It was dark, cold, and wet. Those were the first things he noticed as he came to. For a long moment, there was nothing else, except the feeling of weightlessness and the sound of his own breathing.
Then, there was something from the quiet. A sound of some kind. A shout, he thought. And at last, he managed to open his eyes. Bubbles rose up and down, and through the transparent glass, he saw them. Computers beeping and blinking, people donned in white clothes, and cylindrical tanks, identical to the one he was in, lined up against the wall.
The darkness was gone, but the cold and wet remained. Where he was, what was going on, or even who he was, he had no idea. He was just a body floating in a sloshing and slimy substance.
Bacta, his mind told him. This stuff is called bacta. You’re in a bacta tank.
The words echoed in the back of his mind, as if he was supposed to know it from getgo. Still, he couldn’t help but feel something strange, even unknown about them. He knew the words, but had no connection to them. Were they important to him? Why?
Again, that automatic part of his brain answered. You’re not fully developed. You need bacta, if you want to grow into a perfect being.
Again, he was confused. ‘Grow?’ ‘Perfect being?’ None of the words seem to make sense to him.
The shouting came back, cutting him away from his thoughts. He saw the men in white running back and forth, giving out commands that were barely audible to him.
“… Xanatos’ dead… Jedi coming… do we do?”
“Disconnect the… from the tanks!”
“… won’t survive!”
Moments passed, and the men in white went around their duties. He watched them play with their computers. He barely managed to catch some of the tanks suddenly going dark. The bodies inside moved around a little before there was nothing.
Then, pain roared in his head. He heard the screams in his mind, the screams of the other people in the tanks as their lives went out one by one. His hands grabbed his head, wanting to turn off the screams. He could not and suffered hearing the voices cry out in terror before they were suddenly silenced.
All of a sudden, through the cries, he managed to hear something. Before long, there was something else…
A loud BOOM echoed, and the tank, perhaps the entire room, shook, making him just barely look. Smoke filled every corner, covering the men in white with cloud of gray and black. First thing was shouting, then a loud hum as a rod of blue light swung through the smoke and struck down any who approached it.
Events ran too quickly for him to process. What was going on? Why was he hearing all these screams in his mind?! What was happening to him?!
It was at that point he noticed the bacta in his tank was starting to turn dark. Now, he was afraid. He was about to join the poor fellow and be nothing more than a floating corpse. And he would feel it all as he died.
As he thoughts those morbid thoughts, he saw the blue light came through the smoke and struck the tank. The glass shattered, and he slid out onto the floor like a newborn out of its mother’s womb. He yanked the breath mask off, and he finally felt fresh air. His efforts for breathing it in were rewarded with spurts of bacta coughed up from his lungs.
Slowly, he rose until he sat in the puddle of bacta and shivered from what little of the slimy substance still clung to him and his modest clothing. After clearing his lungs of the putrid liquid, he took notice of the other bodies lying around him. They weren’t like him, who was dressed in a thin suit of clothing. They were the men in white, the same who had tried to terminate him, and they lied motionlessly, with horrible burnt scars stretched across their bodies.
Standing over the corpses was a man. This man was not donned in white, but in a light uniform and a brown cloak. In his hand was a cylindrical hilt, from which the blue rod of light came out of. The man stood with an aura of calm… and regret. Not just towards him, but to the others lying at his feet. But who was this man to have such sympathy for him, let alone the people who had tried to kill him?
A Jedi Knight, recalled his programmed mind. An enemy.
He thought about that. An enemy? That couldn’t be right. This Jedi had helped him, saved from the same fate as the others. If he was an enemy, why would he do such a thing?
Eliminate him, the voice in his head commanded, but he tried to shut it out. Eliminate the Jedi!
“Don’t be afraid,” the man, the Jedi, said. “I’m here to help.”
The Jedi’s voice brought a feeling. He could only describe it as calm, at peace. The parts of his mind that cried out for the Jedi’s destruction faded away.
No longer haunted by his thoughts, he spoke. The sound of speaking for the first time had hurt his throat, and it came out in a hoarse croak. “Y-you can help me?”
“Yes, I can,” the Jedi smiled, and his beard seemed to do so too. “My name’s Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan Kenobi. What’s yours?”
He opened his mouth, then stopped. Then, he looked down at band around his wrist. On it was a tag on it: VDR-142.
At last, he looked up and answered, “Vader, sir. It’s Vader.”
At the sound of a high-pitched and constantly repeated beeping, Vader’s eyes snapped open. He rubbed a hand over the weary eye sockets before he rolled on his side. By the bed, the source of his disturbance continued to ring, until Vader finally pressed the button and answered.
“Yes?” he said with a small yawn.
Captain Cody’s voice came through. “Sir, Master Luminara and her student have just arrived.”
A bit of excitement leaped up Vader’s throat as he raised his head from his pillow. “Where are they, now?” he asked, a little more loudly than he wanted.
“By the console chamber. They and General Kenobi are waiting for you.”
“I’ll be right there,” and with an excited click, Vader shut off the comm and sat up from his bed.
Barriss is here, he thought excitedly as he pictured the bright green face of Luminara’s pupil and her warm smile.
Vader had seen that same smile back when he first met Barriss at the Temple. Then, he was just inducted into the Jedi and in dire need of companionship. Vader had found it in a few Jedi students, Barriss more special than the rest, so he would be glad to be with her whenever he had the chance.
It was not long before Vader had put on his dark uniform. After putting on his pants and boots, Vader neatly pressed the seams of his tunic and added the long, flapping cloak to his Jedi look. His mask, the last thing left, rested by the mirror in his quarters, so Vader went over to grab it.
Vader’s hand halted when he looked at the mirror. It was meant to be just a glance, to see if he was primed and ready for Barriss, and the Jedi Masters. Then, it turned into a long, deep glance.
As Vader stared at the mirror, he looked at the face in it. He saw the familiar deep, blue eyes, cleft chin, and wavy, blond hair. He had the same muscular look to him, albeit he was a bit scrawny due to him being genetically a few years younger. Still, it was the same look, the same face.
The face of Anakin Skywalker.
No else, other than a few, knew about Vader’s secret. The masters on the Jedi Council had told him to use a partial face-mask hide his identity from everyone. The reasoning was as such; if anyone knew about the truth of Vader’s origins, there would be a major panic. People would be in a uproar over the Jedi having a clone among their numbers.
A clone. As distasteful as the word sounded, Vader couldn’t deny it. He was clone, nothing more. A mere copy, made from a Jedi pupil’s DNA, no doubt taken from some severed limb. Obi-Wan assured Vader otherwise, but the words did little to hide the truth lurking in the back of both their minds.
Slowly, Vader slid the mask into place, hiding portion of Anakin Skywalker. He did not need to worry about that. Now, he had to meet with someone important to him, and he would meet her as Vader, not Anakin’s copy.
As the morning sun quickly rose over Skye’s mountains, Obi-Wan stood atop the landing pad that was situated on the mountainside. The grounded shuttle in front of him let out some steam, and the boarding ramp lowered onto the floor. The two leaving the shuttle were Mirialans, one in her forties and the other of fifteen standard years, their brightly colored faces sparsely covered in individual tattoos of their people and donned in dark dresses.
“Master Luminara,” Kenobi greeted the taller of the two cordially.
Luminara eyed Obi-Wan momentarily before she bowed slightly, so the dark headdress atop wouldn’t fall off. “Knight Kenobi,” she returned, her voice crisp and smooth, before she turned to her fellow Mirialan, covered in a blue cloak and hood. “You know my pupil, Barriss.”
“A pleasure as always,” Kenobi said to the younger Jedi, who returned the greeting with a curtsey. “I take it this isn’t a social visit,” he told Luminara in all his cheerful humor
“Sadly, no,” Luminara sadly smiled. She glanced at Barriss. “Perhaps, we should discuss this more privately. Barriss, you don’t mind, do you?”
“No, master,” Barriss answered in her soft voice, though both her elders sensed the dismay in her thoughts.
“You needn’t to worry, Barriss. You’ll have someone to keep you company,” Obi-Wan said, sensing Vader’s presence rushing towards their group.
Before Barriss could say anything, Vader was walking on the rocky plain on his way to the landing pad. Upon arriving, he gave his greetings to each Jedi. “Master Kenobj, Master Luminara.” Vader paused when his gaze fell on the Mirialan girl. “Barriss.”
“Vader,” replied Barriss.
Obi-Wan, sensing the spiked emotions from either pupil, said, “Vader, why don’t you take Barriss to the camp? I’m sure there’s plenty for.you two to catch up on.”
“Yes master,” Vader said eagerly, and he walked away with Barriss at his side.
After the Jedi students were out of sight, Luminara whispered, “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Leaving my pupil with yours?”
“They’re young, but they also responsible. I’m sure they can face any danger.”
“Save for their emotions,” she argued. “You sensed it in them. It raged inside like a storm. I’m afraid Barriss may be making a mistake if she puts her feelings for your pupil.”
He gave a raised eyebrow. “You mean afraid if she goes against the Jedi Code?”
“I do,” Luminara said slowly. “The younger ones are becoming more… resistant to the Code. It was a miracle the council even allowed your other pupil to marry.”
Obi-Wan smiled at the thought of the couple. “Anakin has been more peaceful since he proposed.”
“Yes, but I fear what may happen to our students if they can’t control their emotions, especially for each other.”
Obi-Wan tried not to sigh. The Jedi Code, at least the one in the last millennium, forbade intimate relationships and marriages. Old hardliners in the Jedi profusely enforced the rules, even moreso during wartime. But Obi-Wan, the lax Jedi he was, took a different approach as he did with Luminara on the subject.
“Whatever you may think, Master Luminara, it may not be the best to worry. If they’re happy, then that should be enough. We need every light we can get during these dark times.”
“What do you mean?” Luminara asked quizzically.
“I received Bail’s message,” Obi-Wan said solemnly. “We’ve lost three more worlds. They were scorched.”
Luminara was silent for a long moment. Three worlds. Three worlds turned into burning husks. Three homes lost and lifeless. Three dead spots in the Force. “Did he say anything else?” she managed to say.
“Only that we need be ready. Refugees will coming in to Coruscant, soon enough. He said his forces will take care of them.”
“Don’t worry, Obi-Wan. This suffering won’t last for much longer.” When Obi-Wan looked at Luminara, she simply said, “The invasion is underway.”
Obi-Wan’s eyes widened. “You’re sure?” Luminara nodded, and he let out a tired breath. “At last, it will be over.”
“Good!” cried out a third voice. “I was wondering when I would finally have my wedding!”
Both Jedi turned and saw Anakin walking towards them, cape flapping behind him. As he stepped on the landing pad, Luminara pursed her lips at Kenobi. “You know, I’m still unsure it was a good idea to let your pupil in on this.”
“Anakin has proven himself capable in the past. It was his idea the masters used to form this invasion, after all,” Obi-Wan defended.
“Nice to know I’m appreciated,” Anakin spoke wily.
Luminara’s wary stare softened at the young Jedi. “I apologize,” she told him, “We are just so close to ending this war, and…”
“I know,” Anakin said, more seriously. “I get not telling the other students about this. You don’t want there be a leak.”
Nodding, the Mirialan turned to Obi-Wan. “The masters will be gathering on Coruscant to discuss the plans. Will you be there?”
“Soon, but there’s something I wish to take care of first,” Obi-Wan said, which caught Anakin’s interest.
“What are you going to do, master?” Anakin asked with interest.
“I’d like to take a detour, first. There’s a place I haven’t visited in sometime.”
“You can’t do that,” Luminara said. “You know the others have been preparing for this invasion for weeks. If we delay any longer, then we may lose the opportunity.”
“Actually,” Anakin interjected, “there’s only a week or so before we begin anything. I can substitute for Master Kenobi, in the meantime.”
Now, Obi-Wan warily stared at him. “Are you sure, Anakin?”
“Yes, master, I am.” Obi-Wan remained unconvinced, so Anakin added, “I’ve dealt with plenty of mission briefings before, master. I think I can handle a couple of meetings with the council.”
After a moment, Obi-Wan gave in. “Very well,” he agreed reluctantly. “Just don’t do anything rash.”
“Hey, it’s me,” Anakin grinned, then he turned around to leave, unaware of his mentor’s wary look.
“That’s what worries me,” Obi-Wan thought aloud as he watched another student and friend leave him.
“This sky is beautiful here,” Barriss said in her voice that sounded melodious to her fellow Jedi pupil.
Sitting beside her on the cliff, Vader commented, “It’s certainly a nice change from Coruscant.”
A silence fell over the two Jedi pupils. After giving Barriss the tour of the S’kytri camp, Vader had taken her to a secluded spot, away from constant noise of machinery and people. Here, the two watched the blue sky shift and change, as large beams of sunlight passed through parting clouds and shone on large rock formations.
Leaning back on her two hands, Barriss said, “I wish I could stay here. It seems like a nice planet to live on.”
“I know the feeling,” Vader replied, “but the locals are another story. They don’t take kindly to mere ‘land walkers.’ Anyone without wings on their sacred lands is heresy.”
“They treat you nicely.”
“Only because I helped save the planet. Anyone else won’t receive that much treatment, save for Senator Amidala, and that’s because she’s Anakin’s ‘mate.’” The slight bitterness in Vader’s modulated voice surprised Barriss. “Enough about me. How is your training going?”
“Well,” Barriss paused for moment, “I’ve been going over my saber drills back at the Temple. Master Drallig says I’m doing well, but I do have some ways to go. Maybe in a few years, I can take my trials and become a Jedi Knight.”
“What about your master? She must be doing something to help your training.” A downcast look formed on Barriss’ face, and what could seen of Vader’s own expression turned into concern. “Barriss, is everything alright?”
Barriss slowly leaned forward and hugged her knees to her chest. “It’s just… I know Master Luminara has been busy with the war effort, so she always leave me alone to my studies. But these days, she’s been meeting with other masters more often. She’s been more distant. She rarely tells me anything about these meetings… It feels like…”
“… she’s hiding something from you.” Vader saw Barriss’ surprise and explained, “Master Kenobi has been busier these days too. Whenever I ask what he’s been doing, he always says it’s a secret.”
“Do you think they have something big planned?”
“I don’t know. But they’re our teachers,” Vader said assuredly. “I’m sure they will tell us whenever they can.”
Barriss’ yellow face brightened, if just a little. “Maybe you’re right,” she whispered.
Again, the two sat there in silence and watched the sky shift and shape itself over and over again in uncertainty.