Teed’s Deli and Bakery was humming with business. The morning rush was just beginning, but already the clerks were calling for the second batch of bagels and even the croo pies were quickly dwindling. Teed was cheerfully preparing more honey-oat coffee and greeting customers as they walked in.
“Alesse! You’re running late- I saved you a Danish!” Teed poured a cup of black cherry coffee and passed it, along with a paper-wrapped pastry, across to the petite woman on the other side of the counter.
Alesse winked and exchanged a cred chip for the coffee and Danish. “Thanks, Teed. I’d better run.” She turned and stiffened imperceptibly. The packed bakery was full of the usual customers, smiling and jostling each other politely. But in a seat not far from the door sat a figure hiding behind a newspaper. No, not reading the newspaper – hiding behind it. It was likely that no one else had noticed the suspicious behavior, but Alesse was attuned to all sorts of nefarious activities. She slid out the door and set off down the street.
It was not long before Alesse’s suspicion was confirmed. She heard someone leave the bakery behind her, his footsteps keeping up with her pace. There were so many people out on the street, he would be foolish to try anything in the crowd. She turned. He was ready.
“Ma’am, may I accompany you to work?” The young man who had been following Alesse offered her his arm. He was gratified to see Alesse hesitate a moment before recognition dawned in her eyes.
She recovered quickly. “Of course, thank you, Reynir.”
It was his turn to hide his surprise. “Oh, oh, yes, of course.” Had he only imagined that fleeting look of surprise on her face? The two set off toward Coruscant’s water treatment plant, idly chatting. To the rest of the population, they were mere colleagues getting ready for another day pushing numbers in cubicles.
Alesse led the way through the main doors of the plant into the lobby. She nodded to the receptionist, then proceeded to a door on the right. She passed her ID across a small black box, which flashed green in response. Then she looked to the young man next to her.
“Go ahead, Reynir.” She flashed him a grin, a challenge.
He stood for a moment, his mind racing. Slowly, he took out his ID card. Reynir Sardona was printed in bold under his picture. I should have asked Maxis to take a look at this, he thought as he waved the plastic card in front of the reader.
It flashed green!
Rowan stared. He looked from the green light up to his mother, who hadn’t stopped grinning.
“Let’s go,” was all she said. Rowan had to trot to keep up with her. They went down several levels, around several corners, and back up two sets of stairs before Alesse finally stopped and closed the door behind them. They were in a small office, not too dreary, but not exactly homey, either. Alesse turned on the light switch, and Rowan thought he detected the faintest of hums coming from the overhead light.
Alesse sat down on the desk and gestured to a small padded chair. “Have a seat. So. What’s going on? Or are you here for a visit? ‘Cause I could take the morning off if you’re planning to stick around for a while.”
“No. This isn’t quite a visit for pleasure …” Rowan hesitated a moment and looked around. “Is it okay?”
She nodded. “It’s secure.”
“All right.” He took a breath. “I found out about my bodyguard.”
Alesse raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”
“I didn’t appreciate it.”
“I didn’t think you would. That’s why I kept it a secret.”
“Mom, come on. I’m not a child.”
“Neither is your father. But he’s got bodyguards, too.”
“Yeah, but he at least knows about them.”
“Does he? All of them?”
Rowan was caught off guard. “Do you drive him as crazy as you do me?”
That stopped her. When she spoke again, her voice was gentle. “I’m sorry I drive you crazy. I’m trying to keep you safe.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure I need it. I’m nobody. There is absolutely no reason I can foresee… oh, she’s not reporting to you, is she?”
“Of course not!”
“You probably know every move I make, anyway, without needing her to check in with you… you’re treating me like a child!” Rowan stood up and turned to glare at the wall.
“You think that letting you go and gallivant around the galaxy is treating you like a child? If I wanted to do that I would make you stay here under my watchful eye, and believe me, I could!” Alesse hopped off the desk and rounded on Rowan so she was staring up at his face. “Do you know what would happen if someone found out your relationship to Gli? Do you have any idea how vulnerable you make him by roaming around like a wild man? By taking part in illegal activity, yes, illegal! I know exactly what you’ve been up to! You want to be treated like an adult, what the hell are you doing coming to me whining? Act like the man you are.”
Rowan’s eyes flashed. “Fine. You want me to act like a man? Then let’s end this whole charade right here. Let’s call the newspapers – here I am! Gli Sha’adron’s adopted son! I’ve been hiding my whole life, but I’m finally ready to come out and spill everything! Oh, you ask who my mother could be? It’s a funny story, really. I’ll tell you all about it. I’m tired of hiding! I’m a man, aren’t I? And don’t men live up to who they are?”
Alesse tried to smile. “You’re very funny.”
“Thanks! I try. Seriously, though. Why not. I know it’s not about me. But why not just tell the world about you two? It can’t be that much fun to hide your lives together. I’ve got the Coruscant Sun on speed dial. And I will do it, Mom. I will.” Rowan had taken out his com link and paused with his finger hovering over a button. He glanced up at Alesse. His face was unreadable, his stare intense.
“It would jeopardize his career and mine. It would be a scandal-”
“Yeah? Then let’s try to avoid that. Scandals are no fun.”
Alesse looked into Rowan’s face, trying to read his expression. She had heard a note of bitterness in his voice. “You want me to end Ess’s contract.”
“Oh, no. Not at all.”
“You… you don’t?”
“Nope, you’re not firing her. You’ll continue to pay her each month, and she’ll continue to guard me.”
“Okay… and then what?”
“And you give me what I want.”
“This is fantastic. Now you’re blackmailing me? How is it that you were so resistant to extorting Gli, but you have absolutely no qualms when it comes to me?”
“Just trying to be the man you raised.”
Alesse’s brow knotted. “Fine. What do you want?”
“I want information. About the Children of the Black Sun. Their recent activity, any intel on their current status and location that you’ve got, their possible objectives, everything.”
“Children of the Black Sun? No, no, no. They’re way out of your league. You’re not prying into them, you will end up dead, bodyguard or no bodyguard.”
“I just want information. I’m not going into battle against them single-handed. If I ever do anything with the information, I’ll make sure I’m ready and I’ve got the backup I need.”
Rowan continued. “I’ll get the information somehow. You want me to go asking around where I might get in real trouble? Moving on, I also want information on Barthos O’Keefe Parker’s lineage. Everything about his grandfather’s noble status of “Lord” and what exactly that makes Barthos. And then, if he’s a noble, too, then I want you, better yet, Gli, to let the palace on Kalda know that they’d better not marry off the queen yet, cause there’s another courter headed there. And they’d better make time for him.”
“You want his genealogy? That’s not exactly the kind of intelligence we gather around here, believe it or not.”
“Sure you do. You’ve got everything on everybody. How about it.”
“Rowan, this is idiotic. I can’t just give a civilian this intelligence, blackmail or no blackmail, son or no son.”
“My ID worked.”
“It got me in. You put me in the system, didn’t you?”
Alesse let out her breath slowly. “Yes. I knew you were going to take off with a fake ID, and I didn’t want you to get stopped. So I fixed the ID up so… so it was real. But if for whatever reason things didn’t check out and you were thrown in some New Republic prison, NRI would recognize you as one of theirs and I’d be notified. I’m not actually watching every single move you make, you know.”
“Uh huh. So, as far as NRI is concerned, I’m not just a civilian.”
Alesse gave a sudden guffaw. “What – you want to make it official? You want to be a spy?”
“You give me the information I want – Children of the Black Sun, Barthos’ lineage and get him in with the Kaldan palace, oh, and Ellezandra Vis’ release date – you let me go tour the galaxy, and I will report anything interesting I find – about Children of the Black Sun, about Imperial movements in the northeast, the whole kit and kaboodle. You’ve made it clear that I can’t be independent, so fine. I’ll stop whining and we’ll make it official. You can recall me to do jobs. I can contact you for info. And I collect intelligence for you, too.”
Alesse pursed her lips and turned away from him. Slowly a smile spread across her face. When she turned back, all traces of that smile was gone.
“You drive a hard bargain, Rowan Kendall Sha’adron. I’m proud of you. You might be bluffing. But I’m honestly not sure. I… I can’t seem to read you today. If I refuse, you might reveal your relationship to Gli to the galaxy. If I accept, I’ll be taking you on as an operative. A relatively free one at that, until I call you in for a special assignment, do I have that all correct? You know you’d be risking me calling you in to do a desk job here, though. But you also know that I wouldn’t do that, because you’d resent me then even more than you do now. And I’d risk you getting into even more serious trouble as an NRI agent. Oh, Rowan.” She sighed, and suddenly, for the first time since Rowan could remember, she looked her age. Then she squared her shoulders and all trace of age and concern melted away.
“Here is my answer,” Alesse took a seat behind her desk.
“The Children of the Black Sun began as a religious movement founded on Ord Baedann about 20 years ago. Locals flocked to the religion, which preached evil in galactic governments and enlightenment through violence. Huge gladiator pits grew out of the craters left by the New Republic’s war, pitting locals against each other or off-world visitors. The movement saw some popularity in nearby systems. “The religion grew more and more radical, with members becoming terrorists that attacked the New Republic. The Head Priest, a Twi’lek named Anj’tanna, masterminded the bombing of an NR Cruiser carrying (among others) Mon Mothma and Derk Bonz. It was decided after the investigation that Anj’tanna died in the bombing.
“After the bombing, the CoBS more or less disappeared. That was 10 years ago.” Alesse shifted in her seat.
“The new CoBS seems to be made of Outer Rim planets’ defense forces and pirate groups. They’ve been targeting New Republic member planets in and around the Outer Rim. We still don’t know their leader, or any major bases of operation, but they’ve been hitting Galactic East for the most part… Mon Calamari is on Level 2 alert.
“As far as the O’Keefe family, you should ask an historian. I know that the Core Worlds got together about 2000 years ago and decided which families were to be the noble houses, but claims have been disputed and frauds uncovered, so no one agrees which are truly noble or not. I know Barthos O’Keefe was the Senator from Brentaal, and still receives a pension every year and an honor guard when he comes to Coruscant. That’s about it. Feel free to find him and ask him about his nobility.”
“Ellie gets released in two weeks.”