Dawn moaned softly as feeling and awareness slowly trickled back, along with the pulsing throb of what felt like the worst case of brain freeze in world history.
She started to open her eyes, then quickly nixed that idea in favor of scrunching them tightly shut against the dazzling glare that lay just beyond her eyelids. ugh. hello, brightness…
She flopped an arm across her face before cautiously trying again.
As her eyes safely adjusted in the crook of her arm, Dawn quickly became aware of a couple facts. That she was lying on her back, for instance, on a mix of soft and hard materials. And that something was jabbing her in the side every time she moved slightly.
And that smell. That really, really bad
smell that was stinging her nose and probably not helping with the headache. It reeked of compost and chemical detergent.
Something rustled somewhere below her head.
Then it rustled again.
Dawn shot upright and frantically scrambled back from the spot using her hands and legs.
Which was how she discovered that she was lying in a large dumpster full of garbage.
Well at least that explained the delightful aroma.
Grasping the metal frame of some sort of giant industrial engine that sat wedged up against the closest green dumpster wall, Dawn hauled herself up and shakily found her footing atop the sinking layer of trash. Slowly turning around, she brushed tangled hair away from her face with her fingers, her eyes sweeping disbelievingly over the surrounding mounds of refuse.
Looking up above the walls of the massive green container, Dawn realized that what she had at first taken for sunlight was actually a series of powerfully bright light panels embedded into the flat, grainy concrete ceiling about thirty feet above.
I? She thought, before the scratching and rustling sound caught her attention again.
She looked back down at where she had been lying; on a partially torn blue foam pad and a coil of colorful rubber wires, among other unidentifiable things.
That was when a rat closer to the size of a raccoon half-clamored, half-slithered up from the trash heap and onto the foam pad, its thick wormy tail curling beneath it.
Dawn stared at it. She bit down hard on her lip.
Rat probably wasn’t the right word.
The thing was colored sickly yellow, and in places where its matted fur had fallen away, Dawn could clearly see dark red scales.
The creature looked up at her, its beady black eyes unblinking. It sniffed at the air.
Then, rearing upright on powerful looking hind legs, it peeled back its lips like a dog might, to reveal a mouthful of glistening fangs.
“uhh, nice rat?” Dawn tried, taking an unsteady step backwards, tightening her grip on the metal frame.
The rodent started to hiss. rustle rustle rustle rustle...
The sea of garbage seemed to shift around Dawn as dozens more of the yellow-furred creatures began ferreting to the surface, hissing and chittering in agitation. Soon the surrounding mounds of trash were swarming with them, and the hissing within the dumpster quickly grew to a loud, wrathful buzz.
Dawn stumbled backwards, slamming against the cool metal of the dumpster wall, her feet sinking ankle-deep in trash. She frantically twisted back and forth, trying to keep as many of the monstrous rats in sight as she could.
“Somebody! Anybody, help!” Dawn cried, her voice all but drowned out by the hissing drone.
As the rat on the foam pad gnashed its teeth and suddenly sprang into the air towards her, Dawn squeezed her eyes shut and threw her hands out in front of her in one last, desperate act of self-preservation.
But even as she did so, something in the back of her mind inexplicably shifted
, the throbbing pressure in her skull abruptly vanishing. Her outstretched fingers tingled with pins and needles ever so slightly.
The rest of her was way too busy being petrified to bother working any of it out.
But a handful of seconds soon passed, and the nasty rodent still hadn’t landed, its sharp teeth still not gnawing and tearing into her…
It was only then that Dawn registered that the reverberations of angry hissing had turned to terrified squeaking. She cautiously cracked an eye open before they both widened in hope.
The big yellow rats were disappearing as fast as she could catch sight of them. While just seconds before they had all seemed pretty keen on chowing down on some Dawn-burger, now they were all busily burrowing right back into the trash.
High above her, a single light panel flashed angrily, bathing the dumpster in alternating waves of incandescent red, accompanied by the low, urgent wail of an automated alarm.
Yup. It was totally time to leave.
But just as Dawn turned to make good her escape, her eyes fell to the curled, smoldering form lying not too far from her feet.
It was the rat.
Or at least, what was left of the rat.
Its blackened husk lay in a rigid, twisted heap, its lifeless jaws still locked open. Acrid smoke drifted up from it, adding yet another pungent ingredient to the air that was already making her stomach want to turn.
Pushing the creature from her mind with an uneasy shudder, Dawn set to work carefully climbing atop the large metal-framed engine beside her. From there, she jumped up and managed to catch the lip of the container wall, and -shoes scraping fruitlessly against the smooth metal for any purchase- slowly pulled herself up and onto the flat, wide ledge.
For a little while Dawn just lay there, catching her breath and trying to calm the racing thud of her heartbeat. She stared up at the ceiling high above, the dull, pocked concrete lit with a crimson tinge cast by the flashing red light. Now that she was safe from immediate danger, the reality of her situation began to sink in.
She really had no idea where she was, or how she had got there.
Closing her eyes, Dawn tried to concentrate on the last thing she could remember before regaining consciousness. A swirling tide of memories and emotions instantly flooded her mind: Glory and the tower. Buffy. The funeral. The monk’s memory spell breaking-
Dawn’s eyes snapped back open.
“Shit,” she whispered, her voice nearly cracking.
Lifting her arm, Dawn urgently examined her wrist. The pale skin held only a faint red trace of the cut she had made before pain and blinding light had consumed her.
“Double shit!” Dawn groaned again, finally sitting up on the ledge and swinging her legs over the other side of the dumpster-
-and almost toppled backwards in surprise as a shiny, black and red-striped metal thing
flew right towards her, stopping and hovering in midair just inches from her face. Leaning as far back as she could without falling, Dawn hunched in on herself, gripping the dumpster ledge for support. She stared in wide-eyed apprehension as the small thing jetted erratically before her, beeping and clicking.
It was a robot.
A flying robot.
Probably no bigger than the portable fan in her room, the robot’s pyramid-shaped bottom half spun furiously around in constant motion. Flickering blue light shone from within its squarish upper half through a grated frame. Its jet-black box of a head, fixed with a wiry antennae, cocked almost quizzically from side to side, looking at her with a single, unblinking blue eye-lens.
Then, as if being a flying robot wasn’t enough, it started to shout at Dawn in a shrill mechanical voice:“WARNING! WARNING! All workers and pedestrians please vacate bin lane 4332: unknown energy build-up detected! Please be advised of possible ill health effects! WARNING! WARNING…”
The little robot zipped high into the air above her, still repeating its message, and then with a lazy loop, sped away along the ceiling of concrete and lights, disappearing around the bend of the wide tunnel that lay before her.
Dawn stared after it, absently taking in the massive passageway for the first time, slowly blinking. Her jaw closed with a firm click.
Ok. Giant yellow garbage rats and flying robots. Wherever she had landed, it clearly wasn’t Kansas.
Getting down from the dumpster ledge was considerably quicker, yet no less difficult, than getting up onto it. After dangling feet-first from the lip of the bin as long as she could, Dawn finally had to just let go, dropping down into a tangled heap of arms and legs with an undignified oof!
Standing and brushing herself off, Dawn finally got a good look at herself. Her brand new jeans, purchased just a week and a half earlier by her sister, were a complete disaster.
Smears of mud, dirt and she didn’t even want to know what else stained her pants from the knees down. Her shoes were caked in more grossness. Even her usually vibrant green shoelaces were barely visible beneath it all.
So as she started out towards the tunnel, Dawn felt annoyed more than anything else.
Here she was, randomly spat wherever here was, and she couldn’t even be afforded the courtesy of arriving somewhere half-way decent.
“Why couldn’t I have landed in a hot tub?” she muttered aloud to herself. “Or a pillow factory...”
The dark, smooth material of the tunnel floor was slightly sticky under Dawn’s feet as she trudged on, the surface etched with enormous grey skid marks. Walking cautiously around the wide blind bend, Dawn had the unpleasant sensation that she was walking along an underground highway straight into oncoming traffic. Luckily the only thing that greeted her as she finished her way around the arc of the tunnel was a faint rush of warm air carrying the mingled scents of spices and diesel. Compared to the dumpster, it practically smelled fresh!
Up ahead the tunnel straightened out again, and Dawn was relieved to see the unmistakable light of day shimmering at its far end. Squinting, Dawn tried to make out the hazy blur of swiftly-moving shapes barely visible in the distance. She picked up her pace, nervousness of the unknown loosing out to a sudden need for open space. Despite the tunnel’s generous height and width, she was starting to feel claustrophobic.
As Dawn steadily closed the distance towards the tunnel’s end, the rush of air grew slightly stronger, buffeting her face and whipping brown tangled hair around her shoulders.
But as she approached the tunnel’s massive square opening and the busy world beyond it finally took on detailed definition, Dawn’s quick pace came to a faltering halt. Slowly, she crept forward until she stood in the shade of the giant entrance-way, hugging close to the cool wall.
Uncertainty melted into full-blown astonishment, and as Dawn stared out, any lingering shred of doubt that she was not actually in another dimension completely vanished.*
Shifting uncomfortably, Zekk gazed out the encircling transparisteel window of the turbolift as it swiftly rose higher, giving a sweeping view of some of Coruscant’s most famous buildings.
He had to admit it really was a breathtaking sight to behold. It had been a few years since he’d last seen it for himself.
And certainly not from this height in a private lift.
Far below them, the sea of interconnected rooftops, platforms, docking bays and pedestrian corridors dwindled, dwarfed by the massive domes of the Senate and Executive buildings. In the distance loomed the Republic Palace, along with dozens of other shimmering skyscrapers that housed the offices and residences of dignitaries and officials working at the political heart of the galaxy.
Not that he’d been all that interested in the inner-workings of galactic politics that went on in the towering structures above him while he had been living, quite literally, in their shadows.Shadows…
A flicker of shame bit through the young Jedi’s mind, rekindling all of his reservations and reasons for not wanting to be there.
“Bring back memories?”
Zekk started from his circular orbit of mental doubts, snapping his head up towards the owner of the calm voice.
Luke Skywalker was gazing out over the city sector beside him, his fingers steepled thoughtfully under his chin. He turned to Zekk, the obvious answer to his own question dancing in his pale blue eyes.
Zekk nodded in silent affirmation, his gray eyes sweeping darkly over the cityscape.
“It does for me as well,” the older man continued after a few moments of silence, half turning back to the window. “So much has happened on this planet. So much pivotal history…” The Jedi master gave a wistful sigh.
“Sometimes I wonder how things today would be if a different history had unfolded here, if the Republic and the Jedi hadn’t fallen.”
Zekk couldn’t help but pick up on the note of pain in his teacher’s voice, accompanied by a faint prick of sorrow felt through the force. Luke turned, catching Zekk with a firm look.
“But dwelling too much on the past can leave us blind to the possibilities of the present, or even the future. Finding the right balance between regret and remembrance can be a struggle for anyone.”
Zekk slowly nodded again, his mouth creasing in a tight frown. It had been a struggle for him to get this far, anyways. That was for sure…
But any further thought about his own past left him as the turbolift came to a smooth halt, the entrance panel sliding open with a soft hiss.
Luke gestured for Zekk to take the lead, and they stepped out into a wide, brightly lit and furnished hallway. A uniformed Republic guard with a blaster rifle slung over his shoulder snapped neatly to attention as they passed him, and Zekk blinked before smirking at his own surprise. Wow, maybe he had
been training at the Jedi Academy for too long. Luke Skywalker was practically a living legend of the New Republic; of course people were going to recognize him! Especially here on Coruscant.
Luke acknowledged the guard with a slight bow and led the way down the otherwise empty hallway. Zekk tried to push his inkling nervousness away as they approached a single unmarked door at the hall’s end, summoning the soothing power of the force to calm his mind.
It worked a bit.
The plain door before them slid open, and with a deep, semi-calming breath, Zekk followed his teacher in.