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Ascent to the Dark Side (a short story)
[Editor's note: The following is a story project started in the summer of 2003. Co-authored primarily by myself and a college friend as a way to keep ourselves writing over summer break, it sat unfinished for twelve years before the story came up in conversation with an anonymous third friend this past summer, who then read what we'd done and said "Ah! I know EXACTLY what happens next!" and then proceeded to finish it out.

What I present here is the story, in full. It's been edited slightly from the original and had the ending added, but the original dialogue and flow is largely intact. If nothing else, it shows the friend-fic hobby goes back a lot farther than RCM - the Kat and Tim mentioned are real people, she really was obsessed with Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan, and the argument at the beginning of the story was real (although the real life argument ended more or less with "Well, you can't be an Ewok because it's not a listed character class" being retorted with "That sounds to me like as a GM you just aren't up to adapting to the story").

I hope you get as much entertainment reading it as we did writing it.

Enjoy, J.]

*****

The earthy smell of freshly cut grass wafted in on the warm summer breeze, teasing Jen out of a peaceful sleep. She'd been dreaming of strolling through the French countryside with an Ewok, its fuzzy soft fur brushing against her fingers as they climbed over hills and into the forest. It was about to teach her how to use its spear to get cheaper long distance calling rates, when suddenly...

BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP, said the alarm clock.

"YOU'RE GONNA BE LATE FOR SCHOOL!" her mother yelled.

*****

"You dreamed you were hanging out with an Ewok?" Tim asked later that day. "Maybe you should stop reading the core rule book before bed."

"I want to be one," Jen replied.

"Come again?"

"I want to be an Ewok for the role-playing game."

Tim cocked his head slightly to the side, not sure whether to laugh at her strange humor or cry because she was serious. "Please tell me you're kidding..."
Jen shook her head. "No, why?"

"Because the only creature worse than an Ewok is a Gungan."

Jen gasped as her eyes widened. "You dare compare the great Ewok to a creature as irritating and pointless as a Gungan? A JAR-JAR LIKE CHARACTER?!?!"

Tim scratched his chin, appearing deep in thought. "Um...yes."

"BUT...I...OOH...HARRUMPH!!!" she sputtered as her face blushed the color of her Coke bottle.

"You know, Jen," said Kat as she walked into the room, her black book bag slung over one shoulder, "it would have been REALLY funny if you'd shot it out through your nose. Then again, maybe painful, too." Taking off her sunglasses and throwing her hair over her shoulder, she paused in thought. "An Ewok? You dream of an Ewok? A fuzzy, walking, grunting teddy bear instead of a hot, six-foot stud like the young Obi-Wan Kenobi?" She shook her head. "Have you even seen Star Wars? No matter." Kat slipped out of her coat and tossed it over a chair. "I shall train you, my young apprentice."

She extended her open hand out to Jen, but it was too late. For deep inside Jen's mind, the seed has been planted that would begin her loathing and hatred of the Jedi.

And it was all Tim's fault.

*****

Even an egotistical wanna-be Dark Sider like Jen knew that before she could destroy the Jedi, she would need to learn some of their skills - after all, being able to integrate fourth-variable calculus formulas was pointless when one had a lightsaber to her throat. So she took Kat's hand graciously, smiling into her friend's light blue eyes as she felt Kat's light side powers envelop her.

Kat smiled. "We must hurry. Your training must begin immediately!" She opened up her book bag, dumping out numerous objects including a Star Wars encyclopedia, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure, something that looked like a real lightsaber (but with Kat, who knows?), a few comic books, a box of cookies, and a cell phone that was never turned on.

Propping up the Obi-Wan action figure, she placed him before Jen in an action pose, lifting his lightsaber high. "Okay, Jen, lesson one: This is GOD." Kat pointed to Obi-Wan. "You will worship him. Praise him. Offer him a drink of your Coke. Pledge your virginity to him." As she began to ingrain her teachings into Jen, Kat took a few moments to pet Obi-Wan. "Good boy..."

Jen's brow furrowed as she looked quizzically at her friend. "I know they say God comes to us in many forms, but...a plastic action figure from Hasbro?"
Kat paused, mid-pet, and grimaced. "Lesson two: You will NOT make cracks about the sexy young Obi-Wan. EVER!!!!" Her face blushed, and in a slightly calmer voice she continued, "Which leads us to lesson three: A Jedi must never show anger."

"Why?"

Kat looked at her gravely. "Because anger is a cover for fear, and fear leads to the Dark Side."

Jen turned her head so that Kat would not see the wicked grin that had started across her lips. "Really? We wouldn't want that to happen now, would we?"

"No! Absolutely not!" Kat's hand lashed out, grabbing Obi-Wan and holding him protectively against her. "We don't want that to happen, do we?" she cooed to the action figure. "No, we don't!" After a moment, Kat turned back to Jen. "Want a cookie? This brings me to lesson four: The most fulfilling Jedi food are cookies! Preferably chocolate chip, but Oreos work in a pinch." Kat then took a second to set Obi-Wan back up on the table.

"Now, Jen, you have learned the..." she took a moment to count her fingers, "four Basic Rules of the Jedi. Are you ready for more intensive training, my apprentice?" Kat asked, reaching for the lightsaber she had pulled from her bag earlier.

Jen paled. Had Kat caught on, sensing the Darkness festering within her?

Kat held the lightsaber out to her. "You won't get your own until you're better trained, but you can learn the basics with mine. I'll show you." She tucked Obi-Wan securely in the waist of her jet-black jumpsuit.

"Actually, I, uh..." Jen stammered. How would she get out of this one? She knew if she touched the saber, the tell-tale red beam would advertise her Dark Side aspirations.

"Traditionally," Kat began, "each Jedi takes months or so to carefully construct their lightsaber. This may seem like a long time, but it's worth it to create a weapon that will last your lifetime." She chuckled, admiring her own weapon for a moment. "However, I couldn't wait that long, so I ordered a do-it-yourself kit from Amazon.com."

Holding the saber in her hand, she held her finger over the activation switch. "Remember one thing, Jen. A lightsaber is NOT a toy. It's a dangerous, deadly weapon that also works as a good can opener in a pinch!" That said, she thumbed the activation switch. But rather than seeing the lovely turquoise blade she had ordered, nothing happened.

Kat paused, staring at the empty handle for a moment, then blushed. "That's right, Obi-Wan, I forgot. It needs batteries. Onward, Jen! In order to continue your training, we need six C batteries! Let's go!"
*****
Jen paced the floor of her bedroom, an evil smile playing across her freshly glossed lips. Kat, fortunately, had been among the millions of people across the country who were brainwashed into needing to buy all their supplies from Wal-Mart, so by the time they made it through the alleged "express" checkout and back to campus, it was time for Kat to go home.

While they were out, Jen made sure to let Kat see her buy a copy of the Jedi Code, which was now thrown haphazardly on the apple green comforter spread over her bed. Next to the small book was a stack of "Dartha Stewart Evil Living" magazines, the newest of which was open to an article titled "Quick and Easy Evil Lair Decorating Tips." Most of the suggestions were alright, as far as evil decorating went: super sandpapery sheets for the guest bed, sharks with laser beams attached to their heads for the living room fish tank, frilly neon pink curtains and Spice Girls posters for the prisoners' cells...

Turning on her laptop (itself an evil creature in many ways), she connected to the Internet and went to Amazon.com to price things. "My God," she said aloud, even though she was alone in the room, "they DO sell do-it-yourself lightsaber kits!"

She happily clicked around the site, finding the best deals for her evil decorating scheme and possibly buying a few more books to add to her collection. She was in the middle of pricing a copy of Douglas Adams' Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when an instant message box popped up on her screen.

STILL NOT SPEAKING TO ME? it read.

Jen frowned. Answering Tim's message would cause her to break her silent treatment, but one could only price evil paintings of things like clowns and velvet Elvises for so long before one got bored stiff.

Meanwhile, back in his living room, Tim sighed at the computer screen. He hadn't realized Jen was that sensitive about the Ewok thing. COME ON, he typed, YOU CAN'T STAY MAD AT ME FOREVER. ESPECIALLY OVER SOMETHING AS TRIVIAL AS AN EWOK.

SURE I CAN, came the response.

Tim sighed. This was getting ridiculous. He was about to argue when another post came up:

IT IS TOO LATE. THIS GOES WAY BEYOND THE EWOK NOW. YOU CAN TAKE YOUR JEDI WAYS AND STICK THEM SOMEPLACE UNPLEASANT, BECAUSE I HAVE SEEN THE GREAT POWERS THE JEDI TRY TO HIDE FROM US.

"What the..." Tim looked on in astonishment. This wasn't like Jen at ALL.

*****

In her computer room at home, Kat was letting Obi-Wan sit in on her usual Internet rounds. "Hey, Obi-Wan!" she cried, "They updated that Final Fantasy site!"

She paused. "No, I don't think Auron is hotter than you. Auron is just cool. What? NO! I am NOT getting into the Legolas debate again! I've told you several times that Legolas encompasses elf-fantasy hotness and you encompass sci-fi young hotness. There's a difference. Besides I don't have a Legolas action figure yet. What? Oh, you're right. Now that my lightsaber is working, we can continue with Jen's training! We'll have to get Tim to help."

Getting offline, Kat took Obi-Wan into her bedroom and set him on her nightstand. After the ritual of incense-burning, chanting, cookie-offering, and Dance of the Force, Kat turned in for the night, guarded by Obi-Wan.

Kat had just started to drift off, dreaming of a sweaty Obi-Wan fresh out of an intense lightsaber battle, when her fantasy was interrupted by an electronic BEEPBEEP BEEPBEEP BEEPBEEP. She tried to ignore it, but the sound was persistent. "Damn phone," she grumbled as she turned her bleary eyes toward the clock. 12:15. Who would be calling this late? she wondered as she checked the caller ID.

"Tim?"

"Hi, Kat," Tim's voice came over the line.

Kat checked her watch again. "Uh, hi, Tim. Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"Yes, sorry about that, but I have an important question for you. It's about Jen."

Sighing, Kat wished Tim lived closer, just so she could go over with her lightsaber and make it clear that she did not like being wakened up. "Tim," she said, trying to control her annoyance, "for crying out loud, if you want dating advice, it can wait til morning! This is ridiculous!"

Back in Houtzdale, Tim could feel his face getting hot. "What are you talking about? Jen's not acting like, well, JEN. And I'm worried about her. She's talking about how 'the Jedi Code lies' and posting a lot of 'evil laughs' in her IMs."

Kat frowned, fighting back a yawn. "You think she's turning to the Dark Side already? Seems a bit unlikely, especially since Obi-Wan and I have been training her."

"What, pray tell, has your training entailed so far?"

"Um..." Kat paused, trying to jog her memory. "We went over some Jedi rules, I showed her the ritual Cookie Dance, forced her to pledge herself to Obi-Wan, and..." her voice trailed off.

The line went silent for a moment before Tim could find his voice to speak. "My God," he said quietly, "no wonder she turned to the Dark Side..."

"There is no way Jen could have turned to the Dark Side!" Kat cried out. She looked at Obi-Wan worriedly.

"After your training, I don't blame her," Tim replied dryly.

Kat bit her lip in thought. How could Jen have turned to the Dark Side? After all, the Dark Side ate Ritz crackers and drank Pepsi. If Jen had turned, why hadn't Kat felt it in the Force? "You're right, Obi-Wan," she said, "the Dark Side is clouding my ability to sense others in the Force."

"Kat, you are so not talking to that action figure," Tim said over the line.

"Well, that action figure says we need to save Jen! You and me, first thing tomorrow morning. We're going to find Jen and save her from herself!"

Tim sighed. "Shouldn't we try to save ourselves first?"

"Well, THAT was selfish," Kat scolded. "You know what happens to Dark Siders! They DIE! Darth Maul was cut in half! Darth Vader died! So did Palpatine!"

"Actually, Vader died saving Luke..." Tim corrected.

"Meet me in the Union tomorrow at 8 AM!" Kat barked. "It's time for Episode VII: The Rescue of Jen!" That said, she hung up and went back to sleep. After all, no Jedi could save the day with no energy.

*****

Jen looked over the rows of shopping carts, the slanted rays of the early morning sun illuminating their shiny chromeness. From her perch on top of the Wal-Mart store, she could see everything for miles around. Taking a sip of her French vanilla cappuccino, she grinned evilly, her black cloak flapping around her in the cool morning breeze. Everything was going perfectly to plan. Her evil lair in the stockroom was almost complete, she was finishing the details of her plan to destroy the Jedi, her new tight black leather jumpsuit fitted perfectly - and at the rolled back price of $28.97, it was practically a steal! She flipped her long, thick brown hair over her shoulder. Nothing could stop her now. Nothing...

*****
"Obi-Wan, relax," Kat said to the action figure securely buckled in the passenger seat. "I mean, come on, if we can get from St. Marys to DuBois driving a standard in under two hours without a license, then I consider it progress."

Coming to a sudden slamming stop at the red light of the Division Street intersection, Kat looked around. "I don't see Jen. I guess she must be on campus." The light turned green, and after a few seconds of working the clutch, she managed to somewhat safely pull into the student parking lot.

"Come on, Obi-Wan." Kat stepped out of her mother's black Alero while hoping it hadn't scuffed to badly on the curb. Merging ideas from the Jedi and a new obsession with Final Fantasy VIII, Kat had made a light blue, sleeveless trench coat and wore it over a sleeveless black turtleneck and black stretch pants. Light blue detaches bell sleeves whipped in the wind. Her black, knee-high boots (which she wanted to point out she actually has in real life) clicked on the pavement as she walked around the car to unbuckle Obi-Wan. "If Jen has turned to the Dark Side, we don't have much time."

She went to the trunk for her trusty utility belt, fastening it around her waist as she scanned the parking lot. Jen's car wasn't there. Giving a sigh, Kat pulled a fiber cord and grappling hook from her belt, attached the cord to the hook, and gave a swing toward the roof of the Hiller building. It took her a few tries, but Kat did climb up to the roof. She then pulled out a pair of mini-binoculars and scanned the skyline. For a moment, she was silent. She couldn't see Jen's car at the high school, either. That was a bad sign. It meant Jen could be anywhere in DuBois, using her power of the Dark Side to send the town into chaos and ruin.

"Maybe I should get her to go to St. Marys?" Kat murmured to herself. "Yeah, you're right, Obi-Wan. The damage has been done there."

She took one more look through the binoculars, attuning herself to the Force. There was a definite disturbance. The once calm, river-like flow the Force had was suddenly rushed and lapping against the shores of her mind. Jen was nearby. She could feel it.

She could also feel her stomach growling.

"Know what, Obi-Wan? We should have stopped for breakfast."

*****

Jen scowled, pushing her way past a small mob of screaming children as she made her way to the back storeroom. The problem with torture devices was that the really good ones tortured her as well. She started rubbing her temples as she swept through the doorway. "Damned headaches..."

But the scene that appeared before her made her temporarily forget any aches and pains. A large swimming pool was set up in the middle of the room, with a metal-grate catwalk set up around it.

From her post on the observation deck, Michele the Penn State lab tech gave a little wave. "Guess what we got?"

"OH MY GOD!!!! WE GOT SHARKS WITH LASER BEAMS ATTACHED TO THEIR HEADS!!!!" Jen squealed, bouncing up and down as she ran over to the pool.

"Um, Jen..."

"I AM SO EXCITED!!!!" Jen cried, scurrying up the stairs to the observation platform.

"Jen..."

Jen's cute little ankle boots hit the platform deck with a reverberating THUNK as she rushed up to the metal safety rail, peering over the side. "What the..."

"Jen," Michele said again, "I've been trying to tell you. You're a college student. At Penn State, no less."

"So?"

"So, you have a Penn State college student's budget to work with. We couldn't afford sharks with laser beams attached to their heads."

Jen peered into the water, trying hard not to show that she wanted to cry. "So what do we have?"

Michele got a small fish net and scooped something out of the water. It flopped around in the netting, its golden scales shimmering in the fluorescent lighting of the stock room.

"A bunch of goldfish?"

Michele smiled and pointed to a small light ducktaped to the fish's head. "With LED lights."

Jen sighed, resting her forehead on the cool metal bar. "Wonderful. Now when my adversaries stop by, we can blink them to death."

*****

"Obi-Wan, have you found her yet?" Kat asked the action figure that she set facing the general direction of DuBois. "Well?" Kat sighed and finished off her third Coke of the morning. She tried to throw the empty bottle in the vicinity of the recycling dumpsters, almost hitting the PSU athletic director as he passed.

The foreboding sense that Kat felt of the Dark Side was growing even stronger. Looking over her shoulder, she shouted to Obi-Wan, "Come on, Obi-Wan! You're a stronger Jedi than I am! Do something! I mean, we've created a monster. Jen has now been infected by the Dark Side and is out there single-handedly causing more chaos than downtown DuBois at lunchtime!"

Obi-Wan stood proud and still.

Kat sighed and fell to her knees in defeat. "I can't believe it. I must have let the Force down, even. If I knew where Jen was, I'd be all set."

Obi-Wan, perhaps of his own plastic will, suddenly fell to one side, his lightsaber pointing in the direction of Wal-Mart.

*****

"Price check on Defeating Evil Monthly," said the middle-aged and cranky "Martha" (or so her name tag read). "That's Defeating Evil Monthly. Yeah, you heard me."

Kat sighed. "You're so cheap, Obi-Wan," she muttered to the action figure shoved in her belt. "If we had gone to Waldenbooks, we wouldn't have this problem. But NOOOOOOO," she drew the word out, "we have to go to Wal-Mart."

Chewing gum between heavily lipsticked lips, Martha tapped her shiny pink fingernails impatiently.

Kat paused and looked at Obi-Wan. "Yeah, right, like Jen would go to Wal-Mart, of all places. Why would she have any reason to go...to...Wal-mart..."

Her voice trailed off as she watched a stock boy push a shopping cart full of Care Bears in the direction of the toy aisles.

*****

Somewhere along Route 153 headed toward Clearfield, Tim punched the accelerator of his Cougar, releasing some of his pent-up adrenaline into the highway. It was bad enough that Jen was going psycho on him, worse yet that his mother had woken him at the ungodly hour of ten in the morning, but now Kat had called, yelling that he wasn't already in DuBois and telling him to meet her at Wal-Mart of all places. The dark storm clouds gathering over the vicinity of DuBois weren't helping his mood any.

Tim sighed as he cranked up his car stereo. As much as he really didn't want to listen to Liz Phair's "Why Can't I" at the moment, he lacked the ambition to reach around and grab the CD holder from the back seat. What was going on lately? All the women in his life were going bonkers on him, and he didn't have the slightest clue why. For a moment he considered swearing off girls altogether, but quickly dismissed the notion. Hijacking a tractor trailer full of Midol might be more effective.

He checked his speedometer as he began his descent down the darkening side of the mountain. 70 miles per hour.

Unfortunately for Tim, the state trooper sitting at the side of the highway checked the Cougar's speed at the same time.

*****

"Tim? Tim? Tim, PICK UP!" Kat snarled into her cell phone. "Tiiiiiiim," she whined, finally cancelling the call and looking around Wal-Mart nervously. Of course Jen would be in Wal-Mart! The vile spawn of Corporate America just reeked of the Dark Side. After all, they had how many shelves full of Darth Vader and Darth Maul action figures? And not a single Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker to be seen.

But what to do? Jen could be anywhere, probably lying in wait to behead Kat the minute the poor girl got past the checkout counters. Chances were that Jen had already used her Dark Side influence to get all the cashiers and stock boys on her side. Kat was surrounded.

"Thanks, Obi-Wan," she muttered, trying to act casual as she grabbed a Coke from a nearby cooler. "You led us right into Dark Side R Us."

She looked around, eyeing shoppers suspiciously as she dropped money in front of the cashier and slowly began to patrol the aisles.

"I've got a great idea!" Kat exclaimed suddenly in a flash of brilliance. She dashed into the toy aisle, jumping over a toddler like a sprinter clearing a hurdle. "Jen loves Care Bears, right? We just have to hide here until she comes through, then we ambush her! Scram, kid," she continued as she shoved a young pig-tailed girl out of the way. Kat crawled into the shelves, pulling a large Care Bear in from of her.

"Now I just hope that Tim hightails it over here. I can feel the Dark Side growing stronger. And watch where you're poking your lightsaber, Obi-Wan!"

*****

Jen wandered miserably around Wal-Mart, her black cloak billowing behind her. Being an evil villain wasn't all it was cracked up to be, especially when it was becoming clear Jen didn't have an ounce of true evil in her body. Her torture schemes backfired, her sharks with laser beams attached to their heads were instead blinking goldfish, and the vending machine was out of Coke! Moreover, she was missing her friends terribly. What good was taking over the city if she had no one to share it with? She felt horrible for taking advantage of Kat's kindness and even worse for fighting with Tim.

She sniffled, wiping away a tear that had welled up in her eye. The arguing was what hurt the most, and she had no one but herself to blame for it. Could they ever forgive her, she wondered? Or was she doomed to spend the rest of her young life as an exile, shunned by Jedi and Dark Side alike?

Slowly turning the corner, Jen managed a weak smile. There was a giant Cheer Bear, with a giant Good Luck bear next to it. She had loved Care Bears as a child. With tears now dribbling down her cheeks, she reached out to touch the fuzzy softness of the doll.

The mechanical whirring of automatic doors sounded, then the entire Wal-Mart store fell silent. A Tim-shaped silhouette now dominated the entrance aperture, imposing and authoritative.

Jen closed her eyes slowly as her fingers enclosed upon the Cheer Bear. Its aligned fibers were pleasant and welcoming, and its synthetic stuffing dutifully accepted any physical pressure applied to it. Jen's last contact with a Care Bear was long ago, but now that she held one, that all seemed like it was barely a week ago.

Just as slowly, Jen opened her eyes and smiled towards Kat, with eyes now somewhat drier. She held the Cheer Bear with her left hand and slid her right upwards to the side of its face. "I feel something; a material I've not stroked since..." Then her fingers clawed around it and she twisted and tore its head so hard as to detach it entirely before dropping both of its pieces to the floor.

Kat shrieked, and a look of horror befell her face. "Jen! How could you do such a thing? Surely you remember the years of enjoyment and comfort these brought you!"

Jen's vision lowered slightly for a moment; her hand moved subconsciously to place itself onto the chest of the Good Luck bear, and she realized suddenly exactly why their texture was so familiar. "They are soft... and fuzzy... just like having a miniature Ewok companion."

Kat displayed a clear, fresh glimmer of hope. "Yes! Remember when you dreamt about adventuring with a soft, fuzzy Ewok? Embrace the Care Bear, and you could have all of that!"

Jen took the Good Luck bear from Kat's outstretched arms and stared at it.

"So I could..."

She had to; no matter what events had transpired up to this point, she had to try. Looking directly at Kat, Jen wrung the neck of the defenseless Good Luck bear, exposing an unhealthy amount of white nylon stuffing before leaving its halves strewn around the floor with those of the former Cheer Bear.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Kat fell to her knees, stricken with despair, her hands making contact with the floor barely in time to arrest her overall motion.

*****

Tim walked steadily and calmly up to the weakened Kat. "She has chosen her path. That which you presented was also a valid option, but was ultimately not selected. On the plus side, I can now use the much more interesting version of the campaign for the pen and paper session."

As Tim wandered further into the Wal-Mart store to stock up on communal snacks for later, Kat used her diminishing strength to push herself upright just enough to see the image of a cloaked Jen leaving the store, Pepsi securely in hand.
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