"Good evening, Mr. Tadarian. We've been expecting you."
The young woman standing behind the ornate reception desk smiled expectantly at him, and despite his fatigue, Calix returned the gesture with a somewhat feeble smile of his own. Handing over a credit chip, he watched silently as the woman began the registration process. She was professional and efficient, and as Calix waited, his gaze roved over her appreciatively, noting her slender figure, piercing green eyes, and the way her long, dark hair curled softly about her shoulders.
The woman looked up suddenly and Calix blushed, certain she had noticed his scrutiny. "Everything appears to be in order," she said crisply, placing the credit chip on the desk along with a code key. "You will be staying in Suite 1325. I will summon someone to help with your travel cases."
Calix retrieved the slender cards from the desk. "No need," he assured her quickly, reaching down to protectively grasp the single travel case that rested in front of him on the gleaming floor. "I can manage."
"Very well," the woman nodded curtly. "Welcome to The Imperial, Mr. Tadarian. I hope you enjoy your stay."
Calix murmured his thanks and then made his way to the turbolift. Once inside, he leaned against the wall and exhaled wearily, oblivious to the beauty of Coruscant's night skyline glittering behind him through the transparisteel panes as the turbolift began its ascent to the upper levels of the hotel complex. Glancing at his wrist chrono, he groaned at the lateness of the hour. It had been a seemingly endless day of traveling on various transports, and now Calix wanted nothing more than to take a hot shower and climb into bed, hoping to manage at least a few hours' sleep before meeting with his client in the morning.
A soft chime sounded as the turbolift came to a halt, its doors opening to reveal Suite 1325. Fumbling in his pockets, Calix retrieved the code key and inserted it in the door's locking mechanism. There was a tiny click as the lock disengaged, and Calix opened the door and entered the suite, dragging his travel case in behind him. Turning to lock the door securely, Calix found and activated the lighting controls.
The man was no stranger to hotels, his business often taking him far from his home, and Calix had long since grown accustomed to the fact that all hotel rooms looked much like the others. Yet as he turned and made his way into the suite's living area, Calix's eyes widened in surprise, and he couldn't help but let out an appreciative whistle.
"This is certainly an improvement over the usual," he muttered as he took in his surroundings.
The living area was open and spacious and filled with beautiful furnishings. On the balcony terrace, a fountain bubbled softly, its sounds tranquil and soothing. A curving staircase led to what Calix assumed to be the bedchamber, and picking up his travel case, he began to ascend it slowly, using the vantage point to take careful note of the railings and other intricate details of the suite as he did so. The building complex was old, of course--Republic-era if the architecture and décor were any indication. And the signs of age were obvious if a being knew where to look. But to Calix, this only seemed to add to the suite's ambience and charm.
Reaching the bedchamber at last, Calix took a few moments to give the room an appraising glance, nodding in approval before finally hoisting his travel case onto an upholstered bench that rested at the foot of the luxurious bed. Making his way into the refresher, he undressed and stepped into the shower, the hot water beating a soothing staccato against his weary muscles. Sometime later, the entire 'fresher was filled with steam when Calix reluctantly turned off the water. Drying himself quickly, he wrapped the towel around his waist and stood in front of a small mirror. Wiping away the steam with his hand, he stood there for a moment, scrutinizing his reflection.
He was an attractive man, or so he reasoned, based on the lingering glances he often received from females. His eyes were an intriguing blue with a mischievous glint that never seemed to go away. He took care of himself, and his body was sound as a result. But much like the building where he now temporarily resided, there were signs of aging--if a being knew where to look. There were a few gray strands at his temples, yet they were barely noticeable amidst the thick locks of his dark blonde hair. Turning his face to the side, Calix ran his hand along his chiseled jaw line, noting the subtle effects of time and the elements on his face. But he thought this merely served to enhance his strong, rugged appearance, as did the small scar that ran alongside his right eye, a painful souvenir from a long ago cantina brawl that went too far. All in all, Calix knew that most females would consider him a suitable mate.
So why in the stars did Liese keep refusing to let him make an honest woman out of her? Or perhaps the better question was why did he keep asking her? Calix's mouth broke into a roguish grin as he thought about the young woman at the reception desk, remembering her shapely figure and hypnotic eyes. Yes, there were plenty of women out there who would appreciate his company. And perhaps it was time he gave them that chance.
Then he thought of her blue eyes, the way they sparkled with life when she laughed. He remembered the sweet scent of her hair and the way those soft, red curls felt as they fanned across his chest when he held her late at night. He remembered her voice as she whispered his name, its sound sweeter than the finest wine.
Then again, perhaps I should ask her again. Just this one last time, Calix mused, and suddenly he found himself longing for home.
At the moment, however, Calix knew he needed sleep. And thinking of her wasn't exactly going to help him achieve that goal. He was just about to turn away from the mirror when he thought he caught a glimpse of something in its reflective surface. It was a woman's face, watching him with utter sadness. She looked much like the young woman from the reception desk, except this woman's eyes were dark. Startled, Calix whirled around, but he could see no one standing behind him. And when he turned back to the mirror, the face was gone.
"And so now I'm seeing things," he murmured under his breath, his heart still pounding. Laughing at his own fear, he made his way to the bedchamber, certain that his exhausted mind was merely playing tricks on him, and anxious to get some sleep. He climbed into the large bed, pulling the soft duvet around him to ward off the slight chill that was in the air. He closed his eyes, his thoughts wandering once more to Liese as he grasped his pillow and fell fast asleep.
It seemed like only moments had passed when he awoke with a start, the bedchamber dark and quiet. Glancing at the chrono on the bedside table, he saw that he had only been asleep for two hours. Calix let his head fall back against the pillow, curious as to what had woken him. Then he heard it.
It was the sound of soft footsteps, moving slowly from the 'fresher to the bed.
The feminine voice was barely a whisper.
His heart skipping a beat, Calix sat up quickly and turned on the bedside light.
"Who's there?" he called out, his tone deep and commanding. Yet he received no answer, and when he looked in the direction of the footsteps, he saw that he was alone. Calix scanned the entire room, certain that he had heard the footsteps and a woman's voice. Scrambling from the bed, he searched behind the window dressings, furnishings and in the closet, but he could find nothing. Exhaling slowly, Calix pressed his palms against his tired eyes.
"It's just your imagination playing tricks on you, Calix," he muttered aloud, finding the sound of his own voice to be a comfort in the now eerily silent room. "Maybe Liese's right, I guess maybe the job's getting to me. The lies, the secrecy, a different planet almost every day….maybe it's time to find a nice, reputable line of work. One with a desk and an office, maybe even one with a window." Calix bit his lip thoughtfully as he pondered the idea. "It'd be safer," he reasoned. Then he began to laugh softly. "But life would sure be a hell of a lot more boring."
And who wanted boring, he rationalized. Then he groaned inwardly as he admitted the answer. Liese did. She always worried about him, said that somebody had to do it since he wouldn't do it for himself. Calix's cheeks turned flush with guilt. He didn't like to make her worry. She deserved better. When he got back home, maybe he would swallow his pride and take that job in her father's company.
Suddenly feeling much older than his years, Calix climbed back into bed. He turned off the bedside light and fell back against the pillows with a heavy sigh. He tossed and turned, feeling out of sorts. At last, he turned onto his side and settled into a comfortable position. Fatigue settled in once more, and Calix's eyes grew heavy. He was suspended in that strange netherworld between consciousness and dreaming when his body suddenly and inexplicably grew cold. Shivering, he burrowed even deeper beneath the warm bed coverings. But the bitter chill seemed to sink even deeper into his bones.
And no matter how much he tried to ignore it, Calix could not overcome the feeling that someone, or something, was watching him.
I miss you…
It was the same voice again. Soft and feminine, yet this time it was filled longing and anguish. And as Calix heard it whispering to him, he felt the faint brush of fingertips against his hair.
His instinct was to flee from the room, but he gathered his resolve. His heartbeat thundering in his ears, he sat up quickly, reaching out in the darkness in hopes of grasping his tormentor before she could escape.
But somehow, Calix wasn't surprised when his fingertips met only empty air.
"Calix, good morning." The old man stood as Calix entered the spacious private office, its dark paneled walls and shelves filled with a massive collection of antiquities.
It wasn't the first time that Calix had been in this room, but the sight of it never failed to impress him. Tobias Malikar was legendary in the undergrounds circles of Calix's trade for the wealth of history he had amassed. It had always amazed him that Tobias was willing to display his collection so openly. When Calix had questioned him once regarding his brazenness, Tobias had merely chuckled heartily, reminding him that often the best place to hide something was in plain sight.
Tobias smiled and rubbed his hands eagerly as Calix approached the carved wooden desk. Determined to savor the moment, Calix took his time, placing the travel case gently on the desk and sitting down in the chair reserved for visitors to this rarely seen sanctuary.
"Well?" Tobias asked expectantly, licking his lips in anticipation.
Calix smiled coolly. "It's all here, just as you requested." With that, Calix reached out to deactivate the travel case's lock.
Slowly, almost reverently, Tobias opened the case, revealing the trio of items--a vase from a ruling family long since deposed by the Emperor and an ancient peace treaty written on parchment. Yet it was the third item in the case that Calix knew would be the older man's greatest coup. But it would also be one of the most daring items Tobias could ever own.
"Surely I don't have to tell you what would happen if the wrong being ever laid eyes on your little…trinket." As if to emphasize his point, Calix scanned the shelves around him warily, wondering-–not for the first time-–at the older man's sanity.
Tobias laughed wryly. "Do not worry, old friend. Even I know when it is best to be prudent. No, this treasure will hold a place of honor in a special room that only I will ever enter." Reaching into the case, Tobias retrieved the lightsaber hilt, carefully turning it over in his hands as he noted every charred burn and battle scar.
Nodding his approval, Tobias retrieved a credit chip from his vest pocket and placed it on the desk. Calix took the chip, inserting it into a small scanner he kept handy for just such transactions.
"I added in a generous gratuity, owing to the extra difficulty of this request," Tobias informed him.
Calix merely nodded, determined to remain professional as the scanner revealed an amount that would probably allow him to purchase a small moon somewhere on the Outer Rim. Maybe he wouldn't need that job from Liese's father after all.
"I have a new order, if you are interested," Tobias said, placing the hilt back inside the case and closing the lid securely.
Calix shook his head slowly as he tucked the credit chip and scanner into his pocket. "I appreciate the offer, but I'm thinking about early retirement."
"So the recovery of contraband antiquities no longer holds a thrill for you?" Tobias queried, a hint of laughter shining in his eyes.
Calix rubbed his chin thoughtfully, only then realizing that he had forgotten to shave this morning as he felt the generous amount of stubble scratching against his fingertips. He wasn't usually so careless with his appearance. But it had been a rough night, he reasoned.
"Just…thinking that maybe it's time I settled down, started a family," Calix muttered, feeling somewhat embarrassed at the notion.
"Well, your talents will be sorely missed, my friend. But I can respect your decision." Tobias sat down and leaned back in his chair, regarding Calix carefully. "Besides, you look…tired. Maybe it is time you took a much-needed vacation, at the very least."
Calix laughed. "No, I just…didn't get much sleep last night."
"Where did you stay?" Tobias asked.
"The Imperial," Calix answered, his tone indicating that he would never again darken the doors of the establishment.
Tobias' eyes widened. "Ah, yes. I know it well. Such history, such intrigue and mystery," he said, his voice eager and excited.
Calix's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean by mystery?"
Tobias beamed at his friend's obvious interest. History, after all, was his forte. "Well," he began, standing and clasping his hands behind his back as he made his way around the desk, the aging professor once more addressing his class. "The grand building known as The Imperial was once home to the wealthy and powerful. Known as 500 Republica, its residents included many politicians and members of the Galactic Senate. "
"Sounds boring to me," Calix snorted.
Tobias fixed him with an icy glare, the teacher reprimanding the pupil. "Far from it, my young friend. It is rumored that many clandestine operations were headquartered in that building, including a meeting between senators opposed to then Chancellor Palpatine's growing power in the Galactic Senate. They were known as the Delegation of 2000, although history knows them only as traitors."
Calix sighed wearily, quickly losing interest and eager to get back home to Liese. "That's a thrilling tale, Tobias, but really, I have to be going."
"The apartment in which they met was located on the upper levels of the complex. It belonged to a senator from Naboo," Tobias continued, as if Calix had not spoken. "She was a beautiful young woman, with dark hair and dark eyes."
At the man's words, Calix, who had stood up to leave, suddenly grew still. "Did you say the upper levels?" he asked slowly, his blood now running cold.
Tobias smiled. "Ah, I see I have your interest now."
"Yes," Calix muttered from between clenched teeth as he sank back down into his chair. "Just tell me more about this woman."
"Well, as I said, she was very beautiful. It was for this reason that no one could understand why she had not taken a husband. She was of age, of course, but she continued to reject suitor after suitor. Then, at the dawning of the Empire, the young senator died under mysterious circumstances. It was rumored, of course, that she was murdered at the hand of a Jedi, an unsurprising statement since the Jedi were accused of being assassins and summarily exterminated. However, it becomes an even more convincing rumor when one considers that, following her death, it was discovered that the senator was carrying a child."
"And what does that have to do with the Jedi?" Calix asked, now confused.
Tobias smiled indulgently. "Patience, my friend. Now where was I…oh yes, I remember. It was therefore obvious that the senator had taken a lover. In itself, this fact would not have been cause for more than a minor scandal, but what makes the senator's tale so tragic is the suspected identity of her lover. You see, the young woman was close friends with a young Jedi Knight, a hero of the Clone Wars. He was seen at all hours, sneaking to and from her apartment complex. You must understand, Calix, that Jedi were forbidden to marry or to form emotional attachments to others. It was considered dangerous, a distraction."
"So her baby was the child of a Jedi, and that's why she was murdered?" Calix reasoned. "Seems sort of harsh, doesn't it?" He continued to consider the matter. "Or maybe her Jedi lover killed her to protect his secret?"
Tobias shrugged his shoulders. "No one knows for certain. As I said, they are rumors and legends."
Calix stared at the older man in admiration. "So how do you know all this about the Galactic Senate and the Jedi anyway?"
Tobias laughed as he gestured at his vast collection lining the walls of the office. "Calix, you of all beings should know that history is my business, even the history that it is dangerous to know."
Calix stood up, preparing to leave. "Well, thanks for the history lesson," he said. "But if you'll excuse me, I have a transport to catch."
"But you haven't heard the most intriguing part of the story," Tobias said mysteriously.
"She died," Calix snorted. "How much more can there be?"
Tobias walked to a window overlooking the Coruscant skyline, the silhouette of The Imperial rising in the distance. "Legend has it that the senator still inhabits her apartment, waiting patiently for her Jedi lover to return to her."
Calix felt his stomach lurch violently. "You mean…her ghost is still hanging around?" He laughed to cover his uneasiness. "You expect me to believe the place is haunted? Come on, professor, don't tell me you really believe in that sort of thing."
"Mine is not to prove or disprove," Tobias said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I merely preserve and pass along the stories of those who have lived and died."
"So…what does this ghost supposedly look like?" Calix asked, hoping he didn't sound too eager.
"Well, as I said, the senator had dark eyes and dark hair." Tobias sounded irritated that Calix hadn't been paying the proper attention to him. "She is seen or heard wandering about the apartment from time to time. But the reports are usually only made by male guests, usually men with light hair and blue eyes. The staff believes that perhaps these guests resemble her lost love, and she appears to them in hopes of being reunited with him once more."
A chill in his bones now joined Calix's churning stomach. He wanted to leave. Now. But there was one more thing he needed to know…
"Does anyone know the name of this Jedi? The one she loved?"
"Yes, of course," Tobias answered. "His name was Anakin Skywalker. He disappeared around the same time the senator died. It is assumed he perished in the Jedi Purges like all the others."
His heart now pounding in his chest, Calix murmured his farewells to Tobias and hurried from the building on shaking legs. Once on the streets, he glanced up at the gleaming outline of The Imperial.
"Anakin…" he whispered, his mind reeling in disbelief as he thought about the words whispered by that soft, gentle voice. He had assumed the woman's voice had just been his imagination, but maybe…just perhaps…
"It couldn't have been…" Calix muttered under his breath as he stared up at the windows of the upper levels through narrowed eyes. "Could it?"
Anakin…I miss you…
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.