Ta-da!!! The AU sequel to my fic Hermitage. If you haven't read Hermitage yet…well, it's recommended, but not required. I will be making a few references to it, however.
I will try to make the next chapter longer…I promise. And as far as I know, this idea hasn't been worked on yet, but if it has, I would like to know.
I've actually been having quite a bit of fun on this fic so far, so I do hope the general public likes it as much as they said they did Hermitage.
So here for Jedi, Sith, and non-sensitives alike, taking place a month prior to ESB…
The Jedi Dawn
The liquid rushing into and past his ears was warm and gentle, and strangely thick, more so than water.
He became confused at that. He didn't know why he should remember what water was, and wasn't sure how he knew he shouldn't remember…
Puzzled, he brushed the meandering thought aside and slowly opened his eyes.
He was suspended, encased in a tank that held the liquid; the cylinder was transparent and he could see through it into the dimly-lit room, but couldn't make anything out. The light that shone down on him from the top of the cylinder was bright, and the rest of the room almost completely dark.
Regardless, he knew someone was there, watching him awaken. How had the person known it would be now? he wondered.
He clenched and relaxed his hands, testing the muscles, and brought them up to explore the thing that was attached to his face, over his nose and mouth. His fingers searched it, tapped it. A breathing mask.
Were there any other things attached to him? He checked, and found a small tube running from his left arm. Apart from that, there was nothing. He felt remotely that he should be ashamed because of this, but couldn't remember why.
The liquid's flow around him gradually slowed to a stop. He wondered at this, and looked up to see the liquid's surface coming down to meet his head. It was draining, he realized, looking down to see the grated hole that had opened up to suck out the fluid. His feet touched the bottom and he stood as the liquid drained lower.
As the last few streams disappeared, he investigated a way to take off the breath mask, knowing he didn't need it any longer…but again, he didn't know why not, or how he knew.
The strap that held it around his head stretched at his pull; he tugged it off and released it, letting it hang by its hose as he turned his attention to the small tube going into his arm. Pinching it, he gave a sharp tug, pulling a small needle at the end of the tube out of his arm, and was surprised at the twinge of pain. A red droplet blossomed at the spot, mingling with the wetness of the fluid on his still-damp skin. He picked some up on his finger and looked at it closely, curious.
The clear cylinder around him suddenly twisted to one side. Machinery whirred softly, and it rose away from the floor he stood on.
The recycled-smelling air was cold, flowing past him and taking the evaporating fluid with it, along with his surface body heat. The light above his head was no longer being refracted down to oblivion by the cylinder; it spread throughout the room, but the lighting was still poor enough that he could not make out the lone figure standing there.
But he could certainly hear him. Loud mechanical breathing filled his ears; he cringed at both the sudden volume and the forbidding sound itself. He was afraid, for some reason, and he didn't like the feeling…
Vader stood impassionately, watching the boy cower. If the youth had grown over the regular period of standard years to reach his current level of physical maturity, he would have been about seventeen. But in reality, the boy had taken just three years to grow thus far. Now that the growth acceleration had stopped, he would age normally.
Of course, clones had been made to grow much more quickly than a three-year period. But Vader had wanted to supervise this one personally, to make sure nothing had gone wrong. After all, the cloning process for this particular specimen had been more…delicate. The technicians had had but the most obscure sample of DNA to work on, and he was pleased to note that their claims of professional accuracy were genuine, and the Spaarti cloning cylinder that had been raided from Kamino along with thousands of others had also done its job well.
Evidently not knowing what else to do, the boy sat down, shivering, looking around in utter bewilderment.
"Get up," Vader commanded, hoping for convenience's sake that the boy at least could understand Basic. Most of the other clones of Force-sensitive sentients (grown in the distant past) had been able to retain enough memory to function, such as being able to take care of themselves and understanding and speaking the first language of their original, a few even recalling complex mathematical skills.
The youth licked his lips and stood, clasping his hands in front of him nervously. He opened his mouth, wanting to speak, and said in a cracked voice, "Wh-where am I?"
No answer was forthcoming, only that loud breathing. Experimentally, almost pathetically, he croaked, "Who am I?"
"Those," said Vader, "are questions that shall be answered in due time. Come here."
The boy followed the voice hesitantly, stumbling once or twice as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Finally, he rose his head to make out a death-mask of sorts that rose ominously almost an entire foot above him, and his breath caught in his throat. Even though he felt cold throughout his body, he started sweating as fear gripped him.
"You would do well to remember such a feeling," the deep voice rumbled. "You are here to be instructed, not cared after." Vader waved on the lights.
The boy's eyes widened at the sight of the terrifyingly imposing figure, looming at least a head over him, and sensed immediately that here was authority. "Y-yes, sir." He wondered how this huge man had known of his fear, even in the dark. If this towering sentient was a man.
Vader gestured to the neatly-folded clothing at the end of a long counter. "Dress quickly."
Still wide-eyed, the boy walked over and picked up the black outfit. Vader was pleased to note that the youth was rapidly gaining more grace and agility in his movements; he hadn't stumbled once on his way to the table.
The boy hesitated, then remembered what to put on first. In the space of less than a minute he stood fully dressed, standing uncertainly by the table.
"Tell me what you remember," ordered Vader.
The boy blinked. "Not much, really, sir. I remember how to talk, and walk…I think I know what I'm supposed to be, but I don't know who I am, sir. Can you tell me?"
For a fleeting moment, Vader wondered what it would be like to wake up without an identity, without memory…he swept the thought into disregard. "You will be informed later. Now follow me, and keep silent." He strode out of the room, knowing the boy would follow.
Vader had already seen what he had hoped to. For all the boy's seeming total lack of knowledge, his ice-blue eyes shone with a sharp intelligence and a burning curiousity to back it up, barely held in check. The boy had even retained all the nuances and affections of speech that his original had possessed. Perhaps some things were hard-wired into a person, after a while.
The youth followed him through the halls quietly. Vader could hardly hear the boy's footsteps, though he didn't need any of the five physical senses to know the boy was just behind him. The young man's presence blazed with unchecked power, energy that would soon be harnessed and put into use.
His original might have called this "poetic justice",thought Vader, ever so slightly amused.
The palace halls were empty except for a few Imperial officers they encountered. Each one would stop and nod respectfully at Vader before hurrying on their way. The boy took this all in and realized they held every bit as much fear for this masked man as he did, if not more.
They walked on for fifteen minutes. The boy was beginning to wonder if they even had a destination when his leader came to a stop in front of a towering pair of wooden doors, decorated lavishly. They slid open smoothly to a room that seemed to suck in the light from the hall, killing it as soon as it entered.
The boy's neck hairs stood on end. Something in there was bad, was wrong—he could feel it radiating from the open doorway, somehow.
"Come with me," Vader instructed, and walked inside.
The youth followed him dubiously, not knowing what to expect.
The large room was almost as dim as the first room had been. A massive window directly at the other end let in the lights of the night city, a filter in the transparisteel taking away the glare, subsiding the blaring light to a soft glow which was the only thing that lit the room. A large object was silhouetted before the window; the boy thought it to be a chair, and trailed after Vader until the Sith lord came to a stop at the apex of a wide set of stairs.
The chair slowly swiveled around, allowing him to see its withered occupant.
Two hawk-like yellow eyes settled on him, piercing his very soul, holding him riveted. The voice that ensued belied the nefarious eyes, though it sounded as dry as the wrinkled parchment skin.
"You are finally awake." The old hooded man in the chair chuckled, purposefully keeping his cackling laugh toned to a more friendly note. "This is a face I have not seen so young for more than forty years."
The boy was confused. "Who are you, sir?"
The Emperor slowly rose from his chair and motioned the boy to come forward. "Come, look out the window with me, boy."
He came over until they stood side by side. The Emperor shut off the filter, and the light of nightside Coruscant blazed in. "Look out, all the way to the horizon."
The boy looked obediently, seeing no reason not to.
"Now look to either side, boy, as far as you can. Look up into the sky, and see all the stars within your view." The Emperor's eyes glittered in their sockets like two of the celestial bodies as the boy took it all in. "Everything you see is mine. This planet belongs to me, as do all the stars and their respective planets. All these buildings you see and all the transports belong to me." He paused a moment to let it sink in, then added, "Even the people themselves are mine."
The boy started at this, and stared at the shrunken old man. "But no one can own people."
"Oh, no? I own their land. I own their jobs, their income; I control their lives. That, my young friend, is how I own them."
The boy paused. "Does that mean you own me?"
He seemed to consider this. "That doesn't feel…right."
"You will grow accustomed to it, boy." Palpatine cackled, and waved a claw-like hand at his servant. "Lord Vader has, as have everyone in this building and more."
The boy glanced back at the masked man, for whom he now had a name. "Do you know my name, sir?" he asked Palpatine.
The Emperor smiled, a wholly unpleasant expression. "Your name, boy, is Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"Obi-Wan Kenobi," the boy repeated solemnly. "Who are you, sir?"
Though the old man was a bit shorter than him, he suddenly appeared as a kilometer high, eyes glittering regally, creating a lasting impression in the youth's mind. "I am your Emperor Palpatine."
"And his Highness' wish," intoned Lord Vader, "is your every command."
Mara Jade was on her way.
She had received explicit instructions from her master to simply come to Imperial Center, to his throne room. It would be the first time she had seen him since she had been dispatched on her first assignment as the Emperor's Hand.
So now Mara Jade walked briskly down the hallways in semi-formal dress, her startling red hair flowing loose behind her, malachite-green eyes gleaming in anticipation. For she believed that she was about to receive an assignment of the greatest importance (which was not far from the truth), and she had few, if any reservations about what this might mean.
That abruptly changed as soon as she stepped into the throne room. Oh, the Emperor was there all right, but so was Lord Vader…and a teenaged boy that she was sure she had never seen before, but was somehow vaguely familiar all the same, something about the facial set, she was sure.
Mara came to the top of the stairs and knelt. "My master."
Palpatine, who had already turned from the window, was coming around toward her. "Welcome back, Jade. You may rise."
She did so, and fixed her gaze on the boy beside the window. He fidgeted slightly, obviously uncomfortable.
"Come here, boy," said the Emperor. "Mara Jade is a skilled servant of mine, and I have called her here to meet you."
The youth came forward and hesitantly met her gaze.
Mara was flabbergasted, and more than a little angry. Surely she hadn't come here solely to exchange pleasantries with a frightened little vrelt—
Her master's voice cut into her thoughts. "Mara Jade, this is Obi-Wan Kenobi. I have assigned him to you as an apprentice of sorts. You will teach him all you have learned as you take him along with you."
The rage that flared up in her nearly overwhelmed her surprise. Obi-Wan Kenobi? And I'm supposed to teach him?!
"A clone?" she asked in a controlled voice. "But where from did you acquire a genetic sample?"
"From a single hair off Kenobi's old robe. Lord Vader brought it in to the technicians three years ago."
Kenobi's young clone listened in to the conversation with something akin to confused interest. Mara eyed him inimically, then cast a stray bit of her perception back to Darth Vader. He stood wordlessly, the steady in-out tempo of his breathing the only sound emanating from him.
She was disgusted; she felt as if her skill was being utterly wasted. But she hid the feeling, which evidently was not mutual, and bowed. "As you wish."
The two were hardly out of the throne room, the doors shutting behind them, when he turned to her. "Why did you accept me if you didn't want to?"
She looked at him, quietly smoldering. He was incrementally shorter than she was, at least. "I have no choice in the matter. If the Emperor didn't take a liking to you so much, I would have already killed you, understand? So shut your sniveling face and do as I tell you."
Abashed, he followed her down the hall, thinking over what he had heard.
I am a clone, grown from cell samples of a single hair collected by Lord Vader. But who was my original? Washis name Obi-Wan Kenobi? I suppose so; it seemed to be familiar to Mara Jade…but why?
Their first stop was an equipment room, as it were. Rows upon rows of shelves were covered with all sorts of useful, sometimes deadly gadgets.
Mara moved with steely grace, circling the small counter that displayed an assortment of knives. She took two and shoved them into small scabbards on her belt, then turned to Obi-Wan. "First things first. Do you know how to throw a blade?"
He shook his head numbly.
"Fine," she said disgustedly. "You'll learn, then." Selecting one, she handed it to him. "Take a knife that you can get a good, solid grip on."
He wrapped his fingers around the handle dexterously, surprising her by holding it very close to a perfect position. "This one feels good, I suppose."
She smiled thinly, and took three steps backward. "Good. Now throw it at me."
"What?" He was taken off guard.
Mara stepped up to him and said matter-of-factly, "Once I walk over there and face you, you'd better throw it at me or you'll be missing an ear. Understood?"
She thought the look on his face was priceless as he stammered, "Uh…yes."
She smiled again and walked to the end of the room, turning to face him. "Throw it, Kenobi."
Swallowing nervously, he hefted the blade, sighted, and flicked his wrist.
Mara had barely enough time to focus on slowing it to a stop, concentrating so hard she thought she might burst a vessel. The knife hovered in front of her, bare centimeters from hitting her neck dead center.
Kenobi's eyes were wide.
She smiled casually, and let it fall into her hand. "Maybe I'll teach you that little trick later. Nice throw, for a beginner. Now, stand still while I show you something."
He stood transfixed as his own knife came hurtling back toward him, grazing his ear and thudding into the wood cabinet just behind him. Another one whizzed past his other ear, and she threw a third, long knife to stick between his knees, quivering.
Mara laughed and pulled the long knife out while he pressed himself back against the cabinet. They had been closer shots than he would have liked.
"Think you can do that, Kenobi?" she asked him sweetly, with a voice of poisoned honey.
"No," he answered, quite honestly. "Not yet."
She regarded him. "You know what, Kenobi, I'm beginning to like you. How's that?"
He blinked. "Better, I suppose."
"Let's start over again," she said sincerely. "What do you say we go out and have supper, and work out a few details?"
"That…sounds good." He was beginning to calm down somewhat.
Mara favored him with a beautiful smile and pulled one of her knives out of the cabinet. "I can see you're ready to learn lesson number one."
She struck without warning; the tip of her blade opened the skin from the outer corner of his right eye down to his jawline in a neatly curved slit.
He cried out and clutched at his face, turning away from her.
"Lesson of the day," she hissed in his ear. "You will never go through your life without it treating you like shit. I think you're smart enough to get the message." She collected the rest of her desired gear, ignoring him as he crouched on the floor, trying to stop the blood.
Trying to stop the pain, that had been inflicted inside and out.
Mara smiled tightly. Object lessons were always the best kind. "Now it's bedtime. You wake up early tomorrow, you hear? Tomorrow we'll start the longest crash course you've ever been in. And you'd better be careful; we wouldn't want to mark up that pretty little face of yours."
He only got five hours of sleep that night, but he supposed it was a lot considering he had only been awake for two hours so far in his life.
So he rose while the sun crept over the horizon, and within minutes he was sitting at the small computer in the corner of the room, in front of the one window.
Database search. Obi-Wan Kenobi.
No results were displayed. Puzzled, he began a new search.
Military. Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Still no results. He tried yet a different tack.
Deceased. Obi-Wan Kenobi.
One result. He eagerly asked for details.
The page opened, and to his dismay it was almost completely blank. The only information was that this Obi-Wan Kenobi had died at thirty-nine years of age, just after the Clone Wars.
He furrowed his brow as he read: Association: the Jedi Order.
So he keyed in: Database search. Jedi Order.
A summary popped up, half describing the Order's history…and half condemning it. He blinked in surprise as he read of the traitorous acts it had engaged in, bringing down the former government…
"His Royal Highness then took it upon himself to restore order to the galaxy, and his magnificent Empire rose from the ashes of the functionless Old Republic. The threat of the Jedi is no more."
He wasn't sure what to make of it. He was the clone of a traitor, as it appeared…
"You might try looking under the listings of generals in the Clone Wars," remarked a smooth voice from the doorway.
He started and turned to see Mara Jade leaning against the doorframe, arms folded. "He was a general?"
"One of few that had a good sense of what was going on, and what to do about it. But he was a fool regardless," she added.
"Why do you say that?"
"To be a Jedi is to be a fool. Oh, and he didn't actually die at thirty-nine. His death was only three years ago, when he was fifty-seven. But," she said, fingering one of her knife handles absently, "I'm sure you can keep that little tidbit to yourself."
"But why do they plant lies in the database?" he asked, genuinely perplexed. "It's almost like—"
"Propaganda?" she finished for him. "Not really. What I just told you is classified, and it had better stay that way."
He nodded, and hesitated before asking, "Why did you tell me that?"
Mara eyed him coldly. "Because it's the truth. I'm not exactly one to tell lies when I don't need to. For example, I think you're an annoying naïve little bastard that is still completely worthless to the galaxy thus far, and quite frankly I have no qualms about telling you that."
He sat stiffly. "That opinion will change."
"And you're hopelessly idealistic, too," she sneered. "I suggest you start shaping up now or I might feel inclined to reopen your face."
His mouth twitched. The gash on his right cheek had been shallow, but it still wasn't completely healed over.
"Tell me, Kenobi," she said in a soft, dangerous voice, "if I were to kiss you, what would you do?"
"I would watch for your knife," he answered, this time without hesitation.
She raised an eyebrow. "Maybe there's hope for you yet. Follow me, and don't do anything stupid."
The equipment room wasn't very large, just big enough to contain every kind of exercise machine imaginable. He scanned the room, feeling somewhat lost. "How often do you come here?"
"I haven't been in this palace for five years." She motioned him over.
He was surprised, to put it mildly. It seemed she knew the building inside and out, from their long walk through the halls. I suppose she has a good memory.
"Topographical recall," she said, easing herself to a sitting position on one of the machines.
He blinked. "What? How did you do that?"
She looked straight at him. "In this job, forgetting a single detail can easily lead you to a slow and painful death." She smiled, seeming to imagine him meeting such a fate. "I can't read your mind, but that doesn't seem to matter as I don't have that hard of a time just reading your face. Now sit down, right there." She pointed to the machine beside hers. "I want to see your limits. Not that I expect much."
Although he had, in truth, spent the three years of his existence floating unconsciously in a tank, his muscles had been stimulated to develop by a device that released small amounts of electricity. Twice a day for half an hour, he had been getting exercise in that form for the past two years. But his wiry musculature was still somewhat lacking when it came to tasks such as this. So she wasn't surprised when he slackened off after a few minutes on the lowest setting, breathing heavily. The particular machine he was on was designed to exercise every major muscle group in the body, and she saw the sheen of sweat on his face.
"Stop," she ordered, and he relaxed. "That's good enough for now; we'll move on to something else."
Over the course of the morning, he discovered "something else" meant sparring lessons, working on his aim at the blaster range, throwing knives, and beginning to employ something she called the Force to communicate with her silently. He was given half an hour for lunch, then she plunged him into fencing, studying history, and memory enhancement techniques.
He had effectively been worked into complete exhaustion by the end of the day, and was beginning to drift off during the meditation when he received a sharp slap upside his right cheek, sending a fresh wave of pain through the itching slash on his face. Feeling as if the entire right side of his face was on fire, his eyes snapped open. Now fully awake, he put a hand to his cheek and stared up at her standing over him.
"You sleep when I tell you to," she growled. "Get up."
He stood, watching her apprehensively. She had struck hard enough for the bottom end of the slash to open again, and a small drop of blood trailed down his jaw.
"Do you remember everything you've done today?"
He nodded once, letting the trail of blood meander under his chin and slow to a stop.
"Good. You'll be doing this five days a week for three months. One day of the week you're going to learn piloting skills and general technology, and the last day will be yours if I'm satisfied with your effort. But if I'm not pleased, it'll be just like the other five days. Now go and have supper. I'm done with you for today." She left the room.
The window was left open, admitting the cool night air into the room. He shuddered, goosebumps raising along his arms, and went to close it.
It was cold. Howling wind blasted the jagged mountain ranges with swirling snow as the sky darkened, and a lone rider trotted across the landscape on a strange furred biped creature, searching desperately—
He stumbled backwards, the vision flashing out of his mind as fast as it had come.
But for all its obscurity, the vision had told him one thing. Go.
Go where? he wondered desolately.
Hoth.The name echoed, shadowing the brief vision.
His mind buzzed frantically with questions. Why was he supposed to go to Hoth? Who—or what—had sent him the vision? How was he to get there? When was he supposed to go?
And perhaps most importantly, how was he going to avoid a deadly confrontation with Mara Jade?
Fortunately, there was no sense of urgency about the vision. He knew, somehow, that he could bide his time, waiting for the opportune moment.
If one ever came.
It was time to leave; Vader sensed it. There was something driving him to investigate a particular corner of the known galaxy, and he knew precisely what that something was.
Luke Skywalker. The name of the boy he had seen just after striking down old Kenobi; the name of the boy that had connected and tapped into the Force, using only his instincts to obliterate the Death Star.
Skywalker. The name the boy had inherited from him, and all his power, uncontrolled as it was, had been present in Luke Skywalker as the boy had skimmed down the trench in a maneuver that had decided the fate of hundreds of thousands of Imperial men.
Luke Skywalker was, without a hint of doubt, his son. And Obi-Wan had hidden Luke from him.
Clever,thought Vader, recalling the information he had received pertaining to Luke's residence on Tatooine. But now the real Kenobi is dead and gone, only a shell existing in his place.
The Emperor had recognized his possible need for another Hand, and didn't wish to take the time to wait for a child to be raised accordingly. The technicians had assured them that even Force-sensitive clones never retained any memory beyond general linguistic and social function and the occasional mathematic skill. If Obi-Wan's clone hadn't fallen into those boundaries it would have been terminated at the first sign, but it had stayed in the limits, safely away from the original.
And that was fortunate; Vader held deep within him a fear of his former Master's reappearance, and had been relieved to have killed the old fool before a new heresy had risen.
Of course, there were still the Rebels. He had no doubts that the ragtag military band would be extinguished in due time. It was actually rather convenient that young Skywalker had signed up with them; now that Vader was receiving a few directional impulses of his son's location, he could effectively find a greater concentration of the Rebellion's leaders in one place.
And so the Executor left Imperial Center, four weeks after the clone's awakening, for the far reaches of the galaxy, with Darth Vader, hundreds of probe droids ready to dispatch, a full crew…and one stowaway.
Feedback, as usual, is welcomed with open arms. I and my partner-in-crime, Jandalf, would appreciate it very much.