STAR WARS INFINITIES: THE APPRENTICE

An original short story by Christopher W. Blaine (darth_yoshi@yahoo.com)

All of the characters and situations within this story are either ©2002 by George Lucas or are based upon characters and situations under the same copyright. This story has been made for fan related entertainment purposes and not for profit. This original work of fiction is ©2002 by Christopher W. Blaine and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the author. This electronic file may be distributed freely so long as it is not altered in any way. Questions and comments should be directed to the author at the e-mail address above.

Chapter 1

He still clings to the hope that he can survive. Darth Maul swung again, crimson fire striking the edge of the shaft above his prey’s head, sending a shower of sparks down to cause further discomfort. He enjoyed toying with the little padawan apprentice who was hanging by his fingertips, dangling over certain doom. He was not worthy of a death by combat, not like the old master had been. Even Darth Maul had heard about the martial prowess of Qui-Gon Jinn. The younger one, Obi-Wan was his name, had kept trying to horn in on the battle. Maul had dispatched him, sending the padawan tumbling away from one of the skywalks where the battle had raged. But like an annoying insect, he had returned just as Maul struck the killing blow on Qui-Gon Jinn. The Sith Lord had felt the utter sadness and anger coming from Obi-Wan, but it was a jumble of unfocused, childish emotions. It was not the deep burning hatred for all those who were not of the Sith. It was not the fury that gave Darth Maul his power, his control over the dark side of the Force. While Obi-Wan had demonstrated some skill when he had fought Maul, in the end he was no match for the Sith. The apprentice of Qui-Gon Jinn had managed to cut the dark Jedi’s double-bladed lightsaber in half, but it did not render it useless. Now the padawan was ready to fall to certain death. Maul could tell by looking at the young man’s face that he was exhausted. It only proved to Maul that the Jedi were weak. It was the weakness of the Jedi that had poisoned the galaxy and brought chaos where there should be order. Through the plan of his master, Maul knew that order would soon be restored and he would take his rightful place as one of the leaders of the galaxy. So focused on his own thoughts, he almost did not sense the sudden pull on the Force. Maul was mildly impressed as Obi-Wan found the courage to make one final stand. Having lost his own weapon, the young Jedi was trying to use the Force to pull the deactivated lightsaber of Qui-Gon Jinn to him. Maul’s senses reached out and he detected Obi-Wan’s leap straight into the air. Without thinking, the Sith plunged his weapon forward, catching the Jedi in the midsection. Without removing his gaze from the apprentice, he called upon the dark side to halt his leap instantly so that he seemed to be suspended on the end of the energy blade. Qui-Gon Jinn’s silent weapon nearly halted in mid-flight, but Maul caught it with his mind and flew it to his own outstretched hand. Obi-Wan’s expression of horror filled Maul’s blackened soul with joy as he pulled the lightsaber away, the smell of burnt meat in the air. For a single instant, their eyes met and the padawan seemed to acknowledge that Maul was the master of the day. Maul grinned, ruined teeth exposed in a feral snarl as his adversary took his last breath and then fell, unceremoniously, away into the darkness of infinity. That was the difference between apprentice and master. Desperation led to fear and fear was something the Jedi did not understand. In comparison to the Sith, the Jedi were all padawan learners. From Master Yoda to the corpse that was now striking solid ground deep beneath the Naboo capital of Theed. Maul deactivated his weapon, examined it and then tossed it down the shaft after the corpse of Obi-Wan. He still held Qui-Gon Jinn’s weapon and he looked it over as well. Without so much as a second glace, he threw it away. It was tainted with the disorder of the Jedi Knights and was by no means a fit weapon for a Sith. Maul would simply have to make himself a new weapon. Turning quickly, he exited the chamber and moved through the passageways until he found exit from the castle. A short jog took him to the speeder bike he had “borrowed” and fifteen minutes afterwards, he was racing away from Naboo and heading back to Coruscant. Triumphant.

1

“Severe is this problem, at work is the dark side,” Master Yoda said, his eyes closed in concentration. Mace Windu, fellow Jedi Master and council member nodded slowly, his eyes betraying the sadness he currently felt. “It is obvious that we are dealing with the Sith. Qui-Gon was a master swordsman and Obi-Wan was a fine apprentice.” His bottom lip trembled as he pulled the Force to him to help calm the raging tsunami of emotions swirling within him. He had been given the unenviable task of going to Naboo to claim the bodies of the two Jedi. Perhaps it was the saddest duty one had to perform as a member of the Jedi Council, the claiming of the dead. Still, it had been his duty as both a Jedi Master and as a friend to the two fallen warriors. He had noted with some small relief that Qui-Gon had appeared serene, showing that he had accepted his fate as a true Jedi. All of that passed when he had laid eyes upon the corpse of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The young apprentice was broken and battered, barely recognizable as being human. The only part of his body that had appeared unaffected had been his face, which had revealed the horror, and fear he had felt as he had passed this life. “If alive the Sith are, hidden from view they will be,” Yoda commented as he stood up. “Vigilant the Jedi must be, always on the look out for the dark side.” “It must have been the same person who attacked them on Tatooine. We should have seen this,” Mace said. It was obvious that he felt somewhat responsible for what had happened to the Jedi on Naboo. Qui-Gon had brought them evidence of a dark Jedi and the council had not taken a proactive stance, but instead worried about the situation concerning the Trade Federation’s embargo of Naboo. It was become something of a dark joke among the Jedi, how seemingly innocent decisions were having dire results. Normally, a Jedi could tap into the Force and gain guidance about the future. Lately, it seemed as if there were some sort of interference, as if someone were purposely jamming the reception so to speak. “Clouded is the future,” Yoda offered, but Mace was not comforted. “Where is the boy, young Skywalker?” Mace suddenly felt his spirits life slightly. “Are we to train him? I know the council had already voted on the issue, but given the circumstances...” Yoda stopped and leaned against his gnarled cane. “Stand the decision does, train him we shall not. His bond to Qui-Gin is severed, too much pain for one so young.” “What if he is the Chosen One?” Mace asked. Qui-Gon had been completely convinced that Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, a prophesized Force-talented person who would bring balance to the Force. The problem was that no Jedi knew exactly what that balance was supposed to be. Was it an equalization of the light and dark sides, or was it something else entirely? “Can we afford to leave him untrained with the potential he has?” “Untrained a minor problem he may be; trained from this point on, more likely to become something more,” Yoda answered matter-of-factly. Mace pursed his lips, wondering if he should push the argument. He had respected QuiGon, considered him a close friend and ally, and though he understood Yoda’s fears, he didn’t feel right about just ignoring his dead comrade’s feelings. “So, you are of the mind that if we try to start training him at his advanced age, we could cause more harm than good?” “Betray you, your feelings do,” Yoda said as they walked along. Mace did not reply but looked out a large window at the myriad of vehicles, hovercraft and personal spacecraft that raced through the skies above the Jedi Temple. “Only a Jedi of Qui-Gon’s temperament could train the boy; perhaps even Obi-Wan if survived he had.” “What about Master Dooku? He trained Qui-Gon; he certainly could train the boy,” Mace asked, hope in his voice. Yoda sighed. “In politics is Dooku more interested in. Accept a new apprentice he will not.”

2

Mace was beside himself with shock. Dooku had left the Order, but he was still technically a Jedi Master. Surely even he could be made to see how important the lad was? “Will this day ever end?” “Dark day for the Jedi this is,” Yoda mumbled as they slowly made their way down the passageway. Anakin slowly ate the bowl of nerf stew with fresh rysil bread, his head down as he did so. He was self-conscious and clumsy in his new surroundings. He was experiencing the first real bit of kindness since he had left Naboo and he was unskilled in the ways of showing gratitude. After the battle against the Trade Federation, Anakin had been saddened to learn of the deaths of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Eventually he came to understand that the life of a Jedi Knight was dangerous and like pod-racing, there was always the chance that you would face somebody better than you. His logic, however, did little to dull the pain in his heart. Too many things, none of them good, were happening to him. He had tried to stay on Naboo, but Queen Amidala had told him that he was the responsibility of the Jedi Council and had to be returned to their care now that his guardians were dead. He had pleaded with her and somehow, though he did not understand why, he had felt her heart breaking as she had ordered him placed onto a ship heading to Coruscant. Hero or not, he was still only a child. Once he had returned and appeared before the Council, they informed him that he would not be trained, that there were no masters capable of properly educating someone of his age. He had asked to be returned to his mother, but the Jedi would never send someone into slavery, willing or not. Instead they had dumped him into an orphanage on Coruscant’s lower levels. Rigid discipline was the only contact he would receive from the adults who administered the facility. Anakin tried his best to fit in but failed miserably. He was different from the other children and they knew it. One of the other orphans discovered that Anakin had been considered for Jedi training and that led to the rest of the children maintaining considerable distance from him for fear of his abilities, what few he had. He had made several requests to communicate with the Naboo embassy, which the head of the orphanage had dismissed with a crack to the hindquarters. Anakin had felt his anger begin to simmer behind his eyes and he began to question what he had done to deserve to be ripped away from his mother and dropped into this hell. Determined to find a way out of the orphanage, Anakin had managed to capture and reprogram one of the few house-cleaning droids to send a short message to Chancellor Palpatine, whom Anakin knew was from Naboo and might relay his problems to the Queen. The response he received was far different from what he expected. Looking up, he brushed back his sandy brown hair and regarded the man who had become his rescuer. Tall with regal features, he reminded Anakin of a king of some ancient land that his mother had told him about in his bedtime stories. When he had seen the way all of the staff at the orphanage had acted when the man appeared, Anakin knew this was a man of power. Anakin did not understand the Force, even though Qui-Gon had tried to explain it to him, but he was sure that the funny feeling he had whenever the man spoke was their mutual Forces interacting. “Is your meal satisfactory tonight, young Anakin?” Anakin nodded and wiped his mouth. “Yes, sir.” The man smiled and rubbed his neatly trimmed beard. Streaks of white going though it were the only indication of the man’s age. “Such manners. Your mother raised you well, Anakin.” “Count Dooku?” Anakin started as he dipped his bread. “Have you looked into freeing my mother?”

3

Dooku picked up his glass of wine and sniffed it before taking a sip. “You must understand, Anakin; Tatooine does not have a formal government…it is mostly under the control of the Hutts.” “The Hutts don’t like to be pushed around,” Anakin said sadly. Dooku smiled genuinely. “If only the Jedi Council had your worldly wisdom. You are quite correct; it will take time and I cannot guarantee the end result.” Anakin nodded. When he realized that Count Dooku was a Jedi, he had hoped to convince him to lead an attack on Tatooine that would free all of the slaves. The older man had looked at him with sympathetic eyes and laid a firm hand on his shoulder. “It is not your time yet, Anakin. However, if you come with me and do as I say, I promise you that one day you will have the power to make all of your dreams come true.” He finished eating and wiped his mouth. “Sir, why can’t I go to the Jedi Temple to train?” Dooku seemed to take some time to come up with his answer and when he spoke, it was slowly and even toned. “Anakin, do you remember how I told you that I trained Qui-Gon? Did you ever notice how he…resisted the suggestions of the Council? I left the Order for the same reasons that prevented Qui-Gon from advancing to the Council. We both began to realize that the Council had become corrupt. “Over the years, the Jedi have become bogged down in debating and making speeches, allowing petty prejudices dictate how they would and would not act. Surely you realize that it would only take a few Jedi to liberate the slaves of your homeworld, yet they refuse to do it! They instead concern themselves with the whims of the politicians, of the bureaucrats! ” Dooku stood up and threw back his cape, exposing his curved-handled lightsaber. “They allow so much misery and then they complain that there aren’t enough of them to possibly look into every situation that arises…” “And then they turn me down for training,” Anakin said, a sudden fire in his eyes. Dooku nodded. “Yes, Anakin, and do you know why? Qui-Gon knew why; that’s why he said he would train you regardless of the Council’s decision! They were jealous of your potential, young Skywalker. You were a direct threat to their power over the Republic! It made me sick to see how they would make a decision for one reason, then use that reason as a defense for inaction! So, I left the Order so that I could pursue not only a political solution to what I saw as a political problem, but to see truth in the Force.” Anakin nodded, totally captivated by Dooku’s speech. It all made sense to him. It was the only explanation as to why they had sent him away. It may have even been the reason why QuiGon was dead now. The sudden realization made the boy’s eyes water. “Sir…did they kill QuiGon because of me?” Dooku turned so that the boy could not see his grin, his smile of knowing that he was pulling the lad straight into his clutches. How easy it had been, thanks in part to the shortsightedness of the Council. Fools, he thought. “Are you sure you want the truth, Anakin?” The boy stood up and wiped his nose on his sleeve. He was radiating strongly in the Force, but was not adept enough to know he was letting his feelings flow freely. The boy was now an open book to the former Jedi Master. “Please, sir…if he was killed because of me…” Dooku turned, his face ashen. “Yes. Yes. Yes, a thousand times, yes,” he said, dropping to one knee and grabbing Anakin by both shoulders. “But you must remember that he died for a cause. He believed in you.” “Obi-Wan didn’t seem so sure,” the boy remarked. The tears were coming freely now and Dooku sent tendrils through the Force to coax the boy more to his point of view. When he touched the boy in that way, he was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer power that the child possessed.

4

“Oh, he knew, but he was young as well and did not want to immediately give up his place with his master.” He waited a few moments and as expected, Anakin wanted to know how they died. Dooku released him and reached for a napkin to let the boy dry his tears. “You must learn to be strong Anakin, if you are to become the warrior you want to be.” He stood up and allowed Anakin to compose himself. It had taken a little longer than his master had thought it would, but the boy’s natural curiosity was now drawing him closer to Dooku. Sideous had commented that Anakin Skywalker would gravitate towards any father figure very easily. “As I was not there, I cannot tell you exactly what happened, but I can guess. Very few Jedi would have the ability to defeat Qui-Gon with a lightsaber, let alone Qui-Gon and his able apprentice.” Anakin looked up. “The dark man?” On Naboo during the battle with the Trade Federation Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had gone off to confront a man cloaked in black that had suddenly appeared. It had been the same man that had attacked them on Tatooine. “Was he the one that killed them?” Dooku shook his head. “No; do not let appearances taint your judgment. That was the mistake the Council made about you. The man you saw was an emissary of my master who was seeking to warn Qui-Gon. On Tatooine, he mistakenly thought that Qui-Gon was kidnapping the Naboo queen. My master sent him to Naboo to protect the queen and that drew him once again into combat with Qui-Gon. They did not battle long and Lord Maul, that was my master’s emissary’s name, left them alive and well with an offer to join us. They refused unfortunately.” Anakin wanted to say something, because he had always assumed that the man was trying to kill Queen Amidala, the object of Anakin’s affections. “He wasn’t trying to kill her then?” Dooku smiled and began to lead Anakin out of the dining chamber, past the servant droids and into the passageway. “No; on the contrary, Maul was extremely concerned about the queen and you also. You see, the two of you are kindred spirits.” “What does that mean?’ Anakin asked as they walked towards a large door that had two guards standing at it. It was a room that Anakin had not been permitted to enter. “It means that you and he are alike, that you have similar interests and desires.” At the door they stopped and one of the guards shouldered his weapon, turned to a keypad and entered a code to open it. “Lord Maul is a warrior of great skill. He desires an apprentice.” The door opened slowly to reveal a dark chamber illuminated only by small glow lamps on the walls. They entered it and moved towards the center. They stopped over a large symbol painted in dull fluorescent paint allowing it to glow slightly. Anakin looked around the room, squinting in the dim light and saw that the walls were covered with strange markings. His mind went into overdrive as he tried to see if there was a pattern to them, much how he saw the wiring of a droid when he tried to repair it. His concentration was halted as he felt a presence enter the chamber from the opposite wall where a secret door opened. It was almost as if a living shadow were moving towards him and his senses were suddenly alive. A switch had been turned on inside of him and Anakin instinctively knew that it was the Force calling to him. Darth Maul stopped just in front of Dooku and Anakin. His hood was down, allowing the young boy to finally see him up close and personal. The Sith Lord inhaled deeply. “You stand on the threshold of greatness, young Skywalker…” Anakin could only nod as he studied the nightmarish face of the dark warrior. Dooku reassured Anakin with a fatherly pat on the shoulder. Maul gave the older man a quick glance and the Count obediently removed his hand. There could only by two, master and apprentice and Dooku was neither now. “You are very powerful, young Skywalker, I can feel it,” Maul began, his voice sending shivers through the boy. “Tell me, does my visage frighten you?”

5

Anakin put on his best sabbac face, but it failed. Maintaining an even tone, he tried to sound more mature than he was. The question reminded him of his testing with the Jedi Council. There, they had seen his power and still refused to train him. “I’m scared, but I’m also angry. I think I’m more angry than scared.” Maul smirked. “Good, you acknowledge your fear and that is the first step to controlling it. That is what will separate you from the Jedi. The Jedi suppress fear while the Sith control it.” “Master Qui-Gon said that the Sith were evil,” Anakin remarked. “So he was taught to believe and yet here is his master, bringing you to me in order to show you the true path to greatness.” Dooku bowed his head to Maul. He then spoke to Anakin. “Listen well, Anakin, for now you will be trained in the ways of war and power, skills necessary to bring order to the galaxy.” Anakin nodded. “And then I can free my mother?” Dooku was interrupted by Maul. “When you complete your training, you will be able to do anything you want.”

6

Chapter 2

“Chancellor Palpatine, thank you for seeing me,” Senator Padme Neberrie said as she entered the spacious office of the elected leader of the Republic. The former queen had come to discuss her opposition to the creation of a national military. Over the past decade since the Battle of Naboo, there had been a growing movement for a break-up of the Republic. The Separatists were gaining power and the Loyalists, led by the Chancellor, wanted to form a standing army and navy to force the union of planets and systems. A profound pacifist, Padme had come here to Coruscant to speak directly with her predecessor. She had hesitated; she loathed coming to the city-world because of the memories it dragged up. The deaths of her Jedi protectors and the subsequent removal of Anakin from Naboo had hurt her deeply. All of her efforts to contact the boy had proven fruitless, as he seemed to have disappeared. Inquiries to the Jedi Council were never fully answered. The crimson-robed guards stepped away to allow her entry into the office proper, where the Chancellor had a warm smile and hug for her. “Thank the stars that you are alive,” he commented. Only an hour before, Padme’s body double, a security precaution from her days as the elected queen of the Naboo people, had been killed in an explosion obviously meant for the senator. There had been rumors that she would be targeted by the more extreme Loyalist factions for her pacifistic views. “I feared the worst when I heard; I am most relieved to see that the old security measures are still in place.” “After the war with the Trade Federation, Panaka felt that all high ranking government personnel should maintain doubles just as a precaution. You of course remember his personal outrage when the Trade Federation was barely prosecuted by the senate…” “Yes, regretful, but necessary to maintain the greater peace,” Palpatine offered as he led her to some couches. There were several plates of refreshments set out. “Order is so hard to maintain that one must sometimes make deals that are very undesirable. Remember, my own personal estates suffered under the Trade Federation.” Padme nodded and accepted a small glass of mineral water. “Indeed; I always found it somewhat ironic that the only property that was completely devastated was your own, as if they were trying to gain your wraith.” Palpatine fixed his robes and watched as a serving droid poured him some wine. “Believe me, senator, I am the last person the Trade Federation wants to anger.” “Especially with your plans for expanding the Security Forces into a full-fledged military,” she added. “Chancellor, surely you can see that by nationalizing a military, increasing it beyond the minimum required, you will become exactly what the Separatists say you are.” He said nothing but maintained an even stare as she spoke, looking both attentive and sympathetic at the same time. “I have to ask: even if you were able to push through your measures, would the Republic be able to afford it, or will taxes have to be raised?” He took in a breath. “As you well know, the Republic does not have any national shipyards, but I have been assured by many private contractors that they can accommodate us if we request. On the subject of troops, however…” “Ah, I see your problem and it just supports my argument. How would you draw troops? From what worlds? How would systems react to having their taxes used to support troops from a rival planet or system? It would take years just to train such forces.” Palpatine nodded. “Alas, you are correct, but you only bring up the same arguments that your fellow senators have also brought before me. I say to you, however, that maintaining order and peace is the ultimate responsibility of this government. As chancellor, I would be remiss if I didn’t do everything in my power to ensuring that peace endures.” “Even if it leads to war?” she asked.

7

“War, my dear, is the price that must be paid in order to have peace. A sad truth, but a truth nevertheless. I would think that after the invasion by the Trade Federation you would have a different outlook.” He sniffed his wine and then sipped at it. “The Trade Federation was beaten back by our own forces, not a national army or navy. In any event, it would have been impossible for me to get any aid. Even if there were this military you envision, it would take the Force itself to get it anywhere while debates raged in the senate chamber.” She took a few seconds to calm herself. Her dislike of the process of government, with all of its rules and regulations that seemed to prevent any type of action, was legendary. When the Trade Federation had blockaded the planet of Naboo, Padme had appeared before the Senate to beg for help and received only empty promises of possible future action. “You say that war is the price for peace, Chancellor, but I disagree. Intelligent beings will not always see eye to eye, but it does not have to lead to war. The reason that the Republic has been free of war for the past 1000 years is because there is no military to tempt people such as you to use it. Instead, the process of diplomacy continues, as inefficient as it is.” Palpatine’s face took on a mournful look. “That is only true if all of the parties agree not to employ force. I happen to have information relating to…” He stopped as he noticed his guest looking sorrowfully out the window towards the sky. There were no clear skies on Coruscant, as thousands of air and space vehicles rotated around the planet like electrons around a nucleus. “I’m sorry my dear; after all that has happened today, you must be exhausted.” She turned back to him and smiled. “I confess that I was hoping to get in to see you and convince you of the error of your position and then leave quickly but after what happened…” He leaned forward and put his wine down and then put a fatherly hand on her leg. “To keep a sense of humor is important in our line of work, but it is also important to grieve so that we remember who we represent.” He stood up and offered her his hand. “I will have one of my assistants direct you to your quarters and I will make sure that a secure channel is set up to Theed. I’m sure that you will want to inform your double’s family.” “My gratitude to you, Chancellor,” she said as they moved towards the exit. “Not at all. However, I would hope that you would allow me to perhaps ask the Jedi Council to look into the assassination attempt. They have more experience at such things than my own security personnel.” She shook her head. “I am uninterested in Jedi aid…” “Of course, my apologies again,” the Chancellor commented as the door opened. Two Naboo security men stood there next to a small astromech droid. “A strange servant to be sure.” “Artoo is a friend; I was holding him for Anakin,” she said. Suddenly, she had a thought. “Chancellor, could I ask a favor of you?” “Anything,” he said. “You do remember Anakin Skywalker, don’t you?” He closed his eyes for a moment as he appeared to search his memory. “The young Jedi pilot?” “He wasn’t a Jedi, at least not yet anyway. We were forced to return him to the Council after his master was slain on Theed.” Palpatine shook a finger at her. “Yes! I assume that the boy was trained at the Temple?” “That’s the problem, the Jedi informed me that he wasn’t trained but was instead turned over to an orphanage. From there, the trail goes cold and the Jedi seem uninterested in pursuing the matter.” Palpatine pulled out his datapad and a stylus and wrote a note on it. “I am not surprised. While the Jedi do much good, I’m afraid that they are rather predatory in the way they guard their internal secrets. While I am quite confident that nothing untoward happened to the lad, their unwillingness to aid you is unacceptable.” “Thank you, Chancellor, I am forever in your debt,” Padme responded as the door closed.

8

“Can you explain to me, Master Yoda, how it is that the Council of Jedi have lost track of one little boy?” Chancellor Palpatine asked. Seated before him, Mace Windu squirmed slightly at the tone of the question, while Yoda seemed unaffected. “You were entrusted with the care of Anakin Skywalker and yet you cannot account for his current whereabouts.” “Turned over to the proper authorities he was, for training he was refused,” the Jedi Master offered. “The institution he was placed in is one of the best on record,” Mace added. “Indeed it is, as my advisors have indicated,” the Chancellor said as he looked at his terminal screen. “Yet, they have no record of Anakin Skywalker being accepted there at any time, let alone ten years ago.” “I took him there myself,” Mace offered, straining to maintain his composure. “It is strange, Master Windu,” Palpatine said, shaking his head. “There are no adoption records?” “Records there are not of Skywalker anywhere. Jedi researchers have looked for any trace of the boy, but find none they did.” Yoda sighed. “Adopted he most likely was.” “Granted, but I have an official request from a member of the senate which was seconded by Senator Binks,” Palpatine said as he leaned forward. “As Chancellor of the New Republic, I am obligated to look into this matter with all diligence.” “We can conduct our own investigations,” Mace replied. He never liked Palpatine, though he failed to ever understand why. If anything, the man had done more to unite the Republic than any other chancellor before him. The former senator from Naboo seemed to be most adept at cutting through red tape and getting down to the core issues of any problem, from economic woes to the current military debates. Were he a Jedi, he would sure have been a powerful one, judging by his natural charisma. “Forgive me if I appear rude, but the Jedi have had ten years to investigate this matter and have done nothing about it. I’m afraid your assurances are not enough.” Palpatine pressed a button on his desk and the door to the office opened with a hydraulic woosh. “Ah, Commander Zsinj, please come in.” Both Jedi turned to see a man dressed in the uniform of the Coruscant Defense Force. The man possessed a steely gaze and almost regal military bearing, giving the impression that he expected everyone in the room to be thankful that he was there. “Reporting as ordered, Chancellor,” Zsinj said as he stopped next to Mace. “Gentlemen, Commander Zsinj has been chosen to head up the investigation into the disappearance of Anakin Skywalker.” Palpatine’s face was as impassive as ever. Zsinj turned to regard the two Jedi masters. He nodded to them both, but Mace caught a minute look of contempt when the officer looked at Master Yoda. He reached out through the Force to get a read on the man’s emotions but got nothing but cold neutrality. “Chancellor, with all due respect, I think this is carrying things a little too far.” Zsinj responded to Mace’s concerns. “And with all due respect to you, Master Windu, the disappearance of a Republic citizen is not the responsibility of the Jedi Council, but falls under the jurisdiction of local security forces.” “Not a citizen was he, came from world outside Republic influence,” Yoda countered. Zsinj shook his head and his tone was that of a father scolding a disobedient child. “Once your Jedi master secured the boy’s release from slavery and transported him here, he de facto became the boy’s guardian. As such, under the Citizenship Act Provisions enacted over 700 years ago, Anakin Skywalker became a Republic citizen.” Yoda closed his eyes. “Find the boy we will.” “Master Yoda, you must understand that such a thing is no longer an option. If the press were to get a hold of this, it could be disastrous for the Jedi,” Palpatine offered. “The Separatist already claim that you are devils that steal children in the night.”

9

“I assure you that my investigation will be as unobtrusive as possible,” Zsinj said with a polite smile. Mace eyed Yoda who seemed to turn a shade darker in color. “However, the investigation will go on with or without your cooperation.” Mace waited for the Chancellor to correct the commander for it was a severe breach of etiquette for him to speak to the Jedi masters so. The Chancellor only nodded and raised his eyebrows when Mace regarded him. It was then that the Jedi realized that this situation was more serious than he had first thought. “What will you require of us?” Zsinj handed over a datapad. “A list of the materials I require is here, but the broken down version is that I need basic biographical data on each member of your order, broken down by species. Then we will look for individuals that may have had reason to do harm to the boy or even if the boy is among you and he is being hidden.” “Why in the name of the Force would we do that?” Mace asked, his gaze becoming menacing. He didn’t like this military officer with the false politeness. He was the proverbial longcat in nerf’s clothing. “Is not the official story that both Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi were killed by a dark Jedi? A Jedi you have never been able to locate? Is it not possible that this Jedi is in your midst?” Zsinj waited for a reply and saw that Yoda was squeezing his eyes shut and for a moment, he felt a burning sensation at the back of his mind, but it was soon put out by something else. Yoda opened his eyes and he looked tired. “Comply we will; the information will be made available.” “I am so happy to see that we all agree,” Palpatine said as he leaned back. He threw a cautious glance to Zsinj, who nodded acknowledgement.

10

Chapter 3

“I am here to establish order to this world,” the figure in the dark cloak said. Behind him, a slightly larger individual in matching attire stood, head bent slightly. Their features were masked by the shadows of their garments and the setting of the twin suns of Tatooine. Jabba, undisputed criminal ruler of the planet, laughed and slithered across the floor. For a Hutt, he was still small, but was working hard to remedy that deficiency. It was rumored that he ate at least his own weight everyday, but then sweated it all off as he traveled under the burning suns of the desert planet. His large eyes squinted as he laughed. “You are brave, Jedi, but foolish as well,” he commented in Huttese. A protocol droid started to translate when the speaker for the intruders responded in the native Hutt tongue. “The only fool I see here is you, Jabba, if you think I am not serious. I offer you the chance to keep your life. Turn over all of your operations to me and slither back to Nal Hutta.” The man pulled back his cloak to reveal the handle of a lightsaber. Again the Hutt laughed and his bodyguards, a motley crew of aliens and humans, joined in as well. All had their weapons drawn. “Stupid Jedi! You try to scare me with your little toy!” The man stood tall and pulled back his hood to reveal youthful and handsome features contrasted by a cruel sneer. Cool brown hair and deep blue eyes gave the appearance of innocence, but it was appearance only. “Don’t call me a Jedi.” A Rhodian stepped forward, wanting to increase his status with his employer by tossing the duo out himself. “You leave now!” it barked in crude Basic. As the Rhodian reached out its elongated fingers to touch the man, the dark-clad warrior reached down and pulled his lightsaber. With a quick snap-hiss, the silver blade came to life and ended the Rhodian’s with a clean slash that cleaved the alien in two. From behind the Jedi, his partner pulled back his hood to grace the assembled thugs with his ruined visage. Summoning the Force, Darth Maul leapt up and over his apprentice and landed in front of him. In a single motion, he pulled his own double-bladed weapon and activated it. Crimson death whirled and came down on two humans who were too shocked to pull the triggers on their blasters. Anakin rushed forward to aid his master, taking the protocol droid out with a wave of his hand that send the mechanical being crashing into the nearest wall. Working together, Anakin and Maul cut down being after being, moving ever closer to their prey. Jabba, immediately sensing that he was in great danger and that these were not Jedi he faced, started moving as fast as his blubber would allow him. He managed to get to the secret passage behind his aquarium of exotic snacks and then beat a hasty retreat to his private hanger bay. Maul took down the last guard by crushing the unfortunate mercenary’s throat with the Force. He turned to Anakin when he sensed a new presence. He turned just in time to deflect a sweeping blow from a blue-hued lightsaber. Anakin saw that his master was battling a woman of pale skin and a single long ponytail. She was quite beautiful in a cold way he thought as he positioned himself to join the fray. Her style of dress indicated that she was used to action but Anakin could sense the turbulent aura of the dark side coming from her as well. Was she a Nightsister, one of the infamous Witches of Dathomir that had been able to ward off the Jedi so long ago? If so, she could prove to be an ally. He wanted to voice his suspicions to his master, but Darth Maul was not interested. “Aurra Sing, we meet at last,” Maul said, hissing in anger. Anakin reached out with the Force and detected confusion coming from the woman. Darth Maul knew her, but it was obvious that she did not know him. It was not surprising; Lord Maul made very few visits to the world outside the domains of the Sith and when he did, death followed him. Death and his faithful apprentice.

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“The only thing I can’t stand more than a Jedi is some scrag wanting to be a Jedi,” she snarled. She brought the lightsaber up and feinted a head strike, moving in for a chest thrust at the last second. Maul easily deflected the killing blow and countered with a backhand strike to her face. “You have potential, but no skill woman,” Maul laughed. “You will make a fine companion for my bed.” She screamed and swung for the legs of the Sith Lord, who jumped back several meters. “Go, my apprentice, get the Hutt while I continue with this…foreplay.” Anakin raised his eyebrows. In the last ten years, he had never seen Lord Maul display anything like lust, but he was now giving it off in hot waves. It was fueling the Dark Lord, giving him easier access to the Dark Side and he could feel Aurra Sing straining to overcome the ocean of dark desire being thrown against her. Her fate was sealed. Despite the obvious skills she possessed, she was simply outclassed by Darth Maul. Anger was not the only way to tap into the dark side, as the Jedi had named that part of the Force which gave a Sith their power. Jealousy, lust and envy worked just as well, opening a conduit for the Sith Lord to pull power from life itself to bring order from chaos. Lust caused chaos and using the Force to satisfy that lust brought order. His thoughts were interrupted when Maul launched a discarded blaster at Anakin’s head. “I said go!” he screamed as Aurra landed a kick to his kneecap. Maul reached out and caught her leg before it moved out of range and used the Force to augment his already impressive strength. The woman flipped and fell onto her back, groaning as her lungs emptied of air. Anakin needed no further encouragement and took off to the passageway that Jabba had gone into. He saw no sign of the Hutt wondered how something so bulky could move so quickly. He immediately ran down the passageway and turned the corner and found himself in a large hanger bay. There were several vehicles, including some new Z-95 Headhunters, which he reminded himself he needed to come back and check on. The coming war required all of the materials they could get and a true Dark Lord understood that advantage came from the least likely of places. Stopping in front of a civilian heavy transport, Anakin deactivated his lightsaber and reached out with the Force. Hutts were immune to most of the subtle mind tricks that the Force would allow him to employ, but Jabba would still radiate as life in the Force. Light or dark side, it didn’t matter. If it was alive, it was in the Force and it would leave a clearly visible trail for those who could follow it. There was a large sail barge at the very end of the bay and Anakin saw several workers scurrying to load crates on board. Anakin could sense their fear; Jabba had them whipped up into a panic and that fed Anakin’s power. He started walking slowly towards the barge. A would-be assassin stepped put from behind the transport and put the barrel of his blaster pistol to Anakin’s head. Anakin reacted out of pure reflex and used the Force to crush the man’s hand so he couldn’t pull the trigger, relishing in the telltale crunch of bone. The man screamed and Anakin gave him an upward palm strike to the nose, driving it deep into the brain and killing the man instantly. Silently, he cursed himself for focusing only on Jabba and narrowing his perceptions. That had allowed the assassin to get the jump on Anakin. Frustrated with his failure and embarrassed that for all of his bravado, he was still the learner, Anakin pulled on all of the life forces in the hanger bay. Two of the workers fell immediately, spasms ravaging their bodies as if they were being electrocuted. Another tumbled down from scaffolding overhead, clutching his chest. His body landed with a thud and Anakin released his grip through the Force. “Jabba, I’m coming for you!” he taunted.

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In response, an alien guard who was shaken, but not incapacitated, moved to a large turbolaser mounted on the forward deck of the sail barge. Anakin continued to walk slowly towards the ship, allowing his foe to power up the large laser and bring it around to bear down on him. Unlike what some myth’s might state, even a Dark Lord could not hope to deflect a light turbolaser with just a lightsaber and when he sensed that the being was going to fire, Anakin used the Force to slam the gunner’s head onto the control panel. Sparks flew as the creature’s skull popped open and split the control panel casing as well. A small electrical fire started sending blue and green smoke rising up into the overhead as alien flesh burned. Anakin was almost to the sail barge when he detected Jabba’s presence cowering inside a large container next to the ship. Anakin activated his lightsaber and used it to cut off the locks, one by one, letting them fall to the floor and scatter away. Jabba suddenly pushed the door open, throwing his weight into it and knocking Anakin back several meters. Anakin’s lightsaber tumbled away and the Hutt rushed towards him, hoping to crush him under his weight. Jabba yelled and flopped down on the prone form of Anakin. “Die Jedi! Die!” he cried in Huttese. As the Hutt thrashed, he failed to realize that he was slowly being floated higher and higher, raised by the Force. He did notice after he caught a sickening grin on Anakin’s face. The dark clad youth scooted out of the way before he allowed the Hutt to fall face first onto the hanger bay floor. Jabba rolled around onto his back, dark blood oozing from a deep cut on his massive head. Anakin called his lightsaber back to him. “I told you not to call me a Jedi.” Jabba vomited up something still alive, but Anakin remained unaffected. He kicked at the squirming creature and ignited his weapon. He put the tip of it centimeters from Jabba’s eye. “If you’re lucky, this will only boil your eye away and I won’t be forced to stick it in your filthridden brain.” “What do you want?” Jabba asked, nervously trying to look away from the glowing point of the blade. “I want you to turn over this planet to me,” Anakin said. “I don’t own this world…ahhhh!” Jabba cried out as Anakin popped the eyeball. The odor was sickening, but Anakin ignored it. “I know that if you say this world is mine, the Hutts will respect it. They may not respect you afterwards, but they will respect my claim and they are the only ones I’m concerned with.” Anakin waited as the Hutt bucked and he had to use the Force to subdue him, lest he get away. “Fine! Bastard Sith!” Jabba gurgled out as blood began to pour from his wound. Anakin used the Force to numb the area and Jabba seemed to settle down. “All is well, my apprentice?” Darth Maul asked, tightening the sash on his robes as he approached. Anakin saw that they were soaked on blood. “Master! You are wounded!” Anakin said. “It is not my blood,” Maul answered coldly and Anakin now sensed the dying Aurra Sing. He started to say something, but realized that to question his master was to invite doom. Images of what happened to her entered Anakin’s brain as she passed into the Force and he shivered. “Who do I say is now master of this world?” Jabba asked from the floor. “Lord Vader, representative of the independent world of Tatooine,” Chancellor Palpatine announced to the assembled senators. Several moved closer to introduce themselves, especially several of the younger female ones. Padme stood back and observed as Senator Qual from Kuat made a royal buttock of herself as she tried her best to maintain the diplomat’s attention. The young man smiled and politely nodded at all of her questions, but his eyes were being drawn slowly from the artificially

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enhanced cleavage of the Kuat representative to Padme. She blushed, not knowing what to say or do as he approached. “Ah, Lord Vader, allow me to present my dear friend and philosophical rival…” “Senator Amidala?” Vader asked, taking her hand and applying the lightest of kisses to it. Many of the other women were put off as he had only shook theirs. “Padme, actually,” she said, not wanting to pull her hand away. There was something beyond the outward charm to this young man. He was like a kindred spirit, far too young for his position, yet seemingly mature enough to accept it with humility. He was also familiar somehow, but she could not place where they could have met. “I was not aware that Tatooine had a formal government.” “My family managed to come to an arrangement with the Hutts that was mutually beneficial,” Lord Vader said with some pride. “However, unless we are able to secure aid from the Republic, I don’t see how we can hope to bring law and order.” She turned to Chancellor Palpatine. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Please understand, Lord Vader, I am quite sympathetic to your cause. Tatooine holds a special place in my heart…” Vader bowed his head and put his best grin on. “Then my planet is indeed quite lucky.” She blushed again and was forced to look down. “Lord Vader, you embarrass me.” Palpatine chuckled. “My dear, he is quite charming, which is why I personally am supporting Tatooine’s petition for admission into the Republic. By supporting Tatooine, perhaps we can convince some of the other outlying systems to join as well. For too long, the Rim Worlds have been a haven for criminals wanting to remain outside the reach of our laws.” “That would be a fine thing, I am sure,” Padme said, mentally licking her lips as she prepared to test the moral fiber of this handsome delegate from the desert. “Tell me Lord Vader, what is your view on slavery? You are aware that the practice runs rampant on your planet? How will you address this issue?” Padme’s passion was evident in her tone and mannerisms. The shock and horror she had felt when young Anakin informed her that he and his mother were slaves still burned deeply within her. Then to think about how the young slave boy had risked his life to save hers…it sometimes became unbearable the sorrow she felt. So many times over the years she had thought fondly of Anakin and would wonder what kind of man he had grown into. He had so wanted to be a famous Jedi, but it seemed that fate and the Force were against him. “Slavery has been banned on Tatooine. We will prosecute slavers to the full extent of our laws, which can be as harsh as the Dune Sea if need be.” She saw a brief flash of rage flash in his eyes as he spoke and she reasoned that he, like she, had ample reason to hate slavery on a personal level. “I wonder, I have never heard the name Vader before; what world does it originate from?” Before Vader could answer, Palpatine interrupted. “Many of the wealthier families on Tatooine have chosen new surnames in recent years. You do know the planet was originally founded as a mining colony?” “Yes, but when the mines dried up, so did interest and it became a home for the scum of the galaxy along with the hard-working,” Vader added. “I’m afraid I can’t answer your question completely. Tatooine is the only world I have ever considered home besides Coruscant. My family is quite…extended and to be honest, I chose Vader only recently. My current position gives me a new lease on life and I would like to best concentrate on that.” “You were educated here?” she asked, not wanting to pry any more than she had. If he were originally from Tatooine, there was every reason to think that perhaps his family had been involved in criminal enterprises at one time. That he was here to try and change his world for the better spoke more for him than a past he seemed to want to forget. He smiled. It had a very disarming effect on her. “You could say that, yes.” Palpatine whispered something in his ear and Vader nodded. He turned back to Padme. “I’m afraid I have to go speak before the finance committee, but I was wondering if I could trouble you to have dinner with me tonight.”

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She started to answer and then looked over at the two security men who had been assigned to her since the assassination attempt. “You don’t mind company, do you?”

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Chapter 4

Darth Sideous moved slowly through the apartment, his hands hidden in his sleeves and his hood pulled down to shield his eyes. He said nothing as he listened to the status reports being given by his operatives, who were represented by three holographic images, each only 10 centimeter high. His own transmission was designed so that no matter where he stood or walked in his quarters he always appeared to be facing his suborrdinates. “And per your instructions,” a man clad in Mandalorian armor stated, “I have halted the contract on the senator from Naboo. Things would have been easier if you would have contacted me directly instead of going through Lord Tyrranus. Middle men are not only a security risk, they are a breakdown in the lines of communication.” Count Dooku’s holographic image smiled. “I would not be so quick to question the actions of my master, Jango Fett; all that you should be concerned about is doing what you are paid to do.” Darth Tyranus was the name Dooku had chosen for himself when he had been made a Dark Lord by Sideous. It was a name he only used in Sith matters and it was the only name that Fett knew him by. All of the Dark Lords carried on with other identities to better further their deception. All except Darth Maul. “I have located the homestead of Lord Vader’s mother,” Maul said from his kneeled position. Of all, he was the most loyal and Sideous acknowledged him with a nod. “Who is this Lord Vader I keep hearing about?” Fett asked. “How many of you Sith are there?” “Enough that even someone of your skills should be concerned, bounty hunter,” Sideous snapped. “You are to remain on Coruscant and await further instructions.” “I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing,” was the reply. There was no menace in the voice, only the cool tone that came from a professional. “Then I suggest you take up a hobby to keep you occupied,” Sideous retorted with malice before ending the transmission. He turned to Darth Maul. “Lord Maul, you know what must be done. Lord Vader has become an unexpected boon to our cause. Using him and the world of Tatooine, the Senate will be forced to come up with troops to position there to maintain the peace.” “And what of your political opposition? You no longer want to kill this senator from Naboo, but she is quickly becoming the rallying point for the pacifists.” Tyranus’s figure pointed. “She will become a liability if you allow her to live.” “Perhaps, perhaps not. Even now Lord Vader seems to be charming her. Completely unexpected, but welcome,” Sideous said. He cut off the response with a wave of his hand. “Political intrigue is my responsibility, Lord Tyranus; military readiness is yours. Will you have sufficient forces to make the assault on Tatooine?” Tyrannus stroked his white beard. “Yes; the Hutts have now joined in as well, promising mercenary troops. The loss of the planet is shameful and I understand that Jabba has been given an ultimatum to retrieve it or die in the process.” “Most assuredly he will die, won’t he Lord Maul?” The tattoed Sith smiled. “Yes, my master, of that there will be no doubt. My apprentice has good instincts for complicated planning.” Sideous agreed. His original plans had called for something more basic than the intricate web that was currently being spun. While a simple plan assured victory, a more complicated one would provide a challenge and separate those Sith Lords who were worthy of the title from those who did not. Of course, the Naboo senator and irrelevant Jedi were helping matters as well. The Jedi had been incompetent enough to allow someone of Anakin Skywalker’s ability to slip through

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their fingers, and now the former Queen Amidala’s maternal heartstrings were forcing the Jedi to admit their mistake. So it had been for thousands of years. The Jedi would make a mistake and the Sith would seize upon it. After the Great Sith War, the Jedi had thought that the Sith were no more; again a mistake. They had survived but in very small numbers and they kept to the shadows of the galaxy, becoming nothing more than myth and legend. Now the time had come to increase their ranks. The Jedi were wrong to think that their numbers and philosophies offered them protection from the power of the dark side. No, it was the dark side that had been minutely chipping away at their resolve over the years. Had they not noticed that more and more padawans were failing, some even turning to the dark side? Did they not notice how impotent they had become? Unwelcome in most of the galaxy, despised in the rest. The time of the Jedi was done. A New Order was about to be heralded. Heralded with the blood of the Jedi. “Are you really implementing laws against slavery?” Padme asked. They were seated at one of the finer lounges in the very tops of the planet-city. It was an exclusive club open only to government officials and their families. Chancellor Palpatine, still working hard to push through Tatooine’s application for admission, was affording Lord Vader all of the privileges of a more senior member of the Republic senate. Vader finished ordering, a simple salad heavy with Correllian spices and legumes and took the time to look into her eyes before answering. When he had been told that he would be meeting her, his heart had started racing. For a few hours before their initial introduction, he had been the little slave boy in Watto’s junk shop again. Even after ten years, she was still an angel. Even after ten years, he was still in love with her. “Yes; slavery is wrong. It causes unnecessary chaos. It allows petty men to accumulate power that is not theirs.” Vader smiled politely and did not remove his gaze from hers. “Ah, so you are an elitist,” she chided. Her smile was having an unusual effect on him. He began to relax in a way that he had not done in several years. His training in the Dark Side had been brutal, fierce and complete. He knew that his mission was to bring down the Jedi and restore the rightful order to the galaxy. Did that mean that he could not take the time to enjoy himself as he did so? “You believe that only certain people should rule?” “What is wrong with that?” he asked, his eyes lighting up. “Leadership is a skill that not everyone possesses and not everyone can lead in the same way. I lead my world but without experience, I could not hope to lead something like the Republic. That is why we are so lucky to have someone as strong as Chancellor Palpatine.” He paused and slowly started to move his hand towards hers. “I understand your desire to prevent the creation of a strong, nationalized military arm. The Republic does already have an army and a navy, each one developed for defensive measure. The problem is that now we may have to take an offensive one.” “We? Are you saying that Tatooine, if accepted into the Republic, would support such a move?” Their fingertips were nearly touching and he could sense that her heartbeat was increasing. She was not oblivious to his actions, but she was not encouraging them either. It was an emotional chess game and Lord Vader was about to try to take the queen with his dark knight. “Yes, wholeheartedly. We need military support because we are vulnerable. We have no home forces; we have no allies and if the Separatists have their way, neither will the Republic. The only way to ensure peace is to make your enemies afraid of war.” “A very narrow point of view,” a deep voice said. Vader immediately withdrew his hand, his other reaching under his cloak. He looked up to see a man with tanned skin and dark hair, dressed in expensive robes of state. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to startle you,” the man said.

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Padme cleared her throat and made the pretense of fixing her dinner ware. “Oh, Bail Organna of Alderaan, allow me to present Lord Vader of Tatooine.” The man extended his hand to Vader, who took it. The grip was firm, but not overly. Bail Organna did not try to impress; he was used to people trying to impress him. “Lord Vader…so you are the one that has the senate in an uproar,” the older man said with a smile. “I’ve heard many things about you and was hoping that we would have a chance to speak. As you know, Alderaan and Naboo are allied in our opposition to the increases the Chancellor has proposed.” “As you can see, Senator Organna, I am doing my best to try and convince the lovely senator from Naboo that there are two sides to every story,” Vader replied coolly. “Yes, a virtual light and dark side, to coin Jedi philosophy.” Vader regarded him with a crooked smile. “I’m sorry, should I be addressing you as Master Organna?” “I’m afraid that the Force, whatever it is, does not seem to run in my family. Alderaan produces very few Jedi. No, but I consider them great allies in the peace process. Thanks to them, we have gone without the wars of the past for a thousand years.” “Really,” Vader said, leaning forward. “I wonder if that is because they are aiding the Republic or controlling it?” Bail considered replying but instead decided that this was not the time or place for such a debate. He was a strong supporter of the Jedi, but more and more sentiments like those of Lord Vader were being voiced by the public and in the halls of the senate. “I must apologize again for interrupting your meal; it is obvious to me that there is more than politics afoot.” Padme blushed and Vader found that he had no reply. He then said his good-byes, requesting that Vader come by his private apartment sometime so they could discuss political agendas and too his leave. They did not speak again for several moments until Padme broke the uncomfortable silence. “Has the Chancellor spoken to you about my friend Anakin?” she asked. “Uh, he has mentioned in passing that you were concerned for a young boy from my planet.” Vader looked deep into her eyes wondering if she suspected the truth. Had he changed all that much in ten years? Certainly the baby-fat was gone, replaced with the hardened muscle of youth and his hair was now curly and darker. He was taller, much more than he would have guessed and now he was even considering growing a beard. A beard was a sign of maturity and he had matured so much. When his training had started so many years before, he had been scared to let his anger and frustration flow so freely. Qui-Gon had warned him that anger would lead him down a dark road, but Lord Maul had told him that his anger was a pure projection of his soul. A soul could not be free when it was suppressed and the Jedi were the masters of suppression. Two hundred generations before, the Jedi had brought down the Sith Empire because the Sith refused to be told how they would live. “Better to die bravely then to live as a coward,” was a quote from Lord Maul that Lord Vader had heard more times than he could count. The Jedi were all cowards, refusing to lift a finger to help those outside the Republic and then rejecting anyone who had more power from their ranks. The Sith had not looked at him as an angry little boy, but as the man he had now become. Through the Sith, he now not only had the power to correct what was wrong with the galaxy, he was now not afraid to do it himself. The Jedi Council was weak; they refused to do their own dirty work and instead duped fine warriors like Qui-Gon Jin into doing their bidding. And where did it get them? Dead and forgotten; discarded like trash just as a young Anakin Skywalker had been ten years before. “Do you think that you could help? I know that the security forces are looking into it as an official matter,” she reached across and grabbed his hand. He felt a surge go through his body and he found himself light-headed. “Please, Lord Vader, it would mean so much to me if you could perhaps take a more personal look…”

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His eyes seemed to darken and she was transfixed by his stare. “My lady, I swear to you that the truth about Anakin Skywalker shall be revealed to you if I have anything to say about it.” Darth Maul cursed himself for having to soil his hands on the filthy human vermin that now were before. The three trembling husks barely radiated in the Force, but their fear was enough to fuel his rage. For two days, he had been following the trail of the Skywalker woman, the one who was the mother of Anakin. His apprentice had agreed to continue alone on his part of Darth Sideous’s plan if Lord Maul would find his mother and free her. His trust in Lord Maul was not unfounded because Darth Maul intended to set her free indeed, even if it required him to associate with desert rat scum like these people. “Let me see if I have your story correct, farmer,” Maul said as he reached for a piece of fruit. It was dry, as was everything else on this worthless planet, but he did not mind. A free meal at the expense of others was the sweetest. “You bought a slave and freed her, then married her. Why she would want to commit a lifetime to a fat bag of flesh like you is beyond comprehension.” He slowly hopped off the counter, tossing the half-eaten fruit to the floor. “Now you say that you allowed your mate to be carried off by…what did you call them?” “Sand People,” the older man said. Next to him, a young woman, battered and bleeding, was crying in the arms of a young man who had the fire of anger in his eyes. He was no threat to Maul and he simply ignored him for the moment. “She was taken by the Sand People!” the old man cried out. “Didn’t you fight for your mate?” Maul asked, taunting the man. The bandaged leg stump told the story, but Maul was enjoying pouring salt into the man’s emotional wounds. “Perhaps she is better off being ravaged by the sub-humans; better a whole animal than half a man.” The man lunged as best he could, but Maul simply threw him back with a wave of his hand. There was a snapping sound and Maul had to catch himself from bursting out in laughter. The man, something Lars had been his name, had broken his neck. If the sound of the bones breaking had not been evidence enough, the truth was deadly apparent by the unnatural position his body took when it settled. The young woman screamed and then fainted, her companion’s eyes full of rage and despair. Maul dispatched them easily, killing the woman first so that the man would understand that his entire life had been meaningless. He could not even defend someone he loved. Maul prepared himself a simple meal and took the time to fill a container with water. Even a Sith did not have the power to stave off the double suns of the desert planet indefinitely. Part of him hoped that this would be quick so that he could get back to directing the “defense” of Tatooine. Darth Sideous had information that the Hutts had put together an invasion force of mercenaries and battle droids to reclaim this world. Maul could care less about the world or its inhabitants, but he understood that this was the first step to complete control of the Republic. To him it was ironic how this one insignificant dustball of a planet was so involved in the destruction of the largest government ever created. “Rise Lord Vader and tell me why you disturb me at this hour,” Darth Sideous commanded. Vader raised his head and the senior Sith saw that his eyes were watering. “What is this? Tears?” “Forgive me my weakness, master, but it is my mother…” Darth Sideous’s eyes went wide, but they were hidden from the young Dark Lord’s view by his hood. With everything going on and the fact that Sideous was weaving a fog of the dark side throughout the Republic, there was no way that Vader could sense what was occurring so far away. Could he? “I am in a pleasant mood tonight so I will refrain from informing Darth Maul of this show of weakness; now tell me what troubles you.” “I had a dream…my mother was in pain…” Vader struggled to maintain his composure.

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“Of course she is in pain; she is a slave! That is why Lord Maul seeks out the mother of Anakin Skywalker. She will be the first to be freed from the oppression that the Republic and the Jedi spread through the galaxy.” He allowed Vader to stand up. The boy had responded well to the training regiment that Darth Maul had put him through; in fact, Sideous guessed with an evil grin, the apprentice far exceeded the master in skill and power. He wondered if Maul realized that. Anakin Skywalker was the future of the Sith, Sideous knew. He had the hatred and burning rage in his heart, but there was also this spark of compassion that could not be put out no matter what. The boy did well to suppress it, but recent events were allowing it to come to the surface again. “I’m sorry, master, it is just that my dreams are hard to interpret.” Vader wiped his eyes and took a deep breath. “You must think me a child.” “You are a child, Lord Vader, and have much to learn. You weep tears of sadness and not tears of rage. Your rage…your internal fire is what will give you the power you need. Without that power, the Jedi will win. Is that what you want?” Vader put his head down in shame. “No master, it is not what I want. I just wanted to save my mother.” “There is the first problem. Anakin Skywalker must die so that Lord Vader may take his place. You may have…feelings,” the word filled Sideous with revulsion, “for this woman, but the boy she knew is gone! You cannot recapture that past. The best you can hope for is to excel in your duties so that she will know that when the Jedi coerced her into letting her son go away that her decision was not all in vain.” Sideous let the words hang in the air and he could sense the conflict in the younger man. There was always two sides to every problem with this one he thought. Maybe it hadn’t been such a smart decision to allow Maul to train the boy after all. Maul had very little understanding or need of the softer emotions. Even a Sith could love. Darth Sideous loved; he loved power. “We are too close to our goals to lose sight of the objective.” “I will not fail you,” Vader said. “I promise.”

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Chapter 5

“I don’t think so,” Jango Fett replied, lowering the heavy duty blaster rifle which seemed to rest quite comfortably in the crook of his arm. “Our employer will pay well,” the Ithorian bounty hunter said. The Mon Cal next to him nodded in turn, but it did little to impress Fett or the mysterious woman in purple next to him. “Your employer cannot afford us; if not for the reputation of Jabba, I wouldn’t even have come here to speak with you,” Fett said. He turned to Zam. “You’re welcome to join in if you want.” The woman smiled. She was quite beautiful in this form, but the man in the Mandalorian armor knew that it was only one of millions of bodies and shapes the Changeling could assume. “I have to agree with him; assassination and kidnapping are one thing, hopping into the middle of a private war is something else.” “Then we are authorized to make a secondary offer,” the Mon Cal said, his large eyes blinking as he spoke. “There is an individual here on Coruscant that Jabba will pay handsomely to have eliminated.” “Who would that be?” Fett asked. Behind his mask, he rolled his eyes as he listened to the two amateurs try to deal with the professionals. “He goes by the name of Lord Vader, a diplomat from Tatooine. His real name is Anakin Skywalker, an escaped slave from that world,” The Ithorian said. It took a drag off of a spice stick before continuing. “He was one of the persons behind Jabba’s recent fall from grace.” Fett turned to Zam and she shrugged. Lord Vader was one of the people also in the employ of their current benefactor. “Isn’t the government doing an investigation into the whereabouts of Anakin Skywalker?” Fett asked her. She saw his hand slowly move to the selector switch on his blaster. She stepped forward and got their attention. “And Jabba only sent the two of you to negotiate this?” “Ha!” the Mon Cal laughed. “We’re all scum here! It isn’t like you two are any more important than the rest of us.” Fett’s reply was two quick squeezes of the trigger, taking both mercenaries down with precision and ease. As the bodies fell, Zam Wesell started to comment, but was stopped when someone shouted from above them. Both bounty hunters looked up to see the ignition of a lightsaber as a man-sized figure dropped from the next building. The figure landed with a softness that was completely unnatural. The man looked up and pulled back his brown hood. “You will remain where you are and drop your weapons. I am Ferrin Durron, Jedi Knight, and I am placing you both under arrest for murder.” Zam extended her arm, a holdout blaster firmly in her grip. Ferrin swung up in an arc, his golden blade cleaving off the Changeling’s arm. She screamed and stumbled back as her limb tumbled through the air and dropped to the walk below the building they were situated on. As Ferrin watched, her form shifted slightly, giving him a microsecond view of her true form. It was far from being as desirable as her human skin. Fett fired off two quick shots and activated his jet pack. Ferrin deflected the bolts, angling them away from the howling Zam. When he brought his lightsaber down, Fett was already out of sight. Ferrin cursed silently; his personal craft was too far away for him to give chase. He would have to settle with one prisoner. Zam was weakening quickly and Ferrin thought he remembered something about Changeling physiology. Major damage to the body caused natural painkillers to be secreted, putting the creature into a catonic state. It was rumored that some of them could actually grow new limbs when like this.

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He knew he had to act quickly, to try and get information from her before she slipped away. There was no way to know when she would come out of it. Again, he chastised himself for rushing into action without summoning aid. Coruscant was full of too many unknowns for a padawan to be out on his own. That he had charged into danger was bad enough; that he had told them he was a fullfledged Jedi Knight would certainly bring a stern lecture from Master Windu when he found out. “Rest, I will summon aid,” he tried to reassure her as he knelt. The wound was cauterized as was expected, but it was obvious she was in shock. He started to pull off his cloak to try and keep her warm when she suddenly lurched, arching her back as if she were in terrible pain. Ferrin grabbed her and asked what was wrong but she could not reply. She turned to him and her mouth opened and closed, but only a sickening gasping sound came out. She died then, leaving him alone with his failure. “Foolish you were, young padawan; not a full Jedi yet…maybe never,” Yoda said as Ferrin stood before the council. His master, Frie Ovos, said nothing but instead nudged his apprentice through the Force to speak up. “Masters, I am sorry for my brashness; I’ve been told it runs in my family,” he offered. “That is not an excuse,” Mace Windu said. “Yes, Master Windu, I know; I saw some shady looking characters…” “So, looks determine character,” Yoda barked. “Nothing you have learned!” He hopped out of his chair and stomped his small cane on the marbled floor. “Not look at the whole situation did you! Prejudice, false judgment…these are ways to the dark side!” “I’m sorry,” Ferrin offered and then dropped his head. He was sure that he would be asked to leave the Order now. As far as padawan’s went, he was a special case. He should have become a Knight a year before, but he had not been ready for the trials. Now, when he should have been practicing for his tests, he was instead being lectured about how he was not yet prepared to take them. His master then spoke up in his defense. “Regardless of his reasoning, he was correct. There were two murders committed and he did what we would expect from any member of our order…he tried to apprehend them.” “The ends do not justify the means,” Ki Adi Mundi offered. He was the only member of the council that was not ranked as a Jedi Master. “The easy path is the dangerous one as we all know.” He eyed Mace who nodded. Ten years before, they had taken the easy path with young Anakin Skywalker and now their entire order was under scrutiny by the local security forces. Only the day before, Mace had gone through his ninth interview on the subject. “The woman…has she been identified?” someone asked. “Yes,” Ferrin said, hoping to salvage his tarnished reputation. “She is a bounty hunter named Zam Wessell, considered to be one of the best. The two others were identified by outstanding warrants. They were alleged to have been in the employ of Jabba the Hutt of Tatooine.” “Formerly of Tatooine,” Ki corrected. “The other one in the armor?” “Nothing yet,” Ferrin said. “Inform Chancellor Palpatine we must,” Yoda said as he walked the perimeter of the room. “Assassins come here for only one reason.” “Yes; they must have been wanting to hire Wessell and her companion to take out Lord Vader,” Mace added. Ferrin suddenly remembered something. “I didn’t hear everything, but one of the dead aliens said that Lord Vader knew about Anakin Skywalker or words to that effect.”

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“Perhaps we should invite this Lord Vader to the temple? Perhaps he can solve the mystery of Anakin Skywalker?” Ki asked the assembled Jedi. There were murmurs of approval but Yoda cut them off. “No! Already out of control is this situation. Remain free from it the Jedi must or lose the support of the people we will.” He stopped in front of one of the windows and sighed. “Delay your trials for another year we will while you learn to control your emotions. A warrior a Jedi can be, but always with a heavy heart do they go to battle. Relish in conflict you do. Temper your fire you must.” Ferrin bowed slightly. “Thank you Master Yoda,” he said. He could sense the aggravation coming from his master. Obviously he did not think that Master Yoda was being fair. “Wait for me outside,” he commanded and he waited patiently, his hands folded in front of him, for the padawan to exit the chamber. “Do not speak to me of being irrational,” Yoda started as he turned. “You were too hard on him; he is ready for the trials! He is as ready as any apprentice his age. There is another reason for this,” Frie accused. “I see…this has nothing to do with his ability. You’ve all become afraid to do anything because of this investigation.” He walked forward and spread his arms wide. “Maybe we did make some mistakes ten years ago; are we not entitled? We are Jedi, not gods!” He waited for one of them, any of them to join him, but there was nothing but silence. “Do you know what I sense, fellow masters? Fear.” “You are out of line, Master Ovos,” Mace said, a hard edge to his voice. “No, I’m not. And I’m not the only one who has seen it either. Yes, ten years ago we lost two good Jedi to a Sith…maybe. Yes, ten years ago we turned our back on someone that maybe we should have done a little more for. Now you won’t do anything because you are afraid of making a mistake.” He turned, not waiting for a reply and stomped towards the doors. “My apprentice will take part in this year’s trials and you will not stand in his way. You might also consider this: if you cannot lead the Jedi properly, make way for those who can.” When he had left, the chamber remained silent until Ki spoke. “You can tell he was good friends with Qui-Gon.” There was some light laughter. “More truth than anger in his words there is.” “I agree; we have allowed ourselves to pushed into a corner and we are refusing to fight back,” Mace said to Master Yoda who was resuming his seat. “I say we do something about this information on Lord Vader. If someone is trying to kill him, we are obligated to try and protect him.” Darth Maul could almost appreciate the raw savage beauty of what the Sand People were trying to do with the Skywalker woman. They were breaking her down in order to build her back up into a proper member of their tribe. To do so required pain and much of it. Her pain was like a beacon to him, calling him through the desert night as he cruised on his speeder bike. He was surprised that he had not sensed it before, but he passed it off to all of the other sentients he had been in contact with. When they had lived, the poisoned the Force and only be eliminating them did he finally find clarity. Even without seeing her, he had known what they had done to her and he felt a streak of jealousy. The Sand People understood pain in a way Maul could never hope to. They found more than simple pleasure by inflicting it, they thrived on it. And yet, without being able to tap into the Force, he could not understand what they could get from the experience. It was sad to end their lives so quickly, not allowing them the honor of dying slowly and painfully as they would have done to him had they the chance. His mission did not allow him the luxury of passing on the gift of pain. Instead, he entered the Sand People’s camp and had begun the carnage with the same effort he used to adjust a belt buckle. It was all becoming so routine.

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He craved battle with Jedi again. His encounters with his mortal enemies had been so few and far between he was afraid he would go mad. He was no longer as young as he had been, but as he matured he learned something new: style. Gone was the tendency to hack and slash; instead he now worked on efficiency and new techniques. He was even considering building a holocron to store his own wisdom on the Force. Jedi did it all of the time, but so few Sith did. Dark Lords were always too busy doing something else. They were beings of action. When they were all dead, Maul zeroed in on the pain of Anakin Skywalker’s mother as it called out to him. Her violations had been exquisite in their depravity and he hoped to one day try them out for himself on some poor hapless female. Everything that had happened to her in her miserable life came rushing out as she pondered her future. He did not have to try to read her thoughts; she was lit up like a cheap laser board on Coruscant. “Who is there?” she managed to say from parched and bruised lips. Mauls voice was like the coolness of death. “I have come on behalf of your son, Anakin.” “Ani?” she asked, suddenly animated. She was tied to a pole in the middle of the chieftain’s tent. “My Ani is alive?” “Oh, yes,” Maul said as he slowly stepped around her. “He has become powerful in the Force and now is leading the fight to rid Tatooine of slavery.” “He is a Jedi…a Jedi Knight?” she began to weep tears of joy. “Oh, no, quite the opposite. Your son has become a Dark Lord of the Sith. With his help, we will cut down every last Jedi man, woman and child.” He activated one end of his lightsaber and gripped it with two hands. “I just thought you would like to know what a terrible failure as a mother you were.” He brought it down, cutting her diagonally through the chest. She gasped, taking the last bit of air she could before she died and Maul could sense her profound sadness and shame from his words. “He can only have one master, and that master is me,” he said as he turned his weapon off and exited the tent. “Do you realize that we have spent quite a bit of time together, Lord Vader?” Padme asked as they strolled on one of the more secluded skywalks. Several paces behind them, two Naboo security agents were flanked by three Coruscant counterparts. “In all of that time, you still have not graced me with your first name.” He smiled and turned away. “Is it really that important? Will it make you care for me even more? If it will, then I will tell you I have a thousand first names.” “I don’t believe that I have ever heard someone speak so…poetic.” She reached down and took his empty hand. Over the last few weeks, they had indeed become much more than friends, though they were still holding off on their first kiss. Padme did not believe in fairy tales, but her relationship with the dashing young Lord of Tatooine had been nothing short of magical. She had dealt with many would-be suitors in her relatively short adult life and she now understood what maybe some of them had felt for her. Her feelings were blossoming into something more and she knew that it was reciprocated. However, Lord Vader had noted that because they were political opposites and his world was not even part of the Republic yet, that any outward signs of a personal relationship beyond friendship would be frowned upon by the senate. “I speak in prose only because being with you makes my heart sing. Since the first minute I laid eyes upon I knew you were the one I would always be with,” he replied. She stopped walking and he turned to see a bemused look on her face. “What is it? What have I said?” “It’s just that someone else from Tatooine said something like that to me once before.” Her eyes were moist and he pulled her close. Out here, they were essentially segregated from the rest of the galaxy, a three-meter wide neutral zone where they could be themselves.

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“You’re talking about Anakin, aren’t you?” he asked. She nodded and he reached down and tipped her chin up towards his face. “Believe me when I say this: Anakin is fine.” She turned to see that their escorts had stopped a polite distance that prevented them from overhearing the conversation. “You used your contacts to find him?” He was about to answer when they were interrupted by an unfamiliar voice hailing them. They separated immediately. The local newsfeeds were already rampant with rumors; there was no need to give them anything more. Vader turned towards the approaching figure even as two of the security team ran past, hands at their holstered side arms. Even before the security men stopped and challenged the visitor, Vader had subtly reached out with the Force, just a faint tendril, and confirmed what his eyes had told him. It was no newshound but something equally as annoying. “A Jedi,” he muttered. Then he turned back to her. “I’ll take care of this.” She nodded as he marched off. The Naboo agent was asking several questions when Lord Vader approached, his black cloak flowing easily in the breeze. He stopped in front of the Jedi, noting by the long braid that it was a padawan that stood before him. “What are you doing here? This area is closed to the public,” Vader said. The padawan smiled, studying the diplomat. They were roughly the same age and so he wrongly assumed that it would make communication easier. “Lord Vader, I am Padawan Apprentice Ferrin Durron from the Jedi Temple. I have come to inform you that we believe that there is a conspiracy to do you harm. My master has requested that I bring you to a more private location to discuss the matter.” Vader scoffed at the idea. “Tell your master,” his disgust was evident when he used the term, “that Lord Vader does not answer to Jedi. The Jedi never saw fit to involve themselves in the woes of the people of Tatooine and whenever one of our citizens was kind enough to lend the Jedi assistance he ended up disappearing.” The venom in the response seemed to visibly affect the apprentice and Vader felt that Ferrin was drawing the Force to him as a calming influence. “Oh, yes, I know all about how the Jedi made Anakin Skywalker conveniently disappear and that even now the temple records are being scrutinized for any other irregularities.” Ferrin did his best to maintain his composure. “I’m sure that Master Ovos would be better suited to address these issues…” “Tell your master that I’ll meet him in hell first,” Vader said. “Perhaps if I could speak with the senator from Naboo?” Ferrin started to try and walk past when Vader reached out and grabbed his arm. The padawan reacted by starting to reach for his lightsaber. Before he could consider how foolish the move was Vader had grabbed the other hand with lightning reflexes. Their eyes locked and there was a brief instant in which Vader seemed to grow larger and change into a dark cloud. The sensation drifted away quickly and Vader released his grip. “It would be foolish to draw your weapon, don’t you think?” Ferrin was not quite sure how to answer. “I apologize for my brashness, Lord Vader; the Council has already told me I have much to learn.” Vader stepped back. “I will let the matter go this time. Inform your master that I have no time to waste on foolish Jedi tricks.” Ferrin nodded and then had another even more foolish notion. He waved his hand in front of Vader. “You have changed your mind…”

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Chapter 6

“They say that he confronted Lord Vader and then fainted,” Mace said from outside the observation window. Master Ovos nodded and rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Lord Vader has graciously declined to press charges. It is only for that reason that your apprentice has not been cast from the Order.” There was subtle anger in Mace’s tone. A torrent was building. “What was he thinking, reaching for his weapon? A Jedi does not solve conflict with a weapon! Is this what you have taught him?” “Don’t raise your voice to me, Mace Windu! How many of your padawan’s have gone on to be feared for their swordsmanship? The Council continues to push my padawan and he is reacting poorly to anything and everything! This is as much your fault as it is mine.” The two masters stared at each other for a few seconds, failing to notice how the other Jedi and padawans in the medical wing were beating a hasty retreat out of earshot. “It is your radical ideas about the ends justifying the means that have put this young man in the infirmary! You were warned when Kal Tithos…” Frie Ovos hesitated, his right hand clenched in a fist. It trembled and he pulled the Force towards him and let it sink deep within his mind, calming the rage that was building. “Kal died because he was outnumbered…because the Council saw fit not to provide him with aid in his mission. He was a new Knight, inexperienced in the ways of the galaxy…” Mace leaned in close. “You always blame the Council. You. Qui-Gon. Dooku. Is this the new generation of Jedi Masters? Is this the legacy that we will leave the galaxy?” “Masters,” a calm voice said from behind them. Both men moved to face the threat and saw it was another Jedi. This one was tall with a painted face and long dark hair. “I beg for a moment of your time,” Quinlan Vos said quietly. Both Jedi Masters took deep breaths. Mace, being the senior, spoke for them both. “Thank you, Quinlan Vos; our behavior is beneath your attempt to allow us to save our honor. Obviously, we are both distressed.” Ovos nodded. “Indeed. I must apologize. As Ferrin’s master, his failure is my failure.” Quinlan nodded and pulled back his robes to reveal two lightsabers. He pulled one from his belt. “As you know, I have the natural ability to read memories from objects. This is Ferrin’s lightsaber, an extension of himself through the Force. I took the liberty of reading it, to see how much at fault he was.” He paused for a moment and his gaze took on a menacing look. Quinlan was a great Jedi, but one that often skirted along the edges of the dark side. It was the sole reason he had not been nominated for the Council. “There is more at work here then we first guessed. I fear that we are being duped.” “How so?” Mace asked. Quinlan explained and when he was finished, Mace ran to the Council chamber. Mace Windu stood in the center of the Council Chamber. Assembled were not only the members of the Jedi Council, but many of the senior Jedi Knights who were currently assigned duties within the Jedi Temple. Only on the most important occasions had they all been squeezed into the large room. Even with its large circumference, it was standing room only as the master Jedi spoke to them. “We have been deceived in a way that we thought only possible in our nightmares. We have been under attack for over a decade and have not even known it.” There were some murmurs and he politely waited for the Jedi to quiet down. “Many of you know that Padawan Apprentice Ferrin Durron was taken to the infirmary earlier today after an encounter with Lord Vader of Tatooine. Master Vos has used his abilities to find out what actually happened in the encounter from Ferrin’s own lightsaber.

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“Against our code, thankfully, young Ferrin attempted to guide the mind of Lord Vader to accept an invitation to come here to the Temple to discuss an assassination plot we have recently discovered against him. The mind guidance was met with substantial resistance. Based on Ferrin’s condition and Master Vos’s investigation, we now know why this occurred.” Master Yoda broke the solemn news to the Jedi. “Dark Lord of the Sith is this Vader, strong in the dark side is he.” There were a couple of gasps and some disbelieving comments before Mace called for silence. “Haven’t any of you noticed how on edge we all have been? How easy we are to argue? The general malaise that has fallen over us in recent weeks? It is because the dark side is here!” “You said that we have been under attack for a decade, yet Vader has only been here for a few weeks,” one Jedi said aloud. “While I do not believe that Master Vos is wrong, this Vader is far too young to have been a threat to us for this long.” “No! Threat he has always been, this one. Much fear in him then, much rage in him now!” Yoda said, slowly walking towards the center. “Anakin Skywalker is this man, this Lord Vader.” Again, there was a ripple effect as Jedi after Jedi whispered the name of the child who was thought to be the prophesized “bringer of balance to the Force.” Ki Adi Mundo stood up from his seat. “We must inform the Chancellor immediately and bring a halt to the investigation! This is the evidence we need!” “What evidence? We have no way of verifying Lord Vader’s identity,” another Jedi Master called out. “The senate is against us, some of them calling for our immediate arrest!” “We believe that there is another Dark Lord in hiding on the planet,” Mace said aloud, interrupting the debate. “Remember how the Sith operate: always there are two.” “No! Not always,” Master Yoda said, closing his eyes. Whether by chance or through the Force, the lights dimmed slightly as if there were a sudden power drain. “Long ago, many were the Sith. Many Dark Lords, much suffering. Into hiding the Sith went, the Jedi too preoccupied to pursue them.” “We had evidence of their return ten years ago and we did not pursue the matter fully, most likely because there is Dark Lord here blocking our perceptions,” Mace added. “Vader…Anakin is not alone!” There was a dull roar as the Jedi conversed and debated among themselves, which was quickly silenced by the sound of blaster fire being deflected from a lightsaber. The door to the chamber flew open and two padawans tumbled in, their weapons deactivated by some of the Jedi Masters before they could do harm. Mace immediately moved towards the doors when Commander Zsinj and a squad of security men entered, weapons smoking at the barrels. He regarded Mace with a sneer. “By order of the Chancellor, I am here to place the entire Jedi Council under arrest.” “On what charge?” Mace said, his hand wavering over the hilt of his lightsaber. “Treason, sedition and espionage. Our investigations have revealed that the Jedi have paid for a million man clone army in direct violation of the charter between the Republic and the Jedi!” Lord Vader waited patiently, seated on the center dias next to Padme as Chancellor Palpatine addressed the assembled senators. For what may have been the very first time, the senate chamber was free of whispered conversations as the Republic leader had them entranced with his words. “My fellow law makers, this is more than a sad day, this is more than a dark day, this is perhaps the bleakest day in the history of the Republic. For generations, the Jedi have stood with the Republic, guarding it from forces beyond comprehension, maintaining the peace and bringing justice when required. For that, we have elevated the Jedi to precipices high above the towering spires of Coruscant.”

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He looked down, visibly pained as if each word he spoke was pulling a little of his life away. After a few seconds he looked back up and cleared his throat. “As most of you know, I received a formal request several weeks ago from the distinguished senator from Naboo. All of you know that she has been here on Coruscant to lobby for maintaining our national defense forces at their current levels. You are also aware that I oppose that viewpoint. However, she made a formal request, which was seconded by Senator Binks, to look into the disappearance of one Anakin Skywalker.” The Chancellor pressed a button and a hologram appeared in the air above him, displaying a carefully edited collection of fighter gun-cam footage from the Battle of Naboo. “Though young in years, Anakin Skywalker almost single-handedly defeated the invading forces of the Trade Federation when they attacked my home world ten years ago.” There was no protest as the Trade Federation delegation was not present and had not been for several weeks. “Anakin was turned over to the Jedi because he displayed great talent in their Force. Within a matter of days of his return to Coruscant, Anakin Skywalker seemingly disappeared. “In our investigation, we not only learned of the final fate of Anakin, but we also discovered treachery of the lowest order. A betrayal that stings the hearts and dulls the senses.” He paused and the hologram changed to thousands of troops in white battle armor standing in ranks. “Around the same time Anakin Skywalker disappeared, the Jedi contracted a world outside the Republic to begin creating a million man clone army. As of today, it is one-quarter finished.” There were gasps and an occasional shout of “I told you so” in an alien tongue. Palpatine held up his hands, requesting silence and he was rewarded almost immediately. “I have had the Jedi Council detained so that we can determine what purpose such an army would have. I can tell you this, however, that even at 25% strength, it would be more than a match for any resistance any single system could put up. “Furthermore, we have been informed by such reputable firms as Kuat and Seinar that they have been approached by ‘questionable’ persons inquiring about building warships and fighters. We are also looking into these matters.” Before Palpatine could speak again, Bail Organna stood up from the Alderaanian box. A small droid floated down automatically and extended a microphone for the senator to speak into. “Chancellor Palpatine, if I may speak?” he asked. The Chancellor nodded. “The chair recognizes the esteemed senator from Alderaan.” Bail inclined his head in appreciation before speaking. “Fellow senators, all of you are aware of Alderaan’s support for the Jedi and in this matter we stand behind them. I find all of this too contrived to believe. How is it that the Jedi could amass the funds necessary to pay for the creation of such a large army? They are a religious institution that survives on the generosity of others!” Lord Vader stood up and whispered into the Chancellor’s ear. The Chancellor looked at him with surprise and then nodded slowly, stepping away from the podium, surrendering it to the handsome delegate from Tatooine. “If I may be so bold as to answer…” “Point of order!” shouted the Devronian senator. “Lord Vader is not a member of this body! He is only a spectator…aaaggh!” The Devronian grabbed his throat and went into a coughing spasm. So harsh was his cough that he was forced to sit down to try and regain his breath. “If I could continue without interruption,” Vader said coldly and a shiver went down the spine of every sentient being present. “I know well of the complicity of the Jedi. They coerce young mothers to surrender their children, to use them as they wish, spouting the need to keep a balance to the Force. They make false promises and debate among themselves high in their temple on how best to provide advice to the Republic. “How do I know this, you ask? The Chancellor told you that his investigations had revealed the truth about Anakin Skywalker…the young man that was entrusted into the care of the Jedi and then subsequently disappeared. The truth is that I am he, I am Anakin Skywalker.”

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There was a murmur and then a sharp gasp. Vader turned to see that Padme had fainted and was now being helped back to her seat by two of the Chancellor’s guardsmen. There was a momentary wave of sadness that washed over Vader as he realized that the sudden realization may have been too much for her. He reached out with the Force, but found his access to her blocked. The plan comes first, Lord Vader a voice said to him from the shadows of his mind. Vader returned his attention to the senators. “I was brought to Coruscant ten years ago to be trained as a Jedi. My mother was told that I would be cared for, that my future was assured. My mother was lied to. Master Yoda, whom Senator Organna holds in such high regard, looked me square in the eye and told me I was not fit to be one of them! “I was thrown away, not sent back to my mother…to my home, but tossed into whatever orphanage the Jedi saw fit to entrust with my care. They never gave me a second thought until the investigation began.” His voice was rising as he poured his anger into his words. He gripped the podium with both hands so hard that they turned white. “Now we find out that they have been building an army…for what purpose I ask you? Certainly it cannot be for anything good!What can this army be for?” The representative from Charmath stood. “Yes! This can only be for one reason! The Jedi mean to take control of the government!” Bail Organna raged back at his fellow senate member. “No! This is a mistake! We do not have the proof!” “What more proof do you require, Senator Organna? Your Jedi have been playing the Republic for fools since the Great Sith War. They have been the ones who have controlled the history, subtly influencing the government for a thousand years, waiting for the time to strike. They steal children in the night; they collect revenues and do not report them…” An aide to the Chancellor approached Lord Vader and whispered into his ear and he visibly took on a pale color. Slowly, he turned back. “I am afraid I must cut this short. My planet is under attack by forces of the Trade Federation and the Hutts; forces that would not even been available had the Jedi not influenced this body to be so lenient against the Trade Federation when they attacked Naboo!” “That has nothing to do with this!” Bail called. “The Jedi did not influence us…” “How can we be so sure?” Padme said as she stepped up to Vader. Though shaken, there was strong resolve in her voice. “The Jedi were employed as impartial judges for the senate trial, and look what happened! I, too, am beginning to wonder about the true motives of the Jedi Council.” She stepped a little more forward, reaching down to take Vader’s hand. She squeezed and he felt her Force mingling with his. It was not as powerful as his, not even remotely close, but he felt it all the same. “I knew Qui-Gon Jin and found him to be an honorable man who disagreed with the Council. He told me that the Council, Master Yoda in particular, feared that Anakin would be beyond their control. I ask you to look at this man and consider everything he has done to try and secure peace for his planet! Is this a man that should be feared? This is a man we should try and emulate for despite being lied to and ripped from his home with empty promises, he stands before us to preach peace.” “Yes! Peace through order, just as Chancellor Palpatine has been saying all along. All of you have criticizing his moves to strengthen the Republic military in order to prevent the kind of bloodshed that will occur on my home world if we do nothing. We have no defenses!” Vader called out, smashing a fist onto the podium. Bail Organna shook his head. “Alderaan has no defenses and we call for peaceful negotiations…” “Have you ever been a slave, Senator?” Vader asked, ice forming in his tone. “Do you have work gangs on your planet?” Organna turned away, realizing that his moment to seize the situation had passed. “No…” “Then to hell with your negotiations!” Vader bellowed.

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“I agree. This is too much. A completely defenseless planet is under attack for nothing more than wanting to be part of the Republic. There must be a way to help them,” Padme called out to the assemblage. “We could confiscate the Jedi clone troops!” one senator called out. “We have no right!” another said. “Emergency powers! Grant the Chancellor emergency powers to end this threat and to handle the Jedi!” “Yes,” Padme said, turning to Palpatine. “Chancellor, I was blind before, but now I realize what you said is true. When you cannot trust those who said they would protect you, then you must protect yourself.” She turned to the senate. “I hereby make a motion to grant Chancellor Palpatine emergency war powers as prescribed in the Republic charter!” The only opposition was that between senators vying to be the ones to second it. Within five minutes it was done and Padme turned to Vader. “I’m sorry…why didn’t you tell me?” “I had to show you I wasn’t a danger, that they were wrong about me,” he replied, picking her chin up with his fingers. The dull roar disappeared as Palpatine took center stage, promising to return the Republic to normal once the crisis was over. Padme did not hear the words, so lost in Vader’s eyes she could only hear him. “Are you a Jedi now?” she asked. “No…I am of the Sith,” he said and he felt her shudder. He held her gaze though and explained. “The Sith took me in and raised me, provided me with a home. It is the Sith that liberated Tatooine and it is the Sith that fight there now. The Sith never lied to me.” “But they are evil, Anakin,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Am I evil? Do I not throw myself in support of a united Republic? Do I not want peace and justice…equal justice?” “But if you are so dedicated to them, what can there be left for me?” she asked. He moved closer and kissed her lightly. “The Sith can have my body, but only you can possess my heart.”

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Chapter 7

“All is going according to how I have foreseen it,” Darth Sideous said, a grim smile on his face. “In fact, it is better than expected with the added support of the Naboo senator.” “Indeed, my master,” Darth Tyranus’s holographic image said. “Lord Vader’s ability to rally the people behind him is an unknown quantity that we are fortunate to be able to exploit.” “Yes,” Sideous nodded. “I take it that all is well on your end?” “The Hutt mercenary fleet is in orbit over Tatooine right now; the Trade Federation has provided the appropriate amount of assault forces, but no naval assets aside from the required command and control craft.” Tyranus stroked his gray beard and his image momentarily shifted in phase. “Lord Maul awaits on the planet’s surface, ready to strike the mercenary commanders once they make planet fall.” The superior Dark Lord nodded slowly. “And General Vader leads the Republic rescue mission that will decimate the mercenary and pirate fleets. With them out of the way, there will be no significant resistance to our plans.” “The Hutts believe that the Republic will not interfere; Jabba has used all of his influence to gather together this force. The Trade Federation, upon my prodding, has made a deal that should the Hutts win that Jabba will turn over his lucrative spice trade to them in this sector.” Tyranus paused for a moment before continuing. “Our only problem will then be the Jedi.” “That problem, I assure you,” Darth Sideous commented dryly, “is well in hand.” He felt naked, alone and confused; like a newborn babe fresh out of the womb. No, he told himself, that was not true because even on the day of his birth he had been able to reach out and grasp the Force. It was the Force that nurtured him between the times his physical body required his mother’s milk; it was the Force that guided his weak muscles and opened his eyes to the world beyond the here and now. Mace Windu looked up at the small mammal attached to the tree branch, circuits of the limbs were woven into the overhead of his cell, an electrified mesh beneath them to prevent his access to them. The creatures, ysalamiri they were called, had developed through the evolutionary process, the ability to negate the Force. For the first time since his conception, Mace Windu was cut off from the Force. It wasn’t just him, as the telltale moaning of some of the other Council members informed him. They were imprisoned in the maximum-security wing of Coruscant East Detention Center, each Council member stripped of weapons and robes and placed into 3 meter by 3 meter cells. Some of the Jedi were not handling the situation well, especially the non-human ones. For most of them it was also the first time they had ever been taken away from the reassuring caress of the Force. The Jedi Master wanted to reach out and help his comrades, but that was impossible. They were allowed no contact with each other, kept isolated and away from even the non-Jedi prisoners. Armed guards served their meals. Every once in awhile, a senior army officer would walk by to check on them. He had heard the rumors about the evidence being gathered against the Jedi and he knew the situation was grave. Twice he had spoken with Chancellor Palpatine, but the Republic leader had to beg off aiding them in this time. He had a war to prosecute against the Hutts and the Separatists and he stated that, quite frankly, he no longer held the Jedi in the same esteem as before. There was no doubting why and sadness washed over Mace as he sat cross-legged on his cot. Though he had not been treated poorly, he had not been treated very well either and even without the Force, he could sense the burning anger that his captors felt for him. There were times

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that he would catch a snippet of conversation between the guards and he would understand that the reputation of the Jedi had been greatly stained by the words of Anakin Skywalker/Lord Vader. Then there was the issue of the clone army that he knew the Jedi had never ordered. The Council would never have sanctioned such a thing and he found it hard to believe that a rogue element within the Order had been able to do so. Still, he knew that for whatever reason, Anakin Skywalker was now a member of the Sith and that meant it was very possible that one of their number had also turned to the dark side as well. He had spent days trying to determine what Jedi would betray them to the Sith? His first answer had been Quinlan Vos, a Jedi who often times fenced with the dark side. Yet, it was Vos who had revealed the truth about Lord Vader. It did not make sense, but he had to confess that he was not comfortable with the knowledge that while the Council was awaiting trial, Quinlan Vos was leading the Jedi. There had been no other choice to make at the time and Vos had actually seemed reluctant to take the job, but in the end he saw that he had no choice. Even now, Mace was sure, he was seeing to it that the younger padawans and students were being removed from the temple and sent far away from Coruscant. Nothing good was going to come from all of this. He was comforted in the knowledge that Frie Ovos was there to advise Quinlan and should the temporary leader of the Jedi prove to be something other than competent, Mace had every reason to believe that Master Ovos would correct the situation immediately. “Who then?” he said aloud and was stunned when he actually got a response. “Speak you finally do, afraid you might be dead,” Master Yoda chided from his cell. The two rooms were connected by a small ventilation grid. Mace got off of his cot and moved over to the vent. “Master Yoda, are you well?” he asked. “As can be expected I am; many days contemplating the future. The past as well.” Yoda’s voice sounded tired. There was a heavy sigh. “Mistaken were we, arrogant, complacent and selfassured. These too lead to the dark side.” “But we were also betrayed from within, I know it,” Mace offered. “Somebody knew about the boy and waited for us to make a mistake.” “Of the boy’s potential, only one outside the Jedi knew.” “Dooku,” Mace whispered. Count Dooku had been the master of Qui-Gon Jin, but had left the Jedi several years before to pursue more political aspirations. Yoda had approached him about training Anakin after Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s deaths. Because of the unique nature of Anakin’s situation, it was felt by some of the Council that a unique master was required to train the boy. Dooku, however, had refused Yoda’s request. “Even without the Force, strong your perceptions are,” Yoda said. “Join the Sith Dooku has.” “Then he trained Vader…Anakin?” There was a pause and Mace could imagine Yoda trying to reach out the Force, his face held high and eyes closed. “Perhaps. Many are the Sith now; like a disease they spread. Many more will there be without the Jedi.” “We have lost all then,” Mace said, suddenly filled with despair. He slid against the wall until he was sitting on the floor. “No! Survive the Jedi must. Balance to the Force we must bring,” Yoda called out. “You. I. The Council. Enough damage we have done.” “Ovos was right when he said if we weren’t strong enough to lead then we should step aside,” Mace added. A single tear dropped down his cheek as he realized the full scope of the trap the Jedi had led themselves into. Mace Windu always considered himself a strong man, a reasonable man; but to finally realize how, like a child, he had been led away from the path of light, was far too much for him to bear.

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Yoda finally spoke what Mace had been too afraid to admit. “Time for others to carry the banner of the Jedi. Our time has passed.” “We shall exit hyperspace in three minutes, General Vader,” the navigator called out. The deck of the Hammer of the Republic vibrated slightly, the only hint of the awesome power of the engines built into the prototype Rendili StarDrive Victory-class Star Destroyer. The ship had been pressed into immediate service, much to the chagrin of Kuat Drive Yards. The two capital ship manufacturers had been in competition for years, trying to secure the lucrative contract both knew would be forthcoming in the growing Republic. Rendili had been the one with a fully operational prototype when the Chancellor had called, holding two billion Republic credits in one hand while the other was held out waiting for a capital ship design that would personify the renewed Republic navy. That ship, while impressive in capabilities, still bore the colors of the shipyards. Multiple shades of grey, green, black and brown gave the vessel a cobbled together look which served to hide its real power. Vader cast a glance over to the fighter status board and saw that his own squadron of Z95 Headhunters, newly provided Incom Corporation. Preliminary reports indicated several squadrons of Cloakshape Fighters, manufactured under the Kuat brand. Vader imagined that the board of directors at Kuat were secretly hoping that the Cloakshapes would pummel the Hammer of the Republic into space debris. The ship came out of hyperspace into the middle of a battle already well in progress. “Shields!” newly promoted Captain Zsinj called out and Vader saw a brief shimmer as the defensive shields were brought on line. “Forward turbolaser batteries, target that Trade Federation command and control ship!” Vader took one last look as the mighty weapons of the flagship of the fleet literally tore a circular Trade Federation vessel into pieces. He nodded to the Captain, who tossed him a salute and Vader stepped into the lift that would take him down to the hanger bay. “Artoo, boost power to forward shields,” Vader said to his droid co-pilot. He had been happily surprised when Padme had presented the little droid to him. Together again after ten years, they were an unstoppable duo as Vader weaved his snubfighter through the carnage that was occurring in the space above Tatooine. Vader reached out with the Force and focused on the fear that he felt coming from the various mercenary forces. He had felt it the second the Hammer of the Republic had reverted to real space, the cold grip of terror that various species had experienced. They knew that the Star Destroyer represented death and that the Hutts had led them here to die. Another droid fighter died, unable to defend itself against the lasers of Vader’s fighter. With the command and control vessel out of commission, two-thirds of the mercenary force was unusable. Hundreds of Republic fighters, from Z-95’s like Vaders to a squadron of Naboo defense force fighters, were destroying…no, more like eradicating…snubfighters of every make and design. Satisfied that the space battle was won, Vader informed Zsinj that he was heading down to take command of the ground assault. “Understood, General,” there was a pause as Vader passed into the atmosphere of the desert planet. “Lord Vader, be advised that Lieutenant Veers reports that Mos Espa has been contained and is requesting permission to move on to Mos Eisley.” “Agreed. Leave a regiment for me in Mos Espa with a squad of AT-PT’s.” The Hammer of the Republic acknowledged and Vader throttled up towards what had been his former home. Vader brought the fighter down in the center of the same stadium where he had won that famous pod race a decade before. This time, there were no cheering crowds or banners flying,

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only row after row of white armored clone troopers and several All-Terrain Personal Transports. As Vader climbed down from his fighter, he clipped his lightsaber to his belt and waited for the trooper officer to approach. The trooper saluted. “General, we have captured the citizen you were looking for. We also have received a message from a General Maul…?” Vader nodded and opened the storage compartment, where he withdrew his cape and a communicator. “Inform General Maul that I will meet with him shortly…” “General, with all due respect, General Maul stated that his information was most urgent,” the trooper said. Vader wondered briefly what his master wanted that was so important and then he remembered the dreams he had on Coruscant. “Mom…” The building had once been a cantina, but all of the patrons had since been cleared out as martial law was declared. Already, handpicked political professionals were in place at the mayor’s home, drawing up the appropriate paperwork that would install Lord Vader as the head of the Tatooine government. Vader walked in and the lights automatically dimmed. Darth Maul stepped out from behind a curtain. Vader stopped and hesitated a second before kneeling. “What is thy bidding, my master?” Maul noted that there was a change in his apprentice. He was unsure if it was a change he approved of. “I see you have grown in the Force, Lord Vader.” “Have you any word of my mother, master?” Vader asked, ignoring the previous statement. Clenching his fist to control his rage at not being given proper courtesy, Darth Maul spoke slowly. “Your mother is dead. She was killed by the Sand People.” Vader’s head popped up, tears forming in his eyes. Maul felt the probe into his mind. “How dare you!” Maul said, pulling out his lightsaber. Lowering his head, Vader replied weakly. “I apologize, master. I humbly accept whatever punishment you wish to inflict.” Maul took a deep breath and looked at the young man who had essentially been his only companion for the past ten years. The Dark Lord had no need for love or kindness, but he had gotten used to sharing in his adventures with his apprentice. “You grieve. It is a weakness to allow it to consume you. Striking out at your compatriots is not the answer either. Focus your rage, Darth Vader! Focus on those who brought about this tragedy! Remember you are a Sith.” Darth Vader stood slowly, the sadness in his eyes replaced by rage, anger and a need to lash out. His master was correct, but something still nagged at him. A flash image, a sensation of hot pain. It all clung to Darth Maul like stink on a bantha. Yes, he was a Sith and as such, there would be reckoning that promised to shake the galaxy.

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Chapter 8

“Do you remember me, Watto?” Vader asked of the pathetic creature curled in a ball and lying on the filth-ridden floor. They were in a cell previously used by one of the pod race stable owners to house a favored bantha. The Dark Lord could not determine if the smell came from the excrement of the former inhabitant or from the fear that came off of the Toydarian that was the object of his hatred. “Look at me when I talk to you, slaver!” The creature rolled over, obvious pain on its weathered features. Vader determined that Watto seemed to have age poorly over the years since he was the owner of a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker and his mother. “Ani?” Sudden excitement overtook the alien and it began to sit up. It fell at the first attempt as the right arm appeared to have been broken, along with both wings, when the creature had been arrested. Vader could not look at the creature and consider it anything other than an oddity. Sentient or not, it was as to him as a pet was to one of the royal court of Alderaan. “It is you! You’ve come to save old Watto!” it said aloud. Vader could tell it thought emancipation was near. In a strange way, the Dark Lord supposed, it was. “Strange sentiments for something that used to keep an explosive device implanted in my body and then sold my piloting skills out as if I were a common cantina wench.” Vader’s face began to twist in rage. This was the creature that had not allowed his mother to be free, who had treated her and him as if they were nothing more than toys on the shelf. He was one of those who were to blame for her death. “Hey, Ani…” Watto began to protest but was cut short by Vader’s upraised hand. “My name is Lord Vader, Lord Darth Vader…Dark Lord of the Sith and ruler of the Republic world of Tatooine.” He allowed the information to settle into the confused brain of his former owner. He had wanted to burn the information into the Toydarian’s mind, but like Hutts, they were resistant to many of the subtle aspects of the Force. “Sith? The Sith are dead…you went to become a Jedi and what a Jedi you are! Watto always knew you’d be a big shot one day, Ani!” Watto began to stand when Vader pulled out his lightsaber and thumbed it on. A quick slash and Watto fell, missing a leg. Then the blade was gone with a snap. “I am no Jedi…and I told you to call me Lord Vader…you thing!” Vader cursed. Watto screamed and looked in disbelief from Vader to the two Republic troopers standing a few meters away. The guards made no move to stop the enraged Sith. “What was it like, thing? Did you enjoy the false sensation of power you had over my mother and I? Did it make you feel like you had some control?” Vader circled around to Watto’s back and gave it a kick. The alien moaned and grasped the smoking stump of its leg. “I know, I know, Watto…It was just business,” Vader sneered. He turned to the troopers and held out his hand. A thermal detonator floated from the belt of one of the white armored clones and into Vader’s hand. With the detonator in his possession, he reached down and forced Watto’s mouth open and stuck the activated bomb in. Standing up, he wiped his hand on his leg. Watto’s eyes were bulging. “How does it feel to have a bomb inside you, Watto? Does the fear eat at you, destroying your resolve? It’s a security precaution. If you open your mouth, then the detonator goes off and you become dust on a desert planet.” Vader laughed and scratched at the dark beard that was starting to come in on his face. “Its just business, that’s all.” “Padme, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon,” Vader said to the small holographic image. She looked so fragile and his first instinct was to scoop her up and protect her. “Is everything alright?”

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“I miss you, Anakin,” she said. She was the only person he permitted to speak his birth name, much to the chagrin of his master. He had begun to notice that his relationship with Darth Maul was changing and it did not seem to be for the better. There was a tension between them that had only been made worse when he had attempted to probe his master’s mind. “I want to come see you…I…I want to be with you.” There was no mistaking the intent of the statement and Vader felt himself flush. He was sure his face was as red as the tattoos on his master’s skin. “I will be leaving Tatooine soon, just as quickly as I brief the military governor,” he told her, unsure of how to phrase anything. How does one respond to such things, he wondered. His training had not prepared him for battles of the heart. Throughout the history of that galaxy there had been two common factors between all things sentient in the Force, love and death. Lord Tyranus had supplemented Vader’s training with stories about the great loves and battles of both the Jedi and the Sith. There was even rumor that Darth Sideous had once loved a woman… There was an explosion in the background, but Vader did not turn to look out of his apartment and into the town proper. It was obvious that Watto had not been able to keep his mouth shut. “Chancellor Palpatine has asked me to assume command of the Dathomir campaign.” “I understand that some of the Jedi have taken refuge there,” she said as if in passing. The trial of the Jedi Council was set to begin in a few days and Naboo had been one of the planets selected to serve in the special senate jury. The public outcry against the Jedi was turning ugly as many were being systematically hunted down on their own worlds, blamed for everything from unemployment to past civil wars. “I have asked Jar-Jar to take my place and the Chancellor has approved my request.” “Why? I would say that you are one of the few senators that truly understands the deceit of the Jedi. It was they who most likely caused the senate to fall into a squabbling match over protocol when you approached them ten years ago for aid.” He tried to control his emotions; his mother’s death still haunted him and he desperately wanted to tell her. Would she understand his pain? As if she had read his mind, she informed him that Chancellor Palpatine had told her about his mother. “I’m very sorry, Anakin. I partially blame myself for not taking a stronger stand against slavery while I have been a member of the senate.” He was again at a loss for words. “Will you meet me at Dathomir?” “Nothing will keep me away from you, my love,” she answered. “I appreciate that you have set aside this time to see me, Chancellor,” Bail Organna said as the two men sat down at the small breakfast table. They were seated on the Chancellor’s balcony overlooking one of many spaceports recently converted to military use. Two Correllian stock freighters were currently being loaded with supplies. “I know how busy you have been lately.” Palpatine smiled gracefully. Despite the emergency war powers he had been granted, he understood that certain senate members still held great sway and their concerns had to be addressed even in a time of war. “The mantle of leadership is especially heavy when one finds themselves in battle with their own citizens.” “Really? It seems to me that the only thing you’ve done is project Republic military power to worlds outside our boundaries.” He sipped at his root tea. “The Tatooine Campaign is officially over I take it?” “I was going to announce it officially tomorrow, but yes, it is done. The Hutts have sued for peace, claiming that Jabba acted on his own. They are prepared to make reparations which shall go a long way to improving the quality of life on that planet.” Palpatine gazed over to the two freighters being loaded. “Those two ships in fact are on their way right now with advanced drilling equipment…”

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“Yes, I meant to ask you about that. Former Senator Tarkin has been given the military governorship of the planet as I understand it and he has been making some rather odd requests. Several top weapons designers have been ‘drafted’ for the cause of the war effort,” Bail set down his tea. “Chancellor, Alderaan and several other Core Worlds are concerned with what looks to be a policy of imperialism.” The Chancellor laughed. “Imperialism? That is a rather harsh term, don’t you think? It is no secret that we intend to put a military base on Tatooine as well as a weapons development station. You don’t want them testing new turbolaser designs on your precious planet do you? I certainly do not want them on mine! “Tatooine is perfect and Lord Vader welcomes it. It will provide employment and security for his people…” “If he is so concerned, then why is he leading the charge into battle and not remaining on his world providing leadership? I have to say that many of us are not happy with your choice of senior military commander. What experience does this young man have? He carries a lightsaber and yet he claims not to be a Jedi…” Palpatine nodded and leaned in close. “Oh, I quite agree, but you know how popular the boy is right now. Why, the people are infatuated with him and what we need right now are some heroes. The people have lost their faith in the Jedi.” “Not all of us,” Bail was quick to reply. “Some of us think that the Jedi are being hyperdrived into a corner if you catch my meaning. You have always been a supporter of Master Yoda, yet you want to see him brought to trial on charges that you know deep in your heart are false.” Bail again reached for his tea, but stopped. “You realize that in the end, you will have to cast the deciding vote in the trial. I’ve already counted it up and even before we’re started, we’re split down the middle. It would have gone in your favor had Padme stayed on, but Senator Binks has a more liberal viewpoint.” Palpatine leaned back and steepled his fingers under his chin. “Yes…dear, sweet Padme. You don’t approve of her relationship with Lord Vader, do you?” Bail replied with a sarcastic smile. “It is no secret between you and I that I have been interested in her for some time, but that is beside the point. Can you tell me why we are sending forces to Dathomir of all places?” “We have received a report that a large Jedi warship has been discovered on the planet…” “It’s a rusting piece of garbage that crashed here several hundred years ago,” Captain Zsinj stated as he began the military briefing. “It was a space born Jedi academy that was brought down, we suspect, by the Nightsisters.” “Why is that we have never heard of these Nightsisters?” Commander Motti asked. Vader knew the answer, but preferred to remain silent and listen what the Chancellor had let them know. “These women,” Zsinj started as he reached for some water, “are descendants of some offshoot Jedi colony or something. They have been content to remain on this world for the most part, but now we believe that the Jedi may seek them out for aid.” “What sort of aid?” Lieutenant Needa called out. He was busy trying to get the holographic imaging system on-line. The Hammer of the Republic was currently being plagued with several electrical failures. Zsinj shrugged. “Who knows? Who cares? The way to defeat the Jedi is divide and conquer. If they were to receive aid from the Nightsisters or anyone else on the planet, and with a ship as large as Chu’Unthor, it could mean problems.” He then directed his attention to Vader. “General, do we have tactical discretion on this mission?” Vader shook his head. The term was a polite way of saying to do whatever was necessary to get the mission done. “No. The Chancellor has indicated that we are to establish the extent of the Jedi threat and then secure the planet from orbit.”

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“What in the name of the Republic for?” Motti asked, disbelief on his face. He was the one officer that disagreed with anything anyone else said. “That will tie up valuable ships!” “Not to mention that I heard that the Dracmarians have staked a claim on this world,” Needa said from under the table. “Unlike many of the other systems, they do possess a substantial war fleet. We do not have the manpower for this right now, even with the clone army.” “I have to agree, General,” Zsinj said. He turned to the commanding officer of the Katana, Dreadnought-class vessel that was also part of the fleet. “Captain Harkov?” Harkov was a large man who was starting to show the signs of age. His receding hairline briefly glinted in the overhead lighting. He smiled like a predator who knew where all of the rodents were. “I’m transferring out next week to Seinar Technologies to begin work on a new starfighter design. Something inexpensive yet powerful that we can deploy in droves. The Katana has been reassigned to a weapons development station that will begin working on advanced automation capabilities.” “How does that help us now, Captain?” Motti asked, rubbing his balding head. Vader wondered if he would experience the same problem one day. He rubbed his beard, realizing that it was a mask of sorts, something to make him look like he was more mature than he was. His façade was an armor that allowed him to work with these older, more experienced men. He needed that armor, he needed to be strong. “It doesn’t, but it isn’t my problem is it?” Harkov said with a laugh. “That is your problem, isn’t General Vader?” A glove had been thrown down, a challenge to his authority and fitness to rule. Vader had expected it to happen long before this and from someone other than Harkov. Zsinj had always seemed the more likely candidate. What he did now would define him as both a man and as a leader. Vader casually stood up. He held his hand out in front of him and made like he was grasping something that was not there. Immediately, Harkov began to gag and choke and started to pull at his uniform collar. The hand gesture was merely for show; Vader could have done it from planet below had he wanted. “I find your lack of faith in my abilities disturbing, Captain Harkov,” Vader said coldly. The other officers said nothing and all of them, with the exception of Zsinj, had their jaws wide open. The Dark Lord could sense their thoughts and emotions. They were unaccustomed to ways of the Sith. Despite the love he felt for Padme and the sorrow that was consuming him over his mother’s death, Vader was a Sith. These men would understand and fear that fact. From those two things, they would learn to follow orders. Harkov was starting to turn blue and was pounding on the table when Vader let him go. He had wanted to kill him, but this new Republic military was short on experienced officers. “General…Lord Vader,” Zsinj corrected himself, “I believe that I speak for everyone here,” he eyed the recovering Harkov, “when I say that we would never think to question your abilities as a warrior or a leader.” There were several heads shaking, though Vader sensed that Motti was not entirely convinced. Motti would probably try to find out how Vader had done what he had done artificially. It did not take a master of the Force to see that Motti was a man unaccustomed to putting his faith in anything but himself. “Before I leave,” Harkov said in a raspy voice, “I will see to it that a suitable replacement for the Katana is made available for you, General.” “I’m sure you will, Captain,” Vader said as he moved towards the exit. “Make no mistake gentlemen; things are different in the Republic now. The days of taking your ships and heading back to your own planet are over. You can either profit from this new state of affairs or else…” He didn’t need to finish. The message was perfectly clear. A new order was taking shape in the galaxy. And Darth Vader was at the heart of it.

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“Count Dooku,” Bail Organna began from his seated position above the rest of the judicial chamber. Nine other senators were seated with him as well, while the lower part of the room was packed to capacity with every type of being imaginable. “Would you please explain the reasons behind your decision to leave the Jedi Order.” Count Dooku smiled and looked to his legal advisor who nodded. Before he began speaking, he looked over at the members of the Jedi Council who were seated in a special area of the courtroom. Around them, several ysalamiri were hanging from branches hurriedly erected on wires around the defendant’s box. He caught the eye of Mace Windu. Yes, you know don’t you, but there is nothing you can do. “Just over eleven standard years ago, I became aware of darkness that was beginning to permeate the Jedi Council. I tried my best to investigate it, to head it off, but was blocked at every turn by the efforts of the Council, most especially Master Yoda.” “A ‘darkness’?” asked the senator from Mon Calamari. “Could you be more specific?” Dooku shook his head. “Unfortunately, no; as none of you have the ability to tap into the Force, you are unable to understand the subtle variations of it. I think that the fact that I, as a standing Jedi Master at the time, was willing to leave the Order that I had dedicated my life to, should speak for itself.” “You’re apprentice did not feel the same way,” the Correllian senator stated, reviewing a data pad. “In fact, didn’t you and Qui-Gon Jinn have heated words about the subject?” “Qui-Gon was a noble spirit who believed in the basic goodness of everyone. He did not disagree with me about what I was seeing; he disagreed with my method of dealing with it. While I chose to leave the Order and seek political solutions, Qui-Gon decided to remain and attack the problem head-on.” Dooku looked again over at the Jedi and saw Master Yoda shake his head. “If you were so concerned about the intentions of the Jedi Council, why didn’t you agree to train the boy Anakin Skywalker? If the Council was so corrupt, then you must have expected that the boy was in danger,” Bail said, hoping to poke a hole in Dooku’s testimony. Dooku leaned over and his advocate whispered into his ear. Dooku shook his head and then returned his attention to the senatorial panel. “I refused to train young Skywalker for the Council; I never actually stated I would not take him as a student.” “So, did you train him? Did someone else?” one of the senators asked. “My client is not going to answer that question as it is not relevant to these proceedings,” Dooku’s lawyer stated. “Count Dooku was brought here to testify as to what he saw as instances of corruption within the Jedi, not to speak about specific training regiments for specific Jedi students or prospective students.” Bail shook his head. “Count Dooku, besides a gut feeling, have you any specific knowledge of corruption or criminal activity within the Jedi Order?” “There is no way I could as I was not a member of the Council,” he replied. “So, your testimony is that you have a philosophical problem with the Council, but otherwise cannot name anything criminal in their behavior…” “No, sir,” Dooku began, his voice full of authority, “what I am saying is that as Jedi, the Council had the ability to literally do anything they wanted under the guise of maintaining the peace. For hundreds of years, the Jedi have sought to lull the entire galaxy into a sense of false trust through which they could manipulate events. I have seen first hand, and regrettably have also participated in, acts of mind control for the benefit of the Order. I am not limited by use of ysalamiri; my own abilities could allow me to right now take control of all of your minds.” There was a dull rumble rising from the spectators. “I am not, of course, as it would serve no purpose. The Jedi commissioning a million clone army may seem ridiculous to you, Senator Organna, but I know the history of the Jedi. Do not think for a second that they would not use the Force to further their own ends. The Jedi are a religion and religions are self-serving.” “Meesa wondering if yousa call the bombad Sith a religion too,” Senator Binks asked. Dooku chuckled. “The Sith are the proverbial mynock in the attic, Senator Binks. The Jedi have defamed them in an effort to get the populace to forget about them. They were a people,

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not so much a religion, who decided against being ruled by the Republic. They refused to cooperate with the Jedi or to subscribe to their beliefs. As such, the Jedi eradicated them. This is a matter of historical fact that has been distorted by Jedi propaganda.” “So you favor the Sith attitudes?” Bail asked, his voice rising. “The Sith were murderers! They killed women and children…” “They killed those who waged war against them, sir. I am neither pro-Jedi or pro-Sith; I am pro-order my dear senator. I may use the Force, but that does not mean I wish to force my opinion on others. Look at the hundreds of laws that have been enacted to give the Jedi special powers of arrest. I know many member worlds that have a real problem with these laws. A democracy cannot be ruled by a religion, it must be ruled by the people and it is unfortunate that innocent and decent beings have been deceived by those persons now awaiting judgment.” “I for one find your point of view disturbing, Count Dooku,” Bail said, looking to his fellow senators for support. He could tell by the faces that no one had converted to his cause that was not already subscribed to it. Dooku leaned forward and spoke clearly into the voice pick-up. “What I find disturbing, sir, is how you are using this courtroom to wage a battle to retain political power. Alderaan is a pacifistic world with no military; you consider yourselves allied with the Jedi. The winds of change are blowing through the Republic. The people will no longer lie down and await orders from the Jedi on what is the proper destiny for them! Tell me Senator Organna, if the Jedi are convicted, where does that leave Alderaan? Where does that leave you?” There were several opinions voiced from the gallery, but Dooku ignored them. His master had been correct; this was his battleground, the political arena. “I will tell you where that leaves you…outdated.”

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Chapter 9

“Chancellor Palpatine, would you please explain the reasoning behind your tie-breaking vote against the Jedi Council,” a reporter asked through their protocol droid translator. Palpatine pursed his lips and waited for the gathered news people to stop speaking before he answered. He cleared his throat and looked out upon them with a far-away gaze. “When I first assumed this post after the no-confidence vote against my predecessor, I counted the members of the Jedi Council as my allies. Indeed, over the past decade I have sought out their advice numerous times, drawn to them like insects to the flame. There is no shame in this; we all seek out those whose wisdom we admire. “A year ago, had you approached me and said that the Jedi were up to no good, that they were plotting against this government…quite frankly I would have called you a liar. I would have staked my very reputation on the good and well-meaning intentions of the Jedi. That was before my eyes were opened to world inside the Jedi Temple.” There were no sounds as everyone in the room as everyone from reporter to holocam operator remained transfixed on the Chancellor. The Crimson Guardsmen behind him made no movement and even the very wind itself seemed to take pause to listen to his words. High above the traffic of the everyday comings and goings of the city planet, the news conference was perhaps the most important event since the founding of the Republic itself. Only minutes before, the Chancellor had announced that after weighing the evidence that had been brought against the members of the Jedi Council, he had been forced to find them guilty of attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic. “The Jedi, it seems, were always careful and knew how to play upon the trust that others put into them. Was it always like this? I pray not; would it not be a true tragedy to find out that so many of the Jedi heroes of our past were actually working towards establishing a theocracy…a government run by the Jedi, for the Jedi? I cannot say with any amount of certainty what is true about the past and what isn’t, I can only comment on the here and now and what our hopes for the future shall be.” Palpatine moved away from the podium and a small droid floated down with a voice pick-up so that the chancellor could walk freely on the stage. Many of the reporters had noted in recent weeks that certain rules of decorum and protocol were beginning to be ignored. Palpatine was making more speeches and not all of them involved just standing and reading a statement. Instead, he was now seemingly possessed of a fiery spirit as he began to spread a message of the importance of order and the need to ensure that the Republic remained in the firm control of elected government. He was becoming like the politicians of old who would campaign from planet to planet. Several times, he had courted the people with speeches about the unworthiness of some members of the Republic and how they had ignored the needs of others. News reports from several worlds told of human/non-human clashes over what was being perceived as “un-patriotic” behavior. Numerous races were being called upon to answer for the actions of a few of their members: the Hutts for the invasion of Tatooine, the Wookies for unwillingness to provide support for the new Republic military and many others. The Chancellor had called for peace, but at the same time warned that the Republic would not stand for any actions by any member system that threatened the security of the people. The Jedi were simply the latest and harshest example. “The evidence is overwhelming that the Jedi ordered and paid for a vast clone army. The beings responsible for creating the army stated under oath that they were approached by a Jedi Master and paid for with brand new, at the time, Republic currency. Records uncovered in the investigation at the Jedi Temple showed that money was from a loan that the Jedi took out to repair a large academy-like ship. That ship is rusting away in the swamps of the planet Dathomir where even now General Vader leads our forces to defeat Jedi terrorists who have sought refuge there.”

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He pointed over to the Jedi Temple, clearly visible from the balcony they stood upon. The pyramid-like structure looked dark and foreboding, though it was only a trick of the light. Had this conference taken place at any other time during the day, the effect would have been quite different. “The Jedi have also been involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of several children of Republic citizenship. We have been fortunate that General Vader survived to speak of what happened to him. We may never know the full extent of the Jedi atrocities against our children, as their records are so very incomplete. We believe that the Jedi would simply go to planets to seek out those children they found desirable.” There were gasps and Palpatine shook his head. “Remember the stories we all heard as children about the Jedi coming in the dead of night to take the newborn babes? It was true, but it will happen no longer. I have ordered that all children and persons not jet of a majority age in the Jedi’s care immediately be surrendered to Republic authority so that we may determine if charges against the Order itself are necessary. Remember, my decision today is only upon the members of the Jedi Council. As Count Dooku bravely stated, the common Jedi may not have known about the illegal activities, the embezzlement, and the raising of armies that the Council was involved in.” Slowly, he began top walk along the edge of the dais and all eyes were upon him, following his every motion. “That does not mean that they are free from guilt, especially the Jedi Masters. As of today, the special ambassadorial privileges previously granted the Jedi shall be removed. Individual worlds, if they wish, may grant diplomatic immunity to the Jedi, but it will no longer be covered under the Republic charter. All Jedi military officers shall be removed from active service from the Republic military and any individual defense force that employs a Jedi under investigation for crimes against the Republic will no longer be eligible for national funding.” Several jaws dropped and orifices puckered at this revelation. Since the beginning of the Republic, the Jedi had served in many diplomatic and important military positions, honest brokers of the peace and ensuring that conflicts were carried out with a minimum of bloodshed. By removing their ambassador status, the Chancellor had signed the death warrant for many Jedi. Several cultures regarded them as evil and only tolerated them for fear of being ousted from the Republic. A large human reporter stood up, holding a stylus in the air. Palpatine smiled and acknowledged him. “Chancellor, with all due respect, if the Jedi do not mediate disputes, we could see the entire Republic fall into civil war.” “An interesting notion, but one I’m convinced that the Jedi have forced upon us. If there is a problem that requires action, then I shall act upon it as I see fit. Do you not hear what you are saying? Your words sound the way mine used to be until the truth was revealed. I was elected to serve the people, to protect them and to guide the Republic on its journey to the future. Not the Jedi. The Jedi have not had to answer for anything they have done until now.” There were several nods and one reporter immediately pulled out a subspace communicator and began speaking quickly into it. Several others were typing, writing and tapping in the press conference for immediate publication. History was being made and everyone wanted his or her version to be the first one out. Palaptine walked to the spot in front of the podium and clasped his hands in front of him. “People of the Republic, today marks the beginning of what I call the New Order.” Bail Organna poured himself another drink and capped the bottle a little too hard. The clang of glass on glass echoed through the room and made several of the other senators jump. Here was gathered the resistance movement to the changes the Chancellor was implementing. All were concentrating on the holo being relayed from the press conference.

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“This is a bunch of bantha waste,” Sil Sarub, the Sullustan primary senator said, his jowls flapping in excitement. His normally tan features were shot with red. “He’s cut most of our defense force contracts and turned them over to Seinar.” “They’ve been doing a lot of that lately,” Garm Bel Iblis retorted with a smirk. “All of the shipyards around Corellia can hardly keep up with the orders they’re getting. Several key worlds are getting entire fleets of capital ships shipped to them because that is where Republic bases are being established. All of the worlds have one other thing in common as well.” “Human controlled,” Mon Mothma said, brushing back her long red hair. “This is intolerable. Of all of the people… Palpatine? He’s always been so outspoken about non-human rights and inter-species peace.” “He fooled us all,” Bail said, staggering over to a large couch. Senator Binks had to move quickly to keep from getting sat on. “Damn, how could we have been so blind?” “What if the charges about the Jedi are true?” Mon Mothma asked. Garm shrugged. “What difference does it make? Look, I’ve never been a big fan of the Jedi…they’ve never been exactly well-loved in my system, but just because they may have been the worst thing since Black Sun doesn’t give Palpatine the right to do what he’s doing.” “Meesa agree. Thisa not good ‘tall. Meesa maybe talk to Palpee-Teen,” Binks said. “I don’t think that will help, Jar-Jar,” Bail said. “If Padme were here…” The pained look on his face said everything. Mon Mothma looked on him with pity. Bail Organna was by no means an old man, but he was old enough to be Padme Amidala’s father. It wasn’t a fatherly interest he had in her though and he had confessed to several of his closest friends of his growing attraction to her. He had come to Coruscant at the same time she had in the hopes to begin courting her. He had met her ten years before when he was a younger man and had been captivated by the maturity she displayed. When she became a senator and started to grow physically, he had discovered he was falling in love with her. All of that had changed when Lord Vader had showed up. “That little Sith bastard!” Bail yelled as he threw the glass across the room. It hit the soundproof window and dropped into the plush carpet. “It’s obvious he’s a Sith! For pity’s sake, he calls himself Darth Vader…that’s the ancient Sith title for a dark lord!” “What if he is? Maybe the Jedi deserve it after the way they treated him,” Jimm Antilles said. The ace reporter for the Coruscant Review had been following the story very closely. Found to have limited Force-ability, he had been refused training because of his age and so had been particularly interested in the Anakin Skywalker story. “I’m as much against a totalitarian government as the next guy, but don’t expect me to shed tears because Master Yoda is going to find himself in a penal colony.” “If he’s lucky,” Bail commented as he stood up and moved again to the bar. Mon Mothma moved to block him. He dodged her and made it without further interruption. “Getting drunk isn’t going to solve anything,” she pleaded. He started to reply but instead began to search through the bottles of various liquors from all over the Republic. She stepped up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “We need to be strong. So long as we remain united, we are undefeatable.” He almost laughed in her face. She had no idea how ridiculous her statement was. The jungles of Dathomir were humid and filled with the heady scent of life. Vader inhaled deeply relishing in the way the humid air coated his lungs. Of all of the worlds he had ever been on, none had been like this, so full of life, so primal and savage. The Force was so active on this planet that it was almost like ecstasy. Darth Maul’s mood even seemed slightly more pleasant. “I once visited another world such as this, a world called Dagobah. I was seeking the Kaibur Crystal and was led there by the story of a fallen Jedi.” Maul pulled off his tunic and exposed his heavily tattooed chest. So wet

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was the air that sweat was already glistening on his chest. “Tonight I shall seek out the Nightsisters and broker a deal with them.” “Why do we not just kill them?” Vader asked as he took a few steps back. He removed his tunic as well, revealing the intricate tattoos adorning his abdomen. Unlike his master’s, Vader’s were purple and blue, done in a pattern that made it look as if a dark tree were sprouting towards his chest. He activated his lightsaber and assumed a fighting stance. Darth Maul pulled out his double-bladed weapon and ignited it, spinning it in the air above his head. “I see you still fight with a child’s weapon, General Vader,” he said, grinning. Vader leapt in the air, flipped and swung at Maul’s head. “You hang onto the past too much, General Maul; such a weapon has not been seen since the time of Exar Kunn. An old weapon for an old man.” Maul blocked the blow and struck his apprentice with a Force blow that sent him flying high. Vader called upon the Force himself to allow him to land on the ground gracefully. “We may have need of the Witches of Dathomir in the future; the Jedi are many and we are still too few,” Maul said as he raced towards Vader and took him down with flying kick. Vader rolled through the grass and back up onto his feet just as a crimson blade cut through the grass. Maul continued to press the attack, putting Vader on the defensive. The younger Sith Lord swung his silver blade, knocking the other lightsaber away. He could tell his master was not truly pressing his attack and that made Vader nervous. His master was up to something. A roar was let loose from behind Vader, making him cringe physically while Maul simply stopped and smiled. Vader knew that smile; it was the first sign of the battle lust. Vader stumbled forward and turned around to see something that was from the depths of even his nightmares. Four meters tall the last meter being practically all head, the creature roared again, making the very ground shake. Large nostrils took in massive quantities of air and the eyes looked at the two Sith Lords with an intelligence that was frightening and awe inspiring. It did not attack immediately but observed them. Vader watched as drool began to puddle on the ground. “What is it?” Maul deactivated his lightsaber and started pacing back and forth. The creature watched intently. It even seemed to try and grin, to mimic Maul’s expression. “They are called rancors. This male has been watching us for an hour.” “You knew?” Vader asked, watching for any sign of attack. He kept his lightsaber close and concentrated on mastering his fear. He started by thinking about his mother and how he had not been able to save her. “He sees us as trespassers on his territory. He is the master here right now.” Maul stopped and crouched. “We will battle him for this territory. We will take this territory for Darth Sideous.” Vader did not crouch but did move to stand next to his master. “Is this so important? How does this serve our purpose?” “You must learn, Lord Vader, that no matter what…there can be only one master.”

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Chapter 10

Padme Neberrie Amidala stared out of the viewport of Seinar Type-10 cruiser that moved ever closer to the fleet that surrounded the brown-green world of Dathomir, wondering if Anakin could sense her presence. Did love alter the way the Force flowed between two individuals? Was it truly love she was feeling now, or was something she had always felt and then denied herself? She stifled a laugh as she remembered a little boy with sun-bleached hair and enough attitude for five Republic senators and how he had confessed his fears of the future and his knowledge that they were destined to be together. At the time, she thought it ridiculous, her with the lost little slave-boy, but time and maturity had made her understand. The universe was a chaotic, ridiculous place where boys were made into slaves and little girls were made queens. It was a place where the Jedi lied about their intentions and the Sith rescued the downtrodden from criminal syndicates. She felt the stirring deep within her, something uncivil and certainly unladylike and she relished the feeling. Never before had she felt such desire to be with someone, not like the way she envisioned the closeness her and Anakin would share. They were more than just star-crossed lovers, they were destined for each other and destiny was calling her name. It had taken Anakin’s black and white view of the universe to open her eyes to what needed to be done to save the galaxy, to keep it from falling in on itself. Unlike the Jedi, who kept their opinions to themselves and tried to work from the shadows, Anakin had jumped feet first into the problems of the Republic. Only the truth would bring order, and political correctness be damned! She would think back to how she would fawn over delegates from other systems, trying to appease them because she had been taught that perceptions were what made the engines of government run. Anakin had laughed. “What good is being polite when you are a slave? What good are manners when your people are being exploited? What did decorum do for Naboo when the Trade Federation invaded?” he had asked her. Then, just before she had left, Chancellor Palpatine had walked with her to the ship. “My dear, it is time that we stopped trying to please everyone. By doing so, we allowed horrid crimes to be perpetuated against the Republic and I am not just talking about all of this Jedi nonsense. Did you not tell me yourself that the Trade Federation was let off too easily for what they had done to our world?” She had only nodded, suddenly aware of what a charismatic speaker her predecessor was when he wanted to be. “I’m not calling for the destruction of any planet, race or way of life. I’m simply saying that the Republic will no longer tolerate poor behavior. Either the systems will fall into line and respect the other systems…” “Or there should be consequences,” she had replied. He had smiled, seeming so fatherly it had caught her off guard. “It does my heart good to hear that you finally have seen the light. It wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain young lord I am familiar with?” She had blushed. “Is it that obvious? But no, he hasn’t had any undue influence on me…he brings out in me the things I have long kept buried.” And now she was sailing towards a tropical planet to act on things she would never had talked about. Were her mother still alive, she would have admonished her for what she was about to do, saying that these were things for the married, not the love-struck. Padme smiled. “For the married…” Lord Vader slammed hard into the tree, his teeth rattling from the blow and the sharp bark cut deeply into his exposed back. He winced in pain and felt the breath leave his lungs in an

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instant. Calling upon the Force, he refilled his lungs with air and leapt several meters into the air and over the lunging rancor. Lord Maul was busying himself trying to get close enough to cut at the tendons and sinews of the powerful legs of the beast. It’s heightened senses would detect the heat from the double-bladed lightsaber as Maul would approach and reflexes that seemed unnatural for such a large creature allowed it to turn in an instant and change from victim to hunter. The red and black tattooed Sith Lord avoided a massive claw and a bite, but could not avoid the rancid breath of the creature. Even to someone like Darth Maul, the smell was noxious and he had to hold back the urge to vomit. With a war cry, Vader was back in the air, whirling his silver lightsaber and landed on the back of the rancor. Plunging the weapon down into the animal’s meaty back, Vader missed the backbone but was sure he punctured the lung. The rancor shrieked and Vader had to fight to maintain his balance as it shook with rage. Both Sith Lords could sense the primal anger the animal was giving off. Maul, sensing the rancor was confused by it’s ire, stepped in, spun his weapon and slashed through the toes on the left foot. Spinning around and bringing the opposite blade up, he cut deep into the calf muscle. The rancor snarled and spun; it was wounded but far from defeated. Vader pulled out his lightsaber, the smell of cooked meat in the air and he started to go for a strike on the neck when the rancor managed to shake him off. He tumbled off of the back and onto the ground, where he rolled first one way then the other as the rancor attempted to stomp him into paste. He felt the Force acting upon him and he flew through the air and into a clearing several meters away. Darth Maul rushed in again now that he had removed his apprentice and sidestepped until he was under the rancor. The creature stooped over and looked down; Maul grinned and cut into the soft belly. The abdomen split open, intestines and gore pouring out. It was a near lethal strike, but the rancor moved out of the way and Maul caught the very edge of a sweeping blow. The hit was strong enough that Maul staggered and then finally stumbled. The wounded rancor seemed to smile, its teeth reflecting the setting sun as it moved into position. It’s jaws snapped and it moved to pick up the fallen Darth Maul. Just as its mouth was about to reach the Dark Lord, its head stopped. Large eyes bulged and neck muscles strained as it tried to force its way through the unseen shield that seemed to keep it away from its prize. Vader stepped out from behind a tree, his face red with anger and dripping hot sweat. He breathed slowly, focusing his hate into a tight beam and assumed control of the rancor’s mind. He could feel the animal’s bewilderment as it not only began to bleed out but it had also lost complete control of its body. Had it the facilities, it would know that it was about to die. However, because evolution had not allowed it to develop the ability for such complicated reasoning, it instead tried to thrash and lash out. The sweat began to evaporate from Vader’s body as the dark side cooled him and he concentrated in slowly collapsing the Force bubble that he had put around the rancor. After a few seconds, it began to feel the crushing weight of impeding death and the eyes filled with terror. Maul stirred and looked up then looked to Vader as he felt the Force suddenly burning like a forest fire around him. “It is not possible,” he whispered. Since the first day of training a decade before, he had been aware that his apprentice was very strong in the Force, but what he was feeling now was something new. He was using the Force to slowly, methodically kill the rancor, but he was also having it heal his wounds at the same time. Only Darth Sideous had ever displayed such ability. The rancor sniffed and blood poured from it’s nostrils, but it no longer moved. Vader twisted his head slightly and then caught something floating on the Force. It was sweet, like perfume and he looked up into the sky. “Padme…” The Force hold was broken and the rancor moved forward, throwing its head from side to side and slinging blood onto the forest floor. Maul got up on one knee and called his lightsaber to

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his hand. His grip was not as sure and the rancor seemed to sense it. It lurched and then tumbled to the side, tongue hanging out. Maul dropped his lightsaber and reached up to his head. There was a deep gash. Vader stood, his darkened features returning to normal, his left arm outstretched with a clenched fist. He smiled. “I guess we know who the master is now,” he said. Maul wondered as he got up whether his apprentice was speaking to the rancor… …or to him. Boggs Sunrider looked up at the twins suns of Tatooine and felt as if the fiery eyes of an angry god were staring down at him. His name was the same as some of the most noble Jedi Knights in all of history, but that was as far as his relationship with the Jedi went. Instead, he was the inheritor of a failed moisture farm and a large woman he had gotten pregnant after a night of binge drinking in one of Jabba the Hutt’s drinking establishments. He had longed hoped to stumble into a Sarlac Pit so he could spend a thousand years away from his misery, but it had yet to happen. Over the past few weeks, he had noticed a change in the way things were being run on the planet, especially here in Mos Espa. Then the Republic troops had arrived and kicked out Jabba’s mercenaries that had suddenly taken up residence. He had wondered where Jabba himself was at, but it just didn’t matter after the stormtroopers had gotten here. Stormtroopers. That was a good name for them. He was proud that he had thought of it himself. They had come in like a white armored rainstorm and washed away the troubles of Tatooine. Now there was a military governor, Moff Tarkin, and he had steady work. It was good work too because it kept him far away from home. He moved to the back of the landspeeder and looked at the two boxes of junk he had collected from the Lars family home. “Damn Sand People,” he said as he looked at it all. The stormtrooper with him came up beside him. “Let’s get moving. Take these boxes to central shipping and mark them for General Vader.” Boggs wanted to be impressed, but he wasn’t. General, captain, private. It meant nothing to him. “It’s just garbage.” The trooper leveled his blaster rifle. “Just do what you’re told.” Boggs wanted him to pull the trigger, but he knew the trooper wouldn’t. Even though they were under martial law, the Republic military was being extremely professional, so there was no chance of him firing. It was a scare tactic that would probably work well on the majority of citizens, given their aptitude for criminal behavior. He sighed. Just as well, he thought; his wife would kill him in due time anyway. “Yes, sir,” he replied, giving a sloppy salute. “Don’t know why a military guy needs a broken droid…” Sate Pestage rubbed his hands together after viewing himself in the mirror. His new robes of office fit well on his gaunt frame and he ordered the housekeeping droid to turn the music up another two decibels. The wind instruments of the Alderaanian Royal Symphony played a particularly warlike selection and it was punctuated by several booming gongs and thumps as the percussion section went into hyperdrive during the piece’s climax. He strolled through his new apartment, nodding at the adepts that had been assigned to him. He was chief advisor to the Chancellor of the Republic and it was a title he so very much deserved he thought. He waited until the music went off before he spoke. “I must advise the Chancellor on how best to deal with the convicted Jedi. He wishes a resolution that neither appears too harsh or too weak.” One advisor with bulging eyes raised a crooked hand. Sate wondered where in the galaxy the Chancellor had ever found such miserable specimens of humanity. “We could execute half of them and imprison the other half.”

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Sate tried to smile, but failed. “Somehow, I do not believe the public is ready to begin summarily executing the Jedi. It is a very interesting suggestion, though.” “Banishment?” another asked, her voice raspy and sounding like fangs scrapped across metal. “To where? Where do you send Jedi Masters that they cannot escape from?” Sate queried. “No, we need something inspired here, my friends,” he said, letting the last word linger. These were his friends, like it or not. He had joined the Palpatine cause for many reasons, the least of which being that he had nowhere else to turn. “Jedi are losing their rights everywhere, but for the government to just kill them…well, its too early in the game for that.” The seven scarlet robed beings nodded. Sate turned to look outside the window. “Unless they give us a reason to execute them…” “They have been convicted of high treason,” one of the advisors pointed out. “That is punishable by death.” “Only in a time of war and the more liberal members of the senate have been quick to point out that we were not at war when these crimes occurred.” Sate put his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth on his heels. It was a habit from his childhood when he would be forced to stand in the corner when he was caught not paying attention in class. He made a mental note to seek out that particular instructor and have her arrested on some charge or another. “No, we need to come up with something that will give us justification for eliminating the Jedi threat permanently so that they cannot interfere in the affairs of the people again.” “The Chancellor may not agree…” an adept stated. Sate rocked his head back and forth as he shook the idea through his brain. It was a sound point; the Chancellor had asked for advice on the best way to remove the stigma of the Jedi betrayal from the Republic. “You are correct, so we must come up with a plan that will convince the Chancellor to see things our way. Don’t you agree?” The adepts nodded again and Sate sighed. Darth Sideous had promised him that he would arrange for this appointment, for this elevation in status. Sideous had commented that he admired the way Sate viewed the galaxy and that the Chancellor would need such advice in the coming months. He a peculiar thought then. Darth Sideous seemed to have a lot in common with the Chancellor… “My head hurts,” Ferrin said as he swung his legs around and let them dangle from the examination table. The Jedi healer nodded. “It will for awhile, Padawan; it is what happens when one tried to influence a mind stronger than their own.” The healer laid her hands upon him and began to hum. Ferrin thought she smelled good. “And I am certainly not interested in anything like that,” she said with a huff. “Your thoughts betray you,” Master Vos said as he entered. The healer acknowledged him with a slight bow and then moved into an adjoining chamber. “Do not be embarrassed, Ferrin; I was young once, too.” “I’m not embarrassed,” Ferrin stated matter-of-factly. “I just thought she was pretty.” “You have the taint of the dark side on you; it projects the more forceful emotions with greater intensity towards those who are most receptive. What you saw as admiration, she saw as lust.” He took a step forward. “Because of this, you must tread carefully. You are not as you were before.” He scratched his head. “I know; I can feel it…the dark side. It calls to me.” “Indeed; it is something I must live with every day. Remember, young Padawan, it is not what you feel, but what you do about it.” “Is Master Ovos angry with me?” Quinlan hesitated for a moment. “There have been many changes in the months you have been in your Force-coma.” He slowly went over all of the details of the plight of the Jedi,

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carefully pointing out that had it not been for Ferrin, they would not know where the real evil did lie. He ended on an upbeat note. “As I am now leader of the Order, I am happy to say that you have passed your trials and will be confirmed with the title of Jedi Knight. Anyone who can survive a battle of minds with a Sith is strong enough to carry the burden of knighthood.” Ferrin only nodded. “I thought I would be more happy. All I can feel is profound sadness.” “Yes; it is a dark time, but you must never give up hope. We were complacent, those of us in power and…arrogant. We cannot dwell on that as we must see to the continuance of the Order.” Quinlan handed Ferrin a robe and turned around to allow him so privacy while he changed. When Ferrin announced he was ready, Quinlan turned and took a good look at him. Above his right eye, the blood vessels had broken, leaving a purplish scar that looked as if it had been drawn there. Facial tattoos were sacred to Quinlan’s people. Such a mark indicated someone who was about to take a long journey of discovery. “The Chancellor is to announce the sentence for the Council today. We expect them to be sent to a penal colony for a short time.” Ferrin shook his head, his eyes suddenly far away. “No…that isn’t…” He stopped as he gripped the right side of his head. “I see something…something that was in Vader’s mind when I touched it!” Quinlan closed his eyes and pulled the Force to them both, trying to calm the younger man and allow him the time to focus the images that were swirling in his mind. The contact must have been deep, for it was not something that Quinlan had been able to read of f of Ferrin’s lightsaber. Together, they worked their way through the Force storm raging in Ferrin’s brain until they came to the eye. The calm was a lie, a trap, for hidden in the center was a whirlpool of dark emotions and impure thoughts. These were the imprints of Vader’s assault and Quinlan reasoned that Ferrin must have been more powerful in character than anyone had ever given him credit for. To be able to withstand this maelstrom spoke volumes of this newly appointed knight. There was a laughing and Quinlan looked to see that it was Ferrin, who was slowly sinking to his knees. Quinlan lowered himself to Ferrin’s level and looked in the man’s eyes. They had seen the truth that had been buried in Vader’s mind, a truth that Ferrin had touched upon when he had tried to influence the dark lord. “It makes so much sense now,” Quinlan gasped. “We’re all going to die,” Ferrin said, a single tear running down his cheek. “We’ve been served up to the enemy like some appetizer.” Quinlan stood up and gripped his lightsaber, reassured by its coolness. He had many things to do and he had to do them in secret. The deception was more vile than he could even believe. The power of the dark side wasn’t growing… It already encompassed everything.

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Chapter 11

“Your wounds will heal, Lord Maul,” the witch said, running a hand along the head spikes of the dark lord. Darth Maul did not mind her touch, found it pleasing even, but she was trying to distract him from his mission. He understood her reasons; males were a rare commodity among the witches and to have an actual lord of the Sith sire a child would elevate the status of the mother greatly. “My wounds are of no consequence,” he said coldly and removed her hand. He held it for a moment, staring at her. She was beautiful, but that would change in time. The dark side had a tendency to eat away human bodies slowly from the inside without proper precautions. He doubted if these women had the facilities or the requisite knowledge necessary to stave off such effects. “I need to know if my master can count on the Witches of Dathomir maintaining their side of the bargain, Gethzerion.” The witch smiled and pushed back her platinum blond hair. “You garrison forces here and we will prevent either our misled sisters or the Jedi from interfering. In exchange…” “We shall provide you with sufficient…manpower to allow your people to flourish.” Maul reached out and took a piece of cooked lizard from the fire and plopped it in his mouth. Several of the other Nightsisters were watching him with hunger in their eyes. “From that stock you will provide my master with proper soldiers of the dark side.” Several of the Nightsisters giggled and cackled in anticipation of the imported “goods”. The witches were the descendants of fallen Jedi who had escaped to the planet to avoid prosecution by the Jedi Order. They were divided into two distinct groups of light and dark side followers and were made up nearly entirely of women. A few times in the past, a Nightsister would leave Dathomir to seek their fortune in the galaxy. Maul even killed one that was in the employ of Black Sun over a decade before. Their existence was known only to the Jedi and Sith. For centuries, the Wtiches had been content to fight over control of Dathomir, but this Gethzerion was hungry for something else. She was different. She was powerful. An alliance was necessary if only to have the witches who were not Nightsisters, the members of the various clans, eliminated so that they could not provide aid to the Jedi. It had been Maul who had suggested the alliance; his master considered the Nightsisters beneath his notice. “Then it is agreed,” Gethzerion said, reaching for her own piece of meat. “There is only one final piece of business then.” “As in the ways of old, when the dark lords ruled.” “Yes,” she said as she stood, shedding her robes. “When the dark lords ruled.” Count Dooku smiled and shook every proffered hand, sometimes even accepting a kiss from the wife of a delegate as he showed them to the door of his apartment. Another political action meeting, another set of converts to the cause of order. Life outside the Jedi Order was indeed sweet. When the final guest had been let out, Dooku left the mess to the housekeeping droids and picked up a glass of rare wine from Drall. He sniffed it and then sipped as he proceeded down the passage to his private bedroom. He considered calling up one of his lady friends for the evening, perhaps the young wife of the treasury minister from Chandrilla? His senses were dulled slightly by both age and the wine. He had consumed quite a bit during the night, but he was far from losing his senses in a drunken stupor. Not when he had the Force as an ally. Pulling his curved lightsaber from his belt, he stopped. There was another presence in the apartment. A familiar presence.

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“I should have guessed,” Dooku said as he approached his bedchamber door. It was slightly ajar and he could feel the cool Coruscant breeze. His window was open. “Who dared to send you to your death? I can sense the malice in your thoughts, Jango Fett.” Dooku felt the presence move back away from the door and then disappear. “How clever, bringing the ysalamiri, but it will not help.” Dooku ignited the blade, its light casting a crimson glow through the darkened passageway. Some of the light fell into the bedchamber and through the cracked door, he saw a shadow move. Calling the Force, Dooku slammed the door open and heard a screech as it swung back and crushed the ysalamiri. His perceptions changed and he could sense not only Jango Fett, but two others in the room. Dooku dropped the wine glass after a final drink and casually stepped into the room. Two shots came at him, but he deflected them with his weapon without so much as blinking. “I always thought you were a much better shot, Fett,” he said. A cold, metallic voice answered him from behind. “I am.” Dooku was surrounded by blue lightning, which danced around his limbs and jumped away from the ignited lightsaber. Dooku’s eyes brightened and then dulled, as if all of the alcohol he had consumed was hitting him at once. Jango Fett stepped up from the rear wearing a metallic frame on his shoulders that held two ysalamiri and waving an odd looking weapon. “Hapan design, Count. It’s called a Gun of Command. My kid read up on it and you wouldn’t believe what I had to do to get this, not that you’re even remotely interested.” Fett moved over to the other man dressed in similar armor. “You leave, now. Make sure you’re seen somewhere other than here.” “Yes, sir,” the clone trooper said. How fortunate it was that Jango had been used as the prototype for the clone army the Republic had recently confiscated. He waited until the false Fett was gone and then looked to the two thugs who were dressed in brown robes. “You two have those lightsabers I found for you?” he asked. One of them smiled, showing his lack of dental hygiene. “Got ‘em right here, Fett,” he commented, patting the hilt hanging from his belt. Fett nodded and turned to the silent and still Dooku. There was nothing the man could do; not even the Force could help him once he was under the control of the gun. “You have outlived your usefulness, Count Dooku…Lord Tyrannus…whatever you call yourself. But your master has been gracious enough to allow you to go out like a man, fighting in the style of the Jedi.” He then leaned in close, careful to avoid the still ignited lightsaber. “You should never have dismissed me as a mere lackey. There’s a reason why I’m considered the most dangerous man in the galaxy.” He moved back and waited as the two men ignited their lightsabers. Using a holonet link in his helmet, he put the Count’s security recorders back on standby. “Count Dooku, you will battle these two men…but you will not use the Force and you will not attempt to flee.” Dooku still tried to resist, as was evident by the quaking of his hand. His defiance was admirable, but in the end it would mean nothing. Fett had originally been contracted by Darth Sideous, not Dooku. While Fett held no deep resentment towards the count, he would lose no sleep over his death either. It was all business after all. The lightsaber battle was short and predictable. Not even the great Count Dooku could escape from the murderous conspiracy that the Jedi had weaved. That was how it would no doubt read on the news services when Dooku’s severed body was found. Fett retrieved the security holos and would copy them with the equipment on Slave 1. The two would-be Jedi would have to be properly disposed of as well, but that came with the job. If they were to talk, then Fett’s reputation could be damaged and that would inevitably effect his son, Boba. For his son, Jango Fett would slit his own throat if it was required of him. When he stopped to look at the galaxy as a whole, all of his exploits as both a mercenary and bounty hunter

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were meaningless. His legacy was his son. As a man got older, he started to realize that dying alone was not as romantic as it played out in holodramas. Satisfied that he had fulfilled the requirements of his contract with Darth Sideous, he took a copy of the security holo to Sate Pestage. What the connection was between the two of them was beyond Fett, but he was starting to suspect. If his suspicions were true, then it was time to get himself and Boba to the other side of the galaxy to wait out the coming storm. Padme stood at the top of the waterfall, several meters above the clear pool of water and took a deep breath. She jumped, screaming in pure delight as she sailed through the air until gravity grabbed hold and pulled her down. She landed with a splash and remained under the water for several moments before surfacing. She threw back her head, removing her wet hair from her face and wiped the excess water from around her eyes. She then looked up to see where Anakin was. They had chosen this area specifically for the remoteness. They were the only ones for several kilometers; even the native wildlife seemed to be giving them a wide berth. They had climbed to the top of the waterfall to look at the flowers that were growing at the top when Padme had suggested the swimming. Anakin had blushed from behind his neatly trimmed beard and Padme realized that he may have never learned to swim. When she tried to apologize, he had laughed. Of course he knew how to swim; his training had taken him to several exotic locals. His master had required him to learn how to fight on land, in space and underwater. Padme had smiled and moved off to a set of bushes to remove her outer garments. Clad only in her “unmentionables” she had stepped to the edge of the falls and jumped, fully expecting Anakin to follow. “Can’t he take a hint?” she asked herself. The Nightsister watched as the young man stripped down to the waste, his taught muscles rippling as he struggled with a boot. He seemed to be in a hurry and while he carried a lightsaber, a sign of the off-world male witches, she could not detect any of the magic coming off of him. Perhaps he could hide his magic? She didn’t care for it had been three long months in the wilderness, trying to hunt down a mate that had wandered too far from one of the clans. When he stood up and she saw the detailed tattoo on his stomach, she gasped as desire almost overcame her. He would be a fine catch and many of her fellow witches would pay handsomely for a night with him. Four or five good children he would produce in the first year she reasoned, maybe one of them would be a male she could trade off! Vader turned slowly to walk away and then froze. He held his hand out and called his lightsaber to him and activated it. The Nightsister leapt from her hiding place. She would have to take him down quickly before his owner came back up from the pool below them. Chanting the spell that would allow her to use the binding magic she came within a meter of her quarry before Vader turned and swung down, cutting her off at the knees. She started to scream, but his reflexes were too quick and he grabbed her by the throat, stopping any air from escaping. She felt the magic now as it raced from deep within him into his fingertips. It was then that she realized the folly of her attempt to capture him. “Nothing is ever going to take me away from those I love again,” he said, a demonic snarl on his lips. The Nightsister tried to say something, but the only sound was the snapping of her neck and trachea. With a Force-backed shove, he tossed the corpse back into the bushes. He then picked up the severed limbs and threw them as well. Vader made a belt out of some vines, as his underclothes were not meant to carry weapons, and he slung his lightsaber over his shoulder. Without a second glance, he pushed through some brush and found the little path that would lead down to the edge of the waterfall. Standing on the edge, he looked down to see Padme floating and looking up at him. She waved to him and he nodded before stepping off.

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Padme gasped as he remained there for several seconds, floating in the air and then he began to drop very slowly, he arms folded across his chest. When he was a meter above the water, he stopped and held out his hand. “The Force is with us, Padme; in me, in you, in everything.” She managed to close her dropped jaw and swallow before replying. “I’m no Jedi…” He smiled. “No, but the Force is within you, I can feel it. It is there…you have more ability then you realize. In each of us, my master told me, the Force manifests itself in different ways. For you, it is most likely in the way you capture the hearts of so many…” She blushed and splashed water at him, beckoning him to enter. The Force grabbed hold of her and pulled her bodily from the water and she stopped mere centimeters from him, floating above the water. “For me, it is the ability to keep you close and never let you go.” He reached out and pulled her close and she found the warmth of his bare chest comforting as the water evaporated from her body. She shivered both from the cold and the anticipation as his lips neared hers. “You were my angel,” he said, calling up the memories of that day long ago in Watto’s shop when they had first met.. “No, I’m just a woman in love with you,” she said before they met in a passionate embrace. They continued for several seconds and then the Force released them. Holding each other tight, their lips never parting, they sank to the bottom of the pool and remained there for just a little while more before the need for oxygen forced them to surface “You will let us see Master Yoda,” Quinlan said, waving his hand in front of the guard. The effect of the ysalamiri extended outside the cell it appeared, as the guard was unaffected. “Don’t try your Jedi tricks with me, scum.” Ferrin stepped up and punched the guard square in the face. After the man had crumpled to the ground, Ferrin looked at Quinlan. “Forgive me, master.” Quinlan shrugged. “I would have done the same thing eventually.” He reached down and pulled the key card from the guard’s belt. Using it in the reader, he got the cell door open and the two stepped inside. Master Yoda sat on his cot, his complexion pale. He had lost most of his hair and to the other Jedi, he appeared to have aged centuries in just a few short months. Ferrin was most upset by his physical condition; it appeared as if he had lost half of his body weight. The Jedi Master looked more like a child’s toy than their leader. “Master Yoda!” Yoda nodded. “Come now you have to rescue me?” He laughed a little and then coughed. “Why you look at me so? So close to death am I that young eyes cannot hide their pity?” “You are dying?” Quinlan asked. Yoda nodded. “For 800 hundred years have I used the Force to keep me alive. Long lived my race is, but not immortal. Poisons in the air have affected me, they have.” He then looked at Ferrin. “So, young one, survive your trial you did. Good, for the Jedi will have much need of you.” Quinlan stepped forward. “Master, we have discovered the identity of the true Sith Lord that has been behind all of this…” Yoda coughed again, this time more violently. “Chancellor Palpatine, know this I do.” “You knew?” Ferrin asked, not believing. “Why didn’t you warn us?” “Only confirm my suspicions do you, matters not anymore. The Jedi are in danger, lead them to safety you must. Regroup the Order will, but not here.” Kneeling next to Yoda’s cot, Quinlan spoke in hushed tones. “There is not much time, master; they will come to see about your guard when he does not check in. Tell me what must be done.” “Scattered the Jedi must be, to the winds they must be cast. Harder to hunt down will they be, but hunted they will be. Seek out Master C’Baoth…” Yoda started coughing again and scooted so he could lie down. “Come for you Vader will. Beware Vader and hide.”

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Quinlan turned to Ferrin. “Quickly! Go get Master Windu and any of the others you can find. We are leaving!” Ferrin halted, looking towards Master Yoda. “A fine Knight you become, Ferrin Durron; do what your master commands.” Ferrin swallowed and choked back the tears. “Yes, master, I will try.” Quinlan and Yoda spoke in unison, reciting one of the most ancient of Jedi proverbs. “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” Ferrin nodded and hurried out. Quinlan once again turned his attention to Master Yoda. “Damn these ysalamiri! If I could get you out of here and back into the Force…” “No; foolish I have been, much sorrow because of my arrogance. My place, you will take,” Yoda said, putting a small hand on Quinlan’s. “I am tainted, Master,” Quinlan offered. “Tainted are we all.” Yoda’s voice began to become faint and Quinlan saw that he was making an effort to hold his eyes open. “Sorry I am…” Yoda took in one last breath and then died and Quinlan waited for his body to disappear. Powerful Jedi were said to become one with the Force upon death, but it did not occur. A rattling above him caused him to look up and he saw the wide eyes of the Force-repelling ysalamiri. His hand went to his lightsaber. He didn’t need the Force for what he was about to do. In the end when Quinlan exited the cell a few minutes later, only the tattered robes of the greatest Jedi Master of all were left on the cot.

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Chapter 12

“General Vader,” the Officer of the Deck said calmly as Vader stepped off of the shuttle and into the hanger bay of the Hammer of the Republic. “Several packages have arrived for you from Tatooine.” Vader looked at him, wanting ask who they were from but he guessed that they must be related to his mother somehow. Obviously, his master had arranged for the shipment. He nodded and started to walk off. Two troopers fell into place behind him and the trio moved out across the hanger bay. Vader noted that several new fighters had been loaded into the ship while he had been down on the planet, supervising the new detention center and communication facilities layout. Several technicians were busy tearing apart an engine nacelle on what was being hailed as the Y-Wing, a new fighter/bomber that the Republic was reviewing. He did not even need to go over and see it for himself. It was far too big and underpowered. Too many weapons systems and not enough juice. He and his entourage passed by it and Vader had to stop as a small astromech droid rolled up to him. He saw the large transport that had brought his beloved Padme to him and immediately knew who the droid was. “Artoo; are you here to be my co-pilot again?” The droid rocked back and forth and whistled. Vader looked over at a technician who was running up. “I’m sorry, General,” the tech said as she reached for Artoo. Vader held up a hand. “Artoo is with me. You may go back to your duties.” He waved it and watched the blank stare come over the tech’s face. Vader chuckled. The Jedi mind trick did have its advantages. A short turbolift ride later, he and Artoo were in his massive cabin. He had hated leaving Padme with the ground forces, but he had to make his report to Chancellor Palpatine and coordinate the next set of ship movements before he could continue his…merriment. He grinned at the thought and tried to remember the last time he had ever felt so loved, so needed and so appreciated. Certainly not with Darth Maul. The closest word to describe the relationship between them was friendship, but that wasn’t quite it either. Vader doubted that Maul was even capable of having such emotions, but he did know that he considered Vader an ally. As such, Maul would come to his defense anytime it was required and Vader would do the same. Wouldn’t he? Artoo beeped and a message scrolled across the desk terminal. “Yes, Artoo, when I go back down to the planet’s surface, you can come with me. You might be my co-pilot, but your Padme’s droid.” He patted the droid on the head, though it meant nothing. The droid lacked emotions. That wasn’t such a horrible character flaw he decided. Emotions brought turmoil and pain, but when the thought of what he felt for Padme came to him, he just became confused. Too many new emotions and not enough time to digest them all. Lately, he had noticed that his relationship was strained with the other dark lords. Too many dark lords could be the problem. In ancient times, the title of Dark Lord was reserved only for the greatest of the Sith, but over the centuries it came to be passed around as easily as Jedi Master. With so many powerful Sith drawing upon the dark side, it stretched the limits of it, as like anything else, the Force was not limitless. He corrected himself, remembering the lessons with Darth Sideous. The Force was endless; the capacity of the mortal form was the limiting factor. So, it was more accurate to say that access to the dark side became more limited with the more Sith there were, like a pack of womprats fighting over a water hole. That was the reason why Darth Bane instituted the “One Master, One Apprentice” rule. Darth Sideous had been the first to break that edict in over a thousand years and Vader wondered if a price were being paid now. Neither he nor Maul trusted Dooku, and Dooku had ambitions

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that had nothing to do with the rest of the Sith. The dark side was being stretched and along with it, so were the nerves of the Sith. A reckoning would be coming. His terminal indicated several holonet messages and he scrolled through them until he came to one from the office of the Chancellor. Typing in his personal password, r-e-v-e-n-g-e, he waited until it was accepted and the message could be displayed. He visibly paled as he read it, not believing what his eyes were showing him. It was a standard message sent to all of the commanders in the military and therefore was devoid of emotion. It was a simple, efficient message, almost elegant in its lack of complexity. Republic security forces have verified a report that Count Dooku, former Jedi Master and political lobbyist for Chancellor Palpatine, has been assassinated by members of the Jedi Order. Security holos obtained by the Republic government from Dooku’s private apartment show him engaged in combat with two Jedi Knights who have yet to be identified. At the same time, Jedi Knights broke into the main detention area under the senate chambers and liberated several members of the Jedi Council who were awaiting sentencing for crimes against the Republic. Among those who did not escape was Jedi Master Yoda; intelligence reports indicate that he died during the break out. Because of the Jedi’s ability to influence minds and melt into general populace, Chancellor Palpatine has declared martial law throughout the Republic. All Jedi are to be apprehended upon sight. Any resistance is to be met with deadly force. Repeat…All Jedi are to be arrested, not only suspected terrorists. All reports concerning Jedi are to be conveyed to General Maul of the Special Operations Group. Vader could not believe it; the time had finally arrived. Today was the day his final vengeance on the Jedi would begin. He smiled and then remembered that Lord Tyrannus was now dead. He would have thought he would have felt his passing, but he supposed that he was too engaged in other…activities to notice. The death of Dooku was something he would get over. The man was always too selfabsorbed anyway and wasn’t even a true Sith. Just another fallen Jedi with no other place to go. He turned and moved over to his closet to get out a new uniform when his feet kicked a box. He stooped down and saw several packages, all marked as having come from his home world. Shrugging, he lifted them with the Force and sorted them in the air by size. It had been something he loved to do since Maul had first taught him the ability to levitate with the mind. Forgoing the smallest packages, he moved to the largest of them. It smelled of the desert and briefly he was taken back to a simpler time of pod races and droid repairs. Sighing and choking back the more painful memories that threatened to burst through his defenses, he opened the box and peered inside. He reached in, saying a quick curse word. “Artoo, you are not going to believe this,” he said as he pulled out a droid head. It was from a standard protocol droid but was missing the outer skin. “You remember Threepio, don’t you? We left him with mom…” His voice trailed off and Artoo’s lights dimmed. Before the blackness of despair could overtake him, he suddenly had a thought. “I bet he can tell me all about mom and the things she did while I was gone.” He set Threepio’s head on the bed and went to look for his tool kit. Old habits died hard and he had never lost his passion for rebuilding things. He could not count how many assassin droids he had rebuilt blindfolded in an effort to impress his master. It had never worked, but it had still been fun. See-Threepio was the first “real” droid Vader had ever built. He had repaired many, but he had actually brought the protocol droid to life. In essence, he was his father. That had special meaning for him since Vader never actually knew who his father was. He often wondered about it, but he would get easily frustrated as the answer was never forthcoming. Darth Maul had no interest in being a father and Count Dooku could care less.

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Darth Sideous, surprisingly, had a fatherly streak that ran deep. Then again, Vader understood it that the supreme Sith had once been very much in love with a woman and Maul had mentioned once or twice about a child that was born from that union. “Children…” he said aloud. He liked the sound of that and the idea even more. The creation held the most interest for him he thought with a mischievous smile. That required getting married, though. Well, why not, he thought. He and Padme could get married and have children. Raise them as true Sith, a new generation of leaders for a galaxy free of the Jedi. A galaxy of order and forced peace, where those who would cause anarchy were swept away like sand on the dunes. Unlike the rumors the liberal media were spreading about him, Vader did not want to destroy the galaxy. Just as a surgeon did not want to kill the patient, the Sith were here to save the galaxy by removing the cancerous tumors from the body. Tumors that either were incapable of being treated or resisted the treatment given. If he did ask Padme to marry him, what would his master say? He imagined Darth Maul’s disapproval. Anger shot through Vaders mind and the terminal screen cracked. “If he thinks he can tell me…” He caught his reflection in the mirror. He looked so much older and so angry. The beard was causing the effect he reasoned. It was dark black, not like his lighter top hair. Like a suit of armor he thought, it made him look more frightening, colder and darker. Padme had liked it, running a finger through it when they had finished their…merriment. The thought brought a smile to his face and the spell was broken. His dark moods were coming more often, he realized; those times when he started to come more in sync with the dark side, when the Force was almost palatable. Darth Sideous had told him to be attentive of these times because they were a signal that his powers were becoming greater. It was even said that the future could be glimpsed. He told Artoo to go find another terminal for him so he could send his report in and then set down to try and repair Threepio. He shook his head. “Some family I’ve got, eh, Artoo? An elected queen as a mom, two droid for kids and grandpa Maul.” Artoo did not see the humor and rolled out without an electronic comment. “I was told that you had information I would find useful, Doctor,” Bail Organna said. He sat across from a far-too heavy man in standard medical scrubs. The physician sweated profusely and the cooling system was running at full capacity, but it appeared to do nothing to alleviate the man’s profound perspiring. Bail pulled his cloak around his shoulders as the man labored to explain. “Ah, yes, senator…it has come to my attention that Alderaan does not support Chancellor Palpatine’s latest proclamations from his castle.” The man winked and was acting as if they were two conspirators discussing a crime. “My planet’s position, as well as several others, is a matter of public record, Dr. Ateck, so why we are even discussing this?” Bail started to get up but Ateck beat him in rising and began to walk around the desk. “Please, senator, I meant no disrespect…” he said as he wiped his neck with a soiled cloth. “I suppose I should come to the point. I also oppose the changes that are going on here.” He took Bail by the arm and pulled him to one of the doors leading out of the office. Bail sensed no direct malice on the part of the doctor, just nervous desperation. He decided to hear him out. “Where are we going?” he asked as the entered a long, windowless passageway. “I have something to show you, something that I hope will gain me your patronage,” the doctor said, looking around them. Bail saw that there were no security cameras or droids, not even a posted guard and he found that odd. This was one of the most exclusive research clinics on Coruscant. It not only conducted ground-breaking research in genetics, but it also happened to

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house a special rehabilitation section that catered to the very well-connected. Surely it would be prudent to have only the best in security. “My patronage?” Bail asked suddenly curious. “I do not see how I can help you,” he said, suddenly craving a drink. It had been nearly two months since Padme had left for Dathomir and he felt so out of place. How could a man ten years her senior, a born pacifist and politician compare to the young, handsome dark warrior? “I was hoping to get a posting to the Alderaan Royal Medical Institute,” the doctor replied as they pushed through a swinging double door. Bail nodded. It was within his power to make such a thing happen. The ARMI was one of the premier learning institutions in the galaxy. Only the top medical and scientific minds in the galaxy were ever asked to join the staff. “You must have something incredible to show me,” Bail said aloud. The doctor turned and smiled. “Oh, yes, quite, quite…but I must tell you I need to be on a transport tonight.” That caused Bail to raise his eyebrows but he said nothing for the moment. They continued to walk through several more passages, all of them the same sterile white color and windowless. Every other passage would have four sets of doors with small windows in them. The pace they were moving at prevented Bail from looking inside. Finally, they stopped before a door that was marked P-12 and Ateck looked inside. He stepped back and wiped the back of his neck again and patted his forehead. He indicated that Bail should look inside. Stepping up, Bail looked through the window and saw a young boy, no more than five years of age. He was handsome for such a young boy and somehow familiar. Then something caught his eye and he did a double-take. “Don’t worry, he can’t see you,” Ateck said. Bail stepped away. He was ashen in color. “He has a third eye…” “Yes; he is a mutant,” the physician said. “His name is Trioculus and he is to be shipped out to Kessel later this week.” “Kessel? The mines? What in the name of the Force for?” Bail asked, disbelieving that a child was being sent to such a horrid place. “What sort of mutation is it?” “Well, the mother wasn’t human, but it doesn’t account for the mutation.” Bail looked back into the window again. “What does?” “Midichlorian Genetic Alteration.” Bail’s jaw hung open and he started to go cold. Midichlorians were bacterium like materials that were found in Force-talented individuals. It was theorized that the midichlorians were actually what made the contact with the Force and gave a Jedi their power, not the Jedi themselves. A more popular idea was that the midichlorians lived in a symbiotic relationship with the Jedi. “Caused by what?” “I’m no expert on the Jedi, but my research indicates prolonged exposure of the father to the dark side of the Force. Early Republic records indicate that the Sith were known to sire many deformed children. That is why Sith families were so rare and apprentices had to be adopted.” The doctor pulled on his arm and started leading back to the office. “It’s Vader’s child, isn’t it?” Bail asked, suddenly excited. Here was the evidence he needed to show Padme what a cad her lover was. She would see that a future with him would be impossible and he, Bail Organna, would be there to ensure she found out the whole truth. Regardless of his credentials, Bail was going to ensure that Dr. Ateck was given a very nice position on Alderaan. Ateck stopped, suddenly appearing very nervous. “No…no…Trioculus is the son of Chancellor Palpatine.” “Palpatine? He’s not a Jedi…” Bail said before the truth started to flood into his mind and he realized that everything that had been happening in the Republic for the past year, no, the past ten years had not been just a series of random events. It had been a staged performance, a

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symphony of imperialism and Palpatine, a man he had considered a friend and a colleague, was the conductor. His desire to be with Padme suddenly seemed to be so insignificant. Vader stared at the hunk of metal and wires that had once been a protocol droid and frowned. The damage done to Threepio was inconsistent with that of an attack by the Sand People. His master had explained that the Lars family had been murdered by the Tusken Raiders. The score marks and melted components indicated not a gaffi stick, the weapon of choice of the Raiders. It indicated a lightsaber. Voices whispered to Vader as he worked the wires and boards of the droid, voices that had been speaking to him since that first night that Dooku had turned him over to Maul. It had been the voices that had told him Maul had lied before when he had told the tale of the death of Anakin Skywalker’s mother. It had been the voices that had told him to try and probe his master’s mind for the truth. They spoke to him more often now and he thought he knew who they were. The ancient Dark Lords of the Sith, their restless spirits resided in the Force, alongside with their hated Jedi counterparts, were rumored to choose those who would assume their place in the world of the living. Vader was convinced that they had chosen him over Lord Maul and they were trying to get him to kill Maul. If his suspicions panned out, Vader thought, then they would get their wish. One master, one apprentice. Over and over they chanted it in his mind. Perhaps all of the Dark Lords heard them and they just ignored it. He couldn’t right now as he looked at the pieces of Threepio. A master was supposed to protect his apprentice; the apprentice protected the master. There was a knock at his door and Artoo wheeled over to answer it. It opened and Padme stepped in. She was wearing a black flightsuit that hugged her form. “You’re late for dinner…oh!” she said as she saw the mangled droid. “Isn’t that…?” Vader nodded and used the Force to pull a chair over for her. “It was sent to me from Tatooine. My master said the Sand People had killed everyone.” Padme picked up a piece of an arm. “He looks like he’s been shot.” “Lightsaber,” he said, tightening a screw. “Oh,” she said, standing up and walking around the room. She found his lightsaber sitting on a table and picked it up. She didn’t know what to say because the implications were beyond her. She simply didn’t understand the relationship between master and apprentice. “Anakin?” He stopped and looked up at her. His eyes told the story of the conflicting emotions within him. His gaze reached out to her, begging her to be his anchor. “Padme?” She held the lightsaber. “You said I have Force ability. Could I ever learn to use a lightsaber?” He nodded. “You won’t be throwing starfighters across the hanger bay with your mind…yet, but it is possible. The dark side can give you power beyond your dreams.” “What would I do with such power?” she asked, examining the lightsaber closer. It felt cool in her hand, but she felt excited at the same time. Here was a weapon that few could wield, that could deflect blaster bolts and cut through ship hulls. She held death in her hand. “Who wants to be associated with something called the dark side?” He chuckled. “The Jedi named it, not the Sith. Think of it as a way of drawing the darkness out of the galaxy and focusing it into something orderly. Remove the chaos, replace with order.” He held out his hand and the lightsaber started to float to him. She gasped, suddenly frightened and it happened. She did not immediately notice, but Vader sensed it at once. The lightsaber hesitated in midair, but then relented to Vader’s superior ability. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

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“I want to be your apprentice,” she said, determination set in her eyes. “Then you’ll have to marry me,” he said, matching her gaze. Every little girl dreams of the day her knight comes up and goes down on bended knee. Padme looked over at her champion, cross-legged on a bed in a wrinkled uniform, working on a broken droid and trying his best not to shake. His fear was radiating in the room and she remembered that first night after they had escaped from Tatooine years before. Little Anakin had shivered in the cold darkness of the ship and Padme had come to bring him a blanket. It was there he had confided in her that he knew that one day, they would be married. “Is that allowed?” she asked, taking a step forward. “I don’t care if it’s allowed,” he said, putting down the torso of Threepio. He hooked his lightsaber to his belt and stood up. “I’ve lost my mother even while I gain my revenge on the Jedi who abandoned me, but then I suspect that my own master was behind my mother’s death. I’m angry, Padme, I’m hurt and I’m confused. You’ve ask to be my apprentice, but I want more than that.” “I want more, too,” she said. Then she looked down at the deck. “I’m tired of seeing the suffering that is occurring in the galaxy and waiting for someone to come up with a political solution. You’ve shown me that action produces more results than speeches. I want to be part of that. I want to be part of you.” She looked back up. “What if your master was responsible for…” Vader turned to Threepio. “I will rebuild him and he will tell me what happened. If he can’t answer all of my questions, then I’ll ask my master myself.” “And what if he says yes? What then Anakin?” “I’ll kill him.” She nodded. “Then I’ll help you. You helped me all of those years ago.” He smiled. “You still didn’t answer my question.” She moved over and put her arms around him. She squeezed him hard. “Yes, I will marry you. Together, you and I will help Chancellor Palpatine fix what is broken.” Pulling back his hood, Darth Sideous inhaled deeply. Sate Pestage remained silent, but the Dark Lord could sense the shock and the utter joy at the revelation. “I am so happy to see you are pleased, Pestage.” “Had I known, Chancellor,” Pestage said as he bowed in respect. The Dark Side Adepts were standing away in a corner, guarded by crimson-armored warriors. “Alas, words escape me.” “Your plan with Count Dooku has elevated your position greatly with me,” Sideous said. “I will be instituting even more changes over the coming weeks and your services will be required.” “I live to serve,” Pestage responded. “If I may ask?” “You worry about my apprentices, but you need not. All is going according to my plans. In fact, it is going better than expected, so you will need to contact the weapons designers I told you about.” “Of course, my lord.” Sideous laughed. “Call me by my proper title…Emperor…Emperor Palpatine.”

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Chapter 13

“We need to put all of the facts together if we are going to come up with a plan of action,” Mace Windu commanded. Several of the other Jedi nodded agreement and started to move to the large table in the center of the room. They were not gathered for an impromptu reunion. This was a council of war. When everyone was sitting, Mace looked them over. This was his new Council, this was the future of the Jedi and despite the circumstances, he was very proud to be with them. He did wish that there were more masters among them and that fewer of the knights had been rush promoted, but desperate times required desperate measures. “My friends, it has been far too long since we have all gathered together so, and it is apparent by our small number that the task ahead is most difficult.” Mace smiled warmly. “But, we are not alone,” he indicated Bail Organna, who sat opposite of him. “Senator, I would like to extend our thanks to you once again for providing us with this transport.” Bail nodded, a glimmer in his eye. It had been several months since he had last had a drink and the abstinence had been good for him. “The Tantive IV is at your disposal for as long as you wish, Master Windu. It sails under diplomatic immunity and therefore cannot be boarded by Imperial vessels.” The mention of the Empire made several of the Jedi grimace and Ferrin actually spit on the floor. Three months before, Chancellor Palpatine took the final step of establishing his dictatorship by naming himself Emperor and dissolving the Republic in favor of the Empire of the New Order. The senate, purged of nearly 60% of its members, all of them non-human delegates charged with a variety of crimes against the Republic, ratified his proclamation with only three dissentions. Bail Organna had led the veto battle, but had accepted defeat graciously. Though he was sure that Emperor Palpatine suspected treachery, Alderaan had too much money to make outright accusations. “We cannot stay here for long, regardless; Alderaan is the safest place for the Jedi, but our presence threatens the populace.” Master Solusar held a finger up. “But, we do have a need to hide the pregnant Jedi there.” “Agreed,” Bail answered. The Jedi Order was made up of as many females as males and while dedication to the Order was considered to be one the cornerstones of the Jedi way, intimate relations still occurred. Marriage was also permitted, given the circumstances, but it was rare. Most married Jedi normally chose to serve in ambassadorial duties or simply left the Order. “We have arranged for those Jedi who are with child to be given new identities and citizenship on Alderaan. However, based on Master Ovos’ recommendation, once the children are born, they will be dispersed to other worlds and families to be raised.” Ferrin shook his head. “I still disagree with that. Didn’t we learn anything from Anakin Skywalker? You can’t just rip families apart!” His face reddened and he pulled his robes tighter. Quinlan, who was seated next to him, laid a hand on his forearm. “Our personal feelings do not outweigh the danger the Empire poses to us,” Mace responded. “All of you have seen the death squads of stormtroopers. Jedi are being systematically hunted down by Darth Maul.” “Which brings us to the matter of the dispersal, “ Master C’Baoth said, stroking his gray beard. The oldest surviving member of the Council, he had been on semi-permanent leave while exploring the edges of the known galaxy when the troubles had started. “I am mostly concerned with the older padawans. They have just enough ability to be dangerous and not enough experience to know better.”

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Mace bit his lip. The youngest of the students that had not been rounded up by the Empire were the easiest to hide. It would take too much effort to hunt them down, but the teenaged students were another problem entirely. “What of our efforts on Dathomir?” Jedi Knight Lindia Jade shook her head. “Just as when Master Yoda tried to pull the Ch’Unthor out of the swamps centuries ago, we were also beaten back by the witches. Then we lost several members trying to get back through the naval blockade.” She stopped for a second and pushed her chair back to allow her swollen belly a little more room. “I can’t believe how big I’m getting,” she said in disgust. “I look like a Hutt.” “Two Hutts,” Ferrin joked. Several of the gathered Jedi chuckled, thankful for the opportunity to release their pent up energies. After everyone had calmed down and Ferrin had apologized to the incensed Lindia, Mace returned to the subject at hand. “Does anyone have a suggestion?” “What about escaping to the Hapans?” Ki Adi Mundi asked. “Palpatine seems to want to avoid them.” With good reason too, Mace thought. The Hapan Cluster was 63 worlds located outside the Republic and guarded jealously. The Hapans were regarded as an extremely militant society. “We could send an envoy to speak with the Ta’Chume, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope,” Mace offered as a compromise. “I was thinking more about the Corporate Sector.” “Somehow, I don’t think the reception would be any better there,” Quinlan said. “Business people generally do not like to be around Jedi because we can detect lies.” He leaned forward and out his elbows on the table. “The only chance we really have is to try and establish small colonies on outlying worlds.” “I was preparing to do just that,” Master C’Baoth said. “I could take some of the students with me, go out past the galactic rim.” Many of the Jedi nodded. It was the safest of all of the plans, especially with all of the anti-Jedi and anti-alien sentiments that were prevalent in the galaxy now. It was also the most dangerous plan as the worlds out side the known galaxy were a mystery. For many years, several Jedi Masters had pushed for project that would allow them to explore those worlds. Only two years before, Master C’Baoth had secured permission from the Council to carry out his dream. He had spent the last year on Jomark preparing for the journey with three other Jedi Masters. “But only take a few; if we spread everyone out, then Palpatine will have to dedicate more forces to the search.” “More forces mean more eyes looking,” Master Ovos commented. “It is a chance we will have to take.” Mace sat back and put his hands together under his chin. “Anakin has taken a padawan.” “Really? The Sith are really pushing it, aren’t they?” Lindia asked, scratching her belly. “Who is his padawan? Is it one of us?” Ferrin asked. Bail answered the question, his face showing the pain the words were causing. “Padme Amidala, the former Queen of the Naboo.” “What? She’s not a Jedi!” Ferrin said. The discoloration over his right eye seemed to grow darker. “We would have sensed it!” “Calm down, Ferrin; we were just as surprised as you,” Mace replied, his demeanor providing some calm in the storm. “Whatever talent she does have is weak at best; she can’t hope to become very powerful in the Force.” “I believe that is the wrong attitude to have, Master Windu,” Master Ovos observed. “After all that has happened, we still have a tendency to underestimate the power of the dark side. Evil is subtle, darkness goes where there is no light, it does not stand out. We have gotten too used to having everything blazing in our faces like advertising signs.” “Did anyone even bother to check her for ability?” Master C’Baoth asked, looking to the other Jedi Masters. “Is it not the responsibility of the Order to seek out those children with the ability to tap into the Force?”

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“I would think the lesson of Anakin Skywalker would have demonstrated how amiss the Jedi have been in that duty,” Bail accused. If the Jedi had had been a little more on the ball, maybe Padme wouldn’t be under the influence of the Sith. Ki quickly shot back. “Normally, we rely on the observations of local government officials in order to determine talented children, unless they are sensed by a local Jedi. Naboo has no Jedi and the local government representative was Senator Palpatine.” Mace sat up. He hadn’t considered something. “Do you think its possible that Palpatine knew about her all along?” “Why kill her then? We now know he had to be the one behind the assassination attempts,” Bail said, his fists clenching. Master Ovos shook a finger and rubbed his forehead. “If I remember correctly, sometimes latent Force-ability can be increased through strong emotional responses. It is an old Sith training technique.” Quinlan nodded. “Cute. Scare the Force out of them. Savages.” “Says the Jedi who wields Force-lightning,” Ovos said with a smile. It was a dark joke. Force-lightning was caused by tapping into the dark side and was only used by the Sith. Quinlan’s special emotional problems had granted him the ability to use the technique, but using it pulled him in closer to the dark side. “All of this is very nice, Master Windu,” Lindia started, “but how is this going to get rid of Palpatine, Maul, Vader and whoever the hell else wants a fight?” Ferrin nodded and wanted to give the other Jedi a hug. She looked at him with that look he was getting used to. Again, his thoughts were lashing out. He was having a very hard time controlling them. There was an uncomfortable silence as each Jedi looked to the other for an answer. Even Bail was silent, though all he wanted to do was personally strangle all of the Sith lords that had destroyed his life. “Korriban.” All eyes turned slowly to Ferrin, who, for once, looked completely calm. “What did you say?” Ovos asked, his eyes wide. “Korriban, the legendary home world of the Sith. If we go there, they will follow,” Ferrin said coldly. He stood up and walked over to a large flimsyplast map of the galaxy. There were several colored pins on several worlds. Blue stood for worlds that were considered “safe” havens for the Jedi; red for worlds that were too dangerous to travel to. A modern ship would have a holographic display, but the Tantive IV was an older vessel with a proud history of service with the Alderaanian government. Ferrin traced a line with his finger along the Outer Rim. He then moved past it and then came back into the known galaxy, his finger moving from world to world in what appeared to be a haphazard method, but the Jedi could sense that Ferrin was concentrating through the Force. His finger finally stopped. “Here, this is where it is.” “Are you sure?” Bail asked, standing up. “How do you know? Korriban has been a myth for centuries.” “Anakin Skywalker knew where it was; he’s been there. If they think we’re going to raid the sacred temples of the long dead Sith, they’ll go nuts.” He smiled devilishly at the thought. “The dark side will be strong there…perhaps too strong for many of us,” Mace said, eyeing Quinlan and Ferrin. “It is a good idea, though; Korriban is too sacred to let fall. At the very least, Palpatine will send both Vader and Maul to try and stop us.” “And Padme?” Bail asked as he looked at the map. He started calculating hyperspace jumps in his head, looking for nearby friendly worlds and trying to remember where the new Imperial patrol ships were stationed. “It makes sense,” Mace said. “That would leave Palpatine vulnerable. Dooku is dead so we will not have to contend with him.”

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“Then it’s agreed, we will lead the Sith to Korriban and it will be there that we end this,” Mace said. He just wished he was as confident as he sounded. “I must confess,” Emperor Palpatine began to the gathered nobles, dignitaries and various government officials, “that in these dark times, these times when it appears that every step forward is actually two steps back, that I get very little time to do those things which the leader of a government truly enjoys.” Mon Mothma rolled her eyes and elbowed Garm Bel Iblis. The two young senators, members of the new Imperial Senate, had been invited to this ceremony personally by the newly self-appointed Emperor. “Arrogant bastard!” she whispered. “Did you notice that everyone here is human?” Garm asked. She looked around the room and spied a blue-skinned man in a uniform devoid of any rank insignia. “What about him? You’re still on the military appropriations committee, right?” He nodded. “If that’s what you want to call it. The only reason I’m on there is because of all of the shipyards we have. As for that guy,” he shrugged, indicating he was a mystery to him as well. Palpatine continued, raising his voice slightly, as if he could hear the whispered conversations. “We gather here today to join together the old with the new. The world of Naboo with the world of Tatooine…” “Master, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done,” Vader said as he and Palpatine walked through an empty corridor of the newly christened Imperial Palace. Two flights below them, the wedding reception was getting underway and they could hear the faint sounds of a jizz band and the laughter of semi-drunken guests. “I do hope you young bride appreciates my gift,” Palpatine said. He was wearing the black robes of Darth Sideous and was beginning to appear more and more with the hood drawn up over his head, hiding his face. Vader had sensed that there were physical changes occurring within the other man. “A piece of the legendary Kaiburr Crystal; it will greatly amplify her abilities,” Vader replied. Palpatine smiled and placed a hand on Vader’s shoulder. “Tell me, Lord Vader, why is it that you and my apprentice, Lord Maul, do not speak?” Vader swallowed hard. It had been six months since Threepio had revealed that it had been Darth Maul who had murdered the Lars family, but could not say anything else. Shimi Skywalker had been kidnapped by the Sand People, that much had been true. “Forgive me, but it is a matter I prefer not to discuss.” Palpatine’s gripped increased slightly. “My boy, I sense the anger within you. It is powerful, just as you are. I see…I see that you suspect Lord Maul of deceit, but deceit has ever been the way of the Sith.” “I know, master, but how can we trust one another if we do not at least speak true to each other?” Vader put his head down. “My doubts undermine our mission.” Palpatine snapped his jaw shut then stopped. “I can force you to tell me Lord Vader, but I shall not. Whatever this problem is, the two of you must deal with it.” Vader nodded and then tried to change the subject. “Master, do the spirits of the Sith ever speak to you?” Palpatine’s eyes went wide and then closed to slits. “What do you know of such things, Lord Vader?” “I hear them, master, they speak to me constantly, warning me…” Vader let his voice trail off as he could see that Palpatine was getting angry. “You will tell me immediately from now on when you hear these voices, Lord Vader; is that clear?” Palpatine was shaking with rage and had to summon his considerable strength to calm himself. The ancient Dark Lords were to only speak with the chosen successor…him. If they

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were speaking with Vader…well, it didn’t matter. As powerful as Anakin Skywalker had been, Palpatine was much more powerful. “Yes, my master, I’m sorry,” Vader apologized. Palpatine seemed to shrug off his dark mood. He had already divined the future. I did not matter what the dead thought. “Come, we have a party to attend. I have a new military officer to introduce you to; he’s alien but so fascinating.” “Of course, master,” Vader said as they began to walk again.

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Chapter 14

The non-descript transport reverted to real space in the blink of an eye, star lines transforming into brilliant points of light. The ship’s pilot engaged the sublight engines while the navigator pulled up a local star map. The sensor officer was the first to call out the alarm. “We’ve got two incoming capital class ships.” The co-pilot looked out the viewport and spied two of the stars moving closer. “Do we have a preliminary identification?” They were all hoping that it wasn’t a pair of the newlycommissioned Victory-Class Star Destroyers. The Imperial shipyards were churning them out at a frightening pace. Giant salvage droids floated in orbit above several prominent worlds, taking in older Republic vessels and breaking them down into their raw components. In this way, Emperor Palpatine was building up his military at ten times the previous rate. “No,” the sensor officer replied and everyone breathed a little easier. If they couldn’t identify the vessels, then they were most likely Hapan. “Suggest we make contact first, Captain.” The captain agreed and keyed for the general broadcast frequency. He turned to the copilot. “I sure as hell hope they speak Basic.” The Twi’leck co-pilot shrugged. “I could curse at them in Rhodian if you want.” The navigator chimed in as well. “I could offer to sleep with them in Hutteese.” “I’m sure if I have any problems, I can have one of the Jedi in the back influence their minds,” the captain responded with heavy sarcasm. It had been a long trip and he was hoping that it would be over soon. Before he could speak, a female voice sounded over the compartment speaker. “Attention unidentified Republic vessel, you have come out of hyperspace into restricted territory. Power down and prepare to be boarded.” “Attention Hapan warships, we are an unarmed transport vessel with refugees seeking asylum in the Hapan Cluster,” the captain said, trying to sound as neutral as possible. The Hapans were a very touchy people as he understood it. The response was not what he anticipated. “You have failed to comply with our orders. You were told to power down and you have not.” The two warships suddenly accelerated, bright plumes from their engine exhausts lighting up the space behind them. The navigator started to comment on the effect when the nearest vessel fired. Brilliant beams of blue light instantaneously crossed the space between the vessels and struck the hull of the transport. “Ion blast! Systems going off line!” the co-pilot yelled out as he desperately tried to route auxiliary power to the engines. Another blast hit the vessel, causing no physical damage, but overloading the remaining active electrical systems. With the loss of power, the artificial gravity disappeared as well and the cabin crew strapped themselves in. “Get me power now!” the captain roared. The Hapan ships came within point-blank range and opened up with their turbolasers. The effect was devastating as millions of kilojoules of energy reduced the components of the transport and its occupants to free atoms. So complete was the destruction that even the debris atomized, leaving no trace of the vessel. The captain of the Hapan vessel that had contacted the transport turned to her weapons officer and threw back her long, blonde hair. “Excellent shooting, Gunner.” The Weapons Officer smiled and bowed her head slightly. “Not much of a challenge, my Captain.” The captain shrugged and regarded the rest of her bridge crew, all female except for one or two male enlisted ranks. “Challenge or not, our duty is to protect the borders of our worlds from the corruptive influence of democratic pacifists and Jedi tricksters. Excellent job to all…even the males performed adequately.”

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There were hoots and clapping as the women patted the men on the back and the men responded with large smiles. “By the Force, how can one small child cause so much pain?” Lindia Jade bellowed as she was wheeled into the medical facility. She gripped tightly to Ferrin’s hand, so hard that he started to wince. “Why do you hurt me? I didn’t get you pregnant?” Ferrin asked as he was pulled along. “This is not duty fit for a Jedi Knight!” “I’ll trade you places,” Lindia said before she began her breathing exercises. “Anyway, you know that the father is dead, killed at Dathomir.” Ferrin knew he had misspoke and wanted to apologize, but the words refused to form as long fingernails dug into his skin. “By the gods! Let go of me woman!” He tried to use the Force to push her hand off of his, but was rewarded by her own ability working against him. He relented and allowed her to continue to pass on her pain to him. With each contraction, a little more blood came forth from his aching hand, but he supposed it was his destiny to suffer. It was he who had suggested the raid onto Korriban, but it was he who was given the task of escorting the pregnant Jedi to Alderaan to oversee the dispersal of their children. He was too close to the dark side to be risked on the mission to stop the Sith and had been given the “lightest” of duties. Ferrin reached out with the Force, trying to calm Lindia, but she shoved him away. “I have enough dark thoughts at the moment, young man!” His anger was beginning to show in his voice. “Young man? Lindia, you are only five years older than me!” “Getting pregnant will age you!” she roared as she finally let go and was pushed into the operating theater. A pretty young nurse with the typical dark hair of a native Alderaanian came up and asked him if he was the father. When he responded that he wasn’t, he was told he could wait where he was at. “She’s a Jed…a special case. I really think I should be there,” he said. Master Windu had warned him of some of the potential problems associated with Jedi births. All of the Masters had confirmed that Lindia’s child was strong in the Force and it was imperative that a Jedi be near in order to try and help Lindia sooth the child upon birth. “The slap to the backside,” Master Ovos had said with a wry grin, “makes the child very angry.” The nurse assured him that she understood the nature of the problem and that Bail Organna himself had arranged for a Jedi Healer to be present. That brought a wave of relief to Ferrin. Truly Alderaan was a good place to be a Jedi, but at the same time, he could feel the fear and apprehension in the people around him. His clothing was giving him away. Lindia had warned him to change into something more civilian as their ship had landed, but then she started having contractions and all hell seemed to break loose. “Excuse me, son,” a uniformed security man said as he stepped up to Ferrin. “Are you a Jedi?” Ferrin could read the man’s emotions and thoughts like a book. He waved a finger in front of the man’s face. “You do not seek the Jedi.” The man smiled. “I do not seek the Jedi.” Another wave. “You want to report to your superiors that there are no Jedi on Alderaan.” The man nodded and then put a finger to his chin as he appeared to contemplate a deep thought. “I believe I will tell my superiors that there are no Jedi on Alderaan. Good day to you citizen.”

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Ferrin wished him well and sighed. Once again, he had used the Force to influence the mind of someone else. He hadn’t even thought about trying something else, it was just so much easier to make the man do what he wanted. That was the path to the dark side and that was the reason he was here and not going to Korriban. He moved over to a seat and sat down, using the Force to blur the perceptions of those around him. None of them would remember the sullen Jedi Knight as he waited for his friend to give birth to the next generation of his kind. “I have noted a disturbing trend, master,” Darth Maul’s image said. Even though the image was in two tone blue and white, the dark lord’s eyes seemed to blaze with a fire of pure hate. “I have hunted down several Jedi and have found none with child.” Palpatine nodded. “The records that Zsinj received from the Jedi Temple indicated at least seventy pregnant Jedi. Even if they fled, surely you would have encountered one by now.” Jedi children, especially infants, would provide virgin genetic material for several of the cloning experiments that Palpatine was working on. “What are your thoughts?” Maul sneered. “The Jedi are receiving aid, despite all of our efforts to discredit them. I suspect it is Bail Organna.” Palpatine considered that. “He is a problem, but not one I can afford to rid myself of right now. He has much power in the senate.” “Bah! Kill the senate, disband it and we will place their heads on the walls of their chamber.” Maul shuffled back and forth on his feet. Palpatine assumed that the winds on the planet Hoth were picking up. A barren ice world far from the Galactic Core, it had held a small band of Jedi hidden in the snowy wastes. The smugglers that had dropped them off there had turned around and turned them in for the reward. “I can’t do that yet and you know it,” the Emperor snapped back. “We do not have the requisite military governors to maintain order in all of our systems.” He thought about it some more. “Still, perhaps Senator Organna needs to be put in his place. If he does have Jedi on Alderaan, he can’t stop us from arresting them if we find them there.” “I will leave at once, my master,” Maul said, a hint of excitement in his voice. “No,” the Emperor barked. “You will continue your search for Mace Windu and Master C’Baoth. They are the leadership in the Jedi community and they must be stopped at all costs.” Before Maul could reply, the Emperor raised a hand. “I will detach Lord Vader from Ithorian Campaign.” Maul did not appreciate being passed over for his apprentice and he let his ire have voice in his response. “Vader has become weak because you have allowed him to dawdle with his little whore.” “Do I sense jealousy coming from you, Darth Maul? It must be because I cannot fathom any other reason why you would question my directives.” Palpatine stared out at the holographic image of his apprentice, but Maul refused to back down. “We are the Sith, not cast members of a romantic holodrama! He has forgotten the first law of the Sith: there can be only two, master and apprentice. You are my master, and I am his.” Maul stepped closer to his transmitter so that his ruined features enveloped the signal. “By allowing him to marry that…woman, you have given him two masters! I killed his mother to prevent such a thing and yet you still allow this!” “Choose your words carefully, Lord Maul; everything…and I mean everything is going according to my plans. If you were to quit whining like a simpering child, perhaps my plans would progress even further.” Palpatine now stepped closer and the two were literally nose to nose. “And what then, my master?” Maul asked with sarcasm. “Where there were four, there were three and now there are four again! I do not intend to share my part of the galaxy with some

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temptress from a backward mud planet! I am a Dark Lord of the Sith, I am the pinnacle of evolution in the Force! She is meat.” Palpatine took a deep breath, ready to lay in full to his suddenly independent-minded student when a cold feeling seemed to overtake him. For one who lived in darkness and survived by co-existing with shadows, the feeling was more than unique. Palpatine actually felt pain, something he had not felt in decades. Only one power in the universe could do such a thing to him without warning. Maul as well seemed distressed and he opened his mouth to speak, but only vapor came forth. There was confusion in his fiery eyes and they pleaded with Palpatine to explain. “It is the spirits of our ancestors,” Palpatine finally said. “How? Why would they do this?” Maul asked as he doubled over. Palpatine shook his head and closed his eyes. The Force was more than a tool to the Dark Lord, it was the air that filled his lungs and the blood that coursed through his veins. His talent for tapping the Force had been found early in his life and it’s intensity was still growing. Palpatine was unique in that he never stopped gaining power. Anakin Skywalker was much the same way, which was what had originally attracted Palpatine to the boy’s aid. Maul on the other hand was simply a mass of anger and hate and darkness that could be used as a tool. Maul could not begin to comprehend the effect that the spirits of the ancient Sith were having on the Force. Palpatine moved his mind from the physical body and placed it in the Force, calling out to those who had come before him and who were forever tied to him. Through the Force, all were interconnected. The answers he sought swirled in the air, passed though his body and whispered to him in colored tones. They were there, he knew, he could feel them even though he was so far from their tombs. Even Exar Kunn, who was buried on the moon of Yavin, was present in the Force, laughing and carrying on. “A failure, a failure you are Palpatine!” “You have not carried through on your oaths,” Darth Bane’s spirit said, anger resonating out on the Force. “What? What is it? Why do you interfere in the plans of the living? Why do you break your vows?” Palpatine screamed out through the Force. “You had your chance and you failed.” “No, you failed,” Exar Kunn cackled. “The Jedi have raided Korriban!” Palpatine’s eyes snapped open and his face twisted in a fiery rage. “Lord Maul,” he said slowly, clenching his jaw so hard that his grinding teeth chipped. “Come to me now.” Maul was gasping for breath, but he could feel his master’s rage. “I obey.” “And I want Lord Vader and his apprentice as well.” Maul did not hesitate. “Of course.” He started to end the transmission when Palpatine added one last thing. “Prepare yourself Lord Maul as you are about to inherit your destiny.” “You are not welcome here,” the voice said. Master Frie Ovos nodded. “Indeed; being here is not a pleasant experience for me either.” He turned to Mace, who was going through exercises with his lightsaber, the violet blade dancing through the dark air of Korriban. “He pushes himself too hard.” “It is this place; even the ground is soaked with evil,” Ki Adi Mundi replied as he got down on his haunches and grabbed a handful of dirt. It was brown like everything else, except the sky. That had changed to crimson the moment the Jedi landed on the planet. It wasn’t just the planet either, Frie determined; it was everything. The ground, the air and the wind was tainted with the dark side. From here, the Sith had spread like a plague across the galaxy until they were inoculated through the sacrifice of thousands of Jedi. “If he doesn’t stop…”

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Ki shook his head. “He won’t. Leave him be. This isn’t about revenge, it is about setting things right. We are at least partially responsible for Palpatine’s rise to power. He supported us and we supported him. We were blinded by our own ambition to unite the galaxy.” “Yet we wished to unite the galaxy under the banner of peace, not subjugation,” Frie said as he moved to sit on the foot of a giant statue of a former Sith Lord. He tried to read the nameplate that had been riveted to the base, but he did not understand the language. “It says Darth Sin,” Ki told him, noticing the look on the other Jedi’s face. When Frie questioned him, he shrugged. “I once spent an entire month studying the martial arts of the Sith to see how it had influenced the styles of today. In the process, I got a passing knowledge of the Sith language.” There was a crack and both men looked to see Mace cut through the legs of a smaller statue. “That was Lord Kron. The inscription says something about having the shortest reign as Dark Lord.” Ki felt back on his butt and threw the handful of dirt. “I’m hungry.” “Have you noticed that nothing grows here that’s edible? Perhaps that was the reason the Sith felt the need to increase their empire?” Frie observed. “Couldn’t they just purchase the food?” Ki asked with a smile. “You go to market to buy food; you don’t take over the village and kill the inhabitants.” Frie nodded and looked around. “So, who is tempting you to the dark side?” Ki rolled his eyes. “Evran Zre.” Frie searched his memory for the Dark Lord but came up blank. Sith history was not covered in detail during padawan training, but many masters would later devote study to it. Frie was not one of those people as he saw the Sith as a failed extension of the Force and felt that dwelling upon it wasted time. “He was the Dark Lord who thought he was a comedian. In my dreams he regales me with two thousand years worth of dirty jokes.” Ki rubbed his large forehead. “I hate this place; if they can’t make you cross over they’ll drive you insane.” Frie wondered how long they could hope to hold out against the temptations of the spirits of the Sith. Mace shut off his lightsaber and turned to them. Sweat ran like tears from his bald head. “They aren’t trying, believe me. This is nothing…they are waiting because they know who is coming.” “We will be outnumbered,” Frie offered. “There is no way that Padme Amidala could be trained fully in the Sith arts, not to mention that I cannot imagine her raising a weapon against us,” Ki added. Mace sat down and assumed a cross-legged position. His breathing slowed as he allowed his body to cool. “Padme is gone, replaced by the darkness that lies in each one of us. We all have a dark side, my friends, and some of us are not strong enough to conquer it. In the cells, I met my doubt and fears and they at first bested me.” “In the end, you triumphed over it though,” Frie said, deciding to join his friends on the ground. He sat down on a sharp rock and could swear he heard laughing on the wind. “Yes; it is possible to come back from despair, but her pain runs deep,” Mace said as he closed his eyes. “I know little of her except that it must be hard to be thrust into such important positions of power at such a young age.” Ki cleared his throat and cursed the dusty air. “Perhaps she felt that nobody would take her seriously because of her youth.” “I took her seriously,” Frie answered. “I guess I wasn’t in the majority.” Mace grunted and then looked to the gray clouds set against the scarlet sky. “Anakin Skywalker awakened a primal desire in her, a desire to be in power. All of pretend to be humble, but we all crave power deep down inside. That, my padawans,” mace smiled at the jest, “Is the true difference between Jedi and Sith. The Sith do not deny themselves what they can take; the Jedi must practice discipline.” “Have you ever wondered why?” Ki asked.

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“Because the alternative is death. Death to the innocent, death to the guilty and death to all that is. In the end, all that matters is life. Life must continue for reasons none of us can comprehend and that is why we must see to it that Emperor Palpatine must die.”

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Chapter 15

It was a dark rain that fell onto the statues of the long dead Dark Lords of the Sith, a chilling rain that sent ice to the bones for those who stood in it. Ki Adi Mundi raised his head, trying to see if he could see anything through the thick haze of gray and black that swirled overhead. The spirits of the dead were getting more restless, some of them even having appeared before the Jedi warning them of their impending deaths if they did not leave Korriban at once. No longer was it the minor figures of Sith lore that decided to haunt them, now it was the most ancient of them, the very first Sith wizards whose names were lost forever. Mace Windu had stood his ground before them, claiming that if the dark side were so powerful that Palpatine and his minions would have no trouble dealing with three lowly Jedi. Ki did not know if he agreed. You did not hunt by going to the prey’s lair. You ambushed the prey where it least expected it; the lair is what it would protect the most and stop at nothing to defeat the hunter. He put a hand on his lightsaber, reassuring himself that he had some protection. With all of the dark side energy of this place, there was no telling what he could encounter. He shook his head, slinging raindrops to either side. He recognized the fears that were slowly creeping into his mind. There were no monsters here; it was a dead world representing dead ideals. “No, that isn’t quite right,” he whispered. Palpatine had not gained power solely through use of the dark side. He preached values that appealed to many. He ignited long dead fires of prejudice, biases that had been put down by forced political correctness. Was it wrong for a species to dislike another, to be enraged by the culture of another society? Was that not what life was about, the infinite structures that the Force formed? Was it natural to seek peace, or was it natural for the strongest to survive? The Jedi had helped Palpatine the most in that they had helped keep individuality out of the Republic. Everyone was expected to act the same, obey the same rules and have the same manners. The people had finally rejected that when Palpatine had made his move. The people had no frame of reference; they did not understand the meaning of hatred guiding their actions. For a thousand years, the Jedi had worked very hard to promote unity as opposed to individuality. Maybe it was the wrong philosophy. Perhaps a better one, such as what Frie Ovos, QuiGon Jinn and even Count Dooku had suggested, was the way things should be done. Unity was fine when it served the greater good, but individuality should not be suppressed. Jedi candidates were turned away if they, like young Anakin Skywalker, were too old to be made to conform to the Jedi ideals. Instead of taking in a variety of different people to enhance the Order, it had turned away those it could not control. There was no malice involved in it, Ki was sure of that. Master Yoda and the rest of the Council had only been doing what they thought was correct, himself included. That was the problem; instead of seeing if they were right, they just assumed it, even when people like QuiGon Jinn questioned every edict and decision. Had Qui-Gon Jinn lived, would the horror that was now Palpatine’s New Order even existed? Would Anakin Skywalker now be a great Jedi warrior? Ki could not answer those questions, though he desperately sought the answers. He knew that of they survived this test of Jedi faith that changes would have to be made. No one, regardless of age, was to be turned away. The teachings of the Jedi needed to be based more on experience than doctrine. Assigning padawans was fine, so long as they got to do more than follow around their teachers saying “yes, master” and “no, master” and “whatever you wish, master”. “Be mindful of the living Force,” Qui-Gon used to say. Examine life as it was happening, not as it you wished it to be. Do not try to bend the future to your will, but go with the flow, accept your destiny and make the best of it. For too long, the Jedi Council had concerned itself with minor events in the present and too much about the future.

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At some point, who knows when, the Jedi lost touch with the people who had placed them so high above themselves. The Jedi stopped serving the galaxy and began to serve themselves. It wasn’t for domination, it was for peace of mind. Instead of training young Anakin, even though it would be difficult, they had just given up. They had sent him off to an orphanage to give themselves peace of mind. “At least he’s not a slave anymore,” Ki had said when the Council had voted. It had given him peace of mind, serenity in the knowledge that Anakin’s life was now much better. How arrogant! The boy had come to them with a dream and a hope and received a rebuke instead. “Maybe we deserve this,” he said to the sky. “Maybe we do, but the galaxy does not,” Mace responded as he stepped out of the shelter of an old temple. “Frie is making dinner.” Ki visibly paled. “We were born to suffer.” Mace nodded. “Your thoughts betray you, my friend. What we did was wrong, but the galaxy should not pay for our mistake. This is not about Sith versus Jedi, order versus chaos…it isn’t anything so grand. It is about a single man’s desire for power.” “But the Jedi were put into place to prevent such a thing,” Ki argued. “And we failed. For the first time in a thousand years, we failed. Now, we must right the wrong or die trying, that is our duty.” Mace pulled up his hood to cover himself from the pouring rain. “Once this is done…we will not be reforming the Order.” Ki looked shocked. “What?” Mace shook his head. “We will allow the individual masters to take on students and those students will go on to train more.” Ki crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at his friend. “If you want to go run and hide, live in solitude, go right ahead. The Order will be reformed if I have anything to say about it. It will just be run differently.” “Then I will have no part of it,” Mace said, sorrow in his voice. He turned and went back into the temple and Ki realized what he had just done. He had voted Mace Windu off of the Jedi Council and started a whole new order. He shook his head and looked back up at the rain. The clouds seemed to be just a little bit darker. Padme slipped quietly out of the bed and padded on bare feet to the refresher at the other end of the cabin. The ship barely vibrated under her feet, the only hint that they were racing through hyperspace towards Imperial Center, the new name for Coruscant. She closed the door before turning on the light and then look at herself in the mirror. She seemed to be the same petite and trim woman she had been when she first met her husband after their ten-year separation, but there were some subtle changes. Her eyes seemed darker, but she found it pleasing because she no longer looked innocent. She suppressed a chuckle. Innocent was the last thing she was if the previous night of lovemaking had anything to do with it. The tattoo she had started just under her left breast was still sensitive to the touch, but she wore it like a badge of honor. It symbolized her ascension to another level in her training. For the Jedi, training could take years. Not so with the Sith and she found it refreshing. For too long she had been forced to wait for everything, but now she no longer wanted to wait. Every minute with Anakin was like something she could grab out of the air and hold. He had awakened passions in her that she had kept buried for so long and now she had an outlet. She smiled, remembering how she used her powers to force a general to admit that he wasn’t deploying his forces faster because he was jealous of Vader’s position. That man had been her first kill with the Force, the trial that had earned her the mark now adorning her lower chest and abdomen. She examined the red jewel on the ring she had been presented with by Palpatine on her wedding night. A piece of the Kaiburr Crystal, an ancient gem that amplified the Force. This

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small stone gave her power she would not have had before. Instead of manifesting in her character, the Force was now a club she could use to smash her enemies. “Enemies,” she mouthed silently. It felt good to say the word. As queen, she had pick words that didn’t offend others. As a senator, she had to do it twice as often. As a Sith, she could say what she wanted when she wanted and to hell with their feelings! She turned to look at her side profile. It wasn’t showing yet, but in time it would. She still hadn’t told Anakin, not sure how he would react. He loved her, she knew that and could feel it every time he looked at her. The idea of children, however, she wasn’t sure of. Did he want a family? He hadn’t said. Were Sith allowed to have children? She had heard stories about Sith children being deformed and that thought frightened her. If the dark side allowed so many wrongs to be corrected, how could it hurt a child? She wanted to ask him, but was fearful of what he would say. She needed the advice of someone and the only person she could think of was Palpatine. He had always shown a keen interest in her and he was knowledgeable about such things. She turned back and traced the outline of the purple and silver artwork with her finger, thinking what the next one would be like. Anakin had suggested something on her back and with a devil-may-care grin had added it was always what he wanted to see adorned anyway. She finished her business and then exited the refresher. Sliding back under the covers, she drifted off to sleep without any trouble. “Her name shall be Mara,” Lindia said as she gazed at her child for the first and last time. Bail nodded and patted her hand. “I will raise her as my own, hiding her here on Alderaan away from the prying eyes of the Emperor.” Ferrin stood off in the corner, maintaining a protective watch over Lindia. The labor had been extremely difficult, but the Jedi had pulled through. The healer had said after a few days of rest, she would be able to leave. “She must never know of her heritage.” “She is strong in the Force,” Ferrin interrupted. Lindia’s decision to give her child up still bothered him. It felt like admitting defeat. “At least stipulate that if Palpatine’s New Order is toppled she can then be informed.” Lindia shook her head and pleaded with Bail. “No, let her be a princess; let her live a normal life of love and parties.” “I promise,” Bail responded. “She will be a princess and I will protect her with my life.” Ferrin was unimpressed. “If it were my child, this would not be happening!” Lindia turned to her so-called champion. “It will be a cold day in hell before any woman wants to have your baby…by the Force!” She sat up and then shook her head slowly. “I have a mouth too large for brain.” Ferrin smiled. He had glimpsed it as well. One could never say when the future would be revealed, or a possible outcome of events. The Force acted strangely on that, twisting and turning though time, occasionally rounding a bend and giving the viewer a small opportunity to see what was on ahead. Lindia had spoken out of turn and he took some measure of comfort in that he at least now had some idea of his future and it didn’t seem so bad. She looked over at him and he wiggled his eyebrows, and then she started to cry. Bail wanted to ask, but he got the sense that the tears being shed were not so much of fear, hatred or joy, but of irony. Had he the ability to read into the Force, to sense those things that the Jedi could, he would have seen a future where Ferrin and Lindia would produce a son. A very powerful son. Darth Maul sat alone in his private chambers, awaiting his master’s summons. The Force was churning, a great disturbance was at hand, a prophetic moment had just occurred and he wasn’t sure what it was.

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It could be anything for the Force did not discern between light and dark when it was disturbed. Like a pond with a stone cast in it, it sent ripples out that affected all who were in tune to it. An ending was coming to the drama that had started with the invasion of Naboo. There were times when Maul considered that he should have struck down Anakin Skywalker that night Dooku had brought him to be initiated into the Sith. The Dark Lord knew of the prophecy of the one who would bring balance to the Force, but was Skywalker really that child or a harbinger of things to come. An able apprentice he was and powerful in the Force, even more than himself he admitted reluctantly. He lacked the focus to wield his power properly. Always concerned with the here and now and never looking at the future. Always willing to listen to any advice that comes his way, but never forming an opinion of his own. He was not worthy of the title of Dark Lord Maul had decided. His following of the woman, with his nose stuck in her posterior like an oversexed canine was not befitting one who would wield the dark side. Maul had tried to train Anakin correctly, but the boy clung to his emotions and the man was no better. It was time to end this. Maul would rid the universe of the bastard child of the Force and take his apprentice for his own. The woman, while too thin and delicate for more suitable purposes that females were designed for, but she would be a useful tool. It had been too long since there had been a woman who could properly use the dark side and compete for the title of Dark Lord. He tried to look into the future, to see if he would be successful, but the Force was churning still. He would simply have to make do with creating a future as opposed to waiting for it.

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Chapter 16

“I require a favor of you, Bail,” Palpatine said through his holographic image. He was dressed in the dark robes he had become accustomed to, but he allowed his hood to remain down. Bail thought the man looked as if he had aged a hundred years in the past one. “I can’t refuse, I suppose,” he remarked. The Emperor was still not aware, as far as he could tell, that Bail knew about his little secret that was now living on the barren world of Kessel. “In the interest of peace within the…Empire,” the word made him ill to even speak it, “I’ll listen to what you have to say.” “I noted with great sadness that you resigned from the senate over my proclamations; I need someone like you on my side to try and win over the systems that still rebel.” Bail shook his head. “You are a power mad dictator and I will have nothing to do with it. I have taken my place as Viceroy and will live to serve only Alderaan. Alderaan represents what the Republic is…” “Was,” Palpatine corrected. “The Republic was rife with corruption, you know it as well as I do. Do not be angry with me because I had the courage to stand up to the politicians you sought to sooth with words and secret deals.” The image flickered as another holovid camera assumed control over the image. Palpatine had to be walking again, pacing as he normally did when giving a speech. “Whether you support me or not politically does not matter. You have chosen to allow Alderaan to remain in my New Order and that means you are subject to my commands, Viceroy.” Bail nodded. It was true, but only because isolation would spell the end of his world. The way to undo the wrongs of this New Order was not to run, but to set the example. “So long as it does not adversely affect my people, I will consider it as I said. Understand, Palaptine,” he purposely left off the title of Emperor, “that you may kill me, but you won’t control me. I am not your puppet, not like Lord Vader…” “Or his beautiful wife,” Palpatine cackled, rubbing his hands together. He could see even through the transmission that his words had stung. “Ah, what a fine flower she is.” Bails face burned as the blood rushed to it but he maintained an impassive tone. “Do you expect me to shed tears now?” “No, but I wish for you to accompany Lord Vader and Lord Maul on a mission to the Sith home world.” Palpatine waited for a response and when he got none, he continued. “You will lead the assault force.” “No, I won’t. Why would I?” Bail asked. “To prove you do not have any hidden Jedi sympathies. There are some in my court who suspect you harbor Jedi. They want me to begin stationing garrisons on Alderaan. Though you might loathe me, I would not believe you would betray your government so. You do understand the penalty for harboring enemies of the state?” Bail considered his words carefully. If he refused, Palpatine’s supporters would push for a military coup of Alderaan in order to plunder it of its resources and wealth. If he agreed, he would be helping Palpatine hunt down the very Jedi he had sworn to protect. His best bet was to agree and go along, trying to find some way to sabotage the Emperor’s efforts from the inside. His gut told him it was what he must do because despite what he felt for the Jedi, his duty was to the people of Alderaan. “Fine; I want the rank of general and a task force placed under my direct command.” “I can agree to that if you allow me one other item,” Palaptine said. Having the great Bail Organna in his military would definitely be a morale boost. He could just imagine how many Alderaanian men and women would flock to the banner of the New Order once they saw their

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leader at the head of the charge. “I have a junior officer that will serve under you. He is young, quite young actually, but highly motivated and intelligent.” “Yes, I’ve heard of your Ensign Thrawn. My watchdog?” “Call him what you will, but he will serve as your personal advisor. You might be a leader of men, Bail, but that does not mean you can lead them into combat.” Palpatine ended the transmission having had, as far as he was concerned, the last word on the matter. “Are you ready?” Ferrin asked. Lindia nodded, indicating that she was and Ferrin picked up her bag. Their lightsabers were stored in special hidden compartments in the bottom of the bag that would get through most scanning equipment. “Where are we going exactly?” she asked as they stepped out of the recovery room and into the passageway. Ferrin reached out and detected nothing out of the ordinary. Bail Organna had told them of Palpatine’s demands and it was obvious that Alderaan was getting too hot for the Jedi. “We are going to meet up with Master C’Baoth and head out past the Rim. He found evidence of another civilization out there.” They walked into the lift and waited for the doors to close. Ferrin could sense Lindia’s despair. “You did the right thing,” he offered. “You didn’t seem so sure the other day,” she remarked with a grim smile. “My husband and I were so excited when we found out that we were pregnant. We both came from the same world, our customs required our marriage.” Ferrin nodded but didn’t know what to say. He came from the Deyer Colony in the Anoat System, but he had no idea what his birth culture was like. He asked her how she knew of her ancestry. “I looked it up. Don’t tell me you actually sat in the temple library reading what they told you to.” He shrugged as the door opened and stuck his head out. Seeing it was all clear, he took her hand and pulled her out. While they were supposed to look like they were married, he had expected her to pull away. She hadn’t. “Yes I did, actually; I was trying to do what I was told.” “So you never met a female padawan in the northeast corner?” she was nearly laughing. He searched his memory. “Ancient Mathematical Texts? Yes, I know of that section. It’s where you find the information on how to properly size the crystal for your lightsaber.” She laughed and put her head on his shoulder and he felt genuine joy coming from her. It was a welcome change. “You’re a real true believer aren’t you?” He rubbed his eye. The bruise was finally starting to go away. “Yes I am. I know good and I’ve tasted evil. I prefer the light side.” “Then you don’t want to take the fight to Palpatine?” she asked as they stepped out of the hospital and hailed a droid taxi. Getting in it, Ferrin told the droid to head for the spaceport. Bail Organna had given them a transport for their own use. He sat back and answered her question. “I didn’t say that. I might prefer the light, but I think we still need the dark. I know right now is not my time to fight. I have something more important to do.” He squeezed her hand. “That vision didn’t mean anything,” she said. He turned and looked out of the window. He didn’t reply as he didn’t need to. They both understood that the Force had them now and was leading them into the future. He only hoped they were ready for it. “Where the hell did Bail find this ship?” Lindia asked as she settled into the copilot’s seat next to Ferrin. The younger Jedi was busy trying to get the navcomputer to work. “He said that he picked it up cheap from some pirate that got caught trying to sell stolen goods.” He smacked the computer and it came on line. “I hate these YT-1300 transports.” She looked the flight station over. Even the console buttons were second hand and there were “original” modifications to everything. “You’ve flown one of these before?”

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He sighed. “Unfortunately. Smugglers love these things because you can do just about anything with them. The one I flew had a concussion missile launcher mounted in the rear.” “It could use a better engine,” she commented as she watched them approach the hyperspace line buoy. The buoy was used to indicate the minimum safe distance from Alderaan. “I’m still trying to figure out what the hell some of these buttons are for,” Ferrin commented. He pushed one and the lights dimmed. He smiled and pushed the one next to it and romantic music began to play from the cargo area. Lindia unstrapped and got up to go check. She returned several minutes later with a wide grin. “We will have to discuss the sleeping arrangements.” “Flying love pad, eh?” She nodded and sat back in her chair. “Are we ready to jump yet?” “I can’t tell,” he said silently. “Sithspawn! This thing is programmed in read 5th level dimensional trigonometry.” Lindia got back up and moved over to the computer. A few taps and the Ferrin’s face lit up. “How did you know that?” “I did read a book or two during my training,” she said as she plopped down into her chair. “Now, can you and I and the Millennium Falcon get the hell out of here?” He smiled and pushed the hyperdrive throttle forward. In an instant, they were gone. “They are coming, I can feel it,” Ki said as he chewed on a piece of burnt bread. Frie’s skills at cooking had not gotten any better in the weeks they had remained on Korriban. “Good thing since I was afraid the food would do us in.” Mace agreed. “We’re in good fighting trim now.” “See, my cooking has its benefits,” Frie said with a smile. “The spirits are restless,” Ki said as he stood up. “Can you feel it as well?” Mace stood up as well. “Yes; we should get some rest. This may be our last night.” “On the planet?” Frie asked. Mace did not answer, but instead walked out into the cool night. His friends allowed him his solace, knowing that he needed to collect his thoughts one final time. He looked down at the ground and then out at the avenue formed by the statues that had been their audience for the duration of their stay. All three were stronger in the Force then they ever had been, their resisting of the temptations of the Sith having hardened their resolve. It did nothing to alleviate the sadness that seemed to be his constant companion. He thought of his many friends that were now gone and of the way of life that would never be again. It wasn’t that the Republic era had been some golden age, but it had been his age. The universe had been set a certain way since his birth and now that was gone. No matter what he did now, no matter how hard he tried, the past was just that…past. The coming battle was not one that he relished. Instead, he silently wished upon the unseen stars that he had been stronger with Master Yoda when he let Anakin Skywalker go. What would have been the worst that could have happened? He was sure that if the Jedi had only given Anakin that chance, then Darth Vader would never have existed. For the first time in his life, he wanted to feel rage. He wanted to let loose his anger against Palpatine for everything he had done, but it just wouldn’t come. He loved life too much to embrace death. Yes, he would have to kill Palpatine, Vader and Maul, but he wished he didn’t have to. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just all be friends?” he whispered, remembering the line from a favorite holodrama. He sensed the presence just in time, the Force guiding his actions and allowing him to somersault clear of the crimson blade of Darth Maul. The Sith ignited the second blade of his weapon and spun it he flipped after Mace.

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The Jedi tried to call out a warning, but found he had no voice. The Sith were too powerful here, that was why he never felt maul approach. His lightsaber was in his hand, purple blade extended. He parried a savage slash to the midsection and jumped up to avoid it’s accompanying swing. “You dared to violate our sacred ground with your foulness, Jedi!” Maul roared. He motioned with his hand and one of the statues started to fall. Pieces weighing several tons were grabbed by gravity and fell at Mace. He used the Force to push the larger section away and ran to avoid the rest. Maul cut him off, the Sith Lord was in far better shape and a faster runner than Mace. Mace tried a two-handed stab for the head, but Maul dropped down and spun his leg to trip the Jedi. Mace started to fall back when Maul came up and cut through the folds of Mace’s sleeve. The fabric started to burn, but Mace could only roll back as he fell to just miss another attack. “Sith scum! You violated the freedoms of the people of the Republic!” Pushing up with his hands, Mace landed on his feet swinging. Down, up, down he moved, only to be blocked each time by Maul’s superior weapon. “You are weak, old man,” Maul grinned as he brought his knee into Mace’s stomach. The Jedi refused to go down and kicked out with his own leg. “Go to hell,” Mace cursed as he spun and brought his weapon down. Maul saw the attack coming and spun away, bringing his weapon around his body and up. He felt the blade cut through Mace’s hand. “Only if I can rule,” he replied as Mace’s weapon hand flew into the air. Mace said nothing but instead used the Force to push Maul back against a statue base. The force of the move knocked the wind out of Maul and he crumpled as he dropped his weapon. Holding his hand out, Mace called his weapon back and caught it with his other hand. The pain was non-existent as his nerves were burned to numbness by the lightsaber strike. He took his lightsaber and threw it at Maul, Using the Force to guide it. Maul looked up in time to see the purple blade coming at him and he called the dark side to him. The blade stopped centimeters from Maul’s face as he used the Force to move it away from him. The blade shook as two powerful minds fought for control of it. Mace stumbled, but maintained his concentration. He knew it was only a matter of time before one of them slipped, their thoughts wandering from the battle to something else. One of them would try to think of an alternate plan and the other would pounce upon it; one of them would try to figure out the weakness of the other and their opponent would exploit their weakness. “You are powerful in the Force, Darth Maul, but undisciplined,” Mace called out, sweat running down his face. “You are a simpleton who does not know when to just lay down and die,” the Dark Lord snapped back. The blade slowly turned its point towards Mace. “The Sith are the ones who have died and just don’t know it!” Maul laughed and the blade moved a little more towards his foe. “No, we have survived and now we will prosper.” Mace wasn’t blind, he could see who was going to win this battle if it continued. If he hoped to ever get to Palpatine, he needed to end this now. Through the Force, he attempted to shut the lightsaber off. He never completed the task. Darth Maul sensed the hesitation and pushed through the will of the Jedi Master. The lightsaber sailed, a missile of death, and silently plowed through Mace’s skull, causing a small wisp of smoke to rise into the air. Maul deactivated the blade and allowed the hilt to remain embedded in the Jedi Master’s skull. As Mace Windu’s body fell, two tortured screams could be heard from within the temple as the dark side cloud of silence was dropped. Maul shook his head and spit blood. He had bitten his tongue.

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Calling his lightsaber to him, he took a wide-legged stance and waited for the rest of the Jedi to come to him. “We will be coming out of hyperspace in one minute, Generals,” the captain said before turning to return to his duties. Vader moved his head slightly to crack his neck. Padme was next to him, her arm around his waist. Bail stood a meter or so away, looking out the main viewport of the bridge. Vader exhaled. “I am going to my fighter, Padme will follow in hers. This is a Sith matter. Your job will be to halt any outside interference.” Bail nodded. “I understand my duty, General Vader.” Vader clenched his fist. Too many things were happening at once. He had to protect the tombs of the ancient Dark Lords. He had to defeat the last of the Jedi Council. He had to have it out with his master, Darth Maul. He had to blind Bail Organna. The man looked to often at Vader’s bride. His eyes were devouring her and his desire hung in the air like stink from a bantha. Padme wasn’t helping matters any; she had purposely chosen an outfit that clung to her like a second skin, and Vader noted she seemed to be outing on weight. How that was possible was beyond him with all of the exercise required in her training. She was using her natural beauty as a weapon and Vader wondered if he could do that as well? Probably not and that angered him even more. Deciding to take care of matters on the planet first, he gave Padme a deep kiss and then left, two stormtroopers falling in behind him. The ship returned to real space and the planet was visible. The ship lurched slightly as the sublight engines kicked in and they moved closer. Padme stood a little closer to Bail. “I can feel your lust for me,” she whispered. “My body lusts for yours, my heart longs for the woman you were,” he replied, not daring to look down at her. “You an object to me now.” “An object that can deliver pleasure, but that pleasure is reserved only for my master. He controls me, makes me do everything he desires,” she tried to step in front of him, but his superior height prevented his gaze from meeting hers. “I don’t care.” She laughed. “You lie. You would bed me here on the deck if you thought you could get away with it!” Several of the bridge crew turned their heads at the outburst, but returned to duty once Bail saw them. He finally looked down at her and for the first time saw what she had become. The physical beauty was still there, the angelic face and the innocent eyes, but there was somehow a cruelness to it that he could not explain. She was smiling, trying to look pleasant, but it felt as if he were looking into a bottomless pit of blackness. She had drawn on something deep in her soul for this transformation, probably from her childhood he guessed. His eyes dipped lower to confirm what he suspected. “I don’t bed married women, and I certainly don’t bed fat ones.” His throat tightened and he stumbled. “You bastard! I am with child you fool!” He croaked out a response. “Who’s the father?” He flew across the bridge and slammed into a bulkhead. Two crewmen moved to help him, but the Force tossed them aside as well. Padme stomped over to where Bail had fallen and picked him up with one hand around his throat. Her physical strength was beyond imagining. “You pathetic worm!” “You…bitch!” he gasped. Padme dropped him on the floor. “I could never love a man like you.” She stpped by him and into the open lift. When the doors closed, the captain helped Bail up and called for a medic. Bail told him he didn’t need it, that he would go see his personal physician.

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He noted that Ensign Thrawn simply stood in the corner, observing with his crimson eyes. Bail wanted to give him a chewing out for not helping, but what had he expected. He didn’t belong here and he knew it. He definitely was not the man the apprentice could ever love. He just wished he could stop loving her.

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Chapter 17

Ki’s violet blade came down hard, cutting through the hilt of Maul’s double-bladed weapon, but all it did was give the Sith Lord two weapons as opposed to one. Maul began a dance of crimson fury as one blade would cut high at Ki and another would swing low at Frie, who was already hurt from a quick stab to the shoulder. Maul spun and brought both blades around in a double strike. Frie fell back in shock and involuntarily pushed out with the Force. The blast wave caught both Maul and Ki, sending them rolling across the barren avenue of statues. One of Maul’s weapons tumbled away, deactivated. The Dark Lord was the first on his feet and he threw his hand out. The Force reached out caught Frie in the chest, wrapping around his heart. Maul squeezed with his mind, halting the pumping of blood. “No!” Ki cried out, getting up and using the Force to propel him through the air. A high kick to side of the head sent reeling and he released his grip on Frie. Frie looked on to Maul and Ki and tried to speak, but the cold pain that was racing up his left arm told him the ending of his tale. He tried to will the Force to his aid, but the voice of an unseen Dark Lord whispered that the damage was too great to repair. Maul stumbled back and blocked a punch to his face. He saw the other Jedi fall, clutching his chest. “You are all alone, Jedi,” he whispered between deep breaths. Ki backed up and took a breather as well. “I don’t see it that way; the Force is my ally.” Maul shook his head. “Not here, not in this place. Here it works against you.” Maul took another step backward and rested on his left foot. Ki regarded the position. “Nebula Claw style, very old…easily countered by the Nova Fist.” Ki brought one fist down and the other high. “I have studied the Sith martial arts.” “Studying and using are two different things, old man,” Maul barked as he widened his stance and put his palms up. “Dark Viper.” Ki slowly brought his left leg up and slowly rotated on his foot until he was facing more away from Maul then to him. His hands went together and he brought them up to mid-chest level. “Savage Dragon.” Maul roared and jumped, bringing his palms back. As he neared Ki, he pushed them out, striking him in the shoulder. Ki countered with a double-fisted blow to the midsection. The strike emptied Maul’s lungs and he recognized from the pain that Ki was indeed a master of the Sith fighting style. Maul couldn’t breathe, but that wasn’t much of a problem as he had trained for such an eventuality. The Force would refill his lungs in time and he decided it was time to show the old man who was boss. Maul kicked Ki in the groin. Ki’s eyes went open to their limits. In all of his times dealing with the martial arts and fighting masters of different forms, none had ever just simply done that. The pain was incredible, both the physical and the realization he had left himself open for the most basic of attacks. The Force heeded his call, pushing the pain deep inside, and Ki backhanded the Sith Lord. Bloodied knuckles were his reward as he rudely discovered that Maul’s head spikes were more than decoration. Maul stepped back and smiled, ruined teeth making him look like a predatory beast. “You are dying already and don’t even know it.” Ki reached out and pulled his lightsaber to him from across the road. It ignited in midair and when it reached his hand, he suddenly felt both calm and a sinking feeling. Maul made no motion to block the coming strike. The truth came to him in the form of a quickly shooting pain going up his arm. “You poisoned your horns?” Ki asked, not quite believing the levels that Maul was willing to go to win. “The Sith have no honor,” she said as he slumped, unable to finish the killing blow.

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“What good is honor if you aren’t alive to enjoy it?” Maul asked as he pulled Ki’s lightsaber from his hand with a thought. He then walked up and kicked the Jedi in the chin, sending him to oblivion. Darth Vader watched the exchange between Maul and the Jedi with interest and even a little admiration. Darth Maul was a great Sith Lord and Vader had respected him. It was only now, after accumulating as much evidence as he could, that he realized that the reason Darth Maul was where he was at was because he cared about nobody but himself. “The Force is with you, Darth Maul, but it will not be enough to save you,” Vader called out. Maul turned slowly, still holding the purple blade of the Jedi. “I see that the student hopes to surpass the master, but you are still the learner.” Vader started walking slowly towards his master. “I have left you behind, Lord Maul, you are what was and I am what will be. The future of the Sith is with me, not you.” “You have allowed your emotions to cloud your judgment, Anakin Skywalker,” Maul joked. Vader ignored the jest. “You have allowed your jealousy to cloud yours.” Maul stopped. “How can there be jealousy? I am going to kill you and then I will take your apprentice. If she fails to satisfy me, then I’ll have to kill her as well.” Vader stopped and pulled his lightsaber from his belt, igniting it as he spoke. “Then kill me if you can and we shall see who is truly the master.” Maul and Vader both started running towards each other, lightsabers held high over their heads, each screaming in pure rage. The met in a lightning storm of emotions and dancing energy blades. When they met, thunder rolled from the clouds above as the spirits of long dead Sith Lords cheered their champions. Maul was tired and he knew that Vader had to be taken down quickly. Maul decided to forego style for effect. He pressed his attack, trying to put Vader on the defensive but it was not going as smoothly as he hoped. Vader managed to force Maul’s weapon down and he head-butted his master. Maul stumbled back, seeing stars and just missed an upward sweep meant to lop off his head. “You’re weakening Lord Maul; surrender and end this…is that not what you used to say?” “Only to your mother, boy,” Maul retorted, flipping up and over Vader. Vader roared and Maul felt the ground begin to shake. “Your death will be sweet for me, master,” Vader said as he rushed blindly towards Maul. His swings were fueled by rage and not skill. Maul saw an opening and took it. Throwing himself forward in a cartwheel, Maul went past Vader, missing two strikes and gaining the superior position by ending up at Vader’s back. Vader understood even before the lightsaber plunged into his back and through his lung that he had made a mistake. There was no pain, just a burning and then nothingness as he seemed to forget how to breathe. His vision went blurry and he fell to his knees. His ears picked up a scream and his unbeating heart felt like a lead weight in his chest. Maul turned, not believing what he was seeing. “Run away girl, this is not a place for you.” Padme looked at the fallen Vader and then to Maul. “You are chaos given flesh, soulless monster that cannot even begin to fathom what it means to love someone.” “Love is for fools,” Maul answered, swinging the lightsaber in several arcs. “You are my apprentice now and you will attend me.” Padme crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll die first.” “So be it,” Maul said, calling on the Force. A statue that had stood against the tests of time suddenly rocked and fell. The stone face fell squarely on Padme. “So it ends,” Maul said with a smile.

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“Yes it does,” Vader’s voice called from behind him. His breathing was ragged, a sucking sound coming from the hole in his chest, but that was not what Maul saw. As he faced his former apprentice, he saw that Vader was bathed in the light of the Force. It wasn’t just the dark side or the light side, but the Force in all of it’s raw fury. Vader glowed like a beacon and there was a peace about him that made Maul feel something for the first time in his entire life. Fear. “Now you will know just how powerful you never were,” Vader commanded and Darth Maul, Dark Lord of the Sith, burst into flames. He screamed, howled like a banshee, but could not move as he was held in the unforgiving grip of pure rage. The flames turned from orange to red to yellow and finally white as they increased in temperature and intensity. Within seconds, all that was left of Darth Maul was his absence. The stone on top of Padme floated into the air and flew into the sky, never to return as it broke orbit. Vader’s physical body was beginning to give out and the truths of the universe were being revealed to him in flashes of light. He saw centuries in seconds and came to know what his place was in the Force. Old friends and enemies were gathered, all part of the Force now, those who willingly joined with it. Qui-Gon Jinn held out a hand. “Anakin, it is time to go.” “I can’t leave her; I must bring balance to the Force.” Qui-Gon’s hand remained extended. “Balance will be achieved.” “I can’t go with you,” he started to say as he realized how wrong he had been in his chosen path. His folly was revealed. Instead of taking Padme’s love and using it as an anchor to find himself, he had allowed his pain to mix with hers. He had poisoned the one he loved. “I must warn her.” “Your time is done, Anakin,” Qui-Gon said. “She’ll be alone!” Then the future was revealed to him and he saw what was to come, both pain and pleasure and Anakin Skywalker surrendered, willingly, to the Force. Not to become a vengeful spirit of Korriban; no, he let his anger free and remembered the love he had always wanted and felt from his mother and friends. Tears formed on his burning eyes as a first kiss and a first night together became his last thoughts on the mortal plane. Bail Organna stood outside the operating room, watching as his own team of surgeons, headed by a doctor whose name remained secret but who was owed a great debt by Bail. They had been working for several hours on trying to save the life of Padme, whose broken body had been found on the planet surface. Bail tensed as he saw one of the other doctors left the table and passed through the sterilizing field before coming out into the lobby. He came up to Bail, saw Thrawn standing in the corner and then whispered something into Bail’s ear. Bail’s eyes grew wide and he asked the doctor if he was sure. Bail straightened up and spoke in a very clear and loud voice. “Take the boy; place him in an artificial womb.” The doctor nodded and went back in. Thrawn stepped up to Bail, his cool blue skin giving him the appearance of total calm. “The child can be saved?” “I’ve ordered the boy to be removed from her. It will aid in both of their recoveries. Her injuries are quite extensive.” Thrawn nodded. “You are in love with her, yes? It is obvious in the way you act.” “A long time ago, maybe, but I have my own family now.” Thrawn cocked his head to the side, searching his memory. “You aren’t married, General.”

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“I had a child through a mistress,” Bail said silently. “I would appreciate some discretion. When she is of the proper age, I will reveal her to the Alderaanian court.” “A son?” “No, a daughter named Mara,” he said as he watched the operation. “You need to report to the Emperor about the deaths of Lord Maul and Lord Vader.” “He will not be pleased; if you save the girl’s life, then maybe he won’t kill you,” Thrawn said with a bit of irony. “I’ll be so happy if he doesn’t,” Bail replied.

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Epilogue 1

8 standard months later… Quinlan Vos pulled his pack a little tighter and picked up the pace of his march. He liked this planet and he was actually starting to enjoy the solitude as well. He had often considered, through his training and time as a Jedi, of the prospect of simply leaving it all behind in the pursuit of peace and quiet. His life had been a hard one when he thought about it, so many battles and wars, skirting the dark side, killing people and generally never getting the chance to just sit down and look at life without trying to feel it through the Force. This world was alive in the Force, so full of life that he had shut himself away from it. It was all for the best anyway for if he didn’t, the special squads that the Emperor was employing would surely find him even in such a remote place as the planet Dagobah. It was ironic that he now lived in the prefabricated building that Darth Maul had once used in his unsuccessful search for the Kaiburr Crystal. Ironic and quite comfortable. Quinlan was not sure whether or not he should be happy that he and the now deceased Dark Lord shared the same taste in furniture. But he cast such thoughts away as he continued his daily walk. A few lizards followed him as the always did and they were welcome companions. He enjoyed observing them without trying to read their intentions. There was nothing like watching lizards to make the time go by. Certainly there were times when he wished he had someone to talk to, but then he reasoned that he did. All of his friends were with him, though they were very quiet. He could feel them, just beyond his perceptions, waiting for him to join them. That would have to wait he reasoned as he was not ready to fall over and die just yet. The future was still in motion and he still had a part to play he was sure. When he had first heard of the deaths of his friends on Korriban, he had been saddened. He often thought that his being there would have helped make a difference, but then logic would dictate otherwise. Emperor Palpatine had made several speeches about the good that Lord Maul and Lord Vader had done for the Empire. Quinlan’s stomach would turn at the thought. Good riddance he thought. He stopped for a moment and thought about the old days and he smiled. Regardless of what was happening now, the Jedi had done some good, hadn’t they? Satisfied that he could answer the question truthfully again for another day, Quinlan Vos headed into the jungle, his favorite lizards hot on his tail.

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Epilogue 2

3 years later… “Governor Tarkin, the Emperor’s emissary is here to speak with you,” the young aide said. She stood with the door open, not waiting for the gaunt man in the olive drab uniform to answer. She stepped in to provide enough room for the woman who entered. There was no doubting who she once was, Tarkin thought to himself as he looked her over with a cautious eye. Even with the cybernetic enhancements, her beauty was undeniable. Perhaps it was the haze of darkness that seemed to follow her wherever she went. “Thank you, Daala, that will be all,” Tarkin said to his aide and waited until the door was closed before he addressed his guest. “Darth Deceptra, what an unexpected pleasure. I received no word of your vessel in the system,” he said, slightly annoyed. Deceptra moved over to a hologram of the Emperor and adjusted it so it was sharper. Tarkin noted that she still wore the black glove on her right arm, indicating that she had refused to have a new arm cloned to replace the bionic one. Cybernetics were becoming quite popular among the upper class of late. “Because I ordered that information withheld from you, governor,” she replied, her voice carrying with it the promise of forbidden desires. Her cybernetic left eye glowed red as she turned to him. “His majesty wanted an unbiased opinion of your progress.” Tarkin smiled. “The I trust the Emperor’s Hand is pleased with my efforts since I am still alive?’ She strolled around the table holding the hologram, her gloved finger sliding along its edge. Her black uniform and cape clung tightly to her form, making her appear small, yet seductive. Her charms were lost on Tarkin. “You live, that should be enough. The Death Star prototype has met expectations. You are authorized to begin building the first station. Depending upon your efficiency, my master will make his decision regarding your request to construct a second one at a later date.” Tarkin was pleased and his face betrayed his sentiments. “This is cause for celebration.” She raised the one eyebrow that was not hidden by the metallic plate over her eye. “Don’t you find her a little young?” “Who? Daala? I’m fear that I must settle for her since the most beautiful woman in the galaxy is much too busy,” Tarkin remarked with a small bow. Deceptra allowed herself a smile before she stopped in front of Tarkin’s desk. “You are a politician at heart, Governor Tarkin.” Her ungloved hand was stroking the hilt of her lightsaber. It never left her side. “I will be remaining on Tatooine for several days, showing my son the places his father once blessed with his presence.” Tarkin closed his eyes and bent his head slightly in respect for the fallen Lord Vader. Though he had been young and headstrong, Tarkin had found himself liking Vader and he knew that his posting to this facility had been at Vader’s express request. “Your husband’s loss is felt by many of us, Lady Vader.” It was an honorific she only allowed a very select group to refer to her as. “I hope to honor his wishes with my projects.” “It will be his son, young Luke, who will honor his father’s name. As the Emperor’s Fist, he will be the first warrior of a new age of the Sith,” she said. She then sat down slowly in one of the chairs reserved for guests. Crossing her legs slowly, she beckoned him to relax. As she had said, he wouldn’t die today. “Have you heard the latest from the Emperor’s court?” Tarkin asked her as he sat on the edge of his desk. She indicated she had not. “I have been prosecuting a war against the Separatists and away from court for over a year. In any event, it bores me.” “Then you haven’t heard of the scandal between Bail Organna and Mon Mothma?”

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Her interest was peaked. She had not spoken directly to Bail since the day her beloved Anakin died. “Please tell me they have done something that will give me cause to execute them.” “I’m afraid nothing so serious,” Tarkin said remorsefully. It was a little known fact that he had once harbored string feelings for Mon Mothma. Deceptra wondered if all former senators lusted for young girls. “It appears it has been revealed that she is the mother of not one, but two, illegitimate children. Both of them fathered by Bail Organna.” “Really? I was aware that his daughter Mara came from a mistress, but a second one? I never saw Mon Mothma pregnant,” Deceptra said, turning her head to look out of the window for a second. Tarkin caught a glimpse of the end of the intricate tattoo that just showed when her neck turned a certain way. It was rumored that those who saw the full drawing would experience pleasure beyond description prior to dying. “It is possible that she merely hid it. Anyway, when Bail refused to marry her, she took the matter before the Emperor!” “Indeed…did he call for their immediate imprisonment?” Tarkin laughed. “No, but the youngest child, Leia, was allowed to remain with Bail while Mara was sent to be with her mother.” “Interesting, but hardly newsworthy.” Deceptra stood up. “While I am on-planet, I am not to be disturbed. I have my own aid onboard the Hammer of the Empire; you can contact her if you require anything.” Tarkin was not aware of this new change in his ability to contact the Emperor’s Hand. “Whom should I ask for?” “Ysanne Isard, the daughter of the new head of Imperial Intelligence,” Deceptra replied as she opened the door and stepped out. “Remember to be polite, governor,” the Sith called from the other room, “you never know who might be listening.” The cold laughter was enough to almost spoil Tarkin’s good mood. Almost.

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Epilogue 3

12 years later… Pennants fluttered in the breeze over the Royal Alderaanian Coliseum, each one with the distinctive marking of one of the contestants for the day’s race. The seating was sold out, so many were forced to either crowd into access ways or patronize one of the sports saloons located in the surrounding area. Bail Organna welcomed several dignitaries, exchanging warm greetings and fond wishes as he waited for his special guest, Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrilla. The press thought it was quite proper of them to be so civil to each other, especially given the amount of scandal that surrounded their relationship. Those rumors and falsehoods aided them greatly as they tried to gather support for the resistance to Palpatine’s New Order. It wasn’t that he couldn’t love Mon Mothma, she was beautiful, intelligent and possessed a spirit that was so much like his own. His heart, however, had been broken many years ago by a young woman who probably never realized how loved she truly was. Mon Mothma made her way to the private box, refusing to answer many questions, while dropping hints of a lawsuit here or there, just enough to make everyone think that her and Bail were mortal enemies under the surface. When she entered, the door was shut by a security officer and a red light over the door indicated that all security precautions were in effect. “It’s been awhile…” He nodded, wishing for a drink. Even though they were not in love, their friendship was so strong that making love, even on the pretense of providing a cover story, could do no damage to their relationship. “Is Mara here?” She shook her head. “No; she…she reached puberty over the summer and she began to demonstrate some Force talent. I thought it best to let her try to sort out her hormones away from prying Imperial eyes.” “I know of someone who can help,” Bail offered. “Not yet; that is our trump card and I don’t want to play it yet,” she said as she took her seat. “Has the race started?” He nodded and pointed to the monitor between them. “I never though Alderaan would ever sponsor a pod race, but the Emperor insisted. Lord Vader Day and all.” Mon Mothma looked down into the crowds and could see the Special Investigative Squads going around with their Force detectors. The paddle-like devices measured midichlorian levels, which in turn let the investigator know if the person was a potential Jedi. Most were hauled off and executed, but it was rumored that the Emperor was keeping some of them, especially the females. Opposite of them, across the fairgrounds, was the Emperor’s box. In it, she could see the master of the empire seated on a dark throne, two Crimson Guardsmen at his side. “Where’s the Emperor’s witch?” Bail sighed and pointed down at the pits. A squad of white armored stormtroopers were posted around a flag with the circular emblem of the Empire. “She’s down there somewhere; hasn’t aged a bit.” “Well, lucky her. Must have had all of the old parts replaced,” Mon Mothma said in disgust. “It must be nice to look like your twelve years old all of the time.” As if she had heard it, Darth Deceptra stepped into view and looked up at Bail’s box. “Does she do that every year, just stare at you?” “She blames me for Anakin’s death. She says that if I had not tried to force myself on her, then she would have been able to help him against Maul.”

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Mon Mothma shook her head. “That’s not what happened…she wasted her time trying to get you upset, right?” “I guess it depends on your point of view. I was…I am in love with her and yes, I wanted her. I wanted her so bad that I was shaking just being near her. Maybe I’m a damn fool, but I believe she can still be redeemed.” He looked away as a tear started to form in his eye. His companion pitied him. “She’s more machine than woman now. I doubt she has a heart. You have heard that the Naboo system has been blockaded. No traffic in or out. I heard that they tested a new weapon out there and it killed everyone. Some people even say they blew up the planet.” Bail snorted. “Right, and I’m a Jedi Knight in disguise.” He pointed to the monitor. “Here they come!” Several pod racers streaked through the green hills, engines whining. A black and red one with the Imperial logo on it was well in front of the others, but a light blue one was starting to catch up. “The leader is Luke Skywalker. He’s won it four years in a row since he started racing.” “His mother probably makes everyone lose,” was the reply. “No, he has his father’s talent that’s for sure. Say what you want, Anakin Skywalker was one hell of a pilot.” The blue racer suddenly began to accelerate and took and inside corner. The Imperial craft tried to block the way, but was too large to take the turn so tightly. The two pod racers clanged together and still the little blue one poured on more speed to shoot past the other one. As they came around the corner and through the main gate, the tale was told. The blue one was a good ten meters ahead of the Imperial and crossed the finish line with an entire second to spare, which was a lifetime in pod racing. Bail stood up and cheered, as did Mon Mothma, though she was only happy to see the favorite son of the Empire humiliated. She prayed it was an alien, given the xenophobic attitude the government had. When the pods braked and came to rest, the stormtroopers moved to surround the Imperial craft as the pilot stood up and tore off their helmet. Light brown hair was pasted to an oddly handsome face. The pilot was cursing and pointing at the winner, demanding something be done. Bail immediately took Mon Mothma by the hand and headed out to race down to the ground level. It took only minutes by using his private stairwell. When he got there, the pilot of the blue racer was just getting out, waving to crowds who were cheering and throwing down flowers. Darth Deceptra stepped out from behind a wall of stormtroopers as Bail approached. “That pilot cheated!” Luke Skywalker screamed. The other pilot removed their helmet and long dark hair fell out. Mon Mothma smirked and held out her arms as Princess Leia ran into them. Bail turned to Deceptra, who was livid at seeing her son defeated by Bail’s daughter. In that instant, Bail realized that he had pushed too hard, he had embarrassed the Sacred Son and he had made an enemy out of an annoyance. Whatever their relationship had been previously, it was now forever changed. The burning hatred he saw in the eyes of the woman who had once been Padme Amidala reminded Bail of just how mortal he really was. He knew he was looking at the face of his eventual death. The boy was strong for his age, powerful in both body and in the magic. Already, his mother had used him as a leveraging tool to earn favors from some of the other more powerful witches with promises that he would deliver upon them dark children like himself. In another year or so, he would be ripe enough to allow some of her loser allies to borrow him. She brushed back her long white hair, that color now not from a natural beauty, but more from an internal corruption. She finally understood why so many practitioners of the dark magic sought out host bodies to transfer their essences into. The beauty of youth was gone as the magic and gravity caused that which was firm and taut to become sift and saggy.

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Gethzerion did not complain, though, for she knew that somewhere out there in the galaxy were the tools she needed to put her mind, her spirit, into the body of someone younger and prettier. That was her goal, the same as Darth Sideous, Emperor Palpatine…whatever he was calling himself these days. The records she had recovered when the boy had killed old Mother Rell had shown her everything she needed to know. Still, she was stuck on this jungle planet, without so much as a rocket engine to strap to her posterior so she could escape. That would come in time as well, as she had learned many techniques from the data chips and readers that old Mother Rell had kept. Techniques that Master Yoda had not wanted to fall into the hands of the Nightsisters. Oh, well, she thought with a toothless smile. The boy stepped into the hut, his body covered in sweat. His skin was pink like hers and he lacked the horns of his father, but he had the same piercing red eyes. Oh he was quite handsome indeed. “You look tired, Malikie, come sit next to the pot and mother will get you food.” Malikie spit on the floor. “They tried to make me work again. Again they told me that I was a male and therefore must work to earn my keep, either on the farms or in the bed.” Gethzerion wondered who had been foolish enough to interrupt the boy’s studies with the holocron. “And who was it, my son? What did you do?” “I waited and my father spoke to me; his voice came like the chill on a winter wind,” Malikie said as he seated himself before the fire. Gethzerion did not know what a winter wind felt like, but it sounded wonderful on such a humid day. “He told me to reach out and grasp her with the magic, but not to speak the words.” Gethzerion smiled. The spirit of Darth Maul was restless indeed. It was said that certain Dark Lords could exist in the Force even after death. Gethzerion hoped to one day become that powerful. She wondered how long it took and was it a matter of study or time? If Darth Maul had been killed at a younger age, would he have been able to make his presence known or would he have been lost forever? She wished desperately that he could take physical form, so that she could ravage him. There was no lover in the galaxy quite like Darth Maul. “Did you kill her?” Maul smiled. “I killed all of them.” Slowly, Gethzerion walked to the entrance of her hut and she looked out. All over the witches compound there were bodies. None moved and all were the color of deep blue water. Even the animals were dead from insects to small mammals. She looked back in to her so who was eating. Yes, he was a fine specimen indeed. The End

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