The Last Jedi

PART ONE

Vaster Than Empires

One

“Sakiyan freighter Far Ranger requesting clearance for departure.”

I-Five’s mimicry of Tuden Sal’s gruff voice was flawless. No one listening—or, more to the point, no vocal analyzer scanning—would know that, in reality, the Sakiyan merchant was sitting in a safe house somewhere in the twilight warren near the Westport, plotting infamy against the Empire. No one, that was, except for the Far Ranger’s crew and her lone passenger.

Jax Pavan, his hands on the Far Ranger’s steering yoke, realized he was holding his breath as he waited for the Westport flight dispatcher to approve their departure plan. He let his tension go with a soft rush of air and ignored the urge to reach out with the Force to give the dispatcher a nudge. It was tempting, but best not to take the chance. Even something as minor as that could alert Darth Vader to their movements … if Vader was, against all odds, still alive.

Jax believed that he was. Even though he hadn’t sensed the Dark Lord’s uniquely powerful indentation in the fabric of the Force lately, it was difficult to conceive of such power, such concentrated evil, being gone, being over, being done. And until he gazed upon Vader’s corpse with his own eyes, until he could reach out and touch him with the tendrils that constituted his own connection with the living Force and sense no reciprocation …

Well, until that came to pass, Jax knew he couldn’t be too careful.

And speaking of erring on the side of caution … was the silence on the comlink just a little too long? Had someone suspicious of the freighter’s relatively new Sakiyan registry connected the ship to Jax Pavan?

Am I overthinking this?

“Far Ranger, your ascent plan is approved. Your departure window is …”

There was a pause, and Jax held his breath again. I-Five glanced at him and let two pearls of luminescence migrate, left to right, along the top outside rims of his photoreceptors—the droid’s equivalent of rolling his eyes.

“Ten standard minutes—on my mark.”

“Aye,” said I-Five.

“Mark.”

“Beginning ascent.” I-Five cut the comlink and turned to Jax. “She’s all yours. And not a single battle cruiser on our tail, that I can see.”

Jax ignored the droid’s sarcasm. His left hand eased forward on the thruster control as his right pulled up and back on the steering yoke. The ship, a modified Corellian Action VI transport, lifted from the spaceport docking bay into the night sky, which, even at this elevation, was a blaze of ambient light. Jax felt the vibration of the ship through the yoke, felt it merge with his desire to be away from Coruscant until it seemed to him that Far Ranger itself yearned above all things to leap into hyperspace before even clearing the atmosphere.

The sky changed. It warmed to twilight, to daybreak, to full day, then cycled back again through dusk and twilight as they soared, finally, into the flat black of space. They saw no stars; the glorious blaze of the city-planet’s night side was enough to drown out even the nearby nebulae of the Core completely.

I-Five sent a last message back to Flight Control in Tuden Sal’s gravelly tones: “Far Ranger away.”

“Aye. Clear skies.”

The droid shut down the comlink and Jax navigated above the orbital plane, adjusted course, and set the autopilot to their first jump coordinates. Then he sat back to clear his head.

He felt a touch—in his mind and on his arm. Laranth. He turned his head to look up at her. She was grinning at him—or at least, she was doing something that was as close to grinning as she was likely