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The library was his favorite place in the entirety of the immense Jedi Temple complex. He went there to absorb data as much through the pores of his skin as through any study of the copious amount of information stored there. He frequently went there to think—but just as often he went there to not think.
He was there now—not thinking—and almost as soon as he recognized the place, Jax Pavan also realized that this was a dream. The Temple, he knew, was no more than a chaotic pile of rubble, charred stone, and ashy dust. Order 66 had mandated it, and the horrifying bloodbath that the few remaining Jedi referred to as Flame Night had ensured it.
Yet here he was in one of the many reading rooms within the vast library wing, just as it had been the last time he had seen it—the softly lit shelves that contained books, scrolls, data cubes, and other vessels of knowledge from a thousand worlds; the tables—each in its own pool of illumination—at which Jedi and Padawans studied in silence; the tall, narrow windows that looked out into the central courtyard; the vaulted ceiling that seemed to fly away into eternity. Even as his dreaming gaze took in these things, he felt the pain of their loss . . . and something else—puzzlement.
This was clearly a Force dream. It had that lucent, almost shimmering quality to it, the utter clarity of presence and sense, the equally clear knowledge that it was a dream. But it was about the past, not the future, for Jax Pavan knew he would never savor the atmosphere of the Jedi library again. His Force dreams had, without exception, been visions of future events . . . and they had never been this lucid.
He was sitting at one of the tables with a book and a data cube before him. The book was a compilation of philosophical essays by Masters of the Tython Jedi who had first proposed that the Force had a dual nature: Ashla, the creative element, and Bogan, the destructive—light and dark aspects of the same Essence. The data cube contained a treatise of Master Asli Krimsan on the Potentium Perspective, a “heresy” propagated by Jedi Leor Hal that contended—as many had before and since—that there was no dark side to the Force, that the darkness existed within the individual.
Yes, he had studied these two volumes—among others. He supposed that all Padawans studied them at some point in their training, because all entertained questions about the nature of the Force and desired to understand it. Some, he knew, hoped to understand it completely and ultimately; to settle once and for all the millennia-long debate over whether it had one face or two and where the potential for darkness lay—in the Force itself or in the wielder of the Force.
When had he studied these last? What moment had he been returned to in his dream?
Even as he wondered these things, a shadow fell across the objects on the table before him. Someone had come to stand beside him, blocking the light from the windows.
He glanced up.
It was his fellow Padawan and friend Anakin Skywalker. At least he had called Anakin “friend” readily enough, but the truth was that Anakin held himself aloof from the other Padawans. Even in moments of camaraderie he seemed a man apart, as if he had a Force shield around him. Brooding. Jax had called him that once to his face and had drawn laughter that he, through his connection to the Force, had known to be false.
Now Anakin stood above him, his back to the windows, his face in shadow.
“Hey, you’re blocking my light.” The words popped out of Jax’s mouth without his having intended to say them. But he had said them that day, and he knew what was coming next.
Anakin didn’t answer. He simply held out his hand as if to drop something to the tabletop. Jax put out his own hand palm-up to receive it.
“It” was a pyronium nugget the size of the first joint of his thumb. Even in the half-light it pulsed with an opalescence that seemed to arise from deep within, cycling from white through the entire visible spectrum to black, then back again. Somewhere—Jax just couldn’t remember where—he had heard that pyronium was a source of immense power, of almost unlimited power. He had thought that apocryphal and absurd. Power was a vague word and meant many things to many people.
“What’s this for?” he asked now as he had then, looking up into his friend’s face.
“For safekeeping while I’m on Tatooine,” Anakin said. His mouth curved wryly. “Or maybe it’s a gift.”
“Well, which is it?” Jax asked.
The answer then had been a shrug. Now it was a cryptic phrase uttered in a deep, rumbling voice not at all like the Padawan’s own: “With this, journey beyond the Force.”
Jax laughed. “The Force is the beginning, middle, and end of all things. How does one go beyond the infinite?”
Instead of replying, the Anakin of his dream began to laugh. To Jax’s horror, Anakin’s flesh blackened, crisping and shriveling as if from intense heat; peeling away from the muscle and bone beneath. His grin twisted horribly, becoming a skull’s rictus. Worst of all, laughter still tumbled from the seared lips.
Jax woke suddenly and completely, bathed in cold sweat.
With this, journey beyond the Force?
That was impossible. It made no sense—and what was with the burning? He shivered, his skin creeping beneath its clammy film of sweat as he recalled one of the rumors of where and how Anakin was supposed to have died on Mustafar—thrown into the magma stream by . . . no one knew who.
“Is something wrong, Jax?”
Jax glanced over from his sweat-soaked bed mat to where I-Five stood sentry, his photoreceptors gleaming with muted light.
Jax hesitated for only a moment. It might seem a futile monologue to discuss a dream with a droid, but I-5YQ was no ordinary droid, and even if he were, there was value to talking out the puzzling dream even with a supposedly nonsentient being. If nothing else, Jax reasoned that sorting through the images, actions, and words aloud would help him understand them.
He sat up, leaning against the wall of his small room in the Poloda Place conapt he shared with the rest of his motley team. “I dreamed.”
“I’ve read that all living things do,” I-Five observed blandly.
Jax was seized with sudden curiosity: Did I-Five dream? Was that even possible? He wanted to ask but quelled the urge, instead launching into a detailed re?telling of his own nighttime visitation.
When Jax at last exhausted the account, I-Five was si- lent for a moment, his photoreceptors flickering slightly in a way that suggested the blinking of human eyes. Finally he said, “May I point out that this would seem to contradict the knowledge you received through the Force some months ago that Skywalker was still alive?”
“Well, yeah.” Jax ran fingers through his sweat-damp hair. “Although he might have been injured on Mustafar, I suppose.”
“Possibly, although other possibilities abound. It might have a more metaphysical meaning, for example. Or it might be an expression of your own inner fears.”
“That’s not usually how Force dreams work, but I suppose it’s possible. I’ve never had one like this before,” Jax admitted. “I mean, a dream of the past, rather than the future, for one thing. And an edited past at that. Anakin didn’t say anything about the Force when he gave me the pyronium, he just asked me to keep it for him while he went to Tatooine. And I think I’d have noticed if he burst into flames,” he added wryly.
I-Five’s “eyes” flickered again, seeming to convey amuse?ment.
The door chime sounded; Jax checked his chrono, but I-Five was ahead of him.
“It’s oh seven hundred hours.”
It wasn’t a terribly early hour this deep in downlevel Coruscant where few acknowledged either day or night, but most sentients seemed to agree that some hours were impolite for calling on one’s neighbor.
Jax rose and padded out of his room into the larger main living area, noticing that the rest of his companions were either asleep or out. I-Five followed him.
As he moved to the front door of the conapt, Jax sent out questing tendrils of the Force to the being on the opposite side of the barrier. In his mind’s eye he saw the energy there, but he perceived no telltale threads of the Force emanating from or connecting to them.
Every Jedi experienced and perceived the Force in intensely personal ways. Jax’s particular sensibilities caused him to perceive it as threads of light or darkness that enrobed or enwrapped an individual and connected him or her to the Force itself and to other beings and things. In this case there seemed to be no threads . . . though there was a hint of a, well, a smudge—that was the only word Jax could think of that even vaguely fit.
Curious for the second time that morning, he opened the door, smiling a little as I-Five stepped to one side to take up a defensive position where he would not immediately be seen by whoever was outside.
In the narrow, starkly lit corridor stood a short, stocky male Sakiyan whom Jax guessed to be in his sixties, dressed in clean but threadbare clothing. He blinked at Jax’s appearance—he was wearing a loose pair of sleep pants and hadn’t bothered to put on a tunic.
“I—I apologize for the hour,” the Sakiyan stammered, blinking round eyes that seemed extraordinarily pale in his bronze face, “but the matter is urgent. I need to speak to Jax Pavan.”
Jax scrutinized the Sakiyan again, more thoroughly and with every sense he possessed. Sensing no ill intent, he introduced himself. “I’m Jax Pavan.”
The visitor’s face brightened and he heaved a huge sigh of relief. “By any chance, do you happen to own a protocol droid of the Eye-Fivewhycue line?”
“I don’t ‘own’ him,” Jax replied cautiously. “But yes, he’s here. What do you want with him, er . . . ?”
The Sakiyan executed a slight bow. “I apologize for my extreme lack of manners. My name is—”
“Tuden Sal,” I-Five said, stepping out of the shadows beside the door. The droid pointed an index finger at the Sakiyan. A red light gleamed at the tip—the muzzle of one of the twin lasers incorporated into his hands. His photoreceptors gleamed brightly. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this . . .”
From the Paperback edition.