The transport comm crackled, pulling Hera Syndulla’s attention away from her datapad. She had been reviewing the specs for the Republic’s new Eta-2 Actis-class light interceptor, and a tiny version of the ship rotated slowly on the datapad screen, forgotten for the moment.
“Attention sentients. We are now approaching Coruscant,” the droid pilot announced.
Hera felt the familiar, subtle shift of the engines as the transport dropped out of hyperspace. The city-planet suddenly loomed up outside the transport’s canopy, its dark surface crisscrossed with glittering grids of light, and Hera felt her stomach lurch with excitement. At last, she was free of her homeworld, free to experience life outside the Outer Rim.
The image of her father’s scowl jumped, unbidden, into her mind. Cham Syndulla had not been so pleased that his eldest child wanted to leave Ryloth to join the Galactic Republic’s peacekeeping Starfighter Corps.
“We need you here, Hera. The corrupt Republic has enough pilots to do their bidding,” he’d said, as he stood next to Hera’s mother in the transport loading bay on Ryloth.
Tislera Syndulla had frowned, casting a quick sideways glare at her husband. When she looked at her daughter again, her gaze was tender. “It is a great honor to be admitted to the Judicial Academy. We are proud of you, my daughter, whatever you choose to do- and wherever you choose to do it.”
Hera pushed the thoughts of her parents to the back of her mind. She had spent, after all, the majority of her life living the way they wanted her to. She wanted to look to the future- a future where she would be doing exactly what she wanted to do.
The transport had made its way down to the surface cloud cover obscuring all but the tops of the tallest buildings. As the descent continued, Hera saw something she had never expected to view in person- the five tall spires of the Jedi Temple. Like most citizens from the Mid and Outer Rims, Hera had never seen or spoken to a Jedi. But as a Judicial Academy cadet, she would likely have at least some supervision from members of the Order. Everything in her life, from this moment forward, would be new and exciting and perhaps even strange. She thrilled to the possibilities that awaited her below.
Caleb Dume shifted his position slightly and exhaled hard, attempting to blow a stray strand of his hair out of his mouth.
“Is that necessary?” Master Billaba asked.
“The noise, or the hair?”
“Both, I suppose. You are distracted today. And thus also distracting to the rest of us.”
Caleb opened one eye and looked around the meditation chamber. Of the three other Jedi present, only one appeared to have noticed the noise- his friend Tai, who was brazenly smirking at him.
Master Billaba wordlessly stood and left the chamber, not bothering to spare him a glance. He got up and scrambled after her, and found her waiting outside the door with her arms crossed and a vaguely exasperated look upon her face.
“Master, I’m sorry-”
“Caleb, I don’t know how you expect to pass the trials if you cannot focus.”
“I can focus when I need to.”
“You must focus whenever it is required of you, and not merely when you are in peril.”
She raised an eyebrow at him and smiled. “You have come far, my apprentice, but I wonder when your attitude will catch up? With each passing year, you remind me more and more of Master Vos.”
“That sounds like it’s not a compliment- towards either of us,” Caleb said. “Master Kenobi certainly would agree with you. The best compliment he can give me is that I’m not quite as reckless as Master Skywalker.”
Depa Billaba laughed- and, remembering that she was just outside the meditation chamber, quickly smothered her amusement. “That is indeed a compliment, Caleb. You are, however, a bad influence on your Master. Please go now and practice your forms. I must meet with the Council.”
“The Separatists?” Caleb asked.
“We will discuss it later,” she said. “Go and practice your forms, please.”
He watched as she strode away, feeling a chill come over him. Master Yoda spoke often of the dark side, these days- and the growing threat, ever-present in all their minds, of the Sith. Over fifteen years before, Master Jinn had been killed by a Sith Lord on Naboo, and the Jedi had never managed to discover anything further about him or his accomplice. Always two there were.
The strength of the dark side was growing. Star systems were threatening to leave the Republic. The Confederacy of Independent Systems had declared themselves in open opposition to the Republic, headed by a former Jedi named Dooku. The word “war” had been used more than a few times in the past few years.
If there was going to be a fight, Caleb felt that he was ready for it. But Master Billaba was right- he lacked focus- today, more so than usual. Instead of heading toward one of the training rooms, he walked into the courtyard and gazed up at the traffic traversing the early evening sky. He did not have the gift of foresight that some Jedi possessed, but he felt distinctly that his life was about to change in the most profound way.