This story was written for my sister’s birthday. It follows Numa’s birthday party in the events following the end of the Clone Wars. In this world, Darth Sidious was captured and killed, and Order 66 never happened.
Numa’s Birthday Party (The Light of Ryloth)
Ryloth, Housing Sector, 153 ACW (after the end of the Clone Wars), 1248 days ABG (after the battle of Geonosis)
Ryloth was in summer, and it was glowing. Light poured from its sun and bathed every person who walked across its surface. Ryloth deserved it; they needed it desperately. Their war-torn world was still building itself up again.
In the housing sector, families reconstructed their homes, getting on with their lives. The Twi’leks couldn’t ever truly be conquered. No nation was really destroyed. A nation was carried in the hearts of its people, untouched by the enemy, still rampantly growing.
Sunshine glanced through the little window of a diminutive cottage in the housing sector of Ryloth. A tiny table stood on four sturdy legs of pleekwood in the middle of the room, and in the corner stood a little rickety gas stove. The floor was clean and clear, as it had been swept recently. Through the window a little green Twi’lek girl danced. She clapped her hands, laughing and smiling. Her father reached down and patted her on the shoulder, then lifted her up in his arms.
“Numa, guess what? You’re having your birthday party this weekend! You’re turning six! Aren’t you excited?”
“Yeah, daddy.” She didn’t seem to really understand what he was saying, but then, maybe she did. Numa had that strange way of seeming to not pay attention and then mentioning it several months later. Or, acting disinterested when she actually was interested.
Naalan, Numa’s father, smiled. Ever since the end of the Clone Wars—and the shocking revelation and death of Chancellor Palpatine who was Darth Sidious—he had felt so much more light. Free. No more bombings, no more slavery, no more worrying about Numa’s future. She was always going to be here by his side as she grew up. The best part about the war ending was that he could spoil his little girl. What father didn’t like that? Numa could have a birthday party, a lavish one. And it would be memorable, and perfect.
“You can invite any of your friends!” Naalan set her down and pulled up a chair, handmade like the table, in their small, modest, but cozy kitchen. Numa climbed onto his lap.
Naalan tapped a stylus against the table and stared at the empty datapad lying there. He realized with a pang of sorrow that hardly any of Numa’s friends were still alive, or able to attend. Her last cousin had left just two weeks ago for Coruscant; her father had found a job there. His thoughts wandered fondly to Numa’s mother. His dear wife. Her memory was still fresh and raw but vivid and so real. Almost touchable. He glanced at a little hand-carved shelf mounted on the wall, and the holoimage that sat frozen there, a lovely Twi’lek woman perpetually laughing, always beaming, smiling over them as they sat at the table. As she had in real life. Yes, he could say out of personal experience, the Clone Wars were a brutal time.
He sighed and looked at the stylus and empty datapad again. Who could Numa invite? There was that little Twi’lek boy who lived near the power plant. Numa had not exactly made friends with him yet; they got into a shouting match last time over what game they were supposed to play.
Numa looked up into her father’s face and stared hard. They had a little staring match for a few seconds, then she smiled, a grin so like her mother’s it hurt. Naalan laughed bitterly and kissed her forehead. Numa grabbed the stylus from his hand.
“I’ll write down the people I want to come on the datapad,” she explained, beginning a careful scrawl across the ‘pad’s surface. She was surprisingly coherent for a five- almost six-year-old. Naalan watched the stylus in Numa’s fist with amusement. He had been trying to teach her Aurebesh and he knew she wasn’t that good at making her letters yet.
When she was finished, after about sixty eternal seconds, she had the most pleased and proud look he’d ever seen on her face. He laughed.
“Good job, Numa!” He patted her shoulder. Her happy grin had a hint of a smirk. Naalan looked at the datapad, was baffled, squinted again at the squiggles, and guessed a few strokes. NERRA.
“Brother?” asked Naalan incredulously. It was written in Twi’leki, not Aurebesh. He racked his brain. Not the power plant kid. Obviously not her cousins; she didn’t even like her male relatives much. Wait. Oh, oh. It couldn’t be.
Numa scrambled off his lap and Naalan winced as her nails dug into his thigh. Right. Got to cut them soon. He watched as her lekku, now growing longer, bounced against her back as she bounded into the one bedroom the house had. She came back holding a flimsi-sheet drawn on with charcoal.
Naalan instantly recognized the T-shaped visors.
What kind of six-year-old invites soldiers to her birthday party?
Numa had been obsessed with drawing clone troopers ever since the siege of Ryloth, and their reunion brought on by the troopers from General Kenobi’s 212th Legion. Numa had told him two troopers had saved her life. She worshipped them.
Naalan sighed. As much as he wanted to please his daughter, this was just too much. “Numa, they’re too far away. They have work, honey.”
Numa sat down in his lap again and spread the picture out on the table. Her face was crumpled into a sullen, stubborn frown. “They can take a vacation,” she said decidedly. Nothing shook her. Not being alone, not hungry gutkurrs, not blaster fire, not Separatist battle droids. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s schedules and shuttles, social barriers, and space itself surely wouldn’t get in the way.
“Numa, honey, look at me. Hey. Look. Look at me.”
She eventually did.
“Clone troopers don’t get vacations. They can’t come.”
“Well, you see—” It was a difficult thing to explain. How could you explain to a little girl who was just learning Aurebesh letters that those men she had befriended, who had saved her life, didn’t get vacations because they looked all the same and were copies of someone else’s DNA? How could he explain to her that they weren’t granted human rights and that they were only created to die? It was impossible. “Numa, they’re really busy. Besides, they’re light-years away, honey.”
“Just ask them.” She unconcernedly added a flower onto the clone trooper drawing. “They’ll answer. Just to let you know,”—the just to let you know attitude was so much like her mother again that it pierced him—“their names are Waxer and Boil. They work for the Jedi called Kenobi. I don’t like Kenobi very much, daddy. He thinks I can’t handle watching droids getting beat up. But I really want Waxer and Boil to come.”
Coruscant, Jedi Temple, 154 ACW, 1249 days ABG, 1332 hrs
“Yes, I’m serious,” Naalan was saying, sounding as bewildered as Obi-Wan himself. “Yes, it’s crazy, and I understand if you can’t do it, but she honestly doesn’t have anyone else to invite.” There was a sigh. “Let me know as soon as you can, so I can tell her.”
The blue hologram extinguished, and Obi-Wan let out a deep sigh. He stroked his beard, half-habit, half trying to get all the hairs back in place. No sense letting it get all frizzy.
Obi-Wan’s boots hit the floor. He swiveled around in his spinning desk chair and let the blood drain out of his hips and back into his toes. The feet-up-on-the-desk thing could hurt after a while.
This whole business with sending two clone troopers to Ryloth for a child’s birthday party was starting to seem funny after he stopped being stressed out about it. He was as glad as the next person that the war was over and Sidious destroyed, once and for all. But rebuilding after a major war was no simple tidy-up. He had found grey in his hair the other day, and that anxiety was nearly panic-inducing. A trip to the store for hair-dye had not been simple, either; apparently, his hair color was a unique one and matching it had been a chore. He could still hear the pharmacist’s giggles.
Oh, yes, he remembered Numa-from-Ryloth. Numa-from-Ryloth was a little blue Twi’lek girl from Lothal . . . wait, that wasn’t quite right. She was pink. Or green. Or was it blue? He couldn’t remember, not that it mattered. It certainly wasn’t Lothal, it was Christophsis. Oh—of course—Numa-from-Ryloth. That was stupid. He sighed again, checked his reflection in the glass window behind him, and snuck out some hair gel from his desk drawer.
He quickly replaced it. This “cushy desk job” was not exactly glamorous. The air conditioning had broken down yesterday and summer was raging over Coruscant mercilessly. The overseer of the building insisted that he was “gonna get it fixed soon, sir, gonna get it fixed soon.” Of course, he should have known by now that soon was the most relative of words. Be more specific next time, he reminded himself.
He hitched his shoulders around in his stuffy thick Jedi tunic. The sun had been beating down on the back of his head and shoulders through the window. Sweat dripped down his back and collected in the waistband of his cotton underwear, making it all sticky and clingy. No wonder Anakin wore leather and tech-material boxers. The drawer came open again, and he nonchalantly pulled a comb through his hair. The swooshy part at the top of his head, near his forehead. Clack. In went the comb. Bang. Shut the drawer.
Anakin. His little tiny padawan had grown up and got married. After the war, along with reconstruction of the government, the Jedi Council had made some major adaptations to the Code. Anakin was a father now, of twin children, a boy and a girl. Luke and Leia. Padmé had named them that. Anakin got to pick the middle names. Obi-Wan remembered the last few months of Senator Amidala’s pregnancy; Anakin and his wife had argued nonstop about names. Everywhere. At dinner, on the way to Senate meetings, Jedi conventions, to the grocery store, on leisure activities, everywhere. Obi-Wan had a headache listening to them. It was worse than that time Rex and Cody argued about bolo-ball teams and what they should paint next on their armor. He had even fallen asleep dreaming about babies named Maul Bane Skywalker and Ventress Bossk Amidala-Skywalker. Oh—he didn’t want to get started on the whole “should we keep Amidala” business.
Luke Kenobi-Jinn Skywalker. Leia Shmi-Tano Skywalker. Sweet names, sweeter babies. As Obi-Wan had held them for the first time, he transformed instantly into one doting, smitten uncle. The galaxy’s greatest ever. He could hear Anakin’s voice in his head: Aww, Uncle Obi . . .
He thought of the Twi’lek birthday party again. He tried to rack his brain for the faces of the two clone troopers, Boil and Waxer. He couldn’t remember. Oh, well, Cody will.
By now Cody was just trying to keep the 212th busy, with scheduled shore leaves, many guard details, and running various errands. It wouldn’t be too hard to let the two troopers get to Ryloth in time for the birthday celebration.
Obi-Wan checked his reflection in a hand-held mirror he kept in his desk. Every hair was perfectly in place, but his eyes sure looked a bit bloodshot. And his acne was showing a little. Only the closest of his companions knew he had acne still, even in his forties. Frantically, he pulled out some blemish-cover on the spots and rubbed it in. Perfect. He packed the tube of skin-colored fluid back into his handy desk. Quite handy indeed.
He commed Cody and gave him instructions to send Boil and Waxer in a shuttle to attend a little Twi’lek girl’s birthday celebration. By the way, her name was Numa. And it’s on Ryloth. Don’t forget that.
Yes, that’s an order, Commander.
Coruscant, Arca Barracks, 154 ACW, 1249 days ABG, 1440 hrs
“We have to go shopping, Boil.”
Boil sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I’m bored. Wanna go to the gym?”
Waxer shoved his rifle into the locker and slammed it shut. He put on his bantha-leather jacket, the one Boil had bought for him last week when they were strolling through the market, going for a walk. A very expensive walk after all. The jacket was so new it still creaked when he pulled it around his shoulders. “We can’t, Boil, gosh. Besides, the shuttle’s leaving in three hours, which is all the time we have to buy a present for Numa, okay?”
“Sure, I just—I—don’t feel like it. . .”
“Don’t feel like it? Seriously, Boil, when you go to a birthday party you have to bring a present.”
Boil shrugged and began walking out the door of the locker room. “I wonder who made up that shabla rule. Probably Echo.”
“I heard that!” came a voice down the hall. Boil looked briefly over his shoulder and raised a hand in recognition.
Waxer huffed to keep up with Boil. He jogged a little before he finally caught up. “Do you have any idea where you’re going?”
“Yeah.” His feet were clacking against the sterile-grey floor of the barracks. Well, not that sterile. Waxer peered disgustedly at the dirt-streaked, wrapper-strewn hall. They passed a horde of green-armored and green-teeshirted 41st boys tromping by.
“Hey, weren’t you supposed to clean this thing?” Waxer asked. The 41st boys looked at each other and shrugged. Waxer stared at their backs as they disappeared into their locker room further down the hall.
“Forget it, Waxer, you can clean the floors when we get back.” Boil glanced at Waxer and grinned. He knew just as well as everyone in the 212th what a sucker Waxer was for clean, “waxed” floors.
They exited the barracks together and rummaged in the speeder lot for ten minutes. The first one wouldn’t start, the second one had a smoking engine, and the third one had hard plastic seats that Boil didn’t like, and the next one had a bad scuffed-up 501st paint job. Those kriffing 501st kids. They must have slapped on latex paint or something because it was peeling off like molting Marit skin. It was ages before they finally found a decently working 212th speeder with plush seats.
“You’re driving today,” Boil flopped into the passenger seat with a clank.
Waxer slumped in front of the driver’s yoke and scowled at Boil. “I’m always driving. And why are you still wearing your armor?”
Boil shrugged. “I’m used to it. I don’t know how you can walk around Coruscant wearing nothing . . .”
“Oh shut up, I’m wearing clothes, di’kut.”
“Yeah, civvie clothes. With weak spots everywhere.”
“The war’s over. You’re just paranoid, that’s all.”
“Not all the Seppies are dead. Who knows, there could be a Sith assassin lurking around, Waxer . . . Wait, wasn’t it you the one who was paranoid? Has Kenobi finally gotten to you?”
“Nah, I think you got to me.”
Waxer drove on in stony silence as Boil hummed a song. It was rambly and off-tune, specifically high-pitched off tune. The cityscape wooshed by in a torrent of wind and speeder exhaust.
“Can’t you go a little faster?” Boil paused his humming.
“Well, I’m driving. Wait a minute. This isn’t—Commander Cody’s speeder?” Waxer looked frantically around him.
Boil laughed. “He won’t miss it.”
Waxer looked horrified. He started swerving then quickly corrected it with the yoke. “I mean, this is Cody’s speeder, look, there’s his sunglasses. And the plush seats. Of course, the only speeder with plush seats is Cody’s. And I’m driving, so of course, I’ll get all the blame—Boil, I’m going to kill you.”
“Are you going the right way? The shopping district is that way.” Boil jerked his thumb over his right shoulder. He watched the blinking, welcoming lights disappear into faint twinkles. “You know we don’t have enough time to go back. Wow, this baby is byoo-ti-full.” He ran a caressing palm over the speeder’s dash and doors.
Waxer had a grumpy look on his face as he sat hunched over the yoke, turning into the lane that led to the shopping sector. “You know how Cody is. Extravagant. He picked up bad habits from the General. And no, I’m not buying you one; your bantha-leather jacket wasn’t a bribe, I hope. And it’s not like I make six-figures a year . . .”
“Aren’t you the one who likes to collect things? You’re all sentimental with that painting on your helmet of the Twi’lek kid.”
“I liked her. She’s cute, isn’t she? Smart kid. I don’t know how that campaign would have turned out if she hadn’t helped us. It wasn’t like I was going to smuggle her home or something. Besides, she has a dad.”
They glided into the shopping sector and spent another precious half hour trying to find parking. A speeder cut in front of them and stole their spot three times in a row.
“You’re too nice, Waxer,” came the much-awaited reprimand.
Waxer shrugged exasperatedly and hopped out of the speeder. “Now we go shopping. What do you think she’ll like?”
“Uh . . . ah . . .”
Seven near speeder crashes, five returns, and two hours later, Waxer and Boil were finally in a deathly quiet shuttle, hurtling through hyperspace. The two clone troopers sat at the controls feeling insanely bored.
“Hey Waxer, isn’t it crazy? We’re going half across the galaxy to go to a little tail-head’s birthday party. I wonder what the boys back at the barracks will say about that—-”
“C’mon, Boil.” Waxer shook his head and shoved Boil’s boots off the dash and onto the floor with a joint-aching thump. “You do like the kid, don’t you? You’re just too tough to admit it.” Waxer had to admit that was part of Boil’s charm; the tough-guy exterior but the soft-as-whipped-nougat heart. Boil was really sweet when he let his bravado slide. “You might want to brush up on your manners, though.” Waxer raised his eyebrows and held up a finger, waggling it. “You don’t call Twi’leks tail-heads, it’s derogatory—-no way to behave at a party.”
“Party.” Boil chuckled. “Imagine us, sipping tea.” He pantomimed holding an imaginary teacup pinched between his thumb and forefinger, pinky extended. “Pass the sugar, please, madam,” he said in a squeaky high voice.
“Maybe we should have brought the General after all. He had a tea party in the middle of Christophsis, ‘member that?” Waxer smiled. He sighed wistfully. “We did tell Numa we’d see her again someday.”
“Aw, that’s just something you say to be polite. It’s a figure of speech.” Boil swiveled in his chair, heels at the edge of it. “You don’t really have to mean it.”
Waxer bent over the controls, adjusting something—or fiddling with it. “I guess I didn’t realize then, but I did mean it.”
Ryloth, Housing Sector, 155 ACW, 1250 ABG, 1031 hrs
Numa was extremely restless and agitated. She ran to the window every thirty seconds. She didn’t want to miss the landing. Hadn’t daddy said any time now? Why weren’t they coming? Of course, they wouldn’t forget. Of course not.
She pushed open the front door and ran into the common area, scanning the sky expectantly. Every time a bird flew over, her heart skipped a beat. Maybe it was the ship…
There were an awful lot of birds that morning.
Rooommmpppp rooommmpppp. A loud humming sound diffused through the air. Numa jumped, looking up at a grey oblong shape coasting through the sky. It grew bigger and bigger until she recognized the shape of a transport ship she had seen before.
“Nerra! Nerra!” she screamed. She danced in excitement in place, then rushed off towards the ship. It had landed right outside the common area.
“Wait, Numa! Wait for daddy!” Her father’s voice drifted into her subconscious but she didn’t acknowledge it. She had one goal: get to her nerra as fast as possible.
Her little legs carried her only so far before two figures approached her. One was bald with a leather jacket. The other had facial hair and orange-streaked clone armor.
“Nerra!” Her heart was bursting with happiness. She threw her arms around their legs.
“Hey, Numa! Didn’t we say we’d come back?”
“Yeah, you did! I knew you’d come.” Numa giggled as Waxer swung her into his arms. She buried her face in his chest. He patted her lekku.
“Whoa,” Boil said, appearing behind Waxer with a small lumpy package in his hands. “You can speak Basic?”
“Now I can.” Numa smiled, showing all her teeth. Boil looked at her and smiled back, although a bit uncertainly. He still remembered how her teeth felt on his finger.
“Yes—she—learns—quickly.” Naalan had just arrived, panting, and braced his hands on his knees, trying to breathe. “She—-runs fast.”
Waxer put her down on the floor. She instantly grabbed his hand, and Boil’s too. He tried not to flinch, but that attempt failed.
“I won’t bite you this time.” Numa laughed. “Let’s race back home, okay?” She let go of their hands and took off like a rocket launcher. Boil shrugged; Waxer started running and he did too, leaving poor Naalan groaning and clutching his side, tottering after them.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Numa . . . happy birthday to you!”
Boil, of course, sang off tune. Waxer knew he couldn’t sing on tune; he was notorious for that in the barracks. He also sang in ear-splitting tones. Naalan wasn’t a bad singer, and actually attempted a tenor part, but Boil’s loud voice was so obnoxious he had been swayed and started singing a bit off the beat and off the note, too. After dear Numa Naalan quit singing altogether and mouthed the rest. Waxer and Numa were the only ones carrying the melody.
Numa laughed and blew out the candles so violently Waxer feared the table would be set aflame. He eyed the pitcher of water nearby. Thankfully, there was no need for that.
“You get to cut the cake, birthday girl,” Boil said, handing her a plastoid, triangular shaped knife with a serrated edge. It was actually meant for pies but Naalan couldn’t find a regular cake knife, so they gave up and used that one. It was a surprisingly low-key birthday party, but that made it all the better. Naalan had spent a fortune on decorations, though. There were real exotic flowers from various worlds strung across the walls and shelves. Numa’s daddy didn’t seem to notice his own red, watery eyes and Numa’s frequent sneezes. Thanks to their DNA, Boil and Waxer didn’t have to worry about that.
Waxer took the first piece. Numa insisted on giving it to him. It was a plain homemade vanillan cake with jogan fruit frosting. They had made it together earlier in the day, while Naalan set up a holorecorder on the table and Boil and Waxer made a fool of themselves trying to figure out how to use the recipe. All in all, it had turned out pretty well, although the kitchen looked like a tornado had ripped through it. Numa had to change her clothes afterward; she looked like she had just come out of the rubble of a bombing. She had burns in her dress—that was the oven; Boil had put it on the wrong setting and got her dress stuck in the door, but she wasn’t burned thankfully—and flour coating her from lekku to toe. They ended up two tablespoons short of purple jogan fruit powder—that was Waxer’s fault, he had tasted a little too much before they measured, but the frosting had turned out okay. Just not as bright as they had originally planned.
Boil took a bite of the cake. “Mmm, that’s good, Numa, you’re a great cook,” he said. Numa had done quite a bit of the mixing. Naalan had done most of the technical work on the cake, especially the cake decorating. He was the most tolerant man the clones had ever met. There were pieces of plastoid wrap and a fine layer of gritty sugar underfoot on the pleekwood floor, but Naalan seemed blissfully unaware, or just convincingly unconcerned.
“Yum!” Numa stuck out her tongue. It was coated with mashed-up cake and purple frosting. So was her face. Boil wasn’t that much cleaner than her, Waxer had to admit. He had cake mashed into his mustache.
“Numa, close your mouth, that isn’t polite,” Naalan said, not looking up from his plate. He seemed relatively laid back.
“Okay, daddy,” Numa replied. Unfortunately, her reply included opening her mouth again.
Waxer jumped up. “Oh no, did we turn off the oven?”
“I did,” Naalan said again, eating another bite of the cake. He had left a little mound of purple frosting on the side of his cake.
“Why aren’t you eating your frosting?” Boil asked.
Naalan sighed. Numa answered for him. “It’s a lot of sugar, you know. It gets you sugar high and then sugar addicted. It’s a terrible way to die.”
“No, you won’t die, Numa. Silly girl.”
“I like sugar!” Numa yelled. “It’s so good!”
“I agree,” Boil said, tapping his fork against his plate. Numa soon caught on and there was a cacophonous clatter of forks on the table. Boil and Numa seemed content to rock it out, until Waxer winced and pantomimed at them to stop, waving his hands and covering his ears.
“Yeah, it’s loud,” Numa said to no one in particular. She grabbed a lumpy piece of cake from the serving board with her bare hands and stuffed it in her mouth. You couldn’t expect even slices from a six-year-old.
Naalan had given up reprimanding her. He cared, yes, but he was so happy he didn’t feel like saying anything.
Numa ate and ate slice after slice. Waxer counted. Five. There was silence for a while as she chewed.
“It’s good, huh?” Waxer asked her.
“Yeah!” She let her sticky plate drop from her hands, but the frosting seemed to have glued it to her palms. Her gaze dropped. “Uh oh.”
“Uh oh for sure,” Waxer grinned. Thankfully Naalan had thought things through and bought flimsi plates.
“Are you done with that?” Boil asked Naalan politely, pointing to his plate, empty except for a little hill of purple frosting lumped on it.
“Oh, yes, thank you,” Naalan said.
Boil winked at Naalan. Naalan had a bewildered expression on his face as he handed it over. Waxer watched in confusion. Numa unconcernedly ate at the crumbs on her lap.
Boil took the plate and scraped Naalan’s frosting into his mouth. He swallowed.
“Yum!” Numa said, looking up. Then her face twisted a little. “No, yucky.”
“Aww, you really think so? C’mon, Numa, let’s get you cleaned up.” He picked up Numa and carried her into the washroom. The water flowed over her hands but had no effect on the globs of butter-based frosting growing off her fingers. Boil shifted her a little so she was more comfortable to hold, and then switched the water to warm. The frosting melted and flowed off her hands in purple streams. Both of them stared at it, fascinated. Boil pumped soap into her palms. “Okay, scrub.”
Waxer, meanwhile, helped Naalan with the dishes, which weren’t many. They had used up all the dishes making the cake, but those were in the dishwasher at that point.
“Forget the kitchen,” Naalan said to Waxer and patted him on the back. “Thanks for offering to help, but I’m impatient for presents.”
“Presents?” Numa came bounding out of the washroom, Boil following behind.
“Yeah, presents! Aren’t you excited?” They all went into the one-bedroom the house had. Boil edged over to Waxer, feeling a knot of embarrassment in his stomach.
“I—uh—didn’t get a present.”
Waxer turned to face him, in shock. “We spent hours at the market; I thought you got something!”
“Well, I didn’t. Can I share yours?”
Waxer looked annoyed and a little bit angry, but he shrugged. “Okay. The card’s under the gift. Sign your name.”
“Thanks, brother. I owe you one.”
Waxer smiled warily. “Yes, that’s for sure.”
They piled into the bedroom. Naalan was on the edge of the bed with Numa on his knee. Waxer and Boil both sat on the rug.
Naalan had bought her a new toy, a little Twi’lek doll that looked unnervingly like Numa herself. Numa kept exclaiming over the flexible lekku the doll had. He had also given her a tiny locket with her mother’s picture in it.
Waxer wordlessly held out the package and card. Naalan slowly read the card to her, and Numa, like any impatient six-year-old, ignored him and began tearing open the package.
It was a small bracelet kit intended for adults or teenagers, but Numa loved it. Especially the special clone helmet bead Waxer had found in a Galactic Army shop.
Numa didn’t miss a beat. “Thank you!” She hugged them both.
“That’s from me and B—”
“No.” Boil interrupted, “Just Waxer. He bought that.”
Numa looked at him, confused, and Waxer did too. “You don’t have to,” he whispered.
Boil smiled and pulled off his left arm plates, starting first with the shoulder and then progressing downward to his gauntlet. “Here you go, Numa,” he said. He handed a whole arm’s worth of the plastoid armor pieces to her. “When you’re a little bigger, then you can wear them yourself,” he said, smiling at her.
She was so awed she almost forgot to say thank you. But she didn’t. She gave Boil and long hug. He was smitten.
They all played together for a little while, in some kind of confusing charade no one really understood but Numa herself, and maybe Naalan. She kept handing them toys and making them pretend to talk to them. Soon it got late.
Waxer and Boil were reluctant to say goodbye, but they knew they had to get back to the barracks, or Cody would give them a good dressing down.
Numa showered them in hugs as they walked out the door, saying goodbye. The sky was already dark and the stars had begun peeping out.
“What was she playing before?” Boil asked Naalan. Naalan shook his head sheepishly, exhausted but smiling. “Family. You’re pretty much her family, now. She likes you two more than her own cousins.”
Numa was showing Waxer the constellations, her little face angled up into the sky, almost as if she were accepting a kiss from the stars. Waxer was looking up, too. Numa’s tiny finger pointed at something in the sky, tracing the outline of a constellation. “That one’s called the Gurlanin. And that one: that’s a birthday cake.”
“Really?” Waxer asked.
“Yeah. I just made it up now. Do you see it? It looks like a cake. Like my cake, right?”
“Yeah. I see it too.”
“Me too,” Boil added. They stood like that for a few minutes, staring up into the sky, heads tilted back, drinking in the beauty of the stars.
“When I look at the stars, I’ll always remember you,” Numa promised. She hugged them both.
“We will, too,” Boil said, and Waxer nodded, too happy to speak.
“We’ll see you again,” Waxer said after he had swallowed a couple of times.
Numa looked at them serenely, already beginning to hit a sugar crash. “And if not, I’ll see you in my mind.”
“Goodbye, Numa. We’ll miss you.”
They walked a few meters, and she yelled, “Me too!” They waved, and then continued on, walking a bit more reluctantly.
They reached the shuttle, the remains of the cake packed up in a little flimsi bundle. Boil looked back once after they had walked fifty meters and saw Naalan framed in the door, warm, golden light streaming around him, the light of home. Numa was still standing like a green lighthouse at the edge of the common area.
They settled into their seats and Boil fired up the drives, and the stars spun around them like dancing angels as they rose to meet the sky. They both could still see a patch of light from the door of Numa’s house, growing smaller and smaller but ever vivid in their mind. They closed their eyes and imagined a beacon of light thrown from the surface of Ryloth, across the system, across space, across the galaxy, reaching every heart that had a bit of love everywhere and anywhere. To every planet. Even to Coruscant itself. A fire of love could never be stopped, never be put out. A beacon of light, of love, like Numa’s heart, could never be shaken.
“Do you think we really will see her again, Waxer?”
“I’d like to believe so.”
They listened to the humming of the drives shaking the ship, lulling them into sleep, the stars singing a lullaby exclusively for them. Boil was snoring within a few minutes. Waxer curled up in his seat and let his head drop to his knees. For a moment he lifted his head and stared through the viewport. In the distance, Ryloth grew smaller and smaller until it was a tiny glowing orb, and then it all dissolved into a blue tunnel of passing stars, hyperspace a blanket of light.
The light of Ryloth would always glow—unwaveringly, steadily. From one house, one heart. One little girl.