Arkas was known for the tropical climate of its islands. But now it was dusk and the air had cooled down a fair bit. Liberty had developed quite a lot since the days when it had been a refugee camp filled with tents with little electricity, but continued to have a rugged frontier look. Up ahead three individuals seemed to be going on a tour. "You know, Advocate, normally when people take me on a tour, they only show me the pristine parts," a pale-skinned, golden-eyed Eldorai female remarked. She was well-dressed, much like a noble or diplomat, though she wore human women's business suit with a knee-length skirt rather than the usual attire of her people. "It gets awkward when ninety percent of the town is an impoverished ghetto, and they try to act as if the gated communities with the perfect lawn are it in its entirety."
A Nautolan woman snorted. Thin and scarred, she was dressed in spacer clothing. Her face was surrounded by a mass of darkening head-tails that she wore wild. "Are you sure you never visited the Dominion, Ms Lycaeni?" she asked sarcastically. "We call those Banner Towns."

"Because of all the flags to cover the unmentionables, I imagine?" the Eldorai asked airily.
"Aye. Big banners and flags are raised any time the Dominion brings in important visitors for inspection. They're hung from every house and there's a giant banner in the town square with the symbols of the Light." She shook her head, tendrils moving. "We're not ashamed of our people. We fled oppression, we started from nothing, we built this with our own hands. No one has a villa, but no one starves in the streets."
"Not the Dominion. Just various tin pot cleptocrats. Many among my people or the cousins. But please, call me Vari. I'm quite impressed by your cloning operations. Especially your learning module. Xail, did you like the creche?"
"It was nice, mother," a young Xioquo girl holding Vari's hand said politely.
"One of the girls was naughty. She pretended to be her twin and I couldn't tell."

"Truly, that was naughty of her," the Nautolan agreed. "Have you ever been naughty, Xail?"
"Well...," the girl said a bit sheepishly.
"If you like, sweetie, I can walk away for a minute and you can tell Phoebe about all the naughty things you've done. I'm sure she won't tell."
"I wouldn't. I'd teach you how to be naughtier," Phoebe agreed with a thin smile. "Kids are naughty sometimes. And we're bringing people into this world, not machines. So wouldn't you say it is good that the young clones get to act like other children?"
Xail thought for a moment about this, then nodded. "Yes, that's good. It was nice that they...didn't march around and look and talk the same."

"Congratulations, Advocate, it seems you've passed my daughter's ethics test. This seems like a safe investment," Vari said with a chuckle. "Now about your portfolio..."
"New limbs, organs and such - our people can make them. The Fellowship doesn't produce massive batches, but they're well-made."
"Yes, your scientist explained as much. And that it is within your capabilities to clone life forms."
Phoebe gave her a serious look. "We don't create clones for outside purposes. They're our siblings, not chattel."
Vari raised a hand placatingly. "I agree, and have no interest in that. I was referring to cloned animals."
"You mean food animals?"
"Yes, but also endangered species. Pollution, war, greed have driven many to the verge of extinction. I'm a builder, Advocate. I want to preserve some things stupidity has destroyed."
"We can do that. Strangely enough, according to Companion Jughar the first cloning laboratories appropriated by the Dominion were designed for animals, not sentients. The Jedi didn't care that their clone slaves didn't live long, long as they served. Bastards."
Vari shook her head. "You've escaped barbaric rulers, Advocate. I escaped a tyrannical government once, too, but I can't say it was the same."
"And now you rule over your own fief," Phoebe remarked, frowning. "What is your relationship with Firemane? They do not like competition in their kingdom."

Vari chuckled a bit, then stopped when she realised the Nautolan might misinterpret this. "No, they do not. Firemane has a strange business model. Most CEOs don't decide to start ruling planets or taking noble titles. I stick to what a business actually should do. Investing in communities, making profits for its shareholders and employees."
"You do not seem to like them much."
"Actually, I rather enjoy Siobhan, but I find her playing queen a bit farcical. Oh, she has aided a great many people, but it comes with the price of accepting her sovereignty. I gather there's a reason for there being no Firemane presence here."
"They rescued us by chance, not design. If the Dominion had not..." Phoebe trailed, and made a circular motion with her hand, as if trying to encompass the whole settlement. "This was built by us. It's humble, but a start. Our own future. No masters, no government we don't choose for ourselves, no corporations. We'll deal fairly with those who respect our liberty. And we haven't forgotten those who took it away."

Xail was understandably getting rather bored of all this business talk. She wandered off a bit while the adults talked, though she still remained close to her mother. Then she heard noise coming from the trees and turned. "Look, mother!" she pointed excitedly.
Vari stepped towards her, taking in the sight of a certain redhead riding on the back of a Partuz. "Oh, goodness, I didn't know you had those. And speak of the Firemane, it's the prodigal princess."

Elpsis signalled the giant spider to come to a halt as they approached, having perceived the trio ahead of her. "Good girl." Climbing off Hunts-Silently, she rubbed her head. The Partuz looked at the newcomers with curiosity while Mel and Shikoba caught up.
"I take it your dealmaking went well," Phoebe commented, looking a bit bemused.
"Yes, boss, Companion Elpsis sweettalked the queen spider. I'll fill you in," Mel replied, glancing at Vari and Xail. "Hello there."
"Good day," Xail said a bit shyly.
"Director Varisanthra Lycaeni of Nova Bank, and her daughter Lykani'Xail. Companion Mel, one of my close advisors," Phoebe introduced them. "And you know Lieutenant Kerrigan?"

"We met at the big elf summit," the Fire Princess said. She was grateful that none of the Unchained would ever call her that. Or use any noble title she technically possessed.
"Yes, quite an event. An impressive display of royal grandeur. Advocate Phoebe and I have been partaking in some negotiations of our own."
"And my name is Shikoba of the Redleaf Clan. This is Hunts-Silently," the druidess interjected. "You are a Xioquo," she added, looking at Xail.
"And you are a Vashyada. I greet you."
"Unlike some of our kin, I don't follow the imbelic notion that one of our 'sister races' is lesser than the other, or that family is a matter of race," Vari said, wrapping her arms around her daughter. "I'm sure it's a scandal somewhere among petty nationalists fantasising about making the Matriarchy great again. Old stuff and nonsense."

"Lotta Eldorai are jerks about that. Nice to see one who isn't. What's Nova Bank's interest in the Unchained?" Elpsis remarked. There was an undertone of suspicion in her words.
"We may have mutual interests," Phoebe spoke, in a tone Elpsis recognised her as her 'this is not for the peanut gallery' voice. "The Majiles meets tomorrow morning. Representatives from the Fellowship will be there, too. You'll speak before the Council?" she asked Vari, though in tone it was less a query and more statement of fact.
"I look forward to it. Don't worry, Xail, I won't put you through a parliamentary hearing that will most likely feature plenty of dull statistics," she said, stroking her daughter's white hair a bit.

"Yes, Mother," the girl said solemly, her eyes drifting to the big spider. "What is it doing?" she asked, for the spider was climbing up a hollow tree. Hunts-Silently proceeded to spin a web.
"She," Shikoba corrected primly. "She is hunting."
"Maybe if she likes you enough she'll wrap it in a web and give it to you," Mel commented dryly.
"Oh...that would be nice of her, I guess."
"Smart creatures. I'm sure you'll have much to say about them during the debriefing," Phoebe said. "I must get going," she glanced at Vari. "It's been a pleasure."

"Oh, likewise, quite illuminating. But time for us to get back home. Lieutenant Kerrigan, would you be so kind to escort us back to the port? It's getting dark. Sadly, I have trouble in it, and it embarrasses my daughter when she has to tell her mother where to go."
"Mother," the daughter in question muttered. She looked up at the Partuz on the tree. "Can you just...leave her like that? She won't hurt anyone?"
"They're smart. And we have a deal and stuff," Elpsis spoke. "And sure, I'll escort you," she looked at her two companions. "See you tomorrow, Mel, I guess. Shikoba..."
"I shall keep Hunts-Silently company. Show her around."
"Ok, cool, stay outta trouble." And with that the trio was off.

Liberty did not exactly have a lively night life, though noise could be heard coming from inside a pub. A few militiamen were on patrol in the settlement. For a while they walked in silence, before Vari inevitably broke it. "I can't help but feel suspicion," she remarked.
"Nothing personal. Not big on aristos or corpo bigshots," Elpsis grunted.
Vari seemed amused rather than offended. "Many are quite annoying. And with a questionable grasp on reality. Still an interesting perspective to have as the daughter of someone who's both an aristo and, to use your term, a 'corpo'. I understand you're a bit of what humans call a star in Firemane."
"It's propaganda bul...nonsense," Elpsis hastily censored herself. There was a child present, after all.
"She was about to say a bad word Mother," Xail chimed in.
"I know you'd never use bad words, dear."

Elpsis flushed slightly. "Firemane made that dumb movie about Tephrike because it's politically convenient. Make folks think they're a noble hero and not a plutocratic junta, drive up recruitment numbers."
"A common trait among the powerful. You sound rather disillusioned."
"You wanna offer me a job? No offence, but playing bodyguard or collecting debts isn't what I wanna do. I don't like the bigshots, but I do my duty. Help people, kill Sithies and other scum. It's what I want. 'sides, family's here," Elpsis shrugged.
"I appreciate your candour, dear. I'd offer you a position. We do have a variety of humanitarian projects, but our approach is not as Firemane. Or as militant. I think you'd find it incredibly frustrating. It's funny, really. If your mother had had her way, you and I would be incredibly close."
Elpsis frowned, not quite understanding. "What do you mean?"

Vari looked genuinely surprised. "Oh, Siobhan didn't tell you? Well, the nexu cub's out of the bag, so I might as well tell the story. We had a few private discussions during the summit away from all the cameras. She suggested that you and I wed. Offered me a substantial dowry."
Elpsis made a face. "What?!"
"I trust this is no comment on my age."
"What? No...I didn't mean it like that. You're smart, you smell great and your voice. But...seriously?"
"I'm teasing, dear. You are quite fetching young lady. I was perplexed myself. She's...really absorbed 'royal' habits well."
Elpsis snorted. "No offence, but I'd have told her to go frak herself. I'm not into marriage...and I sure as hell wouldn't marry someone who gets pushed onto me because mother wants more power."
Vari patted her hand. "The dilemma of every child of a powerful parent. Torn between making them proud and not being subsumed by their shadow. We want what's best for our child, but we never notice when we're smothering it." She looked fondly at Xail, who was taking in the sights.

"You got a big master plan for your daughter in the cupboard somewhere?"
"Honestly, no. I do want her to get a good education and get the tools she needs to succeed in life. If she decides, she wants to pursue a career in Nova Bank, I'll support her. But if she wants to be, I don't know, an artist or a pilot, that is fine, too. Trying to turn a child into a duplicate of yourself will just make them resent you. You'll never be satisfied."
"You don't mind someone else taking over your 'legacy'?"
Vari shook her head. "She is my legacy, if I have any. Nova Bank is a business. Besides, sooner or later every dynasty goes to rot."
"It does," Elpsis muttered.
"I watched your...interview. I don't envy your situation, Elpsis."
"Not how you would've done it, huh?"
"No," Vari admitted with a shrug, "but how I - or Siobhan or even Tegaea, for that matter - would have done it isn't relevant."

"Mother, the Monolith," Xail spoke up, a solemn expression on her face as she approached the memorial. It consisted of two massive iron chains with a break in them. A wall behind it contained the names of people who had perished in the concentration camps the Unchained had escaped from. "There's candles. Can we light one, Mother?"
"Of course, dear," Vari said softly, glancing at Elpsis. "You think that's fine?"
"Sure. The locals don't mind people paying their respects. I can light it for you."
The Xio beamed at her. "Thank you, Miss."
"Elpsis is fine." And with that Elpsis took the Xio's small, greyish hand into hers and walked with her to the memorial. Her free hand touched an unlit candle. Heat surged through her and a small fire was lit.

"We have a memorial like this in Tlaxqui," Xail said after a moment of silence, tone solemn and serious. "It used to be where the slaves lived. Now it's a garden. There's two statues - a male and female Xio holding hands together, with chains at their feet. Looking up to the sky."
"Never been to Tlaxqui," Elpsis said softly. "Wasn't part of the company when we liberated the place. But I know folks from there. Your people suffered a lot." Something clicked in her. "Your parents...if you don't mind me asking."
"Dead," Xail said simply.
"I'm sorry."
"Better now. Got Mother," the girl turned her head slightly to look at Vari, who had come over to join them.

"I found her whilst visiting an orphanage with Queen Lia," the Eldorai explained, placing a hand on the the child's shoulder. "We had an instant connection."
Her daughter smiled slightly. "I talk to some of the other girls on Mother's machine. Mother's been helping finds homes."
"That's good. Queenie punished the slavers, didn't she?"
"Yes. But some evil people got away."
"If I find any, I'll kill them."
"Mother said you fight evil people."
"I do. Try, at any rate." They left the central square and continued on in silence. Eventually, they reached the port. At this hour, there was little traffic. A couple fishers were returning to their homes after spending a day on the sea.

"Over there," Vari called out, pointing to their boat. A droid was waiting for them. "Well, this was an illuminating trip. I hope you had some fun, Xail, despite my best attempts to bore you with grownup talk. It was nice to meet you, Lieutenant."
"Yeah, same. And, uh, Elpsis is fine." She bent down so that she was face-to-face with Xail. "Nice meeting you too, little lady. Your Basic's good. A lot better than my Xio."
Elpsis could not see it, but the Xio smiled. "Thank you, Miss...Elpsis." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Uh, do you know Karrigan'Xalda? I think she's with Firemane."
The human frowned, momentarily taken aback. "Uh, yeah, sorta."
"Could you tell her hello from me? She visited the orphanage a few times. She was nice, but I don't have her number."
"Uh, sure. I'll tell her," Elpsis said a bit awkwardly. She wasn't keen on Xalda. "Take care, kiddo." She gave the girl a hug, then got up.

"Until we meet again, Elpsis," Vari said, while the droid helped Xail onto the boat. The Eldorai stretched out her hand.
Elpsis shook it - with her flesh hand. The Eldorai's skin felt soft and delicate, but her grip was firm. "Probably not on the Arx. Not my scene really."
"No, I guess not. And putting you in a suit and chaining you to a desk would probably be a waste of your skills. Doubtless there all manners of ambitious people in Firemane telling you to do this or that. But know this - as long your last name is Kerrigan, you'll be a public figure. You can can run and fight them on the fringes let them spin whatever narrative they want; you can be their mouthpiece; or you can try to shape things your way. They plastered your face on propaganda posters for self-serving reasons, but that works both ways. Good day, Elpsis." Then the Eldorai lady climbed into the boat and was off.