Chapter 1: Sey'les

Aboard the Judicator

Back in the forest of Antar 4, Sey'les heard Captain Ozzel's voice in her ear. It was too quiet, so she turned up the volume.

"Muun Leader, this is Judicator Actual, do you copy?"

"This is Muun Leader, over," Sey'les replied.

"I have a compromise for you Sey'les," Captain Ozzel said.

Sey'les gasped in terror.

"We have a change of mission. The compromise is that you are going in cold. You and your team are going to breach the house cold. That should stop the plasma torches, don't you agree Sey'les?"

"Go in cold sir?" Sey'les asked, dread in her voice.

"Yes Sey'les, go in cold!"

Suddenly two sets of human hands grabbed Sey'les and started pushing her into a carbonite freezer.

"You are going in cold agent! That's a compromise!"

"AAAAAHHHHHH!" she screamed and snarled. She cried in terror, then couldn't move anymore. She could not even open her snout. "MMMHHHMMM" she cried.

"This should keep you nice and safe!" a mysterious human voice said, pushing her towards the Gotal building.

Sey'les quaked in fear.

"This is a compromise. Do you understand Agent? You are breaching the building cold, not hot," Captain Ozzel's voice said in her ear. "Cold, not hot."

After being set in the centre of the room, the lasers emitted from the walls. The plasma torches turned on and aimed at her. Sey'les was on fire. She could smell Nuna bacon.

"MMMHHMMMM!" she screamed, unable to move her snout.

Suddenly, a plastic respirator popped off her nose. Her nose felt very wet and warm. Her throat was clear and did not hurt at all. What?!

She inhaled through her nose and breathed nothing but pure liquid Bacta. Her nose felt like it was on fire. Her snout was still shut.

"MMHHMMMMMMMHHH!" she screamed in terror. Opening her eyes, she could only see a blur. Liquid was in her eyes.

"Sey'les!" a robot voice yelled into her ear. "PUT THE RESPIRATOR BACK ON!"

She reached forward, panicking, grabbed a cable, felt a tiny Bothan nose-sized respirator and plopped it on her nose, she felt a strap on it and pulled the strap tight behind her head. She breathed in air through her nose and started coughing, her snout still sealed shut.

"MHHHMMMM!" she yelled in terror and disgust as Bacta drained out of her nose, was coughed out of her lungs and got stuck in her mouth. Her snout was closed so tightly she could not spit it out.

"Sey'les," the droid started talking again. "We did not expect you to wake up yet. You developed a severe infection before we submerged you in Bacta to treat your burns. We don't have a Bothan Bacta respirator on this ship, so we taped your snout shut to stop you from drowning."

I was dreaming, she suddenly realised. What a weird bunch of dreams!

"MHHHMMMH!" she insisted to the droid. Kriff this tastes disgusting! She could not spit the mass of Bacta out.

"You are only due to be in there for 17 minutes and 53 seconds longer Sey'les. I advise you to simply swallow the Bacta if it is bothering you. It is safe in your stomach in small amounts."

SWALLOW THE BACTA! UGH. Sey'les pushed off the bottom of the tank and climbed the slippery walls.

"Sey'les, what are you doing? SEY'LES STOP!"

OUCH!"MMMMMMHHHM!" Sey'les moaned angrily as her head hit the top of the Bacta tube. The lid was closed. What a stupid design! What if someone had a panic attack!

"As the chief medical droid, I order you to stop. You are a patient under my care, and I order you to stop," the droid said sternly.

Blast this is stupid. How much difference could 17 minutes really make?! Sey'les thought.

"I promise, you will make it out in time for the memorial service Sey'les," the droid said consolingly.

Oh… Memorial Service. Sey'les swallowed the Bacta. The aftertaste still filled her mouth. She slunk to the bottom of the Bacta tube remembering yesterday's events.

o.o.o.o.o

Sey'les walked in her hospital gown to her room wearing her trench-coat over it. Everything felt colder.

Wulf had already been discharged. She assumed he must be sleeping now. She felt guilty leaving Hashtivar in the sickbay all by himself, but he looked asleep in his Bacta tube anyways.

The smell of Bacta was really beginning to bug her so she promptly headed for the shower. After a ten-minute soak, she wiped the mirror off with her towel and looked at her face.

That scar on my snout, it'll probably be hidden by fur in a week. That lighter dot in the centre of my nose… Damn.

She took a deep breath and could smell her own wet Bothan musk and sighed with relief. No Bacta, no Nuna bacon, no burnt meat. As Sey'les began sniffling again, she slammed her hand on the counter and stopped herself.

The Bothan was becoming very frustrated by her own grief. It was not something linear with a beginning, middle, and end; it had climaxed already, yet constantly cycled up again whenever something reminded her of it. By this point, she just wanted it to vanish.

I am so hungry, Sey'les realised. She decided to accomplish two things at once and ate one of her cans of fermented Bith beans while drying off in bed. The memorial service was not for another two hours. Sey'les turned up the heater in her room, wrapped herself in her blankets, and continued eating, careful not to drop food on her bed.

After a few minutes of chowing down, Sey'les suddenly wondered, what happened to the rest of my clothes?! Her Judicial top and gloves obviously were disposed of since they were burned, but she had no idea where her field boots were. Well, I am wearing a dress uniform to the memorial anyways, so that's a problem I can deal with later, she thought as she swallowed another umami bite of squishy cold beans.

No, I have to know, she dialled sickbay on her comm terminal. "Doc?"

"Sey'les, is everything all right?" the droid responded.

"What happened to my stuff? When I woke up you gave me my trench-coat, but what about my boots?"

"You are worried about that?" the droid asked with unsuppressed astonishment.

"Well, yeah…" Sey'les replied.

"I am checking… Kryto, the nurse, put them under your bed."

"Oh…" Sey'les said. She stooped under her bed and saw them. "Thanks doc."

"You're welcome. Is there anything else I can help you with Sey'les?"

"No, I think that's all." She hung up.

Sey'les layed on her side, pulled out her datapad and clicked on After Action Reports. How do I even begin? Well, I'll start with the time…

"TO: DIRECTOR OF EED

OPERATION: FLEETING ECLIPSE

1800 Coruscant time, Team Muun deployed to the surface on Antar on a Nu-Class shuttle along with Team Aurek from the HRD. There were delays to our approach related to the weather, but we still arrived ahead of schedule—"

As Sey'les began thinking about the moment in which she and Wulf agreed that breaching the ground floor was a bad idea, angry tears started flooding her eyes. Kriff Captain Ozzel. I am going to be ruthless.

"—The original plan was for us to breach the lower level in a loud breach. The bottom level looked like a trap with no strategic importance. Scaffolding connected the area outside of the building directly to the second floor. The bottom level looked abandoned. After asking my second in command, Agent Wulf, if he agreed, we relayed this information to Captain Ozzel, he suggested a quote unquote 'compromise.' Rather than changing the mission, Captain Ozzel decided to change it slightly, send in Team Aurek in a loud breach, and to send us to the abandoned level in a silent breach.

After performing a successful silent breach without incident, we discovered the room was strategically unimportant. There were no personnel and the only equipment seemed to be desks and furniture arranged as obstacles to force intruders towards the centre of the room.

As Team Aurek landed on the roof, lights became visible in the corners of all of the walls. I ordered a retreat but when it was clear that our path out was blocked by lasers, my second in command suggested we climb. He pulled me and Agent Hashtivar up above the laser line. I pulled Agent F'laro up but was unable to get him above the laser line. Shortly thereafter, every Agent below the laser line was burned through by beams of plasma. Agents Weequi, Nor, and F'laro were killed…"

At this point, Sey'les began thinking of Suldor. As incompetent as Captain Ozzel was, his hands were tied by bad intelligence. The fact Skyhook 1 was destroyed, the reason why tens of thousands of people died, was at least partly because Suldor did not inform Captain Ozzel of what Sey'les and Wulf saw. Sey'les had recorded it in her previous after-action report and thought that Suldor would address it.

KRIFF! Why didn't I speak up? I guess part of this is because I was distracted by the implanted bomb crisis afterwards but ugh. It's my fault too… Sey'les began feeling extremely angry with herself. I need to focus on something else… What's something completely different? Hmmm… I got it.

Sey'les closed out of her after action report and opened the Judicial Library. I need to read up on Bothan eyes, so I don't feel like such a moron. The fact Sey'les felt like how she perceived Wulf to be, when she was around Hrelduussk, still bothered her. Albeit, it was a minor concern compared to the previous day's events. Sey'les respected Wulf as an Agent and considered him to be her best friend, but she knew he was very far from the sharpest tool in the shed.

After searching "Bothan Eyes" the top of her search results was the Exobiology of the Eye by Master Yarael Poof and Jazal. A book written by Jedi?! What! The corner sticker on the photo of the cover indicated it was curriculum for year 11 students on Coruscant. The inside cover showed a picture of the two Jedi. One was a lanky being with an extremely long neck; Sey'les did not know his species. The other, to her greater shock, was an eyeless Miraluka. A Miraluka with no eyes wrote the book on eyes?!

The index showed dozens of chapters in the book split into many sections. Under "Mammals"Sey'les saw a chapter on Bothans.

"The Bothan eye is of particular interest to mammalian exobiology. While the Bothan eye appears to be a normal dichromatic or trichromatic mammalian eye—"

Sey'les held her furry finger over "dichromatic" and a definition appeared "having two colours,"then "trichromatic" was "having three."

"—it is in fact tetrachromatic."

Yeah yeah, tell me something I don't know. The next section contained a depiction of a Bothan eye with labelled parts.

"The first of the Bothan cone cells…" blah blah blah, Sey'les skipped ahead to the Function section. The first line of it sounded a bit more interesting.

"As with human eyes, the Bothan eye has two types of cone cells in the longer wavelength range peaking at 560 nm and 530 nm. The third cone cell is an analog to the human S cone cell, and peaks at a slightly longer wavelength than the human S cone, at 445 nm, roughly corresponding to blue. The final Cone Cell, the U cone cell, peaks at 405 nm. It is hypothesised that the U cone cell would peak at 330 nm, in the ultraviolet spectra, if it were not for the lens of the Bothan eye."

Why are our eyes so stupid? Sey'les thought almost angrily.

"While the Bothan eye cannot see as far into the ultraviolet spectrum as most tetrachromats, such as Bardottans and Umbarans, they are sensitive to the absence of ultraviolet light."

The words 'Bardottans' and 'Umbarans' were a hyperlinks which would take Sey'les to the chapter on Bardottans if she clicked it.

"Because Bothans are sensitive to the absence of UV, it allows them to more easily differentiate organic material that absorbs UV light from material that reflects UV light. This is hypothesised by some to be an evolutionary reason for why tetrachromacy persisted—"

—Sey'les stopped reading and looked at the picture below: snow on Bothawui with a clump of pitch-black fur and a pitch-black spot. I don't know what the hell that is supposed to be, she thought before reading the description.

"Urine absorbs UV light and so do most types of hair or fur. This would make urine and hair appear to Bothans as dark in contrast with bright UV rays reflected from snow on Bothawui-4. For this same reason, it would also make fish readily visible under the surface of water. Some xenobiologists take this as evidence for the controversial Aquatic Bothan Hypothesis."

Gross! That is not what piss looks like on snow anyways! Sey'les was angered by the photo. In reality, fur and urine on snow or white sand on a beach would look only slightly darker than the things around it, like a dark stain, and gross. But wait a second… humans and other trichromats can't see urine? Sey'les wondered.

"Another factor that may have favoured Bothans maintaining their tetrachromacy, while most mammals lost it, is that many of the migratory birds of Bothawui-4 have purple plumage. Enhanced sensitivity to purple and violet colours in the visible light spectrum would help a Bothan to identify potential prey from the purple and violet foliage. Bothans are sensitive to the same degree of colour differentiation between 400 and 450 nm as humans are between 550 nm and 600 nm."

Purple things do always look a bit tasty, Sey'les thought. When she was at the Bothan Martial Academy, they blasted purple tracer rounds. She often had felt annoyed that the shots from Bothan Boola carbines looked tasty. She would never have tried to eat a blast from one, but she felt it was almost a safety hazard.

Reading on, she encountered worksheet exercises and a group activity reminding her that this was a textbook for children. Ugh, children. Sey'les shuddered as she speculated how embarrassing it would be for a Bothan to grow up on Coruscant, have this textbook, and have a bunch of beings, probably mostly humans read about that—read about how I can see urine stains.

Well, I am glad that ungrateful lizard didn't mention that to his brats. 'Sey'les is sssentient Yasska. Dessspite being sssentient, her eyes are quite stupid. She is one of the only sentients in the Galaxy who can see urine ssstains on the snow. Urine ssstains!'

Suddenly, she could smell a whiff of Ardennian which grew stronger. As she started to get dressed, her door chimed.

"Hi Wulf, I'll be ready in one minute…"

"Oh, hey Sey'les. I just wanted to see if you were okay," Wulf yawned.

"I am supposed to ask you that Wulf," Sey'les replied, deciding to just get changed into her dress uniform. The memorial was in less than an hour now. "All right, almost done…"

After a minute, Sey'les pressed the button to unlock her door and it slid open.

Wulf was wearing a Judicial dress uniform too. He had several bald patches around his face like Sey'les and also some scarring on his chin and on his blue forehead, right where his eyebrows used to be. His grey facial hair had completely burned off, but fortunately, it was much thinner in the first place than Sey'les's fur. It gave him the appearance of being old and balding.

Sey'les blinked a few times in shock staring at his face for the first time under light. During the chaos on Antar 4, Sey'les had only looked very carefully at Hashtivar. She had seen Wulf from a few meters away, and stood next to him, but she never stared at his burns.

"That bad is it?" Wulf asked, raising one of the scars on his head where his eyebrow used to be.

Sey'les stepped back from the door allowing him space to step in, "Sorry Wulf. I'm not much better," Sey'les sighed. "I have been writing my after-action report and—"

"—if it's too much, I could help."

Oh no! Sey'les imagined Wulf's typos and horrible unexplained acronyms. "No, that's not it. I do need time to think things over, but I wanted to thank you for saving Hashtivar and me," Sey'les blurted out the last part holding back a sob.

To Sey'les's surprise, Wulf suddenly hugged her with all four arms.

Sey'les stood still in shock for a moment, then hugged him back.

"I just feel so useless," Sey'les sobbed. "There was so much more I could have done, and I just froze. I am the team leader—"

"—you were in shock Sey'les," Wulf replied with a sniffle of his own. "You aren't the only one you know. I could have chucked you and Hashtivar up into the vents and grabbed the rest—"

"—Wulf, you were struggling to pick us up," Sey'les replied.

"Not really, not before F'laro grabbed on at least. It's more that I didn't think of it—"

"Well, that's not your fault either and what?!" Sey'les asked in shock.

"Yeah, picking you guys up wasn't that hard," Wulf gave a sobbing chuckle. "I've been letting you pretend you were stronger than me because I can tell it makes you uncomfortable—"

"PRETEND?!" Sey'les snarled.

To her amazement and fury, Wulf picked her up with ease with just two of his four arms, straining only slightly. As she started to feel her boots sliding off, Wulf lifted her up again as if to prove his point further, then set her down.

"All of that time you were holding back Wulf?! Blast. Have you been faking your physical fitness scores too?" Sey'les growled.

"Nah, just because I can pick heavy things up does not mean I can run two clicks quickly," Wulf said. "You really are faster than me at that."

Sey'les's door closed automatically after receiving no input for a minute.

Wulf scratched the back of his neck and looked at her with an awkward wince, as if afraid she might explode with rage.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong! Wait a second. "Wulf, this isn't a big deal," Sey'les sighed. "I am really only angry because you were holding back, but it's okay."

Wulf wiped off the tears that had formed in his eyes.

Sey'les did the same. "Now what?"

"Well, I wanted to visit F'laro, Nor, and Weequi's caskets before they shipped them off, and was wondering if you wanted to come," Wulf said in a tone that was so calm, in this context it sounded almost nonchalant.

"Shipped them off? The memorial is in—"

"—Yeah memorial." Wulf interrupted. "F'laro, Nor and Weequi will each be getting funerals on their worlds from their families I presume. This isn't a funeral Sey'les, and they aren't being brought back to Coruscant."

Sey'les had always imagined being buried in a cemetery on Coruscant if she were killed in action. It felt like home to her, but she supposed her family would not like that.

"What's the matter?" Wulf asked suddenly, interrupting Sey'les's thoughts.

"Yes, let's go."

o.o.o.o.o

As they approached the hangar the bodies were stored in, Sey'les could hear a very loud weeping noise from the hangar. It was Captain Ozzel.

"Is that Captain Ozzel?" Wulf asked with slight bitterness to his voice.

"I think so," Sey'les replied.

As Sey'les and Wulf approached the door to the hangar, the door opened and Cas emerged, nearly bumping into them. She looked like she had been crying.

"Hey, Sey'les, hey Wulf," she said quietly.

"Is that Captian Ozzel?" Sey'les asked.

"Yeah, he's been in there for over three hours according to Hitchens."

Sey'les had no idea who Hitchens was and did not care to ask. She suddenly had very conflicting feelings over throwing Captain Ozzel out the airlock in her after-action report.

"Well, could I get by?" Cas asked Wulf and Sey'les who were both frozen in the doorway.

"Yeah sure—"

"—sorry," Cas said as she squeezed by them.

"Wulf, Sey'les, is that you?" Captain Ozzel yelled across the hangar.

Wulf groaned.

"Yes Captain, it's us," Sey'les replied, then asked "Um… permission to enter sir?" She was completely unprepared for this type of situation and did not know how formally to treat it.

"Granted," Captain Ozzel said in a croaky voice.

Sey'les and Wulf stepped in almost reluctantly.

Captain Ozzel had the look of a human who had cried but no longer had any tears left.

The hangar was empty except for one folding metal chair Captain Ozzel was seated in and 15 plain durasteel metal coffins in it with a tag. The font was large enough for Sey'les to read the nearest row: Ulbrek Zem, Dac Janos, Shiptar Frone, Dala Biggs, and Naftar Yarille.

They must be the SBI personnel, Sey'les thought. She had not heard of a single one of them.

Wulf and Sey'les started walking past the first row searching for the coffins their team was in. Of course, Captain Ozzel was seated at their coffins, Sey'les realised.

Captain Ozzel looked absolutely miserable and smelled like some sort of wine. He was paler than she had ever seen him and had dark circles under his eyes.

"Sir, are you okay?" Sey'les asked nervously. That's a kriffing stupid question.

"Yes, I am Agent," Captain Ozzel sniffled before blowing into a handkerchief. "I just wanted to say, I am sorry. I should have—"

Kriff decorum. He's been here for three kriffing hours. Thinking about what Wulf did earlier, Sey'les spontaneously hugged Captain Ozzel, wincing at the foul smell from his wine-breath mixed with his body odour. She turned her head sideways to avoid poking his chest with her snout.

Captain Ozzel let off a yell in terror as if he thought Sey'les was attacking him. He tensed, bracing for attack.

"Sorry sir!" Sey'les said but squeezed him tighter. "No, Captain, I am not attacking you and I forgive you. I made mistakes too. I am sure you did the best you could sir, you weren't prepared with the right information and I—"

—Captain Ozzel hugged Sey'les back gingerly and gave her two awkward pats on the back.

In spite of the sad circumstances, standing literally a meter from their dead team members, Wulf let off a chuckle then swallowed it as if afraid to laugh. If Captain Ozzel's reaction were not so odd, Sey'les would have been angry.

Sey'les let go. "Sorry for the awkwardness. I thought you needed it."

"I suppose I did, thank you Agent," Captain Ozzel said with a gruff cough, clearing the phlegm in his throat."

"Um… whoa that was crazy Sey'les," Wulf groaned finally while taking a deep breath. He folded both of his sets of arms defensively as if afraid of contracting the awkwardness. A look of pure bewilderment crossed his face.

Before Sey'les could reply, Captain Ozzel said "Indeed. These are crazy circumstances though, Wulf."

"Sir," Sey'les struggled to modulate her voice between a growl, a calm voice, and a sob. "We came here to say goodbye to F'laro, Nor, and Weequi, but it just occurred to me—"

Captain Ozzel mistook her tone. "Very well Agent, I was about to finish…" he gave a weary sigh, "Finish up here in any case."

"You don't get it," Sey'les growled, deciding on a growl over a sob. "I was wondering sir, if I could get the contact information for F'laro, Nor, and Weequi's families."

"Sey'les, as the ranking officer, it is my duty to inform their families, not yours," Captain Ozzel said consolingly.

"That's not why sir. I was thinking, Captain, that Wulf and I, and maybe Hashtivar if he feels up for it, could write letters to their families since we won't be at any of their funerals."

Wulf looked a bit hesitant, as if Sey'les had volunteered him for a task he did not quite want to do.

"Very well Sey'les, Wulf, I will see what I can do," Captain Ozzel sighed.

"See you at the memorial, sir," Wulf said.

"See you there."

"Well, that was the weirdest thing I have ever seen you do," Wulf said while giving Sey'les an awkward pat on the shoulder.

"Sorry about that Wulf," Sey'les said as she exhaled deeply, then looked down at F'laro's coffin. "I was just very angry at the Captain this morning. To be honest, I was going to throw him out the airlock in my after-action report—"

"—they don't seem to read those things anymore anyways," Wulf interrupted.

"Agreed," Sey'les growled angrily. "But that's not what I was trying to say. I was very angry at Captain Ozzel but then, for some reason, seeing that he was also sad made me not able to hate him anymore. It was unexpected. I thought of bringing up my after-action report to Captain Ozzel but I didn't."

"Why not?" Wulf asked, looking up from Nor's coffin.

Sey'les looked around the room nervously to make sure no one was listening. "He's a Captain and a kriffing idiot, but I don't want him to feel even more guilty and upset than he already is."

"I still don't get it," Wulf replied. "Why don't you want Captain Ozzel to feel bad? To be honest, it…" Wulf looked for a moment like he was going to angrily punch Nor's coffin, but then stood up after taking a deep breath. "It angers me that he gets out of this whole thing, this mess uninjured when fifteen of us and 40,000 Antarians are dead, we are scarred. Hell! We are literally standing right next to half of Team Muun."

"He may be physically uninjured but—"

"—I know, he's sad Sey'les," Wulf interrupted angrily.

"It's more than that," Sey'les sighed. "We are Captain Ozzel's people too. Could you imagine how guilty you would feel if you were in charge of this whole thing?" she asked, waving her hand around motioning to all of the coffins. "He may be incompetent, and he may be partially to blame but he didn't kill us. The Separatists did. Wulf, we can't view this an us versus them thing. We can't trust officers like Captain Ozzel or the Jedi implicitly but hating them is…" Sey'les could not think of a word. She paused for a few seconds, and then settled on "a waste."

Wulf sighed. "Is it weird that I feel less sad than I did earlier even though I am standing right next to their bodies?"

"Me too," Sey'les said thoughtfully. "I don't know. That also bothers me. Maybe we've been sad for a while and are getting over it?"

"I don't think it works that way Sey'les," Wulf replied in a quiet voice.