Come Back, Anni! Rating: PG
Diana deRiggs

My first reaction was simply not to believe Wald. The Rodian was not susceptible to sand sickness, it's true, but there is a first time for everything. Then again, why would he make this up? He told me that Watto told him that Anakin was back on planet, and he'd come to his former master's shop to find his mother! Darn that Rodian for making deliveries that day!

I could go to Watto's now and get the Toydarian to tell me more, but honestly, what more do I have to know? He's come looking for Shmi, which means he'd know to go past Anchorhead, past Mos Eisley, to find the Lars farm! I wonder if he knew that Shmi is married now? Of course he didn't! If he'd known, he wouldn't have gone to Watto's, eh?

Winning that podrace was the biggest thing Anakin ever did for the likes of me and Wald. We — Wald, Anakin, me — we were all slaves, meaning our parents belonged to another being in perpetual servitude, or we were captured; me, I was taken by pirates when I was young. By being the first — the only — human to win a podrace, Anakin had won his freedom. A Jedi Knight named Qui-gon had bet the pods Anakin was riding against my best friend's freedom, and Anakin's master, Watto, had lost the bet. This was the first time — the only time — we'd known of a slave winning his freedom in a race. It sounds corny, but it gave us all hope that we, too, could earn our freedom somehow. It was something we'd never dared hope before!

Before Anakin left Tatooine forever, he'd sold his pod to Sebulba the Dug of Malastare and gave the money to his mother who was to be left behind — the Jedi had not been able to win her freedom as well. But not all of it! Anni told me he owed me for being on his pit crew, and gave me and Wald the standard ten percent winnings each for free men! He'd instructed us not to show it off, or our masters would take it from us; for technically, what is earned by a slave all belongs to his or her master. Wald has hoarded his, and is waiting to buy or trade for enough parts to build a swoop that Anakin designed before he'd left — the crazy Rodian means to race for his freedom like Anakin did! Of course, we understand that Anakin has the Force with him — the Jedi told us so. Wald will be lucky to keep his skin on his frame if he races anything Anakin intended to ride!

As for me, I bought a holobook all about formal protocol and etiquette, and started to educate myself. I want to move up in the world, to be a man of culture and influence. Men of that sort have lives which are so much easier than the life of labor we suffer. I'll be hired by Rendalla as her major domo once I pay off Gardulla the Hutt for my freedom. Already, I have nearly enough saved away, but working at the Three Moons as a steward is not much better than slave work. But soon as a free man, I will be involved less in extortion, and more into security and culture. I imagine my job will be the equivalent to the work of a chamberlain on a Core World. I will learn much from Rendalla, and none of this rosy future would have been possible without Anakin's bequest at the very start. I've saved enough money not only to purchase my freedom, but I intend to marry Ulda, the tapcaf and swoop track operator with whom I've had a surreptitious relationship for many years.

But that's neither here nor there ... right now, I have to see Anakin, and tell him that I'm almost free! What will he be like now, as a Jedi? Will he remember me? Surely he'll remember me!

Shmi lives past Mos Eisley, and I'm still here in Mos Espa. I've managed to borrow an eopie, but even if the weather holds, it will take me what's left of the night and nearly the whole day to reach the Lars. How I wish Wald had got going on building that rocket-powered swoop! If it's one-tenth as fast as Anakin's notes and calculations indicate, I could have been there in a couple of hours!

As the four-legged creature walked along at its own pace, I hoped not to run into Tusken Raiders. I'd heard they'd been attacking the new farmers and settlements; this happens every time new homesteads were built. The Raiders took these to be deliberate encroachments into their hunting and watering grounds, and they could be vicious if any prisoners were taken alive. It's said that it's better to kill yourself than to survive a Raider attack.

But mostly, I thought about my best friend. Would Anakin remember his life here? It's been ten years since he won his freedom, perhaps he's forgotten slavery. Perhaps he's a powerful Jedi now, and he's come to free us? How ironic that he's come when we are nearly all free; and he did free us, by winning the Boonta Eve Podrace. He showed us the path, like a how-to manual to follow. Of course, he's special, so it's just taking me and Wald longer.

I wondered how he would take the news that his mother was free now, and married to Cliegg Lars. Me, Wald and Amee went to the wedding — we traveled by foot all the way to Anchorhead. Watto had showed up by surprise that day, too! The cranky old Toydarian turned out to be a softhearted fellow after all. He even gave us a ride back to Mos Espa after the wedding, so we wouldn't have to walk all the way back. He offered Wald a job on the way home, saying that with Shmi belonging to Cliegg, he needed a worker at the yard. Wald was excited; he knew Watto would have to talk to his master, but it was like being a free man!

After the long, hot journey, I saw the 'vaporator field of the Lars homestead. Normally, seeing any sign of hospitality and a reprieve from the blinding heat would cause one to rejoice, but something felt wrong as I approached. I don't have the Force, not like Anni did, but I could feel the sadness in the quiet of the Lars farm. No one seemed to be around, and things looked — and felt — oddly different. It took me a while to realize that there was a large, windblown depression a few hundred metres from the homestead, and even longer to recognize that it looked like a small starship had hovered over the area. And it occured to me that Shmi's singing wasn't echoing from inside; neither was C3PO's prattling as he talked to the leaky moisture 'vaporators.

I got off the eopie and walked to the edge of the dug-in courtyard that was the opening of the home. I called out, "It's Kitster! I've heard Anni has come home! Can I see him, please? Hello?" The silence was creepy.

I led the eopie around the edge of the pit, till I came to the proper front of the house by the formal entrance stairs. About 30 meters away toward the precipice facing the suns, I saw a man on a repulsorlift chair, but there was something very odd about him. It took me a few moments before I realized he only had one leg; it took a few moments more to realize it was Cliegg Lars! Was I hallucinating?

I wasn't a close friend to Cliegg; I only knew him as Shmi's husband, so I walked up carefully and quietly, then cleared my throat. This was the protocol in such a situation. I cleared it again at intervals till Cliegg looked up and around at me.

"Kit ... Kitster, that's your name, son?" Cliegg looked awful, like he hadn't been sleeping. I worried about his leg, but I didn't dare ask about it.

"Yes, sir. Kitster Banai. I'm a friend of the Skywalkers." I wondered if Anni had been here after all? Surely, I couldn't have passed him in the night without seeing him?

Cliegg looked more sad, "You're too late, Kitster. Anakin is gone. Shmi is gone. Just me, Owen, and Beru are left."

I was stunned. Gone? But he'd only been in Mos Espa less then three days ago! Had Anni taken his mother away with him off-planet?? "I don't understand, sir ... Anakin was here? My understanding — I heard this from Wald, who works now for Watto — is that Anakin came looking for his mother? Is Shmi here, sir?"

Cliegg turned away, "Yes ... she'll never leave now. She died yesterday ... the Tuskens took her, and Anakin brought her home."

The shock robbed me of my breath. Shmi Skywalker is dead?? But Anni was here! Surely he would have saved her!

Cliegg looked up at me, his eyes red from crying. The pain was still fresh to him, and I realized what he'd said — his wife had died just yesterday ... Is that how he lost his leg? "There was nothing anyone could have done. Anakin said he felt her pain, and came as soon as he could. But not even the Jedi could save her from what those monsters had done to her for the past month."

I was still stunned. I didn't realize I was on my knees, or that Cliegg had yelled for help. I felt arms pull me back so I was sitting, I felt someone prying the leather reins from my fingers to take the eopie away so the creature could feed and rest.

Staring ahead of me, over the bluff, I watched Tatoo I dipping below the horizon, followed rapidly by Tatoo II. I saw Anakin, diving into the Tusken lair, trying to save his mother. A month of torture! How had she lasted? How had Anakin found her after so long in Tusken captivity?

I felt someone leading me inside as the darkness fell, telling me it wasn't safe to be out at night. Anakin had killed a whole tribe of Tuskens, and they'd be seeking vengeance now. Anyone left away from the safety of a settlement would likely be taken and tortured more brutally than Shmi had been.

I hadn't realized Shmi had been missing. Realistically, what could I have done even if I'd known? My heart dropped like a stone, knowing I should have done something. But if Anni couldn't save his mother, what could I have done. I finally felt tears fall down my face and I felt my stomach heave as I sobbed into my arms.

I'd fallen asleep at the dining table, and I awoke with my head still in my hands, my eyes bloated from crying. Beru woke me up; she is Owen Lars's girlfriend. She had been crying too, but she told me — without my asking — everything she knew about Shmi's abduction. Beru had met Anakin, and told me what he looked like, what he was wearing, the things he did and said. Even when Cliegg told him that Shmi was probably dead, Anakin refused to believe it and left on Owen's old speederbike to find her. He actually got there in time to see his mother just as she expired.

She didn't know how he had ridden so far or so fast, but I knew — Anni really was a Jedi now! As she described him, kneeling on his mother's grave, she told me the things he cried as he buried her, I knew it really was Anakin who had come and not some imposter or pretender. He was the same boy I knew as a child, who loved his mother.

Beru told me about the woman who had come with Anni. She said the woman called herself Padmé, and she was not from here. Beru described her as a woman with soft, luminous skin and long, flowing hair. This Padmé was from a world of water and shade; I'm not sure how Beru knew all of this. Perhaps they had talked while Anakin was away searching for Shmi. When I asked who this woman was to Anni, Beru smiled and said Padmé loved Anakin, and she suspected the two might even be married soon. Then she confessed that she and Owen had decided to set the date for their wedding in the next few days, and asked me to come, if I could, as a representative from Shmi's side? She offered to let me stay at the homestead, perhaps to help her move her things from the Whitesun farm. I told her I needed a few hours to sort out how to arrange with my employer for the time off, but I was honored to be asked as an honorary Skywalker!

She got up from the table to make breakfast for Owen and Cliegg, and I had a few moments to myself. So much had happened, so much information to process in my head! From my self-education, I had thought Jedi were forbidden to love another. If Anni was a Jedi, who was this Padmé who loved him?

I thought about what Beru told me, that Anni had apologized to his mother, about not being strong enough, and promising not to fail again. But Shmi was dead; what did he mean by "fail again"? She wasn't going to come back to life, how could he fail her "again"?

I used the 'fresher to wash my puffy, tired face, and wondered what Anni had failed at, and why he felt compelled to promise his dead mother he would not do it again?

Then I remembered that Anni had killed that tribe of Tuskens. He would have done it in anger and rage, probably hoping to atone for Shmi's death. That's not very Jedi-like, from what I understand. Was that the failure he was referring to?

From what I've read about the Jedi, once a Jedi has crossed into what's referred to as the "dark side," his path is influenced by it forever. I have read everything I can get my hands on about the Jedi — begging, borrowing and even stealing holos and books, because I was desperate to know about Anni's new life. I haven't seen in him in a decade, yet I feel he is the same person I knew when we were just boys with impossible dreams. That boy would have been horrified to know he had crossed into the dark side of the Force.

But what if he ran too quickly the other way, and immersed himself in a woman who was good and loving and beautiful, from a world completely different from his own? Jedi are forbidden to love; so would not this woman be the dark side, too?

Oh, Anni, I heard Shmi's voice in my head, though it was my heart that yelled out, be careful when you come home! Be careful!

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