Chapter 5: "Why do you hate the Empire so much, Lady Jish?"

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They took a speeder through the trees and halted outside the entrance to the camp. Before them, overhead, the Sentient Fences hummed continuously, but remained still, their shields still passable to those in the refugee city below. Pina knew that there were still several thousand within the transparent walls, but he was content to wait for the ebb and flow to reduce that number to his five hundred. He wasn't in any rush, and with luck, he told himself, he wouldn't need any more examples save one.

One life of a guilty being was worth the trade for ten thousand randomly selected. He was certain of that.

The guards at the gate, in the uniform of Farsalt Marshals, were armed only with batons and tasers. It was made very obvious that they didn't carry blasters.

They waved the speeder through without a word.

"They know you, my lady?" Pina asked, breaking the silence that had settled between them since they left the landing strip.

"Yes." She gave him a stare. "These refugees are citizens of the Empire, despite what your Admiral Karion believes. They are free to leave here at any time. They are not prisoners. But they are bound only by their misfortune. I, like many on Farsalt, do what I can to relieve that misfortune."

They passed through the entrance and into the main avenue that ran down the camp's centre. Pina strained his eyes but couldn't see the end of it, for it was so far away and lost in the haze of the camp's activities. But the stench, close up, was something he hadn't anticipated.

He wrinkled his nose and breathed uneasily. With so many species of aliens it was impossible to know what the atmosphere contained.

"Do they offend you so much?" Jish asked softly.

"Of course not," he replied. "I was just unprepared for the smell."

A shadow of a smile passed over her face.

"And we are only at the beginning," she reminded him. "You might have to wash your uniform when you return to the Reaver. It wouldn't become an Imperial Officer to have the smell of alien destitution upon his person, would it?"

Her taunt angered him slightly.

"Why do you hate the Empire so much, Lady Jish?"

"I would prefer a Republic, though it is probably treason to admit it."

"I see. You're one of those. Someone who would prefer a fake reality."

"What does that mean?"

"My father fought for the Republic, in the Clone Wars. He was the captain of a capital ship that was lost in the Battle of Coruscant, twenty-three years ago. I was a boy of nine then, when I heard how he had been burned up in the atmosphere as his disabled ship broke apart over the northern pole. He alone remained aboard after ordering his men to abandon the ship, and it was because of his actions that the ship avoided crashing into a populated area. It was said he saved thousands of lives."

"The Battle of Coruscant was my first memory," Jish said. "I was three years old when I was evacuated from the planet as Grievous launched his assault on the Chancellor. They were terrifying times, when men like your father were needed most. He sounds like a very heroic individual." This time, there was no taunt in her voice. Pina didn't know what to make of that.

"I believe he was. My mother believed he was too. And I sought, and still seek, to live up to that example. But my point to you is this: he died doing a great thing, fighting for a cause he believed in. The Republic. But the reality is that the Republic was dead by then already. It had to become the Empire or else the war would have carried on and on and on."

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