"Do your 'employers' meet everyone in a setting like this?" Ahsoka asked.
"Only the important ones," Sareena answered from the adjacent seat.
Ahsoka had already figured that out, of course. Even if she hadn't overheard the communications before their shuttle changed course to a backwater spaceport, the simple fact that Sareena took her on another transport there while the rest of her team dispersed was an obvious sign; even without considering that the transport had docked midcourse with the Consular-class cruiser they were in now.
It still didn't feel real, though. She'd been aboard more than a few ships of this class during the Clone Wars, and while those had all been retrofitted as military vessels, she knew about their civilian counterparts. And this one bore red stripes, indicating it was in diplomatic service. Which almost certainly meant this part of the ship was the detachable pod, sealed against eavesdropping, where representatives of planetary authorities would meet for negotiations that could impact the populations of entire worlds.
She'd been in similar scenarios before, but always off to the sides, serving an ambassador. Sitting behind the big table herself, though? Even though she knew it was all for the security, since no one wanted the Empire to know they were harboring Jedi, she felt extremely uncomfortable in the exceptionally soft chair. Her ego wasn't quite big enough to fill her seat.
The gray door to the chamber slowly opened, and Ahsoka caught the look of recognition in Sareena's eye; clearly this was her patron, as she had said. Ahsoka smiled softly, recognizing the man herself.
"Senator Bail Organa. It's been a long time."
"Indeed it has, Ahsoka," he agreed as he walked towards the chair opposite her own.
"Wait," Sareena said quizzically, "you already know each other? From before the Clone Wars?"
"During the Clone Wars, actually," Ahsoka answered. "Almost half a lifetime ago, it feels like."
"Or even longer," Bail agreed as he took his seat. "Thank you Sareena, you're excused."
Sareena gave an annoyed sigh as she stood up, soft enough that Ahsoka wasn't sure Bail heard it.
"Why?" Ahsoka asked earnestly.
"I wasn't sure you'd want anyone else here for this," he answered, before Sareena even stopped moving.
"She can stay." Ahsoka appreciated the anticipated caution, but that seemed like unhealthy paranoia. Besides, if her fellow escapee truly had any intention of turning on her, someone would've at least mentioned relieving her of her lightsaber.
"In that case..." He turned his head towards Sareena. "I apologize; have a seat."
"Thank you," Sareena replied flatly as she took her seat again, shooting Ahsoka an appreciative glance. Between her sarcasm and Bail using her first name, there was clearly something other than professionalism between the two of them, though Ahsoka had no idea what.
"So before we go on," Ahsoka said, "what data did you find? Something worth it, I hope."
"Design notes," Bail answered. "For what seems to be a moon-scaled turbolaser."
She paused, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't..."That's it? We all almost died for notes?" She certainly hadn't forgotten that one of them had died.
"Technically, but what concerns me is the detail on the focusing lens. There's a summary of machining feedback."
She frowned in confusion. Machining feedback? From what machines? Machines aren't responsible for initial designs, they don't come in until—
"They're building it?" she audibly concluded. "How big are we talking?"
"Big enough that we can't figure out where it'd end up. It's too big for any space station, much less any starship."
"But not too big for the Emperor to hide," she said sarcastically.
"We're working on it. It's a big galaxy, and he controls most of it, but it has to be somewhere. Which, incidentally, is why we're both here. We've secreted more than a few Jedi away from the Empire's prying eyes, whether hiding in plain sight or off the grid entirely."
Ahsoka sighed sadly and shook her head. As much as she might want to curl up and hide from everything..."Even if I believed you could hide me from Darth Vader and the Emperor so well, I couldn't forgive myself if I just let the galaxy rot into refuse. My master taught me better than that."
Bail cocked his head slightly, and his face took on an expression somewhere between confusion and disbelief; she couldn't quite place it. "Your master? You mean...Anakin?"
She looked him in the eye. "Yes."
He frowned. "Anakin Skywalker, now known as Darth Vader? That Anakin?"
Ahsoka noticed Sareena's wide-eyed stare in her peripheral vision. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath through her nose as she processed the utterly surreal feeling. She knew Anakin had to account for his padawan's actions many times. She would never have expected to come up with anything resembling justification for his.
But she knew the answer...however much it sickened her. She opened her eyes. "Yes," she answered coldly. "He compromised his own beliefs. Look where that got us. I will not do that to myself, or anyone else." Not even him. She blinked a couple times. "Can we please talk about anything else?" she asked, in a tone too close to pleading for her own tastes.
"Fair enough," he answered neutrally, as his expression relaxed. Sareena had stopped staring, but she looked downcast. "In that case," he continued, "I could really use your help."
Of course he could use the help of a Jedi. "I'm listening," she prompted.
"The Empire has been...unkind to many worlds, especially those without a significant human population. It's not uncommon for these worlds to have shortages of food or medicine, as the whims behind Imperial tariffs cripple the trade they relied on during the days of the Republic. Many of the people of Alderaan—"
"I'm sorry," Ahsoka interrupted, "but what do you need me for?"
"Setting up staging grounds for aid distribution in the Outer Rim can be difficult."
She sighed in exasperation. "I have no doubt it is, but it still sounds like you need an administrator, not a Jedi."
"Not a Jedi, so much as you, personally."
She tilted her head. As much as she appreciated being viewed as a person instead of a representative of the Force, a real rarity these days, it still wasn't making any sense to her. "You're not trying to convince me to accept solely through my own curiosity, are you?"
"Of course not, but I want you to know what you'd be getting into before you agree to anything."
That sounded a lot like trying to convince her solely through her own curiosity. She sighed, figuring she could give him the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. "Go on then, why is it so difficult?"
"Imperial presence is too prolific on human worlds, and too draconian on distinctly non-human worlds."
"Leaving the so-called 'near-human' worlds," she concluded with disdain. The idea that how biologically "close" someone was to a human could qualify as a classification had always seemed like an awkward academic concept, at best. The Emperor using it as a measure of who the Empire would lift a finger for was hardly an improvement.
"I don't like it either, but those are the worlds where we're least likely to suffer from Imperial scrutiny."
She was starting to see what he was getting at. "I take it you're distributing more than just necessities."
"We are distributing food, medicine and other basic need items to oppressed worlds. Which gives us the perfect cover for contacting resistance groups on those worlds. Material support, coordination, personnel exchange—"
"Wait, coordination?" she repeated, puzzled. "For...what? Some sort of...alliance of rebels?"
"Eventually, perhaps. Right now, giving all these people the chance to live through the Empire is the goal."
She exhaled in annoyance. "This is all interesting, really. But I'm afraid I've always had problems with patience. Why. Me?"
"The world I have in mind would be a perfect hub for helping numerous worlds...but the planetary government has concerns about authorizing our presence. And you're...Well, the legislature is suspicious of human representatives. Anyway, I have an influential connection, but I haven't had the means to seal the deal...which is where you come in."
Ahsoka groaned over how widespread xenophobia had gotten in just a few years. To say nothing about how roundabout he was about this whole thing; that was one thing she didn't miss about diplomats. "So what world, and who's your 'connection'?"
"Pantora, and I do believe you already know her quite well."
So that was it, he wanted her to take advantage of an old friend? She quickly stood up and scowled. "I am not strongarming Chuchi for you!"
"Good," Bail responded neutrally. "I don't want her coerced against her will, nor do I want to coerce you against yours. Could you please sit down so Sareena doesn't have a heart attack?"
She looked to her right, and saw Sareena half-standing, eyes wide and muscles tensed in conflicting directions. Like she couldn't decide whether she needed to protect Bail, or protect herself.
"Sorry," Ahsoka apologized as she slowly sat back down, while Sareena did the same.
Bail, who hadn't so much as looked alarmed, stroked his chin. "Frankly, it's good to see that some veterans of the Clone Wars haven't been changed beyond recognition by the Empire. Don't you agree?"
"I...wish more of the survivors kept sight of who they are." she agreed. "And 'veteran' makes me sound old," she added for distraction.
He smiled. "It's either that," he said playfully, "or I have to say you were a little girl during the Clone Wars."
She sighed. "Fine," she responded with mock annoyance, "if it keeps you from saying I'm 'all grown up', I'll go along with the 'old' thing." Then she shook her head, and took on a more serious tone. "So if I were to go along with your operation...What's in it for me, other than the chance to alienate one of my few friends who's still alive?"
"Wait," Sareena cut in, "aren't Jedi forbidden from seeking wealth?"
"Not quite," Ahsoka explained. "Jedi aren't supposed to put wealth above the Force, and it was rare for a Jedi to own more than she can carry. Still is, if only because I don't own more than I can carry. But Jedi are not required to be ascetic, and the Republic and Jedi Order are too dead to requisition from these days. And in any case, I'm not that interested in money; big spending attracts attention, which is the last thing I want."
Bail paused for only half a second. "I'm listening," he prompted, mimicking Ahsoka's own tone.
Ahsoka was quiet for a few seconds. She didn't have anything specific in mind, and though she was sure she could come up with something, the silence was starting to bother her. Ultimately, she decided to buy herself some more time by asking for a token concession. "For starters, tell me what really happened ten years ago, when the Clone Wars ended and the Empire began. Especially with regards to the Order." She'd heard and read the propaganda numerous times, and someone who was actually on Coruscant when it happened might know the real story.
She wasn't entirely sure she'd want to hear the answer. But, well, she'd heard plenty of things she deeply wished she hadn't in the past day, how much harm could adding another horrific revelation to the pile really do?
Bail sat quietly for a couple seconds. "Sareena, could you excuse us for a few moments?"
"This again?" Sareena protested.
"I'm sorry, Sareena."
The room was quiet just long enough for Ahsoka to realize she might find out exactly how much harm another revelation could do.
Sareena sighed as she stood up. "Yes, Uncle Bail," she said with resignation as she walked around the table and out the door.
A familial connection would certainly explain the informality she'd noticed between Bail and Sareena. She had enough time to remember the term for the inverse of "uncle" before the door fully closed.
"Your niece keeps her heart close to her sleeve, doesn't she?"
"Often. She doesn't always show it the way you'd expect, though. Sort of like you, if I recall correctly."
A lot like her, actually. And a lot like Anakin, too, even now. Rather than let herself ponder that..."Should I be worried that you know offhand what I asked?"
Ahsoka shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess there's no sense changing my mind."
"Well then. The first part you might know, a Confederate fleet attacked Coruscant, and General Grievous took the Supreme Chancellor hostage; Master Kenobi and Skywalker were dispatched to rescue him, and it ended with the death of Dooku and the escape of Grievous."
"Yes," she confirmed.
"Palpatine appointed Skywalker as his personal representative on the Jedi High Council."
"Wait, he could do that?"
"The Security Act had been recently amended, which allowed him to do so. I'm afraid I'm not privy to internal Jedi politics, but I assume they had their own reasons to accept the appointment. In any case, Grievous was located on Utapau, and Obi-Wan was dispatched there. He was there, and Master Yoda was aiding the Wookiees against an invasion on Kashyyyk; when Masters Tiin, Kolar, Fisto and Windu went to the Supreme Chancellor's Office to ensure Palpatine relinquished his emergency powers."
"Four Masters?" she said with surprise. "Including Master Windu? That's...quite a display of force." Were they expecting to intimidate him into cooperating? That would be distinctly un-Jedi-like. No wonder Anakin said they were corrupt.
"Some in the Senate were concerned that the Chancellor was unwilling to relinquish his control over the Republic, a concern the Jedi shared. I'm uncertain when or how Skywalker became involved, but eventually all four of the Masters were dead, and Palpatine triggered some secret brain-wired order in the clone troopers, compelling them to kill their Jedi generals. Skywalker arrived at the Jedi Temple with a division of clone troopers, and—"
"Please, no descriptions; I already know this part," she requested. She didn't need nor want to hear how the younglings and padawans were slaughtered.
"Fair enough. There's more after that, however."
"There can't be that much more after the entire High Council was killed."
"That...didn't actually happen."
"What?" she exclaimed, shocked. Was she really as wrong about the High Council as she was about Anakin?
"Obi-Wan and Master Yoda were offworld, and too much for troopers to handle. I met with them on their way back to Coruscant, in fact. And Master Ti was at the Jedi Temple, but she remains unaccounted for."
"So where are they now?" She certainly hadn't seen anything that'd suggest they were still around. But then, she hadn't known they were around to be looked for, either.
"I can't say," Bail answered. "The Empire's been looking for them all this time, they're unlikely to be in the same place they were if they're still alive."
Ahsoka caught the equivocation and implication in that sentence. "This is one of those cloak-and-dagger things, isn't it?" she accused.
"I don't have regular contact with them, they could easily have moved to different planets in the last several years. But it's dangerous to even imply I might know where they are. My family can't resist the Empire the way you can."
She sighed. As irritating as it was to have information withheld from her, she'd just had a soul-crushing encounter that she didn't know the Empire was sending; paranoia just might be healthy in these dark times. "Go on, then; what happened after the Temple was in flames?"
"I saw the troopers at the Jedi Temple and...figured out what was going on, though I didn't know Skywalker was involved. That was why I sought out Master Yoda and Obi-Wan. They discovered his involvement, and resolved to end the threat while they had the chance."
Ahsoka felt her pulse race, but said nothing. She was pretty sure she didn't want to hear what was coming, but she needed to.
"Yoda dueled Palpatine in the Senate chambers, and ultimately had to escape. Obi-Wan tracked Skywalker to Mustafar and...well, he thought he left Skywalker for dead. I think you can figure out what happened then."
"...yeah," she said sadly. "Poor man, having to fight his own apprentice."
And poorer man, whose every moment of existence was now a reminder of what his old master had done to him. She was thankful to still be intact after her own experience. Physically intact, at least.
"I can't imagine what he was thinking when he went there," Bail said.
"I can. He was thinking he could talk Anakin out of it, bring him to his senses. So together they could fight the darkness the Emperor represented."
She coughed fiercely for a couple seconds, as memories suddenly aligned in her mind. Taking a deep breath, she wiped her eyes off with her sleeve. "Sorry," she said, "suddenly realized Anakin just tried the same with me."
He frowned. "He wanted the two of you to fight the darkness?"
Ahsoka took another deep breath. She'd managed to reduce the general crushing feeling of despair down to a sensation more like internal bleeding, but it still wasn't a comfortable subject. It would never be a comfortable subject. "Yeah. Vader wanted to take over with his own flavor of darkness, but I think Anakin just wanted Palpatine eliminated."
"You talk like Skywalker and Vader are different people."
"Darth Vader is a deep, thorough perversion. Anakin is the real person, and he's still in there, somewhere."
Bail exhaled slowly. "That's...hard to accept."
She slowly shook her head. "I know. Vader doesn't believe it either. Clearly he's better at lying to himself, than to me."
"Well, you'd know that better than anyone else. Except possibly Obi-Wan...who, along with Master Yoda, went into self-imposed exile. To wait, until the time was right to reveal themselves."
She frowned. She caught the pause in that last sentence, he knew more specifics than he was letting on. This was getting annoying...She briefly considered compelling the whole story out of him, but using the Force just to satisfy her own curiosity was at least as un-Jedi-like as using a display of force to induce fear, and she was better than that.
Besides which..."Seriously?" she commented with disdain. "They're going to hide until the Empire is complacent, and the galaxy is in ruins, before they'll do anything?"
"My guess is they're contrite. Over their failure to protect Skywalker from the path he's now on, and their inability to stop the Empire when it had barely started. They're waiting to support a Jedi who can take on Vader and the Emperor directly."
Her ego resented the implication that she wasn't who they were waiting for, even though she knew she didn't want to deal with Anakin like that again, not if she could help it. But an eerie portion of her brain insisted that nothing could stop that now. That Darth Vader was the only agent of the Emperor who stood a real chance of stopping her, so a repeat encounter was inevitable. It was only a matter of time, and the only thing that would matter was what she did with that time.
And for the immediate future, a change of subject seemed the best use of her time. "You really think Chuchi will be convinced to support you just by my presence?"
"It isn't Senator Chuchi that needs to be convinced," he explained. "She needs to convince the Pantoran Assembly to go along with it, so she needs something to satisfy the holdouts with. I'm sure she has something in mind, though she hasn't told me what it might be."
"Maybe the Chairman's daughters need to be rescued from the Trade Federation again," she guessed sarcastically.
"Something of the sort, possibly. I figure we'll find out when the Senator sees that we, or rather you, are up to the task."
"And what happens then?"
"Once the Assembly assents, we'll set up an administrative center in one of Pantora's larger cities. Most of the actual work in the system will happen between space transports in orbit, of course, but a presence amongst the populace will attest to our open intentions...as well a clandestine place to run our less-open, but no less good, intentions from. Last thing we need is Imperial curiosity about our ship-to-ship communications."
"The Empire would shoot first and ask questions later, if ever."
"Exactly, debris in place of ships is the last thing we need."
Ahsoka wracked her brain, trying to try up with a similar scenario she remembered. Disconcertingly, the memory that finally came up was after the second battle of Geonosis, when she and Barriss Offee were to escort a medical frigate delivering supplies from a medical space station to the remote world of Dantooine.
That, obviously, was before Barriss murdered Letta Turmond and framed her for the crime, and only Anakin's last-minute intervention kept her from being convicted and executed for it. Was every moment in the past ten years of her life tied to that one event? It seemed to be quite alive just behind the forefront of her mind.
But this wasn't the time for introspection. "So bulk freighters will make supply runs from Alderaan to Pantora, offloading to smaller and faster ships, which in turn will take the...cargo...to the various worlds around the system?"
"There are intermediate parts, but basically yes. You sound troubled by that."
Ahsoka paused for a split second, replaying her own voice in her mind. She exhaled sharply, annoyed that she had unintentionally let her tone of voice go unfiltered. Did ambassadors have their own version of the Jedi mind trick? "Sorry, the last time I was involved with something like that was after the second battle of Geonosis. Not the best of memories."
"Because of the brain worms?"
Ahsoka suppressed the shiver, which was more from the frigid cold it'd taken to kill the worms than any other aspect of the memory. She lowered an eyebrow as she looked him in the eye. "You know that offhand, too?"
"Geonosis was always a symbol of the Clone Wars," he explained, "as the first planet the Republic clone troopers were deployed to. It was referenced in many speeches, so I tried to stay informed of developments."
"Ah," Ahsoka replied flatly as she relaxed, not entirely buying it but not particularly caring. "Because I was there with Barriss Offee, actually."
"Because she wasn't trying to kill you yet?"
Ahsoka's eyes went alert again. "Unless you count the brain worm part, anyway. Just how many developments did you stay informed of, hm?"
He took a deep breath. "This one, I was actually there to hear."
That stopped her cold. She hadn't really been paying attention to anything except the proceeding themselves that day. "You were at the trial?" she asked, feeling a little ashamed for not noticing.
"Assuming it qualified as a trial, yes. Senator Chuchi was there as well, for that matter."
"You had other things on your mind than the gallery roster."
"...yeah." She sighed. "I guess as long as today's Uncomfortable Truth Day...why do you think she did it? The bombing, the framing, everything."
"I'm hardly knowledgeable about her intentions, but I'd guess she did the bombing for exactly the reasons she said: She believed the Jedi had failed their ideals and the galaxy, and were responsible for prolonging the Clone Wars instead of keeping the peace. As for the framing...didn't Letta ask to speak to you, and you alone?"
"That would explain why you. Barriss couldn't risk being revealed, and you just happened to be the one there when time ran out."
Ahsoka sighed sadly. She had hoped there were some sort of extenuating circumstances she hadn't known, like if the Emperor had coerced her somehow. It was continuing to look like Barriss had simply taken what she saw for granted, changed her view of the universe to match, and sought to destroy any threats to her new perspective...which happened to include Ahsoka herself. It sounded like Barriss and Vader had a lot in common.
She thought Barriss would help her out. Told Anakin that he was the only one she could trust. Declared that she shouldn't trust herself if the Council didn't. And that was all followed by ten years proving she'd been completely wrong. It was almost hilarious, in a schadenfreude sort of way.
She still remembered, back on that medical frigate, that Barriss asked Ahsoka to kill her, before the brain worms took her over again. She couldn't bring herself to do it. As Anakin told her afterwards, Barriss didn't know the cold was going to kill the worms. But if Ahsoka knew then what Barriss was going to do later, would she have done things any differently? Could she have prevented all of this, calling it self-defense if necessary?
She frowned. No, she wouldn't. Barriss lost her way, and ended up orchestrating the death of one of her friends in the bombing, and almost did the same with Ahsoka herself. Anakin lost his way, and...brought Darth Vader into the universe, along with all that entailed.
Whatever else she might think of them, they proved too weak to truly survive their own foolishness.
"Anyway," she said in hope of covering her introspective moment, "I suppose you'll want me to stick around for the distribution of your good intentions?"
"Naturally, but whether you do is your decision."
Not like he could stop her even if he wanted to. But maybe it was time to stop fighting the offer so hard. If Anakin had the foresight to envision the need to hold the pieces of the galaxy together when the Empire broke, well, someone should make good use of it. And it clearly wasn't going to be Vader.
"I can't stay in one place for long," she said, shaking her head. "The Emperor knew where I was going to be yesterday, somehow. It'll just happen again if I hang around somewhere, and that'll be a severe risk to your people."
"The Outer Rim's a big place, you could be in hyperspace more often than not." Bail responded. "And you won't have to dodge Imperial security nearly as often."
"Yeah that's a high bar to meet," she countered sarcastically. It was a good point, though: She couldn't risk getting spotted by Imperial security, and she couldn't book passage on any sort of civilian transportation without getting spotted by Imperial security. Heck, she'd technically invited herself aboard the escape shuttle. The transport between the shuttle and the ship she was in now was her first legitimate use of a vehicle since the beginning of the Empire. It was nice to travel without the 'stowaway' feeling.
"So again," she said directly, "what's in it for me if I go along with all this?"
He smiled slightly. "How long has it been since you had actual accommodations aboard a civilian ship?"
She'd accidentally broadcasted that one to him, hadn't she? "Long enough. Why?"
"I could certainly find a ship with above-standard living conditions to assign your team to."
She briefly considered whether he was trying to bribe her with creature comforts, before she realized he was trying to pay her with creature comforts. Which sounded much better. "My team?" she asked, confused.
"Technically Sareena would be in charge, at least officially. But yes, even if you are able to do everything yourself, it'd be an unreasonable expectation to force on you."
Ahsoka was silent for a few moments. Even though it was her idea, asking for compensation to do the right thing still felt a bit...off. It made her feel more like a bounty hunter than a Jedi. But she remembered something from a couple weeks back. She wasn't sure what kind of rodent it was that hopped out of the garbage pile, nor what it had been eating in there. She was, however, certain its raw flesh only made for a snack that didn't quite reach "mediocre" in quality.
"Are you finding a ship with a galley, too?"
"I could even find a chef to staff it."
She had an unpleasant feeling that, no matter what, things were going to end badly for her. But for the first time in a few years, she could see herself doing more than merely stalling the Empire's reign. "I think all three of us will need to iron out the details before I officially agree to all that."
"Fair enough. It's early anyway, we need to get permission from the Pantoran Assembly and get things set up first."
"Fine. For that part of it, I'm in."
He smiled. "Welcome aboard, then. Anything else you want to ask, before I get Sareena back in here?"
Maybe now was the time for simpler curiosity. "Why were you at my trial?"
His smile faded. "Honestly, I was there for Padmé. As for Senator Chuchi, well, you can ask her yourself when she gets here."
"...we're already headed there, aren't we?" she asked.
"You and Sareena met up with us midway," he explained. "After all, Pantora would be as good a place as any if you just wanted to set down away from Imperial eyes."
"I guess neither of us would be alive today, if we didn't recognize an opportunity when we saw one."
Watching hyperspace speed by out a side-facing window was very different from viewing the same sight head-on. Facing forward, areas that seemed lighter or darker than average drew attention to themselves, and remained in visual range long enough for a viewer to easily distinguish a neverending pattern. Even if that pattern was purely imaginary.
Whereas from her angle here, each luminous discrepancy Ahsoka saw was elongated into a horizontal line. The end result was a blue field of streaks, with every stripe gone by the time her brain acknowledged it been there in the first place.
She could've used the few hours it'd take to reach Pantora to mediate in silence. But she recognized her own longing to withdraw from the universe, to shut everything out, to ignore what had gone so very wrong in her life. And she couldn't give those things the opportunity to blindside her with their existence. They'd already tried to twist her heart into some sort of abstract sculpture, and she still felt the sprains and tears in it; there was no way a repeat performance could be an improvement.
So instead she chose to be in a corridor, leaning her shoulder against the wall, idly gazing out the viewport in silence. It was a game for her mind, she supposed; recognizing the big picture without being able to fathom its components. Though admittedly there was a big difference between components she didn't have the opportunity to examine, and events she didn't yet have the willingness to examine. It'd just have to suffice.
Her view was briefly interrupted by one of the ship's few crew walking in front of her. A technician, if the tools he was carrying were any indication. Him, she had noticed; walking deliberately down the corridor, shooting a curious look at her for a mere fraction of a second before turning his gaze towards his destination again as he walked in front of her.
He didn't know who she was, nor that she was a Jedi, if the miniscule amount of attention she drew was any indication. Which she guessed made sense, there would've been no point in keeping her in the secure section of the ship until Sentaor Organa arrived if everyone outside already knew. When she had remarked about being cooped up, he told her that it should be quite safe in the rest of the ship, as long as she didn't reveal her identity nor her reason for being there.
Perhaps she'd judged Masters Yoda, Kenobi and Ti too harshly. She'd assumed they were cowering from the fall of the Order, the way she was refusing to, but how could she be sure? After all, she'd been keeping her own identity separate from her actions as much as possible for the safety of those around her, why couldn't they be doing the same? Maybe she had gotten too good at it for them to have noticed her. Or maybe all four of them were too good at it to have noticed each other.
It'd certainly make more sense than Master Kenobi hiding in the shadows. He lacked Anakin's overt impulsiveness, but she knew he was just as unwilling to let an injustice stand. She also knew he placed the will of the Jedi High Council ahead of his own, like any "good" Jedi was expected to, but there wasn't really a High Council to object to his actions now. Maybe, now that she knew he might be alive to be looked for, she could eventually find him. It was a miniscule chance, obviously, but it made for a far better goal than aimlessly working against the Empire. The two of them would have a great deal to discuss, anyway. Maybe together, Anakin's former master and his former padawan could put together a complete picture, and a viable plan to go with it.
Because the direct approach was looking more absurd now than it ever had. Masters Yoda and Windu were the Order's premier lightsaber duelists. It hadn't been at the forefront of her mind when Senator Organa mentioned it, but for Palpatine and Vader to have faced off against them and prevailed...well, it moved her assessment of brute force from "ridiculous" to "ludicrous". And she'd just failed to talk Vader out of coming after her, and the only person in the universe who might improve the odds in that regard would be Master Kenobi. Maybe she and Kenobi, and possibly even Anakin, could overwhelm Palpatine at that point.
It was truly bizarre, thinking of herself being anywhere near the same level as a Jedi Master. Then again, Masters Yoda and Ti were Jedi Consulars; technically lightsaber proficiency was secondary for them. And all those years ago, she'd fared better against General Grievous than Master Ti had, somehow. Maybe it wasn't actually as big of a stretch as it felt.
They still owed her an answer for ejecting her from the Jedi Order so long ago, she deserved that much. Just as she suspected they would want an answer for why she refused to return. At least now she could respond to that, Anakin having recently given her words for the maelstrom in her head at the time. The High Council discarded her not for their convictions, but for their convenience. Her trust in its integrity had been shattered, even if a few of its members recognized the mistake they had made. Every step echoing down every hall left her wondering when she'd be sold out again. Her home had turned into a prison, and one does not willingly stay in such a place.
She felt her anger at them for their part in it. But it would be a pitiful thing to hold a grudge over, especially in the Imperial era. The Empire was something none of them had asked for, after all, and the threat she walked away from necessarily paled in comparison to the threat that would annihilate her if it saw her walking at all. She could give in to her frustrations when something could possibly be done with them. Besides which, passing judgment on the Council members in advance would make her no better than them, or Barriss, or Vader.
She realized that assuming none of the Masters had fallen to the Dark Side themselves could be dangerous. She'd held Anakin's moral fiber in higher regard than theirs, and for good reason. Even if it wasn't good enough to be right. Still, it seemed unlikely the Emperor would risk letting them live. And worst case scenario, there was more than one way they could answer for what they'd done. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that...but she could feel the edge of her own hope, and the sea of self-doubt daring her to push her faith too far.
Letting out a long sigh, she decided she'd simply have to make it work. Even if she was reduced to hunting for silver linings in a storm of despair, even if she ended up dead or worse at the hands of the Empire, even if nothing was actually the way she knew it. She would find the strength to press on in the face of irrationality, because there was no way she was letting a mockery like Darth Vader have it all to himself.
Anakin needed her to save him, and she owed him at least that much. She'd succeed, or one of them would die in the attempt. All that was left was the details. Much like the stars streaking by outside the ship, she couldn't recognize any of them from this angle, but she could certainly improvise. She was trained by a master, after all.
(Author's Note: It might seem like a strange place to end the fic, but anything going forward from this would be a different story. ...Also, I don't have anything planned to go forward with. Maybe at some point in the future.)