Old Friends

Deep space
Somewhere between Ossus and Coruscant
137 ABY

Light swirled before his eyes. A quiet, descending whistle filled his ears. His awareness spun around him. He perceived at once nothing, and everything.

Then, as if from nowhere, a sensation of falling. Slowly, through an infinite void.

He had projected his presence from the netherworld of the Force many times before, but he never got used to this. It was… disconcerting.

Instinctively he braced his spectral hands, as if to catch his incorporeal form when he landed.

Except he didn't.

Luke Skywalker blinked, and looked around him. Side to side. Up and down. Behind.

"What the –"

He was floating in empty space. In every direction, engulfing him, was a brilliant, sparkling field of stars. The Mynock was conspicuously absent.

"That little…" Luke sighed, and closed his eyes. He stretched out his feelings in the Force, searching for the starship and its maddening, distinctively volcanic captain. It didn't take him long to locate them.

"No one ever taught this kid punctuality?"

Luke kept his eyes closed and waited. He felt the galaxy around him, its stars and planets, its trillions of inhabitants, its teeming bounty of non-sentient life. It was indescribably beautiful.

The Mynock approached through hyperspace. Luke readied his mind…

… focused on the ship, and –

Placed himself standing in the cockpit, facing forward, just behind the captain's chair.

Which, naturally, was empty.

"Oh, for the love of –"

From behind him came an electronic twittering. An astromech's snicker.

Spinning, Luke asked, "Artoo?"

Bee-booo-whoop. A very familiar greeting.

"It is you!" Luke grinned, then looked around. "Where's Cade?"

The droid emitted a descending whistle suspiciously similar to a human snore.

"Asleep, huh?" Luke shook his head. "Figures. It's been that kind of day."

Artoo toodled sympathetically.

"So what are you doing here? I didn't know you were with Cade."

Bwee-doop.

"What's that?"

Whonk. Artoo rolled over to the side console and connected his data arm to the jack. Luke swung around and lowered himself into the captain's chair.

Artoo repeated his answer, and the words appeared on the heads-up display. MY JOB.

"Your job?"

PROTECTING YOUR FAMILY FROM ITSELF.

Luke chuckled. "I suppose it does feel like that sometimes, doesn't it?"

SOMETIMES? TRY EVERY DAY FOR 170 YEARS.

"Point."

YOU SHOULD BRING YOUR FATHER WITH YOU. MAYBE CADE WOULD ACTUALLY LISTEN TO HIM.

"Probably not. He doesn't seem to listen to anyone."

HE CERTAINLY SEEMS SKILLED AT IGNORING YOU, BUT NOBODY GETS AWAY WITH THAT WITH VADER.

"True. But my father believes in letting Cade make his own mistakes. He doesn't think I should be… meddling as much as I do."

Blaaaat! CADE NEEDS MORE GUIDANCE, NOT LESS. YOU WANT ME TO TRY A RESTRAINING BOLT?

Luke laughed. "I don't think that would work, Artoo, but thanks. Besides, Cade's having hallucinations of Vader all on his own. He doesn't need Anakin showing up to rub it in."

IF YOU SAY SO.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY HAS BEEN A MESS, BUT THIS ONE OUTDOES THEM ALL.

"Now wait a minute –"

I HAVE BEEN THERE SINCE THE BEGINNING. TRUST ME.

"I think you're being a little unfair."

YOUR GRANDMOTHER SENT HER SON AWAY WITH A TOTAL STRANGER WHEN HE WAS NINE, AND WE ARE SURPRISED HE HAD ABANDONMENT ISSUES?

"It's more complicated than that."

TRUE. ARROGANCE WAS HIS MAJOR MALFUNCTION.

"You think so low of me, as well?"

NO. YOU ARE THE SECOND-MOST NORMAL OF THE BUNCH.

"Gee, thanks."

YOU MIGHT HAVE FARED BETTER, HOWEVER I HAD TO MAKE A DEDUCTION BECAUSE IT TOOK YOU A DECADE TO MARRY THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE.

"So did Jaina."

CORRECTION. ON RECALCULATION YOU ARE THE THIRD-MOST NORMAL.

"It was…" Despite himself, he grinned. "… complicated."

YOU ARE MAKING EXCUSES.

"You're right. There are certainly things I wish would have done differently." He smiled. "But Ben turned out okay."

HE IS CLOSEST TO NORMAL. HE ALSO WAS APPRENTICED TO A SITH BEFORE HE EVER BECAME A JEDI KNIGHT. MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY THAT MORE OFTEN.

"Ouch."

BECAUSE BEING TRAINED AS A JEDI SINCE BIRTH DID WONDERS FOR HIS SON AND KOL AND CADE.

"Kol was a great Jedi Master, and died a hero."

AT LEAST YOU MANAGED TO MARRY YOUR IMPERIAL SPY.

"That's not the only reason Cade is troubled."

NO, BUT IT DOES NOT HELP MATTERS.

"Well, Cade does have a problem grappling with fear of losing those he cares about."

REMIND YOU OF ANYONE?

"You think he's like my father?"

WORSE.

"Even compared to Jacen?"

Bwonnnnk! DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR. CADE IS NOT LIKE THEM AT ALL. INSIDE HE IS STILL JUST A SCARED, LONELY BOY.

"Can't argue with you there." Luke shook his head. The little droid had more wisdom than most Jedi Masters. Then again, Artoo had the advantage of lifetimes of experience – with Skywalkers in particular. He glanced to the astromech. "Do you miss Threepio?"

DOES YOUR FATHER MISS JAR JAR BINKS?

"Who?"

NEVER MIND. DO YOU WANT ME TO WAKE CADE?

"No. He's grumpy enough when he's well rested. I'll wait."

DEJARIK?

Luke chuckled. "You always win."

I WILL LET YOU CHEAT.

Luke spread his hands. "What fun would that be?"

YOU HAVE A BETTER SUGGESTION TO PASS THE TIME?

"Not really, no."

Artoo spun his dome. He whirred, and a moment later his holographic projector formed the image of a complete gameboard beside Luke's chair. Clasping his hands behind his head, Luke leaned back in the seat and propped up his feet on the console.

Wheet! DO NOT SCUFF THE SHIP.

Luke tipped his head toward his boots. "Not real, remember?"

MY APOLOGIES. YOUR MOVE.

*****