A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.
Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.
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Current Date: 1 year until the Invasion of Naboo
A Deceived Accomplice
"This ship is amazing!"
Serra's exultant cry reverberated through the cockpit as Raven, our ship, manoeuvred deftly between two colossal cargo haulers amidst the celestial tapestry of Coruscant's upper atmosphere. The ethereal grace with which we glided through that narrow aperture would have put the most accomplished dancer to shame, and the sight of it caused my smile to blossom.
With a surge of power, we broke free from the planet's gravitational embrace, our engines ablaze with fervour as I urged Raven to test her limits, unencumbered by the restraints that often tethered her. Ahead, a convoy of hulking bulk freighters loomed large, forming a procession that descended toward the distant planet's surface.
It was difficult to ascertain who derived greater pleasure from this exhilarating flight, for both Serra and Raven seemed to emanate a palpable aura of elation and delight, their spirits mingling like celestial bodies in perfect alignment. The zenith of their jubilation arrived when Raven soared through the tempestuous wake of one freighter, nimbly avoiding the fiery plumes of fuel expelled by its multitude of engines. Then we audaciously skimmed the very hull of the succeeding vessel, drawing close enough that I couldn't help but chuckle at the profound astonishment etched upon the visage of the Rodian pilot we left in our wake.
Serra's scream shattered the tranquil aura of a Jedi, ripping through the fabric of restraint as we emerged from the shielded line of gargantuan bulk freighters. Before us loomed a formidable Golan defence platform, a sentinel encircling and safeguarding the very heart of the Republic. A lone light on my console flickered insistently, a signal from Coruscanti Orbital Control attempting to make contact. Undoubtedly, they sought to admonish me for my reckless piloting. Though Raven was registered as a Jedi starship, I was flying with reckless abandon, entrusting my vessel and the Force to guide my hand. The temptation to yield to the intoxicating rush was fierce, rendering it arduous to relinquish control. The sheer ecstasy derived from this reckless endeavour coursed through my veins, the synesthetic fusion of Raven's sensory input traversing her hull, merging with the cognitive faculties housed within her computerised cerebral cortex, and ultimately providing me with ephemeral glimpses of her perceptual landscape.
As we sailed past the nearest Golan platform, traversing the ethereal emptiness of space enveloping Coruscant, I relinquished a modicum of pressure on the throttles. Raven, though loudly voicing her objection, reluctantly obeyed, conforming to my will. Gradually, I steered our trajectory away from the well-trodden flight paths typically traversed by those embarking upon the capital world. The unyielding light on my console persisted, incessantly demanding my attention, until at last I terminated the transmission. A hint of potential reprimand awaited me within the confines of the Jedi Temple, a prospect that failed to faze me. Raven yearned to soar unhindered, to relinquish the constraints imposed by conventional wisdom, and in the presence of Serra, I nurtured the flickering hope that she, too, might succumb to the allure of unbound passion.
I turned to Serra, letting Raven fly herself, and couldn't help but drink in how she looked. Her face was flushed, having sensed Raven's enjoyment and mixed it with her own as we flew upward. I could almost hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest, and her visage, illuminated by an incandescent smile, outshone even the radiant glory of Coruscant Prime, that celestial jewel, presiding over the expansive system.
Serra had been in the Raven before, taking several flights in and out of Coruscant's atmosphere with our friends. However, this was the first time she'd come alone with me – if you ignored Fenrir who was lazing away in a small cargo room that I'd converted into his den and HK who was currently powered down in my quarters – and when she'd learnt that I'd felt her shock, hope, and desire spike. Now, those feelings were slowly coming back as her excitement about our rush into orbit calmed.
"Findin' some enjoyment, are ya?" I drawled, my grin stretching wide as I took in the sight of her, captivated and brimming with awe, fresh off our harrowing flight.
Her face was flushed with excitement as she turned to face me, no doubt enjoying how happy Raven was to be racing through space. "Yes!" She blinked, her blush intensified, and she glanced away for a moment. "I… I mean yes. Thanks for letting me experience this."
"Good to hear." I laughed at her reaction even as I leaned toward her, though not close enough that I'd be entering her personal space. "So, now that we're in space, far from the Temple and anyone else, what do you want to do?"
Her eyes widened as she realised where we were, and she looked out the viewport, taking in the sight of the constant flow of traffic to and from the capital of the Republic. "I… I don't know." She gently bit her bottom lip as she looked back at me. "What do you want to do?"
I smirked, letting my eyes wander downward for a moment. "I figured we could… talk," the smirk turned into a smile at her reaction. I suspected she thought I was going to say something else, and while that idea held appeal, I felt we needed to clear the air a little first. "Unless there's something else you would rather do?"
I knew I shouldn't be teasing her like this, but she looked downright edible when she was flustered. "Well, um…" She looked away, unwilling to meet my gaze. "What about Bo?"
"Oh?" I leaned back, wanting to see where she went with this, though Bo was one of the things I knew would be brought up while we were up here. At least she was facing it before we did anything else.
"I mean," she bit her lip again, unintentionally playing into the air of innocence she was giving off. "I know you and Bo…"
"Karked?" I posited, memories of the countless encounters with Bo flooding my thoughts. Though the yearning for the fiery-haired warrior tugged at my senses, I firmly cast it aside. This day, my fervour and longing were solely directed toward the raven-maned beauty before me.
Serra's nod came slowly, her eyes widened to an extent that likened her to a startled deer ensnared within the predatory gaze of a kath hound, bewildered and unsure of its next move. "Y-yes. That. How... how much?… what did you do?"
I leaned back fully into my chair and chuckled. Once more images of Bo, and the various stages of undress and positions I'd had her in, rushed through my mind. Tapping my chin, I looked upward. "A lot." While I could've gone into detail, I felt that might embarrass or scare Serra too much, or perhaps make her feel what she was competing with was too much and snuff out the flames in her before I'd had the chance to unleash them. "Though I can think of a few things we'd have liked your help for." Serra's face turned redder than a Sith lightsaber at my implication, which only made my smile grow further.
I knew I was pushing her limits, but thanks to the Force and Observe, I knew she wasn't upset that I'd fucked Bo, just that she'd not been first. And that Serra wondered what Bo was like out of her armour. That little insight had fuelled several enjoyable dreams since I'd learnt it, and if I could wrangle it, I'd make sure those dreams one day became reality. "Any reason you're asking about this now?" I didn't need the Force or Observe to know the answer, as it'd been my idea for us to come up here, but I was curious how bold she'd be in her answer.
"I…" She looked out the viewport once again, and if not for the fact the fear I sensed from her was being drowned out by lust and confusion, I'd have worried I'd pushed too far. "Why her?" She asked after turning back to face me.
"We travelled together for years. Fought side by side against pirates, slavers, and planetary invaders. Haran, she was the one who helped me cope with Master Fay's near-death and pushed to rescue me from the Bando Gora." Serra opened her mouth, but I cut off as I continued. "Yes, I know that if you could've, you would've helped with that as well." She nodded and smiled, pleased that I understood she'd not forgotten about me during my ordeal. "Still, Bo was the one with me in those… darker moments. Adding that to the fact she's an incredibly attractive woman, and it's not a surprise our bond grew so deep."
I waited quietly, letting her take the time to process my response. The time stretched out and a shadow passed over us as a bulk freighter flew close enough to momentarily block out the light for the local star.
"Do you... not love her?" Her gaze locked with mine, radiating the same courage I had witnessed when she decided to train on Mandalore by my side. And when she embarked on a verd'goten, her determination shone through.
"I'm uncertain. Bo is like a ticking grenade, ready to explode. Don't get me wrong, I genuinely like her, but when it comes to love... I'm not sure." I shook my head as I finished. While there was the spark between us that could, with time, possibly develop into love, I knew enough to know that it wasn't there yet. Though even if it didn't develop, I doubted Bo would reject another chance to fuck like deranged rabbits.
"W-what about me?" Her voice was low, barely carrying over the faint sounds that echoed around the cockpit. Her gaze was low, finding and locking on a spot on the floor.
I leaned forward and then reached out for her. As my hand cupped her chin and lifted her head so I could look her in the eyes, I smiled warmly. "Serra, you are my first, and best friend," I said slowly, making sure she held my gaze as I spoke. "I like you and that will never change." She smiled at my words, and nibbled her lip once more, though there was less indecision in the action this time.
"D-do you love me?"
I let go of her chin and leaned back enough that I was no longer inside her personal space. "I don't know." Her smile slipped slightly. "I mean, I certainly like you, and definitely enjoy seeing the changes you've gone through over the years." My eyes wandered lower, taking in her form that even under Jedi robes was clear to see. "But love... Well, I believe love requires both time and dedication to truly develop."
I waited for her to add something, and when she didn't speak up, I did. "Does it bother you that I've slept with Bo?" I already knew the answer, but I wanted to see how honest she would be about this.
"No… Yes… I don't know. I'm not sure," she replied with a heavy sigh and a shake of her head. "On one hand, I comprehend why you're drawn to her. She possesses qualities of strength, fearlessness, and beauty that I lack, or I lacked."
I let out a scoff, interrupting her self-pity. "Serra, although you're not Bo, you possess equal measures of courage, strength, and beauty, albeit in your own unique manner." Her cheeks resumed their vibrant hue, reminding me of a raging inferno. "When I initially arrived at the Temple, feeling everyone's apprehension and fear, you approached me and engaged in conversation."
"That was a dare though."
"Aye, but you still did it," I countered quickly. "Bar whatever rumours were running around the Temple; you knew nothing about me. Yet, even only knowing that I might be related to Darth kriffing Revan," that made her smile, "you came and spoke with me. Haran, more than anyone else in the Order, you made, and make, me feel welcome and safe inside the Temple." Once again, her cheeks darkened. "When I revealed my intention to journey to Mandalore for training, you not only chose to accompany me but also became the first Jedi in centuries to undertake a verd'goten." My gaze shifted to her feet. Though the boots no longer matched the ones Duke Adonai had bestowed upon her years ago, the armoured sections remained, carefully transferred to new boots as she grew. The distinct beskar markings were easily discernible to a trained eye. "And while the girl I once knew may not have been described as beautiful, the young woman standing before me now is quite excep-" My words were abruptly silenced as Serra closed the distance between us and tenderly pressed her lips against mine.
Startled by her reaction, my eyes blinked in surprise, but I quickly regained my composure. With a gentle grasp, my hands encircled her waist, drawing her closer to me until she settled on my lap. My hands then diverged; one tenderly reached for her hair while the other ventured lower. Pushing against my chest, her hands tugged at my robes, and as our tongues intertwined, a soft moan escaped her lips.
Although my desire urged me to continue, to explore the unknown path ahead, I needed certainty. Reluctantly, I pulled away, her lips reluctantly following, and her eyes fluttered open. Confusion clouded her gaze as she focused on me.
"I want to be certain," I spoke slowly, my hands still unmoving from their positions. "Is this truly what you desire?"
"Yes," she replied breathlessly, her eyes jumping between my eyes and my lips. "I want you. Force, I've wanted you for years. I need what you had with Bo, and more." She leaned forward, her lips desperate to find mine, but I stopped her by bringing the hand in her hair around and placing a finger on her lips.
"What about the Code?"
Truthfully, I didn't give two fucks about what it felt regarding relationships. Oh, I understood – or felt I did – why the Order was concerned about strong emotions like love and lust causing a Force user problems but denying them from ourselves cut us off from being truly alive. No, what I needed here and now was to hear Serra's opinion on us and the Code. She might not be as blind about the dogma of the Order as many, but she'd been raised as a Jedi for as long as she could remember.
However, her giggling and laughing in my face wasn't the reaction I'd expected. "You?!" She asked once her laughter had died down slightly. "You're asking me about the Code?!" She shook her head, unintentionally smacking me in the shoulder with her Padawan braid, and if I'd not been holding her on my lap, I suspected she'd have fallen over.
"Cam, I know you're a Jedi, but let's be honest, you're not one to adhere strictly to the Code," she said, smirking as she placed a finger on my lips to silence any protests. "You taught me the older version of the code, the simpler and cleaner one that I still follow. It's no surprise, considering your lineage as a Shan. And let's not forget, your great-grandfather's redemption from the Dark Side involved something the Order has frowned upon for ages!" She burst into laughter again, though thankfully it was shorter this time. I hoped it would divert her attention from the unintended reaction her touch on my leg was causing.
"You follow your own path, just like your family always has. And honestly, I admire that. I agree with it," she said, glancing out of the viewport, presumably referring to Coruscant. "The galaxy is in disarray, and it all started here. The Order... we can't fix it, not within the confines of the Code or the oath we've taken to the Republic." Her finger jabbed my chest, emphasising her point. "But you, you'll try to make things right. I can sense it in my heart and through the Force. And I..." She snorted, then composed herself. "I want to be by your side, walking that path. Even if it means leaving the Order, abandoning the only home I've ever known... I'll do it. For you."
I blinked as I stared into her eyes. As the Force swirled around us, I saw no deception, only conviction. "I don't want you, us, to leave the Order," I replied slowly. Though I knew there was a good chance that would happen. To prepare for what was to come, I'd likely have to do things the Order and the Republic would never accept. "I don't want you to throw away everything you have here."
She flicked me on my forehead. "Weren't you listening?" Her hair flew around as she shook her head again. "Let me make it clear. For you, I'd leave. I-I'd follow you to the darkest parts of the galaxy because I trust you. Because I know that my path is at your side. Unless you don't want me?" The certainty and conviction in her tone vanished with her question.
I leaned forward as the Force felt as if it was tightening around us, drawing us closer. "I want you," I answered in a voice barely above a whisper.
The Force reacted to my words, sparking in a way I'd never felt before even as Serra's face was brightened by a smile that could light the darkest pits of Korriban. "Good." Her lips sought mine out and I eagerly accepted them. I closed my eyes, savouring the taste of her kiss even as her hands slid into my hair, tugging gently on my locks. I slid both my arms under hers, locking them around her back and holding her close: unwilling to let her go.
After what felt like seconds that stretched across time and space, she pulled back. Her face was red, her lips puffy and her eyes flickering as if her mind was struggling to work. "Oh Force," she mumbled as a million-credit smile erupted on her face. "I'll have to thank her."
I leaned forward as I chuckled and nibbled her ear. "She taught me more than how to kiss," I whispered, enjoying the way she shivered as my breath brushed her face. "Want me to show you?"
No single word had ever reached me that carried as much desire and longing.
I stood slowly, letting her wrap her legs around my waist even as her lips nuzzled into my neck. Once standing I moved slowly, carrying her, as she seemed to shiver in anticipation, toward the door. While I'm sure she wanted to take things further immediately, I wasn't going to make her first time take place in the cockpit of Raven.
That, if she was still able to walk after I'd had my way with her, could come later.
I eased back on the power, watching as the stars returned to normal and Raven brought us back to real space. The sensation of transitioning to and from hyperspace as felt through my bond with Raven would never grow old. My mind couldn't understand most of what she felt, but what I could comprehend was incredible. I likened it to what water must feel like when it reaches the end of a rushing river and flows out into the sea.
"While I am grateful for the transport, there is no need for you to accompany me all the way to this system," I smirked at Dooku's words even as I plotted the sub-light course for Mtael's Gift. No matter how much I hated the name, it had stuck and I'd realised that not calling it that was a disservice to the Lokella. To them, the actions Dooku and I had taken those many years ago had changed the fates of thousands of beings, and naming the station after the title they'd bestowed upon me was a mark of respect. Plus, the fact it was a former Pius Dea ship and was now used by a mainly non-Human group of freed slaves as a base to live and strike out against slavers always amused me.
"I'm aware of that Master, but as much as I detest the names given to the station and system, this is one of the few places where I feel comfortable and able to truly relax." I glanced over at him even as the sensors showed the approach of a massive – at least for this system – vessel. "That said, I have no interest in interacting with Vosa. While I feel I could survive such a meeting without running her through, I'd rather not risk it."
Dooku's lips twitched, which was often as close as he came to a smile, yet before he could reply, the communication console beeped. I opened the channel and looked at the display showing the bridge of the approaching ship.
"Unknown vessel, this is the…" The figure speaking stopped and leaned forward. He then inhaled sharply as a smile crept over his face. "Mtael, we are honoured that you have returned." Around the ship's commander members of the crew stole glances at the display; no doubt surprised and shocked to see me.
I returned the Togrutan commander's smile. "Captain Ranze, it's been some time but I see you've moved up in the world." At one time Ranze Faar had been captain of the Freerunner until Baalta had taken command and made it the flagship of the Lokella's small fleet. The ship he was on now, according to Raven's sensors, was a Dreadnought-class heavy cruiser. Measuring over six-hundred metres long and armed with upwards of two dozen weapon emplacements, the ship was, in current military terms, a powerful warship. The only issue was the crew requirement, which from my research was highly variable. While I knew the Lokella were growing, I had to believe this ship was a newer variant as it was unlikely that they could afford to place the twelve thousand crew on board some of the earliest models of the ship required.
"Indeed, I have Mtael. The Liberator, while a recent addition to our forces, was generously given by an unexpected benefactor." Ranze's amused and prideful tone had me suspecting the ship was a recent capture from one – clearly unworthy – slaver. While the dreadnought had several flaws, beginning with the crew requirements, it was one heavily armed vessel, putting everything else I knew the Lokella had – at least from when I'd last visited – to shame. Any Hutt or slaver looking to strike back against the Lokella was going to need serious firepower to take out the Liberator; to say nothing of whatever other ships the Lokella had acquired over the last few years.
"I'm glad to see the Lokella are growing stronger," a beep from one set of sensors, along with hints of concern from Raven caught my attention. "Though perhaps you might convince your interceptors to break before they get closer. I'd hate to embarrass them when my new ship leaves them eating my exhaust." While the four fighters inbound were fast, I knew Raven could outrace them and felt her wanting the chance to prove me right.
Ranze blinked. "Ah, right." He looked offscreen and nodded and a second later Raven tracked the four fighters banking away. "We weren't told you'd be returning, nor to expect you in an unknown vessel."
"I only decided to come when I learnt Master Dooku wished to return. As for my ship… let's just say the last few years have been interesting."
Ranze chuckled. "I look forward to hearing about your adventures, however, that will have to wait until our patrol is over." He glanced offscreen again. "I've contacted the Council to notify them of your arrival, and I'll have your vessel…"
"The Jade Raven," I offered.
"… the Jade Raven added to our list of cleared visitors." Ranze stood and moved closer to the screen. "It is good to see you once again, Mtael, and I'm sure many will share that sentiment. Liberator out."
The channel cut as the fighters angled again, this time swooping around us. After confirming the flight path provided by the Liberator, I angled Raven toward the station. The fighters fell in alongside, providing us with an escort that I'd rather have not gotten, but accepted the Lokella Council would insist I receive.
As we slid past the larger cruiser, I whistled as Raven's sensors fed me more information on the Liberator's armament. "Seems the Lokella have been doing well for themselves," I muttered as we passed by the large ship's engines and nearly three dozen other vessels came into view along with Mtael's Gift. Most of the ships appeared to be ones I already knew – at least based on their models and configuration – but a dozen freighters that were gathered near the station bore markings of various smaller trading companies and mining guilds. Two of those ships stood out as they dwarfed the others, reading as about three hundred metres each. Nearby several smaller ships floated and I wondered if they were escorts for the freighters and if so, what the Lokella were exporting or importing. I hoped they weren't selling too much of the phrik from the planet below, but if they were, then so be it. It was their choice after all.
"Indeed. I recognize the sigils on the largest freighters. Possibly they are the same vessels that came around before to purchase ore. With the discovery of other useful metals and ores in the asteroids in the system, the Lokella haven't had to rely on the sale of phrik and further donations from your funds, to secure their location." I was glad to hear Dooku say that, as revealing too much phrik too quickly to the larger galaxy might draw the attention of certain organisations that I'd prefer never learnt of the Lokella. The Trade Federation for example. "The settlement on the planet below has also grown substantially over the last few years. The last time I spoke with their Council, I was informed it held somewhere north of twenty-five thousand freed slaves and those seeking a new life free of Hutt control." My head snapped around at that. It was clear the Lokella had grown, but I hadn't realised they'd grown large enough to have a planetary population equivalent to a small city. "And unless something has happened in my time away, somewhere between a third and half their fleet isn't currently present. I would speculate they are engaged in another operation to free more slaves."
"Damn," I muttered as I returned my attention to the listing of the various ships Raven was detecting. I quickly noted that the Corellian Gunships weren't present, along with the Freerunner. That added proof to Dooku's words and made it clear there was much I had to catch up upon once we'd docked and gotten through the greetings.
Honestly, I was impressed they'd grown so rapidly, and seemingly avoided retaliatory strikes from beings like Decca the Hutt. That giant slug, along with his mother Gardulla and the other Hutts, knew about the Lokella but hadn't moved against them. Or at least not to a degree that it seemed to have weakened the Lokella. As I guided Raven toward a dock on the station – one that hadn't been usable the last time I'd been here – I wondered how much longer that would remain the case.
If the Hutts wanted this station and colony gone, they had the resources to make it happen. It just had to be financially worth the effort. Which with the current defences, seemed to not be the case. I offered a silent prayer to the Force that remained the case for a long time to come.
I waited at the top of the ramp leading down from Raven, having sensed a group of several hundred were gathered in the bay, including one very excitable and in the future, powerful young boy. While I was looking forward to dealing with Anakin, the less I had to deal with the Lokella's reverence toward me the better. I mean, I understood why it existed, but I wished they'd not make each visit an event.
"They simply wish to show their gratitude for what you did in helping establish this colony," Dooku offered from my side, clearly picking up on my slight apprehension. "No matter how large the group grows, or how many years pass, to them, our actions in their initial liberation, and early financial support matter greatly to them."
I sighed and shook my head. "I know Master, I'd simply prefer to avoid the pomp and circumstance that my arrival always seems to bring out."
Dooku might not have smiled, but I could sense his amusement. "Sadly, with your actions, and the stories that have no doubt grown even further regarding them, I doubt it will be something you'll be able to avoid. And certainly not with a group who consider you their founder and saviour."
"Aye, I guess you're right," I turned and looked at him, a smirk coming to my face, "Phillip."
Dooku tensed for a moment, which was what I'd been hoping for. After I'd been knighted, and after some gentle prodding from Qui-Gon, Dooku had revealed his given name to me. It wasn't hard to tell Dooku disliked it greatly, not least whenever – like this moment – where his nose wrinkled at hearing it, and I could understand why. While on Earth, it carried a slight noble quality to it, in this galaxy it sounded… common, wrong. This might be why the only times I used it was when I wanted an easy way to snipe back at him. I knew it would cost me the next time we sparred, but at least now I had some way to strike back at my former Master.
Fenrir stepped up beside me, rubbing his shoulder against my upper arm. I could sense some excitement from him, which I suspected came from him sensing Anakin outside. The pair had bonded easily enough when I'd last passed through the system. "Remember, these people are friends. Play nice," I said to the large but still growing tuk'ata.
While I doubted he'd do anything to cause problems, nor did I expect Simvyl to have any issues with the Lokella, I still wanted the warning in place. Since our last visit, Fenrir had grown far larger and had tasted blood. The size would, I hoped, make those gathered reluctant to be overly vocal in their delight at seeing me, while Fenrir's taste for blood meant there was a risk, however small, that someone who approached him in the wrong way would regret it for the rest of their lives. Which, if Fenrir decided they were a threat or a useful toy, would be no more than a minute after their mistake.
Fenrir snorted, almost as if he was offended that I had to tell him to play nice. I knew he wouldn't attack the first person he saw, though if there was a Trandoshan among the group, I might not mind if he did. I knew it was wrong, but ever since my verd'goten, my distaste for the species had only grown stronger with age.
I glanced behind me to see Simvyl smirking, his teeth exposed, as he watched the interaction between me and Fenrir. While I didn't know how long we'd be here, I hoped he'd find a way to pass the time, and maybe even make a few friends among the Lokella.
Turning back, I moved down the ramp, Dooku and Fenrir at my sides, and as we stepped into the bay, almost to a being, applause broke out. I looked at the gathered crowd and forced a smile onto my face even as four figures – all of whom I knew – moved toward us.
"Mtael," Maan Lonwin began as he bowed deeply. The action was copied by two of those with him, though the third only gave me a nod, which I was fine with. "We are honoured you have returned to us. It has been some time since your last visit and," he paused as his eyes darted over Fenrir, "I, uh, see you and your companion have grown in your time away."
I stepped forward and gripped Maan's forearm. "Aye, while my growth is less obvious than Fenrir's," said beast snorted and when I looked at him, he'd lifted his head high, proud of the changes he'd gone through, "we've both changed over the last year and a bit." I shifted my stance. "This is Antarian Ranger Simvyl, and of course, you are well acquainted with Master Dooku."
Maan chuckled as we broke our grip. "Yes," he began as he looked at Dooku. "You'll be pleased to hear your… charge has remained on her island. While she appears to have become less agitated at the isolation, our transports have continued to follow your instructions regarding bringing her supplies."
Dooku tilted his head in thanks. "I will return to Komari soon. For at least the next few days, I will remain onboard with my former Padawan. Provided, of course, that is acceptable to you and the Council?"
"It is, it is." Maan's smile froze, and he blinked. "Ah, forgive me. Mtael, I'm sure you remember Tweq Ruhn and Osrep Becos?" I smiled and grasped arms with the Rodian and Twi'lek in turn. "And this is the newest member of our Council…"
"Validus," I finished for Maan as I faced the former Human gladiator of the Hutt fighting pits. "I see you've moved up in the world," I commented as we grasped arms, his grip carrying more strength than the others combined, "though I fail to see your more… outspoken companion."
Validus laughed. "Ferox, along with others, is leading a raiding party several sectors away. We learnt of a new shipment of slaves bound for Hutt space and hope to intercept them while they are still technically within Republic space." I nodded in understanding as we broke the grasp. "If all goes well, they should return within a week, and like myself, I suspect he will want a rematch." His eyes shifted to Fenrir. "Perhaps even, if you'll allow it, with your beast. I am impressed by his growth, and by the wound on his back, and over your eye, it's clear you've both fought battles in your time away."
"Aye, we've seen our share of scrapes, and provided it's clear any duel against Fenrir wouldn't use bladed objects, I suspect I'll allow it," I smirked as Validus' gaze returned to me. "Though I should warn you, he's still got a fair bit of growth to go. He's still a pup after all."
"A pup?" He repeated, his eyes wide.
I laughed as I replied. "Aye. I found him a few years ago but tuk'ata grow quickly. At full height, he'll be taller than any of us, though maybe not the Wookies if they're still members of the Lokella."
Validus nodded. "They're still here, though they're off with Ferox. Still, I look forward to hearing tales of Fenrir's battle prowess, and one day I hope, seeing them with my own eyes."
"I believe that unless the recording was deleted, Miss Kryze's vid of your fight on Zonama Sekot should still be in the Raven's computer banks," Dooku offered. I turned to glare at him and saw the faint hint of a smirk. I grunted in annoyance as I realised this was his way of getting back at me for using his name just before we'd emerged. Or at least part of his revenge. Still, a recording would save me from detailing most of my battles against the Vong, though I suspected the story of the honour duel would be one Validus and others – Anakin being one – would enjoy hearing over and over.
"If it exists, then I know my warriors would enjoy viewing it. As would I." While Validus was enthusiastic about this, the other members of the Council, at least those present, didn't appear to be. "Many have joined our ranks since you were last here, and while they've heard stories of the great Mtael," I had the urge to punch the smile off his face as he used my title, "many haven't seen you in action. A recording they could view would no doubt lower the number who wish to test themselves against the founder of the Lokella."
"Yeah, I'd rather not have to face a dozen challenges a day while here. I've got better things to do than beat people down," I snarked back. Validus laughed, either because he agreed with me, or found the idea of me fighting so much everyday amusing.
"While many here might doubt you, neither I, Master Fay nor the High Council do," Dooku offered, hints of pride radiating from him. "If any here feel they are worthy of challenging a Jedi Knight in combat, I see no reason you should prevent their re-education."
"Cam!" The screech of my name prevented me from responding to Dooku's comment or dealing with the looks the Lokella Council gave me as they realised I was now a Knight. I turned at the familiar voice and saw a small boy with a mop of sandy brown hair racing toward us. Behind him, Shmi chased after her son, though she failed to catch him in time, nor did Fenrir's growl of hello slow Anakin before he'd latched himself onto my legs.
I patted his head as Shmi came closer. "I see you've still to learn what patience is," I commented as he gripped my waist tightly. The Lokella Council all smiled at Anakin's behaviour, which meant they were used to his behaviour and fine with it.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" He asked as he looked up.
"Whoa!" Anakin cut my reply off as he noticed Fenrir, as the large tuk'ata pushed his snout against Anakin's arm. "Kriff, you're big."
"Anakin!" The boy shivered against me, which made me laugh as his mother reached us. "Where did you learn such language?"
"Miss Skywalker," I cut in, saving Anakin from answering the question. "I hope you and Anakin have been doing well?"
Shmi's gaze softened as she turned to me as I felt Anakin let go of me. "I believe I was clear that you and Master Dooku were free to call me Shmi. While I'd prefer Anakin wasn't always exploring the station with the other kids, it's a good place to live. We can't ever thank you enough for freeing and bringing us here."
"What happened to Fenrir?" I looked down at Anakin to see his hands moving over Fenrir's back.
"We got trapped during an invasion of a remote planet last year. Fenrir was forced to fight there, and while he was wounded, those he fought came off much worse." Fenrir threw his head up and shook it, proud of himself. Validus smirked at the behaviour while the other Council members and Shmi had mixtures of shock and concern on their faces.
"Can you tel… Whoa! What's that?" Anakin shifted mid-sentence as he thrust an arm past me. I turned to see where he was pointing.
"Well, unless you mean Simvyl, who's a he, not an it, I assume you mean my new ship." Simvyl shook his head at my comment, though the curl of his lips made clear he was enjoying seeing my interaction with Anakin. "Her name's the Jade Raven. The Ne'tra Sartr was lost in the invasion, but Raven's something else. Faster, slicker and, if you reach out with the Force, you'll get a hint of just how different she is."
I watched as Anakin closed his eyes and felt the wave of raw power roll off him as he clumsily did as I'd suggested. "Wha… It's alive?!" He blurted out as he opened his eyes.
"She. Raven is a she," I corrected even as my smile grew. "But yes, in some ways, she is alive. She's a semi-organic vessel created from a world strong in the Living Force." I shifted my gaze to his mother. "Provided your mother allows it, I'm more than happy to take you out for a flight with her. Though not today," I added quickly as he took a step toward Raven.
I laughed at the interaction, as did others – though not Dooku, who remained as apparently stoic as always to those who didn't know him – and clapped a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Now, how about you and your friends, wherever they are, give me, Fenrir and Simvyl a tour of the station. I'd love to see the changes that have taken place." I glanced at Validus as I finished, making it clear I would also want a rundown of the military status of the Lokella.
He nodded in understanding as Anakin grabbed my hand. As he pulled me away from the group, Fenrir and Simvyl close behind, I looked forward to what he showed me. Apart from getting more time to bond with him, I'd get to see how the Lokella had grown over the last couple of years. Though it was clear that they were rapidly reaching a point where donations from my credit pile would no longer be needed to keep them afloat. If they'd not already passed that point.
With my account standing at more than nine-hundred million credits and with the first Knights of the Old Republic novel due to be published at the end of the year, I was reaching a point where I'd be able to start considering investing in useful companies. I had some in mind for that, but that could wait. For now, I had a station to reacquaint myself with and a Chosen One to grow closer to.
I slid back, avoiding the tip of Dooku's lightsaber as it thrust toward me. As I moved, I used my off-hand and sent a blast of Force energy at the ground near his feet. Dooku sensed it coming and was already disengaging before the dirt was tossed up by the blast. I used the dust to move back further, and as it settled, I saw he'd done the same, generating distance between us.
I growled in annoyance even as I slid into the stance I was trying to use. To overcome Makashi's flaws, I now used Ataru footwork, and even the odd leap if it worked, when I duelled. However, everything still felt robotic, and structured, which might be why I kept losing to Dooku.
After each spar, he'd all but snarled – for him – at me at my failure to overcome whatever it was that was holding me back. I knew he was right, I knew what I had to do, yet I couldn't seem to discover why my form was, to use his words, technically proficient but lacking in grace. I was reasonably sure it was something to do with how the Interface interacted with the Force, almost as if it was blocking a true connection with the energy field that bound almost all life in the galaxy, yet I could neither prove that nor discover a workaround. Or, if the issue was mental, see the step I had to take to overcome this limitation.
While against lower-skilled opponents, it wasn't an issue, against every Jedi Master it made it nigh on impossible for me to score a hit, never mind win a spar. Yes, Dooku was far beyond even highly skilled Jedi Masters, but that didn't change the fact he was – just as he'd done over the last five days – toying with me as we sparred. Nor did it ease the growing concern that this issue would rear its ugly head when I faced Darth Maul.
Dooku rushed forward, stopping me from once more delving into my failings, and I moved to meet him, the dust around us slowly falling to the ground. His blade slid for my gut. My wrist twisted, moving my blade to deflect his. He rolled his wrist, trying to rotate his weapon over my arm, but I'd expected that and was able to flick my arm enough to bounce the attack away.
At the same time, I saw the fingers on his free hand move and then felt something grip my leg. Before he could fully grasp it with the Force, I pulled the leg back and slid my free arm behind my back. As I brought it around, the tip of my now ignited shoto clipped the ground, making the weapon hiss and the ground melt and then, as the blade carried on, lifted superheated dirt toward my former Master. I knew this was never going to work, not least as I'd just done the same thing a moment earlier, but as I felt the grip on my leg vanish, I knew it'd served its purpose.
While it had freed me before Dooku could toss me across the ground, drawing my shoto and using it as I had, had forced me off-balance. Dooku took advantage of this as his lightsaber raced toward me, seeking the gap my body's position generated between my lightsabers.
While I might have been able to block the thrust with my main blade, I knew he'd have simply rolled with that and clipped my leg, ending this duel. Not wanting that to happen, I reached into my bag of tricks and, just as the tip reached my robes, used Phase.
Feeling the blade pass through me was, as always, an odd sensation that I never particularly enjoyed. However, it had at least delayed my defeat. Though now I was left with his lightsaber seemingly embedded in my chest. His brow rose at the situation and felt his irritation through the Force. Yet for all that, he had to know he had me trapped. So long as his lightsaber remained within me while I was phased, he had victory in his grasp. Thankfully, while I lacked something to give me a fair crack at beating him with a lightsaber, I had other Force-related tricks I could use to, at the very least, delay the inevitable.
I started running, enjoying the look of shock that flashed over Dooku's features as I rushed through his body. I knew he'd turned and was in pursuit, which is why I pushed myself as fast as I could, the Force accelerating me to speeds most beings would struggle to track. Dooku, however, wasn't a normal being.
Still, I'd planned for this, and after only a few seconds, I stopped, pivoted, and brought my blades around. As I came back into phase, Dooku was forced to slow instantly. While his blade was in a general defensive position, since he'd been moving rapidly, the form wasn't its usual perfect self. My main blade thrust forward, pushing against his and guiding it away as my shoto then came into play.
However, just before the tip of my secondary blade reached him, I felt the Force shift. Before I could react, I was sent hurtling back, lifted up, and then crashing into the ground by a point-blank blast of the Force from Dooku.
I bounced over the ground, my shoto being driven from my hand when my wrist slammed into a rock, only regaining some control once I dug my main blade into the ground and used it to counter my momentum. I barely had time to get my bearings before the blue tip of Dooku's blade emerged from the dust cloud my journey had caused.
With no chance to get my lightsaber free from the ground in time to block, I depowered it and reached further into my back of tricks. The air around me shifted to sliver as I used Teleport to gain some distance from him. When my vision returned, I was standing about ten metres from Raven, who marked the centre of the one-kilometre-squared area we were using for today's spars.
Sensing Dooku closing, the Force swirling around him, I turned to face him. My lightsaber came up, tapping away his attack, then when he countered, doing so once more. He shifted around me, trying to come at me from the side, but I leant into Makashi and made sure he remained directly in front of me. As his attacks continued to come, and I deflected, blocked, or avoided them, I already knew I'd lost. My only hope now would be a mistake from Dooku that granted an opening, but after training with him for so long – and having spent time sparring with someone prone to using misdirection and deception in their style in Shaak Ti – I knew that even if I saw an opening, I'd not take it.
Dooku stopped trying to sidestep me and instead turned the spar into a purely linear event. It took nearly a dozen probing attacks before I was forced to shift back, but I knew that more would come. That was proven true when I had no choice but to take a second step only five attacks later.
I grunted in annoyance at how clear my defeat was, yet as much as I wanted to draw on that rage, to use it to power my actions, I knew that wouldn't work. I'd done that several days ago, and apart from the lecture Dooku had given about allowing myself to become unbalanced from drawing on my emotions, it had only hastened my defeat.
Once more, I reached into my bag of tricks and with my free hand, tried to manipulate the very ground we fought on. It was hard to do, as I had to keep almost all my attention on Dooku, something proved when his blade came close enough to my arm that I felt the heat burn away some of the hairs there, but after some effort, I felt the Force and the ground respond to me.
A gentle tremor caused us both to stop and take a few steps to restore our balance. With that time, I flicked up my free hand, summoning flames that rushed toward Dooku. He batted them aside with a simple use of the Force, but as the flames cleared to let him see me, lightning raced from my fingers. It was only Electrokinesis, but the unexpected assault forced him to bring his lightsaber up to defend himself and take a step back.
I kept the power flowing, knowing that if I slacked off, he'd slide past the attack and have me on the defensive instantly. As his blade caught the blue ripples of energy that surged from my fingers, I stepped close, my lightsaber poised to strike out, to score my first-ever hit against him. Yet just as I felt close enough to strike, just as I saw my chance, Dooku moved.
His blade flicked forward, sending the energy swirling around it back at me. I was forced to end the stream of power, lest I get burnt by it, and in that second, I felt his blade clip my shoulder.
"I believe that is the spar."
I grunted as he spoke and powered down his lightsaber. I'd been close, so close, to scoring a strike by pulling on my full arsenal. Yet in the decisive moment, he'd turned the tables and beaten me. Again. "Kriff," I spat out as I powered down my blade. "I thought I had you there."
"For a moment you may have. However, you delayed too long in seeking victory, which granted me time to not only adapt to your attack but counter it." He moved closer, placing a hand on my shoulder. "You are far more comfortable using the Force offensively, and in unexpected ways than most Jedi – even some Masters – however your blade work is, as you're well aware, your greatest flaw. I won't go into detail, again, regarding this apparent block you have, but until you are able to overcome it, I fear you will not reach your full potential."
"I know, I know," I muttered. Even if I was glad he wasn't giving me one of his far more common harsh critiques, the gentler approach he was taking now somehow felt worse. As if he realised his usual methods weren't working and felt a softer, kinder approach would somehow make a difference. Almost as if he felt sorry for me.
"Do not be discouraged, Cameron. You are, without a doubt, the most technically sound Jedi I have seen in decades, if not ever. Indeed, if they felt you would accept, I suspect the Council would assign you permanently to work with Initiates and Padawans as you have the ability to help others improve that few possess." I snorted at that, knowing it was as much down to the Interface as to how well I taught as to anything natural. "However, this continual inability to find fluidity in your actions, to let the Force guide your blade and work with you fully, holds you back from achieving the mastery that I know you are capable of. Once you discover and overcome it, I have little doubt you will become a duellist able to rival myself, Master Yoda, and Master Windu, if not surpass us all."
There was a faint trace of pride mixed with hope in his words, but I didn't latch onto that. No, once more, my thoughts returned to my inability to truly embrace the Force and my lightsaber style as I fought. I kicked the ground, letting some of the building anger out before I let go of the rest. Here and now, there was little I could seemingly do about this.
Oh, I'd keep meditating on the matter, keep training myself in the six forms I knew – even though I was Knighted, I'd not approached Battlemaster Drallig about learning Juyo as I didn't want to concern the Council – and hope the issue would resolve itself. Before I'd left the Temple, I sparred with other Knights and a handful of Masters so much that Serra and others had joked that I enjoyed pain. While I was slowly getting better and could sense hints of what my style would be whenever I overcame the block on me, I was still losing to others of my rank or higher. Well, at least to some.
I had defeated a small number of Knights, but like me, they were recently elevated to the rank. While that gave me some XP from the Training Superiority: Mark 2 quest, it was starting to grate at how far it felt I still had to go. The XP from the updated quest was lower, at least for defeating Padawans and Knights, which made sense, yet I was more focused on trying to overcome this seemingly mental block.
Now, if it was a factor of the Interface, then all I could do was hope that reaching level 30, and the second and last system update would fix the issue. If not, I'd be permanently hamstrung by this, which would require me to adapt my fighting methods.
The big issue was that, unless something major happened, I wouldn't be hitting level 30 until after Naboo, and my likely face-off with Maul. Yes, he'd lost to Obi-Wan, but everything about that screamed him simply becoming overconfident and toying with the Padawan instead of killing him off when he had the chance. A mistake he didn't make with Qui-Gon, and, with Sidious having an idea of my skills, not a mistake I expected him to make with me wherever our paths crossed. Haran, I'd sparred with Qui-Gon several times and even when I'd drawn the fight out, taking advantage of him tiring as it progressed, I'd still failed to score a strike against him.
"Still, before you cross this barrier, I feel it would do you, and the boy some good if you instructed him in some elementary velocities. I have shown him some, but I lack the… patience to handle one so young and rumbustious."
I chuckled at the image of Dooku trying to get Anakin to remain still and failing miserably. "Yes, Anakin isn't the calmest of children." I looked at my former Master. "Still, I'm not sure if I should begin his training."
"You feel you shouldn't become his Master?"
I sighed and looked upward, in the general direction of Mtael's Gift and Anakin. "I'm not sure. I know I share a bond with him, but I fear that if I can't break this block I have, then I'd hinder his growth more than help."
"It's good you understand your limitations, Cameron, and that you are concerned if you're ready for the responsibility of training a Padawan. However, it has been clear to me and Master Fay for many years that the Force drew you to the boy. While I would be honoured to take another Padawan with potential like yours, I know that isn't what the Force wants. Nor the boy." I wondered how Anakin would turn out with Dooku as a Master. While I had little doubt Anakin would be an even deadlier combatant under Dooku's tutelage, I had doubts the pair would be able to work together. Their personalities were simply far too different. "I have – as time with Komari allows – watched and instructed him. Beyond being incredibly gifted with the Force, he has an ability, no doubt enhanced by his connection to the Force, to understand and improve technology that is almost unmatched. If he commits, I believe he may one day surpass Master Tiin as the greatest pilot in the Order. My only concern, which I share about you, is his desire to do what is right, regardless of what the Order and Code would permit, may lead him to make the wrong choice for the right reasons."
"But… what if I ruin him? What if I'm not able to teach him what he needs and he either doesn't reach his potential and resents me for it or dies before his time? What if, because of my limitations, I fail to prepare him for what is to come and whatever role the Force has in line for him?"
I'd had these concerns for a while, which was why I limited the time I spent around Anakin, though this was the first time I'd voiced them to anyone. If I'd mentioned it to Fay, she'd have told me to have faith in the Force and its path for us. While that might work for her, I was less… trusting of the Force's plans and goals. Since she'd stayed at the Temple, to spend time with Satele's holocron and to research her mission to rediscover Tython, I'd not brought it up with her. While I hoped I'd get to see her again before she left, I knew in my heart I'd see her again even if I didn't.
Dooku was silent for a while as if ordering his thoughts. "Every Master has these concerns. I had them when I first met you. At that point, I felt my time training Padawans had passed. Yet the Force guided me to you, as it did Master Fay. I admit I was reluctant to train you. I felt my time within the Order was drawing to a close; that I needed to walk a different path. Yet the Force had guided me to you, and I placed trust in that, a decision that I am grateful for."
"As am I, Master," I lowered my head.
One of those rare smiles came to his face. "While we both know the path ahead of you is long and dangerous, I know your path is an important one. You are someone who, unlike many, understands that doing what is needed sometimes isn't what others consider legal." He paused and looked upward. "There are times when I wonder how your mother would view the man you've become. How proud she would be to see the potential you have to be one of the greatest Force users the galaxy has ever seen. While a Jedi should be mindful of pride and other emotions as they can lead to mistakes being made, and dark paths being walked, I am proud of the man you have become. As I am with all my Padawans. While I dislike the concept, I know that my time in the galaxy is slowly fading, though it won't for many years yet. I am grateful to know that my legacy, my teachings, will live on in you and those like Qui-Gon Jinn as you make your marks on the course of the galaxy."
I blinked, finding my eyes oddly blurry. "I… Thank you, Master." I bowed deeply. "I hope I can live up to the high standards and faith you have in me."
Dooku chuckled, which was a sound I knew I'd never grow to expect. "You already have, as you will continue to do." He turned there and moved away from me and Raven. "Now, let us try again. Perhaps, with your mind on other matters, the path you must take will become clearer. Or at least the possibility of one might appear."
I shook my head. While I doubted things would clear up today, or soon, I wouldn't turn down another spar. Yes, I didn't expect to win, but every spar taught me something new, something to learn and improve from.
The familiar soft howl of my lightsaber brought me a sense of calm, and as I slipped into an opening stance, I readied myself for Dooku's fresh onslaught.
"Jade Raven, this is Coruscanti Orbital Control. Your arrival is expected, and a flight path cleared. Transmitting data now."
I looked at the data as it appeared on a screen, then frowned. The route, while generally what I'd expected, didn't take me to the Temple, but instead to the Senate building. "Control, can you confirm this path? I was recalled by the Jedi Council."
It'd been about two months since my knighting, and after spending most of that time with the Lokella, Anakin, and Dooku – when he'd not been busy with Vosa –, I'd received a summons to return from Master Gallia. She'd not mentioned why I was being recalled, but I assumed it was for a mission. Since there was only about a month and a half until the end of the year, I was concerned they'd give me a mission that would take significant time and cause me issues with what was due to happen next year.
With Anakin and his mother off Tatooine, if Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were still given the mission to Naboo, then they'd possibly be stranded there. At least until Maul turned up and likely killed them and then took Padmé back to Naboo and forced her to sign Viceroy Gunray's settlement.
When I'd first gotten the summons, I had also wondered if they wished to speak with me about Serra and our developing relationship. Apart from that first afternoon aboard Raven, we'd only managed to get time away from the Temple one more time before I'd left with Dooku. Now, with time to think about it as I travelled to the Republic capital, I realised that concern was unwarranted. Even if they did learn anything about us, and I'd not sensed any worry from Serra during my time away, we were already clear that, if the worst did happen, we'd leave the Order together.
Now, I didn't want that to happen, at least not for a while, but if it did, then so be it. Still, I'd hoped to at least see and spar with her, and my friends again, when at the Temple. That now appeared to be off the table.
"Path is confirmed, Jade Raven. The orders came directly from the Chancellor's office."
That made my frown deepen. I'd had no interaction with Valorum, save for when he'd met me as an aide of the former Chancellor, Kalpana. For him to summon me only worked if someone – and I had a fair idea of who – had brought my name up concerning a matter that I currently knew nothing about.
"Understood Control. Raven out." I closed the link as Raven slid into the planet's atmosphere after accepting the flight path into her systems.
As the hull warmed from the planet's stratosphere brushing against Raven's hull, I closed my eyes and reached out through the Force. [Serra, I've been called to the Senate. If I can, I'll try and swing by the Temple, but I suspect they've got something for me that will keep me away a little while longer.]
I kept the line open, waiting for her reply. As expected, she couldn't respond verbally – either because the distance was too great for her, or she wasn't able to focus on the link because of whatever she was currently doing – but I sensed her understanding and acceptance. There were also, at the very end, hints of hope and desire, making clear that she wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see her.
I smiled as I opened my eyes, casting my gaze toward the Temple as it came into sight far below. Unlike Bo, with whom every encounter started – and invariably ended – as a test of dominance, time with Serra was softer, gentler. I'd also confirmed that she had a slight submissive streak, at least when it came to me. I'd not pushed into that since what we had was still new and experimental, but I wondered how deep the streak went. And if it would extend to others, as I couldn't deny the thought of having both girls join me in bed had been a semi-regular thread in my dreams.
I turned my thoughts away from that idea, and instead, as the Senate building came into sight, toward one person I'd work my hardest to keep from this place. Anakin hadn't been happy that I had to leave the ShaDo system, but I'd left him with enough that he should be busy for at least a few months.
On Dooku's advice, I'd started training him in basic Shii-Cho velocities, letting him – after Shmi gave her reluctant blessing – use my shoto lightsaber on its lowest power setting. He'd picked them up rapidly, and I'd started walking him through using them in a spar. Shmi had watched almost all our sessions, which was understandable, but she never stopped him. While I doubted Anakin fully understood that becoming a Jedi would mean leaving her, Shmi did and seemed happy that he'd soon begin learning how to help others.
The only other person who'd watched any of those sessions had been Dooku. He'd spent most of his time with Vosa, which I understood even if I disliked, but he never spoke. Not unless it was to offer a critique of Anakin's stance or form. Oddly, Anakin didn't seem put off by Dooku's blunt manner and took every word to heart. My attention though was in those moments where a wisp of a smile crept onto my former master's face.
As for Vosa… I wasn't ready to face her. Not because I feared she'd defeat me again, but because – thanks to Eidetic Memory – how the memories of what I'd endured at her hands were always easily accessible. I felt I had a handle on those memories, but I wasn't willing to risk it by being near her and losing control, or letting Dooku see that I could, and had, drawn willingly upon the Dark Side. I knew Dooku was disappointed that I'd not chosen to meet Vosa, but I felt I wasn't ready, and he accepted that.
As Raven slid between two towers that reached high into the stratosphere, my mind was drawn to the sensations Raven was giving off. While she knew where we were, I sensed she'd prefer to be elsewhere. If I had to guess, that was because either the planet felt too sterile, too artificial for her liking, and when we'd last been here, I'd not taken her out as regularly as I had when we'd been near Gaia.
That was the name I'd chosen for the Lokella's planet. While I'd have preferred they'd have selected a name without me, the Council were insistent I chose. They'd been confused by my choice but had accepted it readily. To me, Gaia felt an appropriate name as in mythology, she'd been the mother planet that had given rise to life. A mother that had birthed and guided hope and life into a new place, which was the role that the planet, and the ShaDo system, served for the Lokella.
The Lokella themselves were even stronger than had been hinted at. Ferox had returned about two weeks after we'd arrived, bringing with him a small fleet composed of Corellian gunships and blockade runners, and his newest prize; two Gozanti-class cruisers. While neither was designed primarily for combat, since they were a CEC design, modifying them was relatively easy – something I'd helped push along by transferring another half million credits to the Lokella. That had required me to leave the system for a day with Validus to arrange the purchase of additional weapons for the ships, but I considered it was money well spent.
What helped with that was the fact the Lokella population had swelled with Ferox's raid. When I'd left, there were now around ten thousand souls aboard Mtael's Gift – with the majority being part of the anti-slavery operations – and another thirty thousand on Gaia below. Between the station and colony, and a few smaller mining operations throughout the system, the Lokella were able to support and grow themselves. I'd still check back in on them - even aside from the fact that Anakin was there - when I could, and gift them credits or supplies as needed. However, for the most part, they were now large enough to survive without help and strong enough to handle all but the most dedicated response from the Hutts or other slavers.
As Raven slowed while approaching the Senate building, I hoped that whatever it was Palpatine had wrangled me into wouldn't take too long. The starting line for canon events was fast approaching and I still had several things to do. Not least, going to Mandalore and getting the final checks made on my armour, and then getting used to fighting in it. Of course, it would also let me check in on Bo – hopefully without any awkward conversations with Duke Adonai about our relationship – and possibly even Naz.
A grin came to my face as Raven touched down on the platform set aside for her at the idea of fucking Pre Vizsla's daughter. However, seeing Palpatine standing nearby with his aides forced the smile and idea from my thoughts.
For now, I'd have to be on guard until I figured out just what the Sith Lord had planned.
I looked up from the table in front of me as the door to the suite opened. I watched as Kinman Doriana stepped into the suite. "Senator," he began with a bow, "the pilot wishes you to know that we've entered the landing pattern. He expects to be able to disembark within thirty minutes."
Palpatine, who is sitting across the table from me, examining the pieces in our game of holochess, turned and smiled. "Thank you, Kinman." He returned his gaze to the table and after tapping at his controls, one of his pieces moved and violently ripped my piece apart and took the space. "Your move."
I nodded as I looked at the board, taking the time to think things through. The game had similarities to chess from Earth, but not enough that what I'd known was much help beyond understanding the basics. Of course, the bigger issue was that I was sitting in a very luxurious suite aboard a transport bound for Eriadu – the same one I'd been in for the last four days – with Darth fucking Sidious.
After he'd greeted me on the Senate landing pad, he'd brought me to his office and explained the situation.
Apparently, while I'd been away there'd been an attack on Chancellor Valorum which had only been thwarted by the Jedi. This was, Palpatine explained, because of a trade summit taking place on Eriadu. One where the Chancellor was hoping to reach an agreement between the Trade Federation and the Republic regarding taxation of the Outer Rim.
Since Palpatine had also been targeted by a group of terrorists called the Nebula Front, Valorum had agreed the Senator needed extra protection. Of course, Palpatine had asked the Jedi to allow me to be that protection, which was why I was travelling with Palpatine to Eriadu for this summit. A summit that carried the threat of further attempts on the Chancellor by the Nebula Front.
As if being forced to spend days on-route and on-planet around Palpatine wasn't troublesome enough, Wilhuff Tarkin was the Lieutenant Governor of Eriadu while his uncle, Ramin Tarkin, was the sectorial senator. And then there was the fact that the Trade Federation, meaning Viceroy Gunray, was going to be present. When I'd had time to think things through, I'd become convinced that Palpatine was up to something with his involvement in this summit and that I'd been roped in as well. Whether that was because I had a role to play in whatever was going to happen, or because Palpatine felt this was a way to further ingratiate himself with me – or both – I couldn't say. Regardless, I'd been on edge ever since we'd left Coruscant, and things were only made trickier because Kinman Doriana and Sate Pestage were both coming along as well.
The only thing that I'd been able to have any influence over was our transportation. Palpatine had expressed an interest in us taking the Raven to Eriadu. I'd rejected that by saying the Council wanted to perform tests on her, which I'd agreed to whenever I returned to Coruscant. I'd also left Fenrir and Simvyl in the Temple, as while leaving an agitated tuk'ata around Jedi might be a dangerous idea, it was safer than having Fenrir anywhere near a Sith Lord.
The other thing I'd left behind had been Damask's gift.
I'd still not done much with the red-bladed katana he'd gifted me. Well, beyond using Observe on it. That had proved the blade was, as Damask had claimed, a Force-imbued blade weapon used before the invention of lightsabers by a member of the Legions of Lettow during the First Great Schism. Damask had claimed it had belonged to their leader, but Observe revealed it hadn't, instead belonging to a Tun Bohoi. From what I could gather in the Jedi Archives, Bohoi had been a general in the Legions. Since the Legions had been Dark Jedi who'd turned against the Order, I wondered if Damask was hinting at plans to turn me, or if he'd given it to me simply because he felt it might ingratiate himself to me. Regardless of his reasoning, the blade had stayed inside the case that Ce Serd had presented it in.
Publicly, Palpatine and Damask were known to be acquaintances, so I had to assume Sidious knew about the blade, but I wasn't willing to reveal it to him. Not when I had no clue as to Plagueis' motives for gifting it to me.
A gentle cough drew my mind back to the table and the game of holochess upon it.
"Sorry. Was just thinking." I looked at the board once more, planning out not just my move, but what I expected Palpatine to do next. I imputed my move, knowing it was a mistake. I was being too aggressive. However, that was something I'd done in every game I'd played since boarding this transport and allowing Palpatine to teach me the game. Just like in chess, there were tendencies a player displayed that also revealed much about them in real life. Thus, in every game I made mistakes. Early games had been all-out attacks, while the games since had taken longer, I always made sure that I eventually overcommitted an important piece, and then compounded the error by continuing to do so.
I hoped that Palpatine would believe this flaw in holochess carried over into my actions for real. There was some correlation, as I did prefer to rush in, but I didn't try to overcommit and understood that there were times when I needed to withdraw and regroup. By hiding those tendencies, and over-emphasising the flaws, Palpatine should, in theory, develop an inaccurate picture of how I operated.
"A bold move," he commented before quickly imputing his move. The piece I'd expected to move, did so, slaughtering the piece I'd just moved. "However, a rash one." The move left the piece that corresponded to my king – not that it was called that here – exposed.
"Yeah, I can see that now," I muttered with a frown, trying to appear annoyed at my apparent mistake. This game was over, as no matter what I did, I'd lose within five moves. However, I wanted to continue appearing rash, and my next move would end the game in another two moves for him.
"Senator," Palpatine turned before he could input his next move as Sate spoke. "We have an incoming transmission from the Governor's Palace."
"It seems we will have to continue this game at a later date," Palpatine said as he turned back to me. I nodded in acceptance; glad the game was over and turned off the system. I then watched as he moved to another section of the suite, where a large display lit up.
"Senator Palpatine," Wilhuff Tarkin began as soon as his image formed on the display, "on behalf of Governor Harro, I welcome you to Eriadu." I'd hoped to avoid Tarkin while here, but it seemed that I'd failed before even setting foot on the planet.
"Lieutenant Governor Tarkin, I hadn't expected to speak with you until after we'd landed," Palpatine replied, his back to me as he spoke with Tarkin. As with each time, he turned his back to me, the thought to strike out now, to take him out before he could rise to Chancellor flashed through my mind. I never acted on it though. Apart from the chances of me being able to take out a Sith Lord, even if I managed to get the jump on him, the fact was taking Sidious out now did nothing so long as Plagueis was still on the board. There was also the fact that, if by some miracle I did manage to kill Palpatine, or at least force him to reveal himself as a Sith, I'd spend the rest of my life on the run while all those I cared about would be hunted down and, at best, imprisoned for their association with me. "I do hope nothing is wrong."
"Quite the contrary. Security is tight, the conference location is secured and isolated, and the various delegates, of which you are the last to arrive, are protected by my forces." It almost sounded as if Tarkin was offended by the hint that something had gone wrong. "I simply wished to greet you before you landed as unfortunately, I have a scheduled meeting with the local security chiefs to finalise elements of the summit." He paused for a moment, his eyes drifting to me. "Has a new threat arisen that requires additional Jedi participation?"
Palpatine chuckled. "No, no. I simply felt safer travelling with a Jedi after the recent attempt on my life." He paused and extended one arm toward me. "I wonder if you remember Cameron Shan. He was recently knighted by the Jedi Council."
Tarkin's brow rose as his attention focused on me. "Forgive me for saying this, but I was unaware the Jedi promoted members at such an… early stage." I glared at Tarkin, though I held my tongue. The comment on my age was far too obvious to be anything but an attempt to draw a reaction from me.
"Cameron has more than earned that title, I assure you," Palpatine offered. "Beyond the actions that you learnt of when we all met, I have recently discovered that Cameron was instrumental in the dismantling of the Bando Gora crime syndicate. He also, on a minor world just beyond the Outer Rim, almost single-handedly repelled a planetary invasion and is the one responsible for the recent Zygerrian Agreement, which had King Scintel express his gratitude to the Senate and Jedi Order for dispatching Knight Shan to oversee the negotiations."
"Is that so?" Tarkin's gaze remained on me, though it was far more analytical now. He rubbed his chin. "Hmm, then it seems the Jedi have, for once, made the correct decision. My congratulations on your promotion, Knight Shan."
"Thank you Lieutenant Governor," I said calmly back, wondering if there was more to Palpatine's defence of me than trying to further pull me into his influence. "And the Council is known to be correct on occasion." That drew smiles from both men. "However, while you might be interested in hearing about my adventures unless I am relieved of my duty to protect the Senator, I doubt I will have time to mingle."
"As it should be," Tarkin replied with a nod. He turned back to Palpatine and as the two began discussing various issues with the summit, I let my mind wander. I could review everything they said later, though I doubted anything of importance to Sidious' plan would be revealed over an open channel.
That said, I did wonder if Eriadu was chosen because of the fact Tarkin was responsible for security. Or if it was a minor benefit to whatever scheme the Sith Lord had in motion. Regardless, it meant I had another figure to watch while here to see if I could determine what the plan was and if it was possible, how to stop it.
I entered the small room at the summit hall and moved over to the only familiar faces there. "Master Qui-Gon," I said once close enough while bowing. Next to him was Obi-Wan and since they were here, I had to assume they were to give me an update on the security situation. While I was here as a Jedi, I wasn't part of the main operation regarding the Chancellor, instead assigned purely as protection for Senator Palpatine.
I'd been looking for a way to slip away from the Senator when Kinman had approached me and mentioned Palpatine wanted an update on the security arrangements. I'd taken the opportunity to get away, though I worried that if Sidious wanted me gone then he was up to something. That fear had been put to bed instantly when Kinman had explained that Palpatine would be locked in talks with Chancellor Valorum, Governor Harro, and Lieutenant Governor Tarkin – along with others – for the next few hours to discuss plans for the summit tomorrow.
Qui-Gon looked at me and smiled. "Ah, Cameron, good. I wondered when you'd get here." He and Obi-Wan were looking at a hologram of the Eriadu senate hall, which apart from serving as the location for the summit, was modelled on the Galactic Senate on Coruscant.
"I'd have come sooner, but Senator Palpatine was quite insistent I remain by his side. If not for the fact he needs to speak with the Chancellor, I doubt I'd have been able to make it." That drew a chuckle from Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan greeted me with a smile, though he didn't seem happy about something, and I wondered if he might be upset that I'd been knighted before him.
"Yes, politicians can be quite needy when they feel threatened," Qui-Gon commented. "Or when they want something, which I have found is most of the time." I laughed at that as I came closer and examined the hologram. "As you've no doubt guessed, this is the Eriadu Senate building. While it is outwardly modelled on the Coruscant Senate building, its internal structure is quite different."
I nodded in agreement as I took in the display. Within seconds I'd seen a dozen flaws that, if a sniper could reach, would give them a clear line of sight on anyone in the building. Those flaws continued to appear the longer I looked at the hologram. "This is a nightmare," I muttered as I reached fifty points of concern within the main hall alone. "The gantries allow clear lines of sight for anyone inside, and these rooms," I pointed at a ring that hung high above the floor, "are almost as bad." The rooms were either marked for media to cover the daily goings on of the Eriadu senate, or for conferences and tours of the building. "Force, the tunnels under the main floor could be rigged with explosives that, while not likely to take down the building, would easily kill anyone above."
"I see Dooku's teachings about vigilance have stuck," Qui-Gon remarked with a wide smirk. "But yes, these issues have been marked. Beyond all being patrolled or locked during the summit, local security is limiting access to only certain individuals, and even then, only through select entrances. While the Chancellor is quite insistent that the public be allowed in to view proceedings, there are only a handful of locations they can gather at."
I snorted at the remark about security, remembering the half-dozen locations where I'd been stopped on my way here. Even though I carried a lightsaber, demonstrated usage of the Force, and was marked as a member of Senator Palpatine's delegation, I was still stopped at every location. "Aye. I'm surprised that none of the checkpoints tried a cavity search."
Both laughed at that image. "While I'll be passing along that comment to others, I can understand their reluctance. You do appear far younger than what most would expect of a Jedi Knight. Nor do you carry yourself with the patience of most of our Order."
I lowered my head, accepting the comment from Qui-Gon, and then looked at Obi-Wan. There hadn't been any reaction to Qui-Gon mentioning my rank, so I wondered what was concerning him. "Thank you, I guess," I replied to Qui-Gon, and then, after leaning in close, whispered, "Philip?"
Qui-Gon laughed again, which confused Obi-Wan as he'd not heard what I'd said. "I see you've learnt his deep dark secret?" I nodded, smiling at the idea that it was something Dooku hated people knowing. "However, as amusing as it would be to discuss our former master, you're here for another reason. How much do you know about the Nebula Front?"
I shrugged. "Only what Senator Palpatine prepared for me, and a brief overview I found on the Holonet." I had wanted to do a deep dive while we'd been on route, but Palpatine had made sure to engage me in conversation or distractions – such as the holochess – for almost all the time it took to get here.
Obi-Wan touched the controls for the display, and the image shifted to that of what, judging by the markings on his face, was a male Mirialan. "This is Arwen Cohl," Obi-Wan began, "a man with known connections to the Nebula Front. We believe that he, along with his accomplices," the display shifted again to show a female Human and Rodian, "has been hired to assassinate the Chancellor before or during the summit." None of the three looked happy in the images, though since those were likely taken for Republic Judicial Forces, that wasn't a surprise as no one ever looked good in mugshots.
Obi-Wan continued speaking, going into detail about his and Qui-Gon's interactions with the trio, their known associates, and more about the Nebula Front. I stayed quiet, listening to all of it. There was a chance this was a genuine threat toward Chancellor Valorum. Yet, as the briefing continued, the feeling I had that Palpatine was, at the very least, exploiting this situation to advance his goals grew stronger.
The challenge I had was to discover what that goal was. And, if possible, stop it from happening.
I stood silently, watching the various delegations, reporters and security personnel move around the building. Currently, I was standing about a metre behind Palpatine as he sat – with his aides between us – in a box set aside for various delegations, including that of the one from Naboo. The rest of the Naboo delegation had gathered around us, engaging in quiet chatter with each other and Palpatine. In other areas of this box and nearby boxes, other delegations were gathered, with most being from Outer Rim sectors, which made sense given the purpose of the summit.
Chancellor Valorum had called for this summit in response to the issues occurring in the Rim that gave rise to the Nebula Front, and other groups like it – including those that sparked the Stark Hyperspace War over a decade earlier. As such, he had two points of contention the summit was supposed to negotiate. The first was the removal of the Outer Rim as a giant Free Trade Zone, which was something the Trade Federation and others were vehemently opposed to. The second was brought forth by the Trade Federation directly, and that was a request to be allowed to further arm their trade vessels to protect themselves from groups like the Nebula Front.
With all that, it was clear this was the summit that gave rise to the Trade Federation's issues with the Republic, which in turn would lead to the blockade of Naboo. Palpatine was clearly expecting something to happen, centred around the Trade Federation, as even though it could appear he was simply observing them, I felt he was watching their delegation for more nefarious reasons.
Of course, the Trade Federation delegation was made up of their Directorate – seven members including Viceroy Gunray – and Senator Lott Dod. Since, as far as I knew, the other six members of the Directorate – four Humans, a Gann, and a Sullustan – weren't around during the invasion, nor in the Clone Wars, I suspected Sidious had them removed. Something that this summit might provide an opportunity to do so, which was why the fact that their guards consisted of thirteen B1 droids stuck out. While the droids weren't the most impressive things, they had seemed to work in groups of two, three, or four, hence why thirteen droids felt wrong. However, even when examining them with Force-boosted sight, I couldn't spot anything amiss with any of them, so perhaps I was simply seeing things that weren't there.
I shifted my head as the door to the box opened, and the exceptionally bulky frame of Senator Orn Free Taa of Ryloth – along with his aides and a trio of nubile Twi'lek females – stepped into the box. Since the Ryloth delegation was one of those that was sharing the box with the Naboo delegation, their being here was expected. Still, as the rest of the delegation moved to their seats, Taa approached Palpatine.
"An impressive showing," he began as he came close to Palpatine, seemingly catching the man off-guard. "Delegates from Sullust, Clak'dor, the Serex sector, Malastere, Falleen, Bothawui…" As he spoke he nodded his head at each and I followed the glances the Senators gave, taking in several alien races I'd not encountered before. "Why even some of the Hutt worlds are represented." At that, my head snapped toward the fat slugs.
I growled at seeing a pair of them taking up an entire box to themselves – if one ignored the two dozen attendants they had. For a moment, there was an urge to use the Force and arrange an accident for them, but as Palpatine turned, possibly to glance my way, I pushed the urge aside. Not only would Sidious likely sense my actions but there were Jedi throughout the building, including three members of the High Council.
Still, I used Observe to learn who the slugs were. The larger and older one was Oruba Gorensla, head of the Gorensla Kajidic and suspected member of the Hutt Ruling Council. The other was Zorba Desilijic Tiure, a member of Jabba's Kajidic. Neither name clicked with reports I'd read from the Lokella, though both were added to the list of Hutts on the off chance I ever was able to remove anyone of power from their organisation.
I moved forward, wanting to scan the rest of the hall, and as I reached the front of the box, I saw Saesse Tiin moving around in the basin below. That was where Valorum's podium would rise – mirroring how it worked in the Senate building on Coruscant even if the mechanics were different along with his aides. Adi Gallia was the only other Jedi I knew for certain was inside, but since she was assigned to the Chancellor, that made sense. The other Jedi, which included Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Ki-Adi Mundi and a rather strange short bird-like Jedi named Vergere, were outside. Most were helping to monitor the inflow of visitors, but some – including the ones I'd just thought of – were actively looking for potential threats to the Chancellor when he travelled to the building. While I knew Valorum should be Chancellor when Naboo was invaded, I worried that any attack here might succeed due to my pres…
"…King Veruna has abdicated the throne." Palpatine's words drew my attention back to the box. Veruna stepping down started the run that would see Padmé elected Queen. While there were about four months until she was fourteen – which was how old I knew her to be when Naboo was invaded – this was the starter's gun for canon events.
"I…" Taa seemed to pause as if caught off-guard by the comment. "I must confess, Senator, that I don't know whether to feel sorry or grateful for you. But where exactly does that leave you, in any case? Is there some danger of you being recalled?" I offered a silent prayer to the Force that would happen, even if I knew it never would.
"That remains to be seen," Palpatine responded. "Naboo will have an acting regent until the elections are held."
"Who is in the running to replace Veruna?" I already knew who should win the election. While it might be unethical to place a wager on Padmé, I doubted things had changed enough that she wouldn't enter and win, which meant, if the odds were decent, it'd offer an easy way to make some credits. Yes, I had a very large pile of them already, but you could never have too much, not when war was on the distant horizon.
"That, too, remains to be seen."
"Dare I inquire as to your hope?" I leaned closer, wondering if I'd get a hint of why Palpatine had supported Padmé. I didn't know if he did it publicly or privately, but he would've worked to get her elected. I had a few ideas as to his reasoning, so hearing a hint at that would give me further insight into his thinking.
"Only for someone enthusiastic about opening Naboo to the galaxy. Someone less – how shall I put it? – traditional than Veruna."
"Or more easily persuaded perhaps?" Taa asked, and I had to agree. Palpatine had been surprised when Padmé hadn't signed Gunray's bill, seemingly expecting her to fold. That suggested he had supported her with the impression she'd be malleable, controllable, and thus a more useful pawn for his machinations.
However, before Palpatine could respond to Taa, a murmur rushed through the hall. Quickly, everyone's attention turned toward the entrance near the central podium; the one through which Valorum would enter. He did so a moment later, with his aides a step behind. Applause, some genuine, some staged, rippled through the hall as Valorum moved toward the podium he'd be using for the summit. Behind me, I heard Tra shuffling around, and his quiet voice, which I strained to hear over the noise in the hall, began commenting on Valorum, and then Governor Harro as he and Tarkin emerged.
While everyone watched the Chancellor's arrival, I scanned the room. With all the focus on Valorum, this was one of those moments where an assassin could strike. While I still doubted Valorum was the true target, I couldn't discount some sort of false flag attempt on him to distract from whoever Sidious' target was.
I let out a bored sigh as Governor Harro continued to drone. It's been ten minutes since he'd stepped to the podium and begun the summit, yet all he'd done was waffle incessantly. He was currently still going on about the honour Eriadu had been granted in hosting this summit, along with offering marks of respect to various influential figures such as Valorum. Behind Harro, I saw Tarkin staring at his superior's back. While he was keeping his face neutral, I wondered if he felt the same way about Harro and his need to supplicate to everyone while managing to make himself seem more important than he was.
Thus, having been lured into a state of bored numbness by the speech, I almost jumped when the comm-unit in my ear crackled to life.
"Go ahead," I whispered after opening the channel. While I didn't want there to be an incident, I did hope that whichever Master was contacting me – it was always one of the four I spoke to – would liven up events before my brain turned to mush.
"Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have returned," Adi Gallia began. "A group armed with a rocket launcher was intercepted before they could attack the Chancellor's transport. While they have been taken away by local security, Qui-Gon feels the threat hasn't ended and I am inclined to agree."
I stepped forward, ignoring Palpatine as he turned to look at me. Down below I saw Gallia and Saesee Tiin moving around. While they were close to the podium and the Chancellor, they were far enough away that if an attack came they'd struggle to block any bolts before Valorum and others were taken down. "Are there any leads?" I asked as I looked over the lower boxes.
"No, and the chancellor is insistent that we remain distant from him so as to maintain an air of impartiality." I rolled my eyes at Valorum's decision. I also bit back a comment about the pointlessness of me being stuck in this box. "Has anything seemed amiss?"
My eyes darted to the Trade Federation delegation. "Nothing major, Master. However, the Trade Federation delegation has thirteen droids for security. I'd have expected them to have an even number, however, the extra droid might simply be a personal guard."
Gallia took a moment before replying, likely as she tried to use the Force to sense a threat. "That is likely the reason. However, it is something to remain vigilant about. Can you see anything amiss with the droids?"
I used the Force to again boost my sight. Each of the droids was standing in line, weapons on their backs and perfectly still. The only thing that stood out was that one bore slightly different markings on its head, though I'd already dismissed that as it simply designated that droid as a command model. "No Master. They are all at rest, and with the angle I'm at, I cannot tell if any are carrying extra weaponry or missing their restraining bolts." I could see the bolts of the six closest to me, but the rest were obscured by their squad mates, and even if one was missing a bolt, it didn't confirm anything.
"Very well. I and the others will either stay close to the Chancellor or seek to locate Cohl in the building. If you see or sense anything, inform us immediately. However, since there is still a chance Senator Palpatine is a target, you are to remain at his side until our targets reveal themselves."
I frowned as the link closed. Palpatine wasn't in any danger. No, I was sure he was the hidden hand controlling whatever was going on today and had used the 'attempt' on him as a way to divert attention. And probably also, to generate a way to gain time alone with me. Yet without proof of Palpatine not being a target, never mind him being the one orchestrating everything, and with a direct order from a High Council member, there was little I could do but remain at my post.
Yet, even as I scanned the hall once more, taking longer on every empty box, walkway, and piece of scaffolding that might be used by an assassin, I couldn't feel anything amiss. Oh, there was the general sense within the Force that something was brewing, but without meditating, I didn't know what was off. And even meditation might not work as drawing hints from the Force was something I'd always struggled with.
Now, I sensed some trepidation from the Trade Federation. However, that could simply be because they were concerned Valorum would ensure the summit was against them on both measures that were to be discussed. Or would be if Governor Harro would shut up and sit down.
Nearly twenty minutes later, after Harro had thankfully stopped talking, and while the orchestra that separated the viewing masses from the Chancellor and Governor were playing the Republic anthem, the commlink in my ear clicked once more.
"You were right about the Federation's droids being a problem," Gallia began. "Move as close as you can without alerting anyone of your intent." I was moving the moment she mentioned the droids, though I grunted in annoyance when told to not draw attention to myself, as that also meant not leaping over to the Federation's box and obliterating the things.
"Can't we just remove the droids now and eliminate the threat?" I whispered into the link, not wanting Palpatine to hear.
"Sadly, no. While Cohl has confirmed the droids are how the attack will come, his word isn't enough for us to move. Doing so without definitive proof would raise questions about our impartiality and likely cause the summit to break down before it can begin."
"I doubt it will survive if the attack happens, Master," I countered. "Plus, with how the Order is tied to the Senate, I doubt any consider us impartial in any matter involving the Republic." I doubted my words would change anything, be it now or in future, but it was worth stating them anyway.
"Regardless, maintain your position and stay mindful of the droids for any unexpected movement." Gallia's reply was terse, almost as if she didn't like what I'd pointed out.
"Yes, Master." The channel closed and I kept moving, heading to the point that was closest to the Federation's box from this one. I had little doubt the extra droid was the one who'd attack, but nothing – be it something I could see or sense – hinted at which droid was the primary threat.
What I was beginning to realise was that I was right to think Valorum wasn't the primary target. No, the droids would likely fire on him, and in the confusion, turn on the Federation Directorate. Well, all of them bar Gunray and Dod if I had to guess.
"Cameron," I turned back as Palpatine spoke, though only far enough that I didn't lose sight of the Federation's box, "is something the matter?"
I smiled as I replied. "Just a potential security breach, Senator. Nothing to alarm yourself about currently." I turned back, taking my time to appear as if I was looking at other delegations. I wasn't sure if Palpatine believed me or not, but I remained as calm as I could, both physically and within the Force.
"Very well. Though I do hope you'll inform me if the matter becomes serious." I gave him a nod, my sight passing over the delegation from Kashyyyk.
While I was trying to appear calm, I was already running through options in my head. The problem with each was that they took time for me to reach or interact with the droids. Time that the droids could use to enact their programming.
The simplest option was to grab them with the Force and toss them away. However, that wouldn't stop them from firing and would result in civilian casualties. Which would then, in the aftermath, further degrade the public's opinion of the Jedi Order. Crushing them was doable, but I'd never attempted to crush so many targets so quickly, and there was the chance the droids or their blasters might explode as they were compacted. Electrokinesis was also out for the same reason, plus a stray bolt might incinerate a member of the Directorate. Ionize was another option, but I'd used that so sparingly that I wasn't sure if it would take out the droids without causing them to do something unexpected like spasm and continue firing.
The distance between this box and the Federation's was small enough that I could make it with a Force-boosted jump. However, beyond the sight of a Jedi leaping toward the droids – which if timed wrong would look belligerent – the issue was time. Even if I moved before as soon as the droids drew their blasters, it would still take precious seconds to reach them.
With all those ruled out, I was left with one option that, while it carried risk, should be possible. Teleporting. Yes, there was a moment when I reappeared where I was disorientated, but if I timed the move right, then I could have my lightsaber out and active to engage three, perhaps four droids before I was sure of my location. Still, I'd have to get the timing and location near perfect as the droids would likely target me the moment I appeared.
Just as the orchestra below shifted to a new piece, I saw a concerned Human approach Gunray. The others in the box could hear, but even with the Force boosting my hearing, I couldn't make out what was being said over the sounds lifting from below. I removed the Force-boosted hearing, grimacing at having the bad timing to enhance it just as the orchestra reached a crescendo.
As I watched Gunray, I saw him speak with one of the Human directors, and then he and Lott Dod stood. I gripped the hilt of my lightsaber as I watched the pair follow the grovelling Human from the balcony and activated my array of combat-oriented Force powers.
I ignored Palpatine, focusing on the Federation's box, on the thirteen droids, waiting for any movement from them that I could use as an excuse. A familiar stillness passed over, reminding me of those moments before a mission before the storm that was about to be unleashed. I waited patiently for the signal to act, to unleash hell on my targets, and found myself missing this serenity.
Movement high above caught my eye. I glanced up as the Force shifted, filling the hall with a sense of anticipation. Streaks of red moved around a shaft of green as two figures, the second clearly a Jedi fought. My attention returned to the Federation box, waiting for the slightest movement from the droids.
Everything in me screamed to go, to move before the signal was given, to break the calm before the storm. Yet I waited. Even if I hated everything about it, I had my orders. Plus, I was concerned at how much canon might change this close to the invasion if I moved too early.
This conference was the reason the Federation would invade Naboo, the reason Sidious could manipulate Gunray into doing his bidding. Yes, allowing it to happen would cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, their lives, but if I acted too rashly, too quickly, then I could alter the Sith plan, and I wasn't willing to risk that. Not now, at any rate. I was set in my belief that the war needed to happen, for the Republic to undergo strife in the hope it might emerge stronger and fitter, provided I was able to stop Sidious from founding the Empire.
Plus, on a more personal level, without the invasion, people like Padmé would never break from their blind idealism and faith in the Senate and the Republic. They would never question the ways things worked or demand change. By allowing the invasion to happen, by forcing her to confront the problems in the galaxy, and then by being there as a friend to offer solutions during and after, I hoped to gain her support for a more aggressive approach. I knew she'd never become pro-military, but the passive, peaceful girl she was now wasn't the strong-willed and demanding woman she should be.
All that meant that, as much as I hated it, I wouldn't act early. Instead, as much as it galled me, I'd allow Sidious' plan, whatever it was, to occur and then hope to stop it. I'd allow Gunray to slip away into the night to be there to invade Naboo at some point next year. And all of that sickened me, but it was for the greater good. Or at least, the good I wanted to bring about.
A voice rang out in the hall. Others joined in panicked screams. The orchestra stopped. The Force moved. One of the Human directors of the Federation stood and spoke. This was the moment.
My lightsaber slid into my hand, I sensed Palpatine move, and the world around me started to turn silver.
Yet, just as the silver engulfed my entire vision, I jerked. I felt a trillion volts of raw, unrestrained power slam into every fibre of my being. My skin went numb, I lost all sense of smell as every nerve in my body flared as if dipped in acid, and I stumbled back.
My hand twitched, my lightsaber falling from it as my legs stopped working. As my skull crashed against something, and my eyes flickered closed, I saw shadows move around me, above me. I wanted to scream, yet my throat refused to work.
Even as my body reacted as if it was dropped into the power core of a star destroyer, I felt something against my arm, and a moment later, the sweet, calming peace of darkness engulfed me.
As the darkness retreated, and I felt my eyes flicker open, I groaned. The light of the room hurt my eyes and every part of me felt tired, as if I'd run a triple-marathon without the Force to help. I moved, trying to sit from wherever I was only to feel a hand on my shoulder. The force kept me in place as a voice spoke out.
"Easy there. You were severely burnt when whatever you tried failed." I turned my head toward the voice, blinking to clear the blurry images I was seeing. Once my eyes were working properly, I realised it was Qui-Gon who was standing over me, a kind smile on his face. Behind him, closer to the far end of the room, I saw Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon seemed relaxed, but I could sense agitation from his Padawan.
"Wh…" I stopped, my lips hurting from how dry they were. After licking them tenderly, flinching as moisture reached them, I tried to speak again. "What happened?"
Qui-Gon's smile fell, replaced by irritation. "The droids were the key; however, we had the wrong target."
I groaned and leaned back, looking up at the clean white roof of the room, and from what I sensed I knew I was back in the Temple. "The Directorate?"
"Yes. It seems that one of their number activated an energy shield around their balcony. The moment that happened, the droids drew their weapons, turned, and fired upon the Directorate." I groaned again. I'd suspected that was Sidious' plan, but I'd not known about the forcefield, which must've been what interfered with my attempted Teleport. I'd remember that the next time I was faced with a shielded target because I had no interest in experiencing that pain again. "There was nothing we or Eriadu security could do to stop the massacre until the shield was lowered. Once it was taken down, security forces were efficient in destroying the droids."
"Yes. And with the droids reduced to scrap metal, there is little to be gained from them, meaning the investigation has achieved little in the week since it began."
"The reason for his and Senator Dod's departure was genuine. However, with the Viceroy now being the sole remaining Director of the Federation, and with diplomatic obstacles in place for questioning a sitting senator, that avenue of investigation is bogged down in legalities."
"Never changes," I muttered as I closed my eyes, the light from the room slowly giving me a headache. Even in this galaxy, those in power always found ways to keep themselves unavailable whenever the winds blew against them. And since the Federation had their greedy little hands controlling many Senators and other officials throughout the galaxy, it would remain that way until much, much later. Still, it was something I might be able to use in the years before war broke out.
"Sadly, yes," Qui-Gon agreed, and I sensed him move back. "As for you, whatever it was you tried…"
"Ah, then that explains why it looked like you'd been exposed to a raw powercore. I assume the reaction was due to the forcefield around the Trade Federation's balcony being active?" I nodded, not wanting to delve too deeply into that at the moment. "Hmm. Well, when your teleport failed, you collapsed on the floor, your robes and skin severely burnt. If not for the swift actions of Senator Palpatine and his aides, I doubt you would've survived long enough for medical personnel to reach you." I nodded at that as well, knowing I'd have to thank Palpatine for saving me, and wondered how much he'd use that to further attempt to ingratiate himself with me. "The Senator also arranged, along with Governor Harro, your travel back to the Temple once your injuries were healed enough to allow transport. While he couldn't have known, it was a good thing he did. It seems that your tuk'ata and ship, along with Master Fay and others, sensed your pain. While the tuk'ata didn't hurt anyone, several members of the Order were concerned it might snap if your injuries became critical. Indeed, I'm told that Master Yoda was forced to stun the tuk'ata to avoid an incident and until now, the beast is being kept under sedation in a room nearby."
I frowned at hearing that. Both Raven and Fenrir sensing my injury made sense, but the fact Yoda had felt the need to stun Fenrir wasn't going to be easily forgotten by the tuk'ata. Now, I could understand Yoda's logic, but I doubted Fenrir was so uncontrolled that Fay, Simvyl – and possibly even Serra – would be unable to keep him from going too far. While I doubted I'd learn why Yoda had done that, I did plan to ask him once I was able to.
As for Serra, while it was reassuring to not hear Qui-Gon mention her name directly, I suspected she was in the 'others' category. Hopefully, she didn't let on about how close we'd become as I'd rather not get a lecture from the Council on the dangers of attachment.
"Why the Federation?" I asked, wondering if Qui-Gon could offer any other insight beyond my thinking that the attack was to give Gunray complete control of the mega-corporation.
Qui-Gon sighed. "It seems that the one responsible for the attack, the one who had hired Cohl as a diversion, had ulterior motives. He was a member of the Nebula Front, but he was also an Eriadu native who had been a vocal critic of the Federation before joining the Front. He used the summit taking place on Eriadu, and his connections in the Front, to his advantage. Along with directing attention to the Chancellor so we and security forces wouldn't see the true danger until it was too late."
I nodded, accepting that even if I wondered how much of this Sidious had controlled, and how much of it he'd adapted to suit his goals. The man was playing hundreds of simultaneous inter-connected games of holochess while the Jedi and Republic were, at best, playing just one. Frankly, it was scary just how good he and Plagueis were at doing this.
"While I and Obi-Wan are glad you have awoken, we are needed elsewhere." I felt Qui-Gon grip my shoulder. "I will inform Master Fay of your rec…" he was cut off as the doors to the room opened and I sensed Fay enter. "Or not as it seems." The amusement in his voice was easy to pick up. "Since you no doubt wish to speak with her, we shall leave you."
"Can I see the report?" I doubted there was anything there worth learning, but I wasn't going to leave anything unturned.
"I will have your name added to the data so that once one arrives from Eriadu, you will be informed." There was a slight edge to his tone, almost as if he was annoyed about something to do with the report. Still, I nodded my thanks and lay back, waiting for the doors to close as he and Obi-Wan left.
"How are you feeling?"
I opened my eyes and smirked at Fay. "Like I just lost a fight with a power station." My former master smiled, pleased to see my humour had survived. As she moved closer, bringing a chair with her, my mind turned to other things.
I opened the various notices I had, discovering that I was almost fully healed. No major damage had been done, or at least none that bacta and the Force couldn't heal, so I should be free of the bed soon enough. Once I was, after talking with Serra and making sure she, Fenrir, and Raven were okay and knew that I was well, I needed to leave the Temple.
My first step would be finding a broker and placing a large wager on Padmé becoming queen of Naboo. Hopefully, I could get a bet in before she announced her intention to run so I could secure more favourable odds. After that, I needed to make plans to depart the planet. My first stop would be Mandalore.
With Naboo – and the threat of Maul – just around the corner, I wanted my armour. I might also pop in on Anakin, and make sure that he was kept busy enough that he was not inclined to go anywhere near Naboo.
A/N: While it should be clear in the last scene, the reason Cam was burnt wasn't Sidious, but the energy shield that was active around the Federation's balcony when he attempted to Teleport.
As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own. and now Royal Road.
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