Maul Makes Peace (and a Chocolate Soufflé)
by Another Diversion

Notes to unwary readers, that they may be wary thereafter:

Smoothly, stealthily, with the discipline and wariness of a Sith Lord supremely trained to kick ass, Maul eased open one of the doors in his double-oven unit. Just wide enough to activate the sensor . . .

The soft-white bulb inside the oven gently illuminated the oven rack.

The wall behind the oven shook with a tremendous impact.

The just-risen top of his extraordinarily beautiful, four-layer chocolate soufflé collapsed like a black hole.

He heard its dying sigh, and inhaled its last breath of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate, melted tenderly in a double-boiler, the foundation of a masterpiece now sinking instead of setting in its simmering water bath.

He thought, I can start over. Twenty-five steps isn't too many, two and a half hours isn't too long. Not for a Sith Lord.

He let the oven door slam shut like a Rancor's jaws.

Then he breathed, "Someone is going to die."


In the nanosecond it took Maul to whip off his Kiss the Cook's Ass apron, grab his oversized, razor-sharp lame, and fling open his solid-wood door as effortlessly as if it were Mary Sue's silk kimono, he knew, he absolutely knew that he'd spent decades mastering martial arts, fencing, and Force-slamming for the purpose of avenging his chocolate soufflé.

Perky padawan chatter, he could tune out.

Inexplicable bouts in bed with his neighbor, he could even enjoy, at least until he woke up the next morning.

Hatred of the Jedi, he could suppress, until Sidious, who had instilled it in the first place, gave him the thumbs-up to reveal himself to the Enemy and his little twit apprentice.

This time, it's different, thought the fragment of Maul's mind that wasn't already turning Dead Jedi Walking into sushi, and feeding him one slice at a time to My Apprentice.

This time, it's personal.

This time, it's CHOCOLATE.

As he bore down on the cheerful yellow door, the menacing hiss of breath between his teeth wilted the flowers on Obi-Wan's Welcome! mat and caused it to curl into a shivering roll. Like hot fudge pouring over vanilla ice cream, Maul's body flowed in one velvet movement to kick in his neighbor's door.

Then his teeth, his nose, and the rest of his body parts. In alphabetical order.

His foot connected with the door and ripped it off its hinges. As he completed the revolution, ending in a stance that would launch him into the hallway, he heard an unexpected "Oof!" chased by a baffling "Aiiiiieeeeee!"

Misplacing his anger in astonishment, Maul instinctively stepped to one side. An instant later, the painted, broken door came flying out into the hallway, closely followed by the painted, naked Qui-Gon Jinn.

The door hit the wall.

The Jedi hit the door.

The Jedi fell on the floor.

The door fell on the Jedi.

Sometimes, life loves me. This much Maul understood: Qui-Gon had been lined up with the door when he'd kicked it in. But what kicked them both out? If master and apprentice were having another chick-fight, Maul might as well reschedule his vengeance for another night. Jedi or not, when those two had a lovers' spat, they yanked out each other's hair by the handful, and from all parts of the body.

Qui-Gon groaned. He twitched one glittery hand into view, braced it against the floor, and started to raise himself up.

Maul stomped on it, breaking off all five acrylic nailtips. There was a muffled squeal, the fingers curled into a shivering ball, then retreated beneath the door.

Contemplating the size of the hidden mass, Maul decided, Obi-Wan couldn't heave this hulking hippie off himself, let alone out of his apartment. Besides, Qui-Gon's scented, coiffed, and bodypainted condition made it revoltingly clear that the Jedi had been enjoying one of their infamously intimate soirées. They had never invited anyone else to participate, in spite of Palpatine's and Sidious's best efforts.

And yet there has to be someone else with them, someone powerful enough to kick the ass of the Jedi Master, and do whatever he wants to the ass of the Jedi padawan.

Sidiously, Maul decided to investigate.


He was aware that entering Obi-Wan's apartment could be far more dangerous than killing him. Maul had witnessed enough of his neighbor's emotional meltdowns to know that when his mascara ran, it was time to haul ass back home and bar the door, because the twit inevitably latched onto the nearest person while he cried his heart out, and whenever the nearest person happened to be Maul, he cried his heart out over the course of nine or ten hours of torrid levitational sex. Self-respect aside, Maul simply didn't have the time. Sidious was coming for dinner on Tuesday and Maul was still auditioning recipes for the menu. He had a chocolate soufflé to bake, crème fraîche to thicken, and a coronary to induce.

But he couldn't walk away while an unknown, powerful being might, even now, be assaulting his neighbor. After all, anyone who introduced Qui-Gon's skull to two hard surfaces in the space of five seconds was worth meeting. And the demise of a chocolate soufflé might be forgiven if it were inadvertently caused by a stranger whipping two Jedi asses in two different ways.

Poised for flight, and for something else he'd rather not think about, Maul brought his face into line with the doorway. At once the vibrations of sobs began bouncing off his horns, setting up resonances in other body parts he wished he could have left at home.

"Oh . . . oh . . . oh . . ."

Soft. Vulnerable. Heartfelt.

The sadist in him began a long, slow growl of anticipation.

Goddammit, not again!

Sweating, Maul turned his lame on the shattered doorframe. He furiously carved a likeness of Obi-Wan's head, then sliced off its features one by one with blind reverse-swipes, while mentally chanting one of his favorite Sith mantras:

I hate Jedi.

Damn the Jedi.

I loathe Jedi.

Fuck the Jedi.

Bad choice of words, that last. He looked desperately for his shelved anger and couldn't find it, vindicating the Handbook proverb "Never postpone committing violence you are inclined to commit at once. Later on, you might not be as pissed off."

Groggily, Qui-Gon stuck his head out from beneath the door.

Without turning around, Maul kicked him squarely in the face, heard it thud onto the floor, and instantly felt better. Taking a deep breath, he thought, I can handle this.

He walked into the living room.

He stopped dead.

I cannot handle this.


Obi-Wan was sprawled facedown in a sea of pastel silk cushions, surrounded by an assortment of sequined G-strings that Mary Sue would literally kill to possess. Open jars of body butter, shaving cream, flavored oils, and Klaussen extra-crispy pickles were arranged on what could no longer be described as the coffee table, although it did boast one tube of something that was coffee-flavored. The sexual smorgasbord was laid out within easy reach of the sofabed, which had been unfolded into a platform covered with thick pink fur. Its surface was studded with knobs, humps, miniature speakers, and a remote-control device evidently meant to be operated with the tongue. A rack that usually held CDs now clattered with scrapers, shackles, and ceremonial whips made from the dried, stretched penises of calves. Raw oysters in shot-glasses formed a half-circle around a towering incense cone shaped like . . . diapers and lollipops littered the . . .

Something squished under Maul's heel. Dazed by the sights and smells, let alone the sensations they produced, he automatically looked down. Did I really just step on a . . . He lifted his foot to get a better view. Yes, he had, and he hadn't even known they came in metallic plaid.

And the Jedi say Sith are devoted to the Dark Side?!

Oblivious to it all, as surely he had not been a minute ago, Obi-Wan heaved and sobbed among the pillows. His delicate shoulderblades shook with distress, his dainty pedicured feet kicked despairingly as far as the ankle-chains allowed. When he rolled over, wailing, Maul saw that he was wearing only a lavishly embroidered codpiece with a tiny golden keyhole.

Of the several urges Maul felt, the one to make his presence known was by far the least damning. He cleared his throat.

Obi-Wan jerked and sat up, eyes wide.

Good. His mascara's holding on. Not trusting himself to speak, Maul jerked a thumb toward the front door and eloquently twitched the black jag that doubled as his left eyebrow.

Obi-Wan swiped a hand across his flooded eyes. "Oh, h-h-h-hi . . . neigh-heigh-b-bor . . . p-p-please excuse . . . the mess . . ."

Your lumbering lover has just crashed-landed in the hallway, your living room looks like "The Marquis de Sade Meets Hannibal Lecter," I bashed in your door to kill you, and the first thing you do is apologize to me for the mess?

"Oh . . . Omigod . . . you . . . you had a . . . a chocolate soufflé . . . in the oven . . . didn't you?"

The rest of Maul stiffened, this time in surprise.

Obi-Wan's tear-stained face actually smiled, a ray of sunshine through rain that struck him like a dagger through the heart and a heatwave in the groin. "Jedi can eat Dark Side, they just can't join it." He spied the lame and clapped both hands over his mouth, smearing his Pink Delight lipliner. "Did it fall ?"

Numbly, Maul nodded.

At once Obi-Wan wrung his hands and dropped to his knees. "I'm so-ho-ho sorry, M-maul . . . it s-s-smelled . . . s-s-soooOOOooo . . . d-d-delicious . . ."

Maul looked down at his neighbor abasing himself, felt his pulse rocket from thirty to ninety, and began to panic. Damned if I do and damned if I don't . . .

Mistaking his silence, or maybe not, Obi-Wan threw himself forward and embraced Maul's calves. Hot damn! His eyes widened; his grip tightened. Suddenly, he didn't feel like committing suicide just yet.

Maul closed his eyes and his fists as his neighbor's hands began kneading the muscles in his legs, working their way up, past the knees, onto the thighs . . . grovelling all the while . . . that "Oh please hurt me, I want you to" voice like a siren song . . . Of their own accord, Maul's hands started to descend on Obi-Wan's naked shoulders, torn between affectionately pressing them closer and viciously dislocating them.


My Apprentice saved him - - unintentionally, of course.

In his haste to butterfly the Jedi, Maul had not closed his front door, and Obi-Wan no longer had one. Ever alert to opportunity, My Apprentice had bided her time until the humanoids were wrapped up in each other. Then with an eighty-decibel yowl, she charged in, intent on a rematch with Fluffi-Wan, who was meditating in the Habitrail Zen Garden, contemplating the folly of his master and his master's master, and wishing that that incarnation of evil who lived next door would bake another batch of Hamster Treats.

Forgetting that Obi-Wan was twined around his legs, Maul made a lunge for My Apprentice and tumbled into the pool of silk pillows, which suited Obi-Wan just fine: the walls of the Habitrail 9000 are impenetrable except by a clean bombardment from space.

My Apprentice proved there is truth in advertising by bouncing off the front of the Zen Garden compartment. She executed a flip in midair, landed with a poof in the cushions, then snapped her face toward the sofabed. With a howl of redirected rage, she sprang.

Obi-Wan shrieked in anguish. "Cuddles!"

Maul threw him aside and Sith Intercepted the cat. "Not now, My Apprentice. You'll spoil your appetite for dinner."

She twisted furiously in his hands. In case you hadn't noticed, I was thinking of eating out tonight!

Go home. Or you don't get dessert.

Sullenly, she went limp and allowed him to set her on the floor. She walked disdainfully to the doorway, where she paused to aim a hiss of defiance at her nemesis in the Habitrail. Maul approved: "Sith never exit without a parting shot." It's in the Handbook.

"Maul, you are the best, that's another one I owe you . . . another big one . . ." Obi-Wan babbled as he minced over to the sofabed, where he began parting mounds of fur. With a sigh of relief, he scooped up the one tuft that wasn't pink and began cooing to it. "Oh Cuddles, that was much too close . . ."

After four months of exposure to the best of Dark Side cuisine, My Apprentice prefers raw teddy-bear hamster to Poached Wild Salmon? A true Sith has a discriminating palate. It's in the Handbook . . . or it will be.

"I'm really sorry, Maul. I can explain everything, but not right now. I have to give mouth-to- . . . uh, first-aid to Qui-Gon, refrigerate the oysters, and tell the Kinky-Wax Factory not to send over their singing-" Busy fastening on a velcro collar, to help Cuddles cling without using his sharp little claws, Obi-Wan suddenly realized that his horned, tattooed, yellow-eyed, menace-emanating neighbor was giving him a look that said: You are so incredibly weird, I feel normal by comparison.

Coming from Maul, that was so upsetting, Obi-Wan's eye-sockets turned into oceans.

One more gush and that mascara's a goner, even if it's Avon waterproof. Edging toward the doorway, Maul said hastily, "Never mind, I can wait for an explanation. Pull yourself together, come by tomorrow around three, and we'll get this straightened out."

As he turned to bolt, he glimpsed a pair of beady eyes peeking out of the fluff at his neighbor's neck. They glowed an amazing, eerie green, brighter than the obscene patterns created by the beam-splitter on Obi-Wan's lightsaber. Maul had never paid much attention to the padawan's pets, but I would have noticed eyes like that. Even if they were in this oaf's skull, he thought, detouring to run over Obi-Wan's door and Qui-Gon's face.


Seconds later, Maul slammed his own front door, dropped the crossbar into place, and slid to the floor in relief, scarcely believing he'd escaped that den of Jedi perversity without doing, or having done to him rites bizarre beyond all known verbs and adjectives. At times, Sidious had made him doubt, but now Maul was certain: There are some things so twisted, even Sith won't go there.

A leather cover tapped in audible consideration. Then paper riffled, ink sizzled, and the volume settled back to digest its new entry.

Home is where the Handbook is.

Realizing he still held the lame, Maul flicked his wrist, and the blade sank with a thock into the shredded face of his Mace Windu corkboard.

A hacking sound caught his attention. Homing in on its source, he peered under his luscious black glove-leather sofa, the Grand Prize in Jedi Roadkill's "Ultimate Extinction" contest. After viewing Maul's demo-disk, the company's Head of Design had called in a fit of excitement, talked to him for two minutes, then offered him a contract for creative input on the first three installments of the new series.

And beneath this first dark fruit of my hatred for the Jedi, My Apprentice is coughing up a hairball.

He snapped his fingers at PINE-409, his new Cleaning Droid, the First-Place Prize in Jedi Roadkill's "Ultimate Extinction" contest. '409 went on pressing the eighty narrow accordion pleats in his desert-weight Sith robe, while one of its compartments opened to launch a TIE-D Droid. Clucking in distress, it made a beeline for the hairball, yanked it the rest of the way out of My Apprentice's throat, disintegrated the foul thing with a tiny blaster, then floated back into its bay, dodging enraged claw-swipes all the way, and humming contentedly over the elimination of another mess.

Maul glared at the cat. "My Apprentice, you should reserve your savagery for targets that are both animate and accessible. Your bounce off the Habitrail 9000 was most undignified, and rated only a 2.0 out of a possible 6. At the very least, you could have thrown in a full-twist and another flip, and I will not even comment on the amount of silk-splash when you plunged into the pillows."

The Handbook, occasional sparring partner of My Apprentice as well as of Maul, reared up gloatingly and self-highlighted the entry: "Sith may never score lower than 9 out of 10 or 5.4 out of 6 in an acrobatic maneuver. Exception: a Sith may rate 8.5 out of 10 or 5.1 out of 6 if he has already been mortally wounded-twice."

"How will you ever rise up and slay me if you pick the wrong times to vent your rage on your opponents?"

Even in cat years, I've been an apprentice for a shorter time than you have. Don't lecture me about how to kill my master until yours is a trite obituary. Lashing her tail, My Apprentice stalked over to vent her fury on her hand-carved scratching-block, which bore a remarkable resemblance to Yoda in drag and a Wal-Mart smock.

Unruffled by her bitterness, which was after all the reflection of his own, Maul lay down on the sofa to think. He had gone into the living room, at the peril of his soul. He had seen far too much of what lay within. He must have observed whatever power had sent Qui-Gon flying into the hallway, with Force enough to reverse the direction of an incoming door. Obi-Wan hadn't done it; that left his hamsters. Fluffi-Wan was one of the oddest mammals Maul had ever been around, and only a Force-attuned rodent could escape the Fluffy Paws of Death. But Fluffi-Wan had been in the lotus position - - quite a trick for a hamster - - Zenned out inside the Habitrail 9000. That left only one other creature.

Impossible. A teddy-bear hamster-named "Cuddles"?


Maul opened phase two of his investigation at three o'clock the next day. His clock was still screaming the hour - - "NoooOOOOoooo! NoooOOOOoooo! NoooOOOOoooo!" - - when Obi-Wan tapped on the door and came in looking dapper, in spite of crying-blotches whose brightness and complexity were beginning to rival Maul's facial tattoo. He had not been inside the apartment for some time, and now he stared in mute astonishment at its cleanliness, world-class kitchen, and stylish black furniture, the Second-Place Prize in Jedi Roadkill's "Ultimate Extinction" contest.

Before the padawan could find his voice, Maul, taking no chances this time, extended a dish of the special handmade truffles he'd concocted for his master. "Here, have a Sidibon."

Too polite to refuse anything, especially when it was asked or offered by his scary-sexy neighbor, Obi-Wan selected a chocolate shaped like . . . "I can't get over the detail on this one! What would you charge for a customized batch?"

"I'd rather not sell them. All cooks have secret recipes." Will you stop sucking the damn thing and just - -

Having licked off the shell, Obi-Wan popped the melt-in-your-mouth center into his already melting mouth. "MmmMMMM . . ."

Really taking no chances this time, Maul swallowed a Sidibon himself, then returned the dish to a Force-locked cupboard, where he used to keep the Bonnes Maries he'd concocted for Mary Sue. Her chocolates had been loaded with the most potent lust-enhancer on the market, but he no longer needed their assistance. She'd warmed to him ever since he'd started sending her monthly supplies of caffeine-free espresso brownies, loaded with the most potent muscle-relaxant available to those wielding a double-bladed lightsaber. PMS had ousted Sidious as their worst common enemy, and for a while now, they'd been in the habit of celebrating their victories together.

From the kitchen he called, "Go ahead and talk, I can hear you just fine" Not! "and I'll be out in a minute." 1.25 minutes, to be precise.

In between the whirring of his salad spinner, the satisfying bite of his breadknife through freshly baked sourdough, and the even more satisfying thrust of the 10-inch, serrated blade into the frontal lobe of the Sidious Head knifeblock, Maul heard snatches of Obi-Wan's chatter.

" . . . couldn't have handled Qui-Gon and Cuddles getting hurt . . ."

Salad forks, butter knives, resist the temptation to add a wooden mallet for Jedi-skull tenderization.

". . . smell it through the walls, had our tongues hanging out, even farther, I mean . . ."

Salad plates, dressing on the side, peppermill, bread-basket, butter-bell.

" . . . never believed in poltergeists, but when that door blew in . . ."

Maul checked his watch. Perfect: fifteen seconds to go, just enough time to set the table and sit down. Having seen how multiple Sidibons affected his master, Maul didn't want to be standing when even one of them kicked in. He carried the tray into the dining area, carefully avoiding Obi-Wan's face, and just as carefully timing his own movements.

Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve.

" . . . and I really appreciated how great you were" and I tossed and turned all night thinking about how great you could have been! "and I thought I should-wow, these bread slashes are exactly the same length and perfectly parallel! You must get a lot of practice with that lame."

Eleven. Ten. Nine.

Maul shrugged and pulled out his own chair. He'd been spending so much time in the kitchen lately that he often trained with his culinary tools instead of his lightsaber. If Sidious found out, he'd hit the ceiling and squawk about the indignity of violating Sith protocol - - although he was ready enough to violate anything else - - but Maul knew that the props matter less than the moves: "Sith are hot shit with anything that is potentially lethal." It's in the Handbook.

Eight. Seven. Six.

". . . anyway, it was so nice of you to invite me over after last night. I love your new look. I mean, the new look of your apartment. I don't know how you manage to find anything in all this black, but . . ."

Five. Four. Three.

". . . didn't know you did interior design. Crushed velvet curtains are so sexy, and that blacklight-redlight tracklighting . . ."


"I don't. Those are the Third-Place Prize in a contest I entered."


"Really? Hey, congratulations! Which one?"


Right on time, the Sidibon lust-suppressant blitzed their bloodstreams. Having expected it, Maul only sagged a little in his chair, and the forkful of salad en route to his mouth completed its journey without a hitch. Safely indifferent to his neighbor's charms, and probably even to Mary Sue's, he looked over at Obi-Wan. The salad fork dangled from his right hand, and his left, which had been reaching for either Maul or the peppermill, froze as though it had forgotten its errand. A confused look came over the padawan's face, which had lost its hectic flush as abruptly as if it had been put through a juice extractor.

Note to myself: put twit neighbor's face through juicer before killing him.

Very slowly, Obi-Wan brought a hand to his forehead and asked in a dazed voice, "Did the air-conditioner just activate?"

The artificially-intelligent window-unit was the Fourth-Place Prize in Jedi Roadkill's "Ultimate Extinction" contest.

"I don't think so," said Maul. "It must be the cucumber dressing. Are you ready to tell me how Qui-Gon ended up in the hallway, even though from the look of him, you, and your living room, the evening was going splendidly?"

Obi-Wan's fork skittered after a cherry tomato, Maul's favorite breed, the Evasive Crimson Minibomb, guaranteed to challenge the best eye-to-hand coordination. "Oh. Well, it's kind of embarrassing - -"

It had damn well better be, I'm eating a late lunch with you just to get the details . . .

"- - but I owe you an explanation, since you lost your soufflé and saved Cuddles. Well, as you know, my master and I have been having some, uh, tense moments on his account - - Cuddles's, I mean. He was alone in a cage at Trans-Galactic Pet Emporium, so I think he was already feeling inferior and unwanted when I bought him. Then, just when I thought he was pulling out of his funk, he dropped back into it and got even worse."

My Apprentice rubbed her head against Obi-Wan's leg. Absently he began caressing her, never suspecting that she'd Mind Whammy him into continuing until his fingers cramped.

"Did you ever find out what caused his relapse?" Maul asked, genuinely interested.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "All Yeg Borge - - Coruscant's top pet-psychiatrist - - could tell me was that he'd suffered some trauma and was still trying to get over it."

"I'm sorry to hear that. He was a perfect playmate over Winter Break."

"I'm glad you two got along. I just wish he got along as well with Qui-Gon. You see, the first time I held him, he ran up my arm, dived into my shirt, snuggled against my neck, and started licking me - -"

"Wait a minute. Which of them are you talking about?"

Realizing Maul wasn't making either a joke or a pass, Obi-Wan blushed in spite of the Sidibon. "I mean Cuddles. Although once I hit puberty, Qui-Gon . . . well, that's a story I'll save for one of our nights in The Gray Side." He winked, never suspecting how close he came to permanently losing his depth perception.

Note to myself: destroy twit neighbor's right eye before killing him.

"Anyway, I'd never had a hamster take to me like that, love at first touch, and it was really arous- - uh, heartwarming. Besides, Cuddles is a lot less jittery when he's, um, sure I'm there for him. And he seems to need a lot of reassurance - - the TGPE employee told me another customer special-ordered him, took him home, then brought him back - - can you believe the cruelty of some people?"

"No, indeed I can't."

Obi-Wan's sixteenth attempt to spear the Evasive Crimson Minibomb popped it into the air; Maul caught it neatly in his napkin and dropped it back among the lettuce. "Thanks." Resuming the chase and the narrative, "Where was I? Oh, yeah. He - - Cuddles, that is - - is pretty happy running around the Habitrail 9000, but he really likes to ride around inside my collar. And I don't mind, I'm so used to it now that I hardly twitch when he starts nibbling my earlobes."

Maul said slyly, "I thought those marks were too small to have been made by Qui-Gon's teeth."

Obi-Wan's cheeks flamed. "Actually, that's how the trouble started. Qui-Gon noticed Cuddles's love-bites and threw a tantrum. We're not exclusive, it didn't bother him that I might be seeing someone else, especially if I learned some new techniques I could share with him. The problem was, I had so many of those marks, for so long, he was sure I had gone over to another domin-that is, another Jedi Master without telling him. Some of the Jedi Council had been ribbing him about it, and then someone covered the Council Room walls with a totally untrue graphic novel about me and this mystery master - -"

I could introduce you to the artist, if you'd like.

"- - and that pushed him right over the edge. He stormed into Pretty Hands and Other Appendages and accused me right in the shop. I don't know if Muffy will ever give me another appointment, I had to leave before he finished feeling - - I mean, touching up the implants. But I got Qui-Gon into a taxi, activated the soundproofing, and explained that my 'steady' was Cuddles."

Maul had a flash of Sithly intuition that showed as a Sithly grin.

"You guessed it: I hadn't introduced them yet," Obi-Wan said ruefully. "I don't know why I didn't bring them together long since. I mean, I introduce my pets to everyone as soon as I get the chance, but for some reason, I kept forgetting to introduce Cuddles to Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon had met Fluffi-Wan weeks ago, so he didn't believe Cuddles was another hamster until I pulled him out of my collar."

"Which didn't help matters."

"You said it." By now the Evasive Crimson Minibomb was the only thing left on his plate. When he failed in his twentyseventh attempt to impale it, an unusually mellow Maul, pitying him and deploring the waste of a really good tomato, stealthily Force-immobilized the slippery red ball. Unaware that it was anchored, Obi-Wan drove his fork down hard and the bomb blew up in his face. "Yipe! Excuse me, I must look a mess."

Actually, squishy red flesh looked good on him. Note to myself: lacerate, then juice twit neighbor's face before killing him. "It's quite all right, I've seen worse. Go on."

Wiping tomato off his chin, cheeks, and forehead, Obi-Wan said, "I swear, Cuddles knew he was the cause of our argument, he looked so miserable. When I held him out to Qui-Gon, he turned around and looked at me with the biggest, teariest, most pitiful eyes I'd ever seen, and fled back into my shirt. I could actually hear and feel him whimpering. So there I was trying to calm down a frightened hamster and appease a jealous master, and finally I got Qui-Gon to agree to come over and find out who's still my favorite woogy-bear."

Note to myself: Sidibons suppress reflexive vomiting. "That would have been last night."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I pulled out all the stops."

Along with other things that defy description.

"He'd calmed down and he was in a great mood, anxious to prove himself. I mean, the guy's in his sixties, right? But some nights, you'd never guess it."

Any night, I wouldn't even want to think about it. "I'll take your word for it, thanks."

"Yeah, he doesn't seem quite your type." I'm glad I am. Sometimes, anyway. "By the way, and I hope I'm not out of line, do you and that creepy - -uh, mysterious visitor of yours - -"

"No," Maul said hastily. "Absolutely not. He just drops in to bitch and moan about my progress."

"Oh, he's your advisor? I've wondered, you know. Well, as I was saying, things were going great, we were just getting to the sofabed when Cuddles started crying. I mean really crying, like his heart was breaking. These big tears kept rolling out of his eyes and matting his fur until even Qui-Gon felt sorry for him. He said Cuddles might as well join us, until we got into the Force-driven stuff, anyway, so I took him out of his cage, and I was just handing him over to Qui-Gon when the poltergeist struck. Cuddles is high-strung. He leaped out of my hands when the door crashed in, and fortunately the sofabed broke his fall. Unfortunately, Qui-Gon was knocked over - -"

This is TOO good. "Onto the sofabed. And onto Cuddles."

"Yeah, what are the odds of that? Right onto Cuddles. Who was already convinced I was leaving him for Qui-Gon, and scared out of his wits by the noise and then the fall. When he saw this giant body coming down to squash him, he defended himself, the only way a hamster can."

"Where exactly did he - - ?"

Obi-Wan made a delicate but unmistakable gesture.

Not even a Sidibon can suppress this reaction.

Maul howled with laughter, while My Apprentice purred loudly and rolled on the carpet. A moment later, Obi-Wan broke into giggles. The three of them mind-swapped images, refueling their laughing fits, until they were on the verge of passing out from sheer exhaustion.

"Oh . . . oh, that felt good," Obi-Wan gasped, wiping away a different type of tears. "I've been too upset to see the humor in it - - I mean, how can I choose between my master and my hamster? - -but it is pretty funny, isn't it?"

"It's priceless," Maul agreed, catching his own tears before the acid could mar his tabletop. "So what are you going to do next?"

"I'm not sure. I thought I'd give them both time to recover before I try to reconcile them again. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them." He glanced at the red and black wall clock, the Your-Entry-Was-So-Bitchin'-We-Just-Had-to-Give-You-Something Prize in Jedi Roadkill's "Ultimate Extinction" contest. "Omigosh, it's almost four! Listen, thanks for the hospitality. The salad was amazing. I've never had Cresyonian blood-lettuce before, I still can't believe it actually screams when you bite into it."

"You can get it in early summer at Out of This World and Edible. Thanks for coming," Maul said, opening the door to let him out, because the crossbar alone outweighed Obi-Wan. "Good luck with your problem. If I think of anything, I'll let you know."

"Please do. I could sure use some help on this one."

Well, that was nice, Maul thought, closing the door.

Suddenly he realized the two of them had been chatting amiably, as though they were next-door neighbors, fellow apprentices, and humanoids who could understand each other's problems. Worse, in about five minutes, the Sidibon was going to wear off, and the accumulated, suppressed revulsion of the last hour would overwhelm him like a tsunami.

Maul closed his eyes. If he didn't have a target when the rage-rush hit, he'd destroy everything in his apartment, and then everything in Obi-Wan's, especially Obi Wan.

And I don't want to do that just yet. I am far from finished toying with the psyches in that wacko household.

The Handbook hissed and highlighted: "Sith do not male-bond with Jedi."

Maul felt his anger clawing awake, and smiled gratefully at the reproof, prompting the Handbook's spine to stiffen in alarm.

Note to myself: Force-feed the Handbook half a dozen Sidibons and see what happens.


While the Handbook was dopily rearranging its contents into truly nasty nursery-rhymes, Maul embarked on phase three of his investigation. Remembering the name of the pet-shop where Obi-Wan had bought Cuddles, Maul checked the Coruscant Yellow Pages and found a large advertisement for:

~Trans-Galactic Pet Emporium~
If you need it, we can feed it!
If you'll buy it, we'll supply it!
But if you have only Republican Express, you're out of luck.
Bring your cash, debit card, or WESA VISA to
Orbit 1282 of the Planetary Shopping Belt
Open 34 hours except during inspections by the Galactic Wildlifeform Agency.

Forty minutes later, Maul entered a store that covered most of a small moon. Walking down the first of 435,671 aisles, he was so impressed by the number and variety of carnivorous plants, herbivorous animals, omnivorous rocks, and closed-system colonies brought in from all corners of the galaxy, that he assumed one of them had gotten loose when a bundle of appendages, eyeballs, and mouths came scampering toward him.

"Hello, and welcome to Trans-Galactic Pet Emporium! According to our database, you are a new customer, and let us assure you at once that you have come to the right place." He, she, or it gave a little jump of delight at seeing Maul's curved horns and yellow eyes. "Sir, you have made our night! Of 4.6 billion patrons, only two have been Zabrakians. We understand they prefer to hunt down any life-form they happen to want." Suddenly he, she, or it looked distinctly uneasy, and tensed for flight. "May we ask what you, sir, happen to want, for what purpose?"

"My neighbor bought a teddy-bear hamster here, and I am interested in its history."

Another dozen eyeballs popped out of him, her, or it, and looped on eyestalks in Maul's direction. "A Zabrakian who wants a teddy-bear hamster? Well, well, well, that's a first! But here at TGPE, we cater to all kinds, all tastes." Reconsidering his, her, or its choice of words, he, she, or it added hesitantly, "However, we of TGPE do have a policy against selling pets to be tortured, eaten, or manufactured into products. Nothing personal, you understand."

Did Sith eat teddy-bear hamsters? Maul had no idea. And not the slightest interest in finding out, until all other protein sources have become extinct. "I am not here to obtain one for myself. I wish to know the background of the one you have already sold."

The mind-boggling body of him, her, or it wriggled in relief. "Well, we've sold a lot of hamsters this quarter, 75,614, to be precise." A set of his, her, or its antennae quivered. "Oops, update: 75,617. Permit me to show you: dwarf, Syrian, angora - -"

Running out of patience, and beginning to get a headache from trying to make visual sense of him, her, or it, Maul used the Mind Whammy to fast-forward through his, her, or its sales spiel.

". . . and now that you've viewed our 2,600 subspecies of hamster, no doubt you'd like a few minutes to consider. Was there one you were specially interested in?"

"The one you sold to Obi-Wan Kenobi last December."

Several of his, her, or its appendages twitched, and he, she, or it chuckled through approximately fifty mouths. "Kenobi, eh? That poor guy goes through hamsters faster than anyone we've seen in two millennia of doing business. He must be under a curse or something. He buys top-quality Habitrails - -two of them, yet! One is big enough for three generations of the average hamster - -he buys gourmet hamster food by the twenty-kilo sack, Fleur-de-Sel salt licks, indestructible Hamster Balls, and he still loses them. And every time he comes in to get another, and we ask, as is our policy, what happened to the previous one, he has the craziest stories you've ever heard: one was killed by a possessed cat, another was eaten by a kitten whose siblings have become the most powerful lobbying force in the Senate. You're his neighbor, is he on Brasiddian crack or something? How does he think up this stuff?"

"I really have no idea."

"Some of us almost thought he must be eating them, making little fur coats, or trying his hand at rodent taxidermy, except that he's the sweetest, nicest, gentlest humanoid you ever met. We talk about him all the time at coffee-break, he's that kind. Some of us want to lay him, some of us want to blow him, some of us want to spank him, some of us want to suckle him."

Maul repressed a shudder. Note to myself: wear the long, black, winter-weight robes when going to TGPE. "That's my neighbor, all right. What about his hamster, Cuddles?"

He, she, or it quivered with a thousand peals of laughter. "Oh, that's what he named it, eh? We thought they looked pretty cozy. Give us a moment to think . . . Kenobi . . . last December . . . ah, yes. Oh, my. Oh, dear. Oh, grimal shit and gerbil pee."

"What do you recall?"

"Oh, dearie me." Abruptly he, she, or it split into six he's, she's, or it's, all of which began pacing the floor, in six different directions, and in identical lock-step. "You see," they said all together, waving identical appendages, "that animal was a special order, marked down for quick clearance. We don't usually keep them in stock."

"What do you mean, you don't usually keep them in stock? I can see 72 compartments of teddy-bear hamsters in this aisle alone!"

"But none of them is a Wallarian teddy-bear hamster. They're desperately hard to get from licensed breeders, so we only have them brought in for cash payment, before we even place the order. Of course if you're interested in one yourself - -"

Fast forward. Resume speech.

" . . . so that's all I can tell you."

Rrewind, play.

". . . and I tried to tell him, the customer who had ordered it took it home, then watched our info-DVD, decided he couldn't handle a pet this complicated, brought the Wallarian back to us, and didn't even ask for a refund, as long as we took it off his hands. But Sweetie-Pie Kenobi wouldn't listen, he said its past didn't matter, love is love . . ."

That is enough! Maul shifted the Mind Whammy into second gear and said, "Listen, this is really complicated, so why don't you just lend me the info-DVD and a player?"

"Listen, this is really complicated, so why don't we just lend you the info-DVD and a player?"

"And since this is my first time here, why don't I just keep the player as a gift?"

"And since this is your first time here, why don't you just keep the player as a gift?"

"I will." Quickly he turned off the Whammy to prevent them from repeating his last remark. Two of them went off to retrieve the items, the remaining four split into eight to greet an incoming group of customers.

After loading Maul's Sith Speeder, with its double-sided license-plate SITH RULE, JEDI SUCK, the two creatures merged back into one. "Come back soon. We so appreciate your custom."

Obi-Wan said the TGPE employee . . . "If I wanted to thank the manager for your assistance, whom would I address?"

"Us. You're very welcome, we are delighted to serve."

"And if I were to ask to speak to customer service?"

"Us. We hope you were satisfied with our performance."

"You're the collective employee of TGPE?"

"And the owners and stockholders and Union. Although some of us are currently negotiating a new contract with the rest of us."

"That's what I thought." Maul floored the accelerator.

I can't believe it. My twit neighbor shops at a pet-store that's even weirder than he is.


Two hours later, as the credits for "So You Want to Own a Wallarian Teddy-Bear Hamster?" rolled by, Maul laced his hands behind his head and lay down on the sofa to think. The program he'd just watched had been far more interesting, as well as far more graphic than he'd expected. This called for careful planning, and for his own benefit, he proceeded to make a mental list of the main points about Wallarian teddy-bear hamsters. When he had completed it, he found there were no fewer than thirty-seven facts Obi-Wan should have considered, but hadn't bothered to find out, before he purchased Cuddles.

Contemplating 8) made Maul smile. Maybe I should get one of these for myself.

Contemplating 17) made him wince. Not worth it. Not even for 8).

Contemplating 29) made him reflect, with an evil chuckle, I have plenty of time to train one of these as a birthday present for my master . . .


On Sunday evening, Maul embarked on the fourth and final stage of his project. He was about to shred the smiley-face shower curtain tacked over Obi-Wan's doorway when he spied the twit himself struggling to drag a new pink door down the hall. Paralyzed with terror, the smiley-faces, which had been on the verge of turning into replicas of Edward Munch's "The Scream," emitted printed sighs of relief as Maul went to meet him.

"Hi, neighbor. Why don't I give you a hand with that?"

"Oh, hi, Maul," said Obi-Wan, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Thanks. I thought I'd better get something stronger than a hollow-core door, in case the poltergeist comes back."

"Or the Senators?" Maul said pleasantly, reaching for the door.

Obi-Wan blushed again. "Oh, you heard about their surprise visit?"

"Actually, I heard you entertaining them. Four hundred guests must have worn out quite a few silk pillows." Not to mention certain body parts.

"Well, they did send me a whole new batch the next day. And they paid for the damages."

"All of them?"

Too flustered to reply, Obi-Wan suddenly felt himself lifted off the floor as Maul tucked the door under his arm and started walking. Content, the padawan relinquished his hold on the door and began taking mental Polaroids of his neighbor's biceps, lateral muscles, and buns nicely outlined by black button-fly jeans. Maul's voice recalled his attention, without altering the direction of his gaze.

"How are relations among you, Cuddles, and Qui-Gon?"

"Between me and Cuddles, great. Between Cuddles and Qui-Gon, nonexistent. Between me and Qui-Gon, on the verge of nonexistent." Obi-Wan sighed, not only in anxiety about Qui-Gon. "To tell the truth, I'm afraid he's going to start moving his stuff out of my apartment any day now." Which would leave plenty of room for you to move some of your stuff in . . .

"I'm sorry to hear that. It would be such a pity if the two of you broke up, you're practically an institution" and you certainly belong in one. Maul set the door next to the quaking smiley-face curtain, then said casually, "I've been thinking a lot about your problem, and I may have the solution. My master will be coming over for dinner on Tuesday, so I'll be cooking up a storm anyway. Why don't you invite Qui-Gon to your place, and I'll provide an unforgettable Dark Side dinner, to help the two-the three of you make peace."

Obi-Wan's face lit up. "Do you mean it? You'd really do that for me?"

"I'll even bake Hamster Treats for Cuddles and Fluffi-Wan."

"Maul, that is so nice of you! You're a prince!"

"One day, I hope to be Emperor. I take it you accept? Well then, I'll come over at twenty to seven to set up the food, and you tell Qui-Gon to join you at seven sharp." Maul opened his own door, then looked over his shoulder and winked. "And make sure you set up the living room. You'd be amazed at what really good Dark Side cuisine can do."

Obi-Wan's heart skipped a beat, then made up for it five times over. He almost asked his neighbor to make it a threesome, well, actually a fivesome, but Maul would be having company, and besides, Cuddles isn't the only one who likes to keep the neck he nuzzles all for himself.


Maul spent the next 36 hours formulating two delectable five-course meals, and during that entire period, including his second attempt to bake a chocolate soufflé, he was so diabolically ebullient that My Apprentice and the Handbook hid under the sofa. He didn't bother to tell them they weren't the targets of his current scheme. Since he was working under a deadline, it was convenient for him that they were staying out of his way. Not having to keep an eye on them allowed the sliver of his attention that wasn't concentrating on Extremely Creative Cooking to calculate the net total of revenge he was about to extract. According to his best estimate, he was on the brink of getting even for more than 2,000 hours of maddening chirpiness, the seven accursed times he'd slept with Obi-Wan, and at least another dozen times he might sleep with Obi-Wan, if he ever encountered the twit without a saving supply of MiniSidibons.

And that's not even counting the payback to Qui-Gon . . .


At twenty to seven on Tuesday evening, Maul headed next door with a laden tray, shouldered open the pink door Obi-Wan had left ajar, and cautiously swept his gaze over the living room. He hadn't thought it possible, but the place had an even higher density of erotic toys than it had had last week.

And he has one in neon paisley this time. Good.

Better yet, Obi-Wan called from his bedroom, "Hi, neighbor! Look, I'm running a little late, can you manage without me? It takes me at least half an hour to limber up, and I'm still trying to touch my - -"

I don't want to know. "I'll be fine. Go right on doing whatever you're doing." And do NOT give me a play by play.

"Thanks. The kitchen - - oof! - - and dining room - - eeeee! - - are all yours - - gotcha!"

Swiftly Maul transferred the platter of appetizers to the counter, set the soup tureen and covered entrée in the oven on low heat, and put the plates of salad and a dessert far too good for Jedi into Obi-Wan's uninhabited refrigerator. Indescribable grunts and joint-crackings issued non-stop from the bedroom, guaranteeing Maul a clear run to plant microscopic Sith Eavesdropping Devices in key places throughout the rest of the apartment. Then he waded through Silk Lake to the twin Habitrail 9000s. He opened a Ziploc bag with an orange Colorloc closure, and filled Fluffi-Wan's food dish with Hamster Treats. Next, he opened a Ziploc bag with a green Colorloc closure, and held a Hamster Treat near the doorway of the Habitrail Nuclear Bomb Shelter.

In his softest, gentlest growl, he addressed the terrified ball of fur just visible behind the blast-shield. "Cuddles, would you like a Hamster Treat?"

He waited patiently until the aroma stole into Cuddles's quivering nostrils, reminding him of the taste that had kissed him awake from his catatonic state last winter.

Tentatively, with eyes even more limpid and appeasing than Obi-Wan's, Cuddles crept forward, a centimeter at a time, until he was reasonably certain that the long, muscular fingers holding the Hamster Treat weren't going to throttle him as soon as he came within reach. At last, unable to resist the offer, he took a tentative nibble, then another, and another, relaxing slightly with every bite. After six treats, his nibble accelerated to gobble. Maul continued to feed the animal by hand, while simultaneously feeding its receptive mind a steady stream of images, suggestions, and a liberating dash of his own rage and hatred. When neither Cuddles's cheek-pouches, stomach, nor brain could hold any more, Maul poured the remaining Hamster Treats into the food dish and left him digesting. And brooding.

Hearing Maul head toward the door, Obi-Wan finally came out of the bedroom, walking on his hands. His legs and hips were doing things nearly as mind-boggling as the mass of the TGPE employee. "Wait a second, Maul, I want to thank you again before you leave. Fluffi-Wan and Cuddles really love those Hamster Treats, it's so thoughtful of you to feed them as well as me and Qui-Gon. I can smell the entrée from here - - it's going to be tough, not eating any of it until he arrives! - - but I know it's going to be worth it."

It certainly will be. "I promise you, this dinner will do the trick. I left a sheet of directions on the counter. Just remember to serve each dish in order, or you'll spoil the effect. The flavors build on one another to a rollicking climax."

"I guess the rest is up to me." Obi-Wan read the command on Maul's apron. "Say, do you mean that?"

"Yes. But purely as a figure of speech. Good luck, neighbor. Let me know how things turn out."

"I will. As soon as I get the use of my tongue back."

Maul downed another MiniSidibon, for a different reason than he'd downed the first, and went home to await his master's arrival.


An hour later, an appreciably pudgier Sidious eyed him across the table. "Another superb dinner, Maul. But you also promised me a night of unforgettable entertainment."

His leer nearly ignited the Szechuan beef, and the remains of the hot-and-sour soup curdled in dread. Definitely time to serve the soufflé. "So I did, Master. Haven't you been listening?"

For the past fifty minutes, every noise made in Obi-Wan's apartment had been piped through the surround-sound system in Maul's dining room: the laying of lips on appetizers, and on each other; the sipping of soup, interspersed with flirtatious comments, and swishing sounds that indicated the doffing of robes; the devouring of Chicken Cacciatore, interrupted by noisy lunges back and forth, over and under the table, and the smearing of tomato-based sauce on naked skin; the licking clean of surfaces that did not belong to bowls or plates. After an extended interval of rolling, gasping, and a game of lewdly creative "Tag, you're it!" Obi-Wan mumbled something about dessert. Shortly afterward, the Sith Lords had deciphered the sounds of a gag being removed, then delicate chains clinking to the floor.

"But you are still my padawan, aren't you?"

"Yes, Master."

"And a padawan obeys his master's every command, doesn't he?"

"With ever-increasing pleasure, Master! In fact, as soon as we've replenished our energy with this amaretto torte . . ."

Sidious snorted. "Maul, I realize we have different tastes in entertainment, but did you really think I'd enjoy listening to two Jedi getting it on during a five-course dinner?"

Maul checked the clock as he retrieved their own dessert. "Master, if you will reserve judgement for another minute, I assure you, you won't be disappointed."

Qui-Gon's awed voice floated from the speakers: "Your neighbor made all this? For us?"

"For me. He couldn't stand seeing me suffer - -"

Sidious's bark of laughter was even louder than Maul's.

"- - unlike some people," Obi-Wan said with an audible, teasing pout.

"Impertinence to your master is not permitted, my padawan. I shall have to punish you."

"Oh please do, I deserve it . . . every time . . ."

Maul returned to the table with two slices of absolutely perfect, four-layer chocolate soufflé, artistically garnished with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. "By the way, Master, are you familiar with the Wallarian teddy-bear hamster?"

Sidious blinked. "I didn't think you were into that sort of thing. But I'll try anything twice."

"The Wallarian teddy-bear hamster," Maul went on hurriedly, "has many unusual habits. For one, it bonds for life with the first being who handles it without gloves."

"Really, Maul, I don't-"

"For another, it is unconditionally loyal. To the death."

Sidious's eyes narrowed with interest. "To the death?"

"It is also obsessively jealous."

"Ah. And might I ask which of your acquaintances owns one of these animals?"

"None other than my dearly detested neighbor, Obi-Wan" who knows as little about Wallarians as he does about what's in his dinner "who is, I believe, on the verge of making up with his estranged Jedi Master, in a style fit to steam up the exteriors of two Habitrail 9000s."

The speakers rocked Maul's dining room with a deafening "YeeeEEEEessss!"

"So, my young padawan, now do you understand what that red button on the lightsaber is for?"

Sidious tilted his head, his thin lips beginning to curve in a smile. "And their reconciliation is proceeding in full view of this monogamous, uncontrollably jealous rodent?"

Before Maul could reply, one of the Habitrail 9000s appeared to suffer a 9.5 earthquake. Dozens of plastic impacts told of disconnected tubes, compartments, and lids, exploded from within. Two apartments reverberated with a high, animal wail of inestimable grief, blended with a Sithly roar of immeasurable rage and ferocity.

The speakers rocked Maul's dining room with a deafening "NoooOOOOooooo!"

Obi-Wan's apartment erupted in a symphony of furniture smashing, silk ripping, and growls muffled on pieces of flesh, interwoven with continuous screams and limb-flailings that made Dante's vision of Hell seem like a walk in the park.

Maul closed his eyes in sheer bliss. YeeeEESSsssss. . .

Sidious sat bolt upright in delight; so did certain of his body parts. "Maul, this is wonderful! I haven't heard Jedi in this much agony since the Health Inspector gave them all full rectal exams. What did you do?"

"It is too complicated to explain, Master. Just sit back and enjoy it. And while you're listening, do have another slice of soufflé."


It was complicated, and the short timeframe had taxed Maul's culinary powers to the limit. He'd had a single day in which to concoct a second perfect dinner, each course of which would conceal the taste of progressively stronger doses of the lust-enhancer he used to feed Mary Sue. On top of that, he'd had to bake a double batch of Hamster Treats, half of which he'd left plain for Fluffi-Wan, and half of which he'd customized for Cuddles, glazing the tidbits with a combination of Wallarian steroids and Deep Six, an illegal Dark Side emotion-enhancer. Maul used to take it to hone his rage and hatred, but he'd guessed correctly that it would put just as fine an edge on jealousy.

Especially jealousy that was already about to blow. Cuddles would have acted out his hostility toward Qui-Gon sooner or later; Maul had simply made it sooner. Having discovered that Wallarians are low-level telepaths-hence their success in endearing themselves to breeders and unwary owners-Maul had removed the already high ceiling on Cuddles's jealousy, shown him how to release his anger, and temporarily amplified his ability to sense thoughts and emotions. >From the moment Qui-Gon arrived, Cuddles had overheard every lascivious thought that passed between the Jedi-on a night Obi-Wan had set out to prove he loved his master best.

The tortured cries went on long after Sidious, required to put in an early-morning appearance as Senator Palpatine, reluctantly departed, wobbling a little from his fifth slice of chocolate soufflé. Even now, the speakers echoed with voices that sounded markedly higher than before, mingled with the sounds of water running, kettles whistling, ice-cubes clattering into the bath-tub, and sheets being torn into bandages.

Very well content, Maul sat at his computer. A copy of his first contract with Jedi Roadkill beamed down on him from the wall above the monitor. Humming a lower-pitched harmony to the moan next door, he scrolled down the profile for one of his Ultimate Extinction characters:

NAME: Fart Sissypuss.

IMAGE: Short and flabby, with putty-colored flesh webbed with varicose veins, bowed legs, pimply face, and braces on the teeth.

COSTUME: Chartreuse polyester bathrobe, flamingo-feather boa, yellow curlers in hair, orange and pink clown shoes . . .

Qui-Gon gasped shrilly, "Another compress . . . the bleeding's started again . . ."

The sound of a large hand groping over porcelain and linoleum, then closing on something soft.

"Ah, here's one . . ."

The patter of chained feet, followed by a frantic shriek from Obi-Wan. "Master, don't! That's not a compress, that's - -"

A truly glass-shattering scream; Maul heard pieces of the bathroom mirror hit the floor, followed by splashing, yelling, and the wet plops of his neighbor's manicured hands trying to grab hold of something in the water.

"Oh Cuddles, please! Not the other one too! Try to stop thrashing, Master, and I'll try to pry his jaws open with this screwdriver - -"

Ahhhh . . . truly a Memorex moment . . .

Maul had stopped trying to wipe the smile off his face two hours ago. Every time his joy began to wind down, his eye went to the little red light on his sound system, reminding him that he could enjoy this evening over and over, courtesy of the digitally mastered CD recording still in progress. With deft, accurate keystrokes, he began typing in a new character profile:

NAME: Quite-Gone Gent.

IMAGE: Tall, bowed, long-haired.

COSTUME: Shredded earth-tone silk robes, size XXXS jockstrap hanging loose.

VOICE: High, squeaky.

GAIT: Very stiff, with legs far apart . . .

At intervals in his composing, Maul sliced his fork neatly through the remaining quarter of chocolate soufflé, the quarter that didn't have a Sidibon base, and his entire Dark Side being luxuriated in the dessert's velvet texture and bittersweet chocolate intensity.

Sometimes, I love life.



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