How Maul Spent Winter Break
By Another Diversion
I render unto Lucasfilms Lucasfilms's due: Darths Maul and Sidious, the classifications Jedi and Sith, and the planet Coruscant. Everything and everyone else bears no intentional resemblance to anyone I know of. The brands of the appliances and the titles of the cookbook are genuine. [©1999 Donna I. Wong]
At 3:04 a.m. on December 11, Darth Maul transferred his last perforated, but unbroken No. 2 pencil from the clutch of his left hand to the even more destructive grip of his gnarled teeth. With 5 kilos of book balanced precariously on his knees, he ran a finger down the index of his much-thumbed, more-glossed, most-hurled copy of the Handbook of Sithly Behavior. He skimmed the subject headings, red letters on black pages.
Date each other, Sith do not . . .
Directions, Sith do not ask for . . .
Karaoke, Sith do not sing . . .
Pastels, Sith do not wear. See also Polyester and Bellbottoms. . . .
"I have you now!" His finger stabbed one of the few unfamiliar entries on the page.
Religious Holidays, Sith do not observe.
The pencil crunched like peanut brittle as Maul swore, simultaneously hurling the Handbook against the opposite wall, which from previous impacts, already resembled the cratered surface of a moon. He watched with hatred as the book slid undamaged to the floor, denying him the satisfaction of so much as denting one of his master's favorite instruments of torture. The damned thing had proven as invulnerable as its editor, Darth Sadist. Sidious had not given him a book at the start of his apprenticeship; Sidious had given him the published carte noire for every humiliating, tasteless, stomach-heaving exercise a senior Sith Lord could conceive. A third of the Handbook Maul had memorized outright. The rest was being seared into his memory by experience and smug quotation, which was worse.
"Someday I will rise up and contradict you," Maul muttered, flopping back onto the sofa, "and I will be correct."
Out of the corner of his smoldering yellow eye he saw the Handbook sit up, lean its spine saucily against the wall, then riffle its pages, creating a buzzing sound like a raspberry. In an instant Maul's lightsaber flew across the room and ignited in his grip. But the book only chortled evilly, then shut its covers with a bang. It was indestructible while closed and incontrovertible while open. Few things were more annoying, and one of them was his master, whose last visit had left him in his current state of misery.
Maul had been unusually dismayed by Sidious's arrival and unusually eager for his departure, willing to say anything to avoid a new and lengthy assignment. That had been his mistake: he had made too few excuses, protests, sarcastic comments to allay suspicion. He thought he'd pulled it off, had been seconds away from heaving a sigh of relief, when with his usual malicious timing, Sidious had paused in the very act of stepping into the hall. "By the way, you're not thinking of going anywhere in the next four weeks, are you?"
Visions of beaches and babes burst into flames in Maul's head. His heart began to pound furiously. I checked, I made sure, I looked it up under every possible heading! "Master, the Handbook says nothing about it being inappropriate for Sith to winter in warm climates. And this is the last vacation before final exams."
"The problem is not the travel, but the timing. Sith do not observe religious holidays."
"But Master, the tickets are nonrefundable, and there is a hefty penalty for rescheduling. Where I am going, I will have ample opportunity to destroy property and pervert the innocent. I will hone my rage at overpriced concessions stands, vent my hatred on tourists who buy cutesy T-shirts and tacky souvenirs."
"Resorts are indeed excellent for fostering violent impulses," Sidious conceded. "But you will not visit them from December 15 through January 15."
"You will stay here. Unless you're ready to play for keeps?"
Maul felt an unpleasant constriction, and not around his throat. "I will persuade my travel agent to give me a refund, Master."
"Good. I'll drop in as usual and see how you're doing."
Over the next four days, Maul suffered the agony of witnessing a joyous exodus that continued until the entire enormous housing complex was empty of students, with the sole exceptions of himself and My Apprentice. Unable to stand the torment any longer, he ferociously wrestled open the Handbook to the page that had ruined his vacation plans, and was about to apply a blowtorch to the offending entry when he heard a polite tapping on the door. "Maul, are you in there? It's me, Obi-Wan."
Pinned open by his knees, the Handbook hissed and bucked, forcing him to lean all his weight on the pages to keep it from getting away. Not daring to look away from it, he bellowed "Go away!"
"Is this a bad time?"
Maul closed his eyes, summoning up his last gram of patience. "Yes. Yes, this is a bad-"
He dove forward, but he was too late. Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, the Handbook had wrenched free and smacked its covers shut. It darted into a corner, took up a defensive posture, and shook with suppressed laughter.
Maul was gripped by two thoughts: first, the Handbook was again indestructible; second, his neighbor was not. With a howl of redirected rage, he spun around and flung open the door.
And was nearly blinded by the glare.
Obi-Wan, whom he was used to seeing clad in dull brown robes or nothing at all, was wearing the brightest, most colorful, most dizzying patterned shirt Maul had ever seen in his black-accoutred life. His Bermuda shorts were crawling with what looked like plasma patterns in neon pink, green, and orange, and on his feet were four-inch platform thongs that would have glowed in the dark if the rest of his outfit weren't lighting up the hallway. No wonder he was also wearing a pair of sunglasses large enough to cause a solar eclipse.
"Gee, if I'd known you'd be so excited to see me, I'd have come by more often!"
Maul's eyes began to burn through the lenses.
Obi-Wan saw the blowtorch and decided not to ask. He said hastily, "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything. I mean, I know you must be busy, your master must be a real slavedriver-"
You don't know the half of it, Maul thought.
"-since you have to stay here over Winter Break. But I wondered, since you are going to be here, would you mind taking care of Cuddles while I'm away?"
"My teddy-bear hamster. Fluffi-Wan wanted company, the Force told me to enter a certain pet store, and there was Cuddles. We fell in love at first sight. I hate to leave him alone, but unlike Fluffi-Wan, he isn't much of a traveller. He gets sick in hyperspace, and besides, he's a little jealous, of Fluffi-Wan and Qui-Gon. I hope it's just temporary sibling rivalry."
Did Sith pet-sit? Maul had no idea.
"It wouldn't be much work," Obi-Wan assured him. "I've programmed his feeder and water-bottle for time-release refilling. All you'd have to do is give him fresh woodshavings once a week. If they aren't changed, they can really smell up a room, you know."
Maul knew Sith did not clean Habitrails.
"I need someone I trust to take care of him."
Maul's jaw dropped. Obi-Wan trusted him?
"And I'd really appreciate it. I'd owe you big, you could call on me for anything, anytime."
Anything, anytime, eh? The payment was too good to turn down, and now that he thought about it, doing Obi-Wan a "favor" might even be fun. A few rounds with Cuddles might induce My Apprentice to quit piping the experience of her involuntary surgery into Maul's dreams. Decisively he extinguished the blowtorch and flashed his best stomach-turning grin.
Obi-Wan blanched as his last glass of Ovaltine curdled in mid-digestion, and the masochist in him began a long, slow moan of anticipation. Throatily, he added, "Of course you'd be welcome to entertain yourself with anything in my apartment" Especially me, once I get back . . . "uh, my stereo, my TV, my library, while Cuddles gets his exercise. He likes to run around in the Hamster Ball for about an hour a day. And if you wouldn't mind putting the mail on the dining-room table?" He held up a spare key enticingly, hoping he wouldn't need to ask for it back. "So, neighbor, what do you say?"
I say that soccer is more fun with a friend. He took the key. "I'd be delighted, neighbor. See you in four weeks."
Two days later, Maul was already appreciating the benefits of being neighborly. My Apprentice had taken to Cuddles like a shark to a sardine. Her pains seemed forgotten as she leaped and spun, swatting the Hamster Ball across the floor, careening it off the walls, and generally proving the Habitrail 8000 guarantee: Your pet will expire before our product breaks. She had stopped broadcasting him castration nightmares, and was again using her litterbox instead of his latest pizza.
As for Maul himself, he had to admit that Cuddles was cute, and Sith hate cute: it's in the Handbook. Cuddles was usually out cold by the end of playtime, so he amused himself by seeing how deep into the woodshavings Cuddles plunged when the Hamster Ball was opened high above his cage. The growing stench of hamster shit forced Maul to add layer after layer of fresh woodshavings until the main compartment of the Habitrail was nearly filled. By the end of the week, the odor was so appalling that he decided to clean the cage after all.
Ignoring Obi-Wan's detailed instructions, complete with diagrams, arrows, and labels, Maul simply wrenched the main compartment free, levitated it past the balcony, flipped it over, and sent a reeking blizzard forty-two stories down.
With a pleasant sense of accomplishment, he brought the cage back in and reconnected it to the plastic tubes and tunnels. He dropped in a few handfuls of fresh woodshavings and tapped the feeder and water bottle to refill the trays. Then he frowned. Something was missing . . .
He darted out to the balcony and frantically cast a mind-net after the trail of woodshavings. Sure enough, he located one terrified rodent, staring at death seventeen centimeters away. He arrested its fall, rushed it upward at lightning speed, and flipped it back into its cage, stepping aside to avoid the arc of vomit and seeds spilling from Cuddles's cheek-pouches. For the space of a minute, the hamster lay motionless in shock. Then it curled up into a shivering ball and stayed that way for the next two days.
After that, Cuddles wasn't much fun. Not even My Apprentice could be amused by a toy too traumatized to be terrorized, and she elected to stay behind when Maul visited his neighbor's apartment. Casually rifling the place, he found Obi-Wan's diary, which included a whole series of surprisingly accurate obscene drawings, illustrating astoundingly obscene daydreams, and that kept him amused for a day or two, until the increasingly frequent appearances of himself in impossible positions and unthinkable spandex costumes evoked a wave of revulsion that compelled him to either stop reading or vow to wear baggy sweats until he graduated. He borrowed several hidden photograph albums with furry covers, and scanned the choicest pictures into his PC for later use; and he was searching the bedroom closet for more incriminating material when he heard a thump in the outer hallway. Disentangling himself from feather boas and Victoria's Secret teddies, he went to the front door, and opened it to find a large cardboard box from The Library of the Month Club.
He heaved it onto the kitchen table, which was already overflowing with subscriptions, new credit cards, calling plans, magazines, and catalogs, the fruit of dozens of "YES! Send me, etc." cards that he had been indiscriminately filling out on Obi-Wan's behalf. He didn't remember ordering from this company, however, and in his present state of boredom, he simply ripped open the carton in hope of finding something interesting. The invoice read:
Congratulations! The Library of the Month of JANUARY is Creative Cooking. Enclosed is everything you need to lend spice, savor, and color to your culinary efforts. A total of 230 Republic credits has been charged to your account in anticipation of your complete satisfaction. Refunds for credit only, within 40 minutes of receipt. No returns thereafter.
"Creative Cooking"? Maul had expected an addition to the male pornography collection that filled the largest bookcase in Obi-Wan's apartment. He looked at the first book in the pile, Hot 'N' Spicy. This was more like it; "Creative Cooking" could be a code for discreet subscribers. He removed the rest of the books from the carton and began flipping through them.
His well-trained glance picked out the essential words: ". . .beat . . . batter . . . whip . . . pierce . . . slicing disk . . . remove the skin . . . punch it down until it collapses . . . keep the blade close to the bone." A litany fit for the Handbook itself! With growing eagerness, he sought out the illustrations. Sketches and descriptions of carving knives, boning knives, serrated utility knives, kitchen shears, sharpening steels. Diagrams showing the most efficient way to dismember scores of carcasses, with special anti-bacterial tips for humanoid cannibals. Charts of how long to boil and roast and deep-fry in hot oil until bones softened and flesh flaked and skin crisped. He could really get into this.
Did Sith cook? Maul had no idea.
But Sidious had once instructed him to get in touch with his baser instincts. And what instinct was baser than the hunger for food? Not even the hunger for sex was stronger.
Sweeping the rest of the mail onto the floor, Maul picked up Born to Grill and began reading in earnest.
Three weeks later, Senator Palpatine entered the main lift in the student housing complex, reversed his reversible robe, and Darth Sidious emerged on the forty-second floor. In spite of his threat to pay Maul a surprise visit, he had had no intention of staying in town over the Winter Break. Sith do not observe religious holidays, but Senators do observe government holidays, and it was as Senator Palpatine that he had bowed to duty and enjoyed a riotous four weeks at Planet XXXX, where any pleasure that was not physically possible, was cheerfully simulated in the holoroom. Returning much invigorated, he strode down the hall, punting aside heaps of luggage and accumulated mail. But the nearer he got to Maul's apartment, the more aware he became that something was wrong. He frowned, trying to pinpoint the cause of his uneasiness. Not exactly wrong-different. Unexpected.
Warily, he took another step forward, and sniffed the air like a predatory animal. At once his nostrils filled with a most delicious aroma, several of them really, something savory and something else sweet, and something else again that went straight to his lizard-brain and made it sit up and beg. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon must be having another orgy of food and sex. Perhaps after I've visited my apprentice, I can convince them to add another place-setting and another silk throw-pillow.
Reassured and aroused, he proceeded to the door of Maul's apartment. He had raised his hand to knock when a realization hit him between the eyes. He turned and walked away toward Obi-Wan's room; then he turned and walked back; finally he put his nose to the keyhole and sniffed, hard. He straightened up in shock.
The enticing smells were coming from his apprentice's flat.
Astonished beyond words, Sidious pushed open the door. He scrabbled for explanations: Maul was having his meals catered; Maul had Mind-Whammied a chef into slavery; Maul had snatched Obi-Wan's dinner again. He felt a little calmer at sight of the sitting room, still unusually clean in the wake of My Apprentice's kittens, but familiar with its wall full of book-pocks and My Apprentice herself thickening the coat of cat-hair on the sofa.
Now, where is MY My Apprentice?
Since it was 8:00 p.m., he'd expected to find Maul either obsessed with a Website or trying to shatter the record for Jedi Roadkill V. It disturbed Sidious that he was not in the living room, nor, as a hopeful glance revealed, was he lounging naked in bed. The bathroom door was open and nothing stirred within. That left just one other room, the last one he would have thought to search at any time.
With inexplicable apprehension, Sidious entered the kitchen.
His first thought was that he had been mistaken after all, that Maul had dropped out of the Sith Academy, leaving his cat and his meager possessions to the next wretched tenant, because the kitchen was spotless and smelled like seventh heaven.
His second thought was that whoever had taken Maul's place, had borrowed the space-warping technology of the insect civilization he had resettled in Obi-Wan's refrigerator. Formerly the only appliances in the tiny cubicle were a spattered microwave and a neglected fridge. Now a sparkling tile floor flowed around a kitchen island, complete with built-in cutting board and marble surface for rolling pastry. Behind it gleamed a dozen gourmet conveniences: a Cuisinart 7000 food processor, a 5-quart capacity Mixmaster, Calphalon pots and pans, an indoor grill/gas stove/double oven unit, and a complete set of Henckels knives thrust into slots in a hand-carved wooden block that looked remarkably like Sidious's head.
This is Maul's apartment, all right!
Anger thinned his shock, and he zeroed in on the black figure totally occupied with two simmering pots and a set of serving platters. "Maul! What is the meaning of this?"
Without turning around, Maul said calmly, "Dinner is nearly ready, Master. I'll have the sauce thickened by the time you've washed your hands."
Why, you damned impertinent- At a loss for words, Sidious prepared to use the Force to slam his apprentice into the brand-new ceiling fan.
Sensing the danger, Maul whirled to face him. He was wearing a black Kiss the Cook's Ass apron and an irritated expression. "Master, I have used fresh herbs in the salad, fresh seafood in the paella, and Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla in the dessert. I have been slaving away for the past three hours, so go wash your hands, have dinner, and if you are still outraged afterward, then fire away."
As he spoke, he wafted a fresh wave of cooking smells in his master's direction, and saw the lust for food tackle the lust for violence. The impulses battled briefly before hunger won out.
"Very well. But I will have satisfaction, Maul."
Mouth watering, Sidious stalked off to the bathroom to wash his hands.
An hour later, a very full Darth Sidious had mellowed considerably, and was feeling decidedly more tolerant of his apprentice's latest hobby. Maul explained how he had discovered this particular form of magic and studied the most potent Dark Side applications. His master's eyes travelled over the spines of his new textbooks: Death by Chocolate, Desserts to Die for, Food So Good It Hurts, Wild Feasts. In his state of gastronomic bliss he was oblivious to the stealthy Mind Whammy enhancing his enjoyment and insinuating ideas. Yes, it made perfect sense. Maul had done excellent work. He had discovered a medium of influence that Sidious himself had failed to exploit, and which Maul must write into the Handbook someday, before his own apprentice rose up and slew him.
As if reading his mind, Maul called into the living room, "My Apprentice, I would like to demonstrate the power of Creative Cooking. Stop clawing the doorframe and come here."
At once, Maul's willful, contemptuous, homicidal maniac of a cat dropped to all fours and came purring into the kitchen. Sidious's jaw dropped. "How on Coruscant did you-?"
Maul offered her something from his apron pocket. "Kitty Munchies, Master. After numerous attempts, I have devised a recipe she finds impossible to resist." His master, he was elated to observe, was speechless, and in the interim Maul served him a slice of pound cake with caramelized bananas and dark chocolate sauce.
Already full to bursting, Sidious hesitated, and belched.
"'Sith do not refuse dessert,' Master. It's in the Handbook."
Sidious picked up his dessert fork. Well, he did want to set a good example, didn't he? And he couldn't easily ignore the Handbook . . .
. . . which you partly wrote, and are still writing. Maul had discovered something else besides the Joy of Cooking: his belief that the Handbook kept getting longer was not the illusion of his own frustration and paranoia. The damned thing truly was a damned thing: there had only ever been one edition, one copy, and one editor's name, because the Handbook itself kept generating new pages to justify the whims of thousands of years of senior Sith Lords. After he'd spooned bittersweet chocolate mousse into its flapping pages, it had confirmed his suspicions, and he had a pretty good idea of how to add entries himself.
Moaning in rapture, Sidious rebuked, "Maul, I shouldn't be eating this. My doctor has warned me to watch my diet . . . this can't be low-calorie . . ."
"Don't worry, Master. 'Sith do not eat non-fat.' It's in the Handbook. May I offer you a second helping?" Maul asked, already reaching for the pound cake.
As he heaped on chocolate and bananas, adding a hefty scoop of Ben and Jerry's Best-Ever Vanilla ice cream for good measure, his black heart beat with joy. Master or not, the current Darth Sadist had arteries, and unlike Maul himself, a standard four-valve human heart. In the days to come, Maul intended to feed him enough cholesterol and saturated fats to clog Cuddles's hamster tunnels.
If his blood pressure didn't rise up and slay him, at least he'd be too sluggish to dodge when Maul did the job himself.
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