It had been the longest six months of Athara’s life, but she was finally free from the Alliance’s investigators.
Day in and day out she was questioned about anything and everything to do with the Empire. Its command structures, supply networks, codes, encryptions, underworld dealings and contacts, agents and officers who might be susceptible to defection, tactics, security protocols, potential informants, fleet weaknesses and movements, the list went on and on. Moreover it was also an interrogation of how she thought. How Athara herself would respond in any given situation. At first she figured that it was a potential precautionary measure, in case she were to ever rejoin the Imperial forces or possibly an additional means to harness her experience.
But after a while, and a particular slip up by the officer questioning her, she realized what it was really about.
They had figured out she often thought like Vader. At least, thought like him in a strategic sense…sometimes. The Rebellion’s leaders seemed to be convinced that if they could figure out how she thought and planned, they might be able to figure him out, and how to beat him.
After that, she stopped co-operating. If they couldn’t keep to their side of the bargain, neither would she. And she told them so; right after she shocked the interrogator by telling him off and was brought before the leadership of the Rebellion…again.
They had not been pleased.
“You realize that our agreement included you providing us with information in exchange for your eventual release,” General Madine almost sounded incredulous, but Athara could see through that. He wasn’t all that surprised at her refusal. He had known that she knew what they had been trying to do. He also didn’t seem terribly happy about the situation.
“And I have complied with the terms of our arrangement. The Alliance has not.” Athara had managed to keep her responses calm, and had succeeded, for the most part; one thing her extended imprisonment had allowed for was a great deal of free time that she could devote to her meditation and work on slowly disentangling herself from the influence of the Dark Side. It meant that her patience was improving. Mon Mothma had not been present at that meeting, nor had the Coruscanti General or the Support Services Officer, both of whom had ultimately seemed to be sympathetic to her situation. She was also, admittedly, relieved that Leia was absent, as was the Mon Calamari member, who was decidedly not sympathetic. However, there was an additional Twi’lek member who had insisted on fixing Athara with a decidedly unfriendly look for the entire session.
“The Alliance is devoted to defeating Palpatine and his Empire. You agreed to provide any information that could be of use. In refusing to comply, you are the one who has broken the arrangement.” The Corellian Member, whose name, she learned, was Alrik, and whom she really couldn’t manage to like, was the one who argued back. His words had been heated, and even angry in tone. Athara wasn’t fazed, though. She had prepared herself to handle anything they decided to throw at her. His irritation was nothing.
“I agreed to share my knowledge of everything save that which pertained to my Former Master. Your interrogators broke the agreement.” Commander Alrik went red in the face.
“By protecting Vader you are sabotaging our efforts to bring down the Empire; precisely what you claim to be interested in helping us accomplish!” But Athara stood firm, even when he ordered her back to her cell indefinitely. He totally ignored Madine’s protestations and the furtive concerned looks from the other present members, and proclaimed her agreement with the Alliance was henceforth suspended until she resumed co-operating. Athara couldn’t say she was surprised. She had been anticipating such back-pedaling. She knew there were too many members in both High Command and the Advisory Council that didn’t want to risk her betraying them once free of their custody. She knew they saw her as a wild card. She really wasn’t surprised that they’d managed to find a way to suspend her release as long as possible. So she had already begun formulating an escape. It was several weeks, though, before the opportunity had presented itself.
But she had been surprised by the manner of her departure from the Fleet, and the appearance of someone she had not expected to see; Mona.
Athara had been too dumbfounded to speak when the door to her cell had hissed open and the young woman she had once regarded as a little sister had stood on the other side. She’d had no idea Mona had joined the Rebellion. At once a million questions popped into her head. But she didn’t get a chance to ask any of them, or even manage to speak. In a flash she was whisked away by the young Nubian and a pair of guards, escorting her to who knew where. Then Mona had dropped back to walk beside Athara…where she murmured a rather simple instruction, while surreptitiously gesturing to the blaster at her hip.
“Subdue us then run to the supply ship waiting in the Hanger. I trust you can take it from there, right Ata?” A rather mischievous glint had appeared in Mona’s eyes. But Athara couldn’t fight the worry that had begun welling in the pit of her stomach.
“What about you? You’ll be tried for conspiracy, sedition, even treason for this,” the former sith hissed back. She couldn’t risk that, not even if it was the price for her freedom. A faint smile came to Mona’s lips.
“For doing what? I’m taking you to see Commander Adyé for further questioning. But I’m afraid he underestimated the guards necessary to adequately contain you.” Athara froze, her step faltering as the words left Mona’s mouth. But that was evidently the wrong thing, or the right, depending on the point of view, to do. One of the guards panicked when their prisoner abruptly stopped, and brought his blaster up to bear.
Athara reacted instinctively, pushing back at him through the Force, sending him and his companion flying backward. They recovered quickly enough, but not before Athara had taken Mona’s earlier hint and Force-called her blaster from her. The former imperial had to admit; her almost-little sister was a remarkable actress, fighting convincingly to retrieve her weapon from Athara. But she obviously didn’t mean it, for Athara was easily able to keep it from her, managing to get off a shot at one of the guards before they had managed to regain their footing. She had to fight back a smile when she noticed the blaster was pre-set to stun, as were the guard’s weapons. Upon noticing that, as the second guard brought up his blaster Athara knew what she had to do to protect Mona.
Not bothering to hide the pained and apologetic expression on her face, Athara side-stepped behind her adopted sister just as the guard fired. Mona slumped against Athara, a small, pleased smile on her face; she had anticipated what Athara would do, and had known it was necessary.
It took a single shot to incapacitate the remaining guard, and with care and regret, Athara gently lowered Mona to the ground.
She turned to the security cameras, intent on leaving a message. After all, there was no doubt Rebel Leadership, especially the Corellian sleemo, would demand an inquiry into her escape.
“I am not your enemy, though I know some of you —Alrik— will decide I am. You already have everything I could have told you about the Empire, so I would appreciate it if you considered this incident the final part of our bargain; my release. I can’t say it’s been a slice, though. And, I have to say it,” she said with a resigned shrug, “but you broke our arrangement, and I have no desire to spend the rest of my life in an Alliance cell. I have work to do. Put what I’ve given you to good use.” She had sighed heavily then, both genuinely and for theatric effect, “and know that I have no intention of betraying the Alliance. I do believe it is our best hope for defeating the Emperor. I just can’t help buried in a cell.” Then, with one last, reluctant look at Mona, she had taken the young Nubian’s advice and ran for the ship that was apparently waiting for her.
It wasn’t much too look at, but it was hyperdrive capable and waiting for her, already prepped. She made short work of the handful of crew near and around the ship, stunning them quickly, though one of them managed to sound the alarm before she got to him. Then, with the intercoms blaring and red lights beginning to flash, she dashed into the already warmed up supply ship and made a dash for the freedom of open space.
As the feel of the Stardrive spooling up vibrated through the cockpit, Athara was keeping a wary eye out for Alliance troops, and as she began maneuvering the dingy little ship off the Hanger floor, the swarm she was anticipating began barreling into the Hanger itself. The ship trembled worryingly as blaster fire began pelting the hull of the ship. Gritting her teeth, she all but yanked the ship around by sheer force of will, ignoring the warning wailing from the console that the Hanger Bay Blast doors and Shields were being activated. Every muscle tensed in anticipation as she slammed the accelerator forward, catapulting the little ship toward space.
She barely managed to escape the Hanger Bay before the blast doors slammed shut.
Moments later she was in hyperspace, having managed a quick calculation during her brief pre-flight moments just to get her away from the fleet.
Then she was free.
A little while later, she dropped the ship out of hyperspace, eager to get off the main lanes in effort to shake any pursuit the Alliance had managed to whip up. During her initial jump, she had already planned out a series of small jumps that would, hopefully, shake any said hypothetical pursuit. After a few moments, the ship’s Navcomputer was ready and she sent the ship leaping through hyperspace again.
She had a series of five jumps planned. Usually, two or three were enough to successfully lose anyone intent on tracking but Athara couldn’t help but feel a little paranoid, and wanted to be extra cautious. Funny, even her escape from Bespin hadn’t warranted so many jumps; there she’d only employed three. So, as soon as the stars became starlines in the first of those five Jumps, she was up and out of the pilot’s seat to search the ship. Though she had limited experience with tracking devices, she was confident that she would be able to locate any in the event she had been tricked. Luck was on her side, and she found only one, a standard issue tracker that the Alliance had taken to placing on many of their ships in the event that one was to go missing.
She also found something else she certainly wasn’t expecting. While poking around the empty cargo bay, she was startled by a low whistle behind her, spinning around only to see a familiar squat figure trundling toward her.
“N3?” The little droid chattered happily as he wheeled up to her. Athara was astonished. She hadn’t really expected to see the little droid again, expecting that the Alliance’s investigators would have done anything they could to get information out of the little droid, destroying the personality he had developed when her security protocols kicked in. But here he was, just as personable as she remembered. But she couldn’t linger to try and figure it out; she still had a few more areas of the ship to search. Luckily, now she had help.
By the time she and N3 were done searching, it was time for the second jump. It was a short one, as was the third. But between the two of them it was enough time for N3 to relate how he managed to get on her ship. Somehow, even N3 wasn’t sure how, Luke had managed to save the little droid from the Alliance’s investigators. After that, the Supply Services Commander had approached the young Jedi, enlisting the droid after swearing not to attempt any data retrieval and promising to return him to Athara upon her release. Well, he had kept his word, that’s for sure. Even Kenobi’s lightsabre was still where she had hidden it in one of the Droid’s interior compartments.
The fourth jump was long enough that she decided to settle in to meditate, especially as she now had N3 to help keep an eye on things. Meditation, though, proved difficult, so she settled on catching some sleep instead.
Then it was time for the last planned jump. She woke from dreams of her ever-constant but ever-elusive visions. Even after all this time, she couldn’t manage to remember a single one. It was just as frustrating as ever, especially as she was now certain that they pertained to those she cared about most. Especially Luke.
She had dreamed about him too.
With a groan of disappointment at being woken when she had, she hauled herself out of the berth she had found and made her way back to the cockpit to drop from hyperspace and enact the next jump.
It was going to be a little bit before she dropped out again, and she was finally able to settle enough to be able to take the time to regroup and plan. She had never expected to escape in the way that she did. In fact, she had realistically only half expected to escape at all, at least, not for some time yet. She had only just begun the process of actually seriously planning an escape. She hadn’t even dreamed of planning what to do after yet. But it had happened anyway, and she was still in shock about it. Mona’s presence, though, had arguably come as the biggest surprise.
As she thought about it, though, the surprise lessened and the logic prevailed. She really shouldn’t have been so shocked that Mona had joined the Alliance. Their meeting on Nubia not even two years before should have planted the seeds of suspicion. The young Nubian was so sure of herself and so set against the Empire. Plus there was her family to consider as well, and not just because of their deaths at the hand of the Empire.
Trixton had been a Stormtrooper when they were young, yes, but she vaguely remembered his and Beryl’s worry about where the Empire was leading the Galaxy. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that their worry had evolved into discontent in the years after she’d left. They had been good people with staunch moral beliefs. There was no way they’d have approved of the Empire’s atrocities. But she couldn’t quite picture either of them being the type to risk joining the Rebellion, especially because they had three children to protect.
However, she also very much remembered Renate speaking against the Empire on occasion before being anxiously shushed by Trix. Now she’d had no compunctions about standing up against the Empire. She was also the only one who managed to look Vader in the eye when he’d come to collect Athara. So, to the former sith’s mind, it was no surprise that Mona would eventually find her way to the Alliance. Even as a toddler Mona had been more like Renate than either of her parents. Upon more reflection, Athara wouldn’t have been surprised if she, and even Renate before her death, had been part of the Nubian Underground. Athara even wondered absently if Mona had been there when Han and Luke made contact with the Underground during that fateful visit to Nubia, if that’s what she had been returning home from when Athara had been visiting their house.
Mona should not have helped her escape, though. No matter how Athara tried to convince herself that Mona and this Commander Adyé knew what they’d been about, she couldn’t help but worry.
It was then that her thoughts turned to the mysterious commander. That he had managed to somehow organize a ship for her and since that ship was a small supply vessel, reason dictated that he was the Supply Services Officer who had caught her attention in that first audience with High Command she’d been subjected to; her feelings confirmed her musings and, the Force having never lied to her before, she believed them. Plus, N3 had also confirmed it when he had related his story to her. But she certainly hadn’t known his surname was Adyé.
She had never once considered actually meeting anyone with the same surname as she did. She didn’t even know roughly what planet it might have originated from. And in all her travels across the Galaxy, she had never once encountered that name on anyone else. She fought to keep herself from dwelling on what it might mean.
Could she possibly have family somewhere in the Galaxy?
Could he be one of them?
Realistically, she didn’t even know for sure that Adyé was a name passed to her from either of her parents; she didn’t even know who her parents were and had just accepted that she might never know. She had just always had it, even during her time with the Jengals. For all she knew, it was an arbitrary surname chosen by either Vader or even Trix and Beryl. But then there were her feelings! She knew there was a connection; something she was missing. She just did. She had known it since that day in front of Alliance High Command. She had just been too distracted by everything else to think on it further.
The more she thought on it, the more she came to accept that the Supply Services Commander just might be a link to the past she had studiously avoided wondering about. It brought all her latent curiosities to the fore, teasing her with how little she knew about her own past.
Perhaps digging into her own past was something she needed to do, she mused as her ship careened though hyperspace. But as she thought on it further, absently trying to decide where she could start any search into her background, she realized that she really had no idea where to start.
Furthermore, she really didn’t know where to go at all. The intention had always been that, upon her release from Alliance custody, she would go with Luke to continue training, both for his sake and hers. But her release hadn’t come about conventionally, or properly, and Luke had been away from the fleet almost since she had been remanded into custody for questioning. She hadn’t spoken to him since the Session with High Command where he had defended her to his superiors. An ache bloomed in her chest at the thought, and she pushed the realization that she missed him desperately away, knowing full well that it would distract her from figuring out what to do next. After all, she had no idea where he was and had no way to contact him, so there was no point in wallowing in that feeling. If she could figure this out, they would be reunited, so she held onto that thought instead.
For a brief moment she considered going to Dagobah to see if Luke had returned there, but then she recalled that, by doing so, she would have to confront Yoda…not something she was eager to do just yet…but where else could she possibly go to train? She still needed instruction, and so did Luke, and they needed someplace where they could hide out while they did that. Dagobah had been ideal. It had been a perfect place for Force-sensitives like her and Luke to train and for Yoda to hide in his exile.
Then it hit her.
The sudden emergence of Qui-gon’s presence brushing against her consciousness startled her out of her thoughts.
“Nice of you to drop by,” she couldn’t help but mutter, a hint of sarcasm colouring her tone. She swore she could feel him chuckling. He knew she was pleased he was there. She also took his appearance to mean she was on the right track. Plus, again, her feelings were telling her she was right.
Kenobi and Luke had been hidden on Tatooine for almost twenty years without discovery. It was far from the Core Worlds, deep in the Outer Rim, isolated, sparsely populated; surely it would suffice for her and Luke to train. Plus, Kenobi’s home should still be standing, and if it was as remote and secluded as Luke had described to her once, it was likely untouched. Meaning there might be useful tools or texts for her and Luke to continue training.
Plus it was once her Master’s homeplanet.
“And there I thought I might have to direct you to Tatooine,” her ghostly mentor’s disembodied voice confirmed.
“Do you have any idea how completely unsettling that is?” This time, she was sure she heard him chuckle.
It only took a few quick punches, and as soon as she was back in real space again, the coordinates were set and, after a moment of final calculations by the Navcomputer, she was away. Behind her N3 whirred happily, causing Athara to frown slightly.
“Well? I’m on my way to Tatooine. Where exactly is it that I’m supposed to go when I get there?” She was really only half expecting Qui-gon to answer, but he did anyway.
“Don’t worry. The Force will guide us.” She couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow with skepticism.
“Helpful.” He chuckled again at her disparaging tone.
“You remind me of Obi-wan, when he was your age.” Athara couldn’t help but straighten. It was such a nostalgic murmur that she wasn’t sure he meant to say it at all.
“What was he like? Your apprentice?” She hadn’t meant to ask, sensing that it came too close to the many ‘forbidden’ topics that she wasn’t to speak of, but it had come to her lips anyway. He surprised her again by answering.
“He was impulsive then, like you, somewhat cynical and rather rebellious, though, I think perhaps that was my influence. I was not interested in adhering blindly to many of the ideologies that the Jedi Order had come to cling to. I believed that such narrowness of vision as had evolved within the Jedi was hurting the Order, something I regret to say, I was partially right about. Yet, while I was considered a radical in some of my beliefs, Obi-wan had a wisdom I didn’t. It allowed him to take what I had to teach and use it better than I had. He was a far greater Jedi than I could have ever hoped to be.” The pride in his voice obvious, and Athara couldn’t help the faint smile that came to her lips.
“But he would never admit it. While brash when he was young, it was rather a youthful trait in him, and he grew out of it. He was a loyal, patient and selfless man, as a Jedi should be, and always avoided conflict when he could, preferring to find a peaceful and just solution to whatever the conflict. He truly lived up to the Jedi reputation as a guardian of peace and justice.” She had read so much about Kenobi, but hearing his old master speak of him somehow made the words real, putting a man behind them. It heightened the feeling that she had never lost since that day aboard the Death Star. But as soon as that thought entered her mind, it led to an inevitable other.
“And yet he trained a sith,” Athara murmured. The sudden feeling of remorse that surged through her and into her own voice baffled her.
“He loved Anakin as a brother, you know. It nearly destroyed him when Anakin turned.” If Qui-gon had been corporeal, she was sure, merely by the tone of his voice, that he would have fixed her with a firm but understanding stare. It was something that troubled Athara, especially as she couldn’t understand any of it. Something else troubled her, too.
“Why didn’t he just tell Luke the truth? Surely that would have been better than lying about what happened to his father.” Qui-gon audibly sighed, his aura sad.
“Would it have been? I honestly don’t know.” He was right. They couldn’t know.
“Aren’t you supposed to know everything?” Athara half-heartedly quipped.
“Not quite everything, I’m afraid, my young Padawan.” A faint feeling of delight surfaced in Athara when he said that, followed immediately by one of sorrow. Despite everything she now knew, she couldn’t help but miss her Master. And she couldn’t help but regret the turn that her life, and Luke’s life had taken. She knew what Vader was, especially in the eyes of the Galaxy, but she knew him. She could no longer reconcile what she knew now with what Vader was. Her own memories prevented her from doing that, as did the knowledge she now had about his past. It led her to risk asking another question, one she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to know the answer to.
“Is there still good in him? Or am I just trying too hard to see something that isn’t there?” she said it quietly, unable to hide the yearning in her voice. It was a thoughtful silence that followed, one that reassured her that Qui-gon hadn’t disappeared on her again.
On the console in front of her, a light began flashing and behind her N3 burred quietly, both signaling that she was due to drop from hyperspace. Knowing their time for conversation was at an end, she grudgingly straightened in her seat, reaching forward to drop the little ship out of Hyperdrive. But as she did so, Qui-gon’s voice echoed through her mind, answering her final question.
There is.Her heart began beating just a little bit faster.