The Black Rock in the Sea
The island is, in some ways, more of a desert than Jakku ever was. A blue desert, but empty all the same. Instead of a jagged horizon of yellow sand, a perfectly level horizon of ocean stretches so wide without interruption that she could even see the curvature of the planet. There's no fresh water on the island. Instead, a condenser that looks like it was fashioned partly out of stones sits behind one of the huts, drawing a few pales of water out of the air every day. When Rey asks Luke how a Jedi Master could build such a thing out of rudimentary parts, he just smiles in a sad, wry sort of way and says, “I used to be a moisture farmer.”
And Rey used to be a scavenger, but that seems such a long time ago now, though it has barely been a month since she was haggling for portions over rusting circuitry. Luke hasn't promised to train her and won't even look at the lightsaber anymore, let alone touch it. At least he gave up trying to make her leave. Rey's natural born obstinacy came to some use at last, but she doesn't know what to do if Luke Skywalker never takes up the lightsaber again. She came to this tiny rock in the middle of nowhere to meet the most powerful jedi master in the galaxy – the only jedi master left, but there is hardly anything of the jedi left in him at this point, or at least not as she understands it.
During those long cold nights on Jakku, she'd heard stories from every civilisation, but all peoples had stories about the jedi. They were universal. And the universal story was that the jedi were noble knights who flew to battle forces of evil with their lightsabers and exerted immense power few could understand. The last, and the best, had been Luke Skywalker before he'd vanished into legend.
But here he was, little more than a grumpy hermit who watches the sea and lives off seaweed and banfish. He faces the horizon and meditates for hours each day, and speaks little, and despite Rey's persistence, he has little to say about the jedi order or his own past. All she can draw from him are comments like, “It was such a long time ago, it hardly matters anymore.” Though sometimes he sighs as she recounts the great tales she heard and remarks, “It's a shame the jedi are remembered only as warriors and little else.”
A warrior he may be no longer, but he is still undeniably a jedi. So Rey does only what she can, and does as he does. When he rises, she rises. When he meditates, she meditates – or tries to. When he cooks, she assists. When he tells her to fetch water, she brings it without complaint.
She wonders if she will ever make any progress with him, until the day of her vision.
It happens while she sits meditating one morning, with a low swooping feeling in her stomach that she hasn't felt since Luke's lightsaber called to her. When she opens her eyes and staggers to her feet, attempting to wake herself, it's already too late. It is not the green island and blue sea she sees, but a monochromatic landscape that stinks of sulfur and smoke. Blunt, black buildings litter the landscape like rotting, broken teeth, sitting on spikes of red earth as dark as old blood. Unfamiliar feelings well within her. She feels splintered, like finely cracking glass. She looks down at her hands – too large, encased in black, fingers clenched spasmodically like talons. They aren't her hands. These aren't her eyes.
The moment she realises this, she feels him realise it too. His thunderous presence roars up, reacting to hers with the same fury and fear she felt the last time she touched his mind. She tries to retreat, just as she feels him come howling through their connection, as if he could break into her – fill her head and obliterate all that is there. Rey gives a cry of panic and throws herself backwards. Her elbow smashes against rock and her back grazes the moss. She puts her hands up to fend off attack, but all she sees now is milky white sky and blue sea.
“You cry out in your sleep like that sometimes,” Luke remarks from somewhere behind her. She turns to see him standing near an ancient obelisk worn faceless with time. “Who have you seen?”
So she tells him. He already knows about Kylo and he sensed what had happened to Han long before she arrived to tell him. And like before, when she mentions the name of his former apprentice his face seems to fall into lines and shadows with pains too private for her to enquire about.
“I had visions of him before I ever met him,” she explains that evening as she stokes the fire and builds it up. Focusing on the flames and anticipating the way they dance and when they need feeding or airing gives her a much needed clarity outside of her jumbled thoughts. “Now and then, I get such a strong sense of him. Is what I'm seeing real? If I can see him like that, can he see me?”
Luke is silent with thought for so long that she is almost convinced he has no answer for her. As she throws another heap of driftwood onto the fire, he stirs.
“Your fates must be tied together profoundly for you to have had visions of him before meeting,” he says, his voice rough as if he isn't used to using it much. “When I knew I would have to confront my own father, I had visions of him too. Feeling a connection through the force is not usual for our kind, though proximity is usually required. Ben always was... unusually sensitive to the force. He didn't manifest his powers until quite late, but he could do things with the force that I had never seen before.”
“Is he so strong?” Rey asks hopelessly.
“Strong? How could I define that? He could sense the ebbs and flows of the force in a way that I could not. He could sense the truth of people's words and read their thoughts, which is more than I could ever do. But this was not the kind of strength that interested him. When he came to me he was a gentle, intensely lonely boy fighting his nature. He never got along with his father. Han loved him, but he never understood Ben, and the boy blamed himself when Han abandoned them to return to his old ways. He thought if he could be the kind of son his father wanted...”
Luke looks down at his own freckled, veined hands and sighs. “But I am not blameless either. I felt the weight of thousands of years of history weighing on me to preserve and continue the jedi order, and I passed it all onto the thin shoulders of a young boy who was already struggling to live up to the expectations of an absent father and a royal mother who feared his abilities. I pushed too hard. I expected too much. When I said he needed to be stronger, he heard that I wanted him to be tougher. When he asked me who the strongest jedi was, I told him it was my father, for however deep into the darkness he had been pulled, Anakin Skywalker managed to find the light again. But all Ben knew of Darth Vader was that he had wiped out our order and built an empire whose power spanned most of the known systems. When Snoke found him... he had plenty to feed off. Hate, anger, insecurity, fear, powerlust... these are all things that lead to the dark side. I fear Snoke has done much to cement his control over Ben since then, but Ben went willingly in the beginning. I thought I could save him once, but I'm no so sure now.”
Rey shudders as she remembers the savage light of the saber slipping through Han's body. “He's a monster.”
“He was not always so. When he was not much younger than you, he was like any young man. Full of uncertainty and passion, and rather too much of his mother's tongue, but his smile – rare as it was – could cheer anyone up.”
It's hard to imagine someone like Kylo Ren ever smiling. Rey imagines he's probably forgotten how to smile by now, along with how to to be human. When she broke into his mind in the interrogation cell, she felt all the things Luke talked about – the hatred, the anger and insecurity – but she had not seen much else. While Kylo had sifted through her memories of Jakku and needled at her loneliness and her dreams, by comparison his past was closed off to her, like a locked door he never opened for anyone, including himself.
But if she wants to understand how Snoke exerted his control over Kylo Ren, she doesn't need to wait long for answers.
It is pain. Pain so creeping and unending that it infects her dreams and makes it difficult to wake. It isn't her pain, but she feels it just as keenly all the same. As she sits up in the pitch darkness of her stone dwelling, she casts about, searching for the pitiful creature who needs her help. All she can sense is that they must be nearby.
“What's wrong? Why are you hurting?”
A now familiar presence reacts to her whispered words, but like a wounded creature he flinches away and draws a veil between them. Rey blinks, alone amongst her blankets, slow to realise that it is Kylo's pain she felt from so many worlds away.
“He's being tortured,” she tells Luke.
“Pain makes him more powerful. Or at least that is what Snoke has taught him to believe.” Luke seems more tired than ever, as he regards the stars above that are slowly fading away behind the morning light. The nights are long here, and dawn itself takes several hours.
“It didn't feel empowering,” Rey mutters into her knees. “It felt pitiful.”
After a long moment, Luke rises to his feet. “You need to break the connection. If you can feel his emotions and his whereabouts, then he can do the same to you. Once his training is complete, he will come for you.”
Rey flings herself up too, shocked. “Why?”
“Snoke is determined to acquire all the remaining jedi in the galaxy and exterminate those who refuse to bend to his will. Kylo Ren is his instrument, and from everything you've told me, you are the next acquisition. If you don't sever the connection with him, you'll make it rather easy for him to find us when the time comes.”
“But how do I-”
“Isn't that why you came here? To learn?” Luke manages an irritable look, as if annoyed that she has finally forced him to depart from his passive indifference. Which is exactly what she has done. Torn between elation at her success and the concern of his warning, she follows him up to the summit of the island where they usually meditate. It's too cold this early in the morning, but Luke doesn't want to waste time.
“When did you first feel the connection to him?” he asks her, after they have settled into even breathing and opened their minds to the Force, something Rey does like a child dipping her toes into a vast ocean she can barely comprehend.
“It was when he interrogated me on the starkiller base,” she says, remembering it as she speaks. She begins to appreciate how the meditation and the Force gives her a clarity of recollection she does not usually possess. “He... he pushed into my mind, he took things he had no right to.” The memory makes her burn with fury and humiliation.
“Let go of it,” says Luke. “He saw the truth of you. You have no need to feel shame, and he is not worth what the anger will cost you.”
It is easier said than done. She cannot forgive the violation, but she lets the heat inside her drop away to continue examining her memory with a detached calm. “When he reached out to me, it was like touching the plating on a ship without being grounded. Like a snap of electricity arcing from his mind to mine. I felt his shock, and then I knew I could push into him the way he pushed into me.”
“And what did you see?” Luke asks.
He's asking her to translate her experience of a mind that was not her own, and Rey struggles to put it into words. To read a mind is not to hear thoughts spoken in words or sentences. It's a dizzying rush of images and sensations, often in no order and without context. Kylo Ren was a fearful men. A black feeling underscored so many connections in his mind, and they all linked to one person he had no memory of. Just a name. A name that terrifies and exhilarates him. “I saw his obsession with Darth Vader. He's afraid he'll never match up to him.”
Luke looks grim, as if this no surprise to him. “And what else?”
Rey searches her memory. She had been in such a panic and a rush of adrenalin, that she had not dug deep. She had not needed to. He wore his hopes and fears so close to the surface, they were almost visible on his too-expressive face. But now she has time to pick apart the experience at her leisure, she realises Kylo Ren is not good at hiding things. It is why he wears a mask, she thinks, in part to imitate his grandfather, in part to intimidate, for his face is treacherous – the moment she saw it, she knew that. He can hide nothing. Emotions chase across his face the way even the slightest breeze can send ripples across a still pond, reflecting the turbulence within him that Rey sampled only for a moment. But it was enough to learn so much. She felt his obsession with Vader, yes, but also the father he adored and cursed, and the mother who buried him in a mire of guilty feelings. She felt the contempt he held for a man with red hair, and the fearful respect for a hooded creature that loomed indistinctly in the deepest wells of his mind.
And she also stole a glimpse of how he saw her. The curiosity, the delight he'd tried to suppress when the spark had jumped between them. The compulsion he'd felt to impress her. To attract her. To own her.
Rey nearly loses her serene concentration. She knows Kylo Ren is drawn to her in the way of a lonely creature meeting one of his own kind at last, for she couldn't deny that she felt the same way when the spark flew between them. It is magnetism that defies common definition; it is an attraction born of the Force. “Don't be afraid,” he had told her. “I feel it too.”
But she suspects now that it is more than that. The feelings that came with the images of her face, her hands, her lips. That attraction has nothing to do with the Force. It is the oldest and simplest kind; the attraction of a man to a woman.
She searches her feelings, looking for the revulsion or even the flattery of such a revelation, and she thinks perhaps this is not really a revelation at all. She did not need to read his mind to see his attraction to her. She felt it in his closeness and his oddly gentle eyes, and the way he had held back even when she'd been hacking away at him with every intention of ending his life. She did not care for it, so she had ignored it until this moment.
At Luke's curious look, Rey shrugs guardedly. “Nothing of consequence.”
“Be mindful of what keeps your connection to him alive,” he warns, and she thinks Luke might be able to read her mind after all. “However insignificant it might seem, you must unwind not only his grip on you, but your own grip upon him.”
“I do not grip him,” she says indignantly.
“You do. You will. You must fight the temptation to manipulate this link in your favour, for however strong you may be, you are treading in territory Kylo Ren knows intimately and he has every advantage.”
She understands what he means after a fashion when she sometimes catches herself wondering if she can tug on the link and peek into Kylo's world. It's an alluring thought that she could steal secrets from him. Could she learn something to help the Resistance? But fear prevents her. Just because they are worlds apart does not mean he cannot harm her, as more than once she has felt the way he snatches at her mind when he catches her wandering too close, with the certain knowledge that if he were to seize hold of her, she would surely be as good as dead.
But she is learning how to close him out. Luke teaches her the mental barriers he forged against his own father. She knows how to slam down those barriers and empty her mind; how to make herself a rock against any onslaught. She's glad of it. She knows its only a matter of time before he attempts to bridge the gap and use their link against her.
It comes when she's at her most vulnerable, when she has gone down to the tiny cove at the foot of the black island with a soap crystal in her hand and an empty pail under her arm. Did he wait for this moment? Spying on her while she was unaware? Or had it been a coincidence that he struck when she found herself separated from Luke, alone and unclothed in a pool of icy water, with nothing more urgent on her mind than to scrub the black marks from the soles of her feet.
She feels a shadow fall over her mind, as if someone has stepped between her and the sun. Her skin prickles in warning, the fine hairs rising at the sense of impending danger she does not understand until he's upon her. Her limbs falter and freeze just as they did that day in the forest when she'd first seen him.
Then a moment passes and she is plunged down, as if a large hand has shoved her head down into the water, and she flails in panic and disbelief.
You are a nuisance, she feels him tell her. It's not words she hears, but his intent. He wants to excise her, the way she wants to be rid of him too. The difference is he seems to think the best way to destroy their connection is merely to kill her.
Rey is quite affronted, for the thought of killing him this way has never crossed her mind. It's low, despicable, and exactly what she should have expected from him.
She senses he overhears these thoughts and for a fraction of a moment he hesitates. Is he stung, that she thinks of him as low and despicable? Yet it is all the slack she needs to slam down her defences. I am a rock, she tells herself, withdrawing inside herself where nothing of the outside world can get in. He can hammer all he likes, but her mind is her own domain. He will not catch her unawares again.
Only when she feels him begin to retreat does she dare relax.
Stay out of my head, is his final, parting shot.
Rey breaches the surface of the water and takes her first breath in several minutes. Was it a serious attempt he just made on her life? Or was it just a warning? Rey is not comfortable with either question.
She does not tell Luke about the encounter. She thinks he will only lecture her, or worse, insist that she no longer goes anywhere alone, which would make bathing difficult. Not everyone wants to be a stinky space hobo like Master Luke. Besides, she knows to guard herself now. She refuses to live in fear.