Ben hadn’t always been happy with his situation at uncle Luke’s Jedi Academy. The students would point and whisper at him no matter what his uncle did to diffuse it. As Luke had explained, children were wont to being children and Ben had the misfortune of being too mature for his years. Mature enough to notice it and resent it. He was different and being different was a way to get unwanted attention.
Excursions were one of the few times Ben could float away from the other students and pretend, just for a little while, that they weren’t so petty and obstructive. This one was close yet far from home. Ben couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something wrong about this place. One of their youngest found a vent in one of the side laundries that led to a basement. The basement in turn had flights of poorly maintained, crumbling stone stairs. Naturally, the students and their master set about repairing those before they made the descent into the caverns beneath their home.
Then in they went. Down and down, spiralling the whole way. Artoo was logging the whole time and his depth counter was plummeting. Ben really wasn’t looking forward to heading back up, but at least everyone had packed appropriate supplies and a notice of their location was left with Ben’s mother.
Ben’s mother who never knew what to say and that only caused another surge of resentment. His uncle was almost the same… but at the same time he wasn’t the same at all. Luke had a Sith Lord for a father and Ben had one for a grandfather. He had to know what it was like, right? To try to work out why their ancestor had been a Sith? To know what made it happen? To find the cause? Ben’s mother couldn’t care less about Anakin Skywalker and his uncle’s sad smiles spoke of nothing but pain.
But why was there pain? Why did no one talk about him? He was a war hero in the Clone Wars! He saved countless lives. Did being a Sith Lord really undo all of that work? Undo all of the lives saved? His mother and uncle had exchanged a terse look between each other when Ben had asked these questions.
“We don’t know, Ben.” Luke had been the one to answer. “Your grandfather was erased from history by the Empire as both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader. How he went from being a war hero to a war criminal isn’t an answer we have on the records.” At least Luke wasn’t lying about his lack of knowledge. It was well known that Luke’s upbringing hadn’t exactly fostered a deep interest in library and archive learning and that was years lost of valuable time. It also meant many archives had ceased to be by the time he had those skills.
Ben had been shattered anyway. “You… you never asked him?” Never asked his own father something that important? How could he not?
“Father was never on speaking terms with your mother and he was only on speaking terms with me not long before his death,” Luke sighed while Ben’s mother stood to the side and nodded, half in the shadows. “There wasn’t even any time to find out where mother was buried, let alone how his Fall happened.”
And that was all Ben had to go on. Luke was trying, he really was, but both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were ghosts. No records. No one who wanted to talk about them. No one who wanted to risk talking about for fear of being associated with a long memory. Mother outright refused to acknowledge that her father existed, even though she had clear knowledge of the man that neither Luke nor Ben knew about it. It came back down to politics like it already and always did. Ben liked to hope that his uncle was just as frustrated by the prospect of mother withholding information from them. It wasn’t a kind thing to do to either her brother or her son.
And that only made Ben broil more. The whispers in his head, the ones that had always been there, egging these thoughts on, were strangely muted during the descent. Ben couldn’t hear them at all and only felt a surge of pity instead of rage at his uncle’s abandonment by his sister. There were so many questions that she could have helped them answer. But no, she only cared about politics and dumped her son off with her brother when it became too much for her. It didn’t matter if she had no idea how to help. The problem was that she never tried to help. Not in anyway Ben appreciated.
If Ben’s mother was bad in that regard, his father was in a league of his own. Couldn’t settle down. Couldn’t stick to one planet. Couldn’t handle politics. Couldn’t refrain from criminal acts even while his wife attempted to restore a functioning government. Couldn’t hang around to raise his own son. Ben had a lot to say about Han Solo and absolutely none of it was flattering. There wasn’t anything really to know about apart from how he’d dumped his wife and son to shoot off into the wild black yonder without another thought for any of them. Luke was so much better than that for all his flaws.
It stung, it really did, to be so unwanted. To be the cause of his family’s splintering and Ben tried to contain it. Luke never said the feelings themselves were wrong, but even Ben at the tender age of twelve knew that having them in the middle of a suspicious ancient temple wasn’t a great idea.
“This was a terrible idea,” Luke echoed from behind Ben. “This appears to be a Sith temple of some sort.”
Ben did a double take. “A Sith temple? But… we’re below our temple. How can there be a Sith temple here?” Ben’s fellow students, with the subtly of a raging bantha, crowded in to listen to the discussion. For once, Ben couldn’t blame them. Dark Side temples were bad news at the best of times. Finding one somewhere beneath where you slept was something else entirely. It was also terrifying. These temples influenced people.
“That is a very good question, Ben.” Luke made hummed and scratched his beard. “I don’t sense anything overt down here, though the patterns are most definitely old language designs from Sith temples I’ve seen previously.” Luke spent much of his time cannonballing from temple to temple. Ben would expect him to know at least a little of their designs.
“Master… but why would the Jedi build on top of it? Sith temples are loci for the Dark Side.” A young togruta, though still older than Ben, stepped forwards. “Surely they would have known about the temple’s placement.” Alarnaa was one of the smartest of Luke’s students. She didn’t gossip, unlike many of the others.
“Not necessarily.” Ben’s uncle was shaking his head. “I’ve seen this before on Coruscant, or, the Imperial Center as it was once known. The Jedi temple there was likewise built on the remnants of a Sith temple.”
A rush of whispers went through Luke’s twenty students. “Really?” Jacen commented from behind Ben.
“Yes, it’s why I never settled there in spite of the convenience. It was one of Darth Sidious’ favourite stomping grounds.” Luke grimaced. “The old council room was his main place of business during the Empire’s reign.” His nose twisted unpleasantly. “His stench rather more stuck to that room. The deaths of all of the Jedi during the Purges echo through the halls as well.”
“How… how would you know?” Ben asked, dreading the answer when Artoo whistled sadly into the gloom.
“I was part of the sweeping team,” Luke confirmed, “I was there to help clear the place of any unexpected surprises before it was converted into a memorial.” Had his uncle slept there surrounded by ghosts? There was something about his uncle that felt aged.
“So much death because of one ego maniac. Well, come along.” Luke shook his head and they progressed further down the halls.
These halls were much brighter, red paint still showing on the walls where delicate traces of tongues ran in lines. His uncle’s green blade was held up to them, reading as he went.
“Be careful,” Luke called back along the line of students. Ben was almost pressed against him, the walls felt like they were closing in as the corridors narrowed. “This is an old Sith temple. Older than the Banites,” Luke added, almost to himself.
Banites. That sounded familiar. Where had he heard that before? “Banites, uncle?” Was it whispered in a dream?
“Followers of the Rule of Two. After Bane was the last of the Sith he resolved to only train one apprentice. There would only be two and the Apprentice could only become the Master by killing him.” Luke shrugged. “Not that it did much for them when Sidious was hurled into a reactor shaft by his apprentice who decided to retire from being a Sith after that was said and done.” It was mentioned so casually than Ben almost tripped over his grinning uncle.
“Wait, what? The Sith retired?” An outraged voice echoed from somewhere behind Ben. It sounded like Mara. She was one of the oldest of the students and most indignant.
“That would be Darth Vader,” Luke called back down the corridor.
“How did he just give up? I thought Sith Lords were fuelled by hate and suffering,” she argued through the echoes of the hallway.
“He allowed me to kill him,” Luke said quietly but it carried. Ben almost tripped over again. Luke… killed his own father? “He gave up and was too ill to continue. He didn’t want to suffer anymore.” Luke sighed.
For a few minutes, everyone was struck dumb. Ben included. Especially Ben. His uncle who killed his grandfather… his grandfather who wanted to die? That wasn’t what the whispers said. The whispers said Darth Vader was weak for turning back to the Light, but Luke was too morose, too empty for it to be anything but the truth. Darth Vader had given up with the death of his master. Both the Dark and his life. He persisted for so long, suffering the whole time, for what? For his master’s death? For his son to live? Ben had never been so at a loss and he really doubted his mother’s help here.
“Luke…” Alarnaa’s voice was unusually subdued. “Does that make you the current Sith Master?”
One beat. Two beats. Three beats. Then Luke couldn’t handle it anymore. Ben watched his uncle explode into a fit of cackles. “Me? The Sith Master?” Luke howled with genuine belly laughs, holding on the side of a wall as they made their way towards a red light. “Well, if all you have to do is kill one to take their title then I suppose yes I am.”
If one of his fellow students had called Ben slack jawed, he couldn’t have refuted it in the slightest. Not that they could accuse him when they were also dragging their jaws along the ground as they walked. Alarnaa herself was the most taken aback.
“Does that make us all Sith apprentices, then?” Jacen snuck in and Ben could hear the smirk.
“Just don’t introduce yourselves like that, it might caught a panic,” Luke chortled as they entered a square chamber.
In the middle of it sat a pulsing pyramid, glowing a soft red.
“That doesn’t look good,” Ben murmured. A Sith holocron? Maybe some other relic? It didn’t feel dangerous, but his uncle had told him previously that these artefacts like to reel people in.
Not that this one seemed to want to bother with those pretences. The moment the rest of the students and Artoo had entered the room, it exploded with a blast of red light.
It was too bright. Stars spotted his vision and Ben groaned. Artoo was whistling wildly which only made the sensation worse.
“Is everyone alright?” Luke was calling and there was an answering collective groan that Ben happily joined. “Yes, I thought as much.” The master of the new Jedi Order groaned with them. “Did anyone see what happened?”
“That thing exploded.” That thing that was now missing from its pedestal. Ben just knew that was going to come back to bite them.
“I’m starting to think Sith relics do nothing but explode. It owes me new robes,” Luke grunted, the slap of boots on stone as he climbed to his feet. “Let’s get everyone up.”
It was twenty minutes before everyone recovered enough to stand up.
It was forty minutes before Luke discovered a stash of robes and blood coloured lightsabers that weren’t there before.
It was an hour before Luke made a gesture and stomped back up the stairwell with Ben on his heels. Alarnaa and Artoo were left in charge of the others.
It was another hour before Luke, with Ben at his back, made the unpleasant discovery that attempted human traffickers had setup shop in the temple above, which was very much not their home. At least not anymore. Not with a holo blaring in what should have been a room for meditation. The architecture was the same, but the decor and everything else had been replaced by archaic, typical smuggling gear that… that they’d already removed the traces of years beforehand. What happened?
“Ben, I don’t think we’re at our temple anymore,” Luke calmly noted, levitating a slaver out the front door.
“I agree, this technology is so old.”
“Pre-Clone Wars old,” Luke nodded, tossing out another burnt corpse with less care. No one at the Academy had a terrible lot of fondness for slavers, least of all any heads of operations. Thankfully there were no slaves, at least. “I remember tossing out an old generator of that exact model out when he we were first clearing out the place.” Ben followed Luke’s hand to a sparkling new generator and was struck by deja vu. “In the exact same spot too.”
“Luke… do you think…?” That we’ve gone back in time, Ben silently finished.
His uncle was frowning. “Only one way to find out!”
Together, the both spun and marched back to the room with the blaring holo. Two voices stood out, even before they were in viewing range.
“The Jedi Council has been most insistent that the Trade Federation seek a peaceful resolution to their dispute over tariffs, but we all know how likely that is to conclude peacefully.” A male voice was snidely remarking. “When is the Republic going to do something about these brazen attacks on the freedom of Republic worlds?”
Ben and his uncle exchanged wide eyed expressions.
“There’s even been rumours of assassination attempts against the current Senator of Naboo, Padme Amidala and that she is seeking protection from the Jedi until the threat is resolved…” It was there Ben’s brain tuned out.
“We’re before the Clone Wars,” Ben said, feeling like he was about to faint.
“We’re only just before the Clone Wars,” Luke corrected, rather pale the whole time.
“I can’t believe it.” Before the Clone Wars. Before his grandfather’s Fall, before the Empire, before everything!
“Guess we don’t need to ask your mother about what she learnt in history, after all,” Luke blinked.
“Wait, what? Ben spun to stare. He wasn’t seriously suggesting that they take a romp through the past, was he? It was too dangerous!
“Please, worrying is Threepio’s job,” Luke waved a hand and Ben winced. That wasn’t fair. “You noticed it too, didn’t you?”
Yes Ben had noticed it. “There’s no artefact.” No way to go back. He’d never see his mother or father again. He’d never hear… the voices again and Ben felt his back straighten. No more voices!
Luke, oblivious to Ben’s thoughts, nodded with a far off expression. “No artefact, no way to get back. We’re going to have to leave sooner rather than later for supplies and our slaver friends left us so many ships that we can borrow.” More like they’d been relieved of their ships, not that Ben felt particularly sorry for them.
“We’re Jedi, that should count for something, right?” Then again, the Jedi had been Purged by grandfather for a reason. What was lurking in their history for that to happen? What was unfolding right now for grandfather to turn on them?
“We can’t be Jedi in this time period,” Luke lamented, watching the bootleg holo with more dismay than Ben had ever seen from his uncle.
“Why not?” There was going to be politics, wasn't there?
“Because the Jedi are keen on the idea that the only acceptable Jedi are their Jedi and I haven’t exactly been training all of you to old school standards,” Luke admitted in a rush. Not that Ben was surprised. If Luke had been an old school Jedi, he would have been kicked out of the temple in an instant.
“Why?” What was wrong with the old Jedi? Ben knew there was something else to it, but Luke himself was having problems with articulation that were clearly visible.
“The old Jedi weren’t big on emotions, or attachment. Or objective truth,” Luke added as an afterthought and Ben knew there was a story behind that one. He’d have to hunt for it later, when they weren’t at risk of starving to death.
“We can’t be Jedi… because they wouldn’t think we’re real Jedi?” Ben clarified.
“Precisely, we’re too emotional to be real Jedi as far as they’re concerned,” Luke was frowning and Ben had a sensation of Force unrelated dread. “Emotional enough that we might be mistaken for Sith…” Only there was no disappointment in that statement. The cogs were turning in a way they usually did when his uncle dropped in at unholy hours of the morning for surprise exams.
Not that it took long for Ben to realise that his uncle’s statement was more suggestion than speculation. “The robes and lightsabers below…” Ben allowed his sentence to carry.
“Perfect for a burgeoning new Sith Order, don’t you think? Palpatine has easy access to the Jedi and their information in his current position, which isn't something we want. So maybe it's best if we don't call ourselves Jedi this time around.” Neither of them should have been should have been smirking. It was deadly serious. But in light Alarnaa’s comment, Ben could find his uncle’s humour. So much for not being a Sith Master. Ben wasn't sure what being a Sith really entailed, but the Jedi Order mustn't either if Palpatine was running the Republic.
“Now what do we do?”
“Tell the others.”
And naturally, that went about as well as either of them expected. After being led upstairs with a pile of the robes and weapons found below, Luke gave the rest of his students the news while Ben kept a straight face.
“Cool!” Jacen shrieked.
“Idiot. We’re never going home again!”
“Who cares! This is more exciting! There’s old Jedi here!”
Artoo made a concerned whistle that almost broke Ben’s composure. Almost.
A flurry of whispers excitedly made their way around the room and Ben didn’t have the heart to correct them. He’d already discussed with his uncle what was to happen and he had to admit, it was an insane plan.
“We can’t associate with the Jedi because they see other Force users as heretics,” their grandmaster explained. “And if we go in as Jedi, they might roll over us under the suspicion of us being particularly stupid Sith.” Luke's Jedi weren't the same as the old Order's Jedi and that was painfully obvious from the pompous newsreel they'd just watched.
There was a collective groan that Ben didn’t participate in. There was a thrill of anticipation running through the air that not everyone had quite caught yet, but they would. What better a way to understand something fully, other than from an outside point of view?
“Then what do we do?”
“We give them what they want,” Ben spoke up. “The Jedi in this time period were already looking for a Sith, not a whole Sith Order.”
As expected, the discussion slid to a halt for precisely one second before it exploded. “We’re going to role play Sith Lords?”
“Sith Lords use language!”
“No they don’t! Sith Lords are more pretentious than that!”
“Sith Lords just kill people. How are we going to work around that?”
“Some things are worse than death. We could always go the cruel and unusual route.”
"That's not good either!"
Luke took that as a cue to cheerfully hand out a bunch of the robes and and lightsabers to the group, only for them to recoil from the blades.
“Yes, I know they’re not pleasant to hold, but we’re going to have to get used to the overwhelming aura of pretentious evil overlords if we’re going to sell this to the Jedi and Palpatine.” Luke flicked open his own red blade. Yes, this show was mainly for Palpatine and the Jedi Order’s benefit. There was no way they could just tell them what was going to happen and they might not even need to do that much. So long as they were on alert. “Come to think of it, I think this one must have belonged to a Sith Master.” It was certainly emitting enough distilled evil for Ben to think so and enough to cloak Luke’s presence with an oily haze.
“Are you sure they won’t believe us about the future?”
“Of course they won’t. They’ll just think we’re crazy!” Or a threat to them, was the other unvoiced possibility, but if they were going to be seen as a threat, then they had to be seen as a threat with enough street credibility to keep everyone off their backs. It was in times like this Ben was thankful that his fellow students weren’t idiots, even if their behaviour sometimes left much to be desired.
"Well, looks like we're all Sith Lords, now. I hope you've all been practicing your most menacing laughter for our first run in with the Jedi Council.” Luke sounded entirely too gleeful about that prospect. His father and grandmother were still alive, so Ben guessed that was reason enough for him to be happy, even though he was inadvertently following his father’s discarded wishes. Maybe that's what he was really laughing about.
Still, Ben could only sigh and raise a distasteful eyebrow at the cross shaped, red lightsaber he was given. Down the line other students were also handling their new weapons and robes with a raised eyebrow. How on earth was he meant to hold this thing? Where was the grip and how was he meant to use this without taking his own arms off?
"Really. I don't want to compete with the local Jedi population. Sith are exotic, so let’s work with it.” If Ben died because of this idiotic lightsaber design, he was haunting his uncle to death and after.
Why did Jedi politics and time travel have to be so difficult?
A week of coaching later and Ben felt he had enough contempt on command to pass as a disinterested Sith apprentice. Alarnaa was left in charge, while Luke, Ben and Artoo piled onto a borrowed ship and made their way to Tatooine for what Luke referred to as the easiest and most moral source of street cred available. Masked and robed up, Luke certainly would have passed as an old school Sith Master to anyone unfamiliar with him. Unlike them though, Ben knew exactly what those slight tremors were in reality.
“We’re going to march into a Hutt’s palace and demand that he be a good boy?” Ben stared. Had his uncle always been this crazy? Or was it the temple? It had to be the temple. Luke wouldn’t have made it to adulthood if he was always this crazy.
“Of course we are,” Luke said superiorly, “Then, when he says no and attacks us, we can defend ourselves with extreme prejudice in the ensuing aggressive negotiations.” Luke patted his new lightsaber. “We’re Sith Lords, not savages.”
Ben blinked. “This is the most insane plan I’ve ever heard of in my entire life.” It really was. Was this what his mother, father and uncle had been doing in the Rebellion?
“It worked the first time around.” He did this before? Who was Ben kidding? Of course he had. This idea was his after all.
“Have you even picked a Sith name yet?” Last Ben had heard, his uncle was still undecided.
“I was thinking Darth Vader. Nothing quite like making Palpatine’s life more difficult." Ben’s uncle beamed and Ben had the feeling strangest feeling that the Force itself was laughing at him.
Anakin Skywalker bolted awake in his room at the Jedi Temple, the flashes of his mother’s screaming face were pushed out of his mind by a weight in the Force. A weight so pressing that Anakin was left gasping for air as it gleefully shot past him to places unknown.
Moments later, his master charged through the door. “Anakin, did you sense that?”
Anakin wasn’t quite sure how to tell Obi-Wan that it felt suspiciously like the Force was laughing at him, so he kept his mouth shut while his master paced and postulated.
He had a feeling the Council would be discussing this in intense detail and sighed.