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You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked;
For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together.
And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.
------------------ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Finding Darth Vader is a lot harder than most people might think.
Not that anyone in his right mind would want to attract the Dark Lord's notice. In fact, most sentient beings in the Galaxy want to avoid it at all costs. Vader serves as the universal fiend of the Empire – the supernatural creature that is said to be everywhere and anywhere, and from whom no one feels safe.
His is the dark shape that people expect to see when they look over their shoulders at night.
He is the demon that parents conjure to frighten their children into behaving.
Throughout the Galaxy so many incidents, so many events are attributed to Vader personally that he would have to be omnipotent to be behind them all. And many believe that he is. The idea of Vader, as much as the actual man – if he is a man – darkens the Galaxy from one side to the other.
But actually finding him? That's another story entirely. He could be anywhere. He certainly doesn't announce his itinerary; surprise visits on his unfortunate victims are a major part of the mythos that surrounds him. Even if you did happen to be in the same part of the Galaxy and wanted to seek him out, unless you were part of a very small military or ruling elite, you'd have to get through a vast army just to get close to him. And any criminal or political prisoner or informant who is noteworthy enough to attract the laser beam of Vader's personal attention is still more likely to be dealt with by his subordinates than to fall into the hands of Vader himself.
So no matter what the Galaxy's populace believes, the odds are very small that someone like Vader would pay the slightest attention to any old insignificant speck of life in the Galaxy. Like me, for instance.
But now I need to find him. The real Vader, not the myth.
I don't expect it to be an adventure from which I will escape alive. But since it was Vader who shattered my life in the first place, dying by his hand would at least imbue all those lost years with a kind of poetic symmetry.
"Hey you!" an impatient voice yells from somewhere behind me. "Are yer boarding, or what?"
One of the consequences of spending too much time alone and silent is that your thoughts and memories tend to take over, so that separating them from reality takes a bit of effort. This time, the sharp voice together with the sting of wind-blown sand on my face brings me very quickly back to the here and now.
I had tied a ragged strip of cloth over my eyes to protect them from the midday glare of this obscure desert planet's twin suns. Now, in the sudden beginnings of a sandstorm, I am grateful for the makeshift protection. I can't see much through the narrow slit I had left open, but it doesn't really matter. There isn't much to see. And I always can rely on the Force to guide me.
"Coming," I call, into a stiff gust of wind that rips my voice into even more of a croak. I tend to use words sparingly. Only what is needed, when it is needed. It's so much safer that way.
I hurry. I'm fortunate to have found a way off this desolate, overheated rock at all.
It has taken me nearly a week to find transport to the Yavin system. Almost no one is conducting business as usual. After the destruction of Alderaan, much traffic throughout the Galaxy, even the illicit traffic, has come to a standstill while its denizens pause to overcome their shock and grief and to reassess their beliefs about the state of their universe.
This vessel's pilot and owner is most likely a smuggler – there are few other reasons why someone without official business there would be willing to give me passage anywhere near an Imperial stronghold; especially one that has seen a great deal of activity recently. There even have been rumors of a visit by the Emperor himself. And when the Emperor ventures abroad, he rarely appears without his mighty fist. So of course, that is where I have decided to begin my quest for an audience with Vader.
But Imperial troops need diversion just like anyone else, and diversion comes in many forms, legal and illegal. Smugglers make a good living meeting such otherwise unmet needs, and so after of days of careful enquiries and more mind tricks than I care to admit to using, I lucked into passage on a small, anonymous cargo ship piloted by a man whose bravery and insouciance I am beginning to admire, never mind how he makes his living. In my experience, simply remaining alive in this oppressive Galaxy seems miraculous. I endeavor not to judge those who succeeded not only in surviving, but also in thriving, for their methods.
But since I also don't actually believe in miracles, I secured my good luck with 15,000 Imperial Credits – all the money I had remaining in the world. I don't mind in the least. If I succeed in my quest, if I find Vader, my need for material goods will no doubt be over. If for some reason I fail in my quest, I will go back to being a survivor and obtain what I need, as I always have. It is of little importance to me.
Head down against the cutting, windblown sand I make my way to the open gangplank of the small, innocuous-looking cargo vessel, where the pilot/owner awaits me impatiently. At the last moment a particularly vicious gust of wind catches me as though I was a sail and pushes me aside. The pilot throws out a lightning-fast hand to help me find my feet, and then hauls me rather unceremoniously on board. For a small man, and not a young one at that, he is surprisingly strong.
I nod my thanks and begin to unwind the frayed layers of cloth with which I had wrapped my head and neck. In the process I leave piles of gritty sand everywhere on the grimy floor. The pilot is busy shaking out his own cloak, and doesn't seem to mind. Still, his eyes, so very, very pale in his creased, suntanned face, seem to take in everything about me. My ragged clothing. My simple luggage – a single rucksack that I carry over my shoulder. The fact that I don't carry a weapon. I haven't carried one since… well, since the day my life as a Jedi ended.
Apparently satisfied that I don't pose an immediate threat, my pilot indicates that I should take the seat next to his in the cockpit, and after that he ignores me completely while he busies himself with the pre-flight checks. It is something I'm accustomed to. I work hard to leave little impression wherever I go.
Without a job to do, I sit quietly by his side and allow my thoughts to return to the treacherous landscape of my past.
The Order that had been my family and my home has long since vanished into the realm of myth. The best, the bravest, the brightest lights in the Force all have been extinguished, and with their passing and with the passing of the Jedi Order, a suffocating murkiness in the Force gradually has crept over the Galaxy. But the struggle to live with that gloom is nothing compared to the sheer, breathtaking loneliness of being the only one of your kind.
All the great Jedi are long gone. And yet here I am – still alive, after nearly twenty years of stumbling around in that lonely obscurity. Despite my unending search for other survivors, I had come to the conclusion that that only one other remained from that bright, golden time – Vader – and that he is as lost to me as the Order itself.
He was my friend once. Then he destroyed everything that was good, and true, and bright in my life.
So of course, however nonexistent I might be – must be – to Vader, he never has been far from my thoughts. Throughout all my years of rootless wandering, he has been the dark heart of my inner universe – that lingering image that never goes away. The magnet for my idlest thoughts and speculations. A pernicious obstacle in my meditations. A constant presence in my dreams.
My obsession, I suppose.
Because of Vader I have lived my life isolated in a shadow world between what might have been and what will never be.
And yet, because we are both Jedi, or were, I no more can dismiss him or cast him aside than I could separate myself from the Force, from the act of creation that forged us both. For all these lost years, he has been the closest thing I have to a family. The only one who is even remotely like me, or who might share even a little of my history and a few of my memories. Certainly he is the only one left who might understand who I am, and what I was meant to be. He is, in a very real sense, my brother.
I have long thought of Vader as the distant shadow that I – the invisible, the nonexistent – nonetheless cast. In turn, I imagine myself as an unseen specter that haunts him.
Do I haunt him? Do we all?
Sometimes I wonder, in the privacy of my relentless solitude, whether Vader senses that I am still here. Vader is powerful now – more powerful than any Jedi I had ever known. And with so few bright lights remaining in the Force, it ought to be easy enough to find one that shines with the clarity of a Jedi's presence. Perhaps, deep down, I wish for even that tenuous connection. But honoring faithfully the promise that I made to my Master that terrible night so many years ago, I have taken pains to remain hidden from him. To stay alive.
I often wondered why I had bothered.
Maybe this is why.
"What takes yer to the Yavin system? The pilot asks suddenly, breaking the silence after all. "There's not many that want to go that way. Not right now, anyway."
"Personal business," I say.
"Oh, aye?" He is clearly curious.
The act of Imperial terror that brought the Galaxy to a shocked halt had the opposite effect on me. It inflamed me. My past roared into life again, and even Lila's loving, steadying presence by my side wasn't enough to keep my demons at bay. I stopped ignoring the dreams, and dropped everything I was doing to rush back here to the planet that I had sworn I never would visit again. I left Lila while she was sleeping, lest she open her wise green eyes and understand what I was up to, and without hesitation I set out for that inhospitable rock that was, to my mind and heart, the furthest place from the dark center of the Galaxy.
Tatooine. I believed that it held everything in the Universe that was precious to me.
It was a difficult journey in the days immediately post-Alderaan, but not impossible for someone as determined as I was.
The shock and grief that had awakened me to action after the destruction of Alderaan returned full force when I learned that what I sought on Tatooine no longer was there. It took me a day, a whole precious day, to find my way back to the hut in the Jundland wastes. It felt empty. It was empty.
It took me another day to return to Mos Eisley, and then a few hours to trace the boy back to a desolate moisture farm somewhere far on the outskirts. Half a day's journey later, I stood before a burned-out wreck and fought against the worst despair I had experienced since the destruction of the Temple.
Was he still alive? Were they both?
I spent the night out there in the ruins of the shattered homestead. By the time I had found it the twin suns were too close to setting for me to find my way back to the shelter of a settlement. Two suns set more slowly than a single sun, but set, they would. My last act in the long dusk of that disappointing day was to bury carefully the charred remains of two humans that I found on the site, and to send them on their way with the Meditation of Transition. I comforted myself with the certainty, formed after careful study of the remains, that the boy was not one of them.
Mindful of the desert's nighttime predators, I dug my way down into the home below the surface. The further down I went, the less destruction there was. While the power generators had been blasted into nothing, with the aid of my portable light I found some dried food and stored water in the living quarters where I eventually settled myself. Down there in the dry, musty air I was completely cut off from the world outside; I couldn't even hear the desert's normal night sounds. Without fear I settled myself into that barren entombment, and to sleep. I knew the dream would find me again – and perhaps, it would show me what to do next.
Of course the dream found me, as I had known it would. Its imagery was more compelling than ever. And so here I am, looking for Vader. Or more to the point, I have to make sure that he finds me. That will be the real trick, because I have successfully avoided being found since the last days of the Purge.
Personal business, indeed.
"Do yer have a name?" the pilot asks with the cautious courtesy of those who live on the fringes. Once again his voice returns me abruptly to the present. He isn't demanding a reply; he's just giving me the opportunity for conversation. I suppose he is prompting me to tell my story. It is a journey of many hours to our destination, with little to do for entertainment.
But I don't have a story to tell. How can you have a story when you don't exist?
I barely had reached my eighteenth year and I still was a Padawan learner when my Master suddenly called me to him in the middle of the night, shoved some Republic Credits and forged travel documents into my hands, and made me change into civilian clothing right then and there. He took away my Jedi robes – even my comfortable and familiar boots. He took away my lightsaber. And then, to my utter horror, he cut off my Padawan braid. There was no ceremony. There was no audience. And there certainly was no Knighthood. Nor would there ever be.
I know he just had wanted to save me. But he might as well have cut out my heart.
The memory of our last conversation is more vivid to me than the ship in whose sagging co-pilot's seat I now sit.
"You must forget that you were ever a Jedi, Poulin Brith."
"But M-Master!" I'd stammered, as I tended to do in times of stress, "what am I supposed to do now?"
"Live, Poulin," he had said gently. So gently. "You are supposed to live."
For seventeen years after Master Medulla hugged me goodbye and pushed me away I tried to do as he had asked, creating new identities wherever I wandered, re-inventing myself over and over again just to survive. Three years ago I stumbled onto the real truth of my existence on Tatooine, and after that I stopped trying to force my life into any shape at all. Now I am defined only by what I am not.
(You must forget that you ever were a Jedi.)
"No, I don't have a name," I lie.
(Jedi don't lie.)
My pilot shrugs. I'm sure he has known many men like me. Men who try hard not to leave a trace of themselves anywhere. "Suit yerself," he says amicably. But it's clear that he still wants to talk, because he shifts the topic to something more neutral – politics, and the Alderaani holocaust. He asks the question that has become common currency throughout the known Galaxy, the expected, even required, opening to any kind of social interaction: "Where were yer when yer heard about Alderaan?"
It is unlikely that there is a soul remaining in the known universe that hasn't heard about it the Empire's willful, effortless destruction of a peaceful, prosperous, and influential planet.
"I was lost," I say.
The pilot continues to look at me curiously, but I'm through talking. I settle down into my seat and prepare for a long, silent journey. Eventually, reluctantly, he gives up and allows me the peace and privacy of my thoughts and memories.
They are my only home.
(to be continued…)