Title: Prologue: Crash

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars and am not making any money with this story.

Rating: PGR

Warnings: None

Characters: Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Oh, and Artoo, of course...

Summary: What if Anakin hadn't managed to land the Invisible Hand safely on Coruscant? What if the ship's crash had been fatal? And what if one of the passengers on that doomed ship had the power to save himself... a power he could not fully control?

Author's Note: Because everyone at some stage in their career as a fanfiction author conceives a mad desire to write a time-travel story. For better or for worse. This one even has a canon-ish explanation... Go figure. Anyway, this is the obligatory chapter on how our heroes (and villain) came to bend time and land in the era of the OT. I posted this on livejournal a long while ago, but I thought I'd put it on this site too.

"On the bridge of the Integrity, Lorth Needa could only stand, and watch, hands clasped behind his back. Military discipline kept him expressionless, but pale bands began at his knuckles and spread whiteness nearly to his wrists.

Every bone in his body ached with helplessness.

Because he knew: that fragment of a ship was a death trap. No one could land such a hulk, not even Skywalker. Each second that passed before its final breakup and burn was a miracle in itself, a testament to the gifts of a pilot who was justly legendary – but when each second is a miracle, how many of them can be struck together in a row?

Lorth Needa was not religious, nor was he a philosopher or metaphysician; he knew of the Force only by reputation, but nonetheless he found himself asking the Force, in his heart, that when the end came for the men in that scrap of a ship, let it at least come quickly."

Revenge of the Sith, p. 133-4

"Using this knowledge, I can unleash the dark side energies that are all around us, even to shatter the fabric of time and space. In this way, I have created storms."

Emperor Palpatine in the Book of Anger

The Invisible Hand broke apart with a terrible, screaming finality. Astromech droids screech as flames tear across the cruiser's broad hull, separating the nose of the vessel from its failing engines. Around the CIS flagship, clone fighters and vulture droids twirl, lasers and smoke-trails blazing through Coruscant's exosphere. Capital ships tilt on damaged stabilisers, bristling with turbolasers; but the bulk of the Separatist cruisers are withdrawing, leaving the skies to the Republic's red and grey Venator-class destroyers.

"Not to worry," Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi quips – somewhat naive on matters concerning how to land a heavily-modified, Providence-class CIS cruiser – "we are still flying half a ship." He is strapped into the co-pilot's chair, his face flushed under his neatly-trimmed beard, his copper-blond hair falling across his wide forehead, blue eyes glassy with adrenalin.

To his right is his former padawan, Anakin Skywalker. The young knight is glued to the glowing console, which is alive with warnings of immediate and imminent destruction. The Invisible Hand rockets into the stratosphere, trailing fire like a descending comet. "Now we're really picking up speed," murmurs the pilot, almost to himself, his breathing shallow, hair damp with stress and the unbearable heat of the cockpit. His blue astromech droid, R2-D2, burbles agreement.

The fourth being in the cockpit looks askance at the rapidly approaching planetary surface. We are coming in too fast. A child could see as much. Indeed, children are seeing it. The Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, seated on the other side of Jedi Skywalker, is acutely aware of the billions of beings observing their rapid descent on multiple HoloNet channels, holding their breath just as he is.

This would never have happened if Anakin had left Kenobi to die. So many times he has cast his mind forward to this stretch of seconds. Oftimes, Darth Tyranus' head did not spin to Anakin's twin blades; he occasionally even went so far as to defeat Palpatine's chosen protégé. But never, never had the manifold paths decreed that Kenobi could live!

"Eight plus sixty... we're in the atmosphere!" Obi-Wan calls to Anakin.

"Grab that," Anakin jerks his head toward the stabiliser-console, his dark blue eyes never leaving the flaming viewport as the ship accelerates through the topmost-clouds and the cruiser's drag-fins are ripped apart, "keep us level."

The R2 unit begins to go berserk, warbling as it calculates the speed and trajectory of their landing. "Easy, Artoo!" Skywalker yells, as he desperately tries to merge with his controls, feeling the Invisible Hand through the Force. The curve of the hull, the supports in the mid-section; every piece of white-hot debris is Anakin; it is Anakin hurtling through the blue as parts of him burn away, the blood that pumps in his ears is fire on reinforced durasteel.

Palpatine says nothing, his pale eyes stare sightlessly at R2-D2 as his mind wraps around a larger reality than Anakin's, skipping lightning fast across the trajectories of future-sight, encompassing not just their cruiser, but the length and breadth of the galaxy, as outcomes flash across his vision, all pointing to one inescapable conclusion: we are going to die. For a moment it seems too fantastical a notion: the Sith Master cannot credit that years of work will vanish as their bodies burn; that he will never claim Anakin as his own, that he will never rule as the oracles predicted so many decades ago, that his spirit will never rest with the elders on Korriban.

Fear bubbles up within him, quickly turning into a greater rage than he has ever felt. Kenobi shouts something, but Palpatine can't hear the words and no one sees his eyes burn golden as a single thought coalesces within his mind: NO!

"We're coming in too hot!" Silvery fire-ships cling to the Invisible Hand like tiny Mon Calamari feeder-fish, desperately trying to extinguish the flames swallowing the cruiser's sides.

Dark energy flares about the cockpit – screaming with the entropy that is the true manifestation of the Dark Side of the Force – as the Invisible Hand hits the landing strip, propelling everyone forward into the crackling blue vortex which disappears just as the Invisible Hand explodes, a cloud of fire billowing out to incinerate the surrounding ships and flaring across Coruscant's horizon...