The basement is a dark and dirty place. I find it somehow fitting that I will face my own death here. So many Jedi have died such meaningless deaths. I had imagined myself dying in some great battle for a great cause and pictured with pride how noble it would all be. Now I feel sadness as the end nears. Relief, too. I am young and yet I feel so old.
The child in my arms squirms. I look down at her. "Hello, little one," I say softly. My first greeting to her; there has not been much time to speak during our flight.
She gives me a beautiful, sweet smile. She is young, no older than four, with an angelic face surrounded by blond curls. The soot in the basement had darkened the blond curls, but the large, blue eyes that stare up at me are unaffected. Her light, beige clothing - so similar to mine - is almost completely darkened.
She snuggles closer in my arms.
There is a dull thunk above us. Though I know I will see nothing except a duracrete ceiling from which hanging cobwebs sag, I look up.
I listen closely, knowing my future is held in these sounds. There are voices and the sound of feet moving; there are barely audible noises of crashing that are probably stormtroopers searching the child I held in my arms ... and me. I hope that whatever the outcome of the day, the kind married couple who dared to help us will not be hurt. They are just kind, gentle people who don't believe the lies the Empire told about the Jedi. I realize sadly that if we are found they will likely be executed for treason. I sigh. Our deaths would be only a few of many.
The small basement is only a few meters wide. Dusty boxes are pushed up against the sides of the crumbling walls. We sit up against the far wall. The duracrete is cool against my back and the ever-present darkness seems to fit with the state of the galaxy - one I hardly recognize - or so I like to imagine.
The voices and footsteps grow fainter and I feel a glimmer of hope. I examine my surroundings more closely with a quiet sigh. My Master had always told me to be observant...
Tears prick in my eyes at the memory. He had told me that if I did not learn to be aware of my surroundings, I would be one dead Padawan. Then he had ruffled my hair and told me I was a good boy; that I would do well in my trials. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that that was mere months ago.
Other times it seems like I have known no other life - as if Palpatine has always been Emperor, when in reality he had declared it only months ago. It feels like it is the normal state of things that the Jedi are considered traitors to the galaxy. A sign, I suppose, of how beaten down I am by this life.
My Master is dead, killed by the Emperor's bounty hunters. Though I was far away at the time, I had felt the snapping of our bond. I will never forget the sudden loss of his presence in my mind. Even now I feel a dull ache in my chest that makes me want to curl up into a ball. When news of his death had reached me, I was not surprised.
I had known.
The past few months were hard. Everywhere I hear about Jedi dying or, even worse, being taken to the Emperor. I live with that terror every day, though I know my death is more likely than being taken to Palpatine. I feel sadness at the knowledge of my own death bringing comfort.
I look down at the child I hold again, willing the memories away. I study her face as she looks up at me without any fear or apprehension. She is unusually quiet for a four year old, but then she is an initiate. No doubt she senses the seriousness of the situation, regardless of the fact that she doesn't understand it.
She snuggles closer to me, her Force-signature strong and full of light, as is the case with most children, whether or not they are Force-sensitive. I stroke her soft curls, my actions leaving the slightest trace of blood behind; it comes from an old injury that had been reopened in our flight. She would have made a strong Jedi, I muse. It is unlikely that she will ever be one now, though, even if she survives this. Soon, there will be no one left to train her.
Several of us Jedi were in hiding on Alderaan when we received word that the Empire was coming. We looked at each other and made our decision quickly, fatalistically. It was decided it would be wise to split up, so that some might escape. Each of us took a few of the children who were under our care with us when we left. I was given only one child of the dozen, since I was just knighted and not skilled at hiding. I hold her now and wonder at her future. Will she die because of my lacking? I feel tears pooling in my eyes at the thought, but I do not let them fall.
I hear voices again, gradually becoming louder. Footsteps land with more force and more frequently. I hear a woman's high voice cry out in fear or pain, and then two blaster shots, one by one.
I force away my rapidly stirring anger and hold my breath for a long moment.
They are coming.
I look at the calm child in my arms and think of what will happen to her. I heard that the Emperor was taking young initiates and training them to be assassins. Tools, his hands if you will, that he could use in much the same way he used Darth Vader. Instruments of death.
I imagine the light of this child being tainted with darkness. The thought fills my eyes with tears. To see such a beauty destroyed by hate and darkness would be horrible ... I feel a distant ache in my heart thinking about it. Not that I will even live to see it, though I am a young man, and strong. There are so many of them against only me. These troops were trained to take a Jedi Knight down; I do not doubt my own death if I am found.
When I am found.
I look down at the child and suddenly realize I do not know her name. Well, it does not matter. She is a living being and I had discovered names count for little in the large scheme of things.
"Little one," I say softly.
She blinks up at me, still not speaking. Full lips curve slightly into a smile.
"Time to sleep," I whisper.
She frowns slightly, a child's defiance. I smile at such a normal thing and use the Force to calm her. I link her mind with mine and hear her simple thoughts as she reacts to her surroundings. Her quickly calming emotions resonate with mine to a startling degree. Would this girl have one day been my Padawan? I let loose a soft, trembling sigh, connecting her life to mine. As I fall into a trance, I urge her small body to sleep.
She drifts slowly into the gentle rhythms of sleep. I watch her as her eyes close and her breathing becomes deep and even. Her small body goes limp and trusting in my arms. I hold her tighter, amazed at the fragility of the little girl. Tears slip down my cheeks as I go deeper into the Force. I feel how it flows and gradually bend a small part of it to my will. It comes almost eagerly as I use it to slow my heart rate. Perhaps it is the will of the Force.
Finally, I feel the systems of my body begin to shut down.
The voices are very loud now. The metal door of the basement is being banged on; I hear it as clear as a bell as I submerge myself deeper into the Force. It flows around me gently, like waves in a sea that lull me into eternal calmness. It is perfection, beauty incarnated, even in a time of war and death.
I feel it when I stop breathing. It is curiously peaceful; I don't feel the need for air. My awareness of my physical surroundings diminishes as my connection to the Force strengthens. I can feel the child's growing stillness in the Force. I drift away from my body and she follows, still serene.
Sleep, child, sleep.
Original cover by FernWithy. HTML formatting copyright 2002 TheForce.Net LLC.