A slightly pained feline cry broke the silence of the garden.
Mikala frowned and followed the sound.
Goldie was lying in one of the open spaces between the flowered beds, complaining. Lonnie knelt behind her with a large brush in his hand, digging at a tangle in her fur.
"Hold still." The boy commanded.
Mikala leaned against a tree to watch him. "Aren't you afraid she's going to bite you for that?"
"No. I've been brushing her for ten years and she hasn't yet." He looked up. "Hi." Then he leaned back and examined his work. "I think this side's done." He reached under Goldie and tried to roll her over.
The cat resisted passively, and continued complaining.
"Do you have a pet?" He asked.
She shook her head. "I had a baby vrelt once, but it tried to eat my hand when it got bigger."
"Vrelts are like that. I had one once. But cats are smarter. I think Goldie believes I'm her cub." He brushed hard at a twisted bit. "My vrelt tried to bite me too. That was a mistake."
Mikala raised an eyebrow.
"Goldie broke its neck before it could grab me."
"Good," she said. "They're nasty creatures." She looked at him. "You're Lonnie, right?"
"Yes. And you're Mikala." He turned to toward her. "How do you like it here?"
"It's nice here," she said thoughtfully and then smiled at him. "You're the oldest one. I'm still trying to keep you all straight."
"Yes, I have a year on Jan and Attiles and two on Tiri." He answered.
"Do you like animals?" Lonnie asked.
She shrugged. "They're alright."
"I like working with animals a lot."
She nodded. "You seem good with them. I just haven't had need to be around them much."
"Animals always seem to like me. Except the vrelt, of course."
"Vrelts don't like anyone, even other vrelts," Mikala commented.
"No, they don't. Goldie's a much better pet. Once, she decides your family she'll protect you." He finished with the tangles and started just brushing her side. She seemed to think this was a much better idea and started to purr.
Mikala nodded and then smiled. "She seems to like that."
"She likes being brushed. It's the tangles that are the problem, but she puts up with that."
She smiled. "Good for you that she does."
"I started brushing her when she was a cub. Back then, I think it reminded her of her mother. Now its just part of life to her."
"Are you feeling better?"
"I'm getting there," she said, leaning against the tree again. "I just tire easily. That's the hardest part to get use to right now."
"Its doesn't pay to cross Mother on things like that." Lonnie observed. "No one ever listens when she says to take it easy. We all do what you did and we all pay for it."
She smiled a little. "She's keeping me on a tight leash now."
"I'll bet." He responded. "Did she put some kind of tracking device on you?"
Mikala frowned. She hadn't thought about that. "I...I don't know."
"She's did that once before, to Aunt Tal. She seems to be able to find us kids at will without one."
Mikala felt along under her sling. She hadn't even thought about that. She wouldn't put it beyond Sandy to do that to her. "What kind of tracker does she usually use?" she asked.
"Hard to say. She can get pretty much anything on the market. And we're not the easiest group in the world to sneak something like that by. I'd expect to find three actually. That way you'll find two and think you're safe. That's how I'd do it anyway."
She nodded. "Standard model J-8, maybe a P-134 to be creative and if you're smart something inter-dermal."
He reached into his boot and pulled out a small device. Then he stood up and took a step toward Mikala. "Let's see if I can find a signal."
Goldie reached out and caught a claw in his pant leg.
"I'll be back in a moment." He told the cat.
"Around here, we hand make them." He explained. "They're less predictable that way."
Mikala nodded. "I make my own as well. Those were my personal model designations. I've designed a few of the standard models on the market."
"Unfortunately, mother was planting bugs at the palace when she was five." He started scanning. "She knows all the tricks."
"I know a few tricks of my own."
"She might use an interrogation only device. Much harder to spot."
Mikala felt something tucked into the hem of the sling and worked it out. She held it out to Lonnie. "It's a good thing your Mother doesn't have my new prototype."
"I've learned never to be sure that Mother hasn't gotten her hands on something."
She smiled. "There are only three of them." She sighed. "And none of them are where they are supposed to be."
"Just warning you. All fifteen of us have been trying for years but no one has beaten her consistently."
Mikala smiled at him. "Then that's a challenge." She looked at him. "How are you with all this?"
"I'm pretty good with cameras." He waved his scanner over her arm. "Here's something. He ran his finger along the seam of her sleeve. Right here, a audio."
She frowned at it and then looked at him again. "That wasn't what I meant. With me showing up like this after so long."
He stopped and thought. "I'm a little surprised Mother didn't find you years ago. But that doesn't really matter."
She gave him a tired smile. "They didn't know I existed and I thought Father was dead."
"Mother can feel a baby in the family from light years away. At least it feels that way."
Mikala swallowed down the lump in her throat. "Well, not this time."
"I think that ones Tiri's." He pointed to the one in the hem. "Are you asking if I resent you?"
She sighed. "Sith, is everyone keeping an eye on me?" she groaned and then met his eyes. "I guess I am."
"No. I'm not sure why. Of course I've had a lot of practice with new siblings. Jay and Lar were five when they arrived, and Jan was eight, if she counts."
"I'm a little older than that," she said softly. "I'm not trying to take your spot as the eldest."
"You are more like a new aunt in some ways. Like Aunt Tal or Aunt Polly, than a new sibling. It must be more so for the others."
"I just--" she sighed and looked away. "I never thought I would ever be having a talk like this." She looked back at him. "I use to dream about having a family and now that I do, it doesn't feel all that real."
"I think I resented Tiri more than all the rest put together, but that was because until she arrived I had Mother to myself." He laughed. "But that was a baby's resentment."
Mikala smiled and chuckled softly.
She felt the sting of tears again and caught herself. "I guess I'm the one having trouble adjusting." She gave him a tight smile and nodded to his scanner. "Any more?"
"No, that 's the only...wait." He scanned carefully. "I'm getting a very strange reading here."
"What?" she asked, trying to get a look at the scanner.
"A weak signal, I think it's dormant. But look at the material readings." He showed it two her.
She nodded. "Passive transmitter."
"Yes, but what's it made from?"
She frowned, taking the scanner and fiddling with the pickup adjustments. "Scan it again," she said, handing it back to him.
He went over the spot again, slowly.
She took the scanner back and grimaced. "We're going to have to leave that one. It's sub-dermal. It looks liked some kind of medical thing. Only way to get it out is to dig it out and I've had more than enough holes poked into me for right now."
"I think that one's Mother's. It'd be like her to hide it in some thing medical."
Mikala shook her head. It was understandable Sandy would do that after her stunt, but it rankled her. She felt a flash of irritation and anger surge through her.
"It may allow her to watch you pulse, BP and stuff like that as well." He added.
She nodded, closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose, trying to get control again. Her control was coming, but slowly. She gave him a small smile. "At least I didn't blow something up this time."
"I wouldn't worry about it.' He nodded. "They'd worry more if you didn't pull stuff like that."
"My control has been severely off." She sighed. "I got attacked by someone and she really hurt me, mentally, and set something off with my Force abilities that I didn't know I could do and I have a lot of trouble controlling it."
"Grandfather has been known to do that to us on purpose. I understand he did it once to father and lost a small building. Before I was born.
She gave him a humorless smile. "I wiped out a flight deck and a couple of small transport ships with a fire storm. I've never done anything like that before. I've been blowing small things up left and right since then."
Lonnie grinned. "I'm told I once broke every window on the second floor. And that was from the crib."
She chuckled. "You must have been a handful to baby sit." She shook her head. "I don't have the training you do to deal with it. All I've ever used the Force to do is to hide, to augment my hand to hand skills and guide my aim."
"I'm sure Father, Grandfather and Uncle Aulin are already planning your training."
She nodded. "Father said he would." She frowned a little. "Uncle Aulin?"
"Lord Aulin Haran. He's one of Grandfather's oldest lieutenants. He's also Kat, Attiles and Don's Grandfather. He's in charge of Sith affairs here. Kind of like head of our private church."
"Oh," she said softly. "I see." She leaned back and drifted off to sleep.
Goldie chirped at Lonnie. He picked up the brush and returned to her fur.
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