This is what Cipher Nine remembers of his father: dark hands, the rich, deep blue of a dawning sky. A strong, rich voice. A uniform. A smile, as he adjusted a young boy’s collar. Then bravery, and standing firm, and soldiers from the Empire aiming rifles.
Then the little boy’s shoulders were taken by a human man, and he was led away from the Ascendancy into the Empire. The human man didn’t have a name, but he had pale skin, the kind of human skin colour that came in pinks rather than browns like most of them, and he wore a black uniform, like the Ascendancy wore white – like his father had worn white. He enrolled him in a school in the Empire with Imperial children. He was the only one who was not human. He did not see another person who was Chiss.
Sanewso – no, Cipher Nine – studying, reading, training, visiting the human man at work – the human man visiting him in school. “You’ll make a fine agent, son,” said the man, placing a hand on his shoulder.
‘Son,’ repeated the young Chiss in his mind, and the middle-aged human gave him an understanding nod.
He can hardly remember his father’s hands adjusting his lapels. The man – Keeper – fixes his collar on his first day in Intelligence uniform.
He’s strict, as his Keeper, but he’s understanding, concerned for him. He wants Cipher Nine to do well, and he doesn’t want him to end up in trouble. He’s nothing like Darth Jadus.
Darth Jadus was a cruel father, so Darth Zhorrid says. Sanewso – no, Cipher Nine – sees Keeper beaten, bloodied, bruised, all because Cipher Nine said something wrong to Darth Zhorrid. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he says, and Keeper waves off the apology. He starts to see Keeper reassuring him in that office, instead of his father’s smile. The way that his father stood tall and proud and said he had done nothing wrong.
The day he walked into Keeper’s office to find the man who’d treated him like a son gone was a shock. The face of the new Keeper was not, nor, when he thought about it, that the old Keeper had been promoted to Minister. Cipher Nine respected the new Keeper's talents, but the old Keeper had never said that having nonhumans in Intelligence could be useful, like it was something he had to justify to Cipher Nine. It had never been up for discussion between them, that he would work in Intelligence.
He sees the way Kothe interacts with his agents, easily paternal, with authority and yet with care, and he has the self-awareness to think Oh, fuck, he’s going to influence me. When Kothe brainwashes him, like any halfway intelligent intelligence operative would do, the way Cipher Nine should honestly have anticipated something like, it feels like a betrayal. Cipher Nine would have done it too.
He dreams about shooting Kothe, sees the old Keeper shooting him, and spares Kothe’s life, says something inane and nonsensical about forgiveness. The SIS threw him away. He knows they won’t reactivate him, now the programming’s been broken.
The old Keeper did do it too. It was to save his life! The Sith gave him no choice –
Which was less choice than he gave you, says Watcher X.
But it was that or have him killed, and the Minister hadn’t wanted to kill him. They talk in the Keeper office like he never left the position. Cipher Nine’s hand itches, and his head aches, and he wants to talk with him about something as inane and nonsensical as forgiveness.
He can’t see his father’s hands, anymore.
Then he meets Aristocra Saganu, and he remembers them again, remembers other things about his father he didn’t know were still stored in his mind, the way the tendons in his hands flexed, the way his steady voice spoke in Cheunh. Aristocrata Saganu was so like his father. He was a tall, dark-skinned Chiss who took one look at Cipher Nine and said “Welcome home,” who instantly treated him as one of his own, with no missions to earn trust and no reluctance or distance, and Cipher Nine wanted to cry.
He never wants to leave that hidden Hoth bunker. He wants to swap his life with Raina Temple, for her to go back to the Empire and he to go back to the Ascendancy. He leaves Hoth, and Aristocra Saganu sends him a recorded message. He names him Merit Adoptive of his House, and Cipher Nine could cry. Cipher Nine would cry, if he remembered how. Miurani’sanewso was added to the name that Keeper had taken from him, the name that he could not have.
Then he has his worst seizure yet, and he comes to with Lokin smiling at him and talking about what he’s doing, and Raina translating his broken Cheunh into basic – he wants you to dim the lights – and Lokin dims the lights and apologises for not doing it immediately.
He asks about his other seizures, and his brain is free now, he can tell him, so he does – Lokin’s not even meant to have met him, he can’t report on Cipher Nine without getting into trouble himself – and the man starts… what is it? Looking after him, in the most superior, annoying way that he has ever encountered?
Lokin sternly informs him he hasn’t been eating healthily, and somewhere in that slips the phrase “Says the child to the unstrict parent,” and something freezes in Cipher Nine’s gut, and he doesn’t want to eat anything.
“Agent?” Lokin asks. “Did you lose time?”
“I don’t know,” mumbles Cipher Nine, and then, “You’re not my father.”
“Of course,” says Lokin, immediately. “It was a figure of speech – and regardless, I retract it.”
“But I think I could do with an unstrict one for a change,” he continues.
Lokin regards him cautiously. Then he repeats his suggestion that he should eat more starches.
He doesn’t know if he’ll ever remember more about his father. There are too many people vying for space, writing themselves over him, but… Lokin helped break the restraints, talked him through using Quesh venom, the safety measures required; was there when he injected himself, and made sure he didn’t hit his head on the rock face. It wasn’t much, he didn’t trust him, but it could be worse.
He wears Ascendancy-styled clothes, now, and doesn’t care who in the Citadel sees it. He hopes that Minister does.