His new left hand was nearly identical to the old one. Anakin smiled to himself without any real humor as he tested the fingers. He wondered darkly if his Master had a store of such things somewhere, just waiting. He’d certainly been ready enough with the life support suit, all those years ago.
For just a moment, Anakin allowed himself to imagine the Emperor as the kind of person who kept a junk room, full of spare parts in various stages of repair, haphazardly organized if at all. There’d be a whole rack of arms, and, inexplicably resting among them, perhaps an extra leg or a spinal column.
The thought was funnier than it probably should have been.
“Is your new arm not functioning adequately?” Kadee asked him. She seemed distinctly annoyed, although her tone, of course, never changed. (He’d asked her once if she’d like it to – it would be a simple enough modification – but she’d thanked him and said no. Not yet. A changeable voice might make her more easily compromised.)
“Adequately is all that can be said for it,” Anakin muttered.
She knew that, of course. Once, before she was free, their Master had programmed her with the understanding that adequate was optimal, when it came to Lord Vader’s functionality. Kadee didn’t need any inflection to make her bitterness evident now.
But in truth Anakin couldn’t complain too much. At least this way he would not have to acclimatize himself to a new and different arm. And while Depur had been beyond furious about the loss of the Death Star, the pain had been much less than Anakin had expected.
Perhaps he should have expected that, though. Now that the Death Star was gone, Vader was once more among the Emperor’s greatest weapons. He was too valuable to damage much.
“I hope you’re not planning to damage yourself again,” Kadee said, as though she’d read his thoughts, and this time Anakin frowned and looked at her fully.
She’d been worried. More worried than she wanted to admit to now, he could tell. That was the trouble with having partners. Leia was the same way; she’d been just as anxious about him when they met on Yavin’s moon, and she hadn’t even attempted to hide it.
It was a strange thought, that anyone should be so concerned about him. It was a thought he wasn’t entirely sure how to process. So most of the time he didn’t.
But Kadee was still buzzing about in front of him in evident distress, and so he made an effort to gentle his voice and said, “No, Kadee. I’m not planning to damage myself again anytime soon.” He forced a smile, stretching the scars across his face. “We have an assignment.”
“Will it get us away from Depur?” she asked, almost before he’d finished speaking.
Anakin fought back a surge of guilt. She really had been worried, if that was the first thing she asked, even before the nature of the assignment.
“Yes,” he said softly, resting his new hand lightly on her casing. “It will get us away from Depur. For quite a long time, possibly.”
“Good,” she said, and only then asked, “Where are we going?”
Anakin smirked. “I have been tasked with eliminating the Rebels responsible for the Death Star’s destruction,” he said. “I have command of a fleet and freedom to use any methods I deem necessary. We are not meant to return until it’s done.”
Kadee buzzed in obvious delight. “Oh good,” she said. “I’ve always wanted a vacation.”
For a moment Anakin only stared at her. Then he burst out laughing.
Two of Kadee’s needle-tipped appendages whirred in her own version of laughter, and Anakin grinned at her. “You certainly deserve it,” he said. “But I’m afraid it won’t be all fun. We will have the fleet to consider.”
Kadee stopped humming abruptly, her spherical body coming to a sudden halt just in front of his face. “Oh no,” she said, and Anakin couldn’t quite manage to stop himself from laughing again. There was just something about those despairing words in her flat, matter-of-fact voice.
“What?” he asked, not even bothering to pretend at innocence. It never worked on her, anyway.
“You’ve already selected your fleet, haven’t you?” Kadee demanded.
Anakin felt his grin widen as he nodded.
“And your Admiral,” Kadee said, clearly without much hope.
Anakin hummed his agreement.
“Does it have to be him?”
Anakin arranged his face in an expression of cool disdain. “Admiral Ozzel is a fine upstanding officer,” he told her in his best impression of a haughty Core-worlder. The effect was somewhat ruined by the rasp of his voice without the mask, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that. “He is a model of Imperial efficiency and decorum, a sterling example of – ”
“He had Zee-ten melted and scrapped.” Kadee’s voice was as toneless as always, but her words cut through Anakin’s bluster with the force of a sudden explosion.
All trace of teasing drained out of him, and he was left with a deep weariness. “I know,” he said softly.
Kadee hadn’t been particularly close with Zee-ten, but she’d enjoyed chatting with the protocol droid at times, and Anakin knew she’d cherished a hope that they could free him someday, that he might become another ally in their cause.
She’d found Ozzel distasteful before, but now she positively loathed him.
“I wish you would promote Captain Altor, Anakin,” Kadee said now. “She would make a good Admiral.”
“Too good,” Anakin said with a snort. “She’s much too competent for the job. No, I need someone with Ozzel’s particular talents for this mission.”
Kadee was silent, which meant she knew he was right.
Finally she said, as though making a great concession, “Maybe he’ll fail so badly that you’ll have to kill him. And then you can promote Piett instead. I like him.”
In spite of himself Anakin chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, and pressed the release that settled his mask back in place. “But for now, his incompetence is useful. After all, you want a long vacation, don’t you?”
But Kadee was buzzing in concern again, whirring rapidly in front of him as though to prevent his going. Anakin could already tell what she was going to say. “You shouldn’t be leaving yet. Electrocution – ”
“I know,” he interrupted her gently. “But I have to be on the bridge for departure, and to ensure our clever Admiral chooses the correct heading, and I – ”
“Will come straight back here as soon as we’re under way,” Kadee said.
Anakin smiled to himself. She was certainly in rare form today. But perhaps he owed her something, after all. “Fine,” he said. “Just for you, I will. We need to adjust the fit of this arm, anyway.”
Kadee let out a rude-sounding blatt of displeasure. She had a phenomenally low opinion of the Emperor’s surgical droids. Anakin couldn’t say he disagreed with her.
He stood, preparing to exit the medical pod, and was startled by the feel of two lightsabers swinging at his hip.
“You didn’t tell me you built a new lightsaber,” Kadee said. There was no reproach audible in her voice, but it was evident all the same.
“It’s not mine,” Anakin said distantly, hefting Kenobi’s lightsaber in his right hand and staring down at it. “It’s – ”
A trophy, the Emperor had called it. A memento to his victory.
Anakin bit back a laugh entirely devoid of humor. Victory, was it? He’d fought the worst duel of his life, fought with movements so slow and deliberate it had felt more like practicing a kata than facing an actual opponent. And Kenobi – Kenobi’s form had been even worse. For one brief, shattering moment, Anakin had dared to think that maybe his old master understood, that there could be –
But of course that was impossible.
His skin itched, licked with fire. This weapon is your life, Kenobi had always said. It might have been his most frequent lecture.
He’d stood there on the burning shore and taken Anakin’s, taken it while Anakin caught and burned, burned, burned. And then he’d walked away.
And now Anakin held Kenobi’s life in his hands. His mouth twisted with the thought. He’d always hated that particular lesson.
“Whose is it, then?” Kadee asked, and Anakin blinked, returning with sharp suddenness to the present.
Kenobi was dead. The thing in his hand was only a weapon. Less, even – or more. It was a collection of parts, rare and valuable parts at that. A treasure trove of salvage.
Not a weapon, but a story.
I tell you this story to save your life, the Grandmother of the Quarters whispered in a voice like the wind, and it echoed back in his mother’s voice.
And with that thought came the answer. The only possible answer.
Of course he couldn’t simply give Leia Kenobi’s lightsaber.
There was the slim but not impossible chance that someone would recognize it, and there would be no good way to explain why Princess Leia held a weapon that was known to be in Darth Vader’s possession.
There was also the distant possibility that Depur might actually expect to see his apprentice’s trophy at some point. And Darth Vader hated Kenobi, of course, and would want to gloat over his death. He would never simply dispose of his old master’s lightsaber.
So Anakin would have to keep it, and keep it intact. At least outwardly.
The most important thing was the crystal. All other lightsaber components were fairly basic; he could obtain them easily and without raising any suspicions. But the focusing crystals were rare, and really only used for one thing. He never could have explained why he needed them.
How convenient, then, that between the two of them, his Masters had managed to hand him exactly what he needed, and a perfect cover story besides.
The first thing to be done was to disassemble Kenobi’s lightsaber. Anakin had always believed that much could be learned about someone from the way they constructed their equipment, and this was especially true of lightsabers. It was probably fortunate that the Emperor did not share this particular belief, or at least put very little stock in it – the fact that Darth Vader’s lightsaber was nearly identical to Anakin Skywalker’s troubled him not at all.
That was no surprise, Anakin thought, flexing his newly modified left hand. His Master had never shown any particular care for his weapons.
Kenobi’s lightsaber, though, showed a fine attention to detail and a preference for finesse and elegance. Anakin smiled to himself. His old master had always been fond of showy, intricate blade work, of complex motions and flaring spins for effect. Once Anakin had enjoyed those things, too, though he’d always been more blunt in his approach than Kenobi.
But he’d learned. This metal body Depur had built for him was hardly suited for such elaborate movement, and simpler methods were often more effective in any case. And Kenobi –
The last of Anakin’s amusement drained sharply away. He could still see Kenobi, his lined face looking shockingly old but his eyes glinting with something new and strange as he raised his lightsaber to allow a blow that never should have connected.
If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Anakin had no idea what to make of that – either the words or the twinkle in Kenobi’s eye as he said them. But he had a terrible feeling that there was something familiar there. Something he knew all too intimately himself. It was almost like –
Well, it was almost like Mustafar.
Was it possible? That Obi-Wan Kenobi could have fallen prey to the delusion of power? It seemed incredible, but Anakin knew only too well what desperation could drive a person to.
Well, Master, he thought, surprised at the bitterness of it after all these years, who has the high ground now?
But there was no good answer to that question. He’d known that for a long time now. And it was pointless to dwell on such things. He had work to do.
However beautifully constructed Kenobi’s lightsaber may once have been, the only thing that mattered now was the crystal.
Anakin had built quite a few lightsabers over the years, but he had never built one for someone else.
A lightsaber was a deeply personal thing. A weapon crafted to the wielder. Kenobi’s had been meant for subtlety and elegance, an excellent dueling blade, while Anakin’s own lightsaber was built for endurance and power. Each played to the strengths of their respective fighting styles.
And Anakin had no idea what style of fighting Leia might favor.
He’d never actually had the opportunity to teach her the use of a lightsaber. It would have been impossible for her to carry one while maintaining her cover as an Imperial Senator – the risk if it were to be discovered was far too great. And her mastery of the mental disciplines had been far more imperative, both to her work as a Rebel agent and to her very survival in the Galactic Senate, so near to the Emperor. Skill with a lightsaber, once so prized by the Jedi of old, was simply not among the most vital things for her to learn.
There was something almost amusing there, or there might have been. But Anakin had long ago grown used to the ironies of his life. This one brought only a wry smile.
Maybe one day he’d be able to tell her something of this. But for now Leia was far away, hiding somewhere on a Rebel base that Anakin would be doing his utmost never to find. Teaching her in person, then, was out of the question, as was the possibility of any certain answer to his questions.
So he would have to make do.
Anakin eyed the stack of blank flimsi spread across a tray in his lap and sighed. His stylus tapped once, twice, three times against his knee, metal on metal making a strangely hollow sound. The flimsi remained blank.
He was going about this all wrong. He didn’t know what her fighting style might be, and it was impossible to guess. But he did know her.
Leia was a princess, the daughter of Queen Breha and Senator Bail Organa. She’d been an Imperial Senator herself. The subtle game of politics and espionage was something she was used to. So perhaps…
A hacking laugh surprised its way past his lips, startling Kadee where she hovered curiously by his shoulder.
“What?” she blurted, actually darting back and to one side, her photoreceptor flashing.
“Imagine Leia with a lightsaber,” Anakin said, grinning still and not bothering to apologize. “What do you think? Would she be refined, poised, elegant?”
Kadee buzzed rapidly, clacking several appendages in her version of laughter, and Anakin lasted only a few seconds before joining in again himself. The image was frankly absurd. Even Kadee knew that, and she had never even met Leia, not in person. (Anakin was aware that he tended to talk about her almost like a proud parent sometimes. But he tried his best not to think about that.)
“No,” said Kadee. “She’ll fight like her namesake: with the storm and with fire.”
Anakin’s smile slipped, heavy beneath the weight of years. There were times he felt as old as the desert, and tired, so tired. Dust rattled in his bones, whispering her name.
Leia the Mighty One. She who walked unafraid, shrouded in the white heat of the midday suns, terrible and beautiful with a heart full of flame.
Her name meant something different in Alda. Leia. Beloved. He knew this. He had known it for years now. He had no right to wish –
But he could imagine her, lightsaber clenched in her hand and fury in her eyes. She was a dragon already.
“You’re right,” he said, and told himself that it wasn’t pride he felt. “She’ll fight like me.”
The wiring had always been his favorite part of building a lightsaber.
It was hardly a proper Jedi sentiment. Probably, Anakin remembered thinking in his padawan years, he shouldn’t have a favorite part at all. Or if he did, he was sure it should have been the choosing and aligning of the crystals. Selecting a focusing crystal required one to be perfectly immersed in the Force, guided in every action. The crystal was the heart of the lightsaber, and the lightsaber was the heart of the Jedi.
By contrast, wiring and construction of the hilt were simple mechanical work, matters of technical skill, not spiritual insight. Of course, his Jedi Masters would have been quick to say, the Force guided all of a Jedi’s actions in the building of a lightsaber. Of course every aspect of the work was important. A Jedi must not disdain simple labor…
Anakin hummed softly to himself, an old desert tune he was only half-conscious of, rhythmic and repetitive. After a moment he smiled to hear Kadee joining in, lending a low drone to complement the sound of his chanting.
Wiring was delicate work, a matter of subtlety rather than strength or power. That was what he’d always loved about it. A natural talent could only take you so far with fine work like this. The rest was practice: skill honed by repetition and reworking, until the knowledge sank into blood and bone and flowed out again through every movement and every stillness.
But his hands weren’t flesh and blood, not any more. And these prosthetics were not well suited to the work. He wondered sometimes if that was accident or design. His old right hand, the one he’d chosen for himself in the midst of the Clone Wars, had been more adept. But he’d long ago been fitted with two matching hands chosen by his Master, and Depur had never been particularly concerned with his apprentice’s ability to do fine work.
There was nothing Anakin could do about that. So it wasn’t worth troubling about.
Again the image of a spare parts room full of skeletal arms appeared in his mind, and he let out a soft, chuffing laugh. The thought was just as inappropriately hilarious now as it had been the first time.
“Is the laughter a part of the blessing?” Kadee asked.
Anakin blinked, looking up from the tangled mess in his hands. “Huh?” he said eloquently.
“You laughed,” said Kadee. “I didn’t know that was a part of the song for Amarattu.”
Anakin froze. He’d been singing Amarattu?
But perhaps that was right. He remembered his mother, so long ago now, teaching him the words as her fingers guided his through the innards of a faulty vaporator. Watto had given it to them, smirking, and said that if they could fix it, it was theirs. Anakin had been only four years old, but even then he’d known that Watto hadn’t really believed Shmi could fix the vaporator.
The song flows with the breath, Ani, his mother had said, her voice almost a chant as her fingers danced over the wiring. In and out, in and out. Ar-Amu gives us breath, and in our breath she lives and in our breath she speaks to us.
Here in his hyperbaric chamber, the only place where his breath was truly his own, Anakin breathed deep, held it until his chest began to burn, and released. His mother’s words flowed with the air through his lungs.
She’d taught him the signs to make, too, the sacred symbols to go with the words and the prayer of the breath. Simple lines and circles, their very simplicity disguising their meaning, carved as easily into japor wood as drawn in sand or etched in metal.
Amarattu. The Mother’s protection.
And he’d sung it for Leia without a conscious thought.
“I didn’t realize,” Anakin rasped, letting the tangle of wire fall to his lap. He turned to Kadee and smiled. “But you’re right. Laughter may not be part of the song, but I don’t think it can hurt.”
When we laugh, Shmi’s voice whispered through his memory, we remember that we are born to be free.
“But you still need to make the sign,” Kadee said.
Anakin considered that. It was hardly the Jedi thing to do. But after all Kenobi was dead (dead and Anakin was not thinking about why), and this was not his lightsaber. And Anakin himself had insisted to Leia that he was no Jedi. Certainly she wasn’t.
He half-thought that his former Masters might even have taken Leia for Dark. She was too much like him at times (and if he thought that with just a hint of pride, well, he would not allow himself to think too deeply on it), and he had never been a very good Jedi.
He wondered sometimes what kind of Jedi her mother had been. What kind of Jedi Leia herself might have made, in a different world. Would she have been cool and steady and dispassionate? Would the fire that burned in her now ever have been stoked to raging flame?
He couldn’t imagine Leia as a Jedi. She had an anger in her that was wild and alive and more than a little familiar. It made him think not of a Jedi but of a Queen, young and fearless, or of a slave woman, beaten and unbowed. It made him think of a dragon.
And so he told Kadee, “You’re right, of course.”
“Of course,” said Kadee, contriving by repetition to sound smugly pleased, in spite of her unchanging voice. A small compartment near the center of her spherical casing slid open and Anakin took the fine etching tool she offered him.
He’d used it before mainly on her. She wasn’t willing to change anything outward about her appearance, or anything else Depur might easily notice, like her inflectionless voice. But Kadee had fully embraced the Tatooine tradition of freedom marks.
She’d had him carve several of the symbols into the inside of her casing, where they would be invisible to anyone unless they took her apart. But they were there. That was what mattered. Kelapu for change, mitta for endurance, tapu for health (a choice Kadee found bitterly humorous), and Amarattu for protection. Kol-depuan, unfettered, she’d had him paint over the casing of her central processor.
Now Kadee took up her steady, humming drone again, and this time Anakin sang with purpose. His voice was low and rasping, and it cracked several times, but that didn’t matter. It was the words that mattered, the words that shaped his lips even when they emerged soundless or broken.
The lightsaber was propped on a makeshift work table before him. A skeletal construction surrounded the blue crystals, catching and refracting their light. Anakin’s hand hesitated over the primary crystal mount, and then he brought the etcher down.
The symbol poured easily from his hand and down through the tool: the square that meant a guide, and the spirals of the great storms, and the curving lines like streams of water flowing in the desert.
He’d carved this symbol once for another young woman, bright and beautiful and radiant in her anger, a girl from the stars who hadn’t believed that the Republic she loved could ever support slavery.
Leia had thought that way once, too. Perhaps she still did.
Perhaps, one day, she could even make it true.
Amarattu, the Mother’s protection, Anakin carved into the smooth metal of the crystal mount. Bentu, justice, he set into the inner casing at the weapon’s base. Shmina, wisdom, he etched around the wall of the crystal chamber. Nimku, the mark of one with the power to choose, he wrote on the inside of the activation plate. And umakkar, the raging storm, adorned the sides of the blade channel.
There was a song for each sign, and Kadee kept up the drone as he chanted, until the last line was drawn, and the outer casing was sealed, and all the sacred sigils were hidden away.
The lightsaber was a perfect cylinder of brushed silver, artfully simple in its design. She liked simple things. In that, at least, she was nothing like Padmé.
To his own surprise, the thought brought a smile.
But there was one last sign to make. It was a foolish risk, and something she would never understand. Her name was Alderaanian. But Anakin had learned long ago that there were no coincidences. Only the illusion of coincidence.
And so, into the smooth and gleaming hilt, just beneath the activation panel, he carved the sign for Leia, the Mighty One of the desert, fearless and unconquered. The symbol was three-pronged, a dragon’s claw mark set above a half-arch.
Carved this way, points up, it almost looked like a crown.
Now there remained only the question of delivery.
No matter what he might wish, Anakin knew it would be impossible to give Leia the lightsaber in person. And he would be equally unable to teach her its use.
It was possible, of course, that Kenobi had begun to instruct the pilot who had destroyed the Death Star and who was now Leia’s student (and perhaps her teacher as well). But Anakin couldn’t be sure of that. And he couldn’t afford to leave it to chance.
Which really only left one choice.
He would have to send a holocron. And there was only one holocron he could reasonably send without risking access to the old Jedi Archives, which would certainly be noticed by his Master, and for which he would be unable to provide any suitable explanation.
Really he shouldn’t even have access to this holocron, but it had been confiscated by one of the Inquisitors almost three years ago, and his Master, of course, had thought it a wonderful joke to give the thing to Lord Vader.
But there were no coincidences. And, as so often seemed to be the case, no real choice, either.
Kadee hummed when he told her. “Well,” she said. “At least you can be sure that she’ll have a good teacher.”
Anakin groaned. “I’m not so sure about that at all,” he muttered. “But we do what we must.”
“Yes,” said Kadee, who knew that all too well herself.
“We’ll have to send a courier,” Anakin said. “And it’s unlikely they’ll be able to come back. What do you think? Do we have anyone suitable who might need an extraction soon?”
Kadee considered this, her fans whirring at speed while she remained perfectly still.
“Elcee,” she said at last. “They’ve had a few too many ‘malfunctions’ lately, and they misidentified a Rebel base just yesterday. It’s only a matter of time before Ozzel has them scrapped. You should do it first.”
Anakin frowned. Had there been a false identification yesterday? He hadn’t been paying enough attention, and he would have to correct that immediately. Ozzel’s incompetence was useful, but Anakin couldn’t afford to take it for granted. Things were far too delicate at the moment. He couldn’t risk actually discovering the Rebel base, not now.
“Yes,” he told Kadee slowly. “I think you’re right.”
LC-13 was an analyst droid Kadee had freed nearly a year ago. Their position had proved incredibly helpful to the Rebellion, but a droid could only produce a mistaken analysis so many times. And Elcee was an older model, too. Ozzel wasn’t the sort to keep outdated technology for long.
“All right,” Anakin said. “We’re making port at Muunilinst in seventeen hours. Have Elcee taken offline and schedule them for disintegration. Contact Entee in Waste Management and alert him to the plan. We’ll log Elcee as destroyed, give them that new paint job they’ve been wanting, and send them on to Ripple.”
Kadee buzzed in delight. “Oh, this is so exciting,” she said, and Anakin bit his lip to keep from laughing at her perfectly flat delivery. “I’ve always wanted to fake someone’s death.”
Anakin snorted. “Trust me,” he muttered, “it’s not nearly as fun as it sounds.”
Elcee was waiting nineteen hours later in a small, nondescript hangar on the opposite side of the spacedock from Executor’s berth. They were now painted a matte grey rather than the standard glossy black, and somehow Entee had found the time to add a hover field generator to Elcee’s single tread. The droid was now floating an inch or so above the dusty hangar floor.
A rather battered Corellian light shuttle waited behind Elcee, drab and unadorned, the kind of ship that was found in multiples in every space port in the galaxy.
“You understand the mission?” Anakin asked shortly.
“Yes,” said Elcee. “I will see the delivery safely made to Ripple on Ord Mantell. She will be expecting me?”
“She will,” said Anakin as he handed over the holocron and watched Elcee deposit it in a small compartment in their midsection. The compartment closed again, nearly invisible if Anakin hadn’t already known it was there.
“The delivery can only be made to her,” he added, though he knew Elcee was already aware. It was important enough to risk saying again.
“I understand,” said Elcee. They stretched out a hand. “Thank you, Ekkreth.”
Anakin clasped the droid’s elbow in his own hand, and saw more than felt Elcee do the same to him. “Thank you, Elcee,” he whispered, though the vocoder made his voice sound just as loud as it always did. “Tell her – ” But there was too much, too much that he wanted to say and couldn’t, too much that he had no right to say even if he could. “ – tell her to remember her training.”
“I will tell her,” Elcee said solemnly.
Anakin nodded. His left hand twisted, the lightsaber turning over and over in his grip, his fingers tripping over the clawed crown of Leia’s mark on the hilt as his thoughts repeated the ancient blessing again and again.
“I’m to deliver that as well?” Elcee prodded gently, and Anakin started, the weapon coming to rest awkwardly in his too-large hand.
“Of course,” he muttered, thrusting the hilt abruptly toward the droid. Elcee took it, and an illusory warmth went with it, leaving behind a faint tingle in an arm that had been gone for twenty years.
The hidden compartment opened and closed again. Elcee stepped backwards, towards the ship.
Anakin nodded again, just once, and turned sharply on his heel. Darth Vader was expected at a meeting with his admiral and captains in less than an hour, and LC-13 had been disintegrated two hours ago. There was nothing more to do here.
Behind him came the sounds of a shuttle roaring to life. Anakin left the hangar without looking back.