Chapter 20 The Gift
This was the third time someone important to him had vanished before his eyes, but he still was not accustomed to the sight.Even if his head knew that it was the way of all things, of the Force, that it was a natural part of life, it didn't make it any easier for his heart. Especially not when this last person to fade away in front of him was his father.
He wanted so much to talk to his father, to know who he had really been, to learn the answers to the questions he had carried his entire life.It all just seemed so unfair, to have come this far, to have finally seen that the mind that connected with him through the Force did belong to a man, just a man, hidden underneath the black armor. A man he would have to explain to his sister, but he wasn't sure that he could, because he didn't know him well enough himself. Why would she ever believe him,anyways, if he had only this empty armor shell to show her ?
Luke, take my shuttle.
He closed his eyes as the unmodifed voice of his father echoed in his head. At least they would still be able to communicate through the Force, like he had with Ben.
He nodded in acknowledgement. The hangar that had been boiling with activity, the feeling of panic coming from the hundreds of minds in it so strong he just had to shut them all out, was now almost empty. Not a good sign.If the Alliance mission had gone as planned, this battle station should be about to blow.
He pulled the armored suit up the ramp of the shuttle, easier now because it was empty, but heavy enough for him to realize the burden it must have been to wear. He laid the suit across a row of seats in the passenger compartment, setting the helmet gently atop it. He strapped himself into the pilot's seat and lifted the shuttle off the deck.
Careful, these get a little twitchy while the wings are unfolding.
He smiled at the advice. He throttled back for a moment, until the console display confirmed that the wings were locked in flight position, then accelerated to move free of the Death Star hangar. When he was certain he had flown far enough to escape the impending shockwave, he brought the shuttle about to bring the Death Star into view.
Motion in his peripheral vision caught his attention, and his head whipped to the right.The shimmering brown Jedi robe in the copilot's seat was familiar, but the long haired young man in it wasn't.
"Who are you ?" he exclaimed.
"I thought we established that Luke. I'm your father," the golden haired stranger said.
"But why do you look my age ?" he said, squinting to match the features he had only seen before on a middle-aged face.
"I was exactly your age when I was...injured. I carried those wounds your entire lifetime, Luke. Would you condemn me to suffer them through all eternity ?" Anakin said, with an edge in his voice sharper than a vibroblade.
He recognized the familiar heat of his father's mind, saw that there was an expression that with it. "No, of course not. It's just a little... startling to see you like this."
Anakin nodded, then turned away from him."Look, there it goes."
He turned back to the viewscreen. The Death Star loomed as large as ever. "Look at what ?"
The words were barely out of his mouth when the viewscreen went brilliant with light, and he had to avert his eyes. "How did you know ?"
"Do you not see the future ?" Anakin asked.
"Sometimes, in visions," he said.He meant to ask his father what he saw of the future, but a wave of nausea rushed over him and a crushing pain came to his head.When he looked over, he saw that his father had his hands over his face."Is this from the Force ?"
"They weren't all able to evacuate," Anakin said softly. "Many men just died in that explosion. This is what the Force felt like after the destruction of Alderaan, and of the first Death Star . Don't you remember ?"
"I...I didn't feel it then," he said."My training had just begun when I flew in the Battle of Yavin."
"You had no training until then ?" Anakin said."What was Obi-Wan thinking ? He was certainly around you when you were young."
"Uncle Owen never liked Ben." The implications of his father's words hit him and he leaned over in his seat. " And how do you know Obi-Wan was there ? Why did you leave me with Uncle Owen ?"
Anakin drew upright in his seat. "I did not take you there. Perhaps you should ask your friend Obi-Wan how you ended up with Owen."
He saw the expression on his father's face had grown hard. "But wasn't Owen your brother ?"
"My step-brother. His father bought my mother, then freed her and married her. I never spent much time with Owen, though I thought he seemed a good man."
"Bought your mother ? My grandmother ?" Luke asked incredulously.
"We were slaves, Luke. I was, too, before the Jedi took me," Anakin said."Somebody told you my name, did they not tell you anything else about me ?"
"No.Owen told me you were a navigator, and you know what Ben told me. After I knew you had been a Jedi, I tried to research them, but records on the Jedi are hard to find. Mostly I got information from Alliance members who were old enough to remember the Clone Wars. That's when I first heard the name Anakin Skywalker."
A slight smile softened his father's expression. His face was still that of a young man, but his eyes looked as if he felt even older than the Emperor.
"It must have been difficult for you, Luke," he said after a long silence."I have something for you.You'll have to come with me to Coruscant to see it."
"Coruscant ? I'm not going to Coruscant. I've got to get to the rendezvous point. I'm in for it as it is."
His father pressed his shimmering hand against the forward control lever, making the air crackle around it, but the lever did not move."I cannot affect the physical universe anymore, Luke. I need your help."
He rolled his eyes."But Coruscant is so far away. I've got duties here I have to fulfill."
His father was insistent."That's your commander talking. I installed a point four hyperdrive in this thing. We can be to Coruscant inside of two standard hours."
"But everyone will be worried about me, especially...," his voice trailed off as he saw how intently his father was listening. He swallowed. It couldn't still be considered betrayal, could it ? "Especially my sister."
"Can't you use the Force to communicate with her ?" Anakin asked.
"A little. She was never trained," he said hesitantly.
" Why don't you want to tell me about her ?" Anakin said."I saved your life, Luke. That's not reason enough to trust me ?"
"She doesn't feel the same way about you as I do," he said."She has too many...negative impressions of you."
"Then I have met her ?" his father asked, raising an eyebrow.
"A few times," Luke said.He looked into his father's face, into the blue eyes that were like his own. What had been the point of coming after him, if they were not going to act as family ? "She's Leia, Leia Organa."
Anakin leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. It was several minutes before he turned back to Luke. He nodded before he spoke. "Of course. She's much like your mother.Smart. Tough. A leader. Your mother was a Senator, too, you know."
Luke realized he was now the one intently hanging on every word. "I have a deal for you. I'll go to Coruscant with you if you tell me everything. And I mean everything. No lies. No stories. Everything."
"Done," his father said, hands flying to the navcomputer on the console. "Ahh, I keep forgetting I can't do this anymore. Hit the programmed destination list, Luke. Coruscant is number one. And find a way to let your sister know you're safe."
He activated the navcomputer controls, selecting the destination that the computer called Imperial Center. He slid in a brief thought to Leia as he finished readying the ship for lightspeed.
Through the viewscreen he watched the stars turn to starlines as the lambda shuttle entered hyperspace. He swiveled in the pilot's seat. "Now that the ship's on auto, I'm going to put my feet up in the back. I'm feeling pretty sore."
Anakin nodded. "Force lightning will do that to you. It may take a few days for the pain to go away."
"So that's what it's called. You've been hit with it before ?" he asked, as he flipped up the arm rests and stretched across a row of seats in the passenger compartment.
"Yes, but not as hard as you were.Your lightsaber can deflect it, remember that," Anakin said."The only other time I saw a person take as much as you did, it killed him."
Luke rubbed his hand across his forehead, then swept his open palm down his face. His eyes met his father's. "Did you know it would kill you ?"
His father returned his gaze unblinkingly."Yes."
"Did you know that we'd be sitting here talking afterwards ?"
"No," Anakin said.He turned his hand back and forth in front of his face."I don't really understand this, and I don't how long it will be possible. That's why it is so important for you to come with me now."
"What are we going to see ?" he asked, propping his elbow on the seat to rest his head in his hand.
"Let's not talk about that yet. Get some rest. I'll watch the ship, and wake you when we arrive."
He moved himself so he was lying flat across the seats. When he closed his eyes he realized how tired he really was. He felt the tension start to leave his body, and his muscles thanked him for that. Strange, he was never this relaxed when somebody else was flying.
He felt a hand gripping his shoulder, shaking him lightly, as if to rouse him. He struggled for a moment to bring himself out of sleep, to remember where he was. He moved to sit up, but the hand pushed downward, keeping him flat.
Don't get up, Luke. Just feel. Can you feel it, Coruscant ? Can you tell it's getting closer ?
He kept his eyes closed and reached out, felt only his father's presence. "No."
It's there, if you stretch far enough. Let me show you.
He breathed deeply and relaxed his conscious control, let the Force sweep through him and connect his mind to his father's. He felt the hand grasp his forearm, lead him forward. It felt like he stepped off an edge into nothingness, and a cold wind battered him, threatened to carry him away. He flailed for purchase, but the hand increased its grip, steadied him.
Don't worry. That cold rushing feeling is hyperspace. Feel beyond that. Listen to the murmur, feel the spot of warmth that is life, all the millions of lives on Coruscant, glowing in the Force. Can you feel it now, growing stronger ?
Eyes still closed, he nodded.
Almost there, almost time to drop into normal space. You can get up now.
He pulled back from his father's mind, oriented himself in the now. He swung his legs off the seat cushions, pushed himself into a sitting position. He rubbed his eyes. The shimmering image was seated across from him, one arm resting atop the black helmet.
"How do you stand it ?" he said.
"Stand what ?" Anakin asked.
"The Force is so loud inside your head," he said.
Anakin shrugged. "Is it ? It feels the way it has always felt to me."
In the cockpit an alarm sounded from the navcomputer.
"Time for you to take over, Luke. The coordinates are set to put us right in to Imperial City."
He moved into the cockpit and slid into the pilot's seat, flipping the switch on the alarm to off. He eased the shuttle into normal space, and Coruscant appeared in the viewscreen. He monitored the ship as it circled the planet to enter the atmosphere over Imperial City, placing it on manual control once they were safely into the stratosphere.
Two security craft swooped up from a lower altitude to parallel the shuttle, and he turned to see his father's reaction."How am I going to get past them ?"
His father was smiling, not the half smiles he had seen earlier that carried more nostalgia and regret than joy, but a broad smile that lit his face and made his eyes flash with amusement."This is my shuttle, Luke," he said, and pointed to a button at the bottom of the console."Hit that transponder."
He did so, and the security craft peeled away in tandem as a message came across the com."Welcome back to Imperial Center, Lord Vader."
His father leaned towards him."This ship will get you through any Imperial checkpoint , for however long the Empire stands, and news of my demise does not spread. Take the ship down until you can see the skylanes."
He chased away the feeling of guilt that crept up, telling himself he was entitled to use the privilege that came of his father's position.He dropped the shuttle's altitude until he could see the intricate pattern of skylanes clearly below the ship. He hesitated. There were hundreds, no thousands, no maybe hundreds of thousands of craft of all sizes streaming at cross directions alongside the towering buildings of the city.
"You just have to jump in there, Luke. They'll move over for a ship like this," Anakin said.
He watched open speeders dart in and out of the traffic lanes, narrowly avoiding larger craft. "These people are crazy. At least when you fly with the Alliance you can be sure the other guy knows what he's doing."
His father looked askance."They say you're not really a pilot until you can fly on Coruscant."
He flushed at the insult, and hit the repulsors so that the shuttle roared ahead. Abruptly he cut the throttle and extended the drive flaps, letting the shuttle fall into a small opening in the highspeed flyway, and then he slammed the throttle open.
Anakin laughed."Obi-Wan used to hate..."
He looked over at his father, wondered why he had stopped speaking, and saw that his face was down turned and his lips were tight.Then his father turned to him, his expression softened, and he continued speaking, this time slowly."Obi-Wan used to hate it when I did that."
He drew his gaze back to the viewscreen, realized he was flying comfortably in this nose to tail traffic, relying more on the Force than his eyesight. The skylane took him past the shadows of the taller buildings out over a vast plain, a plain formed by the rooftops of lesser buildings. To the left one building distinguished itself, not graceful and slender like the rest, but broad and squat, its bulk rising above the plain. From its summit five spires reached even higher into the sky.
"Take us over there, Luke. Put the ship down anywhere on that main plaza," his father said, pointing at the broad building.
The impression of massiveness only grew stronger the closer they came to the building. He could make out figures carved in the solid stone sides, saw the broken remains of statues, all built on the scale of giants.
"Are we going to use the transponder trick again ?" he said, having grown at ease with the idea.
His father's voice was solemn."There is no need. This building is empty, has been for a long time."
He brought the shuttle to rest on the open expanse of the plaza, and he unbuckled himself from the pilot's seat, headed towards the lowered ramp to exit.
"Luke, wait," Anakin said."There's something in my suit you will need. In the belt."
He went to where the life support suit lay across the seats, and picked up the belt. On the inner surface, behind the electronic controls, he saw a slit in the leather. He slid a finger in, and two silvery keycards popped forward.
"Take them both," Anakin said.
They were standing in front of a door that lead into the middle section of the building, the door protected by two mechanisms, a card reader and a much older touchpad. The two keycards in his hand were unmarked, and looked identical.
"Hold one, and tell me what you see," his father said.
He grasped the first one firmly in his left hand." A tall spindly building that stands alone. It looks like Coruscant, though."
"Then it's the other one."
He swapped cards, holding the second one long enough to see an image of the broad building before them. He ran it through the card reader, and a light flashed green, but the door did not open.
"Now on the keypad enter four-two-nine-three-three-six."
He punched the numbers in, saw the old device spring to life. The display read Skywalker, A. and the door slid open. He looked over at his father.
His father motioned him in."Go ahead, Luke. Palpatine added the cardlock, but the keypad is the original."
He stepped into a sweeping foyer, and the door slid closed behind him, sealing out the noise of Coruscant. There was a simple elegance to the interior, from the curving staircases to the arched walls to the plush carpet that he could tell had once been a vivid blue.The room spoke of power and credits, but also of beauty and harmony. He had never seen anything like it.
"What is this ?" he asked.
"This is the Jedi Temple, Luke."
"But it's huge !" he said, astonished, thinking of Ben's home, and of Yoda's hut.
"It had to be. If you weren't on a mission, this was home," Anakin said. "This building housed the Jedi Order, the Archives, the Council, the bulk of the Jedi fleet. As a youngling you were raised here, as a Padawan you were schooled here."
He could almost see the hallways filled with figures, the great building teeming with life and activity. He thought of his own training, conducted in a swamp without a shred of technology. It must have been amazing to have trained as a Jedi back then.
He looked to the shimmering image of his father, watched him trace a finger over a long black mark on the wall. "What was it like ?"
"To be a Jedi ?" His father continued looking at the wall for a moment, but then turned to face him."It was a hard life in the Order, very disciplined, very controlled. I always felt that they taught me just enough that I would see the horizon, but then they would throw on blinders, until the next time they decided to show me a little more.
"But to be a Jedi on an assignment, there was no better feeling. Any place you went, you could feel how much the people counted on you, how much faith they had in your abilities, and at the same time you knew that faith was not misplaced. I will tell you that I never felt better about myself than when I was serving the Republic as a Jedi."
He felt the hair on his neck rise as he supressed a shiver, fought back a sense of dread. "So what happened ?"
His father's eyes bored straight into his own.So many emotions played across his father's mind and face he wasn't sure he caught them all. Anger. Despair. Fear. Regret.
"You mean, why did I kill them ? Because your mother was more important to me than the entire Jedi Order. I was told that to save her life I would have to choose between them. I would have done anything, did do everything I thought would save her."
He looked down.That was not the answer he was expecting. It didn't make sense."How could that save her ?"
"Palpatine told me he had the power to save people from dying. He promised to teach me that power if I would become his apprentice. He told me I would only be strong enough with the Dark Side to save her if I killed all the Jedi."
He didn't know what to say. Somehow, Obi-Wan's explanation had been easier to swallow, less complicated. The act was no less horrifying, but the sliver of understanding that came to him made him feel complicit. He turned to the closest staircase and sat down on the lower steps.
His father walked up to him. "I learned too late that it was all a lie, only one of the many Palpatine would tell me during the years I served him.But in the span of a single standard day everything changed, so much so that nothing could be put back. Everything I valued was gone, and by my own hand. It would have been enough to drive a man mad, would have except that I found you."
The shimmering image sat down next to him."You were three before I knew for certain that you had survived, but it was that knowledge that sustained me when I had nothing else.I did try to kill him, my master, but he broke my neck, and after that I knew you were safer where you were.I wanted you to have everything, and I'm sorry I could not give it to you.You deserved more than you got, Luke."
His childhood wishes came to him, his wishes to have known his parents, to have felt a gaze that did not have fear mixed in with love.He lowered his head, embarrassed that hot tears were spilling from his eyes, but his father seemed not to notice them.
"I dreamed of teaching you to make your first lightsaber, of teaching you to fly, but you already know these things.It does not change what I have done, but I hope you will accept this gift," his father said, one arm sweeping across the great room in front of them."It is all I have to give you besides stories of the past."
He looked up, confused, as he struggled to understand. "You're giving me the Jedi Temple ?"
"The knowledge, I'm trying to give you the knowledge. Palpatine raided the Archives, took many of the holochrons, but it was too difficult to move it all. Much of it is still here. I want you to have it."
"What am I supposed to do with it ?" he said.
"I'm not trying to put a burden on you. I know what it's like to carry the expectations of the entire Jedi Order. But if I don't give you access to this knowledge, then it is gone, maybe forever. Whatever amount you carry forward, however small, leaves the Galaxy better than it was. Whatever you are able to do, will be enough."
He sighed, rubbed a hand over his face. He did want to know more, to make the title of Jedi mean something again. His father was right, every bit of knowledge that continued on was better than none. He pulled out the keycards that he had slipped into his pocket.
"If this one goes to the Jedi Temple, what does this other one go to ?"
His father's expression became serious."The second card unlocks Palpatine's private library, at least the part he allowed me to see."
He stood up and flung the card across the carpet."I don't want it."
"It's knowledge, Luke, just knowledge," his father said gently."The Force is not Dark and Light. That division has been created by beings."
"I won't take it. You just told me what you did to gain the power of the Dark Side."
His father's voice remained calm, even. "I did not want the Dark Side, only the power to stop death.It was not that power that was wrong, but what I did to attain it.And if I had truly understood the nature of the Force, had I known that it was not divided into sides as I had been taught, then I would have also known that it was not dark acts that would grant me that power."
He furrowed his brow." But anger, hate, aggression- they do lead to the wrong place."
"And love and attachment as well ?" Anakin said. "The Jedi were not perfect, Luke. I would have been expelled from the Order if they had known that your mother and I were married.I was prepared to leave the Order so that we could live as a family.Even if I had, for you to be trained as a Jedi, you would have been taken from us as an infant. You and your sister would have been raised apart to ensure you were not attached. That is the wrong path, too.
"The Jedi and the Sith have been at war for millennia, and that speaks more of the nature of beings than the nature of the Force.They called me the Chosen One, the one of prophecy, who was supposed to bring balance to the Force. No one could ever agree as to what that meant, but perhaps it means it is wrong to create sides among those that follow the Force.I am giving you both keys because understanding the Force is a gift, and I cannot withhold that which is rightfully yours. You have a good heart, and are as strong a man as any I have known. You will know the right thing to do."
"That makes it sound like everything is resting on my shoulders," he said. He looked around the room and down its seemingly infinite corridors."It would be an enormous task to rebuild what was."
His father nodded sympathetically."Then go down a different path. I will be there to help you, as will Obi-Wan and Yoda, I am sure."
"You would allow Obi-Wan to help me ?" he said, remembering Obi-Wan's death.
His father lowered his head."There is much between he and I that I have not told you yet. He was the one who crippled me. But there was a time when he was a good friend. Even more, a brother."
"He said the same about you," he said encouragingly.
"Then maybe it can be that way again. But his devotion to the Order is unshakable. He will help you without question." His father started down the broad corridor. "Come, let me show you the Archives."
He moved quickly to catch up to his father, and then they were striding side by side again, just like in his father's dream. This time it felt exactly right.
They stepped out from the insulated halls of the Jedi Temple into the bright sun and thrumming noise of Coruscant. As the door slid closed behind them, he felt in his pocket for the silver keycards, pulled them out to make sure he had them both.
His father looked down at the pair of cards."If you choose to go to Palpatine's library, you need to bring help. I was not the only of the Emperor's seconds, and the Force users among them will want that knowledge, too.It will be a dangerous place for you."
He shoved the cards back into his pocket. That was a decision for another time.
As they came up the ramp and entered the shuttle, the black armor lying across the passenger seats caught his eye.
"What should I do with the suit ?" he asked.
Anakin paused to look at it."Burn it. Burn it, because that is the Jedi way, and for me, burn it."
Luke continued on towards the cockpit and he felt an arm warm across his back, a hand sitting gently on his shoulder.
"Take us back to Endor, son, so your sister can stop worrying about you. And on the way, I'll tell you all about your mother."