Actions

Work Header

Interlude III

Work Text:

Republic Year 5201, 5/2nd

The Jedi Temple, Coruscant

 

“It’s not my fault we still haven’t cracked this mess,” Garen said, sorting through an epic pile of wires in a search for one orange line in a sea of reds. “Maybe if you could concentrate on what we were doing, instead of moaning over the fact that your master left you with me…”

R2-D2 blatted at him.

“You leave my mother out of this.” Garen fished out the orange line and then threw it aside in disgust when he realized it was actually pink. For fuck’s sake, Sienar really needed to do something about their wiring problem. A ship’s hatch did not need this much shit. More than half of it was redundant, which made mapping the system so much more difficult.

Garen lifted his head and glared over at Darth Maul’s silent, waiting ship. Being immersed in the Jedi Temple was slowly leeching the constant feel of malevolence from the craft, but it still wasn’t pleasant. Hanger techs, mechanics, passing Jedi—everyone gave the ship a wide berth even when they didn’t realize they were doing it.

Deconstructing Sienar Systems’ donated craft would probably help in the long run, providing some vital puzzle piece that would get them into the Sith’s ship without dying or exploding. In the meantime, it was a giant pain in the ass. “You manage to tag everything yet that’s not part of the door’s wiring?”

R2-D2 made a long series of rude sounds. Garen picked up his datapad, rubbed grease off of the screen with his thumb, and read the translation. “Wait, seriously? They’ve got what should be dedicated systems slaved to each other?” The astromech droid chirped affirmative.

Garen huffed out a sigh. When Sienar had first delivered the new model ship to the Temple, he’d given it maybe two weeks, tops, before they’d unbolted it from stem to stern. Then Anakin had gone off with Obi-Wan and Rillian to deal with the Zan Arbor thing, which had segued directly into Obi-Wan going off on some special project. Anakin had been half-distracted by the horrific genocide-mapping project already, but whatever Obi-Wan was doing pretty much meant that Anakin poked at wires while Garen and R2-D2 did the real work. Garen didn’t mind, really, but it meant a two week project had now progressed to a full three months. Sienar made good engines, but Garen was starting to put serious thought into tracking down their electrical supervisor and throttling them with about a hundred kliks of redundant wiring.

He realized he was staring at Maul’s Infiltrator-class ship again and shook his head. The length on the Sienar long-distance starfighter he and R2 were dismantling wasn’t the same, but the wings? Those were an exact match for Maul’s ship. Sienar had produced three more craft so far this year, all with that distinctive wing shape. Garen knew from the Sharing that Sienar kept doing it; by Obi-Wan’s other-when, the timeline he privately considered broken, Sienar was making TIE fighters. He wanted to fly one in the worst damned way, and they didn’t even exist yet—it was possible they would never exist here.

Just thinking about that jumbled mess made his head hurt.

Garen hissed out a breath when the pain spiked, making it feel like needles were stabbing him in the eyes. “All right, I’m out. I’m calling break time.”

R2-D2 hooted at him in what sounded like curious sympathy.

“I’m fine, my head just—” Garen tried to stand up and then dropped right back down onto his knees. “Okay, maybe I’m not fine.” He clamped his hands against both sides of his head as the pain kept ramping. It felt like someone was trying to pull his teeth out through the top of his skull.

Master! Garen shouted. He’d prided himself on not bleating for his Master every time something came up that he didn’t understand, but fuck pride. He had no damned idea what was going on.

Garen? What is it?

 I don’t know! I— Garen shrieked as that sense of being pulled became an unbearable stretch, something in his head wrenched far beyond the limits of what it was built to endure. He thought he heard R2-D2 whistling in alarm. He couldn’t hear Micah any longer.

He realized it was his pairbond with Obi-Wan when its strength gave out. He could see it in his mind’s eye, a jagged, bleeding line. Then his vision went white, and there was nothing.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Yoda moved about in silence, nothing more than a dim shape in the soft light of his quarters. He expected no guests, and thus the humidity he enjoyed was intense enough to create wisps of steam in his living area. He drank his evening tea, made from a bitter root that turned sweet only on the tongue of his species.

Strange, how life could be. The plant that created this tea had survived the devastation of his homeworld. His own people had not. To his knowledge, only he and Master Yaddle remained.

Very few still lived now who would remember Yoda and his foundling. He had gone on sabbatical, a habit he used to indulge in at least once a century. It was good to remind himself of the people beyond the borders of the Temple.

It was also good to remind himself of the ways of the Force, and that year he had been exploring the empty expanses of his decimated homeworld. So quick he had been to leave it, when young he was, so quick that now he could remember only glimpses of what it had looked like before the unexpected cataclysm that claimed many lives…and poisoned all others surviving.

The Force led him many kilometers through twisting paths that had once been streets. Fate caused him to crash through too-thin ground, tumbling down over and over, before coming to a dizzied halt at the bottom of the hole he’d found.

The hole, he realized, had once been the stairwell that led to a park, and here was the bore of a great tree, gnarled and bent, but still strong enough to provide shelter. When the rain had begun, sizzling as it struck the earth, Yoda thanked the Force and went into the sheltering tree.

Inside had been a full clutch of eggs.

Yoda stared at the treasure in astonishment. He knew what it was, of course. He had just the faintest memory of hatching, of unfurling claw and ear for the first time under the watchful gaze of faces he could not yet see. Most of what he remembered was of being so very warm.

The hollow was cold. Yoda sighed and touched the nearest egg, marveling at its tough yet forgiving nature as the skin flexed under his hands. Without heat, the life within had never quickened—even if it had, the youngling’s chances of being whole and healthy, of surviving infancy, were so infinitesimally small.

So many lives, never to unfurl their ears, stretch their claws, to blink half-blind into the brightness that was life. Yoda did not weep, for all that he was still making peace with his species’ extinction. Instead, he caressed each cold egg, a quiet benediction for younglings that would never be.

If he had not done so, if he had not given himself permission to mourn, he would never have found her. One egg rested in the center of the clutch.

One egg, protected from the elements. One egg that was warm beneath his hands.

One life had quickened in a single shell.

Yoda could still remember the feel of that egg’s leathery exterior as he’d tucked it beneath his tunics, resting it against his skin. The life within would have been able to listen to the beat of his heart.

Yaddle always remembered that moment, she claimed, because of how it had gone from dark to light. She had been so cold, and then there was warmth.

He never encouraged her, but as a tiny youngling, Yaddle had thought of herself as a breath of hope for their species. The one found below could mean a revival of their people.

Yoda suspected that, to this very day, Yaddle still grieved the fact that she was sterile. There was no new breath of hope for their people—just one last gift.

His comm chirped, interrupting the melancholy turn of his thoughts. Yoda turned the device on without reaching for it. “Yes, Master Windu?”

“Master Yoda.” Mace’s voice was grave. “They’re at it again.”

Yoda smiled, his ears twitching and further betraying his amusement. “Tell me, you should.”

“The science team and crew of the Speckled Band report that Kenobi, Jinn, Skywalker, and Raallandirr vanished from the ship about twenty minutes ago—mid-sentence, according to the witness who saw Skywalker and Raallandirr disappear.”

“Hmm.” Yoda pondered the idea. “Mortis, interesting it is proving.”

“We’re all in agreement that it’s interesting, but Master Vakiti tried to read me the riot act about not warning her that the planet could eat people.” Mace sounded tired. “She was still shouting when I told her that we had no damned idea it could do that. Yoda, please tell me that they’re fine. I need some good news to give to these people, because none of them have had any luck figuring out a way into the monolith.”

Yoda lightly touched upon the bonds he shared with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon—even young Skywalker, to a certain extent. All of those bonds were strong, if quieted by the distance that separated them.

“Fine, they all are,” Yoda said, and then paused as a faint premonition struck him. “For the moment.”

“I can’t tell if that’s reassuring or not.” Mace’s heavy sigh carried through the comm. “Please let me know if that changes. I will do the same.”

“Do so, I will,” Yoda said, and the comm clicked off.

Interesting, Yoda thought again. His young not-Sith friend doubtless hadn’t appreciated the planetary kidnapping. It would have been fun to be present just to hear the resulting vocabulary.

He placed his tea cup aside and called forth his gimer staff, laying it across his knees as he settled into a comfortable position. The Force had lulled him into a state of recognition and recollection. It would do well to meditate and see if it could teach him more about his friends’ fates.

Yoda immersed himself in the Force, feeling part of his earlier melancholy lifting from his heart. Here was where he was most comfortable now, his own body too old to grant him true reprieve. Frailness would set in with his next century, and death would be ever closer, ever more welcome.

He could not see anything specific regarding Mortis, though the Force did provide him with an awe-inspiring glimpse of the doubled pyramid that enclosed the planet. Beyond those walls, he sensed immense power, contained and malleable.

His mental eye presented the sand of the chamber at the base of the Temple, the stone offerings that surrounded the shallow body of water that made up the wellspring.

A wellspring, Mortis is? Yoda considered that and felt the words to be true. The concept was a bit frightening, but if a puddle, if a river, why not also a planet?

Yoda saw a human man, young but also ancient. Qel-Droma, he thought, pleased. He did like it when people kept their word, no matter if they were living or dead.

Then there were others he saw, armored and angry.

Jedi, Yoda thought. They were bright in the Force, prime examples of the Jedi way, and yet…and yet, they disturbed him.

A tower fell, as if someone had pulled it apart from within. Yoda frowned at that, even though the visual quickly went away.

The present this is not. The past, this is.

He could feel Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Qel-Droma, perhaps others, but the timing of it all did not match. Yoda’s eyes narrowed in concentration. Interesting, indeed.

Hello, Emmaltine.

Yoda almost lost the threads entirely at the sound of Obi-Wan’s voice. Venge, that was not. Strong, he was—but Yoda was not reassured.

You are still within the Well, though on its outermost confines.

Yoda flexed his hands over his gimer stick. A lovely voice, a presence in the Force like faded mist—a spirit familiar to Obi-Wan, but not to Yoda.

There was Anakin, yet also not right—too adult, too Knight: What sort of gift?

I believe the current term for it is called ‘closure.’

Yoda felt both of his ears rise up in alarm. This did not bode well.

This was no longer the past. This was the now.

That will not be necessary.

I’m afraid you have no choice.

Yoda’s hands tightened. No good, this was. No good at all. He could feel the Force flex in a way that was never meant to be.

I do not yet know how you will return.

No!

Yoda gasped as the threads of his training bond to Obi-Wan, born of another life but present just the same, stretched and flexed in the same manner as that ill turn of the Force. The unexpectedness of it broke him from his meditation. He opened his eyes wide, and his vision was blurred by pain and darkness trying to swamp him. Not truly of the Dark, not this, but wrong this was, this forced separation—

Yoda’s head fell forward as the bond broke apart. He gasped for breath, clutching at his chest with one clawed hand. The fledgling bond he had with Anakin was also severed.

He could not sense Obi-Wan, or young Skywalker. There was nothing but the fading edges of the bonds that had once connected him to them both.

“Qui-Gon,” Yoda whispered. He reached down that old pathway, the bond he had once used to balance a young Padawan against his Master’s foolishness.

To his surprise, all seemed well.

Yoda let go of that moment of fear, breathing until his heart obeyed him and was calm once more. Training bonds had severed, but a Lifebond, it seemed, was stronger. It had withstood whatever this Emmaltine creature had done.

Training bonds. Jeila Vin.

Yoda leapt down from his chair and hobbled to the door, calling both commlink and robe to his hand as he went. He was old, strong, and stubborn, and had lived through broken bonds before. The younglings were a different matter entirely.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Master Kuunhra found his most wayward charge sitting in front of the rock pool in the new crèche garden. It was big enough for wading and play, but not deep enough to pose a danger to those who were still very small.

“Jeila, it is long past your bedtime,” he said, and then felt her misery in the Force. “Dearheart, what is it?”

Jeila lifted up her tear-stained face. “I tol’ him so,” she sniffled, rubbing her nose. “I tol’ him so, and I knew it’d happen.”

Alarmed, but keeping his emotions behind tight shields, the Trandoshan Master sat down next to Jeila Vin. “Did you have another vision, Jeila?” One so tiny should not be dealing with such larger concerns, not yet.

Jeila shook her head, her messy Padawan braid slinging out from side to side. “Nu uh.” Her eyes refilled and brimmed over, spilling new tears down her face. “It hurts, Master Khu.”

“Where does it hurt, youngling?” Kuunhra asked. “Are you ill?”

“No,” Jeila whispered. She took his large, scaled hand with her tiny green ones and lifted his arm until she could tuck her head beneath his hand. “Hurts,” she repeated.

Kuunhra tried not to gasp, but he knew he had not kept his alarm hidden this time. “Dearheart, your training bond with Master Obi-Wan—”

Jeila nodded sadly. “Tol’ him so.”

“We must take you to—”

“Here, I already am.”

Kuunhra turned to find Yoda coming up to them at quite a pace, considering his age. The Master’s words had come out on a stressed huff of air.

“Did you rush down here, Master?”

Yoda ignored the question and went straight to Jeila. “Youngling?”

Jeila’s lip quivered. “I tol’ him it’d be longer for him,” she said, and then let out a choked, grieving sob.

“I don’t understand. Is the young Master dead?” Kuunhra asked in a low voice while Jeila sobbed into the ancient Master’s tunics.

“Dead? No, not dead,” Yoda replied, shaking his head. “But in trouble, both he and young Skywalker are.”

 

 

Republic Year 5210, 12/28th

Chommel Sector Senatorial Offices and Residences, Coruscant

 

“I’m sorry,” Anakin says.

Padmé is caught off guard, and her joyful greeting dies on her lips. Anakin never starts a conversation with an apology. A greeting, a kiss, a smart remark, an observation, or blatant sarcasm? Yes, but never an apology.

“What—what for?” Padmé asks, wondering if something significant has blown up and the news just hasn’t reached her yet.

“About Clovis—actually, no, I am not sorry about him at all.” Anakin’s face twists up into a grimace. “Wow, I’ve gotten bad at this.”

Padmé can’t help but smile. “Maybe a little.”

“No, wait, let me explain—you have to stop smiling at me like that, I’m gonna forget what I was saying,” Anakin says. His eyes are lighter, not filled with as much trepidation, and that’s when Padmé realizes that Anakin didn’t expect to be forgiven.

Dear gods, Anakin Skywalker. Their marriage had rough spots, but it wasn’t that dire!

“That moment, that argument in the Senate about…about whether you would spy on Clovis on behalf of the Jedi. I just—I know better, I do. There is no telling you to not do things once you’ve decided to do them. Hell, that’s part of why I love you! Forbidding you from doing that job, it was…I don’t know. I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have done it, and maybe I should have been less of a jerk—”

“Not to Clovis,” Padmé says, voice not quite flat. She is going to be ready to forgive that man in maybe a decade or so.

“No,” Anakin agrees. “Uhm, can I just….can I sit?”

Padmé stares at him. “Ani, you live here.”

Anakin blinks a few times. “I—yeah. Sorry,” he says, and then wanders over to the corner sofa, sitting down like he expects the fabric to bite him.

Now she isn’t just confused, she’s worried. “Anakin, what’s wrong?”

He looks down at his hands as he speaks to her, the bare flesh of his left standing out in stark contrast to the black leather that shelters the delicate bionics of his right. “I feel like things are falling apart. Okay, so there’s a spin on the universe. Everything moves, all the time—it’s physics. The moons revolve around the planets, the planets—usually—rotate on an axis, the planets revolve around the suns, the suns revolve around the gravitational central point in the galaxy, and the galaxy itself is spinning around some central point in the universe.

“If I concentrate hard enough, I can feel it,” Anakin whispers, which causes goosebumps to break out on Padmé’s skin. “But that movement, that spin, it belongs the way it is. It’s supposed to do that. It’s everything else that feels like it’s—”

Oh. “Anakin, are you afraid you’re going to lose me?” Padmé wants to be annoyed, but she can’t. She spends every waking moment that Anakin is gone from her terrified that she’ll get a call from Obi-Wan, Captain Rex, or Commander Cody, and they’ll tell her she’s a widow without Padmé ever having had the joy of sharing her marriage.

Anakin gives her a slow nod without looking up. “You, Ahsoka, my men, Rex, Cody, Obi-Wan—”

“The Senate jokes a lot about Obi-Wan being immortal,” Padmé says in a wry voice. She hopes the humor will help to jar him out of what she’s beginning to suspect is a post-traumatic stress cycle, one her husband can’t afford.

Anakin lifts his head and meets her eyes. The humor did not work. “Did I ever tell you about Raku? About afterwards, I mean?”

Padmé obeys instinct and training when she goes to sit at Anakin’s side. “You said that it was bad, but no details.”

“He died.” Padmé winces as Anakin’s voice cracks. “When the stasis pod opened. It wasn’t dramatic or anything. He just—he took a breath and that was it, he was physically—”

“Ani,” Padmé murmurs, and just like that she’s buried in Anakin’s arms. It’s warmth and the scent of Anakin, his accompanying perpetual metallic tang; it’s the feel of being grounded in reality, a quiet defiance against the universe’s desire to keep all things in motion.

“The Healers got him back, and it wasn’t even—it didn’t take long, I mean,” Anakin says, and she knows that he’s crying. “I shouldn’t even be upset, it was months ago now!”

“Were you upset then?” Padmé asks gently.

Anakin pauses. “Uhm…no, actually. There was a lot going on at the time. It’s just this reminder that it could be any of you. At any time. I can’t—what happened to Mom—”

Padmé puts her hands on Anakin’s chest and gently pushes him back so that she can look him in the eye. “Anakin. If I die, I know that it won’t be because you failed me.”

Anakin’s expression would be mulish if it weren’t also in the process of crumbling. “If you die, I wasn’t there to make sure it didn’t happen.”

“Anakin, no. That’s not true. Just as if—if you die, it won’t be because I wasn’t there to prevent it. People die, Ani. Sometimes those circumstances are sad, or terrible, or both, but it’s not something you can stop.”

“I don’t want to lose you,” Anakin whispers. “I just can’t imagine going through that pain.”

“Everything hurts,” Padmé counters, running her fingers along his face. He’s grown and changed so much in the last year, and it amazes her all over again that this beautiful man took his great capacity for love and shared it with her.

“Even love?” Anakin asks, the corners of his lips turning up. It’s not a happy smile, but better than none at all.

“Especially love,” Padmé says, and kisses him. He’s soft and pliant here where he is hard muscle and sharp lines everywhere else. He moans and opens his mouth to her, his left hand immediately coming down to clamp onto her shoulder.

Despite his immediate arousal, his touch is gentle. It always is.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Padmé gasped awake in the darkness, one hand to her chest and the other trying to claw at her throat. No, there was no reason for that, none, none at all, what—

“Your Highness!”

The voice sounded familiar. It did; she just couldn’t—

“Padmé!”

Padmé finally managed to shake off enough of the dream to look up, staring into Sabé’s worried brown eyes. The lamp on her bedside table was lit, and Padmé hadn’t noticed at all. “Sa—Sabé?”

“Oh, thank the gods. I was about to call for a bloody medic,” Sabé replied. “Stand up, all right? You look like you need it.”

“Right. I probably do,” Padmé agreed, feeling…off. Something was…something was different. “Is something wrong?”

“Besides you waking me by tossing and turning?” Sabé gave Padmé a teasing smile that didn’t hide her concern. “I’d be giving you grief about enjoying a very nice dream if you hadn’t also looked so distressed.”

“Right.” Padmé stood up, pulling on the dressing gown that her best friend immediately supplied. She felt shaky on her feet, and her thoughts were so jumbled, so confused—“Would it be strange if I asked you to tell me the date?”

Sabé bit her lip for a moment. “Given the fact that you have weird Jedi friends who gave you an unhappy mental jaunt through a future I never, ever want to see come to pass? No, Your Highness, I don’t think it’s a strange question at all. You’re in the Royal Residence in Theed, on Naboo. It’s the 2nd day of the fifth month of 5201, and it is very early in the morning.”

Padmé let out a relieved sigh, though the trembling of her limbs didn’t cease. “All right. Did I say anything, Sabé?”

“No.” Sabé shook her head. “You’re always quiet. That’s why I didn’t realize it wasn’t a good dream, not at first.”

“No, the dream was fine,” Padmé protested. The dream had actually been very nice, if confusing. Anakin was eleven; that was not a memory he or Obi-Wan had ever shared with her. She was also fifteen, and while it was expected that her hormones would be, er, active, it wasn’t like anything she’d ever experienced before.

“It was a normal dream!” Padmé insisted, when she realized that Sabé was giving her a look of complete disbelief. “I don’t think the dream was actually the problem.”

Sabé’s smile vanished all at once. “No, I believe you now. You’ve gone white as a bleached sheet!”

Padmé took a step and immediately pressed her hand to her breast again. It hurt and it didn’t. It felt like she was being stretched in all senses of the word, and it was not a comfortable sensation.

“Maybe…maybe calling for a medic isn’t a bad idea,” Padmé whispered, just before her vision blurred when true pain struck. “Ani!” she cried, recognizing that something terrible was happening to her friend.

Padmé had just enough time to realize that the agonized scream she heard was her own before darkness came.

 

 

Republic Year 5201, 5/2nd

The Jedi Temple, Coruscant

 

“How soon can we get there?” Mace asked Saesee Tiin.

“Seven days at normal speed. There may be a shorter method, but I repeat that I believe it’s a terrible idea to go in the first place,” Saesee grumbled.

“You’re staying here, so you can stop complaining about it,” Mace retorted. “Now tell me.”

Saesee shook his head, crossing his arms. “It is possible to get there in a little less than three days from Coruscant due to the space lanes we have available here. However, you would still need a ship fast enough to make that journey possible, while also being large enough to host whatever complement of insane beings you insist on taking with you.”

“We’re all capable of waiting in line for a turn at the ’fresher like civilized adults. Suggestions, Councilor?”

Saesee eyed him. “You are no longer Head of the Order, Master Windu.”

“No, but I am asking on the Head of the Order’s behalf. Suggestions, Saesee. Stop being a reticent bastard,” Mace said.

“I am being reticent because I am in no hurry to send friends to a planet that apparently eats people, and is filled with beings who have no problem throwing other beings randomly throughout time!”

Mace lifted both eyebrows. “You’re assuming we can even get onto the planet in the first place, Saesee. Right now, our concern is joining the Speckled Band in orbit above Mortis.”

He thought he was doing a damned good job of tamping down on his frustration. If there was a communications breakthrough that didn’t involve Tahl and Micah exhausting themselves via long-distance pairbond communication, Mace wanted a full Jedi team to be present and available, not sitting on Coruscant. Vakiti was an excellent field agent, but the Kushiban was now on her own, dealing with a very large planetary monolith with only two Jedi Healers as back-up.

Saesee huffed out a breath. “The Skipray’s newest Blastboat model, the 6-R. You’ll find it to be very cramped quarters, but it has the sublight and hyperspace capabilities required to shorten the journey from seven days to three.”

“Crew?” Mace asked.

“Four. That’s what it’s designed to hold, total, but if the ship is fully stocked, it will support six to eight individuals for two weeks maximum. If the Band has also been eaten by the time you arrive, you’ll have the means to return.”

Mace nodded. “It will be enough. Thank you, Saesee.”

Saesee glared at him. “Thank me by returning, Master Windu,” he said, and stalked off.

Mace shook his head as he pulled out his comm to send the request on to the hangar bay crews. It seemed they had finally found a subject that genuinely rattled the other Master, one literally the size of a planet.

He pocketed the comm after the request was sent, frowning. He had to admit, he was rattled by the idea of a people-eating wellspring, too.

Adi joined him a few minutes later, meeting him at the top of the Grand Stair. “Do we have a strategy?”

“We do, but we’ll be using a ship that can hold six to eight of us at the most, and it will be uncomfortably cramped at six,” Mace answered, still frowning. “I’m not certain how to narrow down the list of those who should go beyond Master Yaddle.”

“Yaddle?” Adi asked, lifting an eyebrow.

Mace nodded. “There is, apparently, a library, and the consensus from the Mortis team is that Jocasta Nu should never be allowed near it.”

“Oh, dear.” Adi blew out a long sigh. “And with Tahl dealing with a newborn, she’s also out of the line of contenders—which is bad timing, considering that Yaddle will also be the first to tell us that Tahl would be the better choice for translating documents older than fifteen hundred years.”

“Micah and Tahl both left me with the impression that we’re about to be dealing with material far, far older than that.” Mace rubbed at his forehead, wondering if T’ra had managed to turn the curse back around, returning the Head of the Order’s traditional headache to its previous owner.

When Mace updated her on the situation, T’ra Saa told Mace to go in her place.

Mace stared at her, surprised. “Why?”

His former Master smiled at him. “I am Head of the Order and my position is very new; I must be here, and I must be visible. I trust you to act in my stead, considering you only just recently passed along this abominable job to me. Who will you choose to go with you?”

“I don’t know.” Mace sat down in a chair across from her. “And I don’t have much time to decide.”

He was saved from having to make at least one decision by Tahl striding right into the lounge, baby Benjjai sleeping in a sling across her chest. “If you think you’re going to an ancient library without me, you are absolutely stupid and hallucinating,” Tahl announced.

Mace felt his headache ramp up. “Tahl, you just had a baby—”

Tahl rolled her eyes at him. “I’ve been released from the Ward, and as long as I do nothing truly strenuous, I’m clear for travel. It is scientifically proven that hyperspace travel has no ill effects on infants, and I’m now a successful nursing mother. If you’re really that concerned, the Speckled Band already has two Jedi Healers aboard. I’m going, Mace.”

“What does Master Giett have to say?” T’ra asked in a neutral voice.

“He wants to go, but realizes that in light of what’s happened, he needs to stay with Garen,” Tahl replied. “Yoda also wants to accompany us, but in light of ancient library, suggests that it be both Yaddle and myself for the trip. Two brilliant brains are better than one, and Yoda has his own concerns here.”

“Jeila Vin,” T’ra guessed, folding her hands together in her lap. “We need a Shadow representative, I think.”

“I’ll speak to MonMassa about that.” Mace privately thought that perhaps it should be Padawan Tkee representing her Master’s office. She had a level head on her shoulders and an open mind, especially after months of watching a Jedi Master struggle with his sanity. Tkee had handled the entire situation exceptionally well, and Mace suspected those traits were going to be very important on Mortis.

“That’s four of you, then.” T’ra hummed to herself, an old tune that was more vibration than sound. “This is one instance in which it is imperative that we are not, to use the phrase, ‘stacking the deck’ in our favor, but we cannot afford blunders, either. I suggest Even Piell. He is sensible, but also on record as standing against certain reforms some of us wish to make. That takes your count up to five.”

“And it gives us a representative from the Council of First Knowledge, rounding out that political aspect.” Tahl carefully sat down on a chair and rearranged the baby when he made a noise of complaint. Benjjai smacked his lips and went right back to sleep.

Mace scowled at the realization. “If you’re getting away with taking a baby, I can’t leave my Padawan here. Not without a hell of a lot of conniving.”

“Six and seven, then,” T’ra announced, giving Mace a smug look. “One more adult, I think.”

“Tsui Choi,” Adi suggested, returning looking flushed and winded. “I just had to go speed-reading my way through the rosters as to who was available in-Temple, then run all the way to a blasted landing pad to speak to him before he could leave.”

“Oh, that’s a good choice,” Tahl murmured. Mace glanced at her, intrigued; he hadn’t quite understood Adi’s selection of Tahl as replacement Councilor beyond the expectation that every Master try to serve at least a year in the position, but maybe Adi had already seen what he was just beginning to notice. He was used to the Tahl who hid in the Archives, but when called upon…

“Tsui Choi currently serves in no political capacity within the Order save what missions require of him. He’s a perfect political neutral, even more so than Shaak Ti at this point,” Adi said.

“Eight.” T’ra nodded decisively. “That is your team for this venture, Mace. Do try to collect everyone, and if Padawan Skywalker returns older than he should be, please come up with a cover story that is scientifically plausible.”

Tahl glanced at T’ra. “Do you think that will actually happen?”

T’ra’s brow furrowed into an unhappy grimace. “It is a planet-sized wellspring, and you’ve already informed me that Initiate Vin is certain that they’ll be gone for longer than what we perceive. Perhaps we’ll get an eleven-year-old returned to us, or a teenager, or a blasted adult, but none of these would surprise me at all.”

“I’ll leave you to it. I have my own things to prepare for on this end,” Adi told him after they left the lounge. She reached up to plant a gentle kiss on Mace’s cheek. “Be careful.”

Mace nodded in grave response. “I always am.”

Adi grinned at him. “Liar,” she replied, and walked off with T’ra to continue the frantic-paced damage control caused by Mortis.

Tahl was looking at him when Mace glanced at her. “What?” he asked, annoyed by the knowing gleam in her eyes.

“Oh, I was just wondering when that would become official.”

Mace scowled. “Not until she resigns from her Council seat.”

“Hmm. That would not necessarily be the best for the Order,” Tahl said, surprising him. “Why not announce it now? The two of you have proven for almost two decades that you’re capable of being impartial during Council sessions, Mace. I don’t think even the hardest hearts within the circle would demand either of you resign.”

“I don’t think that would be wise,” Mace said.

“Why not?” Tahl reached up to brush her fingers along Benjjai’s face when the baby awoke, blinking at her with his shining blue-and-silver eyes. “We’re at war against a Sith Lord, Mace, and it’s a war that has already cost us lives before it’s even begun. The Order will need every bright spark, every joy we can find, to carry us through what’s to come.”

“Is that prophecy, Master Tahl?” Mace asked, discomfited.

Tahl shook her head. “No, Mace. That’s logical extrapolation of everything we’ve seen and heard in the last six years.” She gave him a coy smile. “You might be surprised to find who would support you, especially since you are not currently Head of the Order.”

Mace raised both eyebrows. Tahl had a point. “I’ll consider it.”

“Good.” Tahl looked at him again, no hint of a smile on her face. “I would have left such things too long, Mace. Micah almost died on Yinchorr. He did die in Obi-Wan’s other-when. Don’t make that same mistake. It isn’t worth the pain.”

 

Republic Year 5201, 5/2nd

Mortis, the Chrelythiumn System, Wild Space

 

One of the few things that kept Rillian from bolting right over and trying to find out if her Master was all right was Healer Ra’um-Ve’s hand, warm and solid, resting on Rillian’s shoulder. Master Qui-Gon was gripping his head as if it ached horribly, and he was barely responding to the questions that Master Ulic was asking him.

“He’s all right, I promise,” Healer Rava said in a low voice to Rillian. “It’s exhaustion, but the sort easily cured by simple rest, dearheart.”

Rillian swallowed and nodded. She was mostly convinced, but it helped when Qui-Gon finally started speaking aloud again.

“What’s the news?” Ulic asked, rolling a staff back and forth between his palms. He looked like he wanted a fight and didn’t dare ask for one.

Master Qui-Gon massaged his temples, then the bridge of his nose. “The Jedi Council is aware of the situation, via Tahl and Micah. They’re sending a team out to join the Speckled Band in orbit.”

[Is Garen okay?] Rillian asked, concerned.

“He will be, with rest, and there are competent Mind Healers about that are not Ra’um-Ve.”

Ra’um-Ve snorted. “Miracles will never cease, then.”

“The last thing I got from Micah before everyone parted ways…” Master Qui-Gon frowned. “Mace badgered Saesee into telling him how to get here in three days instead of seven, so there’s a chance that everyone will end up arriving at the same time.”

“Convenient,” Ulic said.

“You just want to see someone soil their trousers over your existence,” Rava teased the other ghost.

“I’m four thousand years old. I take my entertainment where I can get it,” Ulic replied, grinning.

Maybe it was weird, but Rillian didn’t care. She liked the ancient Jedi, and she’d always liked Healer Rava. The two of them being dead didn’t change who they were.

“Even if they are that timely, it won’t do much good. Not without waiting for Obi-Wan to get his hands on that table again,” Ulic pointed out.

Master Qui-Gon gave the other man a cautious look. “Maybe not. I think I might be able to do something about that, but it will most certainly be tomorrow.”

Ulic stared at Qui-Gon. “You think you can use that fucking thing? After it almost fried your Lifemate’s brain?”

“He knew what went wrong, and so do I,” Qui-Gon countered.

Ulic stopped rolling the staff back and forth. “You think you’ve got that much of yourself back that you can manage that state?”

Rillian had no idea what they were talking about. From the way Healer Rava’s hand tightened on her shoulder, she suspected the Healer did.

Master Qui-Gon seemed to think about Ulic’s question before he reached up into thin air and pulled. Suddenly, instead of empty space, that spot was filled with thousands of beautiful, luminescent blue threads. [Oh, wow.]

Just as quickly, Master Qui-Gon let the threads go. They faded, but it took almost a full minute for all of them to disappear. “I’m not sure I would be capable if we were anywhere else, but Ulic—it’s a damned wellspring. I can do whatever the hell I want.”

Rillian laughed at the miffed look on Master Ulic’s face. “Upstart youngling.”

“Born in a wellspring,” Qui-Gon retorted, one corner of his mouth turned up. “I think I can handle opening a door, Ulic.”

Healer Rava snickered under her breath. “Ulic, come with me, and I’ll give you a run for your money. I can tell you want to hit something, and it shouldn’t be the only person here that’s capable of re-opening communication with the outside galaxy.”

“I hit hard,” Ulic warned her.

“I hit harder, and I cheat like blazes,” Healer Rava returned sweetly. “Be prepared to have your ass handed to you, you ancient little shit.”

Ulic grinned. “If I weren’t married, I’d be flirting right now.”

“Don’t you even start,” Rava warned him, and then they were around the corner, out of hearing range as the stone of the old house ate their words.

Rillian dithered at the edge of the room, standing in the open doorway that separated the outer courtyard from the room with the weird glass table. She liked it and she didn’t; it thrummed in her bones and in the Force in a way that spoke of great potential—and grave danger.

She must have been broadcasting, or maybe Rillian stood in the doorway long enough for the sun to shift and cast a longer shadow across the room. Her Master looked up at her from where he’d been resting on the cushioned outer ring that surrounded the weird table. His eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion, and she didn’t want to bother him—

“You are never a bother, Rillian,” Master Qui-Gon said, waving her over. “But something is very much bothering you.”

 [There is,] Rillian admitted, stepping down into the lower level of the room so she could come close to Qui-Gon. She didn’t accept his gesture to sit down, not yet. [It’s just—these new memories.]

Her Master raised an eyebrow when she didn’t continue. “You’re worried about them?”

[Sort of.] Rillian steeled herself and then said it. [It’s just—are these memories going to make you like the man you were? The man Obi-Wan showed us you were like before his Master died in his other-when? Am I—am I going to be dealing with that man for my Master? Because I’d really like to know so I have something to hit you with in advance. Master Obi-Wan told me I could!] she added, when Qui-Gon’s other eyebrow went up to join the first.

Master Qui-Gon didn’t laugh off her question, which she almost expected. Spoken out loud, it sounded like a stupid, silly thing to be worried about. The moment he’d been able to recover from the Lifebond’s sudden damage, Qui-Gon’s first concern after those bond-breakings had been Rillian.

“May I ask you something first, then?” When Rillian nodded, puzzled, Qui-Gon went on. “When you were five Standard, you had a certain level of knowledge, yes?”

[Yes,] Rillian barked a short, confused affirmative.

“But at age eleven, you knew more. That knowledge changed your behavior, even if it didn’t alter your core self. Correct?”

Rillian frowned. She thought she could see where this was going. [Yes. Are you saying it’s kind of the same thing?]

Master Qui-Gon smiled before nodding. “Raallandirr: I have not been that foolish man in a very, very long time.”

Relieved, Rillian flung herself at her Master, who opened his arms to catch her. Cuddled in close, she could sense that he was tired, but there were no horrible threads of bitterness, nothing like Rillian had feared to find.

[Then what do you remember?] Rillian asked, once she’d sat back onto her own part of the squishy seating.

“Ra’um-Ve and Ulic have both explained that Obi-Wan was here for a month, recuperating from Fire, and that I was with them, yes?”

[Well, yes, but that wasn’t you. Was you. Wasn’t.] Rillian wrinkled her nose. [I think I hate time travel.]

“It does make things confusing, especially considering that this area of the wellspring is essentially a time dilation field. Ulic thinks it was thirty days, but it was actually more like forty-five.” Qui-Gon’s expression turned somber. “I remember every single moment of that.”

[Why does that make you sad?]

“Because the man I’d been was unaware of the fact that I’d made a promise. I told Obi-Wan that I would not ask him to show me just how badly Fire had hurt him. I am now…very much aware, and it is something that became even worse than what Obi-Wan was initially concerned about.” Qui-Gon shook his head, a faint smile on his face. “Discovering that will not thrill him.”

Rillian nodded in sad agreement. She’d gotten the impression from listening to Ulic and Healer Rava that the month—those forty-five days—had been stressful for everyone involved.

Healer Rava had asked Rillian if there was anything she wanted to talk about. Rillian had given Rava an odd look and said she’d worry about her own emotional state when everyone was back in the same place once more. Healer Rava had laughed, but it was the sound of someone who truly understood what Rillian meant.

Rillian was also just too pragmatic to be overly bothered by it all, not yet. It was part of her species’ psychology. Wookiees were known for acts of temper, but someone had to push really, really hard to make it happen.

[That’s not all you remember though, is it?]

Qui-Gon rubbed at his eyes with both hands before answering. “No. It isn’t much more, but it fills in a few pieces of the puzzle I’ve been trying to construct since this entire time-travel mess began.”

[Like what?]

His brow furrowed. “Obi-Wan should have been a Knight at nineteen in our original timeline. I asked the Head of the Order to delay him for a year.”

Rillian blinked a few times, trying to process that. [Why? Did you think he needed more training?]

Master Qui-Gon let out a rueful chuckle. “Quite the opposite, actually. He could have been Knighted at eighteen if I hadn’t sensed that there was one final hurdle to be faced. I just didn’t know what it was. No, Rillian—I asked them to delay Obi-Wan’s Knighting because I could not handle losing another mental bond at the time. Micah and Tahl—in that other-when, I’d lost them too recently, too violently, to lose yet another I’d become so closely linked to.”

He shook his head. “I know why it didn’t occur to Mace and I that simply letting the training bond remain after Obi-Wan’s Knighting would solve that problem, but it still doesn’t make me happy to remember that I never thought of it.”

[Because of that stupid Sith Veil.]

“Yes.”

[Maybe you both didn’t consider it because it’s supposed to be unwoven before the Vigil?] Rillian suggested. She knew that was what Masters and Padawans were supposed to do, after all.

“Yes, but there are exceptions. In the case of potentially causing more damage than harm? That would certainly have warranted one,” Qui-Gon explained.

[And you’re mad about it,] Rillian guessed.

Qui-Gon gave her a surprised look. “Of course I am, Rillian. If I’d done as I should—if the Council had done as they should—Obi-Wan would have been a Knight…and I would have been free to discover my next apprentice, a certain Wookiee waiting for me in the crèche.”

[Oh.] Rillian felt her fur tingle with a warm mixture of pride and embarrassment. [I hadn’t thought of that.]

“But I had. Among other things.” Master Qui-Gon let his head thump back against the rear cushion of his seat, but he was staring at the table that dominated the room. “Obi-Wan complains about how much our future seems to rest on his continued existence, but I don’t like being aware of what rested upon mine, as well.”

[Maybe that was why Sidious was so intent on trying to get rid of you both?] Rillian pointed out. [Master Obi-Wan does say that your last year together was like trying to stop ships from crashing over and over again, but instead of the Force, all you had was a net for insect-catching.]

Master Qui-Gon smiled. “I don’t remember that, but he’s probably correct.”

Rillian hesitated again. She had one more question, but she was a little afraid of the answer to that one, too. [Ever since you decided to, uhm, do as your past self suggested, you’ve been certain that Master Obi-Wan is going to be back in three days. Why?]

Master Qui-Gon sighed heavily. “Because when that part of me returned to our original timeline, Tatooine was not the first place I went.”

 

 

Republic Year 5201, 5/3rd

The Jedi Temple, Coruscant

 

Garen woke up feeling like someone had dropped an entire freighter on his head. “Ugh.”

“There you are.”

He turned his head and found Micah sitting next to his bed. He was in the Ward, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering how he felt. Reeft had claimed an empty medical bed next to him, and was utterly passed out.

“He did his best to stay awake until you woke up, but it’s been thirty hours. Dressellians can only hold out on sleep for so long,” Micah said, looking sympathetic. “How do you feel, Garen?”

Garen considered it, swallowed, and then rasped, “Like shit.”

Micah nodded. “I’m not surprised.” He helped Garen to drink some of the ice water kept at his bedside, which improved the state of his mouth immensely. Didn’t do much for the pounding headache, though.

“What the hell happened?”

Micah grimaced. “Something I hoped you would never experience. Hell, I never want to find out what that’s like.”

“Dad, please be a little more fucking specific, okay?”

Micah blinked down at him, eyes wide. “It’s really weird when you call me that.”

Garen managed a smile. “Gets your attention. C’mon, tell me what happened. My head feels like someone crushed it, and—” His throat closed up before he could say the words.

Micah just nodded. “You, Master Yoda, Jeila Vin, Qui-Gon, and Rillian have all lost your connections to Obi-Wan and Anakin.”

Garen’s eyes widened. “Shit—but the Lifebond—”

“Survived,” Micah said heavily. Garen finally noticed that his Master’s eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion. “Not without some marks of damage, but it’s intact—and it’s the only bond that withstood what happened. The situation was painful enough that Qui-Gon didn’t even realize he’d lost his bond with Anakin until he was helping Rillian deal with the aftermath.

“Yours was the worst,” Micah said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Garen’s hand. “Training bonds are one thing, but you two designed that pairbond to be permanent.”

“Yeah,” Garen whispered. Shit, this was awful. “Master, what happened?”

“According to Qui-Gon, Yoda, and—apparently, Ulic Qel-Droma…” Micah made a disturbed face as he said the dead Jedi’s name. “A spirit named Emmaltine used the power inherent inside a Chamber of Trial and decided it was the best idea in the galaxy to send Obi-Wan and Anakin back to their original timeline.”

Garen stared at his Master. “That is some sci-fi level of fucked-up shit right there.”

Micah rubbed his face. “It sure is.”

“Can we get them back?” No matter what had happened, Garen knew that Obi-Wan and Anakin belonged here, with them, not off in some place where they’d both fucking died.

Micah left off rubbing his face and started massaging the bridge of his nose. “Please bear in mind that Tahl and I got this from one of the most long-distance communications we’ve ever managed through our pairbonds with Qui-Gon. If we understood him right, Obi-Wan and Anakin should only be gone three days—less than two days, now. A team from the Temple left yesterday to intercept the Speckled Band, hoping they will arrive at around the right time.”

“But that’s not all of it, is it,” Garen guessed. Light was starting to hurt his eyes; he suspected he was in for one hell of a migraine.

“Jeila Vin.” Micah sighed. “Jeila told Obi-Wan that it was going to be a lot longer until he saw her again than it was going to be for her.”

“So we don’t know how long it’s going to take for them to get back,” Garen said, feeling chilled. “Three days on our side or not, it could be…”

“Years. It could be years for them.”

Years, Garen thought, stunned. Little gods and nova-blown stars.

Micah gave him a tired smile. “I’m choosing to dwell on the fact that we know they come back.”

Garen could barely comprehend the idea. It was too big, too vast—too absolutely insane.

His best friend’s life was fucking weird.

“Huh,” he said, swallowing down bile that tried to climb up into his throat. “Anyone taking bets yet on how long they’re gonna be gone?”

“Garen.” Micah shook his head. “Only a few of us know what’s happened, and for now, we’re going to keep it that way.”

Garen kept looking at him, eyebrow raised expectantly.

Micah rolled his eyes. “I went with six months.”

“Double down on five years,” Garen replied.

“Why five years?” Micah asked, giving him a surprised look.

“Anakin kept complaining about how he wanted to skip puberty.”

“You’ll forgive me if I hope that my estimate winds up being closer than yours,” Micah said dryly.

“Yeah.” Garen rested his head back down on his pillow. “I like your estimate better, too.”

 

 

Republic Year 5201, 5/3rd

Mortis, the Chrelythiumn System, Wild Space

 

Qui-Gon awoke to the knowledge that Rillian had gone out early that morning, enjoying her usual dawn rising. He chose to sleep in, his face practically buried in a pillow, until the sun rose high enough to creep over the window ledge and warm his skin.

The pillow still smelled like his mate. Somehow, the house’s wellspring-granted programming knew it would have been something Qui-Gon wanted. That kind of empathy didn’t make things any less bewildering, but it was the sort of innate understanding that Qui-Gon had dealt with all his life.

Sixty-two years old, and you find a kindred spirit in metaphysical programming, Qui-Gon thought wryly. Tahl would be laughing her head off at him.

He turned on the water and showered off yesterday’s cave dust, moss, shock, and salt water. The Healer-eased migraine retreated further, as well, until it was a minor nuisance instead of true pain. When he turned the tap off, he brushed his hand over the burnished coppery finish. It was familiar; it was not familiar at all.

Qui-Gon dried off, dressed, and returned to the bedroom. He had a bad few seconds when he saw a room frozen solid, his breath emerging as plumes of white mist when he saw the flash of amber eyes trying to hide within twisting tendrils of ice.

Stop that. The memory flashes had happened through much of yesterday evening, and most of his dreams had been filled with them as well. He needed to get it all straight in his head, but suspected that would be a long road to walk.

Qui-Gon understood now, very well, what Venge had meant by partitions and integration. The memories were his; they were not his at all. His words to Rillian had been as accurate as he knew to make them. He was not that man; he was that man. All that separated the past version of himself from now was twenty-odd years of memory—including the experiences Qui-Gon had gained since Taro Tre. Those, more than anything, served to keep himself from slipping into bad habits he scarcely remembered having.

“Tea?” Ra’um-Ve asked him when Qui-Gon finally ventured out to the kitchen. Ulic was absent, but Ulic often went on his own early morning walks, dealing with demons that only one other man in this time even remotely understood.

“Yes, thank you.” Qui-Gon accepted a cup of Ulic’s oiled black tea from her. He’d quickly discovered that it was easier to drink it if one was deceased. Still, it was familiar, and it was caffeine, and he felt like he needed both this morning.

“Wait—is it still morning?”

Ra’um-Ve glanced at the rubble that had once been a kitchen wall. “From the light of the sun, you beat noon by two hours or so. Rillian’s been wandering for a while, so she’ll probably come back looking for lunch soon.”

“Just in time for breakfast, then,” Qui-Gon said in return, smiling. He walked past the control table that buzzed against his senses before stepping out onto the stone courtyard.

The sensation of Ra’um-Ve and Ulic Qel-Droma’s presences feeling normal was also not helping. It was entirely at odds with the part of himself that insisted they were not.

Qui-Gon walked down the stone stairs—stairs he’d walked up just yesterday morning, unaware of what he was about to experience. The beach sand was wet, warm, and comfortable beneath his bare feet. Stepping into the water confirmed what he’d already suspected; the calm part of the ocean before the house was a meditation pool, kept in bounds by nothing more than some ancient Je’daii’s will that it be so.

With the water came a flash of fierce desire, heated skin and golden eyes flashing at him like sunlight dancing across the water. “Oh, good job,” Qui-Gon told himself, shaking his head as he tried not to laugh. “You got everything except that part right? That isn’t fair at all.” The crackling of restrained Lifebond potential was still trying to dance across his shields, and the event was over and done with, his other half too distant for it to matter. “Well, I hope I enjoyed myself.”

[Master Qui-Gon!]

Qui-Gon turned to find his Padawan racing towards him, her feet churning up the loose sand from further down the beach and sending the grains flying into the air. She was carrying something in her arms, and as she came closer, Qui-Gon realized that they were rocks.

“Rillian? What is it?” Qui-Gon asked, waiting for Rillian to catch her breath.

His Padawan held up her armload of rocks. It was obvious to anyone who’d been on the island for more than a few minutes that they weren’t native to the local soil. These were the partially formed gemstones of flat, flowing plains. They were fat, gray and brown chunks with flashes that showed thin veins of true, colorful value peering out from cracks and crevices.

[They’re falling out of the sky!] Rillian announced, a wide grin on her face. [Isn’t that neat?]

Qui-Gon reached out on instinct, catching the next one as it did exactly as Rillian had just described. Rillian barked in surprise at the sudden and new discovery. [Master?]

Qui-Gon forgot to answer her. His senses were inundated by Obi-Wan’s Force sense, strong enough it was like his Lifemate stood right at his side. The other rocks held faint hints of the same, but this was so much stronger. Obi-Wan had held onto this particular stone for a long time.

[There’s…a note attached?] Rillian gave him a quizzical look. [Is this what I think it is?]

“I believe so,” Qui-Gon murmured, snapping the string that held true paper snug in place against the stone. This one was a clean, smooth gray, unbroken but for a visible line of emerald green that shot down the center.

He unfolded the paper carefully, his heart almost pounding in relief as he recognized Obi-Wan’s elegant scrawl. The note had been written with a stylus that acted as if the ink was trying to gum up the works.

 

Qui-Gon,

You tell me how to get home, but you don’t tell me how to build a two-way bridge to make sure I don’t kill anyone in the process? You unbelievable jackass.

 

Qui-Gon nearly choked on what felt like a sob mingled with laughter. That did sound exactly like something he once would have done.

 

I know I’m right, this time. I know I’m sending these stupid damned rocks to the right place, to the right when. I just can’t test it. I’m not sending anyone through a fucking wormhole unless I’m certain about where they’re going, and that they’ll survive it. I’ll figure it out, and when I do, you are getting a stern talking-to…for no reasons save my own, since you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

Gods and Force as my witness, I miss you. Please, someone insist that Emmaltine leave Mortis, because the temptation to shove her spirit into a rock and bury her in a glacier for a few millennia is beyond tempting.

What comes after this will require your ability to remember a decryption code I once insisted you memorize. I hope you actually did it instead of just claiming it was done so that I’d leave you alone.

I love you and Rillian both, and I will see you soon.

—Obi-Wan

 

Qui-Gon checked the date on the new letter, fighting through the haze of dim memory to check the jumbled threads that had accompanied the memories of his forty-five days on Mortis. “Gods. It’s been almost three years for them.”

[But they’re close. He says he’s close to figuring it out,] Rillian said after she got to read the letter, though she also looked concerned about how long Anakin and Obi-Wan had already been gone.

“He has to know that building such a bridge isn’t simple, or he wouldn’t be worried about sending data across a wormhole.”

[You think it’s going to be even longer?] Rillian howled in dismay.

“I can think of no other reason Obi-Wan would feel the need to resort to encrypted data.” Qui-Gon folded the note while glancing up into the sky. His mate was doing as duty would demand of him—documenting all of it. Just in case.

The only thing that kept Qui-Gon calm in that moment was that he knew Obi-Wan and Anakin returned. He knew it because he’d seen those threads twenty years ago, and it had not been possibility, but true-seeing. “We’re going to have to be on the lookout, Padawan. I think we’re going to find many, many more of these stones.”

[Okay!] Rillian looked excited for the first time since they’d arrived to find Ra’um-Ve waiting for them. [I’ll go look! Considering how many I’ve found already, I bet there are lots more.]

“Be careful, Padawan. Try not to let falling rocks hit you on the head,” Qui-Gon cautioned her, smiling. “And don’t forget lunch!” he called after her as she raced off to scour the island for new stones.

Qui-Gon carefully finished refolding the rock-borne note after she left. Then he pulled the other note, written in his own hand, from within his tunics. Qui-Gon had read it several times since agreeing to Ra’um-Ve’s pre-arranged memory download, but that didn’t stop him from again searching along the words, hoping for some further clue as to what else was about to happen.

 

Republic Year 5201, 5/1st (Or close enough, at least.)

Mortis

 

How does one begin a letter to oneself?

I hope you one day have a better idea than I do. In the meantime, I will proceed in my usual manner and jump into the deep end of the river, hoping for the best.

Time is a harsh taskmaster. It demands and it takes, and there is no arguing with its decisions. They simply are, much as the Force simply is.

Time is voracious and unstoppable; time eats everything.

Even if you have the tools to see Time for what it truly is, you still cannot change it.

Thus: you can’t hit yourself in an attempt to correct past mistakes. Believe me, I’ve tried. It is both ineffective and unsatisfying. All there is left to do is to move forward, something you have done with the kind of open-minded stubbornness I believe I’d forgotten how to feel.

No, you really can’t hit yourself to correct past mistakes, but it’s still nice to know that I’m not fucking it up the same way twice.

The Jedi say that the future is always in motion, but it is not the future they are truly speaking of. Time is not in motion; what we see is pre-existing possibility, a glimpse of everything happening at once.

Even when the chess pieces are shuffled, what came before will not change. What is to come from that new vantage point was always possibility.

I know how dire that sounds, but if you’re reading this with the understanding I believe you’ve gained, then you know why that Darkness must come.

The Sith think of Balance in black-and-white terms, that there must be an equal amount of Sith and Jedi in the universe. It’s a holdover from the latter Je’daii school of thought, the shifts in thinking that occurred just before the first Schism. Bane is the one who believed that the philosophy was meant to lead to the genocide of both groups, the only cure for what occurred millennia ago.

It is why Darth Zannah broke from his teachings, though Darth Cognus was fool enough to carry them forward. Sometimes even those who have the most ample opportunity to do so refuse to learn.

A wise woman once said that some things cannot be altered, only endured. She is…mostly correct. The how can be altered. The paths can twist. It is the major events that embed themselves in the flow of the Force like immovable objects. One can skirt a glacier, but one will still feel its chill, and the earth it travels over will be inexorably changed.

Like the Sith, the Jedi suffer from a similar blindness, but the Order’s black-and-white philosophy doesn’t even pretend at balance. I felt the import of that once before, the wrongness in putting the Light above all else. The way I attempted to handle that sensation was nothing short of a catastrophe. I’ve already learned that it tried to go much the same way, a catastrophe of an entirely different sort, so I believe you’ll understand what I mean about glacier-skirting.

Both the Sith and the Jedi are wrong. Read what translations are complete from the library in the house, and what you understand of the why will grow from thoughtful spark to certainty.

Remember all of this, and Sidious stands no chance.

 

—Qui-Gon Jinn

 

Post-script:

Xanatos does not suffer his final death until 5204.