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Staring at the flames that licked the walls, Jacqueline Rees sat with an uncorked bottle resting against her leg. The fuel of the flames sizzled, a gorey pile unrecognizable as the man it once was. Cooked meat, cheap liquor, and human waste stank in her nostrils. The liquor lingered in particular, its sticky, sickening smell tugging at memories. 

Still drank the same stuff, she mused darkly. She raised the bottle not to her lips but again to the fire, dumping more of its contents into the flame. The fire crackled, gulping it greedily, the pulpy remains readily soaking it in. Like marinade to meat. The flames licked higher, casting long shadows over the walls. What few belongings could be found in the hovel also burned in the pyre, the lifelong collection of a man burning in a matter of minutes.

Two decades past yet the memories were still sharp and clear. Days and nights of terror, screaming, blood, bruises, tears. Of relentless blows and the words that fell between them. Heralding the memories was yet another migraine, a common occurrence now. Too common. Wincing, Jacqueline pressed a palm against her forehead, coaxing part of the thudding pain away. Though light was hardly a migraine remedy, she looked back at the fire. This fire eased the pressure and pain.

Pouring the rest of the bottle into the flame, Jacqueline rose and looked around. There was nothing left, not even a sign this man had a child. No toys, no holo, no tiny bed or blanket. She was erased, hardly a thought to whatever depraved life he lived till it ended in a meaty heap.

You were never a Skye. You were always a Rees. Brembal’s words as he told her the fate of her father. Of all people, an old enemy, a Sith, snuffed the life of her childhood tormentor out. And by his remains, gave him a beating decades late. She wouldn’t have even believed the tale had it not been for something in Brembal’s tone. A quiet sincerity, almost a promise. It stirred a conflicted set of feelings in her, one a reluctant gratitude and the other paranoid caution. He sought out and killed her father but didn’t ask for anything. He was never so direct. The two of them rarely traded insults as they had. There was also the night he again picked her from the floor after weakness took her, sent her again into the bottle. Never had she been so vulnerable to someone. She stood now in the very place that taught her showing your underbelly, if even a moment, meant death. The old Sith had every reason to do it, either for his own selfish ends or revenge for her rising against them. Or maybe she was still useful to him yet, with the fates of Vanessa and Halonan still undecided. Her feeling indebted to him could all be part of the plan.

Delving back into that old feud, that old mentality struck a weary chord in her. An overused one, but well practiced. Never a Skye? Jacqueline smirked. Twenty years a Skye, running, shooting, drinking, screwing, surviving by wits or edging out others by a hair. Stalling death or capture another day, living a life with a short expiration date. Rees was her own invention, a lifeboat from a doomed ship, only six years old now. Six, just like Vanessa. The little catalyst for everything.

Or maybe I’m more a Tulson, Jacqueline mused to herself. Whatever the fuck that means, other than trying to kill family. Tossing the empty liquor bottle into the waning fire, she breathed in the pungent smell around her. There wasn’t enough in this hovel to burn. Setting it all aflame would take effort.

“You’re not even worth it, old man,” she told the cooked pile in the corner. The flames had completed their task and now charred its edges. Standing over it, she breathed again, the evaporating traces of the liquor bringing with them remaining memories. 

“Not worth it,” she murmured. Closing her eyes, the memory played out. As the liquor evaporated in the fire, leaving the blackened pulp exposed to the full heat of the flames, the memory ended. Stopped. Spent, at least for now. The migraine lifted, prompting a smile.

Done, Jacqueline left the hovel. Its windows glowed red in the dark till the flames consumed whatever meager fuel was left. No one but looters stood vigil to Joral Skye’s remaining funeral pyre.

Author Ari
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