Arissa’s first year out of a coma was very educational. She was essentially reborn. She could walk and talk, which put her significantly ahead of most infants, but she needed to come to grips with her new life. She was no longer an intelligent six year old heiress, nor was she a powerful thirty-two year old assassin. No, Arissa was something else altogether. She was something new, undiscovered, and frightening. At the age of nineteen, a single ghost was born at the mutual death of two souls.
It was really quite a blur. Since going nova in the hospital, Arissa has been put through a battery of tests. There was nothing wrong with her. She was very healthy…in fact she was the epitome of human health. How this happened after essentially exploding baffled doctors throughout the galaxy.
“Yes Doctor Tk’krit?”
“As much as we wanted to,” he smiled widely at the esoteric medical joke, “we have found no reason to keep you here. Unless you wish to be scanned, poked, and prodded some more?”
“No. I’d like to leave, please.” Her tone was rather taciturn. Ever since waking up, she seemed to be rather blunt. Not so much rude as extremely to-the-point/get-it-done. In fact, Arissa was the only patient that made doctors wish their charge had a better bedside manner.
“Well then, Miss Nassani, I need you to sign a few waivers at the front desk. Also, the registrar will have your possessions from when you were admitted thirteen years ago.”
Hearing that seemed to wash Arissa in memories of her shunted childhood. She couldn’t imagine what she would do with her pajamas, but she was happy to have them. In fact, for the first time in a long time, a smile crept across her face. “Thank you, doctor.”
“Simply press your thumb to this plate, and you can be on your way, ma’am.” The registrar smiled as the woman in front of her signed her release. Arissa had been somewhat of a myth around the hospital. This was the first time that most people outside the care unit had seen her. For no other reason than the aura of the unknown which surrounded her, Arissa had a legendary status. She spirited away from a horrible place of destruction, and came back down to the ground after the smoke had cleared.
A chauffer waited for her by the hospital’s exit.
“Excuse me, Miss Nassani, but I am here to take you home.”
“And you are…?”
“Excuse my assumption, ma’am,” said the formal blonde woman, “I am Soledad Borrity. I work for NGIE as a corporate chauffer. I am here to take you to a company-owned apartment which has been given to you to live in for the time being.”
Arissa’s mind raced at a blazing speed to start comprehending the scope of what she just heard. That small statement started a cascade of questions. Soledad saw that the black-haired heiress was lost in thought and gently urged her onward, “If you are ready…?”
“Of course. My apologies, Miss Borrity.”
“Please Miss Nassani, just call me Soledad.”
The two women made their way to the personal shuttle. The small craft was quite luxurious, which was just as well because they had a trip nearly halfway across the planet. Arissa sat and gazed into the twilight at the eternal cityscape. Lights began to streak by as they accelerated into a busy aerial traffic vein.
Lavender eyes reflected the shifting colors under them. Things have changed for her, even moreso than the never-ending, malleable planet did. Busy people with busy lives doing busy things. Everyone had their role and purpose. Politicians, businessmen, clerics, laborers, military, panhandlers and prostitutes.
Arissa began to tear up. She had two lives, but nothing even remotely resembling a purpose. She was being taken to a home she never lived in owned. Her driver she had met all of an hour ago. To console herself, which was truly all she had, Arissa began to sing a song to herself.
Rest now child
Lay and sleep
The day is done
Put up your feet
You’ve done so much
You’ve seen it all
From dawn’s ascent
To nights great fall
Close your eyes
My sweet, my love
Dream of us below
And those above
In the morning
Wake and see
Those who love you
“Family…” she muttered to herself. She had very little of that in both her lives combined.
“That was fine singing, ma’am, if I may be bold enough to say. I overheard you from up here. You are quite a talented singer. I’ve never heard that one before. Where did you pick it up?”
“I’m not sure,” mused Arissa, “the best I can say is ‘my past’. Soledad,” she prompted, “what do you know of my past?”
“I’m afraid not much, Miss Nassani.” Her chauffeur’s tightly pulled blonde ponytail elevated her cap some and seemed to stare Arissa in the back while blue eyes gazed ahead at the horizon. “I know what most others with NGIE know. There was an explosion at your house. Your parents were found to have been murdered with some kind of energy weapon. There was a pretty large debacle raised over the ownership of your family’s company as it was privately held and the only named direct owner was incapacitated and, at the time, a minor.”
“I have some more questions for you, Soledad. Do you mind?”
“No Miss Nassani, not at all. I hope I wasn’t too blunt before with all that.”
“I appreciated it. I need to get caught up on things and to have people beat around the bush will only be more confusing for me.” Arissa was very impressed by Soledad’s manner. She was prompt, she was up front, and she was professionally purposeful. Arissa needed this. She needed someone she could trust, especially when she didn’t know what was going on.
“Miss Borrity…,” Arissa trailed.
“…I trust you.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Did you also have a question?” Her transition from a genuine appreciation to getting back to her duty was seamless.
Arissa gave a wide smile and laughed a bit. “I suppose I did. What is NGIE?”
“Nassani Galactic Import-Export, ma’am.”
“I suppose that makes sense. So what happened to dad…I mean my family’s business.”
“It is my understanding that it was put in a kind of escrow because of the circumstances. It was hotly contested through Imperial probate, but your father was a very thorough man and made sure that things like this were taken care of…mostly you.”
Arissa reflected on the memories she had of her father. “Who runs the company right now?”
“An Imperial commerce director named Alohse Barriden. The probate court sent him to control operations until such a time the named heir, you, could come and deal with the company herself. He has been running the show according to the guidelines left behind in your father’s will, but he has constantly fought for the absorption of this company into the Imperial Trading Conglomerate. I think he was content to be in charge, even if it wasn’t on his own terms, as you were disabled at the time. Now that you are awake and functional, this should prove to be an interesting transition, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“I should meet this man so that we may begin the process.”
“You will tomorrow. Tonight I am to take you home and see to it that you are otherwise cared for. We will have lunch with Mr. Barriden tomorrow.”
“Cared for? I’m nineteen, you know, and on top of that I don’t think you have the full details of what I went through.”
“You are correct, but this is my assignment. One I chose myself. Your father…,” the normally straightforward driver waywardly said, “…really helped me out when I was working in the business. I have been loyal to your family and its way of life since then. It is my personal honor to watch over you, Miss Nassani.”
Arissa was shocked at her guardian’s revelation. This one even moreso than the others about her own past. Someone dfor her. Someone existed to serve her, educate her, train her, and help her find her purpose outside another’s gratification. The burning and painful memories of Rose’s life in the brothels had given her disdain for such a living, and an even more guarded shell around men. Blushing, she shyly added, “Please, Soledad, call me Arissa?”
For the first time the whole trip, the pilot turned around and smiled.
Finally the shuttle arrived. Morning was upon the women and Arissa quickly toured her spacious loft and went to sleep. Her live-in orderly retired to her room in the apartment as well. Both women were happy. Arissa knew that in such a large and new galaxy, she had someone who would help her along. Soledad knew that she had the selfless opportunity to give back a portion of what was given to her by James Nassani…a life.
As she prepared herself for bed, brushing her golden hair, Soledad reflected back on her own circumstances in life. She remembered that she had been found in a secret compartment on one of the shipments NGIE was to deliver to Dantooine. The teenage girl was discovered and brought before James. She was an orphan and probably bound to the same fate Rose had experienced. When this was revealed, James alerted the authorities and that one child prostitute ring was shut down, saving many more souls on the verge of a lifetime in hell. James gave Soledad a house, job, and an education. A purpose in life where there was none before, and most importantly, he gave her love…something that no amount of money could buy. Now nearly thirty five, she wanted to give back.
The next day came and Arissa was escorted to her father’s business. The neat and tidy Soledad, with her hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail was picking at Arissa. She had awoken and simply threw on what was around. She didn’t understand the need to be professional yet, or just what it entailed.
“You simply can’t go in to a meeting like this looking like you just woke up.”
“Haha, but I did.” Her senior gave her a snuff. She reached and pulled the hair tie out off her own head and used it to pull Arissa’s black locks together behind her head. Gorgeous blonde hair cascaded down as Soledad primped her charge. Soon it was put up into a bun using a stylus for a datapad. The heiress, innocent to experiences like this, enjoyed the attention and felt like a six year old girl again. As her hair was being tamed, Soledad told Arissa of her own life’s experiences. She sat in wide-eyed wonder hearing about her family and its business again.
“Miss Borrity, Miss Nassani. Mr. Barriden will see you now.” The secretary behind the desk waved them up.
“I’m excited about this, Soledad,” bubbled Arissa, “I want to know everything so that I may run this business just like my father used to. I want to mean so much to people like he meant to you and the other employees.” The two women walked through the door. The younger of the two was still dreaming away, the complete opposite of herself at the hospital. Soledad grounded her to reality by clearing her throat and greeting the man inside the office.
“Miss Borrity. It is good to see you again. Ah, and I see you have brought me someone very special. Miss Arissa Nassani.”
At the mention of her name, she turned her head from Soledad to the fabled Mr. Barriden. Lavender eyes filled with joy and happiness opened wide, spilling those emotions and taking in the horror in front of her in return. It was from her memories that she remembered this man. The voice was so familiar now. She roiled inside. The man responsible for building Rose’s life was the one who tore down Arissa’s. He was the Garndener!
Arissa sat in shock and missed most of the meeting. When prompted she’d nod or give a fake smile. She burned inside. Her memories burned red hot. She hated red. She hated all that it stood for and all pain it caused. She didn’t know it at the time, but her eyes were shifting color and the temperature was dropping.
Soledad continued on, but the acting owner of NGIE stuttered a bit. He was a master Dark Jedi and could feel the rippling Force emanations coming from the girl.
“Interesting,” he thought, “very interesting.”
“Well, I suppose that does it for now, ladies. It was a pleasure meeting you, Arissa.” He stood up and held out his hand for a handshake. The woman grasped it and squeezed. To the trained user, his hand tingled with Force energies. “Maybe I can convert her instead of killing her outright,” he contemplated to himself. Soledad bowed slightly and turned to walk out. Arissa eyed Alohse for a second before fuming off to be beside her mentor and friend.
That night, the two women discussed what had happened both inside and outside of the Nassani girl. Soledad found Arissa’s story more amazing than her own about the acting president, and vice versa for Arissa. But, the more they learned, the clearer the picture became for them both.
“I always had my suspicions about Mr. Barriden’s intentions. If what you remember is real, we must be cautious. He may be polite on the outside, but inside he is ruthless and cruel. In fact,” she paused for a minute, “he may want to kill you, Arissa, in order to secure his claim on the company. You said you learned fighting styles in your sleep? Let’s test it out. I’ve done a few training sessions on the side.” Soledad’s words humbled her extensive hand to hand fighting techniques she picked up working security for NGIE.
Arissa took up the challenge, excited to put into practice what she already knew. The women sparred and Soledad was impressed. Her opponent, Arissa, seemed to be a natural - like she had been fighting for years. Arissa almost constantly outmaneuvered Soledad, learning as she fought and always adapting. She was like a relentless sponge when it came to knowledge. Eventually, her body gave out under her physical zeal. Soledad prompted her hard, even in this first session. Arissa tapped deep down for strength. Her memories made her strong. She yelled loudly.
Before Soledad stood an otherworldly form. A ghost of the past loomed in front of her. “Arissa…” for once she was breathless.
Arissa looked at herself, holding pale hands shrouded in roiling black in front of her eyes. She finally felt it. She had changed, she was different. Her body felt renewed but her appearance was rather ghastly. “What is this,” she said loudly to escape the slight vacuum, “what have I become, Soledad?!”
“Come, let’s explore this further. Does anyone else know about this?”
Under the precise tutelage of Soledad, Arissa became a machine. She read books so quickly, they were hard pressed for new material. They trained until Soledad could no longer keep up in piloting, fighting, personal training, and learning about her family’s business. As Shade, Arissa explored her powers and began to find out what happened before and how to prevent it. She pushed her limits.
Mr. Barriden was obliged to let her come and go as she pleased. She also had access to all the company records. She was a source of tremendous power…power which could be controlled. Like a good gardener, he tended his flower before he decided what to do with it.
Arissa was excited for her first personally experienced jump to lightspeed. In her memories she knew what it was like, but for once she’d be able to feel t for the first time in her twenty years.
“Are you ready and strapped in?”
“Ready and strapped in, ma’am.” Her mocking formality gave Soledad a smile.
“Then let’s go.” She reached forward and pulled the final throttle to send the stars streaking past. At that very instant, a small feeling tingled in Arissa’s brain. It grew and grew in the longest second when the jump is made. The second she was in hyperspace, Arissa’s mind felt as if it touched that same void it had before in the hospital. The black hole seemed to suck at her thoughts and very being. She faced a paralyzing fear. Her entire body entered a fit as she had a seizure.
Soledad panicked but couldn’t leave the controls as she needed to man the helm. “Hold on, Arissa, we’re almost there.” The blonde’s white teeth gritted, making the minutes feel like hours. She could finally safely exit hyperspace close to their destination. As she did, Arissa’s body went limp, but she was still breathing.
This was among several other discoveries made over the following years. Arissa from that point on heavily drugged herself before the jump as to not have a hyperspace seizure. She learned about her amazing healing capabilities in her Shade aspect. It came in handy several times during her experience training. While blazing her own trail, Arissa held slowly increasing positions within the company. She wished to advance far enough to be able to be on her own, but still make choices in the company.
Alohse followed her every step, watching this violet nightbloom blossom in front of him. There was a drawback, however. A weed had taken root beside his prize. It slowed her growth and prevented her full potential. Weeds need to be plucked in order to maintain a beautiful garden.
On a day Arissa was in her office, her comlink sounded. “Miss Nassani,” said the Gardener, “I wish to receive a report on your recent client acquisitions.” Her job which allowed her to be so mobile was to find new clients as well as visit and strengthen relationships with current ones. This took her across the galaxy and exposed her to many fonts of knowledge as well as ideas, experiences, and technologies. “Please report to my suite in an hour. Barriden out.”
“Soledad, this is Alohse.”
“Please come to my suite immediately, I have some very serious concerns to discuss with you.”
“I will be there quickly, sir. Lieutenant Borrity out.” After formally closing the channel, she sighed. She never liked dealing with this power hungry man. It is never enough with him. She was convinced that she would meet her end one way or the other by him, be it job, life, or limb, and she just wanted to get this next risk over with. But not before packing a small blaster and concealed blade.
About fifteen minutes after the call, Soledad entered the suite. “I’m here,” she announced, “what do you need to talk about, sir?”
“Please come in, this concerns Arissa.”
Soledad walked formally and tightly into the room and stood at attention before the usurper. “Oh? What about her? She seems fine to me. She has been in my charge for nearly two years now and has done nothing but grown leaps and bounds both personally and professionally. She even has recovered clients we lost in the new management fifteen years ago.”
The Gardener cleared his throat at the light jab and continued with as much dignity he could afford. “I am very well aware of this. I am quite impressed. She has been a model employee that I wish more would aspire to emulate. No, she isn’t my main concern.”
“Then what is it?”
“More like ‘who is it’, Soledad. I feel that she is being held back by sentiment and attachment. She hasn’t left the nest yet. In order to build a new life, one’s former must be completely decimated. Arissa has a destiny to fulfill, and she is being held back through no fault of her own.”
“She has nobody, sir, no vestiges of her former life remain. On top of that, I also feel that you are overstepping your role as acting president to make such a statement.” The head of security shifted her stance, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
The man at the end of the conference table laughed. “Oh I suppose you are right. But, Soledad, I am much more than merely a president to this corporation. I have a greatly higher function and wield more power and influence than this corporate station could ever hope to provide. These higher callings supercede the operations here. Therefore, I am completely within my bounds to say such a thing.”
The security guard gave him an analytical look. “Then who is it from her past that is displeasing your pompous concepts of who should fulfill what role in life?” Soledad was openly caustic now.
Acting President Barriden sat up and adjusted his clothes. He looked her straight in the eyes and said, “You.” Soledad couldn’t react fast enough after that to remember how she blacked out.
Following the examples her mentor taught her, Arissa opened the door to Alohse’s suite right on time.
“Thank you for coming, Arissa. I hope you don’t mind that I invited a guest to join us.”
Arissa scanned the room with violet eyes and saw Soledad sitting to the left of the acting president. “What is she doing here?”
“She is going to give you a very powerful lesson. One which will finally set you free to be all that you have been destined to become, Arissa.” The Dark Jedi master smiled before lecturing her about his higher station in the Empire and that he wanted Arissa to study under him in his private academy.
“I know all about you and your damn academy! I know all about your Dark Jedi training! I don’t want anything to do with it, with you, with the Empire, or the Force! I just want to live my own life, damn it!”
The host of the party was rather shocked at Arissa’s knowledge of his true existence and intent. “I don’t know how you know about all that, little girl, but I have been around long enough to know that this is your calling. Since the first day I met you I felt it within you. The Force is strong with you, Arissa. Your emotions are so pure, so powerful. But you have never explored them. You have never set them free. You have been anchored to the past.”
“I have no past,” she screamed loudly, “I lost everything. EVERYTHING! All because of you and your quest for power.”
“Sometimes it isn’t we who choose our past. Sometimes, Arissa, our past chases us on its own.” He looked down at Soledad then up at the young woman standing defiantly in front of him. “I am here to set you free. To raze your life in order to renew it. You will be much more than you are now under my instruction. You just don’t understand right now. I will make you understand.”
Soledad looked at Arissa in a calm and reassuring way. How she could be this way in the face of certain death? Young Arissa could never know. Almost in slow motion, she saw the weapon from her dreams ignite in front of her. The humming was hypnotic. She stared at the red light and was lost. Red light. Just like before…just like before, all she could do is watch as another person she loved was taken from her.
Arissa snapped out of it as the headless body slumped over the table. She let out a scream and assumed her Shade aspect. The Dark Jedi master had never felt anything like this before. It was as if the Force had doubled in upon itself in a rift. Without showing fear he stated, “I have finally freed you from your past. You have nothing. You know nothing. You are nothing. Now, I will make you something as I have with all my other students. Submit to me or die, Lilac.”
Shade charged the Jedi Master. He set for it with his saber outstretched in front of him. Upon her close proximity, it began to stutter and fail. This caught the master by surprise. He went to push her away using his powers but failed at the attempt. By this time Arissa was upon him. She was fast, but not Force fast. She deftly disarmed the Dark Jedi master and pinned him on the ground. Alohse looked into her black eyes. Furiously glowing red pupils stared coldly into his black ones. Shade’s skin was deathly pale and she was surrounded in roiling darkness and cold. He couldn’t read her thoughts, but he didn’t have to in order to know what she was thinking. The Dark Jedi, for the first time in a very long time, had no control nor power in a situation. As such, he was frightened. The woman pinning him lusting for his blood was fearsome in appearance as well.
“I underestimated you, Lilac.”
“You may have taken everything else from me you bastard, but you will never take my name. I am Arissa Nassani. I am Shade!” With that she drew a kukri, a primitive weapon in this day and age, from her belt and pierced his heart with surgical precision. The man under her was dead not a second after. She stood up, still ghastly, and went to walk out. Before leaving she said to the corpse, “Rose may have loved you, but I sure didn’t. She took the man’s weapon, spit on the ground, and walked out.” She didn’t turn back even to see Soledad’s body one lasts time.
The following years leading up to this point were a fury of activity. Gardener was right in one aspect: she now had nothing nor anyone holding her back. She was alone. Arissa wore her hair up in a tight ponytail like Soledad and continued the lessons she was taught by her mentor-guardian. She knew that this was the first step in a long, lonely journey and steeled herself for it. Shade knew how to concentrate on a single goal and pursue it to the utmost.
There was an entire galaxy out there. The free spirit was now free to roam it as she pleased.