The young Jedi lost all track of time, crushed by the knowledge of what he had done and eaten by self-condemnation. When he returned from the unforgiving place he had been dwelling on, he found himself curled up on the floor, clutching in his hands the piece of cloth with his blood on it. He was shivering with cold, and he felt old and sick. Sick to the bone. His senses were numbed, and he could barely touch the Force, so weak he was.
He heard his mother’s approaching steps, and with all the strength he could summon, he put the cloth into the leather pouch in his belt. Then he tried to rise, but fell back down.
“Luke!” his mother called out. Her steps sounded louder and faster, and soon after, he felt her kneeling down beside him, trying to help him stand.
Half-conscious, Luke shook her off, not wanting her to get hurt.
“It’s all right, I’ve got you,” she soothed him tenderly; and with an energy that surprised him even in his state, she pulled him to his feet. A small, deceptively frail hand cupped his face, holding it steady. “Oh, my goodness!” she gasped in dismay. “You must lie down. Come on, lean on me.”
Padme wrapped Luke’s arm around her shoulders and offered herself as a crutch. She wrapped her arm around his waist and took him to the guest room, that fortunately was down the very corridor that led to the veranda.
Luke struggled in and out of consciousness. He was almost feverish, and it was all Padme could do to cool his face with a damp washcloth, whispering to him that everything would be all right.
“Please, tell me it’s not too late for you,” she begged him. Her hand caressed the pale cheeks and stroked the soft blond hair, willing the young man to look at her and say something.
Luke’s eyes fluttered open and for the first time, Padme saw recognition in them. His eyelids seemed to be too heavy for him to keep open, but he tried, and gave her the sweetest, saddest smile.
Through the haze clouding his mind, Luke made out the form of his mother. But somehow, she looked different from the last time he had seen her... Ahhhh, it was her dress. She had changed into a magnificent green velvet gown with a purple sash just above her belly; and her hair was all loose and curled, falling around her shoulders and down her back like a cascade of Ossus honey. He reached up tiredly, needing to touch it.
“A-Are you an angel?” he whispered in wonder.
Padme’s heart almost stopped. She studied the young face, so unguarded and full of longing, and at that very moment she knew, without any shadow of a doubt, that she knew him. She always had, and she always would.
“If I could choose between all the mothers in the Universe, I would choose you,” he murmured, brushing delicately a fine curly strand with his forefinger.
Padme bit her lower lip, trembling like a leaf. She took the cold, sweaty hand in her own, brought it to her lips and kissed it.
“You would be any mother’s pride and joy,” she whispered back to him thickly, wiping away the stray tear that began to escape down the corner of his right eye.
Luke’s mournful smile wilted slowly and his eyes turned to the ceiling. Something was calling out to him. Something far away, and his heart followed it blindly. His eyes dropped closed.
“Luke? Luke!” Padme grasped the black-clad shoulders and shook them. Not too hard, just enough for the young Jedi to wake up.
Luke felt weightless, ingravid. He floated in the clear blue sky, above the skyscrapers and speeders flying around in all directions. As exhilarating as the feeling was, there seemed to be a purpose to where he was going, and he let go until he identified the building right in front of his line of vision. The fortress with the five spires on top looked even more impressive this close. Timeless. Eternal. But when he was about to touch it, a strange force swept him away, taking him in a different direction, towards what looked like a domed complex that rose several hundred metres above the surface of the planet.
When he caught a clear glimpse of the building, he felt an instant acceleration and a heartbeat later, he found himself floating in the ceiling of a circular room at the top of a set of stairs. A large desk, very well equipped, was displayed before a full panoramic window of the city below.
Sitting at that desk, examining a holographic image, was the one being in the galaxy that Luke had been avoiding in mind and soul since he arrived.
He didn’t look at all like the mysteriously hooded creature he’d known all his life, quite the contrary. He looked as plain and unremarkable as any other politician. Elegantly dressed in dark robes and a burgundy sleeveless overcoat, he swiveled in his chair and received his father with a solemn look.
“Chancellor, we’ve just received a report from master Kenobi. He has engaged General Grievous.”
“We can only hope that master Kenobi is up to the challenge.”
Anakin’s face reflected his inner turmoil.
“I should be there with him.”
“It’s upsetting to me to see that the Council doesn’t seem to fully appreciate your talents. Don’t you wonder why they won’t make you a Jedi master?”
“I wish I knew. More and more I get the feeling that I’m being excluded from the Council.”
Palpatine nodded compassionately.
“I know there are things about the Force that they’re not telling me.”
Palpatine stood up.
“They don’t trust you, Anakin. They see your future. They know your power will be too strong to control. You must break through the fog of lies the Jedi have created around you.”
As the two figures ventured into the corridor side by side, Palpatine’s hand on Anakin’s back in a warm, fatherly gesture, a heartbroken Luke had to marvel at the web that the future Emperor had woven around his father. A web made of half-truths and outright lies that Anakin couldn’t get away from. Wouldn’t want to get away from.
Luke didn’t understand why the Force had brought him here. He’d already learned more than he had bargained for. One would think that in this incorporeal, otherworldly realm he was above good and evil, beyond the struggles and conflicts of mortals, but he wasn’t. His father’s conflict and its seemingly inevitable resolution reverberated through every corner of his being. What’s worse, it felt like a punishment. It was horrific enough to know what was about to happen, was he meant to witness it as well?
“Let me help you to know the subtleties of the Force.”
He’d just gotten his answer.
“How do you know the ways of the Force?”
“My mentor told me everything about the Force. Even the nature of the Dark Side.”
His father moved in front of Palpatine stealthily, blocking his path.
“You know the Dark Side?”
“Anakin, if one is to understand the great mistery, why not study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi? If you wish to become a complete and wise leader, you must embrace a larger view of the Force.”
Luke watched the two men begin to circle each other like two predators assessing the situation.
“Be careful of the Jedi, Anakin. Only through me can you achieve a power greater than any Jedi. Learn to know the Dark Side of the Force, and you will be able to save your wife from certain death.”
Anakin froze at the Chancellor’s last words.
“What did you say?”
“Use my knowledge, I beg you.”
His father’s unhesitating drawing and igniting of his lightsaber kindled a flame of hope in Luke’s spirit.
“You’re the Sith Lord!”
The anger and betrayal in Anakin’s voice were as dangerous and deadly as a krayt dragon.
“I know what’s been troubling you. Listen to me. Don’t continue to be a pawn of the Jedi Council. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been searching for a life greater than that of an ordinary Jedi. A life of significance, of conscience.”
Luke could feel his father’s hatred passing through him like the shockwaves of an earthquake. It pulsed like a breathing, living thing. And it was obvious that Palpatine could feel it too. He turned away from Anakin in a thoroughly reckless move.
“Are you going to kill me?”
“I would certainly like to.”
His father’s voice trembled with the superhuman effort at self-control.
“I know you would. I can feel your anger. It gives you focus. Makes you stronger.”
Luke shuddered, repulsed by Palpatine’s reaction. He was feeding off his father’s hate. It was almost like a sexual release.
Then, Anakin managed to get a hold of his runaway emotions and turned off his saber. That simple act seemed to drain him completely.
“I’m going to turn you over to the Jedi Council.”
Palpatine turned around to face him.
“Of course, you should. But you’re not sure of their intentions either.”
‘You bastard!’ Luke’s soul screamed.
“I will quickly discover the truth of all this.”
“You have great wisdom, Anakin. Know the power of the Dark Side. The power to save Padme.”
And on hearing those last words, Luke knew that his beloved father’s fate was decided, no matter what went down.
He saw Anakin walk away, his brown Jedi robe billowing behind him. Palpatine stood where he was, staring after him, his sympathetic smile mutating into a rictus of sheer evil.
“You’re mine, Chosen One,” his voice sounded like the hiss of a snake. “At last.”
Luke felt sick. His body, whatever it was at this very moment, felt physically ill.
‘Please, I can’t take it anymore!’ he implored.
As if taking pity on him, his essence began to float away again, and he left behind that foul nest of Darkness and moral depravity.
For an indeterminate amount of time, he wasn’t aware of where he was going next. He could only find relief in being away from that demon’s perverse, corrupting influence. The sunshine warmed him, and a glimmer of peace returned to him.
The Jedi Temple appeared suddenly before his eyes, and seconds later he was in a dimly lit hangar, with several Old Republic Gunships ready to take off. His attention was drawn to a small group of what could only be Jedi.
His heart lifted at the mere sight of them. This was the golden era of the Jedi, when they were a natural part of the life and landscape of the galaxy. The normalcy of it hit him hard, compared to the oddity that he was in his time. So lonely...
He saw his father approaching the group, and without even thinking about it, he was hovering over him, as close as he could get.
“Master Windu, I must talk to you.”
The bald-headed, dark-skinned man began to walk in the direction of one of the ships and Anakin fell into step with him.
“Skywalker, we just received word that Obi-Wan has destroyed General Grievous. We’re on our way to make sure the Chancellor returns emergency power back to the Senate.”
“He won’t give up his power. I’ve just learned a terrible truth. I think Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord.”
The older Jedi stopped on the spot and turned to Anakin.
“A Sith Lord?!”
“Yes; the one we’ve been looking for.”
“How do you know this?”
“He knows the ways of the Force. He’s been trained to use the Dark Side.”
“Are you sure?”
Master Windu made a grimace and looked away with a bitter expression on his face.
“Then our worst fears have been realized. We must move quickly if the Jedi Order is to survive.”
He started again for the nearest Gunship at a brisk pace, and Anakin followed him.
“Master, the Chancellor is very powerful. You’ll need my help if you’re going to arrest him.”
“For your own good stay out of this affair. I sense a great deal of confusion in you, young Skywalker. There is much fear that clouds your judgment.”
“I must go, master.”
The two men stopped by the ship.
“No. If what you’ve told me is true, you’ll have gained my trust. But for now remain here. Wait in the Council chambers until we return.”
Master Windu boarded the Gunship that promptly took off.
“Yes, master,” Anakin said, even though the older man couldn’t hear him anymore.
His father’s feelings of dejection, frustration and loss, coupled with the tangible proof of being an outcast even amongst his equals, washed over Luke like a tide. It didn’t matter who was to blame at this point. All these feelings plus other much darker ones would come to a head today, and the holocaust that would derive from them would be inconcievable.
And it was at that moment, watching Anakin’s last hours as a Jedi, watching him turn about obediently and head for the Council chambers, that Luke loved his father more than he ever had before.
He reached out to touch the wavy blond hair, but then he was yanked back by an irresistible force. He cried out.
The moaning of a woman in pain was the first thing he was aware of, even before he opened his eyes. He ‘returned’ to his body with a start, to the vision of his mother sitting on the bed beside him, hunched over her belly, grabbing it and also her right side. Her contorted face revealed that she was in agony.
He tried to sit up and help her, but he couldn’t. He was very debilitated by the out of body experience he’d just had, and he slumped back on the bed with a gasp. He stretched out his arm, but when he was about to touch her, he remembered the danger his proximity represented to her and the babies, and pulled back.
“The b-baby’s reacting to me. To my nearness,” he told her breathlessly. “You must get away from me.”
“I can’t leave you alone,” Padme protested, her voice rough with pain. “You were unconscious!”
“I wasn’t. I was in a trance to save my strength,” he lied vehemently, ready to do anything to keep her safe. “You must protect your child,” his eyes did their best to calm her. “Please, go. I’ll just stay here... and rest.”
Padme held her big belly in her hands and met his eyes, still in refusal.
And looking into those worried brown eyes, the young Jedi found the words that would convince her.
“I’ll be fine. But I need to know that I’m not harming your baby. I would never forgive myself,” he smiled weakly. “Send Threepio if it’ll make you feel better. He’ll watch over me better than you could with those eyes.”
Padme didn’t say anything for a minute. Then, she had to grin at his sweet attempt at humour. She took several deep breaths, until she had the pain under control.
“All right,” she nodded reluctantly. “But I’ll pop in every now and then to see how you’re doing,” she warned him, rising with some effort.
“I’ll be here,” Luke nodded back. “Please, leave now,” he urged her.
With a last look and holding her stomach with one hand, Padme left the room, her body language showing with every step how much it was costing her to comply with his request.
Once alone, Luke’s eyes turned again to the ceiling. The tears ran freely then.
Now what? Was he supposed to accompany his father in his final descent into Darkness? And after that? Should he run to his ship and escape this ugly place, leaving his wrecked family behind?
A part of him didn’t care anymore. He’d learned the meaning of ‘be careful what you wish for’ the hard way. Now everything was in the arms of the Force. He could only comply with its will and pick up the pieces of his shattered heart when he returned home.
He blinked a couple times to clear his vision from the tears he was shedding like drops of rain. A chilling calm and resignation gripped him in their cold embrace, and he relaxed on that warm, welcoming bed that in another reality might have been his. Or his sister’s.
He felt another familiar pull, which source he could tell now. It was the unconscious call of a lost soul praying for balance to do the right thing. The soul that was forever linked to his. In any Universe and any Time.
He couldn’t not answer that call, the same way he couldn’t not breathe. Letting himself go, he soon felt light and weightless again. He looked down at his inert body lying on the bed, and Threepio entering the room and walking up to his bedside. Seconds later, he was leaving the apartment again and soaring in the Coruscant sunset, heading straight for the southwestern tower of the Jedi Temple.
Padme interlaced her fingers in her lap. The pain had ceased, and a profound confusion filled her thoughts now. Confusion and an untold sadness.
The look in Luke’s eyes had carved a hole in her heart. It was as if he carried the pain of a universe on his shoulders. And that pain was now part of her.
But the craziest thing was that she felt guilty for that pain. As if that young man’s burden was her responsibility, and she had failed to relieve him of it.
She couldn’t help but think of her husband next. How his expectations of himself were implacable, impossible to meet by human standards. The haunted look in his eyes when he talked about the lives that had been lost in the war and he had failed to protect, his commitment to keep the innocent safe reminded her so much of Luke’s sense of duty to the others... There was so much of Anakin in Luke, so much of Luke in Anakin! It was as if they were two aspects of the same soul.
The twilight was coming, and the spectacular reddish hue of the sky illuminating the apartment turned oppressive all of a sudden. It looked like the heavens were ablaze, weeping tears of fire, crying out a long, shrilling wail for them all. It felt like the sunset of an era. The death of something precious that all of them had contributed to destroy.
Restless, she rose from the couch and walked over to the windows, looking out into the distance. Instinctively, she looked for the Jedi Temple, knowing that Anakin was there at that very instant. Fighting, working tirelessly to put an end to this carnage that was consuming the Republic from within.
A searing feeling of loss came over her. They had already failed. She didn’t know how she knew it, she just did. A time of Darkness like the galaxy had never known, was upon them.
Was that why their baby kicked and squirmed savagely in her belly after two days of relative calm? Was it protesting against the legacy their mistakes would leave for their generation to suffer?
‘My love, what have we done? When did we lose the way?’ she thought in boundless remorse.
Luke watched his father stand from his seat in the Jedi Council and walk up tiredly to one of the windows. He could see every single emotion crossing the scarred, tormented face like it was an open book.
‘You know that your fellow Jedi intend to kill Palpatine, don’t you?’ he thought. ‘And if they do, Mother’s chances of survival will be zero. Or that’s what *you* think.’
From his vantage point, he noticed that Anakin was looking out in the direction of Padme’s apartment. Little by little, the striking blue eyes clouded with tears.
Force, how could such a perfect blending of selfish and selfless love, of bottled-up anger and infinite compassion coexist in one person? How could someone with such potential, with so much to give, have come to that?
He felt in his flesh the moment his father made his decision. The moment he snuffed out the inner light that guided him, and gave up on any possibility of deserving forgiveness for what he was about to do. Giving up on Anakin Skywalker, the man and the Jedi.
The tears rolled down the ravaged countenance as he turned around, all hope lost, all remaining innocence a howling ghost at his back.
Luke followed his father out of the chambers. Truly, there was no choice, for either of them. It was the will of the Force; he knew that now.
Padme bowed her head, feeling in the most private and secret part of her soul that it was over.
Lost chances. Missed opportunities. Wasted time. All gone. They would all pay for their arrogance; for all the neverending sessions at the Senate, all the amendments and motions that only succeeded in prolonging the conflict.
All the lives sacrificed.
They were so absorbed in their self-importance that they had become obsolete, like an archaic animal; and as such they would be wiped out.
Nervous footsteps neared her, and she turned her head. It was Threepio, and he seemed agitated. She turned all the way to him.
The golden droid bowed his head to her.
“Excuse me, milady,” he said, sounding strangely subdued, even concerned. “I’m afraid our young guest has lapsed into unconsciousness again.”
Padme’s face went white.
Anakin ran as fast as his legs would allow. He crossed the hangar deck while the ramp deployed, and started the engines before he was fully sitting at the controls.
Luke could feel the air blowing on him. Anakin was flying at a manic speed, and he almost wished that his father would outspeed him. But in this weird realm the laws of physics didn’t apply. Some part of him knew that he only had to think of a place to find himself there automatically.
On seeing the domed building ahead, a full-body shudder wracked through him and he began to tremble uncontrollably. There was no turning back. He had to face this, knowing it would damage him permanently. Knowing it was meant to be.
Then, Anakin was landing his ship and jumping out of it, heading at a run for the Chancellor’s office. The pillared atrium seemed endless, but his father covered it in no time and turned to the right. He crossed the reception area at a more sedated pace, catching his breath and bracing himself for what was to come.
The scene he encountered seemed impossible. Palpatine was lying on the floor, cornered against the side of the broken panoramic window, with master Windu’s purple lightsaber aimed at him at point-blank range.
“You are under arrest, milord,” master Windu declared with great authority. He noticed Anakin’s arrival and held out his free hand, signalling him to stop.
“Anakin, I told you it would come to this,” Palpatine immediately sought his father’s protection, projecting a totally defenceless image that made Luke rage inside at that monster’s deep knowledge of Anakin’s character. “I was right, the Jedi are taking over!”
“The oppression of the Sith will never return. You have lost,” master Windu proclaimed with finality.
The Sith Lord’s facial expression and attitude changed abruptly into a truer reflection of who and what he was, and he reached out his hands.
“No, no, no. You will die!!” he screeched, discharging massive lightning through his fingertips at the unsuspecting Jedi master.
Luke gasped in horrified realization.
‘If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed.’
It was the same torture Palpatine would inflict on him in the future! This was the way he would intend to kill him in front of his father.
Luke was petrified by the terrifying feeling of dèjá vu. He became a prisoner of the revolting scene he was witnessing. And it was just the beginning.
Thrown back by the brutal force of the Chancellor’s attack, master Windu raised his lightsaber, and his instinctive move turned out to be the perfect defensive manoeuvre. Not only that. The purple blade deflected the lightning back at Palpatine.
“He’s a traitor!” the Sith shrieked at his father.
“He is the traitor!” master Windu shouted, holding his saber in place for all he was worth.
In seconds, the toll of enduring his own Force-Lightning transformed Palpatine’s face into a grotesque visage. His eyes turned yellow and sank in its sockets, his already sickly pale skin became pasty white, and the deepest lines that seemed to reach his skull completed the reshaping of the Beast.
“I have the power to save the one you love. You must choose,” the Chancellor’s weakening voice wasted no time in reminding his father of what the stakes were.
Up till then, Anakin had been a mere spectator of the titanic fight, but upon observing his father, Luke saw the change that was taking place in the core of his being. He looked mesmerized by Palpatine’s display of power, his eyes darkened and filled with something sinister that surged up from some untapped part of him.
“Don’t listen to him, Anakin!” master Windu exhorted the young Jedi, resorting to his last reserve of strength to fend off Palpatine’s onslaught.
Lightning and sparks crackled everywhere and Anakin took a step back, shielding his eyes.
“Don’t let him kill me!” Palpatine begged his father pitifully, apparently on the verge of drawing his last breath. His deformed, mangled face really gave that impression. “I can’t hold it any longer. I can’t. I’m weak. I’m too weak. Anakin, help me. Help me!”
And then, the lightning and the dreadful sounds stopped. Master Windu pointed his lightsaber at the wheezing Chancellor with a look of utter contempt.
“I-I-I can’t hold on any longer,” Palpatine repeated plaintively.
“I am going to end this once and for all,” master Windu vowed.
“You can’t,” Anakin’s first words since entering brought an ominous foreboding with them, and Luke thought he was dying with sorrow. “He must stand trial.”
“He has control of the Senate and the Courts,” master Windu countered angrily. “He’s too dangerous to be left alive.”
“I’m too weak,” Palpatine butted in, and at that moment, Luke knew what pure, distilled hatred was. “Don’t kill me, please.”
“It’s not the Jedi way,” Anakin argued. “He must live!”
Master Windu’s features hardened with the decision he was about to carry out.
“Please, don’t,” Luke thought he detected actual fear in those inhuman eyes.
“I need him!” Anakin spoke his heart’s truth as his last hope to prevent... what came next.
Master Windu raised his lightsaber to deliver the final blow.
“Please, don’t!” Palpatine moaned.
And just as the purple blade descended, the sound of an igniting lightsaber and a scream of “NO!” filled the air. A millisecond later, master Windu’s arm was severed below the elbow. The useless weapon fell out of the window, followed by the Jedi master’s yell of pain.
The Chancellor’s face gloated obscenely. This was the opportunity he had been waiting for. He rose in an explosion of Dark Side power, and blasted his most lethal attack at the now helpless Jedi master.
“POWEEER!!” he roared, zapping the man with every ounce of Darkness and hatred he possessed in his disfigured body.
Anakin staggered to his feet and watched with a mixture of horror and shock. Master Windu’s body lit up from the inside, as every single cell was destroyed by an unnatural energy that seemed to devour life from within. Every bone became visible, eaten by the greatest evil the universe had ever known.
“UNLIMITED POWER!” every syllable appeared to infuse Palpatine with a vigour and potency ultimately meant to overwhelm Anakin with all the possibilities the Dark Side had to offer.
To Luke, it was the most atrocious, horrendous execution of a human being. He trembled violently, sick and nauseous to his soul, watching the Jedi master’s inconceivable agony, that one day would be his own.
Endless, unbearable seconds later, master Windu stopped struggling, and with a final round of lightning, he was thrown out of the window until he disappeared from sight.
Palpatine lay back against the wall, casting a triumphant look at his soon to be follower.
Anakin’s face was a mirror of everything Luke was feeling. Stricken with guilt, remorse and pure horror, his legs gave way under him. He stumbled back and collapsed on the flat surface of the hologram projector. His lightsaber fell from his nerveless hand.
“What have I done?” he groaned in absolute shock, cursing himself for what he had allowed to happen in a moment of weakness. For the life he had allowed to be destroyed, the life of someone he had always looked up to, even if master Windu had never trusted him. Maybe because of it. And now, he had proved him right. Such hideous betrayal could never be forgiven, or forgotten. By himself first and foremost.
Palpatine stood and walked up to his father gravely.
“You’re fulfilling your destiny, Anakin,” he answered to his soulful cry. “Become my apprentice. Learn to use the Dark Side of the Force,” he rumbled in a masterful tone of voice. As if his words were some kind of prophecy that was being realized with his father’s surrender.
Anakin’s upper body sank lower and he shook his head in self-disgust. It wasn’t as much a surrender to the Dark Side as a surrender of himself, of his free will, of his inherently good and bright Destiny, of everything he had been and everything he could have been.
“I will do whatever you... ask.”
And it was then, seeing Anakin renounce everything that no free man should ever give up, not even for the noblest cause, that Luke lost it. The stoical, self-disciplined façade crumbled, and the Jedi Knight succumbed to the horrified child watching his father fall.
Padme let out a muffled yelp when she saw the young man she thought unconscious sitting up with a spasm. His eyes were glazed over, unfocused, halfway between dream and reality.
“NO!” Luke cried out, leaping out of bed and dashing out of the room.
Fearing that he’d hurt himself in his frenzied escape, Padme followed him as fast as her heavier body permitted.
“Luke! LUKE!” she called after him.
Luke ran down the corridor and out to the veranda. A part of him knew where he was now and what he was doing, and another was still up there with his father, witnessing the unspeakable moment when Darth Vader was born.
His feet stopped dead when they reached the top step of the staircase, and his eyes focused for the first time. He was fully back inside his body; alone, bereft, an orphan with every meaning of the word. He looked around disconsolately, but there was nothing to see, nothing to hear but his own grieving, bleeding heart. He raised his tearing eyes to the night sky and committed his soul and his Destiny to the two words that burst from him, burning and radiant like a sun.
And he knew no more.
TO BE CONTINUED...