Title: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Author: Divapilot Genre: Drama Characters: OC Rating: PG Summary: A fearful young woman finds courage to carry on when disaster strikes. Written for the OC challenge. This story satisfies both of the two challenges presented: Findswoman's Challenge Write a story featuring an OC who is never physically present in the story but still manages to influence the events and outcome in a pivotal way. The character can be absent from the scene for any reason the author chooses, including death. (NB: it's OK for the character to be perceived in some other way—e.g., heard over a comm call, heard through a nearby doorway, sensed in the Force, etc.—as long as the character is never actually seen in person "onstage.") and Whiskers' Challenge: One of the things I remember most about a favorite autobiography of mine was that the athlete recalling another person that trained with him. He had mostly nice things to say, but his main criticism has always stuck out: "he has burned bridges that he should have just looked back at." My challenge is this: your character burns the proverbial bridge with someone and there is no turning back from it. They may regret it, or they may not, the choice is up to you. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ She was away the night they came for him. She had been surprised that he hadn’t shown up to walk her home from her job at the diner. Kash knew how Mirany felt about the dark and he always met her so she wouldn’t have to walk alone. This night, however, she had waited but he had never come. When Mirany returned to their small apartment she found the door improperly closed; not how Kash would have left it. He valued their security far too much. She entered the room slowly, her nerves tingling. The lights didn’t come on automatically like they usually did. She felt her way into the room, pressing her right hand against the wall and reaching out with her left hand. “Kash?” she shout-whispered. She trembled, afraid of what she might find hidden in the ominous darkness. She moved into the room and her foot kicked something in the shadows. She looked down and made out the object in the dimness. A broken piece of chair. Her heart pounded. Her right hand found the manual switch for the lighting, and she pressed it. The room burst into illumination and the disaster became manifest. “Kash?” Her voice wavered. She knew nobody would answer. Stunned, she slowly turned around the room, surveying the scene. The rest of the broken chair lay against the wall. Larger items were out of place or tipped over, and small items, mementos of their brief life together, lay strewn like chaff on the faded green carpet. Mirany steeled herself and slowly entered the other room of their apartment. The bed, usually neatly made up, looked as if it had been ripped apart. She picked up a blanket from the bed and stared at the dark stain that wasn’t there this morning. Mirany touched the stain. It was cold and dry. The fabric cracked stiffly where the stain saturated through. Her breath came out in quick short pants. “Kash,” she whispered. “Oh, Kash.” She sat on the bed and clung to the stained blanket. It wasn’t a big stain but it was big enough. If they killed him, he would have bled more, right? she thought. This was an injury, but not necessarily a fatal one. From the location on the bed, it seemed that they had struck him in the head. He must have kept fighting --that would explain the damage in the other room-- so they didn’t kill him. But then they took him. They took him. She tightened her grip around the blanket as her other hand clamped her mouth. She forced the panic down. They took him. Mirany swallowed hard and tried to think. She had to find him, get him back to her. She needed him, needed him even more now that she was– No. She could only process one event at a time. It suddenly occurred to her that maybe this apartment, so fatal to -no, don’t think like that. He isn’t dead. They took him but that doesn’t mean they killed him – so dangerous for Kash, might be dangerous for her, too. She stood up, still clutching the blanket, and looked around. The blood was old; this had happened hours ago, while she was still at work. Then it occurred to her that whoever did this could still be watching the apartment. They knew where to find him; they would know he didn’t live alone. It wasn’t safe here, she decided. She quickly bent down and retrieved a case from under the bed, opened it, and began to put her belongings into it; clothes, the money she had hidden behind a drawer, a few toiletries. She grabbed the case and went to the apartment door, averting her eyes from the shambles of the room. Once outside, she instinctively started to reset the lock, then stopped. What was the point? There was nothing left to steal. They had taken Kash. They had everything that really mattered to her. So where now? For the last year, her home had been wherever Kash was. Whatever job he could find – mechanic, server, factory worker, he had done them all – whatever port or city or station he was in, that was her home, too. She loved and protected him, and he loved and protected her. She trusted him with her life. He trusted her with his secrets, which was pretty much the same thing. They lay together, her head resting on his shoulder. “Show me again,” she said suddenly. He laughed, then held out his hand. Gradually, a soft white light glowed just over his open palm. A subtle illumination spread around the room as the white light formed a globe and sparkled. It rose from his palm and hovered in the air. “It’s so beautiful,” she breathed. “It’s just a magic trick. All I did was gather dust motes from the room and vibrate them, then added some static electricity.” She looked at him. “But it makes everything so much brighter.” Mirany adjusted her head back against his shoulder. “It drives the dark away. Evil things hide in the dark.” Kash shrugged. “Don’t be afraid of the dark. Evil things are done in broad daylight. Don’t blame darkness for evil and don’t credit the light for good. Evil and good come from here,” he said, lightly touching her breast, over her heart. Then, with a wave of his hand, the sphere of sparkling white light vanished. That conversation from last week seemed as if it were years ago now. Trembling, Mirany held the collar of her jacket closed tightly against her throat as she headed down the dark street. Every few meters she passed the glowing light from the holosheets and she was grateful for the momentary brightness. The holosheet projected their messages onto the wall: bold graphics urging citizens to support the great advancements of our Empire; recruitment posters depicting the excitement and glamour of serving His Excellency in the latest, most technologically advanced machines that the Empire had designed. She stood for a moment, trying to decide what to do before her lack of movement caught the notice of a patrol or one of the recorders that seemed to be everywhere now. The holosheet image dissolved into another graphic. This one warned of the dangerous foes lurking in plain sight, the terrorists who threatened the peaceful Empire with their Force sensitive sorcery and deception. Every Jedi a murderer. Every sensitive a threat. Do your duty, the holosheet demanded, and turn them in. If you suspect, then report. Better to accuse ten innocents than to let one Force adept slip through. She shut her eyes. The darkness made her uneasy, and now she didn’t have Kash to set her fears aside. The chilly night sent a shiver through her as she thought of him. A fleeting image entered her mind of Kash laying on the floor of a cold cell, his head bloody and his face battered, his body broken. She willed the image away. She couldn’t think of him like that. She had other, more immediate things to worry about now. Mirany opened her eyes and started moving toward the city center. She was careful not to walk too fast; a person rushing alone at night could attract attention that way. She needed to go where there were more people and fade into the weary, sluggish workers who would be reporting for night work. A few streets later and she was no longer alone. There was more illumination here, and her anxiety lessened as the light became brighter. Strangers passed by silently and she was thankful that no one approached her or even glanced her way. She kept her head down, her hood obscuring her face as much as possible, and found herself headed back to the diner where she worked. It was still open; it would be open for another few hours before the maintenance droids took over for between-shift scrub down and sterilization. Mirany entered quietly and secured her case in a small cabinet used by the workers for their personal items, then made her way into the seating area. She loosened her jacket and sat down. She had to think this through, and the diner was safe and warm. “You’re back already? Your shift ended over an hour ago.” Mirany heard a female voice and looked up to see a petite, fairly plump young human approach. The woman frowned and tilted her head inquiringly. “What’s wrong?” Mirany dropped her gaze and stared at the table. She realized she didn’t know what to say. Tell her the truth? That the patrol had come for Kash, had subdued him (she would not think the other thing), had dragged him away in the middle of the night? That someone must have seen him move something unmovable, or catch something impossible to catch, or know something he couldn’t possibly know, and done what the holosheets exhorted all loyal citizens to do: If you suspect, then report? The woman interpreted Mirany’s silence in her own way. She placed her decanter of caf on the table and sat beside Mirany, placing her hand on Mirany’s wrist. “Oh, honey,” she said with sympathy. “Did you have a fight with your boyfriend?” Mirany looked up at her. “Nell, I – I don’t know what to do,” she admitted miserably. It wasn’t a lie, even if it wasn’t exactly the truth. Nell exhaled out of the corner of her mouth and puffed a fat blonde curl off of her forehead. She patted Mirany’s wrist. “Honey, it will work out. Let him sleep it off. Then in the morning he’ll comm you, say he’s sorry, and you can let him make it up to you.” Nell glanced back at the other patrons scattered about the near-empty diner, then rose from her seat. “I’ll get you a nice cup of tea. I’ll be off work in an hour or so, and we can go back to my place. You can stay the night.” She smiled reassuringly. A moment later Nell placed a steaming mug in front of Mirany, who smiled gratefully at her friend. Nell winked at her and went back to work. Mirany wrapped her hands around the mug and inhaled the sweet scent of the beverage. All at once the enormity of the situation slammed into her, and she covered her face with her hand to keep herself from shaking. She considered trying to look for him. If he was arrested, then Kash would be at the constable’s office. She could go there and ask. Then she thought about it and laughed bitterly to herself. If he was arrested, they didn’t bring him to the constable’s office. She thought about the stormtrooper garrison, with its imposing high walls that sparked of electric current. Sure. Walk up to them and ask if they wouldn’t mind giving her back her Jedi. Mirany glanced up at Nell, who was gossiping with a regular customer, a thin Rodian who worked at the munitions factory. Dear, kind Nell, who would take her in without any questions. And if the patrols came looking for Kash’s partner? They’d come here, asking for her. And sweet, naive Nell would tell them that Mirany had been here the night Kash was taken, had spent the night at her apartment. Suddenly the air around her seemed very cold and Mirany shivered. They would arrest Nell for harboring a fugitive. Or Nell would smile and innocently tell them where Mirany was, and then they would come for her. She tightened her grip around the mug as she heard the imagined synchronized stomp of the slick white boots, the filtered bark of commands, the snap of carbines and hand-weapons as they approached. Kash, she pleaded wordlessly, closing her eyes and sending a message to the universe. Kash, what do I do? She heard Kash’s voice in her head. You run. It’s too late to save me. You still have time to save him, though, Mirany. Save our son. And someday, tell him about me. Now run. She snapped her eyes open, startled at the unexpected reply. Did he actually hear her and send her a message telepathically? Or was she just imagining things in her near-panic, desperate to hear his voice one more time? Mirany frowned. Either way, she knew in her heart that the message was the only right one. There was no other choice. The risk was too great. Mirany glanced at Nell, who smiled at her again before disappearing into the kitchen. The other diners paid her no attention, sleepily eating their meals or absorbed in their own distractions. Mirany got up quietly and pushed in her chair. She went to the cashier’s station, unmanned at this hour, and entered her server’s code for the last time. The panel slid out, laden with credits from the night’s shift. Mirany kept a wary eye on the kitchen as she took the credits out and put them in her pocket. The recorders would have her image, of course, but what of it. She was already a marked woman. Go ahead and add theft. A part of her marveled at her brazen robbery of her own place of employment. Mirany – the old Mirany – would never do anything so bold or outrageous. But she had more to think of than herself. If anyone found out about her situation– well, they say that Force sensitivity runs in the family. Everything was different now. She was not the old Mirany anymore. She had to leave before Nell saw her and questioned her, tried to stop her. She was on her own. Well, not exactly alone: she had one important, last reminder of her life with Kash that for whatever reason the universe had decided to entrust to her. She figured she had two, maybe three hours to get passage to somewhere else. Find a little obscure world, keep her head down, raise their child the best she could. She would leave this place and never look back. Silently, she retrieved her case and slipped through the door and onto the street. The darkness was her friend and her ally now, and she smiled slightly for the first time as she slid into its protective shadow.