A DIVISION IN THE FORCE
Decades of relative peace and tranquility,
presided over by the JEDI ORDER, have been
interrupted by an outbreak of unrest across the
A new SITH Lord, Darth Sidious, has been
gaining power, and is believed to be using
his influence to start a civil war. The SENATE
is split by arguing factions.
The JEDI Starfighter Corps has joined forces
with the REPUBLIC fleet to help combat a
Clone fleet that appears to be doing the bidding
of the SITH.
The Republic fleet has been dispatched to Naboo, where the Separatists’ Clone navy is attempting to conquer yet another system. Joining them is the elite Jedi Starfighter Corps, led by ace pilot and budding Jedi Anakin Skywalker. Now 18 years old, Anakin has become almost as famous as his father was. The Clone navy has already scored victories at Dantooine, Raxus, Kessel, Nal Hutta and Kamino, which is why the Jedi fighters have joined the cause in support of the Republic.
“The fleet is about to drop out of lightspeed,” the voice of Shaptives, mission commander, crackled in Anakin Skywalker’s ear. “Prepare to join Red Squadron in their assault on their flagship, the Devastator.”
“You ready, Ben?” asked Anakin, knowing his friend and mentor was preparing to lead an assault on the clone army on the surface.
“I’ll be fine,” came Obi-Wan Kenodi’s reply. “You just be sure you take out that communications tower on the first run. We don’t want any reinforcements making our job more difficult.”
“No problem, Master,” said Anakin. “It’s as good as blown.”
As the Republic fleet dropped out of lightspeed, the Jedi Starfighter Corps moved into position with Red Squadron and immediately started a run on the biggest ship in the Clone assault force.
“Try to keep up this time, Hotshot!”
Anakin turned to see a red-striped X-Wing settling in next to his own Stealth-X.
“We were just waiting for you, Vela,” quipped Anakin, smiling.
Vela Horada was the fastest-rising member of the Republic fighter corps, and had something of a rivalry forming with her Jedi counterpart.
“Cut the chatter and let’s go take down that star destroyer before we lose the element of surprise,” interrupted the voice of Shaptives over the intercom.
Moments later two lines of attack fighters began their initial assault on the Sith command ship.
“Sir, an attack force has just come out of lightspeed directly on our stern,” reported a bridge officer seated behind Darth Maul, Sith Lord and commander of the Devastator.
“Well, well, well,” replied Maul with a calm, coolness in his voice. “It will be nice to have some practice for our gunners. We have seen so little resistance thus far.” Turning to his tactical officer, he ordered: “Fire at will.”
“They have activated their turbo lasers, sir,” Vela reported.
“As expected; initiate evasive maneuver Shappy One,” ordered Shaptives.
Both the X-Wings and the Jedi starfighters began zigzagging in a complex pattern that kept them pushing forward towards the Devastator’s communications tower but also kept them out of direct range of the massive ship’s laser cannons.
Maul’s tactical officer, Commander Orson Krennic, hesitated a moment before reporting what he knew he must. The Sith Lord was not a patient man, nor was he in the least bit forgiving. He would not appreciate hearing what his tactician had to say.
“Sir . . .” he began.
“Well, what is it, Commander?” demanded Maul, clearly annoyed at being interrupted from his monitoring of the ground battle.
“The Republic force is evading our laser cannons. Request permission to launch TIE interceptors.”
“WHAT?!?” demanded Maul. “I didn’t want to waste those resources on a pitiful band of X-Wings.”
“Sir, there are Jedi fighters among them, as well,” answered Krennic.
“So much the better. Launch two TIE wings and dispatch with them,” ordered Maul.
As the Republic fighter attack force converged on the Devastator’s communications tower, all fighters opened fire and within seconds the tower exploded into a flurry of whirling embers that flared brilliantly and then winked out.
“Great job, team!” shouted Shaptives. “Now let’s head for the surface to add air support to our team on the ground.”
A comm light on Vela’s control panel lit up and she switched over to answer the call.
“Vela here,” she said.
“Stay on my wing,” came the voice on the other end. “We aren’t going to the surface just yet.”
“Anakin? Is that you?”
“Of course! You’re up for a little adventure aren’t you?”
“Not if it means getting myself or any of my teammates killed,” she answered suspiciously.
“Quite the opposite, really,” said Anakin. “We’re going to save a whole bunch of lives.”
“Anakin! Vela! Let’s go before they launch their TIE fighters and rip us to shreds,” Shappy ordered just as the two ships he was watching vanished off his screen completely.
“What are we doing?” asked Vela.
“Well, if we take out their launch bay there won’t be any TIE fighters to pursue us and we can take our time destroying this entire ship,” answered Anakin. “You have a new target on your screen, now let’s go hit it with every proton torpedo we’ve got!”
Before she could respond, Anakin pushed ahead and out of instinct she followed. The pair opened fire on the hangar bay that housed the century ship’s TIE squadrons just as it was opening to emit its cargo of fighters. The first row of TIE fighters exploded, setting off a chain reaction of additional exploding TIE fighters behind them and the subsequent spread of proton torpedoes from Anakin’s and Vela’s fighters blasted a gaping hole in the belly of the Devastator.
“What was that?!?” demanded Maul as the bridge of the Devastator rocked suddenly.
Gulping, the tactical commander attempted to interpret what his instruments showed, though he could scarcely believe what he was seeing.
“Sir, I’m afraid I was unable to launch the TIE fighter wings you requested.”
“Well . . .” began the commander, “ . . .it seems our launch bay has been destroyed, along with our entire complement of TIE fight . . .”
The commander’s last word was cut off as he began to gag. Maul, arm outstretched in the direction of the gasping commander, turned to his communications officer.
“You’ve just been promoted. I want weapons NOW.”
As his predecessor breathed his last breath, the communications officer swallowed hard and took his position at his new station.
“Sir,” came the voice of Agen Kolar, “I think we might want to double back.”
“Are you embracing suicide now?” asked Shappy.
“No, sir, but it appears the command ship is now completely defenseless.”
Shappy checked his readings.
“What just happened???”
“Two of our ships disappeared from radar for just a moment and the next thing I saw was a series of explosions aboard the command ship. Unless I miss my guess . . .”
“Hey, where are you guys going?” broke in the voice of Anakin. “The party’s just getting started over here!”
“Looks like they can’t handle the excitement,” added Vela.
“Yeah, I guess we’re going to have to polish off this nearly defenseless command ship all by ourselves,” Anakin answered.
“All fighters, we have a new target,” announced Shappy. “Concentrate all firepower on that command ship!”
“WELL?!?” shouted Maul, glaring at his new tactical officer.
“Sir, according to these readings . . .” the trembling man began, only to be interrupted by a blast that shook the entire bridge.
Maul turned suddenly, looking out of the viewport, which showed flames shooting out of his ship and atmosphere quickly venting into space. As he did so, the ship began to list towards the surface of the planet, clearly caught in its gravity well.
“All bridge crew get to your escape pods,” ordered Maul, motioning for Krennic to follow him. “IMMEDIATELY!”
Meanwhile, on the surface, the Sith’s clone army was faring better than its orbiting counterparts. The human capital city of Theed was completely under siege, and their lack of a military was hindering the Republic’s army in their attempt to protect the city.
“The clone troops have breached our defenses on both the east and west sides of the city,” reported Captain Panaka of the Naboo Royal Security Forces. “We just aren’t equipped to repel this kind of assault.”
“Don’t worry, Captain, I am certain our combined defenses will hold until our reinforcements arrive,” said Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was monitoring the situation with Panaka from the command center.
“I wish I shared your confidence,” said Senator Palpatine, who was striding into the room accompanied by his personal security force. “I thought the whole reason for being part of the Alliance was to protect us from this kind of threat.”
“With all due respect, Senator, your planet would already have fallen if it weren’t for the Alliance,” replied Obi-Wan.
“What the . . .?!?” exclaimed Panaka, who was no longer staring at his console and was instead staring out the nearby window.
“Hey Ben, you better look out for falling clones!” Anakin’s voice crackled over the intercom.
“We are pleased to report that the command ship is no longer a threat,” added Shaptives.
“You were saying, Senator?” Obi-Wan said, turning back to Palpatine.
Quickly turning his stricken look into a smile, Palpatine said, “It seems I underestimated you, Master Jedi.”
“Sir, there is still the matter of the ground troops,” said Panaka.
“Commander Shaptives,” Obi-Wan said into his communicator. “We could use a little help with the ground troops attacking the city.”
“Great! More target practice!” came the voice of Anakin.
“Bet I can ice more clone troopers than you,” interjected Vela.
“I think we can help solve your ground troop dilemma,” said Shaptives, stifling a laugh.
Sitting a hundred yards behind one of the battlefronts outside the eastern wall protecting the Naboo city of Theed, Sith lord Count Dooku stood aboard an enormous troop carrier from which he commanded wave upon wave of clones who were attacking the city. Next to Dooku stood a clone trooper bearing the red command insignia, who was monitoring troop movements and occasionally giving orders. After a flurry of messages came in all at once, the trooper turned to Dooku.
“We have breached the city from two sides, but we have lost communication with the command ship,” the commander reported to Dooku. “Our reinforcements are overdue.”
“Continue the assault, I will contact Lord Maul,” replied Dooku.
As Dooku removed the communicator from his belt he noticed a wave of incoming fighters, though of a slightly different configuration than he expected. These were not the TIE fighters he was expecting, but rather wave upon wave of Republic craft. Their first run took out more than half of the clone army that was attacking from the east, and he knew things were about to take a turn for the worse. Without so much as a word of warning to his clone commander, Dooku turned abruptly and headed briskly for his own shuttlecraft. As the door closed he turned just long enough to see the first wave of assault troops blown to bits by a wing of fighters led by an X-Wing and a Delta class fighter of unmistakable Jedi design.
“Get us out of here, now!” he ordered his pilot.
He didn’t need his communicator to know that Darth Sidious was both aware of the situation and seething with anger because of it. The Force made that crystal clear.
The clone attack on Naboo was a devastating failure, from the loss of their first command ship to the multitude of troops who lay dead around Theed. Much of the population of Theed turned out to thank their defenders as the Alliance fighters set down just outside the city. As the pilots began to climb down from their fighters, the assembled throng parted to allow Senator Palpatine’s delegation to pass through.
“I understand I have the two of you to thank for saving us from Sith subjugation,” said Senator Palpatine, now smiling broadly as he approached Anakin and Vela, who were walking side by side.
“That may be a slight exaggeration, Senator,” said Anakin, bowing his head slightly.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, Senator,” said Vela. “Anakin did some magic Jedi trick and the next thing we knew that command ship was out of commission.”
“Indeed, Master Anakin? It seems I will need to keep a closer eye on you,” said Palpatine.
“It takes a team, Senator, and there is certainly enough credit to go around today,” said Anakin, doing his best to keep his pride from showing.
“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet,” said Shappy, who had joined his star duo and nodded to Palpatine. “Still, I don’t like the precedent of breaking formation and wandering off on your own without at least giving me a heads up.”
“Understood, Sir,” Anakin said as he snapped a mock salute. “And you’re welcome,” he added, breaking into a grin.
“I gotta admit I didn’t think much of you at first,” said Anakin’s former academy rival Agen Kolar, who was on Shaptives’ heels. “But you probably saved our asses today. Nicely done, Ani.”
“Master Anakin, I wonder if I might have a word with you in private?” asked Palpatine.
“Of course, Senator,” Anakin responded, nodding to his friends as he allowed himself to be led away by Palpatine.
“I am very impressed by your performance today, my young friend,” Palpatine said when he and Anakin were out of earshot of the rest of the crew. “Without your bravery and your mastery of the Force, Naboo might now be under Sith control, and our people enslaved or subjected to unimaginable horrors.”
“Really, Senator, I can’t take credit for . . .”Anakin began before being cut off by Palpatine.
“You don’t need to feign humility now,” said the senator, smiling. “Not when it’s just us. Yes, your friends were helpful, but it was you who disabled that command ship. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of yourself or accepting due credit.”
“It’s not the Jedi way, sir, but I do appreciate your kind words,” replied Anakin.
“Anakin, I would like to do more than just thank you,” Palpatine continued. “This is just the latest of a series of attacks on our cities, and I am concerned that more may be coming. First it seemed the race we share this planet with was attacking us, now the Sith targets us in their quest for conquest. I feel like we need more than just the defensive force the Senate allowed us to requisition from the Kaminoans.”
“Well, if you want a bigger clone army I’m sure the Senate would be willing to consider your request,” said Anakin.
“No, that’s not it,” Palpatine answered quickly. “I don’t think we need any more clones wandering around the cities of Naboo. What I do think we need is a little more of an offensive mindset and perhaps a little more Jedi involvement.”
“Jedi oversight?” asked Anakin.
“Well, the Jedi are the peacekeepers of the Republic, right? Naboo has always been peaceful, but now we find ourselves at the center of conflict. I plan to ask the Jedi Council and the Senate for additional support, and I’m going to ask for you, specifically, unless you’re opposed to the idea,” Palpatine explained.
“Opposed? No, sir. I would consider it an honor, as long as Master Kenobi doesn’t object. I am not a master yet, and until I am I answer to him.”
“Not a master yet? I must say that surprises me!” said Palpatine. “Your performance today certainly looked like the work of a master.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure the Council will see fit to make me a master soon enough.”
As Palpatine continued to praise Anakin’s efforts and talk about the importance of Naboo to the future of the Republic, Anakin’s attention began to wander. Having been raised on a desert planet and then living on the endless cityscape of Coruscant, the idea of a nice, long-term assignment among the trees, waterways and breathtaking architecture of Naboo appealed to him. As he thought about that he caught the eye of the equally breathtaking Vela, who was still walking with Shappy some 20 yards away.
Yes, a nice long-term assignment on Naboo . . .with Vela . . .
And the daydream that followed did not escape the notice of the Sith Lord at Anakin’s side.
Three days later, back on Coruscant, a special session of the Senate was called to discuss the growing clone threat.
“The chair recognizes Senator Palpatine of Naboo,” announced Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum.
Palpatine’s levitating platform detached from the wall and began rising towards Valorum’s central position. As it did so, platforms from around the enormous senate chamber began to follow suit until Valorum was nearly surrounded by representatives from all of the systems that had been attacked and overrun by the clone army.
“I am here before you this morning representing not just myself, but also my fellow senators from the systems which have been tormented by this growing clone threat,” announced Palpatine. “We want to know why you are standing idly by while the galaxy is overrun by clone armies and their Sith puppeteers. Supply lines are being cut off, people are starving and basic commerce has been widely disrupted.”
The gathered representatives from Nal Hutta, Kessel, Raxus, Rodia and even a pair of representatives from the Trade Federation pumped their fists and shouted their agreement with Palpatine, but many of the other members of the Senate murmured and nodded, as well.
Valorum had been told this was coming and he was prepared for it.
“ORDER!” he shouted, banging his gavel. “I WILL HAVE ORDER IN THIS CHAMBER!”
Once the crowd quieted down, he continued.
“First of all, I would like to thank the representatives here for bringing this serious concern to our attention. As you know, we have taken great measures to counter the clone invasion. Senator Palpatine, you stand here yourself as evidence of the growing effectiveness of our counter invasion tactics. Even now, we are preparing an offensive force that will not only turn away the clone offensive, but also begin taking back the systems they have captured. My administration was, in fact, very busy with our military leaders planning this offensive when we were interrupted by your request for a meeting. Is there anything else I can help you with before I get back to that planning?”
Palpatine was taken aback by Valorum’s challenge, but rebounded quickly.
“That all sounds nice, Chancellor, but we are here to demand . . .” began Palpatine, who was promptly cut off by Valorum.
“YOU DEMAND NOTHING!” he shouted, staring around at Palpatine and his apparent coalition. “IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE TO MAKE DEMANDS!”
The only sound on the Senate floor now was the reverberating echo of Valorum’s voice.
“Now,” said Valorum after a few moments. “Is there anything else I can do for the sovereign system of Naboo before I return to our ongoing, urgent military planning session?”
Palpatine, now alone before Valorum, cleared his throat.
“I am pleased to hear that the wheels of bureaucracy are finally turning, but I still have my constituents to answer to,” said Palpatine. “We have been attacked a number of times and they want reassurance.”
“What kind of reassurance, Senator? We have a defense force stationed there and are preparing a massive military strike force that will assemble at Naboo and meet the enemy head-on. We feel confident they will be back in greater numbers to try and take your planet.”
“Will Master Skywalker and Lieutenant Horada be staying on Naboo, then? Our people see them as the national heroes.”
“Yes, Senator,” replied Valorum. “I understand the need for your people to feel secure, and I have already asked for Anakin and Captain Horada – she has been promoted – to remain on Naboo to prepare for the coming offensive.”
“Thank you, Chancellor.”
“Is there anything else?” Valorum asked, looking around the chamber.
“This meeting is adjourned!” he announced, his platform already returning to his private quarters.
Moments later, in the Nubian senatorial chambers, Palpatine and his loyalists gathered.
“You said he would cave!” shrieked the Rodian representative.
“You said he was weak!” added the Nal Hutta representative in Huttese.
“This was supposed to be his last . . .” began the Kessel representative . . .
“SILENCE!” snapped Palpatine. “I will not tolerate this bickering. I told you I would handle Valorum and I will handle him. Have you forgotten who allowed your systems to be taken? Have you forgotten who allowed your people to be enslaved by clones? All the while he sits, comfortable and safe in his ivory tower on Coruscant, far away from the fighting.”
“That’s fine for you to say,” interjected Rodian senator Onoconda Farr. “Your system has been saved twice. Ours are still enslaved and overrun by those despicable clones.”
“Trust me, my friend,” replied Palpatine with deadly calm. “By this time tomorrow you will understand the scope of my plan. For now, return to your people. Tell them Valorum has failed us and that we must prepare to stand together in opposition to this false leader. We need a new, stronger leader who will not sit idly by while our republic is broken up.”
“And I suppose that person will be you?” asked the Raxian.
“I have no desire for power, only for peace and order,” replied Palpatine. “If it falls to me to lead the Republic, I will do so, but it will only be a means to an end. Now leave me. I have preparations to make.”
As Palpatine retreated to his private inner chamber, his loyalists left silently, but exchanging meaningful glances that conveyed more than a little doubt.
Now alone in his inner chamber, Palpatine exchanged his senatorial robes for his preferred dark cloak. Pulling the hood over his head, he pressed a button on his communications console.
“Lord Maul,” he said to the imposing figure who shimmered to life on the holographic pad. “I’m afraid the diplomatic approach isn’t going to work. You know what you need to do.”
“Yes, my master,” Maul replied, his image vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.
In the wake of the Senate’s deliberations, Anakin and Obi-Wan were asked to meet with the Jedi Council.
“Impressed, we are, with your accomplishment on Naboo,” Master Yoda said, addressing the flickering holographic image of Anakin. “A tribute to Obi-Wan’s training, and to your hard work, they were. Now a new mission we have for you.”
“Thank you, Master Yoda,” replied Anakin. “I was pleased to be of service.”
“Pleased, too, was Senator Palpatine,” Yoda continued. “Requested your presence as part of a task force, he has.”
“With all due respect, Master, shouldn’t we be going after the Sith’s clone army?” asked Anakin. “We have them on the run now, shouldn’t we take the fight to them?”
Mace Windu cleared his throat.
“The Senate believes, and we agree, that the Sith clones will now target Naboo with a much more focused military strike,” he explained. “They didn’t expect the kind of resistance they met the first time, and will make no such error the second time around.”
“So Chancellor Valorum wants to make his stand at Naboo?” asked Obi-Wan.
“He does,” affirmed Windu. “The Republic fleet will gather there in hopes of dispensing with this Sith threat once and for all. They know they will need Jedi help to do it, and since Palpatine sees Anakin, in particular, as a hero, we have agreed to station the two of you there for now.”
“Your final test, this is,” Yoda said, addressing Anakin. “If successful you are, a Master will you be.”
“Thank you, Masters,” Anakin said, bowing to each member of the council in turn. “I won’t let you down.”
Anakin and Obi-Wan turned to leave, but Ki-Adi-Mundi stopped them.
“There is one more thing,” said the Cerean Jedi Master. “We have had a communication from Tatooine. Your mother is very sick, and we feel – even though family ties are often considered a hindrance to Jedi training – that you should visit her before you go on what is likely to be a long campaign on Naboo.”
“My mother?” Anakin gasped more than asked.
“You have three days before you are due back on Naboo,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi, now addressing both Anakin and Obi-Wan. “Prepare as you deem necessary.”
Anakin knew his blatantly Alliance X-Wing fighter would draw unwanted attention cruising over and then landing in the Tatooine desert, so when Senator Palpatine offered to let him borrow a Naboo cruiser he gratefully accepted. It was the fastest way to get to his mother and he didn’t have much time.
“Do you want me to come?” asked Vela, concerned to see her unflappable friend deeply shaken for the first time. She was waiting at his quarters when the Jedi transmission concluded.
“No,” Anakin said shortly. “I think this is something I have to do alone.”
Vela nodded her acceptance, but was clearly disappointed as he brushed past her to gather a few things for his journey to Tatooine. Anakin grabbed his cloak and lightsaber and immediately headed for the hangar bay where his cruiser awaited.
As he mounted the cruiser’s access ramp, Anakin saw that Obi-Wan was already on board.
“Master, I appreciate you wanting to accompany me, but I really think I should go alone.”
There was a brief but expressive GAWK from R2-D2, Anakin’s astromech droid and faithful X-Wing co-pilot.
“I meant except for you, old friend,” he nodded at the droid.
“Are you sure, Anakin?” asked his friend and mentor. “You are about to face a challenge that has the potential to be much more dangerous than a Sith fleet attack.”
“How do you mean, Master?”
“The death of a loved one can cause grief, agony, sorrow…it can lead to dark thoughts and possibly to the Dark Side,” Obi-Wan explained.
“DEATH?” demanded Anakin. “She’s NOT dead! She’s just sick and she needs me. I have to go.”
Anakin brushed past his mentor with one angry stride, but then stopped momentarily to look back at Obi-Wan.
“I’m sorry Master, I just feel like I need to do this alone.”
“As you wish, Ani,” Obi-Wan replied, turning to leave. “I’ll be here if you need me,” he added as the access ramp to the Nubian cruiser began to close.
He watched as Anakin’s ship rose slowly and then rocketed towards the atmosphere.
A wave of nostalgia washed over Anakin as his ship dropped out of lightspeed within sight of his home planet of Tatooine. He had always meant to visit, but something always seemed to prevent him returning. Now he feared he would be too late.
As R2 piloted the cruiser to the Lars homestead where Ani grew up, the latter felt a growing sense of dread. It wasn’t eased when he saw his stern uncle brooding below.
“Oh good, the prodigal hero has returned home,” said Owen Lars, who had rushed out to see who or what was landing and blowing so much sand into his homestead.
“Good to see you, too, Uncle,” replied Anakin as he jumped down from the cruiser’s ramp before the craft had fully landed.
“Sorry we didn’t have time to plan a parade, but your mother is in bad shape,” said Owen. “You’d better go to her right away.”
Anakin took the stairs down into his childhood home two at a time as he rushed down to the sand cave bedrooms.
“Mom?!?” he said as he rushed into Miliana Skywalker’s room.
“She’s very weak,” explained Beru Lars, Anakin’s aunt who was there attending to his mother. “But she’s been waiting for you.”
Anakin knelt down next to his mother’s bed and took her hand in his. Her eyes flickered open at his touch.
“Ani . . .my dear Ani . . .you’ve come home . . .” she said, weakly.
“What’s wrong with her?” Anakin asked Beru.
“She’s had a long, hard fight against Desert Fever, and what with the war and the scarcity of medicines, we haven’t been able to do much for her,” Beru explained. “Your uncle even went into Mos Eisley to try and find what she needs on the black market, but he had little to trade and the smugglers were having as much trouble getting supplies as everyone else. Honestly, I think the only thing keeping her alive is the desire to see you again.”
“Mom? I’m here. Can you hear me?” asked Anakin, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Don’t cry for me, son,” she said, reaching up to wipe a tear from her eye. “I died . . .a little . . .when your father died . . .and when the Jedi took you away . . .I died . . .a little more. I’ve been sick . . .I’m ready to go. I just . . .needed to see you . . .one more time . .tell you how proud I am . . . you are your father’s son . . .and I love you . . .”
“Mom, we can save you,” Anakin answered quickly. “I’m sure on Coruscant we can get . . .”
“Shhhhh,” said Miliana, cutting him off by putting her hand over his mouth. “No time. Just hug me . . .give me a kiss . . .and let me go. Your future . . .somewhere else . . .with the Jedi . . .”
Her head dropped back on her pillow and her hand gave Anakin’s a squeeze and then went limp.
“Mom? … MOM!” screamed Anakin, picking her limp form up off the bed and holding her to his chest.
“Why didn’t you call me sooner?” Anakin demanded from his aunt. “I could have brought medicine and saved her . . .I could have . . .” before he could finish, his tears overcame him and he buried his face in the limp form of his mother.
“She wouldn’t allow it Anakin,” Beru explained through her own tears. “She insisted what you were doing with the Jedi was too important to take you away. She was very proud of you . . .more than you’ll ever know.”
“I wish she had been proud of me and lived to see me do whatever this great thing is I’m supposed to do,” said Anakin.
“I think she’s better off not knowing,” said the ever-gruff Owen, who was standing in the doorway doing his best to hide his own emotions. “You can never live up to the expectations of those wizards of the galaxy.”
Having said his piece, he turned on his heel and left.
“Pay no attention to him, Anakin.” said Beru. “He loves you like a son. He even finished that protocol droid you left here.”
“3P0? Really? I’d almost forgotten about him.”
“You’ll always have a home here, Ani, no matter what,” said Beru.
“Thank you,” replied Anakin. “But I have a feeling this will be my last visit for a long, long time.”
That evening Beru, Owen and Anakin stood alongside R2-D2 and C-3P0 and paid their last respects to Miliana Skywalker, who was buried in the family cemetery near the Lars homestead. Immediately afterwards, Anakin asked his astromech to begin preparing the Naboo cruiser for launch.
“You may as well take 3P0, too,” said Owen. After all, he’s yours.
“Oh, I say,” interjected the droid. “I have always wondered about space travel.”
“Are you sure you won’t stay, at least for the night? You should get some rest before your big mission,” said Beru.
“Thank you for the offer, but I really have to get to Naboo. We’re trying to end this war before it consumes any more systems,” replied Anakin.
“Yes, let the big hero go off and save the galaxy,” said Owen, but there was a catch in his voice as he said it.
Anakin embraced his aunt and reached out to shake his uncle’s hand, only to find himself locked in the latter’s embrace.
“Take care of yourself, son,” said Owen, who then abruptly released him, turned and walked back into the house.
“We love you, Ani,” said Beru as Anakin boarded the cruiser, which looked as if it might be on fire in the glow of the Tatooine dusk.
“I love you, too,” said Anakin as he disappeared behind the closing door of the cruiser.
Back on Naboo, Obi-Wan Kenobi knelt in meditation in his chambers, contemplating recent events.
“What troubles you, my young friend?”
The voice shocked Obi-Wan, who thought he was alone.
“I’m sorry . . .who’s there?” he asked into the darkness.
“Have you forgotten me so quickly, then?”
“Qui-Gon?” Obi-Wan asked hesitantly, unable to accept what his ears were telling him.
“Ahhh good. I was starting to feel a little put out.”
A shadowy outline began to form next to Obi-Wan, who stood up and took a step away from the image.
“Qui-Gon? Is it really you?”
“Yes, my friend. Don’t ask me how, exactly, but I have found a way to communicate through the Force,” answered the shimmering figure, coming more and more into focus as he spoke.
“I’m still not so sure about tapping into the Dark Side to explore new powers,” Obi-Wan said apprehensively.
“Who said anything about the Dark Side? I just said I had found a way to communicate. You know I don’t believe in Dark and Light, anyway. As I have told you many times, there is just the Force and what you choose to do with it.”
“I know, but it goes against everything every other Jedi master has taught me,” said Obi-Wan. “The fact that you have inspired Anakin to use Dark powers scares me, which is why I came here to meditate.”
“Really? What has Anakin been doing?” asked Qui-Gon.
“It was really quite brilliant, all things considered, but he used some powers the Jedi Council considers to be Dark to almost single-handedly take out a Sith command ship a couple of days ago.”
“Did the Council consider this to be a bad thing?”
“Hardly. If it hadn’t been for Anakin doing what he did we might have lost another system to the Sith. As it is, we saved Naboo and dealt the Sith a significant blow.”
“Obi-Wan, the problem you’re having is not with the Dark Side and the Light, it is purely a matter of perspective. The sooner you understand that Truth is based solely on your own point of view, the stronger you will become in the Force. You might even convince the Council to do the same.”
“The Council’s concern – and I share it – is that wielding that power, even to do good, will corrupt Anakin and allow him to fall victim to pride, ego and even encourage him to seek power for its own sake. We call that the Dark Side . . .I realize you may have some other way of looking at it.”
“Corruption is corruption, Obi-Wan, you don’t need the Force to be corrupted. There are always forces in the universe seeking to gain power, much as the Sith are doing now. It is your job, as Anakin’s master, to be sure he doesn’t fall victim to such hollow pursuits. You must share your perspective, the perspective of peace and justice, and instill those values in him.”
“But isn’t justice just another point of view not necessarily shared by all?” asked Obi-Wan.
“Not at all,’ replied Qui-Gon. “Justice is balance. The Chosen One was supposed to bring balance to the Force. What better way to balance the Force than to do away with our definitions of ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ and unite behind common purpose?”
“I have to admit . . .that makes sense.”
“I can’t maintain this presence much longer, but I have one more piece of advice for you,” said Qui-Gon. “Keep an eye on Senator Palpatine. There’s something about him that makes me uneasy.”
“I will, Master, and thank you,” answered Obi-Wan as the shimmering outline of Qui-Gon Jinn vanished.
High atop one of Coruscant’s most luxurious high rises, Finis Valorum and his wife, Ursa, were sitting down to dinner.
“Did you hear something, Finis? Just now . . .in the hallway?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing, my dear. You shouldn’t worry so,” responded Finis.
“I DO worry,” she answered. “The longer this clone war goes on, the angrier people seem to get with you. I’ve even heard death threats!”
“My office receives death threats every day, I just don’t tell you about them so you don’t worry . . .like this.”
(A loud, undeniable crashing noise is heard in the hallway, followed by an electric buzzing at their steel-reinforced door.)
“You can’t tell me you didn’t hear THAT!” Ursa yelled, standing and pointing at the door.
“SECURITY!” Finis shouted into his communicator as he, too, stood. “SECURITY!”
Before they could do anything else, something that could only be the crimson tip of a lightsaber could be seen cutting through their front door. Moments later a large circular piece of the door fell inward and a terrifying spectre stepped through.
“SECURITY!” Finis called desperately into his communicator one last time.
“There’s no need to keep calling,” said Darth Maul, calmly. “They aren’t able to answer you.”
“How the hell did you get in here?” demanded Finis.
“You’ll find that the Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. As can a lightsaber,” added Maul, clearly amused with himself.
Finis reached into his robe for the blaster he kept concealed there, but before he could draw it, Maul reached out his hand and the blaster flew to it as if drawn by a magnet.
“Now, now, Chancellor, there’s no need to make this any harder than it has to be,” said Maul.
“Please, spare my husband, DON’T DO THIS!!” shrieked Ursa, now sobbing and shaking uncontrollably.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but orders are orders,” replied Maul raising his lightsaber.
In a spire high above the Coruscant skyline, the Jedi Council assembled once again.
“He and his wife were assassinated, there’s no question about that, and it was clearly a political assassination,” said Mace Windu, pacing around the middle of the room.
“Sit down, my friend, your agitation won’t help the situation,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi.
“I’m not agitated!” snapped Windu, who then paused, exhaled deeply and took his seat. “Ok, maybe I am a little agitated. But I can’t believe the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate was killed right under our noses.”
“The Sith, it was,” said Yoda. “Attacking from all sides, they are.”
“Well, it’s time we took the fight to them instead of sitting back and waiting for them to attack again,” said Windu.
“Agreed,” said Kit Fisto.
“Yes, sometimes being peaceful requires an armed response to those who take up arms against us,” added Shaak Ti.
“Responding, we are,” assured Yoda. “Attacking Naboo in force, the Sith are. Already there, Obi-Wan is, and joining him soon, young Skywalker will be.”
“No disrespect intended to our fine Jedi friends, but is that really enough against that clone fleet the Sith have assembled?” asked Kit Fisto.
“Not at all,” said Windu. “The Republic fleet will meet them at Naboo and finish them once and for all. That’s why we called you here.”
“Oh?” asked Kit Fisto.
“Master Windu will join the fleet at Naboo on special assignment. We need everyone else here to help Coruscant’s security forces secure the remaining members of the Senate,” explained Ki-Adi-Mundi.
“As you wish,” said Kit Fisto, bowing in unison with Shaak Ti as Windu left to prepare for his new assignment.
Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Horada were all smiles as they stood on the main landing platform of Naboo’s capital city of Theed. As the silver Nubian shuttle descended, they walked towards the already-opening boarding ramp. As the ship touched down, however, they were surprised to find a protocol droid walking down to greet them.
“I am C-3P0, human-cyborg relations,” he said. “I’m afraid Master Anakin is . . .well . . .he may need your help.”
“Is he hurt?!?” asked Obi-Wan as Vela brushed past both of them to run aboard.
“No, sir,” replied the droid. “Not physically, anyway. You see, his mother just died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but thank you,” said Obi-Wan, stepping past 3P0 to join Vela in attending to their friend.
Vela was already holding a sobbing Anakin in her arms when Obi-Wan found them in the cockpit of the shuttle.
“ . . .she just died . . .like she had been hanging on until I got there . . .and the moment she saw me she just . . .gave up . . .”Anakin was saying between sobs.
“I’m so sorry, Ani,” Vela said soothingly, rocking him back and forth.
“What happened to her?” asked Obi-Wan.
“She couldn’t get . . .the medicine she needed . . .because of the war . . .” said Anakin. “We have to . . .end this . . .should have already . . .it’s partly my fault . . .”
“Nonsense,” said Vela. “No one person could possibly stop this war.”
“That’s right, Anakin,” agreed Obi-Wan. “And we’re doing all we can to stop it right here on Naboo.”
Footsteps could be heard on the shuttle’s ramp, and moments later Senator Palpatine’s head appeared in the doorway of the shuttle’s cockpit.
“I understand the hero of Naboo is back from his errand!” said Palpatine joyfully, his face falling a bit as he observed the slumped figure of Anakin being held by Vela.
“Anakin went home to see his mother,” explained Vela. “She was very sick and died as soon as he got there.”
“Oh my,” said Palpatine, frowning. “My dear boy, I am so sorry,” he added, patting Anakin’s shoulder.
Footsteps were again audible on the ramp and Captain Panaka appeared behind Palpatine.
“Sir, we have just received an emergency communication from Coruscant,” said Panaka. “Chancellor Valorum has been assassinated by the Sith. I have been instructed to take you to our emergency bunker in case other assassinations are imminent.”
“Valorum?” asked Palpatine, looking stricken. “He’s … dead? … It seems the shadow of the Sith extends across the galaxy.”
“Sir, I must insist you come with me immediately,” stated Panaka.
“Captain, where could I possibly be safer than in the company of two Jedi Masters and the officer who saved our planet from destruction?” asked Palpatine.
“Why don’t we all go?” suggested Obi-Wan. “We need to start forming our plan to meet the Sith force that is no doubt headed our way.”
“Yes,” said Anakin, raising his head and pushing to his feet. “I need to think about something else.”
“Are you sure?” asked Vela, standing and taking his hand. “You’ve had such a shock.”
“I’m sure,” he replied, turning and kissing her on the cheek. “But thanks for taking care of me.”
C-3P0 was waiting as the group emerged from the Naboo shuttle.
“Who’s your friend?” asked Obi-Wan, daring to chide Anakin in an attempt to lighten the mood a bit.
“3P0, meet Obi-Wan, Vela, Captain Panaka and Senator Palpatine,” he said, motioning to each in turn.
“I am at your service,” replied the droid, bowing slightly.
“Wait, is this the droid you were working on at your Uncle’s house?” asked Obi-Wan.
“The same,” replied Anakin. “Apparently he wore out his welcome,” he added, smiling slightly.
“Come on, 3P0, you can come with us, too,” he said in the droid’s direction as the party advanced on Theed’s capital building and the safety of Palpatine’s private chamber.
Deep in an uncharted region of the outer rim territory, a massive circular space station was surrounded by a mass of clustered ships. Recusant-class destroyers, Pelta-class frigates, Venator-class star destroyers and Acclamator-class assault ships were lined up in rows as far as the eye could see and smaller assault vessels were lined up around the outer docking ring of the space station itself. On the bridge of the station Count Dooku paced the deck plates of the command center when a proximity alert lit up one of the panels in front of a black-clad bridge officer.
“Sir, an incoming ship just appeared on our short-range scanners,” reported the officer from beneath the gleam of the black helmet that covered most of his head. “It must have some sort of cloaking device or our long-range scanners would have alerted us before now.”
“That will be Darth Maul,” said Dooku, peering over the officer’s shoulder at the image of a curved-winged star courier racing towards the station.
“This is the Scimitar requesting approach vector and landing clearance,” came the crackling voice of Darth Maul over the intercom moments later.
“Request granted, Sir,” replied the officer. “Sending approach vector now.”
Moments later Count Dooku stood in one of the many hangars along the space station’s perimeter as the Scimitar’s boarding ramp lowered and the cloaked figure of Darth Maul descended from within.
“Lord Maul, I assume your mission was successful,” said Dooku.
“It was, indeed,” replied Maul, nodding. “Valorum is dead and the senate is scrambling to determine a replacement. Darth Sidious should have little trouble convincing them he’s the one for the job once we stage a sweeping victory for the Republic at Naboo. Is your drone fleet ready?”
“As you no doubt saw on your approach, the fleet is assembled and ready when Sidious gives the command,” confirmed Dooku. “Apparently he needs a day or two to prepare something for his new Jedi pet before we engage the fleet.”
“He’s playing with fire, there, I fear,” said Maul. “The Skywalker boy is powerful . . .more powerful than Lord Sidious is giving him credit for, I believe.”
“I think he knows,” countered Dooku. “I think that’s why he’s taking such time and care preparing whatever it is he has in store for him.”
“Still, we should be prepared . . .in case something goes wrong,” said Maul.
“Never turn your back on a Jedi,” said Dooku.
“That’s excellent advice, and don’t worry, I won’t.”
Maul and Dooku turned to see the shimmering image of Darth Sidious on the holographic communications panel.
“Good work on Coruscant, Lord Maul. Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen,” said Sidious. “Count Dooku, the Republic forces are mobilizing and should be in the Naboo system soon. Be ready to launch the phantom assault fleet on my command. In the meantime, Skywalker is vulnerable and I plan to take full advantage of his vulnerability.”
“We’re going to need a lot more clones for the second assault force if we’re going to sacrifice so many in the attack on Naboo,” said Dooku.
“It can’t be helped,” said Sidious. “If the Republic doesn’t believe they have destroyed our entire fleet they will come looking for the rest, and we can’t have the Jedi poking their noses in where they don’t belong.”
“We will be ready, my lord,” said Maul without hesitation. “If the Kaminoans have any problem with our cloning needs I’ll pay them a personal visit.”
“I have complete confidence in your persuasive abilities, Lord Maul,” answered Sidious. “I believe Count Dooku has that situation well in hand.”
“I do, indeed,” affirmed Dooku with a sideways glance at Maul.
“I’ll contact you after the mission is complete,” said Sidious as his image flickered and faded.
Anakin was sitting on the balcony outside his room staring out at a breathtaking Nubian sunrise when a chime signaled someone was at his door.
“Come in,” he called without so much as looking in the direction of the sound.
“Oh my!” exclaimed Vela. “You’ve got the sunrise side! I’m on the other side, but my view is blocked by the building next door. Otherwise I might have an equally stunning view of the sunset.”
She plopped down in the chair next to Anakin’s.
“Well, you’re welcome to enjoy my view any time,” he said, smiling.
“Have you had breakfast?” she asked. “They brought me a wonderful buffet of tasty Naboo pastry delights!”
“They brought something, but I really don’t feel like eating, so I sent it back,” he replied.
“Oh come on, you’ve got to eat,” said Vela. “I have plenty left over, shall I bring you something?”
Before Anakin could reply, the door chimed again.
“Come in,” he called again.
“Ahhh, how fortunate I am to find you together,” said Senator Palpatine, striding into the room with his ornate robes flowing behind. “Not long ago Ferentina, one of our riverside cities, was damaged by a bomb and the reconstruction is complete. I was wondering if the two of you would accompany me to the ceremony celebrating the project’s completion. It would mean a great deal to my people if the heroes of Naboo were there.”
“I don’t know about us being the ‘heroes of Naboo,’ since it was very much a group effort to turn back that clone armada,” answered Anakin.
“Oh come on, Ani, you know what he means,” said Vela, playfully. “We would be happy to accompany you, Senator,” she said to Palpatine.
“Splendid!” said Palpatine, turning towards the door.
As Anakin stood, Vela took him by the arm and led him out the door behind the Senator.
Vela’s time with the Republic forces had taken her to many different systems and she had seen many beautiful things, but Ferentina was by far the most breathtaking. Nestled in the middle of a lush mountain pass and built on two levels on the side of one of the mountains, Ferentina had a river running along one side and majestic trees lining the sides of the mountain on the other.
Senator Palpatine was giving Anakin and Vela, along with a number of others, a tour of the city and talking about how it had been rebuilt, but Vela was completely tuning him out. Walking arm in arm with Anakin, all she could think about was getting away from the group. She wanted some alone time with Anakin.
“Do you think he would notice if we snuck away?” she whispered into Anakin’s ear.
“He seems to be pretty impressed with himself,” he whispered back. “I think we could all disappear and he would just keep talking.”
Vela stifled a giggle.
As the official tour group rounded a corner near the riverside edge of the city, the Heroes of the Republic slipped off to answer the call of the running water.
Their escape did not escape the notice of Palpatine, but he continued as if he had not noticed, even drawing everyone else’s attention to the opposite side of the street to help ensure the couple’s secrecy.
An enormous flower-draped gazebo sat at the edge of the city, overlooking the water. Now holding hands, Anakin and Vela walked swiftly into the relative privacy of the florid arbor.
“Ohhhh, it’s so beautiful here,” Vela said, sighing heavily and looking around.
“It may not take much to impress me, since I grew up in a desert and live in an endless city, but I am impressed,” admitted Anakin.
“You could almost forget about the galaxy’s troubles here,” continued Vela, looking out at the river. “Just breathe in that sweet air, get lost in the sound of the falling water . . .”
“ . . .and let the Sith take over the galaxy,” Anakin finished seriously before breaking into a wide smile and pulling Vela in for a quick kiss.
Looking surprised at first, Vela withdrew, but then reached up and wrapped her arms around Anakin’s neck and kissed him deeply.
“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” said Anakin when the pair came up for air.
“Not as long as I have,” Vela answered him, kissing him again.
“You look as if you have misplaced something,” Palpatine said, making his way over to Obi-Wan through the crowd.
“I’m afraid your guests of honor appear to have made other plans,” said Obi-Wan. “I can’t find Anakin anywhere, and I don’t see Vela, either.”
“It’s such a beautiful city, I’m sure they are just admiring the architecture,” responded Palpatine, smiling. “In fact, there they are now,” he said, gesturing towards the far side of the crowd. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s time to start the ceremony.”
“Of course,” Obi-Wan said, and began working his way towards Anakin.
“Where have you two been?” asked Obi-Wan as he reached Anakin and Vela.
“Well, we were umm . . .” Anakin began, blushing.
“Sightseeing!” Vela answered, quickly.
Before Obi-Wan could press them further, Palatine’s voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Ladies and gentlemen . . .friends . . .neighbors . . .it is with great pleasure and pride that I stand before you today. The restoration of our beautiful city is a tribute to the resiliency of our people. I am also extremely excited to introduce to you two new friends who were gracious enough to join us today. I give you the heroes of Naboo: Anakin Skywalker and Vela Horada!”
The audience erupted in cheers and applause as the two pilots, waving and smiling, joined Palpatine on the platform.
“If it weren’t for these two brave and cunning warriors,” Palpatine continued, putting his arms around Anakin and Vela, “our planet would now be under the control of the . . .”
Palpatine was interrupted as Captain Panaka, head of the Naboo security force, spoke urgently into his ear.
“My friends,” Palpatine said gravely, addressing the crowd once again. “I’m afraid a much larger assault force is entering our system and these two are needed elsewhere.”
Amid gasps from the crowd, Anakin and Vela leapt off the platform to join Obi-wan and the three sprinted for the transport that would take them back to the Republic fleet.
“How long before that clone fleet gets here?” Anakin asked Shaptives as he and Vela rejoined their fellow pilots on the Republic’s command ship.
“It’s still a few hours out, but we have to try to head it off before it can get close enough to land an invasion force on the surface,” answered Shaptives. “That’s been their approach on every other system they’ve conquered, and since they know we’re here, I’m sure there will be a great deal more of them.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” agreed Anakin. “Obi-Wan has gone to contact the Council and let them know the clone offensive has begun. They have to watch out for any secondary fleet that might try to take advantage of the Republic fleet’s diversion here.”
“Our intelligence suggests that this is their only strike force, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious,” said Shaptives.
As the pilot corps sprinted towards the hangar where their ships awaited, Admiral Wullf Yularen came over the ship’s speaker system:
“Attention all hands. This is not a drill. The clone fleet is moving into this system in preparation for a full-fledged invasion of Naboo. Our mission is to stop them before they can get close enough to land troops on the surface. Prepare for the fleet to jump to lightspeed on an intercept course. Remember, the freedom of the galaxy rests on our shoulders today. Fight well, and may the Force be with us all.”
“My god . . .how many of them are there??” Agen Kolar’s words echoed the thoughts of the entire Republic defense wing as they flew out ahead of their command ships.
“Just means it will be harder to miss,” answered Anakin, who was also shaking his head at the unbelievable number of clone fighters that were swarming out of the bellies of numerous assault class ships bearing down on their position.
“Cut the chatter, boys,” said Shaptives, “let’s focus on the job at hand.”
Anakin used a burst of speed to jump out ahead of his squad and immediately began ripping into clone fighters with his Stealth X’s turbocharged laser cannons. His teammates wasted no time getting into the action, with hundreds of Z-95 starfighters and ARC-170 starfighters spreading their S-Foils and throwing burst after burst of deadly lasers into the fog of clone fighters.
“I knew they would send a more impressive force this time around,” said Admiral Yularen to his second in command, General Motti, “but this is more than I would have ever imagined.”
“Numbers are one thing,” replied Motti, “but cunning is something else. I’ll still take human intuition over mindless drones any day.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Yularen, who then turned on the fleetwide comm system.
“All craft, the enemy targets are within range. Begin the offensive, targeting their biggest ships first. Let’s send a message the cloners won’t soon forget!”
From the surface of Naboo, it looked like a grisly, galactic fireworks display. Explosion after explosion lit up the night sky as dreadnaught-class cruisers burst into flames and then vanished into enormous clouds of sparkling dust. If each explosion didn’t signify the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people, they would have been breathtakingly beautiful.
Obi-Wan was pondering such thoughts as he caught himself staring up at the dreadful display, reaching out through the Force to reassure himself of Anakin’s safety, when he was suddenly aware of another presence nearby.
In the shadows near the edge of the woods that surrounded the outer boundaries of Theed was a tall, thin being holding a spear of some kind. When his eyes met Obi-Wan’s, the being stepped into the light and laid down his weapon.
“You . . . are . . .Jedi,” he stated more than asked.
“Yes, I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. And you are?”
“Mesa . . .pardon . . .my name is Binks. Jar-Jar Binks.”
“It is a great pleasure to meet you,” said Obi-Wan, extending his hand. “We have been hoping to open a peaceful dialogue with your people.”
“We . . .are not trust . . .trusting . . .of the Naboo,” said Binks, clearly struggling with the language. “They . . .deceive us . . .not tell truths. We . . .cut off talks . . .with them.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about the history between you,” Obi-Wan admitted, “but you must understand that your planet is under attack. What affects the Naboo also affects the Gungans.”
“This is . . .why I spake to you . . .our king . . .sent me,” replied Binks. “We have army . . .will help . . .if need we. Yousa . . . you come to us . . .alone. If need we.”
Obi-Wan’s gaze returned to the sky as a barrage of explosions once again swept across the darkness of space.
“I hope we won’t . . .” he started, but the Gungan was gone without a trace.
“Does he strike you as someone who might sabotage a Naboo city?”
Obi-Wan started, spun around, and was relieved to see the shimmering image of Qui-Gon Jinn nearby.
“No, Master, he does not.”
“When I attempted to meet with them, I never felt any malevolence; only the strong desire to be left alone,” revealed Qui-Gon.
“What he said about not trusting the Naboo . . .I have been uneasy ever since we landed here,” explained Obi-Wan. “Something isn’t as it seems, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.”
“Be mindful of your surroundings, my friend,” Qui-Gon advised. “The Sith are masters of deception. You must be cautious.”
“Yes, Master,” agreed Obi-Wan as Qui-Gon’s image flickered and faded. “I completely agree.”
Anakin was laughing, his Stealth X zig-zagging in and out of the line of fire of enormous command ships as he took out fighter after fighter.
“Glad someone’s having fun,” said Shaptives, blasting a pair of clone fighters as he spoke.
“Come on, Shappy, what’s not fun about this?” asked Anakin. “This is only slightly harder than the simulated fighters you programmed back on Coruscant. They must have forgotten to clone the brains on these guys.”
“Careful, Ani, don’t allow overconfidence to jinx you,” chimed in Vela.
Anakin’s response was delayed as he had to focus on evasive maneuvers to miss a command ship that was suddenly listing out of control.
“Ok, team, focus your firepower on the one I just disabled,” said Anakin into his intercom. “We don’t want any more fighters coming out.”
“All craft, take out that command ship!” echoed Shaptives.
Meanwhile, on the surface . . .
“Master Jedi, you look concerned,” said Palpatine, smiling broadly. “By all accounts this is going quite well.”
“Yes,” replied Obi-Wan, scowling. “By all accounts it is. But something’s not quite right.”
“Sir,” interjected Captain Panakas. “The Redeemer reports that the clone fleet is turning, probably preparing to jump to hyperspace. They’ve taken heavy losses.”
“Is the Republic navy pursuing?” asked Palpatine.
“Yes, Sir,” replied Panaka.
“If we don’t get them here, we will just have to face them again somewhere else,” said Obi-Wan. “Better to get as many of them as we can here and now.”
“I believe Admiral Yularen agrees with you, Sir,” affirmed Panaka. “He’s ordered half the fleet to cut off the escape route while the other half continues to engage from their flank.”
Obi-Wan reached out through the Force.
“It might also be a trick,” he said. “I advise you to put your defense forces on high alert . . .”
Before Obi-Wan could finish, an explosion could be heard nearby. Captain Panaka’s hand went to his ear piece as he listened to a report that was coming in.
“Sirs,” he reported, “The clones appear to have landed a ground assault nearby and they have been engaged . . .but not by us!”
Palpatine’s eyebrows raised as he turned to face his security chief.
“Then by whom?” he asked.
Panaka’s hand was still at his ear as more reports came in.
“Sirs,” he replied, disbelief spreading across his face. “It appears the Gungans have come to our defense!”
When Palpatine, Obi-Wan and the Naboo security force arrived on the scene, a battle was well underway. Clone troopers lay sprawled across the landscape, their armor insufficient to protect them from the unique Gungan assault weapons. Glowing bubbles were flying everywhere, both small ones from Gungan assault rifles and bigger ones from what looked like catapults that were mounted on the backs of what looked very much like aquatic, four-legged taun-tauns.
“Were you aware that the Gungans had such a massive army?” Obi-Wan asked Palpatine.
“I. . .um . .I heard rumors, but I had no idea they had this kind of force, no,” he responded somewhat awkwardly.
“Seems to me that if they needed to get your attention they wouldn’t need to revert to the anonymous sabotage of a small lakeside town,” Obi-Wan observed, remembering the words of Jar-Jar Binks. (“They . . .deceive us . . .not tell truths. We . . .cut off talks . . .with them.”)
“So it would seem,” nodded Palpatine.
For just a moment, Obi-Wan thought he saw something flare up in Palpatine’s eyes. Was it anger? No, something more intense than anger . . .but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
“Master Kenobi, since you have developed rapport with the Gungans, would you please ask them to join us for a celebration once this skirmish is over?” asked Palpatine. “I would like to formally thank them for their assistance and hopefully establish formal relations between the Naboo and the Gungans.”
“It would be my pleasure, Senator,” said Obi-Wan, bowing slightly.
“Breaking ranks again, hero boy?” It was Vela’s voice in Anakin’s ear.
Anakin had pulled his Stealth-X away from the rest of the squadron and was headed directly for the Sith command ship, which was in flames and attempting to flee.
“If we let them go, we’ll just have to face them again sooner or later,” replied Anakin, blasting a trio of clone fighters to dust as he spun and dodged towards the hulking ship. “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?”
“You don’t think I’m going to let you attempt that by yourself, do you?” she asked, turning her own fighter to follow him.
“Well, it would certainly be more fun with you along!” said Anakin, grinning.
“Captain Shaptives, you have two fighters that have broken off from your squadron,” Admiral Yularen informed Shappy. “I ordered all fighters back to Naboo to make sure no more enemy ships land on the planet.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Shappy. “I see them. Might I suggest that we give them some leeway? In my experience, those two are best left to their own devices.”
“It’s the Skywalker boy, then,” Yularen stated more than asked. “Very well, Shappy, but their fate is your responsibility. You get to explain it to the Jedi Council if he dies.”
“Do I also get credit for whatever they do out there when he doesn’t die?” asked Shappy, but the transmission had already ended.
Anakin and Vela skillfully dodged laser cannon fire as they made their way towards the clone navy’s command ship, taking out fighter after fighter along the way. Vela marveled at the way seemingly point blank shots from enemy fighters seemed to just glance off her ship as if there was a protective field around her.
“OK, first we have to take out the force field protecting the landing bay, then it should be easy enough to just land right in the middle of their own main launch bay,” Anakin explained.
“It sounds easy the way you tell it, but don’t you think there might be a few clone troops in that launch bay who won’t exactly welcome us with open arms?” asked Vela.
“Don’t worry about them,” answered Anakin. “I’ll take care of that little detail once we land.”
The force field generator burst into flames as the pair concentrated their laser fire on the target; immediately afterward the shimmering green light that encompassed the main landing bay flashed and winked out.
“See? No problem,” grinned Anakin.
“Right behind you, Master Jedi.” said Vela, her voice laced with sarcasm, but hoping like hell Ani knew what he was doing.
“Just be sure you blast everything in sight when we pass through that outer hull,” said Anakin, turning serious.
“That much I had already figured out,” nodded Vela.
On the bridge of the Sith command ship, a shimmering image sprung to life on the comm panel.
“Count Dooku, the time for your departure has arrived,” said Darth Sidious.
“Yes, my lord, we are preparing to make the jump to lightspeed,” affirmed Dooku.
“Skywalker is near, and he has broken off from their fleet,” said Sidious. “You won’t survive an encounter with him. You must avoid it at all cost.”
“He is a boy, not even a master in the Jedi ranks,” said Dooku, dismissively. “Even if he were to somehow penetrate our defenses . . .”
“Sir, pardon the interruption, but there’s something you need to see,” said a command trooper nearby.
“What is it!?!” demanded Dooku, irritated by the interruption.
“A pair of Republic fighters has landed in our main launch bay and they . . .” but a gagging sound choked out the rest of the trooper’s report. A moment later he crumpled to the floor.
“You were saying, Count?” asked Sidious.
“I’m afraid I have some business to attend to just now,” replied Dooku, grabbing his lightsaber. “I’ll get back to you when I have dispensed with this issue.”
The few clone troopers who remained after Anakin and Vela destroyed most of the ships and personnel within the launch bay were easily dispatched with lightsaber and blaster as the pair made their way to the nearest control panel. To Vela’s surprise, many of the opposing troops simply flew out of the way and slammed against walls and sprawled unconscious on the floor.
Or were they dead?
“R2, plug in here and find the fastest route to the bridge,” Anakin said to his little ever-present co-pilot, pointing to the panel.
A small arm emerged from the astromech droid and inserted itself into an interface in the control panel. Moments later a series of bleeps from R2 and the opening of a nearby door gave Anakin the answer he sought.
“Shouldn’t there be more security measures in place?” asked Vela. “It seems like it should be harder to do what we’re attempting to do.”
“It would be a great deal harder if the Force wasn’t with us,” said Anakin as he urged Vela and R2 onto the lift that would take them to the command bridge.
As the lift shot upwards, Anakin closed his eyes and reached out through the Force to see what awaited them above.
“Get behind me,” he told Vela. “There’s a Sith Lord up there. … Only a few troopers. … Focus on the troopers while I take out their leader.
“A Sith Lord?” asked Vela incredulously. “Are you far enough along in your training to beat one of those?”
“Ask me again in about five minutes,” he replied, grinning.
“Not quite the answer I was looking for,” said Vela, whose sentiment appeared to be echoed by R2, who emitted a worried series of bleeps.
Count Dooku strode towards the lift that would take him down to the command ship’s main hangar, but stopped short when he noticed the lift was already nearing the bridge. Reaching out through the Force, he ignited his flaming red lightsaber just as the doors opened and a blue lightsaber burst into view.
A volley of blaster fire erupted as the bridge’s complement of clone troopers began firing on their new arrivals, but they were almost immediately stopped. Some simply collapsed where they stood, like puppets whose strings were cut, others fell back as Vela’s blaster took them out with great efficiency.
“Impressive display, young Jedi,” said Dooku, noting the ease with which Anakin used the Force to disable so many troops so quickly. “It explains how you made it this far, but I’m afraid your limited knowledge of the Force won’t help you defeat me.”
“Don’t the Sith teach you not to underestimate your opponent?” asked Anakin.
“Why don’t you tell me,” answered Dooku.
A scream came from behind Anakin, only to be quickly choked off. He turned to find Vela gasping for breath on the floor, her hands clutching at her throat.
“Such fragile creatures,” said Dooku, calmly. “Like the troopers you so easily dispensed with, your little friend is defenseless against my power.”
“LET HER GO!” Anakin screamed, standing to face the source of Vela’s distress.
“Or what?” asked Dooku, mockingly. “You’ll hit me with your scary toy? I’ve killed Jedi who were much more accomplished than you.”
Anakin suddenly became a blur, his lightsaber seeming to form a halo of deadly blue light around him as he landed a flurry of strikes on Dooku’s own weapon. Moments later Anakin’s saber flew out of his hand, clattering noisily on the deck plates a few meters away.
Vela gasped as she was suddenly able to breathe again.
Dooku quickly regained his composure and addressed Anakin, who had been thrown to his knees by the force of the Sith’s retaliatory strike.
“Didn’t your masters teach you that the Force is for defense, only?” asked Dooku. “It wasn’t very nice of you to attack me when I was not harming you in the slightest.”
Vela was on her feet quickly, blaster once again raised, and she opened fire on the caped Sith Lord. Dooku raised his hand and waved off the blaster bolts, simultaneously blindsiding Vela was a heavy steel container that had been on the ground nearby. She let out a yelp and collapsed to the floor once again.
Within seconds Anakin’s saber was back in his hand, ignited and bearing down on Dooku.
“Attachment can be bad, too,” Dooku continued. “Makes you weak. Exposes your inner vulnerabilities.”
“You’re wrong,” said Anakin. “It makes me stronger, and I’ll use that power to make you pay for what you’ve done.”
Anakin raised his lightsaber and lunged at Dooku, but then stopped suddenly as his opponent flinched and raised his saber in defense. Dooku’s weapon split down the middle and exploded in his hands. Behind the blue glow of Anakin’s saber, Dooku could swear he saw the Jedi’s eyes glowing red.
“Aaaargghhh,” Dooku moaned, dropping to his knees and clutching his scalded hands.
“You’re no Jedi,” said Dooku, his voice cracking as he struggled to control and ignore the pain receptors which were crying out. “I sense the Dark Side in you.”
“There is no Dark Side,” said Anakin. “There is only The Force, and what you choose to do with it. You’re the Sith here, and your reign of death and destruction is about to end. Permanently.”
A series of worried sounds came from R2, who was tending to Vela.
“Your little friend is near death,” said Dooku. “Does that anger you? Do you . . .hate me? You should thank me for eliminating your biggest weakness. Now unleash your true power and join me. I will complete your training once I’ve eliminated your distraction.”
“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!” Anakin screamed, raising his lightsaber, his eyes glowing a deep, murderous red. “I AM GOING TO END YOU!!!!”
“It’s not the Jedi way, Ani.”
Anakin turned to see where the voice had come from. The voice he knew so well. The voice of his master, Qui-Gon Jinn. But there was no one there. Had he really heard the voice?
“I’ll kill her now,” said Dooku with finality, closing his eyes. “Perhaps then you can kill me and begin your journey towards a broader understanding of The Force.”
Another sad whistle came from R2. Vela was near death. Anakin’s eyes sparked red once again, and he used every ounce of the Force he could squeeze out of the galaxy as he brought his lightsaber swiftly down in a sweeping motion that severed Count Dooku’s head.
Admiral Yularen surveyed the landscape of shattered ships and debris that splayed out as far as the eye could see through the bridge viewport before him.
“Sir,” interjected his Mon Calamari comm officer, Commander Raddus. “Senator Palpatine wishes to speak with you.”
“What does he want?” asked Yularen.
“He’s asking for permission to board the Clone command ship and claim it for the people of Naboo,” said Raddus.
“No doubt he wants to take credit for our victory,” replied Yularen. “I despise politicians.”
“Right,” said Raddus. “I’ll tell him his request has been denied.”
“No,” said Yularen. “What do we care? He’ll just cause problems if we don’t let him have his moment in the sun. Tell him to go ahead.”
“Very well, Sir.”
“Besides,” Yularen continued, “we have bigger concerns. Did Master Windu get safely away in pursuit of the remnants of the clone fleet?”
“He did, Sir,” affirmed Raddus. “Assuming he doesn’t get caught, we should know that fleet’s point of origin soon.”
“Good,” said Yularen, smiling. “Let Palpatine have this small victory. Once we locate and destroy the clones’ facilities we can put an end to this war once and for all.”
The medical droid working in the sick bay of the Clone navy’s command ship turned toward the entrance hatch, puzzled by the electronic buzzing coming from the hallway beyond.
As Anakin Skywalker swept into the bay he was disengaging his lightsaber, stepping over the sprawled body of a clone trooper and using The Force to levitate the unconscious Vela into the room. R2 brought up the rear, squawking plaintively.
“What happened, sir?” asked the droid, a standard 2-1B unit.
“She’s badly hurt,” explained Anakin, breathlessly. “She took a blow to the head and . . .”
“I see, Sir,” interrupted the droid. “Please place her on the gurney so I can assess the damage.”
Anakin did so and stepped back to let the medical droid do its work. As he did so, his comm unit buzzed again.
“Anakin, this is Shappy, come in, please!” came an urgent voice.
“I’m here,” he replied, flicking the switch on his comm.
“It’s about time,” Shappy replied. “Where have you been? What’s going on in there?”
“I have secured the command ship, but Vela was injured in the process,” Anakin explained. “We are in the med bay now.”
“Senator Palpatine wants to bring a boarding party and claim the ship for Naboo,” said Shappy.
“Tell him the ship’s all his and he’s welcome to it,” said Anakin, indifferently. “Skywalker out.”
“How is she?” he asked, turning his attention to the medical droid, which was filling a bacta tank in the corner.
“She has sustained a fairly severe concussion and has significant internal bleeding, but she should recover fully with rest,” replied the droid.
High among the many skyscrapers on the endless Coruscant skyline, the Jedi Council was assembled to discuss an urgent matter.
“What have you to report, Master Kenobi?” asked Ki-Adi-Mundi, addressing the glowing form of the latter, shimmering in the middle of the Council’s main chamber.
“The clones have been thwarted in their attempt to capture Naboo, thanks in no small part to the Gungans, and, of course, Anakin,” said Obi-Wan.
“A great disturbance in the Force I sensed,” said Yoda. “More details on young Skywalker’s involvement, we need.”
“To tell you the truth,” Obi-Wan explained, “the victory would not have been possible without his actions. He almost single-handedly took out the enemy’s command ship and then he boarded the ship with one other officer, stormed the bridge and beheaded the Sith Lord who was in command.”
There was a moment of silence as the Jedi Council considered Obi-Wan’s report.
“It is not the Jedi way,” said Kit Fisto, finally, and many of the Jedi nodded their agreement.
“With all due respect, Masters, there is a war going on,” interjected Obi-Wan. “How can we be the ‘guardians of peace’ if we don’t stand up against those who would wage war?”
Again, there was silence as the Council considered.
“A point, Master Kenobi has,” said Yoda. “The enemy of peace, inaction is. Engage in this fight, we must.”
“I agree,” said Kit Fisto. “And it seems young Skywalker’s wisdom on this matter preceded our own.”
“Was it wisdom, or was it bravado?” asked Ki-Adi-Mundi. “The boy has a flair for the dramatic, and enjoys the hero’s spotlight a bit too much, in my humble opinion. The Dark Side is always lurking, finding weaknesses to exploit.”
“If Anakin hadn’t acted when he did, Naboo might well now be in the hands of the clone army,” said Obi-Wan.
“You mustn’t allow your friendship with the boy to influence you,” countered Ki-Adi-Mundi.
“Master, friends or not, I am here to report the facts, not offer mere opinions,” replied Obi-Wan. “Anakin saved many lives today with his bravery, and frankly, I have never seen anyone wield the Force with such ease and grace.”
“Come, the time has,” replied Yoda. “Anakin, a padawan, no longer will be.”
“Your logic is sound,” replied Ki-Adi-Mundi, “but we must remind him of the responsibility that comes with the title of Jedi. He must learn restraint.”
“Agreed,” said Kit Fisto.
“Agreed,” added Yaddle.
The rest of the Jedi Council affirmed their agreement in turn.
“Bring him here, we must,” concluded Yoda. “Master Kenobi, inform him you will.”
“Yes, Master Yoda,” answered Obi-Wan. “I will send him to you immediately.”
“Are you not returning with him, Master Kenobi?” asked Kit Fisto.
“Not right away,” he replied. “I have some . . .unfinished business . . .to attend to.”
“Unfinished business?” asked Kit Fisto. “Surely the Naboo can handle their own business.”
“Yes, Master, but . . .the attack on Naboo’s city, the one that started our investigation there, was not what it seemed. I suspect Sith involvement and I need to confirm,” said Obi-Wan, thinking quickly.
“Very well,” said Kit Fisto.
“When finished your investigation is, report in person, you should,” instructed Yoda.
“Yes, Master,” said Obi-Wan, bowing as his flickering image faded out of sight.
Anakin’s communicator beeped again.
“What is it?” he asked, distractedly.
“Shappy again, Anakin. Just wanted you to know we’re preparing to escort Senator Palpatine and his delegation to that ship. Don’t kill them.”
There was a smile in Shappy’s voice, but Anakin was not in the mood.
“Understood,” he said, switching off the communicator.
Anakin continued to stand staring at Vela, who was floating in a bacta tank near the corner of the med bay. R2 was nearby, occasionally emitting a concerned warble.
A few minutes later Palpatine swept into the room, motioning for his entourage to remain in the outer corridor.
“Master Anakin,” he asked, voice laced with concern. “What happened to her?”
“Count Dooku attacked us and almost killed her,” Anakin replied flatly. “I’m afraid I killed him. I should have kept him alive for interrogation.”
“No, you had no choice,” replied Palpatine. “You felt you were defending your friend. It’s completely understandable.”
“No,” said Anakin, flipping a switch on his comm unit. “It’s not our way. The Jedi Council would have brought him to justice, and now we would know where the clones are building their armies.”
“The Jedi Council is nothing more than an extension of the Galactic Senate,” said Palpatine. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I understand the politics of the Republic much better than you. The Senate would have ordered Dooku’s execution anyway and the reprisals would continue unabated. At least this way he was killed in battle.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” said Anakin.
“Of course I am,” answered Palpatine. “How’s the girl?” he asked, turning to the droid.
“She should recover fully, but it will take some time,” replied the droid.
“Anakin, you are even more of a hero to my people now than you were before,” said Palpatine. “Allow my people to care for your friend, while you and I report to the Galactic Senate and urge them to take immediate action against this clone threat.”
“I can’t leave Vela,” said Anakin, decisively.
“You can take her with you to the planet’s surface in a few hours,” reported the droid. “What she will need to recover fully is fresh air and relaxation. The surface below offers such an environment.”
“There, you see?” replied Palpatine. “Naboo can restore her as you have restored Naboo.”
Anakin hesitated for a moment before nodding.
“Once I’m sure she will be alright, I will accompany you to Coruscant.”
“Very good,” said Palpatine, smiling and patting Anakin’s shoulder. “Very good.”
Streaking through space at lightspeed, Mace Windu was aboard his Delta-7 Aethersprite-class light interceptor running radio silent as he pursued the clone fleet fleeing from Naboo.
A series of beeps from his astromech co-pilot told him the clone fleet had dropped out of lightspeed, so Mace prepared to drop his own ship out of lightspeed a safe distance away from the fleet. As he did so, his ship jolted violently and began spinning out of control.
“What the . . .???” he exclaimed.
Another series of bleeps confirmed what he had already deduced.
“Did we hit something? Why did our starboard engine cut out?”
A distressed series of beeps answered him as his ship stopped spinning with a jolt.
“How could we be caught in a tractor beam?” Mace asked. “They have no idea we’re tracking them.”
“I’m afraid that’s not entirely true, Master Jedi,” came a wheezing voice over the comm system briefly interrupted by a series of what sounded like electronic coughs. “We’ve been tracking you for some time. It seems now we might be of some assistance.”
As Mace’s ship came about, he could see a hulking Trade Federation command ship Mace recognized as The Invisible Hand was waiting, hangar bay door open, as its tractor beam pulled him inside.
“Master Windu, we meet at last,” said General Grievous as Mace stepped down out of his fighter. Beside Grievous was an impressive array of battle droids, many of them shielded, all with weapons trained on their prisoner.
“I’d say it’s a pleasure, but I’d be lying,” Windu replied. “You haven’t sold out to the Sith and their cloners, have you?”
“Interesting choice of words,” answered Grievous, coughing briefly. “The price for my brief cooperation with the Sith’s imperial dream is the expansion of my ever-growing lightsaber collection.”
Grievous opened the sides of his cloak to reveal a dozen or more lightsabers dangling from hooks.
“Yours is still purple, isn’t it? It would make a nice addition,” said Grievous, reaching his hand out expectantly.
Mace thought briefly about trying to fight his way out of the situation, but the odds were weighted heavily against him, so he unclipped his lightsaber. As he did so, he activated the Jedi distress signal hidden behind his saber. He then placed his prized weapon in Grievous’ hand.
Another fit of coughing erupted from the latter.
“You know, you work for the best droid manufacturers in the galaxy, it seems like they could get that cough looked at for you,” said Mace, desperately trying to buy time.
“I do appreciate your concern,” replied Grievous. “For now, my attention is on more important matters. Someone is eagerly waiting to talk to you.”
Grievous turned, motioning to his guards to close around their prisoner and follow him.
“You’re not even going to restrain me?” asked Mace, mockingly.
“I was told to keep you alive . . .for now . . .please don’t give me a reason to kill you.”
Determined not to do so, Mace went along with his captors.
Vela sat quietly in a generously cushioned divan sipping a cup of hot Nubian tea as she gazed out at the Andrevea River, seemingly unaware of the argument taking place behind her. When she regained consciousness she accepted Palpatine’s offer to return to Ferentina for a few days of recovery time.
“I can’t leave her,” Anakin was saying to Obi-Wan.
“It’s only for a few days, Anakin, and you certainly don’t want to keep the Council waiting. Besides, it’s a tremendous honor that Palpatine is bestowing on you just by asking you to accompany him.”
“I don’t care about honor or anything else right now,” Anakin answered. “I just lost my Mom . . .if anything happened to Vela I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”
“What’s going to happen to me, Ani?” Vela interrupted, turning her attention to the conversation. “The threat against Naboo has been turned back, Ben is here to protect me if anything comes up . . .I’ll be fine. What you did up there was amazing . . .go get the recognition that’s coming to you.”
Anakin walked over to where Vela was laying down and sat next to her, taking her hand.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “The thought of anything happening to you . . .”
“Don’t you see, Ani?” she interrupted again. “You’re always talking about destiny and The Force . . .this is what you’ve been training for, what your father died for. This is bigger than you and me, this is about defending democracy and fighting the greatest evil in the galaxy. I’ll be by your side soon enough, but until then, go be the brave man I know and love and fulfill that destiny.”
Obi-Wan turned his back as the pair embraced and kissed.
“You take it easy,” Ani said at last, breaking their embrace. “There’s no reason to rush your recovery.”
“Don’t worry, Hot Shot,” she said, teasing. “I’m sure the all-powerful Jedi Master over there will keep me in line,” she said, gesturing towards Obi-Wan.
Captain Panaka was waiting just out of earshot, bouncing nervously because he knew he was keeping Senator Palpatine waiting.
“Captain, I’m ready if you are,” Anakin called over his shoulder.
“I will alert the Senator that we’re on our way,” he replied, clearly relieved.
Anakin stood and walked over to Obi-Wan, embracing his friend and mentor.
“She’s more important to me than you know,” Anakin whispered into Obi-Wan’s ear.
“You’re not as sneaky as you think you are,” Obi-Wan whispered back. “I will guard her with my life.”
The pair parted, and with one more nod in Vela’s direction Anakin followed Panaka to the ground transport that would take them to Theed and Palpatine’s waiting ship.
“Can I get you anything?” Obi-Wan asked Vela.
“There’s something I need to tell you, Ben, but you must swear not to tell Ani.”
“I’m not crazy about keeping secrets,” Ben replied, hesitantly.
“Come sit,” said Vela, motioning towards a nearby chair. “You’ll understand why after I tell you.”
“I know more than you think I do,” said Obi-Wan, sitting. “I know the two of you got married in this very arbor before the attack.”
“Good,” said Vela. “That will make this easier. You see, the medical droid shared some news with me that it didn’t share with the rest of you.”
“You’re not . . .” Obi-Wan started.
“I’m pregnant,” said Vela, smiling.
Obi-Wan sat for a moment, clearly unsure how to respond.
“You scared me for a minute there,” he said at last. “I thought you were dying or something.”
“But you can see why I can’t tell Anakin,” Vela continued. “He would never have left me, and I can’t be the reason why he doesn’t fulfill his destiny, whatever that means. It’s so important to him . . .the legacy of his father . . .becoming a Jedi Master . . .I’m afraid he would give it all up if I were to tell him.”
“It’s hard to say,” replied Ben, thoughtfully. “I don’t believe he would walk away from the Republic and the Council, especially with all that’s going on. But then again, he is impulsive and unpredictable. You’re probably wise to give it some time. I will certainly respect your judgment on the matter.”
“Thank you, Ben,” said Vela, smiling.
Just then C-3P0 came ambling in carrying a small tray.
“Mistress Vela, Master Anakin asked me to attend you while you’re recovering,” he stated. “I also have your medication.”
“How thoughtful,” Vela said, a note of sarcasm in her voice. “Thanks, 3-P0. Now, if it’s alright with the two of you, I think I’ll rest my eyes for a while.”
“Of course,” said Ben, rising. “I’ll be nearby.”
“As will I,” added 3-P0.
“Thank you,” replied Vela, yawning. “I will rest easily knowing that.”
Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray, an elegantly dressed Neimoidian, was pacing impatiently on the bridge of The Invisible Hand when General Grievous returned from escorting Mace Windu to the ship’s detention center.
“Well?!?” demanded Gunray. “What are we supposed to do with him? It’s the Skywalker boy Darth Sidious wanted!”
“You have such limited imagination,” replied Grievous, coughing again. “All we have to do is lift the dampening field on his homing beacon and the Jedi Council will send Skywalker to rescue him.”
“How do you know that??” asked Gunray. “For all we know the Jedi will send the entire starfighter corps to rescue Windu.”
“That’s not how the Jedi operate,” said Grievous. “Of course, if they did that we could kill them all at once . . .yes, wouldn’t that be pleasant?”
“Well, I don’t like it,” whined Gunray. “Things are not going according to plan.”
“Would you stop whining?!?” shouted Grievous, coughing even more fiercely. “This is war . . .things don’t always go according to plan. You adjust and move forward.”
“So what do we do next?” asked Gunray.
“Idiot,” replied Grievous. “We rendezvous with the fleet and lift the dampening field. Let Windu’s rescue beacon alert the Jedi to our location. Then we just wait for Skywalker to walk into Sidious’ trap.”
“We should kill Windu now,” said Gunray. “It’s too risky keeping him alive.”
Grievous sighed, then coughed, before responding.
“If we kill Windu the Jedi will know he’s dead. They will almost certainly send a larger force to investigate. Sidious wants Skywalker on his own.”
“Fine!” said Gunray. “Let them send all the Jedi! We have thousands of ships, more than enough to take care of the Jedi. Wipe them out once and for all!”
“Again, you fail to understand that Sidious has a plan that does not involve what you’re . . . (more coughing) . . . proposing. Perhaps you would like to suggest a change?”
“No,” said Gunray, quietly. “I don’t think so.”
“Then stop questioning the plan and do what you’re told,” said Grievous.
“Lift the dampening field just enough to let the Jedi’s distress call through as soon as we drop out of hyperspace,” Gunray instructed his comm droid.
“Aye, sir,” acknowledged the droid.
“Ahhh, Anakin, my boy,” said Senator Palpatine as Anakin walked up the ramp and into the CSS-1 Corellian Star Shuttle that would transport the Nubian delegation to Coruscant. “We’ve been waiting for you. I assure you Captain Horada will receive the absolute best in care while you’re away.”
“Thank you, Senator,” replied Anakin. “I have no doubt she will, and I appreciate your attentiveness to her needs.”
“I understand the Jedi Council is finally going to make you a Jedi,” Palpatine said quietly, leading Anakin to the cockpit and indicating a pair of open chairs.
“If they do, I will be honored,” Anakin answered distractedly, taking the seat Palpatine had indicated. “I certainly don’t take that for granted.”
“Just be careful, my young friend,” Palpatine said in a hushed voice. “Things are not always as they seem.”
“What do you mean?” asked Anakin, turning his full attention to the senator.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I have known my share of Jedi Knights, and I would hate for you to limit your potential by taking too . . .narrow . . .a view of The Force.”
“Too ‘narrow?’ I’m not sure what you mean,” answered Anakin, turning his attention to the front viewport as the shuttle lifted out of Naboo’s atmosphere and prepared for the jump to lightspeed.
“Aren’t you?” asked Palpatine. “I seem to recall Master Qui-Gon had a much more progressive view of The Force, and the Council refused to make him a Master because of it.”
“He told you that?” asked Anakin, turning once again to face the senator.
“Master Qui-Gon and I had many conversations about the nature of The Force,” said Palpatine, casually. “I have long studied it, and have even known a few Sith over the years.”
“You’ve known Sith??”
“Certainly,” said Palpatine. “When you’ve been involved in politics for as long as I have you get to know a lot of different people. Jedi, Sith, bounty hunters, cloners . . .all kinds. No matter how we may choose to label others, everyone believes they are inherently good while also labeling those who oppose them as bad. These labels are all subjective, of course, and entirely dependent on your point of view.”
“I can’t imagine a point of view that sees the Sith as good,” countered Anakin. “They are evil, power-hungry warmongers.”
“That’s what your Jedi friends have taught you, but have you ever tried to see things from their perspective?”
“I’m not interested in their perspective,” said Anakin. “I’m interested in promoting peace and justice, not killing innocent people for the sake of gaining power.”
“You speak out of anger because that Sith you beheaded nearly killed your friend,” said Palpatine, matter-of-factly.”
“Yes,” said Anakin, rage once again flaring from deep within him.
“Well tell me, when you confronted him did you do so in the name of peace, or did you go in with weapons raised, prepared to attack?”
Anakin did not answer right away.
“He was in command of a ship that attacked your peaceful planet,” he answered, finally.
“A valid observation, but it doesn’t answer the question, does it? How do you know he wasn’t prepared to surrender, had he been given the opportunity?”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” said Anakin.
“You talk about peace and justice, but your view of those concepts is based entirely on your experience as a Jedi-in-training. They have instilled their values in you and you accept them as Truth. Does that mean their Truth is the only valid way of looking at life?”
“I . . .” started Anakin.
“Master Qui-Gon certainly had a broader view of The Force,” Palpatine continued.
“And yet he was killed by a Sith, wasn’t he?” countered Anakin.
“He was killed fighting for a cause he believed in, a cause that put him at odds with the Sith,” answered Palpatine. “But what if the Sith and the Jedi could set aside their differences and embrace the living Force without choosing sides?”
“I find it hard to believe that the Sith would be willing to make peace with the Jedi,” said Anakin.
“Isn’t it equally hard to believe that the Jedi would make peace with the Sith?”
“The Sith promote war,” answered Anakin, growing impatient. “How can you question that? You’re a member of the Senate! You know the Jedi protect peace and the Sith will stop at nothing to promote war and disorder.”
“Anakin, I have another reason for asking you along on this trip,” said Palpatine, lowering his voice. “But you must swear not to share what I’m about to tell you with anyone.”
Anakin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, using a Force calming technique to quiet his mind.
“You think we can reach an agreement with the Sith,” Anakin said, his eyes shooting open. “You think you can unite the two sides of The Force!”
“Not me, Anakin, us,” Palpatine said, nodding. “The Jedi speak of peace, but there can never be peace in the galaxy as long as The Force is divided. We must unite the two sides and embrace the true and living Force if we ever hope to truly have a lasting peace.”
“If you could do that you would go down as the greatest leader the Senate has ever seen,” said Anakin.
“Not me, Anakin,” Palpatine insisted. “Many minds will have to change if we are to actually find this kind of unprecedented peace. I could never do it alone, but if we had a coalition of Jedi and Sith working toward that common cause . . .”
“Sir, we are preparing to drop out of lightspeed, Coruscant dead ahead,” the pilot reported.
“The Sith are monsters,” Anakin said quietly, but with less conviction. “They would never agree to peace. If they would, the Jedi would have negotiated peace long ago.”
“What if I could bring them to the table?” asked Palpatine. “Could you get the Council to consider it?”
“I need time to think about what you’ve said,” replied Anakin, standing as the ship lowered towards its designated landing pad, the towers of the Jedi academy casting shadows as the sun set behind them.
“Take the time you need,” said Palpatine, standing, as well. “Just remember how many lives are at stake if this war is allowed to continue.”
“Anakin,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi as Anakin entered the Jedi Council chamber, “we truly appreciate you coming.”
“Impressive, your accomplishments at Naboo were,” Yoda added.
“Thank you, Masters, but it wasn’t just me,” acknowledged Anakin. “The fleet and the starfighter corps …”
“We appreciate your humility,” interrupted Ki-Adi-Mundi, “but it isn’t necessary. We’ve asked you here for another purpose.”
“Yes, Master,” Anakin said, nodding.
“Impressed, we are,” said Yoda. “Many lives, have you saved. Strong have you become, in The Force.”
“We have decided,” said Shaak Ti, rising, “that the time has come to make you a Jedi. You are a Padawan no more.”
Though Anakin knew it was coming, he couldn’t help flushing and breaking into a smile as Shaak Ti removed a small device from her robes and sliced off his Padawan braid.
Before Anakin could say anything the doors into the chamber opened and Agen Kolar, out of breath, stepped into the room.
“I apologize for the interruption, but I have an urgent message,” said Kolar.
“Please proceed,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi, rising to meet him.
“We have received a transmission from uncharted territory deep in the outer rim,” said Kolar. “Master Windu’s emergency transmitter came through briefly and then cut off, but not before we could triangulate an approximate location. I would like permission to assemble the Jedi Starfighter Corps and investigate.”
“No,” answered Yoda, quickly, causing everyone in the room to shift their attention to the wizened Jedi Master.
Yoda sat in silence for a moment, eyes closed, the only sound in the room Kolar’s gradually slowing breathing.
“A trap, this is,” said Yoda, at last. “And a test.”
“A test?” asked Kolar.
“For me,” said Anakin, his eyes locked on Yoda’s.
“If the Starfighters we send, destroyed they will be,” said Yoda.
“But I can go,” said Anakin. “I can find him and rescue him without even alerting the Sith to my presence.”
“What???” responded Kolar. “Look, you’ve pulled off some pretty incredible things, but how can you possibly . . .”
“He’s right,” inserted Ki-Adi-Mundi. “If anyone can bring back Master Windu, it’s Anakin.”
Kolar looked stunned. “It’s a suicide mission.”
“A way with The Force, young Skywalker has,” responded Yoda. “Believe in him, we do.”
“Come with me,” Anakin suggested to Kolar, noticing for the first time that he, too, was missing his Padawan braid. “I can help you refit one of those gunships in the hangar to fly in stealth mode like my X-Wing. They won’t even know we’ve been there until after we’ve rescued Master Windu.”
“I think you’ve mistaken me for Obi-Wan,” said Kolar. “He’s the one who loves to accompany you on your wild adventures.”
“He’s not here,” said Anakin, animatedly . . .then caught himself. “Come on, we can do this. Believe in The Force!”
“Two Jedi means twice the risk,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi. “We don’t know who the Sith Lord is or how powerful that Sith Lord might be. Your arrival can be tipped off through The Force no matter what stealth technology you use.”
“We can’t leave Master Windu to die at the hands of the Sith,” said Anakin. “Are you in or not?” he asked, now staring directly at Kolar.
“Ok,” he said after a moment. “Count me in.”
“We’re closing on Master Windu’s signal,” said Kolar, who then gasped as R2-D2 whistled loudly.
“What is it?” asked Anakin.
“I’m detecting a massive military installation with hundreds of command ships and at least a thousand military support vessels surrounding Windu’s location,” said Kolar.
“Well, that’s exciting, isn’t it?” replied Anakin.
“You really are crazy, aren’t you?” said Kolar, rhetorically, as R2 made a noise that seemed to concur with Kolar’s assessment.
“I guess we’re about to find out,” said Anakin, dropping the cloaked ship out of lightspeed. He hesitated a moment and then dropped the cloak surrounding their ship, as well.
“What are you doing?!?” demanded Kolar. “They can see us!! We’re sitting ducks!!”
“Calm yourself,” replied Anakin. “We’re expected, and I sense that whoever awaits us does not want us dead. Master Windu is still alive and I believe our lives are in no immediate danger.”
“How can you possibly know all of THAT?” asked Kolar, incredulously. “I say we turn around and come back with reinforcements. LOTS of reinforcements!”
“That would get a lot of people killed,” said Anakin, “which is what we’re trying to avoid.”
“We’re already at war,” Kolar shot back. “What if these are the same people who have been attacking Republic installations all across the outer rim?”
Before Anakin could respond they were interrupted by R2, who was indicating that a signal was coming over the comm.
“Master Skywalker, we are pleased that you chose to join us,” said the voice.
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” said Anakin, calmly. “But we all know why we’re here. How would you like to proceed?”
“My name is Crennic,” answered the voice over the comm, “and my commander very much wishes to speak with you.”
“Shall I fly in on my own, or would you prefer to tractor me in?” asked Anakin.
A slight jolt answered his question as his ship began to move in the direction of The Invisible Hand’s open hangar bay.
“I look forward to meeting you shortly,” said Crennic, after which the comm system went dead.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” said Kolar.
“Yeah,” replied Anakin. “Me, too.”
“I beg your pardon, Mistress Vela, but what are you doing?” asked C-3P0, entering Vela’s room to find her dressed and pulling on her boots.
“3-P0, I’ve been sitting around here long enough,” Vela replied. “It’s time for me to get back to work.”
“Are you sure you shouldn’t just relax and enjoy this scenic venue while you can?” asked the protocol droid.
“I’m sure. There’s a war raging in the galaxy, and it’s time I returned to my squadron and helped defend the Republic,” said Vela, picking up her communicator.
“Master Kenobi?” she called.
“Kenobi here,” came the response over the comm.
“I’m ready to return to Coruscant and rejoin the fleet,” said Vela, matter-of-factly.
“As you wish,” replied Obi-Wan. “I have a shuttlecraft standing by.”
Vela picked up her duffel bag and exited, 3-P0 struggling to keep up in her wake.
“Captain Horada,” called Captain Panaka, who was stationed near Vela’s quarters. “Where are you headed?”
“To my ship,” replied Vela. “Your hospitality has been exceptional, but it’s time for me to get back to work.”
“Chancellor Palpatine will be most displeased that you’ve decided to leave us,” said Panaka.
“Chancellor, is it?” asked Vela, stopping in her tracks.
“Yes, Ma’am,” answered Panaka. “The Senate named him the new Chancellor in light of the role our system played in the first significant defeat of the clone army.”
“I see,” Vela replied, resuming her course to the docking bay where her ship waited.
“Are you sure you won’t reconsider?” asked Panaka, in pursuit of Vela and her golden protocol droid.
“I’m sorry, but no,” she answered definitively. “This war is far from over and I can’t keep sitting around here acting as if peace is the order of the day. The Republic needs me, and I intend to be part of the solution to this clone problem.”
“As you wish,” said Panaka as the trio reached the docking bay.
“Is she ready?” Vela asked Obi-Wan, referring to the Republic transport behind the Jedi Master.
“Ready when you are,” said Obi-Wan, smiling.
“Great!” said Vela. “Let’s get back to work.”
“Do we have a status report from Skywalker?” asked Ki-Adi-Mindu as the Jedi Council reconvened following Chancellor Palpatine’s acceptance speech.
“Reached his destination, Skywalker has,” affirmed Yoda. “Broadcasting their location his droid is.”
“Should we prepare a rescue party, just in case?” asked Kit Fisto.
“Something bigger at work, there is,” answered Yoda, shaking his head. “Danger, I sense, but not to young Skywalker or Master Windu.”
“I sense a tremor in The Force,” added Plo Koon, “but the true nature seems masked. Is it a Sith trick, or something outside?”
“Clouded, it is,” answered Yoda. “The Dark Side, I suspect, but difficult to see, it is. Wait for young Skywalker’s report, we must.”
“What of Palpatine?” asked Ki-Adi-Mundi. “His rise to power seems a little too contrived for my taste.”
“Agreed,” said Shaak Ti. “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Palpatine doesn’t feel right.”
“He says all the right things, but he doesn’t seem entirely genuine,” added Kit Fisto.
“A politician, he is,” answered Yoda. “Difficult to trust, politicians always are.”
“He seems to like Anakin a great deal,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi. “Assuming he returns from this mission in one piece, perhaps we should assign Skywalker to keep a closer eye on Palpatine.”
“Hmmm,” nodded Yoda. “Perhaps.”
“Stay here and keep the ship ready to run,” Anakin told R2 as he and Kolar stepped down into the hangar bay of The Invisible Hand.
A series of low, cautious beeps answered him.
“Don’t worry,” Anakin said, winking at his little friend. “I’ve got this.”
Waiting for them was a relatively small number of uniformed soldiers, and behind them . . .
Anakin resisted the temptation to reach for his lightsaber and he caught Kolar’s hand as he reached for his. Behind the dozen or so soldiers was the unmistakable cloaked figure of Darth Maul.
“You must be Anakin Skywalker,” said the commander in front of the welcoming committee. “My name is Commander Crennic.”
“I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but that remains to be seen,” answered Anakin. “This is Agen Kolar, a friend of mine.”
“A fellow Jedi, from the look of his robes,” nodded Crennic. “So much the better.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to see Master Windu,” said Anakin, glancing around and surreptitiously assessing the tactical situation at hand. He could see Windu’s ship nearby amid hundreds of TIE fighters, but no sign of the Jedi Master. There was also a ship of Nubian design that Anakin could have sworn he recognized.
“Yes, of course,” said Crennic, smiling. “I assure you we have not harmed him. In fact, we rescued him when his ship encountered some engine trouble. We will need some time to complete the repairs, but the damage was not extensive.”
“And Master Windu?” asked Anakin.
“Completely unharmed, I assure you,” answered Crennic. “In fact, here he comes now,” he continued, gesturing.
A door on one side of the hangar bay had opened and sure enough, Mace Windu was walking freely into the large chamber. A few steps behind him was another figure Anakin didn’t recognize at first. Or perhaps he simply couldn’t make sense of what his eyes were telling him.
“Ahhh, Master Anakin!” said the figure behind Windu. “So good of you to come to Master Windu’s rescue, though by now I hope you realize he is in no danger and your mission is not really much of a rescue.”
“Senator Palpatine?” asked Anakin, incredulously. “What are you doing here??”
“Actually, it’s Chancellor Palpatine now,” the older gentleman corrected as he stopped in front of Anakin. “I have humbly and graciously accepted the role in light of Valorum’s unfortunate demise. I came to make sure Master Windu is returned peacefully.”
“Were you worried I might wreak havoc on this Sith shipyard after I rescued Master Windu?” Asked Anakin, motioning toward Darth Maul. “Have they hurt you in any way?” he asked Windu.
“Not at all,” replied Windu. “I haven’t exactly been treated like a guest, but not exactly like a prisoner, either.”
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Palpatine said, handing Windu his lightsaber. “You’ll no doubt want this back.”
“I don’t understand,” said Kolar, finding his voice for the first time. “What’s going on here? Who are these people? Why is there a Sith Lord here?”
“Ahhh, Master Kolar, the Jedi can have such a narrow view of The Force,” answered Palpatine. “Dark, Light, Jedi, Sith . . .one of my primary goals as Chancellor is to unite both sides of The Force and bring true peace to the galaxy.”
An alert sounded throughout the hangar and a series of red lights began blinking.
“What is it?” Crennic said into his communicator.
“We have a perimeter alert from the Rodian system,” came the voice over the speaker. “There is a clone attack force closing in on them and we are preparing to jump to lightspeed. Report to the bridge at once.”
“On our way, General Tarkin,” responded Crennic.
“Here’s a chance for you to see my plan in action!” said Palpatine. “Join me on the bridge?”
Anakin, Kolar and Windu fell in behind the group of officers as they hopped into an elevator and turbo lifted to the bridge of the attack cruiser. Darth Maul had disappeared, which made Anakin even more uneasy than the former’s presence had.
“General Tarkin, I would like you to meet my good friend Anakin Skywalker,” said Palpatine as the party arrived on the bridge.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” said Tarkin, crisply. “I hope we can find ways to work together.”
From the bridge tactical display, Anakin could see a massive number of ships jump to lightspeed and then emerge with the Rodian system directly ahead. Another command ship of different design that he recognized as a clone dreadnaught was already in orbit and appeared to be preparing either an invasion or an orbital attack. When Palpatine’s ship dropped out of lightspeed the other ship began turning to face its new threat.
“Launch all fighters and target the command ship with our turbolasers,” Crennic ordered.
Within moments the clone command ship was in flames and a minute or two later it exploded into tiny splinters of light. A few straggling fighters had managed to survive the blast, but Palpatine’s TIE fighters were easily picking them off.
“Successful test, Commander,” said Palpatine, beaming in the direction of Crennic. “No offense, Master Anakin, but the Jedi aren’t as efficient at warding off enemy attacks as our new defense fleet will be.”
“Defense fleet?” interjected Windu. “Looks like an assault force to me. The Senate will not approve this aggressive maneuver.”
“The Senate will approve what I tell them to approve,” Palpatine said, glaring at Windu. “I am the new chancellor, and my first duty is to expand the military so that no one will dare challenge the Republic.”
“Your first duty is to learn the will of the Senate and carry out that will,” said Windu.
“This is a time of war, and during times of war a leader must take bold action to ensure the preservation of his people,” said Palpatine, growing irritated. “I thought you, of all people, would understand that. We must unite around a common cause and fight the greater enemy.”
“You’re talking about uniting with the Sith, aren’t you?” asked Windu, accusingly. “How quickly you’ve forgotten that a Sith lord was in charge of the fleet that attacked your planet.”
“Master Jedi, it really is time for you to grow beyond such a narrow view of The Force,” said Palpatine, calm once more. “There are many renegade Jedis and Siths throughout the galaxy. Count Dooku chose to channel The Force in ways that brought about his own death. Wasn’t he a Jedi, once? I’ll try not to hold his actions against you. Please don’t hold them against anyone else.”
“Now you sound like Anakin,” said Windu.
“No,” said Anakin, jumping in. “He sounds like Master Qui-Gon. He always taught me that The Force is bigger than Light or Dark . . .we do it a disservice when we split it into factions.”
“That’s for the Jedi Council to decide,” said Windu. “I assume we are now allowed to leave? Or are you keeping us captive after all?”
“Not at all,” replied Palpatine. “You are free to leave whenever you choose. We shall return your ship as soon as repairs are complete.”
“Let’s go, Anakin,” said Windu, leading Anakin and Kolar back the way they had come.
“Fire up the ship, R2, we’re heading home,” Anakin called to his faithful sidekick.
The engines on the Republic gunship flared to life and was soon speeding its way back to Coruscant.
“I don’t think they were convinced,” Darth Maul said, emerging at Palpatine’s side.
“Patience, my friend,” Palpatine replied. “We are merely planting seeds. They will either decide to join our cause or destroy themselves opposing us.”
Vela, Obi-Wan and C-3P0 were waiting on the landing platform as Anakin’s gunship landed. They could hear raised voices before the engines disengaged and the side door slid open.
“…WHAT you think, the council deserves to know that the Sith have made this peace overture,” Anakin was shouting.
“This is nothing more than a Sith TRICK, and if you had more experience you SEE that!” Mace Windu shouted back.
“I hate to interrupt,” said Obi-Wan, calmly, “does this mean the mission was a success?”
The two arguing Jedis stopped abruptly and noticed their welcoming committee for the first time.
“Yes,” said Anakin, hugging Vela with one arm and grasping Obi-Wan’s hand with the other. “It was more of a success than I could have possibly imagined. We have to meet with the Council immediately!”
“Yes, we do,” agreed Mace, scowling. “The Sith threat is much worse than we feared.”
To Be Continued….