There was sand in his boots. And his hair. And his beard. It lined the creases of his cloak and lanced into his skin like tiny wind-driven needles, but he ignored the discomfort.
Obi-Wan was meditating.
Or rather, he was trying. It wasn't going very well. He had found he could ignore the sand, the wind, even the killing heat of the noonday suns, made worse by his thick Jedi robes, designed for cooler worlds than this - he would have to do something about them soon, the robes marked him, would make him a target - but he couldn't ignore the memories.
With a sigh, Obi-Wan cleared his mind and tried again, reaching out toward the barrier between life and death, as Yoda had taught him in those last hurried moments aboard Senator Organa's ship. But the doorway remained just out of reach, and there were sand mites crawling up his leg. And the huge granite rock he was sitting on was slightly askew, and he was starting to list to one side. Obi-Wan grimaced, straightened, and brushed the insects away.
Horrible, benighted planet. He hated Tatooine. No, that wasn't quite true. He disliked Tatooine intensely. After all, a Jedi did not feel hate. The memory ripped through him again and his heart twisted. No. Don't think about him. Think about the task Master Yoda has given you.
After all, it wasn't as if he had anything better to do.
Two weeks. He had been on this miserable planet two weeks and already the years seemed to stretch out interminably before him. How long would it take to ensure young Luke's safety? How long before the boy could protect himself? Twenty years? More? And what would the galaxy be like in twenty years? Already rumours were beginning to drift out from the core worlds, stories of Palpatine gathering more power, of those who spoke against him disappearing in the night. Oh yes, Obi-Wan thought bitterly, the Sith planned this well. The clone troops were completely, utterly loyal to the new Emperor. They would obey any order without question - look at how quickly they had turned on the Jedi - and there were always more where they came from. The cloning facilities on Kamino were going flat out, it was whispered. The Emperor's victory was complete?or soon would be. And only two Jedi left to stop him.
Impatience mingled with despair flared inside him but Obi-Wan fought both back down. He would never be able to contact his old master if he did not achieve some kind of inner peace. But how to find peace when the galaxy was being torn apart? Frustration won over despair. He should be out there doing something, not hiding on this backwater planet. He could seek out sympathizers like Bail Organa, help them create a rebellion against the Emperor?and probably lead the Sith Lord straight to them, a voice inside his head said dryly. Obi-Wan dipped his head a little, accepting the wisdom of that. He would be Palpatine's main target if he ever ventured back into the galactic core, a liability to any rebellion, not a help. Besides, he had made a promise. It had been made in haste, without considering what exile on Tatooine really entailed?but he had given his word and he would not break it?no matter how much he might wish to.
Something stirred nearby and without opening his eyes, the Jedi flicked a pebble at the dune scorpion poised to strike near his right foot. The insect scuttled away, its tiny legs sounding loud in the stillness now that the wind had died down. The mid-day sun was oppressive, the air so hot it seemed to scorch his throat and burn his lungs. Just like Mustafar. His mind shied away from that thought, and he tried to focus instead on the moment, on this place. It didn't help. This was the world that had moulded and forged Anakin Skywalker. The birthplace of the man who had betrayed everything Obi-Wan had ever cared about. Ironic, that a place so bright could spawn such darkness.
Anakin. The knife in Obi-Wan's chest twisted a little more. He had tried to avoid thinking about his former apprentice these past few days, ever since he had left the Lars' homestead and set out across the Dune Sea. At first, the issue of survival and the need to remain hidden had helped keep thoughts of the past from his mind. But then he had found an abandoned dwelling on a cliff top, with enough food stores and water to last him for some time?and he had no more excuses. And the memories resurfaced.
Where did I go wrong? Why did he do it? How could I have prevented it? But the worst of all was: Why didn't I finish it?
Anakin still lived. No, that wasn't entirely accurate. Darth Vader lived. Several days ago, Obi-Wan had received one last message from Yoda on his personal receiver; relayed through so many secret transmission points that Obi-Wan couldn't even begin to unravel its place of origin. The message contained two words only. Vader lives.
Obi-Wan ducked his head, as if to ward off a blow. He knew it was his imagination, but he could almost hear the reproach in Yoda's brief message. You failed, it seemed to say. You failed Anakin, you failed the Jedi, and you failed the galaxy. Your fault. All your fault. And it was. He couldn't deny it. Yoda had sent him to destroy his fallen Padawan, and he had botched that too, along with so much else. Anguish shot through him once more, but he quelled it. He would not give in to despair. He would not.
He should have killed Anakin on Mustafar. That thought had haunted him ever since he received Yoda's message. He had had his chance, standing there on his high ground. Yes, the heat from the river lava had been intense and Obi-Wan had been exhausted from the battle, barely able to muster enough control of the Force to keep the burning air from destroying his lungs and singeing his flesh. It would have been dangerous to go any closer. Anakin's body was already burning, his life force fading as the flames consumed him. But I should have finished it! Not only to rid the galaxy of a great evil, but in memory of the man he had once been. Obi-Wan could have ended his suffering right then and there. But he hadn't. He had walked away, leaving his one-time pupil and friend to die horribly, in torment. Why? Why had he done it?
Something had stopped him. Obi-Wan's brows creased as memories washed over him. He had been about to finish it, his balance shifting as he moved to take that first step forward, to end Anakin's life?but something had stopped him. What? The prophecy of the Force? The belief that, despite everything, Anakin was somehow still the Chosen One? No, the prophecy was false. It wasn't that. His own weakness then. Cowardice. Simple human frailty. And now the galaxy has to live with my mistakes. Stupid?
"It was not your fault, my old friend," a familiar voice said.
Obi-Wan's eyes snapped open. He blinked away the glare from the suns, focused?and promptly lost his balance. He tumbled off the rock, falling toward the desert floor, several metres below. He righted himself in mid-air and landed, cat-like, on his feet. The Jedi straightened, looked up?and gulped.
Qui-Gon was standing on top of the boulder, not far from where Obi-Wan had been. The dead Jedi Master was flickering, transparent?and tinged with blue. Obi-Wan blinked again. I could be hallucinating?
"You're not hallucinating. I merely got tired of waiting." With that Qui-Gon vanished?and reappeared beside his one-time apprentice. "It's good to see you again, Obi-Wan."
"I?you too, Master." Obi-Wan thought he was handling this very well, given that he was talking to a ghost. Despite what Yoda had told him, he hadn't really expected this to work. "How?how are you?"
Qui-Gon smiled, that warm familiar smile, and suddenly the pain in Obi-Wan's heart eased, just a little. "I missed you," he said simply.
"I was never far away."
Obi-Wan stared into his mentor's transparent eyes, trying to memorize what he was seeing, just in case he never succeeded at this again. Qui-Gon looked just as he remembered him, minus the horrible burn marks on his chest. Despite the heat of the desert, Obi-Wan shivered as he remembered his master's death.
The ghost turned and walked away a few paces, sinking to a sitting position in the shadow of the giant rock. Obi-Wan wondered for a moment how a phantom could sit, then laughed inwardly at himself. A ghost could probably do anything it wanted.
"That wasn't your fault either," Qui-Gon said. "It was my time."
After a moment, Obi-Wan moved to join him. The drop in temperature by even a few degrees as he sat in the shade, was a relief. "Your time?" There was a note of disbelief in his voice.
"Everything dies. In its own time."
Obi-Wan shook his head. Evil didn't die. It lived on, hiding in the shadows like some foul creature until it was strong enough to emerge and destroy all that was good and bright in the universe. "He was supposed to bring balance to the Force," he burst out, his fists clenching.
Qui-Gon met his gaze calmly. "He did."
"What?" Obi-Wan could barely get the word past the tightness in his throat.
"Anakin Skywalker was the chosen one. He has brought balance."
The younger man's lips twisted. "You call this balance?"
"Two Jedi. Two Sith. Balance. This was meant to be."
"But?" Obi-Wan fought to concentrate. Perhaps he was hallucinating after all. His old master would never say, would never think such things. Or maybe he had gone mad, out here alone in the desert sun. And wouldn't that be a fitting end to a less than stellar career? Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man who brought about the end of the Jedi and fall of the Republic, who didn't even have enough sense to come in out of the sun. Stupid, stupid fool?
The spectral image stirred. "I told you, it wasn't your fault. None of it was."
"I should never have taken it upon myself to train him."
"Then you should blame me for that, not yourself. It was not your choice to train Anakin. I made you promise to do so."
"Obi-Wan, listen to me. Anakin chose to go to the dark side, and by doing so he fulfilled his destiny, just as you fulfilled yours. "
Obi-Wan shook his head. "How can you say that? Unless his destiny was to destroy the Jedi all along?"
"Yes." Qui-Gon interrupted, the word seeming to linger in the desert air.
A long moment passed, then Obi-Wan said evenly: "Why?"
Inexplicably, the ghost smiled. "Good, my old Padawan. You're thinking again, no longer wallowing in remorse."
"I was not wallowing."
"You were wallowing. Now listen. I don't have much time, and I don't know if I'll be able to do this again. At least, not with you."
A pang went through Obi-Wan at the thought of losing his teacher all over again, but he said nothing. Qui-Gon paused as if to gather his thoughts then went on.
"The Jedi died for a reason. The old world had to be swept away, for the new one to exist."
"The Empire?" Obi-Wan spat out the word with distaste.
"No. Not the Empire. The New Re? But no. There are things that must remain hidden, even from you. Better that you don't know the future, my old friend, especially if you are to help put things right again."
Hope flared inside Obi-Wan, banishing the pain and sorrow, at least for a moment. "I can do that? I can put things right?"
"Perhaps. But if you are to do so, you must understand certain things first." There was urgency in the phantom's voice and he seemed a little more transparent now, the edges of his form beginning to waver. How much effort was this taking, Obi-Wan wondered, and what would happen to Qui-Gon when he left this place? Where would he go?
"Did you never ask yourself why there were fewer and fewer Jedi with each succeeding generation?" Qui-Gon asked softly. "Or why the Jedi of today are?were?weaker than those of the past?
Obi-Wan blinked. No. He never had. If he thought about it at all, he put the Jedi's declining ranks down to the war. People died in battle, and Jedi perhaps more than others, for they regularly put themselves in harm's way. It was unfortunate, but that was the way of things.
"We made a great mistake," Qui-Gon was saying. "Not in training Anakin Skywalker," he added as Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak, "but rather a decision made, long ago." He shot a sideways look at his old apprentice. "This won't be easy for you to hear. And harder for you to accept, I think."
Obi-Wan laughed, a short sharp sound that faded quickly. "I'm sitting in the middle of the desert on the most miserable planet in existence, talking to the ghost of my dead teacher, and a Sith Lord is in charge of the galaxy. I'm sure whatever you have to say will make as much sense as everything else."
Qui-Gon grinned, faded a little more, then went on. "Imagine you owned a herd of banthas."
Obi-Wan blinked. This was becoming surreal. More surreal. "Banthas. Fine."
"You choose the best and strongest of the banthas, and keep them in your herd, but you do not allow them to breed. The weaker ones are cast aside. Your neighbour, another bantha farmer, takes the culled beasts and he does allow them to breed. What happens?"
"Eventually I have no banthas."
"But you buy more from your neighbour. So what happens then?"
"I have weaker banthas."
Qui-Gon nodded, and for a moment Obi-Wan almost felt as if he were back at the temple on Coruscant, learning some complicated theory through metaphor and allegory. But only for a moment.
"This goes on for some time," Qui-Gon went on. "You continue to keep the strongest and the best, and your neighbour gets the culls. What happens next?"
Obi-Wan brushed several sand mites off his thigh. "I have really pathetic banthas. So does my neighbour. In the end, all the banthas probably die out and we start growing turnips or something."
"Precisely." The ghost of Qui-Gon sat back looking pleased, in a transparent way.
"I don't understand, Master." Suddenly Obi-Wan felt unaccountably weary. The galaxy was being torn apart by the Sith, and he was sitting here talking about bantha farming.
Qui-Gon pierced him with a look. "Think of the Jedi as banthas."
That got Obi-Wan's attention. "What?"
"Consider what happens when the younglings turned thirteen. You, more than anyone, should know that."
"If they're not skilled enough to be accepted by a Master, they're sent away?" His voice trailed off.
"The herd is culled. The strong remain, but do not pass on their strength. Only the weak, those who have left the temple, are allowed to have progeny and pass on their ability with the Force, diluted though that might be."
Silence fell as Obi-Wan stared at the flickering blue image before him. No. This was insane. "Are you saying that one's ability to use the Force is passed on?genetically?" He had to be wrong.
"For the most part, yes." Qui-Gon leaned back, saying nothing, as if to give his erstwhile apprentice time to come to grips with the idea.
"But?how do you know?"
The ghost just gave him a sidelong look. Oh. Right. Dead. One with the Force. And this really was Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan could sense that. This wasn't some kind of elaborate deception or hoax. In which case?
"But?sometimes stronger Jedi were?culled." The word left a bitter aftertaste on Obi-Wan's tongue. He should know; it had almost happened to him. If he and Qui-Gon had not shared the same flight to Bandomeer all those years ago, after Obi-Wan had failed the Temple's tests, he would probably be a farmer right now, not a Jedi. And maybe that would have been for the better. If I had never trained Anakin, never? No. He had other things to think about just now. With an effort Obi-Wan wrenched his thoughts back to his mentor.
"Yes," Qui-Gon nodded in agreement. "Sometimes the Temple failed to recognize power and ability, and powerful children were expelled from the order. And many of them went on to have powerful children of their own?who would then be taken back by the Jedi to be trained. And occasionally there would be throwbacks - those with an unexpectedly high Midichlorian count, for no apparent reason."
"Like Anakin." It hurt even to say his name out loud.
The ghost shook his head. "No. Not like Anakin. His was?a special case."
Obi-Wan frowned, trying to follow along. It felt as though he had wandered into a holo-novel partway through, and half the chapters were missing. "I'm sorry Master, I think I need more information."
"I'm not surprised. It was a shock when I learned this, and I was dead at the time." Qui-Gon smiled again. "All right, my old Padawan. Think about Yoda."
Obi-Wan thought about Yoda. Small, green, skilled with a lightsaber?
"Yoda is 900 years old, and he is more powerful than any Jedi alive. Sorry, poor choice of words," Qui-Gon said as Obi-Wan flinched. "900 years ago, the genetic pool was that much stronger. Now think about the Jedi you know?knew. The older ones were generally more powerful than the younger, weren't they?"
"Experience?" Obi-Wan began hesitantly.
"And the younglings. How many of them would have passed the tests?if they had lived?" For the first time a note of sorrow entered Qui-Gon's voice.
"I don't know?"
"Yes you do. Search your feelings. You know I'm right."
Obi-Wan's shoulders sagged. Yes. It felt right. He only wished it didn't. "But how could this happen?"
"I don't know. Someone long ago made a decision, and that decision doomed the Jedi to a slow, dwindling death. A few more generations, five, six perhaps, and the Jedi's fire would have gone out forever."
Obi-Wan cast aside the shadow of depression that had been descending over him. "But how is this better?" he asked hotly. "How is it better to die all at once rather than slowly, over time?" Something that was dangerously close to anger licked at the edges of his being, and he paused to suppress it before saying, in calmer tones: "I don't understand."
Qui-Gon had faded a little more. Obi-Wan could see the horizon clearly now through his old master. "If someone had told you the Jedi must start having children in order to save their order, what would you have done?"
"I would not have believed them. Attachment?is dangerous. It can be a path to the dark side." Look at what happened to Anakin, he added silently.
"Yes, attachment can be dangerous. But sometimes the path that seems safest can lead to other, hidden dangers. And sometimes the more perilous way leads to the greater reward."
"But?" Obi-Wan frowned. "Then why did the Council not know of this? Why didn't they do something? Fix it?"
"The signs were there. The warnings. But the Council either misread them, or chose not to heed them. Despite what many believed, the Council was not perfect, Obi-Wan. And so?"
The ghost was barely visible now, no more than a heat mirage against the golden sands. "And so the Force took matters into its own hands. It created Anakin for a purpose."
Obi-Wan swallowed, feeling slightly sick. "To destroy the Jedi? But that's?" His voice trailed off. There were no words for what that was.
Qui-Gon looked away, and Obi-Wan thought he sighed. "Despite what you may think, I don't know everything. Perhaps Anakin was born to sweep away an organization that was slowly destroying itself, so that a new Jedi order could be created. One that would not repeat the mistakes of the past."
The younger man shook his head. "I can't believe that. There must?there should have been some other way."
"Perhaps. Maybe Anakin was a?fallback. A safety measure. Think, Obi-Wan. If we had not found him on Tatooine all those years ago, what would have happened?" Qui-Gon did not wait for an answer, but pressed on. "He would very likely have lived his life, married and had children. And those children would have had children, probably also strong with the Force, and so on, until the Jedi had faded from existence and Anakin's descendents were the only ones left."
"But all that power, and no one to train them??" Obi-Wan shuddered. The potential for disaster in that scenario was almost overwhelming.
"Yes. So perhaps this was the better way. I cannot say." Qui-Gon turned to meet his eyes. "I must go. I have told you all I can. Goodbye, my friend."
Obi-Wan scrambled to his feet, stretching a hand toward the disappearing Jedi as if by doing so he could forestall him leaving. "Master, don't go. Not yet. Even if what you say is true, then what can be done? The Jedi are gone. All hope is gone." But even as he reached out, the ghost had vanished, leaving only an echo of Qui-Gon's voice behind.
"Anakin's children are our hope. Only they can turn the tide. Only they can restore what has been lost?" And then even the echo had faded, and Obi-Wan was alone in the desert, standing beneath the shadow of a granite boulder as the twin suns sank low in the west.
For three days, Obi-Wan tried to contact his dead master again, over and over, but to no avail. Apparently he had been given all the information he was going to get. And try though he might, he could find no hole in Qui-Gon's logic, no flaw in his reasoning - which meant that everything the ghost had told him was true. But more than that, it felt right. And if that were the case?then perhaps it wasn't entirely his fault.
I still failed Anakin. I should have trained him better. No, more than that - I should have seen what was happening, found a way to help him. Been there for him. Perhaps if he had been able to come to me with his problems?
But it was Anakin's choice to believe Palpatine's lies, his choice to betray and murder the Jedi, and his choice to turn on Padme and Obi-Wan. Destiny or the Force might have placed him on that path - but Anakin Skywalker had chosen to walk down it.
As for Obi-Wan's failure to kill him on Mustafar?maybe that too was meant to be. Something stopped me. Whether it was simple human weakness, the Force, or some ancient prophecy, Obi-Wan did not know. It no longer mattered. The past was the past. Obi-Wan could not change it, and dwelling on it would not help bring about the future. And the future was where his efforts must lie now. There were things he could do, Obi-Wan had realized over the past three days, even out here in the wastelands of Tatooine. Palpatine and his apprentices had hidden in the shadows for years, manipulating events and plotting their rise to power. Now the situation was reversed - Yoda and Obi-Wan were the ones forced to hide, forced to scheme and plan. Well, so be it. If Obi-Wan were equally patient, equally cunning, then perhaps one day light would return to the galaxy and Sith rule would end forever. In the meantime?in the meantime, there were things to be done.
His mind was working again, now that the haze of guilt and grief had been burned away, and he could think. Plan. Strategize. Obi-Wan could not risk becoming personally involved in any fledgling rebellion, he knew. For young Luke's sake, Tatooine must never become known as a source of rebel activity. But?there were traders, smugglers and pilots, coming and going constantly, even this far out on the rim. And with a word here, a nudge there? Obi-Wan could provide useful tactical information?in the right ears. The facilities at Kamino, for example. They must be destroyed first. If the clones were eliminated, the Emperor would be forced to start recruiting instead - and new recruits might question their orders, might make mistakes, might even defect. Yes, Kamino must be the first target. So tomorrow Obi-Wan would set out for Mos Eisley and start ferreting out those who might be reliable and who might be put to use - but subtly, and with guile. After all, if a Sith Lord could overthrow a Republic from the shadows, then perhaps a Jedi could restore one?given time.
As for the rest of what Qui-Gon had told him?I will leave that for now. The prophecy can take care of itself. He had already decided he would tell Anakin's children little of what the Jedi order had been - I must get a message to Bail Organa, so he knows what to keep from Leia - especially about the restrictions on marriage and children. He strongly suspected that the Emperor and Vader would try to wipe out all information about the Jedi. Good. They would do his work for him. Obi-Wan smiled crookedly at the irony. After all, If Qui-Gon were correct, then any Jedi in the future must be allowed to follow their own path, not try to rebuild the old ones. The Republic was gone. Obi-Wan paused in his packing, allowing sorrow to sweep over him for a moment, then he resumed throwing the supplies he would need for tomorrow's journey into a small bag. The Old Republic was gone. Someday a new one might rise from its ashes, but for now there was the Empire to deal with.
At last Obi-Wan finished and set the pack aside. It was growing dark, the light inside the hut fading. He gestured with one hand and the solar lamp in the corner flared into life, brightening the room. Outside the window, the sky had turned from blue to indigo. Obi-Wan was tired - he had slept little these past three days - but it was a good kind of tired. He had a purpose again, and a plan. To help the rebellion that must surely rise against the Emperor. And perhaps begin training young Luke when he was older - though part of him baulked at the idea of training another Skywalker. What if I make the same mistakes again? What if I make things worse? Well, he would worry about that when he came to it. After all, he had little choice in the matter.
There. He was done. And tomorrow his new life began. So perhaps it was time to say goodbye to the old one. On an impulse, the Jedi crossed to the door and went outside, folding his arms beneath his cloak against the sudden chill. The twin suns had almost disappeared beneath the horizon. Darkness was racing swiftly across the desert and faint stars were beginning to emerge in the night sky. Obi-Wan knew those stars, had visited many of them through the years. He could not see Coruscant's sun from here, but to his right was Malastare, and further off, Dantooine and her sisters orbited a small yellow star. Countless places and people?and all of them under Palpatine's thumb now.
But not forever, Obi-Wan vowed silently. You will be free again someday, my friends. I promise you that.
As he watched, the last trace of sunlight vanished and darkness fell. But this time the night brought a renewed sense of hope, not the anguish he had come to expect. Darkness might be inevitable?but so was the dawn. The light would return soon enough.
And in the end, wasn't that all that mattered?
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