Chapters
My Padawan

The Padawan Project

My story is true. This is real. Dead men have no reason to lie, and I’ve been dead for over a year. Officially, that is. In reality, I’m alive, and so are my wife and daughter.

But my daughter is missing, and nobody can help me. This website is my last effort to find her, I’m tossing this bottled message into the ocean, hoping someone rescues us. I need help. I’ll do anything to get it. 

Read my story below, and if you have been through anything similar (I can’t be the only one), or know how I can save my daughter, contact me.

Chapter 1 In Love with the Force

I was a normal boy who liked normal things. I think. I don’t remember much of my childhood and it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant many photos from my parents or anyone else.

Sometimes I joke that maybe I’m the second coming of Jesus, because there’s no real record of anything I did between birth and the age of thirty, either. It’s alright if you don’t think that’s funny, most people don’t. But I do. That’s why I keep making that joke.

There’s one picture of me from those lost years that managed to survive. It’s mundane. Just a blurry picture of me wearing a Star Wars tee-shirt. That’s it. I don’t blame my parents for not taking more of them. These aren’t the kind of snapshots that people will pass around at parties.

My mother’s snapshot skills were poor. I wonder if she could even tell the difference between blurry and focused. It’s sad when memories of your childhood are in the not-so-capable hands of your parents, at least when you have parents like mine.

I found other children baffling, but Star Wars characters always made sense.

It’s not all that noteworthy that I’m wearing a Star Wars tee-shirt in that picture. Nothing special. At that time, everyone loved Star Wars.

I think I loved Star Wars a little bit more, though. Maybe enough to be considered strange. When the first film came out and everyone was suitably obsessed, I’m sure I seemed normal enough. But then the other kids in class stopped taking their Star Wars People to school.

They weren’t playing with them at recess anymore because they had moved onto the next fad – GI Joe or Pound Puppies or snap bracelets. I was still setting up scenes of an epic scale near the jungle gym. By myself, sure, but not really. I had Luke and Han and Darth and Obi-Wan with me. I felt more comfortable with them, anyway, and understood where they were all coming from. I found other children baffling, but Star Wars characters always made sense.

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Young Thomas with Star Wars Toys
Drawing of Thomas with his Star Wars Toys.

Illustration by Mercy

Most kids I knew attended church on Sundays. My parents were dismissive of the practice. I wasn’t sure what went on inside those large, fancy buildings, but I thought it had to be better than watching Dad weed his beloved Rose Garden (capitalized here because he always insisted it be capitalized, as if it were a nationally acclaimed tourist destination, not the three bush fixture in the corner of a backyard of our suburban cookie cutter house that it was) while mom sunbathed. He called that “his church.” I hated his church.

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Drawing of Thomas Ignored and bored in the background.

Illustration by Mercy

“All those people wasting their Sunday mornings? They want to believe there’s something more than what we see with our eyes every day, son,” dad once confided in me, “When the fact is, there isn’t. This is it.” And he watered a rose.

That’s an awful message to feed a child, and it made my stomach lurch. I was an imaginative kid – excited at the thought of there being more “out there” than what I’d see on any given boring day. Star Wars filled that need. Forget about trips to the fabric store with mom where I had to listen to her attempts to haggle down the price of yards of houndstooth. That’s the kind of stuff Luke’s Aunt and Uncle might get into, but I always saw myself in Luke, thirsting for more.

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This is all I ever wanted to be when I grew up.

Copyright Lucasfilm/Disney

When he looked at those two suns setting, I saw myself, wondering when I was going to get a chance to see what laid beyond the sunsets.

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I knew that whatever was beyond the sun had to be better than what was in the fabric store.

Illustration by Mercy

There was good, there was evil, there was a choice between the two, and colorful characters on both sides. Star Wars was religion to me when I wasn’t allowed any other. It was the only magic permitted in my childhood – the time of life when you crave all things magical, mysterious, and mythical.  There were AT-AT’s and planets full of snow where bloodthirsty creatures lived in caves and hung you upside down if you didn’t watch out.

Why did everyone move on to Pound Puppies again?

Chapter 2 Finding People to Love

Marrying Hera

I managed to find someone who tolerated my idiosyncrasies. That may not sound very romantic, but for me it was a big deal. I loved her right away. She’s a very private person, so I promised not to mention her too much here. I’ll call her Hera, because I think she’s beautiful like a goddess. Also, Hera sounds similar to “hermit,” and sometimes she acts like one. She was raised in Brooklyn as a Jehovah’s Witness, and her parents managed to mess her up with their overbearing attention almost as much as mine screwed me over with their general ignorance of my everyday existence.

A child

My life changed completely on October 25th, 2002, the day Mercy was born. Not having children is the right choice for many (maybe even most?) people, and in fact some can’t choose to have kids even if they’d like to. I thought it was the right choice for me too. Of course I’ll be polite and say that you can still have a fulfilling life with out kids. I do believe this is true, for them.

But for me, I’d rather die than live a life where I wasn’t Mercy’s father. The moment I saw her tiny frail body I realized I had never really seen a baby before. Up until that time, a baby was a little Winston Churchill-looking face stuck atop a bundle of blankets, screaming and crying and otherwise being bothersome. But this girl, my little Mercy, she had big dark eyes that looked straight into me with obvious intelligence. My professional training taught me that she couldn’t really see much at this point, and any smarts that I perceived were probably just me projecting onto her blank slate. But no, my training was wrong. Whatever babies the experts had studied to come to those conclusions, they had never met Mercy.

The moment I saw her tiny frail body I realized I had never really seen a baby before.

She had thick, wispy brown hair that smelled like heaven, little rolls of marshmallow blubber on her arms and legs, perfectly smooth, soft skin that begged to be kissed. Her lips alone were miracles, those deep crimson delights emoting a variety of feelings as I stared, transfixed by them for long stretches of time. Oh, she’s happy, she’s concerned, she’s delighted, she’s worried, she’s confident, she’s comforted! Cycles of every feeling.

I’d count every breath, watch her little chest rise and fall, and wonder what had taken me so long to go ahead and father this child. You think you know what a baby’s hands and fingers and feet and toes look like, but you don’t, really. At least, I didn’t. Because once I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I was obsessed with her little toes in a way that would probably embarrass you if I fully described it.

Yes, I had fallen in love at first sight, and I’ve never managed to climb my way out since. Not that I would want to. I mean, listen to her here, when she first started “talking.” I don’t know what she was saying, but I know it’s important.

When Hera first told me she was pregnant, I had spent the entire previous night finishing up an academic study because the journal’s publishing deadline was in the morning. (At the time, I was an academic, in the soft sciences, with a job at a respected university, just like my father. This doesn’t really matter for the purposes of my story, but you might as well know.) I was exhausted, and couldn’t think straight. Hera had me open a wrapped gift. It was a little knit cap, with markings that resembled R2-D2’s crown.

The hat looked like this.

The hat looked like this.

I thought it was awesome, but felt a pang of sadness right away, because I knew I was going to have to hurt Hera’s feelings. “I love it, Hera, but I think it’s too small.” Somewhere in my muddled tired mind, I wondered what Hera had been thinking – this hat could only fit a baby.

“Silly, it’s not for you. It’s from you.”

When you’re sleep-deprived you’re always a step behind, like you’ve missed the setup, or the punchline, or probably both. I wondered if I had given Hera the hat as a gift and immediately forgotten about it.

“But I wouldn’t buy you such a small hat. I know the size of your head.”

“It’s not for me, and it’s not for you. It’s for someone else.”

I was stumped.

Hera tried to help with a hint. “Someone in our family.”

My mom? My dad? Neither of them cared about Star Wars, and we had given up buying each other gifts years ago. Plus, mom would be offended if I gave her a hat. She knits her own.

Hera’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. For them gift-giving was an actual sin. It was a long time before I could give Hera anything on her birthday without her feeling guilty about it.

“I don’t get it, Hera. There’s no one else in our family…” She waited a bit, hoping I could piece it together. I couldn’t.

“Unless there’s a baby, Thomas.”

A baby? As much as I could feel anything in my half-asleep state, I felt shock. This wasn’t a decision that we had made. We didn’t want children.

“No. It can’t be a baby. That’s crazy. I’m sorry.”

I hurt Hera’s feelings that morning because I wasn’t sharp enough to mask my ambivalent feelings, and throughout the next nine months I struggled with the idea of being a father.

I was swept away by Mercy the day she was born, and she’s been the most important force in my life ever since.

But the moment I saw Mercy, all that apprehension mattered about as much as what my first grade teacher used to eat for lunch. I didn’t remember it, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have given it two thoughts.

Having Mercy made me realize how bad my parents were at parenting. I know it’s supposed to work the other way. Selfish children have kids of their own and then realize that their parents were right all along. But for me, spending time with Mercy and Hera made me wonder more and more what was wrong with my parents. They’d have lists of activities a hundred items long that they’d prioritize above spending any time with me. Read the paper or play with Thomas? Read the paper. Talk on the phone or play with Thomas? Talk on the phone. Take a nap or play with Thomas? Take a nap. Tend to the roses or play with Thomas? Play with Thomas never won.

I was swept away by Mercy the day she was born, and she’s been the most important force in my life ever since.

CHAPTER 3 Mercy is Exceptional

Every parent thinks her child is special. (Well, most every parent, mine were the rare exception. “You’re normal, Thomas. Nothing wrong with that.” Every parent should think her child is special.) Parents ought to be biased towards their own children. God, if you don’t get an extra boost from your own father and mother, the people who ripped your soul out of wherever it had been peacefully dwelling before you were born and shoved it into an earthly existence, who will give it to you?

Every parent thinks her child is different. Mercy, however, really was different. In many ways, she was better. She was the fastest child – boy or girl – in her first grade class. It wasn’t even close. I still remember her elementary school Field Day when Hera and I watched Mercy win first place in every single event. At that time, our biggest problem was dealing with slight embarrassment that came when other parents commented. “Wow, she’s really talented. What do you feed her?” “Do you train her every morning before school?” “Is she part of some secret spy program?” One father even compared Mercy to the Russian in Rocky IV. Hera and I are shy people, her more than me, and neither of us were comfortable being singled out and discussed by all those parents. (I’ll note, Mercy seemed to love the attention.)

Every parent thinks her child is different. Mercy, however, really was different. In many ways, she was better.

We’d both rather fade into the crowd, but with Mercy in our family that was becoming impossible. There was even an event called the Peanut Scramble, where a teacher would have a bag of peanuts and toss the peanuts all over a field. The children would try to grab as many as they could, and stuff them in their own bags. In the end, all the peanuts were counted, and a winner was announced.

Mercy seemed to know where the peanuts were going to land before they were even thrown. She caught nuts while they were still in the air. “Is there any event Mercy didn’t train for?” the envious parents asked us. An accusation as much as a question, but it was a fair question. What kind of maniacs have to win at everything – even the Peanut Scramble?

“I promise, she’s never done this before,” I tried to explain, while Mercy’s performance made me look like an obvious liar. She appeared to be genetically programmed to find those peanuts, like she could feel them even when she didn’t see them.

We left early, skipping the awards ceremony and promising Mercy she could pick up her medals after school once everything had blown over. Mercy was not happy about this decision, and I could feel her anger on the drive home.

“I won those prizes. I should be able to claim them. I worked hard so I could claim them. The other children told me I’d lose, and I wanted them to see they were wrong!” She pouted in the back seat. I was sympathetic to her, but we didn’t turn the car around.

“Greatness never needs to go on parade, Mercy,” Hera lectured. If Hera was a peacock, first she’d roll herself in mud and then she’d still try to hide.

Mercy was so special that we began worrying about an empty nest when she was still a downy soft chick.

Normally the kid who wins all the events at Field Day may be physically gifted, but wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book. At least, I think that’s what the other parents hoped. But no, Mercy was advanced when it came to reading, math, science. Her teachers started pressuring us to move her ahead a grade or two.

Hera and I were never comfortable with that idea. Skipping grades put Mercy that much closer to college, and we hated losing years of her living with us, in our house. Mercy was so special that we began worrying about an empty nest when she was still a downy soft chick.

Also, while Mercy was good at just about everything, there was one area where we had serious concerns. She had no ability to make friends. This upset us far more then it did her.

CHAPTER 4 Mercy's People

Mercy didn’t care to make new friends, and barely cared for those friends she already had. (We were the ones who called the kids she was sometimes forced to play with her “friends” – she never did.)

“They aren’t my people, Dad.” She’d say. “You’re my people. Mom’s my people. Those children aren’t.”

Hera and I felt guilty about this, afraid that our adoration and love had been lavished too excessively, and ruined her for normal relationships. We’d only modeled intensity, and maybe she wasn’t able to pick up on anything more casual.

At the same time, we couldn’t help but understand and agree. We did all have a special bond, it was undeniable. We were her people, and she was ours.

We’d set up get-togethers with nominal friends. Mercy was a real sport about it, but she had little fun going through the motions playing this or that game. We knew how she laughed and smiled when she was truly happy, and how she did those same things when she was faking it.

She was always faking it.

I hoped it was because she was too smart for the other children. She tolerated them just fine, but seemed bored by them, like a babysitter putting in her time for the money. If I ever asked her if she was starting to enjoy being with her friends any more, she’d always give me the same answer. They aren’t my people, Daddy.

Mercy scares me.

One night I awoke with a start. It felt like someone woke me up, but no one did. Moonlight streamed into Hera’s and my room. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and decided to check in on Mercy, as I often liked to do. Watching her resting was one of my greatest joys. I could always feel my heart swelling.

As I pushed her slightly ajar door further open, I was surprised to see that Mercy wasn’t in her bed. Instead she stood in front of her own window, facing the moon, her right arm extended.

“Mercy, darling, what are you doing?”

She didn’t answer me. I have a history of sleepwalking, so I was relieved that Hera had remembered to close Mercy’s window when she tucked her into bed. Mercy looked like she would walk right out the window otherwise.

I approached Mercy with caution to avoid startling her, and gently touched her outstretched arm. She certainly didn’t look asleep to me. She was staring out at the moon and beyond, and I recognized in her eyes the same feeling I used to have, when I was stuck in the fabric shop, yearning for more.

There was something about her demeanor which unsettled me more than I cared to admit.

“Daddy, what are you doing here?” She asked with a giggle, as if I was the one doing something odd. She scrunched up her nose and furrowed her brow in increased concentration, and continued to hold her arm out towards the window.

“Me, Mermaid? I’m not the one standing in the window. Are you a doggie?”

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She's calling her people. I didn't know what that meant, back then.

Illustration by Mercy

Mercy didn’t acknowledge my joke. This was rare, she normally laughed at them when I made them, funny or not. (And yes, this one was pretty obscure, a call-out to the song ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window,’ which we enjoyed singing.) There was something about her demeanor which unsettled me more than I cared to admit to myself.

“I’m calling my people, Daddy.<br /> They wanted to know where we live.”

“What are you doing, Mercy?”

“Quiet, Daddy, please. You’re disturbing my strong thinking, and making it weaker.”

I started to feel nauseous. I was dripping with sweat. It wasn’t even hot inside. But I tried to remain calm for Mercy’s sake. She could sense my feelings so acutely that I always worked hard not to overwhelm her with them.

“What are you doing that requires such strong thinking?”

“I’m calling my people, Daddy. They wanted to know where we live.”

CHAPTER 5 Mercy is Phenomenal

As much as it disturbed me, I thought Mercy was only being imaginative, and I wasn’t about to squash her sense of whimsy, like my father used to do with me. I wasn’t going to tell her that there was nothing beyond the moon and stars worth calling, that “her people” were in the bedroom next door and nowhere else. I encouraged her flights of fancy the way I wish my parents had fostered mine.

...her unshakeable faith made me believe that yes, in fact, she was communing with someone, or something, more.<br /> And it scared me.

But even so, that night, there was something about the way Mercy held her arm out towards the sky that made me deeply uneasy. There was passion in her eyes. Her confidence, singular focus, and inner fortitude frightened me. It was almost as if, despite what my parents had drilled into me, despite what I knew now that I was an adult, her unshakeable faith made me believe that yes, in fact, she was communing with someone, or something, more. And it scared me.

One summer when I was very young I lucked out because a huge bullfrog took up residence in our backyard. My dad had spent weeks digging out a ornamental koi pond, and it attracted Frogger, which was the (ever so creative) name I bestowed on this enormous amphibian.

Every morning, I would creep out of the house hoping to catch Frogger.

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High point of my life at the time.

Illustration by Mercy

But Frogger would hear me coming, and escape into the pond, which Dad had dug to the depth of six feet in the middle. (“So that the koi can survive the winter when the surface is frozen over, son” he had explained to me with his usual knack for taking interesting subjects and making them dull.)

One magical morning, I got within arm’s reach of that magnificent creature without upsetting him. I held my breath and reached out. My hands felt his soft, wet skin and I held him tight.

I’d captured Frogger!

I lifted him into the air, a dream fulfilled. To my horror, Frogger opened his wide mouth and shrieked. His cries sounded human. Terrified and panicked. He spasmed with enormous, unexpected strength. The immense force of his movement shocked me.

Between his terrible human screaming and his muscular strength, I dropped Frogger and he gladly escaped into the water. I watched the surface of the ornamental pond regain glass-like peace while waiting for my pounding heart to return to normal.

What the hell was that?

I thought I’d be holding an awesome frog, but instead I was confronted with screams, terror, and muscular pushing and pulling. I had brushed up against an unexpected strength with no clue how I could co-exist with it.

The feeling was mutual, as that was the last time I ever saw Frogger.

That night, when I saw Mercy calling “her people” while standing in the window, I felt the same way. I caught a glimpse of something powerful, and it scared me. But she was not a frog who I could drop into the pond and forget about while I moved on with my life. This was my daughter, and I had to find a way to keep holding onto her, even if my every instinct was to run.

If it had just been that night, I could have easily moved past my sense of disquiet. But new talents and strengths began to grow in Mercy, and Hera and I were not equipped to deal with them.

Mercy starts to draw.

I’d started sharing my comic books with her, old ones I’d collected since I was a child. She gravitated towards Spiderman, which I loved because he had always been my favorite. We’d read them together. This is one of the joys of fatherhood that no one advertises much – you get to enjoy childish things again, or maybe even for the first time, because you’re seeing them anew, through the eyes of your child. Levels of wonder that lie outside our carefully developed filters of adulthood pop into vivid focus. (I’d always hated the Small World ride at Disneyland, but once I experienced it through Mercy’s awestruck eyes, it won me over.)

After we’d been reading comic books, Mercy asked us to buy art supplies for her. Colored pencils, pastels, paints, those kinds of things. Though she was barely eight, she’d outgrown crayons and finger-paints.

She’d always drawn since she was very young. Your basic adorable crayon scrawls that parents (myself included!), and only parents, adore and appreciate.

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Drawn by Mercy, age 1-3 years. Clockwise from left to right: ANGRY RAIN, FUN GUY, SHARK, BLOBFISH IN THE OCEAN, SMILING POTATO WITH BELLY BUTTON, and DADDY.

Illustrations by Mercy

One day Mercy had been busy drawing while I worked on one of those obscure academic journal articles that my job demanded. (Publish or perish.) I asked Mercy if she’d like a drink of water because I was heading to the fridge. She didn’t answer me.

I studied her face and was transported back to that night, with the full moon and the window. She was focused on the paper while she drew. It was almost as if she was possessed. Not like in the Exorcist, but how I’d always imagined Beethoven when he’d lock himself in his attic for a month and write one of his Symphonies. A compulsion to finish, to get it down on paper, to manifest what existed only inside you so that others could see it, hear it, and live it, too.

I saw this in my daughter, tiny beads of sweat forming on her nose and above her lip, as they always did when she grew overheated, and it frightened me. She was too young to be overcome by obsession.

I took one look at her drawing and the nausea returned. It was clear she was proud, so I tried not to look as horrified as I felt.

She put down her pencils and the spell was broken. Emerging from the blanket of inspiration, she smiled at me and held up the paper.

“Look what I drew, Daddy!”

I took one look at her drawing and the nausea returned. It was clear she was proud, so I tried not to look as horrified as I felt.

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I'd never told her about Frogger.

Illustration by Mercy

I had never told her about Frogger. How had she known? Also, the drawing was so expertly rendered, professional, and mature. How could my eight year old daughter produce a work of art like this?

“What is it, Mercy?”

“It’s you and Frogger, Daddy, when you grabbed him and he scared you because he was so powerful.”

“Did Mommy tell you about that?”

“You were thinking about Frogger the night I called my people.”

“How did you know that?”

She laughed as if I was asking stupid questions on purpose, the way adults sometimes do when they talk to children. “Daddy! You were scared of me, and when people feel strong feelings I can always tell what they’re thinking. You were scared of me, and that reminded you of how you were frightened by Frogger, when you dropped him in the water.”

I was too stunned to say anything.

“Do you like the drawing, Daddy? I think it’s pretty good. This is what you looked like, right?”

“It’s a great picture, Mercy.”

From that point on, Mercy drew. Pictures of me when I was younger, of Hera, of her with us, and then also of her when she’s been away from us. She even drew pictures of events that at the time hadn’t even happened yet, but eventually did. (More on that later.) I kept every picture, because I think every one matters in some way, or she wouldn’t have drawn it.

With many of the moments she drew, she had no way of knowing about them, which I believe must be significant. I’m including her drawings here so they may serve as clues – both the pictures themselves, and what she chose to draw – as we try to find her.

Chapter 6 Mercy and Star Wars

Hera and I tried to provide Mercy with a balanced variety of activities and interests. We exposed her to a huge library of literature (to counterbalance what Hera considers literary junk food – comic books), we enrolled her in different organized sports leagues (basketball was her favorite), she played both piano and violin. We fostered her interest in math and science. You already know about her flair for the visual arts.

I say this to head off what is already a common charge – Mercy and I were obsessed with Star Wars and everything that’s happened to her was a result of that delusion. This is not the case. Yes, it is true, I have loved Star Wars since I was a child, and shared that love with Mercy. But this isn’t unusual. Star Wars has been the most successful franchise in its ability to transfer from my generation to the next – many younger children now love Star Wars as much as we did when I was a kid.

We weren’t more obsessed with Star Wars than other fans, at least not by an unhealthy margin.

When we’d turn off Star Wars, even after she'd been watching for hours, she’d sob and throw a fit, like we were depriving her of precious minutes with a long-lost best friend.

Mercy did plunge headfirst into the Star Wars universe, and I loved every minute of it. When she was only 3, we watched the original trilogy through in one day. She immediately asked to watch it again. When she’d watch more age-appropriate fare, like the Wiggles or Little Einsteins, it would hold her interest for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, tops. But when we’d turn off Star Wars, even after she’d been watching for hours, she’d sob and throw a fit, like we were depriving her of precious minutes with a long-lost best friend. (If she had any friends, let alone a best friend, that is.)

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Drawing of Mercy and Thomas watching Star Wars.

Illustrated by Mercy

She’d study those films, even before she could write, mentally taking notes. She had many questions. Why was Darth Vader cruel? What had happened to him? Where did the Storm Troopers come from? Could we visit Luke? Where was Han now? Why was Yoda green? What happened to Yoda’s parents, where are the other Yodas?

Hera didn’t like Mercy’s questions. “We need to tell her all this stuff is fake, Thomas, she’s acting like it’s real. I’m not sure she knows it isn’t.” I begged Hera to keep quiet. Star Wars was magical to Mercy, the same way it was magical to me when I was younger. I didn’t want to throw cold water over that like Dad had done to me. Hera had her Jehovah when she was a child, so she had magic in her life while growing up. She didn’t know how painful it was to have that taken away. She didn’t know how vital magic was to a child, because she hadn’t been deprived of it. I had been. I knew.

She didn’t know how vital magic was to a child, because she hadn’t been deprived of it. I had been. I knew.

It’s true, I engaged Mercy’s questions as if everything in the movies was real. I thought it was fun, and what’s the harm? It’s normal to act like Santa Claus is really up in the North Pole mustering an army of elves to prepare a sleigh-full of gifts and stockings, right? What’s the difference?

Mercy was a smart girl, and I would think to myself, of course she doesn’t really believe all this is real. But it’s fun to think that maybe it could be real. Like the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. Nobody likes the sourpuss who pushes his glasses down to the tip of his nose and declares that all available evidence indicates those are complete and total fabrications. That’s no fun at all. I wasn’t about to play the spoilsport.

When Mercy started insisting that she wear her red pleather “Jedi Suit” to school, I felt nervous. When she decided to grow one long braid of hair longer than the rest in the Padawan style, even I knew it was strange. But our little ten year old was already acting like an adult in so many ways, and I enjoyed this one area where she remained a child.

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Self Portrait, in her Jedi Suit.

Illustration by Mercy

We negotiated, after Mercy suffered some teasing at school (which we cared about much more than she did), that she would save the Jedi Suit for home. Her stipulation was that she could keep the Padawan braid. It seemed like a good compromise. Then I think Mercy could tell Hera was still disturbed by the braid, so she even cut that off on her own. I felt relieved and sad at the same time about that.

She had a thirst for everything Star Wars related and I struggled to keep up with her sometimes. I’d never been a fan of the prequels, but watching them with her, they made sense. I still didn’t think they compared to the originals, but I started to enjoy them.

...She was taken by Darth Vader and how one person could be so good, and then so evil, and then turn and become good again.

She loved the prequels because she fixated on Anakin. Where I’d always seen myself in Luke and his transformation from lonely farm boy, to reluctant insecure hero, and finally into a fully developed Jedi Master, she was taken by Darth Vader and how one person could be so good, and then so evil, and then turn and become good again.

I remember once when she was only 6, we were talking about her favorite fruit.

“I like red fruit the most. Strawberries, watermelon, pomegranate. Apples. Plums.” She listed all five in quick succession, like she had already settled her thoughts on the matter long ago.

“I thought you liked bananas. And they’re yellow and white.”

“I do like bananas, but they aren’t like Anakin. They’re basically the opposite of Anakin.”

I’ve always loved hearing Mercy’s thought process, so I asked, “How are bananas the opposite of Anakin?”

“Well, you see, Anakin did start out fresh and young and sweet. Kind of yellow and white, if you think about it, when he was just a boy. He even had blond hair! And then, just like a banana can, he turned evil, his heart become brown and mushy, and then black and dried out, like a banana will when you or mommy forget to eat it or feed it to me or throw it away.”

“Mommy likes to save them for banana bread.”

“That doesn’t apply to what I’m saying, Daddy,” she scolded, with a smile, “But anyway! You see, Anakin could go from yellow and white to dark dark black when he was Darth Vader, but then he didn’t stay that way, did he? No, he went back to yellow and white again at the end, saving Luke’s life, doing the right thing! Bananas don’t do that.”

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Drawing of Mercy, Darth Vader, and Banana

Illustrated by Mercy

“No, they really don’t. But neither do strawberries or apples or watermelons. Nothing rots and then becomes fresh again.”

“Daddy, stop changing the subject all the time.” She giggled and tickled me.

CHAPTER 7 Hera Is Scared

I had shielded Hera from my concerns for Mercy. I never told her about the night Mercy let “her people” know where we lived. Hera had seen Mercy’s extraordinary drawings, but I hid that Mercy was drawing things which nobody had ever told her about – memories she was plucking straight from my thoughts because my feelings were strong.

Hera was already worried about Mercy and I needed to be the opposing voice. The one that said Mercy was a good, normal, well-adjusted kid. Sure, she was on the edge of normal in a few aspects, but it’s all a spectrum and what is normal anyway?

I kept secret the strength that I witnessed in Mercy. She didn’t need to know about the force in our little girl that unnerved me. I couldn’t imagine what Hera would do with that knowledge.

Mercy and I started playing basketball in the front yard. The court was nothing to brag about, a streak of hardened dirt and a rusty old hoop. I never played any organized sports as a kid – my parents always said they didn’t have time to drive me to this practice and that game and the whole thing simply exhausted them – so I wanted to make an effort for Mercy. She was already better than me, though, which probably embarrassed her. No 10 year old should be better than her dad at basketball. Oh, well. I blamed my parents.

We were playing one on one. Hera had just gotten home from the grocery store. We tried to get Hera to join, but she resisted.

“You can barely call what Daddy’s doing basketball, Mercy! You don’t want to see what I would do out there.”

We laughed and kept playing, and she walked past us with her shopping bags.

It was a good-natured game. I was trying my hardest and Mercy obviously wasn’t, because the score was tied at 10 baskets each. Game point, and it was my ball. I hadn’t beaten Mercy since she had turned 10, so sinking my next shot would be a real treat. I think she felt the same way, because she was playing weak defense.

I made a pathetic attempt at a crossover dribble, and the ball hit an uneven clump of earth and rocketed sideways, out of my control and towards the road. I had meant to put a fence around our yard for just this reason. I started running after the ball, but so did Mercy, and remember, she was really fast, so she was past me and closer to the road.

Hera, who was still near the road, started running towards the ball, too.

From where I was, I saw it all. The car speeding down the road, the ball entering the road, Hera pursuing the ball with a singular focus, oblivious to the approaching sedan.

I yelled something desperate and confusing, something like “Get out of there, the ball is no good!” It made no sense. Mercy heard me. Hera didn’t. Mercy stopped, Hera didn’t.

I couldn’t do anything about it, and have never felt more helpless then I did while I watched Hera continue darting into the road. She reached the ball, but in the process put herself right in the path of the speeding vehicle.

I caught up in time to see my daughter stretch out her arm. The familiar intensity returned to her eyes. I continued to run towards Hera, yelling at the top of my lungs.

“Daddy, I’ve got her.” Mercy said, full of calm.

“Mercy, what in the world was that?” I asked her, barely able to get the words out.</p> <p>“Daddy. I have no idea.”

Hera froze, seized by an invisible grasp. She floated, levitating above the car as it swerved and honked and sped beneath her.

Mercy moved her hand to the right, and Hera was guided, in the air, towards safety, until her terrified mother was gently lowered back onto our yard.

With her left hand, Mercy reached towards the basketball in the street. She snapped her hand back and the ball catapulted into the air, directly at me. I caught it.

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Mercy saves Hera.

Illustrated by Mercy

Hera, Mercy and I waited silently, all of us in shock. I held the ball. Hera pushed herself up on shaky legs. Mercy, her inner strength now gone, looked like a frightened little kid.

“Mercy, what in the world was that?” I asked her, barely able to get the words out.

“Daddy. I have no idea.”

Mercy collapsed to the ground, dripping with sweat, spent.

CHAPTER 8 Hera Hurts Mercy's Feelings

In retrospect, hiding so much from Hera was a mistake. I had been introduced to Mercy’s peculiar skills piecemeal, gradually. I was the slowly boiled frog, the child gradually inoculated against disease. While still shaken by each new revelation, I was nowhere near the panicky bundle of nerves that my wife had become.

Hera looked like she was having a panic attack with alternating streaks of anger and fear. “What is wrong with her, Thomas? What did she just do? What is her problem?”

I wanted to silence Hera. I’ve always been very sensitive to Mercy’s moods, and I could feel my girl’s inner state filling up to the point of bursting with sadness and fear and hurt while she heard her mother say these things about her.

“She’s a freak! She’s dangerous! She needs help. Serious, serious help. The kind we cannot give her.”

“She’s a freak! She’s dangerous! She needs help. Serious, serious help. The kind we cannot give her.” Hera was blabbering about Mercy as if Mercy couldn’t hear the things being said.

Mercy took in every word.

I held Hera tightly, as much to give her comfort as to try to contain her. And maybe to shut her up, too.

“What she did, Hera, was save your life.” I glanced at Mercy to ensure that she was paying attention to what I said. Of course she was, and I could already feel some relief from her escalating emotions. “She did what she had to do to save the mother that she loves.”

Hera’s eyes were unfocused and jittery. “That car, I almost – and then she, how did she…”

“Be thankful that she did what she did, however it is that she did it.”

Hera had visibly calmed down at this point. “I am, I mean, she… Mercy, thank you.” Hera reached out towards Mercy, who watched her closely. I knew that with the intense emotions Hera was experiencing, Mercy could read Hera’s jumbled mass of thoughts easily, even if Hera had stayed quiet.

Mercy turned and ran back into the house, crying. I was angry.

“Hera, you need to clear your mind of negative thoughts when you’re around her. She can tell when you’re –”

“What are you talking about, Thomas? This is insane. Can you hear yourself? Are you saying she can read my mind?”

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Mercy could feel what Hera was thinking.

Illustration by Mercy

Even without seeing her, I could tell Mercy was still listening to us, still reeling from her mother’s thoughts. I was wasting time here, talking to Hera. Hera was an adult, and had to deal with this on her own, just like I had done. Mercy was a sensitive kid whose mother had seen her true essence and rejected it completely, and she needed me more.

“I’m going to talk to Mercy.” I headed towards the door. I knew Hera hated when I abandoned a conversation before it was finished, but I couldn’t leave Mercy alone any longer.

“Daddy, she didn’t need to say it. She thought it. She felt it. She’s still thinking it. I wish she would stop thinking it, but she won’t. She hates me, and thinks I’m a monster.”

Mercy had locked her bedroom door. I could hear her suppressing sniffles. Crying was rare for Mercy, so this meant she was in distress.

“Hey, baby, what are you feeling?”

“Mommy hates me.”

“She didn’t say that, she’s just scared–”

“Daddy, she didn’t need to say it. She thought it. She felt it. She’s still thinking it. I wish she would stop thinking it, but she won’t. She hates me, and thinks I’m a monster.”

“She doesn’t hate you.”

“The thoughts she’s thinking about me are so ugly. They’re the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. Red and scary and dangerous. Like spiders.”

“Mommy’s frightened. I promise you, whatever you think is hate isn’t hate. It’s strange, being in the head of an adult, even when you are actually an adult. I imagine when you’re a kid it’s absolutely terrifying. And confusing.”

I heard a quiet click. She had unlocked the door. I slowly turned the knob and slid inside. She was sitting against the wall, her face flush and streaked with tears.

I sat beside her and she collapsed onto me. I held her close. As traumatic as the day had been, this was nice. Mercy wasn’t huge on physical contact, so I relished every occurrence.

“I don’t want to see what’s inside Mommy’s head anymore.”

“Do I need help, Daddy?”</p> <p>“You’re an extraordinary girl, Mercy.”</p> <p>“That didn’t answer my question.”

“Well, if you are seeing things there, be sure you don’t focus on the wrong stuff. Because I know Mommy, and I’ve known her for longer than you have, and if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that she loves you deeply and strongly and forever. Those are the thoughts that are permanent residents in Mommy’s head. If you’re seeing anything else, they’re temporary invaders and you can be sure Mommy wants them gone more than anyone.”

I could feel the broiling waters in Mercy’s soul calming.

“Do I need help, Daddy?”

“You’re an extraordinary girl, Mercy.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“We all need help, Mercy. We all do. We’re all going to help each other.”

CHAPTER 9 Mercy Hurts Hera

Over the next week, things awkwardly returned to normal, or at least whatever best resembled normal now. Hera apologized to Mercy, which seemed to placate our fragile ten year old. We started preparing for Mercy’s birthday, coming up in a week. Mercy stayed home from school, I stayed home from work, and the three of us tried our best to maintain the status quo through this voluntary house arrest.

Still, there were hints that any appearance of peace was paper-thin and floating on an angry sea of lava. Mercy didn’t want to be alone with Hera, and though she wouldn’t admit it, I feared Hera felt the same way. I was the only one who was comfortable with either of them, and describing my relationship with Hera as comfortable was certainly stretching it.

Hera continued to insist that we needed to get a professional to look at Mercy. That felt instinctually wrong to me. Hera and I loved Mercy more than anyone else in the world, and still we were frightened by her. What would a person with no emotional attachment feel? I didn’t want my girl to be judged and punished. Mercy was already walking a hair-thin tightrope. One negative breeze might push her over the edge.

...there were hints that any appearance of peace was paper-thin and floating on an angry sea of lava.</p> <p>Mercy didn’t want to be alone with Hera, and though she wouldn’t admit it, I feared Hera felt the same way.

I threw myself into research. I was an academic, it’s what I was comfortable doing. (At some point maybe I’ll post my notes.) Psychologically, I found it soothing. There was an answer to all this, I just had to find, synthesize, develop, and explain it. I looked for real cases of ESP and Psychic abilities. I have to admit, it was hard to separate the real science from the hokum. Put more precisely, it was difficult to spot any real science alongside all the junk.

Still, I knew that our girl simply had a gift, and there was nothing wrong with her. Some gifts come with a cost, and we had to figure out how to maximize the pros and minimize the cons. Get the full value of that gift, without paying too much for it.

Hera, with her religious background, would trot out her “demon of the day” explanations. Mercy needed to get to church. Mercy needed prayer. Mercy had opened herself up to a devil. I hated hearing Hera say these things, but at the same time I knew that when fear rises, people often revert to their childish states. Religion was Hera’s whole world when she was young.

Though I’m probably an atheist if forced to decide, I’m in full envious support of the magic of religion. But when that magic accuses my daughter of sharing space hellish minions, I reject it.

“When you think these things, she knows.” I whispered to Hera one evening when she had grown frantic about the state of Mercy’s soul. I’m not sure why I whispered, Mercy was probably already trying her hardest to tune out Hera’s negative thoughts. (Mercy and I had been working on developing her ability to be selective about the things she would see and hear.)

“That’s part of the problem, wouldn’t you say? Please, Thomas, neither of us has any expertise here. We need a doctor. Or a pastor. Someone who’s seen something remotely similar, because I’m drifting, and we’re going to lose her. And then you’re gonna lose me.”

You don’t have to entertain every single idea that pops into your head.</p> <p />Some are dangerous visitors that need to be sent on their way...

How dare she. I had taken great pains to be disciplined with my thoughts. It was only fair to Mercy. You don’t have to entertain every single idea that pops into your head. Some are dangerous visitors that need to be sent on their way without so much as a conversation. You invite a thought in, entertain it for the evening, serve it dinner and invite it to stay the night? Of course Mercy is going to think it’s how you actually feel.

“Do not mention anyone leaving, or being lost. Do not even think about that. That’s poison, plain and simple. Spit it out and wash your mouth.”

Mercy’s bedroom door cracked open. Her large blue eyes fearfully peered out at us. I could tell she’d heard our argument and seen Hera’s thoughts. Mercy’s sad face made me even angrier at Hera.

I consciously softened towards Hera, because that’s what Mercy wanted. “I know you love Mercy, and you know she loves you. I think the two of you need time together, time to remember how much you mean to each other. I bought you a new puzzle. A thousand pieces. How about you work on it?”

When the two people you love the most are at war with each other, it’s hard not to feel torn into a million pieces.

The puzzle was a brilliant idea. Mercy and Hera loved working them together. For the first time in a long time, I heard both of their laughter. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed that joyous sound until I heard it again.

When the two people you love the most are at war with each other, it’s hard not to feel torn into a million pieces.

That night, Hera and I both tucked Mercy into bed. Mercy was getting too old for this  tradition, she was turning 11 the next day after all, but none of us seemed eager to give it up.

Mercy peered up at us with her huge eyes. It reminded me of when she was first born, and we were poor and lived in such a tiny place that Mercy had to sleep in a bassinet which we rolled into the kitchen at night. We’d lean in to check on her, and as soon as our vision adjusted to the darkness, we’d notice that she was staring right back at us, her eyes wide open and observant.

I kissed Mercy on the cheek. Hera followed my lead and kissed the other cheek.

“Kiss sandwich!” Hera exclaimed, an old joke we used to make whenever we both kissed Mercy. Mercy grabbed us both in her arms and held us tight.

“Hug sandwich!” She replied with the expected response. “Mommy, Daddy. I’m so glad I have you. You love me. I love you. We’ll never leave each other.”

For that one night, everything was good. Everyone that mattered to me was doing okay. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

The next morning, I was able to sleep far past my normal waking hour. Often, I’d be lucky to reach five in the morning before the worries of the day would wake me up and demand attention. I was feeling better. When my eyes opened, sunlight was already pouring through the window.

I heard Mercy and Hera laughing like best friends while working on another puzzle. Something about finding those pieces and building towards the finished picture was healing for both of them. That’s just what we had to do with life, too, I thought. Find the clues to this mystery, and put it all together piece by piece.

I stood in the door and watched them. Mercy was taking a deep drink of her mother’s attention. When was the last time Mercy felt Hera’s pride in her? Mercy had subsisted on a steady diet of Hera’s worries and embarrassment for too long.

“Mama, do you think I can put this puzzle together with my eyes closed?” Mercy asked, fishing for approval.

Hera playfully scoffed at the idea, “Nobody can do that, Mercy. The pieces all feel the same.”

“Then you would be amazed?”

“Of course I would.”

I feared I knew where this was going, and entered the room hoping to put a silent, graceful stop to it.

But I was already too late.

Mercy was delighted.</p> <p />“You see, Mama, it’s easier with my eyes closed than with my eyes open!”

Mercy grabbed the puzzle pieces and fitted them together. Masterfully, skillfully, in a way no person realistically should be able to do. All while her eyes were tightly closed.

Mercy was delighted. “You see, Mama, it’s easier with my eyes closed than with my eyes open!”

This was a 1000 piece puzzle, the kind which takes hours to complete. Mercy was already nearly finished.

The color drained from Hera’s face as she watched Mercy. Far from pride, she was overcome with dread.

Mercy sensed her fear, and stopped working on the puzzle, opening her eyes. As soon as she saw Hera’s face, she was hurt. “You said you would be amazed. You promised.”

I tried to intervene. “Of course you’re amazed, aren’t you, Hera? We both are. We’re both very proud of you, Mercy. We don’t say it nearly enough.” I knew exactly what Mercy needed to hear, and my words started to calm her down.

Too bad I didn’t know what to say to calm Hera down. “H-how did you do that, Mercy? Was there a trick? Tell Mommy, how did you know how to do that?”

“You could do it too, Mommy, I’m sure of it. You just have to pay attention that that feeling inside you that flows through you, the one that’s connected to everything else, especially the living things –”

“What feeling? What are you talking about. Thomas, what is she talking about?” Panic had set into Hera.

Mercy tried harder to explain. “–You know, the feeling that I can feel in you and Daddy. You imagine yourself stepping into it, first just a toe, then a foot, then up to your knees and waist. Finally, you hold your breath and dunk your head under, and let it guide you. Like floating in a river. Do you know what I mean?”

“Mommy, I’m not making this up. Don’t think that I’m crazy. I’m not crazy! It’s the Force, Mommy, like in Star Wars. You should watch Star Wars with me and Daddy – those movies explain it completely.</p> <p>It’s the Force.”

Hera couldn’t respond. Instead, she shook her head back and forth. No. No. No. She didn’t know what Mercy meant.

“Mommy, I’m not making this up. Don’t think that I’m crazy. I’m not crazy! It’s the Force, Mommy, like in Star Wars. You should watch Star Wars with me and Daddy – those movies explain it better than I can. It’s the Force.”

Hera glanced at me, her eyes burning. She had told me so, her eyes accused. We’d always argued about Star Wars, Hera never trusting Mercy’s obsession with it. I’d always contended it was harmless fantasy. My face reddened.

I had to admit this had gone too far.

Hera got up and headed towards Mercy’s room. Mercy chased after her, “No, Mommy! No!”

I followed them, trying to figure out what I should do.

In Mercy’s room, Hera wasted no time. She boxed up Star Wars figures and took down posters. “I’m sorry, Mercy, but we have to give you more to focus on. This isn’t healthy, and it’s not helping you work through your…”

Mercy was beside herself, watching Hera dismantle everything that she loved. “My sickness, Mommy? My disease?”

“I didn’t say that, Mercy.”

Hoth playset, bagged. Rancor model, into the trash.

“You didn’t need to! You thought it. I know you think I’m sick. That I’m broken! Hey! No! Don’t take that!”

Mercy reached out for the large AT-AT model, a steel grey motorized four-legged transport that Hera was removing from the shelf. They tug-o-warred over it until the head popped off and fell to the floor. Mercy fell apart the way I’d expect her to if one of us had died.

“Mercy, Mercy, please, I’m sorry. But this is for the best. It’s not healthy, you’ve fixated… Thomas, help me out here. Back me up.”

I didn’t know what to do. The Star Wars obsession did seem unhealthy, and we would have to redirect Mercy at some point. But this sudden purge seemed cruel. Mostly I just wanted to comfort Mercy, so that’s what I did.

“It’s okay, Mercy. We’re going to be okay.” I patted her on the shoulders while she desperately tried to reattach the AT-AT head to the rectangular body.

“It’s broken. She broke it. She thinks I’m broken, and now she’s breaking everything I love!” Hera continued the Star Wars purge, filling boxes and garbage bags and leaving nothing left over.

“Mommy, stop! Please!”

Hera didn’t stop.

Instead she ignored Mercy and spoke to me, calmly, almost detached. “Thomas, please, explain this to her.” I didn’t like the way she sounded.

Neither did Mercy.

Mercy tossed the AT-AT head to the floor, her attempt to fix it yielding nothing but frustrating failure. She stood and faced Hera angrily.

“Stop it, Mommy. I command you.”

Hera continued without a word.

A steely resolve entered my daughter’s eyes, like the time she stood before her window and stared past the moon. That strength in her that I had come to recognize, but which had grown no more comfortable.

Mercy lifted her arm and pointing it towards Hera with her small hand shaped like a V.

Hera dropped the garbage bag. She catapulted up into the air, and then hovered a couple of feet above the ground.

“Mercy, stop that! Stop!” I shouted. I tried to get through to my daughter, but she was far gone, focused on Hera. Mercy methodically closed the V, slowly bringing her thumb closer to her fingers.

Hera started pawing at her neck, making choking noises. Dear God, her face was turning red, like she was being strangled.

“I warned you, Mommy, not to steal my things. You can’t destroy what I love!” Mercy was not herself.

Hera could barely get any words out. “Please… baby… please. Let me… go. You’re going to…” I tried to pull Hera back down to the ground, reaching towards her neck to give her some relief. Nothing made it any better.

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Drawing of Mercy Force Choking Hera

Illustrated By Mercy

I launched myself towards by daughter, tackling her to the ground. I hated to do it, but I had no choice.

Hera collapsed into a bookshelf. She hungrily sucked in air, weakened and battered. She sounded bad.

I pinned Mercy to the ground while she struggled against me. She’d grown long and lean in the past year, and I swear she was pure muscle. She could put up a fight. I could sense shock and anger pulse through her, directed at me. “You hurt me, Daddy.”

I hadn’t wanted to. “I had to stop you from doing something you’d regret. You love Mommy.”

The rage abated at the mention of Hera, quickly replaced by a deep sadness. Mercy shoved me off of her and raced to Hera’s side, throwing her arms around her.

“Mommy, I’m so sorry, please be okay. Are you okay?” Mercy’s tears fell on Hera’s face. Hera hugged her back.

Hera didn’t say anything. I don’t think any of knew what had just happened.

“She’s going to be fine, Mercy. She knows you love her.” I said, trying to soothe them both. Hera was frozen, and Mercy continued to say “I’m so sorry, I love you” over and over again, like it was her sacred mantra.

Mercy looked at her hand like it was a loaded gun, and then at Hera and me.

“I think actually I would like some help. Please.”

Chapter 10 Visitors

The imposing four-story stone building looked haunted, sprawling east to west as far as I could see. I wondered how there could be enough crazy people to justify such a huge structure.

I hated that people would label my Mercy as one of those crazy people.

There was broken glass embedded in the top of the stone wall that surrounded the compound. When I was a kid, people told me the jagged shards were meant to keep all the crazies from climbing out. At one point my father told me that was incorrect – the glass was there to keep the normal townsfolk from rushing the Asylum, where they would hurt the residents, who were considered dangerous freaks.

I wasn’t sure which version of the broken glass’s history was scarier. Either way, that broken glass made me nervous.

When I visited Europe one summer long ago, before I even met Hera, I was curious to see that amazing buildings – hundreds of years old with stone walls 3 feet thick and turrets reaching towards the sky – could sometimes be used as gas stations or grocery stores. In America, we had very few buildings like that, and when we did, they were Important Places, like Churches, or Government Buildings, or Prisons.

Or Asylums, like this one.

Here in America, we saved the Important Buildings for Important Purposes.

Mercy pushed through the large oak double doors and Hera and I followed. None of us wanted to think that Mercy was being forced into this, so we all appreciated her taking the lead.

How was anyone supposed to get better in here? It'd make a sane person crazy, not the other way around.

Once inside, I could see the Asylum had gotten at least one update since it was built, probably in the seventies, and was in need of another. Stained linoleum floor, flickering fluorescent lights, a popcorn ceiling marked by yellowed water stains. How was anyone supposed to get better in here? It’d make a sane person crazy, not the other way around.

It didn’t help that we could hear groaning drifting from one of the long dark hallways.

“Daddy, I know I need help. But why do I need to find help here?” Mercy asked. It was a fair question. I had been thinking the same thing.

“This is where Dr. Kingman practices, and she’s the best.” I was reassuring myself as much as Mercy or Hera. It was true. I’d done my research. Kingman was world renowned, with an excellent reputation for dealing with extraordinary (if troubled) children. I figured we should at least keep our appointment before I faulted her for her poor choice of office space.

“I really don’t like it here,” Hera said. Her bad habit of saying or thinking whatever she pleased continued to irk me. I kept my thoughts positive for Mercy, who got the message.

Mercy grabbed my hand and headed towards the reception desk. “If Kingman’s the best, let’s hear what she has to say. It’s not like we’re going to have to live here or anything.”

I was relieved once we were led into Kingman’s office. The floor was polished granite, which complimented the exposed riverstone foundation and aged brick walls. A rich brown leather couch, a set of dark mahogany chairs, and a generous amount of warm light from homey lamps formed an oasis of comfort hidden inside this dated, moldering nightmare.

Kingman herself was a surprise. She was much younger than I would have expected, appearing to be in her early twenties. I tried to do the math, and figured she must possess an unnatural youthful appearance, or else Doogie Howsered her way through school.

Short and slender, with olive skin and dark hair and eyes, she could have been one of any dozen of races. She looked the way I imagine people will look thousands of years from now, when different ethnicities have mixed to the point where nobody can tell what background a person has anyway.

I didn’t like the way she looked at Mercy, as if my daughter was a rare diamond she could display as the centerpiece of her collection.

She extended her hand to me, smiling warmly. “Ah, the meeting I’ve been looking forward to since it was scheduled.”

Yeah, we’d only scheduled it yesterday. Mercy and I both chuckle to ourselves over that thought.

Kingman continued, “Thomas, Hera. And I would guess this is Mercy?”

I didn’t like the way she looked at Mercy, as if my daughter was a rare diamond she could display as the centerpiece of her collection. I grabbed the Doctor’s hand anyway, being polite. As soon as our hands met, I felt even worse about her. Mercy didn’t like her, either. I could tell. She wouldn’t touch the Doctor, forgoing a hand-shake.

“Please, take a seat, what am I thinking? Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Tea?” She grinned at Mercy. “Hot Chocolate?”

Mercy shook her head. “I want Nurse Handersloff in here.”

Nurse Handersloff was the man who prepped us for Dr. Kingman. He asked us a few simple intake questions and took our information. He was warm, gentle, and Mercy liked him. Mercy had taken a Hot Chocolate from Nurse Handersloff, but didn’t want one from Kingman.

As if he’d been listening at the door, Nurse Handersloff entered.

He too looked young, but Handersloff wasn’t a complete baby face. He sported a thick black beard. A mop of curly black and red locks crowned his head. He wore a decidedly old fashioned outfit. His bowler hat and black suit seemed like something straight out of the 1940’s. If he hadn’t told us he was a nurse, we’d never had known by what he was wearing.

Handersloff had a dry sense of humor. When we were waiting for the appointment with Dr. Kingman to start, Mercy had asked him why he was wearing what he was wearing, and without skipping a beat, the nurse had answered. “What, isn’t this what all the humans are wearing on the landmass continent of North America? I was under the impression my dress reflected current styles.” He delivered the line with a professional level of sincerity, as if he really meant it. We all laughed, even Hera.

Kingman sat in her overstuffed leather chair and waved him off, “Nurse Handersloff, we won’t be needing you.”

“Mercy has requested me.” Handersloff replied with such unforced confidence that for a moment I questioned who was the boss and who was the employee.

Kingman continued to eye Mercy with greedy hunger. “Of course. Whatever makes Mercy more comfortable. Is this what you want, Mercy? You’re quite sure?”

Mercy nodded tentatively, in the way you do when you’re afraid you’re overlooking a key piece of information.

Nurse Handersloff sat beside Mercy. Mercy leaned into him slightly. It was a subtle motion, but that kind of affection from Mercy, especially towards strangers, was unusual, so I noticed.

Kingman grew cold and clinical. She glanced from me to Hera and then settled on Mercy as she spoke. “Normally we don’t have other staff members sitting in on my sessions. You have to understand, it’s a delicate phenomena which I study. Every additional eyeball lowers the chance of anything expressing itself.”

Handersloff removed his bowler cap, which seemed to alarm Kingman. “I’m only interested in doing what I can to make this a comfortable, safe place for Mercy.”

Kingman laughed, but without any joy. “Oh, is that so?”

Clearly these two had long-standing issues between them. It felt like a miserable couple on the verge of divorce had invited us over for a dinner party. It seemed strange to display such unbridled disdain in front of patients.

Handersloff was calm, reassuring. “Perhaps we should reschedule. Doctor Kingman, it appears we’ve gotten off to a bad start. I could even have Mercy see someone else, I’m not sure this is a good fit.”

Whether due to anger, annoyance, or panic, Kingman answered too abruptly. “Of course not. They sought me out for a reason. I won’t let you dissuade them.”

Handersloff leaned towards Kingman, whispering. But we could all hear him, anyway. “Doctor, you care too much. It’s making everyone uneasy. Your interest in Mercy borders on unprofessional.”

I found myself having trouble breathing and sweating under what felt like a thick blanket of dread spreading through the room. Once, as a child, I had broken my arm and needed an X-Ray. The absolute worst part – far worse than the pain from the broken bone itself – was the heavy lead blanket they covered me with. I felt like it was going to crush me.

This was the same.

Kingman smiled. “It’s not an abnormal amount of interest. I care about all of my children, Nurse. As I know you do, too.”

“But this one more than any other.” Handersloff said it like it was a challenge. Or a threat.

“Stop, you’re going to give Mercy an inflated head,” Kingman joked.

Kingman pulled her chair across the granite floor, the legs screeching as she neared us. By the time she sat down she was so close that she and I were almost touching knees. She held a clipboard. Strange that in an age of tablets and smart phones, that she would still rely on such an old tool.

“Mercy, could you tell me a little about… Your parents tell me that you are, ah, extra ordinary, so I was thinking, could you share anything that others have noticed about you that might be considered special?” She turned abruptly towards the door, as if she’d heard something, though no sound had been made.

With Kingman so close, I noticed beads of sweat forming on her upper lip.

“You’ll excuse me for a moment.” She rose and strode across the room towards the door. It was then that I noticed that the door itself seemed better suited to a bank vault than a Doctor’s office. It was a thick steel, tall and wide.

She locked the door with a loud metallic click. Locked us in.

Doctor Kingman’s voice was firm, accusatory.</p> <p />“Nurse. What have you done?”

Handersloff didn’t like that. “It’s highly irregular to lock the patient in, Doctor, especially during a simple consultation.” He stood and took a step towards Kingman. They were seconds away from a fist fight, two alphas competing over the same territory. While I agreed with Handersloff – it was strange to lock the door – something kept me from voicing that agreement. Probably shock.

Doctor Kingman’s voice was firm, accusatory. “Nurse. What have you done?”

Kingman wouldn’t move from her position near the door. She focused on Handersloff. “Step away from Mercy.”

I found my voice. “Listen, we should… this was probably a mistake, and the two of you… We’ll go. We’re fine.”

Kingman blocked our exit. “You’re not leaving.”

Handersloff took another step towards the Doctor. “Let them go. You heard them. You can’t keep them as prisoners.”

The nurse shoved Kingman aside and Kingman smashed into the wall. God, what was that? Kingman’s impact left an impression in the brick wall, as if it’d been hit by a car or a meteor. How strong was Handersloff?

Handersloff unlocked the door and swung it open. I grabbed Mercy and Hera and pulled them close to me. We headed towards the open door.

Kingman was rasping, clearly in pain, and could barely speak. “Don’t go out there. They’re coming for you.”

Then I heard it. A rhythmic, regular, relentless sound, growing louder. The clack of heels echoing against the linoleum floor. Who was coming for us?

I know what I’m about to claim is ludicrous, but I beg you to believe me. It might sound ridiculous – it does sound ridiculous, but this is what happened, and this is what we’re up against. I’m embarrassed to even write it, because I know most would write it off as pure follow. Hell, I would have, just a couple years ago. But here goes.

I was focused on the impact Kingman had made in the brick wall when I heard it. A familiar metallic whoosh, one that used to give me goosebumps when I was a child (and on through adolescence and adulthood too) because when I heard it, I knew things were about to get exciting.

The reverberating mechanical hum – like engines idling in chorus, with pitch shifts overlaid with the frenetic static of interference – carried a threatening terror tone that I’d never heard before. This sounded lethal like an angry warning from a mammoth rattlesnake.

I turned and saw Handersloff holding a lightsaber.

Yes, a lightsaber, the weapon used by Jedi (the good guys) and Sith (the bad guys) in the Star Wars Universe. They’ve made an appearance in every single Star Wars film (except that Star Wars Holiday Special I owned on VHS) and now that weapon was here, in Doctor Kingman’s office.

I promise you. A lightsaber.

Not one of those fake plastic or glass ones they sell as toys or high-end collectibles, either. This one was glowing, like none you’d ever see in real life without rotoscoping or computer effects.

It was glowing red. You don’t have to be a Star Wars nerd to know that this was bad.</p> <p />Only the bad guys have the red lightsabers.

As a kid, I’d pray for this. But now, seeing this lightsaber pointed towards us, I realized that some prayers are best left unanswered.

It was glowing red. You don’t have to be a Star Wars nerd to know that this was bad. Only the bad guys have the red lightsabers.

A new hum ripped through the room, and this one didn’t scare me, even though it sounded the same, though maybe with a slightly warmer pitch. I saw Doctor Kingman spring to her feet, wielding an amber colored laser blade. She leapt in front of me and Mercy and Hera, just in time to push back Handersloff’s approach.

Handersloff was bad and Kingman was good? If my understanding of lightsaber blade color symbolism was correct, that’s exactly how it appeared.

Their blades collided in a deafening explosion of fury.

Sparks flew high into the air, illuminating the room like a rock concert light show. God, the impact was loud.

The films don’t do it justice. The sound ripped through us all, knocking us back, off our feet. You wouldn’t even be able to hear the musical score if the movies were faithful to the way lightsaber collisions sound in real life.

The way lightsaber collisions sound in real life. Yes, I’m aware of how crazy this seems, but this is my reality, now. Far from being silly, or cool, it’s incredibly frightening.

Her blade in her right hand, Kingman deftly parried, managing to guide the obviously stronger Handersloff into the corner. It was like watching a lightning-fast lightweight boxer evade and annoy a heavyweight into submission. Whenever he swung, she’d hop to the right or duck or step back as if she knew what he was going to do before he did.

With her left, she reached towards the door – and closed and locked it from afar, without actually touching anything. The Force. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it used in real life, but it was the first time I’d seen it and known what it was.

Handersloff swung his red glowing blade, keeping Kingman at a distance. “It’s too late, they’re coming. You’d have been wise to hide your interest in her. A Padawan. On Earth. We’d sensed something, but truly. We had no idea.”

“Clearly. Or else they’d have sent someone far more capable than you. I never even imagined you were a Sith.”

I heard a series of explosions coming from the other side of the steel door. Whoever “they” were, they were eager to get in.

“The strong ones are able to conceal their true identities.” Handersloff, perhaps trying too hard to punctuate his words, swung wildly, off-balance.

With one strong confident swipe, Kingman took advantage and used her lightsaber to pin Handersloff’s glowing blade to the wall. The sabers crackled loudly, while the bricks scorched and blackened. She dealt him a quick strike to his wrist with her left hand, and he cried out in pain.

His weapon fell to the ground.

She threw him to the floor and kept him there, her foot to his throat. Bested, he chuckled but strained to speak. “I’ve done my job. Delayed you long enough for them to get here.”

The explosions grew louder. We faced the steel door. A glowing outline appeared around the door, as if it was being drawn. They were using a laser to cut it open.

I held Mercy and Hera close to me. Kingman (who, by now, I was sure was not actually a real Doctor) stood in front of us, her lightsaber pointed towards the door, still choking Handersloff beneath her boot.

I felt like we waited there for hours. I wished Kingman had a window in her office. We were trapped.

“Daddy, what’s happening?” Mercy asked, though it sounded more like “Help me, please.” I didn’t know how to answer either request.

The door blasted off its hinges with a massive boom. The last thing I remembered was Mercy screaming and Kingman slicing the hurtling metal rectangle into two pieces so it wouldn’t hit us. I was surrounded by a cloud of smoke and debris, and then something hit me, and I passed out.

Mercy drew the following pictures showing what happened while I was unconscious.

Chapter 11 My Eyes are Opened

I had never lost consciousness before, and regaining it was surreal. I found myself sitting in the passenger seat of an old battered chevy sedan while it screeched around a tight mountain road switchback. My head throbbed and I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t dreaming, that’s how dreamlike the whole moment felt.

“…You had one job, and that was to watch her, and you failed.” I was being reprimanded. Kingman was driving, her focus on the road, but her words were meant for me. Good morning to you, too.

“You drive a car?”

Kingman rolled her eyes like it was the stupidest question she’d ever heard. In retrospect, of all the things I could have asked, it did rank pretty low on the scale. But the idea of a trained Jedi Master driving an old beater sedan seemed absolutely ridiculous to me. And I was still recovering from a head injury.

“Yes, I drive a car.”

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t respond with a clever retort like “Got it, Tie Fighters attract too much attention” or “Right, your Land Speeder must be in the shop” because, even though I hadn’t yet realized it at the time in my foggy state, we were in a dire situation.

I turned and saw Hera, staring straight ahead, safe.  My relief was short-lived. She was alone in the backseat.

“Where’s Mercy?”

The constant drip of anxiety in the pit of my stomach made sense now.

“I had my hands full with a Sith-in-training and an army of guards, but you couldn’t keep your eyes on her. She’s your daughter. It’s your job to keep track of her.”

Mercy was missing. I felt a hot panic rising up through my chest.

“Do they have her?”

“Your Padawan has been exposed to bloodshed. At such a young age.</p> <p />This is not good.”

Kingman just shook her head. “No, Mercy took care of them,” she answered. There was something particularly grim about the way she said it. Kingman laid into another sharp switchback, slamming Hera and myself against the car’s interior.

“Your Padawan has been exposed to bloodshed. At such a young age. This is not good.”

Bloodshed? What had I missed? “Where is she?”

“Now that they know she exists, you can be sure they’ll send a Sith Lord as soon as they can. May already be here.”

I was getting angry. This was my daughter, and Kingman hadn’t given me one answer about anything. “Where is she? What is going on? God damn it, will you tell me something? Where are we going?”

Kingman spoke with an unnerving calm, as if everything she said had already been written down, edited, re-written, and then committed to memory.</p> <p>I didn’t like it.

Kingman shrunk away from my display of emotions like a cat reacts to being splashed. “You are going to have to stop doing that. I’ve compiled a report that will answer most of your questions. Who I am and why I am here and where I am from and how Mercy is related to everything.”

Kingman spoke with an unnerving calm, as if everything she said had already been written down, edited, re-written, and then committed to memory. I didn’t like it.

She grabbed a thin metal wire from beneath her seat and passed it to me.

“You have my sympathy. All of this would probably be easier to believe if Prometheus hadn’t mixed so much fiction in with fact when he exposed Humans to our history. It has to be disorienting.”

I examined the wire, wondering what I was expected to do with it. I’ve never been a wiring expert, but it didn’t appear to be a metal that I was familiar with. It had a strange shimmering characteristic, as if the surface was constantly moving, melting and re-forming.

“We are a galaxy far away, this is true. But as you’ve no doubt already figured out,</p> <p>we are not a long time ago.”

“Pay attention to me, Thomas, not the knowledge transfer. You can read through that at your leisure.” I was meant to read this metal wire?

I’d be sure to ask for instructions.

“I am from what you would recognize as the Star Wars Universe, multiple clusters of planets, stars, and moons we refer to as the Tellerman Corridor. We are a galaxy far away, this is true. But as you’ve no doubt already figured out, we are not a long time ago.”

Despite everything I’d already seen – the lightsaber battle, activities that appeared Force-related, Mercy’s own Jedi-like traits, I was skeptical. How could that be?

Before I could respond, a strained, manic voice came from the backseat. “We’re to believe that this series of films just so happens to resemble an actual place millions of miles away? Okay, sure.” Hera joined the conversation, expressing what I had been thinking, too.

Kingman took the question in stride. “You’ve got it backwards. Your films are based on my home galaxy, it’s no mere coincidence. Just like your kind often create films based on actual historical battles – you call them War Movies, I believe.  A Human we call Prometheus made popular movies based on our battles. He shouldn’t have, but he did. But you’re wasting time with this.” Kingman made a slicing motion with her hand to end the discussion. “What I need to know is if Mercy has any blood relatives in the area.”

I shook my head. “Just us.”

Hera leaned forward from the back. “Thomas, what about your parents?”

My parents and I weren’t technically estranged. But between the amount of time they could find for us in their busy post-retirement schedule and my own mixed feelings about the job they did raising me, we practically were.

“Mercy wouldn’t run to my parents. She would barely recognize my parents.”

Kingman dismissed me. “Where do they live?”

“I’m telling you, there’s no way –”

“Where do they live?” She’d grown insistent. It annoyed me that we were about to waste time visiting my parents when Mercy was missing, and certainly nowhere near them. Kingman slammed on the brakes and slid into a U-Turn, and sped into the opposite direction. “Nevermind, I’ve got it.”

Jedi read emotion like bloodhounds pick up a scent, and any thoughts attached to the feelings came along for the ride.

I cursed myself. By this point I’d gotten good at shielding my thoughts. The trick was to divorce what I was thinking from any strong emotion. Jedi read emotion like bloodhounds pick up a scent, and any thoughts attached to the feelings came along for the ride. But Kingman mentioning where my parents lived made me think about how they moved 3 hours farther away when Mercy was born, because the golf courses in the desert are “truly incredible.” Most grandparents would want to be closer to their grandchildren.

Kingman settled into the drive. “In a time of crisis, especially when young and untrained, a Padawan will seek others with whom the Force is strong.”

“Oh please, my parents always hated Star Wars. Dad called it a waste of time and money. Yet he plays golf.”

“High sensitivity to the Force is passed down from parent to child to grandchild.”

I grew more insistent. “The Force is not strong in Mom and Dad. I can tell you don’t believe me when I say so, but we are wasting our time.”

Kingman waved a hand over the thin wire I was holding. It slowly expanded, stretching outwardly until it became a tissue thin shimmering sheet of metal. The soft, wispy material grew rigid, and finally looked like a book. Vivid words and images came into focus.

Enlarge

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The wire.

Illustrated by Mercy

The title floated in the air before my eyes:

The Tellerman Corridor and Earth:
History, Implications, and Current Status
1293 – 1576 A.E. (Alaarynian Epoch)
Jedi Wisdom Volume XIV, Section 21, Chapters 376-391

Hologram imagery of a familiar blue and green planet – Earth – floated just above the tablet. Around it, other scenes appeared and then faded into each other. An Aztec Pyramid. Cambodian Buddhist Temples. Viking ships. A Nazi rally.

This tablet was as stunning as anything else I’d ever seen, though I imagine Kingman found it as remarkable as a deck of cards. She seemed perturbed by the look of awe on my face.

“We’re a couple of hours from Palm Springs, go ahead and study up.” I checked to see if Hera wanted to read with me, but she had fallen asleep.

I plunged into the history of the Tellerman Corridor and its interactions with Earth.

(I encourage you to read what I remember of the document in its entirety here.)

It contained an alternate version of human history so fantastic that I would have discarded it completely, if not for the authentic Jedi driving beside me.

If you don’t want to read the entire document, this is what you should know:

  1. The “Star Wars Universe” is real. Not fictional. Not made up. Real. It’s known as the Tellerman Corridor. Inhabitants of this galaxy have had contact with Earth since ancient times.
  2. Ben Kenobi (yes, Obi-Wan) believed that Earthlings (i.e. Humans) contained great potential as Jedis, and started a program to develop young Padawans 110 years ago, known as the Padawan Project.
  3. The program ultimately failed, and the fallout gave rise to Earth’s bloodiest eras. (The exact details of the consequences were redacted, though I understand they were terrible.)
  4. Because of the nightmares born of Kenobi’s Human Padawans, Earth was officially quarantined. The Force and humanity cannot mix – the combination is too dangerous.
  5. Aspiring filmmaker George Lucas stumbled across a history of the Tellerman Corridor left behind in a ruined bunker in Germany, and created his films based on what he had seen there.
  6. Despite the Quarantine, both Jedi and Sith maintain a small presence on earth, searching for a Human Padawan who both believe could be the greatest of them all.

The act of reading itself was strange. The best way I can describe it is this: Do you know the feeling, when you think back to reading the best novel you’ve ever read? Your memories of the read aren’t normally of you sitting in a chair, looking at words on a page. Instead, what you remember are the characters in the book, the places they went, the struggles they encountered. Your memory of reading the book is closer to a memory of actually living the book. That’s what reading this document was like. I was there, interacting with the world it described, seeing and sensing and hearing.

My quick read came to an abrupt stop, though, as I reached a portion of the report that had been suppressed. What was Kingman hiding?

“What happened to Kenobi’s 2nd class of Padawans?” I had a burning curiosity, and was put out by the fact that it’d been deleted.

Kingman was matter-of-fact, “If it’s not displaying, you can’t be trusted with the information.”

“Can’t be trusted? According to who?”

“Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what you can be trusted with, and what you can not.” I was in no mode for philosophical discussions.

“Who’s Andrew?”

“We Jedi don’t dwell on that portion of our history, it’s not a source of pride.”

“What happened?”

“Andrew is the Council’s greatest failure. That’s more than you need to know.”

The conversation was over.

I finished reading through “The Tellerman Corridor and Earth” report while we were still about ten minutes from my parents’ place, covering a ton of material in what felt like a short amount of time. I’d never been much of a skimmer because I never retained anything that I read quickly. But here, both my speed and retention were at high levels.

“You’re finally finished.” Kingman stated, looking over.

Her condescending tone annoyed me. “I made my way through it pretty quickly. And I remember all of it. Ask me anything.”

She had no desire to play this little game with me. “The tablet is perfectly tuned to your distinct perceptual quirks, that’s why there’s so little friction in the knowledge transfer. You no doubt found the reading process swift, almost as if you were there, and remember more than you normally do. The books and machines your kind use for knowledge transfer are inefficient, tuned for nobody in particular. So much learning energy gets wasted.”

I pretended to understand what she was saying, and nodded. The truth is, I did like the tablet, and it did make me feel… smarter. And I already considered myself fairly smart.

(In case you’re curious, I’ve since learned that the tablet works by adjusting its display to perfectly match the reader’s individual perception. Every human has a subconscious ideal setting for any number of qualities – brightness of the screen, darkness of the word, feel of the item, warmth of the whites, smoothness or roughness of the lines, imperceptible hum of the device, vibration of the refresh cycle, and more that Humans haven’t even discovered yet. All of these affect our enjoyment of reading or watching greatly, though we’re ignorant to most of them. By perfectly tuning each quality (there are hundreds of them) to every specific individual’s ideal, “attention waste” – or the energy expended to maintain concentration in difficult perceptual conditions – can be lowered almost to zero.)

I wished Hera would take an interest in the material. If anything, just so I could have validation that I wasn’t going insane.

“Hera, you really should take a look.” I reached back and gently nudged her from her stubborn sleep.

“You know I’ve never been interested in that stuff,”</p> <p>Hera replied flatly.

I needed someone else to tell me that I was truly reading what I thought I was reading. My mind felt like it had been turned inside out and twisted back upon itself. From that moment on, the world never looked the same again.

“You know I’ve never been interested in that stuff,” Hera replied flatly.

I did know that. But it’s not like I was asking her to play Lego Star Wars on the Xbox. “That stuff” was no longer the fictional minutiae geeks discussed on internet bulletin boards. It was a reality – a brutal, blood-stained, bleak reality – that threatened our daughter’s life, and even worse, her soul. I’d think that would increase her interest a little.

I tried to pass the paper thin tablet back to her. “This is about Mercy.” She brushed it away. In retrospect, I probably should have been concerned for Hera, this apathy was not something the woman I’d fallen in love with would display, but instead I was filled with a quiet rage. Why was I alone in this?

CHAPTER 12 Arrival at my parents’ house.

Kingman’s face grew grim. I was afraid to know why. I still felt like we were wasting time looking for Mercy at her absentee grandparents’ house in the middle of this parched, cracked landscape. But I wasn’t yet eager to leave Kingman. Given what we were up against, having a Jedi on our side was probably better than being on our own. Especially with Hera acting like she had been acting.

I didn’t want Kingman embarrassing me in front of my Dad. “When we get there, I’d like you to stay in the car. I don’t want them talking to you. We don’t need to mention anything about the Star Wars Universe.”

“It’s the Tellerman Corridor. Thomas, I’m warning you, you’ll be laughed at if you continue to call it the Star Wars Universe.”

“I’ll be laughed at either way, which is why I’m hoping to avoid the subject. I’ll visit, check for Mercy, and we’ll be on our way.”

My parents didn’t live within the Palm Springs town limits. Their place was remote. It felt like the middle of the desert. I couldn’t understand the appeal of this landscape. It depressed me, a collection of sand and dried up shrubs and piles of rocks and a lifetime supply of sunlight. Headache-inducing amounts of sunlight. It’s not like there was a Jabba’s Palace or tribe of Sand People to liven things up, either.

I felt like I had an ever-bleeding unstaunchable wound while trapped in the water with a shark.

“If I determine a need to speak to them, I will speak to them. Your embarrassment is none of my concern,” Kingman lectured me, as if I had even mentioned being embarrassed to her. I hadn’t. I knew there were more important things at stake then my feelings.

I’d already grown tired of the Jedi’s ability to sniff out emotions like wine aficionados who detect the slightest hint of charred oaks or slate or schist after a few sips. It was exhausting. I felt like I had an ever-bleeding unstaunchable wound while trapped in the water with a shark.

“Anyway, Thomas, I fear your worries may no longer apply.”

I looked ahead and saw the horror Kingman was referring to, and was seized with panic.

A towering plume of smoke rose ahead, marring the clean blue and yellow lines of the desert with blacks and grays.

The thick dark cloud marked the area where my parents lived. I tried to hold out hope, but knew that their house was the only flammable structure in long stretches of sand and stone. It was the only thing that could be on fire.

Enlarge

EPSON004
Horrible.

Illustrated by Mercy

Those five minutes were torture. As we neared the house, it became clear that something bad had happened here. A terrible thing had been done.

Kingman pulled the car up as close as she could, considering the raging flames pouring from Mom and Dad’s place. Last time I had been here, Dad had been so focused on his desert garden that he barely kept up his side of the conversation. “All native plants, son. Drought resistant, evolved over millions of years to survive in this climate. Isn’t it beautiful?”

That garden was a pile of snowy white ash now.

I threw open the car door and ran towards the house, despite Kingman’s commands to stop. She didn’t want me to enter the inferno.

Kingman didn’t need to worry.

If this kind of evil exists and can cross paths with you at any moment, then what’s the use of going on?

I nearly tripped over them. I still don’t know what it was I was feeling, so I won’t pretend that I’ve figured it out. A cocktail of horror, shock, and disbelief, but all underlined by a pervading sense of dread. And evil. Not like a haunted house evil, not the fun kind that you enjoy around a campfire when you’re telling ghost stories. This was the kind of evil where just a tiny glimpse makes you want to give up on life and living and the whole pursuit of whatever the hell we’re supposed to be doing here, because it’s definitely not happiness. If this kind of evil exists and can cross paths with you at any moment, then what’s the use of going on?

Just end it now.

Dad and mom. Their charred remains, smoldering. Just enough of them unburnt that I can confirm that they were my parents, and that they died terrified and alone.

I think I cried, but I can’t be sure. What I mean by that is I was definitely crying, but it’s hard to tell whether it was from emotion or the acrid smoke that attacked me from all sides in the shifting winds.

Not that it matters, anyway, really. No tears were going to bring them back. It was over, me and them. I didn’t realize it until then, but I had held hope that we would someday get closer, that there was still time for them to be better parents and grandparents, and yeah, I could probably be a better son, too.

Someday, I had believed, we’d have all that.

Not now. I mourned losing them, but more than anything I grieved losing what I thought someday they could become. I still do.

Hera had left the car, but if her goal was to join me, she failed. She was collapsed on the ground, and I think I heard dry heaves or coughing or maybe tears.

Kingman stood beside me. “I was worried we took too long.” She stated, devoid of any feeling. Matter of fact, as if we’d simply missed the 5:05 train downtown and now had to suffer the inconvenience of waiting for the next available ride.

“Are these your parents?”

I nodded. Kingman examined the sandy ground. “That’s what I suspected.”

No “I’m sorry,” or “That’s terrible.” Just that she had suspected that these blackened corpses were my parents, and, hey, look at that, turns out she was right.

“Blitzguard prints all over the place. Not a surprise, this strike bears all the markings.” When I didn’t respond, Kingman assumed I was confused. ”I’m sorry, Blitzguard are like the Stormtroopers Prometheus featured in his films, only an elite unit. Much like your Special Forces. Their aim is true, their armor is black, and they do whatever the Empire orders without question.”

I was barely listening. I was struggling with the oddest compulsion. A couple of miles from my parent’s place, past a large rock mound and down in a ravine, Mercy and I had once wandered and found a hidden spot of green. It was one of the few times I’d brought Mercy for a visit to her grandparents, and we’d both needed an escape.

This oasis we’d stumbled across back then was exactly the kind of place you’d hope to find in the middle of a hot, dry desert. There was a modest spring, which was enough to water green leafy plants and thick patches of grass. We scooped with our hands and drank our fill, while pretending the cold, clear water was the fountain of youth, granting us immortality.

Mercy excitedly reached into the bag we had brought with us and emptied out our water bottle. She filled it with the water from the spring.

“For mommy! We can’t be staying young and living forever without her.”

Later that night, Hera wouldn’t drink any. “It could be infected with bacteria, Thomas,” she scolded me. It took a lot of convincing to make Mercy believe that mommy wasn’t going to miss the eternal life boat. (And maybe a promise to add a drop or two of the spring water into Hera’s coffee the next morning.)

The most magical feature of this hidden ravine was a small, perfectly formed cave. You had to climb to get to it, and it was mostly hidden from view, which only added to its appeal. We called it Mercy’s Cave and spent most of the day there, telling stories and laughing.

Photograph of Mercy's Cave

Photograph of Mercy’s Cave

Now, surrounded by the stinging stench of death, Mercy’s Cave dominated my thoughts. I struggled against it. I didn’t want Kingman to know anything about that place, though I had no idea why at the time.

Fortunately, Kingman was otherwise occupied, and didn’t appear tuned into me. She was examining the scene like a seasoned detective. “She was here, too.” Kingman pointed out a small footprint among the many larger boots. “Mercy.”

I recognized the tread immediately. Converse All-Stars. Mercy had been here. I couldn’t deny it. Why would Mercy come to see my parents? And how in the world had she gotten here?

“I sense she’s still alive, but we must find her.” I’m not sure why, but despite all the evidence around me, I didn’t doubt that Mercy was still alive, either. I recognized the hunger in Kingman again, that strong desire to get her hands on Mercy. I didn’t like it now any more than I did back at the Asylum.

I tried to keep my mind off Mercy’s Cave by broaching another subject. “I don’t understand why she would have come here. We never visited my parents.”

Kingman shrugged, like it was the most obvious action. “In a time of crisis, Force flows towards Force.”

“No. If it wasn’t golf or gardening or, I don’t know, a soap opera or talk radio, they couldn’t be bothered. They barely paid attention to me.”

“I sense it still, they weren’t Jedi, but the Force was strong with them. Your father in particular. He could have been a Master, had Humans been allowed to develop their gifts.”

Those strongest in the Force are often its greatest opponents.

“No. No. He was the opposite of a Jedi. He stamped out magic and wonder like he was choking weeds in his gardens.”

“Those strongest in the Force are often its greatest opponents. The ones who claim the Force is nonsense are the ones who feel its power and fear what they feel. When you fight against something integral to yourself, vital to who you are, you cannot make that choice casually. You must battle with all your might. Otherwise, what are you left to admit? That you had this incredible gift, an unbelievable destiny, but chose to let it go to waste?”

Kingman suddenly fixed her sights on me. “You need to tell me where she is. Right now,” she insisted with an intensity that surprised me.

I didn’t know where Mercy was, and I told Kingman as much. But Kingman was so sure that I knew something. She sensed I was hiding the knowledge from her. Her certainty made my compulsion make sense.

Mercy’s Cave. I did know.

I was going to hide it from her.

I shielded my thoughts from Kingman. I pushed down the grief of seeing my parents, and the worry I carried for Mercy, and made sure I didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t exactly healthy, but it was what I needed to do.

Kingman used her lightsaber to chop through a pile of smoldering lawn furniture. It was as surreal as it sounds. I’ll never get used to it.

“Regardless of how noble the motive, killing is an act that leaves a mark. Always. A stain or a scar. You want to limit a child’s exposure to it, certainly before the age of 13.</p> <p />By my count, this is her third kill.”

“She’s killed again.” Kingman pointed towards a black armored arm, severed and alone.

“Stop saying it like she’s a murderer. She’s being attacked, and she’s defending herself.”

“Regardless of how noble the motive, killing is an act that leaves a mark. Always. A stain or a scar. You want to limit a child’s exposure to it, certainly before the age of 13. By my count, this is her third kill.”

I did not appreciate Kingman’s insinuation. Mercy was hardly Jack the Ripper, and there was no need to number her kills as if you could easily lose track if you didn’t. The idea of Mercy killing, whether in self defense or not, terrified me. Where were the parenting books that addressed this subject matter?

“Even you have feared her, have you not? I know about the bullfrog, how it screamed and scared you, and how Mercy makes you think of that frog.”

Kingman acted like she’d one-upped me by grabbing this information, but she had it backwards. This was proof that I’d evaded her.

The severed arm had shot a great dose of terror through me. What parent wants to think of their young daughter as capable of this kind of violence? But I couldn’t give up the location to Mercy’s Cave along with that fear, so I did everything I could to remember that bullfrog and dwell on that, instead. It appeared to have worked, but I didn’t want Kingman to know.

“You weren’t supposed to know about that. I’d like you to stop sorting through my thoughts. They are mine. Not yours to sample,” I protested.

All the while, I was dwelling heavily on where I had caught Frogger, the ornamental pond in the backyard of the house I’d grown up in. Then I thought about how I wished I wasn’t thinking about that pond.

“Your parents didn’t always live here, in Palm Springs, did they?” Kingman pressed. “They had another house, the one you were raised in.”

“I won’t let you take her.”

“She’s a Jedi, Thomas. She’s doesn’t belong to you. She belongs to the Council.”

A Jedi’s life was fun to watch on the screen, and fun to playact during recess, but to actually live it? Always hunted, forever a target, thrust into dangerous situations, separated from everyone you love, lonely.</p> <p>Every Jedi died alone. Even if there were others around, they died completely, utterly alone.

No. Mercy was my daughter. Mercy deserved the chance to choose whatever she wanted in life. Maybe she wanted to be a normal girl, with a normal life, and children, and a husband who loved her. If she wanted to be a Jedi, then that was an option. Not a choice I would have thought was realistic just days before, but it was a viable path for Mercy. Strangely, given my own obsession with Star Wars, it was a path I did not want her to take.

A Jedi’s life was fun to watch on the screen, and fun to playact during recess, but to actually live it? Always hunted, forever a target, thrust into dangerous situations, separated from everyone you love, lonely.

Every Jedi died alone. Even if there were others around, they died completely, utterly alone.

Mercy would never be alone, and Mercy didn’t belong to anyone. Certainly not the Jedi Council. She would have to decide what she wanted to do, and it would be her decision.

“The Council has no claim on her. Please! She’s been given to my care until she’s eighteen, and then she belongs to herself and herself only.”

Kingman left me and Hera there, near the blazing house, in the desert. She got into her car.

“We operate by a different set of laws, Thomas. I hope you grow to respect them, or else you’ll find the gulf between yourself and your daughter too wide to navigate. Thanks to you, I know where I can find Mercy. I doubt we’ll ever see each other again.”

She started the car. “Mercy could be the greatest, most powerful Jedi. I can’t risk letting them take her.”

She drove away. I was surrounded by devastation. Hera was an empty husk, as ruined as the blackened remains of my parent’s house. I couldn’t handle even another glance towards Mom and Dad. But amidst all of that darkness, there was one sliver of good news that I needed to relish.

I had just fooled a Jedi, played mind tricks of my own on her. And Mercy was safer because of it.

Chapter 13 Mercy's Cave

I found Mercy exactly where I knew I would. That much I expected. What I hadn’t expected was to find her crying. Mercy barely ever cried, even as a baby.

She’d never looked more like a child in need of help before.

“Daddy? Daddy.”

I climbed into the small opening and shuffled beside her in the darkness. She dropped her head onto my shoulder. The tension in my chest that had been there since the appointment with Kingman finally dissipated.

I wanted to freeze us in that moment and make everything outside of that cave disappear forever. We were all either of us needed. No Jedi, no Kingman, no Tellerman Corridor.

I wrapped my arms around her small frame and held her close to me. How could someone so frail and slight warrant so much attention and cause such a stir? I was thankful to have her beside me and safe. I wanted to freeze us in that moment and make everything outside of that cave disappear forever. We were all either of us needed. No Jedi, no Kingman, no Tellerman Corridor.

I tried to hold her hand, but it was tightly clenched and she wouldn’t let me open it. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that she was clinging to the lightsaber.

“Let Daddy hold that, Mercy.”

“No.” There was a chill to her tone that worried me, cold and steely and unyielding.

I didn’t like her holding Handersloff’s lightsaber. It’s still hard to tell the difference between reality and what Prometheus (Lucas) presented in his films because there’s so much I haven’t learned, but I had been under the impression that a Jedi built her own lightsaber as she advanced in her training. It increased in as much power as a Padawan could be trusted with, and only was made lethal once the Padawan was a fully trained Jedi.

Yet it appeared Mercy had picked up a deadly Sith lightsaber and used it as if she’d been born with one in her hands. And now she wasn’t about to let it go. I hated that red blade.

“You should be concerned that it even responded to her touch,” Kingman had told me while we were driving. “It was a fully realized Sith blade, and she wielded it without hesitation. That should frighten you. It scares me. Her destiny is not yet set.”

That’s all Kingman would say on the matter. She wouldn’t answer any of my follow-up questions. Are you saying Mercy could become a Sith? Have you seen a good Jedi become a Sith? How does that happen?

I remembered one of the passages I had read in the “Tellerman Corridor and Earth” report that Kingman had given to me, one that focused on a small-scale secret initiative launched after the failed “Padawan Project” on Earth. Officially off the books, it was set up to identify any Humans who still displayed an abnormal propensity towards the Force. The Unstable Location Initiative, it was called. Kingman was part of it.

A Jedi-sized dose of the Force mixed with the passions and strengths of Humans had previously only resulted in dangerous individuals that Jedi referred to as Unstables. Like a mixture of chemicals that could explode. Earth was a Quarantined territory for good reason.

Kingman had seemed almost afraid when she told me that Mercy could be the greatest Jedi ever. Others had awakened to a truth I had known for a long time. Mercy was unique, extraordinary, and amazing.

But I was just awakening to another side of my daughter. Perhaps she was dangerous. Untamed. Scary.

“Actually, Daddy, you can have it. Just don’t lose it. I might need it if the bad ones come back.” She handed me the lightsaber.

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Mercy hands Thomas the lightsaber

Illustrated by Mercy

I was upset with myself, sure that she had read my thoughts. She had decided to put my mind at ease by passing the lightsaber to me. No little girl should ever have to know that she scares her father.

But any regret was overwhelmed by relief. This girl, the one who would trust me like this, who would give up her only weapon in a suddenly terrible world, she was the girl I recognized, the one who loved her Daddy.

Mercy was still Mercy. She hadn’t changed.

Chapter 14 A brush with child protection

When I returned to the smoldering house with Mercy, we found Hera sitting no more than ten yards from my parents’ remains, holding her knees tight to her chest and staring. It didn’t seem healthy, and I promised myself to get Hera the attention she needed once I was sure Mercy was safe.

I put a hand on Hera, taking great pains to be as gentle as possible. “Let’s go, honey.” Mercy, too, tried to comfort Hera. “Hi Mommy. I’m safe.”

Hera turned slowly, a beat behind, and something like a smile formed on her lips. She held Mercy tight. I realized then that Hera had thought Mercy was dead. She hadn’t had the luxury, as I had, of knowing about Mercy’s Cave, and I hadn’t clued her into my confidence that Mercy was there, safely hiding.

In the distance, I heard sirens approaching. I was surprised it took this long, though again, we were miles away from anywhere.

I slowly lifted Hera to her feet. “We need to get out of here.”

Hera replied with a natural question. “And go where?”

I hadn’t planned my next steps past finding Mercy, to be honest. How could we go back home, and re-enter the life we had before? Who could help us now?

“We can’t wait until those sirens get here. They’ll want to know what we’re doing here, and I don’t have an answer.”

Hera grew determined. “No, we need the police. We need help, Thomas. Please.”

“Maybe, but on our terms. Not here. We’ll look suspicious.”

Hera sounded frantic, unhinged. “I can’t run. Even if they put us in jail, it’s better than…” She trailed off, but with all the devastation and death that surrounded us, it was easy to know what she was going to say.

The sirens were getting closer.

“Hera, I understand. But please, listen to me. My parents are dead, burning in their yard. There’s a severed arm. And then there’s us. It won’t look good.”

Hera had found enough energy to grab at me, pulling me towards her with desperation. “I don’t care! I’d rather deal with HUMAN cops and HUMAN courts than whatever did this. Do you really think we can run? That we can hide? We’re going to die, Thomas. We’re going to be burnt up, and we’re all going to be lying in the desert, baking in the sun, waiting for the birds to feast on our eyeballs and tongues. You, me. Mercy! All of us.”

Mercy put a thin arm around her mother. She patted her mother’s back, like a mother pats a burping baby. It calmed Hera down.

“Daddy. If Mommy wants to wait until the authorities get here, let’s wait.” She was so calm. I felt ashamed, because Mercy was the only one acting like a parent.

“Mercy, I know that seems like a good idea, but it’d be better if we weren’t here.”

“Mommy cannot run, and our family cannot be split up. She needs to stay here. She needs to talk to someone who’s in charge. She’s scared.”

Mercy’s calm words dripped like a soothing balm onto my heart, washing away my concerns about being found at the scene of my parents’ death. Yes, I found myself thinking, if this was what Hera needs, then this was what we’d do. My cheeks burned a little, feeling like a fool for thinking we should run in the first place, and then insisting upon it. Our course of action was now so simple.

“Okay, Mercy. You’re right. She needs to stay here. She needs to talk to someone who’s in charge. We’ll stay.”

I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. Mercy used her Jedi powers to convince me. She overtook and commandeered my thoughts. That’s the only reason I would have made such a foolish decision. At the time, it made all the sense in the world. In retrospect, it made none.

As fire engines arrived at the scene, first responders found the three of us. Bunched together, tears streaking our soot-stained cheeks. I held Mercy and Hera tight to me.

One of them asked us what had happened here, as they tended to Hera and put her in the back of an ambulance.

None of us knew what to tell them.

After we’d been ferried from one dark, dreary government interview room to another for hours, I realized that my earlier misgivings were misplaced.

They weren’t going to view us as potential suspects in my parents’ deaths.They were just going to think we were crazy, the whole lot of us.

They weren’t going to view us as potential suspects in my parents’ deaths. They were just going to think we were crazy, the whole lot of us.

We hadn’t even told them most of our story, either. There’d been no mention of Star Wars, nor of Mercy’s abilities. We did have to admit that we’d been at the mental institute, because they already knew that somehow, but we didn’t mention the confrontation between Kingman and Handsloffer, or the attack on Kingman’s office. They didn’t mention it either, though I couldn’t imagine how they had missed the aftermath.

(Turns out that I hadn’t needed to worry about that. Though I’m unsure of their methods, Jedi and Sith are extraordinarily adept at covering their tracks when intervening in events here on Earth. This has actually been very frustrating for me, as any “proof” I hoped to find to verify this story has been impossible to locate and keep. Even my parents’ corpses were never discovered by law enforcement, and I have no idea where their remains are to this day. Nobody saw the Blitzguard’s footprints, the severed arm vanished, and eventually the fire that consumed their home was officially determined to be an accident. The paper reported that Dad left embers from the fireplace in his garage. Embers from the fireplace? On a 100 degree day in the desert?)

I was forced to answer, “I don’t know” to so many questions, that eventually one detective threw his hands up in frustration and sighed, “Why don’t you tell me what you do know?”

I couldn’t without sounding unhinged. Hera was frantic, begging for protection without providing any reason why. Once in a while she would let slip that “they’d come again,” but would clam up when pressed for who “they” were, exactly.

Mercy remained with us the entire time. I insisted on it. I wouldn’t allow us to be separated again, after what we’d just survived. When she was questioned, she was the most composed of us all. Although, she, too, wouldn’t give any details.

“Did you all just faint at Doctor Kingman’s office and awaken outside your parents’ burning house?” The detective could tell we were hiding something, and he could also sense Hera’s and my unease. But Mercy’s even keel disturbed him the most.

Most of our time was spent waiting. I could see important-looking personnel walk by and sneak a peek at us, then dive into serious conversations with each other. We were causing a stir. I didn’t know which I dreaded more, the interviews, or the long stretches of time between them.

Another group of officials entered the room. They brought bags from McDonald’s. We were starving, but we were also a family that didn’t eat fast food, Mercy herself leading that charge more than anybody.

“I’ll not eat garbage, thank you.” Mercy stated, matter of fact. A young man with bleached blond hair and dark brown eyes tossed the bag into the trash. He looked like he’d be more at home on a surfboard in the ocean.

“Good choice. I just thought you’d be hungry.”

“I choose hunger over poison.”

The man introduced himself as Mister Gail, and laughed at Mercy’s pronouncement. “I like a person with principles.”

He sat opposite us, and treated us to a half smile like we were old friends. “Look, I’m in a strange situation here. I want to help you out, but –”

I cut him off. “Where do you work, Mister Gail? What part of the government are you, exactly?” I wanted to know who we were dealing with.

“I’m from a department that looks out for the best interest of the children, ensures they’re being cared for, looked after properly, that kind of thing.”

Hera didn’t like the sound of that. “We’ve heard of Children Protection Services.”

He exhaled, as if he’d been relieved of a burdensome secret he’d been forced to keep from us. “Oh good, then we’re all on the same page. Look, I’m fighting out there, trying to convince the others that you are… capable parents, and that Mercy here is in good hands.”

I practiced keeping my calm, knowing that any freak out would only hurt our chances here. “Why don’t you ask Mercy what you need to ask her? She knows what kind of parents we are.”

Gail nodded. “Exactly, that was my plan. Mercy?” Mercy studied Gail closely.

“Yes, Mister Gail?”

“They are my favorite people in the whole world, the only ones that I know are completely safe,and I’d rather you stab me in the heart than take them from me.”

“Is there anything I should know about your Mommy or Daddy?”

“They are my favorite people in the whole world, the only ones that I know are completely safe, and I’d rather you stab me in the heart than take them from me.”

Hera exhaled. “I think that’s pretty clear. Look, we’re exhausted, so at this point if you’d just let us go -”

Mister Gail cut her off. “Hold on, please. Earlier you were begging for protection, and now you want to be put out on the streets? That doesn’t make sense. We’ll all collaborate to figure out the best plan going forward. Now, back to Mercy.”

Mercy stared straight at him, eyes wide and unblinking. “Sure thing, what else do you want to know? Let’s try to end this soon, I know your wife wants you home soon, and you haven’t seen your son in three days.”

Gail was taken aback. “How did you know about…”

I tried to change the conversation. “We would like to leave.”

Mister Gail ignored me. “Mercy, I haven’t confided in anyone about my home life.”

“If you let us leave, I’ll tell you what I know.”

Gail nodded in silent agreement.

I squeezed Mercy’s leg, but she didn’t get the message. “Caroline doesn’t think you spend enough time with her and your son, William. She accused you of being more married to your job than to her. You don’t think that’s fair because you’re working to establish a career and she’s the one who pressured you into having a child as soon as you did, despite your protests.”

Mister Gail’s only response was to stand and silently leave the room. I didn’t like the look on his face.

What followed can only be described as traumatic.

CHAPTER 15 Torn Apart

They rushed into the room like it was a military operation. Even if I had seen it coming, which I didn’t, I couldn’t have done anything about it.

At least, that’s what I try to tell myself, when I go over the confrontation over and over, parsing each second.

I don’t know whether they were cops or military or CIA or SWAT. They could have even been hired security. My memory on those particulars is foggy. They wore black. They had guns. They swarmed us like insects.

I grabbed hold of Mercy, first, and Hera held tight to me. I shouted for a lawyer, that we had rights.

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We had no chance against them.

Illustrated by Mercy

Four meaty grunts grabbed Mercy, despite her attempts to wiggle away, lifted her, and pulled her from my hands. If I could only have held on tighter. I can still see her arms slip out of my grasp.

I recall seeing her throw a couple of large men away from her with a Force-infused shove, but there were too many of them and she was restrained. They bound her hands with plastic ties. She was screaming for help, “Daddy, what are they doing? Stop them!” but I couldn’t do anything. I struggled to my feet and lifted a chair, but when I tried to smash one black clad enemy he dodged and the chair skittered harmlessly across the linoleum.

I cursed myself for leaving the Sith blade in Mercy’s Cave. Seeing Mercy use that red saber was terrible, but this was worse.

The last thing Mercy shouted to me before she was rushed out of that room, subdued like a dangerous criminal, continues to bounce around in my head.“This isn’t the end, Daddy!”

Hera didn’t even fight, she’d lost the will to protest. Mercy and I gave everything we had in the hopeless struggle, but Hera sat in her chair and watched lifelessly.

The last thing Mercy shouted to me before she was rushed out of that room, subdued like a dangerous criminal, continues to bounce around in my head. “This isn’t the end, Daddy!”

When the door slammed and Hera and I were left alone, it felt like the end. I pounded against the door, the windows, demanding that someone talk to me. I tossed a chair against the window, but it was industrial strength and unbreakable. I shoved the table into the wall.

A pair of silent guards subdued Hera and myself, binding us in straightjackets. They wouldn’t answer many of my questions, other than to inform us that authorities had determined that we were a danger to ourselves and others, and needed to be offered treatment, for our own safety. They repeated this over and over while they injected something into Hera, and then attempted to medicate me, too.

I wouldn’t hold still, and finally they gave up.

We were forced into a transport vehicle, a reinforced ambulance that was used for criminals in need of medical care, a prison on wheels. They secured us with chains.

The ambulance was dark, and we were alone. My mind was a blank landscape, I had no idea what to say to Hera. We didn’t talk. Verbally acknowledging what had happened would be too much, the added weight that could break us into pieces.

The vehicle rumbled to life and jolted ahead. We were moving. To where, I still had no idea. If Mercy wasn’t there, and I knew she wouldn’t be, I did not care where it was.

There was one tiny window which offered a constrained view of the driver and some road ahead. It was made of thick, sound-proof plexiglass, so I knew trying to get the driver’s attention was a waste of time.

I wished that I had known early on that I would someday face an army of people,all out to snatch my daughter.

I wished that I had known early on that I would someday face an army of people, all out to snatch my daughter. I would have dropped out of high school and joined the Marines or the Navy Seals or Special Forces, maybe all three. Learned all the skills needed to be a one-man lethal army. I fantasize about Liam Neeson in Taken, or Jason Borne, or Angelina Jolie in Salt. Why couldn’t I leap on the table, grab one soldier with my thighs and break his neck while I subdued another two with my elbows and forehead? It was possible for humans to fight like that, but I was simply unprepared. Then I could maybe have been useful for Mercy. I hated that all I could really do was write the hell out of a well-researched paper.

I had failed her. I have failed my little girl, Mercy. I couldn’t even think about where she was at the time, what she was going through.

I still can’t. I try not to think about it. When I do, I’m paralyzed with regret and panic, and then I’m not being strong for Mercy.

This isn’t the end, Daddy! Mercy had shouted it without a trace of weakness or fear. It was almost as if she was encouraging me. I hear her, often, now.

This isn’t the end, Daddy.

In the padlocked darkened ambulance, I focused on that small window. I was drawn to the driver, staring at the back of his or her head – I couldn’t tell. But there was something I couldn’t shake, something I found fascinating.

A familiar feeling.

The driver turned to check a side-view mirror and I gasped.

The olive skin, the wide-set, almond eyes. Despite wearing a black military issue hat, I recognized her immediately.

Kingman.

Chapter 16 I'm a dead man.

She didn’t bother looking away, instead greeting my gaze with a challenge of her own. She pressed a button on the dash controls and the plexiglass window retreated into ambulance wall.

“It’s unwise to lie to a Jedi.” She wasn’t smiling.

If she was expecting an apology, she’d have to wait a long time. “And now you’ve put your daughter in grave danger, once again,” she continued.

“Where is Mercy? What are you doing to her?”

Kingman flashed one of her joyless smiles. I’d grown to detest them already. “If I had her, if the Council had her, do you think you’d be feeling that ache in the pit of your stomach, that throb at the base of your skull?”

I didn’t know the answer to that question. Actually, maybe I did. Yes, I’d still feel terrible if the Jedi Council had sent their shadowy thugs to wrench my daughter away from me. But Kingman’s answer indicated that this wasn’t her doing.

“Your ploy cost us valuable time, and the enemy took advantage of it. Did you think this was a game you could win on your own? I told you it wasn’t. You ask me where Mercy is? Consult yourself, because you already know. Your body is telling you. Mercy has been taken.”

Hera deadpanned. “Taken by the Dark Side.” It was a statement, not a question.</p> <p>Kingman nodded in agreement.

Lately, I’d found it very easy to forget when Hera was nearby, because half the time even when she was, she wasn’t. (If that makes any sense.) She retreated deep inside herself more often than not. Whenever she decided to engage in actual events, I always found myself surprised.

Hera deadpanned. “Taken by the Dark Side.” It was a statement, not a question.

Kingman nodded in agreement.

My head swooned and I had to catch myself before I fell over. This was my fault. In the darkness, I caught Hera’s eyes boring into me. She knew. I held a hand out to her. We needed each other. I was grateful when she held it tight.

I felt myself awakening to feelings woven throughout my body, and what they had been telling me all along. Kingman was right, Mercy was with those from the Dark Side. Every ounce of me had been screaming that since we were ripped apart, but I had been tuning it out.

This was torture.

“Are they going to kill her?”

“Worse,” was her cryptic reply.

I didn’t want to dwell too long on what worse could mean.

I thought back to the confrontation with Mister Gail in that dinghy interview room, and the swarm of soldiers that followed. Was Gail a Sith Lord? Were those soldiers from the Tellerman Corridor, or some part of the United States Government?

Kingman answered my unspoken questions. “Gail’s just a government bureaucrat. He was as shocked as anyone when the Blitzguard came for Mercy. He was going to recommend that Mercy be taken from you, though. You’re fortunate I was able to arrive in time to, ahh, relieve the normal driver of his duties. You’d be stuck in a government nightmare, especially as they tried to figure out what had happened to your at-risk child.”

“Mercy is a battleground, Thomas. The Dark Side wants her. So do we. She could tilt the scales one way or another.”

How could we have explained what had happened? What kind of parents just lose their child? Kingman was right, we looked insane, and suspicious.

“Mercy is a battleground, Thomas. The Dark Side wants her. So do we. She could tilt the scales one way or another.”

“Mercy isn’t destined to be involved in the Tellerman Corridor saga. She can’t be, she’s just a little girl. She draws pictures. She plays basketball.”

“You need to give up any illusions that she’s a normal girl who will grow up to be a normal woman. You need to let the life you thought she’d live die.”

I couldn’t drop my hopes for a life that had only started, one filled with potential and a bright future. Mercy deserved to make her own choices.

“And it’s not Doctor Kingman. My name is Bala Tarsonis, daughter of the Trell Tarsonis,” she stated with pride, as if that should mean anything to me.

“Bala, got it.”

Kingman, or, as I’ll refer to her from now on, Bala, stomped on the gas pedal, and the ambulance roared. Up ahead, I saw a tall bridge, spanning a wide expanse of bay water.

Bala reached back with her right arm, casually, and laid a hand on my arm. “Now,” she stated, matter-of-fact, “I hope you and Hera have your affairs in order.”

I was growing tired, incredibly tired. So tired that I couldn’t even speak, even as I watched the ambulance swerve into oncoming traffic and crash through the guard rail that was the only barrier keeping us from a hundred foot fall.

“Because you’re both about to die.”

Chapter 17 We no longer exist.

Hera and I both died in our sleep, technically speaking. A forced sleep, courtesy of some Jedi trick that Bala played on us. That’s why I have no clue how, exactly, Bala managed to save herself and the two of us from that crashing ambulance.

The news reports state that the ambulance lost control, hurtled off the bridge, and fell into a deep part of the bay which was subject to strong, shifting currents that made any rescue attempts impossible. Even recovery efforts were delayed and ineffective. By the time they were finally able to reach the wreckage, all that was left was a stripped, twisted chassis and a few random body parts. (They retrieved a hand which bore my fingerprints, and a leg which DNA testing confirmed belonged to Hera. I have no idea how Bala managed to get these parts down into the ambulance, as Hera and I are still in full possession of all our limbs, digits, and appendages.)

Hera and I awoke in a warm, sun-drenched suite, with a million-dollar view of rock cliffs, clear turquoise waters, and Mediterranean style mansions. We each wore thick, soft bathrobes, and a gentle knock at the door roused us.

I ignored the knocks, and finally a voice spoke deferentially from the hallway. “I’ll just leave your breakfast outside the door, Mister Almsworth.”

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This isn't the way I used to look. But this is how I look now. Mercy drew this two years ago.

Illustration by Mercy

I stood slowly, feeling detached from the motion, like standing was a new activity that I was only just now learning. Everything felt unfamiliar, a step removed, a shadow more than the thing casting shadows.

Where had Hera and I been for the last five months? Had we slept nearly half a year?

I opened the door, and was greeted by a magnificent spread on two trays. French toast, eggs, muffins, coffee, tea. I had no appetite, so I felt distinctly unimpressed. I was, however, interested in the newspaper.

I couldn’t understand the date on the newspaper. It was March of 2013, a full five months past Mercy’s birthday, the one we should have celebrated, but didn’t.

Where had Hera and I been for the last five months? Had we slept nearly half a year?

I jumped back, defensively, because out of the corner of my eye I saw another man in the room. But just as quickly, I realized I had caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

I neared the mirror, curious. I didn’t look like myself. Not completely, anyway. I looked like the actor they would cast to play me in a TV movie. That’s the best way I can describe it. Slightly more handsome.  I ran over to Hera, who was sitting on the end of the bed, watching the waves outside.

“What are we doing here, Thomas?”

She looked different, too. I asked her if I could look at her right shoulder blade, because she’d always had a constellation of freckles there, which I’d long ago mentally connected to form the shape of a sea dragon. That was why one of my nicknames for her had been Dragonblade. I hadn’t called her that in ages.

No sea dragon. Clear skin.

I checked my own chest for a familiar set of scars, remnants from a game of backyard basketball that ended in stitches when I was 15.

No scars. No freckles.

We have different fingerprints, new DNA signatures. I have no idea how they did it, but with five months unaccounted for, I believe that Bala had something to do with it.

Our bodies were not our own.

(Since then, I’ve confirmed that our bodies are literally no longer the same bodies we were born with. We have different fingerprints, new DNA signatures. Again, I have no idea how they did it, but with five months unaccounted for, I believe that Bala had something to do with it.)

On the bedside table, I found our identification. License, passport, social security cards, bank cards, even a frequent customer card at Jamba Juice and a Blockbuster video card (who has one of those anymore?), along with one of those otherworldly wires of metal that expands into a tablet. The subject matter loaded onto this tablet didn’t have anything to do with the Tellerman Corridor. No, this was full of information about who Hera and I were now, where we lived, how much money we had, where we had moved from, our histories.

We were now Connor and Marin Almsworth. (I’ve changed the names for this story. We cannot risk being found again, either by Child Protective Services or the Sith.) Upper middle class with substantial savings and a nice suburban house, living off of wise investments I’d made in a couple businesses back east, mostly in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and Charlotte, North Carolina.

We’d never been able to have children, but were considering adopting, which was why we had moved west, to find a nice family neighborhood, and be closer to where I’d grown up.

I downed a glass of orange juice, mostly just to experience a familiar sense. It tasted different than I how I had remembered. Even my taste buds were no longer my own.

Hera spoke first. “Where’s Mercy?”

We were in a heavenly setting. (A European island most would dream of visiting), but Hera’s question made it clear. We may have not died, like the official record would indicate, but regardless – we were now in hell.

Chapter 18 Where's Mercy?

I’ve gone up and down every avenue, looking for a trace of evidence that could lead to Mercy, or at least validate my story.

There’s been no sign of Bala since that accident on the bridge, no contact with anything otherworldly – except that wire technology, which I have since misplaced. (I suspect it vanished.)

It’s as if Hera and I were dropped whole cloth into a brand new life.

Hera talks about Mercy less and less. At times, honestly, I think I’m on the other side of sanity, holding onto these memories despite what seems like obvious evidence to the contrary. I’ve tried seeking help from lawyers, but they only took my money and sent me on my way.

I know better than to go to the police now. That was a big mistake, one I haven’t yet been able to completely forgive Hera for forcing us to make. (Still, it was Mercy who forced it. Did she want to be captured? Sometimes I fear she wanted to become prisoner of the Dark Side. But I know that’s not true.)

I am lost. My last vestige of hope, though, is that I can feel that Mercy is still alive. Along with that gift comes a cost, though, because I also can feel that she’s in pain, experiencing anguish, great sadness, and fear.

Even these traumas might be a good sign, though. Once fully consumed by the Dark Side, one feels nothing at all. If she’s still feeling a range of emotions, she’s still Human.

Still alive.

The other night, there was a full moon, and I was drawn to the bay window in our new house. It’s a beautiful home, a fairy tale Tudor-styled cottage with a slate roof and full english garden. Mercy would have loved living here.

This large bay window is in the room that I know Mercy would choose as her own. This room is not a perfect rectangle but a mishmash of lines and angles to accommodate the pitch of the roof, and a knee wall storage space (which she would have transformed into a secret hideout, and used as a hidden passage to imaginary worlds.)

I stood before that bay window and gazed at the moon, large and bright, and then beyond the moon. I held my hand out, transfixed for a long period of time. It could have been an hour, it could have been three, I couldn’t tell you. I felt like I was far away, on a particular beach in Malibu called Leo Carillo, where Mercy and I had once splashed in the waves for hours.

I had been calling my people. Rather, my person, the one I love more than any other.</p> <p>My Mercy.

I didn’t remember going back to bed, but the next morning when I awoke, it dawned on me. I had been calling my people. Rather, my person, the one I love more than any other.

My Mercy.

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Mercy drew this picture a year before she disappeared.

Illustration by Mercy

Chapter 19 My Plea for Help

I am not the only one in all of human history who has suffered like this, so I am calling on anyone who is reading this to please help me. Someone has to know something. Anything. Anything could help.

If you have ever struggled through anything remotely similar to what I’ve described, or heard of someone who has, or even have the slightest tidbit of information that you think might be helpful, please contact me. Even if it seems insignificant, I’ve reached the level of desperation where it’s a luxury to sort leads into categories like important and trivial, because I don’t have any.

Psychologically and emotionally and spiritually, we’ve been crushed and shredded. The Padawan Project has been a wider initiative, both official and then unofficial, for more than one hundred years, and has no doubt affected more parents and children than just us and Mercy. If you’re interested in forming an anonymous support group, please contact us. While we don’t have all the answers, I believe asking the questions together can only help.

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Please subscribe to receive updates. I will be sure to let everyone know about any developments.

Thank you for the words of support we’ve already received. You don’t know how much it means to Hera and myself.

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