"When are pretty, you can get anything you want."
"When you are a senator's daughter, that is even better."
Mirrim's life was governed by these two maxims.
Being affluent had its advantages, to say the least, but if that was all she had going for her, she would surely have been constantly plagued by self-doubts because the only reason people would pretend to like her was so her prestige and influence might rub off on them. Deep down in those lonely spaces in her heart she would know she wasn't complete.
On the other hand, sometimes looks only got her far. (Charming smiles and coy glances did not work on droids, for example.)
But because she had both fame and fairness, she was truly blessed. Her world could be considered perfect.
And it was because it was perfect that Mirrim hated it so.
For Zeltrons, life was just one big party; even more so because she was the only daughter of the senator from Zeltros and her face was all over HoloNet every night and she was probably talked about more than Supreme Chancellor Valorum because, after all, she had a much prettier face than he ever would.
And it was all so hideously, stiflingly boring that Mirrirm couldn't stand being in her own skin any more. All her life she'd gotten what she wanted until there was nothing left to want except the feeling of wanting something more than getting what she wanted. That was too easy, too predictable. Manipulation had ceased being a game and become a chore. There must be something more to life than that, she reasoned. Where was the challenge, where was the growth in an endless procession of galas and interviews and holo shoots? (These were all very grown-up thoughts for a sixteen-year-old and she was quite proud of secretly having the courage to think them.)
Which was how she found herself in a predicament most of us know all too well: sitting on the couch in the apartment late in the evening with the only things keeping you company being the ambient hum from hidden machinery keeping everything in order and holoprojector-cyan seeping into every crevice of the room to the point where it feels like drowning, and the muted sounds of Coruscant traffic outside your tiny neon night-shell.
The little corrugated-blue figures acting out some unimportant drama in front of her barely counted as company—if anything they were just as lifeless as the plush pillow she was clutching restlessly, going about their syndicated lives like automata and of course it would turn out to be the Rodian's fault in the end (she had seen this episode thrice before), but none of them would know that until after the commercial break. She had the holo turned down low, nearly to mute so that she could just barely make out the rising and falling tone of the characters' voices but not discern any words (which was all right because it had only taken her two watches through to entirely memorize the insipid dialogue); mostly because it was almost embarrassing to be watching this drivel even with no one else around, and also because the voices, when louder, tended to echo uncomfortably throughout the apartment, loaded with faked emotion and rote delivery and reminding her too much of how things sounded when there really were other people here.
Part of her was watching this because there was nothing else on and there was nothing particularly exciting to be seen on the news (the speeder chase earlier that had looked so promising turned out to be a dud, the criminal giving in after only five minutes), but the other part was watching because it reminded her so much of herself right then. Not the content of the holo itself, mind you, but the idea behind it—play-actors dumped into pretend lives and given certain things they must say and do in order to succeed and entertain others and of course look good doing it. At the end of the day, there is really nothing there, but they go on acting and others go on pretending like this is real and important and has meaning although if you continue to press the matter they suddenly become defensive on the subject because they don't want to admit that it's all a big lie. (It's important to them, they insist, although they seem to want to convince themselves of it as much as they do you.)
Flipping through the frequencies during the commercial break, Mirrim saw, plastered on a political feed talking about her father's upcoming legislative lobbying, her own smiling visage; she made a rather unflattering expression back at it before moving on. No teenager likes the sight of their own face (no matter how scenic); even less so when it has ceased to be a face and become an icon. At least the pervasive azure of the holo had turned her countenance into something diaphanous and spectral. It would have been more unsettling to her to see it displayed in the vibrant hues it wore in life, the deep maroon skin and silky violet hair nearly dark as the space between the stars. But no, this was just a hollow copy, a string of data that made a not-quite-her journeying endlessly through the cosmos on its crusade of mindless distraction until its wavelengths fizzled out somewhere beyond knowing. She thought perhaps it would have a more exciting life than she did, because it at least wasn't at home watching holo reruns feeling bored and sorry for itself. It was one of those nights where everything seems to run together to become terribly unfair, and you have been given a wide berth to enjoy your misery to the fullest extent.
Lost in these thoughts and many others (not the least of which being what she might decide to wear tomorrow) she barely noticed when the door opened, letting in the climate-controlled air from the hallway which smelled of chemical cleanliness. She was too world-weary to tear her eyes away from the holo to see which one of her father's associates this might be, until a foreign sound pierced through the air and combatted the holoprojector's indifferent blue with a crimson that made the walls look like blood.
The door slid shut as Mirrim turned to look.
She could scarcely believe what she was seeing, much less understand it. Standing crouched by the wall like a hungry nexu was a—well, a sort of something in a black robe, cast into vague shadow-shapes by the dim light. Projecting out from the gloom was a glowing blade that was instantly recognizeable as a lightsaber, the signature of the Jedi Order, but this one was a sickened scarlet as if it had been fed on murder instead of justice. If this was a Jedi, it was a very strange one, indeed.
The Thing spoke, a nasty rasping snarl of a sound. "Where is he?"
Mirrim couldn't rightly call herself afraid. She was too bored for that. At the most, her fear was the sort of nervous excitement you get when when something interesting finally happens to you but you don't know how long it's going to last before it goes away and leaves you bored again, and it's only the old, stuffy voice in the back of your head saying this might be dangerous. "Daddy's not here," she replied, emerald eyes flicking back to the holo to make sure it was still unexciting. "He left last week on a cruise to Bespin with his latest wife." Nasty woman, really, but she knew how to drape her lekku, and how to attach herself to her husband's arm like a pretty parasite (Mirrim was always on the other arm, of course).
The Dark Personage moved closer until it basked in the combined luminescence of the holo and the lightsaber enough for Mirrim to be able to discern facial features.
To her great surprise, he was terribly unlovely. In fact, she could safely call him stunningly ugly, with large black splotches of tattoos all over his face that masked and obscured his features except for his two eyes that seemed to glow like photoreceptors made of fire, and his horrible leering grimace filled with awfully unkempt teeth.
"You will give me more information," he growled, "and your death will be quick." He brandished the lightsaber to demonstrate.
Mirrim blinked, her face placid. All this time, she had just sat on the couch, watching him intently, fascinated by his horribleness. It was so different from anything she knew. The thought had run through her head, several times, that anyone else in this situation ought to have run away, or at least panicked, but…no, she just couldn't bring herself to. This was the sort of excitement that overreached frenetics and came right back around to being calm. Everything was happening so slowly and almost predictably, as if in a holo re-run (but vastly, vastly more interesting). She tilted her head slightly, still holding the pillow. "That's all I've got," she explained coolly, "but I can help you find him. And I can help you get to him." She left no room for him to interrupt her proposition. This was her chance to do something. "I know all about Daddy—I'm his closest confidant. And I can weasel you in past the bodyguards if you want me to." She supposed there ought to have been something dreadfully disturbing about assisting in her own father's assassination, but she failed to muster the proper horror. She had her reasons, and the thought of being helpful in her own right overcame thinking reasonably about what exactly she was helping with.
"You'll betray me."
"You don't know that—" being smart about it was the wrong thing to do, she saw, as the Being's face suddenly tightened- "but I can make things so much easier for you!" She vaulted herself up from the couch and stood by the window, arms folded, twirling her hair with one finger. "No one will think twice about telling me everything you need to know. And even if I were going to turn on you, it's not like I'd be much of a challenge to get rid of," she admitted. "You can't lose, the way I see it."
"I can extract the information from you painfully," he pointed out.
She placed her hands on her hips. "Yes, but that would be a lot of trouble, wouldn't it?" Why wasn't her charm working? Generally that sort of thing does not depend on whether the recipient is unattractive, as was certainly the case here. She was using all the right posturing and cute fidgeting and he just seemed-bored. As she was. Maybe, like her, he could see through the play-acting, too. That made her relax her affectations quite a bit (although the sort of pouty glare she was giving him came quite naturally, as did the jaunty stance). "Look." He tone took on more sincerity, even urgency. "I'm just trying to help you out. I've got skills you can use to your advantage. I can make this…mission, I guess, a lot easier than it could be. And if you decide you don't need my help…you can dispose of me." She shrugged.
He seemed to respond to sincerity better, Mirrim noted as she saw his grotesque expression shift, and sensed his irritation subside into begrudging acceptance. She grinned and led the way to the door. "All right then, I suppose it's settled. My name's Mirrim, by the way. Mirrim Shalt. Yours?"
Maul had had a Devaronian of a time getting through the 500 Republica that night. He had to hand it to his master—the man knew how to keep Maul's life challenging.
Sidious had sent his apprentice crawling amongst the innards of the massive apartment complex scores of times before, and Maul felt he had a handle on navigating the complex intestinal tracts of that building's bowels.
No, it was the sidekick that made Maul's night more difficult. Mirrim apparently expected him to socialize and wouldn't stop talking, and asking him questions, like how he was doing, and what it was like being a Sith, and what recreational activities he enjoyed. "Still that tongue or I'll cut it out," he had growled and that finally made her quiet down.
He had descended through the lowest inhabited floors (which were of course still far above the actual deep-rooted foundation of the building) quickly and relentlessly, hoping he might lose the Zeltron, but she was surprisingly spry and he could always sense her behind him, bounding along merrily like this was a picnic. Maul didn't really understand why Senator Shalt's own daughter was so eager to assist in Shalt's assassination, but other people's emotional complexities were not Maul's problem at all and he didn't bother to pursue the thought any further.
"Hold it, right there!" someone suddenly shouted authoritatively, and Maul spun around to see Mirrim staring at a squadron of security guards, blasters raised. He didn't wait for anything else to happen.
Lightsaber blazing to life on both ends, Maul charged the guards, deflecting their fire easily and watching as the sight of a demon barreling down the hall was enough to make a few of them run away in terror. The rest put up a good, but all-too-brief fight and then he was standing impassively over their bodies with a snarl before turning to stalk away. They would have to travel through the Works to get to the Scimitar, as he hadn't anticipated using it on this mission. Tonight was supposed to have been simple: get in, kill, get out. Maul liked simple. Unfortunately, simple was taking a vacation at the moment.
The Zeltron's chirping voice snapped him out of his thoughts. "Hey, I know how to use blasters," she said, taking a weapon from out of the limp, furry paw of one of the guards and inspecting it. "Yeah, this'll do," she said, free hand on her hip as she looked quite pleased with herself.
"Just keep moving," Maul barked, not bothering to slow his pace for her, but she caught up quickly again anyway.
He thought he'd at least be rid of her in the Works, but even that wasn't the case—just when he thought she'd slipped down some vast artificial abyss or been caught in a jet of toxic steam, she would pop up again behind him like some chronic disease. Killing her was going to be a relief.
Even so, he found it a surprisingly difficult topic to address as they rode the hyperspace lanes to Bespin, with nothing else to do but talk. "You are aware that I will kill you once your usefulness is expended," he said to her flatly after, for some reason, having to take a moment to work himself up to it.
"Yeah," Mirrim responded, not skipping a beat as she smiled briefly. "That's okay." There was an awkward pause. "I wasn't doing much with my life, anyway." She looked over at his twisted face with her perfectly brilliant green eyes. "Sometimes it's hard being pretty. Not that you'd know anything about that," she observed matter-of-factly. Maul was just plain ugly and she was sure he knew it so there was no point in beating around the bush.
The Sith merely rolled his eyes. "No, you don't get it," he insisted, knowing that this was yet another young sheltered kid who had no perception of her own mortality. "I am going to kill you," he repeated forcefully. He wanted to see her fear—her apathy was disturbing him. Where were the gasps of disbelief, the stares of terror?
"I know," the Zeltron affirmed grimly. "…I was counting on that."
"Why?" Maul was curious if for no other reason than that he wanted to find some other way to frighten her if death would not do it.
"I'm tired of living, Maul. Especially the life I've got. It's so…empty. Like nothing I do is ever really worth anything. I get my face in the holofeeds and I go to parties and smile at people and what is it for? What is it for?" she hissed, her eyes suddenly blazing. "At the end of the day, all I feel is an emptiness that I want to rip out of my chest. And I can't escape. Ever. It's the curse of my species—I'll always be pretty. So there's only one way to put an end to that. The press wants drama, well, I'll give them drama." Her smile was nearly crazed. "A double assassination, how's that? Will that be tragic enough for them, do you think?"
Maul was non-visibly taken aback. What was it for? A simple question with a simpler answer, in his mind. "For serving a master," he replied matter-of-factly, his ember gaze unwavering. "And for fighting." Wasn't that all anyone ever needed? She was so lost, and angry with herself, with something she was battling deep inside.
"The masters I serve are the press, and my father," Mirrim replied with a scowl, hatred scorching her tumultuous Force aura. "And it is not a willing servitude."
"So you will kill him to find a better master."
"I don't want a master at all," the Zeltron protested, feeling incredibly condescended to as she made a sweeping gesture at the Zabrak. "I want to be free, like—like you!" Not free to run around killing people, but she was sure he understood what she was getting at.
Maul's frown deepened. He didn't understand this at all. He was not at all his own person, and he most certainly had a master. He also didn't see the appeal in the alternative. Who would be there to give him guidance and direction and purpose? "If you have no master, you will never find your way in this galaxy," he affirmed adamantly.
She looked at him despondently. "…Will you be my master, then?" To that, the only reply she got was a rising of the Zabrak's hackles as he glared at her with every fiber of annoyance in his body, and she understood the conversation was over. Maul did not have conversations often, and this was a good way of ending them, when he was required to keep the other conversant alive. She went and leaned on the wall, looking very self-pitying, and he realized they did not think alike at all. She somehow wanted something else from life besides serving a master.
However, he was determined to not make this his problem, and so with a huff he went back to the cockpit. Any other attempts at conversation on her part were met with additional severe looks.
Maul was glaring vibrodaggers at her again.
"Look, just trust me on this. Act like you're supposed to be there, and no one will notice you. This will be the easiest job ever," Mirrim tried to assure him. She, too, was nervous, although obviously not for the same reasons. She was going to help him kill her own father. She had her justifications. And she would be dead afterward so it wouldn't matter. Dead, and free from her insane existence.
The Zabrak said nothing, but merely followed her out of the ship with his cowl pulled low to obscure his face; they had agreed that she would need to take the lead both because she had been to Cloud City before and because if she looked like she knew what she was doing, it would follow that everyone else would assume that, too.
"Uh, I…need to see your clearance data for this landing pad," a guard said as the two exited into the pristine, blinding-white halls of the resort complex, making it look like it was trying too hard to be clean and respectable when so much went on here that really wasn't. They weren't all terrible here, Mirrim knew, but when you had this much money to throw around most of your ethics got tossed away, as well.
Mirrim smiled at the man (they were almost all Human here and it was far too easy); "No. No, I don't think you do," she said in a honeyed tone.
The man offered her a nervous smile back. "…If you say so," he replied weakly, looking confused more than anything else—he'd probably never tried to argue with a Zeltron before. "…Hey, you're Mirrim Shalt, aren't you?"
Mirrim's smile widened and she threw in a little batting of the eyelashes, for good measure, as she escorted Maul past the man and down the hall. "Maybe on our way back, I'll give you an autograph," she purred.
As soon as her gaze left him and turned to the hallway ahead, her expression switched to stone serious, with a good dash of disgust. "I really hate doing that," she admitted to her silent companion. "Anyway, Daddy comes here often with his wives. He has his own suite, and judging from the local time," it was early morning, "that's probably where we'll find him."
The two strolled leisurely down hallways and stood in lifts, Mirrim giving charming grins to everyone, knowing that her charisma would make up for the startlingly dark phantom of a man stalking grumpily beside her. It was funny how easy it was to sneak an assassin in somewhere when no one was expecting him to kill anyone.
Finally, they stopped in front of a large pair of pearlescent doors with a security pad to the side. Mirrim moved over to it and tapped in the access code, knowing it by heart. "See, this is way easier than slicing, isn't it?" Of course, she thought Maul probably got through most locked doors by another method of slicing, one that involved his lightsaber carving through solid metal. That would definitely attract attention, however.
"Hold up." Another guard, patrolling the hallway, had noticed them and probably decided some black-robed menace prowling the hotel area was a little too suspicious, even with the company he was in. This guard was a prim-looking woman with pale eyes and hair. "Name and business," she requested of the two.
"Mirrim Shalt, I'm here to see my father," the Zeltron explained, looking bored and exasperated like she had much more fun things to do than stand around being interrogated.
"A friend," Mirrim assured her with a wave of a delicate maroon hand.
"I need his name," the woman said flatly, her hand wavering toward her blaster, "and probably some identification."
"Mirrim, what are you doing here?" Interrupting the Zeltron's attempts to sweet-talk herself and Maul out of trouble was another member of her species coming down the hall, a more adult-looking, almost impossibly handsome man with rich crimson skin and deep indigo hair. Hanging on his arm was a slightly inebriated-looking Lethan Twi'lek woman whose own vivid red skin complemented his. Both of them were dressed in ridiculously sumptuous clothing that probably cost each of them more than a small starship. While the woman looked generally oblivious to everything that was going on, the man appeared furious—and somehow still managed to look good.
Mirrim hated that about him.
"Just thought I'd stop by to see how you and the wife were doing," the female Zeltron growled, pulling out her blaster and aiming it at him.
Granted, that wasn't the smartest idea as the guard now had her blaster out as well and Maul was required to dispatch her with one swift sweep of his now-ignited lightsaber, turning back around and snarling at his target, who looked somewhere between astonished and livid for a moment before turning and sprinting away. The Twi'lek, meanwhile, had long since emitted a painful shriek and fainted at the sight of too much excitement for her small mind to handle. Daddy didn't pick them for their brains, after all.
Maul threw himself into the chase, hurtling over the buffed-stone floors with Mirrim in hot pursuit. Guards poured out of auxiliary hallways after them, and she held them off with blaster fire—she was what most people might consider a surprisingly good shot, but she'd had the necessary training: holo-games.
"Told you I wouldn't betray you," she said to Maul as they hounded their quarry into a lift, where Senator Shalt could be seen pressing buttons frantically as the door slid shut.
The Zabrak was quick to follow, jamming his lightsaber into the doors to create a molten peephole, and Mirrim thought he was probably trying to skewer her father where he stood, but instead the doors opened back up to reveal a rapidly retreating lift car. Snorting, Maul leaped down after it, Mirrim following as the two slid down grease-slicked cables. "Eww, gross," the teen couldn't help but exclaim as the viscous substance coated her hands, knees, and side, and splattered onto her face.
The lift descended lower than Mirrim thought possible and she half-expected all of them to suddenly go tumbling out the underside of the floating city, into the endless sky below. When the small square roof finally slowed to a stop beneath them, after several minutes of plunging downward during which the shaft became progressively warmer and smelled more and more of acrid fuel and sickly-sweet chemicals, the two touched down on the halted elevator.
Maul cleaved open the emergency hatch and dropped down into the car, Mirrim following, careful not to get in the way of his lightsaber which he was holding as though he were the only one pursuing the senator.
The man wasn't there. The Sith growled and punched the button to open the doors, revealing a catwalk hanging precariously over darkened, bulbous tanks, and steam hissing and belching from mazes of pipes, drenching the air with moisture that made Mirrim's hair go limp and cling to her sticky face (and it was then that she envied Maul who had no hair, but his robes were probably being equally irritatingly clingy). Her father had led them into the bowels of the tibanna refineries.
"You could have killed me back there," Mirrim remarked as she followed Maul across the unnervingly thin metal grating. She was more disappointed than anything else. "I already got you to where you needed to be."
"You wanted to kill your master," he reminded her, not looking back as he surveyed the labyrinthine walkways like a beast on the prowl, trying to catch the Force-scent of its prey. "I'll let you accomplish that objective."
"And then you'll kill me?" Mirrim asked hopefully. There was no answer as Maul suddenly chose a direction and barreled past rows of gas cisterns. Mirrim knew by now that he just expected her to follow him and she kept up, not at all winded since her too-perfect physiology and metabolism kept her in top form no matter how poorly she might take care of herself. Not that she was intentionally a slob; she also didn't intentionally try to keep up her health like members of other species had to because it was wasted effort. She had tried to live on junk food and laze about the apartment for a month once, last year, to see if that might do anything at all to her figure. All it gave her was a permanent distaste for wastril bread and holo-soaps.
A shadow of movement around a corner was all it took for Maul to strike. He pounced ferociously on the quivering senator, putting a knee to the man's chest and gripping the male Zeltron's throat with one hand, the Zabrak's saber held high in the other.
"Mirrim-!" Senator Shalt choked, looking up at his daughter who strode up jauntily beside the Sith, glaring at her father coldly. "Don't—tell me—this is about your new—stepmother?"
The teenage Zeltron's lip curled in disgust. "Is that really all you can think about? No, this is about the files I found on your datapad last week. You've been embezzling Republic funds to support the Hutt slave trade." She bared her teeth in a surprising approximation of Maul's own expression. "That's disgusting."
"Think of all the—money we could make!" the senator coughed, trying to pull Maul's arm away.
Mirrim felt like she had been punched in the stomach. After all this—the man had a blasted lightsaber pointing at his head and all he could think about was the money. That was all he ever thought when he looked at her. "Kill him," she muttered to Maul.
Suddenly Shalt twisted unexpectedly, throwing Maul off balance for just a picosecond, but that was all the senator needed to wriggle out of the Zabrak's grasp and roll, trying to knock Maul down. Maul, who had been in the act of plunging his blade toward the man's chest, let his own momentum carry him back to an upright position and swept his saber forward.
Two things happened at that point—the first was that Senator Shalt met a quick and cauterized end. The other was that, in the chaos of the scuffle, Maul had misjudged the distance between his second blade and the tank of liquid tibanna mounted up against the catwalk.
Both Zeltrons were frozen in shock, but Maul knew better than to stand around gaping like an idiot in the face of an imminent explosion as he quickly extinguished his saber and took action.
And then, the world turned an inferno of light and sound and heat.
Mirrim was dead.
At least, she was fairly sure she was dead. She hoped she was dead, and logically knew that she really should be dead, after all.
So why did she feel alive?
She turned over and opened her eyes with a moan, realizing that she was lying on some semi-comfortable surface, and her face hurt. A wrinkled, blunt-nosed snout met her gaze, and she blinked as the white-haired, porcine creature standing beside her took out another patch of bacta and applied it to her arm.
Mirrim sat up slowly and realized she was swathed in bandages, including several on her face and head. "You…you saved me from that explosion, didn't you," the Zeltron said to the Ugnaught woman, who shook her head, indicating that she at least understood Basic even if she didn't speak it. Mirrim knew this was fairly common amongst Cloud City's diligent workers. "Who did?"
A confused look was the Ugnaught's only response.
Mirrim laid back on the bed and looked up at the low ceiling of the small flat, which was dimly lit and cluttered, and probably exactly the way Ugnaughts liked it. He had spared her life when it would have been so easy to let it end. Why? So she could find a new master? Her father was dead but that would just make her even more valuable media fodder—not to mention the fact that she was probably a criminal. Unless… She felt the bandages on her face, wincing. "Do you have a mirror?"
The Ugnaught brought her a small hand mirror, looking very apologetic. Mirrim looked into it and was pleased at what she saw. Her face had been cut horribly by flying shrapnel and scorched by the intense heat of the explosion. The bacta would at least ensure the skin would heal with no adverse effects, but the wounds were so severe that the scars could only be fixed by reconstructive surgery. She was unrecognizable. And delightfully ugly.
Mirrim let out a sigh of satisfaction. At long last, she was her own master.