(( Related:. The following is on my SWTOR smuggler, Captain Jacqueline “Jackie” Rees. Or in this journal, known by her original nickname: Vee.
For the purpose of this journal, any mention of “Jackie” refers to a friend from childhood, not the hard-drinking, swearing Jacqueline our characters know in present-day SWTOR. Though this Jackie swears, too. ))
The day the fires came began like any other. No sun rose in the lower levels of Coruscant and street lamps were scarce, but bid by whatever task, need, or hunger that withdrew them from sleep, its denizens took to the streets near dawn. Some closed the doors of their homes behind them, those that were without shelter simply rose from the patch of ground they chose the night before to lay.
Vee rose from the dry spillway, her favored retreat on her father�s more drunken nights. Her clothes filthy and face smudged, she matched the attire of the other vagrants. She climbed down, showing a child�s dexterity, and bounded off, arriving at a mechanical shop best described as a jagged hole blasted through durasteel and mechanical workings like guts spilling from inside.
An auburn-haired teenager looked up, tattoos visible on her arms and hands covered in grease. �There you are, kiddo. Get some goggles, gloves, and give me a hand. We�re welding today.�
�Jackie, hi!� Vee greeted her, brightening at the sight of her friend. �We finally adding the repulsorlift?� She eagerly snatched up her own goggles and gloves. Both were a modified pair, clearly for an adult originally but customized to better fit a child�s smaller features.
�Yep. And it�s easy to screw it up if we don�t weld the brackets right,� said the auburn-haired Jackie, not bothering to look up, already concentrating on the half-assembled speeder between them. �So shut up and pay close attention. Today�s a hard one.�
�Okay,� Vee nodded, sidling against Jackie and offering her smaller hands to hold pieces in place.
They worked undisturbed for a few hours, the life of the lower caste momentarily uneventful. Outside the shop, a child sprinted by with adults in pursuit, food tucked under their small arm. A drunk meandered nearby and, seeing Jackie, lingered in the shop doorway, slurring words he assumed were appreciative.
�Ignore him,� the auburn-haired Jackie murmured to Vee as the child looked up nervously. The young girl nodded and obeyed. Ignored completely, the man�s drunkenness eventually tugged him listlessly away. He vacated the open door much in the wandering way he incidentally came.
Midday was when the first shots rang out. Blaster fire wasn�t uncommon in the lower levels but still raised tension among its residents. Panhandlers opted for more insulated corners, street shops closed. Jackie rose briefly to close the shop door then continued welding.
�Eyes forward, kid,� she told Vee. The young girl glanced nervously at the shop door then complied. The two kept working, the blaster fire intermittent but thankfully distant.
A sudden thud dangerously nearby alarmed them both. The shop rattled, a few parts hanging from the ceiling came tumbling down. Vee was roughly grabbed and pinned to the ground. Momentarily stunned, her eyes finally settled on the sight of her friend bodily shielding her. Metal parts clattered around them, inches from inflicting great harm. The ground beneath them shuddered from the blast then finally stilled.
�Stay here,� the auburn-haired Jackie told her, rising cautiously. She slowly approached the shop door, peering outside. The blaster fire continued, notably closer. �Shit,� she swore, running a hand through her hair. �Shit, shit, shit.�
�What�s happening?� Vee asked, tempted to get up but obediently staying put.
�It�s happening,� the tattooed teenager said. �They�re finally going at it. Vee, we got to go. We�re right in the way and it�s not stopping this time.�
�They�re going to keep shooting?�
�Yes, and worse. That blast was a mortar. Fire is catching in the street. It�s already everywhere. We got to — Vee! VEE!�
Before her friend could finish her words, Vee flung the door open and ran, her feet sprinting towards home.
The way was paved with flames and screams. Still Vee ran. She dove in against the tide of those who fled, the stray flails of their arms or feet clipping her, at times knocking her down. Too small to notice and too driven by the threat of flames to pause, no one helped her up. She rose after every hit and kept going till she came upon her own house.
Already the flames were upon it. Homes were constructed of the most available material, often the cheapest, a fire�s most prized delicacy. As quick as she was, the flames were quicker and the tide of evacuees slowed her down.
�Dad!� she screamed against the flames. Hesitating only a moment, she dove inside.
The heat was overwhelming but the smoke was far worse. It choked her throat and burned her eyes. She immediately fell to her knees and crawled, attempting to delve as far as possible against the torrent of flame that roared to turn her away.
There he was, sprawled face-down on the floor, looking no less different from his other days of drunken unconsciousness. Grimacing against the heat of the flames, Vee crawled on her stomach toward him.
�Dad?� she pushed against his shoulder, trying to rouse him. He didn�t move. Overhead, the ceiling cracked, its supports groaning against the flames� onslaught.
�Dad!� she screamed, shaking him roughly, her voice barely rising above the twisted sounds of the building slowly failing, its supports cracking under its weight.
He woke. His eyes rolling around, it took him several moments to recognize the danger of the flames surrounding them. Never did his gaze land on her. Vee breathed a sigh of relief that immediately choked into a cough from the acrid smoke.
�Dad, we got to — � Vee began but was abruptly cut off. As the immediate danger finally dawned on him, her father jerked into action. An arm lashed out, in his mind seeking to push himself off the floor, but in the process striking his own daughter across the face. He rose despite the heat, smoke, and flames, and ran, performing a dangerous feat no sober man would try, his drunkenness a shield of ignorance and sheer stupidity. He made it out alive but suffering from atrocious burns. He collapsed then crawled within the tide of people escaping through the street. Buried deep within the throng, he disappeared.
Inside the flames, Vee reeled from the blow. Disoriented and choked from the smoke, she blearily looked for first her father and finding him gone, then for the exit. She crawled on her stomach, young as she was, still understanding the danger of the smoke and flames. Above her, the ceiling crumbled, sending piles of embers to the floor around her. Still she crawled, no longer able to see the exit, only guessing where it once was. The smoke choked, the flames threatened to burn, and the edges of her vision began to go dark.
�Vee!� a voice yelled from outside. It sounded familiar.
�VEE!� it screamed again, louder.
Her vision still clouded, Vee crawled toward it. She�d guessed the right direction of the door, the voice affirmed it. As she belly crawled closer to the collapsing doorway, hands reached out to grab her. She found herself in Jackie�s arms, the teenager nearly crushing her with a relieved embrace.
�Sonuvabitch kid, you scared me,� the tattooed woman told her, pulling Vee in close. �Didn�t know where you went, why the fuck would you — �
With a groan, the house finally began its collapse. Taking Vee under her arm, Jackie moved out of harm�s way. The two joined the retreating crowd, Vee going in and out of consciousness, her friend keeping her close.
What felt like hours later, Vee was dimly aware of Jackie setting her down. The child opened her eyes just in time to see the teenager buckling her into the seat of a shuttle. Around them, the shuttle was nearly bursting from the number of refugees attempting to spill onto it. Guards beat them away, shoving against the tide of the crowd. They tugged at Jackie as well, she responded with a curse word and sharp elbow to their face.
�Jackie!� Vee cried, holding out a hand. The teenager clasped it and drew in close.
�Last seat. Get out of here, kid,� she told her, then added a wink. �And remember what I said about gangs, okay?�
Vee didn�t reply. Young as she was, the realization that this moment was a goodbye struck her. The guards drew in again, this time pulling her friend away. Their hands broke off.
�You�ll be fine, kid!� the auburned-haired Jackie called out to her, her voice carrying over the sound of the panicked crowd. �You�re smart. You�ll make it!�
The door of the shuttle closed. Engines flared to life and the shuttle pulled away. Through the paned glass of its windows, Vee watched the lower world burn.