“Well, everything checks out. You’re perfectly healthy. Those burn scars on your face are looking better and better, too. They may fade completely in time.” The physician smiles benignly as she lies to him. “I’m pronouncing you fully healed from your training accident. You are fit to return to active duty and cleared for deployment, Pfc. Chist.”
Evan nods as he buttons back up his Republic uniform. He keeps his affable poker face on as usual.
“Any more of those phantom dreams?” the woman asks a little too casually. The doctors are very concerned about his mental state, he’s noticed. He’s taken way too many psychological exams for his liking. When he doesn’t immediately respond, the doctor prompts, “Well?”
“They happen during the day now and then. It’s not just at night anymore,” Evan answers. He’s torn between revealing too much about what he remembers and revealing too little. Because something tells him that these random, confusing flashbacks are the key to discovering why everyone keeps lying to him.
The doctor frowns. “Tell me more.”
“It’s the same thing,” he shrugs ostensibly even while he covertly watches the woman closely. “The guy who calls himself my father. And sometimes, the guy who calls himself my brother. It’s mostly us talking and hanging out. Nothing much.”
“Hmph . . . ” The doctor makes face and grunts. “Soldier, you’re a failed clone prototype. You are bred from an amalgamation of genetic material from a variety of donors. You have no father. You have no brother. You were born in a laboratory.” She says this matter of fact. How smoothly and purposefully she lies to him. But he doesn’t let on. To all onlookers, he’s a loyal soldier who accepts what he is told and follows orders.
“I know, Doctor.”
“Those false memories are common in clones after head injuries. They should fade in time. It’s nothing to be concerned about. Do not let it trouble you.”
He nods again. Then, watching the doctor’s face closely once more, he volunteers, “His name is Alek,” just to see what she’ll say.
“Mala---- Alek??” she stutters. “Who?”
“My brother. The guy who calls himself my brother is named is Alek.”
“He says he loves me.”
The woman’s face looks compassionate now. Sort of motherly and sad. The other doctors mostly seem uncomfortable around him, but this woman feels sorry for him, he’s noticed. And when she lies, there is no malicious intent. She seems to think she’s helping him. Like it’s the right thing to do in the circumstances.
“Soldier,” the doctor soothes with well-intentioned but grating professional paternalism, “I know this is confusing. I know that those hallucinations feel very real. We know from research that they can be persistent and disorienting. Try not to let them upset you.”
“Okay, Doc. If you say so.”
“Good. There is someone here to see you.”
“Another doctor?” he cracks a smile. He gets examined a lot. The other guys in his unit can’t score a single bacta patch when they bleed in training. But he seems to have half the Republic medical corps poking at him regularly for ‘routine tests.’
“She’s your new boss. Wait here and I’ll tell her you’re finished. Get dressed and be on your best behavior, Soldier. She’s a Jedi Knight.”
Alone now, he finishes yanking on his boots and cools his heels in the bright, sterile looking examination room. How long does he wait? It feels like forever. Trooper grunts like himself spend a lot of time shuffling around waiting while the officers bicker and one-up each other. His own sergeant is an idiot. Evan chafes at being at the very bottom of the chain of command, but what can he do? At thirty-nine years old, he’s surely the Republic’s oldest enlisted private. It’s one more puzzling incongruity to his life since he woke up in a hospital bed with something called ‘incomplete trauma-induced amnesia.’
He glances around the empty clinic room and his eyes deliberately dart up to the fluorescent overhead lights. Will it work? Intense, bright light often triggers those elusive, fleeting memories. So he stares long and hard without blinking into the lamps. Come on, he thinks. Show me something . . . Anything . . .
Whatever these flashbacks are, he knows that they are real. And they hold the reason why the doctors lie to him and why he was transferred into a new unit after his supposed accident. Likely, they are the reason why some Jedi Knight is now here to inform him of a new assignment, rather than his dumbass sergeant.
Show me something . . . Let me see . . . Let me see . . .
He feels the tightness in his forehead and here it comes. Yes. This is working. His mind’s eye blinks and his actual physical vision becomes murky. And then, it all becomes clear again as the flashback begins.
He is walking through a formal garden. Alek is there too. The tall bearded human man of late middle age who calls them both ‘son’ walks with them. The bearded man has soft, almost kindly yellow eyes and a formal, scholarly demeanor. Today, the bearded man is in a good mood and that’s a relief. He has a temper when he is displeased.
For someone in his position, the bearded man has little in the way of affectation. But perhaps that is the point—there is no one left for this man to impress. The bearded man wears neither mask nor armor, and his clothes are luxurious but understated. If he is armed, his weapon is not apparent. In his stately black robes, he could be a rich merchant or an esteemed professor. But the bearded man is neither of those things.
Their trio stops short as a small rodent rushes across the garden path in front of their feet. The animal holds a pilfered leaf tight within its jaws. It makes the bearded man smile. The small, fleeting occurrence becomes a teachable moment for him.
“All life feeds on other life. That is the way of things, the way of the Force. The universe cannibalizes itself over and over again in its ecosystems, in its politics, even in its art. We steal from others to survive and to thrive. They become prey to nourish us, their resources bolster and sustain us, and their ideas challenge and refine our own beliefs. So it is on an individual level and for great societies as a whole. Everything comes from something else. Everything has its place in the pecking order, including us. We are, naturally, at the top.”
The bearded man now looks to him and then to Alek by his side. “Aggression is natural. Like all emotions, rage makes a man who he is,” he instructs. “Use your aggressive feelings. Only the aggressive survive to thrive. Dominance is our goal.”
“You’re saying that the Dark Side is supreme?” Alek asks.
The bearded man raises an eyebrow. “It is what brought you to me, lusting to kill me, wasn’t it? You discovered for yourselves the supremacy of Darkness. My work was done by the time you showed up.”
He himself bristles at this characterization, but Alek nods his acceptance.
They resume walking now and the bearded man remarks with approval, “You evolved past the lies they taught you. You saw the truth of Darkness for yourself. And for that, I judged you worthy and let you live.”
“But what is the role of the Light then?” he speaks up. This is the knowledge he desperately seeks. For he and Alek consciously ignored the limitations they were taught, understanding that sometimes they had to dip into Darkness to save the Light. Not because Darkness is supreme, but because the Light is worth saving. In this case, at least, the ends had justified his means. But he remains unconvinced that is the answer in all cases. And so, he presses the bearded man for answers. “Master, can there not be equilibrium between the competing sides of the Force?”
The door to the clinic room slides open and the memory fades instantly as the doctor reenters. “She’ll be along shortly,” the woman informs him. The doctor, of course, has no idea of what she is interrupting. She starts prattling on about some ointment he should put on the scars on his face and hands him a tube. Evan mostly ignores her as he tries to make sense of the memory he has just triggered. The memories are so random and, from what he can tell, they are out of order. But they all seem to feature one or both of Alek and the bearded man. Whoever they are, those two men are very important to him.
The door opens again and another human woman enters. She’s young, far younger than her Jedi title gave him to expect. His eyes find the small braid that hangs down her right shoulder and somehow he knows this signifies that she is still in training. And that seems odd given her age looks to be in her mid-twenties. She should have taken her trials by now, he judges. But he doesn’t know how he knows that either. Like a lot of things in his life, it’s a mystery.
The doctor makes the introduction. “Pfc. Evan Chist, meet your new C.O. Bastila Shan, Jedi Knight.”
“Ma’am,” he dutifully salutes.
“No need for that. She’s not regular military and she’s no Crusader. You’re on special assignment now,” the doctor explains.
Evan drops the salute as his eyes rake over the newcomer. Two things register immediately. First, he takes in the lightsaber hanging at her hip and the lethal looking blaster conspicuously strapped to her left thigh. The woman clearly came ready for a fight. Next, he notices her expression. She’s terrified but trying very, very hard not to show it. Her bravado is out in full force with her lifted chin and tough girl stance. But he can tell that she is thoroughly intimidated. She likely psyched herself up for this meeting in advance.
“Private,” the Jedi woman begins sounding stern, “you are reassigned to the Republic cruiser Endar Spire to assist with a very important mission.”
She pauses to let this information sink in. She’s not exactly bitchy, but she is far from friendly. It’s clear that this Jedi woman is not predisposed to like him. She looks annoyed just to be here.
But whatever. He asks, “Why?”
“Why?” she parrots nervously. The question throws her off her stride.
It’s sort of gratifying, so he persists. “Why me?”
“Your special ops training will be useful,” she replies.
“Is my whole unit being reassigned?” He raises his eyebrows.
“Er . . . well, no. Just you.”
“Why?” he persists. Why does he keep getting all this special treatment?
“Your records reveal that you are highly intelligent, gifted in several languages, and experienced in exploring uncharted worlds. Those are skills I need.”
“Why?” He wants the whole truth. “What’s so special about this mission?”
The Jedi woman looks like she is out of answers now. She looks positively cowed for a moment. But she rallies and responds, “Private, this is a treasure hunt.”
Huh. He wasn’t expecting that answer.
“It will be an adventure,” she announces brightly and he can tell she’s putting the best spin possible on the situation. For herself as well as for him.
“Okay, then. That’s settled,” the doctor intervenes giving him a quelling look. It’s clear the medic thinks he has not shown the proper respect to a Jedi. “There is a shuttle waiting for you both. Grab your duffle, Private,” the medic suggests as she hustles them out of the clinic room. “Good luck.” She says this last bit sincerely.
As they walk out, the Jedi woman reaches to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She has long chestnut colored hair worn in a thick knot at her neck. It’s a no nonsense, utilitarian hairstyle but it’s still pretty in profile. Something about that commonplace, unconscious movement catches his attention. So, he keeps stealing curious glances as they walk in silence.
The Jedi woman is very average. Average height, average build, with medium light skin, indeterminate brown-grey eyes, and medium brown hair. She has the fresh scrubbed, generic prettiness that results when youth combines with good health. It’s nice, but forgettable. All in all, she’s nothing special to look at in her Jedi tunic, culottes, and boots. But still . . . there’s something familiar about her. Something comforting that seems very at odds with her brusqueness.
“Do I know you?” he asks hopefully.
The Jedi woman looks to him warily and then averts her eyes. “I don’t know. Do you?” The words come out snippy. Sort of haughty, too. Is she making fun of him because he’s a lowly Private who wouldn’t normally interact with a Jedi? Maybe not because her expression is concerned. She’s walking very determinedly now. He has to pick up his pace not to fall behind.
Again, he searches the young woman’s profile for recognition, but he finds nothing. Whatever he senses that is familiar about this woman, he can’t place it. But he senses it all the same. It’s like he knows her, but she’s a stranger.
Does he know her?? “No, I guess not,” he concedes.
“I have one of those faces that looks like other people,” she shrugs. “I get that a lot. I think I look like a lot of people,” she laughs a little. It sounds nervous and forced.
Now, he is more intrigued than ever to find out what’s going on. The doctors have lied to him and now a Jedi as well. This familiar young woman looks and acts threatened in subtle ways, too. Insight flashes up to him and understanding dawns. She recognizes him, he’s sure of it.
He’s going to have to get to know this Jedi Bastila Shan better, Evan decides.