Alex and Hannah
Part One: In Media Res
With some trepidation, Alex approached the mirror. "Alec Guiness wouldn't be too bad," he thought. "Ewan McGregor would be better." When he looked, however, it was his own familiar face that stared back at him. No changes? But wait. Where were his glasses? "I guess Jedi don't need glasses," he thought. Before, without them, Alex functioned at about the white cane level. Now, he couldn't even remember losing them.
"How long has it been since..." he glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Ninety minutes, an hour and a half and Hannah was not there yet! Surely the hotel room would be the logical place for her to come to. She was a creature of logic now, wasn't she? There were, however, two other costumes she could have been wearing. What were they? He didn't think to ask her. It wasn't important then, unlike now. And what did sushi have to do with it?
There was nothing for it but to go back out there and find her. First, in case she came while he was gone, he left her cell phone with a note under it, asking her to stay put and call. Next, he needed to get out of his Jedi garb, no sense in setting off another Sith Lord. He stripped and put on jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. He had just finished tying the sneakers when things began to change. The shoes climbed his ankles and became boots, the jeans turned white and the t-shirt expanded into a kind of kimono, also white. "Damn!" he said aloud. "I'm really riding the crazy train now." He shook his head and made for the door. "There's No time to quarrel with it. I'll just have to go as is."
He turned the door-handle, but found himself unable to step out. There was nothing wrong with the door, he just couldn't leave. "Now what! . . . Oh, right." He extended his hand, the light-saber lying on the bed lept into it. He sighed, "I'll probably end up needing that again anyway."
Part Two: A First Step Into a Larger World
Alex had met Hannah through the University of Central Florida's Sci-Fi and Fantasy gamers' club when they were both sophomores. He was a local boy, she was from North Carolina. They had a lot more in common than just their tastes in gaming, literature and movies. So, while it wasn't quite love at first sight, it was pretty close. A month after graduation, he gave her a ring. The date was set for the following Spring.
Neither of them had really gotten into cosplaying, so when the heavy costume emphasis of this years Kubla Con was announced they did not make any plans to dress up. They were both going to be there of course. Alex had not missed a Kubla con since he was a pre-teen. Hannah, this year, was going as an employee of Darknight Books, a fantasy and sci-fi publishing house.
Because of financial support from from Eric Winters and some others, the con was expected to be much bigger than previous years. Todd Grimes, Darknight's owner, hoped to sell more books and gaming material there that weekend than Christmas. He intended, therefore, to make a large presence. Hannah left Thursday evening, a day early, to help set up. Alex would arrive on Saturday afternoon.
Alex never quite knew why, but almost at the last minute, he decided to go in costume afterall. He had always liked playing a Jedi character in the role playing game, and it occurred to him that an apropriate costume couldn't be all that difficult. He guessed he already had the basics for a sort of generic Jedi knight, and began rummaging through their closets. For the base, he found an old black teeshirt and matching sweat-pants; next, an old pair of boots from the garage; a leather belt; and a tan kimono from when he had a brief interest in learning Kendo. To top it off, he found an old, brown bath-robe that had a hood and came down almost to his feet. He put it all together and looked in the bathroom mirror. "Well, I'll be winning no prizes, but from a distance, the effect's not too bad," he thought. There was still something missing. He dug through some boxes in the garage untill he found a short length of PVC pipe and some electronic bits. Finally, in his garage, with some duct tape and super glue, he constructed his own lightsaber.
"This ought to amuse Hannah," he thought, while in front of the mirror again. This time with the 'lightsaber' tucked under his belt. Since he was running late, and to experience what an old SCA friend had called 'freaking the mundanes', he kept the costume on for the 45 minute drive to Orlando. He got some odd looks while getting gas at the Jiffy-Mart, but found he rather enjoyed it. He smiled and waved at some kids and said, "This is not the Chevy you're looking for."
When he arrived, Alex was completely unprepared for the sheer size of the new and enhanced Kubla Con. It was a long walk from where he had to park to the hotel, and an even longer wait to get his room key-card. Once in the room, he found Hannah's things neatly packed in the drawers and a note left on the nightstand, telling him where to find Darknight's booths. He dropped his bag and flopped down on the bed to rest a bit. He considered leaving the bathrobe behind. Even in November, Orlando was a bit warm for this get-up. But he decided to go for the whole effect. It wasn't a major effort at costuming, but he thought Hannah would think it was neat. So, after a quick shower, he redressed in the full Jedi ensamble and left for the convention hall.
He was in for some additional scale-shock when he entered the main hall. The Center could accomodate fifteen thousand people and it looked like it was pretty close to full. And what an amazing assortment of people! There were costumes and uniforms for characters from every genre and myth known to fandom. There were Klingons, Spartans (both Halo and Greek), Elves, Goblins, Sith and Jedi. There were Vulcans (or were they Romulans?), wizards, Orcs, dryads and (Isn't he a bit short for Darth Vader). He wandered, almost at random, taking it all in.
"Alex!" That was his fiancee's voice. He looked around. "Over here!" Not five feet away was a female Vulcan with a Star Fleet officer's uniform, from circa Wrath of Khan. A female Vulcan with Hannah's face.
"Sweetie! I could've walked right past you!" said Alex
"You did, about five seconds ago. Hey! Cool costume! Did you do all that yourself? Is that terry cloth?"
"Just something I threw together at the last minute to suprise you. Speaking of surprise."
"You mean this?" she pointed at herself and laughed. "Todd decided all the employees should get with the con's theme. It's a professional job, his treat."
"It certainly looks professional! Those are the best looking Vulcan ears I've seen. Even from here, I can't see where the points join with your real ears. I knew I should've brought the camera. The cellphone won't do them justice."
"You'd best admire them while you can. I have two more costume changes before this evening's over, so these are coming off in less than an hour.
"You heading for the Darknight booths? You have got to see Todd. He makes an awesome ringwraith."
"At 6 foot five, I'll bet he does," said Alex. "But not yet. I want to see the award presentations. Coming with me?"
"Can't, I'm on break and..." she looked at her watch. "I'm due back to help at the register."
"OK then. See you in a bit. May the Force be with you."
"Live long and prosper."
After a quick kiss, they parted ways.
Alex hurried along to the dining hall, where the awards were to be given. He just had time to get there. There was so much to see that he was tempted to stop, but for some reason, he wanted to not be late. By the time he got there, the dining hall was crowded, but not too densely packed. He easily worked his way to within a few yards of the stage. A lady dressed as a dryad was just introducing Eric Winters, who was wearing all black with a peculiar sort of Native American raven mask.
This, Alex remembered later, was about when things started to go strange. First, a hush fell over the crowd, as though they expected Eric to speak. Instead, he appeared distracted and agitated. One of his entourage, a man in cat makeup, touched him on the arm and spoke quietly to him, as if concerned. All this while, Alex felt a building anticipation, more than he normally would when not knowing any of the contestants. Then, he was distracted from what was going on on stage by a commotion to his left. A group of people dressed as Na'vi had started shouting about something, he couldn't quite see what was exciting them.
At that point, things started in ernest. Alex felt a sudden surge of energy from the stage, coursing into and through his body, sucking his breath away. At the same time came hightened awareness. Suddenly, he knew how many trees were on the lawn around the convention center. He could sense the birds nesting in them. He could also feel the presence of thousands of people, including those he could not see, and they were...TERRIFIED! The rush of their emotions brought Alex to his knees. He found himself shouting. "Control, I must have control!" Gradually, he reined in the inner chaos. The noise outside slowly subsided as well. "Oh wow!," he said finally. "So that's what a great distubance in the Force feels like!"
Alex stood up and looked around. The room was already starting to empty. The Na'vi were gone. The stage was clear, except for a cat-man helping up an injured dryad, and a young Asian girl in a sailor outfit who sat dangling her legs over the side. She smiled at him, he smiled back. "Well, not everyone's afraid, at least," he thought. Other strong emotions were becomming apparent to him as well, confusion, elation, joy and despair.
As he continued to look, it was quickly becoming clear. All who had worn costumes, no matter how casually, were now what they had portrayed. How and why it happened, Alex hadn't a clue. Then he closed his eyes and groaned. This was big, way too big and wide-spread! There was no way that Hannah could have escaped it. She was probably in need of help.
Alex hurried toward the exits. They were starting to clear now, he was definitely behind the main wave. Then he heard a moan, and knew he had to stop. Chairs and tables lay about as though tossed by a whirlwind, but he had no trouble sensing where the sound came from. He carefully lifted one of the tables. Underneath was a small faun. It was wearing a long, wool scarf and was lying next to a broken umbrella. The little creature's eyes were wide with fear and pain. "The minotaur! Where is it!"
Alex looked about nervously, "Minotaur? What minotaur? I must have missed that," he thought. "Uh, it seems to be gone," he said aloud. "Are you hurt bad?"
"It's my foot," The faun looked at himself. "...er, hoof."
"I'll take a look." Alex gingerly lifted the hoof and felt around it. "There's no break, must be a sprain." Then, almost as a reflex, he moved his right hand over the faun's eyes. As he did this, it immediately relaxed.
"Thank you, that feels much better."
Alex looked at his hand. "What? Must be the Force," he thought. "Will you be OK now?" he said. "Paramedics should be here soon."
The faun nodded and closed his eyes.
Alex headed once more for the exit. There was something familiar about that faun, but he couldn't place him.
The main hall was wrecked. Tables, chairs, displays and indeterminate stuff were tipped and scattered about. Banners trailed down from the ceiling where they had hung, as though flying things or giants had ripped them down. Here and there people, changed and unchanged wandered about dazed. It looked like the aftermath of a dry tsunami. At least there was no one seriously hurt in his immediate vicinity and the distant sound of sirens meant help was coming. Alex began picking his way through the debris, then stopped. "God, why am I such an idiot? Why don't I just call her?" He fished through his robes, but what he brought out was not a cell phone. It was a communication device of some sort, however, and with a touch here and there, Hannah's cell number was ringing. "Now, how did I know how to work that? Of course, the same way I now know how to fly a starfighter. I need to stop asking myself stupid questions." The number rang and rang, but no answer. He now felt worse than if he hadn't thought of calling. Wherever she was, she was out of touch as well.
The main hall was slow going. There was a minor stampede when somebody shouted, "THERE'S A GRIZZLY BEAR IN THE LADIES ROOM". Then, Alex thought he smelled smoke. In confirmation, the fire alarm began sounding, causing more chaos. Alex decided he needed to try a different route. This was his eleventh convention at this location so, over the years, he had become quite familiar with the Xanadu Center. He knew, for example, that to his right, there were a number of smaller halls with a single door leading to each adjacent hall. That way might just be easier.
The first hall he entered contained nothing but a few tables of abandoned fantasy miniature games. In the next, several assorted anthropomorphic furry creatures were huddled in a corner, talking quietly. They barely glanced at him as he passed through. The third must have been used for storage. It was stacked with boxes of snacks and cases of soda pop. The fourth was also deserted, and pitch dark. Alex was only mildly surprised to find that the darkness was no obstacle for him. He entered the room and quietly closed the door behind. The final door should lead him to an area near Darknight. The hall was laid out as if for a lecture. The tables were arranged along a central isle, the chairs behind them faced a stage on the opposite end. Behind the curtain, was the exit.
Alex hurried forward, then paused for a moment. There was something new here. Now that he was in the dark, depending more on the Force than his own senses, he noticed it. Had it been there before? It was like a small stirring, a ripple in the Force, quiet but powerfull. Something started moving near the curtain. "I've got a bad feeling about this," he thought. Suddenly, there was a crack and hum of an activating lightsaber and in its lurid light stood an all too familiar shadow.
"Your powers are weak, old man," said the shadow.
"Holy crap!" Alex repeated. He pulled out his own lightsaber. "If this hasn't changed too," he thought. "What follows will be short and ugly." Much to his relief, a bright blue blade of light emerged from the former PVC pipe. He held the weapon at high-ready.
"At last, the circle is complete. When I left you I was but the learner; now I am the master!" The shadow loomed forward and stepped lightly off the stage.
"Can't you say anything more than old movie quotes?"
Now, the shadow rushed in and launched a series of swift, probing attacks. Alex parried each one and managed a couple of reposts, but it wasn't easy. After a brief pause it attacked again. This time there was no probing. Alex found himself being driven back. "Damn, he's good," thought Alex. "Of course he's good! He's Darth freaking Vader! Earlier, I called myself a generic Jedi knight. How long can a generic jedi knight last against the Dark Lord of the Sith?" He knew he wouldn't like the answer.
A twisting feint put Alex out of position, the next strike nearly got him. A small piece of his robe floated to the floor. The bantha wool smoldering. Vader stepped back for an instant and motioned with one hand. A chair launched itself into the air. Alex destroyed it with a back-handed stroke, not taking his eyes off his enemy. "If I rely on brute power alone, I'm going to die," he thought. "Surely, there has to be someone in that mask, not just a killing machine!" He searched quickly, then he felt it, a brief moment of conflict, of doubt. So this one is not utterly lost to the Dark side?
Backing again, Alex felt something brush against him, a table. Without thinking he lept back onto it then lept again as Vader tried to take his legs out from under him. Now it was the Dark Lord who was out of position. Alex swept his saber into a downward strike, but hesitated. He couldn't kill him, not knowing what he knew now. Vader quickly parried and split the table in half. Alex landed lightly on the next table and prepared for the inevitable. He knew there would be no more opportunities to defeat Vader directly. He tried indirectly. "I sense a conflict in you. You don't want to do this! You know it's wrong."
"There is no conflict!" The masked shadow destroyed the next table. Alex lept to the third, but now there was a wall behind him.
"If I knew his name, could I get through to him?" There was another alternative of course. The Dark Side crouched there, seething like a cauldren. Alex could sense Vader drinking up its power, using it against him. "He wouldn't be so powerful without its crutch. It isn't fair! What if I..."
At that moment, a door behind Vader flew open, allowing light to stream into the room. Silhouetted in the light was a white robed woman. "Stephanie no! Stop!" she screamed.
"Stephanie?! That's the name?!"
The woman in white, who looked exactly like Princess Leah, rushed into the room. "Please stop! Don't you know me? I'm your sister, Sandie."
Alex doubted that Sandie still looked much like Sandie, never-the-less it worked. The red lightsaber switched off and clattered to the floor. Stephanie/Vader slowly slumped to her/his knees. Terrible, heartwrenching, wheezing sobs then followed. Alex stepped down from the table and collapsed, exhausted, onto one of the folding chairs. Sandie/Leah wrapped her arms, so far as she could reach, about her sister's sholders and cried with her.
All the commotion had attracted others. Among them Alex recognized the gray uniform of an Imperial naval officer. He would be just right. "You! Prefect! Do you have any stormtroopers under your command?" He put a subtle bit of Force persuasion into his voice. The man gawked, then shook his head. "You'll have to do. Lord Vader has been injured. Guard him and his...sister with your life. See to it that no harm comes to them!" Alex added some stronger persuasion and hoped that the man's change made him inclined to obey.
"Yes, sir!" The man saluted and began ushering the other beings away.
Alex knelt down in front of the two sisters. He fumbled for words. "I don't know what to tell you other than that you aren't alone. Many others have been changed as well. There are people coming. They'll do all they can to help." He knew this was woefully inadequate, but he was totally at a loss and he knew better than to try to lie. Whatever power, be it god or demon, was responsible for all this, Alex now hated it. He hated it for its capriciousness, its gift/curse giving without regard for desert. If it were a mindless force of nature, like a tornado or earthquake, it would be blameless, but he knew somehow, that there was an intellegence behind it. He stood and walked away. There was still Hannah.
The chaos and destruction on this end of the main hall were even worse. Stuff was drifted up into small mounds. The footing was treacherous in many places. On the other hand, there were fewer people. There was a higher proportion of books in the detritus as well, including books with familiar Darknight titles. This is where Alex found Beth.
He did not recognize her at first, but he could not help but notice her, sitting on a broken book case with tears in her eyes. She recognized Alex however. The person Alex saw was Arwen, not just Liv Tyler in pointed ears, but a two-thousand year-old Elven princess with all the aura, dignity and and stunning beauty one would expect, and more. He had difficulty believing that this could actually be Beth. He remembered her from the last darknight get-together that Hannah and he had both been to. She had been shy, self-conscious, a bit over-weight, but not unattractive. She was also blonde and about six inches shorter back then.
Unfortunately, Beth had no more idea what had happened to the other Darknight people than Alex. She had been away on break when the change occured and had made her way back just a few minutes ago, only to find all the booths destroyed and deserted. In addition to herself as Arwen and Hannah as a Vulcan, she remembered Todd had been dressed as a Nazgul, Randal as a Star Fleet medical doctor and Sarah as a Dark Jedi from Knights of the Old Republic. As for Jim, Allen and Tracy, she hadn't a clue. They were all changing costumes constantly, keeping Amy, the professional makeup artist busy, and everyone guessing what would be revealed next. There had been a large crowd watching Amy apply the makeup, and applauding each time a Darknight employee stepped out of the curtained-off changing area. The only maddening hint was Todd joking about something he had reserved especially for Hannah, since she hated sushi so much. Sushi?!
Alex and Beth spent some time picking through the wreckage, looking for anything that might tell them what had happened to the others. Alex found Hannah's cell phone and what he thought might be the dark wig she had worn earlier as a Vulcan. Beth found the Star Fleet uniform jacket that Hannah had worn and part of Todd's ringwraith outfit. They hoped the last item meant that he had not been wearing that particular costume when the change came. Todd could be a jerk sometimes, but becoming an undead sorcerer-king was not a fate to be wished on anyone.
Eventually, Alex knew he had to check back at the hotel. Since the land-line wasn't working, he needed to go there. Nothing more could be accomplished among the ruins of Darknight. Beth decided to stay there a bit longer, in case anyone else came back. She promised to contact Alex somehow if Hannah showed up. He had doubts about leaving Beth there alone, but they left him when she drew her elven longsword and laid it across her knees. She looked like a warrior-queen, sitting on that broken book case.
Alex was much more cautious on his way to the hotel room. His brush with the Dark Lord had taught him to rely on the Force not his senses and to remember that just because he knew all that Jedi stuff didn't mean he knew how to do it well. At least not yet.
The Sun was setting now. Emergency vehicle lights were everywhere. It looked like the authorities were really trying to bring things under control. This made Alex even more cautious. To the emergency responders minds, the Xanadu Center had just become a huge insane asylum and Alex looked like one of the inmates. Fortunately, the cordon they were building included the hotel and there seemed to be no attempt to control traffic between it and the Center. He didn't know until he entered it that the hotel was within the radius of the Change.
He could hardly believe the lobby was the same place where he had stood in line only a couple of hours before. Several of the light fixtures were broken, one, though still working, was slowly swinging back and forth, giving a crazy-house feel to the room. The walls and carpets looked scortched in places. The air was filled with the stench of burnt acrylic. Alex reached out with his feelings, though he saw no one, the place was far from empty. Many had apparently shut themselves into their rooms to contemplate their gains and/or mourn their losses in private. Now might be a good time to travel the halls.
He didn't venture to use the elevator, the power could go at any time and he did not relish the idea of having to cut his way out with his lightsaber. The stairwell wasn't too bad, but the third-floor hallway, where their room was, had seen some action. In this closer environment, the combination of odors was incredible, human, animal and other. There were blast-marks on the walls, which wasn't a good sign, and a long, wide trail of slime leading from the elevators to the room across from Alex and Hannah's. A disturbing, bubbling/belching sound came through the door. Alex searched his pockets for the key-card and was relieved to find he still had it. He seemed to have an awful lot of pockets with a lot of things in them. He would have to take an inventory later. He inserted the key, the lock clicked and he entered the room.
It was just as he had left it. Closing the door behind him, he could almost believe that nothing unusual had happened that afternoon. He sighed, rubbed his temples, then noticed the full-length mirror over the dresser. He hadn't really had a chance to look at himself yet.
Part Three: Immovable Logic and Irresistable Force Powers
Alex left the Room in a hurry. He knew he was running out of options, if not time. There were no more obvious places for Hannah to show up at on her own. He wasn't sure what he would do once he left the hotel. Describing her or showing her picture wouldn't make much sense. She may not look like that at all anymore.
Speaking of which, would he be able to deal with whatever did happen to her? What if she isn't a she anymore for example? This gave him pause. He'd seen that happen more than once today, so it was quite possible. He stopped in the stairwell and sat on a step. He had to think this through. What kind of relationship could they have then? He knew he loved her, but he also knew he was not at all sexually attracted to males. Could they have a relationship without sex? Why not? He loved his brothers, He loved his parents. This just wasn't the same though. He batted this around his head for a while longer, then, finally, he sighed and continued down the stairs. "Edward Alexander Harris!" he thought. "It's a waste of your time and effort to worry about those things you can't alter. What ever we have to deal with, we will deal with it together." He took comfort in knowing that, so far, none of Todd's commissioned costumes had been outrageously bizarre. "I just wish I knew what sushi had to do with any of it. When I see Todd, I don't care if he's turned into bloody Sauron himself, he's getting a piece of my mind!"
Alex was approaching the lobby when he once more he felt a tremor in the Force. It was very similar to, but not quite the same as what he had felt in the conference room. "I don't want to start another ruckus," he thought. He readied his lightsaber then began to slowly back away from the fire-door. He hoped that whoever or whatever he detected was not also feeling his presence. Then, the fear and panic of others nearby were impressed upon him. "Oh no, what do I do now?" he thought. "Is this thing attacking them? Can I allow that to happen?" Suddenly, a large, white rabbit crashed through the door. By instinct, Alex activated his weapon and went into a defensive stance.
"Shit!" said the wide-eyed human-lapine, and fainted dead away.
"So much for surprise," muttered Alex. Beyond the door, now conveniently propped open by the inert furry-person, was the object of all the consternation, a large black-clad man with red and black tattoos covering his face, and horns sprouting from the crown of his head.
"You've got to be freaking kidding me!" said Alex. Then, all the stress, fear and worry got to the young, 'generic' Jedi. He lost his temper. He lept over the rabbit and swept his blade up for attack. "YOU WANT SOME OF THIS? COME AND GET IT YOU HORNY-HEADED SON-OF-A-BITCH!" He felt his anger flow around and through him like molten metal, bringing with it power from the dark side of the Force. He felt strong, he felt invincible, he felt good.
Then, as if to put the crowning touch of weirdness on Alex's already frightfully weird day. Darth Maul dropped to his knees and raised both hands in supplication. "Don't hurt me man! Please don't hurt me!"
Alex seethed. "IT'S A TRICK!" the Dark Side screamed at him. "KILL HIM NOW! HE'LL GIVE YOU NO MORE CHANCES!" But he knew it was no trick. Even the Dark Side could not hide that from him. For what seemed an eternity, Alex struggled with his darker self.
"I'm not really Darth Maul! I just look like him! I'm just a guy!" he pleaded. "Everybody's scared of me or wants to kill me! I want to go home."
Alex turned off his lightsaber and lowered it. He felt drained. "That was too close. Way too close," he thought. "That's twice I've been tempted by the Dark Side, and I've only been a Jedi for two hours. Is it going to be like this every time I'm stressed?"
Alex looked about, the others who had been 'menaced' had evidently made their own escapes. That left only the unconscious rabbit-human needing assistance. He looked at the man kneeling in front of him. "Who the hell are you, if you're not Darth Maul?"
"Dave, David York."
"Well, Dave, can you help me with the bunny?"
With Dave's help, Alex carried the humanoid bunny to a chair and tried to bring him around. "You'd best not be the first person he sees when he wakes up," Alex suggested. "Why don't you go find a clean cup and something drinkable to put in it?"
When the rabbit-guy, came to, he was rather apologetic about having passed out. "When I changed to this," he pointed at himself. "I seem to have inherited a rabbit's nerves. I must have gone tharn."
"Tharn? You a fan of Watership Down then?" Alex asked, trying to wrap his head around the idea of a man turning into a giant rabbit.
"Yes, but not very much of one. I was just here to get some anime dvd's, but it seemed like everyone was putting something on. That was why I chose the rabbit nose and ears. I wish now they'd been brown instead of white. I look like a pooka."
When Dave returned with a can of soda, the rabbit guy nearly went 'tharn' again. He gave Alex a start too. Dave/Darth Maul was trying to smile, but it looked more like a vicious snarl. "Sorry, I guess I just can't help but look mean and nasty," he shrugged.
"That's OK." The rabbit, whose name turned out to be Tony, tried to sound sympathetic while struggling to hold and drink the soda with his new paws.
After everyone was settled, Alex escorted both of them to their respective rooms. Alex found himself a bit confused. While walking next to him, he could sense the roiling power of the Force within Dave/Darth Maul, but the man seemed totally unaware of it. "Perhaps it's just as well," he thought. "But, sometime he's bound to find out. I just hope he can cope with it when he does."
Alex spent the entire evening and well into the wee hours of the morning on his search. He wandered through the grounds and into the convention center and back, speaking first to every Vulcan he could find (there were quite a few), then to everyone he met, asking what happened at the Darknight section when the change occured and if any of them knew what had become of the people who worked there. He also spoke to the police and the newly arriving National Guard.
The authorities were, to say the least, a bit frazzled, and had a difficult time taking anything he said at face value. In the end, however, he got several promises to contact him if a Hannah Mendenhall happened to turn up.
Alex met and spoke to several Jedi as well. He was not surprised to find that there were probably hundreds of newly minted Force users, both Dark and Light, out there now. All that he spoke to agreed that something needed to be done to keep the peace and prevent any more 'incidents' from occuring. The 501st, an organization of Imperial cosplayers was already beginning to reign in their people. Something similar for Rebel and Republic people was needed.
He was also learning more about the nature of the changes that had happened to them all. For example: some changes were still happening, like aftershocks following a major earthquake. This made the area around 'ground zero' still risky for the unwary. In addition, it seemed that the more deeply into character the affected person was, the more likely his or her personality was altered. Some, already being called 'strangers', were almost totally lost into what they had become. The 'clothing phenomenon' was fairly common as well. Alex's particular manifestation of it was benign, compared to some.
Alex returned to the Hotel room seeming to know more about everything except what had happened to the person he was hunting for. He was encouraged to know that his fiancee was as unlikely as he was to be mentally altered. They were so much into each other the last couple of years, and preocupied with plans for the future lately, that they had spent very little time with role-playing. Her physical situation, however, was still very much an open question, and the physical could be just as dangerous. He had been chilled earlier to see paramedics carrying about a half-dozen filled body bags out of the convention center.
When he finally arrived, exhausted, at their hotel room, he found a note taped to the door. He snatched it down eagerly. It read:
A meeting is called. A Jedi order founding is needed. 9 am is the time and tomorrow it will be. To hotel meeting room 1A to meet. Come you will? Master Yoda
Disappointed, Alex wadded it up to toss away, then changed his mind and put it in a pocket. Again, the room was unchanged. He set the alarm for 8:30 then collapsed on the bed into a deep sleep.
The alarm rescued Alex from troubled dreams. At first, he couldn't recall where he was or what had happened yesterday, then his heart sank as memory returned. Waking up alone, truly alone, was unspeakably depressing.
He had already resolved to go to the Jedi meeting. Some order, some resource had to be made available to those who now could control the Force, but who may not be in control of themselves. Alex had seen first hand the danger, and he was not above some counseling himself. He showered, dressed in his original Jedi garb, the only clothing that remained Jedi even when he took it off, brewed some rather nasty 'complementary' coffee and scrounged up a granola bar from his overnight bag. He couldn't remember when he had eaten last. He was still munching on the bar when he walked into the conference room at a little before 9:00am.
There were about two dozen beings there. About half were human, in addition there were three Twilecks, a Wookie, and one of whatever Yoda was. The rest were various species that Alex could not remember the names of. Actually, for such a small group, they were pretty representative of the Star Wars galaxy. The only common feature was the Jedi 'uniform' and the lightsabers. He was only slightly suprised by the number of Humans who didn't look like a character from one of the movies, seven, counting himself. There were also two Obi-wan's, one old and one young, a Qui-gon, a Mace Windu and a pre-fall Anakin Skywalker. The meeting began smoothly and proceeded quickly. It's amazing how easy it can be to reach a consensus when everyone can read each others feelings. Yoda, Mace and Qui-gon were selected as the core of a Council of seven. Another meeting was set for the following day, when a lot more Light-Side Force users were expected to attend, now that word was beginning to spread. It was also resolved to send a delegation to the Imperials, to prevent conflicts. The meeting was adjurned after only a little more than half an hour.
As Alex was leaving, Mace Windu (It was hard to think of him as anyone else) motioned him aside and offered his hand. "What's your name?"
"Alex Harris, and yours?"
"Jim Harding, though I'll answer to Mace Windu, or Samuel L. Jackson," he grinned. "Something I'll have to get used to.
"I couldn't help but notice," he continued. "A great feeling within you of loss? I'm sorry, I'm still having trouble interpreting the impressions I get from people, and that's not an uncommon feeling around here lately."
Alex nodded and told Harding all about his missing fiancee and his search for her. It felt good to tell someone of his doubts and fears.
"Hmm, this might help," Harding/Windu said. "Some volunteers have gotten together with the authorities to help families track down the missing. They have a table set up here at the hotel, near the pool."
Alex shook hands with the Jedi master, then headed for the pool.
The pool was in a large fenced in area on the north side of the hotel. There was a long line of melancholy people both changed and unchanged. Some were showing others in line pictures that would likely be useless now, others traded descriptions of costumes and or obsessions. The missing would almost certainly be people who had undergone the most extreme physical or mental changes, or who just simply could not bear their new forms and fled. Which was Hannah? Alex took his place at the end of the line and tried not to let the worry and sadness that radiated around him effect him too deeply.
The line moved steadily but very slowly. The day was already hot as it approached noon. Alex meditated to avoid impatience. Never-the-less, it did begin to get a small hold on him. Not as strong a hold on him as it had on those around him, but enough to embarass a new Jedi. Finally, he gave in to the extent that he stepped out of line far enough to see how far it was to the table. That is when he saw her. There was no mistake, even at this distance, the long, wavy, copper-blonde hair, the face, this time, with the upswept eyebrows he saw yesterday. She was wearing a teeshirt, sitting behind the table, typing peoples' information on a laptop.
Alex had the restraint not to do cartwheels, but there was no way he could simply wait his turn in line. He had to speak to her now, even if he started a riot. He strode forward, uncomfortably aware of the eyes of those standing in line looking at him, wondering what he was up to. He was just a few feet away when she raised her eyes and saw him. She had a brief look of panic, then composed herself in a very Vulcan fashion. She turned to a man in dark suit and glasses who was standing guard nearby. "Kay, can you take over for me," she spoke calmly. She then wheeled herself from behind the table and turned to Alex. "We have to talk."
Alex spirits sank, not so much for the fact that she was using a wheelchair with her legs covered, but for the coolness in her voice. "Over there," Hannah pointed to a canopy partly full of cases of bottled water and MRE's. He was stunned to the point where he did not even think to offer to push her there. He just walked beside her, trying, and failing, to read her feelings as she wheeled her way into the shade of the canopy. "I'm so sorry I didn't contact you first. I was trying to find a way to prepare you for this, but just couldn't."
"Prepare me for what?" he tried not to let his voice crack.
"This. I was caught in the midst of switching costumes when the change happened." She pulled away the blanket. Alex sucked in his breath. The scales began at her waist, just a scattered few. Then, from her navel down, they were solid, turquoise and silver, in alterate rings tapering down to a lacy, purple and gold tail fin just beyond where her feet had once been. Even in the shade, the light scintillated and danced off of the scales, as if from polished glass. "So you see," she began sadly. "We can't..."
"My God," he interrupted,"You're, you're...beautiful!"
"What?!" This was clearly not the reaction she expected.
"I was afraid it was something terrible!"
"This isn't terrible?! I can't walk!"
"I don't mean to trivialize that, but it's something we can get through together." He knelt down next to her. "And I do want to be with you no matter what has happened, or might happen."
"Even if I'm stuck like this for life?"
"Even so," he said. "Have I ever told you that I think mermaids are hot?"
"What about mervulcans?"
"Do you mean that?" her eyes began to well-up.
In answer, he took her into his arms and kissed her. After a few moments, she put her arms about him and wrapped her tail around his leg. After a few minutes he spoke. "We'll need a house with a pool."
"Pool? Honey, really, we're gonna need one on a body of water, preferably with access to the sea." She drew him closer and whispered in his ear. "By the way, I still have all my equipment, I'll help you find it. Later.
"There is a nice big tub in the room," he whispered back.
"First, I want you to push me over to the lake. There's a small one on the other side of those trees. They set it aside for the more waterbound among us when the pool got too crowded. It's surprising how popular water-creatures were this weekend, especially mermaids. And, speaking of which, you have to meet a new friend I've made.
"I really want you to see me swim," she continued. "I can jump right into the air, when I have the room to."
"Just a moment," Alex fished through his robe and drew out a small tubular device. "Remember these from Phantom Menace? It lets me breathe underwater. I think I'll join you."
"And, you know, this may sound silly, she said. "But I think I would like some sushi, if there's any way we can get some tonight."