“Or a Hutt,” Padmé muttered under her breath. After that adventure they'd had getting off Tatooine, she sincerely hoped never to lay eyes on one of those creatures again. “Any idea what this planet might be called?”
“I’m not even sure where in the galaxy we are. This ship never had any navigational abilities at all, I think. We seem to have merely thought it did. We could be anywhere in the Outer Rim for all the computer can tell us. Especially now that it’s completely broken down.”
“Well, then,” Padmé turned to address her children, “now we wait until-where’s Luke, Leia?” Leia was watching anxiously, but Luke was nowhere in sight.
“Why he’s...” started Leia, turning her head, and then stopping, astonished. “I don’t know. He was right next to me a minute ago.”
“Oh no,” Padmé groaned. “Maybe he just stepped outside the ship. Ben, can you sense him?”
Ben already had his eyes closed in concentration. Then he snapped open, and he exclaimed, “He’s quite some way away!” All three of them leapt to their feet and raced outside the ship, Ben in the lead.
The planet had looked bleak enough from space, but that was nothing compared to standing on the surface. The ground was grey and hard, and Padmé could feel how cold it was even through her boots. There was a very tiny amount of plant life, tiny pale stalks which looked more like dead weeds littering the landscape. The atmosphere was barely thick enough to support them; once they found Luke they’d all four have to get back into the ship as quickly as possible, and as a result the entire sky was white with the glare of the planet’s sun and painful to look at.
Ben seemed to have a good enough idea of where Luke was, and at least his path led downhill, and on a usefully steep incline. It may have been Padmé’s imagination, or the air might have felt better after five minutes of walking, by which time her lungs were already aching.
As the pain in her chest got worse, Padmé felt most of the rest of her brain shut off as she blindly followed Ben. She had no idea how long or far they walked after the first ten minutes, before suddenly air rushed into her lungs and pulled her back to attention, and her eyes widened.
They were in a large valley, though that didn’t quite explain this sudden rush of oxygen. Distant grey cliffs loomed around them, and out of the ground grew a huge gnarly mound of stone, around which blue lightening danced, letting out a faint crackling through the still thin air.
“Can there even be lightening on a planet with an atmosphere like this?” asked Leia, her voice weak from lack of oxygen.
“I don’t know,” answered Ben, “but that thing’s a cave, and Luke’s inside it.”
They found the opening on the other side, so close to the ground that they’d have to crawl through. Ben knelt down by it, then looked back up at his two companions and said, “Maybe you two should stay out here.” When both protested, he shook his head and said, “Very well. But let me warn you, there is much darkness here. I’m going in first.”
He stuck his head into the entrance, he crawled forward several inches, and they heard him exclaim, “Ah!”
“What is it?” asked Padmé kneeling down in alarm, holding back gasps at her knees hit the freezing rock.
“This cave is bigger than I thought. I’ll go in, and then help the two of you down.”
“Down?” Padmé repeated in confusion, but Ben was already pushing himself through the hole, and she could hear the faint tumble of rocks as his feet slid out of sight.
Mother and daughter looked at each other, then Padmé gingerly lowered her body down, her head passing into the cave. So much contact with the cold rocks was almost painful, but again oxygen rushed into her lungs, and the burning sensation in her chest abated.
“Full oxygen down here, I think,” said Ben. The cave was very dimly lit from the far end, where light spilled over from an adjoining passage; she could just make out the figure of Ben standing out against the rocks. The cave floor was several feet down from its entrance.
Even down here it was cold; Padmé was grateful for Ben’s warmth as he scooped her off the ledge and set her down. They heard Leia’s exclamations as she came into contact with the ground. She scrambled down with Ben’s aid.
“Luke’s in there,” she said, pointing towards the far end. Ben nodded. Padmé could now hear two voices speaking, and one of them sounded like Luke’s, though she could not tell what they were saying.
Only when they stepped into the passage did the words become clear: first Luke, saying, “I’m not sure.”
Then the voice of a young woman: “Then we’re still stuck, aren’t we?” There was something about her voice that made Padmé freeze in terror. “Don’t try to get up yet,” it said. “I only have so much spare oxygen.”
“Padmé, come on!” Ben called to her impatiently, and she staggered forward.
“That’s Ben!” they heard Luke exclaim.
“Obi-Wan, you mean,” replied the woman, and now Padmé was sure about that voice, but she couldn’t understand it, let alone believe it.
“Well, I’m used to calling him Ben. Come in, Ben, it’s all right.”
The young woman was younger than Padmé had thought; she couldn’t have been older than Luke and Leia. She had long red hair and wore black clothes that were clearly too small on her. She had been turned towards Luke, who was seated on a metal case, but she turned and looked at the three of them as they came in, and sure enough, Padmé saw Anakin’s blue eyes. She shut her own eyes against them.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Master,” she heard. “We meet again at last. The circle is now complete; when I left I was but a learner, but I return from the Force a Master.”
“Do you really?” Ben answered. “Or only as a Master of evil? You know the answer to that; tell it to me. Why won’t your own wife look at you?”
Padmé forced her eyes open, and that put an end to the last of her doubts; the girl bore her husband’s smile, and then his frown. “Fine. If you won’t talk to me, talk to her.” She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again they had turned green. She strode forward and said, “So you’re Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Ben, as he calls you.” She glanced back at Luke, who shrugged.
“I am. Who are you, and what are you?”
“What am I?” She didn’t sound like him at all now. Padmé felt herself calm. “A Force-sensitive human, same as you. My name is Mara Jade.”
“That doesn’t explain anything.”
“I was just getting to that. I don’t how your old apprentice survived as a ghost; there are some things he doesn’t let me know. He died on the Emperor’s shuttle, when the medical equipment they’d been using to keep him alive malfunctioned, though noone realized it until the shuttle had landed in the part of Coruscant known as The Works. You’ve heard the term?”
“I haven’t,” said Leia.
“It’s a deserted part of Coruscant,” Ben explained to her. “Old, broken-down factories. We thought for a long time that the Sith might be operating there.”
“They were. Darth Sidious, my former Master, brought me there as a baby to train me in the Force, and to serve him as his Hand. So I would have done, were it not for Anakin. He haunted the shuttle for a long time, then The Works. One day, when I was seven years of age, the Emperor oversaw a test of my skills. I...didn’t do well. He hurt me, in punishment. What he didn’t realize was that Anakin was present, and that he was appalled. He was never entirely evil, Master Kenobi, and taken from his body and senses, isolated in his mind, he changed.”
So Padmé had told Ben before. Ben had been skeptical. Being proven right made her feel a little better.
“I think I might have helped too; he's told me I remind him of his old apprentice, and he wanted to help me. On my own, I would have taken the punishment, seen it as right. But Anakin touched my mind, spoke to me, slowly convinced me that I must escape my servitude. He told me what to do so I could escape, make it look as if I had accidently killed myself. I have been free from the Emperor for over five years thanks to him. He shares my mind with me now, and will do so until he has done what he must and can pass into the Force.”
“He goes further than Qui-Gon would ever have dared,” Obi-Wan observed. “What he does to you may not be right.”
“He does what he must,” Mara Jade insisted, and Padmé knew there would be no arguing with the girl; she too was reminded of Ashoka a little. “We learned about the four of you a year ago, and he had a vision of your arrival, so we came to greet you.”
“What do you want?” Padmé asked, stunning herself in the process.
“To join you,” Mara answered, unfazed. “If you join the growing rebellion, we will join as well. Though we ask that for the time being, you keep Anakin’s being with me to yourselves.”
Luke spoke up. “We should accept them. Even putting him aside, she’s all right.”
“How much do you really know about her, Luke?” Ben pointed out.
“Master, you heard my story,” Mara pleaded. “I want to learn how to be a Jedi. Anakin can teach me only so much. Luke said you’re already training him, and her.” She pointed to Leia. “If you’re already training two people, why not three?”
“There are almost no Jedi left now,” Leia reminded them.
“Look, at least take us with you off this planet. Our ship was almost dead when it landed here; we’ll never get it off the planet now.”
“Well, we can’t do that,” Ben informed her, “because we’ll never get our own ship off the planet either. I’ve wired the radio to send a signal; I’m hoping we’ll be taken off by a smuggler or somesuch, preferably one not working for the Hutts. Which gives me time to think about it.”
Mara’s eyes flashed a blue hue, and she said, “Fine!” and turned away, angry.
“Anakin,” said Ben, and she turned back, reproaching them with his blue eyes. “What you did is very difficult to forgive. You must remember that.”
“You need me,” she replied. “And you know it.”
Then his eyes fell on Padmé’s face, and she saw the question. “No,” she said without hesitation, even as it cracked her heart into a clean break. “I can’t go back, Ani. I’m sorry.”