The pale moonlight illuminates her face, shining down on her blissful slumber. Unlike most nights, she is out on the back porch, near the bubbling fountain where she’s spent dozens of hours. I wonder if she thought about the finality of her visit when she was here earlier today. She looks so calm, so peaceful, that nothing could ever disrupt her tranquility. I hope that’s true. Gently brushing my fingers across her forehead, I wonder if this will be the last time I’ll ever see my daughter again. Then my resolve stiffens—better to get it over with.
I turn to the wizened old Whiphid, a Jal Shey Mentor with decades of experience in the Force, who’s been sitting quietly on her other side.
“We’re ready,” I tell him. “Go ahead.”
He nods his assent and places his furred paws on the sides of her head, closing his eyes as he enters a deep trance where he’ll connect with her mind. S’vollke is the best at this, and yet I’m still uncomfortable with it. I don’t think any parent could be comfortable with what’s about to happen to Rhiannon, yet here I am sitting by.
It was her choice that led us to this point, a bitter choice for both of us, and yet one that she chose freely. The law of our refuge has been that anyone who chooses to leave our sanctuary must undergo a procedure where their mind is thoroughly checked and memory selectively altered to remove any sensitive details. By agreeing to marry the Outsider Kavlis Burke, Rhiannon, my only daughter, became subject to this particular provision.
So now, we’re out here on our back lawn at night while S’vollke does his work. Rhiannon knew it would happen tonight, the evening before her wedding. She knew when I handed her the glass and smelled the concoction of ylannock and some other ingredients that help loosen the mind and make it more accessible to those who have the gift of shaping memories. The drink is designed to ease the mind, make her sleep, and the procedure is entirely painless, but even as I levitated her mattress outside with her on it, I was uneasy.
What part of my beautiful little girl will I lose when S’vollke takes away her memory of key locations and people? Will she ever be the same person again, or will I end up with someone who resembles my daughter, but whose spirit has been drastically altered into a stranger? S’vollke assures me that she’ll remember who we are, but will that same connection to her family remain?
My cynical side suggests that it’ll be better for her if she doesn’t remember that much about what life is like inside the refuge, that she’d be more fortunate if she only faintly remembers the trees or the water or the house she grew up in. She’s going to live on the Outside now, where the weather is malevolent at best, there are few comforts, and her days will be marked by toil and strife against a planet whose environment does its best to discourage human settlement. If the comforts and safety of the refuge are dim, perhaps it’ll be easier to be content with her new life.
However, I know that’s nonsense. Rhiannon is leaving here for one reason: the man she loves is out there waiting for her. She made this choice knowing exactly what she would leave behind and she made it anyway. It’s a sacrifice that I hope Kavlis Burke comes to appreciate. As much as my first impressions of him were negative, he’s proven to be a man of character. I know he’ll take care of Rhiannon—we had this conversation earlier tonight. He knows what I expect and that I’ll be watching.
The crease of a smile traces its way across her face as she stirs in her sleep and I wonder what memory has threaded its way through her mind or dream conjured up to provoke the smile. I remember the days where simply coming home was enough to illuminate her face with an ear-to-ear grin, when she’d run to throw herself at her daddy. Time has flown, and those days are long gone.
A deep sense of loss and grief wells up in me as my heart slowly comes to terms with what my mind has known: this is Rhiannon’s last night with us. She will be out on her own from now on, unable to return save in the rarest instances and with our visits also limited. She won’t smile when I come home, because she won’t be here. She won’t look to me for answers or advice because she won’t be able to reach me. She won’t come running to me when life’s pains are wearing at her, because she’ll be gone. With Ryion moving away to the Guardian apartments and Rhiannon leaving, our house will seem so empty with just Milya and myself.
I can’t even imagine how Milya is taking this. She couldn’t bear to be here, not after arguing so long and passionately in favor of an exception for Rhiannon from the memory-altering process. I saw the frustration and the fervor in her eyes after that last denial—which was replaced by bleak resignation after the verdict was returned. This has pained her so, to know that the little girl we raised into the woman she is today will not remember many of the things she came to know and love. I don’t know which is worse—knowing that Rhiannon is leaving, or that she’ll never be the same mentally. Milya closed herself off tightly these past few days—she won’t show it to Rhiannon, but she’s grieving almost as if our daughter was dying.
In a sense, that’s almost what it is. Rhiannon will be very nearly dead to us when she wakes up. She’ll acknowledge us as her parents, but she’ll be cut off, a stranger living away from everything she’s ever known. Part of me asks how could she do this to us, but I remember vividly what it was like to be young and in love. They say that love is the most powerful force in the universe and I’ve seen the proof of that statement.
I wish I could say that I want Rhiannon to deny her love for Kavlis Burke, break off the engagement and have life return to normal. I wish I could even ask her to consider doing so. But I can’t. If there’s anything worse for a parent than losing a child, it’s asking them to ruin their lives for your sake. Every time I’ve thought about pleading with Rhiannon to reconsider, the vision of her and Kavlis, laughing, talking, sharing life pops into my mind’s eye. And that vision shows her happy, happier than I’ve ever seen her. This is what she wants and hers’ and Kavlis’s gain is necessarily a loss for Milya and me.
I reach into a hidden pocket on my belt for the thing that I prepared, not knowing if I could dare use it. It’s a memory chip, but no scanner or sensor could detect it as such. This is a device that I asked my brother Sarth to make, something so secret that only him, his wife, myself, and Milya know about. It reads specific brain chemistry and electrical patterns and interprets them as memories. It took years of research to develop the technology, but it’s finally ready. This tool can be used to extract a person’s memories, or to store them. It is for the latter purpose that I used it on Rhiannon last night while she was sleeping. Inside this chip are all the memories that she had as of last night. Sarth has the other part, a modified brainwave scanner that can re-implant the memories, hidden inside an heirloom jewelry box Milya gave her.
The question for me is whether I can give it to her or not. To do so would break the oath that I swore to the Yanibar Guard. I swore to uphold its dictums and principles even to the point of my death. Giving Rhiannon this pendant would violate one of Yanibar’s most hallowed doctrines. I would consciously be creating a high-security risk outside the refuge by allowing someone with full knowledge of the interior of the refuge to roam freely. Rhiannon might be blind, but she knows more than enough about our way of life, key points inside the refuge, and the important people and organizations, as well as our history. It would be an unprecedented breach of security.
However, every fiber of my being as a father screams for me to give her the pendant. She is my daughter, not a security risk. She is my child and she deserves to remember her past, to remember those who loved her fully and without her memory being altered. How could a good father knowingly allow his child’s memory to be taken from her, depriving her of much of what she once knew about her previous life?
Whichever decision I make, I know that its consequences will keep me up at night for weeks to come. If I give her the pendant, I may never be able to approach my work the same way again, haunted by guilt over deliberately compromising the protection of Yanibar’s refuge that keeps us all safe. If I don’t, I may never be able to live with myself again. No parent should ever have to make this type of decision. I never thought I would have to.
I may be a Jedi Master with years of experience and training in the use of the Force in a wide variety of situations, but no amount of training can ever fully prepare someone for this kind of choice. Rhiannon has given me possibly the hardest choice of my life and I’m running out of time to decide. I’ve wrestled with this since a week ago when Sarth told me about the breakthrough and handed me the chip. Now, as the first glimpses of dawn’s light began to peak over the horizon, the moment of reckoning has come. I’m out of time.
S’vollke grunts beside me, exhaling heavily as he withdraws his hands from Rhiannon’s temples.
“It is finished,” he says, standing up slowly.
I nod slowly, wiping at the tears which sprung up unbidden at his words. Lying blissfully on her bed, Rhiannon stirs, her eyelids blinking open slowly. She looks at me and frowns, a bit confused.
“Dad?” she asks.
“Yes, it’s me,” I tell her.
“What happened? Where am I?”
“You’re out back. You just woke up,” I reassure her.
I look back to see Milya standing at the back door, observing us from a distance. Even from that far away, I can see how red her eyes are. She probably hasn’t slept all night from crying.
“I’m having a hard time remembering things, Dad,” Rhiannon says uncertainly.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. It’ll fade,” I lie, then I turn to S’vollke.
“Can you give us a minute?” I ask him.
He nods and walks off, weary from the mental exertion of six hours of reshaping someone’s memory. I kneel down by Rhiannon’s bedside and take her hands in mine and lock my eyes on hers, even though she can’t see me.
“Rhiannon, if you remember anything, remember that your parents love you very, very much.” Placing one hand on her forehead, I let her see through my eyes by projecting the image into her mind with the Force. Her lip trembles and tears start forming in her own eyes as well. She wraps her arms around me, burying her head on my shoulder.
“I love you, too, Dad,” she says.
I’m at a loss for words now, so I just hold her, squeezing her shoulder affectionately as we sit there crying. Finally, I let her go, handing her a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. “All right, sweetheart,” I tell her, collecting my voice. “This is your big day. Your mom is waiting for you at the door to help you get ready for the wedding.”
I have to be strong for her. I have to help her keep going. This is what she wants and I’m not about to ruin that for her.
“What about you, Dad?” she asks, running her fingers along my face in her own version of seeing someone. “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Another lie that I’ve told my daughter, but I can’t honestly tell her that knowing that I’m losing her hurts like nothing else. It’s a small sacrifice to preserve her happiness.
“You and your mother go have a good cry, and then get you dressed up for Kavlis. You’ll look so gorgeous we’ll have to pick him up after he passes out. Go ahead, I’ll be waiting.”
She smiles for the first time since she’s woken up, then her expression turns wistful, reflective, almost mournful.
“I’m going to miss you, Dad.”
I put on a good front even though my heart aches at hearing those words.
“Now, now, we can’t have that,” I tell her, reaching for my belt pouch.
I fumble for a second, caught up in last-second hesitation, then I withdraw the pendant. I gently fasten the chain around her neck, then place the pendant in her hand.
“This is a gift from me to my little girl on her wedding day,” I tell her. “If you ever get lonely, this is a reminder that somewhere out there, there are two parents who love their daughter very much.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she says, starting to hug me again.
I accept the hug, pulling her close so I can whisper in her ear.
“Rhiannon, I give you this choice,” I say. “You will not remember much of what you lost, but in your greatest need, this pendant will give you back what was taken. Your mother will tell you about the jewelry box it goes with.”
“What do you mean?” she asks, confused.
“This is just for you,” I tell her. “It will only work for you and I urge you to use it only when things are very desperate.”
“Are you saying that this will give me my memory back?” she asks softly.
“Yes,” I tell her.
“But that’s against—,”
“Rhiannon, you have made your choice to leave this refuge for the harsh world out there. Your mother and I have made ours. We both must live with the consequences of our actions. Tell no one about this and only use it in dire need.”
“Okay, Dad, I will. I promise,” she says solemnly.
“Good girl,” I tell her, then release her. “Your mother’s waiting for you.”
She kisses me on the cheek, whispers one last “I love you, Dad,” then walks off to where Milya is waiting for her, waiting to prepare her for wedding where she will be joined to the love of her life and separate herself from her former life. That leaves me here, my eyes following her as she enters the house.
Rhiannon will have to live with the choices she has made and I will have to live with mine. One day, I will have to face the consequences for my decision—a decision to give my daughter something which violates my oaths, something which would lead to instant imprisonment of any other father who dared do such a thing. And on that day of reckoning, I will be found guilty of such a crime, but until then, I can live with myself knowing that I placed my role as a father and my love for my daughter and family ahead of my duties and occupation. It is not a choice everyone can or would make, but it is my choice.