Obi-Wan crept down the long, wide hallway. The darkened palace was large and had few servants; he would not be seen. The darkness of night surrounded the palace, making any sound echo and the silence seem smothering. His brown leather boots met the black, marble floor without sound. Obi-Wan found that he was drawn to the dark beauty of the palace, the way the darkness seemed to be almost hidden in majestic, beautiful lines.
Fitting for a Sith.
But Ana ? no, I must not think of him as that, it has been years ? Vader, he is not here, Obi-Wan thought. If he had been, Obi-Wan knew he would be, at this very moment, facing the dark, armored monstrosity. Though perhaps Obi-Wan would have been able to disguise his presence, the ripples his existence created in the Force. But it was better that there was no risk. Obi-Wan was not here for Vader, anyway.
He was here for information. Deep within the residence of Darth Vader was a computer system that had much of the information the Rebellion against Palpatine needed ? locations of weapons, ships, food ? and prisoners. Not that there would be that many of those. And, the thought just a hope in the back of Obi-Wan's mind, perhaps some of the plans the Sith have for the future.
Obi-Wan had agreed to go on the mission for a simple reason ? he was closest. By the time another Jedi could arrive, Vader could be back. Only a Jedi could get through Vader's defenses, even designed as they were for such an eventuality. It was no wonder that Vader's security would be so good, so carefully constructed to catch a Jedi Knight. He had killed many Jedi; they were his enemy, though of course the Jedi were in hiding now, doing hit and run attacks with the rest of the Rebellion.
Sighing, Obi-Wan pulled his black cloak around him self tighter, reminding himself that it was just to blend into the background. His normal Jedi clothing remained unchanged underneath it. Did Vader have to keep it so cold? Probably didn't notice in that armor, Obi-Wan decided.
The layout of the palace was simple enough. It was a circle with layers going from the perimeter to the very core, the core being the most protected and the most secure. The core was where Obi-Wan wanted to go, and it was also the place he knew the least about. He knew it existed, and he knew how to get past the defense around it, nothing more. It was dangerous, that lack of knowledge about the palace, but the core of the building held the information he needed to get for the Rebellion.
Obi-Wan moved quickly. Vader wasn't here, but that didn't mean Obi-Wan was in no danger of being caught. He slipped past locks with ease, finding it ironic that a Jedi would be so proficient in picking locks. He made it past laser walls ? reminiscent of Naboo and Obi-Wan had to wonder if that was on purpose ? and devious traps. All expected, all planned for.
But when he broached the final layer of defense, he found something he had never expected to find.
Rooms. Not just any rooms, but nicely decorated rooms. He could have sworn the place he was in was a living room. Comfortable couches, nice carpeting, wooden walls, children's toys ?
Truly astonished now, knowing his time was running out but his curiosity getting the better of him, he went exploring. It was a comfortable looking home, complete with a dining room, and what appeared to be a kitchen, the pleasant ordinariness of it all marred only by the fact that there were no windows. There wouldn't be, not in the middle of the palace. But there were large viewscreens on the walls ? perhaps they served the same purpose?
Moving beyond the living room, he found himself in a hallway. There were three rooms branching off from it, all the doors closed. Slowly, unable to help himself, Obi-Wan approached the first one. He stared at the oak wood for a long second. Then he slowly opened the door.
Immediately he was struck by the artificialness, in total contrast with the rest of the home. It was all black and white and the silver of metal, completely sterile, like a hospital room. He soon realized his first impression was more accurate than he had realized. He looked at the breathing apparatus, the medical equipment, and knew that this was where Vader took his mask off, this was where he went to eat, however he ate, and this was where he healed. As much as he could be healed.
Slowly, Obi-Wan crept out and shut the door. He moved to the next one. He examined it carefully and, this time, he found what he was expecting to find. A lock. He needed a code of some kind and, from the looks of it, a passkey. It was a rather strange kind of lock to use but since Vader couldn't easily give either voice identification or biological material, it made sense. Well, the passkey would be simple enough. He let the bag that was slung across his shoulders fall to the ground. He opened it soundlessly ? it was designed that way ? and took out black card, its surface marred with some wires. He used the cardkey. The device blinked, and the door hummed. Obi-Wan smiled in satisfaction.
Now for the next part. This would require use of his Force abilities. He concentrated on the keypad, sensing which keys were hit the most often. He soon had the numbers. With a deep breath, he hit the numbers in a random order. The Force told him which ones were hit ? not in which order.
A little light next to the door blinked green and the door swung open. Obi-Wan smiled when he saw the room. It was filled by a massive computer system that covered every inch of space. Not only did it have the information he needed, he knew from reports that it also controlled the rest of the palace ? having that advantage would only make his escape easier.
Using the equipment he was given ? highly illegal, of course ? he got past the firewalls and began to download all of the information from the computer. He let out a breath of vexation when the program told him how long it would take. Five minutes. Not too long, but every second Obi-Wan spent in the palace unnerved him. It stank of Vader's dark presence, and that presence was sickening to any Jedi.
His mind wandering for a few moments, he thought of the other door. What could lay behind that door? He frowned slightly and got up to satisfy his curiosity.
He approached the door warily, as he had the others, lightsaber in hand. The door was not locked; in fact, it did not even have a lock on it. He pushed the door open. It was dark in the room, but not entirely. A soft light came from one corner, casting shadows across the room.
Inside were a desk, toys, a bed, and a sleeping figure. Obi-Wan had immediately realized the slight form was alive. He came closer. The bed was not a large one ? suited for a child. What on earth was a child doing in Vader's quarters? Were these Vader's quarters? Then he thought of the room with the medical equipment, which essentially confirmed that they were. Vader had never managed to baffle him more.
He stepped even closer, curiosity getting the better of him once again. The figure jerked suddenly, and sat up.
Obi-Wan found he was staring into pale blue eyes, surely just as wide as his own.
"Who are you?" the child stuttered, obviously frightened at the sight of a stranger.
Obi-Wan knew who this child was. He didn't know how it was possible, and he didn't know why, but he knew who the boy was. For a boy it was ? one with familiar blue eyes and blond hair that shone in the faint light.
Vader has a son. His thoughts jerked and started, unable to come to grips with this revelation. The boy's eyes flicked to the lightsaber in Obi-Wan's hand. Without a second thought, Obi-Wan wrapped intensely strong shields around the child's mind.
"Jedi," the boy breathed. Not with awe or wonder, but with fear, disgust, and hate. The boy couldn't have been more than five. Then the child tried to bolt. With Jedi reflexes, he grabbed the boy as he tried to push past Obi-Wan and picked him up effortlessly. The boy kicked and punched, struggling with all his might in the Jedi's grip. Distracted by the physical assault and trying not to harm the child, Obi-Wan almost didn't notice in time the energy flung at him.
It was wild, uncontrolled energy, meant to shatter Obi-Wan's shields, and it was powerful. Nonetheless, it came from a child, and Obi-Wan squashed it almost without effort. The boy cried out in frustration, sensing his failure.
Obi-Wan sent a strong impulse into the boy's mind. "Sleep," he commanded. The child fell limp almost immediately and he had to shift his grip. Obi-Wan stared at the face of the young boy he was holding. The face was babyish, and in sleep, innocent. Even young as the child was, he could tell the boy had fine, delicate features. Asleep, he could have been any other child in the galaxy, tired from a day of play.
But that was not the truth. The boy was strong in the Force ? what else could Obi-Wan expect, with a child of Anakin's? Vader, he reminded himself firmly. Why did he continually let himself fall into that mental trap? Anakin had died in that melting pit.
Obi-Wan stared at the child in his arms, undecided. The Force seemed to nudge him gently. He looked into the sleeping face. So young, he thought, almost a mental sigh, and Vader has him. Breathing deeply, he made his decision: he would take the child back with him.
Decision made, he went back to the control room, the child in his arms. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw that everything had been downloaded without the computer being alerted to what was happening. He really should not have left the thing unattended, but it didn't matter now.
Laying the child down gently on the hard floor for a moment, he packed his equipment and slung the bag over his back, so that he could carry the child more easily. Finally, he disabled the security systems, setting it to come back on again in half an hour, which was plenty of time for him to get out. As he left, he realized that he didn't even know the boy's name.
After setting the ship's course for the Rebellion's current hiding place ? an asteroid field ? he turned back to the sleeping boy. Once he had reached the ship, he had put the child in the bunk. The ship he had was very small, designed for stealth and speed, and not much else. It could fit two or three people if they squeezed. Right now it seemed that would be necessary.
Sitting on the floor by the bunk and staring at the child, Obi-Wan began to wonder what he had done. He had taken a Sith Lord's child. A child already taught to hate Jedi; a child already touched by the dark side, a child who, according to what the Jedi believed about Sith children and one so exposed to darkness, would turn, and why? Vader's son. Looking at him, making himself think, Obi-Wan knew what the Council would do. As they were being hunted down, the Jedi's numbers were dwindling. The situation was not as bad as it could be ? apprentices were still taken and became Knights. The Jedi lived on.
And yet, the Council would never risk letting a Sith potentially stronger than Darth Vader run loose. And the child was, after all, a potential Sith. In fact, Obi-Wan realized, they probably would consider the child to already be an apprentice Sith already. The Council was not as forgiving as they once were ? when a Dark Jedi was caught, they were executed. The Council had decided that in such cases, execution was nothing more than an offensive defense ? and something that would not lead to the dark side. If there was no anger in the act of killing and it isn't done for selfish reasons, one isn't turned ? though in Obi-Wan's opinion it was definitely skirting the dark side. Yet the Council had made its decision about such matters, and the Council would not allow those that have turned to be used by the Sith against the Jedi. Would this child suffer the same fate as those fallen Jedi?
He looked into the young face, and resolved not to let it happen.
When the boy woke up, Obi-Wan knew it immediately. The boy projected first confusion, then complete alarm and panic. Obi-Wan casually left the cockpit, where he had been meditating, and stepped right into the area where the boy was. There was no passage; the cockpit and sleeping area were directly connected. It was a very small ship.
The boy was sitting up on the bunk, his faded white sleeping clothes melding with the gray of the blanket he was sitting on. His face was pale, and his blue eyes wide. When he looked at Obi-Wan, the eyes narrowed and Obi-Wan felt hastily constructed mental shields slam up. They weren't very strong, and not very well built ? Obi-Wan could break them down easily if the need arose ? but they were still well beyond the capabilities of a Force-sensitive his age, trained or not.
The boy stared at him. Obi-Wan could feel him trying to control his fear.
"Hello," Obi-Wan said cautiously. Deliberately, he kept his arms relaxed and his hand away from his lightsaber, which still hung at his belt. He didn't want to alarm the child.
The boy's lower lip seemed to be trembling. He appeared to be trying not to cry.
"I won't hurt you," Obi-Wan ventured, after a few awkward seconds.
The lips were firmly pressed. "You're a Jedi," he said, his tone faintly accusing.
"Yes, I am," Obi-Wan admitted. "But Jedi don't hurt people, especially not one as young as you," he added. Well, hopefully not. He carefully shielded the thought.
The boy looked at Obi-Wan suspiciously. Plainly, he didn't believe him. After a moment, Obi-Wan slowly sat down on the floor, and rested his hands in front of him.
"Will you tell your name?" Obi-Wan asked.
"There is nothing wrong with telling your name. You will not betray anyone by telling me," Obi-Wan said soothingly, keeping his voice calm and unthreatening. Who knew what Vader had been telling the boy about Jedi?
Finally, in a very small voice, the boy said, "Luke."
Obi-Wan blinked, not quite able to hide his startlement. Luke? Luke meant 'light'. Of all the things to name a Sith Lord's child . . .
Should he tell the child his own name? Probably not. "My name is Ben," he said with a faint, gentle smile. Obi-Wan doubted the boy would be able to detect the lie.
Luke's face scrunched up. "That's a lie," he pronounced, with all the solemnity of a child.
Obi-Wan let out a soft, startled laugh. "That's quite right, Luke. Very good." But there was hesitation, still. "My name is Obi-Wan."
The child frowned, but seemed not to recognize the name. Obi-Wan studied Luke, and Luke returned the favor. Luke's fear was not gone, but it had abated. So had his hate. He sensed mostly confusion ? most likely Luke had been told that Jedi were murderers, or some other nonsense, and now what he had been told was conflicting with reality.
Abruptly, Obi-Wan sensed someone touch the masking shields Obi-Wan had so painstakingly made around the bright presence of Luke. Obi-Wan immediately tightened them, and he felt the being's frustration and anger. It had to be Vader.
Unfortunately, the boy seemed to recognize that too. He bolted to his feet, and started yelling, "Father, Father!" Not only was he doing so out loud, but he was also using the Force, his strength battering against the shields Obi-Wan had created. And Obi-Wan felt Vader react, begin to respond, despite Obi-Wan's shields.
Without thinking, Obi-Wan sent the boy a strong Force compulsion, so strong the child immediately collapsed, unconscious, into Obi-Wan's arms. And Obi-Wan reinforced the shields again and again, layer after layer, not stopping until he was certain even Master Yoda wouldn't be able to find them through the Force.
He looked at the child, and sighed. Much as he wanted to talk to Luke, find out what his life was like, he couldn't take the risk. The child would have to stay unconscious until they were at the Rebel base, where he could be shielded not just by Obi-Wan, but by others. Obi-Wan didn't know how strong the link between father and child was, and he didn't want to find out.
Obi-Wan maneuvered among the asteroids carefully. Not only did he need to be alert for the asteroids themselves, but there were also many booby traps in the asteroid field. When the Empire arrived, they would have some surprises waiting for them. In the mean time, Obi-Wan avoided the traps.
As soon as he neared the base, a tight, directed communication was aimed at his ship. It was a security measure ? a directed communication was useless at long distances, but in short ones like these, it ensured that no one but the intended recipient got the communication.
"Who is this?" a gruff voice asked, rudely.
"This is Raven, coming in for landing. My rear thrusters are damaged," Obi-Wan responded. In reality, his thrusters were fine ? it was simply a code phrase. He cast a glance back into the sleeping area. Luke still slept, as he had since Obi-Wan had put him in the hibernation trance.
There was a pause on the other end. "Welcome back, General Kenobi. Mission completed?" The voice was no longer gruff, but calm and collected. A different voice, and one he recognized. Bail Organa. What was he doing here? Perhaps it was only coincidence ? that or the will of the Force.
"Mission completed, but with some . . . complications. I need to speak with the Jedi Council immediately," Obi-Wan replied. How many people could know of Luke's existence? How many should?
"Something wrong, Obi-Wan?" Bail asked.
Obi-Wan sighed. His friend was only concerned about him. "Nothing is the matter. I just need to speak with the Council."
"I'll see to it that they meet you when they land."
"That would be perfect. Thanks."
"Out," Bail said, and connection was severed.
Obi-Wan rubbed his face, and then stroked his beard. He was going to have a lot of explaining to do. He was sure, though, that they would meet him at his ship. They knew Obi-Wan would never request such a thing lightly.
The landing bay was small. The base had been carved out of a large asteroid, and so the design was odd to say the least. Often, there were little twists and turns where there should have been long, straight passageways. The landing bay was no different ? it was small and irregularly sized. Obi-Wan wasn't worried. While he could never hope to match Anakin's ? or Darth Vader's ? skill in that area, he was more than simply capable, as any Jedi was. The ship touched down gently, in a perfect landing.
Obi-Wan doubted the impromptu meeting with the Council would go the same. After taking one last glance at the boy, checking to see that he was still deeply asleep, he left the ship.
The Jedi Council members waited in the dark bay patiently. More than half of the original members of the Council were gone, killed in some battle or by an assassin. But Master Yoda and Master Windu still remained, and they were still the most important members to convince. Though Obi-Wan wasn't certain what he wanted to convince them of, not anymore. Not to harm the child, certainly. Obi-Wan sighed. Why try and fool himself? He saw Anakin in the boy; the Anakin he had known, raised . . . and loved.
"Master Kenobi," Master Windu said. "Did you find something in the information that required us immediately? Organa said that you had complications."
"I did," Obi-Wan admitted, "have complications, but not with the mission directly." Obi-Wan hesitated. He was uncertain of his words, but he went on anyway. "The mission went exactly as planned until I broached the last wall of security."
Yoda looked at Obi-Wan with a strangely fierce expression on his normally impassive face. "Discovered, you were?"
"No, Master Yoda. I found . . . a child."
"A child? A child training, Darth Vader is?" Yoda asked, tapping the floor with his stick. "Bad news, this is. Strong, was the child?"
"Yes, very strong," Obi-Wan agreed. "That is not all, Master. I took the child with me." Mace looked like he was about to erupt. No doubt Mace was not pleased that Obi-Wan had acted so independently. He had never liked how the Clone Wars had changed Obi-Wan ? and that war had done much to Obi-Wan. "I believe that the child is Vader's own."
The Council members looked at each other. Obi-Wan could feel the Force practically hum as they silently spoke with each other.
"In the ship, the child is?" Yoda asked.
Mace quickly stepped forward, to go past Obi-Wan to the ship. Obi-Wan smoothly stepped in front of him. Mace looked at him with dark eyes that held no anger ? only unyielding determination.
Obi-Wan's voice was soft, but full of warning as much as command. General Kenobi was speaking now, as much as a simple Jedi of the Order. And General Kenobi did not often see eye to eye with the Jedi Order. "Don't."
Mace paused, and then bowed his head in acquiescence. For the moment.
"Dangerous, the child is," Yoda whispered, his sad gaze resting on Obi-Wan. "Clouded, his future is. Nothing, I can see."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a second, unwilling to show his pain. The Council reminded him of Anakin in their words, and not too subtly.
"It is good that you brought him," another Council member said softly. She paused, perhaps knowing the reaction her next words would stir. "He is too dangerous to be left with Vader. Here, he can be dealt with, painlessly."
Obi-Wan's throat tightened. There it was, his worst fear being brought to life by that word, painlessly. "You would kill a child? Have we become no better than the Sith?"
"It would be done to save lives," Mace replied. Obi-Wan turned to him. He was stricken, and it must have shown in his eyes, because Mace laid a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, his brown eyes softening.
"I will not let this happen," Obi-Wan said, shaking his head, his voice becoming more hoarse, and lower. He could understand the Jedi Council's position, but he didn't agree with it. It might be the right thing to do, but it was not the good thing to do. It was not keeping in the ways that Obi-Wan had been taught, by his sometimes rebellious Master. All life was precious.
Mace drew back, giving a slight shake of his head. "And what would you have us do instead? Try to teach a child not only tainted by the dark side, but born from it as well? Would you take this child as your Padawan, and have a disaster worse than Anakin?"
"The child is not Anakin."
"But you wish he was. Another chance."
Obi-Wan flinched, and turned his head away for a moment. Windu's remark had struck home. When he turned his normally mild blue gaze to Windu again, his face was composed with mask-like stillness. Only his eyes showed the pain the remark had caused. It seemed to soften Windu again, but only for a moment.
When Obi-Wan spoke, his words were very soft, and deceptively so ? a layer of steel underlined his words. "The child is very powerful. More powerful than Vader is or could be ? and more powerful than the Emperor. Perhaps even more so than the both of them combined." They called him that, now ? that was what he was, as much as they fought the bitter reality of the title. And the Emperor was powerful ? Yoda had fought with him, very briefly, and had barely survived.
Windu stared at Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan felt a feather light touch on his shields. Mace Windu was known as a fierce warrior, almost brazen in his confidence. What few knew was the extent of his other Force talents ? but Obi-Wan, too, had learned much over the years, and paranoia and pain had caused him to learn how to shield his mind beyond a shadow of a doubt. "What are you suggesting?" Windu finally asked, his mental efforts to pierce Obi-Wan's shields having failed.
"This war is pointless if we cannot take down the Emperor, and even Vader." Blunt words, and words no one wanted to speak. But Obi-Wan dared to do so ? he was desperate.
"The child could, you believe?" Yoda asked.
"His power is mostly potential now; but that potential is vast. I have felt it, Master," Obi-Wan said, turning towards the wizened Jedi Master.
Yoda tapped the ground with his stick, grimacing. "Deny you do not the danger the child represents?"
"I do not deny it, Master. I am merely saying that it is worth the risk."
Yoda's ears flattened and he sighed with deep sadness. He looked up at Obi-Wan. "Much to be done, there is," he said finally. The issue wasn't completely decided, not yet, but at least they were seriously considering it.
Obi-Wan let out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding.
Windu turned towards the wizened Jedi Master. "You would consider this?"
Another Council member stepped forward, a woman who Obi-Wan knew nothing about. "Obi-Wan has stated what we all wish we could ignore. None of us are strong enough to face the Sith alone, and we could never reach the Sith in a group. Perhaps this child could do what we cannot."
"I do not like this," Windu said darkly, his powerful body tense. He did not like it, but there was something in his manner that hinted his objections had not been as strong as they appeared. That he, too, felt the inevitability of it.
"But you agree," Obi-Wan pressed.
There was a sigh, and a lowered head. "Yes. I agree."
The entire Council sat in a circle. The area was reminiscent of the old Council Chamber on Coruscant, but this was a simple room. There were no arching windows with sunlight streaming in. And instead of light and wisdom, the air seemed to tingle with power and desperation. The starkness of the gray and black rock walls seemed to add to that impression.
Obi-Wan looked at all of the Council as he walked in. They seemed calm, composed, and their power through the Force rang steady. The stillness of the Force spoke of many of hours of meditation as they had come to their decision: to have Luke taken as an apprentice, and the unavoidable decisions that came after that. What they would do next was tricky and would require much skill. And even then, they were not certain of success.
A shivering, frightened Luke sat in the middle of the room. He had been brought to the Council by one of its own members. Then they had waited for Obi-Wan to come. Evidently the child had gotten tired to standing. Obi-Wan stepped forward, and knelt before the boy. The boy looked up to him with a mixture of hope and fear. His trust of Obi-Wan was little, but his trust of the Council was even less. He had at least known Obi-Wan for a brief time, and as someone gentle. The Council he did not know at all.
"Hello, Luke." He gave the boy a warm smile.
The boy shivered harder. "What's happening?"
"We need to ask you some questions," Obi-Wan told him.
The boy seemed to lose some of his fear to innate stubbornness. "No."
Obi-Wan hesitated, a mental flash of hurt coming at how much the child was like Anakin. "They are simple questions. You will not betray your ? father when you answer them."
The boy seemed to consider this nervously, and then nodded.
"What is the earliest thing you remember?"
"Being with Father."
"How are old are you?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Four. Almost five."
Obi-Wan thought back. Padme could be the mother, then. Though who knew. Obi-Wan had thought Anakin had loved Padme ? at least when she was alive ? enough not to cheat on her, but the ravages of the dark side had done much to his soul. "Do you know your mother?"
A frown. "No." From the startled expression, the boy didn't even really think of her. So Vader had probably had the boy since he was born.
Now to the really important part. "Do you feel your father all the time?"
The boy's face scrunched up in thought. "He's in my head all the time," Luke said finally.
As they had feared. Obi-Wan glanced at the Council members. Yoda gave him a slight nod. They were ready. Obi-Wan turned back to Luke, trying to give a reassuring smile. He silently admitted to himself that he did not know much about children. And he should ? Anakin had been only nine.
He quickly severed that line of thought and instead opened his arms to Luke. "Come here, Luke."
Luke hesitated, mistrustfully.
"I just want to hold you," Obi-Wan said. Hold you down, he thought. There was a reason they had asked questions of Luke's past before this. After this, he may well not remember, may not be capable of speaking.
Luke crawled into his arms. Obi-Wan held the warm body close. He immediately felt the boy tense as the combined might of the Council went against the helpless boy's shields. He tightened his hold on the boy. The Council broke the shields down with ease. But that was not the hard part.
The Council had decided that Obi-Wan should not be directly involved in the proceedings, but he was allowed to watch as they worked. With the skill of a dozen of the best of the Jedi, they went through the boy's mind, layer by layer. They ripped out the little compulsions set within his mind, the compulsions that told him to hate. They ripped out all of them; the ones that guided, the ones that commanded.
Obi-Wan held Luke as he convulsed and screamed. He fought them, but it was as useless as it would be in a physical fight, his nails not even making bloody scratches as he fought. The fact that he resisted made it all the harder, made it more painful. And Obi-Wan knew it was painful; even to simply have one's mind searched and not touched by the Council was painful, as everything was looked at and examined, even the smallest secrets ferreted out. That was what the Council had done to him, after Anakin had turned. If a Master turns, his Padawan was searched for any trace of the dark side; so was the Master searched if the Padawan falls.
Examining the Council's progress, Obi-Wan felt the bloody tatters that were left of compulsions ripped out and shields torn asunder. But the boy's mind felt oddly clean, except for one part.
The Council reached for the bond between father and son with determination. Obi-Wan felt Darth Vader's fury. Vader probably knew that something painful was being done to his son, but not exactly what. And he raged. What surprised Obi-Wan most of all was that he felt the rage not only through the boy's mind, but through the tatters of a training bond ? a mental link all of Masters and their Padawans share ? a bond that he had thought long gone. Firmly, he closed the bond off. Not severing it, even now he could not bear to do that, but he could feel nothing of Vader now.
Then the mental father and son link was completely severed. The boy arched in Obi-Wan's arms, then fell completely, utterly limp. Even with the bond in the boy's mind gone, Obi-Wan felt Vader's rage and pain and ? loss. And from the force of the mental cry, probably most of the Jedi in the galaxy felt it as well.
Obi-Wan realized he was gasping when he felt the Council withdraw from the boy's mind. Physical surroundings suddenly seemed loud and harsh, compared to the grip of the Force they had all been in.
The boy was unconscious. The Council seemed exhausted, the effort of what they had done draining even all their combined powers.
"Establish a training bond with the boy, you must," Yoda said tiredly.
"Me, Master?" Obi-Wan said, surprised.
"Guide and raise him, you will. Brighten his future, you do. You, it must be," Yoda stated. Again, to Obi-Wan's surprise, none of the Council argued. And they would have had the right to do so, considering how Obi-Wan's last Padawan had turned out.
Obi-Wan turned his attention back to the boy tucked in his arms, who was almost dead limp. He reached into Luke's mind, and gently touched and soothed the painful spots of his psyche, eventually reaching the destroyed bond Luke once had with his father. The boy's mind did not seem to be very badly damaged by what had been done, but the full effects would be unknown until Luke regained consciousness. Obi-Wan felt a twinge of guilt in his chest.
Pushing away memories of the last time he had made a bond with another, he created a connection to his own mind with some of the remnants of the father and son bond, and with other parts of the boy's mind. He also wrapped a protective shield around the child's mind. The normal shields which would shut out other people's thoughts and emotions were completely gone now and Obi-Wan would have to replace it until Luke could do it himself. Luke would also have to reach for Obi-Wan's mind, for the training bond to fully complete. But this would do for now. They were connected. Even with the circumstances it was under and the way the bond was forced, Obi-Wan found he was glad of the bond.
The gentle tapping of Yoda's walking stick brought Obi-Wan back to the reality surrounding him. Obi-Wan looked at him, simply gazing at the green, wizened face that showed so much exhaustion. Obi-Wan felt a flicker of sadness. It was strange to see Yoda weak. Not simply to Obi-Wan, but to all of the Jedi, Yoda was a legend, a being strong and unbeatable. Knowing that the truth was otherwise was a hard lesson. "Rest, we all must. Take the child, you will," Yoda said.
Obi-Wan nodded. He glanced around the room, then to the child in his arms. He could not tell how much time had passed. Deep within the currents of the Force as they were, hours or even days could have passed without them realizing it. Obi-Wan was reminded of just how delicate and dangerous what the Council had done was. "How long did it take?" Obi-Wan asked, as the Council rose to leave, their movements slow and tired.
"Passed, have days," Yoda said. Even the Council looked startled at that. Apparently their sense of time was as off as Obi-Wan's was.
Obi-Wan blinked in surprise. "Doing it was so difficult?"
"Strong, Vader's connection was," Yoda said simply and Obi-Wan could tell he was just as disturbed by that as Obi-Wan was. If the connection had been so deep, the link could form again.
Mace's face was set with worry. "You'll have to watch the child carefully, Obi-Wan." Then he shook his head regretfully, as if he knew this was all madness and doomed to fail. Mace and the others of the Council looked at each other, seemingly sharing Mace's opinion. Only Yoda kept his gaze on Obi-Wan.
"Fail again, you will not."
Obi-Wan took Luke back to his quarters. It was small and virtually unfurnished, and composed of a single room. Obi-Wan did not spend much time there, so it had not mattered to him, but he would have a child living with him now.
The gray walls and single, stark bed seemed suddenly forbidding. The room was square, or close enough, and the ceiling was low enough that Obi-Wan could touch it easily, barely even having to reach up. It was all very claustrophobic. But then, the entire base was that way and as a child it would all seem very large to Luke. Obi-Wan wondered if Luke would remember the far better living conditions that he had had before.
He doubted it.
Obi-Wan gently placed Luke on his bed. He adjusted the boy's position so he would be more comfortable, and smoothed back a lock of blond hair. Luke's breathing was deep and even.
Obi-Wan walked away from the boy, feeling a twinge as he did so. He wanted to hold Luke in his arms until the boy woke, wanted to give in to the protectiveness that he felt, but he had other responsibilities. He went to his computer, and logged in. It showed that two days had passed.
With a deep sigh, Obi-Wan began looking at the reports that had gone unlooked at since he had been in his room last, before he had even met Luke. Most of those for him were what he had expected. Reports of repairs done and needed, for both ships and the base. Obi-Wan's command had been temporarily given to someone else as he went on several solo missions ? one of those leading to him finding Luke ? and as expected, they had already returned from destroying and raiding an Imperial base.
The Rebellion was slowly gaining strength ? but it was just that: slowly. Palpatine had set things up cunningly. The former Republic did not yet realize that it was a dictatorship, and one destined to be cruel to its subjects. Only a few worlds had been wise and had joined the Rebellion effort. Most of the other worlds that supported the Rebellion did so in reaction to Palpatine's tendency to simply conquer those who did not willingly join, all in the name of 'peace'. It was a preventive effort on their parts so they would have some measure of protection against the Emperor.
But Obi-Wan had no doubt many more would join over the years to come. Palpatine's cruelty would show itself irrevocably soon enough. With this thought, Obi-Wan turned to reports concerning recent Imperial actions. Foremost among these was the behavior of Darth Vader. The report was very recent ? it had gotten in just hours ago.
Exactly two days ago, Darth Vader had gone on a killing spree, apparently unprovoked. Obi-Wan closed his eyes in horror. People would die for Obi-Wan's rescuing of Luke, it seemed. He opened his eyes with a resoluteness born of years of Jedi training, and of a General who had to know what his actions had caused.
Vader had been in a rage. No doubt with the strong connection he and Luke had possessed, he had felt Luke's pain, which had been simply excruciating. Obi-Wan had not caught the full brunt of that pain and it had been staggering. It did not surprise him that for the most part, Vader's wrath had been aimed at Jedi and in less than two days ? the full number killed would not be known for many more ? Vader had hunted down and killed more than three dozen Jedi. It was a horrible loss. And Vader had not simply killed them; he had felt the need to torture them first. Fortunately for the Jedi, Vader's rage could not be contained long and so they did not suffer for as long as they could have.
The other victims had been those unlucky enough to get in Vader's way. Some were civilians, some were friends of the Jedi, but many were Vader's own military. He had strangled them for some imagined incompetence, no doubt. Obi-Wan tried to not regret their loss.
Obi-Wan heard a moan, in a child's high tone. He turned around. Luke was not yet awake, but he was getting there. Obi-Wan frowned, and approached the child. Luke should have been unconscious for hours more. He touched Luke's mind as the child struggled for consciousness. For a moment Obi-Wan debated keeping the child sleeping, then waited, letting Luke wake.
Blank blue eyes looked up at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan gave him as much of a reassuring smile as he could manage. "Hello, Luke."
Confusion registered in Luke's eyes. "Is that my name?" Luke asked tremulously, after a long moment of silence.
Obi-Wan felt a flash of pain, as well as one of relief. Luke's memory seemed to be gone. In a way it was a blessing, because it make Luke's training easier, but the sudden loss of identity would be damaging to the boy. Fortunately the boy's higher brain functions seemed all right and Obi-Wan was, quite simply, relieved that the child's memory was gone with the compulsions that had ensnared them.
"Yes, it is. I'm Obi-Wan. I'm your guardian, and your teacher. I'll be taking care of you," Obi-Wan said.
Luke blinked, his eyes bright. A tear rolled down his face and Obi-Wan's heart nearly broke. He opened his arms in an instinctive move and was almost startled when the boy threw himself into them.
Luke's slight body shook with sobs. He radiated confusion through the Force and Obi-Wan had to tighten the shields around the boy's mind. It didn't bother Obi-Wan that Luke was broadcasting so loudly; Luke probably didn't even realize what he was doing.
Obi-Wan let the boy cry himself out, silently thinking even as he murmured meaningless comforts. Holding Luke felt strange. He suddenly seemed so small, and Obi-Wan was reminded that Luke wasn't just a Sith lord's son; he was a child and a frightened one at that. For all that the Council thought Luke to be dangerous, Luke was also very vulnerable.
Luke was just starting to settle into sleep when his comm beeped. Obi-Wan sighed and Luke started. "It's all right," Obi-Wan told Luke, who was too tired to respond, or get excited.
Not letting go of Luke, Obi-Wan pressed the button that would allow him to talk to the person on the other side of the line. "Yes?" His voice was calm and he let not a hint of the irritation he felt show in his voice.
"General?" Obi-Wan immediately recognized the voice. It was the voice of the person immediately under him, Captain Lyhar. Captain Lyhar commanded the ship of his little fleet that he ordinarily stayed with and commanded the rest of the battle group from. If he were to be killed in combat, she would take control of the battle group.
"Yes, it's me," Obi-Wan said in confirmation. "What is it?"
"We've got another mission." The feminine voice let some irritation into her tone.
Puzzled, as he knew nothing of this, Obi-Wan said, "A mission from whom?"
Obi-Wan sighed. Command was a group of Generals and Admirals who decided what military actions to make. They answered to the Committee of the Republic, commonly called just the Committee. Everyone received their orders from Command. Except, generally speaking, Obi-Wan. The Jedi Council was involved with everything from politics to missions and commonly if the Council wanted a mission done, they would have Obi-Wan do it, as Obi-Wan was one of the highest-ranking Jedi in the military. They kept Obi-Wan very busy, and it left Obi-Wan little time for ordinary missions.
"What is it, then?"
"I don't know the details. Will you be coming aboard, then?" There was a pause. "We've missed your sense of humor, General." A gentle teasing.
Obi-Wan's lips twisted. He was not known to have much of a sense of humor, ever since he had almost demoted a lieutenant for a prank he'd pulled. Not that Obi-Wan didn't have a sense of humor; it was simply inappropriate to let that show during a battle.
"I guess I will be, Captain." He paused, considering. Wherever he was going, he would have to take Luke with him. "And have another bed placed in my quarters. A small one, suitable for a child."
A long pause, filled with puzzled silence. "Yes, sir." She called him sir, as everyone was called sir in the military ? regardless of gender. It made things much less confusing when an officer didn't have a gender.
"Kenobi out," he said simply, thoughts already speeding ahead.
Luke tugged on the corner of Obi-Wan's Jedi tunic. Obi-Wan looked down, startled. He'd forgotten Luke was there.
"I'm going with you?" Luke questioned, having apparently gathered some energy during Obi-Wan's talk.
Obi-Wan smiled. "Yes, you are. I'll never leave you, Luke, I promise."
Obi-Wan stepped aboard Vigilance. The landing bay of Vigilance was sparkling clean, as usual. The hard, white floor shone and the fighters sat exactly where they should be, repaired and ready for use. Captain Lyhar was a good captain, and she made sure that both her ship and her crew were in top shape. She was also a good and steady person, unshakeable in her dedication to her duty.
Nevertheless, she could not hide her shock nor her misgivings when Obi-Wan walked aboard with Luke in his arms. Obi-Wan had changed out of his Jedi clothing, into his sleek black uniform, which was the same in design as Captain Lyhar's gray.
"General?" she said, her voice trailing off. Her usually impassive dark-skinned face was puzzled, and perhaps a bit disturbed. "Surely you can't mean to take a child along," she said more strongly, no doubt remembering Obi-Wan's strange request. "Who is he?"
"He is . . ." A child in my care? Vader's son? What? "My Padawan."
"He's five years old, General," Lyhar said, after giving Obi-Wan a long, hard stare. Five was far too young to be a Padawan and she knew it, after years of discussions with Obi-Wan about the Jedi.
"Nonetheless, that's what he is. He'll remain with me," Obi-Wan said, his tone brooking no argument.
Lyhar looked unhappy, but Obi-Wan sensed she had accepted the fact that Luke would go with them. "It's dangerous to take him along and I know that, but I just can't leave him." He paused, remembering the vulnerability of Luke's mind. "I can't," he repeated, emphasizing the last word, willing Lyhar to understand. Lyhar was not simply a subordinate; she was a friend. Obi-Wan would order obedience if he had to, but he preferred not to have to do so in the first place. Over time their relationship had changed from purely professional to a genuine enjoyment in the other's company.
Finally, she said, "It's a Jedi thing, isn't it?"
"Very much so," Obi-Wan admitted.
Lyhar sighed. She still didn't like it, her disapproval radiated to Obi-Wan through the Force as well as in dark blue keen eyes, but she accepted it. She had to accept it, as she had long since accepted that Jedi simply did things differently from normal people. Her life and the lives of her crew had been saved by Obi-Wan's apparently illogical decisions too many times for her to do otherwise.
After as second of letting her get used to the idea of having Luke along, he said, "Shall we walk to my quarters? You can brief me on the way."
They left the landing bay silently, and it wasn't until they reached the corridors that they began to talk.
"What we have is an escort mission," Lyhar said.
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow in surprise. An escort mission was something very simple and relatively easy. It was far beneath Obi-Wan's skills as a General. Glancing at Lyhar's classically featured face, he saw that she was thinking the same thing. Her trim form seemed tense with displeasure. Being Obi-Wan's captain had downsides, but undoubtedly it also had upsides, one of those being that they always got the more interesting missions.
"Who are we escorting?" Obi-Wan asked. He shifted Luke in his arms a bit. Luke just sighed and snuggled closer. He hadn't said anything and seemed content to be out of the conversation and center of attention.
"Several people. Their identity is classified."
"What?" Obi-Wan exclaimed, surprised. "Even from me?"
"Okay, details then. When will they come aboard?"
"They won't. We'll be escorting a civilian corvette," Lyhar said, unhappy. Obi-Wan shared her feelings.
Obi-Wan commanded a capital ship and several cruisers. His capital ship, Lyhar's ship, while smaller than most capital ships, was a vessel with heavy armor, a medium assortment of weapons and was capable of high speed. It carried a crew of several thousand and was several kilometers long, with a design similar to Naboo's military vessels: very sleek and artistic while deadly in combat. His cruisers were similar, though of a different manufacturer ? the Rebellion's sources not being as extensive as the Empire's ? and they also had high speed and medium level armament.
Having a group of fast vessels escort a smaller, more vulnerable and most importantly slower ship, was a brainless thing to do. Especially when they weren't even escorting something that large, just a few people. It would be far easier and wiser if the people were aboard Obi-Wan's ship or at least another military vessel. The whole situation would encumber Obi-Wan's ability to maneuver and defend both the corvette and his own ships.
Obi-Wan didn't let his feelings about it show, however. He hid them behind 'that frustrating Jedi implacableness' as Lyhar had once put it. "I assume you've already discussed the situation with Command?"
"Yes, sir," Lyhar responded. "They're being stubborn, and won't change the orders. Perhaps you could have more success."
"No," Obi-Wan said slowly. "I think this whole thing is a matter of security. They don't want anyone to know whom we're escorting. I would bet that we're not escorting the corvette back, are we?"
Lyhar blinked, slowly. "No," she admitted. "I see your point now. Those on the civilian corvette won't be coming back and so they can't tell anyone either."
"I suppose I should consider it a compliment that they chose me for such an apparently important mission," Obi-Wan said dryly. "I don't think I will, however," he added, still somewhat irritated by the whole situation. Fortunately escort missions rarely get dangerous, he thought, remembering Luke. He stopped walking.
They stood outside Obi-Wan's door. The sleek ivory and silver corridor was empty. It was not surprising; only those of higher rank were even allowed in this area.
"The rest of the details, such as when and where, I sent to your personal comm," Lyhar said after a second of silence. "There's also a child's bed in there, as you requested."
"Thank you," Obi-Wan said with a nod. Lyhar simply nodded back and left, walking away briskly. Neither had much for formality, so while they were respectful of each other, they didn't really use titles, or salute, as they probably should.
He smiled at Luke and set him down on the floor. Luke looked a bit confused for a second. The left side of his face was marked by Obi-Wan's uniform, giving him a sleepy look, as if he'd just woken up. Obi-Wan opened the door.
As soon as he did so, the Force warned him of danger, like a sharp sudden call in Obi-Wan's mind. In one smooth, automatic and practiced movement, Obi-Wan's lightsaber ignited. Instantly, it moved to block a blaster bolt that came out of the dark quarters.
Normally, Obi-Wan probably would have retreated, at least temporarily, but because of Luke's presence, he no longer had that option. He stepped inside his quarters and slammed the control that would close the door.
More blaster fire, expertly aimed. He blocked it effortlessly and moved forward. Using the Force, he flipped the lights on.
His quarters were larger than most, as befitting a General, but sparse, as a Jedi would have it. He had little to stumble over.
A black mask of fabric covered the assassin?s face. He ? or she ? was wearing a uniform, but Obi-Wan could see no insignia. While still firing at Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan saw the assassin's hand reach for something else.
An electric whip. Normally not very dangerous for a Jedi, but no doubt this one had been carefully modified to short out a lightsaber. Well, this calls for a change of plans, Obi-Wan thought.
Obi-Wan ran forward, blocking bolts as the assassin turned on the electricity of the whip. As the assassin lashed out, Obi-Wan felt a strange ripple in the Force. Obi-Wan was too close to dodge the attack. It wrapped around his hands and his lightsaber, simultaneously shorting out his lightsaber and causing excruciating pain. Obi-Wan ignored it; instead, he pushed.
The assassin slammed into the wall two meters away, and Obi-Wan felt his surprise ripple through the Force with surprising strength. He then dropped his lightsaber and disengaged himself from the whip by doing so.
The attack had been carefully planned; blaster fire to set him on the defensive, a whip to take the lightsaber out of the fight and disable Obi-Wan, and probably something else to finish him off. The assassin had no way of knowing that after a fight with a Sith Lord, he had been injured and in too much pain to fight again. After that, he was determined not to let pain get in his way and had trained himself to ignore even excruciating amounts of pain and so he was able to concentrate enough to Force push the assassin into the wall.
Obi-Wan had wasted no time in bringing himself closer to the assassin. The assassin took out a vibro-knife, but wisely didn't throw it, probably knowing that Obi-Wan would be able to catch and use it as a weapon against the assassin.
The assassin rose to his feet, and slashed diagonally at Obi-Wan with his right hand. Obi-Wan withdrew slightly to dodge the blow, then stepped forward and took hold of the assassin's wrist. He squeezed with Jedi strength, and the knife dropped to the ground. The assassin lashed out with a kick, his wrist still in Obi-Wan's grip. Obi-Wan shifted the blow to the side so he wouldn't get the full brunt, and twisted the assassin's arm, forcing him to a kneeling position with the assassin's back to Obi-Wan.
The assassin abruptly went limp. His death reverberated through the Force. Obi-Wan let go and the body fell to the floor.
Realization struck, seconds after it should have. The assassin had been Force-sensitive. The Sith were not training other Sith ? there could be only two ? but they were training Force-strong assassins, trained to kill Jedi.
The Council had to know of this. Obi-Wan had had assassins after him before - that was the reason for the high security near his quarters - but none of them had ever been Force-sensitive.
This spelled out a dangerous new plan that the Sith were concocting. Obi-Wan could only hope that the data he had stolen from Vader had included information about this; it was even more important than he had realized at the time.
Obi-Wan was jerked from his thoughts by terror. Not his own, but Luke's. He had been peripherally aware of it during the brief fight, but had forced it out of his attention. Luke must have felt that something was wrong. Even if he hadn't, what Obi-Wan had done ? locking him out of the room ? would have hinted at something.
He opened the door and looked out into the corridor. Luke was curled up in a fetal position a few meters down. His footsteps soundless on the carpet, Obi-Wan walked over to him. He sent out soothing thoughts and a subtle touch of the Force to calm the boy.
Luke looked up at him, recognizing his touch. "Obi-Wan?" he sniffled.
Obi-Wan opened his arms, and after a second of hesitation and a barely perceptible glance at the door, he ran into them. Obi-Wan held him tight and said, over and over again, "It's all right, it's all right."
But his thoughts were on something else.
Captain Lyhar looked furious. Not that you could tell much difference between that and her normal expression, but to someone who knew her well, and to someone like Obi-Wan, her anger radiated from her with blazing strength. Her Force presence was one of carefully controlled fury. She talked with her commander, a dour-faced man of thirty, and then dismissed him.
She walked over to Obi-Wan, her movements stiffer than usual. Obi-Wan watched her calmly and, in a comical imitation of Obi-Wan, Luke did the same. He stood near Obi-Wan, calm now. They were in a conference room halfway across the ship, and the room had been carefully checked before Obi-Wan inside. The tan and gray carpet walls seemed to be fascinating to Luke; he had been examining them closely until Lyhar came up. He seemed oddly aware of her presence, even for a Force-sensitive child.
Lyhar started speaking, her words cool even if her emotions weren't. "It was a lieutenant, one's who has been with the Rebellion for about a year and half, and on this ship eight months. She ?"
"She?" Obi-Wan interrupted, somewhat surprised and his face showing it. "Sorry. I didn't even look at her when I went to check Luke and call you."
Lyhar nodded. "I checked her midichlorian count, like you asked. Definitely Force sensitive, though not strong." Lyhar knew a great deal about the Jedi, having carried many conversations with Obi-Wan about that very subject. "She died of poison, carried in a capsule within a tooth. Very handy ? all she had to do was bite down with enough force to break it."
Obi-Wan nodded thoughtfully. "And what was she before she joined the Rebellion?"
"Pilot on a freighter for five years, no family, no friends. Born on Corellia. There's no record of her activities a year before she joins the Rebellion." Lyhar paused. "Someone should have caught this," she added in a deadly tone.
Obi-Wan sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Records aren't always complete. It's a big galaxy; the person who checked her out must have thought it was nothing. Probably asked her about it, and just never put it down. Mistakes happen."
"It could have been deadly for you," Lyhar stated flatly. "Less mistakes should happen."
"I am a Jedi," Obi-Wan reminded her. Telling his friend that he could take care of himself.
"Even Jedi aren't invulnerable."
It was a blot of darkness in a plane of perfection. It created powerful eddies in a place of quietness, seemingly spreading its oily darkness as it shifted and moved. What was calm roiled now. The dark presence seemed angry and ? strangely ? in pain. But the darkness was focused. Intent on what it was after.
Obi-Wan's eyes snapped open.
He stared at the curved ceiling for a moment, disoriented. Had he seen himself, he would have seen that his gaze was odd, his eyes open but focused on nothing, his hair mussed and expression blank. Luke's warm body, which lay curled up by Obi-Wan's side, shifted and he whimpered in his sleep.
Obi-Wan sat up, and simultaneously wrapped the strongest masking shield around Luke's mind he could manage, using the bond between them to intensify the shield, and called his comm-unit to his hand using the Force.
Without hesitation he called Captain Lyhar, who was on the bridge because of the short stop they were making. "We're going to be ambushed at Corellus IV," Obi-Wan said without preamble.
Obi-Wan's movement had woken Luke up and Obi-Wan found himself staring into startling blue eyes. He sent a strong sleep compulsion through the bond he shared with the child, practically forcing Luke into a trance. The child fell back, his eyes fluttering shut.
"We're already in system," Lyhar said. Her voice went distant, and Obi-Wan realized she was speaking to the crew. "Prepare to be attacked. Get into position. Let's move people!"
Obi-Wan was up and out of bed as soon she had finished speaking, dressing in his uniform quickly. He shoved a hand through his hair to get out it of his face, gave Luke another check and was out the door.
Obi-Wan continued speaking to Lyhar. "It'll be a superior force. See if you can get the two slower Mon Calamari ships to escort the corvette out while we distract the main force." He ran down the hallway as he spoke. Alarms sounded, nearly drowning out his voice. Everything was cast in a reddish glow as the Vigilance went on full alert. The beautiful lines of the ship seemed oddly distorted in the light.
"Those ships have our heaviest weapons," Lyhar said, not doubting him but only reminding him.
"I know. Do it." They were also the slowest ships, which made them the perfect escort for a slow civilian corvette.
He reached the bridge, slapping the door control to get in. The bridge was an unusually large one. It was designed to be the command center for a fleet, and clearly it served its purpose well. There were twice as many bridge officers as normal and each station had massive control areas to help coordinate movements of the fleet. The room was a circle, with control stations on the outer rim, and more on a smaller inner rim around the captain's chair. Next to the captain's chair was another one, off to the side. The normal tan and soft silver of the room looked muddy in the reddish light, and the gray uniforms seemed even darker. The bridge crew looked edgy, but their actions were calm and deliberate, much like their captain in temperament.
Lyhar turned in her chair and looked at him. Her face had the calm ferocity that Obi-Wan had always associated her with.
Her question was curt. "Did you have a vision?" she asked, never doubting for a moment that the ambush would happen.
"No," Obi-Wan said, sitting down. He stroked the coarse hair of his beard. "Vader is here."
Lyhar's eyes widened for an instant. She didn't know why Vader hated Obi-Wan with such passion or why Obi-Wan was so strangely attuned to the Sith, but she didn't doubt it. She knew nothing of Anakin Skywalker, thinking him simply Obi-Wan's dead
Padawan, but she, more astute then most, realized that there was something deeper going on with the two of them; more than simply Jedi and Sith.
She also instantly realized that Vader being here meant Vader's fleet being here.
"We have contact on sensors!" an officer shouted out. "And it's a big one," he continued.
"Imperial Class Star Destroyer," another person said. "Sir, it's the Executor."
Vader's ship. Large and dangerous, it fit him perfectly. The Executor was the latest of Vader's ships. He called all of his personal command ships Executor, quickly replacing each over the years with a newer, bigger one, of new design. Executor was the first of her kind: Imperial Class. No doubt when a new, larger class came out he would abandon this ship and have yet another new Executor.
"Two Victory Class Destroyers, three dreadnaughts ?" an officer continued.
"Get our pilots out there," Obi-Wan commanded. He turned his attention back to a screen by his chair, looking at the fleet spread before them in all its glory.
There were two Victory Class Destroyers, three dreadnaughts and half a dozen carrack cruisers, with numerous smaller vessels to support them. And, of course, the Imperial Class Destroyer - Vader's newest ship.
Distantly, he heard an officer saying, "Deploy all squadrons, repeat, deploy all squadrons." Both the Vigilance and the cruisers began deploying squadrons. The cruisers had been modified to carry fighters.
"The corvette and escort?" Obi-Wan demanded, ignoring Lyhar's detailed orders for the squadrons to fill in the gaps of the battle group turning to face the Imperial fleet.
"Heading off, sir. Two carrack cruisers moving to intercept."
"Squadrons Red and Blue, move off to distract those cruisers. Go for the engines," Lyhar said, hearing the officer's report.
"Aye, sir," a voice said, presumably one of the squadron leaders. "Moving off."
Never missing a thing, Obi-Wan said, "Squadrons Dagger, Guardian, Protector, and Diligence move off to those dreadnaughts. They'll be dropping gunships any moment. Destroy them."
The fighter squadrons obeyed Obi-Wan's command instantaneously. Six squadrons gone; that left six with Obi-Wan's battle group, which consisted of six fast Mon Calamari cruisers ? every one being a match for one carrack cruiser, except in armor ? and the Vigilance, which was no match for a even a single destroyer, since it was half the size. The slower Mon Calamari ships with their heavier weapons were gone. They were severely outnumbered and outgunned.
The dreadnaughts began dumping gunships. Gunships were small, slower vessels that carried missiles and usually nothing else, carrying a crew of only four. They were heavily armored, and designed to attack larger enemy ships in preparation for a barrage by a larger ship. Obi-Wan didn't have gunships ? he had chosen speed, and therefore fighter squadrons, instead. It gave him an unusual number of squadrons, which was an advantage in some situations and a disadvantage in others.
"Executor and the two Victory Classes deploying fighters," a bridge officer called out.
"How many?" Obi-Wan asked instantly.
"Half a dozen squadrons, sir, three heading directly at us."
"Have three of our squadrons intercept. Order the others to scatter and cover the area," Obi-Wan commanded.
Speaking into the comm., Obi-Wan spoke directly with the leader of the fast Mon Calamari cruisers. "I want you to run up and down that line of destroyers, firing. Don't risk yourself ? run when the squadrons go after you, then come back again. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," a gravelly voice said. The commander of the cruisers was a Mon Calamari native.
"Squadrons intercepting the enemy," an officer said.
And the battle was finally joined. The movement of ships like chess pieces was over now. Obi-Wan and the crew of the command ship Vigilance could only watch with the Mon Calamari cruisers already heading for the destroyers as the fighters joined in combat.
The sleek, artistically beautiful lines of the Rebellions' sleek N1 squadrons made the harsh angles of the three squadrons of Headhunters, blunt, sturdy ships, seem ugly. The strange design of the experimental TIE fighters ? Twin Ion Engines ? flew crookedly through the gaps in the Rebellion's squadrons as they engaged in dogfights. The stunning speed of the TIE's was not helping them in this fight. The design was too new for the squadron leaders to know what strategies would work best and the N1's took full advantage of the lack of shielding. The Headhunters did not fare much better.
A blast of dark rage hit Obi-Wan, the coldness of the dark side of the Force seeming to creep into his bones. He tightened his grip on the arms of his chair and he gasped out loud.
Lyhar turned to him, concerned.
Recognition further fueled the dark rage. Vader knew Obi-Wan was here. As Obi-Wan tightened the shields around Luke and himself, Vader seemed suddenly distant. Unknowingly, while the fighters engaged in battle, Obi-Wan had opened up his Force senses to better get a better understanding of what was going on and Vader had felt his presence.
"It's all right," Obi-Wan managed, casting a reassuring glance her way. He turned his attention back to the screens that showed the battle.
The Mon Calamari cruisers were doing as Obi-Wan had ordered, doing hit and run attacks along the side of the destroyers, not letting the turrets and laser canons of the ships damage them too badly.
The four carrack cruisers were swinging around to come at the Vigilance from behind. Obi-Wan looked at Lyhar. She nodded, able to see what he was thinking. This instantaneous communication, which Obi-Wan had only experienced before with other Jedi, was something that he enjoyed most about having Lyhar as his captain.
They waited, completely still, as carrack cruisers closed on one side, and the destroyers on the other. But their engines were hot and ready, screaming to be used, and their maneuvering thrusters given all the power they could handle. They heated up, as the power went unused.
The destroyers closed to within firing range.
Even as they opened fire, the maneuvering thrusters of the Vigilance kicked in. Vigilance was moved so its side faced the destroyers, which were facing them head on. Previously disguised and unseen compartments on the side of Vigilance opened. They weren't part of Vigilance's design; it was something new that the engineers had cooked up. But their main value was the total surprise they caused. The destroyers hadn't known that Vigilance had so many missile compartments, and therefore hadn't defended against that possibility.
The heat-seeking missiles flew straight at the destroyers, which frantically tried to turn. Their noses were extremely vulnerable to missiles; it was one the flaws of the design and Imperial design had many flaws. Bigger did not necessarily mean better, and the Rebellion's continual ability to use a lesser force to destroy a stronger force so effectively infuriated the Empire no end.
The two Victory Class destroyers sustained massive damage. The Executor, however, continued on, its massive presence intimidating. Vader's fury hit Obi-Wan like a blast of cold air, and he knew that men would die for the incompetence among the Empire's officers.
Obi-Wan watched in silence as the sublight engines fired, pulling along the carrack cruisers that had crept up to them. They were side by side now, with the massive firepower of the Vigilance evident. The carrack cruisers, which were made to be faster instead of having the more massive armament, sustained heavy damage as the Vigilance turned its full firepower on them.
Not that the Vigilance wasn't damaged. It was; but Obi-Wan let Lyhar deal with that, and focused his attention on the rest of the fleet. Half of the bridge crew was involved in the fight for the Vigilance; the other half concentrated on the rest of the battle.
"Sir, Executor is deploying fighters."
"What?" Obi-Wan said, surprised. "How many?"
"Three, sir," the officer replied, looking confused.
"Three? Just three ships?" Obi-Wan paused. "Let me see them."
On Obi-Wan's screen an image popped up. It showed a ship that had a cockpit like a regular Tie fighter but this one appeared to be heavily modified. It was wider, and the wings were more rectangular, rather than the hexagonal shaped wings regular TIE's used. Two regular TIE's accompanied it.
Obi-Wan didn't need the Force to tell him who was on that fighter. Vader. Vader, with only two ships accompanying him, heading this way . . .
Lyhar turned, startled. "General?" She had never heard Obi-Wan curse. He had told her more than once that Jedi did not curse.
"He's coming for me," Obi-Wan said.
"What?" Lyhar said, still confused.
"He's going to come on board. Captain, prepare to be boarded," Obi-Wan said, turning to her.
"How is he ?"
"I don't know." He breathed for a minute, letting the soothing calm of the Force fill him. "He has a surprise, just like we did. Those fighters . . ." He stared at him. Their boarding was not certain, not yet. The future was ever in motion.
Lyhar turned towards the helm officer. "Get us out of here."
"Tell the Mon Calamari cruisers to come along," Obi-Wan said. The cruisers would have no problem catching up; they were faster than Vigilance.
The Vigilance accelerated away from the battle ? and Vader. The ship shook as it took more hits from the carrack cruisers, but it kept going. Obi-Wan looked at the image of the modified fighters more closely. Those lasers would cut into a hull, he realized. They would get in, and all they had to do was find an airlock. And in the heat of battle, such a large ship would not normally notice a few ships get so close to it, where its sensors couldn't see. A few saboteurs in a crucial battle could be disastrous.
"We're leaving the fighters behind," Lyhar said. She looked at Obi-Wan, her expression softening for a moment. "General?" His gaze was distant. Luke was safe, Vader had not felt him, had not been able to get on board ? he would have undoubtedly found Luke then. It had been close. So close.
"Heavy losses. Survivors are heading towards us."
Obi-Wan nodded. It looked like the dreadnaughts were heading towards the damaged destroyers. Executor was trying to catch up to the Vigilance, but it didn't look like they would make it before the battle group could jump into hyperspace. The escort was already in hyperspace.
They had survived this battle.
Obi-Wan looked down at Luke, who lay curled up against his side on the light gray couch in his living room. Luke wore his nightclothes, a set of white pajamas. He was wide-awake. For a moment Obi-Wan considered making him sleep, then dismissed the idea. He found himself doing that too much.
Obi-Wan smiled at him uncertainly.
Luke smiled uncertainly back. He snuggled closer.
He seemed content to simply be with Obi-Wan. Despite Obi-Wan shielding, Luke was aware that something had happened, even if he had no memory of it ? being asleep at the time ? and as soon as Obi-Wan had come back hours after the battle, he had gotten close to Obi-Wan and refused to let go. Obi-Wan felt amazed once again that the child possessed enough Force-sensitivity to know that something had even happened, when an ordinary child would have been clueless.
In truth, Obi-Wan had forgotten the child once the battle was over, and had forgotten to keep Luke asleep. So Luke spent perhaps twenty minutes alone and awake before he reached out tentatively and clumsily with the Force, trying to find Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan had left the briefing room so fast he had almost tripped over a pilot.
Lyhar found it funny ? Obi-Wan did not. He shot her a glare as he walked away from the puzzled pilot. A furrow appearing between her brows, Lyhar projected an image as hard as she could, knowing Obi-Wan would probably pick it up, even though she had no Force-sensitivity to project it properly. It was of Obi-Wan actually tripping over the pilot, and causing a rather comical chain reaction. Lyhar knew he had caught the image when he half smiled. Then he ducked out of the room, sending reassurances to Luke all the way, even though the boy likely wouldn't understand them.
And now he sat half melted in the couch, Luke by his side. Since remembering Luke, he had been doing a lot of thinking, and eventually he chose to call Lyhar. He needed someone to talk to, desperately.
Lyhar appeared a few minutes later. She was still in her gray uniform, which was now dirty and torn in a few places. No doubt she had been working along her crew to repair the Vigilance. Her dark hair was slicked back and pulled into a tie.
She smiled at him and raised an eyebrow when she saw Luke. She plopped into a chair opposite the couch with easy grace, not even bothering to salute or otherwise acknowledge Obi-Wan's presence. She smiled at Luke. "Hello."
Luke's grip on Obi-Wan's black, rumpled uniform tightened. He didn't respond, other than to stare at her.
"He's still," Obi-Wan started, trying to explain. "I don't know," he sighed, shaking his head. He looked at Luke. "It's all right. I trust her."
Luke turned and stared at him, and Obi-Wan found himself wondering if Luke really trusted him all that much. Then he pressed himself up against Obi-Wan.
"She's warm," Luke said softly.
Obi-Wan blinked. It was true ? Lyhar had a soothing presence in the Force, and it could be called warm. What surprised him was that Luke was picking that up when he had no memory of his training. How was he doing that?
"Sometimes," Luke added.
So Luke only touched the Force sporadically, with no control. Well, that was more normal.
Lyhar was watching Luke and Obi-Wan with bemusement, reading the analytical look on Obi-Wan's face. She studied Luke seriously for a moment, and then said, "Thank you."
Luke smiled hesitantly, then shoved his face into Obi-Wan's uniform.
Lyhar turned back to Obi-Wan. "So what it is it? I assume it has to do with the battle, and him," she said, casting a glance at Luke, who was still hiding by Obi-Wan.
"Yes," Obi-Wan admitted. He paused, and then dove right in. "Luke is my primary concern now. I'm not sure I can do regular missions anymore."
Lyhar looked taken aback. "What are you saying? Are you leaving the Vigilance?"
"Yes, I think so."
Obi-Wan hesitated. "That's more complicated."
Lyhar leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs, and gave Obi-Wan a commanding glare.
"I don't want Vader to find him," Obi-Wan said finally. "I don't want him to know Luke exists. With regular missions such as this one, there's the constant chance that I'll run into Vader. And that I, and consequently Luke, could be captured."
Lyhar shook her head. "There's that chance on any mission."
"But on secret missions," Obi-Wan said softly, "Vader would not immediately know it was me. Vader knows that the Vigilance and her fleet are mine. He hates me, and he'll do anything to get me. I need . . . to be out of the spotlight."
Lyhar slowly nodded. "So you'll be taking other missions? By yourself, except for a child?"
"It will be good training for him," Obi-Wan responded. He's going to need it, he added mentally.
"Are you serious? He's five," Lyhar said incredulously.
The Force nudged Obi-Wan, its presence a calming wave in Obi-Wan's mind, demanding he speak. That he tell the truth. And Obi-Wan, who was prescient, knew that he should tell her ? that it was important he do so. The Force showed him different paths, paths he could not see and yet knew, as only a Jedi Master could. It had never spoken to Obi-Wan so clearly. Along the path telling Lyhar there was light, a more optimistic future ? among others, there was less, or none at all, with the dark overshadowing everything.
"Stay here," he told a baffled Lyhar. He picked Luke up, the boy's face still showing the marks that he'd gotten from shoving his face in Obi-Wan's uniform and keeping it there, and walked to the bedroom. As soon as Obi-Wan put Luke down, Luke began struggling.
"No! I don't want to you to leave!" Luke shouted, his voice trembling.
"I need to talk to the captain alone, Luke. It's important," Obi-Wan said calmly.
"I don't care!" Luke said, trying to get up.
With a sigh, Obi-Wan sent him a strong sleep compulsion. Luke gave him one last glare before he sighed and lay back, asleep.
I'm really doing that too much, Obi-Wan thought again.
Lyhar was still waiting, sitting on the chair. She raised an eyebrow when he walked in, and smiled. "Children. I have a friend who has four of them. They never want to go to bed."
Obi-Wan smiled back at her, and sat down. He took a deep breath. He had spoken with no one about this subject willingly, and now he was about to do so. He reminded himself that it was the will of the Force, and then began. "Captain, I'd like to tell you about my first Padawan, Anakin Skywalker . . ."
Her face was ashen as Obi-Wan's voice finally trailed off into silence. He looked down, away from those keen eyes, unable to face her. He remembered all too well what it was like just after Anakin's fall. The Jedi knew who Darth Vader was; they had to, he was their enemy as they were his. The Jedi knew; the rest of the galaxy did not. The Jedi's reactions to Obi-Wan had varied; disgust in some cases, pity in most. And something else in others. A Jedi had even spit on him once; that had shocked him to the core.
In some ways, it had gotten worse over the years as Darth Vader's atrocities piled up. He was not spoken to, not helped; he was a pariah, spoken to, acknowledged by only the Council. He lived in a life of silence, separated, those who truly knew him not his enemies, but not his friends either, and the rest in ignorance of even knowing how other Jedi treated him.
He wasn't sure if Command knew, or if the political leaders of the Rebellion did, but it mattered little. The Jedi Council knew, and they would respond to anything having to do with both Obi-Wan and Vader accordingly.
The silence in the room was stifling, unbearable. Obi-Wan noted absentmindedly that his breathing was becoming more rapid as his tension built. Lyhar had not said a single word during Obi-Wan's tale.
Finally, unable to bear the weight of the silence any longer, Obi-Wan looked up at Lyhar, slowly raising his eyes.
Her elegant hands were clasped before her. They did not tremble, nor did they hold on to each other desperately. They were loose, relaxed. Her legs were the same. Her face was calm, yet held the hint of something broken, her classic features strangely still on an often animated but controlled countenance. Her eyes were ? sad.
"My brother was killed by Darth Vader," Lyhar said softly. The brokenness intensified with those few words.
Rigidly controlled, Obi-Wan replied, "I'm sorry." And he cursed the Force for making him go through this. "I'm so sorry."
"An apology is not yours to grant."
"Is it not? Is it not?" Obi-Wan whispered, the words tasting vile in his mouth as they made their way past his lips, his words gaining more strength and self-hatred with the repeating of the statement. He put his face in his hands, willing himself to keep his fragile control. "I was his Master. I am surely as responsible as he." The words were whisper soft, barely making it past the raging emotions that threatened to close his throat.
"You are not responsible for another's actions, Obi-Wan," Lyhar said softly.
Obi-Wan looked up, surprised to hear his first name. Lyhar had never called him by that; it had always been sir, General, or simply Kenobi in the three years he had known her.
"Anakin was what, twenty one, twenty two when he turned? An adult, whether the Jedi think so or not, Obi-Wan." She paused. "You're an intelligent man, Obi-Wan, but I swear sometimes you can be so clueless. Not that I think it's entirely your fault; your whole Order seems determined to take the weight of the galaxy on its shoulders. You're just following the family tradition."
Obi-Wan sat back, and blinked tiredly, gazing at Lyhar. His emotions were as confused as his thoughts.
"My brother is dead, Obi-Wan. And I blame Vader, not you. And perhaps my brother," she added contemplatively. "He was an Imperial officer, you know, so in a sense I suppose he deserved what he got. But I'm telling you, Obi-Wan, that as the sibling of one of your former Padawan's victims, I don't blame you, and you shouldn't blame yourself."
Obi-Wan stared at her in stunned silence. The words penetrated his brain. Not simply skimming across the surface, heard but ignored, he listened, as he had not before in all the times he had been told these things. "You are a wise woman, Kyalla," he said softly, saying her first name for the first time. "Thank you." He closed his eyes, and felt a tear slip down his cheek. Perhaps just this once he would allow himself such weakness, a sigh of relief in a tortured soul.
Kyalla leaned forward, a slight smile touching her lips. Her every movement seemed soft and slow, as if aware of his turmoil. "Now," she said. "I have a guess as to who your young Padawan is, but tell me. Tell me about Luke."
He smiled hesitantly at her, a smile free of overriding guilt. Perhaps not gone yet, but eased in some way. "It started with a mission," he began.
EIGHT YEARS LATER
Obi-Wan stood before the doors that held the Jedi Council, on the world of Dantooine, a few hours before sunrise. The doors were not carved or ornate, as they had been in the old Jedi Temple, but simple doors made of metal, designed to withstand fire. It almost seemed to represent the Jedi Order as a whole: simple and plain, yet strong enough to withstand virtually anything.
A soft sigh escaping his lips, Obi-Wan remembered the last time he had spoken face to face with the Jedi Council.
It had been just after the nearly disastrous mission in which he had fought with Vader. The Vigilance had returned to base with just a little more wear, and Obi-Wan felt much the same. He told them of the Force-sensitive assassin, and of his intention to give up the Vigilance and her fleet. He had a feeling that they would not be pleased and he was right. They didn't approve of him training Luke at all, with the exception of Yoda, and giving up regular missions for the boy would simply make relations with them worse. Yet, they capitulated. As he had known they would.
Now he came before them again, on the subject of Luke.
The trust the Council had given Obi-Wan with the training of Luke still amazed him. For the past eight years Obi-Wan had gone on missions that were nearly all covert. Rarely did he exercise the experience he possessed as a general, as a leader in battle. He had not been a lightsaber piercing the darkness as much as vibro-knife in an alleyway. Through all of it he took Luke, raising and teaching him along the way, as well as hiding him from Vader. And not once had he brought Luke back to the Jedi.
He trained Luke completely by himself. While Obi-Wan trusted the Council, he found he did not trust the rest of the Jedi ? especially where the identity of Luke's father was concerned. Even further, Luke himself did not know he was Darth Vader's son, nor even his own last name, Skywalker. Luke knew who Vader was, of course, to the extent that he was a Sith lord and some of his past actions as such, but not that he had been Obi-Wan's Padawan.
Remembering all too well Yoda's inability to see Luke's future ? a dangerous similarity to Anakin ? and Anakin's eventual betrayal, Obi-Wan was almost paranoid in his training of Luke.
Obi-Wan demanded much of Luke. The boy had the training of a thirteen year old by the time he was eight, and he was far ahead of his age group in academic studies. Whenever Obi-Wan was not doing something else, he was training Luke, and even when he was not, Luke still learned. Obi-Wan had made many contacts and friends over his years as Jedi. It was an inevitable fact of being a Jedi, because of how much a Jedi traveled over a lifetime. Luke had often spent time with Obi-Wan's contacts and friends ? many of whom were not in the most legal of occupations, which eventually led to Luke getting a lecture about cheating at sabacc ? at the ripe age of ten.
But while Luke's training was harsh, Obi-Wan tried to temper it with love and affection. One of the main faults of Obi-Wan's and Anakin's relationship had been a lack of fundamental trust. Anakin had trusted his Master with his life ? just not with his thoughts or feelings.
Now thirteen, Luke trusted Obi-Wan completely. That made it hurt all the more when he willingly submitted to the mind searches that Obi-Wan made him go through. When Luke dropped all of his shields, his trust of Obi-Wan blazed through, and it pained Obi-Wan to go into that young mind and go through each and every memory. It was not a pleasant experience for Luke, either; he went through it willingly for his Master, and for that reason alone. But as the years went on, Obi-Wan's trust of Luke increased. The child was so pure, so full of light. Obi-Wan had hidden Luke's presence in the Force for years, until Luke was able to do it on his own, but that didn't prevent Obi-Wan from seeing the utter strength and light that Luke projected in the Force.
Then, one month ago, the Jedi Council called Obi-Wan and his Padawan to Dantooine, the present base of the Rebellion. The bases the Rebellion used were usually changed every few months, but they had been on Dantooine for almost a year. Obi-Wan had not been to the main base of the Rebellion ? wherever it happened to be ? since he had last met with the Council. Years later, he had been gratified to learn that that meeting had been a help ? the lack of surprise about the Force-sensitive assassins had saved lives, and Palpatine rarely used them anymore.
But what disturbed Obi-Wan about being called back most was a simple question: why now? For eight years the Council had showed no interest whatsoever in Luke. Yet now they did, and Obi-Wan found he was nervous. He was afraid for the Padawan he loved as a son
When the doors opened, Obi-Wan was so deep into his own thoughts that he was startled. But he quickly regained his bearings and stepped forward, to meet with the Jedi Council.
As in the old Temple, long destroyed, they sat in a circle, with an empty area in the middle. While the old Temple had been mostly tans and creams, mixed with rich old colors, this place was an odd mixture of bright color. Blue and green were the dominant themes, even in this heavily guarded room in the middle of the Rebellion's main compound. The chairs were simple, but looked comfortable.
The Jedi themselves seemed to have an air of seriousness. Mace and Yoda sat in the forefront, as usual. The rest had an attitude of watchful stillness.
Obi-Wan bowed before them. "Masters," he murmured, and waited.
Mace Windu leaned forward, and stated matter-of-factly, "I'm sure you can guess why we've called you and your Padawan here."
"I could certainly guess, my Masters," Obi-Wan said humbly, with a quick bow of his head.
Obi-Wan could see Mace repress the urge to roll his eyes, but the man continued as if Obi-Wan had not been subtly mocking him. Obi-Wan admired his control. In truth, he had always admired Windu, he just didn't always agree with him. "We called you here to evaluate Luke and his progress, as well as any dark side tendencies that may have arisen."
"I see." Obi-Wan kept his face expressionless. "And just what will this evaluation be? And by what standards will he be judged?"
Mace Windu looked uncomfortable. Yoda spoke. "A mind search, we will perform. His skills, we also want to see."
A mind search? Obi-Wan thought. He sighed deeply, inwardly. Luke would do it if Obi-Wan asked it of him. "And by what standards will he be judged?" Obi-Wan repeated his question.
"Harsher than normal for a Padawan of his age, it will be." Yoda seemed to say it with almost reluctance. "After much discussion, we decided this."
So the decision for a mind search had been made before the call for Obi-Wan and Luke had even been sent, most likely. And Luke would be judged more harshly than usual. But the decision had already been made, and Obi-Wan knew he could not convince them otherwise. "And his skills?" Obi-Wan asked finally. "What do you want to see?"
Mace Windu spoke casually. "His lightsaber skills, of course, and his academic records. I assume you have kept those."
"Of course, Master Windu. They are aboard my ship. May I go and prepare my apprentice?"
"Prepare him, you may not," Yoda said, giving the floor a tap with his stick in emphasis.
Obi-Wan was startled. The Council sometimes evaluated Padawans, so Luke was not a peculiarity in that respect; however, they were always allowed to prepare for the ordeal first.
"Where is he, Obi-Wan?" Mace Windu asked. The rest of the Council had been unusually silent during the whole conversation, Obi-Wan noted. He realized that they had planned this.
"He's practicing his katas in one of the training rooms. I'm not sure which one," Obi-Wan replied evenly. He clasped his hands in front of him, inside the sleeves of his robe, the picture of Jedi calm, even though as the years passed he felt less and less like one.
Mace Windu nodded. "We will go and find him, then."
The training room of the Jedi was not terribly large. There were rarely that many Jedi in residence in the main base at any given time, but there was enough they had their own room to do their physical exercises. No one else was present, since it was still too early for anyone to be awake, even the early risers among the Jedi. The area was perhaps thirty meters wide and forty meters long. The floor was a dark gray stone, worn smooth by years of use. It was essentially a large, empty space.
Luke thought it was perfect.
Before going off to meet with the Jedi Council, Obi-Wan had told him to go and practice his katas and that was exactly what he was going to do. He sighed, trying to decide what to do first, and ran a hand through his short-cropped hair. His Master had told him about the braid a normal Padawan had, but because of the nature of his Master's missions, Luke couldn't have one. There was too much danger of it being recognized for what it was.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Luke discarded his robe and began a kata, which was a fighting drill. He ran through the forms slowly at first, then began to pick up his speed. He moved from kata to kata without stopping, going from the easy forms to those that were harder.
As always, he became enmeshed within the Force. That was what it felt like to him. It was as if most of the time, he tugged and went against the currents of the Force, constantly moving and breaking its flow.
Yet at times like these, that changed. The Force flew over him, through him, and around him. It reminded him of something his Master had once said, that a blade of grass will go with the wind rather than resist it, and when the wind passes, it rises again for the sun. He was no longer struggling against the Force, trying to put his will on it, as his Master so often told him he did.
He became aware of the approaching presences of the Jedi Council and his Master almost immediately after they left the room they had been in. Their intent was clear and Luke easily picked it up. They were coming for him, though why he did not know. He had learned to stay aware of his surroundings ? though admittedly he wasn't always able to do so. But that was why he was the Padawan; he could almost hear Obi-Wan saying the words affectionately.
Through their bond, he felt his Master tell him to continue with his katas. Luke obeyed, and so did not pause when the Council entered the room. He felt their silent regard, but forced himself to continue concentrating on what he was doing.
Luke knew that their being called to Dantooine by the Council disturbed his Master. When Obi-Wan had first gotten the message, Luke had felt the sudden rush of emotions from his Master. When he worriedly asked what was wrong, Obi-Wan brushed it off. Knowing it was something, but respecting his Master's wishes, Luke left the subject alone. But Luke suspected it had more to do with himself than Obi-Wan.
Up until now, he had never really wondered about why his life was the way it was. He was aware that his training was different from a normal Jedi's, but he had never questioned why.
Obi-Wan's calm, accented voice interrupted his line of thought. "You may stop, Padawan."
Breathing only slightly faster than he had at the beginning of the exercise, Luke stopped and turned to face his Master.
Obi-Wan looked as he always did. His still-ginger hair was brushed back neatly, his beard neatly trimmed, and his hands were folded in a brown robe that was almost too large for his compact body. He radiated serenity and confidence, as usual. Serenity that Luke basked in, using it to calm himself.
He did so because he was concerned about the others. He knew little about most of them, though he was told he had met most of them, when he was young. Luke could not help but be skeptical about that, even though his Master had been the one to tell him so; he only remembered Obi-Wan. Besides Yoda, there were three other non-humans: a Twi'lek, and two Mon Calamari. They all looked at Luke with an interest that was so clinical it made him uncomfortable. Mace Windu, one of the Masters he was more familiar with because of the Jedi being a leader of the Council, gazed at him with a hard, distrusting expression.
Yoda was mostly unreadable, but Luke was fairly certain he wasn't hostile like Master Windu.
Obi-Wan gestured for Luke to join them. Luke did so, stepping close to his Master. He murmured, "Master," in greeting and bowed to his Master and the Jedi Council. The Council seemed to be watching his every action and analyzing them. Luke was beginning to become truly unnerved, and kept a half-step behind Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan looked down at Luke, who came only to his chest. His Master's ever changeable eyes were gray, dark with emotion. Luke felt sadness and regret along their training bond.
"Padawan," Obi-Wan said, emphasizing the word as if to reaffirm Luke's status, "the Council wishes to conduct a mind search on you." He rested a hand on Luke's shoulder.
Luke gazed up at the person he trusted and loved more than anything else. His eyes flicked over to the Council, and back again. He would submit to it if his Master wished him to do so. He sent this question through their bond and got an affirmative in response, as well as slight nod. They could rarely speak in words through their bond, for it was a necessity that rarely arose.
"When?" Luke asked. He felt calm now, peace, despite Obi-Wan's worried gaze. He was obeying his Master, and he trusted him implicitly. After his practice, he felt energized and close to the Force, and the Force was telling him to trust his Master ? as it always did.
"Now," Windu said, stepping forward aggressively, closer to Luke and Obi-Wan. He seemed calm, but he nevertheless he was an intimidating figure, even when he was not trying to be such. Luke felt a quaver at the near-hostility he felt coming from the man, but firmly repressed it. He soon felt the almost-hostility fade, however, as Jedi training took control.
Again, Luke glanced at Obi-Wan, who nodded. "As my Master wishes," Luke said softly, and dropped all his mental shields. The shields that kept his thoughts and motivations to himself, that kept him from hearing the thoughts of others through the Force; everything. He did so easily, having done it so many times with his Master. Only the fact that he was revealing himself, making himself so vulnerable to someone other than his Master gave him pause.
When the all the members of the Jedi Council entered his mind, it was painful. It felt like his sanity was being stretched beyond what he could cope with. His Master had always been kind and gentle when he had done this. These Jedi were not. They searched through his mind ruthlessly, taking almost no care for what pain they caused, determined to find something, though he didn't know what. Distantly, he realized that he had collapsed into Obi-Wan's arms.
He could also hear his Master's voice. "Stop. I'm telling you to stop! You're hurting him. This isn't necessary . . ."
Then there was sudden agony and, after a few moments that stretched for an eternity, blissful silence.
Obi-Wan held his unconscious apprentice in his arms, kneeling on the hard floor. After assuring himself that Luke was only unconscious, he slowly turned his gaze towards the Council.
A deep-seated fury had risen in those eyes.
"That wasn't necessary," he said softly. Not many would recognize that tone of voice; not many had lived to tell of it.
"We told you he would be mind searched," Windu reminded him, his lean body tense, as if expecting Obi-Wan to spring into action. The rest of the Council seemed to be imitating him, with the sole exception of Yoda, who gazed not at Obi-Wan, but at Luke. He seemed sad.
"Searched? You tore his mind to pieces," Obi-Wan responded, harshly. "That was not a search. It was an attack."
"And if it was?" Mace Windu said quietly.
Obi-Wan stared at him in shock. They would admit to it? Even with his rage, Obi-Wan still felt tightly controlled. He turned to Yoda.
The old, wizened Jedi Master had a look of sadness on his face. His ears were down, and his eyes were sorrowful. The next words he spoke were pronounced with all wisdom and strength of a nine hundred year old Master.
"Tainted by darkness, the child is."
"No," Obi-Wan said vehemently. "No, I refuse to believe that! I would have felt it," Obi-Wan cried out, his voice breaking. He shook his head, and held the unconscious boy closer in his arms.
Mace stepped forward. His expression was no longer fierce, showing only sympathy and sadness. "Do you think Yoda would lie, my friend?" he asked, kneeling beside Obi-Wan.
Tears slipped past tightly closed eyelids as Obi-Wan shook his head. He opened his eyes, and looked at Luke, taking in a shuddering breath that shook his whole body.
Mace laid a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "You know what must be done. Horrible as the Emperor and Vader are, this boy would be so much worse." He paused. "It will not be painful, Obi-Wan, I promise."
Obi-Wan looked up at Mace, trying to blink the tears out of his eyes. His entire body trembled with the force of the emotions he was feeling. He loved Luke so much.
"Please," Obi-Wan whispered finally, unable to keep Mace's gaze. "Let me say good bye to him." Unconsciously, he started rocking the boy back and forth in his arms. Mace seemed to realize it was an action not meant to comfort a boy that was unaware of what was happening as much as the broken man holding him.
Windu glanced quickly at Yoda, who nodded slowly. "We will leave you alone, then, for a few minutes, so you can say good bye."
Wordlessly, Obi-Wan nodded. He kept rocking back and forth, the boy utterly still except for his quiet breathing. The Council left quietly, leaving him in alone in the room.
Obi-Wan looked up from Luke. He stopped rocking, stopped trembling. His expression was no longer grieved, but calm and steady. His face held a hint of sad resolve. He glanced around the room, absentmindedly taking note of distances and so forth.
Obi-Wan shifted his gaze back to Luke and spoke quietly. "No," he whispered, "I don't think Master Yoda would lie." A pause, and of course Luke did not answer. But Obi-Wan continued anyway, not expecting one. "However, I do think he could be mistaken," he added, a hint of wry humor in his voice.
He gave a quiet sigh, for himself, for the situation, and for the oblivious Council waiting outside the room.
Then he ignited his lightsaber, and began cutting through the wall.
The Rebel base was set up in a building that had existed before the Rebellion came to Dantooine. This building was now the main building, and the rest of the base had grown up around it. After some consideration, it was decided that the base would be more spread out. While this made infiltration easier ? and they had put up more checks for just that risk ? it also made it easier for the base to get up and go in a much quicker fashion, which was more important.
The training room was on the perimeter of the main base, which meant that though it could have been worse, it could have been much better. The majority of the main base was behind Obi-Wan, but he still had the decentralized and highly guarded areas to get through to reach his ship, which lay in one of those off shoots of the main camp.
Obi-Wan also realized that he was not precisely inconspicuous with an unconscious boy in his arms.
Shifting Luke over his shoulder, he sighed. He stared out into the Dantooine forest. It wasn't as thick as some places he'd been, due to the fact that Dantooine not a humid place ? though far better than Tatooine, its neighboring system ? but it was enough that he couldn't see the outlying camp a few hundred meters away, and it would hamper his progress. He tried to stare past the forest to the base that held his ship. With a combination of mind tricks and years of practice in stealth, Obi-Wan had managed to make it out of the main base. Now he had to get to and through a satellite base.
Further complicating matters was the fact that every Jedi in the area was being mobilized to find Obi-Wan and Luke. Obi-Wan could feel the Council's continual attempts to track him down through the Force, but he shielded both himself and Luke. He was skilled enough to hide from a Sith Master ? a Jedi Master wasn't that much different.
A presence flickered along his shields. But there are a lot more of them, Obi-Wan thought, with a short mental curse, quickly cut off. He stretched out carefully, feeling for the ripples that the nearby Jedi created in the Force. No, they weren't too close yet.
Then he became aware of another presence. It was a person trying to be stealthy ? and to Obi-Wan's hyper alert senses, not doing a very good job. He had to take a deep, calming breath when he realized who it was that was following him. Carefully, he put Luke down on the ground, lying the boy's head down carefully. He seemed peaceful, Obi-Wan noted, and quickly left, his steps light and noiseless.
Obi-Wan approached the figure silently and wrapped a hand around his mouth while simultaneously putting an ankle around the other man's ankle and pulling back. There was a startled cry muffled by Obi-Wan's hand, and the man fell back, completely off balance and at Obi-Wan's mercy.
"Bail!" Obi-Wan whispered into his ear. "What are you doing? I have to knock you out now, you do realize."
Bail Organa carefully reached up and took Obi-Wan's hand from his mouth. "You didn't have to scare me witless," Bail said with some semblance of calmness, a politician's ability to land on his feet coming to his aid despite the fright he had been given. That and being of once-ruling royal family of Alderaan. "I want to help you."
Obi-Wan paused. That was something he had not considered. But instantly suspicion arose. Stating the words clearly, Obi-Wan said, "The Jedi are after me now, Your Highness."
"I know," Bail responded calmly. His thin, aristocratic face was perfectly calm as he turned around to face Obi-Wan. He wore thick, dark blue robes that managed to blend into the darkness of the jungle. He had left the Empire ? and unfortunately his helpless, pacifist homeworld ? when the Emperor completely took over, after the Clone Wars had ended. That had been the last time Obi-Wan had served under Bail, during the Clone Wars.
"Do you know why?" Obi-Wan asked, raising an eyebrow at the former Senator's impetuous actions, so very unlike his normal behavior.
"It does not matter."
Obi-Wan stared at him, both heartened by the man's trust and terrified by it, because it was a trust that Obi-Wan was not sure would last. Surely it would not if Bail knew of Anakin and what had really happened to him.
"You were my general, Obi-Wan. And, or I like to think so, my friend. I trust you, and why the other Jedi do not, I don't understand," Bail said, getting to his feet and trying to maintain an air of dignity. Bail was a serious man, passionate and sometimes sharp in his words.
He was also, at times, brutally honest. Obi-Wan had to repress his wince at Bail's words about how he was treated. Apparently some people had noticed how other Jedi treated him. No doubt his treatment baffled them, as much as Obi-Wan's simple acquiescence to it.
"They will know," Obi-Wan said slowly, his eyes not quite meeting Bail's, flicking from point to point in a never ending awareness of his surroundings.
"Obi-Wan." It was said in a tone allowing no argument. Reluctantly, Obi-Wan faced him. "I have found that the Jedi Council is more expedient than they are caring. The Jedi Order that I remember ? that you remember ? no longer seems to exist as it once did. Not that the Jedi are immoral, or unethical. But the Emperor was not wrong when he said that the Jedi have changed."
Deep, calming breaths. "There is something else, isn't there," Obi-Wan stated, searching Bail's face and his Force signature. The normal glow Bail had in the Force seemed muted by emotion.
Bail nodded, his dark eyes concerned. "You don't have so many enemies as you would think. I didn't know what would transpire today ? for that matter, I still don't know, other than that the Council is angry and wants to find you and that boy, because he used to be Vader's apprentice. But one of the Council members spoke to me this morning, and let something slip ? intentionally, I believe. She said something about implanting a compulsion later that day, in a Jedi."
Obi-Wan's heart froze. A compulsion was something that was put in a person's mind that could be triggered at a later date. A strong compulsion, expertly set, could completely override a person's will. Generally this was not a problem with Jedi, since normally even the lightest of shields would stop such a delicate process.
Luke had had no such shields. The endless possibilities horrified him.
Bail shook Obi-Wan's arm, getting his attention. "Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan, there is little time. I'm going to try and get you to your ship. I have people here loyal to me. They'll look the other way, and even the Jedi might not be at your ship by now, since you acted so quickly. Let me help."
Obi-Wan gritted his teeth, looked at Bail with only a semblance of calmness and nodded. He would take advantage of Bail's offer of help, and escape. And he would not let the Council get away with this.
As Bail and Obi-Wan ? with Luke slung over his shoulder ? waded their way through the jungle, they talked. Obi-Wan kept a constant eye out for anyone approaching, as well as hiding all of their presences in the Force. For Luke it was easy ? he was used to it ? but Bail was more difficult, since he was less familiar with the Force presence Bail exuded.
It took quite a bit of time and stealth, but they made it to Obi-Wan's ship. Several people saw them but simple shake of Bail's head stopped them from doing anything. They then simply continued on as if they had seen nothing, though he knew that by now everyone on Dantooine knew he was a fugitive. Obi-Wan was quietly amazed at the loyalty this brave yet brash man inspired.
Bail stopped just outside of Obi-Wan's ship, at the hatch. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan," he said simply, then turned sharply and left.
"And you," Obi-Wan whispered, knowing Bail could not hear, but speaking as if saying so out loud would make it true. He stepped up the ramp into the battered looking ship, which had once been a small personal vessel, now converted into a small fighter of sorts. It suited his purposes well.
Obi-Wan went down a small passageway, to a tiny cabin that had dark gray bulkheads with the rest white. He put Luke on the bed, smoothing back the boy's blond hair. He did look peaceful, but Obi-Wan knew appearances were deceiving. Most likely he would have a raging headache when he woke up and there was that compulsion to consider.
He reached the cockpit just in time to see the Jedi arrive at the landing area, lightsabers ignited. Without hesitation, Obi-Wan flicked the drives to full. The engines screamed in protest. They had not been given time to warm up. But Obi-Wan knew the hardy little fighter could take it. Quickly taking his seat at the controls, he took off, soon leaving the spaceport and planet behind. They dwindled and he could see nothing but sky ahead.
Almost immediately he felt through the bond with Luke that the boy was waking. He sent a tiny spiral of concern along the bond. He got sleepy reassurance in return. Obi-Wan then opened his mind to the Force; he let it flow through his body, relaxing tense muscles, as it expanded his awareness.
The Jedi were near. They didn't seem to be going for their ships, however. Obi-Wan had time to feel a flicker of puzzlement when his mind was jerked back. Disoriented, Obi-Wan let go of the controls. His mind fuzzed. Voices spoke to him, calmly and soothingly. He knew he shouldn't trust them but he found himself relaxing, letting them into his mind. His body felt energized with the Force as he communed with the other presences.
Obey, they whispered, their command curling around Obi-Wan's thoughts like smoke.
Come back, they pleaded.
All of a sudden Obi-Wan was jerked out of the warmth and calming whispers. Awareness of his surroundings flooded in. They were heading back to Dantooine, the size of the planet increasing by the second. Confused, he looked up in time to see his apprentice enter the cockpit, press his lips resolutely, and swing the hilt of his lightsaber so that it connected with Obi-Wan's temple.
Then he knew the calm of unconsciousness.
Luke awoke to a pounding headache. Looking around, he saw he was back in the ship, the Osprey, on his bunk in one of the two small cabins that the ship had. Feeling disoriented, Luke wondered how he had gotten there. He didn't remember going back to the ship or getting into his bunk. He thought back, going over events carefully. The last thing he remembered was the Jedi Council performing a mind search on him and then his Master's voice, demanding that they stop.
He felt his Master's feather light touch on his mind and a tendril of concern. He sent reassurance. He was all right; he just didn't know what was going on.
But quickly enough, he was able to figure it out. Obi-Wan was concerned for him; they were on the ship, and the ship was moving at a high speed. The engines clearly were not taking it well, which meant they hadn't had time to warm up.
They were on the run. Presumably from the Jedi, considering how angry Obi-Wan had been with them by the time Luke lost consciousness.
Focusing and calming himself, Luke reached out for Obi-Wan's mind. He found confusion and an odd blankness instead of the highly focused, determined mind that defined Obi-Wan.
Both confused and alarmed, Luke reached deeper into Obi-Wan's mind. He didn't even seem to be aware of Luke's presence. Obi-Wan's mind had settled into a state that Luke had seen before only in a trance. Sitting up in his bunk, he tried to find the source of it, going from Obi-Wan's mind to a tendril that led elsewhere.
And found himself going back to the planet, to where the source of Obi-Wan's mental confusion lay.
The Jedi Council ? it could only be them ? had messed with his Master's mind. They were still doing it.
He felt a rush of rage, but immediately he could almost hear his Master's voice warning him of anger and the dark side. He fought the anger down and went down the narrow passageway that led to the cockpit. The dark metal floor and bulkheads tilted crazily and he had to reach out to catch himself. If his orientation was right, they were heading back to the planet.
He instantly realized that he had to stop Obi-Wan. Somehow, the Jedi Council had found a way into his mind and had planted some kind of compulsion there to make him obey their will. And if Obi-Wan had to do whatever the Council demanded ? a sudden, horrifying thought entered Luke's mind. Why had they left? Why had Obi-Wan run from Dantooine, taking Luke with him? If he had only been concerned for himself, he would have left Luke so that Luke, at least, would be safe. The only explanation was that Luke was the person in danger.
Because of the kind of life Obi-Wan and Luke lived, Obi-Wan had decided to teach him to make powerful shields, of all kinds. The shields that masked, those that protected; everything. Using that knowledge now, he reached out to the Force. It came to him almost eagerly, flowing through him. He wrapped the strongest shields he could manage around his Master's mind and felt it through his and Obi-Wan's training bond the instant the Council's influence was cut off, weakened by the distance.
Luke slammed the control to the cockpit. The hatch opened, and Luke stepped in to see Obi-Wan staring at the controls with a bewildered and dismayed expression on his face.
Obi-Wan had taught him to do what he had to do. He taught him to be cautious, and to avoid taking chances.
Feeling his face settle in one of determination, Luke stepped forward, and took his lightsaber in his hand. He hefted the hilt for a moment. Obi-Wan suddenly swung in his chair towards him, surprise and befuddlement etched on his features.
The hilt collided with Obi-Wan's temple with a dull thunk.
His Master had taught him well.
The small cockpit had only one seat. It was a nice, plush one, leftover from when the Osprey was a personal vessel used to travel from planet to planet in leisurely manner. Obi-Wan, who sat limply in the chair, looked like he was sleeping except for the tiny trickle of blood that ran down one side of his face.
Ignoring the pang of guilt he felt at the sight, Luke yanked Obi-Wan out of the chair with the help of the Force and shifted him to the floor, half in the cockpit, half out. It looked uncomfortable, but there was no helping that for now. Luke grimly sat in the pilot's seat and took the controls, quickly shifting the course away from the planet.
Glancing at the sensors, Luke saw that the base was quickly scrambling fighters into the air. No large ships yet. Luke knew there were large ships in system, but they were far enough away he was fairly certain he could make it to hyperspace before they could reach him.
It was the fighters he was concerned about. A squadron of Y-wings were already mobilized and in the air. They were on an intercept course for the Osprey. Casting a look at the sensors again, he saw that they were also mobilizing a squadron of the new fighters, X-wings. Luke cursed ? and immediately felt guilty because he knew he shouldn't curse, and he was grateful his Master didn't hear him doing it. It was a silly ? but automatic ? reaction.
The Y-wings were only marginally faster than the Osprey. The main danger with the Y-wings was the fact that the tough fighters not only had laser cannons, but ion cannons as well. If he got hit by one of those ion cannons, the Osprey would be dead in space.
The main danger with the X-wings was their speed. They were astonishingly fast, the Rebellion's answer to the TIE fighter. But unlike the TIE fighter, they had shields. If that squadron caught up with him, he would never make it.
The Y-wing squadron was closing in. He stared at the sensors. His eyes began to tear up from his confusion and frustration. He still didn't know what had happened on Dantooine. Should he kill those who were after him? His frustration and fear mounted. What should he do?
Like a soothing melody, the memory of Obi-Wan's words came to mind. If you don't know what to do, let the Force guide your actions. It will not lead you astray.
"Yes, Master," he murmured almost inaudibly. He flicked the two laser cannons on the Osprey to life. He channeled the Force as he had never before. It flew through him, until he felt that he surely must have been glowing. There was nothing but the Force, and it was with him.
Halfway across the galaxy, Darth Vader suddenly stopped speaking. He had been speaking to a subordinate, the captain of the Executor, about the performance of the fighter pilots ? or lack thereof.
The captain, a thin, hawk faced man, looked at him in confusion. "My Lord?"
Within the Force, something beckoned to him. Its call was a mere whisper, yet something within Vader compelled him to listen. He reached out.
And felt his son's presence, a person he had thought long dead, killed by the Jedi in their fear of his power. Yet his signature was there, and full of light ? in the manner of the Jedi. It blazed firm and steady, speaking of training and self-control.
Son . . .
Luke felt an unfamiliar presence, dark and reeking of evil, touch his mind. Horrified, he realized that in his communion with the Force, he had let his shields drop. Not much, but apparently it was enough for one of the Sith ? or a Dark Jedi, perhaps ? to feel him. How could he have forgotten his training? Only minutes without his Master and he had already failed.
Firmly, he closed his shields again, cutting off the connection the other presence was trying to form.
But he had no time to consider his failings. The Y-wing squadron was closing in. Letting the Force fill him and guide his motions ? yet not dropping his shields this time ? he fired. And fired again.
The shots, guided by the Force as they were, hit. Two fighters spiraled off away from their wing mates, with only their engines damaged. Feeling for the pilots in the Force, he was relieved to discover that they were still alive.
He hadn't killed anyone. Yet.
The others were closing in, coming fast. Considering his options and letting the Force prompt him, he changed course. He felt the pilots' surprise as they adjusted their course to suit.
There were several other planets in the system. Besides Dantooine, there were two gas giants and several small, airless planets orbiting close to the sun. Luke was heading for one of the gas giants. Perhaps he could lose them in the swirls of gas, for the gases had a debilitating effect on sensors and that would help him escape undetected. He would know where they were; he had the advantage of the Force, and he knew that none of the pilots were Force-sensitive.
Going in fast on the upper edges of the planet's atmosphere, he curved around the planet, the Y-wings trying to keep up with his antics. He dipped and rose, went from side to side, did corkscrews through what little orbiting debris there was, and generally made it difficult if not out impossible for the pilots to follow him closely.
Then, masked by the planet and therefore undetectable until now, an old Republic cruiser came into view. Luke gasped.
It was old, its hulled marked by many battles with gouges, pits, and burns. Yet the engines and weaponry were state of the art, and underneath the years of wear was a ship that had once been elegant, and the pride of the fleet.
I'm dead, Luke thought with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
The vessel called him. "This is the Vigilance
. Identify yourself," a male voice said, coming over the communications. They didn't know who they were, then, probably because they were behind the gas planet and messages couldn't get through to them. But the Y-wings would be close enough for communications any moment.
Feeling utter despair, Luke stared at the controls for a moment. Then he flicked the communications on, and said inanely the first thing that came to mind. "Um, this is Luke."
Immediately he winced. Real smart, Luke, real smart, he thought.
There was a few long seconds of silence. Then a new voice came onto the comm, female this time, and the voice oddly melodious. "You wouldn't happen to be a Padawan, would you?"
Luke stared at the comm. for a full second before gathering himself to reply. "Yes. Padawan to Obi-Wan Kenobi." Why not say it? They were captured now and he was proud to be Obi-Wan's Padawan, after all.
The Y-wings came into comm distance, and hailed the old cruiser. Luke picked up the signal and put it through the comm system, out of curiosity. He listened raptly as they spoke.
"Vigilance, this is the leader of Defender Squadron. We're to take this ship back to Dantooine ? there are fugitives aboard."
There was another pause. It wasn't a communication lag; it couldn't be at this short distance. The captain was thinking, apparently. "Negative, Defender. Stand down. We'll handle this."
"But ?" the leader of the squadron began.
"That's a direct order, Commander, and I'm your superior. Get back to Dantooine."
Very reluctantly, "Yes, sir." The communication was cut.
Luke watched in amazement as the squadron went off with its collective tail between its legs. It would be a while before they were able to get someone of higher rank than the captain ? or whomever it was he had been speaking to ? of the Vigilance. They also wouldn't be able to communicate with Dantooine immediately because of the gas giant. They would have travel around it first.
"Unidentified vessel. Respond."
"Uh, I'm here," Luke said. For all that he knew how to fly and shoot almost anything, he realized he didn't know the procedures for talking to another vessel. What an odd gap to have in one's knowledge, he realized absently.
"See that landing bay, the one that's doors have just opened?" the female voice asked.
Luke took a good look at the Vigilance. "Yes," he said. "You want me to land in there?"
"Can you do it?"
"Of course," Luke replied, for a moment insulted. He immediately felt ashamed of his cocky response. "Yes, sir," he corrected himself.
"All right, then. I'll be waiting for you there. And, please, don't try and run. My squadrons are far better than Defender, and we will take you back by force."
Luke's mouth felt dry. "Yes, sir." He cut the comm.
He stared at the open landing bay of the Vigilance for a few long moments. Then he used the controls to turn the ship towards it, for a landing. As they approached, Luke glanced at his Master, still unconscious and lying on the floor. How was he going to explain that?
For the first time in his life, Luke felt well and truly uncertain.
Luke lost himself in the joy of flying, his concentration wholly on making a perfect landing. He set down in the landing bay gently. As he did so, suddenly the reality of his situation kicked in. He and his Master were being pursued by the Rebellion. He had shot down two ships. Actions had consequences.
After taking a deep calming breath, Luke got out of his seat and knelt by Obi-Wan. With the sleeve of his tunic he wiped the blood on the side of Obi-Wan's face away. Unexpectedly, he found his eyes stinging with tears. He had hurt his Master. It had been necessary, he knew that, but it didn't help his feelings of guilt.
"I'm so afraid, Master." Luke whispered, knowing that Obi-Wan couldn't hear it but saying the words anyway. It brought him a small amount of comfort. He could imagine Obi-Wan smiling down at him, and ruffling his hair to tell him that it was going to be all right. Of course, he couldn't do that now. Luke stifled a sob.
Then he heard the sound of the hatch opening. Someone was coming in.
She regarded the hatchway that would lead into the ship silently, her security officer by her side. He was tense, as he had been since she had told him she would be going into the ship alone. She considered her actions earlier, and thought that she had a great many more things to worry about than a boy and a Jedi, regardless of the fact that their supposed allies were pursuing them. She had just countermanded the orders given to Defender Squadron by Command. She had, in a sense, just defied everyone in the Rebellion from Command on down, though she doubted that the squadron had realized that. And she had defied the Jedi as well. They had allowed their own to be called 'fugitives', and at a guess, that was not done lightly.
Her career could very well be over because of her actions, if not her life; she would no longer have the protection of the Rebellion if she was forced to leave. If she stepped into the ship and helped its occupants, she would be sealing her fate. There wasn't much room for employment for former Rebellion officers, after all. And she had done it for a boy she hadn't seen in eight years ? and his Master. Obi-Wan. She sighed deeply and made her decision.
Kyalla Lyhar didn't hesitate to step into the ship. She glanced around curiously. The deck and bulkheads were a plain, dark metal. Obviously the ship had been a personal transport at one time, but there did not seem to be any remnants of the ship's former purpose. It was stark and utilitarian.
It didn't take her long to get her bearings. She turned right and headed for the cockpit. Halfway down the narrow passageway, she halted.
Lying on the floor, half in the cockpit and half out, was Obi-Wan Kenobi. His hair was longer than she remembered, and his beard unkempt. His dark robe lay around him in such a way that Kyalla suspected he had been dragged to where he was lying. He was unconscious, but his breathing was steady and deep, so the injury was likely not serious.
The boy looked up at her. He was nervous, afraid, but plainly not for his Master's life, so Obi-Wan was probably all right. His hair was short, in the traditional Padawan hairstyle, but he had no braid. Kyalla knew he could only be one person, with those startlingly blue eyes and blond hair.
"Hello, Luke. Do you remember me?" Kyalla asked, deliberately keeping her tone and body language unthreatening. She folded her hands in front of her. She kept her thoughts calm and quiet, in the way Obi-Wan had taught her years before. While she could not build shields the way a Jedi could, anyone could stop himself or herself from broadcasting loudly, and she did that now.
Luke's eyes went to her black uniform, square and formal in its cut. "Yes," he replied, hesitantly, a spark of relief and hope lighting in his eyes. "But you were a captain then."
A genuine smile escaped Kyalla's control. "Captain, General . . . close enough," she said nonchalantly. She turned her gaze towards Obi-Wan, keeping her manner calm and curious. "And just how did Obi-Wan end up this way?"
"I did it," Luke blurted. A brief look of horror passed over his face, and then Jedi control was reinstated. "I had to do it," Luke said, looking up at her from his position on the deck, gaze pleading, as if desperate to make her believe him.
"You knocked him out?" Kyalla said, unable to keep repress her surprise ? and a tiny flicker of suspicion. She resisted the urge to go to Obi-Wan's side. "What for?"
Luke's lower lip trembled. "It's the Jedi. They were controlling him ? we were escaping ? "
Kyalla knelt by Obi-Wan and Luke. "Calm down. Why were you escaping, and from whom? The Jedi?"
The boy nodded miserably. "I think so."
"Why?" Kyalla asked almost gently. Her bafflement was increasing by the moment.
"I don't know!" Luke cried, plainly distressed.
Seeing that, Kyalla inwardly berated herself. Her instincts as an officer had kicked in, and she had started asking questions of a thirteen year old that he obviously was not capable of answering. It was also obvious that they couldn't carry on this conversation here, with the boy's unconscious Master lying there. Explanations would have to wait.
"Tell you what, Luke. How about we take Obi-Wan to MediCenter, and get him looked at to make sure he's all right. Then you can explain to me what happened on Dantooine, and why that squadron was after you."
Her face was as beautiful as he remembered it, he noted absently as he slowly focused. Her dark, chocolate skin was unmarked ? except, he noted, for a tiny scar below her left eye. Her dark blue eyes looked down at him curiously. Her black uniform was spotless. She lifted an elegant eyebrow.
"Welcome back to the land of the conscious, Obi-Wan," she said.
"Captain?" Obi-Wan muttered, confused, stifling his first instinct to call her by her name. He tried to catalogue his surroundings. The sterile, white area looked to be a MediCenter. The air smelled faintly of bacta.
"Well, it's General, actually," Lyhar said, with a self-deprecating half nod. "But close enough."
Obi-Wan tried to rise ? and found that he was unable to do so. He looked down at himself and saw that he wore a white hospital gown and a blanket was lying on top of him, neatly tucked into the bed. A bacta patch was on his forehead and he felt bruised. He was also quite firmly restrained, with his wrists and feet tied to the side of the bed and a strap across his chest for good measure.
"What's this?" Obi-Wan demanded. "And where is Luke?" He felt an instant of alarm, instantly changed to worry as he automatically controlled the useless urge to panic.
A blond head popped up next to Lyhar, who stood by the bed. The boy had been not been in Obi-Wan's limited sight range, lying down as he was. "I'm here, Master."
"Why were you hiding?" Obi-Wan asked, instantly responding to Luke's actions first. He was dismayed at the fact that his apprentice had felt it necessary to hide from him. His concern for his apprentice drove out everything else, including his puzzlement as to why he was restrained.
Luke shifted uncomfortably, and wouldn't look him in the eyes. "'Cause."
A monosyllable answer. A very childish thing to do, and while Luke was a child, Obi-Wan couldn't let him get away with it. "Look at me, Padawan."
Miserable blue eyes met his as Luke obeyed. "I had to, Master! I'm so, so sorry for hitting you, but I had to!" Luke burst out. He rubbed his eyes, which were rapidly becoming shiny with tears, and looked at the floor again.
The memories came back to him in a rush. He paused, taking in the information, then focused on Luke again. "It's all right, Luke. I'm proud of you, you did the right thing. The Council put a compulsion on me; knocking me out was the best thing you could have done under the circumstances."
Luke looked up, hope shining in his eyes. "You're not mad?"
"Of course not. Would I get mad over such a thing, Padawan?" Obi-Wan asked gently.
Luke shook his head. He hesitated for a moment, then threw his arms around Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan couldn't do the same, still tied down as he was, but he wanted to hug Luke right back. As he had gotten older, Luke had hugged his Master less and less, and while he knew it was somewhat silly, Obi-Wan missed it.
He glanced at Lyhar. She was looking at the scene with an undeniably touched expression on her face, her hands clasped in front of her in a relaxed manner. When Luke drew away, he looked at her and said, "Where are we? If we're out of the system, we're too far for the Council to reach me."
"We're in hyperspace," Lyhar replied with a nod.
Luke looked up at her for permission, and asked, "Can I untie him, then?" Obi-Wan noted this with pride. It was Lyhar's domain; it was her decision to make whether or not Obi-Wan was truly dangerous, and Luke's realization of this was a good sign of his understanding of such things.
Lyhar nodded graciously. "If what he says is true." Obi-Wan and Lyhar shot each other half amused, half suspicious glances.
Luke didn't notice and joyfully untied Obi-Wan, giving him another hug before fully letting go. Obi-Wan returned it, enjoying simply being able to hold Luke in his arms. He sighed faintly when Luke released him.
Lyhar glanced between them quickly, and said, "You should get dressed, Obi-Wan. We have a lot to discuss."
They were seated in Lyhar's quarters. They were, Obi-Wan noted with bemusement, the ones that he had had when he had been aboard the Vigilance. He supposed it made sense; Lyhar was a general now and that had been his rank. The tan and gray walls and furniture seemed comfortingly familiar to him. Obi-Wan and Luke sat on the couch and Kyalla sat across from them, in the same chair she had sat in years before when he had told her of Luke ? and Anakin.
After Obi-Wan was untied and his bandage checked, they had come directly here. He knew that he would have to speak to Luke about the battle, about nearly killing those who were supposed to his allies, but that would have to wait for later. He already knew what had happened in the general sense, when Kyalla had nicely given him a neat summary of her meeting with Luke. His aching body told him that the boy had probably made some tricky maneuvers in the Osprey while he was unconscious. His head ached but he damped down the pain with the Force.
Kyalla folded her hands together and, without preamble, began speaking. "When I rescued you, I indirectly disobeyed Command."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Luke mentioned that there were Y-wings after us, which you ordered away. Why do you say indirectly? It seems pretty obvious that you did go against Command."
"Indirectly in the sense that I was never given orders to capture you, never even knew you were supposed to be captured. I was on the side of that gas planet where communications couldn't reach. As far as I know, you're an old friend and Defender Squadron is out of their minds. But really, that's just a pleasant fiction." A hint of something that could not be defined entered her eyes as she looked at Obi-Wan.
"But what about leaving the system?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Vigilance was staying in system to make some repairs. We were told to get underway as soon as we were done. You know how informal these things are, Obi-Wan," Kyalla said.
"True," Obi-Wan said slowly. He paused. "Get underway to where?"
Kyalla looked him straight in the eyes. "That's what I wanted to discuss with you. I'd love to drop you off somewhere, but I can't just yet. I have a mission to complete first and, whether or not I get kicked out of the Rebellion, that is my first priority." Whatever had been in her eyes moments before, it was gone now, lost in the fierceness that Obi-Wan had always known her to have.
Obi-Wan glanced at Luke, concern for his safety immediately entering his mind. Luke was listening to the conversation calmly and showed no awareness of his Master's thoughts. "So Luke and I will be along for the ride, that's what you're saying."
"Actually, Obi-Wan, I want your help."
He lifted an eyebrow in surprise at that. "Really?"
"Yes," Kyalla said and stopped. Her eyes flicked to Luke, who was watching attentively. She turned her gaze back to Obi-Wan, who gave her a steady look and said nothing. Luke glanced from one to the other, putting together what was happening.
Kyalla gave in with a slight dip of her head. Luke would stay. "You remember our last mission together, Obi-Wan?" she asked, purely professional.
Obi-Wan ducked his head slightly, surprised by the apparent change of subject. "Yes. The escort mission. What about it?"
"We were escorting weapons specialists."
"Weapons specialists?" Obi-Wan repeated, leaning back in against the couch. He rubbed his beard, thoughtfully. His hair was still mostly ginger but sprinkles of gray had found its way into his beard.
"Yes." Kyalla took a deep breath, and Obi-Wan could see her forcing herself not to say something. "Two years ago, Vader found out where they were and captured them. He began using them for a highly secretive project. A project that I have been sent to destroy."
Vader. That name encompassed so many things for Obi-Wan, so much of his life. Grief, anger, betrayal. And Luke; no wonder Kyalla had hesitated. Luke, the precocious child who picked up thoughts so easily ? and he was here.
"What kind of project? What are they building?" Obi-Wan asked, swiftly changing the subject to distract both of them from the thoughts rampaging through their minds. It was odd, he thought, how the two of them could slip into their old roles so easily. Lyhar had often debriefed Obi-Wan on their next mission.
"Some kind of ship with a powerful laser. Used to raze planet surfaces, possibly. If it were fully built, it would be quite large. But as yet, it's all in pieces, on the ground, ready to be assembled."
Obi-Wan sighed, thinking of the terror such a weapon could cause. "No wonder the Rebellion wants it destroyed. What kind of protection does it have?"
"Well, everything about it is supposed to be a secret. Its existence, its location, what it does, everything. So protection is minimal. Some pickets and one small cruiser. And some manpower on the ground."
"All right," Obi-Wan said. He frowned at her. "But what do you need me for?"
"Part of our mission is to destroy the plans for the ship as well. It would take them years to work out the schematics again and, from what Intel says, the only copy is there ? with the ship. But, unfortunately, it's in a bunker. The Vigilance is going to do a flyby to destroy the components; probably several of them. However, our firepower isn't enough to reach the bunker. That's going to have to be bombed from the inside."
"And you want me to do it?" Obi-Wan said incredulously.
Lyhar leaned forward. "You've been on dozens of these kinds of missions, Obi-Wan. I have a small strike force on board, but they aren't as nearly as experienced as you. What I'm asking is that you help us, one final time, and lead the mission. After this, I'll drop you and Luke wherever you want, I swear. But Force knows this mission is important ? think of the damage that ship could do."
Obi-Wan waved away her words, thinking furiously and quickly coming to a decision. "All right. I'll do it. But Luke stays on board and you better keep him safe."
Luke started. "What? Master ?"
Obi-Wan looked his young apprentice in the eye, needing only that to silence him. After a second, he said, "I know you've been on dangerous missions with me, Padawan. And yet, the Force warns me this will be more dangerous than those other missions. I want you safe, where I won't have to worry about you."
Luke spoke softly, but earnestly. "But Master, I want to be beside you, it is my duty ? and my honor ? to fight by your side."
Obi-Wan lifted his hand and smoothed back the blond spikes of Luke's hair. "I know, Luke. But you will stay here," he said softly, his affection as clear as the authoritative tone that allowed no argument.
The boy lowered his head and sighed. "Yes, Master," he said. His tone wasn't sulky but sad. Then he looked up again, after nervously glancing at Kyalla. Then he turned back to Obi-Wan, lowering his voice and leaning in. "Master, I have to tell you something."
Surprised, Obi-Wan let his hand drop. "What is it?"
"I messed up, Master, in the battle with the Y-wings."
"What do you mean? You did a fine job ?" Obi-Wan began.
Luke's words came out in a rush as his eyes begged for forgiveness. "I dropped my shields, just a bit, in the battle, and this dark presence touched my mind ? it was reaching for me, trying to make a connection ?"
The look of sheer horror on Obi-Wan's face stopped him. Obi-Wan felt utter terror; it was fear that he hadn't known since his Master was impaled by a red lightsaber on Naboo. He knew now that it was the fear of losing something precious to him. Qui-Gon's loss had hurt until he thought he could feel no more pain. Anakin's turning had dispelled that notion ? he had been devastated. Losing Luke would destroy him. Losing the boy to his father would be far, far worse than losing him to death. For a split second, he almost regretted taking Luke from Dantooine. Almost ? then the thought quickly faded.
"What happened then, Padawan? Tell me," Obi-Wan demanded, his voice harsh.
"I c-cut it off, Master. The connection." Luke was looking at him fearfully.
His relief was so intense he almost wept. Wordlessly, he pulled Luke into a rough, tight embrace. Luke tensed for a moment and then relaxed, wrapping his arms around his Master.
He spoke into Obi-Wan's tunic. "I was so frightened, Master. But I followed your training, I did. I released my fear to the Force, and I put up the strongest shields I could."
"I'm sure you did. I'm sure you did," Obi-Wan whispered. He turned towards Kyalla. Her face was a shade lighter than usual. She had realized the implications nearly as quickly as Obi-Wan had but she had already calmed down. "This mission, Kyalla. And then we will truly have to leave," he said, his voice still slightly roughened and his gaze fierce.
Kyalla simply nodded.
Jinatra Prime was a Core World, between Coruscant and Dormallan. It had a relatively healthy tourist trade because of its perfect beaches and blue sea. It was a nice planet and definitely not where one would expect to find a super weapon being built. But, Obi-Wan supposed, that was why it had been chosen.
The plan was simple enough. The Vigilance would leave hyperspace while still well out of the system and a small shuttle would take off, carrying Obi-Wan and his strike team. They would land on Jinatra Prime and get to the bunker that had the schematics. At a prearranged time, the Vigilance would enter the system and take care of the small cruiser. She would then go in and start destroying the base that held the components. They would have to be careful as they did so, since the bunker wasn't far from the base, and they didn't want to kill their own people.
The Vigilance would make two fly-bys. They estimated that one would do the job but it was always a good idea to plan for the worst possible scenario. During the second fly-by, Obi-Wan and the strike team would go into the bunker and set charges. They would then leave and go for their shuttle. At about the time the shuttle had reached orbit, the Vigilance would have completed the second run and the shuttle would dock with Vigilance. They would then leave ? the mission complete.
That was the plan, anyway.
Both Obi-Wan and Kyalla knew that plans rarely went perfectly. But the way they were doing it was the most logical way to reach the objective they wanted. It was the manner of the Rebellion: hit hard and hit fast, then get out.
Obi-Wan glanced again at the shuttle controls. He was restless; he really needed to meditate but he couldn't do that here, at least not properly. He sighed and tried to release his emotions to the Force. "I have a bad feeling about this," he muttered under his breath.
His pilot glanced at him and he saw the man's mouth quirk into a humorless smile. "That doesn't bode well, with you being a Jedi," the pilot commented, keeping his voice low. He would be staying with the shuttle, but the other nine men behind him would be going with Obi-Wan and the Jedi could feel their tension.
Obi-Wan answered dryly, "The future is always in motion."
The pilot turned away and mumbled but, with a Jedi's acute hearing, he heard the man say, "Jedi and their meaningless, utterly comfortless sayings."
Obi-Wan covered his smile with his hand.
Since he had woken, he and Luke had been working on taking out the compulsion that the Council had implanted in his mind, after Obi-Wan helped Luke through what he had done in the Dantooine system. Extracting the compulsion hadn't been an easy process; while Luke was skilled, he was still a learner, and it showed when he tried to help Obi-Wan. But he was fairly certain now that the compulsion was mostly gone; at this point, it was so mangled beyond recognition it wouldn't matter that it had not been completely removed.
"Approaching Jinatra Prime," the pilot said, interrupting Obi-Wan from his musings. Obi-Wan glanced out. A large blue-green planet filled the view.
"Coming in under sensors," the pilot reported. Obi-Wan nodded absently. The little view of space they had had a few minutes ago was gone now, replaced completely by the planet. He had hoped that the bad feeling would go away once they reached the planet but it had increased instead. He dismissed it from his thoughts reluctantly, trusting his feelings but knowing it was too late to abort the mission now.
The pilot landed a few kilometers from the bunker, in a small clearing within the vibrantly green forest that surrounded the base. "Good landing," Obi-Wan told him.
The pilot nodded and grimaced at the same time. "Let's hope the rest of this mission goes so well."
Obi-Wan could only nod in wordless agreement.
On the bridge of the Vigilance, Luke fidgeted. He was standing next to Lyhar's chair. He was wearing something akin to Jedi robes, which made him look out of place with all the uniformed officers surrounding him.
"What is it, Luke? That's the fifth time I've told you stop fidgeting like that," Lyhar said.
Luke looked at her, blue eyes wide and filled with worry. "Something is wrong. Very wrong."
Lyhar raised an eyebrow. "Do you know what it is?" she asked. She doubted that he could really know, Jedi or not, but caution demanded she ask.
"No," the boy said despairingly. He sighed, and seemed to collect himself. So self controlled for one so young, Lyhar thought. "But whatever it is, it cannot be changed now. I sense that." The resigned surety in his next words filled Lyhar with a nameless dread, even as she doubted them.
"It will happen."
They waited patiently. It had been drilled into them many times to remain calm, to release nervous tension. Distraction or worry could get them killed. They knew this, even though they were relatively inexperienced.
Obi-Wan remained calm through decades of Jedi training. The sense of wrongness was increasing by the second but, as time went on, Obi-Wan became more and more convinced it had nothing to do with the actual mission.
The ground rocked. Explosions ripped through the air with sudden, startling violence. In unison, Obi-Wan and his men looked up, struggling to see through the canopy of the trees. The Vigilance was making a slow flyby; her massive form was strangely real and intimidating in the atmosphere. With neither side seeing the other, space battles were largely impersonal. This was not.
Not needing to share words, they got up and silently made their way to the bunker. They took down the perimeter guards with relative ease, using knives in order to maintain silence. Next came the entrance of the bunker, a heavily armored door with cracked cement surrounding it. Because of the intelligence that had been gathered, they already knew the code to get in, and they used it after disposing of the guards.
The bunker was dark, with narrow hallways and low ceilings. They split up into groups of two, spreading throughout the bunker and setting charges at key locations that would cause the structure to collapse. Everything had been carefully planned.
The sense of wrongness intensified so much it was nearly unbearable. The Force was telling him to move ? and move quickly. He switched on his comlink and used it talk to the rest of his men. "We need to move fast, people. Get those charges down and get out. Go to the ship and don't wait for the rest of us to get out first."
The men acknowledged the order with a simple "Yes, sir." Obi-Wan and his teammate, a dark haired young man of twenty, finished planting their charges. A quick sweep of the area showed the rest had already left for the ship. Hesitating for only an instant, Obi-Wan reached out further in the Force.
He felt darkness. An inkblot of evil in perfection.
"Sir?" the young man by him questioned, shaking Obi-Wan's shoulder. He had probably been trying to get his attention for several seconds.
"We have to get out," Obi-Wan gasped hoarsely. "Now."
The young man's eyes widened, knowing that if a Jedi feared something it had to be horrifying. They both bolted for the exit. They reached the door and Obi-Wan hit the control to open it. They both moved through it.
There, alone, stood Darth Vader. Obi-Wan froze. The young man took a frightened step back into the bunker, fear radiating from him, causing ripples in the Force. The Sith was perhaps ten meters away.
"Run the other way," Obi-Wan told the young man in a low voice. The man was shaking. The Jedi tried to use the Force to calm him but he instantly realized that Vader was stopping him from doing so.
"Leave him alone, Darth," Obi-Wan commanded, refusing to be intimidated.
Vader chuckled, a strange and artificial sound. "I relish the taste of his fear," he responded casually.
"He has nothing to do with this, with us. If you have any honor left in you, let him go," Obi-Wan said, more softly now. Trying to appeal to some humanity in Vader, perhaps.
"Trying to protect a pathetic lifeform, Obi-Wan?" Vader mocked.
Obi-Wan suddenly had a flashback of the term he had used too liberally ? and unfeelingly ? as a young man. Then he felt a wave of darkness within the Force and a sudden absence of the young man's life-force. Vader had snapped his neck. Obi-Wan didn't turn his gaze as he heard the body fall. He felt the Dark Lord's pleased satisfaction.
"Feeling guilty yet, Obi-Wan? I killed him because of you."
"I have enough guilt to last many lifetimes, Darth." Strange how he couldn't use the name Vader had taken but instead used that given to all Sith. It was a way of distancing himself from the fact that Vader had once been Anakin, he supposed. It was easier to think of him as a faceless monster.
Vader held his lightsaber loosely in his hand. Apparently he planned to make the pleasure of taunting and killing Obi-Wan last. "What's one more, is that your attitude, my old Master?"
Obi-Wan unclipped his lightsaber from his belt, knowing what was coming. "Each life is special and unique, Darth. You know that."
The dark satisfaction changed to rage. "Don't tell me what I do or don't know, Kenobi. You're a weak fool like the rest." Vader ignited his lightsaber. Its color was blood red. He began taking slow, careful steps forward, the movements slow but precise, even in the bulky machinery and armor that kept him alive.
"A fool, perhaps, for not seeing you for what you were ? but not weak," Obi-Wan countered. He was calm; he had centered himself within the Force, to prepare for battle ? and possibly his own death.
"Where is my son, Kenobi?" Vader asked dangerously.
Obi-Wan flicked his thumb and his lightsaber came to life. Blue, like Anakin's had once been. "Do you expect me to answer that?"
Vader snarled and then attacked. He swung his lightsaber at Obi-Wan's neck. But rather than block the move, Obi-Wan flipped over him, using the Force to increase the height he went to in the arc of his flip. Vader whirled, still quite fast despite his armor. However, he couldn't perform those kinds of aerial displays anymore; he had never been good at them in the first place and he was even less so now.
"Running away, Obi-Wan?" Vader asked, taunting.
Obi-Wan didn't reply. He waited for the next attack ? and he didn't have to wait long. Vader came at him with a flurry of moves, blindingly fast and executed with precision. That precision was, in many ways more deadly than any leap Obi-Wan could pull off.
Obi-Wan quickly realized that Vader's skill in strategizing and perfection of movement had increased much over the years. His own skill had increased as well, yet he was not certain how this fight would turn out.
As Vader drew on his hatred and rage, Obi-Wan drew on the peace the Force granted to those dedicated to the Light. Vader's moves were vicious while Obi-Wan's were serene and graceful. To any Force-sensitive being, what was happening was a sight rarely seen. A Sith and a Jedi, of nearly equal skill, in an all out duel. It was a clash of Light and Darkness. The unseen battle what was truly important in this fight.
As Obi-Wan blocked and dodged the strikes and feints Vader made, a mental battle was waged. Vader continually slammed into Obi-Wan's shielding, already weakened from the compulsion the Jedi Council had put him under.
With growing horror, Obi-Wan realized that Vader was trying to use the remnants of his training bond with him to gain entrance to his mind. He slammed into Obi-Wan's shields yet again and Obi-Wan staggered, both physically and mentally. His shields faltered, his guard dropped for an instant.
Luke was more than afraid ? he was utterly terrified. His Master was in a battle for his life; he knew that, though he didn't how or why. Even across this distance, he felt his Master's fierce concentration.
Then he felt it falter, for merely an instant . . . and the training bond that Master and Padawan shared was brutally snapped.
"Nooooo!" Luke screamed. He fell to his knees as his hands went to his head. His vision blurred while he wept and cried incoherently, "M-Master ? Master ?" he began repeating the title endlessly, holding his head as his mind splintered apart in his grief. He couldn't think ? there was only the pain.
He didn't feel it when someone came up to him, and pulling him into comforting arms. The ship shook as it made its second flyby.
Obi-Wan felt himself falter.
Vader ignored the opportunity to stab his former Master with his lightsaber. Instead, Obi-Wan felt him grasp the dark side of the Force and shove his way into Obi-Wan's mind, past the barriers that represented years of training.
Obi-Wan knew what he had to do and he didn't hesitate. There was no time to undo the bond gently; he snapped his connection to Luke. It happened so suddenly he did not even hear Luke's cry of loss. Simultaneously, he reached into his own mind and cut off certain memories from the rest of his mind. He drove certain parts of himself behind further shields, away from his conscious mind.
With the pain of Vader's mental touch increasing, Obi-Wan fell to his knees. He was so tired. He struggled to push Vader out but the attempt only weakened him further. He heard Vader's mental snarl when he didn't find what he wanted. He went past Obi-Wan's knowledge of the Rebellion without even glancing at it. Memories of Obi-Wan as Qui-Gon's Padawan. Memories of himself.
Obi-Wan reached for the gossamer thread of his bond with Vader. Vader had ruthlessly used it to gain entrance into the Jedi's mind. Now he would use it in a different way than the Sith had.
Doing what Vader had done to him, Obi-Wan went into Vader's mind and opened himself to the Force as he never had before, until it filled him so much it went nearly beyond his control.
Then he blasted the darkness of Darth Vader with light.
With a shattered, strangely low and mechanical scream coming out of his helmet, Vader fell back physically and mentally, drawing completely out of Obi-Wan's mind. Obi-Wan drew up tattered mental shields, snapped what remained of the bond and opened his eyes.
He rose shakily to his feet. The forest looked peaceful, greenery gently waving in the breeze, a contrast to what had occurred between the Jedi and Sith only moments ago. Darth Vader was on his knees now, his lightsaber deactivated on the ground beside him. The dark side still roiled strongly within him.
In fact, the Force itself was chaotic and wild there, like a once peaceful sea in a storm. It flickered around Obi-Wan's mind, demanding things which he didn't understand, could not comprehend. Its presence was so real it felt like it was physically affecting him.
Obi-Wan looked at Vader. The armored figure was weak, but probably not weak enough that he would not be able to stop an attack. And such an act would open Obi-Wan to the dark side until he was no better than his former apprentice.
Obi-Wan clipped his lightsaber to his belt and ran for the forest, for the shuttle that might not even be there. After a few seconds, Vader stumbled after his former Master.
The Vigilance completed its second flyby. Luke was still weeping on the floor of the bridge and an ensign was comforting him, but Lyhar had not the time to spare for that now. She knew only one thing could have provoked such a reaction in Luke but she forced away her sense of loss.
"The shuttle?" she asked one of her officers tensely.
"Hasn't taken off yet, sir," the young man replied.
The loud cursing of one of the helm officers cut off any reply Lyhar could have made. "Imperial Class Destroyer inbound! Repeat. Imperial Class Destroyer inbound and it's the Executor." The level of tension in the room increased drastically until it felt like it could be snapped like a thread.
"Where?" Lyhar demanded, her pulse racing.
"It came from around one of the other planets in the system, sir," someone said.
"Get us out of here," Lyhar ordered. The shuttle and its occupants would have to go for their prearranged meeting place, assuming they were able to get past the Executor. The deep thrum of the ship's sublight engines increased as more demand was put upon them. Slowly they began to pull away from the planet. The Executor was still a fair distance away so it was likely that the Vigilance would be able to get out of the gravity well in time, which meant they could reach hyperspace.
The Executor turned to match course. Even at this distance, the long triangular form was intimidating.
"The Executor is firing," a bridge officer said. Seen from the top, the Executor had a line of smooth armor surrounding the weapon and sensor towers that made the rest look like a small city perched on a ship. Little flashes of light could be seen from that area.
"At this distance?" Lyhar said, disbelieving. Anything that hit would be sheer luck. She looked at the image closer. They were unloading every missile they had.
"We're out of the gravity well," helm reported. "Engaging engines to reach hyperspace."
The stars blurred to lines as the ship jerked and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief . . . save for one small boy, still weeping on the deck.
Obi-Wan ran to the location where the shuttle hopefully would still be as fast as he could. He went faster than Vader, who was still recovering from the massive burst of light and goodness that had flooded his mind. No doubt it made it difficult for Vader to fully tap the dark side.
He ran heedless of his surroundings, not even feeling it as thorns and branches ripped his clothing and skin. Eventually he lost the sound of Vader's stumbling pursuit.
The shuttle was still in the clearing. The landing gear was down but the engines were revved to go. When Obi-Wan stumbled out of the forest into the soft grass of the clearing, the hatch opened. One of the strike team ? at this point Obi-Wan could not even comprehend who it was ? gestured for him to hurry.
Obi-Wan reached the hatch and strong hands pulled him in. As he lay panting on the deck of the shuttle, he looked out of the closing hatch in time to see Vader stumble out of the forest.
One of the men cursed.
"Lift off! Lift off!" Obi-Wan gasped. "The other ?" he didn't remember his name, why couldn't he remember his name? "The other is dead."
The shuttle jerked as it lifted and the hatch closed. The engines' pitch went higher as the pilot put more demand on them.
Obi-Wan let his head fall back on the hard deck and unconsciousness claimed him.
Luke had finally stopped sobbing. He had wept until he felt like he couldn't cry anymore, until he thought there were no tears left and that they had all been ripped out his soul. Then a thought or memory would remind him and a few tears would slip down his cheeks, mostly going unnoticed, as he no longer cared enough to pay attention.
It seemed that every few moments that single instant would replay itself in his mind. He felt anger when he realized that it was the Force that kept reminding him. Why was it torturing him this way?
He was in General Lyhar's quarters. He wasn't sure why she had brought him there . . . pity, perhaps, for his near catatonic state.
The bond snapping was the worst moment of his life. He remembered his Master's fierce concentration and determination just before the bond had been cut. He remembered when Obi-Wan had first told him of the training bond. How when a Padawan is knighted, the bond is gently dissolved. He also remembered when Obi-Wan had described to him when Qui-Gon, his own Master, had died and what the broken bond had felt like. He knew that his mind was probably scarred from the sudden loss of his bond with Obi-Wan; a training bond was simply not meant to be severed that way.
Severed. Gone. Dead.
He started crying again. Would the pain never end?
He felt something warm being pushed into his hands and he focused on his surroundings.
Lyhar had handed him a cup of hot chocolate. He stared at it a moment then took a sip. The taste filled his mouth as warmth soothed his sore throat. Obi-Wan had liked hot chocolate.
Lyhar politely ignored his tears. He sniffled, looking up at her.
Her face was worn and sad. She wasn't as old as Obi-Wan had been, but her face was starting to show her age with gentle lines around her eyes. Her hands were loose and relaxed in her lap, elbows on knees as she leaned forward.
"Luke?" she said softly, looking into his teary eyes with concern. "Do you have anywhere, anyone to go to?"
He shook his head mutely.
Lyhar turned away and he saw her bite her lip. Some emotion passed across her face, and then she turned to gaze at him.
"We're going to be picking up the strike team that went with Obi-Wan in a few hours. We'll know then . . . what happened."
Luke nodded. Yes, he did want to know how his Master had died.
Slowly, hesitantly, Lyhar got up and sat down beside him on the couch. She gently put an arm around his shoulders. He resisted for a moment.
"Sometimes," she said softly, "it helps to have someone to mourn with."
He leaned against her, worn and heart-sick, and cried.
Luke kept his face calm and Jedi-like as he followed Lyhar down to the docking bay. The strike team had just landed and they had requested a medic. He would remain calm when they told him how his Master had died. He would honor Obi-Wan's memory and be a Jedi.
Any resolve he had completely disappeared when a man walked out of the hatchway of the shuttle with Obi-Wan hanging limply in his arms.
A breathing Obi-Wan.
The man lay Obi-Wan on the deck. His face was pale and his body very still, but he was alive. His presence in the Force was weak but it was there. Heedless of Lyhar, Luke ran forward and fell by his Master's side. It came to him in rush and he cursed his own blindness. Just before the bond had snapped, he had gotten a sense of regret and reassurance. But that mattered little now.
He reached out with the Force, trying to touch his Master's mind.
And was wrapped in chaos.
Obi-Wan's mind was a roiling mess. Emotions, thoughts, memories were all blurred and twisted around each other. Luke almost lost himself in it and felt fear and dread as to what could have happened to Obi-Wan. Never in all the years that he had known Obi-Wan had he ever been anything other than rock solid and perfectly steady with a completely calm and ordered mind.
Bracing himself, Luke threw himself into the thick of the confusion that kept his Master imprisoned inside his own mind; and he knew that instinctively, that Obi-Wan was trying to get out, to regain consciousness, but could not.
He tried to separate out the strands of Obi-Wan's thoughts and memories, and found he could not. There were too many and he was too unfamiliar with them. Reaching for the Force to a deeper level than he had ever done before, he called to Obi-Wan.
There was a slight response. Encouraged, Luke tried again. Master, help me. More urgently. Master!
Obi-Wan's concern for his Padawan overrode the confusion in his mind. He responded, reaching out, seeking Luke's mind. When Luke felt the clumsy touch, he almost winced. The lack of the bond made it difficult for them to speak this way. But it was necessary.
Slowly, Luke guided Obi-Wan back into his own mind, sending reassurance because of the panicked feelings that Obi-Wan was projecting. He felt it as Obi-Wan began to regain control. His relief was intense and it flooded Obi-Wan's unprotected mind.
Thoughts and memories were shuffled around. Then Obi-Wan's mind settled and Luke heard, Thank you, Padawan. With a mental smile, Luke withdrew from his Master's mind.
He opened his eyes. Lyhar was sitting beside him, he noted with bafflement. When had that happened? She started when he looked at her.
"Luke?" she asked, leaning forward with a concerned expression.
"He'll be okay now," Luke said, in a slightly slurred voice. His vision started to fade to black and he felt utterly relaxed. He never even felt it when he hit the floor.
Obi-Wan awoke to a steady beeping sound. His muscles were loose and relaxed and he felt like he was surrounded by soft warmth. He was in a bed, he realized. Then he smelled something familiar. Bacta.
He opened his eyes. He was in the Vigilance's MediCenter. The beeping sound was a heart rate.
But it was not his own. Curled up beside up him was Luke, wearing some white, hospital clothing. His normally tan face was pale. He was lying on Obi-Wan's shoulder, his body curled up against his Master's and his hands by Obi-Wan's waist. Sensors were attached to several places on his forehead and neck and one on his wrist. As Obi-Wan gazed at him, he sighed faintly in his sleep and squirmed closer.
Carefully moving his hand, which was under Luke, he shifted and put his hand on the soft halo of Luke's hair. He pressed down, feeling the gentle resistance it gave. Having Luke near him gave him a feeling of such peace.
Then he remembered Vader. Luke twitched as he reacted to the sudden strong emotion, but didn't wake. Immediately, Obi-Wan strengthened his shields, and felt the body against him relax. He was startled to realize that Luke had sensed the emotion. He shouldn't have been able to ? the training bond no longer existed.
He remembered running from Vader and getting to the shuttle, but everything after that was a blank. His injuries weren't severe so why was he here? For that matter, why was Luke here and why did he have sensors attached to him?
Feeling his confusion deepen, he reached out with the Force and tried to feel for Lyhar's presence.
She was calm but tired, he immediately sensed, and halfway across the ship. Then, to his extreme startlement, he felt Lyhar suddenly become aware of his presence. Tentatively, he felt her project her thought uncertainly. Obi-Wan? It was not quite a thought, but almost.
He brushed her mind with reassurance. Amusement filtered back to him as if it was silly that he was doing the reassuring. With relief he realized she was moving now, probably heading for the MediCenter. He had some questions and he had a feeling that she knew the answers.
He waited patiently until Kyalla walked into the small, private room. "Is Luke all right? Did something happen?" Obi-Wan demanded, half sitting up, the blanket and the weight of Luke getting in the way. Luke stirred so he lay back down again.
Kyalla stared at him for a moment. "We think he's all right." She paused thoughtfully and came closer, until she was standing by his bed. "What do you remember?" she asked, gazing at him intently.
You think? Obi-Wan thought, Luke foremost in his thoughts, as usual. "Getting on the shuttle. What happened?"
"It took several days for the shuttle to get the to rendezvous. You remained unconscious the whole time. Then you got on board Vigilance and Luke ran out to you. He knelt by you and was in some kind of trance state for several hours, totally unmoving. I'm not sure he even blinked." She moved closer to Obi-Wan and Luke smoothing back Luke's hair. "Then he came out of it, said you would be all right and passed out."
"Oh," Obi-Wan said faintly, a mixture of feelings rushing through him at the onslaught of information. He gazed down at the sleeping boy's face. "Why is he here, with me? Not that I don't mind, and I can understand the sensors now, but ?"
Kyalla lifted an eyebrow at him. "He thought you were dead, you know."
Obi-Wan turned startled eyes towards her. "What?"
"He believed that the snapping of the bond meant you had been killed. He was very ? distraught. And then, after he fainted, he would become agitated ? while still unconscious ? if he was any more than a few feet from you." She smiled. "So we set him here, with you."
"We seem to have formed another bond somehow," Obi-Wan offered hesitantly, thinking. The bond concerned him, simply because it was unknown. He doubted it was dangerous; before becoming Master and Padawan, he and Qui-Gon had had a strong bond, one that formed without either of them trying to make it.
"Hmm. Speaking of that, just what did happen of Jinatra Prime? We were told about Darth Vader but the strike team didn't witness anything other than him pursuing you. What happened? How did your teammate die?"
Obi-Wan sighed, and began to tell her, pouring out everything just like he had all those years before. It seemed that it somehow became Kyalla's duty to hear these confessions of his dealings with Vader.
"Not a duty, Obi-Wan," Kyalla interrupted.
Obi-Wan was shocked, and his face showed it. "How did you hear my thoughts?" Kyalla was not Force-sensitive ? even if she had been, being able to hear another's thoughts was rare and difficult. He could not imagine how it had happened except that the Force had willed it.
Surprise flickered across her face at his words. "That was a thought?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said slowly. He stared at her.
Kyalla's expression changed from surprise to bemusement. "It seems that you and Luke are not the only ones that share an unexplainable bond."
Ultimately, they decided to go to Alderaan. Alderaan was a pacifist world, one where there was little or no chance of fighting. Also, Bail Organa did some operations from there, and Obi-Wan knew his friend would help Kyalla, perhaps even let her work with him. Kyalla had decided not to even try and reason with Command or the Jedi Council. If she did return, while Obi-Wan doubted that the Council would go into Kyalla's mind to try and find out what she knew, he wasn't sure, and he was glad Kyalla wasn't taking the chance. After Dantooine, he wasn't sure he could trust anything about the Jedi. The thought saddened him less than he had expected. The Jedi had one ultimate goal, for peace in the galaxy; most arguments came from how to do that. Obi-Wan knew the Council thought they were doing what was best, but somehow that wasn't enough anymore.
He had never told Luke the whole story of what happened on Datooine. Luke knew that the Council had hurt him and that was why Obi-Wan had left, but he didn't know why, nor did he know that the Council wanted him dead. It was enough for him that his Master told him not to trust the Jedi and that that was the end of the matter.
Rather than take the Vigilance, Obi-Wan and Kyalla took his ship, the Osprey, to Alderaan. That way the crew of the Vigilance, still loyal to their general, would not be forced to lie as to their whereabouts.
Bail Organa met them when they arrived, which was a surprise. Obi-Wan had expected to meet members of the planetary resistance, not Bail. They had landed on a small, broken down landing field, nestled away in a desert area. The inhabitants of Alderaan were noted for the fact that their dwellings went with the landscape and nature already present, rather than bulldozing over it, and so the few deserts on the lush planet were used as landing fields.
Bail's face was calm as he met them, and he offered Obi-Wan a small, cautious smile. Obi-Wan gave him a nod to let him know that Kyalla was trustworthy.
"Obi-Wan," Bail murmured as the Jedi came closer and reached out his hand.
Ignoring it, Obi-Wan pulled the dignified ? and surprised ? man into a brief hug. Then he released him and spoke. "Bail. What are you doing here?"
"I left Dantooine right after you did. I decided not to tempt fate," Bail replied, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
"Understandable," Obi-Wan replied, smiling faintly.
"I'm going to lead the small Resistance effort here," Bail said. "Carefully, of course. I know the Empire is looking for me. But the citizens of Alderaan will help in their own way, even if they do not use violence. I know they won't give me up." He paused, and turned his head to get a better look at Luke, who was holding onto his Master's hand with a tight grip, as if refusing to let him go. "Hello, Luke. Nice to see you conscious."
Luke blinked, confused.
Obi-Wan laughed at the look on his young Padawan's face. "He helped us off Dantooine, Padawan." He cast Bail a look that said that was all that would be told about that subject.
Bail turned towards Obi-Wan again, dipping his head in acknowledgement. "There's a speeder not far from here," he offered, looking from Lyhar to Luke. Taking a hint ? and knowing she would hear the story later anyway ? Lyhar took Luke's hand and led him away. Luke left reluctantly and kept looking back, as if to reassure himself that his Master was still there.
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked.
Bail looked away for a moment. "You know, Obi-Wan, that after you found Luke, we did not see each other often."
Obi-Wan nodded, puzzled.
"I must tell you something," Bail said. "I think I know how Vader got Luke in the first place."
"What?" Obi-Wan burst out. He immediately shielded his surprise, not wanting Luke to feel it through their new bond.
Bail turned his dark eyes to Obi-Wan. "You know that Amidala and I worked together closely before Palpatine declared himself Emperor. Just after Anakin's death, Amidala told me she was pregnant." He paused. "Don't look so shocked. Of course I know Luke is Anakin's son. The resemblance is obvious."
Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan asked, "You haven't told anyone else, have you?"
Bail shook his head. "No. Amidala sent Luke away ? to Tatooine."
"Tatooine?" Obi-Wan repeated. Why did he feel as if his world was going to be rocked again?
"Yes, to Owen Lars," Bail said. "I think Vader must have found out somehow, must have known about the Lars being Anakin's family."
Dumbly, Obi-Wan nodded.
"But that's not all. When Amidala sent Luke to Tatooine, she sent Leia, who was probably Luke's twin, to me. I learned about Luke later, of course."
"Luke has a twin?" Obi-Wan hissed, missing the use of the past tense. "Damn it, Bail, how could you have not told me this?"
"Amidala made me promise not to, Obi-Wan! She was insistent that none of the Jedi know, not even you. She said she wanted her child safe ? she had not told me of Luke ? from both the Sith and the Jedi. Though I don't know why she said Leia had to be safe from the Jedi."
I do, Obi-Wan thought miserably. Somehow, Padme had known of the Jedi's belief that the children of Sith ? especially those of Anakin ? were dangerous. It should have occurred to him that she would know ? Padme had been a highly intelligent person. "Where is she now?" he asked.
"Leia?" Bail paused. "She was killed when she was four. That's why I didn't mention her until now ? I thought it didn't matter, but seeing Luke, older now, I can see that they are related, even though they don't look much alike."
Obi-Wan wanted to sink to the ground but didn't by sheer force of will. "How? How was she killed?"
"By Darth Vader," Bail whispered. "He wanted only one apprentice, that's what he said when he came. I didn't know what he meant by that, not then. He must have had Luke by then, and found out that Luke had a twin sister." He paused. "Apparently Leia was the weaker of the two."
A few tears slipped down Obi-Wan's pale cheeks as he grieved for a child he had never known. Yet somehow he knew that had she lived, Leia would have been as much like her mother as Luke was like Anakin. Also, there was little doubt in Obi-Wan's mind that Luke's aunt and uncle were dead as well.
"Luke must not know of this," Obi-Wan whispered.
"Obi-Wan, she was his twin sister," Bail said urgently, leaning forward aggressively.
Obi-Wan looked at Bail again with such abruptness and fierceness in his eyes that Bail was taken aback. "No. Grief destroyed Anakin ? had he not been ?" he stopped. Bail didn't know that Vader and Anakin were one in the same. "He would have been able to resist Vader, defeat him, otherwise," Obi-Wan whispered, looking away.
There was a short silence, filled with discomfort and grief. "I'm sorry, Obi-Wan," Bail said finally, after a few seconds had passed. "I will do as you say. He is your Padawan."
Obi-Wan looked up. "Thank you," he said softly. He cast his gaze about, looking for Luke and Kyalla. They were by a speeder in the distance. They seemed to be talking animatedly.
Obi-Wan and Bail wordlessly went to join them.
SIX YEARS LATER
The clatter of dishes being cleaned was a comfortable, familiar sound.
However, it was rather odd to be hearing it at two in the morning. Frowning sleepily, Luke opened his eyes. The darkness was not complete; a thin sliver of light was coming in under the door of Luke's bedroom. He sat up and threw the blankets off his body. What was his Master doing cleaning dishes in the middle of the night? It was a chore they generally shared, as there was no automatic cleaner in the older, simple house. Yes, the house had been a bit messy recently, but it wasn't that bad.
Knowing his room well enough to navigate in the darkness, he went to his door and opened it. He paused, listening. Nothing.
Frowning again, Luke slipped out and went down the short hallway to the kitchen. Obi-Wan sat at the table, fully dressed in tunics, pants and boots. He was leaning back and gazing at the ceiling, trancelike. It wasn't precisely a meditative trance; Obi-Wan was just attuning himself to the Force while slouching. Attuning oneself with the Force helped keep one's actions in step with the Force's will.
"Master?" Luke asked, stepping forward into the light of the kitchen glow lamps.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and looked at him.
Luke spread his hands, gesturing to encompass the whole kitchen. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"
There was a long silence as Obi-Wan's gaze flickered about the room. Luke waited, struggling to stifle his impatience. "I'm going on a mission," Obi-Wan said finally. He traced a made up pattern with an index finger on the smooth table he sat at. He looked uncomfortable.
Luke's eyes narrowed as he reached for the bond they shared. It was much stronger than the training bond they had had before, and that strength was an advantage now. He pushed his way into his Master's mind relentlessly.
Obi-Wan's eyes snapped up to meet Luke's, finally sensing the intrusion despite his Padawan's skill.
"You're lying," Luke said accusingly. Folding his arms, he walked over and plopped into the chair across from Obi-Wan.
"Well, yes," Obi-Wan admitted, leaning back in his chair as Luke lean forward in his. He didn't mention Luke's unethical use of the bond. "Perhaps a little bit."
"Why? You've never felt the need to lie to me before." Keep secrets, yes, but not lie, Luke thought.
Obi-Wan sighed and tore a hand through his hair. It had broad streaks of light gray in it now and the gray was slowly beginning to fade to white. But some of the familiar ginger color still remained. He had finally shaved off his beard, after years of keeping it, claiming he had done it on his own, though Luke suspected Kyalla Lyhar, a good friend of his for years, had been involved. Had it been there, it would have been completely gray, despite how easy the past few years had been on the two of them.
"It's just . . ." Obi-Wan paused and gave his Padawan an unreadable look. "I'm going to meet with the Jedi Council. To . . . discuss things."
Luke leaned back, a sense of unreality intruding. "To discuss me, you mean."
Luke said nothing for a long moment. Then, feeling an unusual braveness, he dared ask, "You know, you never told me why the Council was so certain that I was going to turn. You told me that was why we work directly under Bail without the rest of the Rebellion's knowledge, but you never told me why the wisest and strongest of the Jedi doubted me so much."
A dark look entered Obi-Wan's eyes. "They believe they know the future, Padawan," he said sternly.
Luke slowly shook his head. "Why won't you tell me everything? Don't lie to me, Master, I know you're holding something back!"
"We will leave it at that, Padawan!" Obi-Wan snapped. He slapped the flat of his hand on the table. The suddenness of it startled Luke and he jumped.
Luke ruthlessly strangled down the words that wanted to come: Why not? He wanted to continue the argument but his Master had ordered him to leave it alone. He shoved down his anger and took a deep breath.
Well, his Master could order him to keep silent but he could not do more than that. He could not change his apprentice's feelings.
After giving Obi-Wan an angry look, Luke left the room. He walked down the hallway with an effort not to stamp his feet. When he got to his room he walked in and flicked the light on with a casual use of the Force.
He knelt down, immediately going into a meditative state. He would control his anger and impatience. His Master had often told him that those two traits were his worst, the ones he most needed to control. Eventually, despite his anger and bitterness, he entered a state of calmness.
When he finally came out his meditative trance, he opened his eyes to see Obi-Wan kneeling in mirror position, resting on the heels of his feet with his hands loosely on his thighs.
Puzzled, Luke said, "Master?"
Obi-Wan's eyes opened. He smiled when he saw Luke's face, which no longer held any hint of anger. Luke wondered what he saw when he looked at him. Sometimes Luke thought that his Master looked at him and saw someone else. Perhaps he saw an adult ? Luke certainly hoped so. No longer a small child, he was a young man now. He would never reach any great height, but his body was fit and lean, and his delicate features had finally matured into something more masculine. The short hair and trim body made him look almost like a young recruit for the Rebellion, fresh out of training, though in fact he had much more experience than that.
"I'm leaving in a few hours," Obi-Wan said softly, affection shining in his eyes. "I didn't want to leave you while you were still angry."
Luke sighed faintly, a soft smile touching his lips. "I'm not angry."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I know the fact that I keep secrets from you disturbs you. But you're my Padawan and it is my job to protect you. And I assure you, that is the only reason I keep secrets from you."
"I know," Luke said. His Master had become very protective of him as Luke continually tried to leap ahead on his own, trying to assert his independence.
"I'll be back soon," Obi-Wan said. He hesitated then reached forward and laid a hand on Luke's shoulder. Luke didn't pull back and he smiled as he was pulled into an embrace.
He knew his Master believed that he kept secrets to protect his Padawan. He knew that Obi-Wan didn't want to stifle him, only keep him safe; though that was more a parent-like desire to protect his child then what was actually done with Jedi apprentices. As he thought of Obi-Wan and his many secrets ? he was sure there were many ? he also thought of the time Obi-Wan's mind had been completely unshielded, after Vader's attack, and Luke had gotten the tiniest glimpse into Obi-Wan's past.
Enfolded in the warmth of his Master's embrace, he couldn't help but sadly wonder why his Master had kept the secret that Darth Vader had once been his Padawan.
"Obi-Wan!" a voice called.
Obi-Wan paused at the ramp of his ship and looked back.
Kyalla Lyhar was running up to him. She was not quite out of breath but was breathing more rapidly than usual. She paused a few feet away from Obi-Wan and gave him a critical eye. A breeze ruffled her dark hair, which was pulled back into a long braid.
"Hmm," she said thoughtfully, eyes roaming over his body. "Jedi robes. Lightsaber clipped to your belt. Pack over your shoulder." She paused and raised an eyebrow. "The patented I-am-determined Obi-Wan look."
Obi-Wan sighed and felt a smile tug the corner of his mouth. He put a hand up against the small personal vessel and leaned his weight against it casually. The sleek vessel was new, a gift to him and Luke from Bail Organa.
"Where are you going?" She cast a calculated gaze around. "Why aren't you taking your Padawan with you?" she asked, focusing back on him. She folded her arms in an intimidating manner.
Obi-Wan didn't answer for a long moment and turned away from Kyalla's inquiring ? and demanding ? gaze. "I'm going to speak with the Jedi Council," he said finally, with the faintest of nervous twitches.
Kyalla's arms fell loose to her sides in surprise. "What?"
"About Luke." Obi-Wan hesitated. "This is . . . difficult to explain. I believe that Luke is ready to take his Trials. That he is ready to be a Knight." And he is, however much I want to deny it, he thought. He knew his protectiveness had increased even as Luke strove for independence. The fact was, Obi-Wan was not acting very much like a Jedi in trying to hold Luke back. He only hoped that when he met with the Council again his shields would be strong enough to keep them out. He looked at Kyalla, carefully watching her reaction.
Kyalla took a few calming breaths and gave Obi-Wan a level look. He could practically see her mind racing, quickly calculating reasons and facts. "Why is it, Obi-Wan, that you still want Luke to be accepted by the Council?" She stepped closer to him, getting right in his face. "It's not going to happen. They tried to kill him, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan met her furious gaze calmly. He knew that she was nearly as protective of Luke as he was. During the years that he and Luke had stayed on Alderaan, she had grown to know Luke more and more. Eventually she grew to love the boy as she had watched him grow up ? just as he had.
"They did what they thought ?"
"Was expedient?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. "Dammit, Obi-Wan, don't play these games with Luke's life, or your own."
Something like outrage rose in Obi-Wan. Decades of control firmly repressed it but she sensed it anyway. Their bond was an unusual one; not only was it between a non-Force sensitive and a Jedi but the strength of the bond was erratic, allowing them to sense and pick up each other's thoughts sometimes and not others. It was not an easy bond to have, though it had its benefits ? one of them a deepening of the friendly relationship they had.
"I would never play games with his life and you know it," he hissed, pressing his palm against the ship.
In response, she became infuriatingly calm. "And what of your own? Do you think they trust you anymore than they trust Luke?"
Obi-Wan took a step back mentally. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes, centering himself in the Force. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "We cannot hide from them forever. I feel that I have to do this," he murmured, opening his eyes.
She stared into his eyes for a long moment and then her gaze restlessly flicked to the rest of his face. "And what tells you so? The Force, or yourself?"
He looked at her in surprise.
"Come back to me, Obi-Wan," she said softly, finally, a hint of worry and sadness in her eyes, and then she walked away. He silently watched her. He could say nothing in response to her penetrating words.
He found himself staring after her for a long time.
Luke made breakfast by himself. His Master had chosen to leave before they usually ate it so Luke was left to his own devices. Obi-Wan usually cooked their breakfast ? Luke often teased him it was the only meal he knew how to make. He smiled faintly, remembering how Obi-Wan would pretend to be insulted. He had many happy memories with Obi-Wan in this house.
A knock on the door of the house interrupted his musings and cooking. Rubbing his hand across his face tiredly, as he gotten little sleep, Luke answered the door.
To his surprise, Bail Organa stood there. He wore the simple style that all Alderaanians favored in a dark blue and brown. In fact, it looked almost reminiscent of a Jedi's traditional wear, at least the inner tunics of it.
"Hello, Your Highness. I wasn't aware that you were in the area," Luke said politely.
Bail's eyes flicked around Luke with unusual impatience, clearly searching. "Is Obi-Wan here?"
"No, he already left," Luke admitted. He opened the door wider in invitation and Bail stepped inside. Luke shut the door. Bail's bodyguard, an unassuming woman of thirty or so, stayed outside. Though young, Luke was still Jedi trained and more than enough protection for the former Senator.
"I had hoped that he had not, yet," Bail admitted. He shifted his feet almost nervously, and then the guise of a politician quickly reasserted itself. He became cool and confident once again.
Carefully, Luke asked, "Did he tell you where he was going?"
Bail frowned, suddenly studying him intently with his dark brown eyes. "No, he didn't. Just said it was going to be a safe mission, if stressful."
Luke snorted, unable to help himself. "That would depend on your point of view," he said dryly. He paused, considering. Obi-Wan hadn't told Bail about going to the Council; should he even mention it?
"Obi-Wan's point of view often leaves something to be desired," Bail replied. He kept his eyes on Luke. His quick mind seemed to realize that something was wrong. "Where did he go?"
Luke sighed, letting some of his frustration show. "To go and speak with the Council."
To his credit, Bail's only outward reaction was a slight widening of the eyes. His presence in the Force, however, suddenly blazed with fury and indignation. Instinctively, Luke reached out and calmed him very subtly with the Force.
Bail gave him an amused glance. "You're very good at that," he said, plainly referring to Luke's use of the Force. Evidently Bail had realized his unnatural calm did not come from himself.
Luke went red. "I'm sorry."
Bail waved away his embarrassment. "Quite all right. Obi-Wan has done it to me often enough and generally with good reason."
He cast his gaze around the area restlessly while Luke watched and then finally settled himself at the wooden kitchen table. The living area was completely empty; Luke and Obi-Wan often used it for training drills and, to a lesser extent, sparring. Luke joined him at the table.
"If you tell me what you want to speak to my Master about, I can tell him when he contacts me," Luke offered.
Bail smiled at him warmly. "Thank you, Luke." He paused, considering his next words. "What do you know of the last mission Kyalla Lyhar officially went on ? the one where your Master almost died?"
Luke folded his hands in his lap thoughtfully. "Most of it. I was there when Kyalla explained the mission to him." He looked up at Bail, questions in his eyes.
Bail sighed. He suddenly looked very tired. His dark eyes had a hollowness born of exhaustion and his normally erect posture was slumped. "We underestimated the potential strength of what they destroyed. They weren't simply building a large ship on Jinatra Prime, as we had assumed, but a battlemoon."
Luke blinked. "A what?"
Bail looked at him with a serious gaze. "A vessel the size of a small moon. And not one simply designed to raze planet surfaces; one designed to destroy a planet all together."
"You mean like . . . blow it up?" Luke asked. It sounded ludicrous but, if true, it would be a horrible device.
"Yes," Bail replied. He gave an ironic tilt of an eyebrow. "You see why I am so concerned?"
"Yes," Luke said blankly. He stared into the distance and reached out for the Force. A Jedi could use the Force to see the future or, at least, possible futures. Obi-Wan had often told him that a Jedi Master could use this ability to prepare for the future without actually knowing what would happen. Luke was no Jedi Master, and he knew it, so he saw only murkiness when he looked ahead and nothing guided him. It was frustrating.
There were a few seconds of silence as they shared their mutual dismay. Finally, Bail continued. "My spy net just found out the location of it ? the Death Star, that's what they're going to call it. But we think that the Imperials are onto our trail already."
Luke frowned thoughtfully. "I see."
"The Death Star is only half finished. Right now, its structure has many weak points. My plan was to send in a team to plant explosives in just the right places to destroy the whole thing."
"Was?" Luke asked, fixing Bail with an intent stare.
Bail rubbed his lips. "I planned on having Obi-Wan lead the mission since he has so much familiarity with that kind of thing. Also . . ." He shrugged. "Obi-Wan is a Jedi." He sighed heavily. "The plan isn't that good of one in the first place ? the fact that Obi-Wan is gone only complicates matters for me."
Luke shook his head in confusion. "Why not go to the rest of the Rebellion?"
"There isn't any time. The decentralized nature of the Rebellion works against us now. The time involved in making contact and reassuring other cells that we haven't been compromised is too much." He leaned forward. "I cannot assume that the Imperials will not quickly realize that we know of the project. That would be too great of a risk."
"So it has to be done now," Luke said slowly.
A few seconds of drawn out silence passed as both men thought. "By the time Obi-Wan hears of this, it will be too late for him to join the mission. I suppose the mission will just have to go ahead regardless," Bail said. He kept a fa?ade of calm but Luke could sense how stressed and disturbed he was.
"I could lead the mission," Luke said, the words falling from his lips without thought.
Bail looked startled.
"I went on many mission of that kind with my Master." Luke paused. "I am young, I know that, but I am no child. And I am a Jedi and we serve, always." They're also supposed to obey their Masters, Luke thought. But he technically didn't forbid me to do anything. "I can be of some help, at least," Luke offered hesitantly.
Bail gave him a long, considering look. Luke could practically feel the intensity of Bail's regard. He waited patiently through it, without fear or apprehension.
Bail slowly nodded. "Obi-Wan won't like it."
Luke paused, choosing his next words carefully. "My Master has the tendency to try and coddle me. I am . . . not perfect, but I no longer require such over protectiveness."
Bail leaned back in the chair and sighed. He was probably thinking over the benefits of having a Jedi and the detractions of having an angry Jedi Master after him afterwards. He gazed at the table for a few tense moments and then spoke, slowly lifting his eyes to Luke's.
"You'll leave tomorrow."
Rafeen was a small, uninhabited planet on the Outer Rim. It seemed the Empire had decided to use the opposite method to hide the Death Star. Jinatra Prime, which had once held the components for the Death Star, had been a Core World. That fact had not saved it from Lyhar's former ship the Vigilance or the strike team which Obi-Wan had led.
The Death Star was in close orbit around Rafeen. Only part of the framework for the battlemoon had been built and most of it still did not have air or even protection from space. The smaller components for the Death Star were being built on Rafeen in a large base. Once done, the delicate components were shuttled to the Death Star to be installed.
Luke knew from his briefing that the Imperial base of Rafeen, while large, actually had few personnel. The Empire did this in an attempt to keep the project a secret. But the fact that there were not many personnel also meant that there were fewer guards. That made the strike team's job easier, since they were going to reach the Death Star through the base.
The strike team waited in the dense jungle surrounding the Imperial base. In fact, the jungle encompassed the planet, save for a few small oceans. The air was thick and humid.
The outskirts of the base had a landing pad, set in a small clearing. It was not guarded and the jungle threatened to encroach upon the small area. That landing pad would be as close as the strike team would ever need to get to the base.
"Getting any bad feelings yet?" one of the men whispered, glancing at Luke, meaning the question half-seriously. The strike team consisted of twelve men, thirteen including Luke. He had gotten to know them a little bit since first meeting them the day after speaking with Bail Organa. They were young but like Luke they were very experienced for their ages. The leader of the squad was only around twenty-five and he was the oldest of the group.
"Be quiet," the leader whispered harshly. He was a young but tough man. His small stature made him look younger than he was, but he was actually quite deadly, which was similarity between him and Luke. People often took Luke for being younger than he was and they often thought him an easy target because he was not an intimidating figure. It was a fact that Luke used to his advantage.
After getting to know the young Jedi, the strike team had grown to like him and even tease him about being a Jedi. Their liking of him didn't change even with Bail's orders, something that had relieved Luke.
"No," Luke replied softly, answering the teammate despite the leader's admonishment. "But I probably will if you don't keep quiet," he added only half-humorously.
Chastened, the young man fell silent.
Although the squad leader was technically in command, Luke could override his orders. Bail's decision that this be the case was based on a simple fact: Luke was a Jedi. Though Luke didn't consider himself skilled in reading the future, any Jedi could tell if there was danger coming or even if a particular action would bring danger ? at least in the short term.
They watched tensely as a large Imperial shuttle landed on the pad. It set down gently and, after only a few moments, the pilot came out, his walk more of a swagger in the arrogant manner of an Imperial pilot. He leaned against the hull and waited impatiently.
Luke didn't blame him; he was trying to keep calm as well.
Finally stormtroopers and the cargo arrived on hulking transports. There were three transports and perhaps a dozen stormtroopers riding them. Luke felt the tension increase. The Force seemed to be very still, as if waiting for something to happen ? like a dam ready to break.
"What took you so long?" the young pilot called out, his voice irritated.
The lead stormtrooper grumbled something in reply. Even with his sensitive hearing, Luke couldn't make it out.
"Well, then, start loading already. We're behind schedule," the pilot complained.
And that was their signal. The pilot was actually an infiltrator for the Rebellion; he was one of those who had supplied the information of the whereabouts of the Death Star to Bail Organa.
Slowly and with the silence born of years of training, the strike team slipped closer to the landing pad. They carried their small packs carefully since they had the explosives. They wore Imperial uniforms under the black, combat clothing so they would be able to move unhindered once they reached the Death Star.
While the stormtroopers loaded the shuttle, they left the transports unguarded. In those transports there were thirteen crates that were empty save for some things to weigh them down a little bit. The crates were an essential part of the delicate plan.
It was also very risky, Luke knew. The bad thing about the plan Bail Organa had developed was how many things could go wrong with it. All it required to fail was a few stormtroopers paying attention and the whole thing would fall apart. What if the stormtroopers looked into the crates? What if they were seen? What if the crates were put in the shuttle before the team could get into them? Everything was a risk.
But Luke was fairly confident he would be able to handle that if it happened. His persuasion skills were strong and he was a more than an able fighter.
The stormtroopers moved away from the heavy, beaten looking transports with their crates. None of them were the ones the strike team planned to use. Those that were empty had been marked so they could find them easily.
One by one, they silently crept onto the transports and found an empty crate. Luke was the last one to go; he had been using his Force ability to keep the minds of the stormtroopers distracted. He carefully kept his shielding up as he did so. It was not likely the Sith or any of their Force-sensitive assassins were nearby, but he did not want to take any unnecessary risk.
When he settled into the crate with his pack by his side, he let loose a sigh of relief.
Darth Vader silently mused while he meditated. The Emperor was no longer satisfied with the amount of progress he had been making in the hunting of the Jedi and the destruction of the Rebellion. Both Imperial Intelligence and the Empire's armed forces had therefore stepped up their efforts to destroy the Rebellion and once the Rebellion fell, the Jedi would as well. In fact, Vader had just gotten some interesting information regarding the Rebellion and the Jedi from one of his highly placed operatives. He was rather pleased with the news.
He was glorying in his dark satisfaction when he felt a disturbance.
He rose from his meditation, which had been filling him with the dark side and the hate that fueled it. He pushed away his hatred of Obi-Wan and the Jedi and concentrated on what had disturbed him from his thoughts. He cast a look around. His sterile quarters were the same as they had been before. The white and black was undisturbed. Not a physical disturbance, then. He reached out in anger for the dark side, searching for some clue in the vastness of the Force.
But there was nothing. Not a ripple in the Force that would mean the presence of a Jedi as he expected. Absolutely nothing. In fact, it was strangely still, as if holding its breath.
Vader frowned, the action making the scars on his face twist painfully. He welcomed the pain for what it was - something to guide him.
He searched deep within his own mind, coming to the conclusion that it had to have been something in his own mind that disturbed his meditation. A memory, perhaps.
Then he felt it - the tiny string of connection that faded into oblivion, a link that he could not follow. His bond with his son, severed long ago by the Jedi ? by Obi-Wan. The remnants of the bond had existed for years, stronger after the brief mental touch he had shared with his son six years ago. His son had cut off the connection then, no doubt at the order of Obi-Wan. He knew that Obi-Wan had trained Luke in the ways of the Jedi. He had never expected otherwise and was not surprised when Obi-Wan disappeared not only from the Empire, but from the Rebellion as well. But that did not matter now.
The bond had reawakened. His son was near.
The Rebellion had chosen yet another uninhabited planet on the Outer Rim. It was one of three planets in a small system similar to Dantooine in many ways, but it was overall much colder. A thin layer of frost lay on the ground. It was so different, Obi-Wan thought, than when they had used hollowed out asteroids as bases. Even just the main base of the Rebellion had grown too large for that anymore.
He landed without any trouble, using Bail Organa's codes. He set down the sleek vessel with ease, though, he reflected, Luke would have done a much more graceful job. Not only was Luke a brilliant fighter pilot, but he would also approach the skill almost like an artist would.
When Obi-Wan stepped out of the ship, he found a dozen blasters leveled at him. Calm, determined faces were behind them. He wasn't terribly surprised that they had done this. After all, it had been many years since Bail Organa had come to any Rebel base besides his own. Their suspicion was warranted.
Obi-Wan looked at them for a moment and then folded his hands in his robe. Trigger fingers twitched nervously. "I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. I have come to speak with the Jedi Council."
Most of the people looked shocked. Only a few were confused at why he was important. The rest knew that Obi-Wan was on the run from the Council ? though none knew why. Only the Jedi knew that.
But Obi-Wan's gaze focused on something else. A slender figure wearing Jedi robes had stepped out from behind some cargo near another transport. The figure threw back the hood of the robe.
"Master Bant," Obi-Wan greeted softly. Bant had been his childhood friend; he had known her since he was very young and they had kept contact all throughout Anakin's training, though they had rarely seen each other. After Anakin's fall, Bant had been there for him. She was one of the few Jedi who looked at him with neither disgust nor pity. At that point, she had been all he had had left. If not for her, he probably would have lost what little will to live he had had left.
Then there had been Luke. They had not spoken once in fourteen years because of that. What would she think of him now?
"Kenobi," she said simply. Well, that answered the question, if she would not even call him by his first name, or even by the title of Master. He believed he technically still retained it ? not that that was of any importance to him anymore. Her Mon Calamari silver eyes were expressionless as she studied him. Her hand drifted none too subtly towards her lightsaber. The men in the landing bay watched the scene with unguarded interest.
"I wish to speak with the Council, nothing more," Obi-Wan said, meeting her gaze calmly. As he had raised Luke, he had somehow found himself finally healing of the hurt Anakin had caused in him. There was still regret and sadness; there always would be. But the pain and guilt that had lingered in him for so long was gone. Now he could look on the Jedi and not feel shame.
A few moments of silence. "Very well." She turned towards the men still aiming their blasters at Obi-Wan. "You may go. I will deal with this." They nodded and warily left. In the Rebellion, the word of a Jedi was as respected as much as it had ever been, it seemed.
Bant's fishlike features regarded him with little expression. "Come," she ordered. "I will show you where they are." She swiftly turned, not even looking to see if Obi-Wan was following her.
The base was a busy place. Thousands of people walked about doing their business, going from place to place in the temporary, somewhat flimsy buildings. Everyone wore a weapon. Fighter pilots, techs and officers. It was not that they did not trust each other, though, Obi-Wan sensed.
"Why is everyone armed?" Obi-Wan asked, his voice quiet.
Bant gave him a dark look. "Your former apprentice has been stepping up his attempts to destroy the Rebellion ? and the Jedi in particular. His continual failure to find the Jedi Council and most of the rest of the Jedi ? the thousand or so that are left ? is very displeasing to his Master. Spies and assassins have become more frequent as some of our own turn traitor."
Obi-Wan ignored the barb about Vader being his former apprentice and about some Rebels turning traitor. "I see."
They walked in silence for several minutes. "Why did you do it, Obi-Wan? Why did you defy the Council for that child?" Bant burst out, her frustration showing.
Suddenly, Qui-Gon's words, spoken so long ago, echoed in his mind. I will do what I must. He had been referring to Anakin and his insistence that the boy be trained.
"They were wrong," Obi-Wan said finally, forcing himself not to echo his dead Master.
"They were not wrong about Anakin."
Obi-Wan turned his head away for a brief moment, swallowing down his frustration. "Do not compare Luke to Anakin."
Bant gave a short laugh. "And why not, are they not the same in so many ways? I supported you when Anakin fell; I can't support you through this folly." He could feel the intensity of her stare.
He did not meet her gaze. "I know," he murmured, and said nothing more. There was nothing to say. He had separated from the Jedi six years before, when he had taken Luke against the Jedi Council's will and Kyalla had helped him escape their grasp ? for reasons that remained her own.
They came to a brightly lit room with no door. Obi-Wan briefly hesitated at the threshold, then stepped in. The room was square with a large table in the middle with chairs placed around it. Only eight of the normal twelve Council members were present. Some, Obi-Wan knew, had no doubt been replaced as years passed and Jedi were lost on missions.
He could feel their shock as he entered the room. Bant stepped in beside him. "He came using Bail Organa's codes to land," she said crisply. "Says he wants to talk to you," she added nonchalantly. Well, it seemed that Bant had as little like for the Council as she always had, whatever her feelings about him were. "May the Force be with you," she said. Mace Windu gave her a nod and she walked out.
Yoda was giving him a keen gaze. He was the only one who didn't appear surprised at Obi-Wan's presence. Obi-Wan noted with sadness that the ancient Jedi Master appeared much older than when he had seen him last.
"Come back to us, you have," Yoda commented.
Obi-Wan bowed his head slightly and spoke without preamble. "Well, Luke hasn't turned," he said shortly, with a humorless twist of his lips.
"Yet," Windu snapped darkly.
Yoda's next words surprised everyone but Obi-Wan. "Clouded, the boy's future still is. The way of darkness, I see, equally balanced with light. Recently seen this, I have." He gave Obi-Wan a discerning stare.
"His future is his choice, as it has always been," Obi-Wan replied calmly.
"What are you saying, Master Yoda?" another Jedi Council member asked. She was an older woman, well into her sixties and a relatively new member of the Council, having been on it less than a decade. She was also the Jedi that had told Bail ? who then told Obi-Wan ? of the Council's plan to implant a compulsion in a Jedi, Obi-Wan realized.
"Not doomed to turn, the boy is," Yoda said tiredly. "Right in that, Obi-Wan was."
"You're certain?" Windu asked, his dark face troubled. He leaned forward, his Force-signature very controlled, indicating tension.
"Certain, I am. Guided to light, the boy can be," Yoda stated. "See that now I can, as Obi-Wan no longer blocks my vision."
Obi-Wan lowered his head slightly. "I needed time," he whispered, feeling a twinge of guilt.
"What?" one of the Jedi asked of Yoda's words, shocked.
"Kept from seeing the child and his whereabouts, I was," Yoda stated. He gazed at the other Jedi Council members with a serious face. "Much in the same way the Sith did."
Seven shocked faces turned towards Obi-Wan.
Answering the question that had not been asked, Obi-Wan said, "I knew it was possible, it was just a matter of figuring it out. And . . . I was desperate, willing to go to a length not many would have. I'm not sure, even now, exactly how I was able to do it to someone so much more skilled then me."
Yoda grunted at his words. "Skilled, you think you are not?" he muttered quietly, sounding unusually subdued. "The Sith, I thought it was."
Alarmed and dismayed but struggling not to show it, Master Windu asked, "But you did not touch the dark side?"
"No, most definitely not," Obi-Wan replied shortly. Do they truly think me so foolish?
There was a long silence as the Jedi Council considered the words that had been spoken. The Council mused on Obi-Wan and the fact of what he had done and the surprising revelation that Luke was not doomed to turn.
"Speak of this later, we will. Right now, important the child is. Guided to light by us, he must be. Bring him here to us, you will. Crucial, this time is," Yoda stated wisely. The Council listened silently and seemed to come to a consensus as one.
They looked at each other in agreement of Yoda's words.
"You can come out now," a voice called. Luke sighed in relief in one of the dark, stuffy crates. Adjusting his position carefully, he pushed upwards to get out. Nothing. He pushed harder.
"Someone get this thing off!" Luke called out. Another crate had been placed on his. Presumably Luke could use the Force to get the other crate off, but he didn't want to have to resort to that.
There was subdued laughter and then Luke heard something above shift. Someone took the top of his crate off and light blinded his eyes. He sighed when he saw a team member's grinning face. The man chose not to tease him about a Jedi being unable to free himself, however.
"Thanks," Luke said with a wry smile. He looked up and around. The twelve other men were all either completely out of their crates or just climbing out. As he watched, they hurriedly began to strip off the black clothing they wore, revealing Imperial uniforms underneath. The uniforms were mostly tan and white. They were only slightly rumpled from being underneath the combat clothing.
The Rebellion operative posing as an Imperial pilot glanced at them and shifted on his feet impatiently. His impatience on the planet hadn't been an act after all, it seemed. "Better hurry. We're approaching fast," he said. He went back and sat down in the cockpit.
Luke removed his black clothing as well. He had a lieutenant's tan uniform on. Many new officers were young, so it wasn't too unbelievable and it made the possibility of Luke being questioned less likely. The rest of the strike team had similar uniforms. Luke half wanted to get a better glance at the Death Star from the outside, but decided it didn't wasn't worth the risk of being seen and so didn't move towards the cockpit.
They set down in a dirty landing bay. While it was under construction, it seemed that the Death Star was not going to be the most spotless of places. Apparently they were focusing more on getting the thing fully built then keeping it clean ? droids could do that later.
As soon as the shuttle landed the pilot opened the back hatch. "There won't be many guards and the workers won't have arrived yet to unload this thing. You should be able to get past without being noticed," the pilot told them. He then added, "May the Force be with you." A farewell used often in the Rebellion but never in the Empire.
Luke nodded, silently hoped it would.
Just as they were about to leave, Luke said, "Wait."
They stopped. The leader of the strike team looked at him. "What is it?" he asked.
Luke reached out with the Force. The flows and eddies of it even now seemed unusually still but it seemed more . . . forced somehow. Feeling apprehensive, he made himself ignore it and focused on the minds nearby that he knew to be present.
They were unusually alert, he noted with a mental curse. Looking deeper, he realized that part of their information had been wrong. There had just been a shift change on the guards and so they were more alert. "Hold on," Luke murmured. He barely heard the strike leader's acknowledgement. He reached into the guards' minds and brought out worries and distractions. Within seconds the guards were amiably chatting with each other, helped along by Force-suggestion.
"Okay," Luke whispered, "let's move." A tiny whisper of something seemed to touch his mind. Luke frowned and rubbed his forehead. Unable to find what had caused the tiny flicker along his shielding, he slipped out with the others.
The Death Star was being constructed in such a way that in this stage of building, it was very vulnerable to the kind of attack Luke and the team had in mind. The core of the battlemoon was built first and the rest of it was built around that. It was a logical way to proceed but it meant that for a long period the core of the Death Star ? the engines and power plants that kept it running ? were vulnerable.
The strike team quickly split up after making it to one of the service entrances of the landing bay. They all ignored the grime and glanced at each other. A slight nod was all that was needed. Everything had been planned beforehand; nothing needed to be spoken.
Luke began heading towards one of the more dangerous areas, nearer the core of the half-built battlemoon. As the odd numbered member of the team, he would be going alone. The Force rippled, pushing against his mind. Perhaps it was trying to tell him something?
He took a deep breath and went through an active meditation; it was one of those used during combat situations when one couldn't sit down and ignore one's surroundings.
He closed his eyes for a second and then opened them, feeling renewed calm and purpose. If the Force was warning him of something, he would have to deal with the situation then. It was too late to go back now. He had passed the point of no return a long time ago.
His face was serene as he moved past workers and other officers. He had a goal to accomplish.
He was in the core of the Death Star, planting one of three charges in the engine room. Though the explosives were powerful, the battlemoon was large and three would be needed. The first explosive, the one he was currently planting, was to be set in the control room of the engines and power plants. It would take care of the systems that made sure power levels and such were kept constant. When he finished attaching the small, hand sized explosive to an inside panel of a control area, he set the timer and got up.
He glanced around quickly, to make sure his actions had not been noticed. The techs and officers around him had not seemed to notice anything. They carried on in their stiff and slightly dirty uniforms as usual. Luke's clean uniform seemed almost out of place in the frantic workplace.
With a deep, calming breath, he drew the Force around himself in an aura of normalness, so he would not be noticed as anyone unusual. Then he set off for his next target: the power plants. After that, it was the engines and then he could get off this horrid device.
The power plants were large cylinders in the center of the Death Star. There were six of them, each giving power to a specific system. The largest of the power plants was the one that powered the Death Star's main weapon, its powerful laser. That power plant would be the one that the explosive would be put on.
The cylinders were set in a circle in a huge cavern. Each cylinder was at least two hundred meters tall and a hundred meters wide. The visible part of them was the smooth reflective metal which kept the power locked inside. Controls were set in regular patterns on the surface. Huge conduits came from the cylinders and led off beyond what Luke could see. There were large platforms by each cylinder and intricate catwalks linking them to each other. Sturdy pathways connected them to the rest of the Death Star.
As soon as he stepped into the main room that held the power plants, he knew something was wrong.
Except for the steady thrum of the power plants working, there was utter silence. It was deafening, weighing on Luke's soul, and he realized that he had made a terrible mistake in going on this mission.
Without hesitating, he listened to the warning the Force was suddenly screaming at him and bolted for an exit, down one of the pathways. The door was locked. He drew his lightsaber.
"Leaving so soon, young Jedi?" a deep, rumbling voice asked. The mechanical, harsh breathing that he was suddenly able to hear let him know who had spoken.
Luke didn't freeze despite his surprise. He reacted as he had been trained, instantly dropping himself into a defensive position. He reached for the power of the Force and let it flow through him, relaxing him and calming turbulent emotions.
He slowly turned, knowing what he would see; the darkness was like slime, beginning to coat its surroundings. He drew a protective layer of light around himself.
Darth Vader stood less than ten meters from him. Despite himself, Luke wondered how the Sith Lord had gotten so close without him sensing it. The Sith was calm, or at least as calm as a Sith was capable of getting. Luke could feel the anger that simmered beneath the surface.
Luke had never thought all that much of Vader's size, but facing him now he realized how much larger than him the Sith was. He was an intimidating figure. Quickly, though, Luke remembered Obi-Wan telling him that his size did not mean he was any better of a swordfighter.
Vader took a step closer, the sound of his footfall echoing. "No response?"
"I fail to see why answering a rhetorical question would serve any purpose," Luke replied steadily.
There was a deep rumbling sound and it took Luke a moment to realize that Vader was laughing.
The laugher faded and Vader stepped closer.
Luke noticed his defensive posture had lapsed and brought it up again.
"You look like your mother," Vader almost whispered. Even with the helmet, Luke could feel the intensity of his gaze. Luke felt suddenly awkward in his uniform.
"What?" Luke drew back.
"You don't have her coloring," Vader continued, "but you have her face, her posture ? that attitude."
Luke felt his face harden. "I do not wish to play games," he said harshly.
"And this is not one."
Luke licked his lips nervously. "Could have fooled me," he retorted.
Vader did not reply. Instead of stepping closer, Luke felt him reach out with the Force. He reached for Luke's mind, skittering along Luke's shields. It felt like the darkness was encroaching upon his mind, trying to dig its claws deep.
With a powerful mental shove, Luke threw Vader away.
Physically, Vader stumbled back slightly, probably an automatic response but Luke felt his surprise ripple through the Force gently, barely perceptible.
"You are powerful," Vader said approvingly.
This conversation is going nowhere, Luke thought. Making a decision, Luke turned away from the puzzling Sith Lord and started to cut through the door with his lightsaber.
It was like a whisper of breath against his neck, a warning in the Force that caused him to duck away seconds later. He brought his lightsaber up in a reflexive parry and they looked at each other for a long moment that was drawn with tension. The Force was wild and chaotic around them as countless futures were opened and closed as the moment passed, but they stood motionless. The eye of a storm.
Vader stared down at him, expression unreadable through the dark mask. "You cannot leave," Vader said simply.
His words snapped Luke out of his daze. He struck Vader to the left and then to the right, quick slashing blows meant to drive him back. Vader parried them with ease. With startling speed and precision, Vader gave a cut at Luke's head that he barely blocked.
"I will leave," Luke gasped. Physically he was not straining, not yet, but simply being in the Sith Lord's presence seemed to drain him of strength, of energy. The darkness leeched his light away. "I will go back to my Master," Luke gritted out, blocking another vicious blow. Perhaps Vader meant to turn him, but Luke was resolved that that would not happen. Vader would never be his Master and neither would the Emperor. He turned aside from the exit while dodging another fierce strike.
"Master!" Vader hissed. "It is profanity that you speak of Kenobi so. He is not your Master, he was never meant to be!"
Thoughts running wild, Luke spoke provokingly. "I love him like a father!" The words were enunciated clearly, a world of determination behind them.
With a shriek of incoherent rage, Vader struck at Luke again and again. He slashed at Luke's legs and sides, his precision drilling into the young Jedi. Luke had to use his flexibility and speed to his advantage against Vader's greater skill. But Vader's enraged blows did not stop coming and Luke could not rest, could not gain back the initiative.
Finally, exhausted but still unharmed, Luke flipped away ten meters towards the cylinders, trying to get some distance between the two of them.
Strangely, Vader stopped. He held his red lightsaber loosely in his hand. "He has not the right," the Dark Lord hissed.
"He has every right to my love," Luke replied unsteadily. Why did this disturb the Sith so? It was not as if Sith could love. "He raised me, he has always been there for me," Luke said, having no idea why he was saying these things. Why would I tell a Sith of my emotions? Thoughts ran rampant in his confusion.
"He has not," Vader replied. Luke could see his grip on his lightsaber tighten.
Confused and afraid, Luke asked the question that would change him forever. "Why?"
"Because I am your father."
The Force raged around them. It took a moment for the words to penetrate Luke's mind. It took an even longer moment for him to doubt them.
"No," Luke whispered, an expression of disgust ? and fear, fear of the truth ? on his face. "What kind of sick lie is that?"
"Kenobi was once my Master, did you know?" Vader said with surprising softness. He took a step closer to Luke while shutting down his lightsaber. Luke remained motionless. His knuckles were white on his lightsaber. "He was always the pet of the Council. Always doing their will. He hated me, regardless of the Jedi platitudes that I am sure he has given you. It took me years, even so, to see past his lies. To see the weakness inherent in all Jedi."
Luke shook his head mutely in denial.
"I am your father, Luke ? I wish only to show the truth," Vader said softly. Pause. "He did not tell you of me, did he? Nor even of my old self, Anakin Skywalker?"
Skywalker? Luke focused on his other words, his confusion deepening in some ways and things becoming blindingly clear in others. It made a horrifying amount of sense. Vader had been his Master's first Padawan and Obi-Wan had kept that hidden from him. He had never understood why. The Council had feared him even when he was no more than a child. They feared his power ? and they feared him for the taint they believed him to have, he now realized.
Vader must have seen the realization enter Luke's eyes. Something like triumph radiated through the Force.
Luke felt his soul shatter in an agony of betrayal as he accepted the truth. Obi-Wan. How could you?
Vader held his hand out, a gesture of comfort from a soul too darkened to even recognize it as such.
Luke blinked slowly and felt the tears trickle down his face, trails of coolness against his heated skin. He squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment, banishing the last of his tears from his eyes, the last tears he swore he would ever have. He then opened his eyes again, a sad determination taking place of the raging emotions.
"You're still evil."
Vader drew back and Luke knew he was startled. Luke didn't wait to see what he said in response, though he doubted anything could hurt him further than what had been said. He shut down and clipped his lightsaber to his belt. His back was to the cylinders, not the door.
He ran for another exit.
Dark tendrils grasped for him, but Luke effortlessly channeled the Force and they fell away. Vader did not try to follow him physically; he knew that in a straight out run Luke could outdistance him by far. Vader was weighted down by his heavy armor, the equipment that kept his twisted form alive. He felt Vader's desperate search for his son's mind but he only tightened his shields further. And further. His mind became an impenetrable shield.
When the alarms finally blared he had made it halfway to the shuttle bay in which the team would meet. Then they would try and escape.
It didn't take long for the Imperials to realize that the young man running was the cause of the commotion, despite the fact that Luke wore an Imperial's uniform.
"Halt!" different voices called out. Luke ignored them. "Halt, or we'll shoot!"
Thanks for the warning, Luke thought darkly. Still running, he had his lightsaber activated and in his hand in one smooth motion. Shots were fired. Luke blocked them all, the Force with him even in his mental agony.
Stormtroopers and officers fell from bolts deflected back. Luke didn't hear their cries of pain.
The landing bay was a large one, which was only reasonable on a vessel the size of this one. Fighters were kept at combat ready and small shuttles were present because of the construction.
One such shuttle had its engines fired up when Luke entered the bay. For a moment, he felt a flash of panic. Would they leave without him?
No. The shuttle hovered, waiting for him. Luke reached for the Force deeply, not even trying to keep himself shielded. Who cared who felt his presence now? He put on an extra burst of speed, until he was only a blur. The hatch of the shuttle was opened and, similar to six years ago when Obi-Wan had collapsed on the deck of a similar shuttle, Luke was pulled in by his loyal teammates.
He sat on the deck, gasping.
The leader of the strike team grabbed Luke by the chin, forcing the Jedi to meet his steely gaze. "Did you plant all of them?" he demanded.
Mission first, Luke thought. "Only one," he gasped out, shaking his head. "Vader came." The leader let go and Luke's head fell.
The older man shook his head. "Let's hope that's enough."
The shuttle pulled away from the Death Star. Fighters were quickly being mobilized, but Luke doubted they would get out in time. It would not be long before the shuttle got to hyperspace and the charges were set to go off any moment.
He stared out of the cockpit of the shuttle with a sense of foreboding.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was lying in bed. After a long day of waiting for the Council to make a decision over Luke, he was tired. They were still arguing on how to 'guide him to the light' when he had left. Master Windu had called Bant to get him someplace to sleep. With a cool glance and a curt tone she led him to some unused quarters. He had lain down in the small bunk gratefully and thanked his childhood friend.
He had gotten a small smile in response. Better than before, he mused.
The Force woke him out of a deep sleep. What it was, he didn't know. A call, a warning? Whatever it was, it was gone now. The Force had fallen into stillness once again.
Frowning slightly, Obi-Wan reached out for the Force and felt for the future. It was blurry, murky. He could not see anything; it was as if the Force had blinded him. The amount of darkness and light shifted too quickly for him to see anything beyond its ambiguity.
With the future uncertain, Obi-Wan fell into an uneasy sleep.
"Three, two . . . one." The strike team leader's voice fell into a whisper.
Only part of the Death Star exploded. There was a huge fireball as oxygen bled into space and fueled fire, but it quickly disappeared. A huge chunk of the battlemoon had been completely destroyed and the most of the infrastructure was bent and twisted out of shape.
But it was not completely destroyed. Failure.
Luke collapsed against the bulkhead. No. It was a faint whisper of despair. He still lives.
He sank slowly into the peace of meditation. The Force was around him, like a gentle sea, offering comfort. Yet even now Luke could only wonder just what the Force truly intended. He wondered why he had not been able to sense Vader's presence until it was too late. He wondered why the future was so murky and unclear.
He wondered why Obi-Wan had lied to him. In a sense he knew that Obi-Wan had done it so Luke would not be swayed by anything, would not be tempted to stray from the light for his father. But surely his devotion to his Master ? and the Jedi ? had been enough? Surely he had learned his lessons well enough that he could learn the horrible truth from his Master instead of ? his father?
A soft voice interrupted his thoughts. "We're coming up to the base." The strike leader had been the one to speak; probably the only one who really dared disturb him. Luke knew he had been acting strangely since the Death Star. They didn't know what had happened there. But they had not disagreed when Luke had said to go the main base.
It was the base that held all of the leadership of the Rebellion: the best fighters, leaders in enemy intelligence and strike operations. The base also contained the Jedi Council ? and Obi-Wan.
"Thank you," Luke said softly. He had changed into his Jedi clothing, the feel of it against his skin somehow comforting. As if he could wash away the taint his father had passed to him.
The strike leader said nothing in response, merely returned to the cockpit.
And Luke struggled for calm.
The Jedi Council chamber was half empty. The small conference room was a starkly lit room that had once held a large, round table in the center. Without that, the room seemed strange even when it held all of the Council, who as usual sat in a circle. The gray of the room seemed odd to Obi-Wan, who even years after it had been destroyed, still thought of the Jedi Council as meeting in the chamber in the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
Obi-Wan sighed and rubbed his forehead. The Council was very concerned about Luke. They listened to Obi-Wan's reports yet most of the time it was as if they did not hear what he was saying. They did not hear how good a Padawan Luke was, how he always tried to calm himself, often succeeding. He had even told them of the argument he and Luke had just before Obi-Wan left and the resolution of it.
The Council had agreed that Luke should be trained and become a Jedi; it was simply everything else that they could not agree on.
Tired but feeling it would be disrespectful to sit in one of the Council's chairs, he leaned against the wall, folding his arms around himself. Mace Windu and a few junior Council members were across the room in their tiny arc of chairs, talking. Obi-Wan could not hear what they were saying. The rest of the Council was taking their break elsewhere. Obi-Wan's eyes drifted shut.
He opened them with a jerk at a familiar voice.
"Master?" Luke's voice. But it was icily emotionless, with none of the familiar warmth and affection in the title.
Obi-Wan looked at his apprentice. Luke wore the faded, beige clothing that he and Obi-Wan normally did. The cream colored tunics were very similar to a Jedi's and the pants were tucked into brown boots.
Mace Windu and the junior members watched from a distance, having noticed Luke's approach. It might as well have been light years for all the attention the Master and Padawan were giving them.
Luke's face was haggard. As if a lifetime of emotion had once been there and now was swept away by some force.
"Luke?" Obi-Wan said, surprised. "What are you ?"
"You know," Luke smoothly interrupted, "the thing that really gets me is that you didn't trust me."
"What? Luke . . ." Obi-Wan stepped away from the wall, searching his Padawan's eyes. The blue color that normally sparkled with such life was flat and dark. Luke's eyes shifted away when Obi-Wan met them, a faint smile of bitterness twisting his lips.
"I trusted you," Luke whispered, blinking his eyes shut and turning away. A hand went up to his face, half sheltering.
Obi-Wan looked at him wordlessly for a long moment. Something had happened that made Luke no longer trust him. What could have caused such a devastating break?
"I do trust you," Obi-Wan replied, spreading his hands helplessly, wishing with all this heart that whatever hurt had been caused that it could be healed. He wished with the love that wanted Luke to be happy, and the selfish love that wanted to keep Luke near him, to have that love and devotion that the young man offered so freely.
Luke's head snapped up. "How dare you," he snarled. His hands fell to his sides, clenching. Fury was lit in those ice-blue eyes, the heat of it somehow making the eyes colder even as his face flushed. The jaw became set in a manner reminding Obi-Wan powerfully of Anakin.
Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak.
The words came out of Luke in a rush. Mace Windu watched with increasing tension as Luke's fury increased with each word.
"I trusted you! I trusted you, and yet a Sith Lord will tell the truth when you won't. My father, Obi-Wan ? he's my father!" Luke tore a hand through his hair, shaking his head in shocked disbelief, even now not wanting to believe it.
Obi-Wan felt tears pool in his eyes, but they didn't fall. "Not this way, not this way ?" he said, the words sounding meaningless and quiet under the torrent of Luke's torment.
"I hate you!" Luke screamed. He stepped forward, every line of his body tense. "I hate you!" The words came brokenly, not so loud now but even more powerful.
And it hurt. Hurt more even than Anakin's turning; he had seen that coming, to a certain extent. He had been able to see Anakin's temper and his increasing disobedience. But Luke ? Luke was different. Luke had always been light, a light that shone with love. To see that love marred with hate . . .
Luke came at him with a flurry of blows. His fists and anger rained down on Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan tried to reach through their bond to calm him, but it was firmly closed off. Obi-Wan could only dodge the blows and deflect strikes that came to close. In Luke's mad reaction, not many actually hit Obi-Wan though he knew he would have bruises.
Obi-Wan tried to restrain Luke, reaching futilely for the bond. "No ? Luke, stop," he whispered, the words lost in the violence. He heard a lightsaber switch on, the snap-hiss unmistakable.
Finally, Obi-Wan got his hands on Luke's arms, restraining him. Dimly, his focus elsewhere, he saw that Mace Windu was approaching with his lightsaber ignited. He ignored it as inconsequential for the moment.
Suddenly all of Luke's fury and strength seemed to drain of him and he stopped struggling, falling forward. His sudden limpness made Obi-Wan have to catch him.
Wordlessly, Obi-Wan pulled Luke down to the floor so they were both on their knees. He took Luke into his arms, tucking the young man's head under his chin as he had when Luke was a child.
Luke began to sob. The broken sound made Obi-Wan's heart shatter. Oh, how could I have caused this pain? How could I have let his happen? The young Jedi's body shook and Obi-Wan began to mindlessly rock him back and forth, a motion that comforted them both. For Luke it was the comfort and protection he had known since he was a child; for Obi-Wan it was the comfort that all was not lost. Luke did not hate him, at least not totally.
He looked up from Luke's shaking form to Mace Windu's eyes. Of all the things he would have expected to see from the fierce warrior, pity was not one of them. The Jedi Master shut down his lightsaber and took a step back. Windu's normally stern expression had faded into something like sadness.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Luke whispered over and over.
Obi-Wan could only shake his head in denial, knowing that Luke had nothing to be sorry for. His own regret was too strong for words.
Luke's hand pushed against Obi-Wan's chest, a sign he wanted to get away. The Jedi let Luke pull away slightly and met the blue eyes that looked up at him.
The anger and hatred that had been there was gone. Dark emotions remained, but they were the darkness of grief and despair. It was like seeing a lamplight shattered; what was once beautiful had been shattered and now the light was gone.
"I'm going to have to kill him, aren't I?" Luke whispered, his voice hoarse and quiet.
Unable ? and unwilling ? to speak, Obi-Wan pulled the unresisting young man back against his chest. I don't want to let you go, Obi-Wan could only think, his grip tightening. I don't want to let you go.
Obi-Wan stared down at Luke from the metal doorway. The young man was sleeping in the bunk that Obi-Wan had been using. After Luke's emotional outburst, Obi-Wan had taken him there so he could rest. The young man's face was still tear streaked and it made him look even younger than he was. After asking that question ? which Obi-Wan still did not have an answer for ? Luke had calmed down considerably. In fact he almost became strangely serene.
He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly. He had been surprised when the Council had not argued and simply let him take Luke.
On the other hand, he knew that they were interrogating Luke's teammates.
He knew part of the story. How Bail had gone to the house on Alderaan to ask for his help and found Luke instead. That Luke had volunteered to join the mission to destroy the Death Star. Obi-Wan shuddered at the name.
But no one knew the exact story of how Luke met his father. Presumably Vader had been on the Death Star and somehow had sensed his son. Obi-Wan knew, now, that the flicker in the Force he had felt in the middle of the night had been Luke. Luke's emotional pain had been so intense that he was able to sense it light years away. No doubt the Council would find that fact interesting. They did not yet know of the stronger than normal bond Obi-Wan and Luke possessed.
The Death Star was another issue. While the team had not been able to destroy the battlemoon entirely, it was wise of Bail to take action when he could. Any delay of the completion of the Death Star was a good thing.
Obi-Wan stopped leaning on the frame of the doorway and turned around.
Kyalla Lyhar stood a meter away from him.
Obi-Wan jumped in surprise, not expecting her to be there. Then, with a wry smile he closed his eyes for a moment. His hands rested lightly on the doorframe. "You startled me," he said softly, raising his head. He was glad to see her. They had been friends for a long time, and slowly ? very slowly, over the past six years ? that relationship had begun to transform into something else. And the two of them had been testing the waters, going slow, ever since.
She shot him a grin at his rueful words, showing flawless white teeth. "I didn't know you could startle a Jedi that way," she said lightly, teasing. She was dressed in normal civilian clothing, a sweater and pants that were a dark blue. It matched her exotic eyes, which sparkled with amusement at having caught Obi-Wan unawares.
"I've been distracted," Obi-Wan replied with a faint, humorless smile. He pushed away from the door and started walking down the narrow hallway that would eventually lead out of the small compound of living areas. The area was built out of metal and did not even have carpet. Sparse indeed.
"I heard," Kyalla said, catching up with him easily. He could feel her intense gaze. "He knows, doesn't he?"
Obi-Wan stopped walking abruptly. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Yes."
"I'm sorry." A gentle hand touched his shoulder. "I know you didn't want him to find out this way."
He jerked his head to face her, shaking off her hand and opening his eyes. "Yes, well, realistically, I didn't want him to ever know. Had it been in my power, he never would have." He spoke the words almost harshly. He then gave a faint smile of regret, and then shook his head. "What are you doing here?" he asked, going to a topic he was more comfortable with.
Kyalla put her hands behind her back, military-like. "I headed here as soon as I heard that Luke had left on that mission to the Death Star," she explained.
"You know about that, too?"
"Bail briefed me, not that I could really help. Commando tactics aren't my area of expertise. Anyway, I figured Luke would head here, eventually." She paused, finally meeting his gaze. "And I'll admit that I don't trust the Jedi Council." She gave him a slightly raised eyebrow with a matter-of-fact tone.
Obi-Wan half smiled and sighed. He turned to face her fully, his expression serious. He studied her aristocratic features; even the tiny scar under one eye. He truly did admire this strong woman. "You came for me," he said softly. Not in a challenging tone - he was no immature teenager and this was not puppy love.
"Yes," she said simply. Her hand came up and cupped his cheek. "Did you ever doubt I would?"
His hand covered hers and he drew it away from his cheek so he could kiss the palm. Her skin tasted faintly of sweat. "No."
Her eyes searched his face restlessly. Knowing the future was in motion ? dark and uncertain. But as his Master had advised him ? live in the moment. "I want to be with you."
"I wish the same." Simply spoken, no hesitation.
And no more needed to be said. She put her arms around him and tangled her fingers in his hair. He rested his hands on the small of her back. Their lips brushed lightly, a tiny gesture that held their hearts.
"So when should we do the wedding?" he whispered into her ear.
Her laughter was a joyful sound, and the very essence of it seemed to penetrate his heart as he held her close, everything else vanishing in that moment. And he wished he would have such a feeling for many, many more days.
The alarm had been designed to be heard by many different species with many levels of hearing. So in a sense, it was a more like a few dozen blaring and ringing noises all combined into one sound. Add to that the fact that it was rigged into the public announcement system so everyone could hear it.
It woke Luke up without a problem. He was on his feet with his lightsaber in hand before he even knew what was happening. He looked around the stark room and for a long moment stared blankly while his mind struggled to catch up with his body. While Luke had technically never been with the Rebellion, his Master had taught him all of the Rebellion's plans they used in emergencies. So he knew what the alarm meant.
He shot out of the door as a woman's voice came over the public announcement system. "The base is being evacuated. Repeat, the base is being evacuated. Star Destroyers inbound. Shuttles inbound. Everyone, get armed." Pause. "Officers take control of your commands. Follow procedure to get everyone evacuated."
Luke took off for one of the landing bays, after clipping his lightsaber to his belt. Good pilots were always needed, especially now when they would have to escort the bulkier, slower vessels until they reached hyperspace.
He wasn't the only one running. Thousands of people were running, going about their duties with calm determination. Officers yelled at the top of their lungs ? or other speaking apparatus ? to be heard. Squads were quickly organized to make sure people got where they were supposed to go. After the squads checked an area out for strays, booby traps were set.
All the flimsy buildings were made of temporary material for a reason. Such material was cheap and they knew that once the base was abandoned, such things would be abandoned with it. Only ships, equipment and people would be evacuated.
Luke stopped and turned to see who was speaking. It was a lieutenant and from the red badge he had on, one of the squads. He was a young man of twenty or so, with dark, suspicious eyes and dark brown hair.
"You know where you're going?" he asked.
"Fighter pilot," Luke said briefly, his hands twitching impatiently.
Luke shook his head, his gaze flicking around as he watched people pass. "I just got here." His hand fingered his lightsaber, but the man didn't notice.
"We were betrayed," the man said, frowning darkly and reaching for his blaster at his hip. "There are spies here. Some of our Command has been assassinated."
"It wasn't me," Luke replied, waving his hand and using the Force.
"It wasn't you," the man agreed. He turned and ran off to talk to another person.
Assassins? Luke thought. And the Jedi Council had apparently missed them. Could they be Force-sensitive? He shook his head. This couldn't be good. For a moment, he thought of his Master. His Master - that title had once held only respect, now it was respect mingled with the hurt of betrayal. But he could not think of that now.
He took off again for the landing bay.
When the alarm had gone off Obi-Wan and Kyalla hadn't needed to speak. Dark blue had met light blue eyes and they had instantly taken off for different posts. The couch they had been sitting on left without a word, and the hot chocolate they had been drinking was left to get cold. They left the lounge separately, each heading for another direction.
Kyalla, Obi-Wan knew, was going to meet with Command. She was a strategist; her skills would be most useful when combined with the intelligence of the Rebellion's best leaders.
Obi-Wan was also a strategist, but for the past dozen years he had been concentrating solely on more cloak and dagger pursuits. He had all the training of an elite combat soldier and knowledge in booby traps, spies and assassins to match it. He would be more useful looking for who had given the base away and setting booby traps for stormtroopers.
He wordlessly went to one of the officers handing out booby trap kits and showed his lightsaber. He got a kit, no questions asked.
"Officer's quarters," the man said and turned away to give someone else a kit and assignment.
Obi-Wan didn't even bother to nod. He took the kit and ran for the officer's quarters. Like the rest of the base, it was built out of flimsy materials. He planted makeshift bombs in corners with tripwires to set them off and other such nasty surprises. Much of the base had been built with booby traps in the very foundation. He set those up so they would activate. As he did so, the hair on the back of his neck began to stand.
He stood up and looked around the empty officer's quarters. The Force screamed a warning.
He caught a dart out of thin air, mere inches from his face. The tip looked rusted, which could only mean poison. He threw it out of his way, eyes searching.
Obi-Wan didn't have time to grab for his lightsaber when he was attacked by a dark blur from his left. The person was fast, skilled in how to take a man down quickly and quietly. The figure wore all black and even had a black mask. Obi-Wan blocked the blows with his arms and legs with an ease gained after years of training and experience. But the person was good ? and was Force-sensitive.
Obi-Wan had not forgotten the Force-sensitive assassin that had once attacked him in his own quarters. Nor did he forget how close that person had gotten to taking him down. Such assassins were trained only how to kill ? and it was a skill they had mastered.
Then there was another Force-sensitive assassin, also clothed in black. Obi-Wan tried to dodge a blow by the assassin's hand to his head, but wasn't quite fast enough. It left him dazed and more open to attack as his form faltered. The dark side of the Force seemed to press on his mind, slowing his reactions. He reached for his lightsaber, but to his shock it was gone. One of the assassins must have taken it. Able pickpockets as well, it seemed.
The first assassin gave him a snap-kick to the chin, throwing him back. Even as Obi-Wan crashed into the wall, he grabbed a knife from his boot and threw it. It got the first assassin, the one that had given him the kick. The knife seemed to suddenly spout of out of the figure's neck. Blood gushed and the figure fell.
Not even pausing, the other assassin took advantage of Obi-Wan's distraction, coming up Obi-Wan's side. The assassin came at him with a knife, slashing first low and then high as Obi-Wan dodged.
A third assassin entered the room and Force-shoved Obi-Wan back into the wall.
The second assassin's knife slipped between Obi-Wan's ribs, leaving a searing trail of pain. The third assassin came over to him as Obi-Wan sank to the floor, leaving a bloody trail on the wall. He gasped for air as the pain spread throughout his body. The third assassin came closer and the dark side skittered along Obi-Wan's mental shields.
The hilt of the vibro-knife connected with Obi-Wan's forehead with brutal violence and he lost consciousness.
The battle was fought on the run with several Imperial class-II Star Destroyers in a full scale slugging match with massive Mon Calamari cruisers, whose graceful, aquatic shapes were a contrast against the Empire's stark and militaristic design. Fierce lights flashed against the peaceful background of the planet as hundreds of ion cannons and lasers were fired. But the massive Super Star Destroyer overshadowed them all, both Rebellion and Empire. It came at the cruisers that desperately tried to keep the Empire's forces occupied.
Luke, inside an X-wing, saw little of this.
His concentration was on his own duty: destroy the TIE fighters that were trying to take out the freighters escaping from the Empire. That was his squadron's job ? to stop the TIE fighters from doing theirs. The TIE fighters would try and get close to the freighters as they sped away from the gravity well that kept them captive, and the Rebellion pilots would stop them. It was a deadly, inevitable dance. It seemed far less real than it actually was inside the silence of the cockpit, the steady glare of distant stars taking no notice of the battle.
Yet, the Force was in turmoil as lives were lost.
Luke cursed mentally when a fighter danced away, rolling out of Luke's sights. He was an excellent fighter pilot but he felt constricted by the fact he could only move a certain distance away from the group of freighters he and the squadron were escorting. Once the TIE's reached a certain distance away, they could not be followed. The freighters could not be left unprotected ? which was exactly what the Imperials were trying to do in hoping to do in trying to lure away fighters. Once the group of freighters reached hyperspace it was an entirely different matter until the X-wings reached the next batch that needed protecting.
He smiled grimly, tensely, as the slow, hulking freighter group vanished ? becoming, for a split second, a blur and then they disappeared.
Luke spoke to his wing mate as he swung his fighter around, his touch on the controls light but steady, applying only the pressure needed. "What do you say we take some of those fighters, Six?" His voice echoed faintly in his helmet.
"You got it, Five," his wing mate replied. She was a young woman, perhaps a few years older than Luke, but already an experienced pilot. She was an ace, someone who had destroyed at least five fighters. Luke had barely gotten a glance at her ? seeing only fierce brown eyes and a hint of dark blond hair ? before they were assigned to each other in Red Squadron and jumped into their ships.
"You take the lead," Luke said, letting out a breath and taking the Force in. He let it into his mind and then spread his awareness to cover more of the battle. He resolutely ignored the dying screams he heard. In a sense he loved the thrill of battle, the adrenaline rush that always came with danger. But his Force-sensitivity didn't let him live with illusion that the TIE pilots were just 'the enemy'. They were living beings and the Force felt their loss as well.
Six snorted, the sound crackling. They spoke on a very narrow bandwidth so the Empire would have more difficulty jamming. It led to less clear transmissions, making everyone's voice sound the same. "I don't know why you insist I take the lead," she said. "You're by far the better pilot."
Luke smiled. They had done this three times already ? escort a freighter group to hyperspace, come back and unleash hell to the Empire and then do the whole thing over again.
"I have my reasons," Luke said. "I don't want to leave you undefended. I can anticipate your actions a lot easier than you can anticipate mine." It was true. Luke's Force-sensitivity allowed him to track her actions before she even made them.
There was another snort, the sound barely recognizable.
Then the TIE's came ? two of them splitting up to come at Luke and his wing mate. They came up on their tails, firing. Six rolled and Luke followed effortlessly, his movements perfectly matching hers.
What followed was a series of dodges designed to lose their tails. But it didn't work and the shots were getting closer. When one skimmed Six's shields, Luke spoke up. "Six, I'm taking the lead."
"Go ahead, Five."
"I want to split up temporarily," Luke said.
A pause. Another roll as Luke felt the Force warn him. Six followed but asked at the same time, "Why?"
"Trust me," Luke replied, smiling. He glanced at the instrument panel before him, taking note of everything on the dozens of displays.
Six didn't bother answering, diving away from Luke. One of the tails took her and the other took Luke. He reached deeply within the Force, focusing. Distantly, he could feel other Jedi in the system doing the same.
He felt a spike of pain through his bond with his Master. Luke realized with a sense of shock that Obi-Wan was still on the planet.
He quickly pushed that realization away, unable to deal with the worry that accompanied it. There was nothing he could do while he was in space and Obi-Wan on the ground. His Master would simply have to take care of himself.
Luke dodged and dove, weaving an intricate web of flight. He used the Force to make his actions quicker and moved intuitively as it guided him. His actions began to take him back to his wing mate, also in a game of tag with a TIE. The Imperial pilot followed closely. Luke could feel the pilot begin to lose patience as the endless dodging continued. He was eager to end the fight but training and experience kept that in check, so it did not influence him to do something foolish and, as a result, get himself killed.
Luke abruptly slowed, cutting his speed in half. The Imperial pilot came close to his tail but Luke jammed his controls, making the X-wing leap forward and to the right. Not so eager to let such an opportunity pass, the Imperial pilot fired a missile as Luke leapt forward, to the space where he would be.
It missed Luke by a mere half meter.
The missile went forward unhindered ? straight into the other TIE, the one harassing Luke's wing mate. The dark red missile flew right into the cockpit of the fighter, killing the pilot instantly. An instant later it exploded.
Luke allowed himself a smile as the pilot following him erupted into fury. The Imperial pilot began firing wildly, the eagerness becoming utter blood lust.
"Six, help would be appreciated," Luke said, broadcasting to his wing mate.
"You've got it." The other X-wing leapt forward, attaching itself to the TIE's tail even as it went after Luke. The pilot instantly realized that he now had two fighters to deal with. It stopped pursuing Luke and dove to the left.
"Oh, no you don't," Six muttered, still broadcasting to Luke. She flew after the TIE and Luke followed her, letting her take the lead. An instant later, the TIE erupted into a fireball as lasers unerringly found their mark at the fighter's engines.
Another voice crackled over the intercom. "We've got another freighter to escort, people. Look sharp," the leader of Red Squadron said. Some squadron leaders kept close watch of their squadron during battle, directing each move. This one was allowing a lot of leeway, perhaps realizing that the pilots in his squadron were simply not accustomed to working together. They were the mish mash squadron; all of those that did not have a place in another squadron at the beginning of a battle got lumped together.
There were a few moments of silence as Luke and Six moved into position with their teammates around another group of slow, old freighters.
The intercom made a buzzing sound as Six spoke. "You know, you should have told me you were a Jedi."
Kyalla Lyhar stared blankly at the display, hands flat on the durasteel surrounding it. She did not blink as she looked into the blue light it projected, which showed the battle that had happened mere hours ago.
There was the Rebellion on one hand, severely outclassed with only several cruisers present, plus the squadrons. Then there were the four Imperial class-II Star Destroyers and a Super Star Destroyer, the Executor, albeit it was without its dark lord onboard. There were also the many fighters all those ships held.
The Rebellion fought bravely, keeping the Star Destroyers away from the escaping personnel and taking heavy losses. As she watched the replay, she saw ? again ? the Vigilance being destroyed after being pummeled by the Executor. The splotches that indicated damage grew bigger and then there was a blinking out of its light. Gone. Little spots of light on the Star Destroyers showed where they had taken damage, but it was little compared to the massive splotches shown on the Rebellion's ships. There wasn't a Rebel ship left without major damage.
She bowed her head and closed her eyes.
Obi-Wan had been captured. It was all she could think about, all she could concentrate on. She was supposed to be looking over the battle, seeing what could have gone wrong and what could have gone right ? analyzing it, so faults and mistakes would be known and prevented in the future. Yet she could not bring herself to care.
She knew that thousands had died in the battle but it mattered little to her. She knew their families would grieve; yet she felt that her own was just as great. She had lost Obi-Wan before she even got the chance to truly love him, beyond the boundaries of friendship.
There was Vader. He was on Rafeen now, or perhaps the Death Star, not having accompanied his ship, the Executor, to battle. It would take time before he was able to get to Obi-Wan, but she knew it would happen. She thought of the Emperor and the tales told of his hatred of Jedi. How he would often torture them to death or torture others in front of them. She had asked Obi-Wan, once, if it was true. He had looked at her with haunted eyes and replied in a soft, strangely matter-of-fact tone, "I heard them screaming." He had said nothing more ? no more had needed to be said.
She opened her eyes again as the replay went forward. It showed the remains of the Rebel fleet, only a little more than half of what had once been there, move away from the Imperial fleet that was crushing them and slipping out of the gaps that the massive ships could not help but leave in their wakes. She watched as the display suddenly stopped, halting as the ships reached hyperspace.
A single tear fell onto the dark display.
The darkness was all consuming, threatening to choke his soul.
It came in subtly at first, skittering along his shields with a furtive touch. Obi-Wan would snap his attention to it and then it would back away, only to come in again when he relaxed. He was too tired to keep his attention on it constantly. Exhaustion ate away at his strength until he could only watch as the darkness approached him warily.
He fought it off, desperately flinging everything of light he had at it: his love for Luke, for Kyalla, his utter belief and trust in the Force. It would fall back against the terrible onslaught; but it was strong, stronger than him. He would have wept if he could have.
He curled into a fetal position against the wall. They were gone for now.
The pain was almost worse. There would always be darkness; he could never see what they were doing. The anticipation was nearly worse than the pain itself; never knowing when it would come, how it would be. Then the pain would attack, like fire along his nerves. It seemed to push into him, driving into his mind. He tried to focus on something else, anything else, but it jerked him back to reality too many times.
Pain, he realized, was not simply one sensation. There was sharp and dull, great and little. It rose and ebbed in tides, attacking his weakness ? his desire for it to end. It drove inward relentlessly, sapping his will.
His breath grew ragged. The ground was cold, taking his strength but leaving the heat of the pain.
He knew he should not beg; should not give in to the pain. He knew it was wrong but it was so hard. So hard to gather his mental strength again and again ? knowing that it will not end no matter how strong he was. It was difficult to stay continually vigilant of the darkness that slammed into his shields.
Perhaps that is what it meant to be broken; to know not to give in to the pain but doing it anyway. Simply letting the pain take over everything else ? everything he had ever cared for, his principles and beliefs.
If that happened, the spirit, the fire inside of him that burned to survive and to be free, would be gone.
And there would be nothing but the pain.
The debriefing room was a cold and sterile place, looking rather like a storage closet. Luke sat in one of the two chairs, which had a table set between them. After the battle, he had been brought here to be debriefed about what had happened, as was standard procedure. He waited for hours ? many people were debriefed before him.
It was not standard procedure for Mace Windu to be leaning against the wall, staring at him with dark, discerning eyes that unnerved the young Jedi to no end. His robe was wrapped around him, making him almost invisible against the dark bulkhead and his hood was up, though Luke could see part of his face.
Luke sighed and ran a hand through his short-cropped hair and wrapped his arms around himself, holding the cloth tighter. He had dressed in Jedi clothing before as a comfort and he had had no time to change before putting on a flight suit. He felt dirty and grimy. There was some faint stubble on his chin.
The door opened and he looked up, straightening out of habit. He didn't rise; he wasn't in the military, so it wasn't necessary.
Kyalla Lyhar walked in. She wore a military uniform, though conspicuously without rank, perhaps because of her informal leaving of the Rebellion. Her face was not so much calm as very still. Her arms were loose at her sides but her hands were held stiffly at her sides in a conscious effort of control. If Luke had not already known that something was wrong, that would have told him.
"Something happened to him," Luke said the instant the door shut. He leaned forward, ignoring the other presence in the room. Worry and fear wormed its way through him.
Kyalla paused uncertainly, looking at him with startled eyes. She slowly nodded, having no need to ask whom Luke was referring to. "Yes." She shook her head, turning away for a moment. "Of course. Your training bond with him. That would tell you . . . something."
Luke carefully laid his hands on the table and looked down at them in a conscious effort to keep them from clenching. "He's in pain," Luke whispered hoarsely, a furrow appearing between his eyebrows. He looked up at her again.
"You can't ?" Mace began, stepping forward.
Kyalla held out a hand and shot him a warning look. "We agreed," she said softly. She focused on Luke again. She sighed faintly and he saw her throat working as her eyes flitted around the room, stubbornly not meeting his. Her eyes were bright.
"Where is he?" Luke asked in a demanding tone. His hands gripped the edge of the table. "Tell me. Is he on one of the other . . ."
Kyalla was shaking her head. She met Luke's gaze finally, a sadness in her eyes. "He was captured."
Time seemed to freeze. His Master was in pain; he could feel it, even now. He had thought perhaps the man had been injured, but if he were in pain that meant . . . "No," Luke began, shaking his head in denial. He breathed heavily for a few moments.
He had known the pain of betrayal only days ago from his Master. Lifelong ? nearly lifelong ? trust had been shattered. But still, the love that Luke had for man he still thought of as his father remained. It was a part of his heart.
Finally, his lips firmed and he gazed at Kyalla fiercely. "We have to do something," he said, enunciating the words clearly, nearly grinding them out.
Mace interrupted again. He folded his arms into the sleeves of his robe as he spoke. "You cannot feel his pain. It is too far. He is likely being taken to Coruscant as we speak." He glared at the young Jedi. "Why do you lie?"
"Probably because I'm not lying," Luke snapped, folding his arms. Anger burned, demanding to be let free. Feeling at a disadvantage sitting down, he got up from his seat. He looked from Kyalla to Windu. "Was this some kind of test? See how the Sith child reacts to having his father figure taken by the Sith?"
Kyalla shook her head. "I wanted to tell you myself, they ?"
"Is it?" Luke demanded, looking at Windu.
"You're not doing well," the Jedi Master replied coolly, his eyes narrowing. Luke couldn't see his hands but, if he could, he had the feeling he would see them twitching, waiting for a lightsaber to fill them.
Luke answered matter-of-factly, scathingly. "I couldn't care less."
His boots hitting the deck hard, Luke headed for the door.
Kyalla stepped in front of him. "Luke, no." He stopped and stared at her, fury and pain intermingled in his blue eyes. "Please. We have to wait. We don't even know where he is," she said softly, gazing into his eyes.
Luke paused, his jaw tightening. He glanced at Windu, who silently watched. His eyes filled with tears even as his body twitched with rising emotion. "I can't," he whispered. "Not now, not after . . . does he even know?" Know how I feel? That I love him still? he thought. "I can't," he repeated.
"You must," she said softly. She turned her body to block him from seeing Windu, taking a step. She stood in front of Luke with all the self-possession of a military officer. "There are things you must know first. But for now, wait."
"Vader . . ."
"I know." She swallowed convulsively. "But we must have patience," she whispered, as if trying to convince herself of that fact as well.
They looked at each other for a long moment and Luke knew that something had changed between her and Obi-Wan. The Force told him of it; a gentle nudge that he knew would be important. He sensed only good could come from it. She turned her hands outward in a subtle gesture. He stepped forward into an embrace they both needed.
The large room on the flagship of the Rebellion had a table in the center of it. It was round, tan and in the middle there was a flat, black surface that indicated a hologram system not in use. The rest of the room matched the table, in colors of tan and white. It had a very soothing effect.
Though it was not likely that there were many soothing conversations in this room.
Luke sighed and fidgeted impatiently in his chair, shifting his weight yet again. It was comfortable enough; that wasn't why he was eager to go. He could not stop thinking of Obi-Wan and his fate. He breathed deeply, trying to go through a calming exercise. His fingers drummed his thigh.
Also seated were members of the Rebellion. All of them leaders in a particular field. There was the leader of all fighter squadrons, a Twi'lek, and several admirals and generals, including Kyalla. The heads of Intelligence and combat operations were also present. It was a big meeting and yet there were a number of empty chairs.
The door opened and Jedi walked in. There were three members of the Council, all of them senior members, including Yoda and Mace Windu. The other Council member was an alien of some species Luke did not recognize. The other Jedi present was not a member of the Council, and Luke wondered who she was. She was a Mon Calamari and her fish-like face was evidence of her aquatic species. Yoda chose to float in on a hoverchair rather than walk in and use a chair as the others did. Luke didn't blame him.
For the third time in fifteen minutes Luke wondered why he was here.
Mon Mothma, at the head of the table, stood as the Jedi sat. "Now that everyone is present, we may begin." Looking elegant and determined in Senate whites ? which now had no use, as the Senate had been dissolved years before ? she placed her hands on the table and spoke in a deadly serious tone. "Our Intelligence department has given us important information." She glanced at one of the people sitting at the table. The man nodded, deferentially. "While we know the Death Star was not destroyed ?" Luke winced, but no one looked at him, "the news gets worse. Darth Vader personally is taking it to Coruscant. It may already be there."
A babble of voices arose as the people in the room voiced their dismay. All but the Jedi, who remained calm and studious. Even Kyalla looked alarmed, though she, too, said nothing. Luke watched them all silently and turned to Mon Mothma again when she spoke.
"Quiet, everyone." Her powerful gaze swept the room. "I am as dismayed by this as all of you are. It lessens our chances and ability to destroy that fearsome weapon. But we must deal with reality." She met every pair of eyes, or the equivalent, of every person in the room. No one looked offended at her harsh words because she spoke the truth. She added, "I'm open to suggestions in this matter."
The room fell into complete silence. Then one man, who Luke did not recognize, spoke up. "Is it possible to leave it for now? It's not a threat yet."
Immediately, voices rose in disapproval of that idea. One of the admirals, Admiral Ackbar, spoke in his gravelly voice. "It would be best to attack now. Even in Coruscant orbit, it's more vulnerable now than it will ever be again."
Luke nodded thoughtfully, more to himself than anyone else.
The leader of combat operations shook his head with a look of disgust in his brown eyes. "We've already tried the explosives method. What next?" he said, throwing his arms out.
A furious discussion started. Ideas were bounced back and forth, the more wild ones being shot down and forgotten. Admirals argued with the leader of their fields and vice versa. Even Kyalla got into it, adding strategies to the list piling up. The Jedi were amazing; as he watched, Luke truly began to understand what the Jedi did before the Emperor and the Empire. They skillfully soothed tempers and led discussions to the more important subjects. Luke found himself offering a suggestion or two as well, with his knowledge of the Death Star itself.
Eventually, a plan was worked out. It wasn't the best, it wasn't the simplest and it sure wasn't safe. Yet it was the best they had.
Luke leaned against the back of his chair tiredly as Mon Mothma dismissed everyone. Kyalla gave him a gentle smile as she left. He didn't move in his chair for a moment, showing his exhaustion, and frowned in puzzlement when he saw Mon Mothma, several Admirals and Generals and the Jedi not move from their seats either.
When the door shut and everyone else had gone, Mon Mothma looked at Luke. "Now we will discuss Obi-Wan," she stated simply.
Luke sat up. "What do you know? Is he all right?" he asked, the most important questions forcing their way out first. His hands clenched the sides of the chair and he leaned forward.
"We believe he is on his way to Coruscant, aboard the Death Star. They have already begun interrogating him," Mon Mothma said.
Luke let the air out of his lungs, slumping.
"Felt his pain, you did?" Yoda asked, giving Luke an intense stare with his large eyes.
Luke looked at him and then said finally, "Yes. Yes, I did. But I can't anymore and I don't know why. If it's too far or . . ." He shrugged, uneasily.
Mon Mothma turned from Yoda to Luke. "He knows valuable information, even still. Will he break?" she asked, calculatingly.
"No," Mace Windu and Luke said at the same time. Simultaneously, they glared at each other.
Mace continued. "Obi-Wan still has the training of a Jedi . . ."
He still is a Jedi, you fool, Luke thought, incensed at Mace's implication.
"He will not break. If the information is taken from him, it will be unwillingly by other means than torture," Mace finished, putting his hands flat on the table.
"I agree," the Mon Calamari woman said. "Obi-Wan would not break." Her large silver eyes were sad and had something that spoke of regret in them.
Mon Mothma nodded. A curious look came onto her face. "He is important to you ? more than other Jedi, it seems. Why is that?"
The Jedi said nothing, glancing at each other. Luke shifted uneasily, a faint grimace touching his face. Vader, for one thing, and for another there was Luke himself. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. Mace looked at him, stern gaze unreadable. Luke glared.
"It's a Jedi thing," Luke muttered, slumping even further in his chair.
The Mon Calamari snorted but said nothing. She looked amused. Mace Windu raised an eyebrow. "Yes, it is," Mace agreed, surprising Luke. "That is the simplest explanation, anyway."
"So you do want to rescue him?" Mon Mothma asked.
"Yes," the Mon Calamari Jedi said simply. She gave the other Jedi a stern look, as if daring them to argue. They didn't.
A long silence ensued. Mon Mothma waited and finally sat down on the chair that she had not used during the entire meeting.
"On Coruscant, he is. Or will be," Yoda said finally.
"Then I'm going on the mission," Luke said instantly, not having to think about his answer.
"That's what they want!" Mace Windu burst out, glaring at Luke. "Foolish child."
Luke gave him a look of disdain. "I'm not stupid ? but I will not play games with my Master's life."
"Only his principles, eh?" Mace snapped.
Luke flinched back. His hands were held tightly in front of him and the hurt in his eyes was unmistakable.
"Stop it, Master," the Mon Calamari said shortly, not even looking at Windu. "Jedi Masters should not provoke Padawans."
Yoda chortled, looking uncommonly amused.
Mace gave her a warning look. "Bant ?"
Luke interrupted. "You have no authority over me. I'm going even if I have to steal a ship to do it."
Mon Mothma raised a hand, silently calling for order. "That's enough," she said mildly. "I would normally agree with the Council, but in this case I cannot. He can go; he is an adult, and capable of making his own decisions. And from what I understand, he is an excellent pilot if you've told me correctly." She gave them a discerning stare. Yoda nodded, still silent.
"Thank you," Luke said simply, his words carrying all the eloquence he needed.
The former Senator nodded. She cast one last look at Mace, who didn't ? quite ? fume, but somehow managed to give that impression. Then she left, leaving the Jedi alone.
The Jedi rose from their chairs.
Luke rose as well. "Wait."
They turned as one, even Yoda, who had strangely remained silent, though he kept giving Luke what he could only think of as considering glances. "Why was I here? I find it strange that you would want me here, all considering." Considering that they must have predicted my reaction.
They looked at each other. Bant gave Mace an imperious look, as if it were nothing unusual for a mere Knight, as Bant was, to be so insolent to a Master.
"It was I. My decision," said Mace Windu, at length.
Luke looked at him in astonishment.
Mace looked the young man over, his gaze somehow sad. "Obi-Wan and I were friends once. I always did regret how we treated him after your father's fall, and his subsequent actions. Obi-Wan endured our scorn but I knew it caused him much pain." Mace paused. "Perhaps," he said regretfully, "I have simply realized at long last that the Jedi were once compassionate and cared for the individual as much as any large group of people." The other Jedi filed out serenely and silently, the Jedi Master's words apparently coming as no surprise. Mace paused at the door. "And for whatever you are or whatever you will be, you are our last hope."
He walked out the door, leaving Luke with the silence of his own thoughts.
Mon Calamari cruisers mingled with converted freighters and captured Imperial ships, now put to use for the Rebellion. It was a large fleet, but ragtag. Most of the best ships were formerly Imperial and converted freighters would not do much against Star Destroyers. Yet such was the way it was, and the Rebellion would adapt to the situation and survive, as it always did.
From the distance Luke was at, staring out of one of the converted freighters, most of the fleet were specks that could be stars except for the unsteady glow of the ships and how they moved very slowly against the star field.
Luke turned, surprised. Kyalla stood behind him, dressed in uniform. She even had her rank badge on, something Luke would not have expected given that Kyalla had left the Rebellion under some unusual circumstances years before.
"What are you doing here?" Luke asked softly. He turned back to the view and rested his hands against the wall.
"I wanted to see you before we all left for Coruscant. I have a shuttle and pilot to take me back to the Mon Calamari flagship." She paused and Luke could just barely hear a sigh. "The Jedi Council is worried about what actions you might take when we reach Coruscant."
Luke grimaced slightly and looked down at the floor before turning to fully face her. "I know. They're afraid I'll go after Obi-Wan by myself."
Kyalla cocked her head slightly and clasped her hands together in front of her, a deliberate display of calmness. "I hate to be the reasonable one here, especially concerning Obi-Wan," she winced slightly at her own words, "but the Council is going to go after him."
Luke shook his head, folding his arms. "Going after him after we get the Death Star isn't going to work ? and that's assuming he's not still on the Death Star."
Kyalla opened her mouth to speak.
He overrode her. "They'll kill him if we give them time." Especially with Vader on board the Death Star, Luke thought.
She looked away. "I know," she whispered. "Probably they would."
A long silence ensued. Both knew the truth ? Kyalla accepted it and Luke did not. The mission was a priority in Kyalla's mind, the mind of a general no matter how much it pained her. Luke had not been raised to think that way. He would not wait because the Jedi and the Rebellion had no real need of him. Not him personally ? but his Master did.
"Do you think . . . the plan will work?" Luke asked finally, changing the subject.
Kyalla looked over Luke's shoulder, out at the fleet. "I believe so. The Empire will not be expecting us to attack at Coruscant, not with their home fleet there. And I think that snubfighters, such as the X-wing, could very well be able to go through the Death Star's half finished infrastructure and destroy it." She paused, gazing at him with an unreadable expression on her face. "The Jedi will be there as well, sabotaging the Death Star from within. I've seen what Jedi can do ? that gives me hope."
Luke sighed. "But will the Empire fall for the distraction of our fleet? Will we be able to escape?" He rubbed his forehead tiredly.
Kyalla smiled teasingly. "See, you are thinking of the fleet, not just Obi-Wan."
"What?" Luke looked at her and, seeing the expression of gentle amusement on her face, smiled. "The rest of you can deal with the fleet," he whispered, his smile fading. "I just want to help Obi-Wan."
She nodded. Taking slow steps that echoed on the metal deck, she stepped up to Luke's side and looked out the view port. Luke followed her movement.
"They're so tiny from here," Luke commented.
"Aren't we all, from a distance?" Kyalla murmured, staring out as if mesmerized.
"Tiny, but not unimportant."
Kyalla looked at him sharply, her expression intent and strangely gratified. "You do remind me of him sometimes."
Obi-Wan? he thought. Or Vader? He knew whom she spoke of, but he could not help but wonder all the same. I'm like Obi-Wan, he whispered to himself. Obi-Wan.
"I'm glad," he said simply, giving her a sad smile.
Kyalla touched his cheek, regret and sympathy in her eyes. She knew what he was thinking ? she had even known the truth of his birth before him. Her words came softly. "I know."
It was standard procedure for large fleets to drop out of hyperspace before reaching the target. Even with the amazing abilities of the navcomputers, the ships in large fleets would sometimes drift apart in hyperspace. This would occasionally cause the ships to leave hyperspace in a slightly different position relative to each other than when they went in. Because of this, the Rebel fleet would be dropping out of hyperspace a few hours before they reached Coruscant, their target.
Kyalla Lyhar breathed deeply as the deck beneath her feet shuddered slightly. The blurred stars of hyperspace reverted to normal in the view screen in front of her. She turned her head to look to her side, feeling like she was almost in sludge because of the thick humidity of the air. Even days later she was still adjusting to the amount of water vapor the Mon Calamari kept in the air. It would be lessened slightly for the battle, however, so the humans would have less difficulty doing their duties ? not that there were many humans on board.
"How are we doing, Admiral Ackbar?" Kyalla asked softly, looking at the Mon Calamari curiously.
"Well enough, General," the Admiral replied in his gravelly voice.
Kyalla nodded. For the time being, she was being given back her rank, that of General. The Rebellion needed all the help it could get for this battle. That they had done so did not really surprise her; the Rebellion was made out of an odd combination of idealists and fanatics, people willing to die for the cause if it was necessary. The Rebellion might not survive the battle, but to the people within it, their goal was worth it. Also, there were others who would carry on the spirit of the Rebellion, if not the work.
Kyalla listened as other ships, dozens of them, reported in. Only the larger vessels reported in to Ackbar, however. The rest reported to their own immediate superiors. A decentralized system, as was always the case with the Rebellion.
The ships began to move back into the correct formation again.
Kyalla heard the orders Ackbar gave but ignored them, as they did not concern her. Instead, she thought of Obi-Wan. He was no doubt on Coruscant by now, though he had probably not been there for long. The Rebellion had moved quickly. She found herself thinking of him often, wondering how he was or even if he were still alive. The fact that Luke was so adamant that he was still alive gave her hope, but it did not assuage her fears.
She closed her eyes, forcing out the sounds and smells of the ship and falling into a light meditative trance that Obi-Wan had taught her years before. He had told her that if it ever became necessary, or even if she just felt the need, it would help her focus on her bond with him. She wanted that now ? wanted to feel that bond with him. Craved it.
Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan, she mentally cried out, willing him to hear though she knew it was impossible over such a distance. We're coming.
Obi-Wan was thrown out of his light doze by sudden, startling light. His shoulders, still screaming with pain from days of torture, stiffened. His hands reached out for the wall he sat against as he blinked rapidly, his eyes filling with tears. He scrambled backward, into the darkness, knowing instinctively that whatever was out there was far worse than what had happened to him before.
A dark figure that appeared to be in armor came forward. Panicking, Obi-Wan pushed with his feet, futilely trying to get away, fearing it was his former apprentice. At the same time, he reached out with the Force. He did so hesitantly, knowing that the dark presence that had striven to break down his shields was still there. He did not want that presence to attack him again.
The figure was not Darth Vader. Even after all this time, he still expected it to be. Vader had been on the same ship with him for most of the time, Obi-Wan could sense that much. But Vader never approached him, and he could only conclude it was because Palpatine had an entirely different plan for him. One that included his living, at least for the moment.
The evil presence that had attacked him every few hours or so was still there, but for once it merely watched, giving Obi-Wan a foreboding chill. On the ship, Obi-Wan had thought that that dark presence could not get any stronger; when he was drugged and brought to this place, which he was fairly certain was a planet from the lack of faint vibrations, he found out that assumption was wrong. He shuddered slightly at the memory, still keeping most of his focus on the figure approaching him. His vision was still blurry; all he could see were shapes, dark and light.
It roughly grabbed Obi-Wan's upper arm who responded by kicking out with his foot, trying to wrap his leg around the armored figure's ankle and trip him.
He earned a hard knock to his head with an armored hand for his trouble. The corners of his vision blacked for a moment as he struggled to fight off unconsciousness. Another figure drowned out the light for a moment and then gave Obi-Wan a kick to his side. He gasped, curling up as he felt ribs crack and break. While they had partially healed the knife wound that those had captured him had given him, the injury was not gone. The pain made him weak ? but it always did, that was nothing unusual.
A choked whimper escaped his throat as a blindfold was placed over his eyes. Strong hands held his arms brutally and he was dragged to his feet. Then his captors started walking at a fast pace and Obi-Wan's feet dragged for a bit before he was able to take stumbling steps along with his captors.
Still a Jedi and determined to act like one, Obi-Wan took note of his surroundings as much as he could. The floor was cold and hard against his bare feet. A military installation, perhaps? Soft puffs of cold air hit his bare chest and he shivered. The currents of the air told him he was in a spacious area that was well circulated. There was virtually no noise. He could hear the clanking footsteps of the armored men but not anything else, not even the men's breathing. He could hear only his own harsh gasps as he struggled to get air past his abused body into his lungs.
His bare feet skipped over some kind of divide in the floor. Obi-Wan tried to see through his blindfold but the effort failed, the blindfold too thick and his vision still not what it had once been. Some light filtered in to his eyes, allowing them to adjust slowly, but it was not enough for him to see anything.
He heard a whoosh as automatic doors shut. A lift. He was in a lift being taken . . . where?
He breathed deeply and tried to gather his strength.
There was a slight jerk and the lift stopped. He waited for the sound of the doors opening, so he would know when to walk again.
He was completely unprepared when he was shoved away, out of the lift. He fell heavily, crashing to his hands and knees. Frantic, he ripped off his blindfold to see where he was. The soft light didn't blind him and he whipped his head around to face where he had been pushed.
The men that had forced him here were armored in blood red.
They were Royal Guards.
Obi-Wan turned his head, dreading what he would see.
He was in a large throne room. The walls were high, reaching up several stories. Heavy, blood red curtains masked the walls. The floor was hard tile of some kind and completely black. The size of the room was at least fifty meters wide.
A throne sat upon a dais. The chair glittered oddly, probably made out of some rare and expensive material. It was black as most of the room was. The room was the color of darkness and of blood.
Soft light came from high up, providing dim light, but the evil presence seemed to leech whatever comfort it could have given. It was a cold, hard light.
The door behind Obi-Wan shut and the sound filled the room.
Rising slowly to his feet, Obi-Wan planted one foot on the ground and then the other. With aching arms he pushed himself up. Disoriented and alone, he would still face his tormentor with dignity. For the Emperor was his tormentor, he knew that now. The Sith had been the one to go against his shields. That torment had weakened him more than anything else that had been done. The physical torture had been nothing in comparison to the sheer malevolence that had tormented his soul.
The robed figure upon the throne spoke. "Jedi Kenobi."
"Emperor Palpatine," Obi-Wan replied evenly. He kept his back straight, his chin up. Before him was the embodiment of evil, but he was a Jedi ? he would not be swayed or intimidated.
Palpatine raised his head, finally allowing the Jedi to see into the hood. Obi-Wan didn't quite gasp but he came very close. The dark side had indeed ravaged Palpatine. His eyes were a cruel yellow, squinting at Obi-Wan. His nails were claw-like and brittle, his posture hunched, even with the loose black robe disguising most of it. His skin was pale and wrinkled, as if he were a thousand years old. Even his voice had changed, becoming low and hoarse.
"I am surprised you would call me such, Jedi," Emperor Palpatine said, placing a disgusted emphasis on the last word.
Obi-Wan met the Sith's gaze calmly, with composure. He did not flinch away at the pure hate in those yellow eyes. "A Jedi does not deny reality," he said coolly.
Palpatine cackled, the sound low and somehow dry, as if he had a parched throat. "Soon, the reality will be that the Jedi will be gone."
"I think not." Deliberately, Obi-Wan let his gaze travel over Palpatine, seeing his broken and old form. "The dark side only takes ? the light side rewards and gives." He raised his eyes once again to meet the Sith's. He arched an eyebrow and added in a condescending tone, his eyes flicking up and down, "Obviously."
Palpatine scowled. He waved a hand slowly in dismissal but his hatred and anger was clear. "That matters not." He smiled, his cracked lips stretching obscenely. He glanced at Obi-Wan, who stood disheveled with his own blood splattered on his skin, his body weak and broken. "All of this goes according to my plan."
"I fail to see how my capture helps you. I will not turn, I am of no use to you."
"You will not turn . . . your young apprentice is another matter, and your presence will help me," Palpatine stated.
For a moment, Obi-Wan felt his heart beat rapidly. Instantly he imposed strict control that he had learned over his years as a Jedi. "Luke would never turn."
Palpatine put his hands into a steeple. "He is tainted with his father's darkness. Truly, when I took your first, na?ve apprentice, I did not know that he would serve me even better by giving me yet another." He glared at Obi-Wan. "Your second apprentice will serve me better than the first. Such gifts you give me, Jedi."
Obi-Wan shook his head, forcing away his fear. Yet his voice shook at the Sith Lord's confidence even as anger stirred and was pushed away at the Sith's malicious words. "Luke is purely of the light," he said, trying to sound self-assured.
Palpatine waved one of his hands in an almost dismissive manner. "Even your own Council does not believe that nonsense. Young Skywalker will join me." He paused. "I have foreseen it," he hissed, his delight apparent. His Force presence fairly burned with dark satisfaction.
Obi-Wan shuddered imperceptibly.
Palpatine grinned manically. "He comes for you even now ? that is how you will serve me, Jedi. Your stupidity gave me your first Padawan." He spat the word 'stupidity' arrogantly, his confidence and spite obvious. "You yourself will give me your second."
Obi-Wan shook his head in denial. "No. No, that will not happen."
Palpatine leaned forward. "I see my fist ruling this galaxy with young Skywalker by my side. You Jedi can see only darkness." He paused, glaring. "You thwarted me for a long time, Kenobi. You killed my first apprentice and my second, though you gave me a third. You harried my armies and killed my assassins."
Obi-Wan was still shaking his head, horrified at the thought of Luke turning. Surely Palpatine was lying and he could not see that in the future. Luke was smart ? he would not fall into the Sith's trap. Luke had to know that coming was a trap.
Slowly, Obi-Wan looked again at Palpatine.
The Emperor laughed. "At last, revenge will be mine."
Obi-Wan turned away, his back to the Sith. Despair welled in his heart. He put his head in his hands, tearing his hair. He wanted frantically to deny the Emperor's words, but he could not. He had looked to the future and seen only uncertainty. The dark side clouded everything. The Sith could see and the Jedi could not. He let out gasping, shuddering breaths and tears slipped down his cheeks. "No," he whispered.
He fell to his knees. Palpatine laughed.
No, Obi-Wan screamed in his mind. He raised his head, looking for something even he didn't know. "Why?" he wailed hoarsely, calling to the Force. Why had the Force done this? The Force had guided him in his actions, in taking Luke and raising him. How could everything be lost?
Despairing, he flung his perceptions wide, asking his question of the Force itself. Why?
And it answered. A warm glow entered his mind, the soothing and powerful presence of the Force. Along with it came a sparkling energy that Obi-Wan knew well. Kyalla. He felt her grief, her fear and even her longing. All held within the Force and stilled ? he heard her voice and knew that it had come long before, yet the Force had held it like a breath and now it came as a rush of energy to his soul. It was a wild cry, spoken in desperation but meaning so much more. Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan, we're coming.
It flew over and through his mind like a broken dam. Places, images and people swept through him too fast for him to comprehend. Yet he saw and understood that it was all according to plan ? not his, and not Palpatine's. Nevertheless, it was there. A thousand paths intersected to form a cohesive whole and Obi-Wan knew that everything was not in vain. The future was still unfulfilled. Individual actions were crucial now, he could see that. There was choice.
And where there was choice, there was hope.
He smiled through his tears at Palpatine's demented scream of rage.
It was probably the biggest clash the Empire and the Rebel Fleet had had since the founding of the Rebellion.
Coruscant was the jewel of the Empire ? its throne. The Emperor, in his arrogance, had renamed it Imperial Center, but it was still known by its true name, the name it received for its jewels: Corsica jewels. From space, Coruscant was a glittering ball. It did not have the blue-green glow of a normal, human habitable planet; instead it had a silvery sheen that spoke of artificiality. Lights that were only the barest twinkle from space shone faintly.
Above it, though, a battle was waged.
The Home Fleet of the Empire was huge. It was the largest fleet of warships in the galaxy. There were a dozen Star Destroyers, including the Super Star Destroyer Executor. Corvettes ranging from the size of Star Destroyers to small ships were stationed on the outlying part of the system; this mattered for little, however, as the Rebellion had performed a tricky maneuver, coming out of hyperspace very close to Coruscant and thereby evading those forces.
Yet the surrounding area of Coruscant still remained, as did the massive battlemoon orbiting it.
Kyalla could see the damage that Luke and his team had done on the view screen before her. The Death Star looked strange half constructed; part of it had everything done, including the hull. From the mostly finished half of the battlemoon was a frame, jutting out and curving inward to complete the sphere but not quite managing it. Dark, twisted splotches covered the hull of the battlemoon. The framework was twisted completely out of shape and darkened by a blast. Small pieces of ruined framework floated, unattached to anything. They were taking the damaged parts out completely.
Not that it would matter ? if the Rebellion's plan succeeded.
Kyalla breathed deeply. She stood in the center of a secondary bridge of the Mon Calamari cruiser that was the flagship for the fleet. It looked much like a normal bridge, having a helm and everything else. But the communication area was much more extensive than usual ? not only was it designed to be used in case the main bridge was destroyed, but battles could be led from there.
In this case, Kyalla was doing so because the flagship was the safest spot. If necessary, she could take over for Admiral Ackbar if the main bridge was hit ? and she suspected that the Jedi had something to do with her being given that surprising responsibility, in an effort to keep her away from Luke, and perhaps because it was 'the will of the Force'. She didn't know, though, really. The ways of the Jedi were often baffling to her, even after years of dealing with Obi-Wan.
Within minutes of the Rebel Fleet dropping into space close to Coruscant, the Imperial fleet had mobilized, forming a wedge-like shape that would face them head on. Their leader wasn't a total idiot, it seemed. Such a position took advantage of the massive firepower that the Star Destroyers had and the massive bulk of each ship protected one another. TIE fighters screamed out of landing bays into space, taking the initiative. There were at least two full wings, which meant two hundred and eighty-eight fighters; two dozen squadrons in total.
The Rebellion had only one full wing, a dozen squadrons. They were outnumbered two to one. Kyalla knew, however, that it could have been worse. The Empire probably could not have fathomed the Rebellion actually attacking Coruscant, so they had not prepared for such an eventuality. There were fewer ships than there might have been and less of the more intelligent officers and leaders in the Empire. Such over confidence on the part of the Empire would serve the Rebellion.
A small shuttle left the Executor. An officer noted this in a calm, low voice, one of many reports, but Kyalla's focus narrowed onto that fact. She paused mentally, feeling a sense of foreboding that something had come from Darth Vader's ship. Perhaps Darth Vader himself, since he had transferred over to his capital ship from the Death Star. She felt a tightening in her chest, the suffocating sense of fear.
Kyalla focused again on her ships. Two former Imperial ships that were medium sized corvettes half the size of a Star Destroyer, four slow, hulking battleships, and the X-wings that accompanied them.
"Order the Defender and Athene to attack the Vengeance," she commanded.
She could feel the doubt in the room. The Defender and Athene were both battleships ? big, hulking vessels with heavy armor and guns. It was the accepted practice among the Rebellion that the lighter, faster ships went up against the Star Destroyers. X-wings in particular were effective in taking advantage of a Star Destroyer's weaknesses.
They doubted her decisions, but they obeyed nevertheless.
"Shouldn't we ?" a commander began, looking at her intently. He was there to assist her, though Kyalla didn't understand exactly how. She suspected he was just there to keep an eye on her. She rather pitied the young man for it.
"Keep the X-wings escorting us."
"Do as I say, don't argue," Kyalla snapped. Softening, she added, "This has all been planned, Commander." She would have to tell him the plan later, she thought distantly.
Dubiously, the commander nodded at her reassurance.
Kyalla turned her attention back to the ships. The two battleships went head on with the Star Destroyer, fighting bravely in what was an all out slugging match, and one that the battleships were doomed to lose.
They watched for a few, very long minutes. Then Kyalla spoke, after glancing away to see the time. "Tell the X-wings they can go. And inform the Diligence that we're ready."
Voices were a distant buzz in the background as officers relayed orders and reports.
"The Steadfast has been destroyed!" a young female ensign called out, distress clear in her voice, reporting on another part of the battle, a part that Kyalla and her ships would have no part in.
Kyalla closed her eyes. The Steadfast had been a beauty, a large cruiser that had served in the old Republic and then had been refitted by the Rebellion. Her commanding officer had once served beneath Kyalla. She grieved for his death but she knew she could not focus on anything besides the battle.
The Diligence was swinging around the Vengeance to attack. Unfortunately for the Star Destroyer, it had not noticed its approach in time for them to realize what was to happen.
"Tell Admiral Ackbar we're ready," Kyalla said quietly. She watched the carefully planned scene fold out before her exactly as it had been planned ? all too rare a sight in battle.
The Star Destroyer opened fire on the Diligence, a monitor that had been extensively rebuilt by the Rebellion, but it was too late. The landing bays of the monitor opened and massive mines came out, their sensors targeting the Vengeance. Frantic now, the Star Destroyer tried to turn while TIE fighters were called away from combating the X-wings that Kyalla had sent ahead only moments before. But it was too late; the mines impacted on the Star Destroyer's hull. The armor exploded into flames and the outer part of the ship started buckling as structures melted from intense heat. Air shot out through massive tears, crystallizing almost immediately.
In the meantime, the flagship of the Rebel Fleet had moved forward, from behind its lines. The Independence, the pride of the Mon Calamari, was headed almost straight for the doomed Star Destroyer when it exploded. Small fragments of metal hit the Independence's hull, leaving scorched marks and dents behind.
The Star Destroyer next to the Vengeance panicked. The ship that had been protecting one of its flanks was gone ? and the fully armed and undamaged Independence had taken its place. The Independence swung around so the port side was facing the side of the Destroyer and opened fire.
Dozens of turbolasers and ion cannons opened fire from grooves in the Independence's hull. The side of the Star Destroyer that the Independence had opened fire upon had not been expecting such an attack from such an angle, much less from the Independence, which would normally be under extreme protection, as it held the Rebellion's important leaders. The Star Destroyer's shields were weakened, the power diverted to other areas.
Half of the Star Destroyer erupted into flame.
It was all part of an intricate puzzle, Kyalla mused, and right now she was only seeing a tiny slice of it. The Imperials would see this victory in the battle as just a fluke. Imperials were arrogant and often the Admirals and Generals' that led the Fleet were very ordinary officers, not extraordinary in any respect. Over the years, the Emperor had grown paranoid that his men would try and wrest power from him. Such an attempt would likely fail but it was probably the damage and mere possibility of it that enraged the deranged Emperor.
Before coming to Coruscant, Admiral Ackbar and other high-ranking members of the military had all gotten together and used their formidable intelligence to formulate a plan. It was an intricate plan, each step having a back up in case something went wrong. Kyalla was one of the few that knew the whole of it; she knew that if the plan succeeded in its entirety, the Empire would not stand a chance in this fight.
As the Independence had moved into position, other Rebel ships had moved in behind it. The solid front that the Empire had had was now gone; the Rebellion was slowly but surely pushing through it.
And there was yet another part of the plan, what many considered the most important part.
Even as the Rebel fleet struggled against nearly overwhelming odds, Jedi Knights and commando teams were working together to plant bombs in the Death Star. Y-wings flew into the damaged structure, to the weak inside, as the hull was not yet done. The dropped mines were all along the inside of the battlemoon and set to explode at a certain time.
The battle was only beginning.
Luke had been fighting in his X-wing when the Force told him to go back. He had agreed to fight in the battle so he would be able to get through the Empire's defenses to rescue Obi-Wan. If he remained on a ship, more likely than not he would miss an opportunity to get through the Empire's defense.
And now the Force was telling him to go back. He could see that the Empire's solid defense was falling apart. One small X-wing would have no trouble getting through the defenses.
Luke gritted his teeth and obeyed.
"Red Leader, I have to go," he said into the comm. He glanced around in frustration as he waited for a reply. As he did so, he saw an opportunity and fired. A TIE fighter exploded in the distance. During the fight, he had found himself letting the Force guide him as never before; he had achieved a harmony with it that he had previously not been able to reach. He would have felt happy about it, except for the fact that his Master was not there to share in it.
There was a pause. Then Red Leader's voice came back. "Aye, I was told you might. Explains why you have no wing mate, too." He sighed. "Go. Do what you must."
Luke let out a soft sigh. His ship no longer seemed so small and his helmet did not seem suffocating anymore. He would have gone regardless but Obi-Wan had instilled in him a deep respect for the rules of battle and it would have been difficult.
Luke turned his ship and headed away from the massive clash of X-wings and TIE fighters. Despite the fact that they were outnumbered two to one, the Rebellion was doing well in the fight. TIE fighters, while faster than X-wings, had no shields so even the slightest shot was damaging. Luke hoped that they would continue to do well.
He flew towards the Independence, the ship Kyalla was commanding part of the fleet from, with a feeling of trepidation. He knew that was where he should go but he didn't know why. That lack of knowledge gave him a distinct feeling of nervousness. Sometimes he felt as if everyone was keeping a secret or two from him. He had never gotten the chance to talk with Obi-Wan after confronting him, so what else did he not know?
The Independence let him land in a docking bay with barely a pause.
Opening his X-Wing's canopy, Luke climbed out. He slipped out of his flight suit, revealing a Jedi tunic and pants, and then clipped his lightsaber to his belt and took a deep breath, feeling the humidity in the air. It was not much but it was present. Then he grabbed someone at random and asked where General Lyhar was.
"Secondary Command Bridge," the female Mon Calamari ensign told him. "Down that way," she added, pointing.
"Thanks," Luke said hurriedly and bolted down where she had pointed, down a corridor. The gray carpet felt almost squishy beneath his feet because of the moistness of the air, but he didn't pay attention.
Finally, he stood before a simple door marked Secondary Bridge. He moved to walk through and a guard stepped in front of him. He was a big man and tough looking, especially compared to Luke's slender form. Shooting him an irritated glance, Luke said, waving his hand, "I can pass."
"You can pass," the man repeated, monotone, as he stepped inside.
Luke hadn't even paused. He stepped into the Secondary Command Bridge and looked around. It looked pretty much as he had expected. There were about twenty officers keeping track of not only the ships that Kyalla was responsible for but the rest of the fleet as well. If necessary, they could take over from the main bridge seamlessly. The bridge was also set up as others were, except it was slightly smaller. It was circular with stations set around it with an inner circle, also with stations.
Kyalla stood in the center, looking exactly like she belonged there in a dark, military uniform. Years away had not changed that. She turned, her dark blue eyes acutely aware of her surroundings. Her body tensed subtly with surprise though little of it showed on her face.
He walked over to her.
Halfway there, he literally staggered. Kyalla ran over to him, crouching beside him as he rested on hands and knees for a long moment. Her hand was on his shoulder and he could feel her concern through the Force. But his focus was elsewhere.
Obi-Wan was in pain. Horrible, horrific pain. Such pain that a mere instant of it made you willing to do nearly anything to stop it; that you would rather die than feel any more. It felt as if every nerve was on fire, crashing through his body with the rhythm of waves.
Shuddering, Luke struggled to block it out.
He began to hear Kyalla's words, which were beginning to become frantic. " . . . all right? Luke ?"
"He's in pain," Luke whispered, looking up into her shocked eyes. "He's being tortured. I can feel it." He focused on his limbs, willing them to rise. He got to his feet with difficulty, Kyalla keeping her hand on his arm, helping him. "I have to go to him. But the Force . . . it told me to come here first. I don't know why."
He looked into her eyes, pleading for something even he didn't know.
She turned away for a moment, her eyes suspiciously bright. "You're going after him." Her eyes met his again. She knew of the conversation that Luke had had with the Jedi and Mon Mothma; the Jedi called Bant had briefed her about it afterwards. "I have reason to believe that Vader is on the planet."
Luke could feel the blood draining from his face.
"I saw a shuttle leaving Executor in the middle of the battle. I don't know who else it could be," she said softly, now grasping Luke's arms at the biceps. She gripped him hard, her knuckles white.
"I can't ?" Luke said brokenly. Then his voice firmed. "I can't let that stop me."
Someone came up to Kyalla, speaking. Luke could barely concentrate on the man's ? he was a commander, he saw ? words. He just stared and heard something about paying attention to the battle.
"Shut up," Kyalla told him roughly, glaring at the commander. "Not now."
"This is just as important, if not more so," she replied. "You're trained for this ? take over." Not waiting to see if her command was obeyed, she turned her attention back to Luke. The commander walked off in a huff but he began issuing orders.
"There's something else," Luke said strongly, no question in his words and not caring who overheard. For the most part it didn't matter ? the officers were mostly concentrating on the battle.
"Yes." Kyalla closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and Luke could feel her uncertainty and fear. She opened her eyes and looked deeply into Luke's, keeping his gaze. Her voice was soft, matter of fact but somehow compassionate. "There is something you must know, if you meet Vader."
Luke nodded, feeling that yet another secret ? perhaps devastating ? would be revealed.
"You had a twin sister."
"W-what?" Luke gasped.
"A sister. You had a twin sister that Vader didn't find out about until she ? and you ? were about four." Kyalla paused. "She was weaker in the Force than you. Vader felt that . . . he already had an apprentice and he did not need another. But at the same time, he felt she couldn't ? couldn't be used by the Jedi, who probably knew or would find out about her existence." Another deep breath and she gazed at him solemnly. "He killed her."
Luke let out a choked sob. His father had ? it was almost too horrible to contemplate, but he knew he had to do so. He had had a twin and now she was dead ? weren't twins described as having the other half of each other's soul? He had lost his sister before he ever knew her. Or did he know her?
"Wait," he managed. "Already had an apprentice? But how could he have known of me when Obi-Wan had ?" Pain, staggering in its intensity, came with maddening power into Luke's mind. His thoughts about his childhood, whatever they had been, were gone, lost in the struggle over the pain.
He felt Kyalla's hard grip on his arms and her trying to keep him up. He would have bruises from the strength of her grip. He forced strength back into his wobbly legs. "Obi-Wan," he said, breathing hard. The name had a wealth of meaning behind it and Kyalla did not need to ask anymore. He could see the grief in her eyes.
He could feel that the drama playing out before the officers was gaining attention but he ignored their regard.
"Listen," Kyalla said, speaking quickly and trying to keep her composure. "I have the feeling there is not much time."
Luke nodded in agreement.
"In five minutes there will be a massive attack on the Empire's right flank. The Empire will divert its forces to meet it. There will be a gap there for a few minutes. You should be able to get through and land." She searched his eyes. "Will you be able to land?"
Luke laughed bitterly. "I should be able to. They want to turn me after all ? Obi-Wan is the bait. Why wouldn't they let me land?"
Kyalla looked unnerved, both by his admission and his bitterness. "All right." She licked her lips, thinking rapidly. The commander that had interrupted before was trying to gain her attention subtly, not coming close enough to feel her wrath ? if it came ? but waving his hands in a distressed manner. "Bail Organa is onboard."
Luke blinked at the sudden change of subject.
"He had a ship ? a yacht that was refitted for his personal use. It has weapons and shields, its relatively small, and more importantly it has room for more than one person," she said. Luke nodded, realizing that he had not really thought this part of it through. "Take it," Kyalla ordered simply.
He almost started to speak.
"Bail won't mind. He's got no use for it right now and Obi-Wan is his friend. The code to get onboard and use it is aldfreedom." She stood straight and stepped away, looking him in the eye with what Luke could only think of as the look a superior gives a subordinate. "Don't fail and don't turn," she ordered softly.
Luke nodded and, without a second's hesitation, he left the bridge. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kyalla going over to the commander who had temporarily taken her place.
He took off for the docking bay, knowing that he would likely recognize Bail's ship when he saw it.
He was going to rescue Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan couldn't say how he knew what the Emperor knew ? he simply did, and he accepted that fact as simply being the will of the Force. He knelt on the cold, hard floor and felt a strange calmness descend upon his consciousness. The tears were still wet on his cheeks and Palpatine's scream of rage still rang in his ears. He knew why the Emperor was angry; the Sith now knew, or had just realized as Obi-Wan had, that the future was not set. A thousand possibilities lay ahead and not all of them were to the Sith's advantage. Obi-Wan's vision of the future was not clear but he could see that much.
Obi-Wan slowly rose to his feet, facing the Emperor. The old man was standing. His lower lip was curled into a snarl and Obi-Wan could see yellowed teeth. Gnarled hands came just barely out of the black robe. He had disgusting, yellowed and broken nails.
"It means nothing, Jedi," Palpatine said in a low voice, his form bent but malevolent as he spoke of the uncertainty of the future. The hope that Obi-Wan now knew existed.
His body shaking with weariness and the cold, Obi-Wan replied calmly, "It doesn't?" He smiled faintly. "I would think it would." He didn't have to struggle to keep his composure. Hope had given him peace.
"He comes, Jedi. To rescue you as was my plan." Palpatine cackled. "His rage and pain is strong, Jedi ? as it was in his father at his mother's death. As it shall be at yours, even as the knowledge of your betrayal hurts him and brings him closer to me."
Obi-Wan's heart nearly stopped. He did not react outwardly, just stared at the Sith Lord. He took deep, even breaths, calming himself.
Palpatine silently stepped closer. "Yes, Jedi, I know of your lies. As usual, your stupidity serves me ? his faith in the light is weakened."
Obi-Wan licked his lips, which felt suddenly dry. His stomach roiled at seeing Palpatine's face. "His faith in me, perhaps, but not the light," he replied, clasping his hands together in front of him and raising his head.
The Emperor's yellow, evil eyes narrowed and he was about to speak when something happened.
It could not be described in the normal sense. It was simply something that Force-sensitives were attuned to and trained to feel. A change in the Force, a shifting. Like taking a step forward in a still pool, the ripples went out changing the reflecting surface. Nearly as one the Sith and the Jedi looked out to the Force, sensing.
A vision exploded into Obi-Wan's mind, taking him over and coming across his vision so forcefully he literally rocked back on his heels. A massive fleet of ships ? Mon Calamari mixed with Imperial and converted vessels, a strangely beautiful and motley group that shone like a beacon of hope against the blackness of space. Those ships, so very familiar, could only mean one thing: the Rebellion.
Kyalla's whispered words, confusing yet giving hope, came back to Obi-Wan. We're coming.
They were not coming. They were here.
He sensed Palpatine's realization of the same thing. The Sith's fury rose like a black wave of dark, cold water.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and looked at the Emperor, whose hands had curled together, his lips twisted into a grimace. Obi-Wan stepped away, his bare feet padding silently on the floor and his hands hung loosely at his sides in an unconscious move of readiness.
Palpatine stared at him for long moments. He spoke softly, his voice strangely calm. "And so, you die." A hand curved like a claw rose.
Obi-Wan backed away and steeled himself for what he had seen only once before ? that he knew was coming now. But nothing could prepare him and he suddenly understood the immense determination Anakin had had all those years ago in facing that Sith, Dooku.
The blue lightning crept along his body like slithering snakes, with little sparks flying out across his vision. It flew through his veins into the bones of his body, creating unspeakable agony. He felt the pain distantly even as he hit the floor, but the feeling was abstract ? he was aware of it happening but nothing more. Even as searing pain ripped through his body, he could feel the ache in his neck and soreness of his arms where the Imperial Guards had gripped his shoulders. His mind began to go blank from the sheer amount of pain.
Then it stopped. Obi-Wan's body, tight from the pain, went limp, relaxing so completely he had no control of it. He lay gasping on the floor, on his side. He could not bring himself to rise, to face his tormentor with dignity. He simply tried to force air into his lungs, through his tired body. His eyes started to drift shut with exhaustion but he forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings. Why had Palpatine stopped?
A low, almost mechanical voice spoke; one of the Imperial Guards. He must have come and ? quite bravely ? interrupted the Emperor. "Your Highness, a Rebel Fleet has attacked ?"
"Yes, you fool, I know," Palpatine snapped.
There was a moment of silence and a sense of awe radiated from the Guard. Then he began again. "Grand Admiral Delin is in charge of the Imperial Fleet, your Highness. Three Star Destroyers have been destroyed and the defense is failing. Jedi and strike teams have infiltrated the Death Star."
Obi-Wan sighed in relief. All of that was good news. Delin was an incompetent fool; he outnumbered the enemy and they were still defeating him, through brilliant tactics and dedicated troops not afraid to fight ? or die ? for their cause. His sluggish brain began calculating how many ships there probably were. He couldn't help it; his mind was trained to think that way.
Distantly, Obi-Wan heard the Emperor give the Imperial Guard orders to be relayed to the commanding officers of the fleet.
Soon, the Guard was gone. And soon Obi-Wan could feel Palpatine approaching him, so he opened his eyes. The Emperor stared down at him from a few meters away. Obi-Wan met his gaze as calmly and steadily as he could.
Slowly, the Emperor raised both hands. "It is time to end this," the Emperor said, sneering. He laughed, a dry sound that sounded like coughing.
Lightning leapt erupted from his fingers and landed on Obi-Wan, still lying on the floor, who gasped as the pain ripped through him, a dozen times more intense than before. His face twisted in agony and his body curled up in a futile attempt to relieve seizing muscles. His body felt like it was being burned alive.
Palpatine spoke almost sadly. "At last, it ends." The lightning became more powerful, more intense . . . and Obi-Wan screamed.
Bail's ship, the Dreamer, had just entered the atmosphere of Coruscant when its pilot doubled over and gasped in his chair. Through his bond with Obi-Wan he could feel the pain, which came at him in torrents, in a mad frenzy.
Focusing beyond the pain that clouded his vision, Luke concentrated on the control panel of Bail's converted yacht. The complex controls ? far more than a normal, simple yacht would have ? started blinking, trying to gain Luke's attention. His hand fumbled over the silvery surface and he switched the autopilot on.
Then he leaned back, seeing the star field and gentle curve of Coruscant out the view port.
Concentrating on Obi-Wan's sense in the Force, he ignored the dying screams of other combatants and the muted buzz of billions of sentients going about their daily lives. He gasped and felt tears forming in the corner of his eyes at his next realization: Obi-Wan was dying.
The bright spot that was his Master flickered and Luke wailed. No. He shook his head, his body trembling. He tried to stop himself from hyperventilating. Being unconscious from lack of air would not help him.
He gazed upward again, the pain and his own horror making him cry. Tears streaked down his face unnoticed and uncared for.
There had to be something he could do. He had been so close and now he was so far. His Master and he had always had an extraordinarily strong bond, so close it nearly made privacy impossible. A bond willed into being by the Force itself. It was so strong they had even shared dreams, waking up to find they had both had the same one. Obi-Wan had been astonished but greatly amused, Luke remembered.
Shared dreams . . . An absurd thought filled Luke's head as the Force nudged him ever so slightly. Shared. Yes, he and his Master had shared much over the years. They had shared in difficulty and pain, loss and love. Perhaps Luke could give one last gift to the man he thought of as his father, to the man he adored and respected.
One last gift.
This thought filling his mind, Luke fell into the Force. He let it sweep his will away, cleansing his mind of his fear with its gentle light. His eyes closed as his breath became even and slow.
He touched the bond he shared with Obi-Wan.
. . . one last gift.
The intensity of the pain made Obi-Wan sob. He wanted it to stop. His mind was incapable of any thought beyond that fact. He just wanted the absence of pain. His body writhing on the floor, Obi-Wan let his consciousness rise and began to let go of his body. He could still feel the pain but he was certain it would soon pass and there would be nothing. The floor was cool and hard against his side. His body felt impossibly heavy.
Then, as if answering his call, the light came. It flew through his body and instead of feeling heavy, he felt very light. It was similar to and yet different than zero gravity, as if his spirit was light and carefree. The pain faded like a distant memory.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes.
Palpatine stood before him, glaring darkly with his yellow eyes narrowed in hate and ? confusion. Frowning gruesomely, he raised his hands again and jerked forward, lightning shooting out of his fingertips. He stepped forward again, as if to give the act more emphasis.
Yet Obi-Wan felt nothing. No pain, not even the slightest bit of electric shock. He looked down at himself. The lightning was stopping a mere inch from his unprotected skin, dissipating as if it had never been. Eyes widening as he saw something else, he touched his side with something akin to awe. The skin was smooth and unbroken and it should not have been, given the severity of the knife wound. He looked up at Palpatine, then slowly rose to his feet.
The Emperor's hands lowered, slowly. "Jedi," the Emperor said. He seemed incapable of saying anymore. His eyes had widened almost comically. Obi-Wan could not be certain but he felt sure that Palpatine was now tense and nervous. "What have you done?" he whispered hoarsely, finally.
Obi-Wan shook his head, still feeling light and buoyant. He stepped forward, the sensation of his foot hitting the floor somehow fascinating and absorbing, as if he had never felt it before. Everything seemed suddenly new and utterly real, like his life before had been a shadow of a dream. Puzzled, he reached across a huge distance brought to nothing by the Force. And he knew.
"Not I," Obi-Wan said, blinking slowly. A tear slipped down his cheek. "No, not I." He smiled slowly, a sad and wondering smile, and another tear slipped down his cheek. "Luke. Luke has given me . . . this. His power which you desired, given to me freely."
Palpatine looked shocked. His face was blank, though the wrinkles that adorned it did not fade at the lack of expression. Then his lips curled up, finally, as he fought to regroup. "Power ? power which, as you are a Jedi, you cannot control. You shun power, Jedi. How can you defeat me with it when you cannot use it?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, slowly taking steps and circling Palpatine. He looked down at the ground. "For all your hatred, you understand little of us." He looked up. "We do not shun power ? merely the abuse of it."
The Emperor snarled.
Obi-Wan smiled, filled with light side of the Force.
Palpatine attacked. He did so with all the power and control that years of experience and training had brought him. He used every bit of focus, every trick and deception. He attacked Obi-Wan's mental shields, which kept the Sith out, even as lightning was thrown from his hands.
Yet Obi-Wan was a Jedi Master. Perhaps not one of the greatest skill, but his abilities were not small by any means. He had once even hidden from Master Yoda, the wisest and most skilled of living Jedi. Palpatine's power was rooted in pride and hate; Obi-Wan's ability was grounded in the driving pain that had given him humbleness, and by the determination to do right, founded on love.
Luke's power was great. He could not use it to the full extent, not yet. But Obi-Wan could and he did.
As the lightning formed by the dark side of the Force tried to hit him, he raised his hand in a simple gesture of stop. The lightning gathered in his hand, still crackling and not touching his bare skin. Obi-Wan cast it a glance, bringing it around slightly even as Palpatine paused in that attack. He was still so enmeshed in the Force he did not wonder at what he was doing, that he was even capable of doing it.
Then he turned his palm outward and let go.
Palpatine was thrown thirty meters back, his own power taken and then multiplied as it was used against him. He lay on his back, panting with shock, looking strange in such a vulnerable position. Finally, he rose to his feet. His hood had been thrown back, revealing dirty white hair, stringy and sparse.
Obi-Wan walked over to the Sith with a calm and measured pace. "You don't have to do this," he said quietly, chin raised and dignified. A Jedi even now. Especially now.
Palpatine growled viciously. As Obi-Wan watched the dark tile beneath his feet began to crack, the sheer, perfect darkness now marred. He looked again at the Emperor. His hands were spread before him and his face twisted in concentration.
The floor exploded.
Razor sharp shards were everywhere. Obi-Wan raised his arms, protecting his face. Instinctively, he flung out with the Force, trying to stop fragments from hitting him. He was mostly successful, getting only a few deep slashes on his body. He flinched every time one hit him.
Realizing that Palpatine was not prepared to stop, Obi-Wan drew even more power from Luke. Luke gave it, easily. Yet Obi-Wan could sense he was tiring. He had not had time to think about it much but his connection to Luke was deepened beyond what they had had. He could feel the softness of the chair Luke sat on, could feel the youth in the man's body. He knew that Luke had thought him dying and he knew that this was a gift that Luke had given out of love.
Laughing madly and gaining Obi-Wan's attention in the process, Palpatine drew even more of the dark side, uncaring now if it killed him. His desire for revenge fueled his hate to new heights, going beyond even caring for his own life. The dark side had taken much from the Sith: his health and youth. And his sanity. Perhaps now it would take his life.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and brought his arms down in a sharp, unified motion.
The shards, spinning in the air, slammed into the floor with such force they shattered on impact. The air was once again empty.
The Jedi and the Sith stared at each other. Energy began to crackle in the very air as each prepared and gathered energy. As they stared into each other eyes, little sparks of lightning began appearing. The dark blue crept along the floors and ceilings, snapping into existence and disappearing just as quickly. At the same time, little flicks of faintly yellow-white bright lightning also came to life, vanishing almost as soon as they appeared.
Palpatine slammed against the link that held Obi-Wan to life. Simultaneously, Obi-Wan did the same. Each struggled for a grip on that fragile link while attempting to keep a strong hold on their own.
The little flicks lightning, both dark side and the light side, grew into large streaks as the battle continued.
Obi-Wan and Palpatine stared at each other, intense. Obi-Wan's body was taut, fairly bursting with energy. Each took deep gasps of air and they stared without even blinking into the other's eyes. Obi-Wan's blue eyes held determination and the Emperor's held utter hate.
The lightning began to meet. Blue against the yellow-white. They came together and wrapped around each other, quickly jerking away as if stung. Then a strike of lightning, held far longer than nature had ever intended, would wink out as either the dark side or the light side won. The room was filled with battling lightning as the two men stood perfectly still.
Then Obi-Wan gasped and threw his head back as Luke suddenly relaxed, giving him more power yet again and exhausting himself. Giving everything to his Master. The yellow-white spasmed in reaction and the Emperor grinned, his lips twisting horrifically.
He fell back in horror as the white-yellow lightning only increased. He screamed as the white engulfed the blue. The lightning whirled like a river and swept towards Palpatine just as unstopping. He screamed as the light ripped through his robe.
Blue light, harsh with the dark side, flew out of his body as he fell to his knees. But the lightning simply continued ripping him, baring his dark soul to the light.
He screamed again, perhaps a name or even now at the moment of his death some evil thing.
The robe fell empty to the floor as the dark side consumed his body. He had been a slave to it in life; he was a slave to it in death.
Obi-Wan released Luke's power, no longer able to hold onto it. Yet he kept Luke's presence, that steady light that shone with love, its comfort a balm to his often-tormented soul. He reached out in concern and felt Luke's reassuring touch. He was all right and he knew ? had seen through Obi-Wan's eyes ? what had happened.
The Emperor was dead.
Obi-Wan fell to his knees and wept for joy with the bright presence in his mind.
Luke had walked out of Kyalla's bridge mere minutes before. Kyalla tried to focus both on Luke and her command, but it wasn't easy to split her attention that way. She sat down on the hard command chair; her feet were planted flat on the floor, tensely watching a slanted, flickering blue screen. It stood in place of a normal viewing screen.
She saw the gap in the Empire's defense spread. When she saw nothing else, for a long, nervous moment, she feared the worst. Then Bail Organa's small yacht appeared and slipped through with the grace of an experienced pilot.
It had succeeded. Luke was gone, beyond reach ? to rescue Obi-Wan. She let out a shaky breath.
Kyalla raised her head. Standing before her and slightly to her right was the commander, whose name she still did not know. He stared at her with intense dark eyes.
Resisting the urge to lick her lips in nervousness that she didn't know the source of, she spoke. "Yes?"
The commander's eyes flicked from the view screen that showed the battle, and then back to Kyalla. His lean body was tense and his eyes suspicious. "General, half of the Star Destroyers are retreating to regroup."
Kyalla looked at the display. Half of the wedge that consisted of Star Destroyers, including the Executor, were indeed retreating, to reorganize and get back into a state where they would be less vulnerable. The half retreating was the half that had so closely witnessed the destruction of one Destroyer and the near destruction of another. Their actions clearly came out of cautiousness as those in charge, however stupid they were, were beginning to realize how carefully the battle had been planned.
As had been anticipated.
The commander shifted on his feet. "Well? Are we going to do something or just let them go so they can attack us again?"
"We are waiting, Commander . . . ?" Kyalla raised an eyebrow, trailing off with a gesture for him to continue.
"Commander Delthane," he said stiffly, eyes narrowing, the darkly tanned skin around his eyes getting tiny lines. Perhaps he thought she was trying to shift his attention. He had no doubt been assigned as her watchdog ? and sadly whoever had done it was not privy to the entire plan. That anonymous person's interference would make her job more difficult, since she did need her commander to deal with the more minute details.
Kyalla nodded. "Commander Delthane. You see, even this was planned in advance. We've quite outdone ourselves this time." She gave him a hard look, while keeping half her focus on the battle. Waiting for the right time. "I know that you are supposed to watch me, for signs of whatever, perhaps for some political reason that I am not aware of." She lifted a hand and waved it in dismissal of that. "But whoever told you to be suspicious of me did not know the whole plan and you're getting worked up about nothing."
Delthane's eyes widened and he looked at her in surprise. "Politics ?"
"Does that surprise you, that the Rebellion has politics? It shouldn't. Yes, we have it to a much lesser degree than the Empire or most other organizations, but it still exists," Kyalla said. "And we use politics as a weapon and a tool as much as the Empire does. Why do you think we are attacking the way we are? We know that we cannot take Coruscant; there are too many loyalists, not to mention the Emperor is still in residence. But if we can humiliate the Empire on their home ground, we can do it anywhere ? and that will only lend credence to our cause, Commander."
Delthane's mouth opened, then closed. He clasped his hands together in front of him. He glanced again at the display, and then turned back towards her. "And so what now?"
Kyalla gazed at the display. It was very abstract, of course ? they weren't seeing it like one would when simply gazing out a view port. Signs designated ships and debris, colors stood for damage. It was a colorful display of war.
Four of the Star Destroyers, on the side the Independence sat, had retreated back towards Coruscant. They had formed a rough semi circle. The Star Destroyer that the Independence had damaged was a ravaged hulk, left to die. For the most part, only the solid structure remained.
As Kyalla watched, tiny blips lit up on the ten remaining Star Destroyers. "Inform Admiral Ackbar that the mines are ready."
An officer nodded and obeyed. She listened for a few seconds, then looked up, meeting Kyalla's calm gaze. "Sir, you've been ordered to take control of this part of the fleet."
"What? Why?" Kyalla asked, leaning forward in her chair, deeply startled.
"He's busy, sir. The other Star Destroyers aren't quite acting as planned, he says," the officer replied.
Kyalla sat very still for a moment, taking this in. Then her head snapped up, determination making her aristocratic features harsh. "Okay, people. I want the ships under my command to go for the retreating group of Destroyers. Tell them to let off a few kilometers away."
Orders were quickly given and obeyed. Kyalla turned her head back to the commander. "Get the snub fighters in position to attack the other Star Destroyer's left flank."
"That's still guarded by the four Destroyers," Delthane reminded her.
"Not for long."
Delthane nodded, quickly controlling any doubts he might have had. He turned away from her and began issuing orders to get all of the squadrons organized ? no easy task. Though small and maneuverable, it was still difficult to control large groups of snub fighters with any great precision. Often the squadron leaders were too used to independence to cede control easily.
Kyalla focused on the large ships, taking note of the time. Timing was crucial at this point.
The tiny blips on the Star Destroyers became more insistent. Then they abruptly became flat and steady ? and then disappeared.
Huge gouts of brilliant red appeared on the display, showing severe damage to the Star Destroyers. The tiny blips had been mines, sent out in the first stages of battle. Smaller than most missiles, they received little attention, especially since they appeared to have no charge. But they were quite capable of destruction ? they had simply been in passive mode.
"Order the ships to attack," Kyalla snapped, expression intent and fierce in the glow of the display.
Battleships, X-wings, and small corvettes swooped in at the small group of Star Destroyers. They skimmed along the surface of the Destroyers, while frantic Imperials aimed turbolasers. X-wings evaded most everything with ease, too small and quick to be found and pinpointed by those targeting them. The corvettes faired less well, bigger than the X-wings but not big enough to have heavy armor as the two battleships did. The battleships took heavy hits but only shuddered under the barrage.
The Star Destroyers suffered major damage. They were still dangerous though, with their weapons functioning and all but one still having its sublight engines. Yet the massive flames that leapt off the sides of the ships ? quickly vanishing in the cold of space ? gave hope.
In the meantime, Kyalla took note of what had kept Admiral Ackbar so busy that he had left a good portion of the fight to her. The other half of the wedge had been attacked in a manner similar to what Kyalla had done, using the mines to set the officers on the ships off balance, and in many cases taking out shields. Corvettes the Rebellion had taken and used as their own attacked the smaller ships, such as heavily armed monitors and smaller gunboats. TIE's and X-wings clashed everywhere. Y-wings, mostly finished with their job, came out of the Death Star's half finished structure. They began picking up injured Rebels and helping damaged ships.
Yet it had not been easy. Ackbar's forces showed signs of heavy damage. Some ships were simply gone, off the display entirely. There wasn't enough left of the ships for them to register on sensors. Strangely, most of the Rebellion's forces were on the left flank and middle of where the wedge of Star Destroyer's had formerly been. That was not supposed to be the case but it could be corrected. It simply meant that the Rebellion's forces were more concentrated than they should be; that gave the Imperial ships more of a chance to protect each other. The plan had been to completely force the Imperial forces away from each other, so they could not come to each other?s aid.
"Sir, the Empire is calling nearby systems for reinforcements," a voice called out, afraid but desperately trying not to show it in the manner of the younger officers.
Kyalla looked up. "What are they getting in response?"
The officer looked shocked. "Sir, nearly all are refusing or saying they are incapable, stating sabotage."
Kyalla couldn't help but smugly smile. That had been her little addition to the plan, getting Rebel cells to take out as many military targets as they could in a concentrated effort in a limited timetable. Delthane noticed the look on her face and gave her an odd glance. Elated by success, Kyalla ignored it.
A smile still on her face, she looked again at the slanted display before her. The formerly intimidating and invulnerable wedge of ships was gone. Star Destroyers were scattered in Coruscant's orbit. Numerous smaller ships of the Empire were completely gone or extremely damaged by the innocent looking mines. Monitors, frigates, and cruisers lay askew in pieces.
"Look at that."
"What?" Delthane asked. He stepped over to her and looked over her shoulder. Kyalla jumped, not realizing she had spoken out loud.
She pointed at the display. "Two Star Destroyers, the more damaged ones but still functional, are heading away ? I think they're going to try and swing around Coruscant's orbit to attack us from another direction, while effecting repairs."
"That makes sense to do, on their part," Delthane admitted.
Kyalla looked away to a communication officer. "Tell Ackbar I'm recommending that some cruisers are sent after them."
The officer nodded. Kyalla's lower lip twitched and she looked at Delthane. "And so the battle diverges from the plan," she said simply.
To Master Yoda, the Force was a multidimensional thing. It was like a river, flowing forward into the future, with eddies and currents, floods and rapids. Yet, it was also a lake, peaceful and still, the knowledge of the universe within its depths. Such was the Force, in his mind's eye: the reality of the Force overlaid with physical reality.
In that physical reality there were people, their bodies a mere echo of their true essence within the Force.
To most people, battle was chaos: a thousand people doing a thousand different things, with victory merely a good combination of individual decisions. Plans did not help because they did not hold. Master Yoda, however, saw things entirely differently, and that was what made him an effective leader. He saw individual and group efforts as not separate, but merely parts of the same whole.
The shuttle's engines ran with a soft hum, sitting in the shuttle bay of the Death Star. The small Jedi Master paused reflectively, knowing the Force had called him from the fight, to here. He ignored the stark gray, troop shuttle he was in and sought the future.
Master Yoda reached out with the Force as easily as breathing. Easier. For nearly nine hundred years it had been there for him, through his training, varied conflicts and his time on the Jedi Council. It did not fail him now. He reached out and gently touched the minds of the Jedi Knights under his command, spread within the battlemoon. They answered his call with silent attention, separating their focus.
The message that Yoda sent was like a gentle, gradual realization. He did not speak; he experienced it and sent it, and they knew.
The young Padawan onboard the shuttle had been puzzled when Master Yoda had returned halfway through the mission, to the old and gray troop transport. The wizened Jedi Master had ignored that and settled down, waiting for long minutes, obeying the will of the Force and being still. Now the other Jedi knew what he had seen ? and now he looked further.
He saw a trail leading to the horizon. The trail was rocky and dangerous, rife with danger. Yet there were placid spots, gentle plains that soothed the mind's eye ? and there were yet other parts, where the trail led to raging rivers that flowed downward with startling speed.
It was a vision of the future. The rocky areas were uncertain, dangerous in that uncertainty. The plains spoke of one path, certain and steady. The raging waters were times of desperation and need.
The Force raged like a river. Distantly, the Force giving him cues and flashes of insight that he used with sure skill, Yoda could see what was happening in the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion. The fight was coming to a climax, a thousand decisions leading towards only two ends: defeat and victory. And Yoda knew that they, those sabotaging the Death Star from the inside, had little time. Less than expected ? for the future went ahead against their will, rushing towards a critical point.
They had to leave the Death Star, and quickly. But they could not fail in their mission, either, for it was essential.
The Jedi knew as Yoda knew and they responded with a gentle acquiescence and heightened speed. More than three-dozen Knights were on the Death Star; they knew their job and they would do it well. There were not many Jedi left, only a few hundred, but they had learned the lesson of war to a great degree. Through the Force and his own instinct, Yoda knew that whatever the outcome, the Jedi would survive this battle, even if they did not live for long after that because of the sheer importance of this battle ? and the importance of those within it. Such a thought ? that the Jedi might die ? gave the wizened Jedi Master sadness; in some sense, the Jedi were his legacy. Many of them he had trained when they knew nothing yet of evil or the galaxy. He had treasured their innocence and now he treasured them.
Yoda sighed deeply as he felt the massive disturbance in the Force.
The Emperor was dead.
The future did not lighten. The critical point was still coming, Palpatine's death merely a chapter in the story, important but not the most crucial. His death had been likely from the beginning of the battle; Yoda did not know why this was the case but that mattered little. It had happened, a stepping-stone to another vital point.
He could sense the clash of the Rebellion and the Empire. It, too, was reaching a critical stage ? and it was all connected to one person, to one event. He could sense the wakes of ships as they moved in the battle of ships, the determination of those leading it. He could sense death and life; the sorrow of a comrade lost and the joy of a comrade saved.
Master Yoda opened his eyes, a few seconds having passed. A young Jedi Padawan knelt before him in a meditation pose, his braid hanging raggedly over one ear. He focused on the Jedi Master with worried intensity.
Yoda's ears twitched and lowered, his eyes narrowing and his expression intense. "Strong, young Skywalker must be," he muttered, tapping his stick on the deck of the shuttle.
The Jedi apprentice cocked his head, his brown eyes puzzled. "Master?"
Yoda raised his stick and tapped the youngster with it on the side of his head. "Go, you will, and prepare the ships for departure. Leave very soon, we must."
The Knights had left to sabotage the Death Star, spreading out on the huge ship. Most had left their Padawans ? those that had Padawans ? with the ships, in case they needed to leave quickly. The strike teams that had gone with the Jedi had done similarly.
The Padawan nodded and left the shuttle.
He had meditated, the Force with him and in him. He had seen and known. Light and darkness waged for supremacy. He sent the Padawan out, even as he could still see what the Force had shown him in his mind's eye. He had done everything possible, in this moment.
The future reached for the horizon.
It was a titanic struggle, epic in proportions. The battle lines had been drawn, and now there was only a fierce struggle. Battle was a strange thing, intricate and simple at the same time. Most battle plans could be defined simply, easily ? but execution of such was much harder. Every group was made of individuals, and individuals reacted unpredictably. And for every reaction, a tiny thing was changed. Then thousands of individuals were involved, each making crucial ? yet small ? decisions every second. Then all of these decisions interacted with each other.
Such philosophy was fascinating, Kyalla admitted to herself, but when you lived through war ? battle ? it was, simply put, a bloody mess.
She watched the battle unfold, giving orders here and there ? but now it was simply up to the individuals, and how well they could cooperate with each other. She stared into the display of the battle like it was her life; which it may indeed have been, but it was most certainly the life of others.
Six cruisers, some of Mon Calamari make and some of Imperial design ? now used for the Rebellion ? went after the two Imperial Star Destroyers that were running from the battle to swing around the planet, to attack again from a better position, as well as to make repairs. The cruisers came close to the damaged vessels, harrying them with little attacks and deceptive maneuvers. Limping, one of the Star Destroyers seemed to partially lose navigation control after one such attack.
And quite suddenly, something happened. No one could quite say what it was, or the reason for it; but suddenly the Imperials were losing their cohesiveness, their ability to function like merely parts of one whole. TIE fighter squadrons lost formation, weapons officers seemed to develop reflex problems, and the giant Star Destroyers moved clumsily around each other.
It was puzzling.
But the Rebel Fleet wasn't arguing. Taking advantage of the sudden lapse, they stepped up their offense. A cruiser, following the limping Star Destroyer that had lost navigation control, went ahead on its own as its companions left to pursue the other Star Destroyer.
"What are they doing?" Kyalla demanded, leaning forward, hands on the chair's arms, body tense. Why was the one cruiser following the one Star Destroyer? What was the leader of that battle group thinking? "Ask the battle group commander what's going on."
An officer obeyed her order. She turned, facing Kyalla, pale face shocked. "Sir, all he'll say is that they're making a noble sacrifice."
Slowly, dangerously, Kyalla said, "What?"
Commander Delthane interrupted her rising fury. "General ? look," he said simply, pointing at the display of the battle.
Kyalla looked. At first, she saw only what she had seen before. A lone cruiser going after a larger vessel that far outmatched it, even damaged. It was a suicidal run. But then her mind took in the other facts the display showed, and it came together.
"By the Force," was all Kyalla could manage.
"Yes," Commander Delthane murmured, very faintly and with shock and awe coloring his tone.
The Star Destroyer was now in a lower orbit than the other one. Its orbit was slowly decaying, although at the rate it was going it would still take years to fall to Coruscant. The cruiser followed it closely, on its tail.
Coruscant had four moons. They all had names similar to the planet they orbited, and were fairly unremarkable, all save one. Hesperidium, a small moon, was in a lower orbit. It was just outside the shields that covered Coruscant and protected the planet from being conquered. But the most remarkable thing about Hesperidium was the fact that it had a base on it, a base that held the military minds of the Empire. It would be close to any battle, yet near to safety ? the shields. And any commanding officers aboard it would not be in danger in a fight, since they would not be one of the ships engaged in combat ? yet they would still be able to communicate with their fleets.
The lone cruiser crept up along the Star Destroyer's side. Too late, the captain of the Star Destroyer realized what was going to happen. The cruiser suddenly put on its sublight engines to the maximum, and rammed the Star Destroyer in the side. The cruiser didn't explode, but its internal frame seemed to collapse with the hit. Fire erupted on the Star Destroyer's side as the cruiser drove into it mercilessly.
The Star Destroyer's orbit, already unstable, changed.
It no longer had navigational control.
Hesperidium's massive complex glittered in the light, with Coruscant's star shining upon it brightly. The Star Destroyer's massive size blotted out that light for a mere instant.
Then it impacted. The Star Destroyer, its orbit changed, hit the moon head on. There was a huge explosion as air was released from ruptured buildings, the air itself catching on fire, spreading in a wild design. Then it faded, to be replaced by the starkness of chunks of moon slowly spreading out from the once whole moon. Nearly a third of the moon was shattered.
Silently, Kyalla offered a prayer and thanks to the crew of that cruiser. She saw Delthane's lips moving silently. She cleared her throat.
"Well," she said simply, in control as a leader should be, "this changes things."
Obi-Wan staggered away from the throne room. His body, worn from torture and malnutrition, literally shook and ached. His mind felt strangely detached, a sign of extreme exhaustion, both mentally and emotionally. His face was wet with tears, now slowly drying. The floor beneath him felt cold but he didn't care. The euphoria was fading, to be replaced with a dead, almost unnatural calm.
He could still feel Luke. In fact, the young man was quickly approaching. He could feel Luke's exhaustion as well, but it was much less than his own. Obi-Wan had never channeled such power ? he had never possessed such power, and his mind and body were not made to use it. Luke was in better shape for that very reason. Obi-Wan could also feel the young man's worry for him.
He looked around the destroyed throne room and wondered what to do. Finally, he searched the walls and found a door. He didn't want to go through the lift ? it would lead him to where he came from ? the Royal Guards. He wondered when they would find out, if they didn't now already. Had anyone else seen the lightning? How far had it spread?
The Jedi didn't have the strength to shake his head, so he simply sighed.
Finally, he found a door. Slapping his hand on the control panel, he opened it. When it opened obediently he felt a flicker of relief, brief because of his exhaustion. Hands shaking, he leaned against the wall and moved out into a hall with white walls and floors, all shiny and clean. Mostly likely it led to private areas that Palpatine used, such as conference rooms or such things. Possibly living quarters. He couldn't imagine what else.
In only pants and filthy with his own blood and sweat, he felt strangely out of place in the immaculate corridor. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, resting against the coolness of it. He wanted to sink to the floor and never get up.
Footfalls, quickly approaching, made his eyes snap open. He looked forward, alert. The hall diverged into two corridors, at right angles. An officer, dressed in the normal tan color, stepped around the corner. He was young, face distressed and confused.
Brown eyes blinked, surprised, meeting blue ones that had only tiredness and wariness in them.
The young man opened his mouth and closed it. Obi-Wan noted absently he was a lieutenant. Then the young man spoke. "Something is wrong," he said simply, expression distressed, looking vulnerable in the way the young manage so easily.
Obi-Wan blinked, his mind taking seconds longer than it should have to realize just what was wrong. Palpatine had been a very controlling personality ? every part of an Imperial's life was organized and regulated. Not only that, but Palpatine used his formidable Force powers to keep control of his subordinates. His close ones especially, except for a select few that he left alone to get an uninfluenced opinion. Even with his army as a whole, he influenced them. He was not afraid to use power and he knew how to use it well; he used it on his army to keep them cohesive, functioning as one unit. The loss of Palpatine's influence would be devastating to people that had had little independent thought for years. Obi-Wan had no idea how the Sith had done it, but the Jedi had known for a long time of what the Sith had done. The Jedi, of course, would never do the same ? that would be wrong, and lead to the dark side.
Obi-Wan licked his dry lips, thinking. Evidently, the young man had been so thoroughly controlled that he was virtually incapable of any independent thought. Could that be used to his advantage?
He gathered as much of the Force as he could muster. A silent presence that was like a shadow in his mind gently lent him strength when he reached for it. Not having the energy to send his thanks to Luke, he reminded himself to do it later.
"Palpatine is dead," Obi-Wan stated bluntly.
The young officer almost fainted. His face paled and shock overrode every thought.
Quickly, Obi-Wan brought the Force to bear, the words coming instinctively ? or perhaps from the Force. "You will tell everyone you know that Palpatine is dead," he murmured, weakly waving his hand. For a second he wondered if this was ethical, doing this to someone already weakened from such repeated use of mind control, then dismissed the thought.
The officer nodded. "I will tell everyone I know that the Emperor is dead," he stated in the odd tone that all people used when being manipulated. They also always repeated the word spoken to them, merely exchanging pronouns.
It was close enough. "Now . . . go," Obi-Wan managed, waving his hand again and taking precious strength from Luke. The officer nodded, and soon Obi-Wan heard footsteps slowly fading from his hearing.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and slid to the floor, his back to the wall. He was so tired. Luke touched his mind, telling him that he was landing, after having some difficulty with TIE fighters close to Coruscant. Worried, Obi-Wan wondered how he would land ? but that thought, too, was answered. Palpatine wanted Luke, so there would surely be standing orders to let him land if he identified himself. Then, a gentle question inserted into Obi-Wan's mind: can you make it to the landing pad? And almost as an afterthought, Luke sent his feelings that the sooner they were out of there the better.
A smile touching Obi-Wan's lips, he sent in response: You'll be punished for doing something so foolish as coming here. Later. There was also a gentle affirmation of Luke's question: he would try.
He got an answering wave of amusement and relief from his apprentice at his sending. Breathing deeply and mentally fortifying himself, Obi-Wan slid up the wall, pushing with his legs. He opened his eyes, wincing at the brightness of white walls.
Slowly, he began, once again, to stagger down the corridor, trusting the Force to guide him safely to the landing pad.
Of the twelve Star Destroyers, only five were still functional. One Star Destroyer had crashed into a moon, another had been brought down on the other side of Coruscant by a battle group, and careful, genius tactics used by an inferior force had brought down the other five. Admiral Ackbar and his advisors had proved their worth.
The battle was going amazingly well.
Yet the Rebellion still had losses. Their forces had only been three-quarters that of the Empire's to begin with and that difference had only become more distinct as the battle continued. Cruisers, corvettes, and even entire battle groups had been lost ? but for the most part, the battle was a success. And Kyalla wondered just how far they would go in taking advantage of it.
"Status?" Kyalla called, her voice controlled, cool and clipped. She sat in her command chair with her legs crossed, a deliberate degree of casualness in her posture. It was an image of confidence and its effect on her officers was apparent in the clear tones of their reports and straightened spines or upright ears. Seeing her confidence, they dwelled on their successes rather than the failures ? or the deaths.
"Most of our battle group is gone, sir," a young woman called out at the communications console. "Only two heavy battleships are left and one X-Wing squadron."
Kyalla let out a breath in a barely heard hiss. She opened her mouth to speak, to give an order.
"Sir!" a young man called out, from behind her at another station. "Sir, this is ? this is unbelievable!" Half turning in her seat, Kyalla looked back, mind racing. Commander Delthane walked over the young man, looking over his shoulder.
When the commander didn't move to give Kyalla the report, as he should have, she barked, "Commander!"
He turned to her. His eyes were huge and his mouth was open in as much an expression of complete surprise as she had ever seen. Then, quickly, some amount of control returned. But the dazed look didn't quite fade from his eyes. "Its ? its being reported that the Emperor is dead." He swallowed. "The citizens of Coruscant are rioting and the Imperials are trying to put them down. Statues are being torn down, monuments shattered ? everyone is rejoicing!" he said, so overcome that he didn't even bother to say 'sir'.
Kyalla stared at him. Her heart had fallen to her stomach but at the same time her mind rejoiced. But was it true? She hardly dared believe it. The old monster had been around for a long time. "Can that be confirmed?"
"I don't know," he replied, shaking his head.
"Deal with it, then," she snapped. She looked around the command area, her eyes searching every spot of the circular room, meeting the still stunned eyes of her officers. "Get to work," she said calmly. "We can't just stop ? the battle is still going, whether or not the Emperor is dead." The words came serenely, but her thoughts whirled chaotically in her mind at the idea of Palpatine being dead.
She sat back in her seat, the movement the same as before but somehow lacking the casualness of earlier.
"Sir!" Commander Delthane called. His hand was on the console and his expression strangely exultant.
Kyalla leapt off her seat almost before he had spoken. She joined him at the station with the young man. Across his screen was reports sent by Rebel agents working in the Empire and trusted civilians, high in rank and influence. The media was also broadcasting the news of the Emperor's death. They did so with stunned expressions ? or the alien equivalent. Scanning the information quickly, she noted that it was still unknown how he had died or how the knowledge had spread, though it had evidently come through Imperial hands to civilians at some point.
"Does Admiral Ackbar know?" Kyalla asked, frantically trying to remember if he had anyone scanning Coruscant on his bridge: the main bridge.
"I ? I don't know," the officer replied unsteadily, looking between his two superiors uneasily.
"Well, tell him!" Commander Delthane snapped, his hand still braced against the console. The officer quickly nodded and began to obey. Satisfied, the commander straightened and looked at Kyalla.
She pressed her lips, trying to regain the cool calm of before, or at least some kind of fa?ade of it. She breathed deeply and straightened her tunic and before Delthane could say anything, she returned to her post. Her eyes scanned the display before her.
"Do you think they know?" Kyalla mused.
"Of the Emperor's death?" Delthane replied. "If they do . . . their tactics will change," he commented, licking his lips. Then he suddenly added, "I have a sister on Coruscant."
Kyalla glanced at him. Ah, yes. The riots. It was possible, no doubt, that his sister was involved, whether willingly or unwillingly. "I'm sure she's fine," Kyalla told him in a distracted tone, not even reprimanding him for bringing a personal subject up.
What if Obi-Wan is involved? she thought worriedly. No. Don't do this to yourself. Don't think of him.
"Sir?" the communications officer called out. "We've been ordered to press the attack."
Kyalla nodded, shifting her focus completely on the battle. "And nothing about the Emperor? Did they say anything?"
She nodded again, sighing and shifting her posture slightly. "Well then," she muttered. She put her hands on the arms of the chair she sat on and leaned forward. She soon gave orders for the few undamaged ships under her command to begin attacking the Imperial Fleet, her mind rapidly trying to come up with plan.
The display showed that the wedge shape of the Star Destroyers was no longer intact. Half of the wedge was nearly gone, and the other half was damaged. No one was coming out of this battle unscathed, whatever the ultimate outcome, Kyalla thought. Even Executor was severely damaged, having been caught in an area with a density of mines.
As she watched, something happened. The Rebellion was facing the Imperial Fleet diagonally, directly facing the Death Star, which was off to the port side of the fleet. That was where its forces were mostly concentrated and it stood between the Rebel Fleet and Coruscant. But as she watched, the damaged Destroyers, currently at a disadvantage by having to remain in one place, began to retreat.
But not to Coruscant and the safety of her shields.
Kyalla quickly reassessed what was going to happen.
By leaving Coruscant's orbit, the Imperial Fleet was really not taking a huge risk. Coruscant possessed heavy shields. Nothing short of internal sabotage could get through them. That thought buzzed around her head for a moment, but she quickly repressed it. The Imperial's plan was evident ? but that did nothing to help her decide what to do. Though it was not ultimately her decision, but that of Admiral Ackbar's, and those whose opinions he trusted. What the Empire hoped to accomplish was to lure the Rebel Fleet close to Coruscant with the idea of the Rebellion capturing the crown jewel of the Empire. They wanted to get the Rebel Fleet where they had once been and then smash the Rebels against the massive shields.
It would leave the Death Star with less protection, but evidently the military leaders had decided it was worth the risk.
"Sir?" a voice spoke out. "Admiral Ackbar has decided to take advantage of the Imperial fleet's moving. We're taking its place."
Kyalla nodded slowly. Commander Delthane shot her a helpless look and she knew he felt as useless as she did. They both let go of that feeling, though, and helped where they could, organizing battle groups and suggesting solutions for navigational and engineering problems. Anything they could do they did. Kyalla distantly noted tiny shuttles leaving the Death Star.
As the Rebel Fleet slipped into the position the Imperial Fleet had once been in, Kyalla and Delthane were deeply immersed in their work. Political divisions and mistrust was set aside as they worked together. They were both common-sense kind of people.
"By the Force!" an officer yelped.
"What?" Kyalla said, snapping to attention and rising from her seat. She looked at the display, but it showed only what she expected.
"It's not there," Delthane said, shooting a glance at her. He had moved to the station of the officer that had abruptly called out. Kyalla briskly walked over and stared into the station's display. It showed Coruscant in all her glory, a silver globe set in nothingness.
Without any shields.
Massive riots and independent action by Rebel agents had caused utter chaos on the planet's surface. As freedom fell into sight, Imperial grunts and officers abandoned their posts. The Emperor was dead and nothing was the same as before ? nothing could ever be the same, and many people were embracing that thought with mass abandon.
The massive shield generators, marked with the Empire's crest, had been on the last strongholds to fall. Anything remotely Imperial had been destroyed on the planet ? mostly by Rebels and non-humans, both subjugated for so long. Many others simply ran and didn't help either side, not willing to lose their lives for what could be a coup for the Rebellion or merely a disaster that was soon controlled by the Empire.
Kyalla stared into the small, flat display for a long moment. Then she looked up to meet Commander Delthane's eyes. All around the room, officers stared at the information scrolling across their screens.
Events were colliding. Each event caused a thousand more. Everything was just happening.
Suddenly and without warning, a message came blaring all over the Independence. "Brace for impact! Repeat! Brace for impact!"
Kyalla grabbed the chair the officer sat on and Delthane gripped the console. They both tensed and relaxed, waiting to be thrown and trying to keep a good firm grip on something solid. Neither of them questioned the order. Obeying such an order like bracing for impact was something so drilled into them they obeyed without thinking.
The Independence shuddered. Those in seats managed to keep in them, for the most part, but Kyalla was thrown across the room as inertial dampeners struggled to compensate for abrupt movement of the ship. She landed halfway across from where she had been. Delthane ended up hitting her command chair with a harsh sounding whack.
Delthane didn't move, perhaps unconscious, but Kyalla slowly rose to her knees, gripping a rail so hard her knuckles were white. Some of her hair had been thrown loose from its clasp, to float freely around her face. She puffed out air, trying to move it. Blood trickled down the side of her face and her nose.
"What the hell was that?" she demanded hoarsely. Getting slowly to one knee, a painful process even with the help of the rail, she stumbled over to her chair, grasping the back of it both hands.
She squinted and looked over it to her personal display.
The Death Star had exploded.
She hadn't realized she had spoken aloud until the cheering started. It was ragged and sparse, the cry of the exhausted, but it was heartfelt. Kyalla didn't have the energy to join.
But she did smile ? faintly, weakly, but sincerely.
Slowly, she sank again to her knees, resting her hand against the back of her chair. Time seemed to pass as she watched the officers try to organize themselves and treat injuries, while still keeping track of the battle. The shaking of the ship had been from the fragments of the Death Star hitting the Independence. It was a wonder they had gotten such a timely warning at all, considering how quickly those fragments must have moved through space. Unless the strike teams warned them . . .
Someone knelt by her. "Sir?" The voice came faintly, distant sounding and murky, like it was being spoken underwater. She had closed her eyes and the back of the chair felt hard. She wanted her bed.
Then someone else spoke: "They're retreating! Force ? they're leaving the system all together, even Executor!"
Yes, Kyalla thought, dazed. The Emperor was dead; their super weapon was lost and Coruscant overrun by rebels and rioters. It made perfect sense the way they were acting. Also, Imperial commanders were known for the fact that many were not the best of military leaders. Coruscant itself would not be very difficult to conquer, now that they didn't have the problem of the shields ? there would still be stormtroopers and such to deal with, but that could be handled by . . .
And she passed out.
Physically and mentally drained, Obi-Wan staggered down the long, wide hallways of the palace. He took no notice of the elegantly carved wood decorations, the spotless, white floor or even the unusual emptiness of the halls themselves. Most of the residents of the palace had scattered. Obi-Wan sensed not only growing panic, but also joy. The knowledge that the Emperor was dead was slowly spreading.
As exhausted as he was, Obi-Wan felt almost happy. One thought continued to drum through his head, the only thing important. Luke was all right; Palpatine would not get him. Would never even get the opportunity to try to turn him.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and finally gave up trying to force strength into his body. He leaned against the wall with his shoulder and slowly sank down to his knees. The wall was cool and soothing against his head and the floor hard against his knees, making him keep awake. His head hung with pain from the torture.
But all that was dismissed as inconsequential at the sound of harsh, heavy breathing.
The landing pad was a flat, raised section of the Imperial Palace. The dark gray material was scorched and worn from countless landings. Few ships were parked on it, most having left Coruscant or joining the battle above. All of this made it easy for Luke to land, as well as the fact that he was allowed to land without being challenged, per the Emperor's orders. It was rather disturbing that he hadn't had to talk to anyone to land, though.
The Dreamer settled down on the landing pad with all the skill Luke possessed, though in truth his attention was not focused on that. As soon as he knew he was landed, he switched the engine to standby ? so they could make a quick escape ? and virtually ran out of the cockpit, nearly tripping over the hatchway.
Obi-Wan's strong Force presence was slowly growing weaker. He was not in danger of dying but it was clear he did not have the strength to make it to the landing pad. His mind was barely in contact with Luke's anymore. Luke would have to go after him.
It didn't matter to him. He would go after Obi-Wan and carry him back to the ship if he had to. Obi-Wan was alive ? and that knowledge was enough to make Luke forget the battle being waged. The self-control he had been taught all of his life and the fear he felt now raged within him. It was a battle between what he knew was right ? and the darkness he knew was within.
Before leaving, he quickly put on a belt and holster. He put his lightsaber in one hand and kept a blaster ready in the holster. He didn't know if he would need it, but it never hurt to be cautious.
When he left the Dreamer, his heart suddenly began to pound. He suddenly realized that he was in the Imperial Palace, which was the very heart of the enemy. Palpatine was dead, but his many servants were not. And while the Emperor had not been loved, there were those that were loyal to him and would not be pleased about his death.
Luke reached out to the Force to keep his presence unnoticeable. It was difficult; somehow, linking with Obi-Wan so strongly had made his connection with the Force ? fuzzy. It no longer quite fit, and he suspected it would probably feel strange for some time. He didn't know if it was his bond with Obi-Wan directly or just how he had channeled his power to his Master, but it was clear that such an action was not normal and was affecting him oddly.
Guards were taken out with the ease of long experience. All those years of covert operations with his Master were paying off; he took each of them out quickly and silently. He kept close to the walls, looking around corners before moving with trained caution and yet also moving at a fast speed, trusting the Force to warn him of any great amount of danger.
He took in the way the palace looked absentmindedly. It was very stark, though beautiful in its own way; Palpatine had spared no expense. Most everything was hard lines of black and white, with some arches that were simple and undecorated. It was also very empty, and Luke wondered why, his breath quickening as vague fears rose. It only took glancing at a public viewscreen ? used by Palpatine to talk directly to his staff ? to get the answer, however: Coruscant's civilians were rioting.
Luke only glanced at it, being more concerned with other matters, but he saw massive towers and statues built in honor of Palpatine being torn down by heavy, industrial vehicles being used by private citizens. Stormtroopers were retaliating violently, killing tens of thousands by simply firing randomly into any large crowd. People were partying literally to death as stormtroopers attacked anyone in joy.
He turned away and kept running, forcing away lingering shock and disgust, so he could focus on what was going to happen. What he knew had to happen.
His breath halted and his body abruptly tensed. His fists clenched and his back arched, his hands going to his head in reactive shock at the unexpected emotions. It was not quite like being told; more like a simple knowing, as if he were experiencing it without thought.
Obi-Wan was frightened. Mixed in with the fear ? drowning it out ? was apprehension and a desperate worry for Luke. And a strange kind of resignation.
Breathing deeply and reaching out, he heard Obi-Wan tell him to go and leave without him.
No. Desperate, child-like. Luke shook his head, mentally defying his Master's orders.
Luke . . . my child. Dark, persuasive ? knowing.
Luke stopped in his tracks. He took a few stumbling steps to the wall of the long hallway he was in, braced himself against it, and vomited. Feeling weak and shaky, he wiped his mouth and turned away, drawing on the Force once again as his stomach clenched.
The Force was there, as it would always be ? and that gave him some comfort.
He gritted his teeth and his jaw became firm. His body was no longer tense but disciplined and controlled, bent to the will of his mind. He would not be swayed by his father's presence. No matter how much it sickened him.
He moved through hallways without stopping, no longer looking to see if there were Imperial Guards present. His focus was ahead. One Imperial looked at him and shouted. The Imperial grabbed his blaster and started shooting. Some of the shots missed by mere millimeters, but Luke took no notice. And suddenly the Imperial was flung away, smashing into a pillar more than ten meters away and doing so with such force that a distinct cracking sound was heard.
Luke stepped around a corner.
The scene was unreal. Obi-Wan knelt on the hard, white floor. He was pale and blood spattered, thin and shaking. His face, though, was eerily calm with no expression showing. His blue eyes seemed shockingly so against the starkness of the white floor and Darth Vader. He looked at Luke and then closed his eyes, whispering something that went unheard.
Luke wondered if it was prayer.
Darth Vader stood to the side and slightly behind Obi-Wan. His lightsaber, glowing blood red, was inches from Obi-Wan's neck. He held it steadily. Obi-Wan continued to silently whisper words.
Luke stared at the armored monstrosity that was his father. He spoke softly, but his words carried easily the five meters that separated father and son. "Hello, Father."
Vader seemed to sigh, and there were the faintest stirrings of dark pleasure in the Force. "My son," he said simply. "You have come." His black cloak lifted slightly at a small movement. His great size was very visible against Luke's slender form.
Luke looked down for a moment, taking a calm, even breath. He met the dark hallows of Vader's eyes. "For him," he said softly. Not you, was silently added. He kept himself standing tall and firm, even as Vader simply became quietly trustworthy in his manner. But some dark intent, felt through the Force, warned of the falseness of it.
"He does not deserve such devotion," Vader said, softly ? persuasively. His voice, normally so mechanical and harsh, was merely deep and strangely soothing. And for a moment, Luke trembled.
Then the young Jedi cocked his head. His breathing paused and he stilled for a moment, so completely it was as if he was not alive. "Does he not?" he asked softly ? truly a question, and not a denial. But there was no anger in his words, either.
Vader said nothing. But Luke could feel his intense focus and a growing anger. Anger at what? Luke did not understand ? but the Force whispered to him that he would. And he closed his eyes in the horror of it. Obi-Wan's whispered words came back to him and he realized it was a prayer of sorts; he repeated the Jedi Code again and again.
The Force was still, waiting. Waiting for them to act ? waiting for the future to be decided. And for a long moment, Luke hated that the Force demanded this of him.
Vader seemed to feel it. He shifted on his feet and, if he could be said to smile, he smiled. "Tell me, my son ? what would you do if I killed our old Master?" He was ignoring Obi-Wan now, focusing completely on Luke.
Deflecting, Luke responded, "He is still my Master, if no longer yours." He's changing tactics, Luke thought.
Vader stepped forward. The red blade was kept close to Obi-Wan's throat, though. Obi-Wan was watching now, gaze steady and calm. His arms were loose at his sides as he knelt with dignity rarely seen in life. His eyes flicked from Vader to Luke, a gentle sadness settling in his eyes.
Watching as the future was decided in small, wincing steps.
"You would be angry," Vader said, his voice like the faint rumble of thunder. Dark and mysterious. "Angry at me ? or the Force, perhaps? For letting me kill him?" He laughed, a harsh mechanical sound. "After all, it made me as I am." Darkly ironic, and Obi-Wan flinched, a barely perceptible act.
Luke made a short noise, not quite a laugh. He blinked rapidly for a moment and a tear slipped down his cheek. His fists clenched and he had to consciously move to relax them. "And what does that make me?" he whispered, turning and looking not at Vader, but at the man he had always considered a father.
Obi-Wan shook his head, the movement barely perceptible. His eyes shone with compassion.
"You are my son," Vader said slowly, musingly, simply ignoring the subtle interaction between Obi-Wan and Luke. "My mother's death made me strong ? Kenobi's will make you strong."
Luke shook his head, quickly and with horror in his eyes as realization struck of what Vader intended. His eyes widened as he turned to face his father. "No!" His hand reached for his lightsaber and found it. The heavy weight of the cylinder was a comfort and his grip tightened on it. He looked from Vader's red blade to the dark armor that concealed the Sith's face.
"You shall be strong, and you will rule the universe at my side ? as your power killed Palpatine, it will now serve me." It was stated in a matter of fact tone, confident and laced with the knowledge of victory. He had found Luke's weakness: Obi-Wan. His love for Obi-Wan drove him in many ways, and now Luke was finding out that such emotion could be used to turn him.
Luke panted and his icy blue eyes, shining with emotion, met Obi-Wan's stormy gaze. For a long breathless moment, Luke could see nothing but those eyes, which now showed both sadness and desperate determination.
Forgive me. Obi-Wan mouthed the words, speaking to Luke and not saying anything at all.
Obi-Wan planted one foot on the floor and he dove forward, using his foot to propel him directly into the path of the red blade at his throat. His eyes focused on the red lightsaber as he no longer met Luke's gaze ? Coward, Luke thought angrily with horrified fear, as the moment extending for an eternity.
Obi-Wan would rather die by his own hand then let Vader kill him ? and let Luke's wrath turn on the Sith he fought. One could not seek vengeance on the dead and Luke would not turn. Luke knew that that was all that was important to Obi-Wan ? he knew Luke would grieve for his death, but to have Luke still in the light was more important.
Luke screamed as the blade seemed to close in on Obi-Wan's throat. He reached out with the Force in an instinctive move, holding out his hand and using the Force to take hold of both Obi-Wan and the lightsaber that threatened to behead him. He shoved Obi-Wan one way and the blade another.
Vader growled with rage as his lightsaber was knocked aside; but he kept his grip on it and the blade was quickly brought under control again. Turning, he brought his lightsaber over his head and began to swing downwards. Obi-Wan, lying sprawled on the floor, looked up helplessly. His body was no longer capable of the simple act of dodging. He had not the strength.
But Luke, moving with Force-enhanced speed, got to him before the red blade did, the green of his blade meeting Vader's red with a clash. Hissing in fury, Vader whirled and swung at Luke with a vicious, precise blow, which he barely blocked. The force of the blow was so strong that he nearly dropped his lightsaber. Only instinct and determination let him keep his hold on it.
"I won't let you kill him," Luke stated, breathing hard. He struggled against his anger for his real father. You weren't supposed to be evil, his soul cried. His pain fueled his fury.
Obi-Wan, weak from all his experiences and the draining presence of Vader, could do nothing but watch as he struggled to sit up. The anguish in his eyes at the knowledge of his helplessness was clear and Luke distantly noted it with sorrow, his eyes still focused on his father.
"Stupid child," Vader hissed menacingly. "Why do you persist in this?"
"Because I must," Luke said simply, blocking another blow. Vader growled and struck again, cutting low and trying to get Luke's leg. With inhuman quickness, the young Jedi leaped back.
Vader did not pursue, simply holding his blade in front of him. He still had the advantage of being closer to Obi-Wan, but he made no move to take the opportunity. "You were never his, and always mine," Vader said.
Luke shook his head, breathing hard in a way that hinted of panic. "No."
"Yes, my son. I raised you, took care of you ? until he stole you from me. Do you remember that, my young apprentice? Being taught by me?"
"I was never trained by you."
"Ah, but you were. You are my son. I took you into my home. I cared for you. I trained you, my apprentice, in the ways of the dark. And you were an able student," Vader said.
Voice unsteady now, Luke spoke. "You're lying."
"I am not." The Sith paused. Then he switched off his lightsaber. Luke twitched warily in reaction, but Vader merely gestured with the shut down weapon to Obi-Wan, who was lying on the floor panting heavily. "Ask him."
Obi-Wan spoke. "Luke, I'm sorry." His breathing became shallower, as the dark side seemed to leech at his presence. Vader stared at his old Master with the same attention Luke was giving him.
"What? Force, no . . ." Luke shut off his lightsaber as well. One hand went to his mouth. It was shaking from shock. He shivered as the new knowledge sank into his heart. He had been an apprentice of evil ? was he still? "Is there no end to the lies?"
"Luke, please," Obi-Wan whispered hoarsely. "I took you as a child, I admit that. The Force guided me to do it, but it was not only that. I felt such light in you, such potential for it. Oh, Luke, you were never meant for the dark. That is why I found you." He paused.
"And even now," Vader interrupted, "he tries to excuse his actions."
Luke glanced from his father to his Master; his eyes burned with unshed tears. Yet he refused to cry. He would show nothing for those that lied to him and tried to abuse him. Obi-Wan took him as a child against his will, and his own father cared for him only to use his power.
Obi-Wan's words came softly, smooth and inevitable as the current of a river. "It is your choice, Luke. Your path has always been your choice." Then the weakened, pained Jedi closed his eyes.
Luke could feel his life-force fading.
He looked again at his father, eyes harshly demanding and his voice rough. "And what of my sister, Father? What was her choice?"
Vader said nothing for a long moment. "Her way was to cede to yours, my son. So that you might grow beyond what would have been otherwise. She would have held you back," he said simply.
"She was your daughter," Luke whispered, tears finally falling.
"Yes." No denial. "She was my daughter ? and you were my son, more important to me than she could ever be." Again, that persuasive voice that promised it was right. "I love you, my son."
Luke's gaze snapped up at that. "Do you?"
And as before, the Sith held out a hand. It would be easy to take it ? to refuse to make the decisions anymore. For that was the life a Jedi, to always choose the light. And the life of a Sith was to follow the lust for power that the dark side gave. It was a thing that would control every aspect of his life, his mind, and his soul.
Within the Force, he saw the two paths he could choose to take. In one, he saw adventure and much change, in his life and others. He saw a universe irrevocably changed and redrawn. In the other, he saw his life in darkness, saw that his father would not change and could not love him, that last part of light within him dying at the death of Leia. Luke could sense the hate he would feel along that path, where he chose his father ? the depression, the despair. The universe crumbled and became chaos as things changed to a way imitating his life. One step changing the entire universe.
He chose light.
Vader felt it. He felt the abrupt change in the Force as Luke's decision was made. Ripples were thrown off from their presence in the Force. And the Force itself was no longer still ? the step had been made. And now, once again, a thousand thoughts and decisions would shape the future.
The Sith snarled with rage. His red blade ignited with a snap-hiss and time seemed to slow. Taking two bold steps forward, he raised the blade over Obi-Wan, who stared up at him as if mesmerized. The Sith's cloak swirled behind him in slow motion. Luke instantly took action, running forward and throwing himself in front of his Master, getting so close to Vader he could smell the singe of the air from the Sith's red blade. He brought his own blade up to block the blow, a green that shone brilliantly against the color of blood.
Time seemed to return to normal and suddenly everything seemed starkly real, overwhelming in its intensity. Luke took a step forward, striking at Vader's neck, then his waist and his shoulder. The quick, precise strikes forced Vader back. The Sith did not have Luke's flexibility, and needed more room to maneuver.
Vader quickly regained the initiative, making violent blows with his considerable power behind them. Luke didn't let himself fall back, though. He responded just as aggressively, blocking the blows and using them to spin into offensive maneuvers.
Not even a meter apart, father and son exchanged precise, violent blows, their feet planted in the ground, neither willing to give way.
Growing frustrated, Vader reached for the dark side, creating ripples that Luke could feel. Wary as to what the Sith planned, Luke did not only keep his attention on the physical attacks, but on the mental ones as well.
Vader used the dark side nearly flawlessly, using all his skill to slither along Luke's mental shields. He sought weaknesses that could be taken advantage of, since all it took was a mere slip on the young Jedi's part and it would be over.
Yet, Luke was not so easily caught off guard this time, having been warned by his other fight with Vader. He had learned much from that fight. His Master had always encouraged him to find a lesson in everything, and he had.
His attempt to surprise his son having failed, Vader sought another distraction. You will die for choosing the wrong path.
It is not the wrong path, Luke replied. I have darkness within me, as each being does ? but I will not let it defeat me, as it did you. I will not choose your path, Father ? for it was always a choice, and I have made mine.
Their harsh breathing was the only sound in room, aside from the harsh buzzing of lightsabers hitting one another.
So be it, Vader's mental voice said, steely and as cold as ice.
I choose my path gladly, Luke said, a mental whisper that was clearly heard.
Vader snarled, his sense in the Force twisting with rage. His rage strengthened him, and his attacks on Luke become ten times stronger than before, as he fed his anger to the Force and in return it fed him more power.
The Sith cut at Luke's head repeatedly, each blow being blocked. Luke's face was shiny with sweat and his clothes were soaked with it, but his blows and blocks came with the same speed and force. Vader struck at his shoulders next, then quickly at his legs. Luke was forced to leap away. As if waiting for that moment, Vader turned so he would be facing Luke diagonally.
Then, with a flurry of attacks, Vader forced Luke to face him, and then made him back away. Luke desperately tried to keep up with the frenzied strikes but Vader was very skilled, and knew just where and how to keep Luke off-balance. He seemed to know each move Luke would make before he did it and in a moment of stunned realization, Luke knew why.
The same Master had trained them.
No sooner had this thought hit than something Luke would have sworn impossible happened. The dark side swirled around the room in a huge storm as Luke had to leap away to keep himself from being cut in half by a vicious, unexpected cut to his side. He stood, disoriented by the sudden attack.
Vader stepped forward. But he didn't step to Luke, who stood at his right ? but ahead, to where Obi-Wan lay. The older Jedi's eyes fluttered open and looked into the nearly featureless mask of Vader.
Would you kill your own father, my son? Softly reassuring, but also faintly challenging.
Luke sobbed aloud at his father's unprotected back.
Vader never hesitated to move. He swept downward with his blade, also stabbing forward. Vicious glee was transmitted through the Force, a dark satisfaction that was overwhelmingly strong. Evil.
Luke's soul and mind were in pain. He shuddered both physically and mentally as a horrible decision faced him. His lightsaber wavered and then was lowered as tears leaked from his eyes, marking his face and scarring his soul.
And Luke stepped forward and severed his father in half.
The upper part of Vader's body fell at Obi-Wan's feet. The older Jedi flinched back, more surprise in his eyes than horror. The other part of the body fell back. The red blade skittered across the floor, away from Obi-Wan.
There was the distinct noise of a lightsaber being shut off. Then a dull clank as it was dropped.
Luke's face was wet with tears. His body trembled from emotional and physical shock. The sweat on his body chilled him and his soul felt hollow. He took a few stumbling steps to Obi-Wan's side.
The stormy eyes looked into his. Nothing but love shone in them, unconditional and complete. Obi-Wan let his lips curve into a trembling smile and one hand twitched, restlessly trying to reach out.
Luke fell to his knees, helpless sobs wracking his body. "Master," he whispered, his voice breaking. He put on arm around Obi-Wan's shoulders and grabbed him by the waist with his other, lifting the older Jedi into his lap while channeling what very few remains there were of his strength. It was enough. Obi-Wan smiled, again.
"Shh." And Obi-Wan's hand reached up and touched Luke's cheek, wiping the tears away. He blinked and sighed faintly, his eyes gentle.
Tentatively, Luke held him tighter. Obi-Wan, with his little strength borrowed from Luke, hugged him back as well as he could. Luke lowered his head, so it was under Obi-Wan's, and Obi-Wan's hand came around Luke's neck to rest at his nape.
"Hush, child," Obi-Wan whispered. "It will be all right."
Obi-Wan breathed in the cool, spring air of Alderaan, trying to quell his nervousness. He stood in an old garden with crumbling stone walls and terraces with vines overflowing their edges. Huge trees with drooping branches surrounded him, the shadow of their leaves creating a speckled ground of moss. The garden grew in every shade of green, with brightly colored flowers and leaves dappling the entire area. A faint breeze stirred the beautiful garden, and someone cleared his throat.
Obi-Wan turned his head slightly to meet Luke's gaze. Luke stood with the rest of the guests, who stood in a square with a clear line down the middle. The young man wore Jedi tunics and a brown robe that was a touch too long. He looked very much like the Jedi Knight he was.
Luke winked at Obi-Wan and gave a reassuring pulse of the Force. Obi-Wan let it sink in and gave his former apprentice a grateful smile.
Mace watched the interaction with a slight, amused smile. Obi-Wan found that he was half-surprised by that, since the Jedi Order still did not approve of such strong emotional attachments as Obi-Wan had with Kyalla. But as the years had passed with him having no contact with the Order, Obi-Wan's own feelings on the matter had changed. It wasn't emotions that were dangerous, he believed, as much as what one did with them. Over the years as Obi-Wan gradually lost contact with the Jedi, the Council had simply grown to accept that he would not be the Jedi he once was. And so Mace, gently conceding to this, smiled.
Obi-Wan eyes flickered over the rest of the guests. All were close friends, including his Mon Calamari friend Bant, who was a Jedi Knight, and Bail Organa, standing beside him, who had been a faithful friend through the years. Others included the entire Jedi Council, including Yoda who stood in the front with a half amused and half chastising look on his wizened face. But even he watched the proceedings with happiness. In all, there were perhaps two dozen people present.
After looking around for a bit, Obi-Wan let his gaze settle on Luke again, and also on the person next to him. The young man was no longer looking at him, and looked to be quietly speaking with Bant, standing next to him. She wore simple Jedi robes ? but, conceding to the occasion, wore a string of shells around her neck. Their friendship, broken by the argument about Luke, had begun to heal and he was content to see that she was here and even talking with his former apprentice.
Obi-Wan searched the young man's face, and saw what he expected to see: happiness, at least mostly. Sometimes, when Luke didn't know he was looking, he would see a shadow in Luke's eyes, a testament to all that he had gone through. There was a new wariness present with his old Master. It gave Obi-Wan a feeling of sadness, but he also had a sense of hope. Their relationship would never be the same; but perhaps it could heal, and grow into something stronger, if changed. Their relationship was no longer quite that of Master and Apprentice, if it had ever been.
And much had changed. The Empire was not defeated but the biggest step had been made. Once the Imperial forces had left Coruscant's system, the Rebellion had settled in and taken inventory of the loss of lives and injuries. Kyalla had needed only a short dunk in a bacta tank and Obi-Wan had, with some difficulty because of his nearness to death, put himself in healing trance for several days, with the strength and support of Luke combined with the help of Bant. Even after that he had not been fully recovered, but the passing of weeks and much rest had fixed that.
He didn't doubt the Empire would go back, one day, to reclaim Coruscant, but for now that didn't matter. He breathed in the cool air and turned, his collar suddenly tight and he knew before the rest of the guests did ? except perhaps the Council ? that she was coming.
Shunning tradition, Kyalla walked out in uniform, from behind a stone wall? but it was no normal uniform. It had no rank on it and was most certainly was not of regulation. It was made of the purest white, the material shining and iridescent. It fit her body perfectly, molding to her curves. It was remarkably feminine for a military uniform. Her hair flowed over her shoulders in curls, instead of the normal, simple braid she wore. A tropical white flower was entwined in her hair, setting off the pure, shiny blackness of it, and the white uniform made her dusky skin seem like gold.
She was the singular most beautiful sight Obi-Wan had ever seen, and he likened her presence to the beauty of the Force itself.
He, like her, was dressed in uniform ? foregoing the normal Jedi wear which he no longer felt a right to and for in this he was not a Jedi, but a man. That part of his life was over, complete, now that Luke was a Knight. Whereas her uniform was white, his was of the spotless black and made of a similar material. His ginger hair, sprinkled liberally now with gray, had been brushed until it shone and every line of his face showed his happiness; the gauntness of his own experiences was lost in the light that suffused him.
She stepped down the makeshift aisle, alone, and he couldn't tear his eyes away.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity ? if a happy eternity ? she stepped up to him, rising to the large, weather roughened flat stone he stood upon. He held out his hand and she took it, giving him a small smile, her eyes sparkling.
As one, they turned to their left, where Bail Organa stood. He wore royal blue robes that were fitting for the occasion. In one hand he held a beautiful flower and in the other a large diamond of a beautiful cut.
He smiled at them both. It would be a simple ceremony, lasting only a few short sentences. He waited for a moment, then spoke, raising the flower. "This represents the beauty of this union," he said simply. Then he raised the other hand, with the diamond. "And this represents the union itself ? both its lifelong beauty and solidarity."
Obi-Wan shot Kyalla a look of both excitement and love. She looked at him in return with her eyes shining and her lower lip barely trembling.
"Obi-Wan," Bail said softly, turning his attention Obi-Wan.
He didn't look away from Kyalla, but he heard the words. He was nervous, but at the same time he felt exhilarated.
"Do you take this woman, Kyalla Lyhar, as your wife?"
"Yes, I do," Obi-Wan said softly, squeezing Kyalla's hand, which he still held. She squeezed back.
"And Kyalla, do you take this man, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as your husband?"
"I do," Kyalla whispered, smiling with tears falling down her face at last. Obi-Wan reached out with his hand and gently wiped them away.
"Then it is complete," Bail said simply, and lowered his hands.
Never letting go of Kyalla's hand, Obi-Wan stepped forward even as she did, and they kissed, mouths warm and trembling. Kyalla let go of Obi-Wan's hand and it rose to his face to gently meet his cheek, and only then did Obi-Wan realize he, too, was crying. His hand at her waist tightened its grip and his other hand, now free, went to her hair, holding her close to him.
Dimly, in the background, he heard clapping and wild catcalls. But everything was the background now ? Luke, the Jedi, the Rebellion and ever-present threat of the Empire. His arms were full of Kyalla and that was all that mattered.
Live in the moment.
It was not only our freedom we fought for, but for living itself.
- Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.
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