Rebel Alliance flagship Independence
4 years after the Battle of Yavin
“You’re getting good at that.”
At the sound of Leia’s voice, Luke opened his eyes. Carefully, reaching out with his mind, he let the various objects in the otherwise empty hangar bay settle back down to the floor, then bent his knees and came out of his one-handed handstand in a roll, bouncing back up to his feet.
Leia smiled. “Showoff.”
“You should have seen Anakin,” Luke said. He held out a hand, watching the towel he’d dropped on the floor next to his water bottle and shoes come drifting over to him. He wiped sweat off his face; the reason this hangar was deserted except for him was because the environmental controls were mostly broken, which meant that it was always either too hot or too cold. According to Anakin, that was the best way to train, since it meant that you never got too comfortable in any one location.
Her smile grew, with a hint of lasciviousness to it. “Oh, I did.”
“You know he’s old enough to be your father, right?” Luke said. And he is my father – He pushed the thought aside with a pang. He still didn’t know why he hadn’t run after him, but he’d been frozen by the words, unable to comprehend what Anakin had said until it was already too late.
He hadn’t realized until then that he’d never told Anakin his own surname.
“So?” Leia said, perching on one of the empty crates he had been lifting with the Force. She tucked the helmet she was carrying under her arm, a little awkwardly; since acquiring the armor she’d taken to wearing it around the Independence when she wasn’t on duty in order to get used to it. There weren’t many bounty hunters or Mandalorians in the Rebel Alliance, but the few that Luke had met over the past four years all wore their armor like it was a second skin. Rumor said that the best eat, slept, fought, and even had sex in their armor – the latter of which sounded too awkward for Luke’s tastes, but to each their own, he supposed. Leia had to look like she belonged in order to make it past Jabba’s guards. “That doesn’t mean I can’t admire the view.”
Luke sat down on the floor in front of her, pushing his hair out of his face. “I don’t think I wanted to know this,” he said. “You think he made it to Coruscant?”
By mutual agreement, they had had no further contact with Anakin after he’d left them on Nal Hutta. At Leia’s request, he had memorized a list of rendezvous points for Alliance contacts in case his original plan didn’t play out. The Rebel Alliance would always take a Jedi Knight – for that matter, they would have taken any skilled pilot, which Anakin had proven himself on several occasions. He’d left over six weeks ago and missed the first two rendezvous. He’d either made it or he’d died in the attempt.
“I think,” Leia said slowly, “that if the Empire had been able to capture a living Jedi Knight, they would have executed him live on the HoloNet. Public opinion has begun to swing back to the Jedi recently. Someone leaked security cam footage of the duel on the Death Star – I don’t know why it took them almost four years, or who it was, but it’s been making the rounds on the HoloNet despite the Imperial slicers who keep taking it down. People are starting to remember that the Jedi were the good guys before the Empire slaughtered them.”
“No news is good news.”
“In this case, yes, but since Darth Vader finally reappeared, I doubt it will last.” Leia shifted the helmet, setting it on her knee. “I came by to tell you that Lando checked in on the dead drop.”
Luke straightened up. “He made it in?”
“He made it in.”
“And Han’s there?”
Leia made an expression of disgust. “He said that Jabba calls him ‘his favorite wall decoration.’”
“That’s good,” Leia assured him. “That means he’s still there and Jabba didn’t, I don’t know, get bored and feed him to a sarlacc or something.”
“I know,” Luke said. “I just don’t like thinking of Han like that. He’d hate it.”
“He’ll be out of there soon.” She rested her elbows on top of the helmet, cupping her chin against her palms. “Do you still want to use the droids? I know Artoo can handle it, but you know how Threepio gets –”
“We need him,” Luke said. “How’s Chewie dealing?”
He hadn’t seen the Wookiee in a few days. Since Lando had gone to Tatooine, he’d spent a lot of time moping – for lack of a better word – and fooling around with the Millennium Falcon’s systems. The last time Luke had talked to him, he’d said that he wanted to be able to show Han how much better the ship ran when he wasn’t around.
“He says it will work.”
“It will,” Luke said. “It’s too crazy not to.”
“Well, that’s encouraging.”
“Well, considering who we’re talking about…”
That made them both laugh. After a moment, though, Luke twisted the towel between his hands and said, “Leia, can I ask you a weird question?”
She looked at him in surprise. “Of course.”
“Do you love your father?”
Leia’s eyes went wide with surprise. Luke got a distant impression of pain and regret in the Force, but it vanished as Leia said, “Yes, of course.”
“What if you found out – I’m sorry, you can tell me to stop if you want – what if you found out that he had done something really bad?”
“Like killing a lot of people,” Luke said.
She gave him a concerned look, but sat back to consider the question, setting the helmet aside. “When I was seven,” she said at last, “my father had to make a choice between giving up the current location of the Alliance fleet and getting medical supplies to a refugee camp on Alderaan – survivors from one of the colony world that had been devastated by the Empire. He chose the Alliance. The medical supplies never got there. Seventy percent of the population of the camp died. I didn’t really understand it then, but I knew that it was his fault, and I didn’t talk to him for four months. I used to go down to the refugee camp with my mother. That’s where she caught the illness that she died from.”
“Oh,” Luke said softly.
“For a long time I was angry at him,” Leia said. “But he did it because he had to – because of the greater good. He did a lot of other things, too. Good, bad, somewhere in between. Both my parents did, but my father was really in the thick of it in the way my mother wasn’t. I know he’s killed people personally. Maybe a lot of people. I don’t know how many. I did ask him once, and he said he didn’t know anymore.” She raised her head, though her eyes were still shadowed. “I still love him, Luke. He’s my father. He played with me when I was little. He taught me how to dance by letting me stand on his feet. He gave up his position in the Senate so I could take it. Of course I still love him.”
Luke rested his hands on his knees, his eyes going to the lightsaber he’d put down along with his blaster belt and boots. “Then maybe there is hope,” he said. “Maybe there is still good in him.”
The Clone Wars era Eta-2 Actis-class light interceptor – known universally two decades earlier as the Jedi starfighter, but since then virtually forgotten – that hobbled out of hyperspace above Dagobah barely managed to jettison its hyperspace rings before entering atmosphere. It wobbled badly as it came down, skimming above the surface of the forested swamps that covered the planet. An observer would have noted that the socket meant for an astromech droid was completely empty; the pilot was flying the old starfighter cold.
When he brought it down, it was more of a crash than a proper landing; the starfighter bounced several times before skidding forward several dozen meters and coming to a grinding halt just short of a swamp that would easily have drowned it.
Yoda, who had watched the starfighter land, made his way cautiously towards it. After a moment, the hood of the starfighter popped open, revealing a bloodied, exhausted, and very much alive Obi-Wan Kenobi, some twenty years younger than he had been before he had died on the Death Star. He fumbled at the restraining straps, managed to get them open, and managed to stand up before falling slowly over the side of the starfighter to land on the ground.
Yoda crouched down beside him, resting a three-fingered green hand against his forehead. He could feel Obi-Wan’s life flickering in the Force, caught halfway between flesh and spirit. His robes were scorched from lightning and lightsaber blows, his body battered.
“It’s done,” Obi-Wan said, reaching up to grasp his hand. In his other fist he had a lightsaber clenched – Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber. “He’s gone. He passed the test.”
He stuttered out a breath. His grip on Anakin’s lightsaber was white-knuckled. “We were wrong,” he breathed. “I was wrong. He is a Jedi…”
I am a Knight of the Republic. I will live and die a Jedi.
The words hung in the air long after Obi-Wan had stopped speaking.
1 day after the Battle of Mustafar
Command word Retribution was transmitted across the galaxy in a matter of minutes. Coruscant, Serenno, Mandalore, Naboo, Alderaan, Tatooine, Nal Hutta – before an hour had passed it had spread, not only to every corner of the Republic, but to the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the Council of Neutral Systems, and Hutt Space.
All of them burned.
Palpatine’s kill switch triggered a series of commands hard-coded into clones, droids, and sleeper agents planted across the galaxy over decades and generations of Sith. Republic Clones turned on their Jedi generals and non-Jedi Fleet captains, Separatist battle droids turned on their organic commanders – even on Count Dooku himself – and sleeper agents turned on senators, planetary leaders, and crime lords. Carefully placed bombs and mines brought not only the Galactic Senate Building crashing down with most of the Senate inside it, but also the Jedi Temple, the Separatist Senate, the main Republic and Separatist shipyards, and royal palaces on three dozen planets.
Twenty-five thousand years of civilization came crashing down in a single day.
“I think I’ve gotten all of it.” Obi-Wan lifted his hands away from Rex’s temples, flexing his fingers. His face was drawn tight; Anakin could feel the frayed edges of his mind in the Force. He might be powerful enough to be a consular, but he wasn’t trained as one, and this kind of work would have been rough even on an experienced mind-healer.
Anakin, sitting beside them with his lightsaber resting in his lap, said, “Should we wake him up?”
“Unless you’d rather wait for Padmé to come back.” Obi-Wan swept a hand through his hair, his gaze going to the hatch.
Anakin looked in the same direction. Aside from “in hyperspace, unlikely to die immediately”, none of them knew where – or when, for that matter – they were. He’d regained consciousness a few minutes after using the Ouroboros to transport them out of the collapsing Senate Building to find that they were in the hold of a starship, otherwise empty except for a stack of crates strapped to the opposite wall. Inspection had proven that they held carefully packed bone china from Chandrila. In the Force, Anakin could feel the shape of the ship, a massive old clanker filled with thousands of individuals, but that didn’t narrow it down any. After Anakin and Obi-Wan had explained what they knew – which wasn’t much – Padmé had taken one of Rex’s blasters and gone to explore while Obi-Wan picked apart the hard-coded triggers in the clone’s head. Over Anakin’s protests she had insisted on going alone.
“No, let’s do it,” he said. “If we have to kill him, I don’t want her to see it.”
Obi-Wan shot him a sharp look, but nodded anyway. He touched two fingers to Rex’s forehead, saying, “Wake up, Captain.”
Anakin found himself leaning forward as Rex opened his eyes, his grip tight on his lightsaber. Rex let out a gasping breath, his hands going to his empty blaster holsters, then sat up gingerly, looking between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Slowly he pressed his fingers to the sides of his head, then looked up in astonishment. “It’s gone!”
Obi-Wan’s shoulders slumped as he relaxed and sat back.
“Any homicidal urges?” Anakin asked Rex, his hand wary on his lightsaber.
“It wasn’t like that, General,” he said, folding himself into a more comfortable sitting position. “It was just – orders, sir. You do your duty. A target is a target, whether it’s organic or a droid.” He shook his head, muttering, “A good soldier follows orders.”
“And now?” Obi-Wan asked.
“It’s gone, sir,” Rex said. He touched his forehead again. “How did you do it?”
“With great difficulty,” Obi-Wan said. He reached down to pick up the blaster sitting on metal floor beside him, passing it grip-first to Rex. “Welcome back to us, Captain.”
Rex hesitated for an instant before he accepted the blaster, then relaxed when he didn’t immediately put a bolt into Obi-Wan’s head. “Thank you, sir.”
He slipped the blaster back into one of his empty holsters, glancing distractedly around. Silently, Anakin handed over the holdout blaster he customarily carried, along with his collection of vibroblades and a pair of thermal detonators he’d found when stripping Rex of weapons.
“We’ve lost your helmet, I’m afraid,” Obi-Wan said apologetically. “Do you feel up to explaining the order you received? Retribution?”
“Yes, sir.” He hunched his shoulders a little, as if ashamed.
“Let’s wait for Padmé to come back,” Anakin said suddenly. “She’ll want to hear this too.”
“Good idea,” Obi-Wan agreed. He passed a hand through his hair, then rubbed at his eyes. He hadn’t had any real time to rest either, Anakin thought, twisting the Ouroboros around his wrist.
He clipped his lightsaber back on his belt and pulled the folds of his cloak around himself, staring at the hatch and willing Padmé to walk through. She’d been gone for the better part of an hour now – not terribly long when it came to searching a starship of this size, but every minute she was gone was too long for Anakin’s tastes. He couldn’t sense any threats, just the normal simmering anxieties that came from any large group of sentients confined together on a vessel for who knew how long. On the other hand, he was tired enough that he couldn’t quite tell if that was all there was or if the Force was too clouded for him to pick up anything more dire.
After a moment, Rex said, “Where are we, sir?”
Obi-Wan began to explain. Anakin shut his eyes and listened to the familiar, soothing sound of his voice, letting it lull him into a comfortable half-sleep. Rex had seen enough crazy poodoo during the war that he accepted the explanation with only a few questions, including the one that they were all wondering.
“So are we in our timeline, sir, or somewhere else?”
“I don’t know,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin heard a rustle of fabric as he shifted position. A moment later he settled down next to Anakin, touching a hand to his back to let him know that he was there. Anakin leaned against his shoulder without bothering to open his eyes, smelling the faintly scorched scent of the thermal detonator whose explosion he had held off a few hours earlier. Usually Anakin would have been too embarrassed about the possibility of being caught sleeping on his master like a twelve-year-old padawan, but right now he was too weary to give a damn – too weary, and too relieved that they were both alive. The words Order 66 had never passed Palpatine’s lips, but command word Retribution sounded much, much worse.
Eventually, the exterior hatch creaked open. Anakin and Obi-Wan both shot to their feet, their hands on their lightsabers as Rex drew his blaster, but it was just Padmé. She shut the hatch behind her and pushed back the hood of the cloak she had borrowed from Obi-Wan, looking between them.
“You fixed him,” she said.
“I removed the trigger, yes,” Obi-Wan said. “We thought that it might be better to wait for your return before he explained the command.”
Padmé nodded, looking cautiously at Rex as she came over to sit down between Anakin and Obi-Wan. “We’re on a refugee ship,” she said. “Mixed species being evacuated from a space station near Bastion, though some of them seem to be from other planets in the Outer and Mid Rims. Nobody seems to know how many people there are, so we should blend right in.”
“Evacuated why?” Anakin asked. “And where are we going?”
“Apparently,” Padmé said cautiously, “the war. But I don’t know what war, or who’s fighting, or what side these people were nominally on. As for where – ” She spread her hands. “No one knows.”
“Well, that’s encouraging,” Rex said dryly.
“I assume we won’t be staying?” She shot a sharp look at Anakin.
“I’ll try,” Anakin said slowly, glancing at Obi-Wan. He touched the Ouroboros again, but under his fingers it didn’t even hum in the Force, seemingly nothing more than dumb metal. “I think it has to, um, recharge. Or something. So we could be here for a while.”
“I see.” She shifted a little, putting another few millimeters between them.
Anakin looked down at his hands so that he didn’t have to see the expression on her face. You don’t understand, he wanted to say. I did it because I had to. I knew what he was going to do if he had the chance –
And Palpatine had done it anyway. I came back to fix things, not make them worse.
“Captain, maybe you had better tell us what you know about Retribution,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin looked up. Rex’s brow was furrowed with concentration. In all likelihood, he hadn’t been consciously aware of the command until it had been triggered by Palpatine’s pre-recorded order.
“Command word Retribution,” he said finally. “Execute Order 66. Execute Order 72. Execute Order 95. Terminate the enemies of the Republic.”
At the words Order 66, Anakin and Obi-Wan glanced at each other. “Order 66 is the destruction of the Jedi,” Anakin said. “What about the others?”
“They’re contingency orders, General,” Rex said. “Orders to be executed in extreme cases. Order 72 is the removal of members of the Galactic Senate by lethal force. Order 95 is the removal of planetary leaders by lethal force. That’s all I know, sir.” He shut his eyes. “General, if there’s more, can you get it out of my head?”
“I could try,” Obi-Wan said slowly. “But I think I might be more likely to harm you in the process.”
Padmé had gone pale. “Empire or chaos,” she murmured. “Why?”
“Because the Sith are evil,” Obi-Wan said. “They seek nothing but the destruction of life, of order, of civilization itself. I would not be surprised to learn that he had transmitted that order to the Separatists as well,” he added quietly.
Anakin put his head in his hands. “I should have cut his blasted head off, I’d like to see him giving orders then –”
“It was probably a kill switch, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “There was no way you could have known.”
“I should have. I should have guessed that he’d have something tucked up his sleeve, that son of a –”
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan interrupted wearily. “It’s done. Don’t dwell on the past.”
“Can’t you change it?” Padmé said suddenly. “With that – the Ouroboros. Can’t you make it so that it never happened?”
“The Force doesn’t work like that,” Obi-Wan said. “It’s impossible to actually change the past – it would create a, a paradox. A self-defeating loop.” He hesitated a moment over the choice of words. “The Force always self corrects.”
“So it was all done for nothing?” Padmé said. “All those people dead, and for nothing?”
“I didn’t know!” Anakin said. He leapt to his feet, digging his hands into his hair. “If Palpatine was dead, then he couldn’t hurt anybody anymore – hurt the Jedi, hurt you, do any of this –”
“Well done, Master Skywalker,” Padmé told him icily.
“You didn’t see what he did in the other timeline!” Anakin said, turning on her. “None of you did – if you had, you’d understand why I had to kill him, you’d understand –”
Obi-Wan stood up to come over to him, stretching out a hand. He was the only who had a chance of understanding, through the Force echoes he’d shared with Anakin and Vader, but he didn’t know, not the way Anakin did.
“Anakin, sit down –” he began.
He was interrupted by the sound of the comlink set in his vambrace beeping furiously. All of them turned to stare at Obi-Wan, who was blinking at his own wrist. After a moment, he said, “It’s an incoming holomessage,” and reached into his belt-pouches for his holoprojector. “I think it’s being transmitted to every comlink in range.”
He fiddled with the settings for a moment, then activated the holoprojector and set it down on the floor.
The hologram sprang up in a crisp half-size image around them. Padmé said in surprise, “That’s the Palace Plaza in Theed,” and came over to stand beside them, trailed by Rex.
Anakin crossed his arms, feeling a trickle of unease. The holoimage showed the front of the Theed Royal Palace and part of the Palace Plaza, just capturing the edges of a watching crowd being held back by a line of Naboo guards. More guards lined the steps, all the way up to the first landing, where one of the queen’s portable thrones was flanked by orange-gowned handmaidens and the members of the Naboo Royal Advisory Council, including – Anakin drew in his breath – Palpatine. Sitting in it was Padmé herself, wearing an elaborate black and gold mantua with diamonds on the breast. Her hair had been fixed in round crescents on either side of her head, displaying the gold headpiece that served as one of the Naboo monarchy’s royal crowns. Her face was painted white, with a golden beauty mark on each cheek and the scar of remembrance on her lower lip. Standing beside her was Obi-Wan, clean-shaven and dressed in gray and scarlet Naboo court garb, though he still had a lightsaber clipped to his belt. He stood closer to the throne than any of the handmaidens, and even in the hologram he had a pronounced air of danger to him.
“I don’t understand,” Padmé murmured.
Amidala’s voice carried clearly through the holoprojector. “As you know, the Confederacy of Independent Systems and the Galactic Republic are currently engaged in hostilities as we fight for our independence. Until now, these actions have been confined to distant systems and deep space battles. Today marks a turning point in the war, my people. This very morning, the Galactic Republic sent two Jedi assassins to take us prisoner or, if unable to do so, to kill us.”
There were shouts of protest from the watching crowd.
Amidala raised one hand to quiet them. “We are unharmed, thanks to our Queen’s Guard. Though we are at war, the Jedi have always conducted with themselves with honor. But no longer! By this act, they have proven that they are no more than the hands of the Senate, which left us to suffer beneath the yoke of the Trade Federation thirteen years ago. Already the Supreme Chancellor has asked for mercy for these would-be assassins.”
“No!” someone in the audience yelled, just close enough to be picked up the holorecorder. “Kill ‘em! Republic scum!”
“I told him that this time the Republic has gone too far. There shall be no mercy!” Amidala said, her voice carrying over the shouts. “Bring out the prisoners.”
Four Naboo guards escorted a pair of Jedi onto the landing in front of her, forcing them to their knees. Anakin drew in his breath as he recognized them – Luminara Unduli and Eeth Koth, both Masters.
Both Jedi looked fearlessly at the Queen, ignoring the jeers and shouts from the audience. “You are making a grave mistake, your majesty,” said Eeth Koth.
“The Republic,” Amidala said, “made a grave mistake when he sent you to kill us. Captain Kenobi, execute the sentence.”
Unclipping his lightsaber from his belt, the other Obi-Wan strode forward. The blade ignited in a beam of white light.
“Traitor,” Luminara said. “You used to be a Jedi, Obi-Wan.”
“That was a long time ago,” said the other Obi-Wan, and swung the lightsaber.
Next to Anakin, Padmé gasped and pressed her hands to her mouth. Obi-Wan himself made a small, pained sound.
The other Obi-Wan turned to face the plaza, lifting a head in each hand. “Behold the heads of the enemies of the Confederacy of Independent Systems! Long live the Queen!”
“Long live the Queen!” echoed back at them from the watching crowd, amidst cheers.
Obi-Wan tossed the heads down to lie beside the limp bodies, turning back to the Queen. Amidala rose from her throne, placing her hand lightly on his arm. For a moment she stood still, facing the plaza, and at last said, her voice almost intimate, “Supreme Chancellor Dooku. Next time either send better assassins or don’t bother.”
There was a ripple of laughter. The Queen turned away, accompanied by the other Obi-Wan and followed by her handmaidens, and vanished behind a line of Naboo guards. An instant later the hologram winked out.
The four of them stood in shocked silence. Eventually, Anakin turned to look at Obi-Wan and Padmé. Padmé still had her hands over her mouth, standing a little ways back from them. All Anakin could sense from her was blank shock.
Obi-Wan had his arms folded across his chest, his expression grave. He said, “Well, this is new.”