Chapter XII – Intruder
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.”