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The Umbari Isla Players

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It was Sabine who found the ad.

“You guys are not gonna believe this,” she announced, beaming as she waved the others closer to the glowing holodisplay over the common room table. “There’s a play about us.”

“Seriously?” Ezra promptly abandoned what he was doing, hurrying to stand tip-toe over her shoulder for a look. His eyes grew wide as he took in the flickering light of the ad. “That’s amazing!”

“What.” Hera frowned, her look one of dubiousness. She folded her arms and read over the text as Sabine scrolled through it.

There could be no mistaking it: the artwork of the Ghost and a vague likeness of all of them posed dramatically across a starscape.

Hera wrinkled her nose. It looked like the sort of mass-produced, generic action poster most holofilms sported these days. Just a medley of characters with no original thought or creativity whatsoever.

“How is that even possible?”

Sabine leaned back so the others could see, shrugging her shoulders.

“All it says is that ‘Rebels’ is a new production by acclaimed playwright Vipin Nath, who traveled the galaxy collecting information about these insurgents who would fight back against the Empire. From the ruins of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to the wild fields of Lothal, his sources include refugee farmers, Imperial cadets, pirate captains, and one incredibly friendly clone trooper.”

Everyone looked at Rex.

“Wasn’t me,” he said.

“Brought to you by the critically acclaimed Umbari Isla Players,” Ezra finished reading.

Near the back of the huddle, Kanan made a face.

“Ugh. The Jedi Temple used to organize field trips to go see those guys.” He shook his head, shuddering as he remembered. “They butchered the Saga of Revan.”

“Bet it was Gregor,” Rex muttered.

“It says they’re performing on Garel tomorrow night.” Ezra bounced on his heels, sending Hera his best grin. “Can we go? Can we go? Pleeeeease Hera?”

“I don’t know.” Hera remained stern. She looked towards Kanan. “We don’t exactly have time to waste on nights out at the theatre.”

“Actually, I think we could use an evening off.” Kanan shrugged. “And who knows?”

He tried for a helpful smile.

“It might be fun?”

*****

They wore disguises, just in case. Garel was an Imperial-occupied world – not that most worlds weren’t by this point – but still populated by nonhumans enough that Hera and Zeb could blend in to the crowds without being overly obvious (so long as no one thought to look too closely at what species Zeb happened to be).

They all looked patently unremarkable in their plain gear, except for Hera, who showed up in a glamorous evening gown no one even knew she had.

“If we’re having an evening off,” she said in response to dropped jaws.

They filed into the theatre along with the rest of a massive crowd. The enormous building glowed, lit up with a glowing neon marquee, bright lights from every window, and colored banners streaming in the wind. Nobody liked leaving their weapons behind, but the place also sported a light security detail. Just enough it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Aw man,” Ezra whined as they climbed into their seats, high up on a balcony overlooking the rest of the audience. “Why do we have to sit in the nosebleed section?”

“This is the only section that allows droids,” said Sabine. “We’re lucky they let Chopper in at all. A lot of places won’t.”

Chopper beeped something rude.

“You’re just as much a part of this crew as anyone else,” Hera said soothingly. She slipped into a seat beside Kanan, who automatically put his arm around her. Ezra plopped enthusiastically into a seat on Kanan’s other side and immediately leaned forward, his arms crossed over the railing. Chopper stationed himself along the aisle, while Zeb had to sit in the back so he wouldn’t block anyone’s view. (Rex and Sabine sat with him so he wouldn’t be by himself.)

Ezra could barely sit still as the lights dimmed throughout the house. He couldn’t keep the grin from his face. The murmur of the audience quieted. A fanfare of music announced the beginning of the show and set Ezra’s heart pounding. The audience…the whole place…had an electric feeling of anticipation.

The music ended. The shimmering holocurtain that concealed the stage faded away, revealing a brightly lit scene that had the look of a wide open field. A backdrop of rolling hills and blue sky swirled across the rear projection, rippling with the holographic effects.

A lone figure sat close to the stage’s edge, knees drawn up and chin in his hands, looking morose.

Ezra slapped Kanan’s knee, pointing.

“That’s me!” he whispered.

“Yeah. Yeah. It’s you.” Kanan made a hushing gesture with his hands, careful to keep his voice low. “Though they got your scars wrong.”

Ezra didn’t care. They were just on the wrong side of his face. Everything else was spot on and he couldn’t even contain the size of his grin as he leaned so far forward in his seat he almost tipped over, breath held and eyes bright and intent on the stage. He couldn’t wait to see what happened…not that he didn’t already know, but this meant everyone else was going to see it too. Everyone would know their story. It was written down. A part of history. Everyone was going to know the truth…

But then play-Ezra spoke.

“Man, nothing ever happens to me!” A high-pitched, wheedling voice reached all the way up to the domed ceilings, and sent a cringe down Ezra’s spine that he hadn’t felt since his last appointment at the dental office when he was little.

Play-Ezra got up, and sulked and moped across the length of stage, kicking at imaginary rocks.

“All my life I’ve been waiting for something great and wonderful to happen. I know I’m important! I know I’m meant for some great destiny! I can feel it in my heart! But here I am, just an orphaned lothrat, stranded and alone, without a friend in the world. Not that I care.” Each line play-Ezra spoke was accompanied by a change in posture. Comical exaggerations of what he said. “I don’t need anybody. I like being alone! But…it does get so lonely.”

There was a swell of music. A mock-up of a lothcat leaped out of some fake bushes and curled up along play-Ezra’s leg to let him pet it.

“I know I’m meant for greater than this. Ever since my parents died, I’ve been determined! I won’t be a nobody forever!”

“That’s…not…” Ezra’s face went through several changes as his brain tried to wrap around what he was looking at and couldn’t quite decide which direction to take. “That’s not even close to…why does he look like he’s about to sing?”

“Didn’t you read the reviews?” Sabine hummed. “This is a musical.”

Ezra sank back and down into his seat as far as he could go, covering his face with his hands in an effort to disappear. It wasn’t quite enough to blot out the musical number that followed – something heartfelt and inspirational that kept using the word ‘destiny’ – or the sound of Zeb laughing so uproariously in the row behind them…and Rex…and Sabine…but it at least meant he didn’t have the bear the contact embarrassment that was play-Ezra’s choreography. Or the pack of lothcats that danced around him.

Kanan tried not to laugh. He tried really, really hard.

He bit his lip and the inside of his cheek and squeezed Hera’s hand to the point of cramping, but he still couldn’t quite help the tiny snort that escaped through his nose.

Hera elbowed him in the side.

The song ended after a torturous eternity, and play-Ezra turned, dramatically over-reacting to the impression of a ship that flew by overhead. A projection in the holograms.

“Hey! What was that? I should go check it out!”

And ran off stage.

Ezra blew out a breath as the scene changed, and glared back over his shoulder at the others.

Zeb was still wheezing, wiping at his eyes.

“Oh, that was good, kid!” He clapped the back of Ezra’s seat. “I needed that.”

“Can’t wait to see what they do to you,” Ezra grumbled. He folded his arms and stayed tucked down into his seat as the stage lit up again, this time on an inner cityscape.

It was probably supposed to be Lothal.

Four figures and a droid – which anyone with half a brainstem could tell was someone driving a crudely-painted cart from the inside – stood apart from a crowd of extras, highlighted by the stage lights.

“Eh?” Zeb leaned forward, squinting his eyes to get a better look. “Who’s that supposed to be?”

“Keep watch, everyone!” one of them announced, stepping forward and holding out his arm in an overly dramatic gesture. He wore long brown and tan robes, long hair pulled back, and a full beard, which muffled his voice just a little as the actor tried to project through it. “Be on your guard! This is a dangerous mission we’re on, but fear not! The Force is with us, and I – Kanan Jarrus – pledge on my honor as a Jedi that I will lead you to victory against the Empire!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Kanan mumbled.

The others snickered.

“Garazeb!” Play-Kanan turned to the tall, furry alien beside him, gesturing overly necessary with every word. “You know what part of the mission you have. Scout the area! Report back any findings!”

The alien responded…though not with any speech that was understandable as Basic.

The back of Ezra’s chair crunched.

“Is that a Wookiee?” Zeb growled through clenched teeth. “Did they make me a Wookiee?!”

“Guess they couldn’t find any Lasats,” Ezra mumbled. When the others looked at him in universal horror, he added quickly: “That had any talent!”

Play-Kanan kept going, gesturing next to an equally big, armored figure wearing the traditional trappings of a Mandalorian.

“And you, Artist! If you see any stormtroopers, be sure to dispatch them!” Then, in a stage whisper: “In the most gruesome way possible.”

“Oh, I’ll dispatch ‘em, alright,” the Mandalorian growled in a deep voice, drawing two large prop guns. “I’m the Artist! Gruesome is all I do!” They turned to the audience and roared, firing a few shots of pyrotechnics into the air. “I paint murals with the blood of my enemies! Splatter my intestinal art on the walls!”

The audience gasped and cheered, applauding wildly.

Ezra glanced back toward Sabine, already braced for her reaction.

She was beaming.

“This,” she said. “Is amazing.”

“Really?” He jerked a thumb towards the stage. “They wrote you like a bloodthirsty maniac.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Play-Sabine and Zeb left the stage, while Kanan looked after them. The one figure left remaining, slightly behind and off to one side, folded her hands and adopted a swooning pose as a spotlight came down from above, setting her apart from the rest.

Hera’s mouth, which had already formed into a thin hard line, grew even thinner.

“Ohh, Kanan,” said play-Hera, one hand to her forehead. “You’re so handsome and strong and brave and noble! I have no doubt that with you leading us we will eventually find victory and bring back hope to the galaxy. Then…ohh…maybe then I will finally have the courage to tell you of this fierce love that burns so deeply in my heart…!”

Everyone winced and looked very carefully over to Hera. No one said anything.

“My skin isn’t blue,” was Hera’s only comment.

Play-Chopper made a fart noise. The audience laughed.

“At least you’re still a Twi’lek,” Zeb grumbled.

“Stormtroopers!” play-Kanan suddenly shouted, drawing a fake lightsaber from his robes. A prop that had been treated with a chemical to make the blade part of it glow. “Stay behind me, fair Hera! I will protect you! With the power of the Force!”

Play-Hera swooned again, and proceeded to run away as a…fight?...ensued.

It looked to Ezra like just a lot of weird dancing and people dressed as stormtroopers throwing themselves backwards when play-Kanan held out his hand.

Play-Kanan rescued play-Hera at least three times.

When it was over, play-Kanan had pulled play-Hera up against him, his arm around her waist, lightsaber held crosswise in front of them. Play-Hera swooned and draped her arms around him, still posed so she could turn and speak out towards the audience.

“Ohh, Kanan! You’re so strong and brave!”

“Think nothing of it, fair lady! I do only my duty as a Jedi.”

“You are the image of hope for us all!”

“Alas, my dear lady, I fear not, for I am the last of my order. With the Jedi gone, I know not how peace and balance may be restored to the galaxy.” He turned away, looking overly-wistful into the audience. “I shall forever strive to defeat the Empire, but…if only…there were another…”

“Ohh, Kanan…”

Play-Hera leaned in, about to kiss him.

Then Play-Chopper made another fart noise, pushing in between to separate them, flailing his small fake-mechanical arms.

The audience laughed.

Real Kanan glanced aside to Hera, and tried to smile, offering an apologetic little shrug.

Hera just rolled her eyes.

Play-Zeb and Sabine returned, pushing a load of crates in front of them.

“We got the goods, boss,” said play-Sabine, while the Wookiee who was supposed to be Zeb chimed in with something that was probably agreement.

“Well done!” Play-Kanan swept his arms in a gesture. “Now to continue with our dangerous mission against the Empire! What we must do next is—”

Play-Ezra popped up suddenly from one of the boxes, grinning cheekily as he waved to the audience.

“Hello everyone! Sorry to pop up like this.” He jumped out and grabbed one of them, pushing it away while the others watched, stupefied. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just cart one of these off.”

Then he added, with a big wink: “Have I mentioned I’m an incurable wisecracker?”

The audience laughed even louder.

Ezra groaned.

“After that boy!” Play-Kanan shouted as play-Ezra ran offstage with the crate. The others immediately gave chase, play-Sabine firing their spark guns, though play-Kanan held back for just a moment, touching two fingers to his forehead in a show of thought.

“What is this? The Force! It speaks to me. I cannot help but be inexplicably drawn to this boy…”

Then he ran off stage too.

“This is terrible,” Zeb rumbled.

The scene changed again. An Imperial flag unfurled over the back of a gray and black set. The lights came on to show several figures gathered around a table scattered with maps, murmuring in low voices until one of them stood up straighter. He wore an Imperial officer’s uniform, and the largest handlebar moustache any of them had ever seen.

“We must find these rebels!” the actor boomed. “The Emperor himself has tasked me with putting an end to the activities of these criminals, and I will not rest until I see the spark of their rebellion snuffed out!”

“You could land a Saber tank on that thing,” Rex said under his breath.

Another Imperial-dressed officer ran in from offstage, carrying a stack of datachips they constantly swayed and maneuvered to keep from toppling.

“Agent Kallus! Reports have just come in from Lothal! The rebels have been spotted!”

“Excellent!” Play-Kallus whirled, making the officer dodge. He twirled the end of his moustache around one finger, pulling it tight as he sneered. “Prepare my shuttle! I’ll see that these rebels are dealt with…personally.”

He swept off with a grand gesture, knocking the officer and their stack of datachips over.

The audience roared.

So did Zeb.

“I changed my mind! I like this play. Chop, you’re recording this, right? I wanna send a copy to Alex.”

“Who’s Alex?” asked Sabine.

“Err…Kallus. I meant Kallus.”

Scenes came and went. They showed Ezra being recruited to the Ghost, and Kanan taking him on as his padawan (complete with a costume change that involved play-Ezra running around the rest of the time with a ridiculous braid in his hair). They showed them rescuing the Wookiees (about two of which were actual Wookiees and the rest were furry costumes). They showed Zeb and Ezra stealing the TIE fighter (a large lightweight cut-out with holes in the bottom that the actors put over their heads). They showed Hera and Sabine fighting the shadow nasties who lived on the asteroid (played by mouse droids). They showed Kanan and Ezra finding the old Jedi Temple, and some of what went on inside.

“How do they know about that?” Ezra squinted suspiciously down at the actors.

Play-Kanan stood with his arms folded, an immovable statue as play-Ezra whined and stomped and pouted in front of him.

“Why won’t you let me be a Jedi, Kanan? I can be a Jedi! I can be as good a Jedi as anyone else!”

“You lack discipline, padawan,” play-Kanan said stoically. “First, you must learn focus.”

“But I want to be a Jedi now!”

“Discipline, and focus.”

“You never let me do anything!”

“I…don’t really sound like that.” Ezra looked up to the others, cringing. “Do I?”

Heads nodded all around.

“Yup.”

“Absolutely.”

“Nailed it.”

Ezra watched as a giant puppet rose over the stage that was supposed to be his succumbing to the dark side and summoning the beast on the shadowy asteroid, and he hunkered down a little lower in his seat, pulling the hood of his disguise further down over his face. He was quiet after that.

They showed their encounter with Lando, with play-Hera falling all over herself in response to his flirting. Hera watched without reaction until she showed up on stage in a gratuitously revealing slave outfit, at which point Kanan yelped and had to pry his hand out of her death-grip.

Nearly every scene involved play-Hera being rescued, and then crying and swooning over Kanan as she made some speech about hope and the future.

“Kanan, don’t go! I couldn’t bear to lose you!”

“But I must! It is time I face the Inquisitor.”

They stood alone on the stage together, play-Hera grasping play-Kanan’s hands.

“Then I must tell you, before you go. I cannot bear it any longer. Though I know there can never be anything between us, I…I…” Play-Hera blubbered. “I love you!”

“Alas, fair one, it is true.” Play-Kanan stroked her face before he turned away, fist to his chest, then his brow. “Though my order is fallen, I have vowed to live by their tenets. I am forbidden to ever love! And though your beauty does tempt me, I must most manfully resist! For in that way lies the dark side.”

He swept away from her, leaving her weeping on her knees. Then she went into a song.

“Rex,” Sabine said quietly, leaning over in her seat. “Are you crying?”

Rex sniffled, waving a dismissive hand.

“Shh. Trying to watch.”

There was the fight with the Inquisitor – an actor with a glowing painted stick tied to a rope that they spun in a circle around them – during which play-Kanan thought play-Ezra had been killed, and had his most dramatic moment of falling to his knees while shouting a long, drawn-out “no!”

Play-Kanan killed the play-Inquisitor – or at least shoved his fake lightsaber behind his back to simulate it going through his chest – and then ran to cradle play-Ezra in his arms, holding him close.

“Kanan…?” Play-Ezra woke gradually, and reached up to touch his face. Play-Kanan cupped the back of his head.

“I thought I lost you…”

“I know the feeling. Let’s go home?”

Kanan and Ezra traded a quick, uncomfortable glance at each other, and scooted a little further away.

The first act ended with a lot of holographic explosions and cheers from the audience.

“Never thought watching a star destroyer explode in orbit could be so boring.” Zeb yawned as he stretched. The lights came on over the house, and he stood up. “If I’m gonna make it through another round of this, I’m gonna need a snack.”

He slouched off to go find the concessions. Chopper beeped and wheeled to follow him.

“So far this intermission is the best part of the whole thing,” said Hera.

“I dunno.” Kanan grinned. “The effects are pretty good?”

Hera punched his shoulder.

“Okay! Okay. The beard. The beard is terrible.”

“The beard is awful, dear.”

“You’re being pretty quiet.” Sabine leaned over the row of seats to prod Ezra in the side. “Not having fun?”

“What’s fun about it?” Ezra grumbled, still folded up small in his chair. “They’re making me look like a whiny little brat who never listens and thinks he knows everything.”

Sabine shrugged.

“Well, when art imitates life…?”

Ezra glared a little, but didn’t say anything else as Sabine leaned back into her seat, kicking her boots up to cross on the back of his.

“Well, I like it,” said Rex, folding his arms behind his head. “Haven’t been this entertained in a while.”

*****

The second act opened with their meeting the clones.

The walking tanker was an impressive piece of set, though the clones themselves were three old guys sitting in rockers in the shade of it, telling exaggerated war stories and talking about slinging. Play-Rex could only walk with the help of a cane.

Real Rex laughed a lot.

When Kallus showed up again, his moustache was even bigger.

“Chase them into the storm!” he yelled at some rear-projected walkers as the holographic effects simulated a sandstorm. “We will capture these rebels for the glory of the Empire!”

The extra Imperial officers cried out their distress and rolled across the stage as they were blown away.

There was a scene with Hondo, centered around play-Ezra throwing a tantrum because of the way the Ghost crew was treating him and running away.

Hondo’s portrayal wasn’t much different than the real thing.

They showed Hera getting her prototype B-wing (done with models).

They showed the new Inquisitors: a hulking monstrosity for one and a spindly stick figure for the other. They had similar fake-lightsabers-on-ropes as the first Inquisitor, and during certain fight scenes twirled them so fast that – with the help of stage rigging – they took off into the air, flying as if on rotary blades.

“That is literally the stupidest thing I have ever seen,” said Zeb.

“Agreed,” said Sabine.

They went through Black Sun bounty hunters, ships armed with gravity wells, Force sensitive baby Ithorians, and to Ryder Azadi.

Which was fairly unremarkable until the scene where play-Ryder was revealing what happened to Ezra’s parents.

“A massive jailbreak,” he said, gesturing over the fake fire where he sat with play-Ezra and Kanan. “They heard your message, and decided to rebel. They inspired so many people to join them. You inspired them, Ezra! Unfortunately…” Play-Ryder shrugged. “They didn’t make it past the guards. If you hadn’t broadcast that message, they might still be alive right now.”

Sabine looked a little wide-eyed down at Ezra.

“That…isn’t true,” she said, aware of the sudden quietness of the rest of the crew around them. “Ezra?”

Ezra didn’t look at her. His eyes remained straight ahead, narrow and dark.

“It may as well be,” he mumbled.

Princesses, then Mandalorians, then Lasat legends came and went. As Ezra commanded an army of purgills around a mining operation (more puppets and models and rear projections), Zeb glanced around, noting the amount of yawning and half-asleep audience members.

“Just plain rude,” he grumbled aside to Rex.

Finally came Malachor.

Play-Ezra stood in the center of the stage, singled out with a bright light as play-Kanan stood off to one side of him, a mock-up of the fallen Darth Maul on the other.

“Join me, Ezra!” play-Maul growled, throaty and guttural. “I can show you powers of the dark side that your master could never teach you!”

“Ezra, don’t go!” play-Kanan countered. “He doesn’t care about you! I do!”

“He hasn’t taught you what you want to know! You said so yourself!”

Play-Ezra waffled, turning one way, then the other. Finally he spun on his heel and moved to stand beside Kanan while play-Maul snarled.

“You fool!”

“I knew you could never turn to the dark side,” said play-Kanan, a swell of emotion in his voice as he reached out to cup Ezra’s face. “You are far too good-hearted and selfless for that.”

“Master,” said play-Ezra, touching Kanan’s face in return as they stood very, very close to each other. “I don’t want anyone else. I want you…”

“This is getting weird,” mumbled Zeb.

Rex just shrugged.

The music swelled, and play-Ezra suddenly shoved Kanan away from him, returning across the stage to stand by play-Maul instead.

“But he’s right! You’re holding me back! There’s power to be had and you won’t teach it to me! But the dark side will!”

Play-Maul laughed malevolently as the two of them moved off together.

Ezra got up and walked out.

Kanan blinked, startled as he looked after him, though it took a prompting nudge from Hera before he eased out of his seat and followed.

*****

Night had fallen by then. The horizon glowed with orange and gold lights from the city, creeping up towards purple and indigo and finally a dark midnight blue. Just enough to see a light scattering of stars at the sky’s darkest point.

Kanan found Ezra out on a balcony jutting from the side of the building, overlooking a view of the surrounding streets. At that level the sounds of the city were distant. Far away. Traffic patterns were flowing rivers of lights through the air, and a quiet breeze wandered through the towers and skyscrapers. Just enough to sift their hair.

Kanan cleared his throat out of politeness as he stepped from the stuffy warmth into the cooler night of the balcony.

“You okay?” he prompted quietly.

Ezra didn’t turn to look at him, arms folded over the railing as he looked out at nothing.

“You have to ask?” he mumbled back.

Kanan sighed. He moved up beside him to lean his weight against the balcony’s edge, elbows coming to rest and boots crossed at the ankle.

“Listen, Ezra. That play…” He kept his voice low. Gentle. “It’s not the truth. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Easy for you to say.” Ezra’s voice came muffled against his arms. “Everyone gets to see you be amazing and taking out ten bad guys at once while saying cool lines.”

“Well, yeah.” Kanan made a pained face as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m also stuck-up and self-righteous. Anyway, who cares what people think? We know who we are. What we’ve done.”

“Yeah. What we’ve done.” Ezra ducked his head, pushing both hands back through his hair. “I get to sit back and watch as all the mistakes I’ve made get shoved back in my face.”

“Mistakes are like that. But that doesn’t mean they have to influence you going forward.”

“Ugh! I just wanna find that playwright and…!” Ezra made a throttling motion with his hands.

Kanan raised an eyebrow, and held it long enough for Ezra to see.

Ezra dropped his hands and ducked his head back down.

“I just wanna…tell them what they got wrong. I wanna fix it.”

“Yeah.” Kanan laughed, shaking his head. “Gotta wonder what they were thinking, right? Why would I be running around in the open in actual Jedi robes?”

“And the bits with Sabine…have they even read a real report on us?”

“Judging by Kallus’ moustache, I’m guessing no.”

They both laughed, comfortable and easy. The mood felt lighter then. The tightness in Ezra’s shoulders eased, and he glanced aside over to Kanan, biting the inside of his cheek.

“And the way they wrote those scenes between us. We’re not that bad. Are we?”

“I hope not.” Kanan pinched the bridge of his nose. “I reeeeally hope not.”

“Yeah. I know, right?” Ezra’s laugh wasn’t entirely convincing. It died quickly. “I mean, masters and padawans are close, but they’re not that close.”

“Yeah. No! I mean…you’re right. It’s…ridiculous.”

“Absolutely. That would never…”

“Right. Never ever.”

Kanan stole a quick glance aside at Ezra, the air around them suddenly thick and awkward. He wasn’t sure he liked the way Ezra was looking at him.

Kanan shifted his weight and recrossed his boots.

“Well,” he said, clearing his throat after a moment’s uncomfortable quiet. “Actually, it’s not…unheard of…”

“What, really?”

Kanan shrugged, looking out at the city.

“People are still people,” he said, with a sound of distance and recitation. Remembering something his master once told him. “No matter what order they belong to.”

Quiet again. For a moment, Kanan forgot about the awkwardness, caught up instead in memories of the past.

Meeting Hera.

Questioning everything.

He didn’t notice Ezra scoot in close beside him until he spoke.

“Kanan?”

“Yeah—?”

Kanan turned his head, at the exact moment Ezra rose up on his toes to kiss him. It landed just at the corner of his mouth – still slightly open – and Kanan froze, his heart leaping a quick double-time in his chest.

Ezra dropped back down to his feet, looking up at him with a flushed and exhilarated – but not at all apologetic – half smirk.

“I’ll…see you back inside?”

He turned and hurried back into the brightly-lit hallway before Kanan could answer.

Kanan just watched him, frozen stock still, with a look in his face like he’d just been struck by lightning.

*****

Back on stage, the scenes were changing again.

“I don’t get it,” Zeb was saying as Kanan eased back into his seat, careful not to touch – or even overly look at – Ezra as he passed. He sat down beside Hera and reached immediately for her hand, grasping it tight.

“The fight with Vader…did Ahsoka die?”

“I dunno,” said Rex, rubbing his chin. “It was kind of unclear.”

“You didn’t miss much,” Sabine reported once Kanan was settled. “I think we’re just about to get to the giant spiders and establishing Chopper base.”

Hera frowned, and looked to the aisle along their seating.

“Has anyone seen Chopper?”

“Uh,” said Zeb, pointing downward. “I see him. Right now.”

As the next scene illuminated, all of them turned their eyes as one down to the stage, where they immediately spotted Chopper – the real Chopper – wheeling himself out along with the line of actors.

He turned and waved one manipulator arm at them, chirping brightly. Then he proceeded to wheel around the set making a variety of rude noises and pulling at random ropes and knocking over fake vegetation and wreaking general havoc while the actors tried to go on as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

The audience roared with laughter when he started zapping people.

Hera groaned, hiding her face in the palm of her hand.

“Someone should go get him,” she said.

“Why?” Sabine munched on some of Zeb’s snacks.

“Yeah.” Zeb spoke around a mouthful. “What’s he gonna do? Make the play worse?”

In the end, they did nothing. A few stagehands were finally able to wrangle Chopper off to one side and dragged him away, pushing out a harried play-Chopper while play-Kanan ad-libbed some lines about it.

Finally, the lights dimmed on a scene of Grand Admiral Thrawn standing on a platform overlooking his Imperial officers, his voice resonant throughout the audience, deep and steady, as he stood with his hands folded behind his back.

“Not to worry,” he was saying, oozing calmness and certainty. “I will find the location of this rebel base. And when I do, I will destroy it.”

Menacing music. A dramatic spread of the Imperial fleet on a projection behind him, and the lights went dark.

Zeb stood up, stretching.

“Well, glad that’s over. Too bad. Some parts were actually kinda—”

“Sit down.” Sabine tugged his arm. “The play’s not over yet.”

“Eh?” Zeb plopped back down into his seat. “But…we’re caught up? There’s nothing more to show. Unless…” He leaned forward, squinting suspiciously down at the stage. “Are we gonna see the future next?”

“You know that’s not possible,” mumbled Kanan.

“Why not? You Jedi have your weird vision things.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

But the humor had gone out of Kanan’s voice. He was watching the stage now, intently, along with the others.

Grand Admiral Thrawn reappeared, once again standing high on a platform as he oversaw the proceedings of what looked like an Imperial ground assault. The comically tiny model vehicles and puppets and mouse droids in cover-ups lost their cringe-worthy effectiveness under a tide of apprehension as Thrawn held out his hand.

“By using the data I’ve collected and studying the habits and behavior of these rebels, I now know the location of their hidden base.” He waved his hand, and in the rear projection began an orbital bombardment, smoke filling the stage from either side and beams of light slicing through it like plasma blasts. “Now they have no defense against the might of the Empire!”

“We do have one defense!” play-Kanan and Ezra rushed in from one side of the stage, fake lightsabers glowing. “When all else fails, we still have the power of the Force!”

There was a fight.

It was…brief.

Play-Kanan and Ezra stood back to back as they were surrounded by stormtroopers. Lights flashed and the sounds of explosions rained. They sliced and twirled with their lightsabers.

But, eventually, they were gunned down. Lost in the brilliant flash of a thermal detonator.

“May the Force…be with you,” play-Kanan gasped, before dying in a weeping Hera’s arms.

The rest of the Ghost’s crew rushed in.

They surrounded Hera like a guard, weapons and blasters bristling, but the stormtroopers pressed in from all sides and Thrawn laughed from above as he gave the order, gesturing wide with one imperious hand.

“Destroy them!” play-Kallus relayed, running point for one of the stormtrooper squads that arrived.

Blaster fire. Explosions. They fought back, but the entire crew eventually fell, collapsing into a heap in the center of the stage.

“It’s over, Grand Admiral,” Kallus reported, saluting to the sky. “We’ve done it!”

The stormtroopers snapped their heels together, standing up straight to attention. They turned, blasters held high to throw long shadows on the wall as they were lit from below, framing Thrawn in dramatic shadows as he took center stage on the height of his platform, and addressed the audience directly.

“Yes. We have done it. The strength and might of the Empire shall not be undone, least of all by a group of petty criminals. The Emperor’s vision shall be realized, and we shall see the Empire reign throughout the galaxy for untold generations to come!”

The music swelled, and the audience…

The audience stood and cheered, loud and wild and going mad with applause.

Only Hera, Kanan, Ezra, Sabine, Zeb, and Rex remained seated. Dumbstruck. Looking between the stage and each other and feeling sick to their stomachs.

*****

“Well, it is an Imperial-controlled planet,” Sabine rationalized as they left the theatre, quiet and heads hanging. “Of course a play like that would have been commissioned by the people in charge.”

It didn’t help morale much.

Zeb kicked a broken can where it lay on the sidewalk.

“That was a terrible play.”

“Yep.”

“The worst.”

“Awful.”

“Especially that beard, right?” Kanan ventured in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Can we all agree the beard was the worst?”

Nobody felt like agreeing. Their eyes were on the ground.

Ezra stepped to one side just in time to avoid colliding with a group of children as they ran by, some of them dressed like rebels, others as Imperials and stormtroopers. They made blaster noises as they chased and pretended to shoot at each other, carrying on down the sidewalk.

“Hey!” one of them – dressed in traditional Jedi wear – smiled and waved to Ezra as she passed. “Your Ezra costume is pretty good, but the scars are on the wrong side.”

Ezra blew up, yelling after her, though she was already long gone.

“They are not on the wrong side!”