Star Wars: KnightFall Prologue As they had been for weeks now, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s nightmare that jolted him awake this night was elusive in nature. The vision had come to him again, but with his eyes as wide open as they were now, or closed in one of the rare meditation trances he came across sparingly in the recent hectic months of the Clone Wars, he could not decipher its meaning In the nightmare, he saw flashes of red light tinged with the feelings of anguish of a thousand different worlds, but never could he arrange the fleeting shadows into a single image. For no longer was he simply a Jedi Knight, but now a general of the Republic Navy, urged into service by Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, who saw in Kenobi the kind of tactical brilliance and level-headedness that could convince the Senate that the war could be fought by great minds, and not by overwhelming numbers of starships and cloned troopers that Chancellor Palpatine advocated so fervently. Palpatine ... the man was an unreadable enigma to Obi-Wan. The Supreme Chancellor had risen to power in the wake of accusations that had beset his predecessor, Chancellor Valorum, a friend to Obi-Wan’s master in those days, Qui-Gon Jinn. At the time that Palpatine had replaced Valorum,now a dozen years ago, the changing of power on Coruscant had not so much as generated a ripple in Obi-Wan’s world. It happened just after his first true mission as a Jedi, rescuing Queen Amidala from her besieged homeworld, and watching Qui-Gon match lightsabers for the first time with the Sith warrior who had tracked them to Tatooine. It had taken Qui-Gon’s death at the hands of the dark warrior in the Theed City Power Generator on Naboo to open the Jedi Council’s eyes to the fact that the Sith were not extinct. But in the 10 years that followed, the Council could find no connection between the Sith who had murdered his master and nearly claimed Obi-Wan’s life as well that day. Now the Republic battled the second Sith, former Jedi Master Count Dooku, who had renamed himself Darth Tyrannus, and whose army of clone troopers and battle droids had slaughted dozens of Jedi Knights and more than half the Jedi Council two years previous at Geonosis. Obi-Wan noted the chronometer at his bedside and realized that his flagship, Benediction, would reach Coruscant within hours. There he would report to Palpatine, Masters Yoda and Windu and the military strategists who had been searching for weeks to strike the final blow to Tyranus’ forces, closing the bloody Clone Wars once and for all. Chapter One : Reunion Long before he could see the broad-shouldered younger man, Obi-Wan Kenobi could feel Anakin Skywalker through the Force as he walked toward the Jedi Temple. There was tension there, no doubt, as well as excitement, both to see his master and learn of news from the forefront of the war. Anakin had stayed behind when Obi-Wan left to renew the fight against Tyrannus, ostensibly to heal his psyche and his right arm after he and Obi-Wan’s near-fatal battle with the Sith, but Kenobi knew the true reason behind Anakin’s sudden lack of interest in fighting. The reason was two-fold, one forced and one secretive, neither to Obi-Wan’s liking. After hearing how Anakin had lashed out, both at Dooku and at himself during their duel on Genosois, the Jedi Council had decreed Skywalker dangerous and wished to keep him out of action. The death of his mother Shmi just days before the Battle of Genosois had damaged Anakin’s sense of the world and he had responded with anger. The second reason that Anakin stayed on Coruscant was known to just a handful of people .. he had broken the Jedi Code by marrying Senator Amidala, the former Queen of Naboo . Although maintaining separate residences, Anakin spent most of his time with the young senator, though Obi-Wan had heard rumors that the Supreme Chancellor had been seen walking the Palace walls with Skywalker at times, perhaps Palpatine was looking for a future ally on the Council? Tyrannus’ forces had been pushed back across two sectors in the last month, and Obi-Wan needed insight as to how the Sith Lord and his Trade Federation allies were continuing to fund their outpouring of ships, clones and droids. Bureaucratic nonsense was a difficult read for even the most powerful of the Jedi, and Obi-Wan hoped the Chancellor’s people could shed some light on this mystery. Obi-Wan and Anakin had not parted on the best of terms, as the Master had urged his apprentice to eradicate his dark-side tendencies in this time away from duty, while Anakin seemed content to spend all his time with his new bride, and very little seeking the advice of the four Masters who remained after the slaughter at Genosois. Anakin was not just smiling, but beaming as Obi-Wan approached him and clasped his hand. Only moments of pleasantries later, Anakin launched into his news, “Intelligence has found the factory of cloning technology where Tyrannus has holed up in hopes of rebuilding his army,” Skywalker gushed. “Chancellor Palpatine wants to send a Jedi strike force to eliminate him, and he wants me to lead it!” Obi-Wan halted in mid-stride and turned to his former Padawan. “You?” Kenobi asked, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. “Why, you?” Anakin’s scowl, all-too-prevalent during lessons he didn’t understand right off the bat during his training, flashed to the forefront of his features. “I should have known you’d be jealous,” Skywalker nearly spit at his Master. “You don’t have to be a general to lead.” Obi-Wan took a half step back, trying to placate Anakin’s anger. “That’s not what I meant at all Anakin, it’s just that you have not fought in this war in more than a year ... and the last time you faced Tyrannus, you were nearly lost.” Both men looked unconciously at Anakin’s now mechanical covered with syn-flesh right forearm, where Tyranus’ red blade had caught him near the end of their duel. Anakin flexed the arm and said, “I’ve been training at the Temple every day. Master Windu said I’m the best swordsman there now. The Chancellor said the Republic needs a young hero to look up to to keep the spirits of the war effort going.” “I didn’t realize this war had become so commercial,” Obi-Wan scoffed, but he did see the logic in the move. Anakin’s rise from slave boy to Jedi Knight had been well-publicized two years ago when he helped turn the tide at Genosois before both he and Obi-Wan had to be saved by Master Yoda’s arrival. Anakin took the admission as a sure sign of victory, and added, “I would ask you to join me on the task force, Master.” Obi-Wan smiled as best he could at his over-eager apprentice, “I’ll definitely consider it, Anakin.” Chapter Two: Council “You cannot be serious!” Mace Windu’s eruption rang off the walls of Chancellor Palpatine’s inner office and jarred the sensibilites of Palpatine’s chief administrative Kaj Defino who had apparently been nearly dozing off his in his chair while the Republic’s supreme force commander Admiral Tarkin asked for questions regarding his plan to attack Tyranus’ stronghold planet of Ponscii, recently discovered by a wayward trade ship on its way around a supernova near Ord Mantell. Palpatine and Tarkin traded a glance and the Supreme Chancellor cut his eyes at the gaunt, younger military man. Palpatine swiveled on his large, high-backed chair toward the dark-skinned Jedi Master. “A concern, Master Windu?” Windu met Palpatine’s nonchalant look with rage beneath his solem expression. “This is your master plan, Chancellor? Piling the most powerful of our kind onto a small transport where a single stray turbolaser might allow Tyranus to wipe out the rest of our Council? Have you gone mad?” This time, Tarkin did speak up, before Palpatine could glaze another honey-coated comment toward the present Jedi masters -- Windu, diminutive Yoda, the fearsome Plo Koon and the always-thoughtful Ki Adi Mundi. “It is precisely the sort of plan that will work against our opponent, “ Tarkin said with conviction. “If a fleet of clone troopers and Jedi fighters breaks hyperspace anywhere near Ponscii, do you think for a moment that Tyrannus will not flee immediately? An opponent of his caliber must be outthought, not outgunned.” Anakin Skywalker spoke up for the first time in the 90 minutes the meeting had transpired, a miracle for those who knew his hot-headed way with words. “Admiral Tarkin is exactly right. Tyrannus has confounded us thus far because he knows how we think and what strategies we will employ. He knows us too well because he once was one of us. If we do the unexpected, we can defeat him.” Yoda smiled gently at the bold statement Skywalker made, “So certain are you, young one? So knowledgable of the Force and its eddies and whirlpools at such a young age? Will you never learn from your mistakes?” Anakin cringed at the harshness of Yoda’s words, partially because he was surrounded by men he hoped would or did respect him, partially because he had heard the same questions asked in his own mind when he took the time to meditate on the Force. “I’ve not shied away from my errors, Master,” he said slowly, “But I cannot sit here and debate while others fall and die in the face of a Sith who can only be defeated by Jedi Knights. We all know that this is the Jedis’ fight, and we must strike now, while we still have the upper hand!” From his seat near Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi took a deep breath and sighed as he met his apprentice’s heated glance. “For all your potential Anakin, for all you good will, you still have not learned your role as a protector. I fear this course of action will be your undoing. Confronting Tyrannus again with such huge stakes can only be bad for your relationship with the Force.” Palpatine interrupted the personal debate with another sweeping gesture toward the Jedi. “Might I remind you all that the Jedi Council agreed to take part in any approved military action as support for our troops. I believe this falls into that category so while your concerns are dually noted, they are overruled by the senatorial committe of wartime activities.” “Not quite, Chancellor, I for one object whole-heartedly,” came a new voice from the room’s doorway. Sen. Bail Organa stood there, with his aide, a determined look on his face. “So good of you to join us, Senator Organa,” Palpatine demurred in the newcomer’s direction. “I was afraid my message might not reach you in time.” “You know damn well that message was delayed, Palpatine, just as several others have been when crucial votes have been taken. I cannot believe this battle plan has made it as far as the High Council, it’s foolish, you’re sending our most powerful weapon straight into the enemy’s clutches!” “Ever the dramatist, Bail,” Palpatine shot back, “But your lone vote isn’t enough I’m afraid, Governor Defino has cast his vote for the battle plan, as have I, late as you may be, you are not in time to defeat us.” With Organa silenced, Palpatine turned back to the Jedi, to note that Yoda and Windu had been deep in discussion the entire time. “The plan will proceed accordingly as drawn up by Admiral Tarkin then, you of course, will be given the opportunity to handpick your selections of a strike force, but we would like Jedi Skywalker in place as the commander, it will look very good for the public to see a bright young hero for a change.” Yoda focused his eyes on Palpatine and it was the Chancellor who broke gazes first this time. “Ill-conceived and hurried this course of action is. Proceed it may, but without my assistance,” the diminutive Master stood and turned his back on the Chancellor and his bureaucrats. A stunned Palpatine flitted his gaze to Windu, who had stood up as well. “We both resign effective immediately from the Jedi Council. We will not be a part of this potential slaughter so you might look good for your political relationships.” Ki Adi Mundi took a long glance at the disenfranchised pair, then nodded to Palpatine. “The Chancellor has my support, but only until the Dark Lord is unseated, then I will ask for full reinstatement of Masters Windu and Yoda.” Koon moved beside Adi Mundi without making a sound. The large alien with the breath mask was a warrior, perhaps the finest in pure combat among all Jedi. The opportunity to speak throught his lightsaber was again close at hand, and he would seize it. Anakin was already standing near Palpatine’s chair as Windu and Yoda distanced themselves, and it was he who now stared at Obi-Wan Kenobi as the bearded man sat with a blank stare, seemingly gazing through the wall as if searching the outside world for the answers he sought. Palpatine broke the silence. “Well, Master Kenobi? You are either with us or you are against us.” For a long moment, Obi-Wan remained silent, and although his words were addressed at Palpatine, his eyes locked with those of Anakin again. “I am with the Force. And my path will not find its way with yours, perhaps not ever again.” With that, Obi-Wan fell into line behind his two most cherished teachers, and they filed wordlessly out of the Chancellor’s chambers. It surprised no one there, when Bail Organa, still standing by the doorway, followed them out. Chapter 3: Division Anakin trembled as he watched Master Kenobi leave the chamber -- for all their differences he had been certain that Obi-Wan would be swayed to his side when the time was right. That he would see that Yoda and Mace Windu were too set in their ways to understand that war had changed, politics had changed, and that the Jedi had to change with them. If Chancellor Palpatine was aware of Anakin’s misgivings of the heated confrontation, he kept his feelings to himself as he murmured words of support and flattery to Master Adi Mundi and Koon. “Thank you so much for your support, Master Jedi,” Palpatine said to the two seated aliens sitting across from Anakin. “You will not regret choosing the right side.” Koon’s deep voice rumbled through the mask that both allowed him to breath in oxygen-rich environments and translated his speech into passable Basic. “There are no sides between the Jedi, Chancellor,” Koon intoned. “Different interpretations of the Force yes, but the Council shall endure this too.” “Of course it will, Master Jedi, of course it will.” ...................... Bail Organa found the Jedi trio waiting him at the end of the hallway, taking the lift. All three had looks of concern for the Alderaanian prince as he strode down the hallway to join them. Obi-Wan spoke first. “Your sympathy for our cause is admirable, Bail, but make no mistake , you are now in harm’s way. We have the Force to look out for our safety, but I fear making enemies with the Chancellor may shorten your stay in this world.” All four present acknowledged Obi-Wan’s thinly-veiled reference to the occasional mysterious lapses of mind of senators who at the time had been key to opposing plans of Palpatine’s majority. It had happened to a Mon Calamari senator six months ago during Palpatine’s push for a larger class of Destroyer frigate to take the fight to Tyrannus. The senator, Adoba, had missed a key debate with then-General Tarkin that was to be broadcast visa holonet throughout the Core Worlds, and had been seen as the Republic’s best chance to avoid another step toward total militarization. Adoba had simply disappeared several hours before the debate and in a mad scramble, Bail Organa had taken his place, only to be humiliated in the minds of most viewers as Tarkin attacked his pacifistic ideals as being outdated and naive. Almost a standard week after the debate, Adoba had been found in his personal shuttle drifting aimlessly near Corellia. Logs showed he himself had launched the shuttle and cameras inside the vessel portrayed him as being in complete command of himself and the ship, but when recovered he had no knowledege of how he had gotten where he was or any of the events of the past eight days. Intense probing from Master Windu had brought forth no conclusive evidence that Adoba had had his mind altered in any way, but it was most puzzling. Obi Wan prided himself on knowing the ongoings of a host of criminal sectors of the galaxy, and his contacts had never heard of any sort of elixir or drug that could make one appear totally normal while doing abnormal things, then forget them all upon completion. While he had never voiced his fears to anyone beyond Master Yoda, Obi-Wan thought it sounded like the work of a Force wielder, but no Jedi would have been an accomplice to mind-manipulation. Even Anakin, who had sided with Palpatine’s causes frequently over the last two years, would not have attempted the feat. Skywalker’s view of the world as good versus evil would never have allowed the subtly involved to rationalize such an act for a political gain. Adoba’s case was the one that stuck out most in Obi-Wan’s mind, but as he thought back there had been other senators and politicians who had been vehemently opposed to plans that sought to isolate more and more power in the central Republican government and further arm the Core against Tyrannus. In close votes, the count always seem to go Palpatine’s way, and having the clearance to examine voting records, Obi-Wan and others had been surprised to find some of the most strongly-opposed voting just the opposite when the day came. Master Windu had been gentle but certain in dealing with Obi-Wan’s questioning that politics were far more about looking good than doing good. A senator’s people might not remember his vote on every issue, but if he stood before the SenCam and bellowed about restoring power to the people, he was certain to be re-elected. This truth frustrated Obi-Wan, especially when he considered Palpatine’s bold claim to wipe out corruption in the Senate when he had taken over as Supreme Chancellor a dozen years ago. Obi-Wan had spent most of those first 10 years of Palpatine’s rule on Coruscant, teaching Anakin in the ways of the Force to honor his promise to Master Jinn. From the get-go, Palpatine had been aggressive, ousting those senators, who despite long records or positions of power on their respective worlds, had been deemed corrupt, building themselves up to minor despots on Coruscant and forgetting all about the systems they had sworn to represent. The more he thought about it, the more Obi-Wan realized he knew very little about the political goings-on, except what he watched on the Holonet. His life had been consumed with being a Jedi and gaining mastery of the Force, first to become a Knight, then a Master, then to bring help to those who needed it as the Clone Wars raged on. Bail Organa was solemn but determined as he addressed the three Masters. “Being a pacifist doesn’t mean I cannot defend myself, Obi-Wan. Although I will take leave of you to return to Alderaan. I fear my government will need a show of solidarity to rebuke Palpatine if the rumors of his desire to plunder our natural resources for war materials proves true.” He clasped hands with Mace Windu and bowed deeply to the diminutive Yoda, who bowed in return. Organa clasped hands with Obi-Wan. “Tell me when you will take leave so I might escort you,” Obi-Wan said. “I trust your security, but not that of the Chancellor.” As the four prepared to exit the Senate Building, they were blocked by two red-cloaked guards, who blocked the way with their force pikes. So lost in thought of the war-torn environment he had just left, Obi-Wan’s hand went naturally to his lightsaber, but Windu casually patted it down. The Republican elite guard on the left said, “Gentlemen, as you have resigned from your official duties, I must ask you to turn over any official Republic credentials, security cards or badges of authority you may have on your persons at this time.” Organa slipped a thin metallic disc from his shirt pocket and handed it pointedly to the officer, who tucked it away inside a deep, unseen pocket. The other officer took a step forward toward Windu and dared to demand, “I would search your person, sir.” Windu pulled his Jedi robe aside, showing he had no possessions save his lightsaber, appearing wicked and lethal even without the blade lit. Windu leaned in close to the guard, his dark brown eyes penetrating the trooper’s blackened visor. “This is my only identity, trooper. You would do well to hope you never see it up close again.” The trooper, for all his military training, took a stumbling, involuntary step backwards, with his pike momentarily stopping traffic in the building’s lobby as it clattered loudly on the Mervonian tile floor. The other trooper had been moving toward Obi-Wan, but stopped and stepped aside with his head bowed, as the three Jedi and lone Alderaanian passed out of the building for the last time in their lives. Chapter Four: Memories Two weeks later, and for the the third time in as many nights, Obi-Wan Kenobi awoke bathed in sweat, brushing away the tendrils of another nightmare tinged in red. Again, the nature of the fear was quick to elude him, as were the details of this nightscape. Try as he might to reconstruct the images in his mind via the Force, all he could sense was the foreboding of something overlooked coming back to him, and the strange red light that burned inside his eyes each time he closed them. When the dreams had initially started some three months ago, Obi-Wan accounted them to the stress of his generalship and the preknowledge that he sent men, clones or not, to their deaths each and every day. The red tinges in the dream he felt certain were a leftover trigger of guilt from the death of Qui-Gon in the Theed reactor core ar the hands of the Sith whose name neither Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray or his assistant Rune Haako had been able to conjure up under intense interrogations. Although Obi-Wan never felt either Nimoudian was lying, he always sensed that the blue-skinned aliens had once known the Sith’s name, and had somehow forgotten it. He himself would never forget the Sith’s eyes, his bizarre tattooed body or the look of manical glee he let loose when he bore his double-bladed lightsaber through Qui-Gonn’s chest. Obi-Wan had originally thought the red tinges in his nightmares stemmed from the Sith’s lightsaber, or perhaps the energy walls that had kept Obi-Wan from aiding his master before it was too late. For a long year after the death of Master Jinn, Obi-Wan had replayed those last few moments of his Master’s life in his head while he was both awake and asleep. Over and over, Obi-Wan saw himself knocked off the platform by a vicious black-booted kick from the Sith, that had separated him from his Master, and with Qui-Gon’s endurance at an end, had given the Sith the opening to strike down the greatest man Obi-Wan had ever known. His remorse and guilt for Qui-Gon’s death plagued him as he tried to teach Anakin and help the Jedi Council unravel the mysteries of the Sith’s re-emergence, as well as explaining the Trade Federation’s involvement, especially given Haako and Gunray’s bizarrely selective memories. Despite words of advice from his former and present teachers and colleagues, Obi-Wan had never fully forgiven himself for allowing his Master to die. It had been Anakin of all people, just after his 10th birthday, who had suddenly unlocked Obi-Wan from the invisible chains that had kept his life in stasis for a year’s time. For the boy’s birthday, and to celebrate his passing the first of several trials Obi-Wan would lay out for him over the next 15 years, Anakin’s Master had taken him out of the Temple to a restaruant for a special meal, something most Jedi rarely did and Padawans were never allowed to join in. As they munched on a host of spicy foods selected by Anakin from the serving computer at the door, they had both caught sight of a video monitor touting news from the Outer Rim that had included the latest pod racing results from Tatooine, Anakin’s home world. The boy had squealed with delight, seeing the Mos Espa Arena fill the screen, and Obi-Wan had felt justified in using a tendril of the Force to usher a mobile video droid closer to their table so Anakin could see his homeworld up close. The boy spoke excitedly as he called out the names of the pod racers he had known and competed with, including the Dug Sebulba who Anakin had bested for the first time the very morning that he and Obi-Wan had first met. The video clip ended and the pair’s conversation invaribly turned to starships, with Anakin so full of questions of the most minute detail that Obi-Wan was forced to search his memories to recall the specifications and top speeds of a dozen alien spaceships and Republic vehicles. A love of technology, especially ships, was a strong bond between Master and Padawan, and Obi-Wan used it, giving Anakin the incentive of time on the Temple’s various simulators when he performed his lessons particularly well. In fact, Anakin had taken over Obi-Wan’s former role as the one to ask for when something malfunctioned at the Temple. Unfortunately like Obi-Wan, Anakin was usually interested in making things that already worked fine, work a little better, which sometimes got him a look of disapproval from other Jedi. As they sat at the table, winding down on their meal and talk of speedy vehicles, Obi-Wan could sense young Anakin’s heart open up and cry forth as he remembered the greatest thing about Tatooine, his mother, who had stayed behind as the junk dealer Watto’s slave while Anakin had blasted off to the stars to become a Jedi. Despite the boy’s pleading, Obi-Wan knew that isolation from his mother was best for the Padawan. His emotional attachment to her was considerable, and if news of her came up bad, he would have difficulty masking it from the remarkably-astute Anakin. Anakin spoke of her in a quiet voice now, saying how he often dreamt he was back at home and woke up thinking she was just in the next room. Obi-Wan gave as much tenderness as one who had no recollection of his own mother and father could, having been taken to the Temple before he could walk or speak, so high was his Midichlorian count. “I’m sure she would be proud of who you have become, Anakin.” Obi-Wan offered from across the table. “You will be a great Jedi, and you may one day save thousands of people just like your mother.” Anakin smiled shyly at the praise from his Master. “I would too, I would do anything in my power to save people who need help. Even if it meant sacrificing myself, the way Master Qui-Gon did for you.” Obi-Wan’s attention had drifted toward a near-altercation between a Bith and a Rodian near the establishment’s back entrance, but his gaze and mind suddenly snapped back to Anakin’s voice. “What?? What did you just say about Qui-Gon?” “That I would sacrifice my life for another, just like he did for you on Naboo...” Anakin tailed off as Obi-Wan gazed intensely at him. Obi-Wan’s mind raced at the boy’s statement, was Anakin trying to mock him? “Saved me? What do you mean, saved me? I failed him! I let the Sith separate us and it KILLED HIM!” Obi-Wan realized he had nearly stood up from his chair and leaned across the table at Anakin, who had shrunk backwards from this unexpected aggressiveness from his normally even-tempered Master. “But you didn’t kill him, Master. The Sith did. Master Qui-Gon wore him down so you could finish him before he killed anybody else. He was worried about you.” Obi-Wan sat back down at the table as if all the muscles in his body had suddenly collapsed. His Padawan’s words sunk in deep and suddenly the whole conflict in the hangar flashed back, but now he could see it all through Qui-Gon’s eyes. Twice the ferocious attack of the Sith had caught Obi-Wan off guard, once with a kick that had left a permanent dent in his jaw, the second time with a roundhouse that had sent the Padawan plunging more than 100 feet, and nearly cost him his lightsaber. He saw Qui-Gon drop to his knees in meditation as the energy beams set up temporary walls between himself, the Sith and Obi-Wan and suddenly realized that his Master had not been healing himself, but casting himself forward into a vision of the future. In those fleeting seconds before the energy walls reopened, Qui-Gon had realized that the Sith knew Obi-Wan was the more dangerous opponent. If Qui-Gon had retreated to allow Obi-Wan back into the fight, he knew the Sith would go after the Padawan first and given Obi-Wan’s miscues in the earlier stages of the two against one combat, he knew the odds were good that the Sith would strike down the younger Jedi, a sight that chilled Qui-Gon’s blood, making his decision to press the attack alone all that much easier to make. And so the long-haired Master had come after the Sith in the cramped reactor room, determined to overwhelm him. Yet even in defeat, Qui-Gon felt he had worn the Sith down and that the dark one’s overconfidence in his own abilities would be his downfall against Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon had been exactly right then, just as Anakin was now. Both of them, after a fashion, had saved Obi-Wan’s life. Snapping back to the present, Obi-Wan gathered his robe around him and set off down the hallway, none too surprised to see Master Yoda in the library, purusing a scroll recounting the earliest days of Jedi lore. The aged Master glanced up and smiled softly at the greatest of his students. “The hours you keep, Master Kenobi, they are of a general, not a Jedi.” Yoda’s face went from bemusement to concern however, as he read Obi-Wan’s latent emotions. “Your visions continue, do they? Feel them, I can in your thoughts and your flow in the Force.” “They have returned a third night, Master Yoda. The same as always, darkness, and the tinge of red that I cannot explain.” “The darkness, I feel as well. Long have Master Windu and I spoken of its meaning, but no conclusion have we reached.” Obi-Wan pondered the darkness a long moment before addressing his Master again. “Senator Organa leaves this morning to return to Alderaan. I am going to escort him out of the system, by your leave.” Yoda nodded his wizened head at this. “Your concerns for his safety, I believe will-placed, Obi-Wan. Help to us, a strong Alderaan may be in times to come.” Obi-Wan took leave of his Master with a bow, and returned to dress for his rendezvous with Bail Organa. Chapter Five: Mission No less than 10 miles away, Anakin Skywalker awoke from his own nightmare. He had been standing on the slope of a mountain, calling for Padme, who was nowhere in sight. When he finally found her, she was not alone, but was surrounded by Tyrannus’ clone troopers and the Dark Lord himself. Padme’s scream reached his ears with devastating effect, much as his mother’s had the day she died at the hands of the vile Tusken Raiders.Unable to move in the dream, Anakin watched as Tyrannus drove his crimson saber through Padme’s chest, a fatal blow. The Sith laughed deep in his throat as Anakin’s bride’s body crumpled to the ground, but when he turned, his face had changed to Obi-Wan’s, and the laughter threatened to drive Anakin mad. A faint beeping awoke the young Jedi, and he rolled over to see his private line comlink blinking at him. The message was from Palpatine himself, urging Anakin to meet him at his chambers at once. This was a first for Skywalker, and he felt a surge of importance at being summoned directly to the Chancellor’s office. It must be important! He kissed Padme’s head as she slept beside him and hurried to dress, then took his private speeder rocketing through the night sky on Coruscant. to the Chancellor’s chambers. Anakin was admitted to the office without a word, and found the Chancellor gazing out the window. When Palpatine turned, he seemed even older than Anakin had remembered him two days ago during a briefing concering the upcoming offensive against Tyrannus. “How are you this night, young Skywalker?” Palpatine intoned, as if they were settling down over a cup of tea. “The night finds me well, Chancellor, how may I be of assistan--” “And how is your young bride tonight?” Palpatine cut him off with the question that chilled Anakin to the bone, and rendered him speechless. Palpatine turned and offered Anakin a half smile, “Oh don’t worry, my young friend, I won’t reveal your secret to your fellows at the Temple, I find it charming that the Republic’s finest young general has found love with a striking woman from my own system.” Anakin caught his breath and nodded, relieved that Palpatine had something else on his mind besides Skywalker’s highly-condemned and previously-believed secret marriage to Padme. “I have called you here tonight, young Skywalker, because I feel you are to be trusted with valuable information. We have been betrayed.” Palpatine stared pointedly at Anakin as he emphasized the last word. Skywalker gasped involuntarily. “Betrayed? By who?” Palpatine’s faced looked heavy as he replied. “By one of the finest politicians in the Senate, Bail Organa. I would not have believed it myself had not I been given this video disc by Republic intelligence earlier tonight.” Palpatine cued a monitor and Anakin watched Bail Organa’s assistant, Doren Flask, opening the front door of his residence to allow in a cloaked, hooded menacing figure. After checking the doors and windows of the room, the figure had pulled back its hood to reveal Count Dooku, the former Jedi Master who had become the Sith Lord Darth Tyrannus. “The audio transmissions are scratchy at best, but my agents have told me that Flask and the Sith arranged for a meeting with Senator Organa on Alderaan in two days. If the Sith learns of our attack plan, months of preparation will be wasted, Anakin. I need your help.” Anakin nodded, “What can I do?” Palpatine’s voice lowered considerably. “Bail Organa must not reach Alderaan. This meeting must not take place.” Skywalker’s eyes widened. “You want me to murder the Senator? Surely, there is another way, we could have him detained or arrested or simply reasoned with.” “NO!” Palpatine barked. “Surely he is even now under the protection of Tyrannus’ men. Only a Jedi Knight can do this job, and Masters Adi Mundi and Koon are too recognizable. Please, Anakin, the job must be yours.” Anakin visibly wavered at the prospect of killing a man who he had fought alongside in the Clone Wars not two years ago. Palpatine glared at the young Jedi. “I did not wish to play politics with you Anakin, but with Senator Organa exposed as a traitor, a position would open up on the Senate’s Sanctioning Committee, a position I believe your bride would be perfect for.” The mentioning of Padme and the Senate had its desired effect. Anakin’s wife had long struggled in the subcommittees to which a young senator from an out-of-the-way world was often assigned to. When she did complain, it was often that she felt her contributions were miniscule and of no real value to anyone. Sitting on the Sanctioning Committee would put her directly in the limelight, working side by side with the top senators in the Republic, and she would have Anakin to thank him for all of it. That sort of committment to her betterment would surely convince her that he was maturing as a Jedi and that the rumors of his dabbling on the dark side of the Force were nonsense. And yet the murder of another man, even the traitor, did that not lure Anakin down the dark path a little further? He hesitated in his answer, but Palpatine finally found the right angle. “Of course, should I assign someone else to the task, I would have to reconsider just who is to be trusted and who is to be promoted. Perhaps a more experienced Jedi, one not afraid to take action should lead the assault against Tyrannus... Perhaps even young senators who blatanly lie about their involvement in illicit marriages should be removed from my government.” Anakin had no experience in politics and bluffing was something he hadn’t had need for since his days of growing up in Mos Espa. He immediately consented to Palpatine’s bullying, suddenly fearful that if Padme found out that he was the reason she was forced out of his office, she would leave him, and he would be alone all over again. Palpatine’s feral look of aggression eased as he saw Anakin’s face bend toward complacency. He smiled up at the lanky Jedi, “I do not wish to spar with one of your powers, Anakin. I only want what is best for you. You must simply learn to trust me on matters political, they really are my strength.” Anakin assented and Palpatine fairly beamed. “I assume the Jedi have schooled you in a number of weapons, yes? For the lightsaber must stay home for this assignment, I will have intelligence provide you a sniper rifle to execute the tratior as he leaves for Alderaan this morning.” Chapter Six -- Assassin In the cold, relatively clean air of Coruscant’s morning, Bail Organa felt a kind of breathy nervousness in his bones that he used to get on the Senate floor when he felt his opinions could still change men’s minds. He tugged his cape around his shoulders for a degree of physical warmth, his spirit would find no such companion until he was safely back on Alderaan. In the days since his defiance of Palpatine, he had been filled with emotions bordering on fear. Organa, a physically-strong man, had cut his teeth at Alderaan’s finest university as both a scholar and an athlete, but he kept expecting to turn a corner or open a door to find some dark-eyed assassin waiting with a drawn blaster to end his existence. Now, his fears were lightening a bit as he walked briskly out onto the landing platform where the shuttle awaited. He was flanked by four guards with sidearms holstered, although he hoped none of them would have to draw them. -------------------- Anakin Skywalker’s hands were moist as he configured the sniper rifle to its highest and most deadly setting. He stood near the rear window of a mobile shop, recently vacated by its owner under durress by Imperial Clonetroopers who claimed he was breaking several mercantile restrictions and would have to stand trial in a week’s time. Anakin had arrived at the shop two hours before dawn with a small case markedly similar to a standard emissary’s briefcase. But his case was anything but standard, as Anakin found out when he opened it. A long tubing case, a charged energy pack, a trigger and a high-powered sighting scope combined to form one of the most lethal looking personal weapons Anakin had ever seen. He had spent nearly half an hour testing it, making use of the features on the scope, switching the field of vision from normal spectrum to infrared, should the target arrive before sunrise or if the morning was particularly gray. The young Jedi had taken to calling Organa “the target” over the course of the last three hours. It made it seem more like a task and less like the murder of a man who was good friends with both his Master and his wife. He wished he had had time to inform Padme at least of this treachery, she certainly would have argued the decision, but at least she would know where he was. In the hour before the target was scheduled to arrive, Anakin tried to relax himself and made his shadow as small as possible within the Force. He doubted any Jedi would be happening by at this time of morning, Coruscant was a big planet, and plenty of Knights were scattered across the galaxy fighting Tyrannus’ forces directly or trying to convince other governments to unite with the Republic and bring the war to an expedient end. But he knew the murder of a senator would likely involve a Jedi investigator here on the Republic’s capital, and he also assumed that Obi-Wan would make at least a precursory overview of the crime scene to see if he could aid in the solving of his friend’s murder. The less of Anakin’s tint on the area, the better it would be, and the easier his eventualy explanation to his Master would be. Seeing the lights of a low-altitude Senatorial transport alerted Anakin and he cracked the window and took his stance, well-practiced from weapons’ training with Obi-Wan during his teenage years at the Temple. Ideally, a Jedi Knight always fought with his lightsaber, but when Jedi were forced into combat, it usually meant stakes were high and things could happen that would coerce even a master of the Force to pick up a different instrument to exert his will. Anakin was doing his best to convince himself that this was that kind of time, and forcing down the thought that he would do anything to keep his secret marriage to Padme just that. Two helmeted guards stepped out of the transport first, followed by the target, and then two more guards, identical in step and dress to the first two. The quintet of men was perhaps 60 yards from the shuttle when Anakin drew the perfect shot on the target’s forehead. Taking a deep breath and trying to fill his mind with thoughts of his bride, Skywalker squeezed the trigger gently and loosed the destructive flash of light down at its prey. -------------- Of the five men on the platform, four of them had no idea what had happened. In fact it wasn’t until much later in their journey, watching a recording from the senator’s shuttle’s external camera, slowed to 1/64th normal speed were the four men able to discern what had actually transpired. Those four men included Bail Organa, who was oblivious to Anakin Skywalker’s intentions as he walked toward his shuttle. In a flash of blazing light however, the guard behind him and to his right shouted “DROP!!!” and Organa had fallen prone to the steel platform. In the next five seconds he heard a low buzzing sound, followed by the eerie ringing of a blaster shot against some sort of reflective surface, then felt the added weight of two of his security guards, who lay across him as a human shield. High above the action, Anakin followed the piercing rifle blast down toward Organa’s forehead through the telescopic lense when he felt a surge in the Force and the blue-white light of a lightsbaer filled the scope. Stunned, Anakin pushed the rifle to one side, fumbling for his electrobinoculars and focusing in on the five men. Two of the guards were strewn akimbo on Organa’s body in classic human shield technique. A third had drawn his sidearm, attempting to ascertain what direction the attack had come from. The fourth ... the fourth made Anakin’s throat close up and nearly choked him as he tried to steady his hands on the binocs. The fourth man stretched his hand out to call back the lightsaber that he had thrown from his side to intercept Anakin’s blaster bolt. The lightsaber slid gently back into the man’s hand and he pirouetted in a circle, obviously calling out for danger signs through the Force. Sensing nothing, he moved closer to the downed Organa and removed his helmet. It was Obi-Wan. Chapter Seven -- Discovery With Obi-Wan bringing up the rear, the security guards hustled Organa inside the shuttle and with the ship’s co-captain at his side, Obi-Wan re-emerged, reaching out to with the Force to sense any other presence that had fired the blast. The co-captain, a strikingly tall dark-skinned Alderaanian scanned the area with his own electrobinoculars as Obi-Wan said nothing, his eyes nearly closed. “Pardon me, Master Kenobi, but could you describe the shot to me?” the dark-skinned pilot asked. “Kenobi slipped back into his memories, replaying the event in slow motion. “Dark green energy ... angling down toward us ... one shot,” he murmured. “It sounds like a sniper blast to me, General, a man could be 500 yards away and fire that.” The Alderaanian stood where Organa had dropped and looked up, and all around. He pointed toward a dilapidated foodstuffs shop hovering in the morning breeze. Obi-Wan grabbed the binocs and focused them. There was someone looking down at them through a window. The Jedi Master sprung into action. ------- Barely able to keep his senses, Anakin scrambled around the shop’s back room, unfastening the clamps of the rifle, hastily cramming it back into its case and gathering his robe around his shoulders. His swoop bike was parked in the shop’s front, and he could be five miles away in a matter of minutes. His eyes scoured the room frantically, determined not to overlook anything that could connect him to the scene or the aborted assasination. He looked down at his hands to see only one of his gloves was on. The other he had laid near the window to tighten the scope. He moved across the room and grabbed it, stopping to look down throught the window at the scene below. In morbid shock, he saw his Master staring back at him through binoculars. Anakin burst to the front of the shop, mounted his bike and hastily keyed in the door code to open and then close behind him. His engine stalled once as he overrevved it. He desperately tried to calm himself and the engine finally caught. Anakin wasted no time, shooting out of the storefront and arching toward the far corner of a nearby superscraper to put distance between him and the scene. He rounded the corner and his blood ran cold, the Alderaanian shuttle hovered some 50 yards ahead. ---- Obi-Wan had taken over in the pilot’s seat, the tall Alderaanian still at his side in his familiar co-pilot chair. The Jedi squinted at the swoop pilot and frowned. His model of swoop was the most popular among Coruscant’s gangs and a figure in a dark robe and hood could be a member of any number of biped species, gangs, crime organizations or political factions. He knew he would need to capture the would-be assassin if any questions were to be answered today. And that would be the tricky part, for while the shuttle could fly into deep space, it had nowhere near the close-ground velocity or manueverability of the swoop bike. He’d have to nail the biker with a tractor beam, which would be tough should the pilot manuever into any sort of trafficked area. Obi-Wan motioned his co-pilot to activate the tractor beam, only to see the swoop pilot do the impossible. ------ Seeing the shuttle dead ahead, Anakin turned to desperate action. Although his bike sat more than three miles off the true surface of Coruscant, Anakin powered off the repulors of his bike. Without its anti-grav system, gravity took possession of the bike and his rider, and they plummeted as one. Obi-Wan watched the swooper’s bold move as his co-pilot uttered a stream of curses as the shuttle’s sensor tracked the bike’s free-fall. Perhaps half a mile down, the bike inexplicably slowed, then burst back into action, zipping out of sight. “Shall we pursue, General?” “No ... no, we shall not,” Obi-Wan replied, staring out the viewport at the empty sky. “I need a ride somewhere, then you can take Senator Organa to his rendezvous point in orbit.” Aye, sir.” After a moment or two of silence, the co-pilot apparently could not contain his curiosity and he breached the stillness in the cockpit. “General? How did he do that? Have you ever seen anyone do that before?” Obi-Wan did not answer, his mind reeling. Not only had he seen it before, he was the only person still alive who had wittnessed that particular strategy’s invention. It had been three years ago in the lower levels of Coruscant as he chased the bounty hunter Zam Wessell, who had nearly murdered Senator Amidala of Naboo. Wessell had died shortly thereafter at the hands of another bounty hunter. Leaving Obi-Wan alone to express his amazement at the boldness and audactiy to the strategy’s inventor -- his Padawan, Anakin. Chapter Eight -- Revelations Anakin encountered no guards as he hurried through the Chancellor’s outer offices to where he had left Palpatine earlier that evening. Under normal circumstances he would have found that peculiar, but his senses were reeling at having been thrawted by Obi-Wan in his attempt to assassinate Bail Organa. Was his Master a traitor as well? Could the Chancellor have been mistaken? Either choice led Anankin down a road he did not want to go, either his Master or his mentor was lying. He burst through the sliding door to find Palpatine staring harshly at him from the chair that the Chancellor was most fond of sitting in during long debates. “You have failed me, young Skywalker...” Palpatine intoned in an eerily-calm voice. “Why is this so?” “Master Kenobi was there in disguise!” Anakin, suddenly feeling as guilty as a small child, retorted. “He sensed the shot through the Force and blocked it! He almost caught me, but I got away!” “Almost?” Palpatine demurred. “Are you really so naive as to believe Kenobi doesn’t know it was you there? The little stunt you pulled on your swoop bike, he knows no one else on this planet can do that.” So stunned by this revelation was Anakin that his mind never got around to questioning how Palpatine could have known he used the drop manuever to elude capture. “I’ve got to get home! I’ve got to tell Padme what I’ve done and let her know she’s in danger!” “It’s too late, my friend, I’m afraid. Kenobi has beaten you there. Even now he is whispering in her ear, telling of your treachery. Making you the villain and he the hero. He is full of pride, your Master, and it is wounded. He is jealous of you, of your power in the Force, of your fame, of the love Senator Amidala feels for you. He would take all those from you if he can.” Anakin was taken aback as Palpatine spoke louder and louder with words that threatened to tear his heart from his chest. “That can’t be true .... that’s impossible!” Skywalker cried, but Palpatine turned his desktop video monitor around and nearly whispered, “See for yourself, young one.” Anakin’s legs threatened to give out as he looked. There on the screen in her apartment stood his wife, crying, with her arms around Obi-Wan Kenobi, who held her close to him. “NOOOOO!!!!!!” The force of his yell took even Palpatine by surprise, and the older man jumped back a bit in his chair. Anakin wheeled and raced toward the office’s exit. Palpatine’s doors opened slowly, a quirk thrown in by the building’s architect to give first-time visitors a true sense of the room’s grandeur when they entered. This time, however, the visitor was infuriated by the slowness. Seizing ahold of the Force, Anakin ripped the doors from their tracks and rushed past them, faster than any mortal could run. For a long moment, the Chancellor sat quietly in his chair, surveying the damaged doors. A smile possessed his face thereafter, not the one he gave the public when making his speeches, no, had any citizen of Coruscant seen this smile they would have recoiled in terror. Slowly, Palpatine laughed, it had been a long time since a plan had gone this well without far more time and effort on his part. Eventually his malicious laughter filled the entire room. --------------- It took a subtle suggestion in the mind of the Nubian man at the door to gain Obi-Wan Kenobi access to Padme Amidala’s apartment, but Obi-Wan found the action to be justified by what he had just seen. Padme met him in the living room of her domicile, wrapped in a long robe, her face worried. When Obi-Wan asked her of Anakin’s whereabouts, she only knew he had been called away hours before by Palpatine and had not returned nor sent word. These facts only worsened Obi-Wan’s fear, and he could keep his inner struggles personal no longer. Sitting quickly, he relayed all of the morning’s drama to the young senator, who kept a stoic face about her until the Jedi described how the assassin had escaped him. That detail widedend Padme’s eyes and dropped her jaw down a fraction. “No one else can make a manuever like that, can they, Obi-Wan?” “No. At least no one known to me. The best riders in the world can’t slow gravity like a Jedi, and Anakin is the only one of us who even rides a swoop. The only time I’ve seen another Force wielder on one was the Sith who attacked us on Tatooine when we had all first met.” The thought of the demonic Sith Lord chilled Padme, but she shook off the old memory. “But why would Anakin try to kill Bail? It makes no sense to me.” Obi-Wan sighed. “My only explanation is that Palpatine is behind it all and somehow coerced Anakin to believe it was something that had to be done for the good of the Republic. He is so true to cause, your husband, it sometimes blinds him.” “You think Chancellor Palpatine arranged to have Bail murdered? I know you disagree with his plans for the Jedi, Obi-Wan, but that sort of talk can get you in trouble with the Jedi Council. I’m sure Master Yoda wouldn’t approve of you talking that way.” Obi-Wan stared at her for a long time in confusion, and suddenly realized the truth. “He didn’t tell you, did he?” Padme’s eyes became quizzical. “Tell me what?” Obi-Wan found himself sighing again, things he took for granted were becoming more and more unraveled. “Master Yoda and Master Windu resigned from the Council at our last war meeting with Palpatine. Bail and I joined them in their protest. I’m not a general anymore. Palpatine chose Anakin to lead the task force against Tyrannus.” By the end of his revelation, Padme had gone deathly pale. “He told me Master Yoda insisted on him being the leader of the mission,” she whispered. “He said you were taking time off to recover from the effects of the war. It’s all he’s talked about for days, how proud he’s making his Masters. Why would he lie to me, Obi-Wan?” The Jedi Master spread his hands, feeling as powerless as he ever had. “I don’t know, Senator, I wish I did. But I grow fearful even more of what manipulations our Chancellor is making behind the scenes. I must speak to Yoda and Master Windu as soon as possible. He rose to leave, but Padme grabbed his arm before he could. “Wait, Obi-Wan, there’s ... there’s something else you must know.” Her brown eyes grew even wider as she looked closely at him. “I’m with child.” Obi-Wan sucked his breath in rapidly, so many changes all at once, his world was spinning off-course rapidly it seemed. “Who else knows? “No one, save my medical droid, he mentioned it two days ago. I had meant to tell Anakin sooner, but he’s been gone so much.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts. “Tell no one of this. NO ONE. Have the droid’s memory erased as well. I will contact you as soon as I can. I believe you’ll be safe here, Anakin loves you more than anything, perhaps even more than his own life. I doubt he would even consider hurting you” The senator’s eyes welled up as she nodded. Obi-Wan had little experience with females, unless they were Jedi, but he sensed her pain now. He drew Padme to him and held her close, trying to calm her emotions with the Force, but finding little real comfort in it himself. Chapter Nine -- The Duel Begins Obi-Wan, Yoda and Mace Windu met twice in the next week, once at an abandoned warehouse in the industrial yards of the midlevels of Coruscant, the other in Windu’s priavte shuttle in low orbit around the planet’s moon. Had Obi-Wan not have been sent reeling by the events of the past two weeks, he would have had time to contemplate the shocking irony of three of the five most powerful Jedi in the universe confined in a shuttle when they once had an entire complex of their own building in which to contemplate any matter they saw fit. Reports from within the Jedi Temple were of war preparations, with Masters Adi Mundi and Koon recruiting their most powerful members for the stab into Tyrannus’ lair. Reports of Anakin at the Temple were scattered, and Obi-Wan fervently searched the Force for signs of his Padawan’s mental condition, as well as that of Padme Amidala. Yoda and Master Windu were struggling with the situation much as Obi-Wan was. If the strike against Tyrannus was successful, they would be reinstated to the Council, but at what price to the order’s sanctity? If it failed, they would likely have to fight again because their numbers would be further decimated, and the Sith Lord would be that much more confident of his ability to win this war. And would Palpatine simply welcome back the disenfranchised Masters? It seemed unlikely to Obi-Wan. More likely he would scapegoat them, as he had Organa in the last week in front of the Senate, revealing a choppy video of the Alderaanian’s top aide meeting with Tyrannus. A tape Obi-Wan knew was likely faked using Bail’s confiscated ID disc from the day they had all walked out on Palpatine. Obi-Wan made his way into a lower-level power plant, entirely run by machines. Master Windu had sent him a private com message that morning that a third meeting would be held here, and Obi-Wan had spent the last two hours making his way down levels, trying to avoid drawing attention to himself, lest Palpatine’s spies realize the Jedi Masters were still on-planet and meeting. The lights were very dim in the plant, which was of no surprise to Obi-Wan. Machines didn’t need lights to operate and as taxed as Coruscant was for resources, every small concession of conservation helped. Still, he felt an odd discomfort as he walked through the rows, searching for his two teachers. He felt neither’s presences in the Force, but they could have been dampening themselves spiritually to avoid detection. Obi-Wan was nearly at the far end of the generator room when the lights suddenly blazed to maximum, catching him off-guard. He shielded his eyes and turned back the way he had just come from. Standing atop a bank of computer terminals, eyes flashing bright with excitement and confrontation, stood Anakin. In a flash, Obi-Wan knew the meeting was a ruse. He silently cursed himself for having forgotten Anakin’s technical abilities. To break his Master’s private com codes was a thing of ease for the former Podracing wizard. He should have known better than to think Anakin would simply dismiss the Organa incident without attempting to confront him.. “Hello, Anakin. It’s good to see you.” Obi-Wan’s calmness enraged Anakin further than he had already been at seeing his Master. “IS IT, Master? As good as it was when you sabotaged a direct order from the Chancellor and spared the life of a traitor?” “Bail Organa is no traitor, Anakin,” Obi-Wan intentionally kept his voice quiet, hoping to keep this a discussion and not a shouting match. He could feel Anakin’s emotions in turmoil, the dark side tempting the younger man to action. “The video evidence against him is fabricated. Surely, you can see that, as knowing as you are of technology. He opposed Palpatine, and nearly paid the price for it.” “Funny how the Chancellor told me exactly what you would say, Master.” Anakin replied, again making mockery of Obi-Wan’s title. “Tell me, was the video of your arms around my wife also a fabrication?” Obi-Wan sighed. He often suspected the dwellings of important senators were bugged, and this certainly appeared to be the case. “No, Anakin, Padme was worried and upset over you and I was attempting to comfort her. The fact that the Chancellor has cameras in your wife’s apartment should concern you more, I would think.” For a moment, Anakin’s eyes flickered in confusion at this, but the rage returned. “Do not try to confuse me, Obi-Wan. I can feel your jealousy of me. It’s always been there, from the moment we met and Qui-Gon wanted me as his Padawan.” The mention of Qui-Gon stung Obi-Wan badly and Anakin, sensing his distress, pressed on. “I’ve always felt your jealousy, Master. When I’ve fought better, when I’ve learned faster, when others who thought you the most talented Padawan have changed their minds after seeing me. You can’t stand having an apprentice be more important than you, so you tried to steal my glory and my love! Did you think I would let you get away with it? DID YOU?” Obi-Wan stood still and silent under Anakin’s vocal attack, hoping his Padawan would release his emotions as need be and that he could then be reasoned with, but Anakin’s anger continued unabated. “I have nothing left to learn from you, Obi-Wan. I am a Jedi, the same as you, only stronger, quicker and faster. While you and your teachers dote on the past, I lead the Jedi to the future. You are the emblem of everything that has dragged our order down for centuries, made us susceptible to the return of the Sith! I am the new Jedi Knight, strong, wise and willing to fight!” “I do not doubt your strength Anakin, truly your connection to the Force in a fight is as strong as I’ve ever wittnessed. And your sense of duty is non-paralleled. But your widsom lacks more and more as the days past. Sometimes it seems you made better decisions as a boy than you attempt to as a man.” Anakin’s rage at that comment could not be contained. He lashed out with the Force, driving Obi-Wan bodily against the back wall of the room. Maintaining his calm, Obi-Wan softened his blow against the permacrete, and kept his balance, not an easy task. “Your anger leads you to the dark side, Anakin. Your fear of loss continues to consume you and drive you to rash decisions. It makes you weak and it could be your undoing.” “WEAK??? You call me weak, even now when I control the Force?? I am your better, Master!” With that, Anakin pushed Obi-Wan through the Force again, only this time his Master met the push with resistance and the two squared off mentally. Losing his concentration to frustration, Anakin snatched his lightsaber and ignited it. “Do not challenge me, Anakin. Your anger will best you and I shall be forced to resume your teaching here and now.” With that, Obi-Wan wrenched Anakin’s lightsaber from the younger man’s grasp, deactivating it in mid-flight and catching it out of the air. Anakin turned away from Obi-Wan, and the Master felt the shame roll off his Padawan. He started forward to close the distance between them, at least physically, when a creak behind him caught his attention. Obi-Wan turned just in time to see a 20-foot high crate tipping off the high shelves behind him. With a flash of his robes, he somersaulted forward and out of the crate’s impact area. Even as he did, he felt Anakin wrest his lightsaber back via the Force, and reignite it. “Enough of your tricks now, Obi-Wan. Light your blade, and we shall see who needs a lesson taught to him.” Obi-Wan remained motionless, staring straight into Anakin’s eyes, while his Padawan sought to look elsewhere, refusing to match his Master’s gaze. “No tricks, Anakin. I will not fight you.” Anakin took a stride forward, then a second and a third, until he stood mere feet from Obi-Wan, blade still lit and pointed at his Master. “Would you cast your life down on some antiquated notion that a Jedi can never attack, Master? Would you throw it all away for a principle?” With Obi-Wan’s stillness enraging him further, Anakin lunged at his Master. At the last second, Kenobi’s saber lept into his hands and he ignited it, as blue-white met blue-white in a clash of sparks, strength and a fury of emotions. Chapter Ten -- End Duel Anakin lunged, and Obi-Wan parried. Anakin twisted and spun and cut overhand and across the floor, but his Master matched each stroke with the slightest of efforts, making the Padawan more incensed that his attacks were being rebuffed with such ease. Anakin seized hold of a computer monitor and propelled it through the Force, but Obi-Wan felt the move coming and waved the object away, his concentration never wavering in the slighest from Anakin. For Obi-Wan, the duel’s opening moments were not unlike his sparring sessions with Anakin before the outbreak of the Clone Wars. Anakin was aggressive and inconsistent in his attacks, and Obi-Wan exerted little real effort in containing the fight. His Master’s complacency enraged Anakin, and in a moment he felt untapped power rising in his soul. The dark side? He touched it again, and felt it surge through him, then called it to him. Obi-Wan was taken aback as Anakin’s manuevers came faster and more intensely than Obi-Wan had ever seen. He was forced to backpedal to keep the attacks from beating him down. Obi-Wan flipped and cartwheeled his way across the room with Anakin in pursuit, slicing through his Master’s robe as Kenobi flung it aside to give himself more mobility. Obi-Wan back-flipped up onto a shelf and Anakin stopped his attack and grinned up at his Master. “Learn anything yet, Master?” “I’ve learned that this is not your first time dabbling in the dark side, Anakin. I’ve learned that you are so blind now that you believe killing me will restore your good name to the Jedi and Padme’s trust of you.” The mention of his wife set Anakin off again, and this time he used the Force to rip the supports of the shelf Obi-Wan stood upon out of the wall, plunging his Master to the ground. He was on Obi-Wan in a moment, pinning the smaller man to the ground as their lightsabers clashed. For the first time in the fight, Obi-Wan attacked, planting a boot in Anakin’s jaw, staggering him back. Obi-Wan sprung to his feet but stood his ground, again refusing to press the attack. “So the noble Master does value his own life after all,” Anakin taunted as he rubbed his sore jaw. “I gave my vow to protect this galaxy, Anakin. I can do more good to it alive than dead. It is a vow you seem to have forgotten.” Anakin’s jaw hardened and his eyes seemed almost sorriful at that. “I’ve found vows to mean very little in my life, Master. Qui-Gon promised to keep me safe, then died before he ever began my training. I vowed to return to free my mother, then waited too long while the Council made me its errand boy, and it cost her her life. Padme promised her love to me alone, yet in times of trouble, it is your embrace she found comfort in. FORGIVE ME, Master, if I see little value in the weight of a vow.” Obi-Wan was tight-lipped, feeling the sadness and hurt roll off his Padawan in waves. “When I was half your age, Anakin, my best friend at the Temple tried to make a lightsaber before she was ready. When she activated it for the first time late one night, it exploded, killing her instantly. The next day, after her funeral, Qui-Gon told me the way of a Jedi is a hard life, without remorse, reward or regret. My friend, you are obsessed with the second, and hindered by the other two. I have failed as your teacher, for not recognizing this sooner.” “Words, Obi-Wan. Always with you, it is about words.” Anakin scoffed, the anger surging through him again. He lunged forward and Obi-Wan had to duck to parry the blow again. Anakin pressed forward, with his voice and his saber, and the two battled back the way they had come across the room. “Words couldn’t save your Master, Obi-Wan. They could not save my mother. They will not save the Republic from the Sith! Action demands action in return! Why can’t you accept this?” Obi-Wan again used the Force to jump to a higher platform, this one containing a host of spare parts for the robots running the power plant. “I cannot accept your opinion, Anakin, because you use the Force to do your bidding, when it should be you doing its will. The most fundamental lesson of what it is to be a Jedi is lost on you. Without it, the dark side beckons and seduces you, playing to your innermost desires, making it seem that you are in control when in fact you are lost within it.” Anakin again ripped the supports out of the platform, but this time Obi-Wan jumped to the next one over. In frustration, Anakin repeated his destruction of the support structure, and again Obi-Wan nimbly set foot on another shelf. “How long will you dance up there, Master? Do you think I do not possess the power to bring you down?” Anakin stretched his arms wide and a dozen of the shelves plummeted down, while several others groaned in pain as their screws were manipulated by the dark side and pulled out of their sockets, leaving their burdens hanging tenuously. Obi-Wan did fall this time, without another escape option, and Anakin attacked more savagely, with dangerous uppercut swings designed to lop an opponent’s head off. Obi-Wan parried time and again, but found himself growing weary, and finally counter-attacked, combining his lightsaber slashes with kicks to the chest that drove Anakin back. Obi-Wan’s strikes were more conservative, more controlled as he hearded Anakin toward one of the room’s corners, hoping to somehow disarm the Padawan before one of them landed a killing blow. Anakin might find temporary solace in his death, but it had been a long time since Obi-Wan had killed another living being, not counting Dooku’s clonetroopers who were manufactured synthetics, and not really human.. Even in cutting down the Sith Lord on Naboo, Obi-Wan had been tinged by the knowledge that violence had been the only way out. He hoped against hope that it would be different with Anakin. While not posessing the tactical genius that his Master or Admiral Tarkin was hailed for, Anakin could feel himself being pushed in a general direction, and stole a glance over his shoulder at the melting pit that harnessed the plant’s reactor rising up behind him. In the split second that Anakin’s gaze was diverted, Obi-Wan reversed his lightsaber and smashed the Padawan in the chest with it, knocking the air from his lungs and sending him stumbling down to the ground, losing control of his lightsaber. Obi-Wan seized the saber with the Force, and flung it up onto the shelf directly over the edge of the pit, , standing over Anakin with his own weapon still lit. “The galaxy needs its protectors, Anakin. Let me help you find your way back to the Jedi Order. The dark side will claim you no matter how much you believe you use it for good. Look at what happened to Count Dooku, it has consumed him, and millions more may die for his loss of control.” But again, Obi-Wan’s words fell on deaf ears. Summoning the dark side to his aid, Anakin erupted in motion, planting a kick to Obi-Wan’s sternum that dropped his Master backwards. Anakin sprung to his feet and back-flipped up to the platform to claim his saber and rejoin the fight. In his haste to exact revenge on Obi-Wan, he forgot his earlier show of power. His weight planted squarely on the already-weakened platform caused it to list to one side, dumping the stunned Jedi head first over the melting pit. Anakin turned in midair to grab an outcropping of metal with one hand as his lightsaber bounced off the permacrete floor of the main chamber and rattled noisily to a stop. Obi-Wan returned to his feet and rushed to the pit’s edge, feeling the searing heat of the reactor even from this height. Anakin was two meters down, clutching the outcropping desperately with one hand, and suddenly seeming much like the boy Obi-Wan had first encountered in the desert outside Mos Espa so many years ago. “Anakin! Give me your hand! I can save you!” The Padawan looked up and his face changed from fear to anger to hatred as Obi-Wan slung his hand down to try and reach him. “Please, Anakin! Your hand! I will save you!” Anakin was defiant as he spoke to his master for the last time. “More tricks, Obi-Wan. More words. More vows.” Anakin released the outcropping and fell. His body plunging noiselessly through the clouds of radiation that permeated the plant’s reactor core. Obi-Wan screamed in horror, and desperately summoned the Force to grab hold of Anakin, but he was too exhausted, his powers waned from the exhaustion of the duel. His superb hearing mocked him with the distant sound of Anakin’s body plunging into the white-hot liquid that filled the reactor core half a mile below. He felt Anakin’s connection with the Force severed and buried his head in his hands. After a long time, Obi-Wan stood, gathered both the Jedi robes strewn on the ground, along with the lightsaber Anakin had dropped. Obi-Wan had been there the day a younger Anakin had proudly ignited it for the first time. To leave it here would be disrespectful to the Padawan who had become his friend. -------- A long moment after Obi-Wan departed the power plant, a shadow came alive in the darkest corner of the upper level. An eight-foot tall, insect-like shape moved downward throught the still-active machines of the plant, gliding with a low hum. The probe droid, much like its master’s Sith robes, was jet black, and its variety of appendages suggested a host of insidious activities it could perform. Programmed by its Master, the droid had tailed Anakin Skywalker for the past several days, charting his progress and recording those interactions he had with others. When the droid had identified Obi-Wan Kenobi, it had instantly trasmitted an electro-pulse back to its Master’s comm unit, from which Chancellor Palpatine had been able to watch the entire duel through the multiple elctronic eyes of his artifical creation. The droid now had a new series of commands, and so it passed down, down down, through the ever-increasing heat and radiation so poisonous to oxygen-breathers. Into the power plant’s liquid core it descended, using three powerful arms to lift the lifeless body of the Padawan up, then rising again to return to its secret departure area to await its master’s next command. Chapter 11 -- Briefing Up close, the man appeared far older than anyone should, Narcen Serfel thought, as he took his seat in the fourth row of the ready room in the basement of the Republic’s military installation. The lines on Chancellor Palpatine’s face and forehead seemed far more vivd , more pronounced than when the politician appeared on the holonet to crow about the Republic’s latest victory against the Rebellion of Count Dooku, or to plead for more taxings to build bigger class capital ships and step up the production of clonetroopers to bring the Wars to an end. Narcen had been a Jedi Knight for almost two years, since the slaughter at Genosis had prompted the remaining members of the Jedi Council to indoctrinate the most promising Padawans into the ranks of the Knights. Narcen, a native of Corellia once upon a lifetime, had been near the top of all his classes as a Padawn, and was one of 45 students who had been promoted into the most sacred order in the galaxy. Now, Narcen sat among some of his fellows from the Temple, and a great many more who had been summoned back to Coruscant by Master Koon and Ki Adi Mundi to take part in a bold venture to oust Dooku from power. Dooku, the former Jedi Master who had left the order, adopted the ways of the Sith and renamed himself Darth Tyrannus, was on the minds of plenty of Narcen’s fellow Jedi here and now in this room. They had all found out over the course of the past week that Tyrannus had sent a mysterious assassin to Coruscant to strike at the heart of the Jedi Order. The assassin’s identiy was not known, but his mission had been a successful one, much to the devastation of Narcen and many of his young contemporaries. The body of Anakin Skywalker had been found in his old quarters at the Jedi Temple by a custodial droid. Anakin had been murdered in his sleep apparently, but no marks were found on his body during an autopsy. In fact, it seemed whomever had murdered Anakin had simply stopped his heart by unknown means. The rumor was rampant that it was another Sith Lord, perhaps an apprentice to Tyrannus, but frankly no one knew. Anakin had been chosen to lead the Jedi strike force that would land at Tyrannus’ outpost, destory his cloning complex and remove the Rebellion’s leader from his position of power. Could the Sith Lord be tipped off to the Jedis’ plan? It seem impossible, only a handful of men had known about the plan until yesterday. Master Adi Mundi and Master Koon were in agreement that the assassin had been out to kill Jedi, and the murder of Anakin was just a nightmarish coincidence. Narcen focused his attention back on Palpatine, realizing he had missed the first few sentences of the Chancellor’s message. “... the loss of young Skywalker is of great concern to us all. I have received word from former General Kenobi and from his close friend Senator Amidala of Naboo that they send their deepest regrets and like us, they mourn his passing.” Palpatine sighed deeply, closing his eyes for a moment. Narcen was surprised of the man’s candor in front of so many high-ranking Jedi. Much had been made of the mentor role the Chancellor had taken with Anakin. Many of the older Jedi felt it was the beginning of the end when Jedi became active in politics. For his own part, Narcen felt that a common bond between men of power could only help matters. Besides, Anakin had not had the traditional master-student relationship that most Padawns had. The Jedi who had discovered Anakin, Qui-Gon Jinn, had been murdered by another Sith Lord, the one generally regarded as Tyrannus’ apprentice. Obi-Wan Kenobi had taken over the training of Anakin, but had been absent when asked to take on a generalship by Bail Organa. Narcen could see Anakin wanting that father figure, and knew Palpatine had no family of his own. Narcen, who had lost his own Master at Genosis, felt he shared the pain he knew Palpatine felt. “I feel that despite their strike into our very heart, the forces of Count Dooku have vastly underestimated our reaction. In his death, young Skywalker has galvanized our warring factions in the Senate, and given us the driving force to end this senseless conflict. Dooku does not seem to realize that by killing one Jedi, he has made the rest that much stronger. And so, I ask you, no, I charge you, noble Knights, to avenge your fallen brother and save the galaxy that looks to you for its protection. The mission at hand is one of danger and risk, but the ultimate reward of peace cannot be overlooked. Master Adi Mundi has volunteered to replace Skywalker as your leader on this mission, and under his guidance, we will remove our erstwhile Count, and bring order back to the galaxy. I thank you all for leaving your home worlds and those you have sworn to protect to undertake this move. Even in your infinite wisdom, I feel I can honestly say you have no idea how important this mission will some day be. I leave you now to your final preparations, and may the Force be with you.” The Jedi were not often swayed by politicians, but Palpatine left the ready room to thunderous applause. ----------------------------- Narcen smiled for as luck would have it, he had drawn a seat next to Master Koon in the front of the stealth shuttle that was taking the Jedi Strike Force through hyperspace to Ponscii. After some initial misgivings, Narcen had manged to get over his nervousness and ask Koon a few questions about lightsaber techniques. The large-framed alien had been surprisingly candid, even bringing out his lightsaber -- without igniting it of course -- to show Narcen a difference in the traditional grips used by Jedi in duels. He was just about to ask Koon about the scar on the Master’s forearm when the ship lurched, something ships in hyperspace were not supposed to do unless there was something seriously wrong. Koon was out of his seat in a heartbeat, heading for the cockpit where Adi Mundi and the ship’s pilot sat in stunned silence. Chapter 12 -- Betrayal Ki Adi Mundi was not a military mind, nor did he particularly care for the interworkings of starships and warp drives. Nevertheless, he had gone over in extensive detail with Admiral Tarkin the list of ships, weapons and technologies that Dooku would potentially throw at them during the raid on Ponscii. With that in mind, Adi Mundi’s brain easily grasped what was going on as the stealth shuttle was wrenched back into real-space. Tarkin had mentioned new technology called an Interdiction Cluster. Crimelords had stolen the plans from the technology’s creator and while it had not been perfected, some degree of success had been achieved. In essence, the cluster was mounted on a craft, usually a capital ship lacking weapons or hyperdrive itself, for the cluster would demand some 65-75 percent of a ship’s power source for its own devices. In essence, the cluster allowed a ship to emulate a much larger body of mass, say a moon or asteroid, and thus, pull ships out of hyperspace as a gravity well. Adi Mundi had heard of wealthy crimelords illegally buying the shipping routes of major corporations, then setting up their clusterships to pull the freighters out of hyperspace and plunder them. The only problem was one had to know the exact vectors of a ship in hyperspace and its exact time passing through a system to successfully pull a vessel back into real-space. It was not an impossible task if you were preying on merchants ... but to use it against the most top-secret mission of the Clone Wars, well, one did not need to be a master of the Force to sense the taint of betrayal here. _____________ As the starlines blurred back to normalcy, Adi Mundi’s worst fears were confirmed. He barely sensed Plo Koon entering the cockpit behind him as he and the ship’s pilot, a Rodian named Marzid gaped in shock at the armada that suddenly surrounded their shuttle. “What is ...” was all Koon got out before he too stopped and stared at the firepower hanging in space like a deadly spider anticipating its prey. Huge capital frigates bristling with weaponry formed an arc around the shuttle. Adi Mundi spotted the clustership off the starboard bow off the largest ship in the fleet. Its odd, honey-combed shaped clusters glowed visibly with the after-effects of use. “We are being hailed, Master Jedi,” Marzid said, his voice shaking. “Acknowledge them, on screen.” It came as no surprise to either Jedi Master when Darth Tyrannus’ hooded face appeared on the monitor. “Incoming shuttle, you are trespassing in our territory, your punishment death. Oh, and Master Adi Mundi? Give my best to Skywalker.” The screen blinked off “All ships are powering up their weapons, Master Jedi,” Marzid’s voice quavered harder. “All shields up, Marzid, prepare for evasive manuevers.” Even as Adi Mundi gave the order, he felt despair for the first time in his life. Marzid fought with the controls, shaking them, then smashing his fists against them. “They’ve fixed a tractor beam on us, Master Jedi, I don’t believe we can break fre-” The first turbo-laser blast caught the shuttle straight across the bridge, tearing through its too-weak shields and ripping a table-sized hole in the ship’s roof. In the main compartment, Narcen had sat for two tense moments, feeling dread from the cockpit and felt his own rush of panic. His worst fears were realized as the green energy shredded the ship’s hull, and he saw a glittering array of stars. The stars were the last vision Narcen ever had; as the ship’s artifical atmosphere collapsed and the vacuum of space rushed in, crushing the internal organs of Narcen and every other Jedi in the ship. -------------------------------- From his throne room on Ponscii, Darth Tyrannus smiled from beneath his hooded robe as the Jedi shuttle was shattered by turbo-laser fire. He moved his hand and the screen split in two, showing the commander of his navy, Admiral Darsten, standing at rapt attention, waiting his lord’s next command. “The shuttle is completely annihilated, Darsten?” “Yes, Lord, how shall we proceed from here?” “Power down all shields please, Darsten, all ships.” For all his military training, Darsten flinched at the command. “Sir?” Tyrannus’ tone changed, his eyes seemed heavier and his hand moved subtly as he repeated the order slowly. “You will power down all shields, Admiral, all ships. You will send all crew to their quarters and return to your own. You will remain there until instructed by me and me alone.” Darsten’s eyes glazed over in turn. His hand raised slightly, then lowered it. “Yes, Lord, as you wish.” ----------------- Four hours later, the Republican Navy, under the command of Admiral Tarkin, came out of hyperspace to find Dooku’s main task force powered down and helpless, just as intelligence had reported. Tarkin had launched his fighters and attacked without remorse, not giving the rebellion forces time to power up their shields or even turn and return fire. Tarkin’s vice-admiral found it odd that the admiral did not push on to Ponscii, to help the Jedi mop up the situation, but he said nothing. Tarkin was a tactical genius, and was a close confidante of the Chancellor. Naris Ozzell knew that if ever wanted and Admiralship of his own, mouthing off to his superiors would not be the way to go. The fleet turned as one, and jumped back into hyperspace, returning to the galaxy’s hub victorious. Chapter 13 -- Empire Those who had to work filled tapcafes, crowded public areas and gathered outside the Senate Chambers where portable video screens had been set up to give anyone who wanted to watch history in the making the opportunity to do so. More than 75 planets in the Core had declared the entire week one of celebration, thus the holonet’s largest news channels had been setting records for viewership all week long. None more so than today, as more than 150,000 vidbots swarmed, crawled and hovered around the outdoor platform where the Accords of Peace, as the media had dubbed them, were to be signed under a brilliant Coruscant mid-day sky. Up on said platform, the two most most influential political powers in the known galaxy sat on high-backed chairs and chatted like old friends reuinited over a casual meal. Palpatine’s aide, Coruscant’s reigning governor, Kaj Defino, was addressing the media throngs, answering more basic questions -- when they could see the exact wording of the treaty, when Count Dooku would be available for individual interviews, how open the Chancellor’s schedule would be for awards and honors in the near future. When Palpatine stood and approached the podium, polite applause turned into the overwhelming roar of a tidal wave. Palpatine appeared taken aback by the ovation, letting his lips crinkle up into a slow smile, then turning and beckoning the elegantly-dressed Dooku to join him. Dooku appeared equally hesitant, moving slowly to stand next to Palpatine, his broad shoulders slightly dwarfing the Chancellor. The applause staggered for a moment, then buiilt to a crescendo as the two politicians grasped hands and raised them as one. ______________________ When the applause has abated, Palpatine moved to the podium while Dooku retook his seat. “My friends, this is truly a great day for us all. Through turmoil and tragedy, we have emerged victorious, and again peace is at hand.” Palpatine stood back for another standing ovation, feeling power surge through him that only his mastery of the dark side of the Force surpassed. The adulation of the masses was like a narcotic. “We are here in this legendary place to sign a document worthy of our surroundings. The Rebellion has come to us seeking peace, and together we have risen above our differences to perserve the galaxy, save lives and restore order.” “As you know, both the Republic and the Rebellion suffered massive losses at the Battle of Ponscii. While the esteemed Count’s lossess were mostly in ships and resources, the Republic lost its noblest band of protectors, the Jedi Knights.” Palpatine bowed his head slowly, as if giving last rites to the fallen Jedi. Those who were particularly detail-oriented noted Dooku making much the same motion in his chair. “I would ask the Count to come and take up this part of our story now, so you might in part understand the pain he has suffered and the progress he has made.” Dooku slowly ascended the steps to the podium, and this time there was no applause, barely any sound at all save the crackle of the vidbots that maintained the minimum distance to the new speaker. As Dooku surveyed the first several rows of media members, none returned his glance. All knew of his background as a Jedi Master and ultimately, a self-proclaimed Sith Lord. Few of the media members were enough of historians to know anything regarding the history of the Sith, and their epic internal battle a thousand years ago, but all had heard stories of the mysterious powers of such a warrior, including those that could kill a being without laying a hand on him. Unlike Palpatine’s trained command of his own voice, Dooku started off slowly and deep within his throat, causing some of the media representatives to lean forward unconsciously to hear what the former villain was saying. “A long time ago, I set out into this galaxy as a Jedi Knight, sworn to protect and serve the peaceful, law-abiding citizens who inhabit it. But I found, as many do, that that galaxy does not exist. As my internal conflict grew, so too did my power in the Force, as I assumed the title of Jedi Master.” He sighed deeply, as if calling up memories buried far too long. “As the wheels of government ground slowly to a halt, my frustration with the inequalities of the galaxy consumed me, and led me to believe I alone could make it a better life,” Dooku continued, his voice rising slowly. “It led me to make alliances with those who had the resources to fuel my vision, of a separate society where I would govern, using the Force to insure order, justice and equality.” “As my power grew, so too did my ambition, until I found myself consumed by the dark side of the Force, using it to bend others to my will, and ultimately manufacture the soldiers I needed to break away from the Republic. So consumed by the dark side was I, that I committed the greatest atrocities without a moment’s thought. I murdered beings and ordered the slaughter of thousands more. I created clones for the sole purpose of warfare, and plundered planets of their natural resources.” He shook his head slowly again before continuing. Behind him, Palpatine stared at him with rapt attention. “I was not alone in my wrongdoings, as many of you already know. The Trade Federation had financially backed many of my tasks, as have members of the Senate, the Galactic Banking System and others. All of these organizations have agreed to sign the treaty along with me, however it is not they who worry me.” He stared out across the crowd now, his eyes burning intensely. “The question has existed ever since the Battle of Ponscii of how my forces knew when and where to intercept the Jedi shuttle. We knew because you were betrayed. Betrayed by renegade Jedi bent on regaining their places of power in the Republic.” “When the Jedi shuttle was destroyed, I felt as if I had been torn asunder with it. On board were so many souls familiar to me, I had not felt their presence in so long. For the first time in decades, the word ‘friend’ came to me, and for the first time in a long time, the dark side could provide me no solace. When the brave Jedi aboard that shuttle died, the evil within me went with them.” “The information of the shuttle’s course came to my intelligence agents anonymously. It was traced back to a shipboard computer. The ship, a shuttle owned by former Council member Mace Windu.” The shock was audible from the media members, but Dooku pressed on and the media took the bait, drawing even closer to the stage. “Master Windu and his fellow council member, Yoda, have both plottirf against the Chancellor’s best interests for some time. Both are now fugitives from justice, neither responded to my overtures to end this senseless conflict and bring order back to the galaxy.” “But the former council members are not the most treacherous parts of my alliance, I am sorry to say. After the destruction of my apprentice on Naboo a dozen years ago, I secretly began training a new Sith Lord to help me achieve my own twisted goals. For more than a decade, he rose to prominence in plain view, with no one the wiser of his true intentions. He in turn, tried to twist his own apprentice to the dark side, and when that failed, he murdered him.” “If I lived one thousand years I could not restore the damage I have caused and the lives I have stolen. I can however, help bring another to justice. My former apprentice, is known to you as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. It was he who stole into the Jedi Temple late one night, and murdered the heroic young Anakin Skywalker. I attempted to detain him upon his return to Ponscii, but he eluded me. For this, I feel I have failed again.” As Dooku bowed his head, appearing to be on the verge of losing control of his emotions, Palpatine was there, murmurring words in his ear too silently for the phonics system to register. The two men spoke quietly for a long moment, then Dooku returned to his own chair as Palpatine retook center stage. “As you can see, my friends, the Count has suffered long and tremendous pain for his wrong-doings. You can also see the difficulty we have faced in announcing the reaching of a peaceful settling, when such dangerously powerful traitors remain free somewhere in our galaxy. Imagery of all three of these beings will be made available on all planets, and we shall offer generous compensations for anyone who can provide information as to their whereabouts. We must caution you not to try and apprehend these traitors yourself, no more lives should be wasted on them.” “These traitors have sullied all that the good name of the Republic has long stood for. With the uniting of the Republic and the Rebellion, we have approved a new beginning, and thus we are reborn. From this day forth, you are all citizens of the Galactic Empire, and I am your loyal servant as its first Emperor.” Palpatine smiled broadly and turned to beckon Dooku back to the platform with him. “And now, loyal citizens, the moment you have waited for.” Defino moved forward wtih ceremonial writing tools from ages gone by, and a parchment of paper with highly-stylized writing that rendered the details of the Accords of Peace on it. First Dooku, then Palpatine scrawled their signatures on the parchment, and then sealed their respective governements’ signets on the data pad that put the treaty into effect. Applause erupted yet again as both men stood together while the vidbots whirred back and forth overhead. For days to come, the celebrations continued and scenes of good will were broadcast across the Core. The Clone Wars were over. The Galactic Empire was born into peace. Chapter 14 -- Sith Darth Sidious and Darth Tyrannus stalked a high balcony far above the surface of Coruscant. In the days since the Accords of Peace had been signed, the announcements had come that Dooku had been given the title of Palpatine’s Emissary of Reparations. Palpatine announced that Dooku would travel to the most war-torn planets to make his peace, whether it be with apologies, financial compensation or whatever rituals a particular planet’s culture called for. “I have inserted a data disc of Jedi in your transport’s computer, Lord Tyrannus.” Sidious intoned solemnly. “With the passing of each remaining Knight, we shall be one step closer to complete control.” “I have noticed the names of a few Jedi missing, Master... do you doubt my abilities still?” Tyrannus challenged. “Masters Windu and Yoda have imposed exiles upon themselves for their lack of vision, Lord Tyrannus. Their devotion to the Force will keep them from interfering.” Sidious kept his voice even, despite Tyrannus’ challenging tone. “And what of Kenobi? He has seldom allowed the way of the Jedi to intervene with his true feelings.” Sidious was quiet for a moment, staring out over the sprawling reaches of the city. “Kenobi has twice robbed me of great allies. Leaving him alive could be troublesome. Have your spies keep their eyes out for him, and bring his head to me when you have dispatched of him.. Keep tabs on Bail Organa and Padme Amidala as well, he may be in contact with them.” Tyrannus smiled in return. “Sen. Amidala will have no secrets from us. One of her handmaidens is not who she seems. Before the cloning facilities were destroyed, I created a special one to replace one of the senator’s assistants, in hopes she could give us insight on Kenobi and Skywalker.” “Well done, Lord Tyrannus, keep me informed of her progress,” Sidious’ voice continued on neutrally. “And from now on, no decisions of this kind shall be made without my expressed approval, is that clear?” Tyrannus bowed deeply, “Quite clear, my Master.” -------------------- Less than an hour later, Tyrannus, again transformed into the garb of the elegant, stately Count Dooku, blasted off in his private shuttle. Sidious watched him go, then left his royal guards behind and descended down a hidden stairway into the deepest recesses of the Imperial Palace. Behind yet another false wall, Sidious entered what appeared to a dimly-lit scientist’s lab, filled with monitors, blinking banks of machinery and a jet-black medical droid standing silent vigil over a long metal tube. It was cold here in Sidious’ private lair, it had to be to kill off any germ strains that might accidently seep in. The Sith Lord moved noiselessly to the suspended tube and wiped frost from its faceplate, gazing down at the body encased there. “Ambition is a quality I admire, Darth Tyrannus,” Sidious whispered aloud to himself. “But too much of it can upset the balance of power. His eyes gazed up to the ceiling, as if he was penetrating the walls and layers of city above and gazing directly into space itself, fixing his gaze on Tyrannus as he flew away. “Your ambition is your weakness, my apprentice. Do not overestimate your usefulness, even a Lord of the Sith can be replaced, should he cease to be needed.” He gazed down into the metallic tube again. The eyes were closed, the face scarred and eaten away, along with most of the right arm and both legs below the knees. .Despite all that, the body was breathing, albeit with the help of a sinister looking apparatus attached to the mouth and nose. “Rest well, young Skywalker,” Sidious hissed. “I may call on your services soon.” Chapter 15 -- Whispers Nearly seven months after the Accords of Peace were signed, Padme Amidala collapsed without warning while walking to her bedroom late one night on Coruscant. Two of her four handmaidens, Dasche’ and Sosha were by her side within a moment, helping her slowly to her feet as the senator cried hysterically, even as they attempted to calm her down. “It was just a light fall, m’Lady, you do appear fine ...” Sosha started in a soothing tone. “It’s not me Sosha, it’s the bab---,” Padme stopped short, realizing her mistake. Both Sosha and Dasche’s eyes went wide and both begin babbling at their mistress of how wonderful it was. Padme pressed her finger to her lips and pulled both handmaidens into her bedroom. In her lowest of voices she said firmly. “No one knows, no one can know, may I trust both of you with this secret?” Solemnly, both girls nodded quickly and Padme squeezed each one of each of their hands in friendship. They helped her into bed and attended to her needs before leaving the darkened chamber. Sosha returned to her own quarters and Dasche’ did likewise, but it as a long time before the second handmaiden closed her eyes to sleep. -------------------------------- On Ryloth, Count Dooku had finished paying his respects to a graveyard full of Twilek pilots who had died during the Clone Wars. The event had been well-publicized, and for a week’s time Ryloth had been prominent among planets, an unprecdented event. Now Dooku walked solemnly along the coast on the private land of Jedi Knight Spotic Lero, who had returned to his home world following Genosis to act as a governement liason to consult on military affairs should war ever come near Ryloth. Lero spoke now of the fear his people had initially felt upon hearing of Dooku’s visit and how that fear had seemed to melt away during the past few days. “Fear is a powerful weapon, Jedi Lero,” Dooku was saying, while turning his gaze out to sea.. “Your oceans are truly beautiful, are they not?” “Beautiful, but deadly, Count Dooku,” Lero replied. “Elements in the salt water react badly with Twilek flesh. Submergence in it for more than few moments time causes irreparable damage and eventually death.” “A frightening prospect, Jedi Lero, I do not mean to insult, but you seem terribly exhausted, do you wish to return to your homestead?” Lero smiled, his head-tails twitching subtly as he did. “You may no longer serve the Force, Count Dooku, but your insight is true. I have worked almost non-stop for the past year, first with the war effort, now coordinating Ryloth’s rebirth. A night of sleep would do me well. Come, the path back is this way.” Dooku put a firm hand on the other’s shoulder and stopped him in his tracks. “Actually, I know a short cut, Jedi Lero,” Dooku’s voice grew soft and dreamy. “Turn around, there is a secret entrance just beyond those breakers that will take you straight to your living quarters.” At full strength, Spotic Lero would never have fallen for anothe Jedi’s mind trick, but he was nowhere near full strength now. Nor did he believe Dooku still in use of the Force, and his guard was down. As Dooku watched from behind, Lero walked blindly into the choppy waters ahead, not stopping when the salt burned at his flesh like acid, continuing on until the larger waves knocked him from his feet, and the water’s chemicals seared his flesh again and again. When Dooku returned to his solar sailer two hours later, the message he found filled his dark heart with glee. Chapter 16 -- Invasion Tyrannus had to wait nearly six standard hours in space for Dasche’ to return his transmission, and she spoke in a halting whisper when she did appear. “You are sure of this, my servant?” “Yes my master, I was there when she collapsed and revealed that she is with child. Judging by the physical signs I have been able to observe, I would estimate she will give birth within a week.” Tyrannus’ heart burned with ambition at the thought of delivering an offspring of the most powerful Jedi in centuries to his Master. Then, something inside him sparked, and his mind slipped into a darker fantasy. Sidious surely did not know of the Senator’s pregnancy or she would already be in his custody. If Tyrannus secured the infant, he could raise the talented Jedi as his own apprentice and someday make his move to overthrow Sidious and complete his vision of a galaxy under his rules and order. “Keep me informed of any news,Dasche.I will be there in a few days to collect the Senator and her child.” Dasche’ switched off her comlink and stowed it safely back under her cloak. While a carefully-manufactured clone she was, she possessed none of her Master’s powers of the mind. In that, she was completely unaware of Sosha standing at her door during the conversation. ------------------------------ Three days later, as dusk fell on Coruscant, Captain Typho stood at attention from his security station to welcome Count Dooku to Senator Amidala’s residence. The Count brought a traditional piece of Nubain sculpture as a gift to Padme Amidala, and asked for an audience with her as soon as she was free. Moments later he sat chatting with Padme Amidala in her sitting room. Dooku smiled inwardly, this was almost too easy. “I bring my condolences, M’Lady, for the loss of your husband, no please do not start, the Emperor has told me of your love for one another. It must be of great difficulty to deal with such a matter when no one ever knew.” Padme’s eyes drooped and her features fell as if suddenly remembering Anakin was gone. “Yes, Count Dooku, Anakin was a special person. I miss him dearly.” The door opened and three of Padme’s handmaidens entered. Dooku was surprised to see Dasche’ not among them, and his danger sense flared up. Surely Dasche’ would not risk failing protocol at such a crucial juncture in this mission, she had been instructed much better than that. Trying to make his interest seem casual, Dooku asked, “Perhaps I am mistaken, but is it not the service of four handmaidens who tend to a Nubian lady of nobility? You seem one short, Senator.” In the briefest of flickers, Padme’s eyes danced across the room to a closed chamber. Dooku followed her gaze and felt conflict behind that door through the Force. With the barest of flickers in his hand, he forced the door open. Dasche’ stood there, gagged at the mouth, with one of the Nubian security guards grasping her hands, his sidearm pressed firmly against her side. Dooku whirled back toward Padme and his eyes narrowed. “Clever as ever, aren’t you, Senator?” he intoned as Typho and four other armed soliders burst in to the room to fan out around Padme. Dooku chuckled and his voice dropped ominously lower, “Do you really think men with guns can stop me?”: All five Nubian security members felt their weapons seized from their grips suddenly, and flung toward the window, shattering glass as they exited.Typho charged Dooku and was Force-slammed into a table. Handmaidens and guards turned in flight along with Padme, but Dooku crossed the room and seized the senator by the arm. He spun her around and towered over her. “Not so quickly, my lady. I’m afraid I will keep your company a while longer, at least until you deliever me the heir to the Sith.” The senator stared up at him, clearly frightened, and Dooku stretched out with the Force, searching for the young unborn mind that he knew would be so potent in the Force ... and felt nothing. He gaped down at Amidala and realized he had been tricked. In a rage, he threw the handmaiden Sosha, dressed up perfectly as the senator, against the far wall and stretched out again with the Force. There was his prize, fleeing a level below, surrounded by security and headed toward her starcraft. He touched the mind inside her, then realized in shocked delight that it was not alone. The senator would give birth to twins, and he would have them both. ---------------------------- The Nubian starship that Queen Jamilla had given Padme as a gift was in sight when one of her security guards cried out. Padme and company turned to see Dooku vault down from the high wall that surrounded the apartment complex. No mortal man could survive that leap without breaking a leg or two. Dooku strode forward. “Did you really think your little gambit would work, Senator?” he called out at the true Padme. “Come with me now and I won’t have to kill your companions.” Padme froze. She looked back at her other handmaidens, Rabe’ and Mischa, at the two older security guards she had known during her entire stay on Coruscant, and at C3PO, the last connection to Anakin she really had. The senior security guard, Chaer Markk strode forward to stand next to Padme. “It’s a trick, M’Lady, the Sith don’t leave survivors.” He fired a laser blast at Dooku, who blocked it evenly with his hands as Padme turned to run alongside her handmaidens. Dooku lifted his hands and pulled the weapon away from Markk then lifted them toward the starship and it too began to shutter. Fearing the worst, Padme and her protectors stoped short of entering the vessel when suddenly it clanged back down the the platform. Rabe’ turned and pointed back at Dooku. “There!” The rest turned and followed her finger, to see that another ship had materialized from behind the building. It hovered several feet off the ground, blocking Dooku from their vision. “Go! Now!” Markk cried, bodily lifting C3PO up to assist the slower-moving droid whose protests were muffled by the revving engines of the Nubian shuttle. So focused on hurling the Nubian transport off its base was Dooku that he was taken by surprise when the smaller ship dropped suddenly in front of him. At once he recognized the make of the Jedi starfighter, a two-seat model. A closer inspection of the cockpit brought a hiss from Dooku’s lips. It was Kenobi. Chapter 17 -- Escape When Obi-Wan Kenobi had left Coruscant following his duel with Anakin, he had taken few possessions with him, but the most valuable of all besides his lightsaber was Anakin’s astromech droid, R2-D2, who had travelled with Anakin and Padme at various times in the past decade. In that time, the droid had developed a definable personality that sometimes circumvented standard robot limits for thought. Obi-Wan had always dismissed Anakin’s claims that the R2 unit had that much of a personality, but a few months with almost no other companionship had convinced him otherwise. That relationship proved very fortunate for Obi-Wan, for he had asked the diminutive droid to do some decidely immoral things in the past six months. Breaking into comptuer databanks to monitor troop activity, hacking communications lines to send messages to Masters Yoda and Windu, along with Bail Organa and Padme. When he heard of Dasche’s betrayal to her unseen Master, Obi-Wan had taken the gambit to alert Yoda and Mace Windu, along with Bail should he need Alderaan as an asylum for the newborn child and his or her mother. Both Jedi Masters had agreed that the Jedi child could not fall into Palpatine or Dooku’s hands, and for the first time in what Obi-Wan felt was far too long a time, the Jedi moved into action. Now, hovering above Dooku, shielding Padme and her entourage from his wrath, he was thankful that Anakin had never gone through with a memory wipe on R2D2, for the little droid, tucked firmly in the Jedi fighter’s astromech slot just off Obi-Wan’s left flank. The astromech recognized Dooku from his memory banks as a dangerous being, and thus did not try and override Obi-Wan’s commands as the Jedi powered up the ship’s laser cannons and opened fire on Dooku. _____________________ Dooku was rather stunned when the Jedi actually fired. He had expected Kenobi to stall him while the others escaped, not lash out at him with firepower. The laser blasts hit just in front of Dooku, hurling him backwards against the doorway leading back into Amidala’s residence. By the time he had regained his senses, the starfighter was on top of him again. Kenobi fired and this time Dooku simply stepped off the walkway, plummeting down and down. Obi-Wan almost plunged the starfighter down after the Sith Lord, who he was certain would stop his freefall at some point with the Force and work his way back uplevels in pursuit, but he also knew the Nubian vessel had no weapons and would need an escort out of Coruscant’s system. Grimacing at his escaped quarry, Obi-Wan wheeled the starfighter around and took off after Padme’s ship as it roared out of Coruscant’s atmosphere. _____________________ Padme and her two remaining handmaidens moved quickly into the main seating area of the ship. They took off without incident, and after assuring Markk that she and the baby were fine, she moved forward to the cockpit to thank the pilots. Her worried look turned to a smile of recognition as the man in the co-pilot’s seat turned when she entered. “Captain Olie!” Padme exclaimed, instantly recognizing the native of Naboo who had piloted the same starcraft with her onboard as Queen a dozen years ago on their wild escape from Theed, and later from Mos Espa on Tatooine when she had first met Anakin. Her face clouded at that, even as Olie wrapped in her a warm embrace. “It is my pleasure to serve you again, M’Lady.” Olie, a veteran of the Battle of Naboo where her people had first won their freedom from the Trade Federation’s invasion, said. “When I heard Kenobi needed a pilot for some fancy flying, I figured I might as well volunteer.” Padme’s smile faded to shock as she caught her first glimpse of Olie’s hooded co-pilot. The other man rose and pulled back his dark hood, revealing the bald head and deep, penetrating eyes of Jedi Master Mace Windu. “Master Windu, oh, you should not have risked your safety for me.” The older man’s mouth turned up slightly at the corners. “My safety has not been a concern in many years, Padme Amidala. You however, carry the keys to the future of this galaxy within you.” Padme cocked her head quizically to one side. “Keys, Master Jedi?” The cockpit door slid open, and Padme turned to look down at the newcomer. The diminutive Master Yoda, who Padme had met just twice in her life, stared gravely up at her. “Much to discuss, we have, Padme Amidala. Come.” Chapter 18 Dooku had left his solar sailer three levels down, and reaching out to the power of the dark side, he had halted his downward descent easily. He blasted off in a different direction than the Naboo ship and Jedi escort, as he did he signalled ahead to his cruiser that he would be there imminently and that its full capabilities would be needed for pursuit. ______________ Obi-Wan saw the Imperial Cruiser before Ric Olie did aboard the Nubian vessel. The cruiser’s long-range turbolasers began pounding the space around the Nubian ship as it headed toward the nightime side of Coruscant’s closer moon. Obi-Wan turned and raced alongside the senator’s transport,and when the moon had eclipsed the cruiser, the Nubian ship slowed enough to allow Obi-Wan to dock underneath it and rush aboard. He found his two Masters sitting with Padme between them, flanked by her handmaidens and C3PO. Olie was still in the cockpit along with Chae Markk and the other security guards, respecting the Jedis’ privacy. Padme gazed up at Obi-Wan, she looked to be holding back tears. “They can’t take my children away from me, Obi-Wan,” she whispered. “They’re all I have left.” Obi-Wan claspsed Padme’s hand in his own and pulled a chair next to hers to keep her in some degree of comfort. “I do not think we’ve decided that fully, Padme, but to keep the children together puts them at great risk should tragedy befall them. Even if Dooku does not capture them here and now, he will surely inform Palpatine of them. You will be on the run your whole life, trying to protect three lives at once.” The young senator bowed her head again and covered her eyes. She was silent a moment, then looked back up, her eyes wide. “I think the children are coming.” _______________________ While Dooku’s cruiser could jump through hyperspace at great speeds, pushing its way around Coruscant’s moon was a more trying task, and one he could not expend effort through the Force on without seriously exhausting himself. He knew the captain on board the cruiser expected him to request additional help, but that would possibly alert Palpatine to his efforts, a risk he wasn’t ready to take. With time to kill, Dooku retired to his quarters at the top of the ship. He sat on his throne and closed his eyes to meditate on the upcoming battle. There was a lot of power on board that ship. Dooku prepared to return to the bridge, then paused and retrieved his light scimitar from a locked drawer. He fingered the saber eagerly, it had been a long time since he had lit it in combat. _______________________ With the lights dimmed in the Nubian transport’s medical center, Padme lay calmly on a reclining bed while Rabe’ and Mischa took turns wiping her brow with a cool cloth, holding her hands and checking the monitors that provided data on both the young senator and her two babies’ vital signs. Mace Windu stood over Padme, smiling with a fatherly patience down at her as he soothed her babies’ mental anxieties as they prepared for their journey into the world. “Have you thought of names, Padme?” Padme smiled shyly up at the Jedi Master and nodded. “I had been thinking of two, if it were a boy or a girl, now that we know for sure, I guess I can use them both.” Windu smiled and glanced at Mischa. The handmaiden nodded. Windu ascented. “Let’s bring them home.” __________________ Down in the secret depths of the Imperial Palace, the jet-black medical droid continued its primary task of monitoring the vital signs of its invalid patient. As Padme Amidala screamed in pain, Anakin’s neural pathways lit up for the first time in months, and stayed that way for more than 30 seconds. As always, the droid noted any changes and immediately filed a report to send to its master. ____________________ Although she was in pain, Padme maintained her calm, as Rabe’ held her hand and smiled bravely at her. She felt the first baby come and saw Windu’s face open up in a smile despite their dire situation. The dark-skinned Jedi cradled a tiny being in his hands now, one which promptly began to sob, a good sign. Beckoning Rabe’ for a blanket for the newborn, he held the child up for Padme’s inspection. “Your daughter is here, Padme.” Blinking back her tears, Padme smiled at the tiny girl presented before her and spoke to her for the first time. “Hello, Leia.” Leia Skywalker beat her brother into the galaxy by about six minutes. The second birth was as easy as the first, which Padme would later attribute to Windu’s skills at calming the infants’ minds through the Force. Her son, whose eyes reminded her so much of Anakin’s that she had asked Windu to leave her alone for a bit with them, curled right into her arms, alongside his sister. For all the rambunctioness and eagerness he would one day possess, Luke Skywalker was napping contentedly barely twenty minutes after he was born. Chapter 19 -- Choices With the children dozing, the Jedi returned along with C3PO and Captain Typho to hold an impromptu council in Padme’s medical ward. She had wanted to delay this as long as possible, but the Jedi Masters were insistent. By Obi-Wan’s count they had about an hour before Dooku’s cruiser cleared Coruscant’s moon, and maybe another half hour before the ship’s sensors picked up the powered down vessel hiding between three boulders on the rocky surface. “They’re my children! You can’t tell me what to do with them!” Padme was saying loudly, although keeping her voice at an even pitch in an attempt to keep the babies from waking.. “Your claim to them, we do not dispute, Padme. Their importance to the future is that which concerns us most.” Yoda replied and looked to Windu, who nodded. “If either of them fell into the hands of the Sith, they would be trained for evil, Senator. When we flee this place, we must do it in two directions to divert Tyrannus’ forces, for he can sense the babies already. He will know if they are together and will ignore the decoy ship completely. We then run the risk of having both children fall into the hands of evil.” Padme seemed to be ascenting, but was still holding out as she held the two babies tightly. “But how can you expect me to choose which one to give up? I love them both, I can’t pick one over the other!” She looked from Windu to Yoda to Obi-Wan and realized the truth. She stared sadly at Obi-Wan. “You’ve already decided, haven’t you?” Kenobi struggled to meet her gaze, feeling the hurt. “We have. Master Windu will stay on board with you, the Naboo and Leia. He will take you to Alderaan, Bail has offered you asylum there for as long as you wish it. You’ll be safe there, neither Palpatine nor Dooku has the power to touch them. Alderaan has too much say in the Core’s political realm.” “And what of Luke?” “Master Yoda and I will take him in my Jedi fighter and elude pursuit. We’ll take him to a safe location and contact Master Windu later to let you know he’s safe.” “Where will you take him?” “I’m afraid we can’t tell you that, Padme. It would make you a risk should the Empire ever take Alderaan.” Padme’s eyes narrowed. “You expect me to live my whole life without ever seeing my son again? You won’t even let me know where he is to live?” Obi-Wan was firm now, he had to be. “He’ll be safe, Padme. That will have to be enough.” __________________ Feeling twinges in the Force that could only be the birth of his Jedi twins, Dooku taxed his military staff to max out the ship’s engine drives, something that was only to be done in dire situations. Reaching out with the Force, Dooku was able to monitor the engines more closely than the crewmen at their monitors could, and he kept them informed of when to tone down certain components to prevent serious damage. Employing that strategy, his crusier, the Dominance, arrived at the moon’s terminator point nearly half an hour earlier than a normal ship of its class would. He knew Kenobi or whoever was in charge of the Nubian vessel would power down its systems, but they would have to leave life-support on, so he had sensor sweeps search for slight energy fluctuations and quickly located the vessel. “Admiral, prepare to activate tractor beam.” ---------------------- On board the Nubian vessel, Windu was the first of the Jedi to crinkle up his brow as the sense of danger came to him through the Force. “They’re here early, we’ve got to go.” Her emotional stint given way to protecting her children, Padme was suddenly in command of her senses again. She began packing a bag for Obi-Wan to take for Luke as the craft powered up under their feet. Windu bowed to Yoda and clasped Obi-Wan on the shoulder. “You’ve done well, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon would be proud of the man you’ve become. May the Force be with you.” “And with you, Master Windu.” Windu moved to the cockpit to take the seat next to Olie. The Nubian captain deferred to the Master Jedi when it came to flying. The man had reflexes the likes of which Olie had never seen. Obi-Wan returned to his fighter to prepare it for escape while Yoda stood watching over the babies as Padme continued to put needful items into a small carry case for the two Jedi to take with Luke. Yoda’s wizened face crinkled into a smile as the two infants stared at him, marvelling at his coloring and his relative size to them. Padme looked at the odd coupling and hesitated. “Master Yoda, may I ask you something? Who will my children be?” Padme had risked the question because she had heard Anakin say once that the truly great Jedi could peer into the future at times. She hoped for some insight now, especially if she would never see her son again. Yoda closed his eyes and breathed deeply, holding still for so long that Padme feared she had insulted him. “Always in motion is the future, Padme Amidala, but visions of possible futures are known to me. Leaders, do I see. Warriors, too. At least for one I see, the path to the dark side could beckon. Protected at all costs they must be, from following their father’s path.” Having heard the answer, Padme almost wished she hadn’t asked the question. ____________________ Yoda sat in the too-big rear seat of the Jedi starfighter. It was he that Padme would give to cradle her infant. There was plenty of room on the seat for both of them, with Obi-Wan, the pilot of the group, in front and R2D2 manning his station. Padme had almost cried again seeing R2, but she held back her tears again and patted the droid on the head, getting a trilling whistle from him in return. She held her baby son close now, kissing his head and whispering nonsense to him. The Nubian vessel launched and judging by the initial evasive manuevers, she realized her time with Luke was gone, they had to get out of here. She crouched over the cockpit and stared into Luke’s little eyes as he stared back, oblivious to what was about to happen. She kissed his head again and now the tears did come. “Be brave, Luke. I will love you always. Leia will, too. Grow up strong and be good.” She hesitated a second, then whispered in his tiny ear. “Make your father proud.” She gave the bundle to Yoda, who took the baby boy gently and gazed up at the trembling senator. “Your bravery they both will possess, Padme. That for certain, I know.” Padme moved to the front of the cockpit and bent down to kiss Obi-Wan on the cheek. Uncomfortable though he was, he held her closely as she wept. “It’s the right thing, Padme. I’m sorry to be the one to take him.” “I’d rather it be you than anyone, Obi-Wan. I’ve always had faith in you.” Coming from the widow of the man who had tried to kill him spoke volumes to Obi-Wan. He made a decision then and there. He beckoned the Senator closer and spoke in such a low tone that even Yoda could not hear over the engine’s guttural revving. “Wherever we take him to be adopted, I will stay. I will watch over your son for the rest of my life.” Padme stood back now, watching the cockpit close. She caught Obi-Wan’s eye and mouthed “Thank You” through the glass. The Jedi nodded to her and she stepped back. He activated the repulse boosters and her son was gone barely an hour after he had been born. _____________ One of Dooku’s deck officers made him aware of the emergence of the second ship from the first. “Sir, the starfighter has launched from the Nubian ship and is taking an opposite course.” Dooku swore to himself and stretched out with the Force. The starfighter first -- it nearly knocked him to the ground with the Force signatures emannating from it. He picked out Kenobi, and yes, Master Yoda was there too, suddenly Dooku found himself with the opportunity to settle two scores. Yoda had humiliated him at Genosis two years ago, but he had grown stronger since. The third presence was definitely one of the newborns, meaning the Jedi had been smart enough to split the twins up. He should have guessed this earlier. That meant the other child was on the Nubian vessel with Amidala and her entourage. “Deck officer, launch a patrol to follow the Nubian vessel and capture it if possible, but do not fire upon it. I will contact you later for an update.” “Yes, sir.” Dooku turned to watch the Jedi starfighter streaking across the sky and ordered his navigators to follow it, launching fighters to use their weapons liberally to deactivate its shields or knock out its long-range drives. The hunt was on. Chapter 20 -- Sanctuary Nearly 20 hours later, Obi-Wan Kenobi, near exhaustion saw a blip on the radar scopes and alerted Master Yoda. Dooku’s ship, the Dominance, pursued them relentlessly through space, having knocked out the Jedi fighter’s hyperspace capabilities before Obi-Wan could make no more than a micro-jump away from Coruscant, and giving chase after them since. The Sith Lord has lost 23 fighters to Obi-Wan’s marksmanship, aided by the Force, and another 12 had been shredded to pieces by Yoda, using his innate power over objects, to slam the Imperial fighters together when they were in close formation. The Imperial flight leaders had been forced to rethink their formations several times to avoid Force-influenced disasters, and now Dooku was holding back his last flight, instead edging the Dominance ever closer to the long-range fighter as it struggled to keep out of tractor-beam range. Despite the loud noises and occasional jarring blows, Master Yoda had kept the baby quiet and calm, using his emotional center to keep careful watch over the baby’s fragile mind and nerves. In a calm moment hours before as Dooku’s forces regrouped, Yoda told Obi-Wan that young Luke’s ripple in the Force was astonishing, even compared to his father’s. Obi-Wan had smiled at that, if they could get out of this, the Jedi way just might live on some day. But now, he alerted his Master to the small planet appearing on the edge of the starfighter’s screen. Obi-Wan knew if he could just find a landing place that would provide a few hours protection, he could repair the hyperdrive and get Luke to safety somewhere else. “I’m not picking up any cities or technology, but there’s life all over the place down there, Master. Climate is swamplike, it could provide us protection from Dooku’s searchers while I repair the warp drive.” Yoda closed his eyes and nodded. “That place, calls to our destiny, Obi-Wan. Land there, we must.” Obi-Wan angled the fighter toward the blue-green world and started his approach for a landing. _________________ The Nubian vessel jumped through hyperspace toward Alderaan, but the beacon call Dasche’ had long ago placed just inside the ship’s navigation computer sounded on board the Dominance, and relays were made to its patrol ships. They followed the Senator and her daughter through hyperspace, arriving seconds after the Naboo and opening fire. Windu and Olie sent the Nubian starship on a wild ride toward Alderaan, whisking their way toward the planet’s tiny moon, Aldergo, with the Imperial forces in hot pursuit. Reaching the moon’s terminator, Windu sent the ship diving straight down. Imperial gunners watched the ship plunge, then their attention was redirected. Coming around the moon were ships the likes of which they had never seen. A long straight middle component was powered by two powerful engines, built out on struts to each side, giving the vessels a Y-shaped appearance. The two-man fighters were far quicker than the patrolships Dooku had dispersed after Amidala and they were turned tail to escape, but the new ships were everywhere, two dozen of them in all. They launched proton torpedoes and fired away with dual lasers from underneath their cockpits. Even the two patrolships that managed to get behind their attackers found another surprise waiting, a rear-mounted gun on top of the cockpit that spat lasers courtesy the ship’s co-pilots. The last battle ever fought over Alderaanian space was over in 15 minutes, a complete rout. Three of the defending ships broke off of the formation and flew in near the senator’s transport. “Nubian shuttle, this is Blue Leader, is everyone all right over there?” Ric Olie answered the call. “We are, Blue Leader, thanks a million, what the heck are you guys flying?” “I thought you might like them, pilot, they’re brand-new, we’ve been calling them Y-Wings for lack of a more original term. They’re not as fast as the Empire’s new ships, but we’re durable and the rear laser packs some punch as the Count’s friends just found out.” A new voice came on the channel. “This is Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo. Thank you so much, you’ve saved us, we are in your debt, sir.” “I doubt that, Padme. Obi-Wan Kenobi sent me a message that you were in need. My debt to him is my life, and I would do anything to repay him. Welcome to Alderaan.” Padme had had an emotional day but her voice was heavy again. “Thank you, Bail.” _________________ If Yoda had been underwhelmed by Obi-Wan’s landing on a hill in the swampy environment of the unnanamed planet, the occasionally wry Master had kept it to himself. Yoda now stood several feet from the ship, eyes closed and searching for signs of danger through the Force. Yoda had searched the carry case prepared by Padme and found a collapsible crib in which Luke was now resting in the open cockpit, covered with a small blanket, eyes wide with wonder as he flitted them around at the sights, sounds and smells of this place. Obi-Wan and R2 worked in unison on the ship’s hyperdrive, cannabalizing non-essential parts of the ship and sorting through R2’s collection of spare parts for the necessary items to get the drive back online, if only for a one-shot jump out of Dooku’s pursuit. After half an hour, it did not take Yoda’s sense in the Force for either Jedi to hear the roar of a shuttle’s engine passing overhead. Obi-Wan knew they still had time before the Imperials arrived. Dooku wouldn’t risk bombing the area, it was clear he wanted Luke alive. Yoda pointed a gnarled finger off across the boggy terrain. “That way, they are. Dispatch of them, I will.” He turned and looked back at Obi-Wan. “When the drive is repaired, you go.” Obi-Wan started, “But Master, what if you’re not back yet, I’ll not abandon you here to ---” Yoda cut his student off there. “More than a century before your birth, dreamed of this place did I. My destiny, here it lies. To Luke, is your responsibility, follow it, on him, all may one day depend.” Obi-Wan stared after his Master as the diminutive alien moved quickly away into the swampland. Resolving himself to think positive, Kenobi turned back to R2 and his ship. ________________ Dooku exited his shuttle in knee-high boots made more for entertaining politicians than tromping through swamps. On his belt, under his dark robe, he wore his lightsaber. “Fan out,” he told the clonetroopers who stood in rapt attention. If you see anything not indigenous to this planet, alert me at once via comlink. If you can stun either Jedi, do so. If you try to gun them down, I will not accept responsibility for your deaths.” The troopers moved out, twelve groups of threes into the swamp. For Yoda, the place was full of life, teeming with the essence of the Force. The Master felt more at home here than he ever had in all his decades on Coruscant. A scant few miles away, Dooku, slipping back into his Sith training, was disgusted by the unbridled excess of life that the marshes held. So many insignifcant creatures flitting around, their small resonances in the Force distracted him, kept him from focusing on the presence of either Jedi or the baby he searched for. __________ The clonetroopers had a very bad disadvantage, marching through the green and brown swamp in their pristine white polished armor. Even without the Force, Yoda could have picked out any trooper from 500 yards away, while he blended in so well into the vegetation that a normal being may have walked within two feet of him and never realized it. Commanding his senses and the Force, Yoda would have been more than a match for 1,000 of the troopers, and he easily dispatched of the ones he encountered. The clonetroopers had broken into standard rank and file search procedures, which Yoda used against them, picking them off down the line, using more violence than he normally would condone on non-manufactured beings. Yoda crushed them with dead branches, smashed their bodies into trees or held them underwater with the invisible hand of the Force until their thrashings ceased. Unlike his Sith counterpart, Yoda had no problem discerning individuals in the Force. He sought to sooth some of the more nervous inhabitants of the planet as their ecosystem was interrupted by both he and the Imperial troops. Reaching out, he found Dooku’s mind alone remaining on the outskirts of the bog he and Obi-Wan had landed in. Without hesitating, the Jedi Master moved along to meet his destiny. _________________ Tyrannus, as he felt he was now truly a Sith Lord again, not the wheedling politican he had played for far too long, had not been raised on his comlink since sending the troops to search, but it did not surprise him. While any of the troopers would give his life on Tyrannus’ command, none of them possessed the tracking skills necessary to find the Jedi in the swamp. If anything, dispatching them was to stall whichever of the two Jedi, likely Yoda, was acting as guard while the other tried to repair their craft. So lost in thought and still frustrated by the overabundance of creatures in the Force stream, Tyrannus rounded a bend to find Yoda standing on a tree stump barely 10 feet in front of him. Chapter 21 -- Battle Tyrannus came to a jarring halt, but recollected himself quickly to unleash a half-smile, half-snarl at his former teacher standing innocuously there in front of them. “I see my wishes have been answered, Master Yoda. We meet again.” Tyrannus drew his blade and ignited it, the crimson beam closing the distance between he and Yoda to a matter of feet. Yoda in turn stood motionless, despite the proximity of the killing blade to his small body. “Will you not draw your weapon, Jedi? Shall I just strike you down, then move on to collect my prize?” He pointed the blade at Yoda now, it wavered slightly in his grip, although whether it was out of excitement or nervousness was unknown. Yoda stared deep into Tyrannus’ face now, a look that in the past had made all but his most selfless students cringe in remorse, trying to discern what they had done to draw such a withering stare. “No need for weapons do I have to defeat you, Dooku,” Yoda replied calmly, refusing to call the Sith Lord by his adopted name. The Master stretched out and Tyrannus’ blade was wrenched from his grasp and sent wheeling several meters away, still lit and still airborne. Yoda’s concentration grew as he focused on the inner mechanisms of the blade. In an instance, its components overheated and it exploded, extinguishing the blade and sending white-hot metal shards across the swamp. The shards hit the water with great force, and quickly cooled in the cold waters. Yoda recaptured Tyrannus’ stare. “As for the boy, never shall you lay claim to him.” Yoda hopped off the stump lightly and stood solidly in the middle of the path Tyrannus had been following. The challenge was clearly extended. Enraged by both the destruction of his saber and Yoda’s defiance now, Tyrannus lashed out with the Force at his former teacher, seeking to hurl him back against the enormous trees behind them. Yoda met the Sith’s grip, and the two stood there, looking for all the world as if they were doing nothing more than looking at each other. In the unseen ocean of the Force however, twin tidal waves raged. ________________ Obi-Wan could feel the battle begin through the Force, he would have had to be a complete Jedi inept to miss the power surging forth on this planet. He had felt his Master wield the Force to dispatch the clonetroopers at various points over the past hour. He had tried not to worry about his Master, it seemed also comical to do so considering the might Yoda possessed. But since they had landed here, the Master had been speaking more and more archaically about his own destiny. Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon had sacrificed his safety to ensure Obi-Wan’s success. He wasn’t sure he could take losing another Master to the Sith. So he hurried along now, with R2D2 ably helping him and baby Luke dozing in his makeshift crib in the pilot’s seat. They had isolated the problem, well R2 had mostly, but Obi-Wan had the manual dexterity to make the repairs quicker, so the astromech mainly hovered over the Jedi while he rerouted the power drive of the starfighter, then rolled back occasionally to examine the baby human who continued to sleep lightly. _____________ Barely two miles away, Tyrannus released his hold on the Force and called upon a power that Sidious had been showing him slowly over the past few years. His fingers extended, bursts of blue-white lightning drew forth from the electrical charges of the air itself and blasted Yoda back 10 yards into short foliage. Grinning ferally to hismelf, Tyrannus moved forward quickly, as the diminutive Yoda collected himself from the attack. Tyrannus emitted the dark Force lightning again, blasting Yoda off his feet. They moved that way across the swamp, with Yoda forced back time and again by Tyrannus’ bolts of energy. Now the Sith Lord could see past a clearing ahead, and in it, the Jedi starfighter. His vision narrowed and he saw Kenobi frantically working on the ship’s engine alongside an astromech droid, and there, sitting in the pilot’s seat, his prize, the baby boy who possessed the potential to one day help him rule the galaxy. ________________ Obi-Wan did not understand the electrical sounds coming from the battleground, and his heart plummeted when he saw the eruption of blue-white light that sent his Master reeling backwards within 100 feet of the starfighter. “Master!” he yelled out, but there was Yoda, getting to his feet again determinedly, standing again to face Tyrannus, who Obi-Wan could see clearly now as he stalked through the marsh, his vision shifting between the baby and Yoda, who still stood resolutely between him and his goal. Obi-Wan was stricken with his Master’s condition. His flesh was burned on his arms and face, and he moved slowly now as he stepped into place in front of Tyrannus. “Your destiny comes, Kenobi!” Tyrannus’ voice thundered out now, amplified by his deep connection to the dark side. “Your master has failed, and so shall you! The child will be mine, and one day, the galaxy as well!” Fretful as he was, Obi-Wan ignored the threat and made the final connection on the warp core. It hummed to life and he locked the engine back into place, calling to R2 to get ready for take off. He slid the baby’s crib into the rear seat, causing young Luke to awaken and babble a bit, but still never actually crying. Obi-Wan hopped into the front and called to Yoda. “Master, come! Hurry, let’s get out of here!” Yoda, turned sideways between one former student and another, actually smiled. “Decided my fate is, Obi-Wan. Flee now, guard the boy well. Meet again, we shall.” Obi-Wan’s eyes betrayed his solemness as he held back tears at abandoning his most prized instructor. But he had discussed the children’s safety so much with Yoda and Mace Windu that he knew he must obey his Master’s command. He ignited the ship’s engines and it lifted gently off the ground. Tyrannus reached out with the Force again as the Jedi starfighter began to clear the lower-level trees, its engines drowinng out the sounds of the jungle below. Tyrannus seized ahold of the small starfighter and began pulling it inexorably down, his full will bended toward bringing his tiny prize back to him. He saw Yoda raise his hands in a similar fashion, and braced for an attack, either on his person or against his control of the starfighter. No push on the Force came however, and confusion turned to glee as he realized the aged Master was simply too exhausted from the battle Tyrannus had brought to him in the swamp. He pulled Kenobi’s starfighter another two feet down toward the surface when a shadow fell over him. Tyrannus looked up, distracted, then stunned, and his concentration in the Force snapped. __________________ Battling with the yoke of the fighter and through his own control of the Force, Obi-Wan was suddenly overwhelmed by buoyancy as Tyrannus released his grip on the ship. The starfighter rocketed straight up, drawing ear-popping cries from baby Luke, while Obi-Wan wrestled with the controls, levelling out their ascent and rocketing out of the atmosphere. He willed himself not to look down, but when he at last broke the clouds of the planet’s atmosphere and headed into space, he was confronted by the overwhelming bulk of the Dominance, hovering in space having obviously tracked the outbound ship on its radar the moment its heat signatures came online on the planet’s surface. Even as Obi-Wan made to plunge the ship into evasive manuevers, the yoke caught in his hands and the ship began to shutter. The onboard warning computers confirmed two tractor beams holding the ship at bay. Obi-Wan’s throat seemed to close up as he came to the realization that Yoda’s sacrifice had been in vain. Obi-Wan had failed. Chapter 22 -- Master In their intial Force battle in the swamp, Yoda had found Dooku stronger than before, but still not a master of the Force. While he knew his former pupil was eager to test his skills against his former Master and that his taste for blood for Obi-Wan was formidable, Yoda could also sense the lack of total concentration on Dooku’s part. He was madly driven to acquire the newborn Jedi child, and that could be used against him. Trusting in the Force’s power to heal his body, Yoda allowed Dooku to blast him time and again across the battlefield, taking a huge risk in strategy by allowing the Count to move ever closer to his young prize. As the shadow passed over Tyrannus’ head, he glanced up, angrily so, guessing it to be some large avian creature passing over, and his heart caught in his throat. His assault shuttle, that which had brought him and the two dozen clonetroopers down the planet’s surface was hovering above him, except that it was clearly not flying and he knew that all the troops were dead.- For a heartbeat, he glanced at Yoda and came to the horrifying truth as his former Master released his command of the shuttle and it dropped like a boulder on top of the Sith Lord. --------------------- For all his exertion from the battle, Tyrannus dropped prone on his back and raised his hands up, “catching” the shuttle with the Force a bare four feet above his body. He lay there, hands trembling, unable to move out of the way lest he lose his concentration on that which threatend to crush him now. He heard a scuffle of feet and Yoda’s wizened head appeared over him, looking down in pity and remorse at his fallen student. “How?” Tyrannus spat out. “How could you do this? I bested you ..... I defeated you!” Yoda shook his head slowly, staring intently down at the white-haired human. “Ambition, always your weak point, Dooku. Inability to see past your own blindness. Your belief that the Force is your weapon, wrong it is. An ally, a teacher, a champion, a healer it is.. That lesson never did you learn, now, your undoing it is. ” Yoda showed the Count his arms and hands, previously charred by the Sith Lord’s lightning blasts, now nearly completely healed. “The Force is not within you, my student,” Yoda solemnly continued. “Within the Force, are we.” Tyrannus was amazed by what he saw, he thought Yoda on the verge of death mere minutes before. Now, the diminutive Master seemed as young as the day Dooku had entered the Temple nearly six decades ago. As he tried to comprehend Yoda’s words, his concentration slipped and the great weight of the shutle dropped down another foot. “You can’t be that strong,” Tyrannus spat out. “It’s impossible, only the dark side offers true power. I don’t believe i---” As his mind reeled in the thought of the light side of the Force being that capable, his concentration slipped for the final time. The full impact of the shuttle dropped the final two feet, crushing Tyrannus’ body and killing him instantly. Yoda leapt backward onto a low-hanging tree branch as the dark side energy in Dooku crackled and sizzled, eating away at the Count’s body in a grim parody of the Force-created lightning he had earlier used against Yoda. The energy soon disappeared into the air, becoming one again with the Force as Yoda watched. “That is why, I will always be your Master, Dooku.” he whispered. Already weary of the battle, Yoda had just drawn in a long breath when he felt Obi-Wan’s panic from the atmosphere above. Feeling his student’s desperation as the forces of Dooku exerted their tractor beams on the starfighter, Yoda lost himself in the Force again, opening up his entire being to it, seizing hold of it to grant him the power to save the student , and the young one who was one half the key to the galaxy’s future. Yoda extended his hands again and the shuttle groaned and creaked, suddenly hurling straight upwards. ____________________ While he had not been able to signal his Lord on the private comlink channel, General Arynn Barlion could barely contain his excitement at having captured the Jedi starfighter as it tried to rocket away from the planet which his navigation chief had identified as Dagobah from an Old Republic exploratory database. The starfighter now hung helplessly in the grip of two of the Dominance’s six tractor beams, and was being reeled in carefully, lest the Jedi pilot open fire or try some other ridiculous tactic to evade them. Thoughts of promotion, vacation or even a spot aboard one of the Emperor’s new class of capital ships rose unbidden into Barlion’s mind when one of the flight deck officers signalled him and called out. “Sir, we have an unknown object rising from the surface of the planet!” Barlion kept his cool, nothing could interfere with the capture of the Jedi now. “On screen, corporal.” The monitors flickered to life aboard the Dominance’s bridge to show the assault shuttle rising rapidly through the atmosphere’s clouds. Barlion smirked at the screen. “I know you’ve been on board for a short time only, Corporal Gadsen, but please try to remember what our own craft look like.” The jab received a round of stifled laughter at Gadsen’s expense from the officers on the bridge, but the young navigator continued. “Sir, I recognize the craft. However, it is neither occupied nor moving under its own power. It is rising toward us at approximately four times its known maximum velocity.” A murmur of concern rumbled across the bridge now, and Barlion moved to read the monitors over the corporal’s shoulder. He stared at the shuttle as it rose, then turned to his second-in-command. “Lieutenant, attempt to contact Lord Tyrannus again. If you do not hail him, activate our deflector shields and power up lasers.” As the lieutenant turned to dispense these orders, Gadsen’s voice went shrill in Barlion’s ears. “Sir, the shuttle’s speed has tripled in the last 15 seconds, it’s going to hit us!” Even as Barlion opened his mouth to respond, the bridge’s deck exploded as Tyrannus’ shuttle collided with the Dominance like a meteor. The shuttle ruptured on impact, but not before continuing on through the roof of the bridge, exposing both the command crew and vital computer components to the vaccuum of space. The Dominance listed badly on its side, completely out of control. In the Jedi starfighter, Obi-Wan once again had control of his ship, and he didn’t look back, wheeling the ship around and punching in the only hyperspace coordinates he could think of at the moment. As the starlines blurred in front of him, Obi-Wan allowed himself a slight smile. He had underestimated his Master’s abilities, he could only hope the Sith had done the same. ______________________ Back on Dagobah’s surface, Yoda cringed in pain as he felt the Dominance explode in chain reaction of fire and death. Most on board the ship were clones, but there were some individual beings there, and their deaths now all tainted his actions. As he felt Obi-Wan and Luke’s presence wink out across the stars, Yoda collapsed to the ground, too weak even to call the Force to help him stand. He had turned his body into a fountain, through which the Force had flown like a raging river, driving the shuttle out of the planet’s gravity and through the ship above that threatend to snuff out the future of the Jedi. After a long time, Yoda opened his eyes again to find night had fallen and passed and morning had come to the dimly-lit swampland. He could feel the planet’s creatures through the Force, its plants and trees and birds and fish and land dwellers. But through the creature and plants, he felt the pain. The pain infilcted by his battle with Dooku on the landscape, the plants crushed by the landing of both Obi-Wan and Dooku’s ships, the animals haphazardly killed by the clonetroopers as they searched for the Jedi in the swamp, all the ecosystems that had been disrupted by the presence of both Jedi and Sith. Yoda did not know if he could save the galaxy from itself, but he knew he could fix the damage done here. The weakened Jedi Master closed his eyes again and slept, only to awaken wide-eyed an hour later. He saw a vision of blackness, death and hatred. Even though he had seen the death of a Sith Lord by his own hands a day before, Yoda knew that the evil order was not extinct. He closed his eyes to mediate on the subject, and slowly began to realize the awful, hidden truth. Chapter 23 -- Awakening The being who had once been Anakin Skywalker returned to consciousness to find a blinding light stretching down into his eyes. For a long time, his eyes were the only thing he could feel, as he opened and shut them, hoping each blink would dim the light that threatened to seer through him. He contemplated the light fully, unaware of anything but its presence. His eyes blinked again and again, as he slowly realized the problem was in his vision, not in the light above. Slowly, his body began to come alive again and with it came the pain. Pain unlike anything his disjointed memory could recall. Pain slammed his nerves in waves. His lungs burned, his mouth and nose felt raw and invaded, his skin itself felt new, like it had been pulled onto his bones and fit too tight. He tried to move his arms, but only one responded. He felt ... numb in some areas and didn’t understand why the pain increased with each moment. Every breath pained him, as air seemed forced in and out of his body. He was able to push his eyes down to see a metallic grey tube covering most of his face, leading out of his field of vision. A hiss filled his ears, the first sound he had heard besides his own ragged breathing. He felt air move on his face and the light’s source began moving, off to one side as now he could see metal rising above him, and he slowly realized he was encased in some sort of structure. The lid of the structure pulled back, exposing his eyes to a darkness above that they could not penetrate. His ears, perhaps the only part of him not in pain, could hear electronic beeps now, and the nearly hushed movements of someone walking toward him. He blinked again and suddenly there was a face peering down at his. A face covered by a hood, but suddenly pulled back to reveal its occupant. He shut his eyes in horror, then opened them again to stare at the gnarled vision above him in shock. He knew this face, and yet he did not. The man looked so much older than in any of his memories that he wondered if he had simply imagined them. He was at once repulsed and hypnotized by the man’s yellowish eyes that stared down into his own. The man’s lips pulled back and gritty teeth revealed in what approximated as a smile. The man spoke clear and soft and he felt he knew the voice, too. “You will die.” The three words caused him to inahle sharply, throwing off slightly the mechanations of the breathing apparatus as the computer compensated for his attempt to breathe on his own. He blinked up in fright at the gruesome visage as it stared down at him. “You will die,” it repeated. “Unless you give your life to me.” He stared into those eyes now, tantalized by the thought of life. “They sought to take it all from you, my young friend. You remember them, don’t you? Jealous, hateful, spiteful of you. They murdered your mother. They stole your bride. They took your glory and made it their own. They even tried to take your life, but I would not allow it!” As the mouth spoke, he was hit by images of the events in question. Visions of a caring mother, a beautiful wife, of rage and hatred and death ... his own death? “You have begun to remember, haven’t you? Do you remember who did this to you, my young friend? They are Jedi, and together we shall rid the galaxy of their plague, and revenge the injustices done to you.” The words moved him, and his body was filled with hatred for the Jedi. The dark side flowed through him and he felt strong, he felt the pain easing in his lungs and strength returning to him for the first time in ages. The face smiled down at him now. “You feel it, don’t you? The true power of the Force. For a millenium the Jedi believed they knew its nature, but now they are all but extinct. Their self-absorbed ways led to the downfall of the Republic and the slaughter of millions. But where they failed, we shall succeed. We shall rule the galaxy in perfect order. The dark side of the Force is the true power!” He was taken aback by the hatred in the voice. His concentration wavered and the pain returned. He felt confused, scared even. He longed to be comforted, if not by a person, than by the blackness from which he had been roused. Darth Sidious, the Emperor, looked down at the remains of Anakin Skywalker, sensing the hurt and confusion there. He brought up the reflective glass that he had brought from his office. He held it above Anakin’s face and sensed the younger man’s shock, horror and yes, there was the hatred once more. Anakin, although he still had no recollection of his own self, stared up in horror. The thing looking back at him was a nightmare of scars, chalky-white skin and lesions. He had no hair anywhere on his head or face. A scar two inches thick wrapped from the top of his head down the left side of his face. His scalp was burnt in too many places to count. A thick tube held his mouth open, two more were entrenched in his nostrils. The Emperor held the glass for a long moment, then waved his hand and activated a monitor raising above Anakin. He removed the mirror and allowed the invalid to see his entire body in the tomb he had lay in for months. Anakin gave forth a low wail that was distorted but amplified by the tube his own throat. He closed his eyes in horror again, reopening then slowly to look at the wrecked shards of his body. His right arm ended in a stump, his hand gone with no traces of having ever existed. His arms, legs and chest were ravaged by scars, and his once-muscular frame was thin and weak. His legs ended shortly below the knees. The numbness he first felt now made sense. Tears filled his eyes as he continued to stare at himself on the monitor. It remained on as the Emperor re-entered his field of vision, his sickly pale eyes holding Anakin’s own. “Do not pity yourself, my young friend. It makes you weak. Give your service to me, and I shall remake you. I shall give you the strength and the power to gain revenge on them. On Kenobi, on the ones who stole your wife, who murdered your family, who made you into this.” The words reignited the fire of hate inside Anakin’s body. He stared up at his nightmarish reflection and the anger surged through him like black waves of water now, fillling him to the brim with its power of potential. He saw himself reborn, striding on new legs across planets, wielding the Force as a hammer, crushing those who had betrayed him, those who had murdered him, those who had used him to their own ends, then discarded him like a broken machine. He saw men kneel before him, awaiting orders, eager to please, willing to die, fearful of his wrath. He embraced the full pleasure of power, feeling the might of controlling the fates of others. Worlds would tremble at his approach. He would restore order to a fractured galaxy, order that the Jedi had beleived theirs to dictate. They had failed, they had tried to blame him for their own shortcomings. He would be revenged. The Emperor stared down at him hard and felt his gaze met. He felt the power of victory now, the hate flowed freely through Skywalker’s body. He would be easy to craft into the next lord of the Sith. His hand touched Anakin’s scarred face but the former Jedi barely felt the pain, so enraptured in the dark side was he. “They made you a monster, my young apprentice,” the Emperor whispered. “I will re-make you a god.” Chapter 24 -- Vader Padme Amidala stood in her daughter’s nursery, watching Leia sleep soundlessly. Padme herself had rarely slept a full night since her arrival on Alderaan two months ago. When she did sleep, she was plagued by nightmares. Neither she, Master Windu nor Bail Organa had heard from Yoda or Obi-Wan since their parting near Coruscant shortly after Luke and Leia had been born. She had no idea if Luke was even still alive, which troubled her the most, while Master Windu’s attempts to contact Yoda through their strong mental connection had failed. All the same, there had been no signs that Count Dooku had successfully located Luke. The Emperor had been quiet lately, letting his lesser government officials address the Senate and making only rare appearances on the Holonet. Padme thought he looked horrible, far older than he should appear, and wondered if Dooku had warped his mind somehow through the dark side of the Force. She remained frightened, worrying about Luke, who she had no control over, and about Leia, who she checked on at every opportunity, trusting no one past Mischa and Rabe’ to spend more than a few moments with her baby girl. The message light flashed on the control panel to her right and Padme padded softly to the front of her chambers, keying the door to open to find Rabe’ standing there. “Master Windu is here to speak with you, M’Lady.” Padme’s heart leapt in her chest evn as she tried not to let her hopes rise at the prospect of news. She moved quickly forward to where Windu stood. “Luke?” “ -- is safe and well, Padme.” Windu put a comforting hand on her shoulder and could feel the burden of worry lift from her body in a rush.”I have received an encrypted message from Obi-Wan. He sends his apologies for keeping you uninformed for so long, but he says Luke is fine. “And what of Master Yoda and Obi-Wan? How did they escape the Sith Lord?” Windu’s brow furrowed and his face grew solemn again. “They were separated. Apparently they landed on an unknown planet to repair the ship. Yoda and Dooku engaged in a battle, but Obi-Wan did not see its end. He assumes Yoda defeated the Sith, but cannot confirm whether Dooku died or if Yoda still lives.” This time it was Padme putting her hand on the great Master’s arm, trying in some small way to lend comfort to him at the prospect of being the last of his kind, the only remaining Master of what had been a Council of 12 great minds barely three years before. Windu touched her hand and nodded. “I have instructed Obi-Wan to meet me at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in three days. We fear the Emperor will have it razed to wipe out any remaining knowledge of our kind. We hope to salvage as much information as possible in hopes that some day I might use it to train Leia, and Obi-Wan to train your son as the first of the new Jedi.” Padme’s eyes grew fearful at the prospect of Windu leaving. “But Master Windu, you’ll be seen! The Emperor will have spies everywhere watching for you and Obi-Wan to return! It’s too dangerous to risk yourself!” Windu’s features were solid like stone. “The Force calls to me, Padme. I have the gift to hear it. I do what I must.” ----------------------- In his deepest meditation chamber, Darth Sidious sat on a throne, flanked by eight crimson-clad Royal guards, their faces masked by visors and helmets, their bodies hidden under flowing robes and each brandishing a force pike at attention. Sidious sat in silence, feeling the dark side powers flow through him as he watched a monitor showcase the diligent work of medical droids a level below. The droid who had monitored Anakin Skywalker all these long months was joined by an exact duplicate, and even now the two worked in tandem, unhooking the charred body from its life-support systems. Two more Royal guards stood near a giant black case, in rapt attention, awaiting the droids’ signal to assist them as they removed the broken body from its tubing. Now the guards removed a locking mechanism and the case eased open with a snap-hiss of released pressure. They moved forward with the body armor, black as night, the antithesis of the pristine white worn by the Empire’s troops. Carefully, the droids attached the artificial legs to the now-unconscious body, weaving tissue with cyborg implant carefully until the neural synaspes and transmitters found an equal plane and the artificial legs were recognized as a part of the whole. The black boots encased them, and piece by piece the armor snapped shut with ringing finalness around the vastly deteriorated body. A new hand was attached, much as the legs had been, and sheathed in black gloves and armanments. The chest piece locked into place, and tubes slid seamlessly into holes in his chest, inflating his lungs with filtered oxygen, and rendering the medical tubes in his airways useless. They were removed. The body seized up, unable to breathe, but quickly the mouth and nose were coverd with a faceplate, then a helmet which formed together into a black death mask, fearsome even to the guards who had been integral in creating the armored suit. The wheezing continued for another painful moment, then the breathing became regulated by the suit’s devices, and it turned into a deep, labored rasp. Slowly, aided by the two guards, the armored figure rose to its feet, towering over the crimson-clad warriors and the droids alike. The figure stood there, breathing deep, the labored mechanism echoing deep in the chamber. One of the guards pulled a lever on the console behind him, and the armored figure began to rise on a platform beneath his boots. _______________________ He felt his body rise slowly into the chamber. He was still so weak, so exhausted from the process, but he felt the Force coursing through him, making him stronger as he thought about how he would use this body to exact his revenge. When the platform came to a halt he saw the Emperor, sitting above him on a throne, flanked by more of the guards. Remembering his silent vow, the armored figure dropped to a knee. “What is thy bidding, my Master?” The voice rumbled out of him through processors in the bottom of the helmet. It was far different from the voice he remembered using in his other life, and it pleased him to hear the depth and intimidation in it. “You have been re-made, my servant,” the Emperor intoned, his own voice not nearly as deep, but filled with darkness nonetheless. “The Jedi Anakin Skywalker is dead. You are his sucessor, his better. In you, the Force flows without limit, without boundary. You will use it to serve me, and to revenge those who have wronged you.” “You will be my apprentice, but first you must prove yourself worthy of the call of the Sith.” The Emperor patted the arm rest of his throne, and the armored one noticed a short cylinder resting there. It too, he remembered from another time. “It will be yours, my friend, call it to you.” He extended one great black arm and stretched out in the Force. The lightsaber sprung from the throne and flew to his hand. He turned it over in his hand twice, it was much like his last. “Very good, my apprentice. Now for your true test ... Guards, destroy him.” As the armored figure looked up in surprise from his saber, the Royal guards activated their pikes and assumed combat stances in a circle around him. They were the best of the best, hybrid clones with military training that allowed them to serve their Master in several capacties, most notably as bodyguards capable of killing in a heartbeat, operating any weapon known in the Empire like a seasoned professional and overwhelming tremendous odds, be they in situation or size. The armored figure ignited the lightsaber, the crimson blade extending to match the color of the guards’ armor and robes. As they moved in on them, he called the Force to his side, seizing hold of its dark side and lashing out at those who again sought to destroy him. The first guard to attack swung his pike and had it lopped in half by the saber, which continued through his armored chest, dropping him instantly. The great black warrior, spun to avoid the coordinated attack of two more, dicing one through the neck with his blade while seizing the other’s windpipe through the Force and shattering it. Turning again, he faced the remaining five, now all wary of this deadly giant. Seizing the opportunity, he threw the blade, controlling its flight through the Force as it shredded through the visor of one man and pierced a second in the chest. Thinking the warrior defenseless without his blade, another guard charged him, pike in front of him to penetarte the black armor. A gloved hand shot out and caught the pike by the top of its thin-rodded body, shattering it in the vise-like grip The giant picked the guard up, and slammed him head first into the metal walls of the antechamber, dropping his limp body to the ground. Of the two remaining guards, one advanced cautiously now, keeping his distance from the monster in black when the crimson blade stabbed him from behind, exiting out the front of his chest in an explosion of blood as it returned to its new Master’s grip. One guardsman stood alone now. He had sworn to die protecting the Emperor. Now he fell to his knees in front of the armored giant, his pike clattering to the ground. Anakin Skywalker might have shown such an opponent mercy. The armored giant took two great strides to where the guard knelt and brought the saber down into his skull. The black warrior extinguished his blade and turned to face his Master again. “Kneel, my apprentice.” Instantly he was down on a knee again, this time reveling in the power he felt, the strength of the dark side had made him invulnerable, had allowed him to crush eight trained fighters in a matter of seconds. He heard the Emperor rise from his throne and descend the stairs to stand over him. His Master took the lightsaber from his hand and touched him on both shoulers with the hilt. “Arise, Darth Vader. Lord of the Sith.” Chapter 25 -- Temple Jedi Master Mace Windu, dressed as a religious pilgrim, surreptiously slipped away from the tour group he was with as the leader pointed out the Jedi Temple. “There, the great Jedi Order once researched the Force and gave advice to our government on important decisions,” the Bothan was saying to a group composed largely of Corellian merchants and their families, visiting for a trade convention and taking their families out for the sights of the galaxy’s crown jewel. Windu wore the robes and deep blue sash of the Divinist Clan, a well-known sect who believed in a series of ancient scrolls charging its followers to make differences in the lives of others as often as possible. The clanists were frequently visiting other planets to interact with as many beings of as many species as possible. Coruscant was such a bustling hub of interspecies relationships, the Divinists were a very common sights on the Empire’s capital world. Windu slipped away down a side corridor, looking for the symbol he was sure he would find. There, in the ground, was the small icon of the Temple, covering a utility entrance that led to the bottom levels of the Jedi’s facility. While Windu had no doubts Palpatine’s foces had sealed up the Temple’s main entrances, only someone with intense knowledge of the interworkings of the Jedi would have the insight to seal off every possible entry way. Windu typed in a deeply-imbedded security code and the utility hatched hissed and raised. Gazing around to make sure he was alone, he slipped inside the hatch and closed it behind him. ____________________ Being in the Temple alone made Mace Windu feel uneasy and more than a bit sad. Even in serious times of war, the Temple had been full of life and energy, provided mainly by its youngest students, who were still experiencing the full wonderment of being in touch with the Force. Now the halls seemed cold and dark, even when Windu went into his old quarters to gather a few digiitized essays he had been working on. He would have plenty of time to catch up on the writing now, although he hoped to begin training young Leia shortly after her second birthday in some rudimentary Jedi activities. Windu’s next stop would be the Hall of Records, after which he would go back downlevels and rendevous with Obi-Wan in one of the training rooms. Together, they hoped to take as many lightsaber constructs as possible, that plus the saving of the records would cut down greatly on the eventual costs of a new facility on another world. Pausing at his old desk on the way out, Windu activated the chronometer, checking the time and seeing he still had more than two hours before Obi-Wan was to meet him. Best to get to the library and pack as many discs full of information as he could. __________________________ Sitting in his personal office with senators from Rodia, Mallastaire and Kashykk, the Emperor looked down to see the a tiny light gleam blue on his desk’s control panel. Keying in his thumb print, he got a brief message from Tarkin, now his head of intelligence. The message was to the point, a trait that the Sith Lord admired about the Admiral. “Security droid imagery -- MaceWindu in Jedi Temple.” For a long moment, Sidious considered sending fighters to destroy the Temple, or perhaps a few hundred troopers and Guardsmen to gun the former Councilmember down with sheer firepower. Neither of those options was fool proof however, in fact, Sidious knew now how to accomplish two pressing goals at once. He interrupted the Senator from Kashykk wtih a smile and a wave of his hand. “Your pardon, Senator, but I have received an urgent message that does require my immediate, personal attention. Please treat yourself to the hospitalities of my staff, I shan’t be long.” _______________________ In his personal training room underneath the Emperor’s Palace, Darth Vader sat cross-legged, reaching out into the dark side, practicing the first lessons his Master had taught over the past two days. The Emperor was a harsh Master, quick to discipline when understanding did not come at the rate he demanded. Vader was powerful, strong and deadly, but now he was learning guile, insight, and how to bend the will of men. He would use all his talents to wipe out corruption, and help his Master’s new order come to life. Now the hiss of the private turbolift could be heard as it descended to the training facility. Knowing it could be only one being, Vader ceased his meditation and moved quickly in front of the shaft, kneeling as he did. The Emperor exited the turbolift, and while he was pleased to see Vader kneeling before him, he had no time for formality. “Arise, my friend. I would speak to you.” Vader drew up to his full height of two meters and walked slowly along with the Emperor as the latter surveyed the training facility. “The Jedi Temple has become infested with one of its former tennants. Master Windu has returned much as we thought one of the Council may some day do. He is there now. You shall take a detatchment of stormtroopers with you and destroy him.” Vader turned and bowed. “As you wish, my Master.” _____________________________ It had taken Mace Windu the better part of 90 minutes to secure the records he felt most pressing to the Jedi teachings. For the most part, he left the Jedi encylopedias untouched, reasoning that Alderaan’s libraries were even more extensive in terms of historical documents, information on other people, planets and cultures. What he needed to save were those items exclusive only to this facility. Even then, it was crushing to separate so many fine works by Jedi academics into meager piles of what was to be saved and what would be left to Palpatine’s razing or coveting. He filled as many discs as he had with information and checked the chronometer here, too. Still nearly a standard hour before he could expect Obi-Wan. Windu moved out into the hallway, then found himself moving uplevels, wanting to see the rest of his home one more time. The top floor of the central Temple glowed to life as he entered, it was a quirk built in by the Jedi architect Master Styla Libusa, who had envisioned the structures more than 200 years ago, and whose ultimate vision realized had been a gratifying accomplishment to those who had known her. Each subsequent chamber entered glowed to life as its door opened, giving it a warm, though artifical tone. Windu passed through the chambers where he had been Knighted, as well as confirmed for the Council. He hesitated outside the grand Council chamber, then pushed the release for the door and walked in slowly. Unlike the other rooms, this one did not light up, even though it should have. With the windows darkened artificially to keep the room cool, it was almost impossible for Windu to see anything. Not that Windu would need his eyes to know what the room looked like, he had spent thousands of hours here. The greatest debates and some of the worst mistakes of the Jedi had been born here. Of the 12 Councilmembers he had last served with, 10 were dead, with Yoda’s condition still unknown. It had stunned him how fast they had been swallowed up by death, especially at Genosis. He himself had nearly lost his life there, battling the host of battle droids, the awesome monstrosity known as the Reek and the skilled bounty hunter Jango Fett, whose body had been the imprint for the Imperial clonetroopers. As he stood there remembering and contemplating, the door slid shut behind him, something it should not do under normal circumstances. He had had to manually open it with the outside lever, and only a lever on this side of the door should have been able to shut it. Even if the power had been activated in this part of the Temple, the door’s security system would have detected him standing within the safety distance of the door’s proximity and refused to shut until he moved away. As he stared blankly into the darkness at the closed door, he heard a sound that would come to chill men who heard it later in history. It rang out clear behind him, across the room, sounding like someone breathing underwater through an oxygen system. Windu whirled, his danger sense flaring. “Who’s there?” In answer, he heard the snap-hiss of a lightsaber activating and his eyes focused on a crimson blade appearing out of the blackness, illuminating two black gloved hands and similarly covered arms, but little else. “Who are you?” The voice came now, speaking Basic, deep and rich and full of hate. “I am your executioner, Master Windu. I am the end of the Jedi.” Windu unhooked his own saber from his belt and ignited it, the deep violet blade reaching out now. “You are an intruder in this place, leave now or you shall be dealt with.” The mysterious figure held silent, then one hand left the blade and suddenly the lights of the chamber blazed on, temporarily blinding Windu, whose eyes had grown accustomed to the darkened conditions. There, across the chamber, stood a walking nightmare. Windu could not tell if it were man, alien, droid or some horrifying combination, but it carried a lightsaber that seemed naggingly familiar to him. Encased all in black, it had computer lights blinking on its chest and a cape trailing behind him, standing nearly half a foot taller than Windu himself. Its helmet was gruesome, a play on the Clonetrooper’s head gear but more sinister and menacing. It returned its other hand to the saber’s handle and moved into a classical Jedi fighting stance. Windu matched the stance and the two figures moved slowly toward one another. _______________________ The freighter Obi-Wan had bought passage on was held up in Coruscant customs officials searched it meticulously. Rumors of a new vein of spice, particularly coveted by locally-based crime lords had put security on high alert. The spice shipments were to be confiscated and their carriers punished severely in an attempt to curtail future activities. So Obi-Wan, wearing a run-of-the-mill flight suit that one might see on a dozen different worlds, sat patiently in his squalid quarters on the ship’s second deck. Had the contraband droids be searching for anything suspicious, they have made more than a precursory swipe of his lockbox in which he housed his lightsaber, but they were after more organic illegalities today. All sorts of beings brought weapons to Coruscant, but unless they were told to be on the lookout, customs officials often took the stance that violence was the police’s responsibility, they had enough to handle as it was. So, Obi-Wan sat on the bunk, waiting for the all-clear call to come. He was anxious to get back to the Temple and see Master Windu, although he had enjoyed the company he had kept recently, Windu was a soothing presence. For all he knew, they might well be the only two Jedi left in the galaxy, and they needed to discuss what steps they could take to ensure that the order did not die out completely, despite the best laid plans of the Sith. As he went over how he would initially train young Luke. Obi-Wan’s pulse quickened and he stood upright, his danger sense working overtime. Somewhere near by, the Force was in conflict with itself. Somewhere near by, was a Sith. Chapter 26 -- Windu In the first few moments of his clash with the massive warrior, Mace Windu had been stunned by the other’s strength. There was not a lot of room to manuever in the grand Council chamber, and Windu’s blade was unsurpassed in the Jedi ranks, but the black warrior stayed close in, matching Windu blow for blow and pushing the Jedi Master back time and again. Catching his breath, Windu opted to speak again, if he could gain some insight into that black visage, perhaps he could find a way to overcome it. “You have been trained by Jedi,” he started, indicating the other’s classical swordsmanship. The black helmet inclined foward slightly. “By many, but none could ever match the power I have learned since I took their leave.” Windu’s eyes narrowed as their blades clashed again, seeking again to hold his strength against the taller being’s sheer might. “You are the Sith?” “I am a Sith.” The difference in terminology took Windu a bit my surprise, and again the dark warrior attempted to push him down through sheer force, but Mace spun off and moved cautiously away behind Oppo Ranciss’ old council chair. “You are the apprentice to Lord Tyrannus? Surely you must know your Master has fallen.” “You are mistaken, Master Windu. My Master lives strong in the dark side of the Force. He is your Master as well, and the Master of every being in this galaxy.” The talk sounded like fanaticsm, a well-documented trait of the ancient Sith followers. Windu was eager to keep the other talking, if not to understand his identiy, then at least to give Obi-Wan time to arrive. Together, he felt, they could disable or disarm the giant, and perhaps get real answers to the mysteries of the Sith that had plagued them since the Battle of Naboo. “You seem to know me, who are you?”: “I am Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith. I am your executioner.” It was the second time that Vader had mentioned that and this time Windu felt an icy chill in his veins. This warrior had been sent here to murder him. He realized he was in for the fight of his life. The Sith Lord dove in again, and Windu parried. He could feel the hatred rolling off the other toward him, and there was tinge of familiarity about him. While not the master historian that Yaddle had been, Windu felt he knew enough about the order to have accounted for all of those who had left it, and none of the souls he had known who had departed the Jedi way seemed representative here. A thought flashed through his mind. Could this be Tyrannus in front of him? Wearing some sort of odd armor that enhanced his strength? The tone of voice did not seem familiar, but perhaps so wounded in his battle with Yoda that the former Count needed some odd life support to sustain himself. If Tyrannus had survived, it likely meant Yoda had not, which saddened Windu considerably as he and the Sith circled. He shook that thought from his mind however, as an old Sith text came to mind. The Sith were fantatical about their renaming, and it would have been unheard of for one to take two different names. The name Tyrannus had fit Dooku too perfectly, although it was with cruel irony among Jedi that Dooku had selected it to symbolize the end of tyranny, when in fact he had become the tyrant himself. The one that stalked him now, Vader, this was definitely not Count Dooku in some guise. The name itself lent to images of a warrior and a hunter, and the now-quiet monster seemed very much the predator as Windu worked his way back across the chamber. A stray memory came to mind then, of events just after the Battle of Naboo twelve years ago. In attempting to ascertain the origin of the Sith who had slain Qui-Gon Jinn, Windu had left his private comlink transmission codes with Nubian Governor Sio Bibble should the Naboo investiagtors find any more evidence while they rebuilt their city. By the time they had arrived back to Coruscant three days later, he found a recording from Bibble waiting. It contained images and video of security cameras in the Theed Power Generator that had captured three differently-angled recordings of most of the duel between Jinn, Obi-Wan and the Sith Lord. Windu had decided never to make Obi-Wan or his new Padawan Anakin Skywalker aware of the tape’s existence, as it contained a disturbingly clear image of Jinn’s murder, but he and Plo Koon had studied the recording for several days, trying to find some clue of the Sith’s origin, motives or missions. Koon had been especially fascinated with the Sith Lord’s fighting style, almost obsessed with it. His ardor for the unabated attacks had disturbed Windu a bit, after all, this was the being who had murdered Qui-Gon Jinn, a valued friend to all on the Council. For Windu, the recording gave more insight into young Obi-Wan, who matched the Sith throughout their brief one-one-duel before making a tragic error in forgetting that the Sith’s powers were not just limited to his lightsaber. In the end, the Sith had made the same mistake about Obi-Wan, thinking the Padawan’s concentration too scattered to summon it to him while hanging precariously inside the melting pit. It had been a mistake that cost the Sith his life. The two Masters had kept the recording exclusive to the Council, and had eventually determined the Sith to be a Zabrak, from the same planet as Master Eeth Koth, but no warrior of such repute was known to any of the governments on Koth’s homeworld, and the Council had effectively reached a dead end. But what originally conjured up the memory was Koon, Windu and Koth watching the animalistic hatred in the Sith’s attack and speculating on what name he had taken for himself. Rage, Fury, there had been other suggestions, but no answers. They were perhaps the most powerful beings in all the universe, and the simple question of a name confounded them. Tyrannus had gathered power around him and nearly succeeded in fracturing the Republic. What would Vader’s mission be if Windu did not stop him? The Sith Lord lunged at him again, and Windu caught the blow, parrying and attempting an overhead swipe that the crimson lightsaber was waiting for when it got there. As he worked deeper and deeper into his vast wealth of dueling strategies, Windu became more concerned and more sure that he knew this being. The Sith stayed a step ahead of him, as if he had absorbed Windu’s fighting skills and studied them for years. Manuevers and calculated risks that would have at the very least disarmed lesser opponents fell short of even moving the Sith out of position. Windu began to realize the Sith had not even attacked him in at least 10 minutes, simply defending himself while the Jedi Master launched various points of his repertoire in an attempt to find an opening or a weakness in the Sith’s defense. The Sith was far bigger than Windu, and thus far their fight had been at close quarters. The Jedi Master, despite advancing age, tried a new gambit, a ploy he and young Anakin Skywalker had worked on after the latter’s encounter with Tyrannus on Genosis during the inital battle of the Clone Wars. Windu and Skywalker had kept their strategy secretive from other Jedi until they could perfect it, not wanting to draw critiscm from the other Masters for straying from the specific orders of combat. Bending into more of a crouch than before, Windu released one hand from the saber, giving himself far more acrobatic ability and opening up his striking range against the Sith. He cartwheeled his body to the Sith’s left, and swung on an upward arc, the Sith actually stumbled at this, seeming not comfortable in his own size for a second as he parried it. Windu backflipped away from the return blow, then spun back at the Sith, still gripping his blade one-handed, forcing the other to watch his every move as he twirled it almost casually to one side, then plunged it straight forward, where the Sith had to lock his wrists to keep the blade from reaching his black armor. The insight behind the strategy that he and Skywalker had worked on was that the motion kept the opponent off balance, and the savage and usually spontaneous attacks broke up concentration, limiting the opponent’s ability to use the Force to otherwise influence the fight. Vader was definitely taken aback by Windu’s transformation into a more freewheeling fighter. The Jedi Master had a reputation as one of the most lethal single combat beings in the galaxy, but other than the battles on Genosis and a few other trouble spots in the last three years, that reputation was largely based on adventures he had had twenty or more years ago. Now he was taxing his reserves with this fight, especially in light of his recent strategy change. Still the urge to push on and defeat Vader spurred him into another round of gymnastics and lunges, pushing the dark warrior back across the chamber as sparks flew from the clash of red and violet. He came out of a roundoff forward flip to find Vader had backed off several feet. Confused by his retreat, Windu started forward when he was blasted in the back by a large object and knocked to his knees. He rolled over to see Yaddle’s Council chair, dust flung asunder as it dropped loudly next to his body. He realized his strategy had not had the effect he assumed, Vader had not only anticipated his gymnastic move, but had used the Force to time the chair’s arriavl with Windu’s own. The Sith Lord had not made the slighest motion to suggest he was calling the Force to his aid. Most Jedi learned to command it through their bodies to do their will, it was a fundamental way to feel the energy surge through one’s self. To be able to make no motion whatsoever, yet time something as precise as the hurling of an object to match a being’s movement, that took a Master’s command. He had not time for further ruminations however, as another chair, this one the former reclining place of Oppo Ranciss came straight at him from Vader’s left. Windu ducked under it, but had to whirl to meet Vader’s advance with the crimson saber. The dark lord had not gone on the offensive in some time, but now he waded into Windu at close quarters. Windu was forced to abandon his one-handed grip to defend against Vader’s onslaught. The Sith drove him across the room now, pushing Windu back with long, two-handed strokes that threatened to rip his head from his shoulders should he not counter each one. Another chair, his own, ironically, slid behind him and Windu stumbled over it, tumbling backwards. He rolled swiftly to his left, out of the range of Vader’s downward thrust that seared a hole into the pristine floor of the chamber. Up on his feet again, Windu ducked one swing, and parried a second. He back-flipped away from Vader, hoping to widen thier gap and initiate a new strategy. He never made it however, at the top of his back flip, two more of the heavy chairs smashed him from either side, dropping him in a dazed heap, his lightsaber clattering away on the floor, as Vader moved forward to tower over him. The crimson blade came down again, and Widnu called his own sword ot him, igniting it with the touch of a button to block Vader’s death strike. Again, the Sith Lord had anticipated his every manuever. Vader’s blade arced into the handle of Windu’s sword, sending blue-white sparks into the air and causing Windu to call out in pain as one of his fingers was cloven clean off, and two more badly burned. His lighstaber’s blade wavered as the delicate internal mechanisms were mangled by Vader’s blade, then extinguished all together, leaving Windu weaponless at Vader’s mercy. Chapter 27 -- Hatred As the Emperor had told him during his recovery, Anakin Skywalker was dead. Vader felt confident in his control over the man he had once been, but that did not prevent memories and images from occasionally surfacing in his mind as one did now. It had been right here in this chamber during the height of the Jedis’ power. He had stood here before the the esteemed Council and watched them pass judgement on his fate. He had been a boy then, precocious true, with his racing ability, his technological know-how and his knowledge of how to survive on the seedy streets of Mos Espa, but still a child, months short of his 10th birthday. In the two days before his six-hour trial, test and interview at the hands of the Jedi, Anakin had seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and an array of new experiences in between. He had won the Boonta Eve pod race, coming from behind to upset Sebulba over the final mile, an event that was still talked about on Tatooine when he had returned a decade later. He had met Padme, the Queen disguised as a handmaiden who would become the love of his previous life. He had met the powerful Qui-Gon Jinn, the only Jedi to ever truly believe in him. He had been forced to leave his mother behind to pursue his dream of becoming a Jedi, and he wanted to stay as near to Padme and the Jedi as much as possible. So he travelled in their starship, after watching Qui-Gon narrowly escape the first time from the Sith Lord outside Mos Espa. He had made friends with the Gungan Jar Jar Binks, and with R2D2, but most of the others had been too busy to spend more than a few moments of idle chatter with him. On Coruscant, he had felt like a tag-along, ushered from one place to another by Padme’s Nubian head of security, until Qui-Gon had come to take him to his test at the Jedi Temple. For the better part of the day, the High Masters had quizzed him and examined him, seeking out his weak points and strengths. He had aced their tests like no other before him, Qui-Gon would later tell him on their way back to Naboo, but when the Jedi Masters had poked and prodded into his psyche, questioning his committment and his attatchment to his mother, Anakin had gotten angry. Could they not understand his bond with her? And to have broken that bond just two days before, how could he expect to have transformed into a cold, unfeeling soul so fast? So he stood there, in front of them all, with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan behind him, as Ki Adi Mundi admitted the Force was strong in him, only to have Mace Windu, the same man he had just bested, lean casually back in his chair and deny Anakin the right to train as a Jedi. He remembered his sizzling anger at the Jedi, he had given what he thought a withering glare at Windu, but the dark-skinned Jedi had not even seen it, he had been staring the whole time at Qui-Gon, whose outburst had given Anakin faint hope that he might still become a Jedi. Even Obi-Wan, after a fashion, had come to his aid, although Anakin had heard him argue with Qui-Gon about Anakin’s age. But what Vader remembered most of all was Windu and the other Masters casually leaning back in their regal chairs, high in their temple overlooking the Galaxy, deciding the fate of a boy’s life, crushing his only dream as if he were a tiny insect underfoot. ________________________ Mace Windu’s hand was alive with fiery pain, his mind racing to find an escape and still haunted with Vader’s foresight for his every move. Windu had one of the most carefully-trained minds in the galaxy, reading his thoughts was nearly impossible, even to a Master like Yoda. He still felt he knew this creature towering over him, if only he could concentrate, but now Vader spoke again and all of Windu’s questions were answered. “Now you know what it feels like to be weak and innocent and unable to control your own fate, Master Windu.” Vader’s voice was deep, mocking and full of hatred. “Who ae you? How do I know you?” “Your Jedi insights fail you even at your end, Master Windu. Thirteen years ago I stood here, as you passed judgment on me, took away my future without a moment’s thought.And even though I became a Jedi, never once could you recognize my greatness, Never once could you admit your mistake. Now I am the Master, and your mistakes have torn the galaxy asunder.” Finally the recognition came to Windu’s features, and his mind raced. He had been right about this being a former student, but he had overlooked the one who was more powerful and potent than them all. The one Qui-Gon Jinn proclaimed would bring balance to the force. Somehow, Anakin Skywalker had survived his fall into the power plant’s liquid core. Somehow, he had been rescued, rebuilt and reborn as this black apparition of evil. “Anakin, I recognize your signature in the Force. Who did this to you? You do not have to serve your Master any more, we can bring you bac...” At the mention of his former name, Vader trembled with rage. Master Windu had always called him Jedi Skywalker or Obi-Wan’s Padawan, perhaps as a slight to the circumstances under which his training began, he had never known for sure. Now the Jedi dared to use that name to attempt to save his own life. Vader would not allow such an indiscretion to carry on. He pointed his lightsaber straight down, falling to his knees as he brought the blade down into Windu’s chest, choking off the Master’s words and piercing his heart with the white-hot crimson energy blade. Windu’s body tensed in trauma-shock, then relaxed and went limp. Vader pulled his blade out. “Anakin Skywalker is dead. There is only the dark side.” ________________ Despite the dire situation his mind told him lay ahead, Obi-Wan could not help smiling at his current situation -- Anakin would have been proud. Dropping all pretenses of subterfuge and caution when he had felt Master Windu in conflict with the dark side, Obi-Wan had stolen a swoop bike from outside the spaceport and was now rocketing more than 300 miles per hour toward the Jedi Temple, swerving recklessly to avoid other ships, advertising structures and the superscrapers of the top level of Coruscant. His concentration was wholly on Windu’s lifeforce, and it was weakening as he arrived outside the Temple and burst through its main doors. Shoving the front doors apart, he sprinted inside and stuttered to a halt. In focusing so greatly on Windu’s battle with the unknown Sith Lord, he had been lax to probe the Temple for others. Now, he had found them. More than 100 of the Emperor’s new stormtroopers, the improved version of the clonetrooper were waiting for him inside the Temple’s main lobby with weapons drawn. He pulled his lightsaber out with lightning quick reflexes, preparing to wade his way through them, despite the overwhelming odds. The closest troopers opened fire as he ignited his blade to block their shots, but they were still a step ahead of him. Emitting from the laser rifles were not green or red bursts of fire, but blue waves of stunning energy. The first few ripples were either caught by Obi-Wan’s blade or dodged by the nimble Jedi, but as he turned away from one, he was caught flush by two more, and he fell to the ground unconscious. The troopers dragged him to his feet and presented him to their lieutenant. So pleased to have captured so hated an enemy, the lieutenant allowed his men to batter the senseless Jedi with the butts of their rifles, until his body was covered in bruises, and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. Chapter 28 -- Exile Obi-Wan came awake in his old quarters on the third level of the Temple. The room was much as he had left it, with the exception of two stormtroopers standing at rapt attention with weapons trained on him near the door. He was chained and manacled at his hands and feet to the wall, although at this point he doubted he could stand and walk ten feet, so badly did his body ache. He called out to the Force to help clear his mind and stop the pounding within. His body would take substantially longer to heal, that is, if the Imperials let him live that long. In letting the Force flow through him, he again felt the presence of the Sith Lord. This close, he could feel the hatred there, and it was a familiar presence indeed. When he finally placed it, the impact racked his body a thousand times harder than the clubbing the stormtroopers had administered to him an hour before. He had felt that rage, that fury a few times in the past.He had felt it when Anakin first revealed that his mother had been killed on Tatooine two years ago. He had felt it when Tyrannus attempted to bend Anakin’s will to his won by telling him Padme had been killed, he had felt it again when Anakin had lashed out at him during the duel in the Coruscant power plant some months ago. Even during their duel however, that level of fury had been like spikes of energy in a malfunctioning engine. They had been dangerous rages toward the dark side, but they had always been returned to normalcy with time, help from a peer or his wife’s soft hands on his shoulders. Now, as Obi-Wan felt the dark presence draw near, the rage he felt was unwavering, it was the constant of the essence of whatever remained of Anakin Skywalker. The door slid open and the two troopers snapped to attention. In strode a massive giant encased in black armor, his breath echoing from a strange apparatus that seemingly connected his head and lungs. Lights blinked on the figure’s chest plate, clearly having something to do with whatever bastardization of science was keeping him alive. On his belt he wore a lighstaber, not unlike the one he had lost in his fateful duel with Obi-Wan. The Sith Lord raised his right fist and the stormtroopers wordlessly departed the room, the door sliding shut behind them. Obi-Wan peered at the black death’s head helmet. His eyesight could not penetrate it, but he could stretch out through the Force to feel the rage behind the mask. “Hello, Anakin.” Even as he said it, Obi-Wan felt the surge in anger and winced badly as one of the Sith’s black-gloved hands smashed openly into his face, raising a welt there. A voice that Obi-Wan did not recognize as that of his former Padawn blasted at him out of the hulking form. “That man is dead, you saw to it yourself, Obi-Wan. I am Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.” Trembling from the pain his body felt, Obi-Wan managed to sit back up. “How did you survive your fall? Who made you into this?” “My Master saved me, where you abandoned me to certain death, Obi-Wan. I was remade and reborn to serve the Empire and my Master.” “Who is this Master?” Vader laughed, a low hideous-sounding chuckle. “Again and again, the Jedi prove to me why the Sith have triumphed. My Master is the same as yours. The same as every being in the galaxy. For years, he has guided the course of the Empire, with the enlightened Jedi oblivous to his actions. My Master is Darth Sidious, he is the Emperor.” As much as Obi-Wan’s mind had reeled at the revelation of Anakin reborn as a Sith Lord, now it simply refused to believe. Palpatine, a man Obi-Wan had seldom trusted, often supsected and always thought dangerous, had been more than any of them possibly could have imagined. As the events of the last dozen years came back to him, Obi-Wan felt himself on the verge of emotional shattering. Everything, everything he had fought for and believed in, everything save his committment to the Force, everything was a lie. Beginning with the Trade Federation’s occupation of Palpatine’s home world of Naboo, Obi-Wan’s quick-thinking mind now traced a path of careful steps and careful manipulations that were all linked back to the one man, who was not only the Galaxy’s ruler, but perhaps its most powerful Force-wielder as well. The occupation of Naboo forced Chancellor Valorum’s hand and got him removed from office. Before that, Palpatine’s popularity had him already in place for such a coup to occur. In a jolt, one of many his mind would suffer over the next several months as he recanted his actions over more than a decade, he realized that the tatooed Sith he had slain in Theed had been Sidious’ apprentice, perhaps his first. So Palpatine was responsible for Qui-Gon’s death. The pieces rapidly fell into place now into Obi-Wan’s brain. Tyrannus was not the demon-faced Sith’s Master, he was his replacement. Tyrannus never meant to revolt, he and Palpatine used the Clone Wars to build up troops and ships, at the cost of trillions of credits to manufacturing worlds and the loss of millions of lives. The Jedi Ambush at Ponscii, another Palpatine blow, that one Obi-Wan had suspected, but had not the clout to prove it. And now Anakin, reborn as a Sith Lord, which meant Tyrannus was dead, for never could more than two Sith exist at one time. That meant Yoda had succeeded in his mission, and more importantly, might still live. The same could not be said for Master Windu, Obi-Wan realized in a choked-off cry as he saw the lightsaber of the order’s greatest fighter hanging off the opposite side of Vader’s belt. Obi-Wan could no longer stare up at the malevolent black helmet, even though he could not make out any of Anakin’s face through its blackness. His head hung down, if he could have cradled it in his hands he would have, but he remained chained to the wall. Vader was equally silent, but for different reasons. Finally, he had broken Obi-Wan’s spirit, made him feel worthless and powerless, exactly the way he had felt in that metallic tube for so many long months after Obi-Wan had forced him down that shaft into the reactor pit of the power plant. He had suffered through a waking nightmare during his months of recovery, paralyzed, unable to move, barely able to remember who or what he was. He had been a dead man while still breathing, he would ensure Obi-Wan would share that experience. __________________ After a long moment, Obi-Wan looked back up, finding some composure in the Force. “And now? Will you execute me while chained and complete your quest to snuff the Jedi flame out of the galaxy? Or will you free me of these manacles and hand back my blade, so I may show you just how much your studies still lack?” The verbal barb that months earlier would have spurred Anakin Skywalker into a blind attack, did not appear to even faze the visage of Darth Vader. Vader picked up Obi-Wan’s blade off the desk casually, inspecting it slowly as he spoke. “I shall do neither, Obi-Wan. There was a time when I would have traded my soul for the opportunity to stand here now, with your life in my hands, so I could snuff it out at my leisure. “But now, I understand the true nature of power. Killing you now would absolve you too quickly of the wrongs you have committed.. It is time for you to face your weaknesses, your shame and your agony at failure. Your feeble meditations and philoscophical debates are no match for the power of the dark side of the Force. I condemn you to a life of nothingness, of regret, of agony over your own failures, and those of your Jedi Masters.” Vader’s deep voice swelled as his gaze locked that of Obi-Wan’s, who stared up at his former apprentice in a combination of shock and disbelief. “I do not care where you choose to go, Obi-Wan, but you are forbidden from entering Imperial space again. If you are found inside the Empire’s borders, I promise you, you will die by my blade.” Vader lit Obi-Wan’s own saber as he finished his banishment of his former Master. He flicked the blade deftly and sliced through the chains that bound Obi-Wan’s arms and legs. Extinguishing the blade, he smashed Obi-Wan across the temples with it then place the lightsword back on the desk. With one long last look in the direction of the unconscous Kenobi, Vader turned and strode out of the room, urging his stormtrooper escort to follow behind before either of them could steal a peek into the room to see what had happened to the Jedi. Chapter 29 -- Secrets As the Imperial shuttle made its way back toward the Emperor’s Palace, Darth Vader addressed the stormtroopers a whole. He carefully spoke, chosing words full of description as he recounted how they had arrived at the Jedi Temple, how the troops had set up guards at all major points of entrance while Vader confronted Mace Windu in the Jedi Council Chamber. Vader recounted to his men how he had defeated Windu while they apprehended a looter in the main lobby, a Corellian scumbag named Lorn Pavan who had hoped to raid the Temple and sell items on the black market. The troopers had brought Pavan before Vader and he in turn had interrogated the thief, given him a harsh warning and turned him lose with a shaky promise to never come near the place again. Vader used the Force to send images of the thief, his apprehension and interrogation into the minds of the easily-malleable troopers, and by the time their shuttle landed later that hour, not a single stormtrooper had the slighest memory of Obi-Wan Kenobi. ______________ When Obi-Wan jolted back into consciousness, for the briefest of moments his mind speculated if he could have dreamnt the whole dreadful experience. He was in his quarters at the Jedi Temple, lightsaber on the table as he always left it. But moving his body even slightly reminded his nerve endings of the beating he had suffered today, and as his mind flared back to life from sleep, the emotional shipwreck that was his life came roaring back at him, and the horror of both Vader and the Emperor revealed threatened to send him over the edge of despair. He managed to sit upright on his bunk as his head pounded from the lump where Vader had smashed him with his own saber. He looked down at his flight suit, borrowed from a frigate captain six systems ago. The suit was ragged, ripped and faded, very much the way Obi-Wan felt inside right now. He touched the Force with his mind, and suddenly remembered his committment to Padme, to her children and to Master Yoda. Vader had been wrong about hs life being worthless, Obi-Wan had used all his mental strength to bury the knowledge of the children deep within himself, and the dark warrior, so intent on exacting his brand of justice on his former Master had not delved far into his psyche. Obi-Wan had failed many times in his life, but he could still make a difference. That knowledge pushed him upright on aching legs, and he grabbed his lightsaber off the table, and headed cautiously out of the Jedi Temple. He was the last Jedi to ever see the structure intact. It was razed by Imperial construction crews less than a month later. ________________________ Obi-Wan spent that night in a Jedi safe house located four levels down and about 15 miles from the Temple complex. While more of a storage facility than an actual house, the tiny square of real estate was ideal for two reasons -- 1) it looked exactly like thousands of other units that surrounded it and 2) only a Jedi thumbprint would key the door, meaning Obi-Wan was safe here for the time being. The safe house was one of 128 set up by the Jedi Council on Coruscant’s various levels in the past 15 years. Often times, Jedi had to venture into the planet’s less-savory environments, and sometimes trouble would arise. If getting back uplevels became a problem, Jedi could go to one of the strategically-located refuges for food, water, supplies, a comlink, a place to rest, first-aid kit or a stash of credits. In the beginning, the number of safe houses had been limited, but the Council had found it prudent to build many more after the mysterious disapperances and deaths of Obi-Wan’s fellow Padawan Darsha Assant and her master, Anoon Bondara, days before the Battle of Naboo. Obi-Wan had led the investigation down into the lower levels of Coruscant, often times he had thought of it since. His first inclination had always been that it had involved the crime syndicate Black Sun, since another murder nearby that day had been a Black Sun agent, Yanth the Hutt. Now as he drank deeply of the safe house’s supply of water and chewed on its dry rations, he began to ponder if Sidious’ hand had been in those murders too. Obi-Wan was thankful for the Jedi foresight that he had a bed to lay on, water to wash with and the first-aid kit to bandage his face and chest, but he had come here mainly for the credits. It had been the third safe house he had entered since exiting the Jedi Temple, and he felt he had secured enough currency to buy passage off Coruscant, likely for good. While the money in the safe houses was in Republic dataries form, it was still honored throught the Empire as the galaxy’s core made its switch to Imperical procedures and protocol. Obi-Wan had four places to visit, two of them in Imperial space, the other two on the Outer Rim. He did not know how long Vader was planning on giving him to leave the Empire, but he did not want to chance it any further than necessary and endanger those who he would task with great responsibility in the days to come. __________________ The next morning, Obi-Wan locked down the safe house and headed for the Coruscellian Space Port. It was only the third or fourth biggest port on the planet, but Obi-Wan had no desire to go to the biggest of the Coruscant’s bigger interplanetary centers because of the strong presence of the Empire. The last thing he needed at this point was some stormtrooper patrol or random bureaucrat identifying him when all he was trying to do was get away. So, the Coruscellian was his choice, but even there he had to be wary. The central computer system matched up pilots with passengers on a daily basis to ports across the stars, but Obi-Wan was again limited by his identiy. Putting his thumb on the computer’s terminal screen would likely trigger half a dozen alarms for his arrest. He was rather reminded of Qui-Gon’s dilemna on Tatooine when they had first encountered Anakin as a boy. They had landed Padme’s Nubian frigate outside a settlement there hoping to aquire replacement hyperdrive parts. Secrecy had been of the uptmost importance, but his Master had found negoiating with the slave and parts dealer Watto nearly impossible with the dataries, considered worthless that far out on the Rim, and with Jedi mind tricks ineffective on the Toydarian psyche. When Obi-Wan heard the necessary part had been located, he thought Qui-Gon should have simply brandished his lightsaber at the junk dealer and demanded it, they had been pressed for time. But Qui-Gon would have none of that and insisted another solution would present itself, which ultimately occurred in the form of Anakin’s incredible victory at the pod races. Now Obi-Wan realized the lesson in Qui-Gon’s decisions. Wielding the power of the Force did not make a Jedi of more importance than the average being in this galaxy, it simply made him more aware, and more responsible. Obi-Wan could have used his powers to coerce many of the pilots to give him free passage or simply relinquish their vessels to him, but to do so would be a misuse of his powers. Not so bad as slipping to the dark side through hate or fear perhaps, but definitely pride and lack of humility were at play for the Jedi who got his way by manipulating the minds of others. Obi-Wan did use his knowledge of the Force to seek out the more honest minds of the assembled pirates and captains in the spaceport’s cantina, and settled on a Sullustan downing a plate of meaty ribs. The alien looked up with an earnest face as Obi-Wan quietly approached. “Need ship?” the whisker-mouthed cat-like being asked in passable Basic. “Yes, for transport.” “Passengers?” “Just myself, no other.” “Cargo?” “None, personal effects.” “Droids?” “None.” “Departure time?” “As soon as your can go.” The Sullustan did some checking on a data pad and named a price. Obi-Wan thought about bartering, then dropped the idea and nodded. He pulled the dataries out of his flight suit and handed there stacks to the Sullustan who was obviously pleased to see hard currency. He sniffed the credit bars then looked up again. “Me forgot, destination?” Obi-Wan kept his voice low enough so anyone who might be eavesdropping from another table or just passing by would not hear. ‘The Naboo system. I need to visit friends there.” Chapter 30 -- Naboo It took the Sullustan, who hailed by the name of Nekoth Bictino, some 40 hours to get Obi-Wan from Coruscant to Naboo, not a bad travel time at all considering the moldy condition of his ship. As they dropped into Naboo’s orbital plane, he turned to the human in the co-pilot seat and queried, “You want land at Theed space center?” Obi-Wan shook his head. “No, I will have to show you where I wish to be dropped.” With Obi-Wan making slight course corrections, Nekoth manuevered the frigate gently through Naboo’s upper atmosphere away from the capitol city of Theed. At Obi-Wan’s request, he came to a hovering halt over a large lake. Obi-Wan nodded. “Here will be fine, thank you very much for your services, may the Force be with you.” Nekoth looked at the human with a quizzical look now. “I should set down on shore? Where do you go?: He locked on the ship’s autopilot and scurried back after the human, who moved briskly toward the ship’s entry bay and hit the switch to open it. The lever responding with a honk of warning, to alert its operator that the ship was not securely on a landing platform and that opening the bay could be hazardous to the ship and its passengers. Obi-Wan frowned and hit the manual override, even as Nekoth grabbed his arm. “What you do? Crazy? We hundred feet above water! You jump hundred feet?” Obi-Wan shook firmly free of the Sullustan’s grasp and reached inside his inside flap pocket. He brought out a tiny plastic device and inserted it in two parts into his nose and mouth. Obi-Wan smiled faintly at Nekoth, then took two steps down the ramp and dove. Nekoth hit the close lever on the ramp and ran back to the cockpit, using the ship’s viewscreens to monitor the human’s plunge into the water. He sat at the controls for five long minutes, but the human never resurfaced. He finally blasted back off and tried to forgot the odd ending to the trip. He never told anyone what he had wittnessed that day. Pilots who mentioned odd stories of their passengers found work harder and harder to find over time. ______________________ Propelled by his swan dive from the ship, Obi-Wan swam downward through the tranquil Nubian water to the entry way to Otoh Gunga. He slipped through the biological bubble that separated the water from the Gungans’ capitol city, and bowed at the sentry guards, who bowed back. Very few humans were allowed inside these walls, but Obi-Wan Kenobi was always welcome considering his status as a legend to the underwater residents. Obi-Wan was not more than 200 yards into the main common area of Otoh Gunga when he saw an oddball, and despite his situation, amusing trio making its way toward him -- one rolling, one loping, the other fast asleep. As they drew near, R2D2 gurgled and twittered at the Jedi and Jar Jar Binks’ ears flipped backwards in excitement “Hellooo, Obi-Wan! Mesa wondering if you ever comin back!” Again, Obi-Wan smiled, his relationship with Jar Jar had improved dramatically over the last three years. When had escaped Tyrannus’ forces with Luke the previous month, he had thought of Otoh Gunga as a haven for the baby while he tried to help Mace Windu salvage what was left of the Jedi way. Obi-wan closed the distance and clasped the Gungan on the shoulder, then gently lifted the bundle of blanket and baby from Jar Jar’s huge hands. Reaching down, he patted R2D2 on his chrome-plated head. “It’s good to see you again, Jar Jar. Both of you. How has Luke been?” “Pretty okey-dey by me, Obi-Wan. He sleepin a lot. But the Gungan mothers all want to see him.” “I cannot thank you enough for keeping him, Jar Jar. You have no idea the difference you have made.” The Gungan smiled shyly at the Jedi who had once treated him so callously. “Mesa always wanta help the Jedi. Qui-Gon, hesa save Jar Jar many times. Gungans no forget a ting like that. And Annie, he always be my friend.” Obi-Wan’s brow clouded at the mention of Anakin, but he wouldn’t dare burden Jar Jar with that knowledge. He looked down at Luke’s tiny face, eyes shut tight in sleep. The boy was untouched by any feelings of hatred, of fear, of anger ... perhaps there was hope after all. He smiled again and spoke to Jar Jar. “I hate to make this such a short stay, Jar Jar, but time is of the essence. I’ll need to prep my fighter for departure soon.” Jar Jar shook his head briskly, ears flopping to and fro with the motion. “No again, Obi-Wan! The big Boss Nass, he sayin you come to dinner with him and Jar Jar, too!” Obi-Wan would have argued, but a good meal, Gungan cooking nonwithstanding, sounded too tempting to pass up. He assented to Jar Jar’s request and the happy Gungan put an arm around the Jedi as they walked along the way. ____________________ Boss Nass, a little heavier, his colors a little less vibrant than a decade ago, was still thrilled to see Obi-Wan Kenobi “Da Gungans always have room for the Jedai, no matter what dey say on the big world!” Nass’s voice resonated across the table as he chomped down an off-pink leaf of seaweed that servants had brought forth to the dining party. “Your hospitality goes above and beyond what anyone could expect, Highness,” Obi-Wan replied, sampling a plate of de-shelled crustacea cautiously. “The Empire would not be pleased if they knew you were harboring a suspected traitor.” Nass fluffed out his cheeks at that. “Weesa no caren for the Empire say, the Gungans and the Naboo, we friends now, the rest of the galaxy all goes bombad, but weesa stand strong.” Obi-Wan nodded, and turned to Jar-Jar. “Politics were not your suit then, Jar Jar?” The Gungan sighed and slumped his shoulders a bit. “Meesa proud to be the first Gungan senator, tis a great honor it was. But too many people not spake the truth to meesa. One day they sayin one thing, the next day something else. Padme meesa only friend the whole time I was in da Senate. Besides, meesa no liken the Chancellor, meesa thinkin something was wrongo with him, hesa sick in da head or something.” Obi-Wan abruptly stopped drinking at that and focused his eyes firmly on the Gungan. “What do you mean, sick in the head, Jar Jar?” The Gungan took a deep breath, looking around to see who all was listening. There were about three dozen Gungan bosses, military officers and other dignitaries spread out across the transparent ballroom which provided dazzling views of the underwater landscape. Only Jar Jar, Boss Nass and Obi-Wan occupied the head table, and most of the nearby patrons were involved in their own discussions. “One day, meesa was in the Chancellor’s office with some of da other senators to talk about funding for the clones. Meesa left my pouch behind on accidente, so meesa went back to get it. When the door opened, he was wearing big robes and a hood, and all hunched over his desk like a clawfish ready to strike on a dooba. Heesa talken to somebody not there, but meesa thought his voice sounded funny, not like him at all.” As Jar Jar continued his story, Nass went back to chomping away at his dinner. Obi-Wan, meanwhile was riveted. “Meesa tried to leave, but he look up and saw. He comin around the desk and he looken crazy in the eyes, like he wanted to pound meesa. Meesa gettin very, very scared and not wanting to be there at all, so meesa grabbed my pouch. Chancellor got right next to meesa and he say meesa ‘just an idiot, a beast.’ and if meesa say what meesa see, he make me very very sorry.” Jar Jar’s eyes got very sad as he thought back to the memory. When he spoke again, it was a good deal quieter. “Meesa asked Padme what ‘beast’ is, meesa never heard that word before. When she say what beast is, meesa decide to come back home.” The Gungan’s face was forlorn now and Obi-Wan put a hand on his shoulder. “You did the right thing, Jar Jar. Palpatine is not what he seems, he is an evil man.” The Jedi turned his attention again to Boss Nass again and his tone was much more firm. “Majesty, you spoke of not caring about the rest of the Empire. As long as Palpatine rules, try to never do anything to displeasure them or draw any attention to the Gungans. If you ever hear the Emperor is coming to Naboo for some sort of visit, prepare your people for evacuation.” Nass’s face went as serious as Obi-Wan’s countenance and the great Gungan nodded. “The advice of the Jedai is always welcome here. Wesa do our part to keep Naboo safe.” The seriousness of the moment passed for Nass, who now grinned broadly and stood up, his deep voice commanding the attention of the entire room. “NOW, Weesa celebrate fiftieth year of Nass rule with dedication of gift to Otoh Gunga. With hero Jedi and General Jar Jar here to help, weesa dedicate the Battle of Naboo to the Gungans who fought and died in our fight for freedom!” With a dramatic motion of his hands, Nass directed servants to uncover a previously cordoned-off section of the transparent dome. For a moment Obi-Wan could not tell what he was looking at, but as his eyes adjusted to the motion of the water, he was stunned. The Gungans had taken variations of Nubian coral and seaweed, not unlike the stuff they had enjoyed for dinner, and made an enormous tapestry of it, encased in the outer wall of this protective bubble. The tapestry was like a part of Obi-Wan’s mind, suddenly brought back to life. There were huge Gungan faces in the artwork, along with that of a younger Padme, her former head of security Panaka, himself and Qui-Gon wielding their lightsabers, and tiny Anakin, as he had been when he had destroyed the control ship, standing at the foot of one of the bright yellow Nubian starfighters. With the gentle tugs of the lake rippling through the tapestry, it undulated back and forth, making the faces of those depicted wave change subtly as if they were living beings. Seeing his former Master and his Padawan still young and innocent was too much for Obi-Wan. He excused himself among the excited, appreciative Gungans and departed for the quarters he shared with young Luke. ______________ The next morning, the silent progression of Gungan, humans and droid made their way to the Gungans’ sacred place, where Obi-Wan had been allowed to camoflauge and stash his Jedi starfighter before making his way back to Coruscant. Jar Jar held Luke while Obi-wan helped R2D2 into his niche in the starfighter. The Gungan had clearly taken a liking to the baby boy, and Obi-Wan had tried to avoid questions of when he would be able to see Luke again. With the astromech firmly in place, Obi-Wan retrieved Luke’s crib and chuckled as Jar Jar planted a kiss on the boy’s tiny forehead. “Bye bye, Luke, meesa hope to see you soon.” Obi-Wan secured Luke in the back seat, and turned on the two-way display monitor so he could keep a careful eye on the baby during the next part of the flight. Jar Jar fidgeted in place, clearly not wanting to go home, and Obi-Wan walked back down the side of the shift. “Jar Jar, may I tell you something?” The Gungan nodded affably. “When we first met years ago, I was not focused on the meaning of life in the galaxy. I thought you would slow us down, disrupt our mission. I adivsed Qui-Gon not to interfere in your punishment. To be quite honest, my opinion of your worth as a creature was not much different than the vision of Palpatine you shared with me last night.” Jar Jar made as if to speak, to tell Obi-Wan he was nothing like the Emperor, but the Jedi raised his hand and continued. “In the years that have passed since, I realized you were just growing up, and I had a lot left to do of it myself. When we left Naboo after the great battle, I thought it unlikely I would see you or Otoh Gunga again, now, you have been not only my savior, but perhaps the savior of the way of the Jedi. I can never thank you enough. When my days are at an end, I shall always know that you were my friend.” He reached a hand out ot the Gungan, who clasped it with both of his. “Meesa still is your friend, Obi-Wan. Meesa can’t wait to see you and Luke when you come to visit Otoh Gunga again.” Obi-Wan looked away, then stared back at Jar Jar, trying to avoid speaking the truth that what Jar Jar was hoping for was impossible. “I shall always know that you were my friend.” He turned and slid into the starship’s cockpit, sealing the hatch and powering up the engines. Jar Jar stepped away from the heat of the craft as it hovered off the ground and blasted off. The Gungan followed the craft with his keen eyes until it was just a dot on the horizon, then winked out of Naboo’s atmosphere into space. Jar Jar Binks stood in his people’s sacred place a long time that day, and he came back there many times over his life. He brought his mate there to ask her to marry him, and eventually all four of his children, both as infants when out showing them the world they would soon discover on their own, then again when he felt they were old enough to understand the stories he had to share. Jar Jar Binks lived the rest of his life as a fairly well-known Gungan, even sitting on the Council of Bosses for a time, before realizing his disinterest in politics had followed him home to Otoh Gunga. In his later years, he was increasingly popular at social gatherings, telling stories of the Trade Federation’s invasion, the peace with the Naboo and the great battle between the droids and the massive Gungan army on the plains to the east of Theed. Gungan teachers often used Jar Jar as a lesson for their pupils, showing how everyone could make a difference, how even the Gungan who seemed most out of place and useless could rise up to lead his people and do great things for his society. Jar Jar enjoyed the fame, especially talking to gatherings of impressionable adolescent Gungans who reminded him of himself when he had first met the humans who would change his destiny. But at the end of his speeches, when all the questions had been answered and the excitement of reliving the battle had passed, Jar Jar always closed by emphasizing the real heroes of the war and of the galaxy itself in his mind ... the Jedi. The Jedi he had known -- Anakin, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The Jedi who had called him their friend. Chapter 31 -- Alderaan Bail Organa had had the foresight to give clearance codes to Obi-Wan Kenobi for emergency landings on Aladeraan should he ever need it as a safe haven. He had done this out of gratitude for Obi-Wan’s role in foiling his assassination attempt. Obi-Wan was grateful now as he bypassed several layers of restrictions of Alderaanian air-space controllers and was able to land unobtrusively in the capital city’s space docks. He would not be staying more than a few hours, only enough time to send R2D2 on his way. Alderaan was a strong, independent system that had not gone along willingly with many of the Empire’s new taxes and regulations, but it was well known that Obi-Wan and Bail Organa were friends. He could not stay here in the Jedi fighter any longer than necessary or Alderaan would fall under the Sith’s magnifying glass. R2D2 was hesitant to leave the Jedi Master’s company, but Obi-Wan reassured the little droid that he would be among friends soon. “It’s unlikely anyone will stop you at any point, R2,” he said now, feeling a little odd as he squatted beside the blue-and-white droid after finishing his message. “Don’t do anything too foolish, but make sure no one but Bail Organa sees this hologram.” The droid beeped an affirmative, then leaned forward over the crib of Luke and beeped and twittered softly. The baby looked up, his eyes big and gurgled back. Obi-Wan was stunned by the droid’s behavior even after all this time, it knew, without Obi-Wan even mentioning it, R2 knew that this was the end of the line of his travelling with the Jedi and his young charge. “Do what you can do look after them, R2.” Obi-Wan said, patting the droid on the chrome-plated head as it rolled away. Half an hour later, having finished refueling the fighter and acquiring proper nourishment for Luke, Obi-Wan blasted off from Alderaan, and headed out of Imperial Space. ___________________________ Alderaan was one of the most technologically-advanced planets in the Core, and the presence of a droid rolling free in the city was a common sight, even at the late hour that R2 was making his trek. He easily found the governmental suites and offices that housed the Organa Clan and finally came to a halt outside the family’s private elevator. He beeped and whirred to the lift’s low-grade computer, insisting that he had an urgent message that could only be delivered to Bail Organa. The lift’s central processing unit was not made for such hi-tech decisions, so after R2’s third query demanding the lift, its computer sent an alert upstairs that a droid was demanding entry and that someone should come talk to it. R2 rocked back and forth on his wheels, rather impatiently. He had come a long way and didn’t like being denied so close to his objective now. The doors to the turbolift opened, and a shimmering gold humanoid stepped out. “R2D2! What are you doing here?!” C3PO looked down at his occasional companion, seeing him for the first time since the Jedi and Padme had split up the Skywalker infants under the pursuit of Darth Tyrannus’ forces. C3PO had been in Organa’s house since then, occasionally doing translation work for the former senator when he entertained diplomats from other star systems. R2 seemed far less amazed to see the taller robot, twittered sarcastically in response. “Well, I can see you’re waiting for the turbolift! I mean, what are you doing on Alderaan! Where’s Master Kenobi? Is he with you?” R2 was short and direct with his reply. “Why, I never! I come down here to help you out and you won’t even tell m what’s going on! I’m a very important staff member of this household and I shall not be belittled by a rust bucket rolling in off the streets!” While C3PO was immersed in his tirade, R2 silently rolled past him into the turbolift and opened one of his many accessory hatches. A tiny arm reached out and keyed the upper most numerical coded pad on the lift’s control panel. Seeing the object of his wrath leaving, C3PO spun on his heels awkwardly and shuffled into the compartment after him. “Just you listen hear, you may have been off cavorting with the Jedi on some wild adventure, but in this house we practice the laws of protocol and I won’t have you simply barging your way in here like you own the ...” Mercifully, for the rest of the floor’s occupants, the turbolift doors closed and the chattering and beeping disappeared to the upper levels of the Organa House. __________________ After finally convincing C3PO that he would certainly give R2D2 the proper chiding, Bail Organa at last closed the doors to is private office, keying them to open only on his voice command, and strode across the room to where R2D2 stood quietly. “Well R2, let’s see what you’ve got to tell me,” Organa intoned solemnly, almost scared of what message the droid might be delivering. He sat in his large chair behind his desk as R2 whirred his photoreceptors and projected a foot-tall hologram of Obi-Wan Kenobi onto the table. Even at this small resolution, Organa thought Obi-Wan looked awful. His face haggard, his eyes had the look of a man who had seen death at close range. The hologram bowed slightly, and Obi-Wan’s voice, sounding as weary as he looked, rang forth from R2’s audio capacitors. “Greetings to you Bail, if you are seeing this, then R2 has completed his mission and deserves both our congratulations. Unfortunately, I come to you with dire news on all fronts. I shall burden you with it all because I know not where else to turn. I have been cast as an outlaw to the Empire, banished outside of Imperial space on the condition of death should I return. What I will tell you will stretch the limits of belief, but if Alderaan is to stay free, you must take what I say as the truth.” Organa’s eyes focused intently as the holographic Jedi took a deep breath in the recorded image. “The Emperor is not who he seems. He is not merely Senator Palpatine from Naboo, he has been the Sith Lord we’ve been searching for all along. His other name is Darth Sidious. It was he who was behind the occupation of Naboo. Dooku was his servant, and the two of them orchestrated the Clone Wars to build up the military, so he could do what he is doing now, slowly making the Empire into a police state.” The holographic Obi-Wan shook his head and pressed on. “There’s more, perhaps even worse. Anakin is not dead. Somehow he survived the end of our duel and was remade by Palpatine. He is now the Emperor’s servant, he wears a monstrous suit of black armor and calls himself Darth Vader.” “As you might have feared, Master Windu has fallen. Vader ambushed him and struck him down in the Jedi Temple in our aborted mission to regain as much training information as we could. Vader’s troops captured me, and as you can probably tell, gave me quite a beating. He released me however, and told me my sentence was to live life as a walking dead man, banished to the Outer Rim for the rest of my days.” Bail Organa had been about half an hour from going to bed for the evening when C3PO and R2D2 entered his quarters. He was beginning to feel like he might not sleep for a long time. “All is not lost, however, I maintain hope that Yoda lives, for surely Tyrannus is dead or Vader would not exist. I go now to seek him out where I abandoned him earlier. After that, I will take Luke to Tatooine in hopes of having Anakin’s family adopt him. It is my belief that he will never return there after what happened to his mother, and that Luke will be safer there than anywhere in the galaxy. I will remain as close to Luke as I can, I promised Padme as much, but she cannot know any of this. The more people who know the location of Luke and Leia, the more in jeopardy they will be. I buried the knowledge of their existence deep in my mind when Vader captured me, and he did not discover it, so intent on exacting his revenge was he. It must stay that way, if Vader and the Emperor learn of them, they will stop at nothing to possess them, and they will destroy anyone in their way.” “I am sorry to place this burden on you, Bail, and I am sorry I cannot give you this news in person, but I could not risk jeopardizing the safety of your people or that of Luke. Tell Padme her son is safe, but no more. Hopefully that will keep her spirits afloat, so she can raise Leia to be a leader like herself.” Organa’s face fell at the mention of Padme. When Master Windu had failed to return in the span he had deemed necessary, she had begun to worry incessantly. Already a slight woman, Padme had become more and more frail since her arrival at Alderaan, paranoid for the safety of Luke and Obi-Wan, and now fearful that her actions had caused the death of Master Windu as well. And especially now that she felt trapped on Alderaan, perhaps never to see her homeworld again, Padme was constantly depressed, withdrawn from even her handmaidens who sought to bring her solace in any way possible. As much as he could sense the love Padme felt for Leia, he knew that it was not enough. She was constantly reminded of Anakin every time she looked into the baby girl’s eyes or held her in her arms, and she felt she had failed him as a wife, by not being able to save him from falling to the dark side. Organa had sent for the finest physicians he knew to try and map out a pinpoint for the former Queen’s weakening state, but he knew in his own mind that her malady could not be cured by any remedy. Padme Amidala was dying of a broken heart. Seeing Organa staring off blankly, R2D2 paused the message. Organa smiled at the droid and motioned for him to continue. “I am indebted to you Bail, and although I feel I have failed the Republic, the Jedi and my Padawan, I have advice to give to you. I know the people of Alderaan are peaceful and do not believe in fighting, but there may come a time when it is necessary. It may be that our generation is too set in its ways to resist, but I have no doubt that the day is coming when the Emperor will declare this galaxy his own, and any freedoms you may have will vanish before your eyes. If you choose to resist, you will continue to place yourself in peril, old friend, but the reward is the freedom of your people, and I know you will make the right choice.” “As I said, I will stay on Tatooine and watch over Luke, but I am forever indebted for you. Should your situation ever become dire, I have placed a transmitter inside R2D2 that responds to one in the hilt of my lightsaber. Should you ever need my help, he will know where to find me.” Obi-Wan’s hologram looked over R2’s head, squinting at something, then returned his view to Organa’s face. “I must go now, I bid you good luck and thank you for all your help. May the Force be with you.” The hologram flickered out and R2 whistled softly. Organa noticed the message light blinking on his deskcom, it was Padme. She had heard that R2 had arrived and wanted to know what was going on. He told her he’d be in her quarters shortly. He closed the communication and buried his head in his hands on the desk.. R2 sat quietly, not knowing any combination of electronic beeps that could express sympathy for the look of fear and mourning on the former Senator’s face. Chapter 32 -- Dagobah Obi-Wan angled the Jedi fighter toward the planetary system he now knew to be Dagobah. He had researched the system briefly on Coruscant from the safety of the Jedi shelter, seeking to distract his mind from the stunning revelation that was Darth Vader. Now he used the ship’s logs to recreate the flight pattern he had taken on his first trip there, taking into account that it was earlier in the day and that the planet was in a different phase of rotation than it had been when he and Yoda had fled here just ahead of Tyrannus’ forces. As he neared the murky blue-gray planet, he stretched out through the Force, searching for the signature of his Master, but instead found nothing. It was not that Yoda was not there, it was as if the Force itself was blocked from his registry here. It was a very odd phenomenon, not one he remembered during their initial flight. Very curious now in addition to his anxiousness, Obi-Wan landed the fighter on the exact same hill where he had last seen Yoda, battling the Sith Lord with all his might. He shut down the engines and unhooked both himself and Luke from their restraints. Cautiously, he opened the cockpit and stepped out, holding Luke close to him. Obi-Wan cradled the baby boy and begin walking down the hill, moving in a slow circle until something caught his eye. There, maybe one hundred yards from where had landed, a tiny house rose out of the bog, flickering lights emanating from its rounded windows. Standing solemnly outside the door, looking years older than the time that had passed since their last encounter, and leaning heavily on a wooden stick of a cane, stood Yoda. Relief flooded Obi-Wan as he moved quickly, covering the distance. All the while, Yoda stared at him, without speaking or moving. “Master Yoda, you’re alive... I feared the Sith ...” “Unwise, your return is. Danger to yourself and the boy it could bring.” Obi-Wan was taken aback by Yoda’s gruffness, his Master was seldom cheerful, but considering the time he had clearly spent alone, Obi-Wan thought he would have at least been glad to see him. “I ... I had to see if you were all right, Master. I have made some horrible discoveries and did not know where else to turn.” “The Emperor,” Yoda said, nodding. “The Sith he is.” Obi-Wan was stunned, despite his Master’s infinite wisdom in such matters when he had been Obi-Wan’s teacher. “You know?? How long have you known?” “Since my battle with Tyrannus ended,” Yoda said with a sigh. “Realize did I that the Master he could not be. Too full of weaknesses, too full of pride. While my body began to heal, seek out with my mind the truth. Know of Palpatine do I ... and of Skywalker.” Obi-Wan’s head hung in shame. He could not make eye contact with his Master now, as his failure was brought fully to light. “Palpatine remade him into a monster, Master. He murdered Master Windu before I could reach them. He calls himself Darth Vader now. I tried to find Anakin’s soul inside him and could not.” Yoda’s eyelids seemed heavy as he replied. “Felt Master Windu’s passing, did I. A great friend he was, and a powerful Jedi. Now but two are we, where once stood ten thousand. Overconfidence, arrogance, lack of vision, all these things were our weaknesses, now our downfall they are.” “Two Jedi ... two Sith, “ Obi-Wan ruminated slowly. “It is balanced, is it not Master? Qui-Gon was right, Anakin has brought balance to the force, the prophecy has come true.” “NO!” Yoda retorted loudly, shaking his head vigorously. “Balance is not in numbers in the Force, balance is in its harmony. Disrupted by the dark side is it now. The one who rids the universe of the Sith, the chosen one will he be.” Obi-Wan frowned, then looked down at Luke, sleeping contentedly in his arms. He looked back to Yoda, “Could it be?” Yoda sighed at Obi-Wan’s suggestion, apparently it had crossed his mind as well. “In him, the Force is strong, stronger even than his father. But force upon him destiny, you and I will not. Protected he must be, not here, his strength in the Force with mine, discovered it would be by the forces of evil.” For a moment, Obi-Wan forgot about Luke, his earlier curiosity recalled. “Master, as I came closer to Dagobah, I felt a void in the Force.. Did you create it?” “Not I, Master Kenobi, show you I will, why this place shall hide me long.” ________________________________ Forced to walk very slowly as Yoda hobbled across the swamp, Obi-Wan’s vision finally encompassed pieces of the Imperial shuttle that had been torn off by the sheer velocity of Yoda’ bold gambit as he wrenched the craft off the ground and into space to free Obi-Wan’s starfighter from the tractor-beam snare of the Dominance. A crater held the pieces, and they were entwined with a grotesquely blackened tree of some species Obi-Wan did not recognize. As they drew near it, Obi-Wan felt the dark side of the Force roll over him in waves emanating from the dark recesses of the crater. He shivered involuntarily. “That place ... Meet his end, Dooku did there,” Yoda said softly. “Still strong with the dark side of the Force it is. Negate my presence it does, as mine does it.” Obi-Wan understood his earlier dilemma now, it was like the forces of light and dark were counteracting each other here. Tyrannus’ taint on the Force negated the strong emanations of Yoda. That was why the Jedi Master had not been tangible to Obi-Wan’s searchings. That was why Yoda had been able to touch the Sith Lords through the Force without fear of detection. “Here I will stay,” Yoda declared. “Only through healing this place may I heal myself. Nurture it I shall through the Force, my destiny it is.” “And what of Luke’s destiny?” Obi-Wan asked, as if suddenly remembering the original dilemma. “Shall I train him? Shall I bring him to you when he’s older?” “His future, still undecided it is,” Yoda intoned solemnly. “Stay close but do not interfere in his life unless you deem it necessary. The chosen one he may be, but force that on him we will not to compensate for the failures of our own.” Obi-Wan accepted Yoda’s decisions without argument. After what had happened to Anakin, the thought of training Luke frightened him badly. “I suppose I should go, then,” Obi-Wan said, trying to keep his voice even. “Surely, all three of our presences here at once cannot bode well for your secret staying safe.” This time Yoda did crinkle his face up in a smile. “Not yet, Obi-Wan. Sit. One more lesson do I have to teach.” Obi-Wan looked down in surprise, then sat down with Luke on his knee. Yoda continued, in a voice of awe now. “Five hundred years ago, my Master, Odij Endei, discovered did he knowledge of prolonging one’s existence in this world after death. A Jedi places himself in a deep trance before death, and is able to retain his essence in this world, for a time thereafter.” Obi-Wan was wide-eyed by this idea, he had never heard of anything like it. “Taught to me alone, did he this wisdom,” Yoda continued, without even a hint or arrogance. “Only the most powerful of a generation should receive it, said he.” Yoda fixed his intense stare on Obi-Wan. “The boy’s protector, you shall be, but I sense sacrifice of yourself may some day save him, Master Kenobi. Practice what I will teach you well, and you will have the power to counsel him for a time before you become one with the Force forever.” It was strange how a premonition of his own demise made Obi-Wan Kenobi feel more at peace in the Force than he had in a long time. The thought of giving his life for another had often come to him in the years since the Sith had slain Qui-Gon. Now knowing it might be Luke Skywalker who he would trade his own life for, Obi-Wan felt he might some day truly be at peace with his past. A stray thought slipped through Obi-Wan’s mind and he frowned a bit. “But Master, you said the knowledge was only to be passed to the most powerful, I don’t deserve that honor.” Yoda looked strangely at his former student for a moment then chuckled. “If a weakness in you exists, Obi-Wan, too much humility perhaps it is. Never time it seems I had to tell you, my greatest student you were. Your survival in a purge across the galaxy, no coincidence it is.” “Lives you have saved, burdens you have carried, battles you have won, Obi-Wan, Too busy with your next cause you have been, to reflect on the wonders you have achieved. Correct, Qui-Gon was once. A great Jedi have you become.” Warmed to his very core by his Master’s praise, Obi-Wan sat down in the bog again, and slowly, Yoda revealed him the secrets of his final lesson. ______________________________ At dawn, Obi-Wan knelt in front of Yoda, who touched both the Knight’s shoulders with his lightsaber and bade him safe journey. Again, Yoda was full of smiles for tiny Luke as Obi-Wan repacked the cockpit of the fighter before safely securing the baby in his crib in the back seat. “I shall practice my training, Master, I won’t fail you.” Yoda nodded once. “We shall meet again, Obi-Wan. May the Force be with you.” Obi-wan secured the cockpit and keyed in the ignition sequence as Yoda stood firm near the intense heat and fumes. The good-byes were growing harder for Obi-Wan, as he took one last look down at his great Master before rocketing through the trees and off Dagobah. Below him, Yoda watched the ship depart, then hobbled forward with his walking stick to inspect the peat on which Obi-Wan’s fighter had sat for the previous day. Not too bad, very little of it was crushed beyond repair. The tiny Jedi turned and headed steadily back toward his home, to meditate on the future and live in the will of the Force. Chapter 33 -- Adoption In the guest suites of the House of Organa on Alderaan, Bail Organa collected his stoic face before walking slowly into the rooms occupied by Padme Amidala. The frail young woman was sitting in a chair, her gown wrapped around her, accompanied by a handmaiden and sipping on something warm out of a smooth, white cup. She looked up at the door chime and her eyes lifted from their normally-sullen demeanor as Organa entered. R2D2 trailed in behind him, and a hint of a smile touched Padme’s face. “You have news for me, Bail? Is Obi-Wan here?” “He is not, Padme, he sent R2 in his place. He and Luke are safe.” Padme fully expected Bail to continue, and when he did not, her mouth tightened in anger. “Surely there must be more to the message! Where are they! Where is my son!? What happened to Master Windu!?” Organa put up his hand and cut her off. “I cannot answer those questions, Padme. You know too much already, we cannot compromise Luke and Leia’s safety for ...” Padme stood up, the first time Bail had seen her on her feet in months. “The whereabouts of my son are my business, Bail! I cannot live the rest of my life not knowing where he is! And Master Windu was my protector! Is he dead? Have my actions murdered another Jedi?” Organa squinted at her, “Another Jedi? What do you mean?” Close to tears now, Padme sat back in her chair, feeling weak after her emotional outburst. “Is it not obvious, Bail? My actions, they have done nothing but hurt the Jedi from the moment I became involved with them. My brazen charge back to Naboo during the days of the Trade Federation cost Qui-Gon Jinn his life. My speech urging the Republic to clone its troops ended in the slaughter on Genosis.Master Yoda may have died saving my son, and now Master Windu could be dead for the same reason. “And Anakin... , “ Padme struggled now with her words tight in her throat. “Anakin was seduced to the dark side while I stood by and did nothing, he fell before my very eyes and I was too busy playing politician to save him.” Organa started forward, but Padme wouldn’t have him comfort. He stood in place, unable to speak, unable to voice the words that denied the truths she had told. Eventually, one of her handmaidens came and put the former Queen to bed, then brusquely ushered Bail Organa out for the evening. _____________________ It was just after dusk, and the nighttime air on Tatooine was finally cooling down from the blazing heat of the desert world’s twin suns. Having finished a meal of vegetables and protein, Owen Lars sat in his large chair, examining a busted vaporator combustion unit in his hands, turning it over and over, searching for the fault that had caused it to cease functioning earlier that day. His wife, Beru, was busy in the kitchen, storing leftovers and preparing food for the coming day. Both she and Owen worked all day in the fields, and seldom ate more than one meal together a day. As Owen used his multi-tool to slip the unit’s casing off, his attention was drawn to a chiming sound emanating from the security monitor adorned to the wall to his right. Springing to his feet, he moved forward to check the computer reading. Beru came quickly from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel, her eyes wide with worry. “What’s going on, Owen?” Owen squinted at the monitor, checking the readout and tapping in a coded sequence to the keypad. “Someone has entered the outer perimeter. Sensors show just one so far.” “Are you expecting anyone, Owen? A supplier?” “No, not for two days now. I don’t know who it is, but it’s only one heat sense, I doubt it’s Tuskens.” There, he had said what both of them were clearly thinking. The fear of a raid was prevalent among moisture vaporator farmers. It had been a long time since there had been any Raiders near the Lars’ settlement, but Owen’s family had a certain history with them Owen always made sure he was armed when he was out on the farm, and insisted Beru do the same. Now Owen reached for the heavy carbine rifle he kept mounted on the adjacent wall for emergencies, and switched it on, as the low whine of its energy capacitors filled the silent room. “Go get your pistol, Beru, and wait in the kitchen.’ “Owen, I face the same dangers as you on the farm on a daily basis, I’m not going to hide in the kitchen like a child while our home is invaded.” Owen frowned at his wife. Her head-strong nature had made her so appealing when they had courted, sometimes, as her husband, it frustrated him to no end. So husband and wife watched the low-grade sensing device as it tracked the mysterious individual across their property, its heat signature moving ostensibly toward their homestead. The wind had picked up, as it always did when the sun went down, and it sounded like a pretty fair-sized sandstorm would batter the dunes tonight. Despite the lack of vision, the being’s image kept coming right toward the house, until finally Owen could hear its feet scuffing on the permacrete porch that extended a few feet outside the house to protect it from Tatooine’s once in generation monsoon. Obviously, Owen had checked and rechecked the lock on the door, so there would be so easy entry for their nighttime visitor. The outdoor intercom buzzed and Owen put s much gruffness into his voice as he could manage, trying to do an impression of his father Cliegg, when the elder Lars had found some fault in his work as a child.. “Yeah? What do you want?” The voice that came back spoke perfect Basic, and sounded human. “I have come a long way to seek a favor from the Lars family. I had hoped to also seek refuge from the storm.” Owen frowned, as he looked back at Beru, who was already nodding. It was common courtesy to allow strangers to stay the night should one have the space available when a sandstorm threatened. On occasion, farmers, ranchers or traders were far from their own homes when the storms came up, and would seek shelter at the nearest residence. Own himself had done so with a group of Jawas no less many years ago as a boy. “Hang on,” he barked at the intercom, then switched it off, moving back to speak quietly to Beru. “Keep your weapon up and keep it on the highest setting. I’m going to keep myself between he and you until we know what this is all about.” Beru shook her head at him like he was a child pretending to be a man. “Oh, Owen, quit playing space captain and open the door.” Not liking this at all, Owen keyed the door and stepped back, the carbine cocked on his shoulder and ready to fire. Standing in the doorway was a man dressed all in brown robes, not unlike a human-sized Jawa. His face was bent away from the wind-blown sand, and his head covered by a hood. He clutched a bundle close to his chest, the contents of which Owen could not discern, even at close range. “Who are you?” Owen demanded, not wanting to let down his guard in the slighest. Taking a gentle step forward out of the gusting wind, the man raised his head, revealing a bearded face with bright eyes, but a series of cuts and gashes fading into it. “I am a friend of Anakin Skywalker. I understand his family lives here. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Owen Lars was certainly not a man of the galaxy. He and Beru only heard snippets of news from off-world from traders that visited their homestead or merchants who bought their moisture harvest. They had no holonet feed of their own on the farm, none of their neighbors did either, there was always too much work to do at home to waste time watching what someone else was doing ... on another planet, no less. But Owen knew the name of the man before him well, and he stepped forward, pushing the carbine’s nozzle into the other’s shoulder. “You’re the Jedi the Empire’s looking for. You’re the reason Anakin left here for good, aren’t you? You damn fools trying to save the galaxy all by yourselves. You can take your favor and get the hell off my land!” For having a carbine that could likely rip his entire shoulder off pressed firmly against it, the Jedi was remarkably calm. “May I speak to Cliegg Lars, please?” Owen’s face hardened now. “That depends, Kenobi. Can the Jedi speak to the dead? If so, I’ll take you around back and you can visit his gravestone with me.” Obi-Wan’s eyes softened and he bowed his head again. “I’m sorry. I did not know. I never knew your father, but I mourn his passing. How long ago since he left you?” Owen’s face continued to tighten as the Jedi’s ignorance ignited his past frustrations. “He did not leave us, he was taken. Killed by the Tusken Raiders three seasons ago in a revenge raid of our home. You can thank Anakin for that.” Kenobi’s head came back up and his face was quizzical now. “Revenge raid? What does that have to do with Anakin?” Owen Lars was beside himself now with anger. Not only had Anakin abused their hospitality, then left them to suffer the consequences of upsetting the Sand People, but he had not even the courage to admit his sins to his Master. “When Anakin and Padme stayed with us here, he went in search of his mother. After watching her die at the hands of the Raiders, he slaughtered an entire village of them. We didn’t find out until later, he never said a word of it. The other Tusken clans paid us back the next season, ransacking our homestead while Beru and I were in Mos Eisley, buying droid parts. The Tuskens murdered my father and two farm hands, and made off with most everything of value we owned.” “So, Jedi,” Owen made the name sound like a curse. “Unless you have a small fortune in that bundle you clutch so tight, I suggest you leave. The Jedi have done enough favors for my family to last a lifetime.” As Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak, a muffled cry came from his arms. Beru, knowing that sound all too well, having visited several neighbors’ families in their time here, moved forward, her pistol falling to her side as a smile touched her face. “Is that??” she asked softly, even as Owen tried to grab her hand and pull her back behind him. The Jedi extended his arms away from his body and carefully turned the bundle over, revealing the baby boy he carried there. Having slept most of the day, the young one had awoken to find himself hungry, and set about informing his caretaker of it. “Ohh!” Beru smiled delightedly now, “He’s beautiful, look Owen.” She stepped closer to Obi-Wan like they had known each other for years, and the Jedi gave the baby to her carefully, and she brought him to her like a long-lost friend. Beru stroked his little head and looked back at Obi-Wan. “What’s his name?” “Luke,” Obi-Wan said, trying to keep his voice even. “Luke Skywalker.” Owen’s gaze, which had been following his wife’s interaction with the baby, snapped back to center on Obi-Wan and a scowl covered his mouth. After a second of understanding, Beru gazed intently at the Jedi as well. “He is Anakin’s son, by Padme. They were married shortly after they left you. Luke is an orphan now, he needs a home. I had hoped he could stay with the only family he has.” “Oh Owen, can we keep him?” Beru asked, cradling the baby closer to her bosom now, beaming at the young face staring back at her. “We can’t take on the burden of a baby. You and I already work all day in the fields, who will care for him? We can’t hire another hand to do your job so you can stay at home, the extra costs would destroy us!” Beru frowned. Owen was the sensible one and he was right this time. Even if an extra hand came on to do her part of the harvesting, they would be paying him and the costs of the baby and they were already just scraping along following the Tusken raid that had murdered Cliegg. But before they could say no, the Jedi was unfolding something else from deep in his robe. “It’s not quite a fortune, but it should do well to help with Luke’s needs for a few years,” he said as he set down bar after bar of credits on the table between them. Despite his anger with the Jedi, Owen’s eyes gradually widened as more money than he had seen in a long time was tightly stacked in front of him. With that sort of credit line, they could hire more hands, or get some top-notch droids from the next Jawa caravan that came by, or even put a deposit on a land speeder down! The baby started to cry now, as if remembering his hunger again. Beru disappeared into the kitchen to search for milk for the boy. Obi-Wan eyed the rest of the room for the first time. “May I see the rest of your homestead, sir?” Owen knew the Jedi had done some background checks on the lives of moisture farmers to make a comment like that. It was common courtesy for visitors to ask for a tour so their hosts might proudly display what their toils had reaped. Begrudgingly, Owen lowered the carbine to his side, but kept it on. The point was not lost on Obi-Wan, he was here on very thin ice, something most of the residents of Tatooine had probably never even heard of. Owen led and Obi-Wan followed out across the narrow walkway to the couple’s garage. Once inside, Owen closed the door firmly. “What’s the catch, Jedi?” Obi-Wan had felt the other’s tension and distrust, and wasn’t surprised by the question now that they were away from Beru. “Only that you raise him right, take care of him, love him as your own.” “You could have found a family like that anywhere, Kenobi and we both know it. Why us?” Obi-Wan’s shoulders slumped a bit now, and he sat on a spare vaporator base. He looked up at Owen and his eyes were sad. “Anakin is not dead.” The words made no sense coming out of the Jedi’s mouth to Owen. He and Beru had heard from friends of friends that the Emperor had mentioned his step-brother as a martyr in the Clone Wars when he and Count Dooku had made their historic peace. He and Beru had not mourned the fallen Jedi long, he had brought nothing but death to their home in the short time they had known each other. “Not dead? Even out here on the Rim we had heard that he was assassinated or something like that. How do you know he’s not dead?” “Because I’ve seen him.. Although it’s safe to say you wouldn’t recognize him. The Emperor lied about his demise, much as he has lied about nearly everything he’s stood for in the past 10 years.” “I’ve not time to discuss politics with you, Kenobi. If Anakin is alive, why is his son here?” Obi-Wan sighed, to have to unload this much emotion on a near-stranger was nearly as exhausting as recounting it all to himself. “The Emperor convinced Anakin I had betrayed the Jedi, and he challenged me to a duel. I bested him and he fell into the core of a power plant on Coruscant. Somehow he survived, and the Emperor used technology and the Force to rebuild him. He’s a monster now, you might call him the Emperor’s enforcer. He now answers to the name Darth Vader.” “So you’ve brought this boy here? Are you mad? Surely Vader and the Empire will seek him out, you’ve signed our death warrant, fool!” Obi-Wan raised a firm hand and the power in his motion silenced Owen Lars. “Anakin never knew he was to be a father. Padme kept it hidden from him as he slipped further and further toward the dark side of the Force. That is why I brought Luke here, even if he were to discover he has a son, he would never return to Tatooine after what happened to his mother.” Owen thought about that, and realized the logic was sound. He did not like any of it, but there was Beru to think of. They had tried many times for a child of their own when Cliegg was still alive, but for one reason or another had not been able to conceive. Before Kenobi had shown up they seemed destined to scrape along for years, working their way back to solvency after the Raiders had destroyed so much. Besides that, Owen Lars was a fair man, and the boy had nothing wrong. Owen could not judge him on the mistakes of his father, or of the Jedi standing before him now, pleading with him to take on this awesome responsibility. For the sake of the child, he accepted. “And what of you, Kenobi? Where does an outlaw to the Empire go from here?” Obi-Wan smiled wanly at the term. “He stays on the Outer Rim. He retires somewhere hot and sandy, a place the Empire leaves to the outlaws and the smugglers and the few honest people left trying to carve out a living. I sold my ship at Anchorhead. Most of that money is on your table, the rest I will buy a few spartan items with which to exist in the desert. I will find somewhere to live here, and keep to myself, but I wish to check in on Luke from time to ti-.” “No.” Owen’s voice was as firm now as Obi-Wan’s had been moments earlier. “You will do no such thing. The boy doesn’t need some wandering magician showing up to revel him with tales of space wars and adventures.” The hurt in Obi-Wan’s eyes was apparent, but Owen did not care. If the boy was to be raised as his son, he would be raised the way Owen saw fit. Obi-Wan thought of arguing, but Luke’s safety was paramount. Instead, he nodded. “I shall be close then, but not close enough to be seen. And if you ever need me for anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Before I go however, I would like to give you something to give to Luke, when he’s old enough.” The Jedi Knight reached into another one of his seemingly infinite pockets and withdrew a metallic tube, roughly the length of his forearm. Although Owen had never seen one in action before, he had spotted the weapon on Anakin’s belt when he and Padme had visited. He knew it was a lightsaber, and he knew it had no place in his home. “Absolutely not. I know what that thing is capable of, I’ll not put it in the hands of a boy who has no idea what it was once used for. Take it, and be gone. If he’s to live here, he’ll be a farmer, just like us, just like Anakin should have been. You are not to come here again, Kenobi. The Jedi have tampered in the lives of we common folk enough.” The Jedi looked crushed by this, and Owen, feeling bad for the man who had traveled across the stars, softened just a hair. “I won’t stop you from living where you choose, Kenobi. But Luke would be better off not knowing where he comes from. The life of a farmer seems a lot less painful than that of a Jedi Knight.” To that, Obi-Wan had no argument. He put the lightsaber back in his interior pocket and turned to go, then stopped. “Then, grant me just one small favor.” Owen’s face showed no change as he waited for the Jedi’s last request. “Let him keep his name. Anakin was a great man in his time. He was a hero, he saved lives, and he was my friend. Let Luke Skywalker live, for Anakin’s sake.” Owen stared a long time at the Jedi Master, standing there in his doorway, then his face relaxed. “All right. He can keep the name ... as long as you keep your promise.” Obi-Wan bowed, an old Jedi custom when leaving a host’s company. “Thank you, Master Lars.” The Jedi Knight walked out the door, as silently as he had came. Owen Lars would never see him again. A long moment passed as Owen stood there, contemplating the dramatic change his life had taken in the past hour. Another evening spent repairing items that truly needed to be replaced and straining his mind to conjure up ways to harvest better, faster or for less money had been replaced by the arrival of a gift of money to not only finish rebuilding the homestead , but bring help in the form of droids, hands and whatever else he could think of, and the gift of the one thing he had been unable to provide his wife in the two years they had been wed, the gift of a child. Owen put down the rifle finally, his hands shaking in disbelief and joy. He whispered out into the desert air. “Thank you, Master Jedi.” Chapter 34 -- Death It was the shrill cry of Padme’s handmaiden Mischa, which first alerted C3PO out of his standby mode in the darkened outer quarters of his Mistress’ residence in the Organa House. Immediately, the droid rose to his feet and moved as quickly as he could toward Padme’s bedroom, where the light was now coming on and Mischa now emitted a low moan. C3PO entered the room to see Mischa standing over Mistress Padme’s bed, her hands clutched tightly to her mouth. “Mistress, Mischa! Whatever is the trouble, is something wrong with Mistress Pad-” C3PO’s vocorder staggered there, as his photoreceptors processed the scene in front of him. Padme Amidala lay in her bed, not moving, her chest did not rise, as C3PO watched intently, and as Mischa’s hands went to the former Nubian queen’s wrist to search for a sign of life, she wailed again. There was none to be found. C3PO’s facial expression never changed, it couldn’t after all, he was artificial. But he had known the young Nubian Padme Amidala for nearly his entire life, and his central processors did not have to tell him that grief, mourning and regret were in order for proper protocol. While Mischa continued to sob, C3PO dutifully activated the comlink, rousing Bail Organa from his chambers. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have expected the Alderaanian prince to be asleep this time at night, but Organa looked wide awake in his chair as he answered. “Prince Organa, I am sorry to bring such distressing news. But Mistress Padme has passed away in her sleep.” Organa remained tight-lipped for a moment, then he nodded. “Thank you, 3P0, I’ll be right there.” R2D2 came into the room and stood silently by 3PO, the taller droid put his hand on his counterpart’s head and patted it, emulating a human motion he had seen during times of great grief. C3PO did not find it comforting in the least. ___________________ Barely 12 hours after Padme Amidala’s death, Bail Organa completed his work at the computer terminal at his desk. For all intents and purposes, no one would ever question that Leia was his daughter. She had an Alderaanian birthdate now, and an identification entry in the planet’s hall of records. He would protect the young girl as if she were his own daughter, he and his wife would raise her together. Princess Leia Organa would grow up precocious, strong-willed and defiant to things she believed were wrong. At 14, she gave a speech at a political gathering seen planet-wide on the corruptions inherent in the government being practiced by the Emperor. At 16, she was elected to the Imperial Senate, the youngest Alderaanian ever elected into office by some 12 years. In the social circles of the Alderaanian aristocracy, she was labeled a firebrand, and at parties and receptions, the comment was often overheard that Leia was nothing like her father or mother in the political arena, the princess was so aggressive, strong-willed and at times bullish in pursuing the things she wanted done. Bail Organa often had to mask his sad smile or moist eyelids behind his hand or a drinking glass when those comments reached his ears. For at times, Leia’s beauty and boldness reminded him of her mother. And the girl’s prodigal abilities were every bit as impressive as her father’s had been. _________________________________ Darth Vader had been living a lie. He had known it since his rebirth in the bowels of the Imperial Palace. He had spoken the lie aloud, heard it spoken to him and even convinced himself of its validity for hours at a time, but then, usually in the dead of night, it would return to him, glaring like a freighter’s search light on the edge of a black hole. Anakin Skywalker was buried, but he was not dead. Buried deep inside Vader’s black soul, but the man he had once been still clung to life. Clung to the one thin strand of his former self that existed. His love for Padme. When Palpatine had resumed his public rule of the Empire, Vader had been left alone for longer and longer periods of time as he mastered his teacher’s lessons for manipulation and the harnessing of the dark side. While projecting his presence outward to spy on other’s souls one day, Vader had suddenly remembered his bride and a flood of memories ran through him like electricity. Despite his fear of the Emperor’s wrath, should he be caught doing anything but his assigned tasks for the day, Vader stretched out, losing himself in the Force, and finally touching his wife’s familiar presence .. she lived. What was left of Anakin’s heart leapt at the revelation and over the course of the months ahead, in his deepest moments of sleep, he dreamed of reuniting with Padme, of her recognizing that he still lived, and of the two of them somehow finding a way to restore him, to rid him of this suit of blackness and allow him to walk as a free man again. He knew his body was nearly destroyed by the ravages of the melting pit, but perhaps some day he could be reborn yet again. He kept these thoughts deep inside him, covered by layers of evil and hatred toward the Jedi and those who had helped them betray him. He seldom had time to touch the fantasy, usually only a moment or two in his own private chambers at the Imperial Palace, and only when he knew the Emperor was off-planet and out of the system, to make sure he was a safe distance away from any mindprobing his Master may be doing to check up on his progress.. Now, inside his meditation chamber, he thought of Padme, searching deep within the Force to touch her mind gently. His helmet was off, suspended above his scarred, burnt and hairless skull. He had found he could remove it for a few moments at a time and breathe naturally. But only for a few minutes, for the oxygen-rich air would quickly burn his fragile lungs. Still, with his helmet off, and thoughts of Padme, he could almost feel human again. It was his greatest secret, and the only one he kept from his Master. It was with his helmet off, emotions exposed to the air instead of contained in his black death-head mask, that Darth Vader felt Padme Amidala slip into death. His breath, sounding quiet after the many weeks of the mask’s machinations, rasped in his throat. Not caring if the Emperor felt his sway in the Force or not, he reached out toward Padme’s presence, desperately searching for her life-force ... and found nothing. The slave who become a Jedi. The Jedi who become the Sith, sat alone and tears fell down his face. Unimpeded by facial hair or eyelashes, the tears rolled down his face and fell noiselessly into the jawplate of his armor or onto the massive chestplate below it. When he felt he could no longer breathe, whether from the burning of his tender lungs or from the blackness that now permeated his entire being, Vader called the Force to him, triggering the switch that lowered the helmet back down. The chamber was silent except for the whirring of the rotor that brought the helmet back to his head, and the hissing noises of the helmet’s components connecting back together, entombing him again in the guise of the Lord of the Sith. Vader breathed deeply now, the echoes of labored breathing bouncing off the chamber’s concave walls. He reached out to the Force, like a child reaching for his mother, desperate for comfort. The dark side embraced him, surrounded him, filled him with power unimaginable. He reveled in it, drank deeply of it, and rose to his feet, intent on renewing his exercises here and now, summoning an assassin droid to his chambers to spar with. Anakin Skywalker’s only link to the world of the living had been his family. His mother had died in front of him on Tatooine and he had been powerless to save her. Now Padme had died across the galaxy somewhere, and again he had failed to do anything to prevent it. Without his family, Anakin was nothing. He had felt that way when he left Shmi alone on Tatooine. He felt it again here on Coruscant. Vader strode out of his chambers toward his training room. Anakin Skywalker was dead. There was only the dark side. Epilogue The morning was hot, dry and slightly windy as Ben Kenobi stood outside, breathing in the fresh air. He had been on Tatooine just short of 20 years now, and had learned a lot about the supposedly desolate planet that settlers and corporations avoided like a plague. He had found its inhabitants to be good folk, even the violent Tusken Raiders he had crossed paths with a few times were simply looking out for themselves and for their tribes. He had learned much of the Raiders, and the moisture farmers and the Jawas, along with the indigenous creatures of the wild sand dunes that he now called home -- the mighty banthas, skittering womp rats and the legendary krayt dragons, who occasionally brought hunters from the Core in search of a kill of the mighty reptilian predators. When he had not been learning of the planet, he had written down all the things he could recollect of the Jedi way. He had written great manuscripts of lightsaber construction, healing trances, mind tricks, and the process by which a Knight took on a Padawan. He bound the manuscripts and kept them in a great chest at the foot of his bed. Inside he also kept his only Jedi robe, and both his and Anakin’s lightsabers. On a normal day, he would make breakfast, take a walk through the valley perhaps, or get on with his writing. It was a simple life, but it was the life Ben Kenobi had chosen for himself. Today, however, something was different. It was a feeling Kenobi hadn’t experienced in many years, the impending sense that something was going to happen. Kenobi had felt the sensation ever since he awoke. His body felt alive with energy, despite being well into his 50s. His mind had stayed crisp through the years, despite making contact so infrequently with any other sentient beings. In the early years, he had gone to the Toshii Station or Anchorhead to buy his supplies, but he had once nearly been spotted by Owen Lars in his landspeeder. Being seen might have been worth it, for the fair-haired youth sitting in the passenger seat of Owen’s landspeeder could be none other than Luke. The boy had been about 11, and his light hair and smile at being in the middle of the bustling town, reminded Kenobi very much of the boy’s father. That excitement had been different the kind he felt today, however. That had been a chance encounter, this was am exhilaration. He wasn’t quite sure how to proceed, but as he began his daily walk through the valley, he felt the strongest urge to turn a different way. He stopped and stared, his fine-tuned hearing picking up a faint sound coming from the southeast. It sounded like the whine of a landspeeder. Kenobi began to move in that direction, but stopped again, still something nagged at him. He needed to be prepared, of that he was suddenly sure of. He retreated back into the house, back to his living quarters. He carefully keyed in the combination to the chest, anyone else tampering with it would be doing things one-handed for a good many years to come. The cushioned hinges stretched and he moved his old cloak aside, pulling free his lightsaber, and attaching it firmly to his belt. He set off now, not through the valley he had traversed daily for the past fifteen years, but out into the Jundland Wastes, a dangerous area of the region to travel alone for most beings. He heard the landspeeder’s engine again, off in the distance, but louder now, then it stopped. He continued to walk briskly when the air was filled by the harsh banshee call of an attacking Tusken. For the first time in two decades, the Force surged through Obi-Wan Kenobi. He moved forward quickly, answering the call to his destiny. This story, is of course, dedicated to Melissa, who inspired me to stop reading these stories and actually write one myself, Without her prodding, both subtle and not so subtle, the ideas that provided the foundation from this story -- Yoda’s battle on Dagobah, the birth of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s visit to the Lars homestead with baby Luke in tow -- would have simply continued to kick around in the back of my cerebellum until Episode III came out in 2005 and my imagination was washed away with what transpired on the movie screen instead of coming together in the longest work of any kind I’ve ever put together, some 98 pages, just under 50,000 words and full of living, breathing Star Wars characters that have sprung forth from my imagination, hopefully to entertain you. Thank you Melissa, I love you.