Shura stopped swimming and
turned around onto her back, letting herself be carried by the waves of
the ocean. The sun had just cleared the crest of the hill and coloured
the shallow waves in a glittering silver.
It was going to be a hot day again.
It was odd, she had only arrived on Tressilia ten days ago and it already felt as if she’d been here forever, as if somehow all the dreadful events of the last months had happened in a different life. She had settled in at Rhona’s place and the mornings were spend in pleasant routine: an early start, breakfast with Rhona, then Rhona would leave for work and Shura take her morning swim.
Shura closed her eyes and deeply breathed in the salty air. Small waves were lapping over her body and on her face.
In a moment like this, it was hard to believe that out there, in the sky above her, were grotty space stations, filthy bars and even filthier hotels. It was even harder to believe that these had been the world she’d been living in for the last weeks. And before that? Somewhat cleaner space stations and sterile star ships.
How Anakin would love this place, Shura found herself thinking. The sea, the landscape and the tranquility of Rhona’s home - but mainly the sea. I’d never be able to get him out of the water. Now, he will never be able to visit.
Shura swallowed to get rid of the lump in her throat, but she couldn’t stop herself. Tears were running down her cheeks, mingling with the salty ocean.
Why did it had to happen? she wondered. Why did it all go wrong?
Her stomach knotted together in all too familiar pain.
This, too, had become part of her morning routine. At some point she would inadvertently think of Anakin, or Lucas or some small event in the past and she’d be torn out of her tranquility and reduced to a crying wreck.
She was indulging in her grief, Shura knew. All she had to do was pull herself together and she’d be fine. What was the point of wallowing in misery? It wasn’t as if it would help anybody.
Stop crying, she ordered herself. Now!
Rolling over on her stomach, she pushed her face into the water, washing the tears off.
She’d be better getting out of the water. It was still cold enough to chill when she stayed in the water for longer.
Turning around, she started swimming back to the shore.
Well, perhaps her wallowing in misery did help one person: Rhona. By allowing herself to grief so publicly, Rhona might be able to mourn Lucas as well.
As if Rhona hadn’t done that for the last year or so.
Shura grimaced. In the last ten days, Rhona and herself had taken turns in breaking down, one thing would send Rhona into the depth of despair, the next day it would be Shura’s to cry her guts out.
Rhona had said, that there was even a biological reason for this: it was a survival strategy that only one person could take the luxury of falling apart at any given time, the other person had to be alert for danger.
So, what about mass hysteria, Shura had asked.
Whatever it was, Shura decided as she walked onto the beach, she could only hope that this was helping - someone.
The air was pleasantly warm, already on the best way of getting hot.
Shura picked up the towel from where she had dropped in on the way into the water and rubbed herself dry.
One thing she was sure about was that her physical condition had improved a lot since her arrival. Not that this was a great surprise, with all the good food and healthy exercise. Even her skin was tanned, something that had not happened since the war started.
As she looked down on slightly protruding stomach, she could not help thinking that her pregnancy had become a lot more visible in these last days. Perhaps it was just the time when the babies had grown enough to really make a difference. Somehow she couldn’t help feeling that it was the fact that she had finally admitted to herself that she was pregnant and was going to keep the babies that made all the difference.
Part of her was still scared like hell at the prospect of actually going to have the babies. The mere thought of having to buy maternity clothes made her want to run away screaming.
That, however, was something she wouldn’t have to deal with today.
Slinging the towel over her shoulder, Shura walked the short distance to Rhona’s house.
Today, as all the days before, she would spend doing sweat nothing - and doing her damndest not to think about anything upsetting, from Anakin’s accident to breathing techniques for giving birth.
No, no, she would particularly not think of anything to do with actually giving birth.
Shura draped the towel over the bannister of the porch and walked into the cool house.
Instead of thinking disquieting thoughts, she’d go on reading the second volume of the Five Guardsmen. Fortunately, it was just as absorbing as the original and so far had done its job remarkably well.
Shura slipped into a pair of knickers and pulled one of her shirts over her head.
The question now was where had she left the book?
As Shura looked about the room she spotted something that surely had not been there when she went swimming. A white piece of paper lay on the table by the sofa, right next to The Queens’ Revenge.
A tingling sensation ran down Shura’s spine as she stared at the paper.
It must be a note from Rhona, Shura told herself, probably about something as mundane as what to cook for dinner.
As Shura picked up the note she saw that it consisted of two pieces of paper, one was a computer print-out, the other a short note from Rhona as she expected.
For a moment, Shura stared at the note without being able to read a word. What if Anakin had died or his condition worsened?
No, Shura told herself, if anything dramatic had happened, Rhona would have surely told her in person, not simple left a note.
‘Dear Shura’, the note started, ‘remember I told you about this friend of mine who works at Alma Serena? I finally heard back from him today. I printed the message out and ’, several words after that were crossed out, ‘hope you actually wanted to read this.’ The next sentence was crossed out again. It looked as if Rhona had written ‘please don’t do anything…’ but thought the better of it. ‘I’ll be back for lunch. I’m thinking of you. Rhona. – And, yes, Tosh and I were going out briefly at med school.’
Shura took a deep breath and turned to the printed out message, part of her asking herself whether she did want to read it.
The first thing that caught her eye was the name of the sender Dr T. Faruz. Next to his name was the emblem of the Military Hospital at Alma Serena.
Shura sat down. Taking a deep breath, she started to read:
‘Dear Rhona, I cannot tell you how excited I was about your message! It’s been positively ages since I heard from you - or that I have been in touch myself, I am not complaining! It’s good to hear that you are ok, and enjoying yourself and your work. Must be nice to be independent and not a harassed employee of a hospital. Not that I want to do anything else but work here. However, things have been tense in the last months. With the war being over and all, everything is going to change. Not that anybody is not happy about it finally being peace again, but - well, this is a military hospital and the casualties are just not coming in anymore! Some yes, but just not in the numbers we had before. So, a structural reform is in the offing and everybody is scared to be on the cut-list. Including myself. And this is of course not creating a good working environment. So far (I think) serious cases of back-stabbing have not occurred.
‘But enough of this. You were asking about our celebrity patient. Be assured I don’t mind. You are not the first to ask.
‘Unfortunately, there isn’t really that much I can tell you. It’s all been handled very, very secretively. The doctors actually dealing with the case are said to have been sworn to secrecy. But certain details have gotten out - some of them had of course been on the news right after the accident. Extensive damage to all internal organs, spine, multiple skull fractures, fractures of ribs, legs, arms, severe burning of skin etc. etc. and of course that cut-off hand. Since then, the poor man has been in a coma. According to rumour, and a nurse who helped out in surgery, they have done some skin-grafts, set his nose and started on repairing his face, but it seems that restorative surgery has been halted. The point is, nobody excepts him to survive, except this doctor who came here with him from Chardri. - General opinion is still divided about her, but most think she’s insane.
‘Oh yes, allegedly somebody has tried to kill him. Officially nobody knows anything, so of course everybody is talking about it. Rumours abound who was behind the attempt on his life: it was the Jedi, no it was somebody from the League, it was his wife (I beg you, his wife of all people!), it was his second-in-command to ensure his own promotion – though as Mulcahy has already been sworn in as the new C-in-C of the New Forces I wonder what he is supposed to gain from it. Somebody even said it was a publicity stunt, which is absurd since the alleged assassination attempt has not been made public. As I said, nobody knows anything. One thing that I can tell you for a certain fact is that there are security guards in front of his room. I checked it out myself and they are not allowing anybody, even doctors like myself, in that ward without having been called in. “Taking a short-cut” was not a acceptable excuse.
‘Well, I better start making my rounds now. It’s great to have heard from you. I’m sorry I could not be of greater help. Write again soon, my little rabbit.
‘Love, your mouse Tosh.’
Shura let the letter drop onto the table.
She did not know what she had expected but not this. Nor had she expected her own reaction to it - or lack of reaction.
So, Xavier is now head of the New Forces. I wish I could send him my condolences.
Not even reading herself mentioned as one of the possible murderers upset her.
The second thing that she noticed, after Mulcahy’s promotion, was the fact that Dr Faruz seemed to be avoiding mentioning any names. Picking up the message, she glanced over it again. With the exception of Mulcahy’s, Faruz’ own name and Rhona’s, the letter did not contain a single one. Was Faruz afraid that the mail was checked for any occurrence of words like ‘Skywalker’ or ‘Talassa’?
After an assassination attempt on one if their patients it was understandable that the doctors were feeling paranoid.
Oh gods! Somebody had tried to kill Anakin.
Suddenly Shura was glad she was sitting. Her pulse was racing and her hands shaking so badly, she dropped the letter again.
There were guards posted in front of his room. Nobody would put guards there if there wasn’t a real threat.
Guards to protect a dying man.
Shura had the impression that she was not getting enough air into her lungs.
How could anybody try to kill Anakin now when he was so badly injured he was going to die anyway?
Shura remembered sitting next to Anakin’s bed in the very same hospital after the Battle of Doom waiting for his condition to improve. She had been so very afraid, and angry at the people who had hurt him this badly. There was nothing she had wished more than to get these bastards and kill them very, very slowly.
And now, he was hurt even more and somebody had tried to kill him? Gods, if only she had been there. She would have happily ripped his guts out with her bare hands and strangled the bastard with it.
As to who the would-be assassins were, there was no doubt about it in Shura’s mind. It was those thrice-damned Jedi.
But what good would guards be against one of those freaks? They couldn’t protect Anakin.
And neither could she.
Shura pressed her hands over her mouth as if she could hold back the sobs that shook her body.
Now that is more like the reaction I was expecting, an oddly detached part of her said. Hysterics.
So what? Some other part of her screamed. Who cares? Who gives a bloody damn if I have hysterics or not. I don’t.
If only this wouldn’t hurt so much. If only she knew it was going to get better. If only she could forget all of this and stop feeling - and thinking.
Shura tried to steady her breaths, to calm her racing heart. She couldn’t make it all better, she knew that, but she could do something about the pain.
Unsteadily she got to her feet.
Oh my gods, Shura, don’t! some part of her shouted.
She shook her head.
Somehow she managed to get into the kitchen without falling over her own feet. She opened the fridge and found the big bottle of vodka where she thought she had seen it.
For a while she glared at the blue-tinted glass of the bottle, trying to tell herself that she really, really ought to close the fridge right now and stop even thinking about having a drink.
But she needed a drink, now.
She grabbed the bottle and unscrewed its top.
“You are absolutely insane, Shura,” she said and had a drink to that.
somebody yelled into her ear.
“I think she’s coming round,” another, more distant voice said.
What on earth was going on?
“Shura,” the first voice screamed into her ear again. “Wake up.”
Then somebody slapped her.
Shura tried to raise her hand, but somehow her body did not seem to obey her. It seemed to disconnected from her brain. Not completely however, she could feel her stomach hurt. Her head hurt, too. If only she knew what was going on. Where was she?
“She’s coming round,” the second voice said. “Shura, open your eyes.”
Her eyes opened, but apart from a bright light, she did not see anything at first. Then a face, a strange face appeared hovering above her.
“That’s good,” the face said. “Look at me.”
The more awake she became the more she hurt. She was lying on something hard and the sour smell of vomit was thick in the air. Her head felt as if somebody had hit it against a wall, repeatedly.
“No, no, don’t close your eyes again,” the strange man said. “Keep looking at me.”
“I am going to kill you,” the first voice said, but it sounded hardly like a threat more as if the person was on the verge of tears.
“Rhona, you stand back,” the man said.
Rhona! Oh, shit.
Shura tried to look to where Rhona must be standing.
“No, don’t move your head,” the strange man told her. “Just look at me. Can you lift your hand?”
Lift her hand? Why shouldn’t she be able to do that?
She stared at the dark-skinned man bending over her wondering who he was.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Lift your right hand,” the man told her. He looked nice, Shura thought.
“You drank an entire bottle of vodka, that’s what happened!” Rhona yelled. “I came home and found you on the floor. I didn’t know whether you were alive or dead.”
“Lift your right hand,” the man repeated, putting his own hand on hers.
“I’m sorry,” Shura whispered.
She must be still in Rhona’s kitchen, lying on the kitchen table most likely.
Had she really drunk the entire bottle?
A small squeeze reminded her that she was supposed to lift her hand. Obediently she raised it.
“Good, that’s very goody,” the man said. “Now can you curl your toes?”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she followed his orders.
“You hit your head against the table when you fell. We didn’t know whether there were any serious injuries.” The strange man smiled at her. He was probably a doctor, too. He was wearing a white coat after all. “Now, sit up, slowly.”
They had been afraid she had broken her neck, paralysing herself. Taking a deep breath, Shura tried to sit up. She had to hold on to the edge of the table and pull herself into a sitting position.
“Are you trying to end up like Anakin?” Rhona shouted.
Anakin - the babies - oh hell. Shura felt panic rise in her, making her forget that she was supposed to sit up. Drinking an entire bottle of vodka, the gods only knew what that might have done to the tiny lives growing inside her. What had she done? She stared at the strange doctor, she wondered whether he knew. Did he know she was pregnant at all?
“Come on, you can do it,” the doctor coaxed.
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted out.
“You should have thought about this before you drank yourself unconscious,” Rhona stated visciously.
Oh, no! Shura closed her eyes as if she could close out the knowledge of what she’d done. She had killed Anakin’s children.
“Rhona, would you please calm down,” the man exclaimed, sounding irritated for thefirst time. “Shura, look at me,” he said then, and when she opened her eyes again, he continued, “we have checked the babies and it seems that they have suffered no permanent damage. We have given you something that neutralises the alcohol in your metabolism and consequently in theirs, too. You were very lucky, my dear. Now sit up.”
Shura felt weak with relief, her babies - Anakin’s babies were alright. She smiled shakily at the doctor and with an effort managed to pull herself into a sitting position. Her head was not only throbbing now but spinning at the same.
It was strange, thinking back of how often she had told herself she wanted to get rid of the babies and now, when she had for a moment thought they were gone, she was only relieved and glad they were fine.
The strange man standing next to her, kept a hand on her shoulder as if he wasn’t sure she would collapse again.
Shura looked around, carefully not to move her head unnecessarily.
Gods, how disgusting. Her shirt was covered in sick and blood.
Rhona was standing in the corner between the fridge and the sink. There was vomit and blood on her dress. She held her hand clasped tightly in front of her and a look of fury and pain on her face that Shura knew she wouldn’t forget in a life-time.
“I’m so sorry, Rhona,” Shura whispered. But saying sorry just wasn’t good enough, she knew that.
“Rhona, come here,” the man said, “we have to take her for a walk.”
“What?” Shura asked. She felt hardly able to sit, leave along for walking.
“Apart from bumping your head against the table, my dear,” the man told her, “you also gave yourself serious alcohol poisoning.”
Alcohol poisioning? Shura stared at the strange doctor, hadn’t he said the babies were alright?
Before she could ask the question, he continued, “We cought it in time to harm neither you nor the babies permanently. Now we have to get your circulation up again. Now, let’s see whether you can put your feet on the ground.”
Shura felt embarrassed enough to wish that she could sink into the ground. Or die. Not only had she abused Rhona’s hospitality, no, she also had to almost killed herself in her kitchen.
Letting go of one edge of the table, she slowly managed to shift her legs off the table. Her stomach felt as if it was about to explode again and her arms were shivering when she finally sat on the edge of Rhona’s kitchen table. From her new perspective she could see the broken vodka bottle spread across the floor.
The strange doctor smiled encouragingly. “You’re doing great,” he told her. Then he turned to Rhona, who still hadn’t moved. “Could you bring me a glass of water, please?”
Finally Rhona stirred and after filling a glass with tap water she crossed the few meters to the table and handed the glass to the strange man. She was breathing heavily and for a moment Shura was afraid Rhona would punch her.
“I am never going to forgive you for this,” she whispered. “Never.”
“Drink,” the doctor said, “slowly.”
He pushed the glass into Shura’s hand, and with some effort she managed to raise it to her mouth without dropping it.
Staring at the strange doctor past the glass she realised suddenly that Rhona had been calling her by her name all the time. And Rhona had mentioned Anakin. That would probably be the end of her anonymous flight. Not that she could blame Rhona, Shura realised. With her apparently dying on her kitchen floor, keeping her anonymity intact must have been Rhona’s least worry.
“Who are you?” she asked when she had emptied the glass.
“Soran,” the man answered, “I’m Rhona’s colleague at the surgery.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Shura said.
Soran laughed and took the glass out of her hand. “You can lean on me,” he turned around and pulled her arm over his shoulders, “and on Rhona’s. – Rhona.”
For a moment, Rhona just glared at Shura, then she also turned to face the same direction as the others and allowed Shura to place her other arm across her shoulders.
“One day, Shura, I am going to beat the crap out of you.” Rhona stated.
“Rhona, stop that,” Soran told her with what to Shura sounded like the first indication of irritation in his voice, then he smiled at Shura. “Now, hop off and we get going.”
Shura pushed herself off the table and with the support of Rhona and Soran she managed to remain on her feet.
“Where to?” Rhona asked.
“Outside,” Soran indicated with his head. “She’s probably going to be sick again.”
During the eternity she was made to walk up and down, back and forth and around and around the house, Shura was sick twice. The first time wasn’t too bad, the second time her stomach was empty and all she could heave up was bitter bile and something that looked very much like blood.
Rhona looked on with an expression as if she thought that Shura deserved this. And Shura couldn’t really find fault with that. She did deserve it.
But she thought that the walking did help, not her headache, but bringing some feeling and strength back to her limbs.
They didn’t talk, just walked and walked. Finally, Soran decided that it had been enough. They returned to the house.
Together they made Shura comfortable on the sofa, then Soran went to prepare an infusion for Shura, and Rhona helped her into a clean shirt.
When Soran returned, infusion bag in one had and a glass of tea in the other, Rhona fled from the room. Judging from the force with which she banged the door shut behind her, she did not wish to be followed.
“Your arm, please,” Soran said, and when she held out her arm, he pushed the needle into her vein. “This is to rehydrate your body, it also has some painkillers and vitamins in it - for you and your off-spring,” Soran explained as he hooked the infusion bag onto the floor lamp. “The tea is to get rid of that nasty taste.”
“You know who I am?” Shura forced herself to ask. It sounded stupid, but she had to know whether she would have the media, the military and her mother descending on her once he left.
Soran looked at her with a lop-sided grin. “Yes I do, Admiral Talassa.”
Shura sighed. After all this, could she ask him to keep quiet about her being here?
“And, I do know that - officially speaking - you’re not here and you’re certainly not pregnant,” Soran continued, “Rhona may have been to upset to give you an injection but she did not forget to make me swear by my honour as a doctor I would not tell who you are.”
“That’s why she called you?” Shura asked.
“Yes,” Soran replied, “she also would never have been able to lift you off the floor.” Soran paused, then he said, “I know she is very upset, and I know you are, too, but please try to make your peace with Rhona. She had had enough grief in the last year.”
“I’ll do my best,” Shura assured him. Soran did know about Lucas then.
“Well,” Soran said with a nod, “see you around. I let myself out.”
After he had gone, Shura was left alone with her thoughts. Mostly, she was embarrassed. Being drunk was one thing. Getting really drunk and making a fool of herself in front of people she’d never met and would never meet again was embarrassing, but it passed. But getting so drunk that you passed out and almost died of alcohol poising in her cousin’s house was so bad she almost wished she had died.
That, however, was her other emotion that kept boiling up in her, fear. She had almost died, no, she had almost killed herself, that scared her more than she would have thought.
After all the times she had been thinking that she really wanted to be dead, having come that close to dying, she realised that she wanted to be alive. Despite of everything.
The second lesson, if she wanted to call it that, she had learned was that she did want to have the babies, Anakin’s babies. She still did not see herself raising two kids on her own but she wanted to see them life and grow.
Rhona, oh great gods, how would she ever be able to make it up to her? Shura did understand that Rhona was furious and hurt. There was, however, this bitter hatred that Rhona had shown that somehow seemed out of character.
Turning over onto her side, Shura saw that Rhona had returned. She had changed and was sitting on one of the comfy chairs, her knees pulled up to her chin and a scowl on her face that made Shura shudder.
For a long time they just stared at each other. Shura was trying to think of anything to say that would not sound incredibly stupid.
Finally, Rhona threw something at Shura, a piece of paper squashed into a ball. Shura did not have to look at it, it was the printout of the message from Rhona’s friend on Alma Serena.
“Was that it?” Rhona asked. “That stupid message?”
“Rhona, I didn’t mean to…,” Shura started, but Rhona interrupted her, “didn’t mean to? For fuck’s sake. You went into the kitchen and started drinking. Straight out of the bottle. I don’t know how long it took you to polish that bottle off, but it can’t have been long. I don’t think you even sat down.” Rhona paused briefly. “Then I come home, and there you are, unconscious on the floor. You were hardly breathing and there was blood everywhere. What, for goddess’s sake would I have done if you had died? Your mother would have skinned me alive. For not telling her you were here, and for leaving you alone with a bottle of vodka and some bad news about your husband.”
“I’m sorry,” Shura said.
Rhona clasped her hands over her head. “Don’t say that when you’re going to do the same bloody thing again tomorrow.” She started to rock backwards and forwards on her chair. “I hate you,” she whispered, “I’ll never forgive you for doing this, not here, not like this.”
Shura stared at Rhona. She did understand that Rhona was upset, but this upset? She seemed to be on the verge of exploding.
“Rhona, please,” Shura said.
Looking at Shura again, without stopping her rocking, Rhona asked, “was your marriage like this? Getting drunk, passing out and shouting at each other? Was it like that, because if it was, I cannot blame you for walking out. I can’t stand it.”
Shura thought that she ought to get up and try to give Rhona a hug, even if she probably get punched for her efforts. But there was this stupid infusion and she really did not dare to just pull it out.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” she answered. There had been the one time she had found Anakin passed out on the sofa, but then he might have just fallen asleep. He had been drinking, but he had had good reason to, a better reason than she had had today.
Rhona suddenly stopped rocking and leaned forward. “You know what I was thinking when I found you? After I made you throw up and it seemed likely that you were not going to die? I thought, thank the gods that Lucas is dead, because I could not stand being part of this family.”
Was that it, Shura wondered. Was Rhona so upset with her because for a moment she had been glad Lucas was dead? Anger started to boil up inside her, and Shura welcomed it. It was a nice change from feeling embarrassed and apologetic.
“If you want to I can leave tomorrow,” Shura stated, her voice surprisingly cold even in her own ears.
“No,” Rhona exclaimed, “you don’t understand. I was angry, I was so angry I even wanted to blame Lucas, but it doesn’t work. I have lost him, but I don’t want to lose you as well. I was so hard trying to stay angry, but when I think that this may have happened to you somewhere else. You’d be dead, and we might never know about it.” Rhona stared at Shura. “And, if Lucas had not died, all the rest would not have happened, Anakin’s confrontation with the Jedi, you walking out on him, his accident, and you…,” Rhona let the sentence trail off.
“I wouldn’t be a fall-down drunk you have to wipe off your kitchen floor,” Shura finished for her. “There’s no nicer way to say it.”
“Oh, Shura,” Rhona said, “I wish I could help but I don’t know how. I cannot stay here all the time keeping an eye on you. And how can I leave you here on your own.”
“I’m not going to drink myself to death,” Shura said, “I promise. I think, in a way, this entire episode has given me a healthy scare.”
“Healthy?” Rhona asked and for a moment a smile appeared on her face, then she frowned again. “I know you mean it, Shura, but will you be able to keep this promise. What if… what if Anakin dies?”
Yes, what if Anakin dies? Shura took a deep breath. It was not a prospect she liked to think about, but she should face the fact that it might happen. It was even likely. If Anakin did not finally die of the injuries of the crash, he would probably be killed by the jedi. They had tried, they would try again.
Whatever he died of in the end, Shura knew who was to blame in either case.
“Well,” she said, “I guess I’ll have to try a more active response. Not drink myself into stupor, but go out and do something.
“Like what?” Rhona asked.
Shura gritted her teeth. “Kill Kenobi.”
The story continues