Выбрать главу

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Prelude

His mind absorbed the scene before him, so quiet and calm and… normal. It was the life he had always wanted, a gathering of family and friends-he knew that they were just that, though the only one he recognized was his dear mother.

This was the way it was supposed to be. The warmth and the love, the laughter and the quiet times. This was how he had always dreamed it would be, how he had always prayed it would be. The warm, inviting smiles. The pleasant conversation. The gentle pats on shoulders.

But most of all there was the smile of his beloved mother, so happy now, no more a slave. When she looked at him, he saw all of that and more, saw how proud she was of him, how joyful her life had become.

She moved before him, her face beaming, her hand reaching out for him to gently stroke his face. Her smile brightened, then widened some more. Too much more. For a moment, he thought the exaggeration a product of love beyond normal bounds, but the smile continued to grow, his mother's face stretching and contorting weirdly.

She seemed to be moving in slow motion then. They all did, slowing as if their limbs had become heavy.

No, not heavy, he realized, his warm feelings turning suddenly hot. It was as if these friends and his mother were becoming rigid and stiff, as if they were becoming something less than living and breathing humans. He stared back at that caricature of a smile, the twisted face, and recognized the pain behind it, a crystalline agony.

He tried to call out to her, to ask her what she needed him to do, ask her how he could help.

Her face twisted even more, blood running from her eyes. Her skin crystallized, becoming almost translucent, almost like glass. Glass! She was glass! The light glistened off her crystalline highlights, the blood ran fast over her smooth surface. And her expression, a look of resignation and apology, a look that said she had failed him and that he had failed her, drove a sharp point straight into the helpless onlooker's heart.

He tried to reach out for her, tried to save her. Cracks began to appear in the glass. He heard the crunching sounds as they elongated.

He cried out repeatedly, reached for her desperately. Then he thought of the Force, and sent his thoughts there with all his willpower, reaching for her with all his energy.

But then, she shattered.

The Jedi Padawan jumped to a sitting position in his cot on the starship, his eyes popping open wide, sweat on his forehead and his breath coming in gasps. A dream. It was all a dream.

He told himself that repeatedly as he tried to settle back down on the cot.

It was all a dream.

Or was it?

He could see things, after all, before they happened.

"Ansion!" came a call from the front of the ship, the familiar voice of his Master.

He knew that he had to shake the dream away, had to focus on the events at hand, the latest assignment beside his Master, but that was easier said than done.

For he saw her again, his mother, her body going rigid, crystallizing, then exploding into a million shattered shards. He looked up ahead, envisioning his Master at the controls, wondering if he should tell all to the Jedi, wondering if the Jedi would be able to help him. But that thought washed away as soon as it had crossed his mind. His Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, would not be able to help. They were too involved in other things, in his training, in minor assignments like the border dispute that had brought them so far out from Coruscant.

The Padawan wanted to get back to Coruscant, as soon as possible. He needed guidance now, but not the kind he was getting from Obi-Wan. He needed to speak with Chancellor Palpatine again, to hear the man's reassuring words. Palpatine had taken a great interest in him over the last ten years, making sure that he always got a chance to speak with him whenever he and Obi-Wan were on Coruscant.

The Padawan took great comfort in that now, with the terrible dream so vivid in his thoughts. For the Chancellor, the wise leader of all the Republic, had promised him that his powers would soar to previously unknown heights, that he would become a power even among the powerful Jedi. Perhaps that was the answer. Perhaps the mightiest of the Jedi, the mightiest of the mighty, could strengthen the fragile glass.

"Ansion," came the call again from the front. "Anakin, get up here!"

Chapter One

Shmi Skywalker Lars stood on the edge of the sand berm marking the perimeter of the moisture farm, one leg up higher, to the very top of the ridge, knee bent. With one hand on that knee for support, the middle-aged woman, her dark hair slightly graying, her face worn and tired, stared up at the many bright dots of starlight on this crisp Tatooine night. No sharp edges broke the landscape about her, just the smooth and rounded forms of windblown sand dunes on this planet of seemingly endless sands. Somewhere out in the distance a creature groaned, a plaintive sound that resonated deeply within Shmi this night.

This special night.

Her son Anakin, her dearest little Annie, turned twenty this night, a birthday Shmi observed each year, though she hadn't seen her beloved child in a decade. How different he must be! How grown, how strong, how wise in the ways of the Jedi by now! Shmi, who had lived all of her life in a small area of drab Tatooine, knew that she could hardly imagine the wonders her boy might have found out there among the stars, on planets so different from this, with colors more vivid and water that filled entire valleys.

A wistful smile widened on her still-pretty face as she remembered those days long ago, when she and her son had been slaves of the wretch Watto. Annie, with his mischief and his dreams, with his independent attitude and unsurpassed courage, used to so infuriate the Toydarian junk dealer. Despite the hardships of life as a slave, there had been good times, too, back then. Despite their meager food, their meager possessions, despite the constant complaining and ordering about by Watto, she had been with Annie, her beloved son.

"You should come in," came a quiet voice behind her. Shmi's smile only widened, and she turned to see her stepson, Owen Lars, walking over to join her. He was a stocky and strong boy about Anakin's age, with short brown hair, a few bristles, and a wide face that could not hide anything that was within his heart.

Shmi tousled Owen's hair when he moved beside her, and he responded by draping an arm across her shoulders and kissing her on the cheek. "No starship tonight, Mom?" Owen asked good-naturedly. He knew why Shmi had come out here, why she came out here so very often in the quiet night. Shmi turned her hand over and gently stroked it down Owen's face, smiling. She loved this young man as she loved her own son, and he had been so good to her, so understanding of the hole that remained within her heart. Without jealousy, without judgment, Owen had accepted Shmi's pain and had always given her a shoulder to lean on.

"No starship this night," she replied, and she looked back up at the starry canopy. "Anakin must be busy saving the galaxy or chasing smugglers and other outlaws. He has to do those things now, you know."

"Then I shall sleep more soundly from this night forward," Owen replied with a grin.

Though she was kidding, of course, Shmi did realize a bit of truth in her presumption about Anakin. He was a special child, something beyond the norm- even for a Jedi, she believed. Anakin had always stood taller than anyone else. Not physically-physically, as Shmi remembered him, he was just a smiling little boy, with curious eyes and sandy blond hair. But Annie could do things, and so very well. He was the first human ever to win one of the Podraces, and that when he was only nine years old! And in a racer that, Shmi remembered with an even wider smile, had been built with spare parts taken from Watto's junkyard.