A LARGER UNIVERSE by ardavenport // Obi-Wan. // His awareness returned before his hearing. Everything was black. The world was blackness and he was somewhere in it. // Obi-Wan. // Then a wind blew in, the endless, pervasive noise background of the Jundland Wastes that was always there, burrowed in under every sound even when there was only silence. The sound just appeared when something flipped the ‘ON’ switch for his hearing. Then the pain arrived. It kicked in, twitching his limbs, nerves and muscles cramping and howling from abuse. He had been lying on a stone floor for how long? He blinked and moaned, completing the revival of his senses. He tried rolling over, but he was too weak. His gummed and gritty eyelids squinted open and shut without clearing his vision of the uneven gray blurs above him. His parched mouth opened, taking in air. It hurt. His dry tongue and throat tasted of blood. His audible gasp momentarily drowned out the moan of the desert outside. The Force. It washed through him. Always there. Always ready. Giving him strength and life. He exhaled, a long, sigh of relief. And he listened. But the voice had retreated; he heard only the breath of the wind. His second attempt to roll over and push himself up succeeded, sore muscles and tendons loosening, temporarily salved by the Force. But as soon as he got to his knees, his hands supporting him, he froze. Was it safe? Was the danger past? The Emperor. Closing his eyes, he cleared his mind. Aches and pains, thought and memory receded into the moment. In his isolated hut, overlooking Tatooine’s seas of sand and desolation, he stared ahead without thinking, without seeing, without feeling. Nothing changed. Moments passed. He very slowly relaxed. There was nothing. He was truly alone within the hardened clay walls of his hiding place. The danger was gone. Hours ago, in fact. Shoulders sagging, he sighed and pushed himself up, stumbling to his feet; they got caught in the hem of his robe. Grabbing for a wall, he barely avoided falling, his vision briefly going dark. When the dizzy spell receded, he carefully stretched each part, each muscle of his body, one by one. There were bruises from when he initially fell, but nothing out of the ordinary. And the stiffness that hurt down to his nerves from lying motionless for . . . . a day and a half? He knew instantly that this was right. Had he passed out? Slept? Or just shut down? His robe had fallen from one shoulder and he tugged the other side off and let it fall, the worn brown fabric sloughing down to the floor. He took a halting step toward the fresher unit on the back wall, his boots scaping on the stone and ever-present film of grit and sand. Though his throat was on fire with thirst, he still even more desperately needed to pee. Throwing his hand out to stop himself from crashing into the wall, his shaking hands barely got himself out in time to urinate into the funnel. Any liquid was too precious to waste. After multiple rinses through the recycler, he would be drinking it. Again. Then it would go back into the funnel. It was the cycle of life on Tatooine. He rested his head on the rough clay wall as his hands fumbled with the sanitizer for the ritual amount of time. Only after that did he go to the water spigot, not bothering with a cup, just falling forward over the basin, his gaping mouth under the trickle of water. He knew better than to try swallowing right away. He rinsed and spat, wetting his tongue and mouth thoroughly; water, spit and dust mingled on his face and in his beard. The stale, tepid, recycled water never tasted so good. The first trickle down his throat gagged him, but after that initial splutter, his body remembered what swallowing was. But he deliberately left the tap on its usual water-saving trickle while he kept his head in the basin until the pain in his neck and shoulders was greater than his desperation for the life-saving flow. Pushing himself upright, he again leaned on the wall, this time next to the instrument panel of the compact food preparation unit. His eyes aimlessly lingered on the corroded metalloid edges. Battered and passed down from uncounted previous owners, it still worked when he bought it years ago, not long after he moved into the abandoned hut. He could keep it working; his needs were modest. Closing his eyes again, he went through another focused routine of stretching all the individual muscles of his body. It went better this time, but without consciously tapping into the Force, he would not be moving very quickly for the next day or so. Moving away from the wall, the toe of his boot caught on something on the floor. Looking down, he saw his travel pack, left on the floor when he had returned less than two days ago. He remembered thinking that he would put things away later, but now he bitterly regretted his foolish haste. Turning back to the wall unit, he slid open a compartment and took out a dried ration bar. And with it and a battered metal cup that he filled with water, he went to the bench seat – his feet dragging in an old man’s shuffle – and sat down. He badly wanted to lie down, but he did not think he should. So, he ate and chewed from his ration bar and sipped between each bite. He took in the bland, grainy sustenance without any pleasure. Eating was just another task that he needed to do now, like sweeping the ever-present sand out of his hut. Safe. He was safe. His heart beat faster, thumping louder in his ears. Sweat trickled down his face. He put down his ration bar with a shaking hand. But he felt nothing, strangely divorced from his emotions as he blankly noted his physical fear-response. His mind felt as stiff as his muscles, sluggish and unfeeling. He reminded himself that he was safe. But he could hear his heart pounding faster. His eyes automatically darted to the hut’s entrance. The panic remained in his body alone; he dispassionately wondered if suppressing his fear and revulsion so ruthlessly for so many hours had permanently damaged his ability to feel anything normally again. But there had been no choice; fear was a path to the Dark Side, which he had so foolishly looked upon. His body seemed to reach a peak to its panic as it slowly understood that the threat was gone. Or at least there was nothing more than the usual ones that inhabited Tatooine’s desert. Unfeeling, he slowly slid back into a physical calm; there was no need to reach for the Force now and it seemed appropriate that he let his body have its way after his foolish misadventure. His shoulders dropped, really relaxing this time; relief washed through him. A tear rolled down his cheek. Then more poured out of him, along with all the emotions that he had been holding back for so long. Somewhere in the torrent, he was glad that he had not broken himself, but now he had to ride out the emotional storm. Grief. Despair. Horror. Anakin. Anakin. Noooooooo. It had been Vader. Anakin had truly been eaten away from the inside by the vileness poured into his apprentice’s shell by the Emperor . . . The Emperor . . . Darth Sidious had brought his apprentice Darth Vader to the world that he hated most in the universe, the world where he had been a slave as a boy. And now Vader was a slave anew to his Sith Master and to the Dark Side of the Force. Obi-Wan had heard at the trading post at Anchorhead that the Empire was establishing a garrison at Mos Espa. Any permanent Imperial presence could be a serious threat, and though it was a long trip, he went. When he arrived, he found a large contingent of stormtoopers. But it was not the preparation for a garrison, but for an Imperial visit. As soon as he learned this, he fled, even using a mind influence on a gullible star-hopper pilot to get a sub-orbital ride home. By now, the woman would have long since woken up from her binge, still thinking that she owed somebody quite a lot of money and not remembering at all the non-descript passenger who had paid for her drinks. Back in the safety of his hermitage, he congratulated himself too soon for his swift action and let his guard down. Alone, with little else to do, he convinced himself of the importance of covertly viewing what was going on. But the thing his mind touched, and the sudden glimmer of awareness of his presence from the Emperor, had sent him reeling, like an electric shock through his body. He was instantly assaulted with the true depths of the evil within the Emperor. . . . . Darkness, split by bright, cold flashes of deadly lightning. Palpatine. His yellow eyes. His sallow deformed face grinning and laughing . . . . . . . . Weapons as big as moons. As big as planets. Whole planets exploding, victim to monstrous energy beams. Billions of lives lost in flame and terror in an instant . . . . . . . . Fleets of giant Sith destroyers, with ten thousand times more ships than any in the Empire, rising up into stormy skies to go out and destroy worlds as they enslaved the whole galaxy . . . . . . . . Suns going dark. . . . . . . . Darth Sidious’s laugher drowning out the screams of the dying . . . . Obi-Wan had been lucky. Darth Vader had been agitated and angry about the visit to his home world and Palpatine was only momentarily distracted by what must been only a flutter in the Force to him. He attention returned to subjugating his apprentice. Training, in a perverted Sith fashion. Alone and paralyzed in his hut, like a baby womp-rat hiding in in a sand burrow while a predator snuffled nearby, Obi-Wan remained where he had fallen, his mind as blank and placid as possible. But distance did not spare him from the vision he saw in the Force. Now the memory of what he had seen doubled him over, arms clutched tightly to his chest. He sobbed aloud as he remembered. Palpatine invaded the largest of the Hutt palaces with a legion of stormtroopers. And in their own audience hall, the Hutts, the gangsters who ruled Tatooine and other corrupt worlds in the Empire, bowed and declared their loyalty to their Emperor, who accepted their service as a convenience. But then, some offense to the Empire was contrived, revealing the real purpose for the Imperial visit. One of the minor bosses, Gardulla the Hutt, was singled out as an example. And Darth Vader was appointed to deliver the punishment. Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut, but he could not keep out the memory of the hatred and anger flowing through Vader, his red lightsaber a violent blaze in the Force. That was how Sith used the Force, for its vast power. Obi-Wan had faced two Sith Lords in the past – defeated one – but neither came close to the pure evil that he sensed while Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, grinned as he watched Vader dispatch Gardulla. It was a slow execution, with Palpatine commanding Vader to pause once after he had sliced off her hands with his saber, the Emperor spinning out a little bit of hope to the victim that she might be spared. But then, casually unsatisfied with the other Hutts’ vows of obedience, he ordered the torture to continue. The heat and power of the Force, and most of all, the righteous satisfaction that Darth Vader wielded it with made Obi-Wan shudder and choke. It was difficult to see which part of a Hutt’s bloated bulk was most vital. But Vader was not interested in a clean kill anyway. He sliced off an arm, the end of her tail, put out an eye. She screamed, a hideous squeal of pure terror and desperation. She thrashed about, but Vader kept circling and any time she threatened to roll over him, his red saber blade plunged deep into her fatty flesh. Soon there were chunks of charred Hutt on the floor below Palpatine’s throne. While she shrieked and thrashed her stumps, unable to do more than quiver in place, he mutilated her face, making her gaping howling mouth wider. Then another plunge of the saber found her brain. The screams suddenly stopped and she was still. When Vader stepped back, his posture was one of disappointment that the death blow had come too soon. During the whole exercise, Palpatine had watched Vader, his yellow eyes glowing with malicious pleasure. It was the lowest perversion of the Force. Like medicine turned into torture. Love-making corrupted into rape. Hope reduced to dread. Obi-Wan quietly mouthed his apologies to the dead Hutt that he could not rescue her. Any Jedi in the Order would have rushed to save any sentient creature in such pain, but they were all dead now and he now had to hide and save himself. And to his shame, the Dark Side made Obi-Wan want to hate, to pull the vast power of the Force to him and fly after the Sith, wielding a righteous lightsaber to strike them down, using his Jedi training in anger. He knew now that this was how the Jedi had fallen, how Anakin had turned. He wept for his helplessness, for the years of his lonely exile, for the lost Jedi, friends gone, destroyed by an evil that they had all been blind to for years. The weight of his exile and isolation tightened around his chest, making it hard to breath. He would die here, alone. And he wept for Anakin, the boy he trained, the brave man he became, whom he failed to protect from the Sith. The light in the room visibly shifted into afternoon before his flood of despair ebbed. He sniffed and breathed deeply, sat back and wiped his face and nose on his rough sleeves. There was only so much that even he, surviving alone past the Republic’s corruption into the Empire, could feel without wearing himself out. He almost knocked the water cup over when he reached for it. Grasping it tightly with both hands, took several sips before putting it down. He did not feel better, but letting his anguish and rage pass through him gave him back some of the control that he desperately needed now. Sitting up, his back straight, he closed his eyes, breathed deeply for long minutes, relaxed and cleared his mind. The desert wind outside whispered over the sand and rocks. “Be with me . . . . . . . . . Be with me . . . . . . . . . Be with me. . . . . . . . .” He felt the familiar presence and he tilted face upward, like a young plant reaching up toward the sun. “I was careless, Master. I have no excuse.” “Careless you were, Obi-Wan.” The image of Master Yoda appeared before him. The stellar distance from the planet Dagobah to Tatooine was no barrier to the Force, or a Jedi Master as wise and powerful as the former Council member. Obi-Wan had to admit the he and Yoda were all that was left of the Jedi Council. But with no other survivors, that formality was a farce now. The figure before him looked the same as he did during their Council meetings back at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. And Obi-Wan wondered if that was just appearance, if Yoda’s tunic had become as worn and stained as his own and how much older he really looked. Sitting on the round table in front of Obi-Wan’s bench, he lowered his head, his long, pointed ears drooping. “Careful we must all be, if we are to succeed.” His large green eyes were cast downward, his admonishment directed at himself as much as it was to Obi-Wan. “But will we?” Obi-Wan wondered in a near whisper. “What if we fail? Have we not already?” Yoda’s sad eyes looked back at him with no answer to his question. // Then the ones who follow you will. // The gentle voice of his long dead Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, the voice he had listened for when he woke up on the floor, spoke softly in his ear, as if he were sitting right next to him. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, but did not turn toward the empty bench. Tangible as his presence was in the Force, he was only a voice when he came. “Yes, Master.” “Let go, you must,” Yoda’s voice joined Qui-Gon’s and Obi-Wan opened his eyes to the more tangible illusion before him. “For failed we have to defend our fellow Jedi.” His eyes widened in shock. “Master, you cannot mean that. We cannot just give up. Not to that kind of evil. You don’t know what I saw - - -” “Saw the future, we did,” Yoda cut him off, his wrinkled green face suddenly turned stern. “As you did.” He pointed his walking stick at him and Obi-Wan was glad that he was out of arm’s reach of it. Even as a distant projection in the Force, Yoda could still somehow make its impact felt if he used it. “Know you also that the future always changing is.” “You saw it?” // We did. Just as you did. It was a future that could happen. But even more than that, Obi-Wan, it was a reflection of what Palpatine truly is. // “Then we cannot give up!” His voice rose as he leaned toward Yoda, pleading. “We have to fight him!” “Take up your lightsaber, you will? Defeat him, when I could not?” Obi-Wan drew back, stung. No one in whole Jedi Order had been stronger in the Force than Master Yoda, or more capable with a lightsaber. Yet Palpatine had defeated him. “Too eager for the fight you are, Obi-Wan. Our time is past. We must help those who Anakin Skywalker left behind.” “Leia? Bail Organa will raise her to be a politician in the Empire.” That alone disqualified her from being trained as a Jedi, though she likely could be as strong as her brother. “And Luke? His uncle won’t let me train him.” Obi-Wan had asked, but Owen Lars was adamant and forbade him from ever even going near Anakin Skywalker’s son. He could only watch over him and his family through the Force. Luke was becoming a teenager, long past the age when a Jedi Knight should begin training. And Luke was strong in the Force; he could feel it. And sometimes when he watched he felt like a man in prison, viewing a future denied to him. “Train Luke? As you did Anakin?” Obi-Wan closed his eyes tight and turned his head away, but he could not shut it out. He nodded, accepting it. “I failed Anakin.” “Failed him, we all did.” When he looked up at Yoda, the elder Jedi’s eyes were full of tragedy. // You failed Anakin, Obi-Wan. But Vader is not your failure. // The images he’d seen through the Force, of Vader torturing Gardullat came back to him. The Force pulsed with rage and anger with every stroke of the red lightsaber. Vader was his biggest failure of all. He turned. And gasped. For the first time, Qui-Gon was there. Ghostly and transparent, like a bluish, shadowy hologram wearing his Jedi robe and untattered tunic. Tears stung Obi-Wan’s eyes; he had no images of his old Master; his memories of Qui-Gon’s face and his eyes were as much suffused with emotion as genuine recollection. “Vader . . . .” His voice faltered. “I meant to kill Vader. And I failed.” He held his hand up, clutching an imaginary lightsaber. “The Force was with me on Mustafar. It guided my hand when I struck him down. Then fire took him. And yet . . . . he lived. To become the monster he is now.” The pure intensity of rage and hatred, the Dark Side, must have been what kept Vader living long enough for his new Master to take him and put into the cybernetic shell that animated his scarred remains and even breathed for him. “Failed, I did as well, to defeat Sidious.” Master Yoda sighed, shaking his head, his ears drooping. “A part in this still, to play, Vader has.” His voice cracked. “Our part is past.” Obi-Wan stared. In the years of his isolation on Tatooine, learning from the elder Jedi from afar, to commune with Qui-Gon, he had never heard such sadness, even heartbreak in Yoda’s voice. Indeed, they had never really discussed their battles with Sidious and Vader since they began their exile. Jedi did not look back. “But if our part is past, then what are we doing here?” Yoda looked up at him, his green eyes intense. “Pass on what we know, we will. When the time comes.” “How?” he demanded, pushing himself up to stand. “How? I told you, Luke’s uncle forbids me from training him.” His voice rose, as if shouting would spur Yoda into giving him any more substantial advice than to wait for ‘when the time is right.’ // Luke’s uncle cannot keep back his destiny. It will destroy him if he continues to try. When the time comes. // Obi-Wan turned back to the image of Qui-Gon and he felt his throat tighten again. Surely, his old Master’s appearance mean something. “Isn’t it time now? With the whole galaxy under the heel of the Sith? There is a resistance, an Alliance forming to oppose the Empire. Why should we not add our strength to theirs and fight? Master Yoda, they would gladly accept us. The galaxy now sees Palpatine for the tyrant that he is and they are beginning to rise up. We know how to lead them. Why shouldn’t we?” “Go to war, never again will I.” Yoda’s face hardened and he stood. The top of his head was only a little taller than Obi-Wan’s knees, but his tone commanded the room. He pointed toward Obi-Wan’s legs with his stick. “Think you enjoyed your role as general with the clones, too much, Obi-Wan.” The accusation stung bitterly. So many dead; he had led legions of the clones into battle for the Republic where they were maimed and killed the Separatists droid armies. And had felt their cries of the dying, terrified, burned, sucked into vacuum when their ships were destroyed in space. Back then, he had stiffened his resolve to win the war to keep the back the horror over the wasted lives. “I was not the only one playing the role of general. We all were!” “And now, here we are.” Yoda continued to glare up at him. “The tool of the Sith, war is. Fools we were to use it.” The statement seemed to take the air out of him, and he sat back down heavily on the bench. It was so right. War. The righteous lightsaber wielded in battle. It had been their downfall, doing the work of the Dark Side. He knew he could never lead an army in battle again. “Blinded by war we were, Obi-Wan, to the Sith in our midst. Palpatine’s plan, that was, always.” Yoda’s voice had turned gentle again and, grunting, he sat down. When Yoda projected himself, Obi-Wan only saw him, not Dagobah, not whatever similarly humble and isolated hut he occupied. His half-formed idea of going to the Rebellion – hatched on his hasty retreat from Mos Esqa -- crumbled. What would become of Luke if he left? And as much as he disliked Owen Lars’s stubbornness, it was well-founded. Luke had to stay hidden. If Palpatine had any hint of Luke’s existence, he would come back to Tatooine and take him. And it would be worse for Luke than it was for Anakin who had been slowly corrupted by Palpatine over the years when at the same time he was being trained to be a Jedi. By Obi-Wan. His hands tightened into fists. He would never let that happen again. Never. The only sure way to prevent Luke from suffering his father’s fate was keep his existence hidden from the Emperor for as long as possible. But the waiting, for whatever time Master Yoda promised, weighed him down with every wasted year of inaction. Yoda, was over eight-hundred years old; he could wait. But the years did not pass so well for him. “I understand. War is not the answer to the Sith.” He looked up at Yoda and then to Qui-Gon he pleaded. “But I don’t know anything else.” He felt so sad. So many years, leading the clones into battles and sieges. Every day was a new mission, a victory to win. Or lose. Now his life had become a crushing sameness, day after day in isolation, until he looked at his life and wondered where the years had gone. Of course, he had rushed to investigate the possibility of an Imperial garrison without questioning where his eagerness was coming from, his long-denied desire to rejoin the fight against the Sith. Or any fight. “Know the Force, you do, Obi-Wan, the ways of the Jedi. When the time is right, teach that, you will.” He nodded. Teach what he knew. That was the way of the Jedi. His eyes fell on the abandoned ration bar and water cup on the round table before him. As starved as he was, he still had no appetite. His knees and back ached, his bruises throbbed. // You have looked only at the Darkness for too long. // He nodded. For days, he’d had little thought for anything other than the Empire and its Emperor. It was always a mistake to dwell on the Dark Side. Another failure. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply, the Light of the Force flowing into his whole body like fresh air. And next to him, from far-away Dagobah, Master Yoda joined him. In the void of the Force, his saw stars, the Force stretching throughout the galaxy. He had never had time for such deep and far-reaching meditations back at the Jedi Temple; his life in exile at least allowed him that. His whole time as a Knight and Master on the Jedi Council had been crowded with conflict and growing darkness. There was still darkness; the Sith ruled the Empire. But the Force itself . . . . there was always the Light. Among the stars with him was Master Yoda. And Qui-Gon. But now Obi-Wan saw their ghostly images as well. But visions in the Force were never just seen, they were shared with the whole body, they embraced all the senses. They were clean fresh air, as vast as the galaxy and as intimate as a caress. Now he could see farther and clearer than ever before . . . among the stars were forms and shapes that he had never seen before but he now knew they had always been there. And he had somehow always known that they were there. The Jedi. Not just the ones he recognized, lost to the rise of the Empire, but all the Jedi. All the Jedi. The incomprehensible numbers echoed through him. They were from all times, so very, very many of them, like the stars, back to the beginning of the Jedi Order. And he stood among them, but also as a living newcomer, apart. It was as if he sat in the pit of a vast cosmic arena and they were there, all around, patiently waiting. For when the time was right. In his mind, he raised his arm, holding high a blight, blue-white lightsaber blade. // The galaxy is suffering. How can the time not be now? // The many, many, many Jedi who had lived and died over thousands of years did not judge, did not reject him. But his lightsaber went out and he bowed his head. It was not time. And it would not be him. He knew why, to the core of his being. He would lose, just as Master Yoda had lost to Sidious, even with all the Jedi with him. And even when the time came, when a Jedi would come forward to wield a power that could move worlds, move the whole galaxy and challenge the Sith, the Jedi could still lose. // If the Jedi lose? // Obi-Wan’s thoughts refused to answer the question. // Then the Jedi will be gone. And another will step into the Light. // Maybe a war would have to be fought to defeat the Empire. But it would not be a war that would defeat the Sith. And it would not be him any more than it had been Anakin, or Yoda. Or Qui-Gon. // When the time comes, it will be all of us, Obi-Wan. Together. // Exhaling, he fell out of the vision, the stars rushed up and away. The world became his rough stone hut again. From the light, he could see it was late afternoon. It was time to start dinner. His face was wet, tears running down his cheeks. But it was not grief this time. Happiness. It had been so long, Obi-Wan was not quite sure that what filled him now was joy. But it went far beyond any meditative contentment. He was not alone. Isolated in body only, he would still never be alone. Even if he died in this place; he would not be alone. And in the room with him, the image of Qui-Gon remained, smiling. // When the time is right, the Jedi will challenge the Sith. We will challenge the Sith. // The image faded away, but the voice lingered. // Together. // Obi-Wan sniffed and wiped his face. Every sound loud in the empty room. Even the desert wind outside seemed to have gone silent. “Yes, Master,” he whispered. >><< o >><< o >><< END >><< o >><< o >><< Disclaimer: All characters and the Star Wars universe belong to Disney/Lucasfilm; I am just playing in their sandbox.