Gone but not Forgotten
Word Count: 4858
As the two X-wings slipped silently into realspace from their hyperspace journey, Ryloth loomed before them. Cloud patterns swirled around the planet like wispy fingers. Below them lay the barren, earthen continents. Streaks of green peeked out from near the equator, identifying the native forests of the planet. Grey-blue oceans made up the remaining sections of the planet.
Io gave a hoot from her astromech socket as the X-wings set a course for the planet.
"I know, Io," said Andrew "Dobber" Dobson as the astromech's words ran across his computer screen. "Take over once we reach the atmosphere."
"No, Hound," came a female voice over his headset. "I'll keep it on manual control."
Andrew turned his head right to look over to see Katlyn "Starfire" Thornwood's X-wing flying in formation next to his. She glanced over to look at him, giving him a quick nod.
"How you holdin' up?" she asked.
"A little nervous," he said, taking a breath after a moment. "She told me about her family on occasion, but ... I've never met them."
"You sure you don't want some company?" Katlyn asked over the crackling of the radio after several seconds.
"No," Andrew responded a moment later.
"No one should face these things alone," Katlyn countered. "Especially you. I really don't mind--," she continued.
"No, Katlyn," he said tersely, glancing over at her, his temper rising slightly.
"Okay," she said cautiously, nodding back at him from her cockpit.
"Not," he continued, easing his voice just enough to stop himself from being too rude, "that I don't appreciate the offer. I do. I just ... need to face this alone."
"I get it," she said, sympathetically.
Ryloth continued to grow in size as they neared the planet's outermost atmosphere. Another minute and he and Io would need to begin the landing sequence and focus their attention on their entry vector.
"I'll meet you at the rendezvous," she said. "Contact me when you're on your way. Katlyn out."
"Will do," he said as her gold-and-black X-wing peeled away towards a new hyperspace vector.
Checking his scopes, the green dot indicating her X-wing disappeared several seconds later.
Io gave a quick chirp, indicating that they were readying to enter the planet's atmosphere.
"Okay, Io," he said, "begin the landing sequence."
Surrendering control of his craft to his astromech, he sat back and watched as she navigated the craft forward. The compressed air ahead of him began to burn brightly as it was forced out of the way, and it wasn't long before he was in the atmosphere proper. He could make out cloud formations ahead of him, and once they passed through those he could see the surface below. The barren landscape was pockmarked with the odd asteroid impact across its hilly but barren terrain. He could just make out stone pillars below which began to rise up from the planet's surface.
After that, it wasn't long before he could make out major surface buildings below. Some were in the open area, while others were embedded into the walls of the canyon. Others peeked out from the large holes in the ground. He had heard that Twi'leks mostly lived underground, though this population area seemed to partially be the exception to the rule.
Commencing landing sequence came Io's message across his computer screen. As the X-wing grew closer to the landing area, Andrew flicked a few switches in his cockpit while Io took care of the rest. It wasn't long before he felt the ship gently touch the ground, dust kicking up from the engines. Looking out his cockpit, he recognized the familiar figure waiting for him by a speeder.
As the engines died, his canopy hissed open. He heard the retractable ladder extend from its compartment and connect with the ground. Moving out of the cockpit, he placed his feet on the rungs and began to climb down. Io opened up the underside of the X-wing's cargo compartment before she closed the canopy and rose up out of her socket. Aside from the usual emergency gear, a box with the painted name Tann, Dia lay in the centre of the compartment. He heard Suli's footsteps approaching from behind him as Io used her boosters to lower herself down.
Andrew gave out a sigh as he stared at the box. He didn't want to open it. Didn't want to deliver it. But he really didn't have a choice. Io gave a chirp as she landed, signalling that Suli was closer. Andrew turned to see the octopoid figure of Suli deChenzzi, Dia's aunt, her tentacled appendages flowing behind her as they appeared from behind her scarlet dress.
"Andrew," came Suli's voice from behind him. He turned to face her.
"Suli," he said, greeting her with a nod. She took several steps forward towards him, extending both her hands outwards to take his. When she was close enough, he took hers.
"It's good to see you again," she said, squeezing his gloved hands. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me here."
"You as well," he said. "Though I wish it were under happier circumstances."
"Don't we all," she said. A pained look briefly washed over her face before she hid her emotions and looked over his shoulder. "Is that--?" she began to ask.
"It is," he said with a nod, not looking back. He didn't want to look back.
She looked to Andrew and made to mouth something else, but couldn't find the words.
Io gave a quick series of chirps, breaking the awkward silence.
"No, Io," Andrew said, glancing at his astromech.
Io chirped once more, then began to roll towards him. He placed a hand gently on her dome.
"Besides, I need someone to guard the ship."
Io gave a low whistle, her dome rotating.
Andrew and Suli turned to look together at the box sitting in the compartment of the X-wing once more before he made to take it to her speeder.
Fifteen minutes later, they both stood outside the door to the Tann family home. He held the box in both hands. It felt heavier than it needed to be, and his heart was racing.
"Suli," he said, staring at the door. "I don't think I can do this." His instincts were telling him to run as fast and as far away from this place as he could.
Suli looked down at him, then back at the door. "Truthfully," she said, "I didn't want to either weeks ago. But you have to."
Andrew swallowed as Suli moved forward to press the buzzer next to the doorway. He heard its electronic buzz as she pressed it, and he felt his heart race up into his throat. He wanted to run. But the box felt like a leaden anchor now, preventing him from moving in one direction or the other.
"The family deserves it," she said as she stepped in front of the door. Seconds later, it hissed open.
"Auntie Suli!" came a young, accented female voice.
"Siari, darling," Suli said warmly, embracing the figure in front of her, "it's so good to see you again!"
"Hello, Suli," came another accented female voice from inside the doorway.
Suli let go of the first figure and stepped forward to embrace the second. He saw them quickly embrace and kiss each other on the cheek.
"Hello, Niama," Suli said. "You look wonderful as always."
"Thank you," came Niama's voice.
Suli moved away to reveal the two female figures. The younger was a yellow-skinned Twi'lek with white markings on her lekku who looked to be about sixteen. The older female had purple skin and looked to be in her late forties. Both were dressed in traditional brown and tan Twi'lek clothing. A jeweled headpiece was wrapped around each of their heads. He couldn't help but notice the immediate physical resemblance to Dia in both of them. The eyes. The facial features. The way Niama held her body. It was unnerving.
He stood there, his mouth dry. Suli was about to say something when Andrew felt a firm hand clap down on his shoulder and a deep voice bellow from behind him.
"This must be the human I've heard so much about," came a man's voice. Andrew jumped in surprise as the figure of a blue-skinned Twi'lek male entered his vision beside him. He held a bouquet of red kinkorrian lilies in his left arm.
They were her favourite, he thought as he painfully looked at the flowers.
"Won't you come in?"
Once inside, the family members and Andrew sat in a circle on chairs or couches in the main receiving area. The sweet smell of incense filled the room. It brought him back to a night when they first met on Mon Cala. She had told him at the time that she used it to relax after a long day of flying. Now, the smell felt stifling.
A family portrait hung on the wall opposite of where he was sitting, the four figures of the family recreated from misshapen but brightly coloured pieces of volcanic glass. Judging from the slightly more youthful appearance of the members, it must have been created within the last few years. All the family members were smiling, clearly happy to be together. But he could have sworn the Dia's eyes in the portrait were staring at him. Almost as if she was watching him.
Dia's box lay on the centre of the coffee table next to the vase of fresh red kinkorran lilies. Andrew couldn't help but feel that her box was out of place compared to the other furniture in the room.
"We must thank you for taking the time to come," said Dia's father from across the room. "Finding the time when fighting the Imperial remnant must not be easy."
Andrew was not sure what to respond, and remained silent. He caught Suli glancing from him to Dia's father and back again.
"I'm sure, Omril," she said before Andrew could open his mouth, "that Andrew would have come sooner if he could have. But some things like leave are mostly outside of his control."
"I, ah," Andrew began finally. He began to mouth some words before they finally came to him. "I wish I could have come sooner," he said finally, "and under happier circumstances."
"We all do," Niama said with her soft, accented voice. "Dia mentioned you many times in her holovids and letters to us."
"Especially how handsome you were," said Siari who was sitting beside him. Andrew glanced at her. "But I'm not so sure I agree. He sure looks like a nerfherder to me."
"Siari!" called Niama sharply. "Mind your manners!"
"I'm just kidding!" she protested. "Dia used to say that all the time!"
"Siari," Suli said, her eyes coolly glancing in their direction. "It's not polite to say such things at times like these. You need to apologize."
"Fine," Siari said. "Sorry," she muttered, looking at Andrew.
"It's fine," Andrew said with a weak smile, glancing around the room. "Dia was known at times for her temper." He glanced at Siari again. "I suppose her sister must be the comedian of the family?"
Siari flashed him a grin, and Omril gave a short laugh.
"Only when it suits her. Can I get you anything?" Omril asked. "A beverage or a--."
The box on the table gave a quick jolt, shifting slightly from its position. Andrew tensed, and he felt his chest tighten. All eyes turned to watch the box. A few seconds later it gave a second jolt, shifting once more. Omril stood up and moved towards the box.
"This is most peculiar," he said, staring down at it. A clattering bang came and it shifted once more. He reached down and unfastened the clasps of the box, then removed the cover. As he did so, Andrew gripped the edge of the couch firmly with his hands. He couldn't stand the pressure -- even if a pair of binocular blue eyes rose out of the box, looking quizzically around the room.
"Bee-Dee!" exclaimed Siari.
BD-B2 gave a playful chirp and hopped out of the box onto the table, then leapt into the lap of Siari who caught him.
Andrew let out a quiet breath and let go of the couch. He'd been so busy trying to not think of Dia that he had forgotten he'd put Bee-Dee in the box to make transporting him easier. He noticed Suli gave him a cool look and nodded her head.
"Now here's a sight for sore eyes," Omril said.
Bee-Dee twisted his body and gave a few playful hoots to everyone in the room before jumping down and scurrying around the room, clearly happy to be home.
"Hello, my little friend," said Omril as he bent down to pat BD-B2. "It's been too long."
BD-B2 then jumped up on the table and leapt once more towards the couch before coming to a rest next to Andrew.
"Ah, here we are," Omril said as he reached into the box. Andrew heard the ghostly clattering of pieces as Omril lifted the Kalikori out of the box. Two tendrils of decorative wood and other materials hung from the centrepiece, forming a T that also more or less resembled a Twi'lek's lekku. Omril set it on the table next to the box and flowers, its pieces swaying rhythmically. The right side was longer than the left, which remained partly unfinished. "Finally back where it belongs."
Niama rose and walked over to the small table. "We can't thank you enough," she said, a hint of emotion in her voice as she moved to stand next to her husband. Omril wrapped an arm around his wife to comfort her. Siari, meanwhile, stood up and began to peer inside the box at the remaining contents. "When Dia stopped by during her last visit in her Y-wing, she never told me why she needed it. But I knew it must be for a special reason. She always said that you made her feel special."
Andrew's throat tightened at those words. Memories washed across his mind. He could hear Dia saying, "You sure know how to make a girl feel special."
"Hey, what's this?" Siari asked, fishing a hand greedily into the box and pulling out a holo puck.
Andrew's eyes widened.
"Siari, I wouldn't!--" he began, and stood up to stop her. But it was too late. As Siari activated the device, Dia's ghostly image ignited the room in a swath of blue.
Her image and voice felt like a cold knife stabbing him squarely between the ribs. As Dia's haunting words filled the room, all eyes fell on the holo vid.
They heard everything. The busy schedule. The marriage proposal response. The pregnancy. How he made her feel special and her love of him.
And through every word he felt a thousand needles pierce his heart. Shame and embarrassment washed over him as all eyes turned to face him.
"Well now," Omril finally said. "This explains a lot."
"It doesn't," Andrew said finally, meeting his eyes. Siari placed the holo puck on the table, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "I shouldn't be here," he said. "I ... am ashamed of what happened."
"Ashamed?" Niama asked, puzzled. "Why?"
"If it weren't for me," Andrew said slowly. "She'd still be here."
Suli rose and walked around them to stand with Andrew. "It's not your fault," she said. "We both know Dia was--."
"Dia was headstrong," Andrew cut in. "And temperamental. And foolish." The knot in his throat made it difficult to work through some of his words. "And stubborn beyond reason sometimes. But I loved her all the same."
"And she loved you with all her heart," Suli said, placing a hand gently on his arm. "Nothing will ever change that."
"No, it doesn't," Andrew said, chewing his bitter words and meeting Suli's eyes. "But I could have stopped her. Should have stopped her." He looked at all the family members in front of him, Siari now looking at him intently. Swallowing the lump in his throat, the truth spilled from his mouth. "She told me she was pregnant before that mission. I told her to see the doctor to be excused. Insisted that she shouldn't fly. But she wouldn't listen, just like I wouldn't listen about joining Rogue Squadron."
Stinging tears began to spill down his cheeks.
"And when my commanding officer asked me if everything was all right," he said with a breath, "I said nothing. I remained silent out of my love for her. I did everything I could to stop her." He looked them all squarely in the eyes. "But I killed her. My actions killed her. And my silence killed her. And I wish for all the goodness in the galaxy that I hadn't."
Silence permeated the room as everyone took in his words.
Siari was the first to react. She scrunched her face in a fit of sorrow and anger. Then, reaching up with an open palm, she slapped Andrew across the face.
"Siari!" cried her mother in alarm. But Siari rushed out of the room before anything could be done, the sound of feet pounding against the stairs echoing throughout the house.
"I'll see to her," Suli said as she strode briskly out of the room after her.
Now it was only Andrew and Dia's parents remaining while BD-B2 watched silently. Andrew wiped the tears from his face.
"I'm sorry," he finally managed to say.
"I think you had better come with us," Omril said as he picked up the Kalikori.
They emerged into the exterior backyard of the dwelling. It was large and barren, save for a path that led gradually down a hill. Walls of earth and rock rose around them, and after a few minutes they came to a grotto that had numerous lanterns illuminating the area. Omril and Niama stopped short of the entrance.
"I must ask you," Omril said to him as the Kalikori clattered in his hand, "did Dia ever speak of my history during the Clone Wars?"
Andrew looked at him, slightly confused. "No," he said, "not beyond that you fought in them."
"That I did," Omril said. "I served under Cham Syndulla, as did many of my people. For a time, we were united in a common cause to defeat the Separatists and their droid armies. I lost many friends and family during that conflict. And many more when the Republic became the Empire. I am sure that you have lost friends and comrades too."
Andrew stared at Omril, dumbfounded.
"I have," Andrew said finally.
"If you are willing," Omril said, "my wife and I would like you to meet some of them."
He turned to walk forward into the grotto, and Andrew felt Niama's arm gently interlock with his. She led him forward, and he felt compelled to move with her.
After a minute they came to a clearing, high walls of rock and minerals surrounding them. More lamps illuminated the area where the high walls prevented light from fully entering. Ahead lay a dozen or more tombstones with names and decorative patterns etched on them. A number of them belonged to the Tann family, while a few others didn't.
"These," Omril said, motioning to the first two tombstones, "are my dear parents, Regrir and Lothe Tann. Here," he said motioning to another one behind theirs, "is my cousin Hoshi."
"And these two," Niama spoke up, motioning to her right, "are my sisters Lela and Diali."
"And this one," Omril said, moving deeper into the grotto, "is my dear friend Sal. Hello, old friend," he said, running his hand across the tombstone. "We fought many battles together side by side. He was killed two days before the Republic liberated Ryloth."
Andrew took in the memorials and their names.
He couldn't help but notice the lone one near the back of the grotto, the faint form of dirt dug up possibly weeks before -- though it was difficult to tell. A vase of freshly cut white kinkorran lilies lay nestled in front of it.
"And this," Omril said with a heavy sigh as Niama led Andrew further, "is our dear Dia."
"We were told that her body was never recovered after her execution," Niama said as she looked up at Andrew. "When her casket came, Omril and I filled it with the few memorable possessions we still had of her."
Andrew felt a fresh lump in his throat and a knot form in his stomach. In truth, he knew that the casket he and the other Rogues loaded onto the transport in the Vigilant's hangar was empty. He hated it as much then as he did now. He would have given anything to give Dia a proper burial.
"Hello, sweetheart," Omril said, kneeling down and reaching out to brush his hand against her headstone. He gently placed the Kalikori next to it, its tendrils swaying once more. "It's good to see you."
"We show you these friends and family," Niama said softly, "not to trivialize their deaths. Each one brought much sorrow in their own time, much as our daughter's did and still does."
"Our purpose in having these people here," Omril said, standing up and turning to face him, "is to have a place to remember them. The good times, and the bad. In doing so, we both remember them, and honour them." Omril began to walk towards Andrew again. "Sometimes we come here to laugh at old stories or memories from days gone by. Other times, to mourn and remember those dear to us. We are all connected to each other through life and death. Just like someday we will be buried here and Siari will be connected with us."
As Omril stood in front of Andrew, he placed a firm but caring hand on Andrew's shoulder.
"I can't blame you for my daughter's death," he said, "and neither should you. She knew what she was getting into, as well as the risks. Her fiery spirit was a force that could not be reckoned with. But I also know, as her father, that if she chose you to be with her and love her, she had all the best reasons to do so."
"We have grieved," said Niama, "and will continue to grieve for the loss of our daughter in our own time. But we also choose to lovingly remember her for the brave and wonderful young woman she was."
"Our Dia may be gone," Omril said, "but she's not forgotten. Take the time you need to grieve for her and our grandchild. When you're ready, we'll be waiting for you at the house. Bring the Kalikori with you."
With that, Omril took Niama's arm and the pair walked away to leave Andrew alone. He took slow steps towards her grave, and knelt down in front of it, helpless.
"I am so sorry," he finally choked out, and wept until there were no more tears to spill.
Siari refused to see him or apologize to him when he returned to the house, but Omril and Niama insisted that in time she would come around. Suli had said her goodbye before he left the Tann household -- he had insisted that he wanted to walk back alone -- and she told him that he was always welcome to visit her and her husband at any time or for any reason. It was very generous of her, but heartfelt all the same.
By the time he returned to his black-and-gold X-wing, dusk had begun to fill the landscape. The lights of the settlement lay behind him, shining their gentle rays out into the oncoming night. BD-B2 lit the way in front of him, his little legs skittering across the earth. The dome lights of Io shone in the distance as she sat in her astromech socket. She lowered the ladder and opened the canopy for him to climb into once he was near the ship.
Fiddling with the controls once inside, he activated the comm system and sent a communication to the frequency Katlyn had given him. She answered several seconds later. As her blue holographic image sprung to life from the small projector to his left, he saw that her head was covered in a towel and she was wrapped in a housecoat.
"Andrew, hi," she said.
"Hi Katlyn," he replied.
"How are you holding up?" she asked
"It still hurts," he said after a moment. "But I think it'll work out in time."
"It will," she said. Then, "I'm glad you got this chance to remember her."
"Me too," he said.
Andrew looked up at the night sky, seeing the stars begin to come into view.
"I take it you're ready to leave?" she asked.
"Almost," he said as BD-B2 climbed up onto his shoulder, in full view of the holo projector. He gave a pleasant chirp to Katlyn.
"And I take it," she said as Andrew patted the little droid, "Bee-Dee didn't want to stay?"
"Oddly enough, no," he said.
"And they were okay with that?"
"They were," he said, looking back at her.
He sat there in silence for several seconds before he spoke again.
"They offered to add me to their Kalikori," he said finally.
"And?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"It didn't feel right at first," Andrew said, shaking his head from side to side. "But I don't think they'd take 'no' for an answer."
"That was awfully generous of them," she said.
"It was even more generous when her mother suggested that the ring I had made be the piece to add onto it."
"You're kidding!" she said.
"Not about something like this," he replied. "I guess I'm also an honorary member of the family."
"You should visit them again sometime in that case," said Katlyn.
"I will," Andrew nodded. "When the time is right."
He was about to say something else when some voices began bickering in the background and began to call for Katlyn. She turned to tell them to be quiet, then looked back at him. She was about to continue the conversation when a pair of blue arms holding a pillow entered the view of the holovid and cracked Katlyn across the face with it.
"Ow!" she hollered as she was momentarily knocked sideways. "Knock it off!" she yelled.
The sound of mischievous laughter filled the comm as he saw Katlyn swat off a second attack, then grab the pillow forcefully and fling it at her attacker.
"When I get off this call," she spat, "there won't be a place on this platform that will be safe for you!"
Hysterical laughter and giggling echoed in the background as the unknown assailants ran away.
Silence filled the space around them as the sun set further, and the stars began to shine.
Andrew just looked at her with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Sorry," she said, peeling the crooked towel away and running a hand through her hair. "Those were some of my sisters."
"Some?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"You'll see when you get here," she said. "Should I let the control tower know you'll be here within the hour?"
"You know," he said, looking back up at the night sky for a moment. The stars had finally begun to twinkle as the sun disappeared over the horizon. "I wouldn't mind staying here just a little longer. I spend so much time looking at the stars from a cockpit or viewport window, I don't get a chance to appreciate them planetside."
"Neither do I," she said with a nod.
He reached forward to end the transmission, but stopped himself short. "Katlyn...," he began to say.
"Thanks for coming with me earlier today. And sorry for snapping earlier."
"No worries!" she said as she gave him a weak smile. "Anything for a friend. Take your time. We'll have everything ready for when you arrive."
As her hologram faded, he powered down his X-wing and climbed out of the cockpit.
Io gave a low whistle as the stars and constellations came into full view. Walking away from the X-wing, he called for her to join him and BD-B2, and she did in her own time.
Stretching out on a nearby embankment with his hands behind his head, BD-B2 nestled on his chest and Io next to him, he watched as the galaxy blossomed before his eyes.
"She would have loved this," he said with a sigh a few moments later, remembering their night on the beach all those months ago. BD-B2 slowly twisted to face him and gave him a nod, then turned to look back up at the stars. Io gave a low hoot of sympathy as the trio looked up at the beauty before them.
A shooting star streaked across the sky, and he privately made a silent, futile wish for Dia. He knew it wouldn't change anything. But he was still happy that he did.
It was some time before they left in his X-wing and climbed the heavens towards their next destination.