Chapter 1AE


'1800 Sith Flowers: When You're "Forced" to Give The Very Best'

'An Empty Nest is Worthless If You Can't Yell at Your Kids'

'Set This Sith to Stun'


Year pass and life takes sudden unexpected turns for the Dark Lord. The Skywalker house is quieter these days.

The twins have long since moved out and have careers; each enjoys married life. Li-An and Alex are at the end of their teen years and finding their own way through life. Home to them is just a place to sleep and to change clothes. A younger daughter at boarding school leaves Anakin and Isabel with their youngest, an air surfing adolescent who will soon leave the nest to become an Apprentice to Kyle Katarn. Even the droids find independence outside the Skywalker home. Little is asked of them. They come and go at will. Isabel refers to them as 'emancipated loyal servants'. Anakin sees it differently, 'freeloading metal squatters.' They make themselves available should the lady of the house require their services. They are conveniently absent when the Dark Lord demands their presence. Yes, life is different in the Skywalker home.

Sunday dinner, however, remains a regular event along with birthday's and anniversaries. Still, it is not the same. Even old friends and nemeses have gone. The occasional funeral is a sobering sign that everything is changing. Anakin begins to spend more time at the office. It is not by choice.

It is sixth months after a retirement party for Gladys. He throws a lavish event for his favorite executive assistant but it is still painful letting go. He tries to convince himself that this is just some elaborate practical joke concocted by his two eldest disrespectful kids; probably encouraged by that smart-mouthed son-in-law. He is certain that Gladys will be back behind her desk the next morning. His family is playing a horrible trick on him. They will rue the day they trifled with his emotions.

As the party winds to a close, it becomes evident that his surrogate mother; his confidant, is indeed leaving. Anakin cannot not bring himself to say goodbye to Gladys when the reality of her retirement sets in.

It takes a bit of urging from his wife but after being locked in a cloakroom with Gladys, he is finally able to express his heartfelt feelings for her. It is time to give praise for her years of dedicated service. It does not come easy for him but he does it the only way he can.

"I guess you did an okay job, Gladys." Apparently, she has not changed her mind. He tries another tactic. "You're not that old you know. I truly believe that you have several more good years in you. Why you feel the need to retire so early I'll never know."

Gladys takes his hand in hers and pats it gently.

"I know you'll do just fine with my replacement. Chin up, Anakin. You know you're like a son to me."

"Well, a good mother would never abandon her child."

"A good son would cut his 'mother' a break and let her enjoy the golden years of her life."

"There you go; playing the senior citizen card."

"If you took a look at the human resources handbook, you'd know that I'm within my right to retire. I gave you ten years pass my maximum, dear."

He looks annoyed and pulls his hand away.

"Okay! Fine! So where are you and old man Uli going for your retirement vacation?"

"I'm not telling you. You'll be tempted to follow us."

"I can figure out where but I thought you'd have the courtesy to tell me."

"Anakin, I know you don't like letting go but can't you say 'goodbye' graciously? …just this once?"

"No!" He rolls his eyes then begins to accept the inevitable. "Fine. I'll be the better person... even though you betrayed me. Thank you for everything, Gladys. You've been a wonderful employee."

"Thank you for the lovely corsage, necklace, and generous retirement vacation package. The party was splendid."

"See? I'm the best boss in the galaxy. It's a shame you're leaving me like this."

"Oh, cut it out! Your wife said you can't leave this room until you give me a proper send-off."

"Fine! Give me a hug!" He puts his arms around her. Her soft white hair smells like fresh spring lavender. He holds her for what seems to be an eternity. Anakin takes a deep breath before letting go. There will be no tears. He almost lifts her off the floor. Gladys looks up at him through her platinum wire-rimmed glasses and smiles. Anakin smiles back as she pinches his cheek and shakes her finger at him.

"I'm going to be keeping a close eye on you."

"From where, Yavin?"

"Don't be a smart-mouth. I'll be back in town to see you."

"Yes, ma'm."

"Be nice to your new secretary."

"I will. I promise."

"Good boy."

Gladys knows not to expect much more from her brooding soon-to-be former boss. His wife tells him that he needs to get used to his new Imperial Executive Secretary.

He mopes about the house as if someone had stolen his light saber. Isabel displays some 'tough love.' She forces him out of the house each morning to face the new challenges of the day.

He heads into the building pass the elite Imperial Guards. They greet him with their usual salute. Anakin makes his way to the express elevator and rides to the executive floor. He opens the door to the reception area and lets out a deep breath. He makes the obligatory greeting. His voice lacks enthusiasm and warmth.

"Good morning….Miss Di Pesto."

The greeting he receives is friendlier.

"Good morning, Mr. Skywalker. Welcome back. Your wife called last week and said you weren't well."

"I know. I heard her."

Anakin recalls that day when Isabel calls the office on his behalf. Anakin is shuffling around the house in protest. Leia is enjoying this moment. Anakin reminds his daughter that she has a home of her own across town and a job of her own in the Senate. There is no need for her to be in his home taunting him. He can wear pajamas everyday if he so chooses. At least he changes his pajamas and robe daily.

Leia comments that he is behaving like a mental patient. Isabel thinks this remark is hilarious. If Leia cannot drive him out of his house, no one can. His wife calls the office to let Agnes know that he would not be coming to work. His mental health week takes its toll on the family. Isabel has had enough of his 'One-man Pity Pajama Party'. It takes some time but Leia's strategy is working. It was hard to find a sympathetic ear while his wife and daughter made light of his situation. He needs to go to a place where he will get the respect he deserves.

Agnes smiles her famous sweet toothy grin. Nothing seems to bother this woman.

"Thank you for the beautiful welcome flowers you sent last week, Mr. Skywalker. They still look perfect and smell lovely."

He watches as she leans in to smell the large bouquet in the expensive crystal vase on the right side of her desk. If she only knew what a hassle it was for him to order them. His wife and daughter 'hovering' as he presses the speed dial on the phone in his study. He reads the 'prepared script', word for word, as he speaks to the Coruscant Imperial Florist operator named 'Tammi'. 'I am interested in the Coruscant Gardens Grand Bouquet.'

If his Friday night Sabacc buddies could hear this humiliating phone call, they would laugh him out of town and then he would be forced to choke someone. He suffers through the ordeal with a customer service operator whose sugary sweet voice makes him grind his teeth. She is a bit pushy to boot.

"That comes to 333 credits. Will there be anything else today, Mr. Skywalker?"

"No."

"Are you interested in hearing about our special promotions? We have a lovely 'Thank you' basket for that special client or our special Executive Suite Collection fruit basket for your military personnel. It's only $89.95 today. Normally it's 100 credits but you get a discount because you are on our Platinum Customer List."

"Wow, a whole 10 percent discount, eh? What do your cheap customers get?" He receives a disapproving stare from his wife. He continues the conversation with the customer service operator. "No, thank you. My officers aren't much for flowers. That's all for today."

"I see from your past order history you did send 'get-well' flowers to an Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa…"

"No."

"Would you like to scan a note card?"

"No…" He looks up at the two women in his life and rethinks his answer. He responds in an equally sugary sweet tone, pretending to enjoy the conversation. "Oh, of course I would love to scan a personal greeting. Thank you for reminding me." He gives Leia and Isabel a look that could freeze a Mustafar lava flow.

"Will there anything else today?"

"No."

"Thank-you, Mr. Anakin Skywalker, and have I provided you with excellent customer service today?"

"No…I mean, 'Yes.'" He looks at his wife and scowls. He cannot shake this customer service operator. He musters every ounce of willpower not to force-choke the persistent woman.

"Thank-you. Would you like to take the customer service survey at the completion of this call?"

"What do you think?" He hopes he will never have a need to do this ever again. His force-choke efforts would have been wasted since 'Tammi' is a voice activated computer.

After Agnes sniffs the beautiful aroma of the bouquet, she does one more thing. Before Anakin can stop her, she picks up the note card and reads it as if it were classic poetry. He is itching to use the Force to keep her from talking but he has to restrain himself. He does not want to get a lecture from his wife. Instead, he uses his 'trigger fingers' to reach up and scratch his head. Agnes reads his words back to him. She gushes as she does this.

Dear Agnes,

Welcome to the Imperial Armed Forces Headquarters. I hope you will consider us like family. We are the Military of One and you are now one of us. Please accept these flowers as a gesture of my gratitude for becoming my new right hand.

May the Force be with you.

Sincerely yours,

Anakin Skywalker

Imperial Commander of the Armed Forces

She continues to speak.

"And it's on official stationery too. You have lovely handwriting, sir."

Anakin stops biting his lip and forces a silly smile.

"Thanks. Well…I had better tackle that pile of work on my desk. Perhaps we'll chitchat later."

"Oh, your desk is clear, Mr. Skywalker. Your son-in-law and Mr. Binks stopped by last week while you were out and took care of any outstanding projects. They really enjoyed themselves. General Solo ordered lunch for everyone. He is so funny and cheerful. He really enjoys working for you. I can tell."

"What?"

"Oh, don't worry. He said nothing of consequence was thrown away. All of your important writings and mandates were stashed in your confidential file in the small cabinet under the credenza."

"Is that so? He never mentioned it during Sunday dinner. Well, I'm going to personally thank him."

"Oh, you're so nice. Your officers must love you. They talk about you all the time. I got so many calls asking when you were returning to work. They were really concerned about you."

This peaks his curiosity.

"Get out of town. Really?"

"Oh yes. Admiral Motti was inquiring just the other day. He said a day without you is like a day with sunshine…or was it 'like a day without sunshine'? I can't remember…anyway…it's good to see you, sir…"

Before she completes her sentence, he disappears into his office and slams the door shut.

Anakin removes his coat and lets it fall onto the sofa. He walks over to his desk and immediately begins to rifle through the drawers. He locates a handful of folders in the shallow drawer of the credenza. Anakin makes a mental note to throttle that no-account son-in-law of his. What gives that smart mouth the right to decide what is 'work' and what is not? He opens the green folder. It contains expense reports. He tosses it aside and opens the red folder directly behind it. It contains memos concerning personnel changes. The blue folder contains peace treaties he signed years ago. Gone are his bookie sheets and office pools for pod racing and plasma ball championships. Lando won the last fantasy sports event. It was the plasma ball pool. Anakin is in the mood to kill some people today. He angrily tosses the folder across the desk. He has a visitor.

'Nice coat. Is it new?'

"What's it to you?"

'I'm just asking. Your wife picks out some nice threads for you.'

"She bought it to distract me from all the crap that's going down around here."

'Got a lot of compliments, eh?'

"I suppose."

'You know, Ani, this could be a good thing. I know how you hate change but just think of all the great things that are in store for you.'

"Yeah, I feel it creeping up behind me and kicking me in the ass."

'Think of this as a positive thing.'

"Okay…I'm positive it's about to kick me in the ass."

'You could at least show your gratitude. I could be doing other things you know.'

"Like what? It's not as if you've got any responsibilities"

'Hey Force ghosts get their feelings hurt too you know. Listen, I'm watching over your kids.'

"I can watch over my own kids, thank you very much."

'Alex is putting together quite a talented garage band. Mace, Ayala and I sat in on one of their jam sessions. The kid's got a good voice. He could be the next Galactic Idol. Just think, in a few years he'll be selling out stadiums all over the galaxy. Young teenage girls will be throwing their panties onstage.'

"If you're trying to get a rise out of me. I'm not biting."

'You know our little Ana-Lena sneaks out of that chic-chic convent school you've sent her to. She takes the Coruscant metro with her dorm buddies to hang out at Dex's Diner.'

"It's very unbecoming for such a venerable Force Ghost to lie like that."

'It's true. They sit in a booth waiting for a glimpse of the Imperial Navy and Army cadets to stop in after field training.'

"I don't believe you."

'Search your feelings, Anakin. You know it to be true.'

"I'll take care of it."

'What are you going to do? Is she in for some swift discipline?'

"Don't you worry about it."

'Not to worry. She hasn't done anything wrong. She's a good girl.'

"You call sneaking out of boarding school to gaze at boys 'being good'?"

'You can't lock her up, Ani. That school is punishment enough.'

"I've got it under control. I'm not going to punish her. We will have a nice stern father-daughter talk. She'll get the message."

'Don't go overboard. You're famous for your father-daughter talks. Leia sure learned her lesson. Anyway, I believe it will work itself out. Ana-Lena is going through a phase. I warned her about cutting her skirts too short. Those sewing classes she's taking have come in handy. You can't even tell that she hemmed those skirts herself. Every pleat is even. The girl's got talent.'

"What?"

'Oh nothing.'

"I'm calling that school to inquire about the security. How could they let my child wander off campus and into the streets?" He starts to pick up the phone.

'I wouldn't do that if I were you. She'll never speak to you again.'

Anakin sets the handset back in its cradle. Qui-Gon continues.

'Take it easy. I'm keeping an eye on her. The last thing she wants is you talking about her to those Jedi nuns. That Mother Superior could run circles around old Palps in his heyday as Emperor. He would cower under that battle-ax. Don't get me wrong; not all the nuns are harsh looking. A few could use a makeover. Some of them have potential. Those convent frocks need to be updated…With a bit of lipstick and bronzer, some of those pale frau's would look kind of hot.'

"Did you pop in here to tell me about nun ambush makeovers?"

'No. I just thought you wanted to chat.'

"About what?"

'Your new secretary…Ms Di Pesto.' Qui-Gon points his thumb towards the door. Anakin rolls his eyes and smirks.

"Ms.The Pest-o?" He is amused by his own joke.

The intercom lights up. Anakin is still speaking as he presses the 'answer' button. Qui-Gon smiles.

'Aww, come on, Ani…she's sweet. Give the woman a chance She's no Gladys but she's trying.'

"Trying my nerves…and that mousy voice." He mimics her mannerisms but is startled when he hears her voice in the speaker.

"Mr. Skywalker, Mr. Binks has arrived for his 10 o'clock meeting with you."

Anakin sits wide-eyed and frozen at his desk. He is like a tauntaun in headlights. He tells himself if he sits very still it will be as if she had never heard him. He is not even focused enough to perform a mind trick on her. He finally speaks.

"Oh! Uhm…okay…uh…send him in….thank-you." Anakin releases the speakerphone button. He feels Qui-Gon looking at him, judging him. Anakin snaps back. "What?"

'Oh, nothing. Don't pay attention to me.'

"You were laughing too. I saw you."

'I never made fun of her. Anyway, she can't see me.'

"Lucky you. 'Gossip Ghost.'"

Qui-Gon smiles.

'X-O-X-O'

Anakin has no idea what the ghost is talking about.

Just then, the door opens. Miss Di Pesto holds the door open for Jar-Jar. Anakin rises from his chair. He tries his best not to make eye-contact with his new secretary.

Jar-Jar enters with his usual enthusiasm, his eyes darting around the room looking for something new and interesting to look at or to touch, usually without permission. The Gungan is not a frequent visitor to the executive office. The visit is like a fun field trip for him. Anakin mutters to himself.

"Oh, sith!*"