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Star Pond had calmed into a dark mirror, and the kaddyr bugs had fallen mysteriously silent. The entire Jedi academy had descended into uneasy stillness, and Luke knew it was time. He ended the meditation with a breath, then unfolded his legs—he had been floating cross-legged in the air—and lowered his feet to the pavilion floor.
Mara was instantly at his side, taking his arm in case he was too weak to stand. “How do you feel?”
Luke’s entire body felt stiff and sore, his head was aching, and his hands were trembling. He tested his legs and found them a little wobbly.
“I’m fine,” he said. His stomach felt as empty as space. “A little hungry, maybe.”
“I’ll bet.” Continuing to hold his arm, Mara turned to leave the meditation pavilion. “Let’s get you something to eat . . . and some rest.”
Luke did not follow her. “I can last another hour.” Through the Force, he could feel nearly the entire Jedi order gathered in the lecture hall, waiting to learn why he had summoned them. “We need to do this now.”
“Luke, you look like you’ve been hanging out in wampa caves again,” Mara said. “You need to rest.”
“Mara, it’s time,” Luke insisted. “Is Ben there?”
“I don’t know,” Mara said.
Although their son was finally beginning to show some interest in the Force, he continued to shut himself off from his parents. Luke and Mara were saddened and a little disturbed by Ben’s detachment, but they were determined not to push. The turmoil in the Force during the war with the Yuuzhan Vong had left him somewhat mistrustful of the Jedi way of life, and they both knew that if he was ever going to follow in their footsteps, he would have to find his own way onto the path.
“Does Ben really need to be part of this?” Mara’s tone suggested the answer she wanted to hear.
“Sorry, but I think he does,” Luke said. “Now that Jacen has convinced him that it’s safe to open himself to the Force, Ben will have to make the same decision as everyone else. All the students will.”
Mara frowned. “Shouldn’t the children wait until they’re older?”
“We’ll ask them again when they become apprentices,” Luke said. “I don’t know whether I’m about to save the Jedi order or destroy it—”
“I do,” Mara interrupted. “The Masters are pulling the order in ten different directions. You have to do this, or they’ll tear it apart.”
“It certainly looks that way,” Luke said. With Corran Horn and Kyp Durron at odds over the anti-Killik policies of the Galactic Alliance, it seemed as though every Master in the order was trying to impose his or her own compromise on the Jedi. “But whether this is successful or not, it’s going to change the Jedi order. If some students don’t want to be a part of that, it’s better for everyone to find out now.”
Mara considered this, then sighed. “I’ll have Nanna bring Ben over.” She pulled out her comlink and stepped to one side of the pavilion. “And I’ll let Kam and Tionne know you want the students there.”
“Good. Thank you.”
Luke continued to look out over the dark water. He had spent the last week deep in meditation, sending a Force-call to the entire Jedi order. It would have been easier to use the HoloNet, but many Jedi—such as Jaina and her team—were in places the HoloNet did not cover. Besides, Luke was trying to make a point, to subtly remind the rest of the order that all Jedi answered to the same authority.
And the strategy had worked. In every arm of the galaxy, Masters had suspended negotiations, Jedi Knights had dropped investigations, apprentices had withdrawn from combat. There were a few Jedi stranded on off-lane worlds without transport and a couple unable to suspend their activities without fatal consequences, but for the most part, his summons had been honored. Only two Jedi Knights had willfully ignored his call, and their decision had surprised Luke less than it had hurt him.
A familiar presence drew near on the path behind the meditation pavilion, and Luke spoke without turning around. “Hello, Jacen.”
Jacen stopped at the entrance to the pavilion. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”
Luke continued to look out on the pond. “Come to explain why Jaina and Zekk aren’t here?”
“It’s not their fault,” Jacen said, still behind Luke. “We’ve had some, uh, disagreements.”
“Don’t make excuses for them, Jacen,” Mara said, closing her comlink. “If you felt Luke’s summons, so did they.”
“It’s not that simple,” Jacen said. “They may have thought I was trying to trick them.”
Luke finally turned around. “Tesar and Lowbacca didn’t seem to think so.” He had felt three other Jedi Knights return to Ossus along with Jacen. “Neither did Tahiri.”
“What can I say?” Jacen spread his hands. “I’m not their brother.”
Mara frowned. “Jacen, your sister used you as a pretext and we all know it. Let’s leave it at that.” She turned to Luke. “Nanna’s on the way with Ben, and Kam says the students have all been waiting in the lecture hall since this morning.”
“Thanks.” Luke joined her and Jacen at the rear of the pavilion, then gestured at the path leading toward the lecture hall. “Walk with us, Jacen. We need to talk.”
“I know.” Jacen fell in at Luke’s side, between him and Mara. “You must be furious about the raid on the Chiss supply depot.”
“I was,” Luke admitted. “But your aunt convinced me that if you were involved, there had to be a good reason.”
“I was more than involved,” Jacen said. “It was my idea.”
“Your idea?” Mara echoed.
Jacen was silent a moment, and Luke could feel him struggling with himself, trying to decide how much we could tell them. He was trying to protect something—something as important to him as the Force itself.
Finally, Jacen said, “I had a vision.” He stopped and looked into the crown of a red-fronded dbergo tree. “I saw the Chiss launch a surprise attack against the Killiks.”
“And so you decided to provoke the Chiss just to be certain?” Luke asked. “Surely, it would have been better to warn the Killiks.”
Jacen’s fear chilled the Force. “There was more,” he said. “I saw the Killiks mount a counterattack. The war spread to the Galactic Alliance.”
“And that’s why you attacked the Chiss supply depot,” Mara surmised. “To protect the Galactic Alliance.”
“Among other things,” Jacen said. “I had to change the dynamics of the situation. If the war had started that way, it wouldn’t have stopped. Ever.” He turned to Luke. “Uncle Luke, I saw the galaxy die.”
“Die?” An icy ball formed in Luke’s stomach. Considering the turmoil the order had been in at the time, he was beginning to understand why Jacen had felt it necessary to take such dire action. “Because the Chiss launched a surprise attack?”
Jacen nodded. “That’s why I convinced Jaina and the others to help me. To prevent the surprise attack from happening.”
“I see.” Luke fell quiet, wondering what he would have done, had he been in Jacen’s place and experienced such a terrifying vision. “I understand why you felt you had to act, Jacen. But trying to change what you see in a vision is dangerous—even for a Jedi of your talent and power. What you witnessed was only one of many possible futures.”
“One that I can’t permit,” Jacen replied quickly.
Again, Luke felt a wave of protectiveness from Jacen—protectiveness and secrecy.
“You were protecting something,” Luke said. “What?”
“Nothing . . . and everything.” Jacen spread his hands, and Luke felt him draw in on himself in the Force. “This.”
They came to the Crooked Way, a serpentine path of rectangular stepping-stones, set askew to each other so that walkers would be forced to slow down and concentrate on their journey through the garden. Luke allowed Mara to lead the way, then fell in behind Jacen, watching with interest as his nephew instinctively took the smoothest, most fluid possible route up the walkway.
“Jacen, do you know that you have prevented what you saw in your vision?” Luke asked. He was meandering back and forth behind his nephew, absentmindedly allowing his feet to choose their route from one stone to the next. “Can you be certain that your own actions won’t bring the vision to pass?”
Jacen missed the next stone and would have stepped onto the soft carpet of moss had he not sensed his error and caught his balance. He stopped, then pivoted around to face Luke.
“Is that a rhetorical question, Master?” he asked.
“Not entirely,” Luke replied. He was concerned that Jacen had fixed the future again, as he had when he had reached across time and spoken to Leia during a vision at the Crash site on Yoggoy. “I need to be sure I know everything.”
“Even Yoda didn’t know everything,” Jacen said, smiling. “But the future is still in motion, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Thank you,” Luke said. Fearing dangerous ripples in the Force, Luke had asked Jacen not to reach into the future again. “But I still wish you hadn’t acted so . . . forcefully.”
“I had to do something,” Jacen said. “And when it comes to the future, Uncle Luke, don’t we always plot the next jump blind?”
“We do,” Luke said. “That’s why it is usually wise to be cautious.”
“I see.” Jacen glanced up the Crooked Way, where the steeply pitched roof of the lecture hall loomed behind a hedge of bambwood. “So you summoned the entire Jedi order to Ossus to do something cautious?”
Luke put on an exaggerated frown. “I said usually, Jacen.” He let out a melodramatic sigh to show that he was not truly angry, then said, “Go on ahead. I can see that you’re a disrespectful young nephew who delights in embarrassing his elders.”
“Of course, Master.”
Jacen smiled and bowed, then started up the Crooked Way, now taking the straightest possible line toward the lecture hall. Luke watched him go, wondering whether the jump he was about to make with the future of the order was any less bold—or blind—than the one his nephew had made in attacking the supply depot.
“You have to do something,” Mara said, sensing the drift of his thoughts. “And this is the best choice.”