The light was bright, cutting through the protective veil she wore over her face. Her driver had given it to her in Anchorhead, and she had been suspicious for a moment, wondering if he had designs on blinding and robbing her, or worse. But she was semi-confident that she could monitor him with the Force and, in a more practical consideration, didn't really want sand kicked up into her eyes. Still, keeping the veil from flapping in her face from the strong winds created by the speeder took a good bit of Force concentration, and she was proud of the degree to which she was using her fledgling skills.
She kept her eyes open, looking at the rough weave of the opaque cloth over her face, breathing in the hot air of Tatooine, the planet of legend, the planet of drudgery. For a place so well-known, and practically celebrated through most of the galaxy, it was, as it always had been: brown, hot, bright, and rough.
It seemed strange that she would find her Jedi Master here, but she supposed it had to do with her Master's late husband. This was, after all, his home planet and he was half of the reason the planet was looked upon with so much interest. The interest seemed to go unanswered, however. Tatooine was only for the hardiest of individuals, and most of the curious lacked the fortitude and were not willing to risk the twin suns, the sand, or the locals just to satisfy their morbid curiosities.
Sitting back, she called gently on the Force, pulling it towards her before projecting outwards, while still managing to split her concentration enough to hold her veil. She felt her driver's faint displeasure at escorting her to her location, probably out of his way, and a sense of mischief, as if perhaps he planned to haggle the price they had negotiated. Quickly squashing a half-smile that wouldn't have been seen anyway, she continued with her self-imposed exercise, sensing outwards over the sand dunes and rocky outcroppings, feeling the Force signatures of millions of creatures, large and small, that roamed over the land.
But nowhere did she sense her soon-to-be Master's signature. It was just as well; her Master probably preferred to remain shielded, though there were few on planet to notice her in the Force.
It was at that moment that her driver's senses shifted, and she startled, realizing they must have arrived at their destination. Her blood thrummed in anticipation, and she threw back her borrowed veil impatiently. She squinted through the dazzling light at a small building set into the side of an outcropping of stone, and took a deep, slow breath.
Here, she would meet her Master.
She took her driver's proffered hand and dismounted the speeder, looking up into the darkened doorway of her Master's home. For a moment, she stood still and unsure. Should she remain outside, unannounced, and wait for the Master to appear in the doorway? Should she project outwards with the Force? Was this her first test?
Undecided, she turned towards the driver, as if he might have an answer.
He shook his head, sun-bleached hair whipping across his eyes. "I only see the lady once a month when I bring supplies. I've already seen her this month." He turned and looked at the house as well, before squinting at her in the bright light. "Are you going to pay me?" he asked, before nodding towards the house. "Or is she?"
"I am," she answered, pulling out the appropriate amount of credits, and waiting for the haggling to begin. The driver opened his mouth, as if to retort but frowned instead, muttering to himself, as he jumped back up into his speeder.
"See ya in a month," he said, turning the engine over, readying to take off.
"Wait!" she called, remembering the piece of cloth she had clutched in her hand. "Your veil."
The driver shook his head again and grinned at her somewhat crookedly, his eyes glittering attractively. "It ain't mine," he answered, and sped off.
Left alone, holding the veil in confusion, she sighed. She looked around at the empty horizon, stretching as far as she could see. She was anxious to go inside and meet her Master, but part of her wished to remain out-of-doors, alone, cut off, and safe. The path of a Jedi Knight was not an easy one, and somehow it almost seemed preferential to remain in the bright light and heat than to enter into the darkened and cool home to begin her training.
Hesitantly entering the dim doorway, she called out a cautious greeting. Receiving no answering welcome or reply, she kept walking down into the depths of the house, shivering as the cool air quickly penetrated her suns-warmed skin.
She finally entered what appeared to be the main room of the house and squashed a small burst of fear, wondering if perhaps she had been driven to the wrong dwelling and that she was, in fact, trespassing. The room was partitioned into four quarters. Three areas she could not see, but the main section of the room appeared to be a sitting area, and in this area sat a woman, completely still, with her eyes closed.
Her hair, no longer the brilliant red-gold that had undoubtedly earned her many lingering stares in her youth, was braided, the color faded to a dull yellow, streaked liberally with white. Only a fair few red strands remained. Her face was lined and drawn, thin lips settled into a straight line.
"Hello, Master Skywalker?" she asked, fearful of waking the Master from sleep.
She received no response and tensed. No one was quite sure of Master Skywalker's age, and as her husband had died ten standard years before at the age of ninety-six, people assumed Mara Jade Skywalker to be over one-hundred standard years old.
She panicked, projecting out through the Force. What if she had come all this way only to find the Master dead? Her heart thudded painfully in her chest. She began to move forward, when a small half-smile appeared on the older woman's wrinkled visage.
Jedi Master Mara Jade Skywalker opened her green eyes, only slightly filmed with age. "I'm not dead quite yet," she said, her voice croaking from misuse. She lifted a hand to her forehead and tapped it. "First item of business, then. Broadcasting."
She blinked. "Broadcasting?" she repeated, feeling small and silly, standing there holding her travel-case in one hand and the veil in the other.
Master Skywalker nodded, gesturing for her to set her things down and to take a seat on a bench that ran the length of the partitioned wall behind her. "We'll work on your broadcasting first, then your shielding techniques-though those really go hand in hand."
Her eyes widened. "Shielding and broadcasting?" This was not how she had expected to begin her apprenticeship.
The aged Master stood. "Yes," she said, moving slowly, yet somehow surely, across the smoothed floor towards her. "We'll work on shielding and broadcasting first so I won't hear all your thoughts." The Master stood in front of her, reaching out to take the veil she still held in her hand. She looked at it for a moment, before smiling a smile that made her very nervous, for it looked far too mischievous for the wizened face that made it. "Once we've worked on that, we'll work on your attitude towards the Force," Master Skywalker said, folding the veil almost fondly in her hand. "After all, it seems I'm good at expounding upon that lesson."
Attitude towards the Force? She frowned, and looked away from the knowing smile that graced her new Master's face.
For, if anything, it seemed that she was not the one with the attitude.
"Tell me about yourself," Master Skywalker said, later, after having shown her to the sleeping area, cordoned off by one of the partitions.
They were sitting down to a light evening meal, and she was beginning to feel the weight of the walls pressing in upon her, the reality setting in that she was in a strange place, with a woman of legend, picking at food she wasn't sure she could stomach.
"Oh," she answered, looking up from her plate. "Well, my name is Metarie Vionnu. Umm..." she stalled, thinking of what to tell her Master of herself. These conversations had flowed much easier in her head, where she would impress her Master with her knowledge of the Force and her eloquence of speech. "I'm from Coruscant, the first Force sensitive in my family that we know of. Master Solo-Fel selected me to be your apprentice after training me herself for two years. Her daughter's child fell ill and she had to let me go, in order to be with them. She said she was sending me to the Jedi Master who had trained her, because I reminded her a bit of herself at my age."
Master Skywalker nodded. "How old are you?"
"Sixteen standard years," Metarie answered.
The almost familiar half-smile appeared on the Master's face. "I was twice your age plus some before I became a Jedi," she said, as her eyes took on a faraway look. "Twice your age and more before I truly began to understand my life..." she trailed off, and Metarie wondered if she was thinking of her late husband.
It had been a vague disappointment to Metarie when she had finally taken a moment to look around the home, and had found no sign of the other Master Skywalker. She hadn't expected a shrine, but perhaps a holo, or his lightsaber, or maybe even a cloak laid over a chair in remembrance. There was a small holo of young Master Skywalker and his family on a table next to the chair her new Master had been sitting in when she arrived. But other than that the furnishings were spare, almost utilitarian, save for the shades of pale green that decorated the home.
After a moment Master Skywalker shook her head, as if shaking off a vision, and looked down towards Metarie's plate. "Have you finished?"
Metarie nodded and stood to help tidy up. "Will we start on shielding tonight?"
Master Skywalker looked at her. "Do you dream?"
Metarie nodded that she did.
Master Skywalker pursed her lips. "Then, yes. We begin tonight."
They worked on broadcasting and shielding, and once Metarie had the hang of it, they moved on to other subjects. The days took on a routine quickly. Metarie sensed that her Master thrived on a schedule.
Metarie would rise in the mornings to find Master Skywalker already awake and finished with her breakfast. Then her Master would meditate as Metarie had her own meal and wash time, and afterwards Metarie would join her in meditation.
In the late mornings, Master Skywalker would teach her fighting techniques and how to refine her saber style. At her advanced age, the Master couldn't spar with her as she once could, though she was far from an invalid. But mostly she used Force manipulations to show her those techniques, though they did have one short duel between the two of them, before the suns had risen and made the day too hot for the elderly woman to be out-of-doors.
The Master often told tales of her youth, times when her lightsaber or her skills in hand-to-hand combat had gotten her out of some rough situation or another. Metarie listened eagerly and hoped to learn from her example.
In the early afternoon they would break for a meal, and Master Skywalker would rest behind her partition, before waking and taking up the mid and late afternoon lessons. It was in these lessons that they would speak upon the nature of the Force and the Jedi's place within the ancient power.
The evening hours were not filled with lessons, for every evening after their last meal, Master Skywalker would leave the cool walls of her home and venture out into the Tatooine vista, and Metarie did not follow. She sensed her Master needed that time to herself, time to revitalize and ready herself for another day of teaching her young charge.
The days passed quietly. Metarie grew stronger in the Force under her Master's tutelage, quickly surpassing the goals set for her. Long days of hard work stretched in front of Metarie, and even the careful pride of accomplishment was no match for the seemingly endless days of learning.
One late afternoon when Metarie was feeling listless, Master Skywalker pulled the veil the girl had worn her first day on Tatooine from the pocket of her robe.
"Do you understand why I gave you this veil?" The Master asked, rubbing the cloth between her fingers.
Metarie shook her head, frustrated. Master Skywalker's view of the Force could be dissatisfying and elusive at times, something the girl felt strongly as she looked at the material her Master clutched. "I think I know why, but I don't fully understand it, Master," she said, confused. "When I wore that veil on my first day here, I was able to split my concentration and yet still use the Force clearly. The Force is power... a power for the Jedi to use. Why should we not use it, if it is available to us?"
Master Skywalker smiled, and not with her half-smile or her infamous subtle lip quirks. She smiled a full-fledged smile that seemed to take years from her aged face. "Another Jedi asked me that once," she said, looking at Metarie with equal parts humor and affection in her eyes. "And I told him this: the Force is both power and guidance. If you let power overwhelm you, you cannot listen to guidance. It was something he had known, of course, but he had, I believe, forgotten. There must be a balance to the Force... balance between power and guidance."
Metarie nodded at the serious words but felt that, perhaps, she still didn't understand her Master's message.
Her driver, Master Skywalker's rations runner, was scheduled to arrive after one month of Metarie being in her Master's company. She felt almost giddy at the thought of seeing another human and found herself watching and listening for any sign of his speeder across the desolate plain.
Urias, as Metarie had been told was his name, arrived right after they had finished their afternoon meal. He shouted a greeting at the doorway and entered, carrying in a large box of supplies which he readily sat near Metarie's feet. He nodded to her, giving a quick, playful grin before looking towards the Master. "Everything all right, ma'am? Any troubles? Anything you need from me?"
Master Skywalker shook her head and thanked Urias for his trouble in bringing the supplies out, then stood and walked towards her partitioned area, winking at him as she passed. "You let me know when you're ready for me to train, boy."
Urias groaned, and Metarie looked up in surprise. He caught her eye and again smiled his crooked smile, explaining, "She does that every time I'm here. I think she takes some sort of sadistic pleasure from it."
Metarie laughed and trailed Urias from the home as he exited. "She is a fine Master," she said, still smiling.
Urias smiled and reached out to tug on a loose lock of Metarie's dark hair. "And you are a fine apprentice," he answered, before quickly jumping into his speeder and taking off, leaving Metarie red-cheeked with shock.
When she went back inside, she was surprised to find Master Skywalker sitting at the table, and not partaking in her customary early afternoon rest. Metarie's face still burned red. The embarrassment was only made worse by the sense coming from her Master. Did the Master know the cause of her blush? The thought only forced her full cheeks to burn brighter.
"Uh... I'm surprised to find that Urias is Force sensitive," she said, making an effort to say anything at all.
Master Skywalker nodded. "Maybe not to your degree, but he does have potential."
Metarie wondered at that, cursing the fact that she was still blushing over a tug at her hair. She drew courage around her and asked her Master something she had wanted to ask for a long time. "Master, if I may. Why there are no holos of Grand Master Skywalker here?"
Master Skywalker looked up at her almost sharply, and Metarie regretted the question immediately.
However, the wizened Master merely looked down momentarily before again meeting Metarie's gaze. "I don't need holos to remember," she answered.
"Oh," was all Metarie could think to say, and she startled as the Master rose and walked behind her partition. The girl was embarrassed, her face flaming now for reason other than Urias's playful banter, and she wondered what her Master would be like when she woke from her nap.
The muffled sound of slippered feet approaching surprised Metarie and she looked up to find Master Skywalker standing next to her, holding a simple holocube. She held it out to Metarie who took it gingerly. Activating the button on the side, she gasped as holos of the Masters Skywalker appeared, playing one after the next. A whole lifetime flashed before Metarie's eyes - friendship, love, marriage, pregnancy, baby, parenthood, late adulthood, old age - followed by the gripping pain that Metarie herself felt as the cube's last spaces were empty slots.
Metarie stopped the cube on its second replay, pausing over the Masters' marriage holo and taking in the lovely image of the red-haired bride and the blue-eyed groom. She looked up into the face of her Master, noting the tight reign the older woman held on her emotions, evident in the set of her jaw. "Would you..." the girl began, hesitantly. "Would you do it all again?"
The aged Master's gnarled hands took the holocube and raised it, as the green eyes stared at the frozen image presented. "Yes," the woman answered, softly, finally. "Yes, I would. Only... I think I would have worn my hair down."
Surprised, Metarie laughed, glancing back to find that half-smile evident on her Master's face.
The next morning, after breakfast, Master Skywalker received a holocall from her son. "Young" Master Skywalker, as he was wont to be called, inquired after his mother's health and reported the news of the galaxy. He brought word of their family: Most notably that his son had built his first lightsaber, with a green blade, and that Master Solo-Fel's granddaughter had been restored to full health.
Metarie sat in her partitioned area during the call, giving the appearance of privacy even as she could hear every word spoken between aged mother and aging son. "Young" Master Skywalker was in his fifties, she knew, and as much as that thought surprised her, she imagined it outright shocked her usually unflappable Master.
"What about your apprentice, Mom? How is her training?" Ben Skywalker asked, and despite herself, Metarie listened closer.
"She does very well," Master Skywalker said, and pride bloomed throughout Metarie's spirit. Her Master continued speaking, dryly, "However, Ben, I'm surprised at you and Jaina. It took you two this long to send an apprentice to keep an eye on me?" She sniffed. "Was Cyrina even ill?"
Silence issued from the holocom, and Metarie suppressed a smirk. Trust the Master to see through the charade in spite of her advanced age.
Ben, pretending to be appalled, soothed his mother, stating that he and Jaina had done no such thing as sending an apprentice merely to keep an eye on her. After all, she had much to offer Metarie, he placated. The son continued to speak until his mother cut him off, lovingly ending the conversation with a gentle, yet firm, "Be gone with you, boy."
The call ended and Metarie heard the Master sigh, mumbling to herself, "That boy is too much like his father." Metarie imagined she was smiling, if forcibly, as she said it.
Late that afternoon, during their usual discussion of Jedi dogma, Master Skywalker raised the question of a Jedi's will versus the will of the Force. Were they the same, she wanted to know of her young student.
Metarie's first instinct was to answer 'yes', as a Jedi served the Force and therefore its will. Yet, a new thought made her hesitate. "What of the dark side, Master?" she asked instead.
"Yes," her Master answered, pleased. "What of the dark side?"
"When a Jedi serves only themselves or their own desires, they serve the dark side of the Force. Therefore, a Jedi's will is not necessarily the same as the Force's will."
"And a Jedi should never impose their will upon anyone," the Master said. "We, as Jedi, serve the will of the Force. The Force does not serve the will of the Jedi."
Master and student digested the words for a moment, silently.
"So, what about it, Master? Am I here by the will of the Force, or the will of Masters Solo-Fel and Skywalker?" Metarie spoke up, quirking her lips.
But instead of smiling, the elder stared at the girl before answering, "Perhaps both."
"Very good," Master Skywalker praised from her seat just inside the door of her home. "No distractions. Let the Force flow through you, through your saber, and the bars..."
Her voice seemed far away to Metarie, immersed in the Force as she was, blocking intermediate level shots from the seeker droid and keeping silver bars levitated high enough to meet her Master's approval. Once she successfully mastered this task, she had been instructed that the lesson would grow harder as she would have to deflect the droid's shots while managing to dodge the silver bars that would also be hurled at her. The exercise was proving to be daunting, yet exciting, and one that Metarie eagerly looked forward to completing.
The hum of an approaching speeder caught Metarie's attention, her eyes automatically scanning the distant horizon as a full smile broke over her face. A warning jar through the Force caused her to react swiftly, dropping into a crouch and raising her saber to successfully catch the last of seeker droid's shots. The bars tumbled down into the sand around her upon her relief, and she flushed, angry with herself for losing concentration.
There was no time to consider her mistake, though, as Urias pulled up in front of them. Master Skywalker nodded from her seat, content to stay in the shade as Urias pulled down their rations box. Metarie walked over to lend a hand, noticing his load was heavier than usual.
"Hi," she said, moistening her lips and wondering at how she must look, hair frizzing from the band that held it off her neck and sweat pouring down her neck and into the open collar of her tunic.
"Hey yourself," he said, grinning his irrepressible grin. "What was that you were doing when I pulled up?"
"Yeah, that," Urias said, laughing.
Metarie liked his deep laugh, and hoped the rosy flush that flooded her cheeks would still be attributed by him to the exercise she had just completed. "That was me showing you what a Jedi can do." He raised an eyebrow, but before he could reply, she rushed on. "As you're Force sensitive... maybe I just ... maybe you could be trained, too."
Shifting the large box in his arms, Urias looked down at her incredulously. "I... really can't see me being a Jedi."
"Oh," Metarie said, taken aback. "Well, here, let me help you." Reaching out with the Force, she levitated the heavy box from Urias's arms, allowing him the freedom to reach into his speeder and grab the other one.
"What, you mean you couldn't levitate both?" he asked, turning back with another box in his arms to watch the first one fly steadily in the air to land at Master Skywalker's feet.
"Well, if you're not going to be a Jedi..."
"I have to do things the hard way?"
Metarie grinned at him. "Something like that."
Reaching the Master, Metarie moved out of the way to give Urias room to set his box on top of hers.
"Everything all right, ma'am?" he asked, giving her his customary greeting. "Any troubles? Anything you need from me?"
Waiting for her Master to tell him that everything was fine, Metarie again reached out with the Force to the two boxes, lifting them with the intent to guide them into the house.
"Metarie." Master Skywalker's voice made her jump, and the boxes fell to the ground.
"Yes, Master?" Turning, she looked at Urias before giving her attention to the seated woman.
"What are you doing?" the wizened Master asked, looking at her intently.
Again, Metarie looked at Urias. His blank look made her feel uneasy. Was her Master confused?
"I'm going to move supplies in doors," she answered, after a moment's hesitation.
"With the Force," Master Skywalker said.
"Well, yes," Metarie agreed.
"I thought you understood the lesson of the veil," the older woman said, before heaving a soft sigh.
The veil? Again, Metarie looked at Urias who was shifting on his feet uncomfortably. She understood his frustration, but didn't dare rock back on her own feet. But what did that blasted veil have to do with anything?
"Look at Urias," Master Skywalker said after a moment. "How does he bring the boxes in to us?"
"He carries them in," she answered, confused.
"Exactly," the Master said. "He carries them in. Force sensitivity in his blood, yet he carries boxes."
"Only because he doesn't know how to reach out with the Force yet," Metarie argued.
The Master closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them again, they pierced into Metarie's own. "What about others, then? Those who are not Force sensitive?"
"I guess..." Metarie trailed off, feeling foolish. "They would carry in the boxes."
Master Skywalker nodded and pushed herself up from her seat. "Don't trivialize the Force, Metarie. It's not merely a tool, and not a toy to be played with. Both you and Urias are more than capable of carrying in the supplies."
Metarie nodded, ashamed that her Master felt she had used the Force so carelessly.
The Master looked at her for another moment before turning to nod at Urias and walking back inside with a crisp and even stride.
Embarrassed, Metarie turned to the boxes she had dropped and knelt to lift one, catching her breath as Urias stepped close to her and reached for the other container. His fingers lightly grazed her arm as he stood with his box.
Together, they carried them inside.
Later, Metarie found the veil lying across the table. Master Skywalker was already behind her partition, but still Metarie picked up the opaque cloth. She ran it through her fingers and thought about the Master's earlier words, on power and guidance and using the Force as something more than just a tool.
The words and ideas jumbled in her head, confusing in their simple complexity. The Master evidently saw a great lesson in this small piece of fabric, but to Metarie it seemed nothing more than a functional object, merely a veil.
The months passed quietly and slowly, but soon Metarie realized that she had been working under her Master's guidance for almost two years. Soon, she knew, she would have to leave her Master's presence. Master Skywalker herself demanded it. She could not give the girl the practical training required at her advanced age. Metarie regretted leaving her Master, whom she had come to love, but she understood the reasoning behind her Master's actions. Ben Skywalker had already made arrangements for his youngest daughter and himself to come and stay with her for a time, though Master Skywalker had objected, saying she didn't need to be tended like a child. Metarie thought she was pleased with the idea of seeing her son, however.
Late one evening, after their last meal, Metarie sat working on her lightsaber. She had decided on a blue blade and she worked over it meticulously, honoring the words and lessons she had been taught. She had also decided on a handle grip not unlike Master Skywalker's own, similar to the first saber she had made as a Jedi Knight in the months following her marriage to Grand Master Skywalker. The Master had allowed her pupil to experiment with the many different lightsabers she possessed, and Metarie was in awe of the thought that she was wielding Anakin Skywalker's saber one day, Luke Skywalker's the next, Master Skywalker's the third.
Urias had informally sat in on a few lessons on the days he came with supplies. In the deepest corner of her heart, Metarie knew that he only did so to be close to her, but as the months progressed, the interest on his face and the strength building in his Force sense showed that he was getting more out of the lessons than just a chance to be near her.
Metarie looked forward to his visits and, as the months passed, he would stay later and later until he had to leave for fear of the Tusken Raiders that might attack in the dark of night. Their friendship and quiet flirtation had grown considerably but with the ever-knowing and watchful presence of Master Skywalker always nearby, the relationship hadn't progressed beyond the boundaries of an attraction-laced friendship. Metarie sensed it was a good thing, as she needed to focus on her apprenticeship, but her heart ached to think of leaving Urias at the end of her time on Tatooine.
Lost in her thoughts of Urias, Metarie fumbled with the intricate wiring deep inside the core of her saber and broke the sensitive metal before she could stop herself. Ashamed of wasting such a precious material, yet wanting to hurry and finish with her new saber, Metarie decided to break precedent and seek out her Master during her silent time, out-of-doors.
Exiting the house, into the light, Metarie reached out with the Force, seeking her Master's presence. She found her and frowned at how far from the house the older woman had walked. The suns weren't quite down yet. Tatoo I was almost set, but Tatoo II was still making its descent. Did her Master walk this far every evening?
Metarie set out and reached her Master, finally, leaning against a long cane she used to help herself traverse the deep sands. Metarie was a hands-breadth from touching her when the surprised older woman whirled around and stared at the girl with wide, almost panicked eyes.
"Metarie!" she exclaimed, trying in vain to hide her surprise.
Metarie started to ask what had caused her mentor such amazement, when a flicker of white caught the corner of her eye. From the outcropping they stood upon, Metarie could see down to an old piece of equipment, junk likely. It was probably an archaic moisture vaporator that no longer worked, like the hundreds of others that littered the landscape. But as she watched, a young man dressed in white hopped down from an old speeder and approached the vaporator, tools in hand as if he expected to fix it, even though it was mostly buried in the sand.
"Master..." Metarie breathed, her gaze following the boy as he removed his white hat to wipe at the sweat on his brow. She watched the dying light of the suns shine against his bright hair.
But Master Skywalker wasn't listening, it seemed. Her eyes were riveted on the boy with the gleaming hair. Metarie was amazed at her, seeing for the first time not her Master, a warrior, a mother or grandmother; but a woman, a wife, and a lover who stared down at a boy maybe only Metarie's own age.
It was... But how could it be?
"Master?" Metarie tried again, as the boy jumped back into his speeder and swung it around the vaporator, dangerously fast, before speeding off into the distance.
Master Skywalker sighed, seemingly caught. "Come with me, Metarie," she said, "and I'll tell you all I know."
Spreading her hands across the table in front of her, the Master spoke in low, measured tones, her precise accent articulating every word. "I saw him for the first time a few weeks after I came here. I was feeling stifled inside and went out to breathe. We are on the edge of the Lars' property, of course, and I instinctively walked that way. I had thought of Luke almost constantly since I'd landed on planet, but that was partially due to the after effects of our bond. I know what he knew; I can still feel what he felt. I stood on the edge of the property, looking towards the suns, when a noise caught my attention. I turned, and when I saw him..."
Metarie stared, riveted, her broken lightsaber forgotten.
"He was young, maybe your age. He looked a lot like Ben as a teenager, and I began to wonder: What am I seeing? Echoes of the past? Did I long for him so much that I created a vision? Or worse, was I witnessing a rip in time?"
A chill ran over Metarie's body, and she shook visibly. "Did you - do you - know?" The girl's mind raced.
"I believe I do," Master Skywalker answered in a whisper, fingers curling up into her palms.
Metarie waited, her eyes wide.
"One day, he spoke to me," the Master said, her voice haunted with emotion.
"So it is a... rip in time?" Metarie asked carefully.
"I'm not exactly sure, except to say that all things are possible with the Force," Master Skywalker whispered. "And that when he spoke to me, he was as real as you are sitting before me."
"How could you speak with him? We're so far away. How could he see you?"
The wizened face before Metarie took on a blush, faint at first, but growing until the lined cheeks were red with familiar embarrassment. "When I first saw him, I wanted to get closer. I watched from the rock for, perhaps a year or more, and then one day, I descended."
Metarie drew in her breath, exhaling slowly. As unbelievable as it all seemed, she had observed it with her own eyes.
Master Skywalker continued, "I think that I wanted him to see me; I wanted to hear his voice. So I stupidly placed myself right in his path, like a love-sick loon." The Master laughed harshly, at herself, before pausing to take a deep breath.
Metarie waited. Her Master always spoke in her own time.
"He was surprised to see me and was worried about an elderly woman so far out in the Dune Sea. He offered to drive me where I needed to go, so trusting, so naïve - but then, what harm would I be to him, after all? Old and frail as I am," the Master sighed. "But it was so good to speak to him again that I hardly cared about that."
Metarie could imagine the moment in her head. Her Master, over one-hundred years old, speaking to a youth - still a boy, really - the boy who would one day be her husband. How had that boy looked upon the old woman he found that day in the middle of the Dune Sea? And did he notice the love that must have flared, unconsciously, in her eyes?
Abruptly, Master Skywalker straightened her hands and pushed herself up from the table. "I must rest," she said, and without a look back at Metarie walked behind her partition.
The sudden silence was deafening. Many hours passed by while Metarie sat alone at the table. Its surface was still covered with the pieces of her disassembled lightsaber.
Master and Apprentice didn't discuss the previous evening's happenings the next morning, and Metarie was glad. It was almost as if she could pretend it hadn't happened - that perhaps it had been a daydream she'd had while working so diligently on her saber. Plus, she had stayed up late, thinking about it all, and had some thoughts, ideas, she wanted to run past Master Skywalker, but she wasn't quite ready to do so yet.
The day passed with both women on automatic: lessons, meals, rest. After last meal, Metarie waited for the Master to go out-of-doors, but she did not. Rather, she sat in the same chair Metarie had found her in two years previously and stubbornly did not look towards the doorway.
Finally, the girl could take it no longer and asked why her Master did not go outside that evening.
The Master answered, "I had my time with Luke; indeed, we had longer than I ever expected when we married and even after his death, or so it seems. But the Force has told me that it is time to let him go."
Metarie frowned. "Did Grand Master Skywalker come to you in a vision?"
"No," Master Skywalker said, closing her eyes, "not for many years now. He came to me soon after his death, but I have not seen him in that form since then."
"Did he look like... that?" the girl asked, gesturing toward the doorway and possibly the shadow of the boy that lay beyond.
"No, he looked as he did when I agreed to marry him," the Master answered, her voice quiet. "I believe it is in the eye of the beholder to see what they wish with Force entities. He appeared to Ben as he looked when Ben was a young man."
Metarie recalled the holocube and thought of the Grand Master as a younger man. A beat passed before she asked, "Master, why are we just sitting here? History is right outside our door!"
The old Master smiled. "He may be history to you, but he is much more to me."
Metarie blushed, but did not back down. "I sat up last night thinking about it, Master. He's out there - young, still untouched by pain or misery or death. You could teach him, since Master Kenobi didn't see fit to begin his training until it was almost too late."
One of the Master's sparse, white eyebrows rose slightly. "And you think Master Kenobi was wrong in his handling of Luke's training?"
"Yes!" Metarie said, full of fervor. "We studied it in class. Grand Master Skywalker hadn't even heard of the Force until he was my age! Can you imagine? And he completed the task he was given, to bring down the Empire, but he struggled for many years afterwards. The Jedi were misguided for so long."
"You believe that I should go out and announce myself to Luke, bring him back here and teach him - change the past, and this future?"
"I... I do. Think of the lives you - we - could save! And the suffering, the misguidance, the students who fell to the dark side... the master who almost did, the Vong... all of it, you could change. You could fix it!"
Master Skywalker seemed to ponder this, nodding slowly. "And, all of that will make this galaxy a better place? A safer place?"
Metarie grinned. "Yes, I think so!"
"So, tell me, Metarie. Is this your will, or the will of the Force?" Master Skywalker asked, and smiled at her student's astonishment.
Early the next morning, Metarie lay behind her partition for longer than usual and thought about her Master's question, feeling stung anew each time she replayed the words in her mind. How could the Master believe that she wanted to do this to benefit herself?
She remembered her history lessons, all of those who had died, especially during the Vong Wars and afterwards. So much conflict, and so much trial. Was it wrong to wish to equip the man who would be at the center of so many of those events?
Metarie finally rose from bed, deciding to speak with the Master again. But when she came out from behind her partition, she realized she could still hear the older woman's deep breathing, rhythmic and even. These days were coming more often, as if the Master needed more rest than she ever had before. The girl got her own meal and continued to work on her saber, using the new wiring left on the table for her by Master Skywalker.
The Master awoke sometime after Metarie had eaten her second meal, though she seemed confused and restless. The girl was afraid, wondering if perhaps she should contact Urias or Ben Skywalker, but after a time, the Master's eyes brightened and she looked at Metarie with the usual fire and intelligence burning in her eyes. But still, Metarie did not bring up her thoughts on changing the future's past.
She made a thin soup for the Master, whose constitution wasn't near what it had been, and ate some of it herself, watching as Master Skywalker half-heartedly stirred her spoon around in her bowl. That day was a long one, as there were no lessons and little talk. Master Skywalker retired back behind her partition after claiming she'd had her fill of the soup, and Metarie sat, looking toward the doorway, wondering if she should go out and search for the boy... the man... gods, the legend that seemed to be haunting the land.
The quiet and the walls finally began to close in on her, and Metarie grabbed her cloak and quickly headed out the door, toward the vaporator where the "ghost" of the Grand Master had appeared.
When she arrived, it was still bright out, with both suns making their descent but still giving off plenty of light. Master Skywalker had said that it would sometimes be weeks before she saw him again, and that frustrated the girl who was so full of ideas that she was ready to act upon.
She descended the rock and set out toward the vaporator, standing tall on the landscape, its base partially buried with golden sand. Metarie stood next to the ancient machine and felt small, wondering how she could get the Tatooine farm boy back to this machine. That was the key - getting him there. Once that happened, the girl was sure it would all fall into place, her plan to have Master Skywalker teach the future Grand Master.
She stared at the machine, contemplating a dead vaporator that a ghost from the past still tended to as if it were in perfect working condition. She looked again to the base of the machine and the sand that covered it.
Sand. The machine apparently worked properly in the past, so if sand were to get inside, it would have to be repaired. And that would mean that Luke Skywalker would come to look at it.
With determination, Metarie called upon the Force, bringing up a veritable sandstorm, and directing it to the machine.
"You seem eager for something today, Metarie," Master Skywalker said, smiling fully, as if in jest. "And Urias is not due for another three weeks."
The apprentice laughed weakly at her Master's quip, but began to feel uneasy about her actions the previous day. "No, Master, I suppose I'm just ready to be done with my lightsaber."
"And off on dangerous missions, no doubt," Master Skywalker nodded her head, completely sure in her statement.
"Well..." Metarie paused, "maybe. I wouldn't mind flying around the galaxy a bit. I have never really been many places."
"I think you'll get a chance to go many, many places in your future," the Master said, smiling her half-smile this time. "But for now, we are still here, rooted in our present. Let us continue on with yesterday's lesson."
And so the day went, same as many others, and Metarie was relieved when Master Skywalker once again did not go out-of-doors after last meal, but rather went behind her partition and immediately fell asleep. Barely waiting to ascertain that the Master was indeed asleep, she raced from the house, and made for the lookout point, from which she would be able to see if the Grand Master's younger self would arrive.
Nervous excitement broke out across her skin and the walk seemed to take no time at all. The vaporator was alone when she finally looked out upon it and she was disappointed for a moment, before realizing that she needed patience and calm, especially if she were to succeed with the task at hand.
She meditated, but saw no visions relating to her undertaking and finally had to stop, as she couldn't seem to focus enough with the excitement still choking her. She thought, instead, of what to tell the young Grand Master. How to tell him about his huge destiny and what was to come. How to tell him about the power that he could possibly weld.
Metarie felt jolted as Master Skywalker's lessons seemed to tumble about in her brain, just simply from the mere thought of that one word.
The Master had said that with power there must come guidance, a balance of all things. Was this both power and guidance?
Or was this her will? Not, then, the will of the Force, but the will of a young girl, trained yet still naïve, intelligent but not yet wise.
Who was she to decide the fate of the galaxy? Why should she be allowed to change things, against the will of the Force?
But, a small voice whispered in her mind, why would you even see the past, if the Force did not want you to change it?
Metarie's thoughts stumbled for only a moment before she said aloud, "It does not matter. I have had the guidance to understand that though there is power to be had, that does not mean that I should use it."
"I think, Metarie, that a statement like that is what is going to make you a wonderful Jedi Knight."
Metarie startled when she heard her Master's tired yet clear voice behind her. The elder had obviously followed her, though she'd had no idea.
The girl's eyes grew misty with the compliment, and she smiled hesitantly at her Master. In that moment, Metarie suddenly recalled the lesson of the veil. She had been so proud of herself that first day, for splitting her concentration to keep the veil from blowing into her face, while she used the Force for other trivial tasks in the speeder on her way to the Master's home. She had never suspected that, in fact, her Master had already begun to teach her, even without her knowledge.
Together, the two women turned to walk back home, neither one looking down or backwards, both content to leave things as they were, and as they should be.
The final weeks passed quickly and soon Metarie was the owner of a working lightsaber with a beautiful, jeweled blue blade. Her Master was quite impressed with the balance and weight of the handle, and teased that perhaps Metarie ought to leave the Jedi for a mechanic's apprenticeship.
Urias arrived to go with Metarie to the spaceport, Master Skywalker having secured a place for him at the Jedi Academy on Ossus. After giving his own farewell to the Master, he remained respectfully outside while the women said their good-byes.
Metarie hugged Master Skywalker and was only a little surprised when the woman squeezed her back tightly. Stepping back, she looked over the aged woman, who stood a half-a-head shorter than her, and who seemed pale and drawn.
"Are you sure that you'll be all right here on your own tonight? Your son and granddaughter will arrive tomorrow, I know. Urias and I could always sleep here..."
Master Skywalker shook her head. "I've been alone quite often in my life. I'm sure I can survive one night."
Metarie smiled at the older woman's nerve and tears began to sting in her eyes. "Thank you, Master, for all you've taught me. I truly feel that I have finally removed the veil you had me wear on my way here. I had no idea..."
Master Skywalker's own eyes looked a bit damp, and she said, "Metarie, I think you've earned the right to call me Mara. I will not tell you to remember your lessons, because I know that you will. You will serve the galaxy, the Jedi, and yourself well."
"Thank you... Mara," the former apprentice said, testing out the unfamiliar name on her tongue.
Urias stuck his head in and announced that they had to leave if they planned to catch their ship. Master Skywalker winked at the boy, who grinned back at her, and they all walked outside. Urias and Metarie took some time to load the speeder, and when Metarie looked up, her Master was gone. She frowned, looking around for her.
Urias grinned. "You know her. She's never been one for good-byes."
"Yeah..." Metarie said, distracted by undercurrents she felt in the Force.
Urias helped her up into the speeder, saying, "My lady."
Metarie cocked a teasing eyebrow. "So sure of that are we?"
"I don't think I'm the only one," Urias answered easily. "Master Skywalker is the reason I'm going back to the Academy with you. She seems to think we're a sure deal..." he trailed off and gave her a special smile, one that showed he, too, believed .
Reaching over, Metarie squeezed his hand, giving her own approval to his words.
Starting the engine, Urias jerked in his seat before reaching behind him in the speeder. "I almost forgot! She gave me something to give to you."
"She did?" Metarie asked, puzzled. "When?" She hadn't seen the Master give him anything when they had said their good-byes.
"Last month, on my supply run. Here." He thrust a small package at her.
Metarie pulled the covering from the package and laughed as she drew out the veil she'd worn on that day two years before when she had been so sure of herself and her powers in the Force.
Urias grinned. "If you'd known the thoughts I had that day..."
Metarie blushed, thinking of the mischief she'd felt in his thoughts, assuming he wanted to haggle with her.
"Look," he said quietly. "There's something more there."
Metarie wrinkled her brow, and gasped as she pulled Master Skywalker's holocube from the package. She activated it, watching the old images replay one by one again. In the end, there was a picture Master Skywalker - Mara - as Metarie now knew her, the infamous half-smile on her wizened face, white-streaked hair pulled back into a neat braid.
Urias smiled and admired the gift with her for a moment, before accelerating and taking off towards the spaceport.
They came upon the old, abandoned vaporator and Metarie looked up automatically and saw her Master standing against the brilliant blue sky. But it seemed, for a moment, that two figures stood there together, a man and a woman joined by hand. It seemed that her Master's hair was shining red, not white, but the dazzling light of the suns quickly overtook her vision and she could see no more, though a bright flash of metal caught her eye from the opposite corner.
Urias looked towards the metal glint as well, as they passed the old vaporator.
"Hey, who's that?" Urias asked, gesturing towards the speeder that approached the machine.
Metarie looked over at the boy, before turning back to Urias. "That... That's just some local boy," she said, feeling strongly the thin veil of past, present, and future in that place.
"Funny that I've never seen him before," he mused.
"People like him don't come around very often," Metarie said softly, taking one last glance back at the vaporator and the future head of the Jedi Order, before laying her hand on Urias's arm. "But it's time for us to move on."
They smiled at one another and sped off into the bright light, leaving the past as it should be, ready to create the future.
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.