A/N: This is my entry for the "fairy tale" contest over at DeviantArt's Star Wars fanfic club. I wrote this based on the themes from the American folk tale 'Rip Van Winkle'-- disorientation, personal and political ties(Rip leaves his wife, and gets in trouble with members of the American Revolution when he states his loyalty to King George III), and a character who goes through a lot but doesn't really change (Rip starts out lazy and ends that way too). Also, this is something I've been wanting to write for a while; basically my ideal Clone Wars TV show episode. I pictured it as animated, and tried to keep with the semi-serious, comic book-y, straightforward feel of the show, but a bit more…violent, and making a bit more sense. :P
Ghost of Naboo
The room was kept dark, so that the being on the bed would not damage its long-closed eyes when it opened them. Barno Ell, Gungan scientist garbed in white, glimpsed what she could of the body—a curve of red skin, a glint of onyx-colored metal bones-- before turning away, content to wait for a few more moments for her experiment to reach completion. The subject had been encased in carbonite far more times than the human body could handle, and then only for operations designed to salvage a dead shell…but it was still alive.
Barno turned to her assistant, Kak Lil, another Gungan who had been working with Nuvo Vindi during the Blue Shadow Virus attempt. Both had narrowly escaped the Jedi's attack on the lab. Even Vindi could not make such dramatic discoveries as he did without sentient aid. It was Vindi's and the Republic's concentration on Vindi's guard droids that had allowed the other scientists to escape.
Barno had not been concerned about leaving her employer to the tender mercies of the Republic. Vindi had always treated his underlings like droids—ordering them about, acting as if he knew so much more than they. (Barno treated Kak Lil like that now, but the other Gungan deserved it—he was a flabby Ankura from a backwater city, mostly good for carrying things.)
She said, "See to it that the Jedi is let in when he arrives. If he is late, he misses the show."
"Meesa find him rightaway!"
Barno smoothed down her bristling ear-fins in frustration. "And stop speaking in that idiotic pidgin."
"Ooh, here he is!"
Leeondro K'Saavis walked in, his tousled black hair and long green-velvet cloak waving gently behind him. Lee had, so he said when he arrived on Naboo about a year ago, sensed the Force presence of Barno's subject from worlds away. She found it hard to believe, sometimes, that the mind could make such miracles…but a scientist who closed her eyes to possibilities invented nothing, and so Barno accepted Lee's help when he said he wanted to study her subject, and that he had various contacts across the galaxy who also took an interest. Why he had left the Jedi Order, he would never say, but she thought it had something to do with his penchant for dissections, for finding out how the living body worked. He saw people as bodies.
Barno saw them as machines.
"Good afternoon, Doctor Ell," Lee said.
"Good afternoon. Everything is nearly prepared."
"The Confederacy will be very interested to see what your technology has done…Must it be so dark?"
Barno carefully gestured him toward the subject. "He may suffer from carbonite blindness."
"Just turn on one glowstrip."
"I don't suggest—"
But then, like a good servant, Kak Lil did as he was told. From a bank of switches he picked the one that activated one yellow strip of illumination over Barno and Lee. The thud of the lights activating echoed, and the subject twitched.
Barno backed up. She saw a heaving movement as the subject arose and then fell, collapsing next to the table, its metal claws skittering on the floor as it tried to understand how to use them. It was a humanoid shape, by all appearances helpless and crippled—but then Barno heard Lil scream and slam against the wall, as if the subject were already over there, picking up the Gungan with its hands—
Leeondro's red lightsaber blade added another sickly layer to the multicolored murk. The subject's eyes reflected a flat bronze light like a cat's. Barno saw a blur of movement as the ex-Jedi pelted across the room to detain the subject.
A clatter like the table flipping. Barno found herself crouching and pressed against the cold wall behind her. That provincial idiot—
Another scream, as the lightsaber cast its bloody glow on Lee's elaborately braided collar. It juddered as if beginning to meet resistance, and Barno saw the ex-Jedi struggling to breathe, the flesh of his cheeks bunching up beneath metal talons.
She looked away.
She could almost hear the click of the footsteps coming to get her next. This had not been the way it should have gone—the subject should have been talked through the process of awakening and getting used to its new body, should have been treated like a sentient being…not an animal, not a machine.
But it seemed all right with treating itself like a battle droid…
Barno scrabbled about on the floor for anything she could use as a weapon; a syringe, a loose wire—her webbed hands only found dust.
The footsteps came. The lightsaber was no longer in Leeondro's hands. Barno looked up at the subject's silhouette, at the way its legs folded back like a bird's preparing to take flight. It worked. All these years, the resurrection project, Vindi's pet that he was forced to abandon, worked.
The red engulfed her vision.
Ahsoka Tano blinked in the light of a sunny Naboo afternoon. Grass spread out from her feet in all directions to the mountains in the distance, broken only by a wide stand of trees in front of her and the Twilight behind. "This doesn't look like a waterway where we can get to a Gungan city."
Anakin walked confidently down the ramp beside her. "That's because it's not. We arrived a bit too soon, and it'll be about a day until the tides in the swamps go down and we can get to the city with our rebreathers without wading through muck first. So I thought we'd set down now and do some wilderness training."
Ahsoka sighed. "You mean sleeping out in the woods even though we've got a ship right here?"
"That's what I said. Wilderness training."
Darth Maul, haggard face revealed by the light outside the lab ached. He stalked through the forest with the metal legs bent beneath him and churning, getting used to the repetitive motion of walking, so dissociated from him because they felt healthy and strong while the rest of him felt so weak. But he was alive, on this swampy, leaf-dappled planet (Naboo, still?) and he could barely remember anything about how he had gotten there except that he had been in a fight…Someone had taken the wrist controls housing both his lanvarok and link to the Scimitar, but he had found his lightsaber, in a drawer shaken from its place when the green-cloaked Jedi had fallen. (He had less control of his movement, then—his legs felt too long, too heavy, and when he looked down and touched the electricity-warm whorls and cold, flat plates of metal he realized that he would need to relearn how to use them.) He took the cloak also, moving too fast and confused to bother to check whether the Force sensitive one was dead (he wasn't; his presence moved at the back of Maul's mind, but he wasn't the only one--) and now the wind flicked at his skin, wormed its way beneath the cloak. The sun was high, but the trees shadowed the paths he almost-blindly followed, giving an impression of oncoming evening. He could feel, but not quite in the way he was used to, the sensation of his taloned feet digging into the damp ground.
No time to think—no reason to—
Jedi before him, and in the past somewhere was metal and blackness and…and what? What was this driving force, this sparking feeling that kept him moving on?
Ahsoka Tano impatiently threw a knotted stick into the woods while Anakin tried rather fruitlessly to make a fire by striking stones together. Somewhere, the stick splashed.
Anakin looked up for a moment, one brown eye visible over his blue-clad shoulder.
"We're never gonna be stuck somewhere without a lighting catalyst, or a glowlamp, or a spaceship, or something." She said. "Why do we need this?"
"Ah, Padawan, remember Tatooine? You were pretty stuck."
"Yeah." Pause, while she thought about her hike with Anakin and Rotta toward Count Dooku. "I'm gonna take a walk around."
"Watch out for animals. And soggy ground—it could sink right underneath you."
Ahsoka slogged off into a section of forest which seemed relatively clear. It didn't seem worth it to tell Anakin that she could take care of herself. She could be fighting droids right now, really doing something for the galaxy, instead of this useless camping. Beings were dying, and she always felt such a need to help them, because she had the resources and strength…so she ran and fought and saved until she fell asleep exhausted, not remembering how many hours she had been awake before.
Maybe Anakin was just trying to give her some rest. But did she really deserve it, compared to all those other beings?
The thick forest played havoc with her montrals, but she thought that this was precisely the environment they had evolved for, and she spent a few minutes trying to distinguish the trees from the narrow spaces between them.
Then, abruptly, a space was filled where it had not been a moment before. Ahsoka started, one gloved hand darting for her lightsaber.
The Force cried out, and Anakin answered with a slow turnaround from where he had been crouched over the pile of sticks that should, in theory, become a fire. Strange how he could not do this anymore, when every evening in the slave hovels he had lit the fire for his mother—but he turned around slowly, so that his enemy would not at first see him for the threat he was.
Enemy indeed—a bright-shining Force-user for whom recognizing Anakin as a Jedi sent off a cascade of emotions. Anakin spun, and thumbed his lightsaber to life. No subterfuge here.
He didn't recognize his enemy at first, not as sentient, not as Zabrak, not as anyone he had known before. But he recognized the lightsaber.
A human staggered out of the forest in front of Ahsoka, one pale hand held to his head. Perhaps he was trying to speak, but the words could have been huffs of breath, or angry yells. "Hey! Hey!"
"You okay?" she asked. He was dusty and bruised, but the Force burned bright in him.
He looked up from beneath mussed brown hair. "My deity. Jedi? You don't need to complicate this situation."
"Who are you?"
"I'm a scientist." Smoothly he pulled something from his belt—a cage of gold, a nest of filigree—and a moment later it was revealed to be the elaborately decorated hilt of a lightsaber when the blade snapped into existence.
Ahsoka knew she'd made enemies on Naboo. "One of Doctor Vindi's cronies. But you're a Jedi too!"
He charged. Ahsoka activated her blade all along the length of her arm and swung it forward, meeting the red saber with a crackle of sparks. Her foe's attacks came wide and flashy, and she easily deflected them without giving much ground. His face was sallow and his eyes wide as he realized how poor of a swordsman he really was.
And so it shouldn't have surprised her when he turned and ran.
Darth Maul saw the recognition on the Jedi's face. He could barely remember the name of the boy on Tatooine, but that Force presence was unforgettable, like a song heard in childhood and dredged up out of memory along with all the emotions of the first time it was heard. Strong enough to make Maul wary, to make him slow his paces (and nearly fall forward with the reaction just slightly off from what he was used to.) He saw the bright one see his error.
He saw the bright one as an adult, armed and armored, but the Force presence oh so the same.
So much time had passed, while Maul was changed. Even more wary, he licked dry lips and spoke in a hoarse voice he barely recognized. "Many things have changed."
"Don't go philosophical on me," the Chosen One said from behind his blue blade. "The Confederacy rebuilt you, like they did to Grievous. I've seen that before."
"Confederacy." Maul tried the word out. Rebuilt squirmed around in his thoughts too, like an insidious disease. (A slowly crippling disease--he could not bend right anymore, not with his torso scaled with duraplast.)
"Yes. We know your Master's working with them."
Was he? Of course Sidious had been busy in the…how long? Ten years, as the human grew…Where was Sidious now? Had his eyes closed to Maul, or was this transformation and estrangement just another test? A reward, even?
But Sidious had left him no way to understand the situation…
He would just have to trust his Master's plans.
The Force painted two other presences, less powerful than the one standing in front of him, on Maul's mental radar. He turned, lightsaber-hum following.
The first being to run out of the tangle of trees, lightsaber pin-wheeling, Maul had last seen as an obstacle to his escape from the dark, oil-scented laboratory where he had awoken. The foppish human! And close behind him, a young Togruta, skinny as a sapling and carrying her lightsaber in a reverse grip. When she saw Maul, her face morphed from falcon-fierce determination to slack confusion and back again. She drew herself up and glared, but the effect to Maul was more comical than frightening, like a baby bird half-fledged and trying to fly.
She called across the clearing to the Chosen One. "Master! They worked for Doctor Vindi."
Vindi…? But Maul used his confusion and sense of being out of place, focused the sand and grit of them into a diamond. He remembered what had driven him before, what he knew most familiarly.
The desire for revenge on these soft Jedi, pretending as they did to be strong in their weaknesses of numbers and stilted training and half-hearted efforts. Their very existence injured the Force, made it fight within itself, light versus dark.
He would take the Padawan first, to tear at the mind of the Master without any extra effort. This too was vaguely familiar.
He spun his lightsaber as a crimson-blurred shield between himself and the others and headed for the Padawan.
They traded strikes. She was fast, using her shorter reach to rare advantage to shield herself with a close guard that at the same time threatened his saber hilt or hands. But he drove her backward, both of them stepping over and around rocks and trees roots that they could not take the time to see. He changed his strategy, gave a few quick jabs. The Master was distracted with his own fight--
He saw an opening where he could kick her in the side and took it almost instinctively. But his body did not work the way he expected anymore, didn't weigh the same. He kicked too high and far, and scraped her shoulder but did not solidly connect as she darted forward to slash at the tubes and cords of his leg.
Livid, Maul caught the slash on his lightsaber and her shoulder in his talons on the backswing as best he could. Her two-handed grip on her weapon jerked backwards as he clamped onto her neck and shoulder. For the first time, he found something good about the machinery; with the semi-dexterous talons he pushed the Togruta backwards , off balance. She fell; he stepped onto her hand left holding her lightsaber and stabbed for her throat.
"What have you done?" Anakin roared as he paced toward the scientist and Ahsoka leapt into a battle that he was not sure she could win. What inhuman idea lead anyone to revive Darth Maul from where Obi-Wan had sent him? What futility, if all old ghosts could return so solidly to haunt him—
But Anakin needed to focus now, to think of what Obi-Wan would do now—
And all the better if he could get that over with quickly and just save Ahsoka.
He brought his wrist-comm to his lips and keyed up Artoo. "Bring the ship around, now!"
The scientist shook, lightsaber inexpertly clenched in his hands.
"You're one of the Lost Twenty, aren't you?" Anakin said. "You don't stand a chance."
Then in the Force he heard Ahsoka scream—looking up he saw her fall. The scientist took the opportunity to move, but it was to duck and run away through the tiny camp.
Anakin rushed the others, and the monster turned. Anakin saw bloody splotches where Ahsoka's shoulder had been distorted.
He Force-pushed; Darth Maul stumbled backward, distanced now from Ahsoka, who bounded to her feet with teeth gritted and lightsaber held in her left hand.
Maul had fought far more men at once than this, but never so many Jedi. The scientists was lingering in the forest, hesitant, waiting for something, like an insect buzzing around a light. I have a different reason to be avenged on him—which target to choose first? He glanced between them. The Padawan would not contribute to the fight any longer; trying to Force-heal herself, she slumped, in a daze, against her mentor's shoulder.
Those two first, then. Maul bent his legs to move, bared his teeth—and stepped back again just in time to avoid laser-fire stabbing down from above, leaving charred and smoking leaves drifting in its wake. The rumble of a starship engine that had been steadily growing louder finally registered—Maul had ignored his other senses in favor of the Force. The unmanned ship settled down, cloaking the two Jedi in the dust of its landing.
Maul felt the guns still trained on him. Go after the Jedi? The ship? And be more vulnerable to the dorsal cannon? The frustration of indecision built up in him, and he whirled, risking the laser to meet the one foe he could do something about right now, directly, straight line—
The scientist stood on muddy, leaf-littered ground, useless lightsaber back on his belt. You distracted me from my target, Maul seethed, You changed me—
"Wait, I saved your life!" The human's voice had gone high-pitched.
He struggled backward as Maul advanced. He tried to grab dead branches from out of the trees and hurl them, but his Force skills matched his combat skills—one branch cracked down from above, but the rest of his gestures resulted in nothing. Terrified now, he began to run, trying to continue the argument about saving your life and have pity and you need to know what we've done to you. Maul outpaced him in less than a breath's time and swung his saber for his neck.
And felt his right foot slide into the mucky ground. No sensation of cold, but when the weight of the water and mud would not allow him to escape and he put a hand down to brace against the earth he felt cold then, and thought for a moment about how he could not feel the murk seeping between the louvers of his legs. The scientist did not stop running. Maul tried to drag himself across the ground, saber still clamped in one hand, and still he sank into the mud.
In the sky above green rolling plains, Anakin smiled down at Ahsoka, as she lay in the medical bay with most of her arm from hand to shoulder wrapped in bacta gauze. "I'm glad you're okay."
"But we let him get away," she said wearily.
"I saw him engulfed by the swamp," Anakin replied. "We can go back and check out the lab when you're healed."
"But we're leaving, maybe, a Sith out in the world…"
"Artoo, take another sweep around."
He could still sense the presence, dim and smoldering.
Darth Maul could not breathe any more, but he remembered why he had been reborn.
Or, at least, a reason to stay alive. He remembered the fight, the two Jedi in the reactor pit of Naboo. Obi-Wan Kenobi, fast with righteous vengeance. Oh to find that boy and erase him from the world, kill him beyond rebirth, use him to show every quaking Jedi in their towers the might of the Sith--
Maul shook, twisted, flinging dirt from him, and summoned the Force to crack open the earth.
Anakin glassed the swampy sinkhole, rained lasers down upon it.
Maul had dealt with electricity before. The laser discharge that reached its spider-leg spine fingers down through the murk did not overwhelm him, but he had been stifled to long. Oxygenless, he fell into unconsciousness, the name and mien of Obi-Wan filling up his thoughts.
And Anakin, sensing nothing but a ghost-presence of his Master, surely borne by his own desire to go back to the Temple and safety, turned the ship and left.