Title: Following the Thread Author: Anedon Timeframe: About 43 ABY Characters: Ulrika Grau, Ilona Malek and other OCs Genre: Friendship, Adventure Summary: In search for her captured Squadmates Ulrika follows a trail of hints gathered by her friends. Meeting new foes and allies along the way. This story is the next part in my growing Ilona/Ulrika verse. Which includes the Main stories: -Shadow over Curean -Path of Lies -The Value of Freedom -Into the Fire As well the additions: -Anarchists and Aristocrats -Summer Camp Shenanigans -Old Friends -Can Love be a Sin -To Dathomir, with a Friend Which also feature some of these characters. Thanks to @Adalia-Durron and my friend Kenny for their help and support. One Its, amazing... Xenia thought sardonically as she sluggishly moved her fork through the meal in front of her. The food itself was totally fine, could be considered good even compared to what she was expecting she would usually be served in the military. And yet, she couldn't help but have no appetite. Feel none of the relaxation the rest of the squad seemed to display. The rest of her squad she should think, but it didn't felt to her like she was a part of them. It wasn't what she had expected, in fact in many ways it was the opposite of what she had expected. There were no slurs, no comments about her green skin, and while a few members of the squad occasionally threw a vary glance at her, that was already the most antagonistic thing they had done. Instead, everyone had been almost surreally nice to her, a far cry from what she had experienced in the hospital on occasion. Even her Squad leader, Colonel Ulrika Grau had apparently felt need to emphasize that she 'didn't see an issue with Xenia not being a human'. That had been the third time someone had said that to her today and so she had lost her temper for a moment and said, 'if it's not an issue, then why did you bring it up in the first place?' She shouldn't have done that, Xenia knew. Talking back to a superior officer wasn't something a soldier did, and she felt ashamed for it. The colonels face had turned red at the question and she had muttered a few pleasantries and apologies. But in truth Xenia already knew the reason everyone was acting like this. For a moment she looked around the tavern, this world, Curean was a rather small colony that had only fallen into the Eriaduan sphere of influence about nineteen months ago. But even with many of the customers tonight being ORSF soldiers, she was still the only non human here. And that certainly drew in glances and stares. Of course ignoring them was a thing that Xenia had learned from her childhood onwards and yet... She was one of the first nonhumans to have joined the ranks of the ORSF, this famed military unit of her homeworld. For most of its existence it had only been accepting human recruits and only a few weeks ago, as the Eriaduans had begun their preparation for a war with the Iron Alliance, things had changed. Even with the new laws non humans where still relegated to non combat roles, but it was a start if nothing else. And that's why everyone is treating me like an egg that can't be allowed to break, rather than a person. It was clear that Colonel Grau was amongst those on their homeworld who wanted this change, in fact she had spoken up in favor of it before Xenia had read on the holonet. She suspected Ulrika had given her squad clear orders to be nice to her, to make her feel welcome so she could become a shining example for others to follow. In a way Xenia appreciated the effort, but she would have preferred being seen as a person, not the key to political change on their homeworld. She took another fork full of the meatloaf in front of her. It had begun to get a bit cool but she didn't mind. Tonight she might have eaten pressed rations as much as she was able to enjoy the food. She glanced at the other officers at her table. Kinga was gesturing with her new mechanical arm, while Lieutenant Elena Kyr laughed at the story her friend was telling. Both had been nothing but nice to Xenia all day, but she couldn´t help but noticed that both where worried of saying the wrong thing. Elena made fun of Kinga's new arm half the evening, and Kinga herself was the one who laughed the loudest about it. Yet they seem to think that I'm unable to swallow anything, that the slightest offence has me suffer a breakdown. She felt like an outsider to them, the people of her squad, the people she would head into battle with soon. Its only your first eve with them, she tried to calm herself, give it time, this is a new situation for them as well. She had dreamed of this her entire life, a silly dream perhaps but still. She had desired to follow her step father's footsteps, and in her daydreams more than once imagined becoming the first non human in the ORSF. But now that she was here, it wasn't what she had expected. She finished her meal, while half listening to Kinga and Elena's conversation and with the other half glancing across the room to the table where the Colonel sat with a few others. She recognized Ilona Malek, a former ORSF colonel and now an ambassador of Eriadu. The two women next to her Xenia didn't know, both wore civilian clothing and at least the one with the auburn hair seemed to be a local as she lacked the paleness of many Eriaduan humans. The way she and the other woman interacted, though gave away that both where clearly very close and Xenia was sure to have noticed similar wedding bands on their fingers. The last guest at the table was the one who spoke the least, but also the one Xenia knew the most about. Tobin Redan, no, now Malek, the living legend then man whose face even now appeared on at least half of the recruitment posters on their homeworld. Xenia wondered if he knew who she was, if he remembered her. But she didn't want to impolitely step at their table to talk to him. Instead, once she had finished her meal she stood up, excused herself to her fellow officers and headed outside. The night was clear and cold, the air fresh and without the toxins she was used to from her homeworld. Finding a bench she sat down on it, leaning back she closed her eyes and relaxed herself, following the same ritual she had used countless times in the hospital. Clearing her mind and dropping the negative thoughts as good as she could. Instead the young Falleen thought of the sea, the oceans of Eriadu where blighted, just as the rest of the planet, but even the massive damage the environment of her homeworld had taken hadn't been able to fully destroy the beauty of the waves. The sound of someone lighting a match next to her tore her from her meditation after a while. As she looked up she saw him next to her. Tobin Malek, igniting a pipe next to her. It reminded Xenia of her step father, but that didn't surprise her, considering... "You may not remember it," Tobin said after taking the first breath from his pipe. "But we've actually met before." "I do," she said, giving him a smile. "I was a small child when you've visited us." "A small child playing with her star fighter toys," Tobin added. "While her dad was visited by an old war comrade of his." "Step dad, but yeah," Xenia replied. Her real father had died in a work accident not too long after her birth. And eventually her mother had remarried, a human, an ORSF veteran even. "I remembered your eye," she added with a twinkle, glancing at the prosthetic. "Private Crean," Tobin continued. "One of the best soldiers I ever served with." Xenia's gave him a thankful nod, her stepfather rarely spoke about his military service, had locked his various medals in a wooden box inside their living rooms cupboard and never looked at them. "I feel he is the primary reason I'm even here now," she said a bit bitterly, before biting her lip, she shouldn't make accusations of nepotism, least against herself. "For sure," Tobin said and Xenia stared at him. She had expected he would deny everything, try to flatter her by talking about her skills. That he, like the others would lie as to not hurt her feelings. Then Tobin continued, "I won't deny that being his stepdaughter certainly helped your application. This is a big step for the ORSF, so they want people they can trust, and being the step child of a veteran certainly makes you stand out. Though I'm sure your skills weren't completely unimportant either." Xenia chewed at this for a moment, she appreciated his honesty and thus decided to reply in kind, "I see that. Still wish it wasn't the case. All of this, I wish I could just be a soldier like the others, like dad was. But no, everyone treats me like I'm this super special person that they cant dare offend. Well everyone except you that is." Tobin gave her a little chuckle, "I know what you mean, for I once experienced a similar thing." She looked up to him, "you? How's that?" The human glanced in the distance for a moment, then he said, "when I joined the ORSF I was the center of everyone's attention. I'm a Redan and as you know my family has a long history in the military, but it was more than that. Since the fall of the Tarkins my family might be the most powerful on Eriadu, I was the son, and later brother of the most powerful person on your homeworld. And just as with you, nepotism alone gave me my first command. Every soldier was afraid of getting into trouble with me, because offending me, meant offending my family..." he sadly shook his head for a moment. "Did it get better in time?" Xenia asked. "No, in a way it even got worse. Whole thing went to my head and made me overconfident. So when I eventually came across a suspicious distress signal I ignored all doubts and no one in the crew dared to oppose my decision to move to their aid." "Denon," Xenia muttered, she had heard this story before. The distress signal had been a trap, the unit had been slaughtered. Her father had dragged a heavily wounded Tobin out of the fire. "Dad saved you life there." "He did," Tobin said, his voice almost a whisper. "But what the official stories don't tell is how everything was my fault. I was unsuited for command." "Was that why you've decided to remain on Coruscant?" Xenia asked. Moved that he told her about this but unsure how it could help her with her situation. Tobin took another breath from his pipe before he nodded, "after Denon, I was an outcast, no longer the golden boy, but a failure. Suffered quite a few insults behind my back, but in a way people finally treated me as a person." "So I need to screw something up to get people treating me normally?" Xenia raised an eyebrow. Tobin said nothing for a moment, "no. But you need to make a connection with your squad one way or another if you want to prevent a disaster. Talk to them, maybe do something they don´t expect. Maybe even get into a fight with someone, as long as it doesn´t escalate. Show them you are just as flawed as they are. Don´t just wait for time to do that, it might make things worse." "And where to start?" she asked. Tobin shrugged, "depends, look where an opportunity presents itself." He made a pause, "Ulrika is a good woman. She just has a tendency to screw things up now and then. I think that's the reason she is so careful with you currently." "She seems rather unnatural currently," Xenia agreed. "Well you still have both your eyes, that tells me she is truly acting against her nature," Tobin said with a grin. Xenia's gaze was driven back to his implant, "she did that? I always assumed that happened on Denon." Tobin shook his head, "many do, but no. Our dear Colonel did it. Maybe ask her about it when you get the time. Could break the ice." The Falleen gave him a smile, then she said. "Can you tell me a bit more about your time with my dad? He rarely talked about his military service to me. I know he was with you on Coruscant." Tobin nodded, "he was. When I made my decision to stay on the world, and give my space in the ship to a refugee I didn't expect my squad to stay with me. But by then I had won their respect, and so they remained as well. I think it was above all the bond between us that allowed us to survive these two years in the darkness..."