A Place to Belong


John Medkeff and Rebecca Miller

Mikala sat on a lawn chair, looking out over the grounds. She could see the children playing. She smiled a little. What would have her life been like if

her Father had known about her when she was young?

She rubbed her arms and frowned thoughtfully. She wouldn't have fallen for DuCruet for one thing.

Mikala closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She felt...safe. It wasn't a feeling she was use to. She smiled ruefully to herself. This had to be a dream. It was all just too good to be true. Things didn't happen like this in real life. She sighed, maybe she was dead and this was as close to a heaven as she'd ever know. Whatever it was, she was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

She leaned back in the lawn chair to just enjoy the sunshine. She ran her left hand ran cross her right arm in thought. Sandy was a doctor. Could she...

Mikala got up and decided to look for Cassandra before she lost her nerve.

She headed back to the house and one of the servants told her Lady Steele was in one of her labs. He showed her where the elevator to the basement was. It was hidden by the paneling in the front hall.

Mikala thanked him, stepped in and sighed. She wasn't sure what level she was looking for so she hit the one for the bottom. If they didn't want her there, she'd find out soon enough. From the inside it was a standard Imperial elevator. There were buttons for twelve floors. The elevator dropped swiftly to the bottom. As she opened the door she noticed that something felt wrong.

She frowned deeply as she stepped out. It was...quiet, too quiet. It took her a moment to realized all the mental chatter she had been picking up on and trying to block out was gone.

The door opened onto a hall that ran off in both directions. There were doors on along both sides.

A man in a lab coat walked by as she stepped out.

Mikala took on an air of studied casualness and headed down the hall behind him. At least he looked like he knew where he was going.

He went past three doors opened the fourth and went in.

Mikala walked to the door and looked in. The room was a lab. There was a large table in front of her. A droid was standing with its back to her working on something.

Beyond it Cassandra was standing studying a projection of a sample.

Mikala reached out to draw the Force tightly around her to obscure her presence, but the Force wasn't there at all.

The man walked up the Sandy and talked to her.

Mikala slipped behind a piece of equipment to watch.

"Good idea, Grinden," Sandy said. "Try it. But first, what do you make of this?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "Is it part of the anomaly in the cortex?"

"Yes. I think we may be finally getting some where, at least on the anatomy."

"Shall I do an enzyme activity scan?" the tech asked.

"I think so."

"I'll get started right away."

The tech turned and started for the door.

Mikala slipped around between the piece of equipment and the wall as he passed.

Cassandra tuned around, picked up a scalpel and began carefully cutting at a specimen on the table.

Mikala inched forward to try to get a look at exactly what she was working on.

There was a brain on the table in front of Sandy. It came from something smaller than a human.

She frowned and started to ease herself back out of the room.

"Have the children started to corrupt you already?"

Mikala froze. Oh, Sith! She had to be slipping if Sandy saw her.

"Come on in." Sandy added.

She sighed and stepped out. "Hello."

Sandy looked up. "Welcome to my play house."

"You have a very impressive set up here. What exactly are you working on?' she asked, stepping forward.

"I'm attempting to explain a very annoying but interesting creature." Sandy began. "You must have noticed that the Force vanished when you came down here."

"I did."

"This little fellow is to blame." She pointed at the brain in front of her.

"Doesn't seem like there is much left of him," Mikala commented. "I hope you don't do that with everyone who annoys you."

"I've been known to, but here I'm trying to understand how we control the Force by comparing Force users to a Force suppressor. Have you heard of ysalamiri?"

She nodded. "They come from M'rkr. They've got a pretty price on the black market."

"The price may in part be my fault. I bought about two thousand a couple of years ago."

Mikala raised her eyebrows in surprised. "That would do it. Why do you want with so many?"

"I wanted a breeding population for my research."

"Interesting," Mikala said.

"They somehow push the Force away from themselves. I believe that I can learn something fundamental about the Force if can learn how they do it.

"Makes sense," Mikala agreed.

"I think it's controlled by this structure here." She pointed with the scalpel at one of the bumps on the brain."

Mikala watched her. She knew a little about anatomy, but that really wasn't her field.

Mikala waited for her to go on. She tried to pay attention, but she was more interested in the scalpel Sandy was using than what she was using it on. It was one of the new TR-78 sonic scalpels from Ingentech. She didn't think those were supposed to come out for a few more months.

"How did you find your way down here? The children avoid the three lowest levels to stay out of the damping field they put out."

"I was looking for you actually. One of the servants said you were 'down in the labs'. I just picked a floor and got lucky."

"Fair enough. Let's head back up. I'm reaching my limit on isolation from the Force."

"You don't have to on my account," Mikala said quickly. "It can wait."

"No, it's not a problem."

Mikala nodded.

Cassandra turned to the droid. "Put this specimen in stasis."

"Yes, m'lady."

They stepped back out into the hall.

Mikala waited for Sandy to speak first. Sith, why was she suddenly so nervous?

"So which of the many inevitable issues brings you to me today?"

Mikala sighed. "Actually, just wanted your medical opinion," she said, sliding up her sleeve. "How hard would it be to get rid of a scar like this?" Mikala pushed her sleeve up to reveal a wide, wicked looking scar on the back of her right arm.

"That should be fixable. I'd have to do some low level cloning to fix it properly but nothing really difficult. Does cloning bother you?"

"Depending on the extent," she said.

"This would be just some skin tissue, maybe some muscle. I can't be sure how deep it goes without a more though examination."

"It goes to the bone," Mikala said.

"Then definitely some muscle, and probably some other stuff too, but yes I can fix it. It'll take a while to grow the new parts. Then some hours in surgery to implant them."

Mikala nodded slowly and then looked at her. "What if a larger area then just my arm were affected?"

"As long as the brain is undamaged I should be able to fix it. The bigger the area the more time and pain involved."

She nodded and then said. "Most of my back is like what I showed you on my arm."

"What happened?"

She shrugged, pulling her sleeve back down. "My Mother." She paused a moment. "I wasn't entirely truthful with Father when I told him about my Mother. She's dead." Mikala looked away. "I killed her. She tried to kill me when I was thirteen. We struggled. I didn't fair very well in the struggled, obviously, but we fell and she landed on her vibroshiv. I ran. I guess in a way I've been on the run ever since."

"I see. The passage of time will complicate things, but yes I can fix it. I'll be making you stay here for a couple weeks at a time to convalesce after each operation. It looks like too much to do it all at once."

She nodded and then looked at her. "I guess that's what I'm getting at. How are you with all of this? I mean, with my sudden appearance and being Father's daughter?"

"I thought that is what brought you here. The stepmother issue. I'm not going to play the wicked stepmother. Well I am wicked at times but not in this context."

Mikala nodded, not sure exactly how to take the answer.

"If you mean do I resent Tor's tryst with your mother the answer is no."

Mikala nodded. "When do you think you could look at my back and see what you can do?"

"We can do it now. Let's go up to the hospital level."

Mikala nodded and followed Sandy onto the lift.

"You and your mother didn't get along at all, did you?" Sandy asked.

Mikala shook her head. "She didn't like kids and she was usually too spaced out to really care."

"I don't understand how she could so hate her own child."

"She didn't care about anyone, even herself."

The elevator doors opened. They stepped out into the lobby of what appeared to be a small Imperial Naval Hospital.

Mikala glanced around nervously. She reached out to the Force and was relieved to feel it rush to meet her again. She drew it close to guard her reactions.

"No offense but its hard to believe Tor let himself be seduced by that. He usually has better taste."

"Grandmother said she wasn't always like that. She said that started after Mother got addicted to the spice."

"That might explain it." Sandy nodded. "How did you survive these wounds?"

She sighed. "I managed to get the bleeding stopped and a couple of the crew on the ship I jumped off world kept an eye on me. They didn't report me to the captain right away, but because they didn't report me, they didn't have any bacta. So things had to heal on their own."

Sandy shook her head. "I don't think I can imagine what its like not to have everything you need. The only thing in my experience like that is your Father's time as a fugitive. And that lasted less than a day."

"You make do," Mikala said. "We never had much when I lived with my Grandmother and even less afterwards."

"So I've been told. I've tried to talk to the patients at the clinic. But they are too in awe of Dr. Sandy Stellas from high society to really say anything. I hate to think what they would make of Lady Cassandra Mathem-Steele talking to them."

Mikala gave her a small, strained smile.

Sandy led her to an examining room. "Get up on the table and take off your shirt."

Mikala started to comply and then stopped, turning to look at her. "Why are you being so kind to me?" Mikala asked her. "You owe me nothing. I'm an interloper here on you and your family." She gave her a bitter smile. "I know it can't be my sparkling personality." She sighed deeply. "I am far from stable, mentally or emotionally. I know that. I've done some very drastic and foolish things over the last few weeks and now, I've barged uninvited into your lives." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "And I've lost complete control in front of him twice now." She took a deep breath and opened her eyes again and looked squarely at Sandy. "I didn't come seeking pity or sympathy or charity. I was born in the gutter. I'll die there. I know that. I'm street trash, " she said with out any emotion in her voice. "I didn't come trying to put myself where I'm not wanted nor have any right to be. I don't know why I came," she said hoarsely, her voice breaking. She quickly turned her back to Sandy as her eyes abruptly started burning and turned liquid. She angrily bushed away the traitorous tears.

"First, you are my husband's child. I will not turn his blood away from this house and as his child you do have a right to be here. You call yourself street trash. I doubt you were born lower than Polly was, or Jan and Bert." Sandy stepped up and turned her around, looking into her eyes. "And remember, we're Sith. What we've seen so far gets you respect, not disdain. Now act like some one who belongs here."

Mikala struggled not to flinch from her touch and hold her gaze, but she couldn't. She dropped her eyes and pulled away. She turned her back to Sandy and lifted her tunic over her head. As the tunic lifted, it revealed trim muscle over a spare frame. Ribs stood out prominently under wicked looking scars that criss-crossed her back. One particularly nasty one bisected her back diagonally. It started over her left shoulder and terminated just below the right side of her rib cage. By the look of it, it was surprising her spinal cord hadn't been severed. Several other equally nasty scars marred the pale flesh of her back.

Sandy opened a cupboard and took out a scanner. Then she began to study Mikala's back.

That long one is impressive. You are quite tough to have survived all these. Fixing everything will take time.

Mikala tried to hold herself still. "The long one was the first one she got me with. She came home and I didn't know she was there. I was packing up my things because I knew she would be mad when she found what I had done."

"It didn't take you out of the fight?"

She shook her head. "The opposite. It gave me something to focus on."

"Was that the first time you used the Force?"

"No, my Grandmother trained me a little."

"You have far to many injuries for one fight to explain them all. And some appear older than the big one."

Mikala frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "I irritated my Mother a lot."

"So do all ten of my little monsters. But I have never broken any of their ribs, and I have a fierce temper."

Mikala shrugged.

Sandy picked up a stethoscope and listened to Mikala's heart. "Doesn't seem to be any damaged here."

She nodded, struggling not to fidget.

Sandy stepped to the other end of the table. "Image on."

Mikala turned to see what she was doing.

A hologram of Mikala appeared.

Mikala looked away, searching for her tunic.

"Show skeleton." Sandy ordered. The image became just bones.

Sandy studied the image.

Mikala watched in fascination. She smiled a little when she saw a shadow that marked where she had broken her arm a job one. She walked over and motioned to it. "I got that falling off a three hundred story high-rise on Coruscant. I hit three speeders and bus before I finally landed on a balcony. I walked away with just that."

"Good for you. I bet you tied up traffic for an hour."

"Two," Mikala said with a smile. "Covered my escape."

"I think I should start by refixing this break here. She pointed at a vertebra. That will catch up with you at some point."

Mikala bit her lower lip. No wonder her back bothered her so much."

These ribs your mother cut had better be done early two. Fortunately they look like clean breaks. She used a vibroblade of some kind, didn't she.

Mikala nodded.

"A normal knife would have been stopped by the bone and with a lightsaber, you'd be dead."

"I guess I can be glad she didn't like Force use."

"Show muscle, here." Sandy said. Muscle appeared around the rib.

Mikala watched. Apparently, this meant something.

"She didn't?" Sandy asked. I find that hard to believe. But then I have always been surrounded by it."

"My Grandmother had been a Jedi. She taught me a little. She tried to teach my Mother, but she didn't wan to acknowledge that part of her heritage."

"You see that line." Sandy pointed at a mark on the muscle by the rib. "That never quite healed from the cut. I'll need to fix that too."

"What all will you have to do?"

"Quite a bit. More than we can plan today. But it won't need to be done all at once. Better not to in fact."

"I see. Your other grandmother was also a Jedi. She tried to suppress the Force in your father."

"Why not?"

"Too much strain on the body to do everything at once."

"Tor and I think she must have done it to keep my Father form finding them."

"Interesting," she said.

"Tactical necessity, strategic blunder. She got most of her family killed. That fool Arricar had them killed an hour before Father and I would have found them."

She nodded. "I never really thought about my Father's side being Force users. I guess I just thought it all came from my Grandmother."

"Yes, your father's side are force users too." Sandy turned back to her. "Your great grandfather was Ryolin Kai."

"Should I know that name?" she asked.

"How much do you know about the fall of the Republic?"

"It fell and the Emperor Palpatine took over."

"I see. Well, your father, or better yet my father would be better choices to tell you what happened then. Tor is a historian. I'm a doctor. But Ryolin Kai was a member of the Jedi council when the Rrepublic fell. He was one of those who helped Palpatine recreate the Republic Army. My father had been his Padawan."

"Oh," she said and then frowned a little. "How close are ties here with the Empire?"

"How close are we to the Empire?" Sandy laughed. "I spent much of my childhood in the palace on Coruscant. Your father is the Lord Chamberlain. He runs the Palace and in this sector my Father is the Empire.

"Oh," she said softly.

"You didn't know?"

"No," she said, trying to sound casual. "I've never followed politics that much."

"I've been swimming in politics all my life. When Tor and I were married Uncle Palpatine performed the ceremony."

Mikala raised her eyebrows a bit at 'Uncle Palpatine. "I see," she said, trying to think if she had any outstanding Imperial warrants on her Darkfire persona at the moment.

She looked back at the holoimage. "When are you going to start on that?" she asked.

"We can start in a couple of days, if you like. I need to study it a bit and maybe talk to some specialists before I start. This is too involved to attempt without a complete plan."

She nodded. "How much down time and what will the outcome look like?"

"Down time will be about a week. We might be able to rush it with extra time in the bacta tanks. It will look about the same as it does now. We are starting with the deeper more fundamental injuries. You will be able to move better and with less pain."

She nodded. "I'll get back the full use of my arm then?"

"You should. We may have to finish that in the second operation, but you will get it back eventually."

She paused a moment. "Will you be able to lighten any of the surface scaring?"

"After we finish the deep stuff, we'll get rid of the scars altogether. If we try to fix them now we'll just have to go in again later, that will add to your total down time."

Mikala nodded and looked back at the scan. To finally be free of those scars and the memories that went with them. "I've looked into getting them fixed before, but I could never spare the time in recovery or how vulnerable it would leave until I recovered."

"You'll be safe here. Is there anyone out there who might want to take advantage of your vulnerability?"

"Who wouldn't?" she snorted. She looked at her. "I haven't told you what I do, other than running Darkfire Industries."

"No. But we've guessed you must have enemies."

She shifted uneasily. "I'm an assassin. Have you ever heard of Darkfire?"

"So that's how you got Mira's poison in your system. Rather clumsy don't you think." Sandy responded. "But some impressive work. I've had my agents tracking you because of the poison."

Mikala's cheeks flushed. "That was an accident. I had slipped my vibroshiv up my sleeve for ready access when Father showed up in my suite at the hotel. I didn't know who it was. I collapsed after he left and I forgot the shiv was up my sleeve."

"Further proof you need a rest."

"I'm fine now," she said quickly.

"By the way, if you're worried that being an assassin will be held against you. Well remember that this is the Darkside."

Mikala had to smile at that. She looked at her "So, now what?"

"Relax, get to know the family and I'll set up your surgery."

She nodded stiffly. "All right."

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