A Wretched Dive
by Darth J. Landry
[Read Darth Landry's author bio]
Disclaimer: I have nothing worth suing for. I humbly offer this pitiful tale for non-profit entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering.
Special thanks to Katherine for giving Maul some motivation.
Darth Maul, exhausted after entertaining his guest, snored softly among the damp sheets and torn pillows as Obi-Wan quietly finished dressing and crossed the living room to the front door. Taken by surprise, the padawan barely had time to draw his lightsaber when the lights went on. Amused, Senator Palpatine, with Ben-Wa and Mary Sue in tow, greeted him.
"Oh, Obi-Wan. What a pleasant surprise." Obi-Wan did not find it particularly pleasant, but since the senator was conservatively dressed, it was a fair bet that Palpatine would soon be leaving for some fund-raising party. "I see you've tucked Maul in for the evening," the old gargoyle continued. "Isn't it a bit early for that? Well, no matter." He smiled his pleasant senatorial smile, then yelled, "MAUL!"
Maul stumbled in groggily, wrapping a sheet around himself, mumbling "what're you lookin' at?" in response to Ben-Wa's candid leer.
"Maul, I have a project for you."
"Yes, my Mas-" Ben-Wa shifted his glance to Maul's face, curiously.
"-Uh, man. Yes, my man, what do you want me to do?" Self-consciously, Maul felt his hands tighten on the bedsheet. Mary Sue made no effort to conceal her smirk, and as he registered her formal velvet gown, it occurred to him that Mary Sue looked far too good in black to be a convincing widow.
"You will take the space cruiser first thing tomorrow"--Maul's face lit up--"and you will take Ben-Wa to Tatooine to inspect the moisture farm and assess its salability." Maul's face fell. "You may also have to evict the caretaker. I hope that doesn't...fill you with fury or hone your rage, my boy," Palpatine added archly.
"But, m- er, sir, why can't Obi-Wan do it?" He looked suspiciously at his fully dressed neighbor.
"I've got that worthless Jedi Cookie Sale pep rally with the Jedi Cubs on Kashyyyk tomorrow," Obi-Wan sighed, meeting Maul's miffed gaze. "I still need to pack and do some shopping." He sounded almost defensive, but not apologetic.
"Never mind that, Maul. You will drive, you will inspect, and you will evict. Ben-Wa will make the sale, if it comes to that." Palpatine turned on his heel and left with with Mary Sue on his arm, leaving Ben-Wa behind with Maul and Obi-Wan.
"Do you still have that lovely engagement ring your unlucky husband gave you?"
"Yes," said Mary Sue with some surprise, "I've been keeping it in my purse until I decide what to do with it." She found the ring and handed it to the senator.
Palpatine squinted at the large gaudy gem in its solar-powered repulsorlift setting. He could feel its power, even if he couldn't look directly at it. Damn. If only he knew how to use it.
"It's beautiful," he gasped, with a bit too much longing in his voice.
Mary Sue, seeing the strange look in Palpatine's eyes, hurriedly took the ring back. "You're right. I'll put it in a safe deposit box first thing tomorrow."
Palpatine fought the urge to tear the ring from of Mary Sue's hands, but thought better of it. He didn't want her to guess the reason for his interest, and he wasn't sure that he could defeat her under these circumstances.
"Perhaps I can help you find a suitable buyer," Palpatine offered, but the thoughtful frown on Mary Sue's face persuaded him to drop the subject. He sighed, and then the lift stopped at its highest floor to let them out.
Mary Sue pressed the "42" button again. "I'll be right back, Daddy. I just remembered I need to tell Maul something."
Before Palpatine had a chance to protest that they would be late for the fund-raising dinner, Mary Sue and the lift were hurtling back down to Maul's floor.
Maul's lower lip almost trembled, and Obi-Wan wasn't sure if it was a sincere tremble, or simply a mannerism he'd picked up from the former Perkium Padawan. "I can't believe you were going to sneak out again!"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "You fell asleep." He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
"So this is what I get for being monogamous with you?"
Eager to end the argument, Ben-Wa turned to Obi-Wan. "Didn't you say something about shopping? Why don't we all go and help you pick stuff out! I'm really bored."
"Go by yourself," Maul said, cupping his hand over Obi-Wan's denim-compressed ass. "I'll be seeing more than enough of you tomorrow."
"That's too bad," Obi-Wan said, pulling away from Maul. "Guess it's just you and me, huh bro? See you around, Maul." The Sidispawn shut the door behind them, and their laughter faded down the hallway.
Maul was not amused. Why, oh why hadn't he slain that airhead along with the rest of the Backdoor Bantha Boys? Had Ben-Wa Kenobi been placed in this galaxy specifically to torment Maul? That annoying, idiotic, yummy... it was bad enough Ben-Wa was constantly getting between Maul and the more desirable Sidispawn, and that escapade on Bandomeer had been unsettling, but Maul still hadn't forgiven him for that Life Day... incident.
It had been horrible. Ben-Wa was so pliant, so happy, so eager to please! And that was without Perkium. Maul still had nightmares about the encounter. What if it rubbed off on Obi-Wan? What was next? Gentle, tender, LOVING sex? Greeting cards with cartoon Ewoks and hearts on them? Matching "I'm With Stoopid" T-shirts? Embroidered towels? No, dammit! It was bad enough already with this monogamy deal!
True, that whammy had been at least as much Sidious's fault as it was Ben-Wa's, but Maul had a long way to go before he could exact his revenge on Sidious.
The door burst open. Maul scrambled for the sheet again.
This time it was Mary Sue, alone. She bounded toward him and grasped his arms so tightly that he dropped the sheet. "Wanna fuck?" he asked, reflexively.
"Oh, grow up. Maul, I have to go to Tatooine with you."
"You're a smart little hottie, Mary Sue, but you're no engineer. Unless... you wanna fuck?" This time, he asked only as an accommodating host.
"You know the answer to that, you horny moron," Mary Sue spat impatiently, squelching the urge to remind Maul that he wasn't an engineer either. "But it'll be the perfect place to get rid of this ring!"
"Can't you just put an ad in the paper?"
Mary Sue let go of Maul's arms and pointed at the city beyond Maul's balcony. "Maul! Think! Everybody on Coruscant knows who I am, knows who gave me this ring, and thinks that Bill was murdered by some crazy stranger. What are people going to think when Bill's grieving and supposedly very wealthy widow tries to sell her engagement ring or go to some sleazy pawn shop?" Not that she cared what people thought. But the Jedi Temple's fruitless investigation of Bill's finances wasn't completed yet, and she wanted to keep a low profile until then.
"You could throw it away."
Mary Sue shook her head. "That creep will find it. If it's anywhere on this planet, he'll get to it somehow. I don't know why he's so interested in it, but I do know it would be a big mistake to let him have it." She fluffed her hair and smoothed her gown. "Anyway, I'm dying to go somewhere that I can wear something that isn't black."
Mary Sue left before Maul could ask her to join him in striking down Sidious, which would solve both their problems.
Maul resumed his brooding.
What to do, what to do. He plotted. An idea sprouted. His spirits lifted. Then another idea. He smiled. Then another idea. He giggled. Then he got down to work.
He mixed ingredients. He formed little shapes. He baked. He cooled. He wrapped. He made sandwiches and squeezed fresh lemonade. And then he smiled at the freshly purloined credit card of Ben-Wa Kenobi and decided to go shopping. He stepped into the hallway, summoned the lift, and pressed the button for the lowest level this lift serviced. "Today, Ben-Wa's credit card," he cackled. "Tomorrow, his destiny!"
Licking the confection on the stick, Ben-Wa wondered why Maul called his candies "sidipops". They were very good. In fact, they were so good that he didn't want to lick anything else.
He frowned. He didn't even feel like licking Maul. There was something odd about that, but after that big lunch they'd had, he felt sleepy, and he couldn't focus on the thought long enough to work it out. Anyway, Obi-Wan was acting a lot more possessive these days. He sniffed, caught the aroma of the candy again, and resumed sucking.
Maul bent over the naviputer, working out their final approach to Tatooine. He could see Ben-Wa's somnolent countenance reflected in the glass, and made a mental note to himself to reduce the amount of Seconal in the recipe. He'd wanted Ben-Wa to fall asleep, but not into a coma. Who knew the guy would be such a pig for pops? Still, everything seemed to be going as planned. Ben-Wa wasn't pawing or leering at Maul, and would soon be fast asleep.
Mary Sue peered over Maul's shoulder. "What are our choices?"
"The farm is midway between Mos Keeto and Mos Eisley. Shit, I've never heard of either one. Have you?"
"Yeah," Mary Sue said thoughtfully. "I've heard Mos Eisley is a real scruffy place. If I'm going to get rid of this ring, I need to go to the scruffiest place there is."
Maul punched in the coordinates, then smiled at Mary Sue. "Looks like it's just you and me," he said, nodding at Ben-Wa, now asleep, still sucking the sidipop like a pacifier. "Wanna fuck?"
Mary Sue gently removed the pop from her brother's mouth, then smiled back at Maul. "Too bad you drugged him, because he was your only hope for sparkling conversation." She waved a stack of folders at him. "I don't have time for that now. I'm an executive!"
"Executive schmecutive! It's still better than talking to that idiot brother of yours...""
"I don't know why you hate him so much. You could be nicer to him, you know. Why do you think I came with you, anyway? I've got a whole fleet of ships if I want to go somewhere. I just wanted to make sure you didn't try to space him or anything. Remember what I promised if you mistreated Obi-Wan?" She pantomimed throwing a lighting bolt at Maul's pants. "That goes for Ben-Wa, too." With that, Mary Sue went into the cruiser's small bedroom and closed the door.
A moment later, she emerged, dragged Ben-Wa's sleeping form into the bedroom with her, and shut the door again. And locked it.
A bit harsher than expected, but oh well. So far, everything was going as planned. Maul fumbled through Ben-Wa's poncho, looking for the bag of weed he knew he would find in the lining somewhere, and swapped it out with a similar bag he'd hidden in his Sithly robes. Then he placed a call to Tatooine.
"Wow, what a dump," Ben-Wa observed, stifling a yawn.
It was noisy, hot, and bright. And scruffy--very scruffy. Not just the people, not just the ancient freighters and buildings and other ships in this port, but even the air. Scruffy.
Mary Sue looked up at the twin suns, then down at her one shadow on the ground. "Hey, look at that," she said.
Maul looked too. It was odd, but he couldn't explain it.
A Devaronian attendant rushed up to them and offered a speeder rental, which Maul accepted, along with directions to Anchorhead.
The attendant lingered, staring at Mary Sue and smiling hopefully. "How else may I make your stay more enjoyable?"
"Scram," Maul suggested.
Mary Sue smiled and whispered into the Devaronian's ear. "I'm looking for the roughest, nastiest, most disreputable bar in town. What do you recommend?"
The attendant frowned, but was not ready to give up. "Why would such a delicate creature as yourself wish to visit such an establishment? I can recommend several respectable taverns. In fact, I would be honored to accompany you to one."
Mary Sue shook her head and smiled politely. "I'm afraid I can't accept your offer. I have to... conduct some business."
Crestfallen, the attendant named several local pubs, then hesitated, waiting for a gratuity.
"Hey, pal," said Maul, impatiently tapping his fingers on the speeder's steering wheel. "Get lost."
"Say," said Ben-Wa, "why are there two suns but only one shadow?"
The attendant shook his head sadly. "We don't talk about that."
"Thanks, little guy," Mary Sue said, ruffling his fur.
"Best of luck," the Devaronian squeaked, but Maul gritted his teeth and sped away.
Mary Sue paused outside Thee Hutt Hut, which was the scruffiest-looking of the bars the Devaronian had named. There were signs in at least five different languages that Mary Sue could read.
"A wretched hive of scum and villainy"
"17% scruffier than Steve's Sarlaac Pit"
"No blasters, droids, or livestock"
"No shirt, no shoes, no service"
Several scruffy-looking men exited the bar, and as they brushed past Mary Sue, a strange odor wafted out from inside. Oh yes. This was exactly the kind of place she wanted. She took one last gulp of fresh air and opened the door.
In the few seconds it took for her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, someone groped her. She wasn't sure whether that hand was trying to grab her ass or steal her wallet, but there was only one way to discourage either behavior in a place like this.
The offending hand lay on the floor in a pool of viscous, olive-green blood. Its former owner, a member of a bark-covered species Mary Sue had never seen before, rubbed the stump of his arm unhappily. Then he picked up his hand and stuffed it into his pocket.
"That's what I do when I'm not angry," Mary Sue said calmly as she approached the bartender, who sputtered angrily.
"Go ahead, measure the blade," Mary Sue said, tossing the lightdagger at him. "It's legal."
The bartender scowled. "You don't get it," he said, tossing it back to her. "The sap from those tree people burns the rug. I'm going to have some expensive repairs."
Silently, Mary Sue pushed a wafer of latinum across the bar, knowing that they both knew he'd never find a shag carpet that color in this galaxy, and wouldn't even try. The bartender sniffed the wafer suspiciously and tucked it into his tunic. "What's in it for you, lady?"
"Introductions to discerning jewel collectors. And a bantha milk, neat. Cold, please. I'll run a tab."
Confident that she had now attracted the attention of every sentient in the room, Mary Sue looked around for someone who could cut a good deal.
It was a long ride to Anchorhead, and from there, an even longer ride to the farm. Long, hot, and boring. Much to Maul's vexation, Ben-Wa would shout "MOOOOOOO!" every time they passed a bantha. Aside from that, Ben-Wa yammered inanely most of the way, oblivious to Maul's indifference, much like a late-model protocol droid. He marveled garrulously at the beauty of the monotonous landscape, and pointed at every person they passed and asked Maul if they were Sandpeople. Maul also had to stop the speeder once so that Ben-Wa could relieve himself. After that, he made the twit pee over the side while they were moving, which Ben-Wa actually enjoyed.
Finally, Maul spotted the farm homestead on the horizon. As they approached, he noticed a sour-faced man eyeing them indifferently while loading crates onto an old speeder. Too bad. Maul had been looking forward to an eventful eviction.
Ben-Wa hopped out, hand outstretched in greeting, as Maul stopped their vehicle. "Hi there!" Ben-Wa said. "You must be Mr. Darklighter!"
The sour-faced man wiped his nose on his sleeve and snorted. "You don't look like a Mary Sue to me."
"What? Oh. I'm Ben-Wa Kenobi. I've come to evict you!"
From Ben-Wa's cheerful tone, it occurred to Maul that Ben-Wa probably thought "evict" meant "give a blow job."
"I'm warning you, desert rat. You've got five minutes to get out of here!" Maul snarled, showing his teeth.
Darklighter shrugged and secured the crates on the speeder. "I'm out of this dump. It's all yours."
"Dump?" Ben-Wa looked unpleasantly surprised.
"If that Bill guy hadn't been so cheap, I could have turned this thing around. But it's going to need some work. I had to run this thing all alone."
Ben-Wa regained his composure, but Maul could see that Ben-Wa's expectations, whatever they were, had not been met.
"Grrrrrrr," Maul said. "I mean it, old man."
"As it is, only one of the vaporators even runs up to spec," Darklighter told Ben-Wa. "I never had time to work on the others." The farmer scratched his belly through his heavily stained tunic and climbed into his vehicle.
"What will you do now?" Ben-Wa asked, affably. Maul drew his lightsaber.
"Starting an underground farm with a partner in Mos Tash." Darklighter started the speeder. "Good luck with this place. Anything's better than moisture farming!"
With that, he zoomed off into the Dune Sea.
"And stay away if you know what's good for you, Darklighter!" Maul yelled after him.
"Say," Mary Sue asked the bartender, "mind if I ask you something?"
The bartender shrugged noncommittally.
"What's up with that two suns, one shadow thing?"
The bartender looked up from the glass he was filling and blanched. "We don't talk about that."
Most of the vaporators weren't in as poor condition as Darklighter had led them to believe, but they did seem to be quite old. Even the replacement parts appeared to be vintage, and one vaporator was no longer operational. It looked as though its parts had been scavenged to repair the other vaporators, or perhaps traded for other parts.
Bill clearly hadn't spent a single credit more than he had to on his tax shelter investments. The homestead itself was in excellent condition and very clean, without a speck of stray sand--Darklighter had been a Jabba's Witness--but the droid pit in the garage, layered with undisturbed grime and dust, looked like it had never been used and was about to die of old age.
The control station was next. Maul powered up the main computer and snarled contemptuously when it finally got on-line. Doors applications! he realized with disbelief. No wonder Darklighter couldn't get a good yield! This system is too slow to make adjustments for changing atmospheric conditions. There's nothing wrong with this farm that better software couldn't fix.
"So, can we sell it today?" Ben-Wa asked.
"Today?" Maul repeated in disbelief. "You must be even dumber than you look. You won't sell this place without a droid, and that means fixing up the droid pit. You heard what Darklighter said. This place is a dump."
Ben-Wa looked disappointed. "I was hoping we could sell it today. I could use the money."
"Forget it. We're leaving now. Even if we had time, you wouldn't get a good deal." Maul indicated the financial records. "Fix it up, run this place for a year with a decent profit, and then you can sell it for five times what you'd get for it right now. At least."
"But I need the money right now."
Maul knew Ben-Wa's career was in a slump, but his desperation seemed excessive, considering the resources available to him: two sets of well-heeled parents, a pair of adoring siblings, and a squad of doting Jedi masters who guaranteed an enviable customer base should Ben-Wa decide to try prostitution. An income vs. expense curve like that didn't seem so difficult to live with.
Not that Maul cared. He shook his head. "Look, you can sell this place as a dump and get a handful of sand in return, or you can flip it within a year and get a 500% return."
"Why can't I sell it now?" Ben-Wa whined. "What's wrong with it?"
"It's technical," Maul said. "Way over your head. Talk it over later with Mary Sue or your fake parents or somebody. It's getting late. We're going."
Ben-Wa stepped closer, looking down and licking his lips coyly. "Does that mean we don't have time for anything else?"
Wordlessly, Maul picked up Ben-Wa, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him out to the speeder. He dumped him headfirst into the backseat. Ben-Wa looked just like his brother, but he was no Obi-Wan. Anyway, if Mary Sue found out, Maul's Stones of Manhood would become Gravel of Eunuchs. If Obi-Wan found out, both Ben-Wa and Maul would be coughing up testicular remnants for years to come.
In any case, Maul needed to focus on his plan.
Plus, he reminded himself belatedly, he didn't like Ben-Wa.
"Forget it. We're getting a beer and going home."
Mary Sue was having no luck at Thee Hutt Hut. None of the smugglers here had anything to trade that Mary Sue could possibly want. Sand, spice, weapons, and tribbles. That was pretty much it. The only significant cash any of them had was in local currency, which Mary Sue could spend only on... well, things you buy on Tatooine. Sand, spice, weapons, and tribbles. And slaves--but those weren't allowed on Coruscant. Besides, she could get those for free.
It was getting late. She considered trying another bar, but it didn't seem worth the trouble. She didn't want to go home with that stupid ring, but she didn't want to give it away, either.
Not that she needed the money. She just wanted to own something that wasn't tied up in red tape or registered on an inventory list somewhere.
Raucous laughter at the tavern's entrance caught Mary Sue's attention. A tallish captain, another smuggler by the looks of him, was arguing with the bartender about his companion, a young Ewok.
"We don't serve their kind in here," the bartender was saying. "Your livestock. He'll have to wait outside."
The smuggler shook his finger angrily. "You wouldn't treat him that way if he was a Wookiee." The crowd near the doorway laughed again. "Go on, Chaka," he muttered to the Ewok. "I won't be long."
The creature sighed dejectedly and went outside. The smuggler looked around, self-consciously avoiding the amused onlookers' gazes, and looked for someone to bargain with.
Mary Sue checked her watch. This guy was her last chance. She tapped his shoulder. "Buy you a drink, captain?"
The smuggler gaped at her, then looked away nervously. "Ma'am, I--I'm a married man."
Mary Sue shook her head. "I'm here to do business. What are you moving?" She gestured to the bartender, who after serving her seven cold neat bantha milks in a row was now her best friend in the world, and discreetly showed the smuggler the large gaudy gem in its solar-powered repulsorlift setting.
The man accepted a mug of Alderaanian ale from the bartender. Mary Sue led him to a corner booth.
Ben-Wa looked around doubtfully at the saloon Maul had chosen. "I don't know about this place. It's kind of a dive."
"You're not going to find any fern bars in this neighborhood," Maul said, watching the Rodian standing near the restroom. "Besides, I want a beer now."
They found seats at the bar and ordered beers. They waited in awkward silence for their drinks to arrive. "Okay, Kenobi," Maul started, "wasn't your band called the Backdoor Bantha Boys?"
"Yeah," Ben-Wa answered sadly.
"So how can this be the first time you've been to Tatooine?"
"That's just the name of the band," Ben-Wa said slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. "There weren't any actual banthas involved."
"Watch my seat," Maul said suddenly. "I have some moisture to donate."
Ben-Wa nodded, accepting his drink from the bartender. He couldn't help wishing that he'd dressed less flamboyantly. The orange and purple jumpsuit seemed out of place among the farmers' drab tunics, and it suddenly occurred to him that the people here didn't look friendly.
Very carefully, he kept his eyes to himself. He didn't see Maul's brief conference with the Rodian.
"Name's Solo," the smuggler said, with a confidence he didn't feel and didn't exude. Mary Sue didn't care, at this point. "Yep, Gustav Solo. I'm quite famous around here. I smuggle things... and stuff."
Mary Sue smiled. "I need to get rid of this engagement ring. It's full of unhappy memories. My wonderful husband, may he rest in the Force, paid many credits for it, but I'm willing to cut a deal. And... no questions asked."
"Well, ma'am, all I've got is the 5000 Republic credits I owe my boss, and a hold full of Beanie Babies. I don't see how this is going to work." He sipped his drink tentatively.
"Retired Beanies?" Mary Sue asked hopefully.
Solo shook his head. "'What Would Yoda Do' Beanies."
Mary Sue sighed. "I'll take the credits. It's an obscene discount, especially considering the solar-powered miniature repulsorlift setting that prevents the gem from smashing the wearer's hand, but it's the best offer I've had all day."
Solo wiped hurriedly at the ale he'd just spilled on his shirt. He didn't want it to stain; Helga wouldn't approve. "Ma'am, I can't give you those credits. Those belong to my boss."
"At that price, I'm basically just charging you for the setting and giving you the rock for free," Mary Sue pressed, with a half-whammy. "Tell your boss you got mugged, or something."
Solo shook his head emphatically. "No, ma'am. That would be dishonest. I could never do something like that."
Mary Sue was disappointed, but not surprised. Of all the scoundrels on this... this... scruffy planet, naturally she ran into Gomer Pyle himself. Just her luck. Unlike her mother, Dartha Stewart, for whom things always turned out perfectly, Mary Sue's plans always fell just shy of perfect.
If she didn't get her bad luck from Dartha, maybe it came from Palpatine. Old creep. May all his plans someday go horribly awry. She brightened at the thought.
The overworked receptionist to the gods shook her head sadly at the cosmic calendar and picked a date at random.
Mary Sue stood and shook Solo's clammy hand. "Sorry we couldn't do business." She sighed. "You know, at this point, I'd be happy just to have a ring that doesn't suck."
Solo brightened. "Why didn't you say so? I do have a ring. I was going to give it to my Helga, but I think she'll like yours better." Plus, he told himself, it's too big to flush down the toilet. Maybe she'll stop throwing her ring away every time she loses her temper.
He produced the ring from his shirt pocket and wiped the ale residue from it. The stone was large and brilliantly cut, but small enough not to require a solar-powered repulsorlift setting. It fit Mary Sue perfectly. She smiled at Solo, and suddenly he felt like ditching his wife and their two kids and his thriving smuggling career, and running away with this wild, exotic widow.
"Oh, hey, can you tell me something about this planet?"
Solo looked at Mary Sue, flushing with embarrassment at the unwholesome thought he'd just had. "What's that, ma'am?"
"Two suns, one shadow. What's that?"
"Oh." Solo looked sheepish. "They don't talk about that."
"Explain to me again why I can't grow plants on a moisture farm?"
"Didn't you learn anything in the Agricorps?"
"I don't know. I was stoned most of the time I was there. I just did what they told me to do. Dig here. Sprinkle that stuff over there. Pick these plants. Blah, blah, blah."
"Did you learn anything about moisture farming?"
Ben-Wa frowned. "You know, I'm not sure. Does that have something to do with water? I think we used water sometimes on the farm."
Maul consoled himself with the knowledge that it would all be over soon. He slammed his empty beer mug on the counter and stood. "Nice of you to pay. Let's go. Mary Sue's probably waiting."
Ben-Wa reached for his wallet. It wasn't where it was supposed to be. He frowned. He knew he'd had it when he'd ordered his drink.
The bartender approached. "You-a boys a-ready to go?" Ben-Wa nodded, panicking. He turned helplessly to Maul. "My wallet's gone."
"I take-a credit cards," the Toydarian prompted.
Maul made a show of searching his own pockets. "Someone must have taken our wallets!"
Ben-Wa waved his hand. "We already paid."
The bartender curled his snout angrily. "Those-a Jedi tricks won't-a work on me. You think-a you can cheat me? No. You-a make a phone call and-a find-a someone who can pay-a for you! Plus a late-a fee."
Ben-Wa considered using his most reliable talent, but the prospect of licking a Toydarian was too revolting even for him.
Maul nudged Ben-Wa. "Don't you have anything of value at all?"
Ben-Wa decided to take a chance. He found the baggie in his poncho lining and pulled it out halfway, shielding it with his arm. "How about a trade?"
Maul stepped away from Ben-Wa and gasped loudly in what he hoped sounded like surprise. Ben-Wa looked down at the bag, saw the black vials, and tried to stuff it back into his pocket.
But it was too late. The Rodian narc was already pulling the bag out of Ben-Wa's hand and handcuffing Ben-Wa. "Kid, you are under arrest for illegal possession and distribution of spice," he said. "The most contraband substance in the galaxy." He dragged Ben-Wa, already in tears, out of the building, with Maul following behind them.
"All you had to do was register with the Hutts and pay the fee," the Rodian continued. "I don't know why kids like you are always trying to get around the laws." The bartender was still demanding payment and frothing at the mouth when Maul shut the door behind him.
Mary Sue left Thee Hutt Hut feeling strangely tired and depressed. And dumpy. Maybe it was the brown of her poncho. Come to think of it, brown wasn't much of an improvement over black; if anything, it was even more depressing. Or perhaps the events of the last several months had finally caught up with her. Or maybe it was all those bantha milks. Or those damned suns giving her heat exhaustion.
It was not, she told herself, that stupid ring. It may not have been the deal of the millennium, but she'd accomplished her goal.
And yet, somehow she missed the hideous thing.
Of course she missed it, she reminded herself. It was big and expensive. And it had sentimental value. That ring had been the key to her newfound wealth. She forced a smile and returned to Palpatine's cruiser.
A moment later, Gustav Solo left The Hutt Hutt feeling strangely elated. He still had a shipload of surplus Beanie Babies to get rid of, but he had a hunch that his luck was about to change.
Mary Sue's large ring felt warm in his shirt pocket. It almost seemed to buzz with brilliance, though Solo realized it was probably only the repulsorlift's motor.
Yes, his luck would change. He'd sell those Beanies at a gain and spend the money on a romantic getaway with Helga. His smuggling business would become profitable and he'd retire early. Solo knew this ring deal was just the beginning of the longest run of good luck he'd ever seen in his life.
The police station was done in Early Hutt architecture, and decorated liberally in various shades of brown, which was making Maul queasy. Otherwise, it was exactly like the police station on Coruscant, even down to the smell.
Gonzo, the Rodian narc, read Ben-Wa his rights in Basic and Huttese and waited for the computer--a Tardy Radio Hack-80 running Doors--to bring up Ben-Wa's Republic identity record.
"You're real lucky to have a friend like this Maul, kid." Ben-Wa, now a little calmer, sulked. "I know you're pissed off now, but Maul did this for your own good."
"Hey, why do the two suns on this planet cast only one shadow?" Maul interrupted.
Gonzo gave him a hard look. "That's none of your concern, kid."
"I thought Tatooine wasn't part of the Republic?" Ben-Wa asked.
"It isn't," Gonzo said. "But Nal Hutta is, and the Hutts prosecute all unlicensed spice activity. It's so frequent on this planet that they funded this Republic law enforcement office themselves."
"Sounds like a clunky setup," Ben-Wa opined.
Gonzo shrugged and grabbed an empty Java Hutt sippy mug from his desk. "Plot convenience," he said, and left them waiting alone. The ancient computer made grinding noises as it processed the inquiry. Maul scowled at Ben-Wa. "Your mother will be heartbroken," he said with mock concern.
Ben-Wa sniffed. "What I don't get is how you knew," he told Maul.
"Huh? Knew what? What could you possibly know that I wouldn't know?"
"About my habit. How did you know?"
Maul's brow furrowed. "Know?"
"I can't believe I packed the wrong bag," Ben-Wa said, despairingly. "I could have sworn I brought the pot. I am so toast."
"I'm not mad at you, Maul, really," Ben-Wa said. "I know I seem mad, but I couldn't control it anymore. It was getting too expensive, without the band and all."
Maul mentally slapped himself on the head. A good deed? How would he ever live this down?
But no. It didn't matter. Maul wasn't sure how stiff a penalty Ben-Wa faced, but he did know that mental reconditioning was a mandatory punishment for selling spice without Hutt protection. Ben-Wa Kenobi, as the world now knew him, would soon be history.
Everything else would just be icing on the cake.
"Who knows, when they find out who my dad is, maybe they'll let me off the hook. Do you think Da would do that for me?" Ben-Wa looked hopefully at Maul. "Maybe when all this is done, I'll even thank you." His face spasmed. "If I still remember who I am!" He began to sob loudly, but without the devastating trembling-lip effect that served his brother so well.
Gonzo returned with a mugful of coffee for himself and balanced two smaller coffees for Maul and Ben-Wa. Decaffeinated coffee, Maul observed. How wholesome.
The Rodian whistled at Ben-Wa when the search results finally appeared on his computer screen. "I thought you looked familiar. Kid, you are in big trouble."
"I don't think I can forgive you for this, Maul."
Maul had already known that sex with Mary Sue would be out of the question for quite a while, but he had hoped that she might need some physical comforting. He hadn't expected this icy, quiet wrath.
Mary Sue wasn't taking the news as well as Maul had hoped. Breaking the news wasn't as enjoyable as he had expected it would be, either. Even though technically the plan had succeeded, it seemed spoiled somehow.
"You ratted out my brother. You didn't even trust us enough to tell us first. I have lawyers. I know people. We could have found him a good private hospital."
Maul looked at the ceiling and scratched his neck, avoiding Mary Sue's eyes, which were nearly black with anger, sadness, and... something Maul didn't recognize.
"The only reason I don't purple-lightning you right now is because--I just don't feel like it." Mary Sue went into the bedroom and slammed the door.
"Okay. Let's blow this sandbox," Maul muttered to himself as he guided his master's cruiser off Tatooine's surface.
Boss Hogg's stomach rumbled. He'd skipped breakfast that morning, and it was getting close to lunch. The next hearing looked to be pretty straightforward--a repeat offender, unsuccessful rehab, whammy abuse, a run-in with the Hutts' spice laws--and the elderly Gungan judge was thinking longingly about the devilled frog sandwich and banana yogurt in his bottom desk drawer.
He activated his homemade Whammy Jammer, which he hoped to patent someday, then signaled the clerk. "Send in the Kenobi case, Ouisi."
The door opened, and what seemed close to a thousand people entered his office. Not because there were so many of them, but because all five were speaking at once.
Hogg recognized his own senator, and he'd already reviewed Qui-Gon's file out of curiosity (hence the Whammy-Jammer), so it was easy to identify the other three as Ben-Wa Kenobi and his adoptive parents, Shawn-Penn and Maree-Jayn. The Kenobis were here because it was their legal obligation, and Qui-Gon was apparently here to stare at the defendant's crotch or ass, whichever was more convenient. Palpatine was here as an alleged advocate for the defendant; it was his influence that got Ben-Wa such a speedy trial, and on Coruscant rather than Nal Hutta, the Hutts' home planet. Though there was a note in the file that a squad of MacroStiff lawyers had tried to delay the trial for as long as possible. Odd.
Hogg gave them a moment to crowd together on the hard metal bench, deliberately proportioned awkwardly to discourage lengthy visits.
He ran through the obligatory opening remarks, stated the charges and verdict (crimes committed in front of holocams did not require a formal trial), and presented the evidence, including a surveillance tape from Gonzo, a sealed bag full of vials, lab analyses, sworn statements from several witnesses, and copies of credit card receipts from Coruscant, Bandomeer, and most of the planets where the Backdoor Bantha Boys had performed.
Palpatine perused the receipts with great interest. Hogg, who hadn't voted for Palpatine in the last election and didn't plan to vote for him in the upcoming one, thought the senator looked almost giddy. "My goodness," Palpatine said, in a tone of voice reminiscent of horror, "I didn't realize the spice trade was so sophisticated." Inwardly, he added, so THAT's the street price of spice? I have GOT to get in with the Hutts as soon as I control the Republic! "As your senator, Your Honor, and as your own planet's ally in promoting a drug-free galaxy, Mr. and Mrs. Kenobi, I pledge that--"
Hogg pounded his gavel. Palpatine frowned. For some reason, his most practiced whammy had fallen flat.
Shawn-Penn Kenobi handed the rest of the evidence back to Hogg. "I suppose there's no way this could all be a mistake. No way to... change your mind?" His voice went up in pitch at the end of the question, a little too much, as he and Maree-Jayn looked hopefully at Palpatine.
Palpatine shook his head and shrugged minutely. Hogg had seen exchanges like this before. Though the judge's integrity was above reproach, the sad thing was that he would have dismissed the case in exchange for an egg roll if they'd had one handy. The Naboo senator had nothing to offer an old Gungan, but a nerf gyro dripping with tsatziki right now could buy this whole family a lifetime of immunity from the law.
"The matter is decided," Hogg announced with authority. "As you know"--he shot Palpatine a meaningful look--"the Republic seldom offers criminals a second chance, never mind a third or fourth. The charges against you, young man, are far more serious than a little stalking or planting a bomb."
Maree-Jayn wondered if perhaps the Hutts had a little more clout than they should in the Republic's legal system, but said nothing.
"The conditions of your rehabilitation are as follows.
"Item One. Force exclusion. Your cells will be magnetically altered so that they cannot communicate with the midichlorians. This is the standard punishment for attempting to use the whammy, or any other Jedi technique, while committing a crime."
Qui-Gon squirmed on the bench, annoying Palpatine on his left and Shawn-Penn on his right. Boss Hogg gave him a disapproving look. He'd already reviewed the old hippie's file.
"Item Two. I'm sure you're aware that a partial memory wipe is a mandatory sentence for persons convicted of drug-related crimes. You'll note among the evidence is a sworn statement from a barkeeper named Blotto on Tatooine who heard the defendant say that he was stoned most of the time he was on Bandomeer. This proves that he cannot be rehabilitated. After your treatment is complete, Mr. Kenobi, every time you try to think of your past--the drugs, the singing, the Jedi school--you'll be overcome by disgust and have to concentrate on your new career. Certain personality traits will be removed as well. You'll be a good, solid citizen, with no interest in mischief or excitement. Just a desire to live in quiet dedication to your life's work.
"This new career is open to negotiation. What skills do you possess that you could use in your new life?"
Ben-Wa, struggling not to fall off the edge of the bench, looked up in disbelief. He hadn't known he'd have any say in the matter.
"I want to become a professional gigolo, Your Honor!"
"That's so undignified!" Maree-Jayn cried. "Ben-Wa, you have so much talent! You could become a singer!"
"Mrs. Kenobi, with all due respect, that was the defendant's previous occupation. Now he needs to choose a new one." Boss Hogg rubbed his belly unhappily. He might not be eating for a while yet.
"But he could be a lounge singer! That's a quiet life! He could be a lounge singer on our home planet and be near us."
"Forget it, Mam. My strength in the Force was eight-sevenths of my talent. Without it, no one will be impressed with my singing."
"That option is out of the question anyway," the judge said, putting a checkmark next to Item Three in response to Ben-Wa's "eight-sevenths" remark. "Lounge singers work in bars, and bars do not figure into a quiet life."
"I can vouch for Ben-Wa's potential for success as a gigolo," Qui-Gon volunteered. "As his former... counselor, I became aware of his skills in that area."
"I have heard rumors of his prowess," Palpatine added, with misgiving.
Maree-Jayn wept into a dun-colored hankie, while Ben-Wa beamed at this high praise. "I'm a natural. And let's face it, I don't really have any other skills."
"I don't know," the judge said thoughtfully. "Although it's not specifically prohibited, I think it might bring you too close to your bad habits again. Mr. and Mrs. Kenobi, do you have any assets that you could set him up with? A small business, perhaps, or some property?"
The elder Kenobis looked at one another and shook their heads sadly. "We're both Jedi, and all our families are Jedi," Shawn-Penn pointed out. "We don't run businesses or own property."
"The boy himself owns a moisture farm on Tatooine," Palpatine said.
The judge frowned at Ben-Wa's file. "That's not mentioned in here."
"I just got it. Mary Sue gave it to me," Ben-Wa said. "I guess it's better than nothing."
"The notes I have from your counselors on Bandomeer are not encouraging," Boss Hogg said. "Although they spoke highly of your interpersonal skills, it appears that you just aren't cut out to be a farmer. I'm not sure even shock treatments would change that."
"No, not farming!" Ben-Wa laughed. "Me, a farmer? Not for as long as I have hair! I meant, maybe we could sell it and use the money to set me up with something else."
"We do have some money," Maree-Jayn offered, to her husband's annoyance. "It's not enough to buy him a career, but perhaps it could buy him some help."
"In this case, it might be best to leave the decision for the people who will reprogram him," Hogg said. "They're professionals who have a great deal of experience in this sort of thing. I'll suggest the gigolo career and mention your offer of cash, and perhaps the proceeds from selling the moisture farm."
Twenty minutes of bickering, and nothing had been resolved. Palpatine made a mental note to himself that if he ever wanted to kill a time-sensitive proposal, he should just insist that it be discussed in committee.
"I wonder how much it costs to have a gigolo," Qui-Gon mused aloud.
"That leads me to Item Three," said Boss Hogg. "Sterilization. It is required by law that repeat offenders, especially those whose intelligence is very low, are not allowed to reproduce. Senator Palpatine, I believe you voted for this particular law."
"Our boy's not stupid!" Shawn-Penn glared at the judge, with an indignant semi-glare directed at Palpatine. "When he sang with the Backdoor Bantha Boys, he was billed as the Smart One!"
"Ben-Wa," Boss Hogg prompted, "you spent several months on Bandomeer with the Agricorps. On a farm. Where they grow things in the ground. Plants. They grow plants in the ground. Tell me, Ben-Wa, where do tomatoes come from?"
Ben-Wa beamed. "From a can! A shiny red can!"
Shawn-Penn shut his mouth and leaned back into the bench, wincing slightly.
Qui-Gon laughed. "With all due respect, Your Honor, this isn't necessary for my former padawan. You see, he's not likely to reproduce. He doesn't like girls."
The judge met Qui-Gon's mirthful expression with a steady gaze. "He will be like that, Mr. Jinn. According to another law of the Republic, which in fact was supported by our Senator Palpatine's Family Values campaign, it'll be easier for the defendant to 'conform' if he's not only straight, but married."
Four disbelieving pairs of eyes stared at Palpatine, who blushed demurely.
"In fact," Hogg continued, "eventually he will be paired with a female who goes through the same program."
Maree-Jayn gasped in horror. Qui-Gon cried into the sleeve of his robe.
"Even now, we're processing a former female Jedi padawan, who dropped out of the academy recently due to a poor grade in a writing class. She then went on a crime spree. When her treatment is complete, I'm sure she'll be a pleasant companion for you, Ben-Wa." Hogg paused, noting gladly that they were almost finished.
"Item Four. Due to your unique celebrity status, and for your own protection, you will be assigned a new name and your appearance will be altered in addition to your new career. If people recognized your face or knew your real name, they might find you and pressure you to return to your former wild public life. Young man, again, you do have some say in this matter. Do you have any name or appearance preferences?"
"I've always liked the name Evan Larson," Ben-Wa said shyly. The judge scribbled that down eagerly with shaking hands. If he didn't get to that sandwich and yogurt soon, he might pass out right here on this desk.
"But I don't know about the appearance thing," Ben-Wa continued. "I don't think there's much room for improvement," he boasted.
Boss Hogg looked up happily from his paperwork. "No problem! I'll leave that up to the surgeons, then. Ben-Wa, you will be assigned a pickup time within a few days to begin your treatments. As you know, this complicated process takes several months and is gradual. Each treatment lasts a week, and you'll have about three weeks between each one to spend as you wish." He was talking quickly now, spittle flying from his jowly mouth, and had emerged from behind the desk to herd the Kenobi party towards the door. "After your first treatment, you'll already have lost interest in most of the things that have gotten you into trouble, but just to be on the safe side, you'll have a parole officer to keep an eye on you. The officer's name is Paunch and you'll meet him after your first treatment."
He opened the door and shook hands with each person, nearly shoving them back into the lobby. "Ouisi will validate your parking. That does it! We're finished! Thank you very much! Good luck, Mr. Kenobi." He shut the door and attacked his lunch.
"I'm going to be a gigolo and I'm going to be named Evan Larson!" Ben-Wa cried happily. Obi-Wan hugged his brother, who truly deserved the best, and could only benefit from his treatment.
Boss Hogg reviewed his notes as he finished the paperwork for the day's cases. He had just a few minutes left if he wanted to beat Coruscant's rush-hour traffic. It was all-you-can-eat turtle steamers night at his favorite homestyle restaurant, and his wife and kids would be waiting for him there.
One case left to review--the Kenobi case. Hogg had heard more than his share of dysfunctional family psychobabble during his career, but with friends and family like Ben-Wa Kenobi's, it was hard not to feel sorry for the washed-up pop singer.
He squinted at his notes. He hadn't realized how badly his hands were shaking this morning as he scribbled during their meeting. What the hell was that name on the paper? Ewok Landing? Ewan Lansing? Ovid Lan? Something like that. Boss Hogg consulted his Kabalarian Society name analyses and picked something close that seemed to reflect the boy's friendly, laid-back nature, then hurriedly handed the forms to the court clerk as he rushed out the door.
Moments later, the Gungan judge and his Whammy-Jammer were gone forever, the victims of a freak commuter accident.
The going-away party Obi-Wan and Mary Sue threw for Ben-Wa at the Jedi Temple was a small but well-attended event. Ben-Wa smiled in spite of himself and tried to have a good time.
Much of that time was spent in the restroom with various former friends and instructors from the Jedi Academy, including Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan was glad that Ben-Wa was keeping Qui-Gon busy, because now that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were no longer an item, the padawan found his master's constant attention somewhat fatherly and stifling.
Maul was here only to witness Ben-Wa's removal personally. Both Mary Sue and Obi-Wan were angry with him, he didn't want to get too close to Palpatine, and he tried to avoid the Kenobis as much as possible. He'd tried to insult them, but they responded by hugging him and thanking him for rescuing their boy from the abyss of drug abuse.
Everyone who was everyone was in attendance. Even Cyn. Though not totally forgiven for busting Obi-Wan and Maul, she was a family member, and no one could bring themselves to kick her out.
The rest of the guests were Jedi. Not much hope for recreation there. No hope of getting laid until Obi-Wan could see the bright side to all of this.
The only person missing, Maul noted, was Dartha. Not that he missed her. He knew she was embarrassed to be associated with Ben-Wa and Obi-Wan. Unlike Palpatine, who was able to spin this incident into a human-interest story to help his campaign, Dartha disavowed any relationship with Ben-Wa other than the obvious biological link.
Maul stood in a corner, sipping Guinness (not that he liked that Jedi-piss), and waiting impatiently for the end to come. Or for the restroom to become vacant, because he'd had a lot of beers.
Finally the appointed time came, and two corrections officers waited by the exit with handcuffs and pain sticks. The room became quiet. Ben-Wa slowly emerged from the restroom and faced Maul. "Don't feel bad, Maul. You probably saved my life. And I'm going to be a gigolo!" He bit his lip, then pulled Maul into a heartfelt embrace. "Oh, Maul! I love you, man!"
"Yeah, good luck with all that." Maul dashed into the vacated restroom gratefully.
Mary Sue was next. "Guess Dartha couldn't make it, huh Sis?" Mary Sue shook her head sadly and gathered Ben-Wa into her arms. "I wish I'd known you longer, Ben-Wa. You're a great brother. I'm sorry my legal team couldn't do more."
Ben-Wa looked at Palpatine, who surveyed the disgraced Sidispawn solemnly. "I will do everything in my power to stamp out the deadly evil of spice." How he yearned to grope that compact, aerobics-toned ass. Instead, he patted his son's shoulder in as fatherly a way as possible.
Maree-Jayn and Shawn-Penn kissed their favorite son, shushing his tearful apologies and telling him to be a good boy. Other friends and family gathered around, shaking his hand, hugging him, punching his arm, ruffling his hair, and trying to lift his spirits one last time.
Finally, Ben-Wa hugged Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. "I think I'm going to miss you guys most of all!" The corrections officers pulled him away gently and put the binders on his wrists. He smiled at his friends again, barely able to see them through his tears. Then the officers helped him into the armored speeder and whisked him away.
"NoooooOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooo!" Obi-Wan clung disconsolately to Qui-Gon, feeling guilty about all the times he'd been jealous of Ben-Wa.
Qui-Gon smoothed Obi-Wan's hair. "Let us never speak of this again, Obi-Wan." He tried to open the restroom door, but it was locked. Maybe they could smoke in Windu's office. "Even if we someday have to visit his new home planet for some reason and need money and don't have anyone else to borrow from."
"The work of a Sith, this is," Yoda observed as the armored speeder receded into the distance. "Framed, the boy was."
"I've had enough of this Sith shit," Windu replied. "You've been sucking on your gimer stick again. It's making you loopy. Keep it up, and I'll really give you something to suck on."
Three hours later, long after all the other guests had gone home, Mary Sue banged on the restroom door again.
"I know you're in there, Maul. Come out now so I can pummel you into liverwurst."
Maul knew she would do it, too. He was glad for the generous supply of mens' underwear catalogs in here. "Go away," he replied menacingly.
Mary Sue returned to the carved bench and stared at the door. The Jedi would not appreciate her lightsabering it apart, but if she acted quickly, there would be no witnesses.
Footsteps in the hallway, running. Dammit. Agh. Daddy.
Darth Sidious panted hideously. Mary Sue wondered if he realized just how flabby he was getting.
"Hey, Daaaaad," she said, "Will you make Maul--"
"Mary Sue." He panted some more. "The ring. I need-- I've found you a buyer. Where is it? Do you have it?"
Instantly, Mary Sue was grateful for her deal with Gustav Solo.
"That's all taken care of, Daddy. I got a new ring! Like it?"
Sidious slapped her hand aside and stepped closer. Mary Sue wondered when the hell he'd last brushed his teeth. He tried to conceal the desperation in his voice, but the wheedling tone in his voice betrayed his madness. "Where is it? I can't sense it. Did you lose it? Did you lose the ring? Did you sell it? Who did you sell it to? Mary Sue, my dear, you must get that ring back. Whatever you got for it, I can give you more!"
Mary Sue shrugged as coolly as possible. The purple lighting flashed in Sidious's eyes, and she wanted to leave. Soon.
"The ring's gone, Dad. It's somewhere in the Outer Rim by now. Sorry." She stepped backwards and prepared to run, but Sidious was quicker.
My, but that crapulous old man's hands were bony. They squeezed into her arms like durasteel clamps as he shook her like a rag doll.
"Don't you know what that was?" he screamed. "That gem? That was the Kaiburr crystal! The most precious artifact in the galaxy! The stone that gives its owner ultimate power over the Force!"
Mary Sue tried to laughed in relief, but all that came out was a frightened squeak. "Daddy, it was just a diamond. I'm sure we can find another!"
Sidious was still crazed. "Didn't you feel its power?"
"Sorry, Dad. No. I didn't feel a thing. It was just a rock."
"Foolish woman! You will perish for your incompetence!"
Mary Sue was more than able to deflect the first few volleys of purple lightning, but was strangely unable to return fire beyond a weak, lavender spark. Odd. She'd been getting better and better at it ever since she'd discovered this power, a few weeks before her wedding to Bill. But now--barely enough to light a candle. Hmm. So she kicked him instead, and he howled in outrage, sending loose objects flying all around her.
An office door burst open, and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stared red-eyed at the dark-hooded freak who appeared to be attacking Mary Sue.
Qui-Gon was quick to respond. "I'll summon the authorities!" He ran out of the Jedi Temple screaming.
Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber, wondering what the hell was going on, but Sidious knocked it out of his hand while hurling purple lightning at both him and Mary Sue.
Maul had just finished going through the stack of catalogs for the third time when the ruckus began. The thick, solid wood door muffled it somewhat and he couldn't make out what was going on out there, but he was willing to take the chance that this was the distraction he needed to escape without facing Mary Sue's wrath.
Cautiously, he opened the door.
Oh, shit. This was too good to be true.
Obi-Wan and Mary Sue appeared to be doing battle with his Master, and although it was hardly a fair fight, Maul thought he might be able to even the odds.
At last, he would reveal himself to his Master. At last, he would have his revenge.
In his eagerness to charge into battle, he slammed the heavy door behind him with just a little too much muscle.
The reverberation knocked an oversized chandelier off the ceiling, and it crashed down with deadly force.
Unfortunately, it didn't land on Sidious. It didn't actually land on anyone, but Mary Sue was thrown off-balance when she scrambled backwards. Obi-Wan was knocked unconscious by a sparking power cable, and Sidious landed on Obi-Wan's head, conscious but dazed.
Maul rushed in for the kill, but the old Sith wasn't quite as incapacitated as he seemed. Instantly, Maul and Mary Sue were pinned to the floor, unable to move, and they watched in dismay as Sidious, considerably calmer, rose and dusted himself off with great dignity.
By Em. Click to see larger image.
"You're not ready for that yet, Maul. Oh, remind me to add the great historian Alan Dean Foster to your reading list," Sidious said as he grabbed and twisted Maul's ear.
"We're even now, right?" Maul gasped at Mary Sue as Sidious dragged him out of the banquet room, still holding his ear.
Sidious sighed heavily, eyeing Maul with disapproval.
"My pitiful apprentice. You rescued Ben-Wa from a potentially deadly habit and exposed me to great embarrassment. Then, you abetted Mary Sue in disposing of the galaxy's most potent weapon, the key to my domination of the Republic. That alone is reason enough to retire you as my apprentice." Maul's innards churned with misgiving and a craving for milk and cookies. "Then you interfered when I tried to discipline my own children." He shook his head disgustedly. "Really, Maul. For casual sex partners, you certainly throw your back out for those three. Your behavior becomes less Sithly every day. If I had a replacement ready, I'd slay you right now. Unfortunately, Mary Sue was my plan B, and I'm still tempted to slay her as well."
Maul stared at his feet, alternately poking one big toe with the other through the feet on his pajamas, wondering if these bedtime visits were going to become a nightly occurrence. He hoped not. He fervently hoped not. Just on the off chance that Obi-Wan would forgive him... he might one day have the need for some privacy again.
"But, Maul, you can't coast on my goodwill forever. I'm putting you on Sithly probation, indefinitely. You're going to have to work twice as hard to prove your worthiness now. I may not have another apprentice lined up today, Maul, but you are replaceable, and I will not be so lenient next time."
Maul fidgeted. Would his scheme work?
"Well, Maul? Is there going to be a next time?"
"No, my master."
"I'm beginning to wonder if you have one truly Sithly bone in your body. Even your rage has been weak lately. You show no signs of being able to strike me down any time soon." He paused, distracted. "Come. Let's feed your cat."
Maul got out of bed, following Sidious into the kitchen, and watched the senior Sith open a can of tuna.
"My master, I am experiencing an ethical crisis."
Sidious raised a heavily pencilled eyebrow. "Really, Maul? What kind sort of ethical puzzle poses a crisis to a Sith?"
"I have inconvenienced a member of your family, my master, and I'm not sure whether or not it would be appropriate to ask for a bonus after recent events."
Sidious raised the other eyebrow to join the first. "You rescued two of them from certain death earlier today. How does that rate a bonus? What did that cost you besides my last shred of confidence in you?"
"Not that, my master. It's just that... well, do you know how much trouble it is to get a dozen vials of spice on this planet?"
"Spice, Maul? Sith do not need spice."
The Sith Handbook flapped uncertainly.
"No. The spice I put in Ben-Wa's poncho. Here, I saved the receipt."
Understanding dawned on Sidious's face as he studied the yellow slip of paper and recognized Ben-Wa's credit card number. The look of understanding broke into a sentimental smile. "Only a true Sith lord would do that to his master's own son. It seems I have underestimated you, Maul."
Maul's shoulders sagged with relief. "Does that means I get a bonus?"
Sidious just laughed. "You're the one with Ben-Wa's wallet. Give yourself a bonus! Buy me something pretty while you're at it."
Standing atop one of Coruscant's tallest buildings, admiring a breathtaking sunset, Gustav Solo waited patiently for his beautiful, adoring wife to end her tirade.
"And you said we were going to have a romantic vacation. What the hell is this supposed to be? Watching traffic stream past our window and getting dragged from one show or symphony or art museum after another for a whole week? That's not romantic. It's exhausting! And that restaurant just now? Eating in the dark with only candles for light? Couldn't they invest in some lightbulbs?"
"And that's another thing. When are you going to grow up and get a real job? Ten years we've been married, and it's been one stupid scheme after another. First the Amway, then the lockpicking, and now smuggling? Why don't you take a computer drafting course or something? Or let my father hire you as an accountant? What about the children? Don't you want to make a nice life for them? Hansel thinks he wants to be a pirate, and Gretel keeps talking about running away and joining the circus. They need a good role model, and they're not going to find it in you! Who knows what you're doing and who you're with when you're away from home so many weeks at a time? Why can't you stay home like all the other husbands? Is our home life so terrible? OOOH! My mother was right. Marrying you was a mistake."
With that, Helga Radegund Solo pitched the large gaudy gem in its solar-powered repulsorlift setting over the side of the building.
"NO!" Gustav rushed to the railing and looked down, hoping to see a ledge or the top of another building directly below. But there was no surface for as far down as he could see.
"How could you do that? How could you throw that ring over the railing?"
"It wasn't easy," his wife said, rubbing a shoulder that was still sore from the windup. "You're lucky I don't throw you over this railing!"
Gustav sighed. He didn't feel so lucky.
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