Disclaimer: George Lucas owns da boys. We make no money and what little we do have is spent entirely on Qui-Gon’s music lessons.
Note: The name of God the Great and Gracious is used more than once in this story. The whole story may be meant for entertainment, but never, nowhere do we intend blasphemy.
Thankyousas to Nocturne for betaing this beast into submission!
Strawberries: Mary’s POV
Finally Qui-Gon had agreed to take Maul to his ship. It sat in a deserted quarry in the middle of the woods, over a two hour walk from our house.
We stopped as a small path turned off the main road (was this the main road? It was nothing more than a graveled forest path where two cars couldn’t even pass each other) into the quarry. The familiar ominous shape of the Infiltrator squatted in the sandy pit like Smaug. As we got closer, I saw that it was tilted slightly to one side: the aft right landing strut was obviously broken. There was also some damage to the right radiator panel that hadn’t folded properly. The ship was scorched and blackened.
Maul gave the Jedi a hateful look and jogged towards the ship. He walked several times around it, running a palm over its sides, like a parent touching a child’s forehead to feel for fever. He peeped under its belly and climbed up to the wings, and his fury rose with every minute. Finally he stepped up in front of the Jedi, his teeth bared in a grimace, fists clenching.
"You know, Jinn, I think I should just give you a lesson you’d remember."
"The real problem is that the power cells and nav systems that went all nuts in the storm," Qui-Gon said apologetically. "I haven’t been able to access them. You probably have installed some fail-safes."
"You bet." Maul threw him a venomous glance. "Hyperdrive?"
"That should be okay. I switched to sublight immediately before... Sublight took the brunt of the storm, but nothing major. We should take a look on the right wing overload caches, though."
"What’s with the panel?" I asked.
"Basically, I was thrown into the atmosphere without a proper landing cycle activated, and it must have been a little rough for it. In fact, the ship was rotating wildly and there was little I could do anyway."
"Cloaker?" Maul interrupted him.
"I wouldn’t really know about that, I’ve never seen one. Look, I don’t think a cloaker would be essential..."
"Where’s my remote?"
Qui-Gon handed him the buttoned armband. "It’s loaded and in order."
"Not thanks not you," Maul muttered, pressing a sequence to let down the ramp and the cargo drop panel.
Sue had wandered off into the woods and I thought I’d follow her. Behind my back I heard Maul’s angry shout: "The stygium crystals! How the shit did you manage to burn these?"
I found Sue squatting in a clearing right at the edge of the wood. "Come here, Mary," she said, "some early wild strawberries are ripe." Indeed, there were tiny red dots of strawberries in the grass. This place opened to the south and was well shielded from winds, so the berries had ripened well. Sue had already picked a handful.
Suddenly we heard the familiar ill-boding low buzzing and zooming sounds, followed by thunderous clashes. A fight! We jumped to our feet. Indeed, two fighters were moving about in a wild dance.
"Oh SHIT!" I shouted and sprinted off, followed by Sue, screaming: "Stop this bullshit! Stop this NOW!"
Maul pressed a fierce attack against Qui-Gon. "Keep out!" the Jedi shouted to us. We darted here and there around them nervously, trying to avoid the striking range.
Suddenly Qui-Gon made a quick back-flip; Maul dashed off after him when —
Qui-Gon barely managed to switch off his sabre in mid-strike; Maul fell back to avoid a catastrophe.
Sue stood between them, clutching her both hands to her chest, screaming.
Then she shut up and there was a moment of stunned silence, before Maul rose to his feet, dusted his breeches and cursed. "Don’t you ever do that again, stupid woman!" he yelled.
Sue started shivering violently, her knees went wobbly. I ran to support her and let her down on the grass gently. Suddenly everybody was yelling at everybody else. Maul accused Qui-Gon of anything and everything, Qui-Gon said something that nobody heard — and nobody cared anyway; I yelled at both boys, letting them know what I thought of them and what they should do with their sabres.
It all stopped as suddenly as it had started. We all looked at Sue. She sat where I had left her, unmoving, hands still pressed to her chest, and bright red lines ran down her arms.
"She’s hurt!" I cried in panic.
"I didn’t touch her!" Maul started, stepping closer. "Hey, what’s with you? What did you do, Jedi scum? Your hand’s hurt?"
In total amazement Sue looked at her arms, then started to half giggle, half sob hysterically, shaking her head. Maul grabbed her arm, took a look at it, then sniffed and took a cautious lick.
"It’s strawberries, you fucking stupid assholes," Sue finally managed through tears. "I picked strawberries — for you..."
Her palm was full of crushed red pulp, and her face and clothes were all covered with red stains. My knees went weak with relief and I sank down beside her, hugging her tightly, ignoring that now I was smeared all over with strawberry juice.
"Don’t you ever, ever do that to me again, my dear Sue," I said. "Hear me?"
"I will care for her." The Jedi's large hand touched my shoulder. "It is just a shock, Sue needs some rest. I would like to put her into the cargo-bay. It's empty and silent there. You can spare it, when you assess the damages of the Infiltrator, Maul."
The owner of what once had been the most secret spaceship of a whole galaxy agreed with a growling sound. I handed Sue over into the strong arms of Qui-Gon, who disappeared with his slightly protesting burden into the ship's belly. What a reasonable and sensible man, I thought.
Then I looked at Maul. Hands folded at his back he stared at the Infiltrator.
"And now? Do you need help — err, sorry — support in the assessment?"
My question made him turn. "You tech-minded?"
"On civilised worlds we use mech droids for that." He sent me a crooked grin, but gestured for me to follow. Now, my strawberry-smeared person appeared as bad but actually the only available compromise in the eyes of the scrupulous Sith Lord.
The next hours Maul and I spent on the painstaking work of finding every little leakage, loss or sub-optimal configuration the ship had endured. I basically did the fetch-and-carry for my Maul, reading scales, slipping behind panels, diving into cable trenches or — the peak of ambiguous technical work — running short evaluation cycles with some strange software and reporting the results. But I learned about another facet of the Sith Lord — the focussed and well-educated technician. Obviously his overbearing and arrogant behaviour wasn't completely unfounded. He was a Lord in this art too. Although I would have loved it better if he had sent me one of his cute smiles instead an occasional sneer, as we worked through the ship.
In the cockpit we had to check the status of the acceleration compensator, a ring surrounding the chamber right beneath the ceiling. "Mary, this will probably tire you quickly: you'll have to work over head. The AC-ring is constructed of interrelated compartments and we must find out how stable the whole construction is."
"I thought this was stuck on a supporting grid — or whatever." I said climbing on a seat to eye my next working field closer.
"Lord Sidious is not in the habit of wasting credits," Maul informed me flatly. "These compartments also hold each other, making a cheap and lightweight but strong construction. Therefore, in addition to the evaluation of the remaining AC efficiency we already did," here he knocked at the buttoned wristband, "we have to check the inter-webbed structure the ring builds. It's simple. Right in the middle is the central or zero section. From there to the left — that’s where your heart is — the circle of sections starts with section one. You need to put your hand on each of the sections and make sure that none has lost their mechanical connection to the neighbouring sections. I'll lift you up, this is better than crawling over the seats and panels; in this way you also won't have to bend. You yell out the number of the section as well as the status — okay or defect."
He did as he said, heaving me over his head. I started my toilsome work but not without being well aware of his physical presence. I would bet he could hear my heart beating loud and quick. "Section 0 — okay. Section 1 — okay. Section 2 — okay."
I felt his hands firmly on my hip. "Section 15 — okay. Section..." Does he ever get tired of my weight? What a power. How promising. I felt every ripple of his muscles as he shifted his position, so that I could reach further sections. I think my shin was right where... "Section 50 — okay."
He held me close to his body, as I was almost lying on him. He had tilted back his head, to catch a look at my work. I could feel his breath wafting over my naked belly — my shirt had slid upward as I stretched out towards the ceiling. The regular waves of warm air provoked a wish of more — lips descending on my skin, a tongue swirling around my navel, hands sliding under my shirt...
No, Mary, you don't want that really.
"70 — last section — okay." (Why couldn’t there be 1000 sections?)
Maul lowered me to a stair in front of a panel. I was above him still, my hands resting on his shoulders, eye to eye. He looked so kissable.
Mary, won't you behave?
Bloody mind reader, I cursed under my breath.
My lips touched his. They were cold, yet soft. I didn’t try to slip my tongue into his mouth, only played a bit, making the first excursions over his lips. He did not push me back, but neither did he respond; he just held me tight and took in my ministrations.
"Maul, what's your... Oops, I didn't mean to intrude at a private moment." Qui-Gon's voice fell like a sabre between us and we flinched back. I, the "artist" of a certain nightshift, wanted to sink into the ground right there. What I saw in Maul's eyes wasn't exactly enthusiasm either. He released me without hesitation; as if just waited for the Jedi to walk in. Not even wasting a second look at me. Damn, why must you be so emotionless?!
"Is there anything of importance you’ve come to tell me, Jinn, or is that part of your Sith-watching program?" Maul growled over his shoulder without eyeing the unwelcome intruder directly. Ah! So he was disturbed! I was so pleased that I almost purred. Because that meant that Maul's defenses were becoming thin, very thin indeed…
Qui-Gon, obviously, had had his share of sithly temper for the day. "It's not like you had a 'do not disturb' notice on the door."
Maul bit back a retort, as Sue walked in.
"I just wanted to know the results of the assessment," the Jedi went on smoothly as if nothing had happened. (And I didn't miss the fact that he moved over to stand beside Sue in a manner that I could have described as — possessive? — if I hadn't known better.)
"Don't ask for results, Jinn," the Sith shook his head. "Better ask our hostesses for permanent accommodation."
Qui-Gon became quite motionless for a moment, but his face was a study of blankness. "Hopeless. Just as I feared."
This was a kind of... news. My mouth was suddenly dry. So the boyz would have to stay... forever...? A thousand thoughts whirled through my head. Where would they live? With us? What changes would be brought into my life by their coming to live with us permanently? What would they do here? What would the neighbours say? What would my mom say? And, last but not least, the most horrible thought of all — that they would be here, on Earth, but not with Sue and me... That would have been worse than unbearable. I exchanged a quick glance with Sue. A heavy silence spread in the cockpit. Dejectedly Qui-Gon turned his gaze down on the floor. The Sith watched him with interest — was that enjoyment behind his impenetrable black and red striped mug?
Finally Maul had evidently drunk his full of the Jedi's affliction, and was satisfied. "I didn't say hopeless. I only said I'm not sure if you've got a ticket for the return trip." He bared his teeth in a sardonic grin. "After you managed so nicely to burn the stygium crystals and disable the sublight, it is only fair to leave you behind on this dirt-ball, to learn space travel from scratch. As for the ship, it only needs a bit of work. Shouldn't take long to restore at least the fitness to fly."
"With what? No tools, no mech droids." The Jedi had changed from slightly-depressed-thoughtful over slightly-relieved-thoughtful to usual-Jedi-Master-cool-and-thoughtful with a surprising ease. Watching our boyz seizing each other up with gazes, I felt there was something unspoken behind this. Maul was a tiny bit too engaged for a spaceship captain who takes the destroyer of his toy to task. Even the interrupted kiss was no sufficient reason for his anger. And the Jedi... he relaxed so amazingly quickly, as if there never had been any loss of hope. I...
"You'll have to take the place of the droids, then," Maul smirked. "Perhaps you'll earn the return ticket with your work. And perhaps our nice hostesses could help out with the address of the next spaceport to contact for the necessary tools and materials."
I rolled my eyes. "You must be joking, Maulie. Primitive dirt-ball, you know? No supralight travel, no repulsor engines? Heard about it before?"
"Your nice hostesses want to go home first and foremost," Sue’s words, spoken in a tired voice, interrupted my observations. "We — you — can talk about the details in a more comfortable place. "
The trip from the ship’s hideaway to the village seemed twice its usual length in the complete depressed silence. Nevertheless, it had a cooling effect on our two fighting cocks. So, back home, we placed the boyz with paper and pen on the glass veranda. Wordlessly Maul had agreed to another peace treaty with the Jedi Master; only together they could cope with the damage. While the two outlined the repair schedule for the Infiltrator, Mary and I retired to the main room.
"Well?" Mary asked suddenly, patting my shoulder. "What’s wrong with you two?"
"What ‘what’s wrong’?" I countered not very affably.
"You two stare at each other like wanting to devour, and yet nothing?" She smiled. "Girl, what are you waiting for?"
"What are you talking about?" I snapped in an irritated voice.
"Well, that’s a frustrated woman speaking, if ever I knew one." Mary smirked. As I didn’t answer, she went on. "Suz, do you think I can’t see what you feel about Qui? Why do you torment yourself like that? And him, too? Why don’t you tell him, or let him know?"
"I won’t." My face was hot for blushing. "I can’t."
"You can’t what? I thought you were braver than that."
"Mary," I groaned, burying my face into the palms, "Just tell me, how can I go to the Jedi and say, ‘I want you to fuck me’. Could you, if you were me?"
"Sure, why not!" she waved her hand airily.
I laughed feebly. "You’re not serious. I mean, what if he says no? What a fool I would be. I thought..."
Mary took a chair and sat by me.
"I thought I’d wait — perhaps he would approach me first."
Mary cupped my face and said cheerfully, "Sue, you are a damn fool."
I pulled away. "Why thank you..."
"You’re a fool," she interrupted me. "He’s a Jedi. He won’t give in to his emotions. There is no passion — remember? You’ll have to make the first move."
"If I did, then why should he... agree?"
"Because he wants you too, you smart-ass."
"Me? Nice try, Mary..." I sounded not very sarcastic.
"Of course, you are too busy batting your lashes and looking shyly away to notice how he watches you every time you’re nearby." Mary shamelessly used the gap in my line of defense she had found. "Ah, the twin-sea of his eyes, created only to get drowned in. Probably you’re also not too aware of the lips begging to be kissed, the chest begging to be died on, the..."
"Stop that!" I could no longer suppress laughter. "Do you think you’re a Sith or something? I am a human. Such tricks don’t work on me — only reason."
"Very well, that sounds more like my brave Sue," she chuckled.
"But I still cannot," I said and continued before Mary could interrupt me again: "What if, even if he... even if... what if it’s merely an act of mercy or compassion. To make me feel better."
"I see," said Mary with a small, mock serious voice. "That would be awful."
Pondering about it for a while, I finally came back to my starting point. "I think, if he really wants me, he should just say so."
Mary shook her head in disagreement: "Listen girl. He is a Jedi as I said before. He may not be passionate, but he is honourable. If you ask him, you’ll get an honest yes or no. And believe me, there is a damn high likelihood you’ll get a yes."
"But how should I ask him — if I would?"
"That’s the point — set and setting. I don’t know... Perhaps I could speak with Maul about that. I mean, the Sith must know the needs of the Jedi perfectly, after more than 1000 years of common history."
"Don’t you dare!" I laughed. "Speaking of which, how are things with Maul?"
Mary shrugged. "Very Star Wars. Some cast kisses."
Oh, yeah... no easy business with this Sith-man. Horny did the fan-canon say? Well... Perhaps Sue was right, I thought with a sigh, and we should wait for things to work out by themselves. Because, after it was clear that our guests were to stay at least until the Infiltrator was flyable again, time was on our side.
"I think, Sue..."
"It’s okay, Mary. I know." She pulled a happy face and winked. "Shouldn’t we offer our space-boyz a snack?"
A few moments later we entered the veranda loaded with what our kitchen provided for business meals: sandwiches and canapés nicely decorated with fresh herbs, eggs and mixed pickles. Baklava soaked in heavy syrup, of course, and rich flavoured tea. "May we interrupt?"
The gaze I saw Maul shoot to Qui-Gon, while I lowered the tray on the desk, could be translated as ‘Look, Jedi-scum, this is the Art of Entering for you.’I jumped in to prevent their usual bickering from flaring up again. "How's it going? Judging by your features and your scribbling block, your meeting must have been—" I tried to catch a glimpse of their papers; how cryptic! — "um — quite — constructive."
"We are not quite through with planning," the Jedi answered, arranging the papers in a neat heap to make room for cups and plates.
"Enough planning, Jinn," Maul made a disdainful gesture with his left hand — the hand that held a piece of baklava he had grabbed. The flourishing gesture threw droplets of syrup in all directions. One landed on my cheek. I removed it with my fingertip and put it in my mouth. Sweet.
Maul stared at me silently for a second. He missed no detail of the syrup-drop’s fate. "The planning's done," he started again. "Luckily most of the ship's parts are of the same composite, and the interfaces follow strictly only a few standards, so I decided to wreck the surplus parts to get material for the repairs. Stuff from panels and lattices from the passageways could serve for the stabilization of several ribs, the bridges; switches and circuit boards of the cargo bay’s automatic systems will be used up for the recovery of the rest of the ship's electronics, we’ll jam the bay because we don’t have any cargo. You get the general idea, I think."
"Probably this source will not be sufficient," Qui-Gon voiced his doubts.
"Probably!" the Sith snorted — obviously this had been a major disagreement in the discussion between them, but the Sith was not willing to surrender for a minor obstacle, such as reason. "Sure we have to share the left wing overload caches on both wings if we can’t find a replacement. That will put a strain on them, but they'll hold. That’s no reason to wait until my Infiltrator falls into pieces. We will start and see how far we will get."
Nevertheless, the Jedi had his next arrow ready: "Then there's the question of tools."
"There is the ship's equipment. There is... what is in this house. There is..." Maul paused hesitantly. "You do have some spaceports here, don’t you?" He looked expectantly from Sue to me.
"Do you think you can hijack an rocket?" Sue took a generous bite of her cress sandwich and shook her head. Hey, why not, I thought. That would be fun! Travelling in a secret mission with the Sith and the Jedi, sneaking into a space base, some thunderstruck security men and then — up, up and away. But that was an illusion. Too long distances with too many dangers and an insufficient result waiting at the end — Sue and I could see through the glamorous media presentation of earthly space exploration; but an alien, an offworlder could be misled, even if he didn’t expect highly developed technology and was an experienced spacer. However, I could use the occasion for giving our arrogant Sith Lord a cold shower. Again he was taking Sue’s and my material and personal resources for granted. Not that we didn't love to supply him, but he should have graciously asked before.
"Hmm, there are," I stirred my tea, "several." Stir, stir. "Recently even the Earth's poorest countries obtained access to space with rocket launch points of their own. There are launch sites nearly everywhere."
"I am not interested in poor rocket launch sites!"
I checked Maul’s demeanour with a fast glance — ah, mildly angry, but still interested — before I went back to the stirring business. "Thought so. Real space ports — which support manned flights — we have," stir, stir, "Baikonur," stir, "Kourou," stir, "Cape Canaveral."
"Only three. Baikonur. What do you know about it?"
My performance had the profundity of a tourist guide. "Baikonur Cosmodrome is situated in Kazakhstan. Beautiful country. A plain. A slowly rolling savannah. Chin-high grass and lots of other plants from wild hemp to the halophilous saxaul. With herds of bright-eyed antelopes, long-legged horses and mighty camels. Girded with ranges of wild rocky mountains. Pine-trees growing at their feet and snow capping their peaks. The Star City however is in the yellow steppe." I took a sip of tea and looked at Maul. With an impatient gesture he signalled me to continue. He clasped his cup, the knuckles were light under his dark skin. Did my description mean something special for him? Anyway... "It’s a former military base. The oldest spaceport on Earth. Real spaceport, I mean: from there we sent our first human to the orbit. But now, times are rough, they lack money for everything: the staff isn't paid regularly, the scientific work is delayed, machinery rusts."
Sue frowned and sent me a begging glance: I shouldn’t be so cruel. She saw what I had in mind for our overbearing Sith Lord and made an attempt to change the direction of the talk. "And fuel? No one's mentioned it yet."
"As the things are at the moment, we don’t need to be concerned about it. However, if the repairs of the ion engine don’t work out as we expect, this question will come up again," Qui replied.
Too late for a change. Maul spoke up: "This Kazakhstan sounds good. If its spaceport is in such a bad condition, we could easily overcome the guards or, if we must, just pay them. How soon can we get there?"
"We can’t Maulie. Even if the staff was living on baksheesh, it is still a military base. A high security area. And you don't have the Force. And even if we wouldn’t have trouble with the staff, then we'd have it the local Mafia. These guys are really though. We would need lots of money or a small army. And that place is a week from here. By train."
Qui-Gon rolled his eyes and shook his head in desperation. Train?!? After a bit more arguing back and forth about the merits of doing away with the Mafia, Maul threw his hands up in annoyed defeat. He stared at me silently for a moment, then stirred impatiently.
"Korr-Uh?" he growled.
"Centre Spatiale Guyanais or simply Launch Point Kourou. In fact this would be very suitable." I, the kind teacher, smiled and lifted a finger to draw the children’s — err — the audience's attention. "The Îles du Diable are not far. But not the best choice, they fail often with launches. A small high-tech settlement right in the coastal jungle without much backup from the mainland."
"Have you ever been there?"
"No. It is overseas. As far as Baikonur is from here, but in the other direction. Infiltrator's the best chance to get there. But if you could fly it there, you wouldn't be in need to go there at all, would you? So I imagine that defies the whole point." I nearly felt pity, crushing the hopes of the Sith Lord. Sue made a "hrmp" noise to tell me she was not amused and I should stop, but Maul continued our discussion.
"Then it’s crap. No first hand information and - it is crap. Cape Carnival?"
"Uh, don’t say 'Carnival'," I grinned. "Kennedy Space Center. 50 proud years of experience in space travel. Overseas, too. Partly open to visitors. To be exact: gigantic facilities for keen star-ship launch watchers. And definitely paranoid security guards."
"That doesn’t sound really helpful. We should keep it in mind but rely on what is locally available," Qui voiced what Maul’s features told . A strange couple of opposing brothers in Force.
"Locally available!" The Sith snorted in frustration, and the tea-pot shattered on the floor. I swore, Sue merely winced and lowered her glance in sadness and pity. I could understand her – I certainly did sympathize with the boys. I shifted to sit beside Maul on the bench, took his hand and hesitantly rubbed my cheek against his shoulder. Her stared motionlessly into thin air before him yet did not push me away.
Qui-Gon was also silent, staring into his cup of tea. My mouth-watering mirages had been meant for the Sith, but they had hit the Jedi too. Allah seemed to hold me in especially high esteem these days, because he sent me trials. I hoped he would not forget to send solutions too.
Qui's eyes were soft when he finally looked at the Zabrak. "Do or do not," he said in a low voice, but with great strength. "We will start tomorrow."
"The repairs will be a real Tusken job," Maul muttered between gritted teeth. "Slow and toilsome, you know, Jedi."
"Well, then we'll be Tuskens," Qui said in cheerful acceptance. "And look at the bright side of it: we’re on vacation. The longer, the merrier. Use well the time that you've been given." With that, he rose, patted my shoulder, took his cup and left. Sue followed him. Maul still didn't stir, but when I moved to free his hand, he grabbed my fingers and wouldn't let me go.
End of chapter six. What will happen next?
"Nuts! You know what time it is? It’s two a.m.!" — "That's the fun! Are you game, boys?"