Altered Lives [PG-13] – Chapter Four

“ALTERED LIVES”

CHAPTER FOUR

OUTSKIRTS OF MOS ESPA, TATOOINE

Anakin glided his Jedi fighter over the stark Tatooine desert before he landed at a spot just outside of Mos Espa. The heat from the planet’s twin suns seemed to radiate even stronger than he remembered from the last time he had visited, three years ago. He checked his pockets. Thank goodness he had remembered that Republic credits were not valued highly on Tatooine. Back on Melida/Daan, he had the good luck to exchange the Republic credits in his possession for Wupiupi, which Tatooine’s merchants did value.

A sigh left his mouth, as he contemplated his situation. Although he possessed Wupiupi, he only had enough to possibly last him a few days. If he failed to find employment with Watto or any other Tatooine merchant in Mos Espa, he might find himself in serious financial trouble.

The former Jedi Knight and Sith apprentice grabbed his robe and climbed out of the cockpit. He then removed his Jedi tunic before donning the robe to protect himself from the suns’ heat. For nearly a half hour, he trudged across the planet’s flat sandy terrain. Anakin found himself remembering why he had always disliked this planet. He could already feel the sand slip into his boots and torment the bottom of his feet.

The dome-shaped roofs of Mos Espa finally appeared on the horizon. Upon closer looked just as Anakin had remembered from his early childhood and from three years ago – crowded, dusty and crude. However, he knew that Mos Espa was a glittering metropolis in compare to smaller cities and towns like Mos Entha, Anchorhead, Tosche Station and the planet’s capital – Bestine. Only Mos Eisley was larger. He weaved his way through the crowds, ignoring the occasional stare from passing pedestrians. He finally came upon the junk shop where he had worked for several years as a slave.

A door chime announced his entrance. A young human male with light brown hair and a face slightly red from too much sun rushed from the workroom in the back to greet Anakin. “Good afternoon, sir,” he greeted obsequiously. “May I help you?”

Anakin hesitated. Had Watto finally managed to survive hard times and acquire a new slave? If so, his chances for employment looked slim. “Um . . . may I speak to the owner of this shop?”

The man’s smile widened. “You’re speaking to him. I’m the owner. Bashir Gupa. May I help you?”

Oh no. This really looked bad. “You mean that Watto no longer owns this shop?”

Gupa’s smile disappeared. “Uh, no. I’m afraid not. I became the new owner nearly two years ago. Watto had lost it in a bet we had made. Over podracing.” He peered warily at Anakin. “Were you . . . an old friend?”

Anakin nearly snorted at the idea. He could hardly describe his relationship with his former Toydarian master as friendly. Then he blinked. Did the man just said . . .? “Were?”

“Why yes.” Gupa hesitated. “Watto had been killed by one of the Hutts. He had failed to pay back a loan given to him by one of their moneylenders. You see, he had borrowed money from them to save his business. Instead of using it to save his business, he lost it betting on the podraces. And then we . . . uh, wagered on another race. I put up money. And he bet his shop.” Looking slightly embarrassed, Gupa added, “I won, as you can see. And when the time came to pay back the loan . . . I’m sure that you understand.”

Shock overwhelmed Anakin’s mind. Watto dead at the hands of the Hutts? Yet, recalling his former owner’s betting habits, Anakin realized that he should not have been surprised. Poor Watto. The Jedi Knight was surprised to feel a glimmer of grief for the late Toydarian. But more importantly, he saw his initial plans for a new life in danger.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Gupa asked politely. A plea for a temporary job entered Anakin’s mind. He opened his mouth to speak, when he spotted an R4 astromech droid rolled into the main room. Anakin saw his chances for employment with Gupa turn into dust.

Smiling politely, the former Jedi shook his head. “No, I’m fine. Thank you for the information.”

“If you have parts you might want to acquire . . .” Gupa began. But Anakin had left the shop before the other man could finish.

———-

THEED, NABOO

The funeral of Padme Nabierre Amidala proved to be a stately and memorable affair. Reports of her death had not only drew prominent Nabooan figures and many of her fellow senators to the planet’s capital, Theed, but also Nabooan citizens from all walks of life.

Jobal Nabierre glanced around the chapel with great interest. Her eyes rested upon the tall senator from Alderaan. Bail Organa stood before a podium, as he delivered what Jobal found to be a very stirring eulogy about her daughter. As she listened to Senator Organa’s words, Jobal understood how he had become such a prominent figure in the Galactic Senate. It seemed a shame that he had been unable to use that prominence to prevent the three-year Clone War. Or stop the Chancellor from becoming Emperor.

As for the Emperor, he had not bothered to appear at Padme’s funeral. Which Jobal found rather odd, considering that he had once been her daughter’s mentor. Instead, Palpatine had sent Mas Amedda, the Senate’s Speaker, to represent him. Perhaps it was fortuitous that the Emperor had not bother to appear. Considering her daughter’s true fate.

Three days ago, the citizens of Naboo had received word that their respected senator and former was dead. The news shocked the planet’s citizens and enveloped the Nabierre household into a state of grief. Then more terrible news followed. The Jedi had killed Padme and a few other senators during an attempt to overthrow the Chancellor and take control of the Senate. According to the HoloNet news, this incident had led to the Jedi Temple massacre and the Order’s destruction.

After Padme had first began a career in politics, Jobal feared that her daughter’s profession might prove to be troublesome or worse, hazardous. In the following years, her fears proved correct after Padme survived the Trade Federation invasion, the Battle of Genoisis and several assassination attempts. But never did Jobal imagine that the Jedi would cause her daughter’s destruction. And never did she felt so happy to be proven wrong when she and Ruwee finally learned the truth.

Bail Organa had arrived in Theed with two Jedi masters, Padme’s unconscious body and two infants. When the Alderaanian senator and the Jedi revealed the circumstances behind Padme’s present state, Jobal and Ruwee learned that they were the grandparents of twin infants. They had already known of their daughter’s secret wedding to the young Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. But Jobal found it slightly disturbing that Padme had never bothered to reveal her pregnancy to her own parents.

Following the memorial service, many gathered around the Nabierre family to pay their respects. Jobal accepted well wishes from prominent Nabooans as Boss Nass and Jar-Jar Binks of the Gungans, Queen Apailana, and Grand Moff Panaka – who used to be Padme’s bodyguard, when she was Naboo’s queen. Only Padme’s immediate successor and Apailana’s predecessor, former Queen Jamilla, was conspicuously missing. Jobal suspected that Jamilla’s sympathies toward the Separatist movement made it impractical for her to make an appearance. Some of Padme’s former colleagues also came forth to pay their respects – Senators Garm Bel Iblis, Mon Mothma, Jaren Tagge, Giddean Dann, Solipo Yep and Meena Tills, amongst them. Jobal overheard her husband inhaled sharply, when Senator Mas Amedda approached them.

“The Emperor wishes to convey his sympathy during these trying times for your family,” the Chagrian boomed solemnly. “He also wishes to convey his regret for being unable to attend. Due to the present political turmoil, he has been forced to remain on Coruscant.”

Juwee bowed politely. “Thank you,” he began.

Senator Amedda continued, “And I would also like to convey my sympathy, as well. Senator Amidala had been a bright beacon within the Senate. What had happened to her was a travesty.”

Ruwee’s jaw twitched slightly, as he replied, “Again, thank you . . . for your kind words.” The Chagrian senator bowed slightly and moved on. Husband and wife heaved muted sighs of relief.

Less than an hour later, the funeral procession commenced. Padme’s drugged body was placed in an open carriage. Three teams of white horses pulled the carriage along a route that stretched from the chapel, through the streets of Theed and to the Nabierre’s house. Candles carried by Theed’s grieving citizens illuminated the procession. Jobal could not help but feel touched by the Nabooans’ response to her daughter’s memory. She wondered how many would feel if they knew that Padme was still alive.

The procession finally ended at the Nabierres’ townhouse. There, the family held a wake. Jobal felt an overwhelming sense of relief when the wake finally ended after three hours. While her older daughter, Sola, bid the guests good-bye, Jobal and Ruwee made their way to a private room in the far west wing of the house. There, they found Padme’s two droids attending their now conscious younger daughter. In one corner of the room, the twins slept in matching basquinetts.

“Mother, Father,” Padme muttered, as she struggled to sit up.

Jobal rushed forward to help her daughter. “Padme,” she exclaimed, “you shouldn’t get up. You need more rest.”

A sigh left the younger woman’s mouth. “I’ve had enough rest for the past day or two. What I need is to get up. Please help me.”

Reluctantly, Jobal and Ruwee helped escort their daughter from her bed to a nearby chair. “Do you want to hold the children?” Ruwee asked.

Padme shook her head. “No, let them sleep.” She turned to her protocol droid. “Threepio, could you please pour a glass of juice for me?”

“Yes, Miss Padme.” The protocol droid made its way toward the sideboard.

“Where are Master Yoda and Master Kenobi?” Padme asked, after the droid handed her a glass of juice. “And where is Bail?”

Ruwee replied, “The Jedi are in another room. They would like to speak to you before they leave. To say good-bye.”

A grimace appeared on Padme’s face before it quickly disappeared. “Now that I’m awake, you might as well send them in.”

After Ruwee left the room, Jobal sat down in a nearby empty chair. “Well, this has certainly been an interesting week. By the way, Padme, when were you planning to tell us about your pregnancy?”

Padme sighed heavily. “Ani . . . Anakin and I had plans to move here to Naboo. We wanted to go to the Lake District for the twins’ births. Only . . .” Another sigh left her mouth. “Only, we never had a chance to go ahead with our plans.”

“Like Anakin joining the Emperor?” Jobal asked. Padme glanced sharply at her. “Yes, Senator Organa and Master Kenobi told us what happened on Mustafar and Polis Massa.”

Padme’s mouth twisted into another grimace. “I wanted to tell you and Father, myself.”

“Would you have told us the truth?”

The younger woman took another sip of juice. “What happened is a long story, Mother. It’s not as simple as you think.”

At that moment, Ruwee returned with the two Jedi masters in tow. Both Master Yoda and Master Kenobi bowed at Padme. “Have recovered, I am happy to see,” the green, dimunitive Jedi Master commented. “You are well, we hope?”

Padme’s mouth barely stretched into a smile. “Yes. Thank you, Master Yoda. And thank you for your help. Both of you.” She paused, as hope gleamed in her dark eyes. “About . . . um, what happened to Anakin on Mustafar? You never told me.”

Master Yoda and Master Kenobi exchanged uneasy looks. Jobal felt a small, sense of forebordance. Master Kenboi inhaled sharply, as he glanced at her daughter with mournful eyes. “I’m so sorry, Padme. I really am. But you must understand. I had to . . . face him.”

Jobal saw the hope dim from her daughter’s eyes. Her mouth twitched momentarily. “I see,” Padme murmured. She glanced away. “So much for that.”

“Again, I am so sor . . .”

Padme held up one hand, interrupting Master Kenobi. “No. It’s fine. I . . .” She took a deep breath. “I suppose it’s time for you two to leave.”

Master Yoda murmured, “Yes, of course.” He took hold of her hand and bowed over it. “Farewell, Senator Amidala. May the Force be with you.” He hobbled out of the room.

Slowly, Master Kenobi approached Padme with sorrowful eyes. He leaned forward and planted a light kiss on Padme’s cheek. She flinched slightly. “Take care, Padme. And may the Force be with you.” He then bowed and immediately left. Ruwee followed.

A heavy silence permeated the room. Jobal glanced at her daughter’s mournful expression. Pity welled within her chest. She tried to lift Padme’s mood by suggesting that the latter eat a meal. “You probably haven’t eaten a bite in days. I’ll have one of your droids bring you a tray . . .”

“I’m not hungry, Mother,” Padme murmured. “Not now. Frankly, I would rather rest.”

Jobal protested. “But you said that you had enough rest for the past few days.”

Padme sighed. “Apparently, I was wrong. So, if you don’t mind?”

Keeping her thoughts to herself, Jobal helped lead her daughter back to the bed. As she covered Padme with a blanket, a dark wish came to her that Padme had never given up on Kun Largo’s son, Ian, those many years ago.

——–

MOS ESPA, TATOOINE

The tavern’s barkeep walked along the bar’s length before he dumped a plate of food before Anakin. “Anything else, sir?”

Anakin stared at the food and murmured, “No. This will be fine. Thanks.” The bartender nodded and moved away.

Ignoring the conversation that buzzed around the tavern’s main dining room and the Holonet monitor situated above the bar, Anakin heaved a sigh. Now that his plans for being temporarily employed by Watto no longer existed, he realized that he might have to consider another option – the Lars’ moisture farm. He did not look forward to facing the painful memories of his mother’s death. But it was either that or face gradual homelessness and starvation, here in Mos Espa.

After learning of Watto’s death, Anakin had sought employment at some of the other local businesses. But slavery had maintained a firm grip upon Tatooine’s economy. Most merchants were willing to accept Anakin’s labor – but only if he volunteered his services as an indentured servant. Being a slaveowner was considered to be part of the planet’s status quo. And if one could not afford to purchase slaves, one used droids instead. Free labor seemed a long way from becoming popular on Tatooine. Anakin wondered if it ever will.

He took a bit of the Lamta. Not bad, he thought. Although Shmi Skywalker could have done a lot better. While he continued to eat his Lamta and Jerked Dewback Meat, a dusty stranger sat down on the stool next to him. “Bartender!” the man cried. “I’ll have a Tatooine Sunburn.” The bartender nodded and proceeded to prepare the beverage.

“How do you do?” the stranger greeted Anakin. “Nice little meal you got there.”

Anakin suppressed an annoyed sigh. He felt no urge to engage in light conversation. “It’s not bad,” he politely replied.

The bartender returned with the man’s drink. He took a sip. “Ah! That hits the spot! Nothing like a Tatooine Sunburn to relieve you after hours in this damn, dusty town.”

So much for a private meal. Anakin spared the man a cool smile and said, “Yeah. Mos Espa can be rather congested.”

“No kidding! I much prefer the wide, open spaces of my moisture farm, near Anchorhead.” The man paused. “Are you a farmer? Though to be honest, you don’t look like one.”

Anakin took a sip of his blue milk. “I’m a pilot. A spacer.”

“Oh.”

A thought came to the younger man. “You say that you’re a moisture farmer?” he asked. “Do you, by any chance, know one named Cliegg Lars?”

The man nodded. “Sure, I knew him.”

“Knew?” A bad feeling formed in the pit of Anakin’s stomach.

“Well . . . yeah.” The man paused. “I’m Gorn Meese, by the way.”

Anakin replied, “I’m . . . Ric Olie. Did you say that you knew Cliegg Lars?”

Meese nodded. “That’s right. Lars had passed away over two years ago. Poor fellow. He had lost a leg after his wife was kidnapped and killed by Tusken Raiders. He didn’t live very long after that. His son, Owen, now owns the farm. Good solid lad, but a bit too solemn for my taste, if you ask me.”

Dead? Anakin’s mind reeled at Meese’s news. Cliegg Lars had died . . . along with his last hope. Anakin realized that he could still seek refuge at the Lars’ homestead. But the idea of spending most of his time with Owen Lars did not appeal to him. The two step-brothers had not exactly warm to each other when they met, three years ago. Anakin harbored a slight suspicion that Owen either disliked him – or merely disapproved of him. And he had no desire to spend time at a place where he was barely tolerated. Thirteen years with the Jedi Order had been bad enough.

“Hey fella! Mr. Olie. Are you okay?” Meese asked with a slight frown. “You look a bit pale.”

Anakin shook his head. “No, I’m . . . I’m fine. I . . . I had known Mr. Lars. A few years ago, I had sold him a utility droid in exchange for parts. He and his . . . wife . . . had offered me a meal and a bed for the night.” Anakin swallowed hard, as he spoke his next words. “I haven’t forgotten their kindness.”

Again, Meese nodded. “I know what you mean. Quite a pair they were – Cliegg and Shmi Lars.” He drained the last of his Tatooine Sunburn. “Well, nice meeting you, Mr. Olie. Hope you have good luck in your future ventures.”

“Same to you, Mr. Meese. Good day.” Anakin managed to give the farmer a brief smile, before the latter left the bar.

Once alone, the former Jedi Knight sighed long and hard. Since he could not find refuge with Watto and refused to do so with Owen Lars, he no longer had a place to go. Well, that not might be true. He could return to Coruscant and continue to serve Palpatine. But Anakin could no longer accept the idea of becoming a Sith Lord again. Of course, there was Naboo . . .

While Anakin continued to finish his meal, the bartender turned up the Holonet monitor’s volume. “. . . yesterday, mourned the loss of one of the Senate’s most prominent members. During the Jedi Order’s attempted takeover of the Galactic Senate, Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo had been killed during the ensuing struggle. Her body was returned to Theed, Naboo’s capital, where fellow citizens bid her a final farewell.”

A horrified Anakin glanced up at the monitor and listened while the journalist described details of the funeral at Theed and Padme’s personal and political background. The journalist concluded, “Senator Padme Nabierre Amidala, Princess of Theed, Queen of Naboo and Senator of the Galactic Senate . . . dead at the age of 27. This is Narella Shibab of the HoloNet News Service, reporting.”

“Damn Jedi!” the bartender muttered. “Can you beat that? Killing a good woman for their own thirst for power.” He faced Anakin. “Say mister, would you like a refill? Mister?”

Anakin could not hear the bartender over the anguished cries that filled his mind.

———

It took all of Anakin’s self-control to keep his grief in check. Anger, sorrow and disbelief raged within him as he quickly paid the bartender for his meal. Then he rushed out of the tavern and made his way toward the edge of town. By the time he reached his the spot where had left his starfighter, Anakin allowed his emotions to overwhelm him.

Padme dead? It could not have been possible! He had felt her. Sensed her, after he had . . . With a cry, Anakin shut off the unpleasant memory of his attack upon his wife. No! No, it was impossible. She could not be dead. Not his Padme. She . . .

At that moment, Anakin completely surrendered to his grief. He plopped down on the sand and began to cry. She could not be dead. Not Padme. Not . . . The sobs tore from his mouth, while his shoulders heaved up and down in grief. After several minutes had passed, he sniffled for a few seconds and wiped away his tears. He decided that he would go to Naboo and discover the truth. There must be some mistake. Perhaps she was in hiding from the Emperor. Or perhaps she . . . Memories of the HoloNet News Service airing Padme’s funeral procession flashed in Anakin’s mind. Along with a memory of his wife’s body – her pregnant body – being carried throughout the streets of Theed in an open carriage.

Utter despair finally settled within him. There seemed to be no doubt that Padme was dead. By his hand. He was evil. An evil monster. Not only had he helped destroy the Jedi Order, he had killed the one person who meant more to him than anyone in this galaxy, aside from his mother. At first, Anakin had an urge to return to Mos Espa and inflict his grief upon the city’s population. Someone had to experience the pain he now felt. But then he remembered Shmi’s death and how he had reacted. A sigh left his mouth. He simply could not do it. Not again. Becoming a monster had done nothing but ruined his life. And indulging in his darker impulses would only sink his life further into the abyss. But Anakin could not remain here on Tatooine. Once again, the desert planet had reared its ugly head and inflicted great pain upon him. He had to leave. Find a place where he could escape from his painful memories.

Anakin took a deep breath and stood up. His eyes fell upon a few small cogs half-buried in the desert sand near his left foot. He also noticed tracks made from a Jawa sandcrawler. What were they . . .? Then Anakin glanced around his surroundings. Sure enough, this seemed to be the very spot where he had landed on Tatooine. Only . . . aside from a few cogs, his Jedi starfighter seemed to be missing.

END OF CHAPTER FOUR

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