Die, Jacen Solo, Die!: All in the Family
The fourth AU tale in the "Die, Jacen Solo" series!
Darth Caedus, Sith Lord in the making, didn't need to see his reflection in the metallic cover of his datapad, as he clicked it shut, to know that he was frowning. Far from it; he'd begun to feel the familiar pressure like a tight band across his brow several hours earlier that morning, just after he'd activated the first in a series of holozine presentations by Dr Spong, the notable child development expert come holonet celebrity. The furrows had become more pronounced as the series progressed, until finally, after the learned man's discussion on the necessity for artistic and creative stimuli in order to develop a balanced and inquiring mind, he had become so infused with guilt and despair that he had cut the connection, and switched off the screen. It felt almost as if the venerable doctor's steely eyes were seeking his, and the eloquent hands were pointing at him in accusation.
The words, even when only imagined, hit him like a blow. And the worst thing about it was realising the extent of his ignorance on the matter. What kind of a father was he to have never given any thought to the whole issue of child development? True he had been somewhat preoccupied with the tricky process of ridding the galaxy of its riff raff and reshaping it according to his will; but, even so, Allana was his child, his blood. How could he have been so remiss! How could he have been so dense? He tracked back over the days since he'd brought the little girl on board the Anakin, and it shocked him to see how he had missed the signs of what were, he now realised, examples of an intelligent child suffering from lack of parental involvement something he of all people should have recognised.
First there'd been the bubble incident, which had escalated into a flood requiring emergency action by a team of cleaning droids. Of course he'd been angry at the time, even though it was probable that the whole thing was an accident, and that Allana hadn't purposely set out to flood his quarters. All she'd been trying to do was blow bubbles in the wash unit, and when he reconsidered it now in the light of Dr Spong's revelations, he could see that the whole incident was an expression of childish creativity gone slightly askew.
With the wisdom of hindsight he could see that she had indeed been quite enterprising, and had gone about the process of achieving her aim methodically. She'd placed three bars of his favourite Hessential antiseptic soap in the hand bowl and covered them with water from the reticulator. She'd used one of the thin plastine drinking tubes, that came attached to the Mr Blue milk packs that Caedus had stocked up on, as a blower, and had no doubt amused herself for quite a while, judging by the soapy residue he'd found sticking almost up to halfway on the mirror that hung above the unit. It was just really unfortunate she'd tried to clean up the bubbly mess. As far as he could work out, she must have let out the soapy water, turned on the spray to wash away the bubbles, and then gone away. Presumably she'd meant to go back and switch it off, but had forgotten, which wouldn't have been a problem at all had the three bars of semi-congealed soap not blocked the outlet.
It could have been worse; the reticulator had eventually cut out once its tank had been emptied, for, of course, it was refilled with the used water, from the various sanisteam and wash units on his section of the deck, after it had passed through an attached filter. Even so, it was amazing how much damage 200 gallons of water could do in a small space. It was also amazing how the stuff could find routes into places he'd thought well sealed, an epiphany too late to save the ngdin whose habitat in a recess beneath the chair of thorns had been flooded, and the poor creatures, unable to escape, had drowned. Again not something that Allana would have intended, but still, it was annoying. Ngdin were not exactly in popular demand and were therefore quite difficult to source.
He sighed, reliving the exasperation. It was fortunate he was in the process of cultivating Tahiri's allegiance, because she'd been only too pleased to use her connections with the Yuuzhan Vong on Zonama Sekot to acquire him some replacement ngdin in exchange for another visit with her ex-almost-lover, his dead brother Anakin. He was beginning to think that the brat might be doing better dead than alive in terms of close encounters of the passionate kind with his girlfriend. Who knows maybe the Yuuzhan Vong had done him a favour.
Not long after the flood there'd been the obstacle course incident, which might have done him some serious damage if his reflexes hadn't been in tip-top condition. He'd entered his suite deep in thought after a conversation with Captain Nevil and had been somewhat surprised to find himself first in mid-air, flipping over his small day sofa, and then performing a forward roll down his occasional table which had curiously appeared upside down and cantilevered from the seat of the sofa to the floor. He'd disentangled his cloak from around his neck to find his daughter studying him, disgruntlement written all over her face.
"You're meant to start at the other end, Daddy," she'd reprimanded him, pointing to the makeshift trampoline she'd made from the sofa cushions at one end of his writing desk. "And you're meant to walk along the back of the sofa not somersault over it." Had he not been so overwhelmed at hearing her address him as Daddy rather than just Jacen, he might have reacted badly. Instead he sat there on the floor of his quarters aware of the soppy grin creeping across his face.
"Ah, Allana," he'd said, teasing her, "I swear you'll be the death of me."
Daddy, he thought. Yes, it sounds so right. He wished he'd been able to reveal the truth about their connection earlier, but it was the destiny of the Sith to suffer, and to suffer alone.
Then just the day before, there'd been the incident with the crystals, or more precisely the designs for the crystal that would eventually take pride of place in his new lightsaber. He'd been experimenting with various possibilities on his datapad when Allana had come in to eat her breakfast, and it wasn't difficult to see that she was quite taken with what he was doing. Even so, he would never have predicted that his daughter would borrow the datapad in his absence and carefully redesign his creations to create a profusion of glittering rainbow patterns that looked more like the kind of vulgar jewellery that her Hapan grandmother might have appreciated. That thought, in itself, was disturbing enough, let alone the fact the child had sabotaged his efforts. He'd been both surprised and angry. He'd even begun to question whether the collateral damage she was busy wreaking on his calm and orderly existence vindicated his decision to steal her from Tenel Ka. Left to her own devices, Allana was probably capable of destroying the entire ship single-handed. By accident, of course.
A few hours later he had calmed down and began to put things back in perspective. It was true that he found her unpredictability disconcerting, but he loved her dearly and wanted her to be happy. He realised, with sudden, sinking clarity, that he was more than a little out of his league, and he had nobody to turn to for answers. All the people who could have been useful sources for advice on how to deal with young children were now either enemies or dead. So, who could help him?
The problem hovered at the back of his awareness all day like a headache on the build, and, despite the pleasant distraction of his plans to capture Centerpoint, it was his first concern when he awoke early that morning. He'd switched on to HNE to catch up on what the galaxy had been up to over the last few hours, and then stopped, his fingers frozen on the button.
Sometimes he truly believed there was such a thing as luck, or maybe he was just blessed with perfect timing. Whatever the case, he'd switched on during the advert break before the news, just in time to catch an endorsement for the famed Dr Spong's latest child development series package The Human Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, available now as a download for a very reasonable cost.
Caedus had taken a very long breakfast that morning.
It was, he decided several hours later, as he fumbled irritatedly with the caf canister in the bench top dispenser, more Tenel Ka's fault than his. After all, it was her lifestyle that had dictated the poor child be maintained in secure suites and kept in virtual isolation, with only her stuffed toys and hologames for company. But it didn't absolve him he still could have made more effort to provide the kind of stimulating experiences the child needed and no doubt he would have, if he had been informed. Well, now he was, and so he had no more excuses; he would have to start doing something quickly to compensate for his neglect. But the question was: what?
He pondered the problem as he waited for the dispenser to mix and grind his special blend of beans. He was still working on it when the familiar rich, nutty aroma of hot caf drifted up in a waft of steam to tickle and tantalise his nostrils. And that was when he had the brainwave. Of course! The crystals! It was obvious that Allana had really enjoyed playing with them in virtual form, but how much better to have the real thing. Except it wouldn't be just one or two, it would be a whole set of them, all in different shapes and sizes just like in the jewellery set he'd seen recommended by Dr Spong as a suitable creative toy for little girls. He would drink his caf, and then set about searching the Coruscant consumer network on the hypernet for the best set he could find, along with some suitable puzzles perhaps and art materials.
Anything for his dear little daughter. And hopefully there'd be no more accidents.
* * * * *
Caedus was very pleased at how excited Allana was with her gifts, and he made every effort over the ensuing days to factor in quality interaction time with her. He even took it in his Sithly stride when she insisted he model some of her jewellery creations, and managed to remain a model of implacability when he realised, halfway through an unscheduled holo-conference with Admiral Niathal, that he was still wearing a sparkly bracelet. He wasn't sure if it was good or bad that Niathal, whose distracted gaze had alerted him to the presence of the bracelet, made no comment about it but he decided in the end it was good, because if she challenged him about it retrospectively, he could pass the incident off as a glitch in their comm connection.
But even that potential hiccup couldn't ruin his mood. Everything was suddenly going well. Allana was happy and busy in a constructive way; the galaxy appeared to be ticking over without obvious calamity, and as a result he'd made excellent progress with his new lightsaber. All that was required now was the crystal. He had the perfect design selected; he had the furnace and the powdered elements ready.
The next evening Allana went to bed early, and Caedus set to work. The process of producing a crystal, worthy of the lightsaber that would announce his ascendancy to Sith Lord, required patience and great focus and Caedus committed himself to the task with a singularity that even impressed him. He remembered although now the memory felt strangely dissociative, as if it belonged to someone else building his first lightsaber. He'd been in such a hurry to complete the task, and had had to force himself to take his time. Jaina had found a power source for him, and he'd used existing pieces of metal in various shapes to make the casing. Finally, after several days of filing and connecting leads to the appropriate control buttons, he'd been ready to install the Corusca gem he'd found at GemDiver Station, one of Lando Calrissian's typically speculative enterprises. The gem was part of his personal history. He'd used it to free himself when he was being held captive in the Shadow Academy.
Him? Himself? No, that history belonged to Jacen Solo, not Darth Caedus. Caedus's history was yet to be made as was the red crystal that would sear his name on the galaxy.
Morning arrived, and the Anakin resonated with the alternating rhythms of staff ending or beginning their duty shifts. Caedus released the furnace clasp and extracted the gem, cradling it with the tenderness of a lover. Multifaceted and glittering flame red, as if reflecting a fire burning within its heart, the crystal pulsated with life new life. It awaited the story he would inscribe on it the story it would help him inscribe on the waiting populace.
He smiled at the fiery gem, and almost laughed at the welt its heat had branded into his palm. He was still smiling when he returned later that morning, having given the crystal time to cool, and slipped it into its nesting place inside the newly forged handle. He'd just paused to admire its perfection when his comlink burst into life three chimes: urgent. Spirits rising further as he anticipated the next step in his programme to crush the rabid Corellians and bring order to the galaxy, he checked on Allana.
Busy painting. All's well.
Two minutes later, he was on the bridge listening to Captain Nevil announcing their readiness for the assault on Centerpoint Station.
* * * * *
Allana liked her painting set. The paint tubes had a thick brush on one end and a thin one on the other, and she had all the colours of the rainbow plus black and white. Daddy had showed her how to mix white with the colours to make pinks and pale blues, and had given her some little cups to mix her new colours in. She painted a picture of Mummy, taking quite a while to make the right colour for her beautiful hair, and used the fine tips of her brushes carefully to do little dots that looked like the jewels in her favourite necklace. She sat looking at it for a while, imagining what her Mummy might be doing; what games they might have been playing if she had been there rather than here; what flowers she might see from her window. She wondered how far away she was from her home, and when Daddy was going to remember to say the right words. It worried her that he kept forgetting even though he bought her nice things.
She began to paint Daddy, but she couldn't get his eyes right, so she turned him into one of the big hairy creatures her Mummy had told her were Wookiees. Their eyes were hard to see because of all their fur, so it didn't really matter what colour they were. After the Wookiee picture, she painted a huge rancor, and then she added herself on top riding it. She imagined how it would feel being up so high. Would it be cold? She painted a triangle on her head that was really a hat. It was at that point she realised she'd run out of flimsi, so she began looking around for some more, first on the shelf above the caf machine and then on Daddy's desk. She was sure he must keep some flimsi somewhere, for after all where had he ... Oh, that's right. He'd brought her some from his workroom, but that was one of the rooms she wasn't allowed into. At least she assumed she wasn't allowed in because it was always locked.
She wandered out into the corridor and past the armoury. Maybe he kept flimsi in the storage cube just outside the workroom? Hopefully, she walked over to check, and then had the surprise of her life when the doors to the forbidden room swished open. She stopped, wondering what to do. Now that he was Daddy and not Jacen, had the rules changed? Or maybe he'd just left in such a hurry that he'd forgotten to lock up? Her feet hovered on the threshold and then she saw a pile of flimsy at the far end of the big workbench. She was sure he wouldn't mind if she took a few more pieces. In fact, he probably wouldn't even notice.
She crept over to it. She tried very hard not to look at the funny thing sitting in the middle of the bench, but it was too shiny to ignore. She thought it looked like something she'd seen before but she wasn't sure, so she picked it up for a closer look. Inside there was something red and glittery it looked like a jewel, a really big one. Curious, she turned the tube upside down and gave it a shake, and sure enough a large gem popped out on to the bench top.
"Oooh!" It was the colour of fire. She picked it up meaning to hold it up to her eye so she could look at things through it, but it slipped from her grasp and flashed downwards, landing with a clunk. She searched the floor area around her feet, and then got down on all fours and poked around under the bench but it seemed to have vanished.
Allana almost began to cry, because she remembered how angry Daddy had looked when she played with his pretty jewels on his datapad. But suddenly she remembered her jewellery set and had an idea.
A few minutes later, feeling very relieved that she'd been able to fix the problem herself, she put the tube back where she found it. Everything would be fine now.
Fact, as her Mummy always said.
That made her smile.
* * * * *
Caedus rode the tides of the Force like a Chad surf-skimmer, master in his preferred element, channelling the ebb and flow of fear and exultation, exhilaration and despair, bolstering determination in his commanders, infusing doubt in the minds of his enemies. He was both conduit and controller; he was everywhere omnipresent, omniscient, in one and in all.
And so it came as a shock when Captain Nevil's urgent tone pierced the expanding bubble of his Sith battle meditation. "Sir? We have unsubstantiated reports that there are Jedi and saboteurs aboard."
The bubble trembled, shrank a little as he withdrew and then stabilised, its meniscus firm once again. He was confident that, just for a while, it would be capable of maintaining its own integrity, because the motivation, the energy, to succeed that he had instilled in his troops had reached critical mass. And he knew that to turn his back on the Jedi would be suicide.
Yes, he could sense them now: Luke, Ben and Saba Sebatyne ... his mother. And they were coming for him.
It was time they met their true nemesis. What glory would there be in allowing them to believe their misguided lives had been ended by Jacen Solo? No. No. The Force was speaking to him; the moment had arrived for Caedus, Dark Lord of the Sith, to become flesh.
He turned to Nevil. "In five minutes, we will initiate Plan Bastion. You may time that exactly." And without further explanation he departed the bridge. No time to explain the niceties to staff, and it was unlikely they'd understand anyway with their mundane perceptions. Five minutes proved to be an accurate estimate for the amount of time it took to return to his quarters, snap the handle of his new lightsaber closed, clip it into place on his belt and return to his commander's chair. Soon his true persona would be blooded, literally, along with the new weapon and his Sithhood would be sealed.
He watched with a certain amount of wry amusement as the three Jedi, his former family and compatriots, fought their way past the stationed cadres of YVH combat droids and carved an inexorable path towards the bridge. He had lost touch with his mother early, meaning that it was possible she had fallen before the group reached the areas covered by holocam surveillance. He took his lack of emotional response to this thought as a benchmark of just how far he had progressed along his path some might call it dark; he preferred to call it enlightenment.
A blister suddenly puckered the centre of the bridge blast doors like an unseasonal bloom. Really, he thought, impatiently flicking the doors aside to reveal Luke, Ben and Saba poised in triangular battle array, this is all so ho-hum.. However, manners were manners: he acknowledged them individually and smiled politely.
"Care for some caf?"
Luke, assuming the role of spokesman, as always, shook his head. "Care to surrender?"
Well, nobody could ever deny that Luke was the eternal optimist no matter how misguided he might be. Caedus wondered how that wonderful positivity was faring in the face of the barrage of blaster fire he was now facing from eight combat droids. He waited patiently, wondering if the Jedi trio would simply tire and succumb, or whether they'd come up with some creative plan to take out their attackers. Blaster bolts were ricocheting all over the place, pinging off polished surfaces and gouging searing heat trails through plasteel veneers. The acrid odour of super-heated chemicals filled the air. The bridge crew dived for cover behind their consoles, but Caedus simply reached down and plucked his lightsaber from his belt: his new lightsaber the weapon of a Sith Lord.
He posed with his finger on the button for the merest second just enough time to catch Luke's eye and smile. And then he pressed down, anticipating the effect the incarnadine glow of his blade would have: on his former mentor a flag of despair; on him fulfilment ... ecstasy ...
Agony? Was the shriek that was splitting his eardrums coming from him or from the lightsaber? Something red had spurted up he was sure, but that didn't explain the sticky wet stuff that appeared to be falling down on him from the air. Nor did it provide a reason for the sparks showering from the shapeless hunk of slag that was now fused to his hand.
"Cease fire!" he screamed at the combat droids, but the command was lost in the deafening roar of their fire. Bolts zigzagged from droids to Jedi to Caedus until, torso and hair ablaze, he sank to the deck. The pain of being blasted to shreds was surprisingly difficult to embrace even for a prize graduate of the Yuuzhan Vong. To his credit he did manage to remain conscious for at least two minutes after his heart exploded in a spectacular cascade of red gore. Whether he used that time wisely to admit to the error of his ways nobody could tell: it's always very hard to read the expression of the dead, especially when their face has been completely burned away.
* * * * *
Allana was sad to hear her Daddy had died, although the relief of being reunited with her Mummy rather overshadowed any sorrow she might have felt. After all, apart from brief appearances every now and again, some nice presents and some scary space trips, her memories of Caedus were a trifle ambivalent.
But she did think of him occasionally when she played with her jewellery set, and she wondered if he'd ever found out about the red gem. And if he had, would he have been annoyed, or would he have smiled at her and said ... what was it he'd said that time he fell over her obstacle course? Oh that's right:
"Ah, Allana, I swear you'll be the death of me."
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