Sidra paced in her quarters at the household. Just sitting and waiting to be summoned to see the Emperor was driving her nuts. She decided to go find Michael. She needed to talk, and he was the only one she truly trusted; other than Avon. She found Michael sitting just outside the main house entrance on the house side of the moat, still on the house compound. "Michael!" Michael threw a stone, skipping it across the water. "Sidra...you're safe." He smiled at her approach. "What happened? I was on my way back and got surprised with this. Why is the Emperor doing this?" Michael shrugged, "He finally decided to crack down." "I can see cracking down on the Alliance, but on his own people?" "Sure....he doesn't control all the force users here directly...so many under one roof? Probably sees it as a threat." Sidra sat down next to him. "I see. This isn't good. I gave my word to be loyal to the Empire and the Emperor, but I don't know that I want to work directly for them. Especially not after..." she stopped short and looked away. Michael frowned, "What have you done?" "Let's just say, perhaps I should have waited to come back. My timing could turn out to be fatal." "Well....the emperor is interviewing everyone in the household." "I know. I've been trained now to withstand Force Users, but he's too powerful. If he gets any idea..." She looked back up into Michael's eyes. "I recently rescued someone who was in Imperial custody. I'm not sure the Emperor will appreciate that." Michael frowned, "Then perhaps we had better get you out of here?" "Do you think that's likely to be possible? Besides, I can't break my word. I never have in the past. I've sworn loyalty. I'll just have to hope I can fake the interview. If I fail, then I'll just have to take whatever punishment the Emperor decides on." "That is your decision Sidra....if you wish to stay and keep your forced word... it's not like you had a choice in the matter." "We always have choices. We may not like the alternatives, but they're there. It's weird, but something in me feels like I really belong here now, and I don't want to desert the household in its final hours. Never thought I'd be saying those words. Or this..." she got a really serious look on her face. "I don't like what's being done to Darana. What the hell did she do to piss off the Emperor like this? I understand about the Force Users. But something is happening to her. I can't contact her mentally." Michael sighed, he knew something had happened to her...even with his own limited telepathic abilities he could tell, but then he really didn't care about Darana that much....but they did... "There is little you can do to help her without putting yourself at risk and possibly even the others in the house." "I know that. I'm just worried. I used to hate her. More than hate... And I used to want to die myself. All of a sudden I'm feeling differently. I don't understand it, but I think I've started to actually care about this place. And now it's being taken away. And what will happen to me next? To any of us? Will I ever see you again?" "I have no idea what is going to happen to us...the decree stated we were to be reassigned...it is possible we will be able to meet again if we all stay." He grinned at her. "If we all stay? How likely is that?" Michael shrugged, "Not all of us are Imperials....and even then I don't think our little light sider Jennifer will want to meet with the Emperor either. Will Kyra...turned traitor from the alliance?" He shook his head. "She's not going to feel safe....who knows what Eric will do with Talia and Kyra to look after." "I thought we didn't have any choice. Won't the Emperor force everyone to be reassigned as he sees fit?" "I am sure he will reassign everyone...and if we live through the reassignments we will likely be watched....but I for one don't intend to die." Sidra smiled. "I'm glad. It would be such a waste! But then, what do you want to do? Where will you go?" "I..." He stretched and stood up, brushing the flyaway blonde hair out of his face, "will go wherever the killing is." A feral grin covered his mouth. She nodded in understanding. "You know, Michael, when I first came here, and met you... after our first time together, I swore I would never let you get under my skin... that it would be just a physical thing." He cocked his head, "And?" "And... well, everything is so crazy now. I came to see you because I realized that we might never see each other again, and it dawned on me that I do care about you. And I wanted you to know that. Crazy, I know." Michael straightened his head, first Janin proclaimed she loved him and now Sidra was admitting to caring....problem was, he cared too. "Well....we'll get through this." he stated softly. "I suppose we will. But I don't want to JUST get through it. I want to be with those I care about. But what worries me is, what kind of an assassin can I be if I start caring so much about people? First my son, then you... But I WANT to care. I want to have feelings." "Caring and feeling are two different things. You can feel, but just dont care." "It's a little late for that. I already care. How do I stop that? Do you want me to stop caring for you? "And how can I not care about my son?" Michael shook his head. "I don't know Sidra, I don't have any answers for you. I wish I did. Be careful though because you never know who the Emperor will order you to kill." "I've already given that much thought. And don't think I didn't already suspect that in repayment for my arranging for Talman's escape, Darana would order me to recapture him. That's not likely to happen now. But the Emperor might, if he finds out. I've already played out many versions of that in my mind." Michael nodded. "Be careful you aren't ordered to kill Darana as well." Sidra got a shocked look on her face. "He wouldn't, would he?" But she already knew the answer. "Of all the times I TRIED to do that! Now I wouldn't want to!" Michael laughed at the irony, "If he does....I'll do it for you." "Why?" "I hate my mother...you know that." "Yes, I know that. But enough to kill her? Really?" Michael's eyes hazed briefly, remembering all the reasons he hated her and the times he had sworn to her he would kill her, "Yes," he nodded. "Yes I do." Sidra looked at him. "I guess I can understand that. Alright, if ordered to kill Darana, I'll let you do it. Besides, by my oath I can't lift a finger against her. My oath was made to her, and just included the Emperor. It wasn't made to the Emperor." A thought crossed her mind. "You realize at that point, if I refuse to kill Darana, he might order you to kill both Darana AND me." "And you may have to kill me or any other member of the house....such stupid games and loyalty tests are common place among the Sith and are not beyond the Emperor." "My oath won't allow me to kill anyone from the household. So in that case, the Emperor will have to have me killed." Sidra swallowed a bit hard. "Maybe I SHOULD start thinking about getting out of here. Of course, getting off Coruscant is next to impossible now." "Then you will need the assistance of the rest of the house who will leave." He smiled, no one in the house would strike against another member of the house, "But you need to decide soon then." She nodded again. "It is a hard decision. No matter what I do, I have to break my word and my oath. I think I will go to my room to think this over. Can you come see me later? I'll let you know my decision then." Michael looked past Sidra's shoulder, a group of Red Guard's approaching, "Sure." She stood and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'll see you later, then." Quickly he embraced Sidra, whispered in her ear, "Good luck. I know it's not so easy for you Sidra." "It's not going to be easy for any of us," she replied, surprised. The Red Guard approahced the pair and halted. "Michael Cairnfell." Michael released Sidra and stepped back. "Yes." "By order of the Emperor you are to gather those belongings essential to you, and accompany us." "Of course." He replied, glancing at Sidra. "I'll see you later." He whispered to her before moving off to obey the guards. She headed off back into the house. It didn't take her long to make her decision. Her loyalties must now lie with the Empire. She would just have to make the Emperor understand that she would be useful to him. Besides, if she ran now, they would simply hunt her down like an animal. She could never allow that. She was the hunter. Sidra also wondered if she would really ever see Michael again. She hoped so. She couldn't bring herself to say anything more to him than that she cared for him. She felt completely silly to admit to loving him. There was too great an age difference and he deserved someone closer his own age. Perhaps it would be better for him if they didn't ever see each other again. But that should be their decision to make. Not the Emperor's. What would the future bring? After her visit with Michael, Sidra returned to her quarters to do some soul searching. It was time for decisions to be made. Nothing ever stays the same forever. Someone had told Sidra that a long time ago. She had begun to doubt the truth of that statement while living in Darana's household. She had felt her life would remain in that hell forever. But now, within only a matter of hours, everything had changed. The announcement of the dissolution of Darana's household had come as a shock to Sidra. But not as much of a shock as the revelations she made after returning. She had tried to reach Darana through their mental link, but found she could not. Now, she realized that she was actually worried for this woman she hated. She pondered on this confusion while resting in her quarters at home. That word... home. Sidra finally realized that this was the crux of the matter. She had actually begun to think of this place as "home." She had settled into her life here - Michael had made that easier for her. And she now realized even more as a feeling of gratitude stirred in her soul. Gratitude to Darana? Yes, she could not deny it. Darana had helped her in spite of herself. This... enemy... had given her many things: a home, training, a purpose in life. Sidra now had a family to belong to. These were all things she'd never had before, always having been on her own, relying on no one. And now she would probably never get the chance to thank Darana. She wanted to be with someone, so she had gone to see Michael. More revelations came with that meeting. She realized that she loved him, although this was something she could never tell him. At least she had been able to spit out that she did care for him... before they took him to see the Emperor. He'd been ordered to take his things with him, so she knew she would probably never see him again. And now she worried for him too. Everything was falling apart. Just as she was realizing she could be happy here, she was losing it. What to do now? Run? No, she decided that was not the answer. She was still held by her oath. Besides, where would she go? The Alliance would not take her in - she had done things they would never accept. She had killed force users, even wore the braid taken from a Padawan she'd killed, as proof to Darana of her new found skills. The fact that she no longer feared force users was something else she owed to Darana. Turning to the Alliance would find her in either a New Republic or a Jedi prison. As a merc, she would be on her own again. And on the run. There would most assuredly be a warrant out for her arrest. There was no question. If Darana and the household were gone, her oath of loyalty still included the Emperor and the Empire. Yes, there was the matter of her having organized the rescue of her son who had been in Anelis Palpatine's custody. But that was something that might remain unsolved. Besides, she had never helped release anyone else from Imperial custody. She was loyal! She belonged to the Empire now. She would have to face the Emperor. He is a busy man, she thought to herself. Perhaps he'll deal with me quickly and not realize there's something I'm not telling him. The next day she was in the middle of packing her belongings, not that there were many, when she received the message to report immediately to the Emperor's private audience chamber. She left things as they were, and grabbed a shuttle to the Palace. She was met by four Red Guards who escorted her. She began to hand over her weapons but they indicated that was not necessary. Just before entering though, she did remove the sunglasses she wore at all times. As soon as she entered, she knelt down on one knee. "Rise, Sidra," the Emperor said. He could sense apprehension in her. She rose. Externally she betrayed no emotions, remaining perfectly still and breathing in even breaths. "Tell me, Sidra, where are your loyalties?" "I am loyal to you, Your Majesty. And to the Empire." "A wise answer," he replied, walking a circle around her. "And what of the current situation? What is your opinion of my disbanding the household?" She looked directly at him. "I don't understand why you are doing it. But it is not my place to question your actions. I am here to obey you." That comment shook her just a bit, and for a fraction of a moment, she almost thought about her son, but instantly reinforced her mental training to block that thought. "You are trying to hide something from me. I can feel you focusing your mind..." He began probing deeper. He could sense her fear heighten. "Your Majesty, I..." She couldn't go any further as she could feel the Emperor entering her mind. She did not try to stop him, but finally found her voice. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty. I had to do it!" He saw an image of her hiring Boba Fett. "Why did you hire Boba Fett?" he asked. "...to rescue Talmen. He was being held by Princess Anelis." "And why do you feel you need to hide that from me?" "I didn't think you would appreciate my rescuing someone being held by an Imperial. But I swear, I am loyal to you!" "And yet you seek to free those we keep as prisoners? Just what definition of loyalty are you using, Sidra?" She could hear the anger growing in his voice and realized she had to be completely truthful and honest with him if she had any hope of surviving the next few minutes. Quietly she replied, "...he is my son, Your Majesty." "Your son, how very interesting. So, your loyalty to the Empire ends with your own flesh and blood?" She looked up at him, fear showing for the first time in her features. "I..." She swallowed hard and lowered her head. "I don't know what to say. I would never do anything..." She searched for the right words. "It will never happen again." "Yes, I know it won't. Because if it ever does, you won't live long enough to regret it. "Yes, Your Majesty." "Now... I want you to get your things. You will be staying here until I can figure out what I am going to do with you." She looked directly at him, fear rising again. "Yes, Your Majesty. Immediately." The Emperor then turned and walked away from her. Taking the cue, she also turned and left. Sidra returned to her old quarters in what had been Darana's house. She quietly collected her belongings, then headed for the hangar where her ship was docked. As she passed through the corridors she couldn't help thinking, this place is like a tomb. She prepped her ship, then took off, flying it to the Imperial Palace. Upon requesting permission to land they assigned her a hangar designation. She landed and turned her ship over to Imperial Security for inspection. Then she reported in and was assigned quarters. As she settled into her new quarters, she thought, Guess I should consider myself lucky. I'm still alive. And how many people can say they've stayed in the Imperial Palace as a guest? A false smile played on her lips as she was unable to convince herself this was true. For the first time she really wanted to go out and kill someone... anyone,,, just to work off the frustrations. Then again, maybe someday I'll fit in here too.
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