Star Wars Episode I: The Chosen One


This is a project I started several years ago with my nephew, PJ Heusinger. Following my recent article about Rise of Skywalker, a reader expressed interest in this piece, so I am posting it here. Episode II is almost finished, and this may inspire me to complete that part of the saga.

Episode I

 THE CHOSEN ONE

It is a time of peace in the galaxy, watched over and protected by the JEDI KNIGHTS. The guardians of peace and justice for the REPUBLIC work together with the GALACTIC SENATE to assure equal opportunities and an equal voice for all.

Both the SENATE and the JEDI COUNCIL use the Coruscant system as their base of operations, and its position in the Deep Core makes it easily accessible for all of the REPUBLIC’s member planets. Under the leadership of Chancellor Valorum, the SENATE has experienced a golden age of expansion across the galaxy.  

As always, however, there are dark forces lying in wait, looking for an opportunity to satisfy their longing for power. Even as the JEDI promote peace, the SITH are plotting an uprising that could shift the balance of power in the galaxy forever.

Chapter One

It was a quiet night, just the way the Jedi Order liked it. In fact, Cole couldn’t remember the last time there was a serious disturbance worthy of the attention of one of the greatest Jedi to ever wield a lightsaber. He could hear Master Yoda’s words echoing in his mind:

“Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.”

So all was as it should be.

But if he was honest with himself, Cole would have to admit he did crave a little adventure. He craved some excitement. In his weakest moments, he might even say that peace was a little  . . . well . . . boring.

He had told Master Yoda that he was just going out on a routine scouting mission, but the truth is 

he had read a Bothan report that there had been some Sith activity out around the Belkadan system. The Council essentially dismissed it as an unsubstantiated rumor, but at this point Cole was ready to use anything as an excuse to get out into space. At the very least it would give him time to think.

Marriage was discouraged among the Jedi Order, in fact there were members of the Council who argued that it should be completely forbidden for Jedi to have families. 

“If we don’t have families, won’t there come a day when there aren’t any more Jedi?”

Cole’s question to the Order echoed the thoughts of many. It was the one question that had prevented the Order from forbidding marriage prior to now. The best, strongest Jedi still tended to be the offspring of other Jedi. 

“Dangerous, marriage is,” Yoda responded every time Cole brought it up. “Love can make one weak, lead to the Dark Side. But great strength it can be, too. Proceed with caution, Collo Skywalker.”

And so Cole had married his childhood sweetheart, Miliana, and the two were now expecting a baby.

A son.

Whatever excitement the galaxy was stubbornly refusing to yield, Collo “Cole” Skywalker knew a baby would provide plenty.

That’s why he needed to get out into space for a while. Miliana was consumed with preparations for the baby, and while Cole was excited, he didn’t enjoy going over the same details again and again.

“Maybe Jedi shouldn’t get married,” Cole quipped to his Astromech co-pilot. The little droid whistled a sympathetic note before calling his attention to a blip on the long-range sensors. 

“I see it R2,” acknowledged Cole. “That’s what the Bothan report showed, humanoid life form readings on a planet that isn’t easily capable of sustaining human life. Yuuzhan Vong beetles are nasty little beasts that could turn an entire planet’s atmosphere to carbon dioxide if they aren’t caught in time, and that’s exactly what had happened on Belkadan. What was once a pleasant enough forest world was transformed into an oppressively hot greenhouse in relatively short order.

“Remind me not to let Anakin have Yuuzhan Vong beetles for pets, R2,” Cole said. “You know how boys are.”

R2-D2 warbled a reply that sounded distinctly sarcastic. R2 had been with Cole most of his life, and he knew very much how boys could be. When Cole requisitioned his prototype StealthX he was told he would have to use an advanced R9 Astromech droid, but he insisted his R2 unit could handle the specialized controls . . .and he had been right.

“Did you just roll your eyes at me?!?” 

Bleep. Bleep. Squawk!

“I know, I know. You don’t have eyes.”

Cole examined the readings pouring out of the scanner, called up a closer view of one area in particular. Biting his lip determinedly, he changed course and pointed the nose of his StealthX towards the surface of Belkadan.

“I’m just going in for a closer look,” Cole explained in response to a questioning (objecting?) series of bleeps from behind him. “I doubt there’s anyone down there looking out for company, but if there is our thermal dissipaters and gravitic modulator should keep us from attracting any attention.”

Another series of plaintive bleeps erupted from behind Cole’s cockpit.

“No, thanks, R2. I’d like to keep it on manual control for this detour. Don’t worry, at the first sign of trouble we’ll head home. I just want to get a better reading on that life form in sector three.”

Skimming the outermost layer of the planet’s atmosphere, Cole positioned his StealthX above sector three, and the strange readings he detected on the long-range scan. It was the same reading he read about on the Bothans’ report, and upon closer examination the reading was even stronger . . .and even less ambiguous. There was a humanoid presence down on the surface, perhaps two.

Cole reached out with The Force . . .trying to get a sense of who might be down there. After a few moments, he pointed the nose of his specialized X-Wing straight down while scanning for a clearing large enough to land. Noting the objections from R2, he also did a quick scan of the atmosphere. High concentrations of sulfur and carbon dioxide were still evident, but he should be able to withstand those conditions long enough to be sure what he saw on his scanner and sensed through The Force was true.

The Council would want a full report before approving a mission to confront a new Sith threat, and they might not have that kind of time. Cole understood why such procedures and safeguards were in place, but it could also be frustrating to wait for the ponderous wheels of bureaucracy to turn. He decided it would be better to go ahead and determine the precise nature of the threat at hand before turning the matter over for deliberation and debate.

As his landing skids touched down, Cole gave R2 his standard instructions and donned the automated distress signal designed to alert R2 in the event of an emergency. 

“If anything happens to me, take the ship back to Coruscant and get help.”

R2 objected, which seemed to be his primary function of late, but accepted that his master was going to do what he was going to do despite his objections.

“I have a bad feeling about this, too, R2, but we need to know more about this threat before we report back to the Council. The only way to know more is for me to go get a closer look.”

With that, he clipped his lightsaber to his belt and headed carefully and quietly out into the deep underbrush and tall, moss-covered trees of Belkadan.

Cole had been careful to set his ship down a good 300 meters from his target so as to avoid attracting attention prematurely. The downside, of course, was that he had to make his way through tangles of vines and thorny bushes while also watching out for local creatures that might fancy a little snack of Jedi flesh or blood. As he neared the location where he sensed the Sith-like presence, a small hive of Yuuzhan Vong beetles attacked and he had to ignite his lightsaber to dispatch them. He hadn’t wanted to do that so close to his target, but the whole trip would be for nothing if he didn’t even make it to the target.

As Cole deactivated his saber and replaced it on his belt, he heard what sounded like a clapping sound. Moments later a voice interrupted the peaceful forest chorus and confirmed Cole’s worst fear. He had been discovered.

“Nicely done, my old adversary,” came the unmistakable voice of Darth Sidious. “I didn’t know the Jedi had stooped to using bugs as training dummies. You’ll find our Sith methods are much more sophisticated.”

As Sidious finished speaking Cole heard the familiar hiss-hum of lightsabers igniting, and while he saw Sidious some twenty meters in front of him, it was the other one that concerned him . . .the one he couldn’t immediately see. 

“Allow me to introduce Darth Maul, my apprentice,” said Sidious, gesturing behind Cole. The vlatter turned his head slightly to see what he had already sensed. There was another cloaked figure emerging from the gloom, twin red blades ignited and glowing. “We’ve been looking forward to your arrival. It was I, of course, who allowed the Bothans to report our presence here. I knew the Jedi Order would most likely ignore the report, meaning you, their most celebrated champion, would be unable to resist exploring on your own. Didn’t Master Yoda give you his standard spiel about Jedi not seeking adventure?”

While Sidious was talking Cole carefully positioned himself to defend against an attack from either angle, knowing that lightsabers were the least of his worries if Maul was anything like his master. Every Sith lord has a unique Force power and Cole was more than prepared for Sidious’ Force Lightning, but what if this Maul character was far enough along to have his own?

“I’m not sure I consider you to be an ‘adventure,’” Cole responded. “More like an enigma. Why do you insist on pursuing power for its own sake? Peace and justice will always prevail in the end.”

“Ahhh, but which form peace and justice will take is always open to the interpretation of those in power. Soon I will be the one who decides what it means to be at peace and what it means to have justice.”

Suddenly the air around Cole erupted into lightning, appearing to set him and everything around him on fire. While Cole writhed in pain, Sidious rushed him, his saber spinning so fast that it looked like a sphere rather than a blade. As he prepared to dissect the apparently helpless Cole, the latter abruptly stopped writhing, leapt to his feet and used his lightsaber to parry the blow from his over-eager opponent. 

Cole had been preparing for another encounter with Sidious and his Force Lightning, and he subconsciously rubbed the scar on his right forearm as he prepared to test his new defense. He had been trained in the ancient Jedi art of Tutaminis, or energy absorption, during his time at the academy, but anything that isn’t used often tends to rust. 

Qui-Gon Jinn had asked Cole to accompany him to Naboo, where the local government, which turned out to be the surface government only, asked for help with an apparent Sith uprising. It was before Naboo was admitted to the Republic, and because the locals tended to keep to themselves the planet was rarely the subject of discussion amongst the Senate or the Jedi Order either one. It turned out that Darth Sidious was, indeed, using Naboo as a training ground for his new apprentice, a local of the surface race. The planet had a core made entirely of water, which made it ideal for secretive Sith exercises. It wasn’t until the young apprentice began terrorizing the underwater race of Gungans that Sidious moved his training sessions to the surface, where the peace-loving Nubians wasted no time calling for help. Cole and Qui-Gon were able to sneak up on the Sith pair during a training exercise and rough them up, but in the process Sidious had scalded Cole’s arm with his Force Lightning. He’d needed three days in a bacta tank to repair the damage, and it was a mistake he was not about to repeat.    

Thanks to that experience, Cole knew just how to act to make it look like he was in helpless agony, and his ploy worked perfectly. 

Taking advantage of Sidious’ momentary confusion, Cole brought his own blue blade down hard, knocking Sidious to the ground as his crimson blade flew out of his hand, disengaged and landed harmlessly out of sight.

Rather than reaching out with the Force to retrieve his saber, Sidious launched an even more lethal dose of Force Lightning at Cole. This time Cole caught the attack with his lightsaber, though the force of the attack blew him back and forced him to drop to one knee. As he did this, Sidious rose to his feet and intensified his attack. 

Cole closed his eyes, reaching out through the Force for the power he needed to absorb such a blow. He knew he couldn’t hold it for long, just as he knew Maul would no doubt soon take advantage of Cole’s preoccupation with his master. Garnering every ounce of strength he could muster, Cole used his lightsaber to turn the Force Lightning back on its wielder. Sidious began to scream in pain as the lightning rebounded, turning his robes into little more than cinder flakes. As the fire abated, Cole brought his lightsaber up and struck Sidious across the chest and face, sending him flying out of the way.  

The shadowy figure of Darth Maul now stepped into the clearing, and Cole was slightly taken aback by what he saw. The face appeared to have horns growing out of his head, and his face was streaked in black and red. Maul’s plan was to take advantage of Sidious’ attack to create an opening for himself. His lightsaber was raised over his head, preparing to strike a lethal blow, and as such was not in position to parry an attack from the Jedi Master. Cole turned quickly,  Maul was thrown back into the shadows and out of the fight.

Simultaneously, however, Sidious sent another array of Force lightning at Cole, who could not get his lightsaber in position quickly enough to counter. Instead he relied on his skill with Tutaminis to try and absorb the energy. It didn’t work quite the way he had anticipated, as the lightning was even stronger than it had been before. He was momentarily stunned, and fell to the ground as if paralyzed. 

Cole was still completely unable to move much of anything voluntarily.

“So this is how it ends for the ‘great’ Collo Skywalker, is it? Count Dooku was right, your overconfidence is your greatest weakness. It occurred to me to try and recruit you as my own apprentice, but I think your noble sensibilities would prevent you from sharing my vision of universal domination.”

Sidious raised his hands in the direction of the sprawled, gasping Skywalker.

“Pity,” he said with finality.

As Force Lightning lit up what was an otherwise dark Belkadan night, the last thing that raced through Cole Skywalker’s mind as he clung to his last few moments of consciousness was what would happen to his wife, how she would raise their son without him, and what the future would hold for little Anakin.

Chapter Two

Obi-Wan Kenobi sat opposite his Jedi master in a special meditation chamber within the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Kenobi was close to earning full Jedi status, but one thing remained. For all of his talent with a lightsaber and his ability to control his own thoughts and sense the thoughts of others, Kenobi was still hung up on his discomfort with flying. For a Jedi tasked with keeping the peace in an ever-expanding galaxy, the ability to fly was incredibly important.

“Concentrate,” came the soothing words from Master Yoda. “Feel The Force flow through you. This last hurdle you must overcome if a Jedi you are to be.”

“I feel The Force, Master, that’s not the problem. I just can’t quite  . . .”

Kenobi was brought up short mid-sentence.

“Something troubles you, my young padawan?”

“Yes. Something . . .I felt a great disturbance in The Force. Something . . .NO!

Before Kenobi could explain himself, a beep came at the door and a silver protocol droid appeared on the threshold.

“I beg your pardon, Master Yoda, but I have an urgent message for you. Master Skywalker’s astromech droid just returned in his StealthX, but without Master Skywalker. He has an urgent message and is quite insistent on seeing you immediately. Frankly, sir, I think these astromech droids are getting a little uppity . . .”

Without taking note of the streaming commentary coming from the protocol droid, Yoda and Obi-Wan sprinted from the room, headed for the hanger bay.

As the pair of Jedi arrived in the hangar bay there was already quite a crowd gathering around Skywalker’s distinctive ship. The co-pilot R2 unit was squawking, beeping in a way that sounded like screaming, and refusing to be let down out of the ship.

The landing pad technician, apparently overjoyed to see Yoda and Obi-Wan arrive on the scene, quickly explained that the little droid was insistent upon seeing the pair and wouldn’t cooperate with anyone else.

“What’s happened, R2? Where’s Cole?”

In response to Obi-Wan’s question, R2-D2 launched into a cacophony of sounds. Obi-Wan understood enough to know that he was about to take a trip to Belkadan. He immediately sounded the alarm and ordered his astromech, R4, to prep his own ship.

“Dangerous, this is,” warned Yoda. “Walked into a trap, Skywalker did.”

“I know, Master. That’s why I’m taking the emergency response team with me. Whatever was waiting for Cole won’t be able to hide from us for long.”

“Ready when you are,” came the voice of Mace Windu, head of the Jedi Order’s emergency response team, from over Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Bidding his master goodbye, Obi-Wan headed for his ship and together with a dozen of his fellow Jedi he raced to Belkadan to find out what happened to his missing friend and mentor.

R2 provided precise coordinates for Obi-Wan to follow, but he needn’t have bothered. By the time the Jedi’s ship set down on the surface of Belkadan The Force had already revealed all. The particulars were still a mystery, but Obi-Wan knew his friend was dead. His charred remains were displayed, as if someone wanted them to find him and was taunting them in the process.

“Be mindful of your feelings, Obi-Wan,” advised Windu. “Anger leads to the Dark Side, and we’ve already suffered one devastating loss today.”

“Well, I am angry,” Obi-Wan said through clinched teeth. “I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. Why was Cole all the way out here on his own? Why didn’t he bring us along? What was he thinking?!? I’m sorry, but I’m just a little bit pissed off right now!”

“Unless I miss my guess, there is a new Sith Lord, along with an apprentice, who set a trap here and Collo walked right into it,” said Windu.

“Most perceptive of you, Master Windu,” came a voice from the darkness. “Most perceptive, indeed.”

As the gathered Jedi looked in the direction of the voice, a distinctive snap-hiss was followed by the red glow of a lightsaber. Darth Sidious’ face was clearly visible, but looked decidedly demonic in the glow of his red saber. 

“Circle up!” ordered Windu, and in moments Sidious was surrounded by the glow of a dozen lightsabers. 

“The odds are hardly even here,” said Sidious, looking meaningfully at each Jedi in turn. “But unless you brought a few more Jedi this will have to do.”

As the Jedi began closing the circle around their Sith prey, the air around them seemed to explode, as if a lightning storm had suddenly engulfed the entire area in fire. As Obi-Wan’s vision recovered from the flash of light, he saw that Kit Fisto, Shaak Ti, Yaddle and Ki-Adi-Mundi were all on the ground, seemingly on fire. 

Obi-Wan raised his lightsaber just in time to turn aside a blast of Force Lightning emanating from the darkness in front of him, and he saw that Mace Windu was also fighting off the blast. In a flash he saw the source, as Sidious worked to focus even more of his Sith power on the remaining Jedi. He and Windu had the same idea at the same time, and used their lightsabers to reflect the lightning blast back at Sidious. As they did so, the Jedi leapt towards the Sith lord, hoping to use the element of surprise to strike him down. 

Sidious was prepared for the frontal assault, but was so preoccupied with the advancing Jedi that he had not accounted for the one quickly closing from behind. 

“I’d hate to run you through from the back,” came the calm, deadly-quiet voice of Qui-Gon Jinn, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it if you don’t surrender immediately.”

Sidious turned, raising his hands in the direction of Qui-Gon, but before he could blast the Jedi master with another array of Force lightning, he dropped to his knees, his hands grasping his face as he stifled a scream. Qui-Gon Jinn was staring intently at Sidious, his eyes so intent on Sidious that they might have been drilling holes through his head.

“Qui-Gon, what are you doing to him?!?” Obi-Wan half-yelled at his friend and mentor.

“Why not give him a taste of the Dark Side that he seems so intent on mastering?” replied Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon turned his attention from his victim to his friend as the former collapsed, looking very much like he had breathed his last.

“I heard you’ve been studying Dark powers, but I didn’t want to believe it,” said Obi-Wan. You, of all people, should know the dangers inherent in immersing yourself in the Dark Side. Whether you acknowledge it or not, that’s what you have to do to learn powers like Deadly Sight.”

“He’s well aware of that,” interrupted Mace Windu. “That’s why he’s not on the Council. He can’t find it within himself to abide by the rules we have established for the safety of all.”

“Hardly,” replied Qui-Gon. “I just don’t happen to agree that there are light and dark powers. I believe, as Master Yoda taught me so many times, that it is the person who makes something good or bad, that nothing is inherently one way or the other. Fear leads to the Dark Side, so why fear the powers they claim as their own?”

“This is hardly the time or place to revisit this argument,” said Windu, noting the thickness of the atmosphere and the impact it was having on his breathing. “Collect the bodies of Sidious and  . . .and Cole . . .and let’s get back to Coruscant. 

“Master, Sidious is gone,” exclaimed Obi-Wan. “He was here moments ago and now he’s gone.” 

A cackling laughter could be heard echoing through the ever-thickening air. 

“We will meet again, my Jedi friends,” came Sidious’ voice out of the darkness. “And next time it won’t go as well for you.”

“Morichro,” said Qui-Gon, matter-of-factly. “He is quite advanced if he has mastered the art of simulated bodily death.”  

Two engines ignited just outside of the clearing and a space ship lifted off and began climbing for the atmosphere of the planet.

“Best to let him go,” advised Windu, sensing Obi-Wan’s desire to give chase. “We need to get our injured back to Coruscant and advise the Council so we can determine our next course of action.”

Obi-Wan nodded his agreement, though the anger he still felt burning hot in his soul was pushing him to pursue the man who had killed Cole. 

By the time the Jedi emergency response team returned to Coruscant, the Council was already assembled awaiting their report. It was quickly determined that the Bothan spies should be deployed to find out what they could about this new Sith threat, and meanwhile Master Yoda had a special mission for his padawan.

“Ready to be a Jedi, you are,” Yoda told Obi-Wan. “Just one task remains. Find a place to hide Miliana, you must. In danger, she is, and our responsibility she is now.”

“Don’t worry, Master,” replied Obi-Wan. “I’ll find somewhere the Sith will never think to look, and I’ll be sure her son never forgets who his father was and who it was that killed him.” 

Chapter Three

Obi-Wan was certain he would find a suitable destination for Miliana and her child before he ever got to the desert planet of Tatooine. 

Or maybe he just hoped he would.

There were plenty of things not to like about Tatooine, starting with the resident gangsters who essentially ruled the place. The Hutts were little more than giant slugs and had about as much charm as a Yuuzhan Vong beetle. The atmosphere they created was equally intolerable, as well. Wherever Hutts were found you could count on the scum of the galaxy turning up sooner or later, collecting a bounty or smuggling some contraband. 

Then again, the Hutts were downright charismatic when compared to Tatooine’s other inhabitants. 

First there were the Tusken Raiders, affectionately known as “Sand People.” They seemed to exist only to kill the innocent and steal everything they could get their hands on. Obi-wan was aware of rumors that they had wives and families, and clearly the race had to be perpetuated somehow, but it was hard to imagine such a violent race having enough tenderness to mate. There were rumors that their “children” were really just the orphans of families killed by the Tuskens, which was easy to believe. Either way, Obi-Wan wanted nothing to do with them.

Then there were the Jawas. Though they were not believed to be violent at all, the Jawas had their own unique irritations. They claimed to be scavengers, providing a valuable and even essential service as the desert planet’s trash collectors. All too often, however, their “trash” turned out to be something they scavenged illegally from someone who didn’t know their belongings were classified as trash. 

Obi-Wan had objected to that wretched place even being on the list of possible destinations for the Skywalker family, but Yoda had insisted that the very things that made it undesirable were the same things that made it an ideal hideaway. Even the Sith would avoid Tatooine at all cost, and Obi-Wan was sure Yoda was right.

Besides, beautiful, forested Yavin, his first choice, was hardly out of the way, Hoth was entirely too cold, Kamino was isolated, but was an often-stormy ocean planet.  Other out of the way planets like Gorsh didn’t have the right kind of atmosphere to easily support human life, and then there were also far worse bounty hunters and gangsters out there than the Hutts that inhabited the planets farther out from the Core. 

There was also the family factor, which was the reason Yoda felt that Tatooine was such a strong possibility. Cole’s younger brother Owen was a moisture farmer on the planet, and while the two were never close, he was family and at the very least deserved to know the fate of his brother. Perhaps he would also want to take in his sister-in-law and the child-to-be. 

 “No, I wasn’t planning to set down here, but it looks like we don’t have much choice,” Obi-Wan said in response to R4’s objection to landing on Tatooine. “Don’t worry, I’ll have you cleaned once we get back to Coruscant, and if you see a Jawa even glance in your direction I want you to blast it with your laser wrench. I’m don’t want to chase down every sandcrawler on the planet searching for you.”

A reluctant but resigned warble came from the astromech co-pilot as Obi-Wan laid in a course for the last known coordinates of the Lars homestead.

———————-

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!?”

As Obi-Wan opened his cockpit and prepared to climb down out of his ship, a young man who bore a striking resemblance to Cole was running toward him waving his arms and shouting.

“The wind storms are bad enough, what business do you have landing something like that here and kicking up a hurricane of sand?!? I’ll be cleaning for weeks!”

Ignoring the hostility. Obi-Wan began his determined diplomatic approach to what promised to be a difficult conversation.

“Sir, my name is Obi-Wan Kenobi. I was sent by the Jedi Council to  . . .”

“I know you’re a Jedi,” interrupted the belligerent young man. “Who else parades around in brown robes carrying lightsabers?!? State your business so I can get back to mine.”

“Yes, sir, and I apologize for the inconvenience,” Obi-Wan began again. “I have come with some important news for Owen Lars. Might that be you?”

“Yes, I am Owen Lars, but I can’t imagine what business a Jedi would have with me.” 

“I have come with some news that might be difficult for you to hear,” replied Obi-Wan cautiously. “Might we go inside and sit down?”

Lars gave his Jedi visitor a resigned look and then gestured towards a nearby doorway. Once inside. Obi-Wan was ushered into a small alcove, where a young woman was busily cleaning away sand that had no doubt been blown in by the former’s landing spaceship. 

“I apologize for the mess, ma’am,” offered Kenobi.

“This is my wife, Beru,” grumbled Lars, introducing Obi-Wan in the process. 

After a nod of acknowledgement, Beru disappeared through a nearby portal, reappearing moments later with glasses of a bluish liquid as she joined the two men at what appeared to be their dining table.

“Allow me to apologize for my husband,” offered Beru pleasantly. “He doesn’t like company, and he’s not particularly fond of Jedi, either. How can we help you, Master Kenobi?”

“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Obi-Wan began. “I know you have gone to great pains to hide your true identity, Lars, but the Jedi Order keeps records of next of kin in the event of an accident. We know you changed your surname name to avoid attracting attention and to avoid being connected with your brother Collo.”

“You can speak freely, Mr. Jedi, my wife is fully aware of my lineage and my brother’s famed career as a hot shot Jedi,” said Lars, who was not warming to the occasion with further conversation. “I assume you’re here because something has happened to Cole, so get on with it.”

“Yes, I’m afraid something has happened to Cole,” Obi-Wan acknowledged. “He was involved in an incident with Darth Sidious in which he died fighting our greatest nemesis.”

Both Lars and his wife winced at the mention of Sidious, so Obi-Wan knew he didn’t have to explain who Sidious was, which was a relief, at least.

“So my brother is dead,” Lars stated more than asked, eyes fixed on the floor.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” replied Obi-Wan, fighting to hold back his own emotions. “But there’s more. He was married, as I’m sure you know.”

“Her name is Miliana, right?” Beru spoke up for the first time. “We’ve never met, but she contacted me once hoping to arrange a visit. . .”

“We want nothing to do with them,” barked Lars, interrupting. “We want nothing to do with Jedi, with Cole’s people, with the Republic or anything else. That’s why I changed my name and moved to the armpit of space. We just want to be left alone.” 

“I can appreciate how you feel,” Obi-Wan continued carefully. “But the fact is that there is a child to consider, and you are his father’s last remaining family. More importantly, we believe the Sith Lord who killed Cole will also come after his son, and it is imperative that we hide Miliana and her child somewhere remote where no one would think to look.”

Lars opened his mouth, apparently preparing to launch into another tirade, but his wife took his hand, silencing him.

“Would you please give me and my husband a moment to talk privately?” asked Beru.

“Certainly,” Obi-Wan replied and returned to where his ship to prep it what he hoped would be a quick departure. He found that R4 had already taken care of that.

A few minutes later, Beru came out of the entrance to the Lars homestead and strode purposefully towards Obi-Wan.

“Master Kenobi, we would be honored to have Miliana come stay with us if you would be so kind as to make the arrangements,” said Beru, smiling warmly.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear your say that,” replied Obi-Wan. “I realize it’s a huge imposition, but Miliana needs family now. I will be closely monitoring the son once he’s born. If he exhibits Force abilities, we will want to stay in touch regularly so we can train him when the time comes.”

“You’re asking a lot,” replied Miliana. “My husband, as you know, is against any kind of Force talk, and won’t be easily convinced to let the boy train. He’ll probably try to turn him into a moisture farmer.”

“Let’s just wait and see what happens,” said Obi-Wan. “Maybe it won’t be an issue.”

With that, Obi-Wan and Beru clasped hands briefly, the Jedi gave a bow of respect and then climbed up into his cockpit.

“Take us home, R4.”

Chapter Four

Qui-Gon Jinn normally slept like a baby,  but two nights after the unfortunate events on Belkadan he found it almost impossible to sleep. He tossed and turned, nodded off once or twice, but was never quite able to quiet his brain long enough to drift off.

He soon found out why.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a dim blue glimmer coming from the communications console across the room. Someone seemed to be standing there, watching him as he tried to sleep, not making a sound.

Qui-Gon quickly centered himself in The Force and was fully awake in an instant. 

“Good evening, Master Qui-Gon,” came the voice from the quivering blue image. “I trust you will forgive my intrusion once you hear what I have to say.”

Even if the image was a little fuzzy, the voice was unmistakable. Qui-Gon’s late night visitor was none other than Darth Sidious.

“I can’t imagine wanting to hear anything you have to say, unless it’s that you’re dying from the after effects of breathing that rancid air on Belkadan,” replied Qui-Gon.

“Now, now, Master Jedi, what would the Council think of such sentiments coming from one of their most powerful members? … But wait, you’re not a member of the Council, are you? They don’t trust you, and they fear you are too powerful to control. You understand, as I do, that The Force is capable of much more than their limited imaginations allow.”

“Don’t try to pretend that we have anything in common, Sidious,” said Qui-Gon, nearly spitting this name as he said it. “Your warped view of The Force is no more enlightened than theirs. They see only the good, the side of The Force that helps them maintain peace and tranquility throughout the galaxy. You see only power, and ways you can use that power for your own selfish gains.”

“There is no such thing as peace, Qui-Gon, you know that,” came Sidious’ quiet reply. “Someone has to be in control. Someone decides what the rules of peace are and someone sits in power over that perceived peace. Right now the Jedi Council has placed itself in the position of authority over everyone else, believing that their version of peace is what’s best for all. But their limited vision of The Force doesn’t take into account the fact that there is only one way to truly have peace.”

“And what way is that,” asked Qui-Gon.

“Fear, of course,” replied Sidious. “The only way to gain the respect of all, from bounty hunters and thieves to the average law-abiding citizen, is to make them fear authority. Peace talks and negotiations can only go so far; at the end of the day the only way to have real peace is to make sure everyone is afraid to challenge authority.”

“This is an old argument,” said Qui-Gon, sighing. “Is there some reason we’re having it in the middle of the night?”

“You know the power of the Dark Side,” stated Sidious. “You have learned to embrace the teachings of both sides of The Force and understand all that the Dark Side has to offer. Why not take the next logical step? Why not join me and create a real, sustainable peace throughout the galaxy? We would make a formidable team, one that the Jedi Order could not possibly defeat.”

“I’m afraid you’ve overlooked a couple of important things,” said Qui-Gon. “First, the Order is more powerful than you give it credit for being. Either that, or you overestimate your own power – and mine. Second, you assume that I want to be in power myself. Don’t you understand that I am not an outcast, and I don’t feel slighted because I am not deemed a Master by the Council? I have chosen my own path, one that coincides closely to that of the Jedi Council, but not entirely. I embrace The Force holistically, not choosing one side or the other, but rather seeing it as one united power. The Sith choose to partition off one segment and call it the Dark Side, while the Jedi do the same and call their part the Light Side. I believe that division to be misguided, and I would no sooner join you in your expedition through the Dark Side than I would join the Council as they solely focus on the opposite.”

Sidious was quiet for a moment, seeming to ponder Qui-Gon’s words.

“I don’t wish to kill you, Qui-Gon,” he said at last, “but you must understand that if you’re not with me you’re against me, and you must be destroyed.”

“You have just perfectly demonstrated why your path to a so-called peace is nothing more than an excuse to inflict your own values on the people around you and force them to accept your point of view. I’m sorry, but I want no part of it, and given a choice between the Sith view and the Jedi view, I will side with the Jedi every time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my time is better spent sleeping.”

“Your lack of vision will cost you,” said Sidious, almost sounding sad. “You will force me to kill you when I eradicate the Jedi from the galaxy.”

“I will force you to do nothing,” said Qui-Gon simply. “You act as you choose, and if your choices bring you across my path there will, indeed, be a price to pay.”

With that, Qui-Gon snapped off his communicator and returned to his bed.

But sleep never came.

Chapter Five

“The communication came from Dathomir, which is why it sent up a red flag,” Mace Windu explained to Master Yoda. “The Bothans reported that Darth Sidious went to Dathomir after running from us on Belkadan.”

Yoda stared out across the skyscape of Coruscant, with all of the ships flying in precise traffic patterns and the sun rising in the sky beyond.

“Easily explained this may be,” Yoda replied. “A traitor Qui-Gon Jinn could never be. Rebellious, perhaps, but a traitor? Impossible, it is.”

“I sympathize, even agree, for the most part, but we must call him in and ask him about it,” the former insisted.

Just then the door to the council chambers opened and a silver protocol droid entered.

“I do apologize for the interruption, masters, but Qui-Gon Jinn is here to see Master Yoda,” the droid announced.

“Show him in,” said Windu.

But as the droid turned to do as he had been instructed a tall figure in a flowing brown robe brushed past him and into the chamber.

“No need to stand on formalities,” said Qui-Gon, “I’m here on urgent business which I’m sure you’ve already been discussing.”

If Windu hadn’t know better he would have thought the quick glance he got from Yoda had an air of “I told you so,” to it, but he hardly had time to consider it.

“Masters, I am here to report a communication I received last night from our new friend Darth Sidious,” Qui-Gon began. “Apparently, he’s recruiting his own Sith apprentice and he was quite eager for me to sign on.”

“How many times have I told you that your habit of communing with the Dark Side was going to get you into trouble,” asked Windu, almost accusingly. 

“How many times do I have to explain to you that there is no Dark Side, there is only The Force and what we choose to do with it,” shot back Qui-Gon.

Yoda silenced them both with a simple wave of his hand.

“Pointless, this is,” said the latter. “On the real issue, we must focus. A bold move, this is, even for a Sith.”

“It’s one thing to attempt to recruit a Jedi,” said Qui-Gon, “but to attempt to recruit a member of the Emergency Response Team is beyond bold. It’s practically foolhardy.”

“He has confidence, you have to give him that,” acknowledged Windu.

“A trap, I sense,” said Yoda.

“It seems too obvious to be a trap,” interjected Qui-Gon. “I think it was more of a power play. He has nothing to lose right now, and thought that perhaps my view of The Force might create an opening for him. Where he miscalculated was in thinking that having an open-minded view of The Force in some way means I am power hungry, which of course I am not. I have never been more committed to the Jedi Order, which is precisely why I study what you call the ‘Dark Side.’ A more complete understanding of The Force can only serve to strengthen the Order.”

The door to the council chambers once again slid open, but this time the beleaguered protocol droid was trailing behind the new arrival.

“You asked to see me, Master Yoda,” inquired Obi-wan Kenobi.

“ . . .why you even bother to have a protocol droid if you’re going to completely ignore protocol . . .”

The droid stopped short without even entering the chamber and the closing door cut off his complaint.

“Master Kenobi, yes,” replied Yoda. “An important mission we have for you and Qui-Gon.”

For a moment Mace Windu looked as if he were about to object, but then this expression returned to neutral and he said nothing.

“A message from Tatooine, we have received,” Yoda continued. “Coming soon is Miliana’s baby, and complications there may be. Go you must, to help in any way you can.”

“Both of us?” asked Obi-Wan. “Don’t you think that’s overkill given how the uncle feels about the Force in general and Jedi, specifically?”

“That is why you must go,” replied Yoda. “Your support, Miliana will need. Hostile, Cole’s brother is, and comfort, support, Miliana needs, not anger, hostility.”

“Yes, master,” replied Qui-Gon. “We will leave immediately.”

Qui-Gon and Obi-wan swept from the room, headed for their quarters, where they would gather a few belongings before meeting in the hangar bay. When the door closed behind them Mace Windu again voiced his concerns.

“I know you trust Qui-Gon, Master, and I want to, as well, but are you sure sending him to look over the Skywalker boy is the best course of action? He’s a loose canon, and Cole’s brother is already on edge about the Order. What if he turns them out?”

Yoda sighed, looking down at his walking stick before answering.

“Understood, your mistrust is, my friend, but also misplaced,” came his quiet, yet firm reply. “Set it aside. No more, will I hear.”

A few moments of silence passed between the two Jedi Masters.

“You’re that sure of him?” asked Windu, finally.

“I am,” replied Yoda, his eyes locking on Windu’s.

“Very well. Then I will trust him, too.”

Chapter Six

“She’s going to need support, Owen, and not just the support that you can I can give her,” said Beru, already frustrated by her husband’s harping on the presence of Jedi in their home.

“Women have been having children for years without any help from Jedi,” said Owen.

“Why do you insist on having this argument over and over again? The boy is Cole’s son, and it’s very likely that he will be strong in The Force. If he is, he will need Jedi to guide him,” Beru insisted.

“Well, I don’t care how strong he is in the magic mumbo jumbo, he won’t need any guidance when he’s a infant. I don’t see why . . .”

Owen’s latest rant was interrupted by a scream from across the dugout which was their home in the middle of the Tatooine desert. They went running to find their medical droid lit up with emergency alerts and their visiting Jedi both at Miliana’s side.

“The baby is coming, Mil, just give it one more big push and he should be out,” Obi-Wan was explaining. 

“What’s happened?” asked Beru.

“She’s in a great deal more pain than is normal, and even Obi-Wan’s healing powers have been unable to help her,” said Qui-Gon. “It’s almost as if . . .”

His words were cut off by a long scream from Miliana, after which her baby almost flew into the medical droid’s specially padded paddles. As the droid cleansed the baby and prepared to wrap him up, Qui-Gon swayed on his feet and nearly collapsed before making a hasty retreat through the room’s lone doorway. 

The medical droid shifted its attention to Miliana, who had lost a lot of blood and was listless even when she was handed her newborn. Obi-Wan had both hands on her torso, eyes closed, using The Force to try and help as much as he could despite the droids attempts to push past him.

“Shouldn’t he just let the droid to its job?” Asked Owen.

“Her injuries were caused by The Force, not by the physical strains of childbirth,” explained Obi-Wan. “She needs more than medical science, she needs Force healing.”

After a few moments, Miliana took in a deep breath, released it, and visibly relaxed. Obi-Wan stepped aside and went to look for Qui-Gon as the medical droid moved in to examine its patient.

It didn’t take Obi-Wan long to find his mentor, who was standing with his face towards the planet’s twin setting suns. 

“What is it, Master?” asked Obi-Wan.

“A great disturbance in The Force,” replied Qui-Gon, quietly. “One unlike anything I have ever felt.”

“I sensed it, too, but I’m not sure what it means,” agreed Obi-Wan.

“Obi-Wan, are you familiar with the prophecy of The Chosen One?” asked Qui-Gon.

After a brief pause, Obi-Wan answered somewhat hesitantly, “yes, I am aware of the legend.”

“It’s not just a legend,” insisted Qui-Gon. “The Jedi tradition has long held that one day someone would come to bring balance to The Force, someone more powerful than any Jedi or Sith who had come before. This is why I have long believed that there is only the living Force, not a Dark Side or a Light Side, just The Force. It is those of us who practice it who define it in separate terms. The nature of The Force is not truly divisible.”

“I’m not sure about the logic of seeking to bring balance to The Force,” said Obi-Wan. “Frankly, I like the balance where it is. There are hundreds of Jedi protecting the galaxy, and never more than two Sith. If the Jedi and Sith existed in equal numbers we would spend all of our time chasing them down and dealing with the aftermath of their actions.”

“You misunderstand the meaning of balance,” Qui-Gon explained, patiently. “When The Force is in balance, there will be no Sith, and no Jedi as you think of us as separate from the Sith. There will only be those of us who use The Force. As things stand we are far too limited in our exploration of the power of The Force. We label much of it as ‘evil’ or say it is ‘of the Dark Side,’ when nothing could be further from the truth. What we now call the Dark Side is merely an aspect of The Force seeking an outlet. When we deny that outlet it seeks any possible way to manifest, and this is what brings about the Sith Order.” 

“And you believe that this boy, now about five minutes old, is this Chosen One?” asked Obi-Wan, doubtfully.

“I know this is hard for you to understand, and I am well aware of what some on the Council say about me, but I am not crazy, and I believe with every fiber of my being that this boy is, indeed, the Chosen One,” replied Qui-Gon.

Before Obi-Wan could say anything else, the conversation was interrupted by Owen.

“If the two of you aren’t too busy out here, we could use your help,” he said. “Our droid has done about all it can and your friend is still not responding.”

______________________

Qui-Gon’s flickering image floated above the communication console at the center of the Jedi Council chamber as he spoke to the assemblage, many of whom were also present only via hologram.

“Mother and child are both fine now, but if Obi-Wan hadn’t been here I don’t think Miliana would have made it,” Qui-Gon explained. “There were some strange complications with the birth, complications brought on by the child’s unusually strong . . .nature.”

“Nature, you say?” asked Yoda. “What nature is this?”

A pregnant silence followed.

“You’ve never been one to hold your tongue Qui-Gon,” asserted Ki-Adi-Mundi, the Cerean Jedi Master who was one of the few who were physically present for the conference.

“In this case, I feel discretion is wise,” said Qui-Gon. Mace Windu attempted to play off the scoffing sound he made as a half-cough, but it fooled no one. “That is to say, I feel this is something we should discuss in person the next time the Council convenes. Even secure communications can be intercepted.”

“Important for you to stay, you believe?” asked Yoda, anticipating Qui-Gon’s next request.

“Yes, Master,” he replied. “Miliana is still in need of Obi-Wan’s healing techniques, and I also believe we should be concerned about the boy.”

“Does he have a name?” asked Ki-Adi-Mundi.

“Yes,” replied Qui-Gon. “She named him for Cole’s father. The boy’s name is Anakin Skywalker.”

Chapter Seven

Five Years Later

A modified X-34 landspeeder raced across the Tatooine desert, headed for the Jundland Wastes. Two brown robes billowed off the back as the driver seemed determined to push the limits of the vehicle’s speed capabilities. 

“When you said he was going to drive, I thought you were kidding,” Obi-Wan said to Qui-Gon, shouting to be heard over the whining turbine engines and the rushing wind.

“So did I,” answered Qui-Gon, “but apparently Miliana has been letting him practice when his uncle is away. She seems to think he’s capable.”

Miliana shot the Jedi a quick smile over her shoulder as she beamed at her son’s remarkable skill handling the speeder. Though he was only a month or so past his fifth birthday, Anakin repeatedly demonstrated a remarkable instinct for piloting, no doubt related to his equally remarkable command of The Force.

As the speeder glided to a stop in front of the dwelling the two Jedi had set up on the southwestern edge of the Dune Sea, Anakin let out a “WHOOP,” leaped out of the driver’s seat and ran into the small, white hut.

“He’s a little young to be driving, isn’t he?” Obi-Wan asked. “They’re not even supposed to start practicing until they’re ten.”

“You’re not exactly one to talk about secret training, Master Jedi,” Miliana responded, laughing and nudging Obi-Wan in the ribs. “Besides, it’s not as if anyone cares what we do out here in the middle of this barren rock. Of course, if Owen knew where we were going when we tell him we’re running to Anchorhead for supplies he would send us all to live with the Tuskens.”

At that, Anakin came running out of the hut carrying his lightsaber.

“I’m ready, Master Wizard!” he said to Obi-Wan, who still looked a little shaken by the trip.

“Master Wizard?” he repeated, questioningly.

“That’s what Uncle Owen calls you, a wizard,” Anakin answered. “I think he’s just jealous. Moisture farming has to be about the most boring job in the whole universe! Now let’s practice!”

“Patience, my young friend,” said Qui-Gon. “A Jedi does not crave excitement, or use The Force for entertainment. We use The Force for good, as Obi-Wan did when he saved your mother’s life.”

Anakin took a deep breath and centered himself, practicing a meditation technique Obi-Wan taught him, and then met the Jedi Masters’ eyes steadily. 

“I apologize, Masters,” he said quietly. “I am ready to resume our training whenever you are.”

“You’ll be working with Master Kenobi, today,” said Qui-Gon. “Your mother and I have some important matters to discuss.”

Qui-Gon took Miliana by the arm and led her into the hut.

“Alright, Uncle Ben, let’s go!” said Anakin before catching himself. “Um, I mean, what shall we learn today, Master Kenobi?”

“Ani, there is something I have to tell you,” said Obi-Wan. “It might not be easy for you to hear, but it’s important that you know.”

“What is it, Uncle Ben?” asked Anakin.

“I was there that night. On Belkadan. I was there the night your father was killed,” said Obi-Wan, working to keep his voice steady.

“I guess I always assumed you were,” replied Anakin.

“There’s something more,” continued Obi-Wan. “I took your father’s lightsaber . . .we didn’t know whether or not you were going to be a Jedi, but on the off chance that you would be I thought it should be your first lightsaber. One day you will construct you own, but it’s time to teach you to use one and we have to see if it’s willing.”

“We have to see if it’s willing?” echoed Anakin, questioningly. “You make it sound like the lightsaber has a will of its own.”

“I wouldn’t say it has a will, but when a Jedi constructs his lightsaber it becomes infused with the Force essence of that Jedi,” Obi-Wan explained. “Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – a lightsaber is . . .willing, for lack of a better word . . .to be handed down and sometimes it is not.”

“You want to see if my father’s lightsaber will allow me to use it?” asked Anakin.

“Not exactly, but . . .well . . .yes, kind of,” answered Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan walked over to the landspeeder and withdrew a leather pouch that Anakin recalled seeing slung around his mentor’s neck earlier. He reached in and very carefully drew out a sleek silver cylinder that Anakin recognized immediately as the signature weapon of any Jedi Knight. He strode over the Anakin and extended the weapon to his young padawan, who accepted it with caution.

At first, nothing happened. Anakin inspected the lightsaber, fingered the ignition button, admired the craftsmanship. But then . . .

Warmth. Penetrating warmth . . .happiness . . .his mother’s face, but much younger . . .she’s smiling, laughing, reaching out her hand to  . . .Exhilaration . . .his hands on the controls of his X-Wing . . .stars streaming past . . .R2 bleeping behind him  . . . Pain . . .searing, unbearable pain . . .remorse . . .“Anakin . . .I love you, Anakin” . . .Darkness . . .enclosed space . . .surrounded by black . . .a loud, rasping breathing sound . . .almost mechanical . . .

Gasping, Anakin snapped out of a seeming trace to find Obi-Wan next to him. He had falled to one knee and was still holding onto his father’s lightsaber, which was now ignited and glowing blue. 

“Are you OK, Ani?” asked Obi-Wan.

“I’m fine,” said Ani, blinking away the visions he had just seen. “Does that mean it likes me?”

“Yes,” said Obi-Wan. “I think so. What did you see?”

“I’m not sure,” said Anakin. “I saw my mother, but she was much younger. Then I was flying a spaceship, an X-Wing, I think, and I felt amazing and free. Then I heard a voice, my father’s voice, I think, and then  . . .I’m not sure what. There was a strange sound and I felt like I was trapped in . . .a cave, maybe? And then I was here, next to you.”

“The lightsaber has shared its history with you, your father’s history, and now it’s ready for a future with you,” said Obi-Wan, returning to his leather pouch and withdrawing a white orb which then began floating in mid-air. 

“What’s that?” asked Anakin.

“Your first lesson in using a lightsaber,” answered Obi-Wan.

“It’s heavy,” remarked Anakin, using both hands to wield his father’s sword.

“You’ll grow into it,” said Obi Wan. “Now, defend yourself!”

“Ouch!” shouted Anakin as a small laser blast from the floating white orb stung him in the leg.

The orb landed several more stinging shots on Anakin’s legs and torso before he finally managed to deflect one with his lightsaber.

“Well done,” encouraged Obi-Wan. “Reach out with The Force. Anticipate where the blast is coming from before it comes.”

Anakin closed his eyes . . .took a deep breath . . .and once again raised the lightsaber. This time he actually did seem to see where the orb was going to shoot before it did . . .like a glimpse into the future . . .but only a split second. He swung the saber backwards across his body, then swung it in a downward motion and finally back up diagonally towards his shoulder. Without fully realizing it, he had turned away three shots from the darting orb.

“Excellent!” applauded Obi-Wan. “You’re a quick study, not that I should be surprised. Let’s see how you handle Level 2.”

___________________

“I know what you’re going to say, Qui-Gon, and I’m not ready,” said Miliana, once they were safely out of earshot of her son.

“I know you’re not, and that you never will be, but we have to face the reality that Anakin is ready,” said Qui-Gon. “Quite frankly, I think it would be dangerous to delay his entry into the Jedi academy any longer. I’ve never seen such a strong Force aptitude in a child so young, and he must learn to channel it and control it before it begins to control him. There are dark forces at work in the galaxy that would like nothing better than to get their hands on the boy and corrupt his training.”

“Qui-Gon, how do parents deal with the loss of their children?” asked Miliana, tears filling her eyes. “He’s so young, with so much to learn about life beyond what they will teach him at the academy. He needs to learn things that parents are supposed to teach him, and honestly, after losing his father I’m not sure how to let go of him.”

“There are no easy answers to your questions, though you can take some small comfort in knowing that parents have been asking these same questions for generations,” Qui-Gon responded, putting his arm around Miliana. “You take comfort in knowing that Anakin has a destiny far greater than anything he could find outside of the academy and knowing that the Jedi Order will make his well being our highest priority.”

“That all sounds good, and of course you’re right, but that won’t help me when I wake up in the morning and he’s gone . . .and all I have left is a grumpy moisture farmer and his appeasing wife,” said Miliana. Her tears turned into sobs and she buried her face in Qui-Gon’s robe.

“You don’t have to make the decision today, but it won’t get any easier,” said Qui-Gon gently. “The longer you wait, the greater the likelihood that the forces we wish to keep him hidden from – the forces that killed his father – will find him.”

“Have you discussed this with Ani?” Miliana asked.

“We’ve talked about it some,” answered Qui-Gon. “I think his feelings are divided. He craves new challenges and is excited by the idea of getting off of Tatooine. Coruscant is as different as a world could be from the desert he’s grown up in. He’s afraid of leaving you, in particular, but he knows that his destiny lies elsewhere.”

“I could come to Coruscant, too,” Miliana offered, though she already anticipated Qui-Gon’s response.

“You know that’s not an option,” he stated softly. “When we made the decision for Anakin to pursue the Jedi way we also agreed on your role in that. You helped him get out from under the watchful eye of his uncle for training, and now you have to remove yourself from his life, for a time. It’s the only way to keep him focused on his training.”

“I know, I know,” Miliana sighed. “And the Sith could use me against him if they knew my whereabouts and Coruscant is hardly an out-of-the-way place to lay low.”

“You must be brave,” said Qui-Gon. “You must be brave for yourself and brave for Anakin. He has a great destiny, perhaps greater than any Jedi before him, but there is also great danger for him if he doesn’t learn to control his abilities. The sooner he joins the academy, the better, even though it will be hard for you to let go of him.”

At this point, Anakin came running in, Obi-Wan trailing behind.

“Mom! You’ve got to come see this cool new trick I learned with my lightsaber!”


Having said that, Anakin bolted right back out the door.

“What have you got him doing now, Ben?” asked Miliana.

“I wish I could take credit for it!” Obi-Wan answered. “That kid takes every lesson I teach him and goes to another level with it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The three adults walked outside to find Anakin, lightsaber spinning so fast it looked like a shield instead of a blade. He appeared to be using The Force to hurtle a barrage of small boulders at himself with one hand while using the other hand to slice them to bits as they came within range of his saber.

“It might be time to have that talk with Anakin,” Miliana said under her breath.

Chapter Eight

Beru was in the kitchen of her family’s desert dwelling when Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Miliana and Anakin returned that evening. She appeared to be taking apart a food processing unit while muttering frustratedly under her breath.

“Anakin Skywalker,” she said as he entered the room, “how many times have I told you not to use my kitchen appliances as your own private junk yard?!?”

“I’m sorry, Auntie, but I was having some trouble with 3P0’s motivator and I needed to . . .” began Anakin.

“Stop right there, young man,” Beru interrupted. “It’s always the same excuse, always something to do with some droid you’re building or repairing. That’s what Jawas are for, young man. You can get your spare parts from them, not from my kitchen appliances!”

“I say, I hope you’re not arguing on my account,” came a tinny voice from the corner. There, positioned on a chair as if visiting for afternoon tea, was a partially-finished protocol droid, wires hanging out where his golden protective covering was incomplete.

“No, 3P0, you have been very helpful around the kitchen,” said Beru. “It’s your maker over there who keeps forgetting where he’s supposed to get his bits and pieces.”

“Well, that won’t be a problem any more,” said Anakin, cracking a smile. “It seems I’ll be stealing parts from the Jedi Academy from now on.” 

“What?!?” asked Beru, stunned.

“What’s that?” asked Owen, who had just entered the room. 

The Jedi suggested they all sit down and discuss the situation, so they all walked out into the dining room and sat down. 

“We’re going to miss you, Ani,” said Beru, tears streaming down her face as she hugged Anakin. “But know that whatever you do, wherever you go, you’ll always have a home here where people love you.”

“Be careful out there, son,” added Owen. “These wizards think you’re going to save the galaxy . . .you know I don’t believe all that Jedi stuff. But I do know that you can do anything you set your mind to do. Go be the best at whatever you do . . .”

Owen broke off, trying to hide his own emotions, and finally just hugged Anakin and walked briskly back into the house.

“I love you, too, Unc!” Anakin called after his uncle, smiling broadly.

“What about me, Master Anakin,” asked the protocol droid, which had made its way out into the dining room, as well.

“I have a very important mission for you, 3P0,” said Anakin. “I need you to stay here and protect the family until I return for you.”

“I would be honored, Master Anakin,” replied the droid, which wasn’t quite finished and had a little trouble getting around.

“And don’t worry,” added Anakin. “When I come back I will bring plenty of new parts so I can finish building you.”

“Tell your Jedi cooks to guard their appliances with their lives” said Beru, nudging Anakin in the ribs.

Finally, Miliana knelt down and embraced her son. Words were slow to come, and the two just held each other for several moments.

“I don’t know how to say goodbye to you,” Miliana said at last. “Our Jedi friends asked me to be brave, but I don’t know what that means. I know you have to go, that it’s what you were born to do, but I also know I can’t imagine my life without you. Tomorrow I will wake up and you won’t be here, and I don’t know how I’ll live with that . . .”

Miliana choked on her next word and buried her face in Anakin’s tunic to hide her tears.

“I love you, Mom,” Anakin replied, tears running down his face as he hugged her neck. 

Qui-Gon gently tapped Miliana on the shoulder and she took a moment to wipe her face before standing and taking a step back from her beloved son.

“Your father would be proud,” she said at last. “Go make us both proud, my little Ani.”

Beru put her arm around Miliana and led her back into the house as the engines ignited on the T-6 Jedi shuttle that had come to retrieve Anakin and his two Jedi protectors. The three climbed aboard as a veritable sand storm was whipped up by the engines. 

“Will I ever come back to this planet again?” Anakin asked Obi-Wan as the ship climbed for the atmosphere of Tatooine.

“It’s possible, but I do believe your destiny lies elsewhere,” replied Obi-Wan.

As the ship jumped to lightspeed, headed for Coruscant, Anakin couldn’t help but cry for the world and the life he left behind . . .though he also couldn’t help but feel excited for what lay ahead.

_____________

“How’s the boy progressing?” asked Mace Windu, who found Qui-Gonn staring out into the combination of vast darkness and steadily streaming lights that made of the Coruscant skyline after dark.

“It’s only been a few weeks, but he’s already showing even more potential than we thought possible,” replied Qui-Gon. 

“Cin Drallig tells me Anakin is far more advanced in his lightsaber training than any other youngling he’s ever taught,” said Windu.

“I wish I could take credit for that,” said Qui-Gon. “Obi-Wan did most of his lightsaber training, but the boy had a knack for it from the beginning. When we gave him his father’s lightsaber it seemed to become a natural extension of his own hand. Besides, there wasn’t much for him to do out there in the middle of the desert besides practice with his lightsaber. When his uncle wasn’t watching, that is.”

“And yet I sense something troubling you,” said Windu.

“Yes,” admitted Qui-Gon. “Anakin is already more advanced than any of his classmates and he’s not even halfway through his first term. As you know, boredom can be a dangerous thing with younglings.”

“It’s not the first time we’ve had gifted students,” countered Wundu. “His instructors will recognize his abilities and recommend him for the advanced program.”

“This is more than that,” Qui-Gon went on. “I mean he’s bored; not just bored with the classwork, but bored overall. When we were on Tatooine we channeled his energy by letting him take out an old landspeeder of his uncle’s. We can’t exactly turn him loose in the crazy traffic patterns of Coruscant, even if we did have a speeder for him to use.”

“What if we introduce him to Shaptives?” asked Windu, referring to the academy’s ace pilot and flight trainer.

“I thought of that, but students are required to be at least ten before they enter the Jedi Starfighter Corps, and even then it’s usually hard for the younger students to fit in. Pilots are incredibly competitive . . .even Jedi pilots.”

“Well, come on, Qui-Gon, do you believe in this boy or what?” asked Windu, his voice teetering between mockery and sarcasm. “Either he’s the Chosen One or he’s not, and if he’s going to do amazing things he’s going to be challenged every step of the way. He might as well start facing that now so he can learn to deal with it.”

“You may not believe in the boy’s destiny, but you do make a valid point,” said Qui-Gon. “He is certainly going to face challenges from both within and without the classroom environment. There will always be those who wish to belittle him and test him due to his reputation. The sooner he learns to handle that, the better. I will talk to Shaptives.”

Qui-Gon turned and headed for the instructors’ quarters, leaving Windu with his mouth hanging open. He had, after all, been kidding Qui-Gon about talking to Shaptives. There was no chance this young boy could qualify for even the most rudimentary starfighter training class.

Was there?

Chapter Nine

“Young Master Skywalker, your reputation precedes you,” Shaptives said, extending a hand as the young man walked hesitantly through the big hangar doors. “Your father was a friend, and I look forward to seeing if you inherited his instinct for flying”

Anakin had never met a Twi’lek before, and caught himself staring for just a moment at the twin tails dangling from the back of his new teacher’s head. 

“Don’t mind the tails,” said Shaptives, smiling broadly. “They are just there so that all the slowpokes trying to catch up to me have something to admire.”

Anakin took Shaptives’ hand, smiling.

“Anakin Skywalker, sir, reporting as ordered,” he said.

“Anakin, I have lined up a special selection of Republic crafts in a row here. I would like to see how many you can correctly identify,” said Shaptives. “I know you were raised beyond the Republic, so I don’t necessarily expect you to . . .”

“Jedi Starfighter,” said Anakin, pointing to the first ship in the lineup. “Gunship, snowspeeder, X-Wing fighter, B-Wing, Y-wing, A-Wing, that big one in the back is a CR90 corvette, also called a blockade runner.”

“Not bad,” said Shaptives, who was duly impressed by Anakin’s knowledge of the Alliance’s arsenal of ships. “Now what about that last one down there?”

Anakin looked back, surprised. He then took a few steps toward the dark end of the hangar and gasped. He walked, nearly ran, toward the last ship in the row, and put both hands on it once he arrived.

“I know this ship best of all,” he said at last, clearly choking back a sob. “This is a Stealth-X, just like the one that my father flew on … his last mission.”

“Close,” said Shaptives. “That isn’t just like the one your dad flew, that is the very same one. If you master the simulators and do everything I ask you to do, I will give you the chance to fly your dad’s Stealth-X.”

Anakin gathered himself, gave the Stealth-X one more look, then turned around and presented himself at attention to Shaptives.

“I’m ready, sir,” he said. “Let’s get started.”

“Ok, then the first thing is you have to drop all this ‘sir’ stuff. The name’s Shappy. And you weren’t ordered here, you’re here because someone important believes you’re a remarkable talent. If at any point either one of us decides that isn’t true, you’re free to pursue another course of study.”

Shappy paused for a moment, then took a step closer to Anakin.

“All of that being said, don’t think for an instant I’m going to go easy on you just because you’re the youngest, or because you’re Cole Skywalker’s kid,” said Shappy. “I’m going to do my best to push you out of the program. Only the best deserve to be members of the JSC.”

Anakin took a step closer to Shappy.

“I’m glad to hear it, Shappy,” he said in a low but firm voice. “Because I’m the best, and I look forward to proving it.”

Shappy’s mood brightened.

“Well, as long as we understand each other, class starts in an hour. See you there!”

With that, Shappy turned on his heel and walked out of the hangar.

Anakin turned again towards his father’s Stealth-X.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” he said. “I’m going to make sure the galaxy never forgets the name Skywalker.”

———————————–

A ragtag wave of bounty hunter fighters swept out of the underbelly of the large frigate, closing quickly on the squadron of Jedi starfighters that were headed for the enormous ship’s control tower. A barrage of laser cannon fire surrounded the cockpits of the Jedi crews.

“Stay on target,” came the voice of Agen Kolar, the 12-year-old Zabrak who was leading this simulated attack. “Target the tower at maximum sublight speed and we’ll deal with the fighters after we take it out.”

The Jedi starfighters formed up and made a beeline for the tower, bounty hunters trailing just out of range behind them. Suddenly the last ship in the Jedi formation broke ranks and vanished.

“What happened back there?” asked Kolar into his comm. “Did the Skywalker kid get wiped out already?”

“I don’t think he was hit, he just disappeared,” said Tarrous Nagana, who was closest to Anakin’s last position.”

Suddenly, one by one, the bounty hunter fighters exploded in brilliant flashes of light behind the Jedi formation. Moments later Anakin reappeared right where he was supposed to be in the formation.

“I’m right here,” he said into his comm. “Let’s go get that tower!”

“Target in sight; prepare to fire,” said Kolar. “FIRE!”

The command tower flared, flashed, and disappeared into an ocean of tiny lights that quickly winked out. The large frigate began to spin out of control, fire visibly spreading throughout the interior of the vessel. 

“Prepare to make the jump to lightspeed and return to base,” said Kolar in a voice that indicated he was clearly irritated. “Let’s hit it!” he yelled, and the entire squadron disappeared into streaks of light.

______________________

As Shaptives popped the hatches on the flight simulators, several of the students students crowded around Anakin’s cockpit to ask him about the disappearing bounty hunter fighters. The consensus was that his disappearance and the subsequent destruction of the bounty hunter squadron were directly related.

“Showers, everyone, NOW!” ordered Kolar. “Everyone except you, Skywalker.”

Anakin stood quietly next to his simulator as he waited for the others to file out and for Kolar to explain his order.

“How dare you disobey a direct order, breaking formation and endangering your entire squadron in the process?!” Kolar demanded. “I should boot you out of this program immediately.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Anakin answered calmly, “it seems to me that I greatly reduced the danger for your squadron my removing the threat of attack by those fighters.”

“Don’t confuse blind luck with heroism,” Kolar shot back. “The Jedi way is about discipline, and discipline is what’s required of a member of the Jedi starfighters. If you can’t exercise discipline, I don’t want you on my team. It may have worked out this time, but next time you could get yourself and members of my team killed with those kinds of antics.”

Anakin took a deep breath and his body relaxed noticeably.

“Understood, sir,” he said in a formal and flat tone. “Is there anything else, sir?”

“No, cadet, you’re dismissed,” answered Kolar.

Anakin turned on his heel and left. The door barely had a chance to close behind Anakin before it opened again to admit Shaptives.

“What was all that about?” he asked Kolar, apparently fighting back a smile.

“I’m sure you were monitoring maneuvers,” said Kolar as Shaptives nodded an affirmation. “You saw the stunt that kid pulled. I had to come across like I was upset with him, but honestly I’ve never seen anything like it. How did he just disappear like that? At first I thought it was a sensor glitch, but clearly the simulated attackers didn’t see him, either.”

Shaptives paused for a moment before responding.

“Kolar, there’s something I should have shared with you before I brought in Anakin,” he said at last.

“You told me he is a gifted pilot and strong in the Force,” Kolar reminded him. “And I know his father was the best pilot to ever grace these halls.”

“Yes, but there is something more,” said Shaptives. “Are you familiar with the legend of the Chosen One?”

“Oh, here we go,” said Kolar, rolling his eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re buying Qui-Gon Jinn’s theory about Anakin being the savior of the galaxy.”

“To my knowledge he has not made that belief public. Where did you hear it?” asked Shaptives.

“It doesn’t matter,” answered Kolar. “All that matters is I heard it and you appear to believe it.”

“I’m not saying I believe it, fully, but have you ever heard of a youngling who had mastered Force Cloak?” asked Shaptives.

“Mastered what?!?” asked Kolar.

“That trick he used in the simulation wasn’t a glitch or an error in the program. He actually made his ship invisible for a moment, long enough to get behind the enemy ships and pick them off. Force Cloak is an ability so rare that many haven’t even heard of it, as you have not,” explained Shaptives.

Kolar pursed his lips and stared at Shaptives for a moment.

“Shappy, do you believe this kid is the real thing?” he asked.

“I’m not prepared to rule it out, based on what I’ve seen and heard about him,” the instructor replied.

“What does that mean for me? I still have to have discipline, and I can’t have anyone breaking ranks on a whim even if they are the Chosen One,” said Kolar.

“You must expect him to adhere to the same rules as everyone else, but perhaps involve him in the planning of attacks as you go forward,” suggested Shaptives.

“Sounds like we’re going to have our hands full,” said Kolar.

“I expect every day to be an adventure,” agreed Shaptives.

Chapter Ten

The large dome of the Galactic Senate building on Coruscant shone in the bright midday sun as Senator Sheev Palpatine’s shuttle landed on its designated docking ring. His delegation quickly proceeded into the building, their appointed time to address the Senate just minutes away.

“My dear fellow senators,” Palpatine began when he his turn came, “a time that I have long feared would come has finally arrived. The peace that has existed between the Naboo and our underwater neighbors, the Gungans, is in danger of crumbling, and if we do not act soon the survival of our entire culture could be at risk.”

“The Gungans have broken the peace?” asked Chancellor Valorum, somewhat incredulously.

“I’m afraid so, Chancellor,” answered Palpatine. “It began will small raids on our farmost outposts, but the raids have gradually gotten closer to our more populated cities, and their ferocity has intensified.”

“So this has been going on for some time?” asked Valorum. “Why are just hearing of this?”

“We were reluctant to believe that it was the Gungans who were behind the attacks, at first,” said Palpatine. “They have been entirely peaceful since they agreed to allow human settlements on the surface and we have kept our side of the bargain, restricting our activities to the land. Nonetheless, we have traced these recent attacks back to the Gungans, and as you know we have no standing army with which to combat them. We’ve never needed one, and feared that if we had one it would be taken as an aggressive move. Our small security force is not nearly enough to fight off their army should they decide to attack.”

“I presume that you have attempted to contact the Gungans to confirm your suspicions?” asked Valorum.

“We have tried numerous times, but the Gungans are notorious in their desire for privacy,” explained Palpatine. “We do not have an official means of communicating, even in case of emergency, as we have never had one.”

“I will confer with Master Yoda about sending someone to try and establish peaceful communication with the Gungans,” said Valorum. 

“Yes,” said Palpatine. “That’s precisely the right move. I was hoping, perhaps, Master Qui-Gon could return with us to try the diplomatic approach. In addition, I would ask that my delegation be allowed to contract with the Kaminoans to begin construction on a small peacekeeping clone force, just in case our ongoing peaceful efforts fail.”

Valorum considered this for a moment and spoke briefly with his own advisors, who appeared to approve of the idea.

“Very well,” Valorum responded at last. “We will let the Kaminoans know you have approval to meet with them regarding a small peacekeeping force. In the meantime, we are hopeful that the Jedi will find a peaceful resolution to your situation.”

“You are most gracious, Chancellor,” responded Palpatine. Bowing as their levitating platform returned to its place, he and his contingency then left the Senate chambers.

___________________

Deep in the jungles of Dathomir, the communication console in a small, well-camouflaged cabin sprung to life.

“Lord Maul,” the hooded, shimmering figure said, beckoning the cabin’s lone resident.

“I am here, Master,” came the quiet reply.

“The first part of our plan is proceeding perfectly,” said Darth Sidious. “The Senate has agreed to send Qui-Gon Jinn to Naboo, where he will find it impossible to communicate with the Gungans, and thus have no choice but to agree to our request for military assistance.”

There was a large crash nearby, which Maul wrote off as one of the local rancors tromping by in search of dinner. He actually chose an area with a high rancor population to make it less likely that anyone would come across his dwelling or the surrounding area, where Sidious had been training him in the Dark Side of the Force. Rancors, after all, made formidable opponents.

At first.

“Shall I proceed to Naboo and intercept Qui-Gon, or would you like me to make sure things go . . .as planned . . .on Kamino?” asked Maul.

“I will have you oversee production on Kamino, but first I want you to have a private chat with Qui-Gon,” said Sidious. “If he can be turned, or at least convinced to join us, he would be a great asset. We have to kill him either way, of course, but if we can use him to our advantage first that would be ideal.”

“Shall I stage another attack on an outpost while I’m there?” asked Maul.

“Only if it’s necessary to convince the Jedi of our desperate need,” replied Sidious.

“As you wish, Master,” said Maul, and the shimmering image faded away.
                                                        

Chapter Eleven

The pulsating drum of the Naboo Royal Cruiser’s engines made it difficult for Qui-Gon Jin and Senator Palpatine to do much more than exchange pleasantries as they met on the ship’s docking ring. Once they were on board and the cruiser was climbing for the atmosphere of Coruscant, Palpatine debriefed his Jedi companion.

“Why do you think the Gungans have broken the peace after all these years?” asked Qui-Gon. “When they agreed to allow human settlement they indicated that they had no use for the dry land on the planet and their only stipulation was that no one attempt to contact them. It seemed they legitimately didn’t care about the land at all.”

“You can imagine our own surprise at this development then,” responded Palpatine. “We explored every other possibility, but ultimately we found no other suspects in the raids on our outposts.”

“Have they made no demands, offered no explanation for these attacks?” asked Qui-Gon.

“They won’t even respond when we attempt to communicate with them, and when we sent envoys to meet with them they refused to even let them in their city,” said Palpatine.

“Curious,” said Qui-Gon, giving Palpatine a long look. “Clearly there is something else going on here and I must get to the bottom of it.”

“I’m hopeful that you can,” replied Palpatine. “It would be a shame if we were left with no option but to retaliate in force, however I cannot allow my people to continue to suffer from these attacks.”

“I’m sure we can find a peaceful resolution before we need to resort to a military solution,” said Qui-Gon.

“Oh, I have complete faith in your abilities, master Jedi, but it’s difficult to negotiate with those who refuse to even communicate,” said Palpatine.

A voice over the intercom informed Palpatine that he had an urgent communication from Naboo, and he left Qui-Gon alone in the passenger compartment. When he returned, he had a stricken look on his face.

“I’m afraid there has been another attack,” said Palpatine. “The beautiful city of Ferentina has been all but destroyed, and several members of the Royal Naboo Security Force were killed along with most of the inhabitants of the city. We will be landing there as soon as we get to Naboo.”

________________________

Landing at Ferentina proved to be more difficult than expected, as just about all that was left of the riverside city was smoking remains. They set down next to what had once been a security hangar but was now little more than a smoldering shell.

“The attack seems to have come from the river,” reported Quarsh Panaka, captain of the Royal Naboo Security Force. “There were clearly a lot of explosives involved, but there were also some Lerraas firing canons and there was a dead cerraborre found in the wreckage.”

“It seems you got here just in time, master Jedi,” said Palpatine, nodding at Qui-Gon Jin. “This is the worst attack we’ve seen, and we simply aren’t equipped to defend against this kind of thing. Maybe you can talk some sense into the Gungans.”

__________________________

Standing on the shore of Lake Paonga, where Palpatine had told him to begin the process of trying to contact the Gungans, Qui-Gon inserted his A99 aquata breather and waded into the water. He had been to Otoh Gunga once before, as part of the delegation that helped establish human colonies on Naboo, but many years had passed and a different boss was in charge now. Not much was known about Boss Rugor Nass, other than the fact that he was notoriously stubborn. 

“Here goes nothing,” Qui-Gon mumbled to himself as he dove into the water.

Of all the places Qui-Gon’s adventures had taken him, few were as breathtaking as Otoh Gunga. Perched on the edge of a massive underwater cliff, Otoh Gunga was comprised of dozens of hydrostatic bubbles, specially designed to keep water out while allowing Gungans to pass through. Lit from within, they positively glowed in the darkness of their underwater surroundings.

If only the city’s inhabitants were as warm and welcoming as the city itself appeared to be.

Qui-Gon made his way to the city’s main entrance porthole and settled on the entrance pad. He attempted to step through the bubbled entrance, but though it appeared clear it was completely solid and would not permit entry. A Gungan guard just inside the door appeared not to notice him, though Qui-Gon was sure the sentry had seen him as he swam down. Qui-Gon knocked on the outer bubble protecting the portal, but the Gungan sentry continued to ignore him.

Seeing no other option, Qui-Gon reached out with the Force and created an opening in the doorway shielding just wide enough for him to step into the entranceway. His suspicion that the sentry had seen him was immediately confirmed, as the tall, green-skinned Gungan immediately advanced upon him brandishing his electropole.

“Yousa are not welcome here,” said the sentry, pointing the electrified tip of his weapon in Qui-Gon’s face. “Go back where yousa came from and do not return.”

“It is vitally important that I speak with Boss Nass,” said Qui-Gon, noticing that a line of Gungan security forces were running in their direction. 

“Hesa no want to talk to you, or to anyone else from the surface,” said the sentry firmly. “Yousa go back or yousa suffer the consequences.”

A dozen or so troops were now forming a semicircle around Qui-Gon with weapons raised and more were coming from other parts of the city to join.

Qui-Gon briefly considered whipping out his lightsaber and shaving off the lethal ends of the Gungan weapons with one quick stroke, but knew that would only enrage them and get him no closer to a meeting with the Boss he came to see.

“Look, there have been some attacks on the surface and they’re being blamed on your people,” Qui-Gon attempted to explain. “I’m here to …”

“Wesa don’t care why yousa are here,” the sentry interrupted, pushing the tip of his weapon close enough to shave Qui-Gon’s nosehair. “This is yousa last warning.”

Shrugging his shoulders and taking one last look around at the growing number of Gungan security guards surrounding him, Qui-Gon replaced his breather and backed out of the hatch, again using the Force to clear his way through the security shield. Once outside, he stood for a moment, looking at the alerted Gungan security force, which maintained its aggressive stance even though he was now back outside. Blowing out a breath of air in a mixture of disgust and frustration, Qui-Gon jumped upward and swam quickly for the surface.

Emerging from the water, Qui-Gon seated himself on a boulder to dry off a bit. Something wasn’t quite right, and he wasn’t sure exactly what it was. After emptying the water out of his second boot, he turned his head. Behind him there was something . . .wrong. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet, simultaneously drawing his lightsaber, as he noticed twin red blades shining at the edge of the woods nearby. 

“Relax, Jedi,” came a voice so low it almost sounded like a growl. “If I were here to kill you, you’d be dead.”

“Well, the Sith have always been big on presumptions,” replied Qui-Gon, who was angry with himself for not detecting his foe immediately. 

Darth Maul stepped out of the shadows and disengaged his double-bladed saberstaff. Qui-Gon had seen a Dathomirian before, but nonetheless he couldn’t help a slight shudder at the sight of the red and black face and horned skull of the Sith before him.

“Aren’t you tired of being the Jedi Council’s errand boy?” asked Maul. “It seems a little bit beneath someone of your talent and abilities.”

“I don’t find averting a war to be a mere errand, rather quite an important mission,” said Qui-Gon. “And you are?”

“How rude of me,” answered Maul. “My name is Darth Maul, and I have been sent here on a very special mission, indeed.”

“How are you involved in this affair between the Gungans and the Naboo?” asked Qui-Gon.

Maul laughed a mirthless laugh.

“I couldn’t care less about these people and their petty bickering,” said Maul. “I came here with a message for you.” 

“Don’t tell me Sidious still has his mind set on recruiting me,” Qui-Gon stated more than asked. “Even if I agreed, wouldn’t my first task be to kill you?  The Sith Order is usually quite small, as in one master and one apprentice, unless something has changed.”

“Master Sidious has some changes in mind, yes,” Maul responded, “starting with expanding the Order, as well as its influence across the galaxy. We are going to need some allies with vision, and you have demonstrated such vision time and again. You don’t agree with the Jedi Council and their view of The Force. Why don’t you embrace the Dark Side and all of the power it unlocks?”

“I do embrace all aspects of The Force,” replied Qui-Gon. “What I don’t embrace is using The Force as a weapon with which to dominate and enslave others, as the Sith Order has always been preoccupied with doing. The Force can be perverted for deadly and corrupt purposes, but the true nature of The Force is peace, inner strength, harmony with all living things. I may not agree with the Council on everything, and they may not share my vision of The Force – yet – but I believe in time they will. When that time comes, The Force will transform the galaxy into a place where fighting is no longer seen as a solution. Peaceful co-existence will be the predominant way of life for all civilized systems.”

“It is unfortunate that you feel that way,” stated Maul, flatly.

“No, it is unfortunate that you don’t, that your vision is so limited” replied Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon unconsciously felt for his lightsaber with the tips of his finger, anticipating a fight. A splash from behind him diverted his attention for a millisecond, and when he returned his focus to the mysterious Sith, he was gone. Maul had simply vanished.

For a moment Qui-Gon considered giving chase, tracking down the Sith threat and disposing of it before it could do any damage . . .or any more damage, perhaps. But he thought better of it. His mission was to contact the Gungans, and he needed to report back the results of that mission.

___________________

Darth Maul’s image flickered to life on a comm panel in Senator Palpatine’s private chambers in the Naboo capital city of Theed. 

“I presume master Qui-Gon will need a little more convincing?” Palpatine asked, guessing his apprentice’s news.

“I don’t believe he will turn,” confirmed Maul. “Why not let me finish him now? Better to get him out of the way.”

“No,” Palpatine said softly. “That would just bring an army of Jedi to Naboo, and we don’t need that kind of attention here now. I trust he had no luck contacting the Gungans?”

“It wasn’t my impression, sir,” replied Maul.

“Good,” said Palpatine. “I want you to proceed to Kamino, as planned, and make sure we get the army we need.”

“As you wish, Master,” said Maul, whose image then blinked off.

Palpatine pressed a series of buttons on the comm unit and another image flickered to life where Maul’s had been moments before. This figure was tall, with gray hair and a flowing black cape.

“I trust you are en route to Raxus Prime, Count Dooku?” Palpatine asked the new image.

“I am already here, Master,” replied Dooku. “Everything has proceeded as planned?” 

“Chancellor Valorum will be contacting the shipyards soon to authorize the construction of a small fleet for our new peacekeeping force,” confirmed Palpatine. “You know what you have to do.”

“Yes,” said Dooku. “The word ‘small’ can have so many different meanings.”

“Indeed it can,” said Palpatine. He switched off the comm unit as a chime sounded indicating someone was waiting to see him. He strode out of his private chambers to find Qui-Gon waiting.

“Ah, master Jedi, I hope you were able to reach our underwater friends,” he said, extending a hand of greeting.

“I’m afraid I didn’t have any more luck than you have,” replied Qui-Gon. “They didn’t let me beyond the front door.”

“Well, that’s closer than we’ve been in years, so don’t feel bad,” replied Palpatine. “Now you know why I came to the Senate with an appeal for military support. My people are at constant risk of attack, and our attackers won’t communicate in any way.”

“We still don’t know for sure that the Gungans are behind the attacks, but establishing a defense force is a wise precaution no matter who the attackers are,” agreed Qui-Gon. “I’ll make my report to the Council on my way back to Coruscant and they can inform the Senate.”

“Thank you, master Jedi,” replied Palpatine. “I’m sorry you wasted a trip, but we do appreciate your time. My royal cruiser is waiting and will take you back to Coruscant at your convenience.”

“Thank you, Senator,” replied Qui-Gon, bowing slightly before heading for the hangar bay.

Chapter Twelve

Master Yoda was present and presiding over the Jedi Council when Qui-Gon returned to Coruscant to make his report about the situation on Naboo. Mace Windu, Yaddle, Ki-Adi-Mundi, Eeth Kloth and Yareal Poof were also physically present, while Depa Billba, Saesee Tiin, Kit Fisto and Agen Kolar were all present holographically.

“Welcome back, Qui-Gon,” said Mace Windu. “I take it the situation on Naboo is desperate, since you insisted on delivering your report in person and to a full assembly.”

“I’m afraid the situation is much worse than we could have imagined,” said Qui-Gon. “While I was on Naboo I encountered a new Dark Lord of the Sith, and he informed me that Darth Sidious is preparing a Sith uprising and an expansion of the Sith Order.”

“Behind the Naboo attacks, are they?” asked Yoda.

“It was not my impression, but it’s impossible to say for certain,” replied Qui-Gon. “The Gungans were hostile and refused to communicate with me, but I also think that the source of the attacks is irrelevant for now. The Naboo need defense forces, and I recommend proceeding with the Kamino plan.”

“Agree with you, the council does,” said Yoda, noting the nods of consent among his circle of colleagues. “Now, proceed with the Sith threat, we must.”

“The only lead we have at present is that this new Dark Lord of the Sith is named Darth Maul, and he is a native of Dathomir. I suppose we could start there, but now that he has revealed himself it seems unlikely that his home planet will yield any clues.”

“The Sith certainly have an intense interest in you, Qui-Gon,” observed Ki-Adi-Mundi. “Perhaps we could use that to our advantage?”

“Hmmmm. Interesting suggestion, that is,” agreed Yoda. “Spy on them, you could.”

“That wouldn’t be my first choice,” said Qui-Gon, “but if we feel that it’s in the best interest of the Order, I will attempt to do so if I am approached again.”

“The next time the contact you, and I am confident there will be a next time, why don’t you get a sense of what their plan might be,” suggested Mace Windu.

“Agreed,” said Yoda. “An important advantage that might give us.”

“As you wish, Masters,” said Qui-Gon, who then bowed slightly, turned and left the chamber.

__________________

“If I didn’t know better, I would think you were trying to replace me with a pipsqueak,” said Agen Kolar, who had just finished running his team through a grueling exercise involving a joint attack against both outer rim smugglers and bounty hunters. It started as a fairly simple dispute settlement drill, but things quickly got out of hand, as they often do when dealing with such groups.

“Replace you? Never!” replied Shaptives. “Push you a little, sure, but never replace you. How’s the kid doing, anyway?”

“As if you haven’t been monitoring his progress!” said Kolar, laughing. “He’s incredible! I’ve never seen anything like him. “It took him a little while to figure out the new ships and their controls, but he’s one hell of an instinctive pilot. I think he’s holding back a little bit because he was attracting some unwanted attention from the older kids, but I think Anakin will be the best pilot to ever come out of our program when all is said and done.”

“Good,” said Shaptives, turning serious. “Now I want you to really test him.”

“Not sure what you mean,” said Kolar. “I’ve been putting him through the same tests as everyone else and he’s performed as well or better than our most veteran students.”

“No, you said yourself he’s holding back because he’s worried about how the older students will treat him once they see how much better he is,” said Shaptives. “We need to see how they will treat him and how he responds to it. Naturally there will be some jealousy, even among the best, most focused Jedi, and the ensuing interactions could prove to be better training tools than anything we have intentionally designed.” 

“Ok, Shappy, but be careful what you wish for,” cautioned Kolar.

“We’ve got to know how these kids will respond under pressure,” Shaptives explained. “We have to see how they might be at their worst and use those teachable moments. We never know when they might be called into service.”

“Is something going on that I’m not aware of?” asked Kolar.

“Nothing imminent,” explained Shaptives, “but we’ve heard that the Sith are on the move. Better to be safe than sorry.”

“Very well,” acknowledged Kolar. “I’ll ramp things up a bit and see how they respond.”

________________

Kolar strode briskly into the simulation room, his young charges all in position and waiting for orders.

“OK, class, for the last two weeks we’ve been studying Sith tactics,” stated Kolar. “Now you’re going to get an opportunity to see how well you’ve been paying attention. And this time I won’t be leading you. Young Master Skywalker will have the honors.”

There was a collective gasp from the class and Tarrous Nagana shouted “what?!?” as Kolar hit the button that would start the simulation and all of the simulator cockpits slid shut. But all of the commotion caused by Kolar’s last-minute announcement was silenced as a giant Sith dreadnaught came out of hyperspace just ahead of the Jedi squadron’s position. 

“Here we go,” said Anakin as a flood of blade-class starfighters flooded out of the dreadnaught’s hangar. 

“What the heck is that?” asked Javis Rylan.

“Unless I miss my guess, our friend Kolar has resurrected a ghost for today’s exercise,” said Anakin. “This is a Sith dreadnaught named The Omen, which was actually destroyed centuries ago, but should prove an interesting challenge for us today.”

“How do you know that?” asked Tarrous Nagana.

“Did you bring back Yaru Korsin to command her, too?” asked Anakin, ignoring the question. Rather than waiting for Kolar to answer his question, Anakin started barking out orders.

“Attack pattern Delta,” he commanded, sounding like a seasoned veteran. “Those fighters are killers, but they have little shielding. Hit them before they can get  a vector on us and we’re in the clear. First we take out those fighters then we circle back and target the bridge of that dreadnaught.”

Anakin’s team just as he said, and in a matter of moments the fighters were all reduced to so much stardust.

“Ok, now let’s angle around and hit the bridge,” ordered Anakin. “That’s the control center for the ship. We take that out and the ship is dead in space.”

The Jedi squadron swung around the rear of the massive Omen, but when they cleared that back of the ship they were met with a surprise.

“Where did that come from?” asked several Jedi all at once.

“Wait, there are two of them?” asked several others.

“Focus, team,” said Anakin. “That’s The Harbinger, the sister ship of The Omen. She has the same blade-class starfighters and they’ll be launching at us any second. Agen, we’re going to divide and conquer. You take Red Wing and take care of the fighters that are undoubtedly launching now. Blue Wing, stay with me and let’s take out that tower and then we will re-join Red Wing and assist.”

The Jedi squadron split in two, with ten continuing on their assault path towards the bridge tower of The Omen and the other ten changing course and heading for The Harbinger.

Within moments the bridge of The Omen was in flames and the ship began to list out of control. 

“Nice work, Blue Wing,” said Agen Kolar, “but we’re getting our butts kicked over here.”

“On our way,” said Anakin. “Blue Wing, form up and take out those fighters first. Let’s use The Omen as a shield for as long as possible; if we approach from under the belly of the bigger ship they won’t see us coming.”

Emerging from the underside of The Omen, Blue Wing came right below the squadron of starfighters attacking Red Wing, which was down to just five fighters. They took out most of them with their first attack, then re-formed with Red Wing to wipe out the rest. 

“Red Wing, would you like to do the honors?” asked Anakin.

“Absolutely!” replied Agen Kolar. “Red Wing, let’s go hit that tower!”

_________________

“You went easy on him,” said Kolar, half accusingly. “In a real attack those dreadnaughts would have used their mounted cannons to rip us to shreds.”

“Perhaps,” said Shaptives, smiling, “but I wanted to test his ability to come up with a strategy and then adjust it on the fly. We already know he can fly rings around the rest of the class, but great individual skill is far different from being a great leader, as you know all too well.”

“Well, he did far better than I expected, I’ll give you that,” admitted Kolar. “Honestly, though, I have concerns about his ability to command effectively.”

“Why so?” asked Shaptives.

“He hasn’t developed friendships among his classmates, and friendships are essential when it comes to establishing trust and loyalty,” explained Kolar. “The team followed him today because it was a surprise and they had no time to think about it. I’m not entirely sure they would follow him consistently, and elevating him to command status so quickly might even foster resentment.”

“I understand, and of course you’re right,” confirmed Shaptives. “I don’t plan to hand over command to Anakin, but I was interested to see how he would handle that kind of challenge. The real challenge, though, is yet to come. We put him command well ahead of schedule. I want to see how he handles the backlash.”

“The backlash, sir?”

“Certainly,” said Shaptives, matter-of-factly. “Look, these may be young Jedi, but they are still kids. They will still resent Anakin being elevated to command so quickly, even for just one exercise.”

“There’s always a method to your madness, isn’t there?” asked Kolar, smiling wryly.

“Absolutely.”

Chapter Thirteen

Javis Rylan was not the biggest of the Jedi younglings training for the Jedi starfighter corps, but he was the oldest. The eleven-year-old Rodian wasted little time stirring up trouble after little Anakin Skywalker was given a command mission well ahead of schedule.

“They wanted to teach him a lesson, so let’s teach him a lesson,” Rylan was telling a gathering of young starfighters in the mess hall immediately after their training mission.

“I think you’re letting your ego make you angry, and you know anger leads to the Dark Side,” cautioned Emmal Poodge, a female humanoid.

“Look, we’re all told when we join up that leadership is a privilege that must be earned,” countered Rylan. “Skywalker hasn’t earned anything, no matter who his father was. I think we should teach him a lesson. We won’t hurt him, just let him know that leadership comes with a price. A valuable lesson, no?”

There were enough murmurs of assent that Rylan felt empowered to make his move when Anakin came in a few moments later.

“So, Skywalker, you think you’re ready for the pressures of command?” asked Rylan, his gathering of fellow younglings circling up around Anakin.

“Pretty brave, aren’t you?” asked Anakin, looking at the faces now surrounding him. “Planning to attack a trainee half your size with only a dozen helpers? I thought we were all on the same team here.”

“Every team needs proven leaders,” answered Rylan, taking a step closer so he was towering over Anakin. “You were pretty good behind controls of a starship when you were heavily outgunned. How are you in  . . .per . . .”

A choking sound emitted from Rylan’s throat and his hands shot up to his neck. He seemed to be pulling at the collar of his uniform, as if it had suddenly tightened.

“You don’t seem to have much faith in our leaders, questioning their decisions like this, and I find that to be a little bit disturbing” said Anakin, calmly. “But then, green is the color of envy. Maybe you would look better blue?”

The skin on Rylan’s face had definitely taken on a blueish tinge as the taller boy dropped to a knee, gasping for air. Just then, Obi-Wan Kenobi burst through the door, Shaptives running to keep up. Upon seeing the former, Anakin released Rylan and ran for Obi-Wan.

“UNCLE BEN!!!” screamed Anakin, jumping into Obi-Wan’s arms when he reached the two adults. Shaptives was a little taken aback to see Anakin, who was always extremely composed, to actually behave like a kid.

When Anakin eventually pulled away from Obi-wan there were tears streaming down his face.

“Hey, now, Ani, what’s wrong?” asked Obi-Wan.

“They were bullying me,” sniffed Anakin. “Just because I’m better at everything . . .they do it all the time. They do it in big ways and small ways, but they’re always mean to me.”

“Let’s take a walk, Anakin,” said Obi-Wan. Motioning for Shaptives to stay with his young charges, Obi-Wan lead Anakin out of the room.

“I’ve made a decision,” Obi-Wan continued as the two walked down a long hallway made mostly of glass. Anakin, as always, was immediately captivated by the ships of all shapes and sizes as they danced in the complicated, yet somehow elegant, Coruscant traffic patterns.

“I’m going to start doing some private tutoring with you, like we used to do on Tatooine,” said Obi-Wan.

“You mean I’m not going to train with my classes any more?” Anakin asked, almost hopefully, drying the last remnants of his tears on the sleeve of his tunic.

“No, it’s very important for you to continue training with your peers,” answered Obi-Wan. “But you and I are going to work on . . .other skills. I’ve consulted with Qui-Gon and Master Yoda, and they agree with me. It’s important for you to work on all of your abilities, not just those approved by the Jedi Council’s curriculum, and you need to do it in a safe environment.”

“By ‘safe’ you mean I’m a danger to the other students when I use Dark powers,” observed Anakin.

“That’s part of it,” admitted Obi-Wan, “but it’s more important that we give you an outlet to experiment with powers that can only be controlled if practiced. We can’t have you torturing other students with your powers, but it is important that you explore them and learn to keep them in check.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt Rylan, I was just afraid he was going to hurt me,” said Anakin.

“Of course,” acknowledged Obi-Wan, “and fear leads to the Dark Side, right?”

“Wait a minute,” Anakin said, turning to look at his friend and mentor. “I thought we didn’t believe in sides of the Force.”

“Ani, one of the most important things I’ve learned in my years here it’s that truth is based very much on one’s point of view,” explained Obi-Wan.

“Run that by me again,” said Anakin, raising his eyebrows.

“Each of us has a kind of personal truth, a way of looking at the world that is unique to us based on our experiences. For example, when I say the word ‘home,’ you think of a moisture farm and sand in your shoes. Someone from Coruscant thinks about steel, buildings that reach to the sky, and can’t imagine the open plains of Tatooine. ‘Home’ is relative based on the experiences of the person imagining the word.”

“So, by extension this could apply to the Force, as well,” said Anakin, pondering the idea.

“It applies to everything!” answered Obi-Wan. “There are few things that are absolutely true for everyone. We send children to school to teach them the accepted truths of a society, but even those truths are mostly based on an set of parameters that the leaders of the society have created. The Jedi Council sets an agenda for the students here, but even that agenda is basically just the result of years of debates and compromises by the Jedi Masters of old.”

“So when Qui-Gon talks about the Force without different sides, this is what he means,” Anakin stated more than asked.

“Exactly!” said Obi-Wan. “That choke hold you so skillfully used back there is considered to be from the Dark Side of the Force because it is used in conjunction with fear or anger, and the Jedi society has decided that these are undesirable. We are the galaxy’s peacekeepers, and as such we seek to live what we preach. You can’t really be a peacekeeper if you go around beating your enemies into submission with your superior powers. When you rule by force you inspire revolution and rebellion.”

Anakin turned back to the window and pondered this for a long moment.

“So what you’re saying is, when I’m with my classmates I need to pretend that I can’t use Dark powers, and go along with the . . .program,” said Anakin, finally. “Then, when you and I are working in private, we can work on other things.”

“It has to be this way,” explained Obi-Wan. “If the others see you as a threat they will target you more and more, and that can actually lead you to resent them and even hate them. In their eyes, that would be you turning to the Dark Side.”

“Truth is perspective, huh?” said Anakin in answer. “I think I can go along with that.”

Just as Obi-Wan was putting his arm around Anakin to lead him back to his barracks, Qui-Gon Jinn came rushing around a corner at the far end of the hallway.

“Wait up, Ben,” he called, stopping Obi-Wan and Anakin in their tracks. “Everything OK, Ani?” he asked when he caught up to the pair and noticed Anakin’s red face.

“I think so, thanks,” replied Anakin.

“Good,” said Qui-Gon. “How would the two of you like to get off planet for a while?”

“Are you sure you want Ani to miss class time?” asked Ben.

“It won’t be long, and Shaptives says the rest of Ani’s class could use some time to catch up,” answered Qui-Gon, grinning and nudging Anakin in the ribs.

“Sounds good, then,” replied Obi-Wan. “What’s the mission?”

“We’re heading to Kamino to check on an army of clones that Senator Palpatine has requested to help with his troubles on Naboo,” answered Qui-Gon, ushering his friends in the direction of the main hangar bay. “We have a shuttle waiting. Once we’ve seen that the operation is running smoothly, we’ll come right back to report to the Council.”

“Why do they want us to go personally?” asked Obi-Wan. “Don’t they trust Palpatine?”

“I think with this new Sith presence the Council is just being extra careful,” explained Qui-Gon. “Besides, I thought it would be a great chance for Anakin to see a planet that’s completely different from where he grew up. Kamino’s oceanic surface is really something to see, even if you didn’t grow up on a sand-covered rock.”

“You mean the whole planet is covered in water?” asked Anakin, his eyes widening. “I can’t wait to see that!” 

As Anakin raced ahead, Obi-Wan lowered his voice and moved closer to Qui-Gon.

“What’s the real story?” asked Obi-Wan.

“It’s probably nothing, but something about this situation on Naboo just doesn’t feel right,” replied Qui-Gon. “I’m going to be keeping a close eye on Palpatine and how he proceeds. We certainly don’t want to start a war.”

Anakin was at the top of the entrance ramp, smiling broadly when the two elder Jedi arrived at the T-6 shuttle.

“Any chance I can drive?” he asked, innocently. 

Chapter Fourteen  

“Sir, there is a Jedi shuttlecraft approaching the planet,” the shimmering image of Darth Maul told Senator Palpatine through a Kaminoan comm panel. “Shall I intercept?”

“No,” replied Palpatine flatly. “It is as I have foreseen. The Jedi have sent Qui-Gon Jinn to check on our progress.”

“But if he lands he will see how many clones we’ve ordered, and that might lead him to discover the fleet that’s inbound,” said Maul.

“Yes, my friend. I know,” replied Palpatine. “We will allow Qui-Gon to land, and I will greet him on his landing platform. You will meet us at the cloning facility and together we will show him the clone army we have requisitioned and reveal the basics of our plan. If he still refuses to join us, you will kill him.”

“What if he’s not alone?” asked Maul.

“The Council sent him alone, but I trust you can deal with any unforeseen eventualities,” said Palpatine.

“I certainly can,” replied Maul. 

____________________

“This is incredible,” remarked Anakin in an awed voice as he took in the oceanic surface of Kamino through the front viewport of the T6 shuttlecraft. “I’ve never seen so much water in one place!”

“I thought you’d be impressed,” replied Qui-Gon, smiling. 

“So we’re just going to inspect the clones and then head back to Coruscant, or is there something else on our agenda here?” asked Obi-Wan.

“Not ‘we,’” answered Qui-Gon. “I’m going to inspect the clones and the two of you are going to stay with the ship. If anyone asks, you weren’t here. It’s a little secret between us and Shappy.”

Qui-Gon set the ship down on the platform designated by the Kaminoan landing crew, and as he disembarked from the shuttle a door in the complex opened as Senator Palpatine and a pair of Kaminoans came out to meet him.

“Welcome, Master Jedi,” said Palpatine, smiling broadly and grasping Qui-Gon’s hand. “I think you’ll find we are ahead of schedule and you’ll be pleased with the results.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” answered Qui-Gon. “I hope they won’t be necessary, but even their presence might be enough to stop the attacks on your people.”

Palpatine lead Qui-Gon down a long, sterile-looking hallway, and after rounding a couple of corners Qui-Gon noticed that their Kaminoan escort was gone. He also felt a tremor in the Force . . .”

“Wait a moment, Senator, I suddenly have a feeling that we’re not safe,” warned Qui-Gon, simultaneously withdrawing his lightsaber from the folds of his Jedi robes.

“Oh, I certainly hope you won’t be needing that, Master Jedi,” said Palpatine. 

When they reached the end of the hallway, the door opened and they entered the spacious cloning facility. It took Qui-Gon a moment, but he soon noticed the familiar form of Darth Maul standing near the central control panel.

“Senator, get behind me,” cautioned Qui-Gon. “I’ll protect you.”

“I sincerely hope no one is need of protection,” said Maul. 

“It is our hope, Master Jedi, that once we explain our plan to you, you will finally see fit to join us,” added Palpatine.

Qui-Gon turned to face Palpatine, stunned at what the Nubian senator has just said.

“‘We?’” he echoed. A dawning crossed his face. “Ahhhh. It all makes sense now.”

“Good,” replied Palpatine. “But I don’t think you really understand the situation just yet. You see, we have cloned enough troops and manufactured enough ships to effectively overthrow Chancellor Valorum and take control of the Senate. Once we’ve done that, we will establish a new order to rule over the galaxy. A Sith order.”

“You’re delusional,” said Qui-Gon, raising his lightsaber. “The Jedi Order will never allow you to overthrow the Senate, and even if you did the core systems would never accept Sith rule.”

“Ahh, my dear friend, you underestimate the depth and breadth of our preparations,” replied Palpatine. “The military force we’re assembling here is the final step in a plan we’ve been preparing for years. The senators from the core systems will tell their people to fall in line when they see the alternative. No system will dare challenge us now that we have the strongest military force in the galaxy.”

Palpatine nodded to Maul, who touched a button that opened an enormous chamber adjacent to the cloning facility. Inside Qui-Gon could see thousands upon thousands of armor-clad soldiers all standing in rows of military precision. Next Maul activated a viewscreen that showed a massive formation of dreadnaught class war ships en route to Kamino.

“You see, Master Jedi, our plan is already in place,” Palpatine continued. “Once our military is in orbit over Coruscant and our troops seize the capital, there will be very little resistance.”

“The only question, Qui-Gon,” added Maul, “is whether you’re with us or against us.”

“So you’re showing me this as a last-ditch effort to get me to join you,” replied Qui-Gon.

“You could make your Jedi Council see the opportunity here,” replied Palpatine. “You can make them understand that opposing our takeover will only result in needless deaths. They can join us and  . . .”

“I’ve heard enough,” interrupted Qui-Gon. “There is no way the Jedi Order will stand by and let you stage a coup d’etat, and they certainly won’t join you or help you in any way.”

Qui-Gon’s back was to Darth Maul, but he was very much on alert as Maul removed his own lightsaber from his belt. 

“You make me sad, Master Jedi,” said Palpatine. “I truly thought that your insight into the true nature of the Force would lead you to see our point of view.”

“Like my Jedi friends, you only want to embrace one side of the Force,” said Qui-Gon, raising his unlit lightsaber into a defensive position. “And if I have to choose just one side or the other, I will always choose what they call the ‘good side.’”

 “Pity,” said Palpatine, and from behind him Qui-Gon heard the dual snap-hiss of Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber. Still, he sensed the greater danger was from Palpatine, so he was reluctant to turn and face the senator.

“So you were the Sith lord all along, and used your stooge here to stage the assault on your people,” Qui-Gon said, motioning to Maul and trying to buy some time. “You knew the Gungans wouldn’t talk to me, even to deny your accusations against them.”

“I’m afraid the time for talk has ended,” stated Palpatine, flatly, sounding almost disappointed.

Maul leaped toward Qui-Gon, twin blades whirling so fast they looked like a murderous buzzsaw. Qui-Gon ignited his own saber and parried the incoming flurry of blows from Maul, then kicked him hard in the chest and sent him flying across the room, his lightsaber disengaging and clattering noisily against a nearby wall. 

“I’m sorry, did you need something?” asked Qui-Gon, simultaneously noticing that Palpatine had vanished. 

Maul quickly regained his footing, his lightsaber leaping into his hand as he did. He immediately re-ignited it and once again advanced on Qui-Gon, though a bit more cautiously.

“That was an impressive leap, my friend, but you really must be mindful of your surroundings,” said Qui-Gon. “The floor seemed to just reach right up and grab you.”

In response Maul once again launched an aggressive attack on Qui-Gon, his lightsaber flashing and flying in an impressive spectacle of swordsmanship. Again, Qui-Gon parried his blows, taking a primarily defensive approach as he felt out his over-anxious opponent. 

“It’s not quite like fighting rancors, is it?” Qui-Gon said, giving Maul a verbal jab. “Or killing unarmed women and children with a bomb.”

Maul growled in response and threw himself at Qui-Gon, who once again evaded and landed a kick in the middle of Maul’s back that sent him sprawling across the room and again separated him from his lightsaber.

Qui-Gon picked up Maul’s weapon as the latter got his bearings and re-oriented on his Jedi opponent. 

“You should really hang onto this,” said Qui-Gon, pretending to admire the lightsaber. 

A split second too late Qui-Gon became aware of movement from behind, and turned just in time to get hit in the face with a large metal container that Maul had hurled at him using the Force. Qui-Gon didn’t drop his own lightsaber, but did surrender Maul’s as he put up his hand to protect his face. Moments later Maul was nearly on top of him, both blades slicing through the air.

“You have a quick tongue, Master Jedi,” said Maul. “Perhaps I’ll slice it out of your mouth.”

Maul brought one of his red blades down to the spot where Qui-Gon’s head had been a millisecond before, but Qui-Gon had used the Force to pull himself out from under his enemy just in the nick of time.

“It’s not just my tongue,” quipped Qui-Gon, who was now behind Maul. “The rest of me is pretty quick, as well.”

Maul brought his lightsaber around quickly, just as Qui-Gon brought his down for what could have been a decisive blow. Instead of severing Maul’s head from his shoulders it split the Sith Lord’s lightsaber in half, reducing him to a single blade.

Maul did a backwards flip that landed him back on his feet, some 30 yards away from Qui-Gon, as he prepared for another assault.

___________________________

Back on the landing platform, Obi-Wan was beginning to feel uneasy.

“There is definitely something wrong in there,” Obi-wan said to Anakin. “I feel the Dark Side, and Qui-Gon should have reported something by now.”

Before Anakin could respond, the entrance in front of them slid open, spilling the bright interior light into the pouring rain and darkness that surrounded the ship. Senator Palpatine appeared in the doorway and motioned for Obi-Wan to join him.

“It’s Senator Palpatine!” said Obi-Wan. “He wants me to come out there. Qui-Gon must have sent him, or he wouldn’t know I was here.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Anakin.

“No you’re not,” ordered Obi-Wan. “No one knows you’re with us and it’s going to stay that way. You are not to leave this ship no matter what. I’ll be back in a flash with Qui-Gon.”

Obi-Wan covered his eyes with the arm of his Jedi robe as he ran across the landing platform to where Palpatine awaited him.

“You must come quickly, Master Kenobi, Master Qui-Gon is in trouble!” said Palpatine, who seemed breathless and disheveled.

“What’s happened?!?” asked Obi-Wan.

“You must hurry,” said Palpatine, pointing Obi-Wan in the direction of the cloning facility where he had left Maul and Qui-Gon. “A Sith lord appeared and attacked us. Master Qui-Gon sent me to get you to help!”

The pair rushed towards to main cloning room, Obi-Wan at a full-on sprint, and as the door went up he oriented himself on the flashes of lightsaber blades that were coming from the far side of the vast chamber.

As Obi-Wan bounded over some stacks of metallic crates he saw Darth Maul and Qui-Gon standing toe-to-toe with their lightsabers locked together as debris and rubble flew around them in a hurricane of colliding clutter.

Suddenly Obi-Wan felt as if his body were exploding, enveloped by some kind of electrical energy. The scream had escaped his lips before he even knew it was coming. First hearing and then seeing his friend in trouble, Qui-Gon gave Maul a shove that sent him sprawling once again and leapt to Obi-Wan’s side. What he saw confused him for just a moment . . .Darth Sidious standing some 20 yards behind and below Obi-Wan, hands outstretched, lightning pouring out of them. When did he arrive? The split second it took him to make sense out of what he saw was just enough to let his enemy get the drop on him. Qui-Gon felt an excruciating burning sensation in his chest and looked down to see a red blade sticking out of his midsection.

The lightning stopped as quickly as it had started. Qui-Gon dropped to his knees as Obi-Wan flopped like a rag doll from the top of the stack of crates where he had been to the floor of the chamber. He stared up in disbelief as Maul retrieved his blade from the limp body of fallen Jedi master. 

“Now, deal with this one and let’s prepare the fleet for our surprise attack in the outer rim,” said a dark, hooded figure, motioning towards Obi-Wan, who was motionless on the floor.

As Darth Maul raised his lightsaber to finish Obi-Wan, the latter sprung to life and ignited his own lightsaber, slashing through his attacker’s arm, taking out the lightsaber with it. Concerned more about Anakin now than avenging Qui-Gon’s death, Obi-Wan lept up and dashed for the door.

Gritting his teeth to fight off the pain from his severed arm, Maul gave chase. 

“Seal off all outer doors,” Maul ordered into a handheld communicator. In response, a series of metal clamps could be heard slamming into place.

As Obi-Wan neared the landing platform where he hoped Anakin still waited aboard their ship, Obi-Wan reached out with the Force to try and open the now-locked door. As he did so an explosion rocked the hallway and a gaping hole appeared almost right in front of him. 

“Master Jedi,” said a breathless and almost hoarse voice at Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “I’m so glad you made it. We must alert the Senate and your Jedi Council!”

“Come with me, Senator!” yelled Obi-Wan, taking Palpatine by the arm. They ran right through hole and into the waiting ship. By the time he reached the cockpit Anakin was already lifting off.

“How did you know that we would need help getting out?” he asked Anakin, noticing immediately the tears streaming down his young friend’s face.

“Qui-Gon told me,” answered Anakin.

“Qui-Gon?!?” repeated Obi-Wan, stunned.

“No time to explain,” said Anakin. “We have to get out of here before Maul can mobilize his fleet against us.”

“His fleet??” asked Obi-Wan, somewhat bewildered.

As the T6 shuttlecraft sped out of Kamino’s atmosphere, Anakin gestured towards a fleet of ships so vast it filled the viewscreen for as far as the pair of Jedi could see. Anakin pointed the nose of their shuttle towards Coruscant and jumped to lightspeed. 

_______________

Darth Maul gingerly tested out his new arm while Count Dooku stared out an observation window as wave after wave of cloned stormtroopers boarded transports bound for their waiting warships.

“Our navy is nearly complete,” said Dooku. “Are you clear on the plan of attack?”

“Yes,” replied Maul. “Lord Sidious will lure the Republic fleet back here, where we will have an ambush waiting. From here we start with Nal Hutta, then branch off into two attack groups. The first group takes Kessel, Raxus and Dantooine, while the other takes Rodia, Naboo and Morja. That will cripple the Senate and give us strong footholds to begin phase two of our invasion.”

“Soon the Jedi will be wiped out, the Senate will be under our control, and our New Order will be in place,” said Dooku. “The Sith will bring true order to the galaxy and wipe the Jedi out of existence.”

“As Sidious has foreseen,” concurred Maul, who had heard this little speech more than a few times.

“Is your arm ready?” asked Dooku.

“Good as new,” said Maul. “The next time Obi-Wan crosses my path he won’t catch me by surprise, and it won’t go as well for him.”

“Good,” said Dukoo. “You learned a valuable lesson today. Now it’s time for you to do the teaching.”

Dukoo flipped open a control on the comm panel in front of him.

“Admiral Tarkin, are you prepared to receive us?” asked Sidious.

“Yes, Lord,” came the response over the comm. “The Devastator is an impressive command ship, and I think you’ll be pleased with your new fleet.”

“Come, Lord Maul,” beckoned Dukoo. “Our destiny awaits.”

_______________

As Anakin, Obi-Wan and Palpatine raced for Coruscant, the Sith duo of Darth Maul and Count Dooku took their places on the bridge of the Star Destroyer Devastator. As the newly completed clone army prepared a reign of terror that would surely shake the galaxy, the Jedi’s Chosen One wondered if the power of the Light Side of the Force would be strong enough to thwart the evil plan hatching in the shadow of the Dark Side.

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