There Was Another
NOTE: Set some 27 years before "Eye of the Storm."
"You three weren't the first, you know… there were others." – Darth Quinzain in "A Midsummer Night's Chaos"
Location – Star City, Colorado. Date – June 4th, 1977. Population – roughly 900 and dropping daily. A dying small town whose economy hinged on the meager income White Deer National Park and a few downtown historical buildings provided. Remote, secluded, and mostly ignored by the rest of the state, it had been hard-hit by the economic downturn of the decade and was already starting to decay.
The newcomer knew none of this… but it would have made little difference to him anyhow. Such details were most likely inconsequential to his mission.
Pulling his hood further over his horn-crowned scalp, he slipped from the trees as silently as a wraith, gliding from shadow to shadow in the rapidly dimming dusklight. His yellow eyes roved over the aging paint of the houses, the vacant windows of the businesses, absorbing any details that might aid him here. The few people who walked the streets at this hour offered the black-robed being curious glances, but a few not-so-subtle nudges of the dark side turned their attentions firmly away. He could not attract more attention than necessary – a considerable challenge, considering he was most likely the only Zabrak on an exclusively human-populated world, but then, he enjoyed a challenge.
Darth Maul slipped quietly into an alley behind a seedy diner named the Leapfrog, pulled his sleeve back, and quietly flipped on the wrist holo.
A ghostly, handspan-tall image of his master flickered to life. "What is it?"
"I have arrived in Area 51, my Master," Maul murmured. "My presence is undiscovered. I am ready to receive further instructions."
"Excellent," Sidious purred, a slight smirk on his face. "There is a great disturbance in the Force on this planet. You will investigate it at the source and inform me of your findings. We must know whether we can use this to our advantage, or whether it will be an obstacle in our plans."
"I will not fail you, my Master."
"Failure?" Sidious laughed wickedly. "There is no such word as failure, my apprentice. Remember that."
Maul nodded once in reply as the holo faded.
"Hey mister, who you talkin' to?"
Maul revolved slowly in place to face two young boys. Both were scrawny excuses even for such young pups, and both wore ragged worn jeans and Rocky T-shirts. One had black hair and striking blue eyes and looked to be no older than four or five; the other had brown coloration in both areas and seemed around twelve. And both gaped in horror as they caught a glimpse of the Sith's tattooed face and fearsome glare.
Maul smiled. He enjoyed striking fear into the hearts of any he encountered, even if they were only stupid children.
He curled his lip in a snarl, just for added effect. It worked beautifully – both boys fled, shrieking, into the dimming evening.
He emerged from the alley and walked on. This sector of space was alleged to be the most dangerous in the galaxy – ships were rumored to enter and never return, or were later found abandoned or their occupants driven mad. Few enough braved this place, and fewer still lived to tell about it. And for the most part no organization, not even the Jedi or the Sith, had attempted to solve its mysteries.
But when Darth Sidious, the current Sith Master, had sensed a divergence in the Force centered on this planet, he had judged it too important to ignore. And so he had sent his apprentice.
The streets were quiet, perfect for Maul's needs. He would be relatively undisturbed on his mission. Was all the planet this tranquil, or had the dark side simply guided him to a peaceful area of the planet…
When he turned the corner, however, he found anything but quiet.
A queue line of several dozen, perhaps a hundred, people poured down the street, a living river that coursed toward a single building – a small theater from the look of it. Excited chatter, disdainful mutters, shrieks of delight from the children, laughter, curses… it rang in his ears and grated upon his nerves. How was one supposed to think with all this blasted noise?
The two boys he'd terrified earlier stood at the end of the line, and upon seeing him the younger burst into tears while the older pointed and begged for his mom to have a look.
"Mom, Mom, it's the Satan guy again! Look at his eyes…"
"Ryan O'Brian, you know better than that!" his mother snapped. "It's just plain rude…"
"Are you sure it's a good idea for the boys to see this, Janet?" the mother of the other boy asked worriedly, lifting her son and patting his back. "I know my Austin's a sensitive boy…"
"What with the state of the world today, Maureen, it's mild compared to what they see on the news," Janet retorted, snagging Ryan's shirt collar to prevent him from escaping her sight.
"All I can say is this 'Star Wars' bull-honkie'd better blow over quick," complained an older man ahead of the two women, who was obviously there only to chaperone his own sons. "Bunch of nonsense if you ask me…"
What are they talking about? Maul wondered.
"Finally, line's moving!" muttered a teenager whose hair looked as if he'd stuck his tongue in a power coupling. "I hear Hank in Denver, he stood in line for seven hours to see this movie…"
Intrigued by now, Maul cut discreetly in line about halfway up, silencing the irate complaint of the person behind him with a jab of the dark side. What exactly was this phenomenon that had people willing to wait hours to witness it? And did it have anything to do with his mission?
At the head of the line, something else piqued his curiosity – a flat image of some kind upon the wall. In the foreground was shown a young man and woman, the former holding a blazing lightsaber to the sky like a torch, the latter clad in a white dress, posing in a seductive manner, and firing a blaster at the ground for some unevident reason. Slightly behind them in the right-hand corner, a gold protocol droid and some kind of astromech unit were visible. To the left, starships of a type he was unfamiliar with streaked skyward. In the background loomed a foreboding black visage… some kind of alien skull? A wickedly designed droid? A mask, perhaps? And emblazoned at the bottom of the image in Old Basic script were two words in a queer block print – STAR WARS.
A holovid or some equivalent, he reasoned. With elements of our own world incorporated into it. Odd. He had always been under the impression that no contact had been made with this world yet. Which meant one of two things – someone had risked a landing on this planet and was trying to educate these backward people…
…or this was the source of the divergence in the Force.
He bypassed the ticket seller, clouding his mind and the minds of the next few in line to cover up the fact that he hadn't paid admission, and found a seat in the back of the theater, between a snoozing old man and a teenage couple who seemed more interested in some preliminary mating ritual than in the screen. Whatever this Star Wars was, it bore closer scrutiny. If nothing else, it would tell him just how much these people knew of the goings-on beyond their pathetic backwater.
What he learned… was interesting.
The sound in this theater was horrible, completely out of sync with the character's lips, and his ability to listen was made all the worse by the snoring, cooing, and kissing of those on either side of him. But he heard – and saw – enough to tell him that this was the source of the divergence. For the galaxy it depicted was not the galaxy he was familiar with.
If anything… it seemed to speak of the future. For it told of a time with no Jedi Knights, save one. It bespoke the era of the Sith's rule, even though the Order was never mentioned by name. And it portrayed a Sith whom Maul had never heard of or read of in the Archives – one Darth Vader.
Quite frankly, this Vader impressed Maul. He was ruthless, cunning, and efficient, a wicked warrior and a strong leader. He wasted no pity on the weak, no mercy on the incompetent. His fearsome and commanding presence, made all the more terrifying by the fact that he seemed to be partially machine, was not lost on even this Force-blind audience – they gasped and sighed in awe at his very appearance, and some even cheered when he telekinetically throttled an arrogant officer who had the nerve to insult him.
And the Death Star… his Master had, of course, ordered the Geonosians to begin researching an ultimate weapon. Perhaps this was the fruits of their research? It was an impressive piece of work; too bad it was so easily destroyed…
Vader… there was something about this Vader. There had never been a Darth Vader in the history of the Sith. And Maul was positive it could not be himself in the armor.
That led to one conclusion – this was Maul's apprentice.
He felt a dark smile cross his lips. So this WAS the future, then. This was a time when he would take on the mantle of Master – and eventually Emperor – from Sidious. This was a time when HE would rule the galaxy, when HE would govern the Sith Order… and with it, the galaxy. And it would be HIS apprentice that struck down the Jedi Order once and for all… and at Maul's command.
The very thought of it filled him with a savage joy.
People were filing out of the theater now, and he slipped, mostly unnoticed, into the throng. The other moviegoers were too excited by what they had viewed to pay attention to even his strange appearance. So much the better.
Maul strode swiftly down the streets of Star City and to the forest where his ship waited, at the same time reviewing the path that had been laid before him. He would have to report to Sidious, of course… but it would be a carefully presented report indeed. After all, he hadn't found the creator of this Star Wars, so thus, he hadn't discovered the source of the divergence, had he?
The Apprentice overthrows the Master in the end. That had always been the way of the Sith. Sidious had murdered his own master in his sleep. Sidious' master had, in turn, defeated his own master in a treacherous duel, and she, in turn, had trapped her master in a collapsing tunnel to ensure her own ascension. Sooner or later, Maul would kill Sidious, and he would have his rightful title of Master.
And then I will find this Vader… and I will see to that thermal exhaust port and that slippery Kenobi…
A year later, of course, Maul would be very surprised to find his grandiose plans cut short by the saber of the "slippery Kenobi."
Three years after that, a few creative souls would put their heads together to create the ultimate Star Wars party… and consequently save Star City's economy.
And twenty years after THAT, as the Vader's Elite fan club viewed a midnight showing of "Episode I," Austin Owen Powers and Ryan "Sparky" O'Brian would wonder why on Earth they both kept getting the willies whenever Darth Maul showed his face onscreen.