Game Time: A Tale of the Star Wars
A Tale Of The Star Wars
E. E. Nalley
It had been heralded as the latest thing.
Normally I'm not what you call an early adapter. I'd rather wait till the bugs are out of something before I start putting my eggs in that particular basket. Yes I did swear I'd never leave Windows For Workgroups, why should I? It was a great OS! Still XP seemed to finally have ironed out all the 'hidden features' of Windows 9X and just as things are starting to get good and stable I get Vista-ed.
Well, Windows 7 is enough new fangled for me, I think I'll pass on Windows 10 until 13 or so. That said, I'll admit I have a weakness for Virtual Reality. I'd been entranced with the concept since 'Tron' and been following the crude developments from ray tracing and simple blocky humans through the various MMOs with an eye on the gear as the technology went up and the costs started coming down.
Yes, I'm an MMORPG player, that's Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game to the uninitiated, emphasis on the RPG. Yes, I'm that player who uses the emotes so that my avatar looks like a living being, walks instead of running or hopping everywhere and yes I am ignoring your spam of team requests in random combinations of letters you think are 'leet speak' L0Rd-n00bki113r.' So what if I take the story seriously and actually want to role play in the role playing game? That's the point, isn't it? Why aren't you playing Counter Death Strike or something if all you want to do is twitch and kill?
So when I heard that Complete Simulations was going to do a demo in my city, yes, my wallet opened up, I'll admit it. CS was a completely new concept, the combination of an Oculus Rift stereoscopic VR headset, an intuitive hand controller and physical PROPS that existed in real and virtual space that you could pick up and interact with. If you wanted to move, you walked. I had to try it. I wheedled and cajoled a couple of buddies at work that I play MMOs with online to come along and I paid the extra to so that we would have a dedicated appointment.
I was so excited I could barely get though the work day. When I'd made the appointment, there had been a list of the environments we could experience, everything from simple rooms to outdoor spaces, mazes and a small collection of MMOs the equipment would eventually support. Of course there was an asterisk by them as the support wasn't finalized, blah, blah lawyer speak, but if it had half the interactivity it promised it could be forgiven some glitches.
And my current favorite MMO, The Old Republic was on the list.
The Old Republic! Set three thousand years before those movies the Mouse now owned about things that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it was one of the most incredibly immersive role playing experiences I'd ever had. Between every quest NPC actually having spoken dialogue conversations to a 'morality system' that allowed very different experiences to be had with the same classes, the concept of being even a little more in that world was too much to resist. I'd chosen to have us play The Old Republic for the hour we would have the place to ourselves.
I couldn't tell you what I'd done that day that was actually work related. To be honest, probably nothing, but I was there and I suffered through another mind numbing day as I counted the seconds before we could leave. Fortunately, the building Complete Simulations had taken over was a warehouse in the same office park where I worked so we didn't have to fight our way through five o'clock traffic; we all piled into my sedan.
And it's a good thing we did.
The parking lot was packed. Complete Simulations had four cops directing traffic and even a pair of tow trucks enforcing the rules and trying to keep things orderly. I showed the cop my reservation letter I'd printed and was directed to a spot. Then we were escorted past the line that was pretty substantial at this point as the incredibly envious glares of the people waiting followed us into the cool of the small prep room off the office spaces.
It was an odd space, along a table was a set of wooden 'shapes' for lack of a better word. Several vaguely looked like pistols or rifles, there were a couple of 'boken' and simple cylinders with knobs and hooks. “These must be the props,” I guessed, walking over to the table.
“Not very detailed,” complained Daniel as he picked up the pistol that was vaguely in the shape of a broom handled Mauser that had been the basis for a certain smuggler's iconic blaster.
“They wouldn't need to be,” Steve replied as he picked up a much smaller pistol to see how it fit in his hand. “The VR rig gives the details. These are just to hold.”
I had picked up a pair of the cylinders, 'light sabers' my mind was already calling them, surprised at the convincing heft and balance. If I closed my eyes the wood felt like metal in my hands. “Things sure are heavy,” muttered Laura as she picked up one of the smaller rifles.
“You going to play your Bounty Hunter?” I asked her.
She nodded, playing with the simple 'folding stock' representation that came with the little wooden toy. “Yeah, I don't feel like running around and trying all that Jedi crap.” She looked up. “But you're going to play Nyeomi, aren't you?”
I couldn't help but smile. Nyeomi was my highest level character, a walking contradiction, a light side Sith Warrior and while I had other characters, she was my favorite. “Read me like a book, can you? Daniel, you going to play...?”
“No, I'm with Laura,” he replied. “I'll leave the sword play to you. I'm going to run my trooper.” He put the pistol down and picked up a rifle prop with a sling attached that looked more 'assault rifle' like. “Knowing you two we'll need some fire power to get out of the messes you'll get us into.”
“Then we'll need a get away ship,” Steve opined, keep the small pistol and picking up the one Daniel had discarded. “So I'll play my scoundrel so we can use the Aces and Eights.”
“Everyone ready to get out of this world?” a new voice asked from the doorway. There was an attractive, not pretty, but attractive woman of indeterminate 'MILF' age. She was well put together in a manner that announced 'sales woman' but not into the lurid 'everything's for sale, including me' range. She had a collection of belts in her hand that she handed out as she came in, revealing them to have holsters for the pistols and my 'light sabers' with other odds and ends as well. “These sensors let the computer know where your waist is,” she told us as she handed them out. “Thermal detonator and comm link,” she added, noting the wood props that would come off.
I put the belt around my waist, surprised it fit as I'm a pretty big guy in the stomach, thanks to a lack of exercise and then hung the sabers on it, one on each hip. “The interface to The Old Republic is still working, yes?”
“Up and running!” the sales woman told me with a perfect smile. “Now, is anyone epileptic, prone to fainting, dizzy spells? No? Good. Follow me.” She lead us through the other door in the room and through a short hallway. “I do have to make you aware,” she flashed another of her dazzling smiles. “Company policy, you know how it is. There may be some unexpected behavior in the link as we're not quite finalized yet. I want to warn you not to risk anything in the game you can't replace as it might be lost forever.”
“What could you loose forever in an MMO?” demanded Laura.
The still unidentified sales woman just keeps smiling. “Lawyers,” she said brightly. “We have to say this I'm afraid.” She stopped by a window where some technical looking guys were setting out the gear. And by 'technical looking' I mean they were wearing jump suits with patches and insignia and now that I thought about it, our as yet unidentified sales lady was the only Complete Simulations employee who was wearing 'business casual' clothing. She stopped before a large, vaguely sci-fi looking door that could have come out of some movie set. “Now, once you pass through these doors, you'll enter the simulation. Do not remove the headset for any reason. Anything you could bang into, trip on or otherwise react with in real space is also in the simulation. Trust the visor, I cannot stress that enough.”
The techs got the expensive rigs on our heads and lowered them over our eyes. I had to surrender my glasses with the girl in the cage, who placed them on a prescription mat and gave the correction to the tech who was helping me. He made an adjustment to the goggle and put it on my face. There really is no way to describe that, because as the goggle covered my eyes, I realized I could see a virtual copy of the tech, same hair cut, same uniform through the goggle. It was the most incredibly disorienting sensation I'd ever experienced. He got the head earphones over my ears over them I heard him ask, “How's that?”
His virtual self was speaking through a black and white plastic comlink that distorted his voice ever so slightly. I held up my hand and gave a 'thumbs up' and was struck by it. It wasn't my hand, thick from my hobby of working on cars and strong from a lifetime of typing for a living. This hand was slender, graceful with long, delicate fingers and perfectly manicured blood red nails.
The skin wasn't my pasty white computer geek skin either, but the tan, olive complexion of Nyeomi my character. I looked down and found my polo shirt and business casual slacks gone, in their place was the white plastiform armored midriff top that was Nyeomi's signature outfit. Her navel and taunt stomach were bare, then a pair of tight leather like armored pants with plastiform plates and slick looking boots with a thick, but substantial heel. The utility belt was around her sleek waist with the light saber hilts hanging, ready at a moment's notice for mayhem.
I had breasts. I couldn't help but marvel at the impossibility of it.
I turned and likewise my companions were gone; in their place stood avatars from a video game.
I turned back to the nameless sales woman to find her, not in her smart business attire, but in the flowing red robes of a Sith Inquisitor, same face, same smile, but far less wholesome now. “Peace is a lie!” she announced, quoting the Ancient Code of the Sith as she slapped a control and the doors behind her began to open. “Through victory shall your chains be broken! The Force shall free you!”
The light coming through the door was intense, white hot, blinding. I threw up my hands to protect my eyes when an impossibly hot, dry wind like a hurricane blew out the door. Pain lanced through my mind from speaker to speaker across my ears and I passed out.
* * *
When I next awoke I found myself just as disbelieving about my fate as you likely will. It is so incredible, so rationally impossible as to defy belief, and yet the gritty, unrelenting reality of it forced itself past my feeble disbelief and demanded to be recognized as fact. First and foremost I awoke looking into the face of a robot. Not an actor suffering in a cheap costume, not an animatronic doll moved like a puppet by six or seven professionals somewhere I couldn't see, a robot. An actual machine that was self moving, self governing, self aware and just as completely without the spark of humanity.
“Do you require medical assistance?” it asked in a bland, vaguely masculine tone as it helped me sit up.
“N...no...I'm alright...” I started, but the voice that came out of my lips was not mine. It wasn't my too low for tenor, too high for baritone voice with it's mild Southern United States accent. This was an earthy high tenor voice with a polished, British Public School Accent, not quite the voice of the actress who'd preformed the lines for the dialogue conversations through out the game for my class, but not so terribly different, either.
“Be well,” the robot replied in parting as it rose to check on the person lying near me.
I put a hand up to my aching head to find not only was I not wearing a VR helmet, but my normally close cropped reddish brown hair was now the voluminous chestnut tresses, doubtlessly in the vaguely 1940s up in the front but down in the back style I had designed her with. Sitting up, despite the ache in my head flooded my brain with an avalanche of new sensations, first and foremost was the mild tugging weight that was attached to my chest. Looking down through my cradling hands treated me to a deep valley of cleavage being held in place by a fabric halter top with a rigid plastic like plate that had been attached to the fabric. This held the breasts, both to keep them from moving too much as well as the added bonus of the view I was appreciating now. Or rather, I would be appreciating it more if they were attached to someone else.
But that wasn't the only thing about my body demanding attention.
As you might have already gathered, I am, or as was now the case, was an over weight, middle aged computer geek. I'd made my living with my mind and my body had suffered for it. I had a knee that was beginning to make it known it didn't appreciate the extra forty five kilos my frame was carrying around, to go with a recurring hip pain from an injury caused by a bad miss-step in my college days that flared and faded like the tides due to a collection of stimuli I hadn't sussed out after years of trying. The back that was also unhappy about the gut as well as the cheap mattress I slept on and the hundreds of other little aches and pains of middle age; they were all gone.
You don't truly appreciate the absence of pain until you've grown used to it being there.
And I was, minus the head ache, pain free and not just in shape, in the peak of shape if the taunt skin of my exposed stomach was any indication. And that introspection lead me to a very, very strange feeling. Vibrating within me, just behind my conscious thoughts was something, not a person, not really a personality come to it, but a powerful commanding presence that both surrounded and filled me, a presence I somehow knew would obey what I commanded, but though that obedience would also subtly change me. I didn't want my head to hurt, and so, suddenly, it didn't and an incredible focus and clarity settled in my mind.
Effortlessly, in a way I had not in years I stood, young and strong again and heady with that feeling of power, which made me suddenly aware of another item I was missing; rather, three items that were missing. I shall try very hard not to obsess over the loss of my phallus, or more accurately, it's transmutation into it's female counter part. But when you have lived your whole life being aware of, but perhaps ignoring for lack of a better word something so intimate to your being to find it suddenly gone, to feel material against skin you never had before is something of a shock. I actually stumbled, so used was I to moving around this appendage, but thankfully I did not fall and so once I'd regained my bearings, I looked around. Any hope that what we had experienced was some kind of strange dream or accident that had survived the departure of my manhood was quelled by that first glance about. There is nothing like seeing a pair of suns in the sky to drive home the realization that you were someplace new and unfamiliar.
Although, I have to admit, the wedge heeled boots I was wearing helped, too.
From the sky, I looked down to take in what seemed like a vast, endless sea of sand in every direction, except to the south, based on the Suns where a rough and rugged mountain range rose from the golden ocean. In my immediate vicinity was the smoking wreck of some kind of vehicle, or what was left of it after the crash. It had nosed into a dune, and it's open top had launched all of us out of it and scattered us around the crash site. Fortunately the sand had absorbed the energy and given us something relatively soft to land on.
Which, given how I remembered getting here was kind of silly.
I continued my look about, expecting to see a wall or the sci-fi door incongruously standing like the 2001 Monolith in the desert, but there was only sand and the distant mountains. “Is everyone all right?” I asked not really knowing if I should be thrilled I was where I was, or terrified. Fortunately, my body was obligingly giving me a healthy dose of both emotions. A chorus of groans and complaints were my answer from the human forms scattered on the dune around me, slowly regaining their feet.
“What happened?” demanded a voice from my left.
I turned and I know the following will not make much sense, to be honest it didn't to me either when it happened. But, turning towards the voice I beheld a stout looking man with a tremendous bushy walrus mustache of coal black. Besides his eyebrows, also coal black, it was the only hair on his head. His bald pate wore a black beret with a stylized bird insignia of some kind on it. Daniel was the oldest of my little circle of friends, ten years my senior and I had been forty five. And while the mustache was pure Daniel, the hard, lined face under it was no older than thirty five. At the same time it both was and wasn't Daniel's face. I could remember his face, clearly, the honest openness of it, the somber expression of a man who had walked a hard road to his Buddhism, and I could see this man in front of me was not the man I'd known for many years now, but at the same time, he was.
He wore suit of armor that looked like it would offer excellent protection that was a mottled brown color of several shades that blended well with the sand, but it had no insignia or unit designations on it. I offered him a hand up and he accepted it. He was a big man now, where as before he had been stout and going to fat, now he was in his prime and head and shoulders taller than I was, and I didn't think I was a short woman by any measure. And I had never been shorter than him before. “We appear to be over the rainbow,” I told him with a smile at my own wit.
“Bull shit,” growled another voice. I turned to see a man part of me still wants to describe as beautiful. He wasn't effeminate by any means, lantern jawed, chiseled features, crowned by a glorious mass of reddish gold hair. He was dressed a red silk shirt with red satin ribbon on the cuffs and collar open to put a manly chest with a heavy gold medallion on display. He was as masculine in the way of a romance novel cover where as Daniel suddenly was looking like he'd stepped off the cover of Soldier of Fortune.
But where Daniel was now rugged, the effect on Stewart was...male beauty. I did not doubt that if this man slept alone it was only by choice. He even had a cape that matched the shirt. “Bull shit!” he repeated standing and even slapping his cape free of sand by subconscious reflex. “This is not happening! We are in a warehouse, in an office park...”
I pointed up into the sky at the suns. “Use your mind, Stewart, do you honestly believe that? Look at what you're doing! You're beating sand out of a cape you weren't wearing! A warehouse? We're not even in Tunisia! Unless Africa suddenly picked up a second sun! I have no idea how, but there is no denying...”
“There is denying!” he shouted back while settling the cape back across his shoulders. He reached up, obviously meaning to snatch off the VR Rig but found only his face and his hair. “This is impossible!”
“Anything is possible,” Daniel replied, remarkably calmly as he took the beret off of his bald head, satisfied himself that was it was a beret and not a VR Headset, then put it back on his head. “This...this is just highly unlikely.” He subconsciously un-slung the rifle from over his shoulder and began to shake it, to be sure sand wasn't fouling it. That reminded me of the light sabers on my hips and I removed the right hand one.
The metal cylinder of the hilt was warm from the sun in my hand, despite being chromed and surprisingly heavy, but my grip of it was sure and solid. “Don't turn that damned thing on!” shouted Stewart as my thumb paused over the activation stud.
“Why not?” I asked looking back up at him.
“You know why not!” he exploded. “The physics of those things are ridiculous! The temperature of the plasma alone would kill us all! It was just a special effect! It can't work the way we've seen it!”
“He has a point,” Laura interjected from where she was sitting a bit a way from us on the dune. I turned to look at her and was startled at the sight of her in way I had not been by the others. Daniel was my best friend, Stewart was my own brother and no matter their physical changes, the sense of who they really were was still pretty strong with them. Looking at her was like looking at a stranger you thought you recognized, but weren't sure.
Laura's character Lanaka was a Chiss bounty hunter, a character she played as a cold, ruthless professional who was perhaps more than a little amoral. She wore a pair of armored pants and rugged shirt and vest under a huge heavy canvas duster coat that obscured her weapons and utility belt all in various shades of black, dark or neutral brown. What little skin that was on display was a vibrant, cobalt blue and her eyes were now red orbs with neither pupils nor iris that glowed softly under the immense flat brimmed hat she wore. “But then so does Daniel,” she said as she stood and dusted herself off. While she was dusting, and even I didn't actually see her do it, she produced a blaster pistol from under the duster, pointed it out into the desert and fired it.
A bright red bolt of energy leapt from the muzzle and sizzled into the sand with a small explosion. “Seems to be working as we've seen to me.” She gave the most nihilistic shrug of indifference I'd ever seen. “Try it.”
“No!” shouted Stewart, but my thumb was already descending on the activation stud.
Now, obviously since I am telling you this story we didn't all die from being near a weapon that produced plasma the temperature of the surface of a star. With its familiar popping hiss the blade, as yellow gold as the sabers I had made for Nyeomi in the game, shot from the handle and expanded out to a meter and a half or so, there it hummed slightly changing in pitch as the wind moved over the blade or small particles of sand in the air struck it and were vaporized.
Once again I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling of the presence inside and around me. Without looking, I knew exactly where the blade was, from tip to emitter, I knew where my hand on the hilt was and the weight of the hilt finally made sense as the blade was energy, it had no weight or mass at all, but the hilt helped the impression of where the blade should be and this was finalized by the presence. “God damn it, Ed!” Stewart shouted. “That is the stupidest thing you've ever done!”
“Not really,” Daniel soothed him. “Consider, even Einstein bought into the theory that there could be an infinite number of universes existing parallel to our own. It's been put forward that the act of creation, of thinking of a story or painting a painting creates a new universe branching off of ours. Star Wars has been around for what? Forty years? How many billions of people have seen those movies, played those games, read those novels and dreamed about that place? This place as I believe is where we are now; we all created it, and we all shaped the physics of this universe.”
Daniel shared a glance with each of us as I deactivated the sword and returned it to my belt. “Here, it does work. What about the Force? Ed, do you sense...?”
I had noticed what looked like a canteen of water in the wreck of whatever this vehicle was and it was mercilessly hot out on that sand. I raised my hand and reached out in that way we've all tried where you know you can will something to you if you could just do it strong enough. Only for me 'strong enough' was not much more than making the decision and it flew through the air into my out stretched hand. “Is anyone else thirsty?” I asked casually as I unscrewed the canteen and drank.
“Good God,” whispered Stewart as he spun in place, looking out in all directions. “How do we get back?”
“Back, sir?” the forgotten up to this point droid asked. “I would not recommend going back, our departure was quite precipitous.”
“Fuck going back,” Laura growled as she removed a pair of macro-binoculars from her belt and began to scan back in the direction the vehicle seemed to have come from, looking for pursuers who may have shot us down. “Go back to being that fat cow I was? Not a chance in hell, you boys can do what you want, I'm staying.”
Daniel, Stewart and I shared a glance. We'd all been...well 'over weight' was being generous. We'd led fairly sedentary lives and we were all in various stages of 'portly', 'stout' or 'spare-tire'. To be perfectly honest, Daniel had been fat and the rest of us had been obese, Laura the most so. I'd put her weight now somewhere around forty nine or fifty kilos, easily a third of her 'Earth human' weight of just a few minutes ago.
I probably weighed a kilo or two more, just from being taller and having more muscle mass.
As much as this body was a shocking revelation to me, to her, this must be the stuff dreams were made of. As she'd been big her whole life this was likely her fondest wish coming true. She made an adjustment to the binoculars and fixated on something. “There's another vehicle out there,” she reported, “three or four klicks out, but it's moving away.” She returned the device to its keeper on her belt. “They could be going for friends.”
“Droid,” I commanded, looking at the machine which turned to face me and gave a slight bow. “What is your designation?”
“I am 5-RN7, sapient medical droid at your service, my lord.”
“Fiveareen,” I greeted. “What is the nearest settlement to us that is not the one we were chased from and do you know its location?”
The robot raised its arm and pointed towards the mountain range to the south. “The closest settlement is the town of Anchorhead, my lord, nineteen kilometers to the south.” It paused and took a hesitant step forward. “Are you certain you are well, my lord? Your conversation is somewhat erratic, you did not know me and you are all using different names for each other. A concussion is possible, given...”
“We are just somewhat rattled from the crash,” I assured the robot. “We will be fine. Salvage whatever you can from the speeder and make ready to depart.” The droid bowed again.
“Certainly, my lord.” The droid walked to the crash site and being scavenging bags from luggage compartment. I meanwhile went back to my companions and gave a gesture for them to draw closer.
“Nineteen Kilometers?” asked Daniel.
“Long hike, but I had worse in the Army, Darius,” I assured him, lightly stressing his character's name. “We have to be careful though and remember the rule of three.”
“What?” asked Stewart as he wiped his brow and took the canteen I offered him.
“The Rule Of Three for survival,” I told him. “Three hours without shelter in extreme conditions, three days without water, three weeks without food, they're all lethal.” He shaded his eyes and looked at the twin suns.
“Do those count?”
“Yeah, do they, Nyeomi?” Laura demanded, stressing my character's name.
“We don't have a choice, Lanaka” I replied, biting down on my temper. “There is no shelter here but those mountains. We should go cautiously, but quickly. There is a bigger problem, Lanaka and I are both Imperials and Anchorhead is a Republic town.”
“In the game,” Stewart corrected with a winning smile and I'll admit it was very creepy having my heart react that way to my own brother, even if the bodies we were currently wearing were not biologically related. “Are we in the game, or...?”
Darius pointed over to the wrecked vehicle. “We all came here in that,” he said. “There is no multi-occupant speeder in the Old Republic. If I have a magic instant travel device, I don't know where it is.”
“None of us have any insignia or side markings,” Stewart added after a moment of thought. “So long as we're careful no one should be the wiser, assuming Anchorhead has any side that claims it.”
“Good thinking, Silas,” I agreed, pausing to look over my shoulder to see that Fiveareen was still out of ear shot. “Everyone remember,” I pointed to Stewart, “Silas Bast, Lanaka Fargo, Darius Persia,” then finally my thumb to myself. “ Nyeomi Fens.”
“Darth Nyeomi, Lord of the Sith,” sneered Lanaka. “You just had to play a chick, didn't you?”
“I'm going to help Fiveareen pack,” Darius drawled as he made a hasty exit.
“I'll help you,” piped in Silas and so much for brotherly solidarity. When we were alone I closed to a discreet distance and lowered my voice.
“What's wrong with you?” I demanded. “Do you imagine I planned this? That I had some fore sight of it?” Up close, I could get a better feel for our sizes. Stewart's Silas had been the game's default height for a human male so that should make him two meters. With that as a yard stick, Darius would be a handful of centimeters taller, where as I was just under two meters in these boots and Lanaka was about the same handful centimeters shorter than me. She had a thinner, more lithe build to my strong, athletic one and her eyes, despite their flame red color were as chillingly cold as her blue skin.
“Planned?” she demanded archly. “No, not in the sense you're thinking of. I think you wanted to feel this way and that simulation place was as close as you thought you could get.” She shrugged again and patted the side of my face. “Maybe if you're nice to me, I'll hold your hand through your first period,” she said with a cruel laugh. “That should be enlightening.
“Baby,” I started, but she snatched her hand away and pointed her finger at my chin.
“No, Ed, don't 'baby' me,” she hissed softly. “Not ever again. I get a new life out of this cluster fuck 'Captain Chaos' got us into,” she declared, using the nick name her father had given me years ago. Unjustly I felt, to be honest. “And since I've made out like a bandit, I won't hold a grudge. That body you're wearing? That's your bed, you made it, you lie in it. I'm not a lesbian.”
She stalked off to the wreck to get her bag and out of my life as it were. Of all the ways I had ever thought my marriage would end, this would not have been my prediction in a million years. I sank to my knees in the sand and had my first cry as a woman while I concentrated on the sand and mentally strangled the presence in my mind. The presence that urged me to go take my revenge that in my mind I wrestled and grappled with, desperate so I could keep control of it and not act on that desire.
The character I played may have been a Light Side Sith, foremost concerned with honor, duty and serving the Empire she had been born into, but she was still a Sith Lord and killing was her business. I am thankful no one disturbed me while I knelt in the sand and cried, wrestling with that almost overpowering desire for mayhem.
I shudder to think what might have happened if they had.
* * *
Four hours and ten kilometers later by my reckoning, we finally left The Great Dune Sea just as the first sun was setting. It had been a long, bitter journey for me; alone with dark thoughts plaguing my mind and the constant sting of trying to pretend I couldn't hear the whispered, frenzied conversation of my own brother chastising what was now I supposed my ex-wife for provoking the dangerous Sith Lord who could have killed us all. I spent most of the trek with Fiveareen and the makeshift sled it had been able to make from one of the still operating repulsors from the speeder.
I wasn’t terribly worried about supplies, there had been ten liters of water in a cooling jug to top off our canteens with as well as an emergency kit with a collection of doubtlessly stale but still edible ration bars, more than we would need to get to Anchorhead, even on foot. With one sun below the horizon and the other not far behind, I'd already removed the white and grey cloak that matched the white and grey theme of my other clothing and was wearing it.
The temperature was falling rapidly as it was wont to in deserts at night, but as I drew the cloak about me even I was surprised by it. The top I was wearing was little more than an armored bra and left my arms bare as well as my midriff. This would demand our attention. “Stop,” I ordered, waiting for everyone to find their new balance on the rocky basalt from the shifting sands we had been on. “We will not reach Anchorhead tonight. And with the temperature falling this fast, we will need to find shelter to overnight and finish in the morning.”
Silas turned to me, his silk shirt damp with sweat. “Won't we make better time in this cool?” he asked through teeth that were already chattering.
“You're already starting to have trouble with exposure,” I argued. “Fiveareen, prepare a hot broth, quickly.”
“Certainly, my lord,” the droid replied as it got itself out of the make shift harness it was pulling the sled with.
“H..hot...?” he stuttered. “Af...after...roa...roasting...”
I snatched the cape from my shoulders and bundled it around him. “Sit down,” I ordered and was a little surprised when he sank meekly onto a rock without complaint, then realized that in his present condition his own will would not be strong and the presence in me was beginning to act at the slightest provocation. “Lanaka, we need shelter. You and Darius see if there's a cave nearby. Hurry we won't have light for much longer.”
“Why aren't we this bad?” she demanded, the sudden illness shocking her out of her aloof personae.
“He's wearing silk,” Darius told her as he quickly retrieved a pair of flashlights from his kit, one for him, one for her. “That shirt is soaked through in sweat and silk has no thermal value when it's wet.”
“My lord,” interrupted Fiveareen from warming the broth. “There is a pop up shelter in the survival kit.”
“On it,” Darius assured me as I built a little cairn of rocks in front of my shivering brother. I placed a larger one in the center, activated my light saber and pushed it, Excalibur like into the stone. The rock hissed and melted, quickly heating up as part of it liquified back to its volcanic origin. As he sat in the hot glow of the liquified rock, the shaking began to subside and the color return to his face.
“What...what happened?” he asked as he accepted the cup of broth from Fiveareen and took a sip.
“You almost got hypothermia,” Darius told him from struggling with the shelter.
Silas struggled out of his damp shirt and cape, handing me back mine as he got a clean, dry pair from the droid and again I had to turn away from the mixed feeling the sight of his chiseled torso brought. I got the cloak settled around me and gave the matter some thought. Part of me knew it had to be in some way related to how he'd envisioned Silas when he created the character, but these were things that a game could not account for. It was as if the universe was imposing this new reality on all of us. “Any one for an honest game of chance?” he asked with a roguish grin, his humor evidently restored as well as his health.
“Not even for matches,” Darius told him, finally done anchoring the little dome tent. It looked like we would all fit in it if we got rather comfortable with each other. Fiveareen had thoughtfully made enough broth for everyone and I sipped it while deciding if I was hungry enough to open a ration bar too. “Should we set up a watch for the night?”
“Count on it,” I replied.
“What could possibly live out here that would be a threat?” demanded Lanaka. I snorted in amusement around a sip of the broth and trying to decide what flavor it was.
“Sand People, or worse,” I quoted without mirth. I pointed out into the dunes. “That is the Great Dune Sea and this would be the world famous Jundland Wastes, which, we are advised not to travel lightly.”
“How could you possibly know that?” she wanted to know.
I sighed, more than a little depressed at how easy it was becoming to not care about someone I'd cared for most of my adult life. “If you're going to stay here, you might want to do some study,” I told her. “This planet has two suns and we're headed to a town named Anchorhead. That means we're on Tatooine and we know from A New Hope that the Dune Sea borders the Jundland Wastes.”
I looked over at the droid, standing silently at the edge of the light the liquid rock made, waiting to receive a new task, looking at everyone and no one at the same time. “Fiveareen, what kind of scanners do you have and what is their range?”
The droid answered without moving. “My detection equipment is specialized towards sapient diagnostics scans for treatment of disease and injury, my lord. I'm afraid the range is quite short in trade for higher sensitivity.”
“At least I'll have company on the watch,” Darius said with a chuckle. “I'm normally up all hours, I'll take the watch.”
“You can go first,” I conceded. “But not all of it. Silas should sleep the whole night. Anyone know what the rotational period of Tatooine is?”
“Twenty three standard hours, my lord,” Fiveareen supplied. “Dawn will be in approximately ten standard hours.”
“Five and five?” asked Darius and I nodded finishing off my broth. Boredom won out and I opened the ration bar and took a bite, finding it as bland and stale as I'd expected.
With a glance at the droid I rubbed my temple with my free hand and for the machine's benefit, said, “I must still be rattled from the crash. Can anyone remember why we are here on Tatooine? Or who might have shot us down?”
Darius chuckled darkly. “Let me see if I can guess. With this group, I'd be willing to bet that Silas got into a card game, fleeced the locals, there was an accusation of cheating which Lord Nyeomi took exception to, likely with one of her light sabers. Thus ended the diplomatic portion of the encounter and we were chased out of town and evidently beyond.” He looked up at the droid and took a sip of his broth. “How did I do, Fiveareen?”
“Sirs memory is preforming better than he gives it credit,” the robot replied. “We are on Tatooine for the Boonta's Eve Pazaak Grand Master's Tournament. The game in Rentu Oasis was a qualifying round for the Main Event in Mos Espa. As we were preparing to leave there was an allegation of rule breaking as I understand it. Master Silas felt that discretion was the better part of valor and...”
“Here we are,” growled Lanaka. “So that explains the card shark and our recent history. How did a pair of Imperials end up with a Republic Soundrel and Soldier?”
“I bet I know,” I replied as I took the data tablet out of its protective case on my belt. At first, I wasn't sure I'd be able to work it, but when the screen turned on I found the icons as familiar to me as if they had been the iOS of my iPad. Within moments I'd called up a search program and was putting it through its paces. “I remember when I hit level fifty and got to the point in the story where Darth Malgus sets himself up to be the new emperor that if the game had offered the option to join him I would have. His inclusive Empire of humans and Aliens made sense and with the Emperor thought to be dead at the hands of the Hero of Tython Nyeomi would have been free of her oaths to Empire. Malgus would have been the best option for preserving the Empire sh...I...had lived my life serving. It seems here I did join Darth Malgus, not that it...what? What's this?”
“What is it?” asked Silas. I adjusted the control and from the pad a hologram sprang forth. In it Darth Malgus's armored form, red eyes glaring out of his scared, bald head in what he probably thought was a 'friendly' expression. His mouth and nose were hidden by his respirator and he was shaking hands with Satele Shan, Grand Master of the Jedi Council; who, ironically enough, was the Jedi that had disfigured him.
“Grand Master Satele Shan met at length with New Revanite Emperor Darth Malgus, strengthening the Republics' ties with the Empire of Revan against the mad Sith Emperor,” I read softly and a deadly quiet fell over the camp.
Finally, the awful silence was broken by Silas. “No,” he said calmly. “That can't be. Fiveareen, how did I meet and come to travel with all these people?”
“Colonel Darius was already traveling with you when you purchased me, Master,” the droid replied.
“Colonel Darius?” demanded Lanaka. I dug my elbow into his ribs.
“Are you original or extra crispy?”
“I've always thought of myself as soft and squishy,” he replied. “How did we meet Lanaka and Nyeomi?”
“When Master Silas acquired the Aces and Eights in a particularly cut throat game of Pazaak six standard months ago he realized he would need engage the services of a skilled pilot and that additional safe guards to his person would not go amiss. My Lord Darth Nyeomi Fens and Lanaka Fargo were hired for those positions four months ago.”
“You have a ship you can't fly?” I demanded of Silas. He just grinned his little boy grin that I got the distinct impression he misused shamelessly.
“Hey, it didn't slow down Malcolm Reynolds!”
I sighed and shook my head. “This news changes quite a bit. Lanaka and I may not be 'Imperials' after all. When that part of the story came about, I joined the Revanite Order. We may be members of this Empire of Revan.”
“That is what your travel documents I have on file state, my lord,” the Droid told us.
I turned back to Silas, trying to make sense of these latest developments. “I work for you? What could you possibly offer a Sith Lord, a Darth no less, to work as a retainer? I mean, unless I was disgraced, which as I'm evidently a Revanite I'm not or assuming I'm not working under cover, but your Droid refers to me by my title...?”
“I'm afraid I'm not privy to the details of your financial compensations and arrangements,” Fiveareen added with what almost looked like a shrug. “However the flight recorder on the Aces and Eights likely has a record of it.” I would have asked more questions but a flash from out in the desert interrupted. Without thinking about it I took out my own set of macro-binoculars and leapt onto the top of a rocky promontory to get a better vantage point.
“Jesus Christ!” swore Silas. I looked back, trying to comprehend what had startled him and realized he was looking at me. And I then understood that he had just seen me leap ten meters from a standing start straight up.
“Woah,” I whispered, awed, but amazement of my new body's new abilities would have to wait. I held up the binoculars and looked out into the desert. The device had night vision, painting everything in a green low resolution screen. At the wreck of our speeder, a group of men had set off some kind of explosive, the low boom of which was just reaching us. Their body language was angry. “We've got trouble,” I shouted down. “Our friends are back, and angry what they were looking for isn't there.”
I jumped down, thoroughly impressed I could do so without breaking a bone. “I'm guessing either they want to finish us off, or they want the money you took them for.” I looked over a the sled and noticed what could be a strong box. “Is there money, Fiveareen?”
“There is my lord,” the Droid replied, laying a hand on the box. “Ten thousand gold Peggats.”
Avarice lit up behind Silas' eyes. “Is that a lot?”
“Sounds like enough to kill over to me,” I muttered, returning the binoculars to their case. “We won't out run them on foot, and we could certainly use one of those speeders they have...”
“What are you talking about?” demanded Darius as his Buddhist sensibilities sussed out what I was thinking. “Ambush? Murder?”
“Ambush, yes,” I admitted. “Murder no. It's self defense after all and it's fairly obvious they mean to kill us. We were very lucky to have walked away from that speeder crash.”
“We should...” he started, but Silas stood up, shaking his head.
“Give them a chance to surrender?” he asked. “Give them a chance to get the drop on us, is more like it. It's us or them, Danny and I pick us.”
The big man sighed, made his peace with his conscience and stood up, gathering up his rifle as he did so. “We should all get up on that ridge as quickly as possible. They'll come in from the sand and that gives us cover.”
“Ask and you shall receive,” I replied, raising my arm. One at the time I lifted them into the air, onto the ridge as they marveled at being held by the Force. Last up was Fiveareen and his sled. Then with the handful of chem-lights I'd taken from the survival kit snapped and shook them so they were good and bright and hurled them into the side of the cliff, with a little help from the Force so they stuck. The light brightened the draw canyon we had been in nicely, lighting up me, and as they dotted the cliff, however the others were above the row of glowing rods which made it all but impossible for them to be seen.
Finally, I pulled on the heavy leather gauntlets that came up almost to my elbows that had been hanging from my belt and knelt down to wait. I couldn't keep my heart from hammering in excitement, I knew what was coming, I was a combat veteran with all the horror that comes with that. The presence in my mind was soothing as it flowed about me, anticipating the coming action and somehow promising me it would be there to help me.
I wouldn't wait long.
A pair of land speeders pulled up; both of them had seen better days many, many years ago, and both had too many people in them. One had an enclosed cabin and was close to a 'sedan' model, or perhaps a Suburban would be a more apt comparison. It was about the size of a Suburban, and the other had a large cargo bed that scruffy looking locals were piling out of carrying long blaster rifles.
I sighed and shook my head. No matter where you go in the multi-verse evidently, there will always be rednecks. The crowd, there were about fifteen of them, were stunned only I was here, and were milling in that way crowds do when they're trying to turn into mobs. The bravest of them, a lean, hard brawler from his looks, armed with a pistol stood a bit separate from the the others and shouted, “Your boss owes us some money!”
“Does he?” I asked as I slowly stood in a single, fluid motion. “The way I see it, you owe us a land speeder.” I pointed at the Suburban the leader had gotten out of. “We'll take that one. Leave it and go; you lost your money fairly so if you continue down this course you'll lose more permanent things.”
The cape slid off my shoulders as I prepared myself, displaying my light sabers for the benefit of the ignorant hicks. Wolf whistles called from more than one point in the crowd. The leader leered a gap toothed grin. “Maybe I'll take some interest out of you, honey.”
My left hand drew its saber and ignited it with a hiss, but he just kept grinning. “Anybody can get one of those if they pay enough, that doesn't make you a Jed...” his voice trailed off in gasping, gurgling desperation as the presence took hold of his throat. I brought my free hand up like a conductor, coaxing a crescendo from his orchestra and obligingly, the leader was lifted off the ground by his throat, hands clawing at the invisible vice that was choking the life out of him, legs kicking in desperation of trying to find the ground.
“You are absolutely right, owning a light saber does not make me a Jedi, but then I was never a Jedi to begin with!” With a contemptuous flick of my wrist the leader was hurled across the hood of the 'pick up' speeder gasping for breath and the front of his pants darkening as he soiled himself. “I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, and I am more than a match for all of you! Leave the speeder and flee or defy me to my worst and I will kill every last one of you!”
The crowd was edging back in fear as I drew my other saber and igniting it, crossing them in an X in front of me. From the ridge to my right, several blaster bolts hissed into the sand, close enough to have been obvious deliberate misses. Now the eyes and heads were frantically shifting from the terror they could see to the terrors they couldn't. The pick up speeder began backing up as the crowd , already too many for the vehicles they'd come in were now desperate to over load the one they still had control of.
“This isn't over!” the driver shouted as he urged his over burdened craft back out into the dunes towards the oasis.
“Come finish it then!” I snarled flinging one of my sabers at the departing speeder. The blade scored the side of the bed, more insult than injury, then obediently flew back to my waiting hand. A few blaster bolts were shot, but I deflected them back close enough to discourage repeat offenses. From the ridge, my companions laid down a hail of fire to encourage the expeditiousness of the departure.
I watched the cowards flee until I was certain they wouldn't rediscover their doubtlessly liquid courage before I deactivated by blades and returned them to my belt. I turned to find the others scrambling down the ridge. “Break camp,” I commanded, reaching up to lift the droid down with the Force. “Now we can get to Anchorhead. Let's be gone before they find some friends even dumber than they are.”
“Did you have to do that to the leader?” Daniel asked me softly as he came by on his way to the tent.
“He'll live,” I mollified him. “And I never promised I wouldn't kill anybody.”
* * *
Our confiscated speeder got us into Anchor.head well ahead of midnight. I had always thought of Anchorhead as a little nowhere speck of a town, not much beyond a couple of store fronts and whatever the local equivalent of a Walmart was, but the city we entered lived up to that word. It sprawled about six kilometers in radius from outskirts to the massive water tank in the center of the city that was likely the best guarded place here. The architecture was similar to everything else we'd seen of Tatooine, adobe and concrete domes with several large cylindrical towers in clumps of three or five for the more well off.
The streets were an unnamed rabbit warren of alleys and general gaps between buildings, none of them named or paved and with no traffic management system I could sort out. We let Fiveareen drive the speeder who was able to navigate the confusion, even at that hour, to a squat, circular 'landing bay' where we found and got our first look at the Aces and Eights.
Surprisingly, for space craft, or anything else on this planet, she seemed to be well looked after. There were no missing access panels, no tell tale streaks of past fluid leaks, no blaster burns or pot marks from micrometer hits. She was showing her years, her paint was faded and scorched a bit from re-entries past, but she wore those years with dignity; rather like the classic car that's also someone's daily driver as opposed to a garage queen that is only towed from show to show and is never risked being put back on the street.
She was a wedge shaped yacht of about eighty meters or so, a cockpit at her tapered nose that seemed to offer good visibility. She sat on four sturdy landing gear with an entry ramp amidships by the starboard gear. Aft, she had a cluster of three large, round engines with steering vanes for atmospheric work and a high gain antenna dish on her dorsal side. This engine cluster was isolated from the rest of the ship by a series of stout looking beams or stanchions that connected the two. Finally there was a nod to practicality by a pair of gun turrets amid ships, top and bottom.
As a cargo hauler, she was probably worthless, but she could likely do yeoman work pressed into service as a courier. Of course were she doubtlessly shined was as a private yacht and her interior did nothing to detract from that notion. The entry ramp slash airlock opened onto a simple corridor that ran fore and aft, stopping aft at a small room that held three doors starboard for the ship's cargo hold, aft for the engine room and port for a small, but well stocked med bay that was probably Fiveareen's domain.
Forward were six staterooms that grew smaller as they proceeded forward, then the companionway dog legged port to make room for a small room that was a mash up of galley, rec-room and salon. Then, finally came the cock pit itself. Inside she was as clean and well looked after as her outside had been and, assuming we would ever leave Tatooine in this thing, that was a good sign. It was a simple design and simple in space is a good thing.
Speaking of simple, each of the staterooms had a little electronic screen next to the door with a hand print reader and our names in Aurebesh. For the uninitiated, Aurebesh is the vaguely runic alphabet that replaced roman lettering in the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy. It's close enough to English that if you're a big enough nerd, which I was, and you see it enough, which I have, you can kind of read it subconsciously. We were able to puzzle out the room situation out of sight of Fiveareen, stowed the whatnots before being sure the lock was solid on the outer door to the docking bay, the ramp was good and sealed and we turned in for the night.
My stateroom was medium sized, not one of the grand suites, one of which Silas had claimed, not one of the spartan double bunks that there the two cabins farthest forward one of which evidently Darius had claimed. There were the usual kind of amenities you'd expect in a yacht; a compact little toilet and shower my Navy buddies would have referred to as a head. There was full bed, not a bunk, and it was quite comfortable as I sat on it to remove my boots, a little desk with a computer screen for personal communications, a night stand by the bed and a clothes press someone had unpacked my things into.
Or, rather, unpacked Nyeomi's things into.
The dusty armored clothing came off easily enough, placed in a little pile by the press to be shook out and cleaned at a convenient time, leaving me nude to go and stare into the full length mirror by the head. Nyeomi Fens is an olive complected young woman, in her early to middle twenties both strikingly tall and strong. Usually words like 'athletic' are used to describe women who are thin, remarkably so in most cases, but Nyeomi Fens was athletic in the mold of a farm girl, she had defined muscles throughout her body, but still sported a very womanly figure.
Speaking of womanly, I thought to myself. There really was no ignoring the breasts now that they were free of their confinement. They didn't look as big in the mirror as they felt, but if mass was the governing factor, none of my kids would starve, and that sent a shiver down my spine from the tips of my hair to my toenails.
At that the presence in my mind was confused. Why would I not want children? I was young and fit, I was strong with the Force and the passion of the creating those children would both make me stronger with the Force, and pass my strength on to my children and in making their life I would make the Force stronger.
“I'll think about it,” I promised the presence, once more a bit taken by that perfect Eaton diction that rounded every vowel and consonant. In the mirror, I saw a long oval face with high cheek bones a perfectly straight patricians nose over a full, generous mouth crowned with luscious lips. But it was her eyes that dominated her face, eyes that were as yellow as mustard, which when meshed with the serious expression on my face as I took myself in gave her an aloof, aristocratic air, this was accentuated by her crown of chestnut hair that was worn up and rolled around her head, but down a short, but full ponytail behind her head, out of her way. Two long strands escaped the ponytail and hung from each ear, framing the face and even more cementing the regal aloof air. I stepped forward and looked this Sith Lord in her gold eyes. “This...is my face...” I admitted to myself, claiming this body I inhabited as my own.
That made the presence happy and so I crawled into bed and wondered where I would be when I awoke, and where I wanted to be.
It was a question I couldn't honestly answer just then.
* * *
Now, normally in tales like this the hero(ine)s sleep is plagued by disturbing dreams with prophetic imagery, heavy handed symbolism and and Jungian windows to the inner soul. Hate to say it, but the bed was very comfortable and I slept the night through. It was the first time in years I'd gotten a good nights sleep to be honest and it was a wonderful feeling. I awoke, becoming both more used to the feeling of the presence around me and yet more bothered by it, but got my daily ablutions out of the way...
Yes, I did explore, no, it wasn't new to me, I had been a married man after all. No, I didn't suddenly have some revelation that I'd been a thoughtless, rough brute my whole life. As a lover, I'd prided myself on a gentle, but persistent technique and I was, justly I think, proud to have been proven right that slow and easy is the way to be a good lover. Though, I must admit the difference of the sensations was...well, different. Male sexuality is focused, direct, where as a woman, myself at least, the feeling of sexuality was very generalized, a kind of whole body experience.
And unlike a man where the orgasm ejaculation combination heralds the end of arousal and sexual thoughts, at least for a few hours, and despite a completely satisfying series of what I would call orgasms I left the shower a bit more aroused than when I'd entered it.
To distract myself I chose simple foundational garments in plain, utilitarian fabrics along with a pair of canvas pants that where almost like denim with plenty of pockets and a black canvas blouse with very full shoulders, but close to my arms from the elbow down. It had a high collar that closed at my throat, but was fitted very snugly down my front and sides in a very flattering manner. There was a front and back tail that seemed to want to be worn untucked from the pants, which was how I chose to wear it and found a pair of black leather knee boots to finish the outfit. Over the shirt went my 'utility belt' for lack of a better word, it was a black leather belt of three inches with several pouches, my light saber hangers, comm-link, flashlight and so on.
Ready to face the day, I left my cabin and headed to the galley. There I found Darius brewing a cup of tea, wearing what looked like the under fatigues of his armor, who mumbled an inquiry on how I'd slept. “I slept well,” I told him honestly as I rooted for something like coffee, found it and started it brewing in a machine that seemed correct for that purpose. “How about you?”
“Didn't,” he replied, keying on a small holo projector he had with him on the table.
I turned as the brewing machine did it's thing and saw a washed out hologram of myself, or rather the body I now wore, step up to Silas who was sitting at a desk. “Are you the captain of the yacht Aces and Eights who is hiring a pilot?” I watched her ask, not quite demand, but ask.
Silas looked at someone out side the holo's pick up and turned back, careful to keep both hands in view. “There must be some mistake, I don't want any trouble with a Sith Lord...”
“And you will not have any so long as you are civil,” Nyeomi replied. “Answer my question.”
“Ye..yes, I'm in the market for a pilot, but...”
“Do you require to actually see my qualifications, or is my word of my ability sufficient?”
“No, my lord, I'm certain you're an excellent pilot,” he replied. “Just as I'm certain that being a humble man of limited means, I couldn't possibly offer you compensation commensurate with your skills...”
Nyeomi smiled a small, amused little grin. “Your reputation as a smooth talking con man is well earned, can you play cards better than your attempts to play me?” Darius stepped into the hologram's pick up at that point.
“If offense was given, my lord, it was unintended,” he said evenly.
The smile on the face I was just beginning to claim as my own was predatory. “You mistake satisfaction in intelligence with offense, Colonel. It is good to know that the IIB is earning their pay. I am Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, Revanite and loyal vassal of your government's ally Emperor Malgus. I mean you no harm, and am curious as to whether a card player of your renown will be entering the Boonta's Eve Pazaak Grand Master's Tournament?”
Again Silas and Darius exchanged a glance. “Maybe you aren't aware,” Silas started evenly. “The Boonta's Eve game is run by the Hutt Cartel, it's notorious all over the galaxy as a fixed game; how the Hutts make 'above board' pay offs...”
“No one wins that game that isn't meant to,” Darius added, but Nyeomi only nodded, still smiling.
“Exactly. The prize money the Hutts intend to pay off is money made by selling cargoes stolen from my Master, Emperor Malgus. My proposition to you is simple, help me gain back my Master's credits, and you will not have to worry about a pilot or your personal security for the next standard year. I can even authorize suitable compensation from the take for time and trouble. ”
“I'm a ranked Pazaak player,” Silas told her, “and false modesty aside I'm good, but how do you propose to win a rigged game?”
“They same way they expect to,” Nyeomi told him with her cold smile. “Cheating.”
Silas blinked and leaned forward. “You want to pull a con on the Hutts?” Nyeomi grinned a shark's grin at scenting blood in the water.
“I want to take them for the slime off their disgusting backs. Interested?”
“Have a seat, my lord,” Silas replied with an equally unpleasant grin. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
The hologram flicked off and Darius' dark eyes peered up at her over his bushy mustache like a drowsy hawk trying to decide if the mouse he'd caught sight of was worth going after. “Things just got interesting, didn't they?” he asked.
I shrugged as I got my cup from the brewer, found a sugar and creamer and started preparing the coffee for consumption. “We knew from last night something would be up. Although me working somewhat directly for Darth Malgus, that's new and unsettling.” I sighed and slid into a chair opposite him at the table. “How are you holding up?”
He speared me again with his raptor gaze and shrugged. “This 'reality' is no more real to me than the one we came from,” he replied softly. “If anything, I probably have the easiest time adapting to this. Whereas you...” He trailed off meaningfully. “How are you holding up is the real question.”
I shrugged and took a long sip of my coffee, which was of a surprisingly high caliber. “I'm a woman,” I replied, far more calmly than I really felt. “Half of humanity is, you know.”
He said nothing for several sips, content to stare for a long moment. “And, the crying fit in the desert? What was that?”
The presence crowded into my mind, resentful at first but I shoved thoughts of how solidly Danny had stood by me though the years, rough years in my marriage, rough years in my life, money he'd loaned with out thought of repayment, sweat and blood he'd offered up to help me. That mollified it and I felt it's opinion of Darius shift from 'respected enemy' to 'trusted retainer' and somehow that made what he was saying acceptable. “My wife and my penis left me,” I told him evenly. “In fact, my wife left me because my penis left me, I figure that's worth a good cry, don't you?”
Darius fidgeted in a way that told me he knew something he didn't want to admit to. "What?" I demanded flatly.
He sighed and finally looked up to meet my gaze. "What does it really matter why?" He asked philosophically. "We're not in that world anymore, we're in this one. Laura says she's not a lesbian, I suppose real question is are you? Because whoever you were there you are Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith here. So that is what you are, now you need to decide who you are.”
I must admit to being somewhat flabbergasted by the frankness with which Darius dismissed my old life. So for several minutes I sat in the chair, stared at the table, and drank the surprisingly good coffee while I have the most existential crisis of my life. I feel some what justified in being confused in this manner, after all I was in a completely different universe sitting in a star ship, in a body half my age, and the wrong gender. Finally I looked back up at him staring at me under those bushy eyebrows like a drowsy hawk and gave a little shrug. "I... I don't know."
He nodded as though that was the answer he was expecting. "I would've told you were lying if you said you did know who you were. I don't imagine we'll get much downtime considering what I've discovered. Darth Malgus is not a man I think we should cross, so we should probably be about winning back his money. That said whatever downtime we do have you should probably be thinking about this."
"You don't see a way home?"
He smiled a little smile and tapped his chest. "Brought mine with me. Besides, the way I see it this is just something of a jump started reincarnation as far as I can see. All roads lead to Nirvana after all."
"Would you be as blasé about this if what happened to me had happened to you?"
"Oh no," he declared quickly. Then I can see his raunchy sense of humor kick in just before he hit me with the punch line. "Been so long since I had any pussy, I wouldn't know what to do with myself!"
I smiled and shook my head, pleased that my change in gender had not changed my sense of humor. I don't know if it was my mind was still male or all the posturing of women being upset with cruder forms of humor was all act, either way yet again my best friend had given me exactly what I needed. "I guess I should go dig through my communications station, see what I can find out about Darth Malgus' expectations."
I drained the coffee from the mug and stood, but paused at his inscrutable expression. Seeing me pause his expression changed and he asked, "So you are a Sith Lord?"
"Was that in question?" Asked Silas as he swept through the door and into the little galley. The nights sleep had obviously done him good, as he was fresh faced and of a cheery disposition as he rummaged for some thing to drink. "I mean, we all saw how you dealt with rednecks last night, bro, er, I guess I mean sis..."
"I rather don't think these bodies are related," I replied. Silas chuckled from getting the coffee machine going and filling his own cup.
"What? You can't see the family resemblance? I mean sure, obviously the folks paid for some swank education on your part to get that accent...” He trailed off as he walked over to the table, mug in hand. “What?” he asked. “Not funny?”
I rolled my eyes. “I am pleased your humor as been restored,” I told him. Turning to Darius over my shoulder I remarked, “You should show him what you showed me,” then put my cup into the cleaner unit and walked out.
“Show me what?” I heard Silas ask as I left and turned into the cramped cock pit at the top of a small set of stairs forward from the salon.
It was a fairly tight space, seats for four crammed into the space of about two cubicles with buttons, switches and displays lining every surface. The first two seats faced the walls, with a pilot and copilot position forward in the bubble of that expressive canopy. It started just forward of the two wall stations, some piece of unknown knowledge telling me they were the navigator and flight engineer's places and there was a little step up into the pilot and copilot places. They sat completely in the bubble with a stark amount of view, a U shaped panel of controls that came forward from the preceding stations that wouldn't obscure their vision.
There were a set of controls over head as well on a console that was bolted onto one of the support struts that laced through the canopy. Now, despite a dabbling of interest in various flight simulators, I am not now, nor was I ever a pilot in my previous life. Yet this cramped little space was as familiar to me as the drivers place on my car back home would have been. I knew just from a glance at the engineer's boards that the ship was in a stand by mode, it's power being supplied by a 'shore power' connector in the bay, along with it's water and sewer needs.
I knew that by a 'checklist' it would take the better part of half an hour to warm up the engines, secure all those connectors and take off. I also knew that I could take a lot of short cuts, sacrifice the shore power cables and hoses and have the Aces and Eights in the air inside of five minutes. Don't ask me how I knew all of that, I just did. I sat down at the pilot's place and rotated the chair to look out that impressive view bubble.
It was rather like sitting in a helicopter, just the consoles, the instruments and the glass, er, forgive me, the transpara-steel. The little bit of me that was still Ed was just a bit Agoraphobic of being so exposed out there on the nose of that star ship, but the part that was Nyeomi Fens absolutely loved the feeling of being in a fighter, rather like flying with out a ship through the sky on just her own will power.
The presence wanted to keep the Aces and Eights once we had Darth Malgus' money back.
I looked out the canopy, glad of the UV coating on the transpara-steel on the merciless light of the two suns over head in the open bay. The moutains of the Jundland Wastes could be seen and everything was in knife sharp relief in that light. Below me, parked near the nose of the ship was the speeder we had confiscated seemed even more beat up in good light that it had last night and last night it had looked pretty rough. I was frankly surprised it got us here.
As I sat in this famiar, but alien place, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the feelings of familarity, that unnamed 'presence' in the back of my mind. At first, I had thought of it as 'The Force,' and while I went through it to get to the Force, I had since realized it was far more than the 'simple' energy field of duck tape created by life itself.
As I concentrated I felt peaceful and relaxed, then my perception slowly broadening as if becoming a part of a much larger and more complicated thing. Then I felt a change, the drone of the ship's air moving through the duct works stopped, the 'buzz' of the electronics just at the edge of hearing was silenced and time itself seemed to stop. “I was wondering when you would seek me out,” I heard and felt at the same time.
I opened my eyes and turned to look over my shoulder and gasped in astonishment.
Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith, resplendant and breath takingly beautiful stood behind me, her bight yellow eyes seeming to glow slightly as she stepped up into the cockpit and slid easily into the copilot's place. “Surprised to see me?” the appariation asked, raising a single eyebrow in question.
I looked down, wondering if I was suddenly myself again, but I was only treated to a first person POV of the vision beside me. “Alright,” I replied, turning the chair to face her. “I'll admit to being caught slightly off guard, but considering what's already happened to me I don't believe surprise is an emotion I'm capable of any longer. Who, or what, are you?”
The Sith Lord chuckled and looked out the window. “Reasonable, I suppose. To answer your question I'm you, the you that was born to Algon and Jadzeea Fens, who grew up on the frontier of a dozen worlds because my father was an officer in the Imperial Army. Who saw first hand the Empire take cess pits and open sewers of worlds ceeded to us by the Republic that had ignored them. Who saw those same worlds were civilized, made safe with laws and police who were not corrupt, saw schools and hospitals be built and became places where familes could live and grow. Who trained on Korriban so as to serve the Empire she loved and became the pride of her family when she graduated. Who either was created by you imagining me or I imagining you, which is academic now.”
I blinked in astoishment, aghast. “You mean I've stolen your body?”
She looked back at me and smirked that little half smile that I loved about her. “No, I mean I am you, and you are me. I remember getting my first kiss from Kab Solo when I was eight and he was the secret crush of every girl in my class and I had the courage to go and claim him. As much as I remember your first kiss from that girl behind the gymnasium when we were eighteen...”
“Seventeen!” I protested.
She made a dismissive gesture. “Yes, yes, I remember how proud we were we weren't a virgin on our eighteenth birthday. Hardly a difficult conquest, was she?”
“So, if we were on Earth, would I be a spirit in the back of your mind?”
The Sith Lord allowed a cross look to dominate her face, with all it's fearful dread. “You think of this in terms of 'you' and 'I', that is why I am here. I am the Force, manipulated by your mind as a defense mechanism to keep from going mad. There is no 'you' or 'I', there is Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith. 'You' are not someone else. 'You' are 'I'. And you need to come to grips with that before we are driven mad by the disparity.”
I felt my eyebrow rise up my forehead. “Are you saying this is all in my head?”
She crossed her arms over her impressive bosom. “You're the one arguing with yourself.” She turned and looked deeper into the ship. “They're coming, so I must leave.” She stood and looked down on me, aloof, aristocratic and commanding. “Ask yourself this and embrace it or I will have to return; is being a woman so bad?”
Before I could answer I blinked and she was gone, the buzz at the edge of hearing was back and the air was moving through the ducts again. The little door at the back of the cockpit opened revealing Silas and Darius. “Any of this make sense to you?” he asked with a big smile.
I arched an eyebrow at him.
* * *
I spent most of the rest of the day in my cabin, going through the communications I'd received and the diary I kept on my tablet. It seemed I had no direct communications from 'Emperor' Malgus, which was probably a good thing. I would discover in point of fact that the Sith I most directly communicated with was Darth Marr head of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire. Indeed, I was something of the 'fair haired boy,' or girl as the case may be, in Darth Marr's eyes. Evidently I had a reputation as a driven, dependable 'rain maker' in difficult assignments and had ascended to the rank of 'Darth' by the time I was twenty two.
This meteoric rise had me marked as a prodigy by some and likely as an enemy by those seeking to supplant me in their bid to curry favor with Darth Marr. I discovered I was now twenty five, which meant I had for all practical purposes had twenty years back from my old life, and given the most common advancement strategies of the empire they were likely years I wouldn't get to fully enjoy again. Or so I'd thought until I'd riffled through the email lists, where I had quite a collection of notes from several different divisions of the Imperial Army. Thank you notes, the vast majority of them, copies of letters of commendations for my professionalism, ease of working with, it seemed I had a number of fans in the Army, which was very comforting.
From a personal stand point it would appear that the 'real' Nyeomi's career had departed rather sharply from the game I had played. I wasn't anyone's 'Wrath', however you pronounced it. I had been apprenticed to a Darth Vannacen, also a member of the Sphere of Defense of the Empire, who if my diary was to be believed, had been so lighthearted of a Sith as to practically be considered kindly. Her chief passion she harnessed to access the Dark Side was lust and the entries of the diary that spoke of her read like a pornographic novel of her conquests; both in the bed room and the field of battle. She had been killed by Republic supported resistance fighters on Balmorra four years ago.
On a whim I keyed on a file and before me a ghostly hologram appeared of a trim, full figured woman in every sense of the word. While the reinforced armored clothing she was wearing was doubtlessly very flattering and 'helping' her figure, she was still a damn fine image of a woman. She wore her ebony hair loose about her shoulders and stood in an aggressive stance, practically shouting to the world she dealt with life on her own terms. She wasn't a MILF any more and cougar was getting to be kindly with the crows feet at the corner of her eyes and mouth. That rich ebony color in her hair was probably coming mostly from a bottle, but there was a glint in her eyes that said if you were lucky enough to share her bed you'd come away with an experience you'd remember for the rest of your life.
It was obvious she was a dangerous killer, but she was a dangerous lover as well.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the image was she was smiling. You never think of Sith Lords as smiling or happy. There was a courtesy knock on my cabin door and then it opened with a hiss revealing Silas. “Hey,” he greeted as I ignored his subconscious rudeness of just barging into my cabin. “Who's that?” he asked, looking at the hologram.
“Her name was Darth Vannacen,” I replied over the somewhat embarrassing growl from my empty stomach. “She was my master.”
“I'm guessing from the use of past tense she's...?”
“Dead,” I finished for him.
“Republic militia on Balmorra.”
“Awkward,” he admitted by way of an apology. “We're getting together for dinner and to compare notes. Hungry?” My stomach gurgled again in answer. “Cool, at the ramp in five.”
I clicked off the hologram and stood from the bed. With a causal gesture my light sabers left their stand on the dresser and floated over to my hand. “We're not eating here?” I asked as I followed him through the corridor to the ramp.
“Hey, you're a chick now, do you want to cook?” he asked over his shoulder.
Silas' feet somehow got tangled up in each other just as he arrived at the ramp and he tumbled down it, ass over elbows to land in an unceremonious heap at the bottom. Groaning as he sat up I charitably gave him a hand up as I would never have used the Force to trip him for making such a remark.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I noticed the speeder was not parked where it had been and turned back to the group at large. "What happened to the shit sled?"
"Sold it," Silas replied from dusting himself off as he led the way out of the hanger and onto the street. "Just lucky we didn't have to pay to haul it off."
"Anybody going to come looking for it?" Darius asked his big mustache twitching as he did so. "Last thing we need is trouble with the local constabulary." Silas was smiling his cocksure smile and shook his head.
"I don't think there really is any kind of law or order on this planet," he declared sidelong. "The guy I sold it to didn't ask me for registration, proof of ownership, or even ID. We haggled the price, money changed hands, we went our separate ways. I've got a feeling here on Tatooine possession is ten tenths of the law. On the plus side I did find out where the best restaurant in this goat rodeo is. It's just over here."
'Best' in a town like Anchorhead, I would learn, was largely a matter of perspective. Bibo's Tavern would barely qualify as a greasy spoon truck stop back in the States. But there were tables and waitresses and hologram menus that describe the fare with pictures and simple descriptions as befitting the simple people that were their primary clientele. We weren't the only ones armed in the establishment but that was not a universal statement either as there were plenty of patrons and the waitstaff themselves that if they had iron they were keeping it discrete.
It was about as far as haute cuisine as you can get and still be edible, but the place was clean quiet and discreetly lit. If you ever find yourself there I can recommend Bantha stew that I had which was quite tasty if more than a little greasy. So between bites of the meat heavy stew I give a brief summary of what I've discovered. Followed by a quick summary from Darius of what he had found out which I already knew. I did learn that Lanaka and I had boarded on the planet Gala; a world on the border of the Sith Empire and the Republic.
Perhaps I'm being harsh, but as I expected Silas had spent the day playing cards against Fivearen, I supposed to find out if he had the skills he should've had. When he wasn't out selling arguably stolen vehicles. I had decided to try a bottle of the local brewers best effort with dinner and as I took my final sip our eyes settled on Lanaka. "So," she said after an uncomfortable moment of silence. "What are we going to do?"
"This is in question?" Demanded Silas incredulously.
Lanaka snorted in derision. "Not as far as I'm concerned," she declared loftily. "I say we finish this slop that has the pretentiousness to call it self food, and we get back on that heap of a spaceship and we go somewhere nice, then we forget all about Hutts, Darths and card games."
"And when Darth Malgus sends people in your line of work after us, what do we do then?" I asked her with a generous dollop of sarcasm. "People don't forgive and forget sums of money like these."
Darius shook his head. "I'm with Nyeomi on this one," he declared softly. "We'll talk about retirements after we got his money back to him that's one thing, but Darth Malgus isn't a man I want to piss off."
Lanaka's red eyes narrowed to slits. "But you are willing to piss off creatures that will kill you just as dead here on this planet as opposed to some unknown man who may not even know we are alive?" She stared down each of the two men at the table. "Would you listen to yourselves? We don't know the first thing about..." She made a big gesture to take in the entire planet. "But the three of you think because you're gamers you have a snowballs chance in hell of actually accomplishing what you're thinking about? If we are going to play odds with our lives, then I vote we work really hard at losing ourselves in the great big galaxy. That buys us lifespan now."
I put the bottle the table with more force and I probably needed to. Still it had the effect of getting all their attention, and when they were looking at me I said, "You three can do what you like. While it's likely Darth Malgus doesn't know you're involved if I betray him he won't ever stop coming after me." I sighed and gave each of them a steely glance. "I have to do this. So I'll go get another drink at the bar and let you all decide what you're going to do."
I stood and walked over to the bar without another word, my mind and emotions in a whirlwind. What would I do if they left me and decided to run? For the immediate future I'd be alright, I knew from my earlier investigations I had a significant store of Republic Dataries and my diary made me aware of accounts of Imperial Credits I had access to, both Darth Malgus' New Revanite Empire and the original Sith Empire. That still didn't make the intense fear of being alone in a new and incredibly larger way in the galaxy any less.
When I arrived at the bar, Bibo was waiting on me, another bottle of the same beer I'd ordered with dinner in hand. Bibo was a human male, over fifty I'd guess, with a full head of prematurely white hair and a matching 'Robin Hood' beard on the point of his chin. He'd been a dangerous man in his youth, burly and hard, but the life of a tavern keeper was agreeing with him and he was starting to get soft in the middle. He had the honest face of an upfront brawler who would tell you what he thought of you to your face and back his opinions up with his fists if you took exception to it. “The Force is strong with you, Mister Bibo,” I complimented as I accepted the bottle with a smile and took an appreciative sip.
Bibo chuckled. “I'm not 'Mister' anything, girl,” he replied and cocked his head over his shoulder. “And it's not the Force you can thank for the Beer, but the compliments of the gentleman behind me.”
I looked over his shoulder to take in a lantern jawed movie hero, perhaps 10 years older than me, perfect ebony hair, strong nose, cleft chin and a dazzling smile that was shining my way as he held up a glass of some kind of liquor in toast. I nodded my thanks and turned back to Bibo. “Who is he?” I demanded, confused at first that a strange man would buy me a drink and then I flushed hot with conflicting emotions when my brain caught up and I realized why.
Bibo shrugged and made a show of wiping a glass with a rag. “Some hot shot troubleshooter with Rendia Freight,” the barman replied. “He's been here a couple days, checking up on Rendia's local operations as I understand it. My girls say he's a good tipper.”
I saw the fellow rise from his seat and start over to us, which Bibo did as well. “What can you tell me about him?”
The old bartender winked at me. “That he's got excellent taste in women,” Bibo told me with a smile and then made himself scarce.
I decided to head things off at the pass so to speak, so when Mr. Good Looking got to conversational distance I leveled my most intimidating gaze at him and demanded, “Do you often buy strange women drinks?”
“Only the beautiful ones who look like they have an interesting story to tell,” he replied with a confident smile while shifting his drink to his left hand and presenting the right to be shook. “So that makes you the first; Torm Belos.”
You can tell a lot about a man from his handshake, or so I believe. Torm Belos had a firm, manly grip with a warm, dry palm and didn't compromise his grip because I was a woman. I couldn't tell if I liked that or not, but looking him up and down from the line backer shoulders to the six pack abs I was sure were hiding under a very rich fabric in his tunic, I knew instantly he was the kind of guy you can't help liking. He was The Guy; that manly fellow that other men respect and secretly imitate and women swoon over and so he was doubly dangerous to me, considering my situation, so I decided the forthright approach would be best. “Darth Nyeomi Fens, Lord of the Sith,” I told him, looking him square in the eye.
To my considerable surprise, he didn't even blink and his smile got wider. “Welcome to the Republic! Please, allow me to do my part for international relations and make your evening as enjoyable as possible.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “Unafraid? You must be either a very brave man or a fool,” I declared, trying to rattle his cage. I wanted out of this uncomfortable situation, but not so badly as to make a scene.
He leaned against the bar sideways on one elbow, completely unfazed and took a sip of whatever it was he was drinking. “Oh, I've been both at one time or another,” he admitted with that damnably charming smile. “Tell me, my lord, what could possibly be of interest to someone of your quality out here?”
“Precious little,” I told him smartly and turned back to the table in preparation of making my exit, but what I saw stopped me in my tracks. Silas and Darius were in a heated conversation, doubtless about how to proceed, but Lanaka was staring at me. Now, it's getting hard to judge her expressions with those solid red eyes of hers, but a blind man could see the source of the expression that was painted on her face now and honestly that caught me completely flat footed.
The woman I thought had been the love of my life, who had made it clear we were no longer a couple despite her vows of 'better or worse' who had begun to take a perverse delight in throwing barbs and ridicule at me, wore an unmistakable expression, the source of which was the man standing next to me. My ex-wife was jealous I was getting hit on by easily the best looking man in the tavern. While that wouldn't be much of a feat most times here on Tatooine, this time it had Silas and Darius in it and let's be honest they were both solid studs that likely commanded plenty of female attention.
So I was in the position of being the 'Alpha' female of the room that the agreed upon 'Alpha' male was trying his luck with. And it pissed her off. No, it infuriated her that some how I was a better woman than she was. Forgive me, but considering the ration of shit I'd taken from her lately, I honestly couldn't resist twisting the knife a bit.
I turned my movement from decisively storming off to leaning my back against the bar and propping myself up on my forearms with my hands hanging off the bar. This had the effect of accentuating and somewhat thrusting forward my chest as I turned back to Mr Torm Belos and smiled up at him. That in itself was a feat as in my boots I was just under two meters and he was larger enough I had to crane my neck a bit to look up at him. “But the prospects seem to be improving,” I told him with a smile. “What brings you to Tatooine, Mr. Belos?”
“Torm, my lord, I insist,” he replied.
He bowed from the neck. “I'm deeply honored, Nyeomi, and business brings me. I'm a Process Executive for Rendia Freight. We've lost our Founder recently and the share holders have me evaluating all the holdings through out the sector while things are reorganized.”
“Process Executive?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
His smile could have melted a glacier. “Just a fancy way of saying I solve problems for the company. Probably not so very different than your duties for the Empire I would guess.”
My smile was feral. “Usually I'm solving problems with violence.”
I have to give the man credit, in his position I would be sweating bullets, or more likely have just cut my losses and scampered off, tail between my proverbial legs, but Torm was cool and collected and his smile didn't waiver. I have to admit I had not been half the man Torm Belos was so it was more than a little disconcerting to find the woman I had become of such great interest to him. “I can't solve all my issues that way, but my blaster has been my best friend on more than one job.”
“Any good with it?” The words right out of my mouth before I realized what a horrible double entendre I'd made. And of course he picked up on it instantly.
Now his smile took on a less wholesome quality. It made him seem like a rough neck who someone had put through charm school, a pit bull at a lapdog breeder's show. “I'm here and the problems were...solved...” He leaned forward a bit and casually put a hand on my arm. "You strike me as someone who understands that sometimes you just have to deal with things... physically..."
I took a sip of beer to try and calm my thundering heart because despite myself, despite my history and whatever my true nature was or wasn't, this man was affecting me! My heart was racing, my body was flooded with adrenaline; the presence in the back of my mind was screaming like a cheerleader and...other...portions of my anatomy were...yes, goddammit, I was turned on! Alright? I said it, he turned me on! Bolstered by my shot of liquid courage, I struggled to get a grip on myself. Taunting Lanaka was one thing, hopping into the sack with a man (!) I had just met (!!) was quite another! “You like playing with fire, Torm?” I demanded.
The wolf in his grin had found the sheep. He drew his hand up so that only the tip of his index finger was touching me and ran it up and down the length of my forearm. The feelings and images that touch awoke in my mind would likely have made my old master blush. “I wouldn't be in the business I'm in if I didn't enjoy challenges and danger.”
A side note of biology is in order. When a man becomes interested in a woman sexually the reaction is physical and apparent. A certain swelling that can be noticed in the front of one's pants. A discrete glance told me not only was Torm interested, he was very interested and I wasn't sure how he hadn't passed out from blood loss! Women, I just found out, well they get...hollow. I had never been so aware of space between my legs nor had I ever had such a burning need to fill it. On top of that, the moisture of some portions of my body getting ready for what it hoped would happen had me squirming. I'll be changing these panties the second I get back to the ship!
“Nyeomi?” I turned to see Darius standing just out of hands reach roughly between us. “We're leaving.”
“Friend of yours?” Torm asked, his tone asking his real question. Boyfriend of yours?
“Thank you, Colonel, I'll just be a moment.” Darius withdrew as Torm looked a tad hopeful, much more puppy than wolf now. “I have to go, I'm afraid. Will I see you...?”
“I'm heading to Mos Espa in the morning,” he said. “Last of my business on Tatooine is there. But I'm taking some time off to attend the Boonta's Eve Pazaak Grand Master's Tournament. I'm staying at the Lady of Great Fortune Casino Hotel.”
I couldn't keep the smile off my face. “My...associate...is attending the tournament as well. Then we will see each other again, Mister Belos, excellent!”
“I can't wait,” he replied as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "After all you still owe me that story." He reached down and took my free hand to bring up to his lips. The feeling of his lips on my skin sent an electric jolt up and down my nervous system. Neither could I, oh yes, neither could I...
* * *
I won't spend a lot of time on the fight Lanaka and I got into once we were back at the ship. I cringe when I think of some of the things I called her and she called me in return. It was a cat fight in every sense of the word and I'm honestly ashamed of losing control of myself to that level. In my defense I'll point out she started it, juvenile, I know, but important none the less. I'm just very, very grateful that no matter how foolish and emotional I was, that when she'd pushed me as far as I would go, when I would take nothing else from her, that when I reached for my light saber, Darius was there to grab me and talk me down.
Needless to say, when I went to bed that night I was shaking.
I had nearly killed my wife over her jealousy of my flirtation with another man. Another man! I can barely believe that previous sentence! And that I would offer violence to a woman, no matter the provocation...that wasn't how I was raised!
What difference does her gender make? Demanded the Presence from the back of my mind. Would you let her kill us because her genitals match ours? She disrespected us! She sought to challenge our dominance and to take a male we prized! She needed to be put back in her place and we did so! Save your tears for those who have earned them.
"I am not evil!" I hissed at the presence. "I'm not an animal or a mindless killer!"
You think I am? I didn't reach for our light sabers, you did!
"No!" I protested looking for some excuse, any excuse, that would absolve me of the responsibility of reaching for a weapon for losing an argument. "I wasn't... I was just going to scare...”
The only person you scare is yourself. You have never understood women, and even now that you are one you don't understand how or why you act! The tears flowed hot and bitter down my cheeks as the presence took me by the scruff of the neck and rubbed my nose in my own failures. I knew only that my heart ached from what I had almost done, and what I had wanted to do. And in that pain I was desperate for some consolation or solace and forgiveness for losing my self-control.
I didn't question when Torm's arms slipped around me. I did not concern myself with how or why he had gotten in my cabin; only that he stroked my hair and assured me that it wasn't my fault. Somehow his kissing my tears away became just kissing me and then became kissing me with a passion that swept over me like a tidal wave.
His weight held me to the bed, his hands controlling my wrists over my head, his breath hot on my neck as he rubbed against me, seeking me. Just as he found me and claimed me for his own I woke with a start more confused and disoriented that at any other time in my life. I laid my head down on the bed again, and cried myself back to sleep.
* * *
I didn't so much as wake up the next morning as I gave up on trying to sleep the night before. A cold shower from the refresher unit purged the last of the previous nights sexual confusion. There was no exploration this morning, I was certainly not in the mood for it. To match my gray mood, I pulled on a pair of gray woolen Jodhpurs my knee boots and a gray Gi tunic held closed by my utility belt. I almost didn't put the light sabers on the keeper, but Tattooine was not a place where the dangers would wait while I ran and got my weapons.
I felt an intense need to do something physical and so I ruffled through my wardrobe and pulled out the little training drone I'd seen earlier. It was a gray plastic ball, covered in repulsor panels and beam emitter ports identical to the one we saw Luke use. As I came out into the hallway I could smell that Lanaka was buying her way back into Silas and Darius' good graces with a traditional breakfast, or as close as could be had here.
What? You're surprised Lanaka can cook? We didn't get fat by not eating you know.
That said, after the cat fight last night, that was the last place I was interested in, so I turned my back on it and made my way aft to the ramp and out into the morning. Neither of Tattooine's suns were over the lip of the docking bay yet, but it was already stifling hot. You don't really realize how hot it gets watching the actors on the screen, being southern I was used to heat but I was used to wet muggy heat. Immediately my skin dried out and I felt the salty, sandy residue that was left on the skin, making me feel like I already needed another shower. With a little toss I launched the drone which then followed off my left shoulder hovering in the air as I moved to a clear spot in the hangar.
I took the light sabers from my belt one at the time and reset them to their training mode; now they would cut through nothing and can actually picked up by the blade if you didn't mind a burn. I kept one saber out holding it by the pommel in both hands the other I returned my belt. "Random attack pattern," I ordered the drone. "Moderate difficulty."
The drone spun in place and then begin to zip about in random arcs at nearly double the speed we'd seen before. It didn't stop to fire, merely spitting an energy bolt and changing direction without so much as a pause. But despite the speed with which the little drone moved I found my blade always arriving right before the energy bolt to deflect it harmlessly off onto the wall of the bay. "Pause," I ordered and obligingly the drone came to a halt. This was obviously too easy. From the utility belt I took a strip of cloth and improvised a blindfold for myself.
I sighed as I brought the blade up in a high guard next to my face close enough that I can feel the tug of the magnetic field holding in the plasma making my hair stand up. A long slow inhale was followed by an equally slow and deliberate exhale as I re-centered myself. "Resume," I ordered and with a hiss the little drone started its movement again.
It's very hard for me even now to describe what happened next. I couldn't see and yet I knew in a way that I won't ever be able to describe where everything around me was. I suppose the closest thing would be to imagine someone who was blind in their own home where they knew where everything was. I wasn't counting steps or any other memory trick I just... Knew. Likewise with the bolts I moved the swords where I thought they would be and they were there. It was the most amazing thing that I have ever experienced in my entire life. Finally the droid beeped as it finished its program and I came set again, panting slightly from the effort. I wasn't sweating, you can't sweat on Tatooine the moisture evaporates off your skin too fast, but I was winded in the most exhilarating kind of way.
"That was impressive," Lanaka said from the ramp into the ship.
I extinguished the sabers and returned them to my belt, before I turned to face her and removed the blindfold. "Thank you," I told her not really trusting myself to be more than just polite. She walked out and raised the tray in her hand to give it emphasis.
"I made breakfast." She set the tray on one of the crates that were near me at a neutral angle, one of dozens scattered about the hangar. "I thought you might want some. They're blue but they are eggs."
"This is very kind of you." I walked over to the cup of coffee off the trade had a sip. I took a deep breath and looked her in the eye, "look, Laura I want to apologize..."
The red eyes met mine even though they were faded significantly; almost pink. Perhaps she had been crying as much as I had. "I was a bitch," she declared earnestly. She sighed and looked away before she can work up the courage to meet my gaze again. "You can't know what it's like to live your whole life passed over, ignored, and when you're not ignored there is someone shaming you because you're fat, and ugly, and no one wants you around. Until they want something from you and they are your best friend until they got what they needed or wanted and throw you away like yesterday's newspaper."
"I never treated you..." I started but she angrily cut me off.
"No it's not about you, Ed!" She exclaimed over talking me and her eagerness to get what she had to say out. "Not everything is about you! That was my life! And then this happened to me! I finally got to be Cinderella, and then... You..."
"I suppose you could say that I got the Prince," I said wincing at the analogy, made worse by that perfect Eaton accent I could do nothing to hide. She stared at me for a long moment her mouth moving silently as she tried to make the words come.
"You think this is funny?!" She hissed. I held up my hands to try to plead for my innocence but she spun on her heel and started back to the ship obviously in a rage. I sighed as I watched her depart knowing from experience calling after but only make it worse.
"Return to my cabin and go to stand by," I ordered a little target drone. It obediently flew off while I shook my head and ate the breakfast she brought me. Whatever clarity of thought I had managed from my exercise was long gone now. So I finished with breakfast then I went around the ship to do the pre-flight check stowing the shore power connections as I did so. I was almost as much of a robot as the other droids on the ship as I brought the engines up from standby.
Back in the cockpit in that massively exposed bubble, I eased up on the controls in the Aces and Eights rose to my bidding. I found her to be a responsive, easy craft, somewhere between a sports car and really well-made bus. There were no storm troopers rushing in to the bay to try to stop us and I don't know if that foretold good or ill. I was aware of Darius settling in the copilot's place as I nocked the throttle forward and we swooped out over Anchorhead and turned north out into the Dune Sea. "You seem quite an old hand at this," commented Darius.
I eased the throttle to its maximum atmospheric setting as the Aces and Eights shot north towards her date at Moss Espa. While the Dune Sea rushed under us I made sure of the beacon of the autopilot in the NAV computer before he turned to face him. "I guess I have to be," I told him doing my best to get my emotions in check. "Game time is over."
* To be continued *