[Story] A Story a Week 8

[[ Prompt: A story set during a war

Kazta has lots of war stories, but this was the event that made her decide to enlist in the Republic army. Turned out a bit different than I’d planned, but that’s writing  isn’t it?  Also my lore/timeline stuff is probably all wrong, I know. ]]

“Hey, Kazta!” Xerok waved enthusiastically from the street below. While Kazta was not the oldest nor the biggest of the kids in their quarter, they all looked to her as their leader. Kazta lowered her binoculars and waved the other zabrak up to her perch atop the building. There were a lot of zabraks among them, Xerok often talked about how his parents thought he should have a traditional upbringing, and complained about the other species in the quarter. Kazta didn’t exactly know what a traditional upbringing meant, but she did know that Xerok’s mother made some very tasty snacks, and she’d often follow him home to get some.

“Don’t be so loud,” Kazta scolded him, once he’d made his way to the roof and sat on the crate next to hers. “They’ll hear you.” She pointed across the way toward one of the camps, where several figures appeared to be unpacking supplies. Those were Imperials. Kazta’s parents had warned her about them, as had every other kid’s parents. So far, Kazta hadn’t seen them do anything bad, but she heard all kinds of stories, all of them supposedly true. Like that they ate people. It was impossible to tell at this distance, and the strange armor obscured their forms, but Kazta thought they were probably humans. There were a handful of humans in their quarter, and they’d always seemed nice enough. Kazta had definitely never seen them eat anyone. And thus far, neither had the Imperials, though their transport had lingered overhead for the past several days, and they’d been seen by just about everyone in the streets. They claimed to be gathering information, but no one knew just what kind of information, or for what reason. Still, parents everywhere warned their children to avoid them — which of course, had only made them all the more determined not to. Xerok had just returned from a spying outing, and it was obvious from his excitement that he had news.

“Kazta, there’s some at our building.”

She blinked at him, her eyes widening. “At our building? What for?”

“Dunno,” Xerok shrugged. “But I saw them. Want me to show you?”

Fear gnawed at Kazta’s mind, but she didn’t want to show it. And curiosity demanded to know just what those strange humans would want with their building, anyway. They were family apartments, nothing unusual or fancy about them. Maybe Xerok was just mistaken, and they were taking measurements or something innocent, and they’d all laugh about it and tease him later. Kazta assured herself that was all that was happening.

They scrambled back down to the street, climbing down the stacked crates they’d pushed against the side of the old storage building. By this time, a few more kids had gathered, curious about the commotion. She wanted to tell them not to follow, just in case it really was dangerous, but she didn’t have the heart to. Besides, the Imperials wouldn’t bother a bunch of kids, especially if there were little kids. She just hoped no grown-ups saw them; if they did, they’d certainly be in trouble for going to look at the Imperials.

By the time they could see their building, there were no Imperials in sight. Xerok insisted that they’d been there, that they’d just left while he was fetching Kazta. Maybe it was true. It didn’t make Kazta feel very reassured either way; if she could see them, maybe she could convince herself it was nothing big. She agreed to help Xerok look for them, if they had just been there, they couldn’t have gone too far. Neither of them had seen or heard any shuttles.

“Kazta,” he whispered, and she could see from his eyes that he was afraid, too. It made her feel worse, because if he was afraid, maybe it really was bad after all. “What’dyou think they–”

An enormous sound seemed to tear the world in two; Kazta had one moment to look down and see the very street underneath them had cracked, but she could see little else, the air had become solid with dust and debris. An explosion! What else could it have been? Kazta grabbed the hands of the two nearest little kids, tugging them away from the tangle of metal and stone. They still wore expressions of stunned surprise, too scared to even cry. Xerok nudged the others after them. “Come on,” Kazta said. “We’ll go in the pipes. They won’t look there.”

Underground, the system of ducts and tunnels was mostly intact, though they had bent in some places, and others had filled up with rubble. Their parents always told them not to go down into the tunnels, but now Kazta was glad that they had; both she and Xerok knew the quickest route away from the smoldering ruins of the building. The trouble was just where they were going. Xerok asked, in a whisper so the little kids wouldn’t hear, but Kazta wasn’t sure of that just yet. Maybe the storage building would be safe. It hadn’t been used in some time, but it was spacious and well insulated.

Kazta peered out through the vents first. She couldn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean they weren’t still watching. Sirens screamed, back in the direction they’d come from. What if there were more explosions? She tried not to think about that as she pried the vent loose and ran over to the storage building. The main door was locked, but there was an access panel on the outside that she was just small enough to wiggle through. Once inside, she opened the main door and Xerok herded the other kids in. The gravity of what had happened now seemed to reach them, and they huddled together, their eyes wide. “I’m scared,” said one, his black eyes moist with tears. “I want to see my mama,” said another.

“We will,” Kazta said, hoping she sounded reassuring. “Soon.” The truth was she didn’t know if her parents were okay or not — if any of them were. How would they get by all on their own? She shook her head. It would do no good to worry about that right now. They had more pressing things to think about. One at a time, then it would all fall into place. At least, that’s what her father always said. She tried again to push the worry out of her mind. She started opening crates, looking for anything that could be useful: food, tools, something soft to sleep on. Judging from the layer of dust on top of the crates, she wouldn’t find much. They would need food first, then maybe a weapon. Kazta had never used a real weapon before, of course they’d played pretend but that wasn’t the same thing. Especially if the other person was trying to shoot you for real.

In the bottom of a barrel she discovered some kind of dried fish; it smelled a little weird but she wasn’t sure if it was supposed to or not. She handed them out to the others anyway. It was better than nothing. Kazta planned out where she might look for more, later under the cover of darkness. There was a shop directly across from the storage building, if the owner had run they could take anything they needed. Kazta promised she’d find a way to pay him back later. He was always kind to them whenever they came in, and the idea of stealing from him made her feel ill, but this was an emergency after all. She was sure he’d understand.

Kazta dragged a rough cloth out from behind a stack of crates. It was scratchy and dusty but at least it was something to keep them warm. Where would they get blankets? And for that matter, how long would they have to stay here, hiding? She pushed a crate over to the window and stood on it to look out. She couldn’t see any people, but thick black smoke poured into the sky from several spots. That probably meant more explosions. She frowned, stepping down again.

She didn’t sleep that night, nor did Xerok. They took turns sitting with the smaller kids for warmth and comfort. They cried off and on, but most of them eventually fell asleep under the rough blanket. Kazta listened; the sirens had not ceased, and every so often a rumble shook the building and they knew it was another explosion. A couple of times, she heard blaster fire, and carefully peeked out the window to see what was going on. Her heart caught in her throat when she looked out and saw four Imperials, right beneath the window. They were talking, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. She didn’t dare go out to look for food after that, she didn’t even dare to whisper to Xerok.

Dawn rose a vivid pink on the horizon, the air still heavy with dust and smoke. Kazta stretched, groggy. The others were all sleeping still, even Xerok. Now would be a good time to try to get food, if she was quick they wouldn’t even notice that she had gone. She first checked the window, but the streets were silent. Even the sirens had finally stopped. The silence was almost worse, Kazta thought. She slipped out the main door and crouched down on the cracked street. All clear. She dashed across the street and into the shop. As she’d guessed, the owner wasn’t there, and a large chunk of stone had fallen onto the roof, crushing a portion of it along with some of the shelves. Kazta hoped that he wasn’t under there. She grabbed as much as she could carry, wishing she had a pack of some kind. At least it wasn’t far to their hiding place. She imagined the look on their faces once they saw that she’d brought back breakfast.

Kazta ducked out of the shop and began to run, and she almost ran right into the armored man. She uttered a cry of surprise, and one of the jars fell to the street with a crash. There were two of them, covered from head to foot in heavy armor. She couldn’t see their faces through the dark visors of their helmets. They had blasters, too, really big ones. Maybe they’d go easy on her, Kazta thought. Maybe they’d sell her or make her work in a pit, she’d heard that Imperials did that. Or maybe they’d just shoot her right there in the street.

“Hey, kid, you okay?”

His voice was muffled from the helmet, so she wasn’t quite sure she heard him right. “Y-yeah,” Kazta said, then realized what he was asking. The man said something to the other, and the second man called someone on his wristcom. They were probably calling to have them pick her up. At least Xerok and the others were safe, though they wouldn’t have any food. Hopefully they’d just leave it here, and Xerok could come get it later. They were still talking. Neither of them had shot her yet.

“Are you Imperials?” Kazta asked. She didn’t dare ask what they planned to do with her.

She thought one of them laughed. That’s what that sound was, she was sure of it. “Us? No, we’re the ones who just chased them off.” Kazta stared, not understanding. “We’re from the Republic.”

It made a little more sense now. Kazta had heard of them too, though not as much. She remembered some debate between her parents about whether their planet should join or not, and there would be a vote to decide, but it wasn’t them who got to vote. Had they joined? Maybe, else why would they be here? “Wait!” Kazta said. “There’s others, in there. Other kids. We were–” she didn’t want to say they were hiding. It made them sound like babies. “I was helping them.”

The two men looked at each other again. “Where?” Kazta stepped around the broken jar, and led them to the door of the storehouse.

“Xerok, it’s okay,” Kazta called. “Open the door.”

The air above them hummed to life; a shuttle was descending. “There’s your ride,” said the armored man. “They’ll take you somewhere safe and get you some food.” The man looked to Kazta and nodded. “You did a real good job, kid.”

 

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