Five years after the events of The Phantom Menace...
Obi Wan Kenobi sat across from the couple whose family's lifestyle was about to change. He tried to hold his emotion in, yet they could see it anyway regardless of them not being Force sensitive. Obi Wan figured that his revealed compassion for them made himself and the Jedi seem more human. They needed all of the compassion they could get. The family was about to endure more than Obi Wan could imagine.
Across from him sat Ghill and Abri Helan. Each had a hand bound together as if it would gain them more strength. The husband, Ghill, stared back with a blank look. The wife, Abri, emitted enough emotion to stretch outside of their low-rent apartment on Coruscant in what would be their last known residence as themselves. She curled her blonde locks with her free hand in an obvious nervous tic. It was she who broke the silence after Obi Wan's explanation.
"We...cannot come back here...ever?"
Obi Wan winced at her question. He tried to eject all of the sadness he felt when he spoke. He failed. "I am afraid so. The Deponent Security Program was designed for people in your situation to ensure their safety.
Ghill spoke in his Coruscanti accent, "And disappearing from the face of the galaxy is the answer?"
Obi Wan sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. You must understand, you have done the Republic a great service. You sent one of the high-ranked members of this crime organization on Coruscant to Kessel for the rest of his natural life."
Ghill sniffed. "That won't stop them."
"Perhaps not. You did show them that the public will not tolerate their actions. You were in the right place–"
"At the right time. Yes, I've heard it before, Master Kenobi. Chance encounter, destined meeting, it was all in the Sabaac hand. Premonition took me to that spot at that point in time. I stopped to bring dinner home for my family and instead I brought them nothing but fear. Now we have to start a new life, not as ourselves but as total strangers with new names. How do you think we can manage that, Master Kenobi?"
Obi Wan sighed silently. He was afraid of this kind of reaction from the Helans. He had to endure many challenges over his life as a Padawan and a Jedi. Watching his own Master die in his arms was up there. Training the teenage Anakin Skywalker was not far behind. Facing an innocent family who had been thrust into the underworld of a crime syndicate and telling them they have to leave their beloved home forever while changing their identities was fast becoming one of the most emotional ordeals that Obi Wan had to go through. Perhaps that was why he and Anakin were chosen for this assignment. He remembered Master Yoda's reply when he asked him how he was to explain this to the family.
"Find a method, you will, Obi Wan. Stronger than you think, you are."
He wished he could agree with his Master. Nevertheless, he had a duty.
He faced the couple and sternly said, "I know that you feel betrayed. You are thinking that after your service during the trial that this is the price for your heroism. I cannot stress enough the fact that you and your family are still alive. This organization does not want that. They will want retribution."
Abri snapped, "You mean revenge. They will really come after us?"
"I'm afraid so. To ensure that doesn't happen, the Jedi Council and the Chancellor devised a way for you to disappear." Obi Wan edged the sealed data pad he brought with him across the table to them and explained, "Your new identities are on here. They were randomly chosen. As was your destination. No one on the Council knows of it. There is a code to access an account that contains enough credits that will get you by for a little while. They can be exchanged automatically to whatever currency is used on the system you are on."
Obi Wan breathed deep at his next words. "We can only give you a few days before you have to leave here. You can take nothing that can identify you. No ident cards, mementos, holo-pics, or anything personal that can lead back to you."
Abri squealed, "Not even our children's things?"
"You can take essential items for the toddler, but no toys. With this organization, your children are the easiest target. Once you leave here, we will take care of your belongings."
Abri cried, "But, what about my parents? I can never see them again?"
"I'm sorry," was all that Obi Wan could manage.
Abri vented almost in tears. "How will I know if they're all right? How would I know if they...died?"
Obi Wan looked down away from her eyes searing into him."Perhaps...we can find a way to announce something like that over the HoloNet. Though, it would have to be a one-way data feed. These people cannot know where you are." He finally looked up at them. "I wish there was another way."
Ghill stated, "I wish I hadn't stopped for dinner that night and stumbled on seeing that man frying that Rodian."
Obi Wan assured, "Because you witnessed that, the man who killed him has been caught and incarcerated. The organization that he is a part of will learn that they cannot get away with the series of crimes they are committing."
Abri cried out, "Why don't you call them by their name? Black Sun."
Obi Wan straightened himself. "That is unofficial. It is a nickname." He put his index finger over his upper lip and started to say, "Listen, I want to–"
Suddenly, a toy starfighter came flying into the room and over their heads. Along with the model came three boys of various ages, including a Padawan teen. Anakin Skywalker entered the large main room laughing with two younger boys encouraging him behind him.
Abri scolded first. "Pap! Cho! Stop this, right now! What is making the ship fly like that?"
Obi Wan focused on the toy and pulled it towards him to catch it. He glanced over at Anakin in his usual shameful manner and answered Abri, "That would be the Force, Mrs. Helan. The Force that is to be used sparingly and not for showing off, I might add." He glared at Anakin as he said this and his Padawan looked embarrassed.
"Sorry, Master, I was just having fun."
Obi Wan scolded, "We will speak about what is considered fun later. Right now you will sit here next to me."
After Anakin grudgingly complied, Abri did her part to scold her sons. "Tell me you didn't leave Alexhi alone."
The eldest son, Paprhi, explained, "She's in her room playing with her dolls. She's fine."
Abri scorned, "She is barely two years old. Go now and watch over her like I asked you."
The second youngest, Cholar, whined, "But, mom, he was making the fighter fly. It was going zooom, zooom!" He made flying gestures with his arms.
"Cho," Ghill commanded, "you and your brother do as your mother says. We have a long trip that we have to discuss with you later. Go and watch your sister."
The two boys cried in unison, "Yes, sir." They dragged themselves back to the back rooms beyond the hallway.
Abri addressed Obi Wan. "I'm sorry about that."
Obi Wan stated, "The apology should be mine. Those in Jedi training should know better." Anakin gave an awkward grin.
Ghill went back to business and asked Obi Wan, "Will the Jedi have any further need for us after we leave?"
Obi Wan silently thanked Ghill for changing the subject and answered, "I should think not. The trial is over. Officially, there would be no need for any further contact." Obi Wan reverted back to his assuring voice. "You have done your part, my friend. The Jedi Council will forever regard your actions in the highest honor. It is one thing for an experienced Jedi to come forward in a situation such as this. It is another when an upstanding citizen such as yourself steps up. You will be given the chance to begin a new life with new experiences."
Ghill stated sourly, "We just can't experience them as Helans."
Obi Wan gulped. "Correct."
Ghill sat up and bent forward to get closer to Obi Wan and his Padawan. "If you do manage to defeat this organization, Black Sun, will there ever be a chance that we can return to our old lives here?"
Obi Wan struggled to find the words that would dance over the gruesome details. "An organization like Black Sun cannot be overthrown overnight. They are well organized and powerful. It just so happened that you caught one of their Vigos, as they call their leaders, in a huge mistake that he should have never gone through. They will not make that same mistake again. Yet, even if we do manage to take down even their main leaders, more are waiting to take their place. Your identities have been erased for a reason. Your lives will not be safe here and the Jedi cannot protect you forever. That is what this program was designed to do."
Obi Wan's words lingered in the air as if the Helens were studying them.
Abri asked point blank, "What would they do to us if we stay here on Coruscant?"
Obi Wan did not know how to answer the question in a respectable fashion.
Unfortunately, his young Padawan did not have the term, respectable, in his vocabulary. Anakin answered bluntly, "They will surely kill you and your whole family. And they would sleep soundly afterwards."
Ghill sneered his question, "Is that a threat?"
Before Obi Wan could interject, Anakin replied, "That is a promise."
After Obi Wan and Anakin entered the turbolift down to their air speeder, Obi spoke harshly to his young student.
"In the future you should be mindful that there are times that call for tact. You did not show that to them when you spoke."
"I don't like to sugar-coat things, Master. She asked a legitimate question and I answered truthfully. Your way was too long in getting to the real point. Besides, he thanked me for my honesty. Or didn't you hear that part?"
Obi Wan held back a smile. This boy was me at that age. The difference being that Qui Gon had allowed his Padawan learn the truth of things. If Obi Wan allowed for the same amount of freedom in Anakin, it would be as if be as if a candle flame were unleashed to turn into a blaze. Obi Wan still warned, "Sometimes there is a difference between being truthful and being respectful, young Padawan. And speaking of being truthful, what was your purpose in playing with the toy?"
"Like I said, I was having fun. Though, technically, I was giving the boys a sense of fun." He looked at his Master directly. "We all know they won't be having much of that in their new future."
"What was your assessment of the boys' demeanor?"
"The older one, Pap, is about the same age I was when my own life changed. He feels hesitant about it and I sensed his pain underneath leaving his home and friends."
"That is to be expected. What about the others?"
"Cho is half Pap's age. He's treating this as some sort of game where they have to pretend that they are another family. And the little girl is way too young to understand any of it."
"Don't be too sure. Children are very impressionable at that early age."
"Really?" Anakin replied as if he didn't believe his Master. "Can you remember anything that happened to you at barely two years of age?"
Obi Wan winced at the question. No Jedi would ever ask about another person's past without official reason. However, Anakin did many things without official reason. To answer his question, Obi Wan had to search through memory banks that had to be dusted off to remember them. The memories of that time were now reduced to images. He found one that he always cherished, yet held back even when he was Qui Gon's apprentice. "I remember joining the Jedi when I was about Cho's age."
"Joining? You mean taken."
"No. I meant join. I went willingly. My family knew that I had a higher purpose in becoming a Jedi."
"Don't you miss them?"
Obi Wan began to get flustered. Anakin was going down a path that no Jedi would dare follow. Then again, Anakin Skywalker did not seem fit to be a typical Jedi. Obi Wan still obliged the young man's question and considered his words. "I do...think about them on occasion. Particularly on my Life Days."
"I believe we celebrated that well this past year."
"Yes, but perhaps if you have another surprise party planned for next year you should hide the number of people attending better. I could sense their anticipation even before I reached my door."
"Maybe I'll learn that surprise parties are not suited for Jedi Knights."
"I don't know, Anakin, you surprise me all the time."
Anakin laughed. The hum of the turbolift was on its own for a few moments before Anakin said, "You do know that you never really answered my question."
Obi Wan glanced at him and gave him a wink. "I know."
"Well, thanks for being your evasive self as usual."
"And thank you for being the same uncontrollable teenager that you are."
Anakin nodded. "Glad we got that cleared up."
Obi Wan felt he needed to give Anakin something more. "As you may have known over the years, Anakin, I am not one to dwell in the past. What is done has been done. I will say that, despite knowing that joining the Jedi as my duty has fulfilled my destiny so far, leaving my family at that young age was no less devastating."
Obi Wan cringed at his Padawan's answer. Of course, he knows what leaving his family is like. "I'm sorry, Anakin." He stayed silent as he felt Anakin reflect on his mother. Obi Wan no longer felt the childish fear for his mother that Anakin once had when he first came to Coruscant. Occasionally, Obi Wan could sense sudden apprehension in Anakin during some mornings. The results of waking up out of a nightmare? Those instances were few and far between by now, yet it compelled Obi Wan to wonder.
"Are you still having dreams about her?"
The question of who did not have to be addressed. Anakin replied, "Yes. But, they're not bad now. I almost get a sense that she is...happy. It's distant, but I can feel her joy."
"Perhaps she has come to terms with your leaving."
"Or she has forgotten all about me by now."
"Anakin, I seriously doubt that. You are a hard person to forget."
They reached the floor that held the platform where their air speeder was waiting. They exited single file with Anakin allowing his Master to go first. As they walked side by side, Obi Wan noted the run-down look of the building. Flecks of paint were coming off the permacrete. Graffiti of various political and romantic statements were scattered across the walls. Trash was littered on the floor. The residents and the owner obviously could not afford utility droids that could clean the area.
It made Obi Wan think. On Coruscant, as with most civilizations, there were different class systems that were based on financial gain. The higher end district had buildings that were state of the art in structure and decoration. This district, where the Helans lived, was filled with the middle class. These were the citizens who made a living by working everyday to simply provide for their families. Obi Wan felt an admiration with people such as Ghill Helan, sometimes more so than any skilled Jedi he knew. People like Ghill would never call themselves a hero. Yet they were looked upon as such by their children. Their lives were spent the same way day after day. Their father went to work while the children went to school. They come home to spend time together during dinner and thereafter for a few hours before going to bed and starting the next day again.
Until something disrupts that functioning cycle.
For Ghill Helan and his family, that disruption happened over a standard month ago while he stopped to get dinner for his family one night. There was a commotion nearby that caught Ghill's attention. He peeked into an alley where he found two WeeQuay's holding a Rodian while a human male argued with him. The argument became deadly after the Rodian did not give an answer the human wanted. The human shot the Rodian several times point blank and frying the creature until he was dead. Ghill was stunned and quickly took off and ran home where he knew he would be safe. When the HoloNews reported the death of the Rodian and asked the public to give officials any tips, Ghill came forward and identified the killer. The man was a high ranking Vigo in the crime organization around the galaxy unofficially known as Black Sun. The man stood trial and Ghill's testimony helped put the Vigo away to the spice mines of Kessel for the rest of his natural life.
Yet, that did not end the threat to Ghill and his family. Ghill started to receive death threats through the HoloNet and at his workplace. That was when the Jedi came up with a way to make it seem as if the Helans disappeared off the face of the galaxy. Chancellor Palpatine was a key figure in persuading the Senate to approve the Deponent Security Program. Ghill and his family would now be safe from harm.
But, at what cost?
Obi Wan's own Padawan had endured leaving his family to become something more than a slave. Obi Wan wondered if Anakin could relate to the children as they left their beloved home.
Just before reaching the doors that led to the outside platform where the air speeder was parked, Anakin suddenly replied an answer to Obi Wan's unspoken question.
"There is a difference between me and the Helan children, Master."
Obi Wan stopped just short of the doors to face Anakin with the proud look of an accomplished teacher. "You are becoming more experienced at reading emotions and their details. I must devise more challenges in that area."
"Please don't. I don't know if I'm that good."
"Nonsense. You are more ready than you think."
"Didn't I get the feeling back in their apartment that you didn't want to unleash me yet? Something about a candle turning to a blaze?"
"Yes, well, maybe you are too good. So, what is the difference?"
"Don't play games, Anakin. You knew I was wondering if you and the Helan children's situation about leaving home are similar."
"With a huge difference. I left home as Anakin Skywalker. No one can take my identity away from me. I will always be referred to as Anakin. The Helan children will no longer be named Helan after this week. They will have to relearn their new names and become new people. They will be strangers inside their own bodies."
"Yet, they will still be alive."
"Which brings up a question. Is it better to die as yourself or live as another person?"
Obi Wan couldn't help but smile.
"What? Why are you smiling?"
"Anakin, you can be very profound when you want to be."
Anakin shrugged. "I have my moments."
"And those are the moments that surprise me."
"You're the one who's gonna be surprised when you let your hair grow long in the back. You'll wake up one morning looking like a Wookie."
Obi Wan grinned. "I've had the close cut look for so long that I wanted to try something different."
"I'm gonna do the same after I get this braid cut off. Then I'm just gonna let it grow."
"Then you should be careful to not make me angry. I am the one who gets to say when you can cut that braid off. Though, if you keep showing me the wisdom you just displayed that might not be as long off as you think." Obi Wan considered. "In fact, that is the reason why I will assign you to write the report on this mission."
"What? No fair. You know I can't write."
"If you write what you just said to me you should do fine. And it will make you more expansive in your teachings as a Jedi."
"Master, a Hutt is more expansive."
"You accept, then?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Let's go, Anakin."
They went outside onto the landing platform and joined the heavy midday traffic of Coruscant.
A few days later, Obi Wan and Anakin returned to the apartment building that was the Helan's former home. They came with several utility workers and droids to help remove the items inside. They entered the apartment and it was devoid of all humans. All that remained was now unclaimed possessions. As Obi Wan paced through the main room, Anakin went to the bedrooms to observe. Obi Wan watched as all the hard work that Abri Helan slaved to decorate the home was being removed with distant sentimentality by the workers and droids.
Anakin returned to the main room to stand before his Master. "Everything is still there. All of their clothing, holo-pics, and toys are where they left them."
Obi Wan glanced at his Padawan while two workers carried away the sofa that they had sat upon a few days ago. He calmly stated, "Yet, there is something that is missing. Correct?"
Anakin sighed. "Sometimes it amazes me how you can see through me, Master."
"Trust me that it is getting harder to do every year."
"Yes, there is something missing. A Tall poster."
"You haven't been around many children, have you Master?"
"I have so. You know I sometimes stand in for Master Yoda in his Beginning classes."
"Let me rephrase. I meant civilian children, not those training to be Jedi. A Tall poster is something the parents get for their children while they grow up. It marks the kids' height every year so they can see how much they've grown. My mother made me a homemade one years ago before I outgrew it. The Helans must have had one made with all three of their children. Even the two-year-old."
Obi Wan looked discouraged. "This would have their names on them, I assume?"
Obi Wan sighed in frustration. "I was afraid of this. They are risking themselves by taking something like that."
"I'm sure they secured it. Folded it up maybe. It could be well hidden that way."
"Regardless, it's risky. But, it seems I cannot stop them since I have no clue as to their destination."
"You can't blame them for taking at least one thing that has been a part of them for this long, Master."
"I suppose. They have escaped with their family intact. That should be enough."
They watched as the workers were almost finished and the apartment started looking as bare as if no one had ever lived there.
Anakin spoke and his voice now echoed in the now empty room. "What's gonna happen to all of this?"
"The latest I heard from Master Windu is it will all go to charity. We would have to inspect the items first to check for any identifying marks."
"Like initials scratched into toys?"
Anakin reflected, "Maybe when this Black Sun is destroyed, the Helans can reclaim all of this."
"They are just things, Anakin. Material items, however sentimental, will never replace the value of your loved ones. The items can be replaced. Your loved ones cannot."
"I stand corrected, Master. Maybe when Black Sun is destroyed the Helans would just like their own name back."
Obi Wan smiled again proudly. "Someday, Anakin. Someday."