Chapter 16: Between Breaths

SUMMARY: [ABY 20] Fifteen-year-old Ben Solo is perched on the brink of life and death, facing his own demons and the despair left behind by one of the Death Star’s first target shots — a gaping and charred chasm on Crait known as the Abyss. His friend, Ymateb, is desperate to save him.

Chirrut Ymateb was in a panic now. She knew, as an aspirant Disciple of the Whills, that the moment between breaths was the balance of the Force. Between life and death. Rest and action. Serenity and passion. Hope and despair. She had to find that balance for Ben Solo. She had to break the pull of the darkness.

“Ben,” she whispered softly, urgently, turning back to face him when he didn’t follow. The call of the Abyss filled his ears and was starting to buzz in hers. She winced and shook her head, determined. “Ben, where you see darkness, I see stars.” She held up the letter Maz Kanata had sent, bearing messages from his parents and uncle. “These people love you. They’ve not forgotten you.” She reach for his hand and squeezed it, her dark almond eyes glistening beneath the red headdress that marked her as a Disciple and kept the glare of Crait’s sun at bay.

Ben Solo, Jedi Padawan learner and honored guest, didn’t blink. The black chasm still had his complete attention. She couldn’t see his face — he’d drawn his hood up against the brilliant sun — but she knew his expression was one of deep despair. She couldn’t let the Abyss claim him, so she did the one thing the Force told her to do.

Was it the Force?

Ymateb grabbed him by the hood, pulled his face to hers and kissed him on the lips before either of them knew what was happening. For a split second, she was terrified her bold move might send him leaping over the edge in horror, but instead he kissed her back, soft and slow. When they pulled apart, their breath coming faster now, they stood clinging to each other, unsure of…everything.

Finally, Ben broke the silence. “Let’s run away together — as far as we can go.”

She pulled back a little to look him in the eye. “What? How, silly? We don’t have a ship…or did you mean on foot?” She was stepping away now, making a sweeping gesture that took in the far horizon, opposite the crater. “Look around. There’s nothing here but salt. We have to rely on the supply lines for food.”

“We can stow away on the next supply ship and go wherever we want.”

She gave a little snort. “And then what? How will we live?”

“You can sell your paintings,” he suggested, stepping closer, “and I’ll be a pilot.”

Ymateb smiled a sweet smile that lit up her tender face. She was human, born on Jedha the year the Rebel Alliance blasted the remnants of the Imperial fleet out of the Jakku skies, the same year Ben was born on Chandrilla. She barely remembered the ash and smoke that clogged her lungs, but her belly never forgot the hunger.

“I have a better idea,” she soothed, her voice barely above a whisper. “Why don’t we run towards — runs towards life.” She took both his hands in hers, pulling as she stepped backwards away from the lip of the chasm. “Towards hope.” Three steps more. “Towards balance.”

She stopped, letting him catch up to her and kiss her again. “I shouldn’t let you do that,” she whispered, eyes still closed as she enjoyed the lingering sensation. “I’m ruining your vow.”

“What vow?” he murmured into the folds of her headdress. He’d never seen her hair. He assumed it was long, black, and strait like that of her father, Chirrut Neges. He started to reach for the red cloth, hoping she’d let him draw it back so he could see more of her beauty.

Ymateb stepped back. “Your Jedi vow.” When his face fell and he looked away, she said timidly, “Don’t you want to be a Jedi?”

He shrugged.

She bit her lip, studying him. “I envy you. Your uncle’s going to teach you the ways of the Force and you’ll be able to know it in a way I can only dream about.” She took a step closer. “You’ll be able to defend the helpless.” Her palm found his chest. “You’ll be a hero.” She sighed and gave him a pat. “But you’re not supposed to have attachments.”

He gazed at her longingly from beneath his hood. “It’s too late,” he told her softly and touched her cheek.

Her warm fingers closed around his. “Then stay here with us. Guardians do not put such unnatural restriction on themselves. All is as the Force wills it.” She squeezed his hand. “The Force brought you to us.”

Slowly, his mouth stretched into a wide grin and she beamed back at him, reflecting the light in his eyes.

By the time they made their way back to the compound nestled into the caves, twilight was settling in and the howling yips of vulptices echoed off the rocks. Chirrut Neges met them at the door, staff in hand, his sightless eyes lifted to the bright star on the horizon, his long black hair stirring in the night breeze.

“Life binds the living, does it not, Padawan Solo?”

Ben nodded, then remembered the Guardian couldn’t see, although it never seemed like the man couldn’t see. Did Neges know he’d kissed his daughter? Ben’s face colored as he answered, “Yes,” giving Ymateb a sidewise smirk.

Neges held out a hand to his young charges and ushered them in. “In darkness, you must follow the light to find your way to the beginning again and again and again,” he told them with an encouraging smile as the simple wooden door swung to behind them, shutting out the night.

 

@MyKyloRen  15 June 2018

NOTE: The following quotes were borrowed from Rucka, Greg. (2017). Star Wars: Guardians of the Whills. Los Angeles: Disney Press.”The balance of the Force is found between life and death. Rest and action. Serenity and passion. Hope and despair,” “Where you see darkness, I see stars,” and “Life binds the living.”

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Chapter 15: The Letter

SUMMARY: [ABY 20] Padawan Ben Solo has been left with the Guardians of the Whills, an order of monks who protect an enclave of the Disciples of the Whills — a fellow order devoted to the Force — on the abandoned world of Crait. After two long years, Ben finally receives a handwritten note from his family, but their message arrives a little too late.

“Ben, no…wait!”

Chirrut Ymateb struggled to keep up with the long strides of Padawan Ben Solo as they neared the massive crater. To the untrained eye, the gaping chasm in the planet’s crust might have resulted from an asteroid impact eons ago, but the red crystalline rock said otherwise. The perfect obsidian disk, stretching to the horizon and several kilometers deep had been cut by a super laser. A death laser, the size of a moon.

“We’re not supposed to go there,” Ymateb tried again, catching hold of Ben’s sleeve. “The Force is strong in the Abyss, but it’s corrupted — an abomination. Nothing good comes out of that hole.”

Ben paused for a moment to look down at his friend. At fifteen, Ymateb looked like any other initiate of the Disciples of the Whills, covered from head to toe in layers of soft, red wool, but she was far more lovely.

The order — the handful that had survived — had been chased from the ashes of Jedha after the fledgling Death Star used the moon as a test subject. The sacred moon had crumbled in a rain of fiery ashes in the years following, and through the supply runs of the Rebel Alliance, the Guardians — those faithful servants who protected the Disciples and the Temple of the Kyber — had found a new home on Crait. Ironically, Crait was another remote world the Empire had tested its new superweapon on, but either satisfied or unsatisfied with the results, the Imperial Navy had moved on and Crait was forgotten, making its far side the perfect location for a Rebel base-in-the-planning. But crystalline Crait had even resisted that distinction. The “base” with its mining operations lay abandoned.

“Then why is there a temple there?” Ben countered flatly, gesturing with his chin to a small stone structure perched on the rim.

Ymateb had never seen the place, except from a discreet distance, but she’d heard the tales. “The one who built it died the day it was finished. The darkness of the Abyss was too strong a call to him. The Followers of the Central Isopter came to worship the shadow of Death there. They thought Death was the answer to all questions. They’re dead now. We watched them jump into the chasm.” She looked away, pulling the cloth of her headdress closer. “I hope they found their answers.”

Ben looked at her, a great sadness pooling in his eyes, then back at the crater. Then he was off again, his pace quickening into a sprint, the scrap of paper he clenched in his fist fluttering to the white salt-sand.

Ymateb stooped to retrieve the note and made to run after him, but the hand-written message gave her pause. She knew she shouldn’t read it — it was a private communication — but something in it had summoned a black cloud to blot out the light in Ben’s eyes — those pretty eyes. Ben had said nothing after reading it — just silently turned heel and walked out of the refectory that evening and across the salt flats towards the sinking sun and the waiting Abyss.

Deciding she could better help her friend — her Jedi brother — if she knew what troubled him, Ymateb decided to read the letter. It wasn’t too hard, written in Old Basic by someone who understood the only way to get a message to the monastery was via script and hand-delivery. The Guardian/Disciple enclave eschewed all technology, making their home in the lantern-lit caves.

Keeping one eye on Ben’s receding form, Ymateb read as quickly as she could:

Ben, my precious boy, I know you have mastered the art of reading forgotten script — the better for passing messages through the hyperspace lanes undeciphered. My hands aren’t what they used to be, but your eyes are better than mine, so you should be able to read these scribbles. Your mother misses you and has this to say:

“Sweetie, I know I promised to visit a standard year ago, but the refugee situation on Akiva required more meetings and referendums than I’d planned. It’s resolved now and by one vote (I like to think mine), but we’re unable to get to you. I’ll let your father explain. Sending you this quilt, made by Grandma Breha, along with my love.”

“Ben, your Uncle Luke here. Well, I wish I were there with you. You must feel we abandoned you. I know I would. I never planned on getting stuck on Lah’mu for a year after my X-wing went down in the lava fields and needed extensive repairs. Raising it out of the lava was easier than getting parts this far out. But I’ve found some amazing artifacts. I can’t wait for you to see them. Still no sign of the first Jedi yet, but I’ll come for you as soon as I finish setting up the training temple and it’s safe.”

“Hey, kid. How you doing? Dad. Maz is an angel to transcribe all this from a messy holo. You’re probably bored with the food and games there. Do they really have no technology? Listen, about the Falcon — there’s this Mygeeto gangster on her tail. I’m going to have to lay low for a while, but you’re in good hands. At least that’s what Luke says. Hopefully, by the time the Pilot’s Union meets again, this little misunderstanding will have blown over. Anyway, take care of yourself. Your mom says eat all your vegetables.”

That’s it for now, kiddo. But that Wookiee friend of yours says, “Chin up. And may the Force be with you.”

                                                                                                                                                 — Maz

Ymateb finished reading, tucked the letter in her belt, and hurried to catch up to its recipient.

Ben was standing now on the rim of the crater, peering down into the seared depths that had once been red crystal but were down fused obsidian. He wiped an eye with the back of his hand.

“Eat all my vegetables,” he quoted to Ymateb without turning around as she came up behind him. “That’s what they told me.” He bit his lip to keep it from trembling. “Eat all my vegetables!”

Despair welled up from the Abyss. He could feel it thread its way through his bones and worm its tendrils into his mind. One jump, the chasm whispered, and the lonely agony of existence would be over. The darkness would close around him — a velvet shroud that would bring him peace. Parents, refugees, the Jedi — none of them would matter anymore. He would never be alone again because the darkness would be there…always. Ymateb felt it too and shuddered. She gripped Ben’s arm and gave a gentle tug. “Come on. Let’s go back to dinner.”

But Ben’s eyes were unfocused as he stared unblinking into the distance. “Listen to the call of the darkness,” he intoned.

 

@MyKyloRen   8 June 2018 

Chapter 14: These are Your First Steps

SUMMARY: Padawan Ben Solo gets a peek inside Maz Kanata’s curio box and into something else entirely. Maz takes a good look into Ben’s eyes and suggests that Luke start his Jedi training temple without his nephew.

He had it. Ben Solo had his fingers wrapped around the hilt of the lightsaber. His lightsaber. It was just lying there, collecting dust, waiting for him. It was old, had seen many battles, but the design was flawless. He wouldn’t have to build his own, and considering kyber crystals were scarce now, that was a relief. Inside the hilt and perfectly centered, the blue kyber crystal called to him. It was bonding with him. He could sense it.

And then it was gone.

His fingers curled around nothing.

Ben sat back on his heels, blinking stupidly, feeling foolish. He looked over at Luke and Maz, then at R2-D2, thinking one of them had snatched the lightsaber from his grasp. The droid was beeping merrily, sizing up a shiny new universal computer interface arm found in a pile of scrap. Neither adult held the laser sword, but both were looking at him with concern.

Luke came to stand over his nephew, reaching out a hand to him. “What is it?” He peered into the wroshyr-wood chest and saw a diatium power core along with an ancient hyperspace sextant wrapped in a cloth, but nothing alarming.

“It was right there!” Ben wailed, his fingers splayed over the wrapping Luke had replaced, covering the sextant again.

“Take that,” Maz told Luke with a nod to the sextant.

“I’m not sure that old thing would do us much good when we’ve got a new nav computer,” Luke pointed out.

Maz held up a finger. “New for now. Never get caught in the Outer Rim without one of these,” she cautioned, retrieving the instrument from the chest and handing it to him.

Ben got to his feet, fuming. They weren’t going to ignore and toy with him any more. “What did you do with it?” he cried, balling his fists at his side.

“Do with what?” Luke set the sextant aside, turned, and gripped his nephew by the arms.

“You don’t want me to have it! You took it for yourself!” he snarled.

The Jedi Master gave his Padawan a little shake. “Ben, what are you talking about?” He glanced down at the sextant. “You’re welcome to that old bit of history. R2 can teach you how to use it.”

Ben shook his head, biting his lip. Luke could sense the struggle building within his sister’s son — a struggle to remain in control.

Maz stepped closer. “He see what few others can see. The Force — it has revealed something to him.”

“Ben,” Luke said more gently, “tell us what you saw.” He caught his nephew’s lithe body as the boy went limp and eased him down on an overturned crate.

Maz Kanata followed and sat down on the dusty boards beside Ben, laying a hand on his forehead. “Close your eyes, Ben Solo, and feel the Force surround you and cradle you. Feel its essence lift and carry you in its current.” She looked up at Luke, adjusting her goggles. “He is in good hands for the moment. We can talk now.”

Luke gave her a dubious look, but he could sense the boy’s heart rate slowing and a calm washing over him. The Jedi Master pulled up a crate. “Do you know what he saw?” he said in an eager whisper.

Maz’s alien eyes were huge behind her goggles. “More importantly, I think, is what found him on Jakku.”

Luke sighed and ran a hand over weary eyes. “A Sith holocron. I thought it best to leave it there and seal the lab. I’ll go back and destroy it when I understand what it may have done to Ben. We may still need it.”

“His eyes,” Maz said gravely are not entirely his own. Sometimes Ben Solo is there behind them, and sometimes there is another — old eyes that spy through the holes in the galaxy.”

“A Sith?” Luke breathed as a cold chill ran up his spine. “We all believed the Emperor was the last.”

Maz closed her eyes, searching her memories back through the thousand years of her life. “There are beings more ancient and more deadly than the Sith. They lurk in the Shadow Realm beyond the edges of the galaxy and get through when there’s a tear in the Force.” She looked down at Ben and stroked his dark wavy hair. “There is a tear in this boy, but he is strong, like his family. The Skywalker blood flows through him.”

Ben stirred and struggled to sit up. “Where is it?” he mumbled groggily. He sounded exhausted, defeated. “The lightsaber — the one constructed by the Chosen One. The one given to the Last Jedi.”

“Ben?” Luke leaned closer and took his nephew’s face in his hands. “Where did you see this lightsaber?”

“In the chest.” The Padawan’s eyes went out of focus and threatened to roll back in his head. He struggled to concentrate on his uncle’s face. “She was reaching for it. She was going to steal it.”

“Who, Ben?”

“The girl.” The words were heavy on his tongue. “The scavenger in the AT-AT…on Jakku.”

Luke frowned. “The one in your vision?”

With great effort, Ben nodded.

Maz wasn’t going to pry. This was a private Jedi matter between a Master and his Padawan. Still, the sweet boy — the son of her favorite smuggler — so full now of anger and confusion, was the focus of some rarefied attention in the galaxy. She’d be damned if she was going to let the darkness win.

“Take him” she urged Luke, “to New Jedha. There are Guardians there. If anyone can help you make sense of this vision, they can.”

Luke got to his feet and lifted Ben, unconscious and making soft fretting noises. “We were headed there next.”

“And, Luke –” Maz Kanata laid a hand on his sleeve — “leave this one to train with the monks there. Start your school in the most hidden place you can find!”

“I won’t abandon him,” Luke told her flatly. “He’s my sister’s son.”

“If the teachings of the Guardians can focus the light in him, you won’t have to.”

 

@MyKyloRen   1 June 2018

Chapter 13: Fulfill Your Destiny

CHAPTER SUMMERY: [ABY 18] Luke Skywalker brings his Padawan Ben Solo to Maz Kanata on Takodana for a bit of rest and advice after a scare with a Sith Holocron…and for an evaluation. The layover proves to be anything but relaxing.

“Master Luke!” She stretched out her lanky arms to him, the gold bangles clinking and clanking their own joy. “Now that’s a name that’s soft on the ears.”

“Maz!” Luke Skywalker was on one knee now, folding the powerhouse little being into his robes. “I told you I’d be back this way before long…and with my first student.”

Maz Kanata — pirate, smuggler, and wise-woman extraordinaire — pulled back to look up at him with a wide grin, adjusting goggles too big for her tiny, wrinkled face, her hand dropping to grip his. She looked over his shoulder with great anticipation. “Where’s that boy who used to run into my arms?”

“On the Falcon. I’ve got him cleaning the air-cooling intakes, so we can talk.”

Maz let go of Luke’s hand and took a few steps down the stairs leading from the grand doors of the place folks referred to as her “castle.” Flags of every color flapped in the breeze, heralding its owner’s bigger-than-life personality…and her underground connections throughout the galaxy. She stopped and pointed at the Millennium Falcon nestled in the shadows of the Takodana forest. “Guess again.”

Her eyes twinkled as she watched the dark-haired boy laughing at the flock of purra-bird hatchlings at the foot of the ramp. The baby avians had come to inspect the ship, chirping up at it and giving the landing gear a friendly pecking. Ben reached out and touched a finger to one of the fuzzy heads. A second later, it was cuddled in his arms like a kitten.

“The heart goes where it wants,” Maz informed the Jedi Master with a grin, “and the soul follows.” She grew silent for a moment and folded her thin arms. “That one there has his father’s heart.” She looked up at Luke. “Why do you worry? Han Solo is a good soul.”

Luke sighed and sat down on the step beside her so he could look her in the eye. “It’s not that.” He made a helpless gesture. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

“At the beginning, Master Jedi,” Maz encouraged.

He nodded and took a deep breath. “Ben Solo possessed a strength in the Force I’ve never seen before.” He glanced briefly about. The castle was a haven for shady characters — most harmless undergrounders, awkward and marginalized, and all on the run from the law — but the Jedi and pirate were alone in the cool spring air. Luke went on, “He’s learning to control and use it in ways I haven’t taught him.”

She place a diminutive long-fingered hand on his. “All masters fear and rejoice the day their apprentices grow beyond them.”

“Maz, he knows about Vader and the Emperor despite all the New Republic had done to classify Imperial propaganda.” Luke’s flesh-and-blood hand went suddenly cold. “When I search for it on the deep-space nets, I come up empty-handed, but he’s found it.”

To his surprise, Maz chuckled. “He’ll grow up to be a rarefied slicer, that one.”

Luke found himself chuckling too.

“That’s a skill that might come in handy in your quest for the first Jedi texts.” She poked a good-natured finger at him.

He smiled and nodded, but his expression grew serious again as he watched his nephew scamper about the Falcon, dodging and laughing with the purra-birds that had clearly imprinted on him. All twenty little birds wanted to be cuddled. R2-D2 was there now, clearly protective of Ben in its attempt to lead the hatchlings off with beeps and whistles that mimicked their chirps. The droid’s failed pied piper ruse only added to the comedy.

“You once tried to tell me Vader was my father, but I wasn’t ready to listen. You said, ‘You have the courage and strength of Anakin Skywalker. Remember that when you face Vader.’” He looked at her long and hard. “How did you know?”

Maz squeezed his human hand. “When you’ve lived long enough, you see the same eyes in different people. I knew Anakin Skywalker before the dark times. I wish you could have too.”

After a moment, Luke said, “I need you to tell me what you see in the eyes of Ben Solo.”

“If, my boy –” she held up a long, leathery finger — “you are ready to listen.” Her smirk was sweet and the smells wafting through the heavy old doors were welcoming as she pulled them open. “Come, Lost Luke, and let’s see if we can aid you in your quest for dinner.”

#   #  #

Ben Solo had been in a lot of spacer cantinas, dingy diners, and pompous banquets, but he’d never visited a place quite like Maz’s castle. Where he’d normally keep to the shadows and eye every face with suspicion, he sat with Luke and Maz at the table she reserved for her favorites and laughed, sampling everything on his plate and more.

“I haven’t seen you,” Maz told him, her eyes bright, “since you were my size, but I’d recognize that laugh anywhere.”

Han’s thirteen-year-old son grinned. “I came here with Dad and Chewie,” he said, remembering. “You had all these droid parts in your storage rooms.” He didn’t miss a beat. “Do you still have them? I want to build my own droid.”

Maz laughed. “When you collect the galaxy’s junk and trade off the good stuff, what you’re left with is droid parts.”

That comment earned a retort of resentful beeps from R2.

“She didn’t mean anything by it,” Luke told the droid, rolling his eyes. When R2-D2 went on, indignantly rocking from side to side, Luke said, “I know. I know. You can use a new linear actuator.”

Maz got up from the table and motioned them to follow, leading the way down wide stone steps. Ben jumped them two at a time, while R2 ignited his rockets and met them at the bottom. “Child, you are welcome to anything in this room,” she told Ben, opening the door at the end of the hall, “if your uncle gives you a smile.”

“Got any spare actuators?” Luke grumbled but enjoying the scavenger hunt.

The storage room was full of recovered treasures and not-so-treasures from various smuggling routes, antiques the Hutts had stolen long ago, and forgotten bits no longer desirable for collateral or trade. Ben eagerly dived into one box after another, holding up trinkets and whatsits for a better look. He carried around an old fusion cutter head until he knelt and opened a wroshyr-wood chest. The tool fell from his grasp as he peered inside the trunk.

A voice. A cold voice said inside his head as he reached for the lightsaber in the box, “Take it — the Skywalker legacy — take it up and fulfill…your…destiny!”

 

@MyKyloRen   25 May 2018 

Chapter 12: It’s Not Too Late

CHAPTER SUMMARY: [ABY 18] After departing Jakku with his uncle and master, Padawan Ben Solo acts out his frustration of needing to return home for a medical evaluation. Luke manages to convince Leia otherwise and has a plan to help Ben by visiting an old friend.

“We’re about to make the jump to hyperspace. I need a decision here.” Luke Skywalker rubbed tired eyes, then focused again on his concerned twin. “He’s your son, of course, but we could save a lot time and fuel if we stop to see Maz first.”

The hologram of Leia Organa sighed. After a moment, she said, “If you think she can help, then Han can hitch a ride to the Five Sabers.” Luke knew she was referring to the piloting championship Han helped oversee on Theron. “He’ll have my head for letting you keep the Falcon longer, but Han needs to learn what’s important.”

Even though it was the answer he’d hoped for, Luke’s gaze turned sad. The years since Yavin had passed so quickly. He’d been a kid then, foolhardy and fearless, not so different from Han Solo. Luke’s mediocre existence had gone from evaporators and power converters to X-wings and lightsabers in a split second. Now his life was all about preparing the way for the next generation to inherit the galaxy…and all its problems.

“I wish old Ben were here,” he heard himself say.

Leia’s smile was warm. “It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last you’ll wish that.” She held her brother’s gaze for a few seconds. “Hurry home.”

Then she was gone.

Luke sat back in the pilot’s chair, giving himself a moment to collect his thoughts before he sought out his nephew — probably playing Dejarik again. The jump itself would be easy. R2 had already fed the coordinates into the nav computer. It was the conversation Luke needed to have with Ben that worried him. Child psychologist Dr. Amanda Snoke had hopped a transport on Jakku that would take her on to Chandrilla. Luke was alone now with his nephew. Leia didn’t know about Ben’s interest in Darth Vader and Luke wasn’t about to tell her unless it became necessary. Maybe…just maybe…Ben would never need to know that Vader was his grandfather — only the name Anakin Skywalker would mean something, as it had to Luke when he was a boy. Luke would have to spend countless hours scouring the galaxy’s archives to determine if the two names were ever linked before he could bring up the given name of his Jedi father.

Was it right to withhold the truth from Leia’s son?

Luke was pondering this conundrum, flipping switches and pushing buttons, making the final preparations for the jump to lightspeed when all the hairs stood up on the back of his neck.

A portside explosion shook the Millennium Falcon in a series of waves.

“Ben!”

The Jedi Master was down the passage, through the access tube, and in the gun turret faster than a Rodian can blink. “What are you doing?”

It wasn’t a question but a shriek.

Asteroids. A small debris field. There weren’t many and there were even fewer now.

“I hate you!” the boy screamed. He blasted another rock into bits of dust with the quad laser canon. “I hate all of you!”

In the gunner’s seat, Ben grasped the twin firing grips, swiveled the laser barrels, and locked onto another asteroid. He squeezed the triggers, biting his lower lip, dark waves of hair hanging in his face. Without using the targeting computer, his aim was perfect. Of course, the target wasn’t darting and weaving, Luke thought, like the womp rats he himself had hunted as a boy. The Jedi Master could feel the boy fighting against the gravity compensator. Ben hadn’t taken time to allow his body to grow accustomed to it, and dizziness was setting in.

Luke knew there were no ships in the vicinity and the asteroids were uninhabited — even by mynocks. Still, the kid was wasting valuable energy from the Falcon’s Quadex power core. Luke could have reached out with the Force and nudged the laser actuators, scattering the beams into an ineffective burst, taking all the fun out of shooting. Instead, he just folded his arms and quietly waited for human physiology to do its thing.

In a moment, Ben Solo passed out. His uncle scooped him up and carried him to a couch in the lounge. He waited until Leia’s son regained consciousness and could focus.

“What happened?” Ben blinked big eyes.

Luke gave him a smirk. “For some reason, you hate asteroids.”

When Ben’s memories came flooding back, they came on a riptide of raw emotion. With a snarl, he gathered the Force around him — dark tendrils of it — and pushed it at Luke. But Luke was ready. The boy was strong, and the Jedi Master had to grit his teeth to ward off the blow. Ben fell back on the cushions, spent.

“I hate you!” Ben clarified. “You don’t understand! I hate her!”

“Who?” Luke asked patiently.

“My mother! She’s never there when I need her!”

“Your mother loves you.”

Ben ignored him. “And when I don’t need her, she comes around and messes everything up!” He balled a fist at his side.

Luke sighed and placed a gentle hand over the fist. “It’s that way with all parents. The aunt and uncle who raised me weren’t any different.”

This revelation gave the Padawan pause. “Mom never talks about your…parents — my grandparents — only the people who adopted her.” He gave his uncle a doleful but hopeful look.

“We didn’t know our parents.” Luke’s gaze was unfocused, but after a beat, he looked upon Ben and smiled. “But it’s not too late to get to know yours.” He rose and held out a hand. “Come on, kid. We’re not headed back to Hosnian Prime after all. Your Mom says we can go on with our journey. We’re going to see an old friend of mine.”

 

@MyKyloRen   9 May 2018 

 

Chapter 11: Until We Meet Again

SUMMARY: [ABY 18] Padawan Ben Solo has suffered an attack by a hostile security device guarding the abandoned Imperial lab on Jakku. Leia insists he return home to Hosnian Prime for medical treatment, but before he and Luke depart the planet, Ben has one last encounter with an intriguing little girl in the market of Niima Outpost.

“Mom, I’m ok!” Ben Solo rolled his eyes.

He didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. He’d accidentally tripped a booby trap in the deserted lab and the device had given him quite a shock — or at least that’s what they’d told him. He really didn’t remember much about that day they explored the caves beneath Carbon Ridge.

Leia’s face in holo image said otherwise. “Sweetie, we don’t know exactly what that device did to you. We need to have our medical droids check you out.”

“But can’t you upload my records to the Falcon and have some droid here check me out?” Ben protested.

Heading back to Hosnian Prime was going to severely cut the time he and Luke could spend in the Mid Rim. The Millennium Falcon was at their disposal for a limited time, and Luke was a bit short of credits to hire transport this far out.

Shaking her head, Leia sighed. Ben was so much like Han when faced with a roadblock in his path. He’d try to talk his way out of anything unless she immediately put a stop to it. “There are no droids on Jakku to be trusted, no medical establishment to speak of. The Senate is working hard to change that, but….”

“Frag the Senate!” Ben launched himself out of the co-pilot’s chair and began to pace.

“Ben!” That colorful word he hadn’t learned from Han, or her, for that matter — although he’d certainly learned a lot of other choice words. Her son’s frustration level had just exploded. She’d have to let him vent.

“We won’t even be able to go to Jedha now!” Ben was fuming, arms flailing, pacing. “I got my lightsaber half-built and Luke promised we could hunt for kyber crystals.”

“I know, sweetie, but it’ll have to wait.”

He whirled back to face her. “You’re not a Jedi! You don’t understand!”

Leia closed her eyes in an effort to center herself. It was a technique she used to keep her temper more and more often these days. “Let me talk to your uncle. Is he still outside?”

“Mom,” Ben tried again, taking a deep breath, “Dr. Snoke’s checked me out.”

“Inasmuch as she can,” Leia cut in, “but there are still some tests you need that she can’t perform. She doesn’t have the equipment.” She gave him a stern but not unsympathetic look. “Now, go…get…Luke.”

With a grunt, Ben hit the button, opening the freighter doors with a hydraulic hiss, and stalked down the ramp and out into the heat of the Jakku desert. He found his uncle underneath the Falcon in the shade.

“I’ll do everything I can,” Lor San Tekka was saying, grasping Luke’s flesh-and-blood hand in his, “to keep an eye on the little one. Her parents are decent folk but have fallen on hard times.”

He turned to look at the little girl in question — just a wispy thing that would blow away in a strong wind. She stood in an awninged stall near the gates of the landing field, head cocked to one side, squinting at the passersby. Her mother, working for Unkar Plutt, sold what last-minute supplies and trinkets she could to departing spacers and worked her pottery wheel.

“They don’t know she’s Force-sensitive,” San Tekka commented ruefully. “Too many mouths to feed to notice.”

Ben edged his way in and gave Luke a doleful look. “Mom wants to talk to you.”

The Jedi Master inclined his head to San Tekka and gave the old family friend a warm farewell before disappearing up the ramp, leaving Ben one last chance to look around before their departure.

“Tell your mother, young prince,” San Tekka told the boy with a smile, “she may be a senator now, but she’ll always be royalty to me.”

Ben flashed him a lopsided grin. “I will.” And watched the man slip into the shade of the market stalls.

In truth, there wasn’t much to see on the outskirts of Niima Outpost — just a few foul-smelling happabores lustily drinking from murky troughs beyond the sand-blasted fences. His eyes came to rest on the last booth where the girl and mother were uncrating things. Amanda Snoke was there too, chatting with the potter woman and smiling down at the child. Ben shrugged and sauntered slowly in their direction. He hadn’t perused that booth and he still had a few credits. Maybe there was something interesting he could putter with on the long journey home.

“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” Dr. Snoke was saying amiably but with some urgency. “Your daughter would get the finest education the New Republic can offer — at no expense to you — and rich opportunities she can only dream of now.”

The woman — scrawny, care-worn, and aged before her time — shook her head. “The girl will have plenty of opportunities here to help us keep a roof over our heads and the the Hutts off our backs.” Her face brightened as Ben Solo approached, bringing with him the prospect of a juicy sale. “Now here’s a young master who knows a thing or two,” she cooed.

“That’s right,” Snoke beamed. “He’s with the academy.” She draped an arm around Solo’s son and pulled him into a quick hug.

Ben ignored the women as they went on chatting, his eyes roaming over the junk, spare parts, and food packets for sale before coming to rest on the little girl. She looked back at him with big eyes, her hair done up in back into three buns.

“What’s your name?” he asked with a smirk.

She shrugged.

“You don’t know?”

She wrinkled her nose at the question, then after a moment said, “What’s it to you?” It was a mouthful for the three-year-old — something her parents had taught her to say to strangers.

Ben shrugged back. “Just asking. It’s polite to ask.” He would have said more but felt a familiar grip on his arm.

“Time to go,” Amanda Snoke announced with a grin. “Your uncle’s waving us over.” To the girl’s mother, she said flatly, “You’ll accept our offer.”

Again, the woman shook her head.

“Someday,” Dr. Snoke added after an imperial pause and a departing smirk. She gave the tiny girl a wink. “Such spunk.” Her sharp eyes narrowed. “Until we meet again.”

@MyKyloRen    4 May 2018

Chapter 10: Through Passion, I Gain Strength

SUMMARY: [ABY 18] In the abandoned Imperial lab on Jakku, thirteen-year-old Padawan Ben Solo longs to find traces of the dark lord he’s seen in holovids, as he helps his uncle track down confiscated Jedi artifacts. What he doesn’t bargain for is a Sith artifact finds him first.

It was a box of crystalline lattices, its matrices perfectly aligned, and it was rapidly spinning in Ben Solo’s hands. The central smoke-colored crystal pulsed with a blood-red light in intervals and patterns that had meaning to the initiated. The gatekeeper of the vessel was awake and speaking to the Padawan through the Force.

Those who serve the light are limited in what they accomplish. True power can come only to those who embrace the transformation. There can be no compromise. The dark side offers power for power’s sake. You must crave it. Covet it.

“No!” Luke, still several meters away, could feel the connection between the Sith entity and his nephew, even though he couldn’t make sense of the words that hissed from the fist-sized pyramid.

But Ben understood and echoed them back in Basic, mesmerized by the holocron rotating in his hands, more slowly now, like a startled bird settling on its master’s glove.

“Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory….”

The trance trailed off as the holocron was forcibly ripped from Ben’s grasp. The feat took all Luke’s strength, all his concentration.

“Do or do not,” Yoda had always said. “There is no try.” Well, he had. And now he held in his mechanical hand a Sith datacron — a box housing a thousand years or more of dark-side knowledge accessible only to another Force-user, its shape duplicating the angles of power in Sith culture. The Jedi Master felt a wave of nausea seize him and he wanted to drop it, but the strange hieroglyphs carved on its sleek sides drew him in.

Ben Solo was on the floor, eyes rolled back in his head. Amanda Snoke was cradling the boy, murmuring to him soothingly — a mother’s soft words of reassurance. But what the Padawan’s unconscious mind heard through the Force was a stroking of a different kind.

“Yes, yes,” a silky voice said, “you heard it — the gatekeeper, the creator of the holocron. Good. He found you worthy to receive its secrets, to know its spirit. Your powers are growing faster than I dared believe, my worthy pupil.”

She stroked his cheek with her thumb, feeling the life-pulse under it and the flutter within the young mind as Han Solo’s son struggled up through the levels of unconsciousness and opened unfocused eyes.

Luke didn’t see the satisfied smirk on Dr. Snoke’s face. He was too busy tearing his gaze from the glyphs that ensnared all his Force-attention. Gritting his teeth, he made one final effort and sat down hard as if he were shoved backward by an invisible hand. The onyx pyramid tumbled free and came to rest against the far wall of the corridor, its inner light slowly fading.

Amanda Snoke smiled down at the boy in her arms — dark, Force-sensitive, and lovely — as Ben’s eyes searched her face. “You’re safe now.” She cast a cursory glance at Luke and managed to muster some concern. “Are you all right, Master Jedi?”

Luke picked himself up, dusted himself off, and made his way to her, kneeling by his nephew’s side. The boy’s eyes closed again, but he was was breathing peacefully now. “We need to get him out of here tonight and back on Hosnian Prime.” Luke was kicking himself. “I should never have brought him to this place.”

“What was that?” She hid her knowing face well as she smoothed Ben’s hair.

Luke reached out too with his flesh-and-blood hand to feel his Padawan’s forehead. After a moment, he said, “Something Master Yoda never prepared me for.” He let go of a long breath, eyeing the evil thing where it lay down the corridor.  “A Sith holocron — something I’d only ever heard of in legends.” His gaze shifted to his nephew. “I don’t know what it did to him. Each one is different and depends on the gatekeeper inside it. We need to get him checked out.” His voice grew quiet. “And I need to talk to Leia.”

“Who did that device — the holocron — belong to?” Dr. Snoke asked, seeking to understand, although she already did.

The question caught Luke off guard — almost as if she could sense his thoughts. It was precisely what was in the forefront of his mind.

When he didn’t say anything, she guessed, “Darth Vader? I mean, it’s possible he was here, right?”

Luke was shaking his head and the words were coming out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying. “No, I would have sensed my father’s presence.” He quickly got to his feet and busied himself with their packs, hiding his doubts and fears.

She stared after the Jedi. “Darth Vader was your father?”

Ben stirred but did not come to. The voice inside his head was so soothing. All he wanted to do was curl up next to it and sleep.

As he strapped on his pack, Luke’s focus was entirely on his nephew. “Anakin Skywalker was,” he corrected her, taking Ben from her arms and lifting him into his. Before he made his way back down the corridor, he stopped and shot her a pleading look. “Please don’t tell Ben. It’s something Leia should explain…when he’s ready to hear it.”

“Of course.” Amanda Snoke gave the Jedi a smile and a nod and watched his retreating back before she strapped on her own pack.

And picked up the holocron.

 

@MyKyloRen   17 April 2018

 

Chapter 9: The Emperor’s New Lab

SUMMARY: [ABY 18] Padawan Ben Solo, Master Luke Skywalker, and Dr. Amanda Snoke explore the Imperial lab and observatory left behind on Jakku after the fall of the Empire. They maneuver past the Dead-Enders defending the place, but Ben soon finds the lab is guarded by something more lethal.

The cavern was enormous, lit only by one sickly arch lamp that buzzed and flickered, the draining power cells threatening to extinguish its feeble light. The troopers had long since fallen back to guard the entrance to the Imperial facility — a  place no one had maintained since the fall of the Empire, forgotten like the men left to defend it, crazed and unaware that the war had ended.

Even with the advanced academy courses Ben had taken in exobiology and chemistry, the lab was like none he’d ever seen. Stasis chambers containing a sampling of species from every sector of the galaxy lined the perimeter of the main room. Most chambers had lost their power supply long ago, the contents gruesomely desiccated and shriveled beyond recognition. But a few compartments here and there hummed away, maintaining solutions of bacta and whatever life-supporting fluids their specimens required.

“Clones, from the looks of it,” Ben heard Amanda Snoke say as he pressed his palms to the transparasteel tank to peer at a lonely Mon Calamari — just a small fry. Ten others moldered in their ruined chambers, one after another.

“Are there any alive?” she wondered.

“This one is,” Ben said excitedly. “I can sense him!” He beamed at Luke — a lesson mastered in the Living Force.

Luke returned his Padawan’s smile. “Yes, I think the ones in intact chambers are.” He was examining the clones himself now, striding slowly down their ranks, eyeing each one thoughtfully.

Amanda trailed behind him. “Then we must do what we can to save them.”

The Jedi Master said nothing at first, almost as if he hadn’t heard her. Then he turned and eyed her slantwise. “We don’t know what cruelty they’ve suffered at the Emperor’s hands, what perversion he’s twisted them into.”

There was a sudden intake of breath as Ben jumped and stepped back from the working chamber. The Mon Calamari’s huge bulbous eyes were open and fixed on the young human, its gills opening and closing rapidly.

Luke ignored his nephew’s shock. “We may be doing these poor souls a favor by pulling the plug and reuniting them with the Force.”

“Surely we have to try,” Amanda pressed. “We should find out who their families are. We owe that much to them.” She paused, running her finger down a functioning unit. “Are any of them…Force-sensitive?”

After a moment, Luke nodded — both in answer to her question and in agreement.

“I can have transports here within a standard rotation,” she suggested.

He reached out and gripped the counselor gently by the arm. “We shouldn’t attract attention to this place.” He eyed her intently. “There’s technology here that should not fall into the wrong hands.”

“What’s this?” The voice was bright with curiosity.

They’d forgotten all about Ben. Just off the stasis room lay an octagonal chamber containing a bank of computer systems — ancient yet still functioning. They turned to see the boy give a little start as a console fired up to emit a huge blue holographic display.

“Ben!” Luke hurried to his nephew’s side, concerned for the boy’s safety.

“What?” Ben shot back, annoyed. “I didn’t touch anything!”

Luke’s voice took on a tone of urgency as he laid a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “You know you have an energy that influences everything around you. You have to learn to control it, or you’ll  get yourself killed.”

Ben glared at him for spoiling the excitement he could hardly contain. “Look! It’s working.” He gestured at the slowly rotating hologram.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Luke sighed, glancing uneasily at the console. He turned to study the image.

A map…of the galaxy…but no part he recognized.

“What is it?” Amanda said, watching him closely.

She knew exactly what it was, for she knew every inch of those planets lazily orbiting their stars, along with the darkness between them. But she was testing him, testing the legend that was Luke Skywalker.

The legend walked slowly through the holo image, making sense of the celestial objects organized into various systems, along with a script he’d only seen in ancient texts.

“It’s a map of the Unknown Regions,” he told her absently, his gaze roving over the planetary systems and the spinning, spiraling black hole at the center. “The Emperor wanted to expand beyond known space. This lab must be just one of his observatories. There must be more with this level of detail.”

“Check this out!” Ben cried. Growing bored with the star map, he’d wandered into a corridor — pentagonal and composed of burnished metal and black glass. Something had pulled him there — something urgent, insisting, and desirable. Something obsidian and pyramidal.

He reached for it.

He had to have it.

It had to have him.

“Ben!”

 

@MyKyloRen  9 April 2018

 

Chapter 8: Vader’s Fist

SUMMARY: [ABY 18] Master Luke Skywalker, along with Padawan Ben Solo and Dr. Amanda Snoke, pay a visit to the canyons of Carbon Ridge on Jakku, guarded by crazed old men. Rumor has it these mad humans are aging stormtroopers clinging to life in an abandoned Imperial base, and Luke can’t pass up the opportunity to come to their aid — and, he hopes, to locate confiscated Jedi artifacts.

Luke ducked. Their aim was good, but it wasn’t anything a normal man couldn’t sidestep. If the old troopers remembered their training and fired their pathetic stone missiles, they’d overwhelm him, and he’d have to resort to using the Force. Plus, there was Ben and Amanda to worry about. He didn’t have to glance over his shoulder to know they were crouching behind the craggy outcropping, but he did anyway…and tried again.

“I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.”

Another fist-sized rock whizzed past his ear.

“You’re here to rescue them?” Ben poked his head out to gape at his uncle. “I thought we were here to make them a deal?”

The Jedi Master smirked, remembering. “I got your mother to follow me with that line once.”

The humor, however, was lost on his nephew, and the crazy old men the Jakku natives called the Dead-Enders were not Alderannian princesses. Another barrage of stones rained down on him from the entrance to the cave in the cliff face above. There were five that he could see — all clasping blaster rifles at the ready and calling frantically to one another. As expected, they leveled their rifles as one at the Jedi Master–

“Get down!” Ben shrieked at Luke.

Luke waived him off, unperturbed.

–and fired.

Nothing happened. No zinging blast of fiery bolts.

“Their power cells are long dead,” Luke explained over his shoulder.

Almost at once, the old troopers broke wedge formation and took up new positions in the rocks above. The shouting continued.

“What are they saying?” Ben said, venturing out and coming to stand with Luke.

In the canyon below, the cries of the men — long strings of numbers and barked orders — echoed off the cliffs.

“Come about, FN-five-eight-seven-five! Tracking four-one-three-two-nine at two. Incoming five-three-one-eight-five point two-six-seven. Repeat five-three-one-eight-five point two-six-seven! Do you copy? Copy that, FN-nine-nine-six-two. It’s a one-six-niner coming in fast!”

A flurry of rocks, as fast as the old men could throw and as heavy as they could lift, pelted the Rebel forces below.

Luke raised his hands and effortlessly directed the stones aside.

“They’re reliving the Battle of Jakku,” Amanda Snoke suggested, stepping out. “They probably do that any time someone threatens them.”

Luke turned to look at her. “So, how do we not threaten them?”

They took refuge again behind the heap of boulders and put their heads together. The two adults were so intent on comparing what they knew of stormtrooper psychology, post traumatic stress disorder, and an array of precautions from survival manuals that they failed to notice Ben Solo emerge from the shelter to take a position in the center of the dry riverbed. Instantly, he was bombarded by stones, but not one touched him. Instead, they stopped midair, centimeters from his body, and hung there, suspended by an invisible force.

Ben called out, eyes closed, hand raised palm out, “I am a stormtrooper. My skin is my armor. My face is my helmet. My name is my number. I am fulfilled, for I am an agent of….”

“An agent of the Emperor,” the troopers joined in, standing at attention now, reciting the oath burned into their memories, their flesh, their souls. “I am Vader’s fist,” the troopers of the 501st finished as one.

“Ben!” Luke cried as the stone projectiles surrounding his nephew suddenly shifted, threatening to pummel the boy’s lithe body into the sands.

Ben Solo’s focus had strayed. Vader, he told himself, gritting his teeth. I must be Vader! The stones danced. All at once, his mind was on point. “Then prepare for the Emperor’s inspection!” he commanded the troopers.

Above, all five troupers saluted. “Yes, sir!”

And the rocks surrounding the padawan learner dropped harmlessly to the ground. Ben opened his eyes. “Come on!” he called over his shoulder, waving Luke and Amanda to follow. “I know the way in.”

Amanda Snoke was on Luke’s heels. “You taught him well!” she said with a laugh.

Luke returned the grin, although he knew without a doubt that he couldn’t take credit for teaching his young nephew any Jedi mind tricks or stormtrooper oaths. Skywalker had planned to handle the situation without using the Force, for he had the uneasy feeling that any time he did, something was watching. Something on Jakku was waiting to pounce.

In a short while, they’d climbed the steep path out of the canyon and stood face to face with the remnants of the 501st Legion. They could see at least ten troopers now, no longer hostile and all awaiting inspection at the entrance to the cave.

“You have to be the Emperor,” Ben muttered to Luke under his breath.

The Jedi Master raised an eyebrow. “Is that how this works?” He was amused but wary. But whatever Ben was doing, it was working, so he allowed himself to be pulled into the scenario.

“What am I?” Amanda asked with a smirk.

“An imperial guard,” Ben answered, and without hesitation, he stepped forward and advance purposefully down the ranks. As he walked, he cupped his hands to his mouth, inhaling and exhaling in a slow, hollow hiss.

Vader’s hiss.

If the hair wasn’t standing up on the back of Luke’s neck before, it was now.

 

@MyKyloRen   25 March 2018

 

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