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Poetic Injustice: Nova's Tale

"Hey, Josh."

Lt. Col. Chris "Animal" Stephen and Maj. Marc "Prowler" Desrosiers stood in the doorway of their newest pilot's quarters in the dimly lit cabin deck of the cruiser Liberty. Josh Caton sat on his bunk with a datapad in his lap, staring at the wall opposite him, oblivious to his commanding officer's presence.

Prowler noticed Josh had a few still-unpacked moving trunks scattered about his quarters, although the new pilot had managed to set up a storage shelf containing numerous datacards and a few old-fashioned papyr-bound books.

"Hey, Josh!" Animal said again, but got no reaction from Josh, who continued his blank stare. Animal nudged his executive officer with an elbow and spoke again, this time much louder than before.

"Second Lieutenant Caton!"

With a start, Josh jumped, banging his head on the wall in the process. He scrambled to his feet, nearly tripping over one of the packing boxes as his datapad fell to the floor. When he regained his balance, Nova turned toward his commanding officer, slapping his arms down to his sides and making his body his rigid in an unintentionally comical display of military respect. Prowler could barely contain his amusement as Josh stood wincing from the headache he'd given himself.

"Yes, sir!"

"At ease, Josh, at ease. The major and I just wanted to see how you're getting settled in here."

Josh slumped and rubbed the knot forming on the back of his head. His face flushed with embarrassment as he realized why Prowler was smiling.

"Thank, you sir. I'm still unpacking, as you can tell."

Animal stooped to pick up the datapad Nova had been holding.

"What's this you're reading, if you don't mind my asking? Looks like you were pretty caught up in it."

"Oh, that? It's nothing, sir. Just passing the time."

Animal smirked. "Don't give me that. I've been doing this long enough to know what was behind that blank stare."

"Sir?"

"You had that look in your eyes. I've seen it in new pilots and old admirals, bridge crewmen and the cooks in the mess. It's the look that we get when we're thinking of how we got involved in this whole rebellion in the first place."

Nova opened his mouth as if to protest, but stopped. Animal recognized he'd been right on the money.

"It's sad but true that many of us had to go through something traumatic to realize we needed stand up and fight," Animal added. "If that's the case, you're not alone, but you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

Nova shook his head in acknowledgment. "No, it's okay. It's good to remember why we're here. That's why I was reading it in the first place."

Animal began reading aloud from Josh's datapad.

"Why stay, while the spiral spins?

Spawning a new season

Dawning a new day

Making old into new

Why stay, while the spiral spins?

New air in aging lungs

New dirt beneath weary feet

New beauty in tired eyes.

"What's this?" Buccaneer's CO asked, returning the datapad to Josh.

"It's Devaronian du'koure poetry, this particular one by a poet named Ullicankara. Du'koure is a sort of lyrical celebration of the Devaronian cultural longing for exploration and travel."

Prowler asked, "You like it?"

"Not especially. Most du'koure isn't very good, but Ullicankara is better at it than most. I usually read fiction, and sometimes the really out there stuff from cultures and races that don't think as linearly as humans and humanoid species do." Nova paused, as if contemplating continuing. "I was reading this poem the day of the riot."

"Riot?" Prowler inquired.

"On Charmath, where I went to school after leaving Carida. I was holed up in my dormitory preparing for a deconstruction criticism course, reading this volume of Ullicankara," Nova said. "Then the shouting started. A smattering at first, swelling to a mild rumble.

"Hundreds of students from as many races, gathering near the huge and elaborate stepway of Seoni Hall, the administrative building of the university. At first, I didn't think much of it. There'd been a number of anti-Imperial protests since I'd enrolled at Charmath, and this one seemed only a little louder than normal. I think it was organized by a group openly supportive of the Alliance, but the main thrust of the demonstration was a protest against new travel restrictions that had been placed on nonhumans. Limited the number of offworld trips they could take per standard year, duration of trips, that kind of thing. Those new rules were placed on all of Farfin Sector, as I understood it.

"Students were gathering and chanting things like, 'the stars are all of ours!' and 'Let them leave!' I glanced out my window and was shocked at the size of the crowd. Even so, it wasn't hard to spot my friend Tulk there in that mass of beings. There were probably only four or five Verpine on the whole planet at the time. So I went out to join him. If he thought it this was important, then I thought so too.

"I found myself overwhelmed with the whole thing as I made my way to Tulk. The university had quite a large nonhuman enrollment for a world in Imperial territory, and they were all out there, raising their fists or similar appendages in the air and spouting their slogans. You get caught up in something like that. I couldn't help but join in the chanting myself."

Nova paused for a moment, and stroked his trim goatee thoughtfully.

"I'm still not sure whether I believed in what I was saying then or was just an impressionable kid. But one thing's for sure, when the stormtroopers arrived, I got mad as hell. We all did. It was probably just a couple units, but it seemed like a legion of them. They tried to get us to disperse, but we all gathered even closer together and defiantly clustered on the massive duracrete stepstructure at SeonI's entrance."

"And by then, of course, the students were louder than ever," Prowler interjected.

"That's right. When the stormtroopers showed up, it validated everything the students were saying and only made us more resolute in our protests. I remember standing with Tulk on one side and this Sullustan on the other, sweating like crazy, shouting "Tyrants!" at the tops of our lungs at the stormies. We were packed in like droids on a sandcrawler."

"Sounds like fun," Animal said with just a hint of sarcasm.

"It was," Nova replied with a smile. "It really was. Fun, that is, until we heard the scout walkers approaching. You could hear their legs clanging in the near distance before you could see actually see the things. Then the first one rounded the corner from behind the big library." Nova sat down on his bunk and looked at the floor. "I remember thinking I had never been so scared. Something wasn't right. This wasn't that serious. There was no reason to crack down with heavy artillery like AT-STs. Not for a student protest of some travel rules."

"Maybe it was Charmath's governor flexing his muscles a bit, a demonstration of his power," Prowler suggested, "trying to enforce that rule he'd established."

"No, you see, that's what had me worried. Governor Blaynes didn't institute those travel rules. The edict had come down from the sector Moff. Blaynes was a joke of a governor and a shell of a ruler. After a few years of rising through the ranks, he'd finally made himself comfortable, and wasn't much interested in making waves anymore or moving up within the Empire. All he wanted to do was keep being governor. In fact, his lax rule is one of the reasons I went to Charmath in the first place. Easier for the AWOL son of an Academy instructor to disappear.

"No, it wasn't Blaynes who called in the big guns. It wasn't his idea anyway, I'm sure of it. My guess is it was Blaynes? media relations advisor Jelton Vilance.

"Huh?" Prowler questioned. "What kind of image manager has the power to mobilize Imperial AT-STs?"

"I'm getting to that," said Nova. "Vilance always struck me as a real parasite of a lifeform, even more so than the typical public relations talking head. He'd followed Blaynes? rise through the Imperial political system, from city prefect to policy minister to Governor. It wasn't much of a secret that Vilance once had aspirations of being an Imp politico himself, but it's said he was held back by his own less-than-human heritage. He looked almost human, but the irises of his eyes were black. And he had a mouthful of pointed teeth, sort of like a TwI'lek's but with more of them. Good thing for him he doesn't smile much, because it looks nasty."

"So since he couldn't be a politician himself, this Vilance was trying to ride Blaynes? coattails as far up the Imperial ladder as he could," Animal said.

"That's what I think," Nova replied, noticing as Prowler began punching keys on his own datapad. "My suspicions were that Blaynes was a puppet, and Vilance was the one calling the shots, manipulating the governor to do whatever he desired in the name of publicity. For instance, during my first year at school, someone from the administration leaked reports of glit abuse in a low-income housing zone. Though no evidence was ever found, the leak killed an investment initiative that had been in the works for the area. Rumors pegged Vilance as the source of the false leak.

"In another case, Vilance made several speeches, ostensibly on the governor's behalf, questioning the environmental safety of the local orti manufacturing plant. It was a complete fabrication, but a week later, with public opinion shifting, Blaynes shut down the plant, forcing several thousand Turana to leave the city when there wasn't enough orti for them to eat.

"And," Nova said, "I think it was Vilance who convinced Blaynes it would be of some benefit to the governor's comfortable lifestyle if he squashed our little demonstration with a spectacular show of force.

"I guess from a certain sadistic point of view, it was spectacular enough," Nova continued, his voice quieter than before. "Someone fired a shot. Sounded like a heavy blaster to me, but with all the shouting I wasn't sure. I don't know who pulled the trigger or who the target was, but that's what started it. A collective scream came from the students. Some tried to duck, but there was nowhere to go, shoulder-to-shoulder on the stepstructure like we were. A second shot rang out, moments after the first. That one I'm sure came from a stormie. Then another, and another. Some of the students had apparently come armed and were returning fire. Suddenly, it was a crossfire. I was terrified. There was no where to run.

"I've heard people say that traumas happen to them in slow motion, but this was somewhere between a blur and a frenzy for me. I remember feeling my chest compress as the students around me started shoving, trying to get out of the firefight. I saw a Duro kid fall and get trampled. A Snivvian's chest exploded in a cloud of blue blood from a blaster bolt. I heard a human girl scream weakly as she was crushed against the sides the stepway."

Animal shook his head sympathetically. "That's got to be tough to witness."

"It got worse. One of the students shot and killed a stormtrooper. Whoever was commanding the Imps must have snapped, because that's when the AT-STs opened fire. One of the walkers tracked fire on the students fleeing the scene, the other ?" Nova stood up and began pacing the room impatiently, idly rubbing the back of his neck with his palm.

"I wish I could say I've never seen 15 lives extinguished in an instant by a blaster bolt. I certainly wish I could say I've never seen it twice. But the walker let fly with a one-two punch from its chin cannon, and at least 30 beings-packed in as closely as we were-were slaughtered instantly. I still can't believe that someone could sit in that AT-ST, look out at that crowd of kids, and still press the trigger to murder them. My knees buckled from the impact and my eyes hurt from the flash. I suddenly I felt like there wasn't enough air to breathe. Students began diving over the sides of the stepstructure, some of them falling to their deaths, as it began to break apart. The walker fired again. I was trying desperately to get off that stepway before I became the next student martyr, or before another laser salvo sent the whole structure crashing down on top of all of us. I shoved Tulk toward the side and glanced back toward the AT-ST. It was lining up a shot in our direction.

"I put two hands in Tulk's back gave him a shove. I watched my friend tumble over the edge of the stepstructure as duracrete shattered around me and a searing pain shot through my right arm and shoulder and part of my right leg. I can't remember whether I screamed. There was too much screaming anyway for mine to matter much." Nova pointed to his upper arm and shoulder. "The walker's blast had ?grazed? me, if you can call turning a workable limb into a hunk of smoking meat a ?grazing? shot. My face blistered from the superheated air. I fell down, lightheaded from the pain I guess, and landed next to the charred and still-hot corpse of an Ishi Tib. The last thing I remember is looking into that dead creature's empty eyes before I passed out."

Animal thought he noticed Nova shudder, slightly. He wondered whether Nova realized he was now holding his shoulder where the injury had occurred. "The final death total was 93. Only two were stormtroopers," said Nova, distantly. "It was the last time I saw Tulk. They shut down the university and deported all nonhumans who were involved in the demonstration. Probably shipped them to prison camps. If Tulk survived, he was gone by the time I recovered from my injuries.

"When I came to," Nova continued, "I was floating in a bacta bath at the FourC, the Charmath Community Care Center. You know you can't cry when you're submerged in bacta? I found that out. I spent four days there, wondering what would happen to me when they finally brought me out.

"The weird thing is, that poem from Ullicankara kept repeating, over and over again in my head while I convalesced in the bacta. The last stanza in particular, which you didn't get to, sir." Nova recited the verse from memory. "?The spiral still spins/ Make the new/ Else the new make you.?" He repeated the lines with added emphasis, as if contemplating their significance for the first time. "?The spiral still spins/ Make the new/ Else the new make you.? At some point, while floating in that bacta tank, I made a decision to try and change things in this galaxy-'make the new,? so to speak. I didn't know then if that meant joining the rebellion or doing something else. But I was tired of letting other people make the world around me, and make it miserably at that. Three months later, I was a rebel."

Prowler raised his eyes from the datapad he'd been working with and gave a concerned look to Animal. He handed the datapad to the Buccaneer CO.

"Well," Animal said with a sigh. "Here's one I didn't see coming. Prowler has discovered that as of two months ago, Charmath has a new governor. Blaynes, it seems, died in freak repulsorcab accident."

"Hmph," Nova replied, "I guess that means that little carnivore Vilance's career is over."

Animal and Prowler exchanged glances. "Hardly," Animal said. "Jelton Vilance has been appointed governor of Charmath."

"What?" Nova said in disbelief. "How could that happen? A PR goon appointed governor?"

"Maybe he's even better at the manipulation game than you thought. There is a fine line between the politicians and their spin doctors," Prowler said. "Sounds to me like this Vilance is a potentially dangerous man."

"I guess it's evidence that he's been more in control than I had suspected," Nova said, allowing tone of disgust to enter his voice. "And his appointment seems to show he's made some friends on Imperial Center. Powerful friends, to get a non-human, non-politician awarded an Imperial governorship. I don't like the implications of that." He gritted his teeth, but then forced a confident smile. "Governor Vilance, eh? I would love to have the chance to remove that bloodsucker from office. Maybe with a well-placed proton torpedo."

"Well, Josh, if this Vilance is as cunning as you say he is, we may just get that chance before this war is over." said Animal. "My gut tells me we need to keep an eye on him. I'll talk to Dentran and get his thoughts."

Animal reached out and shook Josh's hand before turning toward the door. Prowler did the same. "Nice talking to you, Josh. And nice to have you aboard." The Bucc officers were about to leave when Prowler stopped.

"Seems to me there's one item your story didn't wrap up, Nova," Prowler said. "At no point did you mention what your favorite drink is, or how it came to be your favorite."

"Uh, Caridan Hills Ale," Nova responded, wondering what Prowler was getting at. "My father and I shared one the night I left home. Why do you ask?"