Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sad Tale of Nathan Nightwalker

Standing in the dark and quiet room, Nathan Nightwalker regained his breath. Centering himself in the Force, he searched his feelings.

Expecting joy or perhaps anger, Nathan was surprised to sense a morsel of regret, of sorrow even.

What did he expect? Obviously the challenge placed before him had been difficult, and overcoming it would take all of his capabilities and beyond, but the prize had seemed worth it.

The prize was a teacher, from whom Nathan could learn more about the Force. The subtle and the mighty machinations of the Force, his to use and control. To expand his knowledge, his skills, his power in the mysterious energy of the galaxy.

To become a true apprentice to the Dark Lord.

Perhaps he had not been ready for it. Perhaps Nathan had simply expected too much of it. After all, nobody can or will describe how it feels to pass the first test of a true Sith, so predictions seemed pointless. Nevertheless, Nathan felt strangely empty inside.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion, he reminded himself.

It wasn't passion, but it wasn't peace, either. Instead, a guilt formed inside his head, a knot in his stomach, that he had never before experienced.

Could he have been wrong in choosing this path?

For years, Nathan had been convinced that although the Jedi might have been wise and powerful, they were still ignorant of the true strength of the Force. Sitting in their temple growing lazy and arrogant, they did not seem to be the masters of focus. Not like the Sith of legend, who constantly challenged themselves, increasing their skills, practising their concentration, growing more dangerous with each victory -- and each defeat.

Nathan had never craved for victory or power. He had merely longed for the fulfillment of his talents, to not be held back by ancient rules and out-of-touch theorists, to feel the wind through his hair, the sun in his eyes, the sweat on his back while he perfected his body, mind and control over the Force. To be who he truly was.

Now, here he was. Switching on his lightsaber, Nathan looked around and in the dim blue light of his blade saw the ancient glyphs and imagery on the walls, depicting ferocious beasts towering over their many fallen foes, stealthy assassins stealing the life of their victims, and fires burning away Jedi temples.

This ancient burial temple seemed a fine example of Sith filosophy, and Nathan felt out of place for the first time.

Stepping over the remains of the two Jedi sent after him, he brought his face and his blade close to the image of the burning temples. Tiny twodimensional faces screamed in eternal silence as the hungry flames consumed both stone and flesh, leaving nothing but charred remnants and ashes. Sith warriors cheered around the scene, relishing in the terror and deaths, absorbing the darker essences of the Force to increase their power and in turn, increase the havoc they wreaked.

Taking his eyes away from the gruesome scene, Nathan surveyed the room. It was an antechamber for the large ceremonial hall and it had probably been dark as well in the days the temple was still in use with the ancient Sith, serving as a portal to the inner sanctum and reminding acolytes and apprentices of the power and the horror of the dark side.

The two dead Jedi lay somewhat in the middle of the room, their brown cloaks covering their faces. One still clutched his saber as if in defense, the other Jedi's lightsaber had been cut in half by Nathan's parry and both parts were near the wall.

He had known both Jedi, of course. One was his former master at the Jedi temple on Coruscant, the other a padawan apparently desperately wanting to prove himself by "redeeming" the runaway Nightwalker. It had been a long and tough fight, both mentally and physically, but in the end they could not match the power of the dark side that flowed through Nathan.

His Sith master would be proud. Nathan would be reborn as a Sith, and would be granted a new name, a new persona that would represent his metamorphosis from Jedi to Sith.

He recoiled at the thought.

Turning off his lightsaber, Nathan welcomed the darkness. It did not erase the image of the two lifeless forms on the floor, though. Personal growth through the death of another. Two souls who would never reach their perfection, cut down before blossoming. Two people not unlike Nathan, killed by one whose own progress was deemed more important than theirs.

His mind realized the finality of his act, and this time there was emotion. Guilt, shame, regret, sorrow; a dawning understanding that he could never go back to being that Jedi he had once been, so full of ambition, anger and joy, without forever regretting that in order to advance himself, so many others would suffer for it. The wound torn in his soul would deepen and fester, until either it would impede his progress or make him vulnerable to new generations.

In the Sith organisation, being vulnerable meant being dead.

Neither could he return to the Jedi temple, Nathan knew. Of course the Jedi taught forgiveness, but even if they would do so, and even if the looks of Jedi both old and young would not follow and haunt him, and even if he somehow found the courage to follow the rules he had found so restrictive before, he doubted he could still live with the guilt in his heart of willingly killing two Jedi.

Through the Force, my chains are broken.

There was nothing now for Nathan except the Force. The Dark Lord waiting outside the ancient structure was surely too powerful for him to combat, and what would be the point of trying? No, he realized, there was nothing for him now. No Sith, no Jedi, and no escape.

A tear found its way across his cheek, and Nathan savored the emotion that guided it. At least he was still human. Enough to know that he had come to a fork in the road, and he could choose neither path.

Only one option seemed open to him, and he sighed. Sitting himself down on the floor, Nathan Nightwalker wiped the tear from his face and turned the hilt of his lightsaber so that the blade would point towards him. Placing it against his chest, he calmed himself.

He whispered, "the Force will set me free."

A heartbeat later, he ignited his blade and fell lifeless to the floor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Part 4: Mandalore ~ Chapter 4 - Last Minute Instructions

Renora soon learned that Mandalorians weren’t very good at giving instructions, which might very well have had something to do with their impractical and possibly uncomfortable habit of wearing large metalloid casings around their skulls and refusing to remove them unless their lives depended on it -- and only if you shoved a blaster down their throats, which was impossible, since they were still wearing their helmets. After she and Master Giddy finished their business with Commander Okun, Renora was taken below the massive, circular arena that served as the proving grounds for young Mandos eager to finish their apprenticeships, prove their worth, and earn the right to encase their heads in better quality buckets. A warrior with green and blue armor, dull and marred by years of pain and death, lead her to a wide, rusted metal gate that opened into the circular arena, and explained the basic principles of the upcoming game. Or, rather, he tried to explain the basic principles of the upcoming game. After all, Mandalorians weren’t very good at giving instructions.

“Two will enter. One will leave.”

“Seems fairly straightforward,” Renora nodded. “What do they do with the other one?”

“Huh?” the Mando said eloquently.

“You said that only one person leaves the arena.”

“Two step into the arena. One steps out.”

“Yeah, that’s what you said before. You mean to imply that one will be left alive, and the other will be dead, right? Presumably the one who’s not alive.”

“Two in, one out,” he repeated. Even through his vocabulator, he sounded supremely confused. He was lucky he wasn’t trying to conduct a conversation with a full Jedi Master. His brains probably would have exploded and leaked out the vents in his bucket.

“So you’ve told me,” said Renora, resisting the impulse to roll her eyes. “If the dead one is carried out, what happens to the live one? He or she doesn’t get to leave? Or is it that the live one gets to leave, and something happens to the dead one?”

The Mando was silent. He might have been weeping.

“Never mind. Consider it a Jedi’s attempt at humor.”

Luckily for him, the Mando knew exactly how to respond to this line. “There is nothing humorous about your situation, Jedi Ta’a.”

“There’s always something humorous about a situation. You just have to know where to find it. Sometimes everything beats down on you and it‘s nearly impossible to see. But sometimes,” said Renora, eyeing the tall figure standing three feet in front of her, “it’s right in front of your eyes.”

“You are wrong. There is nothing humorous about your situation.”

“You really think so?”

“Yes.”

“You really, really think so?”

“Yes,” the Mando spat.

“Okay,” Renora said reasonably. She was enjoying herself, but fervently hoped he wouldn’t realize that. Even more, she fervently hoped that Giddy wouldn’t realize that. “Why do you think so?”

“Do you see my beskar’gam?” said the Mando, pride prickling through the harsh, tinny tenor of his voice. He gestured down the front of his chest plate.

“Assuming that you’re asking me to look at your armor and not referring to some kind of obscene Mandalorian euphemism, yeah, I see it.”

“These markings I bear are the product of many great battles.”

“Really?” Renora said incredulously. “I’d assumed you just tripped and fell down the stairs.”

The Mando produced a sound that was a political compromise between a growl and a curse.

“I mean, it must be hard to see with that jug on your head,” said Renora.

He repeated the sound, but increased the volume.

“And I wasn’t sure whether you guys had discovered electricity.”

“Listen to me, girl,” said the Mando, making a swipe at Renora’s neck. The Padawan dodged easily, which made the Mando all the more furious. “Allowing you to set foot in this place of honor is a disgrace. We are a proud people. We do not tolerate a loss of honor. But we will allow you to fight our warriors. You will have no weapons, not even your Jedi sword. Your precious Master will not be there to guide you. You will be utterly alone, as a warrior should be, and you will feel what it’s like to look upon your own blood.” He shoved a gloved finger into the region directly north of her nose. “This is the way it will be.”

Renora was silent for a moment. The moment grew. The silence became deeper, longer, and decidedly more awkward. The moment grew. The silence become so stretched and hollow that it was almost possible to become lost in it. The moment grew. The Mando shuffled his booted feet. The moment grew. When Renora became certain he just couldn’t take it any longer, and began to fear for his mental stability, she broke the silence.

“Are you finished yet?”

“Huh?” asked the Mando.

“Are you finished yet?” she repeated.

“With what?”

“Your instructions.”

“Yes,” the Mando said in puzzlement.

“Good. You know, I don’t understand why you didn’t just say all that in the first place. It would’ve saved us a lot of trouble. And for the future (not that I’d be so bold as to correct a Mandalorian; I’m just offering a tip), you don’t have to make it so dramatic to get me to listen. I’m always honored to hear the words of a Mandalorian warrior, regardless of how obtuse he may be.”

The Mando faltered, uncertain of whether he was being praised or insulted, and unwilling to say anything that would leave him vulnerable to greater insult. In the end, he decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to think about it in detail, and that there were more important things in life than standing around thinking. He gestured towards the gate.

“Come,” he said simply. The gate gave a whine of protest as it sunk into the stone walls of the arena, and Renora stepped out into one of the Nine Hells.

It wasn’t literally one of the Nine Hells--at least, not to Renora’s knowledge--but it was just as good or just as bad as the real thing. The interior of the arena was circular and dusted in a thick, heavy layer of dense soil, and framed by rows and rows of hard wooden benches. As far as Renora’s Force-augmented eyes could determine, each and every row was absolutely packed. Each and every row was full of packed benches. And each and every bench was filled with Mandalorians.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Part 4: Mandalore ~ Chapter 3 - Relevance

It was easy to see how the planet could have spawned several generations of the galaxy’s most elite supercommandos, men and woman whose faces and futures were carved from craggy rock outcroppings and stone canyons. Mandalore’s pockmarked surface was etched in the coarse outlines of a hand dulled by Corellian ale and Mandalorian blood.

“You’re about to do it,” said Giddy, piloting their small, enclosed, two-person speeder over the Mandalorian landscape.

“Do what, Master?” asked Renora.

“You’re about to say something irrelevant. And snippy.”

“At the same time? I must be even more talented than I thought.”

“Can’t you funnel your impressive array of talents and say something relevant and snippy?”

“I could, but where’s the fun in relevancy?”

“I didn’t know ‘fun’ was included in our job description.”

“It better be, or I’m asking for a raise. Or turning in my badge.”

“Padawan, you and I both know that you don’t get paid, and you don’t own a badge.”

“Like I said, Master, where’s the fun in relevancy?”

The two Jedi Knights laughed, the metallic echoes of their voices resounding flatly in the tight confines of the speeder. It was the consummate illustration of what it meant to be a Jedi: venturing out into what could best be described as the unknown, impervious to the constant risk of pain or grief or death, willfully dismissive of a duty of galactic proportions, but discovering a brief solace in the companionship of someone who shared that duty, who shared that risk, who shared that adventure.

“So do I get to say it now?” asked Renora, flashing a cocky grin.

“You must do what you feel is right, of course,” said Giddy, stifling a smile.

“No, no, I’ve decided not to.”

“Why not?”

“The anticipation’s too great. It won’t be funny anymore.”

“You’re assuming that there’s ever a time in which you’re actually funny, Padawan.”
“Is that a wrongful assumption?”

“All assumptions are wrongful.”

“Yes, Master.”

They were silent for a moment.

“Is that all you’re going to say?”

“Oh, come on, Master. I know a lecture when I see one. You don’t encourage a rampaging gundark.”

“You’re very wise in your old age.”

“I have a very wise Master.”

“Hmm.”

“And a very old Master.”

“Hmm!”

“With a very young heart.”

“And a very short fuse.”

“Then it’s a good thing we won’t be bombing anything today.”

=========================


A short, heavily muscled man met them at a specified location to guide the Jedi to the precise coordinates of the resistance headquarters. His grim countenance was as lined and blemished as any of the ubiquitous mountain ranges they had passed on their brief journey through the Mandalorian countryside.

“No wonder the Mandos wear buckets on their heads,” muttered Renora. “They can’t stand the sight of each other.” Giddy flashed her a warning glance, and Renora shrugged innocently.

They were led through a dizzyingly complex, labyrinthine underground structure, until the small party reached a heavy durrasteal door that slid open after performing a brief retinal scan on their Mando companion. He gestured for Giddy and Renora to enter.

“Ah, the Jedi,” said the iron-haired man who sat behind a polished desk at the center of the room. His eyes, barely perceptible slits, narrowed perceivably as they came to rest on the faces of the Jedi Knights. Their escort stopped to salute his superior, one gloved hand snapping sharply, and palmed the door shut, leaving Giddy and Renora alone with the commanding officer.

Master Giddy stood patiently, her breathing slow and regular, irritatingly calm in the nucleus of the Force. Renora resisted the temptation to rock back and forth on the balls of her feet. The commander did not offer them a seat.

“Jedi Lightsky, Jedi Ta’a,” began the commander.

“With respect, General, our formal titles are Master Lightsky and Padawan Ta’a,” corrected Giddy, her tone neutral. Renora conducted a brief debate with herself whether “Padawan Ta’a” was a promotion or a demotion from “Jedi Ta’a.” After a hard-fought battle, she lost embarrassingly.

“And you will address me as Commander Okun,” he said through tight lips.

“Very well.”

“Master and Padawan, I must speak frankly. The Duchess Satine gives us the credits we need to do our job, and do it well. We’re fighting so that the old ways never return to Mand’alore.” Renora hated his precise, broken-syllable pronunciation of the word. “We’re fighting so we can be free again.”

“Yes, we understand that,” said Giddy.

“Do you? I’m not so sure.”

“Would you care to elaborate on that, Commander Okun?” asked Giddy, dusting her words with a barely perceptible trace of iciness.

“Duchess Satine funds us, coordinates our communications, and provides our political cover. But she has always encouraged Jedi involvement in our affairs. Affairs bridging generations of Mandalorian history and culture. Affairs to which context cannot be granted to outsiders. Mandalorian affairs.”

“The Jedi and the Mandalorians have been over this ground before, Commander,” said Renora, feeling Giddy send her a silent message through the Force that basically amounted to something along the lines of ‘don’t screw up.’ “You want our help. You may even need our help. But we can’t possibly understand why we’re helping you. Does that imply that you can’t possibly understand why we’re helping you, either? Because if it does, perhaps you do not require our help as much as you have led us to believe. At least until we gain a better understanding of each other. Which should occur sometime in the next millennium, when Manda’lore decides to open its borders and communicate freely with the rest of the galaxy.”

“You’re very well-informed, Padawan Ta’a.”

“I try, sir.” Renora couldn’t resist a small smirk.

“Especially concerning events which didn’t even occur during your lifetime.”

The smirk evaporated like bantha spit in the Tatooine suns.

“That’s what I don’t like about the Jedi. Everything is something you’ve encountered before.”

“But, historically speaking, everything is something we’ve encountered before, Commander. Do you not teach your junior bucket heads the history of their respective clans?”

Renora didn’t think it was possible, but Okun’s eyes narrowed even further. “The history of my people is sacred,” he said slowly, through gritted teeth.

“Why? I thought it was irrelevant.”

“It is of every relevance.”

“And that’s why you pass it on to the bucket kids? Right, Commander?”

“You have no place--”

“Commander, like it or not, we’re going to have to collaborate if we want to strike a blow at the current regime,” said Giddy, holding out her hands in a supplicating imitation of the classical Coruscanti sculpture A Study of Peace. “Your feelings towards the Jedi are not relevant to the Mandalorian lives that will be lost because we stood here and squabbled rather than planning for what lies ahead. I believe you would agree with me.”

Okun nodded curtly. “Very well. Master Lightsky, you will join my generals and I in the war room for our initial planning session.”

“What about my Padawan?”

Okun placed his strong hands on the desk and stood. Renora was amused to find that he was barely taller than Master Giddy.

“How old are you, Ta’a?”

Renora swallowed at his deliberate omission of her title. Sure it wasn’t much, but it was all she had at the moment, and she was a little picky about when and where it was being applied. But Renora decided to do the mature thing and overlook it. Outwardly. “Seventeen, Commander.”

“You are of the lowest rank for your Order, correct?”

“No, sir. Not…technically.”

“But you’re not yet a Jedi Knight.”

“Not yet, no.”

“Then you cannot participate in the battle.”

“I…can’t…?” Renora blinked in surprise.

“Only proven warriors are allowed to fight, so we can be certain they will be held accountable for themselves. If you get yourself killed, your blood with be on Mandalorian hands, and we will owe the Jedi a debt. I cannot accept that.”

“My apprentice is more than capable of handling herself, Commander. I know that better than anyone, and certainly better than you.”

Okun smiled slightly. It was not an attractive sight. “If it is as you say, there is one way,” he said.

“What’s that?” asked Renora.

“The proving grounds.”

Renora winced. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Part 4: Mandalore ~ Chapter 2 - Setup

Renora was almost repressively tempted to ask, “The Duchess Satine Kryze?” But she knew that such an inane uttering would be an utter disrespect to every kilo of self-discipline her Master had taught her. Not to mention it would make her look stupid. So she didn’t say it. She just thought it. Repressively.

“Thank you, Duchess,” said Renora, standing and bowing slightly. Before the last juicy little piece of snippiness could fade from memory and from the tips of her vocal cords, Renora became intensely tempted to add, “Do you come here often?” It seemed as if it would be in bad taste, but that’s not why Renora didn’t vocalize her quip; the word “taste” was less than irrelevant to her. She just didn’t feel comfortable about snarking off at the deceased.

That’s when she finally decided what she was going to say. Just as the quiet whisper of the mind nearly translated itself into a vibrant utterance of the lips, Renora began to doubt that this was the right thing to say, too. At that point, she didn’t really care, so she went ahead and said it.

“Aren’t you dead?”

The Duchess laughed, short and bitter. “To most, yes. To some, not quite. To others, most certainly. To myself, only on weekdays.”

Renora decided she wasn’t half-bad, for a dead person.

“What’s the consensus, then?” asked Renora.

“Somewhere at a halfway point between dead and alive.”

“It sounds more exciting than either of the alternatives.”

“I’d rather have peace than excitement, but, yes, there are moments.”

“Do you have any details on those terrorists we’re supposed to track down?” Giddy interjected. Renora narrowed her eyes, trying to probe her Master’s consciousness without letting on that she was doing it. She detected something that her Master was hiding -- was that the right word? -- faint and muffled by the layers of the past, but she wasn’t quite certain what it was. Quickly pulling back before she could be discovered, Renora dispassionately took a sip from her cup of water to try and cover any traces of her investigation through the Force.

“Not much. I only hope it’s enough. As you know, since the creation of the Empire, Mandalore has been fragmented between peaceful bipartisan leaders, and the warlords who wish to return to our old ways.”

“Wasn’t it always like that?” asked Renora.

Satine nodded. “Your Padawan is well-read, Gidrea. Yes, it has been like that for a very long time. Before you were born, as a matter of fact.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you,” said Renora, before she could stop herself. “Duchess Satine,” she added respectfully, her face enveloped in a bright red blush.

Giddy laughed, looking as if she enjoyed watching her Padawan squirm. “Watch that mouth of yours, Padawan,” she said gently, still grinning.

“Sorry, Master,” Renora mumbled.

“What I need you two to do,” Satine said smoothly, as if the short interlude had not occurred, “is track down the mercenaries our current regime is using to terrorize the populace into voting for this new military conscription bill.”

“A conscription bill?” asked Giddy.

“Yes, with many a provision that will legalize a lot of the traditional Mandalorian practices that we’ve tried so hard to get rid of, that are destroying our society, that almost destroyed us in the past.”

“That ‘we’ve’ tried so hard to get rid of?” asked Renora. “What’s with the pronoun, Duchess? A royal ‘we?’”

“My Padawan has a thing for grammar,” chuckled Giddy.

“Nevertheless, there is a ‘we,’ and I’m not using the pronoun for any reason having to do with decorum. No, there’s a group of us, former writers, activists, journalists, and politicians, who’ve been around since the Clone Wars and who saw this coming.”

“You’ve been fighting for the same peace for the last twenty-five years,” said Renora.

“Longer. I don’t expect it to come overnight, but it will come. I know it.”

“You knew Master Kenobi!” said Renora, a sudden realization hitting her like a fly in the fan on a hot day. Then she shut her mouth, tightly. She blushed, brightly. And she cursed, lightly. “Uh, during the Clone Wars, perhaps?” she inserted, feeling very, very stupid. “Ne…negotiations?”

“Don’t you know, Padawan? She’s the Duchess Satine,” said Giddy, her expression a mixture of wry amusement and admonishment.

“Right, I know that, Master.”

“You’re right, Renora,” said Satine. “Master Kenobi and I were good friends during the Clone Wars.”

“You were?” pressed Renora, in spite of herself.

“Yes, we were.”

“Was that before he met you, Master Giddy?” asked Renora, raising her eyebrows and flashing her Master a sticky smile.

“Master Kenobi made many acquaintances when he was alive,” said Giddy, her eyes glinting with something approaching a warning.

“He was a great Jedi. So great, perhaps, that I don’t think even death can stop him from touching the hearts of those he loves.” Renora was nearly busting, but she struggled to maintain her composure.

“Do you find that amusing, my young apprentice?”

“No, Master. Do you?”

“No, Padawan. Do you, Satine?”

“No, Giddy. Should I?” she asked, her thin lips twisted in a rare moment of humor.

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe we should ask your Padawan--”

“That’s all right, Satine,” Giddy said quickly.

There was an awkward moment of silent stillness, in the large room and through the echoes of the Force.

“So,” said Renora, almost as smoothly as a trained politician, “he visits you, too, does he?”

“He did, once,” Satine sighed. “Just to tell me he was all right, but he couldn’t see me anymore.”

It was subdued by their extreme shows of self-discipline, muted through the transitory tendrils of the Force, but something, almost painfully deep, but fleeting in nature, passed between Satine and Renora’s Master. A little more than a gesture, a little less than a sigh, Renora barely noticed it, and decided she wouldn’t acknowledge its presence. But she couldn’t forget its existence. Master Kenobi had touched more lives than he cared to admit in his brief conversations with Giddy’s Padawan. And he had touched them in more than one way. Renora almost smiled at this pun, but, once again, she didn’t want to look stupid.

“The terrorists,” she said softly, “if we hit them from the top, as we’re undoubtedly planning to do, won’t the government know that there’s an opposition group?”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt that they already know that,” said Satine.

“But our job will be to make sure they can’t connect anything we do to Satine’s group.”

Renora nodded. “And how will we know if we’ve succeeded?”

“The bill doesn’t pass, lives are saved, and the mercenary group toppled,” sighed Satine.

“And live Jedi,” said Giddy.

“The only kind I like,” smirked Renora.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Search your feelings, you know it to be true
That no other Star Wars fan is as obsessed as you.

You talk to Ben Kenobi when nobody's around
You swing a wrapping paper roll and make the saber sound.

Your catalogued collection is the talk of all the street
You've got more toys and games and crap than Mr. Steve Sansweet.

You live and breathe Star Wars Galaxies, fighting for the light
You hog the couch on Friday at 9:00 at night.

You lose sleep over who shot whom, Greedo first, or Han?
You've memorized all your sourcebooks, from Atris to Zeltron.

You post on message boards all day
And then you blog the night away.

You made your own authentic Anakin scar
Your costume costs more than your car.

PT, OT, TCW, FotJ, and EU
LotF, NJO, JK, and TFU.

You wouldn't find someone more obsessed if you searched the galaxy
This is, of course, not counting and ignoring someone -- me!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Part 4: Mandalore ~ Chapter 1 - Guessing Game

“Mandalore.”

Renora regarded her Master’s features with a mixture of bemusement and intensity, trying to detect any trace of humor in that gentle smirk. Besides evidence of the normal, snarky wit that was a mere fact of life with her Master, she couldn’t locate any kind of trickery. Which was really too bad, because the last four seconds of her life were starting to make her feel depressed. Really depressed.

“That’s not really the word I like to begin my day with.”

“Since you ended your day so well yesterday, I thought I’d make up for it by ruining the start of your day today,” said Giddy, suppressing a snicker.

“Your generosity astounds me, Master.”

In truth, as far as endings go, yesterday had ended very, very, very, very well for Renora. If you had to have a conclusion to the story, that was the one to have. D’onny had continued his clumsily tactful investigation into the enigmatic premiere explosion, and was only a little infuriated when Renora told him that it had been a fake bomb that Giddy and she had put together themselves, complete with phony, dimensional, air-contact bodies that would stand up to a Level 3 DNA matchup.

“You are without doubt the best kidnapper I’ve ever heard of,” D’onny had said to her, shortly before she deposited him at the rear entrance of the same building she and Lari had snuck into.

Renora wondered whether he remembered using the same sentence only hours earlier, with one adjective replaced with something decidedly less tasteful. She didn’t care.

“It’s about time you were astounded by something other than yourself,” said Master Giddy, bringing a halt to Renora’s brief voyage into the past.

“Is it my fault I have high standards?”

“‘High standards’ here having the meaning of ‘an ego problem?’”

“A problem is in the eye of the problem.”

“And you’re my problem.”

“Good, I’m doing my job, then.”

Giddy sighed. “Do you want to hear why we’re going to Mandalore or not?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Jedi do not have prejudices, Padawan.”

“But they can have preferences.”

“Don’t let your hatred of the Mandalorian way of life cloud your judgment.”

“All right, Master. The weather forecast for my judgment is showing absolutely clear, absolutely cloudless skies,” Renora laughed.

“I’m glad you’re finding this so amusing,” said Giddy, crossing her arms.

“And that’s accurate to the twelfth decimal point.”

“Very humorous,” she said dryly, a smile twitching the corners of her lips.

“Just in case you were wondering.”

“I was. How did you know?”

“Just a hunch. Now, are you ever going to tell me why we’re going to Mandalore?”

“Suddenly, I’m not so eager.”

“Come on, Master, we’re burning daylight here.”

“Oh, you have plenty of that. Or so the weather forecaster tells me.”

“They’re always wrong, you know that.”

“But you’re always right. But you’re the forecaster. Where does that leave us?”

“At a regrettable but uninteresting impasse.”

“Uninteresting? I’m finding it very amusing.”

“Me too. I’m amused. Now tell me!”

“Say please.”

“Do I have to?”

“No.”

“Good.”

“But I won’t tell you if you don’t.”

=========================


If you were to ask Renora what she considered to be the most important thing in the entire galaxy, under normal circumstances, she would probably reply that she regarded the Force as the answer to that question. Living beings -- breathing, struggling, flawed and dangerous, beautiful and terrible -- created the Force, and the Force sustained them. It was central to her purpose and her existence, the reason she came to be, the reason she continued to live. It brought her to the galaxy, brought the galaxy to her fingertips. It created a partnership between Master and Padawan like the galaxy had never seen before, and would never see again.

The Force was the most vital, most fundamental, most essential facet of the galaxy; the Force itself, and the beings who imbued it with a wondrous power. Under normal circumstances.

These were not normal circumstances. In fact, these circumstances were quite abnormal. In these circumstances, Renora’s physical and mental states were both highly compromised. And she was enjoying it.

“I have two words,” said Renora.

“Only two?”

“Only two. Nerf. Steak.” Grinning as if that were some kind of revelation that had come to her from deep within the sonorous echoes of the Force, she viciously stabbed another forkful of the succulent meat, and shoved it, as delicately as possible, into her mouth.

“Just chew it, will you? I’d hate to be the Master whose Padawan died because she choked on a piece of nerf steak.” The rate at which Giddy was shoveling in the steak belied her words of caution.

“Chew it, Master? I’m too busy swallowing it!”

“You’re supposed to chew it before you swallow it.”

“Aww, that’s no fun.”

“It’s going to get to your stomach sometime, Padawan. Chewing it first just means it’ll take a little longer.”

“Master, this is no time for a lesson in patience.”

They acted like they hadn’t eaten in months, which they really hadn’t, unless you’re liberal enough with your words to refer to nutrient bars and protein shakes with the “food” honorific. As they ate, Renora halting the mechanical flow of fork to plate, fork to mouth, and fork to plate, only to breathe or take a gulp of chocolate blue milk, Giddy studied their lavish surroundings.

It wasn’t called Elava Palace for nothing. It was a palace, in every sense of the word. The dining hall housed an almost comically massive table, adorned with a opulent. deep blue tablecloth of Onderon spider silk. The seats of their high-backed chairs were lined with the impeccably treated, cream-hued pelt of some animal almost suspiciously soft, and a colossal, glistening chandelier, its rim bejeweled with tiny, vague mirrored surfaces, was suspended over the table, ready to fall on Giddy and Renora and kill them.

Giddy and her Padawan sat at opposite ends of the table, about fifteen meters away from one another, and as close as they could get to the room’s two exits. This wasn’t a safety precaution; this was Renora finding something funny about shouting across the room.

“So, Master,” began Renora, clearing her throat and taking a sip of milk. She noticed that the cup matched the plate, which matched the silverware, which matched the chandelier, which matched the various paintings and miscellaneous d├ęcor sported by the large room.

“Are you talking in pairs of words today, Padawan?”

“Must be this steak. Interfering with my brainwaves. And my vocabulary.”

“What a tragedy.”

“If you’re quite finished with the snippy remarks, Master…”

“I’ll never be finished with them, my young apprentice, so you might as well banish that silly though from your nerf steak-infested brainwaves.”

“Consider it banished.”

“That curiosity is going to get the better of you someday.”

“Curiosity? What curiosity? I haven’t even said anything yet!” Renora’s voice echoed in the confines of the substantial room, bouncing and tumbling until it came to a rest in Giddy’s eardrums.

“Yes, you’ve been too impatient to say anything. In too much of a hurry to get your question out of your mouth. Which is ironic, considering how fast you were trying to put something in it just a few minutes ago.”

“All right, then, my unbearably wise Master. What’s my question?”

“Nice try, Padawan, but that would be too easy. It’s your question, you ask it.”

“Fine, then. I’ll be a good Padawan and do what you tell me, as I always do.”

“Hmmm.”

“Why…uh…Why are we here?”

“What did I tell you back at the ship?”

“That we were going to speak with a Mandalorian planetary official about some terrorists that needed eradicating.”

“Former planetary official.”

“Right. And the terrorists aren’t really terrorists.”

“How so?”

“Because they’re in power. They’re basically the Mandalorian government.”

“They are the Mandalorian government, actually.”

“So who’s this mystery official? You’ve told me nothing about them at all.”

“Not true.”

“Okay, right, you did tell me something. You met this person before. You’re old friends, but haven’t been in contact in years. Until yesterday, when they contacted you for help.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Some friend,” said Renora, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I don’t know, Renora, you might like this friend.”

“I doubt it.”

“Don’t be so negative all the time.”

“Master, I told you before. I recognize my negativity, but fail to embrace the need to banish it.”

“Well, at least you’ve reduced it.”

“Significantly.”

“That remains to be seen.”

“As does my liking of this friend.”

“You can see for yourself now. I sense that they’re coming.”

Renora sensed it, too. A powerful presence, remarkable in its intensity, but laden with an infinite sadness, tinged with a resolute determination. It almost reminded Renora of her Master, but this person was not Force sensitive, and lacked Giddy’s trivial wit and almost alarming calm.

The figure entered the room on Giddy’s side, strode towards the table, and draped an arm over one of the high-backed chairs.

“Gidrea, it’s been too long. And you must be Renora. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Nothing good, I hope,” said Renora.

“She’s just as you described,” the figure chuckled. “Renora, it’s good to meet you. I’m former Duchess Satine Kryze. Welcome to Mandalore.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

Part 3: Coruscant ~ Chapter 5 - A Matter of Importance

You might say that Giddy and Renora lived an explosive life. The word “explosive,” in this instance, refers to the volatile and often dangerous nature of their day-to-day existence, not to an incendiary device designed for the often painful conversion of living sentients into lifeless matter. However, the explosive nature of their lives wasn’t incapable of involving actual explosives (the dangerous kind). So Renora knew what an explosion was like.

It was usually sudden, with none of the courteous speeder bike-rumbling or tremor in the planet’s core that accompanied a well-mannered earthquake. It was usually loud, even louder than the freaks at the Land of Wonder event. It was usually brief, so much so that you might even miss it, if you didn’t have any ears. And it was usually deadly, if you happened to get in the way of a hurling chunk of durracrete that was bound and determined to make an emergency landing in your skull.

When the moderate-sized building that housed the refresher unit and a small snack stand blew up, Renora was more than ready for it. She didn’t even flinch. The same couldn’t be said for everyone around her, including Mr. Jepp.

“Son of a sexless march-toad murglak!”

After logging that revelation of an insult into her extensive memory files of profanity, Renora said, “Be quiet before someone recognizes your voice. Come on, we better get out of here before we’re squished to death.”

“Did you…?” D’onny whirled on her, tearing his gaze away from the remains of the explosion, the charred building, and the smoldering bodies. “Did you do that?”

“Yes and no. Now will you please get moving?”

“Yes and no? Yes and no? What kind of an answer is ‘yes and no?’”

“The kind you’re going to live with for now. Now move, Mr. Jepp.”

The screaming, pushing, hysterical mass of creeps, most of them still decked out in full costume, would’ve been hilarious in any other setting. Renora stood on her toes and tried to peer over their heads, seeing a familiar, disgustingly red, four-seater speeder cruising overhead. No, make that crashing overhead.

The speeder swerved and stuttered as if it had gained a mind of its own and was torturing its hapless occupant, not stopping until it crashed into a building that was as tall as it was eyeball-numbingly shiny. Thankfully, the building was under massive construction, and Renora couldn’t sense anyone inside. Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t have the Force to reassure them. Assuming Weirdo City was under attack, they began to push and scream with renewed fervor.

“Please tell me you weren’t in that speeder,” Renora muttered to Giddy.

“You seem perfectly capable of making a total mess of things all by yourself. What do you need me for?”

“Encouragement.”

“Ever try discouragement? I think you’d like it better.”

“Come on, Mr. Jepp. Our one-way ticket to eternity is almost here.”

“Wait,” he said, his voice nearly a whisper. “Wait.” Renora studied his face, astonished to find that he had gone almost transparently pale. D’onny had been a fair-skinned man to begin with; now he looked as if he had been spending an exotic vacation on the planet Hoth.

“What is it?”

“Listen…to what…they’re saying.”

Renroa listened, using her Force-augmented senses to pick apart the various levels and nuances of sound produced by the huge mass of beings. She located the problem almost immediately.

“What’s so bad about that?” she asked. “It’s obviously not true.”

“Not to them.”

“It’s more important that it’s not true to you.”

“They think I’m dead!”

“Could you please shut up before someone thinks you’re insane?”

“This whole thing is insane!”

Renora sighed. “Okay, listen. Give me your comlink.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Mr. Jepp. I know we weren’t close enough to the explosion for your eardrums to have gone out. Give me your comlink.”

He handed her the comlink that he had stuffed into Lari’s right pants pocket.

“Give me the code so I can key in your family.”

“Are you nuts?” asked D’onny and Gidrea simultaneously.

“Just give it to me.”

D’onny rattled off the eleven-digit number that would reach one of the ground comlinks at his main estate. The comm buzzed for a few seconds until a woman with a barely detectable Onderonian accent answered.

“D’onny? Is the premiere over already?” she said, rolling the letter “r.”

“He’s alive,” said Renora. She hung up.

“They’ll get a comm trace on you, you know,” said D’onny. “Now we’re never going to make it out of here.”

“They could’ve done that already, regardless of whether we had made the call or not.”

“Oh. Yeah. I didn’t think of that.” He paused for a moment, fingering his mustache in thought. “You didn’t search me when we left the lounge. I could be carrying a hold-out blaster, for all you know.”

“Uh huh. You have a point?”

“You are without doubt the worst kidnapper I’ve ever heard of.”

“And you’ve heard of dozens of them, I’m sure.”

=========================


“Hey, Master!”

“Shut up, Padawan.”

“Where’d you get the police speeder?”

“Get in, Padawan.”

Renora piled into the back of the Coruscant security speeder, watching as D’onny opened the other passenger door and climbed into the seat.

“Now that I’ve shut up and gotten in, are you going to tell me where you got the speeder?”

“No, Padawan.”

“Are the natives always this friendly?” asked D’onny.

“No, this is actually one of her good days.”

“Your Master, I take it?”

“Inescapably. Mr. Jepp, meet Master Gidrea Lightsky. Master Giddy, meet D’onny Jepp.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Jepp. I have to congratulate you on how you’ve managed to defocus my Padawan.”

“A pleasure,” said D’onny, trying to smile.

“Master Giddy,” said Renora, folding her hands and muffling a slight smirk. “Of all the people in the galaxy to kidnap, we’re safest when talking about Jedi affairs in front of this one. Except for any and all Jedi affairs involving Master Kenobi, of course.”

“Anything involving Master Kenobi is unsafe,” Giddy chuckled in spite of herself. “But why can we talk about Jedi stuff in front of him? He’s not a Jedi.”

“No,” D’onny said softly. “But in another lifetime, during the Clone Wars, I fought side by side with the Jedi against the Separatists. When Order 66 went down, I stood up for the Order, and tried to use my influence as a military officer to try and stop it. Not that it did any good.”

“Why didn’t the Empire just eliminate you when the war was over?” asked Giddy. When Renora shot her a warning glance, she added wryly, “Not that I’m not glad they didn’t.”

“I don’t know. When the Emperor summoned me to Bastion, I thought for sure it was all over. But I can’t remember anything after that. I just remember the day after, not what happened inside the Imperial palace.”

“If I were you, that would’ve concerned me,” laughed Renora.

“If I were you, that would’ve killed me,” muttered Giddy.

“If the Emperor didn’t kill you first.”

“You’re about to kill me first.”

“Does this memory loss thing have something to do with all…this?” asked D’onny.

“Of course not, it’s just a coincidence that you’re involved in a grand plot to amplify the powers of darkness as exemplified by the Order of the Sith.”

“I am?”

“No, I just like hearing myself talk.”

“That must be why you do it so often,” said Giddy.

“Master, behind us!” said Renora, whirling around and pulling D’onny away from the windows.

“I sense four of them,” said Giddy. “Not Coruscant police.”

“No, their thoughts are too organized.”

“Red Guards.”

“That would be my bet.”

“Jedi don’t bet.”

“This one does. Where do we keep the heavy weapons?”

“I thought he was sitting in the back with you.”

“Actually, I think I knocked him out.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” said D’onny, his voice muffled.

“Blaster rifles are under the middle seat,” said Giddy.

Renora lifted up the marred synth-leather compartment in the middle seat, digging out a short, stocky blaster rifle. As she checked the blaster clip and was in the process of locating and clicking off the safety, the speeder jolted with a wrenching recoil that dwarfed the blast generated by the earlier explosion. Renora clutched at anything her hands could locate to try and keep herself from banging her head, her ears screeching with alarm klaxons.

The speeder dipped.

“What hit us?” shrieked Renora.

The speeder swerved.

“Master? Master?!” Giddy’s head lolled over the side of the headrest, a large, mottled, blue and red welt rising on her forehead. She was unconscious, but breathing steadily.

“What happened?” asked D’onny.

“They hit us. We couldn’t sense them, so we’ll have to assume they were blocking us somehow.”

“They can use the Force?!”

“Apparently. Can you drive a speeder?”

“Well, yeah, of course, but--”

“No time for buts, not even from you. Uh, that’s not what I meant.”

“Don’t worry about it. Help me move her to the back.”

The two gently lifted Master Giddy from the front of the speeder and eased her into the back, keeping low as the speeder rocked from pelting blaster bolts.

“They want us alive,” said Renora.

“Is that bad?”

“Yeah, sort of. Get in the front.”

“Got it.”

Renora leaned out the rear window of the speeder, using the Force to take precise shots at the pursuing vehicle. The pilot, who she was unable to make out through the tinted windshield, was incredibly skilled. He was probably very strong with the Force, but her probing senses were blocked, so there was no way to tell for sure.

“Renora?” D’onny yelled over the din of their small battle. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“I don’t think now is the best time!”

“Do you get space sick?”

Her eyes widened slightly, and she had to pull her head back inside the speeder to keep it from getting blown off by a crimson blaster bolt.

“Go for it, D’onny,” she grinned.

He smiled deviously. “Hang on. I’m going to see what this baby can do.”

As if to illustrate that sentence, D’onny slammed on the breaks, nearly slamming Renora into the ceiling. Then he let go of the steering wheel.

“Whatever you’re going to do, don’t think about it,” said Renora.

“Caution? From you?”

“It’s not caution, they can sense what you’re going to do and anticipate your movements.”

“Oh, yeah. Getting rusty.”

Renora thought of a response to that, but she didn’t think it was entirely appropriate to this situation.

D’onny gripped the wheel, his dark hair whipped wild by the rushing air streaming through the open windows. He threw the speeder into an overhead loop, swinging it upside-down as it moved behind the pursuing car. Renora saw the Red Guards hesitate. Their moment of indecision was incredibly brief -- they were obviously extremely well-trained -- but incredibly brief was all Renora needed.

She didn’t bother to push her arms and shoulders out the left window as she had before. Gripping the blaster rifle in sweaty palms, she lunged through the back window, smashing the blaster bolt-proof material, took aim on the speeder’s main engine, and fired.

This time, nobody flinched at the explosion.

“Where to, Ms. Ta’a?” asked D’onny, lifting his hat in mock deference to his passenger.

“Somewhere quiet. I think I’m getting a headache.”

=========================


She wasn’t the only one. After Renora applied a bacta patch to her forehead and gently prodded her with the Force until she awoke, Master Giddy had a headache, too. And for once, it wasn’t Renora’s fault.

The three of them landed on an abandoned lot near a condemned apartment building. Neither Renora nor Giddy sensed any sentient life nearby, which eased their collective headaches somewhat.

“That’s it?” asked D’onny, gesturing towards the purple rock sitting in Giddy’s hand.

“That’s it, all right,” said Giddy.

“That little thing caused all this trouble?”

“Are you referring to the rock, or Renora?” laughed Giddy.

“I’ll leave that up to interpretation,” said D’onny. Giddy handed it to him, and he hefted it in one hand. “Any suggestions on how I should destroy it?”

“Spit on it. The heat alone should burn it to a crisp in less than a second.”

“A femtosecond,” added Giddy.

“Even less than that.”

“10 to the power of negative 15?”

“Show-off.”

The three laughed, the deep, painful sound of pure release only attainable by the intensely exhausted or the profoundly relieved. They were both.

“I’m the one who taught her that in the first place,” said Renora.

“It’s about time you started pulling your own weight.”

“I should’ve left you in that speeder.”

“I never would’ve allowed it, m’lady,” said D’onny with a bow. The three laughed again.

“Time to murder a rock!” piped Renora.

“I feel like I should say something important before I do it,” said D’onny.

“Then why don’t you?” asked Giddy. “I haven’t heard something important all day.”

“Good idea!” He dropped the rock onto the pavement, and it made a soft crunching sound when it hit. A few clouds of gray dust swirled into oblivion. “Something important,” said D’onny, his voice grave, and he crushed the rock under his heel. Renora didn’t even notice that he was wearing his out-of-style, black and white, custom tailored shoes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Part 3: Coruscant ~ Chapter 4 - Disagreement

Bending her knee until her foot was level with the small of her back, Renora used the Force to press a small button on the heal of her shoe, ejecting a hold-out blaster that she reached back and caught in her right hand. Before anyone in the room had a chance to blink, let alone reach for their own weapons, she stunned all but two with the noiseless weapon.

Anticipating their responses, Renora held D’onny motionless with the Force, sprinting to where Vandort was crouched behind the bar, also held motionless, but by terror.

“P…p…please…don’t…k…kill me,” he stammered, his trademark wild hair looking almost flat with his head pressed against the wall. “I…I…I don’t want…I don’t want…”

“Relax, Mr. Vandort. I’m not going to kill you.”

“No?” he asked, perking up like a hopeful child.

“No, I’m not going to kill anyone. Here, look at my blaster.” He cried out as she held the blaster in front of his face. “It’s okay, just look at it. See? It’s a stunner. They’ll wake up, remember nothing, feel hung-over, and fall naturally asleep, drooling on themselves. Won’t be the first time, I’m sure.”

“Good,” said Vandort, sighing theatrically and easing into a sitting position. “Then what are you doing, if not killing people?”

“I’m going to kidnap Mr. Jepp.”

“Oh, okay, I see. What about me? Do I get to come along?”

“Nope, sorry. I’m going to stun you, too.”

“That’s all right. I would’ve done the same if I were in your place.”

“That’s incredibly reassuring to hear, Mr. Vandort.”

“Will I remember what happened?”

“Well,” said Renora, considering, “yeah, I think you will.”

“Renora!” hissed Giddy through the comlink. Renora swallowed sharply, ignoring her Master’s warning.

“Good, good. How?”

“I’ll fix it so that the stun doesn’t affect your memory. With the Force.”

“Padawan, have you lost your mind?!”

“Ahh, the Force! I see. Okay, that all sounds dandy. I’ll miss the premiere, though.”

“That’s all right. You’ll be at the one for Shadows of Darkness later on this year.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“Astral, all completely astral.” He looked up at her, squinting against the light as if really noticing her for the first time. “You know you’re a little young for a Jedi.”

“My Master isn’t going to think so when she kills me for allowing you to remember our conversation.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re on the run and all that. Tough stuff. You know, there are cameras in this room.”

“I scrambled them. They’re playing a prerecorded, looped feed.”

“Padawan, don’t make me extract you. I will do it, if you endanger the mission.”

“Good thinking, good thinking.” He paused, eyeing his drink on the counter as if he wished he could drown himself in it. “Yep, I guess I’ll be seeing you, then.”

“No, Mr. Vandort. You won’t.”

“Oh, okay. That’s astral, too, I guess.”

“I really wish we could’ve met under better circumstances.”

“Oh, me too, me too. You seem like a real good kid. Except for the…ah…shooting thing.”

“This is going to sound really lame--”

“No, no, go ahead.”

“--but I admire your work. If I would’ve been given a choice to shoot any director I wanted, I wouldn’t have picked you.”

“I appreciate that, I really do.”

“Take care of yourself, Mr. Crazy Hair.”

“Ha! Yeah, yeah, sure.”

“May the Force be with you.”

“Yeah, and with you. Uh, kid?”

“Yes?”

“Stay alive, okay?”

Renora smiled grimly. “You bet I will.”

She shot him square in the chest, pausing to make sure the neural blast didn’t affect the part of his brain regulating short-term memory. After she was satisfied, she turned her attention to D’onny Jepp, still frozen in the middle of the room.

“I’m going to unfreeze you in a second, but first I want to tell you something. You’re not in any danger. Neither are your wife and kids, or any of your friends and family. Whether you cooperate or not, none of you are going to be harmed.”

“That certainly won’t be your case, Padawan,” snapped Master Gidrea. “You were supposed to scare him a little so he cooperates!”

“My name is Renora Ta’a, and I’m a Jedi Padawan. My Master and I need your help. Sorry I had to interrupt your premiere, but my Master doesn’t believe Elice’s Adventures in the Land of Wonder is of as much significance as a galaxy-wide threat to existence. I would disagree with her, but what do I know?”

She released her Force hold on Jepp, steadying him as he swayed slightly, control returning to his limbs.

“You better say something really clever to keep me from killing you with my bare hands,” he said through clenched teeth.

“If you were going to do that, you would’ve done it already. Now, get out of those clothes.”

“You’re joking.”

“Yeah, I’m really in a joking mood right now. Please, Mr. Jepp, just do it. And put on Lari’s uniform.

Renora turned around to provide him some privacy as he changed quickly into the uniform.

“Great,” said Renora, appraising him in amusement.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“You look…”

“Like what?”

“Like D’onny Jepp.”

“Now that’s a surprise.”

“Can’t you disguise your face a little bit?”

“Sure, I do that all the time.”

“No, seriously, you’re actor.”

“No, seriously, I didn’t know that.”

“All right,” Renora sighed. “This is just going to have to suffice. The rest is up to one abandoned Padawan.”

“Let’s just hope the Force hasn’t abandoned you.”

“It hasn’t before now.”

The two made their way out of the building and through the crowd, Renora masking D’onny’s presence with liberal traces of Force energy. With each member of the would-be audience having a working, photographic memory of every pore, line, and wrinkle on the man’s face, this was easier said than done. Renora’s hair was lined in sweat, and her breath came in ragged gasps.

“We’re never going to get out of here,” said D’onny.

“Shut up,” said Renora.

They stopped barely within sight of the ’fresher Renora had paid a visit to at the beginning of this insanity.

“What are we waiting for?” asked D’onny.

“Just wait.”

They waited. Nothing happened.

“I don’t think it worked,” said D’onny.

“Just wait, it’s going to happen..”

They waited. Nothing happened.

“It doesn’t look like it’s happening.”

“I told you, just wait! It’s going to happen, don’t worry. Or some Toydarian explosives dealer is going to wake up dead.”

“Is that even possible?”

“Haven’t you done it?”

“That was just a holo film.”

They waited. Something happened.

Part 3: Coruscant ~ Chapter 3 - Up Close and Personal

They were mostly weirdos. That was to be expected, given the particular holo film they had all gathered to celebrate, and Renora had expected it with the uncertain kind of expectation that you expect to come to fruition, but still managed to remain astonished when it does.

It disheartened her to see such a raving horde of unabashed lunatics, but it also infused her with a strange combination of hope and purpose -- the fall of the Republic took everything from the stability of the military, to the supply of food, to the production of electronic, subsonic toothbrushes with it, but it didn’t topple the holo film industry.

A very small, but very powerful avenue of expression and imagination still existed in the galaxy, and as long as it was protected by a legion of weirdos such as this, even the Emperor, with his multitude of diseased dreams, couldn’t hope to lay his greasy claws on it. If Namar Vandort could still churn out those weird and wonderful holo films of his, without living in fear that his right to create would be stripped away by the tenets of tyranny, maybe the Rebellion really could succeed.

Renora smiled, thinking of Luke Skywalker. Literally and figuratively the poster boy for the Rebellion, Luke Skywalker was a hero in every shape and form of the word. A past shrouded in both mystery and humility, a collection of dreams and ideals to outshine a million stars, and a future of greatness and glory in service to an alliance of beings that would restore peace to a galaxy. And yet, Luke Skywalker’s victories could be compared to the victories instigated by a group of creeps who didn’t even know what the word “rebellion” meant.

“It’s a weird galaxy,” Renora whispered.

“Yes,” Giddy said simply.

Still, Renora did see a few costumes here and there that caught her eye in a less-than-negative way, and she had to suppress an almost embarrassingly adolescent desire to stop and ask for a picture, touch the fabric, admire the weapons, and generally gawk like an idiot. Forsaking all that, what she really wanted to do was use the Force to conceal herself and pinch that lady’s Vorpal sword. Or that guy’s plastic bracelet, not a part of his costume, but a pass that would allow him to collect a couple of autographs after the event.

Someone about three meters to Renora’s left must’ve spent a couple of lifetimes working on that Crimson Queen outfit. A tall man chatting on his comlink probably invested all of his life savings into that Guardian uniform, plus his kid’s college money, a couple of house payments, and his retirement funds.

“Focus,” Giddy cautioned.

“Not easy,” gritted Renora.

Lari was waiting for her, just as he had promised, and he wasted no time entering an eight-digit password into a control pad by a small, unnoticeable door. The door slid open with a barely detectable whisper, and he beckoned her through a narrow but well-lit hallway.

“Only like twenty of us have the password,” he said proudly, his voice sounding hollow in the small space. “I only have it ’cause of my bro.”

“He gave it to you?” asked Renora, not really caring who got him the karking password, be it his brother or Qui-Gon Jinn.

“No, he doesn’t know I’ve got it.” The amount of pride in his voice increased tenfold. This guy had the maturity of a pyromaniac eleven-year-old.

“Then aren’t they going to throw us out?”

“Nah, ma’am…I mean, Jarael…that wouldn’t happen.”

Renora wasn’t so sure. Not that it made any difference.

“Here’s The Door,” said Lari, pronouncing the last two words as if they appeared in capital letters. He entered another pass code, this one two digits shorter than the last, and the door skimmed across its tracks, disappearing into the wall.

Renora quickly assessed the room, wanting to pick up as much as she could before Lari’s brother inevitably tore him limb from limb. After the yawning mass of beings outside, this was a welcoming, comfortably-sized lounge, with two sofas tossed haphazardly in the middle, and a small refreshment bar off to the left side of the room. Five guards sprawled easily on the two couches, speaking quietly, and nursing paper cups of water. They were all of a fairly muscular build, all dressed in precisely tailored suits, and all carrying bulges in their pockets that were probably crowd-suppressing weapons. They looked like they had been minted to blend into any environment, which meant they blended in about like a bantha in the middle of a perfume store.

Of course, Renora saw D’onny right away. She couldn’t miss him. That would be like standing in the middle of the Jedi Temple and trying to miss Order 66. But she was trying to ignore him, for all the good that did.

One part of her mind registered the fact that he was here. In this room. Right now. At this moment. This room. Now.

One part registered his location -- sitting at one of the bar stools with his back to her, laughing and chatting up his good buddy, Namar Vandort, the director. He looked happy. They both looked happy. Duh, they both looked happy; they were making each other very rich.

One part of her mind registered that he was wearing his very out-of-style brown hat. Renora loved his very out-of-style brown hat.

And one part of her mind registered that she should only be focusing on what one part of her mind was registering: the only information relevant to the mission.

Kark the mission.

“Breathe, Padawan,” laughed Giddy.

“Lari, you son of a kriffing undeveloped murglak, what in the Nine Hells do you think you’re doing?” The man distributing this profanity-littered question looked almost identical to Lari, except for the lack of gap in his teeth, and mane of shoulder-length hair that was dyed a blinding white.

“I’m just taking her in here to see D’onny, man, if that’s okay with you.”

“No, it’s not kriffing okay with me! Why would it be kriffing okay with me? Lari, you numbskulled son of a moron, you can’t bring every girl who looks at you crosswise to see anybody she wants!”

“I didn’t bring her to see anybody she wants, I brought her to see D’onny.”

“Dammit, Lari,” his brother sighed, running his fingers through that disgusting hair. “Why can’t you ever do what I tell you to do?”

“Hey, man, you’re the one who got me this job in the first place.”

“That’s just because I didn’t want Mom to know they kicked you out of school again!”

“What’s up over there?” someone called from the far side of the room. Renora, who had remained miraculously silent during the whole exchange, glanced over to see D’onny swiveled around in his chair, tossing the remains of a cheap, plastic, blue cup of something into that beautifully shaped mouth.

Right, right, focus on the mission.

But he wasn’t the one who spoke. That loud, obnoxious voice, oppressive, but somehow not annoying, had come from Vandort. Renora secretly admired Vandort’s ability to be both facetious and pleasant at the same time, while telling someone precisely what he thought of them. After all, that was a trait she had in both quality and quantity.

“Sorry, sir, I was just--” began Lari’s brother.

“Hassling some really charming-looking girl over something dumb.”

“And that’s why you’re on the front lines, and not me,” laughed Giddy.

“Not up for this kind of danger?” Renora thought. She would’ve given anything to have been able to say it aloud.

“Yeah, yeah, screwing up again. Tell us something we don’t know, Rorq,” said Vandort, taking a huge gulp of his drink and bringing crashing into the counter.

Rorq blushed such a deep crimson that Renora half expected his hair to turn red, too.

“I’m really sorry, sir. I mean, she wants to see him, sir. I mean, uh, D’onny, sir. My…uh…my brother brought her here to…uh…to see him. To see Mr. Jepp. Sir.”

“Calm down, kid,” said D’onny, setting his cup on the counter and leaping from the bar stool. “It’s all right.”

A massive human man with massive forearms and a massive, flat face stood from where he was seated on one of the couches, moving slowly behind D’onny. The man’s dark, bald head glistened beneath a fine layer of perspiration. His eyes were extremely tiny in the folds of flesh that made up his cheeks and forehead.

“Mr. Jepp,” he rumbled, “I don’t think it’s such a good idea--”

“It’s all right,” D’onny repeated, holding out his hand.

He was standing in front of Renora. Renora blinked. Then she opened her mouth. Then she closed it. Then she remembered to breathe.

“You’re here to see me?” D’onny asked, smiling gently.

“Actually,” she said, impressed with her ability to put words into volume, “it was Lari’s idea. He seems to be your resident genius.”

D’onny laughed, fingering his hat. “Well, that’s Lari’s brother’s fault. He should watch who he gives that key code to. It might fall into the hands of the wrong person.” He regarded her in mock seriousness. “Are you the wrong person?”

“Mr. Jepp, I’m going to be completely honest with you. I’m the wrongest person you’ll meet all day.”

Vandort sputtered, snorting into his drink until he almost choked to death. “At least she’s honest,” he laughed.

“Completely,” Renora added.

“Completely,” D’onny repeated, chuckling softly. “I’m D’onny,” he said, holding out his hand. “But you already know that, or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Even if I didn’t know that, I would still be here,” said Renora, bringing her palm into his fist for a handshake. To her shock and horror, he kissed her hand.

“How’s that?”

“Like I said, it wasn’t my idea.”

“So maybe we should throw you out,” called Vandort.

“Out into that massive, angry mob, all by myself? I wasn’t even born so alone.”

Vandort broke into another round of choking coughs.

“I’d love to talk to you some more, sweetheart, but the show starts in forty minutes, and I’ve got to get out there before they trample me to death.”

“I would’ve thought you’d have gotten used to death by teenage girl.”

“He’ll never get used to it,” said Vandort. “You’d think he’s some kind of desert monk.”

“Look who’s talking,” laughed D’onny. “Now then, I gotta be cutting out, sweetheart. Any last words?”

“Yeah, I made a list, in case my tongue went numb from shock.”

D’onny grinned. “List away.”

“First of all, thank you. For everything. There’s a lot this ‘civilized’ galaxy can stand to learn from a man like you, Mr. Jepp. In all things. I know I have.”

“Hey, don’t give him such a big head,” said Vandort.

“No, thank you,” said D’onny, issuing his customary reply. “Really, thank you. So much, from the bottom of my heart.” He hugged her. Renora wanted to do something, but she didn’t know what it was. Maybe scream.

“Second of all, I probably shouldn’t be, but I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” he asked, his brow furrowed. “For what?”

“For this.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Part 3: Coruscant ~ Chapter 2 - Getting Ready

Elice’s Adventures in the Land of Wonder,” said Renora, eyeing her computer terminal. She and Giddy were crowded into Renora’s quarters, eating a small breakfast of protein compound and a nutrient shake, and taking advantage of the Padawan’s upgraded computer system.

“I was just about to say that,” Giddy commented dryly.

“You were?”

“Oh yes, I always do. It makes for more interesting conversation.”

“If you give me a second to explain it--”

“--then we’ll be here all day.”

“Last I checked, a second doesn’t last all day.”

“Your kind of second is the kind that lasts all day.”

Renora heaved a deeply dramatic sigh. “You wound me, my Master.”

“You’ll live. Now, Elice’s Adventures in the Wonderful Land is the name of the movie premiere Jepp’s going to be at?”

“See, this is exactly why I wanted to explain it. It’s called Elice’s Adventures in the Land of Wonder, and it’s about--”

“A girl named Elice who goes to a land of wonder?”

Taking a swig of her nutrient shake, Renora tapped a few keys on her console. “Should I assume you’ve seen the original film, or should I assume that you’ve contrived this summary from the self-explanatory title?”

“Never assume anything.”

“I was about to say that.”

“You were?” asked Giddy, crossing her arms.

“Oh yes, I always do. Makes for more interesting conversation.”

“You wound me, my Padawan.”

“That makes two of us.”

“What?” laughed Giddy. “Stop changing the subject and tell me about this premiere.”

“All right, let me see.” Renora scanned the computer screen, using her extensive memory and perceptiveness, honed with practice and the powers of the Force, to quickly scroll through large blocks of text. “The premiere is this afternoon at thirteen hundred hours, Coruscant time. It’s going to be about four hours long, give or take. Expect everybody who’s nobody to arrive early, and everybody who’s somebody to arrive late. That means that jerk Carth Jarrin and his Twi’lek “companion,” Delrayia, are going to show up three hours before it starts so they can pass out autographs like they’re drinking water, chat up their adoring fans, and strike embarrassing poses on the blue carpet so their pictures will as plastered as they are -- all over the Coruscant Daily, that is.”

“Is that what you’re reading?”

“No, that’s personal experience. War-seasoned, battle-hardened, combat-tested personal experience.”

“Years of it, I’m sure.”

“Decades.”

“Just the facts, please.”

“Yes, officer. My highly educated and soon-to-be-proven extremely accurate guess is that D’onny will be there at about thirteen thirty.”

“That’s only thirty minutes late. He’s not somebody enough to be as late as the real somebodies?”

“He’s somebody, all right. That’s why he can afford to get there at any time he wants, without having to look over his shoulder to see if they’re analyzing why he chose that precise hour, minute, second, millisecond, and femtosecond to arrive.”

“Femtosecond?”

“One to the power of fifteen.”

“I feel so enlightened.”

“And I feel so empowered by my ability to enlighten you.”

“Let’s talk about security,” said Giddy, her eyes half closed in concentration. Renora could never fathom her Master’s extraordinary ability to switch from weightless banter to dead seriousness faster than an X-Wing could make the jump to light speed. Perhaps it was an acquired skill. One that Renora had yet to acquire.

“Standard agency guards. But there’ll be a lot of them.”

“Each actor will have one?”

“Yeah, at least one. Let’s say we’ve got seven main holostars, with about five bodyguards each. And toss the director in there. So eight guys with five each. Approximately forty. I’d say seventy, just to be safe.”

“Seventy? Who do they think they’re protecting, the Emperor?”

“Last I checked, the Emperor doesn’t stand the risk of being trampled to death by a marauding stampede of screaming teenaged girls.”

“Jepp’s too old for teenaged girls.”

“So is the Emperor,” said Renora, flashing a grin.

“So am I,” sighed Giddy.

“There’s a teenaged girl after you?”

“There’s a teenaged girl after my nerves.”

Renora laughed, tossing the remains of her breakfast into the garbage shoot and brushing specks of food that managed to be both offending and invisible off her robes.

“Will you answer a question for the teenaged girl now?” she asked

“Only if she asks nicely.”

“I beseech you, my Master--”

“Now that’s going a bit far,” said Giddy, a smile crossing her lips.

“Really, Master. What are we going to do? Skip in there, bust up the premiere, and kidnap Jepp?”

“Padawan,” said Giddy, her Renora-directed gaze infused with perfect disapproval. “Did you really think that’s what we were going to do? Did you honestly believe that was the master plan?”

Faltering slightly, Renora replied, “Um…as a matter of fact, yes. I did.”

“Well, you’re wrong, my apprentice. We’re not going to do that at all.”

“We’re not?”

“No. You are. Alone.”

=========================


“Son of a karking murglak’s brother’s kriffing Twi’lek mother,” muttered Renora.

“Check your connection,” Giddy’s muffled voice ordered from the commlink embedded in Renora’s eardrum. “I’m getting some static on this end.”

“Ha ha, very funny, Master.”

“Do I detect some tension from you, Padawan?”

“Why, Master, whatever gave you that idea?”

“Look up.”

“What?” asked Renora.

“Look. Up.”

Renora looked up, as per Master Giddy’s instructions. An enclosed, four-seater speeder with a blaringly loud, frighteningly obnoxious red exterior passed directly overhead.

“Please tell me that’s not the getaway car,” murmured Renora.

“I’ll tell you, but it won’t be true.”

“Can I tell you how unwise that is?”

“You can tell me, but it won’t be true.”

“Can you tell me why?”

“No.”

Renora took a deep breath that was supposed to be calming, but ended up something like a strangled gasp. “Okay.”

“Are you ready?” asked Gidrea, managing to sound both urgent and reserved.’

“I’m ready.”

“Then go for it. You can reach me by comm, but keep the chatter to a minimum. We don’t want anyone to think you’re talking to yourself.”

“Right, right, they might think I’m crazy. Which I’m obviously not.”

Giddy had deposited her protesting Padawan within visual distance of the premiere, so that Renora could approach easily and without drawing the negative attentions of frenzied fans or stressed security officers. At about twelve hundred hours, an hour before the premiere event, the area was as organized, tranquil, and focused as a massacre. And as quiet, fragrant, and joyful as a battle.

Just as she had suspected, the presence of security personnel was visible but not oppressive. She touched the blue-uniformed sleeve of a young human man with blond, buzz-cut hair, and a smattering of pimples across his cheeks and ill-shaven chin. Definitely not a professional. This might be even easier than she and Giddy had planned.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Renora, beaming cheerfully. “Where’s the nearest ’fresher?”

“Right over there, ma’am,” said the officer, flashing a gap-toothed grin and pointing to Renora’s left.

“Thank you,” said Renora, turning away.

“Of course, ma’am. Uh, is this your first time at a premiere?”

“Be nice to him,” said Giddy. “Don’t tick him off.”

“No, actually, it isn’t. I’ve been to quite a few. I always make a point of attending one or two a year.”

“I said be nice, not show off,” Giddy grumbled.

“One or two a year? You don’t even look old enough to be at this one unaccompanied by a…uh…what’s it called?…a guardian.”

“All right, go ahead and tick him off,” said Gidrea.

“I’m old enough,” said Renora defiantly.

“Really?” he asked, flashing those disgusting teeth.

“Eject, eject,” said Giddy.

“Yes, really. Now, please excuse me.”

“Wait, uh, I’m Lari, and I’m a guard here.”

“Hold on a second, he might have information we’ll need,” whispered Giddy.

It took a supreme effort of will for Renora to muffle her retort.

“Hi, Lari. I’m Jarael.”

“Jarael, yeah. I’m Lari.”

“Idiot,” Giddy laughed.

“Lari?” asked Renora, touching his sleeve again. “Do you think you could get me in to see Jepp before the premiere starts?”

“Uh, I don’t know about that, ma’am.”

“Please?” pressed Renora, lining her words with the power of the Force.

“Certainly I could. My brother’s one of his bodyguards. Come and find me near the south exit in twenty minutes, and I’ll get you in.”

“Good work, Padawan.”

“Thank you,” said Renora, allowing herself a half-smirk of victory.

“Sure, sure. Enjoy the event!”

“I will! Kriffing idiot,” she added under her breath.

“That’s not a nice thing to say,” said Giddy.

“I must’ve missed my classes on sensitivity.”

The ’fresher was deserted, its single light flickering to a pace not dissimilar to the beating of Renora’s heart. She pulled off the carefully neutral and unmemorable pants and shirt she had worn to the event, wincing at the cloying, gallingly fashionable clothing underneath. Designer pants, designer shoes, designer jacket. Renora was beginning to get a designer migraine.

“So, how do you look?”

“I can’t believe people actually dress like this,” said Renora.

“You can’t believe it, or you refuse to believe it?”

“Both.”

“But you like the shirt.”

Renora admired the shirt in a conveniently supplied mirror, splattered with inconveniently supplied graffiti sporting Huttese swear words. The black shirt said simply “Jepp,” with a red heart around it.

“It gets the message across,” said Renora.

“Ready to kidnap your dearly beloved?”

“I have a package to deliver first.”

“And then?”

“And then,” said Renora, grinning fiercely, “I get to do what I’ve always wanted.”

“What’s that?”

“See D’onny Jepp, of course. Up close and personal.”