Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 4- The Dantooine Enclave

The Ebon Hawk snapped out of hyperspace and Carth jolted awake. Blearily, he oriented himself. He had ventured to the cockpit to further familiarize himself with the ship a few hours before they were scheduled to arrive at Dantooine. A datapad still lay idling on his lap.

“I don't even remember falling asleep,” he murmured, stretching in the pilot's chair. It was the first time he'd slept in a cockpit, and probably wouldn't be the last. Not that it was ever comfortable.

The blue and green sphere of Dantooine hung peacefully in space not far ahead. Putting his hands to the controls, and began to guide the ship towards the planet.

It was the middle of the night, both on Taris time and on the shadowed side of Dantooine they flew towards. The ship was quiet, but not the dead sort of quiet that made Carth uneasy. It was refreshingly peaceful. Even the astromech droid seemed to have found a corner of the ship to shut down in. Carth felt considerable relief that soon they would be able to deliver Bastila back to the Jedi. It was a great victory in its own right.

Above the gentle of the rumble of the ship, Carth heard slow footsteps coming towards the cockpit. Soon, Ev strolled in. “'Evening Lieutenant,” she said softly, clearly not wanting to disturb the peace either.

“I thought you were asleep,” Carth replied, craning around to see her.

Ev shrugged, “I figured you'd want a co-pilot to bring us in once we came out of hyperspace.”

Carth smiled, “Thanks.”

Ev settled into the seat beside him and got to work.

“Could you find those coordinates Bastila gave us for that Jedi Enclave?” Carth requested, glad for the company, if anything, to keep him awake. Ev didn't look much livelier either.

“Sure thing,” she replied. A few moments later, the location appeared on his global positioning screen in the middle of one of the continents.

“Thanks Ev,” he said.

“Any time, sir,” Ev responded simply.

As the Ebon Hawk soared towards Dantooine, the two soldiers kept quiet, each concentrating on the task at hand as best as their foggy minds allowed. The ship burned through the atmosphere but none of the other passengers stirred from their cabins. As they descended towards the grassy surface, Ev finally broke the silence.

“You know,” she said, almost distantly, “It's funny.”

Ev paused, but Carth waited for her to continue.

“I'm pretty sure I never met Bastila when I was aboard the Endar Spire, but I knew her as soon as I saw her,” Ev mused.

Carth chuckled, “It's pretty hard to mistake her for anything but a conscientious Jedi.”

“No, it's not that,” Ev said slowly, “All that time I spent knocked out on Taris, I think I dreamed about her. It's strange.”

“Huh?” There wasn't much Carth could say to that. “Maybe you should ask her about it?” he suggested.

Ev snorted. “Well, she'll be back with her Jedi friends soon,” Ev said, “Hopefully that will make her happier.”

The passed over a sprawling homestead tucked among the plateaus and waving grasses. “I think that's it up ahead,” Ev observed, pointing at a low, round structure directly in their path.

“I think you're right. That matches the coordinates Bastila gave us,” Carth agreed.

One particularly large courtyard in the complex appeared to be lined with landing lights. Hoping they were right, Carth brought the Ebon Hawk down in the middle of it.

“I suppose we should go introduce ourselves,” Ev suggested once the touched down.

Carth nodded, “I'm not sure if they were expecting us.”

Rising from their seats, they headed for the exit ramp. Ev fell into step just behind Carth.

As they descended the ramp and set foot in the courtyard, the humid Dantooine air caught Carth by surprise. As did the Twi'lek Jedi who already stood waiting for them. “Good evening travelers,” the Twi'lek said with neither warmth nor suspicion, “What brings you here.”

“I am Lieutenant Carth Onasi, and this is Evrue Pell, the only other remaining soldier from the Endar Spire,” Carth introduced them, “We've brought Bastila.”

“Bastila?” he exclaimed, “This is great news! Where is she now?”

“Asleep,” Ev supplied for him.

“Ah,” the Jedi nodded understandingly, “As I assume you should be as well. I will inform the Council of your arrival. I am sure they will wish to speak with you in the morning. For now, please sleep. We owe you our thanks.”

~~~

Carth couldn't sleep. He may have dozed for a while, but his restlessness compounded with the snores of his companions was enough to keep him awake. Canderous' snores were perfectly normal, but the Wookiee sounded something between a gurgle and a purr.

Something bothered him, but he couldn't put his finger on what. Maybe it had to do with the Wookiee thug and the Mandalorian mercenary that shared the cabin with him. How did I wind up with shady bunk mates like this? Right. Ev. But that wasn't it. They were both sleeping, as evident by their snores, so neither one was going to put a knife in his back any time soon.

Carth couldn't help feeling hunted still. We're off Taris and at a secret Jedi enclave. We couldn't be safer. All that time of watching his every step, wishing he had another set of eyes at the back of his head, it had been exhausting. And yet, here he was, unable to sleep.

It was one thing to fight through a space battle, nerves on edge, anticipating the enemy's moves, and taking each moment as its own skirmish. It was entirely another to slink like a spy in hostile territory for days on end, never knowing if it was already so hopeless to be counted as a defeat. In space, you either retreated, were destroyed, or you won. And then it was over. You knew the soldiers who were at your back and you knew the enemies that darted around you. It was all very clear.

Carth hated ambiguity.

Then it hit him: while he knew that they were safe, and so did the Jedi, the rest of the Republic, including his superiors, still thought Bastila and the entire crew of the Endar Spire was lost.

That thought in mind, Carth rolled out of bed and fumbled for his jacket. Zipping it up and smoothing his hair back, he made himself as presentable as he could. He slipped out of the room and headed for the Ebon Hawk's command center. Dialing through the heaviest military encryption he knew, Carth straightened up and waited.

Finally, the bluish holoprojection of a figure flickered into view.

“This is Lieutenant Carth Onasi,” he announced, “I would like to speak with Admiral Dodonna.”

“Can it wait?” the soldier on the other end asked, “She is occupied at the moment.”

Carth reluctantly nodded. “But the sooner she is informed the better,” he replied.

Through the background static he could faintly hear voices. “Who did he say he ways?” “Lieutenant Onasi.” “Onasi? He was reported dead with the Endar Spire!” “You said Onasi?”

Only moments later the soldier was shoved out of the projection and Admiral Dodonna herself replaced him.

“Carth Onasi,” she said, a hint of a smile playing on her lips, “I can assume that you're not dead then?”

“Admiral Dodonna,” he saluted, “No, sir, I am not.”

“And what of the rest of the Endar Spire?” she inquired, her expression darkening.

“There are only three known survivors of the ambush,” Carth reported, “Myself, ensign Evrue Pell, and the Jedi Bastila Shawn.”

“Bastila is alive?” she echoed, clapping her hands in relief, “That is some of the best news I have heard all week.” She paused thoughtfully then added, “But where are you now? All outgoing transmissions from Taris are jammed, to my knowledge.”

“We are currently at the Jedi Enclave on Dantooine. Bastila directed us here,” he answered, and then cleared his throat. “There is more you should know.”

“Oh, what is your report?” Dodonna asked.

“Taris has been destroyed,” he said simply. The horrific fact hung eerily in the air.

“Destroyed?” Dodonna stammered. Even she was caught off guard.

“I'm not sure why, but he had the siege fleet open fire on the entire city. There was no resistance, and I am certain that ours was the only ship to make it off the ground and out of orbit,” Carth explained, practically shuddering at the thought of that massacre.

“Perhaps some citizens survived?” Dodonna said hopefully.

“It's possible,” Carth nodded, but he didn't feel optimistic, “I doubt the Sith are hanging around the planet any more, so a search and rescue would be feasible.”

“And this ship,” she asked, “How did you come by it?”

“It is called the Ebon Hawk, and previously belonged to Davik Kang, the head of the Exchange on Taris,” Carth explained, “With the help of Mandalorian mercenary who thought he wasn't being paid enough and a local Twi'lek girl, Ev snuck onto his estate and stole it. They picked us up and we escaped the planet just as the destruction was beginning.”

“A Mandalorian and a local?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Carth couldn't help but share her sentiment, but didn't say so. “Evrue incurred a life debt with a Wookiee while we were searching for Bastila. The Wookiee's best friend was that teenaged Twi'lek slicer, so she insisted on tagging along. Aside from the Mandalorian, we acquired a top-notch astromech droid from Davik as well,” Carth explained.

“You certainly have picked up a motley crew on that Exchange ship of yours, Onasi,” the admiral commented with a hint of dry humor in her voice.

“Yes sir,” he replied, wincing. We certainly have. “What are your orders now that we have delivered Bastila to safety?” Before Dodonna could respond, he added, “I would like to recommend Evrue Pell for a promotion. She has more than pulled her weight since we crashed onto Taris, is a highly skilled fighter, and a brilliant strategist, though unconventional.”

The admiral nodded, “I will take note. For now, I would like you to remain where you are. The Jedi put the highest importance on Bastila's mission, and they may still need military assistance. You should confer with the Jedi Council representatives there to see what sort of support they still require. We will do our best to supply it.”

“Yes sir,” Carth said and saluted. “And what of Evrue Pell?”

“She should remain with you and give whatever assistance to you and the Jedi she can,” Dodonna decided. “We will send more troops to join you as soon as you inform us of what the Jedi request for Bastila's mission.”

Carth nodded, “Yes sir. Understood.”

“And in the mean time,” she ordered, “write a detailed report of the ambush on the Endar Spire and your escape from Taris. That is all.”

Carth nodded, “Thank you for your time, Admiral. Onasi out.”

The holoprojection faded away and Carth finally felt at ease. He staggered back to his cabin and barely had his jacket off before he was fast asleep.

~~~

There was a great deal of commotion around the enclave the next morning. Everyone wanted to see Bastila for themselves, shake her hand, give her a hug. All of her companions were invited to breakfast in the enclave's dining hall. The atmosphere was quietly celebratory while nearly all of the apprentices and padawans tried to get a better look at the strange crew that sat with Bastila, without being obvious about it.

Bastila willingly told stories of her capture and how she valiantly freed herself. During which, Carth noted, Ev made no effort to hide an indignant scowl. Remorsefully, she spoke of Telos' destruction, speculating that it was Darth Malak's impatience at being unable to find her that lead to the merciless attack.

Carth balked at that assertion. Bastila seemed to be exaggerating her own importance. And yet, her eager Jedi audience seemed to agree with her suspicion. Carth had to admit that even he had often said how pivotal she was to the Republic war effort. And there was no point in attributing mercy or even logic to a Sith lord. Maybe she was right. He shuddered to think about it.

After breakfast, they were all whisked off to a meeting with the four members of the Jedi council that resided on Dantooine. Short of the astromech, the entire crew of the Ebon Hawk stood respectfully before those four Jedi, even Canderous. Bastila remained a little apart from both the crew and the masters.

“We must formally thank you all for your parts in getting Bastila off of Taris,” Master Vandar began solemnly. He was of a tiny green species of alien with large eyes and long pointed ears that Carth had never seen before. “You have all done a great service both to the Jedi Order and to the whole Republic.”

“We are in your debt,” Master Zhar, a tall pink Twi'lek, agreed.

Carth could have sworn he heard Canderous chuckle lightly.

“Bastila has already told us of how she was captured and escaped,” Master Dorak, the dark skinned historian said, “but we are curious about the parts that you all played and what you might have learned of the Sith.”

Carth found everyone's eyes focused on him, expecting him to be the voice of the group. Just as well, he thought. “As I am sure Bastila told you, the attack on the Endar Spire came on very suddenly. We were under heavy fire and boarded before we could scramble all of our soldiers. Very few made it to the escape pods and even fewer landed safely,” Carth reported, falling into a rhythm that was all too familiar to him. “Bastila's pod got off well before ours, while I held the pods for any surviving soldiers that made it past the Sith. Ensign Evrue Pell,” he said, gesturing to Ev, who stood quietly at attention, “was the last. We crashed onto one of the Taresian Upper City platforms while Bastila's pod landed in the Undercity. Evrue was injured in the crash, but we made it to an abandoned apartment before the Sith sorted out the chaos of our crash.” There was no point in telling them how badly Ev had been battered up.

“When she recovered, we began to search for ways to descend into the Undercity, having heard rumors of other crashed pods down there. There were, however, guards at every level of the city, regulating travel up and down the lifts,” Carth explained. All the while, the four Jedi nodded pensively. Explaining the Sith party, however, made Carth feel uneasy. Glancing over at Ev, who met his eyes and nodded.

“Through socializing with the locals, and consequently, some off duty Sith officers, we were invited to one of their parties,” Ev explained as if what they had done was perfectly normal. The fourth Jedi Master, a pale balding man wearing red robes, raised his eyebrows, looking concerned. “Through these acquaintances, we received passage into the Lower City. You asked what we learned of the Sith? I would say that many of their soldiers are simply people looking to be on the winning side of the war, the side they perceive to be strong, and to hold down a good-paying job. Granted, they did not see anything wrong with what the blockade was doing to the planet.”

This time, it was Carth's turn to be taken aback. That she was grouping the Sith with every other sentient was almost too much. The crimes they had committed...

“In the Lower City, we met Mission Vao and Zaalbar, through whom we were able to meet with the leader of the swoop gang, the Hidden Beks,” Ev continued, but Mission interrupted her.

“That was after she took on a whole gang of Vulkars that wanted to take the accelerator from me. You should have seen her with a vibroblade! And then she rescued Zaalbar from the Gamorean slavers,” the Twi'lek gushed.

Zaalbar added an assertive howl.

“A life debt?” Master Dorak murmured.

Undeterred, Ev continued, “The leader of the Hidden Beks informed us that the Vulkars had a 'Republic Officer' captive and intended to offer her a prize the following day at the Swoop Opener. He allowed me to enter the swoop race under the Beks' banner, seeing this as our best chance to rescue her.”

“You trusted Bastila's fate to a swoop race?” Master Vrook asked indignantly. Ev simply nodded. “And had you ever raced swoop bikes before?”

“Yes,” Ev answered, with none of the uncertainty he had seen earlier. Even still, Carth easily saw through her lie and he was certain that the Jedi did as well. “When I won, the Vuklars tried to withdraw Bastila, and a fight began,” she continued. This time, it was Canderous who interrupted her.

“She blew away all the competition,” he asserted, “racing with more guts than anyone I'd ever seen.”

“And so, after the race, Canderous offered me a deal that could get us off the planet,” she continued. “He is a previous employee of Davik Kang, and was looking to leave Taris himself. Proving us with an astromech droid, T3-M4, Mission, Zaalbar, and I broke into the Sith command center and procured the necessary launch codes. Once we had the codes, Canderous brought us to Davik's estate under the pretext that I was looking to work for the Exchange. Once inside, we stole his ship as the bombardment was starting. I then flew the ship to the apartment where Bastila and Onasi waited. From there, the lieutenant took over.” She looked back at Carth, as if to ask him to finish the narration.

He nodded and admitted, “It was some of the most difficult flying I have ever done. We were pursued by a squad of Sith fighters, but Canderous and Zaalbar shot them down. Our escape was a narrow one.”

“Impressive,” Master Vrook said pensively. “Although, you certainly did take a lot of risks.”

Carth glanced at Ev, expecting her to defend her actions, but her lips were sealed. “Given the gravity of the situation,” Carth said, “we did whatever we could to get Bastila to safety. We were pretty damned lucky it all worked out.”

“There is no luck, Lieutenant, there is the Force,” Master Zhar corrected him. He stood for a while in pensive silence and no one interrupted his thoughts. He said at last, “It is one thing for a Jedi to accomplish what you have done. It is entirely another for a soldier right out of training. What did you observe, Padawan?”

Carth couldn't see where this was going.

“I was hardly acquainted with Evrue before we escaped the planet,” Bastila answered diplomatically.

Ev? Maybe they'll push for her promotion as well. The two human Jedi masters exchanged a meaningful look, the significance of which was lost on Carth.

“If there is nothing else, then, you are dismissed,” Master Vrook said flatly, “Bastila, we will discuss the future of your mission.”

While the others moved to go, Carth held his ground. “Actually, there is something else,” he said. “About Bastila's mission. I spoke with Admiral Dodonna last night, and she offers whatever military support we can give you. What should I tell her?”

“We will discuss that and inform you later,” Vrook answered. “You and your crew should return to your ship. We will summon you later if you are needed.”

And so, feeling only a little more satisfied than he had before the meeting, Carth returned to the Ebon Hawk.

~~~

Bastila returned much later that evening. She found Canderous tinkering with his collection of weapons, Carth rewriting the beginning of his report for the third time, and Ev and Mission dealing out a round of senate style Pazaak. The Wookiee was off somewhere by himself.

“Carth,” she said, heading straight for him. He put down the datapad he was working on. “I have spoken with the Masters regarding my mission. They believe that it would be wise not to send for more troops,” Bastila got right to the point, “Darth Malak seems intent on tracking me down, so a larger military presence would only make a bigger target of me.”

“Then you plan to continue this on your own?” Carth asked.

“No,” she answered slowly. “What I search for will require a group of individuals with a wide range of skills, combat and otherwise.” She seemed to choose her words carefully, so as not to give too much away. In all the time he had spent as her military adviser, he had no idea what her goal was. It was a little infuriating, but Jedi will be Jedi. “As you have all proven yourselves and your skills on Taris, the council suggested that you become my crew for this mission. That is, if you agree to it.”

“Well, Ev and I were assigned to your mission in the first place, and we've been ordered to stay with you as long as you want us,” Carth answered.

“If Ev is going, then Zaalbar will too,” Mission piped up, slapping down a pazaak card, “Twenty, I win. And where Big Z goes, I go.”

Canderous, who had wandered in from the ship's garage, said with a half smile, “I'll come along for the ride.”

“It's settled then,” Bastila said, nodding.

“When are you planning to depart again?” Cart asked.

“Well, I still have not decided on a destination,” she answered hesitantly, “We will remain here for at least a few more days.”

“And until then, we are confined to the ship?” Ev asked, as if she were expecting the worst.

“Of course not,” Bastila scoffed, “You are free to wander the enclave as long as you don't disturb any of the Jedi. Do you think the Jedi unfeeling?”

“Well...” Ev replied, and shrugged.

Bastila glared at the woman sitting on the floor before her. “The Jedi are...” she cut herself off, “Never mind.” Without finishing her thought, Bastila strode for the bunks in a huff.

“What's with her?” Mission asked, after she had gone.

“Kid, I wouldn't bother trying to understand a Jedi,” Canderous advised.

“Who're you calling a kid?” Mission snapped reflexively.

Smirking, Canderous didn't argue. Without another word, he casually left the room.

“So,” Ev started, collecting her pazaak cards, “How about another hand?”

“I haven't seen Zaalbar around for a while,” Mission observed, not seeming to have heard Ev at all. The teen haphazardly collected her own cards in a pile and stood. “I should go see what he's been up to,” she said to no one in particular, and left the command center herself.

That left only Carth with his report and Ev with her cards. “Onasi, want to play a round?” Ev asked from where she sat on the durasteel floor.

“I don't gamble,” Carth answered firmly.

“You mean to tell me that you've never touched a pazaak deck before?” Ev asked, a little surprised. “I knew you were the serious type, but...”

Serious type? Really? “I played a bit back at the military academy, but I never kept a deck for myself,” he responded, “I just don't play.”

“Not even a hand on Senate rules, now and then? No betting?” Ev persisted.

“No,” he deflected her offer. “Besides, I've got this report to write.”

“Well then,” Ev began, slowly rising from the floor, “I won't bother you any more. Good night Onasi.” As she disappeared into the corridor, he heard her say, “And you heard the Jedi: we'll be here for a few more days. You don't need to stay up all night writing that thing.”

While there was murmuring and scuffling in other parts of the ship, Carth was left alone with his thoughts in the command center. However, as time drew on, the more he found himself staring at the words he had written on the datapad, no new ones coming to mind. Sighing, he stowed it away and headed for the bunks himself.

~~~

Despite being the last to retire the night before, Carth was the first to rise. Years with the military had made him an early riser. With some hesitancy, he headed to the mess hall by himself. Carth didn't have to abide the curious stares of the young Jedi trainees for long, though. Taking some fruit and bread, he returned to the Ebon Hawk to eat.

Sitting on the edge of the loading ramp, he took in the unpolluted sunlight. Between Bastila's mission and Taris, it had been a long time since he had been able to enjoy it.

Carth hadn't even finished his breakfast when Bastila herself stumbled down the ramp. “Morning Bastila,” he greeted her.

“Oh, Carth,” Bastila said absently. The usually confident Jedi was pale and her focus seemed elsewhere. “I didn't see you there.” With that, she trotted off towards the Council Chamber, the opposite direction of the mess hall.

“I wonder what happened to her?” he murmured and bit into his second sticky roll.

“Come on, can't your stomach be a little more patient, Big Z?” Mission's nagging voice, accompanied by two sets of footsteps, approached the ramp. Soon the Twi'lek and her Wookiee friend descended into the courtyard as well.

Both noticed Carth's sticky bun and stared at him with interest. “Where'd you get that?” Mission asked, without even a 'hello' or 'good morning.'

“In the mess hall where we ate yesterday” he answered, pointing his thumb towards the back of the enclave.

Mission cracked a smile, “Thanks Carth! Come on, Zaalbar.” She took off lightly across the courtyard, Zaalbar lumbering after her.

As he finished off the sticky bun, Carth couldn't help but wonder just what the Jedi expected him, and the rest of the crew, to be doing while they debated Bastila's next destination. He sighed, “I could be a lot more helpful if I actually knew what Bastila was trying to do,” he lamented to himself, “Some 'adviser' I am.”

There was a sudden clatter at the top of the ramp as Ev lost her footing and slid down. An involuntary yelp escaped her as she grasped for the edge to stop her fall. Carth jumped up, fruit sliding off his lap and braced her before she could slip off any farther. What happened to her?

Ev shook herself and murmured something in thanks. Shakily, she took Carth's help and stood. Her eyes were wide and hands trembling.

“Are you okay?” he asked, “You look terrible, Ev.”

“I had a rough night,” she replied distantly.

“I can sympathize,” Carth said slowly, “After seeing a whole planet turned to rubble, it haunts you.”

“No, it's not that,” Ev shook her head, coming a little more into herself. “I had another dream last night.” She paused to collect herself, “About Darth Revan. It seemed so real, like I was right there.”

“First Bastila comes out looking like she saw a ghost, and now you,” Carth said in disbelief, “this morning keeps getting stranger.

“I should talk to Bastila,” Ev replied at last. The lack of distaste in her voice at Bastila's name confirmed to Carth that she was unwell. The two headstrong women had yet to make up their differences.

“I think she was off to talk to the Jedi Council,” he offered, “but she didn't say.”

“I,” she stammered, “Do you remember how to get there?”

There's that memory problem again. There was no point in bothering her about it. “Sure,” he answered, then bent down to pick up the fruit that he had dropped. “Here,” he said, handing it to her, “You should eat something. You really don't look good.”

“Thanks,” she replied and took it, forcing a small smile.

“Well,” he said, “let's go then.” Carth lead Ev out of the courtyard and into another smaller one, down a corridor, and to the open air council chamber. It really wasn't very far. Even if Carth hadn't been paying attention the first time, he wouldn't have forgotten the way.

Already standing in the chamber, thick in discussion, were the four Jedi Masters and Bastila. All five looked up upon their arrival.

“Ah,” the Twi'lek said warmly, “Evrue Pell. We were just speaking about you. Come, join us.”

“It's Ev,” she snapped wearily and took a bite of the fruit in her hand.

The Jedi Master looked a little startled by her tone, but did not comment. He only urged her again, “Please come, Ev. There is much to discuss.”

“With me?” she asked, cautiously approaching their tight circle, “Already?”

No one asked Carth to leave, so he remained.

“Bastila has already told her of the dream the two of you shared last night,” Master Vandar explained, “Or rather, vision.”

“About Revan and Malak, and some 'Star Forge' secret?” Ev asked. She stopped in her tracks, something clicking into place in her mind. “Wait, wait. We shared that dream? And how would Bastila know that we shared it in the first place?” she demanded, backing away a step.

“Because she felt your presence in the vision,” Master Vandar explained gently, “As she has ever since—”

“Master Vandar,” Vrook said sharply.

“Since meeting you on Taris,” he continued, unpreterbed.

“Feeling my presence?” Ev asked, curiosity drawing her closer to them, “You've lost me there.”

“You and Bastila have a bond,” Zhar explained, “Your lives and your fates are linked together through the Force.”

“For two so strong in the Force, your bond is indeed very strong,” Master Dorak added.

“Hold up,” Ev said, raising a hand in front of her, “I don't know what you see in me, but 'strong in the Force?' That goes to far. I'm a soldier. Before that I was a shuttle pilot, and before that a bouncer. Never a Jedi or anything like that.”

“One does not have to be a Jedi to be Force sensitive,” Zhar countered patiently, “It is entirely possible that you simply escaped the notice of the Jedi, until now.”

“Padawan Bastila tells us that she immediately recognized the strength of the Force resonating around you when you first met on Taris, and we cannot deny it ourselves,” Master Dorak added.

Ev's eyes narrowed. “Bastila, why didn't you mention any of this back on Taris if you've known about this bond thing and me being 'Force sensitive' all along?”

“Because it was irrelevant at the time,” she responded with simple confidence, “Our lives were at stake and our focus was on escaping the planet. There wasn't time for distractions such as this.”

“And what about all that time we spent on the Ebon Hawk on our way here?” Ev demanded.

“I feared I was misinterpreting the signs,” Bastila answered, “It is not my place, at any rate, to tell you of the ways of the Force. That is for the Jedi Masters.”

Ev didn't seem satisfied, however.

“This dream you shared,” Master Vrook began.

“Was not the first one I had,” Ev interrupted.

“Pardon?” Vrook asked.

“I dreamed,” she said evenly, “about Bastila. About her fighting Darth Revan.”

“When was this?” Bastila asked suddenly.

For a moment, Ev glanced back at Carth. She hadn't forgotten he was there, at least. “After we crashed on Taris, while I was incapacitated,” she answered. “I must have had several dreams like that.”

A long silence hung over the chamber.

“Well, all the more reason...” Master Dorak murmured.

“We would like to train you in the ways of the Jedi,” Master Vandar said at last.

“Jedi?” Ev stammered.

“But what if Darth Revan isn't truly dead,” Master Vrook put in, “What if we undertake to train this one and the Dark Lord should return.”

“This, we have discussed, Master Vrook,” Vandar said firmly.

Vrook took in a deep break then addressed Ev, “Normally we would not even consider training someone at your age. Training is long and difficult even with the open mind of a child, but we have little choice in your case. As I was saying, this dream you shared with Bastila may be the key to stopping Malak, and your bond with her could be invaluable to her quest.”

“The ruins you saw in your vision are not far from the Enclave,” Master Dorak explained, “We had thought them to be ancient burial sites, but it seems as if Malak and Revan found something else there.”

Ev nodded slowly, “They did speak of great power and a 'Star Forge.'”

“You and Bastila should explore these ruins to see if you can learn what Malak and Revan learned,” Zhar said.

“But not until you have been sufficiently trained,” Master Vrook cut in. “You are powerful in the Force, but willful and headstrong; a dangerous combination. If you are to succeed, to resist the darkness within yourself, you must cultivate discipline and serenity.”

“So that's it then?” Ev said, not quite believing it herself, “I'm going to train as a Jedi.”

“These are dark times, Ev,” Master Vandar said darkly, “Many of our brothers have gone off to fight the Sith, not to return. Many of our pupils have even turned to the Dark Side, to aid the Sith. Our numbers dwindle and the war wages on. You and Bastila offer us hope.”

“Although training will by no means be easy,” Vrook cautioned.

Ev took a deep breath and stared up at the sky for a long while. The council of Jedi waited patiently for her to respond. None tried to convince her further; they all seemed confident in her answer.

“If this has a chance at ending the war and saving the Republic,” Ev said evenly, “I'll try my best not to fail you. I don't ever want to see a repeat of Taris.” She paused, looking at Carth out of the corner of her eyes, then added, “Or Telos.”

To Carth, it felt as if the ground dropped out from beneath him. No, Taris wasn't the first planet he had watched fall to pieces before his eyes. He set his jaw in a determined frown. More than ever, he was determined to stop the Sith's path of senseless slaughter and destruction.

“There isn't any time to waist,” Master Vrook said, “Darth Malak and his fleet is still raining terror down on all ends of the galaxy. Your training will begin immediately under Master Zhar. Because of the bond you share, Bastila will help you along the way in any way she can.”

“I suggest that you both find some breakfast first,” Master Zhar said, smiling encouragingly. “Meet me in the sparring arena as soon as you are done.”

And so their plans for a departure within the week were completely uprooted in favor of new ones. Ev wrote a hurried resignation to the military and had Carth submit it that afternoon. That night, she and Bastila returned to the Ebon Hawk only to collect their belongings and move into the Enclave's dormitory. Both were too tired to talk with the crew. They slipped in as quickly and quietly as they had entered. Had Carth not been passing through the ship's garage at the time, he wouldn't have known they had come back at all.

The next day was more of the same, as was the day after and the following. Carth caught sight of neither Ev nor Bastila. Meanwhile he poured himself into his report about Taris, revising it again and again, unsatisfied. Mission and Zaalbar amused themselves by chatting with the locals that hung around the Enclave and hanging around the mess hall whenever it was open. They even found a few pazaak partners in that Jedi haven. Not Jedi, of course. As for Canderous, the boredom and stillness got to him more quickly than the others. He slept late, and left for some wanderings that took him until dinner time. Carth didn't bother to ask him where he went. He didn't really want to know anyway.

Carth contacted Admiral Dodonna and informed her of their change in plans. With a smile, she encouraged Carth to relax in the time being. “When is the last time you let yourself take a vacation anyway?” she had asked. Years.

Carth hated being idle.

On that third night, Carth paced restlessly around the Ebon Hawk unable to sleep. Canderous and Zaalbar's snores already echoed about the vessel. Maybe I'll sleep in the cargo hold tonight. As he passed by the women's bunk, now only belonging to Mission, he noticed that it was empty. “I wonder where she has gone off to?” he murmured to himself. He searched around the ship but she was nowhere to be found. The loading ramp, however, was down.

He descended quietly and stared out into the darkness, letting his eyes adjust. The enclave was quiet and still. Not far off stood the young Twi'lek girl, staring up at the stars. He was about to walk towards her when he saw another shadowy figure striding through the darkness in her direction.

“Oh, Mission. What are you doing out here so late?” It was Ev? Her feet dragged in exhaustion.

“I've never seen stars like these before,” Mission said distantly.

Ev sighed, her shoulders drooping. “They really are beautiful here, aren't they?”

“I wonder which one is Taris,” Mission said wistfully.

Ev looked up at the sky too, but didn't respond.

“Taris might not have been the best planet in the galaxy, and maybe it was kind of hard living there, but it was home,” Mission's words flowed freely. She seemed glad to have a listener in Ev. Her voice was on the verge of cracking, but as long as she rambled, she kept from crying. “Big Z doesn't seem to miss it, but he doesn't say much. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. But he didn't grow up there. It doesn't mean the same thing to him as it did to me.”

“I'm sorry, Mission,” Ev said quietly, “I can't imagine what you're feeling right now. Even for me, it was hard to watch the Sith tear it apart.”

She sighed deeply. “My brother Griff brought me there when I was really little. I don't even remember a home before that,” she said mournfully, “My friends, the Beks, they were all I had left after Griff left, other than Zaalbar, of course.” She sniffed. Even though Carth couldn't see in the darkness, he knew that she had begun to cry.

Ev drew nearer and gently put an arm around her shoulder. “But at least you know your brother wasn't on Taris during the attack,” she offered comfortingly. “Do you know where he is now?”

“No,” Mission's voice cracked, “And I don't want to talk about it now.”

The two women stood together, silently staring up at the stars, mourning for a planet.

Carth ducked under the Ebon Hawk and gazed up at the stars as well, wondering which was Telos.


- Next Part -


Star Wars is (c) Lucasfilm Ltd. All original characters, stories, and art belong to SoA and may not be re-posted without permission.