Choices is a little back-story I did for Jeana, my Light Side Sith Warrior character from playing the video game Star Wars: The Old Republic. My wife and I are big fans of the TV show So You Think You Can Dance, which inspired me to make Jeana a dancer underneath. This story takes place a few months before Jeana leaves for Korriban to begin her advanced training as a Sith.
Jeana stalked into the gym at her family’s house. Her eyes blazed. Every step flared with barely contained rage. “No one talk to me,” she said. The training droids and her sparring partners didn’t say a word. She waited for her mother to comment. Nothing, yet. She followed a scalpel-straight line from the entrance to the locker room. The clatter of the door slamming behind her echoed for seconds after she was gone.
Her mother Jessica laughed. “Sorry, everyone. Jeana’s going to be on fire today.” She handed her daughter’s favorite light saber to Snow, one of the trainers. He gulped. She said, “Low power, setting two. Don’t worry, everyone. She likes you, so I don’t think anyone’s going to die today.”
Inside the locker room, Jeana went straight to hers and started changing. Her mother demanded strict discipline when it came to fighting. She had ten minutes until it was time to start. Her dance teacher was the same, only worse. Much, much, darkly, blackly, clawingly worse.
She put the bag with her dance clothes in the locker. Jeana was about to change worlds from dance class to what she nicknamed Sith class. The two were alike in a lot of ways. Passion. Grace. Precision. Jeana touched the curled edge of a picture inside her locker door, of her first solo, when she was twelve. Her chin trembled. They also shared pettiness, jealousy, and heartbreak. Her heart vibrated between sadness and rage. Jeana sighed, and her heart chose both. A few tears fell. She kept moving. In moments she had replaced her dance clothes with her training armor.
Jeana walked back into the training hall. “Bad day at class?” her mother asked.
“Mom… I said don’t talk to me.”
“Use that attitude on your training partners, young warrior. Not with me.”
Her mother tossed her the saber. Jeana looked at it funny. “Setting two? We’ve been doing four.”
“At four you’re going to kill somebody today. We don’t have any throwaway partners in here.”
Jeana cracked a grin. Some light seeped into her bitter heart. “You can always make me laugh.”
“Laughter’s good for balance.”
“And balance in the heart means passion with precision,” Jeana recited. “Someday I’m going to get you to lose it, and just see what happens.”
Her mother smiled nervously. “Oh, honey. Just make sure your helmet’s on when that day happens.”
Jeana walked into the center ring. She filled her soul with the fury she still felt, only now she set it to the melody of a song they’d been dancing to in recital practice.
It was a good day sparring for Jeana, a rough one for her partners.
Jeana focused her mind completely on the music. One, and two, three, and four, turn, step, step, jete! Her body sang and the Force sang with it as she landed in time with the music. Jeana imagined herself falling into a pool of water to keep from smiling at –
“No! No! Stop! And stop the music!”
So much for falling into water; Jeana felt like a fish being jerked out of a lake. She pulled up. Miss Graha, her dance teacher, walked over to her. The entire class hushed. Jeana felt their fear. She turned red. Miss Graha had been the most famous dancer on Ashalon until an ankle injury two years ago. Jeana had idolized her. Jeana sensed bitterness, rage, something sick that she couldn’t put her finger on.
She knew better than to say anything.
Miss Graha stared at her from inches away for a full three seconds. Jeana looked back, eye to eye.
“You missed your mark. Again.”
Jeana looked down at the floor. She stood on a black X taped to the wood. “This is…”
“Not that one!” Miss Graha stepped to the right and stomped on another X. “This one!”
“That’s my takeoff for the leap!”
“Nonsense! Am I blind?” She turned to the rest of the class and roared, “Does anyone else disagree with me?”
Jeana couldn’t read their minds, but she could sense their feelings. Every last one of them believed Jeana. Every last one of them didn’t want to face Miss Graha, either. Jeana seethed. What she wouldn’t give to face Miss Graha with a lightsaber.
Miss Graha faced Jeana again. She poked her shoulder. “Again, young lady,” she said. She might as well have told Jeana that her dancing disgusted her.
The fire of Jeana’s blood overflowed. The Force flowed through her.
This time, Jeana danced in a whirlwind. Her points sharpened to daggers. She struck silent sword blows on her marks. Behind the music, she heard gasps from her classmates. Even Miss Graha held her voice. The passion built and built and broke and consumed Jeana. If only her mother were here!
The song faded away. Jeana’s heart lifted. She cradled herself on the floor as the music turned to vapors. She unfolded her arms, opened one, then the other, and imagined the fire in her blood fading away, like a sun cooling to night.
The Force warned her first. Jeana imagined blackness. Fangs. A threat.
Normally Miss Graha would lead a round of applause for the soloist. Instead, she walked to where Jeana sat on the floor. She tapped her foot. “You hit your marks, and those were some of the most amazing leaps I’ve seen you do yet, Miss Lysset.”
Jeana heard her mother’s voice in her mind: rage is fuel. Use it wisely. When your opponent expects fury, give them calm. When she expect control, unleash your wrath.
She imagined Miss Graha on fire. Rather than asking her teacher what the hell was wrong now, Jeana asked, “But…?”
Miss Graha stammered. This time Jeana couldn’t help cracking a grin. If this had been a sparring session, she would have hit her four times by now.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t sparring. Miss Graha regained her composure. “Your expression still needs work. It’s all mechanics; there isn’t enough art.”
Jeana’s mouth dropped open. Her rage overflowed and she lost control. “Not enough what? What do you want me to do, bleed?”
Miss Graha cocked her head to the side and folded her arms.
“Oh, no. I didn’t…”
“That’s enough from you for today, young lady. Go sit down.”
“I didn’t….” It was too late. Miss Graha pointed to the side of the room where the rest of the class sat.
“I’m sorry,” Jeana hissed. She wasn’t. Jeana kicked herself. She was sorry she’d lost her cool, not for what she’d said.
When Jeana walked into the training hall, her mother shouted, “Force choke, now!”
Jeana imagined her mother was Miss Graha. Her right hand shot out, fully extended, and her soul reached beyond her fingers and flew all the way to her mother’s throat. Her mother wore a gauntlet that absorbed Force attacks. A gem in the gauntlet flared like a star. Her mother grinned. “Well… someone had another bad day.”
Jeana growled. Red points of fire glowed deep in her eyes. It felt like a wave of flame shooting out through her arm. Her mother rocked from the attack. She set her back foot. “That’s it, honey. Use it!”
Jeana grit her teeth. She hated being played with like this. She hated losing her place in the recital even more. “Use this,” Jeana growled. She shook. She pushed all her love of dance into the attack. If she had been dancing now, she would have worn blades on her shoes.
The gem flared brighter. It sparked. Her mother winced. “You have power, Jeana.” she said. She coughed. The attack was getting through. “Fear. Anger. These are weapons.”
“I used them already. I use them every day!”
“Not on Miss Graha, you don’t.”
“I’m not going to choke Miss Graha.”
Her mother cocked her head to the side. “Why not?” she asked. Jeana gasped. The attack faltered. “Focus, Jeana! Why not?”
“She’s my teacher.”
The attack grew stronger. “She’ll never let me dance again.”
“There are a dozen teachers who would put you ahead of their own daughters.”
Her mother’s arm shook. More sparks. “I don’t want them to do it out of fear.”
“Fear is a weapon.”
“My dancing is a weapon!” Jeana snarled.
The relic broke. Her mother threw up her own hand, and a chaotic ball of black Force energy fought in the middle of them. “You deserve your spot.”
“Then take it, Jeana!”
Jeana breathed. Her cooling breath spread over her anger. Now she had passion and focus. Jeana imagined a star going nova in between them; the Force ball exploded. Jeana was ready, but her mother staggered from the release.
Jeana leaped over to her. She caught her before she hit the ground. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Her mother brushed her hair. “Of course I am.” She didn’t look all right. She looked at the glorious relic on her arm. A few crystals were shattered. It smelled like burned tin. “Priceless. Worthless. Oh well.”
“Don’t push me so far, and I won’t go breaking your pretty things,” Jeana said with a grin.
“Oh, the hell with that. This was fun. I can always find a new trinket.”
“I hate it when we spar together.”
“You have to get over it, hon. One day you might be all that stands between a friend and the throne, or a Darth might send someone that you love to fight you, to wound you deeper than they ever could. It’s the Sith way.”
Jeana looked straight into her mother’s eyes. “I’ll choose my own way.”
Her mother smiled.
The events calendar in the studio read, “Today: Final Cuts for the Recital.” Below that was tacked a schedule of auditions, from the backup, through the artists, soloists and principals. Jeana and a girl named Adri were the principals competing for the lead. Adri was Miss Graha’s favorite. In spite of that, she and Jeana were good friends.
Jeana arrived early, as she always did. She usually took a place on the rail and stretched while going over the recital in her head.
Adri was here early, too, as she always was. Usually they’d sit together and get ready, but they hadn’t ever since auditions had begun. Miss Graha discouraged it. She said they were rivals and should act like it.
Jeana sat next to Adri where she used to. She smiled. “Hey.”
“Hi, J,” Adri said.
Adri was usually the talkative one. Today she was Miss Monosyllable. This was weird. Jeana said, “Uh… look, I just wanted to say good luck today. Kick ass.”
Adri looked down. “Yeah.”
Real weird. Jeana gathered up her things to go.
“I hate the way she treats you. It’s not fair,” Adri blurted. Jeana was about to thank her, when she went on, “Everyone thinks I’m her pet. I’m a good dancer.”
“You’re a great dancer!”
“As good as you?”
“I…” Well, yes. Jeana could feel how upset Adri was. They were friends. Jeana lied through her teeth. “Better.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“What’s up with you?”
“Why did you come over here, anyway?”
Jeana started to get angry. She caught a rush of the Dark Side. She’d wanted to feel something good here before Miss Graha walked in and turned everything to fangs and daggers, but Adri wasn’t helping.
To wish you luck, loser. Because I’m better than you. No matter how well you do you can’t beat me today, and everyone knows it.
Jeana shook her head. “Forget I did. ‘Merde,’” Jeana said. Dancer slang for ‘good luck.’
She turned to walk back to the rail. Miss Graha stood in the doorway. She’d seen everything. They shared a stare. Jeana blinked first but only because she had better things to do, like stretch.
Miss Graha walked over to Andri. Jeana watched them whisper. Miss Graha made forceful gestures. Points. Fists. Be strong. Don’t let her mess with your head. Jeana felt flickers of the Dark Side. Anger. Scorn. Passion. She wondered what she was saying.
Adri noticed her looking. Jeana gave her a small smile. She winked. Jeana lifted her foot onto the rail and began dancing in her mind.
Take what was rightfully hers.
Everyone applauded as the soloists left the floor. There were a lot of hugs, some tears, laughter, and pats on the back. Jeana thought of her sparring partners in the training hall at home. Not the hugging type… well, that wasn’t true. They were different kinds of hugs. Less frilly. You didn’t giggle when you wore powered armor.
Well, there was that one weirdo from Dashan…
“Principals, to positions.”
Jeana and Andri jumped up and moved briskly to their places. Andri wore her favorite color, sky blue. Jeana wore her signature black.
They faced a panel of six judges from the school, chaired by Miss Graha. With Miss Graha alone Jeana wouldn’t have stood a chance. With all the teachers in school, Jeana knew she had it sewn up. They would be dancing the same routine, side by side, far enough apart that they wouldn’t get in each other’s way. The judges would decide who deserved the lead.
It always came down to this. Jeana and Adri. Adri and Jeana.
It felt different today. Adri felt like a storm cloud over to Jeana’s left. All churn, no focus. Jeana bit her lip. “Pull it together, bitch,” she whispered.
Adri’s eyes snapped over to her. “What?” she hissed.
Jeana’s eyes flicked over to her. Her eyes narrowed just so. Slowly, she said, “You heard me. You’re dust.”
Adri looked away and fixed her gaze on the the judges. She grit her teeth. Jeana felt her storm focus into a jet of rage.
The music started. Both dancers bowed, and the audition began.
The dance started slowly, symbolizing an underwater princess rising up from the depths of the sea. Then the pace quickened. There were dark, dangerous things in the water. The dancers circled, gazing around the room. They looked with wonder, then with fear. Their steps moved faster. An ancient sea serpent came at them. Spins. Leaps. The dancers fought. Every stab skewered. Their kicks slashed. Their teeth bared and snapped. Jeana felt like she could smell blood in the water, everywhere around them. The madness of battle engulfed them.
The music rose to crescendo. In final, titanic struggle, the dancers overcame the beast. The music slowed gradually into a lilting melody. The princess reached for the surface. She broke through. The dance came to an end.
No one made a sound. Then one person clapped, and the entire studio suddenly roared. It was deafening! People cheered, whistled and screamed. Some of them were crying again. Others were hugging. The judges applauded too. People were crying, “Bravo!” Jeana grinned from ear to ear.
She and Adri looked at each other. Awkwardly, they both hugged, and waved at the crowd. The applause kept going. Some of the judges looked at each other. They nodded to each other. As one, they gave the dancers a standing ovation. The audience screamed louder.
The dancers bowed. The crowd kept cheering. Twice. Now it was getting funny. Jeana and Adri waved at the crowd, and the applause finally faded. The dancers stood side by side and held hands the way they always did to await the judges’ decision.
“Hate this part,” Adri whispered.
As usual, they dragged it out. Without expression, the judges voted and passed their decisions to Miss Graha. She counted the votes, and confirmed them with the judges on either side of her, who confirmed the results. Miss Graha turned to the dancers. Everyone hushed again.
“Thank you, ladies. I speak for everyone on this panel when I say that we weren’t watching dancers today. We watched warrior queens. Both of you were utterly magnificent. Our regret is that only one of you can reign supreme, and the other will be her handmaiden in the recital. Adri, congratulations.”
Adri’s hands covered her mouth. She lowered her head as tears flowed. Jeana wrapped her arms around her. Bitter wine, sweet wine.
Adri hugged her back lightly. When Jeana didn’t let go at first, Adri hesitated, then hugged her like they were still friends. When they let go, she gave Jeana a look.
“You did great, Adri,” Jeana said.
Adri hugged Jeana again, hard. “Thank you,” she said.
Jeana finished fastening the shoulder catch on her armor. Her mother handed Jeana’s dance clothes to the droid that maintained the locker room. The two of them walked out into the training hall, side by side. “So I showed her the power of the Dark Side. In a good way,” Jeana finished saying.
“That wasn’t what I had in mind when I said to take what was yours.”
“What did you have in mind?”
Her mother glanced at her. Except for her eyes, the lights in the room seemed to dim as she said, “Strike a little fear into Miss Graha’s heart, to remind her to do the right thing.” The effect faded. Her mother grinned. “I never learned that mind trick the Jedi use. A little fear goes a long way instead.”
“I thought about it. It still seemed like a cheat. I figured that with the other judges I wouldn’t have to.” Jeana sighed. “I’m going to miss that last spotlight.”
“That’s where I was going. Why’d you do it?”
“Duh. Because me and Adri are friends.” She paused. “We’re both dancers, but dancing is her life. If she’s the principal in the recital, next year she goes to school on Lyrio and becomes the most famous dancer in the Empire. If I’m the principal, it’s one last, beautiful hurrah before I go to Korriban and become the most famous warrior in the Empire.”
Her mother nodded. There was a silence between them; Jeana left one last part out. It was because it was her way. Jeana didn’t want to sound like some noble sage teaching a lesson.
They reached the middle of hall. Jeana greeted her sparring partners. Her mother gave them instructions on today’s exercise. They would circle her, like a serpent, fighting her from all sides, and she would have to fight her way out.
Jeana smiled. “You always have the most fun ideas, mom.”
“If it’s not mine, I borrow or steal from the best.”
“Isn’t that beg, borrow, or steal?”
“Sith don’t beg.”
They started to fan out. Her partners fired up their armor and tested their weapons. Every single one looked nervous. Her mother tossed her the lightsaber. “Fire it up all the way,” she said. “You’re ready.” They moaned. They’d be spending time with the medical droids after this one.
Jeana caught the lightsaber with one hand and turned it on in one move. She flourished the blade around her. Her smile looked happy, beautiful and terrifying in the saber’s red light.
Her mother said, “Music.” Music from the recital filled the training hall. The other warriors didn’t get it. They looked at one another, assuming the worst.
Jeana felt like she could fly. She bowed to them, and the dance began.