TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
Previously: A Traitor’s Tale
Themesong: Rise of Evil by Sabaton
It was the year 32 BBY… I’d been gone from this realm for nearly four thousand years… that’s a lot of time for the changes I’d wrought to be… unwrought, as it were. It was the day the Invasion of Naboo began. In mere hours, a pair of Jedi would be stowing away aboard a Droid Lander and then going on to encounter what was either the biggest pain in the ass of the entire franchise or the secret mastermind for most of the evil in the galaxy… Jar-Jar (Darth?) Binks.
I hung suspended in blackness, looking down on the lush green fields and forests and farms of Naboo. It was a lovely planet. Words scrolled by beneath me.
“Episode I: The Phantom Magi. Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates the alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Magi Knights, the guardians of Balance and Justice in the Galaxy, to settle the Conflict.”
Wait… what? The scroll did not repeat itself, but my memory was perfect once again and I merely gaped at the fundamental change this represented… where the hell were the Jedi? Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were Magi? I had a bad feeling about this. More scroll tracked slowly across my vision.
“The Actions of the Magi Lord Sant Jara, following the Mandalorian Wars nearly 4,000 years ago saw a fundamental realignment of the Galaxy, with the long extinct Magi Order rising to predominance and largely supplanting the fragmented and often fractious Jedi and Sith Orders. Yet their numbers, never vast, have never been enough to effectively police the entire Galaxy, with its millions of worlds and trillions of citizens. Refusing to impose their ideology upon the galaxy, they have sworn to act as mediators and councillors only, remaining painfully neutral in the often contentious realm of Galactic Politics. However, this time of relative peace is about to come to an end. For this is an era of great change once again, with potential for renaissance or suffering in equal proportion. What happens next is up to you. You have 1600 CP.”
1600? Oh… shit. There was only reason I could think of for that… the Banker had saddled me with one or more unseen Drawbacks… drawbacks I’d have to deal with blind. “Wow. Back in the Big Chair for a couple minutes and already reminding me that you’re a jerk and in charge. Good one. Gratitude much?”
“You jumped at the chance to use my absence to weedle a huge CP package for your friends.”
“Yeah… well, if I hadn’t they might not have been super useful in helping me track down that Key thingy. Going to tell me what it is?”
“Fair enough… which is why they get to keep their ill gotten gains. And I’ll even let you keep your purchases, because I am a benevolent sort. But I had just as much time as you did to think about things, and I think you should set to see the long term ramifications of your meddling.”
“And you think it’ll be funny.”
“And I think it’ll be funny.”
The universe dinged “Species Purchase Confirmed. Your account has been debited 100 CP.”
I looked around “I did not… ah… punishment for… fine. We’ll play your little game. Does this mean, btw, that my companions are all back from whatever limbo they were in after they… reached game over in the last jump?”
“Why should I tell you that?”
“Because, oh high and mighty one who needed me to rescue him, it would be a nice thing to do. They died because of your poor stewardship. And if they’re not back, it doesn’t speak well of the guarantee of your CP backing, now does it?”
“Very well. Yes. They’re back. Everything that was busted is back.”
“And the roof?”
“Err…. Yes… I’ll have someone come by and fix it.”
“And get that stupid VMoDoom out of my pool area?”
“I… that might be a problem.”
“Well, technically, I can’t remove it. It’s XP backed.”
“XP? Is that Mensarius’s version of CP?”
“Mmm… yes… essentially.”
“Wait… does that mean Mensarius is a Gamesmaster?”
“Mmmm… yes, that’s one one way of looking at it.”
“Ah. So you’re a facilitator… he’s a manipulator?”
“Something like that. It’s more complex than that, but that explanation will do.”
“SO…. do I start on Naboo?”
“What? No… noo… that would be all too easy.” An image of the galaxy appeared hanging next to me, slowly spinning on a lightsaber stabbed through the galactic core. It was a wheel of fortune… with the Executor serving as the arrow.
“Cute.” I gave it a spin. Outer Rim… Giving me the choice between Dathomir (home of the Dathomir Witches) and Mandalore (home of the Mandalorians). I considered, then chose Mandalore. At least I knew how to get from there to Naboo, Tatooine, and Coruscant… if the story was playing out as expected, then I’d have to hustle to get to Tatooine for the Boonta Eve pod-race. That seemed the best way to connect up with the plotline and… do something. I hadn’t even really considered what… besides deal with Maul and Sidious.
I spun the wheel again, getting 26 as my starting age, though I still had no idea what species I was. Ewok maybe? Or wookie?… or Ithorian… ewww. They were herbivores! Oh… I bet I was a Gungan… that would just be sooo funny haah… not. No point worrying about it. I’d find out soon enough.
“So. Now that we know where you are… I guess we should know Who you are. Would you could you be a civilian? Would you could you be a Politician? An Engineer, a Privateer, a Jedi Seer?”
“Are those actually the options?”
“Civilian, Politician, Engineer. Those are Free. Outlaw and Force Sensitive cost points.”
“Why should I take Force Sensitive? I’m already a Grey Jedi. It’s not like each nation of Jedi has a different elemental power. The Force is the Force… of Course of Course.”
“Yeah yeah. And no one can talk to the Force of Course.”
“That is, of course, unless the Force is the ghost of someone dead?”
“Ah… ha. Nice. But no. No different elements. But if you want to buy more force powers, you’ll have to buy it again.”
“What? That’s craaap.”
“Well, as a bonus, I’ll double your raw force power for buying it again… and toss in your pick of three new force powers free.”
“Oh. well, then… sure. Why the fuck not. How much?”
“Cool. Sign me up. What force powers are on offer?”
“Well, you get the basics again. Telepathy, TK, Force Empathy, Force Speed, Farsight, Force Stealth, Force Sight, Mind Trick… just in case you forgot… all of those increase your skill with that specific power, giving you new and innovative ways to use them and improved control equal to roughly five years practice. Plus Melee Training, which gives you skill in weapons both bladed and blunt”
“Uh huh… yeah, and?”
“Three picks from Breath Control, Comprehend Speech, Force Body, Force Flash, Force Listening, Tutaminis (i.e. Absorb slash Deflect Energy), Force Heal, Beast Control, Plant Surge, Battlemind, Ionize, Force Stasis, Doppelganger, Psychometry, and Force Bellow.”
“Whoo… nice list. The Force has come a long way in the last 4000 years… or this isn’t limited to what was demonstrated in a pair of old videogames, eh?” There wasn’t a reply. “Breath Control and Comprehend Speech sound like cheesy little “Ooo, ain’t it cool” powers, while the later ones sound more powerful. I’m going to guess that those are the more expensive ones, thus the better deals. There are 15 powers you listed… five each of 100, 200, and 300?”
“50, 100, 200. No discounts apply.”
“Ah. Regardless, I already have Force Heal and Beast Control. Plant Surge I can do with magic, Ionize destroys droids… but I already know Force Lightning. Force Stasis is, what, Hold Person the Force Power? Meh. Force Bellow is yelling really loud. Not a fan. How about Tutaminis… Does that work on lightsabers?”
“With mastery, yes, you can block lightsabers with your limbs and absorb both laser and plasma bolts… though it starts out as deflect.”
“Naturally. I’ll take that.”
“Really? It’s not 200. You’re missing the deal!”
“Eh. I’m okay with that. Psychometry is object reading. I’ll take that. I don’t have that a psychic ability yet. THough I worry about the readings I’ll get off some things… but then again, I’ve seen inside most people’s souls. Can’t be much worse. Tell me about Doppelganger.”
“The power to create a perfect illusion of yourself. You can move it around remotely and even perceive everything it experiences as if you were there, both living and droids… though it’ll be dispelled if attacked.”
“Huh. Neat. Sounds like a real steal. I’ll take it too.”
“Excellent. Any other powers you’d like?”
“Naw… I’m good. At least for now. Tell me about perks. What perks do Force Sensitive Types get discounted?”
“None. They get access to Force powers and the freebies.”
“Oh… well then… tell me about the perks for the other backgrounds.”
Four panels appeared in space around me, each containing three or four abilities. Outlaw contained piloting skills, shooting skills, unconventional weapons skills, and a really nice perk called “Go to Guy” which was a huge reputation booster that got people to ignore failures and give job priority… it would definitely have been a thing to take… were I looking to be a gun for hire. But I’d done that kind of work for the last two decades. I closed that window with finality.
The Engineer panel had some nice tech stuff, military engineering, cybernetics, and mechanical genius were all on sale… but it wasn’t that great of a boost and I passed on it as well. Politician I barely glanced at. I had charisma to burn and even the capstone wasn’t that good. I was about to close all the windows and just grab more powers… when I noticed the Civilian capstone and did a double take.
“Anomaly” it said. “Force Powers no longer have any effect against you.” It also protected me against psionics… and would allow me to cancel out nearby psi powers if I focused. I could not hit confirm fast enough. Even the 600 point cost didn’t slow me.
That left me with 700 points left… “Companion options?”
“You can have an apprentice for 200, an R2 for 150, or a clone for 500.”
“Why the heck is the clone so expensive?”
“They are a perfect genetic clone of you, rapidly aged, with all your physical abilities, non-major skills, and Force Powers.”
“Riiiight. No. that would be extremely narcissistic… and weird. And… creepy… Did I mention screamingly narcissistic? Seriously, who would take that? I don’t think I want to meet them.” I considered “What good is an R2 Unit?”
“Helps run a starfighter.”
“I don’t have a starfighter.”
“You can have a Z-95 Headhunter for 200… that’s half off because you’re Force Sensitive.”
“You mean one of those pre-ex wings?”
“That is the one.”
“I’d be a sitting duck in one of those things.”
“Yes. But you wouldn’t draw attention like you would if you used your other ships. They don’t exactly look Star Wars.”
“You want me to take a POS ship to fit in? You’d have to give it to me for free. And a Z-95’s a single seater… which, unless I’m remembering wrong, doesn’t even have a hyperdrive… which means it doesn’t have a spot for an Astromech! Those things were outdated when they were first constructed!”
“Your call, though this unit does have a hyperdrive.”
“Bully for it. I have two Jurian Treeships, a Black Jenny with Jurian drive tech, an Assault Shuttle with Magi drive tech, and a Ziggy. You’re just trying to trick me into squandering my points. Tell you what, I’ll give you 100 CP to give the Jenny an alt-form that looks like the Tantive Iv. How’s that?”
“Just the shape?”
“I could rig up a holoprojector, but it might get scanned through. I want something that looks like and scans like a CR90… and even has the hyperspace footprint of one… just not the actual deck layout or internals. Wouldn’t work anyway, considering that Jenny is 380 meters long and I think a CR90 is… what… a third that?”
“Yes. almost precisely. I shall do as you ask… though the size is, of course, no issue. Remember that I stuck your purloined Mako into a broomstick. I am that awesome.”
“Yeah yeah. You’re special… that leaves me 600. I guess I’ll take the Astromech… it’ll know where things are and be all beepboop bweedle… and it’s overpriced, but I’ll take the apprentice… for Zane, since he got left out last time. How much CP does it come with?”
“500. For perks and items… with a background similar to yours.”
“Huh. Well, that works. What do you have for 250?”
“Collection of Holocrons.”
“Oh? Jedi Porn?”
“No. instruction manuals that include all the information you need to train someone into a Jedi or Sith, basic information on both orders, instructions on how to build and use lightsabers, and how to harness the Force.”
“Well, I’m sure that would be useful… if the Force was found anywhere but here. Since it’s not-”
“Actually… Once you leave the Galaxy Far Far Away you’ll become a Force Conduit, able to grant living things in other universes a connection to the Force. You’ll have full control over who and what becomes Force Sensitive and will be able to grant powers to either a few individuals… or an entire universe if you so choose. Sensitives you create will be able to start anywhere from beginner to padawan in strength and skill… and you’ll be able to fully dictate how well they’re initially able to use the Force and wield a lightsaber… though training will allow them to potentially become just as powerful as you are… perhaps even more so.”
“What about Midi-chlorians?”
“You can decide whether or not the Force Powers come with Midi-Chlorians. There isn’t a need for it. Be warned, however, that the Darkside will always be a temptation, though Willpower and anti-corruption effects will mitigate the danger. And, before you ask you and your new Force users will be able to create synthetic lightsaber crystals… and you can allow them to grow naturally in any cave system with a strong magical or spiritual field. And, if you’re keen, you can even teach Sith Sorcery, Sith Alchemy, and Dathomirian Sorcery… if you learn them.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll take the package I guess. No telling when I might need to create my own new Force using organization… again apparently. I guess that spends me out… Has Zane made his choices?”
“He has. He’s gained the form of a Miraluka Force Sensitive, which gives him Melee Training, the Basic Force Powers, and a free lightsaber.”
“What’s a Miraluka? I don’t remember them.”
“Human with no eyes. They see by use of the Force.”
“Creepy. Like a Fade from Wheel of Time?”
“Very much so.”
“What powers did he take?”
“Ionize, Force Stasis, Force Bellow” I flinched at that. Zane can be plenty loud already. “And he paid 400 points for Force Sever.”
“What’s that? Cutting someone off from the Force?”
“Indeed. Initially it’s a temporary field, but a Light Jedi can completely sever a Force User for good.”
“Ouch. I’ll have to observe that.”
“You are such a magpie.”
“You gave me this warehouse. You knew I was when I signed up. What did he spend his last hundred on? High Explosives?”
“Of course. He picked up a pack of 24 Thermal Detonators that regenerate monthly and a Stun Pistol guaranteed to immobilize any organic target it hits and ignore body armor. 50 shots before it needs to be recharged.”
“AAAAAck…. To both. Any organic target? Oy. Scary gun… and that was only 50 CP?”
“I’m already worried about him trying to use up 24 nuclear fusion grenades in a 1 month period.”
“Indeed! I’m most interested to see that myself.” He sounded faaar too intrigued.
“What about Joy and Ahab?”
“Ahab has chosen to be a Force Sensative Gen’Dai, taking Comprehend Speech, Battlemind, and Doppleganger.” I shuddered at the mention of the nigh immortal blobs of nerve and muscle tissue.
“Lovely. And Joy?”
“Clawdite, Force Sensitive, of course. Also Comprehend Speech, with Psychometry and Plant Surge to round her out.”
“Great, she’ll spend the entire time pretending to be me and talking at the plants. Everyone will think I’m insane.”
And with that…
“Why do I feel so heavy?” I asked, my voice sounding extremely deep. I raised my hands to look at my arms and groaned. “YOU BASTARD! A HUTT?! I’M A MOTHER FUCKING HUTT?”
Zane grunted “Huts don’t have mothers, they’re hermaphrodites.” We were standing aboard the bridge of the Jenny, most of the lights off… but I could see just fine, as everything was bathed in Ultraviolet light. Zane, eyeless, had no problem seeing at all.
“Hermaphrodites have mothers. Just both parents are the same sex… sexes. I’m a Hutt. Lovely. I bet I smell like slug.”
“Eh. more like damp slightly mildewed tofu.”
“I hate you.”
“YOu have a Togruta form.”
“I’ve been trying to transform into it… ah… there we go.” I shifted, dropping a good 300 kilos in the process as well as growing a foot in height. Hutts don’t actually have bones… which, combined with their native regeneration, thick skin, heavy blubber, and chemically resistant slash heat resistant skin and unappetizing taste made them practically impervious to most forms of attack… though they were slow and ungainly enough that a thick carpet could effectively block on as long as she didn’t have a hover platform. They were quasi aquatic, not particularly more mobile under water, but with their huge lungs and sealable nostrils, they could hold their breath for hours under. Of course… I had other forms, all of them better at almost everything besides being disgusting than a Hutt… Unfortunately… I now had 260 years of fairly disturbing Hutt memories and knew more about Hutt family, social, and political life than I had ever dreamed existed… and frankly, while it was fascinating from a purely objective stance, it was deeply disturbing on any number of other levels. Even my Hutt-self found other Hutts distasteful… if only for their lack of focus.
I shook my no longer bulbous head and settled into the pilot’s seat of the Jenny for the first time. “Okay baby, speak to me.” The new VI, this one just called “Jenny” pinged, and the screens flared to life all around me. “Plot least time jump for Tatooine. Notify Mandalore system control we’re leaving… now.”
“System control has assigned us a window in 1 hour, 18 minutes.” the machine voice announced.
“Tell system control I’ll be lifting in three minutes. They have that long to clear a launch window. Raise shields.” I tapped the intra-ship comm and announced “I don’t know who’s aboard, but you have 1 minute to strap in before we lift.” Jenny might, thanks to the Banker, look like a CR90, but she was nothing of the sort underneath. Her shields were as advanced as I could make them, able to stand up to Wings of the Lighthawk if need be… at least for a few seconds, and the Sister Ray that was her main cannon had been upgraded time and time and time again, giving it a maximum output that could core a medium sized moon. Her top speed was fast enough to cross the galaxy in a week… or roughly five million times the speed of light. And to be frank, she was only the 4th most powerful starship in my fleet… though she was the fastest in real space.
Leaving behind a completely annoyed Mandalorian system control, we rose from the surface of Mandalore and cleared the planet’s mass shadow in minutes, faster than any response vessel could more to intercept… not that they’d have been able to do much. “Anyone know how to get to Tatooine?”
A black and silver R2 unit that I remembered naming M6 booped and wobbled a bit as if it wasn’t at all sure, then rolled into an Astromech port that hadn’t been installed by me and socketed down. I was expecting coordinates, but instead a hologram of a certain pragmatic operative appeared in front of Zane and me. “What… in the name of all that is holy… have you done to me.”
I blinked. Zane blinked. The Operative’s hologram didn’t blink. “Oh. Right. Forgot all about kicking you out again after I decked you. I’ve no idea how you ended un inside a droid… That’s what you are currently, an R2 series Astromech droid. Now. if you’d please find the coordinates for Tatooine in your system and plot a series of hyperjumps to get us there, that would be wonderful.”
“I AM NOT A ROBOT!”
“Look, I don’t hold what you did against you, but if you’re not going to be helpful, I’ll reset your memory… or head back to Mandalore and find a restraining bolt. I paid for an Astromech droid to do the astrogation. So either you help out, and I’ll try and explain what’s going on, or you find out what it’s like to have your free will removed. Capiche?”
“I don’t even know what Tatooine is…” he trailed off, then shook his holographic head “Apparently I do know what Tatooine is. Desert planet, controlled by the Hutt Syndicates. How do I know this?”
“You’ve been imported as an Astromech Droid. The purpose of an Astromech droid is to control various computer functions in starships, to perform EVA repairs as needed, and to, in general, be a walking toolbox. Oh, and to facilitate human-machine communication. Without hooking up to a system like you are now, you’ll probably only be able to communicate in 27th generation machine code, a kind of hyper-compressed binary. Now, please, plot a course for Tatooine. Time is… tight.”
Grudgingly, the Operative-cum-droid did as I’d asked, and once we were on our way I explained what was going on, that I was, in fact, the same being he’d known as Senet, and yes, I was an alien entity. I didn’t explain that I could, with a thought, probably send him home. I’d never tested the theory and wasn’t feeling super generous… especially as he was currently my only astromech droid. I suspected Banker chicanery, but for all I knew this was Mensarius pulling something. I’d have to ask the Banker… later. I was, also, lying to the Operative. I’d meant to bring him along all the time… if for no other reason than to verify if my impression of him was correct…
Unfortunately, that plan had been, at least briefly, stymied, as I couldn’t see into his heart or mind, nor mind read him… as Droids lacked hearts or minds… and apparently souls in this setting. Since he had no alt-forms, he couldn’t shift back, meaning he was almost certainly locked into the droid form until the end of the jump.
One by one, the various members of my crew began to cycle through the Jenny, checking in with Zane and Me, verifying that everyone had been restored and asking if I needed anything. Mostly I needed hugs, and allowed myself a nice little cry at seeing familiar faces so long vanished.
Meetra was last, looking out on the stars of her home reality in silence for long minutes. “I don’t blame you for sacrificing me.”
“It… wasn’t much of a sacrifice. But I am pleased you understood.”
“Strange being back. They tell me this is 4,000 years later, that what happened so long ago is naught but a memory?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. It seems as if the Jedi have been replaced with the Magi… though my new memories do not contain information about the core philosophies of this Magi Order. They could be as bad as the Sith or just the Jedi of this era renamed.”
“Watching the events of this time play out in video was… odd. It’s like seeing a hyper-accurate Force Prophecy… why is this droid booping at me?”
“It’s not. That’s a bweedle. I think he’s surprised to see you. Oh. This is R2-M6… Argent… Bart.” I chuckled. “Somehow The Operative ended up coming with us. He’s been imported as a Droid, just like you were as Milly the Bodyguard.”
She nodded and patted the machine, “Ah. Cute design.”
“Not as cute as the BB series, but that’s from the third trilogy.”
“The one you have four different copies of?”
“That’s the one. Black Bullet, Mass Effect, Great Detective, Firefly. Different realities, different copies. No idea which is the accurate one. Anyway… you understand what the general plan is?”
“We go in, kill the Zabrak, maybe kill the Gungan, rescue the kid’s mom, kill the senator, keep the kid from being a tool.”
“Sounds about right. Yeah.”
We landed on Tatooine near Mos Espa 3 days before Boonta Eve and staked out Watto’s junkshop. The kid was, well, a brat. Getting around as a Hutt wasn’t easy, but people respected the Hutts enough that I was, in general, left alone.
“SJ… the ship just landed. Herself, the elder Robe, and padfoot are on their way into town with their tin can.”
“Gotcha. Gametime, boys and girls. Zane, Ryoga, Meetra, you find the Zabrak’s landing spot, he’ll be here in a day or so… handle him. Don’t give him a chance to retreat. Extreme prejudice.” I squished my way to the food vendor that Jar-Jar would be snagging a meal from and waited, huddling under my all too small parasol and trying to look bored. As the quartet neared, I examined each of them in turn.
Padme, still pretending to be the handmaiden, was exactly as she appeared to be; earnest, forthright, and fairly naive. Qui-Gon, older, more mature, was nuanced, layered, and obsessed with prophecy… but not the prophecy I’d expected. The Magi had, according to his memories, long ago brought balance to the force, dismantling the endless warring of the Jedi and Sith, creating a more mature and structured, less monastic order… which was reflected in the fact that their robes were mantles over uniforms, uniforms designed for combat and acrobatics, but uniforms nonetheless.
No, this prophecy wasn’t that one would come to bring balance… it was that one would come to destroy the balance and one would come to maintain the balance… and that they would not know each other until chosen one was found.
Which is, perhaps, why it was not a surprise to me that I couldn’t read Jar-Jar at all. Not with the Third Eye of Satori, not with the Force, not with telepathy, not with the various magics I had at my disposal. I wondered what, exactly, was in that 600 points of drawbacks and gritted my… total lack of teeth.
One of two things were true. Either Jar-Jar was merely a tool… or he was a powerful (and protected) Dark Lord… or maybe something else entirely. All I could do was follow and see. With a little luck, and if a certain internet theory had been correct, He was soon to manipulate Padme…
Unfortunately, I was detained from being there to witness it when a speeder collided with me, totalling the vehicle and requiring me to extricate myself from the wreckage. That was just cheating… I decided to wait until after the sandstorm to make my appearance… I had to change my outfit… what?! Hutts can wear clothing. We’re not savages. We’re just grotesque.
“The Zabrak who might or might not have been a Dark Lord named Darth Maul has been terminated.” Zane announced. “We’re incinderating the body.”
“Incinerating.” I corrected.
“Naw… that would mean we reduced it to Ciners… we reduced it to Cinders! Incinderate!”
“Fine. Go rewrite the dictionary,” I grumbled as I squelched into Watto’s shop. “I thought I saw Magi come in here. Your kind isn’t welcome here. This is Hutt space.”
“We’re just here to get parts for our ship.” Qui-Gon tried placating me. “We’re not here on official business for the Order or the Republic.”
“Your Gungan stole food from a vendor. Someone has to pay for that.”
“We don’t have any local currency, I’m afraid.”
“Magi know fear?” I asked, teasing, though I was well aware that the Magi were more focused on controlling their emotional responses than denying them. Qui-Gon said nothing, recognizing the taunt for what it was, but Padme took offense and tried to step to me.
I waved my hand at her “Ease your womp rat, Magi. I meant no offense,” I lied. “If you have Galactic Credits, I’ll take them and pay local currency.” I could see the calculation flashing behind everyone’s eyes “With a conversion fee, of course.” I licked my heavy lips salaciously.
“I thank you.” Qui-Gon said. “That would be most… helpful.” And thus I bypassed a huge waste of time and an entire pod race… and then undid much of it by insisting, forcefully, that the Jedi be my guest for the evening, along with the brave little boy and his mother. Of course, I also arranged for Ryoga to attack Qui-Gon (in full Zabrak facepaint and sith hood) before swooping in to drive him off with a hail of blaster fire from my Mandalorian Ripper (All geared to not quite hit).
Inside the banquet room of Jenny, which had been disguised inside as well as out, I played the gracious host, tossing the sympathy card for the Naboo, for the plight of the two slaves, and of course voicing disdain for the corruption of the Senate and the Trade Federation. Of course these poor lost lambs could rely on the discretion and assistance of Shujak the Hutt. I’d even be willing to take them to Coruscant myself. “I’ve always wanted to see the Magi Temple.”
‘The Tabernacle is off limits to those who aren’t Magi, I’m afraid… but the Citadel can be visited.” Qui-Gon explained, suspicion warring with his desire to resolve this. “Our ship…”
“Bring it. We can tractor it to the hull of the Jenny.” Of course, that was possible, though risky. The Jenny appeared to be a CR90, which was only 50 meters longer than Amidala’s J-Type 327 Nubian, which was 76 meters long. It was doable… but chancy, and it would be safer for all involved it they came over to the Jenny. I didn’t tell them that, in reality, the Jenny was actually five times as big as the Royal Naboo Cruiser and would have no problem pulling it through hyper.
While I was doing that, Ahab and Joy were busy explaining to Watto that while no podracer was worth the price of two slaves, his life was not worth the sweat scrapped off the back of Shujak the Hutt and if he had a problem with that, he was invited to go take a literal flying fuck into a proton reactor. He handed over the ownership papers with only minimal bruising. Serves him right for being a stereotypical Evul Space Jew. talk about defamation… nice that the cartoons did a good job of redeeming the Toydarians… but that didn’t help Watto in the slightest. He was scum.
Thus it was I got to scan the last of the major players… Obi-wan too, was largely as he’d been depicted; enthusiastic, daring, and sheltered. Now I just had to tinker as I always did. I sent Yuzuha and Velma to chat with Anikin and begin the process of therapy, while I arranged for Padme and Obi-Wan to discuss what they’d seen of the droid army with Tokimi, Gaius, and Caine. Which left me and Meetra with Qui-Gon. Jar-Jar was off somewhere being Jar-Jar… I still had no idea if that was bad or really bad.
“I find your willingness to help us intriguing,” the Magi Knight commented.
“You mean confusing. I understand. It’s nice of you to try and be politic, but there is no need. I know all too well the reputation of my kind… but forgive me… you seem worried by things beyond the concerns of Naboo or even the Trade Federation.”
He considered for a long moment, then asked “What do you know of the history of the Magi?”
I nearly chuckled and Meetra coughed. “More than most, less than I’d like. Why?”
“4,000 years ago, there were two warring factions, two faiths that both embraced the Force… or aspects of it. They styled themselves the keepers of the true way and each hated the other with a burning passion that cost many millions or billions of sophonts their lives. On one side, there were the Sith, who preached a doctrine of obedience and dominance, an embrace of the more basal and aggressive traits we all share to some extent…” He took a deep breath, then sighed. “The others, the other side of the Sith coin, was the Jedi. They embraced asceticism, setting aside all that made them… human… for lack of a better term. All too often, the Sith would secretly infiltrate the Jedi, suborning their apprentices… or at least that’s what the Jedi claimed, allowing them to engage in periodic purges against all those who were not fantastic enough.”
I nodded “And that was when the Magi were born?”
“Oh, no. The Magi are an ancient order, hundreds of thousands of years old and, at the time, thought long extinct except for a few adherents to their old ways. That was until the coming of Sant Jara, the Unifier, first of the Magi Manifestations in ages. She unified the Jedi and Sith, showing the proper balance and scouring away the old, corrupt ways. She then ascended into the Force, promising to return if she was ever needed.”
“Well, that’s an interesting history lesson, to be sure… but the events of four millennia ago can scarcely be worrying you now?”
“There have been… rumors. Since that time… well, more than rumors. The Jedi and the Sith hardliners never really vanished. The Sith hold to what we believe is called “The Rule of Three”, a system where one master and two apprentices are active at any given time, and eventually one of the apprentices will kill the others and become the new master.”
I chuckled, both externally and internally. Seemed the Sith in this time were more open about their ‘Secret’ Apprentices. “Lovely system. They lurk in the shadows, manipulating people and hoping to bring about the fall of the Magi? And the Jedi?”
“Crazed Fanatics. Yes. They operate both publicly, as a monastic order with secret membership except for the higher ups… and as a terrorist organization called the Council who are actually in control. They are obsessed with bringing down the corrupt Republic and the Order that supports it. If the Sith use domination and trickery, the Jedi use seduction, mind tricks, and manipulation. The Sith embrace primal emotions, like rage and hate and fear. But the Jedi are no better, using and playing on the social emotions, such as attachment, protectiveness, and generosity… using them as weapons against their foes.”
“Fascinating.” Meetra breathed, and it was. A subtle change… and one that potentially changed things. Who might be on this Council? Would I have to face off against the likes of Yoda and Mace? What else was different?
“We’re arriving at Coruscant, Boss,” came AJ’s voice. He’d gotten much better once Francine had showed up again and spent several days pestering her about what it was like being dead. They were a cute couple, even if AJ steadfastly refused to admit his feelings for the other psychic pokemon. They were just friends… honestly. Not that he was fooling anyone. It didn’t take mindreading to know his true feelings… not that we had a shortage of mindreaders.
“Thank you AJ. We’ll be right there. Come Magi. I think we’ll need your clearance to land. I suggest using her majesty’s ship and leaving the Jenny in orbit.”
Qui-gon didn’t object, nor did he begrudge me a ride down to the surface. After all, Jar-Jar was coming along. He did insist on bringing the kid, because of course he would.
Meeting Sheev Palpatine was, to be honest, a total mindfuck. I scanned him, just to be certain he was the same shitheel he’d been in the original timeline… and discovered something… unexpected. This was Sheev Palpatine… but it wasn’t Darth Sidious. It was Jedi Councillor Sidious. And he was most concerned because he’d not heard from his Padawan, the Assassin Maul. Sheev Palpatine and his partner’s Count Dooku and Jedi Councillor Plagueis, were behind this whole mess, with the assistance of others, including General Grievous. But at least looking into his mind confirmed that, no, Yoda and Windu were not, as far as he knew, Jedi or Sith.
I decided not to kill him… yet. Though it was tempting. I could have just stunned him and knocked him off the high, handrail lacking walkway into the chasms of Coruscant far below. Instead, I decided to screw with his plans… and get the Hutts in big trouble at the same time. I requested, as an interested party, to attend the Senatorial hearing.
It went as it had to, of course. That is, until, the Supreme Chancellor showed his weakness. The Queen was just about to call for a Vote of No Confidence, as Sheev was pushing for, when I asked her, quietly, “Might I be allowed to speak. I know I have no standing, so I ask you to call me as an impartial witness.” The Senator and Queen shared a look, then the Queen nodded “Chancellor, If it please the Senate, my associate wishes to present evidence of the invasion.”
There was a general susuris of outrage and protests from both the Trade Federation and the Malastar contingent that no such evidence could exist, but the general outcry supported hearing and seeing my “evidence”.
“The Hutts have long seen the corruption and decadence of your Republic and kept out of it, for your dealings are your own. But to allow one of your member states to invade another without sanction or censure is despicable. On my own authority, having heard of this issue, I have dispatched three of my capital ships to the Naboo system. I present the Senate with the feed from those ships.”
I pulled out a comm unit and plugged it into the Senate Chamber’s main display matrix and the Droid ship in orbit around the planet sprang into view. “I believe that is your ship?” I addressed the Traders, then switched the feed to dozens of surveillance platforms that had been dropped into the atmosphere and were streaming footage from occupied cities and prison camps. “I may be a simple Hutt, but this does not look like a dispute over taxes. This looks like an invasion and illegal occupation.”
The outcry was immediate and profound. “Well?” I asked the Trade Rep. “Will you move your forces of the planet?”
“These are not our forces! We are being framed!” he demanded, disavowing the entire operation.
“Oh. Well then.” I raised my communicator to my lips “COmmander,” I said, addressing Yuzuha who was both flagship and its genius loci. “Open fire.” And weaponry that hadn’t been seen in 4,000 years obliterated the Droid Control Ship. “I’m sure your Viceroy will love to explain why he was acting against your orders. My forces have also apprehended him and his adjunct… and will have obtained a full confession and surrender of all forces under his control by the time he arrives on Coruscant. Thank you,” I said, turning to the Queen, “For allowing me to speak. I believe you were going to say something?”
She blinked, then nodded, and called for a Vote of No Confidence, thereby removing Valorum from power… and sealing Palpatine’s doom, as I’d already suborned the minds of all those he was counting on having the votes of, replacing their instructions with ones to vote for Bail Organa. I’d have to clean up Palpatine personally, as well as his allies, but that was for later.
For now, I had the Magi High Command to speak to. In the confusion, I doubt any of the Senators even noticed I was gone.
The Magi Tabernacle did not look like the Jedi Temple. It was much more ornate and refined, and surrounded by the vast military campus that was the Citadel. No one noticed the Togruta wearing an old fashioned Magi High Commander’s uniform. Why should they, I belonged there, these were my people, my legacy taken across a hundred generations. Even the Keepers of the way to the innermost chambers didn’t so much as notice that they’d never seen me before, merely saluted and let me pass.
The High Command, on the other hand, noticed at once. They were just discussing Anakin’s fate and Yoda was about to refuse because he considered the likelihood that Anakin was not the Balancer but the Unbalancer. I’d removed the kid’s worry about his mother, but that left the child’s innate… rambunctiousness… which did not appeal to the octocentarian’s sense of decorum. He did look excellent in his uniform however, though oddly enough his staff had changed to look like a copy of Cologne’s from Ranma.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Ki Adi Mundi demanded, rising from his seat, the lightbuckler on his arm flashing to light and his hand reaching for the lightlance at his side. It was heartening to see the various adaptations of the technology I’d invented had survived the ages.
“I am the Magi Manifestation. I am called Sant Jara. This child will be trained in the Way of the Force.” I said it in a voice that brooked no dissent. “Mace Windu. I, the founder of this order” and my uniform shifted as I spoke, to that of the Supreme Commander of the Magi and I let myself grow taller and more full of my own glory, “I charge you with his instruction and his care. Teach him what it means to be a Magi.” I knelt before the boy, whose eyes were bugging out, and fixed my gaze upon his. “And you, child, remember my words. Balance, Moderation, Knowledge of Self, Compassion for all others, especially one’s enemies… Acceptance of the Inevitable, Freedom from Greed… these are the watchwords of the Magi. Never take an action you cannot admit to taking, if only to yourself. Understand that having more power than others does not make you their better, nor does skill entitle you to respect. We earn the respect of others through our deeds. We trust our companions… and we always question if prophecy is what must be, or what will happen if we do not turn from our present path. Ultimately, we are who we make ourselves, the sum of all our choices.”
I rose then, looking at them and shook my head “The Sith and Jedi are not gone. They have not forgotten. They are still a threat. The Naboo Crisis is their making and civil war is coming It cannot be stopped… things have gotten too bad. There is too much corruption, too much bureaucracy, too much discord and distrust. You must prepare for it… oh, and berets are to be incorporated into the dress code… you look ridiculous without hats.” Then I vanished from their sight and senses, waiting as they took in what had just happened. The results, near pure anarchy, was frankly hilarious. It had been so long since I’d done something to shake up Magi society but tradition is tradition, after all.
“Was that an Angel?” Anakin asked Mace.
“Worse… that was a God.”
“Why is that worse?”
“Angels can be ignored.”
A few days later, a Trade Federation suicide bomber assassinated Palpatine and very nearly (but not quite) caught Queen Amidala and Boss Nass in the blast at a formal declaration of peace and liberty for the entire Naboo system. The inclusion of the Gungans was, of course, my… I mean Shujak’s suggestion. That done, I began the process of doing exactly what Palpatine had tried to do in the original timeline… cause a civil war, reorganize the entire Galactic Republic, and eradicate the Jedi threat. Eradicating the Sith too, once I located them. But, for the time being, I had free time.
“Questions?” I asked the droid’s projection.
“I do not… how is any of this possible? I have seen things… you’re sometimes a giant slug, other times a purple and white demon, other times human. You cow monarchs and command ships that can…” He shook his head. “Even this society… so many aliens… and no trace of Earth-That-Was.”
“Once upon a time, you told Malcolm Reynolds that you believed in something greater than yourself. Do you remember?”
“I… yes.” there was a slight tinge of regret in that.
“I am that something greater.”
“You think highly of yourself, don’t you?”
“Little man… I have ruled a nation as old as the sands of Earth-That-Was, a nation that stood the test of millenia and never once had a civil war, never once had a monarch assassinated for madness or corruption or for petty power. I have strode across time and space, visited worlds undreamed of in your philosophy and spoken with gods. I am not the Greatest Good. I make no claim to that, but I am the greatest good you are ever likely to meet.” The tenor of my voice never changed and it was touched with sadness.
“Then why have you brought me with you to this place?”
“You once told Malcolm Reynolds that there was no place for you in the better world you envisioned… and you were right. I have brought you along for the sake of… call it redemption.”
“You think there can be redemption for one such as me?”
“Poor child. You see your litany of sins and think, how can I be forgiven? Surely my sins are greater than those of others, more heinous, especially as you knew every act of evil, every monstrous crime you committed… every last unarmed civilian, and priest, and child you cut down to build your unworthy future… you understood that you were doing evil.”
“I… yes.” His voice was small. “If you are so powerful, such a force for good as you claim… why not strike me down and be done with me?”
“Three reasons, though you won’t like any of them.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“The first is… you are not worthy of such an easy out. Killing you would be too simple, too… nice. Your suffering would end, your guilt be cut short. No. You will serve me in making other worlds better… other worlds you will never, ever, get to live in.”
Droids cannot gulp, or flinch. Those are biological responses. But they can… cringe. He did so. “I… I’m not so certain I want to hear the other reasons.”
“Too late. You ask how I can think you deserving of redemption? It is because you have shown it. Too little too late, perhaps, but you have. You made restitution to Captain Reynolds after the Miranda Incident. You understand your inherent unworthiness. You know yourself to be a monster… but I have bigger monsters than you in my retinue. The girl you knew as Milly betrayed tens of thousands of her own people to end a disastrous war. The one known as Reggy destroyed an entire civilization and murdered tens of millions, all through biological imperative. The one known as Gaius was an Emperor who betrayed so many trusts that even I do not know the scope of all of them. Caine is the biblical Caine, the very first Murderer and has slain countless humans over the ages. Joy and Ahab were Operatives like yourself, ones who did… many questionable things in the service of their ideals. Were I to judge you unworthy, I would also have to judge them unworthy, and they are my friends and boon companions.”
“I… well… that’s terrifying… but I guess it makes sense. And the last reason?”
“I have been a monster myself. I have betrayed those who trusted me. I have murdered children and through inaction allowed monsters to do likewise. I have ended at least two entire civilizations and will do so again. I have fought and slain gods. I have defied the ineffable and flaunted my power in the face of Creation itself. I have held myself to be the supreme arbiter of what is and is not right and just and good… and will do so again. I have committed regicide against monarchs I was sworn to protect and presidents duly elected by the people. I have worked my will on the unwilling, plundered the minds of the innocent, and enforced my own desires upon those who could not have stopped me… I answer to no law but my own. How can I condemn you child, when I have done everything you have done and more, on a grander and more terrible scale?”
He just stared, unable to doubt the words I was saying so calmly.
“That is why I can judge you, oh monstrous one. And that is why I offer you this chance… Oh, and a fourth reason.”
“What is that?”
I shot him with several million volts of Force Lightning, watching him ignite like a roman candle as every circuit fried to ash in an agonizing moment of transcendent pain. Then I waited. I am exceptional patient. I didn’t move for the entire twenty four hours. As soon as he reappeared I opened the way into the Warehouse for him to roll through. He was juddering and twitching violently.
“W… what just… you just… I was… and then.”
“Your death would not end your suffering, Bart.”
“You killed me.”
“I did. And yet, here you are, as if nothing had happened.”
“Th… this is Hell.”
“Oh. Child, Hell is other people. Hell is what you make of it. This… This is Tuesday.”
“I… why do you call me Bart?”
“Between who and who?”
“Me and Reality. Do you even remember your own name?”
“I… gave it up long ago.”
“Then Bart it is.”
“This is because I’m black, isn’t it.”
“I’ve been black… been asian too. Been a lot of things. People are people. But yes, it’s because you’re Black… and kinda a law man… and handsome… when you’re not a droid. Malcolm Reynolds could be your Sundance!”
“More inside jokes?”
“Once you have a sense of humor, I’ll show you the source material.”
“So… if you don’t mind me asking… why didn’t you use any of these resources back in the… the Verse?”
“Different realities… different limitations. I was… there were special circumstances. My travels are not directed by my choices. There is an entity known as the Banker from whom I draw much of my power… and an entity known as Mensarius who opposes the Banker.”
“God and the Devil?”
“Ahahah… so much more… and I suspect… less, than those terms suggest. To paraphrase the Bard, ‘There are things undreamt of in your philosophy.’ Best leave it at that.”
Things remained at a low simmer for almost a decade as the various factions maneuvered, plotted, schemed, and the Republic steadily Balkanized, egged on in no small part by the ongoing war between the Hutts and the Trade Federation, which was slowly dragging in others. The Republic’s member systems were slowly splitting into Separatists, Loyalists, Reformers, and Hardliners. The Hardliners were those who’d most earnestly supported Sheev, though the Loyalists were nearly as jingoistic, if less Imperially minded. The Reformers were growing more and more vocal every day and the specter of outright civil war could not be ignored. And I’d left Dooku and Grievous alone, allowing them to rally the Separatists, though they hadn’t quite gotten to the point of forming the Confederacy. It looked to be an interesting time… though I’d messed with the Clone Army’s programming because that’s what I do. If anything, I regretted that I wouldn’t be there for the inevitable outbreak, as the Clone War began in 22 BBY, one year after my stay would end.
Except… have I mentioned the Banker is a Bastard? Well… he is. “Why haven’t the Pillars of Time shown up?” I asked, 10 years to the day after the Invasion of Naboo, brushing the sand of Takodana from my thigh as I glowered at the VMoDestiny… the VMoDoom was off to the left and looking somehow smug for an inanimate object.
“Oh. Sorry. Did I not tell you? You’re here until the day Luke and Leah are born.”
“What!!!? You… I… Padme is married to Obi-Wan you great… there… I am not arranging for Padme to have an affair with Mace Windu’s precious little Ani (it was frankly a little creepy how much Mace doted on Anakin, demonstrating far more patience and ability to restrain his charge’s more… impulsive… behaviour.) just for you to get your shits and giggles.”
“Ohhh… fine. You just have to stay until the day they should be born.”
I growled, then sighed “Fine. Three more years. I can cope with that.”
The war was… well, let’s not beat around the bush. Wars on a Galactic scale are not good and I had my hands full manipulating events so that those who resisted reform ended up getting harder hit and those who sought reform had often miraculous victories.
I was kept pretty busy… so busy, in fact, that, two days before the end of the strangely extended jump, I was flabbergasted to feel an overwhelmingly powerful pulse through the Force and across the Galaxy, loyal Clones began turning on Magi. I screamed in rage, even as I located the source of that blast. I teleported to the Senate Chamber just as Jar-Jar mother-raping Binks called for a vote to grant Supreme Chancellor Bail Organa (granted Emergency Powers 2 years earlier) the position of Emperor.
“BINKS! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
“Not Binks.” he sneered. “Darth Cerebris. And Isa brought’n down da bombad Magi Order!” He laughed, it was nothing like Binks’s easygoing attitude and I saw through his veil at that moment.
“Oh. well. Shit.” I couldn’t even blame the Banker for that one. Binks had shielded himself from everyone, from the entire Order, for decades. It seemed he’d just managed to block me entirely by accident. “Well, bully for you… but now, Jar-Jar… Yousa Gonna Die.”
And I blurred into action, drawing my lightsaber and flicking my buckler to life, as well as my plasma shield. I wanted him to think I was relying on my devices… and, powerful as he might have been… smart and cunning as the little bastard was… he fell for it, maneuvering me until he could thrust his saber into my guts. He was damned good… really quite obscenely good actually… and slippery as hell, a true master of both the Jedi / Sith Arts and of drunken boxing. Unfortunately, he wasn’t anticipating that I’d be able to just… stop a lightsaber with my belly button.
I grabbed him in a bearhug “Say goodnight, Binks”. I said, then burst into flame and lightning. The Dark Lord of the Sith, one who’d hidden so well he’d even hidden from me… died, screaming, as the entire Senate watched on in stunned horror. As the ash settled down up them, I looked around the chamber “Now, which one of you fuckers thinks a Galactic Empire is a Good Fucking Idea?”
They were, strangely, silent.
Without Binks pushing them, the CLones rapidly were brought under control of the surviving Magi and those who’d pulled the trigger and actually managed to kill their Magi Leadership, many of whom had been both stunned and forewarned by the Force Pulse, had either turned themselves in or eaten their own blasters. Still, at least a thousand Magi had died on that black day.
Two days later, Luke and Leia were born… I hadn’t even known Padme was pregnant. The birth was, interestingly enough, uneventful.
“Well. That was fun… Not.” I grumbled as the Pillars finally rose. “Where to next?”
“Next? Oh… someplace a little different.” and then the scroll for Episode IV played and I screamed “WHAT GALACTIC EMPIRE YOU COCK-SUCKING PIECE OF JUNK!?”
Next: We Are Altogether
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