"All That’s Left" Short Story
That voice–so familiar, despite the years since she last heard it. It sounded impossibly far away, yet close enough that she swiveled her head in search of its owner.
“Sa’har–is that you?”
The voice, its edges rippling with echoes, was louder. Closer. She ran toward the sound, but her feet were heavy… like stone.
“Sa’har! I always knew you would find me. I’m… so happy to see you.”
And there he was.
Sa’har reached a trembling hand toward the brother she had not seen since she was taken to be trained by the Jedi. As her fingers inched closer, she could see her brother’s gaunt face was marred by fear, by hopelessness. Just below, a heavy, rusted chain was tangled around his neck.
But the moment Sa’har’s fingertips brushed the cold metal of his bonds, her vision blurred. A low, pulsing hum grew louder and louder; an unbearable heat washed over her body. She grasped for her brother wildly, with both arms, but he crumbled away, like dirt and ash, at her touch.
Sa’har desperately called her brother’s name as she woke, but the only response was the ceaseless rumbling of a ship’s engine. As her vision cleared, the durasteel ceiling of the ship’s sweltering lower levels slowly came into view. She was drenched in sweat, her limbs twisted in the rough sheet covering her cot.
This was the fifth night in a row she’d had the same dream. Spending every single one of her waking hours meditating, reaching out, hoping to find any clue that could lead to her brother was obviously starting to take its toll.
But this was the first night where she got close enough to touch Ri’kan, and she didn’t like what had happened when she did. Was it a sign? Or was it her own self-doubt creeping its way into even the subconscious parts of her mind?
Sa’har shoved the blanket down to the end of her cot and slid onto the floor, legs crossed and back straight.
The passenger transport she’d snuck aboard was old and in desperate need of upgrades. But the utility room she’d quietly turned into makeshift lodgings was close to the engine, and the steady vibrations of the struggling pistons and turbines made falling into a trance easy. She had barely closed her eyes and begun to concentrate when she was in that place again, somewhere deep in her mind, her consciousness flowing with the Force as she called out to Ri’kan.
“We can still find your brother!”
His voice again. The Sith. Malgus.
Sa’har shook her head and recentered herself, reaching out desperately. If her dreams were a sign of reality, Ri’kan needed her–now.
She felt a sense of comfort wash over her as she remembered some of the first words her master ever said to her…
Knuckles tighten around a red lightsaber. Master Denolm hangs, helplessly, in the air. Malgus snarls in frustration: “Do you know what it is your master just destroyed?”
Sa’har grit her teeth. Malgus’s voice was getting louder. Accusations and angry questions fought to the forefront of her mind: it was Master Denolm’s fault that her brother was in danger. She pushed Malgus’s taunting aside and focused on finding Ri’kan.
“All your life you’ve been in a cage, Padawan.” Malgus easily pulled the holocron from Sa’har’s grasp. She struggled to breathe, to keep the falling stones from crushing the life out of her body. She screamed…
Her eyes snapped open. Her thoughts, her memories of Master Denolm… they were becoming increasingly tainted, corrupted by Malgus’s words. And the more she meditated in search of her brother, the more they jostled and crowded her mind like a noxious gas.
A short distance from her, wrapped tightly in a tattered cloak she stole, the holocron Sa’har found as she slipped away from the ruined temple on Elom began to pulse. The relic was always vibrating with latent energy, but now it was more intense–it was almost singing to her. Did it… know? Could it sense what she wanted?
Sa’har slid over to the other side of her hastily-made quarters and slowly unwrapped the holocron. It was glowing, brighter than before, as if it were answering her question. Malgus said it could be the key to finding Ri’kan… but he couldn’t be trusted. Master Denolm said so. But Master Denolm lied too…
She wasn’t completely clueless when it came to old Force relics like this one. Master Denolm was a historian, after all, and she’d lost count of how many they had dug up together. In her experience, there was always a chance that it could hold something dangerous, but more often than not, it was just information. Nothing more, nothing less. What could be so bad about that?
This holocron was unlike any other she’d ever seen. Its design was beautiful and intricate, but extremely complex. It felt like it could shatter if someone who didn’t know what they were doing tried to handle it.
Sa’har pressed the edges of the holocron with her fingertips and twisted. Something felt like it gave way, but it stayed firmly closed. She applied more pressure, connecting herself to the relic with the Force. She could feel something, a tension, inside the holocron, building, cresting. So she pushed… and the holocron pushed back.
She threw her arms up to shield herself from what felt like a giant crashing wave. The sheer force of it knocked her away from the holocron and onto her back. As she recovered, the holocron’s thrumming pulse was quieter. Its glow dimmed.
Scrambling to her feet, Sa’har fought the urge to scream. She wasn’t completely sure the engine noise would hide it, and she didn’t want anyone poking their nose in. She pulled her foot back, but her attempt to kick the holocron was interrupted by the grumbling of her empty stomach. It had been a very long time since she last ate.
She took a few deep breaths and put her foot back on the floor. She stretched her legs, flexing her ankles and toes. She closed her eyes and tried to sense anyone who might be outside her stowaway’s quarters, but she felt nothing. Everyone else must have gone to bed.
Carefully, Sa’har slid open her door and peered around it into the hall. Darkness, silence. The perfect opportunity to sneak into the galley.
As she crept through the dark corridor and up the stairwell, her stomach protested again, urging her to hurry and satisfy it. She hadn’t been this hungry since she lived on Ossus with Master Denolm in a colony, full of refugees, being built from the ground up. Before they were able to get the farms to produce anything, it was rough. Food was a blessing, and one that had to be shared.
Everyone who lived in that colony learned how to make do with next to nothing. But this… stealing supplies, hijacking a shuttle to get away from Elom, stowing away… this was all new. Then again, a lot of the events of the last few days were uncharted territory for Sa’har.
The galley was as empty as the corridor leading into it. Sa’har stepped into it as quietly and slowly as she could. The room was cast in near complete darkness, except for a light someone had thoughtlessly–helpfully, in Sa’har’s case–left on in one of the pantries.
She was halfway to the pantry door when something clattered to the floor. The sound of metal on metal rang throughout the galley, and Sa’har froze.
A figure appeared in the pantry doorway, outlined by the light inside. She was only a little taller than Sa’har, but older. Her brown hair was cropped at the chin, and she stood on two cybernetic legs.
“Oh, sorry!” the woman smiled. “I hope I didn’t scare you. I didn’t think anyone else would be in here.”
Sa’har couldn’t find the words to respond. The woman’s clothes were plain, unremarkable–but they weren’t those of a mechanic, or a crewmember. She was probably a passenger who wouldn’t know–or care–that she’d just caught a stowaway.
“I guess I’m not the only one who can’t sleep when they’re hungry,” the woman held up a faded, dented can and a saucepan that had clearly seen better days. “I was just going to have some of this garfish stew. I don’t think anyone would mind.” She peered at the can. “I can’t believe they even have it. Want some?”
Sa’har slowly nodded, and the woman pushed the door open wider, the pantry light fully bathing Sa’har’s face and the galley’s preparation area. Sa’har turned and faced away from the woman, willing her pounding heart to slow. She stepped closer to the table nearest the pantry and gently took down two of the chairs that had been placed on its surface.
“Thanks,” the woman said as she poured the stew into the saucepan. “It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”
Soon after, a pungent smell drifted through the galley. Sa’har could smell how spicy the dish was as the woman poured two helpings into bowls and set them on the table.
“I don’t mind eating in silence,” the woman said as she sat across from Sa’har, “but I think dinner is always better with someone else. I’m glad you showed up, uh…”
Sa’har cleared her throat and pulled a bowl toward her. “...Tau. My name is Tau.”
“Nice to meet you, Tau.” The woman collected some of the stew onto her spoon, blew away the steam, and tasted it. “Not bad.”
Sa’har had a bite of her own. It was more than not bad. She wasn’t sure if it was because she hadn’t eaten in days, but it might have been the best thing she’d ever tasted. Silence filled the space between them as she devoured the stew.
“Well, that’s probably the biggest compliment my cooking’s ever gotten.”
Sa’har couldn’t help but smirk. “It’s really great. Thank you, by the way.”
“Happy to help.” The woman took another bite, and as the silence returned, stretching into the darkness, she swirled her spoon in her half-empty bowl. “So… what do you do, Tau?
Sa’har coughed and tried to cover it with another spoonful of stew. “Do?”
“Sorry,” the woman laughed. “When I said ‘dinner is always better with someone else,’ I really meant ‘I hate awkward silences.’”
Sa’har smiled, tight-lipped, desperately hoping it masked her racing thoughts. “I’m, uh… I’m a farmer.”
“Wow! Really?” the woman grinned. “Me too!”
“I mean… I was a farmer.” Sa’har’s spoon scraped across the bottom of her bowl. “I had to leave.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a shame,” the woman furrowed her brows. “Unless, it’s not? You wanted to do something else?”
“I don’t… I don’t know, actually.” Sa’har pushed the now empty bowl to the middle of the table. She could feel the sting of tears, ready to well in her eyes, but she gritted her teeth against them. “My… my father… died. He was the one who taught me everything–about farming.”
The woman’s face fell, pity plainly etched in her expression. Sa’har leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, as if she were raising a shield. “I know he would want me to keep going. Keep doing everything he showed me how to do. But…”
Master Denolm shouts an order over the din of combat. “Destroy this machine and all records of it!”
“But I don’t know if that’s what I want to do anymore,” Sa’har snapped.
“I’m sorry.” The woman had finished her meal, too. Frowning, she pushed her empty bowl next to Sa’har’s. “I’m really sorry. I lost my mom when I was young.”
The woman looked at Sa’har with an openness and an honesty that Sa’har had difficulty recognizing. With how much truth had been hidden from her, for her entire life… the sight of someone so eager to listen and understand was enticing.
“I’m sorry, too.” Sa’har swallowed. “And my father…”
Her brother, alone, violently rips his toy in two. Malgus’s haughty voice echoes in the ruins. “How many were left behind…”
“He had a lot of… secrets. That I’m only just now finding out about. They make me wonder if I ever really knew him. If I should have listened to him. If he set me on the right path…”
“That’s… that’s really tough.” There was a tremble in the woman’s voice. “Believe it or not, I know what that’s like, too. To have a father who hides things from you, even though he thinks what he’s doing is for your own good.”
Sa’har felt a twinge in her chest. “What… how did you deal with it? All of that, I mean.”
“Well… it didn’t happen right away. There was always something, like a shadow, in the back of my mind. Even after I talked to him about it and got the answers I needed. That shadow always made me ask why he wasn’t around. Why wasn’t I good enough to get him to stay?”
Master Denolm’s hand reached toward her. Sa’har stepped back. “You could have saved my brother.”
The woman stood up and grabbed the two empty dishes. “It took me a long time to realize that the choices my father made had nothing to do with me,” she said as she carried the bowls to the food preparation area. “Even though he swore that he was only off running spice and blasters because he needed the credits for me.”
Master Denolm’s face fell. “I’ve only ever protected you!”
She placed the bowls in the empty dish basin and turned back toward Sa’har. “Eventually, it hit me. Loving my father didn’t mean he was perfect. No one can be, no matter how important they are to you.”
“You must trust me!” Master Denolm’s voice cracked, desperate to get Sa’har to see reason.
The woman moved back to the table. “Once I figured that out, the other pieces fell into place. My father is only human–he handled misfortune and hardship the way he thought was best. He made choices he thought were right. Even though I don’t agree with him, I know I can give him enough grace to understand that.”
Sa’har pushed out the words, her voice thick with anguish and disbelief. “Was I chosen by the Force…”
The woman sat down across from Sa’har again. “But that’s all I can give him. Love, and forgiveness for the past. Beyond that, all that’s left is for me. My time and my focus go to what I want to do. Who I want to be.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman let out a clipped laugh. “I really didn’t mean to give you a lecture or anything…” She smiled. “But it is nice to have someone listen.”
“I know,” Sa’har replied, barely above a whisper. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. Now that the comfort of the warm meal was gone, she was intensely aware of the cold that began to creep across her skin.
“Thank you,” Sa’har said as she got to her feet, the legs of her chair skidding across the galley’s metal floor. “For the food.”
Before the woman could answer, Sa’har turned and marched toward the galley door.
“Oh… thank you for the company!” Sa’har could hear the woman’s voice fading behind her. “See you around, Tau–”
As soon as she was enveloped in the shadows of the corridor, she walked faster, back toward her cramped room. The garfish stew suddenly felt like a heavy stone inside of her. Her breath came quick and short, like she couldn’t get enough air at all. Like she was back on Elom, trapped in the ruined temple…
Back in her room, Sa’har waved her arm, slamming the door shut with the Force as she collapsed onto the edge of her cot. Doubled over, she clutched the sides of her head, the woman’s words replaying in her mind.
“All that’s left is for me. What I want to do. Who I want to be.”
Sa’har felt more lost, more adrift than ever. Being Master Denolm’s Padawan was all she knew how to be. He was gone… what was left?
Through the pulsing hum of the transport’s engines, a smaller, more delicate sound seeped into the air. Sa’har looked to the holocron, sitting a short distance away. It trilled quietly, again, and again. Its faint blue glow had returned.
Sa’har picked the holocron up from where she’d dropped it. The relic settled, easily, into her grasp.
Malgus sneers. “Do you know what it is that your master just destroyed?”
This time, as Sa’har worked against the holocron, it felt less resistant, more pliant. It wanted her to see, to understand.
“It’s not too late! We can still find your brother.”
Ri’kan. Master Denolm made the wrong choice when he refused to take him. And he never told her about Ri’kan’s abilities–another wrong decision made under the pretense of protecting Sa’har.
Gears clicked into place. Metal and crystal slid away. The light shining from inside the holocron, almost blinding now, projected designs, patterns, as elaborate and perplexing as the markings on the outside of the relic, on the durasteel walls.
Sa’har’s eyes widened as she scanned the spreading illustrations. In all the times she helped Master Denolm with his research, she had never seen anything like this. The only thing that came close were the tattered remains of text they found in the ruined Jedi library they explored together on Ossus.
The memories of her dead master’s teachings came flooding back. As she started to recognize and piece together what she was seeing, a tear, blistering against her skin, slid down her face. She felt hot, from the inside, like she would burst into flames at any moment.
She couldn’t be completely sure, but she could see enough to know that the plans in this holocron were different. Whatever the machine on Elom had been, this was… something else. Something more. This device wasn’t meant to just find forgotten souls, as Malgus suggested the machine Master Denolm had destroyed might do. It was meant to speak to them–to ignite, like kindling, something inside them.
A loud bang startled Sa’har as the holocron hit the floor. The blue glowing plans were all gone, the relic was silent and dark at her feet.
Despite all his power, all his knowledge, Master Denolm was still human. He knew what this machine could do, what could happen if she tried to use it…and he did what he thought was best.
“Sa’har,” Master Denolm’s eyes were wide open, looking straight into hers.
She could give him forgiveness. Understanding. Beyond that, all that was left was for Sa’har. Who she wanted to be, and what she wanted to do.
She couldn’t remember the last time Master Denolm had held her gaze so earnestly. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” Sa’har whispered. The transport’s engines hummed in response. “It’s okay. But I have to do this.”
Cradled by the sound of the steadily pulsing ship, Sa’har sank to the floor. She closed her eyes, pulled her knees to her chest, and listened.
Sa’har’s eyes opened, and the ship was gone. A younger Master Denolm sat across from her, on the floor of the orphanage where her life began. Ri’kan was by her side, bouncing excitedly, grinning, eager to impress the Jedi who’d come to see them.
Master Denolm smiled as he extended his hand, offering a simple toy. “Trust yourself.” He offered, kindly. “You can do this. It may be difficult, but it is not impossible.”
Sa’har reached both hands toward the toy, and before she could pull it to herself, recreate what had happened so long ago, she was somewhere else. A well-made, but cramped, shuttle–the kind the less affluent Republic senators favored–speeding through hyperspace. She used to see them on the occasions Master Denolm took her to Coruscant, the world that they–and the rest of the last remaining Jedi–were fleeing.
“This isn’t over, Sa’har.” Master Denolm’s voice was strained as he wrapped his cloak around her shoulders. She was still shaking from their clash with the brutal invaders who were tearing their way through the Republic. “Suffering like this cannot last forever, and we must be ready to pick up the pieces when it ends.”
She looked up at his determined face, now silhouetted by the blazing Ossus sun, high in the sky behind him. The soil beneath her knees was dry, cracking. The evidence of her failure to grow a patch of barabel fruit surrounded them.
Master Denolm extended his hand and helped Sa’har to her feet. “The Force chose you. I… chose you. I know how much you are capable of, even if you do not see it yet.” He turned and walked away, and Sa’har followed. In a few paces, the Ossus desert gave way to an icy wasteland. She was following him toward the entrance of the temple ruins on Elom.
Master Denolm stopped, his gaze rising to the top of the ruins. Sa’har stood at his side. She could sense his fear, the inner struggle to convince himself he was doing the right thing, and strongest of all, his efforts to push all the hesitation away.
“But moments will come, when doubts are darkest, when I won’t be there to tell you.” Master Denolm turned to her. “You will have to tell yourself, to choose yourself–and you will need to believe it.”
And then he was gone. Elom was gone. Sa’har was alone. All around her, nothing but a dusty, lifeless desolation. But in the distance, she could see a dark figure, no bigger than a pinprick, on the horizon. She walked forward, and the dark figure grew as they approached each other.
She could see him clearly now. Right in front of her. He was older, different, but she would recognize her brother anywhere. He looked like a fighter, strong and powerful. Around his neck were the chains Sa’har saw in her nightmares, but they were broken, unbound by anything. He smiled at her and extended both his hands. When she reached out to clasp them, there was a knife cradled in his palms.
“When you are ready, break free.” Darkness closes in…
She opened her eyes, but the darkness was still there. The heat and the noise told her she was still on the floor of her space on the transport. The holocron was lit by a soft glow again, dim, but steady. The overwhelming, suffocating defeat she’d felt since she escaped Elom was gone… instead, she could feel a pull in the Force, a bond connecting her to her brother, a compass guiding Sa’har to Ri’kan.
Sa’har stood, grabbed the tattered cloak she’d been hiding the holocron in, and draped the cloth over the relic. She bundled it up and stashed it with her few other belongings so she could snatch them up and run as soon as the transport reached its destination, in a few days’ time.
When they arrived, she’d have to sneak aboard a new ship, but this time, she knew where she was heading. This time, she knew what she needed to do, and who she needed to be: a warrior, a liberator, a friend… a sister.
Sa’har lay back on her cot and willed herself to calm down–she would need plenty of rest for the fight ahead. As she relaxed the tension in her muscles, her mind drifted. She thought of Ri’kan, of Master Denolm, of the woman in the galley. Before long her mind eased into sleep, content in knowing that for the first time in a long while, nightmares wouldn’t come.