Freak Encounters

When Yoda was working with Ocean Elf at the training area, Ben open the door. "Master," he said, "I have a young girl here to meet you. Her name is Felicity."

Yoda put his light saber down and approached the girl. "Yoda I am, and here to assist you any way you require."

"I'm only 12. I have no idea how I got here and what happened. Someone must've brought me here. I'm terrified."

"You need not fear us." Yoda said, putting a reassuring hand on Felicity's shoulder.

Elf put her light saber down next and also approached. "Hi, Felicity," she said, reaching out to lightly touch the young girl's hand with hers, indicating she wanted to shake her hand. "I'm Elf. It's frightening being in a strange place." she said gently. "And I second what Yoda just said."

" I don't know what happened to my cane. I do not like rigid canes at all. My cane folds. If I had it with me, I would show you. It is nice to meet you." the girl said. The fact she couldn't make eye-contact meant she was blind, and talking about a white cane.

"Pleased to meet you I am, and Yoda is my name."

"I am seeking counsel from the one who wears a respirator." the young girl said, her heart racing wildly. "I'm not sure how in the world I can find him without the use of my cane. I am absolutely terrified. Where is he?"

The elf suddenly withdrew, bristling. Her tone became less welcoming, even a little annoyed. "I don't know what in the world you want with that man, but he doesn't need a respirator any more."

"Where can I find him?" the girl repeated.

The elf heaved an exasperated sigh. "If that's all you're interested in, I can't help you." she said tersely.

"Elf," Yoda objected, trying to keep her from becoming too angry. Turning to Felicity, he continued, "Anakin Skywalker that would be. Newly healed, he is." "said Yoda.

"Can you bring me to meet the Skywalker clan?" Felicity asked.

"Gag me with a spoon." The elf mumbled miserably.

"Where do they dwell?" the girl asked. "I’ve heard tell, that they live on a retired star cruiser.

"Yes, Obi-Wan said.

"There is no Skywalker clan," the elf said, barely able to keep her annoyance under wraps, "Luke Skywalker has a sister, Leia, and she has an adoptive father, but she and Luke are twins."

Ben continued, speaking to Yoda and Elf. "First, as Anakin desires, you must bring the child to stand in judgment before the emperor."

The elf's mouth fell open for a moment, then her shock turned to annoyance. "Here we go again 'As Anakin desires'." she said mockingly. "Judgments? Whatever next?"

Ben's eyebrows raised, but he continued. "Unlike his predecessor, but his piercing blue eyes can see one's nature. He shall know if it is kind and pure. By this, he shall tell if this child is worthy to meet Skywalker."

The elf scowled in disgust. "Well la-dee-dah! He wouldn't know kind and pure if it hit him on the head...!"

"Ocean, please." said Ben.

"I thought you said you'd keep him away from me." Elf said accusingly to Ben.

"Elf - " Ben started to say, but he didn't know what to tell her. He seemed unsure, as if two sides of the force were waging battle beneath his skin.

"And he shouldn't be going anywhere near a child of all people...!" the elf continued. "See into one's nature, my foot." she ranted.

"Elf!" Ben said more firmly, frowning at her.

She scowled back. "If I was worthy to meet Anakin," she said that last bit in an mocking exaggerated tone, then shifted back to her normal voice, "Anyone is! This should be the other way around!"

"Elf," Ben admonished, "That will be quite enough."

"I agree, that is quite enough of Anakin!"

"Elf! I said that's - " Ben began.

"I meant what I said!" the elf warned. "Any more of this crap and I'm out, and I'll take her with me!"

"Don't you dare!" Ben seemed almost frantic.

"What's the matter?" Felicity asked.

"Don't worry, Elf is just a little out of sorts today," said Ben quietly, trying to reassure the young girl, and get himself under control. Then coughed when Ocean glared at him.

"No, it's you who've all gone mad...!" the exasperated elf declared, then turned toward the door.

Obi-Wan continued talking to the little girl. "I shall take you to the Emperor. You must first stand in judgment according to Anakin's wishes."

"What do you mean by that?" Felicity asked.

"Screw Anakin!" Elf snapped.

"Elf!" Ben raised his voice.

She turned to glare at him again, and this time, Ben turned a panicked gaze on Yoda. "Help." he mouthed, and pointed toward the elf.

Yoda understood and quickly approached the her. "Elf, look at my light saber. "Notice how much smaller it is than yours?"

"Well duh!" the elf retorted, actually snapping at Yoda for the first time. "Anyone can see that!" She turned her back to him and Ben, and moved toward an exit.

Ben mouthed a "Thank you" to Yoda, then gazed at Elf's retreating form. "Please don't leave," he tried to appeal.

"I don't know why not." she muttered.

Ben turned his attention to Felicity. "Unlike his predecessor," Ben began, "The new emperor wishes to keep all visitors and travelers to this galaxy safe. He does not wish them to endure any harm. That is why he must see if you are worthy. If he reaches out his hand to take yours, let him. He is kind, and he will not hurt you."

"That makes no sense." Elf mumbled.

"The truth he speaks about our new emperor," Yoda added.

"Can you tell me more about the new emperor? Can you describe him to me?" the girl asked.

"Tall," the Ocean Elf began, turning to face Felicity, ". Blue eyes, white hair and beard. Deep, slightly husky voice." Then her matter-of-fact tone turned accusatory again. "But he never put me or anyone else through this ridiculous judgment stupidity."

Ben and Yoda both gaped. Then Ben spoke. "That's enough, Elf,"

"I am prepared to stand in judgment if I must." said Felicity.

"This whole judgment thing is crazy. You, of all people shouldn't be made to endure that." said the elf.

"I have also heard tales," the little girl continued, "but the Skywalker family live on a retired start cruiser."

Elf sighed and murmured in annoyance, "Been there, done that already...!"

The little girl continued, "which one of the Jedi Masters will bring me to the emperor?"

We will." Yoda replied. "Ben, the Ocean Elf, and I."

"Is he in a wheelchair like his predecessor?"

"Who cares?" Elf muttered irritably.

"He uses a walking stick, my child. I will take you to him," Obi-Wan said. First, we must try to conjure your folding cane." With this, Obi-Wan fell silent.

"Why does he use a Walkingstick? Felicity asked.

"Why does anybody? Why does that matter so much?" the elf snapped.

"Elf, I will not have you talking to her like that." Ben said.

"But you're cool with something a lot worse - a judgment on her by the new emperor and that freaking - "

"Ocean Elf!" Ben cut her off sternly.

She shot an angry glance back.

"Calm down you both must!" Yoda interjected, then he answered Felicity. "Using a Walkingstick the emperor is, because he is frail and cannot walk well," Yoda explained.

"But why ask about this at all?" the elf said. "Why else would anybody use a walking stick?"

"I don't know, I was just curious." said Felicity.

"That has nothing to do with what makes anyone a good or bad emperor." said the elf, her voice becoming a little gentler. "Not trying to be hard on you, Felicity, it's just that disability doesn't define the person."

Both Yoda and Ben smiled at this.

Felicity looked confused.

"Maybe Ben or Yoda can explain that to you better than I can." said the elf.

"I am prepared to meet the emperor," Felicity said. "What will he see? She asked.

"Tell you, I cannot," Yoda said sadly. "Learn that on your own you must. The emperor will see you now."

By now, Ben had conjured up a new cane, and handed it to Felicity. "Follow me," he said, leading her up along spiral staircase.

Next came Yoda, followed by Elf, who for some reason had decided not to just run out on everyone.

As the trio lead Felicity up the stairs, she began to ponder what would come.

At the top was a door that lead into a massive imperial space.

"There, you will find the Emperor. Listen carefully, as he will call you to approach. said Ben. Reaching the top of the stairs, he lifted the heavy wooden latch and opened the wooden door with the creek.

He guided Felicity through that door and just into a long corredor that went straight, then turned a corner. Beyond that, he could not see anything.

So he gave Felicity his final words of parting. "The three of us shall see you soon. From here, you must enter a loan. We can go no further. It is you the emperor will judge, not us."

"This is all out wrong!" the elf said. "She should n't be judged. I'm going in with her."

"No, dear, she has to do this alone." Ben said.

"A frightened little girl. This would be terrifying for one who could see. And she's blind on top of this. No, I don't give a damn about protocol, I'm going in with her and that's that."

"Elf!" Ben began to scold.

"She's just a scared little girl, for crying out loud!" the elf reminded him. Beneath all that steeliness was something Ben hadn't seen until now, concern, and perhaps empathy. The elf continued. "And if this is the same little girl you rescued the other night, this judgment insanity is the last thing she needs!"

"All right, Elf, I will let the emperor know you are accompanying Felicity and why. I really don't think he will mind. This was not even his idea in the first place, but - " he trailed off at a sound of discontent from the elf.

"I thought as much." she mouthed angrily.

"She will be fine, dear," Ben assured the elf. He knocked on the door.

"Please come in," Sheev invited through an intercom speaker that sounded just above them..

"Your Excellency," Ben said, "Since Felicity is blind, she requires some assistance, so would you have any objection to Ocean Elf accompanying her?"

"I have no objection - " Sheev suddenly shuddered, "On the other hand, it might be better if she came in alone."

"No, it would not." The elf said sternly. "I will come in with her." she insisted.

Ben raised his eyebrows in reaction to what looked like all out defiance toward the new emperor from the elf.

"I won't stop you, Miss Elf." Sheev said.

"Good luck, my child," Ben said to Felicity, and gave a nod to Elf.

Very slowly, Felicity entered the first corredor. The door closed behind her with a loud thud.

"I'm right here," the elf got along side Felicity. "If you'd rather take an arm than use your cane, that's how I lead my friend Sarah when we go any place."

"Thanks, Miss - Al - " Felicity hesitated.

"Elf. And you're welcome."

"Alf."

"You almost got it, Felicity, it's Elf - with an 'E'."

"Oh! Like from the Hobit or Santa's?"

"Exactly."

"Is that short for something, like Elphaba?"

"No. It's what I am."

"Oh wow, I didn't know there were elves on Tatooine." Felicity smiled.

"Well, there is now." Here, let me help you." Elf offered an arm to Felicity.

"I'll just use my cane."

"Okay then, I'll just help you out by directing you.

Ben and Yoda watched the girls go on their way, and turned to smile at each other. Then, they went back down the stairs and retraced their steps until they returned to the training area.

"Does that elf know no fear?" Ben asked Yoda, "Why didn't either of us insist on helping Felicity? We just went along with it."

"Worried we are about the possible wrath of our new emperor, and Anakin, especially now that healed he is, with his strength recovered."

"I am glad Elf insisted on helping Felicity. I just hope neither of them get into trouble with either Sheev or Anakin."

"The other way around it is likely to be." Yoda quipped.

"yes, and that could turn into a vicious circle." said Ben. It seems our elven friend has some issues with authority."

Felicity Walked slowly down the first long Corredor without incident. But when they reached the corner, Elf said, "Here, we hang a left." She looked into the next corredor and scowled. "Oh, this won't do. Felicity, I'm going to have to lead you by the arm. This hall would be impossible for you to navigate without tripping. It's jampacked with stuff all over the floor." She glared at each useless object that was obviously put there as some kind of test, and some fun at the expense of a blind girl.

"What kind of stuff?"

"everything from benches to books and paper strewn about."

What happened?"

Elf sighed. She had her own theory, but there wasn't time to discuss it. "Not sure. But let's get you through it without tripping and falling. Here, I'll hold your cane, and you walk right behind me, holding onto my shoulders or both arms, chew-chew style. Hold tight as you need to."

Felicity chuckled nervously, but let Elf take the cane, then did as she asked.

Eventually, they reached the throne room, and Elf detached herself from Felicity and handed her cane back.

Suddenly, without warning, a deep, husky voice split the silence, seeming to come from somewhere in front of them.

"Welcome, Ocean Elf."

"Thank you." the elf responded.

"But where is the new arrival I'm meant to see?"

The elf turned stern. "Before I answer that, whose idea was it to litter the last hallway full of all kinds of odds and ends so we could hardly walk down it?"

"What do you mean?" The emperor looked utterly baffled.

The elf pointed a finger to the entrance.

Sheev got up and walked toward the entrance. Sure enough it was all there. Papers, marbles, stools, pencils, a bench sitting crosswise, books, a small table, and along the side of the wall on what would've been Felicity's right hand going into the throne room, Vader's discarded mask from his old suit.

The emperor looked dismayed. "I assure you, Miss Elf, that I did not put those things there."

"I didn't think so. That leaves only one person." she said.

The emperor looked almost sick, but said, "Well, now that you are here, where is the one I'm supposed to meet?"

"She's standing right here with me." said the elf. "Emperor Sheev, meet Felicity - Felicity - I didn't catch your last name."

"It's just Felicity." the girl said.

"What!?" Sheev looked shocked. "Please don't tell me I'm supposed to cast a judgment on this child."

"You mean you didn't know?" Elf asked. "I thought they said you were expecting her."

"Yes, but I thought she was an adult. Anakin never told me anything about a young girl."

"And he never told you she was blind either, I'll bet."

"Sheev shook his head. "child," he said warmly, approaching Felicity, "I apologize. But I'll try to make this as easy as possible."

"You shouldn't go through with it at all." said the elf dourly.

"Thank you, Miss Elf, I will take over from here. Felicity, I will guide you. Here's my hand." He took one of her hands in his warm ones, and slowly began moving with her toward the throne.

"You know this is not right." said the elf. "Meeting you is fine. But this judgment stuff has got to go."

"Not to worry, Miss Elf, I will make sure no harm comes to her, she will be just fine."

The elf looked unconvinced, and followed Sheev. "Have you ever guided a blind person before?"

He shook his head.

"I have." the elf continued patiently. "Let her take your arm, and lead her. If you want her to walk directly behind you, just tuck your elbow in behind your back. And when you go up and down steps, pause just before you go up or down, and that'll indicate there are steps or some significant change in what where you're about to lead her."

"Thank you, Elf." said Sheev with a grateful smile.

"And if you'd like her to take a seat, stop by the chair and gently take one of her hands and put it on an armrest or back of it. She'll orient her way to sit down from there. That hallway was so chockablock full of junk that I couldn't even guide her properly. We had to go train style with her hanging on to both my arms so she wouldn't trip on something.""

The emperor looked regretfully at the girls. "My sincere apologies. But I'll help you the best I can, Felicity dear, and don't worry, Elf, she'll be fine. Thanks for your help. I'll take it from here."

The elf reluctantly retraced her steps back out the thrown room, down the halls, and down the steps.

As the emperor lead Felicity toward the throne, the girl pondered what would come next.

Gently lifting her on to the throne before sitting down himself, SHEeV, leaned his walking stick against the throne. "Now," he said, "I shall now see if your nature is pure enough, if you are worthy to meet Skywalker."" He then whispered in her ear, "Try not to worry, this is just a formality." At this, he suddenly winced as if he received a sudden jolt of pain. Nevertheless, he continued.

Leaning on his Walkingstick, SHeEV sat down beside Felicity. Helping her to turn so that she was looking directly at him, he spoke.

"If I should reach out to you as instructed, let me."

Sitting in silence for a moment, SHEeV gazed into her eyes. It didn't harm her, she only felt uneasy because of the silence and the feeling she was being sized up.

"Your nature is indeed kind and pure. you are worthy to meet Skywalker for sure" he finally said. He whispered in her ear once more, "I don't see why it wouldn't be. Apologies for putting you through this but we can't risk upsetting Anakin."

Sheev once again grimaced in pain. But it passed quickly, and he shrugged it off.

Standing up and taking her hand in his, he lead her down a passage, then another, then several more, then to a downward flight of stairs, then through more halls.

A door opened.

In front of her was another space. Within that space was Anakin Skywalker.

"Where is Anakin?" Felicity asked.

"He’s right in front of you," the emperor replied. He spends most of his time in meditation. If he wishes, he might tell you his story. Alas, I must leave you now. I have other rounds to which I must attend. All the best, my dear." The emperor said walking away. The sound of his walking stick echoing.

Anakin Vader smiled. Sheev stuck to the line that referenced "his story" That would hopefully set Felicity up to become curious and ask.

In the mean time, Ocean Elf began training again, and after a few maneuvers with the saber, Ben spoke up.

"Very good, keep it up."

"Thank you." she replied coolly, and moved away from him to the other side of the training area.

Ben followed discreetly and watched her.

The light saber flew out of her hand and clattered on the floor. "Oh, crap!" she exclaimed.

Ben grinned. "Elf, why don't you take the day off, or at least take a break?" he suggested.

Without a word, the elf picked up her light saber and sullenly stalked over to stow it in its place."

"Ocean," Ben approached her.

She moved away.

"Please, don't shut me out."

"I see no reason to let you in." she retorted bitterly. "Any of you...!"

"Even Yoda?" Ben asked sadly. "He cares about you, Ocean Elf, and so do I."

"Not enough to stop doting on that - I will not mention his name if I can help it." she said.

"You've disliked him right from the start." Ben observed.

The elf nodded, then turned away again. "I'm out."

"Ocean..." Ben reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, and felt her stiffen beneath it.

"Even if we factor out all the horrible things he's done, the guy is an angsty, whiny, bossy, manipulative prima donna."

Ben couldn't help but chuckle at this. He knew what the elf meant by that expression, but the mental image of Darth Vader/Anakin on stage in an opera was too much.

The elf seemed oblivious to his amused reaction and continued. "This whole judgment thing is totally screwy! I mean who else other than that man gets away with this crap?"

"But Ocean, he told Sheev that it's to prevent threats to our galaxy."

"Threats, from a little girl whom you rescued the other night? No. This is another desperate and stupid Anakin scheme!"

"Elf - "

"how would it be if I just decided one day that a little girl should have the emperor judge her and determine if she's worthy to meet me? Think of that! What would you do if I decided I was such a prize that people actually had to be deemed to have a good enough nature to meet me? Stuck up or what! Did you even notice what you were all doing? 'As Anakin desires' you said. Last I heard, Anakin is not the emperor, and here he has him performing weird judgments on little girls for him!"

Ben sighed dejectedly. "Elf..."

"And I'll tell you something else - your new emperor was shocked when Felicity was introduced. He had no idea he was expected to pass judgment on a frightened little girl, and he sure didn't look happy about being put into that situation."

"Elf," Ben sighed, looking downcast, "I am at a loss for explanations. I don't dare anger Anakin, and neither does Emperor Sheev."

The elf hissed and scowled. "All the more reason to stop caring if he gets angry or not, and stand up to this bully...!"

Ben continued. "For what it's worth, I have already tried several times to warn him not to get any notions about you and him."

"I appreciate you doing that much. But you shouldn't be afraid of him."

"It's not only his temper, it's that he's been through so much and wants to make amends."

"Oh please...! He's put people through tons of stuff and he can't make amends for that."

"With his family, I mean."

The elf remained unmoved. "Forget the obligations, brave up, and tell him to grow the heck up, then."

"If I was sure I could get Luke on board with that idea," Ben put a finger to his lips. "Elf, I didn't want to scold you, you know. I wasn't trying to upset you or make you think I didn't care about your feelings. I just didn't want a scene to start, and risk Felicity panicking."

The elf nodded, expression becoming calmer." "Sorry about my outbursts too, panicking her is the last thing I would do on purpose. But I've had more than I can stand of Anakin. I don't ever want to see him again, or be part of anything he wants done. So I'll be leaving today, and I won't come back until he either moves out or dies. I don't want to leave Felicity here with him, but she chose him, and I can't do anything about that. I hope you can keep her safe."

Ben looked sad. "All the best to you, Ocean Elf. Yoda and I will miss you. But may we still contact you and keep in touch?"

"Yes." she said quietly, eyes brimming with tears, and turned to walk out.

"Ocean," Ben called after her.

She turned back and looked at him.

Ben walked over to her, then said quietly in her ear, "I couldn't let on earlier, but I feel very uneasy about this - procedure Anakin is putting the little girl through. He doesn't want to be checked on, but I'm going to. Would you like to join me, and see that Felicity is all right?"

"Yes. I didn't want to leave her back there at all."

Approaching Felicity and taking her hand, Anakin brought her into his meditation chamber, shutting the door behind him. "Sit down," he said.

Felicity did as she was told.

"Now, how you came here is a mystery, even to me," he claimed.

"But you said you would take me out of there." Felicity said. It made no sense that she was promised help in escaping a bad home situation, only for the one helping her to not remember doing it.

"Good, Felicity, you passed the first test. Your brain is sharp." he said. But his tone was slightly patronizing.

Felicity was getting the feeling he was amusing himself at her expense.

He continued. "I am aware that you are completely blind in both eyes."

Felicity winced. Now he wanted to focus on her blindness. She felt like she was just put into a room alone with an over-grown third-grade bully. She clammed up for a moment, then had an idea. He had hinted before that he had a story of his own, and she would rather find that out than be dissected mentally by this now frightening being who had originally comforted, then frightened, and fascinated her back at her previous home.

"do you mind if I…" she was cut off.

Suspecting what Felicity was about to ask, Anakin knew this was his big chance to impress her with his authoritativeness. He became stern. "Take care What you ask, and to whom," he warned her. "If you are going to ask about my injuries, do not. I will tell you my tail if I wish as the emperor has said. For now, I must learn your whole story, and all of the memories and feelings from it." he commanded. "Now," he said, you’re going to let my stare penetrate your chest.

Felicity shuddered. She wished Ben, Yoda, or Elf would come bursting in to stop this violation. And how had he known what the emperor had said in the throne room when he wasn't even there?"

Anakin continued. I can see your heart, your thoughts, your nature."

Felicity was now creeped out beyond belief. First, he wanted to stare at her chest, now he said he could read her thoughts. Felicity was getting the feeling she would be possessed by the time this was over. Possessed by Anakin, who, if he wasn't bluffing, would own her thoughts, her memories, her feelings and personality, all saved into his mind for later recall, for any purpose he might wish. There would be no more Felicity. She would be owned by Anakin, whether she wanted to be or not. What did he have in mind for her nature, and why was it necessary to have her nature checked by two people?

"Sit very still," he ordered. Falling silent, Anakin looked directly into Felicity’s eyes. Noticing the whiteness, he stared deeper.

Frightened, she felt his force penetrate further into her mind. "That's intense."

"Silence." he stated. "I cannot see your nature properly if there is brain activity occurring. Let me look deeper." He Reached out and grasped her hand and held on, giving it a squeeze.

It made her feel very uneasy. She tried to pull away, but Anakin wouldn't allow it. This was the exact feeling she remembered having a few years before, when Anakin had brought around to her place a silent friend who supposedly knew everything about everyone including her.

There was a knock at the chamber door, and Ben stepped in. "Anakin, that is enough!" he said firmly."

But Ben was accompanied by Elf, who was not so calm about what she saw.

Ben registered the heart and mind penetration attempt by Vader. Elf did not. She saw something quite different that had nothing to do with force activity.

When Anakin and Felicity were facing each other, he looked in her eyes, then at her chest, all to do with knowing her mind and her heart; or so he said.

The Elf rushed forward and went for Anakin's eyes.

He put his hands up to protect them.

"You lech!" the elf shouted.

"All right, break it up, now!" Ben shouted as he tried to come between the two of them. He managed to pull Elf away, but that didn't stop her from kicking at Vader. "Now Elf, that's enough!" Ben carefully restrained her using the force.

"Judging an innocent young girl as worthy to meet him indeed!" the elf ranted, "He makes me sick!"

"I know, and I agree."

"How could you say that, Ben, I did this for Elf's benefit!" Anakin Vader defended himself.

"What kind of stupid is that?" came an angry outburst from the elf. She couldn't have looked more offended.

Felicity couldn't help the giggle that escaped her.

Even Ben couldn't keep a straight face, and he turned away from Vader and toward Elf to let out a quiet chuckle at her bluntness. When he got himself under control, he turned back to Vader. "Anakin, how in the world is this for Elf's benefit? I thought this was supposed to be for Felicity's. Elf hated this idea as soon as she heard about it."

"Oh, forget it forget it! It's all gone south anyway!" Anakin raged.

"Waaaaaah,!" the elf mocked him. "Poor baby!"

"Do you get that much pleasure from my distress?" Anakin Vader rounded on her.

"Cram it! You are not the victim!" the elf snarled back.

Ben turned to Elf and spoke much more quietly, "I know you're upset, but you've got to calm down."

"Calm down?" she said incredulously. "Know what he was doing? Staring at her chest!" she shouted.

"Shh!" Anakin Vader said, turning red.

Ben turned to Vader. "No more, Anakin," he said firmly, "it's over."

"But Ben - "

"No buts. Felicity is a stranger in a strange place. She is still overwhelmed and needs more rest and healing." Ben let Elf go, and approached and gently offered Felicity his arm. "Come with me, dear, and I will get you something to eat and a place to rest. Elf, you too."

Felicity timidly got up and began to make her way with Ben out of Anakin's chamber.

"Now look what you've done! You interrupted a judgment proceeding!" Anakin Vader roared.

"Shove it!" the elf shouted back.

"Keep quiet, both of you!" Ben said sternly. Turning to look back at Vader, he continued. "That judgment was very cruel! I do not know what ailed me to allow it now! It was a procedure started by Sheev Palpatine, and will be discontinued now!"

"Wait, what?" The elf piped up. "But I thought you said in the training area that this was unlike the previous emperor."

Ben stood, stumped for a moment and looked at her. "When did I say that?"

"Back in the training area before we took Felicity up here. Don't you remember? You scolded me for my outbursts then."

Ben shook his head to clear it. "I have no idea what I was thinking, but let's be clear on this now, no more judgments. Am I understood?"

Vader sulked.

Elf smiled.

"Good." said Ben.

The elf gladly followed Ben and Felicity out, but not without throwing a dirty glance back at Anakin Vader and miming a punch at him.

"Ocean..." Ben warned, "Don't even think about it."

The elf turned and walked out with Ben and Felicity. Anakin Vader fumed.

Ben took Felicity and Elf to the dining room for some refreshments, and made himself some tea.

While that was going on, Anakin Vader came out of his chamber when he heard Sheev coming down the hall. He caught hold of him, saying, "Why did you fail to take the blame for the obstacle course?"

Sheev shuddered.

"Why did Elf find out about the judgment before it happened?" Vader demanded.

"I don't know!" Sheev said, head bowed in contrition, "I did not create the obstacle course, I didn't even know about it until the elf lead the child into the throne room. Neither did I realize it was a child I was suppose to judge, then send to you for even more scrutiny." Sheev protested. "You told me it was a measure to protect us from threats. But I do not believe in putting children through - "

"What you believe is unimportant, as a new emperor, you must do what that position requires."

"But you are not in a position to tell me what that is." Sheev reminded Vader.

Suddenly, Sheev felt a much more severe discomfort than what he had experienced back in the throne room when he went off script to reassure Felicity. Sheev found it difficult to breathe, he shook violently, and experienced a throbbing headache and burning tingling extremities.

"You will persuade Ocean Elf to reconsider her role as mother to the child, and as my future wife. You will not breathe a word to her why it concerns you. You will not tell her what just transpired." Vader commanded. "I am much stronger now that I am healed. So it is in your best interest to work with me on this plan."

In her room, Elf rummaged in her jacket pocket and took out her business card holder, removed a few cards, put them on a dresser, and put the holder back.

There was a knock at the door. "Miss Elf?" Sheev called.

"Oh, crap," the elf muttered under her breath.

"Ocean Elf?" Another knock followed.

Elf sighed, and dejectedly approached the door. "Yes," she said when opening it.

"May I come in for a moment?" Sheev asked.

"If you like." the elf responded uncertainly, and withdrew to let him in.

Sheev noticed the suitcase on the bed and a few things that still needed to be packed lying next to it. He took a seat in a chair against a wall. "What's troubling you, Ocean Elf?"

She stiffened.

"Please, talk to me?" he said gently. "I don't bite."

That earned him a slight grin and barely audible chuckle from the elf.

"What is it?" he asked.

Elf took a deep breath. "It's the little girl who arrived today. I think she's being used in a coercion scheme."

"How so?" Sheev asked.

"How she got here and why." Elf responded as she resumed packing her things. "It's just a bit too coincidental."

"Go ahead, please." he encouraged.

"She said she was terrified. Well, I know how it feels being suddenly wooshed against your will and beyond your control to somewhere else. That's exactly what happened to me when Anakin summoned me here several days ago. So I wouldn't put it past him to do that again, this time with a little girl. For what reason, I don't know and don't care to find out; but that the one person she kept demanding to see when she arrived was him. I don't like it."

"Yes, this is something else we will be looking into. But what I found out for why Anakin brought you here was because he tried to reach out and communicate, and never got any answer from your world."

"No communications reached our HQ from him. I wouldn't answer even if they did."

"Why is that." Sheev asked.

The elf sighed, "It's too much to get into now." she said.

"Well, be that as it may," Sheev said, "It is also true that there's a high risk of communication failures at such great distances, but that is ultimately why he resorted to this."

The elf sighed. "Okay, understood, but not excused." she finally said. If he has done the same thing with the little girl as a means for him to get me to stick around for her sake so he can try to win me over as a friend - or something more serious - " she said with a grimace, "he can put that idea out of his mind, permanently."

Sheev looked surprised for a moment, then dismayed. He and Ben knew that Anakin might have had hopes for something like that, but now these frequent events helped the elf figure that all out so soon.

Sheev tried to appeal to the memory of what compassionate moments had transpired in the past few days. "Are you sure you want to throw all that away? After all that's happened? After all he went through?"

The elf sighed in annoyance.

Sheev continued. "After all you did for him?"

Elf shut the suitcase. "No," she said, frowning, "after all I did to stop an evil slime-mold from committing more sadistic heinous stuff. I didn't do it for him. He brought me here, told me what was going on, and things went from there."

"You're the first woman outside his own family who wept over what painful treatment he had to go through for more than three decades."

The elf flushed. "Who told you that?" her voice became stern with indignation. "I would've been just as upset over some sand person undergoing that for the same length of time, though whether that's actually what went on is anybody's guess. That was not affection for Anakin Skywalker, it was sheer horror."

There was a tense silence, and then Sheev finally said quietly, "I see."

She continued. "And don't get me started on that whole business about you having to judge this little girl as worthy to meet Anakin. Just who in the world does he think he is anyway? The nerve!"

"Elf - " Sheev said, "That is just a measure to make sure of safety."

"Oh please! The elf stormed.

The new emperor suddenly became stern, but gravely calm. He stared at the elf intently. "Shout like that again," he warned, "And I will banish you."

The elf glared at him. "As if that would be a punishment," she growled. She took a step toward him and said menacingly, "I was brought here against my will. I will not be sent away against my will. Like it or not, you are stuck with me until I say otherwise.!

"Ocean Elf, may I remind you that I am emperor here!" he fired back.

"Okay, I can play that game too," she said coolly, and winced at the prospect, "may I remind you that I'm an elf, who gets called Ocean for a reason. Anyway, you should be reminding Vader who you are."

"You wouldn't..." he said.

"Threaten banishment again, and I could deluge your dwelling until there is nothing left!

The emperor shuddered, and then said, "This isn't getting us anywhere." Then he continued with the previous explanation. "Palpatine just left everything open so anyone could come in and raid or otherwise make trouble." He explained.

"Or zap strangers in from galaxies away without their consent or even so much as a warning beforehand and mess with their emotions to make them comply."

"I can see where that would be very upsetting." he said.

"No, no I don't think you do." said the elf. That's just lip service. All you care about is Anakin."

"Now Ocean, that's - "

"Judging a little girl as 'worthy' to meet Anakin doesn't sound like a safety measure...AT ALL!" she steamed.

"Ocean - " Sheev began again, "Even a child with the power of the force and an ill will could do serious damage, and with Palpatine being so recently destroyed, we were just making sure the girl bore no ill will toward Anakin."

"Ah yes, because it's really all about Anakin, Anakin, Anakin. Never mind the rest of the galaxy, let's all orbit around freaking Anakin!" the elf snarled. "Banish me if you like - when you've been sworn in. I'll be long gone by then and don't plan on coming back as long as everyone keeps carrying on about Anakin."

"Now, Ocean, that isn't fair." said Sheev.

"Exactly." she said.

"I meant what you're saying isn't fair." he said.

"Oh, but it's accurate from where I see it." she countered. "Ever since I got here, it was Anakin this, Anakin that, Anakin and his suit, Anakin and his past, Anakin and his pain, and just when I finally thought that was all over and we were going to start focusing on getting you installed as the new emperor, this new girl shows up and all of a sudden it's gotta make sure she's worthy to meet Anakin! Even she was whimpering desperately like some lovesick puppy to see him. That was already back in training before we saw her up the stairs into your room for that freak judgment thing. Gah! Makes me sick!" She wasn't shouting, but the dislike was clear in the clipped and hissing consonants and frosty tone of voice. She couldn't have looked more disgusted.

The emperor took a deep breath and pondered carefully about what to say next. "What we're really doing with this screening process is guarding against threats."

"But that doesn't make any sense..." said the elf. "If you're trying to keep travellers and newcomers safe here, you don't do that by 'judging' them, let alone as 'worthy to meet' some person. That's what I mean, this sounds more like a measure to protect Anakin and put him up on some pedestal than keep tourists and immigrants safe. It's not as if your precious Anakin is a saint."

Sheev looked disheartened. He knew he was backing the wrong person, but he was too afraid not to.

The elf continued. "He had everyone running circles around him ever since I had the misfortune to be brought here by him, and back when he was proudly going by the name Darth Vader, he freaking kidnapped and tortured his own daughter, then another guy who was working against the dark side, and many other people, many times over; and it doesn't matter how long ago that was. He didn't just haul off and slug somebody in a fit of anger, he actually committed deliberate prolonged torture.

Sheev looked as if he was waging a gargantuan inner struggle with himself. Finally, he tried to get the elf to back down by saying, "But that was before, when he was still known as Darth Vader."

"I don't care!" the elf shot back savagely, "He's still Darth Vader as far as I'm concerned. Even before he took that name, he was a jealous, violent maniac. He choked Padme's former lover to death in front of her to police her behaviour, and he choked her in a rage while she was pregnant!"

There was a silence.

Sheev looked horrified. He disdained domestic abuse and torture as well, so this was news to him.

"Yes, I've done my homework. So if you are still puzzled about why I hate this guy, I hope this clears it up!""

Unable to come up with an answer that would both satisfy Ocean and keep himself out of possible trouble with Anakin, whom he actually feared, he chose to stick to the subject of the flawed judgment policy. He conceded, "I have to agree with you on that judgment policy, it doesn't make sense the way it's set up now. We were in such a hurry to put a measure into place when the child arrived so unexpectedly that I had no time to think it through. I'll do what I can to get this measure revised and re-worded so no innocent little child has to go through that again. And I did try to reassure her during the process. But you might as well know that Anakin is strong with the force, and he used it on me today. There were a couple of times when I whispered something to the little girl to comfort her, and I felt myself starting to choke."

The elf looked livid. "I won't mince words. I want him gone." she said ominously. Then she stopped glowering, and said more gently, "I wish most of you and Felicity all the best."