This is how it all ends...
All living beings, from the lowliest bacterium to the progenitor of a thousand civilizations, share a singular passion. War. Struggle. Conflict. This omnipresent need to combat adversity takes more forms than the mind can comprehend, and the vast majority of the time, the crusade is a simple and necessary one; a mother predator hunting for prey to nourish her brood, a pair of insects squabbling for shelter under a leaf in the rain, the eternal quest to find a mate. And yet, for all the glorious abilities that thinking creatures possess, evolved by the great natural cycle to alleviate the burden of endless conflict on their kind, it is they who reap and sow the greatest of wars. Wars that extend beyond their own needs and those of their kinsfolk. Wars that can destroy the world itself.
No organism can escape the universal constant, the universal lust.
As the minds of sentients flourish and grow, and their machines propel them into the stars, these conflicts cannot help but grow. It seems counterintuitive; a galaxy is a vast place, with uncounted worlds overripe with resources suited to ever conceivable need. In such a cosmic paradise, the need for war should diminish into nothingness. And yet, it does not. Perhaps it is because creatures of different worlds can never truly understand and coexist with one another. Perhaps it is because greed flourishes hand in hand with civilization. Perhaps it is because when all their other needs are met, beings cannot help but to turn their attentions back to that immortal passion. But for whatever reason, war remains, and it grows.
There have been a million such conflicts. The Galactic Civil War. The Great Invasion. The Imperial Schism. The Silentium Incursion. The Last Great Purge. The War of Ruination. Names mean nothing, and their meanings vanish with the last breath of the victor as his own world succumbs to the endless fire. But the impact remains, undeniable and ever-lasting. The survivors of each conflict can build over the wreckage, quietly file away the names of the dead, but the damage is there nonetheless, merely out of sight. Each war weakens the Galaxy's fragile hold on life. And at last, its grip has given out.
It is ironic, I suppose, that it is my species which is the last, alone in the dark, the forlorn and forsaken victor in a race that no one, in their naiveté, thought would ever end. My people, who for so long clung to the ancient ways, who for so long denied the stars and the tenuous hold on life that they provided. My people, who watched their homeworld engulfed in the cold vice of utter extinction in that ancient war, so long ago. It was once said that a race without a home lives on borrowed time, and must eventually submit to the call of all who have had their hearts torn from them. Perhaps the saying is true. But we have outlasted all the rest, nonetheless.
No one, not even we, thought there could truly be a finale to the endless cycle of war and reconstruction that for so long sustained us all. The Galaxy had born the weight of its quarrelsome children for such a long time; why would she ever falter? There would always be more planets, and more creatures to people them.
But, alas, no mother's grace is truly infinite. Species became quite adept at seeking out and erasing their foes over even the most petty of squabbles, leaving behind not even the bare shells of their worlds, and in so doing ensuring that no life could take root there ever again. The pace of technology, slowed by millennia of constant analysis and permutation, never truly halted, and eventually it became a force that even the most ancient of creatures could not wield without annihilating themselves in the attempt. Even the most special of the Galaxy's children, granted the very will of reality itself, could not forever hold back the tides of ruination, and in the end, their own efforts corrupted and destroyed them. And when the last of those tragic titans fell, all else faded. It was a slow death, but it could not be denied. A few persisted long after their brethren had passed into the night, hoped to use what little they had left to rebuild what was lost. But there could be no new genesis, no glorious rebirth. Finality awaited them all.
All save one. We persisted. Even now, we do not truly know how we survived what none of the others could. More likely than not, it was that blow to our collective spirit, the loss of our home, that saved us. Broken, we retreated to the fringes of the celestial disk, walking through the dark with no real aim other than to survive and pass on what little we could. The Galaxy continued turning, spiraling into its inevitable conclusion. A few of our brothers returned to the whirlpool from time to time, tried to halt the deathly tide or resurrect what could not be brought back to life, but they all failed and were swept away. But the rest of us lived on, hour to hour, millennium to millennium. And then one day we found that all else was gone, and we were truly alone.
"There is a place," he had said. "There is a place that you, and you alone must travel to. There is something there you must see before we leave this graveyard for the last time."
I could not imagine why, and I told him as much. There was nothing left in the Galaxy. We had searched, desperately at first, for any trace of life, no matter how small or irrelevant. For the first century or so, we could not stomach the prospect of truly being alone. But after that, we came to terms with the simple reality, and the search became little more than a funeral march, solemn pilgrimage after solemn pilgrimage to places that had once been great and meaningful, now shattered and empty shells. Now, the once grand disk served only as a haunting memorial to the inevitable folly of civilization, a reminder so great that it kept our people from destroying themselves as all the others had.
And now that that final objective had been served, we had decided to leave it. No one truly knew what we would do after we broke the galactic coil and plunged into the murky darkness of the universe, but no one really cared, either. A simple fact could not be denied; we had intruded in the land of the dead for too long, and it was time to at last give them peace.
Nevertheless, the old man had persisted. "You may find no life where you must go, but go you must nevertheless. There is a remnant there. A fragment of something that we had all feared was lost forever. But I suspect... I hope now that we were wrong. I do not truly know what you will find there, or what you will see. But I do know that you must."
And so I went. His instructions were vague, merely a set of coordinates, but I recognized them immediately. The Galaxy may have been lost in the dark, but we had not forgotten it.
The world to which I was sent bore many names throughout its long life, and I do not know by which it should be properly called, but none could truly do it justice. This was the cradle of civilization, from which all the glories and all the horrors of the Galaxy's children had sprung. From here, life had spread, and death consumed. It was once likened to a shimmering jewel, glowing with the fires of learning, reason, and order. Now, it was a blackened, broken rock, but no less captivating in its own way.
Caught in its waning gravitational pull, illuminated by the faint light of a dying star, were relics of the final era. Here, at this, the galactic crucible where a thousand wars had begun and ended, the last great conflict had reached its final act. The war was a symptom of all other before it, and the inevitable conclusion to a play that had gone on too long. Strapped of resources, of worlds, of hope itself by the cruelty of previous conquerors, a dozen remnants of long since shattered empires had fought long and hard for no real gain. Though none admitted it, all knew that their time was at an end, and they elected to make it an end so glorious that the Galaxy itself would quake at the ferocity of their dying blows.
It was remarkable that the world survived at all, perhaps a testament to the sheer power that those last combatants possessed. A planet was nothing compared to the might of what uncounted generations had forged for the final apocalyptic dance, and was wholly ignored until the last remaining starship, a victor by simple arithmetic rather than real skill, plummeted into the dead surface and illuminated the burned-out shell one last time.
Maneuvering my simple vessel through the almost limitless cloud of colossal and macabre debris, the only permanent products of that last exchange, I at last came into view of the world itself, hovering at the heart of the endless graveyard, the grandest tomb that any thinking being could have ever imagined. There, on its scarred surface, lay the tattered remnants of a thousand eras, civilizations without number, hordes of conquerors and conquerors turned protectors, each giving way to the next in a bloody and finally terminal cycle. Between blasted, skeletal towers, heaps of nameless wreckage, and kilometers-deep battle wounds lay the corpses of beings beyond count and description, interred from every time, for all time. With them lay buried the knowledge, culture, and history of species and peoples long forgotten by all, even those last few beings left that might appreciate them. This place was history incarnate, in all its timeless grandeur and terrible wrath.
Following the course that had been relayed to me, I guided my ship down, out of the cold vacuum and into the world's exhausted atmosphere, stale and clouded with countless pollutants. Nothing could grow in that fog, and even if something somehow did take root, all too soon what little air that remained would fade away, cast off into the blackness as the ruined hulk wandered wearily around its diminished primary. It was the same on all other worlds that still clung to a paltry mask of livability. Illusions, ready to be swept away by the unstoppable hand of time.
Weaving through a tangle of collapsing, degraded peaks, once perhaps glistening, vital towers of sculpted majesty and unyielding steel, I finally came upon my destination; a deep scar in the metallic landscape, cut by some forgotten weapon in a battle that exists only in the memory of burned rock and gutted metal. As I descended into the yawning abyss, I could not help but look at the chasm wall in amazement. With each passing second, with each darkened level exposed to light for the first time in eons, I traveled back. Back in time, to ages when millions of disparate creatures worked and lived on the surface of the globe. It was truly a marvel to think of how long they were able to coexist, through what conflicts they emerged steadfast. To look upon even the simplest of their constructions was to bear witness to the power of civilization and the will of its people. It would have been inspiring, did I not know of the final fate that had met them all, and that their combined legacy would eventually serve as little more than adornments on a grave marker.
Then again, I was there now, admiring their work millennia after they were all dead and gone. Sorry consolation for a vanquished galaxy, but there nonetheless.
Ascertaining the precise point to which I had been guided, I turned from the wall of memory and settled upon a jagged fragment, jutting into the deep void, no doubt a mighty artificial peak in some long lost day. Pausing to don a protective shroud and ensuring that my breath supply was in proper order, I stooped from the hatch of my modest vessel and slowly, almost reverently laid one foot, and then another, upon the corroded metal shell of the ancient world. As I stepped from the shadow of the conveyance and stared skyward, I was for the first time truly struck by the enormity of the place, and the sheer scale of the labor that went into forging it. The mighty scar through which I had descended was from there a mere sliver, beyond which a dark and tired sky roiled past, uncaring of what lay below.
But now, the grim reality above no longer mattered. I was in the heart of it all, the heart of the planet, the heart of the Galaxy. The heart of all that once was. Before that brief moment of epiphany, I had always regarded the dead realm through viewport windows and on the sterile screens of historical texts, feeling only an abstract curiosity, and perhaps an inkling of wonder. But now, I felt so much more. I felt pride in the seemingly impossible accomplishments of all thinking beings. I felt anger at those who had provoked the wars and had destroyed so many of those wondrous constructs for so little gain. I felt pity for those who had lost loved ones and cherished homelands in all the wars throughout history. Most of all, I felt sorrow. Sorrow that this place had to have died, and that I would have to leave it.
And there it was, my goal. I had seen, and I had gained from it.
I suppose I could have left then, for I had fulfilled the request of the elder, or so I thought, but as I turned back towards my ship, a sudden sensation seized me, quite unlike any I had ever felt before. It was not unpleasant, but there was an urgency to it, and I felt compelled back again, towards that wall of recollection. The jut on which I had set down was enormous and forever battered by a eerie, distant wind, and I was distant from the side of the crevasse, but the sensation propelled me forward nonetheless, over spent pyres of shattered machinery and around perilous sinkholes of worn metal, and soon I found myself with a hand upon the rough and layered wall. I could almost feel the energy that the planet had absorbed over its countless eons of habitation, and only reluctantly allowed to sift silently into space.
Running the hand along cracked, processed stone and disintegrating ceramic, I at last came upon smooth, greenish metal, almost indistinguishable from the surrounding composite, but distinct and solid all the same. Clearing away ancient sediment and rust growth from the edge of the rectangular patch, I found purchase on what might have been a handle once. I launched at the thing, wrenching it in each conceivable direction with earnestness that I could find no apparent cause for, and at last collapsed upon the ground before the plate, exhausted and hands aching. The object remained solid and unmoving. In my frustration, I briefly considered burning the obstruction away with a device kept always on the belt of my simple outfit (we may have long avoided the Galaxy, but we did not deprive ourselves of the technology that it yielded), but immediately discarded the idea. Something, a whisper in the back of my mind, told me to try to handle again with my hands alone.
The notion seemed foolish, for I had already failed once, but in spite of my reservations, I stood up once again and seized hold of the ancient object. I strained as I had never strained before, pulling with my will as much as sheer muscle. Then, almost as easily as if it had always been free, the plate swung wide, a door into a darkened place. Though I was surprised by my own success, the odd sensation intensified, and I pushed forward with little delay, drawing an illuminator to brighten my path.
The passageway I found within was a narrow one, but surprisingly uncluttered and free of wear. It looked as though the place had been untouched and unlit for thousands of years before even the battle that had given the world its final great display. The walls were smooth and cool, adorned only by a soft tan coloration, and the occasional wall panel, which showed the place's true age. Computer displays that hadn't been used for the rise and fall of civilizations stared blankly out at me as I passed, as if silent witnesses a long-expected arrival. As I continued deeper in, the occasional divergent path, sealed by plain doors, appeared to either side, but I ignored them and pressed on. The sensation, whatever it was, lead me forward.
At last, the passage ended, opening onto a small room, circular and nearly as low. Here, the signs of age where more apparent; part of the ceiling had caved in, filling one full side and most of the floor with a thick, grainy dust and compacted, formless rubble. Aside from the intruding shale, the place was quite vacant, save for a low table at the opposite end of the space, nearly submerged in debris. Intrigued, I picked my way over to it, and found a small black box sitting on the top, covered in dust but otherwise intact. Laying down my light source, I carefully picked up the object. It was truly a thing of the distant past, likely ancient even when it was put into use, carved of wood from an extinct tree on a dead world, and fitted with a pair of metal hinges. Seeing no lock, a gently found the seal the bisected the box and raised it up slowly. Lying on a bed of soft, firm foam inside, another box shone in the faint light. It was a tiny thing, barely a quarter of the size of its container and hewn of the purest white, with lattices of silver and blue visible clearly beneath the frame.
With a reverent elation I would not attempt to explain with mere words, I lifted the object from its case and laid it upon the leathery skin of my palm, fingers stretched wide as to not obscure the find. It was inlaid on every side with simple, yet elegant patterns; squares within squares, circles upon sloping triangles, all of them angling towards the upper surface of the artifact. There was no seam I could perceive anywhere on it, and it bore no external control or motion sensor. It seemed to be a fair, well-made trinket, and nothing more, but the sensation remained as strong as ever, seeping into my every thought and consideration. There was more to this thing. I knew there was.
And then, for reasons I still do not fully comprehend, I allowed my eyes to close, and held my burdened palm outstretched. Then I waited. I do not know how long I stood there, for time suddenly seem to come undone, slipping into the void along with the rest of reality, leaving me alone, the small cube in my hand. Then I felt it, growing slowly deep within at first, then erupting forth, consuming my senses in a wave of warmth and exhilaration. My every pore sang out with the newfound energy within me. Hearing, vibration, touch, smell, all of them combined within my mind and then burst out anew, burnished with a glorious and unfamiliar depth of sensation.
When I at last opened my eyes again, the box no longer sat upon my palm; rather, it floated above it, suspended in the air as though I was holding it there with a mere thought. And the object was no longer a simple cube; from its small mass three inward angled spires of white and silver had risen into the air, and between them a column of misty blue light sprang forth with a brilliance that seemed to set the whole room afire with cool flame. From this pillar emerged and sharpened a figure, lanky and draped in a simple robe. Its face was wholly alien, and yet somehow familiar, smooth and well defined. As I looked on in wonder, its eyes opened, scanned the room, and finally settled upon me. It smiled wearily, and opened a mouth, uttering words in a tongue I had never before heard, and yet could understand fully.
"I am Master Luke Skywalker. Within this holocron lies all the knowledge and guidance I have to offer one gifted with the Force, and all that I hope to pass on to future generations of Jedi. Ask of me any questions that you may have, and I shall try to impart to you all that was once imparted to me. I seek only to guide your growth; what you do with the power you possess is up to you and you alone. As an old friend told me once, the Force is a powerful ally, and as another showed me, it can change the future itself."
...and this is how it all begins again.
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.