NOTE: The HoloNet News broadcast came from the novel, "The Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader" by James Luceno
The Lars' landspeeder sped toward the edge of one of Tatooine's oldest settlements, Anchorhead. It came to a halt near a square structure that served as the centerpiece of Tosche Station, the city's main power and distribution station. Owen climbed out of the landspeeder before he offered Padme a lending arm. "Thank you Owen," the former Nabooan senator said. "And thanks for bringing me here to Anchorhead. I realize that you had intended to come here on your own, but I needed to find another holoemitter. Or at least a new power source for my old one."
"It's no problem, Padme. Believe me." Owen gave his guest a reassuring smile. "Besides, I realize that you need a working holoemitter. And I did promise Beru that I would get a new moisture trap for the kitchen."
The pair slowly proceeded into Anchorhead's city limits. They entered one of the local pourstone stores, where Padme purchase a new power cell for her emitter. They found the equipment for Beru's moisture trap at a nearby junk dealer's shop. After leaving the second shop, Owen suggested they treat themselves to a light, midday meal at a local cantina. "I know the perfect place," he said. "The Weary Traveler. You'll find less of the local scum than you would at some cantina in Mos . . ."
"Good heavens! Owen?" A hooded figure approached the pair. Then he threw back the hood, revealing a frowning Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Padme? What the blazes are you doing here?"
Owen nodded at the former Jedi Master. "Master Kenobi. I haven't seen you in several months. Not since you had recovered our vaporators from the Tusken Raiders."
To Padme's surprise, Obi-Wan's demeanor stiffened momentarily. "Ah . . . yes, well . . . I . . ." Obi-Wan hesitated. Then he took a deep breath. "Yes, well it had been a difficult time for us all."
A deep silence fell between the trio. Padme said, "Owen, you had spoken of a certain cantina. Why don't you take us there?"
Several minutes later found the trio seated at a table, inside the Weary Traveler. The décor looked simple and clean - typical of a Tatooine cantina. Padme only spotted at least three or four men that would usually be viewed as riff-raff. A waitress took their order. Padme asked for Cream of Womprat's Soup, Owen ordered Jerked Dewback and Obi-Wan, Lamta. Once the waitress walked away, Obi-Wan turned on the former senator. "Padme, what are you doing here on Tatooine? Where are the children?"
"Back at the farm with Beru," Padme quietly replied. "Owen and I are here on a shopping trip."
"Shopping . . ." Obi-Wan shook his head with an exasperated sigh. "But why are you here on this planet? Why did you leave Alderaan?" A silent moment passed before realization dawned in his eyes. "Oh. I see. The Empire had learned of your whereabouts. I don't mean to sound smug, Padme, but perhaps you should have accepted Master Yoda's advice and separate the child . . ."
Padme coldly interrupted. "The Empire was not searching for me. The Emperor doesn't know that I had been on Alderaan."
Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "I don't understand."
Owen spoke up. "The whole matter had to do with that Jedi Knight found and killed on Andalia. And some senator from that planet called Solipo Yeb."
"If you must know," Padme continued, "Bail had received a message from Solipo Yeb and the Empire managed to trace it. I'm sure you're aware that he is now a wanted fugitive. Apparently, Palpatine wanted to find out if anyone on Alderaan has been in contact with Solipo. In case some new resistance against the Empire flared up."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I see. My apologies if I had jumped to conclusions."
Padme coolly retorted, "That seems to be a habit of the Jedi."
"I beg your pardon?" Obi-Wan's eyes reflected shock at Padme's cold retort. "Is there something wrong, Padme? You seem rather . . . distant."
From the corner of her eye, Padme saw the cantina's barkeeper switch on the dining room's HoloNet receiver. She exchanged a brief, knowing look with Owen before she answered. "I'm . . . I mean . . ." She broke off with a sigh. Might as well tell the truth, she decided. "After my arrival at Alderaan, last year . . ." she began.
The waitress returned with their food. She also served Corellian ale to the two men and Blue milk to Padme. After she left, Obi-Wan said to Padme, "I'm sorry. What were you about to say?"
Padme took a deep breath and picked up her spoon. "On Alderaan, Bail had . . ."
A voice in the cantina cried out, "Hey barkeep! Turn up the volume! I can't hear the news! It's about the Wookies!"
All eyes inside the cantina focused upon the HoloNet receiver's screen. The newscaster continued, ". . . reliable sources have stated that the Wookies were allowing a band of rogue Jedi to use Kashyyyk as a base for rebel strikes against the Empire. The police action is believed to have begun with a demand that the Jedi be surrendered. Instead, the Wookies resisted, and the result was a battle that left tens of thousands dead, including the Jedi insurgents, and perhaps hundreds of thousands imprisoned. On Coruscant, Kashyyyk Senator Yarua and the members of his delegation were placed under house arrest before . . "
Recalling the Imperial ship that had stopped the Alberforce, Padme inhaled sharply. "So, that's where they were headed," she murmured.
Both Owen and Obi-Wan frowned at her. "What are you talking about?" Owen demanded.
"The Empire has killed more Jedi?" Obi-Wan asked at the same time.
Instead of answering, Padme returned her attention to the news. The newscaster added, "But on the minds of many just now is the identity of this person, captured by holocan on a landing platform normally reserved for the Emperor himself." The monitor projected the image of a tall, dark-haired man in his early twenties. He wore a black tunic and cape. And his eyes reflected cold intensity. "HoloNet News has learned that he is known in the highest circles as Lord Rasche. Beyond that, almost nothing is known, save for the fact that he led the action on Kashyyyk."
"Good heavens!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, drawing curious stares from Padme and Owen.
Owen asked, "Do you know him? This Darth Rasche?"
Obi-Wan continued, "Yes! That's . . . that's Romulus Wort! He's a Jedi Knight. Or he used to be. He was the apprentice of Master Wo-Chen Puri." The former Jedi Master's stunned eyes remained fixed upon the screen. "How in the blazes did he become a Sith Lord?"
"Sith Lord?" Owen continued.
Obi-Wan shook his head in disbelief. "I don't understand! Romulus Wort? I never thought Ihe/I would turn to evil. I thought . . ." He broke off, as his face turned red. His eyes became glued to his plate of food.
Padme had a good idea what . . . or whom was on Obi-Wan's mind. And she felt her anger slowly returning. "You thought that Anakin had returned to the Emperor," she finished in a cold voice. "Didn't you?"
Guilt flashed in Obi-Wan's eyes. "Really Padme, why would you . . .?"
"Don't lie to me, Obi-Wan," Padme interrupted coldly. "I know that Anakin is alive. Bail had told me when I first arrived on Alderaan."
A long-suffering sigh escaped from Obi-Wan's mouth. "Padme," he began in a weary voice, "I'm sorry that I had lied to you, but you must understand. Both Master Yoda and I thought it would be best . . ."
". . . if I didn't go wandering all over the galaxy in search for Anakin," Padme finished bitterly. "Dragging the children along. Thank you for your confidence in my intelligence, Master Kenobi."
Anger now flickered in the former Jedi's eyes. "I'm sorry, but we did what we thought was right!" he snapped. "What is your excuse?"
"You and Anakin had managed to wed behind everyone's backs and keep the marriage a secret for three years," Obi-Wan coldly retorted. "What is your excuse?"
Rage nearly engulfed Padme's body. She shot out of her chair and raised her hand to strike Obi-Wan. "Padme!" Owen hissed, as he glanced anxiously around the cantina's taproom. "Not here. Please!"
Padme glanced around and noticed a few pairs of eyes staring at her. Slowly, she returned to her seat. Then she took a deep breath to calm herself. "Of course. You're right. Thank you, Owen." She flashed a brief smile at the moisture farmer before allowing her gaze to return to the Jedi Master's face. "Perhaps Anakin and I were wrong to marry in secret, Obi-Wan," she continued in a soft and chilly voice. "But that does not excuse your lie about Anakin. One of the problems I've always had with the Jedi is your assumption that you knew what was right for the Republic." She paused dramatically. "Even when you were wrong."
The former Jedi Master's face trembled with suppressed emotion. His usually bright blue eyes became flat and lifeless. Padme wondered if she had gone too far. Obi-Wan answered her silent question, when he deliberately placed his fork on his plate and stood up. "Perhaps it would be best for me to allow you two to dine alone," he said in a cold and polite voice. "As you had originally intended."
"Perhaps that would be best," Padme murmured, as she stared at her bowl of soup.
Obi-Wan placed a few coins on the table. "For the meal. Good day, Padme. Lars." He nodded briefly at the moisture farmer and walked away.
A heavy sigh left Owen's mouth. "I wonder long it will be before either of us will see him again?"
"I don't know," Padme answered. "And to be honest, I don't think I really care." She resumed eating her soup. Although she felt justified in her words, a small part of her regret severing her one last link to her old life with Anakin.
KHOONDA PLAINS, DANTOOINE
The Javian Hawk stood on a patch of thick, lavender grass, not far from a sturdy spiky blba tree. Underneath the tree sat Anakin with his legs crossed beneath him and his wrists resting on his thighs. In the far distance, young Han scampered through the tall grass in pursuit of a fabool, one of the animals native to Dantooine.
Anakin inhaled deeply. He had not experienced such upheavals in his life, since those last days of the Clone Wars. In the past week, he had learned about the death of an old friend, nearly became a victim of theft - twice, escorted an important fugitive across the galaxy, destroyed an Imperial warship and acquired a new companion - the eleven year-old thief that was now in pursuit of a fabool.
After delivering Solipo and Thalia Yeb to Averam, Anakin and Han had purchased supplies for the Javian Hawk's repairs. Anakin also learned the identity of the Emperor's new apprentice, while watching a news report about the Kashyyyk police action, inside a cantina. He still found it difficult to belief that the highly-esteemed Romulus Wort had replaced him as the Emperor's new apprentice. What could have led someone like Romulus to succumb to the Dark Side? Anakin figured he should be relieved that someone other than himself now served Palpatine. But all he felt was sadness and regret for Romulus' fate . . . and a slight sense of guilt that his actions at the Jedi Temple may have led the other man into Palpatine's grip.
The Javian Hawk's crew had also acquired a new client. Before the starship's departure from Averam, a representative from the Tagge Corporation hired Anakin to ship a supply of Chandrilan brandy and Mandalorian wine to Dantooine for the planet's wealthy ranchers. The Empire finally caught up with the Hawk during a fuel stop on Toprawa. Anakin found himself being question by a pompous Imperial official investigating the Agamemnon's disappearance. With the evidence of the Hawk's firefight with Agamemnon repaired and the ship's logs changed, Anakin managed to avoid any kind of disclosure and arrest.
The pair had eventually delivered their cargo to another Tagge representative upon their arrival on Dantooine. As an antidote to the past week's tumultuous events, Anakin suggested a picnic on the outskirts of Khoonda settlement. After finishing a meal of Alderaan Stew and Bribb juice, Han engaged in his pursuit of the fabool. And for the first time in over a year, Anakin decided to meditate.
At first, it had seemed difficult for Anakin to calm his mind - to shut out his surroundings. Eventually, he finally managed to attune his senses to the Force. This went on for quite some time, until a familiar voice caught his attention. "Hello Anakin," a soft, masculine voice greeted. "I wondered if we would ever meet again."
Slowly, Anakin opened his eyes. He found a tall, bearded man smiling kindly at him. "Master Qui-Gon?" Anakin exclaimed with confusion. Sure enough, the late Jedi Master who had discovered him on Tatooine sat opposite him, surrounded by a blue, ghostly light. "H-how did you . . .?"
"Oh, don't worry," Qui-Gon Jinn declared. "I assure you that I am quite dead."
Anakin shook his head in disbelief. "I don't understand. How did you . . .? I mean, Obi-Wan told me that once a Jedi dies, his or her identity becomes one with the Force, forever erasing the Jedi's consciousness."
"Yes, it does happen like that," Qui-Gon replied. "But I have learned to retain my consciousness beyond death. Thanks to the Ancient Order of the Whills Scrolls. I had hoped to teach them to you, one day. Alas . . ." He broke off with a regretful sigh. "Well, better late than never."
A frown creased Anakin's forehead. "Are you suggesting that you teach me this path to immortality? Why would you . . .? I mean . . . well, after all I had done, I would think no one would consider me worthy of such teachings."
"What you've done?"
Anakin glanced away. "Please, Master Qui-Gon. If you are now one with the Force, surely you must know about what I had done to those Tusken Raiders following my mother's death. And my participation in the Jedi Purge." He paused, as his Sith predecessor came to mind. "And what I had done to Dooku. I have a great deal of blood on my hands."
"Yes, you do, Ain," Qui-Gon gravely replied. "And your actions are something that will remain with you for all time. We all have to face the consequences of our actions. You, me, Obi-Wan, Yoda . . ." He paused briefly. "Even your wife, Padme."
The mention of his late wife caused Anakin to glance sharply at his former mentor. "Padme? She's never . . ."
"If I recall," Qui-Gon said, interrupting Anakin, "when she was Queen of Naboo, your Padme was the one who had proposed a vote of no confidence against Chancellor Valorum . . . paving the way for Palpatine to become the Republic's new leader. And she did so out of frustration and anger. And of course, there was her belief that she could convince Dooku to release Obi-Wan on Geonosis through diplomacy. A belief that led to the capture of you both."
Anakin inhaled sharply. "Look, I realize that Padme was not perfect, but I would prefer if we don't talk about her. At least not yet."
One of Qui-Gon's brows arched questioningly. "I see. If you insist. I can only assume that by your words, 'not yet', you are willing to become my apprentice?"
A slight grin finally touched Anakin's lips. "As you had said, Master - 'better late than never'". A thought came to him. "By the way, are you teaching Obi-Wan, as well? Is he still alive?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes, Obi-Wan is still alive. And he has become my padawan. Along with Yoda."
"Master Yoda? He's still alive?"
Yes, he is." According to Qui-Gon, Yoda had survived an attack by clone troopers on Kashyyyk. The late Jedi Master continued, "After learning Palpatine's true identity, he managed to survive a duel against the Emperor. Like Obi-Wan, he is also my apprentice."
Anakin frowned. "But the Emperor still lives. Are you saying that both he and Yoda survived the duel?"
"Oh yes," Qui-Gon answered with a nod. "Yoda realized that his attack against the Emperor was ill-advised and decided to flee. He will have plenty of time to learn from his mistakes and overcome them. Just as you and Obi-Wan will."
Recalling the news report he had seen on Toprawa, Anakin asked, "What about Romulus Wort? I'm sure you're aware that he's the Emperor's new apprentice."
Qui-Gon shrugged. "What about him?"
"During my fight with Obi-Wan on Mustafar," Anakin continued, "I had a vision of what would have befallen me, if I had continued to serve the Emperor. Which is why I had walked away from the fight. Romulus seemed to have taken my place . . . without the black mask and missing limbs. But . . . I can't help but feel that I'm to blame. If I had not joined the Emperor and help set in motion the Jedi Purge, he would have never . . ."
Qui-Gon stated emphatically, "Romulus Wort had made his own decisions, Ani. He did not have to succumb to his own inner darkness and fear of loss. It was not set in stone that he would have remained a Jedi, if the Purge had not occurred. There would have been other opportunities for Master Wort or any other Jedi to choose the wrong path."
"So, do you feel that it's too late for him?"
A thoughtful expression appeared on the Jedi Master's face. "No," he finally said. "It's not. Remember Anakin, the future is always in motion. After all, you managed to turn your back on the Sith. Master Wort still has that opportunity. When all of you have finally learn to let go of your attachments, surrender to the will of the Force and not try to manipulate it for your own selfish gains, you can truly become one with the Force. And still maintain your individual consciousness."
At that moment, Han appeared on the horizon. He held a fabool in his arms. "Interesting young boy, your friend," Qui-Gon added. "When did he become your companion?"
Anakin hesitated. "Just recently. Han is strong with the Force." Qui-Gon stared at him, questioningly. "No, not that strong," the young man added. "But he's tough, resourceful, intelligent and has great reflexes. He might prove to be a great pilot, one day. And I'm not just projecting myself upon him."
"Hmmm. Well, it is time for me to leave you." Qui-Gon stood up. So did Anakin. "Be sure to continue your meditation, Anakin. And be mindful of the Living Force. Until the next time." His figure disappeared from view.
Anakin murmured, "Until next time, Master. May the Force be with you."
Han raced toward Anakin, still carrying the animal. "Where you talking to yourself?" he asked, frowning at Anakin.
The former Knight smiled. "No. I was just thinking of an old friend." He nodded at the fabool. "Do you plan to keep your new companion?"
"Huh?" Han glanced at the animal. "Oh. Uh, no. I just wanted to see if I could catch it. I guess I should let it go, huh?"
"I think that would be a good idea."
Han released the fangool. Which quickly scampered away. "So, when are we leaving?"
Anakin sighed. "I guess now would be a perfect time." He picked up the blanket.
"Great! I'll finally get to see Nar Shaddaa. I've heard a lot about it."
The young man and the boy strode toward the Javian Hawk's boarding ramp. "There's nothing to be excited about, Han," Anakin said. "Trust me. Nar Shaddaa is just a small-scaled version of Coruscant . . . and with no politicians. Besides, we have one last stop to make before we head for Nar Shaddaa. To a place called the Crystal Cave. It's not far from here."
"Why are we stopping there?" Han demanded.
Anakin paused. "Well . . . there's a special crystal I need to find inside the cave. A very special crystal for something I plan to construct." He smiled at the boy and ruffled the latter's hair. "Let's go." The pair marched up the ramp and boarded the starship. Minutes passed before the Javian Hawk lifted off the ground and soared into the sky above.