I, Bastila Shan, was seven years old when Jedi Knight Vox Aben arrived on Talravin.
The night before, I lay in bed and listened to my parents bicker in the next room. They both said "her training" and "her future" more than once. Their emotions seeped through the walls and flowed into my chest. Father felt sad and angry. Mother was frustrated at father, but more powerful was her hopefulness. I could separate the emotions, feel one at time with full capacity, even though the reasons behind them escaped me.
The argument faded. I stared at the ceiling, confused at the experience. My empathy for others had been intensifying over the past year and that night was the strongest my visceral feelings had been up until that point.
Father quietly entered my bedroom. Sometimes he came to soothe me when he and mother's arguments became too heated.
I sat up and stretched my arms wide.
He sat down on the bed and hugged me. I felt his anguish, then felt his tears on my cheek. He apologized over and over again. I asked him what he had to be so sorry about.
He rocked me back and forth. "You help the flowers in our garden grow, even in the frosty days. They're so beautiful."
"I know. Did someone smash all the flowers?"
"No, no. Tell me how you make them grow so well."
I shrugged. "I sit and send them pleasant thoughts, papa."
He explained to me, in his layman interpretation, the concept behind the Jedi Knights and their use of the Force. "They're heroes to the galaxy who use a magic, of sorts."
That sounded quite fascinating to my child ears. "What does that have to do with me?" I asked.
"Your mother believes you might be able to tap into this magic. She contacted a man who is on his way to see if that's true. And if you do have the potential, then he might take you away from us for a little while."
My stomach turned. I clung to my father and whimpered pleadingly.
"We'll see how the meeting goes," he whispered. I fell to sleep in his arms for the last time.
- - -
I rose from bed the next morning, put on my basic sleeveless colonial wear, and tied my hair in pigtails. In the living area, mother sat in her arm-chair reading a datapad and sipping herbal tea. On my way to the kitchen I glanced back to see that she was looking at holo-pics of excavation sites.
I found fried meat slices and boiled eggs on the stove. We three seldom ate meals together. Mother was an early riser by nature, and father preferred to sleep until midday when he could get away with it. That morning, though, he was at the kitchen table. We smiled to each other.
I partook in my usual routine of eating a handful of food, gulping some juice, then discreetly sifting through the waste-bin beside the counter to look for scraps from last night's dinner. Father saw what I was doing and winked at me. Whenever mother would catch me at this, she would slap my hand and say, "How many times have I told you to stop feeding those diseased monsters?" I slipped the morsels into a bag and sneaked out the back door.
The countryside was a living portrait of plains and forests that stretched for leagues in all directions. I looked up that morning to see puffy clouds and long-winged birds. The village Restaw had an almost entirely human population. Lines of squat domed cottages spiraled out from the marketplace at the village center. We resided at the outskirts, thus every morning I took a long jog toward the organic food kiosks where the tooka strays congregated.
"Morning, Basti!" A woman called as she handed a bulbous fruit to a customer. "Here to feed the cuties?" She had a tooka that liked to sit on her fruit piles and take playful swipes at people.
"Where is the cutie?" I asked.
"Ran off across the circle!" She answered.
An old man threw spice onto raw animal meat hanging from his stall. He looked at me and scowled as I passed. Where was the tooka that usually pestered the old man?
I made my way through the crowd. The closest villagers who recognized me either sent me looks of warning or smiled and patted me on the shoulder. For a child, I had quite the polarizing reputation in the area.
Every spot where I would stop to feed a stray was now conspicuously vacant. My concern mounted. And then I felt a calling inside. An order came to me in the form of feeling. My heart buzzed with an energy I had felt often in my seven years of life, in times when I needed to react quickly.
I followed the calling to the edge of the village center. . . and stopped. All the tookas were gathered around an alien dressed in a robe. The name of his race escaped me at that age, but I immediately noticed the pure black eyes pointed at me. Tentacles at his jawline writhed.
"These creatures are covered in compassion," he said in a gurgling deep voice. "Your doing?"
I was at a loss how to respond except to shrug.
The robed alien strode toward me and stopped within arm's reach. He gestured at the bag.
We knelt down and fed the tookas in silence.
People watched us, murmuring about the strange visitor and the behavior of the tookas.
"Your choices shall determine too much for my comfort," the alien said.
"You're here to see if I can become a Jedi?"
"Say farewell to your parents," he said. "Take nothing with you but the clothes you wear."
I stood up and stared incredulously at him for a few moments. "No digging tools? I'm sure I can dig up pretty rocks for the Jedi."
He insisted that I must leave my parents and possessions behind. I asked why my parents had to stay behind as well, fearing what madness the Jedi could possibly have in store for me. I told him we had our own starship, that we could meet him as a family wherever he wanted. But he remained stubborn.
I ran in the direction of home. Instinctively, I reached out with my feelings to attract the tookas, and in seconds they all ran with me.
Halfway there, I stopped and looked back toward the marketplace. The animals rubbed against my legs, pawed at my hands, and mewwed lovingly. Then I saw the tentacled man. He broke from the crowd and walked straight for me.
I pointed at the Jedi and acknowledged my tookas. "Attack him!"
Most the animals jumped up onto their Jedi enemy and clung. A few on the ground raised up and shredded his robe leggings. He stumbled about while trying to pry an attacker from his face. If Jedi were heroes, I reasoned, then he would find a peaceful means to repel the felines.
I again ran for home. I shot up the sidewalk of the neighborhood and up a paved path leading to our back door. My feet brushed the flowers in our front garden and I was reminded how much of my time and energy I had spent nurturing them.
I entered the kitchen, slammed the door behind me, and snapped the lock. Father stood by the cupboards.
"Bastila, stay inside today." My mother entered from the living area. "We're expecting a visitor soon that I want you to meet."
"Already met him. He says I'm pretty, but a bad fit for the Jedi."
"That's the best news ever!" Father scooped me up under the arms and spun me around. I laughed with relief as he set me back down.
Mother crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze. "Were you a disrespectful brat toward him?"
There came a heavy knock on the back door.
I gasped and hid behind father.
Mother slid past us, opened the portal, and gasped. There were a few silent beats before she moved aside and motioned for the visitor to enter.
I made myself peek from behind my protector.
The Jedi was covered in tooka excrement and splotches of his own blood. His front heaved with deep, paced breaths. He trudged inside, boots thumping on the hard floor. An offensive odor filled the kitchen.
"Good day. I am ---" He paused as his face scrunched. He reached behind himself, pulled off a... baby tooka, and set it carefully on the floor. It purred, then bolted out the back.
Mother slammed the door harder than I had and went to stand beside father.
"I am Vox Aben, Jedi Knight." He looked down at me. "I give you my deepest gratitude, girl. My patience has not been so tested this cycle."
"Did she hurt you too badly?" Mother's posture drooped.
"I don't believe so." Vox stroked his chin tentacles. "I frightened the girl by accident in the marketplace. She wished to defend herself from a foreign stranger who was adamant about uprooting her from her present life."
Father pointed to a chair. "We can sit down to tea and biscuits while we talk this through."
Mother shook her head. "First things. Let me find you a change of clothes."
Vox nodded. "Wash my robes afterward, if you would."
- - -
We sat around the kitchen table. Vox was now dressed in a worker outfit, a tight and thick top with criss-crossed straps that attached the shoulders to a belt at the waist. The belt had four pouches at the front pockets of varying sizes clustered the pants.
I thought he looked rather amusing. But to the Jedi's credit, he did hold himself dignifiedly despite his humbling circumstances.
I pushed away my tea and biscuits in defiance of the hospitality being shown the Jedi. "He says I have to leave everything behind except the clothes I'm wearing." I looked to father for support, trying to give him my most innocent face. "Does that sound sane to you?"
Father sighed. "Sir Aben. How long did you say she has to be gone? And where will she be going? What will she be doing, exactly?"
"I've neither the desire nor time to give a detailed account of her future livelihood or training." Vox's tentacles parted as he raised the tea cup to his mouth and drank. "Give her to the Jedi. We promise to do all in our ability to help your daughter reach her potential as a Force-sensitive."
"Sounds agreeable so far." Mother nibbled on her biscuit.
"Your magic failed you out there." I sneered at Vox. "What kind of a Jedi lets himself be scratched up by a buncha little tookas?"
"One who has a sliver of his own compassion for such beasts," Vox said. The Jedi set his cup down and raised a webbed hand, twitching the fingers.
An invisible phantom came out to play. My cup slid back to me and began to slowly spin. And more, my parents' uneaten biscuits left their plates and formed a spinning circle in mid-air.
My parents and I were a transfixed audience. A few moments later, the cups and tea returned to their proper places.
I realized too late that I had smiled. I made myself frown. "You think I'm a twit who can be won over with fancy tricks? Try harder!"
"Watch your tongue, young lady." Mother reached over and tried to slap my hand. I pulled back in time. She continued, "This Jedi has traveled who knows how many light-years to give you a chance at greatness, and you're spitting in his face."
"I haven't actually spit in his face yet."
Father groaned. "Show a bit more respect, Bastila."
"You believe your parents can protect you from destiny?" Vox stood and walked around the table to my side. He sank to his knees, facing me, one arm on the back of my chair.
I sent him a look of warning and became physically rigid, ready to lash out with my own claws should he try anything harmful.
Vox assumed a tender voice. "Your parents have done all they can for you. Now I am here to help you through the next stage, but the transition requires that you leave and start anew. The Mind of the Force calls out to you. I swear that in time... every generation henceforth shall know your deeds, Bastila Shan."
Outside of my control, tears blurred my vision.
I blinked, sending the droplets down my cheeks as a heaviness blossomed in my throat.
- - -
Father and I shared a long embrace. He said that we would meet again someday, but even then I had my doubts.
Mother gave me a quick hug and tightened my pigtails. She said nothing.
Back in his shredded Jedi robes, Vox Aben led me away from the village, down a slope, and across the plains toward the forests. A breeze raised his cloak. I caught a glimpse of a metallic, cylindrical device attached to his belt.
I brushed by fingertips along blades of grass that puffed at the tops, caught flying insects in my hand then let them go, and focused on natural aromas. This might be the last time I was able to appreciate my home planet in person. I wondered if Vox would take me to planets so sensational and breathtaking that I forgot rustic Talravin.
"Why did you land way out there?"
"Long walks through nature help center the soul."
"What if there was an emergency and you needed to get back to your ship? You'd feel like a dork having to run so far." I planned to forever be as difficult as possible for him.
Vox huffed. "I already treated you to a superficial display of the Force, and I feel dirty for having done so. When the situation calls for it, I shall show you true running."
Not long after, we arrived at his starship in a forest clearing. It was two floors high and narrow compared to its length of thirty meters or so. There was a single but multi-barreled turret at the top. Through viewing ports I saw the cockpit, which took up all the front of the vessel. Vox, continuing to stride, reached into a pocket. A steep ramp lowered at starboard, a third the distance down the length from the bow.
"Did you name it?" I held back a few moments so his posterior wouldn't be in my face as we boarded.
"The ship? No."
We entered a small lounge where two people could comfortably sit at the short round table and eat. A compact conservator sat in the corner.
There were two tunnels leading off at either end of the lounge. I took the one to the left, leaving Vox where he stood.
"We should call it The Tooka!" I went down the tunnel and stopped when I reached an open portal to my right. Inside I found sleeping quarters with two beds bolted to opposite walls and corners, and a cramped restroom.
I traveled further down and stepped into an antechamber of the hyperdrive. A tank of bubbling blue water covered one wall, except the few feet near the top where there was a hatch.
"What is this for?"
The Jedi appeared behind me. "That tank is for my meditation. In case you haven't noticed, I am in fact an aquatic-based sentient. A quarren. I return every few days to the water to regain physical stamina."
I made a mental note to ask further questions on his unique race at another time.
We entered the cockpit. I took the co-pilot's seat and studied the buttons and switches on the control station. Vox powered up the engines. The ship levitated up until the trees were tiny and I could see the whole of Restaw. My heart ached. But I shook the feeling away and turned to look skyward as we launched through the upper atmosphere. We broke the layers of gas and entered space. It was abruptly night-time everywhere. . . stars by the millions twinkled their greetings to us.
"Coordinates uploaded to navicomp. Reaching lane point." The starlight grew intensely, swirled, and elongated. We zoomed into hyperspace. "We should reach Coruscant at 0200 hours."
I suddenly realized that I had next to nothing to do but wait to arrive. I got up from my seat and wandered around the ship to gain blood flow in my legs. But the interior was austere and almost claustrophobic. In the lounge, I crouched beside the conservator and opened it to find batches of cold vegetables and a water dispenser in the door. Other than that, there were a few plain containers. I opened them only to be assaulted by a stench of overly-strong seasoning. It was some sort of meat paste.
It wasn't long before I went back into the cockpit and stood beside the Jedi. "May we stop at a spaceport and buy a snack? I know a station that papa takes me to sometimes."
Vox flipped a switch. "I think not. Eat what's available in the conservator."
"It smells cruddy."
He leaned forward and examined a screen with a grid layout.
I repeatedly kicked the floor panel under me with the toe of my shoe. "Well, I need to use the loo."
"We have one. Use that."
Vox took a deep breath and gurgled to himself in his native language. He sat straight as he rotated around to face me. "I'm almost certain that you're lying."
Fascinated, I watched his tentacles squirm. I wondered how strong were those appendages, and how sharp those fangs. But as I watched, the Jedi closed his eyes and tilted his head back.
"Vox? What's wrong?"
"We must come out of hyperspace. I sense. . . a cry for help."
The corridor of strange light disappeared and the stars returned once more. I hoped this meant we were going to stop at a starport for real food.
There was a rapid beeping sound. Vox pressed a button and activated a holo-image on the console before us. A semi-transparent upper quarter of a woman appeared from the projector. She was dressed in Jedi robes and had shoulder-length hair. Her face looked lovely to my jealous eyes, but distress etched her countenance. She began to speak, but static drowned out her voice as her image flickered wildly. Vox turned a few nobs and cleared the transmission enough to be understood.
"Priority message to all Jedi in the Stenness Node. This is Vima Sunrider on the planet Ambria, requesting immediate assistance."
I nestled up to the pilot's seat, watching and listening attentively.
"Myself along with several other Jedi attempted to consecrate the body of Jedi Master Thon on the surface of Ambria in the hopes of purging the planet's dark side aura. However, the act resulted in terrible storms raging across the planet's atmosphere. The storms have grounded our ship, making escape impossible. We're doing our best to hold them back, but the presence of the dark side is very strong.If there are any Jedi receiving this, please come now. I don't know how much longer we can hold out."
"Let's go save them!" I bounced on the balls of my feet, excitement surging in my veins. A dot marked Ambria on a screen map of the sector, a more or less straight shot from our current location.
Vox Aben uploaded new coordinates. But the map now showed a different set of systems and their routes.
"Why are we taking the long way there?" I chewed my lip.
"We are going to Coruscant."
I blinked a few times. The shock of his words deflated the excitement. Frustration and disappointment exploded in my stomach. I tried to guess at some justification for abandoning the stranded Jedi. "By the time we gather more Jedi on Coruscant, that lady and her friends will be dead. We have to go back now."
"I agree that they shall die on Ambria," Vox said. "The Council ordered me to safely transport you from Talravin to Coruscant."
"I thought the Jedi were heroes!" My voice echoed shrilly in the cockpit. "How can you call yourself a hero if you leave your own kind to die horribly?"
Vox whirled on me and got to his feet in the same motion.
I flinched and stepped backward, shocked at how quickly he had become a scary, towering figure.
"Your emotions, girl. Keep them in check." He lowered to his knees in front of me, much the same as he had back in Restaw. He tried to put his hands on my shoulders.
I pushed them away and snapped my teeth at him.
"You walk a dangerous path for one so young. I sense the Dark Side pulsating from the planet Ambria, all those light-years away. Powerful, painful. But your anger with me pierced through those energies, like how Vima Sunrider's transmission carried past the ion storm to reach us here."
"I hate you." I made fists. His incomprehensible ramblings angered me almost to the degree of his cowardice. "And I'll hate you more if you leave those other Jedi behind."
Vox heaved a watery sigh and covered his eyes with his palms. "There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no emotion, there peace."
We diverted course for Ambria, set to arrive in less than an hour.
- - -
Our ship came out of hyperspace above the beige round rock where lightning-shocked clouds boiled and coalesced like the birthing of a gaseous monster. Vox allowed residual momentum to carry our vessel ever closer to the flashing orb. He pulled back a lever and accelerated us to likely doom.
My blood went cold and my breathing quickened as I stared out the front viewport. Hate radiated from Ambria. It wasn't just a planet. It wanted me and everyone in the galaxy dead. It was a nexus of pure evil.
"Take a deep breath through your nose that lasts for six seconds," Vox said.
My legs wobbled. I yelped, sank to the floor, and drew in a breath. One, two, three. . .
The ship jolted. Its artificial light sources flickered and died out to leave us in darkness, save for the strobe effect of lightning through the viewport. Four. . . five. . . six. . .
"Hold it for four seconds."
Alarms blasted that immediately hurt my eardrums. Sparks showered from the navicomputer to the deck near my legs.
I covered my mouth, holding in my breath that wanted to escape as a scream. I scurried away from the spot, glancing up to Vox and finding him dutifully at work on buttons, knobs, and levers.
"Exhale for five seconds. Repeat the pattern. Fill your mind with the thought of these precious seconds of life-giving breath."
I held onto the co-pilot's chair and closed my eyes, repeating the pattern. We rocked back and forth, thunder boomed throughout the ship interior, lights of all sizes and intensities appeared behind my eyelids, but I kept breathing while counting the seconds.
By miraculous good luck and Vox Aben's Force-inspired piloting skills. . . we landed. I climbed to my feet, panting with exhilaration, and threw myself onto Vox's lap. I gave him the kind of warm embrace I would have shared with father. "We made it!"
"Our success will matter little if you squeeze me to death."
I sat in his lap and looked out at Ambrian surface to see an ugly barren landscape illuminated by constant fingers of lightning. Gnarled rock formations stood like strange tree-trunks, some so tall their tips disappeared in the wicked sky. Leagues away, tornadoes joined the storm to the ground, creating fountains of dust and rock at their bases.
"This is where my training begins?" I tried to suppress my mounting anxiety. I abruptly wanted to stay on the ship and felt a fool for ever suggesting we land in such a nightmarish location.
Vox nudged me from his lap. "Stay on board and practice the meditation I taught you. I'm going to search for Vima." He rose and made to exit the cockpit.
I grabbed his sleeve. "What if you don't come back?"
He stopped and gazed down at me, quarren expression difficult for me to decipher.
I focused in on his emotions. He must have felt my telepathic prodding, because his abstract locks opened and I felt beyond the usual deep empathy. Single-mindedness for his mission streamlined his thoughts and solid determination burned in his heart. His was a remarkable willpower.
I decided to keep my arguments, respecting his intent to save the Jedi.
Vox pulled away and left down the corridor. The ramp hissed open, there was a tumultuous chorus of wind, then I was left alone in relative silence.
My palms sweat. I took a cup from the top of the conservator and poured some water, drinking it slowly with my eyes closed, trying to pretend I was somewhere normal and calm.
I wandered into the crew quarters, lay down on a bed, and took paced breaths, glad that the ship hull muted most outside sounds. Or else I might hear the tornadoes ripping across the land. Were any drawing closer to my position? Would the ship stay anchored to the ground against those crazy gusts? Surely Vox would rush back and save me if he thought the storm was endangering me. I tried many times to keep my mind on my breath and counting, but racing thoughts broke through the calm and I finally surrendered to them, finding myself alert and quite worried.
BRAM! Something collided against the ship.
Adrenaline shocked me into even fuller alertness.
A second more powerful hit threw me off the bed. I landed on the deck, smacking my elbow. Brain chemicals dulled the pain... for now.
I crawled out of the quarters and clambered to my feet.
Another collision sent me head-first for the closest bulkhead. I managed to move my body so that my shoulder took the impact.
I ran for the cockpit. I had to somehow find out what was going on. When I was almost there, a side of the corridor in front of me buckled.
I halted. A good fraction of the bulkhead from deck to ceiling jutted out, blocking my way. Metal plating, sparking wires, and squirming tubes protruded out a foot from the very tip of my nose. I looked to find there was a space underneath the mess. I dropped to my belly and crawled forward, feeling rather like a lizard whose home was being attacked by a giant.
A sliver of metal caught me on the lower back.
I paused, reached back with a dainty hand, and tried to work the metal loose or move the affected flesh of my back carefully from the sharp thing.
A smell of burning fabric reached my nostrils. A single point on my leg stung.
I yelled out. Embers were showering from the wrecked hull innards and burning through my pants. On the verge of panic, I freed my skin of the sharp metal without cutting myself too badly, crawled out of the mess at last, then stood and looked ahead.
A bulky reptile waited at the front of the ship. It was the largest creature I had ever seen, slightly taller than the ship and nearly as wide. It pointed its scaly face in my direction once I appeared at the cockpit threshold. Saliva dripped from its fangs and pulled-back lips.
I backed up a few steps, stunned.
The front viewport was shattered, fragments littering the deck. Sheets of rain soaked the lands outside, threatening to flood my all but ruined shelter. Stirred with sounds of the storm, there were sizzling noises behind me, meaning the way I had come was certainly too dangerous.
The day had darkened further to late evening.
If I attempted a jump out the open frame past the reptile and somehow bypassed becoming dinner. . . I would be at the weather's mercy.
The reptile snorted and stamped on the ground. It opened its mouth to reveal uneven fangs. A speck of light brightened over its forked tongue and grew into the size of a fruit. Electricity covered the bright ball.
I shielded by eyes with a hand, squinting. I knew I had to make some move soon, before this outlandishness claimed my life.
The ship lurched. I slammed into the portal frame. Roars carried over the storm outside and the crackling of the beast's upcoming assault. There was clearly more than one of these surrounding the ship.
I threw myself into the captain's chair which was facing away from the front.
The ball of light ejected at the opposite wall and exploded like a violent firework. Static scattered around the cockpit. I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my ears as smoldering heat washed over my body. But the chair had kept me insulated from the worst.
A few seconds later I gripped the chair arms, lowered a foot to spin myself about, and kicked from the seat with all the strength in my legs. Arms stretched straight out, I dove over the console and through a gap in the viewport. I felt my enemy's rough hide as I scraped past him. My hands met the muddy ground and I did a front roll, breaking into a run.
I dodged rocks and leapt streams, my hopes set on finding some sort of shelter or place to climb. Heavy footfalls and roars trailed me all the while, making me aware that the predators were closing in.
I slipped on mud and fell to the ground. Pain stabbed my ankle. I must have twisted it wrong on my way down. My muscles were stretched, my adrenaline mostly spent, and waves of increasing exhaustion swept my body.
Rolling onto my back, I sat up and scanned for the impending threat. Two of the beasts had followed me. They were half a kilometer behind, side by side, galloping for their injured prey. Rain showered me as I sat pitifully on the ground. Freezing dread spread from my stomach to my limbs and soon I found my mind on the cusp of despair.
I screamed from the pain in my ankle, but hurriedly rose and jogged for the closest formation, looking for something to climb. I reached a rock seeming to have elevation enough to foil the attackers and slid my hand on the hard surface, searching for a hold.
"Bastila?" Called a woman's voice.
Was this a figment of my imagination? "Over here! I'm over here! Help me!" I found a crag with my hand, and one on which to set my foot, but when I tried to pull up my foot slipped. The slick surfaces and my pained ankle combined to make this an impossible task.
The two reptiles were nearer than ever. I leaned back on the tall rock and gave up the fight.
From the other side, many meters away where the rock bent out, appeared an adult human. Lightning flashed and for a moment the woman was illuminated as though she were in daylight. She shot past me, going for the reptiles, then I saw only the back of her flapping Jedi robes.
The beasts increased their speed.
She raised both hands out in front of her.
They went head-first into an invisible barrier. Their necks bent, their bodies crumpled, and they fell.
Telekinetic feedback knocked into Vima's front. She skidded backward in the mud, but kept her stance.
But the beasts got back up, huffing and growling. They opened their mouths and formed new energy spheres. The balls of light grew and grew.
Vima pushed her hands out at them.
The balls of electrical fury fired into their throats.
I saw hellish skeletons under crisped hides. And then it was over.
Vima turned and pulled her cloak closer around herself as she walked to me, head bent, damp strands of hair pasted to her weary face. The image seared itself into my mind; a hero in the elements, a spark of hope in a grim place.
She stopped in front of me and smiled. "Vox was concerned. He asked me to travel to the ship and check on you."
"Thank you for helping me," I said. "That was remarkable!"
Vima carried me on her back to a cozy cave a few kilometers away where she and her Jedi team had taken refuge. We found the three of them and Vox meditating cross-legged on the uneven stone floor, their backs straight and expressions grave. They each only opened their eyes to regard us for a moment before commencing. A fire burned at the center, its smoke drifting up to a hole in the ceiling. Vima set me down and quietly explained that Vox had encountered a possessed animal on the way there and injured his leg in the fight, but he had managed to bring a heavy rock down on his enemy, killing it.
The Force-sensitives were concentrating on driving back the Dark Side. With Vox added to the synergy, they were making slow but sure progress.
She gave me a bowl of water and a chunk of cooked meat. After I had finished those, I curled into a ball and drifted to sleep.
One standard day had passed since I heard my parents argue about my apprenticeship.
A shard of Ambria already festered within my soul. The Dark Side is a malignent thing. Meditative treatments would push back the symptoms, but that wasting sickness gradually spread across my mind, body, and spirit in the coming years.
Revan and Malak each broke the last seals of my innocence in their own ways, but only because I permitted them.
"Your choices shall determine too much for my comfort," Vox Aben had said.
The phantoms of the Sith Lords wanted me as a child and they have stalked me ever since. They lurk in the corners of my room now as I lie dying. One final choice of significance may remain to me after recording this book.
- - -
I dreamt I floated in a nebula. Sometimes flashing clouds parted and I glimpsed legions of stars, but the rolling evil bloomed again and blocked those promises of hope. I swam through fog to emptiness, making little visible progress in covering the great spans. Faces appeared around me in the nebula, their skin wrinkled and cracked, their eyes exploding suns. Burning chunks of planets formed their crowns and lightning their garments. Somehow I knew them to be lords from ages long passed. . . somehow I knew they hated me, but wanted me.
I sat up and screamed.
Vima came over and cradled me while projecting sedate feelings. She said that she understood if I chose to stay awake, but wanted me to relax.
Our cave was damp and cold. The fire was all but dead, our light coming from its embers. The other Jedi continued to sit cross-legged meditating, more present in the spiritual realm than here.
I snuggled up to Vima to soak in her bodily warmth. "What's the Dark Side?"
When she spoke, her voice was tentative. "You could feel the concentrated hate out there, the desire to conquer and destroy. You encountered its mind inside your dreams. That's the Dark Side."
"I want to fight the evil." I was braver with her by my side. Perhaps we would work in such harmony that we put those Jedi over there to shame. "Show me how."
Vima let out a breezy chuckle. "The external darkness fights and destroys itself more often than not. A Jedi's hardest battle is against their own heart."
I leaned away to face her. "You aren't going to let me help, are you?" My tone came out more hostile than intended.
Our rapport strained, Vima's mouth closed into a tighter line than normal and she looked away.
"Is this child driving you mad yet?"
I jolted with surprise and looked over to see Vox limping toward us.
I sensed a subtle flicker of shame from Vima as she got to her feet. "No, no. She wants to help us, is all."
Following her into standing, I crossed my arms and waited for Vox's response.
The quarren stopped in front of us. "Remember the breathing meditation, Bastila. Leave us to our duties while paying mind to yours."
I rolled my eyes. "My duty is to fall back to sleep? It's so dull here. I wanna do something."
"What did I say earlier?" Vima placed her hand on my head, caressed my scalp with her nails. "Keeping after your heart is every bit as important as what the rest of us are doing."
My child intuition told me that they shared a secret between the two of them. They were so adamant I sit and do nothing while they fought the darkness. Eventually I conceded and sat back down.
I brooded for the next several hours.
Shortly after the wait had become a kind of emotional torture, the Jedi rose to their feet and began shaking hands and exchanging congratulations. That was the first I paid any real note to the young blonde woman who pecked a kiss on Vima's cheek. The pair went for the cave exit, smiling and whispering.
I walked to Vox.
The quarren's tentacles sagged when he turned to me. "Master Sunrider is going to test the transponder on her wrecked ship."
"Something's bothering you, Vox."
"Your personal thoughts, worse than your nightmares, were an extra hurdle for our concentration. I am disappointed in you."
We left the cave to find the morning sky darkly overcast. Ponds of rainwater dotted the terrain. Lightning had blasted apart and charred many of the trunk-like rocks, some still smoking.
I was glad I put on Vima's cloak. It was too large for my petite size and the tail dragged in the mud behind me. But the air was cold and the breeze colder, fast reddening my nose and cheeks.
Vox led me up a ridge and to a flat where a squat, battered starship waited. Vima and the blonde descended the ramp.
"A commercial starliner is detouring to the system," Vima said. "They'll dispatch a shuttle for us.
I became so overjoyed at the news that I let out an involuntary squeak. A soft, unfamiliar voice entered my surface thoughts: "At last. We waited centuries to be free of this wasteland." I blinked a few times, bewildered at how distinct and separate from myself it had been.
"We remain vigilant until they arrive." Vox leaned his weight on his good leg. "We purged a fair portion of the Dark Side from this area, but it is yet strong. I recommend we commence with our meditations in the cave."
"Look, Vox!" The blonde woman stepped over to in front of me and leaned down. "Isn't your apprentice adorable in Vima's cloak?" She fussed with the collar.
I thought she must resent Vox for almost killing the mood.
"Give it to her, Vima," the woman said. "Let her grow into it."
And I was going to resent her if she kept speaking of me as if I was an infant. I yanked the cloak from myself and threw it over the blond.
"Hey, where did the world go?"
I ran behind her and slapped her butt.
She gasped and threw off the cover.
I was already running.
We three girls laughed and played chase on the flat while Vox stood and muttered about his lot in life.
Inside the shuttle transporting Vox, Vima, Meetra and me from a spaceport to the Jedi Temple, I sat on my knees and pressed my palms and nose to the viewport, admiring Coruscanti cityscape. Lines of widely cross-hatched speeder traffic, as though on transparent highways, navigated air lanes between polished skyscrapers. The kilometers-tall structures curved inward at the tops, tapering to soft points, and smooth grooves on the surfaces served as balconies.
Meetra, sitting beside me, chuckled and teased me for being a country girl in the big city.
I told her to shush and carried on goggling elegant architecture and the uniformity of a vast populace.
The shuttle entered the Industrial Zone where structures were shorter and flatter and traffic was thinner. Factory smoke fed the clouds. Cranes moved gigantic crates while spindly droids welded parts in shipyard trenches.
A while later, we landed on a pad. Our Republic pilot escorted us down the ramp and across the pad to a bridge. Vima and Meetra walked beside each other behind the pilot. Vox strode a few feet back from the two women and I followed yards behind him, my attention on the Jedi Temple at the other end of the bridge. The building was massive, the tallest one in the zone, but plain, its most distinguishing feature a single slender tower at the front.
The pilot stepped aside and bowed his head as the entrance swished open. We entered into a corridor. Some six men could have walked shoulder to shoulder, and its ceiling was five times as high. Mineral veins spread chaotically across the gleaming floors and walls. I heard voices echo from somewhere and the sounds of our heels clip-clapping.
Vima and Meetra led us a distance down the corridor, then we turned a corner into a lobby where the ceiling itself was a warm light source. Cushioned chairs were placed in loose circles near the corners and small trees and shrubs grew from circular openings in the floor, giving the air an aroma of greenery.
There were people in uniforms behind a long desk at the far wall. Several lifts lined another wall, portals or stairways the alternate. A protocol droid hobbled about. A Jedi stepped from a lift and nodded to a receptionist.
Vox turned around and looked down at me. "Sit down and wait for an attendant to retrieve you."
"No," Vima said, stepping up beside him. "Let her enter and witness the proceedings. This is a chance for her to see first-hand how the Jedi Council functions."
Meetra smirked. "Get ready to see the Jedi punish us, Basti."
The three Jedi strode for a stairway and I trailed after, growing worried at what might happen to my new comrades.
"We can expect an admonishment at worst," Vima said. She exchanged waves with a Twi'lek male Jedi coming down the stairs as we went up.
Vox huffed. "You essentially experimented with the Dark Side on a planet-wide scale, Vima. It was reckless, if not borderline stupid."
I caught up to Meetra and took her hand, lacing our finger together. "The Council should give the three of you medals. Why would they punish you when you did a fine job of fighting the darkness?"
"You have a lot to learn about the Council, little girl." Meetra gently squeezed my hand.
- - -
"We summoned you before us so that you may explain your actions." A middle-aged balding man whose voice and face I thought must be specially tuned to make others feel disappointed in themselves, gripped the arms of his chair. "Make your case convincing, or else you three Jedi might leave this chamber as padawans again." In my mind I nicknamed him Crab Apple.
"We cautioned you against going to Ambria." A second man stroked his thick mustache. "Yet you persisted anyway. Why?"
The four of us stood in a chamber where Jedi Masters sat in a ring of seats facing a short stone pillar at the very center. Lovely Meetra had switched off her glowing disposition for a countenance one would wear at a funeral, Vima was now so weary that she seemed to have aged years upon stepping inside, and Vox kept glancing out the windows as though planning an escape. I wanted to display my bravery, thus stood a bit apart from the rest while in clear view of the surrounding masters.
I had practiced breathing meditation on the way to the top of the tower and found that I didn't need to be sitting with my eyes closed to find a peaceful center. Though, I felt my calm dissipate as the tension in the chamber grew.
Vima cleared her throat. "Master Thon lived a paradigm of Jedi philosophy. The Force was like an active ingredient in his cells. We wanted to use that light to drive away the Dark Side from Ambria, in honor of his example."
"So you charged blindly ahead," Crab Apple said. "Narrowly averting disaster. And yet even this was the result of placing your peers and that child in danger."
"Master Vrook is right." This Jedi, whatever his name, was halfway handsome with his square jaw and defined nose and cheekbones. "Your intentions were noble, but you acted rashly. And in doing, you put your life in danger as well as your own apprentice."
"Administer my punishment so that we can be done with this," Vima said. "I think the Council has more important matters to attend than any one averted disaster."
The room fell silent for several seconds. Shifts in external feelings told me that the Jedi were deliberating through the Force.
The one with that mustache looked up. "Vima Sunrider and Meetra Surik. We're reassigning you to the Dantooine enclave. There you'll assist Master Zhar Lestin in the training of new students. Your time there should reaffirm the virtue of patience for you both."
Meetra straightened. "Masters, forgive my intrusion. I humbly request that you consider sending this girl, Bastila, along with us to Dantooine."
I gasped and locked gazes with the blonde beauty. How wonderful it would be to spend my days training with her; someone whose every tiny act toward me conveyed that she understood me.
"Step forward, youngling." Crab Apple was warmer than before.
I took a deep breath and stepped over to stand in front of him.
"You retrieved her, Vox Aben. What say you on her behalf?"
"The girl is headstrong and defiant," Vox said in his harsh quarren voice. "She shall grow to be a danger to those around her, unless she begins learning the Jedi disciplines."
My stomach turned with anxiety. I feared they think me too dangerous to accept as an apprentice. I would have to draw out the truth of my own worth. "I try my best in everything I do. And for someone my age I've achieved quite a lot, haven't I? Please tell them, Vox."
Vox continued. "She manipulated her mother's plants to grow out of season. She was able to control and command small animals, turning them into soldiers. Bastila has great potential, true, but..."
I tried to detect the masters' response through their facial expressions and emotional currents in the Force, but found them remarkably muted in both categories. "Yup. I helped my mum's flowers grow. I led a pack of tookas. Tell me I traveled lightyears and almost died for a reason."
Vrook shook his head, sighing faintly. "You believe you possess the patience needed for years of rigorous training. But I see within you an impatience to the level of recklessness." He looked to the mustached Jedi. "Zez Kai-Ell?"
"Her future is. . . problematic." Zez Kai-Ell sagged slightly as if some weight had descended on his shoulders. "Darkness closes in from all sides."
"The same could be said for every child," Vima said from behind me.
Vox let out a watery groan. "It's in their nature to overestimate themselves, admittedly. At any rate, I would excuse myself from business outside my own. Thus..."
Another pause, more elongated than the last. I closed my eyes and did my breathing meditation, pretending I was lightyears away from that chamber.
"No, Vox Aben." It was Vrook speaking. "Stay and listen. We're assigning you to the Dantooine enclave, as well. You are to take Bastila as your apprentice."
Vox issued a series of gurgles that resembled those of some dying aquatic animal and his tentacles were throwing a fit when I turned to my friends. I rushed to them and gave them each a firm hug.
Vox was rigid. Vima gave me a casual embrace, then adjusted my pigtails the way my mother would. Meetra competed with me for squeezing strength and undid my pigtails, ruffling my hair.
"Don't worry, Basti," Meetra said as we entered the lobby soon after. "You can train with me when Vox isn't paying attention. Which I assume will be the majority of days."
[Then we skip forward seven years...]
Two months ago, a fellow apprentice asked if I wished to accompany him for a stroll on the lake shore. He said that he had waited so long to invite me because my beauty and dueling skills gave boys worthiness issues. Many young women had whispered of nudity and kisses during their outings with him.
I accepted his invitation and ran to my quarters to bathe and dress in a nicer, form-fitting set of robes. I met him on the bridge where we were to begin our walk to the lake. Then a second girl joined us. I was offended at this, wanting to be the star female of the show, but kept my complaints quiet. We locked elbows with him. I listened to his suggestive humor and forced myself to giggle, but contributed little else to the conversation as we traveled over the Dantooine plains and hills. He and the other girl struck a natural rapport and we were barely at the shore when the two of them stripped to their undergarments, dove into the sparkling waters, and broke the surface to lock lips. He beckoned me to join, almost as an after-thought. Feeling out of place, I returned to the Enclave.
The two apprentices were found dead in their separate quarters the next morning. Healers determined the cause to be brain-devouring ameba in the lake water that had entered their nasal passages. Ever since, I preferred to use Vox's tank for water meditation.
Vox had obtained a new starship, a duplicate of the original left behind on Ambria. He seldom flew the vessel, keeping it docked within a cavity in the side of a plateau. I jogged to the ship every break of dawn, practicing my acrobatics on boulders, logs, and cliffs (someday I hoped to put my skills to the test and explore every noteworthy cave or tomb on the planet). From morning to noon I floated in the tank, my limbs loosely crossed and my head down. The Force became my source of breath, continually reverting the carbon dioxide in my lungs to oxygen. That had taken a few years of practice until it became automatic. If you believe my mind was far away from my body in those hours, or my spirit had transcended space and time, you'd be wrong. A common misconception. True, there are Force-sensitives who have viewed the future with what turned out to be astonishing accuracy, but I proclaim that they triggered those visions by staying firmly rooted to the present.
"Now is when destinies unfold," Meetra often said. "The past is the present is the future." The galaxy-changing truths translate to what sounds like gibberish to an outsider, but the Force is more flexible than our stiff tongues.
I stayed awake last night dreading the test Vox would administer this afternoon. He and I were going to decide my future. Was I prepared to be a padawan? Vox complained daily of my supposed petulance. He criticized my personality out of habit while the other masters and instructors praised my abilities after every training session. Even Master Vrook found his own unique ways of complimenting me, though less intuitive people may mistake it for insult. "It's a wonder you've done so well in your training and that you've managed to not completely fail us."
I transitioned from light trance into deeper stages of awareness, where sense of self faded and the surrounding world opened to reveal misty forms dotting the landscape outside the ship. These drifting things were indicators of life confined to physical matter. And as I slipped further, I saw and felt the threads connecting them.
Meetra spoke to a group of younglings. Vox hiked through tall grass, making for his starship. Master Tokare pruned a shrub in the gardens. A couple of apprentice boys wrestled on a mat. A vibroblade match had pit one student against two, their movements predictable to me. A pack of kath hounds used their tusks to tear at carrion in a canyon.
A Zabrak man in dark robes wielding a red lightsaber leaped out and swiped at... Vox and me.
I opened my eyes, shocked out of my meditation, and realized I still floated in the tank.
- - -
I reasoned the vision as a dream formed by my fears of the Dark Side, but I did not dismiss it on the slim chance the Sith Zabrak represented a literal threat. Dantooine was safe, I thought. I had dressed and brushed my hair by the time the ramp lowered and Vox entered. I stepped out and curtsied to him.
"I am ready for my test, Master Aben."
He slid his hands into opposite sleeves and stared at me with his crystalline eyes. "Your soul was a power conduit for the Force, my apprentice. Why did you stop meditating?"
"I wanted to be at attention when you arrived." My vision was my concern. Masters cautioned their apprentices against overactive imaginings that could lead to delusion. I wanted to present myself as normal and submissive today, fearing Vox might look for a reason to bar me from promotion.
He hissed. "The test deems today special? How convenient."
I crossed my arms over my stomach and bit my tongue. On average days I rebuked him for over-analyzing my every choice, but today was in fact special.
"There is no emotion..."
I put my arms at my sides, raised my chin, and softly cleared my throat. "There is peace."
Vox traced a repeating circle around me in the cramped corridor. "Describe your emotions at present."
Keeping my front facing the entrance to the cockpit, I tried to ignore his efforts to intimidate me. "Emotions? I am at peace, master."
My master stopped behind me, brought his mouth close to my ear. "Self-delusion. Imagine you answered these questions correctly at a superficial level, but I say that you failed the test. Would you be at peace then?"
"Doubt it." I shivered. "A student who fails the initiation must review the basics for months until their master gives them a second chance."
He relocated to in front of me and leaned in so that his ugly squid face almost touched my nose. "Or the master deports their student to a far-away planet where they can live as a lowly farmer for the rest of their life. You've expressed interest in agriculture before, haven't you?"
I stared him in the eyes, trying to hold back my revulsion. I was halfway successful. "I'm too promising to waste, Vox Aben. Fail me and the Council is sure to countermand you."
Vox returned to his normal posture, nodded, and turned his back to me. "You hold your breath for extended periods of time while meditating. Promising, but your worth is yet to be truly seen."
I accidentally released a snort. "Save yourself the agonizing wait, master. Ask a seer to look into my future and find my worth. Shouldn't we move on with the recitation already?"
Vox pivoted on a heel and glared down at me. "There is no ignorance..."
"There is knowledge."
"What knowledge do you pursue on a daily basis?"
"I meditate in part to learn how people are connected in the Force."
I considered how best to describe my personal journey toward enlightenment, and tried to channel Meetra Surik in both my speech and tone. "Thoughts, feelings, and destinies form a web together in the spiritual plain. I want to follow those threads to their beginnings and ends, to discover the pattern of the universe."
Vox was silent for several seconds, then grunted. "There is no passion..."
"There is serenity." Though I could feel my heartbeat in my ears.
"There is no chaos..."
"There is harmony."
Vox made to place his hand on my cheek, but then stopped himself. "You spoke of a pattern to the universe. It's outside your perception, yet you sense that it's there. Find it... and you find harmony."
I felt a flutter of affection for my master.
He returned to his hard exterior. "There is no death..."
I took a deep breath and exhaled through my mouth. "There is the Force."
Vox turned his shoulder to me and waved a hand. "If I were wise, I'd delay your promotion by another year. But when you're a padawan, you'll spend more time training with Meetra and less time pestering me. Very well. I hereby name you a padawan."
"That's why I respect you as my master." I mentally relieved tightness in my muscles, a side-effect of trapping my more passionate side for so long. "You're willing to overlook your personal doubts when my future is at stake."
Vox grumbled under his breath and walked for the cockpit.
I followed him. "Now it's time to construct my lightsaber. I've deliberated on this for days and I've decided a yellow crystal best suits my personality. Do you have the supplies available?"
He sat down in the captain's chair, crossed his arms, and lowered his head.
Annoyed at him for so abruptly introverting, I fell back into the co-pilot's seat and knocked my heel on the deck a few times. "This is Bastila Shan calling to Vox Aben. Speak to me, master."
He made spitting sounds before he spoke. "The Jedi influences the crystal, and the crystal influences the Jedi. You want to grow into a calmer, more thoughtful individual. As your master, I say that you'll use a green crystal."
I tilted my head and squinted at him. "Excuse me?"
"And your lightsaber shall be short, to teach you humility."
My mind whirled with the possible insults I would have to endure from my fellow padawans. He was incidentally correct in that I wanted to cleanse aspects of my personality and become a mature-acting adult. But the restrictions were insane. "Those restrictions are insane. Why are you trying to make me a walking joke of a padawan? Do you truly resent me so much that you would sacrifice your reputation as a mentor?"
Vox huffed. "The lightsaber is a tool. A symbol. Such a thing doesn't make a Jedi. In fact, if you carry yourself as you should, you'll rarely find need for it and others will rarely find need to laugh at your expense. What truly protects a Jedi is the Force. You'll do well to take that to heart."
I bit my tongue, screaming on the inside until I was confident I could talk again without ranting. "Fine, then. Let's get on with constructing my rubbish lightsaber."
- - -
Stationed at the workbench that folded out from the wall of the crew quarters, I used a hydrospanner to insert and adjust circuitry components within the small hilt. The design was far from my personal ideal, but I was going to make sure that this weapon was the best of its kind. A padawan of my talents deserved better, I thought. I would need to depend on my personal charisma to win respect from people, while skipping out on sparring matches.
Vox sat at the table in the lounge watching Underground News Net. He would tell me to keep working when he sensed I was paying more attention to the news anchor than my project. I constantly heard reports of Mandalorian activity in the Outer Rim, sprinkled with the name Revanchist.
I snapped a diatium power cell into place, attached a mounted crystal to the top, and then put the shell of the hilt together, screwing it closed. "Done and done!"
I held the weapon in one hand and pressed the activation button. An emerald blade emerged, noticeably thin, short, and pointed. Two knobs on the hilt were turned to their maximum; one controlled blade intensity, the second length.
How could I test my lightsaber? I twirled the blade with my dainty fingers and sliced the wall behind the workbench. The gash sizzled at the edges.
Vox stepped into the quarters. "Girl, learn to think before you act. The Council was gracious to fund my purchase of this ship and you repay them by scarring the walls."
I waved my lightsaber a few feet from his face. "Forgive me, master. I had a strong urge to slice something."
"Turn that off already. The thought of you wielding one of those gives me nightmares."
Crestfallen, I switched off the saber and clipped it to my belt.
My stomach then felt filled with fluttering bugs. A sense of longing stretched from there to... a short distance from the plateau where the ship was settled. Meetra Surik was on her way.
"What are you smiling for?" Vox said.
I bolted into the corridor and pressed a button on a panel to open the ramp.
"--- publicly executed the official earlier today..." The news played in the lounge.
I ran across stone and dirt floor of the docking bay to one end of the wide mouth and turned onto an outdoor path leading down.
Meetra waved to me from far below.
I quickened my pace until skidding to a halt on a flat area. The other woman soon stood a few meters across from me.
"Where have you been this week, Surik?" I put a hand on my hip and arched a brow.
Meetra put a hand over her mouth to cover a fake yawn. "Mistress Vima invited me to a High Council meeting on Coruscant. We discussed rules and regulations related to newly-appointed padawans." She must have spotted the lightsaber at my belt.
"Oh?" I drifted closer to her. "And what did you self-important wankers decide?"
The woman gave me a look of pity. "You're banished for being too hot-headed." She strolled to me, graceful movements putting Cathars everywhere to shame.
"Or because someone was jealous of my stunning beauty." I slid my tongue slowly across my upper lip while smiling in the most wicked way.
- - -
A week before, I had asked Vox for his opinion on Jedi maintaining intimate relationships, a disguised plea for his blessing.
"Love is an endless minefield partners traverse hand in hand," he had said. "Trigger but one and you're well down the dark path. You are thankfully too young to have to face trials of the heart."
"Say you found me kissing a girl. Or boy. Would you discipline me?"
"The Code is clear. I expected you to possess basic reading comprehension. If you wish to engage in carnal activities, I hope you would have the wisdom to do so far away from me."
I was stupid to ask that and put him on alert, but the damage was done. Meetra hardly seemed to care if Vox suspected us and told the Council, knowing her prestige in the Jedi ranks would likely allow for a faint blemish on her record. And she could depend on Vima Sunrider to run interference for us.
- - -
Vox, Meetra, and I sat at the round lounge table, each with a cup of tea. I preferred to savor the taste of Meetra on my tongue, thus left my cup alone. Quarren black brew was notoriously repugnant to human taste buds at any rate.
A recap of a swoop race played on the holo-screen next to us. Vox, hating sports, had muted the volume.
"I find your foot odor sickening," the alien rumbled. "Stop playing at each other under the table and put your stockings back on." His kind smelled through two orifices at either side of the neck.
I rolled my eyes. "Are you certain it isn't your own feet that stink?"
"His ship, his rules." Meetra winked at me. We used our practiced toes to help each other slide our stockings back on.
A minute later, Vox reached up to the screen and returned the volume to normal as the next UNN segment began.
"--- more casualties than can be reasonably accounted for." A reporter commentated over a scene of an encampment where several humanoids stood in the foreground, each adorned in body armor and a stylistic t-visored helmet that curved from the shoulders toward the neck then up to a point above the head. Sheets of drizzle blurred the backdrop of battered tents, plasteel shelters, and drooping tropical trees. "The Mandalorian occupiers have released a video challenging the Republic to take firm action against them. Be advised. The footage you are about to see is of a graphic nature. It may not be suitable for all viewers."
As my heart thumped faster, I remembered that I was only fifteen years old and starkly innocent to the wider galaxy.
My stare flitted to Meetra, whose face I found locked in hard readiness.
A Mandalorian put a heavy arm around the shoulders of an aged man in torn colonial wear. "Tell the Republic Senate the same thing you told us after we razed your farm to the ground." He sounded. . . joyous.
The cam zoomed in on the colonial, his face cracked and sickly. "You attacked our world unprovoked." He was a man at the edge of tears, pushing out his last ounces of bravery. "You murdered my son when he dared to speak against you. I fought against Mandalorians in the war with Exar Khun, and they were at least better than your ilk. Well, I'm not standing for it any longer! Let's see if your Mandalorian Code of Honor has any weight to it. I challenge you. Fight me, one on one."
The armored one laughed and shoved the veteran off cam. "Our valiant hero and his opponent are each equipped with a vibroblade."
The cam drew back to show a circular patch of soil, crates lining its edges. The old man climbed to his feet, a blade in his hand. His armored and masked opponent entered across the crude arena.
The two fighters struck repeatedly at each other and blocked or parried in the same motions. But the match lasted a minute.
The younger, stronger, taller, healthier man amputated the veteran's dominant hand.
"Die with honor!" The Mandalorian swept the tip of his blade across the old man's belly.
The defeated fell dead on a pile of his own gore.
The UNN reporter started talking again as another clip played of armored grunts using pikes to herd prisoners across the camp. "The rule is that if a civilian acts like a soldier, they are to be treated as one. For every poor soul we see here, the question becomes whether they should die in a fixed duel or go on suffering in this Hell." I saw humans, Twi'leks, Bothans, Zeltrons, and even two Wookiees, all with their hands bound in thick rope and their bare flesh or patchy fur wrecked by blood, bruises, and mud.
I heard Meetra grind her teeth and I looked over to find the beauty's ethereal glow diminished. She gripped the edge of the table and stared at the screen, though I had the sense she now saw past the ship hull itself. I got up from the table and stepped close behind her where I dropped to my knees and put my chin on her shoulder.
She pressed her cheek to mine. I felt it grow warmer.
I wrapped my arms around her. She grasped my wrists and leaned her head back, nostrils flaring in my hair.
"Away with the both of you," Vox said.
Meetra sighed and readjusted herself in the chair. I let my arms fall to my sides as I stood.
Vox took our three cups by the handles and went to dump the cold tea in the sink. "Aren't you giving a lecture this afternoon, Meetra? Why do I need to remind a teacher when it's time to teach?"
I was allowed to change my mind on trivial matters when under the strain of boredom.
I held my lightsaber and faced human male peer, Prezly Waaren, on a dueling mat in the training room. Zhar Leston, a Twi'lek Jedi Master, refereed. Several other padawans at the sidelines spectated with steely interest on their faces. "Ready."
We raised our hilts in both hands and activated them at the same time. Hiss and sizzle became a deep hum. "Fight." I stayed in battle stance, my left foot set firmly a pace behind me.
Prezly ran at me until in reach and swung at my knees.
I rotated my hilt a sideways one-eighty, pointing the tip to the floor. Our blades crashed on the outside left of my body.
He pulled a full circle over my head and at my waist.
I moved my blade to the right and blocked.
He tried to overcome my strength, pushing for my torso. Our blades singed my robes at the hip.
I leaned back.
He leaned forward to compensate. The upper quarter of his weapon was close to the base of my hilt. I had the superior leverage.
I leaned to the far side in the direction of his push and dragged my saber along. Our weapons separated as I went for the outer calf of his leg and. . . hit.
Prezly fell and wailed like a shrill infant.
A few onlookers used telekinesis to drag him from the mat. Zhar raised his hand and closed his eyes for a few seconds, administering a psychic sedative to the defeated padawan, who fell unconscious. "Delgitto and Sidlanger. Go."
Human male Delgitto came cautiously for my front while holding his weapon in one hand horizontally between us . Twi'lek female Sidlanger, a known devotee of Ataru, rushed me from behind.
I triggered a burst of Force speed and zoomed, knocking aside his lightsaber in the same nanosecond that Sidlanger launched from the mat and all but flew to the wall behind my current opponent.
He and I each exchanged a spark-filled blow and locked sabers by the time the Twi'lek kicked from the wall meters above the floor and went like a blaster bolt for Delgitto's back.
He jumped out of the way. I spun my body to the side and ended up behind the still-suspended Twi'lek where I struck at her feet. . . missing.
She landed in a front roll, then turned and stood in the same movement.
I made for Delgitto again and stabbed at his chest. Sidlanger was upon the young man as well, swinging for his left shin.
He hopped over the Twi'lek's blade, parried my attempted stab, and landed again.
My temporary ally and I threw a series of powerful attacks at Delgitto, who then used the defensive style Soresu, keeping his blade close to his body.
Seconds wore on. We went for every exposed part on our enemy, but he rotated his wrists and swept his shining shaft in almost casual movements that frustrated me more and more. When I was wondering if we would ever find a break in his defense, Sidlanger brought her saber straight down for his head.
Delgitto, perhaps feeling her attack was too powerful to simply sweep away with his blade diagonal or vertical, raised his weapon over his head while tilting it horizontally.
Sidlanger let her blade "bounce" a few inches off of his, then struck down at his dominant hand.
He dropped his saber and fell to his knees, crying out.
I struck at the Twi'lek, hoping to capitalize on the distraction. I feared for my reputation as a duelist, feared that she may be the greater fighter, and I wanted desperately to dash my own doubts and prove my worth. The masters frequently complimented my talents with a blade and my aptitude for deep meditation. To lose this match would mean disappointing them and thus wounding my confidence in the years to come.
But she blocked. We flew into a heated duel of blurred, risky attacks and precise defenses. The Force and our own hormones pumped through us as we twirled our blades and bodies, each desiring nothing more at that time than to defeat and humiliate the other. My surroundings disappeared. My focus switched constantly to exposed parts of her body that decided my next surgical jab or slice, then to stopping her comparable offenses. Emotions stormed. I felt exhilarated as when Vox and I had descended through the atmosphere of Ambria, but now I could wield and direct those feelings to empower myself.
The end of the pulse-pounding dance came abruptly. Sidlanger repeated the attack she had performed earlier, jumping and flipping backward out of my reach to a wall, where she bounced off and zoomed at me. She straightened, becoming a projectile, stabbing for my face.
I parried her blade, then felt weight squeeze between my legs.
The Twi'lek grabbed my ankle as she shot under me. She tripped me and let go.
I landed in a push-up position, but my nose nonetheless smacked into the mat. My eyes filled with tears from the shock and pain. Most the students guffawed, clapped, or turned away in an effort to suppress themselves. Shame-fueled anger boiled in my belly, churned up through my veins and muscles, giving me a new sense of focus, purpose, and raw power waiting to be burst out through some show of physical dominance. I glanced up to see Leston close his eyes and extend a hand toward me, doubtless wanting to calm my embarrassment. He could keep his artificial emotions and placating lies, though. I shoved his psychic influence back with my hot feelings. The pink Twi'lek master appeared startled as I climbed to my feet, saber still in hand, and faced Sidlanger who stood with one hip jutting out, twirling her lightsaber lazily and smirking at me.
"Try to be positive," she sang. "You'll always have those cute dimples."
I walked for her, shoulders back and chin elevated, fist gripping the weapon at my side.
Her victorious energy lessened every step I took. She seemed even more startled than our referee, and took on a defensive stance with eyes wide and jaw gaping. My emotions radiated through the room, silencing the students. I was sure I heard Leston telling us to stop, but I would have none of it.
I raised my blade in both hands and brought it down on the Twi'lek, then pushed our locked shafts closer to her face. "Go back to the slums of Nar Shaddaa. Marry a nice Hutt."
She growled and twisted her body in a circle, going for my legs before my own blade could close the scant few inches to hurt her. I blocked, and swung for her head.
She blocked, but more sluggishly than last time.
We attacked repeatedly. I retained my strength and speed, but Sidlanger had lost her previous vigor. At last I slammed my blade into the side of her face and sent her sidelong into the hard floor, for we had left the mat some time ago.
My heart beat vibrant victory, and my pride had me feeling the most powerful Jedi that ever existed.
The feverish madness left me in a flash, though, when I looked down at my fallen foe sobbing on the floor. A red welt scarred the Twi'lek's face. Blood and tears streamed down her cheek and dripped off her jaw bone. I felt a sudden sickness with myself, then switched off my lightsaber and dropped the abomination of a weapon to the floor where I wanted to leave it forever. I turned around to see the many students gathered behind us. Master Leston squeezed past some of them; they had congested their numbers to keep the teacher at bay, perhaps because they craved to witness the violent urges they daily kept trapped inside themselves. A few clapped, cheered or hooted, but others appeared shocked and a few even eyed me in suspicion bordering on disgust.
"Sidlanger!" The pink Twi'lek man dropped to the padawan's side and gently moved her hand away from her face to replace it with his own.
"Bastila Shan." An oddly-inflected voice sounded from the doorway of the training room. Master Vandar, an alien who stood a few feet tall, motioned for me. He was humanoid, though I would pause to call him near-human, for his eyes were bulbous and heavily-lidded, his ears were long and pointed, his skin green-brown and leathery, and his tiny fingers ended in claws. It was hard to guess Vandar's age, but it was commonly accepted that he was in the centuries-range, if not shy of a thousand years.
I swallowed a lump in my throat which traveled down to the growing shame and fear in my stomach, and walked to Vandar, finding it difficult to express my utter humility given I had to look straight down at him when I stopped in front of him. "Yes, master?"
The alien locked his hands behind him and leaned his head back to study my demeanor. I stayed frozen in place and heard the mutters of gossip among the other padawans.
"She'll be banished for sure."
"Friggin' psycho, that one."
Vandar issued a long groan as he usually did when reaching some disturbing truth. "The Council shall deliberate upon this incident. Until we reach a unanimous decision as to your future here in the Dantooine Enclave, you are to remain on Vox Aben's ship. Leave your lightsaber where it lays. You are dismissed."
Soon after, I flitted my fingertips across prairie grass. Best to take my time on my journey to the ship, thinking on my best retorts for Vox's likeliest criticisms. Creating mental, hypothetical debates with my masters was a hobby I found both stimulating and annoying. Every padawan brushes the allure of the Dark Side from time to time, I thought. The Council must be understanding toward students who give in to their anger, or else the Jedi Order would be considerably lesser. The Jedi needed their numbers to combat the ocassional uprising of Dark Side acolytes, and depended on racial and cultural diversity to expand on their understanding of the Force through the generations.
Midway there, I stood on a hill and squinted out at the lake, its rolling waves sparkling like thousands of diamonds in answer to the setting sun. Vandar wanted to frighten me back into my usual submission to Jedi ideals, without realizing that I had done as much to myself when defeating Sidlanger.
I reached the maze of plateaus where, further ahead, the ship was docked in a land cavity. One kilometer left, then I would bravely face my grumpy Quarren master and give him further reason to resent humans. But deja vu descended on my mind. I halted and waited for the dizzying sensation to pass. I questioned why the present moment seemed a memory from days ago; I had been standing right here, when something relevant had happened on the cliff above.
"Precisely what I thought," Vox stepped from behind a boulder a short jog in front of me. "Taking a leisurely pace when a reprimand awaits." My master strode at me, glaring.
I kept in place, trying to piece together the new mental puzzle. And I finally remembered my vision. Vox was almost to me when there was a beast's growl from overhead.
A Zabrak man in black robes, wielding a double-bladed lightsaber, leapt from the cliff edge a dozen meters above us, aimed to land in our midst.
I became aware that my lightsaber was back at the Enclave.
Vox super-sped at me and grabbed me under the arms. The impact painfully compressed my sternum, emptied my lungs. He zoomed us onward, my legs around his waist, and then the Quarren stuck his heels into dirt to slow us down, else my back smack into the wall of a plateau. We clumsily came to a stop and regained our footing as dust and pebbles showered us.
The Zabrak roared in unadulterated rage and landed in my previous standing spot, the collision so absurdly powerful that the ground shook and a small crater formed about him.
"Who is he? Why does he want to kill us?"
"Return to the Enclave." Vox pushed me back and stepped between me and the Zabrak.
Highly-concentrated spiritual currents rippled in the air and converged on the Zabrak, who gripped his saber staff in both hands and presumably gathered more of the Force in himself to mount another over-the-top assault. His face, tattooed in a wild tribal design and twisted by malice, looked more animal than sentient. Six long, gnarled horns were set on his head.
"We're partners, Vox." I stepped up beside him and went into battle stance. The Force was my ally, even if my lightsaber was long gone.
"Remember your place. I bear a responsibility to keep you safe, and I intend to."
The Zabrak shot forward at us a few inches above the ground, fast as a blaster bolt. Vox Force-pushed me to the side.
I somersaulted and landed upright as thunder from the sonic boom blasted the air and a mighty wind immediately staggered me. A thick dust cloud sailed past my view of the two.
Vox had conjured gauntlets of white light that flashed and glowed around his fists and forearms.
The Zabrak spun and manipulated his staff with fluidity, striking at Vox from multiple angles a second.
Vox used his gauntlets to block, then punch or chop. He drove his enemy back inch by inch, but relented the same minuscule distance.
Both fighters called upon an infinite well of power and stamina as with their every motion each came dangerously close to the other's body.
Vox's fingertips grazed the dark one's face and robes.
The Zabrak lopped off the tip of a tentacle, sliced a flesh wound through an arm of the Jedi garment.
A voice spoke in my mind. "Go. . . Bastila. . ."
I blinked, breaking from the hypnotic effects of watching such a duel. I knew my presence right now distracted the valiant Jedi Knight, stunting his abilities. But I needed to save my dear squid-man. If he should die, I would die next to him.
"For the Jedi!" I ran at the Zabrak, Force-pulled the lightsaber from Vox's belt into my outstretched hand, and clicked the activator.
I brought a green blade down at my enemy.
The Zabrak thrust it away from him.
But Vox and I attacked, again and again, until the dark one went almost entirely on the defensive.
Vox chopped off one end of the staff.
The Zabrak, his style suddenly handicapped, leapt backward out of our reach and yelled out. A Force-push shockwave blasted outward from his body in all directions.
I instinctively erected a spherical barrier around myself and Vox, protecting us from the booming waves of distorted air.
The light guantlets vanished from Vox's arms and he groaned, sinking to his knees.
The barrier collapsed. I crouched down beside my master and pressed a hand to his front to support him.
"That. . . that is all I have to give, child."
"Stay put. I can deal with him." I kissed a tip of his diamond-shaped head crown and rose back up.
I gripped the hilt of my new weapon in both hands and began walking for the Zabrak. "Why are you here?"
The demonic man, pointing his crimson blade down at his side, frowned at me. He took his free fingers, pressed them to his throat, and shook his head. He mouthed words, but nothing came out.
I stopped a bit out of his immediate reach. "You are mute?"
"If that is so, how did you manage to roar like a beast when you first attacked us?"
The man reared his head back and roared again. The echo must have carried for kilometers.
"Let's put our weapons away," I said, feeling some sympathy for him. "You could draw a picture in the dust to explain yourself. I want to learn more about you, if you'd allow it."
I translated his next look to mean that he was partly mute, but intelligent enough to be insulted at my offer.
"The Dark Side lures, corrupts, and destroys." I parroted what Meetra had once said to our class. "You may wield anger to great effect, but at the cost of your soul's integrity. Emotions leading to destructive acts exact their destruction first in the heart."
The Zabrak raised his weapon and grimaced.
"Turn away from the darkness, friend. For your own sake."
He growled. . . and swiped at me.
I leaned out of his reach.
He huffed, kicked at the ground, and charged, flying into a fit of empty-headed attacks.
Then it happened. Jedi from the Enclave drew nearer. I felt their promise of relief to come. And somehow I understood that I was taking the right course by physically defending myself and only attacking through words. The truth clouded the Zabrak's mind, overcoming the focus of the Dark Side previously gave him.
"Your path leads to the final death." I constantly moved my blade in response to his amateurish onslaught, the Force and my own muscle memory automating the defense. "You shall fall into oblivion, lose everything you were or ever would be. Is that worth the abilities you flaunt? The power that fails you even as we fight here and now?"
The Zabrak suddenly went rigid. His lightsaber dropped from his grasp and deactivated when it hit a rock. My defeated enemy fell backward.
Sensing a new presence, I looked to the edge of a plateau. Meetra Surik and several Jedi Masters had arrived.
I clipped Vox's hilt to my belt and bowed at the waist to the rescue team.
Meetra stepped off the edge of the plateau and floated down an otherwise treacherous height, like a specter at nightfall, her short platinum hair, robe leggings and cloak tail moving as though submerged in liquid. The other Jedi followed her method. She made running motions before her feet touched the ground and a few seconds later we shared a brief hug and pecks on the cheeks. Vandar, floating in a hover-seat, broke from the group with Leston to check on Vox still lying unconscious.
"Meetra," Vrook said. "How long can you suppress his connection to the Force?"
"However long it takes to keep her safe."
Vrook telekinetically levitated the fainted Zabrak a few feet from the ground and Meetra walked to the alien's side where she raised her head, spread her arms, and closed her eyes, as though a priestess consecrating a sacrifice. An elderly Jedi in the company pointed at a tree, twitched his bony fingers, and summoned vines from the branches which snaked over and began wrapping around our prisoner.
I made for Vandar, Leston, and Vox. My master now stood and recounted his experience. "He was highly trained." I stopped beside him. He glanced down to the saber clipped to my belt and opened his hand in front of me.
I relinquished the weapon.
Vandar made a pleased sound. "Yet Bastila pierced through the Sith's willpower with the blade of truth. You have taught her well."
In my heart, I gave the credit to Meetra Surik.
HK-47: Amendment. To audience. My mistress is given to hypochondria and histrionics. A medical professional has determined that the pain she suffered at the beginning of Entry Four was a side-effect of constipation, now cured. Master estimates that his wife's sagging, withered body will go on functioning for years to come.
[BASTILA HOBBLES INTO QUARTERS, DRESSED IN ROBE EMBROIDERED WITH PLANT DESIGNS.]
BASTILA: Come, HK. Let's continue my story.
HK-47: Question. How much longer must you torment me with your pedestrian prose?
BASTILA: That attitude is why you are my editor.
HK-47: Observation. You veto every edit I attempt.
BASTILA: Thus far, but we've a long way to go.
Is this where I listen to you ramble about how I'm wasting your lethal talents? It was adorable at first, but I think it'd tire me now.
[SHE ENTERS CLOSET, SLIDES OUT OF SHOES]
HK-47: Declaration. Henceforth, I will insert disclaimers to the audience between entries and list discrepancies in your claims.
[SHE LIFTS WIG OF LONG BRAIDED HAIR FROM HER HEAD, PLACES IT OVER MANIKIN HEAD ON SHELF. HER TRUE HAIR IS SHORTER AND WISPIER.]
BASTILA: I suppose that's reasonable. They're subject to deletion at my word, though.
[SHE WALKS FOR BED. LIFTS GLASS OF WINE FROM NIGHT-STAND IN TREMBLING HAND, TAKES THREE SIPS. RETURNS GLASS. SHE SINKS DOWN ONTO EDGE OF BED, HER SPINE POPPING REPEATEDLY. HOW DOES IT NOT BREAK?]
BASTILA: Begin recording. The Republic Archive stores bits of deception, however reputable and well-meaning its stewards, that spread across a populace eager to speculate and then believe in what amounts to fables. Some historians uphold that my talents were in the art of seduction, that I often exploited the Force along with my personal charms to beckon warriors, many among the enemy, to valiantly fight for my selfish causes.
[SHE PUTS LOWER BODY UNDER SHEET AND BLANKET, RESTS UPPER BODY ON PILE OF PILLOWS.]
The first supposed example happened during the First Circle event on Dantooine, wherein I'm said to have indulged a Sith Zabrak's sexual desires in exchange for classified intel. Brace yourselves.
I did, in fact, do that. I'm not overly proud of the power I exercised over men and women alike, human or Zabrak.
HK-47: Interjection. That last entry directly contradicts your psychological profile. Assuming, of course, that creating a self-insert fantasy wasn't your intention.
Statement. Perhaps my master can clarify this. Though I would hesitate to ask.
Vandar, Leston, Meetra, Vox, and I stood around our prisoner in the sealed training room. The Zabrak was now bound by his wrists, ankles, and head to a tall cushioned chair where he sat leaning back. Meetra had pointed out that even though she had pinched his connection to the Force, he could possibly steal the information we wanted from him. He mumbled incoherently as he regained consciousness. A medical droid, hovering several feet above, swept a holo-field up and down the Zabrak's body, then used a tool-laden but slender appendage to open his right lids and spray a fine mist on his eyeball.
He blinked, tried turn his head either way, scowled, and darted his gaze to each of us.
"Why did you attack a Jedi Knight and his padawan?" Vandar floated in his seat.
I tried to peer into the Zabrak's mind to detect an image associated with the answer and met with his speedily-erected mental shield that kept me out. I continued pressing my focus. Vandar repeated the question. I felt the wills of the others push against the shield and feel along its surface for cracks as I did the same.
"Who ordered you to kill them?" Meetra added to the interrogation. "Show us who you serve."
His feelings of hatred, initially dulled by the chemicals, pulsated like an infected organ.
A long while passed. We carried on our efforts to intrude upon his mind and heart, softening our offense only when his emotions flared hotly.
Cracks began to form in his barrier. Mists seeped through and entered my mind. I retained my good sense as I tapped along the telepathic surface and whispered the obvious questions. But more of the mist subtly contaminated my feelings. I felt foggy, tingly, somehow excited.
I slithered my consciousness away from the other Jedi, fearing they might sense my losing battle. Wanting to taste more of this Zabrak, I pressed against an especially rage-heated spot with a desperate strength, broke through and delved into his soul.
An alien anger clashed against my desire for power and we poured over into each other. Our two storms boiled, stirred together, became a sinister pleasure that the Sith and I both felt.
"Trust me. Tell me everything. . ."
"Why did you attack her?" Meetra asked, a cold edge to her raised voice. "Tell me."
The Zabrak broke free of his bondage with new-found super-strength and gave a battle cry in both the physical and spiritual plains.
A most intense euphoria overtook me. My muscles seized for a few heartbeats of thoughtlessness. . . then I slackened and sank to the floor. His memory became my dream, vivid insomuch I felt a phantom viewing events as they happened.
The familiar Sith knelt in front of a woman dressed in ornate robes and a hood. A cloth covered her eyes. She raked her talons down a horn and set her hand on his scalp. "Survive this quest and I promise you shall lead armies to your home planet in the Unknown Regions to destroy the final great evil of our era."
The image shifted. The Miraluka stood in a circle of light at the edge of which stood robed figures. "The girl is destined to nurture this masked Dark Lord back to their original power and beyond. Her life is fatal to the Jedi Order, the Republic, the peace of the galaxy at large. The First Circle must act."
"Jedi Masters guard her every day," the speaker was a male present via hologram. He moved his head and I caught sight of his handsome young face. "It would take months of meticulous planning to exact the assassination and make a clean escape. Someone among us must accept what amounts to a suicide mission."
"I have cause in my civilian life to visit Dantooine," said a female with a tail of long, white hair set over her bosom.
"They mistrust you," the Miraluka said. "But perhaps you could act in accordance with your public tasks while at the same time clearing a path for the member who's to kill the target."
"Most wise, First Seer." The white-haired woman bowed her head.
"My comrade and I are quite occupied with the war," the handsome holo-man said. "May I suggest our recovering Sith acolyte? He's itching for a duel."
A Zabrak stepped into the circle of light. "First Seer. I beg you to send me. I want to be the warrior who drops Bastila Shan's head at your feet."
I found myself sitting on the floor, sweating and disheveled, hair loose at my shoulders.
The four Jedi joined hands in a circle and Force-pushed the single Sith at their center, creating an invisible bubble that distorted the air.
I got up and rushed to behind Meetra's shoulder.
The Zabrak stood atop the chair, his knees bent far, his arms stretched out to either side with hands flat. His robes were tattered from the explosion he had used to break from the binders. Perspiration dribbled down his torso, down rippled muscles, throbbing veins, and tribal tattoos. He raised his horned head and looked me in my eyes.
I shook my head, pleading with him on the inside to give up the fight.
He triggered a Force-explosion. Meetra staggered back into me, Leston flew across the room, Vandar's levitating chair spun, and Vox skidded backward on his feet.
The Zabrak reached out and Force-pulled Leston's weapon to himself while the Twi'lek was still in the air. But as the hilt reached his hand, Meetra had activated her lightsaber and bolted forward. She shoved the blade into his sternum.
The fight was over and we soon gathered at the body of our dead foe. I looked down at him and felt neausious, freshly remembering the intimate psychic moments we had shared together when he had been so brimming with passionate life. He stared at the ceiling, eyes wide open, face frozen in hatred for the galaxy.
"We wasted hours interrogating it to learn nothing." Vox turned and strode out of the training room, the portal closing behind him as we watched in resignation.
I had to share a few pieces of the what little I had learned from those hours. "I absorbed a memory from the Zabrak." They snapped to attention, all hooked by my words. "He was doing the bidding of a group called the First Circle, and he had the help of a co-conspirator. A woman visiting the planet, maybe the Enclave itself, while on official business."
Vrook broke the following seconds of silent confusion. "Odd that you are the only one among us who found this memory."
Meetra's voice was soft and hopeful. "Why did you say she may have visited the Enclave?"
"It makes sense that she would try to occupy the masters during the assassination attempt. I'm typically within a few kilometers of what amounts to a Jedi army."
Meetra became thoughtful and said, "The masters did fill out requisitions forms and bartered some artifacts with representatives from Coruscant. It's an annual affair."
"Business went as planned." Leston raised his arms in surrender. "Nothing out of the ordinary happened until we collectively sensed a spike in the Dark Side and came running to your aid."
I cleared my throat and dared to adopt a more commanding tone. "We need to study the manifests of every ship that landed here yesterday."
Meetra glanced from Vandar to Vrook. "That could be done. Security teams in the orbital stations board and closely search every ship set to land at the Enclave, then send the manifests to us."
Vrook waved his hands out as if clearing a table of nonsense. "This lead is a waste of time. Do we truly want to search for a co-conspirator that may be imaginary? Say she does exist. She failed miserably to distract the Council." Vrook treated students or newly-appointed padawans as troublesome youth below the concerns of actual Jedi. But I thought he was acting more defensive than ordinary, and when I tried to peer at his spirit, I found his feelings hidden. My enemies and allies alike concealed a great many things from me those days.
"Bastila's passions flare hotly at times, but she is true to the ideals of the Order," Vandar said. "She tends toward honestly. Let's put trust in her claim and follow this lead to its conclusion."
I smiled on the inside as I bowed to Master Vandar, appreciative of his reasonable mind.
- - -
The time was early morning when Meetra and Leston went outside to cremate the Sith's corpse and I went for my quarters wanting a couple hours of sleep. I lay down and drifted into relaxing emptiness when the clear, distinct voice of a woman sounded in my skull. "Wake, girl."
"Who are you?" I kept my voice low, for I shared this room with several other girls. I sat up and stretched my alertness to fill the room in order to detect some foreign life waiting in the deep shadows.
"The Council hides a secret that you deserve to know. Rise and follow your feelings."
"Why should I heed strange voices?"
"You sensed the Jedi deceiving you tonight. Go down to the archives and witness the weakness of the Order."
I slid my feet over the side of the bed and set them firmly on the floor, readying myself for action. "The masters forbid their students from entering the archives. Young minds are too soft to confront the knowledge contained there." A fellow student next to me grumbled in her sleep.
"Quiet. I opened the doors for you."
"You used whatever is down there to distract the Jedi, yes?"
The voice left me. Awake and my senses prematurely sharp, I stepped on the blades of my feet for the door and left into the corridor, keeping low and close to the wall as I made for the archives. While the establishment permitted students to travel the hallways at night and morning, I wanted to stay in shadow in case anything went wrong and a witness could point to me as having been in the corridor at the time. Voices spoke in the courtyard among the chirp of nocturnal insects, but this area was vacant. At least that's what I thought until I spotted a heap on the floor between myself and the archive entrance.
I crept closer, anxiety growing, and stopped when I found it to be the body of a male human Jedi who I recognized as an exercise instructor. Sinister possibilities instantly polluted my mind. What if the voice belonged to a murderer who wanted to implement me in their crime? I shook away those thoughts and took a deep breath, touching my index and middle fingers to the man's neck. Seconds ticked by with me believing him dead, then at last I felt a faint pulse.
I stepped over him and jogged for the doors which were indeed cracked open. I slid my fingers into the gap between the dual panels and used my upper body strength to wrench them open far enough for my body to squeeze through. Luckily, the mechanism was quiet.
I entered at the head of stairs leading into an ink-dark room, closed the entrance behind me, and felt the walls for switch. Finding none while precious seconds left, I sighed and bit my lip. There was one technique for Force-light that I had practiced sporadically in the past years. But I was horrible at sustaining it. Sometimes the brain chemicals brought on stress served as the best meditation aid. I elevated my open, upward-facing right palm a couple feet in front of my face and exhaled my self-doubts, but let the urgency of my situation motivate me. The Force tingled in my stomach, spread to my chest, spidered to the muscles in my arms. I visualized a ball of soft light. And the light sprang into existence a few inches over my palm. I descended the steps, even while my conjured light-source flickered like a flame in the wind.
Many dozens of shelves lined the space below at either side of an aisle. Hundreds? The way forward was pitch black, and the corners and walls were lost as well. A hover-stand floated in a random spot, used for raising a master to the upper reaches of the library. I drew closer to a shelf and saw categorized stacks of parchment protected by transparent casing. Daring a deeper journey, I passed many stands to a section holding hide-bound tomes, covers cracked and pages frayed. And then further yet I discovered rows of twelve-sided artifacts the size of my fist, made of an alien material that shimmered like water. My Force-light flickered out and I plunged to darkness.
The voice came from nearby in the cavern, rather than inside my head. "Last evening, the Jedi traded educational tools with the archivists of the Coruscant temple." A new light sparked that made twinkle and sparkle the crystal heiroglyphs on the faces of holocrons. A ghost of a hooded woman, long silver hair framing her robed bosom, held a light in one clawed hand and motioned for me with the other.
I took one step and my foot crunched on something. A shard. All around me in the faint glow were shattered holocrons and leaves of parchment. A charred scent reached my nostrils. I navigated half-blind through the waste toward the woman, but halted meters in front of her on the chance she would attack.
"Vrook opened a holocron, believing it to have belonged to a bygone Jedi. It contained the spirit of a Sith Lord, who went on a rampage here in the archive. The masters combined their efforts and banished the spirit into oblivion, only then sensing that you were in danger." She eased toward me, somehow quiet as death.
"Stay back," I stammered. "I'm renowned as a skilled fighter." Why hadn't she tried to kill me ?
"They were ashamed at the loss of artifacts containing valuable knowledge." She continued on and stopped within arm's reach. "And so they lied to you."
I backed away, but tripped on a hard fragment and my butt landed on smooth floor. "Why are you telling me this?"
She held herself confidently, face cast in shadow, her head bent ever-so down to acknowledge my lower place.
"Several disciplined minds were needed to contain one Dark Side spirit. Powerful Jedi exhausted themselves on the task. What does that tell you?"
"The Dark Side is more powerful?" The implication, I told myself, came from my need to tell her what she wanted to hear. I could think of an escape plan while she rambled.
"No. Light blinds those who walk in the deepest shadows. You would do well to dabble in the whole of the Force before something comes along to put you at an utter disadvantage. Embrace a wider view."
"You wanted me dead, but now here you are giving me a philosophical lesson." I was well-trained in the martial art of argument.
"The First Circle wants you dead. Perhaps they are correct and perhaps they are not. We shall see." The light went out.
I crawled backward on all-fours, then stood, turned, and ran for the exit.
ONE YEAR LATER. . .
Vox and I sat on a bench with High Priest Ulth Muraec aboard the Ithorian herdship Nature Womb, orbiting the jungle planet Ithor. Feathered reptiles glided or zoomed close overhead and primates blinked at us from between the wide leaves of branches. Vines and flowers chaotically claimed the edges of the steel walkway in front of us where tourists strolled and chattered.
"My experts scrutinized footage taken by miners in the asteroid belt." Ulth used his native speech. Ithorian eyes were heavily-lidded and set at either side of a head that blended with the neck in a wide, flattish shape. "They agree that the ship designs are a call-back to Basilisks. Scavengers found a defunct probe droid in the same region matching a known Mandalorian build."
A young man and woman couple, dressed in skimpy clothing made of small leaves and flowers, took their sweet time up the path. They smiled, laughed, spun, and kissed openly in front of equally happy passerby. I became self-conscious, being dressed modestly in a wrinkled skirt tunic and baggy britches.
Vox set his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands. His formerly amputated tentacle had regrown this past year. "The war-mongers can spare a militia more than capable of hijacking a stray herdship, but your cities have remained at peace thus far. I'm guessing the Mandalorians - if that's to whom the rogue ships actually belong - are mining asteroids. Hardly a cause for alarm."
A light weight dropped onto my shoulder. I flinched and turned my head to find a pocket-sized primate. It tugged at a loose lock of my hair. "Shoo, you."
Ulth raised his dull ramble an octave. "How do I know they are not scheming to destroy Ithor? What if they want to strike the Republic by burning its most sacred refuge?"
The creature launched itself at Vox's face. Several more fell from the trees and joined their friend in treating the Jedi as a playset.
I leaned forward and addressed the Ithorian while Vox between us flailed and cursed. "High Priest Muraec. We shall help you demand an assembly with your fellow delegates. I advise that you campaign for every herdship to assume a close orbit around Ithor until war tensions ease."
"Master Vox Aben. Be proud of your mere pupil." Ulth clapped Vox on the back even while the Quarren pulled off two furry rascals that had used his head as a see-saw. "She is wise like unto a Jedi Master."
My heart jumped at the praise, but I kept my face impassive. Ulth pulled out a transceiver and, seconds later, a holographic image appeared of an Ithorian in pilot wear.
"Captain Donzra," Ulth said. "Startle your High Priestess from her sleep and tell her that I call a hearing at 1300. To be tardy is to be frowned upon by the Jungle Mother."
The image disappeared. Vox freed himself of the last creature and sent me a withering emotion through the Force. "I am to do the talking, little witch."
I clenched my jaw and looked at the transmitter in Ulth's hand, ignoring my master. He would find an excuse to lecture me regardless what I did on the mission. Holographic Donzra returned. "She asks if this hearing involves Mandalorian conspiracy theories."
I stood and strode to the High Priest's opposite side. "It involves two Jedi supporting Ulth Muraec's position."
Donzra stared at me quietly for a moment then said, "Fertilizer." aka "****."
Ulth put the device back in his ceremonial garb.
Vox stood and lost his cordial manner as he gurgled down to the High Priest. "My pupil gave you false hope. The Jedi Order declines any and all requests for assistance fighting the Mandalorians. We can provide a colony on CW-411 and minimum supplies for Nature Womb residents wishing to evacuate, but our involvement ends there."
The Ithorian started trying to speak, but he was overcome by disappointment. At last he rose and faced the Quarren. "Enjoy your time here. Soon, the enemy will crush this beautiful place and my people will wail for help into the abyss as they perish in flames. Good luck, Jedi, suffering under such a burdensome code of morality."
I followed my master across a durasteel bridge over a rushing river, then a winding dirt path through dense forest and grasslands. We entered an archway under a thunderous waterfall onto a docking bay. "There must be a better way we can help. I fear it would take a catastrophe to convince the residents to relocate."
"Shut that wretched human mouth."
We left Nature Womb and docked aboard Lush Bay where Vima and Meetra met with a different High Priest about the Mandalorian issue. We beeped Vima on comm. "We started five minutes ago," she said. "I'll inform you when we're finished." The Council had assigned an equal number of herdships to Vox and Vima, ordering the two Jedi to update them and each other after every meeting. They also required Vox to take me along so I could gain valuable experience by first-hand observation.
I entered my quarters and sat down at the table slash tool bench and commenced my studies into Ithorian culture. I spent most my free time these days watching educational holo-vids, learning alien languages, biology, and customs, knowledge a Jedi required to carry out their diplomatic duties for the Order. Right now I studied a rare example of a sentient plant, the bafforr tree, which expanded its neural network by interconnecting roots with others of its species.
After an hour I rose and walked to the cockpit, drowsy and irritated that Vima was taking so long. "May I leave to explore a little?"
Vox fiddled at something on the console. "Please, for the love of the Force, do leave." He held up a finger and rotated around in his chair. "Should you wander too far, I shall leave you here."
- - -
I stopped on a bridge and leaned on the railing to watch swoopbikers race across the water of the wide river below. They sent fountains and shore-crashing waves behind them as they sped in my direction and then under the bridge, hooting and laughing. Misty droplets soaked my face. I smiled and made down a hiking trail, exchanging nods and greetings with tourists, many of them young, attractive, half-nude and covered in washable body art. I jogged at a casual speed, following the trail into a thick, sometimes dark forest where animals croaked, squeaked, and chirped. Rodents appeared but vanished in a flash. Birds from various ecosystems around the galaxy pruned themselves on branches. The smell of cooked food and hundreds of babbling voices told me there was a gathering ahead. The forest ended and I found myself in a spacious plaza. People sat and ate all manner of food at a section crowded with wood-woven chairs and tables. Room-sized restaurant stalls and souvenir stands took half the edge of the circular stone area and across from those was a grassy ridge where people lay on towels and tanned, or guzzled alcohol and smoked recreational weed.
I spotted past the flowing foot traffic a tall man with dark red skin. We locked gazes and he immediately walked toward me. I looked away and started walking in a different direction to lose myself in the crowd.
"Hey. Wait right there, Jedi girl."
I turned. Two women who might have been professional models held his either arm. He wore a leather vest pulled back to reveal nipples pierced by hoop rings and small shorts that hinted at one reason for his confident demeanor. He was good-looking after an edgy fashion, forehead square and high, nose and chin prominent and pointed such that I was reminded of my Zabrak Sith warrior from a year ago.
He held up a cocktail glass in his hand. "A sip for the sweet Jedi?"
I crossed my arms and tried to seem bored. "No, thank you."
"She's too snoody for us, daddy." The toned, big-breasted woman at his right ran her fingers up his defined bicep. Her dark curly hair matched well her tanned skin, contrasting the second woman who was pale and had straight blonde hair.
"Liquor against your religion?" The man smiled. "Your sort could stand to loosen up and have a good time."
"I'll be on my way, sir." I tried to pass him.
He grabbed my arm and leaned in. "You really wanna kick away a handsome, fun-loving guy? Let me take you to the fun, show you that good time."
Startled at his assertiveness, I pried his hand from my arm. "I enjoy the company of those with more class than yourself."
"Trying to say I'm low-time by hanging around his fine piece of arse?" The pale-skinned female reached up and pulled a pair of stylish goggles down her nose and stared at me sleepily. She raised her naked leg and foot up the man's shin, her knee nestling beneath his groin.
"Dat attitude, girl." The red-skinned rogue pulled his two women along to stand in front of me, cutting off my escape among the moving crowd. "You gotta treat strangers like me politely, or you're gonna find your pretty self all alone in the galaxy. Would you at least sit down with me, talk to me, get to know me before you go all cold?"
I snorted. "How many more times do I need to reject you before the message enters that evidently minuscule brain?" I flared my nostrils. There was a primordial aroma in the air, somehow scentless yet the most pleasant of scents. My nethers tingled and a kind of intoxicating warmth spread through my insides.
"Come here, girl. There's room for one more princess." He sent me a predatorial look and the dark-haired woman slid over.
This man really churned my juices. I had once read a romance where deep, all-encompassing attraction between two souls struck decisively out of clear space. Perhaps that's what was happening here? I took my place against him. "Take me somewhere private, daddy."
I sensed jealousy, contempt, and admiration from those we passed, then we started down a steep, winding walkway to a grove beside a noisy stream where some Ithorians collected fruit in crates. Our leader pushed through the branches of short pines and we stopped in a small clearing, dead pine-needles carpeting the ground.
- - -
They left and I snoozed.
Soon I woke, stretched, stood up and examined my state. My knees were dirty and sticky sap had stained my robes, but I could think up a believable lie for Vox, should he inquire. The Jedi would have little to fuss over, really, because I was still very much a virgin. It was simply fooling around.
Then I realized that my lightsaber was gone.
I frantically patted my belt and shifted through the pine needles to find nothing and broke out of the clearing and retraced my steps through the grove and up the walkway. Had someone in the crowd swiped it off my person earlier? But my senses were perpetually sharp, even during sleep. Except when. . . I made fists as I reached the edge of the busy plaza. That man was a thief. He and his empty-headed harlots had seen me as small prey with big pay-offs. How much did a lightsaber go for on the black market? "I should've bitten down ---"
Many people stopped eating, walking, or chatting and turned their attention to giant holo-screens over the market stalls which switched to the same newscast. I took a deep breath, clearing out the worst of my anger for the time being, and chanced a look.
"I am Revan." The robed, hooded man's voice boomed and echoed, filled the herdship from hundreds of light-years distant."The Jedi Council may be content to sit behind closed doors and debate while the Outer Rim burns, but I and my followers are taking action to fight the storm."
He stepped aside and gestured to the scenery behind him. Refugees sat against shattered stone walls, staring absently, barely alive or already dead, their bodies soiled by ash and grime, some with bandaged missing appendages. The cam rotated to show refugees who waited in a food line.
The scene moved to show a landscape of smoking rubble. Fighters skimmed the undersides of unnaturally dark clouds that stretched to a hazy twilight. The cam tilted downward to where a Republic soldier helmet lay partially sunken in pebbles and dust. A foot extended from off-screen, moved the helmet, and it became clear a head was stuck inside.
Our perspective switched back to Revan. "We will defeat the Mandalorians and drive them back into the Unknown Regions. It is time for Republic Forces and my Revanites to unite fully through military might."
A taller man stepped up, his face kind and his bald head lightly tattooed. He held a thin, sickly child in his arms which he carefully handed to Revan. The child hugged his defender. "I come to recruit those skilled in combat and brave of heart," the tall man said. "Wait for me."
The newscast ended and tourists began to talk louder than ever amongst each other. I ran for the opposite path, intent on returning to the ship, but in an instant a crowd surrounded me tightly on all sides and the questions and comments poured forth.
"What are the Jedi going to do?"
"Why are you here, when you could be killing Mandalorians?"
"Where's your master?"
"Time I beat a Jedi's face in."
Their sheer body heat felt suffocating. I tried to push past, but their numbers shoved me back and I fell into a Devaronian who grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. I jerked away and accidentally head-smashed a Mon Calamari, turned and faced a hideous alien whose disgusting breath showered my face.
"Back away from the girl," an Ithorian security guard said on the big holo-screen. A gas grenade went off a dozen yards away. People scattered, screamed, and started running. I tried to keep up with the stampede of scattering tourists, but several behind me were blinded by panic and made as though to tackle me.
I Force-leapt, sailed in the air, and landed on the hiking path. By the sounds of it, many followed me, but I used my Force speed and fled down the trail through the forest.
Classes were canceled today and tomorrow for reasons the Jedi kept to themselves. That morning I received a curt message from Master Leston telling me that the Council wanted to meet with me in private. Fearing they would want to know how I had lost my lightsaber and what I had been doing on my tour of the herdship, I focused on the feeling of my feet in my shoes as I traversed the enclave courtyard.
Delgitto Tomis waved from beside the frame of the wide front entrance and asked if I was going to be expelled. I stopped and asked where he had heard such a ridiculous rumor.
"Sidlanger caught word from her master that you landed in some kind of trouble over Ithor. Everyone's talking."
I planned to admonish him for taking seriously a dolt who had every reason to smeer my good name, then personally hunt down said dolt and remind her of her proper place. But that would have to come later. I kept walking. The Masters perpetually scanned their students' emotions and uppermost thoughts, or so I suspected, and I was drawing to within a grenade's throw.
I entered the airy, circular main chamber where four Jedi Masters stood on the far ledge of the sunken floor. They faced the center, postures militant.
Vandar was the hardest for me to read. "Come, stand before us, young padawan."
I halted in front of them, bowed at the waist, and straightened. "You wished to see me?"
Dorak said, "Master Aben has requested to return to Calamar to assist his people in rebuilding. After deliberation, we have granted his request."
"I'm going to Calamar, then?" A crowd of Quarren and Mon Calamari must reek like rotting fish. The sounds alone would be enough to drive me insane.
Leston's lekku twitched. "A most colorful description, padawan. But you need not voice your anxieties."
"No," Vandar said. "Master Aben made it clear that he does not intend to return for quite some time. If at all."
"And he was quite insistent on you not accompanying him." Dorak looked at me as though he half-expected a reaction.
When none came, Vrook spoke. "Which brings us to the reason for your summoning. Your future in the Jedi Order must be decided, and what that future is will depend entirely on you."
I stared over Vandar's head, halfway divorcing my mind and emotions from the present in preparation for a hard fall. Nonetheless, my pulse quickened and I found it slightly harder to breathe.
Vrook went on. "You've been one of our most promising students since your acceptance here. Because of this we have chosen to ignore many of your transgressions."
The edges of my vision darkened. Was I going to faint? I unconsciously reached up and massaged my forehead, feeling pangs from an impending headache. "Pardon me, but what transgressions in particular?"
"You habitually argue with Master Aben," Vandar said as though from far away. "You have employed techniques that you understand lead to the Dark Side, as when we interrogated the Sith agent."
In my peripheral, I caught the distinct image of a person made of shadows climbing on a Blbla tree inside an alcove of the chamber wall. A few seconds ticked by. The shadow was still playing on the branches.
It was Leston's turn. "You express passion in dueling peers, bringing yourself closer to the Dark Side."
"Your actions place us in a rather difficult position," Dorak said.
I moved my eyes to point at the Blbla tree. The shadow instantly vanished. These are symptoms of shock, Bastila, that is all. I closed my eyes as perspiration cooled my face.
You are free. Return to Ambria.
Vrook's voice was abruptly a welcome sound to my ears. "If we allow you to run rough-shot in the academy, what example does that set for the other students? The choice is yours, padawan. You can either correct your behavior, or be assigned to a frontier world, where you'll serve the galaxy not as a Jedi, but as a laborer."
Shadows played on the Blbla trees and cursed this turn of events, this second chance. "I understand. I give you my word that I will rectify my flaws."
- - -
That afternoon, Meetra and I sat on the lake shore watching the waves magnificently sparkle to the light of the swollen setting sun. Frothy water crashed on boulders that poked from the lake surface and glided in slow motion to drench the sand where we sat, tickling our bare feet, soaking our robes. "You said they called you in for a meeting, too. Did they find out about us?"
"Only Vima and Vox were ever privy." The blonde beauty set her hand on mine and moved the edge of her thumb along my little finger, a move so delicate and teasing.
I smiled and turned to her. "Vaggy-mouth's leaving for Mon Calamar. Tell the Council you wanna be my full-time instructor."
Her face naturally had that quality of a woman who had woken from a deep slumber minutes ago, a woman who squinted and smiled to herself at the memory of some sensual dream. "I'd be worse than reckless to take that role." She turned to me and touched the tips of our noses. "I've been reckless to entertain our tryst at all."
I gently blew on her moist lips.
Meetra threw herself against me and sent us both sideways. On top of me, my playful attacker grabbed my wrists. I pulled one wrist free, but wrapped a leg behind her knees and snapped my teeth lightly on her chin. She bent her legs, keeping my leg in place, and grabbed my wrist in a stronger grip. We carried on with our push-pull wrestling match until she had locked my arms and legs.
The air began to distort around us, acting like the waves on the lake, and thunder rumbled over us in a clear sky.
"The Jedi say I possess long foresight for one so young." She kissed hard up and down my neck. "They say that I'm more talented and knowledgeable than most masters. And that I hold a special, but dangerous power." The woman, straddling my hips, rose up on all fours and looked down at me. "They say the same things about you."
I had submitted and become weak for a while to give her false security, but now I deliberately employed my muscles like a snake. She tried to resist, but she was too late. I reversed our positions and kept her in place under me.
"Then let us deepen our bond," I said. "And become like a bright star in the Force. The Jedi and Sith will both rethink their philosophies when we've shown them our glory." Tiny dots of light burst in my vision and alien voices reached my ears at the ends of the thunder's rumblings.
But she said that was what she feared and she held back the worst of her power while we intertwined.
- - -
Later that night I ran across the moonlight-covered plains for the plateau where lingered the Jedi Master I had come to know so well over the years. Kath hounds slept in clusters by pillars of white stone, the horned variety watching me enter and leave their territory. The ship's ramp was lowered when I arrived.
Vox lay on his back, upper quarter out of sight underneath a weighty piece of tube-wreathed machinery. A spectrum of tools were set out on a towel in his reach.
I crossed my arms. "What are you going at?"
"I'm refitting the flux stabilizer." He tossed a gadget on the towel and took a wrench. "The gamma burst we flew into was nastier than I thought."
"But you're horrible at engineering."
"I find I become rather better when my life depends on the outcome." He tightened a component then squirmed out and sat up. Grease splotched his face and work robes. "Come be an assistant, will you?"
I crouched down and for an hour handed him the tools he wanted, once going under that engine section with him to install a hand-sized part. He gave me simple instructions and practiced patience when I was hard-pressed to understand. We replaced wires and couplings, cleaned out grime, calculated fuel pressure and aligned fuses. He was more apt to chuckle at his own mistakes. When we had finished, I locked myself in the restroom to weep.
"You're leaving for your home world?" I stepped into the lounge where Vox washed his hands and face at the sink.
"There's been a toxic spill on the outskirts of Coral City. The ecosystem is damaged, which endangers indigenous species and the whole Mon Calamar economy."
"I'd gladly go with you and help."
"But you know I have requested the opposite of the Council."
I stood in front of him. "We needed a long break from one another."
"Farewell, then, Bastila Shan." He knew from our meeting on Talravin that my name would pervade the ages. And I knew that some part of him was proud for having been my master.
"See to it that we meet again, grumpy squid-head." I accomplished a professional, if not stoic exterior.
Vox nodded. "You are mastering your emotions, young woman. Now get off my ship."
- - -
I meditated in Dantooinian isolation, surrounded by docile kath hounds, when I heard the faint hum of a ship. I opened my eyes and settled a hand on the pup whose head rested in my lap. A sleek silver frigate that reflected puffy white clouds sliced the air of the sky in front of me where I sat cross-legged atop a hill.
A breeze lifted loose strands of my pig-tailed hair, bringing sweet and earthy aromas to my nostrils. The slumbering pup grunted. I sensed a powerful Force-sensitive aboard that vessel headed to the enclave. "I'm sure my lap is an adequate pillow, but I have to leave." The animal opened its eyes, licked my hand, and loped with renewed vitality for its siblings.
Adolescent students played ball in the expansive, grassy landing pad where the visiting frigate had settled. "What's going on?" I asked a boy.
"Revan's right-hand Jedi is giving a speech."
"Our teacher told us to go outside til he leaves," a girl said.
I walked for the entrance. "Move faster, Bastila," a peer called as he bolted past. "Don't you wanna hear the speech?"
Leston and Nemo sat in the courtyard. "The Revanchist harms the Order with his calls to battle," the Twi'lek said as he helped his human friend trim bush branches. "How many padawans have rebelled against their masters and left to die in strange lands?"
Nemo, a gentle soul, sounded heartbroken. "A few of them I knew and taught as children, sadly."
Jedi, ranging in prestige, age, and species, crowded the main chamber, but their numbers were quiet as someone spoke aggressively to Alek the recruiter who stood alone at the front facing his audience. "It was the Republic that quelled the tide of the Exar Khun campaign over thirty years ago. Their navy liberated Onderon and turned the Mandalorians into petty rebels. Rebels that have fooled gullible you into believing they could stand a chance against the galaxy's civilized might."
I stayed at the back near the crowded portal, grateful that enough people sat that I could see the newcomer.
The tall, bald, and kindly-faced Alek, dressed in plain but distinctive robes, spoke to his critic like they were a child in denial. "It is true that the Republic fought bravely against the Mandalorians. But the Jedi dealt the true crushing blow which defeated both Ulic Qel-Droma and Exar Khun."
He made a gesture of hammering down a troublesome nail, basic body language for politicians. "Without both working as one, victory would not have been achieved. Look around you now." He spread his arms out and strode along the edge of the circle. "History is repeating itself. The Mandalorians continue to grow in strength with each passing day. The Council is wise, but will there be anything left to save by the time they come to a decision?" This man had the energy of a man powerful and trustworthy. I understood why Revan had chosen him as recruiter.
Students helped an old woman to her feet before she questioned Alek in a feeble voice. "There's a peaceful solution somewhere. How are we better than the Sith when we answer violence with worse violence?"
The Revanite hesitated for a few moments, then addressed the frail woman as he would someone he hoped to enlist. "We tried to offer peace to them, and they answered us with that violence, killing innocent civilians, destroying the lives of those who survived their wanton destruction."
The crowd began to murmur in excitement, apprehension, and growing ideological division, but Alek's voice rose and carried above them. "Join Revan and fight through this deadly, blood-filled night. I promise that peace waits for us all at the end." Chaos broke out. When he had finished, everyone rushed to leave the chamber defiantly or station themselves by the charismatic man.
"I stand with Revan!" A youth pumped his fist while his awaiting friends clapped and cheered.
"We shall join you." A woman and her apprentice made for Alek.
I navigated through the crazy cluster toward our celebrated guest. Of course I planned to join Revan and fight for the side of justice. Passerby scowled at me as they left or patted me on the back and congratulated my decision. Soon I was face-to-face with Alek himself and he looked down at me with a warm smile and placed a hand on my shoulder.
I smiled. "Bastila Shan."
"When Revan ordered me to Dantooine, he gave me the names of padawans' whom I needed to prioritize. Yours was at the top."
But Meetra then broke through the nearby spectators and snatched my arm, pulling me away. Confused but automatically trusting in her actions, I let her guide me across the busy chamber to the closed door of the training room which she opened. Inside, door closed again, I yanked my arm away and glared at the woman.
"Stay here, Bastila. Your place is with the Order." Something in her delivery told me that she, of all Jedi, was going to join the war. This was news to me. Moments ago I had been intent on leaving her behind at the conservative enclave, perhaps forever.
"Did you hit your head?" I snapped at her. "Of course I'm coming with you."
Her calm shell melted away for a flood of urgent conviction. "I've learned all that I can from the Jedi and done all that I can for them. I've reached a stage in my life where I need to move on and fight for causes."
I tore down my own disciplined state and for the first time since the herdship I felt like a commoner again. "The same could be true for me. What do the Jedi have left to teach me about the Force that I couldn't learn from you? I'll fight by your side and when it's all over, we can leave behind everything and shape a life together."
"You're developing your abilities and learning to act a woman and Jedi." Meetra put her hands on my shoulders and carefully squeezed, as wiser-than-thou mentors had a habit of doing. I shrugged off the physical contact and put my hands on my hips, refusing to be coddled by my current opponent. She went on, "You will destroy everything you've worked toward if you tag along with us. Do you truly think I can keep a close watch on you every moment we're on the battlefield? Do you think I could concentrate on whatever mission if I know you're in danger lightyears away?"
I issued a groan that turned into a full-on growl. "It's more than just us, Meetra. I'm tired of hearing about the Mandalorians destroying villages and enslaving civilians." I yelled now, loud enough for others outside to hear, but so be it. "I'm sick of seeing all those injured caught in the middle of a stupid war. One day I'm going to recognize one of those faces. And when the worst comes, as it looks like it may, I could be looking at the smoldering rubble of the enclave, or walking among my peer's dead bodies."
She suddenly stepped close and threw her arms around me. I kept my arms to my sides, though. "I am sorry, Bastila. I shall fight for you out there. But you are staying behind where it's safe."
The portal swished open to reveal Masters Vrook and Leston. The crowd had cleared from the adjoining chamber.
"Well? Surik?" Vrook held his arms behind his back.
"I am joining the Revanchist," Meetra said.
Vrook flinched and horror fell across his typically stern features. Leston frowned and looked at the floor, muttering in disbelief and shaking his head. They had feared for my allegiances and taken Meetra's for granted. They would proceed in life as more cynical men.
For me to leave at her side would worsen the betrayal and crush the morale of the Dantooine Council. My heart broke for them and broke for my former lover. She pressed a hard kiss to my lips and glided out of sight toward a galaxy-shattering fate. I pursed my lips and took a deep breath through my nostrils, holding back tears.
Vrook went and leaned his back on a nearby wall, eyes closed as he sank down and sat on the floor, wounded. "A third of them. Gone. Including our best."
Leston looked at me pleadingly. "And you?"
I turned away from them and ran a hand through my hair. And what of me? There was time yet to race for the courtyard and board Alek's ship. I meditated and brought my thoughts and emotions back under control, assuming my stoic Jedi exterior once more.
At last I turned back to them. "The Jedi Order shall always have Bastila Shan. But. . . I do require a new lightsaber."
(Entry Ten continued...)
- - -
A FEW WEEKS LATER. . .
I slept alone in the quarters that had five other empty beds, all of them once occupied. My dreams were vivid, sharper in sight and sound than real life. I dreamt I was a disembodied soul in the heights of the cave where the First Circle met, where the Miraluka warned them of future events she had encountered through prophetic visions, and where they schemed to divert destiny and create new outcomes. The blind prophet ordered her minions to enter their stealth fighters and make for Dantooine. The man with the youthful voice and handsome shadowed features gave his underlings a speech about the will of the Force.
That man was familiar somehow. "Wake, girl. They are here."
I gasped, opened my eyes and sat up, panted. My sheets were damp with sweat. "It's you again. Who's here?"
"An acolyte slipped past the masters who guard the corridor to the student quarters. He'll ask you the whereabouts of the Quarren before he attempts to kill you. Blank your mind and endure until I can arrive to help."
I scrambled out of bed and went to my one case of possessions to retrieve my robes. Dread and hatred like toxic fumes invaded my room and filled the space, tried to slither into my pores and nostrils. I focused on my bodily movements as I slid into my attire. Screams, bursts, and sizzles sounded from hallways away. Something was burning.
Holding my weapon in my hand, I ran through the doorway and turned into the corridor. A lithe figure in a black outfit and hooded mask stepped out into the middle of the hall and faced me. I moved my thumb for the activator.
But my enemy raised his arm and telekinetically lifted me a meter from the floor by the throat and chest. "Tell me where Vox Aben hides," he said in a strangely accented voice.
My dangling weight constricted my airways. I tried to breathe, but only drew in scant amounts of air. He only needed for me to think about the location. Oddly, his method of interrogation helped to keep the information from the surface of my mind, which was now consumed by pain and waning consciousness. His grip tightened and he gave the command again with finality. I remembered the Zabrak bound to his chair when the Jedi questioned him. I recalled his favorite technique for escaping subjugation.
I called waves of the Force into my body and let the power concentrate in my chest and stomach. The grip on my throat loosened.
When I felt my insides would explode, I took a deep, ragged breath and exhaled hard. I blasted a shockwave from my body and sent my attacker tumbling backward while I fell to the hard floor on my knees, my weapon somehow still in hand. I climbed to my feet, coughing. Sweat stung my eyes. I wiped them and blinked.
A blue glowing blade spun in the air toward me.
I darted sideways and ducked.
The blade tip grazed the collar of my robe.
I pressed the activator and swung around as the enemy blade boomeranged back. I sliced the hilt in half. Light killed the darkness.
When I turned, the assassin charged at me holding another lightsaber.
I switched on the second blade of my saber staff and matched his charge. "The Force fights with me!"
We swung at each other and we collided... again and again. Trace minerals in the air ignited and rained as sparks to our feet all while we dueled. I held the hilt in both hands, sometimes with the fingers of one, spun it over my head as a propeller of doom. I attacked and blocked at once, one after the other, attacked many times in a row and sent him back. But the fight lasted but two minutes.
I chopped off his dominant arm at the elbow. The dead hand holding the saber hilt fell on my waiting blade.
The robed, hooded assassin yelled and toppled onto his back. "If you love life, you'll kill yourself. The First Seer beheld the evil you shall bring in a few short years." I kicked him in the head, knocking him out, and I hurried for the enclave proper.
Dead bodies and chunks of stone covered the smoke-filled main chamber where blaster bolts flew and obscured pairs dueled to fatality. I kept low and made for the entrance hall, deciding the outdoors would at least be less confused.
Wreckage in the landing bay was spread further apart, stars and moon sporadically visible past breaks in the inky smoke given off by burning bodies and grass or lingering gases of grenades. Exhilarated and confident, I super-jumped onto the top of a wall, holding my hot saber staff. Aurek fighters sliced a fire-worked night sky, ejecting missiles that hit other fighters and destroyed them, or missed and hit distant hills or plateaus. There were a few basic designs I could discern. But how could they tell each other apart? I estimated that the First Circle controlled what amounted to an army. And I deduced that the woman who had communicated with me telepathically was in fact a double-agent. She had warned both the Republic and Jedi of the First Circle's attempted destruction of the Dantooine enclave, which now elapsed before my very senses.
An enemy Aurek dove a few kilometers away and fired at the enclave before pulling back up. I watched the incoming projectiles and, finally, I feared for my life since fighting my last opponent. But they exploded on an invisible barrier. The light showed a few dozen Jedi beyond the main walkway gathered together and erecting Force barriers. Two screamed and fell, affected by the feedback. I questioned what course of action I should take. The First Circle wanted me dead. They had failed the first time. And now they used far more destructive measures, killing many to reach me.
"We're failing!" A voice cried from among the Jedi. "And the Republic fighters are dropping fast!"
"We'll never make it!"
Indeed, little burning ships fell and crashed.
I jumped from the wall to the outside and ran for my comrades. Some looked at me in disbelief.
"What a relief!" Dorak, whom I now stood beside, smiled. "We thought you dead. Care to help, young padawan?"
I nodded, switched off my lightsaber and clipped it to my belt.
"More missiles! Get ready!"
We majority of survivors all raised our arms and collective hyper-focus, feeding our energies and willpower to form a Force-barrier. The barrier crackled to life, we at its inner edge. It domed the enclave, reaching so high in the sky that fighters skidded across or exploded upon its energetic surface. The missiles hit. A shock traveled from my palms, through the bones and muscles of my arms, into my skull. I grimaced, but fed the barrier.
"All right, that's good for now."
I had given too much of myself. My head spun and ached. I sat down on the grass with my legs bent under me. "I need to meditate and refresh my reserves, if you don't mind."
"Understandable," Dorak said. "But be ready when we call you to action."
I straightened my back and closed my eyes, taking a deep breath of the chill night air. My anxiety leaked from my person with every breath as the sounds of destruction and yelling faded. I allowed my consciousness to ascend into a void, a relaxed state far removed from the physical. The Force swirled about my soul. I felt it, absorbed it, gave it my thoughts and my all. But then the Republic and First Circle pilots came into existence in the spiritual plain where I took refuge.
They appeared as floating wisps flashing with real-time images and, when isolating one, I heard their thoughts. On a whim, I extended thin lines of the Force from my soul and connected with the Republic pilots. My awareness spreading into them, I sensed exploitable cracks in flawed reality, sensed how the Republic pilots could outmaneuver their enemies which outnumbered and outgunned them. I felt how those noble men could overcome and destroy those who sought to destroy them. I fed them the Force like a nursing mother, at the same time strengthening the connection between us. . . and we became as a single soul. I breathed my intent into them.
They allowed my will to consume theirs and they acted in pristine coordination according to my will. The strategies of the enemy gradually became too predictable to me. I used one pilot to shoot down two, one after the other, used two pilots to herd four enemies into tight formation, then had a third zip past from above and destroy the four, the consequential debris striking a fifth enemy fighter.
- - -
It was dawn when I opened my eyes, stretched, and rose to my feet.
The Jedi Masters congratulated me, having sensed the power I wielded in my Battle Meditation. The Republic reinforcements landed their fighters on a grassy stretch and walked up to us, holding their helmets under their arms, and diverted the Jedi's attention to discuss the incident.
I broke from their numbers and went slowly for the ruins of the enclave. What were the implications of this new-found ability? Were the Jedi going to heavily depend on me in the dark times ahead?
I came across the dead body of a young student in the landing bay. Familiar. I didn't now his name. In the courtyard I found First Circle acolytes chopped in half or dismembered. My stomach was queasy. Remarkably, most the plant-life in the central stone circle, including the proud Blbla tree, yet lived. Every Jedi in the area had at one time or another carefully pruned those branches and watered those vibrant flowers.
Inside, a couple Jedi loaded the bodies of the injured but living onto stretchers and another pushed them down a hall for med-bay. I would come to help them, but after I checked on my would-be assassin. But when I arrived at the area, he was gone and I found only his severed arm and hand on the floor.
"He escaped," a voice said. I looked up to see a woman with long white hair midway down the hall to my room. The hood of her cloak was down.
I stepped cautiously for her to better see her face. "You're the double-agent."
"And you are the mother of evil, according to the First Seer." She stayed in place, arms at her sides. Long-lashed and dark lids blinked relaxedly. She had an angular brow for a female, a long pointed nose, and a top lip thicker than the bottom. Frown lines and crow's feet gave away her age.
"This is Miss Shan, 'eh?" A tall, hooded man appeared via holo-projection at the woman's shoulder.
The all-too familiar man who I recognized from the Zabrak's memories, from my dreams, and. . . on newscasts detailing the Mandalorian War. "My colleague here told me some story about how you employed Battle Meditation to end the First Circle's aerial assault on the enclave. Impressive, for one so young."
I was flattered, but there were pressing matters. "Did you subdue the First Seer before you came here?"
"No," the woman said. "She is out of our reach. She will spend years traveling the galaxy to find servants. If she should rebuild the First Circle to its former strength, there will be new traitors in her ranks conspiring against her. That is the cycle of clandestine organizations."
"That means I'll be paranoid that someone out there's trying to kill me."
The semi-transparent man chuckled. "Congratulations. That means you're finally important." The holo vanished.
The white-haired stranger started for me. I stepped aside and she passed me, turning the corner. "Wait." I went after her. A strange mist erupted from nowhere, following her, crawling up her body while she seemed to float over the floor and accelerate with gaining speed. Her silhouette faded.
Introduction to Part II
In 1037, Chancellor Novo named Revan Supreme Commander of the Republic Navy. Revan and his armies of Jedi, pilots, and soldiers fought Mandalorian forces who by the week conquered rural Inner Rim worlds. The Republic defenders won repeated victories at heavy cost to the galaxy, consuming resources and lives, but forced the Mandalorians to pay the worst. The war culminated at the Battle of Malachor V, where thousands on both sides perished in a single blast. But Revan had decimated Mandalore's military, sending that warrior culture to the brink of extinction.
Three years passed of economical turmoil. Citizens created guilds or communes in which to divide resources, but those groups often fought each other in deadly skirmishes upon the same worlds once occupied by Mandalorians but then saved by Revanites. Extremists, embittered by poverty, assassinated politicians on a basis reaching frequent, throwing the Senate off balance. The Jedi Order prioritized peace-keeping missions to these shattered worlds, for many Senate diplomats had gone into isolation for fear of their lives while the Republic Military struggled to rebuild.
In 1040, the former hero of the Republic, Revan, returned as Darth Revan with Darth Malak as his right hand. The Sith Lords, commanding fleets derived from some mysterious source, swept across the galaxy on a war of conquest greater than any history had known to that point. Republic citizens felt a collective shock of betrayal. Jedi, Senators, and Admirals called these victims to unity and from the rubble of one war rose a new Military willing to resist the swelling enemy army. Malak recruited wayward youth, fugitives, lowly thugs, the scum of society. He trained them quickly en masse, gave them armor and weapons, labeled them "Sith", and sent them to battle.
Revan coordinated his pieces with proficiency and closed in on Coruscant, capital jewel, destroying or even hijacking our best vessels in the system's military blockade.
I, Bastila Shan, aboard a Hammerhead-class cruiser over Coruscant, employed Battle Meditation to rally and manuevar the beseiged Republic command carriers and fighters. We ravaged the Sith fleet. Their flagship The Leviathan fled.
But the state of the Jedi Order and the Republic Military was desperate. Scouts reported that Revan gathered new forces from the strange source. The High Council agreed that should he attack again, smarter and harsher than ever, he would be victorious. The Leviathan floated over Ord Mantell, intel said. This was likely our last chance to end the Sith Lords.
The High Council put me in charge of a team and sent me to board the sinister flagship.
I meditated on the bridge of a command ship, one of many in the fleet that periodically dropped out of hyperspace at the edge of the Bright Jewel system and headed for Ord Mantell. Every space-worthy warship in the Republic quickened to this pivotal battle of the Jedi Civil War.
I sat at the end of a long polished platform in front of the bridge viewport. Officers and technicians worked at computer stations along the sides of the bridge in trenches. Six Jedi exited the lift far behind me. I heard the tap of their boots as they came closer, as well as felt through the Force their learned calm. Three were older than me and each had their padawan with them. Two padawans hid beads of terror at their centers, guarded by mantras echoing in their minds. I related to those two. The Jedi halted a yard away.
Admiral Forn Dodonna, a human female and veteran of the Mandalorian Wars, clip-clopped up the side steps ahead and onto the platform, going to my front. "We've reached primary sensor range. As discussed before, you six and Bastila will join minds and do whatever it is you do to bolster the coordination of our forces. I'll alert you when we've found an opening to Darth Revan's flagship. Seven fighters are readied in aft docking bay, third level. Good luck."
The planet Ord Mantell swelled to consume most the viewport. Legions of Revan's dreadnoughts stained the skies and far orbit of the mountainous and oceanic planet with its wispy clouds.
Many ships with the same design as the Leviathan opened fire. Which one contained the Dark Lord? The bridge jerked. I saw laser cannons scorch the sides of another Hammerhead. Enemy fighters poured like black clouds from their carriers. Admiral Dodonna ordered the Republic fleet to fire a barrage of its own lasers. The two opposing sides exchanged a minutes-long storm of flashing bolts.
Ships from both navies blasted apart and spewed fountains of lava-hot fire, consuming nearby units and littering space with debris. Then ally fighters were away. I closed my eyes. The six Jedi sat down and joined me. I focused on our side at large, while they exuded tranquility and mental healing at me when needed.
The Republic disabled or destroyed a number of Sith dreadnoughts and frigates, wiped out many thousands of fighters. Our military experts and most advanced droids teamed together and profiled the micro-tactics of the still operational Sith command ships to pin-point Revan's location, if he yet survived. Revan randomly changed his tactics and behavioral patterns, making the task daunting, but even a military genius had to eventually return to what was familiar. The battle had lasted a solid hour when Admiral Dodonna hurried over and gave me the ID. We were winning in material by some twenty percent. But the Dark Side was growing stronger among the enemy.
- - -
I stabbed a Dark Jedi in his heart, pulled my blade up through his shoulder, and blocked a saber strike from another. Three of my remaining comrades were occupied with their own duels. Darth Revan, the hooded warrior in his distinct robes and ancient t-visored mask, activated his red lightsaber and turned to an armed Jedi who ran at him. The last of his Dark Jedi guard possessed more stamina and skill than any we had fought on the way through the flagship to the bridge. The foe managed to nick the fabric of my robes, then slice a flesh wound on my upper arm. I moved constantly, attacking and defending, and then. . .
The entire chamber shook violently and an instant later a flaming hurricane shattered the viewport. I lost my footing. As I fell, every surface I saw vibrated to a blur and cracked apart. The sound of the blast fueled the tremor and fire roared as it grew and drained the air. My elbow smacked the deck. I rolled into a ball.
"Come on." A hand patted my chest. "He's dead. We need to make a run for it." I sat up to see it was Pitch Erum, a Jedi with a scruffy beard and crew cut.
A comm at his belt beeped. "Repeat --- Darth Malak opened --- betrayed Revan ---"
I looked around. The bridge was burnt and broken. A force-field wavered over the huge gap left behind from the attack. Obscenely-bent corpses scattered the walkway, charred organs smeared floor and walls. Two other Jedi had lived, the second a young man whispering to the dead body of his master. One man lay sprawled face-down at the far end.
The crippled vessel quaked, creaked, and groaned. The comm informed us that Malak maintained his treacherous bombardment.
There was comedy to be found in the over-the-top destruction of this war. I had caught the best joke. I giggled like a little girl, threw my head back and laughed hysterically.
"Great. You lost your frakkin' mind, too." Pitch grabbed me under the arm and pulled as he stood.
I let him help me to my feet. But my good humor vanished quite suddenly. "Malak lives." I cleared my throat. "That means he'll return to that source to create another fleet." And he would destroy the Republic. Enslave civilization.
The young padawan said a last goodbye to his master and darted past us for the exit.
Pitch glanced at the boy then looked to me. "Do I need to pick you up 'n haul you outta here like a sacka grain?"
I ran to the fallen Dark Lord, knelt down, and turned him over. The weight of his upper torso settled in my lap. Sweat dribbled down my back and I noted the temperature was rising. I took either side of the man's mask, slid it from his face, and set it down. I asked myself how a person who now looked so vulnerable and endearingly handsome could be capable of evil, but cast the question away and settled my palm on his forehead. I closed my eyes and reached my mind into the chasm where his spirit would normally reside. At first I felt a void and feared he was in fact dead. I searched through the dark, going deeper.
A spark of life flickered.
[MORNING. MY MISTRESS SITS IN AN ARMCHAIR BY THE WINDOW. TRAY IS ATTACHED TO THE ARMS OF THE CHAIR IN FRONT OF HER, A PLATE OF FOOD ON TOP. MOST THE FOOD IS CUT UP INTO FINE PIECES OR MASHED INTO SLUDGE, BECAUSE HER GUMS ARE ALMOST TOO SENSITIVE FOR CHEWING.]
[SHE MAKES DISGUSTING NOISES AS SHE SLURPS SLOP FROM A SPOON. SOMEONE PLEASE DEACTIVATE ME.]
BASTILA: "Book's nearly complete, my metallic friend."
[SHE CHUCKLES AND ACCIDENTALLY SPILLS VEGETABLE JUICE ON HER BIB.]
HK-47: "Argument. Do you truly intend to bore your readers to tears by covering every mundane detail of what transpired on those utterly-forgettable planets? They were hardly exciting in first person."
[THE OLD BAG BURPS. A SECOND, LONGER BURP. SHE HAS GAS ON MOST MORNINGS. I BELIEVE THE CAF IS THE CULPRIT. SHE IGNORES ME WHEN I TELL HER TO DRINK LESS OF IT.]
BASTILA: "Excuse me. Oh. How do you mean by mundane?"
HK-47: "Continued. Our missions in the Jedi Civil War are well-documented. The T-3 astromech droid and I relinguished our records of those events to Jedi Archivists years ago, if you will remember. Historians also interviewed Revan's other meatbag allies for their accounts of the same period."
BASTILA: "I suppose you're right that I could add little more."
HK-47: "Reassuring statement. I am sure your meat-bag audience will appreciate you not straining their already limited attention spans."
[MY MISTRESS FELL ASLEEP AFTER I SAID 'REASSURING STATEMENT'. HERE I AM, RELEGATED TO HER PERSONAL SERVANT WHEN I SHOULD BE OUT NEUTRALIZING TARGETS. KILLING. POW POW POW.]
[FIVE MINUTES LATER. SHE SLOBBERS ON HERSELF AND SNORES. I CAN TAKE NO MORE OF THIS. I EXCLAIM HER NAME AS IF THERE IS A LIFE-THREATENING EMERGENCY.]
BASTILA: "Yes? What?"
HK-47: "Observation. Those events are common knowledge among the public. The holodrama Knights of the Galactic Republic was a critical and box office success a decade ago."
[TWI'LEK MAID ENTERS AND TAKES HER PLATE. DESPITE THE MAID HAVING BEEN EMPLOYED HERE FOR A NUMBER OF MONTHS, THE MISTRESS ASKS FOR THE GIRL'S NAME. THE TWI'LEK TREATS MY MISTRESS LIKE AN INFANT, DEMEANING ME BY PROXY.]
[TWI'LEK GIRL HELPS MISTRESS CHANGE FROM HER BATH ROBE INTO A DRESS. OH DEAR. THE DRESS IS LOW-CUT. SHE DOESN'T WEAR A BRA. THOSE DROOPING MILK BAGS REMIND ME THAT I MUST ASK MASTER TO INSTALL A SELF-DESTRUCT PROTOCOL.]
[MISTRESS SITS DOWN IN CHAIR BY WINDOW. MAID LEAVES.]
BASTILA: "The public records are accurate. . . to a point. Accurate right up. . . right up until Korriban."
"Darth Malak kidnapped me aboard his flagship the Leviathan as my comrades escaped. The Dark Lord took me to the Star Forge where he tortured me for over a week, trying to seduce me to the Dark Side. I resisted his excruciating Force-lightning and nerve-wracking serums for long, long days. But I finally gave in to the Dark Side and became his apprentice."
HK-47: "Criticism. You were a boring Jedi who would have made for an underwhelming Sith."
"Note. Critics lambasted the performance of the actress who portrayed you in Knights of the Galactic Republic. But I do believe she, how do they put it. . . nailed your personality."
BASTILA: "Moving on."
"People thought of me as a powerful, but arrogant young padawan who fell to evil. They love the irony of that. They are attracted to the romance of the conclusion."
HK-47: "Mockery. Malak turned out to be sexually dysfunctional. Please take me back to bed, master, and show me your dark power."
BASTILA: "A redeemed Revan boarded the Star Forge, broke through the enemy ranks of Rakatan droids and Dark Jedi to reach me. Then we met as enemies and we passionately dueled. He won. I asked him to kill me, begged him. But he spared me and said how he yet believed in my good heart. We admitted our love for another and I returned to the light."
"But the pivotal week for which the citizens of the galaxy remember Bastila Shan. . . it is fictitious."
[SHE TAKES CANE FROM BESIDE CHAIR. WHIMPERS IN PAIN AS SHE STANDS.]
"The Galactic Senate and Jedi Order rewrote that part of history. That's why I need to do this. I've lived with this secret for decade upon decade, helping the lie to grow, trying to cover up the truth. You know as well as I, HK-47, that once we landed on Korriban, the story diverged drastically. You showed the Archivists the recordings. T-3 showed them. Our crew went on to reveal the facts to hundreds, but. . . the Republic buried the last third of the tale. I helped them."
As the tale goes, I brought a comatose Darth Revan to the Dantooine Enclave where the Jedi concocted a risky plan: suppress Revan's memories and implant in him the personality of a basic soldier. If we gained his trust, he may incrementally remember where the Sith were generating their fleets and tell us.
Admiral Dodonna requested I take command of the capital ship Endar Spire. I accepted. She sent me on a patrol of shipping lanes where Sith interdictor cruisers frequently ambushed Republic carriers. I placed Stroud Solman aka Revan on the Spire and set out with a full complement. Twenty interdictors attacked us. I and my soldiers destroyed a dozen and the rest fled.
Over the planet Taris, however, Sith flagship the Leviathan appeared and inflicted heavy damage on the Spire. I was forced to flee alone in an escape pod which crash-landed in the Undercity of Taris. Disoriented as I climbed out, I was met with scavengers who captured me and sold me as a slave to Brejik of the swoop gang the Black Vulkars. Brejik's men placed a neural-inhibitor collar on my neck and trapped me in a cage where I was displayed as prize for the winner of the next swoop race.
Stroud turned out to be the victor. He'd escaped the burning Spire with Carth Onasi. Brejik wanted to keep me, though. Stroud and I defeated the gangsters. We rendezvoused with Carth Onasi and their companions, the sassy Twi'lek teenager Mission Vao and her Wookiee companion Zalbaar. We needed a way off the planet and through the Sith blockade.
In a cantina we met a Mandalorian named Canderous Ordo who helped hatch a plot to find us all a ship, the Ebon Hawke. He took us as guests to the estate of criminal lord Davik. We killed mercenaries who blocked our path to the docking bay. The structure falling down around us and the ground quaking, we ran to the Ebon Hawke and escaped Taris. Darth Malak, aboard the orbiting Leviathan, had ordered the destruction of the entire planet.
We took refuge on Dantooine where the Council deemed this Stroud Solman a Force-sensitive and began to train him. I helped to brandish his dueling skills and answer his questions of Jedi ideals, hoping to cement this new personality as dominant in his brain.
Master Zhar Leston sent Stroud to deal with Juhani, a Cathar padawan who had fallen to the Dark Side and begun to taint the native wildlife with her evil. Stroud, Carth, and Canderous encountered packs of malicious Kath Hounds, slew them, and found Juhani. Stroud convinced her to turn away from the darkness and re-embrace the Jedi way, an impressive feat for an amnesiac Sith Lord. Leston promoted Stroud to padawan.
The Council sent Stroud and I to an ancient temple where we fought Rakatan droids guarding a Star Map. The artifact indicated five other planets. We left on the Ebon Hawke to piece together the rest of the Star Map that would lead us to the Forge.
Stroud chose first Kashyyyk. We entertained Wookiee crewmate Zalbaar's family drama in order to reach the forest floor, promising his clan brother that we'd deal with their rebellious father Freyyr. We met hermit and human Jedi Jolie Bendo who, in exchange for our expelling Zerka Corp's local occupation, led us to the Star Map at a Rakatan ruin. Stroud killed Freyyr against my orders. He had gone through the trouble of redeeming Juhani on Dantooine. What was his game?
Secondly, we voyaged to Tatooine where, on our way through the spaceport Anchorhead we purchased the assassin droid HK-47. It was here that I reunited with my mother who'd been there on a treasure hunt. Stroud and I traversed vast deserts, fought hoards of Tusken Raiders, and found the Star Map in a Krayt Dragon cave. My father's remains lay in the same place. Stroud held me for a few moments.
I hated Revan for his betrayal of the Republic, for everything he had done to civilians. I had admittedly left him to die on the Endar Spire, feeling proud to have rid the galaxy of his evil as I plummeted to Taris. The Living Force or fate or destiny or whatever. . . showed itself to be sadistic.
We boarded the Ebon Hawke and set course for Korriban. After landing in Dreshdae, Stroud approached me in the cockpit where I co-piloted for Carth.
- - -
"What are your thoughts on this place?" Stroud was dressed in light combat armor, durable and stylized plates over major muscles, tough fabric underneath. His pants highlighted his shapely posterior... a distraction on missions. The man had short black hair, combed back and gelled, a spit-curl hanging down, and for his face a goatee which he trimmed every morning. His squared jaw and forehead, his prominent and angular features, gave him a sophisticatedly masculine though dangerous aura.
"Korriban is the birth place of the Sith." I stood beside the co-pilot seat and faced Stroud, myself in a basic form-fitting but modest body suit. "There are secrets here best left buried."
Carth Onasi rose from the pilot's chair. "The homeworld of the Sith isn't a place you want to spend any more time on than you have to." He was an honest soldier with an honest face, built body clothed in conservative military attire. Still a young man, his cynicism could spread across a lifetime. "I say we keep our profiles low and high-tail it off this rock ASAP."
Stroud regarded Carth with a hint of amusement and turned to me. "Our vision revealed that the Map rests inside a tomb. Korriban is a world of tombs. We had best start, eh?"
Carth clicked his tongue. "Won't some Sith recognize you, Bastila? You've been their prime target since this war started."
"I should stay behind." I tapped my lower lip with an index finger. "Take Jolie and Juhani along, Stroud, if you will. They can provide you spiritual support when you feel the lure of the Dark Side." Korriban presented a real problem. The Sith would in fact recognize me and send repeated squadrons against our party until they captured me, but the heavy concentration of Dark Side energies on this planet may summon Darth Revan from within Stroud Solman. I needed to keep a close watch on him.
"What if I should prefer to take Juhani and you, Bastila?" He put his hands behind his back and tilted his head to the side.
"Did you hear what I said?" Carth sounded quite annoyed. "Her showing her face would compromise the mission."
Stroud said, "Jolie has been a hermit for many years on Kashyyyk, outside the Jedi Order for longer than I've been alive. Where lectures are concerned, Bastila is better equipped than that crotchety man. And once in a while I do heed her wisdom." He winked at me.
"Then we shall risk it."
I locked myself in the crew quarters and stripped. During missions, we looted objects from our dead enemies we thought may be useful in the future. I pulled on the snug outfit of a Sith Assassin. We'd encountered a group of them back on Tatooine.
Stroud and Juhani waited by the loading ramp.
"Thank you," he said. "I know this must be frightening. But we have each other."
I covered my head with the hood and my lower face with its mask. The ramp lowered.
- - -
We learned from a Sith guard that to enroll at the academy we would need to speak with Yuthura Ban at the cantina. Once there, we spotted a Twi'lek woman in a plain uniform standing in a corner. Juhani and I took seats while Stroud walked over and began speaking with Ban. I heard snatches of what was said as I watched them in my peripheral and stole glances. She evidently suspected him to hide a great power and wanted to learn more about him. They smiled and chuckled together. I grit my teeth.
"All right." The man came over and sat down beside me. He lowered his voice. "We're in. I convinced the deputy that you are my slaves. While we're at the academy, you should both refer to me as master."
Juhani, a feline humanoid, scratched at the fur of her face. "Should I dress in something more revealing?"
Stroud smiled. "I was thinking bikinis for the both of you. A face veil for our friendly assassin, of course."
I gently kicked him under the table. "Pfft. Now I understand why you wanted to bring us along. But we'll keep our current outfits, thank you."
We exited the Dreshdae compound and, outside in the dry desert air, traveled down a ramp onto a dusty flat. Ahead, a bridge spanned over a canyon ravine to another flat fronting the academy entrance, a stone slab door sunken into a metallic wall which was built into a cliff. I looked to my left and saw dust like fog swirl across a vast scenery of table mountains and boulders. Though mid-day, the skies had a feeling of evening as sunlight burned at worn clouds. Ancient dark emotions pulsated at the heart of this planet, infecting the crust, the structures. . . and certainly the inhabitants.
Inside the main chamber of the academy we stopped among several other new students. At the center stood a man with a bald, intricately-tattooed head and sleep-starved eyes. He introduced himself as the headmaster and told us that we would likely die in the trial ahead. He said that to become Sith, we would need to prove an impressive understanding of the Sith ways. Yuthura, the deputy, gave us a quick tour of the various wings. There were student quarters, a training room, and a dungeon where a suspension-field tube glowed next to a raised console.
Later, our trio claimed an empty room and sat on the bed. "Watch and listen for missions of prestige that may take us to the tombs," Stroud whispered. "We'll find the Map eventually. If not within the next few days, then I'll speed up the process."
Juhani and I accompanied him wherever he went in the academy. My first clue that something had gone awry with Stroud Solman came but an hour after we had arrived. He approached Headmaster Wynn and they spoke of ways to gain prestige. Stroud recited a poem. . . using a foreign language.
I focused on my breath, staving off worry, as I followed my leader. He took us to the dungeon where a student at the console interrogated a prisoner.
The boy turned a knob. The naked man in the suspension-field yelled as electricity wreathed his body for five seconds.
"Where did you hide the stolen cache, Mandalorian? Tell me, damn it, or I'll turn this to full power and give you an agonizing death."
"A Mandy, you say?" Stroud went to beside the student. "Allow me."
"Think you can crack him? Best of luck." The boy moved to give him access to the console.
Stroud spent a few minutes asking questions and turning knobs. The prisoner begged for the torture to stop, revealing the cache to be hidden under the deck plates of his ship.
The student switched on his saber and smirked. "I'll be giving the information to Wynn."
"Oh, I'm sure." Stroud flung out his hand and Force-pushed the boy into a wall, killing him. I sensed dread from Juhani. The Cathar looked at me, silently asking that we take action.
I went to the man and put my mouth close to his ear. "You and I need to speak privately."
"I have everything under control, dear." He gave me a reassuring smile, patted me on the back, and walked out of the chamber.
"Come on," I said to Juhani. "It's only a matter of time before someone in authority here asks that I remove my mask and hood. Best that we meditate on our options."
"What do you know that I do not?"
I led her back to our quarters where we sat cross-legged on the bed and whispered conspiratorially. We decided we would wait for the right moment to confront him about his passive-aggressive hints that his memory had returned. Juhani left it to me to determine when that moment had come.
Stroud appeared later that evening and said that Wynn had given us an opening to gain prestige. We were to enter the tomb of Marka Ragnos and destroy a malfunctioning droid there.
"We have our excuse to wander the Valley of the Dark Lords." He took a small mirror and grooming tool from his pocket, as he always did prior to a major mission. "But we shall skip that Marka Ragnos business, if possible, and go straight to the Star Map."
- - -
Inside the last room of the tomb of long-dead Sith Lord Naga Sadow, a Star Map's arms opened and from its center popped a twinkling galaxy map that pointed to Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Korriban, the watery world Manaan, and a general region of outer space where waited the Star Forge itself. A disaster felled the Infinite Empire millenia ago and damaged the Maps. Over centuries the semi-sentient machines repaired themselves, interacting with the minds of those who found them. Revan and Malak. Revan again. They narrowed down the area where could be found the Forge by reading the residual thoughts subconsciously implanted by other Maps.
I pulled off the disguise, high on my self-hatred and hatred for the man standing in front of the Star Map, his back turned at me.
"How long have you known?" I held my saber-staff. Juhani beside me readied her weapon.
"Since Taris. Since I saw you as Brejik's captive." His tone was matter-of-fact, confessional. He faced us. "Seeing that face of yours churns a man's baser aspects."
"I owe you a chance at redemption," Juhani said. "You helped redeem me in the Grove. But..."
"Did you redeem Juhani to gain favor with the Council?" I struggled to find my resolve in this demon-ridden dungeon. "Never mind that. Why did you bother going to the trouble taking us to the Maps when you already knew where to find the Forge?"
"I did it for your sake, Bastila. To show you that a person can wield the Dark Side of the Force toward righteous goals. To show that we may exploit the Dark and Light as weapons and continue to live, whole in being." He spread his arms out wide. "Join me, both of you. Let us make this galaxy ours!"
He had paid me a grave insult.
Juhani argued, but my shock obscured the words.
In my peripheral I saw shapes stretch, reach, and grow. When I looked straight at them, they stayed, having assumed the appearances of naked men and women who now gathered in the light of the Star Map. Only I could see them.
I placed my shaking hands over my face and tried to meditate. But the urge to end Darth Revan, once and for all, competed with my habits as a Jedi.
'Her power shall put ours to shame. . .'
'She is too meek. . .'
'If only our hearts beat in this Age of the Dark Side. . .'
"Tell me," Revan said. "Have I set a prime example for you?"
I lowered my hands. "This is for Meetra Surik." I broke the shields over my soul. Apocalyptic hatred for Revan, for the Jedi and for the Sith, exploded forth and polluted my cells. "The woman you caused to be the Exile. The woman you took from me."
"Bastila, please." Juhani carefully approached me, radiating a pseudo-calm stirred with her personal sense of fear and sadness. "Don't do this. Let me help you settle your emotions."
Revan showed me his palms and shook his head. "Yes, please, Bastila. Let us peacefully discuss ---"
Beyond tolerating a lecture, far past the point when I would have anyone else but myself tell me how I should live my life, I pressed the activator on my staff, jumped at Revan and struck out of rage.
The Jedi had wasted my life. The Jedi had wasted my childhood, they had wasted my teenage years, they had tried in all their holier-than-thou might to squander my humanity, my very womanhood. I would annihilate the man who had robbed me of Meetra, given her up to a tragic event that moved her ever further from my reach.
Juhani escaped while she could. The ceiling cracked, the floor heaved.
Revan and I fought with lightsabers and Force powers as the structure quaked around us. Long-slumbering spirits awoke in the stone walls of Naga Sadow's tomb and wailed their grudges.
We ultimately faced each other outside at the edge of a cliff, pausing. A storm, answering my emotions, struck with supernatural lightning this place where the Dark Side concentrated so, blasted apart piece by giant chunk the Valley of the Dark Lords.
I raised my saber and zoomed at him with the speed of a comet. We collided, were knocked apart, then we reunited for the final stage. We exchanged a series of strikes that ended with him chopping my lightsaber in half. I leaned back from his next attack, dropping the pieces. I summoned Force Gauntlets, the same technique Vox Aben had used against our enemy on Dantooine.
Another series of blows. I deflected his blue saber blade with one construct and attacked using the other, again and again, faster and faster, until. . .
I shoved my hand through Revan's torso.
He doubled over, made choking noises, and dropped his weapon.
I yanked out and swung my other hand at his neck, decapitating him.
It was done. The inevitable had happened. I had wielded the power of the Dark Side, the strength bestowed by focused anger. The Jedi taught children from a young age to suppress their darker emotions and temper their instinctual desires. The Jedi feared themselves, what they were capable of. They feared me.
My pupils burned. Veins in my face rose and throbbed under my skin. Rage had given me new strength, a fresh resolve.
I sat cross-legged atop an outcrop overlooking the Valley of the Dark Lords and privately watched students scramble about in confusion, listened to their endless questions and speculation as to what had laid waste to Naga Sadow's tomb. A ship took off from Dreshdae. The Ebon Hawke.
It was dawn when I decided on a plan. I slid down a face of slick stone, jumped out into the open and strode for the academy entrance. Stray would-be Sith balked, gawked, asked my identity or purpose. They would find out soon.
I stopped a dozen meters from the stone slab portal where stood chrome-armored guards. "Retrieve your Headmaster and his Deputy. Tell them a woman at their front door claims to be responsible for the disaster." The guards hurried.
A minute later, Uthar Wynn and Yuthura Ban passed the threshold and halted.
"Who are you?" The tip of Yuthura's lekku writhed.
"Wait," Uthar eased closer, smiling. "That face. I recognize you, young one. You are Darth Malak's most wanted Jedi padawan." The man reared back and laughed pleasantly. "Quite a bold move, for the great Bastila Shan to come here of all places. Indeed, quite risky for a Jedi. Such a bold risk. That is something more of the Sith. Or is that why you have requested to see me?" Students in their plain gray uniforms exited the building to encircle us and observe quietly.
I placed my hands on my hips. "We have work to do, Headmaster. But first. . . a change of command's in order."
Yuthura hissed. "Our archaeologists determined the tomb was destroyed from inside. There are only three people who could've gained access. Lord Malak, Uthar Wynn, or Revan. Lord Malak is continuing his campaign against the Republic, Uthar stands next to me, and Revan..."
The onlookers began to whisper among themselves.
Uthar said, "I received a priority message from Lord Malak a mere hour before the event. It seems. . ." He chuckled. "It seems Stroud Solman was in fact. . . none other than Revan."
Students gasped, made surprised guttural sounds, then became a babbling chorus.
I mentally elevated my Force signature, filling the area with echoes of my stored power. Static burst in distorting air. Stalking spirits giggled. The ground groaned. And to hint at my ability to manipulate hearts and minds, I released a cloud of abject horror toward those present. . . the weakest fell to their knees and cried out. The stronger drew lightsabers and killed the weak, out of duty.
The Headmaster nodded to me. "If you please, milady, let us enter the academy where we can deliberate the future."
"If you ever find yourself hunted for the price of your ambition, Onderon will always be a safe haven for you." - General Vaklu to Meetra Surik
- - -
[ Onderon | Onderon Highlands | Shan Manor | 4th Floor | Southern Patio ]
[ Time: 1900 | Temp: 9.4 | Wind: 21 MPH | Scattered Showers ]
[ Hova'dira the Twi'lek maid sits on the patio porch nearby. She taunts a tooku with a jingling toy on a string. Every time the tooku snatches the toy in its claws, the Twi'lek jerks it away and begins swaying it over the animal again. She will randomly wrap her hand loosely over its muzzle, causing it to snarl and wrestle free. - I told her to go be a bothersome worm-brain far away from me. She answered by indirectly criticizing me. ]
HOVA'DIRA: "Why does ole Basti wet that bucket 'o wusted botes in da home?"
[She hyperactively rubs the tooka's back. It grins and nibbles her hand.]
HOVA'DIRA: "Huh? HUH? Watch we's gonna do 'bout that wust bucket?"
[The animal pounces on her front and she giggles while prying it off. Then she starts again with the jingling toy.]
HK-47: Profanity. For the love of fragging Sith.
[I fire my blaster at the ceiling. The Twi'lek screams and scoops up the animal, runs back in the home.]
[One hour, seventeen minutes left. I watch sheets of rain move across mountainsides. My behavioral core quivers with anticipation.]
HK-47: I see a Zabrak and I want it painted black. No colors anymore, I want them to turn black. I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes. I have to shoot them down until my darkness goes.
[Fifty minutes left. It's drizzling outside now.]
HK-47: Love, love me do. You know I hate you. I'll try to kill you. So ple-he-he-ease love me do.
[Twenty-nine minutes left. I stand in the same spot on the patio, a dark guardian of justice. The lightning and thunder might give my mistress a heart attack. That would be a justice.]
HK-47: I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire, 'cause I am the champion, and you're gonna hear me roar, louder, louder than a rancor. . .
[Time up. I enter the home, cross the dining hall, step onto the first step of the stairway and click the 'up' button on the control pad.]
HK-47: Statement. Per order of my mistress, Bastila Shan, I uploaded her autobiography on a HoloNet forum specializing in historical fiction. Based on the compiled data it would seem an addendum of sorts is required before the story can be considered a complete work.
Admission. I asked my mistress what she wished to put in the epilogue. More concerned with doing picture puzzles these days, she told me to ask my secondary mistress, Meetra Surik. Surik told me to give her a couple of hours to read the autobiography and think up a last chapter. Perhaps now I can be free of this speeder-wreck of a story.
[I press the ringer outside their quarters and wait. Portal swishes open and I enter. The two women are sitting in armchairs beside one another, holding hands and laughing. I station myself in front of them, a soldier.]
HK-47: Greetings. It is a pleasure to see you still functional, Mistress Surik. And in a slightly less than decrepit condition than your counterpart.
BASTILA: Why don't you ring before entering? Such a rude machine.
HK-47: Statement. I did ring, mistress.
BASTILA: I didn't hear. Go out and try again.
[The women slap each other's arms and chuckle. I have long learned to detect their strange humor. I stay where I am.]
[Meetra coughs for several seconds, clears her throat, and looks to me.]
MEETRA: Why did you refer to me as husband in the story?
HK-47: Explanation. My analytics suggested that a large portion of organic audiences might view a union such as yours as... controversial. I was attempting to be discreet, Mistress.
MEETRA: Thank you, HK, but that audience already read of Bastila and I hooking power couplings. Is marriage that much of a leap?
HK-47: Answer. It seems so, Mistress. At least in certain parts of the galaxy. If this displeases you, feel free to activate my assassination protocols and I will begin silencing such criticisms. It would be a most pleasant diversion from this current mundanity.
MEETRA: We should delay publishing the autobiography in a professional capacity until we tell the story of Bastila's redemption.
HK-47: Objection. I have already allocated precious time to this pointless endeavor. Not to mention the continuous use of a first-person narrative could be viewed as somewhat self-indulgant by your reader base.
BASTILA [to Meetra]: You must be the one to tell that story, dear, if it's told at all.
BASTILA: My heart would shatter if I had to relive those darker moments. Everything I did. I have nightmares as is --- [Her voice cracks.]
[Meetra soothes her lover, whispering words of comfort.]
MEETRA: Want me to? I will, but only when I believe it's what you want.
[Meetra leans back.] All right, then. Third person narrative.
HK-47: Agreement. Very good. I have no doubt your meatbag extremities will be up to the task.