Before the door slid open, he glimpsed a hazy half-reflection of himself in its satin surface. The memory came unbidden: the first time he had ever looked in a mirror. Not water, or rippled window-glass, or the shiny skin of a droid, but a real mirror.
A woman had come into the shop needing... something or other. She gestured and turned as she spoke with Watto, and six-year-old Anakin, crouched in the corner, stared fascinated at the intermittent flashes beaming from her over-full handbag. Some sound, some movement must have alerted her to his presence, for she excused herself and moved toward him.
"Hello, little boy. What are --"
"That light," he said, more impulsively than was his wont, and pointed at her bag.
She smiled and drew out a little metallic-looking plate with a handle just big enough for a woman's or a child's hand. "This?" He did not reply; he did not know if it was the flashing thing or not.
"Would you like to hold it?" When he still did not speak, she pressed it into his hand and returned to her negotiations.
Anakin turned the mirror, trying to make it flash again, but he was too far from the doorway; the sunlight was not bright enough to catch. He squinted at it, turned it a little more, and -- there was a face. His face, it must be.
It surprised him, how much he looked like his playmates. He had supposed he was longer, more angular, more like the adults. Yet this rounded head, these squashed-looking features, this inquisitive expression, made him look just like every other human child he knew.
He turned the mirror again, purposefully this time, memorizing his features: the curve of his cheek; the shape of his ears; the stray hairs at the edges of his eyebrows; the way his eyes looked, both open and half-shut; the way his bell-shaped nostrils flared when he breathed. He put them all away in the back of his mind to mull over later, to pick out what -- if anything -- made him look like himself.
As he entered the Council Chamber, eight younglings emerged from behind the circled chairs. Fair and dark, male and female, still their faces appeared all the same: round heads, squashed features, expressions of curiosity tinged with fear.
He had struck down little ones already. Older than this, though -- their soft faces already ossifying into the impassive Jedi mask, their manner, even as they defended themselves, tinged with cool irony.
Yes. Obi-Wan's flat, determined refusal to feel went beyond grace under pressure -- it was unnatural. It infuriated him. He'd channeled that fury, used it against the others.
He found it hard to be so angry with these ones. The Jedi had not denatured them yet. He had always liked that about the youngest of the younglings: they still had a streak of pure, unfiltered animal passion. They remembered how to feel, even if their feelings proved as trivial as momentary terror, petulant anger, pride at their own small accomplishments.
These few could not be spared on that account, though. Their purity and individuality would disappear with time, and then they would be --
What they already were. Eight Jedi. Eight enemies. Eight more things standing between him and what must be.
One stepped forward, a tow-headed boy with a bit of an accent. "Master Skywalker, there are too many of them. What are we going to do?"
Vader's lightsaber powered on.
The child stared for a moment, puzzled, his eyes drawn to the glowing blade, his mouth slowly opening. Then his eyes snapped shut and his terror reached out with such intensity it seemed to speak. His outraged sense of self, which the Jedi training had not quite starved away, even provided a name: Sors.
Sors does not want to die.
The saber flashed. Sors is dead.
Vader had no sooner accomplished the act than his mind reeled, momentarily staggered by a wave of confusion and terror not his own. He squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment, regaining his mastery, picking the little voices off his mind the way he might pick fallen hairs off his robe.
He opened his eyes. Most of the younglings had hidden their faces. Their thoughts still poked ineffectually at his consciousness: little wailing egos, little spikes of fear.
Kami does not want to die. Kami crouched behind a chair.
Kami is dead.
Taya does not want to die. Taya skittered away from Kami's body.
Taya is dead.
Tanel does not want to die. Lisa does not want to die. Tanel and Lisa clung together, covering each other's faces.
Tanel and Lisa are dead.
The littlest one stared uncomprehendingly at the carnage. Ian does not want that to happen to him.
A stroke of blue light, and -- Ian is dead.
The next one stood ready, his lightsaber on and his fear touched with anger: Mikal does not want to die!
He managed to deflect the first two blows. Vader could feel Mikal's pride at holding his own against an expert swordsman. But the child was letting his guard down.
A single well-aimed lunge finished it. Mikal is dead.
Quiet settled over the chamber, the younglings' screeching terror gone. Yet a hum of life still crackled through the air.
One child remained, at the far end where the light dimmed into shadow, hiding his face. His emotions were likewise obscured: he radiated neither anger nor fear, nor did his mind shout out his name.
Vader approached. The child stepped forward to meet him. As his face came into the light, it was...
It was like looking in a mirror.
This anonymous boy was as swarthy as little Anakin had been fair, but every line, every plane and shape of his face looked identical to the features Anakin had committed to memory at the age of six.
Vader leaned a little closer to the boy, who stood still as stone, looking into the middle distance, as though deliberately permitting himself to be examined. No, not identical. Merely similar, the way they all were. Or...
Vader glanced back at the fallen children behind him. Looking down at their static faces -- Kami's exotic features, Taya's homely ones, Mikal's simpering mien which belied his fighting spirit -- he realized they didn't all look alike.
He turned back to the boy, who remained uncannily still. Except for that insistent life-hum, the child might have been a droid, or a statue, or a piece of furniture. He had none of the heat, none of the rumbling, none of the noisy accoutrements of life. Only life itself. Vader recognized that exasperating Jedi coolness again, this time taken to the utmost degree.
He had an uneasy feeling. Was the child even real? Was he a deception of the Jedi, or a trick of the brain? How could any living being be so entirely devoid of both ego and fear, or resist, when others like it had not, the urge to mentally declare its own identity?
The boy did not even flinch as the sword swung toward his neck.
Vader prodded the corpse with his toe. Well, that was real enough.
Suddenly, three words -- words with no source, no obvious relevance -- lanced into his mind.
He contemplated them for a moment, and reached the conclusion (though his feelings did not quite bear it out) that they were merely the echo of the child, at the moment of death, finally revealing its name:
Anakin is dead.
Original cover by Persephone_Kore. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.