Buried Deep, Scattered Wide 7

I stayed with uncle Vahlek for over a week. Much of it was spent doing very little. I spent a lot of time with Mej-mej riding, exploring for short periods of time the area around his house. I needed the quiet and strange companionship she offered did me the world of good. My uncle was often absent from the house during the day, business he would say and nothing more. I didn’t mind.

In the evenings, after he had retuned and after we had eaten, we would talk. The conversations were easier than I had thought they would be. He passed no judgement and offered no platitudes. He listened, asked questions and gave me his opinion only when I actually asked for it. There was a hardness and a stillness to uncle Vahlek that I had never noticed before. Of course, as a small child one does not see such things. But sitting alone with him in the house I felt the eerie thread of steel that seemed to hold him together. There was a tension that wound about him tightly. Even when he was relaxed he was ready.

I had started off by talking to him about my work, my job but as the evening progressed I found myself talking more and more about what was going on underneath it all. I talked about the training and teachings I was on the receiving end of.

“Do you not find this all a little strange, lei’lei?” he had asked when I had finished talking.

“Yes, but who wants to question the will of the Emperor and I like what I am learning. I just don’t know about the why of it.” I said.

He nodded. “I am surprised that they did not try to kill you when they found out you were a force sensitive.” He told me bluntly.

“It was that exact reason that saved my life, I think.” I replied. “It made Lord Vader curious. I think he sees me as some sort of pet project and I do my job so he has no real reason to complain.” I wondered how I could explain the eerie connection I had to the man almost everyone regarded as the second most evil being in the galaxy.

Uncle Vahlek had just sighed. “Well, there are many forces at work in this galaxy and truth be told, I have seen many things that went well beyond explanation or definition. Who is to argue with destiny?” he said. “A grain of sand blown by the wind has no idea of where it will end up, yet in the end it is still part of the desert. Without the single grain of sand, there is no desert.”

I had smiled at the saying. “Maybe,” I said. “But I feel as though I’m missing something. I sense it the way you know when someone is watching you but you don’t know who. I know there is more out there, I know that something will come, something huge but I just do not know what.” I said.

“The universe is bigger than you lei’lei, stop trying to solve all the mysteries at once.”

I had rolled my eyes. “You sound just like someone else I know.”

His response was to pat my hand and tell me to go to bed.

Two nights after this conversation, he had come down into the kitchen long after we had both said goodnight to find me sitting in the dark with my bone mask in my hands. I was crying.

“I’m sorry,” I had said hastily wiping the tears away. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You did not, I was working not sleeping, just came down to make some tea, would you like some?”

I nodded and watched in silence as he pottered about the kitchen. When he had done and tea was made he sat across from me. The only light was the one that was over the stove. For a long time we just sat and sipped tea in a silence. That was the thing about uncle Vahlek, he was extraordinarily patient.

“Papa didn’t tell you much about what happened with Jyrki, did he?” I asked after a while.

Unlike Thrawn or even Navaari uncle Vahlek did not clench his jaw when something angered him, instead a terrible sense of stillness seemed to ripple around him, almost as though his anger became something he wore. “What he told me was sketchy, no details. Said that Jyrki had kidnapped you from the Imperial palace and held you captive for almost a month against your will.” He paused to and took a deep breath, “Kit was afraid to give me too many details because he was worried I might go after him.”

“What does that mean, go after him?” I asked suddenly shivering.

My uncle’s pale green eyes turned stony. “There are things about me you do not know, should not ever need to know, suffice to say that one of my many skills is finding people. Another of my many skills is dealing with them once they have been found.” He said.

“Are you a bounty hunter?” I asked in a hushed tone.

Uncle Vahlek curled his lip slightly as if the very notion was distasteful and shook his head. “No.” He drew a deep breath. “If I asked you not inquire further about this would you respect my request?” he asked.

“Yes, Zte’sa I would respect it.” I replied. The air seemed to shift and the relief I felt from him was almost palpable. It was my turn to ask him something. “If I asked you to go after Jyrki, to find him, would you?”

He regarded me very carefully and then answered. “Yes, but only if you requested it.” He frowned. “Is that what you want?”

“No.” I said after a moment. “No, because someone once told me that his fate and mine were tied together and I believe him. If this is the case then what happens now needs to happen on its own, besides it’s my fight.”

“When did you grow up?” he asked with a sigh.

I shrugged with one shoulder. He sat back in the chair, stared at the cup of tea and waited for me to start. When I began to tell him my story, I started with the Fete celebrations party and did not stop until I had told him everything, ending with my being back on Coruscant before I had gone off to Hjal. Occasionally he interrupted to ask for clarification on something and once or twice he had to wait for me to take a deep breath. While I was able to speak about it more openly than before the journey to Hjal, some things were still very difficult to express in words. When I had finished his anger was palpable.

“Now I understand why Kit was so careful with his words.” He said quietly.

I just looked at him. The silence in the kitchen was loud and it made me sad. My uncle broke it by changing the subject.

“The man you were with at this fete celebration, this officer you speak of, was he the one who gave you that necklace?” he asked.

I looked down at the little round pendant that was in my hands. Without even realising it I had played with it non-stop all the while I had spoken of my ordeal, just looking at it made me smile.

“Yes.” I said.

“Is he part of your connection to the Bone Traders?” he asked.

“How do you know all these things?”

Uncle Vahlek gave me one his rare and genuine smiles. “I am very good at reading people and every time you speak of something that troubles you your fingers reach for that pendant. When the name Dantassi comes up you caress it and you smile ever so slightly.” He drank from his cup and made a sideways head gesture. “Ma’arilite is very rare and very precious so who ever gave it to you obviously thinks a great deal of you. Your expression softens when you touch it. It comforts you, which tells me you have a good connection with him. I saw the same expression in your eyes when you spoke of the man who took you to this fete celebration and put many small clues together.”

I smiled and turned away from his gaze but then looked back at him when he chuckled.

“Is my little lei’lei being courted?” he teased.

I suddenly felt shy and pleased all at the same time. I tried to cover that up with a shrug. “Yes, maybe, I don’t know, it’s complicated, Zte’sa.”

“It usually is.” He replied knowingly. “But he makes you smile so I shall let him live.”

“Funny, Bel said the same thing.”

He laughed and poured us both more tea. He reached over and picked the bone mask up. Once more letting his fingers trace the carvings.

“This is a beautiful piece of work. It was made with much care and love. I envy you.” He said quietly. He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask. He handed the mask back to me. I turned it over in my hands, caressing it with my fingertips, still in awe of Navaari's work then laid it gently back on the table.

“The tea will help you sleep. I will be here all day tomorrow so we can talk more if you want to.” He said watching me carefull.

I grinned. This was his way of telling me to go to bed. I got up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Night Zte’sa, thank you.”

He smiled. “Sleep well lei’lei, I am quite sure the cuddle of jaxes that await you on your bed have done a good job of keeping it warm for you.”

I slipped out of the kitchen only turning around once to see him with my mask once again in his hands staring at it, deeply in thought.

My work for Lord Vader of learning all I could about the Skywalker boy was not forgotten. All the images I had been blessed with at the Lars’ farm had been dutifully entered into the data pad I had brought with me. In the quiet of uncle Vahlek’s spare bedroom I was able to sort through the images the little toy sky hopper had given me. I tried to write everything down in to some sort of coherent report. All the notes from what Tosche and Fixer had told me and all the little bits of information that I had slowly collected went into the data pad and slowly I began to get an idea of what this boy, Luke had been like. I mostly felt sorry for him.

I saw a boy with hair almost the same colour as the sand. He was lonely, quiet. He often dreamt of being a pilot. He had spent a great deal of time in the work room where I had found the toy, and like me he had had no idea who his birth parents were. The images had been jumbled mostly and I had seen him at various ages, as a very small boy to that of a young man. The sense of being different rippled around everything I had seen. He had known there was more out there but he hadn’t known how to get there. He had spent his whole life feeling as though he did not really belong. I wondered if that had changed for him now.

The images from the chulpa were far more specific, the burial of a woman, and those who had loved her speaking at her grave. The most powerful image was that of a young man, tears in his eyes and bitter anger burning at his heart. It had hurt to see this image. I wondered who he was. I wondered if the woman who had been buried was the same one that the Tusken warrior had spoken of. I wasn’t sure but I suspected it was Shmi Skywalker, if that was the case then was the young man her son? The one Tosche had spoken of, the Jedi? I tried to sort it all out and write it down coherently but mostly I was trying to add two and two and coming up with five. I wasn’t happy about this assignment any more. I didn’t want these memories, these images. The deeper I dug into it the more questions appeared, the more I had the sense that something big was coming. It was this reason that kept me from actually touching the wedding ring I had been given by the Tusken warrior, although I had pulled it out of my satchel to look at it many times. I could sense that what ever it had to show me would be painful beyond belief and I just wrapped it in a piece of cloth, hiding it away in safety. I wasn’t ready for what it had to give.

This gift of touch and sight was not strong and for most of my life the images shown to me were rarely so powerful that I felt them physically. These latest visions had been hard to bear and left me restless and sad. I had talked to my uncle about it the day he had stayed at home.

“They call it psychometry. It was a force power, the ability to pick up images and impressions from an inanimate object touched. To read a thing’s memories as it were. It is a rare ability.” He told me when I asked while I chopped vegetables for lunch and watched as he cooked.

“You knew I had this? How?”

“I used to bring you gifts, toys mainly when I would visit. Some were new but most were things I picked up along my travels. You almost always knew where the toy had come from before I ever had a chance to tell you. Sometimes you even knew the name of the person I had bought it from.” He drew a deep breath. “Once I gave you a small wooden doll. The moment you touched it you burst into tears and wept for hours. You kept calling for someone named Kika and it was only after I did some investigation that I discovered the doll had belonged to a small girl who had watched her older sister, Kika, die in a raid on her village. I knew then that I needed to be very careful when I bought gifts for you, that they needed to be new and not used. It didn’t happen all the time and mostly you did not seem bothered by the images and impressions but every now and then something you saw troubled you terribly.”

I remembered that doll. I could still see the images it had given me. My mother had taken it away and hidden it. I had been glad of that because the doll images I had seen had given me nightmares for months

“I had suspected that you were a force baby right from the very beginning. You were just different, we could all feel it. Kit didn’t want to see that though, didn’t want to acknowledge what you were. It took a lot of convincing to make sure he would not try to punish you every time you used your talents. That would have been the worst thing that anyone could have done to you. He didn’t particularly like the Jedi much. That you might have this same power, well he didn’t like that much at all. I think he was afraid for you. I told him that given time and patience you would learn to hide it on your own. I wasn’t wrong.” He sighed. “In my travels I met many Jedi, spent some time with a couple of them, and learned a little about their ways and the Force. During the Clone wars they all felt something was changing, just no one knew what. I remember hearing about the order that was given to cull them, that they were now enemies of the state. I could not believe it, didn’t want to believe it.” He shook his head. “We just did not know what your talents were and how strong you were. What we did know is that you needed to be kept hidden and safe, you didn’t make that easy though.” He told me. “On a job once, I met a man from Kiffu, an unusual Jedi who had the same gift you do. He had accidentally touched something of mine and knew more about me than my mother ever would. We talked about it while we travelled to Tatooine, it sounded awful.”

I sighed. “I’m glad it’s not my strongest gift and it’s pretty sporadic but sometimes it’s like being hit by a gaffi stick, especially lately.” I told him.

He nodded. “I never met anyone with that particular talent who was happy with it.”

“You seem to know a lot about this stuff.” I said, hesitant to ask the real question.

“Yes, well, we all have pasts.” His tone of voice said, do not ask so I didn’t.

“You said you knew some of the Jedi?” I asked. “What about Anakin Skywalker?”

Uncle Vahlek sat back down in his chair and drew a very deep breath and nodded. “The Chosen One, they all called him. The hero of the Clone Wars. He was killed on Coruscant, or so they say.”

I looked at him. “Anakin Skywalker really was the Chosen one? What does that mean? Why is it important?”

“Are you alright? You’ve gone as white as bleached bone.”

I got up suddenly from my chair, waking Maddy who clawed at me in protest as I brushed her from my lap. “Did you know him?”

“No, I never met him, I only knew him by reputation. The holonet was full of stories of his bravery. It was hard not to hear of him.”

“Papa said that a boy named Anakin Skywalker won the Boonta Eve classic pod race, are they the same? Was his mother someone named Shmi?” I asked. “A slave from Mos Espa?”

“I don’t know, but she may well have been, I know that Anakin was from Tatooine. It was a big story among the Jedi. A Master named Qui-Gon Jin found him, managed to set him free from slavery and took him to be trained at the Temple on Coruscant. Something that was almost unheard of because the boy was too old for their sort of training.”

“Did you ever meet this Qui-Gon Jin? What did he look like?”

“Once or twice. He was tall, had long hair, blue eyes and a beard. Very soft spoken…lei’lei, sit down, you look like you are going to pass out.” He got up and made me sit back down on my chair. “What is going on?” he asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I have been having dreams, ever since Jyrki kidnapped me about a man who fits that description exactly. He comes to me asking about someone called the Chosen One. He mentioned the name Anakin once but I was never sure if he was this Chosen one or not. He keeps telling me I know the Chosen One but how is that possible if he is dead? These are just dreams and they are vague at the best of times. I tried to ask Lord Vader about but he did not wish to speak about the topic. I keep hearing this name over and over, first Jyrki saying that is was this Anakin who killed the kids at the Jedi Temple, then Sola Naberrie who said he was the Jedi assigned to protect the Queen, and everyone keeps telling me he’s dead. If he is dead why does his name keep coming back again and again to haunt me? What is his connection to the kid from the Lars’s homestead? None of this makes sense. I feel like I am missing something, something really important and it is starting to drive me mad.” I pinched the bridge of my nose and tried to stave off the white noise threatening to over run my head.

“Don’t push at it, when the answer is ready it will come.” He said gently. “Tell me about these dreams.”

So I did. He listened quietly and when I was done he said thoughtfully. “That sounds like Qui-Gon.”

“What happened to him?”

He sighed, “He was killed on Naboo, during the blockade crisis. You probably don’t know much about that do you?”

I shook my head. “Galactic history wasn’t really my strong point in school.”

He refilled our tea cups and began to tell me about the rise of Palpatine, about the blockade on Naboo, about the clone wars and the downfall of the Jedi. He spoke for hours telling me stories about this time period as though he had seen it all for himself.

“Was Palpatine right? Did the Jedi want to take over the government?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. It was a terrible time, very confusing. One day the clone warriors were fighting with the Jedi against the Separatists and the next day they were hunting the Jedi. The war was declared over and we were suddenly an Empire under the rule of Palpatine with the senate reduced to a puppet theatre. No one knew what had happened, what had hit them.” He shook his head. “I lost many friends in that war.” He said his voice suddenly full of sorrow. We were silent for a long time, only the hum of the refrigerator unit, the bubbling of the stew and the purring of the Jax on my lap broke the silence.

“I have to go to Mos Espa.” I said suddenly.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because that is where it all began.”

“I’ll take you in the morning then.” He said without even questioning why.

“I want to go alone.”

He shook his head. “No. Mos Espa is not a nice place and you don’t know your way around.”

“I’m not a little kid any more.” I said crossly even though what he had said was true. I had only been to Mos Espa once and that had been a long time ago.

“I know, regardless I’ll take you in the morning. I have business there I can do so you won’t have me baby sitting you the whole time but I won’t let go alone, your father would never forgive me if something else bad happened to you. You are damned lucky I let you go off into the desert on your own and that was only because Mej-mej is pretty vicious when she wants to be. Your strange meeting with the Ghorfa was risk enough. I’m not taking any more chances so don’t even think of fighting with me on this. You won’t win.” That edge was back in his voice.

I made a face but part of me knew he was right and although I didn’t want to admit it, his offer relieved me a little. I nodded. “Okay. But I have no idea what I am looking for, it could take a while.”

“Fair enough and I might be able to help you with that, I have a few connections.” He said sounding pleased but looking troubled. “We’ll start early, shuttle in and then maybe head out to Mos Eisley when we’re done, there are things I need to talk with Kit about, so pack your things okay?”

“Yes Zte’sa.” I said getting up. I was tired, it was very late and I got the strange feeling that this circular snake eating its tail was about to bump into something big.

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