Master Yoda and Mace Windu met with the three newest members of the Jedi Council in the Council chamber high above Coruscant.
"Yan," Windu asked, "could Sly Moore have been the Sith Master?"
Dooku shook his head. "No. I'm sorry, Mace, she was just too young to have been Maul's teacher, she must have been his replacement, The Sith Master is still out there."
"At least with his pupil dead he will lose his influence over the Republic government." Obi-Wan said grimly.
"Never the less I feel we should keep a closer eye on Senate." said Mace.
"I agree." said Yoda.
Obi-Wan shifted in his chair. "I must admit, without the clones Geonosis would not have been a victory."
Yoda lifted his head. "Victory? Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, this Clone War has."
"War is what the Sith wanted," Qui-Gon said quietly, "a Republic victory might serve his purpose very well."
Obi-Wan frowned at his old Master. "Are you saying we should lose? Or maybe not fight at all?"
Qui-Gon looked thoughtful. "Perhaps."
"We can't do that," Mace said shocked. "the Jedi are the sworn protectors of the Republic!"
"The Republic is corrupt, we all know it." said Dooku. "Perhaps it should fall, to clear the way for something better."
"What better?" Obi-Wan demanded. "The Separatists are controlled the by the Sith!"
Dooku's eyebrows rose. "So was the Republic Senate. The Sith has used us all, Obi-Wan, we have been maneuvered like game pieces to serve his purposes."
"Is there no way out of the trap?" the youngest Master demanded despairingly.
"We must do what we feel is right, and trust in the Force." Qui-Gon said serenely. "It will show us a way out - in Its own good time."
Amidala of Naboo sat in the Chancellor's office, the weight of her black and silver robes and nacre diadem pressing down on her, and the royal paint freezing her face into an expressionless mask. Sabe and Yane, now fully recovered, stood behind her chair and Anakin beside it, hands tucked into the sleeves of his robe.
The Chancellor was behind his desk, head bowed in grief. "I can't believe it, I trusted Sly Moore. I gave her charge of my bodyguard and entrusted the Separatist negotiations to her. I played right into her hands! How could I have been so blind?
"Lies and deceit are the tools of the dark side." Anakin told him gently. "She even fooled the Jedi. You mustn't blame yourself, Chancellor."
Palpatine produced an unconvincing smile. "I will try not to." then massaged his forehead with both hands. "And now we are at war - where will this all end?"
"In a better, stronger, Republic, I hope." said Amidala. "We must have faith, Chancellor. Faith in our own strength and in the rightness of our cause."
"Yes." he straightened, a look of determination coming over his weary face. "Your Majesty - Amidala, I know by custom you should abdicate this year but I beg you, ma'am to delay until this crisis is settled." he reached out a hand appealingly. "I need your help, the councils of the Republic need your voice. I know it is a terrible thing to ask when you have sacrificed so much to your public duty -"
"I have already decided I cannot leave the throne while the Galaxy is at war." Amidala cut in quietly. "And the upper and lower legislatures have concurred with my decision. It would be unthinkable to lay this burden on a successor."
Palpatine sighed in relief. "Hopefully our new clone army will bring this war to a swift and victorious end. And then, your Majesty, you and I can both retire to private life with clear consciences."
"I hope so." said Amidala, unwillingly remembering what Anakin had said about a long war - long enough for their unborn children to grown up and fight in it. How she hoped he was wrong!
"Your Excellency, we found this in the Sith Witch's ship." Anakin stepped forward to lay the little holo module on Palpatine's desk and activate it. The Chancellor looked at the slowly revolving red schematic sphere in puzzlement.
"What is it?"
"Plans for a weapon, sir," Anakin answered grimly, "the Separatists' ultimate weapon. The Jedi Council very much hopes this is the only copy but they can't be sure of it. My Masters strongly recommend you have the plans carefully analyzed for potential weaknesses."
"Yes, of course." the Chancellor said and reached for the unit, switching it off and tucking it into a pocket. "I will have my own staff of specialists go over it." He rose. "I am expected at the spaceport to join the new Senate War committee in overseeing the embarkation of our troops. If your Majesty would care to join me -?"
Amidala forced a smile. "Thank you, Chancellor, but no. I have already seen the clonetroopers in action."
He smiled ruefully in return. "I understand." then the smile faded. "War is a bitter thing but it must be faced. We must fight, we can do no other."
Amidala and Anakin both murmured their agreement.
Anakin handed Amidala into the large enclosed skimmer that had brought them to the Chancery, then slipped behind the controls. "What are you going to do now, Padme?" he asked as they unlatched from the landing platform and dropped into Coruscant's intricate traffic patterns.
"Go home, put Naboo on a war footing - Oh Ani, are we going to be invaded again?"
"I hope not." he said. "Are you getting some clonetroopers?"
She nodded. "Ten thousand of them. An army - a standing army. Naboo's never had such a thing, not even during the troubles!"
"On the plus side ten thousand clonetroopers are likely to discourage the Separatists from attacking." he offered.
"I know, I know. That's why I accepted them in the first place." she admitted, then added unhappily. "It's just I seem to be flouting our traditions at every turn. It feels wrong - but what else can I do?"
"Nothing." he answered firmly. "As Queen you have to defend Naboo - and you can't dump this load on some poor kid so you have to stay Queen - for a while anyway."
"What about you, Ani. What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know yet," he admitted. "the Council has a lot of work to do calling in and reassigning Jedi to war duties. Master Qui-Gon and I probably won't be going anywhere for a while." he paused a moment, then continued determinedly. "But somehow I'm going to get Obi-Wan to Tatooine to meet Cleig and Owen."
She looked at him in some surprise. "Now, with all that's happening?"
He nodded. "Yes, now. We may not get another chance. And it's important - I feel it."
Amidala knew by now there was no arguing with a Jedi's 'feelings'. "I hope it goes all right."
"Me too." Anakin said ruefully.
They disembarked on the landing platform attached to Senator Jamillia's tower. Sabe and Yane saw the looks Anakin and Amidala were giving each other, and tactfully - but in violation of all protocol - went into the building ahead of their Queen.
Padme, encased in Amidala's paint and robes, looked forlornly up at Anakin. "When will I see you again?"
"I don't know." he answered quietly. "But it won't be too long, I promise." he put his hands on her shoulders. "There will be time for us, Padme, and for the children."
She nodded, unable to speak for fear of bursting into tears. He bent to kiss her gently, but she flung her arms around his neck and returned it passionately - not caring what might happen to her makeup and massive headdress.
When they finally broke apart Anakin had red paint on his lips and his robes were liberally dusted with white powder. What little powder remained on Amidala's face was patchy with plenty of healthy pink showing through, her diadem was awry and her back hair beginning to come down. They looked at each other and laughed.
"What will Sabe and Yane say?" he asked teasingly.
Padme grinned. "Nothing at all if they know what's good for them! But I know what they'll be thinking!" standing on tiptoe she wiped the red off his lips with a fold of her mantle and tried to brush the powder from his robe, with little success. "But what will the Jedi think?"
"Oh we never think about such things at all." Anakin answered lightly. Then his face turned grave. "May the Force be with you, Darling, till we meet again."
"And with you too, my Dearest Ani."
THE END! (for now)