Two days before the wedding.
“Peregrine’s Claw, this is Wayfarer Station. You are cleared for transit to Xenen surface.”
“Thanks, Wayfarer. See you again in a couple of days. Claw, out.”
“He’s late,” Robert said.
“He is not late,” Talia replied. “Your chrono is fast.”
“Calibrated it just this morning. He’s late.”
“By all of two minutes,” Talia said as the Claw settled down on the landing pad. “Now hush.”
Dutifully, Robert hushed. The Claw’s boarding ramp lowered, and the ship’s sole occupant egressed and walked towards them, a single bag slung over one shoulder. Dark haired and even darker of eye, he wore the simple, brown undress uniform of the GDF Marines. Silver first lieutenant’s bars glinted from his collar. The lone device upon the uniform, aside from rank, unit insignia, and flag, was a CIB. All in all, dashing figure.
He caught sight of them and grinned.
Robert found himself grinning back as the young man headed towards them. It had been a while since he’d seen his nephew, after all.
“Johnny!” Robert called when the young man entered range.
“Hey, Uncle Robert, Aunt Talia,” Jonathan Playbird called back. They reached each other; Talia gave him a hug, and Robert offered a handshake.
“What’s with the uniform?” Robert asked as they started to head back into Shay Memorial proper. “I thought you were on leave?”
“I am,” Jonathan replied. “But I figured might as well try and make an entrance.”
“Good lord, you’ve inherited your Dad’s sense of the dramatic.”
“Nah, if I had that, I be pointing swords at everything and making grandiose speeches. Speaking of such, he asked me to convey his apologies to the families of the bride groom.”
“I see,” Talia said, “so what is the official reason for my brother-in-law not showing up?”
“Officially, since we’re in a state of war, whether the the New Republic has officially declared such or no, he cannot in good conscience take leave from the GDF at this time.”
“And the real reason?”
“He is pissed at Mike Bullian something fierce,” Jonathan answered with a shrug. “I think he might challenge Bullian to a duel on-sight; Dad had that glint in his eyes.”
“Yeah, challening the father of the bride to a duel to the death on the wedding day would be a bit… uncouth.”
“More like a duel to the pain; it was that kind of glint.”
“Has he said why?”
“Nope. I asked; he said it was none of my beeswax, so I let it drop. I’ve… heard rumors, though.”
“So have I. But you know what they say about rumors.”
Jonathan held out an empty hand.
“Worth about this much, yeah. But thing is… I think Dad believes them.”
An uncomfortable silence fell. Jonathan elected to break it.
“So, is Aunt Rachel going to be here?”
Robert barked a harsh, only-charitably-called laugh.
“No, she isn’t. Officially, and legitimately, she can’t because her ship is still on active duty and it just ain’t right for a CAG to take leave in those circumstances.”
“And unofficially…” Jonathan intoned leadingly.
“Unofficially, she figured your Dad would be here and she didn’t want to deal with that right now.”
“And I even had a plan to get them talking again, too.”
Talia looked up at him, with interest.
“Is that why you bought all those custard pies?”
“Those were Plan B.”
“I won’t ask.”
“Thank you. And I had such high hopes for the weekend! What’s the point, if I can’t get them talking to each other?”
“Well, you could try, ah, just enjoying the wedding for a wedding, instead of some masterminded plot to solve your family’s squabbles,” Talia suggested.
Robert stared at her, then closed his eyes and pinched his nose.
She smirked in victory.
“Personally,” Jonathan added with a grin of his own, “I’m in favor of having fun, myself. May be our last chance for a while.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Robert agreed. Then he exhaled loudly and opened his eyes. “Is trip of yours for any kind of shop talk?”
“Just family and friends, Uncle. Just family and friends.”
“But given who those family and friends are…”
“Political calculation?” Jonathan shrugged. “I’m Carlos DeLong’s son, Uncle. His adopted son, just like Golgan III is his adopted world. If my visit is to say anything, unofficially, to the right ears, then it would say that Golgan III is prepared to stand by the Kartuiin Sector no matter what course this war may take. Unofficially, of course.”
“And officially, just ‘family and friends.’”
“Exactly. Which means the same thing, when you get right down to it.”
“Am I correctly hearing a philosophical Marine?”
“Grunt, grunt, me Marine, ha-roo,” Jonathan said, monotone and deadpan. “That fit better?”
“Glad to oblige your stereotypes, Uncle.” They all laughed. “So, where are the kids?”
He was the oldest son of Robert DeLong. His father was a Guardian, a bladesman with few rivals, and one of maybe four surviving masters of the lightstaff style of combat. His uncle was the commander of an entire Fleet, single-system though that Fleet might be. His aunt was CAG aboard a MC-90. His cousin was a Marine. In all things, therefore, he himself had expectations of a certain level of ‘badass’ laid upon him. Recent actions during the short-lived attack on Xenen made it clear – thankfully – that he was quite able to live up to those expectations.
Yet for all that, Cameron DeLong was just a bit of clotheshorse. Not of the gaudy sort, not of the frilly persuasion, nor was he the sort to dress up ‘to the nines’ all the time. But he liked dressing just a level of style above most boys his age were expected to dress. ‘Twas just his thing.
And when he got the chance to dress up ‘the the nines’, he did like to go a bit all out – more so with, say, weddings, than with, say, funerals.
So it was that fate found him and Matthew – who just as much of clotheshorse as his brother – perusing through one of Quis’ better clothing stores after a new suit for Mary and Cay’s wedding, while Jaq Losoda tagged along and made helpful suggestions. Jaq was not in any sense of a clotheshorse, and was already in possession of a new set of Jedi robes – of good cut, admittedly, and emerald green in color – so his suggestions were less practical and more exasperatedly tolerant. If by ‘tolerant’, one means ‘subtly mocking’.
“Okay, opinion,” Cam said, and held out two shirts.
They were both light blue, of identical shade. Jaq raised an eyebrow, and figured that it was his input being sought, as Matthew was on the other side of the store, still trying to pick out pants.
“What’s the difference?”
“One collar has buttons.”
“And this matters?”
“I don’t like collars with buttons.”
“Then get the one without the buttons and then explain to me again why the three of you dragged me along for this.”
Cam looked at both shirts and frowned.
“This color would work with the jacket, yeah, but maybe I should get that one from earlier…”
“No, you shouldn’t.” Cam looked up in surprise; Jaq sighed. “Look, even I know that you don’t wear black to a wedding!”
Cam nodded, then put both shirts back and picked out another, this one plain white and sans collar buttons.
“Right, that’s settled,” Cam said happily. “Now for ties…”
He trailed off into silence. Jaq lowered his hand and looked up. Cam was staring at something, looking as if someone had clobbered him with a somewhat hefty stick. Jaq looked where Cam was looking-
And adopted a look on his own face appropriate to having been clobbered upside the head with a brick of gold.
Sarah DeLong stood there in a very pretty, strapless green dress. It looked to have little flowers and such – were those stars? – hand-stitched into it as tasteful highlights.
“Well?” she asked coyly. “How do I look?”
“Great!” Jaq exclaimed, somewhat high-pitched, and before – most – of the rest of him could catch up and ponder a workable answer. “You look… great.”
“I’ll get this one, then,” she announced, without waiting for her older brother’s input. “Now, for shoes…”
She turned about and hurried off. Both boys stood there, still looking beat about the noggin, but each for a different reason.
“So,” Cam said, when he found voice again, “you were raised in the…”
“Corellian Jedi tradition, yes.”
“Ah. And the robes are traditionally…”
“Maybe a shade darker. Maybe.”
Cam sighed. Upon further reflection, Jaq decided that he was simply confused about what had just happened.
But not unpleasantly so.
Day of the wedding.The jungle covered the world. In the jungle was a clearing. To one side of the clearing, a great mountain. To another, a grove of trees. He entered the glade, and stood before the grove. Beside him were many sandcastles. Their designed varied; primarily of human make, but also of clear Bith, Rodian, Twi’lek, and Talz influence. Five of the human castles caught his attention.One constructed by unknown hands, yet subtly shaped by his hands which were not-his.One constructed by hands which made an enemy, yet turned to friend, and shaped his hands which were his-in-truth and by his hands which were not-his.“You’ll never guess what just came across, sir.”
Three constructed by his hands which were his-in-truth, and by another’s hands; shaped, yet mostly unformed.
His took his stand with the sandcastles, and faced out towards the jungle.
Before them, a Rider, upon a pale horse. He must be kept from the grove.
The Rider charged. They stood.
And Robert DeLong awoke with a start.
~Wes, who is late getting to this, calibrated chronos or no
NRI Headquarters – Courscant
The senior agent in charge arched a brow, leaning back in his chair. He was the last line before the Director of Republic Intelligence, and more and more lately, he was being left in charge—like today. The director was stuck in meetings elsewhere on Coruscant, leaving him, the senior agent on-planet, in charge of day-to-day operations. “Oh really?” The man drawled lazily, “What’s that, Marcos?”
“Director of twenty-seven is requesting a reinstatement for a former agent.”
The agent closed his eyes, thinking a moment. “Twenty-seven? Kartuiin and surroundings? That’s Colonel Cannele.”
“Yes sir. He’s requesting the reinstatement to active duty of General Tag Rendar with all attendant privileges and positions.”
The agent righted himself in his chair, blinking. “Even his?”
“He is requesting to be relieved of his post by her, yes, sir.”
He snorted, shaking his head. The younger agent looked at him.
“Sir? This is the same General Rendar who threw her rank in Cracken’s face and told him he could put it where the suns don’t shine, right?”
The agent nodded. “As if there could be any other, Marcos. Yes, that’s her. Wonder what string he pulled to get her to even consider something like this.”
“Maybe he didn’t, sir?”
“Clearly, you’ve never met this woman.” The agent stood, began to pace, then stopped, staring out the one-way window as the hovercars blew past the building. “Give her to him, but deny the request to be relieved of his duties. He’s where we want him.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully, though where his thoughts might be, the younger agent couldn’t say. “And cut the orders to send seven-seven-five-niner out there. We need new eyes and ears we can trust.”
The younger agent shuffled through the datacards on his desk, coming up with the proper file. “…him, sir? You’ve back-checked? No ties to them, right?”
“He’s clean, and got high marks. Ian Roclawsi trained him; I have no doubts as to his capabilities.”
“…but he’s from the anti-organized crime task force if he’s under Roclawsi.”
The senior agent smiled over his shoulder at Marcos. “Who better to infiltrate a family than someone who knows families best?”
The agent smiled like a cat. “The unit has survived twenty years at its core, though some folk mustered out after the war ended. We caught a message that Admiral Bridger sent out recently, though, after the first Vong attacks. Did you see that, Marcos?”
“I don’t think I did, sir.”
“Ah, well. It was a piece of work. She offered anyone who would come back their commissions. I believe it went something along the lines of ‘I know that we all thought that we’d won our war, won our battles, earned our peace. That peace is shattered, now, and it’s time to bring the family back together again.’ I think that’s what she said. The family terminology stuck in my brain. Aurora Force isn’t a military unit, it’s a family—you’re not assigned, you’re adopted.”
“How are we going to avoid another Baron, though, sir? You’re sure about this?”
The senior agent didn’t look at him, simply continued to stare out the window. “It’s not like it was then, really. They usually recruit from within rather than without—folks coming in from outside the sector, outside the unit’s ties to elsewhere, are the aberration rather than the norm. Harder to be accepted if no one knows how or why you’re there.” He snorted softly. “Besides, the admiral doesn’t lead ground operations anymore. No chance this kid is going to bond with her because she saved his life.” He turned to face Marcos. “No. Kid’ll be fine, and he’s not going to get sucked in like Baron did. We don’t have anything to worry about, Marcos. Cut the orders.”
“How’s he going to win their trust, though, sir, if he’s so out of the norm?”
“He’ll find a way to connect with a few, just not the same way Baron did with the Admiral twenty years ago.” He leaned against the windowsill. “Problem with Baron twenty years ago was that he was tailored for a different commander, not the Admiral. Torin Qel-Droma was the one he was supposed to deal with, not Indiana Bridger. We didn’t plan for that contingency—we didn’t plan for that friendship. They had far too much to bond over, and then there was that whole saving his life thing.” The agent rolled his eyes. “Though I suppose in some ways, it worked out—she did prevent someone from ripping him limb from limb.”
Marcos shook his head slowly, already spinning slowly toward his console. “All right, sir. I get you. Cutting the orders now.”
“Don’t forget to tell Cannele he’s coming.”
“Yes, sir.” There were a few minutes of silence as Marcos cut the orders as he’d been told to do. That done, he stood quietly. “I’m going to take a caf break, sir, do you want something?”
“The usual, Marcos, thank you.” The senior agent turned back toward the window, staring out for long moments, silent as a tomb.
It’s not like it was then. Things have changed. Too much has changed.
Let someone else be eyes and ears. Let it be someone else.
Any intelligence agent will tell you that deep cover does strange things to a man. The senior agent in charge was a prime example of that, though he didn’t always remember. NRI wanted it that way.