Part II – Experience

Kenya Starflight

Rated PG for violence

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the middle part of the "Reborn" trilogy that begins with "Innocence." Unless you've read the first story of the trilogy you will probably be lost and confused, although this first chapter does hit the high points of that story.

Chapter 1

The meeting place chosen was a representation of the auditorium in the old Jedi Temple, a spacious room with a vaulted ceiling and the portraits of the greatest of Jedi watching over the occupants from the walls. Thousands of beings of every species, age, gender, and Jedi rank filled the vast chamber, from the youngest of Padawans to the most revered of the Jedi Council, and an excited murmur filled the air as old friends caught up with each other. Embraces and handshakes were exchanged, and the very youngest took advantage of the break before the meeting to play, chase each other around, or giggle over nothing.

Qui-gon Jinn smiled as he took a seat between Master Shaak Ti and an unfamiliar Ithorian Jedi. It had been so long since the Order had gathered like this – mostly because these assemblies only occurred when something monumental had to be discussed. The last time he'd been to one of these…

No. He didn't want to think about the last time. It was far too painful. Learning that the innocent boy he had rescued from a life of slavery had become the darkest of villains had broken his heart.

"What's going on?" he asked Shaak. They had been close friends at the Temple before his death, and she had often told him he would have been excellent as a member of the Jedi Council, if only to stir up the old conservatives with some of his radical ideas.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, Yoda's being difficult again."

Qui-gon's smile quirked with amusement. "How is that unusual?"

"What's unusual," she replied, frustrated, "is that before his stubbornness was only annoying. This time it could thwart the return of the Jedi Order."

He stared at her. "He's not refusing to train Luke, is he?"

She nodded as a hush came over the crowd. Three figures had stepped up to the podium. Mace Windu stood behind the lectern, as serene as ever, to officiate over this meeting.

Obi-wan stood at Windu's right, looking troubled. Ah, his young Padawan had matured into a fine Master. But his ordeal had aged him terribly, that much was obvious. Though he had to admire his courage – few Masters could see their apprentice fall to the dark side, live a life of exile on a desolate world, and browbeat a strong-headed youth into accepting his destiny without losing their minds entirely.

On Windu's left was Yoda, looking as spectral and transparent here as a deceased Jedi would look in the material plane. Qui-gon remembered his Master's Master with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. On one hand, he was without a doubt one of the greatest Jedi who ever lived, and his wisdom was usually highly valued. On the other hand, he had a reputation for being incredibly stubborn, unwilling to bend the rules or make exceptions for anyone or anything.

"This meeting will now come to order," Windu stated.

He might as well have said, "Let the debate begin." Everyone knew this meeting was really about whether or not to train Luke and retrain Anakin. Obi-wan had wanted that for three years, but Yoda, the only Jedi capable of carrying out that task, was set firmly against it.

"Ill-advised this is," Yoda said at once.

"Everything regarding the Skywalkers is ill-advised," muttered a Duros Padawan from somewhere behind Qui-gon. A few of the Jedi elders gave him disdainful glares.

"Too old Skywalker is to begin the training," Yoda went on. "Too impatient. Thirsts he does for adventure, excitement – a Jedi craves not these things. And Vader – dangerous he is. Too unpredictable an ally he would be."

"What choice do we have, Yoda?" asked Obi-wan. "The Skywalkers are our last hope."

"Anakin Skywalker no longer exists," Ki-Adi-Mundi cut in, "and his son shows no sign of improving on his father's example."

"Don't be so quick to judge," Qui-gon advised. "Both Luke and Anakin have behaved commendably for having so little knowledge of the Jedi way. Only a little coaching…"

"A little coaching?" repeated Plo Koon. "You can't cram twenty years of Jedi training into a mature mind with 'a little coaching.'"

Qui-gon sighed. This issue had the Jedi deeply divided, with most of the older, higher-ranking Jedi against the issue and most of the younger Jedi for it. Though there were exceptions – Yaddle, Shaak Ti, and Eeth Koth, all members of the Jedi Council, were among those who supported training the Skywalkers.

"What choice do we have?" demanded Aayla Secura. "Yoda's the last of the Jedi. The Empire's destroyed almost every Force-strong in the galaxy. The Sith grow stronger every day. The Skywalkers are our last hope. We have to train them."

"We do have another option," Coleman Traebor suggested. "Find a Force-strong child and transport him or her to Dagobah. Let Yoda train him or her from the ground up. Then we will have a true Jedi to resurrect the Order."

"Are you crazy?" retorted A'Sharad Hett. He began ticking off points against that idea on his fingers. "One, no mother is going to part with her offspring on the word of a Jedi ghost. Two, there's the matter of transportation – what pilot is going to take an unescorted child to an obscure wilderness world without payment? Three, by the time the kid's a Knight, Darth Sidious and Darth Kain will have grown too powerful for him or her to stop alone. And four, isn't Anakin Skywalker the one prophesied to overthrow the Sith? It doesn't make sense to send someone else to do the Chosen One's job for him."

A'Sharad's defense was unexpected but admirable. Qui-gon knew he hadn't gotten along with Anakin at all during their one mission together. But it seemed that A'Sharad was not going to let his personal feelings get in the way.

"Qui-gon's the one who assumed Anakin was the Chosen One, though there was no proof of it," Master Jocasta Nu shot back. "And he insisted the boy be trained against the express wishes of the Council…"

"Are you suggesting this is my fault?" asked Qui-gon, more amused than angry. He'd been blamed for many things, but the genocide of the Jedi Order was a new one.

"I'm suggesting that you should have been a little more careful," Master Nu replied. "You let your emotions overtake common sense regarding the boy. He was Force-strong, true, but conceived by the midichlorians? More likely his mother just didn't want to divulge his father's identity…"

"How can you deny that he's the Chosen One?" demanded a Wookie Jedi. "Even the Jedi elders agree that he is the one prophesied to balance the Force!"

"And no one person is to blame for Anakin's fall or the consequences of it," Shaak Ti defended. "We were all blind to the rising of the Sith, too proud to think we could be wiped out as they were destroyed a millennium ago."

"The Skywalkers are our last hope," Obi-wan added. "Yoda, surely you must see that."

Yoda scowled. "Very well. Trained the Skywalkers will be."

"Then it's decided," Windu declared. "Obi-wan, you will go to Hoth and tell Luke Skywalker that he and Vader must report to Dagobah. Yoda, you will await their arrival."

It was a solemn and rather divided Jedi Order that departed that meeting.

The eternal winters of Hoth raged on as bone-chilling winds blasted through the open shield doors of the Echo Base. The Rebels bustled about in the tunnels and caverns of their new home, installing equipment or unloading supplies from the docked freighters. Others worked on the snowspeeders and droids, trying to winterize them so they could run optimally in Hoth's subzero climate. Though hardly the most comfortable of hiding places, it was home – the first permanent home many of them had known in three long years.

Over the clank and whirr of machinery came a very non-mechanical bawl as two scouts entered the cavern. Because none of the base's transports were up to speed yet, groundcrew had assumed the very unlikely and undignified role of stablehands. Two of them now darted forward to take the reins of the scouts' tauntauns.

Han Solo dropped down from his steed's back, his exposed nose and mouth red from the biting winds outside. "Ah, the joys of living on Hoth!" he exclaimed with a healthy note of sarcasm, throwing back his furred hood and pulling off his goggles.

"There are joys?" asked a Togruta mechanic skeptically, pulling the shaggy, bleating snow-lizard off toward the stable caverns.

"What, you don't like tossing tauntaun fodder and shoveling manure?" asked Han with a good-natured laugh.

"Right," the mechanic replied sarcastically. "Loads of fun. Especially when the Rogues decide to have a dung fight."

At that moment a blob of snow smashed into the side of Han's face. He wiped the offending matter away and looked around furiously for the culprit. He didn't have to search long – almost immediately booming metallic laughter betrayed the identity of his attacker.

"All right Darth, you asked for it!" Han shouted, grabbing a chunk of ice.

Darth Vader, still astride his mount, was doubled over the pommel of his saddle with laughter. His mask was limed with frost and fog billowed from the vents of his mask like smoke. Though he towered over most of the Rebels even on foot and his fearsome helmet still startled many, his presence was a welcome sight.

"C'mon, Han, I think you look good in white… hey!" he yelped as Han's snowball struck him in the forehead.

"You started it," Han told him.

"So I did." The former Dark Lord dismounted and let a young Sakiyan woman lead the beast away. "Where's Luke?"

"Off checking out a meteor impact," Han replied.

"Hoth's major imports – space rock and Rebels," Vader noted.

"Well, if it hadn't been for you Rogues, we never would have found this hideout."

"It was Luke more than anything. He's a fine leader."

The smuggler and cyborg headed deeper into the main hangar, toward a shining red N-1 fighter and a crumbling gray freighter in deep disrepair, still discussing their friend. What a twisted sense of humor fate had to throw three such widely dissimilar beings together – a Corellian mercenary, a Force-strong flying ace, and an amnesiac Sith-turned-Rebel.

It had been three years since Vader's ship had crashed near the Yavin base after the Death Star's destruction. Luke had discovered him, wounded and his memory shattered, and taken him back to the base. At first everyone had detested having an Imperial in their midst, but as first Han and then Rogue Squadron had gradually accepted him, their distrust had faded. And when he'd come to the Rebellion's aid during the assault on the Massassi base – even when suspected of treason and murder – any doubts of his loyalty had been erased.

"Chewie, how's it coming?" Han shouted.

From atop the Falcon poured a tirade of irate Wookie tongue as Chewbacca let him know exactly how things were coming.

"All right, don't lose your temper!" Han protested. "I'll go report and then come back and help you!"

"So will I," Vader assured him.

Chewie grumbled and went back to his work.

Han ducked into the command center. Vader stooped to follow him and was interrupted by a loudly familiar voice.

"Where the stang have you been?!"

"Good evening, Dr. Forenze," he greeted, straightening and turning.

The Fosh medical officer glowered up at him, a faint blue undertone to her white skin. Ice crystals glittered in her feathered crest, and a heavy navy-blue parka added considerable bulk to her slight frame. Her baggy dark green pants had been tucked into her fur-lined brown boots, and thick black gloves encased her claw-like fingers. Even under all that padding, though, she shivered. And Vader knew that when Forenze was uncomfortable, she made sure everyone knew it with a good tongue-lashing.

"What's the matter?" she demanded, pulling her parka more snugly around her. "Don't have time to greet old friends anymore?" She gave an exaggerated shudder. "Chaos, I'm deep-freezing here! Couldn't we establish a base on Tatooine?"

He laughed. "I take it you're used to tropical climes?"

"Just 'cause you don't seem to feel the elements under that mask of yours," she growled. "Well, go give your report. Don't mind poor old me."

"Ah, I haven't got anything to report. Snow, wind, glaciers, rocks, the usual. I'll walk with you to the med center."

"Oh good. You can help me unpack our latest shipment."

"I knew there was a reason you wanted me," Vader teased, following her. "Free labor."

She chuckled as they walked through the icy tunnels. Vader and the rest of the Rogues had discovered these natural caverns in the ice on a scouting mission, and High Command had chosen them as the new headquarters of the Alliance. Though they had yet to thoroughly explore the entire network of caves, almost all personnel had been transferred here. High Command itself would arrive in a few days to make the move official.

"What's that smell?" asked Forenze, wrinkling her beaklike face. "Is that you?"

"Anyone who works around tauntauns picks up their scent."

"Don't I know." She kicked something large and hairy on her way into the med center.

Vader stared, nonplussed, at the dead tauntaun dumped haphazardly on the med center's usually pristine floor. "What's this?"

"Oh, folks down at the stables thought we needed to redecorate," Forenze quipped. Her joking smile became a grimace. "Someone found it dead and dragged it here for an autopsy. Like I don't have enough to do."

"Please tell me this isn't the 'shipment' you needed cleared up," Vader said unenthusiastically.

"Shipment's right there," she replied, pointing to a single crate on the examining table.

He pried open the box and began sorting through shreds of packing material. There were several bottles of some clear drug, hypodermic needles, and various pieces of unusual equipment that he'd never come across before. "What is all this?"

"Just a little something our boys in the scrounging department picked up in the Hapes cluster," she replied casually. "Meant for lung operations."

Vader turned to stare at her. "You mean…"

"I mean." She picked up a bottle and swiftly transferred it to an insulated cabinet to prevent it from freezing. "Once I have the equipment installed – which will take a day or two, mind – we can get rid of that mask forever."

His heart leapt. At last – at long last – he could shed the last of his armor. He could be free of the shadow of his past once and for all!

"Dr. Forenze!" someone shouted down the hall.

"What now?" she demanded.

"Dack and Hobbie were clowning around in the stables and got kicked! Dack's broken some ribs and we think Hobbie's shoulder might be out of socket! We need a medic quick!"

"Oh for the love of…" She grabbed a medpack and headed for the door. "Talk to you later, Vader. Is there never a break in this madhouse…"

Vader couldn't keep a smile off his face as he packed away the rest of the crate's contents. After three years, his patience had paid off. His transition from Imperial war criminal to Rebel soldier would soon be complete.

As he stepped out of the med center, shouting rang through the hallway. He ducked behind a corner to listen.

"Afraid I was going to leave you without a goodbye kiss?" came Han's voice, angrily taunting.

"I'd just as soon kiss a Wookie!" he heard Leia retort indignantly.

"I can arrange that!" Han retorted hotly.

The smuggler stormed past Vader's hiding place, his anger so tangible it nearly melted the walls. Concerned, Vader slipped after him.

"You could use a good kiss!" Han shouted.

"Thank you for the offer, but I'll pass," Vader replied.

Han whirled. "What the… oh, it's you."

"She's rather pretty, isn't she?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, Han, your voice could carry to your own funeral."

"Okay, she's attractive," Han replied grudgingly, storming toward the Falcon. "And as cold as this planet." He grabbed a roll of crating tape and two frayed wires that dangled out of an open panel like dead snakes.

"For one thing, Han, jury-rigging the hyperdrive isn't going to repair it," Vader told him, plucking the wires from his grasp. "And for another thing, what was all the yelling about this time?"

"Her Worship just has undisclosed feelings toward me," Han replied with a smug grin.

"In love with you and in denial, eh? I notice it's made your head swell considerably."

"C'mon, you should've heard us! She proclaimed her true feelings toward me."

"A princess and a guy like you?" Vader demanded, unconvinced. "Besides, I did hear you. The whole base hears you when you go at it. Do you actually enjoy screaming at each other? Because it seems to happen every day now."

"She must enjoy it, because she keeps coming back for more."

"Do you enjoy it?"

Here Han hesitated.

"Ah, who's got the undisclosed feelings now?" teased Vader.

"Doesn't matter," Han replied brusquely. "I'm leaving anyhow, so no more shouting matches or…"

That caught Vader completely off guard. "You're leaving?"

"That's why Leia went overboard." Han picked up a spanner and began banging on a power coupling. "Can't stand to let me go, I guess. But if I don't pay off Jabba soon, I'm a dead man."

Vader could think of a million reasons why Han should forget Jabba and stay with the Rebellion. But all he could ask was "When?"

"Soon as the Falcon's ready."

"In that case, you'll be here forever."

"I mean as soon as we can get her off the ground, smart-aleck." Apparently satisfied, he slammed the panel shut. "Either tonight or tomorrow morning."

Vader was silent awhile. He knew Han to have a brave and loyal heart, but sometimes his mercenary mindset just got in the way. As long as he'd known the pirate he'd heard him bluster and carry on about leaving, but he'd been confidant that Han would remain with the Alliance. But now Han was going… and Vader was about to lose one of his closest friends.

"We'll miss you, Han."

Han glanced up in surprise. "You're not going to give me a guilt trip or yell at me to stay?"

"Why should I? You've obviously made up your mind. And it's not fair to force you to serve the Rebellion – no one should fight for a cause involuntarily. You're good in a fight and Luke and I'll hate losing you, but I wish you the best of luck."

"Thanks," Han replied, smiling.

"Hey," Vader told him, good-naturedly punching his shoulder. "You'll always have a place here."

"I know."

"So how can I help you get the Falcon off the ground?"

"Go topside with Chewie. Help him work out the mess groundcrew made of the shields."

Chewie bellowed.

"I agree," Vader replied. "It wasn't groundcrew, it was you, Han."

"Hey, don't go there!" Han retorted.

Half a galaxy away, six Stardestroyers cruised through space, starlight gleaming on their massive wedge-shaped hulls. Slightly behind them, like a mother rancor keeping a watchful eye on her cubs, was their flagship, a juggernaut that dwarfed even the largest of the other ships. Silent, eerie, ferociously beautiful, and ruthlessly lethal, the Executor was without a doubt the finest ship ever to be admitted into the Imperial fleet.

Darth Kain hated it.

He stared out the huge viewports that dominated the bridge, hands clenched behind his back, his gaze roving over the blackness of space and the stars scattered over it like so many jewels. He detested this gargantuan hulk of a ship, itself a symbol of the Empire's excessiveness. His own ship, the Slave, might not be a suitable show of force toward the Rebellion, but it was his preferred method of travel.

But Sidious commanded him to take the Executor on his assault on the new Rebel base. And he would comply with his master's wishes. There was no alternative.

The artificial lights of the bridge gleamed on his sable armor and silver T-slit visor, and the continuing cycle of processed air stirred his jet-black cloak ever so slightly. Kain was a silent, foreboding figure, surrounded by an aura of deadly force. As a Sith Apprentice and the right-hand man of Emperor Palpatine, he was certainly not one to be trifled with. Even his men gave him a generous berth.

In a former life he'd gone by a different name, shunned a title or cause of any sort, and lived only for the next hunt. A bounty hunter garbed in his father's armor and flying his father's ship, Boba Fett had been regarded as the best of his kind – scum, yes, but high-vintage scum. But he'd been untrusting of his own emotions, locking away his pain and anger, maintaining a soulless front. That had been a grave weakness, Kain realized.

Now Boba Fett was dead, and Darth Kain took his place. Instead of banishing his rage, he reveled in it, letting it fuel the dark side of the Force.

Some might have found it ironic that he, a clone, a manufactured human, was also an artificial Force-sensitive, gaining access to the dark side through frequent transfusions of midichlorian-rich blood. He found it appropriate. No roll of the chance cubes had decided his destiny. He had been hand-selected by the Emperor to carry out his will and serve as the second half of the Sith Order.

Restlessly he paced before the viewport like a caged beast. The probe droids hadn't reported back yet, but soon – very soon – information would come back. Information on the location of the Rebel base – and the last of the cursed Jedi. At long last he would have revenge for his father's death. And at last he would be able to deliver Skywalker to his master.

He turned and strode back to his quarters. While he waited, he might as well ready himself. He was about due for another transfusion anyhow.