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Shore Leave - Part 1

Major Andrew "Dobber" Dobson

Prologue

The Contessa looked at him intently, a wry smile spreading across her face.

“You’ve caused quite a bit of trouble here, Major,” she said. “But I know just what you need.”

He felt himself being lifted simultaneously by her pair of hands and the tentacled appendages protruding from her back. As the appendages curled around his body, he felt them change from a firm grasp to one where he was being squeezed to the point of not being able to breathe. Where her appendages touched his skin, he could feel the softy, velvety suckers grasping his skin. Sitting upright, staring her in the eyes, uncertain of what she was about to do next, it almost felt as if he was having the breath squeezed out of him.

“This,” he half-gasped, “isn’t really necessary.”

The Contessa’s eyes glinted, like a creature about to make the final move against its prey. She gave a low, throaty laugh of amusement.

“Oh, but it is, Major,” she said, constricting her grip a bit more.

He tried to take a gasp of air, but had difficulty doing so.

“Now,” she said, gently pursing her lips, “it’s time to get the reward you deserve.”

Chapter 1

Sweat streamed down Korwin Solari’s face as he neared the final stages of his morning exercise routine. His numerous business dealings weighed considerable stress throughout many of his days, and he enjoyed keeping fit so that he could keep his mind and body focused.

“Just two more, sir,” chimed his fitness droid, who was looking down at him while he pushed the dumbbell weights upwards.

“Two,” exhaled Korwin. “And … one….”

“Another excellent workout, sir,” said the droid as it took the dumbbell from him and set it back on the bench press holdings.

“Thank you, Kay-Four,” said Korwin as he wiped the sweat from his face with a towel, then wrapped it around the back of his neck. “I’ll be in my private chambers. Hold any calls that come in.”

“Yes, sir.”

Korwin walked across the length of his private gym, entering a door on the far right of the room. This led to his private office, which was spartan in design save for his immaculately clean mahogany work desk, a cabinet built into the wall of the left side of the room that contained prestigious awards and priceless artifacts from a dozen worlds, and a large painting of his family that was squarely placed on the crimson wall to his right.

He stopped to look at it, as he did every morning. To remind him of his heritage. The sacrifices made.

Of loved ones lost.

The breeze and sound of the waves gently cascaded through the windows that overlooked the beach and ocean below his villa. The soft glow of orange light from the newly rising sun lit the darkened room just enough so he could move about.

The painting portrayed his Pantoran mother and father, both prominent figures on Eudora. His father, stern but composed in his white and black business suit, a red carnation rose nestled in his lapel pocket. His father’s hand rested on the shoulder of a much younger version of Korwin from his childhood days, who was dressed in his boarding school uniform. His mother was portrayed sitting down, her features soft and beautiful. Her wavy, lilac-colored hair spilled down naturally, complimenting her flowing, cream-colored maxi dress. In her arms was his younger sister in a peach-coloured dress, still but a few years old then.

He could hear in the back of his mind the mantra that his father had instilled in him on an almost daily basis when he was growing up.

A Solari must always do what needs to be done. No matter the cost. Employ this lesson, my son, and no enemy will ever challenge you.

His mother, despite her beauty and warmth, had also been of a similar mind to his father, and her words washed across his memories of her as well.

A Solari never wavers from their commitments, my dear boy. There is no doubt, no apprehension. Only success. A Solari must always be successful.

But they were both gone now. His father’s firm hand but a shadow on his shoulder. His mother’s warm hands but a memory. His dear sister’s body was never found after the accident. And despite their untimely deaths many years ago, he took their words to heart. It had allowed him to remain strong. Focused. Disciplined. Successful in his business dealings. And, most importantly, unopposed. All except, of course, one matter that had eluded him these past few years.

He was about to move towards the entryway to his private bathing room when the communicator on his desk chimed. Taking a few steps forward, he pressed the button on the console.

“Kay-Four, I thought I told you to hold my calls.”

“It’s Ceryss, sir,” came the soft voice of his personal assistant. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but a rather urgent call has come in.”

“Can’t it wait?” he asked, annoyed.

“I don’t think so, sir. It’s an encrypted message. From your mutual benefactor.”

Korwin exhaled slowly.

“I see. Thank you, Ceryss. Transfer it to my private chamber.”

“Very well, sir. Transferring it through now.”

The roar of the waves crashing against the sand intensified, as did the breeze whipping in through the windows. As he pressed another button on the console, the figure of a smartly-dressed female Imperial officer came into view. Her intent and calculating eyes met his.

“Captain Gaspra,” he said coolly. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

[CRS Vigilant]

“Shore leave,” said First Lieutenant Nick “Jasted” Finelli as the group of pilots crossed the hangar bay towards the awaiting transports. “It’s about kriffing time!”

“A few days of rest, relaxation, and girls,” piped up another pilot. “Girls as far as the eye can see!”

The look on Lieutenant Gemilan’s face gave away some displeasure at the pilot’s comments. Taking a free hand, she gave the pilot next to her a quick slap. “Is that all you stick-jockeys can think about?”

The pilot was caught off guard and gave a quick yelp. “Hey, relax Lieutenant,” he said with a smirk. “Yours truly is a natural babe magnet. One look at me, and the fine ladies will be over me like bees on a --.”

As Gemilan gave a huff of disgust and increased her pace, several nearby pilots laughed. “Men,” she said with a disgruntled voice.

“All right, guys, settle down,” said Andrew “Dobber” Dobson as he turned to walk backwards and face the group. “I’m sure there will be a little something for everyone. Just don’t party too hard.”

“Says you, Major!” piped up someone from the back.

As he was about to reply he felt himself bump into someone from behind. The group of pilots stopped as well. Turning around, he saw that it was Lieutenant Colonel Chris “Jalb_k” Reynolds, the current leader of Rogue Squadron.

Oh kriff, thought Dobson.

A small smile spread across Reynolds’ face as he stepped in beside him.

“Better watch where you’re going, Major,” he said, placing an arm around him. “And I’m sure you could use some time to unwind and be your unusual self. Especially,” he said after a moment, “if you intend to get any snuggling done.”

The group of pilots broke into a roar of laughter. It had been no secret by this point that he had been unintentionally caught in his own quarters with his then Executive Officer of Blue Squadron the night before the Battle of Endor. While they had both survived the major battle, it resulted in them being reassigned to different units. She had been assigned to General Syndulla’s group as they required someone with experience, though she had simultaneously been demoted. He, on the other hand, had kept his rank and been transferred to be the Executive Officer of Buccaneer Squadron while Blue Squadron was officially disbanded due to casualties and general re-organization.

“Cheer up, mate,” continued Reynolds, removing his arm and giving him a slight punch in the left shoulder. “Just having a laugh. Enjoy your time down with Dia.”

“Thanks,” replied Andrew, his face turning a slight shade of red from embarrassment.

“What about you, Lieutenant Colonel? Where will you be heading?” someone else asked.

“Honestly,” said Reynolds, “time away from you group of hairy Wookiees will be a vacation enough.”

Laughter erupted from a few pilots.

“Truth be told though,” he continued with a chuckle, “I’ll be part of the second wave taking shore leave. Someone’s gotta protect your sorry butts while you’re down there getting stung by all the queen bees,” he finished with a wink.

Andrew was fairly certain he saw Gemilan roll her eyes in disgust.

Just then a deck officer walked up to the growing group of pilots and other personnel in the area.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “Those of you going down to Baterron will be in Group A. You’ll be taking the lambda-class shuttle to your right. Those of you going to the resort moon Eudora will be in Group B. You’ll be taking the lambda-class shuttle to your left. Make sure you have everything you need. Once you are down there, you won’t be coming back for a few days.” A chorus of cheers rose from the crowd at this last sentence. A few pilots and personnel gave fist-pumps in the air at this news as the deck officer continued speaking. “One final thing: the return shuttles will only be making one trip back for your particular group. Do not be late for the cut-off time. Otherwise, enjoy your shore leave.”

With that, the group dispersed and headed towards their respective shuttles. There were far more personnel heading towards the shuttle for the main planet. Only a handful of pilots and personnel made their way with Dobson towards the second shuttle.

As they boarded the loading ramp and took their seats, Andrew thought back to the private correspondence he received from Dia the week before.

Andrew,

I know it’s short notice, but I’ve taken care of all the arrangements. Don’t worry about a thing! Meet me at the Marivaal Resort. Give your name at the front desk.

See you soon,

Dia

P.S. – Bring plenty of credits.

They’d been trying to coordinate leave time together, but with the way that things were moving with the transition from the Alliance to the New Republic these days, sometimes things seemed more chaotic than before Endor.

He didn’t know how it happened, but it was pure luck that they’d been able to coordinate this time together after being apart for so long. He wasn’t too keen on her emphasis of bringing credits, if only because he wasn’t looking forward to any shopping sprees that drained his meager bank account.

Still, he thought as he strapped himself in, she is worth every credit. He just hoped that he wouldn’t be broke by the end of the mini-vacation.

***

As the shuttle ramp descended on the landing pad thirty-five minutes later, the group of pilots and personnel walked down into what could only be described as paradise. Lush green trees and shrubbery decorated the view in front of them, as did more than a dozen varieties of beautiful and colourful flowers. The warm sun beamed down on the newly arrived group, and a cool breeze came in off the water. In the distance he could see white foamy waves gradually crashing then receding against the white sand of the beach, which was dotted by patrons and vacationers. Children scurried to and fro, chasing each other or running back from the waves, then into them as they came in. Further off, he could see sailing ships interspersed along the seascape in the distance.

They were met by a bronze 3P0-style protocol droid once the group was unloaded.

“Greetings,” said the droid in a female voice as it took slow steps towards them. “I am Tee-Kay-Four-Bee. I’d like to welcome you to our humble resort of Marivaal. Please follow me as I take you to our check-in facility. From there, you will be guided to your rooms.”

The droid turned and began to lead the group down the curving path of smooth white stones that led into a cluster of trees and other bushes. As they rounded the corner, he could begin to see the colors and shapes of the buildings coming into focus.

By the Force, he thought in amazement when they cleared the entrance path, this is humble?!

Beings from dozens of worlds milled about the area. And not just any beings. Beings who had money that could easily afford to flaunt their status and wealth while on vacation – and look casual while doing so.

In the center of the courtyard stood what could only be described as two fish-type creatures pouring water into a crystal clear fountain pool. Numerous white-stoned buildings were decorated beautifully with orange rust-colour terracotta tiles arranged neatly along the slanted tops and edges. Every building had siding that contained geometric patterns to resemble exotic shapes and creatures, and some of the more prominent buildings had white marble and gold figures lining the entry or archways, almost as if to depict a scene from a story.

And that was just the beginning.

As he looked around, he could see shops that advertised luxurious goods from possibly a hundred worlds. Marble statues were placed every so often near sitting areas or some of the street pathways, paying tribute to several figures from a variety of races and genders. He also noticed some tented sections where merchants sold their goods and wares – and not the inexpensive, trinket types either. There must have been stalls with two dozen or more ripe and luscious fruits alone, not to mention exotic flowers or seashell jewelry. Some of the larger seashells glinted as the sunlight hit them, indicating that they were encrusted with precious stones and gems.

“As you will see,” said the protocol droid, turning to the crowd and extending an arm, “there are different colored bricks that line the ground. Each one will lead you to a specific location or district. A map will be provided to you upon check-in. Please follow the yellow bricks and enjoy your stay.”

Andrew stared for a few extra seconds at the yellow bricks, which were in fact a rich gold-color, that were placed along the white-stoned court. He could not help himself but wonder if they were really made of gold or painted to resemble the color. As the group began to make their way past him, he followed the yellow bricks until he came to an open-aired building that had an aquamarine banner which read REGISTRATION in distinct white lettering. He immediately noticed a flower merchant adjacent to the registration area with a dozen different types and colours of flowers he did not recognize. Briskly making his way over to it, he saw the male owner fixing up the display while another employee was pruning flowers in a bouquet behind him.

“Good afternoon, sir,” said the dark-skinned owner with a thick but cheerful accent as Andrew stopped at the stall. “How may I be of service to you today?”

“I am in need of flowers,” he said, his eyes darting around the display.

“Ah! That is something I can most definitely help you with. May I ask the occasion?”

“Let’s just say it’s for someone very special whom I have not seen for a long time. What would you recommend?”

The owner flashed him a smile and clasped his hands together.

“Ah, to be sure that I understand you correctly, sir, is this special someone a close family member or friend? Or a lover perhaps?”

Andrew’s face turned a slight shade of red at the embarrassment from the question.

“Let’s just say more than a friend....”

“Oh ho!” he said in delight, placing one hand on the table in front of him and raising a pointed finger in the air. “Hakeem knows exactly how to help a man such as yourself who is in love, sir! So that I may help you make the best selection, can you tell me about her? What is her personality?”

He was caught off guard by the last set of questions.

“Uh, how does that matter?” he asked.

“Certainly you yourself would understand, sir,” Hakeem said, leaning forward and speaking to him intently, “the value of picking the right gift for the right partner. Especially if you have been apart for some time.”

Can’t argue there, Andrew thought. “Okay then. She’s … headstrong. Strong-willed. Loyal. Dependable. Assertive, but caring. She can be funny. And…”

“Beautiful?” Hakeem cut in, raising an eyebrow.

“More beautiful than any sunrise or sunset,” he finished.

Hakeem stood back and clasped his hands together. “She sounds like a woman of determination and true beauty, my good sir. And Hakeem has just the solution for you! These,” he said, gesturing to the left of the table, “are two varieties of Kinkorrian Lillies.” Andrew noticed their curving, oval-shaped petals extending outwards with several yellow stamens protruding from the centre of each. “The red ones symbolize passion and determination, while the white ones symbolize purity and love. A fine combination for your lady, I believe.”

“That sounds like a good combination. How much for a bouquet?”

“A bouquet of these beautiful flowers would normally be three-hundred credits,” Hakeem began.

Three-hundred credits!” Andrew choked out.

“Yes, sir,” continued Hakeem without missing a beat. “Such beautiful flowers are difficult and time-consuming to cultivate. But luckily for you, they are in season and freshly picked. For a lucky man such as yourself, Hakeem would be willing to sell them to you for, say … two-hundred credits.”

“One-fifty,” Andrew countered after a few seconds, guessing that Hakeem was someone in the business of haggling.

“I’m afraid one-fifty is not a good price for a full bouquet, sir. Several flowers, maybe.”

“One-seventy-five,” Andrew countered.

“Hakeem must also pay his employees, who work very hard. He would be willing to do, say, one-ninety credits.”

“One-eighty-five,” Dobson countered once more, growing more impatient with Hakeem. “And not a credit more.”

Hakeem paused for a moment, a serious look on his face. “One-eighty-five,” he said, before breaking into a jubilant laugh and pointing at Andrew, “is a price that Hakeem can live with to please his customers! And you have made a very excellent choice, sir. I’ll prepare it right away!”

Not happy about the price that he was paying for the flowers, Andrew paid Hakeem and held the bouquet in his hands shortly thereafter.

Still, he thought as he walked back towards the registration area, she is worth it.

Walking up to one of the kiosk lines, he waited while those ahead of him registered with the staff and droids. When it was his turn, he was greeted by a yellow-skinned female Rodian.

“Good afternoon, sir,” she said, keying up her computer. “Name please?”

“Andrew Dobson,” he said as he placed his duffle bag on the ground next to him.

“Dobson … Dobson… ah! Here we go. We already have you booked to stay with Miss Dia Tann. You’ll be staying at one of the guest apartments of the Villa de Sanquo.”

“Villa?” he asked, blinking.

“Yes, sir,” she continued, “the Villa apartments are reserved for our esteemed guests throughout the year for special occasions.”

“I see,” he said slowly as she handed him a map of the area.

“This map contains a layout of the shops and districts in the area, as well as local and emergency contact information. Let me finish up here and I’ll have a serving droid take your bags for you.”

As she made the final few keystrokes, a laminated card with the unit name and number appeared from a small machine to her right. Placing it in a burgundy card envelope with the resort’s logo on it, she handed it to him.

“Bixby will take your bag and show you to your room.”

Pressing a button on her console, a droid emerged from the room behind her. Only it wasn’t any droid. It was a Clone Wars era B-1 battle droid! It must have been one that had been bought after market and reprogrammed from a killing machine into a serving machine.

“Bixby,” she said to the droid as it moved around the counter. “This is Mr. Dobson. He will be staying at Guest Apartment One of the Villa de Sanquo. Please take his bag and see him there.”

“Of course, madame,” said the droid with its slightly comical, buzzing voice. As the droid picked up his bag, he followed it down the corridor past two security officers to the right and into a larger courtyard. The courtyard had several small vehicle transports with R2 driving units placed in them. Both the droids and the transports looked as if they were in pristine condition.

Bixby did not move towards any of these, however, and continued walking down the stone path bordered by trees lush with leaves and a variety of orange and yellow fruits, not to mention white blossoms. After walking for several minutes they arrived at their destination.

This isn’t an apartment, he thought as he took in the building in front of him. It’s a small house!

As he glanced down the road, he could see a handful of others that were similar every few dozen feet or so.

The building was, like the others in the region, ornate with its design and layout. It had a small wooden gate that needed to be opened to enter the premises. Several windows of varying sizes were laid neatly on either side of the building’s main door and archway, hinting at the rooms within the building. The roof was slanted and contained water funnels to allow for drainage when it rained. There was also a small yard with neatly-cut grass on either side of the stone walkway that led up to the door. He also took notice of the flower beds nestled against the side of the house. Staring at the flowers planted in them, he looked at the bouquet in his hand, then back to the house again. They were the same Kinkorrian lily varieties that he had bought at the merchant’s kiosk.

Well … kriff, he thought.

The building was similar in quality to the buildings he had seen earlier. Yet somehow, it seemed more relaxed and quainter. Perhaps it was because of the lack of other conjoined buildings and the bustling crowd.

Opening the gate, the droid led him to the door. It was a thick and heavy door which had an ornate metal handle on the right. The door also had what must have been a symbol or crest of some sort carved into it. To the right of the door was a small black panel that could be used to insert an ID card.

“Here you are, sir,” said the droid. “Would you like me to take your bag inside for you?”

“That’s okay, Bixby,” Andrew replied as he took the bag from the droid. “I’ll take it inside myself.”

“Very well. If you need anything, sir, please do not hesitate to call the resort. There is a comm unit inside should you need any type of service.”

“Thank you, Bixby. I’ll be sure to call if I need anything.”

“Roger, roger,” replied Bixby as the droid turned around and walked back the way they had come. Andrew could only stare at the droid and shake his head at the droid’s reply. Taking out his card, he swiped it through the black box. Hearing a click, he used the hand the card was in to open the door and step inside.

The door opened into a fair-sized entryway with checkered marble tiles of cream white and crystal blue. There was a small entryway for removing footwear and hanging up coats, and a medium-sized half-circular table with an adjoining mirror attached to it. Moving further in, he entered an open-concept living room that had cream carpeting, a main sofa, and several pieces of furniture surrounding a small coffee table. He noticed the windows had thick curtains tied to the sides, and the odd piece of artwork that fit comfortably with the style and taste of the room.

This was immediately followed by a sizable kitchen area that also had a marble flooring, as well as a main cooking unit with refrigeration and storage units along with a cleaning sink. The odd plant was placed along the counters as well, more so as decorative pieces. To his right was a small entryway that had what appeared to be a hidden but curved stairwell that led upstairs to the other rooms. Ahead and next to the kitchen was a sliding double-glass door that led to what he thought was a deck outside. A translucent white curtain was fluttering in the wind, indicating that the door was partially open.

“Dia?” he called after taking stock of everything.

“I’m out here!” he heard her faintly call.

Placing his duffel bag down on the floor, he walked forward to the glass doorway while placing the bouquet of flowers behind his back. Moving the curtain aside, he opened the door enough to exit and walked out onto the deck, which was large enough to host numerous guests for entertainment or a barbeque party. What he saw was pure beauty – and he did not mean just the property and sandy-white beachfront he viewed.

There stood Dia, leaning against the edge of the deck. Her blue skin glistened with suntan lotion as the sun’s gentle rays and warmth fell on her. As she turned around, he saw that she was holding a long glass with a pink-coloured drink in it, which also contained a red straw, a small paper umbrella, and a slice of an orange fruit. Her beachwear was a slightly revealing but still modestly appropriate orange ruffled swimwear top. She also wore what he thought was a high waist bikini that was mostly covered by a flowing orange, red, and white cover-up piece that partially exposed one of her blue legs and bare feet.

“Hello, handsome,” she said with a smile and began walking towards him, “long time no see.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I must have the wrong address. I’m looking for my girlfriend, Dia Tann. Perhaps an angel such as yourself could point me in the right direction?”

She smiled and gave out a slight giggle as she set her drink down on a small table to her left. As he neared her, she moved her arms to wrap them around his waist, he likewise doing something similar with his left arm. Their bodies embraced, and they began exchanging several kisses.

“Seriously,” he tried to say in between the kisses, “if she knew I was kissing another gorgeous woman, she’d probably kill me. I really need to find her.”

“Damn straight I would,” she said with a grin before kissing him one final time.

“And these,” he said, moving the flowers from behind his back, “are for you.”

“Kinkorrian lilies!” she exclaimed, smelling them deeply. “You are too sweet! You do know that these are also in the flower beds out front, right?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Some things I learn the hard way,” he said with a sigh.

She kissed him one final time before taking her right hand and pressing it against his cheek, stroking it with her thumb. “I missed you.”

“And I, you,” he said, taking her hand in his and kissing it. “But I have one question.”

“Oh?”

“How did you afford such a luxurious place?! I’m fairly certain we’re not being bankrolled. Well, at least I’m not anyway.”

“I told you in my message, don’t worry about it. I have everything taken care of.”

“Okay,” he said, bringing her hand down and squeezing it. “I just hope I don’t go bankrupt while we’re here.”

“You won’t,” she laughed, “unless you decide to spend it all in one place. Or go to the casino. Which you shouldn’t,” she said, pointing a finger at his nose.

“Don’t worry,” he said with a grin. “I’m not that inept.”

“Says you,” she said with a playful smirk, lowering her finger.

“So. We have a few days to ourselves. What should we do?”

“Well, the first thing you’re going to do is take this bottle of sunscreen and apply a fresh coat to my back and legs while I soak up some more sun.”

“This sounds like a great start to our vacation,” he said with a wink.

Gently tapping him in the chest with her free hand, she reached for the bottle of lotion and handed it to him while placing the bouquet of flowers on the table. Squirting some lotion into his hands, she turned around and he began applying it to her shoulders and back.

“While I’m doing that, you’re going to go upstairs and have a shower. You smell of sweat and motor oil. And your clothes are a bit … inappropriate for this setting.”

“Hey, it didn’t help that our old command ship got blown up by the Second Death Star. My one good shirt was on that ship,” he said as he applied lotion to her back.

“I also went ahead and bought you a brand new shirt and shorts, and some other dressware. They’re waiting for you in the bedroom.”

“Did you at least pick something that matches the colour of my eyes?” he asked playfully.

“Ha. I picked something that is tasteful and matches my new outfit.” She turned around and opened her palms, indicating that she would do her arms, front, and face herself. Squirting some lotion into her palms, she did just that. “Then after that, we’ll go back into town. I’ll show you around, do some shopping. Dinner at six, fireworks along the beach later at night, which we can also watch here.”

“How many bedrooms does this place have, anyway?”

“A few. You can pick any that you like, though I’d recommend the one at the far right when you go upstairs. Allows for a nice breeze if you have the window open at night. Or,” she said with a slight pause, “if you’re feeling comfortable with the idea, we could both share the master bedroom.”

He paused for a moment and thought about this as she finished applying lotion to herself. He certainly didn’t want to seem chauvinistic, or too forward given what had happened before Endor. Still, they had been together for some time. Maybe it was time to take the next step.

“Well,” he said, carefully thinking about his response, “I’m open to negotiations.”

“Good,” she said after a moment, seemingly happy with the response. “You just forgot one thing.”

“What’s that?”

Moving her hand to her waist, she undid the beach skirt and tossed it gently away, revealing her blue legs.

“Don’t forget to do the legs. And the lekku.” Taking her drink once more, she turned and walked over to the long deck chair in the middle of the deck. Laying down on it, she spread one leg out while propping the other up with her foot.

“Yes ma’am!” he replied as she put on a pair of sunglasses, then took a sip from her drink.

“I love a man who listens,” she said with a grin as he walked over and put some lotion into his hands.

Chapter 2

After taking an extra long hot shower – a luxury that was not available to anyone on the Vigilant – he found the clothes she mentioned laying on the queen-sized bed in one of the guest bedrooms. It was spartan in terms of furniture, but spacious enough that one could easily move around. She had picked out a red shirt with a pattern of various-sized white flowers covering both sides plus the short sleeves. There was also a comfortable pair of cream-coloured khaki shorts with two pockets on the side that came down just above his knees. Lastly, a new pair of footwear for walking that fit perfectly and felt like he was walking on clouds. Surveying himself in the mirror at the opposite end of the room, he thought the attire suited him well.

He then remembered the perfume gift that he had brought with him. Gremlin had promised to order him some after a mission a while back, and she had made good on her promise to do so. Reaching into his duffle bag, he pulled out a sky-blue rectangular box the size of his hand. Opening it, it contained a small vial about half the length of a pen. The box also contained what must have been a handwritten note from Gremlin. Fishing it out of the box, he opened it and read its contents.

Dobson,

The perfect gift for the perfect girl.

Don’t screw this up.

G.

P.S. -- Hope you get LOTS of snuggles!!

Mischievous as ever he thought as he took out the small vial of perfume. It contained a liquid that was tinted a light yellow. The label was emblazoned on the side with the company logo below it. Rosewater Mist it read. Unscrewing the black cap, he expected an overpowering scent, but instead was met with a gentle though intoxicatingly sweet smell.

Jackpot! he thought as he felt himself relax from the smell. She’ll love this!

He screwed the cap back on and began to make his way downstairs. Descending the spiral staircase into the combined kitchen and living room area, he met her as she was finishing putting the flowers in a vase full of water.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked, turning towards him.

“I think you have perfect taste,” he said. “I love it.”

“Thought you would. What’s that?” she asked as she moved towards him, looking at the vial in his hand.

“This,” he said as she stopped in front of him, “is a lovely little gift for a lovely woman.” He placed the vial in her palm and watched as she turned it over to examine it more closely. Her mouth opened slightly in surprise as she realized what it was.

“Rosewater Mist? Do you have any idea how much this costs?!”

“A small fortune,” he said, “though I was able to pull a string through someone in the wing to get it on short notice. Do you like it?”

Unscrewing the cap, the sweet aroma once more filled the room.

“I love it!” she exclaimed with a grin, screwing the cap back on. “This will definitely earn you some extra points in the snuggle department. I’m going to go change quickly, then we’ll go. Sunscreen’s on the counter.”

Moving past him, he jumped and gave a quick yelp as she unexpectedly pinched his bottom. He turned half around to see her flash a grin and give him a wink as she began her ascent upstairs.

While she was changing, he took the opportunity to apply some sunscreen and inspect the kitchen more closely. The fridge and pantry were stocked with a variety of foods, snacks, and beverages, artfully arranged as if someone had decided to carefully catalogue the items after shopping for groceries. The cupboards contained an array of cooking supplies, tools, and utensils, as well as fancy beach-themed dishware.

Talk about ritzy he thought after surveying the kitchen. Just then, he heard her footsteps coming down the staircase. As she entered the room again, he noticed she was wearing a pair of white-heeled sandals with a flowing beach themed bardot dress that was similar in color design to his shirt. It fit her well and was obviously designed for comfort while also not being shy about showing her curves from certain angles. It had a cut near the front left that partially exposed her right leg as she walked. The dress stopped just above her chest with small off-shoulder sleeves, exposing her neck and smooth shoulders. She also wore, surprisingly to him, a pair of cream-coloured hoop earrings, as well as a cream bandana with leaf patterns across her head. And she smelled intoxicating. He tried to not be impolite, but he couldn’t help his jaw from dropping open slightly.

“Well,” she said as she stood in the doorway. “What do you think?”

“Like I’ve just died and gone to heaven,” he replied.

Taking the small white purse in her hand she moved towards him and gave him a gentle thump on his chest with it, then used her free hand to push his chin up to close his mouth.

“Careful, lover boy,” she said with a grin. “You wouldn’t want to spend all your compliments in one place, would you?”

“Only,” he said as she took his arm in hers, “if you promise not to spend all my credits in one place.”

She gave a short but sweet laugh. “No promises on that one,” she said as they made their way for the exit.

Chapter 3

They took their time while walking and entered the bustling shopping district hand in hand about fifteen minutes later. They each had a fruit kebab in their offhand, having stopped at a small vendor kiosk in the main square to buy some. They were, he thought at the time, a bit overpriced. Then again, he couldn’t argue about the delicious taste.

As they followed the purple bricks and moved deeper into the shopping district, he couldn’t help but notice the number of droids and servants for some of the female patrons carrying stacks of boxes in their hands with multiple bags hanging off of each arm.

“They must be loaded,” he murmured to her as they made their way past several pairs of patrons and shops.

“Some of them are,” she said, glancing at him. “This is a district which is extremely popular with the wealthier patrons who visit the resort. But, there are a few shops around here that offer more affordable options and products,” she finished, taking another bite out of her kabab.

“And I suppose you’ve already done some scouting as to which shops you want to go to?” he asked.

She gave him another quick glance, a small smile creasing her lips. “You could say that. Let’s stop here first,” she gestured towards a clothing store on their right.

Its title was Veronique’s. Mannequins lined the large windows displaying a variety of beach and dresswear. A holographic signed near the entrance boldly displayed that a sale was going on. 40% OFF! TODAY ONLY! it read.

“Well, I guess a shop or two wouldn’t hurt,” he said, stopping with her to let some patrons exit. “By the way, where’s Bee-Dee-Bee-Two? I haven’t seen him since I got –.”

As if on cue, he felt something small and heavy grab onto his short legs and begin its climb up his torso. The droid settled on his right shoulder, giving a few chirps as he turned to look at the little droid. Then it began to purr.

“… here,” he finished. “Hi, Bee-Two. Have you been following us this whole time?”

The droid chirped an affirmation at Andrew’s inquiry.

“He’s missed you.”

“Oh really? I haven’t seen the little rust bucket since – ow!” he exclaimed as the droid lifted its left foot and jabbed him in the side of the face. “Why you little!--”

“Okay, you two, be nice,” interjected Dia, lifting her arm to let Bee-Dee climb onto her. The little droid gave an annoyed grunt and moved onto her shoulder. “We are on vacation after all.”

Andrew and the droid eyed one another for a few seconds before he extended his arm to offer a handshake with the droid. “Okay, Bee-Dee. I’ll be good to you if you’ll be good to me. Shake on it?” The little droid eyed his hand for another few seconds, considering the offer. Then it extended its left foot again and placed it in his hand, while giving a sound that was the closest thing to a droid saying ‘deal’.

“Now that that’s taken care of,” Dia said as she rubbed her hands together, “let’s get to shopping!”

***

Three hours later, Andrew sat bored in a comfortable chair in the area between the clothing and perfume section of their fifth store that afternoon. A small pile of bags from the other stores were near him.

“Dia,” he drawled, slumped against one of the arms of the chair, his fist propping up his left cheek, “how many more stores are you planning on visiting? At this rate, you might have to get your own private transport just to ship everything back to you.” BD-B2 was keeping himself entertained by skipping and hopping from one clothing rack to another, humming and chirping a simple tune.

“This is the last one, I promise,” she said, rifling through a circular rack with dresses. She pulled two out and held them up in front of her. “Which do you think is better? The magenta or the purple one?”

“Aren’t they the same thing?”

Raising an eyebrow, she gave him a slightly annoyed look.

“Okay, okay!” he said, sitting up and raising his palms. “Why don’t you take the ones you’ve found and try them on? See which ones look the best. And,” he said under his breath, “hope they don’t break the bank.”

“It’s three for the price of one!” she exclaimed. “When will there ever be a deal like this again?”

“Probably when I get my next paycheck,” he replied, slightly annoyed.

”Oh, ha-ha,” she retorted. Taking several of the dresses she had already picked out, she made her way to the dressing room area where he could see other patrons being waited on by store staff. “I’ll be back.”

Tired of sitting around, he got up and began meandering through the store, casually looking at the items in stock and making his way around other customers. He could hear BD-B2 following him, jumping from rack to rack, still humming his little tune. Eventually, he made his way back to the perfume and cologne section of the store, the strong scents begging to overpower his olfactory senses immediately. Other humans and aliens were milling about the section as well, inquiring with the staff about the perfumes and colognes, or simply making their way by.

As he looked at the names and prices of the dozens of different vials and bottles on display, he couldn’t help but think about how overpriced some of them were. It made the perfume he got for Dia look cheap. He also noticed that B2 had made his way onto the counter, and was nonchalantly moving to a side counter that had samples of perfume spray bottles.

“Excuse me, sir,” said a female-style serving droid as she approached the counter. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Oh, no thank you, I’m just looking for the time being.”

“Very well, sir. Please let us know if you need anything.”

“I will. Okay, Bee-Dee,” he said as he began to turn to the droid, “let’s go see what –.” He froze as he looked at the droid.

It had one of its metal footpads on the spray pump of a perfume bottle with its nozzle aimed squarely at his face. Before he could say another word, the droid gave a gleeful titter and pressed down on the pump. A spray of strong odorous mist flew at his face. His eyes began to burn from the chemicals.

“AHH!” he exclaimed in surprise and pain. Stumbling backwards, he almost immediately bumped into someone behind him, who let out a cry of surprise. Using one free hand to wipe at his eyes, he tried to turn and apologize, only to feel something small and metal behind his feet – which he was certain was B2 -- and he began to lose his footing. As he fell backwards, he felt something tentacle-like wrap around his torso and neck. It was strong enough to prevent him from falling any further and maintain his position.

“You poor dear,” he heard a woman’s firm voice say from in front of him. “Are you alright?”

“I can’t see,” he said, tears stinging his eyes and beginning to run down his face.

“Seela, dear, give me some water,” said the woman as she propped him up and held him in place. He heard the twisting of a cap off a water bottle and a few small splashes fall on the floor in front of him. “Here,” he heard her say as she pressed a damp cloth into his other free hand, “use this.”

Rubbing it against his face and eyes, the cool cloth began to help make the pain reside. It was almost another minute before he could see properly again, and as the figure in front of him came into focus, he couldn’t help but be taken aback by whom he saw. In front of him stood quite possibly one of the most attractive alien women he had ever seen.

Her skin was an orangey red, and her eyes were an emerald green. Her lips were full and coated in a violetta shade of lipstick. In place of hair she had a series of smooth tentacles that flowed backwards and moved slowly, almost hypnotically. She was wearing a rich burgundy dress with cut-out shoulders that made no effort to hide her curves and ample bosom. The dress must have also been partially cut out at the back. While it was clear she had the same arms and legs as any other humanoid, four thick tentacles with pinkish-white suckers flowed from behind her.

Some might have considered her unattractive for an alien species.

To him, she was vivacious!

As she removed one of her tentacled appendages from around him, another shot past him. Lifting it up to him, he could see B2 squirming vainly to try and get away. The droid began to let out a panicked series of beeps and chirps.

“This little one seems to be the source of all the commotion,” she said, looking carefully at the droid she had snared.

“I am so sorry, Miss?” he asked as he reached for the droid.

“Contessa Suli deChenzzi,” she said, handing the droid back to him. He quickly turned the chirping droid over and flicked a switch on the back of its head off. The light in the droid’s eyes faded, and he went limp as he was powered off.

“Thank you, Miss deChenzzi,” he said, returning the cloth to her. “Bee-Two likes to be very mischievous sometimes.”

“Bee-Dee units certainly can be. And you are?” she asked him.

“Major Andrew Dobson, attached to the CRS Vigilant,” he replied, handing the wet towelette back to her.

“A Major!” she exclaimed with an amused tone, gently taking it in her hand and passing it to her serving girl. Then, with a rich, sultry voice, “and what brings such a handsome young man such as yourself to our fair resort?”

“Just here for some shore leave,” he replied, slightly nervous. “Our ship is undergoing a repair and resupply operation over the next few days.”

“Is that so?” she asked, shifting her stance to give herself more appeal. “Are you here by yourself?”

“No,” he said a little uncomfortably at this line of questioning. “I’m here shopping with my partner. She’s enjoying herself with today’s sale. And, coincidentally, draining my bank account at the same time,” he finished with a short laugh.

“Well, with a well-dressed man such as yourself,” the Contessa continued without missing a beat and gently brushing his shoulder, “I am sure she is worth every credit.”

“She is,” he replied.

“Major, if you’ll excuse me, I must be going. I have important business to attend to. But before I do,” she said as her Twi’lek serving girl handed her an expensive looking white purse. Reaching into it, she produced a small gold card made of plastic. “Should you ever find yourself in need of first-class service, please use this card at any location in the resort, all expenses paid. Consider it a thank-you for your services with the Alliance. I do hope you enjoy your stay.” As she passed him, he felt her tentacles brush against him deliberately. He turned to look at her and saw her glancing over her shoulder at him. “And I do so hope we meet again.”

Watching her leave, he flipped the card over, noticing it had only the name of the resort and its logo on it, save for the words ‘Executive Membership Card’ on it. Giving a shrug, and mostly glad that their flirtatious encounter was over, he returned to the area with their original bags. After another few minutes Dia returned to him with a serving droid holding the dresses that she didn’t apparently want.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?” she asked, looking at him. It was then that she noticed B2 was lifeless in his hands. “And what did you do to Bee-Dee?”

“I didn’t do anything,” he protested, holding the droid up. “This little scamp decided to spray me with some perfume in the face. Some ritzy and vivacious female patron kindly caught him and gave me some water to help with my eyes.”

Taking the droid from his hands, she switched him back on. His eyes came back to life and he looked around nervously.

“Bee-Two,” she said, looking at the droid sternly. “What did I tell you about being on your best behaviour?”

The droid began to give a series of chirps and whistles, but she cut him off.

“I don’t care what you think,” she said, lifting the droid to eye level. “Either you be good or you’ll be switched off for the rest of the trip.”

The droid gave a chirp of disgust before giving what Andrew thought was a sigh. BD-B2 swiveled his head around and gave a series of quick beeps that may have translated into an apology.

“That’s better,” she said, placing the droid on her shoulder. “Now, let’s pay for these and be on our way. I’ll have a serving droid deliver everything back to the apartment.”

About time, he thought, moving with her towards the counter. When the cashier rang in the final price, his mouth fell open enough that Dia noticed.

“It’s that much?!” he exclaimed.

“It could be worse, dear,” she said, taking his arm. “Especially if you were looking at a ritzy and vivacious patron. But I’m worth every credit,” she asked, turning to look at him, “right?”

Wishing he’d kept his mouth shut, he couldn’t argue with that. But at this rate, he’d be bankrupt by the end of the day. Paying the cashier, Dia gave her numerous bags to the serving droid for delivery. They exited the shop into the waning heat and light of the late afternoon sun, his wallet feeling assuredly lighter.

Chapter 4

“What do you mean it’s been declined?” asked Dia, her temper beginning to rise slightly. The concierge at the front desk of the restaurant handed her back the silver-coloured card that she had given him.

“I’m sorry, madam,” he said stiffly but politely. “But I’ve tried the card several times and it is not working.”

“Is there a company you can make a vid-call to?” Andrew asked her, placing a hand gently on her right arm. “See if the card is just malfunctioning?”

“No,” she said looking at him, her nostrils flaring slightly. “They’re usually closed after five on weekends.” She turned back to face the concierge. “What about the reservation I made?”

The concierge pressed a few buttons on his computer console, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, madam, but we have no record of the reservation being made.”

“You’re kidding me,” Dia said slowly. Placing both hands on the desk in front of her, she leaned in and spoke with a low voice, locking eyes with the man in front of her. She took a quick glance at the name tag on the front of his blazer. “I made that reservation weeks ago. Listen here, Ga’ary. Do you have any idea who I am?”

“I do, madam, and I sincerely apologize for the other agent not recording your reservation properly. But the main seating areas in the restaurant are full. Unless you have one of our Executive Memberships, you will have to wait in line with the other patrons until a table opens.”

“Wait. In line. With the others,” she said through clenched teeth. “It will be at least two hours minimum before we could even possibly sit down. I am not waiting that long. I want to speak to your manager.”

Before she could continue her verbal assault on the concierge and possibly his manager, Andrew remembered the gold card that he had been given earlier.

“Is this what you mean?” he asked the concierge, digging into his shorts pocket and handing the gold card to him. The concierge took the card and swiped it through the machine. As he read through the information on the computer screen, his eyes momentarily went wide before he recomposed himself.

“This will more than do, sir,” he said, handing the card back to Andrew. “And I most sincerely apologize for my behaviour earlier. We will have a private booth ready right away.” Turning to his right, he gestured for a young female attendant with her hair cropped closely and wearing a black-and-white server uniform with a short black tie to come towards them. “E’liza,” he said to her politely, “please see our guests to the Executive dining area, booth two by the windows.”

“Right away,” she said as she turned to face Andrew and Dia. “If you will kindly follow me, I will lead you to your seating area.”

By this time Dia’s mouth had opened slightly in awe at what had just transpired.

“How did you,” she asked as they followed E’liza, “get an Executive Membership? They’re prohibitively expensive!”

“It was a gift of sorts,” Andrew replied. They stopped in front of a wall that had a turbo lift elevator which led to what must have been an upper level. “That customer who helped me earlier gave it to me. Something about my service in the Alliance. Thankfully for you, not for my good looks.”

As the turbolift doors opened, E’liza gestured for them to enter before she stepped in herself. Once inside, she pressed a button to close the doors. The turbolift began its ascent upwards.

“Yes, well, while you are good-looking, I don’t think you’d warrant getting an Executive Membership for free. Who is even going to pay the bill off?”

“Ouch,” he said as the turbolift stopped and the doors whooshed open. The dining area must have been exclusively for wealthy patrons as there were only a dozen booths placed around the rectangular dining room. Several staff members moved deftly to serve the patrons their meals and drinks or see to their other needs.

E’liza began walking forward. “This way, if you please.”

“Let’s put it this way,” Andrew said as he and Dia walked shoulder to shoulder into the room. “I’m not going to complain about a gift, but I’m not going to abuse it either. If I for some reason must spend some extra credits to pay this off, then so be it. But I was told that any expense I use this for would be covered. Hopefully, this will only be a one-time thing.” They came to a stop at a circular booth that was designed to face outwards towards the beach and ocean. Judging by its size, it could seat six to eight people. An immaculate white tablecloth covered the table in front of the red-coloured cushioned seats.

“I’ll be back with your menus shortly,” said E’liza as they sat down in the booth. “May I get you anything to drink, first?”

“I’ll start with a Blurggfire,” said Dia.

“Just some water for me to start with,” said Andrew.

“Very well, I’ll be back shortly.” As E’liza left to get their menus and drinks, Andrew turned to Dia.

“You know, you really need to work on your social skills sometimes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were about to murder poor Ga’ary back there.”

Dia eyed him coolly before replying.

“Oh, I wouldn’t have murdered him. Just taught him some proper manners without running the risk of being demoted.”

“Yeah, well, keep in mind that we’re transitioning to form the next Galactic Republic from the ashes of the Empire. I’m sure being on good behaviour would go a long way to maintaining that image.”

“A fair point,” Dia said as E’liza returned with their drinks and menus. “But I will definitely be calling customer service tomorrow.”

“One Blurggfire, and one glass of water,” she said as she placed the drinks down. She also passed them a pair of crimson-padded menus to look through. “I’ll give you a few minutes to decide your main dishes. As part of the Executive Membership program, your desserts are on the house this evening.”

As E’liza walked away, Andrew flipped open his menu and began reading through the various dishes that were presented. The price next to each of them appeared to increase almost exponentially.

“Have you ever had Thyferrian Scale Bass?” she asked him.

“I haven’t,” he said after a moment. “But I think I’m going to have a heart attack with these prices.”

***

By the time the sun had begun to set, they’d enjoyed their entrees and main meal. The sun’s fading rays still provided ample warmth as they beamed through the glass, while the restaurant’s cooling system prevented them from getting too uncomfortable. They had tried to avoid talking about their separate assignments but ended up circling back to the topic to share their experiences and stories.

“So, what’s it like serving under General Syndulla?” he asked, leaning back in the booth, their plates and glasses empty.

“It’s tense with the assignments at times, but I’ve learned a lot from her. She really knows what she’s doing and has taught me a few tricks to use in an X-wing. They’ve gotten me out of more scrapes than I care to remember. Did you know that she trained Captain Antilles in the early days of the Rebellion?”

“I heard something about that,” Andrew replied as a new waitress came to take away their dishes. “And considering he’s survived every major battle and encounter with the Empire to date, I think you’re in pretty good hands.”

“She also has tons of stories to tell. The ones about her encounters with Grand Admiral Thrawn are very interesting.”

“Grand Admiral?” he asked her.

“Yeah. Apparently, he was a brilliant tactician that served the Empire. Very observant and calculating. Could even use art to learn about his enemy. Was always one step ahead of the Rebels he faced, and nearly brought about their destruction on a place called Lothal.”

“So, what happened to him?”

“No one really knows. And it’s probably for the best, too. Had his TIE Defender program become fully operational, it would have been bad for the Rebellion all around.”

“Ugh, TIE Advanced are bad enough. I wouldn’t want to imagine what a Defender could do.”

“Me either,” she finished as the waitress brought a piece of chocolate cake with frosting that was big enough for two people to eat. On either side of the plate was a lump of something called ‘vanilla ice cream’ on the menu. The waitress placed the cake in front of them along with two dessert forks.

“Enjoy,” she said, moving to take care of her next set of patrons.

“This Thrawn guy kind of reminds me of this Commodore Barand we’re facing off with right now. We’ve had a few close encounters with him, and he’s handed our butts to us more than once. Very tactical. Him and one of the captains serving under him.”

“Enough about work,” Dia said, sliding closer to him. “It’s time for dessert.”

Picking up one of the dessert forks, Andrew dug out a small piece of cake and frosting from the plate and fed it to her. Dia gave a slight moan as the flavour hit her mouth.

“Oh my gosh,” she said with food still in her mouth. “This is amazing!” She did the same thing with her fork. As the chocolate cake entered his mouth, a burst of flavour exploded against his tongue.

“Oh man,” Andrew said with his mouth full of cake, “I need this recipe.”

“If you do,” Dia said, going for a second mouthful, “you’ll never have a modelling career.”

Andrew gave a quick laugh and placed his right arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer.

“Well,” he said, “taking another bite of chocolate cake, “either way, at least I’ll have one subscriber who thinks I’m handsome regardless.”

***

By the time they had returned to the apartment the sun had set, and a cool breeze was coming in from the water. They found the bags of clothing from earlier in the day waiting in the living room but ignored doing anything with them for the time being. It had been a long day, and after everything they had done, they did not feel like doing much else. It was during a quick trip to the main bathroom to brush their teeth that Dia noticed the red mark on his neck.

“What’s that?” she asked, pulling his collar away slightly.

“What’s what?”

“The red mark on your neck.”

Looking at himself in the mirror, he saw what she meant. A part of his neck was red, and it appeared as if a rash or infection was slowly spreading.

“It looks like a hickey or something.”

“News to me,” he said, looking at it more closely. There were no puncture wounds, so he didn’t have to worry about an infection. “Possibly from something in the clothing or food?” he asked.

“If it was the clothing, it’d be more widespread. There might have been something in the food, but you don’t have any allergies, do you?”

“Not that I’m aware of. It’s probably nothing.”

Dia wanted to press the matter further, to ask if he had been involved with someone else recently but decided not to. It’s a silly thought, she told herself. It was unlikely that he’d have time to see someone else given how busy his squadron activities had been. Then again, they had been apart for a few months after Endor. Anything could have happened between then and now. No, she continued her train of thought. He wouldn’t, not after the flowers and perfumes. And yet, he does have the Executive Membership card….

“If it doesn’t clear up by morning, we can check in with the resort physician staff.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she said, giving him a weak smile.

It didn’t take them long to get ready for the fireworks that evening. They made their way to an area of the property with a hammock strung up between two tropical trees. Climbing into it, Dia had B2 activate a heating lamp that kept them from being too cold before ordering him back to the apartment to recharge for the night. The breeze from the ocean gently rocked them back and forth, and complemented the crashing waves along the beach. A few lights dotted the landscape and houses behind them, but the light was faint enough to not obscure or ruin the mood. Above them, the stars of the galaxy shone down, and they could make out several constellations that were native to the moon’s position in space.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” she asked after a few minutes of silence.

“Sure is,” he said. Then after a few seconds he turned to her and said, “but only because you’re here.”

If he didn’t know any better, he swore that he saw her cheeks glowing a hot red from blushing. Shifting her position slightly, she gave him a quick peck on his cheek, then placed her head on his shoulders and her right arm across his chest.

“So,” he continued, looking at her. “What’s on the agenda for tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow will be a beach day,” she said as the hammock continued to gently rock them back and forth. “I’ve booked a snorkeling session for the morning, and we can enjoy the beachfront here for the rest of the day. Then we’ll be going on a three-day cruise.”

“A cruise?” he asked, slightly surprised.

“Yeah. See that ship out in the middle of the bay?” she said, pointing towards a massive sea cruiser off in the distance. The small lights that dotted along its hull revealed numerous decks that must have been able to hold several hundred persons.

That massive thing?” he asked. “It’s almost as large as a small Mon Calamari cruiser!”

“It is. We’ll get to spend some time seeing other areas around the continent, plus participate in events and see some shows on the cruise. There’s also the matter of the Contessa’s Thunderbolt Cup.”

“What’s that?”

“An air race that takes place during this time of year. Contestants participate in an air race and series of trials. I’ve already registered our names to take place in the event.”

“I thought the whole point of this vacation was to take a break from flying?” he asked, slightly annoyed.

“Mostly, yes,” she said with a yawn. “But the main prize is ten-thousand credits.”

He stared at her for a moment. “Ten-thousand?

“Yup.”

“You really do plan everything. Will we be back in time for the shuttles to take us back?”

“Only the best,” she replied, “and yes.”

“Okay. So, you’ll have to spill the beans. How in the galaxy are you affording all of this?”

“It helps when you have a family connection. My aunt is a bit of a big deal around here, so she can help with things. Like the apartment.”

Small groups of individuals began to gather on the beach ahead of them, and those who were renting the other apartments had come out to watch the show as well.

“So, she owns the apartment we’re staying in?”

Dia looked up at him. “She owns all of them. And the resort.”

“The resort, too?!” he asked exasperatedly, looking down at her.

“Uh huh. When we get back from the cruise, we’re going to meet her for a few hours. I haven’t seen her in years, and she’d love to meet you.”

“I’ll be sure to leave a good impression, then, in case we ever want to return here.”

“I thought you would.”

They met each other’s eyes, and joined in a final kiss. It was warm and gentle, and he could still make out the faint intoxicating smell of the perfume that she had put on earlier. As they did so, they heard a whistling sound off in the distance as a small yellow streak arced up into the sky. They broke their communion to follow it. A few seconds later, it exploded into a shower of brightly-coloured yellow and white sparks. More fireworks and colours rose one after another until the sky was lit with multiple explosions at the same time. Some even took the shapes of different creatures or banners as they lit up the night sky. They could easily make out the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of those around them who were impressed with the show.

As the fireworks show wound down, the breeze from the water continued to gently rock them back and forth, and the heating lamp continued to shine warming rays over them. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing was soft and regular, indicating that she had fallen asleep against him. Not wanting to disturb her quite yet, Andrew felt her warm body against his and could only admire how beautiful she looked as the colours illuminated and danced off her blue skin. And as the resort patrons and beachgoers began their trek back to their lodgings, only the stars remained to bear witness to their love.

For the first time in as long as he could remember, after all the restless nights, battles, and pain that he had experienced in their fight against the Empire, he was at peace and happy.

He wouldn’t have traded this moment for anything. Or anyone.

End of Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4