Title: Huntress
Author: Elizabeth E. Carter
Feedback address: eecarter333@yahoo.com
Date in Calendar: 18 June 2007
Fandom: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: Lords of the Sith
Pairing: Lightsided Female Exile / Mira
Rating: M for mature
Category: action / romance
Summary: The huntress reflects on her bounty the Exile
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DD07
Archive: Passion and Perfection, & Area 52, Dark Matter anyone else simply ask so I know where to look. After of course the Dog days of Summer

Disclaimer: George Lucas owns all of this and Lucasarts owns the concept of the Exile, Mira and other characters. The name was one I generated during character creation.

Beta/Dedication: (Beta reader Jo aka Celievamp) Dedicated to my own beloved angelic, of whom I adore very much.

Zez-Kai Ell wanted her.
Goto wanted her.
Even heard the Sith wanted her.
I even heard the Republic wanted her.

Whatever she did to piss people off obviously she was good at it. A Jedi. ‘The’ Jedi. The Exile. Arin Ravensong.

Well yeah the Jedi Order wreaked havoc across the galaxy. Because of them countless worlds suffered in the war. More aptly I should have said the Jedi Civil War. They got this devotion in an ancient religion. One side calls ‘emselves the Sith and the Jedi say they are all dark and evil and rash filled with anger and bloodlust and warmongers.

The Sith say things like the Jedi are pacifists and weak, useless, passionless, loveless monks.

To me and so many others they seem almost the same coin with two faces. Not heads and tails but two heads. A great schism broke their religion but to a lot of us non-Force wielders it’s all the same. And if Zez-Kai Ell is a Jedi I don’t want to meet a Sith. For a person that isn’t supposed to hold anger he sure resents the Exile.

He’s so filled with antipathy for the Exile. He never said her name, just gave me a holocron of her face and just said the word as if exile was her name not her predicament. Exile.

I know of her more for being a General. That’s how I knew her name. Arin Ravensong.

I knew she was at Malacor V and instrumental in the destruction of the planet. I felt the waves and repercussion of that war. So did a lot of people. Lot of lost people out there. Lost families. I lost my family there. That is a whole different story.

Goto, big crime boss of the Exchange crime syndicate wants the Exile just like the Jedi-Master. Like the old man, Goto wants her alive. He said as long as she’s on the smugglers moon no one is to harm her. That order got the bounty hunter guild in an uproar. There is a truce and they want to fight hardcore. Hannarr, the Zhug boys, the Twin Suns (fracking dancing twi’lek) and those creepy HK-droids all sniffing around for the Exile. All of them want her blood nearly as much as they wanted each other’s blood. They want the massive credits the Exile’s blood would gain them. As I said before when Exile makes enemies she doesn’t go half way that is for sure.

Zez-Kai Ell puzzles me. He said the Exile betrayed the Order by going to war with the Manndalorians, by acting rash. That was nearly ten years ago. How old is she? She doesn’t look any older than me. She was what twenty when they made her a general? I shook my head, must be nice to be a Jedi.

Back to old Zez-Kai Ell. He said she was the reason he left the Order. He wouldn’t go into it but he is hiding something, something big. Something so big it was part of the reason the Exile is the way she is. I figured they must have ripped the Force from her somehow. However, I’ve seen her use mind tricks, telekinetics and a whole lot of other Jedi magic tricks. So maybe she got healed or something, I don’t know. Zez-Kai Ell was a bit surprised to find out she had a lightsaber. Not only that but one of those double-blade dealies. Heard they are harder to wield and it takes a blade-master to even handle one.

He demanded to know the colour. I said cyan… and he relaxed a little. I know why he got all twitchy at the knowledge of the sword. The Sith. The only colour they ever use is red. Their weapon masters love the double-blades because how deadly they are. Of course I don’t point out he himself carries one of the double bladed lightsabers. I took note of what I know of other Jedi from the holocrons. They use all sorts of colours. What difference does it make? A caste system perhaps... The colour represents something you do, who you are. Blue for guardians, yellow for sentinels and green for councilors and of course there were several other colours.

‘She had a viridian saber before. It was a colour we’ve never seen before in a blade.’ Zez-Kai Ell told me once. ‘Atris took it out of the obelisk Arin had stabbed after her trial and kept it. A trophy perhaps.’ His voice murmured that such a thing was dangerous. I asked him what was so dangerous. He mumbled something about love. ‘Atris had loved the Exile, deeply.’ I get the feeling it was not the sort of love sisters shared. It was the romantic sort.

‘They were an item?’

‘There was affection shared,’ he didn’t say anything more. ‘Such things are forbidden. Arin…the Exile was a hero to so many. So many of the younger ones wanted to be her. She inspired others and a few resented her. She formed Force bonds easily, learned things very quickly. She had one of the deepest connections to the Force any of us had even seen or heard of. Varook always said she was a mediocre Jedi at best. I think she didn’t apply herself as well as she could have to the Code. She had talent and skill but lacked devotion. That was the dangerous thing. She brought inspiration and I think that was her greatest talent.

‘Varook, I think was jealous of her.’ Old Zez-Kai Ell shook his head and took another swig of jum jum juice. ‘The order generally tries to find those who are Force sensitive when they are newborn or infants with high midi-chlorian counts. Training starts during infancy, before the initiate have experienced fear and anger. Arin came to us when she was three. She has a midi-chlorian count higher than Master Vandar which is why she was accepted. She was so curious about everything. She asked so many questions, always asking why. Varook yelled at her and told her she needed to be controlled.

‘Master Varook was harder on her than he had been even on Revan and Malak. It was as if he was punishing her for her talents to form Force bonds, for her curiosity, for her quickness to defend the helpless. I remember one incident. Arin punched a senior padawan in the face. Broke his nose. Of course it didn’t help matters that the padawan was Varook’s. When she was asked why she had attacked him she said he was picking on Bastalia more than he should have during the training exercise. Varook asked what was she thinking. She flippantly said “to aim high”.’ The old man chuckled at the memory and I found myself snickering too.

‘Master Varook had gone to Master Vandar because Master Zhan wouldn’t punish Arin over the fight. As I said the other student was Varook’s padawan and that was enough for the old man to blow a circuit. Varook wanted Arin punished severely. She and Revan had always been swift to act saying they were defending the weak but they never thought further than that of the repercussions it would cause. It was the reason Revan went to war and why Arin followed. But Arin was the only one ever to come back to face trial. She was looking for redemption I think after what happened during the war.’

I thought of Malacor V and thought about Nar Shaddaa. I can feel the hum the life here. What if you could feel a planet… what if you had been the one to give the order to destroy the planet where your enemy had their stronghold? Sure you knew there were no innocents on the planet. You know it is only a small planet, mostly uninhabited save for one large base of the Manndalorian’s. It was their powerbase. Crush it, you crush your enemy. What if you destroyed the planet obliterated it and were still connected to the hum of the life on it? Gods that would tear someone apart. It would shatter them.

Suddenly I got a whole new perspective on the Exile. I didn’t know what to make of my new view of her. So over the next couple of days I watched, waited to see what she would do.

My Bounty oozes confidence but not conceit despite what the old Jedi said about her. I didn’t see arrogance. I saw confidence. I was pulled in watching. She paid a few credits to one of the refugees and spoke to him. I found out she only wanted some answers to general questions like what sort of things were on Nar Shaddaa, if he had heard about bounty hunters, the Exchange and the movements of the Hutts. She even asked him about the refugees. He told me she had a look in her eyes like she was a mourner at her own funeral but she was so at peace. It was a contrast. The calm before the storm. An echo of some far distant sound.

I saw her give a few credits to another without thinking and I knew he’d get busted down for it and so did the old witch. Guess my target thought she was doing a good thing and well her actions ended up getting him killed. I know Zez-Kai Ell would have probably blamed her for not thinking ahead. Me… I see a naive person with a bleeding heart. How was this person the hardcore Jedi-General that destroyed Malacor V? She didn’t see beyond what was a good act that would lead to death. The old witch said as much to her and the Exile, I heard say: ‘You have a lot of wisdom Kreia. I won’t be as quick in the future.’

‘That is all I ask. Good intentions often pave the roads to destruction.’

Even with the old witch’s words in her head, I witnessed my Target do things for others. She tried to talk her way out of fights. She didn’t actually show her mind tricks but then she kinda did get two thugs to leave off trying to mug her because some punk ass refugee pointed the finger at her saying she had the credits he owed them. She said he was lying and she had no credits and they would never gain any from her.

When the thugs backed away and left the refugee said things might be worse. My Target said, ‘Yes they could have killed you. She might have walked by or killed you myself for your foolishness. I’m not having a good day and that kinda pissed me off. No wonder the gang-bangers were after your creds if this is how you deal with people. I think perhaps the authorities should best deal with you.’

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were a warrior.’

‘This is why you’re a fool. Now answer my questions and I will let you run away as the coward you are. I want to know about the bounty hunters on this moon. Where are they located? How do I contact them?’

‘Get someone mad enough at you to place a bounty on your head.’ The man whimpered.

‘Besides that.’

‘Try the cantina… I don’t know. Maybe the docks… shady things on the docks near Jak’Jak Tarr. A lot of aliens go there.’

“Fine. Now leave. Oh and a word of warning NEVER try to blame someone else for your failings it will end up with your death for such foolishness.’

Can’t say I disagreed with anything she said.

My Target got involved in a little merchant dispute and sided in the end with Greeda the female Rodian and I watched that with some interest. Greeda wasn’t your typical Rodian. She was articulate and yeah I was in the shop a few shelves over from where my bounty was and hell if Greeda wasn’t flirting with her.

Greeda got philosophical and my target picked up on the fact she was talking about the Force. Greeda said the path my Bounty was taking was going to be a long path filled with uncertainties and little reward. The Exile said it was her path nonetheless.

That blonde boy toy… the Disciple (I heard the witch call him by that name) started talking a bit about the movements of the Force and the echoes left behind by my Bounty’s choice. The Exile said she’d help set up a trade line for Greeda with other systems. They started stocking up on supplies, armor, weapons, medpacks stims, and even some odds and bobs for lightsabers at least it looked like they were. They found a silver crystal and a viridian one that made my target almost wince.

Disciple was at her side almost instantly like he felt a jab of pain ebbing from her. She smiled and from where I was standing it was a sad smile. Like she was remembering an old friend now long since dead. Then it hit me… yeah viridian. Old Zez-Kai Ell said her saber was viridian before the council took it away from her because an exile wasn’t allowed to keep them.

I saw her touch Disciple on the cheek. It was such a soft touch. I kinda thought I felt it on my own cheek. Her smile was back and it was like she was standing too close to a generator. She was beaming. She was glowing not a real glow but a glow anyway. Guess he’s a good toss in the bed. I mean the only time I seen that sorta glowing on a woman was after I made her fly… well… er… anyway.

All I can say I could see why this Atris person had a thing for her. Disciple sure did and so did that Atton guy. Even the veiled woman Visas had a thing for my target. I could feel it… even that old witch loved my target. This was so odd. Zez-Kai Ell made it sound like she was a carrier of a dark disease. She was the echo of the death of life or something.

That isn’t what I saw. Others were drawn to her. Hell even Champ that little bat thought she was pretty for a tall furless sentient. I know the Twin Suns thought that she was beautiful and wouldn’t mind a toss in the bed with her first before they collected their bounty on her.

Hannarr… he wanted her too. Not in the good way. He hated her as much as he did me and he never met her. Hannarr hates all humans but to him she was like some sort of cavity. Maybe it’s because he radiates malevolence and hate and she… she doesn’t… she radiates something else. But Hannarr I know respects her and fears her. With good reason too.

I’m going to have to think outside the box if I want to nail my bounty.

Definitely not aggression. She feels that miles away. So something else… can’t bait her friends I don’t hunt my prey like a merc. I know the others are doing that and that is a quick way to end up dead. I know that at least three of them to be Jedi trained. I can feel it.

The old witch, she’s dangerous and overprotective and omnipresent so is the other younger blind woman. That one sees things beyond sight. Visas unnerves me I think more so than the old witch Kreia. Boa Dur the soldier, he’d do anything for his general. He would follow any order given to him, even if he disagreed with it. Not because he was a soldier but because it was ‘her’ asking him. The Disciple is so in love with her that he’d do anything to protect her. And Atton is sneaky and underhanded. He reeks of murder. Nope targeting them as blatant is a fool’s errand.

So….well how about the blunt in your face approach?

In your face non-lethal approach. For both of us. Visques wanted to meet her in the Jak’Jak tar. First getting in there for a human was hard enough never mind the toxic gasses that would seize your lungs and start to eviscerate major organs and then of course it ate away at the tissues of the skin. And the stink. It was enough to make you gag for a lifetime and you would be washing out that smell for weeks.

It also stinks of a trap.

And the set up was working because here she was running down corridors from the blast door that separated the loading sector from the docks. She set a good pace a soldier’s gait eat up the miles without taxing your reserves. She didn’t seem to notice me, or if she had she didn’t seem to think me a threat. No, I’m not bruised ego wise because I didn’t present a menacing aura for her Jedi mumbo-jumbo anger sense to pick up on.

“And I thought Jedi were supposed to be smart.”

She whirled on me, her hand already on the hilt of her saber, her other hand slightly raised. I’ve seen what she could do. I could be flung back into a wall, or worse. “I’ve been watching you running all over Nar Shaddaa like a rampaging bantha. For someone trying to keep a low profile you’re not doing a good job.”

“Bounty Hunter,” she addressed me not as a title but like those that called her Exile. It was a name. “My actions were deliberate,” she smiled, “a two fold move. Smoke out my hunters and get the attention of the Exchange. Goto put a bounty on my head in the first place.” She moved her feet slightly into a fighting stance. I’ve seen her use that stance before it meant a quick swift death for any opposing her.

“Look whatever your reasons are - you go into the Jak’Jak Tar you’re walking into a trap. And if I know about it, rest assured everyone else knows about it and that means the truce is off and the bounty hunters go to war.”

“I’ve been hunted since I set foot back into Republic space,” she said with a hint of tiredness I know all too well.

“It’s not you; it’s your friends you might worry about.”

That got her attention.

“Look not here, let’s talk somewhere private.”

“Who are you?”

“Mira, best bounty hunter around. That’s not bragging, it’s fact.”

She smirked.

So I lead her to one of my digs. I saw her raise an eyebrow because she recognized the place. Well she should she was here a few times, talking to that Bith scientist who was tracking an odd signal because it had been aggravating his hearing. Or so he claimed. There was an Illthoian who needed to get off the base and she negotiated for him to trade his power cells. She helped a man reacquaint himself with his wife in the refugee sector. And she had even returned an arrant Weequay captain to his crew. That meant she had survived in the Jak’Jak Tar before. So could I.

I knew as soon as she came into the place she sneezed and wrinkled her nose. “What a distinctive odor you’ve discovered.”

“Yeah well you get use to it, keeps the rats and thugs away.”

She tried to steel herself and tried to keep from sneezing. I smirked. The tranquilizers in the gas were working.

“Why did you bring me here?” she adjusts the heavy pack over her shoulder, less out of the need for comfort and more for battle readiness.

“Look like I said, it’s a trap.”

“I know.” She didn’t roll her eyes but I got the impression that was exactly what she did. She looked around her for a moment and she knew she was in a trap here too. Why she played along I don’t know but I know it wasn’t because she was naive and far too trusting.

So we both played the game.

“Visques’ got the place rigged against humanoids. He managed to get Ubese and Genoharadran conscripts.”

“Genoharadran! They hate Jedi more beyond reason, more than any other life.” Her blue eyes darkened her face fell into a frown. I got the impression she wasn’t looking forward to having to take their lives even if they were ready and more than willing to take hers.

“Like I said you got a huge price on your head Jedi, enough for someone to buy a planet from under a Hutt. You sure managed to get the Exchange pissed off at you. Goto is a powerful enemy and one of the Exchange’s most prominent Bosses. Why you going?”

“I need to see Goto. This goes a lot deeper than bounty on Jedi. I’ve been hunted not because I am Jedi. It’s me personally and I need to know why. You’re on my tail, why? What where you told?” she said and started to waver on her feet, her head by now had to be swimming. Gotta admit that it was taking longer for her than it had others.

Then suddenly she collapses hard against the floor of my apartment. I wince at the sound of her body careening against the cement. That will leave a bruise in the morning. “That ‘distinctive’ smell you were breathing in… is paralytic toxin. Anyone without olfactory blockers will end up unconscious. You’re going to have a splitting headache when you wake up. Sorry about that. Visques is cutting out the bounty hunters and that is going to lead to war, I’m not going to let that happen. Don’t worry, you’ll reach Goto but on my terms.”

I bend down and touch the smooth skin of her cheek. ‘The dancing twi’lek assassins were right. You are beautiful.’ I brush away the unruly locks of blonde hair from her forehead and think how young she is and how old her eyes are. I heft her over to my sleeping mat. Goddess of the Hunt she’s a slight thing. I guess I figured her to be heavier she walks like she carried the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders.

I picked up the pack she dropped on the floor when she was knocked out. It contained an environmental suit. “And I’m going to take this. Your environmental suit will keep me alive and keep me covered.”

I saw Zez-Kai Ell in the corridors and saluted him in our typical greeting so he knew it was me. “She’s in there. Remember she’s my bounty therefore under my protection.”

“Don’t worry Mira I won’t take her life. I haven’t fallen so far to do murder. But she will answer for her crimes.”

“I thought that was why she was exiled.”

“I mean here.”

“She didn’t commit crimes against innocents, Zez-Kai Ell. She paid a bat named Kaalah-nah 2000 credits to spread rumors to the Exchange so they would take an interest in her. She wanted them to think she was doing things in their favor. I’ve watched her. She did everything she could to sabotage them.” From the expression on the old man’s face I knew he hadn’t expected that. All he saw, all he wanted to see was a criminal, someone who left the Order to go to war. Someone who had defied every master on the Council because she felt she was doing the right thing by answering the call. He wanted someone to blame.

“She is here seeking Revenge.”

“Against you? You and the other Jedi who kicked her out of your little club.”


“SHE isn’t evil! I got a sense about this.” My own rage was building up now. This man was as thick as that wookie Hannarr who wants me dead. Only this old master is ten times worse because he’s a Jedi.

“A pretty face only, Mira. I admit she’s got a charming personality. Don’t let it touch you. Mira she is guilty of so much. Worlds die because of her. She’s the death of the Force.”

“Yeah well she’s still under my protection.”


He left me and I managed to make my way to the Jak’Jak tar. And yeah I got trapped. In Visques’ lair. Hannarr was there along side the squid head. He was to take my Jedi! Sith’s blood! I won’t let that happen. She’s mine.

Visques was pissed off I was there not my mark. Hannarr wanted to tear me apart but before he could do that old squid head zapped with me a floor-rigged electrical pulse. I fell. DAMN. Don’t know how long it was before I woke up in a pit. Arena more like it. A fighting pit no doubt. Great. Just Great.

At least the squid head left me with my weapons, wrist launcher and ammo. I knew what would happen next. I was here for Hannarr’s amusement. There were a dozen set land mines. What Visques didn’t know was I was Manndalorian trained and knew how not to set off their trigger mechanisms. I can run right through a minefield and not get blown up but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t be.

Hannarr fought with specialized vibroblades not blasters so all I had to do was get him to chase me though the mines. Hannarr would set them off and take pointblank damage. Nine in all poison, sonic and fragment, they brought him down enough for me to make a stand against the great hulk. So while he was stumbling around from the flash and poison I plugged him with tranquilizers, poison and even a few small rockets from my wrist launcher.

I managed to kill Hannarr. Anticlimactic I have to admit. But just as I was catching my breath, that slimy tentacle faced squid head let loose a pack of starving kath hounds. Pit-trained starving kath hounds. This just gets better and better.

Not an easy fight. I managed to run back through the gate into the breeding pens, trigger the stealth generator so I was at least invisible to the hounds and set up several mines. Like Hannarr the hounds chased me and I darted around plugging them with tranquilizers and concussion grenades. Yeah I had to shoot them, kill them but they were a mad set of beasts. I hate killing. I don’t like it and I hate that I was forced to do so.

Visques, I know left to watch the monitors because my bounty was by now in the air ducts moving about. Sith’s Blood she recovered fast. It was what two hours… three? That drug should have lasted a full day. I don’t know how but she got through the ventilation shafts, past the minefields, the massive intake fans and of course the gas pockets and all without an environmental suit. She must have had a nifty Jedi trick up her sleeve to get through the methane and other toxic gasses of the Jak’Jak Tarr. As a Human... as a Jedi the whole place must have turned on her. I know the insectoid Gand would seek her out like the blood suckers they are. Five chambers filled with hordes of thugs all gunning for her.

And she was now here.

She is so strong. It’s like nothing unnerves her, she is a pure calm in a raging storm. An echo in a sound proof room. A part of me starts to envy that part of her. She managed to overcome everything that I know waylaid old Zez-Kai Ell. I know he went after me to try to rescue me and I know he failed. How? Because I am still here and the enemy is still striking out. And I know old Zez... he’s a slow mover when it comes to helping others; he likes to think about it. I wondered if it was a Jedi thing but my Bounty… my Exile she moved swiftly to lend aid where she could. So who I wonder is a true representation of the ideals that are ‘supposed’ to be Jedi?

I know I have to somehow help my Bounty. She is after all still under my protection. I know she can cut down the lines of bounty hunters, thugs and conscripts in this place if she can get in to it. That’s how I can help her.

Stealth generators are a wonderful thing. More shadow running dipping in and out of rooms I was able to slice the computer locking mechanism on all the security doors, gas the oxygen breathers in one of the training rooms and overload a computer terminal in another taking out more hirelings. Now the rest is up to my little Jedi.

She made pretty swift work of it too. This woman is deadly with capital ‘D’. I followed her progress by the remote cameras all the way to the fighting pit I first awoke in. Visques was waiting for her. So sure of himself he had only two Ubese bodyguards. They would fall like a stack of pazzak cards.

I listened from the observation post. I wanted to see… first if I could keep my bounty safe. Yeah she was mine and I make no qualms about it but I got her fair and square. And yeah I meant to collect on the bounty, that’s what I do. Anyway… I listened. I wanted to see if old Zez-Kai Ell was right. He was convinced she had committed crimes. But I know better. I watched, he only listened to others and maybe that all mighty Force and the ‘disturbance’ caused by the Exile. Me. I do both. I watched as she ran from one end of Nar Shaddaa to the other like a bantha. I mean come on if you want to make a low profile and get lost you don’t go doing what she did.

Heal the plague in the refugee sector.

Restore a child tossed into slavery to her mother.

Dance for a Hutt to get into his storerooms. Make a deal with that same Hutt to put Goto out of business just so Taris had the fuel that that slug promised in a fair deal. You don’t go around making sure husbands find lost wives or deal with Bith Scientist finding list transponder codes, break up Exchange deals, destroy droids to win swoop races or all the other things she did.

She created chaos I’ll admit to that. Zez-Kai Ell thought she committed dozens of crimes. All I saw was someone trying hard to help the innocents on Nar Shaddaa and even though she was supposed not to get noticed it was like she did things deliberately to call out all the bounty hunters and the Exchange. To me it was like some kind of odd pazzak move where you make you hand go high only to make it go to near zero with a well played negative numbered cards just so you get to lay the last card on the table and then win the game.

To me she wasn’t the criminal Zez Kai Ell made her to be.

The Exchange thought she was benefit to them but she was from all my studies undermining them from underneath like a groundhog digging under the earth making it weak and then wham boom you have them.

So yeah when Visques had her in that arena where I killed Hannarr I watched from the viewer like some kind of voyeur. He stared in on her with questions like wondering why now she here. The Jedi acted now? The Exchange had been applying pressure to the humans of the sector for some time and only now does she show herself? I knew he meant the Jedi as a whole not necessarily her.

Zez-Kai Ell never acted. He did little tiny things but he never went against the Exchange never did anything more than offer a bit of food here or there. She was so quick to act. I know Zez-Kai Ell was hiding and well that’s the thing anyone coming to Nar Shaddaa wants to get lost. The Exile…she was the opposite. Everything she did made an echo. And now it was bouncing off the walls.

I listened as Visques said ‘The Jedi were always slow to act when danger threatens more so now in the past and you are no different. Still you are only a recent arrival and without would lend some validity to the rumors of another Jedi on Nar Shaddaa.’

My Bounty was bold. ‘Why don’t you tell me why you’re squeezing the life out of the refugee sector?’ She challenged him and made him spill his guts.

He boasted about the need to do so to pull the Jedi out but only the Exile answered. And it was true. I was a bit disappointed that Zez-Kai Ell didn’t do more than he could have. But I guess if you’re hunted you don’t want to be noticed. Force’s truth I know the validly to that. Hannarr has hunted me ever since I saved his miserable hide from those mines that he himself had set up to kill me. I know what it’s like to be hunted and feel terror in the night. I know. I’ve seen it so I respect Zez-Kai Ell’s need to keep a low profile.

Now the Exile that might have been her intent at first but I swear it’s like she is deliberately making herself a target. She demanded why the bounty was on her head and to be to be fair so was I.

“Bah you mistake me. I was not the one who put the original bounty on you. We all have our master you know. My soon to be deceased boss is the one that made the monumental sum of credits on your head. Your bounty is so high that any bounty hunter who captures you would be able to buy their own planet. You must have angered Goto greatly for him to have hunted you so. And that is why you are perfect bait and why I will bring you to Goto and then kill him.”

He was right Goto did put a massive amount on her head. Zez-Kai Ell doubled it for me, if I could get her before the others. He wanted her bad. Who was I to say no to that kind of cash? Squid head was right I could buy my own planet.

I saw vents of gas open up. Gas that was in the Jak’Jak Tarr gas that would have not only knocked her unconscious but probably do a lot of internal organ damage but she stood there unmasked. I swear I saw an eyebrow go up as if she was saying ‘and your point?’

Then those thugs rushed the room. Old squid head ordered them to attack her, to kill her. The Exile spun around so fast she was a blue of movement; the double cyan colored lightsaber became a streak of trailing light. For a moment it looked like she had become an army of one and the thugs nothing but a swarm of insects tiny, small and impotent. They dashed past her, she spun back around in that same swiftness she displayed before. She was astonished the swarm of Genohardadran bounty hunters had gone for Visques. So was I.

Goto’s voice came over the speakers *While the Jedi remains on Nar Shaddaa my eyes will watch her.*

Seems I’m not the only one keeping a close watch on my Bounty.

Visques pleads, begs even offering her up like some golden sacrifice she was going to be a gift. Like that was going to work.

Obviously big ol’ crime boss took squid head for his word. ‘Offer her up as I would my own life.’ Idiot.

The swarm of Genohardadran were on him like a pack of rabid kath-hounds and what did Exile do? She shouted out “There has been enough killing! Stop! Do not harm him.”

But they did.

Squid head died by dozens of vibroblades.

My Exile looked disgusted. Why? Visques was going to kill her. So why mercy? Maybe she’s like me when I pulled Hannarr out of those ducts. Suffering wasn’t something I did to another. One of the reasons I don’t kill.

*What an amusing Jedi specimen you are,* Goto’s tin voice chided her over the loudspeaker.

The floor erupted in bolts of electricity, Heaven’s truth I know that pain. It was how old squid head got me here in the first place. Exile, had five if not ten times more jolts than me and suffered them for much longer! I’ll never get that scream out of my head, it will echo with me for ever. I know I cried out when Visques stunned me. But she… it was open plasma striking her full on. Force in the Sith how would she survive that? She collapsed in a heap her armor smoldering.

“GREAT!” I snarl kicking at the podium the monitor was perched on. Dumb mistake now my foot hurt like hell. Probably broke a toe on top of it all.

I needed to get out of there. Dashing in and out and using the stealth belt I managed to escape, find the bowels of the Jak’Jak Tarr. Fortunately the Jedi had taken out all the hardcore opposition. All I had to do was dash in and out. I was free and clear.

Making it back to the safe house was little more than shadow running. Zez-Kai Ell was there when I arrived I could almost feel his presence. “Your friend is captured by Goto.”

All he did was snort, “She had always been rash. Now matters are worse. Goto has what he thinks is a Jedi.” If I didn’t know better I’d say he hated her.

But why? I know the Exile went to war with a handful of other Jedi against the Manndalorians. I knew. I saw it. I felt it. Those worlds of innocents who were under the Manndalorian attacks had cried out in pain and a few answered. For that the Order had condemned every young Jedi who had answered the call. To a stogy bunch of witches and wizards the young knights were traitors, even if they didn’t fall to the Sith dark ways they were still traitors. Not even Darth Revan got as much hate pointed towards her as the Exile… my Bounty did in the voice of this old Jedi master before me.

She went to war to save the innocents and yeah the Manndalorians had it coming but I lost my family… because they were slaves of the Manndalorian. They made us Manndalorian.

“She’s under my protection. She’s mine.” I reiterated. “I’m going for her.”

“I will wait for you here, Mira. But remember what I told you about her. She has a great deal of charisma and a talent to draw others to her, to connect with them. Be warned.”

I gave him a lazy shrug and nodded. I have no delusions about it, finding Goto’s cloaked ship was impossible. Finding her friends will be easy considering they are all on the Ebon Hawk.

I told them we took out Visques and well that was true from a certain point of view. I put the hurt on them as much my target had, well not as much but we did take them out. Goto took my mark and now we have nothing that fracking crime boss wants. He has a Jedi. I knew Zez-Kia Ell well enough to know he was long gone and wouldn’t help. I don’t even know where he’s gone to.

I know these people came to find the old Jedi Master and I don’t know why but I wasn’t about to tell the rogues about him. Of course they all wanted to know how to find Goto. It wasn’t going to happen.

I don’t blame them for not trusting me. I was the one who was going to sell the Exile to Goto in the first place. Well I don’t like being cheated and Goto’s yacht is going to be nearly impossible to break into that’s if we even find it. They are going to need all the help they can get.

That was me.

I told them that if anyone knew how to take his ship he’d have every bounty hunter on Nar Shaddaa gunning for him. If they were hunting for Goto’s ship they were hunting blind unless it was one of Voga the Hutt’s cargo ships and that got Atton’s attention. Goto has been hijacking the Hutts ships for months. The blonde guy the others called him the Disciple (for he was the Exile’s disciple) became pissed off by Atton’s lack of concern over the Exile’s predicament.

The younger blind woman Visas said the Exile might be tortured but she yet lives she could feel it. They could all feel her pain. Kreia most of all. They were at an impasse as to what to do. They needed transponder codes to match Voga the Hutt’s ships. Well they got those by helping the dock master realign the power pylons. But they needed a blank disk to write the transponder code on. To do that they needed to get into Voga’s warehouse and the only way they could was if they were a droid. The thing is their only working droid had gone missing.

Truth was their TS-astrometrics droid sold himself to the Champ so he would then in turn be sold to Voga. That TS unit was pretty crafty for a droid. He snuck in, got the codes and disabled three of those creepy HK-50 droids. So with the codes we made the Ebon Hawk transponder relay codes match those belonged to Voga’s ships.

As soon as we broke orbit we got snagged by Goto’s yacht and pulled into one of the hanger bays. Lucky for us the Ebon Hawk was outfitted to be a smuggling ship and had hidden compartments. So it was while Goto’s crew searched the ship and found nothing two of us snuck aboard his to look for our lost Exile.

Visas took out most of the droids on our hunt for the Exile.

I never knew a Jedi to throw lighting from their hands but Exile only did it to droids never to the living. Visas had no such compunction for anyone attacking us was immediately brought down in a most efficient deadly manner possible. Cutting the story short we managed to find my target and free her.

Visas was good against opposition but I think the Exile has enough power to take out the enemy by herself. But she no illusions of grandeur and took a step back to allow Visas to work her slicing magic on the computers and me well I did my artwork with the munitions.

I watched as my Target attacked our adversaries. She stunned them sent them flying back into walls and knocked most out cold. Those who attacked she warned and said to fight her was to die they had a choice to leave or fall.

They all fell.

Exile didn’t looked pleased she actually looked as if she mourned their loss and I know how if felt I didn’t kill if I could help it. I never liked it and will never like it. Exile seemed to be the same exactly way she only used that lighting trick on the turrets and droids. Zez-Kai Ell said it was a Sith thing a dark thing but against machines it’s damn handy! Wouldn’t mind learning that little trick myself.

There was a moment during our running when we were on the Bridge I got a moment to speak a bit more with my Bounty.

“What is it?” she lifted an eyebrow at me and her eyes blue as the cyan lightsaber sparked as she spoke.

“Oh…hey…um …heh…can I ask you something?” How in the hell did I end up sounding like a teenage girl suddenly all shy? I must sound like a fool blubbering on.

She tilted her head nodded and then almost frowned “Something wrong?”

”Your face… you… well you have this glow. I mean, not a real glow but… it’s like your calm, at peace?” I had no idea how to explain what it was I seen in her. My blood was pumping hard, the adrenaline coursing in my veins. The chase had left me on edge. But she was the perfect image of utter peace and calm. She smiled almost knowingly. Like she’s heard this a dozen times. Maybe she has.

”But it’s more than that.” I heard my mouth say without my brain’s rein. Sith’s blood I really do sound like that Disciple. “You haven’t been chewing on spice. Have you?” Oh yeah that’s brilliant, Mira, accuse this fine lady of drug use. Idiot! She looked like she as going to tell me her body was a temple and she didn’t poison herself with that crap. Instead she said. “When one is in touch with the Force others can feel it.”

Not me… she said ‘one’… interesting. Still I think I would have preferred not to poison my body with religious rhetoric. “Oh.” I felt foolish. “It shows. It’s like you’re hooked up to a power coupling. It’s weird. I mean not bad weird, just weird.” Yeah take away any semblance of intelligence while you’re at it Mira now she going to think you a waste of carbon molecules.

She laughed.

Not sarcastic, not at me but a simple chuckle as if she was making a joke at her own expense.

”Hehehe,” I laughed back “For a minute there I thought you and the Disciple... but it’s just the Force…”

She looked utterly baffled. “Me and the Disciple what?” She wasn’t peeved I alluded to her and the blonde choir boy getting it on if anything she looked like she had no clue what-so-ever of what I was talking about.

“You know… hook up a power coupling.” ”He isn’t a tec,” she said nonchalantly. “He’s a medic. Boa Dur is the technician.”

”No. Power COUPLING!” I wiggled my eyebrows up and down conspiratorially.

”What are you going on about?” I laughed. I couldn’t help it; she had such an innocence about her. “Did you get out much as a Jedi? I was asking have you two you know… been…” I chose clinical discursion here because so far she hasn’t picked up on the innuendo and I get the feeling she wouldn’t get slang.


That got it her eyes light up in shock.” Certainly not! We don’t have that kind of relationship.” She looked like I asked her if she had just shagged her brother. “Got it just checking,” I flashed one of my better playful flirting smiles. “So you and Atton…”

Now she looked like she wanted to vomit. ”You’re not into blue veins…” She shrugged up her nose like a tika cat at the very idea of sex between her Kreia. “If you wish to engage in that kind of relationship with anyone on the Ebon Hawk as far as I know no one is in an intimate relationship. Though Atton did speak of Kreia in a particular fashion that made me think he fancies her.”

“What about you?”

“I am a member of the Ebon Hawk crew am I not? And no Kreia is best left to Kreia. ”

I punched the air. She looked so baffled so innocent like a twelve year old when I compared sex to a power coupling and then added Disciple in to the mix because I knew Atton was no where in the liege of Exile. That scoundrel was too much of a loser and too much… well he was hiding something dark. Dark like Hannarr. It was truly adorable she had no clue that I was talking about sex. Force’s truth is she a virgin!

Are all Jedi virgins?

Looking at her I hope not.

Then Visas came into the foreground so maybe Exile is more like me in that respect. She’s into the ladies rather than the male persuasion. I smiled at that thinking how... well nevermind.

“Did you grow up on Nar Shaddaa?” she questioned me.

“Look before we get into a game of guess the pazakk card, pull back on the throttle. I don’t know you that well to start sharing out life stories,” I don’t know why I snapped at her. But at least she didn’t seem fazed by it. In retrospect I‘d say she had expected such a retort.

“Fair enough,” was all she said.

It was cheap I know. I asked her if she had a ‘power coupling’ with Disciple and baring that the others of her crew, something very personal and she had answered and yet I wouldn’t answer her basic questions. What harm was there in telling her whether or not I grew up on Nar Shaddaa. It was just small talk after all. But instead of being a teensy bit informative I was defensive and closed. My bounty didn’t seem to take any offense to it however. And that puzzles me because if I faced off with someone with my attitude it would piss me off.

“You don’t kill your bounties,” she said suddenly gaining my attention. It shook me how much I felt her presence within me. I know she wasn’t doing some sort of Jedi mind crawl because I’ve felt that under Zez-Kai Ell once. It was just an open observation on her part. ”I killed people before. I don’t if I don’t have to.” Why did I feel I had to be on the defensive with her all of a sudden. It felt like she was judging me. And I had no idea what the verdict would be if she approved of my more none lethal measures or she was disappointed I wasn’t the deadly sort.

“Because all life is connected. And Malacor proved it. You know what the loss of family means even to your targets.”

That pissed me off! How dare she! How DARE she. What the hell did she know? She doesn’t know the first thing about me! “Oh do I? Is that it? How you ever could possibly hope to understand is beyond me. Jedi don’t have family. I know what happened at Malacor V. And I know that Jedi didn’t care about life there.” My voice filled with venom.

”I have never stopped trying to protect others even at Malacor.” She snarled back.

I wanted to be pissed at her. I completely ignored the pain in her voice. Even more I loathed the hurt haunting her eyes. “Get away from me. The next time you ask me a question I swear I will shoot you in the head and dump you out the air lock,” I’d wished she hadn’t looked at me like that, like I just ran over her kitten with a swoop bike. I saw more pain in those blue eyes than I have ever wanted to see, I saw more anguish in those orbs than I have ever seen in the eyes of the refugees of the wars. And I sure as hell didn’t know why it was there. Why she knew the death of millions personally. How she felt it. And I hated what I saw. Why couldn’t she have been like old man Zez-Kai Ell removed and dispassionate?

That haunted expression is what Zez-Kia Ell must have seen what all the Jedi Masters of the Order’s council must have seen when they exiled her. The informant I paid a while back was right; Arin Ravensong looked like a mourner at her own funeral. I didn’t want her to know my pain because then… then she was more a person and less a Jedi.

Jedi are supposed to be removed. They don’t have families; they don’t feel like us normal people. But what I saw in those blue eyes was more pain than I could have ever endured and I never want to see reflected in another. Least of all the Jedi. But she wasn’t a Jedi in the eyes of the others… she was the Exile.

And I have to wonder what sort of difference does that make to me?

I wanted to hate the Jedi for what they did. For their civil war. For the Manndalorian wars. For some reason while I was pissed at everything and everyone, I couldn’t remain angry with my Exile, my target… my lost Jedi. I just wish she wouldn’t look at me like that. Why did her eyes have to speak so loudly? Why couldn’t she have been the person Zez-Kai Ell believed her to be? Why did she have to have a soul that radiated Light? Why did she have to be a Mistress of Light? Why did I feel like I never wanted to leave her side? Damn it!

Escaping Goto’s yacht was brilliant and so very simple. My Bounty sliced the computer switched all primary control to secondary control systems via emergency protocols and then shut down the secondary controls. The rest was up to the bounty hunters. Once Goto’s ship was visible with both her shields down and no weapons, it was only a matter of time before it was obliterated.

All we had to do was make it from the bridge to the hanger deck. Not quite as easy as we would have liked. As much as the bounty hunters swarmed the ship they swarmed my Jedi.

She opened up a can of Jedi whoop-ass. She Force-blasted enemies into the walls, shocked them with lightning, stunned them. Visas did more malevolent acts, she used lightening, and caused her targets to be so stricken with fear they were paralytic with insane terror. They moved swiftly with lightsabers cutting down all enemy incursions.

After we escaped Goto’s yacht and made it back to relative safety in one piece my Bounty… my Exile walked up to me. We were on the Ebon Hawk readying for out landing approach back to Nar Shaddaa’s refugee sector.

“What do you want now?” I snapped with false and yet true anger. Mislaid anger I think is a more apt phrase but at this point I could give a flying nerf’s ass. I just wanted to be mad.

”I wanted to apologize.”

Great, just great she had to have true sincerity in her voice, true repentance. Damn it all to hell and back I wanted to be mad at her.

”Whatever,” I waved her off, maybe she would just go away. “Don’t worry about it it’s a sore subject with me.”

She sat down near me, no armour, no weapon but I was a fool if I thought her defenseless. ”Still I am sorry you lost your family at Malacor.” her voice soft, gentle and most of all filled with true earnestness.

“Yeah well they’re dead. That’s how the story ends.” My voice ceased to be bitter and became flat and toneless but no less remorseful for the loss of my parents and siblings.

She looked down at her hands and I saw such unbearable pain etched in those azure eyes. Gods, her eyes speak volumes. My voice lost the edge to it. “But not everyone has to end with losing their family or their loved ones. And not all the bounty hunting is for criminals or killers.” She perked up at my admission. “What do you mean?”

I spoke with all the compassion and depth I felt in that moment of crippling honesty. “There are a lot of lost people out there. Scattered ever since the Manndalorian wars. Sometimes… it’s like you can almost hear them, like an echo calling out for each other. And maybe… just maybe by finding them I can start putting the galaxy back together.” “All things are connected through the Force. From such acts of kindnesses great things may come.” Sage advice from the mouth of one so very young, Zez-Kai Ell never said anything like that to me.

I don’t think I believed it but she did. “Maybe we will see.” I got up and stormed around the confines of the alcove. “I don’t even know why I am telling you this. But…”

“Mira… I don’t want anything more out of you.” I scoffed. But I knew she meant it. “Your family? You remember them?”

“I was taken when I was three to Corrasant. Like you said Jedi don’t have family and an Exile even less.” Guess I am not the only one who is sore about family loss. “Sorry.” “Don’t be. How can you miss what you don’t remember?” she tried to smile.

She looked away then and I knew I had to drop the subject. I know she lost a lot. I heard from the others how the Force was ripped away from her… how the Jedi cast her out for answering the pleas of those under the Manndalorian war mongering. She lost the Force… I don’t think I want to imagine what that had to be like. How did she survive? Even the masters have their shorts in a twist. They are terrified of her because she survived without the force when they knew they couldn’t but how did she do it?

Zez-Kia Ell was right about my Bounty in one regard. She has something about her that draws people... all of us in even that old creepy witch Kreia to her. I know that old crone is up to something. I know the Exile feels it too but she doesn’t do anything about it. It’s like she watching and waiting for the old woman to make her move.

After we landed I took her back to my safe house to meet with Zez-Kai Ell. She wouldn’t speak about the meeting to anyone not even Kreia who asked if she found what she was looking for. Our Exile only said that the old master was going to Dantooine to meet with Master Varook and there were other masters to find. I think she was under the impression that with the combined forces of the Masters they would able to push back the Sith Lords darkness that gobbled up worlds.

In order to keep my bounty my Bounty I had to travel with her. No problem. I don’t have anywhere else to go. Besides if I’m not with her, she’s bound to get into trouble. She doesn’t find it; trouble just seeks her out and clings to her like a mynock on a power cable.

Trouble comes in several forms. Ebon Hawk’s pilot if he could be called such for he crashed more shuttles, runabouts and the Hawk itself more times than is countable. Kreia is right the man is a fool.

Atton watches her constantly always lurking around. Either he has a thing for her or maybe for the choir boy. Whatever it is I don’t like him sniffing around my Exile. I caught him once spying on her as my Exile and the Disciple were in one of the dormitories meditating.

“Meditation envy?” I said coming up behind him.

“Go sit on a rocket.”

“What is your problem?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

”All right. You know, Atton, sometimes it’s no wonder you can’t figure yourself out the way you lie to your self all the time. I’ve hunted a lot of people in my line of work but I’ve never met someone who wants to get lost more than you do. I’ve got a pretty good idea why, but not the whole picture. I will though. My advice. Come clean before I find out. And stop watching her. She’s got enough problems.”

He pisses me off the way he watches her. He means to do something and the way she is a bit naive in the way of intimacy it scares me. I have to look out for her in the same way she looks out for all the other innocents. Someone has got to. Kreia kinda does in a matronly like way calling Atton a fool and I agree with her. He is a fool but a dangerous fool. And Exile… she is someone who is so confused by men. She finds them as a sex confusing. And she dodges their advances but that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Disciple and Atton vie for her attention, for her favor. That soft spoken warrior Boa Dur is the only one I trust with Exile because he only sees her as the General. His General. Visas... I don’t know about her. She has a thing for the Exile too. I know because so do I and I haven’t known her all that long… personally

Its only been a week or two while my target was on Nar Shaddaa that I got to know her, got to know the type of person she is and what she is about.

But the person she is… well she is just who she is.

And yeah I’m beginning to develop deeper feelings for her. One night while on the ship she noticed I was a bit restless. But that has always been me. I hate all this sitting around traveling. I’d rather be doing something. Disciple he savors the quiet moments, me they make me edgy.

So one night she took me to the cargo bay cum gym and started to work out on some makeshift weights. What the hell, it was a way to pass the time so I went to one of the machines Boa Dur created and started to work on my triceps and biceps.

“So there must be a story between you and that walking carpet, Hannarr.” She said between sets of lifts. “Rival bounty hunters or something deeper?”

“Hannarr’s only a bounty hunter because that's the closest word for what he does. He’s not out for credits. It’s more vicious than that, and it runs a lot deeper.” I sounded even to me dismissive. From my Exile’s expression I knew she wanted more info on the whole sordid topic. Why not tell her everything? ”It’s like he’s out to make the whole galaxy suffer and everything in it. He wants to break them, ruin them and when they can’t suffer anymore he wants them dead. And sometimes he just hunted humans for sport. The ones who survived he sold to the Exchange, to the Hutts, to anyone who’d buy the bodies. Living or dead. He and Voga used to do big credit transactions. That Hutt really liked the look of unwrinkled humans for some reason. Didn’t make him too popular with the other Hutts let me tell you.”

She smirked at that. Yeah I almost forgotten she dressed herself up in a metal bikini to dance for the slug, just so she could sneak into his storeroom and collect stolen Jedi artifacts.

“What happened between you two?” she asked gently pulling me back to the main topic and not the fantasy of seeing such a wonderful body in that metal getup.

“I didn’t kill him - biggest mistake ever.” I shook my head at the memory of that bloody day. “How do you factor in?”

“I was prey. Not only did I escape but I saved his life while doing it. He’s been hunting me ever since.” “That seems strange.” Her blonde eyebrows formed a ‘V’ in a frown.

“Wookies and logic don’t mix so don’t even try it. You’ll just end up with a sore head for trying. I don’t pretend to understand it but among his people they have these codes of honor. But somewhere along the line Hannarr’s got twisted. His people form these things called life debts. If you save the life of one of them they pledge themselves to you. “That doesn’t sound too bad.” She moved on the workout machine so she was doing weighted leg-lifts. “Well with Hannarr…he can’t escape that life debt. It’s bred into him. But he hates every other living thing in the galaxy… so pledging himself to someone else especially a human is unbearable. So when I saved his life, it was the worst thing I could do. It was like slavery all over again. It was in his head. It was like it pushed him over the edge. “What do you mean?” Her blue eyes watched me in earnest attention and I felt myself fall into the cerulean void.

“A life debt to Hannarr is a death sentence; he’ll hunt you until you’re dead. When I saved his life it meant he had to kill me. And so he kept chasing me in the hopes I would die. I think the fact I showed him mercy after hating humans for so long was something he couldn’t stand.”

“That life debt makes no sense.”

”Tell me about it.” I fought to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. She only smiled at the attempt. “Like I said I get the impression a life debt’s supposed to be a gift. But to Hannarr it’s more like a curse. To both people involved.”

Her gaze looked to the bulkhead that separated the cargo bay from the crew quarters and her face darkened. It was if a terrible thought passed through her mind, an idea she didn’t want to even entertain. ”What if someone else saved his life? Would he try to kill them?”

I didn’t see where this was going so I only shrugged. ”Probably. But if he had multiple life debts especially to humans, Hannarr would probably go mad. He was angry before sure but he’d be ten times worse if that happened.”

“Worse?” Her attention snapped back to me. Her voice for some reason became cooler and I didn’t get why. Something was troubling her I know it but she wasn’t about to say what it was.

“Hannarr’s tough. Really tough. And when he loses it, it’s like nothing can stop him. I’ve seen him shrug off blaster bots, Bothen stunners and even survive a freighter crash on Derssonn III. He keeps coming.” I shuddered at the memories of his stalking and hunting me down.

“Any regrets he’s gone?”

What an odd thing to say. “Oh I am glad he’s gone. It’s like a weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to keep watching my back every minute wondering when he’s going to show up. And he always did. It’s like he knew where I was.” “Any chance he’s still alive?” Again the same expression as before. It’s like she knows something or rather suspects something and doesn’t want the idea floating around in that skull of hers.

“Trust me if he was alive, he’d be chasing us even now. Waiting to ambush us when we least expect it. And he always shows up at the worst possible time. He was one of the best bounty hunters on Nar Shaddaa Hannarr never gave up on his prey. Or his life debts. He’s a hunter, he’s a natural predator.”

“So how did you save his life?” ”Well as it happens on Nar Shaddaa I made someone mad.” I gave her a knowing smirk and she flashed it back to me. “Mad enough for them to send Hannarr after me. Turns out they were even able to get him cheap. He’d heard about me and wanted to hunt me down. For sport. He didn’t think I’d be much of a challenge.”

To this she snorted. “Then he is a fool. You proved him wrong of course.” She smiled at me, her eyes twinkling she wasn’t patronizing me or even asking a true question it was an observation. I think I actually blushed at her praise. I know I did for the flirting she was doing. “Well he tried to box me down in vents beneath the Nar Shaddaa docks, and he set one too many proximity mines to cover the escape routes.” ”So he was trying to hem you in with a mine field.” She observed the tactic from a military point of view.

”I think he’d hope to drive me into the mines and let them do the work or that I’d be too scared to try and walk through them. Thing is I knew Hannarr’s supplier and the trigger signatures for the mines. It was easy to broadcast a signal to blind their sensor receptors for a minute or two. I figured that would buy me enough time to move through them and get away.” “Sending out a jamming signal for proximity mines isn’t a simple trick.” I hear approval and respect in her tone.

“No. it isn’t.” I move to one of the three treadmills in the ‘gym’ and she takes the one right along side mine. I notice she set hers for a forty-five degree pitch so she was running ‘uphill’ “I spent most of my childhood hauling mines and munitions. I got to know my way around them; if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here right now.” My voice became a whisper of regret and loss.

There was an expression that flitted across her face I couldn’t describe. I’ve seen it before and would so in the future and I don’t know what it meant. It was if she absorbed the facts just as they were. As if it was normal for a kid to play in minefields and become munitions experts before they were nine. “What happened to Hannarr and the mines?” She picked up on my depression and bade me continue the story. “Like I said I disarmed the trigger fuses for enough of the mines to get by temporarily. Hannarr was pretty fast on my trail. I’d just made it to safety when he hit the first one. The blast leveled the entire ventilation section… and Hannarr was caught right in the middle. And he survived. Barely.” “Barely?” she looked at me from underneath unruly fringes of her blonde forelock “He was crawling around, blinded from the flash and the plasma burns. It happened so fast! All the blood had been scabbed and crusted from the flash. I had the drop on him and even he knew it. He could still hear me. My ears were ringing from the blast but I could hear him. I think he was begging me to let him live. His voice… it - it wasn’t a roar. More like an echo of it. “I suppose I should have killed him but I couldn’t do it. He was in pain and he was helpless. So I dragged him out of there… enough for him to get to safety. And he’s kept hunting me ever since. He said he’d pursue me to the edge of the galaxy no matter where I ran, he would find me and break me. I would always be his prey.” I felt so lost and desperate then.

She looked at me with those huge blue doe eyes. “Sometimes it is stronger to spare life than take it.” She sounded like she knew exactly why I had done what I did. I followed her gaze to land on Visas who had just entered the gym. And I knew what connected them. Arin bested Visas who had been sent to kill her. Arin spared the assassin’s life and now Visas pledged her life to my Exile. “Maybe… I’ve thought about that moment. And wondered if I would do things different if had another chance.”

“Given the chance there are a few things we would all more than likely do differently. Hind-sight is a powerful thing however only if you can use it ‘before’ a set of events occur.” Arin said.

This of course brought her to another subject. “You don’t kill your targets.”

The comment was so mater-of-fact it took me by surprise. I hate being outmaneuvered. ”I’ve killed people before.” I was almost defensive. “I… I haven’t killed anyone in a long time. But when I am around you its like I’ve always been doing it, its life reflex. And I don’t like it and I don’t know how or when it became so easy!”

She winced and sighed. “It’s called ‘Battle Meditation’. It is a very rare power of a Jedi. Some of us can immerse ourselves into a deep meditation before battle and during to lift up the allies let them feel reflexes of the Jedi even if they are not. If they are it heightens their martial skills. Allies gain the knowledge of how to strike down an enemy and at the same time lower not only moral but our enemies’ defenses make them vulnerable to attack. It also makes the enemy feebler than they are. They battle freeze. It’s something I did on the battlefield during the war. It turned the tide. A dropped blaster here, a miss swing of a vibroblade misfire of turrets and so on. It’s like giving the odds in favor of allies while handicapping the enemy. To me it’s reflex. I do it now without thinking about it. This is what you feel is through me. And I am sorry it has this effect on you.” It was a long moment before I spoke. So long in fact she started to rise and head for the showers as if her company was no longer something I wanted. “I heard of a Jedi named Bastalia who had this power. It was why the Sith hunted down and try to turn her.” Arin nodded. “It was the reason I kept my talent quiet for the most part. Bastalia didn’t follow us to war. Back then she hadn’t been fully trained to use it and the other masters knew I had something more but I kept the fact to myself. I didn’t want Council to be aware of it. I didn’t like what I saw them doing to Bastalia for her power and I sure as hell wouldn’t let them do that to me. But one other knew I had it. And she said it was a good thing I kept my ‘gift’ quiet.

“Revan knew about it she used me for that deliberately. I was always on the front line because of it. Inspire the troops lower the morale of the enemy with just thinking about the battle before it happened. The shadow generator… Malacor V…” she swallowed hard and shuddered. “I was a weapon for Revan and her goals to purge the Manndalorians. I got used to it being a weapon.” ”Now you make your allies a weapon.” I couldn’t keep the sharp edge out of my voice or the bluntness with which it was delivered. She didn’t react as I thought she might. She didn’t get dismissive or defensive. She once more adopted the matter-of-fact tone. “It’s reflex. I protect my allies and bolster their own talents and give them an added bonus on the field of battle. Perhaps in light of this when we are planet side you should remain on the Hawk…”

“Oh no,” I shook my head, “You are still my Bounty, you won’t get away from me that easily.”

She smirked and looked up at me once more through unruly locks of gold. “I hope not.”

Sweaty, sticky and hot we slothed our way to the showers. It was a small freighter and thus the facility was small and the showers were but cubicles. I say showers because it was plural if only because there were two shower heads. I think Boa Dur had something to do with the set up because of the way it was lashed together and the lack of privacy.

My Mark had no qualms about modesty. That is to say she stripped easily without embarrassment and looking at her body why should she be shamed? Her body was sublime. Perfectly toned, each muscle defined without being overly pronounced. Strong abs, arms and thighs made for an image of perfection. Perfection I noted not necessarily marred by the scars striping her back. A few I knew could only have come from a Sith’s lightsaber. (Considering she was an Exile they might well have come from Jedi Masters who had cast her out of the Order.)

There were others scars, blaster burns long since healed. And I had to smile when I saw the tattoo of a kracken forest-cat on her shoulder. It was depicted in mid stalking its head tilted in a three-quarters view as if to examine those who dare look upon its emerald and black striped body.

“I didn’t think that Jedi’s wore anything so defining as a tattoo.” I said vaguely. I also noted the neo-primitive stylized eagle band upon her left bicep. And of all things a butterfly near her right ankle. “Tattoos,” I amended.

To this she smirked playfully. “Perhaps…” she leaned close to me her, her lips so close to my own it would be so very easy to kiss her. A half a breath apart, who could blame me for simply leaning forward and taking those sweet lips with my own? How was it, fully clothed as I was, that her naked state made me feel very much self aware as if I not she were nude? “grasping hold of what you think a ‘proper’ Jedi is and what I am should be reexamined.”

She looked me up and down and smirked that playful expression that made me feel as if my bones became jelly. “You’re still sweaty.” She pulled away just then and went under the showerhead. Water pelted her body as she lathered it up with fresh peppermint and cinnamon scented soap. Again each action void of self consciousness but with a boldness that drew me.

I reflected upon this and decided I was not about to be put out by some tattooed Jedi. I stripped and I heard a light gasp of enjoyment coming from the lips of the object of my secret affection. I was no slouch and I knew my own body was fit and prime. I had my own share of scars and I even had my own tattoos. I could feel her eyes scrutinizing my body as I had hers. I felt not shame but inexplicable desire. I wanted her to enjoy the lines and curves of my body. I wanted her to want me. Somehow I felt the echo of her desire fill me, take me and embrace me. And I thrilled to answer it.

“Did you grow up on Nar Shaddaa?” She asked me as we went to the mess once we got out of the showers.

A work out makes a person ravenous. I am so hungry I could eat a kath hound, and from the body I’ve seen in the showers... my girl could do with fattening up as well. Jedi metabolism or not she needs to put on weight. That scrawny isn’t healthy. I guess that is what ten years of exile can do to a person.

“Yeah, more or less. I wasn't born there, just ended up there. A lot of lost people end up there.” I guess my voice carried a trace amount of regret because my Exile was sure as hell fast to pick up on it.

“What happened to your family?” she was very mindful to keep her voice as neutral as possible and yet at the same time it was warm and the sound of comfort.

“Well, the war happened, the first one, against the Manndalorians.” I almost snapped but kept my tone in check. I don’t want a repeat of out first ‘chat’.

“They died in the final battle?” She came around from a different point of attack. Well not so much of an attack as an approach.

“I think so.” Her ploy worked because I’m not as defensive as before. “After Revan crushed the Manndalorians, planets fell from their hold and Malacor V was obliterated

“How could you have lost family at Malacor V? There were no colonies there. There were no colonies - it was a taboo world to the Manndalorians.”

“Take a guess, ‘Jedi’." Only two groups of people would have lost family and the Jedi don’t have family.” This time I did snap. Once more those eyes so full of compassion, of emotion I didn’t want to look into them, I didn’t want to see…

“You're a Manndalorian?” She was completely taken by surprise. I suppose she figured all Manndalorians are in full battle armor, hate anything that doesn’t fight and those that do are targets to be conquered over to test Manndalorian battle-spirit.

“As much as any slave becomes a Manndalorian. They took prisoners, forced us to work for them.”

“You were a slave?” This time her voice isn’t filled with surprise but knowing familiarity. I wonder… was she a slave before she was a Jedi. Or perhaps her parents were?

“When I was young, yeah.” I nodded, it wasn’t secret and not one of shame either. Big-bad comes in takes over takes prisoners makes’em slaves. It’s a story well known throughout the galaxy. Hell guy could sell his girlfriend as a slave because of a pazzak debt. It is as easy as that. “They mostly used me to carry ammo packs… munitions. I got to know the mechanics of them very well. If I didn’t I’d be hound-chow. They turned me into a demolitions expert by the time I was ten. Because I was expendable and small they used me a lot. Them Malacor V happened and I’ve been on my own ever since. Came to Nar Shaddaa when I was eleven and became a bounty hunter.”

“I regret the loss of life at Malacor. But there was no choice. The Manndalorians had to be stopped. They were crushing thousands of worlds in a bloodlust that wouldn’t be quenched. Innocents cried out for help. The Manndalorians weren’t even attacking military targets they were attacking anyone weaker than they were or tried to challenge those stronger and massacred entire worlds. I have never stopped trying to protect the innocents. That is what a Jedi is supposed to do!”

“I know.” I took her hand and squeezed it. “And the Manndalorians got their comeuppance. But a lot of people got caught up in that tide. A lot of people became lost. That’s why I’m a bounty Hunter. I’m good at finding people. A lot of what I do isn’t for criminals or those on the run. It’s for lost families trying to find one of their own. I want to see them back together again. Like that couple you helped reunite back on Nar Shaddaa. That’s what I do best. But the pay is the worst so I have to do the other sort to make ends meet.”

“Finding people on Nar Shaddaa seems difficult.”

“Not if you know your target. Usually you get a holocron or rough sketch. Then you start walking.”


“This is a little hard to explain, but Nar Shaddaa's got a flow to it. You have to follow that flow cus’ your target will be predictable and follow it as well. I guess I’m not making sense.”

“No, I understand.”

I was a bit surprised with her damaged hyperdrive she didn’t compare the flow to a sewer pipe. But I was glad she didn’t. Cess pit or no the place was home. “If you know your target, you can feel them, know where they're going to go sometimes before they do.”

“This is what you did with me,” she said observantly. “Guess I didn’t do a good job of hiding.”

“You said you were acting deliberately to flush out the hunters and the Exchange.” I winked at her. “But yeah you became predictable. If an innocent suffered it wasn’t long before you showed up to try and assist them. You told that woman she was weak for admitting her fear, her pain about missing her child and then instead of giving her the credits to buy back her kid and get out of debt you freed her daughter and told the mother never allow others to use her weakness or her child. Never allow harm to come to that kid. That was a gutsy move. Some might say cold but I think it was the best thing. Now that woman will be more vigilant and guarded over her child and not be so frivolous with her relative freedom.”

“And the trap at the Jek’Jek Tarr?”

“That was easy but yeah I knew you’d be there before you even got the call from that squid head. But that was nothing - everyone knew it. But I knew you’d be going to the docks for all the other reasons in your quests to help people off the smugglers moon. So I knew I’d tag you where and when I did.”

She gave me that flirty smile and rose from the table dumped the remains of her meal into the recycler and headed for the door. “So what are you going to do with your bounty now that you have her?”

She didn’t give me a chance to respond because she left the galley even before I could come up with something witty to retort with.

She didn’t give specific details of her need to return to Dontooine only that it was necessary. Kreia I know questioned her on this as the other masters had not yet returned and it wasn’t time to confront the past what ever that meant. My girl only stated that if Kreia or any of the others wished to remain behind then they could do so but she was going back to the agrarian world and that was it. I wasn’t about to let her out of my sights. I caught her she’s mine and she wasn’t going to get away. I told her as much and she only flashed a large grin and said ‘Who’s running?’

Farm-world was nothing more than a shopping trip. I rolled my eyes. Somehow our Exile had amassed a hefty sum of credits and decided to buy all the lightsaber parts one of the scavengers… er… I meant salvagers found who she had previously declined the offer. She had bought parts with one of the others after she had liberated him from his doom. And didn’t need the basic and training parts as well as Jedi armor the surly woman was selling. However Exile had now decided to buy the woman out.

On the way there and back to Nar Shaddaa I watched as my bounty cloistered herself away in the work bay busily constructing five rudimentary lightsabers. Student-sabers younglings used to train. We were no younglings but we weren’t trained either.

Arin I think knew something about each of us in turn that we didn’t know ourselves. And so it began our training with lightsabers. And me… not even a recognized force user and here I was with the others Boa Dur, Visas, Atton and Arin all of us training - dueling with low-powered safety blade generators. No serious injury could be done if we missed or we hit ourselves. A slight burn but nothing more serious then a first degree. It stung enough to be aware and not be clumsy with what we were doing.

We also used helmets with blaster shields pulled down over our eyes and specialized training remotes that Boa Dur constructed. She wanted us to reach out with the Force, with our ‘feelings’ to train us to deflect blaster fire at us. Again the blaster fire was harmless but it sure as hell stung when it hit enough to not to want to get hit again but not enough to make you phobic about training with the things. I get the feeling that when ever we’re in space for a while traveling we will be training how to use the blades.

Once more I found myself watching her as she trained, meditated and found I couldn’t be content just to sit tailor style even if I was floating a foot off the floor or kneeling as I seen Kreia do for hours. I like to stay busy.

Her eyes were closed but she knew I was there. A small smile spread on her delicate and yes kissable lips.

“Your mind is a hive of noise, and your body wishes it could follow. You seem restless.”

“I seem to because I am, Jedi.” I huffed and plopped my ass down next to hers. A heavy sigh and I fell the rest of the way onto my back with my arms folded behind my head to pillow it.

“This is no smuggler's moon. I’d enjoy the quiet as long as it lasts.” I looked at her and rolled my eyes. Hers were still closed and she was still floating in the air despite my interrupting her. Damn the woman has control. Gotta admire that.

“I'd rather be doing something. Somewhere with people, activity. This quite makes me twitchy.”

“Like Nar Shaddaa?” she flirted with a teasing yet knowing smile. “Yeah,” I answered off-handedly with a sigh of homesickness. Imagine that homesick for Nar Shaddaa! “It's been a while since I've been off-planet; I guess I got used to it.”

“Used to Nar Shaddaa? Is that possible?” Guess she couldn’t believe it either. How to explain it? How can you miss the backend of a hairy bantha? “Well... Nar Shaddaa may be one of the biggest cesspits in the galaxy but it’s got a life to it. Activity. Aliens, people, refugees… it’s like noise but relaxing like the hum of a hyperdrive.” ”More like a screaming, broken hyperdrive that carries a vibroblade in its shafts.” She chuckled.

I laughed along with her. “No arguments here. Still, as long as you accept it, the place its not that bad.”

“I suppose one could become accustomed to the white noise of life of Nar Shaddaa. Life has a certain energy about it. Especially on Nar Shaddaa.”

“Yeah?” now she had me intrigued. “Hm. Didn't think I'd hear a Jedi ever refer to Nar Shaddaa like that.”

“It echoes on Nar Shaddaa. The fact you sense it so deeply and long for it just as deeply...” She had a very queer look on her face. It was if she was trying to remember a line of a song but it was just out of reach. “Mira… Had Zez-Kia Ell ever told you anything about Force sensitivity?”

“Only that some bad ass Jedi… sorry I mean Sith are hunting them all down.”

“Fool. He’s put you in greater danger for keeping you in the dark.”

I don’t think I like the sound of this at all. Or where it was heading. I forced myself to remain calm. No use going off like Hannarr.

“Kreia showed me how to "listen" to Nar Shaddaa once... how all life on Nar Shaddaa is interwoven together. The ‘hum’ you heard… I have heard it. I hear its echoes from a center pulsing. You can hear the life. All life on Nar Shaddaa is connected bound together. And there is one place you can ‘Hear’ its echoes.”

“Pfft.” I shook my head. “Prove it.”

“I will take you to that place.” Her eyes glint with life. Once more she has that strange glow about her. And I found myself a bit amazed by it awed by it because I know ‘I’ put it there.

“Okay. Maybe one day I will let you. “

She smiled that glorious full hyper-drive smile of hers. I felt my knees go all to jelly. “Only don’t go pointing things out like a tourist. “ I smirked a snarky grin. “It brings out the predators.”

“Right. No tourist guide thing. Gottcha.”

I love it when she plays back. It always takes me by surprise she isn’t more mystic or mysterious like the other females on board or even old Zez-Kia Ell. Oh you can tell she’s all Jedi a mile off but she has a way about her… I don’t know how to describe it. She pulls you in. It’s like she echoes a person’s traits or their demeanor.

She can get all bookish and Jedi with that Disciple character, and plays the apprentice for Kreia and the mentor for Visas. She can get gearhead-ish with Boa-dur, getting her hands into the grease and oils that come with repairing this flying hunk of junk they call the Ebon Hawk. She adopts the pirate-like role with Atton. I’ve seen her quaff several pints of ale (never getting drunk due to her Jedi metabolism), even puff on a few cigars with him as they play pazzak. She’s like everyone’s best bud and just like you. Only she isn’t. She’s herself. And she isn’t insincere or false when it comes to the others, their interests or her connection to them. She makes you feel as if you are the only one she gives attention to. I can see why others bond with her. I have.

Oh don’t even think it. Not girly-bound or such but like she knows things I know. How it is to be me. How it is to be both hunter and the hunted. How she wants to heal the galaxy and the refugees of the wars.

Atton actually landed the Hawk without crashing into anything this time. Kreia was bothered why we returned here rather than going on with the mission. Again Arin confronted the questions with a vague answer. “It needs to be done.” And that was that. No one else said a word of contention against the seemingly needless backtracking.

She turned me to me and smirked. “Ready for that ‘tour guide’ yet.”

I couldn’t help it. I let out a belly shaking laugh. She did a double back just for me. Just to show me what it was she was talking about with her telling me she could hear the planet’s Force.

She took me to a place near the cantina here you could look down for kilometers into the lower sections of the base. Here you could feel the vibrations of the station the hum of the people. Or at least I could it was always a white noise a bit loud yeah but something I was used to. Always coming and going that’s what it felt like. People always moving like a hive of ants or swarm of mynocks.

She must have felt it too ‘cause all of a sudden she stopped jogging and stood still, she reminded me once more of the sleek forest cats her head tilted listening like one of the great felines.

“What is it? Why are you stopping?”

“This is the place that Kreia showed me, where you can feel Nar Shaddaa around you where you can feel the Force.” Her voice became a velvet caress just above a whisper. An echo of a whisper to be exact.

I scoffed, “I don’t believe in the Force. It’s a Jedi trick, sleight of hand.”

She smiled, she didn’t get mad or defensive but smile this ten giga watt smile like she was plugged into a power coupling. A warm smile of gentle understanding. Her voice was soft smooth the touch of a phoenix feather or the caress of silk on satin. There were no mind tricks just the soft tender voice of a lover. “The Force is who you are. Is everything around us.”

I hesitated… thought about what it was she was telling me. “Alright…” Fear creaked into my voice I know it. Fear of what she would do. But her hand was so soft on mine. I could feel the calluses and scars but the softness under it all. “Its not going to hurt is it?”

Her blue eyes sparkled and her smile was of tender reassurance. Goddess of the hunt I wanted to warm myself in her arms. Her voice again was silken, “No. but it may help you put life and all its hopes into perspective.” Her hand caressed my face and for the first time in I don’t know how long I didn’t flinch at such closeness. “Close your eyes.” Her mouth was next to my ear now. And I shivered at it. “Feel the currents here on Nar Shaddaa the ebb of life, a simple kindness can be given to another.”

For a moment I thought I heard that old witch speak but it was an echo. An echo coming from my beloved exile, my… my lady… she was echoing exactly what my lady was saying.

Then my master… mistress… my lady spoke again. “This is the Force and all of our lives from the greatest to the smallest, affect echo her and the echoes travel,” she stepped back for I felt her presence. The lack of warmth behind me and I longed for it back. Her voice caressed me like no love ever had. I feel these people, this planet all around you.

I faltered, fell back. I know I fell to my knees for I felt the preferable sting of my knees banking into the pavement. “I can feel this… planet… I can’t shut it out.! Its louder now!” The pain seared into my head too many voices, too many thoughts, too much noise all at once, all echoing all shouting to be heard! “ It hurts! All these people!”

All at once she was there, holding me. Lifting me to my feet her arms around me holding me so tightly lovingly. “I can train you Mira. To become something greater… to protect others.”


Goddess it was like an orgasm of the stars. YES that is what I wanted! “That is what I want. I’m sure of it.” she smiled at me. “More than anything.” To protect yes. Not to kill or harm, destroy but protect. I wanted to watch over those innocents, to give my protection. My lady, my love, my master she is so strong… “I want to become like you.” My voice was shaking but I didn’t care, I know my master won’t chide me. She held me. “I want to be strong! I don’t want to be afraid or alone anymore.”

I was trembling and she held me tightly and gave me courage. “I… I … I don’t want to keep running, and looking and never feel like I’m finding what I’m looking for! I’m tired of being hunted!” There was wetness on my cheeks and I only then realized I was weeping. And my master, my exile my beloved Arin was holding me. But I was standing on my own. “When the galaxy takes something from me I want the power to let go… and I want the power to heal the echo when its gone.”

She let me go then and I didn’t falter but held strength I didn’t know before. Could never feel before.

“One can live their whole life with such echoes, Mira. But I can teach you to accept them.”

I knew she was speaking from experience not like Zez-Kai Ell. He never spoke like this and he was as gray as they came he and Jedi and wasn’t Sith my master my Arin wasn’t either but she was stronger than him because she knew how to accept the echo, cleave with it and make it hers.

I was still trembling when I spoke. “That sounds all right from where I am standing.”

Arin smiled encouragingly at me. “You have taken your first steps Mira to becoming a sentinel you will grow in your abilities as you travel and learn from me. And form your own experiences.

I wanted to lean into the touch of her hand on my back. “I wanted to say thanks.” I murmered hoping I didn’t sound as pathetic and drooling as the Disciple, but at this point maybe I didn’t care. I know what it was he felt for her how pure it is to have such a love for her. Our master. “For what you showed me on Nar Shaddaa. It’s going to take some time to let it sink it, but… I feel ALIVE.”

She smiled that power coupling smile of hers the one that makes your knees turn to jelly. It was not my doing Mira. I merely showed you what you could do.”

She …

“It’s strange but it feels right somehow, like a piece inside me just clicked into place.”

“I suspect it did.” She said with a voice filled with satin silk. “You said there was a life, an ebb you can hear and feel, there was a Force sensitivity to you… as a child this must have always been so. Your reflexes are faster, you’re in tune with life around you… “She smiled “I know I know that mumbo jumbo is best dace for the Disciple who eats the stuff up.” She giggled she actually giggled. And winked at me, actually winked at me. “But that makes it no less true Mira.”

I smirked at that.

Her hand touched my back and I felt a jolt of energy fill me, not the force well maybe but I think it of as pure Arin, my Exile, my master, my love. Where ever she may go I will follow. How ever she may need me I will be ready.

Our journey is far from over, a lot more ‘walking’ is in order but hell I’m in it the whole way.

Everyone wanted her.

But it was me, Mira – former slave, once bounty hunter now Jedi that got her.