Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of George Lucas and Barbara Hambly. Long live the Flanneled One!

TOUCH

by Ambassador Cara Jade

Sometimes I forget I'm dead.

The few times I come to consciousness, I try to stretch my arms, and then it hits me: I have no arms.

Or legs.

Or eyes.

But I have the Force.

The Force can give me eyes when I wish to see. But it cannot give me hands to touch, nor legs to walk. I am a voluntary prisoner on this hellish ship, the Eye of Palpatine. My only company comes in dreams, long-distant memories.

In my dreams, I am far away, swimming in the cool, clear waters of my homeworld, Chad, unconcerned with the peril of the galaxy that would become so dear to my heart, so dear that I would die for it.

Sometimes I am on Bespin, training as a Jedi with the other padawans, as if they haven't been dead for so long.

And in my most cherished memories, I am with Geith. We're both alive, living in a Utopian future that was never meant to be.

And then I return to my reality, if it can be called as such. Geith is dead, the Jedi are all dead, Chad is eons away. It might as well be dead, too.

In my reality, it's all dead, like me.

The days and nights have no distinction in space. All these years have run together as one eternal night, unbroken, untainted by oddities--a nightmare.

I will never cross over to the other side. I will never become one with the Force. I must stay here, confined in the circuits and relays of a derelict ship, which will never be remembered, never be found.

But...Geith did not mean to die, as I did. He wanted to save me, and himself. Only he did not understand, as I understood, that that was not a possibility.

And now we are both dead. And still I fight.

It's been almost thirty years, now. I have been dead that long.

I felt the Jedi dwindle and fade to nothing, overpowered by a terrible darkness that spread across the galaxy like an inevitable plague.

And still I wait.

Then the ship came alive. The only way it was possible was for the engines and computer systems to be activated manually.

Invisible hands, reaching from across the stars-- dark hands, evil and choking-- brought this phantasm of evil back to life, and I am powerless to stop it. Once again the Will is alive, laughing at me and taunting me, playing cat-and-mouse in its maddening way. How I wish I could hate it.

But I am a Jedi, and hate is not the Jedi way.

Here in the gunnery computers, I can see the ship approaching. I fear that it may be these evil beings that brought this ship back to life to complete its mission. So I do the only thing I can.

I shoot it down

And now I am no longer alone here. There are others, aliens, some species I remember, some I remember seeing, but cannot remember names. Some I have never seen before.

Like little robed ones, the ones with sulfury glowing eyes--I do not know these.

One species reminds me of the treems of my homeworld--little confused balls of fluff. They're so harmless and sweet, and the other, larger ones...the Gamorreans, if I remember correctly...treat them so cruelly.

And for once in this facade of an existance, I feel compassion for living creatures.

I want to help them.

And he does.

This newcomer, the Strong One--I do not know his name.

But he is a Jedi.

And he knows I'm here.

He speaks to me sometimes. The first time was when he found my lightsaber. It surprised me--he said he was sorry. He said he wants to help.

So I help him.

I protect him from the malevolent Will, with which I am side by side. I know the Will wants him dead, because he is different. He knows the truth of this place, unlike his indoctrinated companions--the pretty blonde or the droid with living eyes.

I watch him, watch over him. I feel he needs protection. He is wounded. But it doesn't hinder him from helping the other inhabitants of this ship.

There is something about him that I cannot place. He seems familiar to me, somehow...

He looks like Anakin. The one who betrayed us.

Surely, this is not Senator Padmé's son...

This man...is the son of Darth Vader.

And he's looking right at me. Into my eyes.

I don't know what else to do, so I look back.

And then he's gone.

Who are you?

He's discovered how to communicate with me, this young Skywalker.

I tell him my name, the only part of it that I can remember:

Callista.

I can sense he's afraid of what will happen to his companions.

She's all right. They haven't harmed her.

I can see his relief. He's very grateful.

Not beyond what she'd take in a rough training session, anyway.

Thank you, he says. I can feel his dislike of the words, like he thinks they're inadequate.

But to someone who hasn't spoken to a living soul in a lifetime, it's like water to one who'd crossed an eternal desert.

"Thank you," he says it aloud this time, unaware that I can hear him.

But what he tells me next makes me more alive than I have ever been.

"Palpatine's dead."

If I had legs, I would dance. I express the joy I feel in geometry, complex patterns that roll across the screens.

We won! We won! I died but we won!

You've made this worth it for me.

He has. I died, but others lived because I did. Now my worst fears have been quelled: I did not die in vain. The evil no longer reigns.

"Almost,"

98%

I feel like making a joke. He seems too serious; he's seen too much of the evil. His face is unlined by laugh creases. But he gets my weak attempt at jest, and laughs a little.

His name is Luke. Luke Skywalker. I was right. This is Anakin's son. But he calls him Anakin. Not Vader. It piques my curiosity.

Tell me.

"Another time."

He wants to know about the ship. So I tell him. I tell him about the original mission, and why I stayed. What surprises him most is the fact that the Force reactivated the ship, just as sruprised as I was when it happened.

Then he has to go, or his actions will be considered sympathetic to the ill intent of the etcetera. I send him on his way, mentally smiling. For a moment, I think he could see me smile.

The Gamorreans are getting suspicious. They chase him away, and for some reason, he's calling for me for help. It's agonizing, there's so little I can do.

He's losing hope.

I can't...

You can....Luke, please don't give up...

As he climbs away from the threat, I try to be there beside him. I don't know if he knows I'm there.

He comes back later, I'm glad. I want to be in his company, not because he's been the only living thing here I could talk to. There's something about him that draws me to him. I don't know what it is, but..I like it.

I know every part of this ship. It's all I've had to do for all these years. I tell him the secrets, the booby traps. I warn him:

The more that hit you, the more that will.

How well I know that.

I can feel his grief, his guilt that I had to do what I did. "I wish...it hadn't happened." he says.

All of a sudden, I want to reach out and touch his hand, his face, something. I want to thank him for that. I haven't the slightest idea why.

He talks to me, telling me about the wars that defeated the Empire. He tells me about his Academy on Yavin, a planet I've heard of before and never got the chance to see. He tells me about his students, the ones that fell away, the ones that redeemed themselves by fire. He has a sister, one that he never knew he had until just before the Empire was destroyed.

He tells me about his father, Darth Vader.

And I tell him about myself. He makes my memories, faded and wilted from time, open like a flower, fresh and new and beautiful. I tell him about my childhood, about knowing I was different and not knowing why. I tell him about my family, about my mother that died when I was little, my father that didn't ever really understand me, whether he wanted to or not. I tell him about the ocean that was my best friend, how its creatures sang to me and talked to me, keeping me company on the late nights I stayed in the cliffside caves.

I tell him about Djinn Altis, my master who'd come to Chad when I was seventeen, and taken me away to Bespin, to a new life where I really did belong.

As I talk to him, he builds a tiny foo-twitter, like the ones we used on Chad to send the wystoh away. But this one sounds like the Gamorreans, courtesy of his droid companion, who he calls Threepio.

The emotions Luke makes me feel confuse me beyond imagining. I've never really felt about someone the way I feel about him. Not even Geith.

He sees me again, in a mirror this time. He's as scared as I am, I can tell.

For once, I have no idea what to do next.

He sets the foo-twitter off, and gets caught by the cleaner droids. They want to throw him in the enzyme tank.

He's passed out, now.

Maybe now it's time for him to see.

I show him what happened the night I died.

I can be in his dreams. The whole of me. Seeing what happened again, seeing Geith die is almost too much for me. But this time he can hold me and let my cry on his shoulder.

It's been so long since I've felt the warmth of human flesh.

At the same moment, we both realize the connection between us. An unbreakable bond.

His lips are warm and sweet on mine, his hands strong and comforting. He pulls me close to him, and I feel more alive and loved than I ever have before.

I am free of the computer that's been my prison for three decades. I can walk with spiritual legs, speak with an audible voice.

Luke has made me so.

Now I can touch him in the real world, not only in his dreams. I lay beside him and watch him sleep. With inexpressable pain I realize that he is another thing that I cannot have. The Eye has to be destroyed.

And when it is, so will I.

I would cry, but I am only a ghost.

Ghosts, I know, cannot cry.

Now he's awake, and it's time to save Cray and Nichos, his friends that came here with them. It's my job to handle the foo-twitter and lead the Gamorreans away.

Cray is a very bitter woman. She's scared. I remember being in her place, thirty years ago.

There's something I've come to accept in the thirty years of my inprisonment: Sometimes there's nothing you can do. I tell him that. It makes him angry, that truth. But he accepts it. He's scared, too. Almost as scared as Cray. But...scared of what? For what?

When I tell him that I've taken down everything I can remember of the old Jedi ways, he becomes more livid. There's no way he's going to leave this ship without me, and that's about the worst thing that we can be thinking right now.

He loves me.

He told me he loves me.

At the same time, I'm elated and furious that he told me that. I knew, but the fact that it has been acknowledged makes this mission impossible. He wants me to...become like Nichos, be a droid. He doesn't understand...that's what I've been these last thirty years. He doesn't see that resurrecting me would resurrect the Will, condone its immortatility. That's something that can never happen, if I have anything to say about it.

Time is running out.

We've gone into hyperspace, into the final leg of the climactic battle that began so long ago.

I walk alongside them as they carry the gallons of sugar water to subdue the wild Tuskens. Their conversation is no more than forced pleasantries and necessary dialogues now, especially between Cray and Nichos.

The Will destroyed anything they had together, like it destroyed what Geith and I had. What everyone learns, and always too late, is that the Will leeches off your soul as long as your soul can last before the Will kills you. The real death is the destruction of your soul--you don't feel anything when your body dies, if your spirit is gone.

Their spirits are at the Event Horizon of death--nothing can save them now.

We gather the aliens. It takes us a long time to round them all up, but my faked orders from the Will do the job pretty well. After thirty years, it's my turn to laugh in the Will's face.

Now comes the hard part. I've spoken with Cray and Nichos. They want to stay on board and be the ones who finally destroy the ship. Nichos can go up the shaft. He won't feel the bolts sizzling his synthflesh, as he is a droid. Cray will misfire the grid. In my experience, this works much better with two people

I have to get Luke off this ship.

As much as I love him and want to be with him, I don't want him to die. And I can't leave this ship--not without taking part of the Will with me. Not without not destroying the Eye of Palpatine.

The aliens are all on the ship now, and at last its time for Luke and I to say our final good-byes. It breaks my heart to see the pain in his face, but there's nothing I can do to soothe his hurt. He's convinced himself that I can be saved--he wants Cray to salvage parts of this computer for me.

Once again, and probably for the last time, he tells me he loves me.

And I love you. Thank you for bringing me back kthis far.

Then Cray stuns him. I have to look away. I can't bear this anymore.

The shuttles are gone. Now Cray, Nichos, and I are alone, with no one to keep us company but the stars.

Nichos starts to climb the shaft. I feel Cray's manipulation of the Force, guiding the blaster bolts away from him.

But they still hit him. He catches one--in the base of the skull. That's the one that got me, made me fall so far, made me break my neck on the hard transparisteel. But Nichos, being a droid, is only slowed, his processes begin to shut down.

He makes it to the top and sets the core to overloard before he falls.

And when he falls, there's no chance for him

Cray, tears filling her human eyes in the last ounce of humanity that she will ever know, kneels over him and stares into his droid optical sensors.

Something changes in her face, and she looks up to me.

"Go to Luke," she says.

She closes her eyes, and I see her as a new being. As a Jedi one with the Force, leaving behind the shell of her mortal existance.

Leaving her body.

She takes my uncorporeal hand in hers, and throws her body into the escape pod, open and waiting.

I know what she wants me to do.

Why are you doing this?

"If I can't be alive with who I love, at least someone can. Thank Luke for me--for all he's done for me."

Then she lays me against her body, and I feel myself become part of it, imbuing myself in the physical corners of the flesh.

The hibernation freeze puts me into unconsciousness before I can open my eyes.

When I finally do open them, Luke's the first thing I see. His face is full of apprehension, like he's afraid to believe that this is happening.

Just like me.

With tears forming in his eyes, he puts out a hand to help me up.

I raise mine to touch his.

I have hands.

They're so beautiful--sculpture. Perfect, smooth, with long fingers and blood vessels and real blood. Stars, I would make myself bleed right now for the sake of seeing my own blood flow.

I look up at him, and I can't help it. I start to cry.

I cry with tears of joy, real salt water.

Luke helps me to sit up.

Touch. Human touch. Real human touch--not the thing of dreams and wishes.

He looks so weary--but so beautiful. His face--old and young both one and the same, innocent and wise, a collection of paradox.

And he brings me close, embracing me for the first time. He feels so warm. His breath in my ear, a tiny breeze. The radiation that love exudes. I'd forgotten this. There's so much that I have to experience now, my entire life ready to live again.

But now, all I need is his touch.

Just the touch.