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Spectre stretched his muscles and began a series of light calisthenics and exercises designed to limber his body and ready it for a long demanding day of strenuous physical activity. He had spent two long, agonizingly boring weeks in the med center being patched up and he was eager to get back to the field. If he couldn’t be on Coruscant helping mop up the last droids on the urban planet, he could at the very least get back to work. Another purpose for his exercises was to locate and determine any new stiff muscles or tender areas that hadn’t fully recovered. Working through the motions, he found that his left hamstring muscle was still a bit stiff and that he had a nice new collection of scar tissue on one deltoid. Stretching, he winced as his muscles protested the activity after two weeks of lying inert. Finishing up, he quickly showered and ate a bland but energizing meal of field rations. Satisfied with his personal performance, he donned his freshly patched armor and reported to his superior, a clone commander whose number was CC-3433 but who went more commonly by Trip among his fellow officers.

“Alpha-28 reporting for duty, sir.”

“Good to have you back, Captain, and good work on taking out that column.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Are you recovered?”

“Yessir. 110 percent.”

“All right. I’ve got a new assignment waiting that could use your special loving ARC touch.”

Spectre chuckled at Trip’s statement. ARCs weren’t standard line infantry any more than a Hutt was a biped.

“In an effort to try and free up some more troops for the front line, we’ve been recruiting locals to aid us. Trouble is, most of them have no experience to speak of, and their idea of combat is pointing a blaster and pulling a trigger. I know it’s dull, but they could use a few good weeks of training. I’m assigning you to be the head drillmaster for the locals.”

“Yes, sir. How many are there, sir?”

“Not too many—about two hundred give or take. All the instructions have been delivered to your datapad.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it.”

Spectre saluted and, dismissed, went to seek his recruits. He found them at a small cleared-off field, garbed in basic armor typical of security forces or militia and wielding an eclectic mix of Republic-issued weapons and less common blaster variants. Most were human, grizzled, and obviously civilians. There was little order to their ranks, but a few clones were having ten at a time practice at shooting targets fifty or so meters off. After a quick conference with the other clone troopers, Spectre spoke up.

“All right, listen up. I’m Alpha-28. I’ll be leading your drills from now on, effective immediately. The first thing we’re going to do is take ourselves back to the armory.”

At the confused looks given to him by many of the recruits, Spectre thought about telling them of the purpose behind his order, but decided against it quickly. It was better for the recruits to follow his commands and learn to respect his wishes at this stage in their training. The clones organized them into reasonably respectable marching ranks—although no comparison to the geometric precision of clone trooper ranks—and they filed back to the garrison.

Leading them into the armory, Spectre began instructing the group of recruits on the proper care of their weapons. The most advanced blaster was a liability if sand got into its inner workings and ruined it. Spectre impassively watched as each recruit clumsily broke down his weapon and cleaned it. Clone troopers were trained to disassemble virtually any weapon with amazing speed. A skilled ARC or clone commando could completely disassemble his own weapon in less than thirty seconds. These recruits took much longer. The ARC shook his head. He had a lot of work to do.

The next few days were absolute hell on the recruits. The clone trooper instructors they had previously been under were no slouches, but Spectre took “intense exercise” to a whole new level. Morning runs, physical training, obstacle courses, firing ranges, intelligence briefings, unarmed combat, and a thousand other miscellaneous things that a soldier might find himself needing in combat were hammered into an intense eighteen hour day. The recruits gasped for breath, sweat rolling freely off their backs and arms. Spectre, oblivious to their suffering, urged them on yet once more. The numbers dropped as some of them, overwhelmed by the strain or broken down, quit in shame and humiliation. The first day there were two hundred and five. The second there were one hundred and sixty-seven. On the third day, only one-hundred twenty-two remained. Those that did persevere often shot angry glances at their leaders and grumbled when they thought Spectre wasn’t looking. Such was the way with most armies. Except the GAR. Challenges were an excitement for clones.

Sometimes, Spectre thought, I really miss working with my brothers. These clods aren’t bad, but they lack the precision and proficiency of the GAR. If the whole blasted army was like this, the Seps would already have won. But we’re in the way.

Smiling at the thought in the privacy of his helmet, he led the already weary recruits through an intense obstacle course he and the other clones had come up with on the previous day. Red marks meant that one had to go under the obstacle. Blue meant going over and green meant going around. Weaving through a series of taut strings strung between tall poles at varying heights, he ducked under a pair of red cords, and then rose and vaulted over a blue cord hanging a meter off the ground. Reaching a large boulder, he followed the blue marks and began climbing it. Clambering to the top, he grabbed the carbon rope he’d left there on purpose and rappelled down the face of the five-meter rock in a couple hops. As he hit the ground in a small cloud of dust, he turned back to see the first of the trainees clamber on top of the boulder, his head and upper torso clearly visible from the ground. Spectre pulled out his DC-17 sidearm and squeezed off a pair of blasts near the recruit’s head, who, startled, nearly fell off the rock.

“Keep your head down, or it’ll get blown off,” Spectre ordered gruffly.

And then he was off again, pushing through the obstacle course. Having finished first, he began walking back through the course, observing the raw troops struggle to get through it. Of course, they didn’t have the benefit of third-generation armor or years of training or the genetic template of the most skilled bounty hunter ever to grace the galaxy.

At one obstacle, where recruits, dangling from a large metal rod by their arms, had to cross over a large pit, Spectre stopped to observe. One trooper walked up, took a look at the obstacle, and reluctantly began pulling himself along. Halfway through, he looked down at the bottom of the pit a half-dozen meters below him and stopped.

“What are you doing, soldier?” growled Spectre. It was not really a question.

“I . . . I can’t go on. I can’t do it,” came the half-whimpered reply.

The ARC gave an exasperated sigh.

“State your name and rank.”

“Private Riggins, sir.”

“Look here, Riggins. You pull yourself together and get across that beam and never let me hear you complain like that again, or I’ll drum you out of the army myself and ship you to the Seps faster than you can soak your field trousers. Do I make myself explicitly clear?”

Nodding, the nervous soldier slowly began pulling his way along, scared into action. Spectre watched him like a hawk-bat until he reached the other side and began stumbling through the rest of the obstacle course. Being tough was just part of the job of training new recruits, and if they didn’t fear him and do whatever he said whenever he said it, they’d be useless in combat. Thankfully, most of the other recruits weren’t nearly as bad as Riggins.

By the end of the day, the ARC was just as tired as the rest of the recruits. He had done the same training as they had—leading by example was always a good motivator, in addition to his other duties. Returning to his barracks, he ate a late meal alone and quickly found his way to his sleep pallet and drifted off to sleep, dreaming of Kamino and his other brothers in their regimented, shortened childhood.

Coruscant

Selusda Kraen woke up to the sight of the ceiling of the Jedi Temple. Dazed, he looked around, but couldn’t move his legs. He was in one of the healing wards of the temple, that much was certain. Then his memory finally clicked, and he remembered his foolhardy stunt with the droid starfighters, and falling onto the ground. He remembered being rescued by a clone trooper and some civilians. He remembered the shattered feeling in his legs and looking down, found that they were heavily bandaged to the point of immobilization. Bursting with questions, Selu was glad to see a Jedi healer approach to check on his condition. “Good to see you awake, Master Kraen,” said the healer.

“Thanks. Uh—what happened?”

The healer looked confused.

“What do you mean, ‘what happened’?”

“The battle—I mean, how did it end?”

“Oh yes. The Separatists had us pinned hard and had captured the Supreme Chancellor, but then the Open Circle Fleet arrived with Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. They tore into the Separatist fleet, while the two Jedi boarded Grievous’s flagship and rescued the Chancellor. Then Anakin killed Count Dooku and the Separatists fled. They’re still mopping up some of the droids.”

Selu suppressed the wave of displeasure that threatened to swell up within him. Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi had been the fearless Jedi duo of the HoloNet and the chief standard bearers of the Jedi Order. Selu held nothing but the highest respect for the two Jedi and their amazing accomplishments, but still, there was some part of him that was just the slightest bit jealous of the attention they commanded and prowess they displayed in accomplishing near-impossible missions. However, there was no denying that Skywalker and Kenobi deserved all the recognition and credit for their role in salvaging the battle over Coruscant.

“I see. Thanks. Can I ask you another question?”

Checking on another patient, the healer replied without looking up.

“You just did, but go ahead and ask another.”

“How did I get here?”

“Republic gunship brought you in. A couple senators were with them.”

“Do you remember their names?”

“No, sorry. Why?”

“I want to find them and thank them for saving me.”

“Hmph,” the healer snorted. “You’re not going anywhere until I say you can, and that’s final.”

“How long will that be?”

“Could be a few days. Could be a few weeks. It depends on how fast you heal.”

Disheartened, Selu laid back on the pillow, using a Jedi meditation exercise in an attempt to be patient and accept the facts. It didn’t entirely work.

“As a matter of fact,” continued the healer, “You need to sleep as much as possible if you want to recover quickly.”

Upon hearing that, Selu allowed himself to begin drifting back to sleep, though what he really wanted to do was find his rescuers and see what kind of damage the battle had done, both to Coruscant and the Jedi Order. For the moment, though, all he could do was rest. The sooner he healed, the sooner he could be up and about. Lying there in the healing wards, his mind journeyed to memories of Aubrie Wyn. Were she here, she'd probably be teasing him and finding some way to lift his spirits, or maybe even using her own Force healing skills to speed his recovery. A pang of grief swept over him as he visualized his lost friend. His eyes closed as he reflected on her memory, but Selu chose not to remember Aubrie only through her death. While Jedi did not fear death, it was not something he enjoyed dwelling on. Her funeral had been painful for him, so he did not linger on that either. Instead, he focused on her life, the years he had known her, the good times they had shared, and the trials they had endured together. He remembered her teasing smile, her curly auburn hair which she was convinced her name came from, and that thought brought him solace. Finally falling into a state of Jedi calm, Selu closed his eyes and dozed off.

Two days later, Selu was finally released from the healing wards. Meeting up with Serra and Skip, he heard their accounts of the battle. Serra had defended the Temple while Skip had helped defend against an attack on a shield generator. He shared his own account in return and a great sense of relief had washed over him upon seeing his friends alive and well.

“Where’s Bairdon?” he asked.

“Bairdon has been assigned to go to Cato Neimoidia with Plo Koon. The Council would probably have sent you, but you were still recovering,” replied Serra.

“I see.”

Selu tried to hide his disappointment at not being able to go on the mission. The days he had spent convalescent had been maddeningly dull, and he was eager to get back into his daily routine of exercises, studies, and meditation or be given a mission. Selu hadn’t been idle while recovering, but he was restless and eager to take action. The action would also help distract him from the tang of suffering, pain, and loss that still hung over Coruscant from the war. The stench of the dark side hung over the planet like a thick miasma to Selu whenever he meditated.

Still not fully up to strength yet, he reported to the Jedi Council for assignment, figuring he would be fully recovered in a day or so—by which time he should have reached his destination. Entering the Council Chambers, he gave a respectful bow in the direction of Master Windu and Master Yoda, or rather the transparent bluish hologram representing the diminutive green Jedi Master.

“Greetings, Selusda. What brings you before us?” asked Mace Windu. As he looked up, Selu couldn’t help but notice that few of the masters were actually present—even Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were absent.

“I await your orders, Masters.”

Selu heard an almost invisible uneasy shifting of someone in his chair, and, out of the corner of his eye, spied the source of the disturbance. To his surprise, it was Anakin Skywalker. That was definitely news to Selu, as the last time he had been before the council, Anakin had not been a member. For him to still be uneasy indicated that there was disharmony among the council members.

“At your recovery, our happiness you have,” said Yoda from distant Kashyyyk, and the other masters nodded their agreement.

“You fought valiantly to defend Coruscant, well befitting the actions of a true Jedi Knight,” said Plo Koon’s hologram.

Selu nodded his thanks at the compliment.

“Are you fully recovered?” In the absence of Yoda, Mace Windu was the senior master on the council, and therefore the lead speaker. He was typically blunt in his speech and mannerisms, preferring to skip past the pleasantries.

“Not entirely, Master, but I will be within a few days.”

“Very well,” replied the Korun Jedi. “You are dismissed for now. The council will have an assignment for you shortly.”

“Yes, Master,” Selu dutifully answered.

Selu exited, and while the council deliberated, sat in an alcove in a waiting area designed for such a purpose. Opening himself to the Force, he closed his eyes and slowly began meditating. Tucking his legs underneath him, he levitated himself into the air as his concentration increased. For now, he was content to simply drift in the currents of the Force, honing his connection to the Living Force. Not long after, he felt a small mental summons beckoning him back into the council chamber.

“Yes, my Masters?”

“We have reached a decision on your assignment,” said Mace Windu. “You will be assigned to lead a group of reinforcements to Mygeeto to aid Master Mundi in clearing out the Separatists there. You depart tomorrow morning.”

Selu looked out the windows, and judging by the position of Coruscant’s sun, it was almost midday.

“As you wish, Masters.”

Selu bowed again, and left. Setting a course for the Jedi library, he engrossed himself in records and data about Mygeeto. Leaving the library only for a bit of lightsaber practice with Serra and a quick meal afterwards, Selu absorbed as much as he could about the frigid industrial planet. In his experience, such details were often important to the turnout of the mission. Yawning, Selu looked at the sizable stack of data he’d accumulated throughout the day or saved to his datapad. It included geological surveys, planetary records, military briefings and intelligence reports. Selu knew he would remember all of it—an eidetic memory was a definite advantage when it came to remembering boring information or obscure details.

On a whim, he switched the data terminal over to records of the Grand Army of the Republic and searched for trooper Alpha-28. The last Selu had read, Spectre had been assigned to the remote Outer Rim world of Tellanroaeg. There was a new file attached to Spectre’s folder, an after-action report. Selu pulled it up and began reading, learning that Spectre had been wounded in action while helping destroy a sizable Separatist convoy. It sounded exactly like something the ARC would do. From what Selu had read, the man had displayed a penchant for finding new and extraordinary ways to put his neck on the line, ever since his first battle on Kamino. Selu composed a short message to Spectre, hoping for a speedy convalescence, and placed it in the outgoing message queue. With any luck, it would reach the ARC before he was reassigned off of Tellanroaeg.

Glancing at his chrono, Selu realized that it was later than he had thought- night was already falling on Coruscant. Selu’s stomach rumbled—his studies had kept him too busy to think about food. First though, there was something he needed to do. Tapping into the Jedi archives one more time, he accessed the government personnel records and retrieved the information he sought. Walking briskly back to his quarters, he downloaded the stored contents of his datapad into a small holocron that had been discarded by the Jedi archivists. Selu had been using the device for storing data from the Jedi archives for several years now, and he added the data on Mygeeto to its memory banks. Activating the holorecorder on the datapad, he began recording a quick message to the senators who had saved him in the battle. Their identities had taken some research, but his efforts had been rewarded.

“To Senators Mon Mothma of Chandrila, Bail Organa of Alderaan, and Padmé Amidala of Naboo, greetings. My name is Selusda Kraen, and I served on Coruscant during the recent Separatist attack as a Jedi Knight. In that battle, you and your clone trooper guards saved my life. I extend my most humble thanks to you for your efforts. Because of your actions, I am able to continue serving the Republic in this time of crisis. I wish you the best in your labors for the Republic, and assure you that the Jedi Order is taking all possible measures to end this war. Sincerely, Selusda Kraen.”

After he was finished, Selu re-listened to his message again, and after deeming it appropriately respectful and grateful, he closed the holorecorder down and connected his datapad to his comlink. Keying his comlink to the frequencies had found earlier, he transmitted the message to the various messaging services for each of the senators. Selu felt a bit regretful that he didn’t know the operating numbers of the clone troopers that had accompanied the senators, but had no idea on how to contact them before he left for Mygeeto. Stretching out on his sleeping pallet, it was not long before exhaustion swept over Selu.

Elsewhere on Coruscant, night fell and the darkness approached. A master slew and an old order was lost. A knight fell and the darkness arrived. A master was slain and a new order was born.

Selusda bolted awake with a start, sweating heavily. Stretching out with his mental and physical senses, he quickly discovered the source of his anxiety. The Force was roiling, disturbances rolling through it like a stormy sea. The foul mental tang of the dark side was everywhere. Compelled by a strange sense of urgency, Selu buckled on his utility belt and, slipping his datapad into its resting place on the sturdy leather belt, he hooked his shoto onto its resting place on his right hip opposite his lightsaber. Seeing the DC-15s that Spectre had given him at the bottom of his trunk, he slid that holster onto his belt also. Finally, donning his cloak, he set out for the main Temple atrium near the entrance. Had the Separatists attacked again? Selu didn’t know, but he quickened his pace.

Arriving at the entrance, the realization of what was causing the disturbances in the Force hit him like a proton torpedo and he flattened himself against a massive stone column. Marching over the slain body of a Jedi was a dark cloaked figure, his very presence a burning avatar of the dark side, seething with rage and malice. Behind him marched thousands of clone troopers, grim and expressionless, pouring blazing blue fire out of a thousand blaster muzzles. The dark cloaked one, his right hand holding a brilliant blue blade, stained the ground with Jedi blood, covered the floor with Jedi bodies as fought. The troops behind him, outclassed though they would be in a one on one fight with a Jedi, overwhelmed the defenders with the sheer volume and intensity of their fire. Blaster bolts flew like raindrops, some leaving their marks on the Temple and some ending in a lethal splash of massive burns and trauma. A dozen Jedi died every minute, and Selu, hidden behind the pillar, was unsure of what to do. The clone troops fanned out, some heading for the archives, some for the dormitories, and some for the hangars. Selu realized that his horrifying vision from Boz Pity had become reality.

Finally galvanized into action, Selu drew his presence into itself in the Force, making himself small, and formed a bubble of Force camouflage around him, concealing him, he hoped, from both searching eyes and from Force senses. Sprinting back to his dormitory ahead of the clones, he called out warnings to all the Jedi present.

“The temple is under attack from clones! Arm yourselves!”

Like a disturbed nest of communal insects, the Jedi responded. Grouping together, they met the charge of clones, sabers swinging. Selu spied Skip coming out his dorm, blue blade ready, and worked his way toward him. The charge was met and clones fell by the score, armored body parts left behind as they retreated. Skip and Selu fought side by side, Skip’s blue blade whirling as both of Selu’s blades hissed and sparked as they batted away blaster bolts or cleaved through armor, flesh, and bone. Both of them Ataru practitioners, they leapt and spun with graceful ease, never in one place for long. Then the tide turned. Fresh clones arrived, and with them was their dark leader. Bursting upon the clustered two dozen or so Jedi, he fell upon them with a fury, sweeping their defenses away with powerful strokes. As he fought, his hood fell off and Selu saw the identity of their assailant: Anakin Skywalker. Selu stopped in mid-swing in shock and only Skip’s well-placed block saved him from a brilliant blue blaster bolt aimed at his heart. Time stopped as Selu watched one of the most powerful and talented Knights of the Order, rumored to be the Chosen One of the prophecy, slice through his former comrades, betraying every oath and allegiance he had held since childhood. Then Selu returned to the grip of reality, burning with anger, pain and betrayal.

The Force throbbed as he lifted two fingers from their grip on his shoto and flicked them at a group of clones. The troops went flying back into their comrades as a wall of telekinetic energy threw them backwards. Gesturing again, he threw a heavily armored trooper into Anakin’s way, preventing the fallen Jedi from cleaving through another Jedi. However, even as Selu visited temporary havoc on the ranks of the troopers, the rational part of his mind knew that he had no chance of defeating Anakin, and that all the Jedi here would soon be killed if he didn’t do anything.

“Fighting retreat!” he ordered.

The Jedi slowly fell back, pursued relentlessly by clones and Anakin. Spying a belt of charges on a clone trooper, Selu telekinetically armed all the charges and, ripping them off the munitions belt, scattered them among the troopers. The resulting explosion bought him and roughly half a dozen Jedi enough time to gain a brief respite from the onslaught.

“There are too many of them!” said Skip. “They got most of us in the first volley—they weren’t even fighting.”

Nodding grimly, Selu bound a blaster burn on a Twi’lek Jedi with a strip from his cloak.

“They’re even killing the younglings,” said another.

Selu looked around at the survivors. Of them, he only really knew Skip and what he was capable of. The rest were mostly younger Padawans in their midteens, if their braids and demeanors were any indication.

“Try and flee the Temple,” Selu ordered. “Escape Coruscant if you can. I’m not sure what caused this, but they’re trying to destroy the entire Jedi Order. Our best hope is to scatter and hide. Now, get out of here.”

Shocked at both the harsh tone of his voice and his words, the other Padawans began retreating, mouths agape. Skip rose off of his haunches.

“So what are we going to do?” the Tynnan asked.

“There’s a youngling dormitory on the far side of the Temple. We should try and get them out of there before the clones get to them.” Selu said, his eyes dark and his teeth clenched from anger and outrage.

Skip nodded, and the two sped off. Along the way, they encountered advance parties of clones. Sometimes they avoided the larger ones, but the smaller ones the two Jedi cleaved through, leaving behind a floor full of cauterized body parts, the tang of ozone, and blank eyes staring through expressionless visors.

Bursting into the youngling dormitory wing, Selu and Skip watched in horror as clone troopers were finishing up the slaughter of younglings. Blood spatters and blaster chars pockmarked the walls, floor and furniture. Three younglings in a corner, none of them older than twelve standard years of age but armed with lightsabers, were picking off blaster fire until more clones focused their attention and blasters on them. Selu and Skip arrived just in time to watch the last two, wounded, collapse. A clone commando lunged forward and punched twice with a vibroknuckler. A short spray of arterial blood later, and two more lives were lost. Both Jedi were filled with a sudden nausea and horror.

With an inhuman cry, Selu lit both his blades and dove into the fray, visiting destruction on the murderers. A red haze clouded his vision as he plunged into a dark rage, but his sabers, guided by the Force, left clones dead or grievously wounded on the floor next to their victims. Summoning the Force to him, he threw his shoto through one clone. His left hand suddenly free, he unleashed his rage with a powerful and controversial Force technique Plo Koon had taught him. Green lightning burst from his palm, and suddenly the screams of the younglings were strangely mirrored by the screams of agonized clones as their flesh and organs were seared. Their armor was little protection against the Electric Judgment that Selu inflicted on them, and soon their bodies lay on the floor, twitching and smoking. Off to one side, Skip cartwheeled through another group of clones, his short paws landing deft kicks as he flew through the air, his blade taking off a clone’s arm, then stabbing through a visor.

However, Selu’s Force attack on the group of clones had left his flank exposed, and more clones were mounting a counterattack. Calling his shoto back to his hand, Selu batted blaster bolts away. However, the remaining clones regrouped and their fire was accurate and deadly as always, zeroed in on the two Jedi. Selu’s shoto was blasted out of his grip, and it melted as a blaster bolt found it. Skip took a hit and fell to the floor. Selu felt the blossom of pain in his friend as if it was his own chest that had been hit, and scythed his blade through Skip’s attacker. His blade moving even faster, he sliced through the remaining clones, oblivious to the scorches and grazes charring his body. Then he slammed both the doors to the dormitory closed, sealing them off with quick slashes of his lightsaber. Extinguishing his blade, he knelt besides Skip, who had collapsed on the ground, wracked by spasms of pain.

“Skip!”

“Selu, my friend. I will not be with you much longer.”

“No! You’ll be okay.”

Skip’s eyes glanced down toward his chest wound, and Selu realized that his friend was right—he was going to die. Grabbing a medkit from a dead clone, Selu withdrew an ampoule of painkillers and administered them to Skip.

“I’ll make them pay, Skip. I’ll make them pay.” Selu promised.

“No.” The Tynnan’s eyes, rheumy and dark, brightened for a minute. “Vengeance is not the Jedi way, Selu Kraen. Stay true to the Jedi way, no matter what.”

“But they betrayed you. Betrayed us all! Don’t you want them destroyed?”

“No, Selu. I want justice done, but we all have to die sometime,” wheezed Skip, “I don’t mind dying as a servant of the Order, as a servant of democracy.”

“Skip, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t protect you, didn’t cover your back. You fought well, my friend,” Selu assured Skip, his own voice cracking.

“It’s not . . . your fault.” Skip’s voice was fading, and Selu saw through the Force that the Tynnan would soon be gone.

“It’s you I’m worried about. What are you going to do? Whatever it is, don’t give in to your anger, Selu,” Skip told him.

“What do you want me do, Skip?” Selu asked frantically.

“Do what you have sworn to do. Preserve the Order,” said Skip. “And Selu . . .”

“Yes, Skip?”

“Stay in the light . . . always.”

“I will. I promise you, Skip.” swore Selu, but it was too late.

Skip’s eyes glazed over and his spirit joined with the Force. Slowly, almost reverently, Selu closed his friend’s eyes and took Skip’s lightsaber with him, tucking it into his belt.

The sounds of clones arming breaching charges on the door pulled Selu out of his grief-stricken tribute to his friend. Covering Skip’s body with a cloak, he once again camouflaged himself. There was no time to do anything else for his friend. Carving a hole through a wall, he ducked into a service corridor that ran along the dormitory as the door blew open behind him and clones poured into the dormitory room. Leaving an armed land mine at the hole to discourage pursuit, he ran as fast as his exhausted legs would carry him. The aches and pains inflicted on him during combat were beginning to haunt him now, and he called on the Force to suppress the pain.

Selu followed the corridor at length, crossing toward the northwest side of the Temple. Thankfully, he avoided encounters with any more clones—they apparently hadn’t breached the corridors yet. Finally, he pressed his ear against one of the walls, listening for the sounds of clone troopers moving and augmenting his senses with the Force. Sensing no clones, he carved a tall hole through the stone wall and knocked it in with telekinesis. Still half-cloaked, he stepped into a holocron storage vault. Grabbing several of the priceless artifacts from their shelves, he folded them away into a cloak pouch. Slipping through another service corridor, Selu continued his flight for some time, his sight obscured by the thick smoke pouring through the corridor from a burning power conduit. When his smarting eyes and burning lungs could take it no more, he opened an access door and stepped into a training room where he had once damaged several training droids with telekinesis prior to being knighted.

The room was in much different condition now. Scattered clone trooper bodies were evident, and a pair of massive pillars had been knocked down onto the ground, along with much of an overhanging balcony. Selu quickly walked through the room, his mind still working on how to escape from the Temple. Walking past one of the pillars, he heard a soft, weak voice call his name as his Force senses registered the faint presence of another Jedi.

“Selu . . .”

Selu turned and looked down to the source of the voice. Her body and legs crushed beneath the pillar, Serra Keto looked up at him, sitting up slightly. At that instant, another dagger of pain thrust into Selu’s heart, Jedi detachment never having been a strength of his.

“Serra.”

Selu knelt down by her, and she smiled wanly at him.

“Let me get this pillar off of you,” Selu said quickly as he prepared to telekinetically lift the pillar—a daunting task.

“No, don’t move it. It’s too late anyway,” Serra said, coughing. “The Force is the only thing keeping me alive right now, and I can feel it ebbing away. I don’t want you to see the damage underneath this pillar. ”

Selu’s mental senses probed Serra’s body, evaluating the injury, and he nearly went into shock himself at the massive internal damage within. Even without being able to tell for certain, the pool of blood around the pillar gave proof to the scope of the trauma. Selu frowned uncertainly. He was no healer, but he placed his hands on the sides of Serra’s head, trying to draw off some of the pain.

“Ahh . . . thank you, Selu. That’s better,” Serra said weakly.

“What happened to you? Who did this?” Selu asked.

“It was Anakin. He called himself Darth Vader. Master Drallig and I tried to fight him, but he was . . . too strong. Too powerful.”

Anger once more welled up inside Selu, and at that moment, had Darth Vader presented himself, he would have charged without hesitation, his promise to Skip aside.

“No, no, don’t be angry, Selu. It’s not worth the effort. I don’t want to die surrounded by anger,” said Serra.

Selu knelt down and gently stroked her face, brushing the sweat-soaked locks of her black hair away from her cheek. Dissipating his anger, he replied.

“All right, Serra. I won’t be angry. I just can’t bear . . . can’t bear the loss. How can you be so at peace now?”

“I can’t do anything to change the outcome, so why be mad about it? It’s okay, Selu,” Serra said with a wan smile.

“I’m sorry, Serra. About everything.”

“Don’t be sorry. Selu, I don’t have much longer, but I’ve wanted to tell you something for a good while now.”

“What is it?”

“I love you,” she whispered.

Her words rang in Selu’s ears, the words he had often thought about saying to her, but had never managed to do so. His commitment to the Jedi Order’s precepts had kept him from ever vocalizing how he felt to Serra, but now, at the end, he learned that she felt the same way about him. She loved him. In an alternate universe, things between them might have been different, but now Selu could gaze into her eyes longingly, knocked speechless by her words. Amazing how such a simple phrase could evoke such a reaction. A moment passed in time and he could feel his hands shaking as his traumatized mind sought to comprehend and respond to her words.

“I love you too,” Selu hoarsely whispered in return.

Bending down, he kissed her, first gently, then more passionately, pulling her towards him. For just a minute, the carnage and slaughter around faded away into brief bliss. Then Selu tasted the blood in her mouth, felt her fluttering pulse as her heart weakly beat within her rib cage. Placing his arm around her back and softly caressing her hair, Selu kissed her one more time before pulling back, his lips still tingling from the sensation.

“I’m glad I got to see you one more time before . . . before I die,” Serra said. Her breath was becoming more and more ragged now.

“Here . . . take my lightsaber. You’ll need it since you’re not carrying your shoto. Use it for the light,” she told him.

Selu took the weapon from her grasp.

“I’ll cherish this always, Serra.”

“I’m growing so cold, Selu, so cold. You’ve been a good Jedi and a loyal friend. I . . . love . . . you.”

With a final, gasping effort, Serra breathed out the last few words, and fell back, her pulse ended and her breathing ceased. For the next few minutes, the only sounds heard in the room were Selu’s sobs as he let the tears fall freely. Cradling Serra’s body, he traced his finger along her face, closed her unseeing eyes and then covered her face with her cloak. Then he left.

8Edit

Spectre led his weary troops back from a long patrol. They hadn’t gone anywhere near the battle lines, just an eight kilometer circle around the base camp, slogging through mud, grit and all sorts of charming local fauna. It was nearing dawn, local time, when he and the remaining one hundred and four recruits reached the gate to the medcenter complex that doubled as a base camp. All his fighting instincts and combat training immediately kicked in as he saw the blue flashes of blaster fire in the distance. Holding up one fist, he went into a fighting crouch, weapon snapped up to his shoulder in firing position, as did the other recruits behind him, unsure of whether this was another drill by the crazy clone trooper or the real thing. Advancing cautiously, Spectre slowly approached the source of the blasterfire. Signaling the column to spread out and encircle the area, he moved in on the building in question alone. Kicking open the door, he burst in, carbine ready.

He was greeted by the sight of several clone troopers with smoking blasters standing over three of their injured comrades and the body of a robe-clad willowy Aruzan woman, her right hand clutching an ignited cyan lightsaber, which one of the clones bent down and deactivated. Whereas the injured clones had lightsaber slash or blaster bolt wounds partially deflected or ablated by armor, the Jedi corpse was riddled with holes from the heavy blast damage typical of DC-15 blast rifles on unarmored flesh.

“Report, now!” Spectre demanded, his weapon ready.

“Captain,” the troopers quickly came to attention. “New orders, sir. From the very top.”

“They’d better be really good if you just killed a Jedi General for it and not some Sep trick. Just what are these kriffing orders of yours?”

“Yessir. The mission was ‘execute Order 66.’ Base command confirmed and authenticated the data stream from Coruscant, sir.”

A chill ran down Spectre’s spine. Order 66 was one of the last resort “doomsday” contingency orders drilled into all clone troopers on Kamino. It meant that the Jedi had conspired to overthrow the Republic, and all members of the Order were now enemies of the Republic. Like a Base Delta Zero operation, there was no recall of an order like this.

“I see. Carry on then, trooper.”

Without sparing so much as a second glance for the fallen Jedi, Spectre turned and left the building, giving his troops the all-clear signal. The other clones inside the building brought their fallen comrades out for medical attention. Meanwhile, the other clones of his command approached, curious about what happened. In hushed tones, Spectre said only two words.

“Order 66.”

The troops dispersed, each heading for their respective barracks, without any further questions. Spectre, though, was not so disposed. Unlike standard clone infantry, who took orders with almost no question, ARCs were much more independent, and Spectre was no exception. Heading to the base command center, he quickly located Trip.

“Captain Alpha-28 reporting, sir. Might I have a moment of your time, sir?” intoned the ARC stiffly.

Trip turned from the console he was looking at, regarding him a bit strangely.

“At ease, Captain. What do you need?”

“I’d like to know the circumstances surrounding the issuing and execution of Order 66, sir.”

“Hmm. Very well. At 0419 hours, local time, we received a secure top-priority data stream from Coruscant, the Chancellor’s office. Per procedure, we decoded the message and, upon learning the contents, which included the death of General Grievous and the nature of the mission, I immediately executed the order. The threat to the Republic was announced neutralized at 0621, local time, with the death of the last Jedi here.”

“Were the Jedi engaged in any treasonous activity at the time of their deaths?”

“Not as far as I know of, although several men were killed or injured when the Jedi were attacked.”

“Really. The one whose body I just saw didn’t kill any of us, sir.”

“Well then we were lucky.”

“I don’t think so, sir. I’ve seen Jedi in action, and if they wanted to kill someone, at that range, there’s precious little that can stop them from doing so, sir. That Jedi was only trying to stop them from attacking her, sir.”

“Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t. That’s not for me to say.”

“So we attacked them without provocation or good reason other than the order, sir?”

“That’s correct, Captain. We follow orders in this army, and you can see the specific orders in the comm center logs.” Trip sounded annoyed.

“I see. Well, that’s one thing that’s good for you, Commander.”

“Oh?” Trip’s tone didn’t really sound inquisitive as much as it did a warning, but Spectre ignored it.

“Your willingness to tell me that means that you’re likely not a traitor to the Republic and you’re telling the truth, which is definitely good for you because now I don’t have to—” replied Spectre.

“Don’t finish that thought. Be glad I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that, Captain, and that I’m not shipping you back to Coruscant on charges of gross insubordination due to your long and decorated career in the GAR. That, and the fact that you’ve been historically good at blowing Seps into tiny pieces. I don’t care what your relationship with the Jedi was in the past, and believe me I’ve worked well with some of them before as well. Orders are orders. Bottom line. I’m not used to explaining myself, so don’t get used to it.” Trip glowered at him, and even through the helmet Spectre could tell the commander was fuming.

“Yessir,” Spectre replied.

“I believe our conversation is over, Captain. Don’t you have some duties to take care of?”

Spectre took the hint, saluted, and left. Leaving the dull gray command center, he went back to where the Jedi’s body lay and carefully picked it up, carrying the body over his shoulder. Retrieving a field vibroshovel, he began digging a grave in an empty field. As he worked, he noticed several other troopers had come up and were watching him.

“What do you want?” Spectre asked, not even bothering to turn around.

“What are you doing, sir?” asked one of them, a sergeant.

“Whaddya think, trooper? I’m digging a grave,” Spectre replied, barely veiling the sarcasm that laced his response.

“Why are you doing that, sir? The Jedi was a traitor.”

“True as that may be—and I’m not sure—they’ve fought and died alongside us this whole war. I didn’t know this one, but I’ve known others. They had a choice to avoid the war, but they didn’t, because it was the right thing for them to do. Whatever insurgency they may have been planning, they at least deserve a warrior’s burial instead of being left out for the carrion eaters to devour.”

“Copy that, sir. Is that within orders, though?”

“Do the orders forbid burial of the slain, trooper? If this was a Sep soldier—a iving one, mind you, not one of their blasted droids—who had fought well and with honor, I’d do the same for his hide after I blew him away. It’s probably not his fault he’s on the wrong side—he was just following orders, just like we do, and just like this Jedi was doing.”

At the lack of response, Spectre returned his full attention to digging the grave. Suddenly, there was another pair of shovels joining his in biting into the hard Tellanroaeg dirt and shoveling the dirt aside. Two of the troopers had unlimbered their field spades and were helping while a third one smoothed out the Jedi’s cloak and lowered the body into a field bag, zipping it up so only the head remained exposed. Finishing the grave, the four clones lowered the Jedi’s body into the grave, where Spectre closed her eyes and delivered a short eulogy.

“For awhile at least, you served the Republic, and along side the troopers of the GAR. Though traitor you might have turned at the end, we honor your prior service to the Republic with a warrior’s burial.”

Spectre took his shovel and began replacing the dirt on the grave. As he and the other troopers finished, he could see Trip, his arms folded across his chest, accompanied by several other troopers looking at him from a distance. Spectre could tell his commander was displeased, but ignored him. He’d accept the consequences, whatever they were, later. For now, he was still unsure about the whole matter. Regardless, he’d follow his orders.

Fortunately, whatever nasty surprises that Trip might’ve come up with as punishment were forestalled by a major Separatist attack lasting several days and everyone was too busy blowing up battle droids to remember a slightly rebellious ARC. Apparently, the Separatists didn’t take to kindly to General Kenobi’s and Commander Cody’s bloodying of their collective nose at Utapau, Spectre thought. Although the attack lacked the cold stratagems of General Sev’rance Tann or the ruthlessly terrifying characteristics of Grievous, it made up for the lack of tactical prowess with saturation bombardment and well-maneuvered ground troops.

Spectre crouched in his trench, a PLX-1 missile launcher armed on his shoulder. Hearing the sound of crawling tanks and feeling the rumble in the ground created by approaching armor, he silently counted down from ten. Three . . . two . . . one. Spectre stood up and pointed his rocket launcher at an oncoming Persuader-class droid enforcer and sent a rocket into the vehicle’s locomotion systems. Ejecting the spent magazine, he chambered the second round into firing position and sent another rocket into a group of crab droids, sending wreckage flying. Switching to his blaster rifle, he and a few dozen of his recruits and clones sprayed blasts at the oncoming droids. The droids advanced relentlessly, returning fire even as they were torn apart.

“Grenades!” called Spectre, as he armed and primed a thermal detonator.

Peering over the lip of the trench, he hurled the weapon at a dwarf spider droid as the men of his command followed suit, though not all of them carried the powerful but unstable detonators. A small hail of pulse grenades, frag grenades, and silvery detonators followed Spectre’s weapon, followed by a series of small smattering explosions and flying metal.

The droids, their ranks appreciably thinned, returned fire with an alarming variety of energy weaponry, and Spectre saw several of his men hit by scarlet bolts, crying out in pain as their armor was breached and their tissues were superheated by the intense energy. Spectre winced sympathetically, but continued to pour accurate fire into the enemy lines from behind the cover of his trench.

His troops had been steadily withdrawing since the Separatist attack had put them on the front lines, taking and giving casualties as the Seps rolled forward in unstoppable numbers. Now, Spectre and his men were within a few kilometers of the medical base, their original post, and had been augmented by stragglers that had joined their ranks. Digging a shallow trench, they had been given orders to hold this position until relieved, with only meager reinforcements available. Spectre and his men were running low on supplies, from food to rocket rounds to medical supplies. So far, he’d been unscathed, but many under his command hadn’t been so lucky. Word had reached the Outer Rim that Order 66 had been carried out across the galaxy, and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had become Emperor Palpatine, creating the first Galactic Empire. However, that news hadn’t changed the command structure, nor had it brought additional blasters to bear on the droids.

“Stand your ground, troops!”

Spectre was surprised to see Commander Trip in the trench, urging the men to keep fighting and occasionally taking out targets of opportunity with his own blaster. Hurling his last grenade, Trip watched as a group of gunmetal gray droidekas, caught with their deflector shields not quite up, were blown to tiny pieces. Spectre smiled, and slapped another power pack into his blaster. Things were just getting started. Soon, all Spectre knew was the roar of battle, the recoil of his rifle on his shoulder, the heat of his blaster firing, and the sight of hostiles being blown away into the dusty Tellanroaeg ground.

Coruscant, two days earlier

Sheets of rain slashed down through the Coruscant night. Howling currents of wind whistled through the myriad starscrapers, causing passersby of various species to seek the shelter of overhangs or buildings. The clouds loomed over the megalopolis, as if the sky was seeking to vent its wrath on the populace.

Lying on a stained, slick slab of duracrete, oblivious to the pounding rain, was a young human male. His singed clothes and tattered appearance spoke of violence and chaos. Gasping for breath, drenched with rain, sweat, and tears, he lay on the slab trying to absorb all that had happened to him within the last few hours, trying to comprehend the destruction of all he held dear, trying to realize that everyone he had considered family was dead, and trying to determine what to do next, now that he was public enemy #1 as the cylindrical silver object belted to his waist marked him as a Jedi Knight, the millennia-old order now declared an enemy of galactic civilization.

Selusda Kraen lay there for some time. It was the first rest he had had since fleeing the Jedi Temple. Dodging the immense orange and red fireballs of Star Destroyer fire, he’d narrowly escaped from the once magnificently formed Temple Precinct, avoiding the enormous infernos that billowed thick black smoke into Coruscant’s night sky and the vigilant clone troopers, clad in thick armor and toting blaster rifles with which to dispatch any escaping Jedi. He had journeyed as far from the Temple as fast as possible, before collapsing on the slab, his strength utterly depleted after hours of flight, through labyrinthine corridors, across narrow walkways, dodging security patrols, and staying as much out of sight as possible without drawing attention to himself. He was painfully aware of his Jedi garb and bedraggled appearance. Hopefully, Coruscant’s populace would be too shocked from the recent battle and the attack on the Jedi Temple to notice one tattered survivor fleeing the massacre.

Selu painfully pulled himself up, and forced himself to keep walking. It was still raining, but Selu figured it was early morning. The dark side of the Force kept growing stronger, and he headed towards its center. Pulling out his comlink, he realized that he couldn’t call Plo Koon without a more robust transmitter. Examining the calls he had recently made, he saw the names of the three Senators he had left a message the previous day. Trying each one of them in turn, he only got bored-sounding receptionists telling him that he should try and make an appointment, or in the case of Senator Amidala, a prissy droid voice. Sighing, he closed down the comlink and kept walking, his hood pulled over his head and lightsaber kept out of sight.

Walking in the midlevel city located beneath a large government district, Selu found that there were many more patrols of clones here. Unsure of the intentions of the troopers, he kept out of sight. Suddenly, he noticed the familiar hem of a Jedi tunic sticking out from an alley corner. Glancing around to make sure there were no watchful eyes observing him, he ducked into the alley to investigate. There, lying on the ground was the barely recognizable body of Mace Windu. Selu examined the body, probing the corpse for clues to his death. It took less than a second for him to find that his sword hand had been severed at the elbow by a lightsaber. A closer examination revealed that he had fallen from a great height and had been hit by some sort of electrical discharge.

Power converter? Selu thought to himself, but quickly discarded the possibility. The char marks were different—more intense and focused on the skin instead of using the body as a conduit like a typical electrocution would. In fact, Selu had only seen these types of marks once before, when he had used Electric Judgment, and the realization hit him like a thunderclap. Mace Windu had been hit by a similar technique. His face, or what was left of it, was locked in an eternal grimace of pain. Looking down at the body, Selu slowly withdrew an incendiary grenade he had retrieved from a dead clone. Placing the Jedi Master’s body on a pile of rubble that crudely resembled a funeral pyre, he armed the grenade and slid it under Master Windu’s remains. The grenade burst into flame, setting the Jedi Master’s body alight, despite the rain. Soon, all that was left would be the charred remains of the Council member. Selu lit his lightsaber in salute to Master Windu one last time, and then extinguished the blade. Pocketing the engraved belt buckle that he had taken from Mace Windu’s belt, he turned and left the alley, slipping off once more into the stormy night.

Selu kept running. By now, he figured it was getting close to dawn. The rain had turned decidedly colder, the wind whipping each drop into a stinging smack on exposed skin. He was now several kilometers from the Jedi Temple—he could still see the faint glimmer of orange as the once-magnificent edifice burned. Finally, utterly exhausted, he collapsed on a deserted permacrete slab somewhere in the mid-city levels of Coruscant. As best as he could reckon, he was near a space port used by small-time merchants, dingy but serviceable. Its clientele weren’t likely to be bounty hunters or mercenaries, but honest or slightly dishonest businesspeople making a living through commerce, or pilots and crews looking for reasonable cargos to ferry through interstellar space.

Selu’s legs felt like they were on fire, and the myriad of scorches, blaster creases, lacerations, and bruises reminded him of the violent experience he’d narrowly escaped. The physical pain was bad enough, but the emotional pain was even worse. He’d lost everything he ever had, and even touched the dark side in his rage at the slaughter, only to end up contributing to it. It had taken the deaths of two of his friends to pull him out of the lure of the dark side. Selu’s heart ached for Skip and Serra, and he knew it do so for a long time. Despite Jedi rules against attachment, Selu had grown very close to both of them as well as Bairdon Jace. Curling up against the stinging rain, he closed his eyes and tried to black out the horrific images of murder and butchery he saw with laser-sharp clarity. As the rain pelted him, he felt the sting of each raindrop that hit a fresh wound.

“Hey you. Yeah, I’m talking to you, murglak.”

Selu felt a boot heel digging at his side.

“Come on, get up. Great, just what I need. Some drunk rodder fallen down on the spaceport loading area,” said a rather grumpy voice.

Forcing his eyes open, he realized that someone was trying to get his attention. Rolling over, he sat up and blinked blearily at the person. Suddenly startled, he jumped up quickly. Was he hallucinating? The person standing in front of him looked startlingly like him. Admittedly, Selu wore his hair a bit longer and with a goatee unlike this fellow, and was a little shorter and more muscular, but the person standing in front of him, clad in spacer’s garb, could easily pass as him. They had the same intense dark eyes, the same tanned skin, the same rangy air about them, and the same thatch of black hair. Selu stood agape, staring unashamedly at the resemblance. In stark contrast, the person opposite him was completely nonchalant.

Looping one hand through his utility belt, the man slowly said, “So . . . you must be Jedi Knight Selusda Kraen.”

A pulse of alarm shot through Selu.

“What makes you think that?” he demanded.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the other snorted. “Then again, I suppose not. The Jedi would’ve kept that from you. Very well, I suppose introductions are in order.”

Selu, thoroughly perplexed by now, arched a suspicious eyebrow towards the spacer, while his right hand snaked towards the lightsaber tucked into his belt. If this was some sort of bounty hunter, he’d find that he’d run into more than he’d bargained for.

“And you really don’t need to pull out whatever weapon it is that you’re reaching for. I’m not out to get you or anything. My name is Sarth Kraen. I’m your brother.”

“My what?!” said Selu, shocked.

“Hmph. So much for Jedi intuition and all that slugspit. Well, if the physical resemblance isn’t enough to give you a clue, you can do whatever you Jedi do to know that I’m not lying to you. Although common sense would dictate that this is a pretty random, hard, and complex plan for some bounty hunter scum to figure out, and it’s certainly beyond Republic bureaucrats, so it’s not a trap.”

Probing Sarth with the Force, Selu determined that he wasn’t lying—which was almost more jolting that if he had been. Stunned, he stood there for a minute, trying to come up with a suitable response.

“Well, if you’re satisfied that I’m telling you the truth, you’d better come with me. You’re a wanted man, brother,” Sarth said with a bitter smile.

“Where are we going?” Selu asked.

“My room I’ve rented here at the spaceport. You’ll be out of sight there.”

Selu followed Sarth towards a rather dingy cluster of small permacrete buildings, windowless and each with a single door leading out to a common balcony and parking zone. A poorly lit sign indicated in several common languages “Rooms for rent.” Stepping over the wreckage of a speeder crashed into a parking area alongside several other shabby and utilitarian vehicles, Sarth led Selu along a walkway to one of the buildings located in a particularly dark corner, replete with flickering glowlamp over the entrance.

“Home sweet home, at least for while I’ve been on Coruscant. But hey, it’s cheap and close to the spaceport.”

Sarth unlocked and opened the door and Selu stepped into the building’s single room. A neatly made bed was in one corner of the room, and there was a desk and a pair of chairs along the left wall. A standard food service and cooler unit occupied the greater part of back wall, and a small storage chest at the foot of the bed completed the meager furnishings of the dimly lit room.

“Might I suggest that you visit the ‘fresher and clean up a bit. You’re a mess,” offered Sarth. “Here’s a spare set of clothes—yours are all tattered. They’ll be a bit long, but it’s all I’ve got right now.”

Selu, dumping his cloak, belt, and other gear into a sodden heap on the floor, gratefully accepted the proffered clothing, and took a long shower, wincing at the pain caused by the steaming water running over his injuries. So much had happened to him in such a short amount of time that he had become emotionally numb to all around him, like a wounded man going into shock. However, the Force had guided him to his brother instead of to hostiles. At least he was still alive. Stepping out of the shower, he quickly dried himself off, wincing as he noticed the blood he’d left on the towel. He hadn’t even known his brother for an hour, and he was already destroying his stuff. Deciding to forgo dressing beyond a pair of unders until he’d patched himself up, Selu poked his head out of the ‘fresher door.

“Sarth, do you have a medpac?” he asked.

Looking up from his desk, Sarth nodded and indicated a small plasteel box. He got up to retrieve it, but was surprised when it started floating towards Selu.

“Nice,” he said. “Jedi powers, I suppose. Are you badly hurt?”

“Not really,” Selu replied. “Mostly small damage. I’ve been hurt worse before.”

Returning to the refresher, he made liberal use of the disinfectants, bacta patches, and syntheflesh, bandaging up the physical evidence of his brush with death at the Temple. Pulling on the pants and rather tight-fitting shirt that Sarth had given to him, Selu stepped out to where Sarth was heating up a small meal.

“Have some spiceloaf. It’s not the best, but it’s edible,” said Sarth.

Selu gratefully took the spicy Corellian meal and, surprised by his hunger, wolfed it down. Washing it down with water from a large glass, Selu glanced up at Sarth, who was eating slower and watching him with a bemused smile. After he’d finished eating, Sarth pushed his dish and utensils back.

“I suppose you’re wondering what happened to cause an attack on the Temple.”

Selu looked up.

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“It was all over the news holos a few hours back, though the exact story is anyone’s guess. Apparently, just after the death of General Grievous, a group of Jedi tried to assassinate the Supreme Chancellor. In response, he declared every Jedi to be an enemy of the Republic. Word has it that there’ll be a special session of the Senate soon to discuss what happened. My guess is that the attack on the Temple was the first part of carrying out the new decree.”

“Is it true? That some of the Jedi tried to kill the Chancellor?”

“They said they had security recordings from the Jedi assassination attempt. However, I personally think there’s something more that they’re hiding from us.”

“And what’s that?”

“Well, Palpatine’s been grabbing more and more power throughout this war, and no one’s been stopping him. Logically, the Jedi Order was one of the last things that could’ve threatened him. He already controlled the Republic military, save for the fact that the Jedi were placed over it. I suspect that the assassination attempt might have been staged for his benefit so he could betray your Order. Maybe one of the Jedi tried to stop him—I dunno.”

Selu sat back, at a loss for words. At first he had thought that the attack on the Temple had been an act of Anakin Skywalker—Darth Vader, he reminded himself—and the troops only under his command. Now, all the disturbances in the Force he had felt while fighting made sense. The sack and rape of the Jedi Temple had only been the start—Selu realized that Jedi across the galaxy must have been killed, betrayed by the clones they had led into battle. Which meant Plo Koon was either dead or hunted, as was his friend Bairdon Jace. Which meant wizened old Master Yoda might be lying dead on Kashyyyk. Which meant that the distinguished voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi had been silenced forever on Utapau. Selu sat back, his anguished mind still trying to absorb all the facts he was learning, once again blasted out of his numbness.

“They’re all dead, aren’t they? At the Temple, that is,” asked Sarth.

Overwhelmed by grief, Selu nodded. Tears came to his eyes as he thought of Serra, Skip, and Bairdon, and he couldn’t even speak of it. So much for Jedi detachment, he thought.

“Hey, it’ll be okay. You’ve still got me, and I’ll take care of you, brother. Look, you do whatever you need to do, and I’ll do what I can to get to the bottom of this. Just stay here for a few hours, maybe get some sleep. I’ll be back,” Sarth assured his brother.

Rising, he grabbed a rough brown spacer’s jacket and a datapad, and was out the door. Selu locked the door behind him. He tried to meditate, but the Force was so laden with the dark side and the pain and suffering caused by the slaughter at the Temple that all Selu felt was revulsion upon connecting with it. He withdrew his contact to the Force. Unfolding a blanket that Sarth had left out for him, he stretched out on the hard permacrete floor and tried to sleep, but the images kept haunting him and accusations kept repeating over and over in his mind.

“Traitor.”

The memory of him abandoning Skip in his rage to kill the clone troopers and commandos who had killed the younglings flashed by him.

“Coward.”

Selu relived fleeing the Temple, leaving his former friends and colleagues to their doom.

“Murderer.”

Selu’s head throbbed at the memory of intoxicating black power flooding through his hands as he slew the troopers with a foul use of the Force.

Unable to gain a respite from the visions, Selu cursed his Force-sensitivity. He cursed Vader and the clones. He cursed his memory, he cursed the pain he was going through, and finally, he cursed himself. As he felt his anger rise like a tidal wave, he recalled his promise to Serra, who had found peace even while dying and crushed beneath a pillar. Taking a meditative position, he calmed himself and began a breathing exercise to dispel the anger. Despite the dull ache in his heart, Selu knew that he had to fight to survive, especially if he was the last of the Jedi. There simply wasn’t time for him to be catatonic from grief or anger, and he had very little claim to Sarth’s generosity. Plus, it wasn’t the Jedi way. Though Selu knew he would grieve the deaths of his friends for a long time, letting it consume him was no longer going to be an option. Selu, though he refrained from using the Force, continued his breathing exercises for some time to calm himself and to help him think about what he should do next. Eventually, finally, sleep came to him.


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