The other bookend to “You Lost Our Ship?!”Author’s Note
“Nine thousand ninety-eight…nine thousand ninety-nine… ninety-one hundred!” Kellaro exclaimed, slapping the credits into the Sullustan mechanic’s hands.
The wait was agonizing as the alien counted the money and then took one last look at the Dynamic-class Freighter Kellaro was trading in. Kellaro started bouncing impatiently on his heels, but finally, finally, the alien passed him the deed to his family’s old Mantis spaceship.
“Take a look at that, Brant!” he said a few minutes later, as they walked into the hangar and turned on the lights. The lamps took a few minutes to warm up, going from a dim orange to a brighter and brighter yellow. The effect it had on the ship was something like a smoky dawn, the empty cockpit casting a forlorn expression of long-suffering through the gloom, at least until the Mandalorian sigils for Clans Lok and Lok’kar as well as a series of handprints were illuminated across the ship’s bow, transforming the ship’s frown into a rictus grin.
Kellaro glanced over at Brant to see if he was as excited as Kellaro was, but Brant’s expression was almost as pained as the ship’s. He broke from Kellaro, crossing over to it and brushing his hand against the underside of the nose, around the housing for one of the ion cannons. His hand came to rest over one of the handprints in their row under the cockpit: a small one, no larger than a child’s. It was his own, made more than a decade ago.
Kellaro lapsed into silence, sensing the gravity of the moment. Brant passed around to the back of the ship and the main hatch in. Kellaro opened it, and they walked in as one.
It was harder than Brant expected. Even though he did not reach out to the Force, it seemed as if the ship’s decks were full of Force ghosts: trails of memories, the sting and throb of old emotions. Here he once played Pazaak with his brother, there his father had cornered him to scold him about unplugging a power coupling by accident, and there… that very bunk he used to sleep in.
Beside it, scraped over with multiple cleaning attempts, was the scorch mark of Sith lightning. The memory came back fast and hard. Brant had been lying there, trying to reassemble an old vibroknife, when the Sith had first broken into their home. The Sith had wanted to take Brant away to the Sith Academy, but Kyolath, his father, had refused. The argument had sparked literal sparks, including one explosion that had shot across the room and had hit Brant while he had huddled, clutching his twin, in their bunk to listen to the shouting.
Brant tilted his head. Yes, Kellaro had been there with him, as he always had been in the early days, one like a shadow to the other. Brant turned about to study the much older Kellaro now. So much had changed.
“Is it like what you remember?” asked Kellaro.
“Bit smaller,” Brant said honestly, and they exchanged a little laugh.
“We’ll have to update that handprint of yours on the bow,” said Kellaro.
“But I am no Mandalorian,” mused Brant.
“But you are family,” said Kellaro.
Brant wasn’t sure what he had been expecting , but for Kellaro’s face to grow blurry at that moment certainly wasn’t it. He reached out reflexively through the grief, twisting the Force around him to augment him — but for what? There was no battle here, and despite the faint whisper of Karkemir under his heart, no danger, no purpose to calling on the Sith empowerment. He felt suddenly like that kid in the bunk again, helpless to affect change on a situation that concerned him deeply.
Brant clenched a fist. He hated that helpless feeling.
Through it all, Kellaro continued to watch him blandly, sympathetically even. “They would have wanted me to look after you,” he finally said. “Our parents, I mean. I know there’s a lot about the Sith and politics I don’t understand, and maybe I never will. This place though–” and he thumped the wall “–is just as much yours as mine.”
“You wishing to make this my home won’t make it so, Kellaro,” said Brant, taking a breath, forcing control over his emotions.
Kellaro shrugged, grinned crookedly. “Doesn’t stop me from trying.”
“I think…” said Brant, but what he was thinking he couldn’t say. He had come to terms with the death of their father: Kyolath had willingly submitted himself to Brant’s blade, knowing any other action would have killed them both as Hu’izei looked on. But Brant still bore the guilt for the murder of their mother: committed out of rage, his mistaking her giving him to the Sith as a sign she had never wanted him for a son. When Kellaro wasn’t there, Brant could continue that lie in his head, but this ship, his old place within it, and Kellaro looking at him, his expression full of sympathy… it awoke a deep, keening pain, like a panic, in his stomach. Karkemir stirred at the thought, the Dark Side spirit hungry for more death, and Brant, for the first time, doubted. Which would win? The lie, or this love of his family? And if he gave in to that lie, eliminating Kellaro from his life to silence the guilt, what then protected him from Karkemir’s hunger overtaking his mind and soul?
Brant then made a conscious choice, shuddering as waves of pain crashed over him. Until he found another safeguard to keep the spirit locked away, he needed his brother. The guilt would only increase his power in the Force for as long as it pained him, and the bond — the chain? — would keep Karkemir separated from his psyche by an acceptable amount.
So he painted a grin over his features. “Shall we give it a test flight?” he said with as much light-heartedness as he could muster.
Kellaro wasn’t fooled by the false positivity — Brant could see it in his eyes. Yet the Mandalorian, too, had to contend with a lie: the belief they could go back to being simply brothers, clutching each other innocently in face of an evil threatening to take one of them away. Kyolath had protected Brant at the time, but he had failed four years later, and Brant wondered how long the ghost of their family could protect them now.