Silver Rest, Kashyyyk
After the annihilation of Csilla; before the attempted arrest of Laertia Io ...

“Hi Starlin!”

Starlin halted, finally looking up from the floor. Miri was curled up in an armchair, a book in her hands. At nine years old, her feet still dangled several inches above the floor.

“Hi Miri. Is your dad in his office?”

“Yup.” She pointed. Her chair sat in an alcove directly across from the door to Nimdok’s office. It didn’t match the rest of the furniture, which made him think it had been placed there just for her. “He’s busy though, so you’ll have to have an appointment.”

“Will I?” Starlin murmured. “Or does he already know I’m here?”

As if on cue, the door slid open and Nimdok said, “Come in.”

Waving goodbye to Miri, Starlin entered the office. It was cluttered, like every space Nimdok worked in tended to be. Stacks of books, datachips, and disks filled every available corner of the room, forming the towers and parapets of a veritable fortress of knowledge. At a desk strewn with piles of flimsiplast and a few holocrons being used as paperweights sat Nimdok, Grandmaster of Knowledge. Phew. Starlin was never gonna get used to that.

“I had a feeling you would come, even before I sensed your presence,” Nimdok said. He gestured toward an empty chair in front of his desk, and Starlin took it. Another chair next to him was occupied by a box labeled Student Applications. It was overflowing.

Starlin took in the mess, then glanced at Nimdok. “I know you’re busy and all, but—”

“I’m not as busy as I look.”

The professor looked tired. Not to the point of being haggard, but signs of fatigue were apparent on his hawkish features. His gaze was still keen as ever when he looked at Starlin.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Can’t you read my thoughts?” Starlin’s attempt at a joke fell flat. He scratched behind his ear. “I dunno. Just some crazy chit’s been going on lately.”

“With you?”

“Yeah. With me. And now I hear the Silver Jedi are finally coming after Laertia Io.”

“Yes.” Nimdok leaned back and clasped his hands in his lap. “I made the announcement.”

“It’s about time, I guess.”

“What’s going on with you?” Nimdok’s eyebrows rose. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I dunno.” Starlin leaned his chin on his hand, one foot bouncing against the rug. “It’s just, y’know, it’s personal stuff. Not really that big of a deal.”

“Ah. Well, if you want, we could talk about it over drinks.”

Some familiar tones had entered Nimdok’s voice, recalling the words of a friend. Starlin’s throat constricted. “Uh...”

“It’s not as if I have a set shift on when I have to be the Grandmaster,” Nimdok continued, checking his chrono. “We have time today. There’s got to be a bar somewhere on or near Kashyyyk, right?”

When he looked up from the timepiece, Starlin was hunched over, hiding his face in his hands. A slight tremble of his shoulders was punctuated by a stifled whimper.

Nimdok stood up and walked around his desk, leaning against the corner closest to the boy. “It’s cathartic, Starlin. Don’t try to fight it.”

The trembling became shakes that seemed to wrack the Padawan’s entire body, and a sob escaped him. He curled further in on himself, lowering his head almost between his knees and rocking back and forth in his chair. Nimdok formed a mental screen around Starlin, blocking other Jedis’ ability to sense his emotions as he cried, but otherwise he simply stood there and let it run its course without interfering. He might’ve even left the room to give the boy some privacy, but this was his office, not Starlin’s.

How much time passed, Starlin didn’t know, but eventually he raised his head. His face was a wet, ruddy mess of tears and snot. Nimdok handed him a box of tissues.

“I keep forgetting—who you are,” Starlin rasped, blowing his nose. “I keep forgetting you’re Tom.”

“Me too, buddy.” Smirking grimly, Nimdok adjusted his perch on the edge of the desk. “For the record, I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to drink right now, but the offer still stands.” He paused, watching Starlin dab at his puffy eyes. “You didn’t come here just to talk about Laertia Io, did you?”

“Csilla.” Starlin sniffled. “On the Mercy. For a few moments, I was… I fell.” His jaw clenched, holding his breath as fresh tears fell, hot and stinging. “I made it back, but... Syd told me she used to be Dark. That she had been forced to the Light…”

“Do you think she’s secretly a Sith?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do…” He swiped at his tears, smearing them against the back of his hand. “I’m afraid she really is… not someone I should be learning from. Not a real Jedi. I don’t wanna end up like…”

Nimdok caught his thought before he could voice it and stiffened. “You’re not going to end up like Laertia. Syd is—well, she’s a complicated case, but she’s not deceiving you. Not as far as I can tell.”

“She already did! She didn’t tell me she used to be a Sith until I almost fell to the fething Dark Side in front of her! How is that not a deception?”

“Not for me, it isn’t.” Nimdok sighed. “I already knew about this. If I didn’t trust the sincerity of her conversion, I never would have sent you to her.”

Starlin's eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because she demanded that I keep her secret. ‘When I am ready to tell him, I will tell him. But not a moment before I am ready.’ Those were her words. I honored her desire to gain your trust on her own time. I didn’t know she would pick the annihilation of Csilla as the right moment, but that’s on her, not me.”

Starlin turned away, clutching his forehead as he grimaced. “It’s not just that. It’s everything else that’s been building up. Her relationship with Laertia, what happened at Dantooine, and Csilla, and… I don’t trust her completely anymore. I can’t. Especially not when the Silvers are coming after Laertia. That means all the Jedi are against them.”

“Against Laertia. Not necessarily against Syd.” But Nimdok was quibbling over semantics. Syd was Laertia’s lover; it seemed inevitable that she would take Laertia’s side, even if only to protect her. “Are you considering… joining them, if it comes to that?”

An intense wave of pain washed over the boy, threatening to drown him, yet he didn’t resume his weeping. He just sat perfectly still, holding his arms in his lap, staring at the floor.

“No,” he answered at last. “I can’t. I’m a Jedi. I want to always be a Jedi, no matter what.”

Nimdok exhaled, overwhelmed by what little he could sense of Starlin’s emotions. “You love her.”

Starlin nodded, gnawing on his lip. “It’s not like… I’m in love with her, or anything like that. She’s my friend. My best friend, besides you. I care about her and I don’t want to hurt her.” His eyelids lowered as his brow furrowed. In his mind he could see Syd’s lips moving, mouthing the words you're the closest I've ever come to having a son”. Starlin had a mother whom he loved dearly, but what he had with Syd was important to him too. He valued her friendship, her mentoring, all that she had taught him. Yet was he now supposed to hold every lesson and technique as suspect, a possible Sith deception? Was he supposed to think she was a liar and a fraud? Was he supposed to become her enemy?

Lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed Nimdok walk over to a window until the professor opened the blinds, letting the waning afternoon sunlight creep in. “We’re going to try and negotiate with Laertia first,” he said. “Josh Dragovalor, the Master of the Saber, another Jedi Master named Or’Fol Moric, and I are trying to track her down. When we find her, she’ll either let us take her willingly, or we'll have to take her by force.” He glanced back at Starlin. His face looked even more alien than usual, his eyes black as inkwells, the color within them an illusion. “I’d like for the former to be the outcome, but I don’t think she’ll be willing to listen. Not unless we show her evidence of the suffering she’s caused—real evidence, not still photographs of strangers whose faces generate nothing in her but a sense of self-righteous guilt.”

Starlin knew what was coming next, but it still made him wince.

“Come with us, Starlin. Show her what her actions have done to you, to your relationship with your master, the woman she loves. The woman you love, too, in your own way. Make it so that Laertia has no choice but to face the consequences for what she's done.”

“What if Syd is there with her when you come for Laertia?” Starlin asked, setting his jaw.

“Then maybe she’ll stop Laertia from attacking us, at the very least. You might even be able to convince Syd to help us arrest her.”

“Or maybe she’ll help Laertia kill you all, and then do something to me that will—” He cut himself off, locking down again.

“You don’t really believe she would hurt you, do you?”

“No. No… I’m more afraid of what I might do. The lengths I’d be willing to go, and the things I’d be willing to tolerate in the name of saving her from this.” He shook his head. “Feth it. I’ll do it. I’ve been ignoring Laertia’s crimes because of Syd, but she’s a Jedi killer and a traitor. A real fething traitor, not like Master Starchaser when he refused to support the Elder Compact, or Master Quill when he blew the whistle on the NJO’s war crimes.” He stood up. “Let’s get her ass.”