He sat up, cautiously, wondering what in the name of the Force had happened. His head was spinning, and everything felt . . . different. The Force felt different. It no longer surrounded him the way it had for the past . . . how many years? He couldn't remember. Ever since he had died, the Force had been like a blanket closer than his flesh, not just in his mind, the way it was in life, but in his incorporeal body. Wait, that was what it felt like, life! He stared at his hand. It was there, whole. He couldn't understand. It hadn't been when he died! It had been metal for decades. Wait a minute! He touched his face. It felt . . . young. No lines, no scars, the smoothness of youth. He frowned.
Someone had said something to him about this, once. A while after he had joined the ranks of the spectral Jedi in the Realm of Spirit, he'd been conversing with another spirit, one who'd been there for centuries. She'd said that every now and then, spirits would be torn out of the Realm of Spirit, and flung back into the Realm of Flesh. But wouldn't he have been flung out at the age he died? He stopped to reconsider. 'Be grateful for small favors, man!' he reproved himself. 'If you're young and strong, you have a better chance of . . .'
Of what? He realized he had to stop and take stock. He was dressed, thank the Force. He was wearing the tan tunic and trousers of the Jedi, and tall black boots. His lightsaber hung from his belt, but . . .
'Oh great!' He realized he had neither money nor ID. 'Wonderful.'
Now what was he to do?
"Obi-Wan?" Luke frowned slightly at the apparition that had just appeared in his dream. "I thought you said you wouldn't be able to come back."
"Normally, I wouldn't have," his old master replied. "This is a bit of an emergency, and there's a lot of others here lending their power so I can come. You see, the Force loves to play tricks. The Realm of Spirit, the one I inhabit right now, is a favorite target of these tricks. What's happening right now is that the spirits are getting turned back out into the Realm of Flesh—the one you're in—completely at random. No money, no identification, and, for most of them, no idea where or even when they are. It's hard to keep track of time in this Realm. We need someone on this side to try and track them down, find them, and help them.
Luke noticed that as Obi-Wan spoke, there was a tugging appearance, a streaking, like he was being pulled towards something.
"Try and find them, Luke. They need your help." With that, whatever was pulling on Kenobi succeeded and he popped out of Luke's dream.
Luke now found himself unable to sleep. 'Spirits popping into the world at random? I wonder . . .'
"Luke?" Mara's sleepy voice next to him startled him slightly. "Luke, what was that all about? I think a bit of some dream you were having bled over to me."
"Yeah, I get the feeling like you were supposed to hear it too." Luke said, then explained the situation.
She frowned, seeing something he hadn't. "What if it's not just Jedi that are popping out? What if Sith are too?"
"I think Ben would have told me," Luke replied thoughtfully. "Still, I don't know. He might have been going to before he disappeared."
"Worry about it in the morning, Farmboy. I for one am going back to sleep."
"Good idea," Luke replied. "I think I'll join you."
He stared around him. Where was he? From the look of things . . . either Nar Shaddaa or the lower levels of Coruscant.
Probably Coruscant, he decided. Now, down to business. His stomach rumbled, and he realized he was pretty hungry. 'Great, so I'm hungry,' he thought. 'What's going to happen next?'
Then he had a thought. If he was thrown out here, maybe others were nearby. He stretched out with the Force, searching for familiar presences. His face split into a grin. There was that presence…
//Hey, you got dropped here too?//
//Yup, 'fraid so. Did you get through?//
//You mean to my contact?//
//I did, and got time to warn him.//
//Still not going to tell me who he is?//
//I have too much of a sense of humor.//
//Geez. You're nice.//
//Aren't I though?//
//Where are you?//
'Umm . . .' He looked around. //It looks like a trash heap, but somehow I don't think that'll help much.//
//No, it doesn't, but you sound close.//
After a little while longer, the two ex-ghosts eyed each other. Obi-Wan looked like he'd been dropped out at about thirty or so. His beard wasn't the scrubby little goatee of the younger man's recollection, and there was no hint of gray in it.
"Still not going to tell me your contact?" The (now) young man wheedled.
"No," replied Obi-Wan with an amused grin. "You'll find out soon enough."
They started off to look for some food.
"Okay, so there's supposed to be a bunch of Jedi just sort of wandering around back from the dead," said Mara the next morning. "Did Kenobi tell you how to actually find them?"
Luke frowned. "Well, no, but there's gotta be a way. I mean, he said this has happened before, so they must have figured it out somehow."
Mara grumped, "It would have been nice if he could have told you."
Luke nodded, "True, true."
Mara frowned. "I've got a bad feeling."
Luke shook his head. "Don't say that. Please don't say that. Every time someone says that, something reeeeeeeeally bad happens."
Up ahead, they heard shouts. They'd been walking around, trying to sense any powerful Force users nearby, when they saw some guy who seemed to be trying to kidnap a little kid.
"Hey, stop!" Luke shouted, running towards them.
Obi-Wan saw them first. "Hey, looks like there's trouble! That man up there's trying to stuff that boy into a van."
He and his friend set off at a run.
The collision of the four Jedi also served to knock the would-be kidnapper down and allow the boy to escape. The man, believing their act to be intentional, set off at a run.
The four stared at each other. Luke shook his head, trying to clear it.
Then, simultaneously, they all gasped, "Who are YOU?"
Mara frowned at the two Jedi she and Luke had run into. One of them looked like a fairly dignified fellow in his mid-thirties, with dark auburn hair and longish goatee. The other… the other looked like a much taller version of Luke. A much younger, taller version of Luke. As in, maybe twenty.
"Obi-Wan?" Luke exclaimed quietly.
"I'm sorry, Luke," the older of the two said in a rich, elegant voice. "I didn't know about this particular… aspect of the phenomenon when I warned you. Apparently, age is as variable as location. That's the best my friend here," he nodded towards the younger one, "and myself have been able to figure out."
"And your friend here would be…" Luke prompted, though Mara, touching his mind, sensed a definite suspicion in his mind.
The blond man smiled softly, and chuckled, a sound that put Mara in mind of a spring thunderstorm on Yavin IV. "I'd have thought you'd recognize me. My name," the man said in a rumbling baritone, "is Anakin Skywalker."
There was dead silence for five seconds.
"Why do I get the feeling," Luke asked, "that somewhere, some cosmic power is laughing its head off?"
Qui-gon looked around where he'd fallen and grimaced. Everything seemed so much taller than he remembered…
Wait a minute, how old was he? He tried to find some mildly reflective surface, settled on a puddle, and grimaced.
Wonderful. He looked like he was about ten. Scrub-brush hair, braid, and all. Great. The return of Padawan Jinn.
He reached out in the Force, looking for a familiar presence.
He found one.
Yoda smiled happily as he sensed his padawan, and his padawan's age. "Good, this is. My padawan, short enough to hit is he. Annoying, it was, able to reach past his knees I was not. Able I am now."
He grinned even wider, and his ears perked up, as he started to walk and realized he felt much younger and healthier than he had in a while. "Excellent, this is! Young and healthy am I. Like I only age four hundred, I feel!"
He hefted the gimer stick that had accompanied him from the Realm of Spirit. "Hit many more people, I will be able to. Happy, I am."
Luke looked around at everybody. "Okay," he said, still struggling to assimilate the idea that this twenty-year-old was his father, "what's the plan? Do we head right back to my apartment and find you two some regular clothing and maybe some food or do we look for more Jedi before calling it a day?"
Anakin shrugged. "I'm fine either way," he said. "Food isn't an unwelcome concept, but I'd feel bad if there were a bunch of others stuck out in the middle of lower-level Coruscant with no money, no ID, nothing but a weapon that'll identify them as Jedi the minute they haul them out."
Obi-Wan said, "I say we keep looking."
Mara shrugged. "I think we should keep looking a little bit more before we call it a day. Surely the four of us will be able to use the Force to help look?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "That's true."
Luke looked around again, because he liked doing that sort of thing. "Okay, so it's a group consensus we keep looking. Shall we give it, say, another four hours then head back to the ranch?"
"Depends," grunted Obi-Wan.
Mara frowned. "Depends on what?"
"Depends on if we're stopping to eat. I can't speak for Anakin," Obi-Wan nodded towards the tall young man, "but I'm famished."
" I wouldn't say no to food," replied Anakin, "but I thought Jedi should be able to ignore the demands of the physical body." He shot Obi-Wan an amused glance.
"Touché," replied Kenobi.
"Okay," said Mara. "We'll keep an eye out for food as well as wayward Jedi. I don't suppose you two sensed any others."
"I haven't looked for anyone, and the probability is that there won't be too many nearby, simply because there's so much space to scatter them in, but I wasn't around the last time this happened, so I wouldn't really know," replied Obi-Wan.
"Don't look at me," Anakin said as Mara turned to him. "I've spent even less time in the Realm of Spirit socializing than Obi-Wan here has. I knew this happened—it's one of the first things the older ghosts warn the newbies about, but I didn't know much more than that it happened. He knew about the random scattering, and more about the other times it's happened."
"But you didn't know the age thing," put in Luke.
"No, I didn't know about that," conceded Obi-Wan. "But Anakin's right that I know more about it than he does."
No one knew quite what to say about that, so they walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Obi-Wan said, "I think I sense… someone to the southeast."
"Two someones," Luke put in. "One of them's Yoda."
Obi-Wan and Anakin both groaned. "Be ready for plenty of bruises," warned Kenobi. "He was pretty easy on you on Dagobah, Luke, but I have a feeling that stick of his is going to be very active."
"Just as long as he doesn't give me another concussion," Anakin said.
Mara looked interested. "There's a good story behind this one, it sounds like," she said.
Obi-Wan grinned. "Good story, it depends on who you ask. I think it's quite a funny story, so does Yoda, but I believe Anakin here begs to differ."
"Darn right I do," growled Anakin. "It was during one of his lessons on the prophecies. Seeing as how I think most of them are a bunch of made-up poodoo, I was sort of drifting off in his class. My danger sense told me that he was standing over me looking mad, but it failed to warn me of his descending stick before said stick encountered my ascending head. Boom, I'm in the healers with a concussion."
Obi-Wan snickered. "That's what you get for sleeping in one of his classes."
"Well excuse me, but the prophecies are really boring anyhow," retorted Anakin. "I really can't care too much if some half-insane bozo prophesied the destruction of some little nation-state that was already halfway sunk three thousand years ago. History is useful," he continued, "but the prophecies are really weird, and trying to listen to a lesson on some prediction made in iambic pentameter recited in Yoda-grammar is a quick way to get a headache. And a good cure for insomnia."
"Who's the other one?" Luke asked. "Do either of you recognize him?"
Anakin shook his head, but Obi-Wan said, "Hey, neat! It's my old master, Qui-gon."
Five more minutes, and two more members joined their party. Obi-Wan was… dismayed, to say the least, at his master's new age, but Anakin was of the opinion that being young again was good for anyone.
"That's true," Qui-gon said when that opinion was expressed. "But isn't this overdoing it just a little?"
Anakin shrugged. "No, but seeing as how I'm not stuck at that age, I can't really make a judgment call."
A shrug was his only reply.
"What now will we do?" asked Yoda. "Hungry, I am."
Mara asked, "Is this like typical of suddenly-reappeared Jedi ghosts? Hunger?"
The returned-Jedi contingent all looked at one another and shrugged. "Don't know," Qui-gon said. "None of us have been through this before."
"Well, been through it I have, from the standpoint of the living," said Yoda.
"That's useful," Luke said. "We have at least one person who knows what's going on then."
"Eat, where shall we?" Yoda asked.
"I've got some ration bars," Mara offered.
Luke groaned. "No! No ration bars!"
"Amen!" said Kenobi. "I'd like Corellian."
"Corellian's nasty," said Anakin. "I'd go for Tatooinian."
"No! Fried chuba we will –not- eat!" exclaimed Yoda.
Luke said, "I second the vote for Tatooinian."
Qui-gon said, "I vote for Alderaanian."
"Swamp stew, we should have. Good for Jedi it is." Yoda remarked.
"NO!" Exclaimed Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Luke in unison.
"I'd like to keep my taste buds in working order," said Anakin, "because I just got them back and if I start abusing them now, they'll mutiny."
Luke and Qui-gon laughed. Obi-Wan's mouth twisted in a grin.
Luke turned to Mara. "Be very, very thankful," he told her, "that you have never had the misfortune to sample swamp stew."
Yoda frowned at everyone. "A good Jedi exercise, it is, eating swamp stew. Yes, good Jedi exercise."
Anakin threw up his hands. "And people wonder why I quit. Imperial ration bars taste better. No taste is better than bad taste."
Everyone got sort of quiet. They'd all been avoiding mention of Anakin's past, or his relation to Luke. The silence continued for a while, uncomfortably, as they walked on.
They'd found no one, and finally called it a day. Food hadn't been decided upon, much to everyone's dismay, and Mara said it served them all right for not compromising. It was decided by group consensus that the four ex-ghosts would stay for another week, helping Luke and Mara look for others, then they'd go to the Jedi praxeum on Yavin, since the Skywalker apartment wasn't really big enough for all of them.
Mara woke up around midnight, wondering what had awakened her. She reached for Luke, and discovered he wasn't there. She paused for a second, stretching out through the Force, searching for her husband's presence.
A second later she was reassured. He was out on the balcony, looking out towards the Manari Mountains. She slipped quietly out of bed, intending to go over to him, but stopped when she heard voices on the balcony.
"What was my mother like?" Luke was saying softly.
The reply was in Anakin Skywalker's deep baritone. "She was… very beautiful. She had dark brown hair and eyes; her face was very elegant. She wasn't tall—a bit shorter than you are—but somehow, she was regal enough that she could tower over anyone when she needed to. Her name… be warned, it's very long. Padmé Amidala Naberrie Skywalker."
She slipped back off to bed quietly, feeling very glad that Luke was able to spend time with the father he had barely known.