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The ceiling of the Gunstar captain’s quarters returned Jacqueline’s stare. Awake on its bed, her mind refused permission to let her sleep. Nothing — pacing the room, stretching, even attempting exercises the small quarters allowed — culled the quickened heartbeat that kept her awake.

Fuck, she swore to herself. Pacing the room for the umpteenth time, she resorted to kicks, punches, whatever physical outburst sated her anxiety. Halonan’s absence helped little. There and gone again, she could hear his and Vanessa’s murmurs down the ship hallway, their voices muffled by the bulkheads between them. She couldn’t make out any words and though a simple swipe of her datapad could activate the holocamera inside, she stubbornly neglected it at her bedside table. It sat waiting, unattended, pointedly unused.

Fuck, she repeated, still frustrated. She couldn’t put a word to the frustration that clawed at her. Kentin, Brembal, Halonan, Tulson, the list droned on. Kentin and his warnings. Brembal and his supposed change of motivations. Halonan and his new revelations. And Tulson, some asshole who took a shot at her then made a beeline for Vanessa.

Snapping up her datapad, Jacqueline established a quick Holonet connection and set to work. Something needed to be put to her crosshairs. Tulson, everything. Whatever she hadn’t uncovered yet. Taking the datapad to the bridge, booting, then uplinking into its hardier computers, Jacqueline Rees settled herself in for a sleepless night.

—-

The ceiling of the Gunstar crew quarters was dark and loomed tall overhead. Curled against Halonan, Vanessa pressed against his warmth. His smell was welcome — and as she learned, smells were most important — but what was new yet familiar was a presence. The child couldn’t describe it, not knowing the words, but it felt comforting. Like an embrace without a word spoken or word with emotion felt, no need explained. She lay herself into his reassuring presence and allowed sleep to take her. Still, a fear nagged the edges. In the same vein of Halonan’s presence warming her, the unknown that stood beyond it waited. Prowled. Looked for opportunity. Sensing it, realizing something stalked beyond the line Halonan set, Vanessa clung to him in a growing fear.

Wait, smells. The child told herself. Recalling her most recent teachings, she set her mind on an enclosed space, of the smell of breakfast coffee and sizzling eggs. A vision of her mother grumpily making breakfast, of Halonan blearily coming from the bedroom dressed in a robe. Two mugs, one red, another grey metal. Her cup was white. A breakfast table set for three and a tall room with a bright window. An endless yet fascinating line of cars flew by in the glass, the constant stream of traffic of Coruscant. Fastening onto that, cocooning herself in that room, she closed its walls to the unknown that prowled. The frightening edges of the Force that newly became known to her quieted, kept at bay by the walls in which she wrapped herself.

Safe, protected, Vanessa Rees drifted into a wakeless sleep, warm in Halonan’s arms till dawn.

Author Ari
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