A/N: Thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logical errors.

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3.02 Replacements and Invitations

… …

The swirling, twisting vortex of hyperspace was the only view from Raven's cockpit, and while it could be maddening to stare at it for hours or days, today I didn't care. And not just because my eyes were currently closed.

I didn't know how long it had been since we'd left Dagobah, but I was still on cloud nine. I knew that I had to relearn or refocus literally every Force Power I had, but sitting in Raven, being able to fully experience the bond we shared, and her delight at racing between the stars made everything worth it.

Haran, just rising through the damp, cloudy atmosphere of the planet had been incredible. Before I'd known she felt every shift in air current, temperature and humidity over her skin, but now, with the Interface no longer filtering the Force, I could experience it as if it was my skin covering the vessel. That had been amazing, as had the incredible, all-encompassing warmth that came as we broke through the ozone layer and the full might of the solar winds from the system's star brushed against her hull. To be able to feel the shifting magnetic fields of the planets and stars as we moved through the system was beyond incredible. Even if I spent a thousand years searching, I knew I'd never find the words to describe it, nor the sheer, unmitigated joy we shared as I pushed Raven through a series of increasingly complex manoeuvres.

Before the change, Raven had been able to sense what I wanted her to do and react accordingly. Now, with the Interface filtering gone, it was as if, at times, our minds were one. Given how she'd been born, and what I'd then done to save her when Zonama Sekot had departed, there was logic behind why that was. Yet, logic barely entered my mind as Raven twisted, turned, dove, and strafed through the system. Dancing with her as we soared through an asteroid field was an experience that, like much of the short trip so far, was going to remain with me forever.

However, for all the new and incredible sensations I'd experienced as Raven and I worked as one even as she fell through space, it paled in comparison to what she, and by extension I, was feeling now. The twisting, insanely energetic vortex of hyperspace was incredible. Every little spark of energy that touched her skin felt as if it was me the energies were touching. Waves of delight rushed through her and me as the wild, untamed power of faster-than-light travel brushed and caressed her body, bringing her indescribable delight. If not for the fact my connection to her, and the Force in general, was as muted as I could currently make it, I suspected I'd have been lost to the universe: riding on a high that few other sentient beings could ever expect to experience.

Yet, even with the connection muted, I knew beyond doubt that Raven was, in every sense that the Republic classified it, sentient. She might've been grown uniquely – certainly now when any other ship built by Sekot had likely died when the planet had departed – but she was alive and aware. Indeed, more so than some beings I'd have the misfortune to encounter in my travels. However, as much as I was marvelling at this experience, I knew I couldn't spend the entire voyage doing so. Thus, with a reluctant sigh, I opened my eyes.

Looking around the cockpit, I saw I was alone, which I hadn't been when I'd closed them. It seemed that Anakin and Fenrir had grown bored with my unresponsive nature and decided to amuse themselves elsewhere. Before I even understood how, I knew where they, Simvyl, HK and R2 were; Raven supplied the information before the thought was fully formed. That made me smile, though when I glanced at the chronometer, I cringed.

What I thought had been a few hours had been most of the day. Haran, that explained why Anakin and Fenrir were so calm in the boy's cabin. the pair would be sleeping, as likely was Simvyl. The droids were in the main area; both, from what Raven provided, were recharging in their alcoves. That said, I knew HK would be alert. The assassin droid was ever mindful of danger, and after me having gotten lost in Raven's sensations for the day, I was even more glad for that than normal.

Turning my thoughts to Dagobah, I once more marvelled at the changes brought on by Natural Selection. No longer was the Force filtered or monitored by the Interface, now it was free. While I knew it was going to take time to refocus and relearn much of what I knew, or at least how to draw upon the Force to use it in the ways I had before, I already knew I'd made the right choice.

I could feel the Force all around me, flowing through everything. Many of the teachings I'd received in the Temple, or from Fay suddenly made more sense. As if with the Interface gone, the fog that was blocking me from beginning my journey into and with the Force could finally begin. While Dooku had taught such lessons at times, he was a much more practically-minded person, and with those lessons, I'd never had issues understanding and realising his motives and concepts. Which was perhaps why I was closer to the man who'd, in the other timeline, turned to the Banite Sith seeking a clearer path forward.

For how to relearn and refocus my Force Powers, I already had a few ideas, and we were enroute to the first stop on that journey. Or at least we would be after stopping in the Core and refuelling. I knew Raven disliked a lot of the fuelling options in the more remote world in the Mid and Outer Rim, and as our final destination lay along one of the major hyperspace routes, I was willing to pay the extra cost for high-quality fuel. Especially now, with my connection to her so much clearer and stronger, I didn't want to experience her distaste or fury at having to consume low-quality fuel.

As my hand moved over the controls, making sure everything was running smoothly – even if I knew that they were, the action brought an odd sense of comfort – I turned my attention to the other changes that had happened after taking Natural Selection. That being the new Player Powers and Perk I'd taken.

While it could only be applied to two current skills I'd taken Level Boost. The potential it offered was something I wasn't going to turn down, nor that the sooner I took it once, the sooner I could take it again. Getting 10 levels was going to take effort to gain, especially as the required XP was equal to every point of XP I'd needed to get to Level 30, including the XP I'd started with when I'd been inserted into this universe.

I had four skills Maxed out, at least to the base standard now I guessed, but only two, Lightsaber: Form 2 [Makashi], and Lightsaber [Standard], could have the Level Boost applied to them. That was fine as, while I wasn't going to do so now, they were two of the more likely skills to get the increased tiers. The other two skills that were Maxed were Concentration and Meditation, though they didn't have tiers, instead, like a handful of other Skills, they had one hundred total levels.

I was considering using the spare Skill points I had, which stood at 179, and getting an instant boost in Makashi to Tier 8, yet I was reluctant to do so. While using the Skill Points like that was something I'd done – with a focus on making sure I completed a few quests that I wished I'd never taken – doing it for a skill that I used regularly felt like cheating. The increased skill with Form 2 of lightsaber combat would be great, but I wanted to earn that skill, not simply have the knowledge seemingly appear in my mind. It would make the day I finally defeated Dooku in a spar all the more rewarding. Plus, having those Skill Points around meant I could use them to boost skills I either didn't have the time to focus on or to top up any Training Quests I might take in the future. Though dropping them in a skill that would allow me to understand and bond with Anakin better – such as Astrogation or Mechanics – was another option.

While a few of the other optional Player Powers had potential, the clear choice for spending the second Player Point on was Reveal The Hidden. Knowing the hidden objectives of every quest I had was something that seemed insanely useful. However, after taking the Player Power and then reading through the quests where I wanted to use it, I realised it'd made me more apprehensive about certain quests.

The Promise of the Fallen, the quest from Revan, had, as expected, revealed no new details. From the wording of Reveal The Hidden, that was what I'd expected, but I had hoped to be wrong. Sadly, it seemed I was going to have to continue fluttering around aimlessly to complete every part of that quest; waiting for my ancestor to appear again and explain what he wanted. Of course, given he hadn't done so since I'd met him in the Crystal Caves on Ilum, I suspected that wasn't going to ever happen. All I could do was hope that, by doing things like finding the Vault he'd created with Canderous Ordo, and rebuilding HK, I was at least on a path he approved of.

At least with the other quests where it could be applied, Reveal The Hidden showed its use, though for some I wished it hadn't as now I was even more concerned, and curious, about how the quest would go.

Cash in Hand was the clearest and easiest of the quests that had revealed hidden objectives. The initial objective of having a million credits in my name by the time I turned eighteen was already achieved. However, I didn't know if the quest saying 'having the money in my name' meant the money in the account under my pseudonym I used for writing – which was my name from before I'd been reborn in this universe – an account under my real name, or in my Inventory. Because of that, and as the Sith knew of my writing, I was slowly shifting my finances around. While some went to an account with a Mandalorian financial guild under my name and that of my Clan, which I knew Damask would be tracking, most was slowly heading via my Inventory into various dummy accounts.

The amounts in those dummy accounts didn't match the withdrawals from my writing account, nor were they opening in the same system as where I made the withdrawals. I knew that eventually, the Sith would discover those accounts were tied to me, but the longer it took them to find them, the better. Force, they might think it another sign that I wasn't a typical Jedi, and even a potential Sith Lord in the making, that I moved my credits around so cautiously. What they wouldn't know was that the majority of the credits I'd withdrawn, which currently sat at over fifteen million, were in my Inventory.

At the time that seemed enough to complete the bonus objective, but with Reveal The Hidden showing the uppermost objective was for fifty million in my name by the time I was eighteen, I knew I'd have to accelerate the movement of my funds. With around three-quarters of a year until I reached the cut-off, every objective was achievable, and I intend to complete them and get the XP that came with that.

For the other quests, the one that I was closest to completing the bonus objectives was for Changing Fate [Dooku]. I already knew two of those even before taking Reveal The Hidden and the final one, was to have become his Padawan. I didn't know when that quest would be considered complete – perhaps when a replacement Darth Tyrannus rose – but along with Cash in Hand, I'd be within touching distance of Level 31.

Changing Fate [Anakin] was another quest where I'd already completed the bonus objectives. However, here I'd failed one that involved keeping Shmi alive until the outbreak of galactic war. The other two bonuses, which had been to rescue Anakin from Tatooine before the Invasion of Naboo, and taking him as my Padawan or Trainee were both completed. I didn't think the main objective, of preventing him from becoming Darth Vader was at risk of being failed, but given it was one of two S*** quests, I wouldn't be considering it safe until the quest ended.

The other quest linked to Anakin, and my most recently taken quest, Te Ad's Skira, would, I felt, help ensure Darth Vader never rose. I wasn't saying that I could stop Anakin from using and controlling the Dark Side, as it would be massively hypocritical since I'd done so before and suspected I'd do so again. What the quest could do was forge the bond between us so that he'd never be tempted to turn to the Banite Sith.

Te Ad's Skira had three bonus conditions, and the first two revolved around getting Anakin to higher levels – 25 and 30 – before Decca the Hutt was killed. Those should be doable, especially if I focused heavily on pushing him and myself over the next few years. The last bonus objective, however, was going to be a challenge.

Ensuring that Gardulla the Hutt, Decca's mother, and the leader of one of the largest Hutt kajidics – clans – didn't link either Anakin or myself to Decca's death would take careful planning. Now, that bonus only came into effect if one of us killed the giant slug, but since I wanted Decca dead – though nowhere near as much as Anakin – I was reasonably certain one of us would ensure he met the end he deserved. Preferably knowing the face of the one who'd killed him.

If Gardulla learnt that we were involved in her son's death, then hell would be coming for us. It was unlikely the other Hutt kajidics would get involved, at least so long as they didn't see our actions as an assault on the entire Hutt race, but even if it was just Gardulla's clan, we'd be in trouble. She'd throw everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, at us in an attempt to avenge her son and prove she was still powerful enough to lead the kajidic.

Now, if I had the chance, I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to remove every stinking Hutt from the galaxy, much as with Trandoshans, but I doubted I'd be able to do that. Not unless I had the firepower to rival the GAR and CIS at my full command.

Changing Fate [Miraj], which was my most recent Changing Fate quest, had a single bonus objective. That was, when galactic war broke out, that she and Zygerria aligned with whichever faction I was a part of. Just like with Anakin's quest, the fact it referred to galactic war and not The Clone Wars was interesting. As was the fact the quests seemed to think I would not side with the Jedi and the GAR. While I'd been leaning heavily against standing with the Republic for some time, I knew that, in the form it had taken in the other timeline, I'd not work with the CIS.

If a true alternative to the Republic could be formed, as was hinted at with Senator Bonteri and the Separatist Senate, then perhaps I might stand with them. However, that was something a long way off and not something to concern myself with for at least a few more years. Still, I would reach out when I could and keep in contact. That should let me gain some insight into her intentions for her people, and if I could, direct her toward a change in path.

Changing Fate [Sifo-Dyas] was the last of those quests, at least currently active, and perhaps the one closest to completion. Sifo-Dyas was dead before the Clone Wars had begun, so he was due to meet that fate sometime in the next decade. The bonuses, however, were a little odd. Without even meaning to, I'd completed the first bonus which was to learn who financed the Clone Army. The reward there was to discover Sidious' Master, which I had when meeting Hego Damask, aka Darth Plagueis.

Given his public placement as head of Damask Holdings, moving around the credits to pay for the Clone Army would be trivial for Plagueis. I just hadn't realised that whatever chain of events had resulted in our meeting had meant that even if Sifo-Dyas died and I failed the quest, I'd still complete that bonus objective. What I had determined was that the pair both hoped to, at the very least, use me to bring about the fall of the Jedi, if not make into a new apprentice in the order of Banite Sith.

The other objective involved keeping the Jedi Master alive until the outbreak of galactic war. While that would be useful, I was more concerned that failure to complete the quest would result in the death of someone close to me. As Darihd was Sifo-Dyas' Padawan, that meant he was the likely candidate to die for my failure. The problem was, as things stood I simply couldn't step in and warn Darihd or Sifo-Dyas, or indeed do much to help them.

With me needing to relearn how to use the Force and hide the change in my Force presence, I couldn't risk going anywhere near a Jedi, never mind the Temple and the Senate. As bad as it might sound, I understood that to protect Anakin and have any chance of defeating the Sith, I might have to sacrifice a friend.

The last quest with bonus objectives was, in every way, the single most terrifying quest I had. And that was before I knew of the bonus objectives that awaited me. Tremors of the Ancient Sith Empire was the first true quest I received, and had sat on my quest list for nearly a decade now without any hint of how to complete it. The warnings that had come with it, about not attempting it until I was at least Level 20 and had three other Force users with me, had stuck with me ever since the Quest had appeared and, in a moment of insanity, I'd accepted it.

I couldn't not do the quest, as if I didn't finish it before the Clone Wars – or whatever might replace those – occurred, then whatever was on Dromond Kaas would belong to Sidious. That would only serve to make the future Emperor even more powerful, which was something that would give me nightmares for a long while. Yet, after reading the bonus objectives, I wasn't sure that I'd be able to complete the quest at Level 40 with a dozen Force users at my side.

The first bonus dealt with a group called The Prophets of the Darkside. They, whoever they were, had to be found and then either destroyed or forced to serve me. The latter option, perhaps worryingly, carried twice as much XP for completion than simply murdering every member of the group. I didn't even know who these people were, or what they could do, but the fact that even killing them would bring me 4000XP, without considering combat XP, was a hint that it wasn't going to be easy.

The next bonus had me and my party exploring the Palace of the Emperor and each of the Inner Sanctums of the Dark Council. The simple fact that doing just one of those awarded more than subjugating the Prophets made clear how insanely dangerous that was going to be. Add in the fact that there wasn't a clear indication of how many Inner Sanctums there were, and that objective alone could take months, if not years, to complete.

The other two extra goals were, by comparison, a cakewalk. The first had me having to hide the expedition from Sidious and Plagueis, or rather insanely, reveal it to one or both. I wasn't sure what sort of insanity the Interface, and by extension, TPTB were suffering when they came up with that, though I knew I didn't want to know.

The last extra was to complete the quest before the outbreak of galactic war, which was one I'd be making even if I hadn't known about it. What was interesting was that completing this objective would double all XP gains from the quest. I wasn't sure if that extended beyond the actual objectives, and included combat XP from the planet, then it could be insanely useful. Kriff, even if it was only the other objectives it covered, then I was looking at a minimum of 27000XP for just the two base objectives, up to – assuming four members of this Dark Council – over 120000XP.

That was an insane amount of XP for a single quest, but given the insane difficulty of it – S*** – then it wasn't a huge surprise. Still, 27000 was a little under three-quarters of the full XP needed for Level 31, whereas 120000XP was almost three full levels. And all of that was before any combat XP that the planet would undoubtedly bring.

Dromond Kaas, as the capital of a Sith Empire that had lasted for at least a thousand years, would be littered with other challenges. Anything and everything from simple creatures corrupted by the Force to Sithspawn and Darkside Nexuses would likely cover the planet. That, I expected, would mean anything from two to, potentially, five or more levels was on offer from this one planet.

As insanely tempting as that amount of XP was, the whole quest was beyond insane to attempt. And that was before I'd taken Natural Selection. Now that I had, it would be some time before I dealt with that quest, as both I and Anakin, who I knew would be with me for that, needed to train and prepare for a challenge that, I felt, would show me how ready I was to take on the Banite Sith.

Still, while Tremors of the Ancient Sith Empire was going to haunt my dreams for some time, I was glad to have taken Reveal The Hidden. At least now, for that quest and the others, I knew more, if not all, of what I could expect to complete them, or at least partially complete them. However, I wasn't sure if my choice for my new Perk was the correct one.

While there were more choices for Perks, in the end, I'd gone for Shatterpoint Acclimatisation. From the description, I knew it wouldn't lift me to the point where I could sense shatterpoints in people or events as Windu could, but it was the first step along that road. If I understood it correctly, I should now be capable of getting Shatterpoint back to where it had been before. Then, at its max of Professional:1 allowed me to see weak points in walls and designs, though it took time. While not immediately useful, this Perk was a long-term investment. With time and continual purchase of the next upgrade in the series for the Force Power, then by the time I approached Sidious, Fay, Plagueis, and Yoda in Level, I should hopefully be capable of seeing shatterpoints as Windu did. Hells, even if I only took it to the point where I could spot flaws and weaknesses in plans or defences that others had missed and I could exploit, it would be a worthwhile purchase.

The other Perk I'd considered, and one I was likely to take at Level 32, was Stat Boost. That would, when I took it, lift the combined limit of my Physical Stats – Strength, Agility, and Vitality – to 75 from the current 65. Given that the Human baseline was 55 for those Stats, even without the Force I was above my species, which was a good thing. Humans were, by and large, at the lower end of the spectrum for physical abilities of the races for their approximate size. With the Force, I could likely match a Wookie in a test of strength. Or at least before I'd taken Natural Selection that was possible, now I didn't know, which was why Stat Boost held an appeal.

While thinking about my Stats, I decided that it was time to spend my stored Stat Points. Intelligence was lifted to 45, Wisdom to 35, and Charisma to 40. Each of those was far above the average values of 20 for Humans, and many other species, but it was the extra boosts they'd provided to levelling up skills, which were dominated by one Stat each, and in the case of Intelligence, the increased number of Skill Points each level up brought, that made spending Stat Points worth it.

After those moves, I had 5 Stat Points left over, and figuring I should show it some love, I placed them in Luck. That lifted that score to 5, along with a bonus 10 that came from being Force Sensitive. It was unlikely those points would be useful, but given the luck I'd had with running into dangerous situations that pushed me in ways I wasn't always ready for, I'd take any help I could get. Perhaps it might not be enough to avoid such situations, but it should, I hoped, increase my chances of getting out of them unharmed.

A gentle, warm, comforting presence pushed against my senses, and I knew Raven wanted my attention. Focusing on the controls, I understood that I'd spent longer going over my choices and spending Stat Points than I'd realised as we were now close to exiting hyperspace.

The system we were emerging into was a, relatively speaking, minor one, and not where I planned to refuel or end up, but we had to exit here. It was the intersection with another Hyperspace lane we had to travel, one that would take us closer to our destination.

I supposed I could've headed to one of the various Force Sects I'd learnt about in the Celebratus Archive, but I wanted to head to Kuat first. The Mandalorian engineers and designers who'd examined Raven had been clear they lacked the understanding to add weapons to her without hurting, and potentially damaging her. Instead, they'd given me a list of a handful of companies and individuals that might be capable of helping. While it was unlikely that anyone on Kuat could help, it was worth the visit for Raven and Anakin.

The boy loved starships, even more so than designing droids, and it was an interest I wanted to encourage. I remembered seeing Centerpoint Station in the Corellia system, and the shipyards at Fondor when I'd studied there. Kuat, with a shipyard ring that encircled the planet, was meant to make both look simple by comparison, and I was looking forward to Anakin's face when he saw that, and the myriad of giant warships that Kuat had built over the centuries.

The Ruusan Reformation meant that they lacked the armaments and engines their size meant they should have, but the mighty Procurator-class and Praetor-class star-battlecruisers and the Mandator-class star-dreadnoughts were still considered some, if not the, most powerful warships in the history of the galaxy. Seeing those in the flesh was something I wanted to experience, as much as I wanted Anakin to see them.

A small part of me also wondered if those starships were the precursors of the mighty Executor and the class of Super Star Destroyers. That same part also wondered if, perhaps, learning how such vessels were built, might in some way be useful to me in the future with the war that sat just over the horizon, watching everything like a hungry dragon ready to devour everything that lay before it.

… …

… …

The small holo-display in Raven's cockpit flickered to life, revealing Chancellor Palpatine. "Cameron, my boy, how are you?" he asked with a gentle, grandfatherly smile. The robes he wore weren't easy to make out through the call, but I suspected they were some of the finest in the galaxy: as one would expect of the Chancellor of the Republic.

"Chancellor, what a welcome surprise," I replied, playing with his words during the invasion of Naboo. The slight shifting of his lips suggested he'd caught the reference. "I'm as well as I can be, thank you for asking." When I'd been informed there was a call coming in from Coruscant, I'd had Simvyl make sure Anakin stayed clear of the cockpit. Through Raven, I knew my Padawan was playing with Fenrir in the training hold, so he'd be occupied until after I'd finished speaking with the Sith Lord that led the supposedly free galaxy. "The Force hasn't yet offered me an insight into where my next adventure awaits, so I'm enjoying the freedom of simply travelling and exploring the galaxy."

Palpatine chuckled. "Ah, to be young and with the freedom to move as one likes, how I miss those days. I enjoyed racing speeders in my youth you know, but alas both that and freedom have long since deserted me. Even more so since my elevation to the Chancellorship."

"I wouldn't agree entirely, Chancellor. Anyone willing to take on the responsibility for the Republic must have the energy, and patience, to deal with every sort of person in the Senate and elsewhere. That the person who now holds the office is as trustworthy and patient as you is a relief. After decades, if not centuries, of neglect, it offers me hope for the future." Yes, I was laying it on thick, but the longer Sidious believed I was an ally, or potentially one, the longer I had to prepare for the war between us.

The Chancellor laughed gently. "I'm grateful for the compliment, and the support of the Hero of Naboo, however, I'm struggling to gain any traction to sanction the Trade Federation. They, and the various Senators they either outright or privately control, are fighting hard to ensure their overlords escape justice."

"I would offer my services to help, but I fear I would be censored by the Council, if not imprisoned, for the methods I'd use." Namely that I'd threaten those fools and sycophants with a lightsaber and Force Lightning. As much fun as it would be to fry or execute a large number of the Senators whose only focus was their pockets and not the people they served, spending the next decade or two in a Jedi prison wasn't something I wanted.

"Yes, I fear you would, though I won't deny that the thought of seeing how certain Senators reacted to being faced with an angered Jedi would amuse me greatly." He paused and looked around as if looking for someone attempting to listen in. "Preferably in ways similar to how you handled matters on Naboo."

"How is your home faring?" I asked, changing the topic slightly after a burst of laughter. While the idea of forcing the Senate to act as they should was appealing, it was the road that led Anakin to become Vader. Plus, it would only have Sidious and Plagueis believing that I was on the verge of turning, which wasn't what I wanted.

"The rebuild is progressing, though slower than either I or Queen Amidala wish." The mention of Padmé was deliberate, as it drew my thoughts to her, but it made sense as there was no chance he, and the Jedi Council, hadn't seen the way she acted around me. Especially after Naboo was liberated. "The Federation is fighting with everything they can to avoid paying for the damages, something those allied with them in the Senate are supporting. Still, the credits generated from the salvage of the Federation ship left disabled in orbit are so far sufficient to pay for everything." We shared a look of amusement at the idea the Federation had not just lost three vessels, but the one that had lost its engines was now being stripped apart for salvage. The other two vessels had, officially, vanished though both I and Palpatine knew where they were.

One of the massive ships was with the Lokella who were more likely to simply sell the vessel back to the Federation. At least so long as they were paid in full for it. If not, then it would be stripped for parts that could be used to help the Lokella grow and improve their defences. While not the best fighters around, the remaining Vulture droids added a new element to the system's defence.

The other massive vessel was taken as a war trophy by the Mandalorians, and the last I saw it was orbiting Mandalore. Many were inclined to scrap the vessel, but there was, the last I was on the planet, a growing voice to turn the vessel into a defence platform and training facility. That was my preferred option, and using my position as War Leader, I had expressed that. However, I wasn't pushing the matter as I felt it was a choice for the Mandalorians to make, not me. No matter how useful a defence platform over Mandalore would be with the coming war.

"Queen Amidala has asked me to again relay her thanks for your help in freeing our world, and ask that you might visit when you have time." There was a hint of something in Palpatine's smile. As if he suspected Padmé had ulterior motives for the invitation. "I've been informed that your villa is ready whenever you arrive."

I'd tried to get the pair to not offer me the villa, but they insisted I deserved it. Beyond being officially made a citizen of Naboo, as the Hero of Naboo, I needed an official residence. Palpatine had suggested a villa in the Lake District, somewhere close to where he and Padmé's family had residences. Padmé had agreed instantly with the idea, ignoring my concerns about a Jedi owning property. Thankfully, Palpatine hadn't mentioned the apartment Damask had granted me in Kaldani Spires, but I knew that if I'd protested too much, he'd have found a way to hint at me already having property to my name.

"I will keep the offer in mind, Chancellor. For now, I will simply wait for the Force to offer a hint of where my next adventure lies." I continued to be vague about my location and intentions to not tip my hand. He'd be able to determine which sector I was in by having someone analyse where this communication ended. Amusingly, if he'd called me a few days ago, then I'd have been able to swing over to Naboo. Dagobah was located close, relatively speaking, to the planet, but even if the call had come in then, I'd have likely not stopped by. I didn't want Padmé, or Sabé for that matter, getting the wrong idea.

"On the subject of Naboo and the Federation, I assume you've heard of the accident?" he asked, his smile falling.

"No. I've not spent much time on the Holonet, and mentions of the Federation often have me changing the signal," I replied having been out of the loop for the last few weeks.

"Entirely understandable. However, there has been an important, and unexpected development. Viceroy Gunray is missing and presumed dead along with the security escort."

"What? How?" I asked, curious to learn how HK had pulled the assassination off. Since I didn't know when or how it would happen, keeping my reactions genuine was easy. I'd even gone so far as to insist neither HK nor R2 mention anything about the plan until after it had succeeded. It now seemed that whatever plan, or series of plans as I suspected HK would've had redundancies in place, had worked.

"Can you secure your channel?" Palpatine asked. As much as I didn't want to, as it would grant him my exact location, I did as asked. What I was about to be told was obviously restricted information, and not doing as asked would lead to questions I didn't want to develop currently. After I nodded to confirm the channel was secured on my end, the Chancellor continued. "The details, as you can imagine, are under heavy security restrictions. Publicly, it's known that neither the Viceroy nor his escort and the ship he was travelling on, arrived at Coruscant. That is something my office was forced to confirm was the case. However, what I'm about to tell you cannot be repeated to anyone, not even the Jedi Council." There was the faintest of flickers of his lips, that if I didn't know the truth, might be dismissed as an issue with the Council.

"I don't think that'll be an issue," I replied, knowing full well I had no intention of speaking to any member of the Council for some time.

"The Senate Guard, working with Jedi, have concluded that the Viceroy was assassinated, however without proof of the fate of the vessel carrying him, or testimony from those escorting him, it cannot be confirmed."

"While I can't say I'm surprised that there was an attempt on his life," I said slowly, seeing no need to not be honest, "I'm shocked that it happened so suddenly. Was the ship destroyed in hyperspace?" I asked, postulating an obvious idea for why the security transport was missing and presumed lost.

"As I said, there is no proof currently, but it is the most likely outcome." He paused and looked down as if viewing a datapad or something similar. "About a day after the transport left Naboo, the ship made an unscheduled drop out of hyperspace. It was relayed to my office that the Viceroy had suffered a heart attack. The Jedi assigned to the mission were able to save him, but the preliminary report suggested the attack was the result of poison: one made from plants local to Naboo."

"I assume you've spoken with Queen Amidala and Captain Panaka about this?"

"Yes, and investigators have arrived there to search for a trail to the perpetrators. However, as I noted, the attack failed, and the ship re-entered hyperspace. That was the last time we had contact with the vessel. The working theory is that a secondary method, one that would cause an accident with the hyperspace engines, was activated when the Viceroy survived the first attempt."

I leaned back in my chair, considering the matter. "That seems likely, but that an assassin, one with a clear grudge against the Viceroy, moving from targeting him only to innocent members of the Senate Guard and Jedi Order is a rather large leap." I paused, and after realising what I was doing, pulled my hand from my chin in disgust. "Have the Council offered any insight into the matter?" I was curious as to which Jedi had been assigned to escort the Viceroy. I knew it wasn't Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, but I wondered if perhaps, this incident had resulted in the death of a senior Jedi, if not a Council Member. Regardless of which Jedi had died, I knew HK would be proud that he managed to defeat another member of the Order, though I was sure he'd have preferred to do so directly.

"Beyond being as annoyingly vague as ever," Palpatine started, making me smirk in agreement, "All they have confirmed is that the Jedi Knight assigned to the mission has become one with the Force. Given the difficulty there is in killing a Jedi, that has led me to accept the Viceroy, and the men I assigned to guard him, are already dead."

"I won't comment on the Council's thinking, nor that, as much as they might not like admitting it, Jedi have been dying at a higher rate than normal the last few years," something I knew he was well aware of and was enjoying, "but I'd agree with your logic. If the assassin could kill a Jedi, then the Viceroy and the Senate Guard would be child's play in comparison."

My mind was already playing over what HK had done, and while it seemed easy to consider I knew it wouldn't have been. The poison would've required anonymous contacts with a supplier, along with a dead drop. He'd then have had to find a way to have the poison added to the Viceroy's food; probably by reprogramming the food preparation droids to ensure it passed checks. From there, he'd have had other steps to consider, but a backup to the poison was logical. Haran, I suspected he had several in place, and the destruction of the transport was just the one that had worked.

"Yes, which is why the investigators believe the ship is destroyed and everyone onboard dead. However, without proof, I cannot reveal details to the Senate, the Republic, or the people of my homeworld."

"As a Jedi, I can't find enjoyment in the Viceroy's death," I began slowly, figuring I could use this moment to improve my standing with Sidious. "However, given the suffering he caused on Naboo, and no doubt on other worlds through the Outer Rim, I find it hard to mourn his passing. That said, the loss of innocents to ensure his removal is unacceptable."

"As a son of Naboo, I agree wholeheartedly," Palpatine replied with a nod. "However, as Chancellor, I'm concerned by the impression this gives of the Republic's ability to bring criminals to justice. And of how it weakens my government when we were planning for the Viceroy's trial to be the first sign that we would move to clean up the corruption in the Senate and beyond."

"That's easy to fix," I said with a small smile. "The invasion of Naboo happened under the watch of Chancellor Valorum, as did the Senate not moving to help a sovereign world of the Republic. It is a simple matter to subtly shift the blame to him."

Palpatine nodded. "My advisors had already suggested that approach, though I was reluctant to do so. For all his flaws, Finis did the best he could with the situation in the Senate." He shook his head, a small chuckle slipping from him. "Again, for all your distaste of politics, you show skill for playing the game."

"Less an interest in the game, than the simple offer of advice for a friend," I countered. "I'll leave the screaming masses of self-interested fools to you, Chancellor. I have neither the patience nor way with words to stomach such an audience."

"I suspect you undersell yourself," Palpatine replied with a kind smile. "Still, I'm thankful for the suggestion. On other, happier matters, it might amuse you to know that I have introduced legislation to appoint a co-Chancellor so I might have support for handling the Senate."

I blinked, caught out by the announcement. "Oh? Really?" I gulped hard as a horrid idea came to mind. "Please, tell me you're not going to offer that to me?"

Palpatine's head snapped back as deep, highly amused laughter rushed from him. "Heavens no!" He replied once he'd recovered. "Beyond knowing you would want nothing to do with the position, Republic law forbids any Jedi from holding public office. While it would be amusing to see your daily reaction to the Senate, I have another in mind for the role." As he paused, I felt a shift in the Force and a sudden well of concern formed within me. "There is much that I must deal with each day that any changes I wish to bring forth are already drowning under other minor, inconsequential matters. That is why I wish to split the role between two individuals and appoint someone with the gravitas and strength of will to join me in leading the Republic."

"That makes sense," I replied slowly, the well of concern slowly growing into a pit of despair as the Force continued to shift awkwardly around me. Something was happening that would change the course of history, and while I didn't know what that was, I knew it wasn't going to be good for me.

"It does indeed. And I believe you will approve of my selection: Magister Hego Damask."

My mouth opened, yet no sound emerged as I processed that Plagueis was going to join his Apprentice as the leaders of the Republic. everything I'd been working toward, and planning for had just grown a thousand times harder as now there were two Banite Sith Lords in control of the Republic.

My mind rushed through every interaction I'd had with the Banite Sith. From posing to Palpatine's nephew during a mission, through the seemingly random meeting with Plagueis on Mandalore to our discussions on the threat posed by the Vong. Somewhere along the way, things had altered so that Sidious didn't kill his Master, and now both Banite Sith Lords sat atop the very galactic government they planned to overthrow.

"How… unexpected?" I managed to get out, struggling to comprehend just how fucked I was.

Palpatine laughed loudly again, enjoying my confusion and shock. "It is, and your reaction has won me a very expensive, and very enjoyable casket of wine from the Magister." I blinked as he lowered his head in thanks, shocked that they'd bet on my reaction. That Sidious had predicted my reaction best wasn't a surprise as I'd had more interaction with him over the years. However, that they'd been willing to make such a bet in their public personas – I dreaded to think what they might've bet in their true forms – was unexpected, and perhaps, deeply troubling.

"W-well I'm glad to have helped you there, uncle, though I'm still struggling to understand this change."

"That is very apparent," the Chancellor replied with mirth. "However, thinking about the problems I was facing as Chancellor, and then remembering our discussions about several private matters," that was a clear reference to the Vong, "I felt I could kill two kath hounds with a single shot." He leaned closer and his volume dropped slightly. "When everything has settled down, perhaps we might all gather to discuss our shared concerns and how, with the changes I'm bringing forth, we might address them."

"Of course, uncle."

I would be willing to speak with them, but things for me were unlikely to settle down. At least not for several years as I had every intention of staying as far away from the pair, the Order, and Coruscant, as I could. The plans for myself and Anakin weren't set, but they would keep me busy enough that a trip to the Chancellor's office could be delayed for long enough that, by the time I knew I had to speak with them, I'd be able to hide the changes I'd undergone. Or at least play them off as improvements I'd made while taking my sojourn.

There was the chance that the Force would have plans of its own for me as well, but I felt I could work my current plans around them. Well, unless I somehow got dragged into a quagmire of a war somewhere that I'd never heard of.

Palpatine nodded, pleased at my agreement, and the reference to our faux-status as distant family. "Good. Now, onto other matters, and the primary reason I called." The console for the holo-display beeped, indicating an incoming datapacket. "The designs for your new limb have been finished," Palpatine said as I opened the file and saw four designs appear. "Since I wanted you to have some choice, there are options and for most, various sections are interchangeable. Every design has significant sections internally that have been left empty as I suspect you'll want to add features that weren't suggested for the designs. Much as you have for the Mandalorian gauntlets you wear."

"These… these are impressive," I said as I explained the first two designs. The circuitry, at least what was shown in designs sent over the Holonet, was arranged in ways that I didn't have much hope of understanding. Still, I could see that each design was state-of-the-art. So much so that Palpatine would've had to reach out to some very important and isolated people to have the designs commissioned.

The exact material the designs used for outer shells wasn't clear, but that was fine. I had plans to have those constructed of beskar or phrik; the choice depended on what I could get my hands on. As for the internal spaces, I had some ideas.

"Please, pass along my thanks to whoever you contacted to design these, and accept mine for doing so. I know you are extremely busy installing your people and ideals on the Senate and Chancellor's office." Palpatine bowed, accepting the praise.

"I'm pleased that you're accepting the designs without complaint. The designers are some of the more eccentric individuals I've ever had the pleasure of meeting." It was clear from his tone that he didn't think dealing with the designers was a pleasure, but he'd done so anyway. "Once you've selected your preference, shall I have the designer arrive on Coruscant to help oversee the construction and fitting of the arm?"

"So long as it wouldn't cause you issues, I'd prefer to have the arm built elsewhere," I replied.

"No, there wouldn't be. The designers were informed of this when they received the order, however, each expressed interest in being present for its development. Might I inquire as to where you plan to have the limb built?"

"Mandalore. I hope to convince the ruling figures to allow me to have beskar used in its construction." There was little need to hide that as the moment I asked for further help, or needed to speak to the creator, Palpatine would know where I was. Haran, he probably already expected me to choose Mandalore.

"I had already stated that as the intended destination for the full designs," Palpatine said with a smile. "Once you have chosen the design, I'll inform the creator of your location. I expect they will contact you or Duke Kryze so that they might oversee the creation of their masterpiece."

"Once I decide, I'll alert the Duke to prepare for the creator's arrival," I replied with a nod of thanks. "And again, my thanks."

"As I and Queen Amidala have said several times already, it is we and our people who have and will continue to, thank you for your actions, Cameron. Without them, and the sacrifice you personally made, our people would have remained enslaved and at the mercy of the Federation." I could tell he wanted to ask about Maul, but he couldn't. The matter, while he was aware I fought a Sith, the Jedi Council had, with him present, forbade me from discussing the matter with anyone. While I intended to obey that with most, others – including the Mandalorians and a handful of Lokella who had access to the full Battlenet – were already aware of my duel with Maul. Haran, Osto and others had taken the defeated Sith from the planet before the Council and Chancellor had arrived. "All I ask is that, once the limb is constructed and designed, you allow me to view it. I, and Queen Amidala, will be relieved to know you've been at least partially compensated for your sacrifice."

"Of course, uncle, and again, thank you."

He smiled, and then, understanding the time was up, ended the call. Once the link was closed, I leaned back in my seat and sighed deeply. While the designs for the replacement arm were amazing, and likely far beyond what either Anakin or Luke had used – a part of me was reluctant to accept any gift from Sidious. Or Plagueis for that matter.

Now, the replacement forearm and hand were going to be built by engineers chosen by Adonai and Dred Yomaget from Mandalmotors, but I had no way of knowing if Sidious hadn't instructed the designers to insert some form of tracker. Or possibly a section of code to allow remote access. I didn't think Sidious would stoop to something so simple as a method to track me, but just in case, if it could be wrangled, I was going to have two arms built. The second model would have its wiring and coding, if I could find someone skilled enough to do so, entirely replaced. That way, if the original model was corrupted or infected, I'd have a spare.

Before I could do that though, I had to head to Mandalore. My hand moved over the controls, determining where we'd have to change hyperspace lanes. Once the changes were made, I leaned back, letting my thoughts return to the surprise of Palpatine's call.

Hego Damask becoming Co-Chancellor was, in simplest terms, a fucking nightmare. I'd never know if this had happened, or would've happened if Sidious hadn't killed Plagueis, in the other timeline, but I had to deal with it now. No matter how I looked at it, things had gotten exponentially harder for me to survive what was coming. The future, as people loved to say, wasn't written and always in motion, but having two Banite Sith ruling the Republic was not how I'd ever wanted things to go.

My only hope, which was a slim one at best, was that it would take the pair longer to begin the war that would bring about the destruction of the Republic. That and the fact that I had the Chosen One at my side. It was going to take a fucking miracle to get us both ready for what awaited us on the horizon, and I knew I couldn't slack off in our training. Haar'chak, I'd probably have to find a way to tip over the board before the game began if I wanted any chance to win. The question, and it was going to sit in my thoughts for some time, was how to do that.

… …

… …

I watched as the mechanical fingers responded to my mental commands and slowly clenched and then unclenched. The wrist then moved, rolling around in a fluid imitation of what flesh and blood should do. As with the forearm I'd lost, I couldn't see the joints in the replacement moving, though the surface wasn't solid or covered in synthflesh. Instead, small scales of beskar shifted around. There was a faint sound from them as they rubbed against each other, but not the screeching of metal I'd expected.

The entire surface was covered in beskar, blackened during the forging to give it a colour that matched my armour, though it retained the distinctive patterns of the alloy. For the joints like the wrist, the surface wasn't solid, instead, it was made up of smaller sections that shifted around each other as the hand and fingers moved. As far as I could tell, no matter which way the limb moved – and in theory it could move in unnatural ways but I'd yet to test that – the internal circuitry and servos remained covered and protected.

"How does it feel?"

I turned and looked at the Arkanian designer of the limb, Hakan Ron. The male was an egotistical shebs'palon, yet his blueprint was a masterwork in the field of high-end cybernetic replacement limbs. Even when compared to the designs submitted by other designers. So much so that, from what I'd read on the man, many approached him for replacement limbs even when they didn't need one.

"It itches," I replied as I turned to face the Arkanian, the limb reacting to my thoughts and shifting around to present itself to him.

"That is to be expected," Ron replied with a half-sneer. "While the design is flawless, and the Mandalorian technicians have done an acceptable job of constructing my creation, the phantom, imaginary belief that something is wrong is a flaw of most sentients."

I ignored the insult, aware that Arkanians saw themselves as better than everyone else. Given the race's history of genetic engineering, that was hardly a surprise as through science they'd pushed their genome to its pinnacle. While there were many sub-species of Arkanians, even the lowest of their caste system was superior to the baseline Human in almost every way.

"If I might?" a Mandalorian asked as he stepped forward, medical scanner in hand.

Ron lowered his head and moved to allow the medic, one loyal to Duke Adonai and had been the one to oversee the fitting of Adonai's replacement leg, to come closer.

The scanner ran over my elbow, where the bone had been altered to allow the limb to be attached. I could, if I so wished, remove the limb with my other hand, however, the programming of this limb meant that others couldn't. It needed me to concentrate on commanding the levers that attached the metallic replacement to my elbow, and the beskar covers there, to slide back. Of course, if anyone wanted to remove it without my permission, they could slice through the flesh just above, but given that my armour was being altered to cover the connection area, they'd need to remove the armour to get at the flesh.

"No signs of rejection or infection," the medic said as they examined their scanner, drawing a sneer of contempt from Ron. Thankfully, the Arkanian bit his tongue on whatever insult he had ready for someone questioning his work. The medic looked up at me and smiled. "I'll have some medicine sent to your quarters, with dosages to take over the next week, but with your age, health, and the Force, I suspect I won't have to see you again."

"As much as I'm happy about that doc, thanks for your help."

The medic chuckled and nodded, before turning and walking away. That allowed Ron to step closer, his eyes examining his masterwork. "From what I'd heard about beskar, I didn't think it would be suitable for my creation, but it seems even I can occasionally make a mis-determination."

"I don't think they're going to let you take any of the alloy," I said quietly, a small smirk creeping onto my face.

"Yes, I'm aware of the cultural importance they place on it. Still, it was an interesting experiment to see how it, and our rare materials such as phrik, work for such limbs. It has granted me new insights into my future projects." He paused, his eyes scanning the limb carefully, looking for any flaw in the design. I knew his gaze would focus on the sections of the forearm where a hidden compartment was, but the edges were seamless from the outside.

While those had been in the initial designs because of Palpatine's specifications to the various designers, I'd chosen Ron's not just because it was a masterpiece, but because it had the greatest internal storage. Once the choice had been made, and I'd been placed in contact with the Arkanian, I'd asked what it would take to ensure the various servos and motors could generate enough force to crush durasteel. Ron had taken only an hour to alter the design and resubmit the revised plans to the Mandalorians.

It had delayed the construction of the limb for several days as we waited for the components needed. Several of them were extremely high-end or restricted, but a call to Palpatine ensured they were released for me. Because of those new components, and the beskar casing, Ron believed the limb could remove a blast door from its hinge. The issue, as he was more than willing to point out, was that the rest of my arm lacked the necessary strength to achieve such a goal.

With the Force boosting me, it would be possible for me to duplicate that feat with ease, but I wasn't at that point yet in my retraining. Nor, once I had regained my training with the Force, would I need to use such a crude method of entry. Still, the idea that I could rip such a door from its hinges was not something to ignore. The terror factor for whoever was on the other side of seeing me do that would probably be more frightening than learning I was a Jedi.

The internal circuitry was just as advanced as the servos and overall design. However, I only knew that because Anakin and the Mandalorian designers, once they'd signed agreements to not reproduce Ron's work without his permission, had gone over the design with awe and reverence. Still, even without the experience of the Arkanian, Anakin had seen a few small tweaks that Ron had missed. The Arkanian hadn't enjoyed having a Human child discover the minor – insanely minor in most cases – improvements, though his reluctance had lessened when he learnt Anakin was training to be a Jedi.

The beskar coating ensured that beyond the destructive power the limb possessed, I could use it to deflect blaster bolts and even if needed, grasp a lightsaber blade. And that was just the beginning of the limb's extra features.

A micro-laser capable of burning through anything short of beskar and blast doors, explosive rockets of either micro or super-micro size though they had to be reloaded after one or three shots for each finger, and a data-jack to allow the arm, and the interface built into the upper section of the forearm that connected to my armour's HUD, access to any system were all in the fingers. Hidden inside the palm was a sonic generator that while not capable of killing could disrupt the balance of almost any sentient and could be transmitted through the palm or the back of the hand, along with other, less combat-orientated uses.

The forearm had fewer extras, but that was by design. The underside of the forearm was largely empty to hide whatever I wanted to place there. The section was large enough for even a standard lightsaber hilt, though not for a curved hilt. Once my main blade was rebuilt, I'd be keeping the shoto blade there in case it was ever needed. The upper side of the forearm, apart from having a similar control interface to those found on Mandalorian vambraces, held a small shield projector. The generator in the arm could power that for ten minutes before needing a recharge. Depending on how much of my armour I was wearing, that could be recharged in anything from thirty minutes to just five.

While the additional features of the limb were impressive, they wouldn't have helped greatly against Maul. There, I'd gone in with more intention of taking him down than outright killing him. While that had cost me my arm, I'd managed, just barely, to achieve that.

Maul was currently secured somewhere in the Mandalore sector, though I'd yet to ask Adonai, Torrhen, or Osto where that was. All I'd been assured of was that the location was extremely isolated, had been designed for the detention of any Jedi or Sith prisoners the Mandalorians had taken over the millennia – and from what they claimed, no Force user had ever escaped – and was isolated enough that if Maul did breach containment, the entire facility and everything with a hundred kilometres would be vaporised by the defence systems.

All that had relieved me as I didn't want Maul escaping. Not only would that return him to Sidious' side – at least if he and Plagueis hadn't officially taken on the replacement for the Zabrak and Dooku – but it would make the Banite Sith suspect I knew more about them than they'd currently thought I did. Which was to say nothing whatsoever.

Of course, with Plagueis, via his public persona, about to become Co-Chancellor – the Senate had narrowly voted to accept the change in leadership – I wasn't sure that if he did escape Maul would return to Plagueis' side. Since the Banite Sith worked on the Rule of Two, there was every chance Maul wasn't aware of Plagueis' existence or was promised by Sidious that Plagueis would be killed before Sidious became Chancellor.

It would be some time before I met with Maul, as I had to train myself and Anakin first, but that would be one of the first pieces of information I'd reveal to the Zabrak. I wasn't sure how, if it was even possible, to turn Maul against Sidious, never mind working with me, but if Dooku felt Vosa could be useful, then I was willing to attempt the same with Maul.

"I believe you are free to depart."

I looked at Ron and realised I'd become lost in my thoughts again. "Right, thanks for this," I replied as I lifted my new limb. "Not sure how I'll ever repay you."

"Beyond the considerable payment from the Chancellor's office, seeing the design built, and in the hands of a Jedi, is all the payment I require. Still, perhaps we might keep in semi-regular contact? It is unlikely that the design suffers issues, or that improvements are possible, but I would be remiss to outright reject the possibility."

"Certainly." I reached forward with the limb and gently shook his hand.

"Based on your grip, I would suggest training to determine the required strength needed for various actions." The faintest of smiles came to Ron's face as he spoke. "Though I suspect you and your companions are eager to place the limb through its paces."

"Aye, you could say that," I answered as we stopped shaking hands. Bo, Naz, and Fenrir were all waiting for me outside the clinic/mechanical centre I was currently in. While there was little issue with them being present normally, Anakin's need to ask questions, along with Fenrir's sheer bulk, had resulted in them being asked to wait outside. Anakin had left at some point while I'd been here, HK heading off with him to make sure the boy didn't get into trouble. Or perhaps it was Anakin trying to make sure HK didn't cause issues. Either way, my Padawan – and son – wasn't present, meaning I'd have to hunt him down once I left.

Moving past the Arkanian, I saw an empty cup resting on a surface. Figuring I could test both my control of the Force and grip strength at the same time, I reached out with the limb. Using the Force through the replacement felt odd, with a strange cold sensation. As if the Force disliked the artificial joints demanding it work with them.

The cup lifted from the bench after a moment's delay, something I'd noted was common ever since I'd taken Natural Selection, and moved across the space between the table and me. Unlike the first few times I'd done this – which had taken place in private aboard Raven – the cup didn't approach too fast, or deform when I tried to grasp it with the Force. While that slight delay was something I was still getting used to, it was something all Force users were meant to experience and would lessen with training, and the power I could apply with the Force now felt so much greater. Fine-tuning how much intent I had to use while using Telekinesis was something I was still working on, but as the cup reached my hand I felt I was slowly getting that understanding back. Which, given applying the Force this way was one of the most basic methods of using the Force, was understandable, and a relief that it had recovered as quickly as it had.

The limb grasped the cup, and I could sense in my mind how much pressure was being applied. My grasp was firm, but I stopped before I felt the sensors in the limb suggest the cup was struggling under the strength of the grip. Ron was right that it would take time and effort to find the limits of what a flesh and blood limb could do, and how to safely go past them, but it was just another form of training for me to master over the next two or so years.

Turning the limb around, I examined the cup, checking for any hint of damage from my grip. Finding none, I tossed it into the air and then reached out to grasp the Force with the limb. Again, it felt strange, even more so than how my connection to the Force was since taking Natural Selection, but the cup stopped in the air. It was a little later than I'd have liked, and it wobbled for a few moments until I stabilised, and then floated back to the table it'd come from.

I grunted as the cup clipped the edge of the table, my grasp wavering slightly and the cup drooping low enough to not slide onto the table as I'd intended. That was annoying, but it was another little sign that I had to keep practising my close control with this Force ability.

Once the cup was back on the table I walked toward the door, and the second it opened, a large black mass rushed in. "Fenrir!" I called out, getting my arms up to stop the tuk'ata from launching himself at me, or before he could slobber all over my face. One foot slid back, stabilising me against the mass that slammed into me, yet I was relieved and overjoyed, as for the first time in over two months I was able to keep my face safe from Fenrir's attention.

I pushed him down, using both hands to scratch him, and thus distract him from his attempt to lick me, and then to see Bo and Naz standing in the doorway.

"He wasn't the only one worried about you," Naz commented, a gentle smile on her face. Her eyes, like Bo's, were on my arms, trying to get a good look at my new appendage.

I lifted the limb from Fenrir, who whined about the loss of attention, and held it out for the ladies to inspect. "Almost as good as before," I said, then smirked as I remembered the sonic ability for the hand and thought of an interesting way to apply that. "Perhaps, in some ways, better."

They moved closer, their eyes locked on the patterns in the beskar. "Not many have such a thing made of beskar," Naz said as her fingers came out, tracing the faint lines in the metal. Her eyes darted to mine, and the spark of desire there - which radiated like an open fire in the Force and was mirrored by Bo – made it hard to look away.

"Not many can afford it," Bo countered, forcing me to turn my head to the red-haired warrior that I knew would be sharing my bed tonight. Osik, even if I tried to stop them, I knew there was nothing that would keep both from sharing my sheets or much that would stop me from letting them do so.

What did catch my attention, ever since I'd returned to Mandalore, was that while I'd spent more time with Bo than with Naz, in every way, I felt a stronger draw to the blonde. I could sense her feelings and desires easier than I could from Bo. I put that down to Pre Vizsla's daughter having enough Force potential to at least be considered for training by the Jedi if they'd have discovered her at a young age. Still, I'd have expected a deeper connection with Bo simply because of the time, in combat and elsewhere, we'd spent together. Of course, another part of it could be that Naz was far more emotive than Bo, with the redhead not, in any way, a fan of public displays of affection.

The same was true when we were in private, at least to a degree. Naz was more submissive than Bo, and because of that, seemed more willing to express herself in the bedroom, or any other room for that matter, than our shared lover. Bo had to be beaten, but once that was done she was as pliable as Naz.

Initially, I'd kept the pair away, worried how Serra might react to sensing that I was enjoying myself while she continued to mourn her dead Master. I'd not yet reached out to her but planned to do so soon. Yet, after three days of the pair making it clear I could have them if and when I wanted when they walked onto Raven on my fourth day here – which was the night before – I'd given in and enjoyed an evening with the pair. I might've had to limit what I could do with the Force helping me, but neither had seemed to mind, and both had risen late this morning.

"What does it do?" Naz asked, a curious smirk on her face as her fingers traced along the back of mine.

"I'll keep that a surprise until we get to the training ground," I replied, turning the hand to grasp her fingers between mine. "Where'd Anakin go?" I knew he was with HK, but where in the sprawling Clan Kryze complex we were staying in I wasn't sure of as much of the location I'd not yet explored.

"An'ika?" Bo shot back, her lips twitching. "He got bored of waiting and headed off to a hanger to inspect some of the clan fighters. Don't worry, your war-droid should keep him from trouble."

"More likely HK is going to encourage him to find trouble," I replied, making the redhead chuckle.

"Aye, you're probably right." She moved closer, placing a hand on my flesh-and-blood forearm. "But enough about him. We're more interested in what your new limb can do," she added, whispering into my ear. "On and off the battlefield."

… …

… …

(Anakin's POV)

He was struggling to contain his excitement as he sat in Raven's co-pilot seat. The stars were swirling around as they raced through hyperspace, something Raven enjoyed, yet Anakin couldn't wait for them to emerge. Cam had told him about Kuat, and the shipyards there, and ever since reading up on the system and company, Anakin had been struggling to contain his anticipation.

The slightest amused grunts came from his side, where Cam was flying Raven. While he wore a glove to hide the wizard new arm he'd gotten, Anakin knew it was there. He'd seen the design and still enjoyed going over it, seeing how that strange white-skinned-and-haired alien had created it.

While that alien had been smart, he'd reminded Anakin of many people on Tatooine, before Cam had freed him and his mother. The alien - Cam had said the species was Arkanian - felt himself better than everyone else, and while Anakin understood the alien was smarter than most, the way he behaved wasn't right.

There was a brief moment when, thinking about Tatooine and his mother, where Anakin felt sad. He missed her and wished she could see him now. There was also that flicker of anger to find the Hutt responsible and kill them, but he didn't dwell on that. It wasn't the way a warrior, a Jedi, should think. However, he knew that, once he'd completed his training, and Cam felt he was ready to be a proper Jedi, then he'd help free others. Cam would be with him, as would Bo, Fenrir, and others and they'd make sure that slavery could be driven from the galaxy. Something the Republic, for all its seeming power, couldn't do.

Anakin understood that the Republic had its flaws; Cam's recent mission to Naboo where he'd lost his arm was proof of that. Yet, Anakin still had hope. Not just because he was being trained to be a Jedi, but because Cam had promised him that once he was ready, they'd move against the ones responsible for the death of his mother and others. Bo and some other Mandalorians had even promised to help.

They'd only left Mandalore a few days ago, and Anakin could admit he missed the planet. Or at least time spent with Bo. Unlike many others, she'd never treated him as a child. Instead, she'd shown him how to use blasters, including how to clean and maintain them. The other Mandalorians he'd met on their world, had done likewise, and he'd enjoyed spending time with those his age. They weren't like the children of the Lokella, or the friends he just about remembered from Tatooine. No, they, like him, were training for battle. To fight for themselves, their families – though they called them clans – and others.

It was still odd to hear others call Cam his father, and he knew Cam felt the same. Yet, at the same time, it made sense. From what Anakin had learnt about the Jedi, the Knights and Masters of their Order took younglings as trainees, and helped guide and raise them into becoming full Jedi. Anakin felt that was what a father should – help their child grow powerful enough that they could protect others.

To the Mandalorians, Anakin was one of them, which before Cam had freed him from slavery, Anakin would've found strange. How could someone not born to a planet or species be considered one of the people? Yet, after years with the Lokella, and the mix of races there, he understood the idea now. He knew he wasn't a full Mandalorian, that wouldn't come until he was thirteen and he completed his hunt, but Anakin already knew he would do everything he could to pass that test. Especially as it would force Bo to stop calling him An'ika! He disliked that term, even if he understood she used it because she cared about him.

He wasn't sure if he'd be able to match Cam's kill, but he was going to try. Already he had a list of beasts that, from what the Holonet said, were comparable in danger to a greater krayt dragon, though he'd not shown the list to Cam. He knew his friend… his father, wouldn't approve. The droids did though.

HK-47 was a wizard of a droid. He knew more about combat than even Bo and was happy to teach Anakin, when Cam wasn't around, how to fight against various races and groups. Even mentioning ways that a Jedi could be killed. Anakin had thought that impossible, but Bo had revealed that the Jedi Battlemaster – one of their greatest warriors – had fallen to the Sith that Cam had defeated. While learning that a Jedi could die was shocking, Anakin was proud to be Cam's Padawan. He was learning from one of the greatest Jedi ever!

Now, Anakin disliked being called a little meatbag by HK, but he knew the old droid didn't mean anything by it. It was how he referred to everyone except Cam and the droid's creator. Anakin was amazed that HK had been built by Cam's great-grandfather, and one of the most famous Jedi to ever live. Kriff, Cam had let Anakin read the full Knights of the Old Republic series of holonovels he'd written. According to Cam and HK, who'd been there, the accounts were generally accurate, and Anakin was still struggling to process that Revan, one of the most famous Jedi of all time, had been a Sith.

From what he knew, the Sith were evil, though Cam had warned him not to think in such absolute terms. While Cam was keeping things from him, which Anakin both hated and understood, he had explained the core difference between the Jedi and Sith. The Jedi worked with the Force, accepting its judgement and guidance. The Sith bent the Force to their will and made it do what they wanted.

At the time, Anakin had thought that meant the Jedi served good and Sith evil, but the more he'd thought about it, the less certain he was. The Force, as it had been explained to him by Cam and Master Dooku – one of the few people Anakin willingly called 'Master' without any concern of the term – didn't always want to do what many would consider right. That had Anakin questioning if the Jedi did all they should to protect the galaxy, or if they didn't because the Force didn't want them to.

A faint, but familiar shift in Raven's behaviour, along with a gentle shift in the flow of power through her frame, brought Anakin's mind back to the present. That change in Raven meant they were about to drop from hyperspace.

"Not just yet," Cam said, amusement radiating from his tone and through the Force.

"But we're close," Anakin said as he looked at his father, "I can sense Raven's excitement."

As he spoke, his eyes were drawn to the glove on his left hand. The glove meant those who didn't know wouldn't see it and thus wouldn't ask about it. With the various features the limb had, Anakin understood that applying synthflesh was a mistake as the moment one of those features was activated, the synthflesh would rip.

Anakin had seen Cam practising with the limb before they'd left Mandalore, and while he didn't want to lose an arm, he could see the use of the replacement Cam had. It was like he was wearing part of the Mandalorian armour even when in nothing but Jedi robes! Of course, even under his robes Cam wore much of the armour, but Anakin was happy that even without his lightsaber, though he did have his shorter backup one, Cam wasn't unarmed.

"Fair enough," Cam replied after a moment staring at Anakin before turning his full attention to the controls.

Anakin watched as Cam's fingers moved over the controls. While Raven responded instinctively to Cam's requests, the reverse wasn't quite true. Cam had always been off in the Force, though Anakin was only now beginning to understand that. That he, a child only just beginning to understand and use the Force could sense Raven and Fenrir's feelings better than Cam had always been an odd thing.

However, ever since they stopped on that swamp world, Cam had changed. Or at least how he appeared in the Force had changed. Cam, even with him seemingly closing himself off to the Force – not that Anakin understood how that worked yet – to Anakin, it was as if whatever was blocking him from sensing Cam was gone. Like someone had suddenly thrown open the blinds of the only lit room on the darkest of nights.

Within that light, even now as muted as it was, Anakin could sense something different about Cam. There was danger there, a threat. Yet, for all that he didn't understand where that had come from – either it had always been there, or was only a recent change – Anakin wasn't scared. He knew that the danger radiating from Cam would never be directed at him. That, whatever it took, Cam would protect him, and their odd, extended family.

If Anakin told anyone about those he considered family, they'd think him crazy. While Ferox, Lia, and Cam made sense, the others wouldn't. Yet to Anakin, they were all one giant, if odd, family. From Masters Dooku and Fay down, through Bo, Simvyl, HK and R2, to Fenrir and Raven, Anakin considered them all family. While the first two came from him the rest, even him, were centred around Cam.

Master Fay, before she'd left on whatever adventure she was still on, had explained that Cam had some sort of destiny. That the Force had a plan for him, more so than it did for other Jedi. She'd also hinted that the Force had plans for him, but Anakin wasn't sure if he liked that idea. He'd been under the control of another once before, been forced to do as Watto demanded, and he didn't like nor miss it. Now, he knew the Force wasn't like Watto, but the idea that someone controlled him, and decided what he'd do and where he'd go didn't sit right. And when he considered his mother, and what had happened to her, he found himself unsure about the Force, as if it was guiding him to where it wanted him to go, why had it let her die?

Shifts in Raven's sensations confirmed they were about to exit hyperspace, and Anakin pushed thoughts of his mother and the Force aside. He leaned forward, his hands gripping the top edge of the consoles at his station – not that he used them while Raven was in hyperspace – and felt his excitement growing. An amused chuckle slipped from Cam, meaning he could sense Anakin's joy, but his father didn't say anything, and a moment later, they slipped out of hyperspace.

Anakin felt his eyes widen, trying to take in everything he was seeing. "Whoa," he muttered as their view was taken up by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of starships moving around. They varied in size, shape, colour, and every other way under a sun; almost to the point that the distant star of the system risked being blotted out by the sheer number of vessels moving around. "So many."

"Coruscant's worse," Cam commented, "and more organised."

Anakin ignored the comment. As much as he longed to see the capital of the Republic, to walk through the halls of the Jedi Temple, Anakin knew they wouldn't be going there for a while. Cam was adamant they weren't heading there anytime soon, and while he didn't understand why, Anakin felt he understood Cam's reluctance to be there.

Lines of freighters, ranging in size from about the size of Raven up to massive bulk hauliers, moved to and from the main planet of the system, as if spokes on a wheel extending out into the heavens. A pair of YT2000s broke from one line, heading toward them. No, toward the jump point. Anakin, in a flash of understanding, realised the system would have assigned jump areas for ships to come and go. Otherwise, if they dropped from hyperspace closer to the planet, or one of the long lines stretching out from it, they might cause an accident.

The freighters moved closer, a flight of four escorts moving in behind, as other smaller patrol craft buzzed around the various lines of ships. looking, when seen against the giant bulk freighters, to be little more than flies on a bantha's back.

Anakin's eyes shifted down the spears of ships that extended outward, his gaze turning to the massive metal ring that encircled the planet. "Wizard." He'd read about it on the Holonet, even seen images, but laying eyes upon it was another matter entirely.

Near the ring, rising as if moving to see its domain, the frame of a ship so massive that it dwarfed everything nearby emerged. Anakin strained, trying to see which ship that was, and the Force helped. The lines of the distant vessel became clearer and sharper, and he thrust a finger forward. "T-that's a Praetor-Class!" He called out excitedly, struggling to not jump about in his seat.

The Praetors were massive ships, at one point the largest warships ever built in the Republic at four kilometres in length. Now, centuries after their initial design, they'd been surpassed by others, but that ship dwarfed even Mtael's Gift and the giant ringed ship that was now orbiting Gaia in the ShaDo system.

"Yes, and if you look to the right and further back, that appears to be a Mandator."

Cam's statement had Anakin's gaze jumping around, trying to find the even larger vessel. If not for the belt Cam insisted he wear whenever he was in the cockpit, Anakin felt he'd have jammed his face against the transparisteel viewport to get a better look at the pride of Kuat's designs. "Wizard!" he shouted as he laid his eyes upon the shadow slowly rising over the Kuat ring.

It didn't take him long to see as at eight kilometres long, the Mandator was, according to Kuat Drive Yards, the largest warship in the Republic. It dwarfed even the Praetor as it rose, reminding Anakin of stories where a king stepped onto his throne to survey their domain. Yet, for all its size, the Mandator and those that came before were wrong.

When reading the files on the massive Star Dreadnoughts, Anakin had noted that every one of them was under-armed and underpowered for a ship their size. He'd learnt that this was because of the Ruusan Reformation, and could see the reasons for that law, but it felt stupid to Anakin. What was the point of building something that powerful, and making it unable to do its job?

A beep from the communication console broke Anakin from his thoughts on the mighty vessel, and when he turned, he saw Cam had opened the channel.


The image of a Human man, older than Cam but younger than Master Dooku appeared. The uniform made clear he was some form of security officer. "This is Kuat Yards Fleet Defence. Your ship is an unscheduled arrival in our system. Please state your name, that of your vessel, and the purpose for your visit to the Kuat system." The man paused for a moment. "Failure to comply will result in penalties ranging from expulsion from the system to imprisonment for you and the impounding of your vessel."

Anakin frowned, not liking the tone the man was using toward Cam. Didn't he know he was speaking to a Jedi?

Cam, however, found the greeting amusing and chuckled before answering. "In order, I'm Jedi Knight Cameron Shan. My vessel is named the Jade Raven, and I'm here with my Padawan to explore the system, and if possible, to speak to someone of skill and importance about upgrades and repairs to my rather unusual vessel."

Anakin smirked at the reaction of the man in the holocall. "Ah, I see," he blustered, trying to recover from threatening a Jedi. "My apologies Master Jedi, for my bluntness." Anakin snorted, not buying the change in attitude for a second. "We weren't expecting a member of your Order to arrive. Certainly not on a private vessel." The man paused and turned his attention to something at his end. "Your ship… It fails to match any record we have. Might I request, for our records, where the vessel was constructed?"

"Raven is a unique starship," Anakin agreed happily with that assessment, "so it's not a surprise she's not listed in your records. She was built on Zonama Sekot by the ship creators there." A confused look flashed over the man's face, meaning he didn't know the world. Anakin didn't either, only being aware of its connection to Raven. "I doubt you've heard of it as it's a small, out-of-the-way shipbuilder deep in the Outer Rim." While Cam maintained a calm tone when speaking, Anakin could sense his amusement about some private joke.

"Very well," the officer replied slowly, as if not buying Cam's words. "I'll have your details added to our records and will arrange a flight vector to a Republic hangar for you. When you land, someone will greet you to learn more about your needs. Fleet Defence out."

The channel closed before Cam could reply, and Anakin blinked at the behaviour. "That was rude," he muttered.

Cam started laughing at that, which had Anakin frowning. He disliked private jokes, especially when they were directed against him. As much as he was happy to be a Jedi and Mandalorian, there were times when Cam, Bo, Master Dooku, and others found something amusing, but he didn't know why. It annoyed him, especially when it was a reference to his training with Cam, but he hoped that, when he was older, he'd understand the jokes he was missing out on. Though perhaps not the ones that Bo often made toward Cam and that blonde woman.

"You'll find that, for many, after weeks, months, or even years doing the same thing, politeness is often lost. Too much repetitive work, and not enough satisfaction with their job means that they can barely be bothered to go through the motions." As Cam spoke, one of Raven's consoles beeped, which Anakin knew meant she'd received new flight data. Before Cam could look at the new path, Anakin felt Raven turning, moving toward their new destination.

He'd never spoken to Cam about it, but Anakin had mentioned to Bo that he was jealous of Cam's connection to Raven, and of how the pair seemed to be of one mind at times. Bo had laughed and ruffled his hair – which he normally hated, but didn't mind from Bo or her friend – before explaining that the ship was born with a connection to Cam and Master Fay. She'd not gone into details, but the bond had shifted to Cam and grown stronger due to something that happened. That didn't help Anakin much, but when Bo said she was jealous of Raven as well, Anakin did feel better. Even if he felt she wasn't jealous in the same way he was.

"Still, he could be nicer. We're Jedi," Anakin muttered as he sat back in his seat. The annoyance at the man's behaviour faded quickly as he returned to gazing out of the viewport. While the flight path wasn't anything impressive, Anakin couldn't help but get excited as he realised they were moving closer to the Mandator.

A glance at the display meant he knew they weren't landing on the mighty starship, but they'd fly close enough that he'd be able to make out details. Which, a few minutes later, he would. Still, he understood that without the Force helping him, he'd not be able to make out the details he saw.

The lines along the hull, the various turbolaser, missile hatches, laser cannons, and other emplacements were definable. Anakin also saw slots where he felt there should be more weaponry. That there was nothing there was because of the stupid Reformation, and made the ship, at least to him, feel unfinished. As if it was going outside without all its clothes on.

Smaller ships, perhaps as big as Raven, slipped in and out of the various hangars in the Mandator, though what drew his attention was the massive bulge that rose from the top and sunk beneath the bow. It was large, though less than a quarter of the ship's length and Anakin knew that was the power core of the massive starship. That core was larger than almost all the other vessels in the system and generated enough power to keep a megacity powered for centuries. Or it would, if the core was ever fully powered as there was no need for it to ever be so. It lacked the weaponry and engines to require anything more than half power from the reactor.

Even if the Mandator, the Praetor and the other mighty vessels Kuat had built felt undressed, Anakin longed to get inside them. He wanted, no, he needed to learn how they worked, to see how the various features of such mammoth vessels were configured to work together. Perhaps if they were here long enough, Cam could arrange a tour for them.

The communication console beeped again, and Anakin wondered if the annoying officer was calling them back. Yet when the channel opened, there was a young woman there. She wore some form of uniform, but it was clear to Anakin that she didn't work from the same group as the previous caller.

"Hello there," Cam said with a friendly smile. "How can I be of assistance to a lovely young lady such as yourself?"

Anakin rolled his eyes, not liking Cam's tone. He talked that way with Bo and Naz, and while the blonde Mandalorian liked it, Bo seemed to get annoyed by it. At least that's why he thought they were busy fighting in Cam's quarters most nights. Or he hoped they were fighting as Anakin didn't want another sibling: at least not for a while.

The woman smiled back, one hand coming up to push back some hair. "Master Shan, I'm…"

"I'm not a Jedi Master," Cam cut in, giving her another smile, one that he'd used with Bo, Naz, and others. "Just a simple Jedi Knight, making my way through the galaxy." Anakin knew enough to know Cam did that to make the women happy, but only Bo seemed to not react to it. At least not immediately, but the longer he could go without thinking about what Cam was doing with Bo and Naz, the happier he'd be. All that adult stuff was gross.

"Ah, my mistake," the woman resumed, and while he didn't like seeing Cam behave this way with some random woman, Anakin could enjoy how easily his father could disrupt the woman's thinking. "Just to confirm, you're the same Cameron Shan who recently led the forces that liberated Naboo from the clutches of the Trade Federation? The same man that is friends with the Chancellor?"

"Possibly." Cam's tone was relaxed, yet Anakin could sense amusement rushing from him. As if this was all another joke that only Cam was aware of. Underneath that though, when the Chancellor was mentioned, Anakin swore he sensed something different. Not fear, but concern perhaps. Given the Chancellor was Cam's friend, was new to the job, and Cam held a clear dislike for the Senate, Anakin believed that was simply Cam showing concern for a friend. And if he was a friend of Cam's, then he was a friend of Anakin's.

"If you could manage it I require a more definitive response." The woman's tone had changed, matching the jovial one Cam was using, which meant Cam's approach was working. Anakin might not enjoy seeing this, but it was interesting to see how easily Cam could make the lady like him, and he wondered if it might work for him the next time he wanted Bo or Naz to show him some advanced weapons or technology.

"Then yes, as much as it pains me to be recognized, I'm that Cameron Shan. Though if there's someone out there pretending to be me, I'd like a word or two with them."

The woman smiled widely at the joke. "Then on behalf of my employer, I wish to extend an invitation to you and your crew to have dinner with him. He is most eager to meet the Republic's latest hero."

"If I might know who your employer is?" Anakin leaned forward, curious about that as well. That they'd want to meet Cam wasn't a surprise, as news of what had happened on Naboo was all over the Holonet. And with the changes to allow Co-Chancellors, it had returned, meaning Cam's name was back in the news. Cam disliked the attention, claiming it made it harder to do his job, but Anakin liked it. It meant he was getting trained not just by a friend, but by a hero.

"I represent the president of Sienar Design Systems, Raith Sienar." Anakin gasped, which drew a side glance from Cam. Anakin knew that name! Raith Sienar was regarded as one of the foremost names in shipbuilding, famed for several of the many innovations brought to the market by the parent company Santhe/Sienar Technologies. While SDS, and Sienar Fleet Systems – the company that produced SDS designs – mainly focused on smaller craft, the reactor cores of the Mandator and its predecessors were SFS designs. Anakin had always wondered what someone like Raith Sienar was like, and how he came up with his designs and innovations, and now the man was reaching out to meet Cam!

"I'm honoured that someone as important and respected as Raith Sienar wishes to meet me," Cam replied, keeping remarkably calm for someone learning they were meeting one of the most powerful, and in Anakin's mind impressive, people in the galaxy. "However, I'm curious as to why he wishes to meet a simple Jedi. At least beyond the reasons you mentioned when confirming my identity."

The woman smiled. "It would be better if Mister Sienar explained that to you personally." That was a non-answer, and Anakin hated those. However, if he was going to get to meet Raith Sienar, he could live with it.

Cam glanced at him, and Anakin nodded as slowly as he could, trying to hide his enthusiasm. He knew he'd fail as Cam would sense his excitement in the force, but he still tried to maintain as laid-back an appearance as possible. "Then, on behalf of myself and my Padawan, I accept," Cam said once he turned back to the woman.

"Excellent. I shall speak with Kuat flight control and have your flight vectors updated. While Santhe/Sienar Technologies doesn't maintain a permanent location in the Kuat System, Mister Sienar has rented a private section of the ring. One clear of the prying eyes of others."

"Provided I'm not about to step into a dispute between your boss and KDY, I'm happy to accept the altered flight plans."

The woman nodded, and Anakin sensed, even if she didn't show it, that she was impressed by Cam's response. "I assure you that there is nothing nefarious nor political about the invitation, Master Jedi. Mister Sienar simply wishes to meet not only a member of your Order but the Hero of Naboo."

"And someone he thinks might have the ear of the Chancellor, well one of the Co-Chancellors."

"Yes, that as well," the woman's respect for Cam ticked up slightly at him, displaying more understanding of the situation. Anakin didn't care about politics, but he knew that Cam having connections with Chancellor Palpatine would mean people knew him. He'd just not expected that friendship to result in the chance to meet Raith Sienar!

"Then I look forward to meeting your employer. I await the new flight details, though I hope Mister Sienar won't find my presence, and my lack of understanding about starships, or galactic politics disappointing."

"I assure you that Mister Sienar finds politics as distasteful as you, Master Jedi. He simply wishes to enjoy the company of a famous member of your Order." The console pinged, indicating it had received the new data. "You should have the new coordinates?" Cam nodded. "Then I, and my employer, await your arrival."

The signal cut out, and Anakin leapt. "Woo-hoo!"

"I take it you're excited about this?"

Anakin stared at Cam in disbelief. "Yes! Raith Sienar is one the greatest designers of starships alive today! And he wants to meet us!"

"Yes, he does. And by a chance of fate, SDS is one of the companies I have on my list for speaking to about upgrading Raven. Or at least seeing if it was possible to do so without hurting her." The lights in the cockpit flickered and Anakin sensed Raven's concern. "Don't worry," Cam said, placing his hand – the flesh and blood one – on a section of organic panelling. "I…" He glanced at Anakin. "We won't let anyone hurt you."

"Yeah, that's right," Anakin added, and the lights pulsed as Raven relaxed.

"Now, before we meet Sienar, I need you to be mindful of your words and actions," Cam continued now that Raven's concern was soothed. "As I said, his name, and that of SDS, were on the list given to me by Alor Dred. However, he was meant to be on Coruscant. While his presence here shouldn't suggest something is wrong, I want you to behave when we meet him."

"Yes sir," Anakin replied, even snapping off a joking salute.

Cam rolled his eyes at the action. "If we have time, which I doubt, then you can ask him a few questions about starships. But only if I allow it."

Anakin nodded rapidly. He'd behave. He would. Otherwise, Cam wouldn't let him ask his questions. The problem was he had so many questions he wanted to ask Raith kriffing Sienar that it would be hard to settle on just two or three.

… …

… …

(Cam's POV)

"Now, remember, best behaviour," I reminded Anakin as we walked down the corridor toward our meeting with Raith Sienar. However, unlike what I'd expected when his assistant had called us, we hadn't landed in a private dock, but aboard Sienar's personal cruiser, The Pride of Tion.

From the outside, the ships seemed relatively nondescript. The framework was one designed by Sienar Fleet Systems and appeared unimportant, bar the paint job which marked the ship as very clearly belonging to Santhe/Sienar Technologies. Near the bridge, under the logo for the main company, a smaller logo for Sienar Design Systems, the cutting-edge research branch that Raith had headed up until assuming full control of the company after his father's death six years ago, at the age of just twenty-two.

"I know," Anakin replied with a touch of annoyance. That was entirely unsurprising as I'd made the point to him nearly a dozen times since we'd first spoken to Sienar's assistant. She had met us when we docked with The Pride of Tion, and I'd learnt her name without the need to use Observe. I still had, of course, to see if it gave me any insight into Arle Keer, but nothing stood out beyond a faint hint of attraction. However, I didn't need Observe to sense that, and while there was little outward sign of that attraction, I still played into it while she gave us a tour of the Sienar flagship.

Well, she gave one to me and Anakin. Simvyl remained with Raven, while I'd insisted that HK and Fenrir stay behind lest they cause a scene either through an unadvised comment or action. R2 was given the chance to come with, but the astromech decided to remain on Raven as well.

The tour of the ship was, after a little over forty minutes, finally over and Keer was escorting us to the formal reception and dining section of the cruiser to meet Sienar.

What stood out, as we moved through the corridors, was that while the ship was decorated to an exceptionally high standard, nothing felt extravagant or over-the-top. Yes, the carpets we were treading on were, according to Keer, Wrodian carpets, with each section taking generations to produce. While sections of the corridors held displays of wealth, not every surface was covered with or held a podium for a work of art. Some even held models of vessels that Santhe/Sienar had a hand in developing.

Anakin had loved those, seemingly knowing every model, much to Keer's amusement, and happily answered any question the boy had, though, for a few, she had to turn to a datapad that was constantly in her arms.

The doors of the cruiser were made of chromium, with platinum edging and finishes, which I didn't particularly like as it made them seem like giant mirrors which blinded you if the bright overhead lighting caught them at the wrong angle. They did, however, have the effect of making each corridor seem larger than it was, which I had to believe was intended.

As we neared the meeting, my mind once more played over the chances of meeting one of the names at the top of Alor Dred's list. I understood that the Force tended to place me where it felt I needed to be, but this might be the first time it had – if it had been involved – ensured that I got what I wanted. Still, even accounting for the slight increase in my LUCK, I found it odd that the head of Santhe/Sienar Technologies, which was based in the Tion Cluster, would be met at Kuat. Even if they often collaborated on ship construction and design, SST and KDY were competitors in many of the same fields, so the chances of the head of SST being at Kuat when arrived were slim enough to have not been considered by me when I'd plotted our course for KDY.

As we rounded a corner, I glanced down at Anakin. His eyes were still wide, taking in everything around him, which made sense. Not only was Sienar something of an idol for my Ad, but this was his first official meeting as my Padawan. I'd gone over the rules of what was permissible before we'd left Raven and even reminded him gently at times during our tour. So far, bar his need to point things out and ask questions, he was doing well.

Keer stooped as we reached a set of doors. Unlike many of the others we'd come across, these were considerably larger, and decorated with engravings and inlaid with gems. The display was a touch gaudy to me, but if this was a room used for high-level meetings with VVIPs, then the display made sense.

"Mister Sienar will meet you inside once he has concluded his business," Keer said as he tapped a button on her datapad. The door slid open, exposing a large, almost cavernous room. "If you have any requests, be it for some food and drink or otherwise, please don't hesitate to ask one of the service droids."

"We will," I replied, placing a hand on Anakin's shoulder to stop him from racing into the room to examine the droids. "Thank you for the pleasure of your company," I added with a nod and wide smile.

Keer smiled back and returned the nod. Her outward response was otherwise calm but even with my connection to the Force dulled, I could feel her small interest. I wasn't planning to bed her, but there was no harm in being polite with the help, especially when it was as attractive as Keer.

Anakin raced into the room the moment I released my hold on him, and I chuckled. "Children these days," I said with a shrug before following him into the room. Keer remained behind, but I could feel her eyes upon me as the doors closed between us.

The room was large, with the ceiling two decks, perhaps three, above us. Murals of starships in motion, several of which I recognized as being made, or at least partially made, were dotted around sufficiently to make clear the importance of who we were about to meet. The walls themselves were dark blue, though they didn't appear to be painted but instead, some sort of decoration, while the floor was covered in a dark green carpet that, when combined with the walls, reminded me of an ocean.

In the centre of the room was a large circular table made of wood that reminded me of mahogany. Seats of the same wood, but with cushions of a similar shade to the carpet ringed the table, with each space – which was wide enough for three people to eat comfortably – having plates and cutlery made of either silver or platinum, while in the middle a large crystal starship dominated proceedings, though it wasn't of a size that it would prevent those on opposite sides of the table from seeing and speaking with each other.

"This place is wizard!" Anakin called out, his voice echoing around the room. He turned to me, his arms and with a wide smile, only to stop as I stared at him.

"What did I just say?" I asked as I walked toward him.

"Ah, right," his arms fell to his side while the smile shrunk. "Sorry. It's just that this place is amazing!"

"Yes it is," I said as I placed my artificial hand on his shoulder. "However, you need to remember that not only are you representing the Jedi Order, but our clan. As it's Alor, your failures reflect on me and may make others question our right to be in places such as this."

Perhaps it was a little underhanded to emphasise both roles we currently filled, as Jedi and Mandalorians, but I knew that Anakin had started placing more importance on the latter. Especially now that he was, to any Mando'ade we met, my son. I wasn't comfortable with thinking of him in that way, at least not often, but I expected that would change over the next few years.

"Yes sir, sorry." He looked down at the carpet and lightly shuffled his feet.

"I understand your excitement, but you need to learn to control it, not let it control you." I removed my hand and looked toward the table, wondering what ship the crystal was meant to represent. "Emotions aren't a bad thing, but you need to think before you act. Particularly when around powerful figures such as Raith Sienar."

"That is a title that could apply to you as well, Master Jedi." I turned at the voice, not having caught the faint sound of a door opening, to see a man entering. He'd come into the room from one of a half-dozen smaller doors that dotted the room, and I knew this was our host.

Raith Sienar moved closer, extending a hand as I noted his clothing. While it was of high quality, much like the decorations of this cruiser, it wasn't over-the-top or gaudy. "I'm sorry if I kept you waiting," he said as he extended his hand, "but an important matter of business ran longer than I'd anticipated."

"We've only just arrived," I replied as we shook hands. "That you're willing to meet us at all means waiting is a trivial matter. Someone in your position would, I imagine, find a hundred little matters daily that weren't intended but require your presence." As I spoke, I used Observe to get an understanding of the man, having to trust it alone for now until I felt comfortable using the Force in a complementary manner.

Raith Sienar
Race: Human
Level: 31
Health: 96% (Lack of sleep)
Age: 28
Force Potential: Low
Threat Potential: Low
Reputation: Neutral
Affiliation Loyalty: Raith Sienar (100%)
Emotional State: Curious
Raith is interested in meeting Jedi: particularly the one behind the recent liberation of Naboo and who has a direct connection to the co-Chancellors.
However, that interest is overridden by his desire to examine your starship.
He believed that all Sekotan vessels had failed several years ago and that yours is still working has greatly intrigued him.

Nothing there stood out, bar perhaps him knowing of my connection to Damask. Though that might just be him thinking my friendship with Palpatine would allow access to the Munn as well. A starship designer such as him being interested in Raven wasn't a surprise, and should, in theory, make it easier to discover what, if any upgrades were possible for her.

"Yes, that is sadly true. And while many of those issues require a personal touch, most can be delegated to my assistants or others beneath me," Raith replied, keeping an open, friendly smile on his face as we stopped shaking hands. "Something the Jedi are also known to do."

I chuckled at the comment. "I'm not sure many Jedi would phrase it that way, but you're not wrong. Many, if not most of the Order focus their attention inward on the connection we share with the Force than on the day-to-day activities of those living in the galaxy."

"While I know little about the workings of the Jedi, I do feel that many in the Republic have turned against the Jedi because of their apparent disinterest in others. Though that doesn't apply to you, does it?" he stepped back and seemed to take a second look at me. "The Hero of Naboo; a man whose name is on the lips of figures of power throughout the galaxy, including, from what I understand, that of our new co-Chancellors. One of whom hails from the very world you liberated." He smiled and shook his head. "If you were anyone but a Jedi, many would suspect your actions of having political intentions behind them," he added, gesturing toward the table.

"As I've told others, including Chancellor Palpatine, I have no interest nor patience for politics and would prefer to face off against armies of battledroids than the Senate."

"A wise choice. I personally cannot stand dealing with those who say one thing yet mean entirely another." He turned at that and looked at Anakin. "And who might you be?"

"Anakin Skywalker, nice to meet you!" Anakin blurted out as he took and shook Sienar's hand before it was fully extended.

"You'll have to forgive my Padawan," I began as Sienar smiled at the boy's exuberance. "He has an interest in starship and droid design and so greatly admires you."

"Oh, is that so?" Sienar looked back at Anakin and laughed. "I never thought I'd meet a Jedi who was a fan of my work. I'd have thought you spent more time thinking about the Force than caring about how a starship works."

"I only recently became a Jedi," Anakin said quickly as he released Sienar's hand, a slightly sheepish look my way coming before he continued. "Before that, I helped my mo… others repair and improve the various starships we had. And I helped with Cam's arm!"

Sienar turned to me, an eyebrow rising in curiosity. After giving Anakin a look, suggesting I'd be talking with him about giving away such information so freely, I pulled the glove over the limb, exposing the now black beskar that covered the replacement.

"Hmm, interesting." Sienar took a step closer, his hands moving toward mine, only for him to stop. "May I?" He asked, to which I nodded and as he lifted my hand, I used the other to pull back my robe, exposing the rest of the device. "This appears to be of Adasca design, though I believe I see hints of Xi Char philosophy in the way the sections flow together." Sienar was talking more to himself than us as his fingers moved over the surface of the limb. I knew where he was touching based on sensors in the limb, but only the hand provided more than a general sense of where I was being touched. After spending some time examining the arm with his hands and eyes, he looked at me. "An impressive piece of technology. One that, if I am correct, was rumoured to have been commissioned by Chancellor Palpatine less than two weeks after the liberation of Naboo."

"It was. While I didn't ask or expect it, I'd be a fool to turn down a work of art such as this design, which came from Hakan Ron of Adasca," I added, confirming Sienar's suspicion. "The beskar was a personal touch I arranged through contacts I have in the sector."

"Impressive that they allowed it. The Mandalorians are famously jealous of allowing anyone outside their cultures access to beskar, let alone to use it." He looked me over, wondering what I'd done to earn that right. "I'm sure there is a story there, as to how you became such a respected friend of the Chancellor. Still, I admit I'm more curious about how a Jedi lost an arm. While not invincible, I've been led to believe that defeating a member of your Order is extremely difficult."

"While Jedi aren't as they're often portrayed in the media," that drew a chuckle from Raith, "and we are highly skilled, we are still mortal and can be overwhelmed."

"Yes, I suspect that's true." Sienar returned his focus to Anakin. "Now, young one, might I ask where you studied and what sort of vessels you've worked on?"

"I, um, I learnt from my m-mother." The stutter when mentioning Shmi was understandable, though Sienar wouldn't catch the meaning behind it. "After Cam freed us from slavery, we joined the Lokella, and I got to work with them on their starships. Those varied from freighters to corvettes and even a few larger vessels."

"The Lokella?" Sienar glanced at me. "I don't believe I've heard of them before."

"It's a group of former slaves who formed a community and work to free other slaves." I kept my reply short, not wanting to dwell on the Lokella. While it was unlikely Sienar had connections with the Hutts, I couldn't discount it as those grubby slugs had their hands in many pots.

"Cam founded the Lokella!" Anakin blurted out, wanting to make me sound grander to one of his idols, and in the process, ruining my intentions of keeping the Lokella far from Sienar's thoughts. "It's because of him that they have so many ships and weapons."

"I just gave them the means to remain free," I added quickly, not wanting Sienar to probe much further. "What they've done since then is entirely on them, and I'm reasonably certain Raith Sienar didn't invite me here to discuss the actions of a minor group of former slaves."

Anakin frowned at my blunt dismissal of the Lokella, and I knew I'd have to explain my logic here to him later. For now, I kept my focus on Sienar, and his on me. Our time here was going to be limited, and I needed to get down to my reason for wanting to meet him; something he shared. At least according to Observe.

"While I admit I'd love to hear more, you are correct." Sienar again gestured to the table, and we began the short walk toward it. "I admit that while I, like many, am curious about your Order, and had hoped to speak to one of your Order for some time now. At least outside an official capacity. That I get that chance with the Jedi that dominates the airwaves, the Hero of Naboo, is an unexpected pleasure." An amused smile spread on his face. "Especially when, while reviewing the Holonet, I saw images of the Mandalorian dreadnought in orbit over Naboo along with three captured Lucrehulks." I reached the table, but I waited until Sienar was at his seat as it was bad manners to sit without the host's permission. "While the design lacks grace and style, it more than makes up for in function. At least given the number and variety of weapons that appear to be on its hull. Something that, unless I miss my guess, violates the Ruusan Reformation."

He reached his seat at that point and gestured for us to sit, and after I'd done so, I replied, "The Ne'tra Tal'ade is a relic of the New Sith Wars. Or it was," I chuckled, as did Sienar. "I can't comment on its payload, but I suspect that many in the Senate are concerned to see it combat-ready and violating a ruling that the Mandalorians never agreed to."

"Indeed, the mere presence of such a vessel likely stirs concerns of a Mandalorian resurgence across the galaxy," He acknowledged.

"The Mandalorians of today differ greatly from those of the ancient Crusades," I interjected, a hint of defensiveness creeping into my tone as I spoke on behalf of my people. "While many still yearn for war, our society is fragmented. It has been centuries since a new Mand'alor, a true leader, emerged. The galaxy has little to fear from us, at least for now."

"I meant no offence to your people or their traditions," Sienar quickly clarified, his hand raised in a conciliatory gesture. "I was merely agreeing with your assessment of how various groups, like the Cathar, might react to a Mandalorian warship near a Republic planet. Chancellor Palpatine has addressed such concerns by publicly expressing gratitude for Mandalorian assistance in liberating Naboo. I've heard rumours that he's even granted Mandalorians safe passage in their system. And with Magister Damask now co-Chancellor, I suspect this issue will fade from the forefront, except for the most ardent supporters of the Reformation."

"While the Reformation may have been a necessary political manoeuvre, I believe it was overly restrictive in its scope. The Mandator class, for instance, seems crippled compared to what it should be."

Sienar's smile in response to my critique was unexpected. "It's not often I encounter a Jedi with such views, but I've heard you're anything but typical. But enough about politics and my reasons for inviting you aboard my starship; shall we dine as we continue our discussion?"

"It would be our pleasure, Mr. Sienar," I replied graciously.

"Please, call me Raith," he insisted, his hands coming together in a light clap. "I dislike formal titles; they make me feel older than I am." I couldn't help but smirk at that. It echoed my sentiments about being addressed as a Master Jedi, especially since I hadn't truly earned that title.

"In that case, Raith, please call me Cam, and my Padawan here is Anakin," I suggested, nodding towards my apprentice as a few droids approached. Initially, they seemed like standard service droids, but upon closer inspection, it was clear they'd been customized to serve as waiters and mobile trolleys.

"Care for a drink, sir?" A droid with a copper hue, resembling C-3PO, inquired in a feminine voice as it approached, bearing a tray with three bottles. "Today's selections include Domaine de la Maison sur le Lac, Chandrilan Honey-Rose, or Hapan Gold."

"As much as I've developed a taste for Maison sur le Lac, I wouldn't mind trying something different. How about the Honey-Rose?" I mused aloud.

Maison sur le Lac was a prestigious wine from Naboo, one I'd often enjoyed in conversations with Palpatine. At two thousand credits per bottle, or so it was priced before the invasion, it stood firmly in the upper echelons of Republic wines. I recalled indulging in the fruity libation during Naboo's liberation celebration, seated beside Padmé and Palpatine at the heart of the festivities.

The Council hadn't been thrilled about that, but apart from fulfilling my duties as a focal point, I relished the meal and the company. Palpatine might be my adversary in the grand scheme, but he was a captivating conversationalist, and I considered him a friend—so long as I harboured no doubts about his true intentions and plans.

"An excellent choice," Raith commended as the droid poured the Honey-Rose into my glass. "I prefer the Hapan Gold. And what of your Padawan?"

Anakin shrunk into his chair when I looked at him. "Perhaps one glass," I said with a smile. He might be young, but he was a Jedi and Mando'ade, and I didn't want him to feel left out. "Though he'll sip it slowly and if he doesn't enjoy the taste, ask for something else."

Anakin looked at the droid as it moved closer. "Um, could I try the Domaine?"

I watched in amusement as Anakin watched the wine enter his glass while taking a sniff of my wine. It had a stronger scent than the Naboo wine and was a deep burgundy whereas the Maison sur le Lac was purple.

"Now, while we wait for my chefs to create something for us," I suspected they already had the meal planned out to a T. "Perhaps I might know more about you and your Padawan? Starting, if I might, with your unusual vessel."

I took a sip of the wine, savouring the sweet taste that it brought forth. After swallowing, and getting a slightly flowery aftertaste, I responded to Raith's statement. "You may, but I can't say how much detail my answer will contain."

Raith laughed and raised his glass to me. "A wise and intelligent answer. I see your friendship with Chancellor Palpatine has taught you at least the basics of the game?" I raised my glass to confirm his suspicion. "Such behaviour adds fuel to the rumours I've heard of your position in the corridors of power. While you're young, your name and recent feats – I'm aware you were part of the diplomatic team that negotiated on Zygerria – have many I know wondering if you might seek political office."

"Rules forbid a Jedi from being Chancellor."

"Yes, but only the Chancellor. Not, from what my lawyers have told me, from other positions of importance in the Republic. Perhaps not even from becoming co-Chancellor."

"I've often told Chancellor Palpatine that I'd rather face a rancor in combat than wade into politics," I remarked with a wry grin.

Raith chuckled in agreement. "Indeed! Rancors can be more agreeable than some Senators." Anakin's sudden cough into his glass drew our attention, and he visibly shrank in his seat.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

Raith waved off the apology. "No need to apologize. Might I inquire about the rumours regarding your familial ties to Chancellor Palpatine?"

I chuckled at the question, taking another sip of the Chandrilan wine before responding. Though different from Naboo's offering, it was a delightful beverage. I entertained the idea of acquiring a few bottles for storage aboard the Raven if I could find a suitable broker. Personally, I preferred ne'tra gal or a robust ale or lager, but I understood that not everyone shared my tastes.

"I was born on Talravin, but the records of my birth were altered for a mission where I had to pose as a distant nephew of the then Senator Palpatine. I'm surprised the records weren't changed back, but I suspect that the new Chancellor has likely used that connection to curry some favour with Senators predisposed toward the Jedi."

"I would be shocked if he hasn't. Just as I, if you'll permit it, might mention that we're acquainted with each other."

"I see no issues with you doing so. So long as I might do likewise when your name might open a door that would otherwise remain closed."

Raith stared at me for a moment before shaking his head and laughing gently. "You claim to not wish to play the game, yet understand how it works, and at such a young age as well. You are quite unlike anything I expected from a Jedi."

"Why be like everyone else when I can simply be me," I said in response, which drew a round of applause.

"Yes! Exactly!" Raith took a sip of his wine before he spoke again. "Now, dropping politics and such discussions, at least for now, your vessel has intrigued me ever since I saw it dock." He leaned forward, placing his glass on the table. "Unless I'm grossly mistaken, it was designed and built by the shipbuilders of Zonama Sekot.

"She was," I replied slowly, making it seem I was uncertain how he knew that. While Observe had told me he was interested in her, that he knew of Sekot, at least concerning starship design, made sense. That said, there was a faint sense in the Force that his interest went beyond the professional.

"Then I must ask how exactly it… sorry, she is still flying. I know of several individuals who possessed a ship built by the Sekotans, but around two years ago, if the rumours and snippets of information I've collected are accurate, every single vessel they'd built stopped working. The vessels, as incredible as it sounds, seemed to wither and die."

"I can't go into full details, as the Jedi Council have instructed me to not do so, but I'll reveal what I can." I knew I had Raith's interest, and was quickly determining the best way to use that to my advantage. "There was an incident on the planet as you say about two years ago. The incident was handled, but as we were leaving the planet aboard Raven, something unexpected happened. I don't know exactly what caused the issue, which you're saying happened to every vessel the Sekotan had built, but I felt Raven dying. Due to luck, perhaps some skill, and doing something my Master disapproved of with the Force, I was able to save her, and in the process, save the life of myself, my Master, and those with us."

Raith held my gaze for a while as if searching for what I wasn't saying. "Then it seems the rumours I've heard are true. The Jade Raven is, like other Sekotan vessels, partially organic."

"She is."

Raith leaned back, one hand coming up to rub his chin. "I can't claim to be an expert about the Force, but I understand that it exists in all living things." I nodded, confirming that. "Hmm, then you using the Force to save her makes, from what little I understand, sense. Something that, because they weren't trained as Jedi, none of the other owners of a Sekotan ship could achieve."

"That would be my assumption as well," I said, enjoying talking with Raith. He wasn't what I expected, at least not from the head of one of the largest companies in the galaxy. His interest in Raven made more sense now, and I didn't need the Force or Observe to know his interest in Raven was genuine, and based on a need to understand something unique in his field of interest. "The planet held some form of connection to every ship built there, and when whatever it was that happened, those vessels, for lack of a better term, died."

I'd continue to dance around what had happened on Sekot, but Raith had a far clearer understanding of everything that resulted because of the Vong attacking and then Sekot leaving than I'd expect anyone without official knowledge to have. Perhaps, with his position, he could be brought in on the truth regarding the Vong. The only downside of that would be bringing the man to the full attention of Palpatine and Damask.

He should already be on their radar for the buildup of forces they'd need for the Clone Wars, but I couldn't be sure if it was Raith, and through him, Santhe/Sienar Technologies, that much of the GAR or CIS technology came from. Or if he was a minor player in their plans, and by bringing him to their attention regarding the Vong I'd alter things in ways that would make my mission that much harder. Such as Damask becoming co-Chancellor.

That risk lay with every name Dred had given me, but Raith was one of the more powerful and prominent on that list. Which made this conversation, as oddly enjoyable as it was, far riskier than I'd expected.

"Then, with the Sekotans no longer producing vessels, and all other ships they have manufactured, for lack of a better term, dead, the Jade Raven is one-of-a-kind. There are many, both public figures and those working in the underworld, who would want such a vessel for themselves. Not that I'm one of those, I assure you," he added quickly as Anakin tensed.

"That is a wise decision," I said calmly, having used Observe to confirm he was honest in his assessment. If he hadn't been, then I'd be forced to see just what happened when I used the Force without much ability to control it. "And one I believe to be true."

"I'm relieved to hear you say that. Truly I am. However, while I have no interest in attempting to take the vessel from you, lest I anger both the Jedi and the Chancellor, I wish to ask if, perhaps, I might be allowed to examine your vessel more closely."

Even without the Force and Observe I could see the interest he held toward Raven. "Amusingly," I began as I smirked, "I had planned to seek out those with an interest in examining Raven. Your name was on that list, though I had little expectation of meeting you, it seems the Force felt that we should meet." Raith's brow rose, curiosity easy to see. "While Raven is an exceptional vessel, one I would, if you're interested, be willing to allow you a flight upon, her builders had a strict no-weapons policy. While for most of my work, that is fine, I seemed to encounter hostile situations at a higher rate than even other members of my Order. I'm unsure if weaponry can be added to her without hurting her, I hope to examine my options to increase her survivability."

"Yes, I see what you mean by the Force bringing us together. Most serendipitous but exhilarating." He laughed gently and then lifted his glass. "I eagerly accept your offer of a flight aboard the Raven and offer both myself and the minds at my company's most advanced research laboratories to examine if your wonderous ship might be improved upon."

I lifted my glass, and we clinked them together, confirming the deal, or at least the framework of one. We both knew there was more to be sorted out, but for now, we had an accord.

Just after that, the doors on one side of the room opened, and a trio of droids rolled in. Each carried several plates and behind them came another three models of protocol droids. The aromas from the plates reached us, and Anakin's stomach grumbled loudly, making Raith and me laugh.

"Perhaps," he started as the food reached us, "while we eat, I might ask some questions of a technical nature. That way I can get an inclination toward what Raven is capable of and what you're looking to improve upon."

"Of course. And once we're finished, provided your stomach can take it, I'd be happy to show you just what Raven is capable of when pushed." If things went well, that would be the first of several flights Raith Sienar would take aboard Raven, and I was sure that Raven would want to show off. She might not be sentient in a way many could understand, but she had a sense of pride and proving herself to others was something I felt she'd enjoy doing. Particularly if it led to her being improved without being hurt.

The hyperdrive and various other components the Sekotans had used in her construction were some of the most expensive units on the market, but someone like Raith Sienar would have, in theory, access to parts that weren't currently publicly available. Nor might they ever be so. However, if I could get one or two of those added or swapped into Raven, without hurting her that is, then I'd be more than willing to do so. And if the cost for that was acting as a personal pilot for Raith for a few weeks, and letting him experience Raven's full capabilities, it would be a price worth paying.

Even if, I suspected, I could afford some, if not most, of the parts.

… …

… …

A/N: Sometimes, even when you don't intend to alter events, you do.


As always, this story is cross-posted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.


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