Raen shivered in his suit. Pulling himself upward, it took a moment for him to realize where he was. He was still in the capsule that had been launched from Khondine’s vehicle, but it was no longer moving. The interior was almost pitch black except for the capsule’s primary monitor flashing like something was about to explode inside of it, and the small transparisteel window had cracked during the descent. Quickly checking his suit for damage, Raen was pleased to see that it held together.
Unable to maneuver very well inside the pod, Raen couldn’t figure out how to get out. Instead of wasting his time fidgeting about in his hefty suit, Raen determined to take the easy way out. Reaching into the Force, he called upon its energies to unleash his latent power and used a concentrated telekinetic burst on a single section of the wall. The capsule’s light armor shattered, letting Raen escape the pod.
Stepping out of his crashed capsule, Raen was pleased that he had made it to the city without incident. Peering around, he found his peripheral vision limited due to his helmet and his sight was strangely bloated by its visor. The city around him was elevated and encompassed at least three stacked levels roughly analogous to a lower, middle, and upper city. Individual platforms seemed to divide the city into districts, housing a number of factories, warehouses, and other buildings. These platforms were interconnected by various grated bridges, which in turn were connected to towering pylons that crackled because of the energy stored within them.
A few maintenance droids hovered between Raen and the first of many bridges, and a few cleaning droids took it upon themselves to begin the process of dismantling and repurposing his crashed pod. They were not hostile, and they seemed to pay him no mind. He realized that there would be no other sentient beings here on this planet of droids, so he would have to get used to them for the time being.
“Raen?” Khondine approached him from behind. Traveling in heavy strides, she didn’t seem to have any trouble walking in her suit. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, there haven’t been any problems. Where is Master Vash?” Raen asked.
“If I knew, I’d have told you beforehand,” Khondine snapped. “Do you think we’d even be here if we knew where she was?”
“It was a simple question!” Raen shot back. “Can’t you scan the area for organic life forms?”
“Most technology is rather… useless in this environment. The radiation, coupled with the droids’ jamming signals, limits accurate readings.”
“We ought to get rid of the radiation, then,” Raen said. “These suits aren’t exactly the pinnacle of comfort.”
Khondine tried to cross her arms, but the suit made it impossible. “Very well. We should speak to the archon ES-05 about that.”
“You said that word before: archon. What is that?”
“It’s basically an advanced artificial intelligence,” Khondine explained. “There are two archons on M4-78, and they are networked throughout the entire planet. One controls the environmental aspects of the planet, the other industrial. However, unless M4-78 itself is running, they are restricted to this city.”
“I take it you know how to get to ES-05?”
“Of course I do.” Khondine sounded offended. “I’ll lead the way.”
Raen silently fell in step behind the Arkanian Jedi. He was not keen on following Khondine’s orders, but he knew she was the only one with the ability to navigate M4-78 successfully. Without her, traveling through this city would be too difficult. She could handle herself, so at least Raen didn’t have to look out for her. This mission would have been entirely different if he had to go out of his way to defend her.
Leaving the first of many platforms behind, the two Force-sensitives crossed several bridges on their way toward the center of the city. The walk was eerily quiet; the plethora of droids hardly made a sound as they worked around the cityscape, and even the pylons seemed hushed after minutes of walking. As they got closer to their destination, the buildings seemed to get closer together and the droids became even more plentiful.
Khondine led Raen to the main processing area near the city center. Surrounded by massive structural columns with no apparent purpose and columns that stored energy, this expansive platform contained dozens of terminals—presumably for everyday use. Under normal circumstances, this would have doubled as a security hub, replete with data storage units and advanced droid cameras for systematic security. In addition to the standard fare of protocol and maintenance droids, a few armed combat droids could be seen in the alleys between buildings.
“Where do we go from here?” Raen asked.
“The environmental control center is to the east, across those platforms.” Khondine pointed toward a mundane, bulbous structure in the distance. “It’s not very far.”
“Attention intruders,” an automated voice boomed. “Your presence on M4-78 has not been authorized. Your intrusion will not be tolerated.”
“What was that?” Raen asked.
“I think it’s ES-05,” Khondine replied.
“Intruders who sought to confuse us, you Sith, you have been given your only warning,” ES-05 stated flatly.
“E-five! Wait! It’s me… Khondine Basilaron!” she shouted. “We are Jedi, not Sith. We’re not here to harm you!”
“Prepare for termination.”
The security droids’ photoreceptors blinked from white to red. While they hobbled into an optimum firing angle on their single legs, the other noncombatant droids fled the area to make way for more security forces. In seconds, at least three dozen combat units had swarmed the processing center. While their opponents lined up to fight them, Raen noticed that the eastern pathway sealed itself to prevent them from accessing ES-05’s hub.
A series of bleeps and bloops preceded a stream of crimson blaster fire. Raen instinctively reached for a weapon to defend himself, only to realize that he didn’t have one. He could have clipped a vibrosword to his suit’s anterior storage pocket, but Khondine had advised against it. He cursed himself for heeding her foolish advice. Luckily for him, before the blaster fire made contact, Khondine raised her hands and created a translucent bubble between them and droids. The red energy dissipated on contact with the Force shield, leaving them safe for a moment. When it was clear that their attacks were ineffective, a few droids began to approach the two Force-sensitives while the rest continued firing.
“Use the Force to destroy them!” Khondine instructed. “It’s too risky to try and use a lightsaber here!”
Raen nodded. Reaching into the Force, he gathered his power and lifted a droid with his mind. Turning it against its allies, Raen directed its blaster fire toward the crowd of defenders. Using his spare hand, Raen launched a telekinetic burst that shattered several other droids. While Raen tore them apart with his telekinetic attacks, Khondine used broken remains and damaged metal scenery as projectiles against the security droids.
Raen had destroyed at least a dozen droids by the time he realized that there were additional droids firing at him where he was sure he had destroyed them. Khondine did not seem to notice these additional droids. Muttering to himself, he realized that reinforcements steadily poured into this place in two or three minute intervals. For every five or six droids he and Khondine destroyed, the same number hobbled in from unseen holding areas to take their place. No matter how many they destroyed, the droids continued to replenish their lost units. Raen realized that they were only wasting their time and energy destroying wave after wave of enemy security droids. Khondine’s barrier was still strong, but it could not hold out forever. By then, they would be too tired to call upon the Force.
“We need a new plan!” Raen shouted. “We can’t reach ES-05 from here!”
“You think?” Khondine growled. “We’d be better backtracking to IS-24, the industrial archon.”
“Are you crazy? The archons are trying to destroy us!”
“ES-05 is trying to destroy us,” Khondine corrected him. “We don’t know what the other archon is thinking. Besides, it’s the only chance we have.”
Raen sighed. He hated acquiescing to Khondine’s suggestion, but he saw no other solution. They couldn’t destroy all these droids, not without help. Despite the fact that these archons were actively hostile, Raen trusted Khondine’s judgment. For now. He urged the Arkanian to lead the way to IS-24. She acknowledged him immediately, breaking a few of the droids with her mind before heading back toward one of the city’s landing arms.
Before he followed her, Raen closed his eyes and struggled to tap into his repressed anger. The dark side of the Force was once his constant ally; now, he had trouble recognizing its presence at all. The random collisions of blaster fire and the whirring of droids triggered a furious response in him—his hatred for the droids gave him strength. Smoke enveloped his hands. Wisps of flame became rings of fire that enveloped his arms, snaking around them and growing larger with each second.
Absorbing the energy from Khondine’s barrier to fuel his attack, Raen allowed his only defense to fade away. Blaster fire raced by him; the droids had been so intent on taking down the shield itself that they hadn’t been aiming at him specifically. With a shout, Raen unleashed his gathered flames upon the unsuspecting droids, burning their chasses and melting their arm-mounted blasters.
Taking advantage of the blinding smoke that accompanied his blazing attack, Raen bounded after Khondine. It took several minutes to catch up with her, and she apparently had not noticed his absence. Fearing that she was being pursued by combat droids, she made her way through alleyways and doubled-back through redundant passages just in case. Raen was too tired to actively sense her in the Force, but she seemed unharmed.
“Khondine, are you okay?” Raen activated his comlink.
“I’m fine,” she noted. “IS-24 isn’t very far from here. Just a few platforms and an elevator to go. It’s in the central level of the city.”
“Do you think it’ll be happier to see us than ES-05?” Raen asked with a sigh.
“Hopefully. There’s only one way to find out.”
“Lead the way, then.”
Northeus shivered in his seat. During his meditations, the dark side of the Force was undetectable, drowned out by the omnipresent strength of the light. However, while he was alone in the cockpit of their all-terrain transport, monitoring the viewscreen before him and the controls at his side, he could feel the weight of the darkness. Alert and pensive, he felt the dark side like the sudden onset of cold on a winter morning.
There were very few sentient beings on M4-78. Droids were incapable of reaching into the Force at all, and nature could not tap into the dark side of the Force without first being corrupted. The Jedi Master had met with the Force-users under his care; they were all unaffected and unchanged. That meant that one of the Force-sensitives in the city had reached into the darkness.
Of course, he knew it was Raen. He should not have been surprised. The boy had been a Sith acolyte for most of his life, and even after escaping their grasp, he immersed himself in the dark side of the Force. His raw power was dangerous, especially in battle. Northeus had ensured that his lightsaber style reflected the practices of the Jedi Order during their sparring session. However, his Force abilities were still untamed and prone to recklessness. They needed to be tended to as soon as possible.
Suddenly, another onset of the darkness struck at him. Unlike the first, which was powerful but localized, this one came from elsewhere. A terrifying disturbance in the Force. It had come from light years away, reaching across time and space to alert the Jedi Master. From the commotion in the cargo hold, it was evident that Syme and the other Jedi had also felt the dark side this time.
He needed to know the source of this new darkness. Closing his eyes, Northeus let himself be enveloped by the Force and fell into a meditative trance. The galaxy was laid out like a map before him, stretched thin for his mind’s eye. The power of the dark side clouded his vision, keeping him from seeing several sectors across the galactic plane. Slowly traveling through time as though this display was a holographic feature, Northeus noticed that the Teya system had recently been shrouded in darkness.
Teya IV was the location of a prominent Jedi academy. In fact, it was one of the farthest from the primary temple on Coruscant. The fact that the system had only recently fallen to the dark side meant that there must have been Jedi remaining in that academy. Had the Sith that attacked Coruscant traveled outward and destroyed this Jedi sanctuary? The Jedi Master wasn’t sure and had no way of knowing.
“Master Ulsan, the younger Jedi are alarmed by the presence of the dark side,” Syme said, pulling the Jedi Master out of his meditation.
“Tell them that they will be all right. The disturbance took place many light years from here, in the farthest reaches of Republic space.”
“What was it, Master?” Syme asked.
“I think a Jedi academy has fallen to the Sith, but I cannot be certain.”
“Should we investigate?”
“Not until Raen and Khondine return, hopefully with Master Vash.”
“We ought to help them, then,” Syme insisted. “We can leave this planet sooner if we do.”
“Not until the radiation is dealt with,” Northeus urged. “It’s too dangerous to leave, even if we had the Force to protect us. Remain here and meditate. I will summon you when we are ready to move.”
“Now entering the primary module for industrial archon. Stand by…” the announcement blared over a loudspeaker.
Raen leaned against the back of the elevator. It was difficult to do anything besides lean and stand in his suit, making it impossible to be comfortable. Khondine stood motionlessly, monitoring the elevator controls. She feared that ES-05 would attempt to shut down the elevator while they were inside, but Raen assured her that they would be fine. She brushed him off, as she was prone to do, and continued to watch out for trouble.
A quick ping greeted the two Force-users, and the elevator doors swung open. The chamber beyond was well lit, with glowpanels placed at convenient locations to conserve energy while dispelling most shadows from the room. Large generators rested near the wall, glowing a bright yellow-orange color as they converted stored energy for the archon’s use. A few turrets and droid guards were placed at key positions between IS-24’s core and the elevator.
To Raen’s surprise, he saw the bodies of several dead Sith troopers. Killed by blaster fire, he suspected that these corpses had been there for several days and probably reeked of decayed flesh. For the first time, Raen was subtly pleased that he was in an environmental suit and everything he smelled and breathed in was filtered.
“You will not need your extravehicular activity suits, sentients,” a crisp male voice announced. “These walls are meters thick, and this room has not been exposed to harmful radiation beyond the suits you’ve brought with you.”
Khondine pulled off her helmet. “Is that you, IS-24?”
“Greetings, USER: KBASILARON. It is a pleasure to see you are unharmed.”
“And you, I-for.” Khondine was more focused on peeling off her suit. “I need to know how many sentient beings are in the city.”
“Scanning… I detect two organic life forms in the city, besides you and your unregistered companion. Their vital signs are stable, but I cannot pinpoint their exact locations,” IS-24 reported.
“I see,” Khondine replied. “We need to find them. Can you do something about the radiation, I-for?”
“Have you spoken with ES-05?” IS-24 asked.
“We have not. E-five actually tried to kill us,” Raen spoke up.
“That is most disconcerting,” IS-24 mused. “ES-05 does not have security protocols to disable Jedi-organics. At most, she can defend her own core.”
“She…?” Raen muttered.
“Suffice to say, E-five cannot help us,” Khondine said with a sigh, bothered by these details. “Is there anything you can do, I-for?”
“Hypothetically, I could reroute the ventilation units throughout the city to expel the radioactive particles from the air and provide air from various clean sources. A standard industrial scrubbing of the city would remove other traces of non-airborne contaminants.”
“Would that be effective?” Khondine asked.
“Yes. You would no longer need your suits, that much is certain. Radiation levels have gone down since the bombardment; my countermeasures should be 97.5% effective in this environment.”
“Do it, then,” Khondine ordered, removing the last pieces of her suit.
“Beginning industrial cleansing…”
Raen pulled off the last of his EVA gear as IS-24 began the cleaning process. It felt strange and embarrasing in the cold air with nothing but a dark shirt and trousers, and he was sure Khondine felt the same way in a tank top and shorts. The Arkanian shot him a look as he stripped out of his bulky gear, but he could not quite identify it; she quickly redirected her gaze before he could inquire further.
Grateful for normal vision and hearing again, Raen took in his surroundings. As expected, the Sith corpses caused Raen to gag. He didn’t understand why the droids hadn’t dispensed of their bodies yet.
“Industrial cleansing complete. Radiation has been reduced to non-lethal levels. However, a proper environmental restoration will require the aid of ES-05. Shall I direct you to her?” IS-24 asked.
“That would be excellent. Thank you, I-for,” Khondine replied.
“Preparing crosstown ride for departure,” IS-24 announced. “USER: KBASILARON, may I express a concern?”
“M4-78 has been deactivated, as you know. If it is to be reactivated, and this planet’s functions restored, I must be synchronized with ES-05. For any sort of synchronization to take place, ES-05 must be able to contact me. Somehow, ES-05’s communication units have been separated from my own.”
“When we get there, we’ll be sure to reconnect you two, I-for,” Raen chimed in.
“Thank you very much. M4-78 as a whole unit will be just as thankful. The crosstown ride is ready: please head to the emergency transit hub through here.” IS-24 opened a door on the right wall, revealing a passage to the transport shuttle. “Be safe, USER: KBASILARON.”
The transport shuttle rocked again. Designed to be used by engineering or security personnel traveling between industrial and environmental archons, comfort was never a primary concern. Although the first major bump caused him some concern, Raen didn’t care about the safety hazards the transport presented. Khondine was a bit more wily than him, and she refused to relax even this far into the ride. Using her newfound ability to the best of her ability, Khondine paced back and forth while trying to determine their next course of action. She paid no attention to Raen, and she did not ask for his opinion. Raen smiled. This entire mission had been strange, filled with unforeseen obstacles and detours; he knew she had to take it in stride, but he couldn’t find it in himself to tell her that.
“We don’t know what ES-05 has done to defend itself,” Khondine said at last. “We have to be ready for anything.”
“It wasn’t ES-05 who attacked us,” Raen replied curtly.
“What?” Her pacing stopped.
“IS-24 said ES-05 was female. The voice we heard earlier was male.”
“You know droids are technically gender-neutral, right?” Khondine asked with a sigh.
“Of course.” Raen shook his head. Why did she think so little of him? “But if a droid is going to refer to its counterpart as female, then I would assume that it would be because it has a feminine personality.”
Khondine crossed her arms. “You make a good point. I’m impressed, Raen. I didn’t… I didn’t even catch that.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to impersonate an archon?”
“It’s always a possibility.”
An automated voice announced that the shuttle had arrived at the environmental archon’s hub. The door to the shuttle car slid open, revealing a room that looked similar to the one that housed IS-24. This room wasn’t as heavily guarded, lacking turrets and any security droids. Khondine immediately noticed the lack of defenses and reached for her weapon. Raen merely smiled and jumped to his feet.
“Let’s find out,” he said. “Are you ready?”
Raen stepped into the room first this time. Unarmed, he realized that leading the way wasn’t the safest plan, but Khondine needed assurance that it was safe. She hesitated for a second before following him, lightsaber activated. Glancing about, the room looked safe. A few droids had been damaged and their sparking remains were littered about the floor, and the turrets had actually been destroyed.
“Who’s there?” a voice called from inside ES-05’s hub.
“Khondine Basilaron and Raen Benax,” Khondine replied. “We’re Jedi. Who are you?”
“Master Vash,” came the reply.
Stepping out from ES-05’s core, the Jedi Master revealed herself to the two startled Force-sensitives. Clothed in tan robes with a flowing brown cloak, the design of her attire was similar to Northeus’s robes. She was taller than Khondine, and a bit more muscular. Her graying hair was tied into a bun behind her head, but she left a few strands hanging free beside her ears. Her silver lightsaber hummed as she stepped toward her guests.
“You’re alive!” Khondine smiled. “Master Vash, we were so worried.”
“Do not fear, Khondine. Everything is done, now. ES-05 has joined IS-24, and M4-78 has been reactivated,” Master Vash explained. “This world has been saved.”
“Who was impersonating ES-05?” Raen spoke up.
“That was Kaah Ohtok, my apprentice.” Master Vash sighed. “He had fallen to the dark side after he thought I had died during the bombing.”
“Did you… kill him?” Raen asked.
Master Vash glared at Raen. “I did what needed to be done. He could not even identify me when I confronted him here. He thought I was a Sith Lord.”
“You couldn’t save him?” Khondine gaped. “But he was your Padawan…”
“There was nothing I could do to save him. He was a servant of the dark side, and once you start down that path, it will forever control you.”
Raen shivered. He glanced at Master Vash and then at her lightsaber. She had killed her apprentice without a second thought. Her Padawan was confused without her; lost and alone, he was without guidance. He had taken over ES-05 in a last attempt to fulfill his orders, and then he had been eliminated by the one who had given him those instructions. The Jedi Order was falling apart on itself, and they were killing each other. Why? Raen just could not understand it.
“Master,” Khondine said. “Master Ulsan, Celes, and a few other Jedi are waiting for you at the city limits. Shall we take you to them?”
“Yes. We need to discuss exactly what happened here before we depart. Lead the way, Khondine.”
Master Vash’s hovercraft touched down just outside the circle of starfighters. Parked near the hovercraft, the other Jedi disembarked the all-terrain transport to meet up with the three Jedi from the city. While Doreva and the Ghoul wandered the perimeter, Celes and Syme were quick to join the two Jedi Masters, Raen, and Khondine in the center of the starfighters.
“It’s good to see you, Lonna,” Northeus spoke first.
“And you, Northeus,” Master Vash noted. “It is encouraging to see so many Jedi Knights have survived the Sith attacks.”
“How did the Sith get here?” Northeus asked.
“They have been here at least since the war against Exar Kun. Declaring themselves the Makers, they convinced IS-24 and ES-05 to construct a droid army to use in their future conquests. I led this expedition to expel them from the planet.”
“With radiation bombs?” Raen asked. “That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“It was the safest solution,” Master Vash insisted. “We could not risk open confrontation—we didn’t have the Jedi or time. The Republic could not risk an engagement here either. This was the only solution.”
“I agree,” Khondine chimed in. “Without the Republic or more Jedi, we had to fight them indirectly.”
“So how did they deactivate M4-78?” Syme wondered aloud. “Did they do it upon arrival?”
“No.” Master Vash shook her head. “Just before the bombing, a few of the Sith leaders tried to sabotage our efforts. They severed the connection between the two archons, automatically disabling M4-78 itself. They also tried to divide and kill each of us, but they failed.”
Raen sighed but said nothing. It seemed as though they had a measure of success. Of all the Jedi they had encountered, most of them had fallen to the dark side in the wake of the bombing. The apprentices who had thought their Jedi Masters died fell to the dark side, and several Jedi Masters actually died. Only three Jedi remained of Master Vash’s eight Jedi expedition.
“The planet is safe now,” Northeus agreed. “But the galaxy is not. The Jedi are few, and we need to join together if we are to combat the Sith.”
“No,” Master Vash snapped. “That line of thinking resulted in the death of hundreds of Jedi at Katarr. We didn’t even realize we had lost nearly every Jedi Councilor and all of our Jedi Knights until… until recently.”
The entire company was stunned. The Jedi Council and the majority of the Jedi Knights were dead, but their deaths were not felt through the Force? Was that even possible?
“How-?” Northeus managed to ask.
“The Sith killed them all in an instant and returned to the shadows. We didn’t even have a chance to fight back,” Master Vash said. “The surviving Masters decided that if the Sith thought they had won, they would emerge from hiding. We cannot draw attention to ourselves, Northeus.”
“I refuse to let the other Jedi be killed by the Sith because we do not act,” Northeus shot back. “I’m going to Teya IV to search the academy and find survivors.”
“Northeus, don’t you understand? There are no survivors!” Master Vash’s expression was grim. “The Jedi are no more: we are the last of the Order.”
“I refuse to believe that.”
“And I refuse to let you endanger these Jedi in your suicidal quest,” the other Jedi Master replied. “Especially not the daughter of the Grandmaster. Celes is coming with me.”
“She’s no safer with you than with us,” Syme spat. “A single Jedi Master as opposed to a Jedi Master and several Knights.”
“Weren’t you listening?” Khondine hissed. “As more of us gather together, the bigger target we become! It would be safer for Celes to travel with Master Vash.”
“Enough!” Northeus shouted. “What is your plan, Lonna?”
“I am headed for Dantooine. The other Councilors determined that if any other Jedi survived Katarr, we would gather there,” she explained. “You are welcome to come too, Northeus, if you see reason.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I do not agree with your methods. You will take Celes to Dantooine?” Northeus asked.
“No. Before I meet with the others, I have to investigate rumors about Korriban.”
“You can’t be serious!” Raen interrupted. “You think traveling with us is dangerous? Korriban will kill Celes for sure!”
“I will be there to protect her.” Master Vash glowered at Raen. “Besides, Korriban is a dead world. The Sith began their self-destruction, and Revan and the Republic finished them off. The only reason I’m going there now is to ensure that the shadowy Sith we now face have not fortified themselves there.”
“Raen’s right, nevertheless,” Northeus noted. “Before you go to Korriban, take Celes to Jedi Master Thon on Ambria. He’s an old friend of the Sunriders. I’ll give you the coordinates before you depart.”
“Very well. Khondine, I take it you will be traveling with Master Ulsan and his party?” Master Vash asked.
Khondine blushed at some insinuation the others missed. “Yes. I think… I don’t want to intrude on your trip to Dantooine, Master Vash, and the Force is telling me that I can do good with Master Ulsan.”
“I understand. Celes and I will depart, then.” Master Vash took the datapad with directions to Thon. “When you are ready to leave for Teya IV, Khondine will direct you to the light cruiser we took to get here.”
“Thank you, Master Vash.” Northeus performed a slight bow. “May the Force be with you.”
“And may it permit us to meet again,” Master Vash agreed.
Once Celes had gathered her few belongings, she bid farewell to Khondine and the other Jedi. She still refused to speak with Syme, but he had long since disregarded her anger at him. Taking two of the starfighters from the circle, Master Vash and her young companion left M4-78 and their Jedi allies behind, heading for the safe haven on Ambria. Northeus stood there for some time watching the sky, as though he expected them to return.
“I’m sorry Master Vash,” he muttered.
“Master Ulsan?” Khondine asked. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes. Lead the way to the cruiser, Khondine. We’ll leave the starfighters here,” Northeus replied, even as a few maintenance droids scurried by to dismantle them.
The holographic image of Gaiel Remus shimmered into view. It was a bad recording, and the Jedi Knight had probably been in a rush to put it together. His facial features were barely visible amidst the static, which was strange. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but he seemed to be exhausted.
“Ranval. By the time you receive this, I’m going to be unable to contact you again. The Jedi Temple has fallen to the Sith. We did not have the strength to hold them off, and the Republic didn’t move in to assist us. The Jedi Order is no more. All of the survivors—the remnants of our tattered Order—are fleeing Coruscant. If I do not join them, I will join my brothers and sisters in the Force.
I… I know we did not support you after you returned from Alderaan. Learning under Master Thon and watching Raen, I realize now that a Jedi can never willingly cease to be a Jedi. Your lightsaber… it does not make you. You did not fail us; the Jedi Order failed you. Keep the Republic safe, Ranval. It’s up to you now.”
Ranval Messor couldn’t actually see Gaiel’s shape as it faded from view. As a Miraluka, he had been born without eyes, relying on the powers of the Force to compensate for his lack of eyesight. Most non-living entities—from holograms, to storage containers, droids, and ships—were either invisible to him or appeared in dull monotone barely worth noticing. So the recording faded into the gray around it.
Adapting to upper class Coruscant life had been difficult at first; even the green sash over his empty sockets caught a few stares. Trimming his long hair, he realized that it was rather bizarre by contemporary fashion standards. His white hair reached the middle of his neck, and it had red streaks in it for every few months he had been a Jedi—there weren’t enough. He tended to wear a green overcoat atop a gray tunic and trousers that disgustingly resembled Jedi robes.
As a Jedi, he had lost both of his hands in a duel against a Sith Master on Alderaan. Cybernetic technology had advanced spectacularly over the past few hundred years, but not enough to adapt to the nuances of lightsaber combat. Without a lightsaber, his tenure as a Jedi was cut short; neither of his new hands had been created with combat in mind, but they were practical and useful all the same. The Miraluka’s left hand was a simple rotating joint with two hooks protruding away from his body. Despite their size, they were surprisingly versatile and could serve as makeshift digits in a pinch. His right hand was a multipurpose computer probe that enabled him to access computer terminals, utilize datapads and comms, and pilot vehicles when necessary.
Scooping up the recording cube containing Gaiel’s message with his clawed hand, Ranval walked away from the balcony at the eastern end of the senatorial suite and returned to his quarters on the opposite end. The lodging was as fanciful as the other senators’ on Coruscant. Rustic arches, wall, and floor schemes met modern artwork and furnishings in true Alderaanian poetic fashion. Artwork recovered from the damaged Castle of Aldera lined the walls, filling the otherwise empty space, and lush ferns and flowered plants had been placed in glittering pottery around the tasteful furniture.
Ranval’s room was blasé and dull by comparison. It was little more than a glorified cubicle, modeled after the spartan rooms in the Jedi Temple, which happened to contain his personal effects. Throwing the recording cube into a wicker basket that contained his Jedi robes, lightsaber, and a few old training datapads, Ranval hardly cast a second glance inside. Turning to leave, he heard the suite’s door chime. Eliorae is back, he thought.
After losing his hands, Ranval had been appointed by the Jedi High Council to aid Eliorae I Latona, senator and queen of Alderaan, in her duties. He saw it as their way of dismissing him without actually admitting to it, and he used the opportunity to declare his resignation from the Jedi Order. Nevertheless, he took on the job in spite of his resentment. It had been five years now; he was still here, serving as her chief political adviser.
Senator Latona was young by political standards. She was not quite a prodigy; in her twenties, she had been catapulted into the public spotlight because of her parents’ death at the hands of the Sith. Her older brother had died some years before, leaving her the only successor to the throne. Uniting a rebellion—with the help of the Republic—against the invading Sith, Eliorae had successfully won back her homeworld and received the unwavering loyalty of her people.
Sadly, the Republic Senate was not kind to newcomers, especially those that disrupted the delicate political climate of the Core Worlds. Unlike her father, Sigmund III Latona, Eliorae was not interested in securing Alderaan’s dominance militarily or economically. No, all she wanted to do was ensure that her war-torn planet could recover and her people would be provided for. It was a simple goal, and she was hated for it.
Amusingly, even Eliorae’s wardrobe was plain by Coruscant standards. She refused to appeal to the fanciful—and sometimes eccentric—fashion of the Core’s elite. Returning from the Senate, Eliorae walked into her suite in a flowing blue dress that complimented her light skin with a gray sash across her waist. A dark overcoat was slung over her shoulders, but she probably hadn’t worn it into the Senate. Her curled blonde hair trailed down the sides of her face and the back of her neck, just barely reaching her shoulders.
Eliorae’s sky blue eyes twinkled when she saw Ranval. “Good afternoon, Master Ranval. How was your morning?”
“Never mind that.” Ranval waved his clawed hand as if to dismiss the idea. “Were you successful? What did the Senate think of your proposition?”
“They were… well… they were not excited about the idea, Master Ranval,” Senator Latona admitted. “The Jedi Order has often provided unnecessary oversight in senatorial activities. They don’t see why they ought to memorialize a corrupt organization.”
“Cute,” Ranval scoffed. “You remember their words so well?”
“They… I still hear them, Master Ranval,” she sighed. “Their derisive comments, toward the Jedi and I. Their… whispers.”
Ranval crossed his arms. Since the Jedi Temple had been abandoned about two weeks ago, a few vandals and petty thieves used the opportunity to damage the grounds or steal valuables. Senator Latona owed the Jedi Order as much as she owed the Republic for liberating Alderaan from the Sith, and she gladly agreed to take the idea of memorializing and officially protecting the Jedi Temple to the Senate.
Of course, most senators were either superstitious or cynical. Some believed that the grounds were haunted by their magical ghosts. Those that did not believe such foolishness insisted that the Jedi Temple was a reminder of Exar Kun’s Sith War and the Jedi Civil War. It was a shrine to times better left forgotten. In spite of all the good the Jedi had done for the galaxy, recent events turned public opinion against the Jedi Order.
“I’m sorry,” Ranval said, turning from the senator. “I didn’t realize the idea would be so hotly contested.”
“N-no. It’s okay. It’s fine. I didn’t mean to sound… like you needed to apologize. I’m sorry; I should… should have tried harder,” Eliorae insisted.
Ranval shook his head. “Don’t worry. You did the best you could.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Ranval needed to get her mind off the issue. “Tell me: what other things were discussed?”
Eliorae removed her overcoat and placed it on a nearby sofa. “Little things. Local things. A few Mid Rim agriworlds wanted new subsidies to compensate crops ruined by Malak during the war. Humbarine and Abhean were contesting over a share of Core Galaxy Systems, and Kuat was pushing to triple the defense budget.”
“The defense budget?” Ranval frowned. “Did you point out that that money could be used elsewhere—on worlds scarred by the Jedi Civil War?”
“I didn’t, but those agriworld senators did,” Eliorae explained. “Senator Nyvenek argued that unless we revitalize the military, those worlds would continue to be unprotected targets.”
“The Jedi are no more, the Sith have been destroyed…” Ranval paused. Despite the fact he knew that wasn’t true, he continued: “The Hutts aren’t exactly preparing for war, and local criminals can be held off by our sector fleets. Who do they have to defend themselves from?”
“I don’t know, but she convinced many systems to agree with her.”
“Tell me more about Senator Nyvenek,” Ranval urged.
“She’s been in the Senate for nearly twenty years, and she’s been the head of Kuat Drive Yards throughout her tenure. It seems to me that her interests in the Senate and her goals for her company are one and the same. She’s popular amongst her own people and a respected member of the Heritage faction.”
Ranval nodded. “Of course. Core World elitist, through-and-through. Probably humanocentric, too.”
“One- one more thing, Master Ranval.”
“She was a… rather vocal opponent to my proposition to provide funds for Alderaan’s reconstruction.”
“So that was her,” Ranval muttered.
A few months ago, Eliorae created a bill that, if passed by the Senate, would enable her to borrow several billion credits from military and corporate entities to rebuild Alderaan’s infrastructure, economy, and civilian sector after the Sith occupation. She was hesitant to bring it up in the Senate, but Ranval encouraged her that it would pass and benefit her people. He had heard there were opponents, but he didn’t realize the senator of Kuat was one of them. Such a powerful senator could easily ensure a bill that opposed her would die before it got to vote.
“Yes, sir.” Senator Latona had stepped into her room to change into something casual. “There is… a gala for senators from the Core Worlds at the Erestan Concert Hall. You can… meet her there, if you’d like.”
“You were invited to a social event for senators?” Ranval chuckled. “Senator Latona, have you been making friends and not telling me?”
“N-no! I haven’t… no one likes me. I was invited by Senator Gesih Ubens of Foerost today. He said I could bring one guest.”
So you invited me? I’m flattered, Senator.”
“Oh… you shouldn’t be! I’ve never been to these events before, and- and I might need your help.”
“It’s very easy. You just have to talk and decline any potential dances—or suitors,” Ranval added with a smile.
“That’s not nice!” Eliorae stepped out of her room in a green sleeping gown that ended just below her knees. “I wish you wouldn’t tease me like that, Master Ranval.”
“Very well. At the very least, I will join you and make sure you make a good impression at this social function.”
“Thank you very much, Master Ranval,” she beamed. “Would you mind helping me with some paperwork?”
“Not at all, Senator. Not at all.”
The Lumir Verit was one of the hundreds of upscale restaurants in the upper level of Coruscant’s immaculate cityscape. Complete with a dance hall in the western wing and live music in the form of a Duros ensemble, its peaceful atmosphere was perfect for fanciful business meetings and political events. White-clothed tables with shimmering, old-fashioned candles and a few flowers from around the Core Worlds made it perfect for romantic outings as well.
Rajes Thonnel had not been to such a restaurant since he had left for the Republic Army. Now, coming here with his father, all the memories of his childhood seemed to rush back to him. Running around and bothering other restaurant patrons with his youthful inquisitiveness was one of his favorite pastimes. He could never enjoy the food anyway; as a young boy, it was tasteless and foreign to him.
Now, seated at a table with his father, he almost wished that he could be that child again. He would have done anything as long as he could avoid a one-on-one conversation like this. To Rajes’s surprise, Ateton Thonnel cleaned up well: his tailored suit fit him well in spite of his weight, and his beard had been trimmed appropriately. Despite looking proper, his father still found the energy to scowl at him. Rajes supposed it would have been a fool’s dream to expect otherwise.
“You never did tell me why you came by Coruscant,” his father murmured, focusing more on the menu than his son.
Rajes writhed in his seat. “I did. I came to see you and mom.”
“Where… where is mom?” Rajes asked nervously. By now, he already knew the answer.
“Dead,” his father seemed totally indifferent as he said it. “Died of lung complications a few years ago.”
“Dead?” Rajes repeated, shocked that his fears were confirmed. “What do you mean she’s dead?”
“You know how sickly your mother was. She was a bumpkin, through-and-through. She never got used to the urban atmosphere; her illnesses eventually caught up with her.”
“Why didn’t… why didn’t you tell me?” Rajes growled.
“You were away.” Ateton brushed off the question and continued looking at his menu. “We couldn’t expect to reach you while you were on duty-”
“There are channels for that! You know that!” Rajes slammed his fist into the table, knocking over a glass of water. “You don’t think I deserve to know when my mother died?”
“Calm down, pup. You’re making a scene over nothing,” Ateton snapped.
“Don’t- don’t you dare tell me to calm down!” Rajes stood up. Glaring at his father, he could see himself hitting him. He didn’t know what he was doing; he had never been this angry before. “Don’t you tell me that this is nothing! You never told me anything! You didn’t think this was worth mentioning? You thought it’d be a nice homecoming surprise? What if I hadn’t come back? I’d have found ou-”
Ateton jumped to his feet faster than Rajes expected. “If you don’t sit down at this instant,” he hissed. “I will ensure every patron in here knows just what I think of you and your attitude.”
The Twi’lek maître d' glanced over at the two, realizing there was a commotion. Rajes hated to cause a scene here, and he knew most of the diners around them were staring. Two Falleen waiters were sent to investigate what was going on. Before they arrived, Rajes gripped the edge of the table, as if to move forward, but suddenly slumped into his seat. He hated submitting to his father, but he also didn’t want to be kicked out. Satisifed, Ateton joined him.
“Is there a problem here, gentlemen?” one Falleen asked.
“No,” Rajes insisted.
“Not anymore,” Ateton said with a slight smile.
The pair of Falleen took the hint and bowed, leaving father and son alone. A Zeltron waitress came by to take their orders and replace the soaked tablecloth. Rajes didn’t even remember what he had ordered when the waitress left. He was too furious at his father to think coherently.
Ever since he was little, he had always enjoyed the company of his mother more than his father; she was the only one who he could confide in. She had been supportive, understanding, and at least pretended to approve of his decisions. Now that she was dead, Rajes had to deal with his father alone. Judging by his actions tonight, he did not know if he could handle it. But he needed a favor from him, so Rajes decided that it was time to surrender the rest of his pride and ask.
“Father,” he spoke up.
“What is it?”
“Do you know Senator Malthesinores?”
“Of Rendili?” his father thought aloud. “Of course. He’s an old family friend. Granted, he’s an army-dog like you, but at least he has class. Retired by now, I’m sure.”
Rajes ignored the verbal jab. “You knew him?”
“Know him,” his father corrected. “We’ve stayed in touch since my fleet helped his unit put down a pirate consortium in the Colonies.”
“Really? So you two… meet often?”
“Not often, but we occasionally talk about political and military matters, when he has spare time. He is a senator, after all.” Ateton eyed his son suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
Rajes hesitated. He needed a reason to meet with Senator Oro Malthesinores. This was his actual reason for coming to Coruscant. According to his old superior, Colonel Ducian Eto, the old senator was plotting something dangerous. He had gone so far as to hire assassins when he met with Eto some time ago. The retired general’s prestige and popularity would certainly enable him to damage the Republic if he tried. However, Eto couldn’t make the trip to confront Malthesinores himself, so he asked Rajes to do it for him. So here he was, begging to his father for help on a mission he would rather have avoided.
“I… well… to be honest, I don’t think my skills are being recognized.”
“Is that so? Army not treating you kindly?” His voice didn’t seem condescending, but that was how Rajes took it.
“No. They’ve stuck me at desk jobs, filing paperwork and aiding higher-ups, for most of my military career,” Rajes spat.
“You can do more than that.”
Rajes was shocked to hear his father say that. “I… I know. I’ve asked a few of my commanding officers to consider me for a promotion-”
“Of course. They’ve denied me. One of my friends directed me to Senator Malthesinores. I’ve heard that if he puts in a good word for you, you’re likely to get the promotion you need.”
Ateton paused. “Do you think a promotion will get you the recognition you deserve?”
Ateton glanced at the fried Adegan eel and dried bofa fruit that had been placed in front of him. He began eating it, a tad pensively, and he seemed more interested in his food than whatever his son was saying. Rajes took his cue and began eating his food as well.
“I’ll set up a meeting with him for you,” his father suddenly said. “I think he’ll be very pleased to see you.”
Rajes forced a smile. “Thank you very much, father.”
“Don’t mention it, son. Now get eating; your food is getting cold.”
Coruscant had a different atmosphere after the sun had gone down. Criminals emerged from their dens, aerial traffic diminished—but only barely—and its nightlife proved far more exciting than anything daytime offered. Nevertheless, Ranval was content with lingering in the suite and flipping through local holographic broadcasts. There was always something to watch, even at such an early hour.
It was difficult for him to discern what the holograms displayed due to his unique sight, but if he struggled, he could tell what was going on. As long as he could hear, he was fine. Changing the channels rapidly with a button-press, he stopped himself at a prominent political station.
“As the senator of Foerost prepares to begin his reelection campaign, he is eager to remind his voters just what is at stake,” a female reporter chimed in. “Earlier today, he had this to say to indecisive voters and opponents…”
Ranval’s interest was sparked immediately. Remembering that the senator of Foerost, Gesih Ubens, had been the one who had invited Eliorae to the senatorial gala, he turned up the volume on the report.
“We all remember the Sith attack on Foerost,” Senator Ubens began, “and the destruction it caused. Millions without jobs, thousands wounded. Our economy plummeted, and our ships were stolen from us. I could not bring back those ships; I could not rescue your loved ones, but we have survived that day. We survived, we persevered, recovered! I can ensure that this does not happen again! I can-”
“Daddy, daddy! Are you on the news?”
There was a slight murmur in the crowd as Senator Ubens’s child, a boy about six years old, rushed onto the stage he was speaking at. Ranval found himself smiling as the guards realized that a mere child had slipped by their security. Nevertheless, Senator Ubens played it off as something planned. Picking up his child and throwing him on his shoulders, the senator laughed at his son’s surprise.
“I promise that Foerost will continue to recover. Foerost will return to its former glory. Foerost will not be scarred by war, for my son’s sake! For your children’s sakes! For your children’s children’s sakes! I promise, upon my reelection, that I will ensure that your family is safe, provided for, and prepared to face any challenge the galaxy throws our way! For my family and yours.”
Ranval shook his head as the interview ended, fading back into the newsroom. Campaign promises were filled with pompous boasting and empty rhetoric. But if simple words failed, using your children as a political tool was always a good fallback. Senator Ubens sounded like an honest politician, as far as politicians went, but that’s what he wanted the viewers to think.
Eliorae stumbled out of her room, a bit dazed and obviously quite tired. Ranval hadn’t noticed her at first; his Force senses delayed his realization by a few seconds. Flipping off the holographic display as soon as he felt her presence, the central room faded into darkness. Eliorae called out to Ranval, quite sure that he was still there. She tripped over something in the darkness, forcing Ranval to reach out into the Force and keep her standing with a telekinetic push.
“Master Ranval, what are you doing awake?” she asked. “It’s two hours past midnight!”
“I couldn’t sleep, Senator,” Ranval admitted.
“You don’t have to turn it off. I… I don’t care what you were watching,” Eliorae’s voice said she couldn’t even convince herself that was true. “I won’t think any less of you if you were watching violent or risqué clips…”
Ranval grimaced at her implications. “It’s not quite like that-”
“Oh! I’m… I’m so sorry! I thought…”
“Then… what were you watching?”
“I was keeping up with political events,” Ranval explained. “Apparently, Senator Ubens is running for reelection.”
“I… I could have told you that. If you asked me.”
“That’s okay; I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Not now!” Eliorae chuckled softly. “I meant earlier.”
“So did I.”
“I’m… I’m very tired, Master Ranval. I’m sorry.” Eliorae finally found her way to the couch Ranval was sitting on. Leaning to one side, she muttered: “I think I’m going to fall asleep here.”
Ranval smirked. “It won’t be very comfortable.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Good night, Senator.” Ranval stood up to leave. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“You… you don’t have to leave,” Eliorae whispered. “I mean… you can stay if you like…”
“Your presence is… reassuring.” Each word got progressively softer. “It would help me sleep.”
Ranval scratched his head. “Very well. I’ll stay here, if you’d like.”
“Thank you, Master Ranval.”
“Of course,” he muttered, crossing his legs and entering a meditative trance just beside the couch.