Join Date: Nov 2008
THE OLD REPUBLIC: Queen of Hearts - Chapter 6
Nahila looked up at Ketan as he entered the room. "Ah, I was just about to send for you. So... how is our 'guest'?
He had tried to rehearse this conversation somewhat, to prepare his points. "Very difficult. I could not get a word out of her."
"Really, she refused to speak?"
He sighed. "No. She didn't have a problem with talking. She just didn't say anything. Nothing of use at least."
This raised a bit of interest in Nahila. "What, an empty-headed chatterbox?"
"No, she sidestepped my questions,” Ketan shrugged and then slumped. He knew that Nahila was not the sort to berate him for it, but that hadn't stopped him from berating himself. “Every time I asked her something, she said just enough to answer without really answering anything. I can't tell if she is withholding information or just oblivious. She does it every time, without cease."
"Given her Sith background, the first is the most likely, don't you think?"
"Yes. However, I can't think of many options to test it one way or the other."
"What do you intend to do with her?” Nahila asked. Her tone was neutral but her concern regarding the answer was unmistakable. “Shall we keep her there?"
Ketan made a little gesture of uncertainty. "I doubt we will get any more progress in this situation.” He hesitated before continuing, “I have thought on the matter for a time and I keep coming back to the same conclusion." He hesitated again. The plan was entirely practical, he told himself before.
"And that is...?"
"I plan to test her by re-teaching her in the ways of the Jedi. From a Padawan, of course. I believe it should clear the fog she is accidentally or intentionally putting up."
Nahila sat back in her chair and frowned. "A Padawan? And what would you teach this Padawan of yours? She's not exactly a youngling or novice in the Force."
"It would be more a matter of testing than teaching,” he explained, relieved not to be simply refused without a chance to defend his idea, “If she is Sith, then she will surely slip in the training. If she is true in her words, then this is the first step toward the mutual goal of changing her ways."
Nahila considered this. "Hmmmmm. What will you do if she fails, if she is a Sith? What if she is more dangerous than we imagine her to be, what then?"
"Then I hope the Republic officer you placed your trust in will be enough to assist me in dealing with her plans."
"If anyone is enough in that case, it's Corev." She smiled, then paused once more in thought. “And yet, if we do not take the risk, how will we know?” Cocking an eyebrow at the door, she asked, “Do you know Cain? The Jedi out front, the returned Revanchist, the one who is twenty-eight and acts like he is eighteen?”
Ketan nodded. He might not have phrased it quite so bluntly, but he had to agree with her judgement. Cain, he knew, despised him for failing to join the battle against the Mandalorians, just as he despised the other “bureaucrats with lightsabers,” as he called them. Ketan would have remonstrated him for his lack of respect, but it would have served no purpose and Ketan disliked arguments. He had not fought in the Mandalorian Wars, and he had no intension of fighting about them. Conflict led to the Dark Side and was to be avoided at all costs.
“Well,” said Nahila, “he came stomping into my office yesterday, demanding that I release her. He said we were doing her a great injustice and giving a very bad example of those who claim to follow the Light. As much as I hate to admit it, he might have a point. If that is what she claims to be, then we are wrong to imprison her. If she deceives us...Well if she is deceiving us, how will we ever learn her plans if we keep her cooped up and restrained? And do we not profess that the Light is stronger than the Darkness? Do we still believe that? If so, then we may win her regardless, or at least defeat her."
Ketan nodded emphatically. "I agree. I believe this to be the first step towards her destiny, be it redemption or destruction."
"Her destiny and ours as well, perhaps. Perhaps in redeeming her, we will redeem ourselves.” Nahila looked down at her desk and her voice was filled with sadness. “We have lost our way, Ketan, and our faith in the strength of the Light Side. Who knows, if you succeed, perhaps you will heal the wound this war has inflicted on our order."
He paused himself for a moment. These thoughts, these regrets and these hopes, were his exactly. "I feel the same. As you said, if we manage to truly bring her to the Light, it will be a great victory. Do I have your consent then?"
Nahila sighed, more a release of tension than relief.
"Yes. Yes, go ahead and do it. I'll tell the guards, and have them wait for you to come release her."
"I am glad to see you agree. Take some leave for a bit,” he added a friendly smile. "You seem to need it. Remember, you said it yourself, this situation is in the good hands of both myself and your officer."
"You may find another pair of hands involved, whether you want them or not. I told Cain you were in charge of her. Prepare to have someone stomping into your office with a strong sense of justice and no sense of perspective. You've been warned."
He almost looked forward to the meeting. His confidence and determination could use another outlet.
"Thank you for the heads-up. He will find I am adamant in my thinking and I am taking my own course of action this time, whether he likes it or not."
"You know, I am almost hoping he does go storming after you. Perhaps you can set him a better example. If nothing else, you can keep him out of my office."
"Well, I must go about setting up precautions, plans, and whatnot." He smiled again to his old friend, though it was a worried smile. "And think seriously about taking a break. You look as if you have been awake for days."
"I have, Ketan. I have."
"Until later." He got up from the chair and walked out, already thinking of what needed to be set in order for this ambitious idea. He would forget this conversation though. Watch the woman carefully, be ready for Cain's inevitable challenge of his judgement, and make sure Nahila got some sleep.
Erzabet sits in her cell with the lights on. The lights are always on because they were on when she arrived. If they had never turned on the lights, it would be dark now. Light and dark are unimportant. Sleeping and Waking are important. Stillness and Movement are important, Visible and Invisible. Doll and Woman. Face and Mirror. The Force has no role in this. If she could use it now, if she did not wear the collar, these would be easier, more absolute in her command, but she learned these things before she learned the use of the Force, and she remembers everything she learns.
Visible or not is beyond her choosing. There is a camera that sees her wherever she goes and it does not care whether there is light, no more than she does. It is better to be Still. It is better to be a Doll. So she sits on the bed, like a toy left in a bedroom when a child is at school. Like a doll, if she were to lay down, her eyes would close. Sleep. She does not sleep, so she sits. She had a doll once. She left it on her bed and never came back for it. Such is the fate of dolls.
There is a clock here, which is somewhat strange. As a Doll, she in unaccustomed to time. There is only Now and Now and Now and Now, except when the little bell in the clock chimes the hour. Then for a short time, she is a Woman almost. She walks back and forth, relieving the tension of her muscles, the stiffness of her joints. She did not realize, before she was trained, that being Still was effort. The body slowly bends to the law of gravity. The muscles relax. The bones tip in their joints. Balance shifts. Such things are movement, slight but enough. To be Still is to refuse all this, to feel the strength of a planet pulling at her and refuse it.
Four times a day, to the chime of the clock, she uses the refresher. Once a day, she bathes and grooms her hair. Then she returns to the edge of the bed, and to Now and Now until the clock chimes and for a little while she moves again.
There is a person outside the cell who is like the clock. He comes, he looks at her for a moment, then returns to his chair and his Now and is still too. But he is not very good at it.
In the Now before (that too was a Now, but not this Now), a man came to see her. He had no face and therefore no desire for a Mirror, so she gave him her Face but he had no desire for that either. He was not Still. He writhed and burned like a flame, but could find no fuel in her and so he left.
In the Now before, two men came and looked at her. One came forward and the other stayed back. The one who came forward sought a Mirror and found it. The other who stayed back sought a Face and glimpsed one before the first man resumed turning this way and that before his own reflection. The first man could neither admire nor condemn what he saw. He became disappointed and left, and the other man followed.
In the Now before, the faceless man returned. He brought his face with him but refused to put it on. She remained Still, her surface unmarred by a single ripple. He sat in a Now of his own, a faceless man before a Mirror. What he saw there, she did not know. He left. He would come back. She would wait.
In the Now before, another man came while she sat upon the bed, Still. He sat upon the floor and could not be still. He sought a Mirror but could not bear to look into it at first. At last he looked, fell in love with the reflection he saw there and left.
In the Now before, the man who had come with the other man, the man who had stayed back returned, looking again for a Face. She chose one for him and displayed it. He examined it carefully and left.
In this Now, the quiet tones of the clock break the stillness and she stands and walks and stretches, and thinks of the faceless man as she does so. When she returns to sit on the bed, before she returns to being a Doll, she looks at the camera. There is someone there, watching through the camera's eye, someone she has not seen. She knows cameras. A camera is the eye of someone who wants something they cannot take yet. Whose eye watches her, and what do they want? She remembers the faceless man, takes off her Face, becomes the Mirror, looks up into the camera, and stares at the reflection of her reflection in the surface of the lens.
Ythros was back outside the cell.
Why? He really didn't know. He was a sea of confusion and conflict, and at the center of that sea, the only thing that remained constant was the image of that Sith. That thing. He hated himself for this... obsession. There was no other word for it. She was entrenched in his mind and for whatever reason was impossible to move.
He entered, taking up his spot on the wall, soon he would wear a visible imprint into it, he had been more and more frequent in his visits lately. He rarely came to look at the Woman anymore, simply to make himself feel content.
He was rage. He was anger. And he was alone. Alone in this turmoil.
He had been happy! As happy as he could be, anyway. He had a home, a purpose, and had been making progress on having an acquaintance. She had undone that. She had strode in and snapped the fine threads holding up all he had achieved and made him once again into the beast he had arrived as.
What gave her the right to seek what was impossible!
He snapped. "Why did you come here!? If you sought peace you chose wrong, if you sought forgiveness you sought poorly, and if you sought redemption then you are a fool!" He stormed forward and got as close as he could to the barrier. "There is nothing here for you... Nothing! Why come here seeking what you can never have!"
He stayed still waiting for an answer.
She looked into his eyes and spoke; "What did you seek to find here? If not what you can never have?"
And he was rage again. Rage, and utter, terrible confusion.
He stormed out, unable to answer.
Nahila was in her bed rather than at her desk, which was hypothetically an improvement but the fact remained, she was still working. The small holoprojector on her bedside table cast a flickering image above her blanketed knees, an image of a woman sitting motionless on the edge of a bed.
She pressed a button on the projector and skimmed forward through two or three hours of Erzabet doing what she did--sit, stretch, walk, sit. Her schedule was inflexible. She moved, used the refresher, ate at the exact same intervals. Nahila had played with that a bit, sent in meals on the hour, while Erzabet was active, then in the middle of the hour, while she sat. If the meal arrived early, it went cold waiting until the appointed time. If the meal was an hour late, then it was simply skipped, and she ate whatever happened to be there at the next designated meal time. Her schedule was utterly inflexible. There was only one thing that could interrupt it.
A visit from one of the Jedi.
Ketan visited twice daily, to talk to her, or rather lecture her on the path of the Light side. He had started with questions for her, but she simply bent them back upon him until he ended up answering all of them himself. Was it a conscious tactic though, or merely an ingrained defense acquired from a lifetime of living among the Sith?
Eventually, Ketan's questions withered away under their own futility, and Ketan fell back into lecturing. The path of the Light side took strength of will, strength of character, required dedication and the willingness to sacrifice one's own ambitions and desires to the greater good. Take his own path, for instance--he could have surrendered to his own impulse to join the wars, but he didn't because the Jedi Council forbade it. Now there were many who considered him and others like him to be cowards, or lackeys of the Council, but they did not understand he had chosen to stay behind because he trusted in the greater good of the Republic and the greater wisdom of the Council. Surely she must understand why he had chosen this path. Surely, she must understand what loyalty to the path of Light cost him. But, he assured her, it was worth it. She must never doubt it was worth it. His voice broke once as he said this. Poor man.
He was supposed to be her teacher, her confessor, but who was confessing to who? From the first, he had asked her help--"Give me something to work with"--and as time went on, he asked for her understanding, her validation, her approval. Who sought absolution in these conversations? Who sought to be redeemed from the past? Not the woman who sat unmoving and unmoved on the bed. Nahila should have removed him from the task, but what remained of his pride was so fragile, and she was learning so much about the both of them.
When Cain started showing up every day after his shift was over, Nahila had Corev replace Johanas as Erzabet's guard. That was his cover story, after all, so might as well start it now.
She was learning a great deal about Cain as well, about the fragility of his pride, about his loneliness. He remembered Corev from the wars apparently, which made Cain both more comfortable and more shy in his presence. Corev treated him with the same deference he showed all Jedi, and this increased both his confidence and his bashfulness.
With Erzabet, Cain was not different, exactly. He was all that he was with Nahila, but more. He was earnest, hopeful, humble, proud. He would alternately boast of his prowess in battle and then lament his ineffectiveness among the Jedi. He was also the only one with whom Erzabet would discuss her organization. Much of what she told him came uncomfortably close to indoctrination, and yet, there was nothing really to object to in what she said. Strength came through cooperation rather than conflict, that lasting success and great accomplishment came from unified effort. None of this was objectionable from a Jedi standpoint. Indeed, it should seem self-evident to any adherent to the Light Side. She quelled the instinct that told her to ban Cain from Erzabet's presence. He was getting valuable information out of her, and she was keeping him busy and quiet, and those were two things Nahila needed very much these days.
And then there was Ythros. Ythros, who would show up any time of day or night, who would stare at Erzabet for five minutes or three hours, who would sit motionless in front of her cell, statue inside, statue outside, who would pace back and forth, hissing between his teeth in agitation. Ythros, who now injured himself less and frightened everyone more than he had in years. Sometimes Ythros taunted her, sometimes she answered him. Corev kept an eye on them both and kept his hand off his weapon. He knew that any injury done to Ythros would more than likely hit everyone within 10 meters. Nahila could feel the tension, could feel the Force coiling more and more tightly around the ragged man with each encounter.
Nahila skimmed forward in the holo, overshot, backed up, and resumed playback on the incident Corev had reported to her 5 minutes ago.
It was Ythros, pacing back and forth in front of the cell, as though he were the animal in the cage and not Erzabet. He was snarling something at her through clenched teeth. Nahila couldn't make it out and she doubted even he knew what he was saying. Suddenly he turned, slammed the palms of his hands against the force field, and leaned on them, eyes closed, immersed in the pain.
That wasn't unusual. No doubt he was trying to calm himself with the electrical burn. Ythros, faced with anxiety, rage, sadness, or frustration, took comfort in the familiar, in pain. They knew this about him, it was not unexpected. What none of them expected was Erzabet's response. She rose and placed her palms over Ythros'. His eyes flew open and for a moment they stood there, eyes locked, flesh blistering against the current, until he staggered back with a snarl. She kept her hands up against the force field, watching him watch her burn, until Ythros turned and fled with a shriek of rage.
Corev quickly powered down the field, pushed Erzabet back to her seat on the bed, and began bandaging her hands with dressings from a nearby med kit, too absorbed in his task to even consider pursuing the screaming madman down the hall. Erzabet took no notice of her injuries or the man tending them. She simply sat on edge of the bed and stared at the place Ythros had been.
The Escapist QoH Crew:
mshcherbatskaya (Erzabet and Nahila) – story creator and executive director in charge of making people re-write their stuff because she's the boss and she can
Qayin (Cain) – assistant director in charge of Emo
Flanked (Ketan) – assistant director in charge of flaking out on his writing responsibilities
Ultrajoe (Ythros) – assistant director in charge of Epic