PROLOGUE

A single moment is capable of changing everything. Whether for the better or for the worse, a single happening, feeling, word, or decision possesses the power to alter a life or even a galaxy.

There had been many such moments in Anakin Skywalker's life. His entire existence, when he expended the effort to examine it, seemed to depend entirely on these moments, some arbitrary, some planned… and some which did not fit comfortably into either category.

There was the moment he had been conceived, apparently by an act of the Force itself, for there was no father.

The moment he had met the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and been recognized as Force sensitive.

The moment he had left his mother behind to travel to Coruscant for training in the Jedi Order.

And there was the moment in which the entire progression of events was violently halted - the appearance of the first Sith Lord Anakin had ever seen, a Zabrak completely covered with fearsome tattoos and blazing with a presence in the Force that frightened Anakin more than his fiery eyes or his blood red light saber.

The death-echoes of Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi had scorched Anakin's young mind in much the same way that a wildfire might scorch a dry field, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake. When Maul appeared later and dragged Anakin away, ignoring his attempts to escape and his pleas to be let go, he felt as though it was his life that had gone up in flames before his very eyes.

But it was the moment that Maul presented him to a cloaked figure named Darth Sidious that threatened to consume the memories of the others. For in that moment, when the dark, cloaked man glided over to examine Anakin, trailing a Force presence that felt like the icy vacuum of a black hole, Anakin had felt himself drifting away from his previous life as though every memory and feeling that had ever entered his heart or mind had been wrested from his grasp - and he could no longer claim them. He felt himself being shifted onto a new path, hurtling in a new direction plotted only by the one who coldly examined him.

In that moment, Anakin knew there was no escape.

There were many moments in his training with Maul that chipped away at him. He knew it was his Force potential, the very same potential that had drawn Qui-Gon to him, that brought the horrors of Sith training upon him. The constant brutal exercises and cruelties that Maul inflicted on him seemed designed to eat away at all that was Anakin Skywalker. It was as though he himself was a flaw, an unfortunate biological and emotional attachment to an enormous reservoir of power. A parasite that had to be eliminated before the power could be unleashed.

Anakin Skywalker's final moment came when, bruised and battered by Maul in yet another sparring match, Anakin finally managed to disarm his merciless trainer. Triumph flooded his veins and he felt the venomous satisfaction of witnessing Maul's pain and surprise at his defeat. This was the moment when Palpatine commanded him to kill his trainer. His hesitation was only momentary, washed away in a tsunami of anger and vengeance. With Maul's body at his feet, Anakin knelt and in his final moment he heard the words, "You shall be called Darth Vader."

And Anakin Skywalker died.

Darth Vader did not think of the past. He thought only of the future and his place in it. His power would grow, he was sure, to the point that it would become uncontainable even by Palpatine. One day he would become the most powerful Sith Lord, and he would destroy his master. When Palpatine's machinations to control the Republic came to fruition, and his master seized control not only of the Sith Order, but of the galaxy, Darth Vader realized that his dreams of power had not been big enough. Not only would he be the supreme Force-user after Palpatine's death - he would be the ruler of the known galaxy. His heart grew harder as he focused on his dream, and he forgot Anakin's life and Anakin's dreams. There was only one moment that he looked forward to. The moment he would strike down his master.

He believed in this last greatest moment with all his heart and bided his time until it presented itself to him.

But Darth Vader was mistaken.

This was not the moment that would change his life for the last time. This was not the moment that would usher him into the power and the happiness that he so desperately desired. The death of Palpatine would not be the final moment that shaped his long and painful road. There were several moments left in the life of the man who was once Anakin Skywalker.

And the first of these was about to present itself.


Life, Padme Amidala had learned, was capable of changing in the blink of an eye.

As a starry-eyed youth she had wanted nothing more than to serve the people of Naboo, her beautiful homeworld, and make the planet and the galaxy a better place.

Several lost elections, one invasion and the total decimation of her planet later, Padme was not so optimistic.

After watching her people and their world fall to the Trade Federation's merciless droid armies, enduring endless suffering and finally watching their planet and entire way of life die under the Federation's iron grip, Padme had grown more reserved with her hopes and her dreams. She had fled to Alderaan, becoming an assistant to Senator Organa, who helped her plead her planet's case to the Senate.

Nothing, of course, was ever done, but that did not stop Padme from trying. By the time Palpatine came to power and intervened, there was nothing left to fight for.

And Padme's heart grew a bit harder.

She no longer looked at the universe with automatic hope, with the irrepressible belief that somehow there was a way for things to end well. She began to expect the worst. Usually she was not disappointed.

When news reached her of her family's fate, she had been at her desk in Senator Organa's office as always, serving some function or other - she could never quite remember what exactly she had been doing at the moment the message arrived. Because once she heard the news of her family's death - a tiny drop in the ocean of casualties caused by the Federations work camps - her mind became incapable of retaining anything else about that day.

And inside, Padme Amidala died.

After that fateful day, she no longer retained any hope for change, for a peaceful or good solution to the galaxy's ills. The Senate, it seemed to her, was a masterful exercise in futility.

She was almost relieved when Palpatine assumed control and declared the former Republic an Empire. Perhaps, she thought vaguely, and with very little interest, something might actually be done about the problems plaguing their worlds.

But a dictatorship, Padme soon decided, was no better for solving the problems of its people than a corrupt republic was. And in many ways it was far worse. Now, instead of bickering openly, the Senators and their aides were forced to go along with the Emperor at all costs - or risk whatever terrible fate befell those who "disappeared" after openly criticizing or opposing Palpatine.

Padme came to believe that an imperfect Republic was preferable to the merciless rule and absolute control of one man. Freedom, surely, was worth something.

And so Padme continued to arrive at the Senate building every morning and assist Bail Organa in any and every way she could, regardless of the void in her heart left by the death of hope. Though hope had been extinguished and her thoughts of a future that was good had deserted her, in some tiny, secluded portion of her heart Padme still believed that there might be a chance to make a difference. This belief sustained her through all the storms of tears and the ferocious attacks of despair.

She would not be moved from her role, however miniscule, in the fate of the galaxy.

So she labored on, day in and day out, as part of the glorious failure that was the Galactic Senate. And she believed in that tiny corner of her heart that just as a series of moments had brought both her and the galaxy to their current tragic states, so another moment might arrive that would turn everything around. She waited for this moment without knowing consciously that she was waiting at all. The only thing she consciously felt was despair. But the tiny corner of her heart refused to die as she labored on.

And now, many years after her life had suddenly plunged into a whirlpool of tragedy and loss, the turning point was at hand.

Padme Amidala's moment had finally arrived.