I am starting to understand why Mother grumbles so much about needing a cane. My bad leg has yet to fully heal. The doctors say I am lucky to walk at all. They also say I should take it easy, sit down and let nature take its course. I cannot take it slow. When I am idle, I am dragged back to the camp. I am left alone with my thoughts and trapped in my memories. I can't look back. I can't be weak. I cannot be a prisoner again.
This corridor of the Destiny is mercifully free of crowds. I do not want to feel anyone's pity anymore than hear their applause. My feet take me to the room I'm told Natalie and Mara have set up shop in. Natalie is a friend. We have not talked much about her past, but she understands. She suffered under Sith, too. But she took her life back and made them pay. She stood with me against Matsu Xiangu. She came for me. I'm told that Mara helped. Mara, the first Tephriki I met. Sweet Mara who was raised to believe the Dominion was good and noble. As I enter the room I can hear voices inside. It bring a thin smile to my lips. It does not reach my eyes.
"Where are your cables? And your plugs?" That is Mara. She sounds a bit mystified.
"We don't use any." Natalie is deadpan as ever.
"You jest surely. How do you get anything done on these...tiny devices. There's not even a keyboard."
"And yours are so big they take up an entire room. How do you even move?"
"I worked on the most modern cogitators in all of Tephrike."
"And now it's time for you to move on from antiquity and join the rest of us." Natalie produces a datapad. Welcome to the world of tiny, wireless computers, Mara.
Mara takes in hand. "Are you telling me this little thing has the same processing power as a cogitator? That is...Elpsis!" she suddenly exclaims when she notices.

"Hey." Natalie says, but Mara has already gotten up and rushed to me. "Hey. Good to see you," I say, but she has already grabbed me.
She does not mean anything ill by it. She is happy to see me. I should hug her back. I should not be thinking of iron chains and shackles, of Inquisitors and drowning. I push her back. My body trembles.
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean," she stammers. I feel horrible.
"It's ok, it's fine," I try to soothe her. My hands clench and unclench. I am better than this. I am not weak. "Just got tender ribs." It's not quite a lie. "It's good to see you."
"Don't sweat it, Mara," Natalie interjects. "Nice to see you back on your feet. Thought the doctors would keep you locked up anothe week."
"They wanted to. I left," I shrug. "I, uh, wanted to thank you both for all you did."
"I didn't really do much," Mara says self-deprecatingly. "I helped decipher some codes and..."
"You helped me find the camp, girl. Don't sell yourself short," Natalie interrupts.
"I also told Elpsis that Firemane should negotiate with the Dominion. I thought the Grandmaster was a good man and that this would help my people. I was foolish."
"It's hard to see a machine for what it is when you've been raised in it," Natalie says. "You know the truth now."
Maybe it had to happen this way. I do not voice that thought, but I cannot help had to think to my dream. Is the Red Lady real? Or is she just a figment of my imagination? Is this the future that had to happen? I shake it off. I can't dwell on what ifs.

"Mara, I don't hold a grudge against you, ok?" I think she nods. "Good. What have you two been up to?"
"Natalie has been teaching me about how your cogitators work. It is strange, but exciting. They are so small, but extremely fast."
"She's a fast learner. May be better than some of your best techs soon."
"You flatter me. I hope I can catch up soon. I want to contribute."
"You staying with Firemane then?" I ask. The more we talk about her, the less we talk about me and the camp, which is good. "You don't have a master anymore, Mara. You're free to do what you want."
"I...you saved me. It's a debt I can't repay, but I'll try. I'd like to see the Galaxy. See the worlds you told me about with my own eyes. But I also want to help my people. There are many who still suffer."
"Last I heard, Firemane's pulling out," Natalie remarks. "That deal with the Guard's still valid?"
"Yeah, Mother's gonna send them weapons and advisors and get resources in return." I guess Siobhan needs to get something out of an exploration mission that went so horribly wrong.
"I understand it's not my place to judge...but I do not trust the Republican Guard," Mara speaks up. "They blow up civilians without a care and they have Vong abominations. I've seen what happened to Padawans they get in their grasp."
"Seems like the lesser evil to me. Besides, can you blame them?" Natalie argues.
"I lost friends to them," Mara counters. "If they win the war, who is to say they do not reopen the camps to put in their enemies? Their hatred for Force-Users runs deep."

"They'd have to win the war first," I state. "Firemane doesn't want to get bogged down. Last I heard, the Dominion's got a new leader. That Battlemaster woman. You know anything about her?"
"Battlemaster Mahtara. She is...old and of the same species as Grandmaster Yoda. It is said that she has been around since before the Great Darkness. She has led the Dominion to victory in many battles. She is also ruthless. Many soldiers adore her," Mara responds.
"That Kel Dor Jedi who met Tempest at the camp gates claimed he was sent by her. Said she didn't want the war, not that it matters much now," Natalie adds.
"Evil, female Yoda. Lovely." My sarcasm is strong. "The Dominion just got leadership that doesn't suck, they might have become more dangerous now."
"Sometimes when you kill the supervillain all you manage to do is have someone smarter take his place. Life's not a holodrama where the bad guys are beaten without loss and everything turns shiny and happy." I can tell Natalie is speaking from experience.
"Stupid do-gooders don't get that." I do not hide the bitterness in my tone. "Too busy attending conclaves and holding hands with Sith."

An awkward silence falls upon us. It is eventually broken by Natalie. "Hey, Mara, do they have any booze where you come from?"
"Booze? Oh, you mean liquor. Intoxication is...officially discouraged. It can lead to sin. It is still available, unofficially."
"Ever partaken in sin?"
"A few times, maybe."
"Well, time for you to sin a bit more." With that Natalie gets up, fetches a bottle of whiskey and three glasses. "There, that's real spirits." She pours the glasses and sits down. "To the dead."
"To the prisoners of Serene Springs," I speak.
"To those who are still chained by oppressors," Mara adds. Our glasses clink nicely together.
"I'm thinking about going back." Natalie says after a moment. "Take out bounties on Jedi and Sith. Blow up their nice little temples."
In a way...it is liberating to hear that someone feels the same way as me. "I'm not done with Tephrike yet. One person can't win a war or wave a magic wand and set things right, but I gotta go back. Show them what it's like to be helpless and afraid. I'm not gonna let Rhea face them alone. Frak the Jedi, frak the Sith, frak anyone who puts innocents in chains."
"I'd help you. I'm no fighter, but I can help out with tech, I know a bit about cryptography and I'm familiar with Dominion security protocols. These are my people. I cannot let them remain as blind as I was," Mara affirms.
My vacant, milky-white eyes meet Natalie's blue ones. The gaze is hard and determined. I can feel the fire rising in me. "I have a trust fund." Not done much with it, beyond donating to some charities - orphanages and schools for war orphans and former slaves, wildlife conservation on Dahomey and Tygara.