Friday, October 16, 2015

Star Wars Episode I: The Chosen One

This is the first chapter of an upcoming graphic novel taking a more logical and consistent approach to the Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader origin story, with concepts from P. J. Heusinger, who will also be designing and drawing the images for the book. Enjoy!

Chapter One

It was a quiet night, just the way the Jedi Order liked it. In fact, Cole couldnt remember the last time there was a serious disturbance worthy of the attention of one of the greatest Jedi to ever wield a lightsaber. He could hear Master Yodas words echoing in his mind:

Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.

So all was as it should be.

But if he was honest with himself, Cole would have to admit he did crave a little adventure. He craved some excitement. In his weakest moments, he might even say that peace was a little  . . . well . . . boring.

He had told Master Yoda that he was just going out on a routine scouting mission, but the truth is
he had read a Bothan report that there had been some Sith activity out around the Belkadan system. The Council essentially dismissed it as an unsubstantiated rumor, but at this point Cole was ready to use anything as an excuse to get out into space. At the very least it would give him time to think.

Marriage was discouraged among the Jedi Order, in fact there were members of the Council who argued that it should be completely forbidden for Jedi to have families.

If we dont have families, wont there come a day when there arent any more Jedi?

Coles question to the Order echoed the thoughts of many. It was the one question that had prevented the Order from forbidding marriage prior to now. The best, strongest Jedi still tended to be the offspring of other Jedi.

Dangerous, marriage is,Yoda responded every time Cole brought it up. Love can make one weak, lead to the Dark Side. But great strength it can be, too. Proceed with caution, young Skywalker.

And so Cole had married his childhood sweetheart, Miliana, and the two were now expecting a baby.

A son.

Whatever excitement the galaxy was stubbornly refusing to yield, Collo Skywalker knew a baby would provide plenty.

Thats why he needed to get out into space for a while. Miliana was consumed with preparations for the baby, and while Cole was excited, he didnt enjoy going over the same details again and again.

Maybe Jedi shouldnt get married,Cole quipped to his Astromech co-pilot. The little droid whistled a sympathetic note before calling his attention to a blip on the long-range sensors.

I see it R2,acknowledged Cole. Thats what the Bothan report showed, humanoid life form readings on a planet that isnt easily capable of sustaining human life. Yuuzhan Vong beetles are nasty little beasts that could turn an entire planets atmosphere to carbon dioxide if they arent caught in time, and thats exactly what had happened on Belkadan. What was once a pleasant enough forest world was transformed into an oppressively hot greenhouse in relatively short order.

Remind me not to let Anakin have Yuuzhan Vong beetles for pets, R2,Cole said. You know how boys are.

R2-D2 warbled a reply that sounded distinctly sarcastic. R2 had been with Cole most of his life, and he knew very much how boys could be. When Cole requisitioned his prototype StealthX he was told he would have to use an advanced R9 Astromech droid, but he insisted his R2 unit could handle the specialized controls . . .and he had been right.

Did you just roll your eyes at me?!?

Bleep. Bleep. Squawk!

I know, I know. You dont have eyes.

Cole examined the readings pouring out of the scanner, called up a closer view of one area in particular. Biting his lip determinedly, he changed course and pointed the nose of his StealthX towards the surface of Belkadan.

Im just going in for a closer look,Cole explained in response to a questioning (objecting?) series of bleeps from behind him. I doubt theres anyone down there looking out for company, but if there is our thermal dissipaters and gravitic modulator should keep us from attracting any attention.

Another series of plaintive bleeps erupted from behind Coles cockpit.

No, thanks, R2. Id like to keep it on manual control for this detour. Dont worry, at the first sign of trouble well head home. I just want to get a better reading on that life form in sector three.

Skimming the outermost layer of the planets atmosphere, Cole positioned his StealthX above sector three, and the strange readings he detected on the long-range scan. It was the same reading he read about on the Bothans report, and upon closer examination the reading was even stronger . . .and even less ambiguous. There was a humanoid presence down on the surface, perhaps two.

Cole reached out with The Force . . .trying to get a sense of who might be down there. After a few moments, he pointed the nose of his specialized X-Wing straight down while scanning for a clearing large enough to land. Noting the objections from R2, he also did a quick scan of the atmosphere. High concentrations of sulfur and carbon dioxide were still evident, but he should be able to withstand those conditions long enough to be sure what he saw on his scanner and sensed through The Force was true.

The Council would want a full report before approving a mission to confront a new Sith threat, and they might not have that kind of time. Cole understood why such procedures and safeguards were in place, but it could also be frustrating to wait for the ponderous wheels of bureaucracy to turn. He decided it would be better to go ahead and determine the precise nature of the threat at hand before turning the matter over for deliberation and debate.

As his landing skids touched down, Cole gave R2 his standard instructions and donned the automated distress signal designed to alert R2 in the event of an emergency.

If anything happens to me, take the ship back to Coruscant and get help.

R2 objected, which seemed to be his primary function of late, but accepted that his master was going to do what he was going to do despite his objections.

I have a bad feeling about this, too, R2, but we need to know more about this threat before we report back to the Council. The only way to know more is for me to go get a closer look.

With that, he clipped his lightsaber to his belt and headed carefully and quietly out into the deep underbrush and tall, moss-covered trees of Belkadan.

Cole had been careful to set his ship down a good 300 meters from his target so as to avoid attracting attention prematurely. The downside, of course, was that he had to make his way through tangles of vines and thorny bushes while also watching out for local creatures that might fancy a little snack of Jedi flesh or blood. As he neared the location where he sensed the Sith-like presence, a small hive of Yuuzhan Vong beetles attacked and he had to ignite his lightsaber to dispatch them. He hadnt wanted to do that so close to his target, but the whole trip would be for nothing if he didnt even make it to the target.

As Cole deactivated his saber and replaced it on his belt, he heard what sounded like a clapping sound. Moments later a voice interrupted the peaceful forest chorus and confirmed Coles worst fear. He had been discovered.

Nicely done, my old adversary,came the unmistakable voice of Lord Antares. I didnt know the Jedi had stooped to using bugs as training dummies. Youll find our Sith methods are much more sophisticated.

As Antares finished speaking Cole heard the familiar hiss-hum of lightsabers igniting, and while he saw Antares some twenty meters in front of him, it was the other one that concerned him . . .the one he couldnt immediately see.

Allow me to introduce Darth Sidious, my apprentice,said Antares, gesturing behind Cole. The latter turned his head slightly to see what he had already sensed. There was another cloaked figure emerging from the gloom, red blade ignited and glowing. Weve been looking forward to your arrival. It was I, of course, who allowed the Bothans to report our presence here. I knew the Jedi Order would most likely ignore the report, meaning you, their most celebrated champion, would be unable to resist exploring on your own. Didnt Master Yoda give you his standard spiel about Jedi not seeking adventure?

While Antares was talking Cole carefully positioned himself to defend against an attack from either angle, knowing that lightsabers were the least of his worries if Sidious was anything like Antares. Every Sith lord has a unique Force power and Cole was more than prepared for AntaresForce Fire, but what if this Sidious character was far enough to along to have his own?

Im not sure I consider you to be an adventure,’” Cole responded. More like an enigma. Why do you insist on pursuing power for its own sake? Peace and justice will always prevail in the end.

Ahhh, but which form peace and justice will take is always open to the interpretation of those in power. Soon I will be the one who decides what it means to be at peace and what it means to have justice.

Suddenly the air around Cole erupted into flames, appearing to set him and everything around him on fire. While Cole writhed in pain, Antares rushed him, his saber spinning so fast that it looked like a sphere rather than a blade. As he prepared to dissect the apparently helpless Cole, the latter abruptly stopped writhing, leapt to his feet and used his lightsaber to parry the blow from his over-eager opponent.

Cole had been preparing for another encounter with Antares and his Force Fire, and he subconsciously rubbed the scar on his right forearm as he prepared to test his new defense. He had been trained in the ancient Jedi art of Tutaminis during his time at the academy, but anything that isn’t used often tends to rust.

Qui-Gon Jinn had asked Cole to accompany him to Naboo, where the local government, which turned out to be the surface government only, asked for help with an apparent Sith uprising. It was before Naboo was admitted to the Republic, and because the locals tended to keep to themselves the planet was rarely the subject of discussion amongst the Senate or the Jedi Order either one. It turned out that Darth Antares was, indeed, using Naboo as a training ground for his new apprentice, a local of the surface race. The planet had a core made entirely of water, which made it ideal for secretive Sith exercises. It wasn’t until the young apprentice began terrorizing the underwater race of Gungans that Antares moved his training sessions to the surface, where the peace-loving Nubians wasted no time calling for help. Cole and Qui-Gon were able to sneak up on the Sith pair during a training exercise and rough them up, but in the process Antares had scalded Cole’s arm with his Force Lightning. He’d need three days in a bacta tank to repair the damage, and it was a mistake he was not about to repeat.    

Thanks to that experience, Cole knew just how to act to make it look like he was in helpless agony, and his ploy worked perfectly.

Taking advantage of Antaresmomentary confusion, Cole brought his own blue blade down hard, knocking Antares to the ground as his crimson blade flew out of his hand, disengaged and landed harmlessly out of sight.

Seizing the moment, knowing Sidious would soon join the fray, Cole brought his blade down quickly and decisively, separating the stunned and confused Antareshead from his shoulders, perhaps a little too easily. A strange kind of light (was it lightning?) appeared to have enveloped Antares just as he fell, but Cole didnt have time to think about that. Darth Sidious was closing fast.

Curiously, Sidious didnt have his lightsaber drawn, and he seemed to be laughing, which caught Cole off guard.

Youve just done me a great favor, pity I wont be able to return it,said Sidious, smiling.

Youre certainly right about that,returned Cole. Youll be joining your Sith master in hell momentarily.

As he raised his Jedi weapon, however, something shot out of Sidioushands and his body froze, completely unable to move. He fell back helplessly, willing his arm to raise his lightsaber and deflect the attack from Sidious, but his muscles had stopped responding to the signals going out from his brain.

As abruptly as the shooting pain had begun, it stopped, though Cole was still completely unable to move much of anything voluntarily.

So this is how it ends for the greatCollo Skywalker, is it? Antares was right, your overconfidence is your greatest weakness. I do appreciate your assistance in killing him so I can begin my own rise to power, but Im afraid I cant let you stand in my way. It occurred to me to try and recruit you as my own apprentice, but I think your noble sensibilities would prevent you from sharing my vision of universal domination.

Sidious raised his hands in the direction of the sprawled, gasping Skywalker.

Pity,he said with finality.

As Force lightning lit up what was an otherwise dark Belkadan night, the last thing that raced through Cole Skywalkers mind as he clung to his last few moments of consciousness was what would happen to his wife, how she would raise their son without him, and what the future would hold for little Anakin.


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