was more comfortable than I’d expected. Erkki had been upset at first that he didn’t have TiRi, but despite that, the kids were soon sleeping like rocks and Kerttu had also dozed off.

    I laid awake for a while, staring at the ceiling and listening to the multitude of insects and animals creating a buzz in the surrounding jungle. I’d spent many nights in jungles on various planets and moons, and I wasn’t uncomfortable, especially with solid wooden walls surrounding me instead of just a fabric tent or shelter. Each jungle had its own sound, its own unique feel.

    Artom had heard these same sounds on many nights amongst the Hiironi. I wondered how many jungles she’d visited in her life. I wondered how each one felt to her. I figured this jungle had probably felt like home.

    I wondered what we would find the next day. I wondered if it would be better to find something, or worse.

    And if we did find something, I wondered if I could help.

    If I would be enough.

    *****
    (cont'd)
     
  20. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    Nice to see him making progress and meeting friends who will help.
    Interesting species, the Tarasin
     
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  21. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I like Valyra, Sillon, and Neryal. Fascinating how coloration pattern shifts have meanings. :cool:

    I'm glad there seems to be progress made.

    =D=
     
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  22. Happy Sando

    Happy Sando Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Jun 23, 2023
    Same as everybody else, I'm fascinated by the Tarasins! :) And now it's even more tragic that their culture and heritage is being exploited, 'cause they seem like such a lovely people (at least, this particular bunch, at any rate). It was great to see Niilo's diplomatic skills being put through their paces; he did incredibly well, although I'll admit, I was still relieved when he finally found a familiar face in Neryal. Similar to when Zano took his call, you're good at engendering that a problem shared is a problem halved. Likewise, it was very touching when the somewhat brash and serious Sillon smartly punctured his pessimism, by correcting his "nobody cares" statement. =D= I'm glad he's got a growing support network surrounding him. Seems like he's gonna need it.