Ra sits alone at a table in the cafeteria. Dizzee, Zeke and Boo walk over to join him, carrying their trays of unappealing food. You would think being jedi-in-training would afford them better lunches, but apparently not. Ra looks up at them as they approach and smiles, sliding aside to make room for them on the bench.
Boo smirks at his brother and takes the seat next to him, asking:
“Still working on your lightsaber, bro?”
In front of Ra are unassembled lightsaber parts, floating as he tries to fit them together with the force. He frowns and focuses, slotting a tiny, delicate piece into a larger one. All the padawans are expected to try to build their own lightsaber, though most won’t succeed until later in their training.
“Slow going, as usual. But I think I’m getting closer. How was Hardwick’s class?”
Zeke, Dizzee and Boo groan in unison. Dizzee shakes his head and speaks in his usual soft, meandering tone:
“We are all made of stardust, but that man--”
He’s interrupted by Zeke patting him on the arm and whispering:
“Guys, look! He’s here again.”
They all turn to look where he points, to a table empty of all but one person. The man hunches over his food as he picks at it, face expressionless.
Ra looks thoughtful as he strokes his chin.
“They say he’s the best student in the temple.”
“He’s weird tho. I’m not the only one who thinks so?”
Dizzee shakes his head.
“Naw, brother. He’s an alien like me. A weirdo, an outcast. He hasn’t found his place yet.”
Zeke hums, considering that.
“I wonder about him...”
Boo leans forwards, a wicked grin on his face.
“Hey, what do you say we follow him?”
Ra frowns disapprovingly, but Boo looks at him pleadingly:
“Come on, what can it hurt? And we might learn something about him.”
Shaolin sits and tries his best to stay focused on eating. He grits his teeth even as he chews, feeling a cold chill across his shoulders. His body shivers, his warm jedi robes doing no good to protect him from this cold. There’s a skittering noise, like something’s crawling across the cafeteria floor towards him. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees dark shadows, moving like they’re alive. But worst of all is the voice, feminine and silky:
Go away! He thinks.
Shaolin, my poor darling, all alone again.
A second voice, deep and masculine, snarls:
He’s alone because he isn’t good enough. No one wants his little stank ass.
The woman scolds:
Cadillac, baby, don’t be so mean. You know how important my Shaolin is to me.
Shaolin slams his fork down on the table and grabs his tray, rising angrily.
I said go away!
He storms out of the cafeteria, aware of all the eyes on him, and into the quiet of the hallway outside. Inside his head, Annie laughs, proud of making him run away from his meal. But he needs quiet, even if he can’t get the voices in his head to shut up.
Shaolin Fantastic, number one student of the jedi temple, is hearing the whispers of the sith.
If he’s caught, it would destroy his life. But nothing he’s tried has stopped them, they just keep coming back.
Zeke sees Shaolin jump up and head for the door and bats at Dizzee:
“Dude, he’s moving. Come on!”
They pile out of the benches and dispose of their trays, waiting for Shaolin to head into the hallway before creeping after him.
He stumbles down the hallway in front of them, a hand to his head. Hiding behind a corner, Zeke whispers to Dizzee, voice full of concern:
“Man, he doesn’t look too good.”
Before Dizzee can reply, Shaolin is on the move again and they hurry to follow. He’s walked through a maze of hallways, seemingly at random, until one widens into a small sitting room. There he stops, flopping down into one of the comfortable chairs scattered around the room. He buries his head in his hands and sits in silence.
Shaolin lets the feeling of despair fully sink in now that he’s alone. He thinks weakly:
Please, just leave me alone.
Annie laughs and speaks gloatingly:
If you want us to stop, come to the planet Atris in three hours.
What do you want from me?
He can practically hear the smirk in her voice as she replies:
If you want to know, come to Atris.
I bet he won’t. He’s too much of a coward.
Shaolin ignores him and stands, heading towards the shuttle bay as fast as he can.
Shaolin stands abruptly and starts walking purposely. They follow, struggling to keep up with his quick stride.
“Where do you think he’s going now?”
His question is quickly answered as Shaolin enters the shuttle bay. Without hesitating he heads to a shuttle and hops inside. It’s engine starts with a roar, and before they know it he’s headed out of the bay.
“What do we do now?”
Zeke replies, voice determined:
“We keep following him.”
Ra looks shocked:
“How? We aren’t a high enough level to check out a shuttle.”
“I have an idea. Let me make a call.”
Before long, a new ship swoops into the shuttle bay. It’s design is basic and boxy, it’s exterior hull marked by blaster burns. Overall it looks a little rough, but still flight worthy. Painted on it’s side is a trio of beautiful women in white dresses and the text: “Soul Madonnas Shipping.”
The ship lands and a door opens in it’s belly, a gangplank clanking down. There’s the sound of footsteps and then a woman appears.
Her skin is a sandy brown and her long hair pulled back into a wavy ponytail. She wears a grease splattered pair of overalls and a belt with a holstered blaster. As she draws closer, the brothers can recognize her as Mylene Cruz. She waves as she gets closer and then stops a few steps away, grinning as she speaks:
“I hear you guys need a ride? You’re lucky we just finished a delivery in this area.”
Zeke steps forwards and pulls her into a hug.
“Thanks for coming, Mylene.”
She smiles and pats him on the back before pulling away and gesturing at the rest of the boys.
“Well come on, climb aboard!”
They follow her up the gangplank, craning their necks to look inside the ship. She leads them through a tiny, tight hallway until they reach the cockpit. Two other women sit there, wearing matching overalls like Mylene’s. They turn and smile as the boys enter, and they recognize them as Regina and Yolanda. Mylene flops down in the captain’s seat and motions at the two girls:
“You guys know my copilot, Regina, and our navigator, Yolanda. ”
Yolanda nods and smiles at the boys, asking:
“So, where are we going today?”
“We need you to follow the ion trail of a shuttle that left a few minutes ago.”
Yolanda nods and turns back to her console, pressing buttons and pulling up sensors.
“I can do that.”
Mylene nods at her and turns to Regina.
“Preflight checks, please, Regina? And let’s go on an adventure!”
The closer to Atris Shaolin gets, the stronger the feeling of creeping dread. His mind screams at him to turn around, but he refuses to. He is not a coward; he’s going to face the voices down and make them stop.
Atris is a small, rusty colored desert planet. He sets the shuttle down, the landing gear sinking into the sand. He makes his way down the gangplank, shielding his face from the sandy wind with an arm. A voice---Annie’s----rises over the howl of the wind:
Come, Shaolin. You know where to find me.
The path to take forms in Shaolin’s mind, leading to a cave not far from where he’s landed. He checks his belt, making sure his training lightsaber is firmly affixed and then makes his way out into the sand dunes.
As Mylene sets the ship down on Atris, Dizzee points out of the viewport:
“Look, it’s Shaolin.”
A figure is barely visible, struggling through the sand outside. Zeke pushes his brothers towards the exit, chiding:
“Hurry, we’re going to lose him!”
Mylene, Regina, and Yolanda follow them curiously, squinting as the gangplank opens and blows sand into their faces. The brothers hesitate for a moment but quickly gather their courage and tramp out into the hostile landscape.
Dizzee leads the way, pulling the collar of his robes up to cover his face, his brothers following suit. He keeps Shaolin in sight, urging them along to keep up with him. After a few minutes of walking, a small hilly range of rocks come into sight. Shaolin heads straight towards them, course never altering, as if he knows exactly where he’s going. They continue to follow and soon enough they’re in the hills, picking their way through the red rocks. Shaolin keeps that up for a few minutes until finally they reach a crevasse in the side of a hill.
It looks dark and foreboding, and Shaolin hesitates a moment before entering. Then he squares his shoulders and disappears into the dark. The group reaches the entrance and also hesitate, staring into the darkness. Finally Ra speaks:
“So, who wants to go first?”
They all look at each other and no one volunteers. Finally Zeke sighs and grumbles:
“Fine, I’ll go.”
He shoulders his way through his brothers and slowly steps into the darkness. The further he walks, the colder and damper the air gets. He shivers slightly but keeps determinedly pressing ahead. After a long time walking, the small tunnel he’s in opens into a large cavern, stalactites hanging menacingly from the ceiling. Zeke stops, seeing Shaolin also stopped ahead, and gestures for his brothers to hide amongst the rocks at the back of the cavern. Once they and the girls are hidden, he turns back to look at Shaolin.
Shaolin is just standing in the middle of the cavern, fidgeting like he’s nervous. Zeke watches him for a moment before turning back to his brothers and whispering:
“What do we do now?”
Before they can respond, he hears the faint tinkling of rock and he sees their eyes widen. Boo gasps:
They all feel the presence before they see her. Zeke turns, dread trickling down his spine.
There, across the cavern, stands a woman in a flowing dark cloak. Her force presence is huge, bursting with evil and cruelty. Feeling it feels like having pounds upon pounds stacked on your shoulders, until you’re pinned to the floor and can’t move. Zeke feels frozen, unable to move or talk. In front of them, he can see Shaolin flinch and would bet he’s feeling the same.
The woman steps forwards, lowering the dark hood that hid her face, and smiles at Shaolin. Her dark eyes gleam playfully, like a cat playing with it’s prey. A tall man steps up behind her, also lowering his hood, and he smirks viciously at Shaolin.
Shaolin is backing away slowly, his limbs trembling like he can barely stay on his feet. Before he can get far, the woman unhooks a lightsaber from her belt and illuminates it, filling the cavern with blood red light. Next to them, Regina gasps and whispers:
“Shit, those guys are Sith! We need to get out of here!”
His brothers are turning to leave, moving slowly and jerkily, struggling against the sith’s power to make themselves move. Zeke stays frozen, not turning to follow them. He can’t tear his eyes away from Shaolin, standing alone in the path of the oncoming Sith. The woman’s nightmarish grin floats before his vision, making him shake with fear. He can’t imagine being as close to her as Shaolin is.
He grabs Ra’s hand as he passes by to leave, whispering desperately to him.
“Ra, we can’t just leave him.”
Ra stares at him, his eyes filled with a mixture of fear and shame.
“I know, but what can we do?”
Before Zeke can respond, a voice rings through the cavern, so powerful it makes everything shake. The woman speaks:
“Shaolin, my darling, you came to us because you have no choice. I am your fate, there is no escaping me. Come closer, so that I may see my new apprentice clearly!”
Zeke feels himself tremble at those words, so powerful that they feel like they are absolutely true. They make him feel like there’s no way out of this cave, like he just wants to lie down and give up. He can’t imagine what Shaolin is feeling, with all of that terrible power focused on him alone. He can see Shaolin’s lips pull back in a snarl and the man speaks:
“No. I won’t turn to the dark side. I will never be your apprentice!”
The Sith woman laughs, a flash of sharp white teeth. Behind her, the other Sith raises his lightsaber and grins:
“Then you will die, alone and cowardly.”
Suddenly Zeke can’t take it anymore. He can’t just stand here and watch an innocent man die.
He leaps from the rocks they’ve been hiding in, running out into the cavern, hearing his friend’s concerned cries behind him. The Sith and Shaolin turn, looking at him with surprise. Instantly the pressure of the dark side on Zeke gets worse, but he pushes through until he’s standing next to Shaolin. His fingers shake as he draws his training lightsaber, but his grip is strong and sure.
“No! Shaolin isn’t alone, and I won’t let you kill him or take him!”
Shaolin is staring at Zeke in shock, but slowly he too reaches for his lightsaber and draws it. They stand, two small lights in the dark, facing down the Sith.
The Sith woman, smirks and speaks, her voice filled with amusement:
“Two barely trained padawans? I’m terrified!”
Suddenly a blaster shot burns through the air by Zeke’s shoulder, almost hitting the Sith woman, but she deflects it with her lightsaber at the last moment. Zeke and Shaolin turn to see Dizzee, Ra and Boo with lightsabers ready, and Mylene, Regina and Yolanda aiming blasters. Boo crows:
“There aren’t just two of us, you bitch!”
The Sith woman is unimpressed. She looks at Shaolin again and smirks as she speaks:
“Shaolin, kill these fools, starting with the one next to you, and all will be forgiven.”
Instead of responding, Shaolin charges her with a scream. Zeke can see a flash of surprise on her face before she blocks his attack. Then Zeke is joining Shaolin in striking at her and everything becomes a blur of battle.
At first, they are barely holding the sith back. But as the fight continues, Zeke feels the power of the force flow through him, and he senses it in his brothers as well. They go from barely defending themselves to being on the offensive, driving the Sith back.
Zeke has never felt the force like this before. It tingles in every part of him, making him feel like he could fight forever. There’s no fear or doubt, only what he needs to do.
Shaolin and Zeke are hammering away at the Sith woman’s defenses when she suddenly shouts, and a wave of power bursts from her. It pushes them all back, sending them sprawling to the floor. She glares at them and then turns to the other Sith and snarls:
“Cadillac, we’re leaving.”
The two turn and nonchalantly walk back into the darkness from which they came, leaving the padawans stunned. They may have been graceful, but the Sith retreated. They won, against the dark side. Finally Ra stutters and yells after them:
“Yeah, you better run.”
Then he turns to look his friends over and asks:
Zeke smiles and can’t help but laugh somewhat hysterically.
“I can’t believe it, but yes we’re okay!”
They all look at each other, the reality of their situation sinking in, and join him in laughing until they fall over.
Back aboard the safety of the ship, they’ve all collapsed to rest. Mylene, Yolanda and Regina are resting inside the cockpit, reassuring each other with shaking hands. Dizzee, Ra and Boo are in the main sitting room, collapsed on the one ratty couch. Zeke almost joins them until he realizes Shaolin isn’t there. There’s only one other place he can be; a small storage room in the back of the ship. Zeke waves to his brothers before quietly heading to the back room.
Shaolin is there, standing silently with his arms crossed across his chest. He doesn’t look at Zeke as he enters, but he doesn’t tell him to leave ethier. Zeke stands awkwardly, not sure what to say. All the things he can think of---are you okay, can you believe we’re alive, you fought awesome---seem cheap compared to what they’ve just gone through. Finally he settles on asking the question that burns inside of him:
“Shaolin? Why didn’t you do it?”
Finally Shaolin turns to him and smiles crookedly.
“You mean kill you? I would never hurt you, Zeke.”
Zeke can’t help but gasp; he didn’t even know Shao knew his name.
“But you didn’t even know me.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to know you. I’d seen you around, you book smart motherfucker.”
Shaolin steps closer and pats him on the shoulder. Zeke sways, the urge to lean in closer hard to resist. He’s suddenly aware of how attractive Shaolin is, how much he wants to press a kiss to his lips.
But he doesn’t. He barely knows Shaolin, there will be time to work through his feelings for him later.
Shaolin grins at him, almost seemingly aware of the mental struggle he just went through, and gestures towards the door.
“Come on, let’s rejoin those brothers of yours.”