That Which RemainsAuthor :
jedinemoRating and disclaimer :
Rated PG-13. The Star Wars Universe belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd, and I have gained nothing but satisfaction from this fanfic.Summary :
A sequel to Come With Me
. It's been two years since Vader destroyed Palpatine at Endor and helped the Alliance reforge the Republic, but swapping allegiences has not made his path any easier. Chapter Five
The sudden quiver of the Rodian's ears told Anakin he had offered too much for the use of the docking bay. As a boy he had accumulated that kind of knowledge unconsciously, but it had been far too long for any of his information to be current. Not that credits were a concern to him, but acting like a wealthy and ignorant stranger would bring him as much attention on Tatooine as his black armor.
Already it had emboldened the Rodian, who glanced at the Republic emblem on the folded wings of the shuttle and then back to him. "Bo chasska ee greeshka.
At least he still knew the appropriate answer to that request. With a twitch of his fingers, he used the Force to grasp the front of the Rodian's tunic. "I believe your silence is included in the sum we previously negotiated," he said, flexing his index finger until the Rodian gulped. "Wouldn't you agree?"
His host nodded quickly, and he released his grip. "As I thought."
He withdrew a single credit disc from the slit pocket in his belt and handed it to the now compliant Rodian before proceeding to the exit of the docking bay. The door slid open, revealing a narrow alley lined with mud walled buildings. By the architecture, it could have been any city on Tatooine, but it happened to be Mos Eisley. His boots sinking in the sand, he followed the curve of the walkway until the alley opened onto a main thoroughfare.
From what he could see, everything was exactly as he remembered. The peculiar brightness unique to Tatooine that had at first made every other world he visited seem dim. The intense heat of the dual suns that had left his boyhood self unprepared for the cold of space. The kaleidoscope of species and clamor of languages that made the homogenous parade of humans in the Imperial Forces appear odd to him. The familiarity of it all brought him comfort, but not enough to overcome the bitterness that had begun to surface even as his shuttle hit the planet's atmosphere.
He shook his head to clear his mind. There was no need to revisit the helpless feelings of his youth. He stood alone as the most powerful Force user in the Galaxy, a man of such military prowess that he could have ruled it all had he but chosen that path. Whatever had happened in the past could not touch him now. As he moved out from the shadows, his helmet busied itself adjusting to the sharp contrast between shade and light. The searing rays of Tatoo I and II tried to invade the insulation of his suit, but its cooling system fought back against their incursions. Yes, he was very well protected, indeed.
Out amongst the foot traffic, he was beginning to draw attention, no small feat in a space port as weary and jaded as Mos Eisley. He noted and dismissed the eyes that focused on him, and the flares of fear that accompanied the glances. Really, it was no different from walking down Executor's
corridors, though he'd almost forgotten the feeling having been surrounded for the past two years by the ease of the BlueSaber's
crew. Except, then again, this was
different. He hadn't been out in public without the support of troops since...since before his armor became a necessity.
Acutely he became aware of how exposed he was. Of rooftop hiding places. Of hands that reached to touch blasters in gestures of nervousness. The lightsaber that hung at his belt could deflect every incoming blaster bolt he detected, but could he sense them all if there were fifty, or a hundred, or five hundred? Even the sharpest feelings of hatred that had been directed at him in the Empire had been blunted by the discipline of military structure. But out here among civilians, it was just chaos
Where the street opened further to a plaza, he caught site of a tavern entrance, and headed for it. He wanted the security of walls at his back while he reassessed the level of threat that existed here. Part way to the door he encountered a being who had no fear of him at all : a small boy, dark haired and dirt-smudged, selling flatbread in a spot of shade thrown by a canvas awning. The boy hardly noticed him as he passed by, either too young to know who he was, or too poor to care. For a moment he saw himself at that age, and felt a wave of melancholy.
Once inside the tavern, he paused briefly while the gain in his helmet increased to compensate for the low light. Around him, the rumble of multiple conversations subsided to a murmur, then quickly resumed its previous volume. He took a seat at an empty table in the corner, and ordered a beverage he could not consume.
Like the rest of Mos Eisley, the tavern contained representatives of many worlds, yet the feelings that poured off of them were disconcertingly uniform. This aspect of Tatooine he had forgotten, or perhaps as a child his eyes had never quite seen it. The place reeked of desperation, the kind brought on when a being had nothing to lose and almost nothing to gain. It was an emotion more powerful than fear, and far more dangerous. Any one of the beings in this room would sell him out for the right price, making it impossible to maintain the level of control he had exerted in the Empire.
Several tables over, a trio of inebriated humans were eyeing him. They would talk amongst themselves, clapping each other on the back and laughing, but in the end their gaze always returned to him. Then their expressions would harden until they were staring at him openly. Finally one of them stood up from the table and walked a meandering path towards him. He smiled in amusement as he realized that he was about to be challenged. Leaning back in his chair, he folded his arms folded across his chest, and watched the scruffy looking human stumble up to him.
The man pushed aside the vacant chair and braced both arms atop the table. "And who do you think you
are, Darth Kriffing Vader, or something?"
He let the silence hang between them before he spoke. "Something like that."
Perhaps the deep resonance of his voice sounded a bit too authentic, because abruptly the man straightened up, and his face became more sober. He stood there blinking dumbly, then weaved his way back towards his companions.
Anakin shook his head as the human retreated. It was becoming obvious that he couldn't remain in Mos Eisley. He'd never get any rest.
Luke flicked the gleaming white switch, and the screen leapt to life, displaying the bridge. Watching the crew in secret made him feel like a spy, so after a few moments, he turned it off. He spun the black leather chair away from the screen and gazed up at the top half of the meditation chamber. In all the time they had spent together on Executor
, his father had never shown him this chamber. Since there wasn't room for both of them in here, he supposed there had been no point.
Still, when one of his new crew mates surreptitiously brought him here, he felt like he had discovered treasure. It was such an obviously private space that it was like looking into the inner workings of his father's mind. The layout of controls and selection of displays were as efficient and well designed as those of a fighter, and with its halves sealed together, the sphere had the same comforting closeness as a cockpit. Insulated from the ship's constant buzz of activity, the chamber promoted clarity and focus. It was a crisply functional command center, the sanctuary of Darth Vader.
Maybe he had been too determined to strip his father of his armor to understand the man inside of it. While he had expected Anakin Skywalker to fight the Integrity Act, instead Darth Vader had casually circumvented it. And as he roamed Executor
minus his father's assured presence, he was struck by the true enormity of a Super Star Destroyer, and the ease with which his father had negotiated its complexity. On board Executor
, Luke was only one captain among hundreds, and if he saw a familiar face twice in a day, he counted himself lucky. He could see how many of Darth Vader's methods were born of necessity, and that it was probably impossible to undo the lessons his father had learned in the Empire. As much as he wanted his father to be only Anakin Skywalker, there was no way to separate the two.
At least that didn't seem to bother anyone on Executor
. After his reception from Republic Intelligence, he had some trepidation about serving with an unfamiliar crew, but Admiral Torren and his staff had treated him with respect and concern. Maybe too much
concern. Everyone seemed to know that his primary assignment was to navigate the ship through the maze of black holes, and he had been barraged by inquiries about the quality of his sleep and his satisfaction with the food. Although he had gotten his wish to be more Jedi than soldier, he was a little tired of being treated like some kind of fragile instrument. He was supposed to be resting now, but he couldn't stand staring at the four walls of his cabin any longer.
He swiveled the chair back towards the viewscreen, reactivating it. Glancing at the controls on the console, he pushed a button he had noticed earlier, and was rewarded with a screen full of stars. He thought it likely matched the view from Executor's
bridge windows, and he leaned back in the chair and allowed his mind to drift. His eyelids sunk to half mast, and his breaths deepened as he used the Force to feel the ship traveling through space. So different from the litheness of his X-wing, and so calm compared to how it would feel to traverse the Maw.
His reverie was disrupted by the chime of his comlink. He put a hand to his belt, and then Admiral Torren's voice echoed in the chamber. "You're on, Skywalker."
"Yes, sir," he replied, and waved the pod open. Time to show them he could match his father's reputation.
After almost thirty years, Anakin had only a vague sense of where the homestead lay from Mos Eisley. On board the shuttle, he used a sighting of what had to be Anchorhead to orient himself. As the outskirts of the small town quickly vanished beneath his wings, he dropped the shuttle's altitude so that he could begin a visual search of the terrain. The typical low profile of moisture farms made them difficult to spot, and most often a ring of vaporators was the first sign that a dwelling was near.
He had a distant memory of flying over several farms before coming up to the Lars homestead, so he let the first cluster pass by without investigation. After that came a long stretch without any evidence of habitation. Just when he thought he had gone too far, a large pit in the sand appeared, unheralded by vaporators or vehicles. Luke had told him of visiting Tatooine after their encounter at Bespin, and of how the old homestead had become a looted ruin. He was counting on the farm still being unoccupied, and the lack of equipment seemed to support that this could be the right place.
He circled the shuttle back around and set it down in the sand a few hundred meters from the domed entrance to the dwelling, a caution in case there was someone inside. As he walked beneath the blazing suns he was reminded of the first time he had approached the homestead. Consumed with worry about his mother, he had drawn strength from having Padme' at his side. She had walked this path with him in silence, without question or comment, seemingly content to just stay with him. He had almost forgotten how much her presence had soothed him, and he felt an ache in his chest that he thought was no longer possible.Pull yourself together, Skywalker
, he berated himself. He was almost to the entrance, and though he didn't sense any living creatures inside, that didn't mean there wasn't something deep in the recesses of the building. Ducking under the arch of the doorway, he descended the long staircase, ready to call his lightsaber to hand. He paused briefly at each room that opened on to the courtyard until he was certain the shadows concealed nothing larger than a sandrat. Though clearly abandoned, the homestead had held up well without maintenance, a testimony to the sturdiness of its design. As he had hoped, the old moisture farm would function as a spacious and well protected hide-out.
He crossed the open courtyard and entered a coved room with a crumbling stone table and a geometric design painted on the ceiling. If he had any doubt about having found the right homestead, it was removed as he gazed up at the vivid mural. He sat down on the long bench seat of the dining table, and thought about how Luke must have grown up around this very table. It was shameful how much he still didn't know about Luke's upbringing. Perhaps staying here would give him a glimpse into his son's childhood.
The other end of the dining room opened onto a lower level, and to a set of steps that were faintly familiar. The steps led to a sleeping area as he recalled, and he decided to go in search of Luke's old room. After descending one level, the walkway crossed a sunlit area, then ended in a large chamber. Whatever furnishings the room had once held were now gone, and it was difficult to tell what its function had been. Then he noticed upright bolts in the duracrete and the faded outline of a large piece of equipment that had been fastened there. On the wall above it, an array of cut wires protruded from the surface, surrounded by the shadow of a long gone electronic panel.
He groaned as he finally recognized where he was. This wasn't a bedroom; this was the garage, the very garage in which he had confessed his slaughter of the Sandpeople to Padme'. Staring into the sunlight pouring in the door, he could almost see her there, and he remembered how powerless he had felt realizing that he was a slave to his own emotions. Unable to control his grief and rage at the Tusken camp, he was then equally filled with despair and guilt as he told her his secret. The intensity of that moment came flooding back, and he began to feel sick.
He closed his eyes. This was not supposed to be about awakening his old memories; he was supposed to be learning more about Luke. Though his son had told him of spending many hours working in the garage, it was not going to be possible for him to stay in this room. He traced his way back to the dining room and waited for his discomfort to subside. Everything would be fine. He would simply use only the main living area of the homestead; that was more than sufficient for his needs.
Needing a distraction, he decided to explore the other areas of the homestead. Like the garage, the upper rooms were mostly empty shells, the belongings in them having been stripped away long ago. He had almost given up on finding Luke's room when he spotted a crumpled shape with familiar lines stuffed into a corner. He bent to pick up it up, and smiled as he recognized it. Similar in form to the lambda
shuttle parked outside, it was a model of a T-16 skyhopper, the kind of craft in which Luke had learned to fly. Feeling warmed by his discovery, he dusted it off and placed the old toy on one of the room's built in shelves. He'd have to remember to give it back to Luke the next time he saw him.
A rumble of hunger passed through his belly, reminding him it was time to unload his supplies from the shuttle. As he exited his son's room, he caught sight of a doorway hidden under the back side of the staircase. Abruptly his appetite faded, and he felt the back of his neck tingle, as if the hairs that used to be there were standing up. The feeling was too visceral to be a tremor in the Force, and his brow furrowed as he tried to grasp why this room was so distressing.
When the answer came to him, he had to brace himself against the wall. Of course. This was the room into which he had carried his mother's limp body. Acting on autopilot, he had walked directly to this room and set her gently on the floor, having absolutely no idea what he was supposed to do next. One by one, the others had joined him, until they were all standing silently around her body. It had been Beru who finally spoke, ordering Owen to bring water and rags, and telling Cliegg to find Shmi's favorite clothes. As the other men scattered to their tasks, he was left in numb bewilderment.
Once Owen returned, Beru had carefully untied the bindings on the burlap shroud that covered his mother. Her bruised face became exposed, and he had to look away. He heard water dripping from wrung cloth, and he turned back, puzzled by the sound. His breath caught at the sight before him. Kneeling on the stone floor, Beru was carefully washing his mother's face. Soon Padme' mirrored Beru's posture, and Beru passed a cloth to her. Together, the two women began to unwrap the rest of the shroud, and after that he could no longer watch.
He had run out of the room, his long legs carrying him up the stairs two at a time, towards the only task left for him : to dig the grave. Swathed in his Jedi robes and sweating in the midday heat, he had refused Owen's help, and battered the sun hardened soil until he had created the tomb in which she still rested.
Of all the people who had grieved for her that day, he was the only one left alive. He swallowed hard, and shoved away his memories. However functional the homestead was, he would not be able to stay here, either. The place was full of ghosts.
Leia brushed her fingers across the foundation of the Senate Hall, built over the original duracrete of the old Senate Rotunda. She tried to think of when she had first known that she would be a senator, but it felt as though she had always known. She remembered listening to dinner conversations about integrity and freedom. Of being very small, and walking next to the towering pillars of the Senate building, her father's fingers laced tightly with her own, as if they were crossing the wilds of Alderaan, instead of the hallway to his office. She recalled vividly the first time that her father spoke to her as an adult instead of a child, explaining that all was not right with the Senate and the Empire. And she remembered the pride in his face when he began including her in the secret meetings of the Alliance, and she joined the discussions with fervor.
She wondered if he'd still be proud of her now, with the citizens of New Alderaan questioning her competence. If they asked her to resign, she would of course, because her father had always taught her that being a senator was about service, not privilege.What she would do after that, she had no idea. She was willing to wrestle with that puzzle, but to think that she had let Bail down, or worse yet, disgraced his memory was absolutely unbearable.
Tears came to her eyes at the thought, and she raised her face towards the twilight sky to contain them. A childlike voice inside her protested that it wasn't fair, that she had followed every principle Bail had taught her. That same part of her craved his understanding and wanted to hear his reassurance that she had done everything honorably. She wanted to him to tell her that it was okay to walk away from the Senate, that they had accomplished every goal set forth in Padme' Amidala's apartment. And even though it was completely illogical, she wanted this building to contain some trace of him.
But there was only the wind, and the heat radiating from the duracrete. She looked around the empty plaza. The end of another day without resolution of her status as a senator. It was getting too dark for her to stay out here by herself, and she headed for her speeder.
As she lifted off, a solution came to her. She couldn't talk to Bail or Padme', but she could talk to the remaining person who had been with them from the beginning. All it required was for her to swallow her pride.
Grudgingly, Anakin gave a nod of approval to the dwelling nestled in the rocks. He hadn't seen it at first, so well matched was it to the surrounding terrain. But the right angles of its sides caught his eye, and revealed its artificial origins. It sat exactly where Luke had described, at the end of a winding gully, sitting atop the last ridge of the Jundland Wastes at the beginning of the Dune Sea. With barely enough room to set down the shuttle, the limited access of the site was military perfection. If it had kept Obi-Wan hidden for decades, it could certainly keep him concealed for the short time he had in mind.
With the fading glow of the setting suns at his back, he approached the stone dwelling. The interior felt empty, serenely
empty, as if some essence of Obi-Wan persisted, and he paused at the threshold. He'd had enough of unexpected flashes from the past, and he was not in the mood for any more. Tomorrow he'd explore his new refuge, but for tonight, he'd sleep in the shuttle.