||09-19-2008 03:35 AM
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Day 262 - "Just Another Day at Work"
Grissom Pane sat behind his desk pondering his next big sales pitch. It’s something he would often do when faced with a tight deadline. He’d sit down in his top floor office, behind the sleek black marble desk and think for hours. The thing is that in the end he would always come up with an idea and it wouldn’t be adequate, or good – his ideas were always inexplicably close to perfection. The man simply had a gift. Without it, he never would have got that sleek black desk. His reputation as the best Marketing Manager of Magnat Interplanetary’s Lianna branch was well deserved.
He sat there for three hours now, doing nothing but thinking. Pane turned around to enjoy the breathtaking look on Lianna’s corporate district as he often would when seeking inspiration. This small portion of the planet-wide city with its towering skyscrapers and busy traffic served as food to Grissom’s ambition.
Even though Lianna was an Outer Rim world, Grissom enjoyed his life here, for the most part at least. The reason he enjoyed this planet so much was because to him it served as a preview, a hint of what the capital would be like when he one day gets enough reputation and earns that post on Coruscant.
Thinking about his own ambition, the idea hit Grissom like a brick in the forehead.
He’ll use ambition, the very desire of a person to be better than the rest, to have something that nobody else has. Yes, that’s how he’ll sell that product. The simplest and most obvious solutions are most often the best ones. For Grissom this one line of thought was worth gold. He had a few others that he firmly stood by, but this is the one he stood by the most and it never failed him so far.
He wished Aria, his friend from Finances, was there. Pane loved bragging about his latest idea to her and she was a good listener and a true friend. Hell, he even lost count of the ideas he thought up with in the middle of a conversation with Aria. She was one of the few people he liked in this company and one of the few he socialized with outside of work. But Aria was on leave for the next two weeks. Visiting family back on Ryloth, she said. Grissom thought it was a shame she wasn’t there to hear all about an idea ’’so great it would revolutionize advertising’’, but then again he would have more time to work out all the details, including the presentation on the board meeting he had tomorrow.
’’Mister Pane...’’ It was Tally, his secretary, who interrupted his self-gloating. He raised his head so as to show that he noticed her enter the office. He mumbled something that probably meant ’’Yes? What is it?’’ in galactic basic.
’’Well, sir, I’m heading off home and I was just wondering if you’ll be staying longer again, or should I wait a few minutes for you to leave so I can lock everything up?’’ She asked.
’’You go ahead, Tally. Don’t worry, I’ll lock up today.’’ Pane gave her the same answer as yesterday and the day before. He even said it with the same calm tone of voice.
She nodded in acknowledgement and as she was walking away he couldn’t help but wonder how in all the credits of the Republic could she combine all those colors and think she looks good in them. This particular time it was a pink Sullust leather jacket over a green cotton shirt and a purple skirt. It’s good that she didn’t decide to dye her hair orange. Now that would have been a sight to die from.
Grissom had a habit of working late when he was facing a deadline, but in recent months that habit grew into one of working late almost every day. When he wasn’t at the office, he was in the streets, just walking around the city. He hasn’t been home for months. He couldn’t bring himself to return to that penthouse of his. He knew she would be there, if he did. Standing, watching, waiting. She’s always waiting.
Day 78 - "Happier Times"
It didn’t bother Grissom much in the beginning, not going home. He thought it a challenge, an opportunity to demonstrate that he can be the best in the galaxy even under the hardest of circumstances. He even enjoyed the long night walks around the city. The atmosphere was somehow different at night. The city was alive, but in another, exciting kind of way.
When Grissom first started working for Magnat Interplanetary he disliked everything that wasn’t related to his work. He considered most of his colleagues annoying, lunch breaks for Grissom Pane were just a way to get bored and waste time. Until he met his best friend, that is.
Aria Obata was a young, cheerful Twi’Lek who had an aspiring career in the Finance department of the company. She started as a simple clerk and got to being assisstant manager in record time. In a way she reminded Pane of himself, which is probably the reason she intrigued him so much. They’d meet regularly at lunch breaks and discuss subjects that varied from Grissom’s latest breakthrough to the political situation on the planet and to casual conversations and even a few dirty jokes.
Pane was finishing his pre-lunch tasks. He was very meticulous in that regard. His workday had to be perfectly planned and everything on the list had to be finished that day. However, Grissom was also very punctual, at least before lunch, so he made sure everything that needed to be done was done, locked up the office and headed one floor down – to the executives’ cafeteria.
He waited at the usual table for Aria to arrive. Not two minutes after Pane sat down he spotted Aria. He stood up and waved to her, just as every other time. She waved back and gestured for him to sit back and that she’ll bring the food. He obeyed and waited.
’’What’s up, Gris?’’ She cheerfully asked when she came with the sandwitches and two shots of Juma juice.
’’The usual, you know.’’ He replied smugly, ’’They gave me a product that’s impossible to sell and I found a way to sell it.’’
’’I see. The usual.’’ Aria said, as if uninterested. It was their regular internal joke. In truth, Grissom’s bragging entertained her very much. This was just a way to provoke him to do it in detail. To some the two of them seemed like a couple, but there was no romance between them, just plain old friendship and they were both satisfied with it.
’’Oh, yes! You’ve heard of those new speeder engine inductors we were developing, right?’’ He was warming up. Aria nodded as she took another bite of her sandwitch. ’’Well, the development was finished months ago, but the thing is those inductors just spend too much energy.’’
’’Yeah, I remember hearing something very vague from one of the R&D guys last month.’’ Aria mumbled between bites.
’’To put it simply...’’ Grissom said, ’’They’re crap. You’d have to be mad to buy them for the money the company’s intending to sell them for.’’
’’Yet, you’ve found a way.’’ Aria stated, as if it were a widely known fact. The smug expression on Pane’s face was saying more than words could. ’’Been working late to find it, did you?’’ She added.
’’Why do you say that?’’ Grissom asked in wonder. He was expecting a pat on the back, a ’’You’re the man’’ type of sentence.
’’You look a little pale. How long have you gone without sleep for this one, Gris?’’
’’Just this last week.’’ He lied. In truth he hasn’t slept in more than two months, but it hasn’t reflected on his performance at work so far and one additional cup of coffee was enough to keep him awake.
’’Well, you look like hell.’’ She added, ’’You know, if I believed those stories you humans have, pale as you are and with that neatly combed hair of yours, I’d say you were a vampire.’’
’’Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s just plain old me.’’ He said with a smile.
’’Go home, Gris. Get some sleep. The work can wait.’’ She finished her Juma juice and left.
Her words rang in Pane’s head. Go home. Get some sleep. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t go home and he couldn’t sleep, regardless of how much he wanted to. She was still there. He could feel it. Waiting for him.
Day 369 - "From Bad to Worse"
Nights grew longer for Grissom Pane. It’s been a long time since his entire ordeal started, since he last slept. No number of additional cups of coffee could keep him awake anymore. He switched to neural stimuli almost three months ago, but even that was slowly failing.
He had to up the dosage this week so he could simply keep his eyes open. Pane couldn’t allow himself to go to sleep. He was too afraid. Afraid that she wasn’t just an apparition, a trick his mind decided to play on him. Afraid of what would happen, if he fell asleep.
Grissom sat on a bench overlooking Eden Park. He would often go there when he needed to clear his head. The park radiated with various colors that mesmerized Grissom’s mind each and every time. A true masterpiece of botany. Red grass that was littered with blue flowers and black crusted trees with white leaves and at the center a giant fountain, water glittering in its pool. It calmed Grissom’s mind and yet kept him fully awake. It was, in Grissom’s opinion, the most beautiful place on Lianna. And just a few hundred meters away was the local Jedi Academy. A tall, needle shaped tower that somehow seemed too small to hold an academy, the private Jedi spaceport and living quarters for all those students and their teachers.
Grissom didn’t care much for the Force, or the Jedi. At least not until she appeared. Some time ago he actually considered going to the Jedi for help, but he concluded that it would be a waste of time, that they would probably send him to a psychiatrist, that they wouldn’t believe him. Even he wouldn’t have believed it, if it hadn’t happened to him.
Dawn was looming on the horizon and he would soon have to go back to work. Unfortunately, even work stopped being a pleasure for Grissom Pane. He was still determined to get that promotion and move to Coruscant, but it was becoming harder and harder over time. He had to spend every second in deep concentration, making sure he doesn’t slip up somewhere and blow the entire deal. After a year of not sleeping it was a huge strain on both his body and his mind.
He was just about to head off, when Aria suddenly appeared. ’’Enjoying the view?’’ She asked.
’’What are you doing here?’’ Pane was caught off guard.
’’Some nights ago I was passing through with some friends and I noticed you sitting on this very bench. Then I noticed you again on the way back.’’ She explained. ’’And then again two nights later and, most recently, I saw you last night. Sitting alone on the same bench.’’
’’So you decided to drop in?’’ He joked. Or at least he tried to. He felt so tired he was barely aware of anyone around him.
’’Yep.’’ The Twi’Lek answered. ’’I thought, there must be something special about this place for you to come here every single night.’’
’’I see.’’ Grissom acknowledged with no apparent interest.
’’Well, that, or you just needed to talk to someone, but weren’t aware of it yet.’’ She added humorously. ’’So, Gris, what’s up?’’
’’Nothing. Like you said, I’m enjoying the view.’’ His lie was so apparent a deaf man would have been able to hear it.
’’Come on, Gris!’’ Aria was disappointed. ’’We’re friends. You know you can talk to me, if you have problems.’’
’’I don’t have problems. I’m fine.’’ He answered mechanically.
’’Well, your appearance says otherwise. You look like you haven’t slept in months. Your skin is as white as synthmilk, your hairdue looks like you made it by sticking your head in an electrical output and you’ve been wearing the same clothes for ten days.’’ Aria insisted. ’’Talk, Gris. What’s going on?’’
He was definitely thinking about it. Aria was his best friend, she might understand, she might believe him, or at least refer him to a discrete therapist. No! Are you completely insane? He then thought. She won’t believe me. She’ll think I’m a complete psycho and I’ll lose my best friend. She’ll probably even call the authorities and they’ll send me to a mental institution for the rest of my life. Aria grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him and ordered: ’’Talk! Right now!’’
Fine! Kark it! He snapped. ’’I haven’t slept in a year! You satisfied? I can’t go to sleep! I can’t go home! All because of her. She’s always there and I can’t get rid of her. Those eyes... they’re...’’
Aria was a bit confused, but she was determined to get to the bottom of this. She was going to help her friend. ’’Calm down. Start from the beginning, Gris. Tell me everything.’’
Day 1 - "Things that Chill Your Heart"
Grissom Pane felt pretty good about himself today. Not a full hour ago he received feedback on his latest marketing campaign. It was another success. The local executives tasked him with inventing a way to sell Magant Interplanetary’s new and improved datapads. In Grissom’s opinion this product was completely useless, since its only innovation when compared to the commonly used datapad is a three-dimensional holographic display and a slightly larger memory capacity. Compared to the money it cost to make it, the new and improved datapad was a piece of fancy junk that would have to cost twice its production price, just to make a basic annual profit. So Grissom decided to target the rich and clueless, people who worry only about appearances and luckily Lianna had more than enough of those as did almost every other developed world in the Republic.
’’Lock up, Tally, I’m heading off.’’ He said cheerfully to his secretary. She stared at him cluelessly for about thirty seconds before she nodded in acknowledgement, of course by that time Grissom was already at the elevator. She’d never seen her boss leave early until today.
Pane decided that after so much time spent working and a hundred percent success rate at his job, he deserved some relaxation. He strolled calmly through the company garage until he got to his luxurious metallic red TaggeCo airspeeder.
It was a calm ride home. The Ilan Residences were a peaceful middle-class neighborhood. Nice, clean, crime-free and moderate in everything, just as its residents. Another reason why Grissom lived here was that a lot of Sienar Technologies employees, among who were even some executives, lived in this particular complex, which allowed Pane to occasionally ’’feel’’ the situation in Magnat Interplanetary’s biggest rival on Lianna.
Grissom was looking forward to spending the remainder of the day in bed. He had been working overtime for the last two weeks, so he desperately needed some rest. He entered his penthouse lobby, took off his coat and continued to the living room, intending to relax with a glass of Corellian ale.
He managed to pour himself a drink before noticing that he was not as alone as he thought. Standing at the huge window overlooking the residential complex was a person in black robes. The hooded figure appeared to be inspecting the view from Grissom’s penthouse. Only when he dropped his glass in shock did the figure calmly turn around.
It was an old woman, her hood covering the upper half of her face, everything from the nose above. Her appearance sent chills through Grissom’s spine. A braid of hair emerged from the hood on each side of her face. The old woman’s hair was as white as snow and the two braids were held by several black bands. Her face was terrifying. Crumpled, ancient and pale as a corpse. Her lips were strangely black, contrasting the rest of her face.
Grissom approached slowly and cautiously, all the while inspecting his intruder. The old woman was calmly standing there in silence. She made no gestures, but Grissom had the distinct impression that she was watching him as closely as he was watching her.
’’Who are you?’’ He managed to ask. The old woman just stood in silence. There was no answer. Grissom continued to stare at her in confusion. There was something about her that gave him more pause than ten heavily armed thugs.
’’What do you want? What are you doing here?!’’ Grissom shouted at her in panic.
The old woman finally spoke, her voice was calm and serious, as horrifying as death itself. ’’I’m waiting for you to fall asleep.’’
’’What do you mean by that?’’ Grissom shouted, ’’What happens when I fall asleep?’’ His heart was racing so fast it’s a wonder he didn’t get a heart attack. The old woman gave no more answers. She just raised her head a bit to reveal the eyes her hood was hiding. Her eyes appeared atrophied, but instead of white, they were as black as the farthest reaches of space. She seemed as she was looking straight at Pane and then she produced an ominous smile.
Pane slowly backed away and then panickingly rushed out of the penthouse. He spent the next five hours on a bench overlooking Eden Park, trying to calm himself. It’s all in your head. He told himself. But the chill was still there. Gripping his heart like a predator’s claw. He tried breathing deep, he tried thinking about something completely unrelated to anything in his life, in the end he simply looked at the marvelous garden of Eden Park. You’re overworked. You need rest. It was all just a trick of the mind. He thought. You’re acting stupid. There’s nothing to be afraid. Go home and get some sleep.
In the end Grissom decided to take his own advice and return home. When he arrived at his door he felt relief. He entered. The place seemed empty. He entered the living room and approached the spot the old woman was standing five hours ago. Grissom looked through the window and sighed in relief. I was just imagining it. I need to rest before I completely go nuts. As he turned around, prepared to forget the whole thing, he jumped back in terror as he saw the old woman standing in silence not half a meter away from him.
He cautiously circled around her as her head turned to follow his movements. She then turned around calmly to face him. ’’You’re just an apparition!’’ Grissom shrieked, ’’Get out of my head!’’ But the old woman was simply standing there in silence. Watching.
’’What do you want? What are you still doing here?!’’ Grissom shrieked again in panic.
’’I’m waiting for you to fall asleep.’’ The old woman answered ominously as before.
Day 369 Continued - "The End, The Beginning"
’’After that I just ran.’’ Pane added, ’’There was no way I could have remained there after an event like that.’’
Aria was pretty shocked by Grissom’s story. She thought it over in her head and finally said: ’’Look, Gris, as terrifying as it must have been, I think you were on the right track when you told yourself that it’s all in your head. You said it yourself, you were overworked, desperately needing sleep that you just started seeing things.’’
’’Then why was she still there when I returned home?’’ Grissom demanded.
’’Well, I’m no psychiatrist, but you know better than anyone how important your career is to you. Is it possible that on some subconscious level you’re driving yourself to put your job in front of all other needs?’’ Aria posed a valid question.
’’I can see that happening.’’ Grissom admitted, ’’But not to this extent. You don’t understand Aria, every time I so much as blink I see that crumpled pale face.’’
’’That might just be the fatigue that’s getting to you.’’ She tried to offer a more reasonable explanation. ’’Have you tried sleeping at all? In a hotel, or in the office when you stay to work overtime?’’
’’I did almost doze off in the office. Once. And she was still there.’’ Pane said with apparent terror in his voice. ’’I snapped right out of it and drank another cup of coffee.’’
’’It seems there’s only one way to make sure you’re not hallucinating, Gris.’’ Aria stated, ’’You need to go home. Now. I’ll go with you, if you want. If she’s not there anymore, then you have no reason to deprive yourself of sleep any further.’’
’’And if she is still there?’’ Grissom already anticipated the worst.
’’Then we’ll have to think of something else.’’ Aria said, ’’I’m your friend Gris, I’ll help you anyway I can.’’ She added.
They sat on that bench a few minutes more and then went to Pane’s penthouse together. Pane took out his keycard, but as his hand approached the slot, it started to shake. He was still to afraid to do it, so Aria grabbed the keycard from him and unlocked the door.
Aria went in first and then gestured with her hand for Pane to follow her in. He obeyed, though reluctantly. As they entered the living room the pair noticed that it was not only dusty from a yearlong lack of cleaning, but it was also empty. The two of them were the only persons there. Neither Aria nor Grissom saw any hint of the pale old woman in black robes that terrified Grissom Pane so much. They proceeded to cautiously inspect the rest of the penthouse and have noticed that it was in the same state as the living room – dusty and empty.
It was all in my head after all. Grissom thought to himself with relief. They both called the company – Aria to inform them she’ll be late and Grissom to take the day off. They proceeded to clean the place up a bit, so as to make it habitable again. As they were saying goodbye Grissom thanked his blue skinned friend deeply for everything she did today, for setting him straight. He proceeded to the bedroom where he tucked himself in, turned off the light and fell asleep for the first time after one year.
In the dream everything seemed so peaceful and Grissom Pane felt almost like a child, but then, suddenly, everything changed. Suddenly there was nothing but darkness and in the middle of it was that crone, that terrifying old woman with pale skin, snow white hair and pitch black eyes. Her black lips produced a smile that showed satisfaction. Grissom wanted to scream, but he couldn’t find the strength. His eyes begged the old woman for release, or at least an explanation and she decided to grant him the latter.
’’Why do you think you were so successful? Always being able to produce the perfect solution?’’ The old woman asked rhetorically, ’’It wasn’t luck or talent in the market. It was the gift of foresight granted by the Force. I’m surprised the Jedi never sensed the potential in you, but I have and I’ve decided to use it.’’ A moment later she disappeared and there was nothing but darkness.
What awoke the next morning was not Grissom Pane. It may have looked like a caucasian human male with black hair and in his early thirties, but it was not him. Not anymore. It was something dark and ancient, something that waited a long time for a chance like this. Grissom Pane would never awaken from his slumber again.