This and the next chapter were written long before, and do not properly fit into the scheme of the characters, as presented in the later chapters.
Crackling with blue fire, Abu Sinwa swung his saber at the place where Jenna’s head had been. He then ducked, anticipating the counter stroke that missed his own neck by inches. With furious concentration tempered by mastered calm, Sinwa looked into the lines of possible futures, divining where his foe would next appear. He then closed his eyes while crouching low, and calmly dropped his saber down and to the left. Jenna’s left leg was severed.
The scream came after a long moment, shock and amazement stealing over Jenna’s face. “How, Abu? I did not see it.”
Abu bowed to his vanquished foe, his enemy of long years. “My foe, I ceased to look for the way. I then let the unexpected find me.”
Jenna experienced a sudden calm as understanding filled him. “Indeed, you have gone where I have not. I am at your mercy. Do what you must.”
The blue energy of Abu’s saber cut through the air, resounding in its subtle, deadly force. But it did not fall upon Jenna’s offered neck. “No, my foe, I do not feel now is the time. There is yet more for us both, and we must find it in struggle. This day, however, let there be no more deaths.”
With that he returned the saber to his coat, and bowed again, which Jenna returned in solemn grace. Then he was gone, moving through the door at a brisk pace, to return to his waiting spacecraft.
Abu passed through the depths of space in contemplation and thought. His mind was a storm of opposites, each winning for a brief time the sense of a conclusion, only to recede again into doubt and worry. What was the force, that good should be forced always to fight against evil? It was the way of evil to battle and cry out in rage, engaging the efforts of the Jedi to quell rebellion and fury. Why not the good drawing out the best of evil, that it might grow better? It seemed the pace was dictated by those determined to destroy the foundations of society, leaving the builders to work with what little peace remained.
The hyperspace window opened, letting in a flood of stars, and the dark blue of a vast nebula behind the planet Marthana. The planet’s golds and greens of desert and forest intermingled with great blue expanses of water. The cities sparkeled like jewels on the dark side as Abu approached, the rumble of atmospheric entry deep in his chest.
He passed broad stretches of midnight before landing outside the city of Cantzeen. The ship touched down on points of yellow fire, and let down the footway just as all came to rest.
Visit from Cortin
Abu Sinwa closed the door of his study and walked to his chair. He posed himself thoughtfully in its rigid wooden form, amid the severity of an office that said, “The body does not rule here, but the mind.” He could still hear the sounds of his padowan practicing their rudimentary forms. He knew by that sound alone which were nearing the next level. The force opened out his senses like a map, and every movement and stillness had a place on that map, inching toward or away from the goal.
The goal. His encounter with Jenna had fired his thoughts, renewing his need to understand the goal. The purpose of the force, its aim, was toward something he could recognize instantly, but not name. In the artistry of their last battle, in the movements of parry and thrust, he felt it, in the shape of every muscle and the sweep of each stroke. It defined the meaning of mastery, but Sinwa, a master, could not define it.
“Master Sinwa?” For a moment, Abu Sinwa did not know if it was the force itself, asking him a question in return. “Master Sinwa?” The young padowan knew that the Master had felt his presence long before, but could not interpret his silence.
Sinwa raised his head to his pupil, as if there to find the wisdom he could not discover. “Yes, my padowan, what is it?”
The boy swallowed. He knew his master had a mind for practice only, but still feared to offend. “Master, there is a member of the Jedi Council here to see you.”
At that Sinwa looked toward the door, the motion itself like sniffing the air. “Ah, Master Cortin, yes; it is right he should come so soon.”
“Ask the Jedi to enter, please, padowan.”
“Yes, Master.” With a bow the boy left, and was replaced momentarily by the Master Cortin.
“Cortin, my old friend, why has it been so long?”
“Abu, I am concerned about the latest attack. It troubles the force, as eddies before a storm.” Cortin was tall, green-skinned, of an amphibian race that could not tolerate dry climates. He was also famous for speaking his mind as though the other person were merely another part of it.
“Be calm, friend. All things have their place, even storms.”
“But can you tell me the meaning of this attack? What does Darth Jenna hope to gain?”
“I was, but a moment ago, pondering that myself. It would seem things have been too calm for too long. Whatever else, the force seems to favor change over statis.”
Cortin rolled his left eye, a sign of impatience. “Abu, your metaphysical flights of fancy leave us nowhere. You seem to insist the force is some kind of living entity, more than just the connections between life. Well, has it anything to say for itself, that it might have mentioned lately?” Cortin’s green foot smacked the ground as he clumped the chair with his fist: a poignant exasperation.
Sinwa chuckled. “No, Cortin, this is not what I meant. Though the sum of events, viewed in large, do present patterns that seem oddly… purposeful.”
“Be that as it may, the Council seeks your input. I trust you have something more practical to recommend?” Cortin focused both of his eyes on Sinwa.
Sinwa only rubbed his chin, in the same attitude of mulling silence in which Cortin had found him. “I do not know, Cortin. That is my answer.”
Cortin’s eyes lowered. He had not expected much, seeing the look on Sinwa’s face. “Very well, I return to Coruscant in the evening for the convocation. You are welcome to join my transport.”
“I would be happy to, Cortin. It will free me to think of something more… substantial, for our meeting.”
Cortin bowed, at which Sinwa rose and returned the gesture. The large amphibian then left for his temporary lodgings on the school’s grounds.
Sinwa resumed his seat and pose. The force… as if a living entity, but no entity to be found. We feel it everywhere, but no center, no source. How can it seem so much like an epoch-spanning mind, yet no thoughts present to sift our from the background and betray the workings of a higher intelligence? And if it was a mind, what was it working towards, how did one like Jenna fit into the design?
In frustration at nothing to grasp toward which to apply his reason – other than the lack of such – Sinwa stood and strode into his padowan’s training room. They stood as a group, sabers raised in silence, having sensed his footsteps down the hall.
“Good, my padowan, to be observant is the beginning of awareness. You will now show me the series you have practiced today.”
As one, their light swords flashing like a school of brilliant butterflies released into the room, they moved through their lessons, each twitch and breath noted by the Master’s watchful eye.
A memory of Jenna
Abu Sinwa felt the sun falling low against the forest of Marth’nna. He turned to see its mute red roaring and blazing in the cavern of the sky. The trees held odd shapes at such an hour, a mixture of branch and shadow, like strange creatures coming out for the night.
It was nearing time to begin the journey to the city planet of Coruscant. Cortin’s apartment was on the other side of the complex, and it was a long walk through the twilight. Sinwa turned off the power to his office and left through the hall, past the atrium, and into the gardens.
The flowers of Marth’nna’s spring were arranged in fading colors, the hues draining out in time with the sun. It was a red sun, very old, giving the plants under its care a theme of purple and brown.
Sinwa strode past without seeing them; the sight was too familiar and his mind too occupied. Thus far he had no word for the Council on these latest attacks. It was typical of Jenna to work underhandedly, at a distance, always making sure not to be there when the Jedi arrived. But these past few times Sinwa had caught Jenna making a later and later escape, until this last time he had confronted Jenna right in front of a bomb he was trying to set.
“Abu Sinwa, how appropriate,” Jenna had seethed, his smooth face wrinkling in a look of distaste mixed with fear. He glanced over at the device he was working on, then at his ship waiting on the outside platform.
“Darth Jenna, my foe. Long and hard I have sought to meet you in battle. I am tired of watching your running feet. En garde!” Sinwa lit his saber, the long shaft of restrained power crackling in contact with the air. He brought his blade about to salute the enemy.
“Yes, Sinwa, let us fight. The sound of your head rolling on the floor would please me greatly.” Jenna’s red blade cast a pinkish glow on the floor and walls nearby. They were standing at the exit corridor of a power station orbiting the gas planet, Juppo.
“What have you been planning, Jenna? These strikes don’t seem to do you much good. I would like to know the cause for this.”
“Wouldn’t you though, Sinwa”, Jenna replied.
He swung out his blade in a flashing arc, cutting the air with a hum that sounded like anger. Sinwa parried, catching the blade and returning it, striking himself at Jenna’s legs.
“So this is the training of a leader of the Jedi?” Jenna sneered. He flashed again and again, aiming at head, torso, thigh. Sinwa calmly deflected all of his blows.
They continued their ballet of light, moving toward and away from the exit as each took the intiative. Jenna added insults to his strokes, but Sinwa was calm, intent; the fear in Jenna’s face began to deepen.
“Sinwa, there is more to this than you can realize. End my life now and you will end your hope of finding the truth.” The hint of sincerity was strange enough in Jenna’s voice to sound as if it had been choked out.
“That may be, Jenna.” Parry, thrust, parry, in sweeps of light that divided the air between them. “If you care to tell me, we can stop this and chat about it.”
Jenna’s answer was a fierce series of jabs and thrusts that made no mark. They were moving together gradually toward the exit as Jenna lost ground.
“Sinwa, I will see all of you fall before I lift a finger to help your craven Council!”
Sinwa increased the speed of his attack, showing a part of the strength he had kept hidden, hoping Jenna would reveal something by his taunts. Jenna returned the onslaught with desperation, but could not keep up his defense. He fell, his saber – still gripped by the severed arm – scattering to the side.
It was at this point Sinwa had felt a brief glimpse of the force as if part of a great purpose: a design whose will is in the design itself, and not apart from it – as a man does not feel apart from his thoughts. In that glimpse he sensed that ending Jenna’s life would have caused far greater harm to the Republic than letting it continue – even if meant a likely resumption of his program of destruction.
Sinwa did not stay long as Jenna hobbled toward his ship. He disabled the bomb and radioed the authorities to search the station for more. The parting, red glow from Jenna’s thrusters was like a last wave from a ghostly saber, a malicious glee implying he had yet again gotten away with something of which Sinwa was fully unaware.
The smoldering sun on the horizon of Marth’nna seemed almost like that thruster falling behind the curve of Juppo: a cold, red fire, hinting at secrets, but hidden too soon in the folds of approaching dark.
Flight to Coruscant
Sinwa found Cortin finishing his preparations for the journey, wetting his skin, filling his spray canisters for use on the ship. He looked up with a probing glance, watching Sinwa enter the room. There was only silence as Cortin gathered his belongings. Sinwa was leaving empty-handed, since he kept an apartment on Coruscant for such meetings.
When ready, the two walked out into the semi-darkness of the streets, on their way to the spaceport a short distance from the complex. The evening barkers stood at their tables, trying to interest passersby in food, wares, entertainment. They all knew the austerity of the Jedi, and only watched as the two robed figures made their way down the alley.
“Did Darth Jenna say nothing that might suggest a purpose?” blurted out Cortin. Sinwa gave a heavy sigh, admitting that this was the very subject on his mind.
“He did speak as though it had purpose, but did not mention it further. That alone tells us something. Cortin, I have long suspected a more powerful mind behind Jenna. His is just the hand, with the arm and body kept hidden in darkness. We know the Sith have adopted a scheme of pairing, to continue their evil, but the success of Jenna at eluding battle has left us wondering his powers until now. I have fought him this past day. I know he is no master. I had already sensed as much from the crudeness of his tactics. My informants so far have succeeded only in learning a name – but that informant quickly perished mysteriously. He spoke of a Lord Serat, unknown and unseen, but so fearsome none will speak of him. My own queries have yielded nothing. Only the reticence of some of the darker elements gives a hint. Have you heard anything of this?”
“Not at all, Abu, I have heard nothing.”
Sinwa nodded. “Neither had I, until my doubts about Jenna led me to searching. If there is a path we must follow, I believe Serat will lie along it, or whatever he represents.”
Cortin only looked sideways at Sinwa and blew air out of his nostrils in bewilderment. Sinwa’s own face held his typical pose of concentration, his greying hairs like streaking stars from the heaven of his mind. His eyes were jewel green, piercing and aflame with an inner light. Many of his enemies had failed in their intent by being caught in the intensity of those eyes. They were set under a wide brow, and chestnut brown skin, as if Sinwa’s older years had become a symbol of wisdom itself: but a wisdom which never forgets to doubt its own veracity.
The two entered the spaceport and loaded their baggage onto the ship. Servant droids stowed the containers and prepared for take-off. They waited for a moment on the landing. Marth’nna was not very trafficked, being known only for its great, colorful forests slowly aging under a dying sun. Nor was it particularly wealthy or large – exactly the kind of place Sinwa had wanted for the founding of a Jedi school: enough resources to flourish with intent, but barren enough to attract only those with a true desire.
The ship closed up, fired its thrusters, and lifting from the platform on a cone of blue fire. It was a small interstellar craft, arranged in a simple triangular formation. It had a large bubble for a viewport on one side.
Cortin and Sinwa watched the city, then the planet, drop away below, into a black sea with endless dots of stars. Regis, the old sun, broke over the horizon in false morning, filling the ship with a baleful light. The ship moved out of the planet’s gravitational range, then turned toward distant Coruscant and engaged its hyperdrive engines.
For a moment, the black and stars were unchanged, scattered through the sky as if a great Sower had expected a harvest of new worlds beyond count. Then the ship plunged into hyperspace, and the dots were pulled into stalks, then streams, then pathways of light all aimed at the faraway city-planet.
Sinwa watched the procession of racing starlight in admiration, feeling as if the whole of the universe had sent that light as emissaries to a great ball in space: to be counted among the members of an infinite kingdom. How many empires had risen and fallen, he wondered, how many republics tried and failed, before that light had even made it to this point, travelling at the crawling velocity of light. And how impatient, man, to insist on the invention of near-instant travel, when the monarch suns of the universe themselves had contented to send their messages at lightspeed.
Cortin was unmoved by the display. His eyes watched the control panels and course projections, acting as backup to the computer’s watchful programs that sensed for debris and the unlikely possibility of collision. Sinwa allowed himself a smile. He leaned back, to watch the stars, leaving Cortin undisturbed in his fastidiousness. When all the history of ages was streaming into your eyes, he thought, it deserved a moment to be admired.
Coruscant came into view as the ship exited hyperspace, a bright ball hanging in decoration amid the lights of the galaxy. As they approached, it grew on the viewscreen: a warm, metallic grey festooned with its own points of brilliance. Below, countless ships and speeders plied the lanes of sky between the great districts – though movement was indiscernable at this distance. From space it seemed like strings of ice tinsel, reflecting the light of stars. Their bright, curving streams were the life of Coruscant, the center of the Republic, going about their business in order to keep everything else functioning as it must.
Cortin was talking to space control, negotiating the intricate course that would take them into those streams – now beginning to show movement as they drew closer.
“That’s it”, Cortin said, leaning back. “It’s all in the hands of the computers now.” He said this with resigned eyes, his lack of certainty in any mind but his own obvious. It was also his greatest strength: his willingness to question every assumption and confirm every result.
The false ground was visible now, a massive expanse of metal beneath grey and white clouds. As they neared one could see the mammoth buildings hiding the true ground, rising kilometers into the atmosphere by the clever design of each supporting the others by a network of bridges and cables; and then again by the streams of traffic, and still again by the knowledge that the life of one depended on all the rest – on a planet with no natural resources but what remained under the ground.
The ship swooped down toward the top of a building in the near distance. Cortin continued to check the instruments, even though everything was happening flawlessly – as it must when there is so little room for error. The ship put out its landing struts, and gently settled on the roof of the Central Jedi Academy.
The travellers followed the droids carrying Cortin’s baggage to an elevator shaft with a car waiting. They climbed in, and waited for as long as it had taken the ship to descend, to drop three hundred floors to the middle of the building where their quarters were located. They stepped out and walked to Cortin’s door.
“I will see you again in the morning, Abu. May the night grant you productive thought.”
“You as well, Cortin. Peace and rest.” They bowed to each other and separated, Sinwa following the corridor to his own apartment nearby.
He stopped at his door, wondering if it was really worth the effort to try for early sleep, to arise rested and ready for the meeting tomorrow. However, he could feel his thoughts stirring inside him like a kettle to boil, and knew sleep would not come, no matter how helpful it might be. He left his door closed and turned back to the elevator. What would help on a night like this was a walk in the city, to rummage out his thoughts and weary his body. Perhaps then an hour or two of rest before the meeting.
Musings in the city
The city was alive with motion and light, as it always was, the activity coming from all directions. The people themselves reflected the diversity and profusion of the night life: every shape and color, every race from thousands of planets around the galaxy: tall and short, two eyes or eight – some in multiple heads, others on stalks protruding from giant, central bodies. Only the overall motion had a vague consistency; seen up close, one never observed the same sight twice.
At this level the lanes of speeders moved so swiftly they burned the air with their light and speed, leaving a trail of ozone and after-images of receding light. On the whole it was like a constant lightning forking between the buildings, driving the pulse of life between the sections of the city. Sinwa stood below, looking up from ground level, watching the red of the speeder’s tail-lights merging together, until it was like some huge saber of wrath hanging over the city, waiting for the right moment to drop down on the innocent masses below.
He walked the streets around the Academy, following his whim at each crossing, never losing that feeling of connection he experienced whenever near so many of the Jedi. People and shops were everywhere. Without paying attention – except by his inward senses and the corner of his eye – it was almost as if here were not moving at all, but repeating the same, nameless street over and over again.
As he walked, he returned in his mind to the problems of the Council. To truly understand those, he felt, he must understand his troubling connection with the force, a thing that until now he had not thought so much about and simply relied upon, the way one does not question an old friend. He had a feeling this friend was more than he realized, only waiting for him to see it to deepen the relationship.
The force. The web of life binding each to all, like an infinite array of mirrored globes, each reflecting the whole and each only a part. Every being was part of that web, linked in ways most could not perceive. The Jedi, the Sith, certain gifted races, could observe this web directly, watch its tremors and tensions, and understand how an effect in one part became a cause in another. They could even reach out and touch the fabric of the web itself, pull on it, push, strum the fine filaments of interconnection to produce effects of their own – sometimes appearing to contradict what most expected from nature. Yet the force too was part of nature: a great framework from which all the rest was suspended, every erg of energy and every particle of mass throughout the universe. The Jedi were oarsmen of that invisible sea, its waters saturating every cell of the millions of beings of the Republic.
It was taught as such in the Acadmey, as an inanimate superstructure underlying life itself: all life, whether animal, vegetable or mineral. Even the lives of stars could be seen playing out their changes imperceptibly on the lives of their planetary brood. What was not taught, however – but only debated at higher levels – was why it should be there at all. This was a question without answers, but full of argument. Sinwa had given up long ago on these discussions as useless, contentious and without result. To him the fact was the only reality, and he was more interested in why life responded as it did, then why life should be there to respond at all.
Only his recent experiences had returned him to the memory of those debates of his Academy days, after his elevation to the rank of Jedi, when he was learning to master the rarer talents of the force. Some thought the force was a benevolent entity – but were hard pressed to show any evidence of that entity’s existence, unless it were seen as entirely passive; some thought it was generated by life itself, and that if all life were to cease, the force would also cease. Not much to argue in that theory, its being completely untestable. Still others thought the force was a plane of perfect energy, which had coagulated into the cruder forms of matter and energy in the known universe, but still retained a connection to those lesser forms. This made the most sense to Sinwa, but did not explain the Jedi’s special relationship to that energy, or why that connection would have anything to do with the Jedi’s ability to see into the near future.
None of these answers satisfied Sinwa, any more than they had those decades ago. The answer must involve all of it, he thought: the Jedi, the Sith, the future, life, energy, matter. All as a great whole, and the force a part of that whole: as connected to the will that does evil as to the great bursting of stars in the maw of the galactic center. Yet though he could describe what he wanted the answer to cover, he had no answer, and was confounded even in the matter of finding a good question.
Sinwa carried on in this way, waging philosophical battle as earnestly as he might strike with his saber, cutting with the blade of logic into the yielding mass of his confusion. It was during these thoughts that he felt something wrong, very wrong – like a sudden and gaping silence where for so long there had been constant noise. He raised his head and looked about, knowing instantly what this feeling meant.
“Come out, Sith. I can feel you like a sore.”
For a moment there was nothing, then a dark form moved from the shadows, advancing toward Sinwa into the light. It was not Darth Jenna, but Sinwa knew that already. The feeling was different. And it was not the great evil he had hoped to meet; that being would not so easily choose the honor of combat. This was some other evil entirely: a ronin of the Sith.
Abu Sinwa addressed the approaching figure: “Nearly all of your kind have been dealt with, Sith. Are you come to finish the number?”
The Sith master – Sinwa could feel his mastery like tentacles reaching into the darkness of the force for their power – removed his hood and glared insolently at Sinwa’s placid face.
“Jedi,” he said in a hissing tone, “my pupils are gone by your self- righteous hand, you and the rest of your vainglorious kind. I am here to settle a score with you in person for the loss of my most promising student. You will now answer in blood for what you have done.” The Sith powered his saber, a dual-sided lance whose blades hummed in the darkness.
“I am surprised you have come so far, to this place, to find me. But then, where better to hide and wait than the center itself, when all eyes are focused outward to find the last of your evil and rid it from the galaxy. You may have your chance to finish me – and I to honor my pledge that the Republic be rid of your scourge forever.” The shimmering green of Sinwa’s blade rose into the air, a sharp and familiar tang of burnt air reaching his nostrils. The saber glowed as if all the intent energy of his eyes had been trapped and fashioned in a tool of his will – as if all the fury of his inner dimensions were now matched by the power and deadliness of his lighted sword, the symbol of his rank as a champion.
The Sith came at a run, all his rage and hatred pouring out from him in the form of whirling blades. He swung and hurled his pent up malice on Sinwa’s saber. The two sparked and turned, swinging and thrusting with amazing speed. The white flashes of contact lit the air of the night. Any would-be onlookers had fled at the approach of battle, leaving the two to play out their contest in silence, but for the sound of the striking columns of light.
This Sith, unlike Jenna, was a master of his anger and hatred, channeling them into instruments of his terrible purpose, never missing a stroke. Sinwa released more and more of his strength to match the power of the Sith’s attack. Hatred, however, best runs cold, and cannot the survive the heat of contact too long – whatever the fierceness its strength – before it begins to wane.
Sinwa, in contrast, was fueled not by the heat of quick-burning anger, but by the powerful certainty that he fought for justice, knowing it demanded the death of this enemy who had caused the death and suffering of so many – and that he placed the beauty of justice above life, limb, even future. He did not pause or think of himself as he followed the Sith’s actions. He had become pure purpose, a bright point of will committed to victory, shining brighter and more powerfully with each moment as the glory of his intention shone in his actions, the power of his strokes, the certainty of his speed, and his untroubled calm.
Against this torrent of unrestrained might, growing brighter with each moment, the Sith quickly lost ground. At first he had had the upper hand, unleashing his hatred like a chained beast thirsting for the kill, spending all of himself in the first moments of the attack. But then he found himself matched, and then falling back as Sinwa continued to grow faster, more sure – more like a heroic bastion of light than the simple grey-haired figure who had paced the square a moment before.
The Sith struck again and again, feeling his certainty and energy draining away. There were no loose objects nearby to send flying at his foe. He felt himself shrinking away before the brimming glory of this human – who had seemed so pitiful before, only to become better, faster, greater with each moment. Sinwa, by his actions and purpose, was transforming into a being of light: a streak of lightning flashing out from the dark of his body’s humble demeanor, a creature of brilliance flaring out like the exploding fire of a star that had appeared too docile. In the face of this intensifying revelation, the poverty of the Sith’s nature became more and more apparent, fading as surely as night before the steady rising of the sun, a thousand suns, all the brightness and glory and radiance that filled the universe with light.
Then that being of shadow, that benighted soul of ill-intent, was struck by a mortal ray from Sinwa’s saber; and as dark is wont to, he collapsed into nothing as night before a candle. His attack had been nothing but show, his strength no more than a sudden gathering of feeble energies. The Sith’s decaptiated body crumpled to the ground in a pile of black cloth and flesh. Sinwa turned away, his rays of inner light returning to him like the energy of his saber to its hilt.
He resumed his walk about the city, to contemplate this ineffectual evil that had somehow gained a foothold in the great Republic.
Before the convocation
The Jedi Master Cortin vi Jubnaya sat up from his slumber with much smacking of lips, a joyous meeting of the new day. Though the problems of the Council weighed on his mind, he was certain one among their member would find a path, and that united in their efforts, they would be irresistible in pursuing it to completion. Although the citizens of the Republic might view the power of the Jedi as in their saber, their speed, or their command of the force, yet Cortin believed it was in that very certitude behind their actions, which erased all consciousness but for the goal – and the right way to reach that goal.
Cortin moved about his apartment swiftly, with expert movements, finishing the duties required by his body on waking. He had refined the necessaries of life down to a science, and then an art, not wasting one moment more on the demands of his physical self than necessary.
With his skin properly moistened, his simple clothing clean and pressed, flowing along the sides of his large frame, he gave the impression of refinement – as if the lack of ornamentation and the strangeness of his features only emphasized the grace of his bearing and the serenity that was the constant foundation of his teeming energy. Without waste he arranged the room, turned off the light, and walk down the hallway.
He strode among rows of doors to the elevator. The Council’s meeting room was far above, near the top of the building, with a giant window looking out on the city. He felt the movement of the elevator begin, passing through floors of libraries, archives, dormitories, practice rooms; the building itself was like a small city, an entire ecology comprised of teachers and tradesmen, gardens, cooks – even limited facilities for entertainment.
When he reached his destination, the door opened to a large room supported by columns of white marble, the ceiling itself four levels above. Cortin passed through this enormous space, a tiny figure among structures far larger. There were gardens to the sides, and small pools of water trickled gently – and as much silence as space. The floor and ceiling were set in various colored marbles from all parts of the galaxy, while the pillars were single pieces of white stone, standing as supports between the water and greenery below and the intricate mosaics above.
The Council chambers were near the back, at the end of the main hall, where a few early risers had already assembled. He saw Abu Sinwa there – which probably meant he had not slept at all, and might be good for the Council if it meant his thoughts had been engaging enough to keep him awake.
“Greetings to Master Cortin,” said Master Korlay with a bow, a short and squat Jedi from one of the higher gravity planets.
“And to you, my friends,” Cortin bowed. Those who were capable of returning the motion did; others lowered a hand, or their head, following whatever manner of respect was natural in their culture.
“We await only a few,” said Korlay, “Please, Master Cortin, refresh yourself before the deliberations begin.” A small table of food and water was located at the side of the room. Cortin stood there, easing his hunger, as he watched the splendor of the city at morning.
At this height, the sun reflected from a thousand moving surfaces, scintillating like a bounty of jewels cast in the sky. The glass windows of the other buildings, the speeder cockpits, the crystalline structures of ornament on some of the towers, scattered light everywhere – as though the sun itself had shattered, and small pieces of it floated constantly down to the surface of Coruscant, so many points of light alive amidst the life of the city.
The Jedi Academy rose high in the sky, still many levels higher than where Cortin was standing. The main spire of the Academy ended in the lower clouds, a lone figure in silent vigil over the city. It seemed so peaceful, the city, so engaged in its own business, that the meeting now to take place was just a bad dream next to the real, living world outside. But it was not a dream, as the results of Cortin’s own thinking would attest.
Members of the Council
The Jedi were assembled, the twelve most experienced of the Order: Abu Sinwa, human and teacher-philosopher, residing at his own Academy on the planet of Marth’nna, beneath the sun Regis.
Cortin vi Jubnaya, of the amphibian race of the Borti, a skilled engineer who worked mostly on the systems of the Central Academy itself.
Master Wosa, a Cetean, a humanoid race with deep blue skin like the oceans of their birth. His was a mammalian species that found itself equally at home on land or sea. He was a teacher at the Central Academy, and an artist.
Master Luudia, of the strange race of the Severan – one of the species gifted with extraordinary perception of the force. His body was serpentine, without arms of legs, coiled on itself and rising up to a great neck that ended in a face with pensive, mesmerizing eyes. His race had adapted to using the force in place of hands, and he wielded his saber using only these invisible powers – demanding constant concentration from his mind, and exceptionally deadly to his enemies, who could not use their eyes to predict where the next strike would come from. Unfortunately, as the Severan had developed and grown in numbers, they began to misuse these abilities in their pursuit of power and control, and all but wiped themselves out before discovering and joining the Republic. Luudia was one of the last of a dying breed that knew the force literally as well as his own hands – as it was. He spoke through a translator, and was a famed astronomer.
Master Ene, a female human from the planet Erta in the Soli system, with long, white hair that flowed along her back like a river of frozen ice. Her piercing blue eyes were set in a face of calm: the face of a great social theorist of the Republic.
Master Korlay, a Rigelian, built to withstand the crushing gravities of his large and dense planet. He was a physical icon of his planet: his huge chest dwarfing his small arms and legs, all thick with muscle. Only those who faced him in battle knew how agile and deft that body truly was. He was a mechanical engineer, fond of tinkering with ships and speeders.
Master Tollo, pure white, without eyes, his flesh constantly coated by a protective gel against the harsh sunlight. He race had lived entirely beneath the ground of a large, dying planet, where the gravity and temperature were too severe on the surface to support life. His body was muscular, and his senses of smell, touch and hearing incredibly acute. Like seeds in the ground, most of his race had sought to escape the soil of their home planet, and ventured out into the broad arena of the Republic, adapting as they found necessary. In many ways his lack of sight made his skill with the saber more deadly, since feints were not possible against an opponent with no eyes to distract. Master Tollo was an architect, expert at designing arrangements of space pleasing to the full array of senses. He was the designer of the great hall, its subtle sounds and scents in a cavern of gentle silence conveying the peace of a Republic supported by the great and pure pillars of white.
Master Yelley, of a race of vestigial avians, retained a suggestion of wings and a streamlined face and body, but was no longer capable of flight. He was an economist who flew instead among the vast complexities of math that sought to describe and predict the balance of health in the Republic.
Master Xorn, who did not see in the visible spectrum, but in all the shades of the infrared. It – for their race was hermaphroditic – had been born to life beneath a very dim, very old star, and so had adapted to visualizing the heat signatures of their prey. He was a geologist and ecologist who spent most of his time away from Coruscant.
Master Hochin, a human male with asiatic features from a remote asteriod colony, of short but compact build, his calm demeanor suggesting expertly contained power. He was the coordinator of the various branch Academies, and also between Coruscant’s government and the Central Academy.
Master Bri, a dark-skinned woman from the equatorial regions of Aresa, the planetary neighbor of Erta. She was a brilliant physicist whose contributions had helped to advance the capabilities of the Jedi in dealing with matter and energy, as her mastery had helped them to deal with the force.
Finally, the venerable Master Kuwann-ri, eldest among the Jedi and the convenor of the Council itself. He was of an obscure race from the fringes of the galaxy, about which little was known but for their apparently long life. His features were close to human, with only the slight oddments of bone structure to belie any comparison.
Kuwann-ri raied his hand, at which the Jedi Masters fell silent. They remained so for a full minute of meditation, to empty their thoughts and make their minds and hearts receptive to the greater movements of the force, whose ways were the subject of their convocation.
“My fellow Jedi,” spoke Kuwann-ri, “You have been gathered here to discuss a matter troubling many. Initially I refer to the actions of the Sith who calls himself Darth Jenna, but the greater reason for our meeting is that many of you have expressed disturbing currents in your experiences with the force, to which these recent acts of sabotage may be connected. I am informed Master Sinwa may have more to say in this regard.
“We know the Sith have been causing much disruption – those still remaining after their own conflicts and our efforts to purge them from the Republic. They are fond of piracy, sabotage and outright attacks using tele-operated machinery. What disturbs us most about Darth Jenna is the apparent meaningless of his actions, and the deliberation shown by their consistency. These hint at a larger plan – which is the immediate cause for our convocation.
“Additionally, there has been growing unrest among the Jedi as though a storm is brewing, and we do not know the source or nature of this storm. We may presume it involves the Sith, and most likely Darth Jenna is connected to it. For this we are lacking evidence, however, though Master Cortin tells me he may have something to say on this matter.
“What this storm may bring, and what damage it may do to the Republic, we are also to consider; and how it may be forestalled, and how ameliorated, if not. You are encouraged to present whatever ideas occur to you, however trivial they may seem.
“We begin with the recent experience of Master Sinwa and his thoughts.” Kuwann-ri turned his head to Sinwa and inclined it gently, while the Jedi remained still and centered in themselves.
Abu Sinwa leaned forward, projecting his voice softly into the space offered by his companions. “My dear friends, I would not trouble you with premature thoughts, but in this case your input may help to discover connections my own thinking has not.
“As many of you read in my last report, I was able to face Darth Jenna before his escape from an attempted act of violence. He was setting a bomb to disable a power station around the gas planet Juppo, in the Soli system. I did not, however, succeed in learning what plan this act was a part of.
“At the end of our brief struggle, I had an opportunity to do away with his evil, but at that moment I felt as a man might, walking along a smooth desert and suddenly finding himself at the beginning of a fathomless canyon.
“There is much more to this than a simple matter of destroying minor industry and shipping. I cannot say for certain, and I do not like speculation, but it feels as though we are approaching a moment of profound crisis. Whatever Darth Jenna represents, it is causing resonances to build in the force that I think will soon be revealed – likely with significant changes for us, or for the Republic, or both.
“Previous to this encounter, I had attempted to learn whether a greater mind was at work behind Jenna’s actions. I learned only a name: Lord Serat. My own research has led me to feel there is truth to this rumor, and I intend to continue in my search for more information.”
Sinwa paused, looking at the Jedi in their various moods of concentration. Master Luudia was looking back at him, the faintest suggestion of movement in his long, sinuous neck. His eyes were slits of jewelled yellow, piercing the veils of space and time, looking directly at the heart of Sinwa’s utterance: at the manner in which his thoughts disturbed the force around him.
“There has always been debate,” Sinwa continued, “as to the nature of the force itself. At present I have nothing to offer to this debate; but I shall remain here at the Academy for a few days to look into some ideas that may reveal a direction to these recent affairs. I will send my results to you as I find them.
“Lastly, I would like to report the death of another of the Sith, only last night, near the ground level of our own Academy.”
Some of the Jedi left their poses of concentration to express surprise. Master Tollo said, “There has not been Sith activity on Coruscant for a long time! This is most peculiar.”
“Indeed,” said Sinwa, “This Sith claims he was seeking to personally redress a wrong done to one of his students – namely, his death for crimes done to others. We met in a duel and the teacher is no more. At first I thought it was simply an uncannily perceptive place to hide and wait – so close to where the Jedi have grown accustomed not to look – but now I wonder if it does not play into the other changes we are seeing. I can believe he came to hunt me, but why now, and why here, the night before our meeting? I did not see any reason not to conclude the battle with finality, but I am left with a growing unease at all of these coincidences in so short a time.”
Master Ene turned her head to Sinwa and said, “Master Sinwa, you yourself have been the locus of most of these recent coincidences. Have you considered how your involvement might play a part in your theories of a greater plan?”
“No, Master Ene, I had not considered that; thank you. I will add it to my meditations.”
Kuwann-ri gathered the folds of his robe together and addressed them all: “Now that we have heard Master Sinwa’s thoughts on a possible course encompassing these events, and his assurance to undertake further research, we now will hear from Master Cortin, who has also been pursuing some disturbing facts related to our inquiry.”
With a nod in his direction, Master Cortin sat forward and removed a computing tablet from a pocket in his robe. He touched the surface a few times in preparation, then cleared his throat and began to speak.
Cortin presents an idea
“Friends, we have been wondering at these recent attacks,” began Cortin, looking around at the room. “We also know the Sith work by deception and subterfuge. Their best successes are those we never see or hear about – which in fact the victim himself accepts as his own doing. This is the nature of their evil: to corrupt the innocent into complying with their own destruction.
“With this in mind, I have looked at these attacks by Darth Jenna, and asked not why are they occurring, but why are we seeing evidence of them only now? If there is a plan underway, it is almost certain to have begun before now, and we are only just becoming aware of it.”
Cortin lifted up his computer tablet and continued, “With this in mind I have re-examined events through the Republic in the last several years, looking for acts of murder, destruction, and failure, whose cause remained unexplained. There have always been such events, with various causes ultimately discovered, but what I did find is a pattern that stands out against the background of other data.
“In the past five years there has been a steady increase in unexplained crimes – without any corresponding increase in crime rates, economic depression, political instability, or aggressions with neighboring governments. In other words, an independent rise in crimes of a destructive nature whose agent was never learned. There is no definite connection between these events and Darth Jenna, of course, but it strikes me as peculiar that such an inexplicable rise should occur, and then such an explanation should present itself.”
Cortin stopped, putting his tablet down, leaving a silence that invited questions.
Master Wosa was first to speak. “This is both informative and troubling, Master Cortin. Is it possible to establish for certain your proposal of Sith involvement?”
“I do plan to investigate both here, and at some of the sights themselves, to see what clues may have been left behind.”
“Do you think this record of unexplained activity relates to Master Sinwa’s premonitions?”, asked Master Ene.
“I can only regard them as separate for now, Master Ene. The facts will have to demonstrate such a connection for me to be convinced of it.”
Master Ene inclined her head. Master Yelley looked at Cortin with an intent stare. “Do you, Master Cortin,” he said, “suggest any plan of action for this Council? It seems we have heard only forebodings today, but no plan of action for the whole of us.”
Cortin sighed. “I do wish the course were more clear; vague indications are irksome to me as well. It is important now to make you all aware, to hear if others might have learned something we have not, and also to give a definite voice to this seemingly general agitation. But since it is only that, a general sense of danger, we lack the specific form we might hope to give it.”
“Yes, well put of course, Master Cortin.” Master Yelley seemed to resign himself to hearing no further detail. “We must leave this matter to the future and your efforts, I fear.”
Kuwann-ri lifted his head. “My fellow Jedi, we must not undervalue these contributions, however meager they may seem to us now. Perhaps we are uncovering the uppermost features of an underground collaboration whose constructions has been taking place beneath our very feet. Let us not treat it lightly, but proceed with a resolve to uncover what we may. Neither haste nor delay are called for here.” He spoke in resonant tones, his voice measuring out the wisdom of his years, causing each member present to feel somehow chastened, supported and encouraged all in one moment.
“Master Cortin,” said Abu Sinwa, “what signs of Sith involvement do you think it may be possible to find after so much time has passed?”
“Ah, Master Sinwa, sometimes it is not the thing itself one must look for, but what is not there.”
The two held each other’s gaze for a moment, as if together they were fashioning a smile from the air between them.
“Indeed, indeed. I may have need of your method myself in the next few days. It can be curiously effective, looking for what is not there, amidst so much of what is…”
The two remained in silence a few moments more, and Kuwann-ri raised his eyebrow at the exchange – an expression rendering his features unreadable to human eyes. Master Yelley reached to comb the feathers under his chin, and Master Luudia permitted a wave of muscular contraction to pass up the length of his neck, ending with his head tilted to one side, amusement in his eyes.
“I think that this is the most we can expect from today,” interjected Kuwann-ri, in the tone of dusting off an unfinished sculpture for the day. “We shall leave our companions to further their quest for knowledge, and hear from them again when things are made clearer. Thank you all for making the effort to be here today.”
The circle of Jedi each bowed or otherwise gave respect at these words of closing. Several remained in attitudes of thought, while others left the room to pursue their own reflections in private. Sinwa and Cortin both rose, and left the room to walk in the great hall, remaining silent, but with a feeling of unspoken conversation continuing between them.
Cortin and Sinwa walked slowly down the corridor of the great hall, each in his own world of thought, two planets of differing temperment yet orbiting the same sun. Cortin’s steps were firm, direct, marching like his thoughts toward whatever goal his mind presented; Sinwa’s steps were quiet, almost as if the ground were an extension of his own feet, and so close was he to this foundation of this movement that the two met like skipping rocks over water, making smooth progress toward his goal.
Then the two stopped, almost as if, by such different methods, they had reached the same destination at the same time. It was at this point the hall divided, where each would now begin a different trail. There were benches here, around a large pool circled by ferns and blue flowers, and they both sat, never a word having passed between them.
“What troubles me most, Abu,” began Cortin, his words in the silence like drops condensing from a heavy, inner fog, “is that Jenna seems to have wanted this to happen: for us to be discussing this matter now, like this. Why do I have the feeling we may have caught and released him, but the real result is that we’ve been caught in a net far more invisible and insidious?”
“Yes,” answered Sinwa, stroking his chin as he mused, “it does have an air of strange coincidence. Although, he did leave an arm behind for his troubles, if you have not forgotten.” He said this with a smile, but Cortin could not tell if it was one of understanding, or a hope to dispel the gloom.
“Maybe whoever directed him to begin revealing himself – if such an entity exists – has decided Jenna is now expendable, but Jenna refuses to believe he could be so easily defeated?”
“What you say has a ring of truth to it, my friend. It is common for the Sith to imagine themselves invincible. They put so much store in that reputation – however often it is disproved – that I doubt they are capable of a fair assessment any longer. Jenna acted both afraid and sure when we met, though the latter quickly left him.”
Cortin looked around at the pool, feeling a touch of home in the still waters and the fronds that hung down and met the pool’s surface. The stone bottom was of the faintest green, giving the impression of a forest continuing beyond the ferns, when there were only walls and pillars of marble.
“How long will you stay here?”, he asked, looking back at Sinwa, whose eyes were opened but not focused on anything in particular.
“I think only a couple more days, unless something interesting turns up. Where will you go?”
“To visit some of those older sites of activity, where there might still be clues of some kind. I will see how well it goes before deciding how long to continue with that inquiry.”
“If you find something of value, come back to Marth’nna and visit me. We may be able to exchange results that will be of help. It would be good to see you there again anyway. Perhaps a walk through the Elder Forest?”
“You know your forests are entirely the wrong shade for me!”, he laughed, “It makes me feel like I’m walking through a graveyard. But I would certainly like to come. I have been hearing much about one of your newer pupils. It would be good to see for myself if the rumors are true.”
Sinwa looked up, as if remembering something after a long time. “Ah yes, Hielo. Yes, I think you will like him. He has much promise, although quite a temper, and always wondering about his own progress. Yes… you must come. See what secrets the galaxy is hiding, then come and join Lehann and myself for supper. We shall invite young Hielo so you can judge for yourself. It reminds me how much I like that boy. But there are resources here our Academy is lacking, and I must remain for a time and find what I can.”
“We will both be busy for a while before we can be together again – for a pleasant evening under those strange, red moons of yours.” Cortin stood up, stretching tall and wide and cracking the joints of his back. Sinwa also stood, to wish his friend goodbye.
“Farewell, Abu, until we see each other again – and I hope, exchange much news.”
Sinwa bowed his head. “Farewell, Cortin. Until that time.” They clasped hands in a gesture of parting from Cortin’s world; then the tall amphibian turned and walked away in the direction of the elevator, then to his apartments, and the ship, and finally into the oceans of space beyond.
Sinwa remained seated for some time, reflecting on the waters and the walls of stone around them. In the peace there was no sense of hurry, only in the memory of the task. He held that peace for just a moment longer, then stood and walked to the library.
Here follows the attempts of Lord Serat and Darth Jenna to slowly cripple the planet Erta, in preparation for a devastating attack. Cortin, Sinwa and Hielo discover the plot, and act to prevent it, ultimately leading to the last chapters. Lehann is killed by Serat, in an attempt to weaken his spirit and make him susceptible to corruption. Hielo fights with Jenna and defeats at one point, but at the cost of much wounding. Serat’s reason for destroying Erta is that the greatest number of Jedi come from the human race. His plans are very long-term, and aim at weakening, not outright attack.
Race to avert destruction
Sinwa and Hielo find out about the asteroid attack, and head to intercept. They discover the control ship. Hielo puts on an environment suit, and has Sinwa swing by the asteroid, himself leaping across space to climb onto it. At the same time, Sinwa heads toward the control ship. Hielo searches the asteroid but finds no way to control it from there. Then he looks toward Erta and gives his thought monologue on space and approaching.
Sinwa faces Serat
Sinwa docked alongside the larger craft, already out of his seat and flying towards the airlock. He worked the mechanism at a speed that made his hands seem like a blur, himself not really seeing them but only the actions they were to accomplish, letting the muscles and bones work out the details faster than he could have observed with his eyes. The door came open with a whoosh of air and he raced into the control ship, moving like a humaniform image of purpose – abstract yet incarnate in the movements of flesh. As he neared the door to the central bridge, where the controlling computers were located, he saw a tall figure in black, completely robed, only the tips of its pale fingers showing from the sleeves.
“Serat!”, Sinwa growled in righteous fury, “This ends now!” He powered his saber and moved instantly toward the figure, closing the distance as if it were absurb that two separate objects should stand apart from each other.
“My dear Abu Sinwa,” said the voice from the hood. Something about that voice slowed Sinwa, then stopped him. He knew that voice. Well.
“Yes, the truth is coming clear to you even now, before any knowledge has passed through your brain. You were always very perceptive, Abu Sinwa.”
Slowly – Sinwa feeling trapped by something he could not even think to name – the fingertips grew into hands, lifting toward the cowl of the figure’s pitch black robe. It grasped the cowl at the sides and removed it, showing a fair, human-like face that was as familiar as any Sinwa had ever known. It was the face of Kuwann-ri.
He chuckled, looking at the immobile form of Sinwa, his saber still raised to begin the attack. Sinwa could only gasp, “No…”
“Oh yes, Abu Sinwa, oh yes. You have no idea, yet, how perfectly it ties in with every other thing you’ve known, sensed, or felt wrong in the happenings around you. But you will. Your capacity to ferret out ideas has always impressed me. It has been one of my greatest assets, in fact.”
Serat laughed again, this time deeper and more sonorously – sounding almost gleeful. “Yes! One of my best servants you were, never knowing it. You think my great evil, as Lord Serat, consists in a willingness to destroy Erta without a thought – except to plan it, of course. Oh, far from it, Abu. You see, you cannot even know the greatness of my evil. You have never allowed enough of it into your heart to ever know it. If you had, you might have discovered my presence among you long ago – at the very center of your own life. For my evil is not one of destroying planets. That, any Sith could attempt. My masterpiece is that I will destroy you, Abu Sinwa, not only without lifting a finger, not only using your own hand to deliver the blow – but I am going to tell you why you will obey me, and still you will do it!
“You can see that I am unarmed. I have always loathed the light saber. Such a crude instrument. The Sith who use it have no concept of the dark side and its true power. No, when I wish to strike down a Jedi, I let him use his own saber to do it, watching him – letting him know I’m watching, and what I expect – as he plunges it into his own heart.
“I mean this metaphorically, of course. It is not in the obvious I excel, but quite the opposite.
“You see, Abu Sinwa, there is a blade, twisting in your gut right now: a blade whose edge is dangerously close to the tenuous beating of your heart. That blade is your faith, your faith in me as Kuwann-ri; that maybe, somehow, there is a part of me who truly is Kuwann-ri and Serat is only his nemesis; that everything you know of my goodness must be true, or else it could not exist. You have faith in me, Sinwa, in everyone, in the potential for good in every created being. What I represent, in my real form, is the annihilation of your view of life. To destroy me, you must destroy who you are. The blade you feel turning inside you exists only because you believe in it: you believe in the pain that must come with a willingness to accept the potential for good even in a being of evil. My hand is on the handle of that blade, Sinwa, and I am the one turning it. But even though I tell you this, still you cannot let it go, still you cannot make the blade vanish and the pain disappear, and do the easy thing and destroy your beloved Kuwann-ri.”
Sinwa faced Kuwann-ri – Serat – without having moved a muscle. The quiet hum of his saber filled the silence. He found he could not think. It was like thought itself had become impossible, something that existed only in a world of reason – and what he was seeing before him negated all reason and logic. He saw his guide as a Jedi, his defacto leader, the rallying point for the very battle which had led to this moment; and now he saw the beginning, Kuwann-ri, standing in the footsteps of the end, Lord Serat. He felt as though the world had been torn into small pieces, thrown back together without any rhyme or reason, and hastily reglued by a child’s hands without care or thought. He was seeing unreality itself, the impossible – with hands, eyes, a smile – and he knew those hands, those eyes, that smile. Unreality had the face of his reality; his reality was unreality. Sinwa himself faded and teetered, on the brink of a chasm he could not allow himself to fathom, or else he would forever continue trying to do so as he fell endlessly toward its bottom.
Facing such a pure absence of decision – the meaning of “decisive” had seemed to have vanished – he could only stare, seeing two people where there was in fact only one, but still unable to resolve them into a single being.
Serat continued, “You wonder, how can evil and good be the same person? Can they, Sinwa? Can two opposites co-exist so closely they are actually the same thing? Is contradiction resolved by the identity of contending propositions? Is this the answer you sought for so long – and if so, what am I then? Am I Kuwann-ri afflicted by the evil of Serat, longing to defeat him – asking, begging your help to conquer this demon inside me; or am I Serat, using Kuwann-ri – using justice, right, the good itself as the tools of my evil design? Am I light yearning to shed its encroaching shadow as I lose a mortal battle, or am I the dark that has learned to wield the light? What am I, Abu Sinwa? This is what you want to know.
“I will tell you what I am, openly and clearly, but it will not help you. You will still do what you must, and that is to destroy yourself. That is the true power of the dark side: that even in the final moments I can be revealed, unmasked, but still it serves my purpose. I will show you what I am using a simple demonstration, quite basic, but I think it illustrates my point.
“Dark cannot wield light, Sinwa. Contradictions cannot exist. The dark succeeds by convincing the light to do its bidding, and since the light cannot believe this is possible, it is propelled by its own blindness into the very compulsion the dark places upon it. Evil knows the weakness of good: that it can never truly fathom evil. Perhaps evil cannot know good either, but I care little; my purpose is my only concern.
“I don’t wield any saber, Sinwa; I use your hands to wield yours for me. And since you cannot accept that I am doing so, you will follow its motions, believing they are your own – even if that motion is to cut your own neck.
“You see, it is your virtue. Your virtue is the saber I speak of: your commitment to justice. I have no virtues – none whatsoever – so it is appropriate that I carry no saber. I could not win such a contest on your terms, anyway. I do not fight virtue with virtue.
“But you can only conceive a world in which those are the terms of battle, where two contending wills meet, one to do evil and one to do good, and the morally superior wins. I do not. In my world, good never meets evil. Good is set upon itself, and its commitment to virtue is what makes this perversion possible. Evil simply waits by the side for good to finish the job. That is why it does not matter to me how skilled you become in the force – you will never match the greatness of the dark side, which does not need to rely on such skills. I exist outside your terms of battle, Abu Sinwa: I encompass you, as the dark has always encompassed the light.
“You can see the light of the sun because your eyes see only light; they are equipped to perceive the emission of photons from an isolated star. What you fail to see is the infinite darkness surrounding that sun, drinking its enery, watching, waiting for the sun to burn itself out. And thus the dark side always wins.
“Here is my demonstration, Sinwa. See what you think of it. Your beloved pupil is soon to discover that there is no way to divert that asteroid from its surface. There are no controls, and the engines are secure from meddling. The only way to change its course – to save him and your blessed planet, the home of your race – is in the control room behind me. You are free to enter, to adjust the controls, and save both of them. But understand that this room is filled with a deadly toxin – affecting only humans, I might add – a toxin that enters through the skin, not by breathing. It works very quickly, but then you have always been superb at everything you attempted. I am sure this will be no exception.
“Or you can fight me here, end my evil, reveal my secret, and conquer finally your nemesis whom you have sought so hard for so long. I will not be easy to catch, mind you; you will have to subdue me first as I evade your attack; but again, I have no doubt of your capacity to succeed. It must come at the cost of Erta and your Hielo, of course.
“And so make your choice, Abu Sinwa, and make it quickly. Time is running out for either option. I knew long ago which one you would decide, but I wanted you to know it too: that you had a choice, and yet you never had a choice; that your own virtue has made you a creature of my will, and hence your very goodness has rendered you a servant of evil. As you feel your dedication compel you, know that it is my hand compelling you. Your own commitment to justice is the very life of my capacity to destroy it!”
With that, Serat ducked to the side and ran off toward the escape pods, leaving Sinwa only the briefest moment to make his decision.
Sinwa made his choice, the value of his life expressed by his willingness to lose it to do what he must. He pressed the panel next to the control room door and ran in quickly, seeing through the thin gas, faintly green, the controls he wanted. Already he could feel the poison working into his joints like a hidden hand stuffing his body with cotton. He fought against it, willing more and more of his strength into his arms and legs, punching out the sequence to direct the asteroid away from its course and into harmless space. He then collapsed on the ground.
As he fell, giving himself up to the poison that was chasing the life from his veins, his mind opened to one bright moment of clarity, fully understood by him in that instant, but without time to draw it out into words. Had he found an opportunity to do so in those last moments, he might have said:
“It is evil’s way, Serat, Kuwann-ri, to tell us what things are, what they mean. It is good’s way to know it, without counsel, without reference to the world as you see it through your twisted eyes. You have told me that today the victory goes to you; such is your description. Your only weapon is compulsion, and you can only compel your victim through agreement. What if I do not agree? For I do not.
“Good wins by doing good. There is no reference in that to evil. Evil can only win if it convinces the good not to do good. Good is the only actor, the only principle. Evil is good’s failure to be itself. One might even say there is no evil at all, but only the question of whether the good is being true to itself or not. For the good consists in a thing being true to its nature: the same with stars, planets, animals, and all beings. I do not accept an evil being; I call him a being who has given up on himself.
“You know that you have, in your heart, Kuwann-ri; and indeed you are Kuwann-ri, but you have chosen to be Serat. This choice torments you, it is your hell, and the only escape is to forget yourself and attack the good in others wherever you find it. Perhaps you think that fighting good makes you evil, and that you can now be true to yourself as a being of evil. But evil is not being, Serat, it is the failure of being; and for all those whose being is one of freedom and possibility, failure is a slow suicide whose torture ends only in death, and whose salvation you refuse to accept because it would mean accepting what you are, and what you’ve allowed yourself to become.
“I understand your desire to break me, to wish me to see virtue as folly and justice as a prison. You want me to give up also, to admit that pain is too high a price, to join you in your failure and thus justify it. But I cannot. However you describe virtue, or make it seem, only its absence is folly. A fruit tree’s virtue is in bearing fruit. Should we say it is foolish for being what it is? Men bear a different fruit, and because you have chosen not to, you would have the world understand man as a being other than what he is. His fruit is the beauty he reveals, but you, without beauty, would have us say he is a purposeless being, his pursuit of virtue only a waste of time. It is only because you believe this that you can believe in this.
“If men had no greatness, if it were greater not to die for justice, you would have nothing to attack. If virtue is truly foolish, why spend your energy fighting it? The very insistence of your denial is an eloquent testimony of your acceptance. You love virtue and justice, as all men do; and because you deny them, you hate yourself for that denial, and want to see them destroyed in order that you might finally stop denying them. You show your love by your hate, Serat, for you only wish to destroy them to escape the insistent longing of your soul to love them – as your being requires. You are, in fact, trying to destroy yourself by destroying me, because the agony of your being’s contortion has left you with nowhere to hide.
“I have chosen to save the people of Erta freely, not compelled by you or virtue. If virtue need to compel me to act, it would prove I do not love it, and this is impossible. Virtue is not a factor of my life: it is my life, it is the life of every conscious being. Who avoids virtue avoids living. I am more alive now, dying on this floor of your poison, than if I had preserved my body’s life from harm. My body is an animal thing, its good is to survive; but my consciousness, my soul, is human, and its survival is not identical to the survival of my body. You think today’s trap was a dilemma? Only to a moralist whose terms are based in the physical. To a philosopher of the mind there is never a dilemma: The good cannot contradict the good. Once one has answered the basic question, ‘What am I?’, he will know his being and the good that brings it life. From that point onward he will choose between life and death, between the good of his being or its destruction. For a being of virtue, its life and its good is virtue.
“Thus I am no more compelled to do what is right than a bird is compelled to fly. On the one hand it seems he must fly, but on the other it is what he longs to do most in the world. Being desires its own fulfillment; is this compulsion? Is acting, not against one’s will, but in the direction of that will’s greatest hope, an act of oppression? It is you who compel yourself to hate virtue, Serat, when all of your being longs for it. That is why you justify what you do, why you give reasons, excuses, and complain that the Jedi have ruined your chances for a better galaxy. A compelled being wants the compulsion to be known, in order to prove it is not acting in opposition to its own life. But when the compulsion is from that same being? This has made you see the universe as wrong from the start – but what you see outside is the only way you are capable of seeing the wrongness inside: the wrongness of a being who yearns not to be: the wrongness of a man who denies virtue.
“The Jedi are not special. We have set our lives to ensuring that the choice of others remains free: to be or not to be. You and your Sith are free to give up on life, but we cannot let you remove that choice from others. We ourselves honor the good that men do – because we respect their freedom and know this good to be an honest choice of their own will. But we wish no compulsion, not even against the choice to do evil. When men choose the path of evil, we leave it to society’s enforcers to resolve. But when they act to remove this basic freedom from others – their choice to pursue their being’s good or to neglect it and turn to evil – then the Jedi act to protect it. We are, solely, the guardians of that freedom. If one were to act to eliminate the choice to do evil, we would oppose him as we oppose you, who act to eliminate the choice to do good.
“This is why you do not understand us, Serat; why you and we are truly enemies. You have made your choice but cannot bear it, so you want to remove the existence of that choice from the universe. And there we stand to stop you. Accept your choice, and we will go our separate ways in peace. Your fight will then be with the governments whose laws you oppose – not with the Jedi. But as long as you attacks the rights of being itself, you will find us, its champions, standing there to block your way. What you long to destroy, we care to see healthy and unchallenged. This is my claim to the rank of Jedi, nothing more.
“I leave you to my comrads now. They will see through your plans in time, whenever the being of the galaxy can no longer tolerate your corruption, and the force itself prompts you from concealment. You must also have a part to play to have succeeded this far. Perhaps you represent what strengthens the Jedi, and helps us to be clear in our task – to have so complete an enemy to test our abilities and resolve. Perhaps if our success wanes, yours will also; and had we been greater, you would be also. The force remains a mystery to me in this regard, but of all things it seems always to honor fairness. Since being’s hatred of itself exists as a possibility of freedom, perhaps that is the reason why you and I exist, to defend the freedom of others who have not chosen that possibility – and you to teach us the need for this – in which case you truly are my guide, Serat, and I thank you for the growth you have fostered, in both your roles in my life.
“Now I go where you may not follow. My body must perish, but my actions have confirmed the life of my soul. What I become now, free of this limited flesh, will be more powerful that you can ever imagine. Do not think that a being of consciousness, a being of virtue – whose true life is not dependent on the body – can lose that life simply by the loss of his body. Farewell my enemy.”
When the brightness of this flash of insight faded, so too did the brain which had hosted such a mind. His body relaxed into the final composure of death, and the force received into its bosom a profound brilliance – one which had shone in Sinwa’s actions and thoughts, and now rose on horizons not of mortal soil, but the uncharted territories from which such a being had issued forth, and to which all must return.
The harmonious voices of fifty trumpets filled the air, one pure note as the summation of all its parts working in concert. Then it fell to a lower note, then to a higher, its theme of profound bereavement mingled with joy at a life well-lived. It was a new composition for the ceremony by Master Hochin, whose hobby was music, expressing on behalf of the Jedi their admiration, and for the people of Erta their gratitude, at the sacrifice of the great Jedi Master, Abu Sinwa.
The government had asked for the honor of receiving his remains, and a monument had been constructed for this purpose of the purest, white marble, erected in Yosemmie, one of the last great parks of an overcrowded planet. It rose in the form of a single spire, a great finger of stone pointing the way to heaven, a symbol whose aspiration stood for one thing: to arise in the plenitude of possibility to strive for justice and virtue, and for the good of every being.
The music of trumpets, at once solemn and betraying an inner joy, resounded from the surfaces of the structure and were reflected back into the crowd, who filled the valley, the hilltops, the highest peaks of the great stones in the park. The sound seemed as though shaped by that monument and the one it contained, adding an invisible note – heard by none, yet felt by all – of rightness: that this day, this person, the event being honored, the respectful silence of the crowd: that all of it was right, and fulfilled something indescribable which in the end had been the ultimate hope of its honoree. For on this day men honored not a man, or a name, or his great record and final deeds; but they honored that virtue which made them possible; they honored the potential in their own selves to embody such a greatness; they awoke to the power of a light which one man may harness and irrevocably alter the destiny of planets. They saw, without knowing it, their own future beckoning in the tall and proud figure of the white monolith, and they understood wordlessly that the man buried was not lost to them, but was in fact the incarnation of the very best possible in themselves.
In this way it was both memorial and premonition; Hielo felt it, and Cortin, and all the ranks of the Jedi who stood with sabers drawn around the base of the pillar. They were burying one man, that all might know a fuller life; they were putting one body into the ground, that its spirit might be resurrected in the hearts of each of its worshippers.
The music reached a crescendo, then changed into a slow, thoughtful fading, as if withdrawing to leave the audience alone with the impressions of so momentous an event. Quieter and quieter, until a last, single note drew out, its length tearing into the hearts of those who had known Abu Sinwa, or understood his love of life. Most of the Jedi could be seen trailing tears to the ground, as if this one enduring note of sadness permitted them to grieve, and summed up the rightness even of that grieving.
Then there was silence, as much a part of the composition as the notes that had gone before. No one moved, or cried out, or turned his face. The silence gathered and built, a moving presence, drawing each person up to his full height within his robes or vestments; becoming louder and more profound by its absence of any tone: a single note resonating in the spirits of its listeners. It felt like taking a deep breath and inhaling the fragrance of Sinwa’s life and meaning. And then they all exhaled that breath, and felt the capacity to move again – to endure the necessities of physical life and to gird their wills against the insistent pressures that deny such perfect peace as in that moment.
At this point, just as the crowd was on the point of awakening from their shared, unseeable vision, one of the Jedi called aloud: “About!” At this command, moving in perfect unison, the colored sabers of the honor guard turned in the air, the faint charge of their sound magnified by the depths of the valley’s silence. They turned, faced the monument again, then bowed their sabers, their heads and their bodies, and returned the brilliant powers of their swords to hilt and sheath. They maintained the bow for a full minute, that unbearable, magnificent silence returning as a final memory, a final salute; then they turned and filed away, out along the valley floor and toward the spaceport of their waiting ships.
The crowd knew what they had seen – without needing to understand. It spoke to a fundamental awareness inherent their capacity to appreciate sight itself. None could describe it, but when they caught each other’s eye walking away – something no one seemed eager to do while still in the valley – there was a look of recognition, as if two parts of one whole were seeing each other for the first time with a knowledge of that relationship. Then slowly the sense of it faded.
As they left the site they felt their lives returning, leaving a field of dreams to rejoin the cities of teeming humanity. Except that a few were touched in ways they could not forget. It worked at them, in their hearts, effecting changes they could feel like a pupa deep in its cocoon. And when the time came – although no one knew the cause – it was found to be true that the death and loss of one of their greatest, had become the birth and life of future’s more.
A new evil
The darkness draped about Serat like an impenetrable cloak.
“He did not understand that we are a long-lived raced, that our plans reach beyond the grasp of these mortal fools and their Republic. Darth Jenna met the end befitting a rash fool.”
Lord Serat beckoned with his hand, as if to summon a shadow from the dark. The shadow came.
“You have found me, my pupil, because your aim and your spirit are much like mine – and because I allowed you to find me.”
The figure robed in grey, deeper than the shadow, bowed. His face and figure were hidden in the folds of darkness.
“Together we shall crumble this puny Republic and its Jedi with it. Surely, inexorably, they will fall to the greater powers of the dark side!”
Again the figure bowed, something in its movements suggesting a deep satisfaction at the words of its master.
“I will teach you the true arts of power, until your hand hangs over your enemies, and crushes them without its being seen or felt – except by the inescapable darkness surrounding them on every side. Then the Jedi with their helpless sabers will not know where to turn, and will recognize the superior strength of their enemy. Then this galaxy will be ours to control, to shape into the form of its true potential: as an awesome force to which the universe itself will bow in homage!”
A third time the figure bowed, silent, in radiant approval of its master’s words, though his radiance was one that absorbed the light, giving nothing back.
“We begin this day your training. Your name, your life, are gone now. Your soul belongs to me.”
The figure kept still, receiving every command, unflinching in its resolve to bear any ordeal for the sake of mastering the darker arts of power.
“From henceforth, my pupil, whatever your name had been in the world of their weakness, I give you another, the name by which you shall be known and feared, in equal measure to your successes under my hand.”
For a moment the silence grew even more profound, as if the act of such a naming alone would create a new entity, a new force of evil in the world.
“You shall be known as Darth Sidius.”