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how bad a time can we give a joey

The boy remembers a time when he thought he was happy.

He had a family. He had the ocean. He had things that were his.

Then there was blood, and strong hands gripping him and tearing him from what he knew. And he was no one, nowhere.

The men who took him asked if he had a name. He told them, and they said that he didn't, that it would reduce his value if someone had to learn to whistle like him if they wanted to own him. So he doesn't have a name.

He does not know where he is, except that he is not in the waters of his birth. Not that it would matter. Without people, no waters are home. He does not have a home. He is nowhere.

He has one thing.

Coiled around his spine, embracing the core of him, is his lover. His lover, born only a few dozen days ago, implanted even more recently. The wound in his neck is still scabbed. He feels his hand twitch to scratch it at the thought, and his lover stills the reflex.

It knows what he knows. It does not know much else, yet, but it knows him, and loves him, and he can feel it.

It's almost worse that way.

The men who took him say they're headed for Korriban, wherever that is, to collect a bounty. They have a little pool of saltwater for him to sleep in, and a purifier to keep him from choking in it. He sleeps most of the time. The men don't mind that. They're still talking about what they'll do with the money when the ship drops out of hyperspace and they land on the roof of the great ugly stone building. Then they drag him out of his pool by the collar they put on his neck, and they drag him behind them into the building. (It's hot. If his lover didn't help him he doesn't think he could walk.)

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Gossip is a constant, no matter how high up in the ranks of the Sith Empire Naiera climbs.  She is no more free of it as a Lord then she had been as a student of the academy.  Often the talk concerning her had been of her romantic life, easily ignored and of little consequence. Her damnable sister had changed the nature of the gossip, for once inadvertent in the way she's made Naiera's life more difficult, by taking a second apprentice.

"Is it not time for Lord Naiera to take an apprentice as well," titter the other Lords in their private booths, drinking expensive wine as they openly eye each others backs for good spots to place their knives.  "Its all well and good for someone of her stature to have high standards, but to go this long without even taking a single one is unbecoming."

For some Sith, a well controlled apprentice makes for the ideal asset.  There was much a Lord could do with an agent kept loyal by their hunger for their master's power.  For Naiera any apprentice is a risk.  Her methods and her understanding of the force are unorthodox among Sith and there is plenty of incentive for a poorly chosen apprentice to out their master as a heretic in hopes of taking their place.

She mulls over this problem as she stands on one of the balconies in the academy reserved for lords, watching the business of her solution being sold into Sith custody.

An alien from a recently invaded world is a curiosity.  His physiology is poorly adapted for Korriban and that is reflected in the low price he is being brought for.  Most semiaquatic aliens that came through the academy ended their careers drying out in the sands before becoming food for the K'lor'slugs.  There would be no competition for him, even with the intriguing symbiosis that characterized his species.

Naiera does have some legitimate interest in his uniqueness and that's part of what makes him such a perfect solution for her.  Taking a strange alien under her wing is well within the allowable eccentricities of a Lord.  No one would suspect that her main motivation in choosing him is to protect herself.

The slavers leave and the overseer who managed the transaction begins explaining to the new arrival exactly how much less then the dirt he is worth.  Naiera descends to the lower levels, her power in the force and her cape giving her enough presence to make the overseer shut up with an awed "My lord!"

"Consider yourself dismissed," Naiera says to the overseer, her voice an engineered feat of polite coldness.  The overseer does so in all haste, leaving them as alone as anyone can be in the Academy.

The alien still has the collar he was dragged in wearing.  It would be barely a gesture to take it off of him but she doesn't bother doing that quite yet.  "Tell me what you understand about where you are right now and who you are," she commanded in the same clipped and polite tone she often used for soldiers under her command.  She doubts he's processed much of what the overseer or the slavers have said to him.


The boy looks at her for probably a second too long before remembering to bow. (He's wearing a sort of loincloth - the slavers didn't have anything better that would actually fit someone his size, not with his tail, but they wanted to clothe him before he got to the Academy in case nudity was forbidden. Clothes are confusing.)

"Very little, sir. Um. I am not on -" he hesitates. "My homeworld. Anymore. This planet is not one I'm likely to survive on. I don't know why they took me here instead of wherever they sent the others. I'm a slave... and you're a very important man and it's strange that you're taking an interest in me."


Being called sir didn't bother Naiera with her military experience.  Being called a man did.  None of that bother shows on her face as she presses into the boy's mind, making absolutely sure that he did not mean to offend.  She doesn't intend to cause him any pain but she's hardly subtle in what she's doing.  Even without any sort of context for what's happening to him, the boy would know with absolute certainty what the source of the pressure in his head is.


The boy's mind falls open before her. 

First of all, he's miserable. That's not relevant, but it's there, permeating the reality of his existence. He doesn't, actually, wish he was dead; this is frankly very strange. (Most of the ones who survive Korriban are born slaves; they don't have hope that can break inside them and leave shards to rupture and fester.)

Second... he has no idea what a woman is. He doesn't actually know what a man is, either, but his language is being translated with default male pronouns. (If she digs deep enough, she can get some fascinating biotrivia.)

Third, his mind is whirring with social implications. The powerful man has stopped talking, and he feels something - anger, and power. Hypothesis the first: he is about to die. Has he offended him? Probably, right? Maybe it was too presumptuous to say that he wasn't sure why the man would take an interest. Maybe he's bowing wrong? Hypothesis the second...


The pressure vanishes and Naiera audibly sighs.  "Follow me, do not talk and do not meet the eyes of anyone here," she says, walking past him without looking to see if he is obeying.  He seems to have the right mindset to survive a short walk to her office.

This innocent non-understanding of gender could get him killed if left unaddressed.  For a Sith, asserting any part of their identity was an act of power and to disrespect their chosen identity was to disrespect that power.  Another mistake like that to the wrong Sith would see him dead where he stood if he was lucky.

She hardly spends any time at the Academy and therefore has ended up with a smaller office.  She had been given enough space for a desk and a couple chairs, as well as the requisite Imperial Flags and banners.  "Sit," she'd command once the doors closed behind them, gesturing to one of the simpler and more uncomfortable chairs that were meant for guests.  Her own office chair is a throne by comparison.

"You have two futures you can pick for yourself.  The first is to die by my hand.  It is the gentlest death Korriban will offer you.  The second is to learn and learn well because your life depends on it.  Do you understand?" she said, speaking without any real melodrama.  These were irrefutable facts about the situation.



"I want to live."

He wants more than that. He wants to be strong. He wants to make it matter that he was alive, to make himself the kind of person who changes things by being who he is. He wants to find the men who killed his fathers and make them hurt -

but first, he has to live. And learn.


Naiera smiles, the tattoos around her mouth distorting as they were designed to, giving all her expressions a threatening edge.  "Don't ever forget that.  The moment you do this place will kill you."

She turns on the datapad on her desk, typing as she speaks.  "For today a lot of your lessons will be on etiquette.  Your teacher will be a protocol droid.  For today only you may ask it or me any questions you wish."

Actually teaching this alien how sex and gender function in a human centric society would require quite a lot more work then either of them had time for.  Luckily survival doesn't require him to understand why the rules he is going to be taught are the way they are.  The nuances would be for later.

Her droid would eventually enter the room with a "Hello Mistress."  The boy would be taught an utterly arbitrary series of rules that would be incredibly important to his continued survival and she would maybe get some of her reports in order.


He's oddly polite to the droid. It's possible he's never encountered one before. Either way, he greets it "hello, sir" and listens to its lessons attentively.

His confusion regarding gender proves relatively transient; he's at least able to accept it on the level of something the aliens care a lot about, and when the droid shows him holos to test his pattern recognition he starts out better than random chance, and improves rapidly.

About five slides in, he pauses and turns to Naiera in dawning horror. "You... are a woman," he says awkwardly. "The droid hasn't actually gotten to apologies yet but I feel like I shouldn't wait for it. I am very sorry? Thank you for not killing me?"


"It was an honest mistake and I have more patience for those then most," she replies, looking up from her work.  She was keeping enough track of his lessons to be pleased with his progress.

The Overseer had never put in a requisition for clothes for him.  Naiera puts one in herself and makes a note to reprimand the man later.  "Something else you were wrong about.  You are not quite a slave, just something very close to it," she said, vaguely gesturing in his direction.  The slave collar on his neck snapped open.  "Put that collar on my desk and go back to your lessons."



He places the collar on the desk. Then he turns back to the droid and resumes his lesson. (His thoughts are largely confused and moderately suspicious, but he's got enough residual hope to think this might be a good sign.)

Gender isn't actually the most difficult concept to grasp, at least at the level of mastery the droid wants him to have. (Like everything else, of course, it's infinitely fractal. He might do some research on his own time.) Soon the droid has him on human and humanoid etiquette more generally.


Eventually Naiera stands up and walks past the diligent student, her office door sliding open so she can pick up the neat bundle of clothing a slave had left for her.  For most other lords the slave would have stayed to grovel but they all knew Naiera found such obeisance to be a waste of everyone's time.

"Put these on," she commands.  "Ask the droid if you are unsure what goes where."   She sits back at her desk, giving him no privacy and paying him no mind.  It is the same simple grey tunic and pants that most of the students wear, although vaguely close to his size and with a cutout for his tail.


He asks the droid for help immediately. He's got no illusions as to his ability to distinguish pants with a tailhole from a tunic without assistance.

Soon he's dressed. He stretches a couple of times, making a bit of a face at the relative restriction of the cloth. "Thank you," he says anyway.

He hesitates. " lord?"


That earns the slightest of nods.  She has an old document up on her datapad, scanning through for the other thing she needs to declare to this child about himself.  "Your name is Jen'kun," she decides, picking a name that cleanly separates him from any past identity he might still be clinging to.

She finds herself indulging in the hope that this boy survives the hard months to come.  He is polite and a quick learner, and under it all he is hungry for power in a way that reminds her of her younger self.  Still, best to avoid tying the very likely change of him failing to herself. "If any of your teachers ask, feel free to tell them who gifted the name to you.  Otherwise do not brag about having my favor."


Oh. He thought he would have to ask for a name.

"Thank you, my lord. It's... good to know where the edges are."

(He strategizes, privately. Is it worth drawing attention to himself by introducing himself to an instructor - maybe, if it means being able to leverage this limited connection. He shouldn't do it all the time, the Sith doesn't seem the type to be amused by impertinence, but if it looks like it's that or lose, that or let himself be crushed - he'll make it known that he has something he's not supposed to have.)


She doesn't particularly need to pierce his mind to guess the direction his thoughts are going in.  Naiera decides she's given him the best start she reasonably can.  Theoretically its academy policy to provide a minimal level of accommodations for species like his but that is rarely enforced.  She's left the right notes to guarantee that his clothes will mostly fit, he'll be fed appropriately and that he won't dehydrate in his sleep.  Beyond that his survival is up to him.

The droid continues teaching him and she doesn't bother to think about him very much as she diligently works on the reports and paperwork her position requires of her.  Food is likely sent to them at some point, a finely cooked meal for her and something much simpler out of a tin for him.  Soon, right as her pile of work is finished, she gets a notification letting her know that the Empire has need of her elsewhere in the galaxy.  Its late enough that the boy should be sent off to his assigned bed anyway.  "Jen'kun," she says, "I will likely not return to Korriban for a good long while.  Your life from here will be quite difficult.  You should aspire to survive and to thrive despite that.  Succeed and you might be graced again by my favor next time we meet."

"This is your last opportunity to ask me any questions you might have.  Otherwise I'll have a slave lead you to your quarters." 


He considers.

"...if I were to take and sharpen a dining knife," he says, "and keep it in my clothes in case of ambush, would they kill me if it was found, or only beat me?"


"They're not going to search you for it so it depends entirely on who you use it on and if the event can be traced back to you," Naiera answers honestly.  She seems the slightest bit amused.  Her expression hasn't changed but the presence of her is a bit lighter.  "There are cameras everywhere but they're quite visible, with plenty of blindspots in various side hallways.  An amount of murder between the students is expected and so its very rare for anything to be investigated.  I trust you'll be clever enough to know how to pick your battles."


"I like to think so. Thank you for your wisdom."

He considers the low-grade plastoid knife he was given for his meal, then the darkly glittering implement that came with Naiera's.

"Perhaps I should take your tray to the kitchens," he suggests. "Spare the slaves a bit of extra work."


"They'll likely appreciate it."  Despite herself there is a perceptible smile.


He takes the tray (and his tin) and makes his exit, bowing deeply before he leaves her line of sight.



Her schedule next permits a visit to Korriban after a few months' worth of miscellaneous missions. When she returns, there's a familiar face at the landing pad. He's got an electrostaff fastened to his back, and a couple of new scars on his face. (He's still the same disconcertingly tiny size.)

When she steps off her ship, he drops to one knee and lowers his head. "Welcome back to Korriban, my lord."


Naiera had sensed his presence before her shuttle had even landed.  In a way, his cheek saved her the time.  Personally observing his progress was somewhere on her todo list.

She considers using the force to overwhelm and humble him.  It would be the traditional Sith response to the game he is playing.  And yet...

She steps off her ship, barely extending herself in the force.  "You seem to have taken to the planet rather well, Jen'kun," she comments.  "Rise."

Naiera walks forward, clearly expecting him to follow.  The various guards they passed don't comment on the breach of decorum that is Jen'Kun's presence. If the Lord is fine with it then who are they to argue.

"When I first met you, back when you were a boy stripped of a name, I asked you what you understood of where you were and who you were.  Tell me how your answer has changed."  Her tone is closer to that of a school teacher then a Sith.


"I am a student of Korriban," he says, keeping up with her strides at something of a scurrying pace. "It's... an interesting place. It wants very badly to kill me, as do most of the people I meet, and yet for some reason I continue to survive and grow. You needn't worry about the slave who was to meet you, by the way, I erased the record of her assignment when I elected to take it on myself."


"I appreciate that," she says truthfully, even if she isn't quite sure how much attending to a detail like that is simply an attempt to pander to her.  Her office is in the same place it was last time, and yet that isn't where she is heading.  They seem to be going towards the spaces dedicated to martial practice.  "And why take the burden of greeting me upon yourself?"


"Perhaps I wished to curry favor with a powerful Sith lord with whom I share a connection, however slight. Perhaps I was nostalgic for a time when things seemed very straightforward, and someone helped me at no immediate gain to herself. Or perhaps I just get bored easily and thought it would be fun." He shrugs. "It can be tricky, tracing a motivation all the way from inception to execution."

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