The performance had taken place in an
abandoned warehouse, apart from the most frequented tourist area on on
the planet. A Berchestian male of just over the legal age, possessed of
a large frame and greater than two meters tall, had been the one to
collect tickets to the performance. Aside from that, however, the entire
arrangement seemed to have been arranged by one person. The rather young
gymnast who put on the performance wore a small communicator on her
wrist which seemed link up to various sound effects and lighting, which
had been arranged in various places in the warehouse. Cheap foldout
seats arranged on storage crates made for impromptu bleachers. The
gymnast in question was talent certainly. She would have been worth
watching even if the performance was not enhanced by holographic imagery
and a well done musical score. At the end the lights would have gone out
to applause as the performer took a bow, no doubt collecting a decent
amount of proceeds from the crowd mostly existing of naval officers on
shore leave. Well, for someone not old enough to be legally employed
under the Empire, that is. Not that the Empire did not tolerate or even
encourage slavery when it behooved them.
Claudius watched the performance
silently, each gyration by the young woman serving as a painful reminder
of his own three young daughters back on Delaya. He did not stand when
the performance ended, nor did he applaud. He simply sat there silently
with cheeks as red with anger as the half-Zeltron's natural pink skin.
His hands, in leather gloves, clenched into fists as he silently took
mental images of each of the crew members who had taken in the obscene
exploitation of the minor child. Once the room had emptied, he stood up
from his seat and the sound if the durasteel screeching against the
floor sent a shiver up his spine. He took several steps forward, his
boots clanking ominously against the ground as he walked towards her. He
was wearing the uniform of the recently established Galactic Empire.
"You there ... girl," he said in a condescending tone, as he came to a
stop just two meters in front of the stage.
By the time he came up to the stage she
was twirling a staff of duralumin casually. It was no doubt an
inexpensive prop, but good for putting on a flashy performance and as a
prop for acrobatics. The ten year old would smile as she look down at
the man who had come to visit her. Her large blue eyes looked him over,
taking notice of what he was wearing. She hopped down onto the floor of
the warehouse ... very clean for a building that had been abandoned
until not very recently. Once she was on the floor it was clear that she
was rather short, even for a ten year old. "On stage I'm performing as
"Val the Magnificent," but we don't need to stand on ceremony."
The little acrobat would begin to twist
that duralumin staff she carried, separating it into four pieces which
would eventually fit inside each other for easy storage. As she walked
across the warehouse floor her feet would pad lightly, a result of her
being basically barefoot. All that she wore was a bodysuit that
reflected the light, perfect for her hologram accompanied act. "Val is
fine, I guess, and I'm not sure at the moment. How about yours?"
"My father is on the planet Delaya, and
I suspect my mother to be on Alderaan," Claudius replied quickly, as if
he were surprised that anyone would not know where their parents are.
"You're too young to be doing this sort of thing. How can you not be
sure where your parents are? Who is responsible for you?" he asked, as
he continued to hound her. He would follow close to her, asking his
questions rapidly as he was now as concerned for the child as he was his
"You act like I'm a child." The girl
smiled as she crossed her arms, looking up to him as she would continue
to back away while he approached her. The little thing was light on her
feet, with gold-striped red hair that had shown during that whole
performance. "Relax, Ensign." From the grin the little one was trying to
hide it was clear that she knew what rank she really was. "My mother is
here on the planet. In the city right now, I think."
"You 'are' a child," Claudius replied in
quick succession to her statement. He reached out with his right hand to
firmly place it on her shoulder, to get the near-Human to stop moving
quite so fast. "Slow down," he encouraged her, as he tried to form a
smile upon his face while looking at the much shorter child. "That's
Commander, incidentally," he corrected her, as his left hand went out to
tap at the rank insignia pinned to his chest. "You should be with your
mother ... not dancing in a night hall," he scolded her, as he reached
instinctively for the comlink on his utility belt. "Call her right now!"
he insisted, as he handed the device over to her.
"I don't know how to tell you this, but
I think they're pulling a fast one on you." She whispered softly,
grinning and showing off pretty white teeth that were slightly too large
for the current size of her head. "I'm pretty sure you're still a
Commander." The young acrobat took the device, a wariness to
her eyes that showed she was preparing for him to seize her wrist or
shoulder. Given their differences in physical strength, that was not
something she would be able to escape. "And you're making what I was
doing sound pretty dirty, I think. These sailors came to see my death
defying stunts and extraordinary feats of balance and grace." Well,
death defying might have been a bit of an exaggeration given that she at
most would have had a 20 or 30 foot fall at the most dangerous part of
the performance ... modern medical droids could let you survive that if
you did not snap your neck ... but the rest was certainly true. The girl
was phenomenally graceful and skilled, and though it was true that she
was obviously pretty, she clearly did not believe that accounted for her
"Look at the way you are dressed. I
would not recommend such a thing for someone twice your age!" Claudius
exclaimed, as he stomped his foot on the ground for emphasis. "The
advertisement may say stunts and acrobatics ... but these naval officers
are coming for something entirely different!" he said, shaking his head
at her once again. "Now call your mother and have her take you home," he
said to her yet again as he stressed the importance of it. The man was a
recent widow ... a father of three, all girls ... and he could not bare
to see a child used in such a manner.
"Did you like the advertisement by the
way? I made the holos myself." The flyers were a rather expensive
variety of flimsiplast, one that could project a short moving
advertisement of five seconds or less. She would hold the communicator
in her hand, holding a finger over the buttons as she hesitated. "You
know that I'm doing gymnastics, right? Its not like this outfit is
inappropriate for that."
"Some people call it gymnastics. I call
it a crude exhibition," Claudius said, as he brought his finger up to
wave it directly at her face. He tapped her directly on the nose this
time to emphasize what he was saying. "Does your mother know about
this?" he asked, unwilling to accept that any parent would condone this
type of behavior in their child.
"...I'm the best on my home planet for
my age group. There were awards and everything." At this point the
little gymnast looked a little bit offended, or maybe even hurt. Her
slightly pink skin ... not dark enough for a full-blooded Zeltron, got a
little bit darker. "My mother knows I am talented and an merely engaging
in the proper entrepreneurial spirit...there's nothing dirty about
"You may be the best in your age group,
but you're being exploited," Claudius pointed out to her, as he moved
towards one of the chairs and had a seat. He let out a dejected sigh and
lowered his head, realizing he was not getting through to the young
woman. "If you were truly an expert gymnast you would be performing at a
great venue and not some seedy spot like this," he informed her, wanting
to have the owner of the establishment arrested for child exploitation.
Certainly there was some of child labor law being violated here.
She would carefully move to sit across
from him, making sure not to be so close as to be easily grabbed if the
man was so inclined. "But this is tax free credits, and I think the kind
of competitions you're talking about are for amateurs only." At the word
seedy, she would take a look at the warehouse floor. It was clean ...
she would made sure of it.
"Ah. Violating Imperial tax laws as
well?" Claudius asked, shaking his head once again at the young woman.
"You belong in school. You think this is a lot of money? Try being a
doctor, or a lawyer..." he lectured her, sounding every bit like his own
father. He was rather displeased with himself in that regard. He could
not help but have his mind linger on his three daughters and how he
would feel if one of them were 'forced' to do this.
"Well, I'm not legally supposed to be
working, so they shouldn't be taking my credits, should they?" The ten
year old folded her hands neatly in her lap as she looked over to him.
"I may not be in school, but I am learning. I'm going to be a
businesswoman." A grin spread across her face as she said that, probably
at the amount of ways that one word could be spun. "I wasn't exploited.
I did this.." She gestured to the warehouse that they sat in. "..all the
choreography, the setup, myself." She paused. "Well, I might have had
just a little help from my mother."
"Then you admit it ... you are a
criminal!" Claudius said, bringing both of his hands together in a quick
clap that echoed through the room. "Your mother should be ashamed of
herself. I should contact the local authorities and have you put into
foster care," he said, as he considered the situation very carefully.
Certainly he would make attending the sorry display off limits for
members of his crew.
"Well, I'm no lawyer, but I don't think
you can use a law meant to prevent child labor to penalize the laborer.
That's not how the law is supposed to work." She paused for a moment,
chewing on her lips nervously. "I'm pretty sure, anyways." She used her
hand to brush her hair back. It was long, and it had to have made the
performance even harder for her.
"I can certainly have this
'establishment' closed!" Claudius exclaimed, as he looked at the hapless
young half-Zeltron. "This is no life for a child, and contrary to what
you may think ... you are still very much a child," he explained to her,
wishing that she had been given a true opportunity to live what he
considered to be a 'normal' life.
"I think if you were to look at the
municipal records you'd see that this warehouse was condemned following
an anonymous complaint about...what day is this?" She looked at the
device on her wrist. "20 standard days ago. Really negligent of them to
let a minor inside here." Those big blue eyes of hers did indeed seem to
be picking up on his concern for her. "You know, I really think you're
worried about me. Its almost like you think my mother isn't a good
"I know your mother is not a good parent
if she condones this kind of behavior," Claudius immediately responded
in contraction to what she had said. "Is there nothing else you and your
family can do for finances?" he asked, genuinely concerned, particularly
when she flashed her big blue eyes at him. His hands moved swiftly
against one another, pulling off his gloves to reveal clammy hands
"We're not starving or anything." The
little gymnast looked like she was well fed. The fact that she was only
about 1.37 meters did not seem related to poor nutrition. "But its fun
to travel, and its fun to make credits for doing something you're good
at. Also.." She stood up, smoothing down her clingy bodysuit as she made
her case to looking as dignified as possible. "..I am well educated. I
can calculate basic hyperspace jumps, overcharge a blaster's power
supply and speak fluent Huttese. How many ten years olds do you know
that can say that?"
"I can't say I know any," Claudius
honestly replied, not that he would want a ten year old to know any of
those things. He remained seated, completely unfazed by the young
woman's dignified display. "Do you want nothing more out of life?" he
asked, before rising from his own seat and standing directly in front of
her. He could not believe that this 'little girl' had been subjected to
such a life.
Those big blue eyes ... her head had
likewise not grown to match them - followed his every move. Clearly she
still thought he might try and apprehend her. "Such as what?" Her hands
folded neatly behind her back as she spoke to him. If what she was
saying was right, she had indeed had a sort of education few children
had. "I think I'm a pretty good speeder pilot." She smiled. "Don't
worry. Mom only lets me drive on flat ground without obstructions, and
never more than 100 kph."
"You drive a speeder too?" Claudius rose
from his seat and took several steps forward towards the youngster. He
placed each of his strong hands on her young shoulders and squeezed at
the tight suit that clung to her young body. "You must not do such
things, young lady," he lectured her, continuing his diatribe as he
searched in vein for the words that might reach her.
"I did mention about it being on flat
terrain, right?" Her body was tense, her eyes studying him. She looked
about ready to make a break for it, not wanting this commander to inconvenience her by bringing her to the authorities. "And
what more is there?"
Claudius raised his right hand and
gently stroked at her right hair, before tapping on her forehead. "There
is the improvement of what is in here..." he said to her, nodding his
head for emphasis with each word. "There is more to knowledge than
technical skills, my dear," he said, before withdrawing his hands from
her, and turning his back to her. He could not believe what he was
"I agree. There's so much to learn about
interacting with other humans that you can't learn in a school."
Something about her voice indicated that she was smiling. It was perhaps
relevant that she had identified herself as a human to him. Either she
was considering Imperial legally enforced prejudices against aliens, or
else she considered herself a human. Depending on how her genetic
profile was interpreted, occasionally the Empire would simply slap a
'near-human' or even 'human' on official ID. Both parents of a hybrid
offspring were rarely present for the census taker.
"It is not what you know. It is what you
can legally prove you know," Claudius explained, as he walked around the
warehouse, taking every aspect of it in. "If you wish to have a
legitimate life with legitimate credits you must have a legitimate
education," he informed her, repeating the word three times to stress
its importance. His hand moved from his head to remove his cap, and he
casually tossed it where the gloves were.
She smiled, showing those big teeth
again. When she grew into those features she would have quite the
beautiful face. As it was she was a charming child. "It sounds like the
Empire cares more about paperwork than facts." She rolled her shoulders
slightly, stretching. "If it helps, I plan on testing to get all my
certifications when the time comes."
"You may be right in that regard.
Paperwork is very important," Claudius said as he walked upon onto the
stage and looked down at where the audience would normally sit. He felt
very uncomfortable even though the crowd had cleared out. He could not
understand how anyone would want to deliberately subject themselves to
the leering of a crowd like the young girl did. "I will not allow my
crew to gawk at you any further," he said defiantly, as he marched off
the stage and gathered up his things.
She tossed him his communicator, a
rather worried smile on her face. Not for herself, but for his
discomfort. "My mom was getting tired of this planet anyways. Maybe you
could give me your name and I can send you a holocard so you'll know I'm
Claudius made the basket catch with his
hat, letting the comlink nonchalantly fall inside it, rather than
carefully catching it with his hand. "Commander Claudius Rodney of the
Victory Star Destroyer Audacious," he said, nodding his
head to her and giving her one last look before beginning to leave the