Star Wars-ATTACK OF THE CLONES eBook #starwars #ebooks

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… 3
Prologue 4
= I = 5

 = II = 7
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 = VI = 20
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 = IX = 34

 = X = 36


 = XI = 40
 = XII = 42
 = XIII = 46
 = XIV = 50
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 = XIX = 72
 = XX = 77
 = XXI = 80
 = XXII = 84
 = XXIII = 89
 = XXIV = 95


           A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...


                              Prologue

 His mind absorbed the scene  before  him,  so  quiet  and  calm  and...

normal.
It was the life he had always wanted, a gathering of family and
friends-he knew that they were just that, though the only one he recognized
was his dear mother.
This was the way it was supposed to be. The warmth and the love, the
laughter and the quiet times. This was how he had always dreamed it would
be, how he had always prayed it would be. The warm, inviting smiles. The
pleasant conversation. The gentle pats on shoulders.
But most of all there was the smile of his beloved mother, so happy
now, no more a slave. When she looked at him, he saw all of that and more,
saw how proud she was of him, how joyful her life had become.
She moved before him, her face beaming, her hand reaching out for him
to gently stroke his face. Her smile brightened, then widened some more.
Too much more. For a moment, he thought the exaggeration a product of
love beyond normal bounds, but the smile continued to grow, his mother’s
face stretching and contorting weirdly.
She seemed to be moving in slow motion then. They all did, slowing as
if their limbs had become heavy.
No, not heavy, he realized, his warm feelings turning suddenly hot. It
was as if these friends and his mother were becoming rigid and stiff, as if
they were becoming something less than living and breathing humans. He
stared back at that caricature of a smile, the twisted face, and recognized
the pain behind it, a crystalline agony.
He tried to call out to her, to ask her what she needed him to do, ask
her how he could help.
Her face twisted even more, blood running from her eyes. Her skin
crystallized, becoming almost translucent, almost like glass.
Glass! She was glass! The light glistened off her crystalline
highlights, the blood ran fast over her smooth surface. And her expression,
a look of resignation and apology, a look that said she had failed him and
that he had failed her, drove a sharp point straight into the helpless
onlooker’s heart.
He tried to reach out for her, tried to save her.
Cracks began to appear in the glass. He heard the crunching sounds as
they elongated.
He cried out repeatedly, reached for her desperately. Then he thought
of the Force, and sent his thoughts there with all his willpower, reaching
for her with all his energy.
But then, she shattered.

 The Jedi Padawan jumped to  a  sitting  position  in  his  cot  on  the

starship, his eyes popping open wide, sweat on his forehead and his breath
coming in gasps. A dream. It was all a dream.
He told himself that repeatedly as he tried to settle back down on the
cot. It was all a dream.
Or was it?
He could see things, after all, before they happened.
“Ansion!” came a call from the front of the ship, the familiar voice of
his Master.
He knew that he had to shake the dream away, had to focus on the events
at hand, the latest assignment beside his Master, but that was easier said
than done.
For he saw her again, his mother, her body going rigid, crystallizing,
then exploding into a million shattered shards.
He looked up ahead, envisioning his Master at the controls, wondering
if he should tell all to the Jedi, wondering if the Jedi would be able to
help him. But that thought washed away as soon as it had crossed his mind.
His Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, would not be able to help. They were too
involved in other things, in his training, in minor assignments like the
border dispute that had brought them so far out from Coruscant.
The Padawan wanted to get back to Coruscant, as soon as possible. He
needed guidance now, but not the kind he was getting from Obi-Wan.
He needed to speak with Chancellor Palpatine again, to hear the man’s
reassuring words. Palpatine had taken a great interest in him over the last
ten years, making sure that he always got a chance to speak with him
whenever he and Obi-Wan were on Coruscant.
The Padawan took great comfort in that now, with the terrible dream so
vivid in his thoughts. For the Chancellor, the wise leader of all the
Republic, had promised him that his powers would soar to previously unknown
heights, that he would become a power even among the powerful Jedi.
Perhaps that was the answer. Perhaps the mightiest of the Jedi, the
mightiest of the mighty, could strengthen the fragile glass.
“Ansion,” came the call again from the front. “Anakin, get up here!”

                               = I =

 Shmi Skywalker Lars stood on the edge of  the  sand  berm  marking  the

perimeter of the moisture farm, one leg up higher, to the very top of the
ridge, knee bent. With one hand on that knee for support, the middle-aged
woman, her dark hair slightly graying, her face worn and tired, stared up at
the many bright dots of starlight on this crisp Tatooine night. No sharp
edges broke the landscape about her, just the smooth and rounded forms of
windblown sand dunes on this planet of seemingly endless sands. Somewhere
out in the distance a creature groaned, a plaintive sound that resonated
deeply within Shmi this night.
This special night.
Her son Anakin, her dearest little Annie, turned twenty this night, a
birthday Shmi observed each year, though she hadn’t seen her beloved child
in a decade. How different he must be! How grown, how strong, how wise in
the ways of the Jedi by now! Shmi, who had lived all of her life in a small
area of drab Tatooine, knew that she could hardly imagine the wonders her
boy might have found out there among the stars, on planets so different from
this, with colors more vivid and water that filled entire valleys.
A wistful smile widened on her still-pretty face as she remembered
those days long ago, when she and her son had been slaves of the wretch
Watto. Annie, with his mischief and his dreams, with his independent
attitude and unsurpassed courage, used to so infuriate the Toydarian junk
dealer. Despite the hardships of life as a slave, there had been good times,
too, back then. Despite their meager food, their meager possessions, despite
the constant complaining and ordering about by Watto, she had been with
Annie, her beloved son.
“You should come in,” came a quiet voice behind her.
Shmi’s smile only widened, and she turned to see her stepson, Owen
Lars, walking over to join her. He was a stocky and strong boy about
Anakin’s age, with short brown hair, a few bristles, and a wide face that
could not hide anything that was within his heart.
Shmi tousled Owen’s hair when he moved beside her, and he responded by
draping an arm across her shoulders and kissing her on the cheek.
“No starship tonight, Mom?” Owen asked good-naturedly. He knew why Shmi
had come out here, why she came out here so very often in the quiet night.
Shmi turned her hand over and gently stroked it down Owen’s face,
smiling. She loved this young man as she loved her own son, and he had been
so good to her, so understanding of the hole that remained within her heart.
Without jealousy, without judgment, Owen had accepted Shmi’s pain and had
always given her a shoulder to lean on.
“No starship this night,” she replied, and she looked back up at the
starry canopy. “Anakin must be busy saving the galaxy or chasing smugglers
and other outlaws. He has to do those things now, you know.”
“Then I shall sleep more soundly from this night forward,” Owen replied
with a grin.
Though she was kidding, of course, Shmi did realize a bit of truth in
her presumption about Anakin. He was a special child, something beyond the
norm-even for a Jedi, she believed. Anakin had always stood taller than
anyone else. Not physically-physically, as Shmi remembered him, he was just
a smiling little boy, with curious eyes and sandy blond hair. But Annie
could do things, and so very well. He was the first human ever to win one of
the Podraces, and that when he was only nine years old! And in a racer that,
Shmi remembered with an even wider smile, had been built with spare parts
taken from Watto’s junkyard.
But that was Anakin’s way, because he was not like the other children,
or even like other adults. Anakin could “see” things before they happened,
as if he was so tuned to the world about him that he understood innately the
logical conclusion to any course of events. He could often sense problems
with his Podracer, for example, long before those problems manifested
themselves in a catastrophic way. He had once told her that he could feel
the upcoming obstacles in any course before he actually saw them. It was his
special way, and that was why the Jedi who had come to Tatooine had
recognized the unique nature of the boy and had freed him from Watto and
taken him into their care and instruction. “I had to let him go,” Shmi said
quietly. “I could not keep him with me, if that meant living the life of a
slave.”
“I know,” Owen assured her.
“I could not have kept him with me even if we were not slaves,” she
went on, and she looked at Owen, as if her own words had surprised her.
“Annie has so much to give to the galaxy. His gifts could not be contained
by Tatooine. He belongs out there, flying across the stars, saving planets.
He was born to be a Jedi, born to give so much more to so many more.”
“That is why I sleep better at night,” Owen reiterated, and when Shmi
looked at him, she saw that his grin was wider than ever.
“Oh, you’re teasing me!” she said, reaching out to swat her stepson on
the shoulder. Owen merely shrugged.
Shmi’s face went serious again. “Annie wanted to go,” she went on, the
same speech she had given Owen before, the same speech that she had silently
repeated to herself every night for the last ten years. “His dream was to
fly about the stars, to see every world in the whole galaxy, to do grand
things. He was born a slave, but he was not born to be a slave. No, not my
Annie.
“Not my Annie.”
Owen squeezed her sho ulder. “You did the right thing. If I was Anakin,
I would be grateful to you. I’d understand that you did what was best for
me. There is no greater love than that, Mom.”
Shmi stroked his face again and even managed a wistful smile.
“Come on in, Mom,” Owen said, taking her hand. “It’s dangerous out
here.”
Shmi nodded and didn’t resist at first as Owen started to pull her
along. She stopped suddenly, though, and stared hard at her stepson as he
turned back to regard her. “It’s more dangerous out there,” she said,
sucking in her breath, her voice breaking. Alarm evident in her expression,
she looked back up at the wide and open sky. “What if he is hurt, Owen? Or
dead?”
“It’s better to die in pursuit of your dreams than to live a life
without hope,” Owen said, rather unconvincingly.
Shmi looked back at him, her smile returning. Owen, like his father,
was about as grounded in simple pragmatism as any man could be. She
understood that he had said that only for her benefit, and that made it all
the more special.
She didn’t resist anymore as Owen began to lead her along again, back
to the humble abode of Cliegg Lars, her husband, Owen’s father.
She had done the right thing concerning her son, Shmi told herself with
every step. They had been slaves, with no prospects of finding their freedom
other than the offer of the Jedi. How could she have kept Anakin here on
Tatooine, when Jedi Knights were promising him all of his dreams?
Of course, at that time, Shmi had not known that she would meet Cliegg
Lars that fateful day in Mos Espa, and that the moisture farmer would fall
in love with her, buy her from Watto, and free her, and only then, once she
was a free woman, ask her to marry him. Would she have let Anakin go if she
had known the changes that would come into her life so soon after his
departure?
Wouldn’t her life be better now, more complete by far, if Anakin were
beside her?
Shmi smiled as she thought about it. No, she realized, she would still
have wanted Annie to go, even if she had foreseen the dramatic changes that
would soon come into her life. Not for herself, but for Anakin. His place
was out there. She knew that.
Shmi shook her head, overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, by the many
winding turns in her life’s path, in Anakin’s path. Even in hindsight, she
could not be sure that this present situation was not the best possible
outcome, for both of them.
But still, there remained a deep and empty hole in her heart.

                               = II =

 "I can help with that," Beru said politely, moving to  join  Shmi,  who

was cooking dinner. Cliegg and Owen were out closing down the perimeter of
the compound, securing the farm from the oncoming night-a night that
promised a dust storm.
Smiling warmly, and glad that this young woman was soon to be a member
of their family, Shmi handed a knife over to Beru. Owen hadn’t said anything
yet about marrying Beru, but Shmi could tell from the way the two looked at
each other. It was only a matter of time, and not much time at that, if she
knew her stepson. Owen was not an adventurous type, was as solid as the
ground beneath them, but when he knew what he wanted, he went after it with
single-minded purpose.
Beru was exactly that, and she obviously loved Owen as deeply as he
loved her. She was well suited to be the wife of a moisture farmer, Shmi
thought, watching her methodically go about her duties in the kitchen. She
never shied from work, was very capable and diligent.
And she doesn’t expect much, or need much to make her happy, Shmi
thought, for that, in truth, was the crux of it. Their existence here was
simple and plain. There were few adventures, and none at all that were
welcomed, for excitement out here usually meant that Tusken Raiders had been
seen in the region, or that a gigantic sandstorm or some other potentially
devastating weather phenomenon was blowing up.
The Lars family had only the simple things, mostly the company of each
other, to keep them amused and content. For Cliegg, this had been the only
way of life he had ever known, a lifestyle that went back several
generations in the Lars family. Same thing for Owen. And while Beru had
grown up in Mos Eisley, she seemed to fit right in.
Yes, Owen would marry her, Shmi knew, and what a happy day that would
be!
The two men returned soon after, along with C-3PO, the protocol droid
Anakin had built back in the days when he had Watto’s junkyard to rummage
through.
“Two more tangaroots for you, Mistress Shmi,” the thin droid said,
handing Shmi a pair of orange-and-green freshly picked vegetables. “I would
have brought more, but I was told, and not in any civil way, that I must
hurry.”
Shmi looked to Cliegg, and he gave her a grin and a shrug. “Could’ve
left him out there to get sandblasted clean, I suppose,” he said. “Of
course, some of the bigger rocks that are sure to be flying about might’ve
taken out a circuit or two.”
“Your pardon, Master Cliegg,” C-3PO said. “I only meant-“
“We know what you meant, Threepio,” Shmi assured the droid. She placed
a comforting hand on his shoulder, then quickly pulled it away, thinking
that a perfectly silly gesture to offer to a walking box of wires. Of
course, C-3PO was much more than a box of wires to Shmi. Anakin had built
the droid. Almost. When Anakin had left with the Jedi, 3PO had been
perfectly functional, but uncovered, his wires exposed. Shmi had left him
that way for a long time, fantasizing that Anakin would return to complete
the job. Just before marrying Cliegg had Shmi finished the droid herself,
adding the dull metal coverings. It had been quite a touching moment for
Shmi, an admission of sorts that she was where she belonged and Anakin was
where he belonged. The protocol droid could be quite annoying at times, but
to Shmi, C-3PO remained a reminder of her son.
“Course, if there are Tuskens about, they’d likely have gotten him
under wraps before the storm,” Cliegg went on, obviously taking great
pleasure in teasing the poor droid. “You’re not afraid of Tusken Raiders,
are you, Threepio?”
“There is nothing in my program to suggest such fear,” 3PO replied,
though he would have sounded more convincing if he hadn’t been shaking as he
spoke, and if his voice hadn’t come out all squeaky and uneven.
“Enough,” Shmi demanded of Cliegg. “Oh, poor Threepio,” she said,
patting the droid’s shoulder again. “Go ahead, now. I’ve got more than
enough help this evening.” As she finished, she waved the droid away.
“You’re just terrible to that poor droid,” she remarked, moving beside
her husband and playfully patting him across his broad shoulder.
“Well, if I can’t have fun with him, I’ll have to set my sights on
someone else,” the rarely mischievous Cliegg replied, narrowing his eyes and
scanning the room. He finally settled a threatening gaze on Beru.
“Cliegg,” Shmi was quick to warn.
“What?” he protested dramatically. “If she’s thinking to come out and
live here, then she had better learn to defend herself!”
“Dad!” Owen cried.
“Oh, don’t fret about old Cliegg,” Beru piped in, emphasizing the word
old. “A fine wife I would make if I couldn’t out-duel that one in a war of
words!”
“Aha! A challenge!” Cliegg roared.
“Not so much of one from where I’m sitting,” Beru dryly returned, and
she and Cliegg began exchanging some good-natured insults, with Owen chiming
in every now and again.
Shmi hardly listened, too engaged in merely watching Beru. Yes, she
would certainly fit in, and well, about the moisture farm. Her temperament
was perfect. Solid, but playful when the situation allowed. Gruff Cliegg
could verbally spar with the best of them, but Beru had to be counted among
that elite lot. Shmi went back to her dinner preparations, her smile growing
wider every time Beru hit Cliegg with a particularly nasty retort.
Intent on her work, Shmi never saw the missile coming, and when the
overripe vegetable hit her on the side of the face, she let out a shriek.
Of course, that only made the other three in the room howl with
laughter.
Shmi turned to see them sitting there, staring at her. From the
embarrassed expression on Beru’s face, and from the angle, with Beru sitting
directly behind Cliegg, it seemed obvious to Shmi that Beru had launched the
missile, aiming for Cliegg, but throwing a bit high.
“The girl listens when you tell her to stop,” Cliegg Lars said, his
sarcastic tone shattered by a burst of laughter that came right from his
belly.
He stopped when Shmi smacked him with a piece of juicy fruit,
splattering it across his shoulders.
A food fight began-measured, of course, and with more threats hurled
than actual missiles.
When it ended, Shmi began the cleanup, the other three helping for a
bit. “You two go and spend some time together without your troublemaking
father,” Shmi told Owen and Beru. “Cliegg started it, so Cliegg will help
clean it up. Go on, now. I’ll call you back when dinner’s on the table.”
Cliegg gave a little laugh.
“And if you mess up the next one, you’re going to be hungry,” Shmi told
him, threateningly waving a spoon his way. “And lonely!”
“Whoa! Never that!” Cliegg said, holding his hands up in a sign of
surrender.
With a wave of the spoon, Shmi further dismissed Owen and Beru, and the
two went off happily.
“She’ll make him a fine wife,” Shmi said to Cliegg.
He walked up beside her and grabbed her about the waist, pulling her
tight. “We Lars men fall in love with the best women.”
Shmi looked back to see his warm and sincere smile, and she returned it
in kind. This was the way it was supposed to be. Good honest work, a sense
of true accomplishment, and enough free time for some fun, at least. This
was the life Shmi had always wanted. This was perfect, almost.
A wistful look came over her face.
“Thinking of your boy again,” Cliegg Lars stated, instead of asked.
Shmi looked at him, her expression a mixture of joy and sadness, a
single dark cloud crossing a sunny blue sky. “Yes, but it’s okay this time,”
she said. “He’s safe, I know, and doing great things.”
“But when we have such fun, you wish he could be here.”
Shmi smiled again. “I do, and in all other times, as well. I wish
Anakin had been here from the beginning, since you and I first met.”
“Five years ago,” Cliegg remarked.
“He would love you as I do, and he and Owen…” Her voice weakened and
trailed away.
“You think that Anakin and Owen would be friends?” Cliegg asked. “Bah!
Of course they would!”
“You’ve never even met my Annie!” Shmi scolded.
“They’d be the best of friends,” Cliegg assured her, tightening his hug
once again. “How could they not be, with you as that one’s mother?”
Shmi accepted the compliment gracefully, looked back and gave Cliegg a
deep and appreciative kiss. She was thinking of Owen, of the young man’s
flowering romance with the lovely Beru. How Shmi loved them both!
But that thought brought with it some level of discomfort. Shmi had
often wondered if Owen had been part of the reason she had so readily agreed
to marry Cliegg. She looked back at her husband, rubbing her hand over his
broad shoulder. Yes, she loved him, and deeply, and she certainly couldn’t
deny her joy at finally being relieved of her slave bonds. But despite all
of that, what part had the presence of Owen played in her decisions? It had
been a question that had stayed with her all these years. Had there been a
need in her heart that Owen had filled? A mother’s need to cover the hole
left by Anakin’s departure?
In truth, the two boys were very different in temperament. Owen was
solid and staid, the rock who would gladly take over the farm from Cliegg
when the time came, as this moisture farm had been passed down in the Lars
family from generation to generation. Owen was ready, and even thrilled, to
be the logical and rightful heir to the place, more than able to accept the
often difficult lifestyle in exchange for the pride and sense of honest
accomplishment that came with running the place correctly.
But Annie…
Shmi nearly laughed aloud as she considered her impetuous and
wanderlust-filled son put in a similar situation. She had no doubts that
Anakin would give Cliegg the same fits he had always given Watto. Anakin’s
adventurous spirit would not be tamed by any sense of generational
responsibility, Shmi knew. His need to leap out for adventure, to race the
Pods, to fly among the stars, would not have been diminished, and it surely
would have driven Cliegg crazy.
Now Shmi did giggle, picturing Cliegg turning red-faced with
exasperation when Anakin had let his duties slide once again.
Cliegg hugged her all the tighter at the sound, obviously having no
clue of the mental images fluttering through her brain.
Shmi melted into that hug, knowing that she was where she belonged, and
taking comfort in the hope that Anakin, too, was where he truly belonged.

 She wasn't wearing one of the grand gowns that had marked  the  station

of her life for the last decade and more. Her hair was not done up in
wondrous fashion, with some glittering accessory woven into the thick brown
strands. And in that plainness, Padm© Amidala only appeared more beautiful
and more shining.
The woman sitting beside her on the bench swing, so obviously a
relation, was a bit older, a bit more matronly, perhaps, clothes even more
plain than Padm©’s and with her hair a bit more out of place. But she was no
less beautiful, shining with an inner glow equally strong.
“Did you finish your meetings with Queen Jamillia?” Sola asked. It was
obvious from her tone that the meetings to which she had referred were not
high on her personal wish list.
Padm© looked over at her, then looked back to the playhouse where
Sola’s daughters, Ryoo and Pooja, were in the midst of a wild game of tag.
“It was one meeting,” Padm© explained. “The Queen had some information
to pass along.”
“About the Military Creation Act,” Sola stated.
Padm© didn’t bother to confirm the obvious. The Military Creation Act
now before the Senate was the most important piece of business in many
years, one that held implications for the Republic even beyond those during
the dark time when Padm© had been Queen and the Trade Federation had tried
to conquer Naboo.
“The Republic is all in a tumult, but not to fear, for Senator Amidala
will put it all aright,” Sola said.
Padm© turned to her, somewhat surprised by the level of sarcasm in
Sola’s tone.
“That’s what you do, right?” Sola innocently asked.
“It’s what I try to do.”
“It’s all you try to do.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Padm© asked, her face twisting with
puzzlement. “I am a Senator, after all.”
“A Senator after a Queen, and probably with many more offices ahead of
her,” Sola said. She looked back at the playhouse and called for Ryoo and
Pooja to ease up.
“You speak as if it’s a bad thing,” Padm© remarked.
Sola looked at her earnestly. “It’s a great thing,” she said. “If
you’re doing it all for the right reasons.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
Sola shrugged, as if she wasn’t quite sure. “I think you’ve convinced
yourself that you’re indispensable to the Republic,” she said. “That they
couldn’t get along at all without you.”
“Sis!”
“It’s true,” Sola insisted. “You give and give and give and give. Don’t
you ever want to take, just a little?”
Padm©’s smile showed that Sola’s words had caught her off guard. “Take
what?”
Sola looked back to Ryoo and Pooja. “Look at them. I see the sparkle in
your eyes when you watch my children. I know how much you love them.”
“Of course I do!”
“Wouldn’t you like to have children of your own?” Sola asked. “A family
of your own?”
Padm© sat up straight, her eyes going wide. “I…” she started, and
stopped, several times. “I’m working right now for something I deeply
believe in. For something that’s important.”
“And after this is settled, after the Military Creation Act is far
behind you, you’ll find something else to deeply believe in, something else
that’s really important. Something that concerns the Republic and the
government more than it really concerns you.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true, and you know it’s true. When are you going to do
something just for yourself?”
“I am.”
“You know what I mean.”
Padm© gave a little laugh and a shake of her head, and turned back to
Ryoo and Pooja. “Is everyone to be defined by their children?” she asked.
“Of course not,” Sola replied. “It’s not that at all. Or not just that.
I’m talking about something bigger, Sis. You spend all of your time worrying
about the problems of other people, of this planet’s dispute with that
planet, or whether this trade guild is acting fairly toward that system. All
of your energy is being thrown out there to try to make the lives of
everyone else better.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“What about your life?” Sola asked in all seriousness. “What about
Padm© Amidala? Have you even thought about what might make your life better?
Most people who have been in public service as long as you have would have
retired by now. I know you get satisfaction in helping other people. That’s
pretty obvious. But what about something deeper for you? What about love,
Sis? And yes, what about having kids? Have you even thought about it? Have
you even wondered what it might be like for you to settle down and concern
yourself with those things that will make your own life fuller?”
Padm© wanted to retort that her life didn’t need to be any fuller, but
she found herself holding back the words. Somehow they seemed hollow to her
at that particular moment, watching her nieces romping about the backyard of
the house, now jumping all about poor R2-D2, Padm©’s astromech droid.
For the first time in many days, Padm©’s thoughts roamed free of her
responsibilities, free of the important vote she would have to cast in the
Senate in less than a month. Somehow, the words Military Creation Act
couldn’t filter through the whimsical song that Ryoo and Pooja were then
making up about R2-D2.

 "Too close," Owen remarked gravely to Cliegg, the two of  them  walking

the perimeter of the moisture farm, checking the security. The call of a
bantha, the large and shaggy beasts often ridden by Tuskens, had interrupted
their conversation.
They both knew it was unlikely that a bantha would be roaming wild
about this region, for there was little grazing area anywhere near the
desolate moisture farm. But they had heard the call, and could identify it
without doubt, and they suspected that potential enemies were near.
“What is driving them so close to the farms?” Owen asked.
“It’s been too long since we’ve organized anything against them,”
Cliegg replied gruffly. “We let the beasts run free, and they’re forgetting
the lessons we taught them in the past.” He looked hard at Owen’s skeptical
expression. “You have to go out there and teach the Tuskens their manners
every now and again.”
Owen just stood there, having no response.
“See how long it’s been?” Cliegg said with a snort. “You don’t even
remember the last time we went out and chased off the Tuskens! There’s the
problem, right there!”
The bantha lowed again.
Cliegg gave a growl in the general direction of the sound, waved his
hand, and walked off toward the house. “You keep Beru close for a bit,” he
instructed. “The both of you stay within the perimeter, and keep a blaster
at your side.”
Owen nodded and dutifully followed as Cliegg stalked into the house.
Right before the pair reached the door, the bantha lowed again.
It didn’t seem so far away.
“What’s the matter?” Shmi asked the moment Cliegg entered the house.
Her husband stopped, and managed to paste on a bit of a comforting
smile. “Just the sand,” he said. “Covered some sensors, and I’m getting
tired of digging them out.” He smiled even wider and walked to the side of
the room, heading for the refresher.
“Cliegg…” Shmi called suspiciously, stopping him.
Owen came through the door then, and Beru looked at him. “What is it?”
she asked, unconsciously echoing Shmi.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Owen replied, but as he crossed the room,
Beru stepped before him and took him by the arms, forcing him to look at her
directly, into an expression too serious to be dismissed.
“Just signs of a sandstorm,” Cliegg lied. “Far off, and probably
nothing.”
“But already enough to bury some sensors on the perimeter?” Shmi asked.
Owen looked at her curiously, then heard Cliegg clear his throat. He
looked to his father, who nodded slightly, then turned back to Shmi and
agreed. “The first winds, but I don’t think it will be as strong as Dad
believes.”
“Are you both going to stand there lying to us?” Beru snapped suddenly,
stealing the words from Shmi’s mouth.
“What did you see, Cliegg?” Shmi demanded.
“Nothing,” he answered with conviction.
“Then what did you hear?” Shmi pressed, recognizing her husband’s
semantic dodge clearly enough.
“I heard a bantha, nothing more,” Cliegg admitted.
“And you think it was a Tusken mount,” Shmi stated. “How far?”
“Who can tell, in the night, and with the wind shifting? Could’ve been
kilometers.”
“Or?”
Cliegg walked back across the room to stand right before his wife.
“What do you want from me, love?” he asked, taking her in a firm hug. “I
heard a bantha. I don’t know if there was a Tusken attached.”
“But there have been more signs of the Raiders about,” Owen admitted.
“The Dorrs found a pile of bantha poodoo half covering one of their
perimeter sensors.”
“It may be just that there’s a few banthas running loose in the area,
probably half starved and looking for some food,” Cliegg offered.
“Or it might be that the Tuskens are growing bolder, are coming right
down to the edges of the farms, and are even beginning to test the
security,” Shmi said. Almost prophetically, just as she finished, the alarms
went off, indicating a breach about the perimeter sensor line.
Owen and Cliegg grabbed their blaster rifles and rushed out of the
house, Shmi and Beru close behind.
“You stay here!” Cliegg instructed the two women. “Or go get a weapon,
at least!” He glanced about, indicated a vantage point to Owen, and motioned
for his son to take up a defensive position and cover him.
Then he rushed across the compound, blaster rifle in hand, Zigzagging
his way, staying low and scanning for any movement, knowing that if he saw a
form that resembled either Tusken or bantha, he’d shoot first and
investigate after.
But it didn’t come to that. Cliegg and Owen searched the whole of the
perimeter, scanned the area and rechecked the alarms, and found no sign of
intruders.
All four stayed on edge the remainder of that night, though, each of
them keeping a weapon close at hand, and sleeping only in shifts.
The next day, out by the eastern rim, Owen found the source of the
alarm a footprint along a patch of sturdier ground near the edge of the
farm. It wasn’t the large round depression a bantha would make, but the
indentation one might expect from a foot wrapped in soft material, much like
a Tusken would wear.
“We should speak with the Dorrs and all the others,” Cliegg said when
Owen showed the print to him. “Get a group together and chase the animals
back into the open desert.”
“The banthas?”
“Them, too,” Cliegg snarled. He spat upon the ground, as steely-eyed
and angry as Owen had ever seen him.

 Senator Padm© Amidala felt strangely uneasy in her office, in the  same

complex as, but unattached to, the royal palace of Queen Jamillia. Her desk
was covered in holodisks and all the other usual clutter of her station. At
the front of it, a holo played through the numbers, a soldier on one scale,
a flag of truce on the other, tallying the predicted votes for the meeting
on Coruscant. The hologram depiction of those scales seemed almost perfectly
balanced.
Padm© knew that the vote would be close, with the Senate almost evenly
divided over whether the Republic should create a formal army. It galled her
to think that so many of her colleagues would be voting based on personal
gain-everything from potential contracts to supply the army for their home
systems to direct payoffs from some of the commerce guilds-rather than on
what was best for the Republic.
In her heart, Padm© remained steadfast that she had to work defeat the
creation of this army. The Republic was built on tolerance. It was a vast
network of tens of thousands of systems, and even more species, each with a
distinct perspective. The only element they shared was tolerance-tolerance
of one another. The creation of an army might prove unsettling, even
threatening, to so many of those systems and species, beings far removed
from the great city-planet of Coruscant.
A commotion outside drew Padm© to the window, and she looked down upon
the complex courtyard to see a group of men jostling and fighting as the
Naboo security forces rushed in to control the situation.
There came a sharp rap on the door to her office, and as she turned
back that way, the portal slid open and Captain Panaka strode in.
“Just checking, Senator,” said the man who had served as her personal
bodyguard when she was Queen. Tall and dark-skinned, he had a steely gaze
and an athletic physique only accentuated by the cut of his brown leather
jerkin, blue shirt, and pants, and the mere sight of Panaka filled Padm©
with comfort. He was in his forties now, but still looked as if he could
outfight any man on Naboo.
“Shouldn’t you be seeing to the security of Queen Jamillia?” Padm©
asked.
Panaka nodded. “She is well protected, I assure you.”
“From?” Padm© prompted, nodding toward the window and the continuing
disturbance beyond.
“Spice miners,” Panaka explained. “Contract issues. Nothing to concern
you, Senator. Actually, I was on my way here to speak with you about
security for your return trip to Coruscant.”
“That is weeks away.” Panaka looked to the window.
“Which gives us more time to properly prepare.”
Padm© knew better than to argue with the stubborn man. Since she would
be flying an official starship of the Naboo fleet Panaka had the right, if
not the responsibility, to get involved. And in truth, his concern pleased
her, although she’d never admit it to him.
A shout outside and renewed fighting drew her attention briefly, making
her wince. Another problem. There was always a problem, somewhere. Padm© had
to wonder if that was just the nature of people, to create some excitement
when all seemed well. Given that unsettling thought, Sola’s words came back
to her, along with images of Ryoo and Pooja. How she loved those two
carefree little sprites!
“Senator?” Panaka said, drawing her out of her private contemplations.
“Yes?”
“We should discuss the security procedures.”
It pained Padm© to let go of the images of her nieces at that moment,
but she nodded and forced herself back into her responsible mode. Captain
Panaka had said that they had to discuss security, and so Padm© Amidala had
to discuss security.

 The Lars family was being serenaded through yet another  night  by  the

lowing of many banthas. None of the four had any doubt that Tuskens were out
there, not far from the farm, perhaps even then watching its lights.
“They’re wild beasts, and we should have gotten the Mos Eisley
authorities to exterminate them like the vermin they are. Them and the
stinking Jawas!”
Shmi sighed and put her hand on her husband’s tense forearm. “The Jawas
have helped us,” she reminded him gently.
“Then not the Jawas!” Cliegg roared back, and Shmi jumped. Taking note
of Shmi’s horrified expression, Cliegg calmed at once. “I’m sorry. Not the
Jawas, then. But the Tuskens. They kill and steal whenever and wherever they
can. No good comes of them!”
“If they try to come in here, there’ll be less of them to chase back
out into the desert,” Owen offered, and Cliegg gave him an appreciative nod.
They tried to finish their dinner, but every time a bantha sounded,
they all tensed, hands shifting from utensils to readied blasters.
“Listen,” Shmi said suddenly, and they all went perfectly quiet,
straining their ears. All was quiet outside; no banthas were lowing.
“Perhaps they were just moving by,” Shmi offered when she was certain
the others had caught on. “Heading back out into the open desert where they
belong.”
“We’ll go out to the Dorrs’ in the morning,” Cliegg said to Owen.
“We’ll get all the farmers organized, and maybe get a call in to Mos Eisley,
as well.” He looked to Shmi and nodded. “Just to make sure.”
“In the morning,” Owen agreed.

 At dawn the next day, Owen and Cliegg started  out  from  the  compound

before they had even eaten a good breakfast, for Shmi had gone out ahead of
them, as she did most mornings, to pick some mushrooms at the vaporators.
They expected to pass her on their way out to the Dorrs’ farm but
instead found her footprints, surrounded by the imprints of many others, the
soft boots of the Tuskens. Cliegg Lars, as strong and tough a man as the
region had ever known, fell to his knees and wept.
“We have to go after her, Dad,” came a suddenly solid and unwavering
voice.
Cliegg looked up and back to see Owen standing there, a man indeed and
no more a boy, his expression grim and determined.
“She is alive and we cannot leave her to them,” Owen said with a
strange, almost supernatural calm.
Cliegg wiped away the last of his tears and stared hard at his son,
then nodded grimly. “Spread the word to the neighboring farms.”

                              = III =

 "There they are!" Sholh Dorr  cried,  pointing  straight  ahead,  while

keeping his speeder bike at full throttle.
The twenty-nine others saw the target, the rising dust of a line of
walking banthas. With a co mmunal roar, the outraged farmers pressed on,
determined to exact revenge, determined to rescue Shmi, if she was still
alive among this band of Tusken Raiders.
Amidst the roar of engines and cries of revenge, they swept down the
descending wash, closing fast on the banthas, eager for battle.
Cliegg pumped his head, growling all the while, as if pleading with his
speederbike to accelerate even more. He swerved in from the left flank,
cutting into the center of the formation, then lowered his head and opened
the speederbike up, trying to catch the lead riders. All he wanted was to be
in the thick of it, to get his strong arms about a Tusken throat.
The banthas were clearly in sight, then, along with their robed riders.
Another cry went up, one of revenge.
One that fast turned to horror.
The leading edge of the farmer army plowed headlong into a wire
cleverly strung across the field, at neck height to a man riding a speeder
bike.
Cliegg’s own cry also became one of horror as he watched the
decapitation of several his friends and neighbors, as he watched others
thrown to the ground. Purely on instinct, knowing he couldn’t stop his
speeder in time, Cliegg leapt up, planting one foot on the seat, then leapt
again.
Then he felt a flash of pain, and he was spinning head over heels. He
landed hard on the rocky ground, skidding briefly.
All the world about him became a blur, a frenzy of sudden activity. He
saw the boots of his fellow farmers, heard Owen crying out to him, though it
seemed as if his son’s voice was far, far away.
He saw the wrapped leather of a Tusken boot, the sand-colored robes,
and with a rage that could not be denied by his disorientation, Cliegg
grabbed the leg as the Tusken ran past.
He looked up and raised his arms to block as the Tusken brought its
staff slamming down at him. Accepting the pain, not even feeling it through
his rage, Cliegg shoved forward and wrapped both his arms around the
Tusken’s legs, tugging the creature down to the ground before him. He
crawled over it, his strong hands battering it, then finding the hold he
wanted.
Cries of pain, from farmers and Tuskens alike, were all about him, but
Cliegg hardly heard them. His hands remained firmly about the Tusken’s
throat. He choked with all his considerable strength; he lifted the Tusken’s
head up and bashed it back down, over and over again, and continued to choke
and to batter long after the Tusken stopped resisting.
“Dad!”
That cry alone brought Cliegg from his rage. He dropped the Tusken
Raider back to the ground and turned about, to see Owen in close battle with
another of the Raiders.
Cliegg spun about and started to rise, putting one leg under him,
coming up fast…
hellip;And then he fell hard, his balance inexplicably gone. Confused,
he looked down expecting that another Tusken had tripped him up. But then he
saw that it was his own body that had failed him.
Only then did Cliegg Lars realize that he had lost his leg.
Blood pooled all about the ground, pouring from the severed limb. Eyes
wide with horror, Cliegg grabbed at his leg.
He called for Owen. He called desperately for Shmi.
A speeder bike whipped past him, a farmer fleeing the massacre, but the
man did not slow.
Cliegg tried to call out, but there was no voice to be found past the
lump in his throat, the realization that he had failed and that all was
lost.
Then a second speeder came by him, this one stopping fast. Reflexively,
Cliegg grabbed at it, and before he could even begin to pull himself up at
all, it sped away, dragging him along.
“Hold on, Dad!” Owen, the driver, cried to him.
Cliegg did. With the same stubbornness that had sustained him through
all the difficult times at the moisture farm, the same gritty determination
that had allowed him to conquer the harsh wild land of Tatooine, Cliegg Lars
held on. For all his life, and with Tuskens in fast pursuit, Cliegg Lars
held on.
And for Shmi, for the only chance she had of any rescue, Cliegg Lars
held on.
Back up the slope, Owen stopped the speeder and leapt off, grabbing at
his father’s torn leg. He tied it off as well as he could with the few
moments he had, then helped Cliegg, who was fast slipping from
consciousness, to lie over the back of the speeder.
Then Owen sped away, throttle flat out. He knew that he had to get his
father home, and quickly. The vicious wound had to be cleaned and sealed.
It occurred to Owen that only a single pair of speeders were to be seen
fleeing the massacre ahead of him, and that through all the commotion
behind, he didn’t hear the hum of a single speeder engine.
Forcing despair away, finding the same grounded determination that
sustained Cliegg, Owen didn’t think of the many lost friends, didn’t think
of his father’s plight, didn’t think of anything except the course to his
necessary destination.

 "This is not good news," Captain Panaka remarked, after delivering  the

blow to Senator Amidala.
“We’ve suspected all along that Count Dooku and his separatists would
court the Trade Federation and the various commercial guilds,” Padm©
replied, trying to put a good face on it all. Panaka had just come in with
Captain Typho, his nephew, with the report that the Trade Federation had
thrown in with the separatist movement that now threatened to tear the
Republic apart.
“Viceroy Gunray is an opportunist,” she continued. “He will do anything
that he believes will benefit him financially. His loyalties end at his
purse. Count Dooku must be offering him favorable trade agreements, free run
to produce goods without regard to the conditions of the workers or the
effect on the environment. Viceroy Gunray has left more than one planet as a
barren dead ball, floating in space. Or perhaps Count Dooku is offering the
Trade Federation absolute control of lucrative markets, without
competition.”
“I’m more concerned with the implications to you, Senator,” Panaka
remarked, drawing a curious stare from Padm©.
“The separatists have shown themselves not to be above violence,” he
explained. “There have been assassination attempts across the Republic.”
“But wouldn’t Count Dooku and the separatists consider Senator Amidala
almost an ally at this time?” Captain Typho interjected, and both Panaka and
Padm© looked at the usually quiet man in surprise.
Padm©’s look quickly turned into a stare; there was an angry edge to
her fair features. “I am no friend to any who would dissolve the Republic,
Captain,” she insisted, her tone leaving no room for debate-and of course,
there would be no debating that point. In the few years she had been a
Senator, Amidala had shown herself to be among the most loyal and powerful
supporters of the Republic, a legislator determined to improve the system,
but to do so within the framework of the Republic’s constitution. Senator
Amidala fervently believed that the real beauty of the governing system was
its built-in abilities, even demands, for self-improvement.
“Agreed, Senator,” Typho said with a bow. He was shorter than his uncle
but powerfully built, muscles filling the blue sleeves of his uniform, his
chest solid under the brown leather tunic. He wore a black leather patch
over his left eye, which he had lost in the battle with that same Trade
Federation a decade before. Typho had been just a teenager then, but had
shown himself well, and made his uncle Panaka proud. “And no offense meant.
But on this issue concerning the creation of an army of the Republic, you
have remained firmly in the court of negotiation over force. Would not the
separatists agree with your vote?”
When Padm© put her initial outrage aside and considered the point, she
had to agree.
“Count Dooku has thrown in with Nute Gunray, say the reports,” Panaka
cut in, his tone flat and determined. “That mere fact demands that we
tighten security about Senator Amidala.”
“Please do not speak about me as though I am not here,” she scolded,
but Panaka didn’t blink.
“In matters of security, Senator, you are not here,” he replied. “At
least, your voice is not. My nephew reports to me, and his responsibilities
on this matter cannot be undermined. Take all precautions.”
With that, he bowed curtly and walked away, and Padm© suppressed her
immediate desire to rebuke him. He was right, and she was better off because
he dared to point it out. She looked back at Captain Typho.
“We will be vigilant, Senator.”
“I have my duty, and that duty demands that I soon return to
Coruscant,” she said.
“And I have my duty,” Typho assured her, and like Panaka, he offered a
bow and walked away.
Padm© Amidala watched him go, then gave a great sigh, remembering
Sola’s words to her and wondering honestly if she would ever find the
opportunity to follow her sister’s advice-advice that she was finding
strangely tempting at that particular moment. She realized then that she
hadn’t seen Sola, or the kids, or her parents, in nearly two weeks, not
since that afternoon in the backyard with Ryoo and Pooja.
Time did seem to be slipping past her.

 "It won't move fast enough to catch up to  the  Tuskens!"  Cliegg  Lars

bellowed in protest as his son and future daughter-in-law helped him into a
hoverchair that Owen had fashioned. He seemed oblivious to the pain of his
wound, where his right leg had been sheared off at midthigh.
“The Tuskens are long gone, Dad,” Owen Lars said quietly, and he put
his hand on Cliegg’s broad shoulder, trying to calm him. “If you won’t use a
mechno-leg, this powerchair will have to do.”
“You’ll not be making me into a half-droid, that’s for sure,” Cliegg
retorted. “This little buggy will do fine.”
“We’ll get more men together,” he said, his voice rising frantically,
his hand instinctively moving down to the stump of his leg. “You get to Mos
Eisley and see what support they’ll offer. Send Beru to the farms.”
“They’ve no more to offer,” Owen replied honestly. He moved close to
the chair and bent low, looking Cliegg square in the face. “All the farms
will be years in recovering from the ambush. So many families have been
shattered from the attack, and even more from the rescue attempt.”
“How can you talk like that with your mother out there?” Cliegg Lars
roared, his frustration boiling over-and all the more so because in his
heart, he knew that Owen was speaking truthfully.
Owen took a deep breath, but did not back down from that imposing look.
“We have to be realistic, Dad. It’s been two weeks since they took her,” he
said grimly, leaving the implications unspoken. Implications that Cliegg
Lars, who knew the dreaded Tuskens well, surely understood.
All of a sudden, Cliegg’s broad shoulders slumped in defeat, and his
fiery gaze softened as his eyes turned toward the ground. “She’s gone,” the
wounded man whispered. “Really gone.”
Behind him, Beru Whitesun started to cry.
Beside him, Owen fought back his own tears and stood calm and tall, the
firm foundation determined above all to hold them together during this
devastating time.

                               = IV =

 The four starships skimmed past the  great  skyscrapers  of  Coruscant,

weaving in and out of the huge amber structures, artificial stalagmites
rising higher and higher over the years, and now obscuring the natural
formations of the planet unlike anywhere else in the known galaxy. Sunlight
reflected off the many mirrorlike windows of those massive structures, and
gleamed brilliantly off the chrome of the sleek ships. The larger starship,
which resembled a flying silver boomerang, almost glowed, smooth and flowing
with huge and powerful engines set on each of its arms, a third of the way
to the wingtip. Alongside it soared several Naboo starfighters, their
graceful engines set out on wings from the main hulls with their distinctive
elongated tails.
One of the starfighters led the procession, veering around and about
nearly every passing tower, running point for the second ship, the Naboo
Royal Cruiser. Behind that larger craft came two more fighters, running
swift and close to the Royal Cruiser, shielding her, pilots ready to
instantly intercept any threat. The lead fighter avoided the more heavily
trafficked routes of the great city, where potential enemies might be flying
within the cover of thousands of ordinary vehicles. Many knew that Senator
Amidala of Naboo was returning to the Senate to cast her vote against the
creation of an army to assist the overwhelmed Jedi in their dealings with
the increasingly antagonistic separatist movement, and there were many
factions that did not want such a vote to be cast. Amidala had made many
enemies during her reign as Naboo’s Queen, powerful enemies with great
resources at their disposal, and with, perhaps, enough hatred for the
beautiful young Senator to put some of those resources to work to her
detriment.
In the lead fighter, Corporal Dolphe, who had distinguished himself
greatly in the Naboo war against the Trade Federation, breathed a sigh of
relief as the appointed landing platform came into sight, appearing secure
and clear. Dolphe, a tough warrior who revered his Senator greatly, flew
past the landing platform to the left, then cut a tight turn back to the
right, encircling the great structure, the Senatorial Apartment Building,
adjacent to the landing platform. He kept his fighter up and about as the
other two fighters put down side by side on one end of the platform, the
Royal Cruiser hovering nearby for just a moment, then gently landing.
Dolphe did another circuit, then, seeing no traffic at all in the
vicinity, settled his fighter across the way from his companion craft. He
didn’t put it down all the way just yet, though, but remained ready to
swivel about and strike hard at any attackers, if need be.
Opposite him, the other two fighter pilots threw back their respective
canopies and climbed from their cockpits. One, Captain Typho, recently
appointed as Amidala’s chief security officer by his uncle Panaka, pulled
off his flight helmet and shook his head, running a hand over his short,
woolly black hair and adjusting the black leather patch he wore over his
left eye.
“We made it,” Typho said as his fellow fighter pilot leapt down from a
wing to stand beside him. “I guess I was wrong. There was no danger at all.”
“There’s always danger, Captain,” the other responded in a distinctly
female voice. “Sometimes we’re just lucky enough to avoid it.”
Typho started to respond, but paused and looked back toward the
cruiser, where the ramp was already lowering to the platform. The plan had
been to get the contingent off the exposed platform and into a transport
vehicle as quickly as possible. Two Naboo guards appeared, alert and ready,
their blaster rifles presented before them. Typho nodded grimly, glad to see
that his soldiers were taking nothing for granted, that they understood the
gravity of the situation and their responsibility here in protecting the
Senator.
Next came Amidala, in her typical splendor, with her paradoxical
beauty, both simple and involved. With her large brown eyes and soft
features, Amidala could outshine anyone about her, even if she was dressed
in simple peasant’s clothing, but in her Senatorial attire, this time a
fabulous weave of black and white, and with her hair tied up and exaggerated
by a black headdress, she outshone the stars themselves. Her mixture of
intelligence and beauty, of innocence and allure, of courage and integrity
and yet with a good measure of a child’s mischievousness, floored Typho
every time he looked upon her. The captain turned from the descending
entourage back to Dolphe across the way, offering a satisfied nod in
acknowledgment of the man’s point-running work.
And then, suddenly, Typho was lying facedown on the permacrete, thrown
to the ground by a tremendous concussion, blinded for a moment by a
brilliant flash as an explosion roared behind him. He looked up as his
vision returned to see Dolphe sprawled on the ground.
Everything seemed to move in slow motion for Typho at that terrible
moment. He heard himself yelling “No!” as he scrambled to his knees and
turned about.
Pieces of burning metal spread through the Coruscant sky like
fireworks, fanning high and wide from the wreckage. The remaining hulk of
the Royal Cruiser burned brightly, and seven figures lay on the ground
before it, one wearing the decorated raiments that Typho knew so very well.
Disoriented from the blast, the captain stumbled as he tried to rise. A
great lump welled in his throat, for he knew what had happened.
Typho was a veteran warrior, had seen battle, had seen people die
violently, and in looking at those bodies, in looking at Amidala’s beautiful
robes, at their placement about the very still form, he instinctively knew.
The woman’s wounds were surely mortal. She was fast dying, if not
already dead.

 "You reset the coordinates!" Obi-Wan Kenobi said to his young  Padawan.

Obi-Wan’s wheat-colored hair was longer now, hanging loosely about his
shoulders, and a beard, somewhat unkempt, adorned his still-young-looking
face. His light brown Jedi traveling clothes, loose fitting and comfortable,
seemed to settle on him well. For Obi-Wan had become comfortable, had grown
into the skin of Jedi Knight. No longer was he the intense and impulsive
Jedi Padawan learner under the training of Qui-Gon Jinn.
His companion at this time, however, appeared quite the opposite.
Anakin Skywalker looked as if his tall, thin frame simply could not contain
his overabundance of energy. He was dressed similarly to Obi-Wan, but his
clothing seemed tighter, crisper, and his muscles under it always seemed
taut with readiness. His sandy-blond hair was cropped short now, except for
the thin braid indicative of his status as a Jedi Padawan. His blue eyes
flashed repeatedly, as if bursts of energy were escaping.
“Just to lengthen our time in hyperspace a bit,” he explained. “We’ll
come out closer to the planet.”
Obi-Wan gave a great and resigned sigh and sat down at the console,
noting the coordinates Anakin had input. There was little the Jedi could do
about it now, of course, for a hyperspace leap couldn’t be reset once the
jump to lightspeed had already been made. “We cannot exit hyperspace too
close to Coruscant’s approach lanes. There’s too much congestion for a safe
flight. I’ve already explained this to you.”
“But-“
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said pointedly, as if he were scolding a pet perootu
cat, and he tightened his wide jaw and stared hard at his Padawan.
“Yes, Master,” Anakin said, obediently looking down.
Obi-Wan held the glare for just a moment longer. “I know that you’re
anxious to get there,” he conceded. “We have been too long away from home.”
Anakin didn’t look up, but Obi-Wan could see the edges of his lips curl up
in a bit of a smile.
“Never do this again,” Obi-Wan warned, and he turned and walked out of
the shuttle’s bridge.
Anakin flopped down into the pilot’s chair, his chin falling into his
hand, his eyes set on the control panels. The order had been about as direct
as one could get, of course, and so Anakin silently told himself that he
would adhere to it. Still, as he considered their current destination, and
who awaited them there, he thought the scolding worth it, even if his
resetting of the coordinates had bought him only a few extra hours on
Coruscant. He was indeed anxious to get there, though not for the reason
Obi-Wan had stated. It wasn’t the Jedi Temple that beckoned to the Padawan,
but rather a rumor he had heard over the comm chatter that a certain
Senator, formerly the Queen of Naboo, was on her way to address the Senate.
Padm© Amidala.
The name resonated in young Anakin’s heart and soul. He hadn’t seen her
in a decade, not since he, along with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, had helped her in
her struggle against the Trade Federation on Naboo. He had only been ten
year s old at that time, but from the moment he had first laid eyes on
Padm©, young Anakin had known that she was the woman he would marry.
Never mind that Padm© was several years older than he was. Never mind
that he was just a boy when he had known her, when she had known him. Never
mind that Jedi were not allowed to marry.
Anakin had simply known, without question, and the image of beautiful
Padm© Amidala had stayed with him, had been burned into his every dream and
fantasy, every day since he had left Naboo with Obi-Wan a decade ago. He
could still smell the freshness of her hair, could still see the sparkle of
intelligence and passion in her wondrous brown eyes, could still hear the
melody that was Padm©’s voice.
Hardly registering the movement, Anakin let his hands return to the
controls of the nav computer. Perhaps he could find a little-used lane
through the Coruscant traffic congestion to get them home faster.

 Klaxons blared and myriad alarms rent  the  air  all  about  the  area,

screaming loudly, drowning out the cries from the astonished onlookers and
the wails of the injured.
Typho’s companion pilot raced past him, and the captain scrambled to
regain his footing and follow. Across the way, Dolphe was up and similarly
running toward the fallen form of the Senator.
The female fighter pilot arrived first, dropping to one knee beside the
fallen woman. She pulled the helmet from her head and quickly shook her
brown tresses free.
“Senator!” Typho yelled. It was indeed Padm© Amidala kneeling beside
the dying woman, her decoy. “Come, the danger has not passed!”
But Padm© waved the captain back furiously, then bent low to her fallen
friend.
“Cord,” she said quietly, her voice breaking. Cord was one of her
beloved bodyguards, a woman who had been with her, serving her and serving
Naboo, for many years. Padm© gathered Cord up in her arms, hugging her
gently.
Cord opened her eyes, rich brown orbs so similar to Padm©’s own. “I’m
sorry, M’Lady,” she gasped, struggling for breath with every word. “I’m…
not sure I…” She paused and lay there, staring at Padm©. “I’ve failed
you.”
“No!” Padm© insisted, arguing the bodyguard’s reasoning, arguing
against all of this insanity. “No, no, no!”
Cord continued to stare at her, or stare past her, it seemed to the
grief-stricken young Senator. Looking past her and past everything, Cord’s
eyes stared into a far different place.
Padm© felt her relax suddenly, as if her spirit simply leapt from her
corporeal form.
“Cord!” the Senator cried, and she hugged her friend close, rocking
back and forth, denying this awful reality.
“M’Lady, you are still in danger!” Typho declared, trying to sound
sympathetic, but with a clear sense of urgency in his voice.
Padm© lifted her head from the side of Cord’s face, and took a deep and
steadying breath. Looking upon her dead friend, remembering all at once the
many times they had spent together, she gently lowered Cord to the ground.
“I shouldn’t have come back,” she said as she stood up beside the wary
Typho, tears streaking her cheeks.
Captain Typho came up out of his ready stance long enough to lock
stares with his Senator. “This vote is very important,” he reminded her, his
tone uncompromising, the voice of a man sworn to duty above all else. So
much like his uncle. “You did your duty, Senator, and Cord did hers. Now
come.”
He started away, grabbing Padm©’s arm, but she shrugged off his grasp
and stood there, staring down at her lost friend. “Senator Amidala! Please!”
Padm© looked over at the man. “Would you so diminish Cord’s death as to
stand here and risk your own life?” Typho bluntly stated. “What good will
her sacrifice be if-“
“Enough, Captain,” Padm© interrupted.
Typho motioned for Dolphe to run a defensive perimeter behind them,
then he led the stricken Padm© away.
Back over at Padm©’s Naboo fighter, R2-D2 beeped and squealed and fell
into line behind them.

                               = V =

 The Senate Building on Coruscant wasn't one of the tallest buildings in

the city. Dome-shaped and relatively low, it did not soar up to the clouds,
catching the afternoon sun as the others did in a brilliant display of
shining amber. And yet the magnificent structure was not dwarfed by those
towering skyscrapers about it, including the various Senate apartment
complexes. Centrally located in the complex, and with a design very
different from the typical squared skyscraper, the bluish smooth dome
provided a welcome relief to the eye of the beholder, a piece of art within
a community of simple efficiency.
The interior of the building was no less vast and impressive, its
gigantic rotunda encircled, row upon row, by the floating platforms of the
many Senators of the Republic, representing the great majority of the
galaxy’s inhabitable worlds. A significant number of those platforms stood
empty now, because of the separatist movement. Several thousand systems had
joined in with Count Dooku over the last couple of years to secede from a
Republic that had, in their eyes, grown too ponderous to be effective, a
claim that even the staunchest supporters of the Republic could not
completely dispute.
Still, with this most important vote scheduled, the walls of the
circular room echoed, hundreds and hundreds of voices chattering all at
once, expressing emotions from anger to regret to determination.
In the middle of the main floor, standing at the stationary dais, the
one unmoving speaking platform in the entire building, Supreme Chancellor
Palpatine watched and listened, taking in the tumult and wearing an
expression that showed deep concern. He was past middle age now, with silver
hair and a face creased by deep lines of experience. His term limit had
ended several years ago, but a series of crises had allowed him to stay in
office well beyond the legal limit. From a distance, one might have thought
him frail, but up close there could be no doubt of the strength and
fortitude of this accomplished man.
“They are afraid, Supreme Chancellor,” Palpatine’s aide, Uv Gizen,
remarked to him. “Many have heard reports of the demonstrations, even
violent activity near this very building. The separatists-“
Palpatine held up his hand to quiet the nervous aide. “They are a
troublesome group,” he replied. “It would seem that Count Dooku has whipped
them into murderous frenzy. Or perhaps,” he said with apparent reflection,
“their frustrations are mounting despite the effort of that estimable former
Jedi to calm them. Either way, the separatists must be taken seriously.”
Uv Gizen started to respond again, but Palpatine put a finger to pursed
lips to silence him, then nodded to the main podium, where his majordomo,
Mas Amedda, was calling for order.
“Order! We shall have order!” the majordomo cried, his bluish skin
brightening with agitation. His lethorn head tentacles, protruding from the
back side of his skull and wrapping down over his collar to frame his head
like a cowl, twitched anxiously, their brownish-tipped horns bobbing on his
chest. And as he turned side to side, his primary horns, standing straight
for almost half a meter above his head, rotated like antennae gathering
information on the crowd. Mas Amedda was an imposing figure in the Senate,
but the chatter, the thousand private conversations, continued.
“Senators, please!” Mas Amedda called loudly. “Indeed, we have much to
discuss. Many important issues. But the motion before us at this time, to
commission an army to protect the Republic, takes precedence. That is what
we will vote on at this time, and that alone! Other business must defer.”
A few complaints came back at Mas Amedda, and a few conversations
seemed to gather momentum, but then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine stepped up
to the podium, staring out over the gathering, and the great hall went
silent. Mas Amedda bowed in deference to the great man and stepped aside.
Palpatine placed his hands on the rim of the podium, his shoulders
noticeably sagging, his head bowed. The curious posture only heightened the
tension, making the cavernous room seem even more silent, if that was
possible.
“My esteemed colleagues,” he began slowly and deliberately, but even
with that effort, his voice wavered and seemed as if it would break apart.
Curiosity sent murmurs rumbling throughout the nervous gathering once more.
It wasn’t often that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine appeared rattled.
“Excuse me,” Palpatine said quietly. Then, a moment later, he
straightened and inhaled deeply, seeming to gather inner strength, which was
amply reflected in his solid voice as he repeated, “My esteemed colleagues.
I have just received some tragic and disturbing news. Senator Amidala of the
Naboo system… has been assassinated!”
A shock wave of silence rolled about the crowd; eyes went wide; mouths,
for those who had mouths, hung open in disbelief.
“This grievous blow is especially personal to me,” Palpatine explained.
“Before I became Chancellor, I was a Senator, serving Amidala when she was
Queen of Naboo. She was a great leader who fought for justice. So beloved
was she among her people that she could have been elected Queen for life!”
He gave a great sigh and a helpless chuckle, as if that notion had been
received as purely preposterous by the idealistic Amidala, as indeed it had.
“But Senator Amidala believed in term limits, and she fervently believed in
democracy. Her death is a great loss to us all. We will all mourn her as a
relentless champion of freedom.” The Supreme Chancellor tilted his head, his
eyes lowering, and he sighed again. “And as a dear friend.”
A few conversations began, but for the most part, the reverential
silence held strong, with many Senators nodding their heads in agreement
with Palpatine’s eulogy.
But at that critical time, on this most important day, the grim news
could not overwhelm. Palpatine watched, without surprise, as the volatile
Senat or of Malastare, Ask Aak, maneuvered his floating platform down from
the ranks and into the center of the arena. His large head rotated slowly
about, his three eyes, protruding on fingerlike stalks, seeming to work
independently, his horizontal ears twitching. “How many more Senators will
die before this civil strife ends?” the Malastarian cried. “We must confront
these rebels now, and we need an army to do it!”
That bold statement brought many shouts of assent and dissent from the
huge gathering, and several platforms moved all at once. One, bearing a
blue-haired, scrunch-faced being, swept down fast beside the platform of Ask
Aak. “Why weren’t the Jedi able to stop this assassination?” demanded
Darsana, the ambassador of Glee Anselm. “How obvious it is that we are no
longer safe under the protection of the Jedi!”
Another platform floated in fast on the heels of Darsana’s. “The
Republic needs more security now!” agreed Twi’lek Senator Orn Free Taa, his
thick jowls and long blue lekku head tentacles shaking. “Now! Before it
comes to war!”
“Must I remind the Senator from Malastare that negotiations are
continuing with the separatists?” Supreme Chancellor Palpatine interjected.
“Peace is our objective here. Not war.”
“You say this while your friend lies dead, assassinated by those same
people with whom you wish to negotiate?” Ask Aak asked, his orange-skinned
face a mask of incredulity. All around the central arena, shouts and cries
erupted, with Senators arguing vehemently. Many fists and other, more
exotic, appendages were waved in the air at that explosive point.
Palpatine, supremely calm through it all, kept his disarming stare on
Ask Aak.
“Did you not just name Amidala as your friend?” Ask Aak screamed at
him.
Palpatine simply continued to stare at the man, a center of calm, the
eye of the storm that was raging all about him.
Palpatine’s majordomo rushed to the podium then, taking the cue that
his master must remain above this petulant squabbling if he was to be the
voice of reason throughout this ferocious debate.
“Order!” Mas Amedda cried repeatedly. “Senators, please!” But it went
on and on, the screaming, the shouting, the fist waving.
Unnoticed through it all, yet another platform, bearing four people,
approached the Senate gallery from the side, moving slowly but deliberately.
Aboard the approaching platform, Senator Padm© Amidala was shaking her
head with disgust at the shouting and lack of civility emanating from the
huge gallery before them. “This is exactly why Count Dooku was able to
convince so many systems to secede,” she commented to her handmaiden Dorm,
who was standing beside her, with Captain Typho and Jar Jar Binks in front
of them, the captain driving the platform.
“There are many who believe that the Republic has become too large and
disjointed,” Dorm agreed.
They came into the gallery, then moved slowly onto the main, central
arena, but the Senators there, and those in the lower rows of the gallery,
were too involved with their shouting and arguing to even notice the
unexpected appearance.
Standing at the podium, though, Palpatine did see Amidala. His
expression was one of blatant shock, for just a moment, but then he shook
himself out of it and a smile widened upon his face.
“My noble colleagues,” Amidala said loudly, and the sound of her most
familiar voice quieted many of the Senators, who turned to regard her. “I
concur with the Supreme Chancellor. At all costs, we do not want war!”
Gradually at first, but then more quickly, the Senate Hall went quiet, and
then came a thunderous outburst of cheering and applause.
“It is with great surprise and joy that the chair recognizes the
Senator from Naboo, Padm© Amidala,” Palpatine declared.
Amidala waited for the cheering and clapping to subside, then began
slowly and deliberately. “Less than an hour ago, an assassination attempt
was made upon my life. One of my bodyguards and six others were ruthlessly
and senselessly murdered. I was the target, but, more important, I believe
this security measure before you was the target. I have led the opposition
to building an army, but there is someone who will stop at nothing to assure
its passage.”
Cheers became boos from many areas of the gallery as those surprising
words registered, and many others shook their heads in confusion. Had
Amidala just accused someone in the Senate of trying to assassinate her?
As she stood there, her gaze moving about the vast, circular room,
Amidala knew that her words, on the surface, could be seen as an insult to
many. In truth, though, she wasn’t thinking along those lines concerning the
source of the assassination. She had a definite hunch, one that went against
the obvious logic. The people who would most logically want her silenced
were indeed those in favor of the formation of an army of the Republic, but
for some reason she could not put her finger on-some subconscious clues,
perhaps, or just a gut feeling-Amidala believed that the source of the
attempt was exactly those who would not logically, on the surface, at least,
want her silenced. She remembered Panaka’s warning about the Trade
Federation reportedly joining hands with the separatists.
She took a deep breath, steeling herself against the growing rancor in
the audience, and steadfastly went on. “I warn you, if you vote to create
this army, war will follow. I have experienced the misery of war firsthand;
I do not wish to do so again.”
The cheering began to outweigh the booing.
“This is insanity, I say!” Orn Free Taa yelled above it all. “I move
that we defer this vote, immediately!” But that suggestion only led to more
yelling.
Amidala looked at the Twi’lek Senator, understanding his sudden desire
to defer a vote that her mere presence had cast into doubt.
“Wake up, Senators-you must wake up!” she went on, shouting him down.
“If we offer the separatists violence, they can only show us violence in
return! Many will lose their lives, and all will lose their freedom. This
decision could well destroy the very foundation of our great Republic! I
pray you do not let fear push you into a disastrous decision. Vote down this
security measure, which is nothing less than a declaration of war! Does
anyone here want that? I cannot believe they do!”
Ask Aak, Orn Free Taa, and Darsana, on their floating platforms down by
the podium, exchanged nervous glances as the cheers and boos echoed about
the great hall. The fact that Amidala had just survived an assassination
attempt and yet was here begging the Senate to put off raising an army
against the likely perpetrators only added strength to her argument, only
elevated Amidala higher in the eyes of many-and the former Queen of Naboo,
having stood firm against the Trade Federation a decade before, was already
held in high esteem by many. At Ask Aak’s nod, Orn Free Taa demanded the
floor, and was given it promptly by Palpatine.
“By precedence of order, my motion to defer the vote must be dealt with
first,” Orn Free Taa demanded. “That is the rule of law!”
Amidala glared at the Twi’lek, her expression both angry and frustrated
by the obvious delaying tactic. She turned plaintively to Palpatine, but the
Supreme Chancellor, though his responding expression seemed to be
sympathetic to her plight, could only shrug. He moved to the podium and held
up his hands for order, and when the room was quiet enough, announced, “In
view of the lateness of the hour and the seriousness of this motion, we will
take up these matters tomorrow. Until then, the Senate stands adjourned.”

 Traffic clogged the Coruscant sky, flowing slowly about the  meandering

smoggy haze. The sun was up, giving the sprawling city an amber glow, but
many lights were still on, shining behind the windows of the great
skyscrapers.
The massive towers of the Republic Executive Building loomed above it
all, seeming as if they would reach the very heavens. And that seemed
fitting indeed, for inside, even at this early hour, the events and
participants took on godlike stature to the trillions of common folk of the
Republic.
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine sat behind his desk in his spacious and
tasteful office, staring across at his four Jedi Master visitors. Across the
room, a pair of red-clad guards flanked the door, imposing, powerful
figures, with their great curving helmets and wide, floor-length capes.
“I fear this vote,” Palpatine remarked.
“It is unavoidable,” replied Mace Windu, a tall and muscular human,
bald, and with penetrating eyes, standing next to the even taller
Ki-Adi-Mundi.
“And it could unravel the remainder of the Republic,” Palpatine said.
“Never have I seen the Senators so at odds over any issue.”
“Few issues would carry the import of creating a Republic army,” Jedi
Master Plo Koon remarked. He was a tall, sturdy Kel Dor, his head ridged and
ruffled at the sides like the curly hair of a young girl, and with dark,
shadowed eyes and a black mask over the lower portion of his face. “The
Senators are anxious and afraid, and believe that no vote will ever be more
important than this one now before them.”
“And this way or that, much mending must you do,” said Master Yoda, the
smallest in physical stature, but a Jedi Master who stood tall against
anyone in the galaxy. Yoda’s huge eyes blinked slowly and his tremendous
ears swiveled subtly, showing, for those who knew him, that he was deep in
thought, giving this situation his utmost attention. “Unseen is much that is
here,” he said, and he closed his eyes in contemplation.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold off the vote, my friends,”
Palpatine explained. “And I fear that delay on this definitive issue might
well erode the Republic through attrition. More and more star systems are
joining the separatists.”
Mace Windu, a pillar of strength even among the Jedi, nodded his
understanding of the dilemma. “And yet, when the vote is done, if the losers
do break away-“
“I will not let this Republic that has stood for a thousand years be
split in two!” Palpatine declared, slamming a fist determinedly on his desk.
“My negotiations will not fail!”
Mace Windu held his calm, keeping his rich voice even and controlled.
“But if they do, you must realize there aren’t enough Jedi to protect the
Republic. We are keepers of the peace, not soldiers.”
Palpatine took a few steadying breaths, trying to digest it all.
“Master Yoda,” he said, and he waited for the greenish-skinned Jedi to
regard him. “Do you really think it will come to war?”
Again Yoda closed his eyes. “Worse than war, I fear,” he said. “Much
worse.”
“What?” an alarmed Palpatine asked.
“Master Yoda, what do you sense?” Mace Windu prompted.
“Impossible to see, the future is,” the small Jedi Master replied, his
great orbs still looking inward. “The dark side clouds everything. But this
I am sure of…” He popped open his eyes and stared hard at Palpatine. “Do
their duty, the Jedi will.”
A brief look of confusion came over the Supreme Chancellor, but before
he could begin to respond to Yoda, a hologram appeared on his desk, the
image of Dar Wac, one of his aides. “The loyalist committee has arrived, my
Lord,” said Dar Wac, in Huttese.
“Send them in.”
The hologram disappeared and Palpatine rose, along with the seated
Jedi, to properly greet the distinguished visitors. They came in two groups,
Senator Padm© Amidala walking with Captain Typho, Jar Jar Binks, her
handmaiden Dorm, and majordomo Mas Amedda, followed by two other Senators,
Bail Organa of Alderaan and Horox Ryyder.
Everyone moved to exchange pleasant greetings, and Yoda pointedly
tapped Padm© with his small cane.
“With you, the Force is strong, young Senator,” the Jedi Master told
her. “Your tragedy on the landing platform, terrible. To see you alive
brings warm feelings to my heart.”
“Thank you, Master Yoda,” she replied. “Do you have any idea who was
behind this attack?”
Her question had everyone in the room turning to regard her and Yoda
directly.
Mace Windu cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Senator, we have
nothing definitive, but our intelligence points to disgruntled spice miners
on the moons of Naboo.”
Padm© looked to Captain Typho, who shook his head, having no answers.
They had both witnessed the frustration of those spice miners back on Naboo,
but those demonstrations seemed a long way from the tragedy that had
occurred on the landing platform here on Coruscant. Releasing Typho from her
gaze, she stared hard at Mace Windu, wondering if it would be wise to voice
her hunch at this time. She knew the controversy she might stir, knew the
blatant illogical ring to her claim, but still…
“I do not wish to disagree,” she said, “but I think that Count Dooku
was behind it.”
A stir of surprise rippled about the room, and the four Jedi Masters
exchanged looks that ranged from astonishment to disapproval.
“You know, M’Lady,” Mace said in his resonant and calm voice, “Count
Dooku was once a Jedi. He wouldn’t assassinate anyone. It’s not in his
character.”
“He is a political idealist,” Ki-Adi-Mundi, the fourth of the Jedi
contingent, added. “Not a murderer.” With his great domed head, the Cerean
Jedi Master stood taller than anyone in the room, and the ridged flaps at
the side of his pensive face added a measure of introspection to his
imposing physical form.
Master Yoda tapped his cane, drawing attention to himself, and that
alone exerted a calming influence over the increasingly tense mood. “In dark
times, nothing is what it appears to be,” the diminutive figure remarked.
“But the fact remains, Senator, in grave danger you are.”
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine gave a dramatic sigh and walked over to
the window, staring out at the Coruscant dawn. “Master Jedi,” he said, “may
I suggest that the Senator be placed under the protection of your graces?”
“Do you think that a wise use of our limited resources at this
stressful time?” Senator Bail Organa was quick to interject, stroking his
well-trimmed black goatee. “Thousands of systems have gone over fully to the
separatists, and many more may soon join them. The Jedi are our-“
“Chancellor,” Padm© interrupted, “if I may comment. I do not believe
the-“
“Situation is that serious,” Palpatine finished for her. “No, but I do,
Senator.”
“Chancellor, please!” she pleaded. “I do not want any more guards!”
Palpatine stared at her as would an overprotective father, a look that
Padm© might have viewed as condescending from any other man. “I realize all
too well that additional security might be disruptive for you,” he began,
and he paused, and then a look came over him as if he had just struck upon a
logical and acceptable compromise. “But perhaps someone you are familiar
with, an old friend.” Smiling cleverly, Palpatine looked to Mace Windu and
Yoda. “Master Kenobi?” he finished with a nod, and his smile only widened
when Mace Windu nodded back.
“That’s possible,” the Jedi confirmed. “He has just returned from a
border dispute on Ansion.”
“You must remember him, M’Lady,” Palpatine said, grinning as if it was
a done deal. “He watched over you during the blockade conflict.”
“This is not necessary, Chancellor,” Padm© said determinedly, but
Palpatine didn’t relinquish his grin in the least, showing clearly that he
knew well how to defeat the independent Senator’s argument.
“Do it for me, M’Lady. Please. I will rest easier. We had a big scare
today. The thought of losing you is unbearable.”
Several times, Amidala started to respond, but how could she possibly
say anything to deny the Supreme Chancellor’s expressed concern? She gave a
great defeated sigh, and the Jedi rose and turned to leave.
“I will have Obi-Wan report to you immediately, M’Lady,” Mace Windu
informed her.
As he passed, Yoda leaned in close to Padm© and whispered so that only
she could hear, “Too little about yourself you worry, Senator, and too much
about politics. Be mindful of your danger, Padm©. Accept our help.”
They all left the room, and Padm© Amidala stared at the door and the
flanking guards for a long while.
Behind her, at the back of his office, Chancellor Palpatine watched
them all.

 "It troubles me to hear Count Dooku's name mentioned in such a  manner,

Master,” Mace said to Yoda as the Jedi made their way back to their Council
chamber. “And from one as esteemed as Senator Amidala. Any mistrust of Jedi,
or even former Jedi, in times such as these can be disastrous.”
“Deny Dooku’s involvement in the separatist movement, we cannot,” Yoda
reminded him.
“Nor can we deny that he began in that movement because of ideals,”
Mace argued. “He was once our friend-that we must not forget-and to hear him
slandered and named as an assassin-“
“Not named,” Yoda said. “But darkness there is, about us all, and in
that darkness, nothing is what it seems.”
“But it makes little sense to me that Count Dooku would make an attempt
on the life of Senator Amidala, when she is the one most adamantly opposed
to the creation of an army. Would the separatists not wish Amidala well in
her endeavors? Would they not believe that she is, however unintentionally,
an ally to their cause? Or are we really to believe that they want war with
the Republic?”
Yoda leaned heavily on his cane, seeming very weary, and his huge eyes
slowly closed. “More is here than we can know,” he said very quietly.
“Clouded is the Force. Troubling it is.”
Mace dismissed his forthcoming reflexive response, a further defense of
his old friend Dooku. Count Dooku had been among the most accomplished of
the Jedi Masters, respected among the Council, a student of the older and,
some would say, more profound Jedi philosophies and styles, including an
arcane lightsaber fighting style that was more front and back, thrust and
riposte, than the typical circular movements currently employed by most of
the Jedi. What a blow it had been to the Jedi Order, and to Mace Windu, when
Dooku had walked away from them, and for many of the same reasons the
separatists were now trying to walk away the perception that the Republic
had grown too ponderous and unresponsive to the needs of the individual,
even of individual systems.
It was no less troubling to Mace Windu concerning Dooku, as it was, no
doubt, to Amidala and Palpatine concerning the separatists, that some of the
arguments against the Republic were not without merit.

                               = VI =

 As the lights of Coruscant dimmed, gradually replaced  by  the  natural

lights of the few twinkling stars that could get through the nearly
continual glare, the great and towering city took on a vastly different
appearance. Under the dark evening sky, the skyscrapers seemed to become
gigantic natural monoliths, and all the supersized structures that so
dominated the city, that so marked Coruscant as a monument to the ingenuity
of the reasoning species, seemed somehow the mark of folly, of futile pride
striving against the vastness and majesty beyond the grasp of any mortal.
Even the wind at the higher levels of the structures sounded mournful,
almost as a herald to what would eventually, inevitably, become of the great
city and the great civilization.
As Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker stood in the turbolift of the
Senate apartment complex, the Jedi Master was indeed pondering such profound
universal truths as the subtle change of day to night. Beside him, though,
his young Padawan certainly was not. Anakin was about to see Padm© again,
the woman who had captured his heart and soul when he was but ten years old
and had never let it go.
“You seem a little on edge, Anakin,” Obi-Wan noted as the lift
continued its climb.
“Not at all,” came the unconvincing reply.
“I haven’t seen you this nervous since we fell into that nest of
gundarks.”
“You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you. Remember?”
Obi-Wan’s little distraction seemed to have the desired effect, and the
pair shared a much-needed laugh. Coming out of it, though, Anakin remained
obviously on edge.
“You’re sweating,” Obi-Wan noted. “Take a deep breath. Relax.”
“I haven’t seen her in ten years.”
“Anakin, relax,” Obi-Wan reiterated. “She’s not the Queen anymore.”
The lift door slid open and Obi-Wan started away, while Anakin, behind
him, muttered under his breath, “That’s not why I’m nervous.”
As the pair stepped into the corridor, a door across the way slid open
and a well-dressed Gungan, wearing fine red and black robes, stepped into
the corridor opposite them. The three regarded each other for just a moment,
and then the Gungan diplomat, losing all sense of reserve and propriety,
began hopping around like a child.
“Obi! Obi! Obi!” Jar Jar Binks cried, tongue and ears flapping. “Mesa
so smilen to see’en yousa! Wahoooo!”
Obi-Wan smiled politely, though his glance at Anakin did show that he
was a bit embarrassed, and he patted his hands gently in the air, trying to
calm the excitable fellow. “It’s good to see you, too, Jar Jar.”
Jar Jar continued to hop about for just a moment, then suddenly, and
with obvious great effort, calmed down. “And this, mesa guessen, issen yousa
apprentice,” he went on, and the Gungan seemed to have much more control of
himself. For a moment, at least, until he took a good look at the young
Padawan, and all pretense melted away. “Noooooooo!” he shrieked, clapping
his hands together. “Annie? Noooooooo! Little bitty Annie?” Jar Jar grabbed
the Padawan and pulled him forcefully to arm’s length, studying him head to
toe. “Noooooooo! Yousa so biggen! Yiyiyiyi! Annie! Mesa no believen!”
Now it was Anakin’s turn to wear the embarrassed smile. Politely, he
offered no resistance as the overexcited Gungan slammed him into a crushing
hug, childish hops shaking him violently.
“Hi, Jar Jar,” Anakin managed to say, and Jar Jar just continued on,
hopping and crying out his name, and issuing a series of strange yiyi
sounds. It seemed as if it would go on forever, but then Obi-Wan gently but
firmly grabbed Jar Jar by the arm. “We have come to speak with Senator
Amidala. Could you show us to her?”
Jar Jar stopped bouncing and looked at Obi-Wan intently, his
duck-billed face taking on a more serious expression. “Shesa expecting
yousa. Annie! Mesa no believen!” His head bobbed a bit more, then he grabbed
Anakin by the hand and pulled him along.
The apartment inside was tastefully decorated, with cushiony chairs and
a divan set in a circular pattern in the center, and a few, well-placed
artworks set about the walls. Dorm and Typho were in the room, standing
beside the divan, the captain wearing his typical military garb, blue
uniform under a brown leather tunic, with black leather gloves and a stiff
cap, its brim and band of black leather. Beside him stood Dorm in one of the
elegant, yet understated dresses typical of Padm©’s handmaidens.
Anakin, though, didn’t see either of them. He focused on the third
person in the room, Padm©, and on her alone, and if he had ever held any
moments of doubt that she was as beautiful as he remembered her, they were
washed away, then and there. His eyes roamed the Senator’s small and shapely
frame in her black and deep purple robes, taking in every detail. He saw her
thick brown hair, drawn up high and far at the back of her head in a
basketlike accessory, and wanted to lose himself in it. He saw her eyes and
wanted to stare into them for eternity. He saw her lips, and wanted to…
Anakin closed his eyes for just a moment and inhaled deeply, and he
could smell her again, the scent that had been burned into him as Padm©’s.
It took every ounce of willpower he could muster to walk in slowly and
respectfully behind Obi-Wan, and not merely rush in and crush Padm© in a
hug… and yet, paradoxically, it took every bit of his willpower to move
his legs, which were suddenly seeming so very weak, and take that first step
into the room, that first step toward her.
“Mesa here. Lookie! Lookie!” screeched Jar Jar, hardly the announcement
Obi-Wan would have preferred, but one that he knew he had to expect from the
emotionally volatile Gungan. “Desa Jedi arriven.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, M’Lady,” Obi-Wan said, moving to
stand before the beautiful young Senator.
Standing behind his Master, Anakin continued to stare at the woman, to
note her every move. She did glance at him once, though very briefly, and he
detected no recognition in her eyes.
Padm© took Obi-Wan’s hand in her own. “It has been far too long, Master
Kenobi. I’m so glad our paths have crossed again. But I must warn you that I
think your presence here is unnecessary.”
“I am sure that the members of the Jedi Council have their reasons,”
Obi-Wan replied.
Padm© wore a resigned, accepting expression at that answer, but a look
of curiosity replaced it as she glanced again behind the Jedi Knight, to the
young Padawan standing patiently. She took a step to the side, so that she
was directly in front of Anakin.
“Annie?” she asked, her expression purely incredulous. Her smile and
the flash in her eyes showed that she needed no answer.
For just a flicker, Anakin felt her spirit leap.
“Annie,” Padm© said again. “Can it be? My goodness how you’ve grown!”
She looked down and then followed the line of his lean body, tilting her
head back to emphasize his height, and he realized that he now towered over
her.
That did little to bolster Anakin’s confidence, though, so lost was he
in the beauty of Padm©. Her smile widened, a clear sign that she was glad to
see him, but he missed it, or the implications of it, at least. “So have
you,” he answered awkwardly, as if he had to force each word from his mouth.
“Grown more beautiful, I mean.” He cleared his throat and stood taller. “And
much shorter,” he teased, trying unsuccessfully to sound in control. “For a
Senator, I mean.”
Anakin noted Obi-Wan’s disapproving scowl, but Padm© laughed any
tension away and shook her head.
“Oh, Annie, you’ll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine,” she
said, and if she had taken the lightsaber from his belt and sliced his legs
out from under him, she would not have shortened Anakin Skywalker any more.
He looked down, his embarrassment only heightened by the looks he knew
that both Obi-Wan and Captain Typho were throwing his way.
“Our presence will be invisible, M’Lady,” he heard Obi-Wan assure
Padm©.
“I’m very grateful that you’re here, Master Kenobi,” Captain Typho put
in. “The situation is more dangerous than the Senator will admit.”
“I don’t need any more security,” Padm© said, addressing Typho
initially, but turning to regard Obi-Wan as she continued. “I need answers.
I want to know who is trying to kill me. I believe that there might lie an
issue of the utmost importance to the Senate. There is something more
here…” She stopped as a frown crossed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s face.
“We’re here to protect you, Senator, not to start an investigation,” he
said in calm and deliberate tones, but even as he finished, Anakin
contradicted him.
“We will find out who’s trying to kill you, Padm©,” the Padawan
insisted. “I promise you.”
As soon as he finished, Anakin recognized his error, one that clearly
showed on the scowl that Obi-Wan flashed his way. He had been fashioning a
response to Padm© in his thoughts, and had hardly even registered his
Master’s explanation before he had blurted out the obviously errant words.
Now he could only bite his lip and lower his gaze.
“We are not going to exceed our mandate, my young Padawan learner!”
Obi-Wan said sharply, and Anakin was stung to be so dressed down
publicly-especially in front of this particular audience.
“I meant, in the interest of protecting her, Master, of course.”
His justification sounded inane even to Anakin.
“We are not going through this exercise again, Anakin,” Obi-Wan
continued. “You will pay attention to my lead.”
Anakin could hardly believe that Obi-Wan was continuing to do this in
front of Padm©. “Why?” he asked, turning the question and the debate, trying
desperately to regain some footing and credibility.
“What?” Obi-Wan exclaimed, as taken aback as Anakin had ever seen him,
and the young Padawan knew that he was pushing too far and too fast.
“Why else do you think we were assigned to her, if not to find the
killer?” he asked, trying to bring a measure of calm back to the situation.
“Protection is a job for local security, not for Jedi. It’s overkill,
Master, and so an investigation is implied in our mandate.”
“We will do as the Council has instructed,” Obi-Wan countered. “And you
will learn your place, young one.”
“Perhaps with merely your presence about me, the mysteries surrounding
this threat will be revealed,” offered Padm©, ever the diplomat. She smiled
alternately at Anakin and at Obi-Wan, an invitation for civility, and when
both leaned back, shoulders visibly relaxing, she added, “Now, if you will
excuse me, I will retire.”
They all bowed as Padm© and Dorm exited the room, and then Obi-Wan
stared hard at his young Padawan again, neither seeming overly pleased with
the other.
“Well, I know that I’m glad to have you here,” Captain Typho offered,
moving closer to the pair. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but the
Senator can’t have too much security right now. Your friends on the Jedi
Council seem to think that miners have something to do with this, but I
can’t really agree with that.”
“What have you learned?” Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan threw him a look of warning.
“We’ll be better prepared to protect the Senator if we have some idea
of what we’re up against,” Anakin explained to his Master, logic he knew
that Obi-Wan had to accept as reasonable.
“Not much,” Typho admitted. “Senator Amidala leads the opposition to
the creation of a Republic army. She’s very determined to deal with the
separatists through negotiation and not force, but the attempts on her life,
even though they’ve failed, have only strengthened the opposition to her
viewpoint in the Senate.”
“And since the separatists would not logically wish to see a Republic
army formed…” Obi-Wan reasoned.
“We’re left without a clue,” Typho said. “In any such incident, the
first questioning eyes turn toward Count Dooku and the separatists.” A frown
crossed Obi-Wan’s face, and Typho quickly added, “Or to some of those loyal
to his movement, at least. But why they’d go after Senator Amidala is
anyone’s guess.”
“And we are not here to guess, but merely to protect,” Obi-Wan said, in
tones that showed he was finished with this particular line of discussion.
Typho bowed, hearing him clearly. “I’ll have an officer on every floor,
and I’ll be at the command center downstairs.”
Typho left, then, and Obi-Wan began a search of the room and adjoining
chambers, trying to get a feel for the place. Anakin started to do likewise,
but he stopped when he walked by Jar Jar Binks.
“Mesa bustin wit happiness seein yousa again, Annie.”
“She didn’t even recognize me,” Anakin said, staring at the door
through which Padm© had departed. He shook his head despondently and turned
to the Gungan. “I’ve thought about her every day since we parted, and she’s
forgotten me completely.”
“Why yousa sayen that?” Jar Jar asked.
“You saw her,” Anakin replied.
“Shesa happy,” the Gungan assured him. “Happier than mesa see’en her in
a longo time. These are bad times, Annie. Bombad times!”
Anakin shook his head and started to repeat his distress, but he noted
Obi-Wan moving toward him and wisely held his tongue.
Except that his observant Master had already discerned the
conversation.
“You’re focusing on the negative again,” he said to Anakin. “Be mindful
of your thoughts. She was pleased to see us-leave it at that. Now, let’s
check the security here. We have much to do.”
Anakin bowed. “Yes, Master.”
He could say the compliant words because he had to, but the young
Padawan could not dismiss that which was in his heart and in his thoughts.

 Padm© sat at her vanity, brushing her thick brown  hair,  staring  into

the mirror but not really seeing anything there. Her thoughts were replaying
again and again the image of Anakin, the look he had given her. She heard
his words again, “…grown more beautiful,” and though Padm© was undeniably
that, those were not words she was used to hearing. Since she had been a
young girl, Padm© had been involved in politics, quickly rising to powerful
and influential positions. Most of the men she had come into contact with
had been more concerned with what she could bring to them in practical terms
than with her beauty, or, for that matter, with any true personal feelings
for her. As Queen of Naboo and now as Senator, Padm© was well aware that she
was attractive to men in ways deeper than physical attraction, in ways
deeper than any emotional bond.
Or perhaps not deeper than the latter, she told herself, for she could
not deny the intensity in Anakin’s eyes as he had looked at her.
But what did it mean?
She saw him again, in her thoughts. And clearly. Her mental eye roamed
over his lean and strong frame, over his face, tight with the intensity that
she had always admired, and yet with eyes sparkling with joy, with mischief,
with…
With longing?
That thought stopped the Senator. Her hands slipped down to her sides,
and she sat there, staring at herself, judging her own appearance as Anakin
might.
After a few long moments, Padm© shook her head, telling herself that it
was crazy. Anakin was a Jedi now. That was their dedication and their oath,
and those things, above all else, were things Padm© Amidala admired.
How could he even look at her in such a manner?
So it was all her imagination.
Or was it her fantasy?
Laughing at herself, Padm© lifted her brush to her hair again, but she
paused before she had even begun. She was wearing a silky white nightgown,
and there were, after all, security cams in her room. Those cams had never
really bothered her, since she had always looked at them clinically.
Security cams, with guards watching her every move, were a fact of her
existence, and so she had learned to go about her daily routines, even the
private ones, without a second thought to the intrusive eyes.
But now she realized that a certain young Jedi might be on the other
end of those lenses.

                              = VII =

 Clad in gray armor that was somewhat outdated,  burned  from  countless

blaster shots, but still undeniably effective, the bounty hunter stood
easily on the ledge, a hundred stories and more up from the Coruscant
street. His helmet, too, was gray, except for a blue ridge crossing his eyes
and running down from brow to chin. His perch seemed somewhat precarious,
considering the wind at this height, but to one as agile and skilled as
Jango, and with a penchant for getting himself into and out of difficult
places, this was nothing out of the ordinary.
Right on time, a speeder pulled up near the ledge and hovered there,
Jango’s associate, Zam Wesell, nodded to him and climbed out, stepping
lithely onto the ledge in front of a couple of bright advertisement windows.
She wore a red veil over the bottom half of her face. This was not a
statement of modesty or fashion. Like everything else she wore, from her
blaster to her armor to her other concealed and equally deadly weapons,
Zam’s veil was a practical implement, used to hide her Clawdite features.
Clawdites were not a trusted species, for obvious reasons.
“You know that we failed?” Jango asked, getting right to the point.
“You told me to kill those in the Naboo starship,” Zam said. “I hit the
ship, but they used a decoy. Those who were aboard are all dead.”
Jango fixed her with a smirk, and didn’t bother to call her words a
dodge. “We’ll have to try something more subtle this time. My client is
getting impatient. There can be no more mistakes.” As he finished, he handed
Zam a hollow, transparent tube containing a pair of whitish centipedelike
creatures as long as his forearm.
“Kouhuns,” he explained. “Very poisonous.”
Zam Wesell lifted the tube to examine the marvelous little murderers
more closely, her black eyes sparkling with excitement, and her cheekbones
lifting as her mouth widened beneath the veil. She looked back at Jango and
nodded.
Certain that she understood, Jango nodded and started around the corner
toward his waiting speeder. He paused before stepping in, and looked back at
his hired assassin.
“There can be no mistakes this time,” he said.
The Clawdite saluted, tapping the tube containing the deadly kouhuns to
her forehead.
“Tidy yourself up,” Jango instructed, and he headed away.
Zam Wesell turned back to her own waiting speeder and pulled off her
veil. Even as she lifted the cloth, her features began to morph, her mouth
tightening, her black eyes sinking back into shapely sockets, and the ridges
on her forehead smoothing. In the time it took her to unhook her veil, she
had already assumed a shapely and attractive female human form, with dark
and sensuous features. Even her clothing seemed to fit her differently,
flowing down gracefully from her face.
Off to the side, Jango nodded approvingly and sped away. As a Clawdite,
a changeling, Zam Wesell did bring some advantages to the trade, he had to
admit.

 The vast Jedi Temple sat on a flat plain. Unlike so many of Coruscant's

buildings, monuments of efficiency and spare design, this building itself
was a work of art, with many ornate columns and soft, rounded lines that
drew in the eye and held it. Bas-reliefs and statues showed in many areas,
with lights set at varying angles to distort the shadows into designs of
mystery.
Inside, the Temple was no different. This was a place of contemplation,
a place whose design invited the mind to wander and to explore, a place
whose lines themselves asked for interpretation. Art was as much a part of
what it was to be a Jedi Knight as was warrior training. Many of the Jedi,
past and present, considered art to be a conscious link to the mysteries of
the Force, and so the sculptures and portraits that lined every hall were
more than mere replicas-they were artistic interpretations of the great Jedi
they represented, saying in form alone what the depicted Masters might speak
in words.
Mace Windu and Yoda walked slowly down one polished and decorated
corridor, the lights low, but with a brightly illuminated room in the
distance before them.
“Why couldn’t we see this attack on the Senator?” Mace pondered,
shaking his head. “This should have been no surprise to the wary, and easy
for us to predict.”
“Masking the future is this disturbance in the Force,” Yoda replied.
The diminutive Jedi seemed tired. Mace understood well the source of that
weariness. “The prophecy is coming true. The dark side is growing.”
“And only those who have turned to the dark side can sense the
possibilities of the future,” Yoda said. “Only by probing the dark side can
we see.”
Mace spent a moment digesting that remark, for what Yoda referred to
was no small thing. Not at all. Journeys to the edges of the dark side were
not to be taken lightly. Even more dire, the fact that Master Yoda believed
that the disturbance all the Jedi had sensed in the Force was so entrenched
in the dark side was truly foreboding.
“It’s been ten years and the Sith still have not shown themselves,”
Mace remarked, daring to say it aloud. The Jedi didn’t like to even mention
the Sith, their direst of enemies. Many times in the past, the Jedi had
dared hope that the Sith had been eradicated, their foul stench cleansed
from the galaxy, and so they all would have liked to deny the existence of
the mysterious dark Force-users.
But they could not. There could be no doubt and no denying that the
being who had slain Qui-Gon Jinn those ten years before on Naboo was a Sith
Lord.
“Do you think the Sith are behind this present disturbance?” Mace dared
to ask.
“Out there, they are,” Yoda said with resignation. “A certainty that
is.”
Yoda was referring to the prophecy, of course, that the dark side would
rise and that one would be born who would bring balance to the Force and to
the galaxy. Such a potential chosen one was now known among them, and that,
too, brought more than a little trepidation to these hallowed halls.
“Do you think Obi-Wan’s learner will be able to bring balance to the
Force?” Mace asked.
Yoda stopped walking and slowly turned to regard the other Master, his
expression showing a range of emotions that reminded Mace that they didn’t
know what bringing balance to the Force might truly mean. “Only if he
chooses to follow his destiny,” Yoda replied, and as with Mace’s question,
the answer hung in the air between them, a spoken belief that could only
lead to more uncertainty.
Both Yoda and Mace Windu understood the places that some of the Jedi,
at least, might have to travel to find the true answers, and those places,
emotional stops and not physical, could well test all of them to the very
limits of their abilities and sensibilities.
They resumed their walk, the only sound the patter of their footsteps.
In their ears, though, both Mace and Yoda heard the ominous echo of the
diminutive Jedi Master’s dire words.
“Only by probing the dark side can we see.”

                              = VIII =

 The door chime was not unexpected; somehow, Padm© had known that Anakin

would come to speak with her as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
She started for the door, but paused, and moved instead to retrieve her
robe, aware suddenly that her nightgown was somewhat revealing.
Her movements again struck her as curious, though, for never before had
Padm© Amidala harbored any feelings of modesty.
Still, she pulled the robe up tight as she opened the door, finding,
predictably, Anakin Skywalker standing before her.
“Hello,” he said, and it seemed as if he could hardly draw his breath.
“Is everything all right?”
Anakin stuttered over a response. “Oh yes,” he finally managed to say.
“Yes, my Master has gone to the lower levels to check on Captain Typho’s
security measures, but all seems quiet.”
“You sound disappointed.”
Anakin gave an embarrassed laugh.
“You don’t enjoy this,” Padm© remarked.
“There is nowhere else in all the galaxy I’d rather be,” Anakin
blurted, and it was Padm©’s turn to give an embarrassed little laugh.
“But this… inertia,” she reasoned, and Anakin nodded as he caught on.
“We should be more aggressive in our search for the assassin,” he
insisted. “To sit back and wait is to invite disaster.”
“Master Kenobi does not agree.”
“Master Kenobi is bound by the letter of the orders,” Anakin explained.
“He won’t take a chance on doing anything that isn’t explicitly asked of him
by the Jedi Council.”
Padm© tilted her head and considered this impetuous young man more
carefully. Was not discipline a primary lesson of the Jedi Knights? Were
they not bound, strictly so, within the structure of the Order and their
Code?
“Master Kenobi is not like his own Master,” Anakin said. “Master
Qui-Gon understood the need for independent thinking and
initiative-otherwise, he would have left me on Tatooine.”
“And you are more like Master Qui-Gon?” Padm© asked.
“I accept the duties I am given, but demand the leeway I need to see
them to a proper conclusion.”
“Demand?”
Anakin smiled and shrugged. “Well, I ask, at least.”
“And presume, when you can’t get the answers you desire,” Padm© said
with a knowing grin, though in her heart she was only half teasing.
“I do the best I can with every problem I am given,” was the strongest
admission Anakin would offer.
“And so sitting around guarding me is not your idea of fun.”
“We could be doing better and more exciting things,” Anakin said, and
there was a double edge to his voice, one that intrigued Padm© and made her
pull her robe up even tighter.
“If we catch the assassin, we might find the root of these attempts,”
the Padawan explained, quickly putting the discussion back on a professional
level. “Either way, you will be safer, and our duties will be made far
easier.”
Padm©’s mind whirled as she tried to sort out Anakin’s thoughts, and
his motivations. He was surprising her with every word, considering that he
was a Jedi Padawan, and yet, given the fire that she clearly saw burning
behind his blue eyes, he was not surprising her. She saw trouble brewing
there, in those simmering and too-passionate eyes, but even more than that,
she saw excitement and the promise of thrills.
And, perhaps, the promise of finding out who it was that was trying to
kill her.

 Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped off the turbolift tentatively, warily,  glancing

left and right. He noted the two posted guards, alert and ready, and he
nodded his approval to them. Every corridor had been like this throughout
the massive apartment complex, and in this particular area, above, below,
and near Amidala’s room, the place was locked down tight.
Captain Typho had been given many soldiers at his disposal, and he had
situated them well, overseeing as fine a defensive perimeter as Obi-Wan had
ever witnessed. The Jedi Master took great comfort in that, of course, and
knew that Typho was making his job easier.
But Obi-Wan could not relax. He had heard about the attack on the Naboo
cruiser in great detail from Typho, and considering the many precautions
that had been taken to protect the vessel-everything from broadcasting false
entry lanes to the appointed landing pad to the many shielding fighters, the
three accompanying the ship directly, and many more, both Naboo and
Republic, covering every conceivable attack lane-these assassins could not
be underestimated. They were good and they were well connected, to be sure.
And, likely, they were stubborn.
To get at Senator Amidala through the halls of this building, though,
would take an army.
Obi-Wan nodded to the guards and walked a circuit of this lower floor
then, satisfied, headed back to the turbolift.

 Padm© took a deep breath, her thoughts  lost  in  the  last  images  of

Anakin as he had left her room. Images of her sister Sola flitted about her,
almost as if she could hear Sola teasing her already.
The Senator shook all of the thoughts, of Sola and particularly of
Anakin, away and motioned to R2-D2, the little droid standing impassively
against the wall beside the door. “Implement the shutdown,” she instructed.
R2-D2 replied with a fearful “oooo.”
“Go ahead, Artoo. It’s all right. We have protection here.”
The droid gave another worried call, but extended a probe out to the
security panel on the wall beside him.
Padm© looked back to the door, recalling again the last images of
Anakin, her tall and lean Jedi protector. She could see his shining blue
eyes as surely as if he was standing before her, full of intensity, watching
over her more carefully than any security cam ever could.

 Anakin stood in the living room of  Padm©'s  apartment,  absorbing  the

silence around him, using the lack of physical noise to bolster his mental
connection to that more subtle realm of the Force, feeling the life about
him as clearly as if his five physical senses were all attuned to it.
His eyes were closed, but he could see the region about him clearly
enough, could sense any disturbance in the Force.
Anakin’s eyes popped open wide, his gaze darting about the room, and he
pulled his lightsaber from his belt.
Or almost did, stopping fast when the door slid open and Master Kenobi
walked into the room.
Obi-Wan looked about curiously, his gaze settling on Anakin. “Captain
Typho has more than enough men downstairs,” he said. “No assassin will try
that way. Any activity up here?”
“Quiet as a tomb,” Anakin replied. “I don’t like just waiting here for
something to happen.”
Obi-Wan gave a little shake of his head, a movement showing his
resignation concerning Anakin’s predictability, and took a view scanner from
his belt, checking his screen. His expression, shifting from curious to
confused to concerned, spoke volumes to Anakin He knew that Obi-Wan could
see only part of Padm©’s bedroom-the door area and R2-D2 standing by the
wall, but nothing more.
The Jedi Knight’s expression asked the question before he even spoke
the words.
“Padm©… Senator Amidala, covered the cam,” the Padawan explained. “I
don’t think she liked me watching her.”
Obi-Wan’s face tensed and he let out a little growl. “What is she
thinking? Her security is paramount, and is compromised-“
“She programmed Artoo to warn us if there’s an intruder,” Anakin
explained, trying to calm Obi-Wan before his concern could gain any real
momentum.
“It’s not an intruder I’m worried about,” Obi-Wan countered. “Or not
merely an intruder. There are many ways to kill a Senator.”
“I know, but we also want to catch this assassin,” Anakin said, his
tone determined, stubborn even. “Don’t we, Master?”
“You’re using her as bait?” Obi-Wan asked incredulously, his eyes
widening with shock and disbelief.
“It was her idea,” Anakin protested, but his sharp tone showed clearly
that he agreed with the plan. “Don’t worry. No harm will come to her. I can
sense everything going on in that room. Trust me.”
“It’s too risky,” Obi-Wan scolded. “Besides, your senses aren’t that
attuned, my young apprentice.”
Anakin parsed his words and his tone carefully, trying to sound not
defensive, but rather suggestive. “And yours are?”
Obi-Wan could not deny the look of intrigue that crossed his face.
“Possibly,” he admitted.
Anakin smiled and nodded, and closed his eyes again, falling into the
sensations of the Force, following them to Padm©, who was sleeping quietly.
He wish ed that he could see her, could watch the quiet rise and fall of her
belly, could hear her soft breathing, could smell the freshness of her hair,
could feel the smoothness of her skin, could kiss her and taste the
sweetness of her lips.
He had to settle for this, for feeling her life energy in the Force.
A place of warmth, it was.

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