From A Distance
Iella

"Alema Rar!"

I hear Master Luke call my name and I step forward. The silence in the darkened auditorium is so intense it's palpable, and I'm almost willing to mistrust my Jedi senses which are telling me the place is packed.

Although I'm here to celebrate becoming a Jedi Knight, I feel tears pricking at the back of my eyelids, and I wonder how many in the audience are experiencing the same sensation. This ceremony with its heartbreaking invocation of the dead has been designed to affect people's emotions. It's meant to remind the New Republic about the role of the Jedi, and also to help them remember how many of the order have sacrificed themselves already for the good of the many. But now, although the images of the dead have faded, I still feel one presence radiating its familiar resolution and power -- one whom I, like the others here, would have willingly followed through hell. Anakin. Anakin Solo.

I see Master Luke studying me while Tresina Lobi and Kyp Durron help me into my new Jedi robes, and it suddenly strikes me how difficult this ceremony must be for him. Sure, he must be proud to see a new generation of Jedi Knights step up to face the challenge of knighthood. He must feel that all those years spent training and advising were years well spent, and the fact that we're all standing here now vindicates his trust and unconditional love. But he also knows his pride in us has come at a cost, and I see in his pale blue eyes, eyes that remind me of Anakin's, the shadow of pain and loss as he remembers just what that cost means.

Does he, like me, wish at this point to curl up in a corner and weep again for that young, vital, beautiful boy who dedicated his life so completely to his perception of what being a Jedi means? Does he yearn to see Anakin stroll in, tall and lanky, moving with the athletic grace of a warrior, and stand at the edge of the group to watch the proceedings with that familiar earnest expression? Does he remember how sometimes that look would dissolve into a lop-sided grin or become sardonic with the lift of one eyebrow?

Whatever his thoughts, Master Luke is compelled for the moment to fulfil his role of celebrant, just as I am compelled to fulfil mine of participant. I know I should be enjoying the ceremony -- and in so far as it recognises our achievements and our sacrifices I am. But it's hard with that image of Anakin still floating in the forefront of my mind, and the horrific picture seared into my memory of my sister Numa who died in my arms, her face ravaged in a voxyn attack. I try and clear my mind, and call on the Force yet again to fill me with its serene power.

Master Luke has added a private touch to the ceremony -- a few minutes when he moves away from the microphone to give us each our own personal message. Now I'm garbed in my new robes he speaks quietly to me, acknowledging my sorrow and offering me the chance to go to Kashyyyk and heal. Once again the tears threaten to spill over on to my cheeks -- an outpouring of accumulated grief and gratitude, remembered terror and relief. The Force strengthens me and supports me, and I look around at the others' faces and wonder just how strongly its seemingly infinite reservoir is being called upon at this time.

After me it's the turn of Lowbacca, and then Jacen and Zekk. I feel in Lowie his deep-seated joy, in Jacen, his conflicting emotions of bemusement and ready acceptance, and in Zekk, his radiant pride. I smile with many in the audience at the sight of the tall Wookiee having to lean down so Master Luke can draw the cowl of his robe over his shaggy head.

It seems strange, when you think about it -- this process of enclosing us in robes. Usually the act of cloaking implies something secretive, or even deceptive, and you would expect a ceremony such as this to involve revelation and disclosure. Becoming Jedi Knights, however, does set us apart in that while we remain part of the mainstream of life, we also have to be able to separate ourselves from it. We must remain in touch with life, and yet still be able to see beyond it and connect with a truth that's universal rather than insular. Yet, paradoxically, to see this bigger picture, we need to concentrate on the power of the Force within. The robes, therefore, create a kind of enclosure, a perimeter within which we can operate, and which can drown out the clamour of the present and the incidental.

After Zekk, Master Luke calls for Tahiri Veila to step forward, and I watch as she moves noiselessly on her bare feet. She looks pale, and her tiny frame seems even smaller, and fragile -- very fragile. When I look at her I see her courage and determination, and yet through the Force I see that these are not coming as easily as they once did. With Anakin beside her, Tahiri burned brightly. Without him that light is beginning to waver.

I study her more closely. Although petite, her body is compact and shapely, although less so now that she has lost weight. Her hair still shines like yellow sand under a desert sun, and the scars on her forehead, rather than spoiling her looks, give her an aura of mystery. I still envy her. I still see some of the other boys looking at her from time to time with expressions of endearment or hopeful interest. I remember hearing one of them -- Zekk I think it was -- murmuring once to Jacen how she reminded him of a little doll. I envy her and yet I know I shouldn't, partly because envy is corrosive and useless, and partly because the main reason for my envy is now gone. Yet still, she had what I would have given my soul to have -- Anakin's heart.

It's ironic when you think about it. I should pity her, and I guess to a certain extent I do. After all, she's lost the boy she loved with all her soul -- has had him ripped away from her. Yet I feel more sorry for myself. I know that sounds terribly selfish and heartless, but it's true. Tahiri at least knew what it was to be loved by him; she knew the taste of his lips, the warmth of his body and the comfort of his arms. All I had was the consolation of dreams -- pleasures that were phantom and fleeting, and which left me feeling hollow. I should pity her for all that she has lost -- but instead I pity myself for what I never had, and never could have. Anakin's love.

I watch as Tahiri listens to Master Luke, and I see, as well as sense, her struggle not to weep as she batters the grief that threatens to overwhelm her back behind the durasteel shield of her resolve. Had she once looked forward to this day and imagined how it would feel to be standing side by side with Anakin, sharing each other's achievement? I wonder how much longer her tiny frame can contain her sense of loss without becoming in itself a void, and whether she is calling on her memories to support her.

Memories! I have those too. But I know if I indulge them now, I'll lose my already tenuous hold on my emotions. For the present I must hold my head high, and show Master Luke that his confidence in me is well-founded. I see Tahiri's chin tremble as she moves back into the group, and Tekli's comforting touch of her hand as she passes her on her way forward. After Tekli it is Jaina's turn, and then is the time for our recitation of the Jedi Code to which the crowd responds with wild applause. I steel myself for the reception Cal Omas has planned, like many of the others putting on a brave public face while crying out for the solace of solitude and meditation.

****

It's evening. The celebrations are over, and all is silent except for the gentle slap of water outside my window. There's something both soothing and mournful about the sound -- mournful, because I can't help thinking how many tragic stories the seas of Mon Calamiri might be whispering as they ebb and flow around me. Soothing, because the timeless rise and fall of the tides tells me that, regardless of what happens, life continues -- saddened, maybe irreversibly changed, but indomitable. In the smooth surface of the water I see the silvery lights of the city, and my imagination joins the points into an image of Anakin's face. Now, in the solitude of my room, I can release my memory from its restraints.

I remember the first time I saw him. I'd spent my first week at Eclipse recovering from the voxyn attack that killed my sister and so hadn't had a chance to meet the other young Jedi. Jaina had sought me out the first morning after Master Cilghal had pronounced me fit enough to leave her infirmary, and had offered to show me around and introduce me to the others. By the time lunch arrived, I'd met just about everyone except for Anakin, and I assumed he must have been elsewhere -- perhaps away with his father or uncle. I was a little disappointed as I had wanted to meet him. I already knew a little about him, thanks to the various reports smuggled into New Plympto from Jedi sympathisers. Being involved with the resistance movement there had meant that Numa and I had had to make do without things like the HoloNews, but the last holo I had seen of Anakin when he was about fifteen suggested he was becoming quite good-looking -- a little like his father in fact.

None of this could prepare me for my first view of him on Eclipse though. When Jaina couldn't find him, she took me down to the docking bay and, with a mischievous grin, had told me to listen. Mystified, I had done as she requested and eventually noticed a faint chattering sound along with a metallic squeak that I took to be someone tightening a spring of some sort. To my surprise, Jaina went up to one of the shuttles parked there and knocked loudly on the open hatch in the front fuselage.

"You in there, Anakin?" she shouted.

In reply I heard a loud thud and a muffled curse, and then a head of tousled brown hair slid into view.

"What's up?" he said.

"I thought you and Tahiri might like to meet Alema." Jaina turned to me and threw me a crooked smile. "As you can see, Anakin takes great pride in his appearance -- he's the tidy one of the family."

"It's good to hear you're acknowledging it at last, sis." He gave her a lop-sided grin and twisted round on to his stomach so he could extricate himself from the cramped space in the hatch. I don't know when my mouth fell open. It might have been when I registered the fact he'd stripped off the top of his vac suit and tied the arms round his waist, leaving his torso bare except for a skimpy singlet top. Or it might have been when he grinned at me and offered me his hand and then, realising it was greasy, wiped it hastily on his thigh. I did manage to say hello back -- I think. I know I spoke to Tahiri, who had followed Anakin out of the hatch, although I know I wasn't taking much notice of her. It wasn't until we went to leave that I'd registered she was blonde and pretty. All I could do was stare at Anakin. Up until then, if you'd told me a guy bathed in sweat and covered in grease marks could look so good I would have laughed in your face. You would have had the last laugh. If there were a paradise for grease monkeys, Anakin would have been its chief god.

Over the next few days I tried to get a chance to speak to him alone, but that proved impossible. It began to dawn on me that he and Tahiri were what you might call a number -- the number one. I could have sworn they had some unseen umbilical connection. In fact, I think I did swear -- a number of times -- to myself of course. It seemed so unfair. Anakin was my age, my idea of perfection, but he obviously belonged to someone else.

The extent of that belonging soon became clearer. The looks he would throw Tahiri sometimes when we were all together and he wanted to get her attention. The way he'd sometimes slip his hand into hers under cover of the table while they were waiting for the rest of us to finish eating. The mysterious way they'd vanish from the lounge late in the evening so unobtrusively that none of us would register they'd even left. It was impossible to break into that sort of unity.

And believe me, I tried. I went through my wardrobe and selected some of my more revealing clothes, but all that succeeded in doing was raising Raynar Thul's blood pressure, provoking venomous stares from the other girls, and getting me a gentle reprimand from Master Luke and a chat about propriety. I tried emulating Tahiri's style -- casual but cutely appealing. That got Master Luke's approval, and calmed Raynar down, but from Anakin it got a similar response to my previous attire -- in other words, nothing. I probably could have appeared nude and his reaction would have been the same. And I did consider it! Not seriously, of course, but I was that desperate.

You have to understand how frustrating this was for me. I know I'm attractive. That may sound terribly arrogant, but it is a fact. I've never had trouble getting men to notice me, or to buy me things and take me where I want to go. I've had several years of experience at dealing with them, at countering unwanted attention and encouraging the men I want. Anakin's total lack of interest and, most of all, his apparent failure to even notice me was really galling. It was something I'd never experienced before, and, quite frankly, I didn't know how to deal with it. I should hate him, but I couldn't then, and I can't now. When you're in love, you only have eyes for one person. I wouldn't have it any other way -- except that I wanted to be the one he smiled at, doted on, kissed. I wanted to be the one he held, the one he playfully chased in the corridor and threw laughingly over his shoulder. I wanted to be the one he spoke to at night in the quiet of his room.

I know what a number of people think about me -- that I, true to the Twi'lek stereotype, am well versed in the physical aspects of love. I guess this is where stereotypes are a double-edged sword. I would be lying if I said I didn't have experience, but I can differentiate between casual dalliances and something more meaningful. I may be sensual, but I'm not shallow.

Of course I wanted Anakin -- but only because I loved him. Of course I would have enjoyed having him make love to me. But when I imagined it, it was always in the context of us lying together afterwards cuddling, murmuring loving words to each other, and maybe making plans for the future.

The future. It seems so bleak now. It must seem bleak to Tahiri too, but at least she has the memory of what it once promised. I don't even have that. Nor do I even have the memory of him responding to my touch. The number of times I stood as close to him as possible, hoping that in some way touching him might at least make him aware I existed, might even communicate to him how much I wanted him. To this day I can still feel his warmth and his strength, but it feels as distant now as it was then. The Jedi Code tells us there is no emotion; there is peace. But I know that I would now feel peace if I'd felt at least some emotion from Anakin. I should hate him for his indifference, but I can't. All I feel is love, love for a boy I would have followed anywhere -- a boy I did follow. A boy maybe one day I will get to follow again in some better reality.

The salt on my cheeks is like the salt of the sea that surrounds me. I let myself drown in overwhelming sorrow knowing that when morning comes I can rise again, temporarily cleansed and refreshed, until memories claim me once more. I can let myself drown knowing that one day those memories will become like sepia-tinted holos that bring a sad but fond smile.

I should pity Tahiri, but I can't. I should hate her, but my sorrow leaves no room for hatred. I grieve for what I never had, and what I wanted most. His love. His devotion. Him -- body and soul.

Anakin.


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