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(( Related: SWTOR Journal (Halonan) Rude Awakening. The following is on my SWTOR smuggler, Captain Jacqueline “Jackie” Rees. ))

Rising from bed, Jacqueline pressed a kiss to Halonan�s lips and moved to withdraw to the ship�s cockpit. He protested, even briefly drawing her back to bed to finish the gesture her lips started. After months of flirtations and time spent apart, the two had come to a reckoning. They shared in one another, for one fleeting day not heeding the galaxy beyond the ship, even as its threats cast a looming shadow and forcibly came down upon them.

Brembal Kybersmith had made quite the entrance with his Dreadnaught hours earlier, locating the Gunstar quickly upon exiting hyperspace and locking on target. The ship blared warnings and Jacqueline gunned the engines, taking evasive maneuvers. As it was between them, the captain felt no guarantee the Sith would not simply eliminate both her and his son. The navcomputer spat out three potential hyperspace routes, urgently overclocking in its calculations. But as sudden as the threat of assault came, the targeting signal dropped and the cockpit warnings fell silent. 

What followed was a staged bragging session by Brembal, carefully constructed to take aim at them both. In the center was Vanessa, dressed as a tiny Imperial commander, excited to show her mother the Dreadnaught, oblivious to the duel between them with the young child as the prize. 

The image of Vanessa standing proud, Brembal behind, clasping her shoulder, and playing the part of the onlooking father roused something within Jacqueline. Finally, she withdrew from Halonan, this time pressing her lips to his forehead in departure so not to rile more passions between them. �Got to call her,� she told him. He nodded in understanding, a hand tenderly touching her face, and he let her pass. 

Taking up her clothes, she took to the ship�s cockpit and established a communications channel. She hesitated, staring at the holo screen. The recent set of days coalesced around her: a Zakuul raid, a soldier�s funeral, dueling wits against a Sith, a fast-approaching showdown, Halonan. But above all was a child, a little girl with a bright smile and all-too-familiar face, and a knot that twisted tighter in Jacqueline�s chest. Steadying her breath, she contacted the Dreadnaught, now lightyears away after their brief but intense crossing of paths.

Audio and visual channels connected and a young child grinned back at her. So much of her face was already familiar, from the smile to how her dark hair fell over her eyes. Jacqueline couldn�t help but behold an image of herself from decades ago, but without the crucible of years that hardened her edges to the sharp corners of today.

�Hi, Mom!� Vanessa said, beaming.

�Hey kiddo,� Jacqueline eased herself into a smile. She did her best to look presentable, and thankfully at the behest of the holo�s grainy quality, her discomfort was hopefully less obvious to the eyes of five-year-old girl.

�I took the ship back to Tatooine,� Vanessa told her, pride in her voice. �And they�re getting it ready for you to come visit!�

�Oh?� This immediately piqued the captain�s interest. This eased the knot slightly. �So, what�re they doing?�

�Brembal said they need to make the ship ready,� the child told her. �And there are a couple of new places I can�t go.�

�Probably for good reason,� Jacqueline winked at her. �It�s your ship, but you don�t have to be everywhere on it. The bridge is a pretty good place to be.�

�Yeah,� the child suddenly looked uncomfortable. Even through the hazy holo, Jacqueline noticed.

�You all right, kiddo?� 

�Mom, where�s dad?�

The sudden question knocked the captain off an already unsteady stride. She grasped at the words in her answer and settled with: �I don�t know.�

Vanessa looked disappointed at this, but she leaned towards the holo capture. �Could he maybe come back like you?�

Jacqueline winced. Briefly, she wondered whether Brembal was lingering just off camera. In most calls, she assumed he was, or at least that Vanessa would eventually tell him everything. �Yeah, but I don�t think it�s like that with your father. I don�t know where he is, but I also don�t think he�ll come back like me. Sometimes people don�t come back, Vee. It�s hard, but that�s how it is.�

She expected the child�s face to further fall, but instead Vanessa looked midway between disappointed and pensive. There was a curiosity to her that was still unsated. Jacqueline added, attempting to flash a smile: �Why you ask?�

�Can you be a daughter if you already have a dad?�

Jacqueline frowned. �Not sure what you mean, kiddo.�

�I think Brembal wants a daughter but I don�t know if I can be one if I already have a dad.�

Jacqueline stared. �Did Brembal tell you he was your father?�

The child giggled, thinking the question was purposefully meant to be joke. �Nooo,� she giggled at her mother.

The captain visibly relaxed. Running a hand through her hair, she replied: �Brembal takes care of you, Vee. Fathers do that, but mothers do, too. Brembal has a son and that�s Halonan. He�s already a father to someone.�

�Can you have two someones?�

Jacqueline winced but nodded. �Yes, but Brembal isn�t your father. Sometimes� sometimes not all kids have fathers. Sometimes a kid doesn�t have a mom, either. But they can have people who take care of them, and that�s OK. You call those people by their names. That make sense?�

Vanessa nodded knowingly, such a child�s confirmation. �So I should call Brembal, Brembal.�

Jacqueline had to tamper her reply. She almost leaped at the console to answer. Instead, she flashed a smile and winked. �Yep.�  

Vanessa smiled. �OK, I can do that. I already do that, so I�ve been doing it right.�

Jacqueline breathed a sigh of relief. �Good, yep. That�s how you do it.�

The child looked at her. Feeling Vanessa�s small eyes upon her, the captain knew the tough line of questioning hadn�t concluded quite yet. �Mom, when you come to visit, can you stay?�

There it was. The knot in Jacqueline�s chest wrenched in place. �Not yet, Vee. I know that�s not what you wanted me to say, but remember, I have to fight the bad guys.�

�But Brembal said he could help with the bad guys!� It was a pleading tone and expression Jacqueline knew all too well. The child was quick to well up in tears, her emotion playing out clearly on her small face.

�I know,� Jacqueline said quietly. �But Brembal can�t. But Vee, I promise I�ll finish and get to you. You got my word.�

�Is that like a promise?�

�Yes. It�s a promise. I promise, kiddo.�

This appeared to assuage the child�s tears for now. But the hurt tone remained at first. �Okay,� Vanessa breathed, then slowly recovered: �Can�t wait to see you, Mom. I�ll show you everywhere on the ship! And my uniform, and��

The child went on, making an endless list of activities the two would complete together while Jacqueline was aboard the Shadowstar. The visit too would be a staged event, a theater set by Brembal and attended by Jacqueline. She knew she�d be little more than a glorified prisoner granted temporary stay. But to see this face, this smile, this unruly swipe of bangs that looked so similar to a young girl she once knew decades ago, the captain prepared to step into the dragon�s den.

�I love you Mom,� the child said, the words rousing Jacqueline from her thoughts. She smiled.

�Love you, Vee. Be good. Be there soon. Promise.�

The holo cut out. In the darkness of the cockpit, Jacqueline sat and stared at the empty space the child�s smile used to be. A hand touched her shoulder, its presence at first an unexpected, unfamiliar sensation, and she nearly jolted before she caught herself. Amused, she chuckled at her own expense and looked up. Halonan stood beside her, smirking boyishly back, then the expression gave way to a square-set jaw and determined face. Against the dotted pinpoints of white stars through the viewport ahead them, the two stood in tandem.

Author Ari
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