As Eli rushed around his office, shutting doors and closing window shades, Inse took deeper stock of the situation she found herself in. She could feel his body. If he was actually a he. She couldn’t exactly read his thoughts so much as she received general impressions of his subconscious identity. And that identity didn’t seem to conform to one specific gender. Interesting.
Of course she could also feel his pulse racing and the sweat trickling down the skin beneath his shirt. Familiar feelings from those she got close to. She hadn’t realized how much she missed having that effect on people.
Time to let me in on your little plan, Eli. Whenever you’re through panicking, of course.
“My plan is to figure out whatever the frack you are and dispose of you,” he muttered darkly, putting an ear up to the locked durasteel door as if to make sure no sound could penetrate it.
She clucked his tongue. “That’s no way to treat a guest, Eli.” The words issued from his mouth in a strange back-and-forth between his voice and various female tones. Apparently it was going to take a bit of experimentation to produce her own former pitch.
Eli reached up and slapped himself. Then he crossed to the desk and poured himself a drink.
My mistake. Who do I have the pleasure of hosting?
Whom, Eli. Whom do you have the pleasure of hosting.
The alcohol was bitter on his tongue and warm in his gut. Beyond gender, she was having a hard time getting a sense of his—its—age. But very few species reached maturity in less than a couple of decades, and if she had to guess, she’d bet he was on the other side, that he was actually much older than he seemed.
What do you know about Thule?
I know that’s where you’re from. His head lifted sharply at the thought, as if he was as surprised as she was that this maybe worked two ways.
His lips twisted with her annoyance. Still, taking complete control of the body would probably take time. So if she and Eli were forced to work together, it would be helpful to know how deep their connection went. Full marks. And what else can you glean?
Eli’s body went rigid for a moment. He shuddered. Inse could feel his skin moving, stretching, folding over new muscles and new bone structure. His hair grew. When he opened his eyes, he was a girl approximately eleven years of age, completely different, yet all too familiar.
Myleah’s mouth felt unnatural in a smile. Hello, Auntie Inse.
The girl’s mouth felt even more unnatural as she laughed. It’s a nice trick, Eli, but I’m afraid there won’t be much of value in whatever you got from her, poor, sweet, ignorant little thing that she is.
You won’t hear any arguments from me there. Myleah’s mouth twisted. Did you actually have a reason for deciding to live inside a Jedi whelp’s head?
“I wasn’t exactly in her head,” Inse said aloud. After a slight waver, the tone settled into one similar to her niece’s, and she smiled. “But the rituals involved in keeping myself sentient beyond death require blood, and I only have two living blood relations.” Her smile slipped. “And believe me, the alternative was far less palatable than a Jedi whelp.”
Myleah’s fingers drummed on the table. The way she was reclining in the chair with one leg crossed over the other was more characteristic of a middle-aged man than a young girl. Rituals and blood and Jedi whelps. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you sound like a Sith.
Inse was silent, in her head and in her ears. She let a slow smile spread across Myleah’s lips.
Myleah snorted. “Clever girl.” Using the Jedi to do what you want. Which I assume was what you were doing. She paused. What is it you want?
A second chance. She turned Myleah’s hand to examine her fingernails. “I made mistakes. I don’t deny it. But I don’t plan on making them again.”
Oh, is that all? Myleah’s body went rigid, hands clasping the armrests of the chair. Her hair receded back into her head, and her limbs elongated. When she collapsed, breathing heavily over the desk, Inse blinked back at her own reflection.
I can help with that. For the right price.
She turned her head slightly to each side, eyeing the reflection critically. Then she focused her will on an image, not unlike creating an illusion for compulsion. When she released the energy, she watched in satisfaction as her hair grew out again, this time falling in soft waves over her shoulders.
Haggling, Eli? How gauche. Where’s your sense of vision?
It’s not my job to have visions. It’s my job to make them happen. Inse rubbed her neck, glancing over her shoulders as if someone might be listening. My vision is surviving my job.
“Survival isn’t everything.” It was funny how much one could come to miss one’s own voice. Inse smiled down at her reflection again. “And if money’s what you’re after, believe me, it won’t be a problem.” Not after a short comm call to the banking center on Thule. She almost wished she’d be able to see the look on Phylus’s face when he found out he and his tarty little Twi’lek were cut off without a credit. With any luck, they’d be begging in some gutter somewhere when she finally got around to finding them and cutting them to small, quivery pieces.
That’s good to know Inse inspected Eli Fennut’s clothing lying baggy on her smaller frame. I hadn’t planned for a female wardrobe.
She rose from the desk, wrapping the fabric more tightly around herself and folding her arms to keep it there. She walked over to the security feeds, running on monitors set into the wall. On one, Aves Domrus himself was pumping durasteel barbells with one hand.
I’ve still got a good number of my own objectives to fill. And they all relate to getting this nerfherder into office, and keeping the Jedi out of the way.
Out of the way of what? Inse’s fingers trailed along the edge of the monitors. Aves was quite a specimen. Dumb, too. Malleable. She liked that in a man. You’re talking means. What’s the end?
Onderon’s being raped and pillaged for the benefit of dying worlds, the Republic is bleeding us dry, filthy, slimy aliens line the streets and give our daughters looks– Inse shrugged. I’m not much for the rhetoric. Just the credits. And living to spend them.
So your employers want new leadership on Onderon? Inse smiled sweetly at her own reflection in a blank monitor. I can do that.
Almost instantly, the smile turned to a severe frown. They want their leadership. Since that’s not possible, they tell me what they want and I make Domrus do it. I doubt you’d make as good a puppet as he does.
Inse snorted. “That’s certainly true.” She crossed her arms under her chest. “Elections don’t work, Eli. The whole process is too slow. Someone will discover you before your boy wins, and then where will you be?”
Her throat gave a low chuckle more suited to a man. Who, the Jedi?
“Don’t underestimate anyone. It can have nasty consequences.” Her last moment as a corporeal being was quite literally seared into her memory. She remembered the stink of charred flesh and wrinkled her nose. She reached out to the place where she joined the being that wasn’t really Eli Fennut and generously shared the memory.
She smiled grimly. Thanks for that. As if I wasn’t already worried about the possibility of my own demise.
Inse turned away from the monitors, folding one arm over her chest and tapping her lips with her other hand. I can’t fight Jedi. I’m not Force sensitive. That’s why I was assigned here, and my associates were assigned elsewhere.
With a slight grimace of concentration, Inse waved her hand. Half the monitor screens went dark. When she waved it again, they flickered back to life. She smiled. “No longer a problem.”
She was silent for a moment. You never answered my question. You wanted a second chance. To do what?
Inse gathered her energy as she had done when she grew her hair, but this time she released it throughout her body, like the warm tingle of low-level lightning. The hair pulled back into her scalp again; her features blurred into those of a long-dead Thulian politician. Waving a hand, she blanked a monitor again, smiling when Neesa A’to looked back at her. It wasn’t an illusion. It wasn’t a compulsion. It was reality.
“To make the galaxy a better place, of course.”
She touched Neesa A’to’s face experimentally. “I can become people I can get rid of. I can’t alter people’s memories.” How do you plan to bring this one back to life, especially with people around who remember who she really is?
Inse waved Neesa A’to’s hand. “I don’t plan on going back to this disguise. It’s useless to us. I have something else in mind.”
She let the tingle flow through her again, easier this time. Long locks grew out again, now blonde. Her breasts swelled, and then her lips, ending in an attractive pout. Blue eyes glittered as she smoothed a hand over the shirt’s fabric and the lush figure underneath. “The clothes should be easy enough to get,” she murmured in a low, breathy voice. “The bells might be more difficult.”
Lashowe Starshine made a low whistle. It’s risky. The Beast-riders don’t trust Domrus. They mistake his stupidity for a calculated plot against them.
“We don’t need Domrus,” Lashowe said. “We’ll have an army.”
And what about public sentiment? The voice in her head was Eli Fennut, the political puppetmaster and mastermind returned. My clients want control over Onderon. They want support from the people. Domrus still has to win, eventually. He paused. Saviors usually win.
Lashowe laughed huskily. “The hometown hero negotiates a peace and brings the Beast-riders back into the fold of the Onderon government? That would be downright historic.”
It wouldn’t get me killed, either, I trust. There was both a warning and a question in Eli’s voice.
She smiled. “Of course not. I’m nothing without you, Eli.”
The body shuddered again, reforming a male physique and carefully trimmed hair. Eli Fennut carefully adjusted his clothing, straightening his collar and tugging on his sleeves. He regarded his reflection in the blank viewscreen for a moment, a woman with soft waves of dark hair and that same smile.
“Then let’s get started.”