Great. It was going to be one of those days.
//Ahsoka.// The voice in her head was getting clearer. //You have to get up, little one . //
"I'm not little anymore, master," she grumbled.
//And I'm not your master anymore. But you still have to get up. You need water. You got that old vaporator working again, remember?//
It sounded almost as if he were really here, right next to her. That was probably a bad sign. Whatever he was, though, he was right. Blast him.
//Nice language. That one's not my fault, is it?//
"You're not real."
//Believe whatever you need to, Snips. Just get up and take care of yourself. They'll come for you, I promise. You just have to hold on a little longer.//
"Your what ?!" She sat bolt upright, wincing as her head protested the sudden movement. The floor tilted queasily to the left before settling down, but there was no reply.
"Instead of trying to run, the captain was barricaded in the records vault, frantically disintegrating files." Leia shook her head. "As if the whole moon weren't evidence. How could anyone think destroying data would hide what they did to those people?"
Luke didn't have an answer, but he was pretty sure she didn't expect one. "Maybe that's not what he was trying to hide."
"Maybe. Anyway, the intel team sorting through what's left found this." She held up a datachip with a battered but sturdy casing, the kind used by infantry units.
"Something about the Jedi?" There were standing orders to direct any such information to him immediately.
"Probably." Leia handed it to him. "It's labeled Skywalker ."
Luke traced a fingertip over the scuffed letters. They had been etched years before, likely before he was born. The implications weighed the little thing down in his hand, and he looked up at his sister questioningly.
It wasn't easy for him to reconcile the monster that had hunted them with the man who had given them life. For Leia, who had suffered so much more directly at Vader's hands, who hadn't been there at the end, it had so far proved impossible. She wanted nothing to do with him in any form, and Luke really couldn't blame her.
"I can check it out," he suggested, "let you know if there's anything usef--"
"No." Her jaw took on that particular set that said I can handle this . "I need to start... I should know."
"Okay." Whatever instinct had led her to decide this unknown quantity was the thing to face head-on, it was decided, and he was the last person to argue. "Artoo?"
The little droid trundled over from his spot by the wall and slid open a port to receive the datachip. Once it was in place, he emitted a brief processing chitter, then turned to aim his holoprojector where they could see it.
"Is that... him?" Leia asked in a tense whisper. Luke nodded, reaching for her hand.
Without the label, he wasn't sure he would have recognized the face in the recording. No older than they were now, probably younger, the slight softness about his features at odds with the strength in his frame and the thin vertical scar near the corner of one eye.
"As a padawan in the field, you must have confidence in your skills, even while your body is still growing and changing." Across more than two decades, Anakin Skywalker spoke in the slightly stilted tone of someone addressing an imaginary audience. "Padawan Tano will demonstrate some ways to adapt the Shien style to your advantage when facing a larger opponent."
He was joined in the image by a slip of a Togruta with enormous blue eyes. The tips of her blunt montrals just reached Anakin's shoulder, and she hardly seemed old enough to be allowed to touch a lightsaber, let alone demonstrate its use.
But she most certainly could use it, twisting and dodging at unexpected angles to match the odd backhand way she held it. Blue and green blades arced through a slow-motion dance, then repeated the pattern at incrementally increasing speed until Luke could barely follow it.
After the final repetition, the pair stepped back and saluted. They held the formal pose for a long moment, then a mischievous half-smile broke Anakin's serious expression, eyebrows raised in challenge. The girl grinned and gave a single nod, and they launched back into motion, matching moves as perfectly in free sparring as they had in the practice forms.
Almost as perfectly. She slid around to his right with a lunging step and a twist that didn't twist quite far enough. Though Anakin's thumb hit the switch in the exact same instant, his weapon still took a split-second to shut down, and the blue plasma skimmed her shoulder. Thrown off balance, she sat down hard with a stifled cry of pain.
"Ahsoka!" He clipped his saber to his belt and knelt to check on the injury. "Hold still, Snips. Let me see."
"I'm fine , master," she protested between clenched teeth. She glared sidelong toward the holorecorder, clearly mortified as only a teenager could be.
"Never mind that," he chided quietly, pulling a small packet from a container on his belt. As he tore it open and gingerly applied the medpatch to her shoulder, he added for the benefit of their unseen audience, "This wasn't how we planned to end this lesson, but it's a good reminder: Even the most skilled of you will make mistakes. Be mindful to avoid it, and be ready when it happens. Right?"
This last was to the girl, who caught herself in mid-eyeroll and managed to put on a semblance of dignity as she accepted a hand up to stand beside him. "Right. Master."
"Keep your focus out there, young ones," Anakin concluded, "and may the Force be with you."
The recording went dark, and Luke stared at the empty air where it had been projected. After a long pause, Artoo burbled a query, and he replied, "No, not yet. How many more files are there?"
The answering beeps indicated seventeen. This might take some time.
He turned to Leia, whose grip on his hand had tightened during the playback. Her expression remained carefully neutral, which concerned him as much as the tangle of feelings he could sense beneath it. She rarely maintained that mask if he was the only one there to see it. When she did, it was to assure herself she was in control.
"Leia," he prompted softly. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." Seeing his skepticism, she insisted, "No, really. I just... The student. I think I know her. Knew her."
Luke didn't know what he'd expected her to say, but that certainly wasn't it. "How?"
"The first Fulcrum agent, early in the Rebellion. I only met her a few times, and of course she was an adult, but... her coloring, her voice. I think that was her."
If she was right... "You didn't know she was a Jedi."
It wasn't a question. Leia had told him about the two she had met a few years before he knew her, a boy their age and his master, both later lost in the uprising on Lothal. She would have mentioned another.
"I didn't really know anything about her. I remember wondering why she was sad, but that was true of so many of my father's friends. It was mostly before I was old enough to know what they were up to."
"Do you know what happened to her?"
"Not really. I only heard that she'd been killed. It was eight, maybe nine years ago. The Rebellion had barely established its first planetside base, and operations were still highly compartmentalized." There was a flash of sorrow behind her careful composure as she added, "My father might have known more."
Luke nodded, considering this information along with what they had just seen. "It's so strange, to see..."
"See him like that?" Leia finished for him. "That's an understatement."
"You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. It's just... like you said. Strange." She squeezed his hand. "I have a meeting in ten minutes. I do want to know what else is on there but... don't feel that you have to wait for me."