STAR WARS Episode 9, The Predator's Prism, Volume 3 of the Alternate Universe Trilogy

Juxtaposed Eternities Dynamic Interface

"Your first master's transformation into the Force now suddenly makes sense," Zayana said to Dari. "It sounds as if she's the only one who could've warned us about what Umbrage intends to do. We thought he might try to approach the Senate on his own, not wipe them out. Her plan, filled with danger as it is, might represent the only way to possibly save the Republic."

Dari seemed consoled by her peer's interpretation of Jedi Master Soma's loss, referring to it as a transformation. She was however deeply concerned for Cyrella and the critical part the new Jedi Master would have to play. It seemed to her as if Master Priella's prior apprentice had been promoted just in time to be assigned an implausibly risky role that was of paramount importance to the continuation of civilization as they knew it. And she could see the unasked question in the eyes of her Scree escort. However, Demorin's manners prevented him from observing that there had been no discussion whatsoever of the danger to the galaxy. He opted for another approach instead.

"Since we placed that subspace relay buoy on our outbound journey, there shouldn't be any problem in contacting Brimula," he casually suggested. "I should see if progress has been made in cracking the Sith Lord's technology. Between the scans that we took of the crystal shard, and the fact that you now have Garis Woe's upgraded lightsaber, detection of the Nadir might not be all that difficult."

At a smile and a nod from Cyrella, Dari turned with her consort and headed for the bridge of the Forthright. Zayana was uncharacteristically quiet for a few moments before finally asking the question that was foremost in her mind.

"Do you really suppose we have a snowball's chance on Hoth of pulling this off?" she softly inquired.

She found herself confronting the same stern expression she'd once received from Julither, as Cyrella icily responded, "If we don't, we'll never even know about it. We'll already be history."

There were hardly any animals in that galaxy that really resemble deer as they're known on Earth; but, for several seconds, Zayana's expression looked very much like that of one standing before the headlights of an oncoming automobile. As she recovered from the rebuttal, it seemed appropriate to excuse herself.

"I'm going to go check on Dari and Demorin," she eventually rejoined. And having been put in mind of Jedi Master Julither, she added, "Perhaps they shouldn't be left alone."

"I disagree," Cyrella instantly responded.

These were two words Zayana had never heard Cyrella say in succession to her before. No previous discussion had ever led to such a complete discrepancy. But standing before the newly promoted Jedi Master, Zayana suddenly understood that she was conversing with a vergence in the Force.

"Okay," she tentatively replied. "Can you please explain your reasons?"

"This is nothing like the situation that led to Master Soma's demise," Cyrella answered. "It is much more like that of Grand Master Solo. A beneficial destiny is determined by the relationship that's forming between them, and that relationship is based on the belief that we will survive this dangerous ordeal. Be encouraged by their example. Do nothing to discourage it. We must make allowances for life. No oath of celibacy can supersede that which will enhance existence. This is the will of the Force."

"A beneficial destiny," Zayana circumspectly echoed, considering the implication. "Demorin is the son and heir apparent of the Chancellor of the Scree. A romantic affiliation with a member of the Jedi Order could easily result in their inclusion in the Republic. I see what you're saying."

On the bridge of the Forthright, Dari and Demorin stood before the holographic image of his father. Varnic looked very pleased to see his son in the company of the Jedi Knight who'd saved his life. Like almost all other candidates, Dari had been accepted into the Temple Ziggurat while she was still just a youngling. Contact with family was far from forbidden. But her interaction with relatives had become limited as a result of her membership in the ancient order. After her father was transferred off-world as part of a promotion in his employment, she'd hardly seen him at all. But the way Varnic regarded her reminded her very much of the paternal approval she'd missed for so long.

In response to Demorin's request for an update on their research, the Chancellor said, "We have of course been in possession of scans of one of his crystal shards since before Umbrage's departure. We have been comparing them with the scans we took of Garis Woe's lightsaber and the security recordings from the Forthright, where Garis is seen uncloaking. We believe we have developed a protocol that can be installed in that lightsaber and will give it the capacity to detect other objects if they've been similarly cloaked, provided they're in close proximity. We don't think it will work as a long-range scanner. I am including the specs in this transmission. Have the Jedi been able to formulate a response to the threat posed by this Sith Lord?"

"There is a plan," Demorin carefully commented. "But we must keep it classified for now. As you know, Darth Umbrage employs some very advanced droids. The subspace relay buoy could be hacked. We can't be certain if this communication is really secured. I'm sure you understand, state secrets and all that."

"Of course," Varnic easily agreed. "I'm just glad to know that there's actually a plan in place. And I'm happy to see that you and Jedi Knight Dari have managed to remain together in spite of the circumstances. Dari, it's my deepest hope that you will honor us by being our guest again as soon as opportunity allows. I appreciate that it was done only out of necessity, but your visit was most regrettably cut short."

"I shall look forward to it, your grace," Dari appropriately replied with a bow.

After they terminated contact, Dari spend some time considering the Chancellor's optimistic attitude. He'd seemed almost dismissive towards the peril posed by Darth Umbrage. But then, it occurred to her that Varnic was quite probably just doing what any parent would do, choosing to anticipate a beneficial future for his offspring. Like their premature departure from Brimula, there really was no other option. He had to assume that there was a solution to their situation and that they would indeed discover it. The alternative was simply too unacceptable to contemplate.

It was this line of reasoning that brought her to a personal epiphany. If Darth Umbrage were to succeed in destroying the Jedi Order before it relocated to Tatooine, she would've never even met Demorin. Of what importance would her oaths be rendered if they were all about to wink out of existence? She was struggling to hold her heart back from him when, in fact, she was wasting what might very well represent an irreplaceable opportunity. Whom did she hope to impress with her dedication to self-denial if the Jedi were all hovering on the verge of extinction? In that case, should she not avail herself instead of whatever time for love might yet remain? But was that not horribly backwards? She and Demorin were walking alone through a corridor that connected the bridge and the passenger lounge when the realization brought her to a sudden stop.

"How can failure create an option for love and success cannot?" she asked aloud.

Despite not being telepathic, Demorin seemed to understand the impetus of her question. It certainly seemed to be mirrored in his astoundingly cyan eyes. There on the edge of the Arkanis Sector, hurtling through space at relativistic speed, Demorin and Dari shared their first kiss. And as Transformed Jedi Master Soma Sarmosini would've said, the galaxy was glad for them.

They were still hand in hand when they ultimately returned to the passenger lounge. Cyrella smiled at them as they entered, but Zayana rolled her eyes and had to stifle a laugh. When Dari looked at her questioningly, Zayana teasingly said, "I am laughing with you, not at you. You just forgot to laugh."

"We're laughing on the inside," Demorin took the opportunity to impishly respond.

Cyrella snickered at his repartee, and then everyone laughed. Only moments later, Admiral Ackbar announced over the intercom that they were about to enter the atmosphere of Tatooine. According to protocol, the passengers secured themselves in their crash couches and waited for the ship to touchdown on top of the temple. The flight crew of the Forthright was so professional that only the Jedi actually sensed the landing. If Demorin had been watching through the nearby porthole, he would have been aware of it when they arrived. But he only had eyes for Dari. With the skill of repeated experience, as he realized that everybody else was preparing to disembark, he unfastened his straps and followed his captivating escort to the airlock. He could not help but be reminded of the friend who had fallen there.

Grand Master Leia Solo, her husband, Masters Awswi and Gwonameeth, and an assembly of Jedi Knights were waiting to receive the passengers as they disembarked. As an ambassador of his people, Demorin was treated with distinct honor. And even though he recognized her from their holographic conferences, he had never actually met the Grand Master before. He surprised everybody by bowing to her in the manner of the Jedi, a tradition which he had now observed on numerous occasions. She smiled generously as she returned the gesture.

"Welcome to our humble temple," she tenderly intoned.

He appreciably paused, while his cyan eyes swept over the massive stone tiles on which he was standing, before replying, "The modesty of which you speak resides mostly in the members of your order, to which I can ardently attest. However your admirable structure seems instead to be immensely stalwart, for which I am deeply grateful. It's protected you against a very powerful opponent. And it is now my great honor to extend to you the assistance that may help to turn the tide of this ordeal and certify the safety of your citadel. This computer disc contains our research on the crystal shard and Garis Woe's lightsaber. It might just give you an unexpected advantage in the coming encounter."

Demorin then handed Leia the transmission he'd received from his father. Cyrella looked on as it was accepted into the Grand Master's grateful grasp, knowing that the information encoded upon it might represent her only chance of actually accomplishing her part of their plan. The nod she received from Dari told the new Jedi Master that her friend fully understood the significance of the exchange. Leia then led the procession out of the arid, rooftop environs and down into the temple's comfortable air-conditioning before completing the introductions.

Up to this point the only male Jedi with whom Demorin had any dealings were Jedi Masters or padawan learners. This was his first encounter with male Jedi Knights. Hershonel Shanlu, the recent Togruta graduate, and Dari had always enjoyed an association that was similar to that of siblings. As a consequence, he was quick to pick up on the fact that the Scree ambassador and his sister-in-the-Force had entered into some kind of romantic relationship. But he knew that his discernment was not superior to that of others in the room, particularly the Grand Master; so, he was careful to take his cues from her reaction to so extraordinary an arrangement. Upon seeing only acceptance on the part of his ultimate elder, he decided to follow suit.

Looking to Dari, he said, "Each time you return to us, you've matured all the more. Perhaps you've now grown beyond the definitions to which we traditionally restrict ourselves. It would not be the first time the Force required such deviation in order for ascension to be accomplished. If I may be so bold, I'm glad for the company you keep."

Dari's unreserved smile swiftly proved to be infectious. Hershonel had finally found a way of expressing the sentiment everyone else was also hoping to impart. Demorin instinctively availed himself of the occasion to bow to the congenial Jedi Knight. With an affected flourish, Hershonel returned the gesture. Demorin also very quickly made friends with Jedi Knight Chenezarr. Scree were naturally adept at the learning of language. Since the first encounter with a cargo ship from the galaxy's interior, they'd been anticipating some form of official contact with the Republic. The downloaded library from the Nadir had contained many languages, including that of the Wookies from Kashyyyk. Being the principal figures in the government's executive branch, the Chancellor had urged the members of his family to select a language to learn. Demorin chose Shyriiwook.

Understanding the importance of morale, Leia allowed the revelry to continue unabated. But as the festivities were winding down, Zayana unintentionally brought everybody's attention back to the immediate.

Speaking to Cyrella, she hesitantly said, "There's something I don't really understand. Garis Woe's lightsaber met your Golden Gallantry in combat. Why wasn't its crystal destroyed like that of Darth Duress? The Guarantor shattered the Chameleon's Crystal."

"I think I can answer that," Demorin interjected.

"Go ahead," Cyrella encouragingly instructed.

Turning to Zayana, he said, "As you know, we were kindly allowed to do a rigorous analysis of Garis Woe's lightsaber. Its original crystal, the one installed by Anakin Skywalker, is still used for the creation of its plasma emanation. The more recently installed crystal shard has to work in concert with the original crystal in order to imbue it with its ability to cloak. The two functions are therefore mutually exclusive. The crystal shard goes into a standby mode and does not function when the blade is extended."

"If such an opportunity had just presented itself, I could probably have used a Force-push to destroy the added crystal; like I did with the battle droids at the commerce center on Coruscant," Cyrella added. "But that wouldn't have disabled my opponent's weapon. And if I'd done that, we wouldn't have the option of now using it against the Sith Lord."

"I guess he must've forgotten to install his famous self-destruct option," Zayana blurted, but then wondered if she'd perhaps misspoken when she realized that the Grand Master's attention had come to focus on their discussion.

"It isn't particularly surprising that Umbrage didn't follow the example of Darth Duress in that regard," Leia casually commented. "Sith Lords are often dismissive of their mentors. I suppose it must be a prerequisite to their ascension through assassination. How could they kill somebody if they really respected them? And we are made fortunate through this failure, since we are now in possession of his most recent weapon. Maybe it can be decisively used against him in much the same manner as the Star Killer was used against Darth Chrysalis. Jedi Master Cyrella, I believe it's time we made that determination."

Almost everybody else returned to other obligations as the impromptu assembly dismissed; but Dari, Demorin, and Zayana accompanied Grand Master Leia and Cyrella as they made their way to the practice room. Han and Chewy however went with Admiral Ackbar and the command crew of the Forthright. Finding themselves incidentally abandoned, the droids looked temporarily lost. But since R2 had practically become a permanent fixture on the Falcon, the little astrodroid finally elected to follow the flight crews. Being however most directly responsible to Leia, C-3PO decided to go with the Jedi. Of course, this was hardly the first time the two had ended up going in different directions.

"I'm certain Avalynn would like to see this, if there's anything to actually see," Grand Master Leia jokingly suggested, "but she’s conducting a class at the moment. And if you’re actually able to cloak yourself like Garis did, the security recorders should chronicle your vanishing act just as they captured his reappearance on the Forthright."

"This isn't the part of the plan that concerns me most, my master," Cyrella warily rejoined. "I will have no opportunity to test my suspected capacity for sensing other cloaked objects until I'm actually required to do so."

"We learn by doing," Leia adroitly answered, sounding somewhat more like a mother than a Grand Master.

"And so it is," Cyrella responded, unknowingly echoing the words of Leia's adopted father in an altogether different situation.

With no small amount of ceremony, she then handed the Golden Gallantry to Grand Master Solo. She didn't want to take a chance on any interaction occurring between the two lightsabers as she was forced to rely on the crystal shard in the storied heirloom. Purposefully striding to the center of the practice floor, she held the hilt out in front of herself and focused on the Force.

Her disappearance was almost immediate. To the vigilant observers, she seemed to simply wink out of existence. At first, they could still feel the disturbance in the Force that evidenced the vergence that was part of her presence. However, after a few moments, as she became familiar with manipulating the obfuscating effect, even that sensation ceased. There was no trace of her to be felt in the room. Not even the Grand Master could discern her existence, let alone any hint of her location.

"Even if they're equipped with holocrons like the ones you encountered on Coruscant," Leia said to the apparently empty environs of the cavernous enclosure, "I doubt that his droids on the Nadir would be capable of sensing your disturbance in the Force. Armed with both lightsabers, it might not be possible for you to disappear as completely to someone Force-sensitive. But in this situation, against nothing but artificial automatons, I cannot imagine that it would matter. Only an opponent made of Force-sensitive flesh could possibly hope to sense your presence. The droids on his ship will be no more of a match for you than the ones you bested at the business center."

"I don't imagine I'll gain access to their ship, provided that I can actually find it, without them becoming aware of it," Cyrella replied as she reappeared. "From the moment I open a hatchway I'll probably have to battle my way onboard. I will have to deactivate the cloak in order to use the lightsaber defensively. If I try to use the Golden Gallantry, so I can keep my cloak, I'll run the risk of compromising the crystal shard. It might not make any difference if I'm already aboard, but I'd prefer not to needlessly sacrifice so irreplaceable an artifact."

"If you succeed in destroying the Crystal Matrix, that shard becomes useless anyway," Leia was quick to counter. "As we understand it, all the technology derived from it operates through a kind of quantum entanglement. I can't be certain whether Umbrage's lightsaber will still function, but it will certainly lose its esoteric capabilities. He won't be able to use it to alter his appearance or mask his thoughts. That should make him vulnerable to Master Gwonameeth in particular."

"Then you expect our telepathic Jedi Master to meet him first?" Cyrella optimistically asked.

"I expect the two to meet in combat," Leia honestly answered. "I cannot discern who will be the first to face him."

As the resident diplomat, and therefore understanding that it was not out of place for him to speak, Demorin interjected, "It sounds to me as if it actually comes down to how quickly you can discover and destroy the Crystal Matrix. And the primary impediment has to do with determining when Umbrage has landed and left his ship. Even cloaked, it won't really be safe for you to start your search until you've certified his absence from the Nubian Nadir. In the time required for him to make the trip from the landing area, you could probably accomplish your mission. Aside from passively waiting for him to engage the Jedi at the Senate Complex, is there no way to establish when to start the search?"

"Thank you," Leia affably answered. "That is the relevant question. I regret that we have yet to come up with a means for making that determination, but we still have several weeks in which to reflect upon the subject. Perhaps the Force will reveal a way. However, maybe I should make certain that I have understood your intent. Were you merely making an inquiry or did you have a recommendation for us to consider?"

"When we were approaching Century Station with Masters Xan and Priella, we successfully used crystal shards from the defeated droids on Coruscant to sense the presence of the Nadir," Zayana interjected. Turning to Demorin, she continued, "I know your father didn't think we could use Garis Woe's lightsaber to do long-distance detection, but he isn't Force-sensitive. However, Master Cyrella already has experience in doing just that. Maybe we’re making this harder that it will actually prove to be."

"The shards in question were decimated and no longer capable of directing the battle droids from which they'd been extracted," Cyrella commented. "The crystal in this lightsaber is however fully functional. If I even try to use it to sense Umbrage, he'll probably become aware of me. Just being in possession of one of his crystal shards is risky enough. I actually need to wait for him to evacuate the area before I even start using the Force to manipulate it. We need another way."

Standing beside Demorin, Dari could see how crestfallen Zayana was rendered by Cyrella's response. But her Force-sensitivity informed her that it wasn't because the suggestion had been shown to be useless. In order to dismiss the well-meaning proposal, Master Cyrella had found it necessary to state what no one was discussing. The most immediate danger was not to the Jedi Masters at the Senate Complex. It was to her. If Darth Umbrage somehow became aware of her proximity, she could easily end up facing him alone. In the strategy's current incarnation, no one would be on site to support her.

"So you don't intend to even cloak yourself until there has been some kind of indication that Umbrage has indeed evacuated the area?" she asked for clarification.

"Correct, otherwise I see no chance of success," Cyrella replied.

Turning to Grand Master Solo, Dari said, "I understand your wish not to put anybody except Jedi Masters in this Sith Lord's path. But those at the Senate Complex will be able to rush to the aid of each other. I'd like to suggest that Cyrella shouldn't have to stand alone. Would you allow an assembly of volunteers to accompany her and back her up in the event that she's discovered before she can approach his ship?"

"I understand your concern," Leia softly answered. "But consider this: will the disturbance in the Force not subsequently increase if we place additional Jedi Knights at her location?"

"Not if we can mask the disturbance," Dari wistfully answered, looking circumspectly off into space.

"How precisely do you propose to do that?" the Grand Master carefully inquired.

"The selected landing area is next to the shield generator that's being taken offline. There is supposed to be a malfunction," Dari skillfully responded. "My Violet Vergence is able to interrupt force fields. If we simply set up a ray shield generator and I use my lightsaber to compromise its emission, it should mask our presence while also certifying that there's some sort of short circuit in progress."

"You actually have two lightsabers that can do that, as if one isn't enough," Zayana jokingly added.

"I approve your plan," Leia diplomatically proclaimed. "Would I be correct in concluding that you and Jedi Knight Zayana are volunteering to be the support team for Jedi Master Cyrella?'

"Yes, Grand Master," the two young women immediately replied in unison.

“In order to accomplish my adverse part of our plan, Master Gwonameeth will go with me as I now take a trip to Coruscant,” Grand Master Solo informed everybody. “Master Awswi will be in charge of the temple while I’m away. But I expect to return long before we have to clandestinely relocate ourselves to the Republic’s capital. You should all consult the Force and see if you can discern a way to detect the landing of the Nadir and the disembarking of its dreaded occupant.”

Leia dismissed everyone after this. As they left the practice room, almost everyone went off in separate directions. But Cyrella steadfastly stayed at the Grand Master’s side. She felt certain that their illustrious leader was very cognizant of her friend’s absence, but Julither was no longer available to serve as her sounding board. Cyrella was hoping to replace the missing Jedi Master in that critical capacity, but she knew it would require a careful approach. She therefore decided to broach a subject that was much more immediate.

“Will Lucas be going with you, my master?” she nonchalantly inquired.

“Han will be flying us in the Falcon, so our son will actually be with both of his parents,” Leia replied. “Avalynn will be staying here to teach the younglings. I would deeply appreciate it if you would invite her to participate in your support team. Her lightsaber skills are considerable. And if you are detected and find yourself in the situation of confronting the Sith Lord, you need to have overwhelming numbers.”

“I’ll most certainly do that, Grand Master,” she resolutely responded. Cyrella then cautiously asked, “May I be permitted to ask what you meant by referring to the part you must now play as adverse? Master Julither is unfortunately unable to engage you in such a dialogue, but I’ll serve in her stead as well as I am able.”

“When Master Soma first suggested this strategy to me, I was worried that it would probably be necessary for me to trick Commissioner Eisley into compliance by deceiving him. I was afraid that he wouldn’t consent to my request to fake a malfunction and disable a shield generator at a specific time and place,” Leia honestly answered. “To me, this possibility was reprehensible. My association with Eisley and his wife goes back to before the death of Darth Chrysalis and the fall of his evil empire. Since becoming the Commissioner, he has helped us maintain our autonomy. He has complied with every request we’ve made, and without asking invasive questions. It pains me to think of him as someone I should have to circumvent. But if Darth Umbrage doesn’t make his move against the Galactic Senate according to our design, no defense will be possible. They will die, and all of us along with them.”

“If you need to deceive the Commissioner in order to defeat evil and save everyone, I’m not sure I can raise a reasonable objection,” Cyrella offered. “Is that, then, what you are prepared to do?”

“No,” Leia surprised her by replying, suddenly striding to a stop. The massive stone corridor ominously echoed her whispered words as she quietly continued, “Eisley deserves to be told the truth and the chance to willingly grant our request as a result of his understanding. But I can’t as much as take any chance that he might elect instead to impede our plan, and that is why Master Gwonameeth must also go. If I can’t convince Eisley to aid us in this endeavor, I will instruct the telepath to overmaster the Commissioner’s mind and secure his compliance. I’ll become a Dark Jedi, just like Luke. And what’s worse, I’ll contaminate Master Gwonameeth in the process. The further down this desperate road we go, the better I understand my brother and his questionable decisions. I am only telling you about this because I perceive that you will one day replace me in my capacity as the Grand Master. And somebody should warn you about the possible burden of this responsibility.”

Cyrella didn’t know what to say. She felt as if she had forced herself to try and fill a role that was really beyond her ability. As the Grand Master turned away and continued her ascent to the bay from which the Falcon was preparing to depart, Cyrella stood in stunned silence and simply allowed her to leave. It was almost too much for her to absorb. Since the reestablishment of the Jedi Order, every padawan had sought for an alternative to the devastating solution adopted by Luke Skywalker. Cyrella now saw that there wasn’t one.

Rather than dwell overmuch on so disturbing a disclosure, she decided that it would be best for her to quickly comply with the Grand Master’s request. Avalynn was dismissing her last class of younglings from their final sessions of the day. Cyrella understood that the previous padawan of Leia Solo would have been on hand to see her off if these other obligations hadn’t interceded. She stood in a remote corner of the colossal classroom and patiently waited for the exceedingly animated young people to exit, experiencing amusement at the way they somehow managed to bow towards her in midstride as they dashed by.

“Greetings in the name of the Force, Jedi Knight Avalynn Vosh,” she ceremonially began as she accompanied the salutation with a reverent bow. “I’m wondering if you’d have any interest in taking a sabbatical.”

“Taking a sabbatical?” Avalynn impishly echoed. “Are we talking about Coruscant?”

“Your insight serves you well,” Cyrella grinningly rejoined. “The Grand Master has approved the assembly of a team to support me if I’m discovered and forced to engage Darth Umbrage. It was her wish that I invite you to join our merry little band. If I’m recalling my curriculum correctly, you’re coming up on the end of a semester anyway.”

“It’s true,” Avalynn agreed. “And there’ll be droids and other Jedi Knights to watch over their activities while I’m away. I am therefore free to accompany your team. And I’m happy to serve.”

“I am grateful,” Cyrella graciously said. “It will of course be weeks before we need to depart, but your insight could be of service in another way in the interim. Lives could be spared if we are able to somehow determine that Umbrage has landed and left his ship before he reveals that by engaging the Jedi Masters at the Senate Complex. Please meditate upon this and let me know.”

“I will indeed do just that, Master Cyrella,” Avalynn replied, bowing deeply.

Cyrella was still so unaccustomed to her new station that she hadn’t really considered how her promotion altered the dynamic of this interchange. She had phrased it as a request, even an invitation, but she suddenly realized that Avalynn Vosh probably saw it instead as a compulsory assignment. She could only wonder if the Grand Master was deliberately guiding her into a slow acceptance of what it really meant to be a Jedi Master.

“I don’t understand it,” the Sith Lord spat. “We deployed that probe with the same procedure as the one we time-shifted out of the galaxy. Why isn’t it showing me a planet whose people are engaged in preparing for an evacuation? They should be busy with the production of a city-ship. Does this indicate that my plan will somehow not succeed? How the hell could it even fail?”

“Despite being depicted through temporal technology, it is possible that the future could still be dependent upon the present,” M4 consolingly suggested.

“Explain,” Umbrage angrily ordered.

“From our current temporal vantage point, you still have yet to present your evacuation plan to whatever remains of the Galactic Government after the decimation of its Senate,” M4 replied. “If the term can be properly applied, there’s no inertia moving time in the direction you’re hoping to observe. Even as revealed to us by a time-shifted probe, the future must remain malleable. In actuality, this gives us an insuperable advantage.”

“Continue,” Umbrage impatiently pressed.

“Once your plan has been adopted, the time-shifted images should display only compliance on the part of all the planets under observation,” the droid responded. “If there is deviation, it will mean that action must be taken in the present to cause reconciliation. Basically, you’ll be aware of problems before they happen. There might be a bit of guesswork involved in determining how the deviation occurred, so it can be commandingly corrected. But the probes should enable you to guide your empire through time to the outcome you desire.”

“So they function almost like a kind of navigation beacon,” the Sith Lord summarized. “They can’t show me the future I want, because we’re not really headed that way yet.”

“That is correct,” the droid replied, sounding suddenly like another automaton he indistinctly recalled from some half-remembered past. “The probe can see an outcome, but it cannot create one. It represents a direction, not a destination. And this is infinitely preferable because it allows you to alter anything undesirable.”

“Then it makes sense to continue with the deployment of the probes,” Umbrage inferred. He then asked, “How are we doing with the production of the bio-weapon?”

“We are proceeding as scheduled,” the droid answered. Seeming to anticipate an impatient response from its master, it quickly added, “According to my calculations, we’ll amass enough of the microbes to conduct our attack shortly before the Galactic Senate ends its current session.”

“That only leaves the problem of deployment,” the Sith Lord summarized. “It should be easy enough for me to smuggle myself onto a transport ship bound for Coruscant. But I’m not sure if I could actually carry the required quantity of microbes upon my person. Do you have any ideas?”

“I have an internal compartment that we could modify with stasis field emitters,” M4 replied. “This would prevent any possibility of exposure until you’re prepared for deployment. It would be far too perilous for you to transport them without such protection. And there’s also a certain type of poetry to this approach. The data banks contain a reference to one of the Jedi using his droid for the purpose of smuggling his lightsaber. Would it not be appropriate if the weapon you use to destroy them is transported in just such a way?”

“I like the way you think,” Umbrage laughingly rejoined. “Am I correct in construing then that you are volunteering to accompany me to the Senate Complex?”

“Whether or not I’ll find any opportunity to test my new lightsaber skills in combat,” the droid suggested, “my presence will give you continued access to all the computational capacity of the ship as long as it’s in orbit. And we can program the Nadir so it will complete such a trip after we have disembarked at whatever location best suits our purpose of boarding registered transport.”

“I would of course prefer to have my ship on the surface,” Umbrage mused. “But we will just have to wait and see if any such possibility should arise.”

Masters Xan and Priella, along with their trio of padawans, were at the landing pad awaiting the arrival of Grand Master Solo’s ship. Once the meeting with Commissioner Eisley concluded, which they’d been informed they were not to witness, everyone understood that Rostla-Kon was to return to Tatooine on the Falcon so he could undergo the Jedi trials. The pair of Jedi Masters knew better than to request an explanation for their exclusion from the mysterious meeting. The Jedi Council was only democratic up to a point. They knew that the desperation of their situation might easily require the taking of extreme measures. And with the loss of Master Julither, Eisley was quite possibly the last executive in whom the Grand Master felt that she could confide. The last remaining Jungle Jedi would do nothing to try and take that away. They knew that if she felt she needed feedback from someone altogether outside the Jedi Order, but someone who really represented the Republic, then not even the counsel of her husband would suffice. Not even the superior discernment of Priella exposed any indication that Leia was actually there to impose an opinion, if she decided that such was necessary, not to seek one.

Of course, both Jedi Masters were aware that the Grand Master would ultimately have to try and get the Commissioner to go along with her plan. But there were still weeks remaining before the end of the Galactic Senate’s session. And neither of them was able to read the demeanor of the Grand Master. She’d appeared to them to be way too resolute in her deportment for them to infer that she was there to make any kind of request. They both incorrectly concluded that it was really just a testing of the diplomatic waters.

The Commissioner extended a warm welcome to Leia Solo and Gwonameeth. Although he noted that neither had a padawan leaner in attendance, he assumed that their absence was due either to security concerns or a wish on the part of his guests simply not to impose. Since Eisley normally confronted an entire entourage, which seemed to automatically assemble around each delegate, he far preferred a smaller, more intimate gathering. Therefore, he was very pleased to discover that he was only being obligated to entertain a pair of guests. And they were guests he held in exceedingly high regard.

“I am honored to receive yet another visit from members of the Jedi Order, and this time the Grand Master herself has graced me with a venerable visitation,” Eisley smilingly observed. “I’m pleased to see you in any situation, and I long for the day when such a meeting would be simply a social call. But I assume an overriding urgency has actually necessitated this convention. How can I be of assistance?”

“I need to ask something of you that might very well cause you considerable consternation,” Leia softly responded. “We’ve gained insight into the immediate scheme of Darth Umbrage, and we have devised a strategy to defeat him once and for all. But the stakes are unimaginably high. And we must ask you to do something that might sound almost suicidal. It could in fact be easily misconstrued as us attempting to talk you into a gross dereliction of duty. However, it is the only way to possibly protect the Republic. Darth Umbrage is about to use his bio-weapon against the Galactic Senate. The deaths of many of its delegates would’ve prevented us from relocating the Jedi Temple to Tatooine. We would’ve still been at the Ziggurat when he sent his droids back in time to nuke it. And his scheme for reestablishing his empire to accomplish the evacuation could have been presented to the remnants of a Galactic Government that was grasping at straws.”

“I’ve wondered when the danger to the galaxy would come to be incorporated into his plans against you. And I was reassured when you elected to take me into your confidence concerning that particular peril,” Eisley carefully commented. “But like almost all the citizens of the Republic and many people even of the Outer Rim Worlds, I’ve seen the security recordings from Century Station. The Sith Lord can impersonate anybody. Therefore, I am not sure I see any way to stop him from ultimately reaching his objective. Detection doesn’t appear to be possible. What is your plan?”

“For the Republic to have any possibility of survival,” Leia carefully rejoined, “he must act at a time and place of our choosing. Cyrella has learned how to cloak herself using the confiscated lightsaber of Darth Woe, and her Golden Gallantry is able to destroy the Crystal Matrix. She can only do that if we can get her onto his ship while he’s away. In order to facilitate that opportunity, we request that you take one of the city’s shield generators offline on the last day of the Galactic Senate’s current session. And we need this temporary shortcoming in the planetary defenses to be leaked in a subspace broadcast. While the rest of us keep him occupied, she will destroy the source of his time-shifting technology.”

“But his ship is cloaked,” Eisley circumspectly commented.

“The Scree developed a protocol for us to install in the captured lightsaber,” Leia replied. “It should facilitate the detection of other cloaked objects. Unfortunately, it can’t be tested ahead of time, but the Scree seemed certain that it will work. We admittedly are uncertain as to whether it will allow Cyrella to tell when he has landed and left his ship. We are still seeking another way to make that determination. It might be that she’ll end up having to wait until we have engaged him before she can begin her search for his ship. But it’s the only plan that offers even the possibility of success.”

“How do you hope to engage him?” Eisley pressed.

“In order to deploy his bio-weapon, he will have to access at least one of the environmental processors,” Leia answered. “As you know, there are a total of five; one atop the Senate Annex, and the others above the Senate Chamber itself. As no delegate would require such access, his identity will be exposed simply by his approach. There’re just enough Jedi Masters to keep each location under surveillance. Once he has been engaged, the other four will rush to the aid of the embattled Jedi Master. If Cyrella hasn’t already started her search, she will be signaled to do so. Once the Crystal Matrix is destroyed, Umbrage will no longer be able to mask his thoughts. This should make him particularly susceptible to Master Gwonameeth. Our telepath will then be able to anticipate our formidable opponent’s every move. His artificially increased midi-chlorian count notwithstanding, the Sith Lord will fall.”

“You need the shield generator taken offline so he’ll park his ship within your reach,” Eisley correctly concluded. “Otherwise, he might elect to arrive by means of registered transport. Then, there’d be no hope of destroying the Crystal Matrix. As damn dangerous as this is, it really is our only shot. I see that. Okay, I’ll agree to go along. You just need to tell me which shield generator has to fake a malfunction.”

“We’ve agreed on these grid coordinates,” Leia replied with concealed relief as she handed Eisley a tablet that contained the information. “It’s in an industrial area that’s situated quite close to the shield generator in question. There’s no commerce conducted there on that particular day of the week. And it contains a very logical landing area, which should hopefully shorten Cyrella’s search considerably. It’s possible that the Scree protocol, once it’s installed, will eliminate all the guesswork. However, we need to adopt an approach that assumes nothing but unknowns.”

“I suppose it goes without saying that an evacuation is out of the question, since it would be removing the bait from the trap,” Eisley cautiously suggested.

“That’s precisely correct,” Leia gratefully agreed. “The Sith Lord would be certain to sense a social disturbance even if the evacuation were clandestinely done. Everything must appear as if it’s proceeding normally. And the only way we can maintain that appearance is if it’s actually the case.”

“I now see what you meant about it seeming like a dereliction of duty,” Commissioner Eisley remarked. “I have to deliberately allow all the delegates to be placed directly in harm’s way.”

“They’re already in harm’s way,” the Grand Master resolutely replied. “And the only way we can remedy the situation is to determine for ourselves when he’ll make his move against them.”

“I don’t suppose I could convince you to visit for a little while,” Eisley suggestively said. “You know Tysha would love to see you.”

“Our opponent has a cloaked ship,” Leia reminded the Commissioner. “Consequently, we’re forced to conduct all our travel through circuitous routes. And we don’t dare linger too long. After this business is concluded, I hope to avail myself of your kind invitation. Please offer my apology to Tysha. I would like to see her as well.”

“I will be certain do that,” Eisley responded as he rose to see his guests on their way. “May the Force be with you, Grand Master Solo.”

“And with you as well, Commissioner Eisley,” she appropriately answered. She then paused before adding, “It is with great fondness that I recall those long ago days when you simply called me Leia. I won’t wear this title forever. Perhaps you should reacquaint yourself with the practice. I think there’s too much pomp in our circumstance. When the latter is finally resolved, maybe the former can fall by the wayside as well.”

“You knew us when we were nothing more than refugees,” Eisley respectfully rejoined. “We might not even have survived, let alone been blessed with the lives of distinction we now lead. Perhaps retirement will be in order for all of us if we’re indeed able to see this appalling situation to an innocuous outcome. I think it would mean that we faithfully accomplished exactly what the Force positioned us to do. It can’t be merely coincidence that these decisions are ours to make; not when you were once a rebel under a death sentence, and Tysha and I were traitors in much the same situation.”

“We truly have come down a very long road together,” Leia genially agreed. “And I certainly respect your wisdom in surmising that the will of the Force has guided us to this intersection. Do you have any other insights to offer before we take our leave?”

“Have you considered installing pressure sensors in the landing area?” Eisley asked. “If you want to employ some misdirection, I could have it done after you leave.”

“The presence of that type of technology could be detected by the sensors on his ship,” she answered. “But we’ll have the area under surveillance before the shield is opened. It’s therefore entirely possible that Master Cyrella will see him exit his ship, unless he’s also now able to cloak himself. Even he can, he’d still have to open a panel in order to access an environmental control unit. That would give away his position. And using public transportation would be challenging for somebody invisible. There’s a boarding platform not far from the landing area. We’ll also have it under surveillance. As I mentioned before, commerce is not conducted on that day of the week; so, he would quite probably be the only person boarding from that particular platform. The angle of the security cameras will also be adjusted, making it possible for us to determine the direction from which the passenger approached. Since the security technology is indigenous to that area, it shouldn’t arouse suspicion on the part of our opponent. However, we are still looking for other options to guarantee that we become aware of his ship’s arrival and his subsequent departure from the landing area. Don’t let me discourage you from considering this further.”

“Consider it I shall,” he replied, unconsciously emulating the speech pattern if not the actual tone of Grand Master Yoda.

As Leia and Gwonameeth left the Commissioner’s office, an image of children playing in the bright sunlight of Tatooine entered her mind. She knew her telepathic associate was expressing relief at there having been no necessity to enforce their agenda upon a friend, unless there was perhaps the prescience of a shatterpoint in the projection. Younglings did not tend to carouse in quite the carefree way that the children in the vision seemed to be doing. It also looked to her as if the two boys were related in some way; although they didn’t actually seem to be brothers. But the image quickly faded as they approach the Falcon.

“How did it go?” Han cautiously inquired as the pair made their way up the gangplank in the backside underbelly of the Rebel Fleet’s fastest ship.

“No cause for concern,” Leia replied in as lighthearted a tone as her horrified mood allowed. She was still contending with the emotional ramifications of the awful thing she’d been prepared to do. “Eisley consented to our plan. I should never have doubted him. We’re good to go.”

With this response, she successfully disarmed her husband. He animatedly nodded, clearly encouraged by her summation, before spinning around and proceeding towards the cockpit. He knew it was dangerous to prolong their stay now that their task had been accomplished. Chewy growlingly agreed. And moments later, the Falcon began its circuitous return to the Jedi Temple on Tatooine.

“The protocol is installed,” Master Cyrella announced to the small gathering who’d attended the upgrade; Dari, Demorin, Zayana, and Avalynn.

“I wish there was some way to test it beforehand,” Zayana wistfully offered.

“Could you please bring me up to speed on the plan as it stands?” Avalynn asked.

“Aside from our presence at a carefully concealed outpost,” Cyrella responded, “we will use only electronic surveillance that’s indigenous to the area. This should prevent the Sith Lord from realizing that he’s being observed. In the best case scenario the upgraded lightsaber will enable me to detect both the landing of the Nadir and the disembarkation of Umbrage. Unless he’s also now able to cloak himself, we should be able to see him leave his ship. But even if he somehow gives us the slip, we expect him to use public transportation to speed his passage to the Senate Complex. There’s a boarding platform nearby. Its cameras are being repositioned so that we will be able to determine the direction from which any potential passenger approached. Considering the quantity of the pathogen that he’d have release in order to infect the entire Senate Chamber, he’ll probably be accompanied by a droid. We should therefore be able to identify him, no matter what appearance he’s assumed.”

“And once we’ve done that, or he’s engaged the other Jedi Masters at the Senate Complex, you will close in and locate his ship,” Avalynn interjected, taking the opportunity to demonstrate her comprehension of their scheme. “And once you’ve opened an airlock, we attack.”

“Correct,” Cyrella smilingly concurred. “If you were to remain hidden, the droids could easily interpret the opening of the airlock as someone’s entry into their ship. But a skilled Jedi might be able to open it from a distance, merely as a precursor to incursion. The longer it takes the droids to realize that somebody is already onboard, the better are the chances that I’ll be able to swiftly destroy the Crystal Matrix. I’m afraid however that you, Demorin, cannot be part of this party. I’ll allow you to accompany us to Coruscant, but you can’t be anywhere near the action.”

“Which means I’ll be where?” Demorin demanded, not quite able to keep the emotion out of his voice.

“Not with us and nowhere near the Senate Complex either,” Cyrella evenly answered. “You will probably need to stay on the Forthright at the landing field. You will easily be able to keep in contact with us from there. As we understand it, Umbrage is normally accompanied by a certain droid, which you said you saw on live feeds during his visits to Scrymerula. We'll need for you to identify it. You could end up playing a most important part.”

“Right,” Demorin replied, brightening. “I’m one of only a handful of people who’ve ever seen any of Umbrage’s mechanical crew. His attempt to secure our support in establishing his empire could end up coming at a catastrophic cost. I’ll happily identify his droid. That really could be the single shortcoming in his sinister strategy. He can look like anybody. But he probably won’t think to dress up his droid.”

“Indeed,” Zayana agreed with a giggle. “That would be like putting lipstick on a lylek.”

“Yes, or any other type of makeup on a Crimpth,” he impishly responded.

“If his droids are all now equipped with holocrons, I suppose it’s reasonable to conclude that they’ll respond to our attack by fighting back. It’d certainly be the Dark Side thing to do,” Avalynn interjected. “But what if they decide to takeoff instead?”

“Then I’ll already be on their ship,” Cyrella answered. “The diversion works either way.”

Within the cavernous confines of the megalithic stateroom, which she now shared with both Han and their son, Leia’s morning meditation session was interrupted by the chiming sound that announced an incoming call on the holographic transceiver. Since the display panel showed the sender’s identification code, she knew it was coming from Commissioner Eisley. Several weeks still remained before the relocation to Coruscant would be required, so she was uncertain about the subject matter of the communication. Hearing the sound, Han came walking in from the next room just as she accepted the signal.

“We’re having problems with the shield generator that covers the industrial area to the north of the Senate Complex,” he informatively intoned. “I have no recourse. I had to schedule it to be taken offline on the last day of the Galactic Senate’s current session. I am afraid it’s going to fail beforehand anyway. I know this will create an opportunity for Darth Umbrage to land. But I think we should let that happen. The delegates need to know about the danger to the galaxy. I cannot in good conscience keep your secret anymore. The Sith Lord should be given the opportunity to present his plan for saving civilization. If the representatives reject it, then the Jedi should be on hand to arrest him for the murder he committed at Century Station. However, I must remind you that this Republic still operates according to the principles of democracy. He must be allowed to speak.”

“I understand,” Leia politely replied. “Thank you, Commissioner. And may the Force be with you.”

As Eisley signed off, Han turned to Leia, saying, “I can’t believe he changed his position like that. And he didn’t even use a secured channel.”

“He didn’t change his position, my darling,” Leia smiled crookedly as she correctly him.

“What?” he emptily asked.

“He’s just that good,” she patiently explained. “If Darth Umbrage elected to try and sway the representatives, resorting to their elimination only if he failed, it’d give us that much more time to find and destroy the Crystal Matrix before any of us would have to face him.”

“So he was really just baiting the trap?” Han incredulously inquired.

“He was essentially issuing an invitation to our enemy,” Leia grinningly agreed. “And he was also making certain Umbrage wouldn’t circumvent our scheme by somehow attacking before we were ready for him. Our data about his bio-weapon and when it’ll really be ready for deployment isn’t quite conclusive. The further ahead he’s made aware of the window of opportunity we have prepared for him, the better the chances that he will wait to use it.”

“Do you think he’ll actually attempt to address the Galactic Senate?” he pressed.

“Not really,” she circumspectly replied. “He hopes to reestablish his previous empire. And his surest chance of success would come from presenting his plan to the remnants of a Galactic Government that just lost most of its legislative branch.”

“But,” he started to disagree and then paused. “It hurts my head to think like this. How is the version of him in the past supposed to know that all the killing was accomplished with a weapon he wouldn’t even have developed yet? Isn’t he kind of counting on comprehending a history that hadn’t even happened? I mean: couldn’t he unintentionally end up changing everything?”

“A single-minded fixation on the doing of violence often causes unintended consequences,” she swiftly agreed, marveling at the way he had seen the shortcoming that eluded the Sith Lord.

“If the Crystal Matrix can’t send anything back to a time before it existed, then he must have already had it before we relocated from Coruscant,” he mused aloud. “But when did he make his discovery about the galactic collision? If he alters history before that happened, he sacrifices his biggest bargaining chip.”

“His predicament is that he sees no dependable way for him to win in his situation’s current configuration,” she responded. “And since he has the capacity to reset the board, he is opting to do so. He’s clearly concluded that the elimination of the Jedi Order is the primary impediment to his subjugation of the galaxy. If his ambition were truly altruistic, he wouldn’t risk possibly losing his knowledge of the galaxy’s impending peril. If he actually understands any of this, he must be assuming that the subsequent clone, which he’s putting at risk, will be able to somehow escape from the coming collision. But he’s willing to sacrifice a chance of anyone else surviving in order to rule until that time.”

“Then the stakes are a hell of a lot higher than I had even dared to imagine,” he concluded.

“By restricting our attack to the Senate Annex, we wouldn’t have to wait as long before we’d have the required quantity of pathogens,” M4 suggested. “But the optimum time for such a strike would be right after the Galactic Senate dismisses from its current session and all the delegates return to their accommodations to collect their things. Consequently, there appears to be no real shortcut. But I’ve just intercepted a very interesting transmission to the Jedi Temple on Tatooine from the Commissioner’s office on Coruscant.”

“What was the nature of this transmission?” Umbrage asked.

“I captured it for your perusal,” the droid seemed to take delight in replying. “I’ll play it back.”

Umbrage appeared unusually unemotional as he reviewed the exchange between Leia and Eisley. M4 knew from experience that its master’s moods could be mercurial and that its survival could be dependent on accurately anticipating the Sith Lord’s reaction. As the recording came to an end, it finally identified the sentiment that seemed to be expressed in the clone’s confounding eyes. It looked like vindication.

“Eisley is wise to extend the invitation,” Umbrage surmised. “He seemingly understands that the galaxy is in danger and that I alone can offer any hope for the salvation of its inhabitants. He intended for us to intercept his transmission.”

“So even without the support of the Scree or the destruction of the Jedi Order, you will have the opportunity to address the delegates, present the evidence of the approaching collision, and make a motion for the restoration of the Galactic Empire as a means for ensuring the survival of civilization,” the droid concluded.

“He’s helping the Jedi bait a trap,” the Sith Lord insightfully dissented, being informed by the Dark Side of the Force. “The area around the shield generator will be under surveillance. It is all an attempt to destroy the Crystal Matrix. If I make the suggested appearance, they will infer that the Nadir is parked somewhere in the largely abandoned, industrial area. There’d be little loss of life if the space fleet were to strafe it into smoldering nonexistence. But their clever little scheme is going to backfire. The surest way to win at hide-and-seek is to know where your opponent will be looking.”

“What will you do, my master?” M4 sounded almost urgent as it asked, understanding that it had been totally taken in by the compelling ploy.

“Their forces will be frozen in place, trying to avoid detection, while they wait for me to make the mistake of putting in an appearance,” Umbrage answered. “But they will wait in vain. Despite their surveillance, my disembarkation will not be observed. My arrival at our objective will not be recognized. I don’t need to convince contemporaries of anything. I will activate the bio-weapon’s dispensers while I’m returning to the ship. Like the Jedi, those delegates are already dead.”

“Once the bio-weapon has done its work, it is possible that you will find your empire already reborn,” the droid conjectured. “With your elimination of the Jedi Order and the Galactic Senate, the reestablishment of your rule could’ve already occurred.”

“That is correct,” Darth Umbrage agreed as he imitated one of M4’s preferred responses.

As the Sith Lord was pulling up a schematic of the area in question on Coruscant, the droid asked, “How do you hope to evade their surveillance?”

“There are a number of sizable buildings scattered all around the area,” he observed aloud. “They know I’d be able to easily spot any surveillance positioned on a rooftop. Their outpost will be at ground level. None of the structures have a large enough rooftop to really facilitate landing the Nadir. But several have parapets that are high enough to make it possible for me to invisibly leap down into the area they enclose. I’ll make my way out of the unshielded area on foot. They will have no clue that I’ve arrived.”

“Does this mean that I won’t be going with you after all?” M4 inquired in a concerned tone.

“You were wise to point out that much less of the bio-weapon would be required to carry out an attack exclusively against the Senate Annex,” he sounded almost consoling as he explained. “We should be able to safely secure that much smaller an amount in suspension in a receptacle that could fit inside a briefcase. I won’t need your help concealing the cargo. And I’ll be far more mobile if I’m unescorted.”

“It’s very unfortunate that the teleportation technology only really facilitates the transmission of inanimate material through ray shielding,” the droid concluded. “We now know that limitations exist even for the transmission of single-celled organisms. If it were not for this shortcoming, you wouldn’t need to risk such a questionable incursion. Are you certain that they are indeed waiting for you?”

“Yes, but I sincerely doubt that they understand my actual agenda,” he rejoined. “Therefore, when the Galactic Senate dismisses without me ever having showed up to present any case for the reestablishment of my empire, their defenses will relax. They’ll assume that for some reason I simply did not take the bait. The delegates will all retire to their lodgings in the Senate Annex to collect their belongings before returning to their homeworlds. And there, they will die.”

“Without the interminable hum of a ray shield overhead, I was hoping that we might be able to actually hear the approach of the Nadir,” Zayana suggested, frowning affectedly at Dari. “But I guess I had forgotten that you were going to bring along a portable ray shield projector precisely for the purpose of making such a disturbance.”

Dari’s eyes never left the area over which the four Jedi were keeping watch, as she irritably answered, “This is a critical component of our camouflage. Believe me when I tell you that this is not what I thought I would be doing with my lightsaber when I built it. Is there any possibility that you’d complain less if I were using the Adjudicator instead?”

Cyrella recognized the signs of stress in her arguing associates. Although Avalynn had thus far managed to avoid any involvement in their anxious squabbles, it was quickly becoming clear to the Jedi Master that something had to be done. She wordlessly held the pair in her gaze until they realized that they were being observed with disapproval.

“Your presence is supportive. Your attitudes are not,” she softly cautioned them. “You must quiet the tempest inside yourselves. Don’t allow the significance of our situation to gain mastery over your emotions. The juxtaposed eternities are about to dynamically interface right in front of us. But this is what we trained for. This is our namesake. Truthfully, the entire history of the Jedi Order has transpired to place us at this crucial nexus. The Force must therefore have faith in us, but perhaps not more than we have faith in each other. And as those who have transcended the trials, we all do indeed have complete faith in each other. Do we not?”

“My apologies, Master Cyrella,” Zayana respectfully replied. “I have been foolish.”

“And I helped with the imprudence,” Dari agreed. “We’re really just worried about you.”

“I don’t see why you should single me out for concern,” Cyrella softly answered. “Every Jedi and delegate of the Galactic Senate shares the same danger. Umbrage intends to wipe us from the timeline. While I suppose it’s possible that some of us might fall while others survive, the risk is all-inclusive. If I must sacrifice myself in order to prevent the enslavement of civilization, I’ll be honored to do so. And I’d want all those who remain to rejoice for me, even as we should rejoice for Master Julither.”

“While I understand the emotional ambition, I think I must finish missing her before I’ll really be able to simply remember her fondly,” Dari openly admitted. “If this constitutes a shortcoming, then there is still room for further ascension. But I valued her more when she was still alive than as a phantom with which I might now only occasionally commune. However, I believe I’ll be able to celebrate her life more effectively the further I am from the time we shared together. Now, it is still too close.”

This, Cyrella surmised, was the real reason the two were squabbling with one another. Both had been padawans of Jedi Master Julither, and they were deeply troubled to think that she was about to go the way of their former mentor. Upon learning of the support team’s existence, other Jedi Knights had tried to get themselves attached to the team. Hershonel Shanlu and Chenezarr had been particularly persistent. But Leia had required them to remain with the younglings. Now that Cyrella found two of her friends deeply troubled over the possibility that history might repeat itself, Cyrella wondered if she should perhaps have selected the other candidates. But she knew that she needed to practice the principles she was espousing to her subordinates: the members of the team ultimately needed to believe in one another.

A sensation from the hand holding the confiscated lightsaber drew her attention. Some kind of reaction seemed to be taking place within the heirloom hilt. She believed it was responding to the presence of the Crystal Matrix and that the Nadir was invisibly arriving. She quietly turned to her companions.

“Did any of you just feel something?” she insistently asked.

Avalynn Vosh looked up from the station where she was monitoring the audio feeds from all the sound detecting equipment that was strategically positioned around the area, saying, “There was an audio event. As you know, we couldn’t redirect all the traffic away from this area without raising suspicions. I thought that I was hearing a speeder fly by, which periodically happens, but then it seemed to settle somewhere close at hand. Whatever it really was, it didn’t make a direct approach. It paused at the periphery beforehand.”

“Everyone needs to keep a sharp lookout,” Cyrella instructed. “If we can manage to see him disembark, it’ll save all kinds of time and possibly lives as well. I will know when he’s cleared the area, and I’ll even know precisely where his ship is parked. I won’t have to waste time searching for it.”

The seconds seemed to crawl excruciatingly by as the four women anxiously waited for any suggestion of their enemy’s emergence. But after what seemed like interminable minutes, there was still no sign whatsoever of the Sith Lord. Avalynn silently consulted the video recorders, but no movement of any kind had been captured.

“What in the fires of Mustafar is he waiting for?” Zayana angrily asked.

Cyrella’s attention was fully focused upon the storied lightsaber in her grasp as she replied, “I’m not so certain he’s waiting. I got a brief glimpse of his disturbance in the Force when he was pursuing me on Brimula. I was able to sense him on his ship after he dropped its cloak. With this lightsaber, I should be able to detect his presence even through his ship’s cloak. But I can’t. I’ve no idea how he did it, but I don’t think he’s still on the Nadir. Perhaps it has to do with it pausing at the periphery. Maybe he got off before the ship had actually landed. It could just mean that he is being cautious, or it could mean that he knows it’s a trap. Either way, it means I’ll have to wait for confirmation of his whereabouts before I can begin my search. He could be bating us.”

“You want me to contact the team of Jedi Masters at the Senate Complex and alert them to the possibility that the enemy has arrived?” Avalynn asked.

“Yes, but be sure you use a coded communication on a secure channel,” Cyrella replied. “If we’re detected by his droids beforehand, it could complicate my approach. Their facility with the Dark Side should not be underestimated. They may have all been upgraded with holocrons from the One Crystal.”

Concealed by its cloaking device as it entered orbit around Coruscant, the Nadir directed its sensor array at the unsuspecting planet below. An interruption in the umbrella of ray shields was easily detected even at so extreme an altitude. At the Sith Lord's instruction, the starship started its descent toward the unprotected area.

"The Force favors us, as well it should," Umbrage surmised with malicious mirth. "Garis was wrong to think that a diminishment of life would have no impact upon it. The midi-chlorians seem to understand that I alone hold the key to the continuation of the manifold life forms within which they dwell. They want me to succeed, even at the expense of all others who profess to serve as their representatives. By opposing me, the Jedi have betrayed the very source of their strength."

Being an automaton, M4 found shortcomings in such a proclamation, although it very wisely chose not to address them. The One Crystal was inorganic, as were the holocrons composed of its shards, but those incorporated components allowed their robotic recipients to access at least some level of the Dark Side of the Force. And then, there was Tatooine. Despite the sparseness of its life forms, two of the people who had exhibited the most powerful influence over the Force had originated, even if one hadn't actually been born, there. The droid silently posited that some kind of concentration could occur when life was more limited and that in its utter absence, given a precise set of conditions, the most commanding manifestation of the Force could actualize. Its premise served as its explanation for the existence of the One Crystal, theorizing further that the Crystal Matrix was even the probable source of its understanding. But it voiced nothing of this to Umbrage.

As it descended, the Nubian Nadir adopted a curvilinear course that hugged the area above the ray shield of a nearby section of the city. At the Sith Lord's orders, it was then made to hover over a building at the outskirts of the unprotected area. A raised wall extended around its roomy rooftop. There wasn't enough space to actually land the ship, but it was possible for Umbrage to invisibly leap down into the obfuscating enclosure. Through the use of Force-induced speed and stealth, he descended into the building's basement. Massive utility conduits crossed through the industrial district's substrate. Deploying the Predator's Prism, he used his lightsaber to penetrate a retaining wall and gain access to just such an underground passage. He thereby rendered his departure impossible to observe.

As arranged, the Nadir then landed at coordinates he had previously specified. But the Sith Lord had already disembarked, and the Jedi at the forward outpost never even got a glimpse of him. Despite all their painstaking preparation, Umbrage succeeded in slipping right through their trap. Cyrella ascertained his absence, but the advantage she had been hoping for was annulled.
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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.