Luke Skywalker stood steady and straight before the gathered Jedi, his face composed and stronger than durasteel. The set of his shoulders, his precise gestures, the weight and timbre of each word he spoke all confirmed his confidence and control.
But Anakin Solo knew it was a lie. Anger and fear filled the chamber like a hundred atmospheres of pressure, and beneath that weight something in Master Skywalker crumpled. It felt like hope breaking. Anakin thought it was the worst thing he had ever felt, and he had felt some very bad things in his sixteen years.
The perception didnt last long. Nothing was broken, only bent, and whatever it was straightened, and Master Skywalker was again as strong and confident in the Force as to the eye. Anakin didnt think anyone else had noticed it.
But he had. The unshakable had shaken. It was something Anakin would never forget, another of the many things that had seemed eternal to him suddenly gone, another speeder zooming out from underneath his feet, leaving him flat on his back wondering what had happened. Hadnt he learned yet?
He forced himself to focus his ice-blue eyes on Mas- ter Skywalker, on that familiar age- and scar-roughened face. Beyond him, through a huge transparisteel win- dow, flowed the never-ending light and life of Coruscant. Against those cyclopean buildings and streaming trails of light, the Master seemed somehow frail or distracted.
Anakin distanced himself from his heartsickness by concentrating on his uncles words.
Kyp, Master Skywalker was saying, I understand how you feel.
Kyp Durron was more honest than Master Skywalker, in some ways. The anger in his heart was no stranger to the expression on his face. If the Jedi were a planet, Master Skywalker stood at one pole, radiating calm. Kyp Durron stood at the other, fists clenched in fury.
Somewhere near the equator the planet was starting to pull apart.
Kyp took a step forward, running his hand through dark hair shot with silver. Master Skywalker, he said, I submit that you do not know how I feel. If you did, I would sense it in the Force. We all could. Instead, you hide your feelings from us.
I never said I felt as you do, Luke said gently, only that I understand.
Ah. Kyp nodded, raising one finger and shaking it at Skywalker as if suddenly comprehending his point. You mean you understand intellectually, but not with your heart! The Jedi you trained and inspired are hunted and killed throughout the galaxy, and you understand it the way you might an equation? Your blood doesnt burn to do something about it?
Of course I want to do something about it, Luke said. Thats why Ive called this meeting. But anger is not the answer. Attack is not the answer, and retribution most certainly is not. We are Jedi. We defend, we support.
Defend who? Support what? Defend those beings you rescued from the atrocities of Palpatine? Support the New Republic and its good people? Shield the ones we have all shed blood for, time and again in the cause of peace and the greater good? These same cowardly beings who now defame us, deride us, and sacrifice us to their new Yuuzhan Vong masters? No one wants our help. They want us dead and forgotten. I say its time we defend ourselves. Jedi for the Jedi!
Applause smacked around the chambernot deafening, but not trivial either. Anakin had to admit, Kyp made a certain amount of sense. Who could the Jedi trust now? Only other Jedi, it seemed.
What would you have us do, then, Kyp? Luke asked mildly.
I told you. Defend ourselves. Fight evil, in whatever guise it takes. And we dont let the fight come to us, to catch us in our homes, asleep, with our children. We go out and find the enemy. Offense against evil is defense.
In other words, you would have us all emulate what you and your dozen have been doing.
I would have us emulate you, Master Skywalkerwhen you were battling the Empire.
Luke sighed. I was young, then, he pointed out. There was much I did not understand. Aggression is the way of the dark side.
Kyp rubbed his jaw, then smiled briefly. And who should know better, Master Skywalker, than one who did turn to the dark side.
Exactly, Luke replied. I fell, though I knew better. Like you, Kyp. We both, in our own way, thought we were wise enough and nimble enough to walk on the laser beam and not get burned. We were both wrong.
And yet we returned.
Barely. With much help and love.
Granted. But there were others. Kam Solusar, for instance, not to forget your own father
What are you saying, Kyp? That it is easy to return from the dark side, and that justifies the risk?
Kyp shrugged. Im saying the line between dark and light isnt as sharp as youre trying to make it, or exactly where you want to put it. He steepled his fingers beneath his chin, then shook them with an air of contemplation. Master Skywalker, if a man attacks me with a lightsaber, may I defend with my own blade, that he not take my head off? Is that too aggressive?
Of course you may.
And after I defend, may I press my attack? May I return the blow? If not, why are we Jedi taught lightsaber battle techniques? Why dont we learn only how to defend, and back off until the enemy has us in a corner and our arms grow tired, until an attack finally slips through our guard? Master Skywalker, sometimes the only defense is an attack. You know this as well as anyone.
Thats true, Kyp. I do.
But you back down from the fight, Master Skywalker. You block and defend and never return the blow. Meanwhile the blades directed against you multiply. And you have begun to lose, Master Skywalker. One opportunity lost! And there lies Daesharacor, dead. Another slip in your defense, and Corran Horn is slandered as the destroyer of Ithor and driven to seclusion. Again an attack is neglected, and Wurth Skidder joins Daesharacor in death. And now a flurry of failures as a million blades swing at you, and there go Dorsk 82, and Seyyerin Itoklo, and Swilja Fenn, and who can count those we do not know of yet, or who will die tomorrow? When will you attack, Master Skywalker?
This is ridiculous! a female voice exploded half a meter from Anakins ear. It was his sister, Jaina, her face gone red with internal heat. Maybe you dont hear all the news, running around playing hero with your squadron, Kyp. Maybe youve started feeling so self-important that you think your way is the only way. While youve been out there blazing your guns, Master Skywalker has been working quietly and hard to make sure things dont fall apart.
Yes, and see how well thats gone, Kyp said. Duro, for instance. How many Jedi were involved there? Five? Six? And yet not one of youMaster Skywalker includedsmelled the rank treachery of the situation until it was too late. Why didnt the Force guide you? He paused and then smacked a fist into his palm for emphasis. Because you were acting like nursemaids, not Jedi warriors! Ive heard one of you even refused to use the Force. He looked significantly at Jainas twin, who sat stone-faced halfway around the hall.
You leave Jacen out of this, Jaina snarled.
At least your brother was honest in his refusal to use his power, Kyp said. Wrong, but honest, and in the end when he had to use it, he did. The rest of this group has no excuse for its ambivalence. If saving our galaxy from the Yuuzhan Vong is not a good enough cause to flex our true might, let self-preservation be!
Jedi for Jedi! Octa Ramis shouted, still in the clutches of renewed grief over losing Daesharacor.
Its both ourselves and the galaxy Im trying to preserve, Luke said. If we win the fight against the Yuuzhan Vong at the price of using dark-side powers, it will be no victory.
Kyp rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. I knew it was a mistake to come here, he said. Every second I waste talking with you is a torpedo I might be firing at the Yuuzhan Vong.
If you knew that, why did you come?
Because I thought even you must see the pattern on the Huj mat by now, Master Skywalker. After months of doing nothing, of watching our numbers dwindle, of listening to the lies circulating about the Jedi from the Rim to the Core, I thought now, at last, you had decided it was time to act. I came, Master Skywalker, to hear you say enough is enough, to lead the Jedi, united, in a just cause. Instead I hear only the same vacillating Ive grown tired of.
On the contrary, Kyp. I called this meeting to make some real decisions about how we should face this crisis.
This isnt a crisis, Kyp sputtered. Its a massacre. And I already know what to do. Ive been doing it.
The people are frightened, Kyp. Theyre living in a nightmare, just as we are. They only want to wake up.
Yes. And in hopes of waking up, they feed the dream monsters whatever they ask for. Droids. Cities. Planets. Refugees. Now Jedi. By refusing to act against this treachery, Master Skywalker, you come dangerously near condoning it.
Bantha fodder! Jacen snapped, finally breaking his silence. Master Skywalker hasnt been complacent. None of us has. But the sort of naked aggression you condone is
Effective? Kyp sneered.
Is it? Jacen challenged. What have you and your squadron really accomplished? Harried a few Yuuzhan Vong supply ships? Meanwhile weve saved tens of thousands
Saved them for what? So they can flee from planet to planet until theres nowhere else to go? Jacen Solo, who denied the Force, are you lecturing me on what is and isnt effective?
What isnt effective is this argument, Luke interjected. We need calm. We need to think rationally.
Im not sure thats what we need at all, Kyp shot back. Look where your rational policies have gotten us. Were alone, now, dont you all see that? Everyone has turned against us.
Anakin switched his gaze to the new speaker, Cilghal. The Mon Calamaris fishlike head bobbed as her bulbous eyes searched around the chamber.
We still have many allies, Cilghal said, in the senate and among the peoples of the New Republic.
If by allies you mean people without the guts to actually turn us in, yes, Kyp said. But wait a bit. More Jedi will be killed or captured. Stay here, meditate, and wait for them. I wont. I know what the fight is and where it is. With that he turned on his heel and started from the chamber.
No! Jaina whispered to Anakin. If Kyp leaves, hell take too many with him.
So? Anakin said. Are you so sure hes wrong?
Of course I She stopped, paused, started again. It wont help any of us if the Jedi split. We have to try to help Uncle Luke. Come on.
Jaina followed Kyp from the chamber. After a second or two, Anakin followed. The debate began again behind them, in much more muted terms.
Kyp turned as they approached. Anakin, Jaina. What do you want?
To talk some sense into you, Jaina said.
I have plenty of sense, Kyp said. You two ought to know better. When did either of you flinch from battle? Its not like you two to sit while others fight.
I havent been, Jaina flared. Neither has Anakin, or Uncle Luke, or
Spare me. Jaina, I have the greatest respect for Master Skywalker. But he is wrong. I cant see the Yuuzhan Vong in the Force any more than he can, but I dont need that to know theyre evil. To know they have to be stopped.
Couldnt you just hear Uncle Luke out?
I did. He didnt say anything I was interested in, and he wasnt going to. Kyp shook his head. Your uncle has changed. Something happens to Jedi Masters as they grow older in the Force. Something that isnt going to happen to me. They become so concerned with light and dark they cant act, but can only be acted upon. Like Obi-Wan Kenobirather than act himself, he allowed himself to be struck down, become one with the Force, so Luke could then take all of the moral risks.
Thats not how Uncle Luke tells it.
Your uncle is too close to it. And now hes become Kenobi.
What are you saying, exactly? Jaina said. That Uncle Luke is a coward?
Kyp shrugged and flashed a little smile. When it comes to his life, no. But when it comes to the Force . . . He gestured with the back of his hand. Ask your brother Jacenseems to me hes going gray early, in that respect. The whole galaxy is falling apart around him, and hes dithering over theoretical philosophy.
He did use the Force, though, as you pointed out, Jaina retorted.
To save his mothers life, from what I heard, and almost not then. How long was she in a bacta tank?
But he did save her, and me, too.
Of course. But would he have called on the Force to save some Duros he didnt know? Given the fact that he had ample opportunity to do so before that, the answer is self-evidently no. So it wasnt some universal respect for preserving life or anything of that sort that led him to break his self-imposed ban, was it?
No, Anakin murmured.
Anakin! Jaina snapped.
Its true, Anakin replied. Im glad he did it, and Im glad he hurt the warmaster, even if he did call for the heads of all the Jedi, but Kyps right. If you and Mom hadnt been there . . .
Jacen was going through a hard time, Jaina said.
Like the rest of us arent, Anakin returned.
Ive got to go, Kyp told them. Any time either of you wants to fly with me, find me. Other than that, I sincerely hope Master Skywalker comes around. I just cant wait for it. May the Force be with you.
They watched him go.
I wish I didnt more than half think he was right, Jaina whispered. I feel like Im somehow betraying Uncle Luke.
Anakin nodded. I know what you mean. But Kyp is right, about one thing anyway. Whatever else we do, were going to have to look out for our own.
Jedi for Jedi? Jaina snorted. Uncle Luke knows that. Im not sure where he sent Mom, Dad, Threepio, and Artoo, but its got something to do with setting up a network to help Jedi escape before being turned over to the Yuuzhan Vong.
Anakin shook his head. Fine, but thats what Kyp meant by only defending. Well never win this war by being reactive. We have to be proactive. We need intelligence. We need to know which Jedi are at risk before they come for us.
How can we know that?
Think logically. Any planet already taken by the Yuuzhan Vong is obviously dangerous. The planets near occupied space are the next most dangerous, because theyre desperate to strike a deal.
The warmaster said he would spare the rest of the galaxy, but only if they turn all of us over to them. That sort of spreads the desperation out, at least for people dumb enough to believe him. We saw what Yuuzhan Vong promises meant on Duro. Dont cooperate with them and they mow you down. If you do cooperate with them, they mow you down, laughing about how stupid youve been.
Anakin shrugged. Obviously a lot of people would rather believe Yuuzhan Vong lies than take their chances. The point is
The point is, what are you two doing out here rather than in the meeting? Jacen Solo asked from the end of the corridor.
We were trying to talk Kyp into staying, Anakin told his older brother.
Itd be easier talking a siringana into a box.
True, Jaina said, but we had to try. I guess we ought to go back in now.
Dont bother. A few minutes after Kyp walked out, Uncle Luke called a recess. Too much angst and confusion.
Its not going well, Jaina said.
No. Too many people think Kyp is right.
What do you think? Anakin asked.
Hes wrong, Jacen said without hesitation. Answering naked aggression with naked aggression cant be the solution.
No? If you hadnt used that particular solution, you, Mom, and Jaina would be dead right now. Would the universe be better off?
Anakin, Im not proud of Jacen began.
Jaina cut him off. Dont you two start again. Anakin and I were talking about something constructive when you joined us. Lets not degenerate into bickering, like the others. Were siblings, after all. If we cant talk through this without losing it, how can we expect anyone else to?
Jacen held his gaze on Anakin for another few heartbeats, waiting to see who would flinch first.
It was Jacen.
What were you discussing? he asked softly.
Jaina looked relieved. How to figure out where the worst hot spots are, which Jedi are in the most immediate danger, she said.
Jacen quirked his mouth as if tasting a Hutt appetizer. With the Peace Brigade out there, thats an open question. They arent tied to the interests of a single system. Theyll hunt us from the Rim to the Core if they think itll appease the Yuuzhan Vong.
The Peace Brigade cant be everywhere at once. They cant follow every rumor theyve heard about Jedi.
The Peace Brigade has plenty of allies, and good intelligence, Jacen countered. Given what theyve managed already, they must have more than a few insiders, maybe even in the senate. They dont have to chase rumors. More often than not, from what I can tell, they dont even make half the captures they boast about. Theyre just the flesh merchants who turn Jedi over to the Yuuzhan Vong.
I still have a bad feeling about the senator from Kuat, Viqi Shesh, Jaina muttered.
My point is this, Anakin said. Its hard to predict which single Jedi might be next on their list. But if they could get a package deal, wouldnt they jump at it?
Jainas eyes widened. You think theyll move against us while were gathered here?
Anakin drew a negative arc with his chin. Things arent that bad yet, and who would want to face all of the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy at once? That would be crazyus theyll pick off one at a time. But
The praxeum! Jacen interrupted.
Yes, Anakin agreed. The Jedi academy!
But theyre just kids! Jaina said.
Have you noticed that makes any difference to the Yuuzhan Vong, or to the Peace Brigade, for that matter? Jacen asked. Besides, Anakins only sixteen, and hes killed more Yuuzhan Vong in hand-to-hand combat than any of us. The Yuuzhan Vong know that.
What about the illusion the Jedi have been maintaining around Yavin Four? Thats been keeping strangers away.
Not since almost all of the Jedi Knights have left, Anakin said. Theyve either come to Coruscant to this meet- ing, or gone off to try to help comrades whove disappeared. Last I heard, only the students Kam and Tionne are left, with maybe Streen, and Master Ikrit. They might not be strong enough. Where did Uncle Luke go? We should talk to him about this, right away. It may already be too late.
Thats a good call, Anakin, Jacen admitted.
What Anakin didnt mention to his siblings was how he had awakened in the night, heart thrumming, gripped by a nameless dread. And though he couldnt remember the dream that had torn him from sleep, one image had remained with him: the blond hair and green eyes of Tahiri, his best friend.
And Tahiri was at the academy.