Lit only by their glowsticks, the dark in the cave seemed almost alive. The air was moist and cold and smelled like lichen. Outside the glow of their lights, the cavern walls stretched up into infinity.
Finn pulled his jacket tighter around himself, and inched closer to his companions. “Why am I not surprised that this is where the Knights of Ren were doing whatever they were doing?” he asked rhetorically. Darksiders seemed to take the 'dark' part too literally, in his opinion.
Luke shook his head. “It's not just the Dark Side,” he said. “Places like this are often strong in the Force as a whole. Master Yoda lived in a dark swamp, and the caves of Illum were one of the most Force resonant places in the galaxy.
“Yeah, well, so is a living forest. But this place, the Knights of Ren would enjoy.”
Rey tilted her face up toward the cave's unseen ceiling and took a deep breath as if scenting the air. “I think it's this way,” she said, “Come on.” She started striding forward into the dark, almost unaware of the lack of light as Finn and Luke followed behind with the other glow lights, trying to keep up.
Finn wound his way carefully around rocks and spikes as fast as he could, in what was definitely not enough light. Luke didn't seem to have many of Finn's problems with the terrain, hurrying after Rey, not bothered at all. Maybe that was the Force, or maybe that was just Luke. It might have been his imagination, but he could almost feel something pulling at the edge of his mind.
“Over here!” Rey called from a cavern branching off just ahead. Finn met Luke's eyes. Was this it? It felt like it. They hurried ahead to catch up with her.
Holding her glowlight high above her head, Rey was surrounded by a sea of sparkling metallic crystals set in a vein of pure quartz. Jutting up from the ground and embedded in the walls and stalactites around her, the light of the glowlight refracted and reflected back from them, bathing her in its glow.
Finn stopped to stare. Luke stopped also, and after a moment Finn shook himself out of it enough to notice that Luke was staring somewhere else, a few feet to the left. A pillar-like outcropping of crystals, almost shoulder height.
“This must be it!” Rey said, eyes shining with excitement. “... Is this it?” she asked Luke, less sure after a moment.
Finn was pretty sure this was definitely it.
Luke crouched down by the base of the enormous crystals. “You're right. This has to be the source of the energy fluctuations. There's something very strange in the currents of the Force.” He motioned them over, and brought his glowlight down closer to the base. “Do you see this?”
In the yellow-green gleam of the lights, Finn saw it too. Lettering, etched into the living rock, all around the base. Like aurebesh, but not quite.
Rey came over to his side, and bumped shoulders companionably. He let her shoulder rest against him, and didn't try to move away. “I know the Knights of Ren were interested in this, but this can't be Dark. It feels... right.”
“And that worries me,” Luke said, looking at them, frustrated. “What did they want?”
Finn nodded, even while his eyes were still focused entirely on the crystal. He wanted to be wary. His mind was wary? He needed to think. Why was it hard to think? “Why would the Knights of Ren come here, do whatever they did, and just leave?” he asked. “There are their boot tracks everywhere, but where are they? Whatever they wanted to happen, it must have worked. There aren't any lightsaber scars on the walls.”
From the corner of his eye, Finn could see that Rey was equally focused on the crystal. What was there about it, anyway? Yes, it was a big shiny rock, but...
Luke shook his head. “I can feel it going deep into the earth. This is old power. It doesn't feel Dark, but don't...”
He was probably going to say 'Don't touch it.' Rey touched it. Luckily she was also touching Finn at the time.
When Rey came to, she had a feeling that something was off. Not bad, not wrong, but off. Something in the air felt different, the Force felt different. Finn was waking up near her side, but Luke was just gone. Not only from the cave, but from the Force around her. When they had entered the cave with Luke, it was early evening and fall. But when they made their way out of the cave, the sun was just beginning to rise and the jacaranda trees were in bloom.
“Today's date is Month 10, Day 3 of Republic Year 15 after the great resynchronization!” chirped the date function on Rey's wrist comm.
“We're sixty two years in the past, and we have no idea how to get home,” Finn said, after they tried again a few times, and checked the holonet. “We're in the middle of the clone wars, where can we even go? Do we even know anyone who's been born yet?”
“Han, sort of,” Rey said, thinking. “Maz Kanata, but,” and then she stopped. It was like her mind had caught fire. Could they? Maybe? “Finn! Wait! Don't you see?” Rey demanded.
“See what?” Finn asked.
The words all wanted to come out in a rush, and blocked each other on their way. “Snoke!” she got out.
Finn looked confused. “What?”
Rey's hands shook and the words came tumbling out. “Everything's different, almost nobody's even alive...”
His eyes lit up. Yes, yes, he was getting it! “... You're right!”
“We can fix everything!” Rey exclaimed.
“Yeah! Okay, okay. Maybe not everything, but we're from the future!” Finn said, getting more excited and confident as he went. “We know things! We know how it all turns out. That has to be useful for something, right?”
“Right!” she agreed. Yes, yes yes, this could work! “What do we know?”
Finn thought about it for a moment. It was like she could see the wheels turning in his head. “Snoke didn't appear until after the Emperor died. He came to the First Order when they were forming,” he said, pretty clearly trying to remember as he went, “I remember from the history casts, but it was come-to. I remember that. He wasn't, you know. One of them. I don't think.”
Rey thought back to her discussions with Master Luke. “Luke said he felt like there was a... taste of Palpatine about him? Does that make sense?” she said.
“It isn't the Empire, but the Emperor's still around. If we find out what went wrong, maybe we can stop all of it before it starts,” Finn said.
“Absolutely,” Rey agreed.
“So I guess that leaves us with one question,” Finn said.
“What?” she asked.
“Do our comm channels still work?”
Rey smiled. She knew how to do that. “Leave it to me.”
Bugging the Chancellor's study was surprisingly easy. Not for sound or visual inside, obviously, that he might look for, but there were other ways. A simple sniffing holonet receiver on the window sill outside in the reception room could do the job. The calls might be encrypted, but the comm addresses weren't. The reason no one was surveiling Chancellor Palpatine for possible Sith Lording wasn't that he was a hard target – it was that nobody suspected a thing.
Getting into the Senate office building took a delivery hat and a large box of Flangth-2-Go.
“Delivery for Ognorg Sonni?” Finn asked, buzzing an office at random from the office building's service entrance.
“I'm sorry?” said the confused being on the other end through the tinny speaker
“O-ntrg-s-ni O?” Finn asked again, sounding more confused.
He heard a sigh on the other end of the line. “Come in,” the being said.
Finn walked right in, found the reception desk, and asked, “I have a Flangth order for uh, er,” he checked his slip, “Dar Wac?” It always helped to know the executive assistant's name.
Palpatine's guards were great at checking for weapons. They weren't looking for a guy with a box of hot, delicious flangth.
Finn dropped a video bug in the public reception room, just because he could.
The next 90 hours of footage from active office hours included Palpatine:
Telling five different factions in a trade war that the Chancellor was definitely on their side, and it was everyone else's fault.
Laughing about it after they left.
A “humble” self-promotional interview.
Randomly menacing several senatorial interns for reasons unclear.
Alternately ignoring and irritating the service staff.
“So that's the Emperor. That. That horrible little man?” Rey asked, scrunching up her nose. They had just finished checking out the video footage from the reception room. Not much there, just the Chancellor being a political slimeball.
“Well, he's strong. Even I can sort of feel him, I think,” Finn said.
Rey shook her head. “No, I mean. He's weak,” she said with complete contempt. “Just look at his beady little eyes. He'd have died in a day on Jakku.”
“I'm pretty sure he'd be able to use his powers and just zap you on Jakku,” Finn pointed out.
“Finn! That's not...” Rey stumbled over her words in exasperation, “He's trying to start fights between Senators in the Senate canteen!”
“That's what horrible people with power are like,” Finn said, patiently. “Kylo Ren liked to pick fights with the officers when he got bored.”
“No, listen. He's just a man. He became the Emperor, but he's just a man! We don't need to kill him. We just need to stop him,” she said.
“He's Chancellor now, but they don't have to do what he says. Not yet,” Finn said, catching her chain of thought.
“Whatever he did to kill most of the Jedi. We need to stop that,” Rey said, seriously.
“We need to stop the Jedi from trying their coup. I mean, I get it, I totally understand. I want to kill that guy too. But it's going to get them killed, and it's going to make him Emperor.”
“So, we need to infiltrate the Senate, sneak into the Jedi Temple, and completely humiliate the Chancellor.” Finn said, trying to make sure he had this right.
“Yes,” she said, eagerly.
“We can do this,” Finn said and tried to sound sure of himself.
“We can do this,” Rey said with a dawning smile.
“Power converters for delivery?” Rey asked, at the service door of the Jedi temple. She had ripped the badge off of Finn's Flangth-2-Go hat, and added a badge that read 'Rey's Service Mart'.
“Residential or transport?” asked the Temple guard. Rey tried to keep her aura clear and honest. She only wanted to help. She had no bad feelings toward the Jedi. It was true!
“Transport,” she answered.
“Level five, hanger two,” said the guard, and turned away. She probably forgot Rey several seconds later.
Following those instructions, Rey wandered into a vast hall full of damaged spaceships. “Power converters?” she asked.
“Oh, thank the Force,” said a harried man in grease-spattered coveralls. “Requisitions finally came through. Come on in.”
“I'm new here and my supervisor hasn't put me into the system yet. Is there a process for getting a temporary entry pass?” Finn asked, using his best 'Yes, I work for General Organa, why do you ask?' official serious smile.
The Zullastrian doorman made a dismissive gesture. “Oh, you don't need to do all that,” he said. “Just come to the service door, we'll buzz you in!”
“Thank you,” said Finn.
“Have a good first day at 500 Republica!” the doorman called after him.
Finn trotted ahead through the busy front halls and found a promising group of young staffers, happily chattering away, “Hi, which way to the canteen? I'm new here.”
It was only after he had managed to convince an entire cafeteria full of Senate staff that he was just a really green Outer Rim staffer who loved the food, that Finn realised he had forgotten something. He needed help, but when he went to visit Rey at her new junk stand – quickly becoming a junk store – in the market, all she wanted to do was talk about parts.
Rey's expression lit up when she was talking about successful salvage. “You wouldn't believe the things these people throw out. Over on level 1782, nine blocks over, I found an almost new motivator! A motivator, Finn!” she said, grabbing his arm. “Only the resonance was off, but I can fix that. Do you know how many portions I would have earned for that? And they were just throwing it out.”
“Rey,” Finn said, trying to get a word in.
“I wonder if there's anything left here in our time. Could the Resistance run a salvage mission, do you think? We don't always have the money for parts. This could be big!”
“Rey!” he shouted.
Rey blinked. “What?” she asked.
“We have a problem,” Finn said. “I only own two shirts. And I have to keep pretending to be a Senate aide.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes, just a little. “You're not listening to me,” Rey said. “I just scraped a motivator! I can buy you as many shirts as you need.”
Finn shook his head. “Not these shirts,” he said, remembering some of the costumes on even the lowest aides, “I don't want to think about how much most of the aide's clothing costs. They look normal, but up close, I think they're woven from spider silk or things like that.”
Rey gestured to the market around them, teeming with beings and goods from all over the galaxy. “Finn, there's salvage everywhere here, if you know how to look!” she told him. “A couple stalls down there's a Rodian. You wouldn't believe the things she has!”
After getting dragged to that stall, and being fitted for several very nice, only slightly second or third hand sets of clothes, Finn had to privately admit Rey had been right. He admired the cuff of the burgundy shirt he had decided to wear home. It was true. You could hardly even tell where it had been mended, or that embroidery had been added later to cover a blood stain.
Dorme was always glad to welcome a new face. She had once been new here, during the turbulent times around the Trade Federation crisis. It had all been strange to her. It seemed to all be a shock to the young man from Takodana. His eyes went wide at the oddest things, like chocolate fountains.
“So, Finn, how are you enjoying Coruscant?” asked Aiida, a legal clerk for a Senator from Sullust.
“It's very... big,” Finn said. Poor thing, it must be quite a shock for him here.
“I know, not a lot of sun and fresh air,” Dorme commiserated, thinking of the open meadows and water gardens of Naboo.
“Actually, I've spent a lot of time on space ships,” Finn admitted with a shrug. “So that's really not a problem.”
Dorme nodded, she understood. “The diplomatic whirl,” she said, “If this is Third Day, it must be Ord Mantell.”
“Something like that,” Finn agreed.
“Well at least since you're stationed on Coruscant now, you'll have some time to catch your breath,” Brskr, a junior senatorial aide from Riosa, said reassuringly.
“You can't get bored on Coruscant, at least,” Dorme added. “The colors and songs of a thousand worlds are here.” He had so many things to see and experience!
“Oh, it's like a whole different galaxy,” Finn said.
His shirt was magnificent, Dorme noted absently, but it looked oddly familiar.
After yet another day of buying her way into the Jedi Temple delivering parts no one noticed that no one had ordered, Rey was out of ideas. She buried her head in her hands as she sat next to a cooling cup of caf at their kitchen table. “Something's not right,” she said to Finn. “I know there was supposed to be a coup, but. Finn, I'm not sensing it.”
“Could you? Would you?” he asked, and it seemed like he really wanted to know. “I mean, I know you're powerful with the mind part of the Force, but it's a huge Temple, and they're trained.”
“I know, but I don't feel it. I should feel it,” Rey said, frustrated. “Even if they weren't planning to, I should feel it. They're so tired. They don't trust the Senate. I should feel something. Some rebellion. But I just don't.”
“It's like they've been trained to obey?” Finn wondered, and took a sip of his cup of caf.
“Yes!” she agreed, angrily.
“Okay, for the first time, I'm glad you weren't born now,” Finn said consideringly, and paused for thought. “So whatever happens, let's say it isn't coming from the Jedi. Where else?” he asked.
“The people?” Rey suggested.
“Yeah, but they didn't. If you don't have power and you don't have powers, you need numbers, right? That would have been messy. They couldn't say it was the Jedi.” Finn pointed out.
“Well, the mind trick thing, but,” Rey protested, then thought better of it and shook her head. “No. Different story.”
They both stared into their drinks, lost in thought. “So there wasn't a coup?” Finn said, and it sounded like he was trying the idea out, to see if he believed it.
“Well, something happened, didn't it?” she asked, thinking it over.
“We need to take a closer look at those comm logs from the bug,” Finn said.
This was an absolutely insane idea. But wasting this chance was even more insane. “Our futures will be destroyed,” Finn warned Rey, trying to wrap his own mind around the idea.
“Yeah,” she said, after a moment.
“I'm good. Are you good?” Finn asked.
“I'm good too,” she said, pretty obviously trying to look brave. He knew somehow that she was thinking of Luke and Chewbacca.
Finn tried to keep his voice steady. For some reason his eyes were watering. “Can we make sure Poe's parents still meet?” he asked.
“Yes, totally,” Rey said, firmly.
As they waited for the data from the comm console to upload, the door opened and flooded the room with red light. It was the Chancellor.
“Now, now. What do we have here. A couple of thieves?” said Palpatine. His eyes hit on Finn and widened. “Why, hello, Mr. Cultural Attache.”
“We're not stealing from you. We're spying on you!” Rey protested, trying to distract his attention, and waved her blaster.
“... Yeah! How dare you betray our beloved Republic, with your dirty politics!” Finn added, trying to sound local.
“A pair of Separatists!” Palpatine screeched, smirking at them. Rey didn't think he was very convincing. “Here! Help! Guards!”
“You don't fool us. We know what you are!” Rey blustered. They needed to keep him busy. It would only take a few more minutes to upload!
“Also, just so you know, she put all the guards to sleep,” Finn noted, trying to be helpful
Palpatine blinked, and turned back toward Rey. “Really,” he said, looking intrigued. “What do you know?”
“You're in charge of the Separatists! And you're planning your own assassination!” Rey exclaimed. No, no, no, she couldn't let him suspect her Force abilities were trained!
“We know you're in contact with Count Dooku,” Finn said, pacing and trying to sound tough, “We've tracked comm calls back and forth all week from the concealed holocomm in your desk to the Separatist flag ship!”
“Please. If what you're suggesting truly were true, do you think I would have it all easily accessible from my personal data terminal? “ the Chancellor asked with a nasty little laugh, “The master conspirator, giving you everything on a glassine platter?”
“But it is true. I feel it, you know I feel it,” Rey insisted. That was safe, right? Even Finn felt things sometimes. “You're not even trying to hide from me!”
“Of course I did it, and what of it?” Palpatine sneered. “Who would ever believe you? A pair of frauds from nowhere? A vast conspiracy to create the illusion of a vast conspiracy? It's mad.”
And then Finn shot him in the back with a stunner bolt.
“He doesn't even know how the holonet or remote upload works, does he?” Finn asked, holstering his weapon. “Come on, let's get out of here before he wakes up!”
Jard Orweel from Holonet Daily was surprisingly gleeful to find out her own Republic's Chancellor had started both sides of the war. Maybe that was because she hand an exclusive scoop on the entire data upload. Well, almost exclusive. Aiida, Brskr and Dorme, as well as half the aides and clerks in the Senate also got copies, of course.
Palpatine was talking very fast and facing a vote of no confidence. He was going to lose.
“Let's go home,” Finn said. “Let's take the next ship to Vrandaleer and touch the stone and go back to our own time before the Red Guards find us.
“He's still here!” Rey objected.
“I have this feeling it'll be fine,” Finn disagreed, thinking of the army of annoyed Senators, diplomats, public servants, citizens and Jedi out there ready to protect the Republic. “He's in good hands.”
The galaxy they returned to was not the galaxy they had left. A quick search of the Holonet revealed no Empire, no First Order, and a lot of arguments about whether or not the lasting Schism of the Republic was the greatest tragedy in a thousand years.
There were six Skywalker-Amidalas who were currently sort of famous. Leia, Luke and a pile of grown younger people whose parentage wasn't clear.
Alderaan still stood, Hosnian Prime was still on the map, and the current Chancellor sounded like a complete sleemo. Probably not a Sith, though.
Finn looked at the map of a universe he knew almost nothing about. Well, so what was new? He looked over at Rey as they sat in the cave's mouth. “There's a whole galaxy out there. Where do you want to go?” he asked her.
“Everywhere,” said Rey, and took his hand.