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Very Little Changes

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Very little changes, at first.

A child king is still not taken seriously by the Trade Federation.

Two Jedi are still sent to negotiate and are nearly murdered en route.

They still make their way to Theed with the aid of a hapless local, exiled from her clan on dubious pretexts, and eventually secure an audience with both Sovereigns of Naboo: the indigenous Boss Nass, queen beneath the surface, and the human King Amidala, fourteen years old and terribly angry at the suffering of his people.

Their ship is still damaged in the attempt to break the blockade, and they still wind up on Tatooine, at the mercy of a shrewd junk dealer. The King still poses as one of his own bodyguards, unrecognizable without his ceremonial paint. And Watto’s pride and joy is still a towheaded moppet of a slave, with grease on her cheeks and the Force in her blood.

And the stars in a little slave’s eyes when she falls in love with a glamorous boy are the same as they would be in any other universe.

*

Anika Skywalker is a foundling, parentage unknown. Her father, Shim, confesses to Master Jinn that he was never married, though he did have breeding congress with several human female slaves on the order of his old master. But no one in Gardulla’s entourage claimed responsibility for the infant, so it fell to Shim to find the parents. He did not succeed, and soon it was simply accepted that the child was his.

Gardulla sold them to Watto, and Watto was less cruel than she could have been. Anika’s knack for machine repair was always highly valued, the sort of skilled labor that could keep her out of the Hutt palaces indefinitely. She built landspeeders and pods and sought to race them. And yes, Shim tells the Jedi Master, the girl has always been a little different.

Master Jinn still takes a sample of Anika’s blood, and sends it back to her apprentice. It still reveals a strength in the Force that has gone unrivaled since time out of mind.

*

Anika still wins the Boonta Eve Classic, of course--the doubt was always her species, not her age or sex--and earns her freedom. Her father is still left behind, too valuable to let go. They still cry when they are parted; the tears of a girl leaving her father are the same as boy for his mother.

They are still attacked by a possible Sith, and Master Jinn’s age nearly catches up with her as she fights the Zabrak menace on the dunes. Only a tactical retreat saves her, and she still has much to report to Coruscant.

(Kenobi and Skywalker are barely, but cordially, introduced. Kenobi still remarks that her Master is taking in strays, and it’s still true.)

The Council senses in Anika much power, and much fear. This, in and of itself, is unremarkable. Master Jinn still protests their decision to refuse the girl training, and the Council proposes that, instead, they train her for the healers or the archives and give her a temple position, and wait to see if that power passes into Anika’s hypothetical children. Some on the Council do not find it horrific and objectifying--after all, they have seen their crèchemates subject to the same--but Master Jinn reminds them that this child was a slave, and would call what they consider an honor another form of slavery. And furthermore, the great power the girl possesses could be dangerous if left untrained.

Master Jinn still attempts to push her padawan through the Trials, so she can raise the Chosen One to the light. It is still too soon, and yet, not soon enough.

*

Oban Kenobi trusts her Master in all things, but knows that the Council does not feel the same. She has seen, in their years together, that Master Jinn could have the respect of the entire Order if she’d only pick her battles. They would have believed her about the Sith, if only she hadn’t gone against them before. They would have accepted her choice to train Anika if only she hadn’t failed with her previous padawans. If Qui-Gon Jinn had been better--not better, perhaps, but more in line with tradition--she could have built up a store of good will that allowed her unconventional, maverick nature to flourish when it counted most.

Oban Kenobi still watches her Master die at the hands of Darth Maul. She still nearly falls, for multiple definitions of the word, and still slices the menace in half and casts her into the pit, and still kneels by Master Jinn’s side and swears to train Anika because Anika is the Chosen One.

Oban Kenobi has never in her life been Chosen. Accepted, and endured, and humored, and fought every step of the way as she negotiates a place for herself in a universe that does not bend to accommodate her, but never chosen.

She still resolves to become the perfect Jedi.

She has seen what becomes of those who the Jedi deem imperfect.

*

The war does not change. Amidala still retakes his planet from an army of Federation droids, with Anika destroying the control ship through luck and Force and happenstance.

He will serve another term as its king. He and Boss Nass still parade through Theed, and hold the gift of peace between them. The Jedi are still in attendance to be honored, and the stars have not left Anika’s eyes when she looks at the young man she knew first as Nabér, the kind and passionate boy who held her hand when she left her only family behind.

*

Nabér Amidala never intends to leave the political stage. Even after he calls for the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum, he knows the corruption of the Senate, and seeks to destroy it. When he ages out of his role as child-king, he immediately runs for the Galactic Senate, and is elected on the first attempt. He leaves behind his facepaints and ceremonial masks but retains all the knowledge of their use, and still employs his bodyguards and doubles. By the time he is twenty-four he has cultivated an Image, and learned to use his natural good looks to hide his calculating nature. It may all be in the name of justice and democracy, but Nabér Amidala knows what horror comes to those who stand meekly aside. Nabér Amidala is anything but meek.

It is no surprise to anyone that many in the galaxy want him dead.

Jango Fett is not the first, nor the last, to take out a contract on the Senator of Naboo. She is, however, the most immediately successful.

*

The galaxy is sundered, whether a countess rules the Separatists or a count.

It takes the same ten years for two Jedi to come to Amidala’s aid again. The same sort of changes have overcome them both: Oban is growing out her padawan cut and it’s somewhat unflattering, and she is the pristine and composed image of a perfect diplomat, and while Anika is grown tall and reedy she is the farthest thing from subdued. She is taller than her Master, lithe and lethal, but her face is still framed in innocent baby-fat and her eyes and lips still turn down with unbridled petulance. She still trips over her tongue when she addresses Nabér for the first time, and when he calls her Little Ani even though she’s an inch taller than him at least her heart crashes to the floor.

Some things never change.

It is still decided that Anika will accompany Nabér as his bodyguard, and Oban will hunt Jango.

Kamino remains the same, but its commodity, by necessity, is quite different.

*

Strictly speaking, the clones are female. Since Jango served as template, they would be. The Kaminoans have taken advantage of the clones’ already high pain tolerance and sensory perception and trunk strength, and thus most (though not all) of the genetic modifications are neurological. They have weeded out Jango’s aberrant aggression, enhanced the clones’ tendency to defer, diminished hormonal fluctuations. Both as a precaution and a convenience measure, the clones are grown with no reproductive functions.

Oban is repeatedly assured that these clones will make ideal soldiers for the Jedi: strong with no bloodthirst, hierarchical with no ambition, and conditioned from birth to defer to Force users.

The clones call each other sister.

Oban is relieved that she had the foresight to not send Anika on this branch of the mission.

*

Naboo, no matter the universe, is an unparalleled romantic landscape. It sets the stage for tortured confessions, furtive kisses, a man concerned that he’s abusing his position and a young woman with no right to her own emotions. They fall in love, and talk of war, and if anything it’s even more expected.

Anika’s visions of Tatooine, of her father’s capture and death, are just as horrifying, and Nabér still agrees to go with her to prevent this if she can. They are, of course, unsuccessful. Shim dies, and Anika slaughters a village of sandpeople like animals, and makes no distinction between them based on gender or age. They took her family: she will take theirs. It is that simple to her, and that troubling.

Nabér holds her through her rage, and kisses her, and thinks that she must be exaggerating. She can’t truly have thought of them as chattel, could she? She’s a Jedi, and a woman, and was once a slave. Surely it’s not so bad as she thinks it is. Surely.

*

Geonosis transpires exactly as the Chancellor hopes. The Separatists are granted their legitimacy, and the clone army is deployed to engage them no matter the reservations of the Jedi. Casualties are high for the Republic and negligible for the Separatists. Dooku wounds both Oban and Anika in their fight, and escapes with the Death Star schematics, and the Jedi are embroiled in a war for the first time in a thousand years.

Two droids still stand witness to the secret marriage of a Jedi and a Senator. He wears the finery that befits his position, she the coarse robes and raw silk that honor hers. Their hands still clasp, and one of hers is missing, replaced with cold metal and raw wire joints.

Even on the happiest day of her life, Anika Skywalker cannot help but remember that her body is not her own.

*

During the Clone Wars, Oban is tasked with one hazardous mission after another. She faces Grievous time and again, leads the 212th into battle, infiltrates Separatist cells, and never loses the Negotiator smile. She is briefly enslaved, but never broken. She fakes her own death to pose as her killer, and saves the Chancellor’s life. Maul comes for her again, and kills her particular friend the Duke of Mandalore, and Oban bears up under pressure because what else can she do? The perfect Jedi feels no suffering. The perfect Jedi has no attachments. The perfect Jedi does not dwell on the one when the many are in need. The perfect Jedi should never have had a particular friend in the first place.

During the Clone Wars, Anika still takes, and loses, a padawan of her own. Sohka is a spunky little firebrand at first, and of course he butts heads with his equally aggressive master, but they forge each other in their own fire and temper themselves in the war. But Anika is no longer young, and more used to suffering, and Sohka is not, and the pressures catch up with the padawan first. The Council still casts Sohka out, two years into his apprenticeship, for a crime he didn’t commit. The Council took her father, then Oban, and now it’s taken Sohka. Anika should know by now that nothing is hers.

During the Clone Wars, Nabér fights one losing battle after another in the Senate. Some planets thirst for war, others are caught in its crossfire, but most of them want the result without the reality. Nabér puts all of his charms to work, calls in every favor he’s owed and curries for more. Allies reveal their true colors and betray him. Gossip channels, eager for airtime about anything but the war, speculate on his love life with seemingly everyone in the galaxy, much to the annoyance of his secret wife on the front.

They steal as much time together as they can. Their relationship is still tested, and doesn’t always pass it. For all their love, there is simply too little time, too little understanding, and far too little trust.

And yet, during the Clone Wars, Anika finds herself pregnant.

*

It is impossible for her to hide. Oban knows before Anika begins to show, but is tactful enough not to insinuate who the father might be. They are still on the front, and by the time they can return to Coruscant she’s nearly halfway to her due date. She is not permitted to leave the Temple until the Council has pronounced its judgment.

As a member of the Council, Oban is there when Anika confesses that yes, she intends to keep the child. She will not give up the name of the father, and holds her shields against any attempts to scan for it. They dismiss her to the healers with concern and congratulations, and Oban remains behind. The Council, Mace in particular, is reluctant to pull Anika from the front where she’s so vital, but she’s certainly entitled to leave and has been since her padawan was dismissed. Yoda remembers, years ago, when it was suggested in this very chamber that Anika should not be trained and instead they should wait a generation; this is the opportunity they have sought. And so Yoda rules that in accordance with Jedi precedent, that if the father is unknown or unnamed, the child of a Jedi mother belongs to the Order.

It is the origin of a fifth of the Council, after all. Oban included. From their point of view there is no shame, no theft, and no honor lost in such an act. But Master Jinn is long gone, and no one is there to remind the Council that Anika may not see it their way.

*

Nabér is the thirtieth person to find out about his children’s existence, but the second to learn that there will, in fact, be two of them.

He holds his wife, and they both cry, and as soon as they’re done crying they plan. They’ll have the children on Naboo. Anika can serve her medical leave there, and Nabér’s family will help mind them when Anika returns to the Order.

If, Nabér says. If Anika returns to the Order.

Their ensuing fight, suffice it to say, changes everything.

*

Shim is dead.

Sohka is gone.

Oban is the Council’s pawn.

Nabér has just implied that Anika can’t be both a Jedi and a mother.

Anika has no one else to turn to but the Chancellor. The Chancellor, who understands more about the hypocrisies and corruption of the Jedi Order than she should. The Chancellor, who had children of her own, decades ago, and now governs the galaxy, and has it all. The Chancellor, who has watched Anika grow up with no personal investment in choice or prophecy, only genuine care.

The Chancellor, the only mother Anika has ever known.

But for all the things that this universe changes, Palpatine’s thirst for power is not one of them. Such things transcend time and space.

There is no need for dreams of dead lovers. There is no need for false insinuations that the Senator is unfaithful, at least not yet. All Palpatine needs is the entirely founded fear that the Order will take Anika’s children away.

She covertly steers her protégée toward the Archives and the crèches. She drops rumors about Jedi eugenics and kidnapping. She mixes her advice on prenatal care and self-care with legends of miraculous birth, of the race of the Sith, of the thousands of Force-users around the galaxy that are not under the Jedi heel. She implies that Anika may have been conceived by the Force itself, or someone using it, and that the Jedi, warmongers that they have become, would channel that power into generations more of false peace and true pain.

And of course, when Anika corners the Council about this, it’s all true. From a certain point of view.

*

She does not have the children on Naboo. She remains under house arrest on Coruscant. She has not seen her husband in two months, and he is not there when Leia and Luke are born, in the medcenter of the Jedi Temple.

Perhaps if Oban could be spared, she would have stayed at Anika’s side through all this. But no, she is the best the Order has, and she is out seeing to General Grievous, and can afford her former padawan no protection when the Council comes to take the children to the crèches, a mere week after they are born.

And perhaps if Oban was there, she would have taken Anika’s lightsaber from her. Anika was not the only one to need protection that day.

She kills a dozen temple guards when she takes her children and flees.

*

The Chancellor offers her sanctuary of course, and promises to keep Leia and Luke safe. When the Jedi come to 500 Republica to apprehend Anika, they are in direct violation of galactic law, but Anika is wanted for more than just Republic crimes, and the controversy throws the Senate into an uproar, even worse than Sohka’s trial.

A Jedi strike team led by Mace breaks the sanctuary and storms the Senate, on the suspicion that Palpatine is the Sith Lord they’ve been seeking for over a decade, and thus this entire operation is not only illegal but potentially cataclysmic.

It is.

Darth Sidious reveals herself, and Anika kills Mace Windu. She kneels and takes a Sith title of her own, and leads the execution of Order 66. The chief difference, this time, is that her children are here to see it.

*

Palpatine is named Empress. Democracy dies with thunderous applause, and Nabér stands witness.

When he comes home, Anika is there, settling their twins into their never-used basinets. He begs her forgiveness, and she says that the time has passed for that. But Nabér must take the children to Naboo immediately. Anika will join them there once the Empress’s position is secure. She’s worked it all out; she can have everything the Order denied her. Her husband. Her children. The true depths of her power. Everything. And she can share it with him, if only he’ll do this one small thing.

It is, plainly, one last chance for him to earn back Anika’s trust. It is a test.

Nabér fails it, but passes another, by telling Oban everything.

*

The fight still comes to Mustafar.

Nabér dies at the hand of his wife, smothered on the docks for his well-meant treachery. There is no ambiguity about it, no unconsciousness, no loss of will to live. The body is still interred and enshrined, later, on Naboo, surrounded by flowers and a false, peaceful mien.

Oban fights her padawan through their wounds and tears. The battle still destroys the mines, drives the lava up in geysers. They are still two Jedi, matched and in their prime, halves of a single soul.

Anika makes that desperate leap, and loses her remaining limbs for it. The supposedly perfect Jedi stares down the slope in horror at what she’s wrought, at the burning inhuman creature shouting hatred at the stars that Oban’s years of selfless love have earned her. She stares, and cries, and when she kneels to take Anika’s lightsaber she kisses the charred skin of Anika’s brow and begs, please, return to us, to me.

The metal of Anika’s remaining hand brands Oban’s cheek as she slaps her away.

The earth still breaks to separate them, and Oban still learns that she was never, and could never be, chosen.

*

Instead of a lifesuit, the Sith apprentice is subject to elaborate reconstructive surgery. It takes months. Her lungs and limbs and eyes are replaced, and new skin grafted. It is par for the course; her body was never hers. Now it is more efficient, more machine than flesh, and machines can be repaired and replaced and recalibrated. Even if she can’t claim it, she can control it.

The Empress informs her apprentice that Oban killed the Skywalker children.

She will still spend years searching her old Master out, only for Oban to bring one of them back to set the galaxy right.

*

In a little less than nineteen years, Luke Antilles-Organa will be captured and held on the Death Star, and watch his planet crumble to dust.

Leia Kenobi will save him.

**