Dafid Il-Yaen, Jedi Knight and Operative of the FPF, finally reached the end of his ongoing quest. The Force-using cultures of the galaxy have yielded up their shards of the Tor-Kannen Crystal, and on the windswept plains of Dantooine, Dafid brought them together to repair the fabric of canon.
But what's this! Millennia ago, the Sith Lord Mari-Suu poured her essence into the Tor-Kannen Crystal, corrupting it from its purpose and twisting it to evil. Even as Dafid brings the last pieces into contact, a malevolent force sinks into his mind, turning him to the Dark Side.
Only his constant companion, Arikae Sems, is there to witness his fall. Only she can pull him back. But she has no equipment - no weapons - no plan.
Only her love.
There is no emotion; there is peace.
The ships had been gathered from across the galaxy. There was no unity in their design: they ranged from the latest KDY gunship to starfighters that were already ancient when the Old Republic fell. Although most were small, there were many exceptions: personal yachts, bulk transports, even an old Victory I-class Star Destroyer. Even their state of repair varied wildly, with some gleaming factory-new, others barely still flying.
One thing, and one thing only, brought them together: a love for canon. Each ship carried a top-secret trans-hyperspatial visualiser, a window into worlds and universes beyond their own. Through those portals, and with an ingenious range of tools supplied by the crew of the Maker of Things, the pilots and crews of these ships were able to protect and defend those worlds from threats most would have little chance of understanding, let alone defeating.
But these were not most people. They were Operatives of the Fandom Protection Fleet, the largest and most secretive non-governmental force in the galaxy. Together, they protected canon from all enemies.
The Lambda-class shuttle Constance spun through the void, its engines stressed to their limit. As it twisted, laser bolts flashed past, lighting up its wings almost as much as the frequent glare of nearby torpedo detonations.
"Console!" Arikae Sems yelled, fighting the controls to keep the shuttle from returning to its default straight path - or simply falling apart. "Where are we on the hyperdrive?"
"I'm afraid the system is quite thoroughly destroyed, mistress," replied C9-SL, sticking his head up out of the access panel in the floor. "Full repair will take weeks!"
"We don't have weeks!" Arikae screamed, throwing the shuttle into a spin to dodge an oncoming TIE Defender. "We have about thirty seconds before one of these maniacs blows us out of the sky!"
"Mistress, I can hardly-" Console's protest was cut off when a laser bolt burned through the Constance's shields and scored a glancing hit on its wing. The ship shuddered, throwing the modified protocol droid into the wall.
"If you can't fix it, get on the guns!" Arikae called. Seeing a moment of clear space, she hit the comm yet again.
"All ships, all ships," she said, trying to sound calm, "cease fire! Harper's attack was a system malfunction, repeat, a malfunction! It-"
The squeal of jamming cut across her words, and a face appeared on her screen: a face twisted by anger and cruelty, but still heartbreakingly familiar.
"It was no accident," Dafid Il-Yaen sneered. "I meant every shot. I only wish I'd been able to take more of you down."
"Dafid," Arikae pleaded, "don't do this. Come back to us. We can still fix this."
"Fix it?" Dafid laughed. "Where's the fun in that? No, the FPF's time is past. But my offer is still open. Come to me."
Arikae fought back tears of pain and loss, glaring at the screen. "Oh, I'm coming to you, all right," she ground out. "I'm coming to cast Mari-Suu's rotting ghost out of your head and bring you back to yourself. But join you in this insanity? Never."
Dafid's lips peeled back, revealing teeth that somehow seemed too long. "Have it your own way," he said. "But you might want to look where you're going." The signal cut out, and Arikae looked up - to see her vision entirely filled by the bulk of the giant Victory I-class Star Destroyer Sunflower.
With a squawk Console would have been proud of, Arikae yanked on her stick, pulling the Constance into a climb that stretched its inertial stabilisers to the limit - and then some. The shuttle shuddered, and every loose object in the flight deck was flung backwards. Arikae's lucky coin - the one Dafid had given her the day they were first partnered - glanced off her forehead, drawing blood.
Arikae took a deep breath - all the calming down she had time for. "Console!" she shouted. "Give me something!"
"Mistress, virtually every circuit in the hyperdrive is burnt out!" the droid wailed. "Even with replacement parts, it would only operate for seconds at most before throwing us back into realspace in a most disagreeable fashion."
Replacement…? "The visualiser!" Arikae exclaimed. "Console, the visualiser is trans-hyperspatial - could you scavenge from it?"
"Given time, certainly." Arikae yanked on her stick again, skimming the Constance low over Sunflower's hull, inside the range of her guns, and Console stumbled. "Mistress!" he protested.
"How much time?" Arikae demanded, weaving around a destroyed turbolaser - even the FPF's flagship wasn't immune to the damage as the Fleet tore itself apart, apparently.
"Mistress, I don't-" A lucky - or unlucky - strike hit the shuttle's top stabiliser, blasting a ragged-edged hole in it. A quick glance at her display let Arikae forget about it - no significant failures.
"A guess!" she yelled. "Give me something!"
"... minutes," Console said at last. "The systems should be compatible, so we-"
"Get to work!" Sunflower's engines were still starting up, making the rear of the ship a dangerous but not instantly lethal environment. More importantly, the glare of the great ion engines starting up effectively hid the Constance from the sensors of every other ship in the sky.
Arikae guided her shuttle into the harsh, blue-edged shadows of the engine array. Flipping switches, she put the Constance's systems in standby, then unstrapped herself and marched back to the main hold. Console was out of the access hatch, staring at her.
Arikae held the droid's gaze for a long moment, then pointed at the hatch. "Fix it," she said softly. "Now."
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
From a higher orbit, aboard a half-dead ship, Arikae Sems watched the Fandom Protection Fleet tear itself apart. Turbolaser beams glittered in the dark over Dantooine, punctuated by explosions of missiles - or starships.
A soft whirring announced Console's arrival on the bridge. "The appearance is similar to the light-sculptures of Caamas," the droid said softly. "If one disregards or is unaware of the true nature of the scene before us, it is possible to view it in such a way that it obtains aesthetic appeal."
A particularly large explosion marked the final destruction of the Sunflower. Arikae squeezed her eyes shut against the light - and the tears. "Yes," she whispered. "From out here, it does look pretty."
Console, for a wonder, chose not to reply. After a minute, Arikae looked up. Her brow furrowed as she squinted out at the now-quieting space battle.
"Console," she said slowly, "are our sensors still online?"
"I'm afraid, Mistress," Console said, "that they are one of the few systems that are. As I predicted before made the attempt, the stress of an uncontrolled hyperspace jump-"
"But the sensors work," Arikae repeated. "And they're configured for Cronau radiation… Console, how many ships has Constance detected jumping to hyperspace?"
The droid didn't need to use the controls to interface with Constance's computer - but by long agreement, he did so anyway. "Approximately sixteen vessels have made the jump to lightspeed while our sensors have been capable of detecting them," he reported after a few moments. "Naturally it was impossible for us to detect any such events while in hyperspace ourselves, and our time in the Sunflower's drive section would have blinded us to any Cronau emissions at that time."
"But we can see them," Arikae said, leaning forwards. "And we know where they're going."
"We can certainly begin probability analysis," Console allowed. "For instance, no fewer than five vessels have departed in the direction of Angor system, presumably since-"
"It's the closest inhabited star system," Arikae cut him off. "No, Dafid wouldn't go that way." She straightened abruptly and turned to face her droid. "Console, continue that analysis. I want to know where every ship that leaves the battle is going, as soon as possible."
"Certainly, Mistress," Console agreed. "If I might ask - where are you going?"
"To bed," Arikae said, walking out of the cockpit. "I haven't slept in days."
The soft Bip woke Arikae from a deep and thankfully dreamless sleep. Groggy, she stumbled to the ‘fresher to splash water on her face, then dragged herself out of her quarters and up to the bridge.
Console was standing exactly where Arikae had left him. "I have completed the analysis, Mistress."
Arikae waited, but Console simply stood, his duty complete. "... and?" she finally asked.
"Ninety-six percent of the departing ships have jumped in the direction of Angor or Sinsang, the two closest systems," Console reported. "Of the others, two appeared to be suffering navicomputer failure, and the remainder fled north along the Veragi Trade Route towards Ahakista and Dubrillion."
Arikae slumped. "Nothing useful, then," she said. "All right, Console, give me the ‘navicomputer failures', maybe he's-"
"All except one," Console cut in, then tilted his head. "I apologise, Mistress, I was attempting ‘dramatic timing'; it appears my calculations were a little off."
Arikae stared at the droid. "You were…? Right. Okay. Go on."
"One starship made a jump which was neither along a known route, nor characteristic of a computer error." Console leant over and tapped a key on the Constance's panels, and a galactic holo appeared in the centre of the bridge. As Arikae watched, a yellow line traced its way out from the bright spark of Dantooine, racing corewards like a blaster bolt, until it hit a second star.
"Markbee's Star, on the Relgim Run," Console reported. "The ship's flight-path leads directly to it. It has one inhabited planet, Zeffliffl, with a native sentient species. I have the full details available if you require them."
"No," Arikae said slowly, scrutinising the holo closely. "No, that's wrong."
Console tipped his head. "Mistress, I assure you, my calculations are not in error-"
"One of them is," Arikae cut him off. "You assumed Dafid would check a star-map before he jumped. And he would. But Mari-Suu wouldn't, and she's in control now. He jumped in a straight line, but- extend that plot, Console. Now."
The droid tapped the controls for a moment, and the yellow line continued its drive for the core. It skirted Generis, passed through another nowhere-star called Er'Kit, and finally lanced dead-centre through a bright blue sphere.
"Obroa-skai," Arikae breathed, not even needing Console's confirmation. "He's gone to the library world."
There is no passion; there is serenity.
Obroa-skai hung peacefully in the void, its tundras and deserts turning it into a pastel-shaded vision against the starfield. But Arikae Sems knew that, for all its appearance, what was happening down on the library world was far from tranquil.
It had been a race to see who would reach the planet first. Dafid had a headstart, but his straight-line route passed through several star systems' mass shadows, slowing his journey while he recalibrated. Arikae, on the other hand, was taking the well-mapped hyperspace routes; her path was longer, but safe. Even Console hadn't been able to predict whether they would beat the Sith-possessed Jedi.
They hadn't. Arikae had known that the instant she realised Obroa-skai's normally-efficient traffic control had no intention of challenging her - or even letting her know they existed. Whether Dafid had persuaded them to let her through, or simply destroyed them, there was no question that Harper had reached the planet before Constance.
C9-SL stepped into the cockpit with a soft whirring noise. "Mistress," he said quietly, "we appear to be receiving a signal."
Arikae frowned. "What sort of signal? A message?"
"It appears to be a beacon, Mistress," the droid told her. "It is broadcasting on three separate Fandom Protection Fleet frequencies."
Arikae's eyes narrowed. "Dafid," she said. "Where's it coming from, Console?"
"Constance is triangulating the source now." Console cocked his head as if listening. "The signal is coming from the capital city; regrettably, the mass of buildings in the city makes it impossible to narrow down-"
"I can see where this is going," Arikae said. "We need to get closer."
"But Mistress!" the droid protested. "The hazards of an unauthorised approach to such a heavily-populated planet-"
"-are nothing compared to the danger of letting Mari-Suu run free down there." Arikae stabbed a finger at the viewport. "That world holds the greatest assemblage of knowledge the galaxy has ever seen. The Obroan Institute - the Celebratus Archive - Console, there used to be a Jedi academy down there! Can you imagine a better place for a Dark Lady of the Sith to set up shop?"
Console hesitated, then seemed to slump. "I shall calculate our approach vector immediately, Mistress," he said.
"Good. You do that."
Console's route was as cautious as he could make it, but Arikae decided it was all a waste of time: there was no indication that anyone on the planet was looking skywards. "She can't have killed them all," the FPF Operative whispered as her shuttle descended over empty fields. "She just can't."
"The energy required to…" Console caught his mistress's look and fell quiet. Constance flew towards the gleaming city in silence, and set itself down in an open plaza.
"I was able to refine my calculations during our approach," Console reported in a low voice. "The beacon appears to be transmitting from the museum centre, in the vicinity of the Museum of Applied Photonics."
Arikae frowned. "But why would-?"
Instinctively, Arikae slapped the large red button on her flight controls. A hologram appeared, flickering above the emitter: a miniature figure in Jedi robes, holding a glowing crystal.
"Well, well," said the figure, in Dafid Il-Yaen's heartbreakingly-familiar voice. "It's Operative Sems, isn't it? What brings you here?"
"Mari-Suu," Arikae said, fighting to keep her voice level. "Are you calling to surrender and give me my friend back?"
"'Friend'?" The figure threw its hood back, and Dafid's face leered out at Arikae. "I can only imagine how hurt he would feel to hear you call him that." Mari-Suu cocked her head, an eerie imitation of Console. "No, wait: I don't have to imagine. Let's ask him."
The Sith Lord raised the crystal she held over her head, and lines of static cut across the hologram. Beneath it, Dafid's body bent suddenly double, and a low groan came over the comm. When he straightened up, his face was lined and filled with pain. "... Arikae?"
"Dafid," Arikae breathed. Then her eyes narrowed. "Is this some kind of trick?"
Dafid let out a wheezing laugh. "Only you, my love… no trick. Mari-Suu doesn't have… the control she thinks she does."
"Oh, Dafid…" Arikae leant forward, as if she could reach through the hologram and pull him out. "I'm sorry; I'm so, so sorry I let this happen."
"It was my quest; you were just along for the ride." Dafid's voice sounded stronger with each moment. "Listen, Arikae. This is important: you have to come to me."
"That's the plan," Arikae said, knowing she might be giving something away to Mari-Suu, but not caring in the least. "I'm coming over there, and I'm going to rescue you."
Dafid smiled sadly. "I wish…" He stopped, closed his eyes, and shook his head. "I love you, Arikae Sems."
"I love…" But the static had returned, and the eyes that looked back were no longer her lover's.
"Wasn't that sweet?" Mari-Suu said. "I suppose you'll insist on flying in to thwart my evil schemes now, won't you?"
"Listen to me, you ancient splinter of hate," Arikae said, glaring into the hologram. "I don't care how long it takes, or how far I have to chase you, I'm-"
"Mistress!" Console yelled abruptly. "A missile has just locked onto the ship!"
Arikae's eyes widened, and her head snapped back round to see Mari-Suu's smirk.
"Oh, yes," the Sith Lord said. "Didn't I mention that?"
There is no chaos; there is harmony.
Arikae whirled and slapped her hand on the deflector shield controls, but the control panel lit up with the red pulsing of error warnings. "Why don't I have shields?" she yelled at Console.
"I had to salvage parts to-"
"Never mind!" The chiming of the proximity alarm was growing faster and faster as the missile approached. "Start the engines!"
Console jerked towards the computer. "But Mistress, I initiated a full shutdown so that I could-"
"Sithspit!" Arikae slapped at her panel, shutting out the laughing hologram of Mari-Suu, and twisted one arm through her restraining harness. The alarm bells were a continuous ringing now, the missile a visible speck of fire in the sky overhead, but Arikae made herself wait the extra fractions of a second that she needed. The spark grew, and grew, and then the computer switched to a continuous tone as the missile locked into its final approach.
"Grab onto something!" Arikae yelled. She stretched out her hand to the one button she had never used - the one she had hoped she would never need. She wished desperately that there had been another way - but there was no time for hesitation.
She hit the button.
Arikae's eyes flickered open. "My everything hurts," she protested. "That's just not fair."
The interior of Constance's cockpit was a mess. The panels were a mass of sparking cables, the viewport was shattered into oblivion, and the neck which had once led back to the body of the shuttle was flayed open, the durasteel looking more like a blumfruit that had been thrown against a wall. Even more worryingly, there was a distinct smell of burning electronics, and something that smelt a lot like fuel.
"I - bzzt - Mistress, that - bzzt - could have gone - bzzt."
Arikae chuckled and twisted her head, trying to spot Console. "You're lucky I remembered the emergency cockpit ejection," she wheezed. "Otherwise we'd both look as bad."
Against what could still charitably be called the wall, Console's eyes glowed through the haze. "I think - bzzt - much difference."
"Maybe not." Arikae shifted in place, and a sudden pain shot up her arm. "Sithspit! I think I've broken… Console, I could really use a bit of help here."
"Apolog-bzzt-stress, but I don't believe I can - bzzt."
The smoke was beginning to clear from the cockpit - not because the fires were dying down, but from the breeze blowing through the smashed viewport. Squinting, Arikae managed to make out more details of C9-SL's predicament. "Your head is upside-down," she said slowly. "And you… don't seem to have a body any more."
"Ah." Console's eyes flickered. "That would explain - bzzt - lack of sensory information. I - bzzt - not going to be much help to you, Mistress."
"Rubbish." Gasping against the pain, Arikae managed to twist out of the wreck of her chair. The arm which had been twisted through her straps was definitely broken, she deduced from the stabs of agony, and probably dislocated as well - but if she hadn't done it, she would probably be in as bad a situation as Console right now.
"Got any medical advice in that head of yours, Console?" she asked once the pain had subsided a little. "I can't do anything with this thing hanging around loose."
"Bacta treatment would be - bzzt," the droid suggested. "Failing - bzzt - splint and binding the arm."
"Because I have time for that." Arikae cast about, then grabbed a handful of severed cable. "If I tie it to my side, will that keep it out of the way?"
"That course of action will - bzzt - severe pain, and the possibili-bzzt - permanent damage, Mistress."
"I don't care about that," Arikae growled, twisting the cables together with her good hand. "I've got a Sith to stop - and a Jedi to save."
"Yes - bzzt-tress?"
"I wish - I'd listened - to you - about the splint."
Arikae slumped against the gleaming wall of the Obroan building, only just managing to keep from collapsing to the floor. Under her arm, Console's battered head somehow managed to look smug.
"Prompt treatment is - bzzt - most sensible response to - bzzt - Mistress."
"I bet." Arikae drew herself upright and stumbled on, her feet making an uneven pattering on the ground. "But every second counts right now." She reached the end of the building, and hesitated. "Which way?"
"Left," Console reported. "The beacon is transmitting from the - bzzt - end of this street."
"Lovely." Panting with the effort, Arikae managed to move up to a jog. "Console?"
"When we get you fixed, I'm fitting your head with handles."
There is no death; there is the Force.
Arikae Sems walked slowly out into the plaza. The transparisteel towers on all sides reflected the light of Obroa-skai's setting sun down to ground level, illuminating the scene before her: the landed Harper, and the robed figure standing in front of it, a glowing crystal clutched in its hands.
The figure watched Arikae's approach. "That's close enough," it said when she was still a dozen meters away. "Wouldn't want you getting any ideas."
"I've got more than enough of those already." Arikae slumped slightly as she came to a halt, reaching across her body to touch her injured arm. Tying it in against her side had kept it out of the way, but wasn't doing much to reduce the pain. She was going to be due a long session in Medical when all this was over.
The figure reached up and pushed back its hood, revealing Dafid Il-Yaen's face and Mari-Suu's cruel smile. "I didn't expect you to survive that," the undead Sith Lord said. "Perhaps Dafid's confidence in you is less misplaced than I assumed."
"He knows me," Arikae said. "Now get out of his head."
"And why would I do that?" Mari-Suu gestured about herself, the Tor-Kannen Crystal casting violet highlights on the ground. "I stand here with the most potent canon-altering artefact in the galaxy, in the midst of the greatest accumulation of knowledge ever assembled. You think your Fandom Protection Fleet had problems before? Reality itself will bend to my will!" The crystal pulsed with light, blazing with power. "I am the most powerful being in all the universe, and you want me to give it up? To go back to sleeping in a splinter of rock? Why in all the worlds would I do that?"
"Because it's better than dying." Arikae pulled herself upright and pointed at Mari-Suu. "One last chance: give him back, and I won't be forced to destroy you."
Mari-Suu threw back her head and laughed. "Destroy me? You? A crippled woman who can barely stay conscious? You have nothing, Arikae Sems - no weapons, no plan, no chance. You are alone here - with me."
Arikae nodded slowly. "No weapons," she agreed. "No ship. No tools, no equipment. But you're wrong about one thing."
"Really." Mari-Suu drew Dafid's lightsaber and ignited it, the yellow glow of the blade mingling with the purple of the Crystal. "Do enlighten me before I kill you."
Arikae's teeth showed stark white in her face as she grinned. "I'm not alone," she said. "Now!"
From every corner of the plaza, robed and hooded Jedi Knights leapt out of hiding. Lightsabers blazing, they charged across the square, faster than any normal being could move.
"What? Impossible!" Mari-Suu flung Dafid's saber at the nearest attacker, then swung about. Coruscating blue fire flowed from her fingertips, Force Lightning that would catch any enemy and fry them from the inside out. The flood of Dark Side energy crashed against the wave of Jedi - and passed right through them.
Mari-Suu stared, dumbfounded, as the approaching Jedi fizzled out of existence. "Holograms!" she snarled, but her realisation came precious seconds late. Arikae had crossed the distance between them, and with a swing of her hand swept the Tor-Kannen Crystal out of Mari-Suu's grasp.
Mari-Suu screamed as the Crystal crashed to the floor, fragments splintering off as it bounced. She bent double, wailing in agony - and then, abruptly, stopped. Arikae watched, wide-eyed, as the figure before her straightened its robes, and then Dafid Il-Yaen met her gaze and smiled.
"I'm starting to think this quest was a bad idea."
Arikae let out a strangled sob and threw herself into her lover's arms. "I thought I'd lost you," she wailed. "When she took you, when she attacked the Fandom Protection Fleet, when she destroyed Constance…" She squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the tears. "But it's over now. It's finally over."
"Oh, no," a harsh voice said, and a chill wind began to blow through the plaza. "It's very far from over."
Arikae span around in Dafid's arms, gasping as the movement jolted her bad arm, and stared up at the dark shadow forming above the fallen crystal: the spectral form of a Dark Lady of the Sith, ragged-edged and glowing with violet hatred.
"I am very tired of talking to you," Mari-Suu said, her voice modulating between a deep growl and a piercing wail. "So die."
The Sith ghost flung out her hands, filling the air with Force Lightning - but Dafid stretched out a hand, and his lightsaber flew to his grasp. The spidering blue lightning struck the blade, enveloping it, and Dafid stumbled backwards, but he held.
"Arikae," he gasped, pushing against Mari-Suu's attack. "I can end this. I can kill her."
"Good!" Arikae exclaimed. "Then what are you waiting for? She's a Sith, Dafid - and she destroyed the FPF. If there was ever a being you could kill without guilt…!"
Dafid grunted, shifting to press more of his weight against Mari-Suu's assault. "It's not about guilt," he said. "I can kill her - but only if I let her back in first."
Arikae felt her heart stop. "No…" she whispered. "Dafid, you can't! I only just got you back!"
"And I'm so grateful you did," Dafid said. "I'm so, so glad I got to see your face one more time."
Arikae shook her head, clinging to him with her one good arm. "But I love you!"
"I know." Dafid slipped out of her grip and thrust his saber forward, battling towards Mari-Suu's glowing form. "And I love you." The glow of his blade seemed to increase as he drew near to the Sith ghost, until as he stood over the fallen crystal it filled the plaza with golden light. Dafid turned, his eyes meeting Arikae's one last time.
"Remember me," he said. Then he dropped to one knee, shut down his lightsaber, and clasped the Tor-Kannen Crystal in both hands.
There was a moment of absolute silence.
There was a moment of absolute light.
There was a moment of sound so loud it transcended noise and became something else altogether.
And then there was just the plaza, and the last radiance of sunset, and no trace of Dafid Il-Yaen, the Tor-Kannen Crystal, or the Sith Lord Mari-Suu.
Arikae lay where she had fallen for a long time, feeling the warmth of the day seep out of the ferrocrete beneath her. She did not weep. She didn't think she would ever weep again.
Finally, when the stars glowed brightly overhead, and the terrified folk of Obroa-skai had just begun to work up the courage to set foot outside their buildings again, Arikae climbed slowly to her feet. She crossed the plaza, stopping once to pick up the scorched hilt of Dafid's lightsaber, then continued on to where she had left Console's head before entering. She plucked the damaged droid out of the hologram-controlling array she had set up, tucked it under her arm, and trudged away down the road.
Disclaimer: Star Wars belongs to Lucas and Disney. The PPC belongs to Jay and Acacia. All characters in this story, and the FPF itself, are mine.
Huinesoron's Note: The Fandom Protection Fleet is an AU version of the PPC - a version which lives in the Star Wars Legends continuity, and protects the multiverse (in some fashion) from there. Or it did. Whether there's still a functioning FPF after the events of FPF: Far Far Away is an open question.