Closing your eyes to disappear
You pray your dreams will leave you here
But still you wake and know the truth
No one's there
Say goodnight, don't be afraid
Calling me, calling me as you fade to black
Holding my last breath
Safe inside myself
Are all my thoughts of you
Sweet raptured light, it ends here tonight
Evanescence – My Last Breath
Luke Skywalker sat on his bunk, cold feet on the floor. He had been like that for what seemed like forever. Staring down at his right hand.
His new hand.
His new prosthetic hand.
The hand Darth Vader had cut off.
The hand his own...
His mind stopped dead in its tracks before forming the words.
If he refused to think about it, it wouldn't be real.
True, he didn't know for sure. It could still be a lie. A bait to lure him to the Dark Side.
Then why did he believe it?
Why did he know it to be true?
Luke jumped to his feet and headed for the shower in long strides, ignoring the pain in his legs, numb after so long in the same position.
As he stood under the jet of water, his gaze turned to his hand, flat on the wall.
He hated it. Hated what it represented, what it reminded him of constantly.
He wanted to tear it apart and throw it away. It wasn't a part of him and it would never be.
He wanted his hand back. He wanted his life back.
He wanted his innocence back.
He hated the nasty, vengeful, dark thoughts he woke up with every morning and took to bed with him every night.
He hated what he was becoming, but he was helpless to prevent it.
'Much anger in him. Like his father.'
"Damn you too! Damn you to hell! You knew! You knew and didn't tell me either." He banged his head against the tiles. "Damn you all! You've destroyed me!" The tears blended with the water streaming down his face and disappeared down the drain. "FATHER!" he cried out loud for the first time, sinking to his knees and curling up into a foetal ball.
The cooling water brought him back much later, and he found himself shivering under the spray.
Resigned, defeated, he stood up wearily, turned off the water and exited the shower stall.
Lost in a chilly corner of his mind, he towelled himself dry and got dressed sluggishly, slumping down on his bunk again, staring at the wall.
He felt small, used, soiled. The walls seemed to be closing in on him, suffocating him.
He had to leave. He needed to find peace somewhere.
But there was nowhere to go. No matter how much he ran or how far he went, he would never find that place. Peace was within. Peace lay in that inner, sacred core untouched by evil and Darkness.
The place he looked for wasn't out there, but inside himself.
Still, that didn't change the fact that he was dying a slow death here, wallowing in his feelings of failure and self-pity.
But he was faulty. So faulty. Yoda himself had said it. Not in those words but...
Reckless, impatient. Proud. Too proud to be a Jedi. He had been in dire need of a lesson. And life had taught him one.
One that had broken him.
How to survive when your very soul has been crushed, shattered? How to live when your sweetest dream becomes your worst nightmare?
What do you do when you have nothing to believe in?
He closed his eyes and reached for the Force inside him. He turned to it for comfort. A broken child begging for a compassionate, reassuring touch.
He remembered happier times. On Tatooine, as he chased womp rats with his T-16. He remembered Biggs' words of encouragement every time he hit one.
So many friends he had lost. Friends, family... his every childhood dream.
Flying was the only thing he had left that made sense. Flying didn't hurt anyone. You only had to let go and float away. Among the stars.
Flying... Flying away...
Leia's voice startled him and he turned about.
He wasn't in his quarters anymore, but on the hangar, helmet in hand.
It seemed the decision had been made for him.
He waited for the Princess to catch up with him. She was breathless.
"Where are you going?" she asked softly.
"Out there," he said, his eyes turning to his X-Wing.
"I don't need him. I'm a good pilot and I can take care of myself. Besides, I don't intend to go very far. I just... I just need..."
"What? What do you need?" Leia asked, taking hold of his hand. His right hand.
Luke moved his hand back more harshly than he intended. He couldn't stand the feel of her touching that lifeless appendage.
The symbol of his failure. The mutilation of his spirit.
Resolutely, Leia reached out again and held his hand in hers, squeezing it hard. Forcing him to feel her touch. Her caring. Her love for him.
"Tell me," she invited with infinite tenderness.
"I have to get out of here," he blurted out. "I have to, just for a while." His eyes closed for an instant. "I can't stop thinking about..."
Leia caressed his cheek.
"Everything feels better when I'm flying. It's just me and space. The stars and the universe. Our big problems and our mighty wars don't mean a thing out there." He freed his hand and looked at it with disgust. "I also want to see how it responds. Like it or not, I have to get used to it."
"The problem is in your mind, not in your hand," Leia stated through misted eyes.
Luke let out a poignant smile.
"I know. And until I sort myself out, I'll be of no use to the Alliance, to my friends, or myself."
"I need you," a tiny voice reached his ears after a brief pause.
Bleeding inside at the pain in her voice, Luke wrapped Leia in his arms. She returned his embrace and they held each other desperately.
"I need you too," he kissed the soft hair cushioning his cheek. "If it hadn't been for you, I'd be in a padded cell by now. Thank you for everything you've done." He moved back suddenly. "But I have to get over this on my own, or I never will." He wiped away her tears with his thumb. The left one. "I'll be back by dinner time. I promise."
"Promise to be careful?" she asked shakily.
"Yes, mom," he made a weak attempt at humour.
She smiled at him.
"Remember we're very close to the No More Zone."
A rumble of laughter escaped Luke's lips.
"I fear Imperial ships, not ancient stories of invisible holes that swallow everything that passes near them."
"Still, be careful," Leia insisted.
"I will. See you later," he said, releasing her gently and heading for his ship.
"See you," she whispered back, too softly for him to hear.
The Princess stayed in the hangar until the X-Wing got lost in the blackness of space.
Alone at last, Luke drew his first deep intake of breath in days. He didn't know what it was with flying, but it gave him more peace and sense of freedom than the constricting walls of the ship he had inhabited for weeks.
Leaving everything behind, Luke focused on piloting, on getting reacquainted with his piloting abilities, on letting his mind wander free.
Free of bad memories. Free of fathers who had no qualms about mutilating their own children.
He floated in space, floated within himself, shutting everything out until he forgot who he was. He stayed like that for minutes, hours, forever.
A sudden lurch awakened him. Cursing himself for his near-fatal slip, he looked out into space. Then he looked harder, and rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
It... it couldn't be. There were no stars! They had disappeared. There was only Darkness before him.
The young man freaked. The Dark Side was coming after him! It was coming to take him!
'No. No! Get a grip. This has got to be some sort of hallucination. The stars are there. Calm down and check your readings.'
Luke checked the readings, and froze. There were no points of reference. The controls had gone mad, and they blipped out of sequence. He was heading in every possible direction at the same time!
He tried changing his course, to no avail. Something directly ahead was drawing him in, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
He reached for the Light, crying out for help.
'Please, somebody help me!'
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Isn't it incredible?"
"I'd forgotten how long it had been since I last had the space ahead entirely for me, without a million ships blocking the view."
"Anakin, are you drunk?"
"Jedi don't drink intoxicating beverages, do they, master?"
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and shook his head in a long-suffering gesture.
"Concentrate on piloting. Idle chit-chat can wait."
"You're a spoilsport, aren't you? YIPPEEEEEEE!!!!!"
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan yelled when his friend's ship nudged his right wing softly. "Don't ever, EVER do that again!"
"All right. If you're no fun, I'll indulge myself for a while. It'll be a long way back to the base."
"Be my guest." Obi-Wan waved his hand, giving up.
Anakin's ship flew past him at a manic speed, and spiralled ahead, in an impossible string of aerobatics.
"I feel dizzy just looking at him," he mused.
Anakin left his master behind and enjoyed himself for a while, teasing Artoo mercilessly, who beeped in terror at the young man's riskier manoeuvres.
Finally, the young Jedi felt sorry for the freaking droid and took a break. He stabilized the ship and introduced the coordinates of the base.
Right then, the controls went crazy and started giving the weirdest readings. He was suddenly heading in all directions, which was simply impossible.
"What's going on here?" he asked out loud.
The entire ship jolted and he lurched forward. Next, an instant acceleration forced his back against the seat.
The sight before him made Anakin's blood run cold.
Blackness. An all-consuming blackness lay before him. Like a black curtain that was sucking him in.
Struggling to get control of the ship, he cried out in his mind when the increasing acceleration threatened to crush him.
"Oh, no. Oh, no! Oh, NO!" he yelled. His head felt about to explode, and he closed his eyes, preparing himself for the worst.
And just when he thought he couldn't stand it anymore, the crushing pressure disappeared in a heartbeat.
Anakin opened his eyes tentatively, and gasped.
A beautiful planet floated in space directly ahead, and he was heading straight for it at full speed.
Shaking himself out of his momentary paralysis, he fought to reduce speed and prepare himself for the entry to the planet's atmosphere.
Something zoomed past him on his right, and out of the corner of his eye, Anakin thought he saw another ship. It happened so fast he couldn't tell if he had imagined it or not.
The ship's hull began to overheat, and he concentrated on the matter at hand. He started the retrothrusters and managed to correct the wrong entry angle.
"Still too fast. Too fast!" he muttered angrily. "Come on... Come on!"
"Hey. Are you all right? Can you hear me?"
Luke's head pounded as he slowly came to. He tried moving it, and moaned.
"Easy, easy. Take your time. I'm not going anywhere," a soothing voice floated into his brain.
Obeying the voice, Luke let his mind regain consciousness gradually, until he felt it was safe to open his eyes.
A beam of light blasted his retinas and he closed them again with another moan.
"Too much light?" the voice asked. "Here, try opening them now."
Taking a deep breath, Luke tried for the second time. Something was blocking the sunlight now, and he could keep his eyes open.
A dark blur greeted him.
"Focus," the voice instructed. "From the inside out. Focus on my voice and let the shapes take form."
It took a while, but Luke persevered and the blurry shapes began reforming, until the image before him coalesced into a face.
The face of a very good-looking young man, approximately his age. Blond and blue-eyed.
'Just like me,' was his first thought.
The stranger's hair was pretty much as long as his own, thicker and slightly wavy. He had a straight nose and full lips. A thin scar crossed his face from the right side of his forehead to the top of his cheekbone.
"Welcome to the world of the living." A smile that couldn't hide a hint of relief was his reward for his efforts. An arm reached out. "Can you move?"
The moment the hand touched his shoulder, Luke shook it off abruptly.
"Woa, calm down! I'm not going to hurt you. I didn't wake you up to kill you." A chilling coldness replaced the kindness in the voice.
Luke knew he had hurt the young man's feelings, and his first instinct was to apologize.
Give as good as you get. That'll show people to treat you with respect, and they'll think twice before taking the chance of hurting you. Physically or otherwise.
"I'm fine," he said in a raspy voice.
"Can you get out?" the voice was polite, but not friendly anymore. The young man moved back, giving Luke room to move.
Luke unfastened the straps holding him to his seat and took off his helmet carefully. No dizziness. That was a good sign. With a sigh, he put it aside, and tried to stand up. He was sore in several places and his right shoulder hurt badly. He was also quite stiff, but apart from that, he was all right. With some effort, he succeeded.
"Bantha crap!" he exclaimed.
He hadn't landed. He had crashed. It was a miracle he had survived relatively unscathed. His poor X-Wing was beyond repair, though.
His eyes turned to the landscape before him. A vast field extended as far as he could see. Trees, bushes and grass covered everything.
His heart sank. If this planet was uninhabited, or inhabited by a primitive culture, he was doomed. He would never get out of here.
His rescuer tilted his head to one side, and a compassionate expression crossed his features.
"Don't worry. I'm sure your ship can be repaired. You were lucky enough to crash with the greatest craftsman in the galaxy. Give me anything and I will fix it."
"If you have the tools," Luke pointed out. "Mine are in the hold below."
"A defeatist attitude will lead you nowhere. Have faith. Only time will prove you right, or wrong."
"Come on down. We have a lot to do," the young man gestured to follow him.
Cautiously, they climbed down the X-Wing's nose and jumped to the ground. They turned to each other.
Luke's fellow sufferer was about ten centimetres taller and seemed to be in pretty good shape. He was wearing a dark brown tunic that hung halfway down his thighs, a darker brown synthleather surcoat, lighter brown bottoms and dark brown leather boots. His belt had a myriad items attached to it.
His mouth dropped open at the sight of it.
A Jedi! This young man was a Jedi! How could that be possible?! Ben had said that Jedi were all but extinct. So far, he had assumed he meant all but Yoda and himself, and now Luke. But obviously...
'I've been told so many lies and half-truths that I don't know what to believe anymore.'
Many questions had been raised. Who had trained that young man? And when? And where had he been hiding until now?
Who, when, where... who cared? Knowing it wouldn't get them out of here.
Quickly brushing his questions aside, he addressed the other man.
"Where do we start?"
"I landed about five kilometres in that direction," Anakin pointed at the thick forest north-east. "I saw your ship crashing here and I chose the closest place I could find."
Luke felt strangely comforted by those words. He wanted to express his gratitude for so much thoughtfulness, but something held him back.
It wasn't that easy opening up to another anymore. Something had died inside him. It was hard to admit, but it was the truth.
He took off his pilot suit and tucked it next to the X-Wing's remains. He secured his blaster to his belt and turned to the man.
"Whenever you're ready."
Anakin raised a curious eyebrow and, turning about, he set off.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, until Luke broke it.
"There's something I don't understand. You said you chose the closest place to me you could find. And instead of landing anywhere on this field, you chose the forest. Why the most dangerous place of all?" he asked.
"I had no choice. My entry in the atmosphere was anything but smooth. I was lucky enough to get control of my ship just before I landed."
"Oh," Luke said. "Unlike me," he added some time later.
"If your entry was as... bumpy as mine, you have to be one hell of a pilot to do what you did." He turned around and looked at Luke's X-Wing in the distance. "You made a sharp turn to clear the surface, and crashed on your belly, judging from the skid marks on the ground." His eyes regarded Luke with open admiration.
"I don't remember," Luke said truthfully, blushing at the compliment. "But I'm glad I'm here... and not alone."
A small smile appeared on the other man's lips, and they walked in silence for another while.
"Do you have a name?" the young Jedi asked at last.
Luke had been fearing the question. His name was famous, and infamous, all over the galaxy. No matter where this man had been, he had to know his name. And not knowing where his political sympathies lay, he couldn't risk telling him his full name. But a lie about something as apparently harmless as one's name didn't feel right either. And for some reason, he didn't want this young man to distrust him. He had offended him enough already by rejecting his friendly touch.
"I'm... Luke," he said. "And you?" he asked quickly.
A pause, longer that it should be, followed.
"I'm Ani," was the dry reply.
'He's lying,' was Luke's first thought. But then, it occurred to him that the man could have chosen a better name, instead of something so... ahem, unusual.
"Pleased to meet you, Ani," he said, reaching out his hand. The left one.
Ani looked back at him and reached out his own hand. The right gloved one.
They shook hands awkwardly and Ani continued walking.
The hand squeezing his own had felt too hard, too unyielding. And he knew.
It was a prosthetic, mechanical hand.
An immediate flashback paralyzed his throat. Sweat broke out all over his body and his respiration accelerated. His teeth began chattering.
"Are you all right?"
Ani stopped when he realized Luke wasn't following him, and retraced the few steps he had taken when he saw the state he was in.
Luke got lost in the dark place inside him where his worst nightmares came true.
"No. No. Nononononono..." he groaned, unable to stop.
"Take it easy. Easy!" a voice penetrated the fog suffocating him. "Sit down and put your head between your legs. Take long, deep breaths." A warm hand started drawing circles on his back. "Reach for the Force and concentrate on my touch. It'll pass. Trust me. It will pass."
Yielding to the caring concern in that soothing accent, Luke buried himself in it. He had nothing else to hold on to. Nothing and no one.
"Trust me," Ani insisted. "It's gonna be all right in a minute."
Luke covered his face with his hands. A strangled whimper escaped him.
"It's all right." The hand settled on his shoulder and stayed there. A steadying, grounding force.
"Th-thank you," he croaked. He lowered his hands and met the blue eyes of his companion. They were warm, full of understanding.
"I know how it is." The look in those eyes spoke volumes. "Rest for a moment."
Calmness returned little by little, and Luke swallowed the lump in his throat.
"What happened to us?" he asked to the heavens.
Ani flopped down on the ground beside him and followed his gaze skywards.
"I don't know. But we're in big trouble."
Luke shook his head and looked down.
"The No More Zone!" he suddenly remembered.
"The what?" Ani bent closer to him.
"The No More Zone," Luke repeated, louder. "Lei-- a friend of mine asked me to be careful because we were flying very close to the No More Zone. Haven't you heard of it?"
"Who hasn't?" Ani replied. "A hole in space that swallows everything that comes near. Those who disappear in it never return." He clicked his tongue mockingly. "But lo and behold, I never heard of anyone who disappeared in it. It's all space tales."
"Then how do you explain what happened?" Luke exclaimed. "The stars were gone! And that blackness sucking me in..."
Anakin looked away. Luke's story was amazingly similar to his own. And coming to think of it... yes, he had been flying very close to the region where the No More Zone was supposed to be.
"How will we ever get out of here?" Luke asked weakly. "Even if we manage to repair my ship..." his voice faded away.
"We'll find a way," Anakin said with conviction. "If there is a way to get out of here, we'll find it."
Luke met Ani's eyes, wanting to believe.
TO BE CONTINUED...