A/N: Thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logical errors.

This chapter was released as an Early Bird on the story's Discord server (link at the end of the chapter) several weeks ago to those who are active on the server.
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NOTICE: This chapter was delayed due first to real-life issues, and then someone complaining about false information in the story on another site where I post. I thus had to discuss the matter with their moderators and alter significant sections of Book 2 to align with the rules of their site. Frankly, said rules are pedantic at best, but it is what it is.

3.03: Upgrades and Training

… …

The day following our dinner with Raith Sienar, I was sitting in the cockpit of Raven, accessing the Holonet communication system. We'd just returned to the Pride of Tion after I'd given Raith a short flight aboard Raven. To say he'd enjoyed it would be an understatement, and he'd marvelled at how responsive she was to my commands as I had her ducking, dodging, and weaving around his cruiser and a few other nearby vessels.

There'd been a complaint from Kuat Fleet Defence, and while Raith had calmed their nerves about my rather eccentric flying, we'd still had to cut the flight short. However, before Raith had departed, he'd asked – though I'd have classed it as begging if he had less refinement – for another flight once we left the Kuat system.

I'd agreed, and he'd been quick to promise both his expertise and the most cutting-edge researchers and designers under his command – who worked for a sub-company called Sienar Advanced Projects Laboratory – would analyse Raven and see what advances could be applied to her without causing her harm. Haran, before he'd left, he'd spoken to Raven directly to make that clear, and she'd responded positively to his vow.

We wouldn't be leaving immediately, as Raith had formal business to attend to with Kuat Drive Yards and a few other companies with operations in the Kuat system. Until we did leave, Anakin and I had almost free reign of the cruiser, with Arle Keer assigned to help us settle in. The assistant was with Anakin, taking him to a private room on the Tion where my Padawan could examine the design specs of several older models of vessels built by SST.

While that gave me some private time aboard Raven, I felt Raith was doing it as a test. I'd caught him being impressed by Anakin's knowledge and understanding of technical matters that he'd spoken of. I understood some of it, but Anakin was a savant when it came to technology, and it appeared that Raith had noticed this. While I hoped he didn't think he could poach Anakin from me, I was more than willing to allow the man the chance to push Anakin in a way I never could.

With this private time available, and suspecting that where we were going would have restricted access to the Holonet, I wanted to check in with Serra. It'd been about a month and a half since Naboo, and while I'd spoken with her a few times after the death of Drallig while we'd both still been on the planet, I'd been reluctant to reach out since.

While most of that came from taking Natural Selection, and fearing that, even at this distance, she'd sense the change in me just as Anakin had, much came from knowing she'd need time to grieve privately. She might be more emotional than many Jedi our age, but she was still a member of the Order and I know most people preferred quiet solitude to mourn the death of a family member, which, while not official, was what Drallig was to Serra.

A beep from the communication console indicated the signal had connected with the Temple and I waited for someone to answer my call.

"Knight Shan," a Rodian I'd never met before said after appearing as a hologram at the console, "how may I be of assistance?"

The computer terminal the Rodian was using would have noted the unique identifier code I'd sent with my signal, and with the holograms active, confirmed that I matched visual records. However, since he wasn't in robes, I suspected he was one of the myriad of sentients that worked in the Temple as staff, most having jobs that the Jedi either couldn't or didn't want.

"I was hoping to speak with Padawan Serra Keto."

"One moment." The Rodian looked down, accessing their terminal to locate where Serra was. "I'm sorry," he continued after looking up, "but Padawan Keto is currently unavailable. Not only do the records state she's in a training session, but her Master has requested that she not be contacted by any outside the Temple until he is comfortable that she has properly processed the death of Master Drallig, and released her burden into the Force."

I frowned, as even if I'd half-expected something like this, I didn't like it. The decision to prevent contact with any outside the Temple was, in my mind, a clear attempt to cut her off from me and others she might speak with, such as Padmé or Bo. Now, Padmé could, in theory, push the matter, but I doubted she would, thus Serra would be isolated from 'outside influences' allowing whoever her new Master was to reaffirm her commitment to the Order. "Understandable, but might I ask who her new Master is?" The odds were it was some random Jedi I knew only by name as I had a list in my head of about thousands, perhaps up to half, of Jedi, but at least that would give me someone to contact later if I wished to speak with my friend.

"Padawan Keto's training is to be completed by Master Windu."

"Oh." The response slipped from me before I could hide my shock and surprise. While Serra learning from one of the best in the Order was a relief, that it was the Master of the Order, and thus head of the Council, was something I was unsure about. While, in recent years Windu had been more supportive of my choices and actions, such as approving of my actions to help protect a member world of the Republic, my methods weren't choices he agreed with. "That's, um, unexpected. I hadn't thought a member of the Council would move to finish her training."

The Rodian nodded. "Yes, from what I've heard through the grapevine," I smirked at the reference to even the Jedi Temple having a rumour mill, "many are surprised by the choice. Master Windu hasn't taken a Padawan since Master Billaba, and many felt he'd not take another. Yet, he was a friend of Master Drallig, so perhaps he took over Padawan Keto's training to finish Master Drallig's final legacy."

"That makes sense," I replied, keeping my internal thoughts regarding Mace Windu finishing Serra's training to myself. When Drallig had arrived on Naboo, I'd been concerned that Serra's actions would see her reprimanded, if not sanctioned, by either the High Council or the Council of First Knowledge. I'd thought Drallig's death might mitigate that issue, but it seemed I'd been wrong, and now Master Windu was taking a personal interest in Serra's education.

While there were a lot of negatives to draw from that, the one major positive was that alongside Dooku, and the recently killed Master Bondara, Windu was regarded as one of the finest Jedi blade masters of their generation, perhaps even of the last millennium. Serra's training would be far more focused and advanced than what she'd have gotten from Drallig, who had to split her training alongside that of every Initiate, Youngling, Padawan, and even some Knights.

"Would you like me to connect you with Master Windu?" the Rodian asked.

"No, that won't be necessary," I replied without making it too obvious I didn't want to speak to a member of the Council. Beyond his concerns that I was too close to the various figures of power on and from Naboo – something that the gifting of a villa in Naboo's Lake District would only increase if he learnt of it – there was the change I'd undergone. It was possible that, at the distance between us, and with our weaker connection than what I shared with Serra, he'd not sense the shift in my Force presence. However, I felt it was unwise to test that theory.

"Could you connect me with Padawan Zill instead?" I asked, figuring I could check in with Tedra while also getting a connection to Serra via someone in the Temple. I could've chosen to speak with someone like Aayla or Sia-Lan, but neither was as loyal to me as Tedra was. So much so, that the last time I met her and used Observe – which was about three months before Naboo – her loyalty to me easily trumped that toward the Jedi or Lokella by significant margins.

"One moment." Again, I waited for the Rodian to check on a location. "Padawan Zill is currently not, according to my records, occupied. She is, however, located with her Master in one of the various training rooms. Would you like me to connect you with them?"

I considered the matter for a moment. "Please." While Tedra's Master was a highly skilled Jedi, she wasn't on the level of a Council member, at least not yet. The only concern was that my bond with this Master was higher than that of Windu, so she might sense the change. Still, I felt better about successfully lying to her than Windu.

The hologram of the Rodian disappeared, and I was left waiting until, perhaps a minute later, two figures replaced the Rodian in the holographic display.

"Cam!" Tedra called out excitedly, only to calm herself when her Master, Shaak Ti, placed a hand on her shoulder. "I… I mean Knight Shan, it's good to see you again."

"You as well, Tedra, though I see you still have to work on tempering your emotions."

She scoffed. "Look who's talking," she muttered, though with a small smile. One shared by Shaak Ti. "We've all heard about your actions rushing into the fray on Naboo."

"Yes, that choice, and the allies you brought, caused quite a stir among certain elements of the Order," Shaak Ti added in a friendly, unchallenging tone. "Though given the hurried nature of the need for support, and the Council determining the matter wasn't one to concern the Order, I cannot fault your choices. Nor their effectiveness."

"Thank you, Master," I said, dropping my head slightly to accept the praise. Shaak Ti might've been a dedicated Jedi, but she did favour unconventional methods. Something I'd experienced firsthand during my brief time working and training with her. Dooku had even commented that, if not for her peculiar desire to insult the Form with the erratic add-on of Ataru, he would consider her one of the foremost practitioners of Makashi in the Order.

"While we are both pleased you survived those battles relatively unharmed, I can sense something has changed within you. Beyond the wound you suffered."

I grinned at Shaak Ti's way of getting to the heart of the matter without directly doing so. "My injury is one I gladly paid to ensure people would remain free, and I have already procured a replacement," I replied, lifting my artificial hand into sight. "However," I continued, not letting the matter dwell on that, or where it came from, "you are correct in that I'd changed. Thanks to events in that battle, I have seen how to overcome my shortcomings."

I stayed vague as I wasn't sure if she knew about my battle with Maul, though I was certain Tedra wouldn't have spoken of it. Serra might know that Maul was there and believed that I'd killed him, but the Council had instructed us to not speak on the matter with anyone. Of course, that ruling didn't cover others, and through Padmé, and his position as Chancellor, Palpatine had become aware. At least in the official cover story. No doubt the hidden Banite Sith would think that would grant him another 'in' for turning me toward the Sith.

There was also a good chance Shaak reported what I said, and what she sensed to the Council. However, second-hand words, even from a trusted Jedi Master, were less concerning to me than having the head of the Council know directly how I'd changed.

"I don't think I'm even close to the middle of this journey, to say nothing of the end, but I feel I've taken the first steps toward overcoming my flaws," I added, making clear I wasn't arrogant enough to think I'd instantly reached the level many felt I could achieve.

Shaak's smile grew. "I'm pleased to hear that. Your technical skill is second to none, but as you're well aware, you lack faith in yourself and the Force to truly master your abilities. Perhaps when next we meet, if you've moved further down this path you now find yourself on, you might provide more of a challenge."

"I accept the offer, Master, and hope I'm able to be a worthy opponent." I'd already wondered how I could use my new limb against a Force user. I didn't think it would enable me to defeat a Jedi of Shaak's skill, never mind one who sat on the Council, but I felt it had the potential to offer me chances against others. The offer of a spar was a good one, and a challenge I looked forward to. "However, as much as I look forward to that spar, it wasn't why I contacted you and Tedra." I paused, taking a moment to consider my words. "I had hoped to speak with Padawan Keto. I haven't seen her since Naboo, and I'm concerned about how she's recovering from the death of Master Drallig."

"And with Master Windu limiting her contact with others, you weren't able to, and thus turned to common friends in the hope of receiving an update?" Shaak responded. I nodded, taking in the information that the ban on contact wasn't aimed at just those outside the Temple, and thus, in my mind, directly toward me. "Then I shall enquire with Master Windu as to her status and forward a report to you if able."

"Thank you."

"Since I am otherwise unoccupied, I shall handle it now, though I believe my Padawan would enjoy speaking with you while I make my inquiries." I nodded in thanks as Shaak turned to Tedra. "I will, however, remind you that you have a class with Master Gaant in thirty minutes regarding philosophy. I hope you won't be late for it again."

"Yes, Master," Tedra replied a little sheepishly. I remembered Master Gaant's classes, though I wished I didn't. Those had been extremely dull and boring sessions, even if, in theory, the topic matter might stimulate young minds. Or at least the minds of those indoctrinated in the Jedi beliefs and still happy guzzlers of the Kool-Aid.

"Until we next meet, may the Force be with you, Cameron."

"And with you, Master."

Shaak nodded and left the range of the receiver that she and Tedra were using. While I wanted to ask Tedra about Serra, and a few other matters that might be going on at the Temple, I felt it wiser to leave those for a little while, simply to ensure Shaak had left. "So, how's your training going?"

… …

… …

After deactivating my mother's holocron, I leaned back and sighed as I looked at the now-inert object. I'd spent the last week studying and interacting with it in the hopes it might offer me some form of insight into training with the Force. However, apart from a few minor hints – most of which I'd already deduced – I'd gotten nowhere in that regard. This holocron, unlike the vast majority of those I'd interacted with before, wasn't set up to be a study aid or research tool, but more of a personal log of Ressa Shan's life.

While the holocron hadn't helped me in the ways I'd wanted, learning of my mother's life had been illuminating. Getting some gaps regarding how the Jedi Order, the Republic, and the wider galaxy were set up and behaving thousands of years ago, barely a century after the Jedi Civil War, had been fascinating. However, it wasn't what I'd wanted to learn from the holocron.

I raised my hand, lifting the holocron gently with the Force. Of all my powers, Telekinesis came back easiest, which made sense as it was the most commonly used external power and one of the most versatile. Everything from lifting and moving an object to powers like Wave and Crush derived from Telekinesis. While I was far from getting the power back to where it'd been before, the fact I could – thanks to the intense lessons I'd endured with Dooku regarding fine control and focus – still use it for such menial tasks was a relief.

The holocron floated back to the small alcove in my cabin where I kept it stored. Once there, another small use of the Force had the alcove's front seal close, hiding the holocron behind a section of Raven's skin that ensured none who entered the room could see the alcove.

With that done, I leaned back on my bed and looked at the ceiling. It'd been a few days since the dinner with Raith Sienar had taken place, and we were now travelling aboard the Pride of Tion to a private research facility he controlled. There, according to Raith, the best engineers and researchers in the galaxy would examine Raven, without hurting her, to see what, if anything, could be done to improve and enhance her. My focus was on defensive and offensive capabilities, but I'd consider any suggestion that made her better than she already was.

We'd not left right after meeting Raith, as he'd had business to attend to in the Kuat system, but we were underway now. Plus, since the location where we were heading was a secured one, with restricted hyperspace access, Raith had offered to allow us to travel aboard his cruiser to the system. Raven disliked not being able to experience the wonders of hyperspace against her skin, nor did I as I missed being at the controls as we danced between the stars, but Anakin was happy with the change. The boy was currently off somewhere, looking over files of starship and droid design that Raith had provided to him.

The morning after that first dinner, I'd kept my word and taken Raith out for a short flight aboard Raven around the Kuat system. To say he'd been enthralled by the wonder that was Raven would be like saying a star brought light to a planet; accurate but vastly understating the importance and majesty of the event. Raith had bombarded me with questions about Raven, but I could only explain them through my connection with Raven, not in the technical way that he wanted.

Anakin had managed to answer some of the questions, but for every question that we answered, a dozen remained open. I'd been surprised at how well Anakin knew Raven's mechanical systems and learnt after that flight that he'd spent time studying her. That, given his proclivities toward technology, wasn't unexpected and I'd told him he was free to keep doing so, as long as he didn't try and take any of the components apart without first clearing it with me and Raven.

Anakin's ability to answer Raith's questions had been what led to the man developing a curiosity about Anakin, and why my Padawan was currently elsewhere studying datafiles provided by the head of SST. If I didn't know better and hadn't used Observe to confirm it, I'd fear Raith was trying to poach Anakin. He wasn't, but he saw the spark in the boy that he had, and wanted to help nurture it. So much so that the files Anakin was browsing contained proprietary technology of SST. R2 was with Anakin, helping the boy examine the files, and unless I missed my guess, suggest improvements to the designs he was examining.

That, I felt, was Raith's intention with giving the boy those files, though I'd have to see how it all played out in the coming weeks. However, it was helping Anakin improve a skill that I knew I couldn't help with, and the better trained he was – as Force use, warrior, and technician – the safer he'd be from falling into the clutches of the Banite Sith.

Fenrir was, as normal, resting and since Anakin and I were occupied, he'd taken over – again – the main sofa in the central area. Simvyl was in his quarters resting while HK had withdrawn to a private chamber. The assassin droid had enjoyed boasting of his prowess and history to Raith, at least until the man had wanted to examine HK more carefully. Since then, thanks to not wanting anyone outside my group, or his Creator, to do so, HK had kept his distance from Raith; mainly as a way to ensure he didn't choose to end the man's life.

Raith, thankfully, hadn't been upset by HK's comments, or gruff manner, and with him busy with other business most days, hadn't followed up his interest in HK. I was sure he'd had the droid scanned, but given the various jamming and distortion components in HK's frame, the internal workings of the droid would remain a mystery to Raith, along with knowledge of what HK carried in the way of hidden ordinance. Which was exactly how it should be for an assassin droid.

While it was taking longer than I'd like to reach our destination, with Anakin busy, it allowed me time to shift my focus to the various holocrons I had. So far I was finding little use for them, with my mother's holocron being the latest example of that. Sighing again, I opened my Inventory and pulled one of the various sacks stored there. It was a cheat to be able to place sacks into the slots with the sacks containing different, un-stackable objects, but it was one I was going to keep exploiting as it hadn't been removed in the last Interface update.

Placing the sack on a table, I pulled out the six holocrons that were inside it. Five of them I'd already used to see what I could do to enhance my re-learning of the Force. Four of those had been Jedi ones taken from underneath the Temple during the Cleansing the Temple quest that I'd completed years ago with Fay and Dooku. The last was one of the first holocron I'd ever gotten, having come from the Sith Apprentice I'd killed to escape my grandfather's house back, technically, nearly three thousand eight-hundred years ago.

None had offered any help in my learning, nor hinted at powers I'd not considered before the Interface had removed itself from interfering with my connection to the Force. Indeed, apart from their potential value as holocrons, and a continual curiosity as to how such things were built, they served no purpose. That logic couldn't be applied to the last holocron, and the one I was, reluctantly, going to use now.

This was King Adas' holocron, and while it looked similar to the Sith training holocron, it was something else entirely. It radiated power in a way that only the Great Holocron at the Jedi Temple could match, and even then, I'd say this holocron was older and more powerful.

The moment I took the sack out of my Inventory, I'd started hearing the whispered promises of power that the holocron wished to tempt me with. Those whispers grew into voices as I lifted the holocron with the Force, separating it from the other holocrons. The promises of answers to whatever I wanted to know were strong enough that I had to lean back once the holocron was separated from the others and collect my thoughts. The voices had always been strong, but without the Interface, I'd lost any protection it had offered against the worst elements of the Dark Side.

I took a few moments to re-centre myself, pushing aside the veiled promises of domination that the Dark Side offered. I knew this was a dangerous choice, but I needed to regain as much of my training and connection as quickly as possible. At the same time, as I focused on Adas' holocron, I understood fully just how little I truly knew of the Force, both Light and Dark and how great the protection the Interface had offered me had been. I shivered, wondering how long I'd have lasted with the Bando Gora if not for the Interface, or if I'd have made it through the war with the Vong without falling completely.

I gasped as, even with my connection limited by choice, the Force pushed images into my mind. Scenes similar to those I'd experienced in the crystal cave of Ilum rushed into my thoughts. Of seeing everyone I cared for kneeling, accepting me as their leader and master. Skulls of fallen opponents – Yoda, Windu, Sidious, Plagueis, and others – lined walls in an elaborate room as I moved toward the throne, my warriors, slaves, and concubines saluting or kneeling as I stepped toward my rightful place. I was Master of the g…

Shaking my head, I pushed the images aside, and reached inward, searching for my inner strength to settle my thoughts and guard my mind against the ravages of the Dark Side. I wasn't a conqueror or emperor. I would never be.

Once I felt calmer, the images and voices pushed back as far as I could get them, I opened my eyes and looked at Adas' holocron again. Those visions of a possible future hadn't come from it but from the swirling maelstrom of the Dark Side that radiated around it.

Reaching out with my mechanical hand, I grasped the holocron, shivering as I felt the faint tremors of the Dark Side. If I had used my organic hand, I knew I'd have either dropped the holocron, or been lost to its temptations, but the machinery and metal of the false limb offered me protection as it diluted the physical connection to the holocron.

Closing my eyes again, I reached out as carefully as I could. Pushing past the whispers and temptations that surrounded the holocron, I felt its presence in the Force. Finding it, I brushed against that and then opened my eyes, being greeted by the holographic armoured form of King Adas.

"I…" he stopped after just a word and I could tell, even with the armour hiding his visage, that he was examining me carefully. Physically and through the Force. "What has happened?"

"That easy to sense?" I replied with a chuckle as I slowly lowered the holocron onto a shelf, setting us on an equal eye line.

"For one as attuned to the intricate flows of the Force as I, sensing slight variances in the Force from lightyears away is child's play. Whatever has happened to so drastically alter the ripples you leave within the Force is something the most unskilled child could feel."

I chuckled again, remembering how Anakin had reacted to my awakening after taking Natural Selection. "In simple terms, I overcame the block that was restricting my connection to the Force. However, it came with the unexpected side effect of costing me almost all of my control."

Adas scoffed. "Saying you overcame your block is akin to suggesting the Force is a simple power source. When we began our initial lessons, I sensed the power you held was restricted; trapped in some way. Whatever was causing it was trapping the potential I knew you contained. Now that restriction is entirely gone and for the first time I find myself looking upon your true form, and indeed marvelling at what I now behold. Whereas before I could sense you as if looking at some massive, but distant galaxy, I now find myself standing within a font of power and marvelling at what I can witness. There is conflict in this galaxy, in you, and you are struggling to find yourself and bring order and structure to the chaos around you."

I blinked, wondering if he was talking about me or the galaxy we were in as his metaphor converted both. "That's… a remarkably intuitive way of describing it, though not how I'd ever expected someone to describe me."

"I'm not talking of you, child, but of your potential. Of the power that, if you choose to seize and bend it to your will, you could wield." I kept my face as passive as I could as he spoke, wondering what his true end goal was. I knew he hoped to turn me into a worthy apprentice and successor, but it felt as if there was more to his intent than simply that. However, that, like what dark secrets I could potentially learn from him, was a matter for another day, once I had control over myself, the Force, and our bond.

"Still, it is an interesting comparison, and one I won't deny is tempting. However, it isn't why I wished to speak with you today."

"Then what do you wish to discuss then?"

"I need help to focus, limit, and control the power that runs through me and into the Force." My wording was intentional as saying anything along the lines of what a Jedi Master would expect would only serve to insult him.

"Is that what you desire? Or do you seek the means to hide the power that resides, and the capability for even greater supremacy, within you? Do you not seek to mask your presence so that, to others, you appear as nothing more than a deluded follower of the Jedi's false scripture?"

"Aye," I said with a chuckle, amused at his way of describing the Jedi, "that too, I guess." It was annoying that he could so easily see through my words to the truth of my motives, but with my Force abilities all having gone haywire, it wasn't unexpected. Haran, my mother's holocron had sensed something was amiss, but it lacked the hint of sentience that Adas' holocron seemed to possess.

Normally Adas would mix his words, trying to hide his intentions in the spaces between the letters. Thankfully, as with Palpatine and Damask, I was aware of this, and on the lookout for such deception and twisted motives. That he wasn't attempting that today hinted that he knew there was no need to, and that he understood how desperate I was becoming if I would turn to a Sith King for guidance.

"Then, perhaps, I can be of some assistance. However, before we can focus on helping you regain control of your connection to the Force, you must learn to use the Force to empower and enrich you. The need to mould it, craft it, to your purposes and desires will help make it difficult, if not nigh-on impossible, for any to sense your intentions, opinions, and relationship with the Force." He paused and clasped his hands behind his back, reminding me of a drill instructor about to lecture a group of raw recruits. "In simple terms, the Jedi feel that emotions should not be used in conjunction with the Force. That any of them leads one to twist the Force to their will. While the general context is wrong, they fail to understand the truth of the Force. Any emotion grants one a boost, it is simply that the darker, baser emotions offer faster and easier paths to power. The flaw of the Jedi, and many so-called Sith Lords, is to think that only those baser emotions grant power. That they should be all that is focused on, or that all should be ignored because of our more instinctual choices."

It didn't take a mastermind to know what Adas was hinting at, or where he wanted this lesson to go. I wouldn't deny that using my rage, my fury to empower me did offer a quick, almost insane, boost to what I was capable of, but I understood they were fleeting and deceiving. However, I also understood that, if I had to draw upon my emotions to create the shell that would stop others from sensing the taint within me, of how I was neither a Jedi nor a Sith – nor had any intention of following those paths to their conclusions – then I had to take this lesson.

"I'm willing to listen," I said slowly, measuring my tone and keeping as unemotional as possible. "However, I need you to explain, in detail, how learning to harness my emotions, regardless of which ones, will help shield me from the senses of others. How it might protect me and those I care for from reprisals."

Adas chuckled, the deep, baritone sound echoing around my quarters. "But of course. One cannot begin a journey without understanding why they must take it. That leads to mistakes that place them and others in danger they will likely be unprepared for. However, the explanation for why this needs to be done will take considerable time."

"That is something I have," I replied, drawing another deep chuckle from the ancient Sith King.

"Then let us begin."

… …

… …

I watched silently, letting the engineers and researchers of Sienar Design Systems, or at least this particular group of them, wander around Raven. They had various devices to scan and correlate readings with them, but so far they'd not made any attempt to slice off a section of her hull. That had happened with the first team Raith had assigned, and after barely restraining myself from introducing all of them to the business end of my beskad, and then having to calm down Fenrir, Raith had arrived.

After learning what'd transpired, he'd reassigned that team to another project elsewhere on the planet and fired the team leader. Raith had left orders that Raven was not to be harmed, or taken apart without my express permission, and that fucking hut'uun had ignored the order. Upon hearing about the incident, HK had suggested that he speak with this team leader and educate them on why a chain of command exists. I'd been tempted to allow it but decided against the idea in the end as it was Raith's problem to handle. That was why whenever a team was examining Raven, one of myself, Simvyl, or HK was present.

A gentle growl had me lower my hand. "I know," I said as I petted Fenrir's head as the current team moved around Raven. This was the third team today, and fourteenth since the incident, to examine Raven, and there'd not been another issue since.

Now, there had been a few complaints, but those had been because of HK. After the incident with the first team, the droid had been vocal and descriptive in explaining what would happen to the first dumb meatbag to touch Raven without my consent. However, Raith had laughed those off, finding it amusing the way HK spoke; at least when the comments weren't aimed at him. Force, he'd even said he might have a few experimental components that could be fitted to my droids. While I wasn't holding out hope that he'd be willing to part with those, HK was curious about the options, as was R2.

The current team gathered near Raven's cockpit, conversing about the various readings they'd taken, and I began to wonder if they'd finally found a method to enhance her. I understood that in a week it was unlikely they'd have definitive leads, but I was growing irritated at the lack of progress, or at least the lack of information given to me about the project. While there weren't, as far as I knew, any critical events to handle in the next few months – bar, perhaps the quest linked to Sifo-Dyas, though I was unsure how that would play out now Dooku wasn't in line to become Darth Tyrannus – I'd like to begin training Anakin, and retraining myself, with the various Force sects and other groups I wanted to visit.

The one upside of the downtime here was that it allowed me to focus heavily on Anakin's lightsaber skills. I retained all my training there, and not being able to draw efficiently on the Force meant the few times we'd sparred, I'd not had to explain away why I was moving so slow.

Anakin had pestered me slightly about when he'd be building his lightsaber, but I'd explained that I'd only allow that once I felt he was ready. For now, he used a training saber I'd created from the spare parts in my Inventory while I retained my shoto. The blade wasn't ideal for how I fought, but it would do until I fully rebuilt my lightsaber.

With one of the crystals that had given the blade its unique colour cracked, I had to determine how to either fix it or failing that, discover another crystal to use. I could, in theory, use the Mantle of the Force as my main crystal, but that choice resonated wrongly in the force.

Right now, Anakin wouldn't be in Raven or elsewhere training with a lightsaber, but should, provided he'd not grown bored and taken R2 and Simvyl for a wander around the base, be involved in some form of mental training focused on starship and droid design. The boy had a gift for that, and Raith – after none-too-subtly testing Anakin on the voyage here – had arranged for him to take remote classes with an advanced design group SST had for gifted youngsters.

Raith had assured me that he had no intention of trying to steal Anakin away from the Jedi – which had made me laugh as Anakin wouldn't care too much about the Order, only about being separated from me and our odd family – but claimed Anakin reminded him of himself as a youth. The discussions the pair had held had, as expected, gone so far over my head that I couldn't even see them from where I stood, relatively speaking, at the bottom of the mountain they were scaling, but the pair had formed a bond. So much so that Anakin's classroom was a converted office where he had free reign.

I'd entered the room a few times and found it a complete mess. Datapads were strewn everywhere, open on schematics that I struggled to make heads or tails of without reference, and Anakin had always had his head buried in whatever one had his current attention. The only way he realised I was there was when Fenrir pushed up against him for attention. I didn't have any issue with Anakin getting lost in his work or passion, nor him having odd hours for some classes or discussions as I understood that Raith and those tutoring Anakin were fitting in the sessions around their work, and was glad he was getting pushed in ways I knew would help him, but that I could never manage.

Footsteps coming from behind had me turning, and I saw Rath approaching, a datapad in his hands. "Behave," I said to Fenrir as I left him to go and meet our host. "Something the matter?" I asked, seeing the slightly worried expression he wore, which only grew greater when he glanced at Raven.

"Yes, though it's about what I expected after the first few flights about Raven, and I could examine her inner workings," he replied as he neared, and then held out the datapad for me to take. "The engineering teams are reporting that there's not much they can do regarding adding weaponry to Raven. At least not without having to cut into her hull and hurt her in the process."

As he'd explained that, I'd browsed the datapad. Much of it used terms beyond me, but it stated the same general thing as what Raith had said. "Aye, from what I can follow, this matches what the engineers at Mandalmotors told me." I handed the pad back. "It was why your name was high on the list Dred Yomaget gave me for finding a second opinion."

"Yes," Raith began as he took back the pad. "Dred isn't an engineer like me, but he knows who the best in the business are and doesn't let ego or politics get in the way of making a deal." He smirked slightly as he continued. "I'm sure the other names on that list were highly respected and sought-after engineers and designers?" I nodded, though I wasn't going to mention the other names, and Raith had accepted that after prodding me a few times about it and not getting a response. That said, he had guessed the companies that many of those on the list worked for, so he probably knew most, if not all, of the names on the list. "I suspect that most would give you the same report I and Dred have. The only ones who wouldn't, would be those uncaring about cutting up something as unique and special as Raven."

"Any idea who might be of help?"

"I'd say several of those with an interest in bioengineering. Adasca comes to mind along with a few others. The internal arrangement of much of the circuitry is hardwired into Raven's body in a way a normal engineer isn't trained to understand."

"I take it you don't have such workers on staff?"

"At SDS? No. Some subdivisions do work in the required fields, but it isn't an area SST focuses on. Nor have I given the subject much thought, at least until I met and then flew aboard Raven." He glanced past me again, taking in the organic wonder. "Though if you give me a few years, I might have something that could work."

I chuckled at his enthusiasm and knew Raven was going to be a pet project of his for some time. "Sadly, I don't think we could encroach on your hospitality for that long."

"Oh, I wouldn't mind. Having a Jedi on-call to handle issues could be very advantageous for business," he replied with laughter. "And something to hold over other CEOs during meetings."

"Aye, I'm sure it would," I replied as I laughed along with him, "however, the Force wouldn't allow me to remain stationary for that long, nor do I think I could stand not doing anything." I extended a hand. "Still, I'm thankful for you taking the time to examine her, and for helping Anakin with his interests."

Raith waved away my hand. "Oh, just because I can't add the weaponry you'd hoped for, at least not without hurting her, doesn't mean I'm letting you leave without some improvements." My head tilted slightly to the right, curious as to what he was thinking. "Weaponry is still doable, but it would require external hardpoints mounted on the few sections of her hull which aren't organic. Missiles or automated turrets for example. However, it's the internal circuity, at least what isn't fused with her workings, where I can offer improvements. I might even have a few special projects that would be viable for a ship such as Raven. Ones that might help counter her inability to have your desired firepower."

My brow rose as he spoke, wondering what he had in mind. The only example I could think of was the Scimitar's cloak, and I had considered removing it from the Sith vessel before I'd stored it on Dagobah. In the end though, I'd rejected the idea. Not only would there likely be various traps and countermeasures to prevent the component's removal, but there was a chance the programming contained malicious coding that could infect Raven. Still, the idea of being able to come and go with sensors and eyeballs unable to easily track me was tempting as fuck.

"What exactly are yo…"


The shouting of my name by Anakin cut me off mid-sentence, and I turned to see my Padawan rushing toward me. I didn't need the Force to know he was excited, and the pad that he was waving in one hand reinforced that appearance. "Cam!"

"Yes, Anakin?" I asked in a more dignified manner as he raced closer. There was a bit of irritation at his interruption, but I knew I'd speak with Raith after Anakin was settled about what he had in mind. For now, my Padawan, the reason for his excitement, and his lack of manners were where my focus lay. "What required you to rush here in such a manner?"

Raith coughed, no doubt to hide a chuckle at the subtle telling-off I gave the boy, even as Anakin slowed down. His eyes widened as he saw Raith and I had been talking. "Oh, um…" his words were cut off as Fenrir raced toward him. "Fenrir!" He called out, trying desperately to avoid the tuk'ata's attempts to lick his face.

I smirked, enjoying Fenrir unintentionally turning the tables on Anakin by interrupting him, but stayed silent. I wanted to see if Anakin would resume what I assumed was an apology, or if he'd blow right past it, and thus require more lessons on manners.

Eventually, Fenrir decided he'd greeted Anakin enough, and leaned back, wandering calmly to my side. The boy wiped his face. "Gross," he muttered as some of the tuk'ata's drool stuck to his robes before he then shook the arm; sending what wasn't soaked into the material flying. "Sorry," He said as he saw Raith take a step back to avoid being splattered. "And sorry for shouting."

"While it's good that you understand your mistake, I hope in future it isn't repeated." My voice, as much as I hadn't planned it, had dropped deeper, mimicking one of my former Masters. I chuckled at the image that was created in my head before returning my attention to my ad. "Now, what made you rush here from your office?" I asked, glancing at Raith. "Has our host offered you a contract that you've decided to take, thus leaving me and the Order?"

"No! Never!" Anakin shouted enthusiastically, While Raith and Fenrir winced at his volume and tone, I laughed.

"I was teasing," I said quickly, holding up a hand as an apology. It's only been a few months since Shmi's death, and while he was recovering, it seemed even hinting at his family changing again was a step too far for him. Still, the strength of conviction I felt in the Force when he spoke was an encouraging sign that his loyalty was to me; meaning the threat of him becoming Darth Vader was decreasing.

"Ah, um, sorry."

"The pad?" Raith prodded, returning the conversation to its original track.

"Oh, right." Anakin pushed the pad he'd been holding toward forward, displaying the screen.

It appeared to be a letter from his tutor; or one of them at any rate. While several of the terms used sounded unnecessarily wordy, and other sections made little sense to me, the gist was easy to determine. "Impressive," I said, impressed with his performance.

"Indeed," Raith agreed as he reached for the pad. "It seems," he continued as he browsed more from the tutor, "that your professor feels you should attempt to implement some of your ideas." He looked up from the pad, offering Anakin a wide smile. "I'll have a workbench brought to your office, along with the relevant equipment."


Raith laughed as he handed the pad back, before glancing at me. "Perhaps, if your Master will allow it, I might also bring some of the ideas I have for Ravento you. It would reassure me that at least one of you understands the systems I hope to install in your magnificent vessel."

Anakin's eyes widened almost comically, and I chuckled at the hopeful look he gave me. "It's fine. While I understand Raven as a being, I'm happy to leave the mechanical side of her under Anakin's observation."

"Woo-hoo!" Anakin shouted, punching the air in delight. Fenrir howled at that, drawing the attention of many in the bay; several of whom took a step or two back at the reminder the massive beast was present. "Whoops. Sorry," Anakin added sheepishly once Fenrir had stopped howling in support.

"There's nothing wrong with being excited," I said as I moved closer to him, "just try and remember where you are, and who else is present, hmm?" As I finished, I ruffled his hair. He frowned, disliking the gesture, but that only had me smiling more. It was nice to be on the other side of the gesture having had to endure it for several years from Fay.

My mind shifted, wondering how my former Master was doing. She'd left about half a year ago with Satele Shan's holocron in the hopes of rediscovering Tython. I'd not heard anything from her since the message she'd left informing me of her departure, but given I'd not felt a shift in the Force, I knew she was still alive and searching for the ancient, and multiple-times lost planet.

I wasn't sure how things would change if she rediscovered the birthplace of the Jedi – and the homeworld of the precursor group the Je'daii – but I had little doubt it would alter much of what the Sith planned. Which was why, I hoped, she'd kept her attempt hidden from everyone on the Council, and why her message had made no mention of the voyage, nor had I mentioned the location when speaking with Dooku and others who might be aware of her intentions.

"Um," Anakin's voice drew my thoughts back to the present, "can I go back to my room?"

"Of course," I replied, giving his hair a final ruffle. "Though take Fenrir for a walk first. He needs to stretch his legs and I'd rather not take him near the weapon testing section of this facility." That was where HK and Simvyl were, and I knew the droid was enjoying – not that he'd ever admit to it – the chance to examine and test experimental weapons. Haran, I suspected that if any met his approval, he'd push me to see if we could take it with us, and failing that, might attempt to access and download the schematics.

"Okay. Come on Fenrir." The tuk'ata looked my way for confirmation, and after a nod, headed off with my son. I shook my head, struggling still to process that I'd adopted Anakin fucking Skywalker, but it was what we, and the Force, wanted.

Seeing him walk beside the massive Sith war beast that towered over him – not that either acted like Fenrir was a born killer – I wondered what the future was going to hold for all of us. I didn't know what dangers awaited us in the galaxy, or what threats, bar the ones I had been preparing for since arriving in this universe, lay in wait, but I felt that Anakin and I – along with our allies – would face it side-by-side. He was a focal point, a being placed here to determine the fate of the galaxy. I was an interloper, though one the Force had adapted to, and I felt now considered almost as important as Anakin to setting the direction of the galaxy's near to medium-term future.

There would be challenges ahead for us, but I knew that, so long as I had the time to implement the training I had planned for all of us, then we'd be capable of facing them.

"Now," I said as I turned to Raith and pushed thoughts of the future aside," what are the options you were about to mention before Anakin's unexpected arrival?"

… …

… …

I watched from the back of the converted cargo hold, leaning against the wall as Anakin trained. Most days, that training consisted of either going through velocities of the early forms, as I wanted to ensure he had the basics down of practising deflecting blaster bolts. Once we left this system – which amusingly was called the Orion System – and moved forward with our training, I knew we were at greater risk of being attacked by pirates and the like than running into other Force users, so getting Anakin able to at least deflect blaster bolts, if not redirect them back at attackers, was the main focus of his current training.

What I was lacking for that training was the small floating droids to train with, however I'd found an easy adaption. HK was more than happy to shoot at Anakin, seeing the benefit in training the boy and protecting the investment in one he now considered worthy of helping him improve. However, he was just one droid, and even dual-wielding and using some of his additional features, the angles he could shoot from where easy enough to predict and adapt to. That was why, as of this session, R2 was using a blaster.

Now, it wasn't something permanent, being held by one of the small arms that extended from the astromech body, but the fact R2 didn't have a good grip on the blaster – and was a frankly horrible shot – meant it was forcing Anakin to pay attention to each bolt. If it travelled at him, then he had to deflect or avoid it, if not, he could ignore it, and all that had to happen almost instantly given bolts, as low-powered as they were, moved at considerable velocity.

So far, though it was just the first session with multiple shooters, Anakin was doing well, and I could sense his enjoyment of the training. He was relying purely on Soresu for defence, and while that was working, I could see the subtle hints that he wanted to strike back; that being so passive and reactionary didn't feel right for him. That, in many ways, was a relief, as while the Anakin in the other timeline had based his style on Djem So, I hadn't been certain my Anakin would.

As it seemed he preferred the more reactive role in combat, I knew it wouldn't be long until I began showing him some velocities of the two Form V variants. While Shien enabled one to use the incoming bolts to counterattack, it sacrificed some of the defensive certainty of Soresu, which for some Jedi could be an issue. It wasn't for me, even if my style was based around Makashi, I disliked being on the defensive throughout a battle, nor it seemed, would my ad'ika.

I smirked and shook my head, still coming to terms with the fact Anakin was now my son. Oh, the Jedi and Republic might have issues with it, but by Mandalorian law, he was my son and heir, and others would just have to accept that.

Anakin stepped forward, pushing one of HK's bolts away – and I had to lean to one side to avoid it scraping me – and I felt the hints of frustration within the boy. His desire to strike back, to do something, easy to read in his posture and within the Force. While that was understandable, and not unlike myself at his age, I knew he needed to temper that feeling. At least until he had a solid base in the Form V variants. Anakin had incredible potential, more so than even me, but he was young, rash, and overeager.

I understood that, when I'd been a Padawan, I'd been similar, but I'd managed – most of the time – to temper the excitement of early youth. Or at least, once a little older, find other outlets for my energy. Scratching my chin, even as HK forced Anakin back by increasing his rate of fire, my thoughts turned to those I was closest to but weren't currently travelling with me.

Serra was the first to come to mind, and I wondered how her training was going with Windu. That she'd been placed in isolation after the death of Drallig, in an attempt to help her recover from the emotional backlash of her Master's death, made sense. At least from a Jedi's perspective. However, Windu restricting her access to everyone within the Order until he was satisfied with her recovery was unsettling. I didn't think Windu planned to turn her against me, but I felt he and the rest of the High Council were concerned by how close we'd become; so much so that she'd snuck out of the Temple – with help from Bo-Katan and Satine – and come to Naboo. A choice that had cost the Jedi their Battlemaster, though Master Koth had already filled the position.

Bo-Katan And Naz should both be back on Mandalore, no doubt finding ways to get into trouble. I was uncertain where things were heading with them, or when I'd next meet them, but I suspected it wouldn't be a massive amount of time until one or both reappeared.

After that, my thoughts turned to Padme, and I wondered how she was doing leading Naboo's rebuilding. The last I'd spoken to her the Naboo people had begun work on stripping and selling the parts of the Lucrehulk that had been left in orbit; ignoring the wishes of the Trade Federation to cease such actions as much of the technology on the vessel was their proprietary property. The Senate, as slow-moving and filled with lackeys of the Federation as it was, wasn't giving that idea much voice as the Co-Chancellors ensured the Federation remained under an apparently close microscope, while the courts were unwilling to accept the Federation's attempts at injunctions. What probably didn't help there was that the two other Lucrehulks had vanished from public sight. One was known to have been taken by the Mandalorians, and they weren't telling anyone where it was held, while the Lokella's system was isolated and off the grid enough that only those in the know knew its location, and thus ensured the Lucrehulk they'd taken was far from sight.

Thinking of a Queen turned my thoughts to a Princess, and I remembered Miraj. The Zygerrian heir was, the last time I'd spoken to her, doing well. it seemed her interest in me had grown after news of the Battle of Naboo, and my role in leading the planet's liberation had reached the Holonet. Given the Zygerrians were a proud race – their beliefs in slavery notwithstanding – who respected power and dominance, that wasn't a surprise. It was, however, another way to slowly change the thinking of the princess, and potentially ensure that whenever galactic war erupted her people, and their small empire, sided with whichever group I fought for.

A grunt from Anakin brought my attention back to the training area, and I saw that Anakin had stumbled back. He was shaking one of his legs even as he moved, using the training lightsaber I'd constructed for him, to deflect one of R2's semi-wild bolts away.

"Enough!" I called out, figuring Anakin taking another bolt, the fifth in five minutes, was a good place to end the session. He'd been training for over two hours, and it was clear he was starting to struggle.

The droids lowered their blasters, though Anakin remained in a ready stance for a short while longer. That made me smile, as it meant the lesson about not lowering his guard too early, or trusting an opponent would stop when they'd said they would, was sinking in. I was sure the Jedi might consider my tactics and training in this as excessive, but given trust had to be earned and not just given, I'd rather have Anakin ready and able to defend himself than leave himself open to a trick. The Mandalorians, on the other hand, would see my training as smart and expected.

Anakin continued to watch HK as the droid moved away and only slipped from a ready stance once it was clear the assassin droid wasn't lulling him into a false sense of security. Even as he made his way to me, the lightsaber remained lit, ready to snap to work if needed. The one thing that did catch my attention was that he was only focusing on the obvious threat of HK, and not that of R2. Now, with the blaster barely held in a grasping limb, the astromech was unlikely to manage a shot that would trouble the boy, but Anakin's focusing only on one target, and not those that might be less obvious, was another flaw to correct. As was the fact R2 was currently, still nothing more than a standard astromech.

I had plans to acquire components and allow Anakin to install them into the droid, upgrading the astromech into a threat to anyone who dismissed him due to his size and shape. HK had already made several suggestions for alterations, and while getting a phrik-based outer casing for the astromech was the obvious choice, the other suggestions ranged from possible to downright insane.

"Why'd you make me stop?" Anakin asked once he was close to me, the training blade powering down. "I'm doing fine."

"So well, that HK has managed to strike you five times in five minutes," I replied with a smile, amused at his reaction. The more philosophical parts of learning about the Force, and even some of the standard techniques, held little interest to him. But point him at a machine, or give him a lightsaber and ask him to train, and he'd do so until he literally dropped from exhaustion. While I'd taught him the basics of using the Force to replenish and restore your body when pushed to your limits, I couldn't truly teach the lesson as the way I'd done it before Natural Selection wasn't normal, or natural. I was slowly fumbling my way into learning how to do so, but I knew I had a long way to go. It was why our first destination after leaving this system was to a Force sect specialising in using the Force in that way. "Perhaps it's time to shift your training toward less combat-oriented uses of the Force?" I suggested while tapping my chin.

"No!" Anakin snapped, reaching forward to grasp my arm. "I, um," he continued, worried he'd overstepped only for me to start laughing.

"Haran! It's too easy to tease you," I said, lowering the hand and ruffling his hair. "While one day we will have to turn your training toward non-combat or technical matters, I don't think we're there yet." Anakin was relieved to hear that. "However, I think that I'd been focusing too much on your training as a Force user, and not as a Mandalorian. Therefore, once we leave this system, outside of any training we do to learn with Force sects, I'm going to insist we begin your training there."

"But why?" He whined only to blink, seemingly surprised at his reaction. "I mean, I get that I'll be like you, a Mandalorian Jedi. But why can't I just use my lightsaber?"

"First, that's a training lightsaber and if you struck someone with it, the worst you could do is stun them." As I spoke I lifted my shoto blade from its clip at my side. "You aren't ready to build your lightsaber, just as I feel I'm not in a position to rebuild the one destroyed on Naboo." I wasn't sure how I was going to go about it, but I wanted to see if there was any way I could repair the damaged miniature crystal that had formed half of the focusing point of my blade and gave it the unusual dual-colour blade. If not, then I'd have to see where the Force guided me, what sort of crystal would replace the damaged one, and what changes that would bring to my lightsaber.

"Second, it's highly likely that, for the next year or so, we'll be travelling as Mandalorians and not Jedi. Because of that, and that many would consider a Mandalorian an easier target than a Jedi – with many hating either or both groups – I won't have you entering any location unarmed or untrained. Which is why, once we leave this system, I'd be shifting your training to something more akin to the Mando'ade."

I also had something ready for that training, but I'd yet to give it to him. I'd been planning to hold onto it for his birthday, but that was still several months away, and I knew we'd not be here for that long. Bo hadn't liked not being present when I gave Anakin what I had stored for him, and that I wasn't giving it to him instantly, but she'd accepted my judgement. I was his parent while she was the fun-loving – or battle-crazy depending on your opinion – aunt.

"Contemplative: I do hope, Master, that you would be willing to listen to some of my suggestions regarding the young builder's education."

"I'll be relying on you for help, HK, don't worry," I replied, smiling at the assassin droid. "Just make sure that whatever training you suggest has a good chance of not getting Anakin killed."

"Cautionary: No training, at least one worthy of being implemented, is without danger, Master. Addendum: However, I will consider how to ensure the young builder isn't permanently damaged or killed by what I offer, Master." R2 beeped out a question. "Answer: Yes, you may help, though I am unsure if your memory core is sufficiently advanced to compute anything useful." R2 rolled forward, the sounds coming from him more confrontational, which made me chuckle. "Correction: Obviously I meant your current configuration lacks the capacity, though I'm sure the Master will have you upgraded before we depart."

"I'm sure Anakin and Raith can think of ways to improve you, R2," I agreed, earning a nod from Anakin. "If you're both good, we'll see what, if anything, Raith is willing to sell to help improve you further."

"Appeasement: We shall be on our best behaviour, Master." R2 beeped and rocked in agreement. "The meatbag hosting us is remarkably creative. For a meatbag."

I laughed and shook my head at HK's opinion of Raith. Turning, I saw that Anakin looked paler than when I'd spoken with HK. "Hey," I said, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder, "remember, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

"Easy for you to say. You're not the one facing a crazy assassin droid."

"Correction: A highly skilled and capable assassin droid, young builder. Explanation: While your primitive mind is unable to comprehend my higher process, rest assured that I know, and have, hundreds of ways that would result in your death without any proof linking me to the action."

"Anyway," I cut in before Anakin could consider what HK was suggesting, "you're wrong to say I've not faced an assassin droid across from me in a training exercise. I've trained considerably with HK to keep my skills sharp. Though, at least when speaking of him as a sparring opponent, HK is lacking when compared to the Krayt Dragon."

"Observation: While I still find that event hard to compute, the amount of evidence to support your battle forces me to accept the obvious, Master." HK's head tilted to one side. "Musing: I am curious how you would do in such a situation now, or if I might have more suitable methods to engage such a beast than directly challenging it."

"Ignoring that I didn't intend to challenge the beast as I did, I think I'd do a lot better. For one, I'd have all of you, Fenrir, and Simvyl to help."

"Assessment: Perhaps a collection with too many parts to make the hunt fair, Master."

"As you well know, there's no such thing as a fair fight. There's only not enough firepower or not enough targets."

HK chuckled, which was always an odd sound to hear from a droid. "Amusement: That is the correct answer, Master. Appeasement: I look forward to when we might hunt a dragon, or similar such beast, together."

"As do I, HK. As do I." I turned and looked back at Anakin. "You need the training, Anakin. I won't let you step into the galaxy unprepared to defend yourself from those who want to hurt you. To hurt us."

"Okay," he said slowly, and he moved forward as if planning to resume his training.

"Wait." He turned back to me. "While you can resume sparring soon, there's something I'd like to explain before you do." I tapped at the interface in my beskar limb; a similar computer to that in a vambrace hidden inside the protective metal. "I need you to tell me what this is?" I said as the arm displayed a small hologram from the top of my wrist.

"That's a blaster," he replied, sounding as if I'd suddenly lost my sanity.

"It is, but what else can you tell me about it?" He frowned, confused by the question and I smirked. "Who made it? How much power does a clip have? How much does it cost unmodified? What's its rate of fire in the various modes?"

Anakin stepped closer, examining the hologram carefully. I did likewise as I'd pulled this blaster up quickly, not bothering to select it too carefully and thus making Anakin think I was somehow aware of what it was before it was displayed. "Looks like an EE model," he replied after about half a minute while giving me an annoyed shrug. "Why does this matter?"

"It matters because every blaster, even those in the same series, has different statistics," I explained slowly, not annoyed at his attitude. "This, for example, is an EE-2 blaster carbine. The power cell gives a base capacity of three hundred bolts, though this can drop to a hundred depending on the mode used. In standard configuration, it works either in burst fire of five bolts, or suppression fire of twenty bolts. The hundred bolt capacity comes into play when placed on single shot, as that generates a more powerful bolt but at the cost of a greatly reduced rate of fire." As I spoke, Anakin's brow rose, while I swore HK watched on in amusement. "The base model has a muzzle velocity of eighty-two kilometres per second, meaning at four hundred meters – which is a decent distance away – you've got around four thousand eight hundred eighty microseconds to recognize the blaster, remember all this information, and then prepare to engage who or whatever is wielding it."

By the time I finished that piece, Anakin looked shocked and impressed with what I'd said. Which, to him, it was. For me, with Eidetic Memory, it was as simple as remembering what I had for breakfast. I'd not learnt the details of every blaster in the galaxy – as that would be a pain to do and a general waste of time – but I had the details for the top five thousand for each type of blaster memorised, meaning it took me no time to be certain of the blaster the arm had displayed.

"Once you realise what blasters your enemies are wielding, and the specifics of their weaponry – such as how this carbine is best used on the burst-fire mode – then, with whatever time you have left, there are four things you, as someone who can draw on the Force, can do." First," I held up a finger, "you can move your body to avoid the bolts, or ensure your lightsaber is in a position to deflect them away. Second, if you know how to, you can redirect the bolts. Ideally, you send them back at the shooter, but if not then toward secondary targets or towards something that could alter a battlefield to your advantage. A steam pipe for example." Anakin nodded, taking in what I was saying. "This is where I expect you to be by the time you turn twelve." I expected him there earlier, but I didn't want to push him too hard, not when he currently had other focuses. "Third, and this is more advanced, as a Force user, you can draw upon the Force to protect yourself. This can be something like generating a barrier to shield yourself or altering the air to slow the bolt down enough to make one of the earlier options more applicable. It's even possible for the most powerful and skilled Force users to stop the bolt in its tracks."

"Observation: Throughout my operational lifetime I've seen a handful of Jedi and Sith use such a technique, Master. While it is an impressive display of power, they can usually be overcome with a sufficient number of bolts. Ideally fired by multiple shooters using differing blaster types."

"Or, to see why the third option is flawed, the fourth choice is to not be anywhere near the bolts when they're meant to reach you." Anakin opened his mouth, but I raised a hand to cut off whatever comment he had. "Yes, I know the last two require using the Force in ways you don't know, but they're also – depending on how the fourth option is taken – flashier than the first two, and a greater drain on the Force user. One day, you'll learn techniques to do those, but I can assure you that the first two are the most common, and practical, methods of dealing with blaster-wielding opponents."

"Okay." While Anakin's interest lay in using a lightsaber, it was obvious he was curious about the other methods. Probably ones like Phase and Teleport, and I'd show him how to use them, but only after I re-learnt how to do so myself. While I didn't have restrictions on those powers like Shatterpoint, I lacked any clear training for how the powers were meant to work. Until I understood the science and logic that went into them, I had no intention of attempting them again. The risk that something dire would happen if I wasn't sure of what I was doing outweighed my desire to have them back in my arsenal.

"Good, now back you go," I said, giving him a gentle push on the back. I watched as he moved back to the centre of the room, his eyes already tracking the droids, and the lightsaber igniting in his hands. "Oh HK," the droid stopped as I spoke to him, "increase your rate of fire by twenty per cent."

"Answer: With pleasure, Master," the droid replied as Anakin stared at me, not believing I'd told HK to make the training harder.

… …

… …

"It's heavier than I thought," Anakin muttered as he shifted around, adapting to his new gear. His head snapped toward me as he caught the sound of my mechanical arm doing something. "Wait!" He said, reaching out for my arm even as I took another image of him in the armour. "Stop it!" He whined, moving closer even as I began to backpedal.

"Now, now," I replied, taking another few pictures, "don't you want Bo and the others to see what you look like in your armour?"

"Stop it!" he half-cried, half-snarled, and made a face that caused me to start laughing. I stopped quickly though as I felt the shift in the Force, suggesting he was drawing on emotions I didn't want him to; at least until he had training in how to handle and channel them without losing control of himself to them and the Dark Side.

"Okay, okay," I said after another ten seconds and lowered my arm to make clear I was done capturing the moment in both picture and video format. "Now," I said, stepping closer to him, "how does it feel? Apart from being heavy."

Anakin stopped and looked at his armour. He lifted his arms and legs slowly in succession, and twisted this way and that, getting a feel for his new gear. The only sections of the armour not currently on were the gauntlets and the helmet. They rested on a table nearby, while Anakin wore every other section of the standard Mandalorian armour – vambraces included – making him appear every inch the young warrior.

What fed into that, and semi-bonded him to me, was that like me his armour used black as the base colour. He'd chosen black as he wanted justice for those enslaved across the galaxy, and then edges of red and grey to honour and remember his mother. The only major difference between his armour and mine was that while his vizor was darkened, mine was red. Otherwise, when standing side by side, I was sure people would assume we were family, which was true from a certain point of view.

Bo had asked him back on Mandalore when I'd gotten my replacement limb, what colours he'd wear if he had armour while carrying out a refresher course on the colours and their meaning. He'd taken time to consider the choices, and while I'd accepted all of them easily, I'd not placed any gold edging on his armour. That marked a desire for vengeance, and for a young Force user, such desires could easily lead to places they weren't ready to head.

I had no issue with his desire to seek vengeance for the death of his mother and had made clear several times that we would, when ready, move against Decca the Hutt. However, most of the times Decca had come up, I'd had to warn and remind Anakin of the dangers of becoming consumed by the need for vengeance. He'd accepted my words each time but always confirmed that when he was ready, he would move against Decca and other slavers.

There'd been conviction in his voice, and a certainty that shone brightly in the Force, whenever he made that vow. That was a sign that, while this Anakin wasn't like the one in the other timeline, he had the same core drives and wants. I'd have to keep an eye on that and ensure that he learnt to focus those urges safely and do my best to keep him as far from the sight of the Banite Sith as I could.

I knew I couldn't keep him hidden for a decade, until the outbreak of the Clone Wars, nor prevent him from experiencing the Dark Side, but the longer I could wait, the further I could get in his training, the better I felt things would go. The moment the Jedi and Sith knew of him, their interest would rise, and if they ever discovered that his Force Potential surpassed even mine - which was, from what Dooku and Fay had told me, the highest on record since at least the New Sith Wars – then both groups would want to take him from me and convert him to their cause.

That was something I'd never allow, and if I had to, I'd vanish, hiding deep in sectors that would shelter me, or travel to Wild Space or beyond. Until Anakin and I were ready for what was to come, the longer the truth of his status as the Chosen One could remain known to only myself, Dooku, and Fay, the safer the galaxy would be.

"Heavy," he finally replied, ignoring my instruction to not comment on the weight, and forcing me to bring my thoughts to the here and now. "Tight too," he added after twisting again at his waist, trying to get more comfortable in the armour.

"Can you move freely?" I asked, wondering if he'd grown more than I'd expected. If he had, then adjusting the straps for the various sections of armour wouldn't be an issue. The underweave might be problematic, but as it wasn't composed of beskar like mine, it only offered slight protection and a replacement shouldn't be too hard to purchase.

"Yes, but I can feel it when I move."

I smiled. "Good." I placed my hands on his pauldrons and gave them gentle tugs, ensuring they were secure. "We don't want them falling off when we enter battle now, do we?"

"I guess not," Anakin replied, unsure of himself. "It's just… different."

"It's okay to miss her," I said, offering a gentle smile. "I'm sure, wherever she is in the Force, she's happy that you're finally starting the journey to be the protector she knew you would become."

He smiled, the uncertainty slipping away, suggesting I'd guessed the reason. "Yeah. I just wish…"

"I know," I said, patting his pauldrons one last time before letting them go. "Now, can you tell me what you're now wearing?" I asked, shifting the conversation onward, past his feelings for his mother. While they were understandable, I didn't want him dwelling on them.

"Mandalorian armour."

"This," I said, tapping a fist against his chest plate, "is Beskar'gam. The mark of the Mando'ade. You are my Padawan, yes, but you are also my Ad as well. We are family. It's my duty to train you, to prepare you, for battle and war. To ensure that when the time comes for you to stand there, defending those unready to defend themselves, you won't fail or surrender your ground. We don't share blood, as many would expect of a family, but aliit ori'shya tal'din."

"Family is more than blood," Anakin repeated in Basic.

"It is," I responded, my smile growing at Anakin understanding some Mando'a. "I might not be your father by blood, but I am your father by choice and that makes us family. While the Jedi might not accept that, or even consider that too many, the bond between Master and Padawan is such a connection, to me it is. Masters Dooku and Fay are my family, as are you, Fenrir, Simvyl, Bo, HK, R2, and a few others." There was a lesson in there about letting go, or at least letting those in your family leave to live their own lives, however, that was a matter for another time.

I wasn't the type to entirely let someone go, so to preach that message would be hypocritical. It would also be entirely pointless as I knew Anakin wouldn't, and likely couldn't, do as the Order would expect. That could, when the time came, be an issue during Anakin's Trials, but I'd face that when the time came, hopefully having found some form of balance and acceptance of what we were, and how we interacted with the Force before then.

While I'd not directly brought Anakin up with Adas, I could see how some of what the ancient Sith King was teaching me could be applied to Anakin as well. Adas was a Sith, but to him, it was a natural state – which, as he was of the Sith species, made sense – of being, and a choice taken by the Banite Sith. I knew everything he had and would teach me was manipulated by his opinion on the Force and natural inclination toward the Dark Side, but he wasn't teaching me to lose myself in the Force, more to embrace all aspects of it and embrace who I was, and what the Force was to me. I'd also failed to sense any hints of deceit from him, before or after taking Natural Selection, suggesting that, from his point of view, he was being honest in what he was saying and teaching me.

Adas, when told how the current Sith were moving – acting from the shadows, shifting pieces into place slowly, not actively taking what they should – hadn't reacted well. The string of insults he hurled at them for betraying what it meant to be a Sith had been interesting, and I was reasonably sure I'd learnt how to curse in the ancient Sith language based on some of what he'd said.

Adas held some respect for Revan, at least from what he already knew and the gaps in his history that I filled in. While he disliked that Revan had abandoned his path because of love, Revan had, in Adas' words, shown the force of character to shape the path of the galaxy to his vision. At least until he was betrayed by his apprentice and friend when Malak was unable to see through whatever the Sith Emperor had done to the pair when they'd fought him.

Given Revan was, from what I'd learnt, one of the few Sith from the Old Republic to insist on there only being two Lords of the Sith, I wondered if he'd not played some part in what had caused Darth Bane to found the Rule of Two. I'd never heard of Revan having a Sith holocron, but if he had and Bane found it, it would help explain where the idea of just two Sith Lords had come from.

"So why won't Serra talk to you? Isn't she family?"

Anakin's question caught me off-guard; I grunted before collecting myself. "She is," I began, smiling as I remembered my time spent with Serra, "and it was because of that connection that she came to Naboo to fight at my side. And why Master Drallig came after her. To be clear, I didn't want her there, didn't think she should have to choose between the Order and me, and I feared something might happen if she came. I was right, but not in the way I expected."

"Because her Master died?"

"Yes," I replied, nodding at my son. "To Serra, while she might not admit it openly, Master Drallig was the closest she'd ever had to a parent. Unlike you and I, she was taken in and raised by the Order. Losing him hurt her deeply, and to help her recover, her new Master has decided to restrict her access to anyone – not just me – until she comes to terms with her loss." Seeing it from the Jedi perspective, I could understand Windu's decision, though I wouldn't have done the same in his shoes. I also understood that, while the restriction was on interacting with others in the Order in general, I knew the true target of her isolation was me and the bond I shared with Serra.

"Good." I leaned back and blinked, caught out by Anakin's response." I mean, not that she's not around, or that her Master died," he clarified quickly, "just that it wasn't y-you that died. I…" He stopped there and looked away, an arm coming up to wipe his face.

"Ni kar'taylir." He turned back to me. "I'm glad I didn't die too," I say with a smirk, helping to lighten the mood. "However, Serra needs time to recover from Master Drallig's death. Even with all her training, handling such an event is painful, and we have to give her the time needed to release her pain and emotions regarding the loss of her Master into the Force."

"That's stupid!" My brow rose at Anakin's blunt and forceful response. "I… I mean, why do we have to forget our f-family and friends?"

"We don't," I replied, placing my hand back on his shoulder. "The Order believes that we need to learn to let go of our emotions; at least as it pertains to forming attachments. Otherwise, the risk for most, if not all, Force users, is that fear of loss of the ones we care for will lead us blindly down the path to losing ourselves within the Dark Side." I paused for a second, wondering how my wording had changed over the years, the influence of Dooku and Adas prominent in my thinking now against what I'd foolishly believed not long after first arriving at the Temple and becoming friends with Serra.

"Anyway," I resumed, choosing to change the topic, "that is a matter for another time; when you are further along in your training." I stepped back, admiring my ad in his armour. "What matters today is the side of you that is Mando'ade, and understanding the history of your armour." I turned him around, aiming him toward the table where his gauntlets and helmet rested. "Go and get the rest of your armour."

He moved off, and I waited until he'd reached the table and picked up the helmet before I spoke again. "Traditionally, an adiik's armour is made only from durasteel. The time, effort, and personal importance of using beskar is reserved only for those who've passed their verd'goten. Because of this, and to instil a sense of history, the various sections of the adiik's armour come from those who came before; meaning their buir and ancestors." Anakin turned, the helmet in his hands as I explained the importance of his first set of armour. "I lack durasteel armour from when I was younger, and as I'm the first of our Clan, there's no history I can add to your armour. Instead, our allies in Clans Kryze and Ordo have offered sections from armour worn and reshaped by their clans for millennia." Anakin paused at hearing that, the helmet about to be lowered over his head. "Your chest piece was once worn by Dorgo Kryze, and your boots come from Bo. The pauldrons and greaves come respectfully from Duke Torrhen and his son Osto."

"Is it ok for them to do this?" Anakin asked, the helmet hovering amusingly just above his head.

"Yes. When a new or reformed clan rises, their allies, if they have any, are allowed to offer such gifts. It is to show that while the clan is small, we are part of something greater. We stand as one people, one culture, one ideal. We have a debt of honour to Clans Kryze and Ordo for their offerings, but I know we'll both work to fulfil that debt." Anakin nodded, the helmet now on his head. "That said, I suspect Alors Adonai and Torrhen consider the debt already paid for through ensuring they had the chance to fight at my side on Naboo, and the hefty spoils of war they departed with." Anakin nodded again as he secured the first gauntlet, and I wondered what the duke had planned for the Lucrehulk. Whatever it was, I'm sure it would both aid the Mando'ade in growing stronger and anger the Trade Federation.

As Anakin picked up the second gauntlet I turned and extended my hand toward a shelf. While I lacked the fine control I desired, I had enough retained skill – along with constant moments of training – to trust myself to use the Force to lift an object and bring it to me. I hoped to soon have the fine control back – Dooku's lessons many years ago being a massive help for that – and rediscover the more creative methods of using the Force that Bo, Serra, and Naz had enjoyed.

The small box I'd lifted reached my hands just as Anakin secured the second gauntlet. "As I said, I lack the sections of durasteel armour that could be used in your first armour, however," I opened the box slowly, "I have something that will ensure all Mando'ade know that you are part of Clan Shan. Plus, it'll help complete the look."

I pushed the box toward him and watched as he observed the box approaching, his hands moving out cautiously to gather it. Once he had it, I released the Force from my command and watched as he slowly opened it fully.

"Is this…" his voice, unmodulated as he'd not engaged the function, cut off as he saw what was inside the box.

"It is," I replied, moving toward him as one of his hands reached into the box. "You haven't completed your verd'goten, and when you do, you're free to compose a personal item to commemorate it. Until then, as your buir and Alor, I permit you the right to wear a cloak crafted from my kill; the greater krayt dragon of Tatooine."

"Wizard!" he said as he lifted the cloak from the box. I'd had this made back on Mandalore, not long after Bo had told me Anakin needed armour. Given the size of the dragon, converting one section into a small cloak for Anakin was a trivial matter – there were still tonnes of material, including meat and pearls, stored in a secured freezer deep in Clan Kryze's estates. Since I lacked the infrastructure to have a Mandalorian estate – or at least the manpower and clan size to secure and protect it – the remains of my kill stayed with Clan Kryze, though I'd finally convinced Adonai to let me pay for the energy and men that guarded the frozen vault.

I moved closer to Anakin and took the cloak from him. He turned rapidly, his excitement flooding into the Force so strongly that I suspect Bo might sense it even though we were thousands of lightyears apart. It only took a moment to secure the cloak, the fact I was attaching it from behind and on someone smaller was the only issue, and once it was secured I tapped his helmet. "There, now turn around so I can see you."

He turned, the cloak shifting in as he did. "Perfect," I said with a wide smile. "You look every bit the young warrior, verd'ika. However, as the HUD will be informing you, your vambraces only have a grappling cable and computer functions installed. That is because, even for an adiik, the choice of weaponry is a personal one. The only restriction I'm placing on you, for now, is limiting you to a single offensive capability. Prove yourself worthy, and I'll allow you to add whatever you want. Now, what sort of weaponry and extras would you like to add to them?"

Anakin looked down at the vambraces, each bearing a small mark on them for Clan Shan. In time, he'd add a personal sigil and, I suspected, replace the Clan Shan one with one for Clan Skywalker. That, however, was for far into the future.

"Um, can I think about it first?"

"That's what I want you to do," I replied. "Now, I want you to spend the next few days wearing the armour whenever you're inside Raven." I didn't want him wandering around Raith's research facility in the armour, otherwise it might concern many of his employees. It was why I was also only wearing part of the armour, with most covered by robes I'd had made from the krayt dragon's hide. Those were darker than normal Jedi robes, but the Council hadn't commented on them when I'd spoken with them on Naboo. Given Dooku's choice to wear far higher quality clothing than most Jedi, it would've felt like targeting if they'd called me out on my choice of fabric for the robes. "You need to grow used to the HUD and how it reacts to the movement of your head and simple commands. Once we leave, I'll want an idea of what you plan for your loadout, and we'll begin purchasing the components on the way to our next destination."

"Okay." He turned and moved toward the door, which had me raising my mechanical arm.

"Anakin," I called out, making him turn just as the recorder in the arm activated.

"Cam!" He whined, not wanting another image or video taken. Just like many youngsters his age.

"Perfect," I said with a wide smile before ending the recording. "On you go," I added, shooing him toward the door. He paused for a moment, and I knew he was glaring. I bit back some laughter at the reversal of the situation of a Padawan glaring up at their Master as I'd done that on multiple occasions with Fay and Dooku, and to be on the other side of it amused me.

Once the door slid shut behind him, I let out the chuckles I'd been holding back. I was going to enjoy being on the other side of that situation over the next few years.

Looking down, I accessed the limb and transferred the various pictures and recordings I'd taken of Anakin while he'd gotten into his armour. Bo would want a copy, which I'd send as soon as we were clear of the Orion System. For security, Raith had all Holonet traffic restricted to only those needed for official SST communications. Once we were clear of that, I'd also send the recordings to Ferox, so he and Lia could see how Anakin was getting on.

Part of me shared Anakin's pain that his mother wouldn't get to see him in the armour, and I hoped that, wherever she was, she approved of my training and plans for her son. War was coming and I'd be damned if he and I weren't ready for it.

… …

… …

I looked around the bay, taking in the various technicians, engineers, and researchers who had worked on Raven over the last month and a bit. "Thank you for this," I said to Raith as we shook hands," though I still think I should at least be covering the cost of the work and materials."

"Nonsense!" Raith replied, waving his free hand dismissively before patting my hand that was shaking his with that hand. "You, your Padawan, and those who travel with you are my guests. You've allowed me to see and experience something few beings in the galaxy can say they've had the pleasure of," his eyes darted past me, toward Raven, who was resting at the far side of the bay with the others already onboard. "Even going so far as to allow me to examine your incredible vessel. Upgrading her and adding some small additions doesn't even come close to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was to study her and get to know a Jedi."

"Along with anything your company develops of the hundreds of scans you took of Raven and her systems," I shot back jovially, smiling to say I didn't mind that he had those scans. The Jedi had them as well, as would a few others, though Raith was the first to dive deeply into Raven and how the biological and mechanical components of her frame came together to form something greater than the sum of the parts.

Raith laughed heartily. "Guilty as charged!" He exclaimed as we stopped shaking hands. "While there's much of Raven's build that I don't yet understand, I'm an engineer at heart and as head of a major corporation, I'm always looking for ways to push the limits of what can be done."

"I'm sure the Reformation doesn't help with that."

"No, it certainly doesn't," he agreed as we turned and began walking toward Raven. "I understand why the changes were needed, but it's been a thousand years, and the galaxy has moved on. Just like you, others including myself find ourselves in a similar position: being restrained by laws that are from a different era."

"You'll get no argument from me, or many others," I remarked. "I do hope that what you've learnt from Raven helps you find ways to expand around that law and others like it."

"Much of Raven's layout cannot be duplicated. Not without speaking to the Sekotan engineers and growers who were responsible for her construction. However, there are avenues of research that I'd have never considered if not for getting the opportunity to examine and observe this wondrous vessel."

"I look forward to seeing the advancements SST make in the future, and if there's ever anything I can help with, please don't hesitate to call." Given his position as the head of one of the biggest corporations in the galaxy, there was little a single Jedi Knight could do to help, but I'd already decided on one way to thank him.

The galactic premiere for Fellowship of the Ring was still about a year away, as the company behind converting the trilogy into holomovies was making all three back-to-back to back to save on costs. But as the creator of the story, and someone who retained a role in overseeing the production – even if that was done remotely – I had a few batches of tickets available to offer to people I was close to. Those for the galactic premiere, which would take place on Coruscant, were limited, but I already knew who would be getting those tickets.

The company behind the production was sparing little expense on the project, and I just hoped that what they were making, and what advice I could give, would ensure that what was created was worthy of the source material. I also wondered how Tolkien would feel about his work being shared with another galaxy, and hoped he approved of my choice to publish his greatest work here.

Because of that, and wanting Anakin to have some fun before we headed to the first Force sect for training – which I had determined would be the Matukai – I planned to swing by Alderaan. The planet in The Core was being used for principal photography as the company had agreed that using real locations – with subtle enhancements added in post-production – was the better choice than shooting it all before an empty screen and adding in everything else digitally. It amused me that, with all the technology in this galaxy, the choice to make movies physically was still the preferred way of doing it, though with the variety of locations available across the Republic, it made sense.

While the first part of the trilogy had finished principal shooting, I figured Anakin would enjoy seeing how a holomovie was made, and it would let me see how things were going in person. I knew the details via Holocalls, but I wanted to speak directly with those on-site, not just because I wanted to ensure the work was being translated properly, but because of the investment I had in the project.

I'd been paid about two hundred million credits for the rights to the trilogy, which was the lowest outright offer I'd received, but had still been enough to ensure my earnings went safely north of a billion credits. What had convinced me to go with this company was that, beyond them putting down in writing that I had a veto on certain matters, I was guaranteed a cut of the revenue taken from across the galaxy. That cut came before the studio paid anyone for their work on the project, or handled the tax requirements on the various worlds where they filmed or had offices based. Based on the figures from Shokvo – who remained my point of contact with the publishing company that handled the Lord of the Rings and was now responsible for getting Knights of the Old Republic out to the masses – the base floor of projections for my take was north of three hundred million, and that was just for the first movie. If the series was a success, then I could earn a billion credits plus from the holomovies, to say nothing of the cut I'd get of any merchandise linked to them.

I was uncertain about going to the premiere, as while I could maintain the public position of being a guest of either Palpatine or Padmé – both of whom had invites and promised to attend – the fact was going meant taking Anakin to Coruscant. That was an issue I wasn't sure how I would handle, as the only obvious choices to avoid him attending the premiere were to place him at the Temple or leave him with Bo on Mandalore.

Neither was appealing as I felt Anakin would be annoyed, if not insulted, that I'd not taken him to the premiere, which meant I'd either have to not attend the premiere or take him with me and bring him to the attention of the Jedi and Banite Sith. The other major issue was that, by returning to Coruscant, if I'd not developed the shields needed to hide my true intentions I'd probably have both Jedi and Banite Sith wanting me captured, though for entirely different reasons.

Compared to the danger of placing Anakin and myself near the Banite Sith, placing Raith near them was a minor risk, one made less so as I'd be shocked if the pair didn't already have some influence and connection to Raith. Damask Holdings was a major investor in several of the subsidiary companies of SST, and because of that I doubted Hego Damask – aka Darth Plagueis – wasn't at least passingly familiar with Raith, and vice versa.

Eventually, the Banite Sith would learn that Raith had helped improve Raven, and would try to worm their way – legally and illegally – into SST records for access to that data. Raith assured me that only those at this research location could access Raven's data and that none could leave the facility with any form of data storage device. I wasn't sure how infallible the security was, but I was glad he was placing insane levels of security around data relating to Raven, though I knew that was simply to prevent corporate espionage rather than keeping me happy.

"If there's ever a situation where I require a Jedi or Mandalorian," Raith replied, drawing my thoughts back to the present, "your name will be the first I consider. Beyond even speaking to the Co-Chancellors," he added with a chuckle as he clapped my shoulder. "I do hope that you'll continue to encourage Anakin's interest in engineering. I know he's destined to become a Jedi," I felt a flash of amusement at that, "but he has a gift for design that has to be nurtured. I've rarely seen such insight from any bar myself," he added with a wide smile.

"I have every intention of supporting him," I said, returning his smile, "Though I'll try and persuade him to not flood the private inbox you provided us with questions he has on a daily basis."

"Ha! Anything he sends, even a simple update of what he's doing, will likely be more appealing than ninety per cent of what I have to endure each day." I nodded, agreeing that the idea of daily corporate meetings and calls didn't sound appealing in any way. "Force, if his insights continue to develop, I suspect the reward for all of us will have several of my board members fainting when they learn the ideas are coming from a child." He looked around conspiratorially, before leaning close and half-whispering. "Between you and me, I wouldn't mind if some of those board members, or their accountants, died of shock at such information."

I chuckled. "As a Jedi, I cannot comment on such opinions, nor do I have to fear such meetings. As a Mandalorian, I'm sure I could suggest methods that would… encourage them to be less restrictive of your time."

Raith laughed heartily. "If I could arrange it now, or persuade you to stay for a few more days, I'd pay whatever you wanted to see that happen. Force, if I could, just for the sight of those people running around in fear, I'd grant you control of one of SST's subsidiaries."

I leaned back, making a face that suggested I'd just eaten a live Ewok. "Thank you but, no. With respect, running a major company sounds even less appealing than entering politics. Something Chancellor Palpatine has continued to gently suggest I should do."

That drew another barking laugh from Raith. "Yes! That would be almost as much fun to watch as granting you one of my companies. Perhaps more so as most of the Senate are nothing more than blood-sucking parasites!" I chuckled in agreement. "Still," he said as we reached the ramp leading into Raven and he extended his hand again, "it's been a pleasure to meet you and your party. Do stay in touch."

"Will do," I replied as we broke the shake, "and I'll make sure he sends you the technical readouts for the various upgrades you've installed in Raven."

"Yes, yes. However, for anything relating to the shields, make sure the message lacks the data. I'll arrange a location for a courier to deliver it personally as you never know who might be listening on the Holonet."

"Of course." I took a step back, moving onto the ramp. "Until we speak again, may the Force be with you, my friend."

Raith chuckled and shook his head. "Never thought I'd see the day a Jedi would consider me a friend." I smiled at that, as while I wouldn't call Raith a friend – nor would the Interface via Observe, it was better to play on the term to ensure he remained friendly. "And given your adventures, I think you'll need the Force with you more than I will." He chuckled again. "Battling krayt dragons, spice-pushing cults, and invasions is something I don't have a need or want to experience."

"A Jedi has many moments of quiet contemplation, but I do seem to find myself in trouble more than most."

Raith waved a finger at me. "Careful now, the universe, or should I say the Force, might hear you and decide you need a new challenge."

"Haran, I hope not. I need to make sure Anakin's trained before my next adventure."

We shared one final laugh, and then I gave him a quick nod before turning and walking up the ramp. "Hey girl," I said, running my organic hand over a section of Raven's flesh, "ready to fly again?"

The section of wall I was stroking pulsed, lights moving in a cornucopia of colours that dazzled me even now, several years after first bonding with her. Through the Force, as dim as I was keeping the connection, I sensed Raven's delight to finally travel the hyperspace lines once more. We'd gone out regularly during our time at this facility, testing the various upgrades – be they hardware or software that Raith's teams had installed, but we'd never left the system. Raven had enjoyed testing out the improvements almost as much as I did, but I knew she desired to feel the exotic matter of hyperspace caressing her skin.

"Soon, lass, soon," I added, giving the section of her frame a gentle pat. Behind me I heard the ramp rising, Raven having activated the systems without me needing to touch the controls. Since taking Natural Selection there were more and more moments when she understood and knew what I wanted done before I'd managed to act on those thoughts. Thankfully, none of the upgrades seemed to have interfered with this, nor her regular behaviour.

Raven still lacked weaponry, as neither Raith nor myself had been comfortable bringing in bioengineers – for differing reasons I suspected – to help with Raven's overhaul. Thankfully, the lack of offensive capabilities, bar the missile racks attached to mechanical sections – two racks under each wing – wasn't a major issue due to what Raith had given Raven.

While shielding for her was a priority alongside weapons, what Raith had provided went above and beyond that. Beyond installing shielding that was equivalent to what would be found on military-grade corvettes, even some light cruisers, it was a type of shield that, from what Raith knew, couldn't exist on any ship at least ten times Raven's mass and with a computing core taking up at least a third of all internal power.

I'd heard the term modular shielding before, just not when mentioned for a ship the size of Raven. The reason for that was because on every other ship that Raith used as an example, and all but a few stations, the transfer of power from one section of the shields to another was handled by teams of technicians. This transfer worked only as fast as the teams did, meaning the shields would remain weak until the commands were sent, and the computer reacted to them.

Raven was unlike any other ship in that she was alive and had a primary core equivalent of the brain of many sentients. That meant she could handle the calculations needed for diverting the power and do so before any crew could. That sounded remarkably useful for any ship, but Raith and Anakin had explained that, because of the tremendous strain such monitoring and adapting to every change in combat situations placed on the computer cores of most starships, it wasn't feasible for anything short of vessels approaching a kilometre long, and such vessels had to devote insane percentages of internal power and crew to managing it.

Only the ultra, ultra-rich could afford vessels with the size and power requirements to make it feasible, and all but a handful didn't as they'd be sacrificing so much internal space with their vessel as to make their living areas feel – for them – cramped. Raven, because her primary core was bioelectrical, could handle the work without it causing anything more than minimal – less than zero-point-five per cent – drop in efficiency. We all considered that drop-off acceptable, and I expected it to decrease as Raven grew used to controlling and powering the shields.

Curious about the system the Scimitar had, I'd brought up the idea of installing a cloak, either one he had on hand, or purchased from the market, but he'd dismissed it. While he did admit to installing such systems on a handful of vessels – which had me wondering about who constructed the Scimitar and if Raith had played a part in the Sith ships' construction – the issue was getting access to the rare and expensive crystals that were needed to power the system. Beyond the base price for such crystals, unless you knew the right people, paid exorbitant extra fees, or attempted to steal the crystals, you could be waiting years if not decades to get enough crystals to power such a system for more than a few months of full use.

He had said he was considering ways to make the technology more accessible and efficient, but he wasn't sure if he'd ever discover a method. Anakin had offered to help, and Raith had provided some data for the boy to examine; however, I was unsure if he'd be able to find a workaround. At least not before he grew bored of the puzzle and shifted to another.

The other upgrades that Raith had installed on Raven were less obvious, and seemingly less impressive, but still improved her dramatically. Her reaction time to commands was still off the charts and had been boosted slightly with the replacement of data cables where they could be replaced, but now her thrusters and sub-light engines produced more thrust for less fuel and in less time granting her a degree of manoeuvrability only surpassed by fighters designed for rapid manoeuvring. Her hyperdrive wasn't touched, as few models could surpass the base 0.7-rated hyperdrive the Sekotans had installed, plus it was fused into her frame such that any attempt to remove it would hurt Raven. Because of our bond, I'd already seen that hyperdrive drop to a 0.5 rating when Raven pushed herself, and I felt that as I grew more comfortable using the Force naturally, and applied that to my bond with Raven, she'd be capable of slightly faster speeds. Regardless, with the upgrades, Raven was capable of dancing around ships half her size, to say nothing of those larger.

"Hey R2," I called out as I passed the engine room, the astromech having adopted the location as his. "Everything looking good?" I had little need for an astromech as Raven's secondary – mechanical – core handled plotting jumps and had a greater memory than the droid. Nor was there as much repair work to do as Raven was predominantly organic. Because of that, the droid had, by his own volition, taken the role of chief engineer, focusing on ensuring the hyperdrive and other engines were working optimally. HK had noted that the astromech that had served with him when with Revan – T3 – had done the same, and it amused both droids and me to see R2 filling that role.

R2 had also had some upgrades installed by Anakin, though only after the droid and Raith had gone over the plans. While his frame was still composed of durasteel, he now had a dedicated blaster installed, replacing one of the various arms that extended from inside his frame. A handful of spare power clips were stored in the frame as well. There was also a small but powerful sonic cannon that, while not capable of outright killing, would disorient any sentient it was fired at. Long enough for the droid to escape, or someone with him to take down the target.

R2 was pleased with the upgrades, just as he was to be serving as an engineer, and he responded to my question with a series of excited beeps and whistles while giving me a mock salute with one of the arms that extended from his frame.

"Excellent," I said, responding to the droid's musical reply. "Just keep an eye on everything, we don't want things going haywire once in hyperspace."

R2 gave a whistle of agreement, and I resumed my walk toward the cockpit, though as I passed through the central communal area, I slowed as I saw Anakin. He was leaning over the main table, engrossed in a datapad while Fenrir was lounging nearby. As usual, the tuk'ata was taking up the entire main couch that encircled the table at the centre of the room, leaving just enough room for the boy to sit there without being crushed.

"Anakin." When he didn't respond I moved closer and looked at the pad. It contained the information of the Z-95 Headhunter, which I knew was a precursor to the X-Wing, and I'd given the design – or at least what I had of the design from my time studying on Fondor – to him. The challenge was to keep the vessel a single-seater fighter but convert it to a more general role while adding hyperdrive capabilities. I was curious to see if he could, unintentionally create something like the X-Wing decades before it was made in the other timeline. While the design had flaws, its overall ability made it a good backbone fighter for a star force. Raith was aware of the project and had offered some advice to Anakin before we'd left, though he wasn't a huge fan of the overall design, feeling it was overly complicated and expensive for a fighter.

"An'ika," I said once closer. However, he failed to respond to that either, and after a chuckle, I moved closer and tapped his shoulder.

"Wh?" He asked, almost leaping from the chair. "C-Cam?"

"Enjoying your work?" I asked, not bothering to hide my amusement at how lost in his studies he'd gotten.

"Yeah." He blinked and looked around. "Am I late for training?"

"No," I replied after chuckling. "Just wanted to check in on you before we took off."

"Oh, ok." With that, he turned back to the pad.

I shook my head, and moved toward Fenrir, scratching him behind an ear. "Make sure he doesn't spend all day on the pad." The tuk'ata snorted, dismissing me and I wondered which would be the first to move - the engrossed boy, or the lazing war beast.

Moving away, I headed down the short passage toward the cockpit. I passed the small alcove that doubled as the access point to Raven's cores. Well, to her mechanical core as the organic brain was located deep in her frame, far from where anyone could reach unless she revealed its location.

As the doors to the cockpit opened, Simvyl turned, looking up at me from the co-pilot's chair. HK was settled, as normal when he wasn't calibrating his weapons, at one of the secondary stations, which now that we had some offensive firepower along with the shields, finally served a purpose. While HK would prefer we had more than a few missile racks for offence, he was impressed by the shielding and was already contemplating if it would be possible to adapt it to his frame.

"How we looking?" I asked Simvyl as I slipped around and into the pilot's chair. As I sunk into the chair, the edges then moving to form a partial shell over my legs and back. That change in the seat was something that had occurred after taking Natural Selection, and may well have been a reaction to her fearing she'd lose me because of how I'd struggled in the immediate aftermath of the change. The partial covering of my legs made the connection to Raven stronger, and the various switches and levers I had to move to power up the engines for pre-flight started activating on their own; Raven knew the patterns and anticipated my actions.

"Everything's in the green," he replied as my hands brushed over sections of Raven's organic shell before grasping the helm. "Power core's fully charged, tanks are fuel, and we're clear to depart when you want."


The slightest pressure on the controls was enough for Raven to shift power to the engines. I could feel the subtle shifts she carried out my orders before they were given, and sense the way the increased power drawn from the core flowed through her systems.

Gently easing back on the controls, Raven lifted, though if not for the viewport, there'd be no way to tell as the movement was silent. Turning her nose toward the hangar entrance, I saw Raith standing in the control tower. Though it was more of an elevated room than a tower, I still referred to it as such.

I gave him a mock salute, one he returned with a wide smile, and a moment later he shifted from view; the canopy of the forest that surrounded this facility took up the view as we eased toward the exit. As the light of the sun kidded Raven's skin, I felt her delight to be in the light again, and free to do what she was born and loved doing.

As we angled upward, I wondered what our time with the Matukai, the first Force sect we were going to study with, would be like. I'd read the files on their world and culture carefully, but I knew you couldn't trust everything you read in an archive. Nor to form a proper opinion until you'd seen and experienced something for real.

The issue with the Matukai, unlike with other Force sects such as the Witches of Dathomir – who, while weren't all dark siders like I'd feared, were very anti-male and as such, unlikely for Anakin and me to visit any time soon – or the Shapers, was that they didn't have a dedicated temple. They were based on Karvoss II, which is where we'd be heading after a stop-over on Alderaan to speak with those involved in the production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of holomovies, and that was the final destination of this leg of our voyages.

From the Celebratus Archive, I'd discovered that they called their equivalent of Jedi Masters Instructors, and they did generally congregate on Karvoss II. Because one Instructor could take on multiple students, and there was no requirement to have a decent Force Potential, I suspected training could be arranged for Simvyl as well as myself and Anakin. The issue was going to be finding an Instructor as the Matukai numbers were estimated at less than five thousand, and even if all of them were on Karvoss II – which I felt was unlikely – the planet had a population of over two billion.

That said, for all the difficulty that was going to go into locating an Instructor and convincing them to train us – I wasn't sure if I'd approach them as Mandalorians or Jedi – they were the logical first sect to study with. The Matukai emphasized using one's Force connection, no matter how trivial, to improve and enhance their body. From what I'd read, even someone with Simvyl's low Force Potential could, with sufficient training, compete against a Jedi for a few minutes. At least so long as the pair were fighting without weapons or other Force powers.

The Matukai training, from what the Archive files had said, placed a focus on training in ways that reminded me of moving meditation – Alchaka – even drawing on combat training for it. That, to me, felt more natural than repeating simple tasks like disassembling and then reassembling a lightsaber, blaster, or another mechanical device.

The Jedi wished for one to release their emotions, specifically any that could lead to darker impulses like fear, anger, and hate, into the Force. The issue for me was that, because of Eidetic Memory, even when I did release my emotions linked to events like the Bando Gora and Vong, the next time I thought about them, the emotions returned in full. That was why I'd learnt to bottle them deep inside, only drawing on them on those rare occasions when I felt I had little to no other choice.

Succumbing to the Dark Side, at least to the point where I lost myself in it, was a major concern that filled my nights – be those when I was sleeping, meditating, or doing other things. I needed to learn some way to live with my memories and the emotions that encircled them, instead of being trapped in the past.

As much as it pained me to admit, Adas was an immense help in learning to, if not deny, ignore, and bottle up those memories and emotions, at least learn to live with them. To accept they were a part of me. There was more he wanted to teach me, but I was reluctant to begin those lessons, fearing that he simply wished to mould me – and by extension Anakin – into what he felt a Sith should be. He wanted a new Sith Empire, or one worthy of succeeding what he'd once ruled, rise: crushing the Jedi, Republic and Banite Sith in the process.

I wouldn't deny that the idea of leading a faction separate from the Republic and CIS held appeal, but I wasn't thinking too hard on the matter currently. The focus would remain on relearning what I'd known before, and discovering new ways to use the Force.

A burst of excitement rushed from Raven as we slipped into the upper ranges of the atmosphere. We'd both undergone changes since Naboo, but now it was time to push further and prepare for what was to come.

… …

… …

A/N: We'll be entering the training arc from the next chapter. That will take five chapters, cover four groups and roughly two years of time. While important to show the (re)training taking place, devoting more than a chapter to each risks becoming too repetitive/boring to read and write.


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