I opened my eyes on near blackness, rolled from my bed and opened the blinds. It didn't help much it was an hour to dawn and the skyways were still rivers of sparkling lights against a gray-black sky.
Kensai Moriah'd been right about other Jedi coming to join us. Dov and I now shared our cell with two of the newcomers; Jeremitt Touk and Garth Taurus. Mother's apartment, big as it was, was getting a little crowded. The four of us took our turns at the 'fresher and dressed in the dark, not turning on any lights nor speaking.
When you're a Jedi everything is more complicated, even getting up in the morning. You're supposed to use the exact same motions and dress in exactly the same sequence - even to putting your foot in the same leg of your pants - every morning. Dai-men had explained it was an exercise in mindfulness, forcing you to focus on where you are and what you are doing - never my strong suit.
Our new roommates were both padawans, Jeremitt was about Dov's age and Garth a year or two younger than me, which meant we all dressed rather slowly with an occasional fumbling and a pause to remember what came next.
When we finished dressing we sat on our beds for a short period of meditation as the room turned from dark to dim around us. The same phrase from the Readings kept recurring to me every morning:
Let him who seeks go on seeking until he finds.
When he finds he will become troubled.
When he becomes troubled he will be astonished.
When he becomes one he will find joy.
I think I'm still at the 'astonished' stage. At times the old Luke still steps outside my skin, for a look and wonders what the heck I'm doing here. Yet for all the strangeness I know in my gut I belong with this odd assortment of Jedi. This is home as Tatooine never was nor the Rebels either.
I am a Jedi, Force help me.
The words of the Teachings vanished and were replaced by images from the mission to Moloc, Father's personal base and stronghold, to try and negotiate the surrender of the garrison he'd left there. The identity of the officer in command had come as a considerable shock but everything had worked out fine – better than fine actually. But Dov and I came back to find the population of our temporary 'temple' doubled and room getting tight, good thing Jedi can use the Force to keep from stumbling over each other! The Force is also a good timekeeper. The four of us came out of our light trance at the same moment and headed out in different direction; Garth and Jeremitt to find their Masters Dov and me down to Mother's ballroom, which we were using as a training room, for lightsabre practice. I wasn't teaching Dov, he was teaching me! Thanks to his mother he had a good grounding in Form I, the basic lightsabre style and was passing them on to his 'Master'. Lightsabre practice counts as a form of meditation and I badly wanted to develop some style.
It was light out, an hour or so after dawn, when we gathered on the terrace for morning readings. We don't have any scrolls of course, they were destroyed with the Jedi of the Old Temple, but Kensai Moriah held them all in memory, or maybe she was looking back through time to read the text, either way she'd become our living scroll. Then it was breakfast time. Remember what I said about getting up being complicated? Well that's nothing compared to meals, sometimes 'mindfulness' can be a real pain.
Finally the day's work began, which in my case meant a report to the Council on my mission to Moloc. "I left Dov in orbit and dropped down to the surface in a life pod," I grinned at the kid's mother, my fellow councilor Fasha Rho. "I figured I might need rescuing – I usually do at some point."
"I am flattered by your confidence in my son," she smiled back.
"I think he's smarter than I am," I answered. "I know he's better trained! Anyway the officer in command turned out to be an old friend of mine –
"Tank?" I said, voice cracking in the old way I'd almost outgrown.
"Luke," he answered bleakly.
I'd thought of him of course when I learned the commander was a Colonel Twinsuns but I'd never dreamed it could be him. Tank was my age! And I was a Rebel officer and Jedi Knight. Guess we were both overachievers. "How…?"
"It's a long story," he gestured towards the door behind him. "Let's get inside, the heat is pretty fierce."
He was right there. "Even worse than home," I remarked as the big black doors shut out the sun blasted landscape of fiery lava lakes and strange, twisted basalt formations.
He grimaced, it couldn't be called a grin. "Yeah, it's pretty funny when you think about it. I run away from Tatooine only to end up in an even worse place."
"Tank," I said, sensing a grief almost despair that scared me. "Tank, it's all over. Don't throw your men's lives away for nothing."
"No." He took a deep breath, let it out. "His Lordship wouldn't want that."
He wouldn't indeed. Strange that Tank would know that. "You talk like you knew him well."
"We're the 501, Vader's Own." His fist moved towards his chest in a sort of reflexive salute. "Or what's left of it. Half the legion died on the 1st Death Star."
"I know," I said quietly. "I'm sorry. I had to do it, Tank. It was them or us." He'd understand that. He was a soldier.
Sure enough; "That's war," he agreed. A door slid open and my old friend led me into a surprisingly ordinary looking office, surprising for this eldritch abomination of a building that is, furnished with military issue desk, three chairs and assorted storage lockers with map displays all over the walls. It could have been my workspace on Chullu or Hoth. "And half of what was left went down with the Executor," Tank continued, sitting behind his desk. "I've got odds and sods here; half of the Big Red One; a Little Yellow Four Battalion and another belonging to Pretty Blue Three, along with assorted specialists and support troops. All in all that makes nearly four thousand men including the wounded in hospital."
"This must be a great spot to convalesce," I said without thinking.
Tank grinned again. "Yeah, not even his Lordship liked it here but after being chased off two nice planets for 'security reasons' it was pretty clear His Imperialness wasn't going to spare us anyplace better."
I sensed a definite note of hostility towards the Emperor, interesting. "You were going to tell me how you made colonel in just four years," I reminded him.
He shrugged the massive shoulders that earned him his nickname. "You and Biggs were right, I couldn't fit in the standard size cockpit but they figured my bulk made me a natural for the ground pounders. Kind of gave me extra incentive to desert, like Biggs did, and I meant to – but I got sent to Reaper, ever heard of it?" I shook my head. "I'd be amazed if you had. It's way out in the Nilgaard sector, pretty much the other side of the Galaxy, and it's worse than home, a lot worse, and I'm not talking about the lousy climate." His eyes were dark with darker memories. "My first CO was a spice addict he stayed holed up in his quarters with his girls and his hookah and let us run wild. Then he smoked himself to death and we got a real officer. Major Kant made soldiers of us, reminded us of why we were there. I know the Empire was pretty bad, Luke, but the alternative was infinitely worse; Hutt gangsters like home, slavers and drug lords like Reaper… The bastards killed Major Kant," he ended flatly, "They'd have gotten the rest of us too if Lord Vader hadn't sent one of his special forces companies to follow up on something in one of the Major's reports. Lord Vader hated slavers, Luke, did you know that? He wanted to stamp them out of the universe – don't try to tell me that was evil!"
"I wouldn't," I told him quietly. Nobody knew better than I that Father had still had Good in him, it was nice to know there had been others who'd seen it too.
"It was the operation on Reaper that got me my commission and seconded to Strike Company Red One of the 501st," Tank continued. "I suppose I owe my quick promotion to you. After you blew up more than half the Legion His Lordship scraped up whoever he could to officer and train the replacements – not that we got many. His Imperiousness just loved the chance to reduce Lord Vader's support."
"I bet he did," I said. "He hated Vader."
"You don't have to tell me!" Tank replied emphatically. "Palpatine was insane we all knew it after Alderaan. Lord Vader was hard, Luke, even brutal when he had to be, but destroy an entire planet, a wealthy productive heavily populated Core world? No never."
"I know," I said.
"I told him I knew you, Luke," he said abruptly. "Told him every single thing I could remember about you. Maybe you'd call that betrayal but he didn't want to kill you, he wanted to recruit you. The Rebellion was no better than Palpatine, the Galaxy needs order, Luke, a strong leader who'll make things right! Why the hell did you have to kill him?" There were tears in his eyes. Though fallen Father had been able to command loyalty and even devotion, not just fear.
"I –" how was I supposed to answer that?
"Colonel Twinsuns," Fathers voice said suddenly, unusually loudly. "Can you hear me?"
Tank's eyes went wide, yeah, he could. "My Lord?" he looked around wildly. "Lord Vader? I don't understand."
"Neither did I," Father said grimly, "our goals weren't evil, soldier, but our means were. I was wrong to think I could use the Empire and the Empire's methods to achieve anything good."
Tank was still looking around in bewilderment. "Where are you, my Lord? They said you were dead."
"I am. Death is not always the end. I have been granted a chance to make right the evil I have done. Will you help me, Colonel?"
"We are Vader's Own!" Again the salute, "You command, we obey!"
"You've made a good start, Colonel. I want you to cooperate with the New Republic I believe through them we may indeed achieve the peace we have always worked towards."
Tank looked a little dubious. "But they killed you, Luke killed you."
"No. Palpatine mortally injured me as I destroyed him. Luke saved me, saved me from the Emperor, from the Dark Side. My true name was Anakin Skywalker, Luke is my son."
"You're kidding," Tank shook his head as if trying to clear it. "Sorry, my Lord, but that's a pretty big paradigm shift!"
"For me too," Father said wryly. "Luke's identity and mine is for your ears only, Colonel. The men need only know that Master Skywalker convinced me of the threat the Emperor posed the Galaxy and we destroyed him together." Tank nodded. "You know all this from a message I made before I died, which Luke has brought to you."
"Yes, my Lord."
And that had been the end of the negotiations on Moloc.
Master Dai-Men made a peak of his fingers. "The Force has indeed been with us. Intelligence indicates that Lord Vader had an unexpectedly large and extremely loyal following, especially among non-humanoids."
"Treachery is the Sith Way," Father's voice said from the air in the center of our circle of chairs. "I ask your grace's permission to address the Council."
"Granted," said my Master.
Father materialized, tucked his hands into his sleeves and bowed to Dai-Men and Kensai Moriah.
"As you have probably guessed I was working towards Palpatine's overthrow," he continued. "Given the Empire's speciecist tendencies non-Humanoids were an obvious place to look for support." He shrugged, "Besides I never shared Palpatine's prejudice. I grew up surrounded by aliens of all kinds, a human and near-human only world felt unnatural to me."
"How many of your former followers do you think you'll be able to reach, Anakin?" Master asked.
Father shrugged again. "No idea. Frankly I was pretty astonished when Twinsuns heard me."
"Then why try?" I broke in.
"Because I didn't want him to do anything stupid," Father answered. "I had some damn good men behind me - well you heard Twinsuns, son."
"Peace and order," I agreed quietly, "things any decent man would want for himself, his world, the galaxy. And you could sell it, Father, because that's what you wanted too, not power, and not death and destruction."
"To make things right," said Raj Naberrie, who'd been Father's apprentice for a very brief time, his mobile clown's face rueful.
Father gave him a sideways grin, "And I remember a certain Padawan asking his Master who would decide what was right. A damn good question, back then I thought I knew the answer – I've learned better since."
"Anakin, I want you to try to contact each of the leaders among your followers," Kensai Moriah said. "Twinsuns will not be the only one who can hear you."
Father looked at her, "I don't suppose you'd care to save me some time by telling me which ones will," he said. She smiled and shook her head. "I didn't think so."
"Always in motion is the Future," said the Council in ragged chorus.
Father rolled his eyes, "I know, I know. Be patient, be mindful…I'm trying!" I opened my mouth. "Don't say it, Luke, I'm warning you!" He bowed again, "With your permission, my Masters."
"May the Force be with you," Dai-Men answered and Father vanished.
"Isn't that kind of redundant?" Chani asked mischievously.
Dai-Men looked amused but otherwise ignored the remark. "Luke you have no doubt noticed our increase in numbers."
"I surely have. Master, I think we need a bigger place."
"The Council agrees entirely," Jayce told me from his place a few seats down. "Trouble is where?"
"The building administrator is willing to place other empty apartments at our disposal," Master Pater offered. "But that is, of course, only a temporary stop-gap."
"We need a permanent home," Dai-Men agreed. "The problem is where?"