by Z.P. Florian (originally published in Hibernation Sickness, revised)


Kenobi stood in the doorway, draped in a grey velvet cape.

From the bowels of the dark chambers, Anakin emerged. His hair, unkempt and tangled, reached almost to his waist; his body was half-covered by a bloodstained black robe.

"You look like you have been through Hell," Kenobi said gently.

"That's exactly where I have been," Anakin said, sounding amused, though his eyes remained unfathomable.

"What is in Hell?"

"What you take there with you."

"Why did you go there?"

"To find out what I took with me."

"What did you gain from the experience?"

"I learned a little more about my weaknesses."

Kenobi sighed, and shook his head. "I know this kind of conversation all too well. This is all Palpatine and his philosophies. Anakin, you have no need to go further than the Jedi. The Jedi knows all about the Force. We know how to use it for good. Palpatine tries to rediscover what's already known. And you shouldn't waste your time with that. You should be at my side, to help us protect the Senate."

Anakin shook his hair back, clearing his forehead. "Who am I supposed to protect the Senate from?"

"From the likes of your friend Palpatine. Don't you know, it is his father, his family, who stands behind the Hoth Pact, the most dangerous, and should I say, most powerful enemy of the Republic?"

"Yes I know. He told me."

Kenobi took two steps toward the young Jedi, then controlled himself. Stopping, he kept silent for a second, then continued: "Then you know that they might have been responsible for the first Hoth revolt, the secret cloning operations and your father's murder."

"Yes, he told me."

"He told you!" Kenobi was now visibly shocked. "He told you? And...what did you tell him?"

Anakin allowed himself the shadow of a smile. "You suppose I should have killed him to avenge my father's death. But, my dear General, I never really liked my father. Why should I feel obliged to revenge him? To me, the Lord Skywalker was almost a total stranger. I was his seventh son. Not even a square foot of his lands were to be mine. He sent me to military school when I was six. I haven't seen him since. Why should I care who killed him and when?"

He spoke without emotion, so calm and factual that Kenobi had to consider him not only completely honest, but also perfectly sane.

"If not your father, " Kenobi asked, "but any Senator had been assassinated while investigating illegal cloning, you still should not have anything to do with his murderers."

"This we can debate, of course," Anakin admitted. "I might be taking liberties as a Jedi. Although I never took the Jedi Oath, so it's not as if I were to be obliged to follow the Jedi traditions. On the other hand, the Jedi will not be around for long...I guess. In such uncertain times, tradition is a rather useless guide."

Kenobi drew a slow breath, staring at Anakin's face, trying to read the thoughts beyond the smooth, high forehead. Anakin remained calm, almost cold, then suddenly flashed a carefree smile.

"But, my friend and master, I mustn't be so thoughtless. You are certainly tired after your journey. Let me offer you some refreshments." With only a slight movement of his fingers, he caused a heavy door to open. Kenobi was startled to see him revealing such mastery of the Force.

Now a servant appeared, moving like a robot. He seemed to be under the absolute influence of Anakin, acting as an extension of the young Jedi. He offered drinks and fruits on a plate. Kenobi accepted a glass.

Anakin ushered him into another room, where in dim light comfortable chairs stood by the cold fireplace. Kenobi sat down, holding his drink. Anakin sank into another chair. His torn robe slid off his shoulders, revealing magnificent muscles and faint scars. He did not seem to notice his nakedness. The servant approached him with the plate. He raised a hand and a glass floated to him, tilting at his mouth. He drank it all at once.

"I must admit," Kenobi said, "that you mastered some skills: but aren't those mere tricks?"

This was the first time Anakin showed any sign of interest in what the General was saying. "Yes," he said slowly, "and am I not childish to show off in front of you? I should be ashamed of myself. This is the sign of immature emotion. Once I looked at you as a substitute for my father. I was constantly seeking your approval."

"I know, and I loved you for it."

"Emotions are a burden, they cloud your judgement."

"Emotions are natural for any sentient being."

Anakin was unfazed. "What brought you here?"

"I heard things about you. I was worried."

"Things.... That I am engaged in dark practices?" Anakin smiled again, lighting up the room with his infectious, bright smile. "That I participate in...hm...human sacrifices?"

"Yes, and that you have come pretty close to became one yourself."

"But my dear general, how can I allow anyone to be sacrificed without knowing exactly what he is going through?"

"But my dear boy, what in Space do you have to do with sacrifices?"

"I'm engaged in Palpatine's experiments with the Force; you know best how strange the Force may seem to the uninitiated. Oh, well, why deny it. I wanted to see certain ancient practices with my own eyes, and Palpatine was just as interested. The Faernan Shaman-Queen agreed to perform human sacrifices for us. I wanted to mind-link with the sacrificed man to find out whether it was true that the experience was more than gruesome torture and death...whether there was, indeed, a transformation, a "touching of the Gods" through the Force as the Faernan claimed. The Queen came a little too close to send me into the great beyond together with her sacrificed subject. Palpatine had a really good laugh about it."

"Is Palpatine sane?"

Anakin took another drink, this time with his hands. "Palpatine is sane, yes, but not by ordinary standards."

"By what standards then?"

"This is what I am trying to determine."

Kenobi stood up. "Does it have to be determined?"

"Do I need a sober reason to do everything? General, you are surprising me. You are shocked because I am doing unusual things. You came here to scold me, as if I were an unruly child, running around with drunken musicians."

"I have this nagging suspicion that you are drunk."

"I am not, I am merely exhausted, unwashed and starved. I told you, I am coming straight from Hell, and I intend to go back as soon as you leave. The failure of the first Faernan ritual left a lot of questions unanswered. We are still trying to find the truth to their legends." Anakin rose, showing that the conversation, for his part, could now be terminated. He noticed Kenobi's worried expression. "I am touched by your concern. I really am. You have a certain amount of love for me. Maybe the only kind of love I will ever know."

"Why are you pushing it away then?"

Anakin finished his drink, letting the glass drop. "Because it is not enough for me. I'd rather have nothing than an inadequate substitute. You cannot be my father; since you are not, you cannot be a friend, since you are a Master and I'm just a boy, and you cannot be anything else, as it is not your nature to give yourself to anybody outside the traditional bondages of standard human relationships. I discovered I am possessive. I want total surrender."

"Does Palpatine... surrender?"

Anakin reached for his torn robe, draping it again around his waist. "This, my dear master, is still a question. But it is a question worth asking."

Kenobi turned, staring into the black ashes in the fireplace. "Does he ask the same question?"

There was no hesitation in the boy's answer. "Yes, he does. This is our fight, General, a fight for power...for the right to rule the Galaxy...and each other."

"The Senate rules. No dictator, caesar, emperor can hold this galaxy under his power." Kenobi was visibly shaken. "You should know this."

"I thought I knew. Palpatine swears it is not so. And... maybe the Galaxy does not know. And if he is not right, and if he is evil, and if he is Destruction itself, am I not the best person to be at his side, to curb his excesses?"

"Look into the mirror! You are ruled by his excesses already."

Anakin answered lightly. "This is a mere experiment. No one can rule me without my consent."

Kenobi knew this to be true. He could not say anything anymore. He gently touched Anakin's arm. "I will always be near you. If you need help, I'll be helping. But if you become

Palpatine's tool, I will destroy you." He said it calmly, without a trace of threat.

Anakin answered in the same manner . "We shall see."

Kenobi, grieving, started for the door. Anakin, like a caged animal suddenly released, rushed out of the room, towards the lower chambers. Kenobi looked back just long enough

to see the darkness swallowing his figure.

The General departed with an immense weight on his shoulders. It is my fault, he thought, mercilessly forcing himself to acknowledge his failure. I was never good enough to teach such an unusually powerful Force-user, he sighed, as a Jedi I am mediocre, as a Master I am weak --- and as he feels it all too clearly, I can't offer him the unquestioning love he needs. Neither can Palpatine, that man is utterly cold. How lonely the boy must be and still no more than seventeen.

Outside, a slight wind swept the late petals of an ivan bush under Kenobi's boots and onto his cape. He looked back at the vast tower complex. All windows were black now; accomplished Jedi needed no light. Kenobi shivered slightly, feeling the chill of future events to come. He recalled the passionate nagging of his sister: " Let me see your pupil again sometime!" -- and felt grateful he had resisted so far, knowing now that he must keep her away from Anakin. Thank Fate, he sighed, Anakin apparently forgot her completely.

His burden felt lighter already as he headed towards the brightly lit aerosnake stop.

Down in the basement chamber of the towers, blood ran down the side of the altar. The golden mask of the Shaman-Queen shimmered with the light of the torches. Palpatine watched carefully. Anakin stood quietly, unmoving. His face was utterly expressionless. The Faernan man screamed on the altar - - Anakin didn't move. He has to feel the pain, Palpatine thought, yet he stands without flinching, a beautiful statue, a lifeless manifestation of control and discipline. Or, perhaps, the Senator smiled, a manifestation of a colossal mistake, one that Anakin would pay for with his life at best, with his sanity at worst.

The Faernan was dying - would Anakin know this time, when to sever the link? Last time, he'd done it almost too late and now he wants to go just one step further. He must remember, Palpatine whispered to himself, he must remember that if he waits too long, he'll remain forever linked to a dead mind, unable to free his own. Palpatine fingered the whip hanging on his belt. He was prepared to strike Anakin, would the game become too dangerous. The brutal slash of the whip would wake the Jedi, though the abruptly interrupted mindlink might still injure the sensitive

telepathic mind. Damn him, that he wants to play with fire, damn his childish eagerness to know everything, learn everything, and damn me for catering to him. I should have left him in the tender

care of Kenobi. But Anakin is much too dangerous as an enemy, even if he's annoyingly whimsical as an ally, and as an apprentice he's far too demanding, as a questing scientist he is too reckless, as a warrior he is too wild, as a courtier he is too arrogant, as a Darksider he is too close to the Light.

Still, there's no one in the entire Galaxy more worthy of my company, Palpatine smiled to himself. It'll take time, but one day I will control him completely. Until then, let the child dream of controlling me.