Author's Note: Jaina retains the tassels and encounters Lumiya instead. JINO-esque characterization (now with a different J).


The woman didn't sound like a Sith.

Sith were supposed to talk to you about depravity and twisted freedom and taking what you wanted at the expense of everyone else. They weren't supposed to talk about order. Security. Duty. Doing what had to be done, even at your own expense. Even when your heart was breaking.

This "Lumiya" was a Sith. She knew that from the woman's own admission and from old records. But she could have been any old officer from the Remnant, at this moment, one speaking passionately of pride, duty, honor – of a past in which men and women had striven to do their best for a higher cause, whatever the greater Empire had wrought.

She had grown up knowing nothing could justify whatever the greater Empire had wrought. After years of watching the beautiful New Republic of her youth degenerate into a cowardly and corrupt Galactic Alliance, an ugly little voice at the back of her head had begun to whisper that the Empire hadn't been so unusual after all. Perhaps it was the natural progression of things – perhaps people didn't really want freedom, couldn't take it after all. It didn't matter how she felt about the matter. She was a soldier and an engineer. Hard reality never cared about feelings.

Maybe that was why Jacen had always been the better Jedi. Feelings had always worked out for him.

She saw, without needing to see it through the Force, what would come of continued softness. Corellia fulfilling every worst stereotype of Corellians and deserting its duties (hewing perfectly to the stereotype, just when the bills came due), trying to get through violence and bluster what it couldn't get through fair dealing. Other worlds watching the Galactic Alliance's alternating arrogance in bargaining and weakness in carrying through on its threats – other worlds calling the bluff and following suit. Disorder. A hundred mini-crises, of the sort that erupted every year or so in her childhood, blossoming across the galaxy like broken blood vessels within the cheeks of a lifelong drunk. Discordance. Conflict. War.

And the Jedi would flail ineffectually, bound to the dictates of their masters, incapable of taking the decisive action to prevent catastrophe. As they always did. As they always had. As they always would.

She could glimpse a little of what had driven her grandfather to the brink, now.

And her?

Jaina looked down at her hands. It had been so easy to slice through the Force phantom of Jacen. She suspected it would have been just as easy to slice through a phantom of Zekk. Jag. Uncle Luke. Her own parents.

She was the Sword of the Jedi, after all. Did a sword care about how it was swung?

"Enough," she said, cutting off the other woman mid-lecture. "I don't care about Sith or Jedi or any of that." The words surprised her, but finding out that it was true surprised her more. "I just want to know, honestly – Do you think it's possible? Do you think that a Force-sensitive Emperor – Empress – could create a better galaxy than this?"

Lumiya paused, then let out a dry chuckle. "Could she create a worse one?"

Literally speaking – yes, obviously. Rhetorically –

Jaina offered her an equally humorless smile. "It seems to me she won't know until she tries."

They clasped hands, and Jaina didn't know whether those were chains of doom or duty that she felt weighting down her neck. Perhaps both.