Sith Academy: Instructions
by the Intrepid Housemate Melissa TM
[Read Melissa's author bio]
As is usually the case, thanks to Siubhan for helping with the brainstorming and beta reading.
Note: This story picks up on plot threads from previous stories, especially "A Wretched Dive" and "Safety is a Jedi's First Responsibility."
"Mom! I'm home!" Eight-year-old Gretel Solo burst energetically through the front door of her apartment and rushed into the kitchen to drop off her lunch box.
Helga Radegund Solo poked her head out of the family's home office. "Hi sweetie! How was school?"
Gretel came over for her after-school smooch and hug. "It was okay. I got an A- on my spelling quiz."
"That's great! After I finish up in here, I'll get dinner started. How do nerf-kabobs sound?"
"Cool. What are you doing?" Gretel asked innocently.
Helga rolled her eyes. "I'm fixing the import documentation so your father can sneak his latest shipment of bootleg DVD's through customs. I swear, the amount of time I spend forging Republic paperwork seems to eat up half the profits we make..."
Gretel was used to her mother's grousing and ignored it. "So, you're going to be busy for a while?" she asked, hoping that her question didn't sound too suspicious.
"Yes... unless you need me for something, sweetheart?" Helga looked at her daughter, alerted by that innate sixth sense most mothers have that tells them when their children are up to something.
"No, just wondering when dinner would be. I'm going to go do my homework now." Gretel turned and headed to her room.
"Okay, sweetie. I'll call you when dinner's ready." Helga shrugged and returned to her forgery.
Gretel closed the door to her bedroom, first checking that her bothersome pest of a little brother, Hansel, wasn't hiding inside. He was only five and thought it was hilarious to hide in her closet and jump out and try to scare her. Gretel, at eight, considered herself far too sophisticated for such antics.
She sat on her bed, listened to make sure that her mother wasn't coming down the hall, then pulled her notebook out of her backpack. Near the back, tucked in between a "Jedi Apprentice" book report and some handouts on the life cycle of the womprat, was the printout from the Internet that her friend Meg Mothma had slipped to her at recess. Gretel unfolded the paper and looked at her treasure.
How To Build a Lightsaber From Common Household Items, the paper's title read. A set of instructions and diagrams followed. Gretel shivered with the excitement of holding something forbidden in her hands. Regular kids weren't allowed to have lightsabers; only students at the Jedi Academy could have one. Heck, even regular grownups couldn't get one! But Meg Mothma had heard from her sister who heard from her classmate who heard from his cousin who heard from someone on a mailing list about a web site that told you exactly how to build one, just like a real Jedi's! So Meg had printed the instructions out, and now she and Gretel and the other kids at school were going to make their own and have a really cool lightsaber battle, just like in the Jedi Master PlayStation game. Gretel sort of hoped that snotty little John-Boy Vol-Ta, who bragged all the time about his uncle Jon-Tra who was a real live Padawhatever at the Academy, would get jealous.
First, she needed to collect the parts. The instructions specifically said not to use a paper towel tube as the handle, so Gretel found her old flashlight, which was broken anyway, and managed to remove the tube. For the electronics she needed, she dismantled the "Walkin' Talkin' Gungan" doll that Grandma Ernestine had given her last Life Day, and for the power source, she pried the batteries out of her "Tickle Me Yoda" toy. "Oooo! Tickles that does!" chortled the little green stuffed figure, giving one last shiver before falling still.
Gretel had always been good at building things. Actually, when she was little, she had mostly been good at taking things apart, but she seemed to have inherited her father Gustav's talent for understanding (and therefore hotwiring) things mechanical. It wasn't long before her miscellaneous collection of parts had been assembled into what would, according to the printout, be a real lightsaber.
All she needed now was a crystal to focus the light. Looking around her room, Gretel spotted her purple "My Pretty Bantha" hiding in the corner. With a screwdriver, she dug out the little purple plastic crystal that was embedded in its forehead. It wouldn't quite stay in the socket she'd made for it, so Gretel added a couple of drops of Elmo's glue to hold it in place.
Suddenly, the bedroom door opened. "What'cha doin'?" asked her little brother, Hansel, his curious eyes taking note of the eviscerated remnants of several toys.
Gretel quickly put her lightsaber down on the bed. "Han, Mom told you not to come in my room!"
"I'm not in your room, I'm in the hallway." And indeed, Han's toes were on the carpet of the hallway outside, though his head had most definitely violated the airspace of Gretel's bedroom.
"I'm doing my homework. Now get out!"
"Nuh-uh." Just as mothers know when their children are up to something, little siblings invariably sense any and all opportunities to vex their elders. "How come your Gungan doll is all messed up?"
"I used a wire from it to fix my broken flashlight, okay? Now scram."
"I wanna see." In violation of treaty, Hansel walked into Gretel's room and made a beeline for the "flashlight."
"Here, see?" Gretel held it above her brother's head so that he could see, and only see, the flashlight.
Unexpectedly, Han made a jump for the flashlight and managed to knock it from Gretel's hand. It fell to the floor, where they both grabbed for it.
"Give me that, you little runt!" As Gretel twisted the lightsaber out of her little brother's hand, the blade ignited, slicing little Han across the chin. The cut wasn't deep, but it did bleed.
The little boy's eyes grew wide, his lower lip trembled, and then he burst forth with the best weapon a little sibling has, the heart-wrenching wail: "Moooooooommmmmmmmyyyyyy!!!"
Oh, poodoo, Gretel grumbled to herself as she heard her mother charging up the stairs. Stupid little brother. He always ruins everything. She took one last despairing look at the soon-to-be-confiscated lightsaber and noticed that, while the purple blade was thinner and less bright than anything she'd seen the Jedi use, it was still massively, utterly cool. It worked!
It was the second story on the Coruscant News Network's evening broadcast, right after a report on rumors that the Senate would investigate MacroStiff for anti-competitive practices.
"Tonight, parents have a new reason to be concerned about letting their children use the Internet," the anchor announced solemnly, his toupee gleaming in the glare of the studio lights. "For the latest, we now go to reporter Klayre Schippmin."
The female human reporter stood in front of the Senate building. "Parents have long been concerned about the sorts of things that their children can find on the Internet -- pornography, hate literature, recipes for meat loaf, and so forth. Now the latest thing that kids are finding are instructions on building lightsabers."
Stock footage of some Jedi fighting a lightsaber demonstration bout at last year's state fair was shown. "This is what a professionally made lightsaber looks like," the reporter continued in a voice-over. "It's a dangerous weapon, one that should only be used by a trained Jedi." The state fair bout ended when one of the Jedi slipped on a cow pattie that hadn't been there a second ago and tumbled backward into the clinging mud of the hog pen. A black-and-red blurred figure made a swift exit to the upper right of the screen.
Schippmin reappeared, holding up some pieces of paper. "But this week, instructions for building a lightsaber appeared on hundreds of web sites. No one knows who originally wrote them, but we do know who has been reading them -- our children."
"This group of kids built their own lightsabers and filmed themselves having a mock battle." CNN broadcast someone's jerky home movie of a group of ten-to-twelve-year-olds with homemade lightsabers, wearing the cheap polyester Jedi and Sith costumes available in toy stores, complete with clip-on Padawan braids. They were whacking away at each other, the furniture, the light fixtures, and just about anything that provided a convenient target, yelling "I'll get you, you evil Sith!" and "Die, Jedi scum!"
Schippmin returned to the screen. "When they work, most of these lightsabers will just give someone a mild zap when touched, but some children have succeeded in building weapons that can do real harm. This mother found that out earlier today."
Helga Solo appeared, cradling little Hansel in her lap. Han's chin was covered with a big white bandage. "They were wrestling with it," she said as if she were in the middle of her narrative, the usual style with TV news reports. "It went off and cut my little boy on the chin. We're just lucky that it didn't put his eye out. My daughter had no idea it would be that dangerous."
"Yes I did!" Gretel piped up in the background.
The camera zoomed in on Gretel. "Did you mean to hurt your brother?" the offscreen reporter asked.
Gretel rolled her eyes. "No! I just wanted to see if the lightsaber would really work. It's Han's fault for grabbing it when he shouldn't have. Besides, it's just a scratch. It's not as if I dropped him into a carbon-freezing chamber or anything."
Schippmin reappeared again. "There have been similar reports from other parts of Coruscant, including a young Mon Calamari who managed to slice off three of his own tentacles with his lightsaber. Doctors expect him to have regenerated them within a week."
The scene switched to a shot of the Jedi Temple at sunset. "We asked for an expert from the Jedi Temple to evaluate these instructions and give us a professional opinion."
Depa Billaba appeared, looking concerned. "I've reviewed the instructions, and they do create a type of lightsaber. It's not as high-powered as ours are, but someone could get hurt. These instructions didn't come from us, because this isn't how we'd build one. My guess is that someone got their hands on a lightsaber and reverse-engineered it."
At that exact moment, Qui-Gon stood in the pawn shop with his redemption ticket, a look of dismay on his face. "What do you mean, you already sold it?" he wailed.
Klayre Shippmin appeared again. "In response to these incidents, a bill has been proposed in the Senate that would make it illegal to post this sort of information on the Internet in a place where a child could find it," she continued.
The scene switched to kindly Senator Palpatine, standing in front of the Senate, his face radiating sincere concern. "In today's disorderly society, anyone can post just about anything on the Internet, as we have seen with these lightsaber instructions. This makes it difficult for parents to control what sort of ideas their children are exposed to. Therefore, I have proposed a bill that will give the government the power to regulate the content of sites on the web. I assure you that these proposed laws will only be used to protect our children, and would never, ever be misused to stifle opposition to government policies or control the free expression of ideas."
Schippmin returned to the screen. "We'll stay on top of this breaking story, so tune in to CNN for updates. Reporting live from the Senate chambers, this is Klayre Schippmin for CNN."
Gretel Solo figured out pretty quickly that this lightsaber thing was a big deal, so when the school counselor, Deedee Troy, called her in for a talk, Gretel decided she ought to cooperate and get it over with.
"Now, Gretel," Counselor Troy began, "I just have a few questions to ask you. OK?"
"Sure." Gretel squirmed uncomfortably.
"Now, can you tell me what sort of TV shows you like to watch?"
Surprised by the question, Gretel had to take a moment to think. "Uh... I like This Old House, Nova, Discovery Kids... actually, I like most anything on the Discovery Channel. Or the Learning Channel. Um, Naboo Geographic, Popular Astromechanics... Sometimes I watch Amazin' Morphin' BattleDroids with my brother Hansel, but that's because he gets scared."
"Mmmm-hmmm." The counselor nodded and drew a thick circle around Amazin' Morphin' BattleDroids in her written notes. "And what sort of computer games do you like to play?"
"Oh, I love the Lugo MindStorms and DroidWorks sets, where I can program my own machines. I could play SimCoruscant for hours. My dad bought me some wizard cool puzzle games a while back -- those can be really hard to solve, but they're fun. My friend Meg has a PlayStation, and we like to play Jedi Master because of all the mazes and puzzles you have to solve to get to the next level."
"I see." The counselor put double asterisks around Jedi Master and wrote "battle sequences" in the margins of her notepad. "Do you listen to music?"
Gretel shrugged. "Sometimes, but not when I want to concentrate. I have some Spice Cadets albums, and a Backdoor Bantha Boyz CD. My cousin once gave me a Dead Can't Dance CD, which is kind of neat."
The counselor highlighted "Dead" with a big yellow marker. "Do you get along with your brother, Gretel?"
"I guess he's OK, for a little kid. We play together sometimes, and we like to go to the park. But sometimes I like to be by myself too, and he won't leave me alone. He's always going into my room and getting into my stuff when I'm not there. I think he's practicing to be a thief."
Counselor Troy wrote "thief = fascination with illegal activity" in her notes, then closed her notebook with a snap. "Well, I think that's enough for now, Gretel. I have all I need."
Gretel was puzzled. "Don't you want to ask me about the lightsabers?"
The counselor shook her head. "Not right now, dear. Go on, your dad is waiting for you."
As the little girl left the room, Counselor Troy checked her notes and nodded with satisfaction. She'd spent four years doing her master's thesis on the effects of different types of violent media on children, and today she'd found more data to back it up. The child's utter fascination with battledroids, Jedi battle sequences, and death-glorifying rock music was there for anyone to see. Clearly this incident with the lightsaber was all the media's fault!
A press conference was called at the Jedi Temple. Master Yoda hopped up on the podium and spoke to the assembled reporters.
"Regrettable it is, that this has happened. Unofficial and unsafe these web sites are. Not from the Jedi do the instructions come. Toys for children lightsabers are not. But not to blame are the Jedi!" Yoda thumped the podium with his stick for emphasis. "Supervised your children must be! Attention you must pay to their activities, or else Sith they will become! Sith, I tell you!"
Mace Windu, sensing the start of another Sith rant, quickly stepped to the microphone. "Thank you, Master Yoda," he said, motioning for his padawan, Jon-Tra Vol-Ta, to escort the frothing Yoda from the stage. "Since the information has gotten out onto the Internet, where it will be extremely difficult to remove, it seems to us that it would be best to teach children to use their lightsabers safely. Therefore, the Jedi Academy will be making available free copies of its own professional training video, Safety Is a Jedi's First Responsibility."
Sitting on his sofa at home, Obi-Wan froze in horror, a handful of popcorn lifted halfway to his face, as Safety Is a Jedi's First Responsibility was broadcast in its entirety to every person on Coruscant.
Obi's cheery, Perkium-enhanced voice introduced the video. "Today you'll get your first lightsaber! Isn't that EXCITING? But a lightsaber can be DANGEROUS if you aren't CAREFUL! Let's learn to keep ourselves SAFE!"
"Nooooooooooo!" Obi-Wan protested, as his on-screen self was pierced with a lightsaber and screamed in mock agony. "I can't believe they're broadcasting this!"
Maul laughed so hard that he fell off of the sofa and lay at Obi-Wan's feet, convulsing with mirth. Obi-Wan threw popcorn at his head. "Quit laughing, you're in it too!" he reminded Maul grouchily.
"Heh... heh... gasp... yeah, but I'm playing the evil Sith Lord, remember? I don't come off nearly as silly as you do." Maul burst into a fresh round of howls as the scene with the Wookiee in the hot tub came up. "ROWROWWRR!" he growled along, laughing as the Wookiee's hair stood on end.
"Fuck you." Obi-Wan sunk himself as deeply into the sofa cushions as he could and waited until the horror was over.
"Awwww," Maul said mockingly. "What, don't you like your performance?"
"If I'd known anyone outside the Temple would see it, I'd have at least spent more time rehearsing!"
Maul sat up and leaned against Obi-Wan's leg. "Yeah, that scene after I've supposedly turned you to the Dark Side is a little... unconvincing."
Obi-Wan peered at Maul through dangerously slitted eyes. "Unconvincing how?"
Maul slid one hand slowly up Obi-Wan's calf. "Like you said, perhaps we should have..." Maul slid his other hand along Obi-Wan's inner thigh. "...rehearsed... a little more," he finished, leering.
Obi-Wan stared at Maul for a long moment. "I suppose," he mused at last, "that if there's enough demand for that video, the Temple might decide to re-shoot it."
"That's true." Maul's hands slid higher. "And if that should happen, we ought to have our scenes rehearsed."
"Very well rehearsed," Obi-Wan agreed softly, moving his knees ever so slightly farther apart.
In one fluid move, Maul straddled Obi-Wan's lap and revealed himself to the Jedi.
Gustav Solo read the report of the school counselor. He looked at Gretel. He looked at the report. He looked at Gretel. He crumpled up the report and sunk a perfect free-throw in the trash basket.
"You're right," he told Helga. "That woman is out of her mind. We might be smugglers and forgers by trade, but damned if we're going to let that keep us from raising our daughter right!"
Helga nodded her head in agreement. "Morbid obsessions with death and violence? I don't know whose kid she talked to, but it sure as hell wasn't ours. Gretel's just curious about how things work. She'll make a great lockpick or counterfeiter someday."
"We can only hope," Gustav added, wrapping an affectionate arm around his wife's waist.
As Gretel watched Safety Is a Jedi's First Responsibility intently, her parents breathed a sigh of relief.
"I am glad that she's taking this seriously," Helga murmured. "She's really paying attention to that video."
"I'm glad too. She'll need to know how to work safely with weapons. Maybe we should get her some formal training, or perhaps a kids' karate class after school? Even Hansel might be old enough for that!"
As Gustav and Helga eagerly kicked around ideas for their childrens' after-school activities, Gretel rewound the safety video, replaying a quick scene toward the end of the show. She peered at the screen intently, then rewound and watched the scene again.
Oh, I see! Gretel thought excitedly to herself. That guy's lightsaber is double-sided! How cool! I wonder how it works?
About ten days after the homemade lightsaber story hit the news, Sidious burst into Maul's apartment in a fit of rage. "I can't believe it!!" the Sith Lord frothed. "I cannot fucking believe it!!" Little purple sparks danced at his fingertips.
Maul wisely backed away. "Didn't the vote on Internet content restrictions go as you wanted, Master?"
"No, my apprentice, it did not." Furious, Sidious aimed a kick at Dirk Syde, who scrambled out of the way. "It seems," he fumed, "that the Senate is unwilling to concede to such strict restrictions for what they perceive to be a 'limited-time incident.'"
"A limited-time incident?" Maul was puzzled. "I thought that the lightsaber instructions were all over the net?"
"They are. And without my bill being passed, they will remain there. But it's all irrelevant anyway, because the ungrateful little brats in our school system haven't tried to build a lightsaber in days! Not only are their parents actually paying attention to their activities and providing appropriate guidance, but the kids have also found a new fad to follow. Lightsabers are out of fashion!"
"Dare I ask what this new fad would be, master?"
Glowering, Sidous drew a small, foil-wrapped package from an inner pocket and tossed it to Maul. It was a pack of brightly-colored cards featuring a variety of strange-looking creatures. Turning the cards over, Maul read the title.
"Master, what's a... 'Pokésith'?"
Purple light flashed. "It's a game. They've taken the glorious history of the Sith and turned it into a sugary, cute little trading card game for kids!" Sidious ranted.
Maul read the instructions. "It says here that there are 150 Pokésith cards to collect. Whatever happened to two Sith at a time?"
"Historical accuracy is not the point, Maul. Making money is. You wouldn't sell very many of these with just two cards total, would you? And since the Sith supposedly don't exist, there's no one to tell the cardmakers otherwise." Sidious pounded his fist against his thigh in frustration. "All this time spent on enacting legislation to further my plans to rule the galaxy, and it never occurred to me to file for a trademark on our own sect's name!"
Maul was flipping through the cards. Darth Smeg, Darth Skywalker, Darth Pikachu... Maul shuddered at the overwhelming wholesomeness of it all. Then, an idea occurred to him. "Master?"
"Yes, Maul?" Sidious said wearily.
"If today's children grow up thinking of the Sith as cute, cuddly little things... won't that make it easier when we reveal ourselves and take over?"
Startled, Sidious looked at his apprentice. "I never thought of it that way..." An evil grin cracked his face. "Yes, yes, the Sith as cute and harmless little things! Nothing to be afraid of. Why, we could re-market the entire image of the Sith! Maul, you really hit the pit droid on the nose this time!" Sidious actually looked impressed.
"Thank you, master." Maul nodded smugly.
Maul suddenly found himself slammed against the far wall of the living room, his master's hand wrapped Forcefully around his throat, choking him. "Don't let it go to your head," Sidious hissed menacingly.
Sulking, Gretel Solo walked through the alleys between the buildings on her way home from school. Her school was only a few blocks from the apartment building where her family lived, but usually she took the hoverbus because her mother insisted on it. "The ground is dirty!" Helga would claim. "It's full of trash and rats and bugs and... and... ick!"
Well, Gretel was in the mood for ick right now. The kids at school blamed her and her mom for getting everyone's parents worked up over their lightsabers, even though Gretel had told them that it was really all her stupid brother Han's fault. Then, to make matters worse, nobody even wanted to play Jedi any more. They all wanted to play with their Pokésith cards instead.
"Stupid kids!" Gretel kicked an empty can, sending it rattling down the alley. "Stupid brother!" She kicked a cardboard box after it. "Stupid Pokésith!" She kicked a small rock, which glittered as it arced through the air, landing with a gentle ping.
What was that? Gretel ran after the rock, which had rolled in between some rusty trash cans. Knowing that her mom would be furious if she came home covered in back-alley ick, she took a leftover lunch napkin out of her backpack and carefully picked the rock up. Underneath a layer of grime, the rock was actually a crystal of some sort. It was much larger than the one that "My Pretty Bantha" came with, and was definitely not made out of plastic.
Gretel wiped the crystal clean, then held it in her bare hands. It was slightly warm to the touch, and it... well, it was almost buzzing. It reminded her a little bit of a ring that her mother had once had, briefly, but if this had ever been part of a ring once, the setting was now gone.
"I bet I could make a wizard lightsaber out of this!" Gretel whispered to herself. But no, her parents were watching her too closely these days. She'd have make sure that whatever she did with it, her little brother wouldn't be around to mess things up. Gretel tucked the crystal into the pocket of her overalls, vowing to keep this find a secret.
Suddenly, things didn't look so bad. Gretel had a good feeling, as if her luck were about to change. If her old friends stayed mad at her, maybe she'd make new ones in her upcoming karate class. Maybe she'd even find one of the rare Pokésith cards!
With a spring in her step, Gretel headed home.
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