"Damn. That's rough."
"Rough, but necessary."
"My mind is currently in ambivalent conflict. I didn't want him to die, but on the other hand, I can't imagine it being any other way."
"Remember Titanic? I have a theory as to why it was so popular to teenage girls in the late 1990's."
"And what's that?"
"When Lovejoy framed Jack for stealing the diamond necklace, Rose protested that she had been with him the entire time, but her claim was countered in that he could have taken it while she had been putting her clothes back on. Jack was arrested, but she could have stood up for him further, yet she remained silent. They lived for that one moment in that if she had, they might have been able to catch a lifeboat before the ship sunk and the story would have had a happy ending. In that one moment, they imagined themselves in Rose's situation and pictured themselves standing up for Jack."
"That's different though. There was no magic moment here where there could have been a different outcome. She couldn't have saved him even though she desperately wanted to."
"I'm talking about the theme. The same theme that made stories like Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, a Walk to Remember, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca and V for Vendetta so memorable."
"The Impossible Relationship. In which not where the guy gets the girl, but that no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, they just can't be together, either due to their own issues or the fact that there's an impenetrable force that keeps them apart."
"I understand. But to me it felt more like a Greek tragedy. Your apprentice most certainly thinks so. She's been sobbing her eyes out for hours."
"I'll help her when she gets out and so will her friends."
"Speaking of which, everyone there knows why Star Wars was nearly shut down, but she doesn't. She'll figure out that she was being monitored."
"Dr. Anderson and I already discussed it. Even If I hadn't been monitoring her, the reality goes on alert when the canon plot is in severe danger of being corrupted."
"Ah. A half truth. Clever. And it makes it all the more convenient for us."
"Of course. I chose Star Wars for her because I knew it was the only reality that could truly test her."
"And, what's your analysis?"
"If I were Achilles of Ender's Shadow, I would say that the universe has bent to my will to give me the perfect results."
"But you know better than that. Oh, and I've just been informed that the prototype is almost done. Madison's just putting the finishing touches on it. We'll be doing several more trials to see how much we can alter it to different capacities."
"How long do you think that would take?"
"I'd say about two years."
"Good. She'll be done with Revenge of Sith by then."
"Have you decided on a reality?"
"I was planning on waiting after she finished Attack of the Clones, but The Phantom Menace has told me what I needed to know. My list has been successfully narrowed down to one."
Their mission complete, Bravo Squadron returned to the central hanger. Ric Olie climbed out of his ship to join his fellows who were discussing the astonishing victory they had all just witnessed.
"Can someone please tell me what the hell happened up there?" Bravo Three demanded.
"That pilot…" Bravo Two muttered. "he was either a genius or a lunatic. He flew into the Control Ship's hold just as Federation droid starfighters were leaving. They have to lower the hanger bay shields just long enough for the ships to leave. That shield could only have been down for a second! Then he made his way into the battle ship's interior and blasted the main reactor…"
Bravo Three shook his head and whistled. "Amazing. They don't teach that at the academy."
"Look," Bravo Two pointed to a docking starfighter. "Here comes our mystery hero now."
Ric frowned. "Well, we're all accounted for, both dead and alive. Who flew that ship?"
They all exchanged looks of confusion and went over to the ship. The cockpit opened revealing…
"Hi," Anakin Skywalker smiled sheepishly at the stunned faces around him.
"You blew up that battleship…?"
"A little boy…"
"Um…" his smile faded to nervousness. "I'm not gonna get into any trouble, am I?"
"Trouble?" Ric echoed his voice hoarse with wonder. "Kid you may be the greatest hero I've ever known." he helped Anakin out of the cockpit. "I can't wait to see the Queen's face when I tell her."
"What about the others?" the boy looked suddenly worried. "Qui-Gon, Padme, Harlene…?"
"The Queen's at the palace with Panaka. I imagine the Jedi are there as well. And you don't have to be concerned about the Obser--what's wrong?"
"I--," dread suddenly filled Anakin's eyes. "I…something's wrong…"
"What?" Ric said incredulously. "What do you mean? The droids are finished. We won."
"No…not the droids. I can't place…"
Ric's comlink suddenly beeped. "Hang on, Anakin. Captain Olie here."
It was the Queen. "Ric do you see any sign of the Jedi in the hanger? I've been unable to get into contact with them."
"No, your highness, I--," a hand began pulling frantically at his sleeve.
"Ric, what's beyond that door?" Anakin's dread had grown to full-fledged panic.
"Its just the power generator where we channel plasma energy, but its not running right now…where are you going?"
As if in a trance, Anakin began to slowly walk toward the door, but he eventually broke into a full-fledged run.
"Its…its too late," Qui-Gon's weakening labored breaths tore through Obi-Wan like a lightsaber.
"No…" He choked down a sob that was threatening to rise.
"Obi-Wan…now…you must be ready…whether you feel you are or not…you must be the teacher…promise me…promise me you'll train the boy…"
"Yes, master," Obi-Wan struggled to speak through his tears.
Qui-Gon smiled and gently touched his face. "He is…the chosen one…he will bring balance…train him well…"
The Jedi Master gave a final sigh and went limp in Obi-Wan's arms. The young Jedi sobbed brokenly while cradling his Master's head.
"There they are!"
He looked up and saw Anakin Skywalker along with Ric Olie and several Naboo pilots behind the laser gates. Ric deactivated them and Anakin ran up his face contorting in horror when he saw Qui-Gon's lifeless body.
The boy grabbed the Jedi Master's arm. "He can't be…I have to…"
"He's gone," Obi-Wan whispered.
"But I understand now!" Anakin protested frantically. "I understand what he told me! I feel the power. I can heal him--,"
"Its too late."
Anakin gave a primal scream and grabbed Obi-Wan by the front of his tunic. "SHOW ME HOW TO HEAL HIM!"
"I--I can't. Anakin he's gone."
The boy lost it. He beat hysterically against Obi-Wan's chest, snarling and growling. The young Jedi held him tight.
"Show me…you know how…show me…h-how t-to…"
The fight went out of him and he collapsed against Obi-Wan, sobbing and wailing in grief.
"By all the gods in the galaxy," Ric whispered. "I can't say how sorry I am. Pilots take…take the Jedi Master's body and carry him to the speeder. Show him the same respect you would the Queen."
The pilots saluted and obliged. Obi-Wan looked at Ric while still holding the boy.
"Why is Anakin here with you?"
Ric blew out a breath of air. "He's…this is gonna sound incredible…he blew up the droid control ship."
"What!?" Obi-Wan exclaimed stunned. He looked down. "Anakin…you did that?"
"Yeah…" his voice was muffled and broken in Obi-Wan's chest. "For all the good it did Qui-Gon…"
"How did you do that?" Obi-Wan whispered.
"The Force. Just like Qui-Gon told me. I used the Force the destroy the ship."
Amazement rippled through Obi-Wan. "You did? I…yes. Yes, I sense truth in your words."
"There's a speeder waiting," Ric said. "I'll…I'll leave you two alone for now."
Obi-Wan nodded and Ric walked away. Anakin sniffled and tried to pull himself together.
"Easy, Anakin," Obi-Wan said soothingly. "Its okay to grieve."
The boy pulled away and looked up at him. His face was pale and smeared with tears, but carried a pleading desperation.
"Obi-Wan…I want to stay with you…I can't go back to being a slave, I have nowhere else to go…"
Obi-Wan wasn't sure exactly what happened, but he felt something change inside of him at Anakin's words. He held the boy close to him and whispered, "I…I don't know if that's possible, Anakin. But if there's a way…any way…to make that happen…I swear I'll find it…"
Resignation to a grim fate was something Nute Gunray thought he would never feel, but as he and Rune Haako sat in a dungeon cell on Naboo awaiting Republic arrest, he discovered he felt too shocked and worn to give anxiety any notice.
He wasn't sure exactly how it happened, but the Queen and her guards had managed to infiltrate the palace and take him and Rune hostage. The droids had been on their way to rescue them, but then the Queen received a report from her chief pilot that the Control Ship had been destroyed. And Darth Maul proved to be no help. He had managed to kill one of the two Jedi, but the other had survived and killed Maul in turn.
The Observer had been right about one thing: when you sell your soul to the devil, you become nothing more than an expendable puppet.
"I should have known," Nute said in a broken whisper. "I should have studied galactic history more carefully, perhaps. The list of those the Sith used and then abandoned probably stretches from here to the Unknown Regions. And now we're the latest entry."
"I warned you something like this would happen," Rune muttered. "But no, you wouldn't listen to me. You could think of nothing but stuffing your pockets. And now look where we are!"
"Shut up!" Nute snapped. "No one held a blaster to your head! You could have refused to help!"
"And ended up just like Hath Monchar did--dead!"
Nute gave a shuddering sigh. "I'd think I'd almost prefer the Queen have us killed here and now. At least it would be quick. Better than what Lord Sidious has in mind for us…"
The sound of approaching footsteps suddenly rang through the silence. A Naboo guard.
"It looks like you're about to get your wish," Rune said grimly.
The guard deactivated the laser gate and entered the cell. Nute shrank back in fear.
"Please…do not hurt us…"
"I'm not, unfortunately," the guard said coldly. "I've been ordered to leave this here."
He dropped a holotransmitter on the ground.
"Who ordered you to leave this?" Rune asked.
"I think you already know. I'll be outside the cell. Call me when you're done," he exited, reactivating the laser wall.
Rune and Nute stared at the small device with a mixture of dread and awe.
"The Sith's reach is even longer than I imagined," Nute whispered. "Is there nothing he has not anticipated…?"
"A Naboo guard no less," Rune said. "Astonishing…"
With a trembling hand, Nute activated the device. And sure enough a small holo of Darth Sidious materialized.
"You know what has happened here," Nute said in a doomed monotone.
Gathering up his courage, Nute blurted out. "Get it over with then. I am resigned to whatever you have in store for me."
"You misunderstand," Sidious said coolly. "I have no punishment in store for either of you."
"What!?" Rune exclaimed.
Nute didn't feel the slightest bit mollified. "You will abandon us then, to face the Republic courts?"
"No. What happened here was only a setback."
Nute gaped. He couldn't believe it. They were going to live!?
"A setback…!?" he echoed incredulously.
"What happened was not your fault. It was Captain Dofine's incompetence. He is now dead, and I had already gotten what I had wanted."
"What of the death of your apprentice?" Nute questioned.
"My apprentice?" Sidious's voice carried a contemptuous sneer. "He was my tool. An effective tool, but a disposable tool nonetheless. I had already foreseen his death at the hands of the Jedi before I sent him to Naboo. He had allowed himself to become pathetically tainted in a way that I have no doubt would eventually have led to the disgusting emotions of the Light."
"'Tainted', my lord?" Nute asked, confused.
"Yes, I believe you met her once or twice during your occupation on Naboo."
Realization dawned on Nute when his face throbbed painfully where Maul had struck him, and when he recalled that blistering hatred on his face after he had grabbed the Observer.
"Judging from the looks on your faces, I take it you understand what I mean. Besides it is beyond your puny power to destroy a tool like Maul. That was the Jedi. His death at their hands was also a necessary step to my plans."
"But…how can we continue to aid you?" Rune said. "We are facing certain death at the Republic courts…"
"Oh, the Federation will be penalized," Sidious waved a casual hand. "That is unavoidable. But I have already made arrangements in the courts. Neither of you will be seriously punished."
It took Nute a moment to absorb what he was being told. When he could speak again, his voice was hesitant. "It is almost too good to be true…"
"You still have friends. Both in and out of the Senate. They will be quick to help exonerate you."
"But then what?" Nute demanded. "The Trade Federation in ruined! We will lose our trade franchise. Our weapons and droids will be stripped from us--,"
"Ah," the wicked smile in the Sith's voice was clear. "But that was part of my plan all along."
"Yes. With the Federation removed from the Outer Rim, you see, the Republic will be forced to move in and take over intergalactic trade directly in those routes."
Rune nodded. "Yes, that follows."
"They will have to build up their military accordingly. That will make independent parties in the region very unhappy, as well as commercial interests the galaxy over."
Understanding was beginning to dawn on Nute. "And the planetary governments, they would revolt against being under such a heavy yoke. But that would lead to open conflict! Perhaps even…civil war…"
"Of course," Rune whispered. "What else would a Sith be interested in?"
Darth Sidious spoke. "A war that will see the end of the Republic itself, and the rise of a new order, lead by myself. An order you could have a place in, as you can rightfully claim to be the first victims of the Republic's oppression."
All of Nute's anxiety was gone now to be replaced with anticipation. He thought furiously. "You would need an army. And we have seen how useless the battle droids were--,"
"The droids can be improved. And…I have made other arrangements as well."
"So…" Nute said hopefully. "We get our freedom back, and aid you in this…in return for our lives and…"
"Unlimited wealth and power."
"My lord," Rune said in an awed whisper. "We owe you…"
"Everything." Darth Sidious finished.
"Yes," Nute sobered quickly. "When do we begin?"
"Be patient. First I must finish laying the groundwork for the next phase of my plan. That will take several years. But when the time comes, the entire galaxy will tremble before us."
The hologram faded. Rune let out an enormous sigh and leaned back.
"You know," he said. "I just may be tempted to apologize to you someday."
Nute wasn't listening. Already his mind was swimming in blissful fantasies. But not just of wealth and power.
Padme Amidala who humiliated him in her throne room.
Harlene Ballantine who had taunted and tormented him and made that monstrous creature beat him…
This isn't over, you two little brats. Once Lord Sidious's plan comes to fruition, you both are mine…
Your mission is complete. Leave whenever you wish.
"Fuck you." Harlene spat at the voice of the interface as she stared at the night shadows falling on the expansion of Naboo's forests from her perch on a mountain. She wasn't sure how long she had cried and cursed God, the interface, and herself, but eventually her mind decided for itself that enough was enough.
(think without fear child)
She didn't want to be here any longer. She wouldn't stay for Qui-Gon's funeral and she sure as hell wouldn't stay for that fucking joke of a celebration that would be held in two days. She wanted to go home right now.
(not yet Error Corrector you need to say good-bye to someone first)
However, she had one more thing to take care. Teleporting to the guest chambers the Queen had given him, Harlene softly knocked on the door.
A few seconds later, it slid open revealing a shocked Anakin Skywalker.
She smiled. "Hey, there."
"What took you so long?" he stepped aside to allow her to enter and shut the door. "I've been asking around for you, but they all said they didn't know where you were. I thought something had happened to you!"
He was looking at her with a mix of relief and indignation. It almost made her chuckle.
"I'm sorry, Anakin. I would have come sooner, but I was held up."
"Oh. Well, at least you're here now," his shoulders suddenly slumped and a weary, sad look entered his eyes. "Qui-Gon's dead."
She nodded seriously. "I know."
"That monster killed him," her eyes flashed, but he didn't notice. "I should have been here! I don't care what Obi-Wan says--,"
"Anakin!" Harlene snapped. "Enough. You can't blame yourself for things that are beyond your control. Right now you're torturing yourself unnecessarily, and that's the last thing Qui-Gon would want."
(like you're doing child?)
"Besides," her voice softened and she touched his face. "From what I heard it was because of you that Naboo is safe now. Even if you had been with Qui-Gon, even if you could have helped him, the droids would have killed countless Naboo and Gungans. Padme would have died if you hadn't destroyed the Control Ship. The droids were about to kill her and her group when they shut down."
The pain in his eyes lessened, but he looked no less tired. "I guess. But I still don't like it."
"I…" he shifted. "I don't know what's gonna happen to me now. Obi-Wan says he'll try to find a way to help me somehow, but…" he trailed off.
"I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again," Harlene put her hands on his shoulders. "The Council will accept you. You will become a Jedi. A very great Jedi. I know it."
New light came to his eyes and he smiled. "Thanks, Harlene."
She shook her head. "You don't need to thank me. I just was stating a fact."
"But it means so much to me," he protested. "How can it not? You believe in me!"
His face was so earnest, she felt her eyes burn. "Anakin…" her voice hitched a bit. "The main reason I came here…well, I came to say good-bye actually."
His eyes widened as if she had slapped him. "Good…bye? You're…leaving? Where?"
She smiled sadly. "My home isn't here, Ani. Its…far away. Very far away. Anakin…I'm not what I appear to be."
He didn't comprehend her last words. "But that doesn't mean we can't see each other again!" he was frantic, almost hysterical. "It doesn't matter how far! I don't care how far! You're not going away forever!" he grabbed her hands, eyes desperate, begging her to deny it. "You can't be going away forever! Please say you're not, please…!"
"I'm not," she said firmly. Without even thinking, she wrapped her arms around him. "I'm not," she repeated quietly.
Anakin shuddered in her embrace, clinging to her tightly. Ambivalence threatened to choke her again but she ignored it.
"Anakin, when I said I was saying good-bye, I meant that I was going home for a little while. But I'll be back. You'll see me again. I promise."
Anakin pulled away from her but didn't fully let go. "How soon? I want to see you again soon…"
(we can visit our realities whenever we want they're like DVDs)
"I…I think you will be seeing me again soon," Harlene found herself saying. "Very soon."
"Great! Hey, when I become a Jedi, Qui-Gon had said I would have my own room. When I'm not training or studying, we can play games and have fun!"
He smiled at her, full of such trust and joy that she actually felt some of the terrible pain that still lingered in her lessen slightly.
"I look forward to it."
They exchanged a good-bye, after which Harlene exited his room and teleported back to the mountain she had been on.
I want to leave here she thought.
Are you certain you wish to leave?
Darth Sidious grimaced when he hung up the receiver. Seeing that heinous greed on the Neimoidians' faces never ceased to disgust him, but the time would come when he would no longer require their services.
The time would come when the galaxy would be his.
He had already foreseen who his future apprentice would be. Collecting him when the time was right would be incredibly satisfying, as would seeing him put every Jedi in the galaxy to slaughter. But for now, he needed a new tool.
The holoprojector suddenly beeped. Sidious answered the call and inwardly smiled when he saw who it was.
Speak of the devil.
"Master Dooku," Sidious said cordially to the tall, elderly Jedi Master. "It has been quite a while. Have you given any thought to my offer?"
"I have," Dooku's posture was flawlessly straight and aristocratic, but Sidious could see the anger radiating off him. "And I have come to the conclusion that the Jedi have been serving a hopelessly corrupt and decaying Republic for decades, and have absolutely no intention of opening their eyes even if the truth is staring them smack in the face. I will join your cause, Lord Sidious."
"Such strong statements, Master Dooku," Sidious mused. "Has some event specific event brought about this change?"
"You know very well my apprentice was killed by that beast of yours yesterday. The Jedi could have sent back-up for him and his Padawan, yet they chose not to."
"You think it was deliberate?"
"Severe ignorance on their part is more like it, yet it is no less forgivable. And it provides even more evidence how blinded by their arrogance they are. Qui-Gon warned them that the Sith have returned, yet they did not believe him. If they had, he would be alive now."
"Indeed. You will join me, Master Dooku? You will become my apprentice?"
"Yes. My resignation from the Jedi Order was made official less than half a day ago. The Lost Nineteen is now the Lost Twenty."
"Good. Very good. You have much to learn about the ways of the dark side, Dooku. I foresee that I will very soon put you through a final test that will enable you to embrace it to its fullest potential. Only then, will you become a true Dark Lord of the Sith."
Dooku bowed and the hologram faded out.
Darth Sidious smiled. Dooku was a wealthy, charismatic and politically shrewd man. For Sidious's plans such qualities would vastly outweigh any combat skills Maul had possessed. And there was the added bonus that Dooku was not a young, pathetic little boy who couldn't understand that the only true companion the Sith needed was the dark side of the Force. That had been Maul's fatal mistake: the Observer's companionship held uses, yet he had become needy of it in a way that had nothing to do with those uses.
Sidious thought briefly about the Observer. Despite that he couldn't sense her in the Force, he had seen that she had formed a strong bond with his future apprentice. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he had a strong feeling that her developing relationship with him would play a vital role in the steps the boy would take to embracing the ways of the Sith.
And then, Sidious chuckled, he would give her the proper gratitude she deserved.
Harlene didn't look up when she heard the knock, but she did grimace. Why couldn't they just leave her alone? She knew they meant well, but she just didn't want to talk to anyone now…
"Harlene, I'm coming in whether you like it or not."
Fuck. It was Claire.
Harlene knew she had a card key to her room, so there was nothing she could do to keep her out. Not caring that it was childish, she laid down on her bed and rolled over on her side when Claire entered. Harlene heard her mentor's footsteps approach but didn't move an inch when she reached the edge of the bed.
"I'm putting a stop to the rumors. Jason got what was coming to him. You won't be reprimanded."
"Hey, there, little Sith slut!"
"So, Darth Maul likes baby tits and ass?"
"Did he fuck you? He can't have been gentle. Did you cry when he popped your cherry?"
"Does he have tattoos on his cock also? Bet it must have tasted sour. Or does he even have a cock? He was stripped bare-ass in Marked, but he wore a loin-cloth. Of course, we don't know what it was hiding, if anything. Maybe Sidious got him fixed in more ways than one."
"He lost his loins after Obi-Wan did him in. Did he ask you to give him a good-bye blowjob?"
"Thanks," Harlene rolled onto her back and raised a casual mask, hoping that Claire would leave if she thought nothing was wrong. "Jason's a bastard, anyway. What I really wanted was an excuse to hand him his ass on a platter. I'm glad Noelle left at least him for me."
Claire's eyes narrowed. "Harlene, take off that bullshit mask you've been wearing for the past two days."
"What mask?" Harlene groused.
"Don't insult your own intelligence by telling me lies that you already know I won't believe. You are completely, utterly miserable, and you're hiding like a five-year-old whose afraid of the dark. Take it off, now."
Harlene held her mentor's gaze for a moment before letting down her barriers, fully exposing the haunted grief, hatred and self-loathing in her eyes. Feeling like a hundred years old, she slumped on the bed.
"If you've come by to tell me how pathetic I am, don't bother. I already know."
"I'm not here to gloat, you presumptuous little drama queen," Claire snapped. "I'm here to help you. And you're not pathetic."
"Yes I am," Harlene hissed. "I hid my true feelings from my friends like a coward, and now only when I'm alone in my room do I submit to the urge to wallow in self-pity."
"You're not one to wallow in self-pity, Harlene," Claire said quietly. "Sorrow, maybe. Guilt, maybe. But not self-pity." She sat on the edge of the bed. "Did anyone tell you we nearly had to shut down the reality?"
Harlene looked up sharply. "What?"
Claire raised an eyebrow. "You mean you never stopped to think why everyone knew about your interactions with Maul?"
Harlene stared at her in shock before giving herself several mental kicks. "What happened?" she asked at last. "In the reality, I mean. And how did you find out?"
"It goes on alert when the canon plot is in severe danger of being corrupted. Sidious wasn't happy at all when he found out you were the reason Maul went after the Jedi first on Tatooine and in the process let them and the Queen escape."
"But I wasn't. I just distracted him until the probe droid with Qui-Gon's location came back--,"
"Harlene," there was a seriousness in Claire's voice that was more than enough to silence her. "I know he wanted you to the point of sheer obsession. I know you threatened to leave him. And I know I need say no more than that."
New horror flooded her at the realization. She rolled over on her side so Claire wouldn't see the her tears. She bit her tongue to stop a choking sob.
"What have I done?" she whispered brokenly.
Claire sighed. "Harlene, it wasn't your fault."
"Rule number one of being an Error Corrector," Harlene muttered monotonously. "Never interact with the characters in any way that you could be a distraction to them."
"You were only trying to correct an error."
"Rule number two, never correct errors in any way you could distract the characters--,"
"Fuck the rules, Harlene!"
Harlene's head jerked up in surprise at the vehemence in Claire's tone and that her mentor had grabbed her shoulder. They stared at each other for a moment before a terrible thought occurred to Harlene.
"No," Claire responded quickly. "He was occupied with other political meetings. There was no time."
Relief flooded Harlene in such intensity that she sagged and put a hand to her forehead.
"Thank God," she whispered.
"You did the best you could," Claire's voice was quiet and serious again. "And we didn't have to shut down the reality. You did your job well."
"I did my job well," Harlene mimicked in a sarcastic snarl. "Yeah, I did my fucking job well. And I'm sure you know how well," she sat up violently. "I killed him. I killed him. I held his arm back before he could turn the tables on Obi-Wan. I corrected the fucking error, and I KILLED HIM!"
Her scream echoed off the walls, but Claire looked completely unaffected. In fact she nodded.
Harlene's rage doubled and she nearly hit Claire right then and there. "Don't say that. If you ever say that again--,"
"You should know by know that I would never do such a thing unless I did understand," Claire cut her off coldly. "I was on rather good terms with Sister Carlotta, but when Achilles ordered her assassination, I had to make sure her helicopter was shot down because the interface decided to fuck itself up at that moment."
Harlene froze in shock. All her anger drained out of her, leaving only exhaustion and a deep shame.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as her chin dropped to her chest.
A warm hand caressed her jaw and she looked up to see Claire giving her a gentle forgiving smile. "I know."
Harlene sighed. "I don't even know why I'm so damn miserable." she muttered. "Why should I be miserable over Darth Maul of all people," she snorted his name and her voice rose. "Do you have any idea how many times I had to bite my tongue and use my barriers around him or else I would have said something that would cause him to fly off on a handle? Do you have any idea how many times he infuriated me with his bullshit Sith ideals? He's was a rude, obnoxious, arrogant, pig-headed, fanatical, over-bearing, narrow-minded…jerk!"
Her voice had risen to a yell at the end and she was panting in slight exertion. Once again Claire didn't look the slightest bit affected.
"Yeah. And you loved him."
Harlene gave her a look of sheer outrage.
"I didn't LOVE him! I didn't even like him!"
"They are not the same things, my naïve little apprentice. I saw your interactions," Harlene flinched, but Claire continued. "You didn't resist, you didn't protest, you didn't even move the first time he stroked your hair. Why?"
Harlene bit her lip.
"I don't want to talk about that now."
"Do you even know why?"
"Yes. And I'll tell you someday, but not today."
"All right," Claire said acceptingly. "You know, the thing that makes Darth Maul stand out in Star Wars, for me at least, is that he's the only character who never got a break. Not for his hellish childhood, and not for his painfully short adult life. Mainly because the precious few people in his inner circle always seemed to play mind games with him." Harlene's head bowed as fresh guilt tore into her. "Don't, Harlene," a note of sharpness entered Claire's tone. "Regardless, the way your relationship progressed was nothing short of miraculous. I expected you to create a bond of mutual respect and perhaps trust. I never expected you to become the closest thing to a true friend he ever had. And I definitely didn't expect him to crave your company because he wanted the trace of foreign peace and happiness that resided in it."
"Peace? Happiness? Darth Maul?" Harlene laughed. "Those words sound very wrong when you put them in the same sentence. And you just said he never got a break."
"He didn't. At least I thought he wouldn't. But that changed when you went back to him. When you let him hold you and promised you wouldn't leave him. You had him in that moment. You had him at your mercy. You hated what he was, yet you never hurt him intentionally, and you didn't abandon him in that moment when it would have been effortless to do so. Why?"
"Did you pity him?"
"Were you afraid of him?"
"Were you trying to keep up with my challenge?"
"Because…I just…it was…" frustration mounted until finally she burst out. "Okay, OKAY! I loved him! Are you satisfied!?"
"No," Claire said truthfully. "But I'm glad that this experience has opened your eyes a bit. And hopefully it will help with the new relationship you've created with Anakin Skywalker."
Harlene groaned. "I was wondering when you would get to that."
"I'm not," Claire said. "At least not right now. Because right now, you need to make peace with the relationship you had with Maul. Did you feel you betrayed him?"
Harlene bit her lip. "He trusted me. I know he did, but…he was supposed to die. That was something neither of us could change. I…I don't regret that I did my job, but I regret what I had to do to do my job. So…no I didn't betray him."
"Good. Then you weren't wallowing in self-pity like you previously thought," Claire got up from the bed. "Oh, and one more thing," her mentor stared her dead in the eye. "You think you know who you are. You have no idea."
Harlene stared at her in surprise as she recognized the quote from Crash, and didn't say anything as Claire left.
But she suddenly knew what she had to do.
Its just a little pinprick
They'll be no more
But you may feel a little sick
Can you stand up?
I do believe its working
That'll keep you going for the show
Come on, its time to go
There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying
When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look, but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb
In the Naboo reactor core, Harlene stood, alone in the silence, staring into the supposedly endless black pit. And once again she thought of Crash.
(I will protect you I will love you I will judge you I will comfort you I will kill you I will save you I will hurt you I will forsake you I will understand you I will punish you I will berate you I will help you I will abandon you I will need you I will destroy you)
Because of her role here, all of those fit with how she interacted with characters. Whether she wanted to or not.
And she accepted that.
I'm not a blight, and I'm not a savior. I'm an Error Corrector.
"I said I'll never embrace your ideals," she spoke softly into the pit. "And I won't. But I won't forget what you told me." she held up her lightsaber. "And…I'll use it well. I promise."
Harlene Ballantine closed her eyes, pressed the weapon to her forehead, bowed, and walked away.
Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.