Title: Apostasy Author: Arin_Atona Timeframe: NJO Characters: OCs, Luke Skywalker Genre: Drama, Action Chapter One: Rom When I abandoned my daughter, she was a mere two days away from her ninth birthday. Not a day has passed in the ten years since that I haven’t relived the agony of that decision, despite assurances from everyone who knows my story that I made the right choice. Though I choose to remember only the darkness of that day, it had actually started as a beautiful spring morning in the lush forests of Yavin Four. The scent of harbinger lilies wafted through the corridors of the Massassi Temple as I discussed my future with the great Jedi Master himself, Luke Skywalker. While most anyone in the galaxy would be envious of such an opportunity, conversations with Jedi Masters are rarely pleasant. It had begun hopefully enough. We discussed the training regimen and facilities, and moved on to the expectations for students at the Jedi Praxeum. It was easy to feel included when Skywalker spoke of the growing Jedi Order, but through the conversation I slowly came to realize that when he spoke of we, he was intentionally excluding me. I finally stopped pretending that I liked where the conversation was heading and asked him directly, “Does that mean you won’t be training me?” Skywalker pursed his lips together, clasped his hands in front of his dark cloak, and gave me an apologetic nod. “Rom, you clearly have some sensitivity to the Force,” he explained, “but one great weakness that can’t be overcome.” I nodded my understanding. “I can feel the Force, but I can’t control it until I’m frustrated, angry, and using the Dark Side.” “You’re not the first to wrestle with that obstacle,” he assured me. “While it might be possible to overcome, there’s too much sorrow and anger in you that we haven’t been able to move beyond. To expose you to training that would tempt you to use those feelings in order to progress would make you a danger to yourself and those around you.” That much was true. I suppose I hurt my chances at becoming a Jedi when I told him about how my wife had been murdered. It probably didn’t help that I was rumored to have hunted down the Imperials responsible and executed them myself. Yes, I had shot two Imperials and blown a third out an airlock, but they were casualties of war. The fact that I wished they had been the responsible ones was the specific obstacle in question. Space him and his academy. Ceril and I didn’t need them. Ceril. My little girl. Just two days hence and we’d be celebrating the conclusion of her ninth year of life, or so I had imagined. She was the only thing left of the happy life we had known before war and its accompanying tragedies claimed the life of the amazing woman that was the mother and lover in our little family. Our daughter was the reason we had come here anyway. Ceril had a gift, and I seemed to possess it as well. She also shared my handicap. I finally looked Skywalker in the eyes and nodded. “Ceril and I will clear out by sundown.” I had barely stood to my feet and started to leave when Skywalker grasped my arm, encouraging me to wait. He communicated everything that needed to be said through that simple gesture, but I faced him with uncertainty. Did he have any shred of an idea what he was asking me to do? “Ceril has none of that sorrow and anger, Rom,” he assured me. I found it difficult to breathe, much less speak. “You’re asking me to give up my daughter, and she has the same weakness…” “She’s young enough that she can be trained to use her remarkable senses in a variety of roles,” he insisted. “Being a Jedi is a lot more than just moving objects around and wielding a lightsaber.” I frowned deeply. “So long as she’s removed from sorrowful and angry influences,” I growled, “like me.” Skywalker nodded and let go of my arm. “I’m sorry that I have to burden you with this decision.” He hadn’t known me but for a few weeks, and yet he already knew me well enough to shut up and leave. No proposal. No academy pamphlet. No brochure assuring me that this was the best future I could secure for my Ceril. Just a polite suggestion that I blast-off this rock and leave my daughter behind to become one of his pupils. For the next two hours, I tried to figure out how I could provide a better life for my daughter than she’d have here, and cursed myself for not being able to concoct a single rational argument against Skywalker’s absurd suggestion, nor even an irrational one. I drove myself into a frenzy of guilt for even considering it, but it didn’t register that he was right until I had punched a fist-sized chunk of stone out of one of the Temple’s bricks and shattered a few bones in my hand in the process. Ceril was in the infirmary where they set and repaired the bones in my hand and did their best to mend the skin without leaving a scar. She didn’t bother to ask what had happened to my hand. It was just another one of those things her father did. This was my normal behavior, and some part of me was terrified that one day I would do the unthinkable and that anger would be turned against her. The very thought that I might be capable of such a thing was the ultimate factor influencing my decision. When I left the infirmary, Ceril called after me. “Goodbye, daddy!” I made the mistake of turning back to look and saw the tears in her eyes. She knew I was abandoning her, and that made it so much worse. “I’ll see you later, baby girl,” I lied, barely able to choke out the words around the knot growing in my chest. I hitched a ride on the next supply freighter out of the system and headed for the Core. Twenty-seven days, fifty-two cantinas, and eight women later, my self-destructive death-spiral ended with me and my last two credits slowly sobering up in a recruiting office for the New Republic Defense Force. Apparently you can legally reenlist while drunk. Being a veteran soldier and medic, I easily re-qualified and they entrusted me with a blaster rifle and a platoon from the 709th Precision Assault Battalion that has been my family for the last decade. Thankfully, I’m a much better soldier than father. I swore to myself to keep in touch with Ceril, and to my credit I lived up to that promise for the first year or so, but what contact we had was never in person. Shortly after her thirteenth life-day, she stopped calling me daddy and I’ve been Rom ever since. A few years later, our weekly communications had gradually become a semi-annual exchange of holo-recordings. I felt guilty about not being there for her, which made it difficult for me to respond to her messages, which set up yet another self-perpetuating cycle. Just one year ago, I noticed she wasn’t a girl anymore. I had missed seeing every important moment while she grew up, and I regretted every second of it. I haven’t replied to her since. I had some crazy premonition that this year would be different. I had planned to leave the military for good, and somehow I thought that if I tried hard enough, I could slowly earn some redemption in her eyes. How to accomplish that, however, was still a mystery to me. Nothing about this past year cooperated with my plans, either. A bunch of alien monsters calling themselves the Yuuzhan Vong have invaded the galaxy, and the New Republic has been reeling from a series of devastating losses. The Jedi themselves couldn’t make up their collective minds whether or not to assist in the war, and a few weeks ago, I heard a rumor that the Jedi Academy itself had been attacked and conquered by the scarheads. I didn’t want to believe that, but I also hadn’t been able to reach Ceril through our usual communications channels, and began to fear that I’d lost her forever. Following the fourth brutal retreat this week from worlds whose names I’ve already forgotten, I had just finished treating the injured and removing my equipment when I was alerted that I had an incoming transmission. My legs carried me to the nearest comm station as fast as they could, because I knew it was her. It had to be; nobody else ever contacted me. I didn’t care if she saw me drenched in sweat and blood; I just needed to know she was alive. I put on my best smile when I saw that the transmission was coded as an official communication from the Jedi Order, but when a haggard-looking image of Luke Skywalker appeared instead of my Ceril’s beautiful face, I almost terminated the link. If this was a ‘we regret to inform you’ message, I’d be shoving myself out an airlock momentarily. “Rom Veceda,” Skywalker said without a greeting, “I don’t have much time to record this message, but I need to make you aware that a number of Jedi have decided to assist the New Republic in fighting the Yuuzhan Vong, but without sanction or support from the rest of the Order.” “Good for them,” I muttered, somewhat frustrated that this wasn’t a live transmission so I could voice my irritation at his apparent indecision. “Ceril is among them,” he stated plainly, shoving all my indignation right back into my face. “What little information I have suggests that front-line assault forces, like your battalion, are the units they intend to join.” I checked the timestamp on the message and my heart felt like it came to a stop when I realized it was more than a week old. “I can’t stress enough how dangerous the situation is,” the infernal message continued. “Ceril and her companions aren’t yet Jedi Knights and I fear for both their safety and their futures as users of the Force. Ceril is resourceful and powerful, but I don’t need to remind you how dangerous it is for her to use the Force.” I suppose I had hoped that was something she would have overcome as part of becoming a proper Jedi. They had discovered early in my training that I needed the determination provided by barely-restrained anger in order to exert any control over the Force, and that Ceril had inherited the same constraints on her abilities. There was little chance that I’d ever become a user of the Dark Side, since I completely eschewed all use of the Force when I departed Yavin a decade ago, and had never advanced beyond trivial telekinesis. Ceril had a decade of Jedi training to wield, and now she was roaming the galaxy spoiling for a fight. “I’m sorry, Rom,” Skywalker said with a sigh. “I wish I could tell you what to do if you encounter them, but I don’t have that authority. They’ve taken their destinies in their own hands.” Damn him. He was supposed to train her to be a teacher or a doctor, not turn her into a young lightsaber-wielding version of me looking for a war to wage. Before he finished saying, “May the Force be with you,” I had reduced the comm console to an expensive pile of sparks and scrap. The next several hours passed in a blur. I returned to the infirmary to assist the shipboard doctors in whatever way I could as a battlefield medic, and then abated my fury in the target range. I don’t know exactly how long I was there, but I managed to completely deplete the power pack on my rifle, which for a sharpshooter requires more stamina than humans typically possess, and I was exhausted before I started. That damnable Force was like a child determined to be helpful, even when its help wasn’t wanted. When I finally crashed in my bunk to sleep, we were a mere four hours away from pre-mission briefing on nameless planet number five where we’d just repeat what we did on our last four landings: Assault the front-lines of the scarhead ground forces to buy an extra hour or so to evacuate an insignificant number of the planet’s inhabitants, then exfiltrate under heavy fire. That was never the battle plan, of course, but that’s how it always turned out. By the time the 709th was needed, the planet was already under enemy control. We were originally trained to lead the ground assault in an invasion force to liberate worlds under Imperial control, which ironically made us experts at providing cover for particularly difficult retreats. I turned out to be wrong about the next planet, however. Unlike the usual worlds that have no particular economic or tactical value to the New Republic, planet number five had large deposits of some mineral particularly useful for shipbuilding, making it both economically and tactically important, and the Defense Force actually intended to repel the invaders. It was a pleasant surprise to see an actual armada in orbit fighting the scarheads, instead of a token cruiser that would jump out of the system the moment the first wave of invaders made planetfall. By the time my platoon reached the ground, two groups of Yuuzhan Vong landing forces had already been repelled, and we were sent to reinforce the troops defending one of the critical planetary shield generators. I had no idea that a mere hour later, I would be reunited with my Ceril and that our destinies would become entangled. I also had no idea that I’d be spending the next six months in the brig.