"ALTERED LIVES" by RFK

CHAPTER SIX

LARS HOMESTEAD, TATOOINE

Obi-Wan guided the Nabooan skiff to a moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley. After he landed the craft, two figures emerged from the dome-shaped adobe structure. Obi-Wan left the cockpit and disembarked from the ship.

"Good evening sir," a stocky young man in desert robes greeted. "My name is Owen Lars. This is my wife, Beru." He nodded at the diminutive, yet slightly pretty young woman that stood by the farmer's side. "May I help you?"

Obi-Wan bowed formally. "Yes. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I . . ."

Mrs. Lars gasped slightly. Her husband frowned. "Obi-Wan Kenobi?" the latter repeated. "Of the Jedi Order? Anakin's friend?"

The former Jedi Master nearly winced at the last description. "Uh, yes. You've heard of me?"

Mr. Lars hesitated before he replied, "My late stepmother, Shmi Skywalker Lars, used to mention both you and her son, Anakin Skywalker. Apparently, he had mentioned your name in the only letter he ever written to her." His expression indicated slight disapproval of Anakin's lack of communication.

Vaguely, Obi-Wan recalled giving the nine year-old Anakin, permission to write one last letter to his mother. Just before the young boy had began formal Jedi training. "I see," the older man murmured. "Yes, well the reason I am here is I am looking for Anakin."

"He's missing?" Owen Lars' frown disappeared.

A curious Beru Lars asked, "What happened to him? Has it to do with the Empire's edict against the Jedi?"

"You've learned that we now have a new Empire?" Obi-Wan asked.

Lars shrugged his shoulders. "The news had spread pretty fast throughout the planet. We've just learned about the death of Anakin's friend, Senator Amidala."

Obi-Wan merely responded with feigned sadness. "Yes, it was quite a blow. I have known the senator since she was Queen of Naboo."

A long silent pause followed. The Jedi Master found himself growing slightly uncomfortable. The Lars struck him as decent people. Yet, their reticence made it difficult for him to feel at ease. He found it easier to interact with more extroverted personalities like Qui-Gon. And Anakin.

"You said something about Anakin being missing?" Lars finally asked, breaking the silence. "What happened?"

Obi-Wan told the moisture farmers about the events that had recently unfolded. But he left out Anakin's role in the Jedi Order's destruction. And the duel on Mustafar. "All of the surviving Jedi have been on the run, since. I have been trying to locate Anakin. To find out if whether he is dead or alive."

"He's not here," Lars declared. "In fact, Beru and I haven't laid eyes on him in three years. Not since my stepmother's death."

In other words, Obi-Wan silently surmised, Anakin may have returned to Coruscant . . . and Palpatine. He felt slightly disappointed that Anakin's last act on Mustafar may have failed to turn him away from the Dark Side.

"What about Mos Espa?" Mrs. Beru suggested.

Lars glanced at her. "You mean Watto?"

"Who?" Obi-Wan asked. The name sounded familiar. "Wasn't he Anakin's former owner?"

The woman, Beru, added, "And Shmi's."

"Watto is dead," Lars revealed in a matter-of-factly tone. "Remember? He was killed by one of the Hutts after failing to pay back a loan." He turned to Obi-Wan. "If Anakin had went to Mos Espa, he must now know that Watto is dead. Besides, I doubt he would have an easy time finding employment. Most people either own slaves or droids. He would be better off going somewhere else."

Obi-Wan's brief flare of hope quickly died. "Yes, of course. That would make sense." He heaved a melancholy sigh.

Mrs. Lars said, "I don't mean to pry, but do you have anywhere to go? I mean . . ." She paused at her husband.

Lars added, "We're just wondering if you plan to keep looking for Anakin." His eyes glanced downward, as he sighed. "I don't mean to sound blunt, but it looks as if he might be dead. And if he isn't, I don't think that your chances of finding him are all that great. Perhaps you should just . . ."

"Give up?" Obi-Wan finished. Privately, he already had. The Jedi Master had tried using the Force to sense Anakin's presence within the galaxy. He tried and failed. Either Anakin was truly dead (which he doubted), had disappeared or returned to Coruscant. Obi-Wan feared the latter. It seemed useless to continue his search for Anakin. Perhaps he should do as he had hinted to Master Yoda - find a permanent home here on Tatooine. "Perhaps you're right," he said to the Lars.

Lars asked, "Are you considering a room in Mos Eisley? I'm sure there are plenty of . . ."

"I don't think so," Obi-Wan said with a shake of his head. "Not isolated enough. I don't think it would be wise of me to live in a settled area. Sooner or later, an Imperial presence will be stationed in the cities."

Again, Lars and his wife exchanged glances. "There's a small hut not far from here," the moisture farmer commented. "In the middle of the Wasteland. You can dismantle your starship. Sell the parts. Create a nice, comfortable living for yourself. Of course, you would have to be wary of the Tusken Raiders."

The moisture farmer's suggestion made good sense to Obi-Wan. Any further roaming on his part might lead to capture or death. And if Padme and her children ever found themselves on the run, chances of them seeking refuge here on Tatooine seemed pretty certain. "Yes," the Jedi Master said. "I believe it would be wise for me to take up your suggestion. Could you direct me . . .?"

Lars' wife interrupted. "You should look for it, tomorrow. Tonight, you can share dinner with us and spend the night at our homestead. Right, Owen?"

"You would be more than welcomed," Lars added.

Obi-Wan felt a twinge of guilt for his earlier view of the couple. Reticent or not, they also seemed to be very hospitable and selfless people. What a shame that Anakin never became more acquainted with them. The Jedi Master gratefully accepted the couple's offer and followed them inside the homestead.

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ALDERA PALACE, ALDERAAN

The Tantive IV entered Alderaan space and descended toward the planet's capital city - Aldera and the royal palace located at the city's outskirts. The Corellian-made star cruiser slowly landed on the palace's main platform, where a handful of palace aides had gathered.

Inside her cabin, Padme made last adjustments to her outfit. She wore a simple, elegant black gown made from brocade, with a silk black belt wrapped around her waist. A delicately woven black lace veil covered her face - indicating her status as a recent widow. Both Luke and Leia lay in separate baskets. Bail's aide, Sheltay Retrac, had already made arrangements for the removal of Padme's trunks from the cabin.

Padme glanced through the cabin's window. After the cruiser had landed, she saw Bail and his traveling entourage greet the palace aides. A few minutes passed before the entire party strode toward one of the palace's entrances. The cabin's bell chimed. Padme ushered in the cruiser's captain. "Milady," Captain Raymus Antilles greeted with a bow. "It is time to leave."

The Alderaanian picked up Luke. Padme lifted Leia's basket. She and her droids followed the captain out of the cabin. The small party entered the palace and weaved their way through a series of wide corridors. They eventually came upon a pair of wide, double doors. "Senator, this will be your quarters until a more permanent arrangement can be found." Captain Antilles opened the double doors and led the others inside.

"Oh my!" C3-P0 declared in hushed tones. R2-D2 beeped excitedly. Padme understood the droids' reactions. Some would have called her penthouse at the Senate Apartment Complex in 500 Republica as opulent. But her former apartment seemed modest in compare to her new apartments, here on Alderaan. The rooms reminded Padme of her years as Naboo's queen, at the Theed Royal Palace.

Captain Antilles added, "Arrangements are being made to find a nursemaid for the children. Now, if you will excuse me, Milady." He bowed and left the room.

Padme heaved a sigh and said to Threepio, "We might as well begin unpacking." It took the former senator and the droids nearly a half hour to unpack all of her belongings. As luck would have it, Bail or one of his aides even managed to find a pair of cribs for the twins.

Just as Padme and the droids finished their task, Sheltay Retrac appeared with another woman in tow. "Good day, Senator," Sheltay greeted. "I would like to introduce you to Magda. His Highness has asked her to act as your children's nursemaid." She added, "With your permission, of course."

"Permission granted," Padme said with a reassuring smile to the nursemaid. "The children are in the east room." Magda bowed and strode out of the main room.

At that moment, the doors opened and Bail and a third woman entered the main apartment. Padme immediately recognized her colleague's wife - the regal, dark-haired ruler of Alderaan, Queen Breha Antilles-Organa. "Your Majesty," Padme greeted the older woman with a curtsey.

Alderaan's queen greeted the former senator with a warm smile. "Senator Amidala, we are so glad to have you here on Alderaan. Bail has informed me of your recent difficulties. I am so sorry."

"I've been through trying times before," Padme replied, wondering what her former colleague had told his wife. "And survived. I shall survive this."

Queen Breha nodded. "Of course. Where are the children?"

"In the new nursery. The room to the right." Padme hesitated. "By the way, I want to thank you both for giving the children and me refuge here on Alderaan. And for finding a new nursemaid for the twins."

The Alderaanian queen merely nodded. "Magda had originally been hired to act as nursemaid for my . . . our . . ." A heavy sadness shadowed her elegant face.

A slightly stiff Bail added, "The queen and I have experienced difficulty in con . . . in conceiving a child, over the past several years. Recently, Breha had . . . suffered a miscarriage."

The Organas' troubles made Padme forget her own. "Oh. I'm so sorry," she murmured.

"It no longer matters," Queen Breha said, assuming a brave smile. "At least this old place will finally enjoy the presence of children." Her face brightened with hope. "May I see them?"

Smiling, Padme replied, "Of course. I'll have . . ."

"Don't worry," the queen said. "I'll simply find my way to the nursery. Excuse me." She left the main apartment.

Bail turned to his aide. "Do you mind, Sheltay? I would like to speak with the senator alone." The other woman bowed and followed the queen out of the room. Once alone, Bail asked Padme, "How are you feeling?"

With a shrug, she replied, "Fine. I think. Considering the horrors of the past few days. When will the Senate reconvene?"

"Next week," Bail replied. "Rumor has it that our new emperor plans to discuss the fate of the Separatist worlds."

"Somehow, I do not foresee a pleasant future for them."

Bail replied, "I do not foresee one for the entire galaxy. Mon Mothma believes that our old Loyalist Committee should publicly speak out, if the Emperor begins to abuse his new powers."

The news immediately alarmed Padme. "No, Bail. I don't believe that is a good idea. Now is not the time. Right now, you all need to be good little Senators. Mind your manners and keep your heads down. However, there is no reason why you and the others should make plans to oppose the Emperor sometime in the future."

Nodding, the Alderaanian prince said, "You're right. The last thing we need to do right now is attract Palpatine's attention. Especially since he is preoccupied with hunting down Jedi Knights and probably his former apprentice."

"Former appren . . .?" The words took Padme by surprise. "Surely you don't speak of Count Dooku? He's dead."

"No, I speak of Anakin, of course." Bail hesitated. "Your husband. You do know that he's missing, don't you?"

Shock overwhelmed Padme, as she stared at her former colleague. "That's impossible! Anakin is dead! Obi-Wan was forced to kill him on Mustafar. When I asked, he could not even say anything."

It became Bail's turn to look astonished. "You mean to say that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi never told you what happened on Mustafar? During Kenobi's fight with your husband, Anakin had decided to walk away than finish the duel. He even left his lightsaber to Master Kenobi."

Anger welled inside Padme. "They lied to me!" she hissed in a low voice. "They lied!"

"Padme . . . please," Bail pleaded. "Perhaps they had a reason . . ."

"They had a reason, all right!" Padme retorted. "They wanted to make sure that I would not roam the galaxy, searching for Anakin!"

Bail added soothingly, "Can you blame them? I'm sure that Master Yoda and Master Kenobi wanted to make sure that you and the children will remain safe from the Emperor."

Her anger rising, Padme shot back, "And that's not all! They also wanted to make certain that Luke and Leia will grow up to ensure the continuation of their precious Jedi Order in the future! No wonder Master Yoda wanted the twins separated from me."

Anxiety flared in Bail's dark eyes. "Padme, you're not going to . . .?"

"Search for Anakin?" Padme shook her head. "No. Despite what Master Yoda and Master Kenobi may think, I have enough sense to realize that would be dangerous. At least right now. But they had lied to me, Bail. And for that it might be a while before I can forgive them. If ever."

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MOS ESPA, TATOOINE

A despondent Anakin sat inside the tavern's taproom, nursing a glass of Corellian Spiced Ale. Two days had passed since his starfighter had been stolen and he learned of Padme's death. And nothing had been right since.

Padme was dead. He still found it hard to believe. When he last saw her on Mustafar, she had been alive and well . . . despite her unconscious state. His attack upon her must have caused more damage than he realized. The idea sent Anakin into another wave of anger - only directed at himself.

The disappearance of the Jedi starfighter had made matters worse for him. Upon learning of the disappearance, Anakin realized that the Jawas must have come across his ship and stripped it down to parts to be sold. Without his starfighter, he found himself stranded on Tatooine. In fact, he lacked the means to find transportation to the Lars moisture farm, outside Mos Eisley.

Now on his fourth day, Anakin's self-anger had transformed into despair. Padme was dead. His life was over as a Jedi Knight. He no longer desired to return to Sidious and Coruscant. And he lacked the funds to leave Tatooine, let alone find transportation to the Lars' homestead. He also realized that he only had enough Wupiupi for one last meal. He certainly could not spend another night at the tavern. His situation left him with two options - starvation or offer himself as an indentured servant to one of the city's merchants. Despite his despondency, Anakin felt no desire to commit suicide. A small part of him simply refused to give up, just because his circumstances have become nearly hopeless. He only hoped that Bashir Gupa or any other merchant would accept his offer as an indentured servant. How ironic that he seemed to have come a full circle in his life. Thirteen years ago, he had left Tatooine, newly freed from servitude. And now, he has returned, only to be enslaved once more.

Anakin finished the last of his ale, when a robed man marched into the tavern's bar. "Where is he?" he growled at the bartender. "Where's Barcus? He was supposed to be at the Aurelis Hangar, nearly a half hour ago!"

The bartender shrugged his shoulders. "Barcus? You mean that drunken Caridian? Huh! You can find him at the local medical facility. He got into a fight with another spacer. I hate to say it, but your friend drinks a lot better than he fights."

Anakin stood up and strode toward the bar. "How much do I owe you?" he asked the bartender.

"Five Wupiupi," the bartender replied.

While Anakin dug into his pockets, the human stranger continued, "Exactly how bad is he? I mean . . . will he be able to fly out of here?"

A contemptuous snort escaped the bartender's mouth. "Mister, your friend as a broken arm and two broken ribs. He ain't gonna be flying out of here for a long time." Anakin handed him five coins.

"Where am I going to find another pilot?" the stranger cried in despair. Then his dark eyes fell upon Anakin. "Excuse me sir, but are you a pilot, by any chance?"

Anakin sighed. "Actually, I am. Only I have no ship. Sorry."

The man's eyes brightened with hope. "No, this is . . . Listen, would you like to take on a job? I have . . . a . . . shipment that need to be flown to the Zonju system. No ship is required. I already have one - a Corellian freighter called the Javian Hawk. I simply need a pilot."

After a brief hesitation, Anakin asked, "How much are you willing to pay?"

The man replied, "Five hundred Imperial credits. And I'll have a few more jobs for you, once we reach our destination. My name is Maxmus Tebiki."

Five hundred Imperial credits. Anakin did not need to be convinced any further. "You have yourself a pilot, Mr. Tebiki. I . . . uh, I'll need some money in advance for a change of clothes and a weapon."

Tebiki hesitated. "Can you be ready within two hours?"

"Of course."

Nodding, Tebiki continued, "Good. Meet me at the Aurelis Hangar within two hours. And here are the 20 Wupiupi that you asked for." He handed the money to Anakin. "May I ask who you are, by the way?"

Memories of a certain pilot that he had first met here on Tatooine, flashed in Anakin's mind. "Olie. Ric Olie." He would have to change his name, once his employment with Tebiki ended.

Anakin's new employer shook his hand. "It's a pleasure, Mr. Olie. Truly. And I'll see you within two hours." Tebiki marched out of the taproom.

Feeling elated for the first time in . . . well, in quite a while, Anakin flashed his old cocky grin at the bartender. "Excuse me." Then he marched out of the tavern and into a whole new life ahead.

THE END