Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
Youd Better Mean It
Okay, so I was lounging in the cockpit, doing what I always do. I was flipping through my cards, trying to figure out what Id done with the marked deck Id had a few weeks ago. I ran my hand along under the pilots seat, looking for the little secret area I normally kept such valuables in. All I found was an age-old wad of chewing gum that had dried harder than a brick wall. Now that was disgusting. Anyway, I kept fumbling around for that stupid deck, and I was leaned just about all the way from the seat when there was this prickling in the back of my mind. My entire body went on alert, and the cards started flipping through my head faster than ever before. I hurried through a few games, trying to block the door against whoever was coming inside. With my luck, it was going to be Granny again. What fun. But then as quickly as the prickling had started, it ended, but I didnt relax. Okay, so I quit playing pazaak so insanely fast. I went back to a slower pace, scrunching myself down into my seat. Back to the normal routine. Look lazy, flop hair oh-so-scoundrelliciously over one eye, smirk. Look normal. Look like nothings going on . . . Oh, if I was so laid-back, then how come I nearly leaped right out of my chair when I heard the gentle pattering of Metaries boots in the hall?! I turned ever so casually and nodded when she came in before giving my usual greeting.
It was right then that she completely took me by surprise. Never in a million years would I have anticipated hearing the question she asked, though give me a few billion, and maybe Id be able to see it coming.
Atton, she began, why do you play pazaak in your head?
Aha! So she was the little infiltrator. Well, that would explain why it didnt hurt as much as it had with that old witch. But howd she get in? Unless Granny helped her . . . Traitorous old schutta. I turned and flashed her a teasing grin.
Why do you fantasize about seeing Blondie without his robes on? I was avoiding the question, and I knew it, too.
She glared slightly at me, setting her hands on her hips. Her face didnt turn red, and she didnt get upset. She just leveled me with an ice queen glare that melted after a moment.
Youre lying, she said.
Through my teeth! I returned, turning away from her.
Youre also avoiding the question. Ohh, why did she have to figure it out?! I like not being figured out! It adds a certain mysterious attractiveness that most women would die for. But she was right, so I shrugged.
Passes the time. Its better than listing engine sequencers, memorizing hyperspace routes, or counting ticks in the power coupling.
But you do all those things. So I do. But howd she figure that out?! Oh, well. Another question for another time. She kept going. And there are no ticks in the power coupling . . . its fixed.
Thank you for that brilliant insight, General Obvious! I turned, caught her line of gaze, and sighed.
Of course its fixed. And thats why you should count the ticking in the power coupling, too!
She looked confused, which I expected. But what I didnt expect was her sitting down beside me and leaning forward as if waiting for an explanation. That hadnt happened before. Hell, none of this had.
Maybe you ought to explain a bit, she urged.
I frowned at her and realized I was still holding my cards. I picked one up, holding it between my first and middle fingers as I looked it over. Hmm. A bent corner. Bad. I looked at her again and flashed the card at her.
Why do I play pazaak? Okay, okay, Ill show you.
She already had her side deck out and warmed up, and she nodded. I dealt, and we got underway. It wasnt such a bad game, to be honest. Shed improved dramatically since we first played on Citadel Station. And she was concentrating so hard she was making faint creases in her forehead. She was learning.
We played through a few ties before we finally came to the end. I won, but I think it was because she lost her concentration there at the end and miscounted her total. Oh, well. We werent playing for any reason other than for me to make a point. As she gathered up her cards and I gathered up mine, I glanced up to her.
Good game. So tell me . . . What are you thinking about right now?
She looked to me, her eyebrows furrowed slightly. Force, she looked so cute with furrowed eyebrows. Something flickered in her eyes, like a light bulb was slowly coming on.
Im still trying to compute the totals to twenty, she admitted with a shrug.
Exactly! Boy, this was going better than Id expected. She was actually getting it. Thats why I play pazaak in my head. Because if youve dont, then I hate to break it to you, sister, but youve left the door wide open, and anybody can walk in.
Oh, I see . . . Uh, oh. I knew that tone. She didnt see. So you play pazaak to shield your thoughts.
Nah, I play pazaak in my head, I shrugged. BUT . . . while Im doin that, its a whole lot harder for somebody to just walk in.
She looked up at me and tilted her head slightly to one side. I shoved my cards back into my pocket and leaned back in my seat, clasping my hands behind my head. She chewed at her bottom lip for a minute before studying me.
Is that anything you can teach me to do?
Frack. She still didnt get it. I sighed, feeling myself getting a bit exasperated. I dont like that feeling. Its when your chest tightens up and you just want to throw your hands up and say Forget it. I just shook my head at her.
No. I can only teach you to play pazaak. Do you understand me? I figured she didnt.
But she did. Something clicked for her, and she nodded emphatically after a moment. I couldnt help but heave a sigh of relief that shed actually gotten it. She fished her cards back out and held them out toward me.
Then teach me.
So I did, even though she really didnt need another lesson in the game. We played for a couple of hours, and she actually won more times than I did. I hated to admit it, but she was getting pretty good. When we came to the close of what seemed like our hundredth game and shed wonagainI looked over at her and nodded.
Listen, Met, this is important. She did, and I continued. If youre ever fighting someone who has the power over your mindwhether light or darkplay pazaak. Start listing hyperspace routes. Recite engine sequencers. And when they try to use their powers on you, suddenly its not as easy as they thought. I paused and met her gaze, giving a tiny smile to make her feel better. Because youll be right here with me, playing pazaak, where they cant reach you.
She nodded slowly, taking it all in. For a minute, I wondered if she was somehow trying to figure out how somebody like me knew something like that. I guess it was a bit of a surprise, considering how Id been acting like a lazy idiot since we met. She glanced at me, looking sort of apologetic, and she reached over for my hand.
Atton . . . before . . . I felt your mind, with Kreias help. And . . . and Im sorry. I didnt mean to intrude like that.
Huh. She was actually apologizing for it! That was . . . weird, to put it simply. I just shrugged, trying to look as casual as I could.
Of course you did, I said. Ysee, Jedilight or darkdo it, and more often than youd think. But I never heard one say they were sorry before . . . Thats a new house rule.
She smiled faintly at me again, giving my hand another gentle squeeze. Yeah, she was really sorry for what shed done. I hadnt expected to see that. But then again, I hadnt expected her to fess up to it. Sure, Id had people try to poke around in my head before, but theyd all been stopped either by those crazy things I did to keep my mind busy. The only one whod ever gotten in and hurt me was Granny. But if shed been helping Metarie get into my head, then why didnt it hurt? I couldnt figure it out no matter how hard I tried. I looked away and out the window. Just then, Metarie spoke.
Do you mean it?
I gave a start.
What you said . . . about me being here with you. I know it was figurative, but . . . youd better mean it.
I looked up at her, a grin creeping across my face. You see, I thought she was kidding, cracking a joke, something like that. I thought she was being sarcastic. But when she gazed up at me and her blue-gray eyes locked with mine, my smile faded. She wasnt kidding. Her eyes were so full of pain, so full of loneliness . . . It was like she just needed somebody to be there for her. She didnt say a word; she didnt have to. Everything was in her eyes. All the pain shed ever been through, every nightmare, every battle scar . . . Okay, so saying I was startled would be a huge understatement. I was downright scared as she just stared at me. It was as if she was expecting meMEto be that somebody she could lean on when the going got rough. I didnt deserve that trust. She didnt deserve me. I looked away for a second, and when I turned back, she was still staring at me. She gave me one last long look before gathering up her cards, murmuring her thanks for the lesson, and disappearing from the cockpit as quietly as shed come in. I sat back, crossed my arms, and sighed. Those words of hers, with their tone of desperation and misery, burned in my head: Youd better mean it.
My only problem was . . . Did I?