The Darkness of Water by paxnirvana

The Darkness of Water

by paxnirvana

Rating: PG-13

Author's Note: Shmi gets the short end of the stick in Phantom Menace. She's a beautiful woman who has struggled to make a life for her son under incredibly bad conditions. She did pretty well, all told, until the Jedi came along to mess things up. And there's more to her than we know. . .

sorry, but it's another work in progress

Disclaimer: I don't own them, I just love them; I don't make any money off of them. Special thanks to George Lucas.

* * * * *

The exile felt the death-stroke from over three thousand light-years away. It resonated with stunning impact through the body of the Force like the felling of a huge, ancient tree. She doubled over in mingled pain and grief, spread hands covering her face, and fell to her knees before the startled Holy One's eyes. Her lightsaber hilt clattered sharply on the ornately inlaid tiles beside her.

"Jedi Ruaramarathnam!" A courtier nearby gasped her name in shock. The guard nearest her reacted by drawing away from her in disgust at the unseemly display. The rest of the audience chamber fell instantly silent, all eyes fixed on the crumpled Jedi. The Holy One held up a staying hand as one of her aides made as if to approach the stricken woman. She too had felt the strange resonance in the Force, but, without the outward-looking Jedi training, had not been able to discern the cause for a disturbance that came from beyond her domain.

Rua straightened up slowly, her hands pressed tightly to her face, concealing the welling tears in her eyes. To cry before the Holy One would be the highest shame, but she could not stem the flow of tears. He was gone; hope was shattered. She must weep or die.

"A great light has been lost, my Holy One," she said tightly, through her hands. "We are diminished."

"I too felt this loss, Jedi Ruaramarathnam," the Holy One said, her voice filled with sadness. "It was he, then?" The room took instant note of her tone, and Rua could hear the rustle of formal cloaks as the room sank collectively to its knees. She could only nod her head in reply to the Holy One's question. She heard the Holy One approach, felt a gentle touch brush across her hands, then the Holy One herself put her hand on Rua's shoulder and turned her toward the door. The brief contact filled her with a taste of the Holy One's light and warmth. A light and warmth that was dimmed by her own surging grief.

"By my will, you will tax the Jedi Council for this, Jedi Ruaramarathnam," the Holy One said quietly and with deep comprehension, for her loss, for the Galaxy's loss. Obediently, Rua turned and fled the audience chamber, finding the familiar path only through her contact with the Force. Behind her, she could hear the Holy One give orders for the Temple of Subia to be placed into deepest mourning for the fall of a Jedi Master.

* * * * *

On Coruscant itself, she faced down the Knights that guarded the Jedi Council Chambers, her grief held under tight control. From those shaken Knights, she learned that the Masters she sought had removed from Coruscant to an obscure rim system called Naboo.

She stayed only long enough to learn coordinates, and that an incredibly powerful boy – that some claimed to be the Chosen One – had been discovered by Master Qui-Gon Jinn on some other obscure backwater Rim planet. Then she took ship again. The planet Naboo and its young Queen had recently made itself known in Galactic circles by successfully fighting off the hostile intentions of the Nemoidian Trade Federation. It was on Naboo that disaster had befallen the Jedi. And ultimately, the Galaxy.

* * * * *

Master Yoda looked up at her approach, and his long green ears twitched once in annoyance. Mace Windu, as usual, was at his side. Windu raised his head in surprise. He had been concentrating, it seemed and had missed her approach through the ornate gardens. "You," Yoda said simply in his rasping voice. "Not unexpected, this is."

"Is it?" Rua said harshly, her brow-ridge raised ironically.

"For our loss, I am grieved," Yoda said. Despite his words, he stared with scant sympathy at the mottled, pale blue woman before him. It was plain there was little love lost between them. She was tall and slender, after her kind, with no body hair and webbing between her digits. Her race did not favor clothing, but in deference to her Jedi training, she wore the traditional brown robe over her skin and low boots on her feet. Her lightsaber and utility pouch hung on a harness across her body. Her skin was sleek and shone softly in the fading evening light as if damp. Her large black eyes drank in the light, reflecting little. On her head, long, flexible spines, connected with webs of vibrantly blue-hued skin lay flat, giving no indication of her inner turmoil. Beside her sleek form the ancient Jedi Master appeared even more wizened and gnarled.

"Enough, Yoda," she snapped. "Qui-Gon Jinn is no more. How?"

"Sith, it was," he said, looking up at her with a sideways glare. "Unknown if Master or Apprentice. Apprentice, do we believe."

The spines on her head snapped upright in outrage, then sagged back down. "Sith," she hissed. "How long have you known?"

"Not long," the little Master replied, shifting his staff slightly and glaring up at her. While they contrasted greatly in height, the will that shone from both was strong and fierce. Neither looked away until someone cleared a throat nearby.

"Master Ruaramarathnam," Mace Windu said, bowing deeply to her. She transferred her glare to him. To his credit, he did not falter under her glare either.

"Knight Windu," she acknowledged shortly. He shrugged and shot a careful look at Yoda.

"Master, now, and member of the Council," he said quietly, his expression composed.

"When?" she snapped, outraged.

Yoda gave a deep sigh, bracing himself on his gimer stick. "The Temple of Subia has consumed many years, Ruaramarathnam, since you resigned the Council. The Galaxy turns; replace you we did."

"What of my nomination of Jinn?"

"Heedless of the Council's wishes was he; consensus we could not achieve. He was too close to the Living Force."

"You are fools," she spat. "Do you still not heed my Prophecy? Had he a Padawan?"

"Knight Kenobi has passed his trials. Slay the Sith he did."

She gave a snort of surprise at that information. Then she glared down at Yoda, folding her hands into the sleeves of her robe. "I will speak with this newly-minted Knight, now," Master Rua said shortly, and to Mace Windu's surprise, the normally irascible Yoda bowed his head in calm agreement.

* * * * *

Obi-Wan Kenobi was curious, despite the feelings of grief and loss that still clawed at him. Master Windu of the Jedi Council himself had come to the temporary rooms Queen Amidala had assigned to him and his Padawan and summoned him to an urgent meeting in the ornate formal gardens. Gardens that still bore the disruptive signs of blaster fire and trampling robot feet.

Beside a tiled series of pools near one of many small ornamental falls, Master Yoda waited with a strange robed and hooded Jedi at his side. Obi-Wan felt an odd shimmer in the Force emanating from the stranger. It was like nothing he had ever sensed before.

"Master Yoda," he said, bowing respectfully to the oldest of the Jedi. Yoda snorted and waved his staff at the hooded one beside him.

"Heard you, Obi-Wan, of Master Rua?" Yoda asked in his abrupt fashion. Obi-Wan's head snapped up and he stared at the hooded one more closely.

"I have indeed heard of Master Rua, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan replied with commendable calm. His thoughts spun in his head. Master Rua had taught Qui-Gon for a short time, until she had ascended to the Council. She had served there with distinction and great renown for many years. Until she had resigned from the Council amid some kind of disagreement, one that the Masters were still strangely reluctant to discuss.

"Yoda, your games tire me. I will interview him alone," the hooded one spoke sharply. Her voice was sweet and pure, but tinted with impatience. To Obi-Wan's deep shock, Yoda nodded his head and slowly departed the garden. When the diminutive Master had gone, Master Rua raised hands to her hood and cast it back.

She was Suian. Her people traveled little in the Galaxy, and so he had never encountered a Suian before, but he recognized her nonetheless. They were, as a species, natively strong with the Force, but strangely, few joined the Jedi. An aquatic race, she had gleaming, mottled blue-gray skin and large, liquid eyes. Her face was long and smooth, her expression flat and hard to read. A spiky fringe of vibrant blue adorned her head in lieu of hair. She was tall, nearly as tall as his old master had been.

He had absorbed all this in the barest instant, for the Master immediately took a step toward him and cupped his face between her slightly cool hands. The contact was deeply disturbing, both personally and through the Force. A strange Force-laced charge shot through him from her hands and he suppressed the urge to step back from her. He had faced down and killed a Sith, this strange Jedi Master would not intimidate him.

"Ah, but I should, young one," she said in response to his thoughts, her voice soft, her dark eyes narrowed. He had shielded better than that, he thought in shock. She let a chill smile touch her pale lips.

"No one can shield from my touch, Obi-Wan Kenobi," she said grimly, and her grip tightened fractionally on his face. "I would see his end."

Then memories poured through his mind; memories of that last battle for Naboo. Of when he and his Master had broken from the Queen's party to face down the Sith Lord. His own fall from the catwalk. His tiring Master being lured into the energy gates by the Sith. The delay, the horrible delay, caused by those same energy gates. He felt it all again; his Master's exhaustion, the Sith's unholy glee, his own desperation. He saw again his Master struck down, pierced by the Sith's blade. The energy gate's opening, his own grief and torment driving him to pursue, to avenge, to destroy. The last words exchanged with his Master; the promise made. His Master's passing.

Then she released him.

He fell to his knees, crying out in protest, his anguish as raw, his heart pounding as wildly, his body as exhausted as if he had somehow lived those same terrible minutes over again.

"Only the Apprentice. Where is the boy?" Master Rua snapped, melodious voice harsh as she callously dismissed the threat of the dark warrior that had cost him his master. Obi-Wan clenched his hands into fists and glared up at her. She loomed above him, chill and remote, those dangerous hands shrouded in the sleeves of her robe. In that instant, he came as close to despising a fellow Jedi as he had ever come before.

"Control yourself, Knight Kenobi," she said calmly, her dark eyes watchful. "Remember your training and be not overly concerned. Your reaction is not unfamiliar. Few Jedi can endure my touch."

"Master Rua," he said, firmly controlling his emotions and bowing his head respectfully. She was strange and powerful with the Force in a way he had never encountered before. He rose slowly to his feet, struggling to keep his tone even. "My Padawan is in our quarters. Shall I summon him?"

"Yes," she said shortly.

He turned to leave, then paused, turned back and faced her again. His expression was carefully respectful, but his eyes were hard.

"Will you do to him as you did to me?"

"If necessary, Knight Kenobi," she said grimly.

"Then I will not summon him, Master Rua," he said, straightening up and pulling his own hands up inside his sleeves, folding them calmly before him. He would not subject Anakin to such an invasion. There was no telling what damage it would do to the grief-stricken boy; his control was tenuous now as it was. The strange Master glared at him for a long moment, then a smile briefly quirked her lips. She lifted her hands from her robes, pressed the palms together before her and gave him a strange half-bow, her liquid gaze fixed upon him the while.

"In this, you surpass Yoda," she said. Obi-Wan could only stare back at her, amazed. "Perhaps you will succeed after all, Obi-Wan Kenobi." Then she lifted her palms apart gracefully, with a small ritual flourish. "I will not touch your Padawan without your consent, Knight Kenobi."

"Then I will return with my Padawan." He bowed shortly and left her.

* * * * *

"Why do we have to see this Master again? Padm – uh, Amidala was going to let me visit the State Rooms this afternoon." The slight whine in Anakin's voice grated on his Master's raw nerves. Anakin was annoyed that he had had to have his hair cut in the Padawan style. Anakin was annoyed that his beloved friend had turned out to be the Queen herself. Anakin was annoyed that he had to listen to Obi-Wan instead of Qui-Gon Jinn. Anakin was just annoyed.

"She has requested it, my Padawan," Obi-Wan Kenobi said patiently as he led the way back out through the seemingly endless corridors of Theed Palace. "And it is our duty to respect the wishes of our teachers."

"In the gardens?"

"Enough, Ani," Obi-Wan said finally. He desperately needed this time away from Master Rua to examine their first encounter and the strange power he had already endured. Qui-Gon had not spoken of his old master often, but when he had it had been with the deepest respect and affection. Obi-Wan had see nothing, so far, that would inspire affection from this strange Master. Of course, grief affected perception. Both his own and hers.

As they entered the gardens, Obi-Wan was not entirely surprised to be accosted by Master Yoda.

"Ah, it is the boy she summons." The little Master stood in the shade of a huge statue, an odd look on his face. He glanced once at Obi-Wan, nodded in some silent confirmation, then straightened up. "Master Yoda. . ." Obi-Wan began, but the ancient Jedi Master interrupted him, staring thoughtfully at the nervously shifting Anakin at his side.

"Touched you did she, Obi-Wan?" the small master stated with certainty. "And the boy?"

"I will not allow it." Obi-Wan replied firmly, settling his hands inside his sleeves again.

"Ah," Yoda said, a knowing gleam in his eyes. "Go then. Keep her waiting you should not." Then he waved them on into the gardens.

Anakin followed him silently for a while. "What's going to happen, Master?" he asked, all trace of whining gone from his tone. The odd encounter with Master Yoda had sobered the boy. Obi-Wan looked down at his apprentice, sensing his trepidation and rising fear. He put a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I am here, Padawan," he said stiffly. "I swear that no harm will come to you in my care."

Master Rua was standing in the same place as when he had left her earlier, save that her great liquid eyes were closed. A deep stillness surrounded her. She appeared to be meditating.

Out of respect, Obi-Wan halted at the edge of the glade. Anakin pressed himself to his side, obviously disturbed at the sight of the alien woman. This in itself worried Obi-Wan, for Anakin had grown up in a place where his own species had been rare. The boy had seen more alien races than most in his short life. One more should make no difference to him, yet the boy was uneasy.

"Approach with your Padawan, Knight Kenobi," Master Rua said suddenly, her eyes still closed. Anakin started beside him, but Obi-Wan bowed respectfully and entered the glade.

"Master Rua, I present to you my Padawan learner, Anakin Skywalker," Obi-Wan said formally once they stood before her. The Master's eyes finally opened and she stared directly at the boy. Anakin flinched. Obi-Wan touched his shoulder in reassurance, and the boy straightened up. Obi-Wan could sense the effort he made to control his fear.

"You are strong in the Force, Padawan Skywalker," she said, staring at him intently.

"Master," the boy said shakily. Her gaze held the boy's with the force of a tractor beam. He could not look away.

"I am also strong in the Force, Padawan," she said without pride, simply stating a fact. "I trained Qui-Gon Jinn at one time. His is a tragic loss to us all."

"Yes, Master," Anakin said, sadness in his voice. The boy had come to love and respect Qui-Gon in the brief time they had been together. Obi-Wan's own grief filled him again, but he firmly pushed it away. It was Anakin who mattered here and now. Protecting him from this odd Jedi Master. It was an awkward feeling for Obi-Wan.

"I was once a member of the Jedi Council, Padawan, but I left them for they had become fools. They are rigid and arrogant in their ways. They did not wish to train you, did they?"

"Master. . . "Obi-Wan began, stunned that she would speak of such delicate matters so directly to a mere Padawan, much less to a new Knight. She lifted a smooth brow at him, her expression ironic and cool.

"The Council is wise, Knight Kenobi, but wisdom too long isolated becomes foolish. They deny the Living force and so doom themselves. But I did not journey here to debate old arguments. You might have become the Chosen One, Padawan Skywalker, but balance will be denied you. Qui-Gon was to be your teacher, but he is now one with the Force. The Sith have finally revealed themselves." She shuddered as if uttering the name of the ancient enemy pained her. "The Chosen One is now not yet born."

"Then my Master was mistaken?" Obi-Wan heard himself gasp. Master Rua's gaze flicked to him, startled by his lack of perception. She had expected Qui-Gon's Padawan to understand the Living Force, as had his master. Then she shifted her look back to the boy, weighing the damage more truth could inflict on both of them.

"He was and he was not," she said grimly. "The will of the Force is always in motion, as well you should know, Knight Kenobi. It is neither good nor evil, yet can be both, as it simply is. The balance is all-important, and must be regained. Change is upon us, Knight Kenobi, Padawan Skywalker, and you are both pivots of change."

Anakin staggered at her words, Obi-Wan put his hands on the boy's shoulders, holding him against him. Almost protectively, she was heartened to see. There was a tentative bond between them already, but would it grow strong enough? Master Rua watched them from her chill eyes, aware, now, of other layers to the boy. Ethereal ribbons of possibility snaked away from him, ribbons both bright and dark. The strongest was a bright one to the past.

"You lived long with your mother, did you not, young Skywalker?"

"Yes," the boy said, surprised and wary. The Jedi Council had taxed him greatly over that fact.

"She loved you a great deal, this I can see. And you her. Cherish that love, young one. The Council is mistaken. Always remember; without great love, and the sacrifices it will bring, there can be no balance."

Obi-Wan felt the boy relax back against him. Warnings screamed in Obi-Wan's mind - her message went against much of ritual Jedi training - but Anakin seemed to find a measure of peace in her unorthodox words. "Master Rua, this is a great burden you have placed on me and my Padawan," Obi-Wan heard himself protest.

"The burden is there regardless, Knight Kenobi. You were trained by Qui-Gon, do you not feel the Living force?"

"My Master said I still had much to learn. . . " Obi-Wan admitted, eyes downcast. Master Rua sighed and looked away, far out over the sparkling falls toward the distant, doomed green hills of Naboo. So beautiful a planet, and so fragile. It had survived one invasion. It would not survive the next.

"So," she said sadly. "We shall have to see, Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you can truly honor your Master's teachings."

* * * * *

Master Rua left Naboo heavy of heart. Obi-Wan Kenobi would ultimately fail in his task, she knew. The Unifying force was strong with him. He was a good Jedi, but he did not resonate with the Living force that Qui-Gon had understood so effortlessly. It had been Qui-Gon's destiny to teach the boy; he was the only one who could have trained that amazingly powerful and undisciplined boy to be the Chosen One. Now, the arrival was delayed for at least another generation. She had foreseen it. Dark forces were moving in the Galaxy now.

There would be much suffering before the Chosen One ended it.

From Obi-Wan's mind, she had learned of the mother's location. Tatooine. A desert planet. She grimaced in distaste. She would require special attire to survive there long. But visit the mother, she must.

* * * * *

It had been a long two weeks for Shmi, and she was weary. Since Anakin had been freed and left with the Jedi Master, Watto had been peevish and unreasonable. He had lost far more than just Anakin through his rash betting. As a result, Watto had worked her three times as hard to make up for the boy's absence. Only now did she realize how much of the burden her young son had slowly taken upon his own shoulders over the years. She still missed him terribly, but he was free and being trained by Jedi. He would have more of a life than she could ever have hoped for before.

At least the tears had stopped.

As she approached her hovel, she heard the indignant voice of the protocol droid that Anakin had left her ringing out in the evening gloom. She had pieced together coverings for some of the droid's workings, nothing elegant, but it was now nearly a uniform golden color. At least on the upper half. The lower half was still mostly exposed.

"You may not enter until Mistress Shmi returns!" the droid was saying loudly to a tall, cloaked figure. For an instant Shmi's heart leapt with joy. Was it the Jedi Master returned? But no, the figure was turning and it was too slender for the broad, solid Master Jinn. The hood concealed the features completely. Who was this? Perhaps a message at last?

"It's alright Threepio," Shmi said softly. "I am here now."

"Oh, thank the stars, Mistress Shmi, this . . this person, demanded entrance. I did not quite know what to do."

"You may return to your room now, Threepio," Shmi said, watching the hooded figure carefully.

"If you think it safe, Mistress," Threepio dithered. Shmi smiled slightly. As if the awkward droid would actually attempt to protect her should she require it.

"It will be alright," Shmi reassured it once more, patting it's shoulder. The droid moved deeper into the house, allowing Shmi to enter. She paused and bowed slightly to the figure.

"You wished to see me?" she inquired politely.

"I am Rua, Mistress Skywalker, I bear a message from your son," the figure said in a musical female voice. Shmi darted a quick look around, suddenly anxious, then gestured the tall figure to pass her and enter her small house. Just like the tall Jedi Master before, this figure was forced to stoop to enter the low door. Shmi followed the woman inside, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. The door closed automatically behind her.

"Anakin? Is he safe?" she asked urgently.

"He is well and content," the woman said quietly. "And has become a Jedi Padawan apprentice." Relief flooded through Shmi. All was well again. Anakin was safely upon the path he had chosen. She calmly folded her hands together in front of her.

"Are you from the Jedi?" Shmi asked, with only mild curiosity.

"I am Master Ruaramarathnam," the tall woman said, casting back her deep cowl. She was of a species Shmi had never encountered before; with mottled blue skin, and a crest of brilliant blue. This Jedi was beautiful and imposing; remote and powerful. Her eyes were like sinks of darkness, yet a glimmer of compassion shown from them. A dark, close-fitting suit started at her throat and covered her entire body. Unlike the Jedi who had visited before, this one did not wear the loose tunic, but only the plain brown robe. A lightsaber dangled at her belt.

"I am Jedi, but I am also otherwise," the woman added enigmatically.

"I thank you for the news of Anakin," Shmi said, suppressing her surge of loneliness and loss. The woman watched her carefully.

"You are welcome to the message, Shmi Skywalker, but I came here to meet you."

"Me?" Shmi said, startled.

"How came you to birth such a powerful boy?" Master Rua asked.

"I – I don't understand," Shmi said, genuinely surprised. "Did Qui-Gon not tell you? He simply was." If it was possible, the Jedi woman's expression became even more severe.

"Qui-Gon Jinn is now one with the Force, Shmi Skywalker."

"Dead? He is dead?" Grief struck Shmi then, shattering her normal serenity. For the wise, gentle man who had understood so much with a simple touch and a smile. For the possibilities. For Anakin. She staggered back against the cool wall, her hands splayed beside her, her eyes wide with pain. The stranger watched her closely.

"Anakin? Does he know? Did he see this?"

"He knows; he is being trained now by Qui-Gon's former apprentice. Your son did not witness Qui-Gon's end." The words were meant to be reassuring, but dread filled Shmi's heart. Master Rua took a long step toward her, watching her closely now.

"You I have never seen, Shmi Skywalker. The Chosen One, many times, in all his various forms. But never you. You are powerful, yet hidden. Your shielding is deep and strong and nearly undetectable. I am not surprised that Qui-Gon never realized it was there. By whom were you trained?"

"Trained?" Shmi repeated, her mouth dry. What could this strange woman mean? She had never been trained in anything other than mechanical repair, her great talent. She had been a slave all her life. At least, for all of it she could remember.

The woman took a step toward her and raised her hands. And Shmi knew that she could not allow this Jedi woman to touch her.

"No!" she cried desperately, and dodged away. Startled, the woman paused and lowered her hands.

"As you wish," Master Rua said calmly enough, but something in her expression revealed surprise, and a quickly veiled curiosity.

"You should leave now," Shmi said, wrapping her arms around herself for comfort. Master Rua watched her for a long moment from deep, liquid eyes. Shmi felt impaled on that gaze. Then she lifted her chin and averted her face. "Please, leave." The Jedi woman nodded, raised her hood and turned away. Shmi did not move again until she heard the door swish open and then close again. Then she slowly crumpled to the floor, her arms tight around herself as if, despite the lingering heat of the day, her body was consumed with a deep chill.

"Please, stay away," she whispered softly to the air.

* * * * *

Toydarian. The owner of Shmi Skywalker was Toydarian. Rua's lip curled in instinctive distaste. The Suia and Toydarians were ancient enemies. One closely tied to the Force, one belligerently immune to it. She suppressed her shiver of disgust at the though of any living being so denying itself contact with all that made the Universe bearable.

It took all kinds, as the Corellians were fond of saying. The Force itself promoted infinite variation. Even Toydarians served their place in the great stream of life.

That didn't mean she had to like it.

To present herself to Watto would be the height of foolishness. She would never obtain Shmi's price from him. He would rather kill a valuable slave than see it go to a Suian. She required an intermediary. That could be problematical as well. Tatooine was the nest-home of a pair of Hutts. Jabba and Gardulla. Hutts were also resistant to the Force. Their minds left a foul residue on any force-practitioner foolish enough to attempt to influence them.

She would have to be cautious. But she would succeed.

* * * * *

It was bewildering, the speed with which her life had changed since Anakin had brought three strangers into their home, Shmi thought to herself. First Anakin, and now she had been freed. She sat patiently on the examination table, hands folded in her lap, while the Dentradi medtech scanned her for the slave chip. He found it, finally in the short rib that curved near the base of her left lung. For ease of access to the site, she calmly opened and lowered her non-descript gray garments down around her waist. Then she lowered her hands to her sides and gave him a nod to continue. He looked at her composed expression for a moment, suspicious, for in his experience Humans had very little tolerance for pain. They tended to whine and carry-on in a most distressing fashion over the most trivial of wounds.

"Neutralized or removed?" the medtech asked curtly, readying his sampling machine. It would punch through the Human's thin hide and extract the tiny piece of bone carrying the deadly device without causing extensive damage. Or he could just inject the coded neutralizer into the area near the device and it would – probably – cause it to disintegrate harmlessly over time.

"Removed, please," Shmi said quietly.

"It'll hurt – want an anesthetic?" he said, raising two of four eyebrows. She shook her head once. He waited, giving her a long moment to change her mind. The Human remained silent. Then he leaned toward her with a shrug, wrapped two of his broad secondhands around her bare shoulders and held her tightly. Didn't want her squirming and making too much of a mess on his table. With his firsthands, he braced the machine against the spot over her bone, then activated it. He had to admit, he thought ruefully, this Human was made of stern stuff. She hadn't struggled or screamed. Her calm eyes had simply widened at the shock, then she'd crumpled in his hold. It wasn't that big, he thought, eyeing the small hole carved into her side assessingly. No bigger than the end of the Human's smallest finger, anyway, and burned clean.

He laid the unconscious Human down flat on the exam table, sprayed a coagulant and general anti-bacterial into the wound before slapping a small organic bandage over the spot. She didn't move. She wasn't much to look at, this Human ex-slave, he though absently. Too few arms, too small and too pale for his tastes. Someone had liked her enough to buy her and free her, however. She was now a free citizen of the Galaxy. Of course, it was doubtful she had a trugut to her name and she'd soon end up selling herself again for food and shelter, but, and here he shrugged at his own thoughts, that wasn't his concern.

"No," said a quiet, musical voice from behind him. "It is not your concern. Nor will you remember any of these events." A blue-skinned hand waved in front of his face and the medtech fell into a short, intense slumber.

When he awakened, he was alone. his head pillowed on all four of his arms as he lay against his own examination table. His thoughts were slow and sluggish. Where had he stashed that bottle of Corellian brandy anyway?

* * * * *

Shmi woke to the sensation of movement. But an unusual movement. She was lying on a soft bunk in a small, darkened room. Safety lights illuminated the edge of the doorway. Was she on a ship of some kind? She sat up slowly, lifting a cautious hand to press below the ache in her rib. The slave chip was gone then, truly gone. She was free.

The room, sensing her continuing motion, raised the light level from dark to dim. She looked around curiously – while small, the room was luxuriously appointed in a fashion close to Human needs. Or at least the needs of an upright, bipedal species of approximately her size, perhaps larger. She was still clad in her gray slave dress. She slipped off the bunk and stood carefully in the center of the room. She was hungry. And thirsty. Nothing, however, appeared available in the room. She walked slowly toward the door. Half expecting it to be locked, she started slightly when is slid open silently at her approach. She stepped out into a wide central suite. Along the wall ran a short line of doors similar to her own, but in the center of the room, there was a long, low lounging couch arranged around a low central table. Flowering plants adorned a series of decorative pillars around the back of the couch.

A hooded figure sat on the couch, facing her.

"Ah, you awaken at last," a strangely familiar voice said. Shmi started, then composed herself, folding her hands in front of her.

"It was too much to hope that Anakin had been able to return so soon," she said quietly. Then habits of a lifetime took over. "How may I serve you, Master Rua?"

"You will not serve me, Shmi Skywalker," the hooded woman said, voice harsh. "Neither the Jedi nor the Suia take slaves. I have freed you."

"Then I owe you thanks, Master Rua," she said, inclining her head carefully to the hooded figure.

"Sit, Mistress Skywalker," the Jedi Master ordered shortly.

Trained by a lifetime of obedience and from the Master's sheer commanding presence, Shmi sat. The other woman threw back her hood and examined her from those wide, dark eyes.

"You have walls concealing your secrets," the Jedi said finally.

"I don't understand," Shmi said, a panic rising inside her that she swiftly suppressed.

"Someone has given you a skill and taken away your memories of obtaining it. How old is your son?"

"He is nine Standard," Shmi said, surprised by the abrupt change of topic.

"And how long had you been Watto's slave?"

"For five Standard."

"Before that, who owned you?"

"Gardulla the Hutt. She lost us to Watto on a Boonta Eve wager. She was very displeased by the loss."

"Why? Slaves are common on Tatooine. Human slaves moreso."

Shmi shrugged self-deprecatingly. "I designed and built her personal comm system. She valued my skills."

The odd Jedi watched her for several long moments, as if puzzled by Shmi's calm demeanor. "Did she sometimes put you with other slaves for her amusement?"

At the question, Shmi paled and her hands clenched tightly together. "The Hutts have – different interests," she said and lifted her chin defiantly. "Yes, at times she required me to amuse her in that fashion."

"As I suspected," Master Rua said grimly. "Were any Human males?"

"No," Shmi said with a quickly suppressed shudder. "She did not wish to risk breeding me."

"Then how came about Anakin?"

A beatific smile spread over Shmi's face. "He just was," she said. Rua watched her closely, her sense of Shmi's words shimmering with truth. Or truth as the woman knew it. Someone had tampered with her, it was evident. Her own considerable force ability had been curtailed and channeled into a formidable shield about her innermost self. It was doubtful her own son had realized she shielded, for the remainder of her self was open, exposed and loving. There would be no reason to look further, deeper as Rua had done.

This abomination had been inflicted by one with no respect for the Living Force; by one with no respect for life other than that which served its will. The act reeked of evil, darkness and design.

The Dark Side. Sith. Rua shivered involuntarily.

Had Qui-Gon looked this deeply? Rua believed not. Qui-Gon had been concerned with other matters – the Naboo Queen's safety and the repair of their ship being paramount. He had swiftly detected the overpowering vergence contained within Anakin, but had been unable to sense the companion one in the boy's mother. Or he would not have left her behind. This Rua felt as a resonating truth through the Force.

"Where are we going?" Shmi asked.

"To a neutral place," the Jedi Master said quietly.

* * * * *

Since her first encounter with the Jedi Master upon awakening, Shmi had been left alone in the vast suite. Master Rua had retreated to her own cabin, silent and grim, for the past several hours after questioning her closely. Shmi had cautiously explored the suite, swiftly learning that they were both confined in the luxurious quarters. She still had no idea where they were going.

She was restless. She was not accustomed to inactivity. Life as a slave had provided her with constant toil, and left little time available for her own interests. Anakin had consumed what small time she had carved out for herself. And his departure had filled her time with his work as well as her own, due to Watto's peevishness. She was weary.

With a deep sigh, Shmi leaned back on the couch, closing her eyes and allowing herself to drift into a light doze.

* * * * *

Rua watched the woman sleep from the shadow of the pillars, examining her features with care. It was possible, she thought grimly, that this one had once been other than she now was. It would take contact to discern this, however. She had been tampered with by Sith. Traps would no doubt riddle her heavily shielded mind.

Gathering her resolve, Rua approached the couch. She sank to her knees on the floor before the sleeping woman. Then, cautiously, she reached out her hands and cupped Shmi's face. Shmi moaned softly at the contact, and for a long moment, Rua sensed nothing save the random thoughts of a sleeper. Suddenly the barrier loomed ahead of her, like a wall of darkness. Gathering her strength again, the Jedi Master plunged toward the barrier in the other woman's mind, her grip tightening on her face.

* * * * *

Darkness filled her like water, welling up and suffocating her with its cloying despair. She fell jarringly to her knees on cold stone, eyes blinded by the darkness that was suddenly everywhere inside her. Her heart pounding heavily in her chest, breathing ragged; she held the shattered remains of her lightsaber in her numb hands.

She had lost.

"There is no escape, Jedi," the icy voice said from somewhere within the darkness. She clung frantically to the last remnants of her serenity. There was no death, only transformation through the Force, she thought desperately. She would not be lost forever, but instead merged back into the greater whole. There her arrogance would dissipate and her failure would be erased. But the Council would not know of this threat to them all until it was too late, due to her misjudgment.

She bowed her head, accepting her inevitable end. She was exhausted, weaponless, and alone in the clutches of her enemy.

The icy voice laughed. The sound drove a tendril of fear into her mind, despite her training.

"Death is too easy, Jedi," the voice taunted. "Your pain amuses me. Take her away."

Rough, unseen hands grabbed her, lifted her body high into the air, and carried her through the echoing darkness.

She had fallen to the Sith.

* * * * *

Shmi woke with a scream of pain and fear. Rua pulled away from her, reeling in shock. Jedi! This woman had once been a Jedi Knight. Captured by Sith, tortured and changed, she had then been sold into slavery. And watched. No doubt her Sith master knew she was gone.

"What are you doing?" Shmi screamed, scrambling away from a dazed and weakened Rua. "Don't touch me!"

Rua looked at her with deep pity and shame. "So much to answer for," she murmured weakly. "In their blindness, the Council will bring us all to ruin."

* * * * *

"You must kill me, evil one," she said weakly. "For I will not turn." She knelt in her bonds, her head bowed, the crushing sense of defeat more effective than the chill metal holding her. The stone beneath her was damp and it was dark, as always. She had almost forgotten what light was like. Her eyes ached from searching the darkness for some glimmer, some forgotten glow. She sought light as an anchor for her sanity and her control. Her connection to the Force was unable to reassure her any longer, for only a sense of death and the Dark Side filled her here. Icy laughter sent a shaft of fear through her that she fought to suppress. It was as if he knew her every thought.

"I do not wish you to turn, Jedi," the voice said contemptuously. "I have other uses for a broken Knight."

"I will never serve you!" she cried defiantly. But it was bravado, she knew. She was near the end of her endurance. She no longer knew how much time had passed, where she was or even precisely who she was. The voice laughed again, longer and darkly amused.

"Ah, but you will serve me, Jedi," it said. "I will see that you do not remember your defiance, or even that you serve me. I will change you and make you into that which you most fear – a helpless, hopeless slave. In that way you will serve me at my leisure in the future. I have foreseen it."

* * * * *

To be continued. . .