AN: I am a horrible, horrible person, I know. Let's put it this way: if you had 31 GCSE module exams, writer's block and the flu, would you be thinking about Yularen and co? Well, I was. Which is why I'm sure of failing. Anyway ...
In which there is another cliffhanger.
Bridge of the Valiant, 22 BBY.
"We have had no word from the fleet?"
Aayla Secura hissed, lekku twitching in frustration. Her immediate orders were to carry out the surprise attack on Dooku once her promised support arrived: a Venator-class star destroyer carrying five starfighter squadrons, as well as much-needed fuel and medicine supplies. While the Valiant was by no means a less powerful flagship than its counterparts -- it even had ion cannons, something that the Spirit of the Republic did not -- its crew were not as well-equipped, nor as well-trained as those on the other ships, due in part to its age. Although the Valiant was by no means an inferior ship, it simply did not have the manpower or the resources to blockade Felucia without the aid of the Spirit.
And there lay the problem: the Spirit had not arrived.
"You have had no word at all from Skywalker, commander?" She asked, studying the bridge. "Or Kenobi?"
"None at all, sir." Commander Bly responded. "But they could still be in hyperspace now."
"No. They would have rendezvoused with the Freedom at Boz Pity, and then continued on to Felucia immediately." Secura responded, tapping her long nails on the bridge. "Allowing for delays, they still should have been here over three hours ago."
What was Skywalker playing at? Secura knew that if the worst came to the worst then she would have to attempt to blockade Felucia alone, a lone star destroyer with barely any support fighters or escorts. While the Valiant was fully equipped for a ground assault, it lacked enough fighters to make winning the aerial battle a possibility. The current system was, she now knew, the worst possible tactical error to have made. Splitting up the divisions by flagship -- to have the Spirit carry the pilots, the Freedom the supplies and the Valiant the ground corps -- had seemed like a good idea in the Council chamber, but she was now becoming acutely aware of the flaws of the plan. It had all hinged on one, crucial variable that the Jedi had assumed to be non-negotiable: that Skywalker and Kenobi would, without a doubt, be there.
And they weren't.
To make things even more complicated, a surprise attack had been an important part of the plan, but without her promised support, the Valiant had been waiting idly in Separatist space for the past day now, and it was only a matter of time before droid scouts spotted them and raised the alarm. Should that happen, Aayla Secura was not particularly optimistic about their chances of surviving the battle. A master tactician in his own right, Dooku would force the Republic to participate in a space battle, which would be disastrous; while the Valiant's ion cannons could incapacitate just about any flagship on the market, they were useless against smaller craft such as buzz droids, which formed the main bulk of the Separatist fleet. And with only two skeleton squadrons assigned to the Valiant, their forces would soon be overwhelmed by the droids' superior numbers. Unable to defend herself against one-man fighters, the Valiant wouldn't stand a chance.
Secura frowned. The escorts she had been promised were crucial to the attack on Felucia -- and yet, they had not come. Something was wrong here. Something had happened.
"General!" An ensign called, raising his hand. "We have a priority communication awaiting on Line 1!"
"Unidentified, sir. But they're using a top priority code, and a classified one at that."
"Could be stolen." Bly grunted. "Damned clankers."
"I don't think so. Relay the message."
The ensign tapped a couple of buttons on the keyboard. Secura focused on the image. "Master Windu. You have news of the fleet?"
Windu looked surprised. "I assumed that they had already arrived."
"Negative. Neither the Spirit nor the Freedom has contacted me."
He frowned. "I just received word from the Freedom indicating that she was in the system."
"She could be on the other side of the planet. I don't know." She turned to Bly. "Commander, see to it that we establish a secure connection with the Freedom. Immediately."
"What about Skywalker?" Windu asked. "Have you had any news from him?"
"We have been unable to establish a connection to the Spirit."
"In that case, Master Secura, I would advise you to --"
Suddenly, the image of Mace Windu blinked out mid-sentence, the connection replaced by static.
"Master? Master Windu!" She whirled to face the communications officer. "Why is this not working?"
"Something's jamming our communications, sir." He replied, as agitated as she was. "My money's on a large ship -- Venator-class at least."
"General!" Someone shouted. "Scanners read incoming fighters approaching planet-side."
"Republic?" Secura asked, although she already knew the answer.
"Clankers." Bly spat furiously. "They know we're here."
"Then we must attack them before the second wave arrives."
"But that's suicide!"
"We don't have a choice." She said firmly. "Neither the Spirit nor the Freedom are here, and if the Separatists create a blockade I doubt they will be."
"General Windu said that the Freedom was in the system --"
"And we have no means of contacting them!" Secura paused, thinking furiously. "Fire up the ion cannons, target as many enemy ships as you can."
"They're too small, sir. The scanners aren't picking them up."
"Then deploy the fighters to engage them in battle. That'll buy us time. And set course for the near side of the planet at once. If the Freedom is there, it is essential that we find it." A droid ship flew past the viewport, pincers extended.
"Yes, sir. At once."
Secura looked at the fighter pilots heading towards the hangar bay, their boots echoing in the silence. All eyes were on her. It was almost nightmarish, staring into the same face a hundred times.
"What are you waiting for?" She snapped at the suddenly depleted bridge. "Open fire. Immediately!"
The Restoration, 3 ABY.
"I must say," the stranger said almost conversationally, "that this is a very elaborate hoax you've got here."
"Hoax?" Luke asked, stunned.
"Galactic Empire … false encryption codes … my death …" He snorted. "Really elaborate. You almost had me fooled there. Almost."
For a second, Luke just stood there, wondering how to respond. Then, he remembered Roenai's advice about dealing with trauma patients, about how to gently disprove their delusions. The key thing, she'd said, is to keep calm. Be rational.
He sighed, looking the stranger directly in the eye. "There is no hoax."
"Yeah right." The man snorted.
"We think that you're suffering from type IX hallucinations." Luke swallowed. "This type of hallucination is usually experienced during the recovery from a comatose state, or after suffering a severe brain trauma … symptoms can last for a few days. The hallucinations only occur when the patient is conscious, and they are often unable to distinguish the delusions from reality."
"Delusions?" The man snarled, and Luke took a step back. "You call this a delusion?"
"There is no hoax. Really." Luke held up a newsholo. "Look at the date."
The man snatched it, scanning the byline. "These can be faked."
Luke inhaled slowly, counting to ten. "I can assure you that we don't go around deliberately doctoring newsholos just so that we can play with your mind."
"Ah, but clearly you do." The stranger retorted. "Because you are."
Who was this lunatic? Luke could feel himself losing control again, and he knew that if this continued, he would soon snap. Roenai and the Rogues were right -- there was no way that anyone could travel back in time. It was simply impossible. Even though this man wore Jedi robes and looked like a Jedi and acted like a Jedi and for all he knew was a --
No. That was impossible. He was wrong.
"Fine." Luke snapped, losing his patience. "Let's assume that I am lying. Yes. I'm lying. So," he asked, "where are you supposed to be, then?"
"For all I know, I'm in a Separatist prison galley, in a detention cell, about to be tortured by some clankers --"
"No. Where were you before?"
"I …" The man paused, looking directly at Luke. "A ship."
Luke counted to ten again, but to no avail. "I'm telling you, I'm not a Separatist!"
The man remained silent, raising an eyebrow.
"Right." Luke snapped, giving up. "Since you clearly don't have a cover story, you're going to listen, because I'm going to tell you the truth.
"You're delusional. You've suffered from some sort of trauma, and it's clearly affected your memory. I don't mean to suggest you're mad --" He said hastily, catching sight of the stranger's rapidly darkening face -- "but that you're, well …"
"Mad." The stranger said bluntly.
There was a loaded pause.
"So go on then, Skywalker." The stranger snarled. "Where am I?"
Luke could feel the sweat trickling down his brow. "It's three years after the Battle of Yavin. It's twenty-two years since the establishment of the first Galactic Empire. It's Year 22 by the New Standard Calendar. It's 1500 hours. It's Firstday."
"You're Luke Skywalker." He spat the words out, like an accusation, looking directly into Luke's eyes with a glare that made his blood run cold. "Tell me." He hissed. "Where did you find me, why am I here, and what have you done to me?"
"I've done nothing to --"
The man crossed the tiny room in two short strides, until they were almost nose to nose. "Yes, you have." He glared. "And you are going to stop it. Because, as far as I know, my life has just been --"
"Don't blame it on me!" Luke shouted, losing his cool. "We find you in the middle of a coma in the desert, drag you here, you wake up and you seem to think you're some sort of Jedi! Get real! There are no Jedi! They're dead -- and I know they're dead because I'm the last one!"
"You?" The man laughed. "Get real. You aren't even fully trained."
"Because the Empire exterminated the rest of us!"
"What Empire?" He shouted.
"The one that we're fighting right now!" Luke yelled. "And whoever these 'Seps' are, I'm telling you -- they don't exist!"
"So how did I do this, then?" The man shouted, waving metallic fingers in Luke's face. "Cut it off myself, did I?"
"I don't know! But neither do you!"
"Listen, you --"
"No, you listen! This is the real world. This is where you are! You're not from the Republic. You're not a Jedi. You're not from the past. You're here! Wake up!"
"And I would kriffing well like to!"
"Well, you have." Luke snapped. "This is it."
"But it can't be!"
"It is. Not unless you're telling me that people can travel forwards in time."
There was a pause. The man levitated the datapad above his palm, the lights flashing. "No. You're right. That's impossible."
"Yeah." Luke said, watching the datapad float gently to the floor. "It's impossible."
Medbay of the Spirit of the Republic, 22 BBY.
"Has there been any change?"
"No, sir." The droid replied. "Vitals are stable. He hasn't responded to any external stimuli so far."
Obi-Wan sighed, dropping into a chair next to Anakin's bedside. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, Parnell?"
"I was trained as a medic, sir." Parnell said icily, drying his hands.
"I know." A pause. "I'm sorry, it's just …"
"Not a problem, sir. If it were my brother, I'd …"
"Oh?" Obi-Wan muttered noncommittally. Dismissing the Lieutenant for the present, Obi-Wan turned his attention to Anakin. "Listen, I need to know exactly how these injuries occurred. It's important."
"It might be too late to deduct anything, sir. Any bruising might have faded."
"But there must be something! At the moment, this intruder has us running in circles. If we can get anything on him …" He let the sentence trail off.
"But performing such a late autop-- examination might not yield any results."
Obi-Wan refused to dwell on Parnell's choice of words. "There is a chance, though. And if I can find who did this, I'll --" A pause. "He'll be --" He broke off again. "Continue."
"Understood, sir." With detached professionalism, Parnell crossed over to Anakin and began to examine his forehead. "I can't see any bruising, although it may have faded by now."
Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan rose and moved next to him, trying not to think about how Anakin would have decked the Lieutenant were he able. "So, he wasn't attacked?"
"I don't think so. See -- look." He pointed at Anakin's palm. "That sort of burn would have been caused by the electricity in the wires."
"I don't think so." Obi-Wan frowned. "It doesn't look like that to me."
"That is an electrical burn." Parnell said firmly, giving Obi-Wan a steely glare. "I've treated them myself."
"As have I."
Parnell bristled. "Are you a qualified medic, General?" The threat of the words was barely veiled, the tone challenging.
Obi-Wan met his gaze. "Are you?"
There was a loaded pause, before Parnell looked away. "The coma, naturally, would have been caused by the shock from the wires."
"Admiral Yularen said the same thing." Obi-Wan said.
"Caused by reason or reasons unrelated to external force?"
Parnell smiled as he wrote down the result, but Obi-Wan knew better. There was something odd about that smile.
The Restoration, 3 ABY.
"But how?" The stranger said, looking around. "How can this be the future?"
"You must have hit your head harder than you thought."
"And fallen into a stasis for … twenty years, is it?"
Luke sighed. "You know that that's impossible."
"So is all this! Listen, if I was making it up, which I'm not --" He said this last line with such vehemence that Luke was almost inclined to agree -- "then how would I know everything in such detail? I can give you every passcode to every flagship, name all the administrators in the Senate -- I can prove I'm a Jedi if needs be!"
"I'm not doubting that --"
"I don't know." He paused for a second, thinking. "Is there anyone you know? Anyone who could verify your claims? Your mother, perhaps? Or--"
"Don't talk about her." The command was so venomous that Luke, against his will, found himself complying. "There's got to be someone else …"
"Your Master?" Luke prompted, remembering their earlier conversation.
"Maybe. Gods, imagine him twenty years on …" The stranger gave a harsh laugh, and Luke wondered at his sudden mood swings. "Oh, I can tease him about this so much …"
Luke was thoroughly exasperated by this point. "Who is your Master?"
Luke blanched, his fingers whitening as they gripped the datapad. The tension in the room was palpable.
Luke stared at him.
"He is alive, isn't he? Isn't he?"
"No. He's dead." Luke whispered, face as pale as his shaking fingers. "Long dead."
The man blinked for a moment, as though struggling to process the information. Then, "who did it?" He hissed, slowly rising from the bed. "Tell me!" Luke remained silent. The lightpen snapped in his grasp.
"Who did it?" The stranger shouted.
"It's not -- I --"
"Who killed Obi-Wan?"
The man froze mid-sentence as the click of a blaster sounded loudly in the cramped room. "I'd advise you to let him go." A voice said. "Or I shall have no choice but to shoot you both."
Bridge of the Valiant, 22 BBY.
"Concentrate all fire on that flagship!" Aayla Secura shouted, pointing at the scanners.
"Laser fire won't eradicate those defences." Bly pointed out. "They're too well made."
"Then ready the ion cannon! At once!"
"Is that really wise, General?" Commander Gamma asked. "When our power resources are as low as they are?"
"We must remove the flagship if we are to revert to hyperspace." Secura snapped.
"Starting primary ignition sequence!" A row of ensigns began furiously tapping keys and adjusting their headsets. "Locking in auxiliary power!"
"Shields are down two thirds and falling!" Gamma shouted.
"We can't, sir, not without incapacitating the ion cannon."
Secura swore. "Then recall all fighters at once. How many are left?"
"I want them defending the bridge and the cannon. All of them. See to it that not a single Separatist fighter breaches the hull."
"Skywalker incapacitated the entire ion network of their main flagshipusing a one-man starfighter and a well-timed shot." She explained. "And I will not allow them to use our own tactics against us. Not while I command this vessel."
"Recalling all fighters!" The message blared over the comm. system. "All fighters to Sector AA-23!"
"Have we had any word from the Freedom yet?"
"Not yet sir, but I think --"
"Ships incoming! Scanners read five squadrons and counting!"
Dooku. Secura drew herself up to her full height. "What designation?"
"Vulture droids sir, bearing left!"
"Power's at one-fifth and falling."
"What's our status?"
"Ion cannon's seventy-three percent charged." Gamma stated. "Shields down to two-fifths."
"We have to hold them off until the cannon's fully charged or we're done for." She turned to Bly. "Is the Freedom responding to our hails?"
"Send them an emergency signal." She commanded. "Tell them we need reinforcements. At once!"
"Buzz droids have breached the hull!" Gamma shouted. "Lower sector's wide open!"
"We may have to evacuate, General." Bly cautioned her. "This is one battle I don't think we can win."
"Ion cannon ninety-one percent charged!"
"We can hold out until then." Secura said. "We can't abandon our remaining fighters out there!"
"Signal from the Freedom!" A communications officer shouted. "Code Omega-Nine-Two!"
Secura felt her heart sink into her boots. Omega-Nine-Two signalled an immediate retreat. They had been abandoned, and the mission with them.
"General!" Bly shouted. "The enemy is hailing us. What do we do?"
The Spirit of the Republic, 22 BBY.
"What's our status?"
The council looked as tense as they had the previous day, clearly shaken by the events. "Sir …"
"Well?" Yularen shouted, half rising from his chair.
"Supplies are down a third and falling." Parnell said nervously, crumpling a piece of flimsiplast in his palm. "We may have to start rationing before the evening is out."
Yularen sank back into his chair, pressing a sweaty hand to his forehead. "How long?"
"At current levels … about a week, sir."
A furious storm of whispering erupted, people's eyes flicking to their wristchronos and back again, as if to begin a mental countdown to the end.
"But surely the emergency supplies --"
"Damaged by the bomb on Twoday."
"And the water?"
"Destroyed in the engine room."
"The nearest system?"
There was silence.
"Continue." Yularen ordered, sounding older than he had before.
"Communications are down." Barklai said gruffly. "Engineers can't seem to find the problem with the damn thing."
"The same goes for the hyperdrive." Piett said nervously. He kept glancing at the newly-gained bars of rank on his shirt, as though they would be ripped away from him if he said the wrong thing. "No progress on that so far."
Yularen sighed. "Have you made any progress, Faizal?"
Thako Faizal was a new recruit, barely older than Anakin, who seemed to have a talent at solving technical problems. "No, sir."
"Has been accessed recently, sir. Before the events of Twoday, at any rate. And after."
"But that's classified!" Obi-Wan turned to Yularen. "Did we use this datapad at all during the last meeting?"
The Admiral swallowed. "I'm not sure. I don't remember."
There was an awkward silence, before Piett spoke again.
"Have we made any progress on the identity of the killer, sir?"
"Progress? Impossible." Lieutenant Soren said. Obi-Wan shot a glance at him, noting the unusually high colour in his cheeks, the way his eyes glittered, like polished durasteel.
"Don't be so sure, Soren." Barklai admonished him.
Obi-Wan swivelled to face him. "You have a lead?" He asked urgently.
"Better than that." Barklai smirked. "I have evidence."
There was a collective gasp.
"Go on, man!" Yularen spat.
"Impossible." Parnell repeated faintly, his voice hoarse.
"Well." Barklai said, waiting until every eye in the room was centred on him. "I sent a couple of clone troopers down to the living quarters, to examine the site where the bomb was detonated. They discovered that it was a timed device, set off with a remote control. Oh, and --" he produced a small object from his pocket -- "it seems that our mystery man may be more obvious that we think."
"A Kamino sabredart." Obi-Wan breathed, studying the weapon.
"I found it near the site. Seems that our troops have been instructed in more than just obeying orders, eh, Master Jedi?"
"A Kamino sabredart?" Yularen asked, twisting it around in his hands. "Bit of an odd choice, isn't it?"
"I know of someone who used them." Obi-Wan said, remembering his first encounter with Jango Fett on Coruscant. "But he's dead now."
"How long dead?"
"Three or four months, I should think."
"So, we have a rogue clone running about trying to kill people?" Piett asked sceptically. "Seems unlikely."
"Clones can be ordered to do anything, Lieutenant." Barklai smirked. "And I also know who ordered them to do it."
"Yes." He said. "In fact, the murderer is in this very room. It is --"
He paused mid-sentence, choking, hands reaching to tug futilely at his collar.
"Barklai?" Piett asked. "Are you all right?"
Then, in slow motion, Barklai tipped and fell face first onto the table, convulsing.
"Dear gods, he's choking!"
"Loosen his collar, quick!"
"Hang on, hang on, give him some --"
"Move!" Obi-Wan shouted, shoving the Lieutenants aside. He knelt down by Barklai, noting the pallor of his skin and the odd blue tint to the lips.
He was too late. Again.
"Gods!" Yularen exclaimed. "Is he all right?"
"No." Obi-Wan said quietly. "He's dead."
-to be continued-