Of men escaping/From the mind of man
To flee from memory
Had we the Wings
Many would fly
Inured to slower things
Birds with surprise
Would scan the cowering Van
Of men escaping
From the mind of man
i. To flee
He is Anlin Neeley, Rebel, security priority 3A, age 19, and right now he is reciting an Imperial code to decrypt a transmission. The stream of numbers is long, but he speaks crisply and evenly from memory. There is a murmur of satisfaction as the screen blinks from garbled text to clean lines of data, and then a louder chatter, fearful.
"They've found us," Akbar says tightly.
"They'll bring that battle station straight to our door."
"—don't even know what it can do."
"We're all here—"
"There's the cell on Dantooine—"
"—Leadership concentrated, stupid, stupid—"
"—time? Can we even hope to stage an assault?"
"Anlin, don't suppose you have the schematics for the Death Star in that steel trap of a mind, do you?"
Anlin shakes his head. "I have no useful knowledge of the Death Star." In fact, he has a great deal of useful knowledge, but not for them; knowledge of the sectors where you can hide safely for a few hours cannot help the cause of the Rebellion.
During their flight from the doomed base, a Star Destroyer catches them with a grav generator and pulls several transports out of lightspeed, and it is suddenly a battle.
"Let me fly in this one," Anlin pleads, running to keep up with the flight commander.
"Like every other time you asked, you're grounded, Neeley. I don't care how good a pilot you are. We need that perfectly preserved intel of yours stored safely away." That is why they value him, of course, and why they don't question his cover story very closely; in his old life, he was taught mental skills to match the physical. He remembers that life with unmerciful eidetic clarity. He remembers it all.
So instead of sailing into battle, he is assigned to the hospital bay, fetching bacta patches, fetching units of blood, fetching clean towels and hot water, fetching away the dead to make room for the dying. This is a house of horrors, but Anlin feels very much at home, and the medics begin to lean on this coolly efficient, blankly stoic aide more and more (usually the non-essentials who are reassigned here during battle fall apart at the first sight of a grisly head wound) until—
Far away, a soft sound, like the meaningless shushing of birds at twilight, but here is all that matters, here with her, here in the rain, before the night
It takes four men to pull him away from the body of the pale, red-haired pilot with the jagged hole in her chest, shrapnel buried deep within. He doesn't stop weeping for many hours later. He isn't responsive for many hours after that.
They send him to the exhausted but patient psychologist, who is also a flight coordinator and also mends holes in uniforms, and who can barely remember the office that was his before he defected, spacious and modern with glossy potted plants. His name is Fyn. His suspicion is post-traumatic stress. Anlin doesn't concede many clues, and even fewer facts, but the psychologist is both astute and slightly Force-sensitive and glimpses, at the end of the session, the shadows of a past like some artist's vision of hell.
Anlin blinks, surprised. He is not used to being understood, even a little.
Fyn tells him softly, "not all things are worth remembering." And he is abruptly taken back—
ii. from memory
He is Luke Skywalker, Imperial lord, son of Darth Vader, age 14, and right now he is standing, trembling, outside a door. Darth Vader stands behind him, one gloved hand on his shoulder in a mockery of fatherly affection.
"Do this," Vader rumbles, and gestures at the door panel. It slides open silently. Luke peers into the gloom. He can just make her out, a dark form on the bed across the room. He imagines her hair falling across her face, soft arm flung out, chest rising and falling evenly…
A guttural noise breaks the silence, raw, inhuman, agonized, and he is startled to discover that it came from him. But the figure on the bed does not move; she will not wake. Scream, or cry, or shake her; she will sleep on. They have insured that this lesson will be easy to accomplish. Just a simple swing, and over, no struggle.
But of course there is a struggle, otherwise he would not be standing here, otherwise Mara Jade would not be doomed. He is here because he has let himself soften, because he opened to her in the smallest of ways, because on some level he let himself love. Love is not useful. This grievance, this error of emotion, this repulsive waste—this is beyond the pale. So tonight he stands at her door. So tonight they punish him in a way that he will never forget (will never forgive himself for). He has never killed before.
Vader shoves him forward, impatient. He cannot hear; he cannot see; he cannot breathe; he is a single humming note of pure horror. The push sends him a few stumbling steps forward into the room. Somehow, he finds herself at her bedside. Her skin is flushed. Her lips are slightly parted, almost smiling. Even under the haze of the drugs imprisoning her, he can feel her Force presence pulsing, incandescent. Hands shaking, he grips his lightsaber and holds the hilt over her.
She sighs, a slow soft exhale. He imagines touching her lips; he imagines the warm breath against his skin; he thinks of angels.
"My lord, I can't—"
As he says the words, there are sudden streaming shadows as a bridge of red light snaps from the hilt to the center of her chest. Stunned, he looks back to the doorway; Vader lowers his hand, and the lightsaber flickers off. Luke lets it fall to the bed where Mara lies, profoundly still.
He slides to the ground, boneless, mindless, regressing through the eons of evolution to a single cell with a singular purpose, to know
pain, the one primordial truth, to fall into
pain, the unknowable infinity, to become
pain pain pain
The dark mass of his father looms over him. Luke is gripped and pulled up, dragged out of the room and to the end of the corridor where Palpatine stands waiting.
"Your behavior is unacceptable. Perhaps the Emperor can correct the error of your ways," Vader intones coldly.
Palpatine holds out a hand, a sickly smile slashed across his face. "Come, my young apprentice, and let us be diverted."
Luke closes his eyes.
He takes the hand.
iii. the mind of man
He is himself, the sum of all that has happened to him and because of him, and it occurs to him one day that he does not like it—self. He is worldbound by self, staked to the surface of all the flotsam that identifies him.
The session comes when Fyn has one of his rare flashes into Anlin's mind and frowns with genuine perturbation.
"I've never seen anything like it…your mind is mimicking the symptoms of recovery…but something is not right…"
Anlin only smiles, faintly and with a kind of worn peace. And with sudden insight that had nothing to do with the Force and everything to do with his years of experience tending wounded minds, Fyn knows. And knows he can do nothing.
He stands to leave, lays a few fingers gently on Anlin's shoulder, and says softly, uselessly, "There are some things worth remembering."
Anlin looks up at that, blue eyes open and quizzical. "Are there?"
After that day, he becomes less and less effective as a Rebel agent. He cannot remember codes which used to come with ease. He cannot inform on the maneuvers of enemy commanders every time he is asked. He's breaking, he's falling apart, they say among themselves. They've got it wrong. He is not falling apart, but pushing off from the landmass of himself. The same finely honed skills that created a perfect memory are deconstructing it with the precision of a scalpel. Every day, he wakes up and his mind feels cleaner, clearer. As he is given less and less to do and there is talk of gently encouraging him to leave, he is more and more aware of a great vastness opening up around himself. He imagines that as he becomes less, he can see more, go farther, and there is a rushing sensation sometimes, like flight.
iv. Had we the Wings
He is nobody. Just a slight, unremarkable boy standing in the hangar, hands in his pockets, contemplating a Y-wing. There is no one else in the hangar, no one to tell him he is grounded anymore. But not for long; he hears a quick tap of footsteps behind him and turns. It is General Kenobi, a man who has only recently joined their forces. The old man breathes hard and his face etched with consternation. Anlin is taken aback. In their brief encounters, Kenobi has been eerily tranquil, smiling with an odd significance. Now he is far from calm.
"I know what you are doing, Luke," he says sharply. "And you must stop. I know who you are; I know you have suffered. The Force knows I grieve for you. But you cannot escape from yourself—you cannot leave."
Anlin feels a slight pressure, a faint clamoring of sights and sounds and pains to rush back and imprison him once more. He ignores it. "Why do you care, Kenobi?"
Kenobi steps closer. Anlin sees pain in his eyes, regret, and urgency. "I care because I am selfish. I am selfish on behalf of all the galaxy. The Dark Side is winning, Luke, and you are the only one left now who can save us from that doom. You must face your father. You are the only one...the only one who can defeat him."
There is a long silence.
"If he is as powerful as you say," Anlin says finally, "then the only way to defeat him would be to change his course, redeem him. Forgive him." He feels the truth of the words as they flow from some well of instinct. "But I think it is better," he continues, slowly but solidly, "to forget." They lock eyes: the old man distraught and Anlin steady and blank.
"It is your destiny," Kenobi finally says, finality wrapped around the words, an unstoppable force.
And Anlin replies with the immovable object of the one thing he knows to be true (the one thing he knows): "I am no one. I have no destiny." He considers the old man for a moment, something like pity in his face.
"Redeem him yourself," he says abruptly, and turns to climb into the Y-wing.
v. Many would fly
"I am the universe," he whispers as the stars move slowly past the viewport. And what he really means is, the universe is mine.
Silently, serenely, the ship sails on through the void.