Spectre of the Past
The witches in charge of her care were insistent that Jaina stay in the medcentre so they could keep an eye on her condition. Jaina was fully annoyed with them; if they thought that she was going to eventually die, why shouldn't she be allowed to do what she wanted to? She never voiced her opinions aloud, knowing that she was going to annoy her caretakers just as much as they were irritating her. Infuriating a Dathomiri witch was probably not the best idea, considering that they had welcomed strangers into their midst. Unfortunately, being confined to one place was making her tetchy.
"I don't see why they can't just let me go," Jaina said to Anakin the morning a couple of days after she had collapsed. "I feel so useless!" Her fist slammed into the centre of the pillow she had been playing with on her lap.
"Punching the life out of the pillow's probably not going to help," Anakin answered, attempting to hide a smile.
Jaina made a face. "Sorry. My genes overdosed on stubbornness."
Anakin laughed. "Thanks," he said. "I realized that." He fell silent, uncertain of what to say next. There was a topic that neither of them had been inclined to breach, but both of them knew that they would never be satisfied until it was.
"It's hard to tell whether the Empire will be able to trace us here," Jaina said finally. "I mean, I'm such a gigantic beacon in the Force right now, I'm probably shouting, 'I'm over here, I'm over here, come and get me!' to everyone who can listen." She shunted the pillow aside and drew her knees up, resting her chin on them. "You're not getting all headache-y like the rest of them, are you?"
Anakin shook his head. "No," he said, "but I will appreciate it when I can finally put some of these barriers down. Keeping them going all the time is probably going to drive me crazy."
"Don't be. It's not your fault."
It was no secret that many people were beginning to avoid the room that acted as a medcentre here in the village. Jaina's presence had become so bright and powerful that it was overwhelming to be in the same vicinity as her; those that did not need to be near her stayed away. Even Obi-Wan and Kyp could only visit for a little while before they had to escape. Only Anakin seemed resistant to Jaina's rapidly growing powers; but whether it was because he was the Chosen One, or because he was her grandfather, they couldn't know. What the other patients thought, they couldn't be sure as no one commented on the effect Jaina's condition may or may not have on them.
It was becoming altogether frustrating for Jaina. She felt cut-off from everyone else, separated because they literally could not be near her without suffering. It was a strange phenomenon; her connection to the Force and all the powers it gave her were growing daily, but her body was becoming weaker. Jaina was reminded all too forcefully of a moment during her imprisonment when Palpatine had paralyzed her; yet she had still won the battle due to her mental strength.
It was not a particularly pleasant thing to remember, nor was it a situation she wanted to end up in again. If her physical strength was sapped to the point where she could no longer move or speak, she would go insane.
"Jaina," Anakin said after a while, "there's something I want to try."
"What is it?"
Without answering, he reached out and touched her hand. Immediately, Jaina felt an electric shock run through her. Anakin stepped back several paces and sat down in his chair. He looked puzzled.
"I wonder what's up with that," he said quietly.
"I don't think it's a symptom of the Delik-66," Jaina said. "That's happened before – whenever I come into contact with you or Padmé."
Anakin's eyes narrowed. "That's… weird."
"I know. I thought that maybe it was a sign that I was out of my time – you know, the time traveller coming in contact with their ancestors – but it doesn't happen when I hold the twins."
Perhaps it was one mystery that they would never get an answer for.
"How is everyone else doing?" Jaina asked.
"Oh, fine," Anakin said, leaning back in his chair. "I think they're enjoying being able to stay in one spot without the pressure of having to run elsewhere. Mon Calamari was a good place for them, but there was always that chance that the Empire could come raining down on them without warning."
"And you've encountered more Jedi," Jaina said, smiling.
"Yes." Anakin grinned. "It was a surprise, but a good surprise at that. It's comforting to know that there's more Jedi out there than we thought. After the massacre in the Jedi Temple and what Obi-Wan saw at Kuduran, sometimes it's hard to believe that anyone other than us actually survived. You know," he added, "Master Tiin told me that Cin Drallig was attempting to escape with a few Padawans. I'd always hoped that they had made it."
"So, they've been hiding here the entire time?" Jaina asked.
"No," Anakin said. "They barely escaped Coruscant. Bene's the only Padawan who got out, and she and Cin would not have made it if Serra hadn't been there. After they escaped, they were chased from planet to planet. Eventually the Empire gave up sending troops after them, but they had a few bounty hunters to contest with. Apparently Master Drallig has a price on his head almost as big as ours. Any bounty hunter would leap at a chance to bring a Jedi in; the reward alone would provide enough for him to retire."
"We're lucky that we didn't meet any bounty hunters, then," Jaina said.
Anakin snorted. "I'd rather have taken the bounty hunters as to what happened," he said darkly.
Jaina pursed her lips. "Wishing that things had turned out differently isn't going to get us anywhere."
"I know, but wishing is all part of a living being's nature," Anakin answered, "especially when things go wrong. You always end up questioning yourself whether things could have gone differently."
"Perhaps you can do that, Anakin," Jaina said, "and sometimes I do feel that way, too, but I grew up in a world that took a different course from this one and believe me, it is not a desirable outcome at all."
Anakin didn't say anything, but he had visibly paled.
"Be thankful for the good things you have," Jaina continued, "like your children. In the world I come from, your children never accepted you as a father until much later in their lives."
"Jaina," Anakin said quietly, "I really don't want to know."
Jaina fell silent and picked at the edge of her discarded pillow. "So, why did Master Drallig and the others come to Dathomir?"
"It was Bene's idea," Anakin said. "She thought they would be able to hide better if they were in a community of Force-sensitives. Dathomir seemed like a good idea, as it was remote and the witches are powerful allies. They had some trouble convincing Augwynne that they were trustworthy. Though they've been here a while, only Bene and Serra are trusted. Cin is somewhat of an… exile."
"Because he's a man," Jaina said. "Yes. I know the way they work. A powerful Jedi like him showing up without warning would certainly make them suspicious."
"They're getting better, according to Bene at any rate," Anakin said. "He's been helping them patrol their borders. Apparently there's a group of dark witches or something that have taken an interest in—"
"Nightsisters," Jaina interrupted. Her hands clenched into fists. "I'm not surprised."
"I told you about them before, remember? They're the whole reason we came to Dathomir in the first place! The Nightsisters were in your dreams!"
Anakin was about to respond when there was a sudden commotion outside. Jaina did not need to hear the shouts and yells to understand what was going on; her hypersensitivity to the Force and the life that surrounded her threw her senses into overdrive. A wounded witch of the Singing Mountain clan was approaching the medcentre, supported by her sisters – and the battle had followed them to the village.
Heedless to Anakin's voice, Jaina rolled out of her bed and stumbled to the exit, her mind forcing her weakened body to move. Exhausted and panting for breath, she clutched the side of the wall outside her room. Anakin quickly came to her side.
"You shouldn't over-exert yourself," he said. "I can go see what's going on."
"I'm not useless," Jaina said shortly.
"Come on, Jaina," Anakin insisted, offering to help support her weight.
She stopped talking as three people burst into the medcentre hallway. One was Allaya; she and another were supporting the middle witch, whose face was pale under the freely bleeding cuts and lacerations on her face. A trail of blood followed them. The wounded woman looked half-dead.
"Skywalker!" Allaya snapped as she came down the hall, stumbling under the dead-weight of the witch she was supporting. "Get outside now, this village is under attack!"
Anakin did not need another word. Jaina heard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber igniting and then he was gone.
Jaina clutched at the wall, stumbling out of the way as Allaya manoeuvred into the room and placed the injured witch on to one of the beds. She immediately began issuing orders, attempting to staunch the wounds and save the woman's life. Jaina was frozen. Despite her weakening body and her buckling knees, she could not move back to her own bed or even sit down on a chair. She could sense the witch's life draining away into the Force. Soon, she would be dead, despite Allaya's attempts.
Jaina's head was pounding. She sensed that she was moving now, but it was if her body was acting of its own accord. With one hand on the side of the wall, she walked towards the wounded woman's bed. Her vision blurred. Just as she could feel the life-force of everyone in the room, she could also see it: a golden glow, almost like an aura. The injured woman's aura was dim; soon, it would go out.
Allaya looked up momentarily from her work, her expression unreadable. Jaina met her eyes and glanced at her dying patient. Without warning, the woman's life-force went out like a blown-out flame.
The last thing Jaina knew in that moment was that she was somehow inadvertently responsible for the woman's death.
The next moment, the medcentre, the village and Dathomir had vanished.
There was heat beneath the hard, smooth surface of the floor.
Jaina's senses slowly came back to her. She was disoriented; her throat was raw, as if she had not drunk anything in days. Slowly she sat up, rubbing her forehead in an attempt to rid herself of her pounding headache. Despite this, she felt whole. Her body was no longer in a weakened state, her connection to the Force was no longer spastic. She felt normal again.
Jaina's eyes flickered open and she stared in confusion at the room she found herself in.
The great, cavern-like chamber was overly familiar. Empty of windows and with a magnificent dais at its heart, there was only one place in the galaxy like this: Professor Augustine's lair on Mustafar.
Jaina slowly stood up. How had she ended up here, of all places? She didn't know how to time travel; that was an art whose secrets were still closed to her. She wasn't like Sidious, who could leave one place and arrive at another on a whim.
She slowly crossed the chamber, stepping up on to the dais. The shining pillar that was the centrepiece on the dais still remained. Last time, it had acted as some kind of conductor for the powers of time that sent her and Kyp spiralling into the past. Perhaps if she touched it this time, it would send her back to where she needed to be: Dathomir.
"Wait a minute…" Jaina frowned. Something was wrong. She walked straight up to the structure, but it wasn't having the effect it had last time. Her eyes scanned the pillar; the engravings that had marked it on her last visit were mostly absent. It was like the pillar was not yet complete.
The sound of a door shutting reverberated behind her. Jaina spun around and saw a tall man, hooded and cloaked, standing at the top of the stairs.
"No one knows of this place but I," he said, slowly walking down the steps. "How is it that you've come to be here, human girl?"
A shiver went down her spine. "I don't know."
"He sent you, didn't he," the cloaked man continued. "Darth Sidious. My enemy."
"No!" Jaina shouted. "No, he didn't! He's my enemy, too, I don't have anything to do with him!"
"Then how is it that you've come to be here?" The man had reached the bottom of the stairs. There was something cold and menacing in his voice that kept Jaina frozen where she was. "Speak now, before I grow tired of your tricks and games."
"Are… are you Professor Augustine?"
The man paused. "How do you know that name?"
"Well, are you?" Jaina insisted. "I know this place. I know this is on Mustafar. I've been here before."
"Is that so?" He exhaled. "Ah. I see now. Time traveller."
"Yes. I am." Jaina paused. "You are Professor Augustine, aren't you? You are familiar to me."
"Indeed?" The man walked forward towards the dais, but did not step up on to it. "Come down, girl," he said, offering her a long, spindly hand. "It appears I have solved our conundrum."
"Really?" Jaina stepped off the dais without his help. "Well, then, what is it? I get the feeling that you really don't know who I am."
"That is because I have not met you yet," the man said.
Jaina stared blankly at him. "Huh?"
"Oh, don't be so thick-skulled, girl," he snapped. "You've met a future version of me."
Jaina clasped her hands together. "So, you are the Professor."
"Yes, I am." He swept around the dais, Jaina following, to the ornately carved black throne that stood to one side of it. He sat down. "Pardon an old man," Augustine said. "I can't remain on my feet all day long."
Jaina crossed her arms and remained standing. "What am I doing here?" she demanded.
"Why should I answer that?"
"Because if anyone knows anything about time travel," Jaina snapped, "it's you!"
"You aren't listening well enough, girl," Augustine answered. "I said 'why.' Yes, I am familiar with the strange powers of time and the ways they twist and flow to shape our universe. I understand how the Force can be used to bend those powers to an individual's will. You evidently already know something of it already, otherwise you wouldn't be here. Therefore, your question is invalid. If you had the ability to come here – this most sacred and forbidden of places – then you know how you will be able to get yourself out. You come here, invading my home, unannounced and unasked. Why should I be obliged to help you out of your predicament?"
"I ended up here by mistake," Jaina said, her voice low. "I don't know how it happened. I've travelled through time once, but it was not on my own. I had help – from you. I don't know anything about time."
"You must learn to help yourself, human child. I cannot do everything for you."
"You're the one who got me into this mess in the first place!" Jaina shouted. "You're the one who sent me back in time to save my grandfather! I had no idea what hell you would be putting me through when I accepted your mission. I did it for my family's sake, but did I know how much of a demon Sidious really is? Did I know about his experiments, his tests, his obsession with toying with lives? I'm supposed to be dying right now because he poisoned me – but would that have happened if I hadn't listened to you in the first place?"
"You have no one to blame but yourself," Augustine said. "Did I force you to take on the mission? No—"
"And how would you know?" Jaina snapped. "It hasn't happened to you yet."
An eerie silence fell across the chamber.
"I know," Augustine said slowly, "because I know myself. I am unchanging. That is both my blessing and my curse. Whatever happens to the outside world during the ever-changing push and pull of time, I remain the same. My timeline never changes. What happens to me now will always happen. What happens to me in the future will always happen, must always happen."
Jaina sat down on the dais. "I don't understand…"
"That is because you are merely a pawn in the movement of greater things."
Jaina glared at him. "Excuse me?"
Augustine chuckled. "That is your hero factor coming in play, I see. How very much like your grandfather you are: stubborn and narcissistic to no ends. Perhaps take satisfaction in this: the movement of one small piece can change the outcome of an entire, complex game of dejarik."
"And who are you, the dejarik Grand Master?" Jaina said coolly.
Augustine paused. Jaina couldn't see his face under the shadow of his hood, but she could have sworn he had smiled.
"Perhaps," he said.
Jaina clenched her fists. "You son of a Hutt—"
Augustine raised a hand to silence her. "Greater events than you could possibly know are now in motion. You must think beyond the individual."
"You have no right to toy with us like that!" Jaina shouted, standing up.
"But, my dear, whatever did you think I was doing when I asked you to go back in time to save your grandfather?"
"You can't know," Jaina growled. "It hasn't happened to you yet."
Augustine sighed. "You clearly cannot comprehend the peculiarity of my life. It does not matter when something happens; I am always the same person. Tell me your version of events from the future and I will explain. Will that bring you some comfort?"
Jaina's fists were clenched so tightly that her fingernails were digging into her skin. She remained standing, glaring at Augustine, uncertain now what to think of him. Was he a friend or an enemy? He seemed too detached from the events that had occurred, a mere bystander pleased to coolly watch things pass. It chilled her to the bone.
"Sit, human child."
She sat on the edge of the dais. Slowly, her fingers released and she rubbed the sore, red spots on the palms of her hands. "We were on a mission to Mustafar," she began. "Several Jedi and I came here. We encountered Darth Sidious, whom all of us thought to be dead. He wasn't. He was a time traveller and had used his powers to escape death many times. He killed my brother, Jacen, and then disappeared. You found us after the battle, led us here and explained that in order to stop Sidious for good, one of us would have to travel back in time to save the only person who could destroy him: Anakin Skywalker. You sent me and a comrade back in time to before the Empire was created."
"I see. Is it in your best interests to defeat Sidious?"
"He killed your brother, did he not? Not only that, he has tormented the galaxy for years as he masqueraded as an Emperor. Are you not benefiting everyone by trying to defeat him?"
"Then we are allies, Jaina Solo. We want the same thing. I gave you a hand, sending you to where you could best put your plans into action."
Jaina swallowed hard. "I haven't told you my name."
"You forget that I am a time traveller," Augustine said. "I knew your name the moment you arrived here. I have seen multiple futures that involve heroic – or not-so-heroic – deeds that are attached to your name. My only question was what you were doing here in a place that is impenetrable."
"I don't know how I got here."
"Where were you before you came here?" Augustine said coldly. "Tell me." His voice was soft, but it sounded like an order.
"A Dathomiri village," Jaina said. Part of her wanted to keep silent, but another part knew that Augustine was the only one who could help her now. If she didn't talk, he wouldn't help her and that would leave her stranded on Mustafar – and she didn't even know if she was in the right year. "The medcentre. I could barely move. Sidious poisoned me with something called Delik-66—"
"What?!" Augustine roared. He was standing now, having moved so rapidly that Jaina hadn't even seen him get out of his chair. For an instant, Jaina thought she saw a glimmer of yellow eyes beneath his hood, and then it was gone.
"Delik-66," she repeated.
"Of course," Augustine said, sitting back down on his chair. "It is very much like Darth Sidious to do that. He clearly had no idea what he was doing."
"No, he didn't," Jaina said. "Usually experiments don't turn out the way you want them to."
"Delik-66 is an imperfect substance," Augustine said. "It was created as an attempt to help save the lives of Force-sensitives during a pandemic some three thousand years in the future. The scientist who was in charge of refining it, Jarvlis Arkheenan, never finished his work. He was killed in an explosion that destroyed the entire building where the research was conducted."
"Sidious," Jaina said. "It was him, then."
"Yes. That I have no doubt."
"The Delik-66 was affecting my midichlorians," Jaina said. "Or something like that. I feel completely normal right now. Why is that?"
"Time," Augustine said, gesturing around the chamber with a long, pale hand. "It is a mysterious and powerful thing. It can heal as much as it can destroy. I assure you, if you were still infected, then I would be able to sense the effects of Delik-66 right now. My best guess is that you, having travelled through time before, subconsciously knew what would be your cure. You opened a time portal on your own, which sent you back here. Your most recent trip has stripped you of the infection."
Jaina sat quietly on the edge of the dais. For so long, she had been living in fear that any day could be her last. She had faced death so many times that it was not the act of dying that had her scared; it was leaving her friends and family behind at a time when they needed her. They needed each other. Now to know that she was free from the effects if Delik-66, she wasn't sure if it was a ploy on the part of Augustine or the truth.
"You seem cautious, Jaina," Augustine said.
"I am," she answered. "I don't know if I can trust you."
"You can't," he said. "I never would advise you to. Trust is for fools. Trust can deceive you, leave your friends free to stab you in the back when you least expect it."
"That's not what I meant," Jaina said.
"No? I know what you meant. You don't know if you can take my word anymore. That is something you will simply have to live with."
Jaina nodded. This entire conversation seemed more like a dream than anything. To have unexpectedly time travelled again, and then even more unexpectedly been cured was almost too strange a series of events. Above that, to see Professor Augustine before he had even met her… the entire situation was absurd.
But, at the same time, it was not.
"How is it that you are not affected by these changes in time?" Jaina said. "How is it that you are above everyone else?"
"I have come farther down a certain path than anyone else has ever dared, Jaina," Augustine answered. "That is all you need to know. This is my burden: to see everything pass by multiple times, with multiple endings. Especially during the life of Anakin Skywalker. The galaxy never knows peace."
"You are just as much to blame for time being constantly in flux as Sidious!" Jaina countered. "You sent us back there to change things, and guess what happens? Sidious tries to change things on us! No wonder the galaxy doesn't know peace. This will never end."
"Shall you stay here, then?" Augustine said coldly, reclining on his black throne. "If you are so appalled by meddling with time?"
Jaina fell silent.
"Let me show you something, Jaina Solo," Augustine added.
He slowly rose to his feet and began crossing the chamber. Jaina stayed where she was, glaring at him.
"Time is passing, human girl," Augustine said, keeping his back to her. His voice echoed through the chamber. "Come!"
Jaina got up and ran towards the Professor. They crossed the chamber, went up the stairs and into the dark, windowless corridor outside. They walked along it in silence, in the dark, until they reached another door. Augustine activated it and it retracted into the ceiling.
The room was filled with bright bursts of colour. It had many levels, spiralling throughout the room, reaching up and out of sight. Each level was connected by black catwalks and stairs. Scattered throughout the many levels were holoprojectors, each programmed with something different. As Augustine led her down the winding stairs and through the room, Jaina saw that each holoprojector was labelled with years, months and days, all following the Great ReSynchronization dating system, along with a small description of what was contained in the holo. However, the holoprojectors began to repeat themselves. Apparently, every one of them fell between Year 55 and Year 59.
Going up several steps to the next level, they walked by a long, spiralling black structure that was simply labelled Year 58. It looked almost like a tree, with each month branching off in a different direction, and each month having several versions of itself. In most of the images flickering in the holos, Jaina recognized herself, Jacen and their childhood friends as teenagers.
"What is this?" Jaina asked. She looked up, but Augustine was no longer there.
"I have been here for four long years, Jaina Solo," Augustine's voice called.
Jaina turned around, craning her neck. She spotted the Professor on the next level, standing on the catwalk connecting two platforms. She glanced around for the nearest set of stairs and quickly ran up them.
"It has been four long, lonely years," Augustine continued, "and many more since I was banished from my rightful place by my enemy. It took me decades to pull myself out of the hellish pit where he sent me and even then, I journeyed, unresting, through time, unable to stop in one place for long, spinning out of control between past, present and future. I finally settled here and was able to begin my plot to take Darth Sidious down. I could no longer travel myself to his time. So, I watched the world go by in silence. These are my documents. You see how many versions of the same tale there are? Everything you see here is shaped by what happens in the days of the Chosen One's youth. Let me show you."
Jaina finally reached him. She panted, out of breath, and looked at the nearest holoprojector. It was labelled 55:5:21: Luke & Leia Skywalker. Records re: Imperial City. Current.
"What does current mean?" Jaina asked, frowning.
"It means that this is the latest version of their specific timeline," Augustine said. "Meaning, what happens to them if what has happened in the past remains as it is."
Jaina froze. "No, I don't want to s—"
The holo burst into life.
Her mother, scarred, exhausted-looking and armed with a yellow lightsaber, ran down a long corridor. Leia was followed closely by Luke, whose green saber was also activated. They stopped, panting, trying to catch their breath.
"Are they coming?" Leia asked.
"There's nowhere to run," Leia said hollowly. "This is the end."
"I'm sorry, Leia," Luke said. "It's my fault. It's all my fault."
"No! Don't blame yourself."
"If I hadn't run off after imaginary shadows, then Han wouldn't have been captured. He would still be alive."
Leia took her brother's hand in hers. "You had nothing to do with his death, Luke. I don't blame you, and I never could. You were tricked by Sidious, as we all were. He's finally got what he wanted: our family handed to him on a silver platter, to do with as he pleases."
Jaina's stomach churned. She recalled this scene, a familiar vision from a dark night when she visited the cave on Dagobah, right before she was captured. She wanted to tear her eyes away. She knew what was going to happen, but she found that she was glued to the holo nonetheless.
"We should have been able to stop this," Luke said. Despite his words, there was no hopelessness in his voice.
"We couldn't," Leia said softly. "When father died, everything was lost. We've always known that. He was the Chosen One, but even he wasn't capable of stopping the Sith. Sidious won the moment he killed Father. There's never been any hope, despite our attempts to fight against him."
"There's always hope!" Luke hissed, his eyes flashing, urging his sister not to give up, even though the situation was dire. "There always is hope if there is but one fool to fight for it."
Leia smiled bitterly. "I don't have your strength, Luke."
Luke shook his head. "You're wrong, Leia. You've always been stronger than me, and you always will. The children, too."
"Jaina… Jacen. Anakin." Leia sighed and looked away. "I want so much to see them again. They're only eleven years old. Anakin's ten. Who knows what will become of them?"
"They'll fight on. After we're gone, they'll still be here to lead the Rebellion our parents started."
"Not if Sidious finds them first."
"Don't," Luke said quickly. "Don't think like that. He won't find them. We've left no traces. The only people who know where they are hidden are standing in this corridor."
"Then they're safe."
"As long as we don't talk."
"I wasn't planning on it." Leia smiled slightly. "How long has this war gone on?" she said. "It spans three generations, tearing this galaxy apart. Eventually, people will start to wonder why it even began in the first place."
"It began because one man was given too much power. It began because one man feared a prophecy. It began because no one stepped up before it was too late. It began because… because who knows what was supposed to happen?"
"Do you believe in fate?" Leia asked quietly.
Before either of them could answer, a bang echoed down the corridor. Leia looked over her shoulder and threw a worried glance at Luke.
"I'm not going to be captured by Sidious," she said.
"Neither am I." Luke paused. "The children are safe as long as no one knows where they are. That information is ours to bear."
Leia's eyes narrowed. "What are you thinking of?"
Luke glanced at a small control panel on the wall. Leia's eyes followed his gaze.
"I'm ready to go down fighting," Luke told her, "but I'm not ready to be captured and interrogated the way our friends were. And that's what he'll want. Sidious wants the children. I'm not going to let him get that chance."
Leia paused. "We'll take down at least half of them as we go," she reasoned.
Her expression hardened with determination. "Then let's do it."
She took his hand and they deactivated their lightsabers. Walking over to the control panel, they raised their free hands simultaneously and gave each other one last look before typing in a code and pulling the switch.
Gas began to flood the corridor, obscuring the camera. Confused shouts and coughing threatened to overtake each other. Booted feet thundered down the hall. Blaster bolts ricocheted off of lightsaber blades. Finally, all noise faded.
The holo blurred and faded.
Jaina remained silent for a long time. She could not believe what she had just been shown. Was it real? Had her mother and uncle really died?
"Why did you show me this?" she asked. "Why?"
"To show you the reality you live in," Augustine said, crossing to the platform beyond. "You were doubting your return to the past. To Anakin Skywalker's time. With even the tiniest bit of doubt in your heart, travelling back there would have been impossible, with or without my aide. My future self sent you to the past for a reason. You obviously need to be there, otherwise… Skywalker dies, his children die, your father dies, your legacy dies and Sidious reigns triumphant. I have been watching the shifts in time for four years, Jaina Solo. You need to return."
He paused for a moment, his hand lingering on the controls to the holoprojector nearest to him.
"What?" Jaina said.
"I find it bizarre," Augustine said lightly, "yet appropriate that you turned up when you did."
"Four days ago," he answered, a finger resting on the control to activate the holo, "was the day of your death. You see, Darth Sidious and his allies managed to track you and your brothers down after all – because you refused to remain in hiding, as per your mother's dying wish. All that arrogance, all that stubbornness. And now, because of it, nothing remains of the Skywalkers, save your bothers."
Jaina swallowed. "And… are they okay?"
"I suppose one could say that it is your fault that Jacen, your twin, is in prison, pending execution, and Anakin is so severely injured that he will never walk again."
Jaina's hand reached for the nearest rail and grasped it for support. Her legs felt like they were about to give way; she was shaking beyond control. So this was the future. Strangely, the future galaxy was even worse than it had been when she had left.
It took her a while to regain her voice. Everything seemed to be lost to her right now.
"Is there no hope at all?"
"Just a fool's hope." Augustine walked away from the holoprojector and down the nearest set of stairs, reaching the ground level. "Much of the galaxy's future apparently rests on your shoulders, little one."
"Send me back," Jaina pleaded, following him. "Now. Enough games. I know what I need to do. And I'll do it."
"There," Augustine said, turning around. His voice sounded strangely happy. "That was what I needed. Now I know I can trust you. We are partners, Jaina Solo."
Jaina clattered down the rest of the stairs. "All right," she said, hurrying after Augustine towards the exit. "We're partners, or whatever. How did you even get ahold of all these recordings? How can you keep an eye on everything that goes on beyond Mustafar?"
"I have my methods. I have scientific arts from the future that you cannot begin to understand." Augustine activated the door and stepped through to dark corridor outside.
"Just like Sidious." Jaina stopped in the doorway.
Augustine turned to her. "I am not like Darth Sidious," he hissed. "We are opposites. We have different purposes. He sees the galaxy one way, I see it the other. Don't you dare compare him to me, human."
He continued walking briskly down the corridor, heading back to the main chamber of the complex. A deep, unsettling thought had begun to occur to Jaina. Who was Augustine and why did he hate Sidious so much? He kept referring to her as 'human', almost as if he loathed the word and used it in a derogatory sense. Was Augustine not human? She had assumed that he was, as he looked and sounded human. But with his hood up, she could never be certain. If she found out, perhaps it would give her a key to figuring out Augustine's place in this bizarre, twisted series of events.
They entered the main cavernous chamber and descended the stairs. Jaina caught hold of the banister and stayed where she was.
"Professor, one last question," she called.
"Yes, Jaina Solo?" he said, turning around. "Just one. I am preparing to send you back to the past."
Jaina's free hand clenched. If only she could see his face, that would answer at least some of her questions.
"You hold extreme hatred for Darth Sidious, Augustine," she said. "It's an anger that I think runs even deeper than my own family's. What could cause someone to use other people as pawns for in a game like this? You may say that I'm your partner, but you sent me to the past in order to prevent Anakin from joining Sidious. You're a powerful time traveller. Why can't you go yourself? I want to know why. What has Sidious done to you?"
Immediately, Jaina sensed a stirring of the dark side. Augustine turned back towards her.
"You cannot know, little girl," he snarled.
Jaina raised a hand and reached out with the Force. Augustine's hood fell back; there was a burst of colour and light and a hiss of sound. Jaina felt herself being pulled backwards. She screamed and looked up as the chamber spiralled away from her, consumed by the powers of time. The last thing her eyes registered was the gleam of yellow eyes and a gaunt, pale face before bright, confused colours spun around her and she was travelling back to where she had come in a rush of conflicted sound and light.
Moments later, she slammed down hard against the cold floor of the Dathomiri medcentre, the breath knocked out of her. She heard screams and her name shouted before she passed out cold with one lingering thought on her mind.
Augustine is not human.