For the first time in a very long time, Carth could look upon a person without any suspicion or distrust. He looked at his partner in travel and in combat, Karalina Jade, and said, "I… I think I could love you, if you'll give me a chance."
Karalina smiled, slowly and tentatively, and replied, "I think I could love you, too, Carth."
Carth's face burst into a huge grin. He could scarcely believe that something good was finally happening to him. He noticed, though, that Karalina's face had an odd look on it. He could not quite place it, but it was not characteristically, well… her.
"Ah… are you all right?"
"Nope, I'm fine," she replied. But something was definitely odd. Her accent and inflection had changed, as had the timbre of her voice. It was slight, but noticeable.
"Are you sure?"
Karalina rolled her eyes and sighed. "The programmers really did make you the distrustful sort, didn't they?"
Click, snap. "You're not Karalina."
"Oh, yes I am. More than you know. Your problem is that you didn't really know her. Nor are you really supposed to… I, eh… messed with the source code." She looked slightly abashed, and grinned sheepishly. "You're a computer program and, well… I'm the end user."
"Wait a minute, end user? What kind of a title is that?"
She shrugged. "It's simple enough, though I guess it might be a little shattering to your reality to know that you're a computer game, albeit a very well-written and high quality one. All it means is that everything around us, including me at the moment, is a whole bunch of code. And I'm the one manipulating it."
"So what you're saying is you can change anything in here."
"Well, to a certain extent, yes. I'm a little shaky on some things though, so I try not to make drastic changes." She looked around the cockpit of the Hawk for a second. "For instance, I could make the cockpit purple."
Carth looked at her incredulously. This was a side to Karalina he'd not seen, though he was beginning to think it was a side he'd rather have stayed secret. Even as he thought this, the interior of the cockpit turned a brilliant violet.
She looked around, seemingly quite pleased with her handiwork. "There, that's much better."
"You have a problem with purple things?"
"Only when they're taking over the cockpit!"
She looked mildly annoyed, sighed, and then the cockpit turned back to normal. "You're really no fun, you know that?"
"Yeah, I'm a real big killjoy. I go around shooting gizka, too."
Karalina grinned, and got that mischievous twinkle in her eye he'd grown to rather like. Pah, who was he kidding? He loved it, and just about everyone knew it.
"You know, I didn't come here just to trade insults with you. The program will let me do that without my intervention."
"So, Ms. Karalina 'End User' Jade, why do you grace me with your presence?"
"It's quite simple, really." She gave a half-smirk. "You're entirely unromantic, and I've decided that needs to change."
"I'm- what? What do you mean by that?"
"Flowers, Carth. Did it ever occur to you that I might like flowers?"
"Where am I going to find flowers on a spaceship?"
She paused to consider this. "Point taken. However, you're not off the hook. Did you know, that if I were a guy, I'd get Bastila to fall for me, and she'd actually kiss me. I don't even get so much as a hug."
"But you're not a guy."
"You're missing the point, Mr. Onasi. And it's not even really your fault, I suppose. But I thought I'd give you fair warning before I fix what the writers so incompetently left out."
He raised an eyebrow. Karalina did have some technical proficiency, both with slicing and repair, but somehow he was feeling a little uneasy about her newfound resolution. But she was nothing if not stubborn, and he knew that look. As much as he was aware that she was behaving slightly differently from the norm, she was much as she ever was.
"Would you care to run by me again who exactly you are, and what you're doing here?"
She smiled. "Absolutely. Let me give you the setup- this, all around us, is a computer game. An RPG, or role-playing game, to be specific. This means that the end user, that's me," she took a slight bow, "is in control of the events of the game. I built this character, and I chose all her responses from a bank of prewritten answers."
"So all this time, when I was talking to you, it wasn't really Karalina, it was you."
"Well, yes, I suppose. But I'll admit there were few times when there weren't responses that I wouldn't actually say, at least to you. So, in a way, you've known me as the end user this entire time. It's a sort of meta-existence." She shrugged. "But it's true that the real me, sitting behind the terminal, is not really a soldier, or a Jedi. Just a computer science major with a big imagination and a love for a good story."
Carth paused to let this sink in. It was certainly a turn of events he had not expected, and his automatic reflex was to distrust her. She seemed to sense this, though.
"You know, I worked darn hard to get your trust throughout this game. I had no idea the development team programmed you with such a robust distrust algorithm." She crossed her arms. "I'm not quite what you expected, and now you think I'm going to, oh, I don't know… make pink elephants storm the Ebon Hawk. I'm not going to, you know. I'm just going to tweak the story so it's more realistic. And I thought I'd at least tell you, first."
A voice whispered in the back of his head. Trust is always an act of faith, Carth. He looked at her, and could see in her expression, in her eyes, that she really meant him no harm, and that turning the cockpit purple was the worst she was likely to do.
"All right… do what you like. Just don't turn the ship purple again."
Karalina grinned. "I can definitely comply. Don't worry, I'll just take a moment." She faded from the cockpit, and he could only assume that she, the end user, was tweaking something or other.
After about a half hour of waiting, he was getting nervous. They did, after all, need her to complete the mission, and the Sith fleet wasn't getting any smaller. He looked around, and said to the thin air, "Are you about done in there?"
Just then, everything went black.
Carth heard Karalina's voice in the darkness. "What was that?"
"Um, well…" she sounded a bit sheepish. "It looks like I segfaulted."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I crashed the code."
"And how long will it take to fix this?"
"Well, it depends."
"On how big my mistake was, and how long it takes to figure out what that mistake is."
"Are we going to be here for a while?"
"But no purple?"
"Nope. And no pink elephants, either."
"Well," Carth sighed. "At least there aren't more gizka."