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Times, Measures

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He is falling through the black void salted with stars, constantly falling, and yet perfectly still, his being suspended above the abyss by that fine, diaphanous netting which holds the universe together. His ears are filled with the sibilant hum of hyperspace, and he closes his eyes against the flashing of impossibly-colored lights- But, no. He has no eyes, no ears. He struggles to draw breath, but he has no lungs. His body is far away.

 

There is a mounting high-pitched whine, a painful prickling in his not-skin, a sudden sense of wild acceleration, until all at once everything ceases in an explosion of black light.

 

He blinks, to clear the stardust from his eyes. He is himself again, or at least he is some version of himself. He holds his buzzing saber aloft, ready to strike, as he has so many times before. But this time, his hands are trembling. No, these are not his hands. Or rather, they are his hands, but strangely drawn and withered.

 

A towering thing as black as space itself approaches him, brandishing its own pale-red blade, its hard, glossy, insectoid visage unreadable. A constant, regular whooshing sound issues from within it as it lumbers forward, at once utterly imposing and somehow weirdly pathetic. Who would build such an awful droid? he wonders. But it isn't a droid. There is something within the plasteel shell, something which throbs with the Force, with life. The thing is speaking, he realizes, its synthetic voice low and resonant.

 

“When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master,” it says petulantly, almost... boyishly.

 

The thing carefully inclines its monstrous head, but he can feel it shuddering inside with cold fury. Its Force-presence washes over him, dragging him down like the vicious undertow of some alien sea, darkly unfathomable, and yet so uncannily reminiscent of...

 

Could it be...?

 

He feels the sting of the creature's blade, feels his soul leaving his body, but then, as suddenly as it began, the moment is over and the scene has changed.

 

A young man is standing over him now, dressed all in white. Once again, he is himself, and yet not himself. The young man sits down beside him, leans in eagerly. The way the grain-colored hair falls across the tanned face makes his weary old heart ache with fondness. He had thought himself beyond this sort of pain. He had thought he would never love anything like this ever again. But that familiar blue gaze is like taking a soldering element to his flesh...

 

“How did my father die?”

 

He takes a deep breath, rehearsing his story. He wonders who he is protecting from the truth: the boy or himself?

 

The scene changes again. This time he is alone.

 

Nighttime in the desert is cold. The sky is an endless blazing violet field. There is nothing but gently rolling dunes as far as the eye can see. The raw air rushes around him, stinging his exposed arms and face. His body is back to its familiar self again, except that it seems to be convulsing with sobs. He has maintained his composure up until this point, quietly shepherding the child to safety, handing it off to its relatives. But now, with that duty fulfilled, there is nothing left to distract his mind from the vast, empty future that yawns before him. He falls to his knees, plunging his hands into the cool sand. The wind picks up and he his tasting sand, inhaling sand.

 

There is nothing left of him but grief.

 

The final scene is like a culmination of all the others. It is the end, and also the beginning. Again, he finds himself with saber drawn, poised to strike. Again, the young man stands before him. But no, it is a different young man. A different boy, with the same flashing blue gaze. Again, he feels his body trembling, practically choking with sorrow.

 

The boy is raving madly, almost drunkenly. He is standing on a sooty basalt shore before a glowing sea of liquid rock. Everything around them is bubbling and bursting. The boy leaps at him, and he swings his saber upwards in an arc above his head, and then his senses are filled with screaming and burning, until there is nothing left in the entire world but this screaming and burning.

 

His eyes are stinging with smoke, and then all of a sudden there is no smoke, and his eyes are stinging with tears. He is back in his real body, in his real kitchenette, in his real apartment, on real Coruscant. It is still early in the morning, and he is still seated at the table, his tea machine still softly beeping to signal a ready brew. Apparently just as real as anything else, a certain pale-blue ghost still hovers over him, expectantly. Obi Wan Kenobi takes a moment to compose himself before finally speaking:

 

“What was that? Why did you show it to me?”

 

“You already know the answer, my dear padawan.”

 

“But it isn't- It can't be... the future.”

 

“It is.”

 

“N-no,” he swallows thickly, tears rolling down his face. “No, there has to be some way-”

 

“Oh, there is a way.” The image of Qui Gon Jinn seems to flicker in and out of existence for a moment before continuing gravely: “That is exactly why I am here. To show you a way.”

 

Obi Wan bows his head, momentarily struggling, before successfully schooling his expression into one of Jedi-serenity: “What must I do, Master?”

 

“You must decline the mission to hunt down General Grievous. Let Master Windu go in your stead. You must remain here on Coruscant.”

 

“With Anakin.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

“But how-” he takes a shuddering breath, fighting down a fresh wave of tears. “How can I prevent him from-”

 

The image of Qui Gon smiles, laying a translucent blue hand on Obi Wan's shoulder. The phantom-touch is comforting, but strange. “Take your morning tea. It will make you feel better. Then I will explain.”

 

“But Master-!”

 

“You must help yourself, before you can help Anakin.”

 

Obi Wan closes his eyes and nods in acquiescence. He takes the silver cup between his hands and tilts its steaming contents against his trembling lips. He realizes, as soon as the hot tea slides down his throat, that his insides have gone cold. Apparently satisfied, the image of Qui Gon continues:

 

“Now, my apprentice: Do you remember our voyage to Tython when you were just a boy?”

 

They were slashing through the dense tangle of foliage, the buzzing of the local insects rivaling the humming of their sabers, when suddenly they came upon a clearing in the woods. As they stepped out into the brightly star-lit meadow, the soft red grasses swayed around them, and the warm breezes buffeted them, and they caught the lush perfume of the great, abounding, carnivorous flowers. Under a network of wine-colored vines, a hulking stone structure rose up out of the ground. Qui Gon wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his sleeve, and contemplated the ancient temple's crumbling steps.

 

“Yes, Master. I remember. We were sent there to investigate a disturbance.”

 

“And do you remember what we found?”

 

In the center of the chamber, atop an onyx plinth, sat a golden dodecahedron. No bigger than a hand-fruit, it had shown like a beacon in the Force all the way from space. It was a holocron; a record of ancient knowledge. Even beneath centuries of dust it gleamed like the crystal-honey of Kashyyyk. Master and apprentice shared a silent look of wonder.

 

“It was... a holocron, I think. But I never learned what was in it.”

 

“That's because the Council confiscated it as soon as I presented it to them. They deemed it too dangerous to even study, much less make use of. It was deactivated and buried in the restricted section of the archives. By now, only the most senior members of the Council would even remember its existence.”

 

“Then no one knows its contents?”

 

“No one living,” the image of Qui Gon smiles. “But being one with the Force affords me a rather different vantage point. In death, I have learned things the Council does not know. Things which I unfortunately cannot share with you.”

 

“But what of Anakin-?”

 

“This is an extraordinary case. That is why I am here. I may not be able to intervene again, so listen carefully. I am about to ask... far too much of you. I hope you will be able to forgive me.”

 

“Nothing you ask of me could be too much, Master.” Obi Wan steels himself, clutching the warm silver cup with both hands. “And no fate could be worse than what you have revealed to me.”

 

“If you are willing to risk it,” the image of Qui Gon nods to itself, pensively rubbing its beard, “then this is what you must do: Take Anakin down with you into the restricted section of the archives. Find the Tython holocron and open it. It is important that you open it while in his presence.”

 

“Open it? In brazen defiance of the Council's orders?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“But, Master-”

 

“Know this, Obi Wan: The future you have witnessed is one in which you obey the Council's orders to the letter. Avoiding it may require you to take extraordinary measures. To do things you may have considered impossible. I could not be more proud of you. You are a paragon among the Jedi. But now, I am asking you to become something other, something more than that. The holocron is your best hope.”

 

“But what is it, exactly?”

 

“It is a path to power. Power enough to preserve the Republic and destroy the Sith. The kind of power which few can understand or control.”

 

“And that,” Obi Wan sags his shoulders in glum comprehension, “is why the Council forbid its opening.”

 

“Indeed. It could easily destroy a lesser being. But in your hands,” the image of Qui Gon is suddenly, uncharacteristically fervent, “In your hands, Obi Wan, I believe it can save the galaxy.”