Qwi Was, After All, Ethereal
by UNKNOWN! (Gasp!)

In summer 1996 a spontaneous challenge arose on the Club Jade mailing list: Write a story in which you kill an original character created by (or movie character perverted by) Kevin J. Anderson (author of The Jedi Academy trilogy and Darksaber and favorite victim of CJ snark.) This story is genius. It is. Don't even try to deny it.

The line having dwindled to fewer than a dozen mourners waiting to be received, Wedge permitted himself the solace to be found in remorse. Fatigue had suspended any conscious awareness of condolences from friends, acquaintances and total strangers better than an hour before. The deliberate introspection he now sought had been pushed aside a full day prior to that. He was embarrassed but not surprised, then, that when guilt finally did return, its companion was relief.

Commander Antilles had shared respect, friendship and love with the willowy, light-blue, Omwat Qwi Xux since her emergence from the Maw. He was painfully aware he would suffer her penetrating loss every day for the rest of his life, though such was more than he could yet endure amidst a litany of arrangements and polite nothings to well-meaning, but casserole-bearing intruders.

The other element, however, was powerful, too. The abiding sense of relief failed perhaps to mitigate, but was managing, awkwardly, to console. They had lived with the threat every instant of every day. Jeopardy accompanied them on inter-galactic trips or just down the block for coffee, particularly near the whirring, puffing cappacino machine. Sometimes, the peril was so ominous and pervasive, Wedge perceived it as a corporeal entity, more solid than his wife, certainly - Bantha sized, less friendly, as well. It frightened him, even as she was otherwise engrossed. Who then really could fault him for feeling relief at its extinction now?

Before consenting to their union, Qwi, to her credit, had insisted upon discussing what had since become an eventuality. He told her it did not matter, but of course, it did a great deal. Regardless of how closely he watched after her, regardless of how guardedly they lived, they had known from the beginning that one day, there would be the unintended, the accidental, the inescapable. Qwi was, after all, ethereal.

Her special needs required almost continuous attention, Wedge admitted, not because he felt put upon but because it simply was the truth. They could be grateful her condition did not bring the agony of illness, but neither could it be allayed with a lifetime's immersion in bacta. Wedge understood that her light, gentle touch for which he would come to long, was a pleasing consequence of her ethereal state. Unfortunately, it was this same nature that could cause her evaporation from his reality and theirs.

With a great deal of effort, Wedge raised his hand to clasp that of the last grieved, hoping with all his being he would never have to clasp again. He took his front chair and the service began with their good friend Tycho at the lectern listing Qwi's substantial scientific contributions and extolling her delicate, touching, and, of course, airy spirit. Qwi and Wedge had written the obituary together, ignorant only as to the precise date of its use. There had been so many close calls, each more terrifying to Wedge than the last. Once aboard Wedge's ship, gravity fluctuated twice. An inconvenience to the crew, the effect was potentially deadly for Qwi. She would have dissipated entirely had the calm, composed bridge watchmen not activated the brig's universal energy casing.

Another time, it was to have been an innocuous, entertaining evening with friends. Dinner had been relaxing, the company pleasant enough. Qwi remained always oblivious, and Wedge, uncharacteristically, had let his attentiveness lapse. Wholly unprogrammed as to the ethereal, the server droid placed a flambe next to Qwi. Wedge's quick dousing of dessert with his water glass had saved her from a nanosecond's ignition and emblazement. A more thirsty Wedge, and she would have gone up with a "whooof." Only the drenched hostess' scream caused Qwi to look up.

The worst happened years ago with Qwi researching a new acceleration compensation development at the university on Bpfassh. No keyboard, rollerball, or even voice recognition entry would suffice. A full sense search of distant databases via a VirtualR suit had seemed, somehow, logical to the woman in whom no self-preservation instinct had been instilled. Every technonerd in the galaxy, save her, apparently, understood that the tool was entirely safe for all but the ethereal. Her sparse, quickly-quavering molecules would have been absorbed by the system only minutes into the program, but for the drunkard and slothful late-shift intern who spilled illicit Correllian brew into the primary communications port.

Their friends typically blamed Kyp's attack for Qwi's lack of regard. Wedge could not bring himself to convince them the only resulting change had been for the better. Qwi Xux moved about each day, carelessly, unconcerned, as if unaware other people - people of substance - did not risk death at an idle flame, light breeze or ill-aimed autovac.

Her passing, then, was perversely ironic. "Solid or liquid beings choke to death every day,"the coroner told Captain Antilles. That is where the guilt came; he had furnished Death's weapon of choice. The autopsy had shown she asphyxiated on a single, cherry-flavored space pop. The candies were her favorite. Usually, she sucked slowly until the jelly-middle was all that remained. On rare occasions, she chewed through, getting an explosive burst when she punctured the vacuum seal. The effect was nearly that of a narcotic to the ethereal. As an instrument of death it was bewildering and inexplicable, so easily prevented. Only his oldest friend, Luke, who had himself experienced a mysterious encounter with the confection, had not been amazed.

At first, the more Wedge investigated, the less it made sense. Her symposium seat mates acknowledged she had sat stiffly throughout the four hour seminar.

"Not unusual," they explained, "Hurlothrumbic generator principles applied to hyperdrive mechanics are an engrossing topic." "But you must have known! She stopped breathing! She would have looked ill!" Wedge screamed at the Bothan with whom Qwi had been studying.

"Good skies, man," he replied "haven't you ever look at her?" Yes, Wedge supposed, she had always been blue.