And here it is - the conclusion to this story. Thanks for reading this far! I hope you enjoy it.
Brother, Mine (7)"Well, Polembara?" Lila askes. "What are you going to do now?" She always calls me 'Polembara." In her language, which I was slowly mastering at the time she first decided to name me, it means 'wanderer.' It is a play on the sound of my name.
"Why not just call me 'Lonehm?' I'd retorted. "Lonehm" means "lost one'.
"No," she'd said firmly. "You are 'Polembara'." "How about 'Sarjan'?" I'd persisted, partly showing off my newfound language skills, and partly, I have to admit, playfully trying to find out what she thought of me. 'Sarjan' meant 'deep thinker' or 'thoughtful one.'
"Kati sarja, you mean," she'd countered, making me blush a little. 'Kati sarja,' I knew, meant something like 'lacking wisdom'. In other words, 'clueless'.
"Touché," I'd muttered in my own language, lacking the word for it in hers. "How about 'Lambaki'?" It was a word that referred to a disorderly pile of clothes.
She had laughed at that one, and I had glowed from the pleasure of having made her laugh. "No," Lila had said with finality. "You are Polembara." And Polembara I became on her world, ever after. It's a nice name. I like the way it tickles when she murmurs it in my ear.
What are you going to do now, Polembara?
"What do you mean, what am I going to do now?" I'm a little confused. Apparently I haven't been paying full attention to the conversation. I've been gazing at her, simply and purely happy to be sitting next to her in this green clearing, watching the sun create art with the highlights in her hair. I've never been so happy to see anyone. It's odd; it's as though I had lost her and now I am seeing her again for the first time. And yet everything around me seems normal. We are in a familiar place – the small clearing in the woods that begin just beyond the bottom of the garden – and I know that we have been sitting here talking for a long time. She looks very serious. She isn't teasing at all.
"Now that your quest has ended. What now?"
"My quest?" I'm still confused, and I don't like the feeling of apprehension that is gathering around the edges of my consciousness. I'm beginning to feel worried and I don't know why.
"Yes, Polembara. You always have lived in the past, or the future. Never here, now. Never with me. Not really."
Her voice sounds so sad. I am so sad. She's right, of course. I have lingered here for more than two standard years – longer than I have lived anywhere since the beginning of the dark times. And yet, as much as I love this place, this forgotten little world of hers, and yes, her, I have never allowed myself to really settle here and to become a part of it. I'm always poised for flight; ready to move on at a moment's notice. Ready to run.
The dark times….
The anxious feeling grows stronger. Why is she so serious? Why are we both sad? I feel there's something that I ought to remember, but I don't know what it is. Well, I don't want to know what it is. I want desperately to be with Lila. I turn my attention back to her and look straight into her far-seeing eyes, but to my dismay they seem to be fading. She seems to be disappearing.
What are you going to do now, Polembara?"
"Lila!" I gasp. "Don't go!" I reach out to grasp her hand, to hold onto her, and a searing pain in my shoulder and arm yanks me back to a place that is as unexpected as it is dismaying. It is dim, the walls are a dull metallic grey, and I seem to be lying on a hard slab of some kind. My shoulder is throbbing with pain. I am momentarily completely at a loss.
"If it hurts you're not dead, Poulin. Now get up," my old Master's voice says distinctly in my head, and all at once I wake up and remember.
I was the one who left her. I left Lila. For this. It hurts. So I'm not dead. I take stock. Having gotten something from me, it appears that Vader couldn't even be bothered to kill me himself, which could only mean that he's left the job to his minions to carry out whenever they get around to it. Again, he has provided me with a bitter lesson in humility. I'm not only deeply offended; I'm disappointed. I had prepared myself to die at his hands. I had not prepared myself to be tossed out onto the Empire's slag heap.
I try to sit up and groan out loud from the effort. With my trained healer's fingers I carefully probe all the places on my body that hurt, and come away puzzled about the partial patch job that seems to have been done on me. My collarbone has been set and stabilized in a rudimentary way, but there's a huge lump over my cheekbone and I can feel the spongy texture of swollen tissue around it. That hurts, too. The application of a little bacta on my face at the same time the bone was set would have gone a long way toward reducing the swelling, but apparently that wasn't done.
I'm completely disoriented. I don't know how I got here or how long I have been unconscious. I don't even know where "here" is – all these Imperial ships look more or less alike. I could be on any one of them, on my way anywhere.
Taking a deep breath, I prepare to reach out with the Force to explore my surroundings. I don't particularly want to. All things considered I'd prefer to retreat back into unconsciousness, or better yet, go back to dreaming about Lila. But I know I must. The living, I was taught, have an obligation to carry on as best they can. No matter what.
Reluctantly I stretch out my awareness and search the ship. Vader isn't here. His distinctive, Force-warping presence is gone, but the ship I'm on is abuzz with haste and anxiety. Something is happening; I have the sense of preparation, of getting ready for something, and yes, of fear. Maybe we're heading into battle. I look around the sparse chamber in which I find myself. It looks more like a vestibule than a holding cell, with large, wide doors at both ends and benches along the walls. I'm sitting on one of them, holding my head in one hand while my other arm remains tucked against my ribs to ease the throbbing in my shoulder.
Once I spent a miserable season working as a healer in a remote mining colony, under conditions so primitive that seriously injured workers had to be shipped off-planet for medical care. My job was to patch them up for transport – to stabilize anything that needed it, but to leave the in-depth care to others. It suddenly occurs to me that I have been dealt with in the same way. I've been patched up in a rush for transport. But where to?
I don't have long to wait. One of the large doors thunders open, and at the same time the lights in my vestibule brighten to a blinding glare. Blinking while my eyes struggle to adjust, instead of the expected contingent of Stormtroopers, I encounter the wholly unexpected sight of the same disdainful, grey-uniformed officer who personally delivered me to Vader. To my utter surprise, he is alone. Not surprisingly, he is armed with a vicious-looking blaster, and it is aimed at me.
He stops just outside of the vestibule and activates something on a control panel. I just have time to glimpse an empty, featureless corridor behind him before the far door of the vestibule opens onto what looks like the interior of a ship of some kind. Now I start to balk. I feel helpless and vulnerable and very, very rebellious.
"What is this? Where am I being taken?" I demand to know, but the officer ignores me. Instead he gives me a hard shove with his hand in the direction of the ship, and when I don't move right away he grabs my arm and begins to pull. I obey instantly to avoid blacking out from the jarring pain his grip awakens in my shoulder.
Once I have stumbled onto the waiting ship I stop walking in confusion. My half-blinded eyes must be deceiving me. There, like an apparition, is my smuggler/pilot.
The officer shoves me into the ship's loading bay so hard that I almost fall. Once again the small man grabs me with his wiry strength to steady me. Mercifully it's my good arm this time. The outer hatch slams shut behind us. The pilot secures the inner hatch while I stand shakily by, and then he pushes me firmly, yet a great deal more gently than the solider had, though a narrow gangway into the vessel's small cockpit. I stumble into the seat he indicates, cradling my throbbing arm in the other. He sits down in the pilot's seat to begin his pre-flight checks.
"Where to?" he asks after a while, breaking into my silent confusion.
"What do you mean?" I croak. Apparently I haven't used my voice for a while. Again, I wonder how long I have been unconscious. He doesn't look up, but continues with what he was doing.
"I've been well-paid to take her wherever yer want ter go, as long as it's not in the Core. As far out as possible, actually."
I stare at him. He glances up at me.
"Looks like he wants yer alive, but he doesn't want to have to look at yer."
Anywhere you want to go.
I look out the viewscreen, which overlooks the busy flight deck of an Imperial Starcruiser, but I'm not really seeing the scene below me. I see only the vast, empty Galaxy spread out before me.
When I don't respond my companion goes back to his cross checks. "No matter," he says affably. "Don't' need ter make the final choice for a while yet."
"You're all right!" I exclaim suddenly.
"Aye." Apparently he can be as infuriatingly taciturn as I can, when he wants to be.
"You know him?" I'm scrambling to make sense of it. "You work for Vader?"
My pilot grins at the console. "I stay outta his way. I do what he asks. I make sure I don't irritate him. An' he lets me be." He glances at me sideways. "I knew him when, yer see."
The glance is just a flicker out of the corner of his eyes, but I feel the intention behind it like a ripple of wind in the Force. It is a question.
"So did I," I admit.
He turns to study me openly, his pale eyes searching my face and my shabby clothes and, presumably, my injuries. I sit quietly, allowing his scrutiny, while I wait for my reeling thoughts to settle.
I've been paid well to take you wherever you want to go.
It appears that I am to remain alive a little longer.
"Didn't know he had any friends," the little man says dryly.
We stare at one another, my pilot-chauffeur and I. While I puzzle about why Vader didn't simply do away with me, I suspect that my shrewd companion is wondering, more to the point, what I offered that Vader needed.
Anakin was my friend, and I was his. And long ago, even before the dark times began, he had said goodbye to me – as though deep down, in some secret part of him, he had known what was to come. He had pushed me away to keep me safe, I suppose. And while Vader seems to have done the same thing, I no longer have any illusions about him. I don't imagine that he would give me another chance after this. Still, we are forever linked by a shared past that seems, in some small way, to be alive in him still. That is what I brought him. A glimpse of his past. Of who he once was.
It pleases me to think that our encounter was as painful for him as it was for me.
"Oh, I'm no friend of his," I say decidedly. "I'm more like … family. The kind you're embarrassed by and keep locked away in a faraway place so no one will see." Quite suddenly, the thought strikes me as funny, and my face creases into the unaccustomed shape that precedes laughter; but it hurts, and I wince instead. "Ow." Gingerly I touch the puffy flesh around my eye and on my throbbing cheek.
"Looks like yer irritated him," my pilot remarks blandly.
"That I did." I wonder why it is so easy to speak to this stranger about the darkest, blackest secret of my heart – my connection with Vader. I wonder why, even though my face and shoulder hurt horribly, my heart feels eased.
What are you going to do now, Polembara?
Lila's voice echoes in my head. Lila. Wise and witty Lila, who captured a wanderer with her laughter and brought him home to rest. I wonder … I wonder … would she have me back?
"How about Bahura?" I suggest. "It's on the way to the Ssi-Ruuh cluster. Do you suppose that's far enough away?"
"Aye." My pilot shrugs. "It can be." Then, boldly, "What's there?"
"A woman," I say, wanting to smile again, but I am more careful this time.
"Oh, aye," he nods sagely. "She'll not be wantin' yer lookin' like that, yer know." He nods his head toward the rear of the cockpit. "There's bacta in the 'fresher back there."
I nod, profoundly grateful for the simple ordinariness of our conversation. I'm just rising from my seat when he stops me.
"I almost forgot. This was left fer yer." He holds out my rucksack. My ancient, shabby, beloved rucksack. I plop straight back into my seat and stare at it. "Go on," he urges when I don't move. "Take it. And stay there. We're in a hurry. I'm supposed ter get yer outta here before this ship reaches the fleet or the deal's off an' I don't get paid."
I reach out with my good arm for the bag and clutch it to my chest, as though it could ward off the cold chills that are beginning to travel down my spine.
"Why? What's on the fleet?" My pilot tosses his data pad aside and reaches over to buckle me into my seat. He signals the ground crew, and begins to maneuver the PellMell into takeoff position.
"Not what," he corrects me. "Who." The vast hangar doors open ahead of us. "His boss is there," he explains succinctly, squinting straight ahead and then back at his controls.
It's all I need to know.
Before I can reply he hits the accelerator and the little ship hurtles toward the stars like a stone hurled from a catapult. My stomach flattens against my spine and it's all I can do to keep breathing. It seems that my pilot is getting very well paid indeed because he has pulled out all the stops for this takeoff. I watch the controls to see the ships of the Imperial task force grow smaller and smaller.
Your light shines too brightly, Vader had said. So he'd scooped me up and flung me as far away from him as he could. It was all he could do. The rest is up to me.
Once the ship stops accelerating I breathe a deep, deep sigh. I want to head off to the fresher to do what I can with some bacta and maybe a bit of temporary strapping for my arm until I can go into a healing trance. But before I do, I can't resist rummaging in my rucksack to see what might have been taken.
To my surprise, everything seems to be there. My few personal items. All of my journals. Even a change of clothing. My fingers scrabble all the way to the bottom of the bag and close around something rounded and hard and smooth. I draw it out slowly. Even this is still here. It's the egg-shaped piece of polished obsidian that Lila had given to me when I first had told her about my recurring dreams. I carried it everywhere with me.
I turn the glassy, smooth, black rock over and over in my fingers, and then stop. Something is different. I turn it over again and hold it closer to the light. There, faint, but so distinct that my fingers had discovered the difference in texture, was a long crack running through the stone. A crack that I know had not been there before.
"How long to our destination?" I ask my pilot. "More 'n two days. I'm keepin' outta the main traffic lanes." He glowers at me. "No more unplanned stops."
"No more," I promise. "It's over."
He stares at me speculatively, taking in my cryptic comment, and then abruptly holds out his hand as though we are being introduced for the first time. "Keinan Pell," he says. "At yer service."
I grasp his hand warmly in mine, and this time I manage a lumpy grin. "Poulin Brith." I think I'm going to enjoy this journey. I have a few stories to tell.The End