Authors: John Jackson Miller
“You, there! Leave her alone!”
Dewell Bronk’s entreaty was barely more than a whisper, and it was no surprise that the toughs didn’t hear him. He looked urgently across the aisle of the transport at the delinquents, a pair of young, horn-headed Devaronians. They’d been hassling the poor old Twi’lek woman since she’d boarded. When they had first yanked at her satchel, she had resisted briefly, but now she looked on meekly as the youths pawed through her belongings.
Dewell wanted to tell them to stop. Louder, this time. He could: he had an authoritative voice, one he was famous for. But that was in a different world, one where his small stature meant very little. No one was going to listen to a meter-tall, pudgy Kedorzhan in the lower hold of a passenger transport.
He looked around in desperation. The
had no security personnel on this level, just the frightening-looking first officer that Dewell never wanted to talk to again. He missed his bodyguards, who could have sorted this out in an instant. But he hadn’t seen them since he hurriedly left his apartment on Coruscant. He expected he would never see them — or the apartment — again.
No, for the first time in ages, Dewell Bronk was alone and without help. And worst of all, he was unable to help — a new experience for the three-time recipient of the Coruscant Benevolent Society’s Good Neighbor of the Year award.
Life had changed. And he already hated it.
One of the Devaronians looked directly at him: an angry stare. Feeling his public-spiritness flee with his courage, Dewell instantly looked away. His whiskered jowls sagged, and he sank low in his seat. He was being foolish. How could he be anyone’s rescuer now, when he was trying to avoid attention?
Worried, he felt again for the weight by his feet. Everything he owned was in a sack, tied with a small rope that he had looped around his ankle. Since leaving on the first leg of his odyssey, he had kept the bag mashed between his heels; he didn’t want to wake from sleep to find it stolen. Not that there was anything much to take. The credits he’d planned to use in his escape were already gone; spent, to pay for his seat on this transport and the next one, and for the single meal a day that was supposed to come with the fares.
It was a sad predicament for someone who had lived his life close to the bright spots of the galaxy, traveling at will and, occasionally, in style. That moment had passed — and might never return again. Now Dewell, someone who had fought for justice his whole career, was reduced to doing nothing as thieves harassed an elderly fellow being. He could hear it: they were pulling rudely at her head-tendrils now. Dewell’s heart ached. There was nothing he could do.
“You don’t want to disturb that woman,” a nearby voice said. Its tones were warm and confident. A human voice, Dewell thought, but he didn’t dare to look up. Some poor hero was about to be thrashed.
“We don’t want to disturb this woman,” a gruff Devaronian voice responded.
Puzzled, Dewell leaned over and peeked across the aisle. The two hoodlums had dropped the Twi’lek’s pouch and were walking to the ladder leading to the upper level. The person who had spoken first was the human who had boarded at the previous stop — the one Dewell had mentally labeled “the Young Father.”
Dewell didn’t know if the human was father to the child. Nor did he really know how young the man was. Kedorzhan eyes were sharp in the dark, but most other species lived in the light. Kedorzhans seldom opened their eyes beyond a crack in daylight. Dewell had always refused to wear a visor, feeling it better to be able to look directly into the eyes of his listeners, even if it meant he often had trouble telling one person from another. To Dewell, people tended to become shapes, happy and sad, cruel and innocent. In the harshly lit cabin, the Young Father was a kindly blur, his face obscured by a brown hood as he cradled the bundled infant.
Dewell looked left and right. No one else had seen or heard what had happened with the Devaronians; everyone else had moved away, fearful to get involved. And now the Twi’lek moved, too, grabbing her bag and rushing off to the rear compartment. The Young Father sighed and sat in her vacated seat.
“That’s telling those punks,” Dewell said reflexively. He knew it was a mistake for a fugitive to speak to a stranger — even a chivalrous one. Who knew how many people were searching for him, and what tactics their agents might use? But the human barely turned. Beneath the man’s cowl, the Kedorzhan made out two shining blue-gray dots in a hairy face.
“Just some high-spirited kids,” the human said.
“I know young spirits,” Dewell said. His broad nose twitched disdainfully. “Those were criminals.” He cleared his throat. “You should report them to the captain.”
“It’s really not necessary.”
Dewell sighed, embarrassed. So brave, volunteering someone else to do the right thing. The Young Father had taken one risk but would go no further. Seeing the child fussing in the man’s arms, Dewell couldn’t blame him.
The human checked and rechecked the child’s wrappings. Even with his poor eyesight, Dewell could tell the man was puzzled.
“Your child is hungry,” Dewell said.
“He just ate a little while ago,” the Young Father replied. “I didn’t think it was time again.”
decides when it is time again,” Dewell said, feeling a little more comfortable. He grinned as the human went fishing in his backpack for a bottle. New parents were amusing. Dewell had only had time for seven children in his life; not many for a Kedorzhan, but there had been so many more important things to do. Now, squinting at the infant, Dewell found himself wishing that he’d spent more time with his own children — and wondering where all of them were today.
Well, he knew where one was. Poor Tyloor was dead, his body lost somewhere out on the battlefield. Dead, like so many other children of the Republic, in a conflict that had never made any sense to Dewell. And while the Clone Wars were thankfully — and suddenly — over, the main battle of the Kedorzhan’s career seemed lost, too.
The Kedorzhans were a small people in height, power, and numbers. Short-legged with four fat fingers on each hand, they had migrated everywhere underground work was to be found. Most worlds had welcomed the the pleasant, plump-faced people; they kept to themselves and caused few problems. When the Kedorzhans had finally obtained Republic representation and a Senate seat, many had assumed that the diminutive beings would conduct themselves just as Dewell was now. Certainly, they would mind their own business, taking the lead of other species while trying not to be noticed.
But Dewell and his illustrious predecessors had defied expectations, using their newfound power to fight for the weakest of the galaxy. They had lived underfoot; that experience had driven them to help others.
That fact — and Tyloor’s death, among so many others — was why he had signed the Petition of the 2000 without question. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had overstepped his bounds, clawing for government rights that had been reserved for the people. And not simply important powers of use in an emergency. No, many of the new measures were simply arbitrary, undoing protections for the weak for no reason at all.
His advisors had told him not to sign the petition. Now, with the Jedi gone and the Empire declared, many of his colleagues had already withdrawn their names. Dewell would not. But he feared that would be the last act of bravery he would ever —
The wretched first officer appeared in the doorway, as drunk as he had been before. “Station stop,” he called into the hold. “Cross over to Pad 560 to reach our line’s connector flight for the Outer Rim. Everyone else, thanks for…” Dewell didn’t hear the rest, reaching down for the bag of belongings at his feet. It was time to move again.
Dewell didn’t know what planet he was on, except that the sky was a bright green, and that again he was having trouble seeing. He was glad to get off the
, in any event.
He had waited for the Devaronians to disembark first. He hadn’t seen where the Young Father had gone. That was too bad; the human had seemed a decent sort. This was how it was going to be, Dewell realized. Going from one place to another, never forming a relationship that lasted more than five minutes, never mind a friendship. It was hardly a life worth living, much less fighting for.
Slouching as he walked across the grungy spaceport, his bag tightly in hand, he looked around at the crowd. He felt eyes on him, and while he couldn’t see any faces clearly, he imagined the rest. He spotted a lonely passageway leading between two of the maintenance buildings, and headed toward it. That way he could get to the landing pad while avoiding most of the foot traffic.
Walking down the tiled alley, he heard a bleating cry from around a corner. Instinctively, he stepped forward and looked. A long-trunked Ortolan janitor, still clutching his mop, was being shaken by two figures in white armor. Clone troopers, from the so-called Grand Army of the Republic. Dewell couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the stubby blue figure howled as they shook him.
That was enough! Forgetting his size — and everything else that concerned him — Dewell charged into the secluded area. “Stop that!” he yelled. The troopers paid him no mind. The rope wrapped tightly around his paw, Dewell slung his bag of belongings forward. It struck the trooper holding the janitor on the shin.
He had their attention now, whether he wanted it or not. The trooper dropped the Ortolan, who ran off through one of the
side passages, abandoning his cleaning cart and bucket. Pulling a blaster rifle from over his shoulder, the trooper looked directly at the Kedorzhan. “Dewell Bronk?”
Dewell looked up, startled. “That is my name.”
“Senator Bronk, you are under arrest.”
“On whose authority?”
“Emperor Palpatine.” The second trooper held up a datapad with Dewell’s image.
Dewell’s eyes opened to their full, enormous width. Of course, there was no Imperial interest in hassling janitors. At least, not yet. It was a trap, and he had walked right into it. His arms fell to his sides. “I guess I knew this was —”
Before he could finish, something astonishing happened. The janitor’s bucket landed over the helmet of the first clone trooper with a loud clang, spilling sudsy water and completely obscuring the soldier’s vision. The second trooper turned, raising his rifle; surely, it would have taken someone a Wookiees height to shove the bucket over his partner’s head. But there was no one behind him at all. Instead, there was someone to the side — wielding, of all things, a large spray can. As Dewell dove for the ground, he heard the loud spritzing noise and smelled the high-pressure cleanser foam.