Qui-Gon had warned him that visions in the Force could be disturbing, but they were merely possibilities of what might come to pass. That had been years ago, and Obi-Wan had dismissed it as another one of his master’s improbable contingencies.
He had not expected to be meditating in his hut one moment, and the next transported into a vision he could hear and smell as well as see. The ocean below the rock face where he found himself was every bit as salty and inhospitable as Tatooine, and yet they were, literally, worlds apart.
“Don’t bother,” came a man’s voice. He was robed like a hermit, his beard long. “I’ve had enough of ghosts.”
“Ghosts?” Obi-Wan echoed. “Who are you?”
“Who am I?” the hermit echoed. “I’m no one. Are you...” He trailed off into silence.
“Armed and dangerous?” said Obi-Wan. “Yes.”
The hermit ignored his sarcasm and stepped forward, hand wavering, as if to grasp Obi-Wan’s sleeve. Rolling his eyes, Obi-Wan shook his hand firmly. “I’m Ben, Ben Kenobi.”
“Of course you are,” the hermit muttered. “Call me Red Five, it’s as good a name as any.”
An alias of some kind. A call sign? Obi-Wan couldn’t imagine any military willing to fight over that pathetic a rock, and he’d seen some futile bloodshed in the Clone Wars. “Sorry to intrude.”
“Good.” Red Five turned away and sat, focusing as if in a posture of meditation. It was the sort of poise Qui-Gon would have admired. But the man did not seem to be knowingly calling upon the Force.
Or was he?
Carefully, Obi-Wan reached out in the Force. No, it was no simple vision, for in a moment the island overwhelmed his senses. Even more than Red Five’s hand, it told him he had truly been transported.
There were enormous sea mammals and schools of fish, tiny seabirds and unimpressed Lanai. A tree, old but sturdy, its hollows singing of some ancient mystery. Some kind of art? A deliberate creation by people who had lived there eons before?
And beneath the island, a void, full of rot and decay.
“What brings you to this place?” Obi-Wan asked, carefully.
“I came here to die,” Red Five said shortly. “Which, by the looks of you, is more difficult than it seems.”
“I don’t mean you any harm,” Obi-Wan said.
“But you carry a lightsaber and boast of its power?”
Obi-Wan narrowed his focus in the Force, examining himself without taking his eyes from where Red Five sat. No, the lightsaber was not visible. Neither had Red Five used the Force to sense him. “It is unwise,” he said, “to speak too much of the Jedi in these days.”
“In these days?” Red Five gave a laugh as dry as the Dune Sea. “Be careful how you speak, Ben Kenobi.”
Obi-Wan was spared from thinking of a retort by a gust of wind, streaming from the ocean to shake the hinges of the door of his hut. He had returned to Tatooine, as suddenly and more peacefully than any hyperspace jump.
The planet was called Ahch-To, at least by humans. The Lanai only had a word for the planet, which seemed to translate roughly as “solid place.” Obi-Wan learned this not from a databank or from making inquiries on Tatooine, but from being pulled there just as inexplicably on several further occasions.
Red Five did not speak of the outside galaxy. Only the varying lengths of his beard or chill in the air led Obi-Wan to assume months were passing for him in between visits, as well. Was he some Jedi who had survived Order 66? A would-be apprentice of Sidious or Dooku who had been spurned for Skywalker’s promise?
When Red Five made a point of ignoring him, Obi-Wan explored the small island. There was not much to see, and never any other sign of human habitation. He wished he had a better understanding of the Lanai language; the aliens seemed very amused to see him. Once, he was there to witness the landing of the male seafarers, who hosted bonfires and caroused late into the night. He did not need the Force to see that Red Five had locked himself away, as if resenting the Caretakers for daring to celebrate the moons and tides.
On another occasion, Obi-Wan found the mosaic he’d sensed early on. Light and dark mingled together, arranged with finesse that would have impressed even Master Nu.
“The first Jedi placed this here.” Red Five had approached silently, his robes not quite reaching the floor. “They knew there had to be a balance.”
“A balance of what?” Obi-Wan scoffed. “Artistic shading?”
“Nothing can endure forever. Not institutions, not weapons, not men. We should not have presumed...”
“You called me a ghost when I first came here,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “Apparently some people can, in fact, remain in the Force forever.”
Red Five scowled, then beckoned Obi-Wan forward. “If you think you knew the ancients so well, consider this.”
Obi-Wan doubted that he and Red Five would agree on what was interesting to observe on Ahch-To, but he couldn’t help being intrigued. Though he had no intention of following to the miasma beneath the island, he could adequately defend himself against anything that side of sea level.
Red Five strode towards the hollow tree. “Inside,” he said. “I suspect they were not tired moralizers.”
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to grip his lightsaber; no doubt Red Five would find a reason to ridicule him for it. He stepped forward, taking a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There were faded parchments within, and to his relief, they did not crumble at his touch. But they were written in no script he recognized.
“Is this the Lanai language?” he called, but his voice was muffled by the warm roots.
“Older,” came Red Five’s echo. “These are the ancient Jedi texts.”
“The ancient—can you read these?” Perhaps the man was a translator, or an archaeastronomer! Such a trove was more than worth isolation. Obi-Wan had welcomed exile to keep watch over a fussy infant, and the lost wisdom surely would have repaid the sacrifice of many lives.
“No.” Red Five almost sounded baffled, before lapsing into bitter sarcasm. “Though I’m sure your ancient knowledge will have no trouble deciphering them.”
Obi-Wan ignored him, glancing through to see if there was any symbolism he recognized. To his private satisfaction, he noted none of the interlocking circles from the mosaic. A few sketches that might have been constellations, at least seen from one vantage point lost to space and time. Were other diagrams schematics of lightsabers? Mnemonics to aid in meditation? A guide to vegetation that was safe to eat?
“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said. Even if Red Five himself did not make use of them, he had trusted that Obi-Wan might. Surely no one who had entirely lost faith would have pointed him there?
Too soon, he was back in Tatooine, hastily reaching for a notebook to copy as many symbols and shapes as he remembered. He would harangue Qui-Gon’s ghost to decipher what he could, he decided, and link up to the holoweb to search for any guides that might help. Then he would keep the notes deep in his robes, so that they could accompany him to Ahch-To along with his lightsaber the next time. And then, bit by bit, he and Red Five could put the pieces together.
The next time never came.
Below Luke, the watery surface of a planet came into view.
Not below, he reminded himself. Beyond. The X-Wing had some limited artificial gravity, but his only sense of “up” or “down” came from the planet’s frame of reference. The universe was subjective, each direction as good as another.
Perhaps the ancient Jedi had known that, had sensed that the dark was as strong as the light. He would find their truth, clear away the myths that Yoda and Vader had left him.
“That island won’t help you,” said Obi-Wan.
Luke turned before he could initiate the launch sequence. Obi-Wan’s Force Ghost, as radiantly blue as ever, filled the cockpit. “You’ve been here?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Obi-Wan replied. “Perhaps I never really will be here at all.”
“There are beautiful works on Ahch-To,” Obi-Wan went on. “And personable species. But what you seek out does not matter, if you cannot escape yourself.”
“I’ve already escaped.”
“You are beyond the reach of my young namesake, yes. For the moment. But the galaxy will not leave you alone even if you will it. Even if you try to cut yourself off from the Force! It encompasses us all, whether we call upon it or not.”
“You sound a bit too confident in that. Didn’t I show you things don’t always go according to plan?”
“You did,” Obi-Wan said. “Refusing to face your father when Yoda and I expected you to, for instance. Where is that hope now?”
“Where were you when Ben fell?”
“Where I’ve always been. By your side, and his.”
“You’ll let him make evil choices, and then tell me what to do?”
“I can’t tell you what to do. But I will warn you, no one can ever be truly alone. For better or for worse.”
Luke sighed. He glanced around the cockpit, which had been a snug refuge for so many battles but suddenly felt impossibly small for one man and all his ghosts.
Then he reached out in the Force. Ben had shielded himself, of course, but Leia was working late in her office. Han was in hyperspace, having come from Takodana. The galaxy was as rich in life and change as ever.
“I hear Theed University has an excellent linguistics department,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “In case you ever find yourself needing a translator with older knowledge than your average protocol droid.”
“Does the Force tell you I might?”
“Perhaps,” said Obi-Wan. “If you’re ready to speak with others.”
He’d had his fill of salt, Luke reckoned. Freshwater lakes would be a welcome change.