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 Six
Anakin awoke to a stab of light. Inside his helmet, he cautiously opened his eyes, and was greeted with a blinding flash of red. Grunting, he straightened his right leg to relieve the pain from where the durasteel shinguard was cutting into the side of his stump. As he shifted his weight, the air pump on the back of his suit pressed insistently against his shoulder blade. Even though he felt as though he had hardly slept, there was nothing to do but get up.
He pushed himself up from the pilot's seat and stretched his arms. Beside him, rays from the rising suns came straight through the viewscreen and struck the headrest of the seat. He should have remembered to orient the shuttle opposite the arc of the suns, not that he was going to use this seat for a bed again. He had tried laying flat across the row of passenger seats, but the air pump discouraged that, and even before the suit he had never been able to sleep on his side. As he walked stiffly into the shuttle interior, he recognized that creating a suitable sleeping area was going to have to be one of his top priorities.
He unhinged the plastoid codpiece and tossed it aside before he entered the 'fresher. After opening the suit's fly, he braced one arm against the wall and yawned as he relieved himself. When he was finished, he returned to the passenger compartment and reached for the discarded piece of armor. He held it for a moment, then set it back on the synthleather seat. There shouldn't be much need for it out here, and the damn thing always had been a bit uncomfortable.
Moving into the rudimentary galley area, he opened the storage compartment and surveyed his choice of nourishment containers. The last time he'd had to rely on these for any length of time had been after Luke had blown up the Death Star and he had been stranded on Vaal for two weeks. Somehow, they tasted better in his memory than the nerf stew flavor he'd chosen last night, but perhaps that was only because he'd been so hungry on Vaal. He sighed and picked one labeled blumfruit, then connected it to the delivery system that ended in the nutrient feed tubes within his helmet. As he put his lips around the silver tip and drew the liquid into his mouth, he wondered if the manufacturer even knew what a blumfruit was. Then again, maybe this was Palpatine's final revenge.
He suffered through a second container, then attached one of water to flush the system. Feeling fortified, if not satisfied, he decided he was ready to face the interior of Obi-Wan's former home. He lowered the ramp from the shuttle and descended into the desert heat. Sand crunched between his boots and the rocky ledge as he walked the short distance between the ship and the hut. It had been too dark last night for him to appreciate the view, but this morning he had to admit to a sense of awe upon seeing the limitless Dune Sea stretch to one horizon, and the natural rock monuments of the Jundland Wastes fill the other. He wished Luke were here to share the moment with him, and felt a wisp of sadness as he wondered where exactly his son was.
This time as he approached the dwelling he sensed nothing, and he walked straight in, using a Force push to open the door. The interior was suffused with a soft light admitted through numerous windows cut into the synstone walls, and unlike the Lars homestead, a few belongings remained scattered on the floor. Support pillars separated the living area from a kitchen furnished with a large round stove and an accompanying vent hood. Absently he opened a cabinet door in the kitchen and peered into the dusty shelves. The former contents of the cabinet were specified on neat labels pasted on the edge of each shelf. He rubbed the dirt from one label and stared at the handwriting underneath.
The pattern of the script was unmistakable. It was one thing to know from Luke's experiences that Obi-Wan had lived here, and quite another to see the physical evidence himself. He whirled about, his cloak floating behind him, and strode into the front room. He noticed a hallway adjacent to the entry, and he followed it to the bedroom and compact 'fresher at the end. Smiling in triumph, he returned to the main living area. These three small rooms in one of the most primitive spots on Tatooine had been Obi-Wan's whole world for twenty years. The thought that Obi-Wan had
suffered after all brought him great satisfaction, far more than the lightsaber blow he had used to bring down his old master. Contrary to his first impression, he was going to enjoy
shuddered as she re-entered normal space, and Luke allowed himself a sigh of relief. Coming through the maze, the black holes felt like predators hungry for her considerable mass, and it had taken everything he had to keep her on course. Even more disturbing was the sense that the Force itself was being pulled into the great gravity wells, and since it was a form of energy, maybe it was.
Through the viewscreen four Star Destroyers hung in space, far enough away that they looked like toys. There was no question that he had guided Executor
to the right place. But instead of feeling the satisfaction of success, he felt a prickling sense of danger. All encounters with remnants of the Empire had required military intervention, so danger was to be expected, but what he felt was more than that, as if the outcome teetered on some unknown event. He reached out into the Force, but the future eluded him. Abruptly, his concentration was disrupted by a hand landing on his shoulder.
"That was quite a ride you took us on, Captain," Admiral Torren said. "Outstanding navigation, though. Don't think anyone else could have pulled it off."
He swiveled in his seat to look behind him. Besides the Admiral, a commander stood waiting in parade rest. "Thank you, sir. But I have to tell you, something's not right here."
The Admiral narrowed his eyes and stared at him intently. "What is it, then?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. I can just feel it."
"Hmmm," Torren said, lifting one eyebrow. "Well, maybe you'll think of it while you're taking a breather."
"I'm good, sir," he said. "It was a little tiring, but I can finish my shift."
The Admiral gave a polite smile. "Captain Skywalker, you're not understanding me. Commander Ulla will take over for you as navigator. Your turn will come again when it's time to get us out of here."
"Oh," he said, his face flushing, "Yes, sir." It had never occurred to him that his role would be so limited. He vacated the seat, and Ulla nodded at him as he slipped past him into the navigator's spot. Luke walked up the short flight of stairs to the main level of the bridge, and sensed Torren following behind him.
"Skywalker, wait a moment," the Admiral said, catching up to him."You know it's nothing personal. You did a fine job for us."
He lowered his head, embarrassed. His disappointment at being replaced must have shown too strongly. "Of course, sir. I understand."
"Ulla's been with me a long time," the Admiral said. "If...when..we get into trouble, it's just good to be working with familiar personnel. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about."
"Yes, sir," he said, and meant it. He could use some familiar faces around him right about now. "Is that all, sir?"
Torren gave him a paternal smile. "Yes, Captain. Oh, and if that feeling
of yours develops into anything more solid
, be sure to let me know."
It was a good thing the conversation was over, because he was absolutely speechless. He knew most people around him didn't understand what it was like to be a Force-user, but he'd never had his perceptions so thoroughly dismissed before. He glanced towards the large viewing windows, his father's favorite location on the bridge. He could picture him pacing the walkway, hands clasped behind him, and his cloak floating over the deck. He felt a wisp of sadness, and wondered where exactly his father was.
Leia was walking fast. On Coruscant streets, it was a necessity so as not to get swept away in the crowd, but she had the habit long before she ever came here. Right now she was walking so fast that Mon was working to keep up with her, even with her much longer stride. Since Leia had extended the invitation to Mon, it would be polite to slow down, but her feet seemed to have a mind of their own. Given the right route, it was possible to walk the entire circumference of the planet, and they were off to a good start.
"I know you're mad at me," Mon puffed behind her, "but I didn't think you were going to try to kill me."
"I'm not mad, "Leia sighed, finally easing her pace to allow Mon to catch up. "Well, maybe a little. I just have a lot on my mind."
"I never dreamt they'd come after you. I'm so sorry," Mon said.
"It's not your fault," she said, and realized that she really wasn't
angry anymore. It almost didn't matter for herself that she might be stripped of her position as a senator. It mattered for them.
And that was why she was here. "But I didn't ask you here to talk about the recall."
"Oh," Mon said. "Then what is it?"
A lump formed in her throat as she thought of Bail and Padme', and she stopped, becoming a stone around which the river of pedestrians eddied. Mon tugged on the sleeve of Leia's blouse and they retreated from the main walkway to sit on the broad lip of a massive duracrete planter. Leia looked around and noticed that they wandered far past the governmental sector into a commercial zone of dubious reputation. It was probably good that they hadn't gone any further. To her left, the tall spires of the governmental core rose like mountains above the plain of the city.
"Tell me about the beginnings of the Alliance," she said. "The very beginning."
Mon looked at her quizzically. "We've talked about this before."
"I know," Leia said. Suddenly she felt like a little girl at bedtime."Tell me again."
"It was just a few of us to start," Mon said, staring out at the cityscape. "Only the senators we could really trust. Bail, Padme', Fang Zar, Giddean Danu, a few others. We were concerned about the changes Palpatine was making in the Republic. But none of us truly understood who we were up against."
Leia nodded. "And what were you trying to do?"
"We were trying to preserve the principles of the Republic," Mon said. "At first, some of us thought Palpatine could be swayed. I know Padme' did. She was the one who presented the Petition of the Two Thousand to him. She was absolutely fearless."
"Is that why she was made a target?" she said.
Mon frowned. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Did she die because she opposed Palpatine?"
"I'm sorry," Mon said, with a sad smile."I can't tell you how she died. I don't know."
Leia lowered her head. She could have asked the one person who would know, but she'd never been able to bring herself to talk to Anakin about it. It was too strong an acknowledgement of their relationship. Strangely, though, Luke had never told her what happened either, and he always shared everything he found out. "Back on Executor
, Palpatine taunted Anakin about being too late to save his wife. I guess I just assumed her death was politically motivated, what with everything that was going on back then."
"The official story was that she died in the Jedi Rebellion, but every report from that time was a lie," Mon said. " And I don't know why he called her Anakin's wife, because that's impossible."
She had sometimes thought of it as unlikely, but never impossible. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, even if I'm being overconfident in thinking she would have told me," Mon said, "there's still the fact that the Jedi were not permitted to marry."Oh, but Luke did tell me that part. I even know where the ceremony was performed.
She was beginning to have a better picture of who Padme' Amidala had been : a woman who never went against her principles, no matter the price. A woman willing to keep dangerous secrets to protect what she believed in. Padme' had shared the secret of the Alliance with Mon, but not of her marriage. And maybe that meant she had believed in Anakin most of all.
Leia had come here for clarity, and instead her mind was swirling. She thought she had opposed the Integrity Act because it violated a promise made by the Republic, but perhaps it had been more than that. Perhaps it was because she had seen a glimmer of what her mother had always known.
Mon turned sideways on the duracrete ledge, and looked at her with concern. "Leia, what's going on? Why are you bringing all this up now?"
Luke must have been right about Obi-Wan's reputation as a wizard serving to keep the Jawas away from the stone hut. Anakin could think of no other explanation for why the mechanical systems of the home were still intact. What was even more incredible than the equipment being present was the fact that Obi-Wan hadn't blown himself up, given the way the solar collection system was wired. He shook his head in disbelief. Had Obi-Wan listened to nothing he had tried to teach him about electronics?
He had intended to restore the vaporator to working status first, but this utter disarray of the hut's solar generators offended him, and he couldn't stop himself from dismantling the components. He carried the charge controller and the inverter into the living room, and set them on the built-in seating area that flowed from the stone walls. Using the tool kit he had brought in from the shuttle, he began to remove the casing from the charge controller, but his thick gloves impeded his progress, so he removed them and set them aside.
With the inner wiring of the device exposed, he applied a test current to the controller. He frowned at the results on his meter. At these settings, the controller would have allowed the batteries to overcharge, promoting the formation of explosive gases. He wondered if Obi-Wan had adjusted the settings himself, or worse yet, unknowingly purchased the collection system in this state. This was exactly why he had always been in charge of any mechanical issues when they had served together during the War.
After recalibrating the controller, he used a solvent to clean the dust from the circuit board, and then resoldered it after it dried. Satisfied, he turned his attention to the inverter. Little in the dwelling required power except for the lights recessed in the ceiling and the large stove in the kitchen, so he tuned the wave output of the inverter to favor the lights. Now that both pieces of equipment were restored to his satisfaction, he went back outside to reconnect them.
The rising heat of late morning motivated him to work quickly. Sunlight glittered off the metal of his hands as he reattached the controller and the inverter to the solar modules. With the long dead batteries set to accept a trickle charge, he pronounced this project finished. Fighting against the scorching temperature, the cooling system in his suit was running almost continuously, a condition he had never before experienced. Caution told him to delay his plan to repair the vaporator, and instead he returned to the shuttle.
Once inside he selected a Notha broth flavored nutrient drink and sat in the passenger compartment to sip his meal though the feed tubes. He had still not solved the problem of a sleeping area, but as he stared at the row of seats across from him, an idea came to him. If he cut a hole in the cushions to accomodate the suit's air pump, he should be able to lie flat. And if he transported the seats into the nearly windowless bedroom of the hut, he would not be awakened by the rising suns.
With a twirl of his finger, he loosened the bolts that held the seats in place. Raising the whole row, he carefully maneuvered it out of the passenger compartment and down the ramp. Getting it through the narrow hallway of the home was more difficult, but an excellent exercise in control. Once he had it situated, he drew his lightsaber and sliced a section out to accomodate the air pump.
He returned to the shuttle to remove the co-pilot's seat in a similar fashion. This he positioned on the exterior of the building, on the side overlooking the valley floor. Around him, the Force was quiet, all living things having retreated beneath the surface of the sands. Uphill from the stone dwelling, the old vaporator wobbled in the wind, fully exposed to the suns. His resurrection of the device would have to wait until the midday heat had subsided. On Tatooine, even he was required to submit to the rhythms of Nature.
The two halves of the meditation pod locked together with a satisfying thunk
. Inside the chamber, Luke took possession of the broad command chair and flicked through the controls, bringing the screen to life. It didn't feel like spying this time; it felt necessary. The farther away he had gotten from Executor's
bridge, the stronger the disturbance in the Force had become. Somehow, he was supposed to be on the bridge, taking an active role in the engagement of the four renegade Star Destroyers. If Torren wasn't going to permit him to be up there, then this was the next best thing.
Maybe even better. Now that he was actually working in the chamber, he appreciated its functions even more. The main display was splitscreened to show various areas of the bridge, and a multitude of microphones relayed the accompanying conversations. Once he detected Torren's voice in the background, he increased the volume until he could hear the Admiral clearly. Settling deep into the chair, with his arms atop the wide armrests, he studied the activity on the bridge.
Someone was commenting on the four Star Destroyers. "Their transponders codes are not listed in Republic records, sir."
"Then it's as we thought," he could hear Torren say. "Have you checked the Imperial archives?"
"Yes, sir. The odd thing is, their last recorded deployment date is several years ago. They seemed to have been out here a long time."
"That is strange. Almost every Star Destroyer saw time in the Civil War," Torren said.
The microphone relayed a new voice, and Luke looked to the screen to try to visualize its owner. "Sir, one of the Star Destroyers is attempting to make contact."
"Put them through," Torren said, walking off screen towards the communications area.
Luke recentered Torren in the viewscreen, and leaned forward to listen. The voice transmitting from the approaching Star Destroyer sounded a bit informal. "So, they finally built it, eh?"
Onscreen Torren hesitated, and stared into the transmitter. "Yes... finally."
"What's the name of the ship, then?" the voice continued.
That question Torren answered readily. "This is the Super Star Destroyer Executor.
"A fine name," came the reply. "You must have curried the Emperor's favor to get that assignment."
Luke sat upright. The Emperor?
Was it possible they were unaware that the Empire no longer existed? Torren moved to answer, and an ominous undercurrent rumbled in the Force. Luke scanned the console for the comm button, and punched it. Through the screen he could hear it chime on the bridge, but no one seemed to notice. He pounded the button repeatedly until a blond haired lieutenant wandered over, his image becoming large in the viewscreen.
The lieutenant stared into the camera, his face scrunched as if he was trying to see who lay on the other side. "Lord Vader?"
Luke chuckled. This man must have served under his father. "Not exactly. This is Captain Skywalker. Tell Admiral Torren not to reveal that the Empire has fallen."
"Tell, sir?" the lieutenant replied.
"Tell, suggest, whatever you have to do. It's very important," he said.
He watched the lieutenant jog over to the Admiral and say something too softly for the microphone to catch. Torren whipped around and strode into the display.
"Skywalker?" the Admiral said, squinting into the camera. "Where are you?"
"That doesn't matter, sir," Luke said, leaning back into the seat. "You said to let you know when my feeling turned into something more solid, and it has. The crews of those Star Destroyers think we're part of the Empire, that we're all on the same side."
Torren nodded. "That's a possibility. Now what's this about not telling them the truth?"
"Sir, the outcome of this mission hinges on whether or not they know we're from the New Republic."
"How do you know that?"
He smiled. The Admiral was going to love this. "I can feel
Torren shook his head.
The meditation chamber seemed to deflect the Admiral's skepticism, because it didn't touch him this time."Sir, you trusted me to get us to the Maw. Now you'll have to trust me on this."
Leia ruffled her fingers through the flowers in the planter. Their colors were beautiful, a welcome contrast to all the artificial materials that defined Coruscant. She knew she was avoiding Mon's question, but these thoughts she'd shared with no one. To say them out loud would give them life. "Have we done it then? Have we fulfilled all the promises that were made between you and Padme' and Bail?"
"Yes," Mon said, a smile spreading over her face. "You had me worried there. Yes, we've done it all. Removed Palpatine, restored peace and the Republic. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in our day to day struggles that we fail to appreciate everything we've accomplished."
Her heart was pounding in her throat, and she kept her gaze fixed on the city. She couldn't look Mon in the eyes and say this without crying. "So, I can walk away from the Senate, and feel that I'm not abandoning the cause?"
"What?" Mon reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't give up. This will all blow over. New Alderaan will look at everything you've done for them and the Republic, and they'll make the right choice."
"I'm not giving up," she said, and this time she believed herself. "I'm moving on."
"Leia, being a senator is in your blood," Mon said.
"I know. Every day I think of their legacy," she said. "That's why it's important to me to make sure I'm not letting them down."
"No, never think that," Mon said. "Bail would be so proud of you. And Padme' too."
"Even if I'm recalled from the Senate?" she said, and her throat tightened.
"Of course," Mon said. "They understood politics. You always follow your conscience, and they would admire that."
Tears filled her eyes and she blinked them back. "Thank you. That means a lot to me. I've really struggled with this, and I keep looking for some sign to tell me I'm moving in the right direction."
"I can't imagine how difficult this has been for you," Mon said. "Come on, let's head back, and I'll buy you dinner. We can talk some more."
Leia exhaled deeply, and let her tension flow out. After all her worrying, it was a relief to have her feelings out in the open. She hopped down off the duracrete ledge and they headed back towards the governmental district. Around them, the sunlight was beginning to fade and the streets lights were popping on.
"What do you feel like eating?" Mon asked. "There's a new Kuati restaurant down near the Senate. Or we could always go to your old standby, the Corellian place."
She smiled. "What can I say? Han's corrupted me."
"Have you talked to him about any of this?" Mon said. "I'm sure..."
Whatever else Mon was saying was lost as she became filled with a tingling sense of danger. She didn't even have the impulse to look around, instead feeling that she should immediately draw the pocket blaster she kept in her purse. She could see the headlines now : Crazed Senator Goes Berserk on Public Street.
But she knew without a doubt there was an assailant behind them; she could even see his face in her mind. In one smooth motion, she pushed Mon to the side and whirled about, blaster in hand. The face she had imagined was staring back at her, albeit wearing an expression of complete surprise.
A kid. A punk kid. Her indignation escalated into anger and she strode towards him almost faster than he could backpedal. She had the feeling that she could push him off his feet without even touching him. The sense of power was exhilarating, but also a little frightening. She lowered her blaster, and he took off running. She watched him vanish in the distance, and then Mon's voice was at her side.
"How did you know he was there?" Mon said.
"The Force," she said. "But I've never felt it like that before. I could see what was going to happen."
Mon stepped back and gave her an appraising look. "I don't know what it means, but I'd say this might be your sign."
Under Anakin's careful touch, the vaporator hummed to life for the first time in who knew how many years. Like the solar generator, this piece of machinery essential to desert life had suffered from neglect, and not just in the time that the home had been abandoned. The bearings had run dry even while the vaporator had been in use, as evidenced by the worn sides of the bearing cup, and the condenser was clogged with debris blown in by the wind. In a dark corner of the hut's cellar he had found an almost new container of grease, as if Obi-Wan had the intent, but not the knowledge to maintain the device for maximum efficiency. Newcomers seldom understood what a harsh master the desert could be, and he almost felt sorry for Obi-Wan, as ill-prepared as he must have been for life on Tatooine.
With the bearings freshly repacked, and the condenser brushed clean, he replaced the collection cup and closed the access hatch on the vaporator. By morning the first small harvest of water would be present. From inside the hut a warm glow of light leaked from the windows, proof of his success at bringing the power system on line. The sands were taking on tones of purple and red and gold as the suns dipped low in the sky. Even though they baked the planet during the day, Tatooine's suns were more distant than the stars of most systems, distant enough that it was safe to look at them when they were at the horizon. He left the vaporator and walked to the co-pilot's seat he had placed in the sand outside the dwelling. Settling into it, he gazed out upon the Jundland Wastes and towards the setting suns. A light breeze played through his cloak as he looked out on his domain with satisfaction. This had been a good day.