Let me answer the emails and messages flooding my inbox with a simple answer. The question I get is “where is the rest of it???”
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On this blog, you will find Chapters 1-16 of my rough draft of the novel. If you want to read the finished version AND the ending of the novel, you will have to download it. Don’t worry, the book is 100% free to all readers!
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Star Wars Episode I: Awakening
His boots echoed down the hallway as he counted the number of doors until he arrived at his destination. The satchel that hung loosely from his shoulder bumped into his side in rhythm with his precise pace and stride. Courtesy dictates that he press the door chime before entering.
Today was not a day for courtesy.
The door opened to reveal a baby-faced enlisted man who couldn’t have been out of the Republic Institute for Military Excellence more than a few months. He was sitting at a desk tapping his fingers in rhythm to music that was playing from a speaker.
“Whatcha need?” the young man asked without looking up.
“I need your next of kin’s location so I can ship them your remains,” the officer replied.
The color drained from the enlisted man’s face before he shot to his feet.
“I’m sorry, Major, we had no idea you were coming down to this facility until…” the Able Crewman blubbered.
“Do you not understand the term ‘change of command? Perhaps some field experience in the Outer Rim would suit you better, AC…?” the major asked.
The Able Crewman’s face went white. “AC Retera, sir,” the young man gulped as he allowed the Major to enter.
“Place your thumbprint here to signify that I arrived and began the inspection of my facility before you tell your former commanding officer that his day is about to get very ugly,” the Major said.
AC Retara shakily placed his thumb on the receipt tablet and half-walked, half-staggered out of the reception area.
The major didn’t have to wait very long before he heard a series of shouts from the office the AC walked through. A short time later, a short, balding, overweight man stumbled out of his office. He smoothed his uniform several times before offering his hand to his visitor.
“Captain Antias, commanding officer. What is this all about?” he asked.
“Are you people really this far behind the times? I thought that General Embry’s orders carried a little more weight down here,” the major said without taking the offered hand.
“General Embry? Dalson Embry gave this order? He didn’t mention anything like this to me,” Captain Antias looked thoughtfully at his communicator.
“Fine. You can call General Embry while he’s giving testimony before the Armed Forces Committee on Coruscant. I’m sure the nine senators wouldn’t mind waiting while you discuss orders, already signed by him, that I hold in my hand. I’ll gladly watch you destroy your career right now or you can get packed,” the major folded his arms across his chest and waited.
“But Major, I’m the commanding officer here. I need…”
“Correction. You were the commanding officer here. As of 0815 local time, I am assuming command of this installation. You are being re-assigned to some desk more befitting on man of your..talents. You have ten minutes to clear your office out before I order Republic Security to help you pack.” The major looked around the reception area before turning back to the blubbering captain.
“Nine minutes, thirty seconds,” the new commanding officer said.
The captain scurried away and a cacophony of sounds poured out of his office.
“I need your name for the record, sir,” AC Retera said.
“Relian Issic, Major, Commanding Officer of Republic Scientific and Genetic Research Facility Zero-Zero-One.”
One hour later, three of the finest minds in the Republic were seated opposite Major Issic’s desk.
“You understand the project?” Major Issic asked.
“Yes we do. However, what you’re proposing is…” a short and furry Drall geneticist said.
“Remarkable? Breathtaking? Groundbreaking?” Major Issic finished.
“Impossible,” the Drall corrected.
The Major’s face fell. His sky blue eyes grew very hard as he fixed a piercing gaze upon them all in turn.
“That word does not exist in my facility,” he said coldly.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have enough…” a dark skinned human scientist said.
“Enough what? Name your limits and I will exceed them,” the Major picked up a digital tablet and waited.
The three scientists looked at each other for a few moments. Then the furry Drall began to speak.
“We could discuss the limits of cloning for weeks. First, you must understand the very basics of what we’re working with. Your typical DNA base pair is about a billionth of a meter in length. We need extraordinarily sensitive equipment just to view and extract the strands. Also keep in mind that your typical genome has three billion base pairs. Since most sentient species in the Republic are diploid organisms, that means one genome now has six billion base pairs of DNA. Stretching out the DNA in just one cell would be longer than this table,” he said.
“How enlightening. How many cells do you require? Dozens? Hundreds?” Major Issic drummed his fingers on the table.
The three scientists chuckled.
“One body, depending on the species, has anywhere between ten and eighteen trillion cells in it. The cells are not the issue. That’s like asking an engineer how many pieces of durasteel are required to build one star cruiser,” the Drall said.
“Then what is the issue?” Major Issic asked.
“We need Oro Thalia,” he said.
“Who is that?” the Major asked as he typed the name into the tablet.
“The greatest expert on telomeres in the galaxy. We can’t do anything without her here. That Kaminoan knows more about telomeres than…” but he was cut off again.
“Yes, yes, suffice to say she’s brilliant. What else? Let me be perfectly clear, you need but name what you need to get this project moving and it will be provided,” Major Issic said.
The three scientists all smiled at the thought of what might be.
Chapter I – The Skywalker Boys
The first of the twin suns crept over the horizon just as it had done each day prior to this one. The barren landscape began to heat, silently preparing itself for the day ahead. The rocks that were scattered along the ground welcomed the solar rays, baking contently in their fixed places, just as they had each morning over the millennia.
A single ray from the second sun crawled along the floor of the cramped room and began to slink its way up a bed that was too small for its owner. It climbed up the short bed post until it dragged across the face of a young man who was lying on his side. The sand-blasted face twitched several times, and a hand rose to cover the eye the ray was disturbing.
Anakin Skywalker rolled onto his back before yawning loudly. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes before looking at the window that allowed the invading light to attack his peaceful slumber.
“Another glorious day for the Skywalker Boys,” he mumbled before running a hand through his shaggy head of sandy colored hair.
The nickname “Skywalker Boys” was horribly inaccurate. Anakin was the only Skywalker that lived in this dilapidated shelter. Owen Lars wasn’t related to Anakin, but the two were so inseparable that they stopped trying to quash the nickname the public had given them.
“Cmon Owen, rise and shine. Greet the new day and whatever,” Anakin yawned again. He looked only a few feet away to see that the other bed was empty.
“Really? You’re really going to do this again?” Anakin stood up and stretched before getting out of bed and looking for his lost friend.
He stumbled out into the garage as he pulled his shirt over his head.
“How did I know that if you’re not sleeping or eating, you’ve got your head shoved into a gasket or a power coupling or whatever else is falling off of her,” Anakin grinned at the prone figure under the wing of his racing starfighter.
“If you flew with any sense instead of by the seat of your pants, I wouldn’t have to shove my head into a gasket,” Owen Lars said without coming out from under the wing.
“You fell asleep under the Volo again, didn’t you?” Anakin asked, crouching down and sticking his head under the wing of his racer.
“Wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last,” Owen said as he tightened a bolt.
“Owen man, you have got to get yourself a girl,” Anakin said.
Owen emerged from under the wing with oil smudges dotting his pale complexion. He hopped to his feet and stretched his back by twisting it several times before looking down at his friend.
Owen Lars had been Anakin’s best friend since they literally ran into each other on the streets of Anchorhead. Anakin had gotten into a “minor disagreement” with five or six members of the local Republic Military Garrison. While demonstrating how quickly he could run from armed soldiers, Owen’s body shop provided a perfect hiding place and sheltered him until the soldiers from the “Flying 14th” had given up the chase.
He hadn’t so much as provided the hiding place as Anakin had run into the shop Owen was working in. Anakin ducked behind the counter and pleaded with Owen not to turn him in. Owen was feeling generous that day. That generosity paid off.
Owen had always had a clear focus of what needed to be done. Working with mechanics was so simple and so straight-forward that everything else in life seemed equally simple. Anakin brought all problems to Owen and his mind worked it out like it was a clogged fuel line and came up with the solution.
“That should improve engine efficiency by another three or four percent. Your thrust ratio should give you a better kick off the start line,” Owen smiled proudly.
“I bet Beru would give you a better kick off the start line,” Anakin grinned at him.
“Beru Whitesun? Your groupie, your tag-a-long? I’m stunned she’s not here now desperately trying to find some excuse to hang around,” Owen huffed before heading to the kitchen.
“The definition of groupie is someone who can’t leave you alone and thinks the suns rise and set because you say so. She says about two words to me and then spends the rest of her time staring at you,” Anakin said as he followed Owen into the kitchen.
In a hovel as small as theirs, the kitchen also doubled as the living room. Anakin liked to
think that it also doubled as their dining room, study, library, guest house and solarium.
Being on Tatooine meant that every room was a sun room. Anakin picked through the meager remains in their pantry. “What’s the deal? I thought you bought some new ration packs? I’m eight hours from the biggest race of the year and I get to start off the day with this?” Anakin held up a bag that fit easily in the palm of his hand.
“I meant to bring that up with you,” Owen said as he sat down on a crate at their small table.
“You are looking at two guys who are one race away from the Promised Land,” Owen said with a wide grin on his face.
“The what?” Anakin asked as he also sat on a crate that appeared to be one crack away from shattering.
“I’ve been saving my half of our winnings from the last few tournaments. Add that in with the earnings from my job as a mechanic out at the Mos Eisley spaceport plus the scrimping and saving we’ve done. We are very close to changing our lives forever,” Owen said.
“I’ve been talking with Damiano Ressik. He’s willing to sell us his moisture farm. I think that, with a little hard work, we can really make it take off. All it takes is one more win and that farm is ours,” he continued.
The crate groaned loudly in protest as Anakin leaned forward. “A moisture farm?”
“The last couple of tournament wins put us in prime position. If you win the Tatooine Classic today, we’re over the top with a couple thousand to spare,” Owen was beaming now. Anakin was sure if he had a tail, it would be wagging.
“A farm,” Anakin said again, his voice trailing off.
“Well? Say something,” Owen said.
Anakin stood up and looked out a small window to the sun-scorched street outside.
“What do you want me to say?” Anakin asked flatly. “Do you know anything about farming? I don’t,” he said.
“It’s only the fastest growing profession on Tatooine. Exports are rising at an incredible rate and we can get in almost on the ground floor. If we get the farm and cut back on our expenses for a while, we can expand the vaporators and watch things really take off!”
“In ten or twenty years,” Anakin muttered. “Don’t you want something more than pulling a few drops of water out of the air?”
“What else is there?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know, something,” Anakin replied. “There’s got to be more to this life than just sitting on a rust colored planet in the middle of nowhere where nothing is destined to happen. How are we going to see the galaxy sitting on our butts watching condensation take place?”
“Anakin, you keep going on and on about this wonderful galaxy. What’s so fabulous out there that you can’t find here? What’s so incredible about that unknown life you could have on any one of a hundred thousand worlds that would blow away a tangible future on Tatooine?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know, Owen, but something!” Anakin blurted out.
“Something. Yeah, that works. I have a concrete plan here with a real future and you have ‘something’,” Owen said with a smirk.
“I just feel like there’s more to life than being a water sucker,” Anakin said as he walked over to his prize racer.
“What’s really got your blaster in a knot?” Owen asked as he walked over to join his friend.
“You never asked me about this! You made all these plans, all these goals, and you never asked me what I wanted,” Anakin said with disgust.
“Well we can’t stay here forever,” Owen said looking at the missing piece of their ceiling.
“Anakin, you did something when you took a Cloudhopper for a joyride to impress a gaggle of girls. You did something when you fell through the glass ceiling of the race dealer when you were peeking at the newest whatever it was that the Kuat Drive Yards was selling. Don’t forget you did something when you broke your bed last week. When you do something to get what you want, it ends in trouble,” Owen said.
“Maybe what I want isn’t on Tatooine,” Anakin said almost in a whisper.
Loading a five ton starfighter and maneuvering it into the loading bay at the Tatooine Race Yards was complicated enough. Doing it while nearly another dozen racers are also moving in their multi-ton starfighters required tremendous concentration. Owen found that trying to get the Volo into position while dodging everyone else and having to deal with Beru Whitesun was nearly impossible.
“Beru, now really isn’t the best time,” Owen said.
“Oh c’mon, you always say that. Don’t you think that XK-12 is really something else? I read up about it and they say it has the tightest turn of any atmospheric craft ever!” She tried very hard to get his attention.
“The XK series has never been anything more than a flying brick…” Owen was interrupted by a fast moving magnetic crane flying over his head.
“Beru, I really mean that now is not the best time. Do me a favor and go find Anakin and let him know that we’re almost ready to start his pre-flight sequence,” Owen said.
“But I didn’t get to tell you the best part,” Beru pouted.
“I think it’s really cute how you’ve studied every technical manual you could lay your hands on, but I don’t need to hear any more about the XK series,” Owen said.
“No, you don’t understand,” Beru insisted.
“He never does, Beru. Unless it has something to do with a gam-shaft or a power coupling, he’ll never understand,” Anakin said as he walked up.
“Fabulous timing,” Owen said as the Volo was unloaded into its prep area. “Are you done registering?”
“I just finished giving my thumb scan on the twentieth form,” Anakin said as he rolled his eyes. “We’re ready to fly.”
“You might fly, but Aiya Rios soars,” Beru said.
“I’m sorry, what?” Owen asked and looked down at her.
“Oh now you want to listen to me?” Beru asked. “Now my opinion is important? Well maybe I’m too important for you and I’ll take my opinion and go elsewhere,” Beru said with a flip of her dark hair.
Anakin threw Owen a scornful look.
“Okay, I’m sorry Beru. I would really like to hear whatever tidbit you have,” Owen said in a monotone voice.
Beru brightened up immediately.
“I overheard these two guys talking about some Delta thing that this girl named Aiya Rios is flying. They said she’s an off-worlder from Corellia and the ship she’s flying is some sort of prototype or something,” Beru eagerly said.
Owen and Anakin exchanged a glance.
“Owen, that roof I fell through? That ship I was looking at from the KDY? That was the Delta-7 Aethersprite. If she brought it here…”
“Then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought,” Owen finished.
Chapter II – Diplomacy
“Young lady, I don’t think you have the first idea of what you’re talking about. This bill has already been delayed far too long and your childish reasoning will not stop it from passing at this time.”
Ayers Durane, Chairman for the Committee on Military Affairs for the planet of Alderaan was growing very weary of hearing Planetary Senator Amidala’s arguments. This was supposed to be a simple bill that would fly through the Committee with the same token resistance given to all the other bills like this one. If she was looking to make a splash as the youngest Planetary Senator to throw a hissy fit, she was well on her way.
“Chairman Durane, I am sure that the Republic has excellent reasons for wanting to expand the size of the Alderaan garrison for a fifth time in the past two years. I’m sure they are anxious to explain to us exactly why they need all this space when not one company of soldiers has been added in thirty years. But the citizens that I represent and even Galactic Senator Palpatine…” the Chairman cut her off with a wave of his hand.
Ayers Durane picked up a small tablet and examined it for a moment. “I see that Senator Palpatine has made his wishes clear in the Galactic Senate on Coruscant.”
He put the tablet down and rubbed his eyes wearily. “This is not Coruscant. This bill is a merely giving the garrison an additional 1.2 million square feet and I see no reason to involve Coruscant in what is clearly an Alderaanian matter. I think we should now move on to other business,” Durane’s voice was rising with his temper.
“Senator Palpatine and I have spoken on several occasions and I assure you we will not let this egregious desecration stand. In the meantime, it is true that he is on Coruscant but I,” she added proudly, “I am here. I do hereby move that an investigation be launched immediately and an Investigatory Sub-Committee be established to determine the nature of this and all previous expansions.”
Amidala finally sat down and began silently praying for courage. This was her last ditch effort to stall the bill in the Committee.
“Such a motion will not be tolerated!” Chairman Durane was on his feet now. “It is outrageous to question the Republic Armed Forces. I refuse to permit such a…” but a voice coming from the floor stopped him.
“I’m sorry Chairman, but any motion made by a senator must be addressed,” Senator Bail Organna said, rising from his chair. He quietly added, “I do hereby second the motion,” and he threw a smirk of satisfaction toward Senator Amidala.
“Very well,” the Chairman growled before slowly sitting down.
“All supporting the motion say ‘aye’,” every senator but Amidala and Durane rose and said “Aye”. The Chairman desperately looked from face to face for any possibility to dismiss this girl and her ridiculuous motion. “All opposed say ‘nay’.”
A thunderous silence filled the room.
“That was some impressive maneuvering, Planetary Senator,” Galactic Senator Palpatine’s holo-image looked pleased. “The Chairman and I go back to my first term and he is not an easy man to out-fox. You have bought our cause much needed time.”
“This motion is more than a stall tactic, sir. There’s simply no need for a garrison housing a few hundred troops to demand more of the Shining Star of the Republic. I wish Senator Bolet were here. I’m sure he would know what else I should be doing to stop this,” Amidala looked out the window that the pristine sky.
In life, Senator Arden Bolet was a rare titan in Alderaan politics. His father was a senator, as was his father before him and his father before was the first Regent to inhabit the Orbital Mansion. His family name was as legendary as the Organna Royal Family.
But it was Arden who shone brighter than any of his family while he was in office. He introduced staggering reforms that helped transform Alderaan into the clean and beautiful paradise that the people now enjoyed and made the planet an ideal destination for families across the galaxy. It was he who first sparked the movement toward a military free Alderaan.
Padme Amidala had been all but adopted by the aging senator and she learned about politics from the master as his Chief of Staff. When he was tragically killed in an accident at his home, the entire sector of space mourned his loss, but none took it harder than she did. She had lost a mentor, a father figure, and the only true friend she had. Now, she was alone.
“Now now, you can only win when you’re looking three moves ahead, not three moves back. See what else you can do to raise public awareness against the garrison and I’ll continue my efforts here on Coruscant. If you need anything from me, anything at all, please contact Felic, my assistant, and he’ll give you any help you need,” Palpatine ended the transmission.
Padme leaned back into her chair. Moments where she could sit and relax were becoming few and far between. She thought she knew what “busy” was when she was the youngest Chief of Staff in Alderaan’s history. Now, as a senator, her schedule went from busy to nearly impossible.
A drawback to being the youngest person to reach this level was that she was forced into situations where she had to stare down Magistrates, Senators, and even Regents she had grown up hearing stories about. Every one of them had written her off as an “upstart”, someone who was only there out of luck or charity and filling the shoes of a giant. But they had all learned that her sharp tongue and keen wit ensured she was able to play with the big boys.
“Senator, Mr. Derttick from Alderaan Today wants to have a word, on the record, about your investigation,” her aide buzzed in. The constant interruptions were no help to the loneliness that tormented her.
It seemed that she was destined to be alone. It was odd how her success in the political world brought her never-ending attention from the media and constant interviews across the planet. But at the end of the day, regardless of how many contacts she made, how much networking she did, she ended each and every day alone in her quarters staring out her window to the snow-capped mountains beyond.
Padme heaved a sigh. “Please remind him that I have twenty-six hours just like everyone else. Express my apologies and ask if I can contact him tomorrow after I meet with the garrison’s commander.”
Padme looked up at the gates that towered above her while she waited for the security detail to finish the sweep of her vehicle. The garrison walls were white, gleaming, and spotless, much like the architecture of the rest of the city that she admired. But unlike the rest of the city, she learned to loathe the ion cannons, the constant, never-ending watch the security cameras held on the populace, massive gun emplacements, reinforced gates, and the armed soldiers that were behind the walls.
As her transport sped down the tree lined avenue toward the Bolet Administration Building, she recalled how when she first stepped into her office she had dreamed of having this meeting. If she could convince the Garrison Commander, even a little, that the expansion was not necessary for so small an army, it would pay for itself ten-fold in political capital and publicity.
When she exited her transport, she was stunned to see twelve Republic Soldiers, in two columns of six, waiting to receive her. They all stood at attention in immaculate gray uniforms as she walked past them. She never expected such a large escort for just one meeting.
“Welcome to Republic Garrison Three-Two-Eight, Planetary Senator Amidala. We are here to escort you to the general’s office,” an enlisted man that waited for her by the building’s doors had to be over two meters tall, but did not move or even look at her as he spoke.
“All of you are needed to escort one bureaucrat?” Amidala asked.
“I just do as I’m told, ma’am,” the soldier gave half of an arrogant smirk.
“Wipe that smile off your face soldier, unless the idea of keeping a general waiting amuses you,” Amidala turned to face the doors and began walking.
The soldiers formed columns on each side of her as the marched into the building. The noise that twelve pairs of boots made marching in time down the stone corridor was impressive. She was more impressed with the intimidation tactic that was being used against her.
“Senator Amidala, it’s a pleasure to have you here at last. When I had heard of the death of Senator Bolet last year, I was crushed. He was a tremendous friend and ally who shall be missed for generations,” the Garrison Commander gave her a warm smile and motioned for her to sit down, but there were warning bells in Padme’s mind. The tall, bald man had a gleam in his dark eyes that showed a trace of malevolence. People had been underestimating her since Day One and clearly this off-worlder would be no different.
“General Tarkin, thank you for seeing me. I have admired your career and how quickly you’ve been able to maneuver through the trenches of military bureaucracy. All twelve of the soldiers you sent to escort me were most courteous. The moments where I felt like I was under arrest were brief,” Senator Amidala smoothed her dark blue skirt beneath her and sat down.
“I understand you’re concerned over our presence here,” Tarkin ignored her remark.
“Let me assure you that our presence is simply to observe the population and ensure that the peace is enforced. We will never undertake offensive actions while I am Garrison Commander,” Tarkin showed his practiced smile.
Padme looked around at the numerous awards and letters of commendations on the wall. She had to tread carefully with this man. He was an outsider, but a decorated and successful outsider who knew the language of politics.
“General Tarkin, I am greatly relieved by your statement. However, it sounds exactly like the words of your predecessor, and the one before him, and the one before him. The people of Alderaan have never been concerned with ‘offensive’ actions. We simply don’t understand why one of the smallest garrisons in the Republic needs yet another expansion. The few regiments under your command hardly justifies one-fourth of the space you have and now you are asking for more. We are a peaceful planet that has never caused the Republic any grief. We…” Tarkin cut her off.
“Take care with how you use the word ‘we’, Senator. There are many on this planet that are grateful for our presence. They believe that it is simply because of our presence here that peace has been able to be maintained on this planet as long as it has. If we packed up our Enforcement Squads and left, the planet would certainly fall into chaos and all that Senator Bolet dreamed about would lie in ashes,” he rose from his chair.
“The needs of the Armed Forces of the Republic are complex and there are many activities that require us to use as much space as is necessary to maintain peace, order, and justice throughout the galaxy. I doubt that a young lady like you would understand such military matters.”
And there it was. Within ten minutes, he had dismissed her. Padme decided that the time for niceties had passed.
“General Tarkin, this is hardly the untamed Outer Rim! This installation has grown to an immense base five times its former size and not one Republic soldier has been added. What reasons were we given for this sudden and massive seizure of private property? None. When we protested, we were ignored. When we asked for an explanation, we were dismissed. Now there is a growing movement to remove the garrison permanently from our planet. The people are looking to me to spearhead this movement and I have gladly accepted. The people…” but Tarkin cut her off again.
General Tarkin’s eyes grew cold as he fixed a steely gaze upon Padme that made her feel very small. “You mean that your ‘peace loving’ people of Alderaan are starting a movement? Really Senator, you’ve been leading these people for all of four minutes and you know them so well? This garrison has been here for generations and I’d be willing to bet that there are far more people that are grateful for the Republic than revolutionaries like you. Choose your next words carefully, Junior Senator. The Republic does not look kindly upon treason from children.”
Padme responded by rising from her seat. “Listen Tarkin, regardless of my age, I am a Planetary Senator and I do represent a growing segment of the public who are sick of people the Republic sends to bully us around and insist this is for our own good. I don’t appreciate closed-mindedness nor do I appreciate someone who thinks that the more weapons, troops, and war machines that are on a peaceful planet the better. This is not your playground nor is it your stepping stone to becoming a Moff, this is my home. If you don’t heed the words of the people, you’ll be made such a fool that no one in the Republic will let you command a company of cooks,” Amidala was shaking slightly with rage.
It took a few, silent moments for her to realize what she had just said.
Although she had risen and leaned toward him, Tarkin had not moved at all. He sat motionless in his chair with his fingertips pressed together.
General Tarkin’s benevolence melted from him in a matter of seconds.
“Use caution, Padme. The Republic takes all threats against it seriously while I do not take moronic comments seriously. I am not a Jedi Master, but I assure you that my resolve is just as strong. I will cooperate with this investigation you’ve proposed as much as the law will allow.”
A small smile appeared. “However, if there as many people as you claim who are opposed to our presence, we need to make sure the safety and peace is not disrupted by such…agitators. Perhaps I shall begin by increasing our surveillance of the people you represent. After all, tactful negotiations like these can only proceed so far.” He picked up a digital tablet and turned his chair away from Padme.
The meeting was over. Senator Amidala seriously thought about whirling his chair around and continuing their “tactful negotiations”, but took a deep breath to calm herself. There was nothing further to be gained here. She stepped around her chair and left his office, the guards waiting to escort her back to her transport.
“Show’s over, boys,” Amidala told the smirking guards. “Thankfully it takes twelve of the Republic’s Finest to make sure that a girl can’t get herself into trouble.”
After Senator Amidala had left his office, General Tarkin sat and thought for a moment. He had known generals who were brilliant tacticians, tremendous strategists, and could inspire troops to follow them into any slaughter. He was present at battles where the carnage was unimaginable and watched old friends commit themselves to battles with a fierceness rarely seen.
Tarkin enjoyed combat of a different sort. His arena was the political arena. His idea of a lopsided victory was one where he trounced his opponent with a subtle point of logic in a debate and watched them stand before him and attempt to stammer out a pathetic rebuke.
This girl was apparently nothing special and Tarkin couldn’t quite understand what Bolet saw in her. She was too young and inexperienced to be an effective Planetary Senator. However, there was fire in her and a passion that could rouse the mob if needed. Given ideal conditions, she could turn public opinion toward her.
Tarkin stood and began pacing in his office. He passed by pictures of him shaking hands with every mover and shaker in the Republic. His career included networking with Senator Palpatine, Chancellor Valorum, even the Jedi Master Mace Windu. You couldn’t have too many allies in a fight and this was a fight that needed to stay quiet until they were ready. If this girl began to bring too much attention to Alderaan too soon, his position would become untenable.
“General, Galactic Senator Palpatine is calling,” His aide buzzed in. The man was nothing if not punctual.
“Report, General,” the senator commanded.
“You were right; Amidala will be perfect for our purposes. She’s a hot one which should serve us well. I have to wonder if having her expose us at this time is wise. Our expansions have served our needs in rebuilding the Republic’s military, is now the time to have it revealed?” Tarkin asked.
“She is exactly what I need at the time I need it. A self-righteous attitude matched with a ‘cause’ she thinks is worth fighting for. We have done much to help restore the military to its proper glory. When I deem it the proper time, I will allow her to expose our installation and when she does, she will set of a chain of events she will no longer be able to control,” Palpatine said. “The new equipment should help speed up production prior to this child’s great triumph, I want it installed immediately.”
“The equipment is being installed even as we speak by our best technicians and should be operational within twenty six hours. I have no doubt that when Amidala learns of this, her protests will be heard ringing through the halls of the Galactic Senate itself,” Tarkin allowed himself a small smile as Palpatine terminated the transmission. The self-righteous ones are always terribly predictable.
Chapter III – Competition
Obi-Wan Kenobi stared out at the barren landscape that lay beyond the bridge of his ship. This was, by far, the most desolate planet that he had ever laid eyes on. Staring out at the endless desert gave him a feeling of nervousness and uncertainty. He closed his eyes, meditated for a minute, and allowed his mind to clear.
“Master, I sometimes wonder if the Jedi Council sent you here as a punishment, not as an assignment,” he walked over to stand beside his mentor for the past five years. Qui-Gon Jinn continued to read a report from Coruscant as if he hadn’t heard his former student.
“What I mean is that you should be sitting on the Council by this time. You’ve trained more Jedi Knights than any four Masters. You have solved more disputes, settled more squabbles, and stopped more skirmishes from turning into full-blown, interstellar wars than any other Jedi in recent memory,” he continued.
“In the past five years, I’ve seen you do things that I only heard about in the Holocrons. There are Jedi who think they know what to do, but you don’t have to think. You’ve shown me the difference between classroom Force and real world Force. So as a reward for seeing me through the Jedi Trials and preventing the assassination of the Regent of the Corellian system not once, but twice, they send you…to Tatooine?”
“There is a reason the Council does what it does, my young Pada…Jedi Kenobi,” Qui-Gon Jinn grinned at the faux pas. “I have a job to do here and if it seems minor to you, keep in mind that…”
“Nothing is ever as it seems, yes Master I understand,” Obi-Wan finished for him.
“Quite right. It’s nice to know that you did listen to at least a little of what I had to say during our years together,” he moved toward the ramp as Obi-Wan walked with him.
“Well Master, it was rather difficult to listen to your pearls of wisdom when I was being thrown around by a Gundark, shot at by assassins, struggling to figure out which artifact held the explosive in it before we were obliterated, and trying to devise a means of getting the Wookies and the Aqualish to sit down at the same conference table without them trying to rip each other limb from limb,” Obi-Wan laughed.
“And you did it all in fine fashion while bringing great credit upon yourself and the Jedi Order. Clearly you handled it all nicely since you are still, more or less, intact. In the meantime, this dispute between the Hutts and the Dantooine Merchant Clan deserves as much attention and effort as preventing an interplanetary war. I will complete this task with diligence just as you will complete your first task as a Knight of the Republic.”
Silence fell upon them both. Obi-Wan was searching for the right way he might say farewell to his master, but his mind was failing him.
“You’ve been absorbed in that report for some time now. Is it anything I should be concerned with?” Obi-Wan asked, changing the subject.
“Republic Intelligence is concerned with an increase in communications traffic between heads of state in the Outer Rim,” his master answered.
“Why would that concern the RI?” Obi-Wan asked.
“All the messages are heavily encrypted,” Qui-Gon replied with a frown.
“I don’t suppose they’re planning Chancellor Valorum’s surprise birthday party?” Obi-Wan joked.
“The Hutt representatives are nearly here. I shall miss your sense of humor, my young friend. Open yourself to the Force and you will open yourself to limitless possibilities,” Qui-Gon shook Obi-Wan’s hand firmly.
Qui-Gon began to walk down the ramp to the planet to greet a speeder that had just pulled up. Two large, pig-like Gamorreans were seated in the back and a skinny Twi’lek was in the driver’s seat. None of them were armed.
“I am Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. I am here to settle the dispute your master has with the honorable merchant clans from Dantooine. You honor me by approaching peacefully and with no weapons,” Qui-Gon bowed to the Twi’lek.
“Killing a Jedi Master benefits no one, at this time. You will make these Dantoonine cantina rats see reason, or our employees will,” the Twi’lek responded. The two Gamorreans’s lack of something to smash with their fists was clearly making them restless.
Qui-Gon glanced over at Obi-Wan and said “At least the warmth on this planet is not limited to their hospitality,”
As Obi-Wan stifled a laugh, Qui-Gon turned back to the Twi’lek. “Very well, let’s proceed with the conference. Tell your master that I am ready to begin at his earliest convenience,” Before he could go, Obi-Wan put a hand on his mentor’s shoulder.
“Master, don’t forget about the race later today. Aiya would be crushed if you missed her bring home another championship banner,” Obi-Wan reminded.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Qui-Gon Jinn grinned back at him.
“I’m telling you, they brought this racer all the way from Corellia specifically for this race,” Beru said for the fifth time.
“And I’m telling you it doesn’t matter,” Owen muttered from under his port stabilizer. “Stop worrying and hand me the polarizer.”
Ever since Anakin became a champion starfighter racer, he had heard tales like this before. Beru had told them stories about a droid pilot from Arkania able to out-think him, a four armed pilot from Taanab able to out-reflex him, and a pilot from Mon Calamari that they brought out of retirement specifically to beat him. There were stories floating around to fill the entire hangar bay as he and another two dozen pilots worked to ready their ships.
“They say that on Ord Mantell, she did this one move that faked out five other racers and he shot down seven targets at the same time,” Beru tried to imitate the move by waving her hands around.
“No doubt she did this all this while she was blindfolded and steering with her feet,” Anakin chuckled to himself as he leaned against the wing.
“Owen, are you almost done here? I’d like to get the pre-flight checklist done sometime before the race is over.” Anakin knocked on the wing to get Owen’s attention.
“Just about,” Owen answered. “I really think that I can add another two or three percent to your…”
Anakin interrupted him, “What’s that? You said you want Beru to show you the Wonder Racer?”
Beru’s eyes lit up and she giggled softly.
Owen swung himself out from under the wing and glared at Anakin. “Fine, but you get the sunrise shift when we buy the farm.”
Anakin laughed out loud as Beru hooked her arm around Owen’s and they walked down the hangar bay to view the other starfighters. Anakin had just begun to climb the ladder when someone tapped him on the back.
“Geez Beru, I’ll hear the story about the great windbag from Corellia some other time. I still have a bit of work left to do to get this bucket up in the air,” he said.
“I’ve been called far worse, but at least I don’t refer to my ship as a ‘bucket’,” a light voice said.
Anakin gulped before stepping off the ladder and turning around. Standing before him was a beautiful woman who wasn’t much taller than he was, but her presence seemed to fill the hangar bay. She stuck out a hand and flashed a tremendous smile at him.
“I…I’m sorry,” Anakin stammered as he shook the soft hand. “I didn’t mean what I said, it’s just Beru has a habit of, well never mind. I’m Anakin Skywalker,” he introduced himself.
“I know who you are. My name is Aiya Rios and let me assure you that only half of the rumors about me are true. I didn’t come to Tatooine specifically to race you. I just came here to win. I’m the pilot of the transport that arrived this morning. My passengers are here on business and it is just lucky for me that Tatooine is holding a race at the same time,.”
Aiya Rios seemed very light-hearted and jovial, a far cry from the brash, aggressive, hostile racer he was used to facing. Her practiced smile was dazzling. Her dark skin was smooth and almost seemed polished. Aiya’s hair was a little lighter than her skin, but she was tall, lean, and had a look in her eyes that shone with a brilliance that warned him that she was no ordinary racer. She had smudges on her face as well as numerous ones on her hands that Anakin knew would only have come from personally working on a ship.
“Well I’m just glad I have someone worth racing.” Anakin ran a hand through his sandy mess of hair. “It’s always a pleasure to go against someone from a real planet instead of the local yokels.”
“So this is the famous Volo?” Aiya asked. “It’s all anyone can talk about since I landed.”
“Famous? I haven’t the funding to race it outside of the system so I doubt anyone on any planet worth a damn has heard of her,” Anakin scoffed.
She brushed against Anakin as she leaned in to look more closely at his pride and joy. “This looks oddly like a Z-95 Headhunter, but I’ve never seen modifications like this before. Did you completely re-work your starboard power coupling?” She asked.
Anakin blushed. “Well I have had to make a few ‘corrections’ to the original design. The Volo will climb faster, turn harder, and go much faster than any other Headhunter in this section of the galaxy,” Anakin said with quite a bit of pride.
“With what you’ve done here, I bet it screams when it dives. Have you broken 5k in the atmosphere?” She asked, her hair inches from his face as she traced a random figure on the wing of the Volo with her finger.
“If I’m in a dive I sure can, but the beauty of this ship is her acceleration. I can go from a dead stop to two thousand kph in just…” Anakin stopped in mid-sentence. Her smile continued to be innocent, but something was hiding behind that smile. “Oh, you’re good, you’re very good.”
Aiya’s lavender eyes flashed at him. “The games begin even before the race has begun, Anakin,” she said.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Anakin said warily. “And your ship is the fabled and legendary Delta-7 down there?” He asked, looking around the bay. He didn’t need to look far as a small crowd, that included Owen and Beru, was gathered around a sleek looking vessel.
Aiya waved her hand gracefully toward the growing crowd. “The Delta-7 Aethersprite prototype fresh out of the Kuat Systems Engineering shipyards on Corellia. Two months ago I conducted her shakedown and this will be her maiden voyage. Well, voyage isn’t exactly the right word to describe a ship with the new SX-25 twin engines,” she said thoughtfully, but Anakin hardly heard her.
“You really brought the Delta-7 to this worthless rock?” Anakin asked, his mouth hanging slightly open.
“The passengers I mentioned were two Jedi. Since this particular type of starfighter will be made exclusively for the Jedi Order, they wanted to take one along to see it in action,” she looked very smug.
“You brought two real Jedi to this worthless rock?” Anakin asked, his mouth hanging a little more open. Before now, he had thought the Jedi were as real as the mythical Delta-7. There hadn’t been a Jedi on Tatooine since the Dark Jedi Revan arrived some three thousand years before Anchorhead was re-founded.
Aiya’s eyes sparkled as she spoke. “I don’t know any fake Jedi,” and she laughed to herself. A bell sounded two times over the intercom, signaling they had two hours before the race. “I need to finish prepping my ship, thanks for the conversation. It was very…illuminating,” she smiled warmly before turning around and walking back toward her ship.
Anakin watched her go and let out a low whistle before another voice startled him.
“Are you whistling at the girl or the ship?” Owen asked him as he came back from the tour with Beru.
“Both, I think.” Anakin said before turning back to his ship. He forced himself to focus on climbing into his cockpit and not on the fear that crept into the pit of his stomach.
Having Aiya Rios around became a welcome relief to Anakin. He worked through his onboard checklists by himself for the first time in weeks. The usual throng of people that would push and shove to get close to him now surrounded the Delta-7 Aethersprite. Many “armchair pilots” were pointing to the fuselage, the engine, the cockpit, any piece of the ship they considered to be significant. At some point, they all pointed to a series of strange markings on her tail that were arranged in a series of rows, but were unfamiliar to Anakin.
“You would think they hadn’t seen a new ship before,” Anakin said in a huff as he powered up the navigation computer.
He glanced over at Aiya and saw that she was speaking to two men in brown robes. He couldn’t see their faces, but something in his gut told him that they were the Jedi she spoke of earlier. He punched the controls to make his Heads-Up Display light up in front of him. All of the indications for weapons, targeting, navigation, steering, hull integrity, and life support lit up on his HUD.
Anakin patiently waited for the loading crane to get him into position. The two men in brown robes shook hands with Aiya before leaving, deep in conversation. She shook her hair behind her before putting on her helmet and closing the canopy. Anakin wasn’t sure, but it looked like she gave him a slight wink before sealing herself in.
He breathed a huge sigh of relief as the loading crane magnetically sealed itself to the Volo. He truly enjoyed the build up to the race itself. The two inner magnets clamped to his fuselage and a moment later the outer two magnets sealed to his wings. The ship was lifted into the air with a burst of cheers from the locals who saw him rise high above them.
Anakin knew that the betting would be furious prior to this race. Although gambling was the planetary pastime on Tatooine, it always seemed to reach a fever pitch whenever an impressive off-worlder came. Tourists would come from across the sector and occasionally across the Republic to see the natives with their “backward ways” get beat by someone more “cultured and sophisticated”. The locals would then rebel by flocking from across the planet to root against the invaders and cheer on the hometown hero.
By the time the loading crane had him set into position alongside the other eleven craft that would be racing, Anakin was mentally prepared for his last race. In his last seven victories, he had become bored, complacent, and weary of blowing past his competition. Today, there would be none of that.
He was ready for the biggest challenge of his life. He planned to do something he hadn’t ever before. Anakin wanted to win the Trellius Accuracy Trophy, the Dowager Queen Crowd Appeal Award as well as the Tatooine Cup of Speed sponsored by the Desilijic clan of the Hutts. If he could sweep those trophies, he would also put enough credits into his pocket to leave Tattooine behind forever.
As the clock ticked down to the thirty minute mark, the announcer’s voice blared out over the loudspeakers. “Ladies, Gentlemen, and Others! My name is Ulith Rekaba and I am thrilled to bring you the play-by-play of the 74th Annual Tatooine Cup!”
The crowd cheered, but Anakin tried to tune them all out. He completed the last few steps on his onboard checklist when his HUD flashed at him. There was a message that had been transmitted to him.
I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to be so deceptive. I really am interested in hearing more about your ship. You must be quite a pilot to push a Z-95 model to such extremes. I will truly enjoy defeating such an accomplished flyer like you. I can’t wait to add you to my tail. –Aiya
Anakin felt the grin slowly fall from his face as realization dawned on him. He looked over at the Delta-7 to see that the strange markings on her tail section were decals. The markings represented champions of different worlds that she had defeated. He swallowed slowly as he counted thirty-nine different planetary emblems. This was no lady, this was a predator; and now she had the fastest ship ever.
Ulith’s words brought him back to reality. “Today we have a match un-paralled in the history of the Tatooine Cup! Twelve racers will push their vessels beyond all reasonable limits. From Bimmisaari, the Desilijic are proud to bring you, the only member of the extended royal clan to leave the system, Quellis!” A fur clad man rose waved from his cockpit at the camera that zoomed around his ship. “From the legendary planet of Telos IV, growing up in the craters left by the ravages of the Jedi Civil War, Heth Leos!” The crowd roared again.
Anakin’s mind wandered away from Ulith’s over-hype, and he checked his gloves and helmet for the tenth time. He didn’t bother responding to her taunt this time; he had larger ambitions than showing up yet another snobbish off-worlder. He was jolted back to Ulith’s voice as it rose to an incredible pitch.
“Today, the magnificent Desilijic Hutts are proud to announce that they have brought to Tatooine a racer of unbelievable status. This woman is perhaps the most famous flyer to ever grace a landing bay. Her beauty is matched by her ruthlessness, her thirty-nine victories are consecutive!” Ulith paused as the cheering crowd threatened to drown him out. “Ladies, Gentlemen, and high rollers from across the quadrant, I give you…” he licked his lips in anticipation. “…from Corellia, flying a Delta-7 Aethersprite prototype, the pride of the Kuat Shipyards, AIYA RIOS!”
Even in his sealed cockpit, Anakin almost had to cover his ears. This time, there were actually two different roars. He could look into the stands and see that there was almost a dividing line. One half of the spectators were cheering with extreme passion, the other half were actually jeering. Anakin realized that the half that was less than pleased must have been the locals who did not approve of Ulith’s delight and enthusiasm.
He glanced over at Aiya again, but all he saw were cameras swarming all around her ship. Ulith waited for the crowd’s intensity to slacken before speaking again.
“Finally, we have a racer whose skill is matched only by his incredible daring. You were thrilled when he became the first local to win the Tatooine Cup in forty years. You were in shock when he became the only racer in history to win three in a row.” Ulith was clearly milking this for all it was worth. The crowd was buzzing in the stands, the volume growing louder with every word.
“You were in awe when, in his fifth race, he was able to save a stranded pilot from falling into the atmosphere before the lifeboats could get to him and still bring home the victory!” He paused once again as the crowd began chanting something. It was too low for Anakin to hear, but it was clearly intensifying.
“Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen. This flyer’s skills are un-deniable, his reflexes are un-measureable, and his courage is un-doubtable.” Ulith’s voice had to get louder with every word so he could be heard clearly over the crowd. Anakin realized what the crowd was chanting. They were chanting his name over and over again.
“Pull out your wallets and tug on those heartstrings…” the crowd rose as one now, the sound of their roars hitting his cockpit like a tidal wave. “…for the Boy with Bravado, the Ace of Anchorhead, the Titan of Tatooine, I give you Anakin…Skywalker!”
The Three Dimensional Imagers flew from Aiya’s ship to his in half a heartbeat. Like a swarm of angry Zethas, the TDI’s buzzed around his cockpit and he brought out his best smile as his face flashed up to the fourteen large screens as well as the thousands of personal imagers the people obtained that the Hutts charged a nominal fee for. His head swam as he felt the adoration from the crowd course through him.
Finally, the cameras peeled away. The crowd’s roar resumed a dull buzz as a series of bells sounded.
“Ten minutes left, let’s see what they’ve given me,” Anakin said as he focused on his navcomputer. An image was quickly uploaded onto the screen that finally revealed the map and target locations for today’s race. He let out a low whistle.
He zoomed in on several sections of the map and the various checkpoints he would need to pass through. “Over the Dune Sea will give me an edge in speed. Twisting through Beggar’s Canyon at eight hundred kph should be fun, and then we climb into orbit and go through the shooting range,” he muttered to himself.
From personal experience he knew that several of the other flyers would fall behind trying to get through Beggar’s Canyon. Others would quickly lose sight of Anakin as he would blow past them on the Dune Sea.
“But what about Aiya…” Anakin wondered to himself. He had flown against many of these flyers before, but she and her ship were the X factors.
The bells sounded again, signaling the two minute warning and Anakin scanned the map one last time. Finally, he adjusted his helmet, gloves, and safety harness one more time before waiting for the final countdown to the start of his last race. He stole one last glance over at Aiya Rios to see her totally focused in on the task at hand.
“Stupid!” he said to himself. “Keep your eyes on the prize, Anakin.”
A series of lights appeared on his HUD, a red one flashing at him. He activated his engines and felt them roar to life. Anakin gripped his controls just as he had done so many times before. He felt comfortable, at home, at ease here in his cockpit without any of Tatooine’s distractions weighing him down. Owen’s moisture farm wasn’t here, Anakin’s meaningless existence, and his lack of a future wasn’t here. He would miss racing when he left, but there was no turning back now. Anakin’s time on Tatooine was over.
The light stopped flashing and moved quickly from left to right. Once they went to the green light, Anakin pressed his accelerator forward and his craft shot forward along with all the others. Anakin’s final race, and his race for freedom, had begun.
Chapter IV – Desperate Measures
Anakin shot out of the hangar bay and rose quickly to the cruising altitude of one hundred meters. He skimmed along the surface and prepared for hitting the first checkpoint before beginning the run through Beggar’s Canyon. Anakin saw an arrow shaped INCOM T-10 Cloudrunner coming up behind him and moved to block the racer. As he moved, he saw another T-10 as well as a flashy XT-2000 Starchaser. Anakin rolled his eyes.
“As if it mattered who was first into a canyon,” he muttered and let the two ships pass him. The pilot of the T-10 threw him a mock salute as he accelerated past Anakin and toward the checkpoint. The XT-2000 also brushed past him, nearly hitting his wing as it passed. Anakin grimaced as his proximity warning went off, but where was Aiya? Anakin looked around and saw that she was still hanging back with the pack, not making any moves to snare the lead position.
All twelve craft passed through the checkpoint and Anakin’s time and how far behind the leader he was flashed on his HUD. He was only three-tenths of one second behind, which was typical for the race. They all dipped down together off of the plateau and down toward the entrance to Beggar’s Canyon.
Anakin was in fourth position when all the racers formed a single file and began their deceleration to safely enter the canyon. He slowed down to avoid the sharp crags, the jutting outcropping of rocks that threatened to end his race and possibly his life. He moved quickly to the left and right and hung as close to the middle of the narrow canyon floor as possible to stay away from the razor sharp edges. The floor of the canyon was actually the roof of a whole other semi-cavernous level. Anakin had often gone walking around in that area with Owen, marveling at the other world beneath their feet.
His radar screamed at him and he saw a green blip that was behind him careen into one of the walls and go dark. He re-focused himself on keeping the Volo in one piece when suddenly a blaster bolt shot past the nose of his ship.
“No one can activate their weapons until we’re in orbit!” Anakin shouted angrily. Another bolt shot past him and he realized they were too small to come from a ship. A message flashed on his HUD in red letters.
“Tusken Raiders on the cliffs of Beggar’s Canyon. Racers are advised to use caution.”
“Thanks for the practical advice,” he muttered.
Anakin let his instincts guide him around the narrow canyon as blaster bolts landed around him. His radar and proximity alarms sounded as a sleek looking J-27 three engine interceptor loomed behind him. One of the raiders had hit the left engine and Anakin watched smugly as the pilot lost control and couldn’t balance his craft.
“One less to worry about,” he grinned, but quickly lost that grin. The ship had exploded, but the bulk of the fuselage was lifted up into the air and was going to land on his own craft. In half a heartbeat, Anakin plunged his controls down and the Volo dropped out of sight altogether.
The three engine wreckage crashed harmlessly onto the ground as other racers flew past it unharmed. Anakin’s clearance above ground had been barely more than five meters on each wing, now flying under the “racetrack” reduced his clearance to such a short amount that he was forced to turn off his proximity alarm.
As he flipped off the annoying klaxon a series of circuits erupted, showering him in sparks, and darkened his cockpit. Anakin’s computer had completely blown out. With the exception of the passing lights of the world above him, he was flying blind.
Anakin felt his focus lock in and his instincts completely took over. He was able to anticipate every hairpin turn, every stalactite that threatened him, every single piece of this planet that threatened to crush his ship and his life at any moment with almost no light or computer to guide him.
Suddenly, Anakin felt his instincts scream at him and he pulled up hard and shot through a hole large enough for the Volo to fit through and he burst back onto the surface of Beggar’s Canyon barely ten meters behind the two leaders who passed him earlier. His grin widened as he could only imagine the looks on their faces as he seemed to spring out of the ground behind them. The Dune Sea was quickly approaching and Anakin prepared to leave them all behind.
Seconds before they were finally out of the canyon and with Anakin’s hand inching toward the accelerator, his instincts screamed once again. Above him, barely a half a meter from his canopy, the most beautiful ship he had ever seen flew above him and kicked its engines to life with enormous thrust just in front of the two leaders of the race. The nose kicked up and the sudden thrust from the engines scorched the canopies of the two ships. They veered off in different directions in total panic just before they reached the end of the canyon. Their ships slammed into both walls and exploded.
Anakin gasped and pulled up hard as the explosion from the two ships sent debris scattering in every direction. The fireball roared toward him as he strained at the controls of the Volo, debris clattering off of his canopy and fuselage. Anakin held his breath as he shot through the maelstrom unscathed and shot into the Dune Sea. Aiya Rios and her Aethersprite were far ahead of him now and Anakin almost thought he could hear her laughing in the distance.
As he slammed the accelerator forward, he felt the Volo respond instantly. His ship almost seemed angry as it shot across the flats of the Dune Sea. A quick glance at his radar showed the pack dropping behind him. It was clearly down to him and Aiya, yet he simply couldn’t catch her.
Anakin checked his readouts. He was flying across the Dune Sea at a velocity he had only flirted with in the past. His hull was intact and his aerodynamics were sound. He wasn’t dragging anything, but he couldn’t catch the Aethersprite. A slight sense of panic crept into the cockpit with him like an unwelcome passenger.
“Now that is fast,” he let out a low whistle as they zoomed past a herd of wild Banthas and through the next checkpoint.
He was now a full two seconds behind Aiya, an eternity in the racing world. She picked her nose up and shot toward space, twin exhaust trails showing her path to the stars. Two seconds later, Anakin followed suit. He set the ship on autopilot and began going through his pre-orbital checklist when another message appeared.
“You have a cute little ship. It looks precious in my rear-view scanner. After the race, can we talk about it for a while? I do enjoy antiques!” –A. Rios, Position 1.
Anakin felt his panic twist into anger as he read the message three times. Each time, the message burned him more intensely. His ship was an antique? The ship he had tinkered with and nurtured after finding it in a scrap-yard when he was a child? He and the Volo had practically grown up together and he refused to let his long time friend be insulted.
They left the atmosphere with the rest of the pack now a full twelve seconds behind them, nearly eliminating them from contention. Anakin pushed them all from his mind and focused on the next generation of racing vehicle that was in front of him.
He could feel the internal life support blowing cool air on his face as the clouds fell away and the blackness of space welcomed him. Anakin felt more at home crammed into a cockpit in space than down on the planet’s surface.
“Now for the fun part,” Anakin said.
He watched Aiya pass through the first checkpoint and activate her weapon systems. One-point-seven seconds later, Anakin also passed through the checkpoint and powered up his weapons system. Thankfully, the targeting scanners were functioning well enough to run a brief diagnostic to ensure that everything was working before Anakin got the green light to begin shooting. A message flashed on his HUD:
“Warning, one-tenth of a second will be added for each missed target.”
Anakin tensed at the controls. He needed every microsecond he could get.
There were four different paths he could take here and each path had ten rings to it. This allowed the flyers enough rings to shoot at without flying up each other’s tailpipes. Each path curved slightly and then had a steep arcing return to where they started from. Anakin joked with Owen that this was the “Shoelace Run” due to the shape of the ring path.
Each ring was only eight meters in diameter, leaving barely two meters clearance on each side of his narrow craft. Each ring has five equidistant points on its perimeter and each point had to be shot out to avoid penalties. The catch was that the rings would begin shrinking once the first target was struck. You couldn’t shoot too soon or you wouldn’t have enough space to fly through unless you want to leave a piece of your wings behind. If you shoot too late, you don’t have time to hit all your targets. It took incredible instincts to walk this fine balance and Anakin’s had yet to fail him.
Aiya banked to the left and Anakin steered to the right, adjusting his speed to keep his timing precise and at an appropriate distance, he opened fire. The ring’s five points winked out one after another as the beams struck home. Anakin barreled through the first and then began to climb to the next one. His blasters again lashed out at the target and again the points went dark.
He increased his speed along the now curving path, passing through ring after ring, hitting target after target. After his third ring, he stole a glance toward Aiya and saw that he was actually gaining some ground on her. She was only one ring in front of him now, perhaps only a full second ahead. Anakin tore through the fourth ring with a vengeance and decided to try something that, even for him, was reckless.
The fifth ring was at the apex of the tightly formed loop. Anakin shot the targets out farther out than he ever had before and then hit his aft vertical thrusters. He shut off his main engines and let the momentum carry him toward the ever shrinking ring. His thrusters were pitching his nose down and pointing him exactly toward the final half of the loop. Physics was in control of the Volo now.
As he neared the ring, Anakin had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The ring was shrinking and he was simply drifting toward it. He was five hundred meters away now and he was silently praying that he had judged his timing correctly. He was three hundred meters away and his rotation was nearly complete. The blackness of space was now replaced by the rusty brown surface of Tatooine. Anakin allowed himself to stare at the immense planet in awe for only a moment before he realized that he was a scant fifty meters from the now much smaller ring. He held his breath in the hopes that it would somehow help him slide through the narrowing obstacle.
There was a slight shudder within the ship as Anakin watched a little paint scrape off the hull as he passed through the ring. Once he was clear, Anakin jammed his accelerator forward and the Volo responded instantly. His current orientation afforded him the luxury of already being pointed directly at Tattooine. He soared toward the next ring at an incredible speed and shaved off so much time that he was certain he had left even the unbeatable Aethersprite behind.
By the count displayed on his HUD, Aiya had missed three targets and Anakin smiled smugly to himself at this slight advantage.
Anakin completed the loop, raced through the last ring, and glanced around him to see where his competition was. The four paths converged on roughly the same area, pointing back toward the Final Run on Tatooine’s surface. Anakin was stunned to see that Aiya Rios was practically in his exhaust trail. He had used an unprecedented maneuver and he was only barely hanging on!
He shifted in his seat uncomfortably as his mind scrambled to come up with some desperate solution. The solution seemed to come from somewhere within himself. Anakin’s own being seemed to push the Volo into a steeper dive.
He was supposed to fire his retro-thrusters and slow his descent once he hit the thermosphere, but he didn’t.
He was supposed to reduce his engine thrust and begin to pull out of the dive before he hit the mesosphere, but he didn’t.
He was supposed to start leveling off before leaving the mesosphere, but he didn’t.
Anakin’s calm focus blocked out the shaking of his ship, the creaking of his wings, and the warnings his HUD was screaming at him. He simply let his instincts take control and when the time was right, he fired the retro-thrusters, his vertical thrusters, cut his main engine speed, and pulled back as hard as he could .
The Volo groaned at the sudden change of direction at record breaking speeds. Anakin could feel the G-Forces pressing him against his seat and the wings shuddered violently.
“C’mon…I do not want this race to be known as the Skywalker Memorial Race,” Anakin grunted as he strained at the controls. Anakin hit the stratosphere, a mere fifty kilometers from the surface, before his ship finally began to respond. Slowly, but surely, the Volo pulled out of the dive. Anakin was less than one hundred meters from the ground when he finally leveled off and entered the Final Run.
Anakin couldn’t help but whoop in delight as he looked around and saw he was alone. He felt comfortable that he had finally left Aiya Rios behind him. Anakin felt the panic fade and his confidence return as he shot down the final one hundred kilometers to the finish line.
He thought about how he was finally going to leave Tattooine and start a real life. The galaxy was calling to him and his victory over Aiya Rios was the icing on the cake. Everything was going to change for Anakin Skywalker as soon as he crossed that finish line.
The Volo’s proximity alarm went off. Anakin snapped his head around to see the Aethersprite was there, creeping up on his starboard wing.
Anakin’s grin faded. He felt the ire rise in his throat like bile. The Volo was his love, his life, his passion, the one thing in his miserable existence that brought him happiness, and it simply wasn’t good enough. He glanced over at the Aethersprite to see that Aiya was looking back at him. She flashed a quick smile at him as the prototype continued to pass him.
Anakin saw his freedom slipping away as she inched by him and they neared the finish pylons. Panic coursed through him as he saw his chance to finally leave this barren rock, the moisture farm, and his meaningless existence stolen from him and there was nothing he could do about it.
He turned to look at the Aethersprite again. No, he didn’t look at it, he focused on it. His eyes were burning into the hull of the ship with rage. He felt this strange sense of calm, as if this anger and focus felt right.
With no warning, the left wing of the state of the art Delta-7 prototype shattered into a thousand pieces.
Aiya Rios spun out of control on all axes only five hundred meters shy of the pylons and plummeted toward the planet’s surface. He watched the canopy explode and Aiya’s escape chute deployed an instant before the beautiful prototype slammed into the ground.
Anakin let a roar of triumph escape his lips as he crossed the pylons, shattering his old speed record. He then looped into the air and spun his ship back around as roving TDI’s surrounded his ship, broadcasting his winning smile to the masses back on the planet’s surface.
As the rescue boats raced to the shattered remains of the Delta-7, a man in a hooded brown robe turned to face his former Master.
“Master, tell me you felt that,” Obi-Wan Kenobi said quietly.
“Yes, it was very hard to ignore,” Qui-Gon Jinn replied.
“What do you think it means?” Obi-Wan asked.
“I’m not sure. That was brief, but incredibly intense. Perhaps you should have a conversation with that young pilot before you leave tonight.”
“Have you felt anything like it before? What he did shook me,” Obi-Wan shivered, despite the repressive heat.
“Rarely have I felt a disturbance in the Force like this. When the rescue boats return, I will see to Aiya Rios and the Aethersprite. You will go and speak to him immediately. Determine what his intentions are and feel out his emotional state. He may be a promising candidate.” Qui-Gon instructed.
“Promising is an understatement,” the younger man locked his eyes on the grinning picture of a triumphant Anakin Skywalker.
Chapter V – A Fond Farewell
“This has to work,” the furry little Drall rubbed his hands together. “It just has to!”
“Quiet, let her work,” a tall human said.
Oro Thalia felt a bead of sweat roll down her long neck. She was using every ounce of her concentration to keep this DNA strand together.
“This will work, I know it will work!” the Drall said, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
Oro’s hands moved over the console with increasing speed. “I can’t stop the cascade effect,” she said desperately.
“It’ll work,” the Drall said softly.
The DNA strand began to slowly vibrate. The bottom of the strand began stretching itself apart. A warning klaxon sounded and Oro’s hands flew across the console. Despite her efforts, the strand continued its violent vibration. Small pieces of the bottom of the strand began to shred themselves.
“It might work,” the Drall whispered to himself.
“I’m losing containment!” Oro shouted over the alarms. Finally, the entire bottom third of the DNA strand shattered.
The computer’s blunt statement made Oro’s heart sink. “DNA material unusable, please insert next sample.”
Oro’s shoulders slumped. “We’re nearly out of material,” she said sadly.
“This is the best you can do?” Major Issic said from behind them. “I’ve given you time and people and this is what you can give me?”
Oro was still trying to catch her breath. The furry Drall spoke up in her place. “We have made some great strides,” he said.
Major Issic raised an eyebrow skeptically as he looked at the shredded DNA strand. “My joy knows no bounds.”
“We’re on a very tight schedule that leaves no room for delays. Explain yourselves,” Major Issic’s presence made the finest minds in the Galactic Republic feel like minor school science students.
“Major, somatic cell nuclear transfer is already a time consuming process with an extraordinarily low success rate. What you want is nearly impossible,” the short and furry Drall geneticist said.
“Nearly impossible means it can still be done,” Major Issic retorted. He turned back to the three-dimensional projection of a DNA strand that hovered before them. The bottom end of the strand looked shredded.
“The telomere is the difficulty. Wherever you got these cells from, they are so abnormal that everything we try to do completely deteriorates the telomere. When that happens, the DNA either fuses together, mutates into cancer, or flies apart as we see here,” Oro Thalia gestured to the rotating DNA strand.
“Then you must correct the problem,” Major Issic said.
“Easier said than done,” the long-necked and pale Kaminoan said.
“I’m not asking for much,” Major Issic said.
“How often must I say that what you’re asking is nearly impossible,” the Drall said with others nodding in agreement.
“I’m growing tired of hearing that word. Last month you said it was completely impossible. Now our status has been upgraded to ‘nearly’ impossible. You will solve this problem so we can begin production,” Major Issic said.
“You must also understand, only the chromosomal or nuclear DNA is the same as the donor. Some of the genetic material comes from mitochondria. There will be some differences,” Oro Thalia said.
“You mean defects,” Major Issic said with disgust.
“It is very likely. Of course, that’s assuming this works at all. We are working with extremely limited resources, equipment, and donor material,” the Drall said.
“Where is your limitation the greatest?” the Major asked.
“Donor material,” four of the scientists said at once.
“You work on the telomere solution, I will work on the donor material,” Major Issic said while his pale blue eyes gleamed.
Hours later, after the crowds had dissipated and the hands stopped clapping him on the back, Anakin was finally alone with the Volo. He knew he wouldn’t have the ship much longer, but he was still going through the post-flight checklist.
Anakin was climbing up the same ladder before the race had started when the same pair of boots appeared.
“You got some serious skills for an Outer Rim flight jockey,” the same melodic voice that belonged to Aiya Rios said.
One of her arms was cocooned in a cast that held a blue liquid. “Your ship is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever seen,” Anakin replied as he climbed back down the ladder.
“Was,” she sighed at the correction. “It was the fastest. The damage is nearly catastrophic. If the rupture had been just a little closer to the fuselage, I don’t think I could’ve bailed in time. This…” she gestured to her medical cast, “…is a reminder that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good,” and she flashed the same terrific smile at him.
“Did the engineers say what caused it?” Anakin asked.
“What caused the wing to break apart into confetti? They’re stumped. It’s probably some kind of design flaw, but no one will know for sure until we get it back to Corellia. It should give the designers and the investors something to scratch their heads.”
“So what now for the great Aiya Rios?” Anakin asked, desperate to change the subject as her eyes lingered on his intact ship.
“Well, I have a new streak to start and a reputation to repair,” she answered. “I think I’ll take a look into the Quasar Circuit. It seems like you have the Nova Circuit all sewn up.”
“No, my racing days are done. I’m off this rock as soon as I get my winnings and get headed to…headed to…somewhere,” he stammered.
“I’ve been to the planet ‘Somewhere’. Tremendously dull, the bars are terrible,” Aiya grinned at him. “So you have your visa already? I’m sure you planned for this a while ago so you have your ship chartered too? Which one are you headed out on?”
Aiya’s questions hit Anakin like a hammer. It’s true you can’t just up and jump off a planet without an Interplanetary Traveler’s Visa from the Republic. The last Anakin had heard was that people waited nearly a month just to fill out the right form to ask for an application. Not only that, but how exactly did you charter a ship? The Volo didn’t have lightspeed and it wasn’t like you just walked into the nearest cantina and asked a ship captain for a ride.
“Oh yeah, I’ve got everything covered,” Anakin lied.
“Good. Thankfully, my own ship is leaving in a few hours, just after nightfall. Piloting a Consular-class transport doesn’t require too much dexterity so I am still space worthy. Once they finish loading what’s left of the Aethersprite into the bay, I may never see you again,” her lavender eyes dropped slightly in sadness.
Anakin’s brow furrowed as he pictured the once beautiful starfighter laying in a thousand pieces like a wounded animal because of a simple design flaw.
“You never know. It would be a real shame if our paths never crossed again.” Anakin extended his hand.
“Our paths may cross, but hopefully not on the race track,” Aiya’s dark hand grasped his and shook it firmly. “May the stars smile upon you, Anakin Skywalker.” She flashed her smile once again, then turned on her heel and walked away.
Anakin’s gaze lingered on her a little longer than he meant to. Finally, he shook his head and began to climb up the ladder again. He hadn’t gone up more than two rungs when he was interrupted again.
“That was some move you performed out there,” a voice said.
“My hand is starting to cramp from all the digital pads I’ve had to autograph. Can you come back later?” Anakin asked, annoyed.
His voice caught in his throat. As he looked over his shoulder, he saw a tall man standing before him wearing a simple, brown robe. The same brown robe that Anakin saw him wearing before the race when he was speaking to Aiya Rios along with the other…Jedi?
“I was particularly impressed with the way you tore that wing off the lead ship just as she was about to beat you,” the voice said as casually as if he were commenting about the weather.
Anakin’s foot slipped on the last rung and he fell to the floor. The man now helping him to his feet was taller than he was by at least a head and not nearly as lanky. His eyes were sky blue and filled with a serious curiosity, as if Anakin were a scientific experiment.
“I don’t know what you thought you saw, but I was in my cockpit, she was in hers. Our weapons aren’t strong enough to scratch the paint, let alone blow a wing off, so what are you getting at?” Anakin asked.
Owen walked up to the pair from the other side of the ship. The Championship Trophy firmly in his grip, but no victory smile was on his face.
“Are you accusing us of something?” Owen asked.
“I didn’t say you blew it off, I said you tore it off,” the hooded man remarked with the same casual tone. “You focused on her ship as it slowly passed you by, saw that you couldn’t possibly win, and so you shattered the wing. Am I following the chain of events correctly?”
“Yes, except for the part where I caused the crash of a one of a kind prototype,” Anakin said more cautiously now. How could he have caused this from his own ship?
“I’m guessing this also isn’t the first time you’ve done something extraordinary,” the man’s eyes burned into Anakin now.
“Who are you? A member of the garrison? If you’re going to arrest me, arrest me,” Anakin angrily said.
“I’m getting real agitated with what you’re implying here,” Owen growled.
“No, I’m from off-world, here with Aiya Rios. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi and I am very interested in you and your potential,” his expression softened a little.
Anakin’s hard expression hadn’t changed. “What does my ‘potential’ have to do with the race? What does it have to do with you accusing me of destroying a starfighter?”
“Anakin, I am a Jedi Knight of the Republic and what you demonstrated during the race today was more than just reflex and uncanny timing. The only people in the galaxy who could have flown like you did today are Jedi. What happened to the Aethersprite was no malfunction or design flaw, although I am sure the engineers will convince themselves it was. What happened out there only convinced me that you have true potential with the Force.” Obi-Wan folded his arms in the sleeves of his robe.
“The Force? Are you talking about that magic stuff that wizards in olden times used to mess with people’s minds?” Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan’s eyes went wide for only a moment. “How far from the Core Worlds am I? Anakin, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It is an energy field created by all living things. Those who are attuned to it can use the Force to do amazing things,” Obi-Wan explained.
“What kinds of things?” Anakin asked with a raised eyebrow.
Without warning, the trophy Owen was holding flew from his hand and into Obi-Wan’s.
“All kinds of things,” Obi-Wan said with a smirk before handing the trophy back to Owen.
“So if destroying an expensive, one-of-a-kind starfighter is a demonstration of his ‘potential’, what does he do for an encore?” Owen asked.
“I’m sure I could blow up a planet if I set my mind to it,” Anakin mused.
“The Jedi Order typically frowns on such things so I thought we might start with a moon,” Obi-Wan chuckled.
Anakin’s heart leapt into his throat. The Jedi Order? It was all coming together in his mind. His way off Tatooine, his ticket to freedom, his chance for a real life was right here in front of him.
“The Order?” Owen asked. “I don’t like where this is heading. Anakin and I have plans of our own on Tatooine. You can’t kidnap him on a whim.”
“I assure you, this is no kidnapping. I prefer to call it a delayed recruitment,” Obi-Wan said.
“Wait, what?” Anakin asked, dumbfounded. “So you came down here to tell me that I have this wonderful potential and then say you’re not interested?”
“Don’t misunderstand me. I just don’t have the time for you at the moment. I am bound for Alderaan in a few hours. I don’t need someone along who will serve as a distraction. I want to give Alderaan my full and undivided attention and then give you my full and undivided attention. I think you can do great things in the Order, Anakin. But you deserve a Jedi mentor who is not worried about your upbringing and a planetary crisis at the same time. I should have this wrapped up and back here in about a week. In the grand scope of the galaxy, how long can a week be?” Obi-Wan smiled.
“I will not let you come down here and snatch away my best friend!” Owen shouted at him.
“Please, you can’t leave me here!” Anakin’s desperation showed in his voice. The fresh hope of escape now tasted bitter in his mouth. Owen looked at him with hurt eyes.
“But our farm…”Owen began.
“Owen, get over the moisture farm! I never said I wanted it, I still don’t want it, and I’m sick of you getting in the way of what I really do want,” Anakin said.
“But…I thought that…” Owen began.
“You thought what, Owen? Huh? You thought that you could lasso me into a life I never asked for,” Anakin finished.
“No, I thought we were friends. I thought that it would be you and me working together like we have been. I thought that I knew someone I could trust,” Owen said.
“Well I guess you were wrong about a lot of things,” Anakin said. He actually smiled a little at Owen.
Owen’s fist collided with Anakin and sent him sprawling on the ground. He stood up quickly, tasting blood.
Obi-Wan stepped between them. “That’s more than enough,” he warned.
“You want him to follow you on another crusade for the Jedi Order? I won’t allow it! We are too close to obtaining our dream!” Owen shouted.
“OUR dream? You just don’t listen. This is my time, my life, and I refuse to let you stand in my way!” Anakin shouted at him.
“Anakin, stand down,” Obi-Wan strongly said.
“Tell him to ‘stand down’,” Anakin spat back. “He’s the one dictating what happens to me!”
Anakin and Owen lunged at each other again, but this time an invisible force grabbed and pulled them apart. Owen and Anakin skidded along the floor until they were about twenty feet apart. They both turned to look questioningly at Obi-Wan.
“I said that was more than enough. I don’t have enough time to make you both see clearly. You two have a week together, I suggest you use that time wisely,” Obi-Wan said.
Obi-Wan stood between them until Anakin finally turned his back to Owen. A communicator beeped on Obi-Wan’s belt and broke the silence.
“We’ve been cleared for departure,” Aiya Rios’s voice sang over the device.
“I’ll be there shortly,” Obi-Wan answered before putting the communicator back on his belt.
“One Galactic Week, no longer. Get your affairs in order before I return. Anakin, control your emotions, calm yourself. Let me tell you something I learned the hard way at the Jedi Academy. You can’t have too many friends in this universe,” he smiled at Anakin before walking away.
“How can you do this to me, Anakin?” Owen asked softly.
Anakin turned to see that friend’s hands were still balled up into fists, but the anger in his eyes was replaced by pain and sadness.
“All the years we’ve been together. The trouble we got each other out of, the great times we had, how can you throw it all away so easily?” Owen asked.
Anakin’s shoulders slumped slightly. “Owen, the past was great. But that’s all it is, the past. The future holds so much more for me than…never mind, you don’t understand my point of view,” he answered.
“Someday, Anakin. Someday you’re going to throw away something or someone that you really care about because they don’t understand your point of view. When that happens, you’re going to lose more than a friend, you’ll lose yourself,” Owen said.
Anakin grabbed his bag and walked over to Owen, who was still smoldering with anger.
“It’s all I can spare,” he said and he threw a handful of credits at Owen’s feet. “You should be able to get the rest from selling my ship. Have fun on the farm.” Anakin turned and walked away.
Anakin knew now what he had to do. The only question that ran through his mind, as his walk turned into a sprint, was did he have the nerve to carry out his spur of the moment plan. The question left his head quickly as he knew that this wasn’t just a way out, it was the only way.
Chapter VI – Trespassing
Author’s Note: Due to a technical error, a portion of the book was released from a different chapter. I humbly apologize.
The JS-77B Consular transport glided through space, the lightspeed engines keeping the ship moving at a constant speed. The small red ship was hardly luxurious, but it suited the needs of its passengers well enough. Although it only had a registry number and not an official name, the crew had come to know it affectionately as The Bucket.
One passenger in particular had finally finished roaming the decks and had settled into the galley with several other officers. He sat away from them, trying to make the best out of their rationed military meal.
Kenobi stared down at his food in indifference. The other officers regarded him only with a passing glance and a few whispers. One by one, they left the galley until he was alone, poking at a gray substance that was trying to be meat.
Obi-Wan sighed heavily and pushed the tray from him. He turned his attention to a digital tablet instead. He spent the next few minutes reviewing several communiques from the Jedi Temple.
He had finished responding to the last message and closed his eyes for a few moments. His eyes snapped open and he quickly looked toward the door.
“Always needed on the bridge,” he said aloud before getting up from the table and leaving the galley.
High above, Anakin knew it was now or never. He knew that pushing the screen off would make a terrible noise, but his gnawing hunger would allow no time for more subtle and time consuming plans.
Stowing aboard the transport was easier than he thought. Trying to eat, sleep, and avoid the crew so he wouldn’t be caught proved to be much more difficult. He had more than one close call trying to squeeze in and out of the ducts.
Anakin stared hungrily at the leftovers on the other side of the room. He locked his eyes on a piece of meat and focused his attention on it. Obi-Wan had faith in him, maybe now was the time to prove it to himself.
As the seconds ticked by, sweat began dripping from Anakin’s face from the effort and still the meat did not move. Anakin tried again and again, but he could not summon the same focus he had before. Panic began to creep back into him as he felt time was moving against him.
Anakin blew all the breath from his body and relaxed again, clearing his mind. He focused his energies on the tray and slowly, but surely, it began to rise. Anakin grinned to himself at the triumph of moving the tray four inches off the table. His rumbling stomach helped him lose his focus and the tray clattered back to the table.
“This is taking too long,” Anakin fumed. Apparently, destroying a starfighter was easy, but moving a tray eighteen inches in length was too much for him. Throwing caution out the airlock, Anakin gave the screen a mighty shove. It clattered to the floor below him and he began to climb out from the vent. He dropped lightly to the ground and ran over to the table. He had to move quickly, he knew from experience that the service droids could arrive at any moment to clean up the leftovers.
How he would climb the ten feet to get back into the duct and replace the vent’s screen from the inside was something his growling stomach wouldn’t let him consider. Anakin closed in on his chosen target which was a piece of meat the captain had left when he heard a voice that made him jump straight up into the air.
“I was wondering when you would finally climb out of there and join us,” Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice shook Anakin.
Anakin froze, the meat inches from his mouth. He turned to see the man in the simple, brown robes standing by the door. He was under the vent, totally out of sight from Anakin’s hiding place. The aroma of the food disappeared; all there was was Jedi Kenobi giving him a very scientific look. It was the kind of look Anakin had once given a sand beetle he had once trapped under a jar.
“To be honest, I expected you some time ago. I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the ship. I might’ve been able to give you a better, less cramped tour if you had just waited on Tatooine as I asked,” Obi-Wan motioned for him to sit down.
Anakin surveyed his situation carefully. Obi-Wan was blocking the only door out of this room. The vent was directly over the door and before he could get halfway there, Obi-Wan would probably block that too. Even if he did somehow manage to climb back into the vent, where would he go that a Jedi Knight wouldn’t follow? Reluctantly, he put down the food and sat down.
Obi-Wan sat down across from him. “If you’re as hungry as you seem, I think we can do a little better than leftovers,” Obi-Wan pressed a few buttons on the table’s console. Anakin still did not speak. He learned at an early age that speaking out of turn would only lead to trouble.
“Well my young friend, what shall we do with you? I know the military takes a very dim view of stowaways. I believe it used to be Standard Operating Procedure to show the offender the inside and then the outside of an airlock. Don’t worry, I’m reasonably sure they got rid of that policy,” he continued to study Anakin thoroughly.
Anakin swallowed and felt his mouth grow dry. He was used to empty threats on Tatooine, but now he was off-world and who could be sure of anything? After he directly disobeyed Obi-Wan, this threat might not be so empty after all.
An uneasy silence filled the room. Obi-Wan had the most penetrating gaze and Anakin had the feeling that he was looking at more than just his poor table manners.
A tall, golden service droid entered the room with a steaming tray of fresh food. Anakin didn’t even wait for the droid to lower the tray to the table before he was pulling food off of it and eating it. His body cried out gratefully as the food give him new life, new energy, and make him feel like a human being again.
“It seems impatience walks hand-in-hand with you whether you are in a hangar bay or in a galley,” Obi-Wan observed.
“We’re nearly to Alderaan so there won’t be too much time to scold you for stowing away. When we arrive, we’ll let the Force determine what course your future will take,” Obi-Wan continued.
“That covers tomorrow, what happens to me today?” Anakin asked.
“First, I think we should find you some more suitable accommodations. I have never slept in air ducts before, but I can’t imagine that you would object to a bath and an actual bed,” Obi-Wan’s expression softened as he tapped different keys on the display.
“So I’m not going to be turned over to the military?” Anakin cast a suspicious look at Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Not unless you insist on it. However, let me be clear on one thing. You will not participate in my assignment, but observe my actions instead. After this mission is completed, you and I will have a chat about your potential. The alternative is to call Captain Sesta and make sure the brig is prepared,” Obi-Wan answered.
Before Anakin could respond, the door slid open and a tall, dark officer appeared. He had the face of a professional soldier, always surveying a situation for potential dangers. “You asked for me Master Kenobi…who is this boy?” the officer pointed at Anakin.
“Calm down Commander Cody. This young man has joined us on our journey to Alderaan. Please find reasonable quarters for him and make sure he is comfortable. Anakin, I’ll see you when you’re settled in and more relaxed,” Obi-Wan shook hands with Anakin.
“But sir, Captain Sesta has never tolerated…” Commander Cody began before Obi-Wan cut him off.
“You can tell the captain he is my guest. I will accept full responsibility for him while he is onboard. I am sure she will not protest the word of a Jedi Knight,” Commander Cody relaxed a little.
“Jedi Kenobi, thank you. I’ll try not to get in the way,” Anakin said. Obi-Wan smiled at him then left the room.
Anakin thought for a moment before asking the Commander, “How is he supposed to know when I’m ‘more relaxed’?”
Commander Cody smiled and shook his head. “Trust me, he’ll know.”
Author’s note: You’ll see that the chapter has no title. That’s because I decided to let my readers (YOU!) suggest what the title should be. That’s right, you can send your title suggestions to SWAwakening@gmail.com and you might get to make your mark on a potential Star Wars novel! You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@SW_Awakening) for more details. This is open to EVERYONE. If you know people who are Star Wars fans and would like to suggest a title for a chapter, they can do so! Enjoy reading!
Padme Amidala appeared to be commanding a small army as she waited at the all too familiar checkpoint at the Garrison of Alderaan. Her Arcanian Medium Transport also carried Illian Derttick from Alderaan Today, two additional Planetary Senators, two industrial engineers, four environmental specialists, and five independent military analysts who specialized in fields ranging from logistics to advanced weaponry.
What she was lacking was an answer from Senator Palpatine regarding a request she had made. The request was unusual, but she felt backed into a corner with no other alternatives.
“Of course I have an appointment,” she tapped her foot impatiently. She had confirmed and re-confirmed this inspection and now she was stuck at a -brand new- second checkpoint while a lieutenant tried to “locate” her paperwork.
“I’m sorry ma’am, let me check with the Officer of the Day again,” the lieutenant disappeared back into the guard house.
“This is intolerable,” she muttered before rising to her feet. “Ladies and gentlemen, there appears to be, another, minor delay in our inspection. Please be patient while we make sure everything is in order.”
Illian Derttick was furiously typing into his digital tablet. The experts began generating a low rumble of discussion. Padme caught phrases such as “waste of time” and “foolish girl” from the group before she turned her attention back to the guard house.
More time passed before she leaned out of the transport and rapped on the window. When there was no answer, Padme decided enough was enough. She had just balled up her fist to bang on the window when the lieutenant reappeared.
“Everything is in perfect order, Senator. Colonel Kinyon is waiting for you at the Bolet Administration building. Please remain here while we complete the security check of your vehicle,” he said.
“But we’ve already had a secur…” she began, but the lieutenant had disappeared again. Several soldiers appeared and began to check the vehicle’s exterior.
The soldiers were extremely deliberate in their security sweep. Padme continued tapping her foot impatiently while they took their time examining all thirty seat cushions for “possible hazards”. Finally, their AMT was waved through and it began to lumber its way down the avenue to the Bolet Administration building. Outside the gleaming white building, a man was waiting with a clipboard tucked under his arm.
He was tall, dressed in an immaculate uniform filled with badges, medals, and enough ribbons to make him lean slightly due to the weight. He also had the same look of arrogance and contempt that also seemed to come with the uniform. Padme smiled to herself as she imagined that there must be a week long training course each officer has to take in order to perfect that look.
“Senator Amidala, welcome to Republic Garrison Three-Two-Eight, I am Colonel Kinyon, second in command of this installation. It is my honor to escort you and your party on a thorough tour of this post.”
“Let’s proceed, Colonel. Your enhanced security procedures put us quite a bit behind schedule.” Amidala left the transport and waited for the rest of her party to disembark as well.
Five frustrating hours later, Amidala was fit to be tied. Colonel Kinyon must have spent his entire military career memorizing mundane details about the history of this post.
He had shown them two mess halls, five different barracks, the infirmary, the shooting range, three different recreation areas, and they were given a truly captivating tour of the visitor’s center. The inspection had reached the very guard house they were delayed at earlier before Senator Amidala could no longer hold her tongue.
“Colonel Kinyon, what are we doing?” Padme asked.
The Colonel looked annoyed at having his speech about the history of Guard House Number Four interrupted. “Senator, you are here to inspect the base and I am showing you the base. Is something amiss?”
“Colonel, I would like to interrupt this charming journey we’ve been on and I would like even more to inspect some real military facilities. We would like to see your research and development areas, your military intelligence building, and finally all files, papers, documents, and the locations of your expansions dating back two years ago. I would like to come and do the job that the Planetary Senate has authorized us to do,” Padme locked eyes with the Colonel and refused to blink.
Colonel Kinyon looked relieved, as if he was waiting for that demand to come from the young senator. “I apologize Senator, but I just don’t have authorization to do that.”
“I don’t understand,” Padme was dumbfounded. “There’s a building right over there that we haven’t seen yet,” she gestured to a large gray building that appeared to be a large warehouse. “It was built with the last expansion of the base. I want to go there now.”
“My apologies Senator, but I just don’t have the authorization to do that,” Colonel Kinyon said again.
Padme walked over to her right. “Fine, then let’s go to that building in the distance,” she pointed to a similarly large gray building further away.
“I apologize Senator, but I just don’t…”
“Colonel Kinyon, you are second in command of the entire garrison. If YOU don’t have the authority, then get me General Tarkin,” Padme placed her hands on her hips and waited.
“I apologize Senator, but General Tarkin is off-world and unable to receive communications at this time,” Colonel Kinyon seemed to be enjoying himself.
“Very well,” Padme growled. “Then who else can we speak to on this post with some authority?”
“You’ve been speaking with him this entire time, Senator. Now, shall we continue?” Colonel Kinyon gestured to Guard House Number Four.
Amidala’s brow furrowed as she lost what little patience she had left. Frustration had been building up inside of her like a reactor meltdown and the Colonel was about to receive the brunt of her explosion.
“Colonel, you have given us a tour of everything on this post that we never wanted to see with the exception of Latrine Number Thirty-Seven and I have a bad feeling that that wonderful part of the tour is coming up next. If you refuse to cooperate with the Alderaanian government on this crucial matter and stall a senatorial investigation…” but now Colonel Kinyon stopped her.
“Please Senator, I am cooperating within the authority I am granted. I can’t step beyond the bounds of my assignment. If I were to take you to buildings that even I had no permission to visit, I could be court-martialed. Do you want to be responsible for ending my career?” the Colonel looked genuinely worried about that possibility.
Padme felt a small vibration on her hip. She pulled a communicator from her pocket, took one look at it, and smiled.
“Colonel, the people of Alderaan and of the Republic could care less about the career of one short-sighted Colonel. I am leaving the garrison now, but when I return, I won’t be bringing these experts with me. I’ll be bringing a Jedi Knight of the Republic and I doubt that he will be as patient with you as I have been,” she turned on her heel and left, the experts grumbling behind her.
This time, however, Padme heard phrases such as “obstruction” and “Republic waste”. Illian Derttick was typing so fast on his computer that smoke almost rose from the keyboard.
Anakin had come to appreciate his new, un-cramped life aboard the transport outside the network of ducts. His view of the bridge was the most incredible sight he had ever seen.
Stars! So many stars surrounded the transport! The expansiveness of the galaxy would have overwhelmed anyone else, but all it did was feed Anakin’s desire to know more. Anakin had rarely left the vantage point at the front of the bridge except when he was in the way of one of the crew or when Obi-Wan pried him away to get something to eat. It was the most exhilarating and thrilling moment of his young life.
“Master Kenobi, how many star systems are in the Republic?” Anakin asked without removing his gaze.
“How many or how few doesn’t matter. The size of the galaxy is insignificant when compared to the Force,” Obi-Wan had found his vantage point equally fascinating.
When they had left Tatooine’s atmosphere, Obi-Wan had known the young man was onboard. There was no question that Anakin had an uncanny ability with the Force. It was raw, but intense. Anakin Skywalker had been able to avoid a crew of twenty men and women onboard a transport that was barely big enough to play a decent game of Pazaak. He might’ve been able to stay hidden throughout their voyage had it not been for the disturbance he created in the Force. He watched as the native of Tatooine tore his eyes off of the galaxy to something he found equally fascinating.
“Did I mention how sorry I was?” Anakin asked.
“I thought I said three times already that I don’t care about the Aethersprite,” Aiya Rios rolled her eyes as she sat at the helm of the transport.
“Then why have you become so cold? If it’s not the race, and it’s not me stowing away, then what did I do?” Anakin asked in a hushed, but tense tone.
“Don’t you get it? You ripped the wing off of my ship using the Force. That means you’re probably going to be a Jedi,” she said with a certain amount of disgust.
“Probably? You don’t think I can do it?” Anakin asked defensively.
“Geez Anakin, how thick are you? Didn’t they teach you anything about Jedi on that waste of a world you came from? Jedi don’t date, they don’t have relationships, and they don’t anything resembling ‘fraternization’ so you can forget that you ever knew me,” she said.
Anakin threw his hands up. “Whoa, slam on the brakes and bring this out of lightspeed. I never had any intention of um, ‘fraternizing’ with you. I just thought you were a great pilot.”
“Maybe you had no such intention,” she said with a pout.
“Captain Sesta, we’re approaching the Alderaan system,” Aiya changed the subject.
“Thank you, Navigator. Bring us out of light speed and begin standard landing procedures.
“Captain, could you also alert Senator…” he thought for a moment, “…Amidala that we’ll be landing within the hour?” Obi-Wan asked.
“We’re cutting in the sub-light engines now, sir,” Aiya said and Anakin felt the ship shudder slightly as they de-accelerated.
If Anakin was awe-struck by the sight of the stars, what happened next took his breath away.
He couldn’t believe there was something so peaceful or so beautiful in all of existence. There was no rust colored surface, no barren wastelands to be seen anywhere. From their orbital view, he could clearly see the brown continents, the lush, green forests, and…water! Vast, deep oceans, and great, winding rivers snaked along carrying trillions of gallons of something so precious that Anakin had learned to savor one drop at a time.
“Wow Owen, I’m a long way from Beggar’s Canyon,” Anakin whispered.
“Alderaan, the Shining Star of the Core Worlds. We should be passing the Regent’s Orbital Mansion on the way to the capital city, Aldera, the home of the Royal Family,” Obi-Wan announced as he walked up and joined Anakin at the forefront of the bridge.
“Jedi Kenobi, this report came from Coruscant,” a bridge officer said as he gave Obi-Wan a digital tablet before returning to the communications platform.
Obi-Wan scanned the report for a minute. “There is a meeting between eleven planetary government representatives on Ambria taking place tomorrow. The agenda includes interstellar trade and a review of how defense contracts are awarded. I thought they just covered that last week? Maybe it was a different sector I’m thinking of,” Obi-Wan stared absent-mindedly out the window.
“What is this great assignment you’re on, Master Kenobi?” Anakin asked, changing the subject.
“Your feelings give you away, Anakin. I’m not here to save the galaxy,” Obi-Wan replied. “The planet of Alderaan is protesting the expansion of their local garrison. According to reports, the garrison has grown to more than five times its original size with no additional troops assigned to it. I am here to mediate the dispute,” Obi-Wan began to strap himself into his chair in preparation for their descent.
Anakin sat next to him. “That’s it? Mediate the dispute? Aren’t you at least curious about why the garrison has grown so much?” He tried to imagine the Flying 14th more than five times its size. It would’ve eaten Mos Eisley whole without a second thought.
“It’s not my place to be curious. I am not here to investigate, Anakin. I am here as a mediator and a representative of the Republic. I am not here to demand justice for criminal wrongdoings or stop galactic genocide. This is just a dispute, nothing more, nothing less,” Obi-Wan said as Anakin buckled himself in.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Anakin wondered aloud as the ship began to breach the atmosphere.
Major Issic’s sky blue eyes stared down the long conference table at the fourteen scientists in disbelief.
“Say that again,” he said as he leaned on the table for support.
“It’s not good enough,” Oro Thalia replied, craning her long neck.
“I exceeded your request in every way. How could it not be enough?” Major Issic asked, his voice rising.
“It is not about quantity, it is about quality,” Oro replied. “I defer to my colleague in this matter.” She gestured a long arm to a tall man who hadn’t said more than two words since his arrival to Republic Scientific and Genetic Research Facility Zero-Zero-One the previous morning.
“The quality of the material is completely substandard for us to meet your goals. You want a luxury product, but give us junk to work with. What we have to work with is pathetically inadequate,” he said without moving.
Major Issic’s eye twitched slightly. “Doctor Billicks, I would choose my words carefully as your host has gone to extraordinary lengths to meet your demands.”
The man sniffed in disgust. “Extraordinary? You dragged me halfway across the Republic and assigned me with an impossible task. You give me cretins who don’t understand anything that wasn’t already in a textbook, and you give me inferior material to work with on top of that. Why are you wasting the time of one of the greatest genetic minds of our time?”
Issic locked his eyes on Billicks. Billicks returned the stare. No one else in the room dared breathe.
“Be that as it may, you have been given something extremely rare in the universe. I shall see if it is possible to increase the quality of your material. Keep in mind that this project will be successful. To ensure that success I will sacrifice anything and anyone at any given notice,” Issic said coldly. The look in his eyes hardened and his fist shook slightly.
Several lights in the room shorted out. Several heads turned up to see half of the room plunge into darkness. Doctor Billicks snorted and muttered something about “inferior building”.
A strange, almost tranquil look appeared on Major Issic’s face. “I will get you your material. You may trust that it will be of a far superior quality. It might even surpass your expectations, doctor.”
“And our facilities?” Oro Thalia asked, looking at the darkened section of the conference room.
“You find them inferior as well?” Major Issic asked with a sigh.
“When we began this project, we were three. Now we have nearly the largest gathering of geneticists outside of Coruscant. This facility is becoming rather cramped,” Oro said and others nodded in agreement.
“In addition,” the furry Drall said, “we’re sharing antiquated lab equipment. We need some other place to complete our work. If you want more, we need more.”
“Any other problems?” Major Issic asked.
“When do we get to contact our families?” Another scientist asked.
“That’s a good point. You haven’t allowed one transmission in or out of here since you assumed command. When will this change?” Oro Thalia asked.
“As you stated, the crudeness of our facilities is not limited to scientific equipment. There is no transmitter powerful enough to reach Coruscant. If you insist, I will make arrangements to satisy all of your requests,” Major Issic said.
General Tarkin looked out of his office at the stunning weather that lay beyond the window with a look of utmost displeasure. There were very few things that he could say he truly despised. The unexpected was at the top of that list. His scowl deepened as he spoke to his second-in-command standing on the other side of his desk.
“When will the Jedi land?” Tarkin asked.
“Within the hour, sir. The transport will land at the Senatorial Spaceport. The girl is expected to be waiting for him when he lands,” Colonel Kinyon responded, still standing at attention in front of General Tarkin’s desk.
Tarkin had never anticipated that an eternally minor child in the world of politics would garner such attention this quickly. This was supposed to be a tightly controlled experiment and Tarkin felt like he was losing control.
Losing control of any situation was also on his list.
“No doubt, Colonel. Is there any further news from the Alderaanian Senate?” Tarkin asked.
“No more than the usual outcry. The problem is that minority is growing. Intelligence has counted transmissions from twenty-eight of the seventy-five senators that are opposed to how we have handled her investigations. Our analysts predict that the minority could become a majority within a week,” Colonel Kinyon began to place a digital tablet on the desk.
“Keep it, Colonel. I don’t need to see the reports,” Tarkin said with a hint of disgust. “Increase the daily patrols and double the guards around the new warehouses. Above all, tell the troops to relax in the presence of the locals. Remember, we have nothing to hide. Dismissed,”
Colonel Kinyon let his curiosity get the better of him. “Sir, if I may venture a question, what is in those buildings? I’ve seen enough equipment to go in there to fill a Star Cruiser, but as Senator Amidala points out we’ve received zero additional personnel,” Colonel Kinyon swallowed slowly.
He felt he might’ve gone too far in his question, but he had to risk it. The scuttlebutt on the base about the new additions to the garrison ranged from mild to insane.
Rumors flew about that the new facilities the military had annexed were to be used simply for training new recruits. Another rumor was that the Republic was operating a secret R&D laboratory where they had devised a method that would make super soldiers infused with Jedi powers.
General Tarkin slowly turned away from the window and looked at Colonel Kinyon. The devastating look he gave the colonel spoke volumes. “On the way out, Colonel Kinyon, advise Felic Ordon of the situation. Inform him that I need to discuss certain details with Senator Palpatine,”
Several minutes later, the image of Senator Palpatine appeared on his desk. “Yes, General?”
“The resistence is growing within our Senate. The girl is gaining momentum after the wonderful tour we gave her. I have even received a message from Viceroy Organa himself. She’s unpredictable and may find ways to expose us before we are ready,” Tarkin said.
“Your concern is unnecessary, General. Events will go precisely as I have foreseen regardless of her rash actions. Unless you believe that my personal guidance is required to ensure that everything goes according to plan,” Senator Palpatine’s gaze bore into General Tarkin.
“No, Senator. I can handle this. I just didn’t think that she would ask the Jedi Council to send a Master to mediate. He could complicate matters,” a single bead of sweat formed on Tarkin’s brow.
“The Council did not send him there. I did,” Palpatine said with a look of smug satisfaction.
“But Senator…” Tarkin stammered.
“He’s not a Master, General,” Palpatine growled. “He’s one of the freshest, greenest Knights that the Council had available. I specifically requested this one because of his inexperience. He will play the role of the typical Jedi fool with words like ‘mediate’ and ‘observe’ still ringing in his ears. This Knight of the Republic will not be a distraction and will only enhance our plans. He will dance to the tune we play just as Amidala will and his voice will only add credibility to hers,” Palpatine laughed.
“As you wish, Senator. Shall I order the standard observation on them?” Tarkin asked.
“For the time being, that will suffice. Felic said you have an update for me?”
General Tarkin removed a digital tablet from inside his tunic. He tapped in his password and the tablet sprang to life. A complicated display of charts and figures appeared. Tarkin placed the tablet into a slot on his desk and the same images jumped to the air between them, slowly revolving around each other.
“We are approaching 95% capacity,” he said, and some graphs came to the forefront of the display. “The latest additions have proven to be reliable, effective, and extremely capable. I don’t know exactly what your technicians did to shake the errors out of the system, but at the rate we’re proceeding, I predict we will achieve our optimum numbers within two weeks. They will never be substitutes for the real thing, but they should satisfy us in the short term,” Tarkin looked pleased and pulled the tablet from the slot on his desk. The charts and graphs vanished immediately.
“Excellent General. Your garrison’s progress is on par with the other sites. We are nearing our completion of this project and our timetable must be exact. While I set other events into motion, I trust you will find the best way to get Senator Amidala to dance,” Palpatine grinned.
Senator Amidala could hardly stand the anticipation. When her contacts on Coruscant sent word to her digital communicator that a Jedi Knight was on the way, she felt surer of victory than ever before. She would be able to convey their situation to someone with real clout that Tarkin could not ignore.
A week had passed since her initial inspection had ended in disappointment. She had spent that week pulling every political string, calling in every possible favor, and lobbying every political dignitary from the Regent down to the local Magistrate. Padme called upon friends of her mentor and even a few enemies she had made in the political arena. Twice each day she had sent urgent transmissions to Senator Palpatine’s assistant, Felic Ordon. When she received no reply, she had a fiery debate with her Chief of Staff about sending a transmission to Supreme Chancellor Valorum himself. All of these actions had netted her not one additional inspection of the garrison.
What she had accomplished, however, was independent pressure being placed on General Tarkin. Other representatives within the Alderaan government were asking questions, and asking them loudly. More impressive was the grass roots movement that had started among the people. It was now becoming clear that the citizens of Alderaan wanted to know what was so important behind the walls of Republic Garrison Three-Two-Eight.
As the transport descended from the sky and slowly came down on Landing Pad Number Four, she rocked on the balls of her feet. General Tarkin might be able to delay a ‘girl’ in the Planetary Senate, but a Jedi Knight of the Republic could not be ignored. With the people of Alderaan behind her and a Jedi at her side, now would be the time for answers.
As the ramp lowered, technicians began to attend to the ship’s needs, checking it for damage from its violent re-entry and moving fuel hoses into position. Crewmen dressed in Republic uniforms came out of the ship, chatting among themselves about their journey. Padme patiently waited until two men appeared.
One was taller, although not much older than she was. He was dressed in simple, brown robes, but walked with a sense of confidence. The second man could hardly be called a man at all. Standing a head shorter than his companion, he appeared to be about the same age as she was and dressed in shabby, stained, sand-blasted clothes. He had an air of energy and eagerness around him, but she couldn’t help but wonder when the Jedi Knight would come down. The two approached her and she couldn’t hide her stunned expression when the taller man introduced himself.
“Senator Amidala, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight of the Republic. I would like to thank you for receiving us. I am here at the request of the Galactic Senate and the Jedi Council to hear the dispute your planet has with the local military garrison and mediate a settlement,” he placed his hands inside his robes and waited.
Padme was floored. This was her savior? The man the Republic had sent to lead the charge into the garrison and finally force the truth out from behind the walls was here to mediate? Her investigation was going to be condemned to a conference table.
“Jedi Kenobi, I think you misunderstand my intent. While I am more than glad to have you assist my investigation, please let there be no doubt as to what I plan to accomplish. The people of Alderaan aren’t asking for a photo op with General Tarkin, they are demanding answers. If what I suspect is true, then this will go beyond a simple ‘mediation’”, she glared at the Jedi.
“The truth is dependent on the facts at hand while suspicions and speculations are best left to journalists. I have already arranged a meeting with General Tarkin and his aide, Colonel Kinyon in the morning. Believe me Senator, this problem will be resolved in short order,” he said.
When her expression remained unchanged, Obi-Wan decided to indulge her a little. “What exactly do you suspect, Senator?” he asked.
“You simply do not have this much space unless you fill it with something. I need to know what is in those buildings before they are allowed another square centimeter of Alderaanian soil. If you and I do not share goals, then our agendas may lead us down different roads. Who is he?” She had just now noticed that the boy was still standing behind Obi-Wan with eyes that were locked on her.
“I apologize for not introducing him, Senator. This is Anakin Skywalker, a…traveler from Tatooine and this is his first visit to Alderaan. He is my companion and will not be a burden to our situation. Anakin, this is Planetary Senator Padme Amidala,” Obi-Wan stepped to the side.
Anakin wasn’t sure if he could handle the shock of seeing the most beautiful thing in existence twice in twenty minutes. First it was the planet Alderaan itself, but now the planet paled in comparison to Senator Padme Amidala. Her soft, brown hair was coiled neatly and securely into a single braid down her back. She was shorter than Anakin, but her confidence made her appear to be tall enough to stand toe-to-toe with anyone regardless of rank and position. To Anakin, it was her eyes that held him prisoner. Her eyes were radiant and alight with a fire that seared his heart. He almost held his breath, but managed to extend his hand and stammer to her.
“I’m Anakin and I wish to greet you, Senator Padmidala,” he blushed as she shook his hand.
“I think you just did, Anakin,” she giggled and smiled at him. “Anakin Skywalker, welcome to Aldera, the Gem of Alderaan and the capital for the Shining Star of the Core Worlds.
He couldn’t see why this group was so special that it required his talents. There was a boy, a man in robes, and a girl all chatting to each other. Standing on top of the building across the street, Lieutneant Jango Fett increased the magnification another few clicks on his electro-binoculars.
The taller one was clearly a Jedi, despite his pitiful attempt to look inconspicuous. The boy was clumsy, awkward, and of absolutely no importance. He was staring at the snow-capped mountains in the distance like a tourist. The girl was identified by the display on his electro-binoculars as Planetary Senator Padme Amidala. Her height, weight, heart rate, residence, and route she took to her office appeared on the display as well. Jango fingered the modified blaster at his side.
Pressing a few buttons, he linked his blaster’s computer to the electro-binoculars and began recording the images. The girl was clearly not pleased as they walked away from the ship and toward the express elevators. His natural instinct was to hit them now and be done with it, but he had to be patient. So far, his orders were to observe and not to execute the kill.
Jango knew that the kill order was only a short time away, so it was best to be prepared. Perhaps a common soldier can make the mistake of going in half-cocked, but a Republic Commando was never that careless. He strapped on his jet pack and prepared to leave his observation post.
While waiting for his communicator to establish a link with Commander Rethian, a thought occurred to him. When stalking your prey, you wait until they make a mistake before you strike. Jango was very, very good at waiting.
Chapter IX – Trespassing
Author’s Note: Thanks for entering my contest! Although there were MANY good suggestions, I could only choose one. The winner was Ambria Getal (see her on Facebook) and so chapter 7 has been named “Frustration”. I will have more features coming in the future so keep an eye out on my facebook page. Enjoy reading!
A lone figure crouched down on all fours and waited. A few, tense, moments passed before he breathed easy.
So far, breaking into the Jedi Temple was going according to plan.
He sprinted noiselessly down a hallway and counted the seconds. When he was certain the guard would have moved past the door was standing by, he opened it and slipped inside.
What was waiting for him on the other side of the doorway startled him. He knew that his path would take him by the Hall of Masters, but actually seeing the life-size statues there brought his memories flooding back.
He couldn’t help but feel like a child again, staring in awe and soaking in all the grandeur and majesty that is the Jedi Order.
“More like ‘was’,” he mumbled to himself as he walked.
He passed the statues of the older masters such as Master Satele Shan and Master Fae Coven. He paused at the base that was devoid of a statue. The plaque simply read “Master Mace Windu”.
“You,” he muttered under his breath with disgust.
“You were supposed to take me on. The only Master of the Order to take a padawan in the history of the Jedi Order. How do you sleep at night, knowing what happened to me? What you did to me?” he said.
He checked up and down the hallway before returning his gaze to the base. His thoughts lingered on Master Windu’s praise, the close attention paid to his progress, the personal lessons that no other Jedi had.
He spat on the plaque before moving on.
Time was against him now. Paying a member of the Republic Temple Guard to take a longer break than usual would only buy him so many minutes.
He took the steps up to the medical wing three at a time, breathing heavily by the time he left the fourth flight and slid the door open. His goal was meters away now.
“Night duty, meh. Demonstrate your knowledge of the Force by moving a chair is fine, but move it while Jedi Ellian is trying to sit down and you get night duty,” a voice said from inside.
He held his breath and quickly slipped inside. The layout of the medical wing had not changed and that was an advantage he needed more than ever. He was able to duck behind a supply cabinet as the door closed.
“What was that?” the student asked from behind the desk. He walked over and inspected the door before looking around the medical wing.
“If someone’s in here, you’ll find it pretty hard to hide from a Jedi!” he warned.
He almost scoffed at the student’s idle boast. If the student had been able to sense his presence through the Force, he would have been caught already.
The student slowly walked by the cabinet, but he was clearly looking in the wrong places. Once the student walked past, he stepped out quickly and hit the student over the back of the head.
The student crumpled to the ground. For a moment, he stood over the young man’s unconscious form and studied him. Something seemed oddly familiar about him.
He rolled the student over and let a gasp escape his lips. “Therrik, what are you doing down here?” he asked his former classmate.
There was no mistaking his friend’s shockingly red hair and lanky form. How long had it been since they had last attended classes together?
Again, nostalgia rolled over him like a wave. Memories of running to classrooms, sharing a barracks style room, and boasting about their future as Jedi Knights flooded his mind.
And now he knew what Therrik was doing in the medical wing late at night. He was still just a student, cursed with only the most mundane of duties. Worse, he wasn’t even a padawan. He was crawling through life as a Jedi.
They were in the same class together at the Jedi Academy. That only meant that he too would have been an anonymous figure sentenced to monotonous tasks. His feelings of longing for the “good ol’ days” were quickly replaced by rage.
Rage that he too would have wasted his life being held back from his true potential. Rage against the Jedi who thought that emotions were the path to the dark side. Rage against a council who hailed him as a wonder child only to restrict him at every turn to teach him the “value of patience”.
Before he lost himself completely, a light caught his attention. He realized that Therrik hadn’t logged himself out of the terminal he was sitting at. He now had an unexpected bonus in access to the Jedi computer system.
“Thank you, my friend. Stop wasting your life with these spawn,” he murmured and sat down at the open terminal.
He had quickly accessed the Jedi Master’s archives. “Let’s see what these bastards have been up to,” he said.
He honed in on Master Windu’s communiques and was startled to see a large number of them centered on just one person.
Most Jedi Hopefuls had files written on them. There were enough messages between Masters Yoda and Windu to fill a book. More astounding was that they all seemed to take place in the last two Galactic Days.
“Who in the stars is Anakin Skywalker?” he asked.
He continued reading about the young man who was discovered on the Outer Rim. He was stubborn, headstrong, and with no knowledge about his Force ability had ripped the wing off of a starfighter.
His eyes locked on a phrase he thought he would never see again.
Someone that Yoda and Mace Windu regarded so highly as to label him as the “Chosen One”, but had yet to receive any formal training? This was someone he had to establish contact with. Perhaps, if they worked together, he could escape the shackles of his current employer.
The possibilities were endless.
A warning bell sounded on his communicator. His transport was on the way back to pick him up. He had to move quickly.
Major Issic proceeded down the medical bay and smiled. This trip to the Jedi Temple had been far more successful than he had ever anticipated.
“That is unacceptable!” Padme called across the table for what Anakin counted as the 47th time. He was beyond bored and drummed his fingers on the elaborate conference table. This is what being a Jedi was all about? The meeting entered its ninth hour and he was convinced that Tarkin was thoroughly enjoying every minute of this.
“Senator, I am sure that the ‘tens of people’ that care about this vendetta you have against the Armed Forces of the Republic are behind you, but I can assure you that you do not have enough support to block this expansion,” General Tarkin said. “The soldiers who are keeping your planet safe deserve larger facilities to accommodate their needs.”
“General, when I conducted that joke of an inspection last week, we were hard pressed to see more than four soldiers in the same place at once. Now you’re telling us that you’re cramped? You have enough space already to run your own pod races and you want more? The people of Alderaan demand an explanation,” Padme fumed.
Anakin sat at the far end of the table and tried and failed to stifle yet another yawn. Obi-Wan finally rose from his chair next to Anakin. “It’s clear that both sides have valid points that need to be explored. I suggest we adjourn until tomorrow morning. We can all re-think our positions until then.”
Anakin was mentally drained by the frustration that filled the room. It was painfully obvious that Tarkin was delaying this entire proceeding to avoid any type of concession. Senator Amidala was making some excellent points that could not be ignored. Tarkin had sidestepped each one of those points with the skill of an experienced diplomat.
“Jedi Kenobi, may I have a word please?” Padme asked as the conference room emptied.
She tapped her foot as Anakin and his master approached her. “Surely now you see the futility of these discussions. Tarkin is stubbornly denying us any access at all and refuses to give us a simple reason as to why.”
“Well, these are preliminary discussions, Senator. As a politician, you can understand the need for formalities. I have a feeling that these negotiations will lead to a satisfactory conclusion. Tomorrow should be a long, but productive, day,” Obi-Wan said.
“How can you be so short-sighted? You call nine hours of listening to him babble about logistics and ‘breathing room’ preliminary? Surely, as a Jedi, the truth…” but she shook her head in resignation.
“No, I am going to retire for the evening. As you said, Jedi Kenobi, I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow,” Padme stepped between him and Obi-Wan and stormed out of the room.
“Something tells me she’s not going to spend the evening in her room reading a good book,” Anakin said.
“Well we can hope that she will let diplomacy take its natural course. This is how the Galactic Republic has survived for as long as it has,” Obi-Wan said.
Felic Ordon awoke at the same time as he always had. He detested the idea that a mechanical clock should rouse him and relied on his own body. Thus far, it had never failed him.
He took pride in his attire because working for Senator Palpatine meant looking professional at all times. The senator was an important man to all people throughout the Republic. As his personal representative, it was vital that Felic create the best first impression possible to all visitors.
His breakfast was completely organic, a rare sight on this planet. He rigidly stuck to his routine, placing his dishes in the cleaning bin and letting them soak in antiseptic fluid.
After breakfast, Felic cleaned his blaster pistol thoroughly before packing it away in his briefcase.
He walked along the street with only a few other people, but they all ignored him. He blended into the crowd and soon became just another face among the countless trillions making their way to work. The Coruscant Transit sped by him and he smiled to himself. He felt sorry for the poor people who enslaved themselves to automation.
Felic looked at Republic Legislative Office building with a slight shudder. He knew that climbing the long flights of steps to Senator Palpatine’s office was a chore, but he prepared by arriving early. The alternative was to take the turbolift and the thought of being propelled by that…machine…gave Felic’s stomach a turn. An added benefit was that so few people used the stairs that Republic Security paid far less attention to it.
People passed him as though he wasn’t there at all. That’s the way Felic enjoyed living on this world. Everyone brushing by him was tapping into or was being tapped by some piece of technology. Felic smiled to himself. Being as pure and free as he was made him special.
After finishing his climb, he allowed himself only a few moments to catch his breath before opening up his briefcase and preparing for the day. Felic pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He glanced at the pistol before setting the case on the floor under his desk.
The Republic had cleaning droids that were supposed to be efficient. As Felic scrubbed a small stain out of the senator’s window, he felt disgusted by a machine’s definion of “efficiency”. It didn’t really matter to him, manual labor in the name of the man who rescued him was an honor.
Now came the part of the day that Felic dreaded the most. He logged into his desk’s terminal and accessed Senator Palpatine’s messages. He felt unclean as he keyed in his access code.
Felic skimmed through the numerous messages that came in overnight. Felic ignored most of them and forwarded only the most important on to the senator’s personal message box.
Two messages held Felic’s attention.
From: Sen. Amidala – Alderaan. Priority – Urgent.
Subject: Jedi Knight
Esteemed Sir, I am astonished to see that the Jedi sent by the Order is extraordinarily naïve and not the least sympathetic to our cause. I continue to be bogged down by endless meetings that produce little in the way of actual results. I have one final meeting with General Tarkin and I can only hope this Jedi Knight will finally see things our way.
Felic smiled to himself. He was growing annoyed with how this small person wanted to monopolize Senator Palpatine’s time. It didn’t help that the world of politics was filled with small people trying to force themselves into bigger roles and offices. She had been rattling her saber enough to make Felic wonder what would happen in the next election cycle.
His smile faded when he read the next message.
From: Sen. Amidala – Alderaan. Priority – Urgent.
Subject: Your Eyes Only
Senator Palpatine, I cannot wait any longer. The meeting this morning convinced me that playing by the rules will get me nowhere. I learned that it is sometimes better to ask forgiveness than permission. Unless I hear from you within the next two Galactic Hours, I will penetrate the Republic Garrison and get answers myself. This may end my career if I’m caught, but all traditional methods have not gained anything. I await your response.
The doors to the outer office opened and Senator Palpatine walked in. Felic scrambled to greet him and hold open the door to his personal office.
“Good morning, Felic. All is well, I trust?” he asked.
“Senator Palpatine, I am so glad to see you are well,” Felic said eagerly. “Everything is just fine here. You have your usual messages from Chancellor Valorum asking for your advice, again,” Felic chuckled to himself.
“It’s always something with that man,” Palpatine sighed.
“He comes to you so often for help I sometimes think you’re running the Republic through him,” Felic smiled as the senator sat at his desk.
Palpatine looked at him for a long moment. “Well, I suppose I shall hold his hand yet again.”
Felic bowed deeply before returning to his desk. He sat and re-read the messages from Senator Amidala. The time index showed there was still another hour to respond to Padme’s message as she requested.
He pressed the delete button before resuming his normal work.
It was the dead of night that found Anakin tossing and turning in his sheets. Being on a planet with only one sun was unnerving. Adjusting to Alderaan’s rotation and revolution would clearly take some time.
As it was, he finally threw the sheets aside and quickly dressed. Here he was on a new world and if he was going to be restless, he would be restless while exploring what this world had to offer. He grabbed his hood and mask before chuckling to himself.
“Life without sandstorms,” he said and put them on the table.
He left their apartment and wandered aimlessly through the streets. Anakin marveled at the height of the buildings and how massive the city felt. The city seemed to stretch on forever.
Anakin saw few pedestrians at this late hour and those he saw said a kind greeting to him as they passed. He looked back to see them looking right back at him. He blushed when he looked at his wind-ripped clothes and was still able to shake a little sand out of his shirt.
He entered some kind of a local square and saw the streets converge near a large statue of a man. Standing in front of the statue was a girl holding a bag with her head bowed.
Anakin immediately recognized Padme Amidala.
She remained perfectly still for several moments, seemingly a statue herself. She looked back up at the statue’s face above her, and then sprinted down a side street. Anakin was about to take off after her when a hand grasped his shoulder.
“Enjoying your midnight stroll?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Jedi Kenobi! How did you know how to find me?” Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan smiled at him and tapped his temple. “Don’t underestimate the power of the Force.”
“Senator Amidala was just there!” Anakin said pointing at the statue. “She ran down the street.”
Obi-Wan stared down the street that Anakin indicated for a moment. “She’s not rushing off to a midnight meeting, she’s in distress.”
“Then we have to go after her,” Anakin said.
“We have to at least make sure she’s in no danger,” Obi-Wan nodded.
After running through the darkened streets for nearly an hour, they came to rest under a grove of trees near a low point at the garrison’s wall. The wall had moved with the terrain and the ground had sunk here to a point where the wall was no more than four or five meters high. Obi-Wan pressed a finger to his lips and there, they waited.
Anakin could barely see in front of his face and was now very aware just how loud his breathing could be when no other sounds were present. The two more distant moons of Alderaan were the only ones visible tonight, making this night ideal for skulking around.
Although he was unable to see very much, Anakin relaxed and let his mind take in the essence of the night. Ahead, he knew there was the wall, but he could also feel that the guards were too far away to see out here. He could also sense the ground beneath his feet and felt out when the next breeze would be coming. As he was just beginning to expand on these sensations, he felt a slight disturbance. Like ripples on a pond moving toward him, he felt a presence coming toward their position. He held his breath and felt Obi-Wan tighten in anticipation.
Padme Amidala approached, silently moving along the wall. When she reached the lowest point, she removed something from her backpack. Taking one more look around, she pointed something above her and fired a tension wire attached to an anchor to the top of the wall. As it was speeding away from her, Obi-Wan put his hand out and the wire froze in mid-air fifteen feet above the ground. “I think that’s quite enough,” he muttered.
Padme frantically looked around for the source of whatever had stopped her grappling gun. “Come out Jedi Kenobi, I know you’re there,” she whispered.
Obi-Wan and Anakin removed themselves from their hiding place and crouched down beside the senator. “I was afraid you might try this,” Obi-Wan said. “I cannot condone the reckless and irresponsible act of sneaking on to a Republic garrison and breaking into its facilities.”
“But I have to do something!” she hissed. “I have tried the conventional approach for months now. Inspections, motions, committees, appeals, all of these have been useless! If Tarkin is hiding something, then I have no other choice but to try more ‘direct’ methods. There’s nothing reckless about this. I brought a holo-recorder with me and I will get to the bottom of this even if it does cost me my career. If you can give me an alternative other than listening to him stonewalling me, then I’m all ears.” The expression she had as one of the moons came out from behind a cloud said more than Anakin needed to hear.
“Obi-Wan, we have to help her. She’s right, Tarkin has to be hiding something in there and I don’t see how tact and diplomacy is going to bring out the truth,” Anakin said.
“Help her? Help her throw away her career once she’s been caught? And keep in mind that might be the best thing that could happen to her. The Republic soldiers are under no requirement to ask for ID before opening fire,” Obi-Wan warned.
“Then it’s our solemn duty to make sure that she comes back in one piece. That is unless you don’t mind reporting back to the Jedi Council that a Planetary Senator was killed and you could’ve prevented it and chose not to,” Anakin turned and looked deep into Padme’s eyes. “At least, I plan to prevent it.” They both turned to look at Obi-Wan.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Obi-Wan gave a wave of his hand and the anchor sped to the top of the wall and stuck there. He took a hold of the tension wire, tugged it once for safety, and began to climb. When he reached the top, he motioned for Padme and Anakin to follow him. Once all three were on top, Padme fixed another anchor from the top of the wall and dropped the remainder of the tension wire down the other side of the wall. All three of them violated Republic trespassing laws as they entered the installation and stealthily crept out of sight.
They came to rest in the shadow of a building across the compound. Anakin peered around the corner to see two guards standing outside a large warehouse. “There are two others patrolling the building’s perimeter,” Obi-Wan whispered. “The inside of the building is empty. Once we go further, we can never go back. Do you understand?” he asked the senator.
“Jedi Kenobi, there are forty-four other buildings on this installation exactly like this one that have sprung up only recently. I have to know why,” she whispered back.
“So what’s the plan, Miss Reckless?” Anakin asked. “Do you plan on attacking the guards? We can’t exactly sneak past trained soldiers standing five feet apart with the only door leading inside between them.”
“Well…” she began, but she didn’t get far. Obi-Wan Kenobi brazenly got up from their place of hiding and walked directly at the two guards. After a moment’s hesitation, they hurried after him. He strode directly up to them and didn’t flinch as the guards aimed their weapons at him.
“This is a restricted area! No one is to enter this facility by order of General Tarkin. Who are you?” The guards said as a humming sound began to fill the air, telling Anakin that their rifles were eager for a wrong answer.
Anakin thought that Obi-Wan had gone insane, but then something incredible happened. Obi-Wan raised his hand up and said, “I have the proper clearance.”
“You have the proper clearance,” the guards mimicked.
“You didn’t see anyone enter this building,” Obi-Wan said.
“We didn’t see anyone enter this building,” They said again.
“Use your access key to open the door now,” Obi-Wan instructed.
Obi-Wan winked at his two companions as the guard opened the door and then resumed their normal position while he entered the building. Padme ran after him and Anakin hesitated a moment, looking at the guards, and then ran to keep up. Anakin nearly stumbled into his companions no more than a few feet inside because they had stopped dead in their tracks. When Anakin activated the lights, he saw why. The room became illuminated and his breath caught in his throat. They had discovered General Tarkin’s Cloning Facility.
Chapter X –Discovery
The entire warehouse was one giant room filled wall-to-wall with cylindrical tubes more than four meters in height. Row upon row of the transparent, green tubes was connected to an electronic panel. As the shock wore off, Anakin and Obi-Wan began to walk down one of the rows inspecting tube after tube. Each one contained a clone in a state of hibernation. Tubes and wires were connected to each one in a prime example of uniformity as the clones silently floated in a bacta solution.
“Don’t touch anything,” Obi-Wan warned.
Anakin nodded in agreement. “That goes for you too Sena…” he turned to see that Padme was still standing by the door. Her hand had risen to her mouth, her eyes wide in shock.
“In all this time…I never…I mean, I always thought something was wrong…but this?” she stammered in horror.
“It appears that your investigation has steered us away from the negotiating table. Would you like to see how far the road goes?” Obi-Wan gestured for her to join them.
Padme took the holo-recorder from her pack and began recording as she slowly walked down the row. Anakin walked behind her and paused to observe the digital readouts on one of the tubes.
The display had typical medical information such the clone’s pulse, breathing, blood flow, brain function, and development of his muscular, circulatory and skeletal systems. Something on the display caught his eye. In the upper-right hand corner, the display read “1,027 of 141,426”.
Anakin noticed that this clone looked amazingly lifelike behind the glass. The clone was male, approaching two meters in height, with a typical military haircut and a muscular build. Even in stasis, it was an intimidating specimen. It seemed exactly like what Anakin would want in a soldier.
“Simply incredible. I can’t believe Tarkin would do such a thing,” Amidala breathed in awe as she stepped closer to one of the clones with the holo-recorder.
“This would explain the need for space, Senator,” Obi-Wan said. “We need to leave soon. I believe the Jedi Council and the Galactic Senate will be very interested in this holo-recording.”
“Cloning has been banned for over sixty years,” Amidala said into the recorder. “Sixty years since the Treaty of Sundari forbade all knowledge, construction, production, or any creation of clones. Tarkin has the arrogance to create a clone army…but to what end? All he would need to do to get more troops is to request them. What would General Tarkin want with an army of clones?”
Anakin shrugged his shoulders. “So Tarkin is making soldiers instead of conscripting them, what’s the big deal?” Anakin could recall with a shudder when “Patriotic Volunteer Enforcement Squads” would roam across Tatooine.
Padme turned to look at him, the holo-recorder still humming.
“Anakin, sixty years ago, there was a great movement in the Galactic Senate to use clones instead of actual people for military service. Nobody wanted conscriptions and to create enough battle droids to fill our ranks would have bankrupted the Republic several times over. At the time, cloning seemed the answer to our problems. In a few short years, we could have a standing army and navy with no risk to our own citizens.”
“The problem was that now we had ‘created’ people to do our fighting for us. No one had considered the moral and ethical implications of creating people to fight and die for us. Did they have rights? Did they have souls? Did we have the right to create an entire race of people bred only to fight? What did we do with them during peacetime? There questions and many more were hotly debated across the Republic until the mutinies began,” she continued. Her attention returned to the clones and Obi-Wan took over.
“At the height of it all, there were twelve clones to every non-clone in the military. The clones disobeyed orders, refused to attack, refused to defend, refused to do much of anything at all. This act of insubordination quickly turned violent and the Republic found itself badly outnumbered. The clones went berserk, attacking friend, foe, and civilian alike. There were incidents where starships of clones would bombard peaceful Republic worlds from orbit, causing massive devastation.
“Our scientists discovered that there was a genetic design flaw that causes all clones to eventually lose their minds within twenty-four months of being created. There was no preventing it, there was no curing it, and nothing could be done to save those clones already in service,” he closed his eyes in sympathy.
“So the Republic set about a course of action that would shame itself for generations. We had no choice but to destroy them all. Countless millions of clones were killed, regardless of if you believed they had souls or not. It was regrettable, but there was no other alternative. What you see here before you is monstrous because the clone you look at will one day turn against you and try to kill you. And worse still is the fact that one day you will have to turn against it and kill it,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin peered closer at his clone. The peaceful sleep it was in made him wonder if it really was alive. It seemed so motionless that it was statuesque and not a flesh and blood person. Anakin’s hand reached out and tapped the glass on the tube.
The clone’s eyes flashed open and it began to thrash about in the tube. His hands beat upon the glass and his eyes rolled around wildly. All the displays began to flash red as alarm sirens began to wail. Obi-Wan and Padme whirled around at Anakin, the holo-recorder still recording.
“I thought I said not to touch anything!” Obi-Wan shouted over the klaxons.
Anakin waved his hand mimicking Obi-Wan’s actions against the soldiers. “You didn’t see me touch anything,” Anakin shouted back.
Obi-Wan grimaced and sped for the door. Anakin felt embarrassed as he ran after him with Padme on his heels, stuffing the holo-recorder into her pack. They didn’t get more than a few feet outside the building before the two guards Obi-Wan had persuaded to allow them inside appeared with four additional soldiers. Anakin’s eyes locked on the six rifles pointed at the three companions.
“Hold it!” yelled the lead soldier. “Get your hands into the air and…”
Anakin could feel a surge emanating from Obi-Wan Kenobi when the guards appeared. He was amazed to see Obi-Wan bow his head, close his eyes, and then focus that surge. Obi-Wan flung his arms out and all six members of Republic Garrison Three-Two-Eight were scooped off the ground, soared into the air, and crashed back to the pavement thirty feet away, knocking them all out.
“Keep moving!” Obi-Wan shouted and then sprinted back to the low part in the wall where they had entered the base. The three of them skidded to a halt as a large Armored Land Cruiser appeared in the intersection just between them and their escape.
The ALC rolled its gray, boxy frame around on six wheels each as tall as a man. Anakin’s stomach knotted as the ALC lowered its massive cannon toward them. From the folds of his robe, Obi-Wan pulled out a metallic object.
“Stay out of sight, if possible,” Obi-Wan instructed. Anakin’s heart skipped a beat as a blue blade extended with a snap-hiss. Obi-Wan ran directly at the ALC, the lightsaber raised high into the air. The ALC let out a blast from its cannon that should have cracked open the street. Jedi Kenobi deflected the beam into a nearby building. Smaller cannons mounted on the front of the ALC also opened fire, red blasts flashing at Obi-Wan. The blue of his lightsaber flashed almost too fast for Anakin to see as Obi-Wan quickly closed the distance to the daunting machine.
Padme and Anakin crouched behind a bench. Anakin watched with wonder and admiration as Jedi Kenobi danced with the ninety ton monster. He darted around the machine, the blade flashing here and there; and everywhere the lightsaber was, sparks and flames erupted half a heartbeat later. Anakin was entranced by how effortlessly Obi-Wan moved. It was as if he moved naturally and with no danger around at all.
Two soldiers crawled out of a hatch at the top of the vehicle and began drawing their side-arms. Before they had a chance to attack the Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan thrust his arm out and flung them off the vehicle with ease using the Force. Finally, the ALC collapsed on its flat tires and Obi-Wan extinguished his blade. But the desire in Anakin’s heart would never be so extinguished.
Obi-Wan Kenobi took one more look around, and then waved at Padme and Anakin to come join him. Together, they ran past the burning hulk and back to their tension wire at the wall. They climbed over one at a time, and then sped off into the night.
“Are they away?” General Tarkin asked his aide.
“Yes, General,” Colonel Kinyon answered with disgust.
General Tarkin sighed as he stared out the window as firefighting brigades were working to extinguish the blaze that engulfed one of his ALC’s. As he watched seven million Republic credits go up in flames, Tarkin fought to keep his wrath down.
He was exposed now, but it was not done according to his plans. Tarkin knew that Amidala would be screaming at the top of her lungs in the morning to everyone with at least one set of ears. The fact that she did it on her own initiative and had not “danced” to his tune was upsetting and humiliating.
“Shall I inform Senator Palpatine?” Colonel Kinyon broke the uncomfortable silence.
General Tarkin’s voice became gravely quiet. “No, Colonel. I do not see a reason to share our incompetence. I suspect he’ll find out when Amidala finds a transmitter anyway.”
“Do you know what the single most important facet of any battle is, Colonel? The one thing that you absolutely must have when battling a squad or an entire Star Fleet? You must have the initiative! This girl has stolen it from us. Please convey my extreme disappointment to the men and prepare them for tomorrow’s inspection,” Tarkin gave a dismissive wave of his hand.
“But, Palpatine…” Kinyon began.
“Is not your commanding officer,” Tarkin whirled around and faced his aide.
“Stop thinking and follow orders,” his eyes glowed with a darkness that made the blood in Kinyon’s veins run cold.
After leaving the office, Colonel Kinyon felt a tremendous amount of shame. His superior officer, one of the finest military minds the Republic had ever known, had been humiliated. It was clear now that the girl would have to suffer for this disgrace.
Thankfully, he had been preparing for just such a contingency. He knew that Tarkin could never give the order to have her killed. However, “plausible deniability” was a wonderful thing. Now is the time for redemption for the Republic’s Finest. As he sat down at his desk outside General Tarkin’s office, he keyed an order into his communicator.
Chapter XI – Attempts
Anakin was feeling like a fifth wheel. Obi-Wan was deep in discussions with the Jedi Council. Padme was surrounded by reporters, politicians, dignitaries, and officials from across the Republic. Anakin was stuck up in the suite that Padme had arranged for them with nothing to do but watch.
The news broke quickly about the cloning labs they had discovered the previous evening and their names were spreading across the galaxy like a fast moving sand storm. Obi-Wan was called a “heroic Jedi Knight” and Padme was now being referred to as “The Senate Wonder”.
Anakin wasn’t mentioned at all.
The holo-projector he had turned on was constantly bombarded with the same images Padme had recorded the night before. He paced up and down in his quarters, absently listening to the broadcast as Padme went on about the “atrocities” and the “monstrous creations” they had seen.
Anakin was on a beautiful planet he had never been on before, with incredible people he had never been with before, with ground-breaking history being made all around him, and he was stuck pacing in his quarters.
Despite all this, his mind was settled on what Obi-Wan had done the night before. He ran the battle through his mind over and over again. Death stared them in the face and Obi-Wan spat back in Death’s face.
Anakin was desperate to know more.
Padme entered the room and quickly closed the door behind her. She seemed pleased with her effort, but exhausted by the ordeal of the press conference. She rested against the door and closed her eyes, glowing in her victory.
“Enjoy your time soaking in the press? Making your mark on the galaxy?” Anakin asked. He felt his anger rise like bile in his throat.
“Why are you in such a sour mood? This is the start of something tremendous! The Galactic Senate will convene at once to discuss this and we have to go to Coruscant immediately to give testimony,” Padme moved across the room toward him and smiled. “Anakin, before the day is over, you will be on the way to the Queen of the Core.”
“And what will I do there? Sit around my hotel room or shall I practice hiding in a corner?” Anakin shouted.
“Anakin, where is this coming from?” Padme asked.
He took a deep breath and looked at the floor. “Last night, when we ran into that group of soldiers, Obi-Wan acted and I just watched. When that ALC nearly blasted us into oblivion, Obi-Wan destroyed it while hardly breaking a sweat and where was I? Cowering behind a damned bench, being useless!” He kicked the foot of his bed and walked over to stare out of the window.
Padme walked across the room and placed a hand on his shoulder. “What do think you could’ve done against an armored vehicle with a Class IV cannon mounted on it? Assuming you had been able to get past its guns and actually to the ALC itself, what damage would you have caused? Anakin, you did the only thing you could’ve done. Don’t worry any more about it,” she gave him a warm smile.
“I should’ve done something. I just feel that I should’ve done…anything,” Anakin turned away from the window and looked at her. For a long moment, they just stared into each other’s eyes. Padme slowly moved toward him.
Obi-Wan Kenobi came in from the adjoining room. “I’ve been summoned back to the Jedi Temple and the senator now has an appointment with the Supreme Chancellor himself. Transportation has already been arranged and we leave in two hours. I’m sorry, did I interrupt something?”
Anakin and Padme took an instinctive step away from each other. “Jedi Kenobi, I have to talk to you,” Anakin said.
Padme stepped out of the room as Obi-Wan sat down in a chair several feet away. “Of course, but keep in mind we are on a tight deadline.”
Anakin sat down across from Obi-Wan and met the Jedi Knight’s gaze. He took a moment to collect his thoughts, then began to tell Obi-Wan exactly what he was thinking.
“What you did last night was incredible. I’ve never seen anything close to it and I want to know how you did it…and then tell me how I can do it,” Anakin said.
“What happened was the result of years of training learning how to use and control the Force. I was trained and educated at the Jedi Academy in the City of Spires on Coruscant for over a decade. Then there was the combat training and countless hours learning how to use a lightsaber so that I can be effective when I am needed to be. Perhaps, someday, you might be trained, but the Council will decide if you’re too old or not,” he smiled at Anakin.
“I’m sick of being patronized!” Anakin stood up and shouted at Obi-Wan, his fists clenched tightly. “How does the Council know I can’t be trained? Who are you to say that whatever is going on with me cannot be focused, just as it was with you? I’m ready to learn how to stop being as helpless and useless as I have my entire life!”
“Calm down, Anakin. I just meant that someone who shows Force Potential is trained at a very early age. I’m sure you have done a few minor, trivial things with the Force before, but…” he abruptly stopped speaking.
Anakin had heard enough. He had learned from Padme that there were times when words were as meaningless as a diet was to a Hutt. Clearly, Obi-Wan did not take him seriously. He stood before the Jedi Knight and shut his eyes tightly. His anger at being dismissed so easily focused the feelings within him.
Obi-Wan Kenobi grabbed on to the sides of the chair as it began to lift into the air.
The chair slowly began to rotate before Anakin felt another surge push against his own. Obi-Wan stopped himself from spinning and began to lower himself back to the ground. Anakin refused to be dismissed again and knew he simply had to prove himself beyond all doubts.
He thought of Obi-Wan patting him on the head and telling him he was a nice boy, but that was all. He thought of Padme turning her nose up at him in disgust because he would always be a nobody. Anakin regained his focus and felt the surge within him burn white-hot. Obi-Wan and the chair were almost back to the ground when they both suddenly flew sideways and slammed against the wall.
The Knight of the Republic slumped to the ground in a heap, the remains of the shattered chair all around him, a mixed look of horror and amazement on his face.
“I’m not asking to be trained, I’m telling you that I will be trained,” Anakin said in a low voice before slumping back into his chair.
He sat there, panting with the exertion. He had never been able to summon such raw power before. Obi-Wan slowly got to his feet, but did not approach Anakin at first. Instead he looked at Anakin as though he were looking through Anakin.
Finally he said, “Perhaps I have underestimated the ability within you,” they met each other’s gaze and a smile crossed Anakin’s face.
Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi left their room with one bag each. A courtesy droid was standing in the hallway waiting to take their bags down to the transport below. They were joined down in the lobby by Senator Amidala who had packed a total of eleven bags and had several droids to herself. She gave them a warning look when they eyed her pile of bags suspiciously and Anakin decided that some questions should never be asked.
As they walked across the nearly deserted lobby, one of the silver courtesy droids put one of her bags down and walked away.
Padme blew a lock of hair out of her face in frustration. “I don’t have a lot of time to deal with a malfunctioning droid,” she began to move toward the droid when Obi-Wan stopped her. Anakin also had a feeling that something about this situation wasn’t quite right. When the droid reached the rear doors, it exploded in a shower of sparks and flames. Screams filled the air as Obi-Wan moved to shield Padme from the flying debris.
“You two stay here,” Obi-Wan said. He ignited his lightsaber and then ran over to the scene of destruction.
“I’m getting real sick of hearing that,” Anakin muttered, but that feeling of imminent danger in the back of his mind would not leave him alone. He grabbed Padme by the arm and dragged her to a nearby check-in counter.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” Padme protested, but Anakin remained silent. Warning bells were ringing through his mind as he looked up to the elegent glass roof of their hotel.
Nine men burst through the ceiling, coming down on zip lines and settled in the lobby. Each man was wearing form-fitting plates of a lightweight plastoid-alloy composite dyed dark green and sealed to a black bodysuit. They all carried heavy blaster rifles. One commando was wearing solid black armor rimmed in gold.
Padme pulled out a small blaster pistol hidden in the folds of her dress and got four shots off at the commandos.
“Get the senator! Leave the Jedi!” Lieutenant Jango Fett ordered and all eight of the commandos unleashed a tremendous barrage. Padme screamed as the blaster bolts rang out all around them. Anakin frantically tried to figure out a way where they could get out of this with their skins intact. The soldiers began to move closer to the counter in a move that would out-flank the two crouching figures.
Anakin felt the fear rise within him again. Twice in only twelve hours, they were in a situation where death was literally around the corner and he felt totally helpless. The fear quickly turned to anger at their predicament. Would he always be this powerless?
The fire began to slacken as the commandos’ attention was diverted. Anakin peeked around the corner of the counter and saw the source of the distraction. Obi-Wan had sprinted back from the rear of the building, his lightsaber flashing menacingly.
Jango Fett turned to face the Jedi Knight and raised his arm. A gold pulse of energy shot out and engulfed Obi-Wan’s arm and lightsaber. The beam connected the two and Obi-Wan found his arm paralyzed. Jango grinned and flung the connected arm toward the wall, slamming the Jedi into the wall. The pulse disappeared as Obi-Wan slumped against the floor, his lightsaber extinguished.
Anakin took the opportunity to do the only thing he knew he could. With Padme protesting, he stood up and faced their attackers. They were still about fifteen meters away and they stopped firing, confused by this move. Using their moment of hesitation, Anakin used the surge he was feeling and thrust his hands outward.
Jango Fett and the remaining commandos floated twenty feet into the air and were flung toward the front entrance. The members of the Republic’s Finest soared across the lobby and crashed through the doors that led out to the street. The doors ripped off their hinges and the glass on the doors exploded from the impact.
None of the commandos rose from the street.
Obi-Wan staggered back to them. “Alderaan Security, I need a Scanning Team to our transport immediately and another dispatched to our location to search our bags for explosive or chemical devices. I also need our route to Senator Amidala’s office cleared of all traffic. My clearance code is Delta-Gamma-four-two-five-one-five.”
“Padme, are you all right?” Anakin asked as he was checking to see if any debris had hit her.
“I’m fine, but Anakin, what was that?” she asked.
“That was me saving your life,” Anakin was bent over, trying to catch his breath, but rather proud of himself.
“I don’t believe the Republic Garrison can be counted among your biggest supporters, Senator,” Obi-Wan said as he surveyed the damage.
“What would I do without you two here?” she asked. “Can I rely on your protection on Coruscant as well? I refuse to believe that this will be an isolated incident.”
“When we reach Coruscant, I fear things will have to change. I have to get Anakin to the Jedi Temple upon our landing and I cannot guarantee anything. However, so long as it is the will of the Force, we will remain at your side,” Obi-Wan gave a slight bow to her and gave Anakin a wary look.
Anakin saw Padme’s face fall upon hearing this. “What’s wrong?”
“I just never thought that you would ever leave me,” she said in a flat voice.
“I will never allow that to happen,” Anakin grabbed both of her hands.
“You won’t have much of a choice, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “She has her work to do and we have ours. The role of the Jedi is not to be a permanent bodyguard. Let’s get her to her office until Alderaan Security clears us to leave.”
“I just never thought I would be alone again,” Padme muttered.
Felic looked down at the floor in disgust. On his holo-imager, the idiot news reporter was still blabbering about Senator Amidala’s brave rescue by the heroic Jedi Knight after there was an attempt on her life. Like most sycophants in the media, he droned on and on about her as if he was her slave until Felic tuned him out.
Leave it to Republic Commandos to blunder into a situation and try to kill a manka cat with a pea-shooter. He paced back and forth until Padme herself made her statement to the press.
“Nothing shall stop the truth. Nothing shall stop that which the citizens of the Republic deserve to know. Violence has never been the Alderaanian way and the sooner evil understands that, the sooner we can send it scurrying back into the dark,” Padme said.
The girl was dangerous. Felic had been reading numerous reports suggesting, hinting, and one or two even boldly admitting that her star is on the rise with limitless possibilities. She was a political novice who had gotten very lucky. Now, with the media falling all over themselves to get near her, Felic could see the writing on the wall.
He stopped pacing and sat down at the only piece of furniture in the apartment, his desk. Felic began responding to several transmissions to contacts that he had made from his time on the Outer Rim. If he moved quickly enough, he could arrange transport for all parties and be ready on Coruscant. It was clear that a handful of soldiers and a minor diversion would be insufficient to snuff out the life of this ‘celebrity’ politician.
Felic would be far more prepared for “The Senate Wonder”.
She had no idea how to serve the people. She was completely different from another Senator from Alderaan. The true Senator. She was everything that Palpatine wasn’t. Shallow, self-centered, and more concerned with fancy parties and fundraisers than using her office to help the citizens that she served.
Republic rules dictated that there could only be one Galactic Senator from each planet. If she rose too far and too fast, then she would probably win Palpatine’s seat. When that happened, Felic would be sent back to his home planet of Cerea. That was unacceptable.
Felic shivered at the thought of returning to the planet that Palpatine had rescued him from. He owed his employer everything. He began to send out transmissions across the Republic. Now was the time to squash another bug from Alderaan before it was too late.
Felic had done it before.
Felic could do it again.
He received multiple responses over the next hour. Nearly all of them were positive including the crucial one about his baradium. He allowed a grin to creep across his face. As more and more responses came back to him, he began to charter flights from across the galaxy to Coruscant. Killing a young woman was the least he could do for one he owed his life.
General Tarkin slammed his fist on his desk as he read Lieutenant Fett’s report that was sent from the hospital. It was damn sloppy work and the only thing that angered him more than the poor execution was the fact that it was ordered in the first place.
“Senator Palpatine for you, sir.”
Even before he could respond, the holo-image shimmered and came to life. Standing on his desk was a miniature Senator Palpatine appearing to be in a very foul mood.
“Answer this question directly, General. Did you give the order to have her killed?” Palpatine asked him.
“No, Senator, I did not give the order, although I see no need to have the girl alive any longer,” Tarkin explained.
“So the men whom you command undertook the risky and dangerous operation of having a Planetary Senator, who is guarded by a Jedi Knight, murdered. Moreover, they did this without consulting their commanding officer whom never consulted me,” Palpatine’s expression had danger written on it.
“Indirectly yes, although I never actually gave the order. I am still responsible for the men under my command,” Tarkin admitted.
“General, if you had consulted me. I would’ve told you that killing a senator before she had spoken on Coruscant was foolish. I need her to become a household name from one side of the galaxy to the other. Then and only then would her murder spark the outcry we need to rip the Republic apart and finally rebuild the Armed Forces of the Republic to a proper level. No more tedious outposts, no more peacekeeping missions, and no more pointless garrisons where general officers sit behind desks forgetting what the meaning of ‘honor’ is,” Palpatine said.
“When you play Sabacc against a master, you always have an ace. My ace is about to be put into play, but only after she has played the part I need her to play. The girl will die, Tarkin, but only when I order it and not before. When I have completely used her up, I shall discard the girl.”
Palpatine terminated the transmission.
General Tarkin straightened his tunic before pressing the call button on his desk.
“Colonel Kinyon, may I have a word with you?” he growled.
Chapter XII – Intruder
Padme’s high heels clicked on her floor as she paced back at forth. Her office now seemed much smaller with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, various staffers, and numerous security personnel filling the small space.
She grew tired of hearing the phrase “for your own safety” any time she tried to answer her communicator or walk near a window. Only after threatening a man twice her size was she allowed to pace back and forth in her own office.
The office had been transformed into a fortress. Following the attempt on her life you needed to be on a pre-approved personnel list which was screened several times by Alderaan Security Personnel simply to enter the building.
To gain access to the floor where her office was, you had to pass through two separate checkpoints and submit to a Thermal Imaging Scan. Getting into the office itself required nothing short of a miracle that even Viceroy Organa needed if he wanted to come by and say hello.
Anakin tried several times to calm Padme down, but each attempt earned him a sharp look that told him that staring out the window would be more beneficial.
“I’m sorry, Senator,” her assistant said from the outer office. “There…someon…you…thi…” the intercom sputtered.
Padme rolled her eyes. “As if I wasn’t aggravated enough! I don’t need mechanical issues right now on top of everything else,” she walked toward the door.
“No, don’t!” Obi-Wan lunged for her.
The door slid open and Padme’s scream ripped the air. Anakin tried to reach for her, but he was blinded by a brilliant light that made even the Tatooine noon sky pale in comparison. When Anakin’s eyes had refocused, Obi-Wan’s lightsaber was out and Alderaan Security had their blaster pistols trained on the attacker.
This man stood just a shade under two meters tall, with thick, black hair and a scar running about an inch above and then below his left eye. Most alarming was the short, humming vibroblade that he held to Padme’s throat. Obi-Wan was tense and ready to spring, but the Jedi Knight didn’t dare make a move against her assailant.
“Please bear in mind, it gives me no pleasure to use this blade against you,” he said to Padme, but still pressed the blade against her.
He was backed into a corner, flanked by walls that prevented anyone from advancing on him from any side. Padme was now his shield that completed his protection.
“Do you know what your biggest mistake was, Senator?” the man said into her ear as a bead of sweat began to trickle down the side of her head.
“I…don’t have…a weapon,” Padme said in gasps.
“Weapons are meaningless against an assassin, Senator. You can have the most advanced blaster, sonic grenade, or flashiest lightsaber in the sector and one man with a four inch vibroblade can finish your investigation without the hassle of paperwork. You get one more chance, Senator Padme Amidala of Alderaan. Now answer the question!” His eyes flashed dangerously and Anakin made an instinctive move toward them.
“Stay there little man or Alanna will show you what the inside of a bureaucrat looks like,” his blade glinted in the light and Anakin froze. Obi-Wan locked his eyes on the narrow dagger, but also remained where he was.
“I…am…alone,” Padme whispered the truth that haunted her.
“You better believe it. Look around you! Alderaan Security fills this room, but you’re just another statesman to them. The Jedi sent one of their acolytes, but you’re just an assignment to him,” his gaze narrowed at Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“You are still alone. You will never make this mistake again because I will never leave your side,” the man said and he skillfully slid the vibroblade into a spring loaded mechanism in his sleeve. Slowly, he slackened his grip on her until Padme was able to scramble away. Anakin rushed to her and stood between Padme and her attacker.
“Who the hell are you?” Anakin shouted as security personnel grabbed the man and slapped magnetic cuffs on his wrists.
“I believe the Senator and I had an appointment? You did say you needed a personal protector, or did I misunderstand?” he asked.
Padme stepped out from behind Anakin and approached him. “You’re Khian? I was expecting something a little more…”
“Ordinary? Traditional? Sure, I could just show up with my resume just like everyone else, but I have a nasty habit of making a unique impression on beautiful women,” Khian said and smiled at her.
Anakin flushed and balled his hands into fists. “Holding a knife to her throat is supposed to make a good impression?”
“It’s okay Anakin, Jedi Kenobi, really. I’ve been expecting him,” Padme said and motioned for the security personnel to release him.
Before they could unlock the restraints, Khian handed them to Anakin. “Here kid, hold these for me,” he said with a wink.
“You said so yourself, Jedi Kenobi,” Padme said. “The role of the Jedi is not to be a permanent bodyguard. If this recent attack was to be the first of several, or many, then I need someone who can be my protector.”
Obi-Wan seemed pleased. “Very practical thinking, senator. I only wish he had tried more ‘ordinary’ means of showing us just how clever and gallant he is. I would not recommend trying the patience of Alderaan Security a second time, Mr…”
“Khian will do, just Khian. And you are Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. Second in your class at the Jedi Academy on the City of Spires on Coruscant with specialties in Alchaka, Force Persuasion to the point of dominating someone’s mind, and with a real talent for the Soresu form of lightsaber dueling. I believe Master Yoda looks upon you with great admiration as a pupil.”
“You’ve done your homework,” Padme said.
“It is essential to know everything there is to know about the people my charge is involved with. It’s also good to know the blind spot of a Class Three Thermal Imager or that Alderaan Security hasn’t changed their access cards in nine standard days.”
“And knowing how to hide your thoughts and feelings from a Jedi Knight?” Obi-Wan fixed his steely gaze on Khian again.
Khian matched the Jedi Knight’s stare. “I picked up a few tricks here and there. Oh Senator, once they figure out how to lift my dampening field, they’ll let you know your ship is free of explosives and you can leave for Coruscant at your discretion.”
“Show-off,” Anakin muttered.
Padme grinned. “You’ve got the job,” she said and they shook hands.
Anakin peered out the window from the bridge of The Bucket and watched Alderaan until it was completely out of sight. That place was filled with such beauty that he made it a point to try and return there someday.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan called.
Behind him, a monitor was playing the latest broadcast from the Galactic Senate. The outrage over the discovery of the cloning facility had evolved. Senator Palpatine was giving a speech to reporters in front of a wide bank of microphones. He was condemning the facility and promising to lead an investigation to find out whom within the Republic gave the order to construct the cloning facility. The people at the press conference cheered as Anakin stared out the bridge window at the vast expanse beyond.
Padme had locked herself away in her quarters the moment they had gotten onboard. The readouts from the bridge showed that there were a flurry of transmissions both to and from Coruscant all addressed to her. Communications came from lower ranking diplomats arranging her reception and transportation, numerous transmissions from Senator Palpatine and even from the Office of the Supreme Chancellor.
The more isolated he was from Padme, the more Anakin longed to see her again. If he could only sit in her quarters while she worked, or just hear her voice, or even pass her in the hallway. Even glimpsing her for a handful of moments was preferable to being totally cut off from her.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan called again.
He had also warmed to Khian after their initial encounter. Khian had spent a good deal of his time re-arranging Padme’s schedule, shifting her transportation arrangements, and running his own background check on everyone she would come into contact with on Coruscant. Anakin had learned that not only was Khian a deadly warrior, but he knew the best strategy to winning a hand of Sabacc.
“Never get caught cheating,” he shared with a grin.
“Anakin!” Obi-Wan’s voice echoed in his mind.
Anakin had to tear himself away from the view and walk down the bridge to join Obi-Wan. Since they had boarded the ship, Obi-Wan had hardly left his side. It was incredibly welcome to have such attention shown to him for the first time in his young life, but to have so much all at once almost made him uncomfortable.
“Look around the bridge, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said to him, gesturing around the small room.
“Everything has a life force of its own. Through that energy, you can feel the Force. Even the protocol and service droids are surrounded by the Force even though they are not alive. The Force is, and always shall be, everywhere. You can stretch out with your feelings and use the Force in different ways. Lifting objects and moving them around are but a fraction of how you can manipulate the Force and use it to benefit yourself and others,” Obi-Wan explained.
“Let me try again,” Anakin asked.
“No, I don’t want you tempted to use the Force again until you are seen by the Council. Please understand that you are untrained and using the Force without fully knowing what you’re doing could result in someone being hurt or even killed.”
Anakin had already begun to close his eyes and let his feelings roam the bridge. With more clarity than before, Anakin could feel the few members of the bridge crew. Then he reached out a little further and could actually feel the Force around them. Once he had done this, it was like touching a live wire and more than ever Anakin wanted to grab hold of that wire with everything he had.
Then abruptly it was gone and his eyes snapped open. Obi-Wan was staring very intensely at him. “I said no, Anakin. You’re not ready for what awaits you.”
The rage built up inside Anakin again as questions raced through his mind. Who was Obi-Wan to decide what he can and can’t do? He can instantly judge Anakin and know his life? Nothing had gone wrong when he saved Padme’s life! Anakin felt the surge, but this time he had knowledge of the Force. He could feel the Force around the bridge crew, the droids, the consoles, the entire ship was there! All he had to do was reach out…
Anakin felt as though a sledgehammer had hit him in the gut and went straight through to his soul. He crumpled to the ground in a miserable heap before Obi-Wan.
“I’m sorry Anakin, but you have to realize your limits. If you use the Force with no control, you hurt people. Don’t you realize that you could have killed those commandos? Or that you could have killed Aiya during the Tatooine race?” Anakin looked up to see the disappointment in Obi-Wan’s eyes. The seriousness of what he had done sank upon him for the first time.
Anakin was mindlessly wandering the decks of The Bucket, waiting for that awful feeling in his gut, and his conscience, to leave. He found himself in the engineering section, watching crewmen checking various screens and readouts to ensure the ship functioned at maximum efficiency.
He enjoyed hearing the “thrum” of the engines and mechanics was something he could understand. He felt like he was back in the hangar bay on Tatooine. He was surrounded by ships, engines, and mechanics. The nostalgia was very comforting to him.
“Hey kid, what brings you down here?” a familiar voice asked.
Anakin looked around, but could not see where Khian was. He felt a tap on leg and his eyes shot down to the floor. Khian was lying underneath a computer console, a tangle of wires hanging above his head. A nearby engineer threw a nasty look in his direction.
“What are you doing on the floor?” Anakin asked.
“At the moment, I’m re-working the senator’s transportation arrangements when we land on Coruscant. She’s still too exposed to sniper fire going along so many tall buildings. The problem with Coruscant is that every building is practically a starscraper so that’s why I’m down here,” Khian replied.
“Re-wiring half the ship’s systems helps with that?” Anakin asked.
Khian stuck his head out from under the console. “Messing with mechanics helps me think. Haven’t you ever needed to re-work something with your hands just so you could re-work something in your head?”
“Now that I think about it, I don’t think there was ever anything wrong with the power coupling on my ship,” Anakin’s thoughts strayed back to the innumerable hours Owen had spent under the Volo.
Khian pulled himself out from under the console and sat up to look at Anakin.
“You look half-dead. What brings a strapping young lad like you down to the bowels of this fine vessel?”
“Obi-Wan just taught me a lesson in restraint,” Anakin replied and instinctively clutched his sides.
“Restraint?” Khian prodded.
“He keeps telling me I have this great talent and potential with the Force, but then says the Council doesn’t want me pushing myself. He says it could be dangerous,” Anakin said with a hint of amusement in his voice.
“Well I like a little bit of danger. Just how lethal can a kid like you be?” Khian asked.
“Obi-Wan says I can punch a hole in the ship and kill us all,” Anakin said, the amusement gone from his voice.
Khian shook his head and sighed. “The Jedi have always measured potential in a weird way. But I tell ya what, let’s try this instead. Get me that wire splicing kit over there,” Khian pointed to a small grey tool kit on a table on the far side of the room.
Anakin began walking over when Khian stopped him. “I didn’t say hand it to me. Use that super incredible power you claim you got and get it for me,” Khian waited.
“But Obi-Wan said…”
“Obi-Wan said the Council didn’t want you punching holes in the side of the ship, which I just happen to agree with. However, I don’t see the Council here and I don’t see the kit near a bulkhead.”
“Well yeah, but I don’t think…”
“Listen kid, all I’m asking is that you snag that kit and bring it here. You don’t need to stop a star from going nova,” Khian said with a bit of annoyance.
Anakin thought for a moment. Surely this wouldn’t be that difficult? Obi-Wan was worried about him going beyond himself and destroying the ship, but all Khian wanted was a simple kit. He began to close his eyes, but stopped himself and remembered that feeling when Obi-Wan stopped him.
“No. I really don’t want to go against Obi-Wan on this. I definitely do not want a repeat of what happened earlier,” Anakin clutched at his sides again.
“That’s fine,” Khian shrugged and started to get up. “I guess that little incident back at the hotel was just a fluke. I assume you’re allowed to tuck yourself in at night too? Or are you still waiting for the Council to say you’re a big enough boy to do that on your own? If you can’t get a kit, I’m sure you can’t get the girl either,” Khian began walking over to the table.
The kit twitched for only a moment and then it soared toward Khian. His hand flew up and grabbed it out of the air. It struck his hand with an audible “smack”. Khian slowly turned to look at Anakin.
“And the ship didn’t explode after all,” Khian and Anakin burst into laughter.
He could feel the hatred and anger even before he walked into the room. Those feelings flooded him when he opened the door and saw the five clones standing in the room. They all whirled around to look at him.
He drank from their hate and felt renewed.
The circular room also held three racks of weapons that begged to be used. They contained lethal armaments that varied from simple blades and axes to blasters, rifles, and other more torturous means of killing someone. Thankfully, all the weapons were secured by force fields; otherwise, the clones might have killed each other before he was allowed to.
“This is what you’ve brought for me? This is the culmination of your efforts?” Darth Maul said as he looked up toward a balcony high above. A tall man with pale blue eyes stood there wearing a crisp white uniform.
“They represent the finest my team has produced thus far. I’m sorry to say that they outshine me in every possible category,” Major Issic said.
“A child could ‘outshine’ you. Your genetic freaks do not impress me,” Darth Maul said.
The clones began to shower him with the usual questions. This part always bored him with its predictability.
“Where are we?” “Who the blazes are you?” “What are we doing here?”
When he remained silent, with his hood still up, the clones stopped questioning and began threatening. The anger filled the room to a point where any other person might be drowning in it. Instead, Darth Maul drank even deeper from the pool of hate.
He raised a hand and they all stopped talking.
“All you have to do is get past me and into the hallway. If you can do that, you can go free this very day with no questions asked,” Darth Maul allowed his smile to fade.
“I walk through the door and there are no more invasive tests? No more sterile lab? Sounds good to me!” one of the clones said. He walked directly toward Darth Maul in large strides.
Darth Maul raised his hand and the othes gasped in horror as the clone rose into the air. He made gurgling sounds as Darth Maul closed his hand and felt the man’s windpipe begin to constrict. With a simple wave of his hand, the clone slammed into a wall.
Never taking his eyes off of the other clones in the room, Darth Maul reached out with the Force and snapped both the clone’s legs in fourteen places.
The agony the clone was in was simply exquisite. His screaming was a symphony of sound. As the room began to stink with the smell of fear, Darth Maul slammed the clone in to the wall headfirst, his nose shattering against the steel plate. He kept his hand up as the clone hit the wall again, and again, and again. This continued until Darth Maul was bored with this demonstration. The clone dropped from the air and then slumped against the concrete floor.
The force fields disappeared as Darth Maul pulled his hood down.
“Then it begins,” he said.
The top of Darth Maul’s head was lined red and black with small horns protruding in a ring. He grinned at the prospect of combat, revealing a row of pointed teeth. The robe dropped to reveal a leather duster, a large belt, gloves, boots, and shirt all as black as the soul that inhabited his body. A large metallic object hung from his belt.
The four remaining clones immediately went for the weapons. One of them pulled out a large axe and swung it over his head. He screamed manically and charged Darth Maul at top speed. The clone swung the axe and Darth Maul sidestepped the lethal blow.
He used the clone’s momentum against him. Darth Maul grabbed the clone’s arm, broke it, and flipped the clone to the ground. He stomped on the clone’s neck with his boot, breaking it instantly.
Darth Maul was able to sense the blaster bolt coming toward him in time to dodge it. He used the Force to pull the rifle away from a dark-skinned clone. Darth Maul shattered the rifle and held the fragmented pieces in front of the astonished clone.
The shrapnel flew into the face of its former holder. The clone tried to pull pieces of the blaster out of his face as he shrieked in pain. Darth Maul felt he was being merciful when he lifted the clone up and threw him onto the point of a spear that a bearded clone had just grabbed.
He reveled in seeing the bearded clone’s look of horror as he stared the dark-skinned clone in the eyes and watched the death throes. The spear clattered to the floor as he reached for a different weapon.
Darth Maul turned his attention to another clone who was crouching against the wall, waiting for an opportunity to strike with an E-11 Blaster Rifle. Darth Maul used the Force to seize the steel plate that the clone was standing against and pull the entire panel away from the wall. He slammed both it and the clone against the opposing wall at a tremendous speed. The clone’s body sounded with a sickening crunch as he was sandwiched between the two pieces of steel.
Darth Maul turned his full attention to his remaining opponent. Another bearded clone that looked petrified, hugged a corner of the room. He glanced nervously at the devastation around him.
“You reek of fear, you pathetic wretch, and I am growing bored,” Darth Maul grinned and pulled the long metal object from his black belt. Holding it in front of him, he ignited his lightsaber and the red blade hummed. Darth Maul waited a moment and let the Force fill him as the fear of the creature sang to him like a great aria, and then he charged.
He crossed the room in a few moments and swung his blade directly at the clone’s neck…
The piece of vermin that should be lying headless at his feet had propelled himself fifteen feet into the air and landed behind Darth Maul.
The Lord of the Sith slowly turned and looked at his opponent in a new way. He no longer saw him as a target, but as a possibility. The former target now looked as surprised as he was scared.
This creature had created a disturbance in the Force.
“Do that again,” Darth Maul hissed.
The clone looked very confused. He twitched nervously and his eyes glanced from Darth Maul’s pointed smile to the lightsaber and back.
“You just extended your life by thirty seconds by avoiding my killing blow. Now, avoid it again. Prove yourself worthy to me,” Darth Maul said.
He let the Force guide his lightsaber into the air and into the chest of the clone. The bearded figure crumpled to the floor as he retrieved the blade.
He looked up at Major Issic. “That’s it? This is the height of your research?”
The major leaned forward on the rail. “This is the top of the line model. You will not find a finer quality clone anywh…”
“Disappointing,” Darth Maul said.
“We’re doing our best. I have forty-three of the finest minds in the Republic working around the clock. They have produced twenty-seven clones and you have dispatched them all. You have also created quite a mess each time that my crew is less than pleased to clean after you leave,” Major Issic said looking around the room.
“Your team will have to learn to deal with failure. You will also learn that lesson if you continue to disappoint me. Why are there so few clones ready for my inspection?” Darth Maul asked.
“You want me to clone something using extremely volatile material. Not only that, but the quality of the material we have was, until recently, very poor,” Major Issic cast his eyes down upon the floor.
“Your excuses fascinate me,” Darth Maul’s sarcasm pierced the major.
“For example, you have killed twenty-seven clones. With the facility we have here, the finest minds in the Republic have over five thousand failures. Our success rate hovers between half of a percent and a full percent. We need time,” he said.
“Do you understand the nature of this project? Do you fully comprehend just what all this is for? The funding? The scientists? The secrecy? I need these clones and I need them soon,” Darth Maul said.
“War is coming to the Republic. Senator Amidala is moving faster than I anticipated. I have System Regents, Planetary Magistrates, and Galactic Senators across the Outer Rim panicked by fear and rampant paranoia. The entire Republic is on the verge of being torn apart. The last piece I require is the clone you can produce. Bring me my weapon, Major Issic, and I will unleash your vengeance,” Darth Maul continued.
“I was able to acquire material far superior to what we had before. I promise you, Darth Maul, we will be able to advance our research. You will have your weapon,” Major Issic vowed.
“Then it begins.”
Chapter XIII – Arrivals
Anakin thought he could see no other sights that could take his breath away. He had seen the moons of Tatooine in a great conjunction while lying down in the depths of Beggar’s Canyon. The sight of space itself and the endless sea of stars was incredible. Anakin thought that seeing the beauty of planet Alderaan was beyond words.
Nothing he had seen before prepared him for the sight that greeted him as he stood at his favorite viewing point at forefront of the bridge as they came out of hyperspace.
The planet Coruscant came into view and was the largest and strangest planet he had ever seen. This planet was entirely artificial and almost completely devoid of natural life. As they came in on the dark side of the planet, Anakin could see this half of the planet was entirely lit up from pole to pole. The entire world had become one giant city with regional identities. The amount of traffic that orbited this massive world was staggering. Anakin didn’t have time to look at one vessel before another would pass between them, or a larger one would garner his attention, or speedy fighters and shuttles would zip past.
He wished he had forty pairs of eyes so that maybe then he could take it all in at once. In just a handful of moments, Anakin saw four other red-painted Consular-class diplomatic vessels, two vicious looking Gonzati cruisers, a flight of seven Scimitar class long range transports, several triangle shaped Corellian Star Shuttles, a convoy of large, lumbering AA-9 freighters, and even a shapely and beautiful H-27 Nubian Yacht.
“Jedi Kenobi, our escort is approaching,” Captain Sesta announced.
“Very well, begin your landing cycle,” Obi-Wan instructed.
Four Z-95 Headhunter class starfighters shot past the nose of The Bucket and split into two different wings to take positions at the bow and stern. Anakin had a seat and strapped himself in next to Obi-Wan.
“Consular transport one-five-eight-four-two, this is Republic Naval Escort Delta Squadron. Stand easy and follow the two fighters across your bow, we’ll guide you in from here,” a pilot’s voice announced.
“Acknowledged, Delta One, you have the lead,” Aiya Rios said and Anakin felt the ship re-orient itself toward the planet.
“Rest easy young Skywalker,” Jedi Kenobi said. “By this time tomorrow you will be before the Jedi Council itself. The twelve Jedi Masters who make up the Council shall test you and then decide if you will indeed be trained in the Jedi Arts.”
As the ship began its initial descent into the atmosphere, Obi-Wan’s words did nothing to put him at ease. As they neared the spaceport, Anakin was stunned by what he saw waiting for them to land.
There was a red carpet leading from where they would land leading up to a platform where more than a few dignitaries were standing. On either side of the carpet was a laser barrier holding back a crowd of people on either side waiting for the senator to land. In front of the barrier were at least twenty soldiers dressed in solid black armored uniforms, eyeing the crowd suspiciously. Anakin leaned against a bulkhead as the mob’s emotions rolled over him.
“I feel it too,” Obi-Wan put a hand on Anakin’s shoulder. “I’ll see you through this.”
The ship landed on the platform and the exit ramp slowly lowered. Four of the soldiers came onboard and stood where Obi-Wan, Anakin, Khian, and Padme were preparing to disembark.
“Senator Amidala, we are your escort through the crowd and up to where Senator Palpatine and Supreme Chancellor Valorum are waiting for you. From there, you will be escorted to your quarters at the Republic Estates. We will escor…”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t need an escort,” Amidala interrupted.
The soldier could not hide his shocked look. “Senator, there have been threats made against you by multiple factions from across the Outer Rim.”
“Why wasn’t I told? Khian interjected.
“You weren’t told? Why wasn’t I told?” Padme asked.
“Perhaps you didn’t see the crowd outside? The attack on Alderaan might have shown you how inflammatory this can be. Perhaps this will demonstrate how widespread this can be. Please keep your heads low and stand next to one of us at all times, even you Jedi Kenobi,” the soldier instructed them all.
They departed the ship and the murmur of the crowd evolved into a roar. Anakin could clearly see that the side to his left was clearly upset over the presence of the cloning facility on Alderaan. The opposite side was also roaring, but their protest centered on her images being faulty or that Amidala was purposely trying to stir up trouble and antagonize people within the Republic. Obi-Wan kept his hand at his belt, just in case his lightsaber was needed.
Anakin couldn’t help but feel weary from so many strong emotions hit him as they walked up the carpet to where the dignitaries were waiting for them. Anakin shook more hands than he could count from people he would never be able to remember.
When Anakin shook Senator Palpatine’s hand, he felt a tingle within him when they made contact that extended from his hand up his arm. He looked deep into Palpatine’s eyes for what seemed an eternity, although it only lasted a moment. In that moment, he could feel those eyes bore into him maliciously. They broke their contact and Palpatine went to escort Senator Amidala away as though nothing had happened.
He started to follow Padme, but Obi-Wan held him by the shoulder. “Our path does not lie with politicians, Anakin.”
Anakin took one last look at Padme being led away by Senator Palpatine and nearly surrounded by other senators, diplomats, and dignitaries. All of them were bombarding her with questions. Khian looked at each one of them as if they were concealing some sort of lethal device. Through the crowd, however, he saw Padme look back at him over her shoulder and smile.
Seeing her smile emboldened him enough to face an army of Jedi Masters.
Felic noticed how the eyes were constantly scanning the crowd for danger. No doubt this man would be an obstacle, but not an impossible one. He made a note of Khian’s name before putting the pad of paper back into his briefcase.
After the gathering broke up, Felic walked a little slower back to Palpatine’s office to finish the day’s work. His mind whirled with possibilities. She was here now, on Coruscant. No doubt Padme would be eyeing the spacious offices and wondering how quickly she could begin campaigning to take Palpatine’s seat in the Galactic Senate.
A few blocks from the office, a man bumped into Felic. They exchanged the usual, fake apologies before resuming their paths.
Felic ducked into a side alley before opening the scrap of paper the man had placed in his pocket during the accident. The paper felt so good in his hands. So…natural.
“He suspects, summon SD.”
Felic swallowed the scrap before resuming his leisurely stroll.
“Stay close to me, Anakin. You are about to enter the hallowed grounds of the Jedi Temple. I know many of the Jedi you will see here so don’t do anything that might embarrass me,” Obi-Wan advised.
“How could I possibly embarrass you?” Anakin asked.
“You have a point. I wasn’t at all embarrassed when I asked you not to touch anything and then you reached out and tapped the glass of a cloning tank,” Obi-Wan grinned.
“How long are you going to remind me of that?” Anakin sighed.
“Anakin, if you ever become a Jedi Master and sit on the Jedi High Council and you’ve taught many Padawans who then go on to shape the future of the galaxy, then I might consider letting it slide,” Obi-Wan’s grin spread even wider.
They walked up the steps to the Formal Entrance to the Jedi Temple and Anakin felt a sense of awe and wonder fill him. Standing in perfect symmetry were giant statues of the Four Masters of the Jedi Order. The two inner statues represented the Sage Masters and had their arms folded in deep thought. The two outer statues represented the Warrior Masters and held their lightsabers high into the air. At the top of the stairs, various groups of Jedi were congregating and carrying on discussions.
Moving past the impressive entrance, Anakin was stunned at the number of Jedi and the activity that the cavernous hallway held. Everywhere he looked there were men and women of all ages and species walking around them. Occasionally, one would stop and say a greeting to Jedi Kenobi.
A group of students who Anakin guessed was eight years of age were crowded around two other students who were only a few years older. The older ones were making objects spin around a column very quickly. Suddenly, one of the younger boys rose into the air and joined the objects whizzing around the column. The group broke into cheers as the boy bounced off of one column and over to another and began whirling around that one.
Another boy rose into the air and the two older boys bounced the objects and the younger boys off of the columns like pinballs and they soared across the room. Others stopped and watched the boys and the objects finally join up in the middle of the room. They formed their own column and began to spin very quickly. The two younger kids’s laughs turned to shrieks as they spun faster and faster as the older boys laughed.
“Taran, Therrik, enough of this!” A voice called out as a much older man strode across the hall.
“The Force is not to be used as a practical joke,” he said sternly. “Don’t you all have someplace to be?” he addressed the crowd.
Eventually, the crowd began to disperse and the boys were lowered to the ground. The further Anakin walked with Obi-Wan, the fewer people Anakin saw. They finally stopped and boarded an elevator. As it rose to the top of one of the spires, Anakin began to feel nervousness rise within him as well.
“Relax, remember the techniques we discussed. You need to remain calm, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said.
“They have to see it my way, Jedi Kenobi. The Council has to see that I must be trained. This is the best thing to ever happen to me and I want to learn as much about it as I can. They just have to agree,” Anakin said as they walked down a long hallway with a pair of large doors at the end.
“I will speak to the Council on your behalf, but you must have patience. Even if they do agree, there will be much to discuss. Should you be placed with the other Jedi Hopefuls? That would be very awkward because you are many, many years older than they are although your skill level would be similar. Shall we place you with Padawans waiting for a Knight to take them as their apprentice? You would be older than many of them and well behind in your skill of using and understanding the nature of the Force,” Obi-Wan explained.
“Jedi Kenobi, couldn’t I just be your apprentice? You know what I’m capable of and you’ve already been with me for so long and been with me through so much,” Anakin looked at Obi-Wan as they neared the doors to the Council Chambers.
“To be honest, I would enjoy having you as a Padawan. I cannot help but be impressed with your potential. But I have just become a Knight of the Republic not too long ago. I am not sure if they will allow it.” Seeing Anakin’s frown, he added, “But should the discussion lean that way, I will ask if you can be my first Padawan. Now please, calm yourself, Anakin.”
“Sure, I can relax because Jedi Masters who have about a million years experience are going to talk about me behind closed doors and wonder whether or not my life will revolve around the most important thing to ever happen to me. Yeah, I can just lean back and whistle a happy tune now.” Anakin began to sweat a little as they stopped in front of the doors to the Council Chambers.
“The Council and I have much to discuss apart from you. The discovery of the cloning tanks and the subsequent investigation will have galactic ramifications. You will wait outside until we are ready to see you. Don’t worry, my friend, I’m sure it won’t be long. Oh, and Anakin, if they ask you any questions and you don’t know the answer, just be humble and say ‘it would be an honor to serve the Republic,’” and he stepped inside.
“I will be your Padawan, Jedi Kenobi. I will accept no other,” Anakin said in a low voice.
One hour later, Anakin paced up and down in front of the doorway leading to the Council Chambers in the Jedi Temple. He tried so many times to practice what Obi-Wan had taught him.
“There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity,”
Anakin chanted over and over again. He knew it was only a piece of the Jedi Code, but the last line about death didn’t seem very relevant unless the High Council were discussing ways to make it relevant. When a group of Jedi Masters who had more knowledge of the Force than anyone else was deciding your fate, this was enough to block any meditation technique from calming the pounding from within his chest.
He continued pacing while Obi-Wan was inside, hopefully pleading his case. Every time Anakin thought about stretching out with the Force, he stopped himself. The temptation to just feel out and reach inside the Council’s Chambers was nearly overwhelming him and he had to fight his own desires and force patience into his mind.
Two hours had passed and Obi-Wan had not come out yet. More than once, Anakin wanted to ask one of the passing protocol droids to “accidentally” wander in and ask if they even remembered he was still there. Instead, he continued his pacing.
After a third hour, Anakin was nearly going out of his mind. Finally, the door to the chambers opened and an older Jedi appeared. He was a green skinned Nautolan standing less than two meters tall with very large, solid black eyes and fourteen green tentacles extending away from his head. He fingered the silver lightsaber at his side and stared curiously at Anakin, sizing him up with his unblinking, obsidian eyes.
“You have very little patience for someone so attuned to the Force. Has it always been so?” He asked at last.
Anakin stood there, staring dumbfounded into his large eyes.
“I mean, when you were an infant, were you like this or did you become impatient after leaving the crib?” Before Anakin could answer this odd question, another voice came from within the chambers.
“There will be time for questions later, Master Fisto,” a deep voice said.
Jedi Master Fisto stepped aside and motioned Anakin into the room. Anakin Skywalker took a deep breath and then entered the Council Chambers for the Jedi High Council.
Chapter XIV – Knights and Pawns
Koth Styemms sat down at the terminal with a frown on his face. He was experienced in removing information from computer databases all over this sector of space. However, putting information in the system was very different and proving to be more difficult than he first thought.
He checked the readout on his SB-20 droid and continued working. This had to be one of the more unusual requests he had gotten from a client, but he didn’t ask questions. Smugglers ask questions, not slicers and certainly not one aspiring to be the best in the sector.
“SB, run a check on the internal scanners again and make sure that we’re alone. I don’t want another repeat of that little ‘accident’ with the wookiees on Kashyyk,” Koth said. “When you’re done there, run another back-trace so we’ve covered ourselves well enough.”
The Bothan’s fur rippled in concentration. He was well beyond slicing into merchant accounts or rigging starfighter races. This was a job that would catapult him into legendary status. Finally, his talents would be used by some of the best (and best paying) people on the black market.
When he had first constructed a working computer at the age of three, he knew he was destined for the world of electronics. Over the years, that knack had evolved into a trade that he was plying throughout the digital galaxy. Only missed opportunities and bad luck had stopped his reputation from being known in every back alley and slicer’s den in the galaxy. This time, everything would be different.
His SB-20 droid had a positive report on everything. No personnel were around to disturb his work and the one trace that was done was simply a routine security sweep. The false network he set up had it completely fooled.
The minutes ticked by as his work continued. Nearly an hour later, SB chirped at him.
Koth patted the droid on its metallic head. “Almost there, little byte. All that’s left is a little careful backtracking to make sure no one can even tell I was ever here,” his brow furrowed as his concentration intensified.
He checked to make sure he had added the travel orders, personal logs, meal vouchers, financial transactions and everything else his client had asked for. As an added bonus for authenticity, he sliced into a meeting between multiple heads of state and added a few things to their agenda.
Then he double checked his work to make sure it met not only with current Republic codes, but the timetables were correct as well. One missed detail meant sloppy work and no one ever paid for sloppiness. Finally he set his sights on one last assignment that was apart from the others. One that his employer was very, very specific on.
Finally, he sat back and sighed. The job was absolutely perfect, without a doubt his finest achievement. He disconnected the SB-20 droid and replaced the socket guard on the terminal. All that was left was to make contact and collect the rest of his pay. He keyed the completion code into his transmitter and left the room. He made sure to put the tunic of the technician he “borrowed” back on and that the false name tag was in view. Whistling to himself, he and SB-20 walked out of the Republic Data Center with not so much as a second glance from security.
Koth took the Mass Transit System and finally let a smile creep upon his face. As the buildings whipped by him, he chuckled quietly to himself. It took a great deal of restraint to stop himself from laughing loudly and drawing attention to himself. His financial future, his career, his legacy, they were all secure now.
He stepped off the MTS and walked over to a quiet alley and waited for his client. The SB-20 droid whistled a warning and he tensed automatically. Seconds later, a man in a dark cloak and hood pulled up over his head appeared out of the shadows. He approached Koth Styemms slowly.
“You indicated that the job is completed?” the man asked.
“It has to be the best job I have ever done. It also has to be the most unusual job, but still a masterful job. Now where’s the rest of my pay?” Koth asked, his eyes narrowing.
“You will wait while I ensure the job is of the quality I am looking for,” the client pulled out a digital tablet and began to key in a series of commands. Koth nervously looked around for a minute before the man returned his attention to the slicer.
“The orders are flawless, the work impeccable, and everything I want appears to be there in every detail,” the man finally said.
“Making heads of state look bad is one thing, but I’ve never had someone plant transmissions on his own assistant before. Especially ones so…incriminating. I assume Senator Palpatine has good reason for that,” Koth said.
The hooded man only grunted in reply while he checked his tablet.
“So now I can get paid for quality work?” Koth said with an air of annoyance.
“Absolutely,” the man said and pulled his hood back revealing a black and red streaked face with small horns protruding from the top of his head in a circle. He raised his hand to be eye level with Koth and squeezed the air.
Koth began to make soft choking noises. He grabbed at his throat and struggled to draw in any air at all. His SB droid made a tremendous noise, beeping and chirping and spinning in a circle. With his other hand, Darth Maul used the Force to rip the top off of the droid. Koth Styemms looked on in horror as the droid fell over in a shower of sparks.
He tried to move toward the man, but found his strength leaving his body. Still, he managed to take a few steps toward his murderer. Darth Maul’s eyes glinted in delight. He dropped to one knee, but still reached out toward his former client. In response, his killer squeezed his hand until it closed into a fist.
Koth Styemms heard his windpipe crack shortly before he fell over and let death take him. The last thing he saw in this life was his killer standing over him, clearly enjoying himself.
Anakin thought that his heart was going to beat itself right out of his chest. He was standing on a golden floor in the middle of a circular room. The floor was two circles, the outer circle was gold with red markings and the inner circle was red with gold markings. Sitting in chairs with low backs to them in an almost full circle around him were the twelve members of the Jedi High Council. A number of objects were in front of him ranging from four small red balls to rocks and another chair. Obi-Wan Kenobi was standing in a corner, mute and unmoving.
“Anakin Skywalker, you have been brought before the Jedi High Council to see if you have the necessary ability with the Force to be trained as a Jedi Knight of the Republic. If you do, then you will be admitted to the Jedi Academy and be trained in the ways of the Force,” Jedi Master Mace Windu said.
Anakin couldn’t help but notice how Master Windu didn’t mention what would happen if he didn’t pass this test. He swallowed a little and tried to mentally prepare himself for whatever was coming next.
“We will put you through a series of tests starting with the most basic of trials. After which we will discuss your future,” Mace Windu continued.
“Now comes the fun part,” Anakin muttered. But hardly had the words left his mouth before all four of the balls began to hover into the air. One of them shot towards him and Anakin had just barely time to move his head out of the way. A second moved towards his chest and Anakin jumped to one side as the Masters looked on. The third and fourth moved together at incredible speeds and tried to come at him from opposite angles. Anakin dodged one and plucked the other out of the air. He dropped to all fours to avoid one, and then rolled over flat on his back as one narrowly grazed his forehead.
The three remaining red balls continued their assault on Anakin. They came at him from different sides, angles, and speeds, trying to keep him off balance. He had managed to use his reflexes to keep from getting pummeled by the Jedi’s test. He knew he couldn’t keep dodging them forever, something had to be done.
“This is pointless,” Anakin said to himself.
He felt the remaining three balls coming toward him. He flung the ball he had in his grip toward one and when the two collided they both dropped to the ground. The other two increased their speed and aimed directly for his chest. Anakin reached out with the Force again to increase their speed so that they overshot him. As the balls blew past his shoulders, he whirled around to see that he overestimated how much influence with the Force he needed and both balls shot through a window on the far side of the Council Chambers, shattering it instantly and vanishing from sight.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Anakin said to the Council. “I’ll pay for that! I’ll stay here and fix it myself if I have to!” he said quickly.
The Masters exchanged looks. “The window is of no importance,” Master Windu said.
The green skinned Master Kit Fisto stood up and walked toward Anakin Skywalker with a helmet in his hand. He then closed his eyes for just a moment, and four additional Kit Fistos appeared. All five of the Jedi Masters grinned at the perplexed Anakin.
“You must determine which one is real,” Mace Windu said.
“Well that’s easy!” Anakin exclaimed. “He never moved at all!”
“I wasn’t finished,” Kit Fisto said and walked toward Anakin and placed the helmet on Anakin’s head. The helmet had a blast shield that blocked his entire vision. Anakin now had to pick the real Jedi Master out of the lineup totally blind.
He heard the five Fistos slowly walking in a circle around him. While Anakin was thinking, trying to figure out which one was which, he heard their pace quicken and they also changed direction at random moments. Anakin turned where he stood; trying to determine which one was the real Jedi Master. He tried to figure it out by listening to their footfalls. Perhaps the real one would have real footsteps? After a few minutes, they were walking very fast now and Anakin was thoroughly confused. He knew that this too had to be a pointless exercise if he used conventional means to succeed. Anakin closed his eyes and concentrated on the Force.
The instant he began to use the Force to flesh out the real Master Fisto, he heard five snap-hiss sounds and a humming filled the air. He panicked for a split moment as he envisioned five Jedi Masters with lightsabers ignited circling him and his hold on the Force evaporated.
The five Jedi Masters began to swing their lightsabers in his direction. Anakin instinctively ducked and dived as he felt the blades whirl past him. He was totally blind now; the Force and his sight were gone. All he could do was imagine one of those green blades slicing into his head.
One of the blades finally struck home and Anakin felt a searing pain in his leg just below the knee. He dropped to one knee and clutched the leg in pain. Surprisingly, there was no gaping wound in that leg. Another blade struck his shoulder and again he cried out in pain. Anakin knew that he must be being hit by the “fake” Masters, but if he was hit too many times or if one hit his head, he wouldn’t last too long even if he wasn’t being hit by an actual lightsaber.
The five Kit Fistos turned their walk into a jog and Anakin shook the panic from his head. He dropped all the fear from his mind and stretched out with the Force yet again. He could feel the doppelgangers melt away until the five Jedi Masters jogging around him with lightsabers blazing, were reduced to only one. As one of the blades swung for his head, he reached out and grabbed the robe of the real Jedi Master.
Anakin felt the helmet being lifted off him and his first image was a grinning Kit Fisto. The Jedi Master’s obsidian eyes glinted in the light. “Not bad, kid,” he patted Anakin on the shoulder.
“And now Anakin, we have one more trial for you today,” Mace Windu said as Kit Fisto sat back down. “Just relax, Master Yoda won’t take long.”
Anakin took a deep breath and tried to prepare for the next taxing trial.
“How feel you?” A soft voice asked.
Anakin nearly jumped on the spot. While Mace Windu’s voice was deep and strong, this voice was soft, almost curious in nature. Yet it held such confidence and conviction that Anakin knew instantly to be serious with the small, green Jedi Master sitting in the center of the circle looking at Anakin with great interest. The entire Council seemed to melt away and he felt as though he and Yoda were the only two in the room.
“I don’t understand,” Anakin responded.
“Physical in nature, not all trials are,” the small Master replied. “Mental, spiritual, more important trials these can be. How feel you?” He asked again, pointing a gnarled wooden cane at Anakin.
“A little tired, sir. I’ve never done anything quite like this before back home,” Anakin admitted.
“Miss your home, do you?” the Jedi Master asked.
Anakin pushed thoughts of Owen out of his mind. “Not really, there wasn’t much for me to miss. I was very glad that Jedi Kenobi didn’t send me back to that waste of space. I’m looking forward to…looking forward,” Anakin said.
“As a Jedi, much accomplishment you hope for?” He asked Anakin.
“I can do amazing things with the Force and I know that I can do much more when I am trained,” the Masters exchanged glances again. “We’re only given one life, sir. With the Force, I know I will do great things and become something incredible,” Anakin swelled up with pride.
Yoda sighed. “Much ambition I sense in you. To recklessness your ambition leads you. Fear too, there is. Fear of failure, fear of your future, fear of anonymity.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to do your best? Master, people have been holding me back my whole life. For the first, and perhaps the only time in my life, I can be something other than a nobody from the planet known throughout the galaxy as “Nowhere”. I have a future here, a real future!” Anakin had to stop himself; his hands were slightly shaking and were balled up into fists.
In a corner of the room, he could see Obi-Wan Kenobi shaking his head and mouthing “pleasure to serve”.
“Jedi Kenobi, join your Hopeful you will,” Master Yoda beckoned him to stand in the circle.
He walked over and stood beside Anakin with his hands folded inside his simple, brown robes. He gave Anakin a look of reassurance as the two of them stood before the Jedi High Council. Anakin felt comforted that the Jedi Knight who had been with him at the beginning was now standing with him in his hour of greatest need.
“Strong feelings you have that he should be trained,” Yoda said as a statement, but there was the air of a question.
“He is older than any other Hopeful we have accepted in the last two hundred years. There is no denying that the disturbance he makes with the Force can be felt by everyone in this building. Look at what he has accomplished on Tatooine and Alderaan with no training at all. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the finest Knights in the Jedi Order.”
Anakin couldn’t help but feel his chest swell his pride.
“Agrees with you, the Council does about his ability,” Yoda said. “But doubts we have, about his discipline and control. Concerned we are, about his reach into the Dark Side,” several other Masters nodded in agreement, including Master Windu.
“I believe the only reason there is any pull to the Dark Side is because of a lack of training and education. He doesn’t fully understand what is happening to him, he doesn’t know how to control the unique ability he has with the Force. Anakin may have shown dark tendencies, but I am convinced that all he needs is the proper guidence,” Obi-Wan said.
It was then that Obi-Wan took his leap of faith. “If the Council has doubts, then let him be my Padawan. I will be responsible for his training and oversee all aspects of his education. Together, we will iron out the wrinkles he has and ensure his commitment to the Jedi Order,” Silence filled the room as Anakin’s heart hammered in his chest.
For a long time, no one spoke. Anakin felt the room swirl before him and he felt infinitesimally small. Finally, Master Yoda said, “To have your Padawan, too young you are. When trained, assigned to him, another Knight will be.”
Anakin’s heart did a flip. Just like that, he had gotten both exactly what he wanted and exactly what he didn’t want. He would become a Jedi Knight, he would be trained in the ways of the Force, but he would have to leave Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Disagree with the decision of the Council, you do? Yoda asked.
Anakin almost screamed the nature of his disagreement, but before he could speak, Obi-Wan answered and Anakin realized that the question wasn’t meant for him.
“Yes I do. Anakin and I have a history together. I discovered him, and I made the case for him before you today. I have witnessed his abilities and we have a bond together. He trusts me and I…I trust him as well,” Obi-Wan admitted. “If the Council has doubts, then I ask for a sponsor. I ask that a Master supervise the training and education that I give to Anakin.”
“That’s an interesting request,” Master Windu said. “I don’t see the harm in it. You propose that Anakin receive his Jedi training from a Knight he is comfortable with and our Knight will receive his Jedi training from a Master. I am comfortable with this arrangement,” he nodded his bald head and Anakin saw others on the Council nod with him.
“Will of the Council it is,” Yoda said. “Train Jedi Kenobi I will in ways of training a Padawan. Place Anakin with the Hopefuls, we will. Much work he must do to catch his peers.”
Anakin couldn’t hold it in anymore and burst out, “When do I start??” His comment drew several chuckles from the Council.
“After we make you look more like an official Jedi Padawan,” Mace Windu said and Anakin felt the eyes of everyone in the room go right to his shaggy hair. “Before we begin, it is tradition that you say farewell to your loved ones. Who shall we make arrangements with?”
Anakin seriously doubted that Owen would even believe he had been accepted into the Jedi Academy and doubted even more that he would come say farewell to him. His thoughts gravitated to only one person he could possibly want to see before he enters the Jedi Order.
“How do I get in contact with Senator Amidala?” he asked the High Council.
Felic paced outside Spaceport Terminal Forty-Two. The shuttle had docked nearly ten minutes ago and his party had not arrived yet. Were they discovered? Had he been sold out? He nervously glanced over his shoulder just to make sure that the Republic Guards weren’t behind him.
Finally, he walked away from the shuttle. He would look out of place if he stood by an empty shuttle for too long. He checked his personal communicator to see if he had missed any messages from them.
As he walked, he was flanked by two Anzati who kept pace with him.
“The Sable Dawn greets you once again, Felic Ordon,” the taller one said.
“We need to speak somewhere more privately. There is a secure room nearby that the Dawn uses for such occasions,” the two Anzati escorted him to a conference room in the spaceport and locked the door behind them.
“You aren’t the ones I dealt with on Alderaan. I need names to verify identities,” Felic demanded.
“Not trusting the Sable Dawn can be most hazardous. Our names stay with us for…security reasons.” Two tentacle-like proboscises curled out and extended from their cheeks and began feeling their way to Felic’s head. “Surely, you understand the need for anonymity,” the shorter one said.
“Y…yes, yes, of course,” Felic stammered and shied away from the probing tentacles. “I can assume all the arrangements I set into motion are nearing completion? My timetable is very tight.”
“The Gamorreans and the Sennex pirates will be arriving when and where you specified. They cannot arrive too soon or else they will attract attention. Subtlety is our most potent weapon at this point,” the taller one said.
“Whatever. All I need to know is if everything is going as planned?” Felic asked nervously.
“Everything will be fine as long as the Sable Dawn gets paid,” the shorter one said.
“You don’t work in politics this long without knowing how to move a little money around,” Felic said and a grin grew across his face.
“Taxpayer money is the best currency the Sable Dawn could ask for,” they smiled back at him.
Chapter XV – Instigator
Sitting in a park with the Jedi Temple just behind him, Anakin paced in front of a bench and fidgeted, running a hand through his sandy colored hair. Over and over again, he tried to clear his mind and reach out with the Force. He tried to focus on the birds, the trees around him, or even the passing pedestrians. Every time he tried, his thoughts became muddled, un-coordinated, and always went back to Padme.
As the sun began to sink behind him, Anakin saw Padme and Khian coming along a path toward him. His mind instantly focused.
“Is it true, Anakin? The Jedi Order?” The sparkle in her eyes was all Anakin needed to see.
“That’s right. I’ve already been assigned to Jedi Kenobi as his Padawan. I start training tomorrow and I have no doubt that I’ll sail to the top in no time. Maybe I’ll even be ready in time to help out with your investigation,” Anakin threw out his chest a little.
Padme giggled and Anakin blushed as he looked into her eyes.
They both turned to look at Khian, who just folded his arms. “What?” he asked.
“Khian, can you go patrol a perimeter or something?” Padme asked.
“As you wish m’lady. Just bear in mind I won’t be far…from either of you,” he shot a dark glance at Anakin before walking down a path.
“I can’t believe this is all happening so fast. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that I was just some chump pilot on Tatooine and now I’m going to be a Jedi in the middle of a galactic controversy,” Anakin said.
“That’s probably because it was just a short time ago. We’ve only known each other for a little while and so much has happened and even more is going to happen before we know it,” Padme replied.
“Those politicians you were with?” Anakin guessed what she was alluding to. “You almost disappeared into that crowd when we landed.”
“Next time I’m surrounded by some of the greatest politicans in the galaxy, I’ll wear higher heels,” Padme laughed and pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear.
“I met with Supreme Chancellor Valorum and briefed him, his aides, the High Speaker of the Republic, Senator Palpatine, and more dignitaries than I can remember on what we found on Alderaan. They watched the holo-image I recorded and were as shocked as we were,” she continued.
“Please tell me you edited out the part where I tapped on the glass,” Anakin pleaded.
“Look on the bright side, you are now known among the highest levels of the Republic,” she giggled again.
Anakin found it very hard to be mad or embarrassed when she was smiling or laughing.
“Was there more to the meeting than the recording?” Anakin asked.
“Yeah, sorry. After I showed them the holo-image, Chancellor Valorum wanted to know what we should do next. Senator Palpatine volunteered to help me with my investigation and the Chancellor agreed!” she was positively glowing.
“Wait, so he’s taking over? That doesn’t seem fair,” Anakin was confused.
“No, you misunderstand,” Padme explained as they strolled through the park. “Senator Palpatine will work with me. Anakin, there is the possibility that this will go well beyond one crazy general on one planet. I have to discover how far this conspiracy goes and having such an influencial and experienced man like him helping me will add some serious muscle,” she said.
“Just please be careful. We’ve already gone through one attack together. More attacks could follow if you’re right about this,” Anakin warned.
“Hey, enough about me. You’re the one living the dream and becoming a Jedi Knight!” Padme sat on a park bench underneath a blossoming tree and beamed at him.
“Well, I’m not actually becoming a Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan says it takes years of hard work, studying, and training before I can be his Padawan. I figure I’m on more of a learning curve,” Anakin smiled.
“How much of a curve?” Padme asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ll be knighted and able to help you in a week or so,” Anakin laughed as he sat down next to her. They settled into an uncomfortable silence as the sun began to dip behind the Jedi Temple.
“I’m going to miss you,” Padme finally broke the silence.
“Yeah I…wait, what?” Anakin looked at her with his mouth slightly open.
“Anakin, I feel really close to you,” she said, staring at the ground. “We’ve been through so much together in such a short period of time. It’s been an incredible experience and I don’t think I want that time to end just yet. I sound so selfish.”
Anakin wasn’t sure how he could speak with his heart thumping in his throat. “No you don’t. Can I tell you something?” he asked.
“Of course, you can tell me anything,” Padme looked at him with soft, understanding eyes.
“I had a home, Beru hanging around at every opportunity, Owen constantly looking after me, not to mention crowds of people cheering my name, and yet I’ve always felt alone.When I got to Alderaan, all of that changed. I was with people that mattered to me. I haven’t felt the empty feeling that loneliness walked with in a long, long time,” Anakin smiled.
“I think I know exactly how you feel,” Padme said and put her hand on his.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” a soft voice made Anakin and Padme jump where they sat.
They whirled around to see Senator Palpatine walking up the path to meet them. It was darker now and his figure seemed much larger silhouetted against the twilight sky. Padme’s hand shot away from his as they both stood up in his presence.
Anakin couldn’t help but feel compelled to bow a little, but Palpatine waved him off. “Please young man, a bow to a lowly senator isn’t necessary. If anything I should be bowing to the man who single-handedly saved Padme’s life and delivered her to the Galactic City.”
“Well I don’t know about ‘single-handed’, Obi-Wan was there,” Anakin blushed.
Palpatine put a hand on his shoulder. “Come come Anakin, the entire Senate is buzzing with your heroics on Alderaan. I have just come from the Republic Executive Building and your name is on everyone’s lips,” Palpatine said with a smile.
Anakin stared at him, dumbfounded as Palpatine added the compliment Anakin had been waiting for.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the halls of the Jedi Temple were ringing with talk about your admittance tomorrow. You may be the most anticipated Hopeful since Master Phanius.”
“That seems a little dark, comparing Anakin to the first of the Lost Twenty,” Padme remarked.
“Great Jedi are great Jedi, regardless of which ‘side’ history says they are on,” Palpatine replied.
“What brings you out here, senator?” Anakin asked.
“With all the pomp and circumstance, I didn’t get a chance to formally meet you earlier today. I wanted to take the opportunity to wish you the best of luck tomorrow and tell you that I shall be observing your progress with great interest,” Palpatine smiled.
“You came all the way out here just to wish me luck?” Anakin asked.
“How perceptive, dear boy,” Palpatine chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. “I saw the two of you walking together and decided to seize this opportunity to speak with my colleague as well,” he turned to Padme.
“I’m afraid I am going to take a rather larger role in your investigation than we previously discussed. I will need you to use your contacts on Alderaan to squeeze more details out of the facts while I look to more Galactic matters.”
“I was under the impression that being shot at by Tarkin’s men made this my investigation,” Padme protested.
“My dear you must understand that you’re on Coruscant now. You have done remarkably well, but this is a game on a much different level than what you’re accustomed to. Rest assured, I have much work for you to do. This investigation is creeping by and my needs require that it proceed much faster,” Palpatine replied.
Anakin’s communicator beeped at him. “I guess that’s my call,” he shrugged.
“Congratulations once again, young Skywalker, make us all proud!” Palpatine beamed at him.
Anakin turned to Padme. He wanted to say so much to her before he left, but he simply couldn’t get the words out. Instead he just reached out and shook her hand.
“Good luck Padme,” he said in a flat voice.
She returned the handshake, but the look in her eyes told him that she wanted to say more as well. “I know you’ll hear this a thousand times, but may the Force be with you,” she smiled.
Khian came back up the path. “Hey, you two done here?” he stopped when he saw Palpatine was with them. “Senator, how did you get by me? I didn’t see anyone else come up the path,” he asked.
“Really sir, you expect too much from an old man,” Palpatine resume his typical and kindly smile.
Khian took a hard look at him before turning his attention back to Anakin.
“Hey kid, knock ‘em dead in there and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I hope you knock them flat on their butts,” Khian said with a grin. “Here, you’re gonna need this,” and he tossed Anakin a tiny piece of circular plastic wrapped in a soft fabric.
“What is this for?” Anakin asked.
“Trust me, you’ll find out and you’ll thank me for that someday,” Khian laughed again, but Anakin didn’t see what was so funny.
Padme thought she understood the game of politics, but over the next four months she had been run across more roadblocks, stonewalling, and difficulties than she ever imagined. The investigation on Alderaan was difficult enough, but now she was dealing with dignitaries, military officials, and diplomats from across the entire Republic. This meant that every one of the problems she initially faced was now multiplied on over a dozen worlds.
Her office was just the apartment that Palpatine had moved her to in the City of Spires on Coruscant, not too far from the Senate Rotunda itself. The view outside her sleeping quarters showcased the massive Senate building with the never-ending stream of traffic passing just in front of it. As she shook the sleep from her eyes, she was impressed with how different the society was compared to Alderaan.
On Alderaan, she couldn’t go more than a few meters without someone recognizing her. On Coruscant, with its endless skyscrapers, several trillion people, and constant interstellar traffic, she was beyond anonymous. Even in the world of politics, she was one among countless thousands who served the Republic. This world within the world of Coruscant was full of now familiar faces that were never happy to see her. She was the long arm of Senator Palpatine and she learned that his reach was long indeed.
Up until now, she had been able to use the momentum of her initial discovery to loosen a few tongues. She had learned that although General Tarkin was behind the expansions and the cloning facility on Alderaan, he was just another pawn in a much larger game. Every lead she followed spawned more questions. Every question she answered spawned two more leads. Who was giving the orders? Where did the funding come from? What was the purpose behind the clones? The Spaarti Cylinders didn’t come out of nowhere, what technicans engineered them?
Now, her investigation had stalled. She had reports from some of the greatest minds in the Republic. She was reading the words of Doctor Anton Billicks, Oro Thalia, and a dozen other genetic history makers. She had lodging and meal vouchers, transmissions sent to loved ones, personal logs, progress reports, everything to show they were working at a furious pace. What she did not have was their current location since a Major Issic assumed command. An entire team of genetic giants had disappeared.
Padme ran a hand through her hair in frustration as she read the messages on her digital display that was on the wall in her living quarters. Most of the messages she received overnight were responses to her responses to the responses of her responses to inquiries she had made over the past few weeks. There were also messages from various groups expressing either there support or condemnation of her investigation.
She had also received a message from Senator Palpatine reminding her that all personnel she brought with her from Alderaan had to file the appropriate travel forms. She furrowed her brow in frustration and went to order her morning meal. She had been on Coruscant for over two months. Why would he remind her to file paperwork for interstellar travel so long after it had happened?
She had come to admire the energy that Senator Palpatine had. He was constantly meeting with key senators, judges on the Supreme Court, corporate leaders, and dignitaries from across the Republic. His schedule over the last few weeks showed a whirlwind of meetings with regents and senators from over twenty different worlds along with communiqués from the same twenty world’s garrison commanders. Yet, with all this activity, he had never once turned down a request from her for a meeting whether it was just for a moment or over an hour.
As she sipped on her morning caffa, a thought struck her. She placed an urgent transmission to the Ministry for Military Transport. As the transmission was commencing, she checked her chronometer. Luckily for her, the call was answered by the Deputy Minister herself.
“Good morning Senator Amidala. What can I do for you?” the minister asked.
“Hello Illiana, it’s been a long time, how’s Satie?” Padme asked.
“She asks about you constantly. If she’s not asking about you, she’s telling her friends at school tales of her brave aunt who is saving our world from total destruction,” Illiana said with a smile.
“I wish she wouldn’t call me that. We’re not really related, we just spent a lot of time together at the Regent’s Office,” Padme sighed.
“And a lot of time dodging red tape, and a lot of time dodging my ex-husband, and too much time dodging very bad blind dates. But I doubt you called over here just to discuss our grand adventures,” Illiana brought the conversation back to business.
“Minister, anytime there is official business conducted by the military that takes them off-world, there is a paper trail, correct?” Senator Amidala asked.
“Of course. If the military brings even a hairbrush from off-world, they have to file the proper forms, just like everyone else,” the Deputy Minister for Military Transport responded.
“Then I need all military on and off-world transport forms filed six months before and after their first expansion of the garrison on Alderaan,” she requested.
“I’ll call up the paperwork and have it transmitted to your office within the hour. Is this related to the cloning thing?” Illiana asked, her eyes twinkling.
“You know I can’t discuss an ongoing senatorial investigation, even with you,” Padme began.
“Yes yes, you would if you could, but you can’t so you won’t. Watch your back out there, Padme,” Illiana ended the transmission.
Padme turned to look out her window at the Senate Rotunda. While she waited for Illiana to send her the data, she opened a link to the Coruscant Military Database. She began to maneuver her way through the database and began reading the section regarding travel orders. If there was a paper trail on her planet, then now was the time to stop thinking small and start looking for paper trails across the Republic. She began pacing in front of her window as she hoped this information would prove to be very educational.
Anakin’s morning was anything but educational. He was woken up by the early morning bells of the Jedi Academy. He stretched, rubbed his head and sighed as he felt the lack of hair. The Jedi had trimmed it down to a crew-cut style, except for the back, which he had begun to grow into a braid.
As he felt the small but growing braid, his fingers ran across the fabric covered hair tie that Khian had given him. He rolled his eyes at the thought of Khian giving him an “I told you so” look before rolling out of bed and joining his classmates for their morning lesson.
While “classmates” was the official term for the others in Jedi Hopeful Class J-94, being around children who were still learning how to wipe their noses was degrading. Every other Padawan looked at Anakin with a mix of curiousness and contempt. He could hear whispers in the halls wondering not only how someone so old was admitted, but what he was doing with a class full of babies. The questions were often followed by the pointing and the quiet laughter and once again, Anakin felt like he was an outsider who was second-best.
He had high hopes that Obi-Wan would come visit him today. On the rare occasions that his master had come to see him, Anakin was spared sleeping through lectures on how the Force was everywhere and how to respect all things. He had been at the academy for two months and all they had allowed him to do was levitate a few pebbles. The constraints placed on him were maddeningly frustrating, but his master reminded him that you have to learn how to crawl before you could walk.
He nearly tripped over one of his classmates on the way to Classroom 47-B in one of the lower wings of the Academy. He mumbled out a token apology to a curly headed boy named Tothic as he entered the familiar classroom. To his dismay, a protocol droid waited for them with a holo-imager. Anakin knew he was doomed to another lecture from a video that wasn’t even interactive presented by a droid that was oblivious to all reasoning.
The golden droid waited until they were all seated before speaking. “Hello Hopeful Class J-94, I am C-3PO, human/cyborg relations. Today, I have been assigned to present a very interesting video about the Force and how it interacts with all living and non-living entities. Please remain seated and silent until the video terminates,” the droid said in an annoying prissy voice. It pressed a few buttons on the terminal and a hologram appeared before them. It was of a Jedi Master that had already spoken to them several times before.
The image began to drone on about how the Force flowed through all living things and how you could use the Force to sense and manipulate non-living things. Anakin quickly began to lose interest and wonder to himself what he could “sense and manipulate” to liven things up just a little.
Anakin closed his eyes and began to stretch out with the Force. If there was one thing he had learned in his time at the Academy, it was how to sharpen his sense of the Force so that he could feel things much easier than before. This time, he could feel the young students concentrating on the video before them. Their minds lay open to him as he probed one and then another. Finally, he settled on Kymia, a Zabrak girl whose short temper made her an easy target on more than one occasion.
He stretched out and gave Kymia a little push in the head with the Force. She looked over her shoulder and glared at a Rodian boy named Jaton. This boy was smaller than the rest of his class and usually kept to himself. The combination of these two would make a wonderful morning diversion. Jaton looked blankly back at her before she turned back to continue watching the video.
Anakin reached out again and gave her hair a sharp tug. The girl whirled around and glared at Jaton who now looked both puzzled and defensive. Slowly, Kymia turned back, but threw the occasional suspicious glance back at Jaton. Anakin reached for a third time and focused on pushing her head one more time. He over-did it this time and Kymia’s head shot forward quickly and hit the floor with a loud thud. She leapt to her feet and lunged at Jaton, her vicious yell ripped through the air.
The entire class, except for Anakin, stood up and formed a circle around the two combatants and cheered loudly. Kymia and Jaton rolled across the floor grappling with each other. The protocol droid stopped the video and turned the lights on in the room.
“I’m not programmed to stop violent acts!” C-3PO exclaimed before shuffling its way out of the room and into the hallway.
Anakin roared with laughter, clutching his sides at the sight. As suddenly as the fight had started, it had stopped and the room again grew silent with the exception of Anakin’s laughter. Half a second later, he stopped laughing when he saw that C-3PO had returned and Obi-Wan Kenobi was standing next to the golden droid.
Without a word from Jedi Kenobi, the Hopeful class sat down and Anakin slowly walked out into the hallway.
“I realize how difficult this must be for you, I really do. You’re with children less than half your age hearing about topics that even I found boring when I was younger. But you cannot ignore the fundamental lessons of the Force, regardless of your ability. You have to understand that only when you learn the basics, can you advance,” Obi-Wan lectured to him.
“But Master, I am advancing! I can do so much more than any of those kids,” Anakin explained.
“If it were a simple matter of being able to use the Force, I’m sure they would advance you. You can accomplish so much more with a combination of ‘brains and brawns’ than with brawn alone. You have to try harder,” Obi-Wan said firmly.
“I’m sorry Master. I try to slow myself down, I really do. It’s just some of these droids with their videos can be so mundane. Aren’t there better ways to properly educate me?” Anakin’s desperation came through his voice.
“This is how the Jedi have been training throughout the centuries. The more you learn now, the better quality the training will be later. After all, if you don’t learn how to properly maintain and operate the Volo, how can you get the most speed out of it?” The analogy Obi-Wan offered hit home.
“It’s all a question of patience, control, and discipline. If you can get through C-3PO’s horrible, wretched, prissy voice and get through those boring lectures, then you will have no problem listening to two squabbling bureaucrats bicker over how high the flags should be at a conference table,” Obi-Wan explained.
“That explains how you survived the conference on Alderaan. I never thought Tarkin would shut up. I’ll go back in and listen, Master. I hate disappointing you,” Anakin started to walk back to the classroom, but Obi-Wan caught his arm.
“I have another idea. If you can give me your Word of Honor that you will give this your best effort, I think I can give you a little taste of what you can expect,” Obi-Wan began to walk down the hallway as Anakin gave him a suspicious glance.
Chapter XVI – The Hutt Hut
Late into the night, Khian pored over the complicated security plans and building schematics. He made a mental note to change Senator Amidala’s route to the podium again, just to shake things up.
Following her around was exactly as complicated as he thought it would have been. Her schedule was practically non-stop meetings in different buildings with different people across Coruscant. Every one of those meeting places had to be screened, the droids carefully searched for tampering or sabotage, and every one of the participants of the meetings painstakingly scanned, and in some cases, frisked.
Khian rather enjoyed the last part. The annoyed look on some bureaucrat’s face as he searched their personal droid or themselves yet again always made him smile. He noticed how it didn’t take too much to upset a diplomat or military official. Something as simple as running their digital tablets through an x-ray scanner could make them easily agitated and he was happy to oblige.
To date, he had found two different sets of explosives in his searches. One was hidden in the Senator’s transport on the way to a meeting with a military tribunal. Another was literally built into the table’s wood grain at a conference with three Galactic Senators. Even Khian was impressed at the creativity of these attempts on her life. He had tried some ingenious ways to kill people before, but explosives built in the grain of the wood? He had to try that himself some time.
Ever since he had won the job, Khian’s impression of the senator had changed. She was hardly the dainty, delicate figure that some female senators were. She was beyond beautiful, but her dedication to her job was also beyond admirable. She was determined to do everything she could to bring the truth into the light. Considering that her cause was against a monstrous cloning facility, Khian was as supportive as he could be.
After all, clones could be taking jobs away from good, honest killers.
A door closed behind him and he leaped out of his chair. His vibroblade, Alanna, flashed into his right hand and his blaster was at the ready in his left hand. He eyes locked on his target.
“Whoa, truce!” Padme yelled, her hands high in the air.
Khian allowed his muscles to relax and he put the blaster on the table. “You are way too stealthy to be a senator. It must be the slippers,” he laughed out loud.
“Yeah, I got these at the Lethal Politicians Emporium. Their motto is ‘We’ll talk you to death.’” Padme laughed along with him.
“What are you still doing up? After the marathon you had today, I would’ve thought you’d be all tuckered out,” Khian said, sliding Alanna back into the spring-loaded mechanism in his sleeve.
“I know. Meetings with representatives from Eriadu, Sullust, Telos, and Riflor all in one day! It’s draining, but necessary to get all the pieces to come together. If my theory is true, if what Illiana sent me is true, then the Outer Rim has a lot of explaining to do,” she said.
Padme sat down on the couch that was between them and closed her eyes for a moment. “You’ve been invaluable to me, Khian. Besides keeping me alive, you’re the only constant in the ever-changing world of politics. It’s incredibly soothing to have an anchor there for me,”
He sat down beside her. “Well it is an honor to weigh down such a beautiful boat,” he was staring at her now, he couldn’t help it. “I don’t know how you do it sometimes. You can say exactly the right thing at the right time and know when to say nothing at all.”
“Senator Bolet told me that silence can be louder than a pitched battle. Don’t sell yourself short, Khian. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing, and doing it very well,” Padme’s eyes met his.
Silence filled the room as they looked at each other. Her eyes held the same fire they held in a debate with a Regent and they were just as mesmerizing as the flames. Her mouth grew into a smile and as his eyes locked on it.
Her eyes darted to where he kept Alanna and Khian fidgeted uneasily.
“You need your rest, senator. Your next press spectacle is approaching and I have no doubt that your constituents are dying to hear from you,” he stood up and went back to his table.
“Who was she?” Padme asked abruptly and Khian winced.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he lied.
“Every time I smile, every time you look at me, every time we’re alone, you get close and then distance yourself. It’s clear to me that there was someone who was special to you once. Who was she?” She asked again.
“It’s not in my job description to indulge your every curiosity, senator. It’s time for you to rest now,” Khian said.
“Are you handling me?” Padme asked with a smirk on her face.
“I would never handle a senator…at least not while I’m on the clock,” Khian answered and he tore his eyes away from her and focused back on his security layout.
Padme conceded this round. “I feel like I’m back on Alderaan. My fellow congressional representatives are stonewalling me at every turn. Each meeting I hold reveals only a few answers, but more questions pop up after I leave,” she rubbed her temples.
“Maybe you’re taking the wrong approach. You’ve tried all the legitimate sources of information. Perhaps you tried something a little less dainty,” Khian grinned and Padme raised an eyebrow.
Anakin and Obi-Wan entered a large, square room. Three platforms spanned the length of this room, each one five meters higher than the last. There were gaps in-between the platforms as wide as two men, making it difficult to reach them. On the wall next to the one and only door were eight metallic objects that Anakin had seen before.
On the wall before him, were lightsabers.
“Master, what are we doing here?” Anakin asked. His heart gave a leap as Obi-Wan removed one of the lightsabers from the rack on the wall and ignited it. A green blade erupted and hummed in the air as Obi-Wan waved it around, testing its balance.
“Master Fisto showed you how it feels to be struck with a stunsaber. These are for training only, but I recall how Master Yoda once showed me how a blow to the head could be quite…uncomfortable,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin selected a stunsaber from the rack and pulled it away from the wall. As he held his first weapon in his hands, he marveled at its construction. He had never been this close to one before and found it to be amazingly light, yet durable. He pressed a red button and a blue blade lit up before him. Anakin also waved his around, testing its balance and reach. He spun the blade around him a few times until he felt comfortable enough to face his master. Anakin gripped the blade in both hands and waited with tense muscles.
Obi-Wan smiled at him and motioned for Anakin to attack. Anakin accepted the challenge and swung right at Kenobi’s head. With incredible ease, he deflected Anakin’s blow and, half a heartbeat later, hit Anakin in his opposite arm.
Pain shot through Anakin’s lower arm and he quickly backed away. Obi-Wan also backed away, but kept his blade raised defensively.
“Going for someone’s head on the first swing is too obvious. Your legs told me where you were going to swing before you even moved your blade. Try again, but remember control, focus, and discipline. Don’t just swing wildly…” but Anakin was already on the move.
He moved right, and then hacked at Obi-Wan’s left side. Kenobi blocked it, but had to move back to do so. Anakin advanced and wildly chopped again and again and each time Obi-Wan had to retreat further and further. Anakin sensed victory was at hand as Obi-Wan reached the end of the platform and darkness threatened him from beyond the edge. Anakin feinted and attacked again, but when his blade was supposed to finally strike home, Obi-Wan was no longer there.
He had flipped himself up and over Anakin and now stood behind him. Anakin’s mouth was wide open, but not for long as Obi-Wan lashed out with his stunsaber again and caught Anakin in the middle of his back. The blow caused Anakin to drop to one knee and the wind almost rushed out of him.
“Better,” Obi-Wan judged. “You’re using the art of deception, but the Force will always be superior. You have to stop relying on your senses, Anakin. The physical sensation is just one you can experience. The Force can guide you if you let go of the fear and the doubt. Use the Force, feel it flow through you, let the Force become one with you and your understanding of it will enable you to do incredible things. And stop gripping the stunsaber so tightly. I promise it won’t fall out of your hand anytime soon.”
Obi-Wan prepared himself as Anakin slowly got to his feet and spun the stunsaber a few more times to get his feeling and rhythm back. He brought the blade up, but hesitated. Before he began his attack, Anakin closed his eyes and stretched out with the Force. Patiently, he waited until he could focus the Force within him, just as instructed. His senses heightened, Anakin could feel the very air around them alive with energy. He felt himself calm down, his emotions dulled, and a feeling of peace focused his mind. Anakin opened his eyes and attacked again.
Blows rained down upon Obi-Wan Kenobi from all sides now. He retreated hard and fast, deflecting and parrying swing after swing. Anakin’s face did not break into a grin. He did not focus on the joy of the moment. He simply focused his determination and continued the attack, trying to find a weakness. His attacks were faster than ever before, his blade blurring with speed as he felt the Force guide his actions.
Then Obi-Wan counter-attacked.
Anakin nearly stumbled and fell over as Obi-Wan switched from defense to offense in the blink of an eye. Instantly, Anakin was desperate to fend off another blow that would leave his body stinging.
“Don’t lose your focus! Keep your emotions in check and don’t let fear take you!” Obi-Wan yelled to him and continued his advance, but he could not land another blow on Anakin.
Anakin’s focus suppressed his emotions and the fear melted away from him. Suddenly, he could see everything so clearly. Obi-Wan’s attack was simple, slow, and ineffective. Anakin’s blade began to move faster to ward off the blows and everything was sharper in his mind’s eye. Allowing the Force to guide him, Anakin switched back to the offense and in a flurry of swings, hit Obi-Wan once on his off arm.
Anakin stopped the attack, stunned at what he had accomplished. Kenobi seemed unfazed by the blow, but jumped onto the next platform. He stood five meters above Anakin and smiled down at him.
“If you want more, you’ll have to come up here to get it,” he taunted.
Anakin was dumbfounded. Levitating a chair was one thing, but levitating yourself? He paced back and forth for a moment, and then decided to just let it all go. He had saved Padme’s life, he survived an attack from Republic Commandos, and he had been accepted by the Jedi Council. If he was going to be the single greatest Jedi Knight in all of recorded history, then it was going to begin right here.
Before attempting to throw his body up an incredible height, Anakin thought it would be wise if he turned the stunsaber off. He walked up to the edge of the platform, looked up at Obi-Wan, and closed his eyes. As he reached out with the Force, Anakin felt that sense of focus return and he calmed himself. He concentrated on his own body and the Force that surrounded him. Anakin took a deep breath and leaped into the air.
He almost made it.
“Khian, are you sure this is safe?” Padme asked with a hint of alarm in her voice. Khian had brought her down to a sub-level of the City of Spires that from her lofty balcony overlooking the city, she never knew existed.
Padme could see the advantage of conducting less-than-legitimate activities down in the depths of the city. The sun was constantly blocked by the starscrapers that towered above them and the artificial illumination was somewhat lacking. As they passed a pair of rough looking Twi’leks carrying a large bag that was moaning in agony, Padme moved a little closer to her protector.
“Of course this place isn’t safe. I wouldn’t bring my mother down here if you put a blaster to my head,” Khian said. Seeing the shocked expression on Padme’s face, he corrected himself. “But I’m sure times have changed since the last time I was walking down on this level,” Padme pulled the hood of her cloak a little tighter as Khian led them to their destination.
The Hutt Hut had to be the smallest and darkest excuse for a bar on Coruscant. This seemed to be the ideal place to get away from it all, especially if “it” was the local authorities. Khian moved in front of her, but never moved more than an arm’s reach away as they naviagated around the bar.
A squat and brooding Rodian pulled on Padme’s arm, stopping her from moving on.
“We rarely get such a lovely creature like you down here,” the Rodian smacked his lips, his lisp very audible as he spoke Basic to her. “Why don’t you have a drink with me and my friends?”
“I think the lady has other plans,” Khian had reappeared at her side in an instant, one hand on her arm.
“No one asked you. Back off before my blaster tells your eulogy for you,” the Rodian hissed at him, patting a large pistol at his side.
Khian’s vibroblade, Alanna, flashed out from his sleeve and was pressed lightly against the Rodian’s throat. “You should stop thinking about eulogies unless you want to write your own.”
The Rodian locked eyes with Khian for just a moment and then turned back to his drink, muttering to himself. Padme breathed a sigh of relief, but Khian quickly kept her on the move. They continued going through the bar until they came to a booth in the corner. The padding was ripped in numerous places and she could see several scorch marks from leftover exchanges of blaster fire. There was a holo-sign on the table that said “Reserved”.
Khian sat down, pulling Padme down to the table with him and turning off the holo-sign.
“Don’t make a move, don’t speak, don’t start a petition, don’t offer an amendment, and don’t do anything to draw attention to us. You’re in my world now and I think you’ve seen how much fun you can have without your precious Jedi around. Just sit back and enjoy the local fare that your humble constituents have to offer,” Khian said as a small service droid approached.
“My friend and I will try menu number forty-two,” Khian told the droid.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the menu only goes up to forty-one items,” the droid replied.
“Please tell the chef that we’ll take two number forty-two’s,” Khian repeated.
“Very good, sir,” the droid replied and shuffled off through a door to a back room.
Padme checked the menu options again and looked skeptically at Khian.
Before he could reply, a tall Kel-Dorian walked out of the back room the droid had gone into and quickly sat down next to them. The Kel-Dorian had a nasty scar that ran along his entire jawline and looked very badly stitched. The bright white eyes glinted with anger. No one said a word for a moment, and then he reached over the table and punched Khian in the jaw.
Khian’s head shook violently with the force of the blow, but he did not fall over. “Is this the man who traded scars with me to seal a pact with the Kaleesh all those years ago?”
“Traded scars?” Padme asked and looked at Khian. He fingered the scar that ran above and below his left eye and, while still looking at her, quickly punched their host twice before she could flinch.
The Kel-Dorian’s head hit the back of the booth and his hardened expression melted into a smile. “My judgment has been wrong before, though,” he rubbed his jaw slowly.
“It’s been a long time, Korro. I would enjoy sitting here telling you what a pompous, money-grubbing, slow-on-the-draw loser you are, but I’m not here to reminisce about the good times,” Khian said.
“The good times? Do you mean that shell game involving the thermal detonator? Are you talking about the three meter tall Whipid prostitute on Coronet City?” Korro roared with laughter.
Padme raised an eyebrow and Khian shifted in his seat.
“We’re not here so you can embarrass me. This young lady has a few questions and I expect you to at least pretend you have some manners,” Khian said.
“You must mean that Senator Padme Amidala needs information and you’re showing off to her. I never thought I’d see you running around with a skirt again after what happened Ord Mantell.” Korro let out a hearty laugh at seeing Padme’s expression. “Don’t be so surprised Senator, I still have my finger on the pulse of Coruscant. Now what brings you to my humble establishment?” Korro asked.
“You’re on,” Khian said with a wave of his hand.
“Esteemed sir,” she began as she pulled her hood back, “the clones that I discovered seem to be just the tip of the iceberg. It is my sworn duty to seek out the truth and I believe that my investigation is close to uncovering that truth,” Korro immediately shook his head.
“Does she always enjoy hearing herself speak?” he mused.
“Hear her out, Korro. I listened to her and I think you should too,” Khian said and gave Padme a look of encouragement.
Korro shrugged and sat back as Padme continued. “Sir, the Republic needs help. I need to discuss the source of these clones with you. Now, my exhaustive research has led me to believe that the clones may inhabit as many as four worlds including Alderaan. I beseech you…” But Korro stopped her with a wave of his hand.
“Is she serious?” Korro asked Khian. “Listen little girl, I am not an ‘esteemed sir’ nor can you ‘beseech’ me for much of anything, at least not in public. I am not running for re-election and my love for Coruscant stops at my bar and making sure the place doesn’t get busted up more than once a night. Now, what else have you got?”
Padme’s face fell in desperation. Here was someone she couldn’t communicate with. He was crude, boorish, and didn’t care about her struggle at all. How do you get through to such a person? With a final shrug of his shoulders, Korro started to get up.
With quick movements, Khian jumped from his seat, twisted one of Korro’s arms behind his back, and slammed him face first into the table. Korro tried to struggle, but Khian’s grip was too strong.
“You were always clumsy, my old friend. Now you’ve gone and slipped on the floor and landed very awkwardly,” Khian half yelled to the patrons of the bar who turned to look at the disturbance.
Then his voice lowered, “Now listen to me. We go way back, but you know I will not hesitate to crack your neck and take my chances with your pathetic excuse for a lookout sitting three tables over. You know, I know, and I bet he knows that she and I will walk out of here while the two of you will be med-evaced to the nearest medical quadrant,” Khian growled.
“You have your finger on the pulse of Coruscant? Why don’t you practice a little customer service and tell us what we want to know before I become even more agitated?” Khian relaxed his grip and they both sat back down at the table.
“I’m sure diplomacy is fabulous, but not everyone understands bureaucrat-speak,” Khian winked at Padme.
Korro rubbed his eye where it had hit the table. “Well, the pulse hasn’t said very much lately. But what it has been talking about has been pretty interesting. I would say the information that comes my way has been downright shocking. One could say that what comes my way has…” Korro droned on until Padme had heard enough. She recognized stall tactics when she heard them.
Khian began to slide a few credit chips across the table. Before he got more than halfway, Padme placed her hand on his to stop him.
“I’m an elected official, I don’t sink so low as to bribe the owner of a bar,” Padme said without removing her hand.
“Ah, a lover’s quarrel. If you don’t feel like paying me for my services then we aren’t speaking the same language,” Korro said and crossed his arms.
“Then let me speak in a language you can clearly understand. If this cloning abomination is as widespread as I think it is, then the Republic could fall into chaos. Let me be very clear, I may not have a lot of clout as a Planetary Senator, but I do have friends and if I think for a split second that you’re holding out on me, I will have the Republic Ministry for Health and Sanitation down here every single day and put such a stranglehold on your business that you won’t be able to serve Jawa Juice to school children,” Padme’s steely gaze was fixed on Korro.
They locked eyes for a moment, then Korro’s expression softened. “Fine, but are you two going to plan the wedding while I talk?” Korro glanced down and Padme realized that her hand was still on Khian’s. They exchanged glances and quickly separated, but Padme couldn’t help but blush.
“Why don’t we head somewhere more private? I have an office in the back that’s a little more secure than a booth,” he suggested.
With Korro leading the way, the three pushed their way through the crowd and through the double doors back into the kitchen. Padme had to watch her step as they worked their way through the narrow area with small droids scurrying around her knees. They stopped at a steel door that led to a small room with meager furniture.
“Okay, can we talk now?” Padme asked.
“Not until we get to my office,” Korro replied.
“But this…” Padme began.
“This is the office I show your precious RMHS,” Korro smiled. He reached over to a panel on the wall that controlled the lighting, sound, and other environmental factors in the bar. He turned the knob labeled “Smoke Screen” to eleven and then sat down in his chair. After a few seconds, there was an audible click and the back wall of his office slid open to reveal Korro’s true occupation.
They stepped into a room that would have easily held two of The Hutt Hut, and Padme gasped in shock. She looked around and saw jars and containers of all shapes and sizes on shelves running the entire length of the room. The contents of the jars were hidden behind opaque paper.
“You’re a glitterstim dealer?” she asked in horror.
“What? This?” Korro asked looking around the room as if for the first time. “Yeah, glitterstim is one of my various enterprises. I’m just waiting for the price to go back up before selling it. I also traffick in cybernetic limbs, slicer tools, anything to make me a few credits,” Korro explained as the door closed and sealed behind them.
Padme hesistated. Dealing with someone who was the owner of a seedy bar filled with the scum of the galaxy was one thing. Dealing with someone who sold illegal spice, cyborg spare parts, and who knows what else was crossing a line.
“It’s either you talk to him or we may never know the truth. This is the ultimate shortcut to your diplomatic ways that could take years to learn what he has to say in a few minutes. Bend just a little on this one, Padme. This could break things wide open,” Khian whispered.
“I don’t enjoy a comfortable lifestyle running that dive. I traffick in anything that will make me a tidy profit, including information you require. Now, it just so happens that I stumbled upon a few Spaarti Cylinders not too long after Khian and I left Bilbringi. I was approached by a buyer about three years ago who wanted to take these relics off of my hands and so I sold all him all 120,000,” Korro looked quite proud of himself.
“120,000?” Padme and Khian said together. “Where in the stars did you get such a collection?” Khian asked.
“I’ve never been the one to kiss and tell,” Korro replied. “I didn’t even have to offer my usual ten percent discount after my twenty percent mark-up. The man paid with Republic credits and offered a handsome bonus if I could deliver them to their destinations on time,” the grin on Korro’s face widened.
“And who was this generous benefactor who paid you?” Khian asked.
“I’m so proud that I’ll give you that for free,” Korro said. “Tethys Aran contacted me personally to close the deal. Can you imagine? THE Tethys Aran!”
“Korro, please tell me you kept records of where those cylinders were going,” Khian said.
“Do you really think that if I sell technology that has been banned for over sixty years, I would keep a database of their destinations? Next you’ll want serial numbers, the combination to my safe, and my shoe size!” Korro said in a sarcastic tone.
Padme slammed her fist against a wall and several of the jars wobbled. “I know that this atrocity has spread beyond my star system and infected several others. Now I want the names of the systems Tethys Aran sent those cylinders to!” Padme said.
“All one hundred and twelve of them?” Korro asked.
Padme Amidala waited patiently outside Senator Palpatine’s office. The digital tablet she was clutching in her hand shook slightly as she began to pace back and forth in the richly anointed hallway. Khian sat on a couch, his hands folded behind his head.
Felic sat at his desk a few feet away, eyeing his briefcase.
“Padme, enough already. We arrived early for a reason, remember? Expecting a Galactic Senator to be on time is like expecting a Jedi to crack a joke,” he closed his eyes and leaned back.
Felic’s hands molded into fists at the insult.
“My whole life has been building to this moment. Senator Palpatine will read this report and know the full devastation that has been brought upon every citizen in the Republic,” Padme said.
“Why is it that every time a politician opens her mouth, they have to make a grand speech?” Khian chided.
Padme glared at him, but before she could come up with a response or find something to throw at him, the door opened. Senator Palpatine emerged from his office laughing with four other men.
“Ah good, Senator Amidala, I must apologize; it’s never good to keep a lady waiting. Senator, I believe you already met Supreme Chancellor Valorum, but this is Grand Judge Vixt of the Supreme Court, Vice Marshal Namoth of the Republic Navy, and Tarvis Incom, CEO of the INCOM Corporation,” Palpatine gestured to the four men he had been laughing with.
“Senator, I’ve heard wonderful things about you from my friend,” Chancellor Valorum looked down at her with kind eyes, like a doting grandfather. Behind them, Felic shook his head in disgust.
“We must spend some time together. There is a Galactic Election coming up and I think we will see more of you in the future,” the Chancellor continued.
Felic nearly dropped his briefcase at the notion.
Padme blushed as she shook his hand. “Actually sir, if you have just a few extra moments, I believe that you too should hear what I have discovered. What I’ve learned could have incredible repercussions.”
“Oh?” He asked and thought for a moment before walking back into Palpatine’s office. “I believe I can spare a little time to hear something that may alter the fundamentals of the Republic,” he smiled at her as he winked at Palpatine.
The other dignitaries said their goodbyes and headed to the turbolift as Palpatine walked back into his office and motioned for them to follow. Supreme Chancellor Valorum sat down across from the Galactic Senator as Padme and Khian followed.
Senator Palpatine motioned to the chairs in front of his large obsidian desk. Felic helped everyone to their seats and put Padme as far from Senator Palpatine as possible.
“Your message said it was quite urgent that you meet with me. I trust you have some good news?” Palpatine sat down while Felic opened up his briefcase. His eyes lingered on the blaster pistol before he pulled out a pad of paper and began taking notes.
Khian instinctively looked around the room, making sure it was secure while Padme told them everything Korro had revealed. She relayed every shocking detail, every stunning revelation while her audience remained silent and attentive. She made sure to leave out a few of the more colorful details regarding Korro’s various occupations. It was the Chancellor who spoke first when she had finished.
“So you’re quite sure about the validity of your source? For such outlandish accusations, he has to be an ironclad source,” he said.
“The information couldn’t have been from a better source if it had come from your own mother,” Khian said, slightly offended.
The Chancellor and Padme shot Khian a warning look. “Be that as it may. You are saying you want to go before the assembled Senate and accuse one hundred and twelve star systems of cloning on the word of a bar owner. Did he also tell you who arranged this? Where the funding is coming from? Are Outer Rim systems planning a war against us? Which systems? When? Is this a splinter group or are actual Heads of State planning a civil war? Senator Palpatine, you understand that the people of the Republic will not accept this at face value,” he looked at the Galactic Senator who had remained silent.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Padme interrupted. “But I am only one person. I was lucky enough to get this far.”
“And yet you have come quite far on your own,” Palpatine said. “You have brought us the beginnings of a possible insurrection.”
“Senator Palpatine, are you saying this investigation could lead to rebellion? I knew there would be further protests like the ones we’ve already seen, but outright violence? A civil war?” Padme asked.
“Senator, if over one hundred star systems are cloning soldiers, I think a rebellion is already beyond the planning stages. I promise you, we will do everything we can to avoid violence and keep peace in the Republic. If we let diplomacy run its course, I think the Republic will survive,” Palpatine said.
Why not go to the Galactic Senate now and expose what we already know?” Padme asked.
“I believe Senator Palpatine would agree with me in saying that we are not prepared for that,” Chancellor Valorum said.
“You are correct, Chancellor. The word of this nefarious character is not enough to go to the Senate,” Palpatine pressed his fingertips together in thought.
Padme rose and began to pace up and down the room. “Chancellor, Senator, it has been made very clear that this is more than just one world’s squabbles. There is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at something will threaten to tear the Republic apart unless we move to stop it here and now. We must act!”
“Very well, because you insist on not listening to the Supreme Chancellor, I will arrange an audience with the Senate immediately. Of course, you brought documentation to back up Korro’s claims? I’m sure the Senate will ask to see the information he gave you that includes timetables, record books, logistical logs, strategic and tactical plans along with financial transactions for all one hundred and twelve star systems detailing the number of cloned troops, starships, attack tanks, and battle-cruisers we will be dealing with?” Palpatine asked.
“Well no, not exactly,” Padme conceded.
“Then you want to accuse one hundred and twelve members of the Galactic Republic of high treason with nothing to back it up! This is the height of absurdity,” Valorum was on his feet now, placing his hands on his desk and leaning forward.
Felic was beaming at the Chancellor.
“Then we must find the answers. We must search out the truth, no matter what!” Padme placed her hands on the desk and stared at the Chancellor.
Supreme Chancellor Valorum smiled, but did not blink or move. In a heartbeat, she knew that she had been maneuvered exactly where the Chancellor wanted her to go.
“So you’re saying we need an emissary to go to the Outer Rim and seek out the truth, ‘no matter what’,” the Chancellor backed away from the table and turned to stare out his window.
“Senator Amidala, you are hereby charged with this critical task. You will go to the Outer Rim and further your investigation and see just how damaging the truth might be to the peace and security of the Galactic Republic,” he said.
“Who, me?” Padme sputtered as Khian put his face in his hands.
Felic’s eyes lit up at this opportunity. He began writing out her itinerary.
“Who better to go to the Outer Rim to determine the nature of the threat you are telling us exists?” Senator Palpatine said.
“Please be very careful when you go, Senator. I fear these attacks against you may increase when you leave the safety of the City of Spires. You will become a very important voice against any world producing a clone army,” he warned.
“I’ve got her covered, Senator. She couldn’t be in better hands if she had a battalion of wookies watching her day and night,” Khian said.
“Excellent. I’m glad to see she’s in such capable hands,” Palpatine said.
“I have all the faith in the world in Khian, but if I’m going to be part of this task force, perhaps some added security should be in order? I think I should send a request to the Jedi Order and ask that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker join my security detail,” Padme said and Palpatine’s face fell.
“Senator, you hired this man at your own request. You admitted that he is doing an outstanding job, why ask for more? The Jedi will only get in your way,” Palpatine protested.
“I don’t believe that’s true, sir. Khian has convinced me that the threats against me are credible enough to warrant the added protection. Also, Obi-Wan and Anakin know more about this than any other bodyguard I could bring on. Many hands make for light work,” Padme seemed determined.
“Very well, senator. I endorse any steps you will take to ensure your safety,” Palpatine surrendered.
“Senator Palpatine, Chancellor Valorum, where am I supposed to begin? There are one hundred and twenty seven Galactic Sectors in the Outer Rim. That comes to nearly sixteen hundred star systems!” Padme said.
“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to investigate?” Palpatine asked.
“They must be moved.”
“I don’t understand. My team is making tremendous progress now that we have this material I acquired. The reports I’ve been sending should show you how the embryos are progressing since you dispatched our latest batch of clones,” Major Issic responded.
“Your team has provided seventy-two trillion DNA strands of a more superior quality. Yet the number of successful clones stands in the single digits. I have received reports showing a disgraceful success/failure ratio,” Darth Maul replied.
Major Issic shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “My Lord, we’ve made strides over the past few weeks that have led us in amazing new directions. I really do believe we’re close to a breakthrough that will lead to mass production.”
“They must be moved.”
“My Lord, this identity, this installation, it all cost me a fortune. Some of my inheritance went toward this. I was hoping to get more out of my investment,” Major Issic protested.
Darth Maul’s eyes turned cold. His stare penetrated from the viewscreen across the room into Major Issic.
“Money? You are concerned about money? You have strayed too far if material needs are your motivation. Perhaps you are not as worthy as I first believed,” Darth Maul said.
“I apologize, my Lord. We are just so close to achieving our goals. Once my team completes this project, then I’ll finally…”
“If they complete the project. My patience is wearing thin, Ethan. Move the team to Cerea. The end is near and I need the team there to complete the implication to the Outer Rim. They must be moved,” Darth Maul repeated before ending the transmission.
“They will be moved,” Major Issic affirmed.
A total of eight shuttles and two larger transports descended from the large freighter were now cast in a red glow from the nearby dwarf star. Like seeds being blown from a flower, they soared away from the craft and breached the planet’s atmosphere.
“Ground control to Shuttle One. We have you on our scanners now, continue your approach on the designated flight path. Welcome back to Cerea, Lord Aelion,” the loudspeaker crackled.
“Lord Aelion?” Doctor Billicks raised an raised eyebrow.
“Not now, Billicks. I got you a facility that completely surpasses anything this team has ever had, just as you requested,” Major Issic said.
“Well that would be a pleasant change from the junk you’ve been giving us,” Doctor Billicks needled.
Major Issic ignored the comment. He decided that a better use of his time and effort would be on landing the craft on a planet that had no landing beacons, no guidance assistance, or nothing to help their heads-up display as they decelerated to a crawl of only nine hundred kph.
From behind him, Major Issic heard “oohs” and “aahs” as the shuttles lined up to land in their new facility. He banked slightly to give them a better view of their new home.
The shuttle practically hummed with excitement when they saw the metallic lined opening built into the mountain. The gaping maw was perfectly round and had a landing ramp that extended out to welcome the shuttles and transports. To see this shiny beacon of technology surrounded by the lush forest and sheer cliffs of the mountain made for an incredible contradiction.
“Hold on to something. This landing can be rather difficult,” the Major double checked his safety harness.
“If the landing is anything like your…” Doctor Billicks was jolted out of his seat.
Major Issic brought the shuttle to with only a few feet of the ground. His hand shoved the accelerator back and the shuttle slowed from nine hundred kph to only fifty kph in a handful of seconds.
The shuttle picked its nose up slightly as it breached the entrance and the shuttle came to a complete stop. Every light, every instrument, even the engines shut off instantly. The shuttle dropped to the floor with a thud.
“What the hell was that?” Doctor Billicks asked, looking up from the floor.
“We had to install a powerful dampening field that lines the mountain’s shape. It blocks ninety-eight percent of all power emanations so this facility stays hidden from all but the most determined of scans. It also has the side effect of temporarily neutralizing all electronics that enter it,” Major Issic unstrapped himself from the shuttle.
“That’s grand,” Doctor Billicks mumbled, rubbing his neck.
A group of crewmen began unloading the shuttles. The sixty-four scientists stepped out and stretched. Major Issic put a hand on Doctor Billick’s shoulder.
“Doctor, before you get settled in, I want to discuss a special project with you.”